Some thoughts about MLK’s dream

I have been thinking for several days about what I should, or could, write to commemorate today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I’ve spent hours and hours reading books about race and racism in the United States, past and present. I’m part of an online discussion book group to critically analyze and apply what I’ve learned. I follow activists on Twitter and when they tell me to Do This Thing, more often than not, I do it. (Call someone, sign something, promote something, share something.) But I still feel like the powers we are fighting against are so strong, so prevalent, so violent, and I feel like they are winning.

I know, of course, that there are thousands of people like me, thousands more who are far more involved than I am, and even thousands more who are the leaders of the movement I’m trying to understand. But so often it feels like we are so few, and despite fighting the good fight, despite all our calls for love and respect and change…so often the results are, at best, disheartening, and at worst they turn my stomach.

People can be so noble and kind, so self-sacrificing and generous and determined. And people can also be the absolute worst part of this planet. The range is truly astounding.

I wish I knew what else to say, I’m struggling to string together my thoughts in any kind of meaningful way. I feel like I’ve learned so much, but the more I learn the more I realize I know so little about it. So, I keep reading, I keep learning, and I keep sharing what I learn with those who may not know (or care) about what I’ve learned so far. I keep hoping that, week after week, conversation after conversation, year after year, even my seemingly small contributions will make some impact. I also hope that as I continue to learn and my opinions continue to grow that I can take larger steps forward. I want to be part of that dreamy place where all men and women are seen, treated, and celebrated as equals.


If I Had A Million Dollars: Episode 3

I’m in the middle of a one-month spending freeze, and this is the time when I start to really miss the little impulse purchases that are EXACTLY what my one-month spending freeze is trying to curb. So, instead of spending real money, I’m returning to one of my favorite day dreams: generating a list of what I would do or buy with the following sums of money: $100, $1,000, $10,000, $100,000, and $1,000,000.


I’ve got my eye on a hiking day-pack that will carry enough water for 10+ mile hike, and also have room for snacks and layers and my camera and everything. I’ve got a smaller Camelbak, but I always seem to run out of water and the bladder/reservoir takes up most of the space in the pack. For the weather here (i.e.: one hundred degrees for the bulk of the year), I need something that lets me carry more water.


A new camera body, my DSLR camera has reached the end of it’s useful life with me; I’ve loved learning how to use all the settings and experiment with light and focus and everything, but I’ve outgrown it’s 12 megapixels and truncated distance f/stop. It is time to upgrade to something that will see me through the next 8-10 years (I think I’ve had my Canon for at least 7 years, and it was a hand-me-down to start with.)


At this point in my life, I would 100% spend this on far flung adventures. More than perhaps ever before I have a serious travel itch, and more than perhaps ever before I have more ties that are keeping me in one place. It’s a difficult combination for me and I find myself dreaming about far away adventures more than I ever have before: Peru, Norway, Iceland (always!), Egypt, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Paris…yep, definitely want to go everywhere.


I would quit my job and enter a full time Master’s program, possibly an MBA, but if the money was, essentially, free I may reconsider that as the ROI wouldn’t be quite so heavily weighted. (Coincidentally, applying for a Master’s program is one of my 2017 resolutions…so, my heart is in the right place, but man, that grad school price tag! Ooouuuff!)


In addition to paying off our house, I’d spend a fairly small amount ($100k?) doing some upgrades and changes to our current home to make it a little bit more functional for us for the rest of our time here in Arizona. One of those expansions includes moving an exterior wall, which I don’t imagine is cheap, and almost completely reworking the back of the house to give it some MUCH NEEDED SHADE (hello, full south-western sun, you devil!).

I would like to buy some land with views of jaw-dropping mountains to eventually build a forever home on, with plenty of room for a big library, a grand piano, a cook’s kitchen, and giant clawfoot soaking tub in the master bathroom.

And with the rest? I’d love to find some way to leverage it into a full time (or, 3/4 time perhaps) job for me that will help my community. I’m not sure what that job is, or honestly which community I’m talking about, but some kind of activist or access work, reaching out to those who could benefit from a leg up, and helping them figure out the steps and overcome the hurdles that are in the way. I know this is super loosey-goosey, but where I would previously have said “I’d travel for 3 years straight!” or “I’d buy a house with a 2-story library with spiral stairs and…” or something…I’d really like to engage in a cause that is fulfilling for me and makes my community a better place; whether that’s my literal neighborhood community, or the more at-large community of women, or whatever. I should maybe think more about this prior to investing in a Master’s program, yes?

So, how about you? How would you spend these magically appearing amounts? I know the most practical thing is “pay off student loans/mortgage” or whatever, but that’s not a very engaging day dream. What does your heart want? (And even if your heart also wants to pay off the student loan/mortgage, give me something else to swoon over, even if it’s a “and/or” statement! You can do it! It’s imaginary money! Let’s spend it!) You can see my previous lists of imaginary spending here.



