liz writes stuff down
30Dec/16Off

20 things for 2017

I don't know how much I believe in New Year's resolutions, but I will happily use the buzz around them as inspiration to write down things I have started trying to do and things I recently decided I want to do. Given my philosophy that New Year's is a good excuse rather than motivation in and of itself, my list is likely to be updated throughout the year.

  1. Get up at 7 everyday. I'm nearly there. (I'd really rather it be 6:30, but I've often found that goal bad for getting enough sleep since I have many friends who prefer to do social things into the night.)
  2. Matt and I just bought an elliptical. My basement is incredibly convenient, so I'd like to use that in my soon-to-be reclaimed early mornings before work everyday.
  3. Become able to do the splits again. Maybe even oversplits like in middle school and high school.
  4. Sit down at the dining table for dinner when eating at home. Ideally I'd like to eat without being on my laptop. Fortunately, I think if I am on a laptop only occasionally, my brain will successfully form the habit around eating at the table without also forming one around eating while on my laptop.
  5. Drink more water. A year or so ago, I was on medication that caused me to be dehydrated more easily, and each day, I tallied how many pints of water I drank until I reached five pints. Coffee and tea could count towards only one pint. I hit that goal around the time I'd leave work and drank an amount of liquid without thinking after work that physically felt good. I also have suspicions that increased water consumption correlates to increased happiness for me.
  6. Don't buy coffee out unless it's for social or networking reasons. I don't do this a lot (haven't in a couple months, I think), but when I do, I always end up really unhappy with myself since I enjoy the process of making coffee and am lucky to not really need the caffeine to operate normally.
  7. Take photos of everything I buy that isn't a necessity. I'm not sure what exactly counts as a necessity yet! TBD, but so far, I think that there's no need to take photos of groceries and usual staple toiletries (helps that my routine conveniently isn't spendy), but photos will be required for things like takeout, meals out, and splurgy fancy soap. Replacing "bigger", longer-term-use household things like bath towels should be photographed, even if they're basically necessities, so that I can get a better feel for whether or not I'm properly balancing quality and price. I imagine what does and does not need to be photographed will make more sense as the year progresses. I don't think this will turn into a forever project, but I should stick to it for a whole year for the data mining.
  8. Do my various general finances maintenance more frequently. I basically have a good system, but I'd like to be doing the full set of things in that system once a month instead of when I happen to remember to.
  9. Try not to feel bad saying "no" to things. I don't know if I can hold myself accountable to this goal without spiraling downward if I spend lots of time reflecting on how well I'm doing. Maybe writing in a little (private) journal when I do say no and following up with notes about how it turned out okay would be reasonable?
  10. Put everything in the house away. Preferably this would have been done yesterday, but over all of 2017 is probably a goal that won't stress me out. Step one will be to figure out how to do this in increments that I can calendar well instead of freaking out that I will never have big enough blocks of time to make enough progress - and then punting because of that.
  11. Figure out a sustainable, meaningful way to engage with our government and do it. We are heading into dark times, and I am more privileged than most and need to leverage that to help those with less privilege. I already bother my representatives a bunch over the phone and email, but would like to spend more time crafting what I say to be concise and more effective. Living in New York City means my representatives generally agree with my views though, so probably some of the time I call to thank them can be better spent elsewhere. Unfortunately, protests, something I think I'd find rewarding as well as useful, are really risky for me. (A slight aside: Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark is a comforting read right now.)
  12. Do the post-it goal planning Rachel Binx discussed in her XOXO talk.
  13. Practice singing at least three hours a week, preferably 30 minutes every day I don't have a lesson. Obviously this doesn't apply when I'm sick.
  14. Reformat the outline of that novel I want to write into a collection of shorter stories because this seems to be just as reasonable a way to say what I want to say. It's almost certainly more achievable to fit in with my unrelated full time job.
  15. Set up the LED lights for the digital piano already. The materials for this were birthday gifts all the way back in 2014.
  16. Tuesdays will be scheduled as project nights, for writing, drawing, composing, experimenting in the kitchen, or that LED piano situation I keep putting off. Routines are the sorts of things that give me the energy for optional things, which are often the things in my control that bring me the most joy. Don't schedule other things unless it's completely unavoidable, and definitely don't do that more than once a month. I've poked through my calendar for 2017, and I have only two things on Tuesdays! One is a book talk, and the other is traveling back from a wedding. This seems totally doable!
  17. Leave one weeknight a week unscheduled for friend emergencies. ("Emergencies" is definitely the wrong word, but I haven't been able to think of the right one today. Emergencies undoubtedly fall into the set of things I'd use this for, but probably I would drop other things, too.) Maybe can be used for friends who don't plan at least a week out like I do. Likely this will mostly be Mondays, but it doesn't need to be on the same day every week like scheduled project night. Maybe I will aim for Mondays because I have only two Mondays with things scheduled: D&D this Monday and a wedding in July. Downside is that if I want to use this for friends who don't plan in advance, Monday is a bad day because people I know don't seem to be geared up to do same day things then, which is even worse for the original goal of wanting to have time for friends in need. Hmm. Also, the failure mode of this is more time at home, which is always excellent.
  18. Finally finish the lizdenys.com overhaul: switch the blogs to a static site generator that also contains the rest of my site. Draw that line drawing self-portrait for the front page.
  19. Blog at least twice a month, preferably every week. I have so many things I've written the first draft for, but haven't polished or haven't uploaded because they're not in a great format out of the box (like my zine about riding the subway with anxiety and PTSD). Maybe I'm being a bit hard on myself for not getting to that in the past couple months given my travel schedule and how much time I've spent sick, but twice a month should be a sustainable default.
  20. Hold myself accountable on these things. I think I'm going to start by making a chart to mark off some metric of progress for the bigger things, but instead of having a cell for every week, I'll have it be 52 cells wide and the top row will be for surviving that week. In theory, this will be enough to track progress, and choosing not to link specific milestones directly to specific weeks will allow me to look at it without get immediately stressed out by getting "behind" for not doing something for every category each week. I also want to summarize my progress in (monthly?) blog posts. Unclear if those would always count towards the goal to blog twice a month, especially if it's just progress without introspection. The ideal accountability post probably would count because I'd like to focus in how a couple changes have affected me in these posts. Also, posting vague posts is something I've wanted to get more comfortable with for a while, and this type of vague posting even comes with the additional tangible benefits of being held accountable!

