February 22, 2015
As of last week, the five-week challenge organized by my good friend Jane is over. As a reminder, here's what I put myself up to and what was at stake, in reverse order:
- $100 (to lose)
- shame (to gain)
- Make a real meal at least once a week
- Post at least one blog post a week
- Move my body at least 20 minutes in a go, at least four times a week, with at least one of those sessions being yoga
Sounds like not much, probably. But, as I think I said before, I was going from nothing to something, and my goal was to establish some norms. Overall, I think it worked. And I'm glad.
Since the end of the challenge, one week ago, I've only continued with the blog posts, unfortunately. But I swear I'm going to get back on the wagon.
Jane asked us at the end of the challenge what was good about it and what was difficult. Here are my thoughts.
The power of peer networks
Jane didn't just pull the challenge structure out of thin air. She likes learning about what makes for effective goals, so it's no accident that there was money on the line and social pressure. The money at stake—not gaining $100, but potentially losing it—kept me feeling there was something tangible to keep me on track. It was, of course, on the honor system, but I assumed my peers weren't lying, and I wasn't going to either. And, ultimately, like the saying went in junior high, by cheating I would only be cheating myself. I was in this challenge because I wanted to be, and I knew I had something to gain from it. And I also knew that if I dropped out for no good reason, I would look bad. Peers. Accountability.
I liked knowing that I could do these simple things—cooking, writing, exercising. And I *really* liked making them a priority. These challenges helped shift my work-first mentality from last year to a healthier mentality balanced between work in work time and self-directed activities outside that time. These challenges actually gave me permission to live outside work. And to prioritize these things that I had identified as important, even over social activities. It helped me to realize that, as much as I love people, I really am a homebody in many ways. This is why I often don't reach out to people, and make them instead reach out to me (sorry, people). It's awesome to be alone. And it's awesome to know I can make things happen (cook, write, exercise) on my own.
I didn't even realize that last part until now. The challenge was empowering. Both because I was the one directing my time and making these things happen, and also because I got the positive reinforcement that comes with meeting goals.
Go ahead. Do it. Make yourself a small goal. Do it now.
Now complete it.
Feels good, right?
In my rougher days, I would make very detailed lists of very simple tasks and rejoice in each one completed. Make breakfast. Check! Eat breakfast. Did it! Take a shower. Okay, shower good. Get dressed. Bam! I'm a person. See what we can do for ourselves? Those of us who can do these things for ourselves, anyway? What a luxury. Take a moment to think of three things that you can do for yourself that you can rejoice in.
What I wouldn't do anyway
I wouldn't have cooked every week if not for the challenge. I wouldn't have gone to the gym to just hop on the bike. I wouldn't have written about half of the blog entries. I wouldn't have done yoga in my living room. Having the challenge was enough to get me to do these things, to think about them and plan for them. And it wasn't hard. It just took a switch. And I loved that.
The tough side
It's hard to motivate when you're sick. I was sick for an entire week. I was very glad Jane helped me make my goals more general to be attainable in case I traveled, because that also made them attainable while I was sick. For three nights, I did a 20-minute session of bedtime yoga I found on YouTube. The first night I did it on the floor in my living room and didn't even rock side to side in happy baby pose because it hurt too much. The next two nights I did it in bed. It seemed like cheating, but it at least got me in my body, in a positive and gentle way.
I was also challenged with the meal-making in that I made recipes that yielded about eight servings and had issues with leftovers. I would have to make another meal before I'd run out of the last one. Still, it got me working on a system that will save money and facilitate dinners, and lunches too. I bought some more freezer containers and I'll probably need to go for another batch. Then if I can refine just a bit how to plan the meals such that I get diversity in my food I should be good to save money and eat well.
