Housekeeping is still a book that haunts my times of meditation and quiet moments

Everything that falls upon the eye is apparition, a sheet dropped over the world's true workings. The nerves and the brain are tricked, and one is left with dreams that these specters loose their hands from ours and walk away, the curve of the back and the swing of the coat so familiar as to imply that they should be permanent fixtures of the world, when in fact nothing is more perishable.

Marilynn Robinson writing in Housekeeping


After spending some moments on social media - why do we often feel worse at the end of that time?

A reflection from Brooke Gladstone of WNYC’s On The Media on why using social media is more often dishearenting than uplifting.

Brooke is one of my favorite media commentators, and in this audio essay she looks at how the competition between T-Series and PewDiePie may illuminate uncomfortable truths about human nature, and how internet companies gamify it, more than it might say anything about personal or group ideologies and bigotries.

Screenshot of FlareTV's live subscriber count for the PewDiePie vs T-Series competition ( FlareTV / Youtube )

Screenshot of FlareTV's live subscriber count for the PewDiePie vs T-Series competition ( FlareTV / Youtube )

I'm guessing that not many of you ever did care about him. But this show is about big symbolic issues. So I'll end on the ones addressed earlier this hour, the perils of capitalism and what happens when the basic human need for attention is denied and wrap them both up in the saga of PewDiePie. This week Eli Pariser wrote in Time magazine about restoring dignity to technology. And he drew on the work of Harvard researcher Donna Hicks, who tracked how violent conflict around the world arises from assaults to human dignity. How being excluded stimulates the same part of the brain as a physical wound. Pariser laid out how online platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube threaten our dignity. Ignoring what we want and distracting us with what we don't, so that we stay and stay and stay.

Eager eyeballs, angry eyeballs, anguished eyeballs are all worth the same. PewDiePie knows this and he may be sorry, but not that sorry. Extrapolate to the culture, it's not hard and you'll see that it doesn't respect us either. I used to blame human nature for the messes we made online and off. But I'm starting to realize that our natures are plastic. We could be enticed easily to be our better selves but we wouldn't be worth as much. Because we wouldn't need to stay so long.

A Quote on What We Lose at the End of the World

A passage I can't get out of my mind from my recent reading of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This quote comes at a point in the book where a character is categorizing what was lost after a deadly flu wiped out a significant portion of the world's population.

An incomplete list:

No more diving into pools of chlorinated water lit green from below. No more ball games played out under floodlights. No more porch lights with moths fluttering on summer nights. No more trains running under the surface of cities on the dazzling power of the electric third rail. No more cities. No more films, except rarely, except with a generator drowning out half the dialogue, and only then for the first little while until the fuel for the generators ran out, because automobile gas goes stale after two or three years. Aviation gas lasts longer, but it was difficult to come by.

No more screens shining in the half-light as people raise their phones above the crowd to take pictures of concert states. No more concert stages lit by candy-colored halogens, no more electronica, punk, electric guitars.

No more pharmaceuticals. No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one’s hand, a cut on a finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite.
No more flight. No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows, points of glimmering light; no more looking down from thirty thousand feet and imagining the lives lit up by those lights at that moment. No more airplanes, no more requests to put your tray table in its upright and locked position – but no, this wasn’t true, there were still airplanes here and there. They stood dormant on runways and in hangars. They collected snow on their wings. In the cold months, they were ideal for food storage. In summer the ones near orchards were filled with trays of fruit that dehydrated in the heat. Teenagers snuck into them to have sex. Rust blossomed and streaked.

No more countries, all borders unmanned.
No more fire departments, no more police. No more road maintenance or garbage pickup. No more spacecraft rising up from Cape Canaveral, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, from Vandenburg, Plesetsk, Tanegashima, burning paths through the atmosphere into space.

No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.”
— - Emily St. John Mandel

A Quote on Current Events

A passage from Between The World and Me that has been rolling through my mind and heart over the past week.

A society, almost necessarily, begins every success story with the chapter that most advantages itself, and in America, these precipitating chapters are almost always rendered as the singular action of exceptional individuals. “It only takes one person to make a change,” you are often told. This is also a myth. Perhaps one person can make a change, but not the kind of change that would raise your body to equality with your countrymen.

