A Letter to John Tory

Dear Mayor Tory,

I am writing to express my disgust with the handling of the horrific beating of Dafonte Miller by Michael and Christian Thierault last December.

There are so many questions we need to ask. The answers to all of them point to cover-ups and corruption within the Toronto Police (I have typed the word ‘incompetence’ several times, but always deleted it. Suggesting incompetence lets those responsible off the hook far too easily. They knew what they were doing, every step of the way. Incompetence does not last this long, on this many levels.)

How could Michael Theirault be allowed to return to work after an incident like this? How could it take four months for the SIU to even become aware of this case? I am not holding my breath for a reasonable explanation—there’s been too much obfuscation at this point. Toronto Police Services’ boldness is astounding.

There is no way to get around it: two grown men decided to beat up a black youth walking by their house. One of the perpetrators was someone who had sworn to “serve and protect” the people of this great city. He should have been fired the next day.

Then there’s the fact that Michael and Christian’s father also works for TPS, in the unit tasked with “supporting professionalism…[including] the conduct, appearance, ethics & integrity of its members to strengthen public confidence.” It is hard to swallow; imagining a father who wouldn’t take an active interest in making sure his sons received gentle, careful treatment. Even if their father had no involvement in the cover-up, you must concede that the optics of this are exceptionally bad, and serve to erode any trust in the process and the force as a whole. But I don’t think any of us imagine their father stood idly by.

Finally, there’s the matter of the Police Services Board, which is accountable to the public, and is meant to act in the best interest of the public, but which does not want to hear from the public about what actually concerns them about policing in Toronto.

Desmond Cole is a gift to this city as it strives to be better, to live up to the “Diversity our strength” slogan it loves to tout. He is an uncomfortable gift for those in power, because he is on the side of truth and justice, and he is not afraid to speak loudly about the systemic racism that is clearly and obviously on display. The bullying and silencing he endured at the Toronto Police Services Board meeting on July 27 shows just how much TPS fears his important message.

There are a number of members of TPS who I know personally and trust emphatically, as individuals. But as a whole, TPS is not an organization citizens can deem trustworthy. There have been indications of this in the past, but the many troubling aspects of this particular case bring this feeling to the forefront.

When Chief Saunders talks about “transparency and trust,” I wonder if he knows that either of those terms mean, and how they are gained. Does he really think TPS can shrug off the optics of this situation, if nothing else? (I regret that I ask such a cynical question, pointing to how things look rather than how they are in the hopes of garnering some change. I hope you’ll take it as a sign of just how low TPS has sunk in many of our estimations.)

Dafonte Miller has been the victim of extreme police brutality, of being falsely charged on that same night, and of having justice delayed and denied, while his perpetrators were protected. He is a teenager, and a racial minority and a victim, and he has been failed over and over again. It is essential that the layers of wrongdoing be acknowledged, and that those who tried to keep this case out of the public eye be held accountable. It is a disgrace to see Toronto Police working to serve and protect their own with such rigour, rather than the public.

I look forward to hearing from you Mayor Tory, and from members of the Police Services Board, about this case.

Sincerely,

Jacqueline Whyte Appleby
Ward 13

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Happy Tau Day! 

I’m just finishing up The Grapes of Math, truly one of the most fun reads I’ve had in awhile. I’ve been struck by many anecdotes within it (and a few formulas… I don’t understand all of the formulas!), but today is the right day to share a bit from the chapter on circles. It’s 6.28 today, after all. 

6.28 is 3.14 (π) times two. It is the circumference to radius ratio. And there’s a whole group of mathemeticians who think it’s a much more representative and useful number to work with, Pi-day celebrations be damned. 

I find their argument pretty convincing. But what do I know about math? Literally almost nothing. What I found inspiring about this story was that despite the fact that everyone learns Pi and talks about Pi and uses Pi (I guess?), there are people who think the system is wrong, and want to move to a different system.  

Hartl encourages young mathematicians to replace pi with Tau in their work. A start would be to preface all papers with “For convenience, we set t=2π.” He warns that the fight will be long because the foe is so powerful, beneficiery of centuries of propaganda. “Some conventions, though unfortunate, are effectively irreversible,” he writes. “But the switch from the to t can…happen incrementally; unlike a redefinition, it need not happen all at once.” 

Pg. 110

This is so inspiring! Is the for-profit scholarly publishing system more entrenched than π? No way! Am I mixing apples and self-driving cars? Kind of. But I really like collecting these stories of (even potential) monumental shifts. 

The Productivity Planner 

I’m trying out a new journal, The Productivity Planner. At first glance, it seemed awfully similar to the Self Journal I used earlier this year- right down to font choices! But it’s not really a good comparison; these two journals take very different approaches to managing time and intentions.

