Unscheduled

Plan for today: read and write and exercise and take photos of my garden and sew buttons on a sweater and cook a curry or two and draw some botanical illustrations for Perennial and this evening, go with Kevin and the kids to see Aladdin the musical. I plan to work all day in some sense, but in another sense, it feels like a vacation.

Moving

One thing I didn’t include in last night’s politics post, that I perhaps should have, is that in considering moving for a chance at higher office, there is a real conflict between:

a) where I could do the most good
b) where I could have a real chance of being elected
c) where I am comfortable raising my children

We moved to Oak Park because it’s a ethnically and economically diverse, queer-friendly neighborhood. (Being a close commute to work was a big bonus, but not the main reason we came here.) I am unwilling to move to an extremely white and conservative area and finish raising my mixed-race children there.

I lived in Salt Lake City for three years — the first year was fine, the second year, the prevalent atmosphere was starting to get to me, and by the third year, I was feeling desperate to get out. And this is despite the fact that I actually genuinely liked my friends and classmates. They were great people — anywhere we moved, I firmly believe, would be full of great, good-hearted people. But pervasive regional attitudes about race / ethnicity / religion / queerness / economics, etc. can really grind you down on a day to day level.

I remember a conversation with a faculty member at Utah about how they had a really hard time holding onto minority faculty — they came, because after grad school, you’re desperately glad to get a job, but after a few years many of them left again. They couldn’t bring themselves to raise kids there, or they just couldn’t take the atmosphere themselves. The University was a bit of a liberal bubble, but not enough of one.

Which leaves me wondering — is it enough to work to make Oak Park a shining city on the hill, an example of what we should all be striving for? Oak Park certainly isn’t yet as equitable as it would like to be. But there is such misery elsewhere…

Next steps

Okay, I’m just going to talk this out a little, and this is a little more frank than I think one normally is about running for office, but it’s also all completely obvious to anyone who actually pays attention to these things, so I think it’s fine. Transparency is how I work, regardless, and hopefully it’s useful to others thinking of running for office.

Here’s the issue — I would like to save the world. That is not so feasible, but I can perhaps help improve a little piece of it. I tried running for the smallest of local offices. With much effort and help, I succeeded. I now will serve for four years. Since library board is one meeting / month, my life could mostly go along as it has been. BUT. If I do want to run for higher office and serve a larger constituency down the road, there are things I should start doing…well, not necessarily now, but soon.

One thing is to be more involved in my community — that part is easy and fun. I like volunteering — I’m very happy to take Kavi and go help out at the homeless shelter / food bank / sign-making party / etc. and so on. I also like community book clubs, women’s group cocktail fundraisers, etc. and so on. All good.

BUT. The question is, what would be the next office. And that gets pretty complicated. If I’m staying local, it’s straightforward — I could run again for library board, or look at school board, village trustee, park district, township, even, I suppose, mayor (or rather, village president, but it’s currently called mayor, sometimes, it’s complicated). My life would be largely unchanged in the next four years in that case — more community involvement, perhaps a citizens’ commission, maybe even a couple urban planning classes. A tremendous amount of good can be done at the local level.

If, on the other hand, my aspirations are for state rep., or state senator, or governor, or even Congress, if what I really want to do is solve problems at those levels, then it gets complex. Because the thing is, we have a representative government, and you need to actually live in the place where you’re running, which means if I’m going to run for any of those offices, I need to a) be convinced that I’d be a better candidate than the people currently in those positions, and b) be realistically able to unseat them.

I live in a very Blue area. All of my representatives are Democrats. But are they good, strong, effective Democrats? My state people are Don Harmon and Camille Lilly, my Congresspeople are Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin.

I’m still learning about them, and will be for a while. I met with Don Harmon recently for the first time, and have also seen him speak at a forum, and I have to say, I’m generally pretty impressed with him. There’s more research to do, but overall, he seems strong. And yes, he’s a white man, and in general, I would like to see a more diverse group of elected officials, but Don appears to be a very smart, competent person with politics I agree with, so I’m not currently feeling an urgent desire to try to unseat him.

I’m meeting with our representative, Camille Lilly tomorrow, and I know less about her, but people I trust seem to like her. And she’s a black woman, so there’s no diversity argument for me to be trying to unseat her — the opposite, rather, as I would think hard before trying to take a seat away from a black elected official, especially since they often are representing majority-black districts, and it seems unlikely that I, an upper-middle-class brown woman, would be able to represent their district better than they already are. (And there are complexities — I’m also queer, and also an immigrant, and that all factors in, one way or another, but still.) I think representation matters.

I don’t know enough about Duckworth or Durbin yet. More to research, and all of that may take some months. So there really aren’t any decisions to make anytime soon. But hypothetically speaking, let’s say I decide all four of these people are good, and strong, and I just want to support them and maybe harass them a little to keep them on the right track. So then I could stay at the local level with my own campaigns.

OR. I could move. And that is where it gets really complicated. Because moving me means moving my family, and we bought this house because we LOVE Oak Park and we wanted these schools for our kids and it’ll be about ten more years until Anand is done with the schools. In ten more years I’ll be fifty-five — is that too late to move somewhere else, get involved enough in that community to realistically run for something else there in a reasonable time frame? I honestly don’t know how Clinton did a national campaign at her age; it seems utterly exhausting. After four months of library board campaign, I basically slept for three solid days and still feel a bit wobbly a week later.

If I were going to move, never mind the question of where that should be — that’s a whole ‘nother question, that would require lots of research. Right now I’m just struggling with a somewhat confused worry that perhaps I need to figure out in the next four years (while I serve this library term) whether I really think the right thing to do with my life is run for higher office, and if so, whether I’m willing to uproot my family and move them in order to have a shot at it. (And given that I did almost no writing while campaigning the last four months, am I willing to also give up a lot of my writing career? Should I?)

