Sunday, May 01, 2016

Sunday Hodge-Podge

Next week is teacher appreciation week, and after grumbling to myself about how the best way to appreciate teachers is to pay them fairly, I signed up to buy a gift card to a movie theater for the gift the class parents are assembling for one of my kid's teachers. 

No problem, I thought. I'll get a gift card at the grocery store. Then the grocery store only had $25 and $50 gift cards, and I thought that was too much. Then I came home and said that to Mr. Snarky, who pointed out that $25 was two movie tickets.

So I went online and bought a $25 e-gift card. 

Really, I'd rather we just raised my taxes a bit and paid teachers well enough that we didn't need to do appreciation weeks. I clearly can't handle teacher appreciation week.

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When I decided to plant some edible plants in big pots on my patio, I specifically chose herbs and salad greens, because those are easy. I specifically avoided tomatoes, because growing tomatoes intimidates me.

The tomato gods had other ideas. I have five volunteer tomato plants growing in one of my pots. I assume that they grew from seeds in the compost dirt I used for planting. 

Five is too many for one pot, so I bought a new pot with the plan of moving a couple over to it.

The new pot sat on my patio for several weeks. 

Finally, this evening, I went out to move the tomato plants, rip up the arugala that had bolted and plant more, and plant some more lettuce and watercress.

I managed to move one of the tomato plants. The others were too interwoven with the other plants in that pot, and I couldn't see how to move them. So I staked them and left them where they are. There are about five tomatoes growing on them. We'll see what happens.

Really, I just wanted salad greens. 

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Thank you to all the people who have emailed to volunteer to be a beta reader. I'll email with details on Wednesday, if not before.

Anytime I ask for help on this blog, I get what I need. You guys are amazing. Thank you.

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Last week, I saw a good deal on an advertising opportunity for one of the books I've published, so I placed an ad. The response was... underwhelming. Oh well.

Also last week, I had two sales of the recording of Take Control of Your Time. I had not advertised it, or even mentioned it on Twitter recently.

So now I'm wondering if I should try advertising that seminar. I am sort of reticent to do so, because of all the classes and seminars I offer, it is the one I feel least confident about. What gives me the right to say I can teach you how to make better use of your time? For the other classes and seminars, I have relevant professional experience. For this one, I have... well, I'm generally considered to be able to get a lot done while also enjoying a good amount of down time.

And yet, it is the seminar I've given live to two groups, and it is the recording that is selling. I get good feedback on it, too.

I know that there is good content in that seminar, and that my approach is a bit different from the usual "gurus" who are out there marketing online time managment courses. For instance, I use a lot of things I learned from project management in my personal time management, and I include that in the course.

I suspect I need to get over myself and just market it. Really, I do. In general, if I don't want to end up looking for a full time job when my current large contract ends, I need to get over myself and learn how to market my services. I know this. I keep trying to give myself a kick in the pants/pep talk and just do it.

Maybe I need to have a beer or two and just go place some Facebook ads and see what happens.

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I am trying to stick to a more regular schedule with Tungsten Hippo blog posts. I missed last week, but I posted this week about short ebooks as samples for larger series. Check it out.

Also, did I mention that you now get a free classic short story formatted as an ebook when you sign up for the Tungsten Hippo mailing list? You do, and my plan is to change the short story twice a year, always sending the new one to the people already on the mailing list, too.

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Do you remember the snail that got caught in the filter intake in our aquarium? It looked like it was going to make it. It spent about a week expelling grey stuff, and then it started scooting around the aquarium again. But it didn't seem to be eating, and then it stopped moving again. Then one night, I saw the other snail poking at it. It looked like the other snail was eating it.

So we declared it dead. I agonized over this. I scooped the snail out and put it in a little plastic bag, and took it over to the light to try to see signs of life.

Mr. Snarky watched this for awhile, then took the bag away from me, said "if you say the snail is dead, it is dead" and disposed of the snail.

We're going to get another snail. We were supposed to go to get it today, but we spent a lot of time at the park instead. Petunia has learned how to ride her bike without training wheels and she wanted to show me (and practice some more).

