End of an Era (for me)

On Friday I’ll be leaving my job at Automattic, and my position in the WordPress community. I’ve poured my life into WordPress for 8 years, longer than I’ve ever stuck around at anything else, and it will be super weird to lose a job, a social circle, and an all-encompassing everything all at once. But while this wasn’t a change I had planned on (well, only planned for 3 weeks, anyway) I know that it will be better for me.

For the next month I am going to focus on getting my health in shape under my doctor’s care — it went to hell during my a8c tenure for various reasons — and figuring out what I need to do to go back and finish up the degree I was a month from obtaining before I walked away from it to work on the prototype that would become WordPress 2.7. Also, I’ll finally rip up the invasive plants in my yard and put in a garden and some native plants. And I’ll keep doing acupuncture. I’ll probably start writing again. Practice Spanish. Maybe re-learn how to play the guitar enough for a backyard singalong or two.

After that, we’ll see. Maybe a new ux or product challenge. Maybe something different. Maybe leave tech altogether. I’m not really going to think about it much until a month has passed, because I don’t want to jump into something else right away and perpetuate the same overwork patterns I developed over the last 8 years. Habits take time to break. I might take some of that time to write up some of the thoughts I never got around to publishing while I was on the job or to answer any questions that I get asked more than once. Or I might just sit outside feeding stray cats. Who knows?

My wordpress.org email address will not work anymore. If you want to reach me and don’t have my personal email address, you can use the contact form on this site or @jenmylo on Twitter. If you’re a “But I want proof we are connected!” person, I’m on LinkedIn. If you’re a Facebook junkie, I really don’t use it — it gets my Twitter feed but I don’t monitor comments on Facebook or anything like that. I should really just turn off the Twitter feed, probably. So many things to think about when everything changes! Hey, and now I can update my gravatar when my hair changes color, since I won’t be going to WordCamps where I want people to recognize me from online. Maybe I’ll do that next week. Maybe I should pick a new color first. Or go back to purple. So many decisions!

Anyway, to everyone in the WordPress community who enriched my life in some way over the past 8 years, thank you, and maybe we’ll run into each other again sometime. If you’re ever in Portland (Oregon, not Maine) and want to get a chai or Ethiopian food or come feed a stray cat in the backyard, let me know!

This is Depressing: A Tale of Mental Health (or Not)

I tried to kill myself when I was 7.

Being 7, my options were limited, so I went with something I’d overheard some adults discussing (related to an distant family member) and thought jumping out of a window was the best plan, since I had access to a window. My bedroom was on the second floor, with a casement window right next to the Barbie townhouse with the string-operated elevator.

Since it was the kind commonly called an awning window, with the hinge on the top edge and the crank arm at the bottom right in the middle of the window opening (which wasn’t very big to begin with), a dramatic leap wasn’t an option.

This is the kind of window I’m talking about:

awning window, opened

An awning window with the same style crank arm and about the same opening as the window in this story. Photo from Greatland Windows.

I squeezed my skinny little body through the opening while holding on to the crank arm. But then instead of a fast leap to a quick and easy death as I’d imagined it, I found myself dangling from the crank arm. That was kind of scary, and I reconsidered for a minute or so. I was a champion at the arm hang back then, which came in handy in this instance, but the crank arm was digging into my hands and I eventually let go and fell to the ground.

Nothing happened. The house wasn’t all that tall, the 2nd story was really just a finished attic, and the window in question was at floor level, so the drop was probably only about 10 feet. For a moment I thought that as a consolation prize maybe I’d broken my leg or ankle and would get a cast out of it (a classmate had a cast around that time and everyone was signing it, which I thought was cool), but no. I limped — my ankle did kind of hurt from how I fell on it — over to the restaurant bar where my mother was working (we lived in the house directly behind, as she was the manager) and told her I’d fallen out the window. I was informed that if I was walking I was fine. She handed me the soda gun and said I could make a suicide (the combine-all-the-sodas drink that was in vogue with me and my brothers and friends) to make myself feel better. Ah, the unintended irony. I drank my Pepsi + 7-up + Root Beer + Orange + Dr. Pepper + Tonic and decided that maybe things weren’t so bad and I could stick it out a while longer.*

A few weeks later at my grandmother’s house I decided to try again. I went into the bathroom and read the labels on all the cleaning products in the cabinet. I chose the aerosol can of Dow Scrubbing Bubbles, aimed it at the back of my throat, and pressed the button. A tiny bit of mist came out, but the can was empty. I was aggravated for two reasons:

  1. Suicide denied.
  2. Who puts an empty container away instead of throwing it out?

After that I got a steak knife from her kitchen and went back to the bathroom and tried cutting my wrists (I watched a lot of soap operas with my grandmother, so I was sure this method would be effective). It was as I was sawing back and forth (my grandmother’s steak knives were, I now realize, exceptionally dull), having just barely broken the skin and gotten a drop or two of blood — from abrasion rather than opening an artery — that my grandmother caught me. Oh, was I in trouble.

  1. How did I think it would make her feel to discover my dead body? It would kill her! I don’t get to kill myself! I have to live! It’s not my right to hurt other people just because my life is hard!**
  2. Had I learned nothing from General Hospital? To slit your wrists you cut lengthwise on the artery, not crosswise, or it will clot up too fast for you to die from it. Come on!

This interaction is the reason that despite later occurrences of depression in my life, including several straight years recently of lying in bed thinking about how much easier it would be to be dead (thanks, depression brain!), I have never seriously considered taking that exit route despite its attractiveness (to the aforementioned depressed brain, not to my logical mind). For me, guilt is stronger than depression.

What does that have to do with my life now?

