Where is home? What is a hometown?

I have a complicated relationship with the word “home”.

The idea of home is ingrained in our society. Sayings like “Home is where the heart is” and “Make yourself at home” and “Home sweet home” have wormed their way into our culture, all of them bringing both the idea of home and the search for a home closer to us.

It’s easy to say that the place where you live is home. While this is an accurate meaning of the word “home”, the word means so much more than that. There’s a cultural significance to claiming a place as home, as claiming a place as home means claiming that place as part of yourself: past, present, or future.

The question “Where are you from?” is a loaded one for me, as it can mean different things in different contexts. When surrounded by people who don’t live in the same geographic area as me, the question “Where are you from?” often means “Where do you currently live?” To which I easily reply with where I currently live. Easy peasy. No real issues there.

But sometimes “Where are you from?” can mean “Where were you born and raised?” To which I begin my answer with “I grew up in”, careful not to say I am from that small town that almost all of my immediate family still calls home, because doing so would show that I still claim a connection to the town of my childhood, a connection that isn’t there, never was there.

Being biracial, the question can also mean “Where are your ancestors from?” or “What is your race, because you don’t look like a typical white person?” I’ve taken to answering this question with “Atlanta” or “Here” if I’m already in the city, just to be a smart aleck, especially if I’m not in the mood for further conversation. It’s true: I am from here. Besides having a Korean parent, I can’t claim much connection to being Korean or being from there. I don’t speak a word of the language. I’ve never been to Korea. I was raised with completely Western attitudes toward life and culture. Truth be told, the only Korean in me is biological. I’m from Korea in the same sense that French fries are from France.

My mom frequently asks me when I’m coming home when we talk on the phone, and truth be told, I never have a good answer for her–both for the “when” part and the “home” part. I’ve mentioned this before, even though I know exactly what she means: when am I going to make the trip up to visit her and my dad and brother. And truth be told, I’ve told Mom this before. I’ve never felt like I was from the town I grew up in. The small town, where almost everyone lives and thinks the same, was never a place where I truly belonged. It was a place that did the opposite: made me feel like I stood out for being different, made me want to get out of there at the first opportunity. The town of my childhood never provided that.

Home is supposed to be the place where you belong, where you feel perfectly comfortable being yourself. The town I grew up in has never been that place for me. Discovering a community where I truly belong has provided more of that home feeling than my childhood town ever has. Home may not be wherever I’m with you (whoever you may be), but for me, home is more of a feeling than anything else.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Political What Ifs

The problem with being a writer and reading a lot of dystopian fiction is that I keep thinking of what would happen if some of those tropes were applied to current events, particularly in the United States. There are the serious what ifs that echo history; I think you know what I’m referring to here. But then there are the sillier, tropier ones.

This tweet sums it up:

Here are a few of the things I’ve come up with. And if you ever write these things, let me know, but not right now. Reality is depressing enough as it is.

What if the hero of the story is some poor intern at the National Park Service? Her love interest would be an Environmental Protection Agency intern, and they would bond over nature and science. When they both get demoted (yes, demoted) at their internships, they get together and plot the fall of the government from within.

What if the hero has been an activist for awhile and then, just as the orange man is about to take the oath of office, jumps in and interrupts the oath? This and the resulting chaos mean the president never takes the oath of office. Then what?

What if there’s a parallel universe where Clinton is president and David Bowie and Prince and Carrie Fisher and all the other awesome celebrities who died last year are partying it up? And what if these universes are connected somehow? Instead of seeking refuge in another country, people would seek refuge in another universe. (This is going to be one of the universes in my parallel world novel. It has been decided.)

What if someone freed Melania by crawling into the exhaust pipes in Trump Tower? Or what if Barron went exploring in them?

What if humanity managed to colonize another planet and the rest of the world went there, leaving Murica to burn?

What if there’s a White House love triangle going on? Mango Man/Bannon/Spicer, anyone?

