After the Love Has Gone

I’m Cecily, I’m a librarian, and I’ve come to hate reading.

That’s not exactly true — my (barely) managed depression and (increased) anxiety have robbed me of the ability to process anything more than tweets, Facebook posts from the Hobonichi group, and texts from loved ones. Losing myself in novels and non-fiction is where I found comfort for so many years, but now it only adds to my already out-of-control anxiety and self-doubt.

I’ve found other pursuits in the meantime, like drawing and writing in my journal, but I miss the immersive experience of floating within a well-crafted story. Has this ever happened to you? What did you do to get back to reading?

My Distraction Sickness

Andrew Sullivan’s essay for New York Magazine seems especially timely, given that a few of my friends are taking hiatuses from social media at present.

I was, in other words, a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web. And as the years went by, I realized I was no longer alone. Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. Twitter emerged as a form of instant blogging of microthoughts. Users were as addicted to the feedback as I had long been — and even more prolific. Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating. I remember when I decided to raise the ante on my blog in 2007 and update every half-hour or so, and my editor looked at me as if I were insane. But the insanity was now banality; the once-unimaginable pace of the professional blogger was now the default for everyone.

This has been my reality for so long, I’m honestly not sure if I can imagine living any other way. I justify it by saying it helps me keep in touch with friends far and wide, but how in touch am I, really, when the majority of my updates come through the firehose of my Twitter timeline and are condensed to 140 characters?


A former romantic partner used to have a very active, very rich social circle that he kept in constant touch with through his laptop (and his phone, to a smaller extent). When I’d visit him in the Bay Area, his laptop was a third party in our bed. And I never felt like I could ask him to only focus on me, because those other people in his life were important too. What I eventually realized is that by taking advantage of the very limited time I had to spend with him and giving it to other people, he was showing me in no uncertain terms that I didn’t really matter at all.1 It’s now why I insist that current romantic partners put their phones away and silence any notifications while we’re together. As Sullivan writes:

Truly being with another person means being experientially with them, picking up countless tiny signals from the eyes and voice and body language and context, and reacting, often unconsciously, to every nuance. These are our deepest social skills, which have been honed through the aeons. They are what make us distinctively human.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully unplug. I want to get to a place where I can at least read quietly again, without sharing what I’m feeling at every moment with the ever-present dopamine injection that is my list of Twitter followers and Facebook friends. I want to hold hands, feel skin against skin, notice the way someone’s forehead furrows, and the way their eyes sparkle with laughter. But how can I do that in an unmediated way without being independently wealthy? But the distractions of my online life aren’t doing me any favours personally or professionally, and I think I could benefit greatly from sitting with the discomfort of quiet long enough for it to start to fit like a well-loved pair of slippers.


  1. I’m no saint here, either. The time I should’ve been spending with my spouse, I was spending it on the long-distance relationship and throwing my energies there. We live, we learn. 

Things I’ve Learned as a Manager

What Has Being A Manager Taught Me About Work?

  • Manage expectations, manage projects, but don’t manage time
    • Maker’s Schedule: fewer meetings, shorter meetings, more time for focused, uninterrupted work
    • Manager’s Schedule: for bosses. Highly structured, always know where you’re going next 1
  • Give people more responsibility, flexibility, and power
  • Stay out of the weeds. Less detail is better in most cases.
  • Create an environment where people can thrive
  • Always believe in your staff, especially when they don’t believe in themselves
  • My fundamental responsibility is to equip people with the tools they need to succeed.

What Has Being A Manager Taught Me About Myself?

  • I’m a better manager when my team feels empowered, listened to, and respected.
  • Managing people’s emotional frailties and personal problems will always be difficult for me, as I value privacy, and don’t want to meddle.
  • There is such a thing as being too aloof.
  • You will either learn to get over your own insecurities/imposter syndrome, or you will fail.
  • The line between too much process and too little is paper-thin: too much process and projects become mired in overhead. Too little, and people will lose their way.
  • Being a manager highlights the worst parts of my cynical, distrustful nature.
  • Being a manager highlights the best parts of my empathetic, ride-or-die nature.
  • I am happiest when I am leading — not managing — others.

