Inner Landscape

The view from up high

One recent Sunday afternoon I went for a ‘distanced’ hike with a good friend I hadn’t seen since shelter-in-place began. She and I have always been hiking buddies; most of our conversations take place on a trail somewhere, preferably one high up, with a view. This time we were solving for empty space, a wide trail where we could walk apart from one another, and a slower pace because she’s pregnant and I’m just getting back into hiking. The weather was pleasantly hot, and there weren’t too many people on the trail. 

As my friend caught me up on what’s been going on in her life – work stuff, family stuff, preparations for her soon-to-arrive baby – I slowly began to realize how much I’ve changed in these past few months. Alone in my own head, spending time mostly with my husband and, over videoconference, work colleagues and a few friends, I’ve shifted focus. The things I wanted to talk about were different than they would have been in February. 

“How are you doing?” has become a real question. The answer changes like the weather. I’m more aware of weather, is one answer; I’m spending more time outside, and when inside, more time with a view of the sky. I think about work differently, what it is and how it functions, my own and other people’s, the kind I want to do and how I want to do it. I’m learning about soil. I’ve seen spinach flower and now I know what that looks like, and it’s fascinating. I’ve learned that an artichoke is a perennial, can grow over seven feet tall, and looks a lot like the plant version of a dinosaur. I’m thinking about seasons, both literally and metaphorically, and the (larger) role I’d like them to play in my life. There are people I miss, and people I don’t miss, and I’m surprised by who’s in which group. I have a different relationship to my physical self. 

I’m reading more, and more thoroughly. I’m cooking more. I watch lizards and bees and squirrels and the way the hummingbirds chase one another off a particularly good batch of blossoms. I’m learning the streets and landscape immediately around my home. I know half a dozen loop walks I can do to fit almost any amount of available time or energy. I have a new appreciation for my neighbors. I have a new dis-appreciation for the news, less because it’s sensationalistic and more because it’s repetitive. I am thinking about race, and gender, and systemic violence – but I’m trying to do so more slowly, more thoughtfully, than I might have done a year ago. “You were there in those days,” asked a junior colleague who I mentor, “what was that like?” She was asking about tech-bro culture and gender prejudice and how those related to my own experience in tech, during Google’s earlier years. As I answered, I realized the bitterness had gone from my response. In many ways I still don’t know how to assess those days, but somewhere in these past months, I’ve made my peace with that. 

Some of these changes are trivial, some significant – but they’re all meaningful at least to me. I don’t know how visible they are to others. Aside from a darker tan and more-sun-bleached hair, I don’t think I look very different. I am likely to tell you more than you want to know about the sex of zucchini flowers, or the way a corn stalk bends zigzag as the ears plump up, but beyond that – I don’t know. 

What I do wonder is this: if I am changing so much, and if I hadn’t noticed while it was happening – is everyone else changing too? I don’t mean we’d all change in the same way, of course – but are we all changing? Do we always change so much, so fast, or is the chaos and uncertainty of these days accelerating the process? 

What will I – what will we all – be like in a few more months? 

Things I’m reading

Today is Thursday night, for me week 7 of shelter-in-place/work-from-home/etc.

Things I’m reading:

Things I’m grateful for:

  • Somebody at work wants to start a book club, with books not about work.
  • Sun.
  • The peas are up! And the kale! And the beans! And the melons! And the spinach! They’re all up about a quarter of an inch, but still. They’re up! And there’s one ripe strawberry, which I’m hoping to eat before a squirrel does.
  • That our house, the house of the Horrible House Remodel, came with an Awesome Garden. We at least partially bought the house because of it, and yet. The Awesome Garden is even more awesome than I realized. The past several weeks have offered me much more time to spend in it, and I love it.
  • That we got the new fence and raised vegetable garden beds in before shelter-in-place.
  • Clear air, and the views over the southern & eastern hills.
  • Two days ago, the deer that hang out in the far yard eyed me carefully while I sat on a bench under a tree. I held very still, and they carefully walked right past me and continued on their way to graze on whatever they wanted to graze on.
  • Having a kitchen, and a heating system.
  • Having plenty to eat.
  • That my family is healthy.

People I miss:

  • My parents.
  • My nephew-by-friendship, and his parents.
  • My hiking buddy.
  • My afternoon-walk friend, and my mentee.
  • My college friend who just moved to California.

Things I’m surprised by:

  • How just plain exhausting videoconferences are.
  • My own lack of patience for said videoconferences; most large virtual meetings; project status updates; and other work-process type things.
  • How nice it is to be at home all day.
  • How not-stir-crazy I feel.
  • How I still feel busy (although, and I’m grateful for this, less than a week or two ago).
  • How easily we switched from eating out nearly every night (which started because no kitchen), to cooking nearly every night (because shelter in place).
  • The difference an ergonomic keyboard makes.

That is all.

Tradition!

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A couple days back, I woke up with the sudden and complete conviction that I must make a baby blanket right now.

My good friend K is pregnant; I’m going to be an aunt! I’ve never been a woman with that certain “I must be a mother,” feeling, but dammit I know I’m supposed to be an aunt. Aunt-ing matters to me.

And what do you do, traditionally, when there’s a baby coming to someone close to you? You make a blanket for the baby, that’s what you do. So.

The yarn store was closed.

It was, however, open late on Tuesdays, and last night I stopped by. The store owner showed me which yarns were machine washable, and where I could find a pattern. A dozen or so cheerful-seeming people, mostly but not entirely women, of varying ages, were hanging out at a big table, chatting and working on projects; one of them helped me pick colors. I bought yarn and a hook (I crochet; I don’t love knitting). The pattern is a wavy sort of stripe.

I’m making a baby blanket. I’m aiming to get it done by the time I next see K, a little over a week from now, on the other side of the continent.

This afternoon

This afternoon I spoke on a panel about Diversity and Inclusion in Tech*.

The whole panel and discussion were well received. The audience was engaged. The other panelists were awesome, and I’m grateful to have met them and hopeful/optimistic that we’ll keep in touch.

After the panel, maybe a dozen people came up to me and said how much it meant to them, and that they’d found what I said helpful or inspirational or encouraging. They didn’t just stop by briefly, either. They showed up wholeheartedly. They told me in detail what aspects stood out and why. They had questions and ideas. They wanted to talk.

It was awesome.

Living in the Bay Area, working at Google, in many ways surrounded by so many
debates and discussions and brainstorming sessions and informal venting sessions and just in general so much, I think I sometimes forget how much it can mean to someone just starting out, or someone trying to find a new path, just to hear someone else say, ‘This is what it’s been like for me; here’s what I’ve been thinking about this whole thing. And yes, I too think this is important.’ I sometimes forget that while anyone’s own experience may be old news to them, it may not be to someone else. My own story, old news to me, may offer new ideas to someone else.

To someone else, it may be inspiration.

I’m grateful to have had the chance to speak in this way to this audience. I’m humbled by how much what I said seemed to resonate.

Before the session, I wrote notes on what I wanted to say. During the session itself, I didn’t follow my notes precisely; the discussion flowed as it flowed. But. I was glad I’d prepared. I’d prepared enough that I’d also wondered vaguely if I might write up my notes afterwards, and post them here or somewhere. I’d wondered too if my various ideas about writing more essays about work might be a good idea, or if there are already so many voices out there that it would be a waste of time, if there would be no audience.

Based on today, I’m thinking maybe I do have something to say, and maybe there is an audience interested in hearing it.

So.

It was a wonderful panel and I’m so glad I did it.

I’m going to do at least that much.

*Columbia University, reunion weekend 2019.

Things that are working

Late last week, someone asked me how I was doing. My usual answer to this is, “Good!” because it’s polite, and usually I’d rather talk about something else – but this time, the person who asked is someone I know well, who I have some shared history with, and I answered more honestly:

“I’m actually successfully coping and I’m really damn proud of that.”

There are, of course, plenty of people in the world dealing with tougher stuff than I am. I am not hungry. I am not under physical threat. I am healthy. I am not scared about money.

