Week 28: Construction

Moving past winter

It’s said there are two seasons in Chicago: winter and construction. Yesterday I took an extra long walk to an extra pretty coffee shop to start writing this because the forecast was above 40 and I could.not.resist.the.Vitamin.D. The walk was noisy and dusty and I almost walked into scaffolding more than once. I can’t let my tired heart believe that winter is over, but I can report that construction is in full swing.

Things to consider: What are you constructing, what I am constructing? Are we doing the necessary reflection about whether those things (if indeed they are things) are really needed? Are we working with our waste, composting our scraps, considering the generations before and to come…and picking materials and partners who fit the dreams we’re dreaming?

In this edition: A party to host, a reader request, and lots more!

Reader resource request

Reader B., who has a social work background and is now a supervisor, wrote to me asking for podcast recommendations related to management. I asked them to elaborate. They said: I am a manager now. I have been for a couple of years and I no longer do direct service work and managing my team is kind of the bane of my existence. I’m never sure if I’m good at it; it’s very complicated as a white person supervising primarily people of color. I’m just trying to get some new perspectives and ideas to think about. So anything regarding leading teams across difference or managing projects with large teams would be helpful. Right now I’m reading the Brené Brown book Dare to Lead. It’s her stuff about vulnerability in the leadership context and it’s pretty good. I’m just craving more — anything about office culture, racism in nonprofits, etc.

I know there’s an Ask a Manager podcast, and I remember a few episodes of Another Round — see episode 17 and episode 109 (Buzzfeed) — when Stacy-Marie Ishmael was on for “Stacy’s Career Corner” segments. (Searching for those links just turned up this related WNYC “Werk It” event/recording, too.) But it turns out I mostly listen to podcasts to escape work. Any other suggestions for current podcasts on these topics? Please hit reply and let me know.

Idea: Host a “Read to Each Other” Party

A few weeks ago, I ventured out on an icy night for a gathering that my friend Josh called “Read Stuff to Each Other: The Party.” It was as earnest, endearing, and nerdy as you’re imagining. The stuff dreams are made of. In the space of a few hours I got to hear: a dramatic reading of a Weird Al song, an N.K. Jemison short story, a long and deeply heartfelt Instagram caption, The Egg by Andy Weir (galactanet.com), I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone by Richard Brautigan (genius.com), a Raymond Carver piece, a snarky Irish “blessing,” and my favorite 10-year-old’s spirited dramatic reading of the God of Cake cartoon (Hyperbole and a Half).

Somewhere in there I read Red Brocade by Naomi Shihab Nye (poets.org) followed by Wendy Cope’s poem He Tells Her:

He tells her that the Earth is flat—
He knows the facts, and that is that.
In altercations fierce and long
She tries her best to prove him wrong.
But he has learned to argue well.
He calls her arguments unsound
And often asks her not to yell.
She cannot win. He stands his ground.

The planet goes on being round.

And this was just in the living room! Enough people showed up that Josh got a second group going in the dining room, where he had pushed the table aside and strewn pillows on the floor. I’m pretty sure that group jumped from the children’s book Love You Forever to Plato’s Republic. A real roller coaster.

Because I’m slowly reading Priya Parker’s book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters (Goodreads), I felt extra aware and appreciative of all the intention and care Josh put into making this a welcoming event. I asked if he had any tips to share, should any of you want to steal this idea. His response, very lightly edited:

Since I’ve only done it once, I don’t have a lot of data to compare what works better / worse. Tip wise, I can share a few things I tried to do:

1. normalize ppl reading AND ppl who don’t want to read (=ppl who want to listen). reading aloud is a big ask for some - that’s the point actually: it’s an intimate, vulnerable act. you can make a mistake. You can pronounce a word wrong. You can read ‘too slowly.’ make space for people with varied relationships to reading.

2. i made a big pot of matzah ball soup, because it seemed to fit the warm, cozy, communal vibe (and is easy to make en masse).

3. i tried to embrace a little messiness and lightheartedness by setting up one room as a fort/nest of blankets and pillows.

4. i tried (and would be more intentional about in the future) to normalize getting up and moving between reading groups, since there were 2 in my apt. i want a space where people trust each other to make authentic choices. if that means trying out the other reading group, that's great.

