My Broken Midwest Memories

My grandparents raised two kids in a cement block structure with dirt floors and no indoor plumbing. They all used an outhouse, even through bitter Southern Indiana winters. When their third baby came along, my mother, they decided it was time to move.

My grandma was sitting on her “davenport” in her home when she told me this four years ago. I was there on a visit with a former boyfriend to see my family for the first time in a long while. We were gathered around grandma as she told her stories. I’d never heard that one before.

Later on, I called my mom on the phone to confirm it. She said it was true, without much interest. To me it felt like a revelation. It filled in gaps in my understanding of my mother and shined light on cracks in my own identity.

I was born a Hoosier, but it’s been more than 20 years since I lived in Indiana. We moved a lot when I was a kid. The first time we left it was for Virginia, when I was five. We came back, to Indianapolis, but left again when my dad got a job in Jakarta, Indonesia. I was eight or nine years old.

After our plans to move overseas were made public, I made up weird stories about it to my classmates. It mortified my mother when she caught wind because a parent had fallen for it. She was having her own tough time, grieving in advance for the friends, family, church, and city she would lose. This all happened in the 1990s, but she still talks about this period like it was yesterday.

We lived abroad for less than a year before we came back to the States — but not to Indiana. Under palm trees, not corn stalks, my identity formed under a blazing hot sun in the forge that is Florida.

After undergrad, I moved a lot on my own, too, to Brooklyn, San Francisco, and even to Gothenburg, Sweden. I kept my home state in the back of my mind all the while as the potential future site of my settling-down. You can buy a four-bedroom house in Indiana for $150,000—a very nice back-up plan, indeed, I thought.

It was with that naive vision of the state that I’d set out on my road trip in 2013. I booked a room in a funky inn in a historic town nearby for $60 a night. The owner wanted to speak over the phone first. He had lots of questions. Well meaning, I thought.

The last time I’d visited that particular town I was a pre-teen with my aunt and mom. I dug through bins in an antique shop while they browsed. I remember I bought a Superman comic in which he marries Lois Lane, because I thought it might increase in value.

When we arrived, the cute inn I’d booked was a little rundown. The bed dipped in the middle and the room smelled moldy. The town was nothing like I’d remembered. I’d pictured shops filled with local crafts. People outside and walking on the sidewalks. It was a ghost town. My aunt told us they’d closed an important bridge across the Wabash in 2012. It was the town’s connection point to Illinois. It’s just too hard to get to now.

After dinner and a couple of beers outside at my cousin’s place, my ex-boyfriend needed a cigarette. He’d been keeping it a secret from my family all day. I told him that around those parts it was not a good idea to stop off on a road in the middle of someone’s cornfield. It would look sketchy.

Maybe two minutes after he lit up, a pickup came down the road, a plume of dirt kicking up into the air behind it.

All through our trip so far, the people we ran into — shopkeepers, waiters, and so on — wanted to know where we were from. Over time, the phone conversation I’d had with the inn’s owner made sense. “Where are you from?” is the Midwest version of a longer sentence: “You are not one of us, we all know it, and we want you to know that we are watching.”

A man got out of the truck and asked us a few questions. He was friendly enough, but I knew what his “friendliness” meant. I gestured in the direction of my cousin’s house and told him we were visiting family. Then we got out.

There was a Whirlpool factory on the side of U.S. Highway 41, on the way to my grandma’s house. Its gleaming blue facade and the swooping motion in the big logo on its side looked so modern to me as a child. It was my landmark that told me we were getting close on car rides. A beacon of industry and things to come after miles of relative nothingness. It shut down in 2010, despite protests. Hundreds lost their jobs.

My mom had never been on board with my idealization of Indiana, and now I know why. The town she grew up in had a population of 500 at the time. Though it had a brief blossoming, after 1970 that number began to shrink. There was never anything for hardly anybody there. There’s even less today.

My secret deep longing for Indiana had more to do with people, time, and childhood than the state. Some things I missed I could probably find elsewhere. The sound of the cicadas, for example, along with their spooky shells that cling to trees in the summer. Hummingbirds at a feeder in the backyard. Cold drinks on a hot porch. I can’t recreate the wonderful feeling of eating Miracle Whip and bologna sandwiches with American cheese on white bread. Those were forbidden in my house, but OK to eat at grandma’s. There’s Canasta played at a kitchen table with my family, too. Even if we all played now, I’d no longer be the youngest trying to hold my own with the grown-ups. (Plus, we’d all have our digital distractions.) I realize I wanted to visit thosethings. But like the factory jobs and traffic flowing across the river from a neighboring state, they’re gone.