But. People I care about are going through really tough things. I am busy, legitimately & ridiculously busy, not in an “oh gosh I’m just so busy!” way but no, actually really busy in an “I spend over half an hour each day just getting my schedule to make some sense and not have overlapping things that simply do not work” kind of way. I am in a job that I think I love, but which still feels new, and I feel like I have a lot to learn. I’m facing various kinds of career pressure, some self-imposed, some not. I’m thinking a lot about what I want my life to look like. And I’m about to hit the one-year mark on the Horrible House Remodel, after 3+ prior years of half-remodeling & some moving chaos before that, all of which means I haven’t lived somewhere calm in over five years.

And on the other hand, I am coping. I am going to the gym. I am gardening. I am reading. I am seeing friends. I am seeing family. I am occasionally writing. I am not completely dropping the ball at work, and every so often I come up with a useful insight or approach that I’m proud of. My team is doing well, and I’m getting positive feedback on them from people they in turn work with.

So I’m busy, and not everything is good, but I’m coping, and I am pretty damn proud of that.

Warming up

Thursday morning, 8 a.m. I’m at a new cafe. I’m here in spite of things: in spite of cleaning the garage; in spite of the career work I need to do; in spite of worrying about my parents; in spite of needing to go to San Francisco tomorrow so I can make it to the pre-surgery happy hour for the guy I know who has really scary cancer; in spite of good weather; in spite of going to the gym more this week; in spite of needing to lose five pounds in order for my favorite skirts to fit; in spite of –

For the past four-plus weeks I’ve been tracking my time: half hour by half hour, daily, weekly. I’ve learned a few things:

  • When I feel stressed out because I don’t have enough time for work, it’s because I actually haven’t spent enough time at work.
  • “Enough time at work” means 40-42 hours, not more than that. I am not one of the overworked in this world 🙂
  • I sleep 6.9 hours per night on average. This holds true regardless of late nights, early mornings, insomnia, whatever. At least so far, I revert to an average of 6.9. This feels about right to me: I feel awake, I feel alert, I have energy, I physically feel good. My 6.9 average holds steady even if I don’t set an alarm on the weekends.
  • I read a lot. Like, a lot. I read 8-15 hours per week.
  • On weeks when I feel stressed and have a lot going on – and within this four-week span, there was a week where that definitely felt like the case, even more than the usual these days – I spend more time planning, and more time switching between things. This means that on weeks when I have more to do, I have less time to actually do it. No wonder I feel stressed! I have no particular solution for this, other than reminding myself that this isn’t always the case.
  • For example, there was only one week like that out of the four. Not bad.
  • When I feel stressed, I also spend more time calling friends 🙂
  • I have time to go to the gym three days a week and walk 8,000 steps each day.

In other words, from a time perspective, things aren’t bad. I’m managing.

Given how much there is going on right now, managing feels like a win.

And so, I’m here. Writing this.

As a warmup for, I hope, writing something else.

2019.01.27

Have spent the morning re-reading some of my old writing – I’d planned to pull together poems for Coastside but have done this instead.

Some of it – the essays, the various topics, even my old time management book, even a few fiction fragments – is better than I’d thought!

Not sure what this tells me. Right now I’m coming back to writing stuff about once a week; this amount of time seems possible, but I wonder if I’m losing time to having to remind myself what I’ve already got.

I’ve also got writing scattered across two locations: my Mac, often in Scrivener, and the cloud, largely in txt files. At one point I loved Scrivener’s UI loveliness, and its flexibility of options appealed to me – but at this point in time I’m more in the realm of txt files, and their straightforward structure. This feels like a throwback to when I first wrote on computers, pulling together high school essays on my Dad’s old Victor 9000s with the green glowing screens and the heavy whirring floppy drives. Formatting things to print was a pain but the focus on the text was deep and fun. I miss that green.

More recently, I miss my old tiny Chromebook, with its clicky keyboard and its throwaway sturdiness. There’s a certain irony to finding common experience between text files on a pre-Windows desktop, and txt files in Drive – but that’s what I’m doing.

Good things 

This week:

Being able to track my bus in real time, meaning I can sit and finish my tea when the bus is late

The awesomeness of a really good professional coach

A junior person at work saying yes when I offered to help 

A group of women I really respect liking my new haircut 

Hot weather in October, and the prospect of a really good hike

And that’s Friday. 

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