Where the Self Journal covers a 12-week period and wants you to think through and break down big goals, the Productivity Planner is six months of task-focused pages, with a weekly planning page that’s supposed to feed directly into your daily pages, as well as a weekly reflection. There’s room for six tasks a day, ranked in order of importance, and the Pomadoro technique is integrated into every task. 

This isn’t to say you couldn’t use the Productivity Planner to work on big projects; you’ll just need to keep much of the big picture stuff in another place. The focus here is on what you’re going to do today.

I really enjoyed using the Self Journal, and I am missing the morning and evening gratitude and reflections it incorporates, as well as the daily scheduling section, which leaves plenty of white space for notes. But it’s pricey, and all that white space makes it quite big. More importantly, I’ve just completed two big projects (Books platform beta release and a half marathon), and am now facing a summer of projects that are either nose-to-the-grindstone-with-no-end-in-sight types or just-getting-started-and-so-open-ended-who-knows-what-the-goals-are types. I think it’ll be a pretty fun combination, and that it lends itself to the bit-by-bit Productivity Planner structure quite well. 

It doesn’t hurt that this planner is significantly cheaper and available at your favourite bookstore-turned-cultural-department-store.

Unlike the Self Journal, which I carted around and used on and off from 7 AM til 10 PM, I’m keeping the Productivity Planner on my desk at work, and not using it for any non-work life tracking. 
My first day was not bad – I used the TeamViz pomadoro app I already use for tackling anything that’s daunting and got through five out of six tasks. I’m going to see what kind of a routine I can develop, and I’ll report back! 

Library Management Skills Institute – The Learning Organization

Just the phrase ‘Management Skills’ makes me feel a bit flustered. I remember clearly being a Faculty of Arts freshman at McGill and learning that right next door to the library was a school of management. A School of Management! There was a school where people chose to go to learn how to manage other people. To my roommate and I this seemed like the most arrogant, preposterous, and unnecessary discipline that had ever existed. We felt a mixture of contempt and embarrassment for all enrolled. How could they profess to want such a thing??

 

I’m six and a half years out of library school now, which I’m pretty sure makes me mid-career, and suddenly the idea of studying how to manage seems like a pretty excellent idea. Yes, eighteen year olds deciding they want to go to school to be managers is still kind of an embarrassing idea…but years of working in complex systems, juggling complicated relationships, and trying to negotiate all sorts of different partnerships has left me very convinced that everyone could use some help with this.*

 

photo of a printed journal article with notes and highlights scattered throughout the page.

Pre-course reading: Peter M. Senge. “The Leader’s New Work: Building Learning Organizations.” In Sloan Management Review 32(1), 1990

Anyone who’s had a conversation with me in the last three months knows that I’ve become a bit obsessed with the intertwined hot topics of mindfulness and intentionality. I think a lot of this comes from the panic I feel at the speed with which my tiny newborn son has turned into a robust, chunky, mobile human.  Was I standing on the sidelines as that time whizzed by? I know I was there for literally all of it, but now it’s gone, and I’m honestly frightened by the feeling of ephemerality I have around his literal whole life. And, of course, once I start thinking about his life I start thinking about my own: am I doing what I want to be doing? Am I building a life I will look back on proudly? Am I contributing to the kind of world I want to live in?

Intentionality in the workplace is hard, y’all. The deluge of email and metaphorical small fires and side conversations and meetings to plan meetings can quickly engulf whole days and weeks, and when you do manage to pull yourself up out of it, it’s 3 PM and you’re tired, right? And there’s some great ranting going on on Twitter against someone you always suspected was up to no good.  If I don’t have a plan, I can get lost. And now I have a kid to rush home to, I’m especially uninterested in staying late because of my own procrastination. A lot of things have coalesced for me recently around the idea of intentionality, of deciding purposefully how I want to live and work. Among the many bits and pieces that have helped are Cal Newport’s Deep Work, the Self Journal, a Mindfulness Without Borders course and, most recently, the Library Management Skills Institute.

I was fortunate enough to take LMSI1 last January, and to participate in LMSI2 two weeks ago, sponsored by OCUL and hosted by the University of Toronto. For those who haven’t heard of the course, each half of the institute is a three-day workshop facilitated by DeEtta Jones, of DeEtta Jones & Associates. In both cases when I took it, the course was co-facilitated by Trevor Dawes, vice provost at the University of Delaware, who brought a really useful boots-on-the-ground perspective to the scenarios and teachings. LMSI1 is focused on looking inward as a manager, while LMSI2 draws on the idea of the Learning Organization as a model for organizational success. The framework of the institute is a movement through each of these Peter Senge’s five disciplines (from The Fifth Discipline, which was references heavily, but which I have not read).

