Monday, June 29, 2015

Figuring It Out as I Go

I wrote the first part of this post from a table in a Starbucks. I finished up my onsite client work at about 3:00, and wasn't ready to stop for the day. Usually, I'd go home and work for awhile, then go pick up Pumpkin at summer camp, but the construction at my house is often quite noisy, so I decided to try to work at a Starbucks. There's one near my client site, but I figured it would be better to get closer to the summer camp, and skip the evening rush traffic.

Sadly, this was the wrong decision. It was a crowded Starbucks. I had a longish wait to get a drink, and I scored the last table. If I'd been a little later, I'd have had to ask one of the people who had strategically placed their things so as to take up three spots at the long communal table to make some space for me. By the time I got settled in, I only had about 30 minutes left to work.

And it was a noisy coffee shop- which is fine! People should talk in coffee shops. Still, I could hear three conversations from my table. In one, a guy was expounding on how easy it is to make money as an ebook author (HA HA HA HA HA). In another, two guys were discussing flipping condos, and in the third, a guy seemed to be interviewing someone to be some sort of sales associate.

I felt a bit old school just sitting there writing a blog post. There was no way I was going to be able to concentrate on the more strictly work-like writing I had planned to do, so I didn't even try.

I clearly need a better answer for how to work during the construction project, which is scheduled to run until early October. I'm considering a formal co-working space, but it is a bit expensive. At half the price, I'd be in for sure. At the actual price, I am on the fence, still trying to piece something together with libraries, coffee shops, and the occasional use of my sister's condo.


Speaking of pricing... I am finding setting the price for things to be one of the hardest parts of my new business. I have come to the conclusion that I should have priced Navigating the Path to Industry a little higher. At the current price, I don't have the room to run sales without losing the good royalty rate on the retailer sites. Also, I've come to the conclusion that most people won't pay for job search advice at all, and for those who will pay, the difference between $2.99 and $3.99 would not affect the decision to buy.

Oh well- that was a learner project, so I'll take that lesson and see whether I can learn the right thing from it. Some books won't be long enough to support a higher price, but some will. I think.

Speaking of other books, the "teaser" page for the next book I'm publishing is up now. Check it out!


One of the ideas I'm trying to decide whether to pursue, and how to price if I do pursue it, is the idea of offering short (~1 hr) seminars on specific management topics. This is spurred by the success of the Get More Done class, and by the fact that I really enjoyed preparing and giving that class. That tells me that perhaps I should try to find more ways to do that sort of thing.

I was going to let this idea percolate a bit longer, but then I forgot to cancel the premium level meeting hosting after my class finished, so I have already paid for another month of the level that allows me to host and record the type of meeting I'd need. So now I'm thinking that maybe I should just go for it.

I'm leaning towards doing it, because I don't think there is anyway to find out whether or not this idea is any good without just trying it. However, right now I can't pick a topic that will require a lot of research- particularly if I want to do it before the "extra" month of meeting support ends. I think I could pull together a good seminar about running effective meetings without doing much research, so that's what I'm leaning towards doing.

But I'm debating how much to charge... and as my experience with the coworking place shows, sometimes that really matters.

Like I said, pricing is hard.


I've got new things to figure out on the home front, too- after years of resisting, I've finally joined Facebook. The final straw was learning in the last week of school that there had been an after school music program running this semester. I hadn't heard about it because most of the discussion happened on Facebook.

I realized that I need to go where the rest of the people are if I want to stay in the loop. I don't want to be that Mom who insists that the group should cater to me and my preferences.

Besides, we recently granted Pumpkin's request for her own email address. Requests to be on Facebook probably aren't too far off in our future. One of us had better start figuring out the privacy settings and other finer details, and it certainly wasn't going to be Mr. Snarky. He's perfectly willing to be that Dad and insist on staying off Facebook, and this isn't something I feel like arguing with him over.

So, now I'm on Facebook, trying to figure out how I want to use it.

In short: there's a lot of figuring things out on the fly going on here right now. I'm trying not to let it stress me out!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Trip Story: Bordeaux

If I don't start writing the stories about my recent trip to France, I'm going to (1) forget a lot of details, and (2) feel pretty silly writing about a trip that happened months ago.

So, while my memories are still somewhat fresh and the trip is only one month in the past, I'm going to get started. I'll skip over LAX, the flight to Madrid, the transfer in Madrid, and the short flight to Bordeaux.

We stumbled out of the Bordeaux baggage claim area feeling rather tired and hoping for some useful information about how to get to the center of town. It was Sunday, so our hopes were dashed. The information desk was unstaffed, and there was no helpful information to be found. Therefore, Mr. Snarky had no choice but to go with my original plan, which was to go get a taxi to take us to our hotel.

My really quite bad French was good enough to communicate where we wanted to go, so we climbed in and headed to our hotel. The taxi driver and I tried to communicate a bit more, but we didn't manage to establish anything more meaningful than that we should have three days of nice weather in Bordeaux (he was right) and that we'd both been to Chicago and it is a very nice city.

Our driver left us at the corner of the street, and after just a little bit of time wandering around Bordeaux, we completely understood why- and were also very, very glad that we had decided not to get a rental car at the airport, but to wait and pick one up at the train station on the day we were leaving town. The center of Bordeaux is a veritable maze of one way streets.

But that first day, we didn't really understand. We didn't much mind, either- the driver carefully pointed to the hotel and we set off pulling our bags behind us.

I enjoyed many things in Bordeaux, but our hotel may have been my favorite thing. We stayed at La Maison du Lierre. I found it by picking the area I thought we should stay in, and having Google Maps show all the hotels. It was a great find- comfortable, quiet, friendly, with a delicious breakfast and stylish but not overbearing decor. The owners were delightful, even when we were confused about how the ordering of breakfast needed to be done, and then overslept by several hours on our last day and missed the breakfast- and the check out time.

