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because we're grownups now, and it's our turn to decide what that means

Any sufficiently advanced bullshit is indistinguishable from competence.

In brief:

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March 12th, 2015

in peace

neuron art
At some point in my teens, several celebrities I'd only vaguely heard of died in quick succession. A lot of the people I knew were upset about one or another of them, and it occurred to me that I'd never been truly distressed by the death of a famous person. Bummed out, sure, but never sad like I would be for someone I'd known personally. I wondered if I didn't connect to celebrities like other people did, or if I just hadn't been around long enough for the ones I cared about to die. I thought: was there anyone famous whose death would really get to me?

Terry Pratchett, I decided. If he died, I'd be upset.

A lot of people are digging up Discworld quotes about death, and that is good and right and I appreciate them, but I'm... not able to sum it up in a quote right now. I'm not really able to sum it up in anything. Teen me, you called this one.

December 23rd, 2014

other people's passions

seattle gay pride
Becoming A Sports Person has really opened my eyes to what a dick I was when I was A Non-Sports Person. Not everyone falls into these two categories--there are plenty of people who just don't care about sports, and don't feel the need to make that part of their identity. But there's a large number of people, myself formerly included, who don't like sports and have to make sure you know that. They have a lot of opinions about how useless and ridiculous and harmful sports are, and they say repeatedly that they don't care, but it's hard to keep believing that when they won't let you change the subject.

I've tried to unpack what exactly it was that made me so hostile to sports before I tripped and fell into hockey; I think it was that the whole idea was so very unappealing to me that I didn't understand how it could appeal to anyone. Sports get so much attention and money and energy from so many people, and it irritated me that all those resources were being wasted when those people could have been doing something productive, or at least something actually fun. On some level, it just didn't compute that other people honestly got the same enjoyment out of sports that I got out of the things I loved. Especially because they all complained so much when their teams lost--and boy, if my seventeen-year-old self could meet the me of today, she'd get a nasty surprise there. I think there just isn't another realm of interest that fits this structure of constant emotional highs and lows, and so I had no context for understanding why anyone would want to subject themselves to that. It just seemed like a colossal waste of time. There's really no way to convey the joys of sports to someone who has internalized that.

For my last birthday, I received this from my mom and this (reverse) from my friend Carrie. Neither of those people get sports, but they don't need to get it to understand that hockey matters to me. They put their own resources into it purely for my sake, and that really means a lot to me. That's the kind of person I aim to be, when it comes to things I don't get. It's a hell of a lot easier for me to be supportive of other sports fans now that I am one, though a few (particularly football) still don't appeal to me. But there are other things I don't get, like shoot-'em-up video games, or following celebrity news, or fashion. There are things to criticize about those pastimes, like there are things to criticize about sports, and it's okay to have those conversations. But I am trying not to be a person who talks endless shit about things other people love.

December 9th, 2014

Letting out the weirdness

seattle gay pride
(My little brother posted this the other day, and it turns out I have rather a lot to say about it, mostly working through things about my past self I see reflected in it. Apologies to Clay if I'm projecting too much; I'll let him figure out how much of this applies to him.)

I used to spend a lot of time feeling curious about what other people were thinking, and frustrated that they wouldn't open up and tell me. Why wouldn't they just say the things in their heads? Just throw things out there, don't worry about how people will judge you! It doesn't matter what they think!

Except there are reasons that people judge each other, and there are reasons not to share everything that's on your mind with whoever wants to know. When I used to toss out whatever I was thinking without much filter, the people around me were judging me. Not just on a negative-to-positive scale, but in different ways: as a confidante, as a participant in a community, as a potential babysitter, as entertainment value, as a drain for their social energy. I may have scored more highly on the entertainment-value scale among my peers when I was fifteen than I do now, but I'm certain that I'm now seen as safer to be around by people for whom socializing requires a lot of energy. I may have been more fun at parties back then, but now I'm more likely to be considered a good resource for friends in need of someone to listen to their problems and support them in their decisions without turning the conversation back to themselves. There is social value in being an open book, but there are also social costs. And I still do tend to express my thoughts more than other people, but I pay more attention now to the question of what is an appropriate context for doing that, and I try to respond more to cues of discomfort from the people I'm with--which, if they aren't also open-book-type people, may not be explicitly verbalized.