What if the zombie apocalypse happened? How would that affect how government agencies communicate? (Come on, you knew this was coming.)

What if we have to destroy all of the orange man’s horcruxes before the presidency ends? (Come on, you knew this was coming too.)

Camp NaNoWriMo approacheth

March has arrived, bringing with it pleasant weather, Pi Day, and the countdown to Camp NaNoWriMo.

This year I have no idea which project to pursue. Over the past couple of years I’ve worked on Wikiwrimo updates and blog posts for this site during Camp NaNo. This year, I started working on Wikiwrimo updates earlier than usual (gasp, right?), and while my list of possible post ideas is growing, I still haven’t posted all of last year’s posts yet. Oops.

So what now? So far my main idea is reworking the novel I rewrote for 2016’s NaNo. I have two separate first drafts, with the second version containing some major changes from the first version. The question here is what to do with this. Do I create an outline for the third draft? Do I create that outline now and then write the actual third draft? I’m leaning toward the former despite my inclination toward pantsing, simply because I can’t just keep cranking out new drafts forever. Eventually I need to sit down with what I’ve written and figure out what works, what doesn’t, and how to make the prose shine (because I assure you the prose does not shine at the moment). Next month can be that time.

I can’t back out now, though–I’ve already joined a cabin for this session of Camp. Last year I joined cabins with a mix of people I already knew and people I didn’t; while this was a fun experience, it also meant that I would chat with the people I knew elsewhere. My original cabin plan for this Camp NaNoWriMo session was to enter an randomly assigned cabin; however, that changed when someone from the NaNo forums invited me into their cabin unprompted. Why not? I thought and clicked Join. Randomness can wait for the July session.

What about you? Are you doing Camp NaNoWriMo this year?

What I’m Reading, February 2017

Hello March! February was a good month for reading, with 19 books read this month and 35 total books read this year. Although I encountered a string of disappointments at the beginning and end of the month, I did enjoy most of February’s books. Here goes.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford: Several of my friends have raved about this book, including one who specializes in children’s literature, so I went in with high expectations. It’s a cute mystery that takes place around Christmastime; twelve-year-old Milo just wants to have a peaceful winter break, but then all kinds of guests appear in the inn his parents run. Milo then finds himself solving a mystery about missing items and hte house itself with the help of the cook’s daughter Meddy. I enjoyed the beginning and end (including the twist at the end), as well as Milo, Meddy, and his parents, but the side characters mostly fell flat to me. (3 out of 5 stained glass windows)

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley: I listened to this book. It would have resonated more in 2010 when it was released as opposed to now when everything seems like gloom and doom. Author Matt Ridley tries to argue that the world is getting better and will continue to get better. He does this well in the first few chapters, but then his arrogance starts to show. His argument also doesn’t take into account world governments and corruption that frequently block innovation and world progress, something that has been rearing its ugly head more frequently over the past few years. Mostly I just found myself bored while listening to this book. (2 out of 5 global changes)

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande: I listened to this book. I wanted to like this book since I enjoyed Being Mortal, but it turned out to be more about the stories of checklists’ impact as opposed to the history of the checklist and its research. I would love to read a book about how checklists can, say, improve medical procedures, which some of the book does touch on. Hint hint. (3 out of 5 checklists)

Heartless by Marissa Meyer: This is an origin story of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. In this novel, Lady Catherine wants to open a bakery with her friend/servant Mary Ann, but her parents want her to marry the king and become the Queen of Hearts. Then the Joker comes in, and the two of them enter a secret courtship while the King is attempting to court Catherine. This is a well-written tale that maintains all the whimsy of the original Wonderland while adding Meyer’s own style. Also, I want a Jest of my own now. (4 out of 5 white roses)

Lemons by Melissa Savage: This book doesn’t come out until May, but I obtained an ARC through my book club. It’s 1975. Ten (and three-quarters)-year-old Lemonade Liberty Witt has just lost her mother and is sent to live with her grandfather (who she has never met) in the woods of California. She befriends fellow kid Tobin and they start investigating Bigfoot sightings together. This is a really sweet story set toward the end of the Vietnam War, even if I did predict the ending pretty early on. (4 out of 5 Bigfoot sightings)

Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes: I did not like this book. The characters are shallow, embracing just about every stereotype about popular kids out there. The story seems to float from event to event instead of containing a cohesive storyline. Also, I kept reading the main character’s last name as Dragonair, which amused me more than the actual story did. At least the blessedly short story kept me intrigued enough to read to the end. (2 out of 5 Bunza Buns)

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren: I listened to this book, which was read by the author. This memoir about her life in the lab is beautifully written, and it deals with other topics like mental illness and childbirth. Some of her stories about trees and soil make me realize what I love so much about math: that moment when it all comes together after agonizing over a single problem for weeks. Other sections are raw and heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time, and you can hear her emotion as she reads some of her own words. If you like reading about science and scientists, or even if you just like touching stories, pick up this book. (5 out of 5 experiments)

Homeland by Cory Doctorow: This book is the sequel to Little Brother, which I read and enjoyed in 2014. This book, however, is not as good as its predecessor. That said, it’s still a decent read, with a story set against the broken economy and the Occupy movement as well as more up-to-date tech references. While the beginning felt slow and implausible in parts, the ending was abrupt and left a lot of loose ends untied. Did Joe Noss win the election? What does Marcus do after the events of the story? What happened in all the time in between the events of the story and the epilogue? I did enjoy the essay by Aaron Swartz (RIP) at the end, as well as the cameos by the EFF team and Wil Wheaton, though. Of course Wil is DMing a campaign. (3 out of 5 rooted machines)

Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes: I listened to this book, which discusses the growing unequal distribution of wealth and how we got here in the first place. Even though this book was published in 2012, the content is still timely; in fact, its message is more applicable now than in 2012. This book provides a history of meritocracy and details how it has broken down over the years, with the elites losing touch with middle America and failing at, well, everything except getting even richer. Examples in this book range from steroids in baseball to admissions tests for elite schools. Everyone needs to read this book, especially those high up on the socioeconomic ladder, for the only way to fix this and bring about more equality is for the masses to work together in a democratic fashion. (4 out of 5 billionaires)

The Crashers by Magen Cubed: I’ve seen the author around Twitter, and a friend recommended this book to me. This book tells the story of five people who come together after surviving a crash and discovering they have superpowers. From seeing the future to strength to speed, these five people deal with their superpowers while juggling their own falling-apart lives. While I enjoyed the book, I wish there were more of an explanation of how exactly the characters got their powers, not to mention what happens after they beat the bad guy. (4 out of 5 superpowers)

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis: I listened to this book, which tells the story of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and their decade of researching decision making together. While I was familiar with many of their research topics from previous reading, hearing the story behind their discoveries made this book a narrative and not just a textbook, which in turn made the book even more enjoyable. (4 out of 5 heuristics)

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion: Don and Rosie are married and living in New York City when Rosie becomes pregnant. This prompts Don to research everything he needs to know in order to become a father, but in the process he finds himself losing Rosie as well. While I didn’t like this book as much as I did The Rosie Project, the sequel is still enjoyable. It could have used one more round of editing and rewriting, but besides that, the book makes me love Don and want to shake some sense into him at the same time. (4 out of 5 buds)

Buck by MK Asante: I read this book for my library’s book club. I hadn’t heard of MK Asante before reading this book, which tells the story of growing up in inner city Philadelphia. MK also has to deal with his father leaving, his brother going to jail, and much more that I won’t get into here because spoilers. Asante’s writing is interspersed with rap and hip-hop lyrics throughout the book, sometimes even in the middle of a scene, and toward the end his own lines start playing this role. Asante’s tale is raw and full of emotion while showing his own maturity and perseverance. (4 out of 5 bucks)

