See evidence of millennia of volcanic eruptions on one mountain–it’s beautiful

View from Sierra Nevadas

I grew up going to the High Sierras every summer with my family. They are my home mountains.

It wasn’t until I took a geology class at Carnegie Mellon that I started to be able to think about my mountains’ history, their composition. Geology is the demography of the earth, it’s a way of understanding what’s here, how it got here, and what it might do in the future.

My favorite kind of rock is the kind that is most common in my mountains: igneous rock, that which came from inside the earth but hasn’t been here long enough to get turned to dirt and then become rock again at the bottom of the ocean (that’s sedimentary rock).

Some mountains only let you see one kind of igneous rock. Some have just intrusive igneous, molten rock that got close but didn’t reach the open air and then cooled. They tend to be speckly, like a robin’s egg.

View of Sierra Nevadas8

Some have just extrusive, where lava flowed on the surface of the earth and formed rocks that sometimes have little air bubbles in them.

View of Sierra Nevadas7

Other places have cooled volcanic mud, which is much looser, full of little and big bits of stone and hard-ish earth. It just falls apart under the onslaught of rain; it’s the weakest form of igneous rock, but breaks beautifully.

View of what happens when water and volcanic mud mix
Here’s a video I took of a place that lets you see all 3, right on top of each other in Gargoyles in the Western Sierra Nevada mountains:

Gargoyles is a beautiful place, with striking contrasts between the wide-open valley and the jagged, crumbling cliffs. It’s also a place where the stones tell a story of times when it wasn’t so peaceful, when the ground heaved under rising igneous rock and boiled over with volcanic mud and lava. There’s something peaceful about seeing evidence of all of that turmoil and realizing it all ended up beautiful anyway.

View from Sierra Nevadas2

Inspirational Quote:

“And the people in the streets below Were dancing round and round And guns and swords and uniforms Were scattered on the ground”–Paul Simon

Moved to Seattle, looking for work, the usual Millennial lifestyle

A few weeks ago I finished up my time at Polaris, where for 2 years I ran online communications. I got to do a lot of good work there–raised $250,000 in 6 weeks, ran campaigns that let tens of thousands of people demand action from their elected representatives, and taught a self-defense course for survivors of human trafficking. I made some amazing friends, who I will miss very much.

Since my last day in DC, I’ve gone camping in the high Sierras, celebrated my 3 year wedding anniversary (this is our 10th year knowing each other; wow), and moved to Seattle. Coming home to the Left Coast feels good. I like wearing a t-shirt on a Tuesday and being one of dozens rather than only a handful of women with short hair on the bus. Access to real Chinese food has been key.

Like when I was in Pittsburgh, I plan to be politically involved in Seattle, which is why I posted this piece to Buzzfeed today. It’s more journalistic than what I usually post here, and includes an infographic, if that’s your kind of thing. I’ve identified some state-level campaigns I’m inspired by and will be volunteering for. More on that later. I’m also getting to know the Capitol Hill neighborhood, thrift-shopping in perfect Seattle style.

Now I’m settled in, I’m looking for work. I’m looking at start-ups, legislators, campaigns and big companies–places full of smart, hardworking people going after big problems, places that will let me use all of my brain and many of my skills to make the world better. If you’re reading this and interested, I’d love to get a caffeinated beverage in the next few weeks.

As an aside to longtime readers, this post is going up on the 7 year and 1 month anniversary of FeelingElephants. Here’s to the next 7.

Inspirational Quote:

“One thing we know for sure is that change is certain. Progress is not.”–Hillary Rodham Clinton

501(c)(me): The rise of personal fundraising

What would you do if this came across your dash:


i am so so bad at asking for money this is horrible i wasnt raised to do this

basically okay here’s my current situation. our lease is up in june and we’re going to be moving out to a house closer to town somewhere around the end of may, two months from now. when we do move each of us (and there are four of us) has to pay security deposit (basically 400 bucks), $50-100 for fees, and rent for the first two months. so I need at least $1300 in two months.