Being forthcoming with your thoughts also opens you up to criticism--sometimes well-deserved, if those thoughts were inappropriate to the social context or just not developed enough to be worth sharing. People don't need to be afraid of criticism to prefer not to invite it--or to put themselves in the position of deserving it. It makes sense to consider a thought before expressing it, and it makes sense to choose not to express it if you don't think it's worth expressing. If speaking up in a social setting is a process that costs you energy--which it does, for many people--it makes sense for self-care reasons to default to not expressing your thoughts unless you see a good reason to do so. It may be easy for me to run my mouth off about nothing in particular when I'm bored, but it's not easy for everyone, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Not everyone falls at one end of those extremes. For most people, expressing random thoughts as they cross their mind happens more around people they know well, people who aren't forming initial impressions and won't allow a careless remark to shape their general view of the person. Those relationships take time to develop. I've had a lot of relationships that went from zero to sixty intimacy-wise over the course of a single conversation, and while that can be wonderful and exciting, it's not always wise and it's not for everyone. It's okay to be more reserved around people you don't trust. And telling people who are being reserved to be more forthcoming is disrespecting their choices about how much they want to share. Everyone gets to make those choices for themselves.

Here, I think, is the crux of this: a thought unshared is not a thought wasted. A thought to which I am not privy can still have value to the person who thought it. I am not entitled to the inside of anyone's head; trust is earned, not deserved, and that applies to even the most silly and inconsequential of thoughts, because people judge each other for being silly too. No one is obligated to be interesting to me, and if I'm going to decide they're not being interesting enough without taking the time to get to know them and let them grow comfortable with me, then my definition of "interesting" needs to be reexamined. And indeed it has been, and as a result I have a lot of good friends I might not otherwise have bothered to get to know.
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August 17th, 2014

catchup post

seattle gay pride
It's been a long time since I gave LJ a general rundown of how my life is going, hasn't it?

I don't think I ever updated here about the UChicago thing. I let them fly me out and woo me, and the program seemed really excellent; I would definitely have done it if they'd given me full tuition and stipend, like the program I actually applied to would have. I'm not going to go into further debt, though, and it would have been expensive. But I did have a spectacularly productive conversation with the director of the program! This program shoos a whole lot of students off to Ph.D. programs, and so they see a whole lot of acceptances and rejections, which gives them data about things like GRE score cutoffs. This guy went through my application and told me what exactly I need to improve on and how. He also told me what the admissions committee liked, and which parts of the application they don't actually care about. It was immensely helpful. If I'd had all this information in senior year of college, I might have my doctorate by now.

So I'm retaking the GRE this fall, and adjusting a few other things on the application. I'm also pulling together a journal article on which I will be first author, which I'm hoping we can get submitted in time to put on my applications. I've been doing some soul-searching about what exactly I want to accomplish in my life and whether grad school is something I need for that, and I've concluded that I could potentially live a happy and fulfilling life without a doctorate but would really rather have one.

In less pleasant news, Pi and I broke up. Not because it wasn't working out--god, we worked so well together--but our long-term situations weren't ever going to align, and she needed to be able to start setting up the life she eventually wants. It's the first time I've ever broken up with someone when everything still felt right, when I still really desperately wanted to be in the relationship, and that was hard. It was really hard for a while. She came to my birthday party and picked up the variety cryptic Mike made me and quietly got the hang of it right off the bat while helping me color in posterboard for the giant Set deck, because understated brilliance in the midst of efficiency is just her, and my heart hurt a whole damn lot. But I'm okay now, mostly. It had to happen, and I guess I'm glad it happened now, because I was only ever going to get more attached to that girl the longer I was with her.