Capture Bonding & Professional Respectability

Many of us have made a life of hoping to get chosen for jobs, chosen for awards, chosen for acceptance from people, structures and corporations bred on white supremacy. We’re hoping to get chosen by people who can not see us. Knowing that they hate and terrorize us doesn’t stop us from wanting to get chosen. That’s the crazy thing. Everything about this country told Grandma, a black woman born in Central Mississippi in 1920s, to love, honor and forgive white folks. And this country still tells me, a black boy born in Mississippi in the 1970s, to titillate and tend to the emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of white people in my work.

Kiese Laymon makes me want to hang up my keyboard and forget about writing on the regular. His piece for The Guardian, “Black churches taught us to forgive white people. We learned to shame ourselves” is no exception.

As I’m inclined to do, I try to relate articles like this with my experience as a black professional in a predominately white profession. My reluctance to put myself forward for jobs, speaking opportunities, or even acceptance from people is my way of staging resistance. Why participate in rituals and structures that aren’t designed with me in mind, and are only invested in supporting my success if I perform in such a way that makes me visible to them? This resistance often comes with a high price; visibility and professional accolades sometimes come at the expense of my own sense of worth.

We bond with our captors1, develop sympathy for them, and become convinced that their way is the only way. The indignities and traumas continue to mount, but we smile, we dance, we submit papers and answer calls for proposals, because the alternative is professional obscurity.

It is insanity.


  1. This phenomenon is also known as stockholm syndrome. 

2014 Year in Review

I’ve been busy, folks…

Professional

Courses I’ve Taken

  • Web Developer Track at Skillcrush, which included HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Ruby, Git, and Sinatra
  • HTML, CSS, Javascript and Ruby at Treehouse
  • Managing Small Projects at Lynda.com
  • Customer Service workshop at MPOW
  • Creating a Respectful Workplace workshop at MPOW
  • Problem Solving workshop at MPOW

Work Projects

  • Intranet redesign: guided the organization through implementing a new intranet (based on Thoughtfarmer)
  • Skilled Immigrant Info Centre redesign: this was quite the experience. In many ways, I think the project was a failure, but it was also an incredible learning opportunity for future projects.
  • West End Stories: minimal role; consulted on some UX, coached members of the Web Team on a few web development items, added some adminstrative work
  • Readers’ Advisory Social Media Pilot: worked with our Information Services division on a project to offer readers’ advisory via Facebook. Provided some coaching/information around social media best practices.
  • Reference Manual rewrite: worked as part of a team to simplify, modernize, and re-write the library’s reference manual (it was overdue)
  • Literary Landmarks: a work in progress. Coordinated the development of a website that will accompany the placement of commemorative plaques around the city of Vancouver that feature landmarks that have significant local and historical relevance. Site will launch in late January, 2015.

Personal

  • Met with the orthopaedic surgeon to discuss surgery options. He recommended a total knee replacement. I’m still waiting on a surgery date.
  • Started taking biologics for rheumatoid arthritis, and have felt most of my energy come back. Some of the stiffness and pain is still there, but it is drastically reduced.
  • Weight: the less said about this, the better
  • Was featured in Day One’s “The Way I Journal” series.
  • The Library Loon wrote a lovely piece about me for Ada Lovelace Day
  • Paid off my Canadian student loans
  • Paid off an outstanding tax bill to Revenue Canada
  • Was reported to the library board twice for things I said over Twitter. One was about “Nice White Librarians“(h/t to nina de jesus), the other was about public consultation in Vancouver’s most recent civic election, which someone interpreted as opposition to public consultation in library planning. I’ve intentionally kept quiet about this, but The Library Loon pretty much captures everything I haven’t been able to articulate. I’m scared to say anything to anyone at work these days, and a few personal friendships have suffered as a result. I don’t feel safe, and I don’t feel supported. These feelings of insecurity have really done a number on my mental and physical health.