Tech Starts To Get It Right

Tech touches the lives of many, even those who can’t afford it. It is woven into the fabric of every American citizen’s day. Tech has real power to influence our jobs, our relationships, and our personal freedom. But in 2017, tech companies are not particularly known for doing the right thing.

When it comes to ageracegender, and economic equality, the track record isn’t stellar. Tech’s poor attempts at resolving its cultural problems are too often echoed in the way its content moderation teams handle abuse (or don’t). This week has been a turning point. Just maybe, tech is waking up.

Social media platforms, domain registrars, and hosts have booted high-profile white supremacists from their services after the horrific events in Charlottesville, VA, that killed three people. Their reaction is a glimmer of hope for those who have begged tech to do better for years.

Here’s a list of technology companies that have recently announced a new amendment to their Terms of Service regarding hate speech or the specific enforcement of such existing policies.

Airbnb canceled a number of accounts and bookings associated with the “Unite the Right” rally.

Apple has cut off Apple Pay services to websites selling Nazi apparelIt’s also collecting donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Anti-Defamation League, and other groups.

Cloudflare stopped providing its service to The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi and white supremacy publication, to counter the site’s assertion that the company shared their views.

Discord announced that it banned so-called “alt-right” groups.

Facebook removed an event page for the “Unite the Right” rally and Mark Zuckerberg released a statement regarding the company’s plans to crack down on posts that promote hate crimes.

GoDaddy removed The Daily Stormer, citing a Terms of Service violation.

GoFundMe has removed fundraising campaigns for James Fields, the man accused of killing Heather Heyer and injuring others in the attack in Charlottesville.

Google/Alphabet, Inc. announced that it, too, would revoke The Daily Stormer just a few short hours after it migrated there from GoDaddyIt also removed The Daily Stormer’s channel from YouTube.

MailChimp announced an update to its Terms of Use that makes hate speech violations more clear.

OKCupid announced that it banned a white supremacist “for life.”

PayPal reinforced its commitment to its Acceptable Use Policy (after the SPLC posted about uses of the payment processor by hate groups).

SendGrid suspended service to The Daily Stormer.

Spotify removed white supremacist music from its platform.

Squarespace removed a group of white supremacist sites, including that of Richard Spencer, citing its Acceptable Use Policy.

Tucows stopped providing services to The Daily Stormer’s founder.

Twilio added a hate speech prohibition to its Acceptable Use Policy.

Twitter has recently removed a handful of white supremacist accounts, including two associated with The Daily Stormer.

WordPress took Vanguard America offline, citing a Terms of Service violation.

Zoho revoked The Daily Stormer’s access to its services, citing a Terms of Service violation.

The Cost of Our Move from Brooklyn to Jersey City

When my husband and I signed the lease on a new apartment earlier this year, I was really excited, but hated the idea that it would have to involve spending a bunch of money just to relocate our belongings across a couple of bridges.

We both knew we couldn’t deal with the entire move on our own, though (not to mention the drive through Manhattan!). So we hired movers, but together the two of us tried to go about every other step strategically to avoid excess costs.

Here’s roughly how much it cost us to relocate two peoples’ stuff from a one-bedroom walk-up in Brooklyn, NY, around ten miles to a new elevator building in Jersey City, NJ.


  • Scissors: $3

  • Eight-pack of Sharpies: $5

  • Six rolls of Scotch Sure Start shipping tape: $23

  • Five rolls of bubble wrap: $74

  • One cardboard poster tube: $8

  • One vinyl records storage box: $14

  • 20 small bankers boxes: $40

  • Eight medium bankers boxes: $32

  • Three wardrobe boxes: $40

Total: $246

Our box costs were pretty low because we reused boxes shipped to us in the mail. If you use Amazon as much as we do, we recommend this.

It’s eBay Time

There is no point in moving things you don’t want. If you pack it up, you’re both adding to your costs and only delaying the inevitable need to figure out what to do with it. After moving day is over, it should be the end of all of that stuff and time for prettying up and enjoying your new place. A lot of our things got thrown out along the way during our packing process. Anything we didn’t want that also happened to be manufactured by a recognizable brand got cleaned up, photographed and listed on eBay.

A lot of the smaller items fit in envelopes. A big pack of padded envelopes was $6.50. Between the two of us, we made almost $900 on eBay after fees.

We also listed some other bits that were too bulky to ship in a local Facebook group and had people pick them up. That brought in around $100.