I have suffered from depression on and off for most of my adult life. For the past 10 years or so, I have suffered from severe chronic depression with anxiety. About 4 of the past five years that depression included constant suicidal ideation. The early trauma that made a 7-year-old — think about that, 7 years old — believe that life was not worth living because it all hurt too much laid groundwork in my brain that would punish me the rest of my life. Thanks, neurology!

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’m sharing my story because knowing you are not alone helps.

In my late teens and 20s, I would have a major depressive episode every couple of years, each lasting 1-3 weeks. I’d hole up and hide from the world, and re-read all my favorite books until it passed, the same escape/coping mechanism I’d used as a child. It wasn’t enjoyable, but I was under the impression that it was normal, never having known anything different, and was just sort of used to it.

In between episodes, I was relatively shy/introverted, but generally happy and cheerful. I had left my hometown and the socio-economic tier of my childhood, and I felt pretty damn lucky and fortunate. I had tons of energy. Andrea (who’s known me for more than 20 years) and I sometimes compare the me of today to the me of when we met and struggle to understand how/why the brain does what it does. Back then, if our coworkers were sitting around looking bored I would just start jumping as high as I could, until everyone was jumping and laughing and having fun. These days, I need an external reason of some importance (an event, a meeting, an obligation that requires my presence) to get me to do much other than work from my bed. It basically sucks.

So, depression. To explain what it feels like, I tend to point to other people who’ve done a good job of explaining what I have felt. Reading/seeing/hearing their accounts has helped me tremendously in my own battle.

I identify with most of what they are all saying.

I’m not sad. I’m not bummed out. When I was 7? I was definitely sad, and definitely bummed out. Not to mention constantly in fear and pain with what felt like zero stability. Today? I have a life that objectively speaking is really pretty great. I don’t have a lot of things that deserve worry. I am, however, chock full of depression and anxiety. Because depression is a “mental illness,” there is a huge stigma around admitting to it, especially for  people who get a lot of their self-worth from being intelligent. The hazy lines between intelligence and emotions and matter-of-fact brain science make it difficult to discuss comfortably, especially once words with multiple meanings come into play. So, I’m depressed — severely, clinically, according to docs — but I’m not sad, or bummed out. My brain, in this specific way, doesn’t work the way it’s expected to work, not anymore. This post is scary to be writing and will be even scarier to publish, but being a little brave on my own behalf is probably good for me, and hopefully it might help someone else who is struggling.

What happened ten or so years ago that caused such an extended bout with depression? Who knows? There was the scooter accident that broke my face and gave me a concussion (concussion increases risk of depression). A couple of years later I moved back to the east coast, closer to my family. I went back to agency work, which required more hours and travel than my publishing job had. My metabolism changed and I started gaining weight despite going up and down the stairs to my fifth-floor walkup all the time. My stepfather got cancer and I helped to take care of him during his treatment even though he’d been an abusive drunk who destroyed my self-esteem during my adolescent and teen years, and then he died. My friend — oh wait. Yeah, that whole help-your-abuser-and-watch-him-die thing was probably the trigger. Damn brain.

Anyway, I stopped going out socially for the most part. I bought a tv for work (we had a lot of network clients and I had to be familiar with their shows during pitch meetings), and fell into the habit of lying in bed staring at the screen, watching DVD box sets I bought at the Virgin megastore on my way home from work. I put less energy into staying in touch with friends because I didn’t feel like I had anything valuable to contribute to my relationships (the friends I had were super cool and impressive, whereas I had devolved from similarly cool and impressive to worthless potato). When I had to go to a meeting or conference for work, I’d just remember how I used to be and feel and would try to act like that even though I didn’t feel that way.

Then I went to work for a distributed company, and lost the sole thing that forced me out of my apartment and to interact with people. I became a  hermit, mostly venturing out only for WordCamps, where I would again just try to remember what I used to be like in social situations and act like that. Sometimes I was successful, and sometimes I failed. Sometimes I had to bail because the depression and anxiety were unconquerable that day. 99% of my interactions were conducted in text online. Having stepped into a position that was contentious in some circles, I was abused by strangers online who had issues with my boss and saw me as an acceptable proxy. Every mean comment chopped away at my self-esteem, even when I knew logically that I was a symbol to them, not a real person. I was a woman in a mostly-male environment, with all that brings. I lost some of my niceness as I tried to protect myself more. The first few years I managed okay (or so I thought), with only an abrupt tone or  sometimes flarey temper to give me away. But.

Then I lost a relationship with one of my best friends. This person hadn’t told me along the way that I’d been changing or behaving unlike the me that was their friend, so when they said one day that they didn’t like me anymore and that I was unpleasant to be around, so we weren’t going to be good friends anymore because they’d been faking it for awhile (jeez, does this sound like an overdone breakup scene or what?) it more or less destroyed me.

The already severe chronic depression intensified, and I had a harder and harder time getting up in the morning. You know the lead aprons they put on you at the dentist when you get x-rays? I felt like I was wearing 3 or 4 full-body lead aprons all the time. It was physical, not just psychological or emotional anymore. It made it really hard to fight it with things that used to help — exercise, eating healthy food, etc. — because I didn’t have the energy to do those things. So I just stayed in bed most of the time working on my laptop, unless I was required to physically be somewhere.

During this time the death thoughts moved in. Not in a “I want to kill myself!” way; my grandmother’s guilt trip about what suicide does to the family was as deeply ingrained in my psyche as the early trauma that kept getting re-triggered. My variation of suicidal ideation was more like lying there and just thinking about how much nicer/easier it would be to not exist anymore. If I wasn’t concerned abut my mother and niece having to deal with my death, I’d have done something about it. The belief that being dead would be better than being alive with depression was so strong that when people I knew and admired killed themselves (attributed to depression) my gut reaction was “Good for them! They made it! I wish I was as brave as them!” I knew logically that their deaths were tragedies, that the world was a lesser place without them, all those things, but I didn’t have normal feelings anymore. My fish were dead.