my new job pays bimonthly paychecks, so in a month I will have about $1600 from that plus small cash from my old job (that I’m still working at). problem is, I still have to pay two months worth of rent ($600) and pay for food and pay application fees for college and save up enough to pay for tuition this fall which is going to be something like $1500

I went to apply for FAFSA but even though I don’t live with my parents they’re classifying me as a dependent and since my parents make well into middle class range it won’t cover the rest of my tuition

please. if you can donate anything at all the button is on my blog and i will promo you or draw you anything you want or sell you nudes put what you want in the notes section

like i’m desperate here i cannot move back in with my abusive mother im terrified i might not make it back out if i go back into that mess please help me (but if you can’t that’s fine you’re an angel for reading this and your hair looks v nice today)

here’s my situation at the moment, guys. you are in no way obligated to help me but if you could that would be so wonderful

Would you donate? Would you click through to her blog to see more of her story? How did reading that make you feel? Did you feel any different from when you last got hit-up for money by a nonprofit or candidate?

I’ve seen more and more personal fundraising online recently, and have given at least 3 times this year. Though approaches like this may look like online fundraising, to me they feel a lot closer to spotting a friend for groceries when she’s running low. They feel like they serve a community-stablizing function.

One of the parts of my job that I don’t talk about a lot here is online fundraising. I’m responsible for bringing in about half-a-million dollars through online giving per year. The way Americans give, that means about a quarter-a-million in the first 46 weeks of the year and a quarter-a-million in the last 6 weeks of the year. There are books and conferences and mailing lists and magazine articles and blogs all devoted to the exercise of getting people to give online. That’s not what this is about; this is something new.

I mention the “the way Americans give” because that end-of-year hockey-stick is caused by the intersection of 2 things:

  1. Holiday feelings of goodwill towards our fellow humans, and
  2. Avaricious hopes to get a tax break in April

Donations that are tax-deductible are those to organizations given nonprofit status by the U.S. government through section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Other actions that feel like donations–like giving to a political candidate–are covered by other designations, like 501(c)(4), which includes campaigns and Super PACs.

For a long time, those were the binary worlds of online giving–either to a candidate or an organization that supports candidates, or to a nonprofit.

But more and more, a different type of online fundraising is gaining ground and mindshare. It provides no tax benefit, and the IRS has no role in regulating what I gave.

This rising type is personal fundraising, like this campaign I gave to a few minutes ago to help a father who is a friend of a friend get back on his feet. I’ve also given to help a bisexual young woman pay for round-trip gas to return to her abusive mother’s home briefly to retrieve her cats and then get away again, and a trans* woman in England to pay for a night at the hotel between her abusive family and a good friend’s place across the country.

I never got a thank you email, and 2/3 of these I gave straight to someone’s PayPal account. I face the possibility that I got scammed. The value of all of the structures around formal nonprofits–like Charity Navigator ratings, 501(c)(3) or (4) status, Form 990s, Annual Reports, media inquiries into candidates’ spending, and open social media channels where donors can ask about their gifts–is they help ensure that my money goes to where I intended it to. But we’re not talking high-dollar amounts here, and the blogs and online presences of the people I’ve sent small amounts of money to are much richer and more consistent than would be worth the time of a huckster.

My method of verification is more simple, more basic than those we regularly apply to nonprofits. I rely on social ties. The first campaign I mentioned I saw because a friend posted about her friend’s need for a job on Facebook. I trust her, and if she says family behind the campaign is trustworthy, then I believe her. For the other campaigns, I relied on a more complex, but no less effective means of verification.

Both women I gave to support thrive in the same online spaces I do, often relating to a fandom. Both run public blogs with long paper-trails supporting their claims of abuse, of moving away, of needing support. Neither had been called out as a scammer, which is something that happens loudly and often on Tumblr (delightfully,  anti-scammers sometimes turn their efforts fundraising campaigns for nonprofits). I relied on social ties, rather than government-mandated reporting, to ensure my gifts would help someone.

These campaigns rely on those social ties, but also the megaphone-on-crack which are co-supportive online communities. When urulokid posted about her situation, she first did it to her blog, which not unpopular, but not huge. Then she retumbled it to a blog she curates, which at the time had over 25,000 followers and posts regularly sparking hundreds of interactions.

