Meet the Community DevRoom Speakers (vol. 1)

Over the next several days, Laura and I will be posting notes from the FOSDEM Community DevRoom speakers on why they submitted their particular talk, thoughts on their ideal audience members and what else they plan to see at the conference. We know the weekend is packed with entertaining and educational stuff to do, so we hope these speaker interviews give you an even better idea of when to pop by the DevRoom.

The Community DevRoom will be held Building K, room K.4.601 from 10:30 to 19:00 on Saturday, 3 February. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend.

Deb Nicholson on Patching the People Side


Deb Nicholson (photo courtesy of Steve Pomeroy)

For those of you who may not have the pleasure of knowing Deb yet, she’s a free software policy expert and a passionate community advocate. For her day job, Deb is the community outreach director for the Open Invention Network, the world’s largest patent non-aggression community, and her contributions to free software projects include work on MediaGoblin and OpenHatch.

I’ve known Deb a loooong time (in the very good way), and I always appreciate the pointed, useful and kind strategies she shares for growing and nurturing successful communities. Her talk in the Community DevRoom will “share some of [her] strategies for building friendly and accountable free and open source software communities.”

When I asked Deb who the ideal audience members are for her talk, she said:

“Have you got some folks in your community who mean well, but sometimes… well, they make you cringe. How do you help them be better without it turning into a big deal? This talk is for you.”
When she’s not spending time in the Community DevRoom, Deb will be camped out in the Legal and Policy Issues DevRoom, where you can catch her other talk, Harmonize or Resist? A Global Survey of Strategies for Freedom and Free Software. (I’m glad the Legal and Policy Issues DevRoom is on Sunday, because there is no way I am missing this talk.)

Check out Deb’s Tweets from FOSDEM and beyond: @baconandcoconut


Mike McQuaid on

Why People Don’t Contribute to Your Open Source Project


Mike McQuaid

While I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Mike in person, I’ve been a fan of Homebrew for years. For his day job, Mike is a Senior Software Engineer at GitHub and he’s also the author of Git in Practice. We had to adjust the time slot for his talk to accommodate his participation in a panel discussion on the Future of Package Management, so you can see both of his FOSDEM talks back to back if you’re willing to wander between the Package Management and Community DevRooms on Saturday evening.

Mike submitted his talk to the Community DevRoom because he “wanted to be part of the wider conversation on growing communities around open source projects.” When asked about the ideal audience for his presentation, he said the “talk will be great for anyone who is running an open source project but cannot figure out how to get more users contributing to it or more maintainers to join the project. It’ll also make anyone feel better by setting realistic expectations of community involvement in relation to the size of a project.”

Amongst other FOSDEM fun, Mike looks forward to meeting the team from the Software Freedom Conservancy because “they are lovely and great.” I could not agree more.

You can follow Mike on Twitter: @mikemcquaid

More Speakers to Follow

And some notes on talks submitted to the Community DevRoom that were promoted to the Main Track of the conference because I want to make sure you don’t miss them!

Posted in conferences, open source, volunteer work | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Meet the Community DevRoom Program Committee

In case you missed it, you can submit to the FOSDEM Community DevRoom Call for Papers until 27 November.

Laura Czajkowski and I are thrilled to be co-organizing the Community DevRoom at FOSDEM once again. If you’ve never put on an event with talks, one of the most valuable tips I can give you is to select your Program Committee members well. You need to make sure that each member will have the time to review the talk submissions, and you need to make sure you have enough members to share the load if you are happily overwhelmed with submissions. You also need to make sure that the committee as a whole has the right skill set to review your incoming submissions.

We’re honored to welcome some folks back to the Community DevRoom Program Committee, plus several new faces this year.

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Community DevRoom at FOSDEM 2018

You can find full details of the FOSDEM 2018 Community DevRoom CFP on Laura’s blog.

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The Weekly Writing Update

A bit late, but better late than never.

I didn’t get any writing done for this blog last week, but I did complete an interview for the Geek Feminism Blog on the #LABHR experiment and on Getting Started in Open Source for the Anita Borg Institute. Both posts are forthcoming, and I believe the Getting Started post will run on the Systers blog.

If anyone has suggestions for topics I ought to address, I’d be grateful. Leave a note in the comments section or ping me on Twitter.

