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…

Birthday book haul

Check out all the lovely books I got for my birthday!

In case you can’t tell from the picture, I got the Penguin Galaxy special editions of Dune and The Left Hand of Darkness, both books that I’ve read and LOVED (Dune is one of my top five favorite books. The addition of this volume means I now own 2 hardcovers, 1 paperback, and 1 Kindle version of this book). Both have introductions written by Neil Gaimen and just look at them! They’re beautiful! I love them, and now I have an excuse to re-read them. 🙂

Also by Ursula Le Guin, author of The Left Hand of Darkness and a writer who I admire very much, is the classic writing book Steering the Craft. I’ve always wanted this one and now I have it! Hooray!

I also got the rest of the Saga comic trade volumes because, after reading the first volume, I fell in love with this story and had to have the rest.

I’ve been told by so many people now that Paper Girls (also written by Brian Vaughan) is really good. So, I put that on my wishlist as well and the birthday fairy (Mom) granted my wish.

Plus, just for fun and maybe some additional inspiration on days I’m feeling less than motivated to get my butt to the pool, I got this cute little book called The Joy of Swimming which features a bunch of fun swimming facts and pretty watercolor illustrations.

And, because I can’t resist (look at them! they’re so pretty!) Here’s another shot of the stack…

(Side note: Yes, the printing on the spines of the Penguin Galaxy books is upside down and backwards. I don’t know why. I’m assuming there’s a reason they made it that way? If you know the answer, post it in the comments, please!)

Thanks, Mom!

April reading summary and May TBR

April started off great and then went downhill fast at the end of the month. I got really sick last week, and I haven’t had energy for reading or writing or pretty much anything. I’m still recovering and that means my birthday month is not off to a great start. More on that in a bit. First, let’s recap what I did manage to read before everything went sideways.

Here is what I read in April with my very brief assessment of each (links go to Goodreads):

 

  • A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi (Kindle, pre-order) — I liked this even more than her first book. I think that is because I liked the hero and the heroine more (their banter is great) and because I’m a sucker for a good quest/adventure story. As always, Roshani’s world-building is magical and her writing full of lush descriptions.
  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (Kindle, pre-order) — I love, love, loved this book. Laini Taylor is #WritingGoals for me when it comes to world-building and telling stories that play with that grey area between “gods” and “monsters” (aka: what you think is good vs. what you think is evil).
  • Gemina by by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Hardcover) — I finally got around to reading (devouring, more like) this sequel to Illuminae. I liked it at least as much as the first book, if not more. I really enjoyed the characters in this one, and I can’t wait to read the next book in this series!
  • George by Alex Gino (Kindle) — Middle grade books are not my jam, but I really wanted to read this one to learn more about the experience of transgender kids (I’m pretty sure it’s written by #OwnVoices). I’m also using this one to count for my Read Harder challenge for the “read a frequently banned or challenged” book task.

I have several more in-progress books that I’d planned to finish last week. Now that I’m starting to feel better, I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to finish them. But, other than finishing in-progress (and library loan) books, I’ve decided that I’m not making a TBR for May. Instead, I’m planning on reading exactly what I feel like reading this month, when I feel like reading it.

So far, these are the books I’m interested in reading/finishing in May (links go to Goodreads):

 

  • Kraken by China Miéville (Kindle) — I started this one during Tome Topple, thought I’d finish it in April, but then I got sick. Now I’m planning on finishing this one in May. It’s different than what I usually read, which is good, and I’m enjoying it so far.
  • The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Kindle, library) — I meant to start this one last week (after I finished Kraken), but that didn’t happen. Since it’s on loan from the library, I’d really like to finish this before I have to return it.
  • Act Like It by Lucy Parker (Kindle, library) — I requested that my library purchase this on Kindle, and they just notified me that they did and my loan is ready to read. I wasn’t really expecting that, but I think this will be a light, fun, fast read, just the sort of thing to read when you’re not feeling well.
  • A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas (Kindle, pre-order) — I’ve been looking forward to this book, even though SJM has been squarely in my “problematic faves” category of authors since at least ACoTaR, if not before. I could write an entire essay on my issues with her books (and it’s why I’ve been putting off reading Empire of Storms), but I really want to know what happens in this series. So, I’m reading this, but I’m definitely not pre-ordering any more of her books.

Here’s hoping that May starts to get better soon. I think the universe may be telling me that I need to just chill a bit more. I’m planning on taking the hint and taking it easy this month.

New books I’ve pre-ordered for May and June 2017

There are SO MANY excellent books coming out in May and June. Most of them are books that I’ve been waiting for FOREVER.

