Filling Out the Oak Leaves Newspaper

Oh, this is what I do at 11:30 p.m. on a Friday night, filling out another candidate questionnaire, this one from the Oak Leaves newspaper. Mostly the same questions as other questionnaires, although with a few differences:

> Why are you running for election to the board?

I’m finishing up a four-year term on the Oak Park library board, and I hope that my extensive educational experience (as both a long-time student and a professor) can offer some helpful perspectives on the D200 board.

> What are the biggest challenges currently facing District 200 and what can the school board do to address them?

• adapting to the pandemic and its consequences will necessarily impact both the budget and day-to-day logistical planning; although we can hope that much of the community will be vaccinated before fall semester starts, masking will almost certainly need to continue through the fall, and I’d be looking to science and evidenced-based research to guide the board on appropriate actions

• as we continue to implement the IMAGINE plan at OPRF, I expect that each new phase will bring its own challenges along with concerns from the community; the board will need to be ready to explain its decisions (and possibly revise plans if needed by changing circumstances)

• keeping a focus on equity and a level playing field for all our students will require balancing complex needs and demands from various stakeholders, listening thoughtfully to community concerns, and working together to craft concrete and measurable steps towards improved equity

> What is most in need of change or improvement in the district and what do you think the board can do to facilitate this?

There are significant barriers along racial, ethnic, class, and gender lines that make it impossible for our students to work to their full potential; given the wider society we live in, this isn’t surprising, but in Oak Park & River Forest, we have an opportunity to increase educational opportunities for all of our students. The prior board and our outgoing superintendent have put some ambitious racial equity policies in place that will help to address some of these issues; the incoming board and superintendent will have the opportunity to support those initiatives and expand upon them.

> Should the board vote on education plans when it comes to how many hours or days per week students learn remotely?

Typically, I’d expect that the superintendent and staff would present a plan to the board, and that the board would respond to that plan, in a back-and-forth until all were in reasonable agreement. In a pandemic when the situation was changing rapidly and we were all learning on the job (building the plane as we tried to fly it, as many educators were saying last spring), I’d expect the board to give clear guidance to the staff on general expectations, and then let the staff bring their expertise to the actual day-to-day curricular and logistical plans. So no, the fine details of how many hours or days students learn remotely don’t seem appropriate matters for a board vote.

> When should full-time in-person learning resume at the school?

In general, I’m always going to say to follow the science and used evidence-based decision making. Every week, we learn more about this disease (and its variants), and how to best contain and treat it. Given current CDC guidelines for social distancing, I’m expecting that we’ll be in hybrid mode in the fall; I teach at UIC, and that’s what they communicated to us this past week. But the situation could change, and change again, depending on how quickly the vaccines roll out (with the J&J vaccine just approved this past week, for example, that will change availability for the better), how quickly pediatric vaccines are developed and approved, etc.

> Should the school district commit to further campus renovations at this time?

Yes — we should continue with the facilities plan.

> Are there cost savings you believe the board should be pursuing for the district? If so, in what areas?

I’m still fairly immersed in the library budget; I’m looking forward to looking at the D200 budget in more detail if elected. But that said, my experience on the library board was that there really weren’t a lot of obvious cost savings that hadn’t already been addressed — previous boards had already picked all the low-hanging fruit in that regard. We have been able to build in some savings, but it’s generally through things like technology improvements — switching to LED lights, for example, which will save us a lot of money in the long run.

> How would you rate how the district has addressed equity and inclusion amongst its diverse population of students. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the district’s work?

This is a pretty special place — there’s a reason why my husband and I chose to come here to raise our mixed-race kids. Historically, this community has been working on these issues for decades, and in many ways, are ahead of neighboring communities and the country. But that said, this is a long road, and we still have quite a ways to go. It’s not the time to rest on our laurels, but rather to take the initiative and push forward, so that all of our students can achieve to their full potential and thrive in the school environment, and beyond.

> What is your profession?

I’m a writer and English professor at the University of Illinois.

> What town do you live in?

Oak Park.

> What else would you like voters to know?

Here are a few useful links:

My candidate web page:

My Wikipedia page:

My personal website:

In Local Politics

In local politics, three women have so far filed to run for Village President of Oak Park: Simone Boutet (current village trustee), Cate Readling (with the Park district), and Vicki Scaman (current village clerk).

I look forward to hearing them speak at candidate forums in the fall, and learning more about their positions. (The library is talking with the League of Women Voters about whether we can help facilitate virtual candidate forums if in-person ones aren’t feasible.)