Thanks to the fabulous Jeanna Kadlec for starting the Facebook thread that inspired this post earlier today!

4Oct/16Off

Liz rides the subway on October 4, 2016: social media, differing political views, and friendship

Liz rides the subway is a series containing thoughts I have on the subway. On the 3 and B trains home:

I came across this Good Guy Boss meme on Facebook yesterday:

Good Guy Boss: I will respect you regardless of who you support in this election. I don't unfriend people due to political views. That degrades democracy and free thinking.

I will respect you regardless of who you support in this election.

I don't unfriend people due to political views. That degrades democracy and free thinking.

There is a big difference between respecting someone as a person and being friends with them. Memes like this deceptively conflate those two things because it's reprehensible to not respect someone as a person. People post these memes because they want you to believe unfriending someone is the same reprehensible act.

But it's not. Friendship is more than respecting someone as a human being. Friendship requires trust. Friendship requires active effort.

Political views are not theoretical or arbitrary like what someone's favorite sports team is - they have meaningful consequences for my friends and me. Many political views that disagree with mine fundamentally imply their holder doesn’t see me or many of my friends and family as human beings intrinsically deserving of rights and respect. I just don't know how to trust people whose views fundamentally disrespect me as a human because I don't feel safe. I don't know how to put the effort into staying close with people I can't trust.

Unsurprisingly, most of the time I see these memes in my feed, they come from dudes, usually cishet white dudes. There's a great post on tumblr about how it's easier for cishet white dudes to be friends with people who disagree with their political ideas:

White dudes have this thing where they believe your best friend in the world can have opposing political ideas. You’re supposed to be able to have healthy debate and disagreeing shouldn’t harm your friendship. That’s gross and stupid. Its really easy to say that when all your disagreements are theoretical. Its easy to say when none of the laws passed actually effect your life. Fighting with your best friend about corporate regulations, school charters, educational funding, abortion, health care, voting restrictions, drug laws, taxes and all sorts of stuff is cool and lively because none of it is going to actually leave you in a bad spot. Its different for the rest of us.

If someone's opposing political views were truly, solely theoretical for everyone, maybe I'd be able to trust them enough to be friends with them.

Sometimes, when I tell people this, they bark back that friendship on social media and "in person, pre-social media friendship" aren't the same. I'm inclined to agree, but that still doesn't mean someone deserves to be my "friend" on social media. People I am "friends" with on social media and don't block take up space in my feeds and time in my day, and I have every right to curate this to take care of myself by keeping out hateful disrespect. I still read multiple, ideologically different, non-social media news sources, so the argument that I'm living in a bubble doesn't hold a lot of water in my mind.

Besides, comparing being friends or following on social media to in person friendships generally confuses me because it's not clear exactly what constitutes friendship. I casually call basically everyone I know a "friend" when talking about them with someone else I know, whether or not I spill my secrets to them, but if I don't share any of my private thoughts with them, I probably consider them an "acquaintance" in my mind. The word "friend" has become so overloaded that it's practically lost its value - it's no wonder that it's an even more complicated concept online.