By the time we got settled into our room and showered, it was dinner time. We walked to a pizza place near our hotel, had a decent meal with some fairly good wine (recommended by our waiter), and then strolled back to the hotel and fell asleep.

We got up reasonably early the next day. It was Sunday, so we knew we wouldn't be able to do a lot of serious touristing, but we were able to see some cool things and enjoy the day.

We started by walking down to the river.

The River Garonne, from the beginning of the Quai des Chartrons, looking
back toward the center of town

We were headed to the Quai des Chartrons, which our guidebook said had been done up with shops and restaurants, and which my research had also told me housed a Sunday market.

Strolling through the market was a wonderful way to start the day, even if I didn't have the confidence in my French to try to buy any of the food on display.

Bread at the Sunday market
The Quai itself had indeed been renovated and provided a nice place for a stroll (or, if you are a local, a jog- we saw so many runners that Mr. Snarky started joking that Sunday=runday in Bordeaux, undeterred by my observation that his pun would not work in French). There were several restaurants with large sunny patios, and a smattering of stores, which we were surprised to find open on Sunday. We mostly just strolled, though. At the end of the quay, we turned around and headed back a ways, before cutting in away from the river to wander the streets of Les Chartrons. This district would almost certainly have been more interesting on a weekday when the shops were open, but it was still a pleasant walk.

We found ourselves at the Jardin Publique, so we strolled through it, too. I convinced Mr. Snarky that we should return with sandwiches for a nice, low key lunch- so after a short rest at the hotel, we headed out and found a Carrefour market that was open, bought some sandwiches, yogurt, soda, and cookies, and then walked back the the garden to enjoy it.

After lunch, we walked back to a ruin we had seen, and discovered that it was the remains of a Roman amphitheater.

Beautiful ruins
What is now called the Palais Gallien (according to the plaque, it got that name in the 1300s) was already abandoned by the end of the 3rd century. It could seat 15,000 people when it was intact, but large parts of it were destroyed to make way for houses after the French Revolution.

We decided to walk around more of the town, too, and were also delighted to find the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Bordeaux- a modern judicial building designed by Richard Rogers (who also designed the Centre Pompidou in Paris) that abuts the remains of the fort du Ha, a fortress built in the 1400s that was later used as a prison.

Old and new
We also saw the main cathedral, but it was not open to the public, and I was getting tired, so we headed back to the hotel and enjoyed a bottle of wine and some cheese and charcuterie in the back garden/patio of our hotel.


The days are quite long in Bordeaux in May, so even after a decent rest, we still had some sunlight left. Once I'd gotten some energy back, we walked back to the central part of the city, and saw more sights. We even walked over to see the Porte de la Grosse-Cloche- a 15th century gate into the old walled town.

Old clock
By this time, it was dinner time- or at least it was dinner time for us tourists. Locals ate later, but I was hungry, so we found a restaurant with a nice looking terrace and had dinner. Then we walked over to La Bourse (the stock exchange) and waited for the sun to go down enough for us to enjoy the lights on La Bourse reflected in the shallow pool across the street.

La Bourse in the evening
By this time, we were getting quite tired, so we headed back to our hotel and went to sleep.

We spent a large part of the next day (Monday) shopping. It seemed our best bet to buy some gifts for our kids and other people, and one of Mr. Snarky's shoes fell apart on our first night in France, so he needed new shoes. Besides, I enjoy shopping when I travel, even if I'm not aiming to buy anything in particular. It is fun to see the different stores, and the slight differences in how even familiar stores operate. For instance, we were amused by this sign outside of Lush:

Teste sur les Anglais
Our lunch that day was perhaps my most successful conversation in French. We had lunch at a small creperie not far from the Rue St.-Catherine, where we did most of our shopping. The woman who was working there had the art of speaking French to English speakers with so-so French skills down: she spoke slowly and enunciated clearly, and stuck to basic vocabulary. I managed to order our lunch and dessert (which was a crepe with delicious chocolate sauce) and even chat a bit with her.

Once we finished our shopping, we took our bags back to our hotel and had a short rest before heading back out, this time to the art museum. The Musee des Beaux-Arts is small, but well curated and we enjoyed our visit. After leaving the museum, we found that the Cathedrale St-Andre was now open, so we went in. One thing I learned on this trip: Mr. Snarky is fond of old churches. I am sympathetic- I spent a huge amount of time visiting old churches on my first international trip, which was to Sweden. I don't mind visiting churches now, but I am not quite so enamored with them anymore. Still, since Mr. Snarky wanted to see them, we visited a lot of old churches on this trip.

My reward for patiently waiting for Mr. Snarky to finish in the cathedral was a couple of glasses of wine on a tree-shaded terrace at a bar/bistro. Then we found yet another terrace on which to eat dinner. My dinner was probably a tad too heavy for me, and my asthma was a bit aggravated by the smokers on the first terrace. These two things combined to make it difficult for me to sleep that night, and that plus the effects of jet lag combined to make me sleep until quite late the next morning. Mr Snarky overslept, too, and we thereby ruined our plans to visit St. Emilion on our  but I didn't know that at the time, and the wines and dinner were certainly quite enjoyable!

In fact, the entire stay in Bordeaux was quite enjoyable. It is a beautiful city, quite accessible for English-speaking tourists, and quite walkable for people (like me) who love to see a city on foot. It was a great way to start our trip.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Change Takes Work Edition

This has been quite the week, hasn't it? It was not a week in which I managed to write any of the blog posts I have queued up, but the blame for that falls on our remodeling project and not the historic events outside our little family bubble.

I will probably blog about the remodeling project eventually, but today seems a day to talk about the historic events.

I think we all get a bit cynical sometimes about the possibility of change. Weeks like this remind us both how possible it is and how hard we have to fight for it.

We saw Confederate flags start to come down across the South.