I don’t have to think about any of this now, or, I suppose, at all. But a lot of people supported my campaign, and at least some of them did, I think, because they knew I was seriously considering higher office down the road. So here I am, seriously considering it.

Honestly, it’s keeping me up at night a bit. Maybe it’s having gone through cancer treatment, but for whatever reason, I am feeling an acute awareness of how many years I might or might not have left, and a strong desire to be intentional with that time. I’ve had twenty-five years as an adult, and have generally been pretty happy with how that’s gone. (I could wish I had spent less of my 20s struggling with credit card debt and terrible temp. jobs, but oh well).

What should I do with the next twenty-five, should I be lucky enough to get them?

(I do not actually expect the internet to be able to answer this question for me. Writing it all out helps, though.)

#runningforoffice

Tiptree

In retrospect, I kind of wish I’d read _Letters to Tiptree_ (which is GREAT) in different order. First, I wish I’d re-read _Her Smoke Rose Up Forever_. (Yes, this is an entirely different book.) Then the utterly fabulous Le Guin and Russ letters (which appear more than halfway through the book), and the Le Guin intro. Finally, the other writers’ letters to Tiptree. I think I would have gotten more out of them all that way — as it was, my fading memory of reading many of Tiptree’s stories more than a decade ago wasn’t really up to the task.

Relatedly, I am only having a minor mid-life / existential crisis over here, as I try to figure out what to do with the next twenty years of my life, don’t mind me.

“One of our (writers’) problems is that we can’t measure out lives by ordinary standards: Successful Children, Nice House, etc. – even if we have these, we’re so apt to measure everything sub specie aeternitatis (sp?) that nothing is unequivocally O.K. Which feeds all sorts of despair.”

– Joanna Russ to James Tiptree, Jr., _Letters to Tiptree_

(Thankfully, I am not generally subject to despair, so I continue pretty cheerful in the midst of my confusion…)

Added to garden…

Monarda fistulosa (native), cardinal flower (native, attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies), more astilbes for the shady spots, four different Siberian irises for the backyard, some snow-in-summer ground cover, white anemones, creeping phlox, bunchberry (dogwood-like ground cover), pink and white echinacea (native), white liatris (native), and a viburnum with blue berries (dentatum).

Lots of white blooms — I find them refreshing, esp. in the heat of summer, and up until now, mostly the white in my garden was just from the hydrangeas. Also more ground covers, which my garden has been somewhat lacking in — I should’ve put lots more in at the beginning, but oh well. This was the big planting for this year — very satisfying to get them all in the ground. Now grow, little plants. Grow!

Running locally

I’m a little worried that people will have seen my local race, noticed how much time and energy it took, and will be discouraged from local office.  I want to make clear that this race was really atypical.  A lot of people in Oak Park, myself included, were clearly energized by the November election results, and as a result, we had far more people running for local offices like library board and school board than normal.

I think that’s terrific, actually — it’s great that voters had a wide set of people to choose from, and the process of running actually helped me and I suspect other candidates clarify our own visions and senses of what we stood for.  So I’m personally glad my first race looked like this — it was also great practice for running for higher office.  But it’s really unusual.

Generally, when you run for local office (school board, library board, park board, village or township trustee, etc.), there’s a very good chance you’ll be running uncontested.  So essentially, all you have to do is collect somewhere between 25-300 signatures, and you’re pretty much in.  (Library board was 25.)  You may not need to spend money at all.  In a lot of cases across the country, not enough people will run to even fill the spots, so the ones that do will win uncontested, and then they need to try to appoint (beg) a few people to fill the remaining spots.

So if you’re interested at all in running for local office, please don’t be put off by how much effort went into my race!  This was an outlier year, I suspect — voter turnout here was also really up, from a typical 10-12% in a normal off-year- election, to 33%.  (Which is still quite low, of course, but is three times what we’d usually have.)  I’d love to think that this level of civic engagement will continue, but realistically, I suspect that by the next election, a fair bit of that energy will have dissipated.  So if you want to run, run!  Or if you know someone who should run, tell them to run!  I firmly believe that everyone who wants to run for office should have the chance to do so; I suspect that we could all do more to help find and support the best candidates in our communities.

I was at a local DFA meeting yesterday, and they were asking, how do we find and support the best progressive candidates, to have a chance of actually getting them elected to office and turning this country around.  I think the answer has to be:

a) find the people who are already speaking up for what you believe in, whether that’s the fight for $15 (minimum wage), reproductive rights, clean energy, Medicare-for-all, equity and access in our schools, etc.  (For the record, I’m for ALL of those.)  If they have a history of service, that will only help their campaign.

b) support their candidacies, with your time, your money, your energy — whatever you have to give.

Find the people who are passionate about your issues, and who are active in their communities, arguing and fighting for them.  Then tell them, “You should run.  I’ll support you.”  That’s how we make real and lasting change.

Wild Cards blog

And now for something completely different — a little piece I wrote for George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards about the origins of Natya, my Sri Lankan bharata natyam-dancing superhero. She isn’t based on me. Not at all. Not even a little…

“This isn’t going to be a normal superhero origin story. It’s Wild Cards, so you already know how Natya got her powers – she was first Kavita Kandiah, a dancer who contracted the virus, and came out the other side with ace powers, the ability to channel the energy of her dance into forcefields that could be solid enough to dance on, to form into shimmering elements for her performances. They could also, it turned out, be slung forcefully into bad guys, especially the ones that kidnap her daughter…but that’s another story…”