Thursday, December 4, 2014

Innocent While White is More Privileged than Criming That Way

I've been sort of contemplating how to put a real explanation to my own understanding of privilege as I experience it, and today during a conversation with a friend, this memory came up:

During college, I worked in a gas station, and there had been some isolated robberies of local stations.  One night, due to an electrical malfunction, the silent alarm went off.  I found out about it because my district manager called to see if I was Ok, and then the 911 operator called.  She asked me if I'd pressed the silent alarm.  I said, "Oh, I just got off the phone with my district manager about that; he said the alarm company called him.  No, I didn't push the button.  I'm not sure what happened.  No one's robbing the store."  She said, "Just yes or no, is there someone there in the store with a weapon?"  I said no.  She said, "Is anyone listening to you?  Is anyone at all there?  Are you being coerced?"  I said, "No, nothing like that.  I haven't had a customer for ten or fifteen minutes, even.  It's pretty slow tonight."  She said they'd send police.  I said, "Sure, if you want."  There was also a discussion about how I couldn't come out the 'front door' because there were doors on opposite sides of the store, but I would come to the east door.

Somehow this got communicated to the responding officer as 'suspected robbery in progress, employee may be hostage.'

Over the next ten or fifteen minutes, I continued stocking the cigarettes (pulling cartons out of the cupboard and stacking them up), dropped money because the alarm call had reminded me to check the drawer (opened the register, took out money, counted it, put it down behind the counter out of sight), and did the nightly liquor count (crouched down behind the counter out of sight, occasionally popping back up with a bottle in hand).  Meanwhile, a member of the police department arrived on scene and watched me do all these things, through a western window that didn't allow him to see any of the rest of the store.  I was not wearing a uniform, a company shirt, a nametag, or anything else to mark me as an employee.  Flannel shirt, baggy pants, combat boots, concert tee.

I eventually noticed the police car in the lot, and went over to the western door to wave at him and tell him it was OK.  There was no one in the driver's seat, so I stepped out to look around.  A hissing noise to my right caught my attention, where I found a cop, with his gun drawn, motioning me over to him.  He kept hissing, "Ma'am, are you all right?  Who's in the store?"  I told him, "I'm fine, there's no one in the store."

He had no reason to believe that the person who'd been pulling out cigarettes and liquor, and cash from the cash register, worked there.  But when I told him I was fine and there was no one else there, he got back in his car and drove away.  Didn't go in.  Didn't look around.  Didn't ask for any proof that I worked there.  Didn't call my boss and ask him to confirm my identity.  Didn't even ask my name or to see my ID.

At the time, I thought the overreacting cop with his gun out was just funny.  But in recent years, looking back at that experience, i understand just how differently that situation might have gone down if I hadn't been white.  How the fact that he was standing there with his gun drawn wasn't scary because it never occurred to me that he might shoot *me*.  How I didn't immediately think, "I should put on my company shirt so they don't think I'm a robber."  How it just plain never occurred to me to consider that 'not being a criminal' is not always a shield.  How easily I assumed that no one would ever think I might rob a convenience store by looking at me.  How somewhere, in the back of my own head, the perception of 'who robs a convenience store' was fueled by TV images of black gangbangers with their guns held sideways, and no one could possibly think that was me, so I felt safe.

Whether that particular cop would have reacted differently isn't the issue; the full set of experiences I had that dictated my expectations in my relationship with law enforcement is.  The words 'unjustly accused' or 'police brutality' belonged in tidy one-hour chunks of Law & Order or NYPD Blue, because those were a fiction I'd never seen personally.  In my world cops had mostly been, if not strictly helpful, at least benign.

There's a thing floating around that is 'criming while white', people talking about getting away with various crimes because of their white privilege.  I think that's probably less effective than understanding that inequality in justice and enforcement is not about whether I can get away with petty theft or assault without police treating me like a criminal, it's about how I can 'get away' with the daily experiences of my life that way.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Blood Harvest

As I was taught it, the harvest comes in three parts each year.  The first harvest, generally speaking, is gathering the early bounty of fruit and tender greens, the second harvest is the late summer/early fall reaping of the fields, and the third harvest is the butchering, done once the weather has cooled enough to keep meat through the winter.