I have skipped over a lot in this narrative. How I did a lot of emotional work  in my twenties to get past my childhood trauma. Unsuccessful (and frankly, re-traumatizing) attempts at getting help from doctors of western medicine. How the sudden appearance of anxiety caused me to fuck up tons of things, throw money away, and generally not make smart decisions. How the OCD that sprang up in the suicidal/bedridden years meant I was typing and mousing on a laptop for 12-18 hours a day sometimes, causing nerve damage in my arms/wrists/hands. More relationships that died because I wasn’t me anymore.

But there’s also good stuff. The people and things that really did help some during my time “in the pit” — especially the people willing to be true friends and confront me about how I was acting as I fell further and further in, rather than just bailing on our friendship and leaving me to continue being a miserable wreck. Finally finding some help that worked in the form of a naturopath who put me on some stuff that got rid of the suicidal ideation in about 2 days. Not 4-6 weeks — 2 days. Acupuncture helping to keep me on a more even keel. Starting a bluehackers chat room at work for support among co-workers dealing with similar issues. And more stuff.

But there you have it, the very personal, mostly embarrassing/humiliating story of how my brain — which I once loved as my greatest asset — has betrayed me over the years, how I’ve experienced depression, and how you, if you are dealing with this, are not alone.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

If you are considering suicide, please don’t do it. If you don’t have friends and family that can guilt you into staying alive, think about my grandmother! If you don’t have someone you can talk to, call the national suicide prevention lifeline. (When they start calling it a lifeline instead of a hotline? I am so old.)

If you work in open source/technology and suffer from depression, you might check out bluehackers. It’s awesome. If you attend conferences like OS Bridge or OSCON, look for BOF sessions to connect with others in similar straits.

Consider posting your own experiences to help fight the stigma. I’ve had a draft of this post in WordPress for two years. It is scary to tell your secrets, knowing that there are a lot of crappy people out there who will approach you with judgment rather than empathy. To those who are feeling pretty judgy right about now, I can only say that I didn’t choose this. No one does. And quite frankly, I’ve accomplished a fuckload of stuff in the past 10 years that has been beneficial to others, even if on a personal level I was the equivalent of a bitchy vegetable. So if anyone is judging me and other people who deal with this crap, they can take a hike, and they suck.

If you just want to say to someone, “This is crap and I’m dealing with it, too,” without getting into details, drop a comment here or shoot me an email. Connecting with others who deal with this stuff has been huge in helping me dig myself out of the patterns; maybe it will help you, too.

* I’ve told this story before, leaving out the suicidal intent, claiming I was after the cast. That wasn’t why I jumped from the window, it was an afterthought after I landed. Guess what? People don’t like to talk about how they tried to commit suicide or how they’re dealing with mental illness because then people look at you funny and treat you weird and you feel ashamed and embarrassed and you regret saying anything. Welcome to stigma!

** My grandmother’s brother blew his brains out with a gun. Even though she loved me and I’m sure her demands that I stay alive came from a good place — and they did keep me alive — I wonder how much of that reaction was a more selfish thing. Did seeing me with the steak knife trigger her and remind her of losing her brother? She’s dead, so I can’t ask, but I do wonder. Trauma affects so many people.

School, Cancer, and Smoking

I’m taking a medical terminology class as a co-requisite for my acupuncture program. It’s a pain in the ass because it will drag out for a whole semester, and if I had the option I would test out of it — I remember all this stuff from massage school 15 years ago and my various stints as a medical assistant (which in one case included medical transcription). They don’t allow testing out, though, and while the lectures and practice exercises are posted in advance, the assignments and tests are released on a weekly basis, and I have to log in at least 3 times per week to pass the class. This morning I’ve been doing the exercises for the chapter on oncology, and it’s brought up some memories.

One:

  • My Irish grandfather’s thick head of silver hair — complete with “Irish wave” — disappearing due to chemo, leaving him first bald as a pool cue (with a freckled scalp), then the possessor of wispy baby-fine white hair. Adiós, silver fox hair.
  • Hearing about my grandfather’s decline during chemo while I was across the country.
  • The excitement of hearing the chemo had worked.
  • The anger when the cancer came back.
  • The selfish despair when he decided not to do chemo a second time. “Go through that again? For what? I’m done.”
  • Family strife in the wake of his death.

Two:

  • My stepfather, who bounced back from a heart attack and open heart surgery as if nothing had ever been wrong and showing no outward physical changes, becoming a walking skeleton wrapped in papery skin.
  • Troubleshooting a stubborn oxygen tank replacement.
  • Buying a bed, having it delivered and set up in the living room, and carrying the nice mattress down from upstairs because he couldn’t climb stairs anymore. Not being able to use my hands without pain for a few days because that was too much for my bad wrists.
  • Looking at x-rays and scans with the pulmonary oncologist and hearing, “You know, a long-time smoker who’s destined to get cancer could have caught it sooner by getting regular chest films. Not catching it until Stage 4, there’s really nothing to be done.”
  • Hanging out with the technician during the PET scan because my heretofore-unwilling-to-show-any-emotion-except-anger-or-rage stepfather was afraid and didn’t want to be alone.
  • Teaching my stepfather the right way to hold the steroid inhaler.
  • Pretending it didn’t bother my bad wrists to have to load up the wheelchair and extra oxygen into my car every time we went to chemo.
  • Running down 5 flights of stairs so fast I almost broke my leg in a fall trying to get to the street as quickly as a I could to catch a cab while booking a flight on my Treo.
  • Driving 90 miles per hour from the airport an hour and a half away from the hospital, because it was the only flight I could get on in time, trying to get to the hospital before he was going to be put into an induced coma for surgery from which they weren’t sure if he’d wake up.
  • Looking through the broconchoscope at the ruined cells and wondering how the hell he was still alive.
  • Watching my mother wear down from her partnership turning into a nursemaid-patient relationship, with a cranky patient.
  • Overhearing, “Do you still love me?” “You’ve made it hard to love you lately,” before taking the train back to NYC, exhausted from so many weekends of coming up to help with cancer care.
  • Helping with stupid chores that could have been done later, like taking an old refrigerator to the dump, because he didn’t want my mom to have to deal with it when he was gone.
  • Sleeping through the call the next day when he died.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths. Go lung cancer!

Smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer, as well as many other cancers, heart disease (I haven’t started flashing back to my grandmother’s heart disease and subsequent death yet, thankfully — also smoking-related), emphysema, and other bad stuff. Lung cancer rates are going up instead of down, despite how much we know about what smoking does to your body.

Seriously, people: stop smoking. Don’t put your family through this kind of death for you. Is your momentary addictive pleasure really worth their suffering later? Have some compassion for your future kids, your future grandkids, your future spouse, your future friends. Don’t be a selfish ass. Quit smoking now.

Hey, You Guys: A Personal History

Fetus

Being inside a womb by myself, I was never included in group address. Also, I don’t think my parents were the kind of people who talked to the belly or played music to increase fetal development. It was the 70s. While pregnant with me, my mom smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish (her words).

Baby/Toddler

“Be a good girl.”

“You’re such a pretty girl.”

“Kids! C’mere!”

As a very little kid, the only mixed-gender group I was part of was the group with my two older brothers. We mostly were referred to as a group as kids, not guys, so while I was frequently referred to as a girl (and frequently a little girl) when addressed directly, the group address usually ignored gender.

Childhood

“Boys and girls, stand for the pledge [of allegiance].”

“Attention, boys and girls!”

“Okay, kids, line up in pairs.”

“Everyone, blah blah blah.”

As kids in school, we were frequently referred to as boys and girls* by adults. Individually, we were just referred to by name. Kids referring to each other used names individually, and I want to say the plural you for groups without an extra noun. /me thinks backs to elementary school and asking a group of kids to do something. Yeah, mostly the plural you. Very occasionally there would be a, “Hey, you gu-uys,” exclamation, but that was mostly imitation of tv, not a form of address that we used with each other in conversation.

Adolescence

All Boys: “Those boys are jerks.”

All Girls: “Those girls are mean.”

Boys and Girls: “What are those guys doing over there?”

As we grew into adolescence, you guys started making more of an appearance, and adoption rates were skyscraper-high. We referred to boys and girls all the time, but in direct address had started adding guys to the lexicon, including when a group included both genders. This was the turning point for the language in my personal history of you guys as plural noun of direct address. Here’s how it seemed to break down.

Singular Male Plural Male Singular Female Plural Female Plural Mixed-gender
Indirect He, him, that boy, [name] Them, those boys She, her, that girl, [name] Them, those girls Those guys
Direct [name],”Hey, you” You, boys, guys [name],”Hey, you” You, girls, guys You guys

In some cases we’d still use the specific-gendered plural noun, like to ask, “Hey, boys, do you want to play kickball with us?” But, most often, guys was becoming the norm for male plural direct address and for plural mixed-gender references of any sort.

The Electric Company-style, “Hey, you gu-uys!” got a little resurgence in this period when The Goonies came out, too.

Teens — 40

You guys had come to mean any group of people, regardless of gender. It was used on me all the time, and I used it on others. That said, you guys still also served as a plural of specifically male people. In a mixed group, context would determine the intent.

“Are you guys going to Carolyn’s party after the football game?”

Here, you guys meant all members of the group, any gender. (Because everyone was supposed to go to Carolyn’s party.)

“You guys have it so much easier when you have to pee while we’re snowshoeing.”

Even though the group was mixed-gender, the comment was directed only at the men in the group, based on anatomy and its relation to heavy snow gear. Yes, guys = penises in this case.

Occasionally people used gendered plural terms on me like girlsladies, or gals. I disliked them all.

  • Girls sounded like a group of little kids, and by the time I was 16 I didn’t like being called by this label, even though I sometimes still referred to myself (pretty often) or groups of women (rarely) this way.
  • Ladies had all kinds of specific connotations about class, abilities, and weaknesses. I always hated it, and tried never to use it. Primary exception was a brief stint in 1998 when a group of co-workers (including me) would break into Ladies’ Night on a regular basis.

  • Don’t even get me started on what an unappealing word gals is. My first boyfriend’s mom used to say gals all the time, and I flinched every single time.

During this period of time, ongoing socialization around the term you guys and experience parsing its intent based on context caused me to take this as a fluid language thing, and I was never bothered by being included in this form address. I certainly used it constantly on others, including all-female groups. Oddly, while I didn’t mind being included in you guys in direct address at all, I really disliked it when default singular male pronouns like him/his were used in a situation that could apply to me. Despite being a hardcore feminist, I couldn’t quite get on the hir bandwagon, because I thought it was kind of dumb — it looked like a typo for hair or his when written, and since no one around me had ever said it out loud, my reader’s vocabulary assumed it was a homonym for either her or here, which was just confusing.

Aside: during the teens and twenties portion of this period (when I was pretty flat-chested), in the handful of times when my hair was cut very short, I was frequently misgendered and called a boy or a man.

40+

Holy moly, gender diversity explosion and feminist apocalypse and mass confusion.

More awareness seeped into the general population (or at least my portion of it) about transgender issues, non-binary gender identity, etc. People (in some circles, anyway) started paying more attention to pronouns and how they fit with gender identity. At AdaCamp, a conference for women in open tech (woman was later defined as, “someone who identifies as a woman in a way that is significant to them,” to be more inclusive) attendees were asked to put their preferred pronouns on their name badges to prevent misgendering in conversation.

The “singular they” became a hot topic, with heads butted between modern grammarians and people referencing Shakespeare’s use as evidence of correctness. I started seeing ze and zir and other gender-neutral pronouns I had no idea how to pronounce. I decided the singular they was a good path when in doubt.

Backlash against you guys started in earnest (again, in my corner of demography). At first, I thought it was kind of silly. For 40 years, you guys had meant any group of people! Common usage, changing definitions, etc. In that same time I’d definitely seen other words change meaning or connotation, so why was you guys being accused of erasing women from the narrative, when it was so harmless and widely understood? That’s what I thought to myself.

Then, at the end of a dev cycle that had included several women developers, a male developer said, “Congrats, bros,” when the release went live and I really didn’t like it. Would “Congrats, guys” have been better? I thought so. Guys had clearly acquired an ungendered usage over time (in my opinion), whereas bros was definitely gendered, and in tech was gendered in such a way as to be pretty problematic (read: sexist dude who thinks women’s role in tech = booth babes or video game rape victims), right? So guys was still okay? Guys vs. bros aside, even though though I had been one of the people pushing for more diversity (including welcoming language) in the project, I was too intimidated by the guy (yes, an actual guy) who had congratulated the dev bros, because I just didn’t have the energy that day to defend against the backlash I expected if I were to bring up that bros wasn’t inclusive language. Why was it all so exhausting and complicated? Argh!

Then, at the Community Leadership Summit before OSCON, a woman gave a lightning talk about you guys, and how it made her feel left out/invisible when it was used as a form of address or reference when she was in a group of male developers. That made me think, “Hm. I don’t want to use language that makes people feel bad if I can avoid it.” I tried to stop saying you guys. Holy crap, so hard. Talking with Leslie at the event, she said she likes to use the word humans, but I think that sounds weird when I say it, plus I think of the Community Human Being mascot, which has always totally creeped me out.

(The “epically neutral mascot” is still referred to as he twice in this clip. Yes, sure, they could be referring to the person inside the costume, but grammatically that’s not what they said, so it comes across as default gendering.)

I tried substituting folks, y’all, people, plural you, generic heya, and other variations into my daily expressions. I probably used one of these replacements about 95% of the time. There was about 5% of the time when I forgot, or when I actually was referring to specific people who were male and used the word guys intentionally.

What happened in the 5% times? There have been a few scenarios.

Scenario 1: I caught myself and then fumbled a replacement phrase.

“Hey, you guy — er, you all, sorry, I’m trying to stop saying you guys to mean groups of people that include women — are you ready to leave for dinner?”

Result 1: A little awkward, but good-intentioned. Responses ranged from casual disinterest to nodding approval to weird looks, depending on the group.

Scenario 2: I missed it and no one noticed, including me.

“Hey, you guys, blah blah blah.”

Result 2: No one noticed, or at least no one brought it up, and since I didn’t notice either, it went uncorrected. In these cases it’s usually people who don’t care, so while I wasn’t setting the best example, I also probably wasn’t offending anyone. Unless there were people in the group who were offended but afraid to say something. Bah.

Scenario 3: I missed it, and someone other than me noticed.

Me: “Hey, you guys, blah blah blah.”

Someone Else: “Hey, you said you guys, and it made me uncomfortable.”

Result 3a: Caught! I apologized, saying something like, “Ack! I try not to do that, thanks for catching it and letting me know, it helps me remember.”

Result 3b: What? I was actually referring to a specific set of people who were male, so you guys was totally appropriate! Wasn’t it? Example:  I meant Barry and Alek, and referred to them as “the systems guys,” meaning “the 2 [male] guys that handle systems on this project.” I explained this, but the idea that the group to which I was referring would always be male-only was at issue as an undercurrent around expectations of gendered jobs and hiring. My brain could follow this, but at the same time, rebelled at the thought that we have to actually remove guys from the vocabulary altogether to prevent misinterpretation. This was the situation most likely to trigger defensiveness for me.

Now

So where does that leave the well-intentioned liberal intersectional feminist? Definitely avoiding using guys to mean a group that is mixed gender or could be mixed gender. Only using guys to refer to specific guys, and not when using any other descriptors that might be non-specific, thus tainting the specificity? I understand not wanting it used both ways (despite common usage patterns), but what’s the ruling on gender-specific usage?

[I really want to embed “I’ve Heard It Both Ways” from the Psych musical episode, but wow is USA clamped down tight on copyright and video.]

Can you have it both ways? If we say don’t use guys to mean groups including women because it assigns everyone in the group with male gender shouldn’t that mean that using guys to mean men is okay?  I find it confusing and exhausting when even the specific use is seen as offensive. The fact that I want to be sensitive to how language affects others just makes it more annoying, because I care about the answer.

What’s even worse — I have typically used dudes interchangeably with guys as both a non-gendered and a gendered pronoun, so I have been trying to stop using that one, too. Even though it is super fun to say! And has a lot of really specific cultural reference points for my generation!

Oddly, when referring to multiple animals of the same sex, I totally say girls or boys instead of guys, but then that brings up a whole different set of confusing language issues around anthropomorphization and infantilization that are far too obnoxious to think about when I should be having brunch.

3 cats snuggling together on a bed.

The girls.

Have a great Sunday! :)

*Does anyone else think it’s weird that we do that? Boys and girls, I mean. Would we pick any other difference and use it to segment a group of kids (or adults, for that matter, as with ladies and gentlemen)? No wonder we grow up so obsessed with that difference. What if classes were started with, “Attention, short kids and tall kids!” Or fat/skinny, rich/poor, white/black, outgoing/shy, funny/boring, or any other binary that’s really a spectrum? Sorry, tangent.

Real Names on Facebook; A Vote in Favor

Trigger warning: mentions of physical and sexual abuse

Most of the people in the web industry, and especially in the diversity outreach circles, hate the Facebook “real names” policy. They say it prevents free expression, self-determination of identity, and privacy. While I have sympathy with some of the arguments, for the most part I support wanting real names. There’s a difference between lying about who you are and using a nickname or stage name. For example, a performer using their stage name on Facebook rather than their birth name seems logical, even if they haven’t gone to the trouble of legally changing it. A nickname that’s been in use for a long time and is more recognizable than your legal name — same thing. If you can show that the different name is what you typically go by, I think it should be allowed. Ditto for anyone who is transgender and still in the process of establishing a new name identity (or hell, anyone who’s using a different name and just hasn’t jumped through the hoops to legalize the change yet). As someone who has changed names twice, once just through common usage and once legally, I get the complications that name-dissonance can cause, and I don’t think Facebook should force people in those situations to live or die (at least on facebook.com) by the name on the birth certificate. But: kids!

I didn’t write about it here (though I alluded to it on Twitter at the time), but in 2010 I helped put an online sex predator in jail. I was at that point a primary caregiver of teenage girls, and thanks to a broken wifi card, a forgotten logout, and the fact that we were using the same gmail color scheme, I happened into email not meant for me. I was pretty horrified when I opened the first one; its references to what the guy wanted to do to various of “my” body parts were so far out there that my first reaction was that I was being trolled by someone. A second look told me it was intended for one of the teenagers, and that it was part of an ongoing thread, all of which was pretty graphic on his part, pretty blasé on hers.

After investigating the emails in the account, I started googling, and I found him on a site called Kupika, with a list of 300+ girls that he had relationships with, including an icon-based guide to how well he knew them, what level of naked pics and/or meetings he’d had with them, etc. There was also a VIP Calendar Girls room that required special access. There was a giant collage in the middle of the page, and when I saw a picture of my teenager, I flipped. I changed all her passwords that I could (since he was also on Facebook and her other social networks) and screamed for her to GET IN HERE.

As it turned out, this guy had been writing to her since elementary school, and had been grooming her for YEARS until she hit the age of legality in her state for sending naked pictures, at which point he made requests very specifically to keep him on the “right side” of the law. Now, sure, kids go through family crap and need outlets when the world seems unfair. In my generation, that meant crying in the bathroom mirror and reading Sweet Valley High novels. In this generation, that outlet is more likely to be online and/or over texts with strangers. It’s really scary. The guy in question’s profile said he was a hunky 19-year-old from California…what teenage girl wouldn’t want that guy to be her escape? But when I put Google to work (reverse engineering from his username and email address), I discovered he was a lawyer in his 40s who’d been excommunicated from the Jehovah’s Witnesses (How bad do you need to be for them to kick you out? The articles I found told me — really bad!), and a schlubby one with bad hair, to boot. He was also about to be disbarred.

cartoon showing dogs at a computer, captioned, "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog."The anonymity of the internet is one of the things that appeals to a lot of people. But what if you’re not looking for an anonymous escape, you just want to use the technology to facilitate honest communication? We’re forced to assume that anyone or anything on the internet might not be for real, in a constant state of distrust. I have to think that is doing something to our collective psyche.

That guy? I worked with the LAPD, who’d been trying to catch him for years but had never been able to trip him up, and we got him. I won’t go into details, but basically there was a sting, he was arrested in a mall food court for traveling to have sex with a minor, and then they found all kinds of nasty on his computers and phone. He was sentenced to 6 years in Chico, one for each girl who was listed in the complaint (based on their parents finding out and reporting it, I believe).

So yeah, I like the idea of a social network, especially one that started out being for students and requiring a .edu email address to gain access, wanting people to not lie about who they are.

But it’s not just kids who get duped.

It was recently brought to my attention that my aunt had friended someone on Facebook that turned out to be my 1st stepfather, aka the abuser who molested me and beat me with a hairbrush every night when I was five years old. Insert family drama here, but it came down to my aunt saying she didn’t know it was him. Why? Fake name on the Facebook account. Why would she suspect that Elly Medina was actually Nicholas Nitura, 7-month husband of her sister back in the 1970s, and doer of all evil deeds? No, he’s not transitioning, the photos in the timeline show him as the same guy he was 35 years ago, but with more belly and less hair. I saw that he asked on the timeline if I (using my new last name) was her niece, and it sent me straight into PTSD relapse. So that was awesome. And then today, he left a comment on this blog — MY BLOG — in response to that picture from the Park City chairlift that I posted a week or so ago.

 

screenshot of comment notification

A) I guess he figured out I am me, and now he’s coming onto my site? B) What does that ‘two men and a woman’ thing mean… is he trying to imply he had something to do with creating beauty and tranquility in me? The only thing he created in my family was a bunch of fucked-up kids, a traumatized mother, and furious grandparents who spent years trying to undo the damage he did. C) What the fuck?! 

Cue the PTSD! So it happened again, while I was working this time, and I had to leave the coffee shop where I was co-working with a friend because I was pretty sure I was going to cry or have a panic attack (or both, or something else).

If he’d been using his real name on Facebook, then theoretically my aunt wouldn’t have accepted the friend request, he wouldn’t have had access to her family list, he wouldn’t have asked about me, he wouldn’t have found my blog. Okay, sure, people with good google savvy could do it pretty easily, but that’s not this guy. So, yeah.