The fact of history is that black people have not - probably no people ever have ever - liberated themselves strictly through their own efforts. In every great change in the lives of African Americans we see the hand of events that were beyond our individual control, events that were not unalloyed goods. You cannot disconnect our emancipation in the Northern colonies from the blood spilled in the Revolutionary War, any more than you can disconnect our emancipation from slavery in the South from the charnel houses of the Civil War, any more than you can disconnect our emancipation from Jim Crow from the genocides of the Second World War. History is not solely in our hands. And still you are called to struggle, not because it assures you victory but because it assures you an honorable and sane life...

...This is the import of the history all around us, though very few people like to think about it. Had I informed this woman that when she pushed my son, she was acting according to a tradition that held black bodies as lesser, her response would likely have been, “I am not racist.” Or maybe not. But my experience in this world has been that people who believe themselves to be white are obsessed with the politics of personal exoneration. And the word racist, to them, conjures, if not tobacco-spitting oaf, then something just as fantastic - an orc, troll, or gorgon. “I’m not racist,” an entertainer once insisted after being filmed repeatedly yelling at a heckler: “He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger!” Considering segregationist senator Strom Thurmond, Richard Nixon concluded. “Strom is no racist.” There are no racists in America, or at least non that the people who need to be white know personally. In the era of mass lynching, it was so difficult to find who, specifically, served as executioner that such deaths were often reported by the press as having happened “at the hands of persons unknown.” In 1957, the white residents of Levittown, Pennsylvania, argued for their right to keep their town segregated. “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens,” the group wrote, “we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.” This was the attempt to commit a shameful act while escaping all sanction, and I raise it to show you that there was no golden era when evildoers did their business and loudly proclaimed it as such.

”We prefer to say that such people cannot exist, that there aren’t any,” writes Solzhenitsyn. “To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law.” This is the foundation of the Dream - its adherents must not just believe in it but believe that it is just, believe that their possession of the Dream is the natural result of grit, honor, and good works. There is some passing knowledge of the bad old days, which, by the way, were not so bad as to have any ongoing effect on our present. The mettle that it takes to look away from the horror of our prison system, from police forces transformed into armies, from the long war against the black body, is not forged overnight. This is the practiced habit of jabbing out one’s eyes and forgetting the work of one’s hands. To acknowledge these horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning toward something murkier and unknown. It is still too difficult for most Americans to do this. But that is your work. It must be, if only to preserve the sanctity of your mind.
— Ta-Nehisi Coats in Between The World and Me

As we enter a new era of political order and social dialogue, I hope to keep these words at the forefront of my mind.

Vulnerability, Perfectionism and #newSApro Status

"Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: 'I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.' Healthy striving is self - focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other focused: What will they think? Perfectionism is a hustle." 

-Dr. Brene Brown

The winter view from my office window

The winter view from my office window

Being a new professional is lonely. My personal experience of launching off to establish a professional identity in a new place has included occasional feelings of isolation and a sense that I'm running a maze I should know but can't always recall where to turn.  I find myself asking "am I doing something wrong?"

I think the fundamental dissonance I'm experiencing boils down to the following question: do my peers think I am doing a good job? Tragically, finding a verifiable answer to this question wouldn't assuage my sense of loneliness or perceived inadequacy. No, the question itself reveals the engine of disharmony I feel about my chosen profession and professional identity. 

I should note the delineation between my professional and personal identity. I refuse to believe that life is so easily compartmentalized. I choose here to draw a distinction between the two to illustrate a larger point about transitioning into a new job or workplace. Much about my recent move to Kansas has gone splendidly, and I truly appreciate both the Lawrence community and the place I work. That being said, I know I'm not the only one experiencing a sense of frustration and isolation in the midst of working at a place you KNOW you belong. My hope is this post will serve as an acknowledgement that YOU (dear reader) aren't the only one feeling those feels. 

The Tyranny Of Perfectionism

The view from my typical lunch table. 

The view from my typical lunch table. 