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So, that's what's up here. What's up with you?


Friday, April 29, 2016

Weekend Reading: The I Should Keep a Stash of Cute Animal Pictures for Weeks Like This Edition

First of all, thank you for all the supportive comments on my last post. Vitamin D supplementation is tricky for me due to my asthma (vitamin D is also implicated in boosting immune function), but I'll look into it, and other potential vitamins I might want to supplement.

Second of all: I have a favor to ask. I've signed up another novelette for my publishing company. This is a sci-fi novelette, and depression features in the plot. I'd like to get a couple of beta readers who either have depression themselves or are close to someone who does. If you're interested, email me (wandsci at gmail dot com). This can be a paid thing, or I can owe you a favor: whichever way works better for you.

Third of all: Let's have some links!

This NY Times interactive graphic about money, race, and educational success showed up in my inbox from a couple of different sources. It isn't really surprising, and that is sad. If you've never looked at this sort of data, take a look. One limitation is that it is only by school district, so it isn't very informative about large school districts like mine. San Diego Unified comes in at about average, but I am fairly certain that educational attainment is not uniform across San Diego Unified, for exactly the reasons this graphic is highlighting.

On being angry while female. I completely missed the Kelly Ripa story, and honestly, before I read this article, I didn't really know who she was... but this is a nice article tying a lot of things together. I think it would have been stronger if it had acknowledged that women of different races experience this prohibition on being angry differently, though. But perhaps that is too big a subject to really tackle in a short article. I think there are common threads, and then also things that are different for women of each race. I'd love to read more about this, though.

This post about the men who email women who have written something is really good. Every once in awhile, something I write at Chronicle Vitae prompts a bunch of emails, always from men, always telling me either that I'm wrong, or that I failed to consider something.

The most recent one, which was about how being organized is a skill that you can learn, prompted a hilarious crop of emails earnestly explaining that maybe the writer (again, always male) could learn how to be organized, but they would never be quite as good at it as their wives are, and therefore it makes sense that their wives handle all the minutae of their lives. I don't know what they were looking for? Absolution? If so, they should be talking to their wives.

I didn't answer any of the emails. I'm not in the business of ajudicating how other people arrange their home lives. If both parties are happy, great. If not... they need to talk to each other, not me.

Lest you despair about men... this essay by Detroit Lions linebacker Deandre Levy about how men need to "man up" to address sexual assault is wonderful. What struck me is that according to the essay, his change of perspective came from attending training about domestic violence from the NFL. Also clear from the essay is that the training didn't reach everyone... but it reached him. Imagine how many men we'd reach if we'd talk with boys and young men in high school and college. We will not reach everyone, but if we reach some, I think it would be worth it.

Turning to the state of digital media... this article from Mother Jones editors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery is really good. If we want good, independent media, we have to be willing to pay for it.

This article about the extra problems older women face in the workplace is sobering for me. What if I find I need to go back to a full time job... and run into age discrimination as well as gender discrimination? Mostly, this makes me work harder on my projects, but it also makes me worry.

This post about aphantasia is mind-blowing. Read it. Really.

The Grumpies hosted a really interesting discussion about online vs IRL personality.

Bad Mom, Good Mom talked about Facebook's privacy policy. Boy, I'm looking forward to talking about privacy settings with my kids!

Finally, here's David Frum thoughtfully considering the case for a third party run by a conservative candidate. I disagree with his politics, but I am glad there are still some Republicans who think that giving in and unifying behind Trump is a fundamentally wrong thing to do.

And now, we need something fun to end on.

Sorry, I don't have anything really light-hearted, but Alexandra Petri's post about the woman card is hilarious in a "laugh so you don't cry" sort of way.

And this made me laugh:




I feel like I should have a cute animal picture to end with or something, but I don't. Sorry. Have a good weekend, anyway.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lying Brain and The Limits of Empathy

I don't really mind getting older, but I have to admit, I am hating perimenopause.