If you're wanting to understand more about the history of that flag and the tragic missed opportunity for true racial reconciliation that followed the Civil War, Tony Horowitz' article at Talking Points Memo is a good place to start. I don't know as much about this period of my history as I probably should. Jamelle Bouie and Rebecca Onion are doing a podcast about this history, available to Slate+ subscribers. I may sign up and listen to the podcast. The Twitter conversations about history between Bouie and Ta-Nehisi Coates are pretty great, so I suspect the podcast will be good, too. I don't mind paying for good content (and, in fact, had been planning a "find a way to pay for what I'm enjoying on the internet" campaign soon), so the only thing stopping me is the knowledge that I'll have to figure out how to get these podcasts added to my podcast listening app.

It is easy to dismiss that flag as "just a symbol" and the fact that it is coming down as "not the real issue," but I believe the Black people I've heard talk about this and seen write about it, and they are uniformly of the opinion that this is a big, important thing.

After all, symbols matter. Symbols, by definition, represent other things, and no amount of "heritage, not hate" rhetoric can mask what the Confederate flag represented. May it come down everywhere, and may we eventually learn to consign the ugliness it represents to a museum, too.

But we are not there yet- and I have a couple of links about the Charleston shootings that I think you should read.

Roxane Gay writes eloquently and powerfully about why she will not forgive the Charleston murderer.

Kiese Laymon talks to his Grandma in the aftermath of the Charleston shooting.

Paul Krugman's essay on the long economic and policy shadow of slavery is pretty sobering.

And the funeral of Clementa Pinkney, the pastor and state senator killed in Charleston, was today.

If I ever need to be reminded of why we cannot stop fighting the hatred embodied in the Charleston attack, I will just look back at this tweet:

If you haven't watched President Obama lead the congregation in Amazing Grace, here's your chance to do so

I haven't had a chance to listen to his entire speech yet, but I plan to listen this weekend, or maybe read the transcript.

I have never been among the people who disparage Obama as a President. To me, it seems that he has had the priorities he promised to have, and has gotten quite a bit done despite obstructionist opposition. Even if he had accomplished nothing else, the Affordable Care Act alone would be a pretty good legacy- and as Dylan Matthews argues at Vox he's done more than that, too.

And of course, the Supreme Court has been issuing rulings. There was the ruling on the ACA, which was a huge deal but soon overshadowed by the ruling on same sex marriage, which made today such a mix of joy (at the ruling) and sadness (for Pinckney and the others killed in Charleston).

I have a few more links, less directly related to this week's big events.

Chris Hayes (of MSNBC fame) wrote a devastating and depressing essay about global warming and the effort that will be required to fight it. If you read nothing else in this post, read this one. It will really make you think.

Timothy Lee wrote an article about not demonizing people who disagree with you.

I think there is a lesson in the synthesis of those last two links, but I haven't really been able to articulate it yet. Maybe that we need to find a way to help the climate change deniers de-escalate instead of escalate their commitment to their beliefs and the rhetoric they use to espouse them- and that demonizing them is almost certainly not that way?

And we need to keep working to address climate change, we really do.

On leaving the tech industry.

On not being able to get a job in Silicon Valley in the first place.

Glass Ceiling, a poem by T.R. Hummer

Because we need something fun to end on:

Friday, June 19, 2015

Weekend Reading: The I Won't Give Up Edition

This week's post is going to go out early, because today is Petunia's preschool graduation. I know that many people view these events with disdain, but she has been at that school since she was 5 months old, and her older sister was at that school from when she was 5 months old... so I'm going to go and unabashedly love it. Also, I will cry. Pumpkin is coming, too, to see the teachers who have literally known her since she was a baby. We'll all miss that place.

I had planned on just posting a bunch of lighthearted things this week, but sadly, that is not how the week went.

As I tweeted on my Tungsten Hippo account, I am heartbroken and angry about the racist shooting in Charleston. I am also heartbroken and angry that so many of my fellow white people are having a hard time saying that it was a racist attack, despite the fact that the accused killer has said that he hates black people and wanted to kill them and start a new civil war.

People, if you can't acknowledge this attack as racist, then you are living in an alternate reality. You certainly shouldn't get to be the President of the United States, where the rest of us live in the actual reality and work to make it better. I'm looking at you, Jeb Bush and a whole slew of other Republican candidates.

Also, if you're tempted to blame it on "mental illness," read Arthur Chu's piece on that topic first.

I have seen a lot of despair in response to this event, namely despair that nothing will make us actually fix the problems that led to it: easily available guns and unbridled racism.

Jon Stewart expressed this really well, and if you haven't watched his opening monologue to Thursday's show, here it is.

I certainly understand that sentiment. I have moments- long moments- when I share it. There were so many beautiful, powerful, important things written by Black writers in response to this attack.

Carvell Wallace's letter to his mother.
Ta-Nehisi Coates' plea to take down the Confederate flag.
Jamelle Bouie's history lessons on the importance Emmanuel AME church and the use of the the fear of rape to justify deadly racism.

And there are no doubt many more, but I am having a hard time reading them, not because the things being written aren't eloquent, but because they are unbelievably eloquent.

Time and again, these talented writers have to try to craft their words in a way that will convince white people that they are just as human as we are, that the suffering in their communities matters as much as suffering in ours. This should not be necessary. That it is still necessary is a profound failure on our part.

We shouldn't need to be persuaded to call an obviously racist attack racist. We shouldn't need to be persuaded to take down a flag that symbolizes slavery and segregation and treason.

And then I saw people arguing that it was "cultural appropriation" for the rest of us to say what that flag represents. THE FOUNDERS OF THE CONFEDERACY SAID WHAT THAT FLAG MEANT. If that isn't enough for us, the fact that it started flying at the South Carolina capital in response to the Civil Rights movement in the 60s gives us another pretty solid clue.

Find another symbol of Southern heritage, OK? Face the actual racism in your past and move on so that we can work on a less racist future.

And those of us who aren't Southerners don't necessarily get a pass here. There is plenty of what Jon Stewart called "racial wallpaper" all over the country. We could, for instance, stop clinging to insulting, racist names for our sports teams.