A word on the others
I won't out everyone else on their goals, but glancing over this I think I make it sound like I was in it alone even though I talk about the importance of being in it with other people, so I want to add a few words on the other challengers. Everyone set significant challenges for themselves, and stepped up to them. People drank less alcohol, spent less money, worked on publications, exercised a lot, and cut sugar out of their diets. Two people noted that they found it easier to comply with the elimination goals (like no sugar) than the action goals. (On that note... anyone giving anything up for lent?) One of the things I really appreciated about this challenge is how people commented on Jane's master accountability spreadsheet, to encourage each other. We got to see how and what other people were doing, and cheer each other on.
I wasn't looking forward to the end of the challenge. What will keep me motivated to do these things I've started doing? What will get me to step them up? That said, I do feel like by setting the precedents I did that I will keep doing what I want to do, and add to it.
I actually gained weight rather than losing it, which was a bit disappointing even though weight loss wasn't a specific goal. I think I need to pay more attention for a while to my intake and learn what is and isn't healthy, and how to balance the types of food I eat with the types of exercise I like to do. This is a big puzzle to me. I'm picky about exercise and not picky about food. Hmmm, another revelation.... Feel free to quote me on that.
February 20, 2015
Sea of Glory: A Book Review
I finally finished reading "Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842" by Nathaniel Philbrick. I say finally because, yes, it took me a long time, but not because it was drudgery. Yes, it's non-fiction, and yes, it's a little bit of a slog, but it's also fascinating. Partly because my coworker, Lou, who lent it to me, told me that it's about a little-remembered expedition that was primarily responsible for the Smithsonian collection.
As it turns out, the expedition's haul doesn't make up the majority of the Smithsonian's collection, as I'd been telling people while reading the book (they don't talk about that part until the end) (sorry for the spoiler), but only about 1/5th. Still—1/5th. It's a lot. And it sounds like it's arguably the impetus for the Smithsonian being what it is today.
Other interesting things about the four-year expedition, led by Charles Wilkes:
- They mapped 1,500 miles of Antarctic coastline, basically confirming (without much credit) that it is indeed a continent.
- One of the things the author keeps coming back to that the expedition brought back was Fijian war clubs. Presumably because many were thrown at the crew.
- They charted 100 miles of the Columbia river and sent overland expeditions across the Cascades and down to San Francisco. This wasn't even really talked about in the book, beyond a mention. They mapped out San Francisco Bay. One of the scientists seemingly obsessively or lovingly documented languages.
- The famous geologist James Dana (whom I didn't know about—sorry, not much of a history buff, getting better) basically confirmed Darwin's ideas about how atolls form and made some nice proto-plate tectonics observations in Hawaii. I make his work seem quaint. He's was a powerhouse who made all sorts of natural history observations both inside and outside his field, and on the expedition he was still quite young.
- A lot can happen in four years and it's really hard to get a feel for it from a single book.
Overall, the book was very interesting, especially since I learned a few things about places I'd been. The Antarctica bits were particularly interesting. I didn't know that Palmer Station and the research vessel and icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer were named for the American sealer whom maybe first sailed along the Antarctic Peninsula, before anyone knew it was connected to a continent. Also, Weddell seals (fat, blobby masses of fat and fur) are named for... someone who killed them, British sealer James Weddell. As my cousin Susan pointed out, Weddell's long gone and the seals live on. So there's that.
The book was dense with information, but easily digestible information. I like that. Philbrick would leave cliffhangers at the end of chapters, keeping me turning pages. What I was a bit perplexed by as the book wore on though is that I learned quite a bit about the expedition and about exploration and trade (the expedition was spurred by the need for better charts for Americans exploiting foreign waters—a phrase the author never uses, but is the frank description: seals, whales, otters, sea cucumbers) I didn't get a good feel for the experience. The six ships sailed through extremely treacherous waters, barely making it through getting crunched by icebergs and getting tossed about by huge seas, almost crashing against rocks and cliffs and requiring long, hard, exhausting work and expert maneuvers to extricate themselves from these near misses. I got this from the text—they did hard things. But I didn't feel it. I don't know what it was like. I don't know ships, and maybe this is part of it. Ordeals were explained, but the closest I felt to being there was standing on the beach at Malolo, Fiji, watching two key crew-members get killed. Perhaps this is because the author had more "emotional information" on this event—people writing about what they saw and felt in their journals about an event that lasted maybe moments rather than hours. I knew those two men on the beach, and I watched them die. I saw their bodies in the water. It's worth noting that I didn't see anyone else's bodies, though—I didn't see the bodies of the multiple Fijians that died on the same beach, but without their friends journaling about it afterward.