Ever since puberty, I've known women whose monthly cycles have a profound effect on their moods and mental states, but I've never considered myself one of them. Until now. I'm not sure why this has changed for me, but perimenopause seems like a plausible thing to blame, so I'm blaming it.

Sure, I got a little irritable for a day or two, but honestly, the strongest mental effect of my cycle was a powerful craving for cookies for a few days. (I still get that, by the way. I always love cookies, but for a few days each month I basically transform into Cookie Monster.)

Now, though, something much more profound happens. For three specific days of my cycle (and I'm on the pill, so I know it is always the same three days), I feel like a failure. I feel like everything I'm attempting to do is doomed to fail. I am sure I should just give up.

The first couple of times this happened, I was completely unaware of any reason, and I actually started searching job ads for a full time position. This despite the fact that my contract work is bringing in enough to meet my financial targets for the year, and so I have decided not to start to look for full time work until November, at the earliest, and then only if I can't convince myself that I have a chance of making my financial targets next year.

After a couple of months, I caught on to what was happening, and to be honest, it sort of blows my mind. I strive to be empathetic to what other people experience. I thought I was being empathetic to what my friends who experience powerful emotional effects from their cycles were telling me. But clearly, I didn't really understand. I was thinking of it as "oh, they get really sad." No, this is much worse than that. Honestly, I have started treating it as if my own brain is lying to me.

This week happens to be the week in which my three monthly days of feeling like a failure fall. So starting on Sunday, I had to keep reminding myself that this feeling was an illusion, that the objective data indicates I still have a chance of pulling this new career thing off. (To be fair to my three days of pessimism- I'm not doing so great that the idea that the venture will fail is ridiculous. It very well might fail. But it is not failing yet.) Since I was in the grip of Lying Brain, I didn't really believe this pep talk, but I told myself to just go through the motions anyway. I'm pretty good at going through the motions despite crushing self-doubt, it turns out. (A hidden benefit of my years in a male-dominated industry! Or perhaps the reason I've lasted so long in a male-dominated industry? Hard to say.)

Today was the day my brain stopped lying to me, and I felt so much better that I can't describe it. I had one of those days in which there is an unfortunate confluence of a bunch of different work and home things, so the day was a tough one. But I sailed through fine until after dinner, when I went to make scones for the kids' lunches and accidentally cooked the pumpkin instead of defrosting it. Then I melted down. If only I'd remembered to take the pumpkin out of the freezer earlier, I self-flagellated. But that sort of emotional response is more inline with what I'm used to from my monthly cycle, and after a brief time feeling sorry for myself, I got my act together, opened a can of pumpkin, and made the damn scones. At no point during the day did I think "I'm a complete failure and I should just give up on all my goals now." Whereas yesterday, which was a pretty uneventful day, I thought that at least 30 times.

So anyway, I now have a little bit of personal experience with my brain lying to me, and it sucks. And I have just about the best scenario of lying brain I can imagine: there is a physical cause I can identify and the effect is time bounded and predictable. I am trying to imagine what it must be like to have your brain lie to you like this in unbounded and unpredictable ways, and I can't really do it. I have even more respect for people dealing with illnesses like depression and anxiety than I did before.

And I have a new appreciation for the limits of empathy. Empathy is not the same thing as understanding.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Weekend Reading: A Sort of Grim Edition

First, an update on my poor snail: While I was in Portland, it stopped spitting out grey stuff and started moving around again. I was so excited! Today, it is giving me another scare by floating around the tank. The information I can find online says that this does NOT mean it is dead. As far as I can tell from the online info, the only way to tell your snail is dead is if it starts smelling bad.

I think this one might be dead, though. It doesn't smell bad, but neither did the first two (smaller) snails we tried in the aquarium, and those eventually just disappeared from the shells.

I think the sniff test has a high false negative rate, is what I'm saying. I'll wait and see what happens.

Anyway, on to some links:

Here's another water poisoning story to remind you that not everyone in this country actually can count on safe drinking water. This one was discovered by a Navajo graduate student, who was studying the impact of the old uranium mines near his home.

