Even more tenderness, even more compassion

In the US, we hear the pandemic is ending. A billion people have been vaccinated worldwide, and government restrictions are relaxing in many places. I’ve been fully vaccinated, and my pod will be fully vaccinated by next weekend. I have plans to see family members I haven’t seen in almost a year, and I’m so grateful for the hard work and science that went into the rapid creation of the COVID vaccines. 

And I’m sad. I’m so very sad, and so very angry, and so very, very, VERY tired.

I thought I knew exactly how tired I could get, because 2020. This time last year, I was tired in my bones — the stress of uncertainty, invisible risk everywhere, supply chain failure, the late stages of the Trump re-election campaign and presidency… it was exhausting.

So much of that rotten stuff is gone now, and I don’t feel better.

UGH! I just don’t feel better, and it makes me both mad and afraid. Anyone with chronic mental illness or a history of trauma will be familiar with the thoughts that surge: “What if I never feel better again? What if my capacity for joy and peace is just gone? What if this broke me permanently, like nothing else has been able to do… quite… so far?”

I keep talking to people who feel the same way. “Things are getting better,” we tell each other. “Why don’t I feel better? I feel so sad, so unhappy; why?” We look at each other in shared, helpless, irritated anguish. 

Here’s the thing about traumatic events: when a crisis hits, many people (like me) shift into survival mode, and focus on getting through the crisis with minimum damage and risk. I’m excellent at this, and so is my partner. We both survived traumatic events in our past, so survival mode is even familiar, in an almost-comforting way. You put as many feelings aside as you can, and you get the job done. One foot in front of the other; take a breath, and keep moving. 

But of course feelings don’t just go away because I’ve gotten too busy for them. And when it’s time to get out of survival mode, the feelings are there, and they suck. 

This is a kind of delayed grief, even a delayed reaction to trauma, and as far as I know, the only way out is through.

Image of a small dejected child, head lowered, with hair covering face. Child is wearing a fluorescent yellow shirt. Image is very dark.

I know I’m not alone in this — all around me, I see co-workers, friends, and family struggling with exhaustion and deeply painful emotions. This is a time to be tender with ourselves. “But I’ve been reaching for gentleness, for patience and kindness all year, and last year too!” my stubborn brain might say, “Surely it’s time for something else!” 

“It’s time for even more,” says my heart. “It’s time for even more tenderness, even more compassion.” However you get there: whether you start by being compassionate with someone else, and then find that same compassion for yourself… or if you need to start with yourself first, and then bring it to others. 

Because you can’t get blood from a stone. Productivity may have to wait a while longer; goals may be delayed. Quality might have to slip in some places. We’re not back to normal yet; not even close.

If we must be wretched a while longer, let us do so with grace, and grant grace to others.

The other side of the coin: what people get out of contributing to WordPress

The first iteration of this article, The 4 “Gets” in WordPress Community Organizing, was written in 2019. In this update, I apply these ideas to all parts of the WordPress open source project.                     

People all over the world contribute to WordPress, in many, many ways

WordPress contributor handbooks have lots of public information about what each team does, and how or what they ask people to give when they contribute. However, there isn’t always a clear explanation of what contributors might expect to get, from or through their contribution. While many people know that WordPress is made possible through volunteer time, it’s sometimes less clear what kind of reciprocity exists in the project. But for everything that a contributor gives, there is almost always something that they receive.

Photo by Raphael Brasileiro on Pexels.com

Here’s an incomplete-but-good-starter list of some benefits that WordPress contributors might get, through contributing to WordPress:

Impact

As of early 2021, WordPress powers 40% of the web. That’s an enormous footprint for an open source project. The decisions made by Core designers and developers affect millions upon millions of users. Translators extend the power of WordPress to 75% of the world’s population that doesn’t speak English. WordPress community organizers bring together nearly half a million enthusiasts per year to talk about the software. Our documentation and support forum threads are viewed by millions of people every month. 

It’s hard to find another volunteer-based, open source organization that compares to WordPress, for reach and impact. 

Growth 

In WordPress, most volunteer opportunities are based on your interests, not your experience. WordPress community organizers aren’t required to have organized an event, or have managed a team, before taking on a leadership role in their local communities. No one reviews a developer’s resume, or a designer’s portfolio when considering whether to merge a patch to the WordPress core software. You don’t need to be a professional speaker or educator to create a workshop for learn.wordpress.org.

And yet, working in WordPress gives contributors a chance to develop a broad array of skills: leadership, communications, design, logistics, marketing, fundraising, management… the list goes on.  Every one of these skills can create opportunities in someone’s professional career or personal life — and generally can offer a safe place to experiment, where you’re not risking your career if your idea doesn’t work out. 

Training/Support

Most of what contributors need to know to get started, and become proficient, is publicly available. You don’t need anyone’s permission to submit a patch, share a solution in the support forums, or test a theme for accessibility.  Onboarding to many roles is unusually short, compared to many other global volunteer programs — even for roles with specialized skills/knowledge, like writing lesson plans or translating WordPress

Our training, documentation, best practices, and tools are produced by experienced contributors — many of whom do that kind of work professionally. And when contributors run into problems they don’t know how to handle, nearly every team has a group of experienced helpers available to give feedback. Through sharing feedback, contributors grow together as they work to meet the high standards that come with high-impact work.