Still, overall, the book was worth it. I do wonder at the value of reading books like this. How much will I retain? Is it worth the hours I spent with it? Is it enough just to light up the portions of my brain that engage in the act of reading? Will I retain an impression of the voyage that will somehow serve me, if not the details?
One thing about the book that provides major food for thought is its tale of leadership, which is really what the book is about. Charles Wilkes as a leader. Charles Wilkes as a person. How to lead, how not to lead. It's easy to say that Wilkes was a horrible leader. He was elitist, mean, insecure, rash, painfully egotistical, and often unreasonable. No one whom I would want to share space with. But as Lou, my book-lending coworker, pointed out, the expedition may not have been as successful under different leadership. Wilkes was anal, focused, and belligerent, including after the expedition when it came to producing results and keeping the collections together.
Still, I always like to believe there is a way to be a good, kind, successful, productive leader. I don't think belligerence and kindness are mutually exclusive.
Either way... Now, with my new-found understanding of 16 chapters of history, I can move on to those volcano books that have been calling to me. Island on Fire, wait, I'm coming!
February 13, 2015
I got three books today that I'm very excited about. (Okay, I got one of them yesterday.) I decided it's volcano season (now through May) and I'm going to read up. Why now? Two pressing reasons: Alex Witze gave me a copy of her new book, "Island on Fire," which she co-wrote with her husband, Jeff Kanipe, and the plan is to interview them about it on a radio show at the end of March. It's about the eruption of Laki in Iceland in 1783, which... well, here are the words from The Economist on the book's cover: "The eruption sparked the first sustained interest in climate science. But the overwhelming impression is that volcanoes have brought regional disaster, with global effects." Okay, I'm intrigued.
The other books are also volcano books. The first one I threw in the cart was "Mount St. Helens: The Eruption and Recovery of a Volcano," by Rob Carson. I justified it because I'm going to be doing some outreach at and about Mount St. Helens in May, and I know some about the volcano but it certainly wouldn't hurt to know more. I expected it to be a regular-sized book, but it's a big, magazine-sized one with glossy color pictures. At first I thought, "Shoot, I never read these kinds of books." But then I started getting sucked in by those pictures. I think it's going to be rad.
The third book is "Volcanoes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Major Eruptions," by Jelle Zeilinga de Boer and Donald Theodore Sanders. This one is mainly because people expect me to know everything about volcanoes since I've studied them, but I don't. Not even close. So I figured it wouldn't hurt to learn a little more, plus volcanoes+people is what I've always been most interested in. At a glance, the book looks like a fun, engaging, pretty quick read. If I like it, I'll move on to their earthquakes book next.
I put a call out to Facebook the other day to ask about recommendations for good volcano books. This is what came up:
"The Volcano Lover" by Susan Sontag, recommended by Dennis Geist and Alex Witze
"No Apparent Danger" by Victoria Bruce, recommended by Nathan Becker and Alex Witze
"Melting the Earth" by Haraldur Sigurdsson, recommended by Alex Witze
"The Last Days of St. Pierre: The Volcanic Disaster That Claimed 30,000 Lives" by Ernest Zebrowski, recommended by Heather Wright
and, perhaps most importantly, Nancy Trigg said, "It's not a book exactly, but there was this awesome episode of the Brady Bunch..."
Nancy, is it this one?
