Waiting to exhale

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I spent a lot of 2014 feeling blocked.  When I started this blog in 2008, the internet was wild and free, and I could write what I wanted without thinking of a specific audience, other than what I was interested in. After we found out last year that it was not as free as we thought, I couldn’t write anything without thinking about how it would impact A) My family B) My career and, most importantly,  C) Whatever profile of me was already out there, knitted together out of hundreds of Facebook posts.  I’m a pretty private person in real life, but when I write, I want to write the truth. Instead, I was completely and utterly self-censored every time I opened a browser window, and it made me want to scream.

Not only was I self-censored in my online writing life, I was also stumbling along in real life. Sometime in 2013, I was startled to find that the world  as I understood it stopped being interesting to me. Reading books became boring. Our trip to Italy was boring.  We booked tickets to Hong Kong for the fall of 2014, and even that seemed bleak and uninviting, even though I have never been to Asia. Sitting in coffee shops for hours with Mr. B became a chore instead of a pleasure. All the colors and joy leached out of my life.

Something was missing. I knew what it was.

I wanted a baby.

Out of all the things professional women don’t talk about in public, wanting a baby is close to the top of the list.  It ruins your career, this desire, this shift in focus.  So I definitely did not talk about it online, or at work, or in the job interviews for my dream position that I was going to.

And I definitely did not talk about it with any of my family. My family (and friends) have been insistently, consistently asking us when we are going to have children since we’ve been married, a question that, to me, is as invasive as it is insulting. Telling them we were thinking about it would have started a fire I could never have stopped.

So I kept this wanting to myself and Mr. B alone. We held desperate conversations late at night about how we thought it would all play out, “what-ifs” echoing in the dark with no one else to bounce the scenarios off of.

And, I sublimated my yearning to write and my need to have a baby into other things to make sure I didn’t explode. I traveled to Montreal for work and  learned just as much about people from Berlin, Colorado, California, and Oregon as I did about Python.

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I taught a SQL class to women who have never programmed.

We went to Miami for Geriatric Spring Break.

I took hours and hours of useless MBA classes.

I tried to get my typewriter to work.

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We went to Soviet-themed restaurants in New York.

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I went out to eat with friends. I cautiously ordered enormous sushi boats, both loving and hating that I could still eat them.

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I bought hundreds of books and read them.

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I was trying to hard to live like I normally live. But during the time I was doing all of this, there was a frantic little hamster running in the cage in the back of my mind. Kids, kids, kids, it whispered. Write the truth about how you want kids. Do something about it. Do it. Do it. Do it. But I couldn’t, and so I was going insane stewing in my own introspection.

And then everything happened at once.

I got a new job. Several weeks later, I found out I was pregnant.   A week after that, I started summer classes, and a week after that I gave a talk at WordCamp Philly on the power of stories.

The irony was that I could not talk about any of this to anyone, to friends, to family, because I was afraid for my career, I was afraid of the enormous change, and most importantly, I was afraid for the health of the baby.  I read the forums. I knew what could happen.

So I waited, listlessly spending the summer in a bout of nausea, intense heat, and permanently stuck to the couch in between the work dayshift and the class nightshift. I waited in silent misery until I was finally, blessedly, halfway done.

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Then the real waiting began in earnest.  Each week of pregnancy is longer than the last, by the laws of physics, but I got up and put on my pants one leg at a time, still afraid, still hopeful. My mind trained itself to split in half. Half was always on my work and schoolwork, and half was always on what was going on inside of me, soft, squishy, nebulous, terrifying.

In between all of that, Mr. B’s grandmother was in the hospital, my grandfather had open heart surgery, and my parents moved to Philadelphia, a move they had been preparing for for several years. Remembering how miserable and lost I had been when I first moved, I threw all my remaining energy into helping them.

So now my mind was split five ways, with no outlet, stewing silently. I couldn’t make myself write about any of this, because it was so personal. Because, was it really my story to tell?

And then, suddenly, it was somehow October and my last set of classes was upon me and now November and our baby shower happened.  It’s around this time that I read just as much of The Bump forums as I did my Goodreads list. But still I couldn’t write anything.

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And now it’s December and then it was Hanukkah and then we put up the New Year tree and I finished up an important work project, and somehow 95% of the things on my baby to-do list are finished, and now we are, alarmingly, in the home stretch, and once the clock hits 12:00, finally, finally, I can start the long, anxious exhale of breath I’ve been holding since last New Year.

