A Letter to My Nieces

To Savannah and Landri:

Every year, you get books from me for Christmas. I try to pick things that you’ll like and with strong female characters. I know you don’t read quite as obsessively as your grandmother, mother and I do, but I’ve always hoped that with the right book, the balance will tip. I also know that history probably isn’t your favorite subject.

But this year felt different. Maybe it’s because you’re teenagers. But more likely, it’s because of this horrible election season. It is always hard to be a feminist, to believe in equal rights for women. But it’s been so much harder this year, with Hillary’s campaign and ultimate defeat. The world feels uncertain and scary, and you’ll be coming of age under a president who has no respect for women. What impact will that have on your future? On your self-esteem? On how you approach your career and your relationships with others?

I flipped through Dead Feminists at a bookstore several weeks ago. I liked the looks of it. I liked that I didn’t know every single name listed in the table of contents. I thought about it long and hard, read this review, and then I bought it. Of course, I also did that thing I so often do—I read the book before I wrapped it.

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Girls, I know I can’t make you read this book, but I’m really hoping you do.  Make your mom read it too. Talk about it as a family.  Each feminist is chosen with such care—and each woman’s story connects to current events. The articles are brief and the art is stunning. I hope this book will serve as a gateway for you to explore more about women’s history.

But what I loved most of all is the obvious passion the authors/artists have for social equality and justice. We all need some inspiration right now, and I hope this might be a spark for both of you. There is so much to life (even life in junior high and high school) beyond drill team and dance and boys. Volunteer. Get involved in an extra curricular activity where your mind matters most. Don’t be afraid to be smart. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. The feminists in this book had extraordinary courage, but it didn’t magically happen when they were grown ups. It started when they were young—and it’s time for you to start too.

Merry Christmas—and here’s to a 2017 where more women find their strength. And if you ever need to add to your list of feminists to admire, just let me know. I’ve got loads more books I could send you.

 To Lucy and Schafer:

Little ones, don’t think I’ve forgotten about you. Hopefully, your memories of this period in history will be vague. But I have a feeling I’ll be stockpiling copies of this book for when you’re older.  Your moms and I will do everything in our power to raise you to be strong, feminist women, just like us.

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Time Battles

For months, I had been looking forward to lunch on Friday, April 22.  As part of the North Texas Teen Book Festival, three very well known YA authors (Sarah Dessen, E. Lockhart and Ruta Sepetys) would be speaking, and there would be no teens to get in the way.  I knew the timing wasn’t ideal, work-wise, as we’re just a week out from our largest fundraiser of the year.  But I was going, because this was important to me.

As I was pulling out of my parking spot on Friday to head to Irving, my cell phone rang.  At that moment, my phone decided to freak out and wouldn’t let me answer the call or see who was calling.  I pulled back into my parking spot, fiddled with the phone, and saw that Evelyn, my curator had called.  Just as I was about to hit redial, there was a knock on my window.  A reporter from Channel 8 had arrived and wanted to talk to me about the homeless encampment behind the Farmstead.

I will admit that I didn’t react well. “Couldn’t they have called first?  Can’t they wait two hours?” Evelyn offered to talk to them.  But I knew that it should really be me. So, I allowed myself one more shout to the universe: “I was just trying to do something for myself!” and got out of the car to talk to the reporter. Amazingly, I made it to the lunch with 5 minutes to spare.

Since becoming Executive Director two years ago, the whole work/life balance thing has been a real struggle. Though everything worked out fine on Friday, it was more than a little stressful. I was frazzled as I talked to the reporter, frazzled as I drove to Irving, and frazzled for the first few minutes of the lunch.  Perhaps I was naive, but I really didn’t realize how radically my life would change as Executive Director.

About six months into ED life, I read Anne Ackerson’s Leadership Matters.  It’s a collection of profiles of various museum leaders, centered around some key ideas.  And, of course, there was a lot of talk about work/life balance.  It made me realize that I needed to stake my claim on a few of my hobbies and personal obligations and just let the rest go.  I’ve hired a maid, but still do a fair amount of yard work. I’ll let my DVR stack up in favor of reading. My church small group was already floundering before I became ED, but I didn’t pursue another one as I know I can’t commit to one specific night a week.

There are two things that I really try to make time for.  One is Jazzercise. This has been my workout of choice since grad school.  Though a few friends tease me, it makes me feel like I’m not actually exercising and does make me feel like I’m dancing. And it makes me happy.  My Jazzercise instructor retired a few years ago, so I had been working out at  home. A combination of mid-30s metabolism slow down and ED busyness means my weight has crept up a bit.  (And who has time to shop for new clothes?) Last summer, I randomly put on one of my Jazzercise DVDs and realized how much I missed it.  The nearest class is about 15 minutes away, but most weeks, I’m making it to the 7 a.m. class a few times a week. I’ve even rearranged some standing morning meetings to accommodate Jazzercise. My weight has stopped climbing, and I’m happier.

The other thing is the DFW chapter of the Forever Young Adult book club. Through this group, I’ve read so many great things and met some really great people. It is very rare for me to miss book club or not read the book.  Several fellow members were deeply involved in the planning of the book festival, so Friday’s luncheon wasn’t just about the authors but about some very good friends.

And then Saturday was the amazing festival with ALL THE TEENS. 8,000 of them, to be exact.  I moderated two panels, one on historical research (surprise!) and one on stand-alone novels. Because I’m an overachiever, I did my very best to read as much as I could of the 11 authors represented on my two panels.  I made it through 12 books in about 3 weeks. I don’t think I’ve read that obsessively since grad school, but the reading list was a lot more fun!  It’s been a very stressful month, especially with the work and worries surrounding the pending closure of Tent City and the impact that might have on the museum. But I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.  The energy was incredible.  And as a lifelong book lover, it was amazing to “go behind the curtain” and just hang out with the authors during lunch. I tried to keep my cool.  Maybe I succeeded.

History panel
“The Research Lab” panel: Libba Bray, Karen Blumenthal, Janet B. Taylor, Ruta Sepetys, Nathan Hale and me.
standalone panel
“One Story at a Time” Me with Adi Alsaid, Marisa Reichardt, Jennifer Mathieu, Maurene Goo, Ally Condie and Julie Buxbaum

Sometimes, as Executive Directors we have to do battle. It may be for our institutions. But it may also be to protect our personal time. It is so easy to get carried away in work, but I know I’m a better person and a better director if I make sure to make time for Jazzercise and book club and a few other things I love.

 

P. S. Ruta Sepetys–get to know her. Some of the best historical fiction I’ve ever read. But have tissues nearby.