Safety

Though this limited autonomy sometimes shows up as a “bug” for contributors (sometimes it sounds like “why are people getting in the way of my excellent & important idea?!”), I firmly believe this is a desirable feature. 

Nearly every contributor opportunity has checks and balances in place, which reduce risk when volunteers try out their bright ideas (either in theory or in practice), without endangering the success of any major WordPress components or initiatives. Code contributions are reviewed by world-class developers before being added to the core software. New event formats are discussed and refined before we try them out, are documented, and then iterated upon. Translations are reviewed and edited before they go “live.”

So! 

Those are some pretty great things you can expect when contributing to WordPress! AND… there are things that no one gets, or that only come with time or experience — and it’s important to call those out too.

What WordPress contributors don’t get (right away, and sometimes ever)

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com
  1. Complete autonomy. As mentioned above, contributors can make a lot of powerful choices when helping to build, maintain, extend, and promote WordPress — but that doesn’t mean they can make just any choice. If you accept a position of responsibility as a WordPress contributor despite disagreeing with some parts of the role, you’re still expected to do the things that everyone in that role is asked to do — they’re part of the job.
  2. Commit-level access. WordPress contributors are full of bright ideas, which is a lot of what makes this project so great. Not every bright idea meshes well with WordPress project values or works on a broad scale, though. The WordPress open source project is open source, but it’s not open commit*. Even if you are certain that your idea is a good one, it still might not work as part of WordPress core software, or in the WordPress community. Commit-level access (and similar levels of responsibility on other WordPress contributor teams) can be earned over time, of course. 
  3. And other things.  There are other things, too, which are detailed in contributor handbooks or other kinds of contributor training or resources. (For the Community team, they’re outlined in the 5 Good Faith Rules for meetups, plus Should You Be An Organizer? and Representing WordPress docs in the WordCamp organizer handbook.) To summarize, it’s best not to try to establish a leadership position in WordPress for self-serving purposes. Likewise, if your leadership approach includes hateful or very controlling behavior, WordPress probably won’t be a good fit for you.

Share your thoughts

What do you think about this list of “get”s and “don’t get”s — does it accurately describe the kinds of personal return that contributors can reasonably expect for the time they invest in contributing to WordPress? Follow-up question: what did you expect you’d get out of contributing to WordPress, and what did you actually get?

*An ”open commit” project allows anyone, no matter their level of familiarity or expertise, to commit their code to the core code base. 

Some reflections on Dotorg dilution, and how to combat it

When I started working in WordPress, about 10 years ago, Jen Mylo warned me about about something pretty early.

At some point, you start seeing all the things that aren’t working, and you will want to fix them all, all at once. Don’t let yourself get distracted. You’re here to work on certain things, and you can’t do that if you’re working on all the things.

— something like what Jen told me, probably back in early 2011

Let’s call it Dotorg dilution.* This experience — being overwhelmed by the many places and people needing help, and taking on so many things that you suddenly find yourself spread too thin to accomplish much of anything at all — hits nearly everyone who gets involved in the WordPress open source project beyond a surface level. WordPress tends to attract helpful people (luckily for us!). The organization is vast. There’s a lot to do, and not a lot of people to do it.

I’ve seen this affect contributors differently, depending on whether they are paid or volunteers, so I’ll address both cases separately.

Volunteer Contributors

Dotorg dilution generally hits a volunteer/unpaid contributor in the Engaging or Producing stage, and it can block or slow someone’s progression on the contributor ladder. I usually notice because suddenly that person is everywhere, taking part in every new project, initiative, or experiment that comes along. Burnout is a danger at that point, and a number of enthusiastic people cycle out of volunteering every year because the dilution makes them feel (rightly) that they aren’t making a difference. Here’s my advice for avoiding that:

Stop and drop

If you’re struggling with this problem, I recommend you pause and spend some time thinking about what excites you most about contributing to WordPress. Then, identify how much time in a typical week or month you might have available for volunteer time, both in the short- and long-term. It might be someone can help in the support forums or translations while their local WordCamp isn’t in active planning, but during the 3 months of pre-WordCamp intensity, they have to step back from contributing in another area. Once you figure out what you realistically have time for, start cutting back on your commitments.

It’s OK to step away

Once you’ve decided how much time you plan to put into your WordPress contributions, communicate proactively if you need to change your role, reduce your commitments, or take a break. Very, very few contributor roles require long-term, fixed time commitments (which is great for flexibility). In the case of work that includes fixed time commitments or specialized skills/knowledge, such as WordCamp lead organizing or a role on a WordPress core release, it’s important to communicate as early as possible if you think you’ll need to step back, for a time or permanently. Nearly every contributor has had to make a tough decision about priorities in their WordPress work, so messages like “I really wanted to do this, but I’ve found that I just don’t have the time” are nearly always met with understanding and grace.

Fight FOMO with long-term thinking

For better or worse, many things move slowly in WordPress. Just because there’s a lot of energy around an idea or initiative right now, doesn’t mean you need to drop everything else to focus on a new project. Many, many (most?) projects go slower than expected, or will need a new influx of contributors in a few months or next year — in fact, that’s when they’ll need help even more! Large-scale organizations like WordPress frequently need help with sustainability even more than they do with new initiatives.