5. i anticipated that, at the very start of the party, i might have to be the first one to read, so i had a book ready. that was the case, but i'm not sure it will be necessary in the future as people feel more comfortable jumping in.

in thinking about this, i guess i was more concerned with *how* people interacted with the setup of the party and what they *felt* then the reading component itself. i figured people would figure that part out, but that it might be useful to model/nudge/support people towards comfort, authenticity, bravery.

One thing I’d add as a participant is that I was so eager to go partly because of the specificity. A cozy, soup-fueled lure out of hibernation that promised minimal awkward small talk and word nerd entertainment? Yes please. Josh set the tone in advance by including a little FAQ in his Facebook invite that made the “come as you are, everyone gets soup, bring literally anything to read — or don’t, just come to listen” principles above really clear.

Let me know (and I’ll let Josh know) if you steal this idea!

Have you seen another beautiful example of hosting recently? I’d love to hear.


Late-breaking additions I’m still digesting:

  • On #NoCopAcademy — Whether you’re in Chicago or not, this is a campaign to learn from. The latest development is that just this afternoon our City Council approved Rahm Emanuel’s plan (Chicago Tribune) for a $95 million police training facility. Here’s a radio piece from WBEZ’s Worldview that helps explain the opposition, featuring Christian Snow, ED of Assata’s Daughters, and Stefanie Bator, a volunteer researcher with the campaign and an activist I know through Showing Up for Racial Justice. Organizers like these young people, and actions like today’s, are moving this city — and ultimately the national conversation around policing — in important directions. Here is a statement from civil rights leaders including Angela Davis in support of these young folks (Google Docs). Here is a suggestion (Chalkbeat) from one of our mayoral runoff candidates that we turn empty schools into mini police academies. (For those keeping score at home, I’m in favor of using schools as schools.)

  • On the college admissions scandal: this Facebook post about the myth of a meritocracy by a writer named Jaimie Leigh (shared by at least three of my FB friends). Also…like, all of Twitter yesterday and today. Exhibit A (BYP100), Exhibit B (Eve Ewing), Exhibit C (Clint Smith III), Exhibit D (Jelani Cobb)…

And a few I’ve had a bit more time with:

  • For all my talk about reading, I’ve read very few books (besides baby board books) lately. Recently I stopped at the library and intuitively grabbed three: an intro to meditation, a serious contemporary fiction, and a romance novel. Surprise! Guess which is the only one I’ve gobbled up so far? So I enjoyed this episode of the Nod podcast with Jasmine Guillory, the writer whose work brought me back to the genre recently — decades after I very subtly snuck tattered Harlequins into my piles of Baby-sitters Club books to check out from my childhood library. (Thanks to Levi and Jasmine, my coworkers at Second Shift, for mentioning the episode!) And I’ve decided to eliminate the phrase “guilty pleasure” from my vocab. Romance novels can just be a pleasure. Especially now: The Changing Face of Romance Novels (NYT).

  • I really like cultural researcher Anuli Akanegbu’s newsletter. This latest edition about giving credit where it’s due, particularly when we re-post and share images and words online, is great. I’m trying to be better about this. It’s hard because I open so many tabs all the time, can’t get through them, and by the time I “finish” (I think my phone browser actually hit the max of five hundred open tabs the other day 🤢), I’ve forgotten where I clicked from.

  • I also appreciated this edition of “media futurist” Dayo Olopade’s newsletter, especially as I think through my next steps for this one. (I set out originally to write 35 installments of Move and Groove, which means there are just seven left…or are there?)

  • And this Mashup Americans episode (APM) with Dr. Leana Wen, the new President of Planned Parenthood, had me leaking actual tears in the produce section at the grocery store. I’m an emotional sucker these days when it comes to stories about parents and babies, stories about health care for the whole spectrum of our lives, stories of women/humans/immigrants who land in exactly the jobs we need them in here in Trump’s America. They’re coming to Chicago later this month (WBEZ), FYI.

Quick correction

Last week I mentioned my pal Molly Abbattista and spelled her name wrong! I also said she volunteered on the Colin Bird-Martinez campaign. She did not. My bad. It’s still worth reading her reflections on what his campaign achieved in the ward where she lives.


See you next week. Keep building. Or take a rest day! Whatever you need to do.

All photos this week are mine, 35mm, taken in Thailand in 2013. Happy almost anniversary to the dude I took this honeymoon with.

Thank you to my from-day-one readers and new subscribers alike. For those who just got here, I’m writing an email each week for 35 weeks. After that, TBD. If a friend forwarded you this email and you’d like the rest, you can sign up at julia.substack.com.