For the first time in a very long while, I am available for hire. More on that below, but first, the reading.
I wrote about rereading last year, a habit that has morphed into a deep practice over these long last twelve months. I’ve read plenty of new books (am reading several right now, even) but I reread like my life depends on it, as if I were falling and that book over there—the one I can practically recite—is the handhold I need to arrest my descent.
Lately I’ve kept adrienne maree brown’s excellent Emergent Strategy close at hand, turning to it often. The structure of the book—short chapters that read like blog posts in the best way—lends itself to dipping in and out. And while her language is deeply accessible, I’ve found that really understanding the principles of emergent strategy requires an almost devotional practice of reading (and rereading) and thinking and then rereading some more. It’s also not lost on me that I’m rereading brown as she rereads Butler—the book counts among its origins the writings of Octavia Butler, especially Parable of the Sower. So it’s rereading all the way down.
Emergent strategies are ways for humans to practice complexity and grow the future through relatively simple interactions. This juxtaposition of emergence and strategy was what made the most sense to me when I was trying to explain the kind of leadership I see in Octavia’s books.
It isn’t just that her protagonists are Black, female, or young leaders….Or maybe it is, because of all those things: who leads matters. But what I noticed is that her leaders are adaptive—riding change like dolphins ride the ocean. Adaptive but also intentional, like migrating birds who know how to get where they’re going even when a storm pushes them a hundred miles off course.
Humans? Some of us are surviving, flowing, flocking—but some of us are trying to imagine were we are going as we fly. That is radical imagination. (20)
“Surviving, flowing, flocking,” feels like an incantation for this lost year. She continues:
Octavia was concerned with scale—understanding what happens at the interpersonal level is a way to understand the whole of society. In many of her books, she shows us how radical ideas spread through conversation, questions, one to one interactions. Social movements right now are also fractal, practicing at a small scale what we most want to see at the universal level. No more growth or scaling up before actually learning through experience.
Rather than narrowing into one path forward, Octavia’s leaders were creating more and more possibilities. Not one perfect path forward, but an abundance of futures, of ways to manage resources together, to be brilliant together. (22)
Reading that for the dozenth time reminded me of a very different book, The Comedy of Survival, by Joseph Meeker. In it, Meeker argues that much of Western civilization is rooted in the tragic mode—in which a great but flawed hero attempts to mold the world around him, and is deservedly brought down by his own hand. By contrast, the comic mode is that of the joker, or the fool—it is responsive, adaptive, playful. The fool doesn’t try to wrestle the world into where they want to be but instead adapts and flows with what comes to them. Above all else, the fool tries to stay alive. Here’s Meeker:
The comic vision is not polarized, but complex: comedy sees many aspects simultaneously, and seeks for a strategy that will resolve problems with a minimum of pain and confrontation. The comic way is not heroic or idealistic; rather, it is a strategy for survival. (14)
The comic way is to be found in evolutionary history, in the processes of ecology, and in comic literature, which may represent the closest we have come to describing humans as adaptive animals. Comedy illustrates that survival depends upon our ability to change ourselves rather than our environment, and upon our ability to accept limitations rather than to curse fate for limiting us. (21)
Meeker’s play ethic and brown’s emergent strategy are not exactly aligned: brown argues for intention in adaptation, and in holding a vision for a more just world—while Meeker’s fool is mostly interested in saving their own skin. And Meeker’s analysis suffers from an overemphasis on the “great” male writers and a complete absence of intersectional feminism, which I think would complicate his tragic/comic binary.
But there’s just that little bit of resonance between them that makes the rereading feel less like repetition and more like unearthing. The comic mode echoes with brown’s incantation to embrace change. And brown’s acceptance of the element of chaos as part of the natural order of the world is something the fool in Meeker’s analysis would nod at approvingly. I think of Meeker’s play ethic as a sidecar to brown’s emergent strategy. I read—and reread—them both as generative ways to think about how to live in a world in a global pandemic, in a climate emergency, in an era with too much harm and too little justice.
At the end of last year, I quit my job. It’s a strange privilege to be able to do something like that in the middle of a pandemic. But then last year was a year that prompted a lot of reevaluation and adaptation, and when I got to the end of it, I knew it was time for a change.
In January, I joined the COVID Tracking Project as editorial lead. I’ll stay through the spring, helping to bridge the gap as the new administration steps in to do the work this project has been fulfilling for the better part of a year. I hope also to support efforts to document and share all the lessons the CTP team has gathered over that time. I’ve been lurking in the CTP Slack for a while, and I know two of the founders well, so I knew when I joined that one of their biggest accomplishments has been to build a resilient, caring, inclusive, and highly-functioning remote team of volunteers—something I might honestly have assumed was actually fucking impossible, if I didn’t see it for myself. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, and to play even the slightest role in. It is, as brown might say—as Butler might say—a way of being brilliant together.
It’s also been instructive, as I am using my time contributing to and observing this project to think about what I want to do next—again, acknowledging what an extraordinary privilege it is to even have the space to contemplate such a thing. I am trying to make the best of that privilege by figuring out how I can be most useful: where my considerable experience can be put to use in such a way that some corner of the world is made at least a little bit better, where I can work alongside others to imagine different—better—futures.
I’ve made a page here about what I do, but I want to use this space to share a bit more context:
OK! This is the part where I ask for help: if you—or perhaps, someone you know—thinks they could put me to good use, please get in touch. I’m open to conversations about opportunities where a job description already exists as well as those that are more ambiguous and open-ended. I’ve ended up writing my own job description just about everywhere I’ve worked and I’m more than happy to do so again.
At my latitude, the light is changing noticeably each day, peeking up just a bit earlier in the mornings, and—when we’re not doused with cloud cover—pouring gold through my windows for an hour or so each afternoon. There’s slush everywhere from several rounds of storms, and it’s by no means spring yet—but you can hear it coming. So here’s a drink that feels spring-like to me, both in color and attitude. It’s a Negroni variation (a common pattern in these parts, for which I make no apologies), but less bitter so a bit more accessible. The bitters are optional but they do lend something to it, and are also nice when just mixed in with some seltzer on the days when booze isn’t the thing you need.
Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass filled with ice and stir until cold. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.
I love a good drink but this past year I’ve also been on the hunt for non-boozy drinks to add to the rotation—when I want the ritual of a good drink but don’t necessarily need the alcohol. This is one of my faves. The ratio of citrus to syrup is a starting point: adjust up if you want a sweeter drink, or if your juice is especially on the sour side. You can also use a mix of citrus juices here—say, equal parts grapefruit and orange, or mostly blood orange with a bit of lime. Don’t skip the salt.
Add the simple syrup, juice, and salt to a shaker filled with ice and shake for 30 seconds. Taste for sweetness, adding more syrup a quarter ounce at a time until it’s just right, then strain into a rocks glass. Add fresh ice to fill the glass and top off with club soda. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.
To make rosemary syrup: heat one cup water almost to boiling, add a couple of hefty sprigs of rosemary (smash ’em with the back of a knife to release the oils first), then turn the heat off and let steep for 30 minutes. With a slotted spoon, scoop the rosemary out, and add one cup of sugar, bringing the heat back up to medium just long enough to dissolve the sugar. Let cool before using in the drink. The syrup will store well in the fridge for a week or more.
(And if you like the sound of this but miss the booze, you could drop the juice to 1 ounce and add 1.5–2 ounces of either gin or a blanco tequila. I won’t judge you.)
Thanks for reading! If you’re enjoying this, share it with a friend. As always, reply with what you’re reading or drinking. Cheers, m
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