Monday, August 18, 2014

I didn't care about Trayvon until Ferguson: Why we need more empathy in America.

We need more empathy in America, which is the ability to "walk a mile in another's person's shoes." 
"But he was aggressive with police!"

"But he was involved in a robbery!"

"But he was 6'4 and threatening!"

But he was unarmed.


Unarmed and shot several times in broad daylight. For being stupid and irresponsible, sure. There's no question Michael Brown made poor choices that afternoon, but does unarmed theft justify a police execution in the middle of a public street? Does anything?

It's now the ninth day of protests, reported looting, police aggression and needless violence in a small town called Ferguson, Missouri. Two thousand miles away I sit typing, ensconced in middle class safety, watching the whir of #Ferguson posts on Twitter, the occasional mention on Facebook, and I wonder.

Will this tragic business in Ferguson be just another talking point in 2014? Will the news die down next week? Will there be another brown boy killed so needlessly as it seems to happen more and more often?

And more to the point: What can we do to stop this senseless killing?

In the past week, I've seen numerous beautifully written articles with ideas--posts about checking white privilege, being a good ally, questioning media bias and unfair framing of victims, following Wisconsin's lead in developing protocol for independent investigations of police shootings... All of this is great.

I also think we--and I'm speaking collectively but mostly to folks outside of the black community, ahem--need to work on empathy. Because I know I have no idea what it's like to be black or anything other than my pasty safe shade of Italian in 2014 America. And what's more, I haven't tried to understand. And because of that, I am ashamed to admit I've kept up a guarded and publicly apathetic stance towards racial politics, even in the face of recent tragedies.

It wasn't until I heard A'Driane Nieves speak at the #BlogHer14 conference last month, sharing her post entitled "America's Not Here for Us" that I started to really question myself. Nieves discussed her young son's questions: "Mom, are we still slaves? Do people still hate us, African-Americans?" With blistering passion, she recounted numerous instances of decisions in modern America that led her to conclude "America is still not here for people of color."

As she spoke though, I vehemently disagreed with her in my mind. I felt defensive and annoyed. Her rendering did not feel fair to me. I wanted to reply "Not all white people...!"

And then I realized she wasn't talking about me. Or even "white people." But about the system that is America right now. The rampant hate that continues to run such that when a young man gets cut down before his life even starts, people are quick to focus on ancillary details and stereotypes instead of the sickening loss of a human life.

And I realized that my "buts" and deflections--like many I've seen discussing Ferguson lately--prevent me from trying to understand what it must be like for a family, for a community to lose a precious member... and then watch as it happens to another family, another community. Again. And again. And again. I especially can't imagine how it feels to believe our country doesn't even care.

While the issues are incredibly complex and systemic, I think cultivating empathy is a necessary beginning step to making change. What does that mean exactly? Listening. Asking questions. Perspective taking. Bracketing stereotypes and bias, and considering things from another point of view.

For instance, it really didn't occur to me until recently that I'm not afraid of the police. Not on an everyday-will-I-be-treated-fairly-if-I-move-wrong-will-they-shoot-me level? I wasn't raised to fear authority, but rather to question it. It wasn't until I watched this video of Professor Javon Johnson at the 2013 Poetry Slam in Boston that I considered how my orientation to law enforcement shapes how I look at the events in Ferguson and why it was hard at first to understand the public outcry.

Johnson speaks about driving with his 4-year old nephew and what it's like to raise black boys in this country. Specifically, he discusses what it means that his nephew was conditioned to hide from the cops before he could read and how that reflects the vastly uneven playing field for black boys. He says: "It's not about whether or not the shooter is racist. It's about how poor black boys are treated as problems well before we're treated as people. Black boys in this country cannot afford to play cops and robbers if we're always considered the latter." (Please take 3 minutes and watch this incredible performance, my description doesn't do it justice.)

Watching the performance, I found myself wiping away tears. I hate the injustice that requires people of color to work and worry so hard. I hate that children are being raised to fear and despise law enforcement. I hate that police officers in some places fear and despise the citizens they serve. And I hate that my silence helps perpetuate these problems.

