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New Year Vision, Forward and Rear Views
A visioning exercise for you, and a year-end recap from me!
Note to readers: this end-of-year message is a rare cross-post between my various communication platforms, so you may receive it more than once.
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Ah yes, you know what time it is: yet another year-in-review newsletter has arrived in your inbox! Many people love to hate on New Year's celebrations-- an arbitrary moment imbued with arbitrary weight and meaning-- but that's what I love about it. Before I dip into everything I got up to this year, here's a short and sweet vision exercise for you going into 2023. This exercise is based on the first exercise I ever did with my former career coach, Jen Sellers, who helped me find direction and grounding through some of the most change-heavy years of my life. (Reminder that if you enjoy things like this, you can work with me directly or take a workshop!)
Practicing a Vision for the Future
Do whatever you need to feel grounded and centered in your space: this could be anything, from sitting in your favorite chair, to lighting a candle, to going for a walk in a park. I personally find it helpful to take a few deep breaths, focusing on making the exhalations longer than the inhalations, and to close my eyes. Imagine yourself at a party on New Year's Eve, a party on an undetermined future date, but that is closing out the best year of your life. You don't have to know yet what made it the best year, but your feeling at this party is that everything you wanted to do or happen has come to fruition. Picture the party in as much detail as you can: who is there? Many people, a few, just you? Where is it, and what are you doing? How does it feel to be there, in mind and body? Spend some time trying to inhabit this feeling, using your imagination to render the scene in as much detail as you can, focusing on how it makes you feel.
After you've spent however long in this imaginative, emotive stage as feels right to you, grab a piece of paper, journal, voice memo, or whatever you like to record your thoughts with, and try to put what you imagined into words. From there, see if you can work backwards in that imaginary time: what had happened to make it the best year of your life? The things you identify are likely to be your priorities-- they might even be your big dream, pie-in-the-sky priorities, the ones you perhaps don't always let yourself believe are possible. Without judging or discounting them, see if you can make pathways towards them. If the thing you imagined can't happen in just one year, what might a step in that direction look like?
Write (or record your thoughts) as long as feels right-- you don't have to have all the answers today, and you can revisit this exercise any time you life.
A Year in the Rearview
Reaching December 31 of this particular year has seemed like an accomplishment in and of itself, so frankly, rehashing a full narrative of everything that happened just sounds like pushing the whole boulder up the hill again. Because so so SO much happened this year, though, I thought I'd go through my calendar month by month and jot down a few of the pivotal things that happened. It helps me realize that, in my perpetual state of always feeling like I am not doing enough, I am in fact doing A LOT. Times of transition are particularly fraught, I think, because everything feels like climbing a sand dune, every cake is half baked, every to-do list full of things that become irrelevant once you understand the challenges at hand better. So, here's the footholds I found in 2022.
January: At the end of 2021, I was about 12 weeks into recovering from being hit by a car, and still healing my brain injury. I know it was 12 weeks, because I'd been on short-term disability leave from work, and had been hoping to continue healing on long-term disability. However, I was informed by my work that because my 12 weeks of FMLA leave were up, I would no longer have health insurance if I didn't return to my job full time. Not exactly great news, since I was still in physical therapy, and needed to have follow up care with my neurologist, etc. So, I returned to work. I was already very unhappy at the Adler, so when within a couple weeks of being back, my manager asked me if I could quantify how much "slower" I was after the accident, I decided it was well past time to go. I wouldn't have chosen getting hit by a car as a catalyst, but it definitely gave me some clarity. That month, I quit my previous speaking agency and joined CCMNT Speakers, who I adore! I also submitted an application to the full time professional training program at Aloft Circus Arts, and crossed my fingers.
In February I returned to the Adler in person for the first time in nearly two years, to attend an All Staff meeting. I saw my office, a weird little 2020 time capsule, and took most of my stuff home with me. I hadn't given notice yet, but I had no intention of going back. Having decided to leave, I was spending my off-work hours creating the content for what would become my first two workshops: Values Based Decision Making For Your Career, and Give an Amazing Talk!
