Random Thoughts on Caffeinated Writing

While getting ready to write yesterday, I debated making myself an espresso. It’s something I usually only do about once a week, but I did it almost every day during the first week of NaNoWriMo. And that first week looked like this:

Ignore the last dot. That’s today, and I haven’t logged any words, yet.

There’s this podcast I listen to where one of the questions that the host always asks the person she’s interviewing is “What thing in your life effects your writing in a surprising way?” After this week, I am beginning to think that, for me, that appears to be espresso.

Usually, I’m a tea person. Irish breakfast in the morning and green tea after that, on most days. I don’t really like the taste of coffee, but I do enjoy an occasional cappuccino if I happen by a good coffee shop. I refuse to buy tea in a coffee shop because it’s almost always overpriced and disappointing.

Since coffee is usually a “treat,” I’ve never really been that interested in making myself fancy espresso drinks at home, so I don’t have a fancy espresso maker. Instead, for the occasional homemade espresso shot, I have this thing called a Rok that uses pressure to make steam. It’s quiet and not fussy and basically all I need to make one shot of espresso. This thing came in really handy during the first year of the pandemic when most coffee shops were closed, and I was only going into public places for essential shopping.

I was still only using it about once a week. Then, for some reason, during the first week of NaNoWriMo, I started making myself a mid-morning espresso shot every day. Usually after my first writing sprint of the day. After several days of that, I skipped a day. My motivation that day was a little lower, and my writing sprints didn’t go as well. I still hit my word count goal, but it was harder. I chalked it up to the fact I’d been writing hard for several days in a row. It was bound to catch up to me, eventually.

Then I had another good writing day where I enjoyed a mid-morning espresso, and by the weekend I was considering a new theory. Maybe the extra motivation was coming from the espresso? I mean, I’ve always thought of espresso as my “extrovert juice.” Back when I was working in a corporate job and had back to back meetings where I had to present things, I would almost always grab an espresso or a cappuccino in the morning before my meetings started. Maybe it had a similar effect on my writing?

I have another week of big daily word count goals ahead of me, so I will continue to experiment with this theory and report back. 🙂

Pandemic Pastimes of 2020

Since I just finished up a massive cross-stitch project that I’ve been working on most of this year, I thought maybe I’d mention a few of the new hobbies and projects that I’ve taken on to occupy myself during this stay-at-home year. These are the things I’ve been up to in 2020, besides my normal writing and reading of books.

Baking

Early on in the pandemic, I jumped on the sourdough bread craze. I had been really into baking bread about ten years ago, and that was the last time I’d had a sourdough starter. Since then I’ve moved around a LOT and lived in what feels like a million different houses and cities. But, all the talk about bread baking and the yeast shortage got me back into sourdough again.

Since March, I’ve made a few decent loaves and plenty of bad ones. My loaves are still spreading out too much (vs. rising up). I finally sort of figured it out, then we moved. Now I have a new house and a new oven, plus this house is a lot colder than the place we were living in before. I’m think I’m going to have to figure it out all over again.

One thing I’ve learned this time around that I didn’t know back when I was first messing around with sourdough is all the awesome things you can make with sourdough discard. Now none of it is ever wasted. My favorites are sourdough pancakes and sourdough biscuits. For both I use the recipes on the King Arthur Flour website.

Stretching

In general, the pandemic has given me some additional motivation to focus on my fitness. I know that the virus doesn’t seem to care how healthy you are, and it seems to be effecting even really fit people in a very negative way. But, I figured it couldn’t hurt to step up my running and walking game.

One thing I quickly realized was that there was no way I was going to be able to remain injury free while running and walking at least 10k steps per day if I didn’t also stretch. So, stretching for at least 10-15 minutes every day is one of the habits I’ve been trying to develop this year.

I don’t think I’ve had a month where I actually achieved that goal, but I’ve been pretty close several times, and I’m definitely more flexible now than I was at the start of the pandemic. I am extremely grateful to the wealth of stretching and yoga videos on YouTube. I have a whole playlist of my favorites now.

Language Learning

When my friends’ kids started doing Duolingo over the summer to earn screen time for fun stuff like video games, I was reminded of how much I love learning languages. I studied French in high school and college, then I did a Spanish language immersion program in Ecuador a little over ten years ago. But I’m very much out of practice on both of those languages.

I considered doing a refresher of one of those, but decided to learn something totally new and started Hindi lessons instead. I’ve always wanted to travel to India. I’ve worked with a lot of folks from India during my corporate years, and I got introduced to Bollywood films. I love the mix of Hindi and English that they speak in those movies and have always been fascinated by languages that use a different alphabet from English.

The snapshot below is from the “year in review” that the Duolingo app sent me a couple of weeks ago. Since then I’ve improved on these stats, and my streak is up to 140 days (as of today)! I plan to see how long I can keep this going. Ideally, I’d like to get through at least the first level of every lesson in Hindi before I switch to something else, or add on Spanish and/or French practice.

Cross-Stitch

I have a bunch of friends who knit, but I don’t really like knitting that much. I tried it, and I made a scarf. That was fun, but it didn’t really stick as a hobby. So, when I decided I needed something to do with my hands during all these video conference calls, I went back to something I remembered enjoying as a kid. Cross-stitch.

I completed a few easy projects last year, before the pandemic, when I was hanging out with knitters and needed a project of my own to work on. Then I picked something that was way over my head and decided to take a bit of a break from it. Then the pandemic hit, and I picked it up again, determined to finish it.