Here are the new books that I’m impatient to get my hands on and have pre-ordered (either thru Amazon or my local library, links go to Goodreads):

 

  • A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas (2 May) — I had some serious issues with ACoTaR (and the TOG series, tbh…), but I loved ACoMaF which ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. So, I’m very excited to get back to this world/story and see what happens next.
  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy (9 May) — When I read the description and found out that one of the main characters is a swimmer and swimming laps was important enough to the story that it made it into the blurb, I knew I had to read this book. Plus, Julie Murphy is AWESOME, and I’ll read anything she writes.
  • Thick As Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner (16 May) — I’ve waited so long for another book set in the Queen’s Thief world by MWT, and now it’s here! This is one of my all time favorite fantasy series.
  • When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (30 May) — I’ve heard nothing but great things about this book. It’s set in SF at a coding camp and the romance sounds super sweet. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one.
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire (13 June) — This one is a sequel of sorts to Every Heart A Doorway, and I’ve been waiting for it eagerly ever since I noticed that they put a “#1” series designator on EHaD. This one features two of my favorite characters from the novel. I can’t wait.
  • Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab (13 June) — The first book in this series was possibly my favorite YA book I read last year, and if you read this blog regularly, you probably already know how much I love everything VES writes (though Vicious is still always my favorite, and you’ll be able to hear my squeeing from miles away when the sequel finally comes out). I love these characters, and I can’t wait to dive back into this world.

May is going to be the best birthday month ever.

If I missed an awesome book coming out in May or June that you think I’d love, please add your recommendations in the comments. I always enjoy learning about new books that should be on my reader radar.

#TomeTopple Recap: books read, challenges completed

Books read: 2.2

(such nice blue covers…)

Total pages read: 1,305

Challenges completed: 2.2/5
1. Read more than 1 tome — DONE!

2. Read a graphic novel — nope 😦
3. Read a tome that’s part of a series — DONE! (Gemina)
4. Buddy read a tome (use goodreads and twitter to find buddies!) — nope 😦
5. Read an adult novel — Started… (Kraken)

I’ve never participated in a readathon before, and I’m so glad that I decided to do this! It was REALLY fun!

Did anyone else out there participate? If so, what did you read? Feel free to link your blog post or recap video in the comments below. I’d love to check it out.

Let the #TomeTopple Begin!

It’s Tome Topple time!

Well… technically, Tome Topple started about seven hours ago in my time zone, but I was sleeping… But now I’m up and ready to start my first “tome.”

Once again, these are the books on my Tome Topple TBR:

I’ve decided that I’m starting with Strange The Dreamer and probably moving on to Empire of Storms once I’m done. After that, who knows…

Are you participating in Tome Topple? What are you reading?

March reading summary and April TBR

March has gone by in a blur, filled mostly with work, but also with visits from friends, some editing, and a lot of reading.

Here is what I read in March with my very brief assessment of each (links go to Goodreads):

 

  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (Kindle, library) — This was a short and entertaining read — exactly what I’d expect from master storyteller, Neil Gaiman.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Kindle, pre-order) — The voice, the characters, the family dynamic… everything about this book was amazing, and I LOVED it. Highly recommend.
  • The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin (Kindle) — Every once in a while you find a book/series that you just love so much that you want to shove it into everyone’s hands and make them read it because you want everyone to love it as much as you do. That’s me with this series.
  • The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman (Kindle, library) — I know I said I was giving up on this series, but I forgot to release my hold at the library. Lucky for me, I liked this final book in the series much better than the first two books.
  • Freedom’s Landing by Anne McCaffrey (Overdrive, library) — On a whim, I decided to re-read this favorite from my teenage years. The story definitely holds up, but the prose felt surprisingly old-fashioned at times.
  • A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab (Kindle, pre-order) — I’m glad I held off on starting this until I could savor it. Even though I ended up spreading out my reading over a full week, it still ended too soon (but in a very satisfying way). I’m going to miss this world.

I’d thought I’d have time to read A Crown of Wishes as well, but this week has been a blur of activity with very little time left for reading. So, that will be the first book I read in April, instead of the last book I read in March. As for the rest of my April TBR…

I wasn’t going to create a TBR for April because I’m planning on participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s a more casual version of the real thing where you set your own word count goal for the month. I’m setting a goal of 30k words, which I think should allow me to finish the first draft of the novel I started back in November.