Takeaways:

  1. Monitor your kids’ internet activity. Know what the hell they are doing online, and who they are doing it with. If you would want to know where they are and who they’re with in person, don’t make the internet a big giant loophole. Even if they seem sweet and innocent. My teenager had been introduced to this guy on Kupika by a sweet Christian drama club girl at her school that could do no wrong.
  2. Real names are good.
  3. Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know just because you want to have a lot of “friends.” If they won’t bring you soup when you’re sick or pick you up from the airport, they are not your real friends.
  4. Child abusers are bad.
  5. Online sex predators are bad.
  6. Both deserve to rot in jail, but most don’t.
  7. Coda to #1.

Warring Values; Decisions

Say you found an organization or a program that you wanted to get involved in and/or support because it pressed all your buttons around social justice, health care, classism, inclusion, and practicality. Say you got really excited and made plans to commit yourself to this course of action. Say you then found out that the institution’s physical home was going to be in space rented from a Catholic Church, an organization that has some pretty nasty things to say about gay folks, discriminates against women, still bans birth control in this day and age, and in this particular archdiocese, was part of the big sex abuse lawsuits a while back, followed by the archdiocese trying to divest itself of property by giving it to the parishes before declaring bankruptcy so that it wouldn’t lose the properties in the lawsuits, and more recently made protesting against gay marriage a major initiative?

In my case, it makes me feel like I can’t be part of the program, because I don’t want to support the Catholic Church and the things it finances.

Then again, if this building in particular is part of a parish that is known for its diversity and social justice leanings, does that make it okay?

But does that mean they’re just spreading doctrine that still says the above stuff to a more diverse group of people?

If the money goes straight to the parish, how much trickles up to the archdiocese and eventually the Vatican?

Would I be giving money to anti-gay-marriage efforts? To camps to “rehabilitate” gay people? To protesting abortion clinics? To keeping women in unequal positions? To, in short, one of the most glaring examples of some of the worst outcomes of patriarchy?

And is there a way that can be okay, given the very good things about the program in question (social justice, affordable health care, etc)?

In my usual day-to-day life, the answer would be to skip the program, and put my money places where I am proud of the work it will do. But, there’s nothing else like this program, and I want to be a part of it both for my own benefit and to support its goals. So what should I do? I need your advice. Vote in the poll and tell me why you voted that way in the comments. Thanks!

 

 

Blogging; also, Oregon Wine Month

“You never blog about stuff.”

“I blog multiple times per day, it’s just all on work-related sites instead of my own.”

“I mean like you used to back in the janeforshort days. We met through your blog!”

“We totally did!”

“So you should go back to blogging regular life stuff so I can keep up with you.”

“Or just, you know, call me.”

“Or just start blogging again.”

“I didn’t like it when I blogged my name change and talked pretty openly about my reasons, then read ‘JANE WELLS WAS AN ABUSED CHILD!!’ (paraphrased) on a WordPress news site. Made me not want to post anything.”

“Fuck them. Start writing explicit sex stories so they unfollow you. At least they’re unlikely to publish them.”

“Why don’t we talk anymore? I should put calling you on my to-do list. ”

“And you should blog more. :)”


So I guess I’ll try blogging again. If it’s not about WordPress, please don’t report it on a wp-related site. Thanks.

It’s Oregon Wine Month!

Follow the link to all kinds of events at Oregon wineries. You can also buy Oregon wines at most Trader Joe’s. One of the nice things about Oregon wines is that a history of legislation and leanings toward green practices in the state have led to just under 50% of Oregon wines being produced sustainably, compared to 12% of California wines. Vineyards and winemaking can being pretty high impact environmentally, so this is pretty great.

For anyone coming to one of the many open source conferences in Portland this summer (AdaCamp, Open Source Bridge, OSCON, etc.) it’s worth noting that Alaska Airlines is doing an Oregon-wines-fly-free offer if you are bringing back a case from an Oregon airport. So plan to stay an extra day or two and hit the wine country!

Choosing a Topic

People who know me well know that in 2008 I was finishing up a bachelor’s degree and applying to graduate schools — a variety because I was torn between several areas of study — when Matt convinced me to skip grad school and redesign WordPress/work for Automattic instead. People who know me well also know that I am the worst tech worker ever and never back things up, and have frequent electronic failures. Kevin has been making fun of this “crazy electromagnetic energy that computers hate” since 2000, and for a while Matt was calling me Jubilee. Where these combine is that when I agreed to take the job and was leaving NYC, my final papers in a couple of courses were lost in a computer death (I loved you, 2007-era macbook!), and with no backups, I just decided to move on without wrapping up college at all. 

It’s bugged me, because while I don’t need a degree for the job I have now, nor even necessarily for a job that I may want in the future, having a degree does provide options. If I wanted to apply to grad school now, I could, if I’d finished that BA. Instead, I’d have to go back and re-do a couple of courses whose final papers never got turned in, and jump through a number of administrative hoops to clear out “you didn’t officially drop this course the term in the middle when you took a break” type things, and probably delay it a year. Being in NYC would make this significantly simpler, but alas I’m not there.

Several of those classes were write-offs. They’ll simply need to be re-done, because undergraduate courses fail you if you don’t finish. Graduate classes, on the other hand, have a delightful notion of an incomplete that can last for years. I suppose this has to do with long-running dissertations and the like, but in this case, taking a graduate course for undergraduate credit left me with an INC that the professor said I could overwrite if I ever sent in that final paper.

That paper was so specifically NYC, though: it examined the role of women in 1920s society through the swimwear at Coney Island. It was a really great topic, but research saved on that dead computer wasn’t stuff that would be easily re-acquired. Weeks of sitting in a microfilm (not microfiche, microfilm) carrel scrolling page by page through 1920s newspapers and magazines published in New York City to find every advertisement and news photo that showed a woman in a bathing suit had been torture, and I had no interest in repeating it. So I never went back to it.