This list doesn’t include any of the greater issues that caught my attention this year, like police brutality, marriage equality, the rise of civil disobedience (and how millennials and LGBT folks are leading the way in some very high profile cases), the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl, ad infinitum.

This is the part of the blog post where I should express gratitude for living through another year, and while it’s a miracle that this year didn’t kill me, I don’t know that I’m eager to see 2015, especially if it’s going to be anything like 2014. Still, the book is closing on this year, the world keeps turning, and despite society’s and my best attempts at the contrary, I plan to keep on keeping on for as long as I can.

Happy Solstice, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and a bountiful New Year to you all.

Finding Myself through Code

Just a note to let you know that you may experience some downtime and/or 404 not found messages while trying to access this content over the next little while. I’ve decided to move away from WordPress and give hosting a static website a try.

Why am I doing this? It has nothing to do with WordPress; not really. I (mostly) enjoy working with WordPress and will use it for many other projects in the future, but I need to challenge myself as a budding developer, and deploying static websites using Jekyll is one such challenge I’ve taken on.

So far, I’ve managed to run the site for Maptime Vancouver on Github Pages using Jekyll. Even though the configuration process left me scratching my head and swearing a few times, I enjoyed the work and, perhaps more tellingly, I loved how that success made me feel. Instead of running away the moment I ran into a problem I couldn’t solve, I persevered and eventually worked my way through a solution.

Somehow I managed to make it through this long life by sidestepping most intellectual and professional challenges that came my way. I’ve learned that I didn’t do this out of feelings of inadequacy, I did it because I allowed myself to create a world where I’m afraid to fail. Failure wasn’t an option for me, I thought, because as a black woman, I had to be twice as good as anyone else if I expected to get half as far. So rather than putting in the hard work, I checked myself out of the race, out of life and experiences. I let myself believe that I was okay accepting less.

Eventually the lie caught up to me.

I grew tired of hitting professional roadblocks and recommitted to strengthening my code skills. Thanks to a boss who has known me for a long time (and is probably long tired of my bitching and questioning), opportunities were recently created that allowed me to put some of my code skills to the test. More amazingly, even when the project went sideways, I didn’t view it as a failure. It’s the worst type of business-writing cliche there is, but this “failure” became a learning opportunity that revealed strengths and commonalities instead of reinforcing divisions and silos.

I’m learning. I’m growing. There are possibilities all around me, and my brain is crackling with excitement. Sure, I swear a lot more, and my brow may be permanently furrowed, but trust me when I say I am blissfully happy to be doing what I’m doing.

This was a long-winded way of saying that if you’re looking for specific entries on this website, you may not find them for a few days (hopefully not weeks).  You might be mildly inconvenienced, but hopefully the mental image of yours truly happily hacking away in the background will extend your patience.

Thank you.

A List of Things I Wish I Could Do

  • Swim, especially on hot summer days.
  • Ride a Gran Fondo
  • Make plants grow
  • Run
  • Dance – I don’t mean club dancing, or boogeying around your living room, I mean dance as in modern, ballet, jazz, tap.
  • Hike up a mountain
  • Speak another language fluently
  • Retire
  • Get a Ph.D.
  • Write with my left hand
  • Play guitar
  • Play drums
  • Knit
  • Paint
  • Draw
  • Sculpt
  • Make art of any kind, really
  • Stop taking antidepressants
  • Ride a motorcycle
  • Ask someone out on a date
  • Give myself a manicure and pedicure
  • Grow a really righteous afro

This is just the list as it exists at this moment in time. Ask me again tomorrow and there may well be a dozen other things added to it or taken away.

Scenes From a Bike Commute: Good Girl

A middle-aged woman with a riot of luscious gray curls crossed the street in front of me as I waited at the stop sign. She was walking a small, skittish dog, and as she drew nearer I heard her say “Good girl!”