Mike and I are at six years now and still doing great. We took a road trip to California last month to see my grandpa, who's not doing so well. It was really good to see him; I got to know him pretty well the year I lived there as a teenager, and I miss his subtle humor and habitual kindness. He's hard-of-hearing, so it can be difficult to talk on the phone. We visited a few other people in the Bay Area I hadn't seen in forever, too, and that was awesome. I've always thought I wanted to end up living there if I could, and I do think I'd be very happy there, but... we came back after a week and Seattle felt like home. I have never loved a city like I love this city. Dr. K's been pestering me to apply to UW again, and even though they've rejected me twice, I'm considering it.

I've been skating two or three times a week since April, and can't see myself getting sick of it. Actually, I think I'm addicted--if I go more than three or four days without making it to the rink, I start feeling antsy and crappy. I'm looking into hockey gear, and I have two road trips to Vancouver planned for NHL games this upcoming season, assuming I can get tickets: one to see the Coyotes by myself in November, and one to see the Penguins with friends in February. Hockey will be the death of my bank account.

Besides the hockey, though, I've been doing okay at money management. The last few months I'm averaging over 40% of my income put toward savings and paying off my student loans, and I'm almost ready to start a personal investment account. The kind of fascination I have for finance right now is the same kind I usually experience with fandoms. It's interesting to examine because that kind of fixation almost always comes with a dollop of guilt for not doing more productive things instead, whereas stuff like obsessively calculating a plan for paying off different student loans on different schedules that overlap based on a combination of balance and interest rates is just about the most adult, responsible use of my time possible. So I'll get lost in this for an hour and resurface automatically going "oh man, what time is it, I should be..." and then realize that no, there's nothing I should be doing instead. It sort of makes me question the guilt I feel about watching movies or reading webcomics or whatever, because... you know, it's okay to do things that make me happy. And yet somehow that's instinctively difficult to accept.

I'm still watching kids for a living. It's not my ideal career, but it's still going fine. There's actually a lot of opportunity for applying psychological concepts and thinking about preference and decision-making in the process of wrangling little kids. They're both great kids, and the two-and-a-half-year-old has been turning into a super awesome little person lately--she has shitpiles of grit and she's getting pretty good at things like negotiating for things she wants and chasing down follow-through on promises.

Other things... I've gone to a couple Mariners games, and started learning and appreciating baseball, which has been fun. I've taken a couple of really cool geology field trip courses, and learned a lot about Washington's geological history. I recently finished a "Welcome to Night Vale"-related audio project I'm very pleased with, and am impatient to release. I've been vidding a bit; the one I'm most proud of is the Nathan Fillion one (NSFW). I'm working on some non-fandom writing projects, slowly but surely. I'm working PAX again in a couple weeks, at a booth I think will be a lot of fun. I made a local fannish mailing list and started hosting fannish dinner parties a little over a year ago--haven't had time to do one in a few months, but I love doing them and I've met a bunch of amazing people through that group.

Overall, life is going really well, and I'm grateful for that.

August 1st, 2014

I realized when I was thirteen or fourteen that I had a strong preference for male vocalists. Female singers tended to get on my nerves, especially the ones with higher-pitched voices and styles incorporating vocal fry. At that point this was just an observation, but over time I got more uncomfortable with it and started actively trying to change my preferences. That's a tough thing to do, but I stuck with it, and after a few years there's a lot more female representation in my current rotation.

I don't know exactly why it happened in the first place, but I do know there were a lot of male voices in the music I heard when I was little. Ben Folds, They Might Be Giants, Moxy Fruvous, Queen, the Beatles, Weird Al... I guess once in a while Loreena McKennitt and Ani DiFranco got a turn, but the vast majority of the music playing in the background of my childhood had dudes in it.