The general associations with each harvest persist, because the *concept* of the harvest is integral to modern paganism as it's practiced, but we've moved away from the practical reality of it as we've abandoned our agricultural lifestyle.  'Harvest' has come to be synonymous, for many modern pagans, with getting what you've worked for, a reward to for the energy you've expended.

We mostly talk of how we reap what we have sown and tended, how we gather in all that we've planted.  We talk of projects coming to fruition, and at most we look out over our backyard gardens, pleased with the bounty we've brought to our own table.

In that transition to metaphor, the real meaning of the darkest harvest is often lost.

The first harvest is a collection of bounty.  Fruits, new shoots, tender growth the fertile earth really can't help but lavish upon us.  We celebrate sweetness, what is rich and delicious and delicate.  We preserve little of this first harvest, because it is meant to delight, not to sustain.  Perhaps we make some jellies, flavor oil or wine or vinegar, but even what we save of this harvest serves to accentuate life, not sustain it.

My celebration of this harvest has grown out of a delighted gratitude at all the world gives me, even when I do not tend it.  I take joy in beauty, in wonder, and in the general abundance of the life in the world.  The sacred earth of the first harvest is freshly turned and fragrant, soft beneath my feet.

The second harvest, the grain and the root, is the workhorse.  We gather what we've carefully tended, pulling in all that our own hard work has brought to fruition.  We honor the seeds that we've planted, and we celebrate a world in which directed energy brings useful reward.  From the second harvest, we take the daily bread, the sturdy beer, the unglamorous turnip.  Most of it is saved away, preserved because we will depend upon it later -- and because unlike salad greens or strawberries, a few weeks in a dark cabinet doesn't much change a potato.

For the second harvest, I honor my own hard work and practicality.  I take time to appreciate the fruits of my own labor, the work of my life.  The sacred earth of the second harvest is beneath my own nails and ground into the cracks of my hands.

The third harvest is the darkest: blood, sacrifice and loss.  What you brought into the world, that which you have tended, and loved, and cared for most patiently, you must kill.  This is no bloodless scything; the dark harvest requires you to face that sacrifice, look it in the eye, and destroy it entirely.  Take something you have loved, slit its throat and spill its blood, and then butcher it for your own survival.

The sacred earth of the third harvest is the cooling earth of oncoming winter, softened and warmed only because it is soaked in blood.

For the third harvest, I honor and acknowledge my own loss.  Friends and family taken too soon, or those whose passing marked the end of suffering.  Missed opportunities, friendships broken, love that failed to sustain a relationship.  I sit with the empty spaces in my own heart, and I respect that as the veil has thinned and the Wild Hunt rides, Death walks among us not as a stranger, but as one of us -- and that I walk as Death as well.

That is the nature of this harvest.  To honor loss and sacrifice, to respect the full cycle of the year,  I can't stop short with a barrier between myself and my own identity as destroyer.  I can't stand as protector only, guarding that which I love from all who would injure it (including myself).  I cannot only nurture, I cannot only collect and tend the bounty of the world.

I must, for this harvest, be willing to look at my life, see what must die for me to thrive, and end it as quickly, mercifully, and completely as possible.

This year, nothing seems particularly fit for the blade.  In past years, I might have offered a token sacrifice, given up some trait of personality or favored object, but my understanding of sacrifice has deepened: one must not only lose something much beloved, but that spilled blood must have *purpose* to be sacred.  So I hold my blade ready, and I bide my time, and my only offering at the moment is my willingness to accept my own dark goddess.

Blessed be the light and the dark, and all those beloved.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Just Another Lady Without a Baby

I am what the parlance of courtesy calls a Woman Of A Certain Age.

That age is the one where motherhood becomes progressively more risky and unlikely, and where a childless state becomes clearly a matter of failed biology or deliberate choice.  If, by my time of life, there is no child I am assumed to either be committed to that or incapable of anything else, and how I am perceived as a woman is often based in which pigeonhole I occupy.

When I meet new people, one of their first questions is "Oh, do you have kids?"  That I'm usually asked that before I'm asked about jobs, interests, hobbies, or non-offspring family is telling.  We still view women primarily in light of their status as mothers, and other concerns remain secondary.