Speaking of which, one of our staff told me yesterday that her daughter's teacher, for their kindergarten science projects, told the class there could be only one volcano. Her daughter wasn't quick enough to get her hand up. I love it. The go-to volcano science project was so popular that they made a rule about it. It's like no Skynyrd in a guitar shop. Or, apparently, no Defying Gravity (a song from Wicked) in auditions. Except that they do allow one volcano. For an 8th grade science fair project, my friend Shannon and I made a model of Pangea. It was her idea. I was at a loss. I wasn't really into the science fair. It was one of the first cases I can remember of "good enough." I had no interest in being an overachiever (until I saw my peers' overachieving and got envious, but that didn't happen until the science fair itself). I just wanted to get it done. I wasn't that interested in science. And it showed—it was highly mediocre. What's more, not only was I not interested in the idea of Pangea, but it actually terrified me. It fed into my fear of infinity, the unknown, that which I have not and could not experience. Really, I guess it was a fear of things the indicated that I am not important. I mean, there was all that time before me, before all of us, when the world looked completely different than it does today. I think it probably indicated that there isn't intentionality in the way the world is today. And then, if there's not, where do I fit in?
And there you go. I had no idea I was going to get existential.
I'm excited to read volcano books. But first, I need to finish my current read: Sea of Glory. Will let you know about it when I'm done.
February 5, 2015
Why I Love Science Communication
In case it isn't clear, I've moved slowly over time from science to science support to science communication. I love all of it. But I especially love communication.
Someone whom I now work with once asked me why I switched into communication. I gave an answer that made it sound like I was disillusioned by my master's or couldn't hack it. I could put it that way, saying I was exhausted and frustrated at the end of my master's and not ready for a PhD, or that I'm just not that great at math, or that I'm not inspired by power systems, and some of all of that is true. But it's also true that I really, really love communication. So why fight it?
And I don't think communication is a cop-out in the least. Communication has beautiful challenges. It's a constant game of strategy and problem solving, taking information and figuring out how to best express it. And there's no one right answer. As far as we'll know, there's not even a best answer. You can't apply a model and solve for it. You just have to go. Think about your audience. How to 1) reach them, 2) connect with them, 3) motivate them, if that's what you're trying to do. I get to deal in the realm of information and people.
I took a science writing class a few years ago in journalism grad school. About half the students were in journalism, the other half in science or engineering. I ran into one of the engineering students after the semester was over and asked what he thought of the class. It was okay, he said, but I'm going to stick to engineering. He'd like to make a change in the world, he said, and he'd rather do it than talk about it.
Sure. I get it. But no need to be condescending about it. Because if no one's talking about what you're doing, good luck making a change in the world. If you can do the talking yourself, great. I know many scientists who are also great communicators. In fact, I think the trend of scientist communicators is increasing. The National Science Foundation now puts emphasis on broadening the impact of research they fund, whether it's through educational programs, informing policy decisions, or enhancing national security. Major meetings the the annual Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the largest meeting of Earth scientists in the world, host sessions and workshops on science communication (I'm hoping to teach one this year). People like glaciologist Allen Pope, here in Boulder, find time to tweet about their research while working on their PhDs (find Allen at @PopePolar). Volcanologist Jessica Ball writes a blog for AGU called Magma Cum Laude. My friend the glaciologist PhD candidate Gifford Wong, whom I met aeons ago in Antarctica, teaches scientists to communicate using skills learned through improv. (I'm hoping to learn to do that myself. Seriously.... fun!)
But there are still folks who either aren't so interested in or adept at the communications side, and I like to think that for those people, in particular, there are people like me. Who LOVE to communicate, especially to the public. Mi excitement es tu excitement. And, as it so happens, I love to teach. I love to teach scientists to better communicate. Which means I have to learn the tips and tricks, and then how to teach them. This is the kind of stuff I love thinking about it the shower.
In talking about doing a PhD, a friend asked me a few years ago what I think about as I go to bed at night, or as I wake up in the morning. This is what I think about: How to communicate.
February 1, 2015
Back in Time: The Channel Islands
I just finally posted some pics from a short trip to the Channel Islands that I've been meaning to get up for... we'll just say a while now. I back-posted them to show up when I actually went. Check 'em out:
January 25, 2015
So far so good on goals, in terms of reaching them *technically*, but I'd like to do better. For example, here it is Saturday night at 11:40 pm and I need to have a blog post up within the next 20 minutes. What's more, I don't know that my batteries will last that long, and I conveniently left the power cord at work.