12May/162

Liz rides the subway on May 12, 2016: women’s financial planning

Liz rides the subway is a series containing thoughts I have on the subway, mostly as an experiment to get me to write more. Today's ride home from choir practice:

Former Citigroup CFO Sallie Krawcheck launched Ellevest yesterday. Ellevest differs from other investment platforms because it focuses on women's investment needs:

Women, for example, need a platform that takes into account not only her earnings, but also her salary arc - which is different from men's. It needs to account for the fact that women live longer than men, on average, when planning for retirement. It needs to understand the salary differentials between a womans pay and her male counterpart's pay and how that impacts her strategies.

Matt Levine counters:

People overrate the importance of an adviser who understands an investor's unique needs, because what all investors need is as much money as possible without losing any. (The financial solution to the loss of income from taking time off to raise children is to have more money, but that is the financial solution to every problem.)

Levine's response tricks you by letting you take “without losing any [money]” completely for granted, but investments aren't risk free. Ultimately, the risk you're willing to take on is influenced by how much money you have to invest - which is largely influenced by your earnings and career arc - and how much you cannot afford to lose - which is closely tied to how many more years you need to be able to support yourself. Seems to me that Krawcheck has a point, whether or not Ellevest is the solution.

Now, charging 50 basis points per year when your competitors charge half that is criticism I readily agree with.

9May/160

Liz rides the subway on May 9, 2016

Liz rides the subway is a series containing thoughts I have on the subway, mostly as an experiment to get me to write more. On today's commutes to and from work:

A Fine Frenzy's "Rangers" is a much more poetic song than Taylor Swift's awkwardly similar "I Know Places". A hunted rabbit is a tighter analogy than a hunted fox. Also, I sure haven't looked for any new music lately...

Naomi Novik writes fanfic! Fanfic is my new favorite commute buddy.

It would be really rad if Matt Levine's daily Money Stuff email was sent out before I got on the subway each morning instead of after I got off it.

I feel lucky that it made more sense to drive than take the train every time I left the house last weekend, since I certainly would have been a lot grumpier about not getting a seat then than today. The bruises from falling down a flight of stairs last Friday does not a happy standing Liz commute make. Dreaming of a passive, low effort way to signal invisible pain that is easily understood and widely respected.

Cate Huston's recent article on saying "no" comes at a time when multiple women I care about have hit the same wall from putting in unsustainable amounts of emotional labor to improve tech for women. A choice quote from Huston's writing that can apply to anything:

Saying no is a powerful thing. Refusing obligations and choosing your own priorities is an act of self care and an expression of hope. Saying no is an act of strength. A peaceful resistance. I embrace it, and as with all things, the more I do it the easier it gets.

Amen, sister.

5Sep/150

Leave icebreakers to strangers, or how to spin friends and introduce people

My favorite way to meet new people is through my existing set of friends. There are many benefits, the obvious one being that my friends tend to have great taste in people.

But I'm also at least a little bit awkward. Despite consciously thinking about asking thoughtful versions of default questions when I don't have a good starting point, I still get nervous when I don't know if what I'm saying will interest the person I'm meeting. While I don't think that friendship is transitive, starting off on topics that don't interest both parties can cause people to miss out on what could otherwise become a good conversation or even a lasting connection.

If you're introducing your friends to each other, try to suggest something they'd all enjoy discussing.

Sometimes, there's something specific and convenient to talk about:

  • "Liz studies voice; she loves singing opera and operettas. You mentioned you saw Falstaff a few weeks ago?"
  • "Both of you enjoy cooking. Liz, I know you spend most of your time in the kitchen with a Dutch oven, but have you tried pressure cooking yet? Karen made amazing pressure cooker oxtail last week."
  • "You and Geoffrey are both passionate about open-source software. Geoffrey worked on providing software for MIT's computing systems via Debian packages and repos; I think you've submitted patches to some of the packages he's worked with."

Other times, there might not be something precise, but you can still find common ground:

  • "I think you've both mentioned liking classical music."
  • "You and Karen both studied computer science in college."
  • "Geoffrey's been working out of coffee shops lately. I know you have a favorite coffee shop, but forget what it is."[1]

If you can't think of something they have in common on the spot, mention something you find interesting about each of them.

Though you don't have to say something about everyone in the same breath - you want to leave spaces for the conversation to expand. If it looks like people are clicking, you might even get away with only introducing one person!

  • "Liz and I traveled to Sweden earlier this year, and we stayed in a treehouse."
  • "Karen started powerlifting a couple years ago."
  • "Geoffrey and I are members of a church choir and sing a lot of Bach."

If you are meeting someone without the person who brought you, ask "How do you know people here?"

I love this question because I don't have to think too hard about what I'm going to say; I already know how I met my friends. Questions with obvious answers relieve some of the pressure around introducing yourself.

[1] Pun wasn't intended about coffee shops and common ground, but then I decided I liked it. Sorry not sorry.