My reasons for not having children are complicated; they are also my own.  I am not inclined, or obligated for that matter, to share them with strangers.

But my simple 'no' is insufficient.  There must be a reason, and I owe that reason to the world.  The silence that follows an uninflected, "No, I don't.  Do you?" carries a weight and dimension of its own, as the listener tries to figure out if I am to be pitied, envied, or judged.

Do I leave behind me a string of miscarriages, fruitless pregnancy tests, weeping doctor visits?  Are there abortions in my past, surgeries to render me willfully barren and sexually agent, in defiance of my expected role in this world?  Have I been a careful creature, calculating days and pills and prophylactic success rates, limiting my pleasure by the prevention of procreation?

And then there's the Why of my absent motherhood.  Am I one of the Selfish Women, who puts her own needs and goals and desires above the imaginary child's?  That identity sparks envy from some, defiant sorority from others, and scorn from the largest part.  Am I a Failed Mother, unable to conceive or carry to term?  There's a smug pity she's often given by those who breed easily, and a careful empathy from those who've struggled themselves.  Did I want and lose my children, did I avoid or terminate pregnancies, am I one of the sad sisterhood of women who've borne and lost living children?

At my age, now, there is the question of whether I waited too long.  Did I put my own needs forward for too many years, only to be punished for it in my fourth or fifth decade?  Have I been desperately trying, am I even now willing a small life to take hold in my precarious womb?

There is, of course, the conundrum.  A woman who has children in her twenties, when it's healthiest but least fiscally sound, is judged if circumstance makes her unable to care for them, requires her to seek assistance.  A woman who waits until later years, when it's more stable but less simple to conceive, is judged for her selfishness; if she cannot have the children she planned so carefully to support others laugh behind their hands at her presumption, that she felt she had any right to dictate terms to Mother Nature.

I used to ease that silence for everyone.  I'd distill my reasons into a single sentence that let them, as accurately as possible, know where I fall.  Whether to discuss their own children with smug pride at my failure or resentment at my rejection, or simple sympathy.  Whether to offer banal platitudes about how nice adoption can be or how I must enjoy my freedom.  Whether to share their own stories of hope or frustration, whether to revel in a joyous sisterhood of unstained carpets and cheerio-free car floors.  I no longer do that, because I've spent enough time now validating and explaining my life, and I feel that at this point, I'm done.  Generally, if another woman answers with "No, me either," we talk briefly about our reasons -- not because we share childlessness, but because we share the experience of being that way in the world where we live.

In some communities this lot is easier.  Among my pagans and my nerd friends, being a parent or not is a data point.  Usually it relates to "Which things do I invite you to, and do you have kids I can use as an excuse to shop for tauntaun sleeping bags?"  The silence there is short, and usually ends in, "Yeah, I have kids, they're awesome/I don't have any either.  Oh, hey, do you like (other potential shared interest)?"  It's only in the more conventional, mainstream communities that I find myself staring into the uncomfortable silence.

When I really stop to think about it, it's odd that the pagans should be less fazed by my failure to fall into the role of Mother, for which they have a defined phase of the Divine Feminine's life cycle, but there you have it.  They accept it far more readily, perhaps because we expand the definitions of 'mother' and 'fertility' to encompass a much larger range of choices.

Within the next fifteen years or so, it will shift to grandkids.  And I'll be expected to explain whether the failed womanhood is mine or my daughter's (or my son's misfortune not to marry a proper childbearing girl).  The potential causes for my failure as a woman expand with each generational marker, as my family might had I started one.

I find that I don't ask the question myself.  I don't really know when I stopped, but it wasn't a conscious choice.  I just stopped wondering.  People will tell me about their kids, if they want to talk about them.

Most of all, I don't hold any sort of ill will towards those who have kids.  I don't covet their children, or resent their happiness.  My parent friends share their children with me, and I love them not as some sort of surrogates for my own, but as the bright and amazing beings they are, and the future they represent.

(the title of this blog comes from a Jenny Lewis song making the rounds these days, which is not precisely about this issue, but inspired the thought process)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Moving Beyond the Destiny of Biology

"Real women have curves."