But I did make a big pot of chicken curry today, so I'm on track for cooking. And I spent 20 minutes on the bike at the gym reading Switch.
Who has read "Switch"?
It's a book about change, and change-making. On a personal level, on an organizational level, on a societal level. One of the premises: Change is hard. Or, it can be. One of the reasons change is hard: Making decisions takes energy. (Studies show!) If we don't know *how* to change, if we don't know what to do, it's hard to get there. Because before we can even do it, we need to figure out what it is.
Man, does this ring true. If we give ourselves a clear path, and a why, we're much better able to reach those goals. I want to make an impact on this world. But what does that mean? It's so very vague. It takes energy to figure out what that is. I have this feeling that once I figure it out, I can do it. It's the figuring out that feels like the hard part.
They also (two authors) talk about analysis paralysis. Not that I'd have any experience with that. But what they said, had I ever had that experience, makes sense. It takes energy to make decisions. If we give ourselves fewer decisions or, and this one's huge for me, we give ourselves *guidelines* on how to make those decisions, we facilitate the whole process. We keep things moving forward.
That last part really struck a chord for me. I've lamented to myself for years that I just don't have a clear framework anymore for much of my life. I don't have a financial framework (when I had less money, my framework was clearer), I don't have a values framework (easier when I went by religious teachings, and then everything was somewhat up in the air for a while), and I don't have a general life framework (having a full-time job with externally determined goals helps with that, and I struggled with lack of structure when I didn't). How do I prioritize my time? What matters? Is it okay to spend money to change a plane ticket? How much is okay to spend? There are no clear guidelines for these choices, and once guidelines are in place these decisions are easier to make. Boundaries. And those boundaries can absolutely be determined by the individual. So, I think it's time to be thinking about some rules for myself. As I said, I've thought about this quite a bit in the past--or lamented, rather, as I put it--but reading about this in the book affirmed my idea that it's easier to live within a framework. And not necessarily easy in a bad way. So, new goal: Build a personal framework.
I'll get out my hammer and nails tomorrow.
January 18, 2015
Some Weekend Thoughts on Chick Science Lit (Sort of)
My goodness. I have a lot that I want to write about. But time is short right now, and I'm afraid it's going to keep getting shorter. I've had this nice, quiet lead in for the new year, where the office was quiet and I was actually laying some groundwork for projects rather than just responding to things coming up and was leaving work at a reasonable hour and having the evenings for what I wanted my evenings for and was feeling somewhat organized. At least, like I was moving toward being more organized. And that's not all changed, but I do have the feeling that things are starting to pick up at work. The more things I have to do, the more scattered I feel, and the less time I feel I have to spend on any one thing, and the less engaged or accomplished I feel. I'm sure this is a *completely* unusual work complaint. I'm pretty sure I've never heard it before.
I also kept forgetting until yesterday that this is a three-day weekend. So, there's still time for organizing, writing, and doing. I have a few back-entries on the burner I'd like to get up: One on the Channel Islands, one on Washington, D.C., and one on Mount St. Helens. Plus, there's a book I'd like to write.
This is what I decided last week about writing a book:
I'd like to write the book I'd like to write.
Duh, right? But...
I spend a lot of time thinking about the book(s) I *should* write. I should strategize, so that I use the content as effectively as possible. Do I write a book about volcanoes and tectonics and adventures of the Philippines, and a separate one about GPS field stories in general, and a separate one about... whatever? Do I write a book about the history of GPS as it's been used in Earth science, which I started in on interviews for before I took this job?
And then I thought, why don't I just start writing. Because *a* book would be better than *no* book, even if after the fact I realize I could have saved some of the content for a different book. And I just can't get excited about the GPS history book. Besides, someone else is writing one that's kind of similar. I'm just not that into the technology. And I like to speak from experience. So, I think I'll just write my own book. About volcanoes and hot weather and cold weather and good food and bad food and stray animals and serenading MCs and bruises and cuts and snowmobiles and helicopters and bogs and women and men and enormous frogs and tiny scorpions and what the journey's been like from my perspective. I know other people who have traveled more or more recently, have had crazier adventures, know the science better, know the engineering better, have more letters after their names. are more connected or older or younger or whatever. But, I may as well do it. I may as well write my version.