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond: I listened to this book, which tells the story of evictions in Milwaukee while showing what the tenants and the landlords alike have to go through, all to shed light on how and why evictions are becoming more and more common. Desmond does this by following eight families and two landlords (spoiler: he lived among them while doing some of the research), noting just how easy it is to evict a tenant, how many very poor families spend closer to 100% of their income on rent compared to the recommended 30%, and how easily unpaid rent can accumulate. Heartbreaking and too real. (4 out of 5 evictions)

Avid Reader: A Life by Robert Gottlieb: I listened to this book, which is narrated by the author. Even though I had never heard of the author (who has worked at Simon & Schuster, Albert A. Knopf, the New Yorker, and other places I’m not thinking of), this book sounded interesting at first because of the title. How could I resist a book like this? Pretty easily, it turned out. The author admits he’s much more of an editor than a writer, and it shows. While hearing about some of the celebrities he had worked with was interesting, this book was definitely written for his family and friends, as there wasn’t much general interest in some (okay, a lot) of these stories. Listening to this book feels like listening to your family patriarch telling you stories about their entire life, except you sometimes care about those. (3 out of 5 long stories)

Human, Beware! by Thorarinn Gunnarsson: Yes, this is the sequel to Make Way for Dragons. While I was pleasantly surprised by that book, this one was a huge disappointment. I’m not sure where to start with this, except there wasn’t much I liked about this book at all. Mostly I was left confused, trying to figure out what on earth was going on and why it was happening because what did happen made little sense. The author has a really weird thing about getting the main character naked; she was ten in the first book but an adult now. (2 out of 5 dragons)

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: I listened to this book, which is narrated by the author, and as expected, it is hilarious. The author tells his stories of growing up mixed-race toward the end of South Africa’s apartheid. Even though the stories are consistently funny (like his stories comparing white church, mixed church, and black church), the insights and depth are also there, something that doesn’t always happen with humor or memoir. I learned a lot while listening, not just about apartheid but about life in general as well. Go read it. Note: there are a few scenes involving partner violence and child abuse. (5 out of 5 pirated CDs)

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry: Despite loving Lois Lowry, I never read this book as a kid. How I managed this, I still don’t know, but I fixed this on Sunday afternoon. What was I waiting for? I would have loved this book as a kid, and I still love it as an adult. Not much else to say here. Go read it if you haven’t already. It won’t take long. (5 out of 5 handkerchiefs)

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths: I listened to this book, first while hiking on Friday, then while riding back home from Asheville last weekend, then finishing it while walking around this week. This book has a lot of computer science in it, but everything is explained well, even for people with no computer experience. And don’t let the computer science part scare you–most of the book applies those principles to decision making and psychology. If you’re interested in a multidisciplinary approach to your learning, read this book. (4 out of 5 big decisions)

Why I rarely boycott things

If you’ve spent much time on Twitter and Facebook, you’ve probably detected a pattern. Heck, maybe you’ve been involved in it. It goes something like this:

* Some company (or one of their executives) does something objectionable. This thing can range from supporting a politician with views that don’t align with their own to donating to causes that don’t support progress to saying something in an interview.
* People call for a boycott of that company or product
* Occasionally the person or company involved will apologize
* What then?

Sometimes these boycotts are effective. But unless there’s a truly compelling reason, I can’t take part–not with a good conscience, at least. For one, I would have to know the political and social views of every single company and executive whose products I use. Looking around right now, that’s a lot: Apple, Google, Samsung, HP, NaNoWriMo, my headphones, my USB drive… And I’m not even writing this from home, where even more companies and products would stand out.

Then you get even more into the nitty gritty. I bought those headphones (and my extra phone batteries, and who knows what else) on Amazon. I don’t remember where I bought the laptop I’m typing this on, but it was surely online somewhere. My phone carrier is Verizon. I bought my laptop bag from the NaNoWriMo store, but another company likely made the physical bag. The individual parts for my devices were made by different companies, many of them overseas, possibly with worker exploitation and child labor. The apps on my devices were made by various companies, from the big ones (Google, Amazon, Starbucks, Fitbit, my bank…) to small companies and even individual developers (some of the games I’ve downloaded, for instance).