Come back anytime

Finally, I hope all volunteers remember that WordPress is a safe and welcoming place to step away from and back to. If we haven’t seen you around in a while, we probably miss you! Come on back, as soon as you’re ready or have time for a new challenge.

Paid Contributors

Dotorg dilution can affect paid contributors differently, due to a few factors:

  1. We’re here to do a job. Companies don’t just send employees into WordPress to do “y’know, whatever looks important.” We’re all on teams that have set goals — ambitious ones, at that! — and if we don’t work on the things we’re asked to work on, there will be employment-level consequences. That said, we all have some autonomy in our work, and we’re all very performant. It’s easy to think, “I’ll just take this on in my free time. All of those people are working on this in *their* free time, why not me too?”
  2. We have more time than most. Compared to most volunteers, paid contributors have an embarrassment of hours to work on things. Not offering to spend time on something can sometimes feel awkward if you’re the only person in the meeting or group who’s being paid to contribute, or contributing full-time.
  3. We can lend legitimacy. If an initiative or project has paid contributors working on it, that will sometimes give people the impression that it’s “sanctioned” or prioritized by project leadership (which is not always true). Volunteer contributors who consciously or unconsciously recognize this, might put extra effort into recruiting paid contributors for their passion projects/ideas.

Avoiding Dotorg dilution as a paid contributor isn’t complicated, but it’s also not easy. Here are some tactics that have worked for me and others I know:

Make all WordPress work = work

This is one of my preferred tactics: I don’t contribute to WordPress in my non-work time. I might volunteer for other organizations in my free time, and I might even help them with a WordPress site as part of that volunteer work (woe be unto them, I’m not very helpful). But if I do WordPress work after-hours, then I’m working after-hours — no exceptions.

Check in with your lead or colleagues

If an initiative seems really compelling to you and seems to need people badly, but also seems like it’ll interfere with your assigned/identified high-priority work, check in with your colleagues to see if the work fits into someone else’s work scope. If you think your list needs to be re-prioritized, definitely talk to your lead about that before you go too deep on a “new, shiny.”

Remember that challenging problems can lead to growth

WordPress is an organization that fosters growth for volunteers with many backgrounds and skill sets. We’re an incredibly supportive bunch, too. If you’re not able to help this time, or this year, that doesn’t mean an initiative is guaranteed to fail — and if it does fail, that failure may be more beneficial than you expect. Failed experiments can teach just as much as successful ones.

Share your challenges or pro-tips!

If this resonates with you, or if you have questions or wisdom to share, please comment below!

*This was originally described to me as “dotorg disease,” but I’m renaming it because…. well, pandemics.

My rubric when asking for additional user permissions

A WordPress contributor told me recently that he was feeling anxious about asking for a new level of user permissions for problem-solving reasons, and in the process of advising him, I realized I have a fairly reliable rubric for making those requests. Maybe it’s even useful outside of WordPress? Here it is, regardless!

  1. Hey (person), I/we have a problem, and a possible solution that you might be able to help provide. 
  2. Our team/I need to be able to do (action), in order to (accomplish something supporting the mutually understood goal of team).
  3. Currently we’re (using this awkward workaround)/completely blocked, which is inconvenient for our team and (people we’re working with). 
  4. If I/we/this group could get the right user permissions to (do XYZ), that would fix this problem. 
  5. Are there any downsides to that approach that you think I’m missing? If not, are you a person who could help us get this access?

If you have feedback on this message structure, leave it in the comments! Excelsior!

Doing business in WordPress: missed opportunities

If you’re new to WordPress-based business, welcome! There’s never been a better time to help people achieve their goals with WordPress. The ecosystem is vast, and we’re a welcoming community.

An image of three people smiling, with arms around each other, at a conference.
Don’t we look welcoming? Here I am at WordCamp US 2016, with fellow WordPress enthusiasts Cory Miller (left) and Bob Dunn (right). I’m can’t quite make out who’s photobombing us in the background there. This photo was swiped from Bob’s social media.

I’ve worked with WordPress contributors and business owners, full time, since 2011. Anytime I meet someone who’s decided to build a business that depends on open source, I find myself hoping they’ve researched open source and its complexities. If this is you, and you’re not sure you’ve done that research, I hope this article is helpful to you!

Here are some things I think WordPress-based businesses need to know:

WordPress is Free and Powerful

Sometimes I wonder if WordPress-based businesses understand the incredible advantage that WordPress’ (lack of) price and open source foundation bring. The fact that WordPress is low-risk to try, and practically limitless to build on, has directly contributed to its ubiquity on the web. WordPress is a stable platform that can be used for nearly every purpose, which means WordPress-based businesses have an enormous built-in market.

What people often miss:

I frequently see WordPress-based businesses limit their potential by restricting how people use their theme or plugin. This effort requires a lot of work for a mediocre net return, which directly conflicts with the things that make WordPress appeal to so many people. The GPL makes WordPress possible, and it makes WordPress successful. When you try to limit your users’ rights with a non-GPL license, you’re limiting your work’s ability to grow with WordPress. Don’t work against the “selling points” of WordPress; support them and build on them, just like you do WordPress itself.