"Meat is for the man, bones are for the dog."

Oddly enough, these are supposed to make me feel better about myself.  They're supposed to reassure me that my callipygian form is inherently superior despite the constant media pressure to slim down, that the hips that defy decency with every miniskirt I've ever attempted make me a more natural woman.

And man, did they used to.

I have failed, most of my life, at being a Normal Female.  I mean, I could have aced that test, if I'd known (and then cared) to try.  But until I was old enough to be set on my path, no one told me there were expectations.  By the time I figured out I was a Weird Girl I was faced with a situation where fitting into the mold required giving up things I really wanted, so I took my Outsider status as if I somehow deserved it.

That was, of course, at about the time I discovered boys, and boys discovered me, and...well, that didn't really go as intended.  I am bound by the genetics that gave me a solid frame and a certain ample build to go with it.  It was, when combined with my tendency to be 'too smart', the kiss of death to any sort of Normal Womanhood.  When I discovered sexuality, we added too passionate and too assertive to the list.  Later, I found out I am also too strong, and too self-assured.  I am even, occasionally, too competent.  Ultimately, it all just becomes 'too much'.

It was like I'd been given a cup, much much too small, and when I overflowed it everyone looked at me in disgust, because couldn't I just increase the pressure on myself to keep it all at an acceptable volume?  Couldn't I just let go of the parts that didn't fit, if the pressure wasn't sustainable, and confine myself to what the cup could hold?

Along came the 'real women have curves' notion.  I won't lie, it probably saved my life, because it was the first time I'd ever heard anyone suggest that the cup was inadequate.  It was like a door opening, and I admit (with a certain sadness) that I leaped to the conclusion that anyone that cup DID fit was obviously less of a woman.  It wasn't that I failed at fitting into societal gender norms or body image norms.  It wasn't that the norms themselves were the problem.

The problem was skinny bitches, obviously.  They were clearly in charge of the cups.

I'll leave for another day all the ways that women are conditioned to hate one another based on who does or doesn't fit into the body mold.  There's actually a much deeper problem there: the idea that anyone gets to decide what a real woman is, or who gets to call herself one.

Every woman is handed the same size cup at birth, and only the barest fraction of women fit it perfectly.  Smart enough to be witty and charming, not smart enough to be threatening.  Appropriately curvy, but not one inch more so.  Helplessly self-sufficient.  Just outgoing enough not to be a slut.  At some point, almost every one of us is an Outsider, and that can be terrifying.  When those doors slam shut in your face for the first time, the echoes can last for years.

There are two choices if you don't want to be an Outsider forever.  You either refine your definition of 'woman' to fit the women who are like you, moving the target so that you never have to feel the sting of noncompliance, or you broaden your definition of 'woman' until no one has to.  We're encouraged in a thousand ways to do the first.  Fat shaming, body policing, defiant anthems in praise of curves, magazine articles (with photoshopped size 0 models on the cover) telling us that men are evolutionarily conditioned to prefer women with curves.

The second is scarier, I'll admit it.  Because if I expand the definition, broadening the range of whom I'm willing to consider a fellow woman, where does it stop?  Fat girls?  Skinny girls?  Old women?  Preteens?  Those are all easy enough, because don't we all share biology?  I mean, hey, ladies, periods suck, amirite? <insert bra shopping joke here>

In the pagan community, there almost always comes this moment when that fails.  We have women's circles, women's gatherings, women's retreats, all manner of things to connect you to your inner Goddess, and they're all about solidarity of womanhood, and then all of a sudden, someone wants to come into your woman space who hasn't always been a physical woman, and maybe isn't one now.  And...what do you do?

Michigan Womyn's Fest and Pantheacon have failed, in spectacularly public ways, over the years.  Instead of seeking solidarity, instead of seeking to expand the definition of woman to embrace personal identity and self-awareness, they reduce the notion of womanhood to biology.  If you're not born and raised a woman, here's another cup you can never fit into.  Womyn's Fest is particularly insulting, because they say that you cannot be one of them unless you were raised experiencing the discrimination and prejudice most women in this country face, but that if you weren't, you can attend as long as you lie about it and don't get caught.  In other words, discrimination is a necessary part of our gender identity, but if you didn't share that *particular* suffering, it's acceptable to lie your way into sisterhood.

