Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Misuse of Twitter

I don't do Twitter right. I acknowledge and own this fact.

I like to scroll back and see what has been said hours, even days before the present moment, and Twitter likes to tell me that desire is wrong by sneakily refreshing back to the beginning. This might be a setting that I can fix, but I have no idea.

I guess, when people follow you, you're supposed to follow them back, thereby building your networks mutually into large conglomerations of mutually following people (unless one is a celebrity, at which point I'm guessing the mutual follow rules no longer apply). I had one person follow and unfollow me four times in a week, trying, I suppose, to get me to follow her back.

But I only follow accounts that I want to follow because I admire them or they're clever or I personally know them (which does not exclude my admiration for them or their cleverness).

I've tweeted once so far in several months of use.

I've got someone following me that I don't like, and I'm still a little bitter that an old co-worker inadvertently gave her my personal email address.

I'm considering writing in my profile that I don't want anyone to follow me, but I'm not sure that's the best strategy.

My picture is of a pregnant chipmunk I found at Johnson Lake in the Sawtooths, and my profile simply states that I like puzzles.

I'd mention my username, but I don't want you to follow me ;)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Margaret Atwood Distinguished Lecture

I read that the doors would open at 6:30pm for the Margaret Atwood lecture, so I planned to arrive, with my husband, a little before that time. I figured we would mill about for a few minutes outside the Jordan Ballroom before being allowed inside.

Instead, the doors were already opened and the seats starting to fill, at least in the front. I wondered whether the large numbers of chairs in the rear section would fill as we found a pair of seats on an aisle to stage right. I wondered around a bit, looking for and greeting a classmate.

By the time the lecture was about to start, my concerns about whether or not there would be a full house were changed to wondering if we were going to be violating fire code:

When Margaret Atwood took the stage, she began with what seemed like an extemporaneous bit of talking. She said that people had been asking her why she came to Boise, to which she replied, "Why not?" And she revealed to us that more people in Toronto should be coming to Boise at this time of year, since Boise had something that Toronto would not for another four weeks. Flowers. Which made me think of The Handmaid's Tale and the importance that that narrator places on flowers.

And then she began what seemed to be her prepared speech. I marveled that she seemed to be nervous.

Margaret Atwood, nervous?

And so she spoke of the power of words, and then began to speak of the infamous Clean Reader App. I wonder if she was being polite by not mentioning that it was the invention of parents in Idaho or simply did not know. After all, the creators of the app were not the important part. The important part was how the app slaughtered the meaning of works - the carefully intended meaning of their creators. And how the app makers had neglected, in many cases, to gain the consent of the authors whose works they were scrubbing. 

Atwood regaled us with some great examples of how the app caused unintentional hilarity. For example, since the word "breast" was deemed unclean, the reader would be forced to confront what exactly the author meant by writing "chicken chest." We laughed at each example, causing her to call us easy to amuse. I would say not easy to amuse, but giddy at her presence. (We don't get visitors like her very often in Boise.) Her solution for readers who found words that offended them in a text was to shut the offending book, and, if desired, fling it across the room. That is any reader's right. 

She spoke of running a conference session on "The Men's Novel" at which she and the other attendees had great fun ruminating at length over the definition thereof (a book with no women, of course, would qualify, such as Moby Dick). A fellow session leader had a less humorous time trying to get two groups of women, older ones who preferred less "language" (swearing) in books, and a group of women who argued quite loudly against using patriarchal language (while using patriarchal language). 

The power of language is evident throughout recorded history. Prayers and spells and names, words used to curse and bless and implore. Creativity and story served survival purposes, teaching communities how to survive in the ways that are best remembered: as stories and poems and songs. We use our memories of stories to anticipate the future. Stories get under our skin and make us feel empathy for the other, fostering the ability to survive in community. 

On writing, Atwood brought up word choices. How they must fit the setting, the narrator's voice and their vocabulary. Writing in the past poses different problems from writing in the future. The past is already recorded and research can reveal how words were used at the time. The future requires imagining which words have disappeared, what swears might become and what new words would be created. 

Spelling: Spell - coincidence?

Atwood is writing the first book for the future library, a project in Norway that intends to send books into the future. Each year, for a hundred years, a book will be chosen and sealed away, not to be read until 2114. This project represents hope. Hope that readers will still exist in a hundred years. That the future reader might be able to understand the words written before their parents were born, in an era that will probably look quite distant and quaint from their perspective. The reader brings themselves into the experience of the book. 