WordPress Changes

The software available at WordPress.org is stable, but ever-changing. This is great because it means that a lot of people are working to keep WordPress relevant, secure, and easy to work with. Anyone whose product or business depends on WordPress needs to keep up with the 3 or so releases per year, to know how and whether they will affect your business. It’s smart to notify your customers about upcoming changes to Core WordPress that will affect them, as well. Since you’re not in control of the Core roadmap, then your smartest move is to stay informed about how it will affect you.

What people often miss:

Remember, the unique solution that your business brings to WordPress (if it’s code-based at least) could be added to Core WordPress and available to all WordPress users, at any time. For this reason, it’s particularly important that your business not monetize access to the software. To have a truly resilient and successful WordPress-based company, monetize something that makes the software more powerful for your customers. What you’re selling should be so valuable that your customers would still pay you for it, even if your plugin or theme were merged into Core.

WordPress is Growing

This diagram shows the percentages of websites using various content management systems.
A snapshot from today’s W3techs.com page on content management statistics.

As of February 2021, WordPress powers 40% of the web. I believe that this growth is rooted in the power of open source, and that the road that brought us here was paved by the work of thousands of global WordPress enthusiasts. The opportunity to help WordPress grow is open to all, regardless of experience or background. The work of helping WordPress grow — by translating, writing documentation, organizing events, helping in the support forums, publishing videos, creating great training content, and so much more — helps everyone who uses WordPress and whose livelihoods depend on WordPress. This results in a culture and a community that understands that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The WordPress financial ecosystem is one of the most friendly, collaborative, and welcoming that you’ll find.

What people often miss:

Companies that make brash, unsubstantiated business claims and regularly trash-talk competitors… do not flourish in WordPress. We don’t succeed here by trying to steal each other’s customers or features. We also help WordPress avoid the tragedy of the commons by giving back to the project. In WordPress, the most successful companies focus on growing the whole pie of the WordPress market (which then grows their slice as well).

Don’t miss your chance!

I firmly believe that WordPress is a great place to grow: as a person, as a leader, and as a business. If you haven’t considered getting involved in WordPress before, I encourage you to check out all the different ways to join us as a contributor. If you’re brand new to this WordPress thing, check out my list of resources for new and experienced WordPress enthusiasts. There’s lots to learn, but don’t worry, you’ve got time — we’re not going anywhere but up. 😉

What did I miss?

What other important things should businesses and people know about the WordPress ecosystem? Tell me about them in the comments!

Many thanks to Jonathan Wold for his feedback on this article!

What happens when you won’t admit (or don’t realize) you’re a leader

Hello, my name is Andrea, and I’m a recovering leader-in-denial.

I’ve spent much of my life stepping (usually reluctantly) into leadership roles, while also eagerly looking for someone else who could lead better than me — so I could stop being in charge! And that rarely happened, much to my surprise and chagrin, but only recently did I realize that was because… I am actually gifted at leadership.

“I smell imposter syndrome!” you’ll say — and you are correct! But having my own imposter syndrome pointed out to me… was not the thing that helped me get past it. The lightning bolt for me, was when I realized that my unwillingness to embrace a leadership role was causing me to screw up the actual work of leading.

Read on for my observations on how leading without admitting or realizing that you’re in charge… is really inefficient and hard!

  1. You’ll probably avoid doing *all* of the job. Many times I have stepped into a leadership role because I was in a group of people who had no direction. I would wait for someone to step up and take charge, and wait some more, and wait some MORE, and finally it was too much for me. So I would speak up and say, “Hey everyone, let’s go this way!” and then shut up again. Little bursts of leadership and strategy are usually better than nothing, but having a consistent and engaged leader is WAY more effective.
  2. You are more likely to undermine yourself and confuse others. If you think you shouldn’t be doing something, you are more likely to do that thing in a half-hearted or apologetic manner. Alternately, you might act passive aggressively, resenting that you’re in a position that you find uncomfortable. I don’t endorse an authoritarian approach to leadership, but you can lead collaboratively without apologizing for holding people accountable or setting limits.
  3. You probably think you’re failing if everyone isn’t happy all the time. Now, I like making people happy, and I think that leaders should care about the health and welfare of the people on their team. As a leader, you have a duty of care, but that duty does not always extend to “please all of the people, all of the time.” Leaders have to make choices, and some choices aren’t crowd-pleasers. Reluctant leaders or leaders-in-denial tend to stay in reaction mode — which is frequently conflict- and tough-decision averse.
  4. You are more likely to get in the way of your people. There’s a leadership adage that says, “when the conductor picks up an instrument, the orchestra falls apart.” The conductor doesn’t grab the violin when it’s time for the solo, or when the violinist is off key. If you’re laboring under the assumption that your primary value to the group is not that of leading, then you’re going to be looking for any excuse to put down that work and go back to individual contribution, sometimes by taking over the work of someone who might just need a little (or a lot of) support to do a better job.
  5. You won’t work on improving your skills. Good leadership is learned behavior, and learned behavior benefits from study and practice. By rejecting the fact that you’re a leader, you immediately cut yourself off from opportunities to get better at leadership in an intentional way. And when you do something badly, then you reinforce the idea that you’re not well-suited for it…. it’s a catch-22!
  6. You exempt yourself as a role model. People from marginalized groups don’t have a long list of excellent leaders to model ourselves after. That might even be one of the reasons you don’t see yourself as a leader — because you don’t look/sound/work like many of the leaders you saw while growing up. When people from traditionally marginalized groups courageously inhabit a leadership role despite all their misgivings, they change the very face of leadership.