We unearthed five pairs of old eyeglasses while we were packing. Nobody needs that many backup frames. We decided to donate them and, after a little bit of searching, I found New Eyes. It happened to be based out of New Jersey, which sounded serendipitously nice. So, off some of our old frames went to New Eyes (in one of those padded envelopes, of course). Shipping our frames was less than $10, I believe, and it’s tax deductible.

Moving Day

We found a well-rated moving company that gave us a fair and logical estimate. They also responded quickly to emails, which is important to me. [Side note: One mainstream moving company had sent me a cheery email with a quote of more than $2,300 for an “interstate (long-distance) move.”] Our new building in Jersey City required a Certificate of Insurance, for which the movers charged $50. The move itself, plus tip, was about $500.

Cleaning Day

It turned out that our landlady wasn’t too picky about the cleanliness of the place after we left, but since I knew about things going bad with landlords around this topic for other people (and because I wanted my deposit back), I booked a move-out clean with a cleaning service. Cost: $150, tip included.

Other Stuff

We took our most valuable personal belongings with us in a car service over to the new place on moving day, while the movers were headed there in their truck. Cost: $50.

I’m going to assume I also missed a few items in my supplies list. Cost: $20.

The Total

I had hoped that our successful experience with eBay and getting rid of other stuff through Facebook would have meant we broke even, but I guess we did wind up paying. Total costs, if you factor in eBay profits? $32.50!!!

Packing and moving from BK to JC: $1,032.50

Profits from temporarily turning ourselves into eBay/FB machines: $1,000

I hope this post helps someone avoid paying ridiculous moving costs. ❤

I’m pretty happy with how this process turned out for the both us. I might even call it… A++, Good experience. Very appreciated; Would do again!

Dear Stranger, Thank You So Much

Health-wise, last year was really rough. In the spring of 2016, I was better, but my body was misbehaving, again. I had started to feel dizzy with day-long severe headaches that Ibuprofen couldn’t touch. I saw a couple of doctors about it, but they weren’t sure what was up. Oh, well.

My morning commute involved taking the train from the Bedford-Nostrand stop on the G line to the L at Metropolitan, then taking the L to 14th St./Union Square.

I’m a podcast nerd and much of my commute (one hour, each way) would involve me listening to the voices of Ophira EisenbergKirsty Young and others. They accompanied on me on my journeys in and out of the city, distracting me from the miserable humanity on the train car around me.

This one morning in the spring of this year was not particularly remarkable. I’d eaten breakfast, put on my clothes and makeup and trekked out to the G station, where I stood on the platform, putting in my white Apple earbuds. On that day, the podcast of choice was Radiolab, which covers wide-ranging human stories that relate to science in some way. It was a rebroadcast and it sounded vaguely familiar. I wandered around, zoning in and out as I waited for the train. Suddenly, I was hearing the woman in the episode describing a bloody medical emergency she had had in gory, vivid detail. I’m not good with that sort of stuff and I know it, so I turned it off. But it was too late.

Each phlebotomist who fails to heed my warnings about how poorly my body deals with getting its blood drawn regrets it immediately when my six-foot-tall, 180-pound plus body suddenly slumps over in front of them, completely unconscious.

I remember that when I was young, back when this first happened to me, nurses bothered with smelling salts to revive me. (Let me tell you, that stuff works, too!) More recently, many seem more inclined to get me to come to through simply rearranging my body. At a doctor’s office back home in Florida, I came to after one of these episodes to discover that I had been moved all the way from a chair to the examination table while I was out. I looked around for the nurse. “How long was I out?,” I wondered. I was completely alone in the room.

I saw staff outside the open exam room door going about their normal day. My uprightness caught someone’s attention, I guess, because a male nurse sauntered in and greeted me like he was just saying hello to someone who’d woken up from a nice long nap. I have no idea how long I was unconscious that time. To quote the titular character of the animated FX TV series Archer, one shouldn’t be unconscious for long, as “it’s super bad for you.” Oh, well.

The G train came. As always, there weren’t any open seats, so I stood as the vaguely unwell feeling that I’d started to have on the platform fully settled in. I tried to calm myself down and keep myself distracted, but the vaguely unwell feeling turned clearly into pre-syncope, a.k.a. near-syncope, a.k.a. the telltale signs of imminent fainting that I know all too well by now.

My ears were ringing and my vision was growing dim. It was going to be seconds — maybe a minute, at most — until I fell like a sack of potatoes, possibly hurting myself on the way down and hurting someone else, too, with my big, heavy body. I knew what I had to do first. I had to sit down.

