It’s 10:15 am on Monday morning and I’m still in bed.

I’ve had two cups of tea and I’ve been reading social media on my phone for a few hours. Yesterday, I spent all day with PI and we got a ton of work done. But now, I’m drained. I had low reserves going into the day, and I heavily overspent my Shiny. “Shiny” is what I call my reserves of energy I spend when I’m interacting with people, even people I sincerely like. I’m a classic introvert, even if I don’t match the stereotypical shy-in-a-corner picture of an introvert people draw in their minds. I talk a lot, easily and freely, and I’m not afraid of conflict. But unlike an extrovert, who becomes energized when around people, every interaction I have has an associated energy expenditure. I only have so much in reserves, and they are slow to recharge.

The way Shiny works for me is kind of like how you can run a deficit when you haven’t gotten enough sleep. Sure, you can sleep in a little the next day and maybe that’s even enough to catch up, but depending on how long you’ve been running with too little sleep (how much you’ve overspent), an extra twenty minutes in the morning may not be able to make much of a dent. It’s like that, but for being awake. And interacting with other people.

So even though I’ve been awake for hours, I’m still in bed, listening to classical music playing quietly in the background punctuated by the wheezy snoring of my elderly cat who won’t leave my side.

Lacking a consistent schedule over the last year has affected my ability to consistently regulate my Shiny levels. I overspend in big batches because I forget that I need to conserve for the next event/contact/meeting. This means that in the interactions I’ve had, I’ve been very much present and focused… but they’ve also been individually much more expensive. The contrast in these approaches is interesting, because it’s shown me how much more absorbed and connected I can be in the moment when I used to interact from a default position of reserve. I need to figure out how I can use that Shiny deliberately and strategically when it can do the most good, now that I know I have it.

Sometimes, the default settings are safer — but they can hold me back.

Looking backwards.

I knew a few weeks ago this was coming, sort of. I gave a talk at DevOpsDays where I said, “And a year ago I was about half-way through my very brief tenure at the shortest job I’ve ever held.” I guess I just didn’t realize how fast everything goes by, especially when the world feels extra out of control.

It has been on my calendar for months: Write One Year Later Post. Certainly, this year hasn’t exactly gone the way I had planned it to. I had plans, after all! I expected to spend at least three years at reddit, and had cleared the decks of just about every kind of overhanging distraction project I had been slow-burning to make space for the intense work I knew we had ahead of us. There was so much to do. The sheer weight of so much turn-around possibility was intoxicating. I was ready for the journey. I was ready for the long hard haul.

And then, suddenly, I wasn’t on that road anymore.

Side-note: I have absolutely zero regrets about my choices from one year ago – first the decision to leave FB, then the decision to leave reddit. With the data I had at the time – and certainly the reinforcing data that came afterwards – I have not lost one moment to anguished “what could have been” scenarios. I made the right choice for me, both then and now. Every now and then I get the gift of another small piece of data reaffirming those decisions, and while I treasure them I don’t exactly collect them. I look at the info, I sigh wistfully at hopes still unrealized, and then set it aside and move on with my day. But I don’t think about them that much, honestly. At least not until I have a reminder on my calendar to Write One Year Later Post.

But back to where my brain is now – out of a strange year, this is an especially strange time for career-focused introspection. Over the past week, I’ve thought far more about the decision to leave Dallas in 2002 than I ever have before, but that’s been about it from a “looking backwards” standpoint. I’ve never been particularly driven by the kind of ruminating self-analysis in which I’ve seen both friends and colleagues indulge or regret. I’ve set aside my writing time today with that explicit purpose, but hey I guess I still suck at it.

Just writing a post that is basically predestined to be about how I’ve changed this year, or my relationship with my career or world has changed, or a dissection of every choice I’ve made in the past twelve months, or a confessional laid bare in which I talk about myself at length… I’m not sure there’s any way to write something like that without it being at best self-indulgent and at worst tone-deaf.

Even knowing that, the least I feel like I should say today is that the world, or my relationship with it, has changed in ways I never expected. I have always heard that as we get older, we get more set in our ways. Sure thing – in some respects I see that in my own life and habits. Then I look again more closely and I’m overwhelmed by the ways that I am freer now. Without the luxury of more work than I can handle soaking up all the space in my brain, I’ve stopped hiding and started actually processing when something is so fucked up that I can’t make excuses or pretend otherwise. For me over the past year, that has mostly meant focusing energy and attention to calling out both how messed up it is that the Meritocracy so revered in Tech is far from a reality.