This story about an Oklahoma woman's hard life and premature death is really sad. Consider it an anecdote to go with the data about declining life expectancy for white women... but as far as I understand, the data aren't yet clear on whether this is a representative story of that decline.

I'm really drawn to the idea of a minimum income, to make life less crushingly hard when it doesn't work out for you. There is a large trial of this approach just getting underway in Kenya.

Are you feeling sorry for Andrew Jackson for getting booted off the $20 bill? Don't.

If you think ads are killing the web pages you try to read, you're right. Our system for paying for the content we read online is completely broken. I wish we could scrap the entire thing and try again. Maybe bundle paying for what we read into our internet access fees and/or the price of devices. Or something. The ad-based system is good for no one but the middlemen selling ads.

Why don't women go to hackathons? NASA is studying that, and making progress on improving participation rates. That article made me stop and think about why I have never once considered attending a hackathon. I think the answer is that I exhaust all of my energy and patience for fighting for space and respect in male dominated spaces with my main work. The idea of doing that "for fun" just does not appeal.

Men are ruder than women. Really, there's data on that now. There was a lot of light-hearted cursing from the women on my Twitter feed in response to this study. But the cursing part interests me the least. And for the rest of it- I'd rather work to make men less rude than work to make it OK for women to be more rude.

These were sort of grim links, so let's end with some fun: Modern Solo Adventures. I can't even fathom the amount of time it would take to put these together, but they are very entertaining!

Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

We Can't All Be Geniuses. And That's OK.

Like every other Gen-Xer on my timeline (and a good many people from other generations), I'm a bit in shock to hear that Prince has died. His music was everywhere during my high school years, and even though I wasn't "supposed" to like it under the rules that governed coolness in my high school world (I was "mod" and we only liked "new wave," mostly British stuff) I loved it.

People are tweeting about how his music helped them through tough times, and how his example helped them embrace their own unique identities. I don't have any such stories, but I loved to dance to 1999 and Little Red Corvette, and I can still remember being blown away by Purple Rain.

He clearly was a genius, and he is gone too soon.

I've been thinking a lot about genius lately, perhaps prompted by my musical obsession of the moment, Hamilton. I think Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius, too. I'm using the word to mean "someone who has understood or created something amazing that no one else even realized was a possibility." I wish we had a better word for this, because I don't just mean "super smart" or "super talented."

I'm always humbled and a little discouraged when I come across genius like this. I don't think I'll ever create or understand something no one else even realized was a possibility. In my teens and twenties, I assumed that I just hadn't found the area in which I would shine. In my thirties, I realized that there was no area in which I'd be that kind of genius, and I consoled myself with stories like the one about the two guys who saved Shakespeare's work for posterity. Now, in my 40s, I think that not everyone gets to make that much of an impact on the world, and that's OK. You can tell I was starting to realize that at the end of that last post. Some of us- most of us, really- will just pass through, and no one outside of our immediate circle will be much changed by our having been here.

And that's OK. Really, it is.

I keep working on my projects, because they matter to me, and I want to accomplish my goals. I try not to worry about whether they will matter to anyone else, beyond the obvious fact that I want enough people to buy the things I make to allow me to live my comfortable life. If they don't, well, I guess I'll keep my day job, and keep trying.

The older I get, the more I think the most important thing in life is love and kindness. Love for family and friends, and kindness for everyone else. Not superficial kindness, but profound kindness. The kindness that accepts where other people are, not where I think they should be. The kindness that remembers everyone is important and has value, and that everyone is struggling along their own difficult path in life, even when I don't understand or can't really see the difficulties.

I haven't really figured out how to handle assholes in this paradigm, though. Maybe that's what I figure out in my 50s?

Anyway, I mourn the loss of Prince and his unique genius. From what I've read, it sounds like he was a good guy as well as a genius, and I mourn the loss of a good guy, too. The world needs more of those just as much as it needs the rare genius. We can't all be geniuses, but we can all try to be good, kind people. We can't all create something that helps ease the paths of people we've never met, but we can try to help ease the paths of the people we do meet. Surely, that is enough.
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