I took out my earbuds, which were no longer playing anything, and did one thing nobody in New York wants to do, particularly on public transportation: I broke the vow of silence between strangers. I hated it, but I had to.

Seriously, clearly, but very calmly, I said something like this: “I’m about to pass out. I’m sorry. I need to sit down.”

As I sat, the darkness of my vision increased, but I could still see well enough to make out other people standing around me. Some of them had backed away a little and were looking down at me. Others hadn’t noticed anything was unusual and were chatting or staring off into the distance.

The ringing got worse and I felt one of my arms jerk involuntarily. The world was very dark now, but I could still make out the signs outside the window. They were for the Metropolitan station. The train continued on, heading north towards Queens. Maybe I would pass out and then come to at the end of the line, I thought. Someone there could tend to me, I guess.

Then, a woman’s voice to my left asked, “Do you have water? Maybe in your bag?” She was speaking to me, in a measured, gentle tone. I indicated no while the world kept on growing dark and the ringing became ever louder, drowning out the sounds of the train car.

I sensed movement nearby. Maybe there was talking, but I couldn’t make it out anymore. I felt something. The spout of a water bottle on my lips. I drank. Then, something hard was gently inserted into my mouth between my teeth. Candy? I sucked on and ate it. A mint, maybe? More water, another mint, and I was back to life, aware of my surroundings, again. I had managed not to pass out, and it was because of the stranger next to me.

“Where are you getting off?,” the woman asked. I could see clearly now, but was exhausted from the ordeal and still getting my bearings. She handed me the water bottle that she’d held to my mouth before. “I already missed my stop,” I replied.

“OK, let’s get you off at the next station, OK? You’re sweating.” I hadn’t been aware of it, but, yes, she was right. My limbs were shining with sweat. My forehead was damp. Yes, I indicated, I would get off at the next step, and she would be with me. This was the understanding. I don’t remember if she said that or if it was implied.

After I got off the car, I lost her. What did she even look like? I knew she was a Black woman, maybe around my age or a little bit younger, but otherwise I knew her only by her voice. I hadn’t had the chance to make a mental note of what she was wearing and had no idea how tall she was when standing. I certainly didn’t know her name. Where was she?

Seconds later, I found her by her hair, dark and perfectly coifed. She was a little ways ahead of me, looking back for me, too. I followed her with all my strength. Others were getting off too, on their way to work for the day. I focused on her, only. She was my savior.

As we walked up some stairs out of the station, I noticed that she was holding her cellphone and had “911” already entered into it. Prepared. I thought to myself, “That’s exactly what I would do.” I trusted her fully.

Once we were out of the station and she was able to get a cell signal, she asked me if she should call an ambulance for me. I thanked her, profusely, as I had been doing all along the way since she had helped me, and said no, all I needed was a car. I kept on thanking her. “Thank you. Thank you.”

I dug my iPhone out of my bag and started trying to hail an Uber on my own, but I couldn’t figure out how to fix the fact that my card had expired. I stopped fumbling with the app after realizing how futile it was for me to mess with this in my state, and saw the woman nearby, already hard at work trying to hail a cab, still keeping an eye on me. “Thank you. Thank you.”

I noticed her shoes as she was looking down the street for a car for me. They were sneakers, and they were brightly colored. They looked like comfortable shoes, but not “sensible,” which is really just a code word for ugly. They were cool and very clean. I thought about how she was taking a lot of time out of her day to go way above and beyond for me, a total stranger to her. Were those the shoes of a nurse? Where was she going after this was over?Whatever she does, she’s on the way to work, but she’s doing this for me instead. She’s a good person with nice, comfortable, clean, cool sneakers.

I got into the car she had so kindly hailed for me. I thought about asking her for her name, or her business card, or something that would let me get in touch to thank her later. But I didn’t. I hoped she knew she had done an amazing thing. I hoped her boss would believe her reason for being late. I hoped she would feel good about herself for having done this for me.

It was around Easter time, so there were organic jelly beans aplenty in our apartment. Back home after the cab ride, I greeted my husband, who knew what had happened from my texts, and took the candy dish off the mantle. I sat with it in bed, eating jelly beans and drinking more water until I drifted off to sleep.

I was OK. Nobody else got hurt by my body falling on them. I didn’t have to suffer through being completely alone during a medical problem. Maybe mostimportantly, I now had more faith in humanity than I’d had in a very long time.

You did a really good thing that day, stranger. Thank you. Thank you.

