Barn's burnt down
I can see the Moon.
~ Mizuta Masahide

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Inelegance of Grief and Vulnerability in the Seismic Age of Trumpence

 New Yorker Cartoon, Dec. 2, 2016

How is a person to act when the first rumblings of seismic shift begins and s/he realizes s/he is standing on shifting sand rather than bedrock?

Having lived in California or Washington for nearly thirty years of my life, I have experienced many earthquakes, most so small that I barely took a pause ("Meh, that's like a 3.0 and I've GOT to get this laundry done"). A few - the Loma Prieta and the Northridge quakes, in particular - were doozies ("Oh, Sweet Lord, is this the day and place where I die?"). 

My one comfort during those bigger - dare I say, "bigly" - earthquakes was that at least I was on solid, if rocking ground. If I made it to a strong doorway or under a solid desk that could withstand the weight of falling debris, I knew I would be okay.

But for folks whose homes and work and and schools and lives were built on landfill (the approximation of equity in property development and urban design) they found out quickly, brutally, and totally just how illusive the security for which they paid dearly truly was.

 25th Anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake

These days, I've been thinking a lot about earthquakes, given the preponderance of seismic imagery in analyses of the Trump Electoral College victory. And I can't think of a more apt metaphor for the pace and scale of the threats, and the importance of situatedness in determining one's perception and vulnerability to those threats.

I am reminded of this video by Brent Kooi, who was a missionary in Chiba City, Japan, a few hours away from Fukushima when the earthquake struck.

Elsewhere, Mr. Kooi has stated that he was able to stay calm in the crisis because he did not know the scope of the damage further north. What I find striking, however, is not his calm but rather the reactions of some of the others in the video: both the dog and the Japanese citizens at 0:40. While Mr. Kooi admits to feeling disoriented as he continues to meander towards the train station, while recording the liquefaction of the park, the people at 0:40 waste no time leaving and the dog sounds like s/he is having none of it. It's not until 2:26, after noting the rapid expansion of the fissures, the sprouting of lakes where there was once lawn, that Mr. Kooi admits to feeling "a little nervous" because, oh yeah, the park is built on landfill.

It's personally hard to reflect on the seismic nature of the coming age of Trumpence and not react like the people at 0:40 or holler like the dog. Over the last few years, I've noted regional insurgencies and wretched Supreme Court decisions that have made it very clear that core human and civil rights, necessary for a successful free and fair democracy, are not bedrock rights for anyone who isn't straight, white, wealthy, or evangelically Christian. And now, the candidate who campaigned peddling contempt, ridicule and hatred for The Other, is queuing up a Cabinet full of hateful True Believers determined to enshrine their white supremacist, heteronormative, Inquisition-style Christianity into every chamber of government and into the highest law of the land for at least a generation.

How am I to act when the first rumblings of seismic shift begin and I realize I am standing on shifting sand rather than bedrock?

I know there are many who believe that the best way to react is to follow Mr. Kooi's example: stay calm in the crisis; make note of the changing landscape; look to the reactions of others as guidance for how best and when to react; don't panic; and don't disturb others with your nervousness. 

That's a lot to ask these days when the fissures of injustice are undulating and threatening an era of constitutional and humanitarian liquefaction.

Not only does it ignore the messiness of grief and legitimate fear. It fails to create space for the very productivity that it requires. How does a vulnerable person create a plan to alleviate that vulnerability without engaging those who may be inconvenienced but who purport to "empathize"? That's not a rhetorical question. That's my dilemma. If I follow the example of the dog and loudly announce my concerns, I am histrionic in my personal life and unprofessional at work. If I follow the example of the people at 0:40, I am uncommitted. 

I and others more immediately vulnerable (e.g. Muslims, Hispanics and sexual minorities) are now profoundly inconvenienced by the need to create exit strategies that may pull us away from homes we love, communities we enjoy, and work that inspires us.

And resolving those two inconveniences -- the one for those adapting to the liquefaction of their human and civil rights; the other for those on higher, more stable ground who want to help but also need the vulnerable to function as if they too are on stable, unchanged ground -- is a conundrum that many communities and workplaces will need to resolve.