I don’t like scary acrylic nails or plastic shoes, and I don’t like overly photoshopped images. I don’t like artificial cherry, grape, or banana flavoring and I don’t like disingenuous compliments. I do, however, have streaks of purple in my hair and several plastic IKEA plants greening up corners of my home. So, my authenticity requirements are a little bit fluid and loose around the edges, I’m not some kind of hard ass.

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I have struggled to fill this space lately, there have been the Big Life Things that only get a passing mention here, and Unbloggable Things that don’t get mentioned at all (let’s go to lunch, I’ll tell you ALL about it). I wonder what having this quasi-anonymous place is for, if not to be able to write about those things!? But, it’s hard to be completely authentic, even if doing so results in lower anxiety levels for me. Also, perhaps it isn’t always entirely healthy to share every thought and feeling and frustration every moment that I have it. (Besides, isn’t that what Twitter/Facebook is for?)

I feel like the last several years I’ve noticed a particular shift online AND in my real life away from the more genuine and towards something that feels more plastic-y, more artificial, more–dare I say it–“styled.” And I get it, I do. The Internet is not the same place it was 10 years ago, trolls are everywhere and you have to fiercely protect your own privacy and family. Hell, I don’t even write under my real name, I’m hardly one to complain about others who curate their outgoing messaging. But I also miss the days before the pretty filters, and the lightening-brightening tool, and the cropping out the unseemly, the messy, and the dark, in order to stay true to a “personal brand.” Whatever that means.

I know there are plenty of places where you still get the Real Deal, you see all the warts and the cracks and the scary bits of someone’s life. It’s a super vulnerable and scary thing to do, to open up and show your true self to the world. It’s probably easier to set up a nice little vignette, three paragraphs of words, or an image, and retouch it a bit to present a shined up version, the “better” version. And sometimes, we all do that. We have to, I think. We all filter ourselves as we interact with humans in our daily routine, and perhaps even more so as we put ourselves “out there” via Twitter or Instagram or blog posts or whatever. I think we’ve all found ourselves unsubscribing from a completely unfiltered feed, it’s too much, too extreme. But, do we also unsubscribe from the other end of that spectrum? Do we put so much value on the filters and the visual tricks that we lose sight of the beautiful and honest core?

The beginning of a new year–calendar or academic–is always a prime time for decluttering and simplifying my life. I unsubscribe from spammy email lists like crazy, weed out my closet, and get rid of the piles of unnecessary and unremembered stuff that tend to accumulate in the corners of my house. Simultaneously, I am also trying to clean up my own Expectations feed, to remind myself that my imperfect, feisty, sweary, nerdy, ranting, defend-the-underdog core is just fine. I need to remind myself that it is much easier to be myself, the sometimes petty, sometimes jealous, sometimes selfish, oftentimes kind (but also sometimes not, see: petty and jealous and selfish), usually nerdy, usually serious version of Harriet that has pulled me through to adulthood. I am not perfect, and that is okay. Sometimes (okay, most of the time), I’m not even trying to be perfect, and that is okay too. Year after year I get slightly better at being comfortable in my own skin, and therefore more honest and authentic about who I am and who/what is important to me; it’s a process.



Confession of a Bookaholic: Stories from World War I & World War II

There are approximately twenty-hundred-million books written about World war I and World War II, this is just a handful of them, but it’s what I’ve been reading lately.

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World War I

Dead Wake: Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson (5 stars). I love Erik Larson’s writing style, his non-fiction reads in many ways like a sensational novel (doesn’t hurt that he selects gripping stories and the researches the hell out of them to find the stories that we care about). I knew very little about the Lusitania–a huge passenger cruiser that was sunk by German U-boats as it came into harbor in Great Britain–or really about the finer points of World War I history. Larson made this ship come alive for me, and placed within the greater war theater helped a lot of disparate threads of WWI come together for me, especially the isolationist role of the United States and, finally, America joining the Allies in the war.

One of Ours, by Willa Cather (4 stars). Willa Cather is a beautiful writer, so many of her descriptions and dialogue brought up ALL the feels. Claude is a young farmer from Nebraska who feels like he has always been waiting for his life to begin, and despite his best efforts, has not made much headway. He joins the army in WWI and it isn’t until he is working and fighting with a battalion of soldiers, marching across France and watching his friends die, that he truly starts to feel like he is home, like he belongs. This is not a fast-paced battle-heavy book, but a rolling story of a young man in his second coming of age. Winner of the Pulitzer.

Additional recommended WWI reading: All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque

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World War II

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson (4 stars). There are easily ten thousand books about World War II, however, reading about the slow-burn rise to power of Hitler’s Nazi party, and then the violent overtake of the German government…it’s been chilling to learn more about that in the weeks immediately after the 2016 election. I am not comparing the incoming US administration to Hitler’s Third Reich, however the similarities in the rise of fascism and the decline of basic human rights for all people are hard to miss. This book is told from the perspective of the family of the American ambassador to Germany in the 1930’s, Dodd and his wife are fairly conservative, middle-of-the-road people and their reactions to the changes in Berlin, the lack of believable information coming out of Germany, and the steady takeover of a hate-fueled new government are, well, frightening. I think if I’d read this 6 months ago I would have given it 3 stars. However, 2 weeks post-election, I can’t not award any less than four stars.

Note: this review was written BEFORE there were literal Nazi flags and Heil Trump salutes happening on the regular…I don’t have the political energy to rewrite this to somehow make the analogy that the rise of white supremacy and an American Nazi party is currently in all (red) areas of the country and how we should FREAKING PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT HAPPENED IN GERMANY IN THE 1930s AND THE FUCKING OUTCOME OF THAT POLITICAL DISASTER! Ok, I have a little energy. But seriously, you should all read this book. An American family initially siding with Hitler and seeing his points (??!) and then realizing how full of supremacy-fascist shit he was, and begging the rest of America to BELIEVE WHAT THEY SAW IN THE NEWS about this dangerous Trump Hitler Trump & Hitler guys. Ok. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave (4 stars). Throughout this book I kept thinking of “Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson (which I loved) and it made me like it even more. Not that there is really any similarities outside of stories about British people during the London bombing raids of WWII. I think the author has nailed some witty dialogue and characters, and I liked how the different components were woven together without too much jarring as you jump from story to story. I would probably give this 3.5 stars, but I bumped it up to 4 because of the humor in the dialogue, humor that the British narrator perfectly nailed in the audiobook. The little dry one-liners with an English accent? Perfection.

Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys (3 stars). Four teenager (or young adults) thrown together during WWII as they flee the advancing Soviet forces, each chapter told from the perspective of one of them. The good news is they are together early on in the book, the bad news is one is ridiculously unpalatable (Alfred), and the other three carry secrets that, despite the chapter being told from inside their head, they refuse to even think about, though their burdens dictate every single choice. I appreciate learning more about a little-known WWII tragedy, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff a massive refugee ship that went down in just a few minutes, killing an estimated 9,000 passengers. I appreciate Sepetys detailing that maritime disaster and putting a new face on the WWII narrative, that of the Europeans caught between the clashing armies of Hitler and Stalin.

A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson (3 stars). Meh. I wanted to love this, but I didn’t. I felt like the jumping around in time absolutely did not work for me, the jumping through various families and three (or four!) generations was confusing and left me feeling discombobulated and disappointed. I really didn’t care much for any of the characters. I’m sure this was intentional, but I hated the little repeating phrases and descriptions that were 40 and 50 pages apart; I think this was something to do with the reincarnation theme that Atkinson writes about in Life After Life, but I didn’t like it here, this book is not nearly as well done as her first, and frankly, you could easily skip.

Additional recommended WWII reading:

Unbroken, by Laura Hildenbrand (READ THIS!)
The Hiding Place, by Corie Ten Boom (about standing up and doing the right thing, read it!)
Lest Innocent Blood by Shed, by Philip Paul Hallie (about protecting refugees, read it!)


Tongue Tied

Carrying on a conversation has never been something that is difficult for me. I love talking, I love having in-depth conversations about Real Things with new friends and old. I have a pretty low tolerance for small talk. There have been a few times this year that I’ve been tongue tied. Blocked. Unable to express all the thoughts and feels and fears that are running around inside my head. The feeling of choking on consonants and gagging on vowels, literally swallowing my words instead of letting them out can bring me literal physical pain. It’s like a smoldering in my chest, a tightness I cannot loosen, threatening to cut off my air supply. Going through days and weeks feeling like I’m slowly suffocating ramps up my anxiety and soon I’m caught–again–in the middle of a hurricane that is gaining momentum.

Deep breaths. Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.

It seems that every time I have to go back to my own basic building blocks–things like remembering how to breathe–I get better at refreshing and moving forward. I don’t know if that’s some kind of defense mechanism where the internal warrior draws her sword and throws up the defense walls quicker; or if my armor is stronger so the blows don’t do as much damage? Or maybe my expectations for life are finally being trimmed down to size? I don’t know. I think, like all of us, I am just waiting for 2016 to be over. I am well aware that January 1 does not hold any magically fantastic solutions for moving forward, but even so, I’m looking forward to the new year.

I am working on my lists, I live and die by lists these days, I am determined to attack 2017 with a gusto not seen for many many years. I’m not talking about one particular thing, or a neat list of resolutions, I am making plans to improve my work life, my personal life, my relationships, the works. I am getting better at keeping my lists manageable and in order, and getting better at seeing a long-term plan and drawing in the building blocks to get there. This is all still a work in progress, the plans and the lists, but I’m hoping in a few weeks I’ll be able to start sharing. For me, getting it all out in the open is the only way to break the gag.

So. That’s how I’ve been*. How are you?






*This speechless, voiceless feeling is not something just from the last few days; it’s been lurking and growing for months, tightening it’s grasp with long weasely fingers sneaking into many areas of my mind and heart. However, I was finally able to give it a name, and naming the monster has, in a small way, helped me break free from it.