In order to boycott with a good conscience, I would have to analyze the political and social views for every single company that makes the things I use. Analzying all these views is a job in itself, one I don’t have the time or inclination for. Boycotting one maker would make me feel anxious for not knowing the views of all the companies whose products I use, not to mention some companies and executives are tight-lipped on these topics. Taking a “guilty until proven innocent” approach doesn’t work either; after all, some companies never speak out on current issues, even if their executives personally have an opinion. Life is short; I can’t just wait for it.

One answer, of course, is to boycott only when it’s practical. This is something I noticed when former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich had (personally, not on behalf of Firefox or Mozilla) donated in support of Proposition 8 in California. This tidbit got out a few years later, causing some people in my circles to stop using Firefox for this reason alone. But a lot of nontechnical folks don’t know he also created Javascript, a language that is used on almost every website (including this one). Good luck with boycotting that. The problem with this approach is that boycotts weren’t meant to be practical. One great example of this is the bus boycotts in Alabama in 1956. It definitely wasn’t practical for the boycotters to stop riding the buses; many of them walked miles to and from work (not to mention other places) for a year as a result. This is why the conservative attempts to boycott Hamilton after the election haven’t made a difference; it’s easy not to buy tickets when they’re sold out months in advance.

Here’s another question: what happens if the company or maker apologizes for their actions? It’s easy to miss the apology; after all, much of contemporary media concentrates on the breaking big stories instead of updates. Does the apology make everything okay again? Is it okay to go back to using that company’s products again if an honest apology is issued? What if an apology is issued and then five years pass with no further incidents? Is it okay to judge forever based on that one stain?

I don’t have good answers to any of these questions; if I did, I wouldn’t be writing this post. But I can’t stop you from boycotting whatever you want, so one more thing:

If you do continue to boycott companies based on their views or actions, I urge you: please don’t take your anger and frustration out on the people at the bottom of the corporate ladder. They just work there, and sometimes they don’t have other options. It’s easy to say they do; after all, they could quit and find another job, or find another publisher for their works. These actions take time and resources that could be directed elsewhere. Your actions would be better directed elsewhere too.

What I’m Reading, January 2017

January was a busy month for reading! I’m zooming toward my goal of 100 books with relative ease. Maybe I’ll up that goal sometime.

Without further ado…

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett: Yes, I finally started reading the Discworld books. Even though multiple people told me not to start at the beginning (or at least not to let the first book put me off), I ignored them and did it anyway for the sake of experiencing the books as they came out. While I enjoyed Pratchett’s writing and humor, the first book was difficult to follow, with lots of characters being introduced at once. Even if the first book may eventually become my least favorite, I plan on continuing the series. (3 out of 5 Luggages)

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett: This is the second half of the story begun in The Color of Magic. It contains just as much of Pratchett’s great writing and is much easier to follow than the first book. From my understanding, these two books are the only ones that serve as two halves of the same story, so be sure to read these books together. I did enjoy this book enough to request the next book, which begins a new series within the series. Can’t wait. (4 out of 5 spells)

The Art of the Infinite: The Pleasures of Mathematics by Robert and Ellen Kaplan: I’ve read and enjoyed one of Robert’s books before for a class in college. While this book contained a lot of material I already knew, it also gave me a chance to explore math from different perspectives, especially in geometry. (Did I ever mention that geometry was the bane of my college existence? Because it really was, even with a wonderful professor.) This book does get challenging at some points, especially for someone like me who loves math but hasn’t done much of it in awhile. I’d recommend it if you have some background in math and proof-writing because you will have to fill in a few blanks yourself… or at least consult the appendix where the bigger proofs lie. (4 out of 5 infinities)