I’m not planning to run for village president this election cycle. Still haven’t decided if I’m likely to run at all; I would rather support strong Black candidates, especially Black women, if possible. We need them in Oak Park.


There was a moment in grad school. Kevin and I had split up and I was desperately broken-hearted. I’d been getting up at 4 a.m. every morning to an alarm because it was the best time for me to concentrate, when the world was dark and still, writing by the light of a candle. I’d gotten about halfway through drafting Bodies in Motion at that point; I had been working so hard, for so long. I loved the book, but I was otherwise very tired and very sad. I cried all the time.

There came a day when I just couldn’t stare at the computer screen any longer. I found myself — and I honestly don’t even remember making the decision to go — at the art store, ringing up $200 of supplies (money I didn’t really have, but I just didn’t care). I came home and I made things — candles and collages mostly. They weren’t very good but I needed to do something that wasn’t just brain work, that didn’t require so much deliberate thought. I needed to use my hands. It helped. (My mother still has the candle I made her that year. She thinks it is too pretty to light it.)

• Welcome to Memoir
• Designing in Inkscape for Cricut
• Survival Cooking

I was talking to Jed a few nights ago, trying to explain why I haven’t been able to let go of the idea of the maker space, even though it takes lots of time that would perhaps be otherwise spent on writing (I am still writing, but inevitably slower than I would normally be).

• Fix Your Own Garbage Disposal!
• Checklist for a Renovation
• Visible (Beautiful) Mending

I did try to set the makerspace aside, over and over, for the last few years. I told myself, “This would be a nice retirement project, but first, write the damn novel.” Then I’d find myself scouting out spaces, or making workshop lists again, or thinking about whom I knew that had skills they could teach. (Lots of people, it turns out. Lots and lots.)

• Stop-Motion Animation with Legos
• Intro to Weaving on the Rigid Heddle Loom
• Botanical Soaps and Candles

Workshops I wanted to teach, workshops I wanted to take. And many of these don’t fit neatly into some conceptions of a ‘makerspace,’ but to me, these are all making. Making with hands and mind and generous creative hearts.

• Getting Started with Arduino Controllers
• Firespinning!
• Drawing Comics

A friend just offered to pass along some shoes for Kavi, and she didn’t want money for them. I am going to leave her some handmade soap and caramels and a book. Gift economy, and how much more satisfying that is.

• 3D Print a Custom Drop Spindle
• Planting a Wildlife-Friendly Garden
• Jewelry Making with Resin

I am not quite old enough to be focused on my legacy yet, but the thought does pop up now and again. I’ve done some good things in politics, and hope to do more. I’ve done some good things for science fiction and fantasy too, and ditto. But if I can leave behind a thriving Oak Park makerspace, one that might even (a girl can dream) spin-off into Austin and Berwyn locations too, encouraging collaboration, artistic expression, and entrepreneurship throughout our community, bridging silos and ending isolation — that would be a legacy to be really proud of.

• Worm Composting
• Knitting with LEDs
• 3D Printing for Cosplay

I can just see it, humming with life, in my mind. A makerspace, an artist shop, a free art supply exchange, cafe and lounge, co-working space, an artist residency program, low-income artist housing, and more. I hope we can make it happen.

• Stained Glass using the Copper Foil Technique
• Songwriting
• Welcome to Podcasting

(Pictured, dried marigold petals harvested from my garden for marigold-turmeric soap, made with a coconut milk base, unscented. I’ll be selling them at Pem Hessing’s Colorful Holiday fair, featuring the work of makers of color in our community, Saturday 12/15, 10 – 3:30. I’ll also be donating some to the Garden Club holiday sale, where they’ll be incorporated into hostess gift baskets to be raffled off at the December meeting, to support club activities. We’re hoping to host a fundraiser for the makerspace in December as well — details soon.)

• Art Journaling
• Resume Writing
• Crowdfunding for Beginners


This is how I feel this morning — blurry, but overall hopeful. It’s Diwali, and a friend dropped off some sparklers yesterday (thanks, Swati!), so I lit one up this morning. Diwali celebrates the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil.

There are a host of results from last night that make me feel that we’ve finally, finally, started moving America onto a brighter path. I’m particularly encouraged by the huge increase in millennial turnout. It’s going to be a long road, but no one said defeating evil would be easy, right?

It would be tempting to spend the entire day reading political analysis, but instead, I’m going to turn off Facebook and focus on work for the morning. I have to straighten up — a fellow artist is stopping by soon to talk about how her project and mine can work together. After that, going into campus for the faculty union’s rep assembly, then a visit to the Chicago Public Library makerspace, to see how they do it.