Survival strategies for vulnerable people in the Age of Trumpence are not something that can be gradually evolved in wonderment at the rapidly changing terrain. And their genuinely empathetic but inconvenienced neighbors and colleagues who are less vulnerable to Trumpence priorities have a right to try to maneuver through the transformation with calm. 

I wish I had the answer. I suspect it begins with authentic heart-to-hearts between the vulnerable and the inconvenienced, focused on discerning mutually beneficial pathways towards continuity where possible, and towards escape where necessary. But those heart-to-hearts must be predicated on a shared understanding that while there are always tremors with change, seismic tremors (like the rise of a President openly allied with white nationalists) are different. And the discovery that some principles once believed to be bedrock are in fact landfill in the early stages of liquefaction is a living nightmare.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Holiday Gift Guide for Anti-Fascists in the Age of Trumpence #GrabYourWallet #SmallBizSat

Image result for love peace gifts

If you didn't so much as vote for Trump as hurl a Molotov cocktail of rage at the current economic system, and are now finding yourself perplexed and appalled by the explosion of hate crimes emboldened by the flame you helped start, then this gift guide is for you.

If you are a progressive, unsurprised by the explosion of hate crimes leading up to and following the election, and are therefore inclined to throw a Molotov cocktail at your friends and family who voted for Trumpence, then this gift guide is for you.

You see, there are many thousands of companies that demonstrate better ways of doing business than the exploitative, discriminatory and often illegal approach favored by Trump. And the collective power of holiday spending can help draw attention to these exemplars.
If we value the fair treatment of workers, neighbors, and contractors, it's not enough to just boycott the Trumps, we need to also support those companies that treat their workers well, support equitable local economies, and operate as responsible environmental stewards (but at the very least, skip New Balance).

You can find excellent options here, in the B Magazine directory, or you can buy from locally-owned and locally-sourced companies as a way of creating a stronger local economic impact in your community.

For your beloved who looks with horror upon the kitchen, gift them with GrubHub gift cards. And while you prepare your holiday meals, consider using flour, butter, wine and cheese from these companies (note: A to Z's Pinot Noir is quite tasty and pairs addictively with many Cabot cheeses).

If you're not in a benevolent gift-giving kind of mood (believe me, I get it), and would rather support organizations that assist those most vulnerable to the incoming administration's priorities, then by all means, reallocate your holiday spending to make donations to those organizations.

But here's the thing, since calling someone out directly as a bigot or heterosexist doesn't work, perhaps using the gift as an opportunity to create empathy might. If you choose a mission-driven donation in lieu of a physical gift, try not to do it in spite. Realize this is a teachable moment between you and your beloved. For example, if you make a donation to the Trevor Project, include the personal story of another person you love or respect (note: get their permission first OR choose someone whose sexual orientation is already known).

Remember Dr. King. He wasn't all kumbaya, rainbow character love, he was an astute economic strategist who understood that civil and human rights are intricately connected to economic priorities and opportunities. When he was killed, he was supporting a workers' strike in Memphis, calling for a boycott of discriminatory Memphis stores, factories and banks and preparing for the interracial Poor People's March on Washington. This was when he became truly dangerous to the ruling elites. It was fine when King and other modern civil rights leaders insisted that overt white supremacy was anathema to the country's moral authority in the rapidly changing world of the Cold War and decolonizing black and brown nations. But when King began with increasing fervor to connect racial injustice to economic predation, he "had" to go.

I'm not suggesting that engaging in guerilla gift-giving will result in That Cousin passing you the mashed potatoes with a side of anthrax. Rather, I am saying that you should be prepared to have your guerilla gift-giving used as Exhibit 1 in the case that you are petty or are a socialist whiner who lacks empathy (even King was accused of being tone deaf, impatient and heartless towards white people). Give anyway. And if - unlike me and others who have experienced racist vitriol and are therefore less inclined to be magnanimous towards those who have gloated about Trump's White America since the election - you can give your guerilla gifts with love, please do it. For love of the best that America can be, for love of your community and for love of your beloved.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Requiem for an American Dream

When I started this blog, it was after accepting that my long and circuitous journey towards becoming an academic was derailed, and I needed to re-chart my course.