Writing 1k words/day on average isn’t that hard for me, once I get going. On a good day, that’s only about an hour of writing. So, I’m hoping I’ll still have time to read this month. The problem is, once I let myself start thinking about what I wanted to read, my TBR got a little out of hand…

Before I get into my list, let me reassure you, I have absolutely zero intention of reading ALL of these books in April. I fully expect that a lot of these will be flowing over into next month’s TBR. I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to use the #TomeTopple Readathon (books over 500 pages read during 4/7 thru 4/20, midnight to midnight in your timezone) and the 2017 Read Harder Challenge task list to help me bust some of my Kindle backlist.

Here’s what I put on my TBR for April (links go to Goodreads):

  • #TomeTopple TBR (listed from longest to shortest):
    • Reamde by Neal Stephenson (Kindle) — This book has been on my TBR forever. Seriously. I bought it on 7/30/2013. But guys… it’s over 1050 pages long. This book alone is equivalent to 2 Tome Topple books. It could take me the entire time just to read this one book, and there are so many others in this section that I really want to read. I’m not sure if I start with this one or save it until after I’ve read one or two of the others…
    • Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas (Kindle) — I pre-ordered this and then never had a chance to read it. I started it and got a little frustrated because I was struggling to remember who everyone was (so many new names I’d forgotten!), and I set it aside. I plan to tackle it during Tome Topple, and maybe resort to Wikipedia if my memory doesn’t kick in and remind me who’s who after the first few chapters…
    • Gemina by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff (hardcover) — This is another that I’d pre-ordered and never got around to reading, mostly because
    • Poseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds (Kindle) — Oh, hey! Another pre-order that I didn’t ever read when it came out. (This is partly why I made new rules about buying books this year.)
    • Kraken by China Miéville (Kindle) — I got this one for Christmas from “Santa Mom.” I’m hoping I have time to get to it, but it’s definitely in the second half of my list for this Readathon. So, it may roll over into next month.
    • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (Kindle) — I pre-ordered this, but it came out the same day as A Crown of Wishes, and I had to make a choice. So, I decided to save this one for Tome Topple.
  • Books for the Read Harder Challenge:
    • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (Kindle) — For the “Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative” task.
    • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (Kindle) — For the “Read a book about sports” task.
    • Hold Me by Courtney Milan (Kindle) — For the “Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel” task.
    • Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor (Kindle) — For the “Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location” task.
    • Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Kindle) — For the “Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author” task.
    • George by Alex Gino (Kindle) — For the “Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+” task.

The books I’ve selected for the Read Harder Challenge are all ones that I already own (some that I purchased a LONG time ago). They’re all ones that I really want to read, and many come highly recommended, but I’m not 100% sure which to start with, yet. To that end, if there are any on that list that you think I should start with because they are your absolute favorite and you think I’ll love it, please let me know in the comments.

And that’s it for March. Bring on the spring!

In which I gush about @MadcapRetreats

It’s been a month since I attended Madcap Retreats Creating Worlds workshop with Tessa Gratton and Roshani Chokshi. I’ve been working on this post on and off since then, trying to find just the right words to explain how much I loved this writing retreat and how much I love the people I met there. Mostly, when I try to put my feelings about this experience into words, I just end up gushing and flailing and making incoherent noises that don’t translate well into a blog post. But here goes…

Back in November, I applied to attend both their Creating Worlds workshop and their Writing Cross Culturally workshop. When I got the email that I’d been accepted, I actually started crying. I’m not even kidding. I was so excited to be attending that I think I emailed them back to accept my spot almost immediately.

I ended up getting accepted to both. Unfortunately, I could only attend one workshop due to budget and vacation constraints. So, I picked the Creating Worlds workshop. It was a little smaller, and I admit that I was a little intimidated about the idea of being in a house with 60 people I didn’t know.

As the anticipation built, I started getting really nervous. I had no idea what to expect. I knew a couple of people from Twitter who had attended previously, but they hadn’t said much about it. About a month before the workshop, I connected with a handful of people who would be attending and we chatted about what to bring and coordinated on rides from the airport. A lot of people who were attending with me had already been to one of these workshops. I took that as a good sign. I should have realized then that this was going to be a world-changer for me.

I’m here to report, Madcap Retreats exceeded my expectations in every single way.