In other news, I’ve been really excited about how many expressions of appreciation and gratitude I’ve seen go by on Twitter under the LABHR hashtag. I’ve also counted 15+ “permanent recommendations,” meaning posts on LinkedIn or individual’s blogs. The Twitter shout outs are absolutely amazing, but its my firm hope that we’ll all produce referenceable posts of appreciation that can help folks in their careers in addition to brightening their day.

Here’s a few of my favorite #LABHR recommendations so far:

Many thanks to everyone who has participated in the #LABHR experiment to date. Please keep those recommendations and expressions of gratitude coming!

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Why I am a Member of the Open Source Initiative

And you should be, too.

Full disclosure: I sit on the Board of the Open Source Initiative and am running for reelection in 2015. My board seat is a volunteer position and I receive no financial compensation for this work.

For the first time ever, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) is running a membership drive to recruit more individual members. The goal is to recruit 2,398 new members, with that number chosen in homage to the organization’s founding date on February 3, 1998. As an individual member of the OSI, you receive a number of benefits for joining:

While the benefits you receive for your 40 USD annual membership dues are pretty great, they’re not the only reasons to support the OSI by becoming a member today. (I’d say there not even the best reasons to become a member, but I’m a big fan of participatory democracy so I’m hesitant to say the first bullet above isn’t the best reason to join. 🙂 )

By joining the OSI as an Individual Member, your voice and membership dollars are put to good use in the service of the OSI’s mission: to promote and protect open source software. The OSI accomplishes its mission in a number of ways:

  • Providing an incubator framework and set of collaboration tools for various working groups, such as the newly launched group to work with crowdfunding sites to ensure claims that products are open source are accurate and the creation of a curated content library for professionals who need to learn about open source software.
  • Raising awareness of the good works of our individual and affiliate members through our blog, social media and our monthly newsletter.
  • Building bridges between communities who can benefit from open source software, e.g. convening the Open Communities Reception at EDUCAUSE 2014, along with OSI Affiliate Member The Apereo Foundation. (For those who are not familiar with it, EDUCAUSE is the largest conference worldwide on the subject of IT and higher education.)
  • Educating the public at large about open source software through contact with the media, in-person events and curated content.
  • Reviewing and/or approving new open source software licenses.

With your help as an Individual Member, the OSI can not only continue to execute on these strategic initiatives, we can also break new ground on additional projects, such as giving a much needed overhaul. Even more importantly, with each new member joining us, the power of our support and promotion of open source software becomes ever stronger.

I hope you will join us today and participate in our upcoming election for Board of Director Individual Members.

Joining takes less than 5 minutes and just 40 USD. You can become a member for one year or have your membership fees renewed automatically each year.

Please support the OSI now!

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A Place to Hang Your Hat

On getting many good things done. And no one knows you’re doing any of it.


  • If someone has volunteered to help your project, take the time to write a 2-3 sentence summary of what they did to help.
  • You can send it to them, along with a thank you note, or offer to post it on their LinkedIn profile. (Remember, users can approve recommendations before they’re added to their profile.)
  • Let’s spend some time celebrating our successes and all of our contributions! Let folks know you’re celebrating that success using #LABHR as a hashtag.
  • #LABHR stands for Let’s All Build a Hat Rack. For why its an awesome acronym, you have to read the post.

While at this year, I had the honor of connecting two good friends, Deborah Nicholson and Michael Howden. As part of his role as the CEO of the Sahana Software Foundation, Michael was seeking additional expertise for Sahana’s Advisory Council. I knew Deb would be a great fit; she’s performed a great deal of vital work in the technical community, and I’ve always found her advice to be invaluable. As a member of the Sahana Advisory Council and Emeritus Board Member, I welcomed the opportunity to actually work directly with Deb on a project. I’d watched her in action for years, at the FSF, at the Open Invention Network, as a community leader and mentor on projects like Girls Rock Camp and, along with Mairin Duffy, a pilot program to teach young women graphic design using only Free Software tools. In short, she rocks!

I walked up to her and Michael, cappuccino in hand, as she was accepting his request to join the Advisory Board. As congratulations and thanks went round, Deb said something that really stuck with me. I’ve been turning it over in my mind since.