I was lucky enough, by the time I started thinking about the question, to have trans* friends.  That's lucky because on a purely academic level, it seems perfectly fine to draw that line at genetics.  When you don't really have a face to put to it, haven't really heard someone talk about struggling with gender identity, you can just figure on putting the line where it's most convenient.  But when the people on the outside of the door have faces you know, you really can't do that.  So you say, "Come on in, honey, you can stand by me, it'll be cool."

At that point, for me, something amazing happened.  When I expanded my definition of who gets to be a woman to identity, my own identity as a woman expanded.  Suddenly it's not about my boobs or my hips or my lunar annoyances.  It's a matter of who I really am, down to my core.  When I drop that limit, I drop things that limit me as well.  The more diversity we apply to the possible origins of a woman, the more diversity we have in her outcome.

When I see that game being played out, that target of 'real womanhood' being painted on yet another moving reference point, I try to step back and remember that limitless moment, that door opening.  Instead of embracing another divide to make myself more acceptable, more palatable, more secure in my place as a woman by excluding some not-quite demographic, I repeat, "Anyone who wants to be a woman is a woman," because that means the converse is also true:

A woman can be anyone she wants to be.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


A gun-savvy friend once gave me the following advice:  "Do not own a gun you are not willing to pick up.  Do not pick up a gun you are not willing to load.  Do not load a gun you are not willing to carry.  Do not carry a gun you are not willing to draw.  Do not draw a gun you are not willing to point at a living  being.  Do not point a gun at a living being unless you are willing to pull the trigger.  Do not pull the trigger unless you are willing to kill.  In short, when you purchase a gun, accept the possibility that you will kill a living thing with it.  Do not draw a line and tell yourself you will go so far and no farther, because the moment's choice to move from one step to the next can happen so quickly there is no time for reflection."

His point wasn't that guns kill people.  His point was that when you sit back, and think about how you will handle a situation, you envision yourself being calm, rational, making measured decisions.  But when you are frightened, or worried, or your adrenaline is high, your decision-making process is substantially changed, and escalation becomes reflex.

I'm reminded of this by the week's events in Ferguson, MO.  I can genuinely believe that the cops currently lobbing tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed protesters never intended it to be like this, that when they decided to join the police force, they intended to help people and not shoot them in the face with chemical weapons.  But there has been a long relentless escalation of police force in this country, and we're seeing it today.

Especially since 9/11, there has been increased funding for police departments to buy "anti-terrorism gear."  For many of them, this has translated to tanks and other 'breaching vehicles', riot gear, tear gas, and high-tech equipment, with the training to use it.  Even small-town and suburban police forces have been handed ridiculous funds for tools in the fight against terrorism, and they're consistently told "If you don't spend it all, you're off the list for next year."  So, they buy fancy new toys, because who doesn't like fancy new toys?

The danger of that is twofold.  The first is that many of those toys are *dangerous* to the citizens they're supposed to be protecting.  They introduce injury, and they escalate situations.  Those escalated situations create greater fear and outrage, which makes the cops more afraid they are losing control, which means they use more force to try and regain control, which means more adrenaline and more injuries and more fear, in a rising cycle until we find ourselves at today, with state Senators being tear-gassed, peaceful demonstrators being shot with rubber bullets, and news crews being arrested, threatened, and harassed.

The other danger is slightly more subtle: it convinces local cops that they have the ability to handle situations that are far outside their capabilities, because they have the tools and the training...but no experience.  Tools put the weapons in your hands, training teaches you how to use them, but *wisdom and experience* tell you when, and why, and to what extent.  This week's events are a profound failure of wisdom at pretty much all levels of the Ferguson and St. Louis County law enforcement structure.  There were so many chances to step off the escalation ride, and police have stepped it *up* instead.

They've gone so far that there's no way they can reasonably dial it back, so state and federal cops are being brought in, and I hope cooler heads eventually prevail.

Too often, cops are recruited and trained on the basis of being willing and able to use force to subdue.  I'm not naive enough to think that the use of force is never part of a cop's job, but it is long past time to stop, and examine why the pace of escalation is so often accelerated.