My perch for soaking up all the #MadcapRT awesomeness… #amworldbuilding #amwriting #writerlife

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I attempted to try to make a list of all of the awesome things about this retreat. I’m sure I’ll forget something, but here are 10 things I loved about this Madcap Retreat:

  1. Natalie and Tessa — Any list of things to love about Madcap has to start with these two, but especially with Natalie. Natalie Parker is the organizer of everything and mastermind behind Madcap. Tessa Gratton is an excellent teacher and rabid social justice pixie in the very best and most inspiring way. I have to admit, of everyone on this faculty list, I knew the least about these two going in. What a travesty! How did I not already know about these two amazing individuals?
  2. The faculty — The other authors who were there to offer their knowledge were also fantastic. Roshani Chokshi is kind, generous, and can take the most boring story detail and make it magical. Dhonielle Clayton is a really fun, tiny, fierce human packed full will a wealth of publishing knowledge. Tara Hudson and Julie Murphy, who also joined us for a couple days, were generous with their industry knowledge, really fun to hang out with, and so encouraging.
  3. The writers I met — A few of the attendees already had agents and/or published books. Most of us did not. We got to hear a lot about the novels everyone was working on, and there was not a single one that I wasn’t excited about reading. Every single one of them sounded fantastic, and I wished they were available to read right now. The level of talent attending was both inspiring and a little intimidating (in a good way). I made new friends, and I got to talk about writing with writers in real life. Making writer friends over Twitter is great, but hanging out with writer friends in person is the best.
  4. The content — The workshop I attended was focused around “Creating Worlds,” something I thought I knew a thing or two about before I got on that plane to Florida. World-building is one of my absolute favorite things about writing sci-fi and fantasy and something I usually get compliments on from CPs and beta readers. But, this workshop gave me so many more things to think about! I took so many notes and got so many ideas. Seriously, I left feeling like I’ve only been scratching the surface of what’s possible, but ready to dive in to improve all the worlds I’ve created.
  5. The location — So, I associate Florida with the absolute worst sunburn I ever got in my life. Plus, Orange Beach is not the easiest place to get to from San Francisco. But, it turns out that Orange Beach is not actually located in Florida. It’s technically in Alabama. And, hey! This location was AWESOME. Excellent house. Right on the beach. Wildlife just outside (cranes, dolphins, elusive beach mice). Spectacular sunrises and sunsets, both somehow magically happening over the ocean. Warm weather. It was basically the best. I would do it all over again next weekend if I could, even though it meant spending nearly an entire day in transit both directions. That’s how good it was. (more location photos in this photo album)
  6. The format — We had three pretty intense days, but they were broken up in a way that gave you time to absorb what you were learning, or decompress if you needed a break. We got started around 9am and went pretty much straight through until noon with a few 10 minute breaks. Then we had about an hour for lunch. Then we had another session after lunch. Then a big break in the afternoon. After dinner, there was a “fireside chat” (optional) in the evening. I got up at about 6:30 every morning because that’s actually “sleeping in” for me, and I love watching the sunrise over the ocean. And I stayed up way past my usual bedtime, going to sleep around midnight every night. I could have gone to bed earlier or slept in later, but I didn’t want to miss a moment, and I liked working on the world-building exercises we were learning first thing in the morning when the house was quiet. It was intense and a little exhausting, but totally worth it.
  7. The new writing tools — Holy 9-box convert, Batman! There were several writing exercises that I am definitely adding to my prep work for all my novels, but this character/plot arc tool was one of two things that really helped me figure out what needed revising in the novel I brought to work on at this workshop. The other enlightening thing happened as a side-effect from a writing exercise in Tessa’s class. I’ll talk more about that one in a future post. For now I’ll just say, I’ve taken writing classes and read a fair amount of writing craft books, and I still learned so many mind-blowingly useful new things.
  8. Learning from #OwnVoices — As anyone who’s been paying any attention to YA “book Twitter” knows, it is very easy to mess things up when you’re creating worlds, be they contemporary or fantasy. I am always trying to educate myself about this stuff because I know enough to know there’s always so much more to learn. That’s one of the reasons why I signed up for this workshop in the first place. Learning from #OwnVoices faculty and fellow workshop participants helped me flag a few new potential blind spots and feel a little more articulate about some of the things I’d already figured out on my own.
  9. The food — Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much here. Basically, I assumed they’d have some, and I’m not a particularly picky eater. So, I assumed I’d eat some. I was fairly certain I wouldn’t starve. Oh how wrong I was. I think I came home several pounds heavier than I left. Natalie did most of the cooking, and everything was fantastic. Plus, the kitchen was basically in the same space as the presentation area. So, the delicious food smells meant I was always hungry. There were also a ton of snacks that I normally never eat. I made bad food choices. I regret nothing. 🙂
  10. Talking about my novel with other writers — This was possibly the one thing I didn’t even consider before attending but now don’t know how I managed to function without. Critique groups, my usual outlet for talking IRL with other writers, are usually for absorbing feedback about whatever section of work you submitted. Brainstorming and talking through your plot issues with other writers is a whole different beast, and I loved it! At first it was really strange talking about my novel out loud like I would talk about the plot and/or characters of any published book. But, talking through it with this group during the 9-Box exercise, and during my 1:1 critique session with Tessa and Roshani, was SO HELPFUL! I have no idea how I’ve functioned so long without having a writing buddy to brainstorm with IRL.