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner: This is a children’s fantasy book from the 60s, and to be honest, I found it rather boring. Maybe I would have liked it as a kid, maybe not, but I’m leaning toward no. This book has a lot of characters that blend together, and there’s not enough in the plot to keep me interested. (2 out of 5 stones)

Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach, 6th Edition by James Henslin: This is an introductory college textbook, and an old one at that; this version was published around 2006. Reading this textbook made me want even more, especially regarding events of the past ten years, but that’s not the fault of this particular edition. I would have loved to see more than a passing mention of LGBT+ families in the family area, as well as more about sexual orientation and gender identity in general. Overall, this book has gotten my feet wet in sociology, and now I just want to read more. Time to get in touch with my friend the sociology grad student. (4 out of 5 social norms)

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay: This book features two storylines, one of a Jewish girl during World War II in Paris and another of an American woman living in Paris in 2002. This was also the book where I complained on Twitter about using font changes to indicate a point of view change. That aside, this book was pretty good. Even though this book isn’t a historical novel, it did use real events such as the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup in Paris. However, If I had known before reading that this book was originally written in French, I might have attempted to track down a French language copy. (4 out of 5 family secrets)

Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson: I listened to this book. If you recognize the author’s name, it’s probably because she’s awesome on Twitter or you know her from Matilda or as the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home. I admit it, I was a big Matilda fan as a kid, but I like Mara even better as an awesome Twitter person. This book is her version of the “Where are they now?” articles that occasionally pop up about former child actors so the press doesn’t have to do it for her (and get the facts wrong while they’re at it). She tells stories of her childhood, her experiences on the sets of films she acted in, boarding school, college, mental illness, and much more, all with a candid and refreshing writing style and humor. There are also a couple of letters written to Matilda the character from Mara herself on how Matilda the character has shaped her as a person, as well as how Matilda has shaped how other people recognize her. If you liked Mara in any of her other work, you’ll like this book. (4 out of 5 performances)

Persuadable: How Great Leaders Change Their Minds to Change the World by Al Pittampalli: I listened to this book. You’ve probably heard someone accuse someone else of flip-flopping or changing their mind. Heck, you might have been the person doling out the accusation. This book makes a strong argument that we learn and grow by listening to the perspectives of others and changing our mind when the evidence demands it. This is a mindset I’ve tried to embrace in my adult years, so maybe I’m biased here. But this book does a good job at showing examples where leaders did change their mind when it came to making a product or adding a feature and how that decision affected the business. One of the standout examples here is Amazon getting into the ebook business, where Jeff Bezos convinced one of his executives to lead the ebook business, which led to creating an ereader that changed how we consume books. (4 out of 5 convincing arguments)

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett: This is the third book in the Discworld series and the first book in the Witches storyline. While I enjoyed the prose and the overall storyline, I found this story hard to follow and connect the dots from scene to scene. That could have been me, though; I’ve been pretty distracted when it comes to reading lately. Not sure where to go next when it comes to this series; I may come back to it when I’m not sure what to read next, but I’m not in a rush to finish all the books. (3 out of 5 spells)

Everything is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer by Duncan Watts: I listened to this book, which discusses how we answer questions like “Why is the Mona Lisa the greatest painting ever?” by listing traits that we’ve decided on because this painting contains these things. It’s a compelling read, and I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about logic and thinking and research. If you haven’t put much thought into this way of thinking before, you’re likely to have your view changed in some way. (4 out of 5 biases)

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong: I listened to this book, which talks about the various microbes in our bodies and how they contribute to the greater thing called life. This book isn’t limited to human microbes and how they fight off diseases, but also goes on to include microbes living in animals and how these microbes are studied on germ-free creatures. It can get a little dense at times (especially when listening to the book and taking everything in and then a loud truck drives past you, causing you to miss the last paragraph… not that this has happened or anything), but for the most part this book is still accessible to a wide audience. (4 out of 5 microbes)