I have a habit that I know many of my friends find incredibly annoying. If I’m able to accomplish something, I immediately label that thing as “easy” and “anyone can do that if I can do it.” I say this shit so often that a few friends have called me out on it. “Stop saying that, because it’s not true. It’s actually hard to do that.” I’ve fallen back on this technique to make light of all kinds of personal accomplishments, large and small – from intricate cable-knit gloves to selling our startup to Facebook. “If I did it, it can’t be that difficult. Anyone can do it.” The plus-side my friends confronting me (besides making them feel better, I hope) – it’s driven me to confront some of the ways I have been really, really lucky. If it wasn’t easy, then how did I manage? Hard work isn’t enough – I’ve had some good luck and advantages to shore up that hard work. And then I had to face something I had never considered: when I’m falling into that pattern of “it’s easy,” I’m also being outrageously insulting to people who do not have the same luck/opportunities that I have enjoyed in my life. Not only am I lying to myself in an irritating self-deprecating way, I’m also minimizing the experiences of people who haven’t had my advantages. To use the Scalzi analogy, being a woman in Tech means I’m not exactly playing on easy mode, but there are many many people around me every day who are just plain stuck with a broken controller. The same flippant self-devaluation that I fall back on out of habit is downright dismissive of people I’ve never even met. The effortless way I say, “It’s easy – if I did it so can anyone!” is essentially me being an asshole.

I’m smart and I’ve worked hard, but I’ve also had some serious advantages because my skin is white.

Growing up in Texas, I remember seeing extreme and overt racism – unapologetic, painting itself in as “history” and “culture” to excuse why they thought it was just fine and dandy to categorically despise people who didn’t share their white skin. Every Friday night during high school, I’d try and fail to reconcile how a white guy who would use the n-word without thinking twice would also cheer and holler for the football players, many of whom were African-American or Latino. I guess that during the game, that guy briefly felt everyone was on the same team. Back at school, in public places, at social events – that game-night camaraderie would revert back to the their default unabashed sense of superiority that came from being born white. I won’t say every white kid saw the world through the same unabashedly racist eyes, because that would not be accurate. But we did all see the overt racism happening in pockets around us, and for many of us it was just what became “normal” – and at least we didn’t do that, right? Instead, we confused the absence of overt racism in our homes and our social circles with the absence of racism altogether. We didn’t see just how much bullshit our Black and Latinx and Asian friends were carrying with them everywhere they went, because our very presence reduced its expression. In retrospect, I realize there was so much I didn’t know – the amount of fuckery they were dealt on a regular basis that I would never see because it wouldn’t happen when I was around. I would hear from time to time about one Black friend being pulled over by the cops (again), and all I thought was “Damn! He must be a really terrible driver.” It never even occurred to me why he was pulled over, or why his dad was constantly pulled over, or why when he borrowed the family car to drive us somewhere he followed every traffic law with such precision. I still can’t deeply understand his experience, though I suppose now I know that I don’t get it. That may count as personal progress, but there’s no way it’s even close to enough.

Well, huh. Look what I went and did. A self-indulgent little post about myself after all.  A One Year Later retrospective through the eyes of who I am today.  As worn out as I am pushing through uncomfortable realizations, it’s nothing compared to the experiences of people of color in Tech and otherwise.  If you don’t pretend you’re not seeing anything, the only option left is to face it directly and take the discomfort as it comes.

I want The Meritocracy in Tech to be real. I really do. It would be great if it were real, if everyone coming into tech companies as a whole had the same fair shot at success. If no matter what your background or ethnicity or religious background or gender or who you love – if no matter what those things say you had the same ability to succeed as someone who adheres to the stereotypical “we want someone who looks like Zuck” phenotype. I guess what I’m asking from white men and women is for them to face head-on something I’ve stopped pretending not to see.

Just because I don’t want it to be true, that doesn’t mean I get to declare that the problem doesn’t exist.
Just because it hasn’t happened to me personally, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
Just because I haven’t seen it first-hand, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.
Just because some negative things have happened to me, that doesn’t mean I have the right to appoint myself as representing the experiences of another group.
Just because I want to feel like it’s “not so hard” if I can do it, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t downright impossible for someone else at least as smart, as driven, as talented as I am — because the opportunities aren’t equal.

I want the Meritocracy to become reality.
We won’t get it unless we fight for it.