“No, this is great. This gives me one of those places to hang your hat. You know, something you can list on your LinkedIn profile instead of just a project that you work on for free because you love it. But no one really knows about it or notices.”

This. Yes. This. A thousand times this. I’m not going to harp on this topic, as other people have written brilliant treatises on the dynamics of unpaid labor, especially in the open source world. Go read them. Recommend new ones to me. It’ll be great. It’s also not something I’m going to argue about in this post or the comments section.

This post gets really long. And it talks about why I think all these things are important. You can skip to the conclusion and just read about how I’m performing an experiment to improve things. I hope you’ll join me.

Deb’s words stuck in my mind deeply for a few reasons. One, I’m privileged enough to know Deb socially and I’m very well aware of all the contributions she makes to our community. I know how hard she works, which organizations she volunteers for – on top of her day job advocating for the rights of open source software creators – and how incredibly smart, strategic and patient she is because I get to talk to her all the time at conferences. Not everyone knows these things. And they wouldn’t know just how much Deb knows because so much of the work she does gives her no place to hang her hat.

In the free and open source software world, we already know that code is king. You can also read about that approach and its discontents. There are any number of tasks required for projects to grow and thrive. And, in many projects, non-code contributions are still not celebrated or are underappreciated.

(I hope we all know about many good projects that value their non-code contributors highly, celebrate their successes and give them useful onramps to becoming developers when and if they wish to do so. #NotAllProjects)

So it’s pretty tough to describe what you do and what value you bring, as a community builder and advocate and non-coder, in the open source world. It’s even more difficult to summarize what you do and who you are on a curriculum vitae or LinkedIn profile. And when you’re committed to the cause of community, you sign up for a lot, a lot of it not particularly visible, and you’re not necessarily terribly motivated to toot your own horn. Terribly motivated to grow more people who want to do this strategic thinking, gathering of humans together, and providing vital social connective tissue? Sure!

Doing this work is necessary. There are not enough people to do it, and as our lives become more interdependent on a macro-scale, our needs to be interconnected at a micro-scale are becoming ever more important. And along with the “soft skills” side of this work, there’s a huge level of technical knowledge required to get things done.

Where do you log that you know how to use Bugzilla, Trac, Redmine and other bug tracking systems with aplomb? That you know how to write a decent bug report? That you are not a lawyer, but due to your extensive learnings on open source licensing or patent litigation, you can pretend to be one on TV? (I’m not talking about the deep discussions we have in the hallway track about free culture licensing or the application of open source software licensing models to open hardware. By be one on TV, I mean that you can form a cohesive and defensible legal strategy for your organization around content and software licensing. One that can be sent to your law firm and approved with only one round trip for revisions.)

How do you explain to people that while you’re busy doing all of the above, you’re a great writer and can edit that newsletter / write that press release / QA that blog post / rustle up some other volunteer help / find a place for the group to meet / this list is endless? That you can do all of this stuff while doing a ton at your day job? And while doing all the things you just need to get done to be a person, like managing your finances and taking care of your family and trying to eat healthy and get exercise?

It’s really easy to fall into the trap of not talking about these accomplishments, because they are usually piecemeal, discrete tasks. The requests come in early and often. They are important tasks, but they are seemingly ephemeral. There’s no place to hang your hat on them, no matter how good and necessary it is that they get done.

And I’ve also been thinking about how much of this trap is about how women are socialized to minimize their accomplishments, when men are socialized to overemphasize them. (#NotAllMen) And I’ve been thinking about how much that’s probably hurt me professionally, because I haven’t always had or made places to hang my hat. Most people have no idea what I’ve accomplished or what topics I know about, and its not because they think I am incapable. There’s just no place for them to get an overview or appreciation.

There’s no hat rack.

I’ve also been thinking about how much not celebrating and documenting our accomplishments has hurt my friends professionally. (N.B.: This is not some #LeanIn style argument here.) I think about how many of us are working hard to keep our careers in top shape, our partners and families cared for, our communities fed, and ourselves cared for with what is leftover. Finding the time in that to celebrate and document your successes, and finding the energy to do it in a world where science has shown that women are punished for asking for a seat at the table, is just not easy. Even asking someone else for help to celebrate and document your successes can be quite difficult for some of us.