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon: I’ve been meaning to read this book for awhile and finally managed it. This book tells the story of a teenage girl who is allergic to just about everything, who doesn’t leave the house as a result… and then falls in love with the boy next door. Even though this book seems implausible in some parts and I’m still not sure how to feel about the twist at the end, this book had my attention from start to end with its engaging story and interesting (biracial!) main character; I would have read it in one sitting if a friend hadn’t arrived at my house halfway through. I just wish there were more to the ending, though. (4 out of 5 allergies)

Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa by Benjamin Constable: This book was one of my prizes from the public library’s reading contest last summer, and I just now got around to reading it. This book tells the story of an ordinary writer named Benjamin Constable (yes, the name of the author, although this is fiction) whose friend appears to have died and left him with a puzzle to solve. This puzzle takes Benjamin all over Paris, through some underground tunnels, and across the ocean to New York City where the friend grew up. Along the way Benjamin learns more about his friend than he had ever known before… but how much of it is true? Sure, this book is implausible in parts, such as the woman who volunteers to tag along on Benjamin’s New York City adventures, but it still kept me reading, which matters more to me than a little implausibility. (Besides, look at reality right now.) (4 out of 5 puzzles)

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly: I listened to this book (and still haven’t seen the movie, whoops). As a math nerd who likes diversity and history, this book had my attention from the beginning. If you’ve seen the movie, you already know the basic gist of this book, but in case you haven’t, this book tells the story of several black women who worked as mathematicians and computers through World War II and afterward to the space missions. This was a time when black women were considered suitable for this role because it didn’t require as much thought, but these women turned out to be as capable as any of the men, sometimes correcting the errors of the white men. Since much of this book took place in Virginia when segregation was still in place, that topic was also addressed in this book; from guessing a person’s race based on their education to the segregated bathrooms and lunch areas. Whether or not you plan on seeing the film, if you want to learn more about history and space, read this book. (4 out of 5 equations)

The Radical King by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cornel West: I read this book for my local library’s book club. This is a curated collection of MLK’s more radical speeches and essays, the ones where he spoke on a much broader range of topics than civil rights for blacks. There are essays about economic injustice and his opposition to the Vietnam War, all connected to the bigger goal of equality for all. Cornel West serves just to provide commentary; the bulk of this book consists of King’s writings. I recommend taking in each essay slowly so you don’t lose track of the big picture presented in King’s message. (5 out of 5 speeches)

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan: I listened to this book. I haven’t read Pollan’s more well-known book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but despite that I didn’t have any trouble following this one. Pollan answers the question “Well, what SHOULD we eat?” in this book, while also sharing some history behind nutrition and how our food choices have changed over time in comparison to other parts of the world. For instance, if a food product makes a health claim, it’s probably not all that good for you. The book isn’t perfect, but it does make you think about food and how we eat. (4 out of 5 fresh vegetables)

How I got into politics (now with more resources!)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two weeks (and if you have, is there room for one more under there?), you probably know about the dumpster fire that has been the United States over the past couple of weeks. In my circles, this has filled my Twitter feed with even more politics than usual, as well as

Awhile back I wrote about why I’m not an activist. I originally wrote that post in July, when I was still optimistic about having the first female president of this country and hoped against hope that the electoral college wouldn’t give us the first billionaire president instead. We know how that turned out.

So what has changed since July, when I originally wrote that post?

It’s not the fact that the orange man has no political experience, or that he was selected by the electoral college despite losing the popular vote, or the part where he is technically keeping some of his campaign promises so far.

The first problem is that so many of those campaign promises were terrible to begin with, and well, I know a little bit of history. World War II was a huge fascination of mine as a teen, and it still is to this day. Given current events, I can’t stand silent and watch these atrocities, especially when they directly affect me or someone I care about. In situations like this, silence is consent.

You know how most people won’t act on something until those things are so awful that suddenly they can’t stand by ignorant anymore? That’s what happened here, both for me and lots of others around me. There’s a reason MLK expressed his disdain for the white moderate in the civil rights movement; sure, a bunch of these people probably admired the efforts of the activists, but they didn’t care enough to contribute. This attitude has returned with a vengeance with the 2016 election and aftermath. I used to be this person, but after seeing the consequences firsthand, I can’t be that person with a good conscience anymore.