So anyway. I get why so many people think we can never change this. Having had my heartbroken by the shooting at Sandy Hook and then stomped on by my politicians' inability to even pass the most watered down gun control legislation in the aftermath, having then gone and tried to engage with gun enthusiasts to find some middle ground and having had to walk away before I lost all faith in humanity, I can also see why the issue of guns seems unfixable.

But I don't want to give up.

Nothing ever changes until some people are determined enough to make it change. So far, I'm still determined.

How do we change things? I don't know. Here are some things I'm trying:

I introduced Pumpkin to the Juneteenth holiday last night. It was a glimmer of hope for both of us to hold onto after I told her why I was so sad. Here's the post I wrote about this, and the book we read to start the conversation.

I think trying to raise my children to understand and reject racism is the bare minimum of what I can do. It may sometimes be the hardest part of my response, but it is the least optional.

I'm going to look at our budget and see if we can spare some money for the Southern Poverty Law Center. They do good work.

I made a promise to myself that I would speak up more about implicit bias, and about intersectionality when I am talking about gender issues, and I've been holding myself to that promise.

I support Americans for Responsible Solutions and Moms Demand Action as two groups that I think have a chance of overcoming the power of the NRA. I support them with my money. I need to support them more with my voice, both online and off.

I write to my elected officials whenever gun legislation is up for a vote, to balance out the gun enthusiasts who will also be writing. (Granted, this would matter more if I lived somewhere less liberal, but my congressional district is not a safe Democratic district, so I like to think my voice matters.)

I vote. Always, without fail.

I can certainly do more. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

On Saying Stupid Things and Internet Outrage

My original plan was to largely ignore Tim Hunt and the comments he made at the conference in South Korea. (If you need a rundown of what he said and what has happened since, here is a good place to start.)

But then came the somewhat predictable outcry that he had been the victim of a "witch hunt."

Leaving aside the fact that victims of actual witch hunts usually ended up dead, not embarrassed and out of a couple of honorary, unpaid positions, I think there is something I want to work through there, which means there is something I want to blog about. Bear with me: this post is essentially me thinking out loud.

Do I think people should lose jobs- even honorary ones- for saying stupid things? Not really. But is that really what usually happens? It seems to me that what actually happens is something more like this:

1. Person with some amount of privilege says thing that is offensive and/or insulting to a group with less privilege.

2. Outcry ensues.

3. Person with privilege issues a "sorry I was misunderstood" sort of apology and/or doubles down on offensive thing they said.

4. More outcry ensues.

5. Person is fired or resigns. (Or person retains position and nothing really bad happens to them at all- but for this post, let's assume they're fired.)

6. Other people with privilege are understandably a bit alarmed by this outcome, particularly if they don't fully understand why the initial thing that was said was so harmful. They start arguing that the response was unfair, often with inflammatory and/or wildly inappropriate terms like "witch hunt" or "lynch mob." (Note to fellow white people: do not call anything a lynch mob except an actual lynch mob. Just don't.)

So why was the person fired? Was it for the first offensive thing said? Or was it for the refusal to listen and show signs of learning and addressing the underlying beliefs and/or implicit biases that made them think that offensive thing was an A-OK thing to say? I don't know. I actually suspect that even the people doing the firing don't know in some cases.

Is the firing a problem? I am not 100% sure what I think, but I lean towards thinking that if you have any role in reviewing other people and/or their work, then it is actually quite appropriate to lose your job if you demonstrate that you are unwilling to address your biases.

Racial biases, gender biases. homophobia... these all hurt people. They always have. We've just become used to the way they hurt people. We've become used to women having to walk a ridiculous tightrope in order to garner respect and advance into leadership roles. We've become used to Black people having to keep their reactions under tight control so as not to be labeled "angry" and therefore unpromotable (or unhireable). We've become used to having the upper echelons of our professions be completely unrepresentative of even the composition of the entry level, let alone society at large. These things seem normal to us, just the way the world is. And yet these things have real, harmful consequences on actual people. The impact of implicit biases is well documented. They change the lives those people lead. They hold people back and keep them from reaching their full potential. They cause people to abandon well-paying careers, sometimes without really knowing why they've burned out and need to quit. They create stress and worry that spills over into the rest of people's lives. These are not "victimless crimes."

So now, social media has come along and changed the power balance a bit. Sometimes- not always, but sometimes- the person with the biases actually experiences some harm from them. This is shocking to many people, because it is so unexpected and new. It feels like the rules have changed, and indeed, they have. The potential harm to yourself of harboring unexamined biases is much larger now.

Again, note that these unexamined biases always had the potential to cause harm- that harm was just usually to other people, not the person who harbored them. Also, I'm not unsympathetic to the people who say the stupid, insulting things. I have a fair amount of privilege myself. It is probably only a matter of time until I say something stupid. I hope that if I do, and I get called on it, I can muster a proper apology.

Are the new rules perfect? No, but then, neither were the old rules. Could we come up with something better? Absolutely. But going back to the old rules is not better, and I am not on board with any suggestion that we do that. I am, however, on board with suggestions to find our way to a better set of new rules. To do that, though, all parties have to be willing to try, and frankly, whenever I see one of these events play out on social media, I don't see a lot of willingness to try from the people in the old privileged positions. If you want society to find a better way to respond when someone says something incredibly offensive or insulting, you have to be willing to acknowledge that the initial problem was the offensive or insulting speech, not the outcry against it.

For the record, here's how I'd like to see this sort of thing play out:

1. Person with some amount of privilege says thing that is offensive and/or insulting to a group with less privilege.

2. Outcry ensues.

3. Person with privilege issues an actual apology, indicating that they have understood the problem with what they said. Ideally, they also spell out steps they will take to address the harm caused and/or take meaningful steps to be more aware of the bias that prompted the insulting speech and combat its effects.