Places to Hang Your Hat

I don’t think women are the only ones who are bad at celebrating and documenting their achievements. I think many humans struggle with it, and ever more is demanded of our ability to curate online personas. And to make them “sell.” It’s dead obvious, but its less about what you know and much more about how you can package that knowledge so someone else can consume it. So that the person who you really are looks like the person people want to subscribe to. So that you can create a representation of your life digitally that captures all the promise of who you really are, while covering all your human foibles as neatly as you can and care to.

It’s just an uncomfortable space. At least if you’re me. But it is where we find ourselves.

I’m tired of my friends not having a place to hang their hats. I’m tired of not having my own hat rack, too.

I organized more than a hundred conferences, sprints, meetups and events at Google. My only reminder of those accomplishments is when one of the geeks I meet reminds me that we met at one of them. Some of the best work of my life took place on a closed mailing list. The strategic guidance, along with plain old project management, I’ve done for a variety of causes, people and organizations lives nowhere except in the heads of everyone I worked with. The experiences have moved me, shaped me, given me more to bring to bear in each new challenge I face.

And I want to eliminate the challenge of people not having the background they need to understand what I can bring to bear, because the constant effort of reproving my competence over and over again in social and professional scenarios is tiring. It’s a waste of energy. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.

And I want the same things for everyone I know. For all those folks who pour their heart into things and are unsung heroes. For people who give freely of their time and knowledge, and don’t expect a big party in return, just respect for having contributed. I’d rather none of us had to spend the time proving what we know.

(And this is especially true for women.)

I’d rather we all spent some time concentrating our energies on being forces for good for each other.

So, Let’s All Build a Hat Rack – #LABHR

So, perhaps “let’s all build a hat rack” (#LABHR) is a bit silly. And I don’t really care. I feel like I need a bit of silly. There has been so much awfulness in the world of late, and so much awfulness in the news about the technology industry in particular. Well, in particular if you work in said industry and follow the news.

It’s all over the news in my last hometown, and ridiculously prevalent in the area where I was born. It’s at the Crunchie Awards. It’s hearing about Breitbart for the first time, realizing I’ve managed to lead a privileged and sheltered life by not knowing about it, and wishing I’d never known the site existed in the first place. It’s in every missed opportunity that leaves you wondering if it was because you weren’t in the right place at the right time, or because of who you are.

I can’t change the world, but I can change me and suggest a useful way for all of us to create positive change.

And all in just 5 easy steps (with a few pro-tips in parentheses):

  1. Take the time to write up a short thank you note about what someone has done to help your community, organization or project. Doesn’t have to be complex, 3 bullets / sentences will do. There’s even a sample at the end of this post.
  2. Send the write up to this lovely human with your thanks for their contribution.
  3. Bonus points if you add it to their LinkedIn profile or public profile page. (It’s worth asking the person’s permission before publicly posting the note; LinkedIn handles this automatically by asking users to approve recommendations submitted for inclusion on their profile.)
  4. Mega-bonus points if you share their accomplishment in your social media streams with the #LABHR hashtag, so even more people know can join in the celebration of person’s great work. (And we can all have a stream of something awesome and uplifting to read.)
  5. Ultra-mega-bonus points if your first few write ups are for people who are not like you. (In our industry, we all see the stories of white guys celebrated all the time, in no small part because they make up the majority of humans in our industry. Not suggesting that these folks don’t have a ton of unsung successes we should be celebrating. I’d just like to see us all start with the folks who are in categories of humans who are more often unsung heroes first, before moving onto the folks in categories that are celebrated more often.)

Steps 1 and 2 are mandatory for the experiment to work. Steps 3-5 are all (important) gravy.

I hope you’ll join me in this process. I’m taking my first three concrete steps now in service of this experiment:

  • Updating my own LinkedIn profile to be current and up-to-date on the basics, like making sure the projects I volunteer for are simply listed. Seems silly to ask other folks to help me and others celebrate our successes if I’m not doing the groundwork myself.
  • Adding the sample profile I added to this post to Deb Nicholson’s LinkedIn profile, because I want to practice what I preach and because everyone should know how awesome she is. (done)
  • Writing up a LinkedIn recommendation for my former interns and co-volunteers on a couple of open source software projects. This activity is just good practice, and I’ve let it slip by the wayside because I was busy and they had formal status reports. A formal status report isn’t a place to hang your hat.