“Look at you, all colour-coordinated!” she said to me as she crossed. I’m wearing a white cardigan over a turquoise sweater, blue jeggings rolled up to my calves, and mint-green and white New Balance 501s. You already know what my bike looks like.

She continued, “That’s really part of it, isn’t it? If you’re going to have to ride your bike, you might as well look good while doing it.” I laughed in agreement, and pedaled away.

But I still don’t know if the “good girl” was for me or for her dog.

Steal Away

I dream of being kidnapped.

In this scenario, the usual suspects would show up at my front door, their faces serious but their eyes alight with secret mirth. “Renee, take Cecily to the car,” Kay would say, “I’ll take care of packing a bag for her.” Don’t worry about Ella, don’t worry about work, don’t worry about anything else except to tell me where you keep your iPad’s charger, because we are breaking you out.

There’d be two other carloads of people waiting downstairs, and much to my surprise, Tiffany, Michelle, and Erica would be there. How my BC friends pulled this off, I’ll never imagine. Renee would hustle me into the back seat of Kay’s SUV (Kay’s Jen always rides shotgun), and in the time it takes me to think of a reason why I shouldn’t go on this trip, we’d be on our way.

Mile after sun-drenched mile of highway would disappear under our wheels. We’d stop at roadside attractions (read that as roadside microbreweries) and sample the local brews. Phones would be passed around as we took funny pictures of each other, and both halves of my “logical family” would come together and get to know each other better.

After several hours of driving, we’d arrive in Penticton or Naramata, or someplace sunnier, much warmer, and more arid than Vancouver could ever be. “No, Cecily, don’t worry about it. Leave your stuff, we’ll bring it in. You take the downstairs bedroom and relax for a bit.” My friends would bustle around turning our rental into our weekend home. I’ll fuss and fret because I like to protest more than I like to help, and it’s important for me to put on a show of being broken up about not being able to scurry around.

The smell of applewood charcoal fills the air as Kay and Michelle tend to the grill. Tiffany’s over there mixing cocktails for everyone, and the way the sun glints off her movie-star sunglasses is a wondrous thing. Jen and Erica are talking about kickboxing and fitness training, and Renee is heading down to the riverside wearing a big floppy straw hat with an absurdly gaudy flower on it’s crown. I’m on the beach turning the colour of freshly-tilled soil, feeling my hair crackle and my nostrils dry out, but caring not one iota because being this warm, basking like this while surrounded by the people I love most is far more curative than any of the multi-syllabic medications I’m taking to treat my RA. Warm, wonderful women, laughter, drinks, food, and sunshine.

Who wouldn’t want to steal away for a weekend like that?

Scenes From a Commute – A Boy and His Bunny

I don’t exactly recall how this exchange between strangers turned into one of my favourite things about my daily ride through my neighbourhood, but I’ve lived long enough to know that life will always find ways to surprise me.

Because I don’t cook much these days (standing for longer than 5 minutes at a time is too difficult), I spend a lot of time going to the faux-fancy market down the street from my apartment for ready-made meals. I usually stop on the way home from work, park Rizzo out front, and hobble my way inside without so much as a second glance at other people on the street. But when someone is sitting in front of the store with a tiny tan and white rabbit,  I can’t help but notice.

The rabbit’s owner is a youngish man, probably in his early 30s, and is in a wheelchair. He keeps his hair buzzed short, and the most brilliantly blue eyes I’ve ever seen. They’re the kind of blue that can’t be disguised by nightfall. Yet as bright as they are, some days they seem a little vacant. I say that without judgement, because I have no idea what he has to do to make it through his day, but it is something I notice whenever I see him.

I wanted to know more about this man, and about how he and his tiny little friend found each other, but I was shy and he was wary. It wasn’t until the third time we saw each other in front of the store that we finally exchanged words.