4. Everyone goes on with their lives, and the world gets a little better.

If we get to that point, will the "angry Twitter mobs" be willing to accept the apology? I don't know.* But wouldn't it be nice to find out?

*Actually, I can think of one example in which the events went pretty much as outlined above: Daniel Handler's racist joke about Jacqueline Woodson at the National Book Awards. Granted, not everyone who says something stupid and insulting has access to the money required to make the particular restorative gesture he chose, but I suspect most people could come up with something meaningful that was also within their financial means... if they really thought about the mistake they made and how to make amends.

Monday, June 15, 2015

France Sans Les Enfants 2015: Awards Show Version

Petunia just moved up to the next level class in swimming. I think this tired her out, and she went to sleep easily today. Or maybe it was just a random thing. Either way, she's asleep earlier than usual, and I just sat down to do something on my to do list. I have some financial papers I need to review and sign, and a contract with an editor that I need to write... and blech. I don't want to do any of that.

I am feeling out of sorts tonight, for no reason I can pin down. So instead of trying to power through something on my list, I'm going to write a blog post. And I'm not even going to finish the somewhat ranty post I have started on the things that actually make me feel frustrated with my life (i.e., the rant I hinted at in my review of I Know How She Does It). I'm in the mood for something fun. Like reliving the 10 days I recently spent in France with my husband... and without my kids.

The backstory, for anyone who missed it, is that one of my very best friends was getting married in Dax, and there was no way I was going to miss the wedding. Since I was going to be in France anyway, I wanted to make a vacation out of it. However, it was during the school year and it would have been really expensive to take the kids. My parents offered to watch them, so Mr. Snarky and I got a little grown ups-only vacation in France. We've done weekends away before, but have never strayed out of Southern California together without the kids. So this was a new experience.

We had a great time. (Big surprise, I know.) We visited Bordeaux, St. Jean de Luz (in the Pays Basque), and Dax, with some stops along the way. We also drove over to a little town near the riviera to see my sister-in-law and her family, which was a big detour, but worth it for the chance to meet our almost two year old nephew in person for the first time.

I did miss having the kids along sometimes, but other times it was nice to be able to do things without worrying about how to feed anyone more picky than me. (I'm a somewhat picky eater, so the absence of kids didn't mean a complete absence of food issues... as you'll see.)

Anyway, I think the trip deserves my usual awards show treatment, even if it wasn't a true family vacation. Without further ado....

Best hotel: La Maison du Lierre, in Bordeaux. This was such a charming boutique hotel, completely French in style and sensibility, completely welcoming in approach to hospitality. It was a wonderful way to start the trip. We had a comfortable room, and also enjoyed the beautifully decorated and comfortable common areas, which included an outdoor garden/deck where we enjoyed a bottle of wine one afternoon. The other hotels we stayed in were good, but this one was the best.

Best food experience: The unbelievably good tomato soup I had one night in St. Jean de Luz. I wish I knew what made it so good, but I don't even have the words to describe just how good it was. All I can say is that it was a revelation, and that I had a stereotypical "jaw drop" moment when I first tasted it.

I suspect Mr. Snarky would say it was trying pinxtos (tapas) at the bar we visited before going to the restaurant where I had my revelatory tomato soup, but this is my blog, so I'm sticking with the soup.

Biggest food mistake: This one is a tie between the plate of mushrooms I accidentally ordered for lunch one day (I'm not a big mushroom fan) and the fact that we kept eating "big" meals and it was just a little too much for me. I had wanted to indulge in more ice creams, pastries, and chocolate than I ended up having, but instead my rich food quotient kept getting spent on heavy meals. We eventually learned to opt for a simple ham and emmantal baguette for lunch more often, and that helped.

Favorite sightseeing experience: Seeing cave art from 35,000 years ago at Les Grottes Isturitz et Oxocelhaya. These are not the most famous caves with prehistoric art in France, but they were convenient to our planned route from St. Jean de Luz to Dax, and it was definitely very, very cool to look at a horse carved into stone tens of thousands of years ago.

Worst sightseeing experience: Oversleeping on our last morning in Bordeaux, so that we missed breakfast and were already running late when we got to the train station to pick up our car. And then missing our exit on the ring road, making us even later for our planned visit to St. Emilion. In the end, we decided to give up on seeing St. Emilion, and had a surprisingly good ham and emmantal baguette at a gas station alongside the freeway. Then we regrouped, and headed south and enjoyed a somewhat leisurely drive to St. Jean de Luz.

Most relaxing stop: St. Jean de Luz. Bordeaux is not a huge city, and we found it to be very easy to get around and accessible for the tourist with only so-so French. Still, it was a city, and while I enjoyed our time there, I didn't really relax. In St. Jean de Luz, though, I relaxed. It is a beautiful little town, with enough to do in town and nearby that we weren't bored, but not so much to do that it felt wrong just to sit and relax a bit. I can imagine it would have been even more relaxing if the weather had been nicer for us- it was cold and a bit windy for the first part of our stay, and we never really got to enjoy the private ocean front balcony I paid an extra 10 euro per night for. Oh well.

We made a brave attempt before finally admitting it was too damn
cold to enjoy a glass of wine on our balcony.

Best random thing: The remains of a Roman colosseum in Bordeaux. Our guide book didn't make a big deal out of it, so it was sort of cool to just stumble across it while walking around!

What? This old thing? It's just the remains of a Roman colosseum. No biggie.
Worst/Best parenting moment: When I corrupted some other wedding guest's tween daughter by telling her that one of the best things to do in a foreign country is to go into a grocery store and buy some junk food. You get to feel like you're experiencing something different... and still eat junk food! Her mom actually looked rather glad for the idea, though. I guess the girl (who was delightful) was having a hard time getting into French food. And she hadn't even accidentally ordered a plate of mushrooms for a meal yet.