Atwood answered questions after her lecture. Some questions on writing, during which she recommended Wattpad, and terribleminds. She revealed one of her hard lines of censorship (child porn with real children should be censored) while also stating that there are lessons to be learned from Mein Kampf

On the use of religion in The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood stated that a religion used as a tool of political control simply becomes an ideology. Totalitarianism doesn't really have religion. But in the US, she thought the easiest route to totalitarianism would be through religious ideas, and so that's how she set the story. 

A positive opinion of fan fiction, as it is as old as the hills - even slash. 

And when a young woman asked her for advice on how to make her way, I tried my best to write down her exact words, but I couldn't keep up, so I will leave off the quotation marks and end with a paraphrase: 
Have good parents. Have good teachers. Don't believe those who would put you down. If you can't go through, go around. Don't give up. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Soy Experiment

I've been feeling ill a lot this past winter and spring. I went through some antibiotics back in December and have been, in a way, waiting to get better ever since. I thought that I was on the road to recovery when I went on my business trip mid-March, but as soon as I got back I relapsed. There seemed to be no end in sight, and, even worse, I was starting to wheeze when I exercised.

Now, when I was twelve or thirteen, I wanted to get a dog. I thought that would be just great, completely forgetting the horrible experience I'd had when I got a pet rat and discovered that I had allergies. Surely, I thought, it was the rat cage that caused my issues. A dog would be just fine.

My Dad, however, did not want a dog in our house. Dogs, I was informed, smell.

I was given the option to get a cat, and I took it.

At this point in my life, I've lived with dogs and I've lived with cats, and I would take a dog over a litter box any day of the week, but at the time, the discovery of just how much a litter box can stink was, if you will, fresh. But that's not the point.

The point is, shortly after we got the cat, I began to wheeze when exercising. I clearly remember playing floor hockey after school and feeling tightness in my chest. It wasn't long before I was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma, and for a long time I thought that was my fate. In recent years, I've discovered that I don't get asthmatic as long as I avoid allergens, and what I thought was asthma was sometimes just being out of shape.

So while part of me thought that the wheezing was some sort of lung infection, I also considered an allergy hypothesis. And when I started getting a stomach ache after drinking a glass of soy milk, the light bulb went off - could I possibly have a soy allergy? Perhaps one that is getting progressively worse as I continue to eat soy sausages every morning and drink soy milk on the regular?

My husband and I decided to give cutting soy from my diet a try. A mere two days after cutting it, I ran without wheezing. The early results look good, but the true test will be reintroducing soy after a week. I almost don't want to, but it's the only way to gain certainty in the soy allergy hypothesis.

Although, there are circumstances in which such testing will not be happening... I ate clams once, and I will never eat them again, because I don't want to take the chance that the four days I spent in the bathroom were a fluke not related to clams.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What a Novel Idea...

Back in January, I asked my husband to read through my novel. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it, and I didn't trust my own judgment as to its quality. I asked him to read it, letting him know that if he wanted to stop at any time, he should feel free to do so and I wouldn't mind. If he could just let me know where the narrative lost him, then I would be content.

Content to toss the electronic file into an electronic door and allow it to gather "dust" for the rest of my life.

He was reading a long series at the time, and I really didn't want to bug him about reading my novel, so I didn't say anything until a week or so ago. He had finished his series and was starting on something else, so I asked him if he was ever going to read it.

I really should have said something sooner.

He had forgotten all about my request, all about my novel. It was only in my mind that it had such a burning importance that I had to keep myself from asking him every day whether he had started it, liked it, stopped it, something????

I re-downloaded the file, which he somehow had deleted from his Kindle, or it had never been loaded. I thought it was, because I thought I opened it on his computer to check and make sure the formatting wasn't messed up. But it was a long time ago.

And once he began to read it, I could then try in earnest not to bug him about it.

But he made that point moot by finishing in just a couple days. He didn't have to stop reading. And he did in fact like it. He may have called it "awesome."

So I'm going to publish it, after at least one more trusted reader gets their eyes upon it. I won't be able to back down after posting this. I must remember, not every book is for every reader. There are one star reviews on every book.

Oddly enough, after making the decision to publish this work, my brain started churning with the beginning of another one, a story whose title has been floating in my head for some time, waiting, I suppose, until it knew I would let it out to play.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Presentations

Last week, when I was busy not posting my blog on time, I was preparing to give two presentations at a business conference. One of them was a co-presentation, and one a solo. I think I managed to keep myself from thinking about the fact that I was presenting at a national - no, international - conference before I finished. It's only since I've been back home that the reality of having spoken in such a context is really sinking in.