I’ve learned a lot about myself on this leadership journey so far, which I love to do. I may have started out by accident — and I won’t say it’s the easiest thing I’ve ever done — but it’s a lot easier and more rewarding now that I’m bringing intent and awareness to the work. If any of this resonates with you, I’d love to hear about it! 

Caramel curry popcorn

I love popcorn. I especially love home-popped popcorn, and I extra-especially love this funny concoction I’ve made up: caramel curry popcorn. Here’s how I make it.

Take 2-3 tablespoons of butter and put it in a microwaveable dish. I usually use a mug.

Add one tablespoon of your favorite curry powder to the mug with the butter.

Add a heaping tablespoon of brown sugar to the mug as well.

Microwave the mug containing the butter, spices, and sugar, on half power for about 2 minutes. You might want to cover the mug with a paper towel or something — sometimes butter will explode in the microwave.

When you take out the mug, the concoction should look like this:

Real talk: this isn’t proper caramel. But it’s close enough for my purposes.

While you’re at it, pop the popcorn. I like the stovetop method.

When the popcorn is popped, pour it into a big bowl. Then drizzle the caramel over the corn.

This works best if it’s still quite bubbly; if it subsides for too long, the sauce will “break” a little and the spice and sugar won’t disperse itself as evenly through the popcorn. So if your sauce is a little broken (if you can see the butter separating from the brown stuff), put it back in the microwave on high for 15-30 seconds.

Salt (and pepper!) to taste, and then toss the popcorn in the bowl to spread the curry caramel around as thoroughly as it will let you.

I tend to eat this with a dish towel close at hand, because it’s on the sticky/greasy side. Pair with a lager, a white wine on the sweetish spectrum, a light Gamay, sangria, or a cocktail. Enjoy!

Leadership Lessons from Lincoln

The cover of the book Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I’m reading the book Leadership in Turbulent Times, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and really enjoying it. Here are some of my notes on the chapter about lessons that can be taken from the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, specifically around his work on the Emancipation Proclamation.

Anticipate contending viewpoints.

Lincoln has my full respect for creating a presidential cabinet full of people who frequently opposed him. Dissent from his advisors was something he cherished, because it allowed him to “stress-test” his ideas and decisions before taking them out into the wider world. Many leaders, in a misguided attempt to reduce conflict, surround themselves with people “smart enough” to agree with them all the time. Lincoln’s cabinet served him as a group of powerful “beta testers,” and by the time they were done discussing and railing against the Proclamation, he knew how he would need to convince the country to come along with him.

He had deliberately built a team of men who represented the major geographical, political, and ideological factions of the Union. For months past, he had listened intently as they wrestled among themselves about how best to preserve this Union. At various junctures, diverse members had assailed Lincoln as too radical, too conservative, brazenly dictatorial, or dangerously feckless. He had welcomed the wide range of opinions they provided as he turned the subject over in his mind, debating “first the one side and then the other of every question arising,” until, through hard mental work, his own position had emerged. His process of decision making, born of his characteristic ability to entertain a full carousel of vantage points at a single time, seemed to some painfully slow, but once he had finally come to a determination to act, it was no longer a question of WHAT—only WHEN.

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Leadership: In Turbulent Times (p. 218). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

But how did he keep this critical, dissenting group of men engaged, and working together with him, even when he was determined to do what they disagreed with?

Understand the emotional needs of each member of the team.

Lincoln took the time to really understand the men in his cabinet, to find out what they needed to feel effective and engaged, and then he tended to their needs. He also recognized when a cabinet member was struggling, and made time to talk to them or just spend time with them outside of work. He carved out time to spend one-on-one with each member of the cabinet, careful to avoid the impression of favoritism.

Not only that, but he sought out opportunities to praise his people:

“Every one likes a compliment,” Lincoln observed; everyone needs praise for the work they are doing. Frequently, he penned handwritten notes to his colleagues, extending his gratitude for their actions. He publicly acknowledged that Seward’s suggestion to await a military victory before issuing the Proclamation was an original and useful contribution. When he had to issue an order to Welles, he assured his “Neptune” that it was not his intention to insinuate “that you have been remiss in the performance of the arduous and responsible duties of your Department, which I take pleasure in affirming had, in your hands, been conducted with admirable success.” When compelled to remove one of Chase’s appointees, he understood that the prickly Chase might well be resentful. Not wanting the situation to deteriorate, he called on Chase that evening. Placing his long arms on Chase’s shoulders, he patiently explained why the decision was necessary. Though the ambitious Chase often chafed under Lincoln’s authority, he acknowledged “the President has always treated me with such personal kindness and has always manifested such fairness and integrity of purpose, that I have not found myself free to throw up my trust . . . so I still work on.”

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Leadership: In Turbulent Times (p. 224). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln, by Francis Bicknell Carpenter

Combine transactional and transformational leadership.