It's also long past the time to ask:

Why on earth does the fifty-three person police force of a suburban town of twenty thousand people need multiple armored vehicles?  What threat, exactly, did they reasonably anticipate, and why?

Because I think the reality of it is this:  they didn't anticipate anything.  Most of them, if asked "Who did you expect to use this on?" would probably have looked blankly at you and mumbled something about terrorists because they simply never thought that far ahead, never even considered the possibility that having those weapons would mean they'd end up where they are today.

My biggest worry with the militarization of the American police force isn't that it's a deliberate plot to suppress the population and its rights.  My biggest worry is the fact that it's a reflexive escalation based in unconsidered actions, that our armaments have long since exceeded our wisdom.

Monday, August 11, 2014

You Keep Using That Word...

Over the weekend, 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed in what is being described as an 'officer-involved shooting' In Ferguson, MO.  More plainly put, he was shot and killed by a police officer.

As usual, eyewitness accounts differ from the police reports, but they all pretty consistently put Brown on his knees, on the ground, with his hands in the air to show he was unarmed.  Some describe a small altercation with police, some say he was put into a chokehold, some say he started running and officers fired on him, after which he knelt and surrendered.  Several more shots were fired, and Brown's body was left in the street for several hours.

Local residents, predictably upset, gathered to protest.  I've heard this protest called a 'riot' across a variety of news sites like this one, but the pictures look to me a lot more like a very energetic protest with a heavy and visibly nervous police presence.  Some store windows were smashed in, and a Quiktrip store seems to have taken the worst of the abuse, as shown in the pictures at the above-linked article.

Come to that, those Quiktrip pictures comprise the vast majority of the 'eyewitness looting accounts' I've seen.  A couple other storefronts, and a report of Wal-Mart employees 'taking shelter' and some folks banging on police cars.  There are some videos of people shouting, and running, but I must admit that when I think of 'rioting' and 'looting' I think of Watts, of the LA riots after the Rodney King verdict, of the 1999 WTO Conference in Seattle.  In comparison, I have to say that the rioters of Ferguson were decidedly under-achievers by comparison.

I'm not making light, not really.  I'm suggesting, though, that perhaps there are reasons that a few smashed windows and an angry protest might be better spun to the rest of the country as riots and looting, as further evidence of black people's lawlessness and dangerous instability.  It's entirely possible that the use of the word 'riot' instead of 'protest' to describe what really appears to be relatively peaceful civil unrest is being used to color the debate, because the word choice itself has become a weapon in race and culture wars.

That plays a part in the dialogue, make no mistake.  Funny note, when I did a quick Google search to make sure I had dates and facts at hand for each, I found the following common descriptors:

  • Watts Riots
  • Rodney King Riots
  • Seattle Protests

Interesting thing there, that the one made up of mostly white college kids is more frequently described as a protest, while the others, mostly made up of poor and middle-class blacks, are definitely riots.  If it were an issue of scale, of size of damage, then...why does Ferguson get to be described as a riot on the strength of one battered gas station and a few broken windows?  Coincidence, I'm sure.

I have three primary points to make in this.  The first is that a lot of people are going to spend the next few days saying "race shouldn't matter" because a dead teenager is a dead teenager regardless of ethnicity.  And you know, it shouldn't matter.  I'd be as outraged if Michael Brown had been white.  But I can't escape the belief that if Michael Brown had been white, he'd be in police custody at worst, and at best sent on his way with a "Kid, stay out of the street, that's what sidewalks are for."  Race does matter, because the structure that put him on his knees in the street, and that left him bleeding there moments later, is based on racial inequality, as is the structure that calls this action a riot and another a protest.

The second point is that people will say "Well, he shouldn't have run.  He should have stopped when he was told to stop, been polite to the officer, obeyed instructions, not given any reason to think he was resisting."  You know, given what happened to him when he tried to surrender, and given how often we see reports of brutality, of abuse, of beatings handed out to people who *did* follow police instructions, I can't really blame him, or any other person from a marginalised culture, for thinking maybe the odds were better running than cooperating.