All in all, it was a great trip. I'll write up full trip story posts soon!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Weekend Links: The What a Week Edition

I'm still catching up from my self-made crunch time, so this week's post is going to be to the point... straight to the links!

You have probably heard about the white woman who has said she's black and leads the Spokane NAACP. I have no idea what to say about that story, but if you want to read about it, Jamelle Bouie's piece in Slate is a place to start.

Before that story took over everyone's attention, there were two other big stories this week: the fallout from Elinor Burkett's piece in the NY Times about transgender women and there was Tim Hunt.

Let's take them in order. I find the back and forth about transgender women and feminism basically impossible to follow, and I have a strong suspicion that the number of people who actually have a problem here is quite small. I was going to just ignore this story, but then I saw this article from Jaclyn Friedman, and I found it very useful and wanted to share it.

I am clearly not all that versed on the concerns of academic feminism or on transgender issues, but I also suspect that if we could get better at actually treating each individual with the respect they deserve, some of the issues around words and pronouns would be less contentious. I suspect that the words hurt more because they are representative of a lack of respect that is more pervasive and damaging.

I have no data to back up that suspicion. I am going to continue to try to broaden my understanding of gender, anyway. This article discusses some books I might read and then give to Pumpkin since I was shocked to discover that she is now "middle-grade." (Yikes.)

I'll read them first mostly to screen for violence and tension of the sort that Pumpkin doesn't like and to be ready to answer questions.

On Tim Hunt... I think the best response was the #DistractinglySexy hashtag. And then I saw some men arguing it was an "aggressive" response and I almost lost it. Lighthearted pictures laughing at what is frankly a rather painful subject are aggressive? Really? I want to buy them a dictionary.

And that's all the time I'm going to spend on that one.

Moving on.

I thought this blog post about two intersecting issues in academia and how "the public" might view them was really, really interesting, but do not feel up to commenting on it. If you feel up to commenting on it, feel free to do so in my comments section!

This story of how a fake viral news story screwed up three people's lives is horrifying.

This tweet is very true:

I need something happy to end with, right? I have a house for a mechanical hamster, courtesy of Pumpkin.

And did you somehow miss seeing the pictures of the betrayed dog? If so:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book Review: I Know How She Does It

There is a certain amount of irony in the timing of this review of Laura Vanderkam's new book, I Know How She Does It. I'm in the middle of one of those periods of life where I say it isn't so much that my work and home life are out of balance, but that they are ganging up on me.

Some of this is my own fault: I broke my rule about not scheduling any major work projects during the end of the school year "silly season," and scheduled the two class sessions for my online course about project management for... today and a week for today. School ends Monday. This was entirely my own choosing. I do not know what got into me.

But- the first session went really well today, and I've already received some good feedback about it. I'm very glad I decided to offer this class, I just wish I'd thought a little more carefully about the timing and offered it a couple of weeks later!

I compounded this issue by making something I can only call a stupid mistake today. I promised my class participants a recording of the sessions, and in fact sold access to just this recording (instead of the live class) as well. I blathered on at the start of the class about how I was recording it, and asking a question was agreeing to be recorded, and blah blah blah. And then I didn't record it. So, after I finished the class I took a short break for lunch and then gave the class over again and recorded it. Luckily, everyone typed their questions into the chat box instead of asking them out loud so I had all the questions. I think I got a fairly faithful reproduction of the class, and don't feel that I'm cheating anyone (I will of course honor my money back guarantee for anyone who disagrees).

Still. I didn't really have time to give my 1.5 hour class twice today! I also had to make some cookie bars for the end of year class party that was held after our schools big end of year dance festival tonight. It was a super easy recipe, but still... I thought I had plenty of time and then I didn't because of my mistake. To make matters worse, the dance festival meant that I had to stop working roughly 45 minutes earlier than usual, to go get my daughter, feed her a snack, and then get her back to school on time to get ready for the festival.

Oh, and did I mention that demolition for our room addition project starts tomorrow? The portapotty for the crew was delivered today... right after I started the 15 minute tech check period I'd scheduled before my class.

In short, this is the sort of pile up that often gets cited in the "you can't have it all" stories the media likes to use to get us all to rage read their articles (or share them as proof that our decisions were in fact the right ones).

But you know what? I wouldn't change any of the fundamentals of my life. I love working. I love being a mother. The sort of story I just told is the exception, not the rule. Most of the time, the story of my Wednesday would be something like this:

I walked my older daughter to school after kissing my younger daughter good-bye and waving at least three times as she got buckled into her car seat so that Mr. Snarky could take her to day care. On the way to school, I smiled at the awesome view of Mission Bay and the ocean from my corner. As I walked home again, I turned and enjoyed the view some more. Then I came home, made myself tea, and started on my completely manageable to do list. I worked for most of the day, breaking for lunch and a run on the path next to Mission Bay. At about 4:30, I walked back to school, picked up my daughter, brought her home and left her to her own devices while I did another 30 minutes of work. Then I made dinner (Wednesday is Tortilla Night!), and ate it with my kids and my husband. After dinner, we had Family Game Night, and then the kids showered (on their own now!!!!) and had snack while I made lunches. Then they went to bed. If I still had things on my to do list that needed to get done, I might work for another hour. Or I might read.

It is easy to overlook those sorts of days when you're in the throes of a day like today... but they are there and every bit as real.

And this is one of the central points of I Know How She Does It: the life of the working mother is perhaps not as bad as we've been led to believe. She backs up this assertion with data from a time log analysis project she ran on volunteer working moms who make $100,000/year or more. By her own admission, this is a biased set of data, but there are still a lot of interesting observations and insights to be had from the analysis.

There's a lot more fun (and a lot more sleep) going on than the usual stories let on.

When I think about my usual weeks- the ones where work and home aren't ganging up on me- and try to understand why I am mostly happy with my life when so many media stories tell me I should be miserable, I struggle to explain it. I think I've had a lot of good luck. I'm the beneficiary of a lot of privilege. I happened to choose a career that affords a fair amount of flexibility (although Vanderkam's sample includes doctors and other careers that are far less flexible than mine).