That blog? Texts from the Avengers. (It’s wonderful, really, check it out. Be warned though, the source texts are from that standard of internet time-wasting, circa 2009, Texts from Last Night)

The conceit is the author/submitters take text messages submitted to a website known for funny, often inebriated, texts, and pairs them with superhero-happenings. Most of the posts are delightful, like this one:

Or funny-like-hitting-a-funny-bone-is-funny-ie-not-at-all-funny, like this one:

That’s what Texts from the Avengers is like, all moderated by urulokid. But sometimes conversations on her personal blog bled over into the more common space. Here is where Tumblr, like many other co-supportive online spaces, thrives. People who’d survived abusive situations gave advice on FAFSA applications; people gave hugs. A month earlier, she’d promoted a similar fundraiser for a friend in Argentina to the Texts from the Avengers community, trying to help her escape an abusive home situation. urulokid celebrated when her community wrote fanfiction based on her photos, and she ran her blog like a good moderator.

In the 20th century, she could have gone 3 routes. 1, and a heartbreakingly common 1 it is, she would have been forced to move back in with her abusive mother, because there has rarely if ever in human history been a time when resources available for abuse survivors match their needs. 2, she could have asked friends for money and relied on her geographically-limited social capital. 3, she could have gone to a nonprofit that might have a grant from a foundation to provide limited emergency housing assistance and tried to make it work from there.

Instead, she raised $1,800, money, direct to her account, in a few days. Contributing to this kind of campaign feels beyond good–it feels like, through the cost of a few meals out or an Uber ride home, you just helped someone move the arc of the moral universe just a fraction closer to a just world.

The question of being scammed or afraid of money being misused has even longer teeth in giving situations like this because these gifts and these fundraisers rely on personal ties, violations of those ties cut inside our armor. I follow the people I’ve given to on social media, so I regular get a feeling for where they are in their lives, but for this post I wanted to do something more proactive. I followed up with urulokid a few minutes ago when getting permission to tell her story in this post. Answering whether the campaign helped her meet her goals, she said:

“yes, they did definitely help. raised over 1800 dollars in donations which allowed me to stay another few months where i was”

I’m not saying stop giving to your local shelter–men, women, trans* folks, kids, adults, there are a lot of people who need structural help. If your risk comfort is low, you may like giving to someplace whose tax forms you can read on their website. But if you see a post like this roll across your dash, you’re seeing a chance to make a person-to-person commitment to a better world. Pretty cool stuff.

Inspirational Quote:

“This linking together in turn lets us tap our cognitive surplus, the trillion hours a year of free time the educated population of the planet has to spend doing things they care about. In the 20th century, the bulk of that time was spent watching television, but our cognitive surplus is so enormous that diverting even a tiny fraction of time from consumption to participation can create enormous positive effects.” ― Clay Shirky

Women will be hurt this weekend, Justice Roberts

Planned Parenthood of Western PA Pro-Choice Escorts

Escorts I stood with on my last day at Planned Parenthood of Western PA

I woke up at this time a few Saturday mornings a month for 5 years to volunteer as an escort at my local Planned Parenthood clinic. In all that time, I never saw a protesters change anyone’s mind.

But an escort, within 35 feet of the door I did experience the following things:

All of that was part of the gig. I grew up big and have strong opinions about standing between people about to get hit and those hitting them. What happened to me as a volunteer was infuriating and wrong. What I saw happen to women and men seeking medical treatment at the clinic was far worse:

  • I saw a young woman driven to hysterical tears, so terrified she could hardly walk, by a protester following her for 3 blocks, hissing in her ear from inches away
  • I met women at their cars several blocks away, because they were so scared of the protesters they couldn’t leave their vehicles alone
  • I watched protesters videotape clients’ faces from inches away
  • I watched protesters body-check patients on the slippery sidewalk
  • I heard protesters yell, hiss, and whisper everything from “I regretted my abortion” to “contraception causes cancer”
  • I saw protesters throw baby dolls on the sidewalk to force clients to step over them to get to the clinic entrance
  • I heard protesters shout at companions: “Are you a man or a mouse?”
  • I watched protesters put out a “Life Choices” sign in front of a white van and try to convince women it was the clinic, and that they could provide services (they couldn’t)

All of this abuse, intimidation, and misogyny made patients scared, worried, and hunched. But it never worked. I saw women go in, discuss their options with a nurse, and choose to leave leave. But that 30 seconds of “sidewalk counseling” never had any impact on patient’s choices, just their mental health.