Community Management: What Is It?

Startup workers in the community support field have a lot of different titles. Some are called Support Agents, others are called Community Managers and others still go by their company’s own quirky name, such as Happiness Engineer.

My current title is Community Experience Manager at Airtime, though I’ve had a few others over my past eight years or so of work in this field.

There isn’t a guideline for knowing when you’re a community professional or not, so every personal definition seems to differ. For me, all of those titles describe someone whose motivation is to assist users as they make their way through the online platforms they love. Community professionals strive to give users a positive experience of the platform through one-on-one interactions that carry over to the user’s general perception of the company.

I’ve found that it’s common for community support team members to have had an entrance into the field that was semi-accidental. They come from far-flung professions, too, like retail or the food industry, and I’m no exception.

My first full-time job was as an editor, a title I’d been after since I joined my high school’s newspaper. I had gotten into the world of interactive projects in my free time, though, so I applied to a graduate program called the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at NYU and, amazingly, I got in.

In 2008, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area for a paid internship. I was still enrolled in ITP and figured I’d only be there for the summer. I was offered a job at the end of the internship, which I accepted instead of going back to NYU. Student loans are soul crushing and making money sounded really nice compared to taking out another loan to wrap up my Master’s degree.

That decision put me on the career trajectory that I’m still following today. I’ve worked in community management for five startups now, including Tumblr and others you may have heard of in spaces like bloggingpayments processing and e-commerce. Right now, I help users of the Airtime iPhone and Android app, which lets people easily group video chat and much more.

Because it’s Silicon Valley, I attended nerdy tech events while I lived there. It’s a requirement. Because I’m a woman, at least one person in attendance at these events would inevitably assume that I was in PR. So, I found myself telling people about my role fairly often. Then, I received an expression of pity in return. They seemed to picture me in a call center somewhere, wearing a clunky headset, the moment I uttered the word “support.”

I’m sure that word still conjures a similar image for many people now, but I’m relieved to see that changing. We’re entering a time when both being a community support professional and being a woman at a tech event are not as unusual.

Phone calls have not been a part of my deal, though (but I’ve been known to hop on the phone with a user if the situation seemed like it could use it). I mostly help people by responding to “tickets,” which you’ll know of by the way it lands in your inbox, which is as an email. I’ve personally replied to tens of thousands of tickets, so far.

But there’s also much more to it than responding to messages.

Community professionals are uniquely positioned to advise their colleagues internally on customer needs. Their day revolves around fielding feature requests, questions and complaints from real-world users. It’s not just a side-effect of their other work or something they do now and then. Support agents’ performance is measured on how quickly and how well they do this.

Managers of and individual contributors on community support teams tend to spend a good amount of time analyzing their ticket data. They flesh out the bigger picture of the community’s sentiment and problems through reporting out to other internal departments. They prepare themselves to deliver metrics for colleagues in Engineering, Product, leadership and more, and they create bug reports when patterns appear in complaints, too.

These teams can tell someone exactly how many users have had a problem with a new feature within the past x days or weeks. They can throw in demographic data like which language those requesters speak. They have technical details, too, such as which browser those users used to write in. Highly valuable information like this is often neglected by other teams, but good Support teams are willing and ready to collect, analyze and share it out!

Few community support departments have a dedicated set of engineering resources, though those that don’t usually wish that they did. If the team discovers a trend in how users are getting stuck or confused they instead fill users’ gaps in platform fluency through non-technical means. New help documents for an official Help Center, a collaboration with Marketing on some social media content, a blog post describing a feature or an email announcement to the entire user base are all possible outcomes of their effort to make users able to understand the platform, achieve some level of virtuosity with it and feel cared for by the company.

Community teams do see praise from a platform’s most passionate users. They more often hear from those who are critical of it, in comments that range from simply upset to extremely hateful words that attack the platform or, worse, pick on the support employee as an individual. It’s the internet, it happens, but this part of the job sucks, even for people with tough skin.

If your company’s community team also has content moderation as part of their gig, please go hug them right now. No, really. I’ll give you a minute.

You know about Rule 34. They’re required to look at all of that, plus some truly horrible things that are even more disturbing than your mind allows you to picture. It’s gross and upsetting and it’s their job to look at it. Even the toughest of all tough cookies will have nightmares because of it. Hence, the hug that you just gave to them.

Recently, Community is starting to feel much more like a distinct industry, with its own unique and interesting set of challenges and rewards. I’m so glad to see lots of resources and tools for those in this field. Here’s a few: