Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Anger and the Opportunity to Earn Things

I had hesitated to post this. It's been knocking around in my drafts folder for about three weeks: I wasn't happy with it, and it hurt to edit it. Then, this popped up on Facebook.  I think it goes a bit far, but I'm angry, too. 

I love my family, and I love all the teachers and guidance counselors and miscellaneous helpful adult mentors I've been lucky to have all my life-- but they lied to me.  They didn't mean to lie, I think. They wanted to help. They might not even have known that the idea they sold, that people receive rewards commensurate with the hard work they do, is a pleasant half-truth at best. Even so, I am angry: angry that we accept a fiction as fact.  I think it's time for anger, time to recognize that sometimes things just aren't fair.  Now, I hesitate to remain silent.

Isn't it perfectly annoying when someone who is doing you a tremendous favor makes a perfectly reasonable request?

It's happened a couple of times since I've been home-- nothing unreasonable.

ME: "Hey, Mom, is it OK if I wire up my video game system?"
MOM: "As long as you move your stuff off my bed."

I hadn't realized she'd put my stuff on her bed-- I just needed it to not be in my room for a few hours while we washed the shelving so I could work on other things-- and I hadn't realized that the shelving was dry so I could put the things away.

After picking the things up, though, my dad walked into the room:

DAD: "What are you doing with the television? Are things going to change?"
ME: "No, Dad, I haven't moved anything.  The only change is that there will be one extra option for input."

Or, when I asked if I could use some fridge space:
MOM: "Well, your father has three dozen bagels and your brother has eight dozen eggs in there.  And I will never condone soda."

Simple requests, right?  Such easy things to do to keep the favor of the people who have given me food and shelter while I'm unemployed.  I'm grateful, and I can work around this, have worked around this since I moved home.  But it hurts, the reminder that I exist by the grace of my parents.

It all goes down to this tremendous fear I have: fear that I'll let my parents down.  Specifically, I'm scared I won't be able to find a job. I'm scared that I won't be able to find a job, and my parents will think that I'm lazy, that I'm a leech on society.

It seems that everyone says: "All you need to do is persevere!"  Or: "Do all the right things, and eventually something will come along!"

I've had a couple blips.  But, in general, I've checked the boxes. Degree from a decent school? Check, and in business/engineering/maths, which should be useful. Study abroad? Check. Internships? Check and check, since I did two.  I checked the boxes.

Now, I'm applying to jobs-- looking, defining goals, making plans, doing 40 hours of whatever job-search-related work I can think of, to try to prove I'm not a sloth, that I am Taking This Seriously.  (I am, but I have a sneaking suspicion there are hidden rules I've missed somewhere along the line.)  It feels like I'm not getting anywhere.

But even with all the boxes checked, the work put in, the numbers aren't pretty for new graduates*. Everyone tells me to quit reading the news articles, because they're scary, and being scared doesn't help. I can't stop reading the news articles: they're the thing I'm clinging onto, the thing that's telling me that there's not necessarily something horribly wrong with me, that things are tough and competitive out there.  They also make me angry, and I need the anger for two reasons. The lesser of these: so I stop blaming myself.  I can't control everything.  More than that, though, it's a driving force.  I'm angry because bad things have happened on a systematic level, and they're impacting my friends, my future colleagues, my generation.  No one I have known at school has escaped the impact: even the lucky ones who have jobs are often underemployed or live in constant fear of layoffs.

To me, it feels like other people already own all the things that there are to own.  I wonder: will I ever get a chance to earn a share, a living?  Will I ever succeed, or will people sneer at my failures for the rest of my life?  If I make any mistakes, will I damage my chance at success permanently (and is there any way to avoid mistakes)?

And, while I'm trying to figure all of this out-- am I allowed to be a human?  Does my desire to eat the food I like, play the games I like, spend time with the man I like enough to marry-- does that make me selfish and lazy in the interim? Can I balance any of the things I want with the things I need to do to survive, or do I need to put everything I want aside until I've paid to help fix this economic mess we're in?
*The numbers aren't pretty for anyone, but they're proportionally less pretty for new graduates. For example: I cringe every time I read articles that suggest that unemployment or underemployment now can impact earning potential for years after the economy rights itself.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Muffins: Cupcakes in Disguise

A friend messaged me at 3:30AM to warn me that the slowly-blooming bruise where I scraped my leg yesterday meant that the bruise ran deep and would hurt for a long time.  When I saw the message after I woke up at 7:30, I thanked him for the warning and excused myself so that I could hunt up some coffee.

Coffee in hand, I returned and found that my friend had shared his own breakfast plans with me: a muffin and a glass of milk.

"For me, muffins are like pasta," I wrote to him.  "I like them, but in terms of nutritional value, I don't like them enough to eat them very often."  (They're both heavy on processed carbohydrates-- not very filling, and I love the nutritionally-similar breads, biscuits, and bagels so much more. Also, desserts.)

"This is why I seldom purchase muffins," he replied.

This didn't satisfy me. "I just don't understand why, if you are going to eat something that is in all respects like cake, you do not actually eat cake."

The question became: what is the difference between a chocolate muffin with chocolate chips and a chocolate cupcake?  In an effort to demonstrate the essential similarities between the former (a breakfast dessert) and the latter (a dessert breakfast when eaten before 11:00AM), I made some cupcakes.  Because I didn't want leftovers, I made a recipe of two cupcakes, adapted from this recipe.

  • Ingredients:
  • 1/8 c. whole wheat flour
    1/16 c. white flour1/8 c. granulated sugar1/8 tsp. salt1/8 tsp. baking soda1/16 c. cocoa powder (and a bit)1/16 c. oil1/8 c. leftover coffee1/8 tsp. vanilla3/8 tsp. vinegar
  • Mix all the ingredients up together.
bowl of batter and two custard ramekins
No eggs in this, so you can eat the batter if you like.
Pour into custard ramekins and bake at 350° for about 20 minutes, or until you jab it and the jabbing implement comes out clean.
two chocolate cupcakes and a bowl of frosted
Two cupcakes and a bowl of frosting.
While they're in the oven, make frosting.  When they're cool, frost and eat immediately. I used a spoon, but your mileage may vary.
two frosted chocolate cupcakes
Finished cupcakes!
Yield: Two cupcakes.

They came out a little dry for me, actually-- I might have cooked them for too long.  Still, I enjoyed my cupcake and heard no complaints from my mother about the one I gave her. Definitely better than a muffin, in my opinion.

So, how do these cupcakes stack up against the muffins you've eaten?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

David Bowie, Hair, Summer, and Bicycle Mishaps

The person who proliferated the idea that hair doesn't effectively insulate your head was full of poo sadly mistaken. I can tell because, thanks to my long hair, the nape of my neck retains as much heat during the summer as other heat-retaining areas of the body (like the armpits). 

I've been growing my hair out since K found out I had never watched Labyrinth and immediately pulled me over to the couch to change that.  "It has David Bowie in it," K explained in an attempt to entice me.

"Who's David Bowie?" I asked.  (I spent the bulk of my childhood with my nose buried in one variety of book or another, so I don't recognize a lot of commonly-known figures in movies and music.)

"Never mind.  It also has Muppets, and it's not as dark as The Dark Crystal. You'll like it."

I remained skeptical right up until a song-and-dance number broke out, complete with Muppets and disturbingly tight pants.

"That's David Bowie," K explained as the song concluded.  Amused, I set my skepticism aside and proceeded to enjoy the movie.

After it was over, I turned to K.  "I want that hair for our wedding."  

"What hair? David Bowie's?" K asked, clearly confused.  We hadn't even begun discussing the wedding, other than the basics (as in: yes, we're getting married, no, we don't know when, maybe sometime after we graduate).

"No, Sarah's hair, from the masquerade scene," I explained.

K made a face. "Don't you think it's a bit... eighties?"

"I like the sparkly bits and the way it's down but not in her face," I said.  "Maybe a less fluffy version?"

"OK," said K.

So I started growing my hair, and a few months later, we began talking in vague terms about what we wanted.  Positive progress, with a single side effect: the nape of my neck gets uncomfortably warm during unpleasantly hot weather.

Today, however, looked promising in terms of avoiding the stickiness and excessive neck-nape heat.  My alarm rang at 7:30 this morning with the sun streaming, but the breeze from the window remained cool.  I'm still adjusting to a biphasic sleep schedule, so the wake-up call failed to thrill me in spite of the gorgeous weather.  In an effort to wake up properly, I dragged myself out of bed, ate a banana, and hopped on my bicycle for the first time in a few years.

Almost immediately, my legs began to sting and the nape of my neck began to heat.  The halter tie of the dress I'd chosen tried very hard to unknot itself, and the leggings rode down.  (If you need another reason to avoid weight gain in college, please note that if you do, none of your clothes will fit, and you probably won't have the money to replace them with clothes that do.)  I made it 25 minutes before stopping, including a brief pause to prevent a wardrobe malfunction.  When I dismounted, I raked my right knee over the cargo rack on the back of the bike, leaving a slightly-red tender spot that hasn't visibly bruised (but still hurts when you poke it).
bruised leg
Still, I claim victory for the day so far: I didn't oversleep, as I did yesterday (when I blinked during the process of getting up and found that 45 minutes had mysteriously disappeared).  I got some physical activity in, and I know I can do better the next time I go out.  I have energy to do things, and in another few moments, I will have finished a blog post.  Not a bad day at all.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Biphasic Sleep: Day Two

Light post today.  I spent most of the day pretty sleepy.  K and I are trying out biphasic sleep: he wants more time to work on his video game projects, and I wanted an excuse to establish a sleep routine. If I don't have something to do, I find the prospect of sleeping in tempting, and I function most effectively with a routine.  So, I put together a graphic that adds some structure to my day.  It will be easier again to maintain this kind of schedule when I'm working part-time later this summer*.
circle diagram representing a day with two periods of sleep and six meals
4.5 hours of core sleep, a 90-minute nap, and six light meals.
I've always been curious about polyphasic sleeping, and I don't have a ton of formal responsibilities right now, so it seems like an ideal time to try it out. To make it easier, Ard is also trying polyphasic sleep: he recently switched from the Uberman to the Dymaxion schedules in order to make his sleep mesh appropriately with his summer job.  While many don't consider the schedule I'm trying to be "real" polyphasic sleep (I'm still getting six total hours a day, instead of the two that Ard gets), I think it has the greatest likelihood of meshing harmoniously with a job.  It also closely resembles a schedule I adopted more-or-less naturally one semester at college, where I slept from approximately four to seven twice a day.

I'm also trying to eat better as part of my weight-loss/health-gain effort.  I hear intermittently about the wonderful health benefits of eating six small meals per day, but the real reason that I hope it will work for me is that I don't function particularly well without regular food.  Lots of people can skip meals and calmly power through it, but I'm not one of them**.  I hate feeling hungry. I get grouchy and stay that way until I've had a snack.

So far, I like the six-meal strategy.  I still need to avoid missing meals, but I don't feel hungry in the periods between them (as I have before when I've attempted to reduce calories). I'm also finding it easier to eat more fruits and vegetables.  The sleep schedule has been more challenging so far, but I'm optimistic-- and if it doesn't work, I can easily revert to typical sleep.
*For those curious: I'll be working as a TA for the six-week summer program at a non-profit preschool for developmentally-challenged three- and four-year-olds. It's not the perfect stopgap job-- it's not in my field and it doesn't pay particularly well-- but it gives me time to apply to other jobs, helps me establish a routine, and the work is very fulfilling (though I don't believe I could do it over the long term).
**On the flip side, I power through a lack of sleep fairly well. K is the opposite way: he regularly forgets meals, but hates anything that gets between him and his sleep. When he brought up trying polyphasic sleep to me, I was (pleasantly) surprised.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wedding Priorities First Pass

I've been trying to write a blog post about my brother's Eagle Ceremony since it happened. Five days have passed since I started writing, and I remain unsatisfied, so I'm going to back-burner it and try an easier post. In the meantime-- big public congrats to my brother!

K and I have spent some time over the past eighteen months working out what our priorities are for this "wedding" thing.  The first two, which are big ones, were easy to find.

  1. No more debt.
    We both took on some debt while going to school.  I got a pretty decent co-op and some help from my family, so, with a combination of luck and hard work, I have almost paid mine off.  K will come out of school with a heftier chunk of debt than I will, but we both believe that with careful budgeting, we can triumph over the College Debt Monster.  Assuming we can both find work, we have an aggressive timeline to accomplish this: we want to buy a house.  As a result, we have zero interest in a big, expensive, traditional wedding (average cost: $27,000, from what I read).  We'll have a wedding that we can afford with money we save over the next year or so.

    If this means that we end up eloping, because nothing else will work on the budget, then we'll elope (no later than December 31, 2013, because we're both heartily sick of the word "fiancé"*).  In that event, we'll have a big party on our five-year anniversary or something like that.
  2. Family = A+ important.
    I like to talk about how we both have huge, awesome families: people related to us who have supported us our whole lives. I do this because we both consider our families a central part our lives.  Our families have taught us important lessons throughout our lives.  Some of them are standard lessons about love, graciousness, and supporting one another through times of pain, but I've learned more from my family. For example, I learned a lesson about critical thinking, careful speaking and assumption-making from my family when my carelessness in a role-playing session led my character to wander beneath the foot of a giant.  I learned about how things don't always go as planned when, at a play I had put together, my brother "borrowed" the microphone. ("My dad smokes big, long cigars, drinks lots of beer, and is the King of Hollering!" he announced.)  I learned about working together with people you don't like to achieve goals (because if I didn't work with my brother, we were never going to catch all the Pokémon and, more importantly to me at the time, I wasn't going to be allowed to play at all).

    I can't imagine not trying to include all of these people who have made such an impression on our lives as K and I begin to build our own family.  So, when we first started seriously trying to think about planning a wedding, we made a list of our parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles.  I organized it nicely in a spreadsheet for our future reference and ran a quick tally.  Between us, we have about 80 family members who visit on holidays (or call if they're too far)-- just the people who have played important roles in our lives.

    I looked at him.  "I like the idea of a small wedding," I said.

    He looked back at me.  "It's just not going to happen, is it?"

    No, it won't, but that's OK, because we are blessed to have so many people to (potentially) surround and support us.
So, having sorted out the big things, we've been talking about the smaller things.  We want a short ceremony and a kid-friendly venue; we don't want a sit-down dinner** or a church involved. We'd prefer somewhere with contiguous indoor/outdoor space, so that we can go outside if the weather's nice and stay dry if it's not.  We have at least a loose idea of the people we want on Team Wedding.  K doesn't want a tux, I don't want a veil, high heels, or a train.  If people are going to make the trip out to see/help/witness/support us as we're getting married, we want to make sure we have time to actually see them-- definitely more than an average of four minutes per person, which is what you get when you divide a five-hour reception over eighty people (yikes!).