Clinic protesting is often a form of protected speech, ineffective and awful though it certainly is. When protesters become violent, when protesters assault and kill escorts like happened at the Massachusetts clinic involved in the this this week’s Supreme Court decision, they are no longer protected.

This is part of the constitutional distinction between protected speech and prohibited actions. No matter how strongly a protester feels about people’s access to reproductive justice, they cannot assault people. I have made the argument that buffer zones don’t prohibit speech, they merely require an increase in volume, which is an action. Though I find myself in disagreement with the Supreme Court, it will not be the last time. I stand by my interpretation.

There are many productive things to do with the anger many of us are feeling. I will be donating to Planned Parenthood. I’m wearing my I Support Planned Parenthood t-shirt and prepped to discuss the decision with people on my cross-country trip today:



But the hardest and most vital action is to keep talking with pro-life friends. Though I had major problems with the protesters outside of my clinic, I also had a number of pro-life friends. Friends who protested outside of clinics, and then after long discussions, came to use their passion in other ways: advocating for access to natal care on campus, getting more young people access to contraception and comprehensive sex ed, supporting mothers of children with disabilities.

Though many of us are furious today, we can make change. We can tell the truth: about our reproductive health needs, about what it means to be terrified to go to the doctor, about how useless and damaging clinic protesting is.

And we can keep fighting.

Inspirational Quote:

“Just to be clear, the Supreme Court has a very active ban against demonstrators on its own grounds.”–Aura Bogado

3 pieces of advice for your first day as an intern

I’m riding the metro into work and see a lot of un-broken-in heels, shiny suits and anxious faces. To the interns sharing my morning commute to their first days at work: welcome!

Before coming to work in DC (which you’ll learn to call by acronym, rather than the outside-the-Beltway “Washington”) I spent two summers here as an intern and fellow. Outside of the District (the other appropriate moniker for the city where you now work) I did internships in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Boston, so my advice comes with experience.

If I could give you 3 pieces of advice this morning, they would be:

1) Make friends. In most cases, your peers will be the ones hiring you, not your current supervisor. Most nonprofits and legislative offices take more interns than they have hiring spaces, but many people who have cobbled together the funds for a summer working in the nation’s Capitol have ambition and an interest in policy. In 5 years, those people will be your hiring managers and you’ll be looking to hire them.

(Some interns focus all of their energy on impressing staff, which can be important, but shouldn’t be at the expense of building friendships and professional relationships with your peers. It’s like college: your classmates are your real network, not some alum you met for 10 minutes at a networking event and certainly not your professors who probably have never and will never work in your field.)

2) Eat. Eat with people a few times a week, more if you can spare the recharge time. Budgets are tight in internland, but you are here because you want to do something. Eat enough so you’re not starving at 11:30am and thus can’t pay attention.

(I ate PB&J sandwiches for my first summer in DC and pasta with homemade sauce my second. Get your fiber, get your fruits and veggies, get a little bit of chocolate when the task of learning huge preexisting systems gets you down.)

3) Write. I’m putting this post in the category I used to use for my internships, because I wrote about what I was learning in all of them. Whether you blog under your own name, grab a funny handle on tumblr, or cram your writing between two moleskin covers, this is going to be a shaping summer and you’ll want to be able to point to the moment you learned to speak fluent acronym. If you’re like me, you won’t really be able to think about something until you’re writing about it, so this will help you learn.

We’re welcoming 23 new Fellows in 20 minutes with a breakfast to help them get to know the organization they’re joining as well as start their first day full. If you’re the nervous-looking intern on my train and read this, just let me say: welcome. This summer should be fun.

Inspirational Quote:

“Good for the body is the work of the body, and good for the soul is the work of the soul, and good for either is the work of the other.”–Henry David Thoreau