So I'm following Janee Woods' advice about "12 things white people can do now because of Ferguson" (or maybe just "people"), in particular her suggestion to "Use words that speak truth about the disempowerment, oppression, disinvestment and racism that are rampant in our communities." And I hope that you can do the same.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Blog birthday (be)musings

"Childhood" by Michiev. Used with permission.
"Be brave. Ask your questions. Speak your truth."

I heard those words from BlogHer CEO and co-founder Lisa Stone during the first few minutes of my first official BlogHer14 conference week before last. Throughout the incredible weekend (see my Girls on the Grid post for more details and photos), I heard riffs on her ideas, especially constant comments about being "authentic," speaking "truth," and knowing your "voice."

At the same time, I heard a ton of talk about "monetization," blogging as business, tailoring messages for "audiences," and developing self-as-brand, all of which sound exhausting.

As a personal blogger, I've given some thought to advertising and sponsored posts, but given the wide variety of topics I write about--research, cooking, flying, family adventures, the wonder of growing tomatoes--I wouldn't know who to partner with really. And, this is embarrassing to admit as I just passed The Blue Muse's fifth birthday (woot!), I wouldn't know who exactly would be targeted by ads.

The thing I've realized recently is that I haven't worked to build community around these parts. I haven't a clue who's reading these posts aside from my mother (and even then, I'm not sure!). I (sadly) don't enjoy many conversations with readers (but I want to!). Aside from a long ago readership survey, I'm not even sure what people appreciate or get annoyed by. If this blog disappeared tomorrow, would anyone notice? Sigh.

So I got this wild hair* recently to split up The Blue Muse into three blogs in order to focus the writing, speak more truths that I care about, and hopefully maybe, build community. It also occurred to me that the people who enjoy the photos and life stories may not necessarily appreciate the OMG I can fly a plane now! posts, and vice versa. And the folks who like the research and teaching and writing stuff might be a different crowd altogether. (It also dawned at me, that oh wow, I am not the Pioneer Woman or Martha Stewart. I take terrible food photos and my gardening skills are aspirational at best.)

And so, as a belated blog birthday announcement (since I apparently didn't realize that milestone was two days ago, ahem), I'm currently working on three new websites! Or revamps, anyway. I'm moving the Blue Muse and my professional site ( over to WordPress**, and starting up a new site for all things aviation.

More details to follow, of course, but I'm excited to focus this space on telling true stories, slice-of-life tales, rants and what I heard BlogHer speaker Deb Rox of Deb on the Rocks describe as "think pieces." (Worry not, there will still be a good bit of random.)

As I set off into the next five years of writing, do you have any special requests? Thoughts on subjects I should ax or absolutely keep? Feelings about advertising or sponsored posts? Any burning questions you're dying to have answered?

Do tell.

Leave a comment below, email bluestmuse(at)gmail(dot)com or tweet to @bluestmuse


* Thanks BFF Kristin for the encouragement!
** I'm learning all about self-hosting. Fun, fun.

Other bloggish things:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Three things on my mind as a BlogHer '14 newbie

Who's going to BlogHer '14? This gal! Here's my
in-the-garden #selfiebration submission.
Kerry Washington sealed the deal. A chance to see Olivia Pope(!)* in person? Without having to travel too far? And I'd get to hang out with a bunch of cool bloggers and learn a ton about writing, too?

Well, the decision to sign up for the BlogHer '14 Annual Conference was a no-brainer. Especially for someone who's getting serious about writing-as-career (more on this very soon).

While I'm no stranger to academic conferences, I'm nervous about navigating a new, huge convention. One where I know no one (except for blog stalking, of course) and in an arena that I love but even five years in feel new to...

Aside from reading all of the past hot tips for attending BlogHer (I found Pocket Full of Joule's four tips supremely helpful), I've been contemplating what I hope to learn and experience, and how to get myself into the right frame of mind.

With a day before I travel to San Jose to join the #Selfiebration party, I've thought up some dos and don'ts for myself.


Do want to keep my introvert side in check. And what I mean by this is I don't want to let the extravaganza overwhelm me into hiding in my hotel room instead of meeting new people, ahem. It's easy for me to do the loner routine even when I'm in familiar circumstances, and I know the temptation to shyness will be amplified. Maybe I should make an "I'm new, please talk to me!" button.

Don't want to feel insecure. I'm at a point in my blogging adventure where I'm turning serious about building a community and working toward moving my writing into career mode. To that end, I'm in the middle of re-focusing the blog and switching platforms. But everything's still in flux (I'm learning WordPress at a snail's pace!) and I know that I'm going to feel envious of other writers with established platforms and involved readers, etc. I need to remind myself to be inspired instead of insecure and to learn from the success of other writers instead of envying it (too much anyway).

Do want to learn a bunch. And in order to do this, I know I need to not just show up to panels, but bracket out the laundry list of things I'm not working on and be present. This will mean ignoring email (yay!) and work calls and maybe even Twitter (don't hold your breath). And it will definitely mean stretching the boundaries of what I think I want to learn. I've got some panels in mind but I know that creative linkages will probably come from topics and speakers outside of my typical interests. Luckily, I know there will be opportunities to stretch in spades at this conference!

And so, I'm off to pack and finishing printing my (sadly cheap) business cards. Stay tuned for more about this BlogHer adventure!


*If you don't watch Scandal, this is all very exciting.

Other writing type things:
A grateful heart: Getting featured on BlogHer
Dos and don'ts of dissertation writing
Grief, accumulated: Thoughts on secondary trauma, writing and resilience
A grateful heart: A man who understands writing deadlines
A rebel nerd just RSVPd for the NaNoWriMo party: How I plan to write my dissertation in a month
A journaling fool

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Preparing for solo cross country flying

Beautiful farmland between Sacramento Executive Airport and Yolo County Airport.
"So when are you going on your cross country?" my instructor Stan asked after he deemed me competent to handle cross-wind landings. Again and again, he asked. "You're ready," he kept telling me.

"Soon," I would reply, reminding him that it had been six months since I flew by myself and that maybe I should practice some local soloing before flying into the wild blue yonder all by my lonesome. But really, I was stalling.

Weeks passed. We had a handful more lessons and repeated the above exchange a few times before I got up my nerve to actually practice solo.

I planned to fly to a local training field--Yolo County, where I completed my very first solo flight almost exactly a year ago. I figured I would practice a few times by myself at Yolo and then maybe Franklin Field, before working up to the short cross country flight which would involve traveling to two destinations each more than 50 nautical miles apart, one with a towered airport.

But Stan had other ideas for my first venture out. He suggested that I fly to Yolo (DWA) then to Franklin (F72) then to Rio Linda (L36), with a stop at home (KSAC) in between if I felt like it. All on the same day! The plan would have me criss-country around town, practicing entering patterns, judging wind directions, navigating around airspace. All by myself.

I wanted to say no and stick to my boring short plan, but I took Stan's suggestions as a challenge.

Flying the Cessna 182 solo and having a ball.
I expected to be buzzing with nerves, but once I got cranking--armed with a paper chart, loosely written flight plan and ipad for back up--I felt more excited than nervous.

In fact, instead of stopping briefly at my flight destinations, I visited for awhile, completing three patterns at Yolo, Franklin and Executive before looping around to Rio Linda for a single stop and go.

Although the skies were fairly quiet on a mid-week morning, I learned a bunch. At Yolo, I enjoyed a nice rhythm with a couple other student pilots as we shared the field, each practicing touch-and-gos, copiously calling out our respective positions and maintaining good spacing in student pilot solidarity. At Franklin, I managed a small gusty crosswind and actually found myself having fun as I compensated for the winds that kept trying to blow me off course. And on the way home, I appreciated the skill of our local air traffic control folks as they managed eight closely arriving aircraft and I had to make space by performing a 360 turn near downtown Sacramento (too cool!).

All of my destinations were either close to another airport or nearby controlled airspace which meant I had to be careful about maintaining altitude limits during some parts of the flight and staying on course so as not to veer unsafely into airspace without permission.
But besides pattern work, communication, and (lovely, if I do say so myself) landings, I felt ecstatic to have navigated successfully. Although I'm familiar with the local area by now, the airports never fail to hide from me and I've been perpetually nervous about losing my way and completely embarrassing myself. Being able to correlate my position with ground references and easily identify landmarks and airports did a lot for building up my solo flying confidence.
Leaving Franklin Field with Elk Grove to the right, and heading for Sacramento Executive.
In fact, it led my flight instructor Stan to demand that I complete my short cross country flight the very next day. And so I did. Stay tuned!


Fly Girl in Training

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It's no hot dog anniversary but four years is still fun

Yes, I really fell down on my wedding day. No, this photo wasn't staged.
If you follow the traditional wedding anniversary calendar, year the fourth is either flowers and fresh fruit (traditional) or appliances (modern). While I love me a good blender, I asked T if maybe, perhaps, we could early celebrate the anniversary with a Costco* food court stop. Yes, I am that classy.

Laughing, he asked "Is it the hot dog anniversary then?"

I wish. While we did not get the hot dog of my dreams (seriously, we're not going to EAA Oshkosh this year which usually involves +/- 3 bratwursts over the course of the 10 days, so I tried to rationalize it was really a calorie saving maneuver), we ended up out to dinner and reminiscing about weddings and the last few years of marriage.

I'm so grateful to have a loving husband who plays with me...
Photographer said "RUN!!!"
Notices when I stumble...
Reaches out for me...
A little post-ceremony jog.
Picks me up when I fall...
All hail the polyester blend. No grass stains!
Carries me when I'm tired (okay, mostly metaphorically now)...
Thank you, Todd Emerson, for this wonderful shot!
Holds my hand...
Wandering the Aerospace Museum of California
Dances with me...
One of my favorite shots from the day.
Flies with me...
You saw that one coming, right? With the DC-3.
And wants to spend happily ever after with me...
Happy Fourth Versary, my love!


P.S. All photos except the threshold shot are by the incredible Beth Baugher of True Love Photo in Sacramento.

* Please note that Costco was not the height of anniversary celebrating. We're flying to Halfmoon Bay this weekend!

Related links:
Love is in the Air (aka, all things wedding)
Offbeat Bride feature
Today is THE DAY
How did people get married before Facebook?
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part I: Sacramento to Sedona
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part II: A brief stop in Santa Fe
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part III: Eureka Springs, Arkansas
(early) Thoughts from the moon
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part IV: Visiting Mark Twain in Hannibal, MO
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part V: Oshkosh b'gosh! part 1
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part VI: Oshkosh b'gosh! part 2
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part VII: Oshkosh b'gosh! part 3
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part VIII: Oshkosh b'gosh! part 4
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part IX: Oshkosh b'gosh! part 5
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part X: Traversing Traverse City, Michigan
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part XI: Romantic Mackinac Island
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part XII: Quick stop in Keokuk
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part XIII: Crashing in Colorado Springs
Hopscotch Honeymoon Part XIV: Ending the moon in Moab
Things I know about B&Bs
The honeymoon is o-v-e-r
Because I need the longest name EVER, aka The Name Change Game

Sunday, July 6, 2014

#100HappyDays: The $10,000 tomato

18 ounces of tomato goodness, July 5, 2014.
"Honeeeeeeeyyyyyyyyy, LOOK!" I exclaim, holding up a tomato the size of my head. (Well, almost.)

Foisting the red orb at Mr. T, I continue to shout, "18 ounces!" which is a personal record.

Weighing the fruit in his hands, T quips, "That's about $10,000 worth of tomato right there."

"AT LEAST," I reply.

Since I started gardening six years ago, Mr. T has given me mostly good natured grief about plant related expenditures and the ratio of dollars spent to produce harvested. We had what he exaggerated as $500 beets and $100 carrots, and the like. (It wasn't that bad, I swear.)

After putting in the Back 40 landscaping, it appears my ratios are even more out of whack! The good news? This year's apparent bumper crop should put things to rights, one thousand dollar tomato at a time. Ha!


Saturday, July 5, 2014

#100HappyDays: A lazy Fourth of July

The best place to spend a 100-degree Fourth of July
Amid the canon balls, Olympic-level dives and doggy paddles (literally, on that last one, my parents have labs), my Fourth of July featured some base treachery. I'm talking pushing-people-into-the-pool-before-they-were-ready-OMG-I-have-water-up-my-nose-now maneuvers here people. Luckily, I did actually survive but it was close.

Along with family time and good BBQ, I got to "swim" wee little laps with Lady A. She's only five months old, but we see Olympic potential. Great day!
The fam in all its crazy glory.
The best of a dozen post-swimming selfies.