This fall I started thinking about going back and finishing college, tying up all those loose ends. The need to be in NYC for weeks at NYPL for the research was still an issue, though, so I wrote to the professor and asked if it might be allowed to change topics. He agreed, and since then I’ve been struggling to come up with a topic that interests me and that has enough of a visual culture record to be doable without being so over-saturated with research that it’s boring.

It’s only a 30-page paper, so it needs to be something specific (like the specificity in that Coney Island swimsuits paper) but tied into a broader historical context (like the shifting role of American women in the ’20s) and with a record in visual culture (ads, editorial cartoons, photographs, paintings, whatever) that can be accessed without needing to spend weeks on a microfilm machine somewhere away from home. I’ve had trouble picking one. Passing thoughts (some to the point of clever titles, some just general topic ideas) have included:

  • Environmental Activism in America
  • Cover Girl: The Changing Face of Women’s Magazines
  • Women in Medicine
  • Women of Capitol Hill
  • American Spinsters
  • Passing Brave: Women Soldiers Who Fought as Men
  • Centerfold: Sexuality for Sale
  • Women’s Work
  • Romance Novel Covers
  • Role Reversal: The Sadie Hawkins Dance
  • Pirates, Pilots, and Prostitutes: Women at Sea in the Age of Sail
  • Witches in America
  • Women in Tech (and/or Science)
  • Lynching in American Culture
  • The Transition of Teaching: a Male to Female Occupation
  • Sewing Machines and Women Laborers in [location and/or time period]
  • Women of the Oneida Community
  • Congregations, Cults, and Concubines: Women in American Religion  [some year span here]
  • The Martha Washington Hotel, 1911 — 1983

All those thoughts (tempered by how difficult it might be to find source images) wound up in the idea Suffragettes, Spinsters, and Scientists: Non-traditional Women in American Visual Culture. But then that sounded too broad for 30 pages. So then I was thinking of narrowing it to Suffrage and Anti-Suffrage movements. But really I just can’t decide — I’ve had to make so many decisions in the past couple of months, my brain is fried. What topic should I choose?

 

 

Huzzah! RIP Elizabeth Peters

Last night I had insomnia, and as I jumped from browser tab to tab looking at things I never make time for during the normal day, I discovered that one of my favorite authors died in August. I was sad, because I loved her work, and it’s had a recurring role in my life, despite not being lit-ra-choor.

First

In 1991 I was 19 years old, living and working on a dude ranch in the Sonoran desert of Wickenburg, Arizona — dude ranch capital of the world. I’d lived/worked away from home before, but only within a couple of hours. This was right after I dropped out of college and decided I wanted to try living in the desert. I had not actually read Desert Solitaire yet, but I was surrounded by people who had, and absorbed their secondhand Edward Abbey fantasies.

The main living room at the ranch where guests would gather for drinks before dinner had a wall of bookshelves, filled with paperbacks that people could borrow or trade as desired. One day when I didn’t have a ride to the library in town, I went to the wall and pulled out a tattered paperback titled Naked Once More by Elizabeth Peters. It turned out to be a mystery novel with a fantastic middle-aged former-librarian-turned-romance-novelist amateur detective female lead (long before chick lit made such things popular). It was full of literary references, and it made my brain light up so much that I decided to go back to school during the spring term while I finished out my dude ranch stint.

I also spent that spring semester motoring through every book written by Elizabeth Peters and her other pen name, Barbara Michaels. The Elizabeth Peters series were my favorites, especially Jacqueline Kirby (of Naked Once More) and Amelia Peabody.

Second

I don’t remember when, but at some point between 1992 and 1995 (I *think* it was then. Maybe it was later. She might remember; I can’t.), I introduced Andrea Middleton to the books. She also loved them. We would shout, “Huzzah!” in true Amelia Peabody form when we needed to get ourselves going.

Third

During a period of winter depression when I lived in Bellingham (sometime during 1995-1996?), I pulled myself out of the pit by reading all the Kirby and Peabody novels in a marathon to rival any of today’s Netflix marathons. When I emerged, I shouted, “Huzzah!”

Fourth

Living in Vermont (1996?) and reflecting on that time in Bellingham, I wrote the 2nd of 2 fan letters I’ve ever written in my life (the first was to Luke and Laura of General Hospital when I was very young and watched it with my grandmother). I thanked her for writing books that were so good they could beat depression, told her that Huzzah! was the Andrea-Jen war cry, and asked if it was going to turn out that Sethos was Emerson’s illegitimate brother. She didn’t reply, but based on the way she wrote about author fan mail in Naked Once More, I was glad to have written the letter.

Fifth

Andrea was pregnant and choosing a name for her first child in May of 2008. She had a boy name lined up and was trying to figure out a girl one. Emma, a family name, was in the running, but all the girls in Andrea’s generation had had A names, so she considered that as a possibility and mentioned the one she had in mind. I loved Emma, but hated her A name, so I sent her a list of girl A names I thought were better, including Amelia after Amelia Peabody for an adventurous spirit and steel-trap brain. Just after election day, welcome Amelia Middleton.

Postscript

On August 8, 2013, at the age of 85, Barbara Mertz (Elizabeth Peters’s real name) died at her home. Her Amelia Peabody series spanned 35 years. Mertz won numerous awards for her books, and is one of the few writers of historical novels whose accuracy I have never questioned — she held a PhD in Egyptology. She was also an animal lover, and cats frequently featured as characters in their own right in her books.

Today I adopted another cat (Sadie Zap’s mom, who was destined for a shelter), and I’ve named her Miz Kirby in memory of the first book that sucked me into the Elizabeth Peters world.

Brown and white cat

Miz Kirby

Andrea and I are thinking that we should re-read the Peabody oeuvre in memoriam. Anyone want to join us?