Last month, I began drafting a post the week after my birthday. I'd learned that a high school friend (the first boy I ever loved) had died tragically. And a few days later, a college friend died after a sudden, fierce and ultimately futile battle with cancer. Questions of mortality and purpose intermingled with grief for two of the kindest and most decent people I've known. And I was plunged deep into introspection.

In the days that I have been drafting this - tapping a few letters, sometimes words, deleting, and gradually needing fewer pauses to remind my lungs to function - I have reconciled with the demise of my delusions about the state of the country of my birth.

My American Dream has long been to finally settle on some land in a rural spot within a half day's drive of an international airport. My mind's shameless cosmopolitanism would finally reconcile with my agrarian progressive heart and I would establish our family's farmstead bed and breakfast some place in rural America that would welcome our presence, and respect this dream.

But in light of last week, my encounter with Trumpence, and the litany of indignities and threats piling on to my black, brown, Muslim, Jewish, Asian, Latinx, and queer friends and acquaintances, I've decided to rechristen my American Dream as my North American Dream.

I've decided to resume the journey of emigrating to Canada, something I've explored off and on for over a decade. And for that, I've been accused of being histrionic. Of being a quitter. Of never really being an American anyway. Of being naive. Of simply not doing enough.

I've been told that now is not the time to walk (or sprint) away. It's the time to grieve through volunteering, strategic donation, and consistent self-care. It's the time to stockpile Plan B and lean in, just a little bit more. It's the time to celebrate the glimmers of hope that also manifested on Tuesday (see 1, and 2). Now is the time to lead and testify and build bridges to those who want me and mine gone my neighbors and listen with an empathy they clearly lack for Others. It's the time to give hate a chance.

But here's the thing: at best, all those exhortations sound like Hamilton's Aaron Burr chatting revolutionary strategy with General Washington, and at worse, they are the knight reassuring the pawn.

I will continue to lean in to support the development of communities that support businesses that implement more positively impactful practices (an aspect of my current work that I deeply enjoy) and I will lean in to advocate for more equitable distribution of economic opportunity to regions beyond the coasts and large cities. But I will not lean in to place my head in the guillotine and become a martyr. And Hell will host the Winter Olympics before I knowingly gamble with my daughter's safety and options. Staying put feels - and with each passing day, looks - like a risky gamble.

Before Tuesday's results and the racist encounter I experienced on Thursday, if I unexpectedly encountered a person as I rounded a corner, I would respond with a chuckle and a greeting, my default reaction for ALL people. Now I go through my day with a heightened vigilance, uncertain whether I am truly, fundamentally safe. My trepidation isn't reverse racism, it's the law of averages. More than 53 million overwhelmingly white Americans voted FOR a candidate who promoted white supremacist views and violence against his detractors. They voted for a man who would rather me and mine weren't here, in the land of our birth, investment and homes. And many millions more didn't bother to vote to keep him and the hate he enthusiastically celebrates at bay.

I'm not the fighter I used to be. For my daughter and for my aging heart, I seek Safe Harbor in a sanctuary where I can mourn, heal, regroup and thrive.

But I also want to understand: 

How have Canadians made diversity and immigration "work," especially in rural and exurban communities?

Sure, I could just stalk the British Columbia OARH online, and dive deeper into reading about Canadian history to glean what I can learn. But, as a former study abroad alumna and a card-carrying cosmopolitan geek, I prefer immersion. In the US we like to talk a good game about how we are the exemplars for the world but on this point, we are a cautionary tale and clearly have a lot to learn.

Friday, November 11, 2016

On Fights and Backs in the Age of Trumpence

When I was my daughter's age, there was a little white girl I wanted to play with. Her parents didn't allow it, so I shrugged it off and went off to play on my own. At the time, Mom didn't tell me why the girl  wasn't allowed to play with me. And to those parents' limited credit, they didn't tell me either. It was much later that I was finally told it was because I am black.