And, that, my friends is really want prompted this post. I finally finished it today! Just in time for my niece’s birthday this weekend. Here it is, my completed Purple Galaxy Unicorn cross-stitch from Leia Patterns on Etsy…

I know this seems like a lot, but it’s been a long and stressful year, and I’ve needed a lot of distraction. It hasn’t always been super easy to escape into books the way I usually do, even though I’ve managed to surpass my annual 52 book reading goal on Goodreads.

I’ll have a post about all my 2020 reading stats after the year is officially over. I mean, I still have a few books I’d like to finish before the end of this month. In the meantime, stay tuned for that post I promised about how I plan to track my reading (and plan my life) in 2021.

Until then, happy reading!

Experiments in Bullet Journaling #BuJo

Because I recently posted about my current notebooks on Instagram…I thought I’d do a longer post about my adventures in Bullet Journaling in case anyone reading this is also a bullet journal fan.

I’ve always been the kind of person who keeps a journal. I’ve also always been the kind of person who prefers to have a paper calendar instead of a digital calendar (though that has changed a bit in the past few years and now I have a more hybrid approach).

Don’t believe me? Here’s a photo of my 2 boxes of archived notebooks. The box on the right are old planners and work notebooks. The box on the left are old journals. The ones balanced on top in the middle are some of my stash of blank notebooks.

With this as evidence, it should be absolutely no surprise to anyone that for the past several months I’ve been messing around with this whole “bullet journaling” craze. I haven’t gone so far as to get special markers or decorate with washi tape or try my hand at fancy lettering. I’m just trying to keep it simple. In general, I use my notebook to keep track of my personal life and “hobby projects” like writing, reading, and swimming. I don’t use it to keep track of stuff for my salaried work.

After trying a bunch of different styles, I think I’ve landed somewhere between the original, utilitarian concept and the super crafty and creative BuJo spreads you can find on Instagram and YouTube.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept, here are the basic components to bullet journaling:

  • Index
  • Future Planner
  • Month at a Glance
  • Daily (or Weekly) Tracking
  • “Collections”

I’ll talk a little about how I am (or am not) using each of these components, and what I’ve found works for me.

Index (needs help)

I have completely botched this up with this first journal. I think I wrote down every page and what’s on it. I ran out of room in my allotted space and had to continue it in the last pages of my journal. Whatever I did is absolutely not working. I need to go watch some videos on how to index properly. If you have pointers, please share them with me!

Future Planner (needs help)

I made one in my journal, but it’s pretty empty, and I’m constantly forgetting to use it. Clearly, I need to figure out how to use this space. I thought about abandoning this entirely when I start a new BuJo, but I think I’ll still need a place where I can park things that aren’t due or scheduled for months, and this does seem to be the easiest way. If you have suggestions for alternative Future Planner layouts, let me know in the comments, please!

Month at a Glance (love it!)

I use a pretty basic one like they show in the “how to” video on the bullet journal website. On the page facing my month-at-a-glance, I list out my goals and the titles on my TBR for that month. I’d show you a picture, but I don’t have a blank one right now.

I am big on goals, and I really like having a place to write out all the things I want to accomplish each month. Recently, though, I’ve been struggling to accomplish very many of my monthly goals.. I think this is because, even though I wrote them down, I sort of forget about them part way through the month.

This month, I plan to use my monthly goals in combination with that section of my newly adopted weekly spread format where I write out my “top three things.” I’m hoping that will help me stay focused on what really needs to get done each week.

Daily vs. Weekly Tracking (still dialing this in…)

I started with daily tracking, switched to weekly tracking after a few months, then switched back to daily tracking for a month, and now I’m back to weekly tracking using a weekly layout that I saw on Boho Berry‘s YouTube channel. It seems to be everything I need to keep track of what needs to get done and when each week.

I took this photo before I filled in my “habit tracker legend.” These are the four things that I’d ideally do daily. What qualifies for coloring in the daily square changes from time to time. Right now “Swim” is basically my cardio, “Write” depends on what my writing goal is for that week, “Read” is almost always “at least 30 min/day,” and “Zen” depends a lot on what’s going on but meditation, or yoga, or a walk all usually count for coloring in that box.

One thing I liked about daily tracking (vs. weekly tracking) was that it helped to remind me to slow down and take one day at a time. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and a little stressed between work commitments and personal goals. I feel like I’m not accomplishing everything I want to accomplish fast enough. When I have a space to note progress on a daily basis, it forces me to acknowledge my incremental accomplishments, which I almost never do.

I feel like this spread is a good compromise between daily and weekly tracking. I may eventually switch back to daily tracking, but for now, the daily boxes on my weekly spread seem to do the trick.

Collections (still dialing this in…)

I’m not sure this is a thing that they talk about in the original bullet journal concept, but it’s a big deal with BuJo enthusiasts. I have a few collections (basically a one or two page spread) that I use to track writing goals, swimming workouts, and my monthly reading TBRs.

I’ve moved all of my swim workout and TBR tracking to my BuJo, and it’s nice to have this as an analog system for when I’m offline, traveling.

Still a work in progress… 

One thing that I’ve not yet figured out how to deal with is actual journaling. I’ve basically ended up having a separate journal for that which seems counter productive. Again, if you have thoughts on this, let me know.

Even after almost a year messing around trying to find a way to adapt bullet journaling to meet my planning needs, I’m not sure I have it completely figured out yet. But, I’m finally ready to commit to a new journal… my first REAL BuJo!

I’ve busted it out of the wrapping and decorated it with a few stickers. Now I’m getting ready to start adding content. When I do I’ll take some photos and post them.