“Hey, you weren’t limping like that when I saw you the other day,” he said as I awkwardly dismounted from my bike. His voice was friendly, but concerned. I didn’t want to give him my life story, but I explained how I get these shots in my bad knee and for a few days afterward, walking is really difficult. He gestured to his legs. “I know,” he said, with a heartbreaking amount of tenderness in his voice. I felt like an oblivious and privileged jerk.

I asked him if he needed anything from the store, not because I’m hesitant to give panhandlers money, but to make this encounter a little more personal. I thought he’d ask for something to eat or something for his pet, but instead he asked for lemonade drink crystals, the kind of sugar-laden goodness that I haven’t been able to enjoy for years.

On a different night he saw me leaving the drugstore. “You’re walking pretty good today!” he said as I walked to my bike. I was on the way to meet friends and couldn’t stop to chat, but as he saw me riding away he called out “You’re riding pretty good, too!” I rang my bell as a salute and pedalled away with a wave.

On Thursday, at the end of an emotionally and physically demanding day, I saw him in front of the grocery store. Part of me was happy to see him. He had some track lighting in his lap, and his little brown buddy was sitting at his feet, calmly sniffing the sidewalk. I was having a hard time finding a place to lock my bike when he wheeled over and parked his chair at the end of the bike rack. “Hey, why don’t you just leave it here? I’ll watch it for you.”

And even though I eventually found a place to lock up, for the briefest moment I trusted him enough to seriously consider his offer. I can’t explain why, but I did.

He said, “You’re limping pretty bad today,” and this time I could clearly hear the concern in his voice. I tried to downplay it, to divert attention away from it, but he wouldn’t let me. “I know what that’s like, to enjoy something that seems so easy, but then you have days when you just can’t make things work. One day I was jumping my bike off stairs and trails, and the next day I’d lost everything.”

The silence was awkward and pregnant, and all I could do was sheepishly agree with him. For some reason I felt ashamed, and I most certainly felt exposed, seeing that the mask that I wear every day had been so artfully and carefully stripped from my face by someone who didn’t really know me at all.

I asked him about the lights, and he told me some guys from the construction sites across the street gave them to him. “I’m going to take it home, put them over a little sod that they gave me, and plant her a little garden in my apartment. I know a little something about lighting. I used to work construction before.” He didn’t have to say before when, because we both knew when he meant. Before his accident, he had been a construction foreman. He’d also been something of a daredevil on a bicycle.

“Yeah, a couple of days before I had my accident over on the north shore, I jumped my bike off the roof of the convention centre onto the bike path below. It was CRAZY!” he said, and his eyes lit up and his face was more animated than I’d ever seen it.

I offered to buy him something from the store, and he accepted, and asked me if I wouldn’t mind “throwing in some parsley for her.” After I made my purchases and handed him a bag with a sandwich and some parsley in it, I stuck out my hand and said “I’m Cecily. What’s your name?”

“I’m Theo. Nice to meet you Cecily,” and he tenderly shook my hand. As I worked at untangling my bike from the pretzel of cables, handlebars and locks, I heard him mutter my name. “That’s a nice name. What’s that from?” I tried explaining the Cicely Tyson/Cecily thing to him, but he hadn’t heard of Ms. Tyson before, and that’s when I realized just how young he really was. “I’ll try to remember it but I might not always get it right. Don’t get mad at me, OK?” I promised him I wouldn’t, and said he could just call me “C” if it was easier.

We talked a bit more about bikes, about pets (the rabbit’s name is Babies), and then I turned to pedal home. As I rode away, he called out “Keep going, you’re almost home!”

I don’t know whether getting so familiar with a panhandler is a good or a bad thing, and I’m not really sure I care. Instead, I’d rather work from a position of trust and openness rather than suspicion. I may come to regret it at some point; I sincerely hope I don’t. But until then, I’m going to enjoy getting to know Theo and Babies a little better as I’m sure to run into them again.

Besides, I want to hear more about Babies’ garden patch.