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But I’m releasing it very, very slowly and waiting until January 19th (hopefully sooner!) to exhale (and also find a new place to take pictures that doesn’t include my bathroom and 500 rolls of toilet paper.)

I’m looking forward to an exciting 2015 of the sheep, and hope you are, too. Happy and Healthy New Year.

Pushing to production

 

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In the IT world, large software development projects happen in stages. The first stage is a blueprint, sketched out hastily on  a whiteboard. The second stage is in development, where developers actually write the code. The third stage is integration, where the new, fresh code is blended into existing, working code to make sure there are no compatibility issues.  In integration, code can break, compatibility can break, and whole parts of software functions can be rewritten without consequence. It’s not code in the real world. It’s still on the scratch pad. The third stage is QA, quality assurance, where the software is tested even more rigorously to make sure it doesn’t break anything and that it works as it should with all the other systems the company has.

The last stage is when the code is released out into the world. At this point, the code lives in a sacred area called production. The process of releasing this code is called pushing to prod. Live code, such as what you see when you go to Amazon.com or the system your bank uses to allow you to withdraw money, is in prod.  There can’t be any mistakes in prod, and production can’t break, because real people use it to do real things.

For this reason, developers are very superstitious and protective of code going live.  One of the main superstitions, borne out of logic, is that you never push to prod on Friday, no matter what. All kinds of things can break, and no one wants to spend a weekend fixing them. Usually developers will also try not to jinx this code by talking it up or being overly optimistic about it.  They are pushing something that is warm and  live and  fragile out into the world, something that has the potential to soar or fail spectacularly in front of thousands of users.

I have been getting ready for my own push to prod. The development of a baby is much harder and much scarier than developing software, and there are many more moving parts that have to work together in order for a baby to be born, God willing, healthy. Even though it’s a process I have almost no control over, other than not eating sushi and going to the doctor when I need to, I am terrified of doing anything to compromise it.  For this reason, I am scared to post anything, either on the blog, or on Facebook, or anywhere in public where it might catch the dreaded evil eye.  Writing, taking pictures of my belly, baby showers, all have come harder for me than most of the women I see online, baring their bellies with ease, preparing nurseries, making fun gender reveal videos.

But at the same time, not writing about her seems ingenue, like I’m hiding part of my life.  Being pregnant has split me in two. One half of my mind is always on the baby,tucked safely in the back of my consciousness,  no matter what I’m doing.  I can’t do anything without thinking about the baby.  She is always there, with me, even when she is not kicking, and it seems ridiculous to think that I can nonchalantly write about a book I’m reading, a restaurant I visited, a class I’m taking, without also shouting it from the rooftops, “Oh by the way, GUESS WHAT THERE IS SOMETHING GROWING INSIDE OF ME! SHE’S 35 WEEKS OLD TODAY! BABY! BABY! BABY!”

But when I do start to write about it, I think that maybe I shouldn’t, since she will want to control her own life narrative. How much of this experience is mine, and how much is hers?  There is no answer on Google.

So I start, and then stop writing. But when I stop writing, the wolves come. The wolves are invisible, audible only to writers. When writers stop writing, they start slowly going mad because the wolves start howling, why aren’t you writing? Why aren’t you writing

I think, panicked, about all the memories that are already floating away from me, like butterflies I’ve released and have failed to capture in my writer’s net of experiences- the feeling of the roiling, unpredictable first trimester nausea, the days when I could only drink lemon water that Mr. B carefully mixed out every morning in the hot, hazy summer kitchen, the second trimester days where I felt like a tidal wave was pushing me backwards, unable to even stand from exhaustion, the current sensation of Mr. B bending down every day to gently put on the socks I can no longer reach. Every memory I don’t capture  on paper now, now, NOW,  is gone forever  – a writer’s greatest fear.

So I start writing, but then I stop again, because I run into the internet and real life. Every time I bring up pregnancy, people who have been through it have unsolicited advice, which, for some reason, makes me more irrationally angry than when people offer advice on, say, my MBA experiences, or cooking. I don’t want advice. I’m just sharing my life experiences, curating them, pinning them down and putting them on pins under glass.  It’s something I’ve always been doing and can’t stop, because then the wolves come.

So  for now, I work on essays about pregnancy in private, in ink, in development, away from production, because I still want to remember this strange, wonderful, terrible experience before it floats away from my memory, this fragile, when I spend my days exhausted, waddling, frustrated with anticipation,  and my nights tossing and turning to get comfortable on the three pillows that now occupy my side of the bed.