I expect that I have just enough pages left in my current journal to get through June. That means that I’ll get to start this one at the halfway point of 2017. I’m so excited! New journals always make me happy. 🙂

Do you use a bullet journal? Post your recommendations and favorite “how to” videos in the comments, if you have any suggestions!

How to share a lane when lap swimming

If you happen to arrive at your pool for lap swim and find an empty lane, count yourself lucky and enjoy it while you can. As the sport of swimming (and especially triathlons) becomes more and more popular, you’ll probably find your pool getting more and more crowded during lap swim. This means at some point you’re going to have to share a lane.

Regardless if you’re the first one there and someone is joining you, or if you’re the one trying to join in an already occupied lane, sharing a lane is less fun than having a lane all to yourself. But, everyone paid the same amount of money to enjoy the pool. So, be a good pool citizen and don’t be a dick about sharing lanes.

There’s an etiquette to lane sharing that, once you know it and use it, can make everyone a lot happier. It’s not as good as having your own lane, nothing is, but it makes sharing a lane suck less. So, follow the lane-sharing tips I provide below, and I promise it will make the experience less awful for everyone.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think this advice applies equally to newbie lap swimmers and folks who have been swimming laps for a while and think they got this (spoiler: unless you are/were a competitive swimmer, you probably don’t “got this”…). I feel compelled to write this post because I’ve had three separate run-ins this week with folks who are regular swimmers at the pool I go to and who seem to be unaware of this etiquette to joining an already occupied lane. They’re not new to lap swimming, but they each violated one of the “don’t do this” bullets I’ve included below.

So, you, dear blog readers, get the joy of reading this blog post instead of my usual posts on writing and books…

My advice for joining an already occupied lane in a lap swimming pool:

It should go without saying, but if you are attempting to join a lane occupied by another person, it must mean that all the available lap swimming lanes are currently occupied by at least one person. If there is an empty lane, take it! If not, ideally try to find a lane with a lap swimmer who is swimming about the same speed as you. This will help immensely if the pool gets really crowded and you have to absorb a third swimmer into your lane and (horror!) begin circle swimming.

Once you’ve picked your lane to join, you have two options:

Option 1: If the person already swimming happens to stop at the wall, get their attention and let them know you’d like to share their lane. They may be in the middle of a set. So, they may not have time to stop and talk, but they will likely nod, spit out a few words of response, and move over to one side before resuming their workout. You can now jump in, take the other side, and start swimming.

If they don’t stop, or you can’t get their attention, don’t worry, just proceed to option 2…

Option 2: The person swimming may be in the middle of a long set, or just “in the zone.” Don’t worry, they aren’t (likely) ignoring you on purpose. Once you have all your gear on and are ready to get into the pool, wait for them to be headed toward you, then jump in and stand (or float vertically, holding onto the wall) at the end of the lane. This will make you visible to the other swimmer and they will either stop to acknowledge you and welcome you to the lane, or move over and just keep swimming. Either way, once they’ve made their turn at the wall and moved over, you’re free to start swimming, even if they didn’t stop to talk. (Note: you may want to give them a bit of room and wait a few seconds before you start swimming to space things out a bit so you’re not swimming right next to them.)

Now, a word of caution… For the love of the water PLEASE DO NOT do any of the following:

  • DO NOT jump in and start swimming toward someone who can’t see you. If you jump in and start swimming, and I’m not facing you, I can’t see you. If your body is horizontal in the water and so is mine, we’re both probably looking at the bottom of the pool which means that it’s harder to see you. Stay vertical at the end of the lane until you’re sure that the other swimmer sees you. If you don’t, you’re risking a head on collision at full speed and someone’s going to get hurt. Don’t do it.
  • In general, lap swimming rules specify NO DIVING. So, this one is simple. DON’T DIVE IN. I don’t care if you think it’s clear, or if you’re in the deep end, or if you’re a great diver. It doesn’t matter. The rule is “no diving” for a reason. If there is already someone in the lane, IT’S NOT SAFE. Diving in doesn’t alert the person in the water to your presence until you’re already in the water and swimming. You might miscalculate and accidentally dive on top of them. You might start swimming toward them and end up in a head on collision. Just DON’T DIVE IN. It’s simple.
  • Please try to avoid submerging a kick board vertically at the end of the lane and waving it back and forth to get the swimmer’s attention and make them stop swimming. For most competitive (and previously competitive) swimmers, this signals STOP! EMERGENCY! It gives them a minor fear-based adrenaline rush when they see that kick board waving. They expect you’re going to tell them to clear (get out of) the pool for an emergency. Joining a lane isn’t an emergency. Just follow Option 2 above and you’ll be fine. I promise. No kick board necessary.

One last word of advice… if all the lap lanes already have 2 people splitting the lane, you’re going to have to be patient and you’re probably going to have to circle swim (counter-clockwise, always, right-hand rule, like driving). Find a lane with a pair of swimmers that appear to be swimming about the same speed as you (this is critical for happy circle swimming), and wait until one or both of them have stopped. Let them know that you’d like to join them. Ask if they are comfortable circle swimming.

This is slightly more complicated to coordinate, so it’s better if you can be patient and wait for someone to stop swimming and talk to you. But, if you’re in a hurry, initiate Option 2. Getting into the lane and waiting patiently at the wall will let them know you’re there. Still wait for them to stop and coordinate before you try to start swimming. Even in this instance, you don’t need to resort to waving the kick board in the water unless it’s a real emergency.