When I was just a little bit older than my daughter, a white boy in my class called me a nigger on the walk home from school. I turned around, kicked him hard in the nuts, and then chased him home. Classmates were around. They heard what he said. They saw my response. And when the kid and his father came to school the next day, looking for witnesses to report me, my friends had my back. And I don't think it was because they were afraid I'd beat them up too (I wouldn't have). They had my back because in their elementary sense of ethics, they knew it was the right thing to do.

Fast forward thirty years, and some of those same friends who had my back in grade school, have turned their backs or stood in palpable silence as I and people who look like me have begun to be harassed by racists emboldened by my "friends'" chosen savior. Those friends no longer have my back. They have stabbed it.

New friends, better friends, promise they have my back in the fight(s) to come. And to the extent that their hearts are true and their spirits strong, I believe they do. But I also know that the beat downs along the way (some reputational, some legal, and others, I'm sure, physical) are coming as much for my allies as for me and people like me.

And the tests my back-havers will endure will be many, with varied expectations of advocacy and intervention.

When I studied abroad in Russia one summer, I was one of maybe two dozen black people in the entire city of St. Petersburg. It wasn't long before the neo-nazis under Nevsky Prospekt saw in me an easy mark, and the abused and down-trodden Roma saw in me someone who, finally was lower on the whipping post than they were. I got through those two months sometimes by hiding in my room but mostly because two white male friends who spoke better Russian than I did, essentially took shifts hanging out and exploring the sites with me. They had my back in a most literal sense and I will forever be in their debt.

Last Thursday, when I finally had to leave the house (pesky job and adulting responsibilities), I was anxious. Friends and others around the country were already reporting racially abusive language and physical acts. But though I live in Denver, CO, I was on alert as I walked out my door. What would the rise of the Age of Trumpence have in store for me that day?

Very little, it seemed. I parked in a parking garage and scurried to my office hours, encountering no overt racial enmity whatsoever. I carried a large box several blocks to another meeting downtown and encountered nothing but either averted eyes or really earnest and hyper-kind smiles. I got through the day! Yes! And as I walked back through downtown, to the garage, I allowed myself a little relief.

Then a car rolled up slowly beside me, which was odd because there are no parking meters on that part of the street, nor any storefronts. A sneering voice said something out the window to me. I didn't catch all of it but I did hear "Trump's White America." And as I picked up my pace, without looking at the car or saying anything, the car sped up too and drove off with the sound of the occupants' malicious laughter.

I was shaken. But I wasn't alone. There was a thirty-something looking white guy who was just a couple feet ahead of me. When the haters rolled up and pronounced the truth of the day, my sidewalk neighbor glanced over his shoulder at me and the car. And here's the thing: he didn't say or do anything. He just kept walking.

I won't have friends like my buddies in Russia around me everyday. I need to rely on the kindness of strangers in this Age of Trumpence. But can I? When 1/4 of the voting-eligible population saw an opportunistic racist and xenophobe and said, "Yeah, I'm cool with that." And nearly half of the voting-eligible population saw the rise of the opportunistic racist and xenophobe and said, "Yeah, I don't care enough about that to vote to keep it at bay." When nearly 3/4 of those who could have had my back chose or enabled those who'd rather but a bulls eye on it, can I rely on the kindness of strangers and still feel safe in the land of my birth?

I am tired of abuse. I'm tired of the shocked white moderate and liberal realization that white supremacy isn't America's underbelly, it's fundamental to too many Americans' national identity. I'm tired of those with more privilege and security than I have ever had or ever will have here telling me THEY need ME to fight the fight that THEY should have been fighting with their families and friends.

I need sanctuary to recover my footing,  heal my broken heart, and raise my daughter in a space of genuine compassion and safety. I need to relearn who I can trust to have my back as I have theirs, and who offers nothing but smiles and lies.

Sometimes, getting out is the best course of action. Trumpenistas may triumph when I and others leave. They may even try to block the right of return for anyone who departs. But if those who have the wherewithal (and strategic privilege) to stay and fight prevail, then the Trumpenistas will win this terrible battle but will lose the long and bitter war for this country's soul.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Manifesting 2016

Last week, when Z and I returned from a palliative visit back to Washington, we spent the first weekend of the New Year making and studying our manifestation collages for this year. 

