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.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Volunteering

My husband, who was in the Navy, has told me that Navy stands for "never again volunteer yourself."

I've been in the habit of not volunteering myself in the first place, let alone going for a second try. But, in a couple weeks, I'll be giving not one, but two presentations at a work conference. Of course, one of them will be with a partner so that's a good thing, but the other one I will be flying solo.

And I volunteered for this of my own free will.

What was I thinking again?

It seemed, at the time, that it would be prestigious for me to give a presentation, yes, but there was more to it than that. I don't need a pat on the head as validation for my knowledge in my field. But I do have a passion for that knowledge, and I want to share it.

That's why I volunteered, really. Because I know that I know this subject very well, and I want to help other people who are going to need to know this subject. Out of the several proposed sessions on this subject, mine was one that was selected - and I can't entirely claim that it was the catchy title that made that happen. I also demonstrated in my proposal that I know this subject matter and treat it seriously.

I remember that one of the other proposals didn't even give the correct name for the process around which the presentation would center. Words can be slippery things, and so when one is speaking technically, one must be precise. A file is not a record is not an id.

And when I present my session, I hope to bring my enthusiasm and my knowledge to the room, spill it out on the attendees and then go weep in relief at being done.

And only then will I decide if I never want to volunteer again.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Right Hand, Left Hand

My dad sent me a youtube link recently with a simple message, which I cribbed for the title of this blog entry: Right hand, left hand

I wasn't sure what to think of the email. Usually, we're more formal in our correspondence. Salutations, closings, inquiries into health and work...

I clicked on the link. It's a short video, subtitled in a language I don't know. The sound is difficult to hear, as if the microphones were not picking up the words of Thich Nat Hahn properly. Even though I was listening on headphones, I found myself leaning forward.

A summary of the sentiment that he expressed was that if the right hand harms the left hand, the left hand does not seek vengeance. If the right hand soothes the left hand, the right hand does not seek payment. They are the same body.

With this simple expression bouncing around in my head, I've come again to a conclusion that it seems I must learn again and again. Being my best does not mean conforming to external standards of beauty. Being my best does not mean berating or criticizing myself for supposed or real failings. I have to face the fact that if another person treated me the way I treated myself, I would avoid them like the plague.

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." - Samuel Beckett
I've had a tendency to get lost in the eternal loop of being sorry. Sorry for doing this, sorry for being that, sorry for saying sorry so damn much.

I tentatively reach out into the world. Sometimes I feel smacked down, and sometimes nothing seems to happen. I have to remember that I am the only one who can make me feel anything. I am the one putting myself down before I have a chance to speak. I am the one pre-judging my thoughts to be unworthy of expression. I am the one - wait, no, the editors are the ones rejecting my stories - but I'm the one who's not writing more of them, trying again and failing better.

What does it matter to the world what I choose to call myself, positive or negative? What does it matter to the nameless mass of "they" whether I conform to societal roles that I may or may not be imagining?

In reading about oppression in my Women Writers class this semester, I am struck again and again by the theme of infighting among the oppressed. For example, abolitionists didn't wish to include feminist issues; white feminists didn't want to include women of color. The energies of the oppressed are trained on others who are themselves oppressed and not on bettering life for everyone.

If my heart and mind are divided against themselves, then I will have no energy for anything else. No energy to reach my goals, if every time I make progress, all I can see are the things I perceive as being "wrong" or "bad" or simply "not good enough."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Nominee Thoughts: The Wheel of Time

This year I'm giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.



---
The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson was an epic journey to read. I actually finished it a while ago, but I'm not sure what to write about it. I'm not sure how to approach the series as a whole, especially since it's been months since I read the first one at this point.

I remember being a bit put off by the characters at first. I read a comment on io9 once about a trio of books that I personally enjoyed, the Crystal Singer books by Anne McCaffrey. The comment complained that those books were "female adolescent wish fulfillment." I'm not entirely sure why that is such a bad thing, when so many books with male protagonists are simply "male adolescent wish fulfillment," but the commenter seemed to be scornful of those books. And in the beginning of The Wheel of Time, so much time was spent on those teenage boys as the center of the world. The girls were there to be foils, to aid and to guide, but they could never be the Dragon.

And yet, the girls came along. They gained agency and became involved in their own interesting and necessary stories. Rand became more and more of an asshole, and it seemed to me that the women around him were all that stopped him from prematurely falling prey to the rage that threatened to consume him. Even if his emergence from that shadow was entirely on his own (possibly aided by his father, up for debate).

I enjoyed reading the books. I am glad that I didn't read them when I was younger, because I really hate waiting for books. When I have to wait a year for the next book only to find that the loose end upon which I have been hanging is not only not resolved, but is hardly mentioned, I get a little batty. Much better to wait for a series and catch up. And I think that there would have been books that I would have been very eager to read, had I started back when Scott Foster told me to in 2000.

The ending made sense to me, even if I didn't like the particular ends of some characters. There weren't completely unreasonable kills or saves. The loose ends that would have had me counting the days until the release of the next book were tied up sufficiently without implying an end to the lives of the characters that survived.

It seemed as if I had read some parts of them before, and I'm not sure if that's because I had or because they were similar to other things that I've read. I'm pretty sure I once had a sampler book of one of these books, but I also remember never wanting to read it. There may have been some desperate time that I opened it, but maybe not. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Taking Action

I regularly read a blog devoted to author and publishing type news stories called The Passive Voice. I find much of the news interesting, and there are also quotes from well-known authors that can be inspiring. I did not expect to find an article that mentioned a town close to where I grew up, but on January 25th, there it was: Glen Ellyn Public Library creates new collection for emerging authors.

I grew up just a couple towns away from Glen Ellyn in Winfield, IL. The Metra train I took to high school had a stop in Glen Ellyn. If I had gone to a local public high school, I would have played against their teams (in academic bowl and math team, of course, not actual sports). I'm willing to bet that I borrowed their library books in my youth through an interlibrary loan via the Winfield Public Library, which never seemed to have enough books for me.

Unfortunately, one of the guidelines for Glen Ellyn's emerging authors collection, which is a pathway for self-published authors and small press authors to get into the library, is that the author must be a resident of the Chicago area or the book must be about the area. I live in Idaho now. And that could have been that.

But it wasn't. I decided that it couldn't hurt to email an inquiry and see if they might be open to my book since I grew up there and most of my family still lives in the area.

Turns out, not only did it not hurt me to inquire, they decided to allow me to submit my book for consideration. Now, that doesn't mean that it is going to get in, but it's a chance. I'm sending them Hike with Me: Stump Lake today. I'll be checking their online catalog on a regular basis for my name. It's exciting to think that I could get my book in a library. And it feels good to take a chance.