Around that same time, I was thinking, what if it's a chick book? What if it's a chick science book? Because I'm, you know, female, and it's all from my perspective, and I could sanitize it and take out all the bits that distinguish me as a woman--the romance-y bits, or the I'm-conflicted-about-my-role-in-this-situation-based-on-gender bits--but then it would have to be less personal, and that's just not as fun--but also just not as real. So what if it ends up being a chick science book? Would it be that gender-heavy? I don't know. I think my 19-year-old self would definitely not approve, if it was. But I think I was still more concerned with proving that women were (and especially that I was) worth taking seriously. Which meant taking gender out and having it--whatever it was--be either masculine or gender free. I'm not 19 anymore. Maybe it's okay to write a book from not only a person's perspective, but the perspective of a person who is a communicator with some science background who likes a lot of different stuff who is also female. And it's okay if all of these things matter. And it's okay to get started on whatever it is and see what works and what doesn't. What it is and what it isn't. I realized it's okay to not know right off, and see how the writing unfolds.
For what it's worth, I think Tom Horn (is he still out there?) would like it.
January 7, 2015
New Year 2015
Happy New Year!
I know, it's already almost a week in. But I'm saying it now. Happy New Year.
This year, I'm focused on goals. Hopefully not obsessively, but in a healthy "Wow, I'd really like to get my poop together" sort of way. I have a long list of goals and food for thought, but the ones I want to share here have to do with nuggets I stored up over the holidays. I probably won't do them justice because I've already switched back to work mode, I'm caffeinated, and I only have a half an hour until I head out to go climbing (part of one of my goals), but I'll try anyway.
First, one of my goals is to post a blog entry each week through February 13. Thanks go to my friend Jane for organizing a beginning-of-the-year challenge. We get to pick our goals, put $100 into a pot, and either get it back or surrender it depending on whether we stick to our plan. My plan: post one blog entry a week (already stated), cook one real meal a week (the type that has lots of leftovers), and move my body for at least 20 minutes at least four times a week, with at least two of those times being yoga. It may all sound simple, but I'm going from zero to something, so I'm feeling pretty good about it. A bonus is sitting for five minutes a day in meditation five days a week. So far, starting on Sunday: One yoga, made coconut shrimp, three sits, and I'm going climbing tonight. And this.
There's so much really that I want to write about. (And thank you for emphasizing that, caffeine.) (I considered giving up caffeine but decided against. I did give up solitaire on my phone, which is hard enough.) But this is what I've been wanting to write about for the past couple weeks.
I went home for the holidays. It's not unusual. But this time, I was particularly fixated on goals, on mantras, on perspectives on life. On reflecting on the past and on looking toward the future. I was rewarded with some great insights from the people I spent time with. Thanks, everyone.
A special thanks right now to Elizabeth Shier. Her advice for her friends these days: Do what you can, with what you've got, right now. (I think I'm getting that right.) AND, in conjunction with that, No excuses. This blog entry is dedicated to her.
Be appreciative. From Julie Grundberg, who is working for Doctors Without Borders and described her experience working and living across the street from a refugee camp in South Sudan. I love being able to eat, drink, sleep comfortably, and have access to health care facilities, let alone everything else I get to do and be from there. Basic needs = met. The group of us who got together on a houseboat in Portland over a weekend were able to talk philosophy, life directions, choices and art and other things we get to worry about since we have what we need. I wasn't the one to point this out, but I can certainly appreciate it.