Z's was adorably concise:

By the time the year is over, we will have two dogs. We will also visit Arizona (including camping). Z will attend cowboy camp and learn how to ride a horse. And we will live, once again, in a small town (I didn't have the heart to tell her that the "small town" she chose for her collage was actually a street in Memphis).

My collage is a bit more ... ambitious.

This year - I pray - my various projects, risks, opportunities, obligations, and loves from the last few years will come to a productive bloom. Some - like my fellowship with B Lab - have a predetermined end date. Others - like becoming a licensed attorney for resilient local economies and re-establishing a home west of the Rockies - are a bit more nebulous in their ETAs. In large part, this is because I feel quite driven by my Duty of Care: care of myself, yes, but mostly care of those I love.

The care of someone or something differs from the care for the same.  Care for connotes actions but also feelings and taste ("I do not care for Faux News or artichokes"). Whereas Care of solely connotes actions. What must be done to keep that about which I care in good condition? We take care of our stuff, if we want it to last. We take care of our children, if we want them to thrive. And sometimes, we take care of our parents, for the same reason, prompting a reversal of roles that is both empowering and terrifying.

My mother is facing a common but scary illness, and though it was caught early enough that her prognosis will likely be good, there's still a lot of uncertainty. But the one thing about which we are certain is that I will need to step up and help take care of my mother at some point, in ways that I have not done before.

At the same time, I must take care of Miss Z (who, like me, is impatient to move back to Washington). And I must take care of myself as I fully reboot my career and pursue my entrepreneurial goals (a niche law practice and homestead B&B).

The language of duty reads like an imposition but I experience it more often as an opportunity. I have the opportunity to figure out how to take care of my Mom. So many of my friends and family have lost one or both parents. I'm sure that my relationship with my Mom will evolve but at least we have a relationship to nurture.

On those nights when I stare wistfully at my 1st edition copy of Go the F*ck to Sleep, while my beloved, sleep-drunk five year old is in full banshee mode, I nevertheless appreciate the opportunity to be her mother and take care of her. And then I enjoy a glass of Washington red wine.

And when I look at my collage with impatience and anxiety, I challenge myself to focus on the opportunity that a new year, combined with my talents, ambitions and dreams present. I don't know if by the end of 2016 I will have done even half of the things represented in the collage. But I know that I am very fortunate to have no small amount of pluck and luck as I embark on my 2016 journey. And I am so very fortunate to be able to put family at the center of my values and my aspirations.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I just can't - #TamirRice #AliveWhileBlack

On Monday, I binge-watched Netflix and finally watched The Butler. I found it to be a profoundly moving meditation on race, politics and family. The final scenes with Barack Obama's election captured the feelings of grief and release and hope that I fully admit I felt both on Election Night and when I went to DC for the inauguration. Grief for all of those who had to - truly had to - die to make it even possible for "someone like him" to ever be President of the United States. Release of the suspicion that maybe America would never fully become what it could be and should be because it was too beholden to the racist, sexist and brutal foundations of its own origins. Hope that We were finally, truly, on a path to healing, reconciliation and creation of an equitable, just and more perfect union.

The Butler ends with an elderly Mr. Gaines walking tall to meet President Obama. But it reminded me of a little boy I saw on Inauguration Monday.

1/22/09: I saw this kid several times during that afternoon: always playful, happy and radiating a sense of awe that was utterly contagious.

He's probably 12 or 13 years old by now, but back then he was just a little boy who stood a little extra-tall as he played. He was clearly awe-struck and though I never spoke to him, I remember observing that he seemed to play with purpose. He, even he, could be President some day. And as I turned off the credits for The Butler, I remembered that little boy and said a little prayer that he still believes he can grow up to be anything he wants to be.

And then I checked Facebook.