If these terms don’t make a lot of sense to you, don’t despair! Goodwin explains:

Transactional leaders operate pragmatically. They appeal to the self-interest of their followers, using quid pro quos, bargains, trades, and rewards to solicit support and influence the behavior of their followers. Transformational leaders inspire followers to identify with something larger than themselves—the organization, the community, the region, the country—and finally, to the more abstract identification with the ideals of that country. Such leaders call for sacrifice in the pursuit of moral principles and higher goals, validating such altruism by looking beyond the present moment to frame a future worth striving for.

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Leadership: In Turbulent Times (pp. 234-235). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

What was fascinating to me about Lincoln’s brand of leadership is how he combined both approaches, adapting to the group he was trying to convince to get behind the Proclamation. In a public letter read aloud at a rally in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, he argued that by freeing the enslaved people of color in the South and enlisting black men in the Union Army, the Union would gain an advantage in the war: a fundamentally pragmatic approach. Once having secured the agreement of his objectors that black troops would help their shared cause, he switched to a transformational argument:

“If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motives—even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.” — Lincoln

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Leadership: In Turbulent Times (pp. 235-236). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

The proof was in the pudding. By the end of the Civil War, the majority of soldiers saw “emancipation and the restoration of the Union as inseparably linked,” says Goodwin.

Find ways to cope with pressure, maintain balance, replenish energy.

One of Lincoln’s favorite ways to relax was by going to the theater. (I know, right?) He was apparently drawn to Shakespeare’s darker, more tragic plays, like Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear. How relaxing, sir! But when the stress got so bad that he couldn’t sleep, he would wake up his aide John Hay and read aloud from Shakespeare’s comedies.

His appreciation of tragedy was matched by his appreciation of silliness, anecdote, burlesque. The narrow seam between tragedy and comedy afforded Lincoln what he called his “literary recreation.” When engaged in a comic tale, his laugh, the artist Carpenter noted, resembled the “neigh of a wild horse.” A friend observed that Lincoln’s laugh served as a “life preserver” for him. Hay recalled that only when “my heavy eye-lids caught his considerate notice would he stop & sent me to bed.” Recitation was Lincoln’s way of sharing in a common humanity during an uncommon, inhumanly isolating time.

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Leadership: In Turbulent Times (p. 229). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Put ambition for the collective interest above self-interest.

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued on September 22, 1862 came into effect on January 1, 1863. Lincoln ran for reelection in 1864, at a time that the Union’s victory was in serious doubt, and opposition to the Proclamation was still very strong. Lincoln’s party suggested to him that the only way he would be reelected, would be to start peace talks with the South and not push the emancipation issue with them.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing portrait of Lincoln as president

“I confess that I desire to be re-elected,” Lincoln acknowledged. “I have the common pride of humanity to wish my past four years administration endorsed,” and at the same time, “I want to finish this job.” Nonetheless, he rejected Raymond’s plea that he dispatch a commissioner to Richmond to meet with Confederate president Jefferson Davis. To sound out conditions for peace without demanding the end of slavery Lincoln considered “utter ruination.” He would rather face electoral defeat than renounce emancipation. He “should be damned in time & in eternity,” he vehemently declared, if he abandoned his commitment to the twin goals of Union and freedom. Moreover, those who accused him of “carrying on this war for the sole purpose of abolition” must understand that “no human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever.” The word firmness is insufficient to connote the iron will with which Abraham Lincoln now stood his ground.

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Leadership: In Turbulent Times (p. 239). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

In the end, Lincoln won reelection in a landslide, owing much of his success winning 7 out of 10 of Union soldier votes. These were the men who were most at risk in a continuing war, but they overwhelming showed their support for the cause that Lincoln had inspired them to believe in, too.


I’m really enjoying this book, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of my favorite takeaways from the Lincoln chapter. Next up: how Theodore Roosevelt did crisis management! I can’t wait.

Tasting Charles Frey Alsace Riesling Granite 2018

I bought this wine through WTSO.com, which I’ve been using off and on to pick up “nicer” wines, cheap. I love Alsatian Riesling, and got this at a very decent price of about $15. I opened it as part of an online wine tasting I did with some coworkers last Friday, and I’ve been sipping on it throughout the weekend. (The Morgan that I bought at the same time was… meh in the extreme. Sadness.)

Riesling is one of the great white wine grapes: full of interesting flavors and scents, and age-worthy. You can’t say that about many other white wines. It’s grown in lots of places — notably, Germany, where they have like 7 different designations for levels of wine sweetness. (If you like dry wines, look for the word “Kabinett” on the bottle.)

Riesling grown in Alsace, that mountainous French region on the border with Germany, is typically bone-dry and full of mineral character. This is because they grow grapes in the mountains, where growing seasons are short and it’s a “race to ripeness,” AND the soil composition there tends to support mineral character in wine.

This wine was grown in a granite-rich vineyard, which evidently produces wines that are “expressive when young.” This bottle is certainly expressive, so… sure, I’ll come along with you on that one, terroir enthusiasts.