And now… back to our regularly scheduled program of blog posts on books and writing. Hope this helped (or at least entertained) any lap swimmers who may be reading my blog. Now, if I could just find a way to send this to all the folks who swim laps at my local pool…

Considering Uber and “boys will be boys” workplace culture

I don’t talk about “work stuff” on my blog much. On purpose. But, I’m going to make an exception to talk about sexism in the technology industry. If you aren’t aware of some of the recent sexual harassment drama at Uber, I’ll give you a moment to catch up before adding my own thoughts.

I read Susan’s post shortly after it came out, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since (note: I don’t know her or any of these people). Her experience made me angry. It brought up memories of similar experiences I’d had. It underscored the fact that I’d had a bad feeling about that company from the first time I started hearing about it, and I was right to trust my instincts.

Then there was the response from a woman inside, largely agreeing with Susan, but pointing out that it wasn’t all bad there. There’s always at least one. The poster woman. She reminded me a little of myself, back before I got mad.

Then, this week, there was another post, describing an experience similar to Susan’s. That’s when I remembered, and went back to dig up, an essay I wrote about this for a creative writing class back in March 2013 — almost exactly four years and one employer ago. I re-read the essay and was amused to see the thought process of little baby feminist me taking shape. I was less amused to see how little has changed in the industry, and to realize how much this has blown up in the past four years.

There’s a lot I’d change about how that essay was written, but I’ve decided to post it here, unedited, to show you one example of what it looks like when a clueless, privileged, Midwestern girl, starts to wake up.

I’ll also note, things have not gone smoothly for me since I wrote that essay and made the first tentative steps toward standing up for myself and others. There have been so many times I’ve wished I’d just kept my mouth shut, and times I have kept my mouth shut against my better judgement. But, every time, I keep coming back to the same conclusion, the one I arrive at, finally, at the end of this essay.

I’m lucky to work at an employer who cares about this stuff and is taking real steps to make changes. Everything they do isn’t perfect, but it’s miles beyond paying lip service to the importance of women in tech while making no policy changes and continuing to promote and reward the perpetrators of the exact behavior that keep those numbers low. It’s made my work life much less stressful, and for that I am grateful. But, I know this has a lot to do with the size of my employer. Start-ups are still the “wild-west.” If you’re a woman working in a start-up, you’re definitely on the front lines in this war, and you have my sympathies.

___________________________________________________________

“Boys Will Be Boys” — written March 2013 for a UC Berkeley Extension class in creative writing

You know those “happy birthday” email threads you get at work? Someone with an enviable memory for dates sends out an email to “Joe Whitecollar” wishing him a happy birthday and copying the entire team and everyone in the surrounding area on the email, guilting everyone into replying-all to join in the chorus of “happy birthday” wishes. Of course someone chimes in that they brought a cake and arrangements are made to make short work of it sometime after lunch. It’s all fun and games… until the joking escalates and someone responds with “… a lap dance has been arranged. I did some practice yesterday. You can choose me or Matt or Frank…”

Or does that part only happen in my office?

I’ve always been proud to be a woman considered “one of the guys.” Early on, before I even entered the workforce, I developed an unconscious ability to become more or less invisible when hanging out with, being on a team with, or working with, an entirely male group. I’ve found that this “invisibility” means accepting, laughing at, and to some extent even making, what more-enlightened individuals might consider to be “sexist jokes.” After all, it’s all just fun and games, right? Of course, by the time I get sick of these jokes, or the guys begin to push past my above-average tolerance level, I’m already guilty by association.

When I started at my current job, I was the only woman on a team of over twenty men. I was the only woman on any of the teams that our team worked with on a regular basis. I was often the only woman in every meeting I attended. Sometimes, I went for entire days without speaking to anyone of the same sex at work. Well, except for the project managers.

In technology, project manager is about the only role largely dominated by women. To make matters worse, the role of “PM” plays right into female stereotypes. They are the soccer moms of engineering, keeping track of who is doing what, making sure everything gets done, and nagging everyone until they finish their “homework.” In order to be taken seriously at my job, I try hard not to be confused with a PM, which just further alienates me from the other females I work with.

Most people seem to think the best way to get rid of the “boys club” culture in science and technology is to get more women into these fields. Everywhere you look, there are initiatives to increase the level of female participation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) studies. No one seems to have a handle on why it is that women, beginning as early as middle school, exhibit decreasing interest in pursuing these fields. Studies have shown women have at least as high an aptitude for STEM fields as men. So what gives? Could it be that the “boys club” culture is actually what’s making these pursuits unattractive to women? Maybe, at some point, women are deciding that sales and finance are just more welcoming environments, roles in which they will be subjected to fewer dick and fart jokes they must smile through on a daily basis.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but, until recently, I never gave this issue much thought. As a woman who chose to pursue a career in a STEM discipline, I’ve been thriving in a male dominated field for my entire adult life. I like the work, I naturally have a foul mouth and a raunchy sense of humor, and I love guys. But, the older I get, the more I notice the research. I am beginning to worry about the future of women in technology. Recently, link-bait articles with provocative headlines like “Can Women Have it All?” that appear regularly in the press have become infuriating. Each one wants an easy answer and fails to recognize the complexity of the issue.

In the past few months, as these articles have been focusing more and more on prominent figures at technology companies in the Bay Area, I have found myself very close to the epicenter of this controversy. Most recently, I’ve been fascinated by the backlash against Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg for having the nerve, in her new book, Lean In, to suggest that women shouldn’t back away from pursuing their goals. Then I found out last week that a woman was fired from her job as a developer at a technology company for, presumably, calling out sexist behavior at a programming conference I had just attended. As much as I’ve tried to avoid taking sides in this controversy, I feel it has become unavoidable.