And I cried. No. I began crying because the fact is I have been crying for days now. Tamir Rice is not the little boy I observed in Washington, D.C. on January 22, 2009. But he could have been. They are ... or would be ... about the same age, after all. And I pray that the little boy has not been and never will be Tamir Rice. But he could be. 

He could be if he thinks that he can play with a friend's pellet gun in an open carry state.

Three boys playing Cops & Robbers in NY, 1948
He could be if the wrong scared, white cop sees him as a "demon" or as a grown man, instead of the adolescent boy he really is. The wages of the perpetual cruelty of vicious hate and cowardice are always paid by the most vulnerable.

Tamir was playing with his friend's pellet gun. He could have hurt someone, maybe even shot an eye out by accident. But it wasn't this potentiality that killed him. It was cowardice, cruelty and a latent racist hatred that killed him within two seconds of showing up on the scene. It is possible to empathize with the cop, not because his fears were reasonable (as the prosecutor suggests) but because those unreasonable fears have been so normalized. Racism does tend to show up more as fear than as pure hatred. As Morgan Guyton, has observed:
What we’re running up against is the inadequacy of the modern Western conception of justice. Because racism manifests itself as a collective sin that feels more like weakness than malevolence, even when a society’s racism commits murder through the “errors” of nervous individuals, it just doesn’t feel right to punish weakness and fear. So weakness and fear don’t get punished. 
Not only do they not get "punished," they get normalized by invocation of the objectively reasonable standard as judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene

It was reasonable for an officer who was found unfit for duty in his previous police gig to be hired without a thorough background check.

It was reasonable for the officer to jump out of a moving patrol car and shoot a 12 year old in the stomach from 4 - 9 feet away.

It was reasonable for the officer to claim on his police report that he gave numerous warnings, when the two seconds that transpired between his arrival and the shots make that impossible.

It was all reasonable because of fear. And we don't punish fear. No matter how unreasonable it is.

And yet, when I try to convey to my white friends, many of whom I love like family, that the only thing that scares me about moving to a beautiful small mountain town is my uncertainty about the white folks in it, they accuse me of being paranoid, or worse, a reverse racist. They don't understand ... and maybe don't want to understand ... that I am afraid of white fear. I am afraid for myself but more so I am afraid for my daughter, my nephews, my black friends and their children. 

I know what it looks and sounds like when people of color circle in and embrace each other as we grieve, yet again, for yet another unpunished murder of another one of our children who had the audacity to believe that s/he was free to be #AliveWhileBlack, in the presence of cops or white folks in general, without irony, subtext or shuffling. It sounds a lot like the silent wailing that chokes the throat and squeezes the heart until the ache, the ache, the ache just stops. It sounds like the gasp of disbelief, the not here, not now, not again, disbelief. It sounds ... exhausted ... weary ... hopeless ... trapped. How do I make a home for my child when the specter of that sound and soundless horror looms?

The last two nights, the last thing I saw on the bookshelf before I took off my glasses and turned off the light was Stephen Colbert's book, I am America (And So Can You!). It's a funny book. But the title reads like a taunt right now. 

Can I be America? Can my daughter or that little boy from the Inauguration? Tamir couldn't be. America didn't let him. White American fear didn't let him. We don't need to ride the tide of fear and demagoguery to make America "great" again (whatever the hell that means). We need America to become America because for too many of us, it never has been.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Single Parenting Through Law School: Career Planning, Interviewing andOwning Your Story #lawschoolmom

Image source:

Perhaps more than "traditional" law students, law students with children really need to establish a game plan early for what they want to do after graduating. It does not have to be crazy specific (i.e. "I'll graduate in May XXXX, sit the bar in NY that July, and begin as an associate, practicing ABC law, in a boutique Manhattan law firm by mid-August"). But you should have a pretty good answer to some of the following questions by the time 3L starts:
  • What kind of law work do you find compelling? Litigation? Transaction? Administrative law? Legal project management? Translating legal processes into plain English?
  • What practice areas or subject areas can you see yourself geeking out on? If you have more than one geek-out interest, what one or two areas seem the most underserved by legal services?
  • Who are the major players and rising stars in the practice area and related law work that interests you?
The answers to these questions do not have to be voluminous. For example, my responses to the above are:
  • I really like transactional law for micro to medium-sized business. I am also interested in: clarifying legal processes and business development strategies for clients; applying Lean to my future law work; and developing a visual roadmap to the administrative law related to economic development and social enterprise.
  • I geek out over social entrepreneurship, impact investing, the outcomes-oriented sharing economy, urban agriculture and gardening.
  • Oh boy...that list is long and compelled me to create several custom Twitter lists: La vie en tricoleur; Design Thinking; Socent USA; Socent UK; Oh CanadaLegal Tech & ReInvent Law; Community Wealth; and Washington State (O Leavenworth & Cave I miss thee).
While doing this kind of groundwork is a good idea for ANY law student going into 3L, it is especially important for student parents because despite the fact that much of 3L is an uphill battle against 3LOL ennui, it goes by fast and job searching and interviewing take up A LOT of time. If you put time into answering the three questions above before starting 3L, your job search will be more efficient, and you'll have more time to prepare for interviews and the many ways prospective employers will ask you, without really asking you, "How can you, as a single parent, do the job for which you are interviewing?"

Granted, it is possible that the employer won't know that you are a single parent and a law student. But if you are anything like me, you've had pics of you and your child as your Facebook profile photo, you may even have listed volunteering at your child's school as recent volunteering experience. Or friends and family may have tagged you in play date photos or family events on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., etc., etc. However the prospective employer finds out, they likely will and it behooves you to think through how you will respond to questions like the following (H/T to HR World for these questions):
  • Are you available to work overtime on occasion? Can you travel?
  • You'll be required to travel or work overtime on short notice. Is this a problem for you?
  • What is your experience with "x" age group?
  • Are you willing to relocate?
I recently accepted a job offer from an organization I have long admired, for an awesome one-year fellowship with a very good salary, health benefits and a child-care subsidy. During the telephone interview, the interviewer asked about my plans for my child (I had mentioned volunteering at her school in my application) if I were selected for the fellowship program. I told her the truth: I decided to apply to the fellowship after I saw that it offered a child care subsidy because it signaled to me that the company respects its workforce and genuinely wants to develop a diverse community of people at different life stages, but with complimentary skills. I've been a high-functioning single mother throughout law school and I'm sure that the skills I have honed through this experience, coupled with the subsidy provided by the company, will insure that I continue to bring my best self and my best work to work and to my home. Later, during the two-day in-person interview, a different interviewer expressed some concern about my ability to manage the demands of the position. I politely but confidently pointed out that applying project management, networking and efficient resource management is a life ethic for me. I'm not saying that my response sealed the deal for me on that job, but it didn't appear to hurt, because a little over a week later, I was offered the position.

That positive interview experience coupled with a recent unpleasant experience with a university student newspaper really underscored the importance of owning and telling my story. Recently, in his column for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman wrote about Heidi Grant Halvorson’s new book, No One Understands You And What To Do About It. I've not yet read Halvorson's book (it's now on The List), but I was struck by Burkeman's summation of ego bias: "what matters about you, to someone else, is whatever has most meaning for them, not for you." This may not be particularly revolutionary, but it is important to remember.

I recently forgot this lesson, and found my story warped nearly to the point of defamation by a careerist "journalist" who transformed my story and family into a cipher for struggle and drama that landed her the cover story but completely erased the competence, resourcefulness, joy and triumphs that have figured prominently in the life I have built for my daughter and I. It was an annoying way to relearn the lesson that people will project upon me their own preconceived notions about who a single mom law student must be. Rather than be surprised by this, I need to be as ready as I had been in the job interviews to own my story, tell my story and integrate the lessons and skills I have learned into the next chapter of my prospective employer's story.

An employer needs to know that who you will be as a co-worker and/or employee, will be someone who can manage her family responsibilities in a way that does not undermine the work at work. And you need to know the type of work that interests you, and how the skills you have honed finding your school/family life balance will enable you to transition to work/family life. Know your story. Own it. Share it. And make it work for you as you transition out of law school and (back) into the working world.