I mean, my sessions were not well attended. 20 to 40 people, crammed into a small room, all staring at me. But the sessions were also recorded, so unknown numbers of people in the future could also access my presentation and listen to my words. And I knew this, beforehand, but I refused to think about it. A form of self-preservation took over and prevented my mind from wondering into the future possibilities stemming from the presentations.

I knew that if I thought about it that way, I'd freak out.

Not that I didn't freak out, a little bit. Just getting up and setting myself up as a knowledgeable expert in front of people was hard enough. Standing there, talking and pulling confidence around myself like a cloak, a fragile one, ready to tear at the slightest hint of attack.

I spoke more at that conference, not just in my presentations but elsewhere, than I have in any previous conference for sure. Maybe more than I've spoken in the month leading up to it as well. I don't get out into social situations very often anymore. I've found my comfort zone of solitude and wilderness.

And it takes reflection on the magnitude of what I actually did, presenting at a conference with participants from over 30 countries (even if not all of them watched me in particular), to remind me that even if I feel more comfortable not being social, not putting myself and my knowledge out where others can hear them, that doesn't mean that I can't.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Room of One's Own

First of all, I know this isn't Wednesday, but I am still going to count this as a post in the current week. I should have planned better, knowing that I would be out of town and busy this past week, but I didn't.

I attended a conference this past week, from Sunday to Wednesday, a whirlwind of sessions, networking and socializing. And, for the first time that I've attended, for a brief time, I had a hope of spending the conference with my very own room.

It is the policy of my workplace, or rather, the particular section of my workplace in which I work, that rooms are shared for travel. And so, the previous years that I have attended, I have shared a room with my boss.

We both find this situation to border on the unprofessional, but we have managed to share a room with minimal discomfort. But this year, she planned on bringing her family to the conference, and so work was going to have to pay for me to have my very own room.

But that plan was foiled by another department having an odd number of female employees going to the conference. While apologetic, my new roommate let me know that she was told in no uncertain terms by her bosses that she had better find someone to share the cost of the room.

And so, the room of my own became the room to be shared with - not a stranger, but someone that I worked only tangentially with, someone I had before felt socially awkward around, socially awkward being a default state for me. In previous years, such a situation might have been a great cause for anxiety for me before the conference, but this year I was presenting one mini session and co-presenting another one. My nerves were focused on those.

And it was a good thing that I didn't spend time on worrying about sharing the room. It was, in my opinion, the least awkward that it could have been. I got to know a co-worker a little better. I had a workout buddy for Monday morning. There had been nothing to worry about.

And, for once, I hadn't worried about it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Loud

The other day I bought a pair of exercise pants. They were tight pants, tights, technically, and were a bright blue color, in a stripey pattern.

I almost bought a pair in black and white instead. Most of my exercise bottoms tend to the darker end of the spectrum, blacks and grays. Designed to blend into the background of any gym environment. But I like blue, and the each pair of pants fit equally well.

The thing about the blue pants was that they were not designed to blend in, except maybe in an anime. I didn't think much of that at first. They were blue. I like blue.

But when I wore them for the first time, I walked up to my running partner to find him swallowing hysterical laughter. His whole body moved as he exclaimed, "Girl, those pants are loud!"

I didn't take the words personally. I bantered about how they would make me more visible to cars, since we were running outside. I still like the pants, and the way that they look on me.

But, perhaps influenced by the Women Writers class that I'm taking, or even specifically by Nancy Mairs, whose essay I am preparing to lead the discussion on, the choice of wording stuck with me.

Loud.

And, by his behavior, inappropriately so. It seemed as if my pants caused him discomfort, or, at the least, surprise. Was that because the color was out of character for me? I've worn bright pink tops to our runs, and bright purple. How were the tops beneath his notice while the pants drew such a strong reaction?

Loud. The way that women are not "supposed" to be, the way that I have rarely, while sober, been. In my class, I speak rather more than most of the students. Conscious of having been a silently fuming student while another dominates the discussion, I try not to talk too much. But this class does not seem, as a group, compelled to speak much. I speak because I have taught myself, trained myself to do so, in this kind of setting, at least, where class participation is a part of the grade.

I keep waiting for the instructor to pull me aside and ask me not to talk so much, not to be so loud. I expect it, though that's never happened, because I put so much effort into the act of speaking aloud. Breathing my thoughts into the air, for all to hear, misunderstand or reinterpret does seem an act of transgression to me, one for which I'm still waiting to be punished.