We're still trying to figure out some of the less philosophical big things. For example, we haven't found a venue yet, and it's hard to plan a lot of the other stuff if you don't have a venue sorted out.  Still, I have high hopes: we have over a year left and options, and we agree about the big things.  Now, it's just a matter of legwork.

Quick note of disclaimer for wedding-related posts: I would love to invite positively the entire world to my wedding. Sadly, we do not have infinity money, and K would probably be overwhelmed if the entire world showed up. So, if you don't make the guest list (if we even have a guest list) it is not because we don't love you.
*To avoid the F-word, I call K "boyfriend", "husband", and "partner" pretty interchangeably, but I hate that I'm quasi-misusing the terms only slightly less than I hate the word "fiancé".
**Having been to events where we found ourselves glued to a table for a meal, we hate missing people we want to talk to while spending lots of time with very few people. We also don't want to design seating charts or cope with table numbers, so it seems win/win to us.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Three Reasons My Weight is Seasonal

For the past several years, I've been away at university, a place I found full of stress and erratic schedules. I've talked about how I gained a bunch of weight there.  Worse, as I gained weight, the less energy I had.  Once I ran out of energy, I ended up regularly making choices between finishing an assignment or cooking a nutritious dinner, or between studying and exercising.  Since the assignments and studying were the whole reason I paid obscene sums of money to attend an institute of higher education, I almost always chose them-- to the detriment of my health. (Yes, I know better, but I could never seem to get far enough ahead to break the cycle.)

The past two summers, however, I've been away from home on internships.  These involved working nice, regular 40-hour weeks far away from most of the social pressures of going out with friends for eating and drinking.  I lost weight each time.

So, here's my speculation about why I think it has been easier to lose weight in the summer.

  1. The sun comes out during the summer, so it's a pleasure to go outside and do active things.  When it's cold and snowy outside, staying indoors wrapped in a warm, cozy blanket with a book and a mug of cocoa is a much stronger temptations.
  2. Summers bring a variety of fresh local produce. There are four farmer's markets every week near my current area.  For example, check out these gorgeous local strawberries. They will go in my mouth the next chance I get. 
  3. delicious red local strawberries
    Gnrf gnrf nom nom nom.
    Now, compare them with the anemic green-pink winter strawberries that you see in grocery stores during the winter. Not appetizing, right?  So, I find it far easier to eat well in the summer (when all the produce looks yummy) than in the winter (when all the produce looks like it's something that I should probably eat because it's healthy, but isn't something I actually want to eat at all).

  4. During my summers, I've been able to establish a routine. I love routines: when I have a routine, I get more done and feel considerably less stressed. I attribute this to removing some of the constant decision-making from my life.  Contrast this with university life, which threw projects, assignments, and exams at any attempt I made at establishing a routine.  I got through it, but one of my methods for getting through it was "let's order a pizza as a reward for me getting this horrible assignment done"*, which didn't help the health issue.
Now that I'm out of school, I hope that I can find a job, establish a routine, and have a better chance at obtaining and then maintaining a healthy weight and activity level.  So, I'm curious: do you find it easier to lose weight (or maintain a healthy weight) in the summer?  Why or why not?

In the meantime, it's a gorgeous day here.  I'm going to take a walk, and then I think I'm going to eat some strawberries.
* Food rewards impede maintenance of a healthy weight, but that's another piece of college: what other rewards can a college student afford in terms of time and money?  Certainly, it would have been nice to make an fun outing or a new piece of clothing a reward, but even if I had had the money for those kinds of rewards, I didn't have the time, and often, they weren't even available in my small college town.  Pizza, on the other hand, had the unique characteristic of feeling like a reward while both feeding me and allowing me to move on to the next task as I ate.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

There's a Reason We Don't Give People Numbers: Part 2

Note: this was inspired by a friend's post on names. This is part of a two-part series about how I struggle with gender and my own name.  The first part is here.

Names are important. They can indicate our kinship ties and pieces of our identity. They can change how people perceive us, sometimes even before they meet us. In turn, as we wear our names, people color the meaning of the syllables that make up our name with the things they know about us. So, what do you do when the name people expect you to take isn't yours?

Historically, in many cultures, marriages took place to establish paternity, which was useful (a) to avoid incestuous procreation and genetic abnormalities and (b) to establish who financially took care of whom and to whom property would pass after a death and so on.  Often, this came with a side order of restricted rights for a woman as she passed from her father's care to her husband's care.  This doesn't thrill me: I don't believe that I require a husband (or a father) to provide for me.

The social expectation that a woman changes her last name when she marries a man seems annoys me.  Not only does it assume a heterosexual marriage, it seems (to me) to symbolize this sort of less-than-modern passing-the-woman nonsense, as she trades her father's surname for her new husband's.