Adria Richards’ experience illustrates beautifully the complexities at play. Ms. Richards “called out” some men sitting near her at a Python coding conference, PyCon, for making what she felt to be inappropriate jokes of a sexually demeaning nature. She explained later that she was not bothered by these jokes. However, the idea that the jock mentality and associated “harmless” sexist jokes would continue to keep women from feeling comfortable in this male dominated culture made her speak up. She tweeted about it. She posted her thoughts on her blog.

In response, she has been publicly ridiculed, called offensive names online, suffered a denial of service attack on her website, and been fired from her job. To be fair, I don’t know her or any of the parties involved, and this is a complicated example in which I’m not sure we could possibly have all the facts. Still, I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say she didn’t deserve the response she received. The attacks were pretty horrific, and the threats were female-specific and wished violent harm upon her person.

Sadly, the name calling and the ridicule don’t really surprise me. I’ve come to expect that this is what happens when you speak up about something that many want to write off as “just a joke.” What shocked me most was that she was fired from her job, and that her employer stated he felt that because of this incident she would be unable to effectively perform her job. Even if there were other circumstances that may have given her employer cause to let her go, this action is bound to send the message that it’s better to shut up than speak up if you want to remain employed, and employable.

Article after article has been written analyzing if or how Ms. Richards should have confronted these men. How she might have handled the situation differently. Why she was right or wrong in doing what she did. Almost everyone seems to have an opinion. I find myself agreeing with at least half of almost every article I read about the situation — even when the articles completely disagree about the right thing to do. At the same time, I am reminded of my first brush with “workplace harassment.”

I moved to St. Louis for the summer after my sophomore year in college to complete my first internship at McDonnell Douglas, an aerospace company. I arrived armed with my very first wardrobe of business clothes. I brought suit jackets, skirts, dress pants, and silk blouses to wear underneath the jackets. With the clothes to complement my education, I felt as prepared as I could be for my first summer as a woman in manufacturing management. What can I say? I was young. Naive.

St. Louis is hot and sticky in the summer, but the office had air conditioning. One particularly warm day, I had removed my jacket and hung it on the back of my chair in the cubicle I was sharing with a middle-aged guy on my team. While standing in the cubicle doorway, attempting to have a conversation with this man about some work topic, he decided to make a comment about how “it must be cold” in the office. I was immediately embarrassed, horrified, and completely at a loss as to what to do. I made a quick decision to blow off the comment, put my jacket back on, and find something outside the cubicle that needed to be done right at that moment. (I’ve never been particularly skilled at the art of the snappy comeback.)

Every woman handles these situations differently. I was never one to rock the boat. I guess I always hoped that the man’s common decency would assert itself once he realized his comments did not have the desired effect (unless his desired effect was to make me uncomfortable…). I assumed he, too, would be embarrassed, and maybe in the future he would not make the same inappropriate remarks. However, was that enough? What if he wasn’t embarrassed at all, but thought it was okay because I didn’t say anything? What if he said that to other women, other interns, all because I didn’t speak up and say something? If I had said something, would I have still been given a glowing review and asked to return the following summer? Or would I have been labeled a “trouble maker” or a “drama queen.”

Sixteen years later, I am still working in an environment where jokes like this are the norm. I’ve sat through mandatory harassment briefings at all but my most recent employer, and said to myself (only once out loud), “but what if it doesn’t bother me?” The answer, I’m told, is that it doesn’t matter. Regardless of my above-average tolerance level, others may be offended. The rational minds in Human Resources suggest that the best course of action is to speak up and say, “hey, that’s inappropriate.” Clearly these well-intentioned HR people have never worked in the environments they warn us about. Because, as we find time and again, if you call someone out as being inappropriate, you immediately become a target. A stick-in-the-mud at best. A heinous, man-hating bitch, at worst. Or maybe not worst, maybe worst are the threats of a physical attack.

I’ve been banging my head against this wall for my entire adult life because I chose to work in a male-dominated field. Have I done everything right? Hell no. Would I go back and change things? Maybe. Maybe not. Would I speak up if I found myself in the same situation as Adria Richards? I’d like to think I would, but clearly I’ve been in those situations before and remained silent. Would I react differently now? I honestly don’t know.

“Boys will be boys.” We hear that all the time in our culture. The phrase is as frequently used to describe children as adults. Most often it is used to explain away behavior that, if exhibited by the opposite sex, might be considered inappropriate or unacceptable. Even in our enlightened age, there are still many things that are socially acceptable for men, but not for women, to do and say.

In American culture, it is socially acceptable for men to: go bald, let their hair go grey, sport a pot belly that hangs over their belt, yell, swear, and drink excessively, and yet still be considered successful and even distinguished. It is entirely acceptable for men to sleep around, remain unmarried, decide not to have children, put their career first, exaggerate their accomplishments, be insensitive, and play hardball. Can you tell me what the female equivalent of “cocky” is?

Of course you can probably think of exceptions to these assertions. Of course you want to tell me that it is perfectly acceptable in this day and age for women to remain unmarried or to decide not to have children, or to put their career first. I will tell you, as a married woman who has decided not to have children, I have watched nearly all my male coworkers squirm under the desire to ask me when/if I will have children while knowing that they are forbidden by HR to do so. It is ridiculous that I should feel as though I need to put their mind at ease by explaining that I will not be running to their office in a matter of months requesting maternity leave.