City cousins and sycamore saplings and Facebook

sycamoreMy mother-in-law used to tell stories about when she was a child, growing up “dirt poor on a tomato farm” in Arkansas. One of my favorites is about how they were visited by their “city cousins.” The siblings devised a number of absurd and not completely safe hazing activities, leveraging the naïveté of their cousins about how things worked in the country. A game they introduced was “riding the sycamore saplings” – in which the kids would bend a tall sycamore sapling down to the ground, have a cousin hold tight, and then let go of the young tree as it whipped back and forth in a frenzy of released energy. Miraculously no one was seriously injured as they were thrown to and fro, desperately holding onto the narrow trunk.

Today, I was the “city cousin” and my Facebook feed was the sycamore sapling.

I know that I should be working. I have a ton to do. This is the thing that happens when I’m obsessed with an idea – it won’t leave me alone and my brain just keeps turning it over, thinking about different angles… But I needed a break from my work-brain for a few minutes and I turned, of course, to Facebook.

Ah, Facebook. I go there now not for work as I once did, but as a normal person, using the site in a normal (though perhaps over-knowledgeable) way. I browse through my feed. I forget to check my inbound messages to see what I’ve missed. And I have that feeling of keeping up to date on the events in the lives of people I know, but am not close enough to that I actually talk to them often (or perhaps, not at all anymore).

My feed today had three events commemorated that in combination gave me the same feeling of thrash I imagine the city cousins once felt. Back and forth, waiting for the sapling to stop shaking.
First, I saw that a former colleague turns fifty today. I never in a million years would have guessed this man is FIFTY. I mean, I didn’t look equivalently as good as he does when I was twenty. Genetics and clean living, I suppose. There’s an outpouring of FB love headed his way. I actually adore those birthday post-floods. I think they’re kind of beautiful. I hope that he knows everyone is both happy for him and secretly envious of him. Heh.

Then, I saw a post from a friend who attended middle and high school with me. I haven’t spoken to her in years, but there’s always FB, keeping us in each others feeds, occasionally commenting on what’s happening in life. Today, she said goodbye to her son who has been valiantly battling cancer. I think he was fourteen. He’d been fighting for over two years – sometimes with amazing promise that he’d beaten it, then the disappointment of its recurrence. She shared that when she asked him how he wanted to be remembered, he said that he wanted people to remember that he loved everyone. When I read the post, my heart broke for them again. I don’t have kids, and I know I can’t imagine what her family is going through. But my heart broke nonetheless. Her post was open-hearted and loving, a beautiful tribute to her child. It was beautiful.

Just below the post by my friend, my Facebook feed had another post that tugged at the feels, but in a completely different way. A former colleague posted a picture of his new daughter, born this last night, perfect and adorable. I’m so happy for them, growing their family of two into a family of three. It’s a time full of anticipation and excitement… and it’s beautiful.

I hear people bitch all the time about how their Facebook feeds are full of crap and I believe them. Some days, they are. I’ve aggressively pruned mine over the years, sending “I don’t want to see this” feedback until the algorithm stops showing me whatever it is that won’t go away. Today, my feed was powerful in a way I couldn’t have ever predicted it would be. My gut felt the whip of the sapling, back and forth while I held on.

I felt.

It was beautiful.

+3 weeks(ish)

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 10.50.46 AM

Three weeks ago(ish), I turned 43. I made some resolutions. Let’s review them, shall we?

First, I said I’d stop hitting the snooze button. This one has been going not-so-great. Okay – total honesty time: I just kind of forgot that it was something I had committed to do, and let it go by the wayside. But this something I’m in for the long haul, not for just a checkbox to say I did it. It’s okay for me to fail a bit and then try again. That’s my new plan – I’m going to try this one again. I’ve been waking up for basically no reason around 5am – and if you know me, you know that this is probably the least bethanye thing ever. I love to sleep. I love love to sleep. I do not wake easily. But I find myself conscious at 5am, completely wide awake… and then SHB is dozing next to me and there are cats on top of the blankets and I am stubborn that I don’t want to leave the comfort of our warm bed. So I drift back to sleep, waking a few hours later and then annoyed I missed the chance to get up early and do stuff. My days feel too short when I sleep in like this, so I’m re-committing to this one. If I wake up on my own and it’s after 4:30am (UGH), I’m going to just get up. If I don’t wake up on my own and my fitbit-alarm goes off at 6:30, I’ll actually get out of bed. I need to get back in the groove of having a normal-person schedule. I have other commitments to attend to.