This doesn't work for me.  I won't turn into a whole new person when I marry K.  I've had my name my whole life, and I have made it my name.  Certainly, it's a name that I share with my family: this doesn't bother me, as the family who bears the same name as I do has supported me throughout my life.  So, why should I abandon my name-- the name of my family-- because I'm starting a new family with K?  Our children will have his last name, and I believe that that will adequately signal my kinship ties to anyone who needs to know.  I don't need to give up my last name to commit to him.

Also, I love my last name.  When I went from my given name to "JP", I began writing my last name -- just my last name-- on all those things you're supposed to label with your name in case they get lost or stolen: textbooks, graphing calculators, notebooks, and so on.  I have a professional identity that I'm just starting to build using my last name, too. It's on four diplomas: one each from high school and community college and two from my university. It headlines my resume. 

I love my last name, and I don't want to change it.

I know that people will probably end up calling me Mrs. Hislastname.  That doesn't bother me-- after all, it will be kind of true.  K and I are getting married. People address letters to Mr. and Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname, after all,* and people do not expect me to change my first name.

I don't really mind what other people call me, as long as it indicates they respect me.**  We use people's names to identify each other, and what other people call me in the context of our relationship should simply select which of a number of respected people the speaker wishes to address.  In terms of my identity, the names that matter most are the ones I call myself.

*I could go on about how this is annoyingly gendered, too, but the people who do this are either (1) people who love you enough to send you mail or (2) working for a company sending junk mail.  The former already love you, and also yay mail, so I'm not inclined to fuss, and the latter everyone ignores anyway.  Etiquette guides are beginning to establish guidelines for addressing formal letters and invitations to non-traditional families, but this is a process, and since there is good-natured effort going on here, I'm not going to quibble.

**If I introduce myself as "Firstname Mylastname" to someone who persists in calling me "Mrs. Hislastname", though, that's disrespectful, and not the kind of mistake that's OK because you're trying but met him first and just didn't know better.  Of course, your best choice is to ask me what I'd like to be called, but I understand it's a lot of work to ask everyone that when so many people still follow the convention.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fried Router, Giant Moth

So, as soon as I said "I'm going to try to post the second part of this tomorrow", the Internet gods got really cranky at me and knocked out the internet in my parent's house by frying the router.  Go figure.  Since I was away for the weekend, it didn't get fixed until I got back.

I left for my weekend excursion without posting.  I had a great time in Vermont with a variety of friends from my co-ed social society.  Lots of socialization, a bonfire, and insufficient sleep-- I've spent the day napping in between job applications.
back view of a luna moth
Very big moth.
 We saw a giant moth.  I wasn't convinced it was real until I saw its tiny antennae.
side view of a luna moth
And then I had to examine it more closely.
So, anyway, expect the real post tomorrow, barring catastrophe.  Internet gods, please do not fry the router again.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

There's a Reason We Don't Give People Numbers: Part 1

Note: this was inspired by a friend's post on names. This is part of a two-part series about how I struggle with gender and my own name.  The second part will be posted tomorrow. I hope.

Names are important. They can indicate our kinship ties and pieces of our identity. They can change how people perceive us, sometimes even before they meet us. In turn, as we wear our names, people color the meaning of the syllables that make up our name with the things they know about us. So, what do you do when your name doesn't quite fit?

My first name has never thrilled me.  (Sorry, Mom.)  It's a good name, a solid name, a name I could put on business cards.  However, it's also gendered, which makes me uncomfortable.  People can look at my name and say, "Oh, it's [Firstname]! She's a girl" and make decisions about how they're going to interact with me from that.

A couple things happened while I was in middle school:

  • A teacher pulled me aside and explained to me that wearing a bra* was not optional.
  • I began noticing that girls had Different Social Rules, like "you should shave your legs or people will make fun of you".**  These rules did not apply to boys, which didn't seem fair.
  • We started our foreign-language instruction, and I had to pick a name.

I was taking French, and the sheet they passed out had two sides: one labeled "Girl's Names" and one labeled "Boy's Names".  I skimmed the side with the "Girl's Names".  Jacqueline? I thought to myself. Blech. Way too girly. So, I turned the paper over.

A spark of rebellion ignited.  Our French teacher had instructed us to pick a name from the paper. She hadn't specified which side I had to use.  I didn't have to pick a girl's name, so I picked a boy's name.  I couldn't decide between "Jacques" and "Pierre" when she called on me to ask for my choice, so I simply concatenated them.

"Je m'appelle Jacques-Pierre," I told her.  She gave me a look.  I can't remember if she suggested I call myself a French version of my own name or not.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Oui," I said.  "Je m'appelle Jacques-Pierre."

To prove it, I began calling myself Jacques-Pierre in all my classes.  I wrote it on top of my papers.  I asked the rest of my teachers to call me Jacques-Pierre in class. I corrected my poor French teacher every time she called on me using a French version of my given name.