There are arts projects to build and papers to grade and books to write. I’ll take a breath before coming back in January to focus on local politics for a few months — our next election’s in April, and we still need more good people running for all our local boards; petitions will be due pretty soon, so if you’re still thinking of running, best hustle!

And soon we’ll be coming out swinging for 2020, pounding the pavement and all hands on deck. There’s a brighter world to build.

Happy Diwali, everyone!

Voting Day

Two years ago, I dressed in suffragette white and took my daughter with me to proudly vote for America’s first woman president. I have a photo of us, standing in front of her school’s flag. This morning felt very different, and I almost wanted to dress in black — I am so full of grief and anxiety about tonight’s results.
But in the end, I put on my patriotic colors, and even some sparkling star earrings. After Clinton lost, I joined the wave of women running for office; I was elected and serve on the local library board now, and hope to continue to serve as best I can going forward. I think I have done at least a little good in office in those two years, and have modeled for my daughter what possibilities still exist for her.
Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” America is our country still, despite all the pain and terror that this administration has enabled, and if we want Dr. King’s words to be true, then we must be the ones to bend the arc. It doesn’t happen on its own, and in fact, there will always be those who are very comfortable with their power and privilege, who will fight tooth and nail to preserve every inch of it.
I teach college, and I took fifteen minutes out of class to talk to my students today about voting, about running for office, about how their decisions do actually matter. They can shape their local communities, their state and federal government. Many of them don’t believe that yet, and so they don’t vote; it’s barely on their radar. If I could go back in time, one thing I would change? I’d start in college and find a local campaign to support, someone whose passion and vision for a better future was worth working for. I’d try to convince all my friends that they could make a difference too.
However this election turns out, I’m activated now, working to help build that deep bench of committed progressive candidates, with plenty of women and LGBT and POC among them. I know many of you poured time and energy into this campaign season, and that many of you had never worked on anything explicitly political before. However the day goes — that’s not nothing. That’s everything.
We’ll see that woman president in America yet. We will bend the arc to a brighter future.


We passed our library board budget last night, the second budget since I’ve been a trustee. I have to say, there’s a steep learning curve on this job. I’ve managed organizational budgets before, for DesiLit and the SLF, but this is an 8 to 9 million budget, managing three different libraries, and it’s another thing altogether.

The first time we passed one, about five months after I took office, there was a lot of the document that I only partially understood; I had to rely on the more experienced board members for guidance and explanation. A LOT of explanation. “Can we go over that bit again, please?” Passing that budget was slow, with three new members on the board; I, at least, needed a lot of handholding.

This time around, in my second year as trustee, it was much more efficient; we all understood what we were voting for, and how the things we’d requested as a board (in terms of equity and access as budgeting priorities) had been effectively implemented by staff, and what the cost implications were per household across the village.

I particularly want to shout out to Jim Madigan, our deputy director, who has been infinitely patient with me — I was just in his office for an extra half hour yesterday before the board meeting, asking him to go over a fine financial detail. For the SF fans in the room: around him, I feel a lot like Ekaterin with Miles’s finance guy — I swear, they could be the same person. Dry, funny, incredibly conscientious, and a light in his eyes when someone actually takes an interest in the arcane details of his profession.

Jim is retiring in a few months, and while I’m sure the library will find an excellent person to take over the position, Jim is very much going to be missed. If I’ve done a good job discharging my fiduciary responsibilities on the library board, and I hope I have, a large portion of the credit goes to him.

Kara Eastman for Congress

Have you been to a campaign meet-and-greet? I never had before 2016, but they turn out to be:

a) fun
b) a great way to meet and get a sense of candidates
c) a good way to get to know your politically-minded neighbors
d) a great place to grouse about current politics
e) a chance to meet other local politicians (State Senator Daniel Biss, State Senator Don Harmon, and incoming Cook County tax assessor Fritz Kaegi were there), and
f) a good use of your Democratic dollars.

Fundraisers range wildly in how much they ask for. Some might be nothing up front — give if you’re impressed by the candidate and feel so moved. Some have set ticket prices, usually in a range. This one started at $25, which isn’t too bad for a couple hours of wine and delicious appetizers (I contributed six bottles of wine, Sri Lankan ribbon sandwiches, and passionfruit cakelets and marshmallows; other local co-hosts contributed the rest of the food and wine).

This particular fundraiser was hosted by my friend Carollina Song, in her gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright home, for Kara Eastman. (Carollina gave tours of the house as part of the event — wow!)