I also worked with Kathryn Jepsen of Symmetry Magazine on a white paper for Snowmass (the particle physics decadal survey), which eventually became "Building a Culture of Equitable Access and Success for Marginalized Members in Today's Particle Physics Community".
I also got the news that I had been granted an in-person audition for the Aloft professional program!
March was a banger of a month: I launched my first two workshops, Values Based Decision making for your Career (now available in a solo, on-demand version btw!) and Give an Amazing Talk! I also started working with my first coaching client, my friend and fellow troublemaker Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, on her TED talk. I auditioned for Aloft's Pro program over a full two days, and got to meet 27 other circus hopefuls from all over the country. I had a great conversation with Shane Harris on the Chatter podcast, all about the sticky ethics of space exploration.
Last but not least, I got to see my second PhD student, Dr. Emily Gilbert, defend her thesis at the University of Chicago!
April brought a return to (some kind of) normalcy for me: I flew to LA to attend a an in-person conference for the first time since before the pandemic, and to see my family. The conference was a special one to me, the Kavli Frontiers of Science, which I had attended in 2011 and still think about all the time. Kavli Frontiers brings together scientists across a wide range of fields to discuss their work with other scientists-- a rare opportunity to hear about other research at a higher technical level than what's available in the public media, but also still accessible if you're not an expert. You can see the full list of talks here.
Because I was going to LA, I also had to figure out if I could drive a car-- the brain injury from my accident made it very difficult to do certain things, and driving was one of them, so I hadn't driven since the accident... and anyone who's driven in LA will tell you it's not exactly easy mode driving. I took a couple short trips here in Chicago, and then kept my fingers crossed-- and was pleased to discover that it actually came back pretty naturally, and I made it across the LA sprawl to my sister's place intact. Last but not least, I was offered a spot in the Aloft pro program, and gave notice at work that I would be leaving in June. As a side note, my manager did not acknowledge my resignation for 12 days, which I referred to as Boss Watch 2022. Needless to say, it confirmed to me that I was headed in the right direction: out.
May was a month of work and tying up loose ends: I gave colloquium at Boston University (the astronomy graduates students chose me to give a careers talk for the students' choice colloquium, so I did, entitled "How To Run Away and Join the Circus"). They told me after they thought the title was a metaphor, not literal! I spoke about how to see inequity and make meaningful change in your workplace, as well as how to recognize when that change was not going to happen, and it was time to go. I'll eventually write that talk up into an essay, but honestly I was so burnt out by the Adler it's been hard to revisit thinking about it. All in good time. During May I served on a grants review panel, chaired the SETI Institute Science Advisory Board meeting, and got to attend a virtual Princeton Astrophysics Department reunion, where I told everyone I was a clown and enjoyed watching a Zoom gallery full of fancy emeritus professors try to make sense of the information. May was also significant for my spouse: Frank got into language school in Japan, and May was the month they received their Certificate of Eligibility to go, an important and very nerve-wracking bureaucratic immigration hurdle!
In June I interviewed with Chicago Magazine for their "Regimen" feature, all about how Chicagoans stay fit. You can read it here-- I got to talk about disability and how physical movement plays an important role in my health. I spoke at the Evergreen Climate Innovation summit, about how small advances in technology can yield transformative changes in our understanding of the universe. Mid-month, I started circus school with my cohort of 11 amazing collaborators, and just ten days later, Frank moved to Tokyo to start language school! June being the proper start to summer here, I also started spending as much time as possible tending to the #BreathingRoom gardens, where I help steward the land and grow food for the neighborhood with the #LetUsBreathe collective. We held a beautiful Juneteenth celebration this year, chiller than in 2021, sweet and lovely.
July saw the release of JustSpace's first documentary, Behind the Name: James Webb Space Telescope. This documentary was largely the work of JustSpace member Katrina Jackson, with myself and JustSpace co-founder Erika Nesvold providing advising and resources. In ~40 short minutes, our documentary lays out the historical record regarding James Webb's role in the persecution of queer people throughout his tenure at both the State Department and NASA, and it's accompanied by a folder of historical documents so you can see our sources for yourself.