At some point during all this, I began thinking of myself as "JP".  The next summer, I made the switch and began introducing myself as "JP".  Friends would eventually ask where it came from-- my initials don't contain either "J" or "P", and I got sick of explaining telling the story of the French class, so I started telling them it stood for "Just Perfect".  This had the side benefit of making the name gender-neutral instead of a boys' name.

As I began participating in online communities, I chose yet another name because "JP" was too short for a log-in ID.  Eventually, I concatenated them: I am now jpnadia online. So, I had three names: one for on-line, one for my friends, and one for my professional identity.

In real life, I got tired of endless explanations of why I wanted to be called JP instead of my given name.  (Also, lecture halls got bigger, and professors stopped asking for nicknames and started calling on me by my roster name, so people would learn my given name and then there would be an Argument when I asked them to call me JP.) I gave up, and most people call me my given name now.  Still, I love it that people I met when I introduced myself as "JP" still call me "JP".  It's more comfortable, for me, to have a gender-neutral name.

Secretly, I still call myself "JP" in my head most of the time.
*In sharp contrast to the characters in Are You There God? It's Me Margaret, who wanted very much to wear bras, I found them and continue to find them uncomfortable.

**In elementary school, people made fun of me for reading too much.  I didn't care: I chose to read a lot, and I could tell myself that they were making fun of me because I was smarter than them. Being teased about having hairy legs while female, however, baffled me.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dead Pajamas Become a Crafty Rag Thing

I hate throwing things out. "What if I want that someday?" I ask myself.  I have to convince myself that I'll never use/read/want/miss the thing before I get rid of it.

Last semester (my last in college), two pairs of my pajama pants died. I did not want to get rid of them.  I would wear them, pretending they didn't have giant holes down nearly the entire leg seam.  K would watch them, leg gaping open, as I worked.  "You should just throw those out," he told me, again and again.
dead pajama pants with giant hole
They were very, very dead.
I loved those pajama pants. They kept me cozy warm during long, cold winter nights in the frozen north. They comforted me (my legs, at least) as I struggled with Number Theory and cried over Advanced Calculus.*  They helped me delay laundry just one more day so I could get an assignment in on time.

I decided to make a rag rug out of it.  First, I tore the pajamas into strips that were somewhere between two and three centimeters wide.  It was not an exact science:
strips of pajama fabric
Two pairs of pajama pants, reduced to strips.
I tried a tutorial I found on Pinterest for a braided rag rug and very quickly ran out of patience: my strips were flat, not round, and it was really difficult to get them to pull tight enough to look good but loose enough to pull through the loops-- at least, without further fraying the woven pajamas.
failed attempt at braided rug
This failed.
So, I gave up on the braiding and turned to crocheting, which I've done intermittently for over a decade.

The pattern I came up with went like this:
Chain two. Single crochet in the first chain until it looks basically like a circle.  Then, starting with the first single crochet, repeat "single crochet, single crochet two in the next single crochet" until you run out of material. 
I joined each new strip by making a slip knot and pulling both that and the loose end through the stitch.
plaid slip knot
Slip knot!
It doesn't quite lay flat, and it's not rug-sized, but it is about the right size to protect the table from a huge pot of spaghetti!  So I'm calling it a success. It's organic, okay? Organic.**  And I like the colors of the mat-thing just as much as I liked the colors when it was still pajamas.
The finished rag-mat-thing.
The finished thing.  Ruler for scale.
Still, there are some things I would have done differently.

  • I would have ripped the strips more carefully to get a more uniform length instead of using the plaid pattern as a guide.
  • I avoid fiddling with the sewing machine. It turns projects into something you do on a whim, when you have time, into a Major Undertaking. Joining each of the strips was annoying enough to make me wish I'd sewn them together, though, and I would have done them.

*It's like regular Calculus, only harder.
**Calling it "organic" means that it's okay that it's lumpy, right?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Obligatory Proposal Story

This started as a post about wedding planning, and then I realized I couldn't tell the story of my present without telling the story of how we embarked on this whole "wedding" jaunt. So, I started writing the proposal story, planning to fit thoughts about wedding planning around the edges.  They didn't fit.  Apparently, you have to start at the beginning sometimes.

K proposed to me in December 2010.  I had spent the previous six months in Missouri, and he'd flown out to visit, help me pack, and drive back to the Northeast with me.  He kept texting someone while I was driving* and, when I asked what was up, he told me he was asking his dad about the weather.  Reasonable enough-- it was December, and I hate trying to page through radio stations looking for the local forecast.

We had planned to spend a few days with my family, a few days with his, and then I'd go home in time for us to spend the holidays with our respective families.  In particular, we hoped to participate in his family's tree-trimming tradition: they make margaritas and everyone takes turns hanging ornaments.  (A brilliant tradition, in my opinion.)

Trouble struck, though: his father, who works in a different state, got held up at work and couldn't make it back as soon as he had hoped.  Meanwhile, a nasty snowstorm was brewing, and, while I love my little '97 Honda Civic, no one wanted me to test its ability to drive in a blizzard.  So, I checked the weather and made the decision to head out early, missing the tree-trimming party.  I said my good-byes and opened the door to leave.