Join me. Let’s all build a hat rack. #LABHR

Sample Recommendation

Deb Nicholson, Board Member, Open Hatch
While not strictly related to her work as an OpenHatch board members, Deb has given me invaluable counsel on fundraising for various non-profits I’ve been affiliated with. She’s also trained numerous community members on how to perform in-person advocacy for free and open source software projects, and software patent reform. As part of that training, she’s also convened numerous meetings and round tables to help people get things done in the open source world. She performs all this work with grace and patience for our sometimes difficult personalities. She’s brilliant and utterly unflappable. Cannot recommend her work highly enough.

Posted in learnings, women in tech | Tagged , | 5 Comments

My Reflections on 2014

Things I Learned During Last Year’s Digital Detox and Promises I’m Making to Myself

I promised myself that I’d write more, and actually deliver on that promise to myself. Turns out the first piece is pretty personal, and I am OK with that. If you’re looking for one of my usual sporadic posts updating you on community news or giving you a cool How-To, that’s not this post. But more in that vein will be published here, on a regular basis, as of this week.

I’ve tried to take the end of every year as a period of reflection for some time, and not just because it’s prompted by the holidays, replete with the requisite advertising and ‘collective’ cultural narratives. It’s because its a time of year where my physical processes slow down – it’s Winter, after all – and my desire to have a prolonged period of uninterrupted down time becomes a need. Perhaps its the cold, perhaps its the cumulative effect of absorbing so many things over the short period of time that is one year, perhaps its getting older and these short periods of time, 365 days, moving so quickly they’re almost not there.

The conclusion of each year remains constant, though, no matter what else may be going on in my life. I hold that time sacred to meditate on what I’m doing, where I’m going, how the people I’m going there with and I will thrive together, and generally just working stuff out with people who matter to me. And in our always-connected-so-much-so-that-mentioning-it-is-now-cliché world, I also protect these times as ones where I am having in the moment, real life experiences, unchained from a laptop, and usually without my mobile. I want to be where I am, with the people that matter to me.

The refrains that I read so often, declaring that we need times like these – digital detoxes, mindful experiences, walks in nature and off the grid – feel cliched and stilted to me. It’s self-evident for me that human beings require this unmitigated time to function, to grow and prosper. There’s the scientific literature. There’s our own knowledge of how much better we function when we give our brains and bodies time to rest, our creativity a chance to wander and be, our interests outside of our offices and screens the opportunity to thrive. Why are we writing hand wringing love letters to a time before all this connectedness and missals about the importance of digital detox, instead of fighting our addiction to it all?

I know it’s hard, and I know that having enough time and space to be able to give up “the toys” for three weeks is an immense privilege. I have no children and I have a backup answering service in place if my family need to reach me in an emergency. Digital detox is easier when you know that someone will reach you if you must be reached, and when you are left with no excuse to hold onto the grip of your gadget. Digital detox is much easier when you can actually afford to take holiday and, more important, actually take holiday and be off the clock – remember when that used to be the definition of a holiday? – and not check back in at the office.

This year, I took two three weeks to do nothing but be with family. Moving to Amsterdam meant losing immediacy and time with those of them in the United States. Then there’s the family that live so far away from me that seeing them only once per year is difficult, and also an immense privilege. I spent time in California, admiring the landscape after much needed but still too little rains, breathing in the redwoods. I lounged in the sun in Florida, drinking champagne and enjoying round after round of delicious home cooked meals. Watched the kids grow up, chronicling the swift changes in them now that they’re just one year older. Flew to New Zealand, via Auckland, into Christchurch to spend time with my goddaughter and her mother. It’s been just one year since I’ve seen her, but that year was a fast one. She’s already forming sentences that astound me, and I cannot help but admire all her new abilities, that she now sleeps through the night, her boundless energy and curiosity.

Even with those three weeks taken, I still didn’t get to spend quality time with all of my family members. I am just now catching up with my boyfriend’s parents in Germany, celebrating their birthdays, which both took place over the past eight weeks. I will be see my own parents in two weeks in time California.

I spent my time sorting myself out, in the company of people dear to my heart. I helped them sort themselves out, and we understood the complexities of the universe together. We told each other stories. We ate each others recipes, made endless trips to the grocery store, laughed about the hardest things in our lives and the easiest ones.