So I made a playlist of profanity-free songs by women to put on while I babysit. While I was putting it together, I decided to go full feminist agenda and exclude songs that are explicitly about men as well. Except the Diana Vickers one, because it just straight-up belongs here. God, that song is great. Anyway, there are some dudes on instrumentals and a few male writers involved, but mostly I tried to keep this lady-centric.

(These are in no particular order; I usually listen to playlists on shuffle.)

Family Jewels - Marina and the Diamonds
Afterlife - Ingrid Michaelson
New Soul - Yael Naim
Falling - (cover of Florence and the Machine, but I like GD's version better)
Brave - Sara Bareilles
99 Red Balloons - Nena
Royals - Lorde
Itsumo Nando Demo - Yumi Kimura
Applause - Lady Gaga
The Christians & The Pagans - Dar Williams
It's Not Your Day To Shine - Smoosh
Ya Soshla S Uma - tATu
Genius - The Murmurs
Invite Me - Sofia Allard
Extraordinary Machine - Fiona Apple
June Gloom - The Like
Anything But Ordinary - Avril Lavigne
Let Go - Frou Frou
Ribs - Lorde
Le petit voisin - Jeanne Cherhal
Eyes - Monsoon
I Love It (clean edit) - Icona Pop
Zingaro - Golden Bough
Some Velvet Morning - Primal Scream (cover of Nancy Sinatra)
Science Genius Girl - Freezepop
Music To Make The Boys Cry - Diana Vickers
The Mother We Share - Chvrches
Get Over - Dream
What's In The Middle - The Bird & The Bee
Wandering Star - Portishead
Not A Pretty Girl - Ani DiFranco
Bury My Troubles - Imelda May
Against the Wind - Máire Brennan

July 29th, 2014

that thing I keep humming

you can play
And I know I could be more clever
And I know I could be more strong

I love this. I keep listening to the song it's from ("Out on the Town" by fun.) just for the part with that bit sung over and over, because singing along to this is more comforting than anything else to me right now.

I don't particularly love the song. Like most fun. songs, it's catchy and has kind of problematic lyrics. In context, I don't really love this line either. But interpretation is everything, and to me this phrasing doesn't mean "I'm not good enough." It means "This isn't as good as I get." It means "I have the capacity to be better."

Control is important to me. Being a kid was awful, because I hate being expected to do things for reasons I don't understand or agree with. And being in control of my own personality is incredibly important to me--that is, how I present myself and am perceived by others. Not whether they judge me favorably, but whether they judge me accurately. One reason I love studying social heuristics is that it helps me understand the tools people use to perform those evaluations.

"When you talk to a new person, you are making you. Inside of them. And you don't wanna do a bad job. [...] Judgment is just someone creating you inside of their head without your permission, without full knowledge of who you are. They're making you, but they're making you improperly." --John Green

I want to have the ability to make myself properly. In other people's heads, and also in the course of my development as a human being. There's not much I'm afraid of, but the idea of having reached the limit of my potential terrifies me. I never want to plateau. I never want to be as good as it gets. I could always be more clever and more strong. There is always room for improvement. That certainty grounds me; it keeps me going.

June 15th, 2014

Some resources and articles that have been helpful to me so far in my learning process:

This site has been crucial from day one. I started out reading almost exclusively articles about investing basics here, and I still come back to it for definitions when I come across unfamiliar terms.

Investing 101
I started with this and opened hyperlinks in new tabs from there.

Investing tutorials
A bunch of articles about different introductory topics.

Stock Series
A series of blog posts about investing (not just stock investing, despite the name) by a dude called Jim Collins, designed for brand-new investors. He's very, very big on index funds, and I haven't been able to find much solid evidence against that position.