"WAIT!" said K's mother.  One does not trifle with K's mother.  I stepped back inside, closed the door, and waited as she began to rummage in her sewing room.  She emerged, beckoning to K, with a cylinder wrapped in paper featuring brightly-colored cartoon cats.  "Here," she said, plunking it into his hands.

brightly-colored wrapping paper with cartoon cats and dogs.
This isn't the same wrapping paper, but it's similar enough.
Uh-oh, I thought. The thing in K's hands was a bit larger than a baseball-- not the size of a ring box at all-- I had a bad feeling about it.  He handed it to me, and I opened it slowly, trying to delay the inevitable.

I was right. "Koala Marsupial Mammal,"** he said, using my full name, "Will you marry me?"

Speechless, I noticed that there was a piece of onion peel on the floor.  Oh no, I thought. I am going to remember this forever, and K proposed to me with a piece of onion peel on the floor. 

I think I needed some prompting. I don't quite remember, though: I was focused on the onion peel.  "Yes?" I said, trying to be happy.  The ring, according to his mother, it had belonged to her great-aunt.
picture of my engagement ring
Delicate; not flashy. Doesn't look out of place on my hand.
Hugs ensued all around, and the K and I went out for pizza to celebrate at a charming local shop where entertainment consisted of two gentlemen discussing the hours they could give a third gentleman while continuing to pay him under-the-table. K explained that he'd meant to give me the ring, disguised as an ornament, as part of the tree-trimming party that never happened. I tried not to wish he had waited or that he had found an excuse to keep me there, so I could have the prettier story.  After we ate, I called and told my mom, dropped him off, and ended up catching part of the blizzard on the drive home after all.

I then proceeded to tell as few people as possible. First off, I didn't want to call attention to myself-- it seemed rude to call people and talk about myself. Secondly, though, I wasn't quite ready to be engaged, thought I didn't tell K that.  I said "yes" because the answer wasn't "no" and I thought it would be "yes" if I just gave it some time (and I was right about that, too).  Then people started asking if we'd set a date for the wedding, and I really didn't want to tell anyone, because I got sick of saying "no, we don't know, sometime after we both graduate and have a little money set aside".  I had never thought about weddings before. Why was the wedding important? We had simply agreed to be a family together-- wasn't that the important part?

It turns out that that while agreeing to join together into a family unit is indeed the important part, it is not the only important part. These "wedding" things are pretty important, too: they mark a transition, and they bring the community of awesome people who are going to support you through the transition together for a celebration.

So, we've been engaged for nearly eighteen months, and I think we have a pretty decent idea of how we'd like the wedding to go.  We've mostly figured out what's important to us: avoiding debt, including our families, having a child-friendly event, taking enough time to actually see our guests, and avoiding a sit-down reception because we hate being rooted to a table.

We still haven't quite set a date.

Quick note of disclaimer for wedding-related posts: I would love to invite positively the entire world to my wedding. Sadly, we do not have infinity money, and K would probably be overwhelmed if the entire world showed up. So, if you don't make the guest list (if we even have a guest list) it is not because we don't love you. We just have a giant family, and that's going to impact how many other awesome people we can invite.
*We are still working on getting him his license, so his job was to keep me awake and make sure I didn't do anything stupid while merging.
**Note: not actually my full name

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Public and Private, Personal and Professional

I'm going to assume that everyone here knows the First Rule of Posting Stuff the Internet, which is that the last person you want to find a post will, eventually, find it. In accordance with this First Rule, I limit the topics I post about to things that I could explain to (a) my grandmother, (b) an employer, or (c) the police.

I got some criticism on Twitter about yesterday's post-- mostly questioning my understanding of the importance of first impressions, professionalism, and the public nature of the Internet.  Don't worry-- I get it!  Just to reiterate: in real life, first impressions count a lot, you must behave professionally at work, and everything on the Internet is public.  (Even that stuff you've got heavily locked down on Facebook, because all it takes is one friend.)

The reason I'm blogging is to try and sort out the bits of my life that I can't see clearly because I'm in the middle of living it.  I'm young and confused, and I want to make some sense out of what I'm experiencing.  The feedback I got yesterday helped me figure out what I was trying to pull out of the dream I had.

Here's the bit that I was trying to tease out yesterday and couldn't quite get: even if all of this information is publicly available on the Internet, I believe that there's a lot out there that employers* shouldn't use in making HR decisions.  Everything you post on the Internet is public, but much of it is personal, and even if employers can see it, it is still none of their business. Generally speaking, when we talk about personal, public things, we need to consider two continua: the public/private continuum and the personal/professional continuum.
Public professional things: working attire, accomplishments, interpersonal interactions.  Private professional things: compensation, HR file.  Public personal things: outfits you wear outside the house, causes you support, your family.  Personal private things: health information, anything in the bedroom.
In other words, things can be personal and public. It shouldn't impact the professional.
Specifically, my objection goes like this:

  1. Employers require that employees maintain a standard of professional conduct and productivity in the workplace.  This isn't the part that bothers me.
  2. Employers also require pre-employment background checks and ask questions about your hobbies. In an opaque hiring process, I don't know how much of a role my personal public life plays-- and this bothers me.
So, for me, my refusal to shave my hands represents my refusal to restrict the unprofessional activities I participate in during my own time but in a public space.  As long as I fulfill my professional responsibilities, an employer should not care whether I have six children or none at all. An employer shouldn't care whether I spend my weekends mentoring children or drinking alcohol.  An employer shouldn't care whether all my friends are industry professionals or meth dealers.**  Employers shouldn't care whether I shave my hands, as long as I do the work they pay me to do.