DeEtta and Trevor offered so much wisdom that was actionable. When discussing developing a Shared Vision, she emphasized: “It’s not just ‘what do we want to become?’ but ‘what are the behaviours and practices that will move us to where we want to be?’” This discussion was followed by a personal exercise where we laid out explicitly what those behaviours might look like in our own work environment. I came away with not just a list of big ideas, but a list of small things I could implement in meetings, phone calls, or just general office work.

DeEtta and Trevor also had us work through a series of personal and group exercises around our goals and aspirations, as well as current personal or organizational struggles. Again, these questions were broken down in such a way as to be exceptionally useful. I started a number of exercises thinking, “oh, this is a really hard problem and I don’t think I’ll be able to come to any breakthrough on a sheet of paper,” but I often did!

I frantically scribbled down a number of turns of phrase that DeEtta offered up. The phrase “be explicit” came up over and over again, and I really appreciated how much wording she put on the table. Some of my favourites include:

  • Be explicit about the values that are driving your position: “Here are some of the things that are guiding me right now. Here are the values behind my views.”
  • Give your group some working norms: “Let’s talk about how we want to work together.”
  • Be generous, because equity often lives in the process.
  • Don’t wait to give feedback: “Reinforce behaviours and articulate why they are helpful and valuable.” There was a lot of discussion about encouraging feedback from everyone, often, and on creating easy channels for people to do this, both formally and informally. “Feedback” didn’t mean “the following things are wrong,” and positive feedback was strongly emphasized as an essential component of healthy organizational culture.

But the biggest take-away for me was simply: “Discuss your values.”

DeEtta and Trevor emphasized how important it was for people to explore their values, and to think about how those might look, behaviourally, in the workplace. And the first step in encouraging this in a team is to make your own values explicit, and to make sure your own behaviour reflects those values. It sounds like something that would happen naturally (if I believe X, I’ll act like this…), but my own reflections made it clear to me that I had a lot of work to do in this area, and it was the same for every colleague I spoke to who attended the three days.

I came away recognizing that the most important things to me in an organization were trust and mutual respect, a shared sense of responsibility, and clarity of purpose to the fullest extent possible.

It was a most excellent three days, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity. As a challenge to myself, I’m going to blog the way I put these values into action over the next few months. And if I fail, I’m going to write about that too.

* To be clear, I use ‘manager’ loosely, and the Institute is not limited to people in a supervisory role.

Ever onward

The general tone of 2016 wrap-up-posts is pretty clear: this was a dumpster fire of a year, and no one will be sorry to see the end of it. Celebrities dying certainly stir up conversation, but I think it’s safe to say that 2016 will show up in the history books because of the Pulse nightclub shooting (among many, many other shootings), because of the fall of Aleppo, and because the most powerful country in the world chose to elect a xenophobic cheeto as its next president, instead of a competent woman.

So: yeah. A lot was pretty shitty in 2016, and I’m having trouble reconciling the deep horror and sadness I feel about the world with the absolute rapture I’ve felt this year as I became a parent. Y’all: motherhood is for me. I knew I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t imagine how deeply satisfied I would be with every single little aspect of it. I have been fulfilled, contented, and delighted by the life I’ve been living. This has been the best year of my life.

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I mean, lookit this sweet face!!

But events close to home and far afield have both left me with this: a longing for peace unlike anything I have ever experienced before.  It’s far away and insurmountable and so, so vague, but I want it for myself and for my son and for the whole dang world, which has been in so much pain.

So I’ll be figuring that out, nbd.

There are many more tangible things I want to accomplish in 2017, but with the major changes coming our way next week (back to work!), I’m pretty sure “surviving and adapting and adjusting” should be my main aim.

Still, I do love, on the brink of a new year, to imagine what that might look like. What would make me feel proud of our adjustment? How would I like us to be this year? January 1st isn’t some magical day that will change me, but it’s a welcome chance to think about the ways I’d like to focus my energies.