Kara has local connections, which is why she was fundraising here, but she’s running for Congress in Nebraska, where, as Daniel Biss pointed out in his intro, our dollars go a LOT further in terms of the cost of a media buy. If you’re only able to donate to one race, you might consider this one as one where you can really make a difference.

I knew nothing about Kara going in, but she spoke very well, and I loved her policy positions. She’s competitive in that race, so please do consider donating. Link in the comments!

Democrats and Money, Redux

I’m about to post a couple of asks for campaign money (for other people, not me). Before I do that, I want to repost something I wrote during my own campaign two years ago; people seemed to find it helpful.
We have a very short window now until the mid-terms, and if you have money to spare and want America to move in a more progressive direction, now is absolutely the time to choose a candidate (or several), and support them with cash.
Right now, personally, I’m prioritizing helping to flip the House blue over anything else political. America’s government right now is like an open wound — flipping the House would dramatically slow the bleeding. We’re even prioritizing that over giving money to worthy organizations like the ACLU, SPLC, Planned Parenthood. They still get our monthly donation, but all additional funds we’re putting towards specific campaigns. Here’s why campaigns need cash help:
“Someone asked me yesterday why I couldn’t just use free digital avenues to build support for my campaign, instead of asking for money. I thought it might help if I explained some of the costs, which frankly kind of shocked me after I started my run. This may also be helpful in understanding why money is such a HUGE factor in politics (and why Republicans keep winning).
I do plan to keep leveraging every digital avenue I have, but there are lots of people who aren’t on Facebook or Twitter, or really, much online at all, especially older voters. And the people who bother to vote in off-year elections (about a tenth of the local populace) are often among our older population.
To reach the voters, you can do things like go door-to-door (which I’ll be doing), but at least around here, most people are working during the day, so your window to reach them is very limited. There also aren’t that many days between now and April 4th, so I’m not going to have time to knock on every door, even if I wanted to. You can stand outside grocery stores and train stations, and I already have some of that in the schedule too. But the main other thing you can do is spend money.
Let’s say I want to do a basic flyer, about me and about what the library board does. If I send it to all the likely voters in this election, about 6000 people, that’ll cost $3000 just for the postage. $3000! I admit, I was really startled by that number. If you want to make five hundred buttons, that’ll cost perhaps $300 for design and printing. Full color bookmarks? That might run another $1000, if you want to send them to all the voters. Political palm cards, with info about you and the date of the election, that can be tucked into the doors that you’re passing — another $1000 or $2000. A full-page ad in the League of Women Voters program book will cost something; so will a newspaper ad. And let’s not forget pizza for your weary volunteers!
When I started this, I thought, oh, I don’t even know if I’ll need to raise money at all. And then I thought, well, I’m sure $2-3K will be plenty. Now I’ve realized that I could easily spend $10,000 on print materials alone, and even that wouldn’t guarantee that all the voters in Oak Park would even see my name once before they got to the ballot box. And someone told me recently that it usually took about seven ‘touches’ — seven mentions of your name — before someone decided to actually vote for you.
So, hope that helps explain why I’m asking for money, and why, if there’s anyone whose campaign you want to support, contributing money is actually really helpful.
Democrats, in particular, I think are more likely to be reluctant to give money to political campaigns (rather than non-profit orgs), feeling like money in politics is somehow a little corrupt, that we ought to be able to win on the purity of our ideas alone, the rightness of our cause. I know I gave to the ACLU and the SPLC long before giving to any candidate. But I’ve recently come to realize that before the voters can vote for the good guys, they need to know their names, and ideally, a little of what they stand for.
Money helps tremendously with getting the word out.”


There is something fundamentally flawed with a nation composed primarily of politicians whose own lives will not be endangered by changes in policy.

Men, making decisions on reproductive rights, whose own bodies will never experience the rigors of pregnancy. The wealthy one-percenters, making decisions about minimum wage, with no understanding of what it means to live on less than that every day. Straight people deciding who does or doesn’t get to visit their loved ones in the hospital. Cisgendered folks deciding about trans health care coverage.

I don’t know what the solution is — it also seems wrong to require that you have some skin in the game in order to advocate policy changes. I’m not disabled, but as an elected official in our strategic planning meeting on Saturday, I was talking about whether we could add a low-sensory morning at the library, to make space for those who would find it helpful. Allies are useful, I think and hope.

But I watch West Wing, and they lose a big fight about domestic violence funding, or tax breaks for college tuition, and the rich white men in the room are idealists, they’re disappointed at the loss, but then they shrug and move onto the next thing. They don’t go home and spend the next few nights trying to hold themselves together, shaking and scared about what’s coming round the bend, and how it will directly impact their daily lives.

They get to move on.