Learn to live with less. From Rebecca Ricards, who shared that one of the beautiful things she's learned over the past several years, as she's purged and consolidated to spend stints overseas also working with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is that she can live with few possessions. And that it's liberating. She said she'd heard or read (I can't remember the source) that everything we have takes time and energy. If that's how we want to spend our time and energy, great, so long as we're aware of that. I have so much stuff. And it takes me time and energy, at the very least every time I move. On a more constant basis, the extra shampoo and conditioner bottles in my shower serve as just that much more of a barrier to me motivating to clean it. So, one of my goals is to organize, and purge. I'm going to use up the extra products, for example, so I can keep it simple. Sounds silly, but it's just an example.
Don't make plans around others. From Aaron Bartel, my brother. I stress about being in the right place at the right time and about doing right by the people around me. He empowered me to make some plans of my own rather than waiting for things to fall into place around me. Thanks, bro.
Find the orchids in the onions. From Todd Peterson. One night on the houseboat we took turns sharing a high spot and a low spot from our lives in the past seven years (the amount of time it had been since a lot of us had seen each other). Our orchids and our onions. Todd shared about breaking his back, and his response to that. Which seemed like an onion. Until he said it was his orchid. Because that experience made him realize how fragile we are, how close he came to paralysis, how much of what we have in life we take for granted. This gets back to the be appreciative bit, but also was a great lesson in making the best of things, and not only that but really finding the gift in hardship. I could learn a lot from Todd. (I'll work on it. Maybe I'll sit with that tomorrow....)
Be a giver. From Elizabeth Shier and others, by example. Elizabeth was cleaning while I was cozied into the couch enjoying conversation. It was okay that I was cozied into the couch enjoying conversation, but I also want to be a contributor, in life in general but also on the small scale of sharing a houseboat for a weekend. I'm not always good at that--at being the one who works to take care of a camp or a home--and I'd like to be better. I'd like to be the type of person people want around at events like that because I help make the wheels turn.
Work to help others. From Julie Grundberg, by example. She's working for Doctors Without Borders, for goodness sake. She's found her niche, and I'm terribly happy for her. She's working logistics to get aid to the people who most need it.
Be confident. From multiple friends, by example. I love to see confidence. It inspires me. Not overconfidence, not false confidence, but lack of self-consciousness. The feeling of accepting self. It's a powerful and beautiful thing.
[Part of the crew I spent two nights with over the holidays. Friends from Antarctica. For context... the last time I went down was ten seasons ago. (Yikes!) And it's nice to know I still have good friends from it. This is an amazing and fun group of people. Or maybe just an amazingly fun group of people.]
Hope your year came in gently and happily and that this is a good one for you.
November 24, 2014
Okay, I'm going to weigh in on this #shirtstorm thing. I've been fortunate enough to miss much of the coverage and complaints, but wanted to put in my two cents on a few things that I haven't seen directly commented on yet.
No, the shirt-wearer shouldn't get fired, and no, people who spoke out about the shirt shouldn't die over it. Extremist views in this case are, as with most things, just that—extreme. And they probably only represent a small (vocal) minority of the population. I think we should mainly be concerned with the broad grey area between the extremes. In this area lies people who think maybe this shirt isn't a big deal, and don't understand the big fuss, but maybe only because they haven't seen the subtleties in this case and will probably be open to them when presented with a different perspective. So, here's mine.
2) It's just a shirt.
I've seen a few good pieces talking about how this didn't happen in a vacuum, so I don't need to go into the "right, maybe it's just a shirt, but it does send a message and these things add up." Check out Phil Plait's Slate piece about Casual Sexism.
But there are still few points I wanted to make here:
- If you're a man, you may not be able to imagine how this imagery would affect you in the workplace as a woman. Ask a few female friends how they feel about it. Have a conversation. Make sure you and they see the shirt up close enough to see what's actually on it.
- Try picturing the shirt as being worn by a woman, or a shirt of sexualized, scantily clad men being worn by a woman, or by this same man, and see if you feel differently about it. Try picturing the man wearing a shirt patterned with dogs humping. Professional? Why not? In the workplace, would it make you uncomfortable? What if your daughter was working with him (or whomever)?