I’m almost nine months pregnant, and it’s the night before the big push to prod.  And then we’ll see what happens.

Why does American radio suck so much?

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Every time I start driving to get to work, I get progressively angrier. Thankfully, this time my new job’s only 25 minutes away, but that’s 25 minutes of either radio or audiobooks. I love both audiobooks and public radio, and would highly recommend both to anyone doing a commute, but sometimes I get tired of  NPR gently telling me that global warming, racism,  ISIS and gluten-intolerance are all my fault,  and I  just want to listen to music.

The problem with American music stations is they SUCK. There is no other word for it. Which is why, when I’m at home, I usually listen to European radio. But it seems unfair that the American listening public is subjected to the same 20-not even 40-songs over and over again, and even those songs are all the same.

Every day as I drive, I wonder in rage, not about measles outbreaks or genetically-modified vegetables, but why the hell the American public is ok with shitty radio.

I did a little digging, and aside from the fact that the American music industry is completely messed up, I was surprised to find that I’m the key demographic for this bullshit:

The Top40 format is generally targeted toward Women 18-34 years old. So, if you don’t fit into that life-group, you’re not likely to be interested in a lot of the music we play on those stations. Of course, Top 40 attempts to reach a broader audience as well including Men and most target teens/college students at night….Women 18-34 are our bread and butter there.

These women are generally very busy. Often they’re trying to balance career, kids, appointments, etc. They’re in the car a lot but for relatively short periods of time. In order to keep their interest, we try to keep things very fast paced content-wise. We’re also doing our best to make sure that as soon as they turn on our station, they’re going to hear a very popular hit song. We don’t waste time with a lot of “filler” on these stations. Thus, most of the music you’ll hear is relatively new – released within the last two years or so. The DJs keep their breaks quick. We know we don’t have a lot of time to reel in these women.

So basically I am listening to the music that’s targeted directly to me.  And I have to say I hate it, for the exact same reasons that Jia Tolentino rages against it in this Hairpin piece on the newest terrible American song, “Rude”:

The first time I heard “Rude” I thought it was a 1-800-411-PAIN ad, because Detroit radio is currently running one that sounds sort of like a more palatable version of “Rude.” The next couple of times I had the sort of physical reaction I associate with suddenly coming in contact with bees; before my mind could process what was happening, I pawed at my radio dial quickly, ahhh, get it away!

Get it away from me, and by it I mean mindless American radio. I suppose I could subscribe to Pandora or Spotify or play Grooveshark mobile, but that defies the whole point of this rant which is that I’m a music snob and all 50 million or howevermany 18-34 women there are should listen to the stuff I listen to, which is all this stuff. Get on it, radio stations.

NPR, if you’re listening, maybe you can throw some of this in between alarmist reports of ebola or farming bluefin tuna. Or better yet, instead of.

Don’t pageclick on this

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In the pre-industrial age, the most valuable commodity was time. Would you have enough time to plant a harvest? Were there enough hours in the day before the sun set and the candles needed to be lit?  People spent days and years making things-watches, dresses, meals, cathedrals. John Donne wrote whole poems about how the sun decided the day.

 BUSY old fool, unruly Sun, 
        Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ? 
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ? 
        Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide 
        Late school-boys and sour prentices, 
    Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride, 
    Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime, 
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time. 

In the YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU CLICK THIS LINK age, despite what millions of frantic lifehack articles tell us, we have enough time to do everything we want. We only don’t because we make our own lives harder by filling them with modern fluff (soccer practice for kids (paywall) and networking for adults are two that come to mind ) because we need to monopolize the time we’re not using to seem busier and more valuable.

Idleness has always been a negative trait. If you weren’t planting fields, it meant you wouldn’t eat. But we can get food whenever we want, so today’s idleness in the Western world is superficial, and because we are scared of death.  We need to be occupied by whatever we deem most important to us not because it’s essential for life, but because of our ego.

Today’s most valuable commodity is attention. Seth Godin, who writes some gimmicky stuff but also some gems,  wrote recently, “There’s a gold rush for attention going on. We are all in the media business.”  I’ve written before about how much I hate the current shape of the mainstream media, an issue that impacts most people who live on the internet and let the internet shape their world views.