In short, we lived and were people together. It was indescribably glorious, these simple things, these easy things, these moments of of existing and being. Even the hard things, with tears on each others blouses, accompanied by the most profane but justified exclamations, were delicious for their being hard won. And this time, this end of the year, 2014, I felt like I finally had finally internalized some very important lessons and learnings.

I’m writing them here because they need to be captured, and I know at some point I’ll want to share every one of them again with a person I love.

On Feeding My Body: Food and Its Role in Both the World and My Life

Eating healthy is just plain hard. Preparing meals from scratch that are healthy and well-balanced is a full-time job for one person for a family of four, and probably more than one person considering what I saw done to feed the many people welcomed into the family home for holiday meals in Florida. Purchasing ingredients that are of high quality is expensive, and affording high quality, clean food has itself become a privilege. A family of six, with two adults earning average incomes in the US, cannot both feed itself sufficiently and afford purchase organic / free range / locally grown / etc food products.

I have the privilege of being able to afford clean food. I am grateful that I can do so, and I am grateful to have eaten so many home cooked meals with the people I love over the past two months. I have always cared deeply about food politics, but it has become even more important to me recently. It all starts with food, and how its created, and how we share it or do not share, and how we feel about its appearance, and where it comes from, and who is able to get enough and who gets too much, and who does not get enough for their needs. And so many other things, and all of these considerations before food even enters our body systems to be processed into energy and action.

I need to eat in a way that is clean for my body and supports my overall well-being. Making good food choices is hard for a wide variety of reasons, but I have done it before and I’ve thrived. I’m already starting it up again and I feel that much better. Doing so while spending so much time on the road is hard, but it needs to be my first priority. (I also don’t know how I can give up coffee with milk and be a contented human being, but I am going to figure that out, too.)

Eating in the way that makes sense for my body is going to tough for many reasons, but the toughest for me is the interactions with other people. It requires explaining to people what you are eating and why you are eating that way. Cue the inevitable desire of others to gently – because they care – or loudly – because they’re jerks – inform that your way of eating is wrong. Cue folks who are gentle and genuinely curious, but whose questions feel probing, judgemental or just tiring. I just want to get on with it and have something to eat, to not have my dietary requirements be the subject of conversation, and to take in the nutrients I need with a minimum of fuss; more joy, less anxieties over food.

It is also hard because it is simply hard work. In the places I find myself in Europe, there’s very little to no just-in-time-compiled life available if you’re eating healthy. There’s no nipping out for a quick bagel sandwich and a latte (though the call of these things becomes unreasonably loud when you’re not consuming them). If you’re lucky, there’s a shoarma shop nearby that will serve you a salad with meat on it, or a stir fry place in the city center. You can always go out and get a steak or mixed grill, but that’s too costly to do regularly, even for just lunch. You have to plan your menus and meal-times more strictly due to short supermarket opening times; you have to make sure basic ingredients are consistently available and consumed quickly while still fresh; you have to have time to prepare them well so the taste incentivizes you to eat well instead of just conveniently.

I suppose that there are few healthy options for just-in-time-compiled-life eating in the US, either, but it feels like there are. Probably because I spent almost all my time while in the US within a 50 mile radius of Woodside, California – or in ORD / IAD / IAH. The latter definitely lack healthy food options. Then again, home was never like the rest of the US, even when I was a young child. Californian exceptionalism atop American exceptionalism, has been, I’ve learned, the order of the day for as long as I have been alive. For me, things like high quality fresh produce and left-leaning politics were just where we were, who we were and what we did. I vaguely remember rumblings from childhood that the rest of the country didn’t like us, and we Californians were hippie wierdos with radical ideas.

Now, I suppose, home has become “the establishment” since Silicon Valley now has its own TV show. But there’s never a salad with meat or a paleo treat far away, and you can always get an artichoke, soaked in olive oil and garlic. (And amazing tacos, and delicious Round Table Pizza with its tasty nostalgia, and any number of other things that must needs be avoided.)

I’m sit now, in a beautiful home in Germany, finally taking the time to write the thoughts that have swirled in my head for eight weeks. There is snow outside, magical and sparkling, cold and unforgiving, a joy to walk through and to leave to rest before a fire. Since I arrived yesterday, in the home of boyfriend’s parents, there has been someone in the kitchen every waking hour except for four of them, making food for four and cleaning the kitchen afterwards. Spending time with people you love takes time, and the Europeans do it over food. Every ingredient used is in its least processed form, each meal with more than 15 or 16 ingredients, four or five pans used to make it. Meals are lavish, times to be enjoyed, a place where the whole family rests and refreshes together.

Somewhere in the back of mind, I know this approach used to be the standard, but now it feels like a miracle to be indulged in, savored, saved up for remembering in the real world where meals come out of cartons, waxed paper boxes and peat-based plastic bowls.

Eating healthfully takes time, and its something I have to make the proper time for in order to survive. The more I age, the more I remember my genetic predispositions to poor health outcomes like diabetes and high blood pressure. Making a place in my life for slowness around food and around feeding my body will make me a better and healthier person, and I am going to do it. I am committed.

Sure, sometimes it will be difficult in the expected ways, instead of limited selection room service menus late at night ways. Like the struggle to explain to my boyfriend’s parents that I need to be on strict low carbohydrate diet for now, and for the next 30 days. There will be no cappuccinos, our normal after meal favorite together, no fruit, and no afternoon cake. They are wonderful, reasonable people who believe in moderation in all things. I normally agree, but in this case there’s no moderation when considering my carbohydrate intake and the results to my health. And they are loving, and are accommodating, and are in their kitchen now – and again! – creating lunch, making raw fennel salad and sausages. After some very confused looks, they served up cold cuts and raw vegetables, radish and cucumber, for breakfast this morning. No rolls, no toast.

Their cultural values tell them I am guest in their home, so I cannot opt to not inconvenience them by cooking for my own strange – if I am being generous to myself, I’ll call them particular – needs. I’d rather never disappoint them, or make it harder for them, so if I can eat properly here for the next week, the following three weeks should be a cake walk. Easy as pie. Ehrmm…. The pleasures and politics and rewards and intricacies of food.

It will be hard, always, for me to eat healthy. It will never be simple, easy or convenient. This fact must simply be accepted and dealt with. And I am going to do it. I am committed.

Creativity and Generativity, and Making Space for Myself in It

I don’t think I’m alone in this amongst people, and particularly amongst women, but most of my creativity and energy goes into helping other people make things happen for themselves. Whether its care for a hurt family member (we’ve had a number of injuries over the past six months), or emotional bullwarking as friends’ marriages change, some collapsing, or the usual demands of being an adult and a partner to another human in our enlightened modern world. Add in the energy spent on employment, volunteer projects, peer mentoring and generally being an active member of your community who provides care and feeing within it, and there historically hasn’t been much left for me to indulge myself.

That also needs to change. I get a tremendous amount accomplished and feel proud of myself for it, but struggle to find the time to write pieces like this one because I lack time or the energy to motivate myself to write. Nothing kills the urge to write and the energy to do so quite like a blank page.

I lack time, energy and drive to chronicle all the things that I accomplish both personally and professionally. A healthy but now-unhealthy-for-our-social-media-driven-times dose of “let your good deeds be done in secret” operates as a subthread in my consciousness at all times. And with that comes the requisite discontents for my career – if its not documented, it didn’t happen – and for my own self-satisfaction, lacking a single place I can look back on all that I’ve done, and to call it good. (And, for that matter, to improve the bad, but I think my inner critic does a pretty great job keeping tabs on the bits I don’t do well.)

Balance must be found for me between doing things and accomplishment and having the time to celebrate and document it, between accruing and sharing knowledge and doing so in a way that is more broadcast and less 1:1. And simply having time for free form writing with no particular purpose other than to please myself has to occur, too, for my own peace of mind, growth and joy.

I vowed at the end of 2014 to write more, to publish one blog post per week on topics important to me. To get words out onto a screen-that’s-like-a-page consistently. It’s not the first time I’ve made this promise to myself, will not be the last, but it feels so good to actually be writing right now. Not just reading articles, essays and Tweets, many of them how hard it is to write. Actually writing.

And I will be writing this year, creating for me, creating to share knowledge with other people, and holding time for myself to do that sacred and inviolable. I am still not quite certain how I am going to accomplish that, but I know its needed. I know its value. I know it will be difficult to maintain. I know it is coming, and that I will do it, and that pushing my need to expend this creative energy on myself to the back burner will no longer work.

