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.

With Great Exposure Comes Great Fear

I have been struggling with the amount of attention (and requests for engagement) that have come my way as a result of a couple of blog posts I wrote about intersectionality in librarianship. In an attempt to understand why I felt like I was slowly having the top layers of my skin flayed off, I started reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly.

You know how you can read a text and find so much that resonates with you that the whole thing glows with highlighter marks and is littered with post it notes? If I were reading a paper copy, this would be one of those books. Alas, it’s an ebook.

Anyway, Brown, if you aren’t familiar with her work, focuses on the ways that shame and a fear of vulnerability keeps us from achievement, whether in personal or professional contexts. Early in the book she relates the story of her journey toward accepting the increased attention she received as a result of her TEDxHouston talk. Her inclination had been to shrink from the spotlight, not because she didn’t believe in her research, but because she was afraid to make herself vulnerable. She writes:

In a culture full of critics and cynics, I have always felt safer in my career flying under the radar.

Seeing this in print had such an effect on me that I couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed and hobble over to my computer, I had to immediately peck this entry out on my iPhone.

I am as critical and cynical as the next person. That may be why I was attracted to UX work in the first place, and why I feel so comfortable with my position as the Merry Snarkster in #LibrarianTwitter. But if I’m being honest — and I think it’s time I do that for once — the level of cynicism I’ve seen on Twitter, blogs, and library publications of late is disturbing. It’s disappointing, and disheartening and the idea of opening myself up to these well-honed slings and arrows scares the shit out of me.

It isn’t because I don’t believe in what I have to say, or because I believe it isn’t important. I just don’t want to invite the negativity into my life, especially now when I feel ill-prepared to handle it in a mature and emotionally detached fashion.

I think the cynicism is dangerous, and I think it silences just as many people as the fear of racist, sexist, or homophobic reprisal does.

I don’t have any answers, and obviously, this is something I’ll have to keep working on in my own life, but at the risk of losing an audience who expects snark and sass from me, I’m going to do my best not to contribute to the bitter back channel anymore.

And while I’m at it, I’ll also work on stepping out from behind a persona and allowing you to see who I really am, scars, warts and all.