Bottom line: I can’t recommend Madcap Retreats highly enough. If you’re serious about writing and on the fence about attending one of these workshops, go. Apply and go. You won’t regret it.

One last sunrise walk on the beach before heading home… #MadcapRT

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This photo makes me a little sad. I miss my new writer friends and am already thinking about when I’m going to do this again. I will definitely be back.

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.

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“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.

February reading summary and March TBR

I read (almost) everything on my February TBR! And I went to a writing workshop, plus edited a huge chunk of my novel… AND I started a new job (same company) this month! So, overall February was a major win for me.

Here is what I read in February with my very brief assessment of each (links go to Goodreads):

February2017

  • Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and CynthiaWard (kindle) — excellent tips and writing exercises, highly recommend this for all writers
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (hardcover, signed special edition) — sweeping multi-generation saga with fantastic writing, definitely lives up to the hype
  • Home (Binti #2) by Nnedi Okorafor  (kindle) — starts off a little slow, but gets really interesting when Binti gets into the deep desert, left me wanting more
  • The Book Smugglers’ Quarterly Almanac: Volume 2 edited by The Book Smugglers (kindle) — this is so full of excellent essays and short stories all relating to the theme of amazing, powerful, and diverse women, highly recommend buying this
  • Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison (kindle) — insightful and thought provoking literary critique on the role of African Americans in “classic” American Literature

Next month I’m planning on catching up with new books and pre-orders. I have one roll-over from February, two that I bought last month but didn’t get a chance to read, one new book out on library loan, and two pre-orders that will show up at the end of March.

Here’s what’s on my TBR for March (links go to Goodreads):

March2017TBR

  • The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2) by N. K. Jemisin (kindle, pre-order) — My one hold over from my February TBR. I switched gears from reading to writing after the writing workshop, and before I knew it, the month was over. I am dying to read this, but I really want a chunk of uninterrupted time to read so I can immerse myself in this world I love.
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (kindle, library) — Somehow I managed to get this from the library within weeks of its release date, on kindle. I’m slightly shocked. I haven’t started it yet, but I’m not about to let this opportunity slip out of my hands. However, I definitely need to read this before the end of March due to some incoming pre-orders that will require my kindle to be off airplane mode.
  • A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3) by V. E. Schwab (kindle, pre-order) — It’s the last book in this series! Book 2 ended on a bit of a cliff hanger, so I’m anxious to see what happens. It took all my willpower not to just dive right in, but I really want to savor this one. So, I’m making myself wait until I’m done with my edits…
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (kindle, pre-order) — I’ve been following this author and book since she got her agent. I am so excited to read this book that I think I will likely dive into this one before all the others.
  • Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1) by Laini Taylor (kindle, pre-order) — I just talked about this one in my Mar/Apr pre-order post, so all I’ll say here is that I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time, but I still might hold off a few days so I can devour it in one go over the weekend. If I do, that will technically roll this to my April TBR, but whatever.
  • A Crown of Wishes (The Star-Touched Queen, #2) by Roshani Chokshi (kindle, pre-order) — I also talked about this one in my Mar/Apr pre-order post. This happens to come out on the same day as Laini Taylor’s book, which is going to make for some hard decisions for me… BUT, I think I may dive into this one first. I have a feeling this is going to be one I won’t want to put down, which means I’ll probably be reading on the sly on my phone when I’m supposed to be working. Shhh…

Against my better judgement, I’m getting a little ambitious with my TBR this month. Realistically, I’m never going to have enough free time to read all these books before the end of March. Maybe I would if all I wanted to do is read (which is sometimes the case). But, I finally had a break-through on something that was bugging me about one of my novels after getting feedback from a freelance editor. Now I’m in the middle of frantically revising, trying to finish before I lose the thread. That alone will likely take most of my free-time in March. I also have two other writing projects I want to work on, plus I’m in the middle of ramping up on my new position in my day job. So, yeah. March is going to be a busy month, but reading (and swimming) is what keeps me sane. So, as usual, I’ll find (make) time for everything.