That brings me to the second resolution: Write Every Day. This one has been kind of hit or miss. I’ve probably managed to pull this off about 2/3 of days, which isn’t terrible though it’s not good enough. I was very diligent when I was in Houston, and I’ve had a few other projects going on that I’ll count towards this goal. Yesterday I had no posts and no journaling, but I managed to get some work done for another writing project and so what the heck I’ll count it. Maybe 3/4 of days over the past three weeks then. I’m surprised how much the journal writing is training me to have both focus and fluidity of thought. I type pretty fast (read: like a damn machine gun), and sometimes that means that words come out of my hands without every really taking time to settle into my brain. Writing with the pen slows me down. [ Funny discovery: I make WAY more “typos” when I’m writing by hand. I just drop letters out of words and keep going. But my journal writing is for me, not others, and it’s not about how perfect my grammar and spelling are, right? ]

The third resolution: nourish myself. This one has been going really well, probably the best of the three. I haven’t hit the gym as much as I intended, but I’ve still been going to pilates at least weekly. I have been eating better, reading better, sleeping better (maybe too better, but better). I’ve given myself space to think. I’ve listened to music that makes me happy. I’ve enjoyed incredible and insightful conversations with amazing people, and those discussions have unlocked my thinking in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. I’m stronger for moving towards happiness instead of feeling guilty about wanting to be multi-dimensionally happy. I feel both anxious to make things happen and fulfilled at the same time. This is the best way for me to be. I need to move, not just my brain but my body. I need to feed both. I’m doing just that. It’s liberating and exhilarating. Yes, I gave up sugar for Lent and yes, I miss it. But it will be there when Lent is over. I mean, I didn’t give up coffee or bourbon, and I am happy that I have excellent versions of both in my life. Maybe next year I’ll forego something more difficult, but this isn’t the year for it.

Some of my pet projects, like posting a new photo every day, have fallen by the wayside and I’m okay with that. The projects I really care about (like Cathy Labs) have had some happy-making strong progress over the past several weeks. At least some of that progress stems directly from the time I’ve spent focused on writing. In particular the journal writing has forced me to think through and articulate ideas I’ve otherwise let float about in my mind. I’m growing more comfortable with the ritual of sitting (or standing, like I am now) and just pouring out words to my keyboard or page. I’m less worried about how things will read or seem because even if I share them on my blog, I’m not writing them for anyone else. On my projects, I’m writing those for others as well but they are coming into existence because of the work I’m doing to nourish myself first. If I want to be more reliable in my cadence, I realize now that this is absolutely possible if I get over myself and JUST FREAKING WRITE.  I had no idea it would be this hard, really.  And I have it so much easier just saying “these are my thoughts” than the amazing creating art-through-words really good writers do, like my husband and friends and favorite authors. Fiction writers: you’re inventing worlds, you have people and situations in your brain fighting to get out. How the hell do you do it? All I have is me in here, nervous about becoming somehow exposed to the world via words and still… getting better at it. Little by little. Getting better at it.

There might be something to this whole “resolutions” thing after all.


26jan2016.jpgI woke up late again this morning. I keep doing that – waking up before my alarm goes off at 6:30, my brain racing with giddy thoughts about the work ahead (nope, I’m not talking about that yet)… and then I cuddle in next to SHB and lo and behold it’s an hour later than when I last glanced at the clock. I need to stop doing that. I’ve been doing it most mornings for the past six months, really since the hullabaloo finally blew over when I left my last job. Going back to sleep makes me feel more tired than if I had just popped out of bed. This doesn’t feel like grown-up behavior, and yet I keep doing it.

Tomorrow, I turn 43 years old.

Yet I keep going back to sleep, luxuriating in the comfort of our bed instead of feeding the excitement in my brain. I think I’m going to stop doing that. Time to let that one go.
There are some distinct advantages to having a late-January birthday. It didn’t always work, but some years I was able to figure out what I wanted for Christmas but hadn’t arrived, and then it would turn up for my birthday, picked up for cheap in the post-holiday sales. Growing up in Texas, my birthday was equally likely to have weather in the high-60’s as it was to be closed for a “weather day” – what passes for a snow day in Dallas, where you get ice much more than snow.

Late-January birthdays are also a perfect time to set any resolutions for the year ahead. The gym dilettantes have all given up by now, so the crowds have abated. On the years I bother with “Dry January,” my birthday is when I just call the experiment “good enough” and enjoy a bit of my beloved bourbon. I skipped “Dry January” this year, but that doesn’t mean I’m without a set of resolutions. Plenty of things are irritating me about myself. They’re mostly within my control, and this seems like a good time for me to get hold of them and own that shit.