Also in July, I gave a talk about science communication best practices entitled "You're (Probably) Doing It Wrong: Common Mistakes in Science Communication (And How To Fix Them!)" for the Black Holes Through Space and Time meeting, and a short workshop for the EquiTech Scholars, a group of international undergraduates who are using data science tools to tackle social challenges.
August brought my first break, a solid week of rest around Labor Day and into early September. Before that, though, I gave my Values Based Decision Making for your Career workshop at the Rubin Observatory Dark Energy School, and gave a talk for the Space Imaginaries Symposium as part of the Sydney Science Festival. The latter has become the foreward for the upcoming Routledge Handbook of the Social Studies of Outer Space, which will be out sometime in the coming year!
During my break week I drove to Michigan and camped around the state, which was much needed peace and quiet.
I returned to circus school with an even more intense schedule in September: when school started, we were in class from 9am-2pm daily, but in fall our hours extended to 9am-4pm most days. After the pandemic years of being very locked down, I decided to dip my toe into trying to do the things I like to do again, and saw a bunch of great shows: Midnight Circus in the park, Bleach Party at the Empty Bottle, Heet Death and Paper Mice at Bricktown, and Porridge Radio and Adam Gnade at Empty Bottle. I also finally got to see my students in the LSSTC Data Science Fellowship Program again in person, as we welcomed a new class of students (and our new DSFP postdoc, Bryan Scott!) to a session in Evanston. Despite being in a KN95 mask constantly, attempting to re-enter the world finally caught up with me, and I got COVID, which sucked. I also learned that my godfather, Oliver, passed away. He had a long and wonderful life, and it was his time, but I miss him very much.
October was tumultuous: After recovering from COVID, I felt a weird sense of renewed safety, what with my fresh antibodies. Nnamdi released a new album, and had a wonderful listening party at House of Vans that was good vibes all around. Later in the month, my grandmother passed away-- it was also her time, but her passing brought a lot of family history and difficulty to the fore. She left funding for all of us no-longer-in-New-York-ers to attend her funeral, so it ended up being the first time I had seen much of my extended family for some time, including my estranged mother. It was... very stressful, to say the least. Fortunately I rounded out the month being in places with community that feels more like home: I attended a panel for the release of Abolition Feminism Now with my fellow circus artist and abolitionist friend Alizé, and saw Open Mike Eagle at Beat Kitchen with my friend Marty.
In November, #LetUsBreathe's #EverybodyEats program conducted our first cooking demo, the brain- (and heart-) child of my friend Kwamena, who weekly coordinates our garden produce and food donations into hundreds of meals for Chicago family. This cooking demo was for the BYG interns, young folks who have been learning to grow food with us this past summer in the garden. I hope we'll do more of these, and maybe stream some of them! I saw my pals Meatwave release their new record at Empty Bottle. Most importantly, I went to Tokyo for a week to see Frank! We had been apart for five whole months, the longest in our relationship. It was amazing to see everything they've accomplished there, and just to be in another country again felt so special and surreal, especially a country where we've spent a lot of time together traveling in the past.
December, ah we made it! This month was all about our first show at school, a 40 minute ensemble production about the solstice. Creating and executing a show like that was a very new challenge for me-- in previous performances I've always been part of a variety show type setting, not a narrative work that flows seamlessly and constantly for the full duration of the piece. This show also challenged me physically, in that I performed using many skills I've only just acquired: acrobatics, dance, cyr wheel, etc. In the end I was very proud of what we put together, and feel excited for the future of what we'll do as an ensemble.
Unfortunately, December also ended with an awful piece of attack journalism against Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, who was singled out from the four of us who co-authored the petition to #RenameJWST for a sloppy, error-riddled article in the NYT. The article was published on the first day of Hanukkah, so it essentially meant that she has spent the holidays dealing with racist and antisemitic harassment. The other three of us (myself, Sarah Tuttle, and Brian Nord) wrote a statement and fact-check resource about the whole mess.
That's a wrap on 2022, folks! Thanks for being here with me, and I wish you a peaceful and fresh entry into 2023.