The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing
I'm reading this right now and it's great. It does assume you have some basic knowledge (e.g. terms like bull market/bear market, assets and liabilities in the context of investments, the concept of a stock index) but I'm pretty sure if you keep Investopedia close to hand, you'll be fine. It's mostly about the psychology of investing, not fancy formulae and shit.

What Is Dividend Growth Investing?
I intend to do this with a small percentage of my money eventually.

Dividend Champions
Information about companies who have a history of increasing dividend payouts each year. Helpful if you want to do that dividend growth investing thing.

Why Dollar-Cost Averaging Stinks
The title is a bit misleading--essentially, this says that it's fine to add money to your investment portfolio as you earn it and thus dollar-cost average by default, but if you want to add a large chunk of money, you should add it all at once instead of over the course of months as some people recommend.

Why your house is a terrible investment
Don't read this if you own a house, it'll just depress you. But do read it if you're considering buying one.

How Investing in Intangibles — Like Employee Satisfaction — Translates into Financial Returns
An article about research showing a correlation between employee satisfaction and investment return.

Ethical investing indices
A starting point for socially-responsible investing.

May 10th, 2014

why it matters

neuron art
When I was in Chicago recently, I went to the university both of my adult brothers were attending and met some of their friends. After a particular conversation, I mentioned privately to my brothers that one guy had addressed my younger brother the entire time we were speaking--even, in multiple instances, while responding to things I had said. My younger brother thought about this for a moment and said, "Huh. I didn't notice that, but actually, you're right. He did."

My older brother rolled his eyes and said, "Fine, I get it, you don't like my friends." Then he hollered after the departing fellow in question, "Hey, my sister thinks you're sexist!"

I think, already having heard me talk the previous day about how the majority of male hockey fans I meet expect me to know nothing and express surprise or distrust when proved otherwise, my older brother was fed up with my endless complaints. To him, I seemed to be making mountains out of smooth, mole-free prairies. Quizzing a new acquaintance on a subject of mutual interest is nothing out of the ordinary, and correcting her with misinformation is a mistake anyone could make. Eye contact during conversation is a ridiculous thing to even notice, much less care about. I'm sure he knows that sexism exists, but it's something that happens when people get hired based on their gender, or in countries where women can't wear pants. It's a big deal. It's not about imaginary conversational slights nobody even notices unless they're dead set on finding something to be upset about.

Except I'm not imagining it, and sexism is about minor conversational slights. It is about the things we don't notice unless we're looking for them. Because even if we don't notice them, they have an effect. (Really, click that link at the beginning of the paragraph.) Perhaps especially if we don't notice them--because if a girl knows that these condescending speech patterns are being directed at other girls too, then it's easier for her to discount them. If she doesn't know that, she's more likely to assume she deserves to be talked down to and that her words aren't important.

This is the reason girls aren't going into science and tech fields. Overt sexism isn't gone, but it's not as socially acceptable these days, and almost all girls are told that they can do whatever they want when they grow up. They don't think they're incompetent because they're female--they each think that they, personally, are not competent enough for STEM fields, because their everyday interactions indicate to them that no one else thinks they are. It's all that little stuff, the stuff you think isn't important because you don't notice it. I can wave off the condescending male hockey fans because I know the Metropolitans won the Cup in 1917 and not 1907/the Habs have never come back from a 3-0 series deficit/Seabrook's penalty was charging, not boarding/a building designed for hockey is called an arena, not a stadium/whatever else they're wrong about today. But I couldn't do that until I developed a strong knowledge base. It's really discouraging for females of any age to start learning about a male-dominated subject, because for a while, every asshole who assumes you don't know anything is right.

This, Cordell, is why I point out minor sexist speech patterns. Because no, in the long run it doesn't really matter much that some guy told Clayton about his plans for his career instead of the person standing next to him who asked. But it matters that you don't believe it happened. It matters that you don't realize this is part of a larger, systemic pattern. And because you TA physics classes, some of which contain female students, all of whom deal with this shit on a regular basis, it matters that you don't think it matters.
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