Charles Frey was apparently one of the first wineries in Alsace to start making biodynamic wine. I’m not big into biodynamic, but I won’t turn up my nose at it either. From what they say on their website, this is a third-generation enterprise: grandad to dad to son. So let’s see what there gentlemen and their friends have concocted for us, shall we?

Friends, the nose one this wine is INSANE. The lime is positively electric, crackling with fresh zing. Intertwined with that brash citrus, though, is this generous, welcoming raft of floral aromas. Elderflower, with a top-note of haunting, honey-dipped jasmine just envelops your whole FACE, y’all. And then there’s a mineral undertone that puts the whole aroma gang on wheels, and it turns into a joyful roller derby team of scent that’s coming. for. you.

When you finally remember that you’re supposed to drink wine and not just smell it, you’ll find that the lime and honey carry over into the palate. The minerality goes and goes here, and this wine sneers at the idea that Riesling is sweet. “I got your sweetness right here,” it says, in this weird French-Bronx accent.

Huh, that got weird.

Any old how, this bright and complex wine will pair nicely with spicy or a zesty, but not creamy foods. Nearly any Alsatian Riesling will treat you this well; I encourage you to keep an eye out for that long skinny bottle that doesn’t fit well in your fridge.

Dinner wins: Mexican Pizza

‪Last night’s dinner was Mexican pizza, which is definitely neither Mexican nor pizza, but was very delicious and actually reheated quite well for lunch today!

Spread one burrito-size flour tortilla with refried beans (as much as 2 cups) and sprinkle with a little shredded cheese (maybe a cup). Lay the loaded tortilla in a warmed large frying pan with a little — maybe a teaspoon or so — oil in it (if you have some leftover bacon grease around, this is a good use for it). You’ll want medium heat for this. Top with another flour tortilla and, when the bottom tortilla is golden and crispy, carefully flip over. (I use one of those wide fish spatulas.)

Top the crispy side with more shredded cheddar and other toppings that appeal to you. Last night, I cooked off a little chorizo and opened a can of sliced olives and sprinkled all that on top. Cover with a lid and remove from heat, to let the cheese melt.

Once the bottom tortilla is crispy and the cheese is melty, carefully lift or slide the “pizza” out of the pan and onto a cutting board. If the bottom is getting too brown but the cheese hasn’t melted, it’s ok to remove from heat early and let it rest, covered, on the cutting board until melting happens.

Slice like a pizza and serve with salsa and sour cream or whatever you like on a taco. Yum!

Three white wines from Firstleaf

Like many people, I’m starting to buy more wine online, which is a new one for me. (There are LOTS of new things happening lately, aren’t there? I’m not a fan.) In yet another unusual pattern, I clicked on an Instagram ad for Firstleaf wines, checked out the pricing and the wines, and made an impulsive purchase of 6 bottles: three whites and three red. Today I will tell you about the whites, and in a week or so I hope to tell you about the reds.

2018 Ophidian Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa

A photograph of Ophidian Sauvignon Blanc, next to a glass, in front of a computer.
2018 Ophidian Sauvignon Blanc

I was… dubious about this one, but if I’ve drunk a South African Sauvignon Blanc, I certainly don’t remember it well. Chenin Blanc is the white wine variety I associate most closely with South Africa, for good reason: it’s the most widely planted grape there, followed closely by Cabernet Sauvignon.

But Sauvignon Blanc isn’t super-hard to grow, and sometimes displays really distinctive character depending on the vineyard’s terrior, so I figured it was worth seeing if this wine fell more in the French tradition, the New Zealand tradition, or other.

According to the Wine Enthusiast in 2017, “Many Sauvignon Blancs from South Africa combine herbaceous notes and rich fruit.” I’m sure that could be true, but what got my attention about this wine was the creaminess on the nose, and the acidity which provided structure but not bitingly so. (My notes were: good bones but not in a knobbly way.) While Firstleaf was eager to tell me about the effusive citrus I’d be smelling here, I got a lot more tropical fruit — more of a mango/maguey situation, albeit possibly with a little lime squeezed over — than citrus-for-days. Happily, the acidity was enough to keep the tropical aspect from tripping over its train and falling into indolent lushness. I thoroughly enjoyed this wine, which stayed interesting to sniff and taste for three days in the fridge.

2018 Lazy Breeze Grüner Veltliner, Edna Valley California

2018 Lazy Breeze Grüner Veltliner

I frequently think of Grüner Veltliner as the whippet of white wine varieties. You know whippets: spare, lean to a fault, and nearly vibrating with nervous energy? Grüners can be like that: the wine version of a splash of ice water to the face. Whew! I’m awake now!

Originally from Austria, Grüner can serve up some unusual aromas: white pepper, celery, lentil (yum, right? feeling like opening a bottle yet?), and then your more typical wine-smells of citrus, peach, spice, and mineral. The wine can apparently age as well as Chardonnay and Riesling, but I’ve never been lucky enough to taste an aged Grüner.

I’ve also never had one from Edna Valley, which is a personal favorite California region for Pinot Noir. And it’s actually quite rare to find Grüner Veltliner grown in the US, even though it’s one of the most popular food wines out in the rest of the world. So! Anticipation!