A couple weeks ago at WordCamp Philly, I talked for 45 minutes about how SEO, Twitter, and Buzzfeed are ruining good quality writing, and that if you really care about writing well, you should be writing consistently good content about things you care about because you’re passionate about them, not because you want to whore yourself out for pageclicks.

I begged people who were starting blogs not to care about making money, to write good, interesting things, and that, possibly,  money might follow. I told them to write about how they grew their tomato plants or about the house they built for their cats, or about how they lived in Germany ten years ago. As long as they were interested in the topic, their sincere interest would shine through, and eventually, others would pick up on it.  At the end of my talk, a man raised his hand and asked, “But you can make money off blogs, right?”

Pageviews are ruining the way we understand and process news, the same way that live CNN feeds ruined it 20 years ago.

Readers’ interests are to get as much of the story as possible, from different perspectives, written by people who truly care about reporting. The business side of the magazine is interested in pushing out sensational, stupid stories, the kind I see in my Facebook feed every morning, with increasing regularity, now that Ukraine and Israel/Gaza are heating up.  The more comments and shares a post gets, the better it is. The more people click on it, even better.

By the way, the best things so far I have read on Ukraine and Gaza in the English-speaking Internet don’t come from traditionally mainstream sites. Here’s Ukraine, and here’s Gaza.

I’m posting a specific example, not to pick on people who have posted it (at least two or three in my timeline, either because they agree or disagree with it…I have no idea, I didn’t click on it), but because this exemplifies exactly the type of shit I’m angry about. Sensational image, misleading headline, all encouraging you to CLICK CLICK CLICK.

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These are fun to flip through on the train or in minutes you have spare time, but really all they do is stress you out, make you angrier, and worst of all,  lead to colossal misunderstandings of how the world works. I have to read at least five different sources to corroborate Israeli and Palestinian claims, and not because the issue is so complicated, which it is, but because journalists are plain lazy and editors need pageclicks faster and faster.

As a news consumer, I am just plain exhausted. I refuse to click on anything from BuzzFeed, Upworthy, or any of those stupid viral sites.

We are only solving this problem very slowly. The latest solution has been to start a hipster data journalism site. As of last count, I know of at least four: The Upshot from the New York Times, FiveThirtyEight, Vox.com, and the Washington Post just launched one last week whose name I can’t remember because I don’t care. These sites try, but they don’t do much better. For example, Nate Silver is currently writing about burritos.

The only solution is to write good shit, to hire people who genuinely care about writing good shit, and most importantly, make money doing that. Oh, and don’t forget getting people to read your content.   It takes time to build up credibility, too.

There’s no way around these things, and that’s why it’s so hard. Building a good media source could take just as long, maybe, as building a cathedral or growing a tree.

I can never go back to real life

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When my classes end for the summer, I always quip to people that I’m on summer vacation because the only thing I’ll have to do now is go to work 9-5, and then have five blissful hours of freedom in the evenings.

I’ll think to myself that it’s not a true vacation unless you’re doing absolutely nothing, like you used to do in the summer before school started, but then I remember back to my summers in middle and high school. They were filled with summer work: English books to read, history essays to write, current events to synthesize.

We would get the work on the last day of school, or during the first hazy days in July, a package would come in the mail, the dreaded assignments. No matter how I tried to finish them ahead of time, there I would be, the last couple weeks of August, frantically writing, terrified I wouldn’t get an A and be off to a bad start with my new teacher.

This past summer semester was my hardest one in school  yet: I started a new job almost exactly at the same time as three classes started, and I signed myself up to give at talk at Philly WordCamp in the middle of the month. As a result, my June was hell.

These days, I truly am doing nothing.  Or, I’m only do things that aren’t annoying: as you can tell, I’m not blogging, I haven’t picked up my novel since last week.

I have no commitments other than to my friends and family.

I come home, maybe make some dinner, maybe eat some watermelon. Maybe Mr. B and I go for a nice long walk around the neighborhood, maybe we watch some bad Russian tv.  Maybe I eat a popsicle.

My calendar is clear of any school/teaching/tech obligations until late August.

I lay on the couch and read books. I’ve already finished The Luminaries and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.  I start long, thoughtful, angry, poignant blog posts and don’t finish them.  I start short tweets that have jokes and don’t tweet them.

Sometimes I get manicures.

Sometimes I just open the windows and smell the sweet grass Mr. B is mowing.

I have never been this unbusy in my entire life.

And it’s scary how good it feels.