I’ve come up with the following:

putting family time first. I’m going to spend significantly less time with my family than I did in 2016. Ouch. It hurts to even write that, but it is absolutely going to be true. And this means it’s going to be really important to focus on the way that little things can mean a lot. I already fight the urge to hurry things up, to find little efficiencies, in so many of our daily rituals, and this is something I’ve got to work on calming. Eating breakfast, folding laundry, or taking a bath can be fun things when you slow them down and do them together. The walk to daycare is an opportunity, if we take the time for it. And in the evening, drinking a beer and sharing our days with my husband is exactly how I should spend my time. This all sounds obvious, but if I don’t keep it at the front of my consciousness, I fear I’ll forget.

working deeply, on the clock, and shutting off completely at the end of the day. I love my job, and I want to come in in the morning and be engaged and focused. And then I want to walk away from it. Hahahaha, right? I’ve been doing a lot of reading on this subject while on leave, and I’m ready to try out a few different things in the name of making this happen.

having time for myself. I didn’t do much running in 2016, and I’m not embarrassed or sad about it (I was doing other shit!), but I’m ready for 2017 to be different. Time to run and time to read are the two things I’d like most for myself. (LONG-FORM READING, JACQUELINE. NOT INTERNET READING.) See you on the trails!

Those three paragraphs are the dream, which I’m sure sounds naive to the seasoned working mums. But: I want to try! It’s not that I think I’m going to find a perfect balance, only that I want to be conscious of working towards it. And I’ve got the whole dang year (and, well, the year after that, and many more after that) to find ways and means of making it happen.

So: farewell 2016, the year my son was born, the year I became a mother. You were just wonderful and I wish I could stay in you, but 2017 is hurtling towards us with no regard for such wishes. How lucky to be here to face it.

Hello, world.

 

 

The first year

Just like that, I’ve been a married person for a year. And I never even shared any wedding photos on here! Indulge me, or look away. I can’t help it. It was such a fun day, and it really set the tone for an even, peaceful year. We didn’t have a theme per se, but our love of Toronto,  of cycling and transit, of music and books, fed into many of the decision we made for the day. Thanks to Frances Beatty for capturing the magic!

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Two adults. One female, dressed in a white dress and holding a bouquet of flowers. The other, male, has his arm around her and is wearing a suit.

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I can’t pretend to have any special wisdom after a year, but I really, really like being married. I like the stability and certainty of it. I like that energy I might once have put into the terrifying “what is our future?” question has been reassigned to making our future as solid as it can be.

Working in 2015

There’s nothing I love more than a fresh new year. And today the fresh new year takes me back to a fresh new office, which I cleaned with vigour on the Friday before Christmas break. I’ve sure enjoyed lounging around the house, but it will be okay to go back as well, for a number of reasons.

The roles and responsibilities at MPOW are about to shift in some fairly significant ways, and I am really excited to take on some new responsibilities (there are also some new responsibilities I’m less excited about, but I’ll leave those for another time or, more likely, off the agenda altogether). I’m looking forward to new challenges, but I’m also thinking carefully about how to make sure I don’t wind up perpetually running on the “small-scale stuff that needs to be done right now” wheel. I’ve experienced pretty significant workload shifts (in type and amount) before, and that was the first trap I fell into. Unsure of priorities? Answer some emails! Not clear on the end-goal of the document you’re trying to put together? Prep for a meeting!

Have you read Cal Newport’s blog? I am a bit of a productivity junkie and yup, reading about productivity is a thing I love to do, along with making task lists, and organizing folders and scheduled in preparation for some big project. As many, many people have observed: this is frequently just a form of procrastination. Productivity has its own subreddit, and one could spend a lot of time reading about other people having trouble getting things done.

But I find Newport’s blog really good because his big picture thoughts on being a productive and creative person are always accompanied by examples from his own work life, and concrete plans for readers to work through. In particular, his blog post on ‘deep work’ really hit home (the title will either make you flustered, relieved, or annoyed, but if you haven’t read it, do take a look at Knowledge Workers are Bad at Working). I have a job where it’s very easy to fall into what he calls “Shallow Work.” Some shallow work falls under my actual job description, but it’s also very easy to just putter along doing shallow work while leaving larger projects to the side:

“This work is attractive because it’s easy, which makes use feel productive, and it’s rich in personal interaction, which we enjoy.”

And then it’s 5:30 and you haven’t done any of the ‘deep work.’ You know: strategizing, research, writing

“…cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.”

…the stuff you feel you love to do, but that you just couldn’t seem to get around to that day…

You can read Newport’s thoughts on how to actually get down to deep work in the link above. I found the framework pretty compelling.

Anyway, as I head back to my sparkling new desk, I’m making a commitment to doing stuff that is hard this year. But I promise to still respond to your email.

P.S. This ACRL blog post, Lost Time is Never Found by Lindsay O’Neill, was what spurred my latest round of productivity reading. It is excellent, and emphasizes the importance of scheduling deep work in academic librarianship, especially when you’re in a new, emerging, or oft-changing position where it’s up to you to define a lot of your workload and outcomes.  More scheduling in 2015!