And, if I'm honest and not trying to be modest, I'm damn good at time management. This is probably partly due to my personality, partly due to the fact that I've worked as a project manager- a job that specifically involves managing time!- and partly due to the fact that I'm constantly trying to get better at time management.

That's where books like I Know How She Does It come in. I think I'm good at managing my time, and building the sort of life I want, but I can always get better. And between the time log analyses and the anecdotes included to flesh out the story, this book is just full of ideas about how to manage time and get the most out of life. Not every idea in the book is relevant to me, but enough were that I'm glad I read it.  (Full disclosure- I was interviewed for the book. My Family Fun Lists feature in one of the chapters. Laura also provided me with a free review copy, which means I read it before it came out, but doesn't influence my opinion of its value.)

This is not the Be All End All book about balancing a "big" career and motherhood. There are no policy ideas in there, for instance, and even the introduction to the book acknowledges that the full answer to the angst about "having it all" (God, I hate that term) should involve some policy changes. It specifically focuses on high income women, and makes no attempt to address the intersecting issues of race, sexual orientation, and the like. Although the research is interesting and thought-provoking, it is not rigorous in an academic sense- i.e., the logs are from a self-selected sample of women, and the details about the statistical analysis are largely glossed over.

But it isn't trying to be the Be All End All book on career and motherhood. It is trying to be a counter-balance to the usual gloom and doom on the subject, and maybe get people to think about the possibilities a little differently. One of the strongest things about the book is how it shows that there ARE women out there working "big" jobs and really leaning into their careers... and doing it on a completely reasonable number of work hours. The narrative about 80 hour work weeks is truly flawed. Rigorous time log data (cited in the book) shows that people inflate their work hour estimates. Recent stories have also shown that a fair number of men working "big" jobs are quietly working 40ish hour weeks, too. As the book points out, the false information about what it takes to pursue certain careers can lead people to self-select away from those careers, and that is truly unfortunate.

I put this book in the same class as Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. It doesn't tackle the systemic issues that are holding women back- but if you're the sort of woman who wants to have a "big" career and a life outside of work (or indeed, the sort of man who wants that), you're likely to pick up some useful ideas.

The fact that I find these sorts of books useful doesn't mean that I'm not interested in seeing systemic change. It doesn't mean that I'm not going to work to make things better so that my daughters aren't facing the same crap I do. It just means that I want to lead my life and have a big career and a full home life NOW, and I don't have the luxury of waiting for that change to happen. If this describes you, too, you might want to pick up a copy of I Know How She Does It.

For newer readers: I've written A LOT about work-life balance. It is late, and time for bed, so I'm not going to dig up all the links now. I've sprinkled a few throughout this note- between those, the posts linked on the right hand side, and the "You Might Also Like" suggestions, you'll probably find most of what I've written on this topic, if you're inclined to look for it. You can also check out the "working motherhood" category of posts. I have another post brewing on the role of old-school sexism in some of the frustration working mothers often feel. That will have to wait until my work and home life stop ganging up on me.

Also... none of this should be taken to imply I think everyone SHOULD aim for a big career and full home life. We all want different things out of life, and if you've made different choices than I have, I am fully in support of that. You do you, as the kids say these days.

And one more also: I still think that moms working minimum wage jobs have it a hell of a lot harder than I ever have. That's also a rant for another night. In fact, I may have ranted about it before. I can't remember. But that doesn't mean that moms like me shouldn't look for ideas that can make our lives better, and it doesn't mean that no one should write books about us.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Roller Coaster Edition

So, here's a protip for you: don't schedule a big work project during the last couple weeks of school. Particularly if you also have a big home renovation project starting then, too. Especially if you've just gotten back from an international vacation and might be a bit jet lagged. And whatever you do, don't agree to give a talk on something totally unrelated to your main area of expertise right after you get back from that vacation, but before your big project is due.

And if you do all of that, try not to get sick. That will only make things worse.

Honestly, I thought I well and truly learned to avoid scheduling things during what I call "silly season" at school after I did that during Pumpkin's kindergarten year. There are so many events, and special requests, and ahhhhhhh! This sums it up rather well. (h/t @RowGirlVT for that one.)

Well, I guess I forgot, because I scheduled my Get More Done class to start next week. When does school get out? A week from Monday.

And, of course, our room addition project starts next week, and I lost a lot of time last week to jet lag and am struggling to get enough sleep this week due to the effing cough I picked up. And I gave a talk about self-promotion on Monday. (That actually turned out to be a lot of fun, and gave me the push I needed to finally read What Works for Women at Work,so I'm calling that a win.)


But don't worry if you're signed up for the class! I am actually really happy with how the prep for the class is going. I am on schedule to be ready and I'm pretty pleased with how the outline I'd written before I decided to offer the class has fleshed out into a full class.

I am significantly less happy about how ready I am for the room addition project to start, but something had to give, right? And they found lead in one of the buried layers of paint on some of the outside wood that is going to be demolished, so now the start of demolition is delayed by a couple of days. This sucks from a budget and "not having to be out of our house for an entire Saturday while the crew removes the contaminated material" standpoint, but is a huge help on the "having time to get our house and garage ready for the project" front. Silver linings. Or lead linings, I guess.

Anyway. Despite all of that, I do have some links for you, so let's get to them. They are a bit of an emotional roller coaster, though. Sorry about that.

This post from a woman game developer really resonated with me. There are costs to making everyone fit into the same damn shape hole. She explains it well. (I wrote about something similar last year.)

One woman lost her patience with manspreaders and is sitting on them. This amuses me greatly.

Brit Bennett's article about Addy Walker, the American Girl doll, and the role of Black dolls in American culture is wonderful.

On suicides and gun control. This is a powerful, personal article from Dylan Matthews.

If you haven't read Sheryl Sandberg's post about grieving and living, you should. But it will probably make you cry. It made me cry.