And the third is simply this:  Every time you shoot a man on his knees, you give incentive to those who would rise from theirs.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Deciding Which End of the Electronic Leash To Be On

I have recently acquired a shiny new tablet.  One of the interesting things is that once I connected it to my Google account, it began to port over the games and apps I had downloaded.  I started adding or deleting things to customize the different devices.  The tablet, for example, is much better for netflix and several of the games I like.  I find that even though the screen is smaller, the phone works much better for chat and messaging.

I've been making choices about it based on the different roles I want each device to play, and it's been interesting to evaluate my changing relationship with technology.  Today was a pretty significant choice:  I am not going to set up my work email access from my tablet.

This goes to a deeper set of decisions I'm making about it, congruent with the fact that I got it in part to help me sort and manage my pictures (I may not be able to get tablet lightroom, but I *can* review and sort the pics so I know which ones go in the 'processing' folder and which ones go in the "I will probably never do anything with this" folder) and keep some books and movies on for downtime.  Eventually there may be podcasts, and I've already loaded a substantial chunk of my music onto it.  But I'm finding myself being very mindful of what I put on it, as far as 'productivity' goes.  Maybe I don't want to use it to increase my productivity further.

One of the defining characteristics of Gen X, more so than those who came before or after us, is that we wrestle with the changing role of technology in our lives, as it moves (for some) from servant to master.  When I graduated high school in 1991, computer literacy was a rarity.  Five years after high school, as I was looking to enter the professional workforce, suddenly computer literacy was a basic requirement.  Every desk at every job, every classroom, every home now had a computer, and life began to be increasingly affected by your ability to navigate your relationship with it.  The more you could integrate technology to 'work smarter' and get more done and be more accessible, the more likely it was you'd succeed.

Several of my first temp jobs used dialup e-mail accounts, so that you had to remember, once an hour or so, to sign on and check the company e-mail.  There was rarely any, but you had to check it anyway.  If you forgot you could still blame 'server problems' for a two-day delay and no one questioned it.  Today I can receive work e-mails minutes after they're sent pretty much anywhere, anytime, and my employer operates on that premise.

I have made the transition, as an adult, from having to seek out communication and connection to having to seek out opportunities to disconnect.  I have adapted to the world as it is, and I tend to appreciate the benefits of that connection.  But as I hear things like "I sent you a text and you didn't reply right away," or "I know you got my e-mail on your phone, why didn't you answer?" I start to wonder if I'll be among the last generation to feel that an individual has the right to set the speed of communication and response.

Lately my phone's been a source of mild anxiety for me.  If I want to play a game or check a website, it perkily lets me know that I have a voice mail, and an e-mail, and a couple of text messages, and a new update to download, and and and...

Its effectiveness lies in it maintaining that constant pipeline so that I can know, at a glance, what the world needs me to know.  The problem has been that I can't *give* that glance without getting the whole fire hose.

Enter the tablet.  It is purely for leisure, for doing things that feed me socially, personally, culturally, and intellectually.  I am deliberately choosing to use it in a wholly selfish manner.  The phone is a tool for communication, connectivity, awareness.  It shouts for my attention and points things out to me.  I'm considering uninstalling all the games and timewasters from it, so that it can be purely for staying in touch with the world. The laptop and desktop computers are for work, for things that require my words most of all, because 90 wpm on a keyboard is far preferable to 30 wpm on a tablet, and because that allows me to say "Now I will sit down, and I will work."

I'm really looking forward to the division of leisure and productivity.  With the tablet, there are no conversations I tell myself I need to be following, no messages I'm chiding myself for not having the time to respond to, no notifications that People Need Me To Tell Them Things, no work I probably ought to be doing.  I can enjoy connectivity on my terms, with the whole array of available knowledge laid out before me, or simply a mindless color-matching game to clear my head.

Over the next few years, I'm going to be closely watching my relationship with technology, as connectivity and access increase, to make sure that I don't blur too many lines between work and play, between my time and others' time, between what I want to do and what I feel obligated to do.   I expect this to be a large part of the social battlefield, the fight between whether technology gives the world the ability to control you, or gives you the ability to control the world.  I will remain firmly upon the side of "My time is mine and you can't use an electronic leash to demand my focus unless I choose to give it to you."