Y’know, it was pretty darn good? Lime, lime, celery, lime, and celery. But not.. like, bad celery, you know? Good celery. There was a great minerality on the nose as well, which moderated the vegetal and citrus notes. This is definitely a whippet wine — no fat anywhere, and it’s quivering with acidity and VIM! but in a refreshing rather than nerve-wracking way. I enjoyed drinking this bottle over a few days as well. A night or two in the fridge (ok, maybe just one, the news was particularly disturbing those nights) did not do this wine any harm. Good stuff, would drink again. Went well with the Lays Barbecue potato chips I was snacking on for while, but would also be great with spicy Thai or Vietnamese food, or a brisk Veracruzana seafood cocktail, vuelve a la vida-style.

2019 Chanme Mechant Grenache Blanc, Pays d’Oc, France

2019 Chanme Mechant Grenache Blanc

My friend Kellie loves a Grenache Blanc. I’m… less enthusiastic, but well-disposed to be pleased. Firstleaf really wanted me to know they were proud of this one, and put a “92” sticker on it, letting me know it was award-winning. Ooh la la!

Don’t put too much stock in wine awards, friends — it’s not super-hard to find a wine contest that is willing to give out a gold medal or five, if you try hard enough. It’s not a BAD sign, but also needn’t make you weak in the knees.

Grenache Blanc is getting popular in the US I guess, as a full-bodied white wine that isn’t Chardonnay, which got too popular for a while? Grenache/Garnacha is from northern Spain originally, but is grown widely in France as well, and is used as a blending grape in the Rhone Valley, where they make very interesting white blends with grapes like Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier. Grenache Blanc usually inhabits the role of the drab in that lineup of blowsy, dramatic characters, so I suppose it’s cool that folx are finally putting the spotlight on Grenache Blanc itself. You go, GB!

This wine is plush. They oaked it, they gave it malolactic fermentation, they stirred the lees… this wine got the works. It’s heavily perfumed, with lots of cream and white flower scents, followed by peach (and also PEACH, and did we mention the peach?) on the nose, and a lot of body. Only 13% alcohol according to the fancy wine card they put in my shipment (that sounds snide, but I actually like that they send literature), but it tastes like there’s more alcohol in there — this thing has some heft. It’s not flabby, but it’s… fleshy. Ample. Rubinesque? Maybe not quite.

Drink this with pasta alfredo, fried fish, butter chicken, and maybe, just maybe, a paprikash? (Maybe not. That might be a bridge too far.) Of the three, this is the one I would be least likely to buy again, but I will say that it’s probably a much more affordable full-bodied & floral overperformer than single-variety Viogniers or Roussannes. So! Maybe I would buy it again if I had a rich meal to put it with. Or French Onion Sun Chips, which I might try with it tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes. Update: YASSSS the French onion sun chips are a perfect compliment to this wine. I’m not trash; you’re trash.

A first look at Firstleaf

The pejorative term for a company like Firstleaf is a “juice mill.” They buy from estates or wineries that have extra juice on their hands, and bottle it under their own label and sell it directly to consumers, neatly sidestepping the absurd American three-tier system for alcohol sales. I drink a fair amount of Trader Joe’s private label wine (now that I’m no longer “in the business” and have to buy my wine retail), and 90% of the time I find it to be an excellent value and very drinkable. I’ve never been one to buy from this kind of mail-order private label house, but heck, it’s a global pandemic! Try new things!

So far, so good? These last three wines are an *excellent* value at the discount price they gave me for my first order, which averaged out to about $6.50 per bottle. From now on, it looks like I’ll pay about $12-14 per bottle, which is still a good price for this quality of wine. Their offerings are not monolithic, and so far the wine has been consistently interesting. Does it express terrior? Is it the expression of place in a glass? Mmmmm no. Does it engage my intellect as well as my senses? Sure! Will I order from them again? Not sure yet! Stay tunes for my notes on the reds. 🙂

CMX Global online conference

It was a pleasure to present my conflict de-escalation workshop at today’s CMX Global online conference. If you signed up for the conference but missed my session, I think all sessions will be available to anyone who registered. If you didn’t register but are interested in the topic, I have published the script, bibliography and slides on this site. Enjoy!

The event used a platform called Hopin, which was quite interesting to try out. There is a “green room” tool that worked pretty well, and an “Expo” menu item, which allowed the event to offer online “sponsor booths” of a sort. There is also a Networking feature, which is straight-up video call roulette. While the one networking chat I did was quite pleasant, I can’t see myself using that feature very extensively in the future. It was anxiety-producing, not knowing who I was going to be dropped into conversation with. Unfortunately, the tool doesn’t seem to be accessible to keyboard-only users, so it’s not something we would seriously consider for online WordCamps.

The conference organizers tried a LOT of cool ideas, including live demos, networking, lunchtime stretching, an after-party DJ session, and after-conference mixology class. I’m sad I missed the Calligraphy 101 session at the end; that showed a lot of imagination.

It was great to participate both as a speaker and attendee, seeing people try out things I wouldn’t have attempted or hadn’t thought of. Kudos to the CMX team for carefully crafting this event, and to Beth McIntyre and Ann Marie Pawlicki for their attentive care of speakers! If you are looking to polish up your community organizing/management game, I recommend checking out CMX — they have some great resources (both free and behind the membership paywall) and plenty of helpful people.