There's no segue from that.

This is a really well-written essay, but it isn't making me feel any better about menopause.

Anne Gibson's Pastry Box post about sucking at something is great. Go forth and continue sucking!

Pumpkin had to do a school report about Hawai'i, and in the course of her research, she came across the story of the island of Ni'ihau. Here is an old NY Times article about it. Apparently, you can now visit it.

This is how I feel sending Pumpkin off to school most days, since I think she is now old enough to decide for herself whether to wear shorts or long pants:

And that's all I have. Happy weekend, everyone!

Monday, June 01, 2015

Playing a Game Rigged Against You

Those of you who are on science/academia Twitter are probably already aware of the uproar this morning over a Science Careers advice post from Alice Huang that was at best tone deaf. It has been taken down (here's the apology) but is archived.

In short: a postdoc wrote in saying that she thinks her new adviser is trying to look down her shirt. Dr. Huang's advice was basically to suck it up.

The furor was all over Twitter, and the post was down before I had a chance to read it. (I've since read the archive). 

I agree that Dr. Huang's advice wasn't great. But a lot of the reactions didn't offer good advice, either, if you ask me. 

Here's the thing: once you've been harassed, you're out of the realm of needing advice, and into the realm of needing a strategy. This is doubly true if you work in a "small world" field like science, and quadruply true if you are early in your career and need your adviser's letter of recommendation to have a shot at moving to the next step.

This is not fair. This sucks. But it is true.

Here's what I had to say on Twitter.

Let me expand on that a bit. I should also say: I am a woman who has spent more than 20 years in very male-dominated corners of science and tech. I have experienced harassment and other problems I'll call "gender-related" on more than one occasion. I have never brought a formal complaint, although I have on occasion raised the issue with supervisors, with mixed results. I have managed to have a successful career in my chosen field, but this has not come without costs. I am still working to understand the full extent of the costs. I am happy to discuss specifics one on one, but won't be posting more here right now. There would be costs to doing that, too, and as you'll probably gather from what follows, I think my first responsibility is to myself. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I can honestly say I am speaking from the position of having had to make some of these hard decisions.

OK, so back to expanding on my tweets.

Handling harassment is not at all a straightforward thing. There is no "right" response. Basically, you just rolled a really crappy roll in a game that is rigged against you. You're going to take some damage. You unfortunately cannot avoid that. Your best bet is to figure out how to minimize the damage, and direct it to your strongest areas. 

I'm sorry. It isn't fair that this is true, but in my experience and in what I have observed happen to other women, it is true. 

So, having rolled this crappy roll, what do you do? I think your best bet is to find someone with whom you can strategize. I think this because you need to come up with a response that is tailored to your specific situation. Factors to consider include:
  • What are your long term career goals?
  • How small is your specific field?
  • Does the person who is harassing you have past form, and if so, is that past form well known in the field?
  • What sort of psychic damage is the harassment doing?
  • What sort of support can you access to help you deal with the psychic damage?
  • Can you make a lateral move that will help resolve the situation?
  • Do you have any high power allies?
There are probably additional factors, too.

Your ideal strategizing partner is senior enough to have a wide view of your field and related fields, and savvy enough to understand the likely career ramifications of an action like filing a formal complaint.

At a minimum, you need someone who understands the outsize influence advisers have on the career of early career scientists. A lot of the people I've seen on Twitter advocating for a robust "haul him in front of the institution's disciplinary board" sort of response are not scientists. They do not know what this would do the the woman's career. Getting your next position without a glowing recommendation from your adviser can be done, but it is difficult. If you don't get the letter from him and explain why not, people will tend to assume that there are "two sides to every story" and whatnot, and you'll have to overcome that. If you do get a letter from him, chances are high that it will be full of coded garbage like "difficult to work with" and "not a team player." This will also hurt your career prospects.

I'm sorry. This sucks. It is not fair. But it is true. You need to develop your strategy based on how the world truly is, not how it should be. 

Therefore, treat anyone who seems eager for an extremely robust response with suspicion. This sort of response WILL come back and cause you some damage. I am sorry. It is not fair. It is wrong. But it is, from what I have observed, almost universally true. That doesn't mean you shouldn't sue the jerk. It just means that you should only choose to do so after thinking about it carefully and deciding that is what best serves YOUR interests. 

Whatever you do, you and only you will be in charge of picking up the pieces of your career and your mental health and moving on. 

And yes, I know, how will this ever change if we don't fight it? I don't really know. I know that some people will fight it and some people will try to sidestep it, and some people will do exactly what Dr. Huang suggested and suck it up and wear big, baggy clothes. I support all of those people. I like to think that if enough of us make it through to the point where we have the power, money, and influence to set our own rules, we'll eventually rewrite the rules of the game. Maybe that is wrong, and maybe I should have "gone nuclear" at one or more points earlier in my career. The thing is, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have the same career I have now if I had done so. The people advocating for us to blow up the game don't always understand the costs to the people at the center of the conflagration.

I will always support someone who decides to take on those costs, but I'll never judge someone who looks at them and decides she is not up to that particular battle.

So, to the anonymous postdoc who wrote to Science, I say: find someone at your institution or nearby who you can trust and who has enough experience to understand how various options are likely to play out. Do some soul-searching about what matters to you and which of the various forms of damage you now face you can best survive. And good luck.

Updated to add: it has been pointed out that finding your strategy partner is itself fraught. I agree! I have no great insight on how to do this, other than this: if you are at a company, know that any supervisor at that company is probably legally required to report any harassment that he or she becomes aware of. They cannot guarantee you confidentiality. If you are not yet sure you want to report this, find a strategy partner at a different company. I don't know what the reporting rules are in academia. I suspect it depends on your contract type. So tread carefully. I would look for a senior woman who seems to have a clue about these sorts of issues. Perhaps ask around with a few junior women you trust to keep their mouths shut first.