Some Objections (That Aren't Valid)

Some may point out that a company has a responsibility to screen employees to prevent PR liabilities, but if a person comports themselves with decorum during the interview process and during their professional career, it is my opinion that an employer should concern themselves more with whether or not an employee can add value to the company.

I also realize that employers do not have very many data points to inform their hiring process.  Adding irrelevant data points will not improve the quality of the hiring decisions.

Note: when I say "I think that X shouldn't Y", I do NOT mean "I think Y should be illegal".
*Grandmothers can care about your personal public life because they love you and want you to be happy. The police may care about your personal public life if you commit crimes.  I can't think of a reason why employers should care about your personal public life, unless you are using it to bad-mouth them.

**Important note: None of my friends are meth dealers.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Why I Won't Shave My Hands

A while back, a friend-of-a-friend posted the following on Facebook:
"Whenever I wear a dress or wear my hair down when it's long, everybody always gives me all these compliments. But as a sociologist, it's hard to not see "You look pretty" as "Good job at the gender conformity!" "
Apparently, the comment percolated in my head: I had a nasty dream about a week ago.  In it, I was in some kind of job counseling meeting with a woman as she took notes on a partially-obscured computer screen.  I didn't think too much of it until I glanced over and noticed she was using a special program to document my appearance.  She was busy adding thick, black hairs to the back of a cartoon hand.  There was dirt under the nails, and the nails themselves had green, moldy splotches.
hand with moldy, dirty nails and improbable black hair growing on the back
Like this.

"What are you doing?" I asked her.

"Documenting your appearance," she said.  "The hair on the back of your hands is really unprofessional for a woman. You need to shave them."

"What?" I said, flabbergasted. I frantically texted one of my female cousins to ask if this "shave your hands" deal was really a thing. The reply came back almost instantly. Yes, of course.  You don't shave yours?

I got a little bit upset.  Surely, I reasoned in my dream, my applications were not being turned down for such a small thing as the hair on the back of my hands.  "Could I please have a copy of that image?" I asked, hoping to learn what other rules of appearance I had unknowingly broken.

"No," said the woman.  She didn't bother to offer an apology.  "Until you shave your hands, I don't want to work with you."

The dream went on: I escalated the issue, and the woman's manager, who reminded me of Dolores Umbridge, also refused to give me the information until I suggested I could go to Twitter with my problem.  I woke up, half-wanting to go back to sleep so I could find out what exactly the dream woman thought was wrong with my dream self's appearance.

Some dreams are just dreams.  This one, however, highlights some things that I've had hovering around the back of my mind recently.
  1. The interview process seems really opaque and arbitrary.
  2. Appropriate work attire is gendered.  So is appropriate interview attire. I've read in a couple of places that, for interviews, women should have manicured nails.  (Men just need to trim theirs neatly.)
I really like my hands. They have long, thin fingers, and I keep my nails short. I wear an engagement ring.  I like to think my hands say something about who I am: practical, willing to work, committed, and honest.  They're useful hands.

I've gotten them manicured exactly once, for prom when I was sixteen.  I have no particular wish to change that: it costs money, and I don't have a lot of that particular commodity just at the moment. As far as I can tell, it's not relevant to my ability to do my job, so it's not something I'm going to make a habit, either.

I feel pretty much the same way about makeup and heels-- I don't do it often. So I'll wear neat hair, nice (practical) shoes, minimal makeup that I could grudgingly put on every day if I needed to.  Half of the interviews I've had have been over the 'phone; most of the rest have involved a hefty drive with nowhere to change or touch up the minor details.  

I own a pair of conservative closed-toed black shoes with a one-and-a-half inch heel.  Since they're what I can afford as a college student, they're hideously uncomfortable.  I hate them only slightly less than I love my hands.  Still, I'm willing to wear them if I need to do so to get a job.

There are a lot of masks I'm willing to slip on to please an employer.  They're not lies, just a bit of differentiation between the "me" that (for example) wakes up grouchy and the "me" that behaves pleasantly and professionally at all times. Everyone has a professional identity, and I firmly believe that an employer has no business dictating what one does in one's personal life (if it does not reduce one's ability to perform professionally). Some of the masks, however, seem to tend toward the expensive, and I still don't have that first real job yet.  Worse, I'm never sure I've understood all the rules-- how can I tailor a professional mask to suit an employer if I'm never sure what I must do to please them?