So, for a start, let’s be honest about where we are as a culture. I want to live in a society where it’s socially acceptable for women to be aggressive, even cocky. I also want to live in a society where it’s okay for men to not have to be those things in order to be successful. Because this is where I think the gender issue begins to fail — when it becomes women against men. Us against them. It’s more or less a 50 / 50 split along those lines, and before you know it we end up in the same deadlock that our American political system is in. We retreat to our respective sides, call each other names, and progress is stalled. When, in reality, we all benefit from gender equality. Meanwhile, young women think, “I don’t want to deal with that mess,” and move into other pursuits. Bye-bye, STEM.

Women and men of my generation, and younger generations, are doing much to eliminate, or at least dramatically reduce the ideas and environments that reinforce the “male, macho, technologically inclined” stereotype as much as the “female, delicate, emotionally inclined” stereotype. We grew up trying to fit ourselves into these uncomfortable and limiting boxes and are actively trying to break down those barriers for today’s youth.

I have two nieces. I want them, and all little girls, to grow up in a world where it is socially acceptable for them to be aggressive, assertive, mechanically competent, strong, and proud of their accomplishments. I hope they never have to confront someone who tells them that as long as they’re beautiful, it’s okay if they’re not smart.

I have one nephew. I want him, and all little boys, to grow up in a world where it is socially acceptable for them to be delicate, gentle, artistic, sensitive, thoughtful, and kind. I hope he never has to confront someone who tells him he shouldn’t do something or wear something because “it’s gay.”

I hope someday, if they ever read this, they will wonder why everyone made such a fuss about sexism and gender stereotypes because, of course we’re all equal, and of course we each have our own interests, and these have nothing to do with our sexual orientation. I hope that’s all they know because that’s just how it is, how it should be. If that means it’s time for me to start speaking up, I guess a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Pop update: culture consumed week of 6 February

I had pretty much decided to stop doing these posts, but I consumed a lot of really good culture this week. So, I decided to make a summary post, if just for my own personal reference.

I finished three excellent books: Homegoing, Writing the Other, and Home (Binti #2). I’ll write more about these when I do my February wrap-up post, but the links there will take you to my reviews on Goodreads if you don’t want to wait until then.

I also listened to a bunch of podcasts. Two of my favorites had episodes talking about this year’s Oscar nominated documentaries: Code Switch and Pop Culture Happy Hour.

Listening to those episodes made me want to watch I Am Not Your Negro, 13th, and (to a lesser extent because I didn’t even pay much attention to it at the time) the OJ documentary series. So far, I’ve only had a chance to watch 13th (because it’s on Netflix). Next up is probably at least a few episodes of OJ (because it’s also on Netflix).

Everyone seems to be saying that I Am Not Your Negro is the favorite for this category, but I gotta say, 13th is SO GOOD. Seriously, you need to go watch this documentary. After I watched the film, I started watching a bunch of interviews with the director. She’s pretty great. Oh, and, she’s directing the film version of A Wrinkle in Time (one of my favorite childhood novels). After seeing 13th, I’m even more excited to see what she does with A Wrinkle in Time

I also should mention that the Code Switch episode got me listening to “Road to Zion” by Damien Marley, featuring Naz. It’s catchy. I usually don’t like reggae, but I’ve had this song stuck in my head all week. I’ve listened to it more times than I can count, and I’m still not sick of it yet. Make of that what you will.

If that’s not out of character enough for me, I also read Libba Bray’s “Womanifesto” blog post this week that was making the rounds on “book Twitter.” My husband (who I passed this on to after reading it) pointed out that it’s basically a poem. I suppose he’s right. I hadn’t noticed. But, I don’t read a lot (almost any) of poetry. It’s not usually my jam, but this I enjoyed.

If I keep this up, the next thing you know I’m going to become a fan of musicals and start listening to jazz… That reminds me of another big name movie that’s getting a lot of Oscar buzz… but, nah… there’s no way you’re getting me to watch La La Land. Not gonna happen.

I should also mention, I’m caught up on season 4 of The 100 now. So far, it appears to be off to a slow start, but I’m going to stick with it for now. On the other hand, I am LOVING season 2 of The Magicians (even though a thing that I knew was going to have to happen finally happened this week and that makes me a little sad… I’d say more, but spoilers…).

Oh! I also want to mention this one post on Tor.com about political structures in fantasy novels vs. sci-fi novels that I found to be thought provoking. I hadn’t even really realized it, but the author makes a good point — most fantasy novels are about restoring monarchies, which is a little odd when you consider that sci-fi is almost never about restoring monarchies. Sci-fi is usually about toppling dictators or evil empires, and establishing republics. I mean, the author doesn’t have data to support this, but these are tropes of the respective genres, which means that these themes are prevalent enough to have become a trope.

That article has me thinking about my own writing and considering if I’ve unconsciously fallen in line with the established tropes in my novels, or if I’ve done something a little different. In at least one of my fantasy novels, I think I’ve done something a little different. In that novel, there is no monarchy to re-establish in the first place. There is a family who holds power at the start of the story, but the power dynamic at the end is different than it is at the start (no spoilers…). My sci-fi novel, however, may fit the bill for what’s expected re: toppling dictators and establishing republics…

See? I told you. Lots of really good culture consumed this week… and I’m sure there’s more that I’m forgetting. As always, if you have thoughts on any of this stuff, or recommendations for stuff I should check out, let me know in the comments.