I will also spend more time with my stencils, stationery and other tangible items in the real world that require writing. I have always loved the act of writing. I miss doing it daily and note the often quizzical looks of others as I continue to use a paper notebook. Its a way that works for me. I shall hold it dear to me, and will do it as long as my hands can still hold a writing instrument. Spending time with family has reminded me that we live, we exist, and we age, and that the ability to put pen to paper should never be taken as a given.

And I will relish the privilege I have to take time to be creative and generative, to take pride in how I can use my resources to help others while still having space for self-care and self-nurturing. I will relish it by using it. I will dedicate time to honor what I have done, to write it down so I can reflect upon what I have done, why I am doing it, and who helped me be able to make it occur.

Feeding My Brain

Somewhere in all the thoughts of home and hearth, of creating and destroying, of reckoning my last year and the ones before it, I’ve become ever more aware of the impact of what I consume on my physical and emotional health. Obviously, food is a big part of this equation, but not the only nor most important one. Even though I can already feel myself slipping into being one of those people obsessed with their diet and what foods take in, its an obsession I’ve realized is required for my own well-being. I hope those that love me can forgive the next few months.

I’ve realized the need to be just as obsessive about what I read and watch if I want to remain emotionally healthy. Practicing self-care, and the space to do so, is privilege and one I will use. Stepping away from the traditional 24-hours always television news cycle, both the voices it amplified and knowledge of the ones it ignored, was something I did long ago. It’s something I need to do now again with digital media, to not spend so many precious cycles in the pursuit of dopamine and new information. To not spend hours in the pursuit of watching and consuming as people traffic in misery and scandal. To not let only negative words, sad stories and violent narratives be the environment in which I operate.

To read more novels and works of fiction. To crack the spines of my (too many of them) unread books, to meander in universes barely discovered, to cleanse the brain of its daily cares and give it something else to feed upon. To lessen the amount of violence I see before me on screens. To not ignore the world and withdraw from it, but to have a healthier approach to it and a better barrier for taking in the firehose of data available from every news site, social network and streaming film.

To nourish my mind with useful things, to understand and grapple with injustice and the places of life which are painful, but not to dwell in them. To use this separation to give me a greater resiliency that I may do things that are of greater meaning and greater personal satisfaction. To seek out answers in the spirit of joy and transformation. To take in information only as it helps me grow, change, refine my perspective, instead of merely to entertain or inform me of things I already know, reinforcing self-evident truths. To know that I am fortunate to have this space to do these things and to shelter myself when others cannot do so. To draw strength from that shelteredness to help others who are not as fortunate.

I will create a space for the life of the mind that will be sacred and inviolable. It will be filled with the writings of Atwood and Gaiman and Pratchett and the rest, with the scent of journals and crisp paper, with the taste of coffee (without milk) and a wider perspective and deeper thinking than compelled by the article-of-the-moment. It will be warm; it will cozy; it will be challenging and uncomfortable; it will be welcoming and needed. It will be rich with meaning, even if only for me, and that’s completely all right. It only needs to be for me. It is an important part of the well-spring from which I will nurture myself.

On Making More

I’m renewing my commitment to write weekly. I said it above and I will say it again here. No more excuses, no more having something else come up that makes it easier to ignore the high activation energy to write. No more stalling, but no self-belittling for the times that I slip.

If you’ve read this far, I’m imaging you to be a friend, someone I’ve spent a lot of time with in real life. I’m picturing you cheering me on, nodding in agreement, being happy to read my life affirmations. And I’m hoping you’ll help me, keep me honest, read what I write, comment on it, give me encouragement, tell me the things that you wish I would talk about here. Remind me of the best conversations we’ve had that were wonderful and useful, the lessons that we learned together that everyone can use. Check in on how the eating is going, in a gentle way. Understand that there will be weeks I don’t eat properly, and I’ll probably be grumpy admitting it. But being there to care, and to ask, and to push me to meet these goals and live up to these reflections will be invaluable for me.

We’re all in this together. Time for me to do a better job of keeping myself in it with everyone I care for, and doing my planning for that in long-term and the short-term.

I’ll be glad to have your help while I’m doing it.

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