- I really think this kind of imagery and message affects us subconsciously, so even if you think it's no big deal, it may be sending messages that you're unaware of. Not that it's hocus-pocus, but it sends messages that you just may not be aware that you or other people seeing the imagery are processing. So on the surface, even if the shirt (or similar imagery in the workplace or, for that matter, in public) seems benign, it may be affecting us in ways we're not measuring. And yes, this stuff does add up.
3) Equal does not mean the same.
We're all different. I mentioned a few posts back when talking about the *lack* of imagery of women in science that I was particularly attracted to geology because it was male dominated. There are a few reasons for this. Ego has something to do with it, but, tied to that, so does breaking stereotypes. I saw myself as kind of a stereotype superhero, chinking away at these societally held beliefs that women weren't strong or capable or rugged—bam! bam! bam! But.... not everyone is like me. And that's not to glorify myself, it's to say that if we want to get women of all types into STEM fields, and into leadership positions across the workplace world, we can't just assume that these jabs are going to make women more adamant about taking this guy's job, as a friend of mine suggested. Some, they will. But we'll also lose some to this stuff. Maybe even most.
4) It's not about the shirt.
#shirtstorm is not really about whether this guy in this one circumstance was appropriate in doing so. It's not about whether he should be fired or not, or whether ESA is a bad place to work, or overshadowing the fact that they landed on a comet (there's still plenty of press about that and still plenty of reasons to be excited. In my view, these are two different stories). This is about this kind of imagery in general and the effect it has on the people it portrays (or doesn't). It's about how we view this as a society. Do we think this *type* of thing is okay? What bothers me is not that this guy wore this shirt, but that we can't across the board recognize that it was inappropriate, and why. But hopefully this is spurring conversations within that grey area—the segment of our population, like myself, not at the extremes. Hopefully we can get to the point where we start to teach and learn that we need to do better, for everyone's sake.
* * *
I've mostly read moderate, well thought out pieces about #shirtstorm/#shirtgate. Here are some of my favorite excerpts.
From Infactorium, a word on losing "freedoms":
"When people (near-universally young men) start complaining about these losses of freedom I have to sigh and shake my head. We all give up things to make society better. We give up our right to take things by force. We give up our right to drive on the wrong side of the road."
Right, and ultimately these trade-offs make for a better living environment.
From the American Astronomical Society's statement on this whole thing:
"The AAS has a clear anti-harassment policy, which prohibits “verbal comments or physical actions of a sexual nature” and “a display of sexually suggestive objects or pictures.” Had the offending images appeared and comments been made under the auspices of the AAS, they would be in clear violation of our policy."
Why? (Me asking.) Because:
"As a professional society, the AAS must provide an environment that encourages the free expression and exchange of scientific ideas. In pursuit of that environment, the AAS is committed to the philosophy of equality of opportunity and treatment for all members, regardless of [list here...] or any other reason not related to scientific merit." [My emphasis.]
I love that last part. I mean, of course! So don't wear a shirt or use imagery that disrespectfully targets part of the population. On the flip side, *do* be proactive in utilizing positive and relevant imagery of a diverse population. Show role models. Be a role model. This issue isn't limited to women, it's about workplace dynamics and diversity in general. What shirt would you wear?
October 12, 2014
Mini Book Review: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Since I wrote a mini book review for "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," I figured I should write one for "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" too. In the first book review, I revealed my fear of the Great Unknown. The universe, infinity. What I LOVED about "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" is that it acknowledges exactly that issue. My favorite part was the bit about the Total Perspective Vortex, which reveals the complete scope of the universe and completely ruins a man.
So there's my gripe by the end of the book, which I've already harped on in another entry today to another end. "Ruins a man." Maybe Douglas Adams didn't have many women in his life? Because while the one female main character is super smart and more "evolved" than the male human, she's still along because she was picked up by Zaphod Beeblebrox. Other than that... there are a few women in non-speaking roles and a few women who are in peripheral roles mainly having to do with being annoying or being potential sexual partners, but no women in any sort of leadership positions. Captains, rulers of the universe, psychologists, executives, etc. All dudes.