Pop update: what’s making me happy this week

The news is dire and it just keeps coming. I am refusing the urge to ignore it. Instead, I’ve made a commitment to myself to stay engaged and take action where I can (like calling my representatives). But every once in a while I need a break from the madness (see also: “How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind“).

This week, those breaks have mostly been in the form of TV and movies.

I watched Hell or High Water. Very entertaining, tense at times, but good cinematography and great acting. Plus, Chris Pine is damn fine.

I adored the first episode of the second season of The Magicians, and I’m so excited for the next episode. I really like how they’ve adapted the source material. The changes they’ve made make the story SO MUCH BETTER.

And I enjoyed this little Vlogbrothers video “On Motivation.” Sometimes you just need an inspirational quote.

That’s what’s making me happy this week. I’m planning to do a January wrap-up post in a few days where I talk about the books I read this month and how I did on my goals for this month.

Until then: “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Pop Update: culture consumed week of 16 January 2017

Here is my summary of this week’s culture consumed:

  • Books read:
    • I finished Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day… it wasn’t my favorite, but it was good. I’m just not a big fan of witches and ghosts. I knew that going in and tried it anyway. But I never really got into it and there were some world-building and plot things that I got hung up on. I still love her Wayward Children series and am looking forward to Down Among the Sticks and Bones scheduled to come out this summer. This one just wasn’t for me.
    • Other than that, my reading has been pretty scattered this week… I’ve been struggling to stay focused enough to read, which is very uncharacteristic for me, but understandable in the context of this past week.
  • Podcast episodes:
    • I really enjoyed the final two episodes of Code Switch‘s series on Obama’s legacy
    • I listened to Pop Culture Happy Hour‘s episode discussing Hidden Figures the day after I watched the movie, and I’m really glad I did. It was nearly like getting to gush about this movie with friends.
    • I also listened to episodes from Smart Podcast Trashy Books, Reading The End, and a few others I subscribe to, but Code Switch and PCHH are the episodes that really stuck with me this week.
  • Magazines and other news:
    • As planned, I sort of avoided the news this week…
  • Movies and TV:
    • We watched the Sherlock season finale on Monday. This was a REALLY tense and uncomfortable episode to watch for me… Not my favorite. I liked episode 2 WAY better. Plus, this really feels like a *series* finale instead of just a *season* finale, which makes me a little sad…
    • I devoured the remaining episodes of The Crown on Netflix. I really love this series, and I’m still thinking about it. Sounds like we might get season 2 in November? I can’t wait.
  • YouTube:
    • I watched Oprah’s full interview with Michelle Obama, but now I can’t find anything but little clips of it. It was inspiring, and I loved it.
    • I also caught up on some of the videos from channels I subscribe to and watched a few more fan theory videos about The Force Awakens.

Queued up next…

  • From my TBR: I don’t really know… I may just have to drop everything that I’m currently reading and start The Star-Touched Queen
  • On my podcast app: Other than Writing Excuses, I may go light on the podcasts this week… Lately, podcast time has been during commute time, and I think this week I may want to focus more on using that time for reading rather than podcasts.
  • Streaming on video: I’m so excited that The Magicians returns next week for season 2 on the SyFy channel! (I’ll be watching online)

If you have thoughts on any of the above, or recommendations for me, please leave them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Pop Update: culture consumed week of 9 January 2017

Here is my summary of this week’s culture consumed:

  • Books read:
    • I haven’t finished any books this week because I’ve divided my attention between a few different ones and I spent more time than usual watching TV shows and movies…
    • I was reading Come As You Are, but put it aside mid-week to start Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day because I pre-ordered this novella and it came out on Tuesday. I’m hoping to finish one or both of these this weekend.
  • Podcast episodes:
    • I caught up on a LOT of podcasts this week… too many to name them all…
    • The one that stood out from the others was the first in a new series from Code Switch on the Obama legacy, “Obama’s Legacy: Diss-ent or Diss-respect?”
  • Magazines and other news:
    • How I Got My Attention Back by Craig Mod (via @RianVDM) — about how we’ve allowed technology to seize control of our attention and why that’s a problem for thinking critically and creative work
    • From back issues of The Economist:
      • Against Happiness” — about the ridiculousness of forcing people to put on a happy face at work
      • Proximate Goals” — about the Earth-like planet found orbiting Proxima Centauri
  • Movies and TV:
    • So, I finally watched The Graduate. It’s streaming on Netflix and, when I mentioned to my husband that I’d never seen it, he insisted that we watch it. Turns out he thinks he watched it on a double date in high school. He thinks much of it was lost on him at the time. I wasn’t that impressed. It was fine, but I couldn’t help thinking of it as a fancy, expanded version of a Simon and Garfunkel music video.
    • It only took us until mid-week to get around to watching episode 2 of Sherlock season 4. I really enjoyed this week’s episode. I have no idea what they’re doing with Mrs. Hudson’s character, but I like it.
    • I also watched the first four episodes of The Crown on Netflix because I figured out that I could download them onto my phone so I could watch them on my commute. This took away from my reading time, but I’m not at all sorry. The politics and tension and emotions in the plot, paired with the excellent acting, makes this a great series.
    • Last, but in absolutely no way least, hubby and I saw Hidden Figures on Sunday night. The last time I left a movie theater feeling that excited about a movie, it was probably Mad Max: Fury Road. This movie is SO GOOD, and it was exactly what I needed to see right now. I HIGHLY recommend going and seeing this movie. I don’t usually watch movies in the theater unless they’re the type of thing better seen on a big screen. I am so glad I made an exception for this one.
  • YouTube:
    • I’ve been leaning more into “actual” TV and movies this week, but I did enjoy at least one YouTube video this week…
    • Rey is a Kenobi popped up in my suggested videos, probably because I’ve watched other fan videos that support this reasoning. I’ve been convinced of this since I watched TFA, and this new video adds a bit more fuel to support this theory. If you don’t agree, or you do and want to see how this guy supports his case, check out this video.