So then… resolutions.

You snooze, you lose.

Like I said, I’m going to forego the snooze button for at least the next few months (let’s say through end of March) and see if that helps me get more done overall. I expect that I’ll get more done in the mornings, but I’m playing the long game here and if that means I get squat done in the evenings I’m not sure it’s a winning strategy for me. If I’m trading the focus I often get after 7PM, I had best get something awesome in return. Maybe I will actually get both.

Write every day.

When I was in college – yeah, way back in the early 90’s – I wrote a lot of essays. It’s a normal college thing to do. Even though my writing wasn’t beautiful or moving, it was a comfortable activity that I navigated without much worry or overhead. Have an assignment, figure out roughly what I wanted to say, write it out, edit the hell out of it, turn it in, lather rinse repeat. I was working full time and going to school full time, and so I didn’t have a lot of time to mess around. I was efficient. It was a well-trod activity path. Fast forward over twenty years and writing anything more than an outline, technical documentation, or an email… really, writing anything >140 characters that feels like it comes from me, versus just a description of things happening in the world, has become an exercise in procrastination, then self-excoriation, then waiting and hoping for it to just go away.

I decided to write a book, wrote up the outline, talked to some people, lined up some interviews, wrote the intro… and then just couldn’t get my shit together to write out the rest.  I haven’t given up on it, but it’s been hanging over me when I should be more excited.  I envied my friends with writing partners – at least they had someone to kick them in the ass when they flaked out. My husband is a writer — a good one — and I sincerely do not know where he gets the well of inspiration and fire that drives him to keep writing when I can barely pull of a blog post these days. He tells me that much of writing is staring at a screen until blood comes out of your eyes, and it used to make me laugh. It doesn’t anymore. Writing performance reviews is bad enough – and I’ve done tons of those. This is something else, something internally-driven and somehow more personal. I need to get the hell over myself and just do it. I’m going to write some every day.

Every. Single. Day. For. An. Entire. Year.

Some of it I’ll publish, some of it will just be in my journal*, some of it will be long-form for Cathy Labs but it will all be me – email, twitter, etc. don’t count. I keep hoping that it will be like my physical therapy sessions. I threw my back out pretty badly in December, and my physical therapist has me doing all these weird pilates-esque exercises. They mean I’m trying to talk to muscles that I’m not used to talking to, and getting them to do stuff. It’s incredibly awkward. But it’s becoming less awkward, and I’m hoping this can be the same: figure out roughly what I wanted to say, write it out, edit the hell out of it, send it to its fate, lather rinse repeat.

Nourish myself.

People who have worked with me over the past decade-ish have heard my go-to rant about taking care of yourself. In short: You are made of meat. And meat needs maintenance. In classic “Do as I say not as I do” mode, I’ve often ignored this advice for myself. I would often tell colleagues, “If I’m acting super bitchy, make sure I’ve had enough water to drink because I will forget and it makes me grouchy.” That is all true, but not sufficient. I need to do more than just track my food and water on FitBit. I owe myself better than that.

I’ve never been a big fan of the sometimes absurd health fads some of my friends celebrate. I’m looking at you, self-diagnosed gluten intolerance, “I love Soylent,” “Have you put butter in your coffee OMG IT IS LIFE CHANGING!!” friends. [ I still love y’all, but here we differ. ] I am a person who has lived most of my life inside my head – classic introversion. Ergo, this resolution isn’t all about food for me, rather it is about remembering that there’s more to my experience than just what’s happening in my mind’s ear.

So here’s my resolution: I will embrace things that nourish me. I will embrace simple, healthy food because it makes my brain run better and because it’s just good. I will try to exercise until I get some actual sweat every day, which can be difficult when you’re in startup-mode but I will make room for it. I need to be the best b I can possibly be to do the things in front of me. That means fuel for the fire, and room for recovery. Sometimes I will knit. Sometimes I will read. Sometimes I will cook. I’m already at about 70% of this in my current behaviors, but this is my commitment to myself to do better.

None of these are grand changes.

I’m okay with that. They don’t need to be. They’re for me, not for anyone else, and besides which I have enough on the “grand plans” list for Cathy Labs that I can afford some smallish, simpler changes for myself.

Starting tomorrow.

* This whole journal thing is pretty new to me.  But it was a great excuse to buy a new Lamy fountain pen and some amazing green ink with gold flecks in it. I’m all about the sparkly when it comes to journaling, apparently.