New professionals do things wrong. I've already said "oops" and "ouch" several times this year. The first couple of times I would walk away from these instances with my insides all tied up in knots. If my supervisor made the comment, "well, lets make sure that situation doesn't come up again," or "in the future this is how this situation needs to be handled," I assumed that I was a fundamentally flawed employee. At no point in the conversations that followed such mistakes did my supervisor express that I didn't deserve to be where I was. I drifted towards such thoughts anyways. My perspective in such moments isn't rooted in a desire to do my job well, it's rooted in a desire to be perfect.

Perfectionism is a terrible burden to carry. Where does the imperative to remain crystal clean come from? The answer to that question is probably grist for years of therapy, but professionally, there are some systemic elements that encourage this unhealthy striving. 

In "Becoming Socialized in Student Affairs Administration" (2009) Tull et. al. posit that there are three initial stages connected to a professional's integration into a new administrative position: 

1) Formal Stage: characterized as "learning the ropes" and full of formal training and integration. 

2) Informal Stage: characterized as learning "the realities of working life in the position." A professional hasn't necessarily personalized the role, but is learning beyond how things should be done to how things actually look when addressed in the position. Another way to characterize this might be by saying that a new employee begins to run up against the "unwritten rules" of the position. 

3) Personal Stage: characterized by "Having learned the ropes in the formal stage and decoded the unwritten rules in the informal stage, the new professional truly inhabits the professional role and develops a personal style consistent with the role." 

Each of these stages is composed of personal, professional, institutional, and extra-institutional realms that influence the day-to-day experience of being-in-the-professional-workplace. Each of these stages carries its own set of burdens, challenges, and potentials for excellence. Each stage requires a crucible of trial and error, courage and perseverance. IF one's goal is to "stick a perfect landing" in each of these remain pristine and not make mistakes, professional growth cannot occur. Perfectionism can ultimately mean operating out of a sense of fear, not inspiration. 

Finding Space For Vulnerability In the Workplace 

The place I typically reflect and collect my thoughts. 

The place I typically reflect and collect my thoughts. 

Mastering the on-boarding process is not the solution to the potentially debilitating effects of perfectionism. Cultivating a posture of vulnerability is a helpful step towards a sustainable solution. Moving to a new area of the country, cultivating relationships with coworkers, and tackling the typical problems associated with my line of work are all grist for the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that my efforts aren't enough.

In her book Daring Greatly, sociologist Dr. Brene Brown highlights the effects of living in a culture that is hyper aware of scarcity, and ultimately encourages dwelling on the things we lack. As she puts it:

 Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don't have, and how much everyone else has, needs and wants. (pg. 27) 

Dr. Brown's solution, ultimately, is seeking a posture of vulnerability in relation to the world around you. Vulnerability here is described as "uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure." ...It's hard for me to think of a better encapsulation of the first year in a new job. For Dr. Brown vulnerability, when understood and utilized incorrectly, can lead to intense feelings of shame. Shame, particularly when combined with perfectionism can lead to a debilitating loss of agency. 

I've taken to routinely asking two questions in my effort to embrace the inherent vulnerability of being a new professional:

1) Are there individuals with whom I can be real? We all need space to vent and individuals we can share our work stories with, but this question also cuts deeper. Inherently, I'm asking whether or not there are folks I'm willing to share my shortcomings and fears with. Are there people I'm willing to reveal my missteps with? We all need to be honest about where we need to improve. 

2) Am I framing an issue or a problem I'm facing through the lens of "what will my standing with others be based off the action I take?" Should I be mindful of the implications of my actions on my supervisor, those I supervise, and the students I serve? - Yes. However, addiction to the approval and praise of the constituents involved can quickly turn toxic. 

This too shall pass 

Eventually, being a "new professional" gives way to familiarity with the institution and a personal interpretation of my role and how I can contribute to the life of the community. Meanwhile, this crucible that is "the first year" provides an opportunity to examine both personal and professional assumptions that influence my being-in-the-world. I'm comforted to know that I am not the only individual working through this transition.

What do YOU (dear reader) think? How have you managed the transition into a new phase of professional life? What did you learn along the way? 




Brown, Brene. (2012) Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books. 

(Ed.) Tull, Ashley., Hirt, Joan B., Saunders, Sue A.. (2009) Becoming Socialized in Student Affairs Administration.  Sterling, Virginia: Stylus. 

A morning view from my favorite stairwell in the KU Memorial Union

A morning view from my favorite stairwell in the KU Memorial Union