Queued up next…

  • From my TBR: I’m itching to get started on either The Star-Touched Queen or The Obelisk Gate, but I should probably finish my in-progress stuff first…
  • On my podcast app: The second episode in the Obama legacy series from Code Switch, “Obama’s Legacy: Callouts and Fallouts”
  • In the news: I haven’t been very good about keeping up with my newspaper subscriptions. Although, this week in particular, I think I kind of want to hide from the news…

If you have thoughts on any of the above, or recommendations for me, please leave them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Pop Update: culture consumed week of 2 January 2017

Last week I kicked off what I’m hoping will end up being a weekly blog post on what I’m reading, watching, and listening to — in other words, my “culture consumed” for the week. Here’s a link to last week’s post, if you missed it. And below is a (slightly more organized than last week) summary of this week’s culture consumed.

  • Books read:
    • Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton (Kindle) — My first book read in 2017! I’ve had this one for a while, but have been saving it because it’s about ballet, and I’m a sucker for a good dance book. If you are also a sucker for a good book set in that intense and somewhat insane world of professional dance, I highly recommend this book.
  • Podcast episodes:
    • I listened to a bunch of Code Switch episodes, starting with the first episode from 31 May, “Can We Talk About Whiteness?” I also listened to the post-election episode, the one about the crowd-sourced letter from the younger generation of Asian Americans to their parents about race and #BlackLivesMatter, and I listened to the “What’s So Funny About The Indian Accent?” episode. This is quickly becoming my new favorite non-writing podcast.
    • The first episode of the new season of Writing Excuses promised another excellent year of craft talk. I am very excited about their plans for this year.
    • I listened to the 2016 wrap-up and 2017 resolutions / predictions podcasts from Reading the End, Pop Culture Happy Hour, and Smart Bitches.
    • And, I listened to the second half of the Sub Pop podcast’s season 2 finale interview with Father John Misty.
  • Magazines and other news:
    • Teen Vogue article on the problematic treatment of consent at the core of the new sci-fi movie Passengers — sounds like I can skip that one… nice reporting, again, Teen Vogue!
    • The latest in the “Women of Harry Potter” series at Tor is on Minerva McGonagall
    • I started reading The Economist Holiday Double-Issue. There are SO MANY good articles in there, I think it’s going to take me a while to get through this one…
    • I saw this article on Book Riot’s blog, and it had a link to a template for tracking your books read. After going through the hassle of having to export my data from Goodreads in order to run stats on what I read last year, I thought I might adopt this tracker for my purposes and see how it goes. I’ll probably still log and review books on Goodreads, but this spreadsheet will make it so much easier to calculate all my various reading stats.
  • Movies and TV:
    • Miss Representation documentary about how women are portrayed in the media and how this effects them socially, economically, and politically. (available via Netflix streaming)
    • I didn’t get around to watching Sherlock season 4, episode 1 until yesterday. This is especially frustrating because we actually bought the season on Amazon streaming because we weren’t sure if we’d be able to stream for free (we don’t have a TV/Cable). But, now it looks like you can watch the full episodes on PBS online. So, I sort of feel like an idiot. Well… at least I didn’t have to watch any ads, and I can feel good about paying artists for their art. Right?
  • YouTube:
    • Thoughts on Tomes “gush” review of The Magician King and spoiler free review of The Magician’s Land — making me consider reading the third book after all…
    • Boho Berry’s bullet journal set-up video for Jan 2017 — I’m still not sure I’m doing this whole “BuJo” thing right, but I’ve been messing around with it for a couple months now and it seems to be something that’s working for me (sort of? I’m not entirely sure?). Every once in a while I watch one of these videos on YouTube to get some ideas or to try to figure out if I’m “doing it right.” Inevitably, I walk away shaking my head, half-convinced that people are taking a concept that seemed pretty straight forward and making it WAY more complicated than it needs to be… BUT… The “spreads” are just so pretty…. After watching videos like this, I end up with “BuJo envy” (is there a cute internet term for that yet?) and my creative brain wants to get crafty with my mostly utilitarian version of this trend. But, as it is, I struggle to find enough time to update the bare-bones version I’ve developed.

Queued up next…

  • From my TBR: My library hold came up for Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski. So, I think I’ll be reading that next. In case you are one of the few people who hasn’t yet heard of this book (it made the rounds as highly recommended on so many blogs I read and podcasts that I listen to, I can hardly believe anyone hasn’t heard of it yet), this is not a book about Nirvana. It’s a pop-science book about the science of female sexuality. So far, I’ve only read the introduction, and I’m fascinated. If you are curious about the content but not sure if you want to buy/borrow the book, I recommend listening to the “Smart Podcast, Trashy Books” episodes #186 and #201. The first features an interview with the author and the second is an encore, follow-up with listener questions. So. Good. These are what initially got me interested in reading the book.
  • On my podcast app: Monday is Writing Excuses day! Can’t wait to listen to the second episode of the season!
  • In the news: Got this week’s issue of The Economist yesterday (the first issue of 2017), and I’m looking forward to catching up on the news in long form.

If you have thoughts on any of the above, or recommendations for me, please leave them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!