This leads to another problem: there’s so much horribleness going on that it’s easy for one thing that requires a call now to get lost in the sea of news and memes and fake government agency accounts. My Twitter feed has turned into Politics Central, but the volume of my feed has made it nearly impossible to sort out what’s being voted on when or what has already been voted on in Congress.

In the interest of keeping track of all the resources I’ve found over the past few weeks and since a few folks have expressed interest in learning what I found, here are some ways to stay involved in current events without being overwhelmed by it all.

Do a Thing – This newsletter arrives on weekdays, and each newsletter featuers a cute animal plus a small action you can take to be a more engaged citizen that take less than five minutes or cost less than five dollars to complete. Not all of the actions are activist things; some of them are actions to help out the earth and beyond. If you skip a day or five, that’s okay; I know I have.

Weekly Action Checklist – This is one of the more accessible and well-rounded guides I’ve found. Even though it comes out weekly instead of daily, the weekly documents are well-written and centered around a variety of issues. You can take action on all of the issues and divide them by day or choose one or two. No matter what you do, you’re making a small difference. One thing I like about this newsletter is that it includes good news so not everything is doom and gloom.

What the Fuck Just Happened Today is a daily email newsletter summarizing the day’s political events. There’s usually a lot of material, but it is skimmable. Honestly, I’m surprised this domain wasn’t already taken.

5calls – This guide focuses on five calls to make every day and which topics to call about. My main beef with this is that it often encourages you to call people who aren’t your congresspeople, such as committee chairs and ranking members. I’m not sure how effective a call to them would be if they’re not already representing you. I also wish the site would show you all the calls to make about a particular issue at once instead of making you flip through them. Still, this site is useful in sorting out what to call about right now, as opposed to what’s still in committee.

Indivisible Guide – I read this back when it was a Google doc and finally found it again thanks to someone on the NaNoWriMo forums. While this guide focuses more on organizing local groups and getting involved in your local political scene, there are also sections on calling your congresspeople and scripts to use. Figuring out what issues those are is outside the scope of this guide, so I’d use this as a supplement with one of the other resources if you need info on what to call your representatives about right now. This guide is written by former congressional staffers who know what works to bring about change and what doesn’t.

Resistance Manual – This site is a wiki containing information on issues, phone numbers for your congresspeople, as well as more local resources as well. Information is added by users like you, so go add something for your state if that info isn’t already there!

Countable app – I haven’t used this app yet, but I know people who use and like it. It shows what issues need to be acted on right now, as well as who to call about them.

If you’re like me and you keep forgetting which issue you contacted which representative about on which day, I recommend keeping track in some way. Whether this is an activism notebook, a spreadsheet, or even a Word document, this will ensure you don’t call one senator six times about opposing Betsy DeVos and not calling anyone else about any other issue.

And finally, remember to take care of yourself as well.

Got any other resources? Send them my way! I’d love to check them out.

Why I’m not an activist

Note: I wrote this little ramble back in July 2016 and didn’t think to post it until now. As you might have guessed, a lot has changed since then. Look for a post addressing that in the next week or two.

There are a lot of issues plaguing our world today. I see it all over my Twitter feed: people talking about whatever social issue they’re passionate about, whether they’re sharing news articles on a current relevant social issue or saying that members of the majority group (whether that’s male, straight, white, able-bodied…) should shut up and listen, or saying “if you’re X, you should Y”, or whatever else goes on in social justice Twitter.

Unfortunately, sometimes that discussion turns not just to yelling about these topics, they also turn into yelling about these topics into the echo chamber that is their followers. Let’s face it, we tend to follow people who are like us, and the same applies to other people choosing who to follow online. Since we tend to follow people who are like us, we tend to see updates and news articles that reaffirm our existing beliefs instead of challenging them and making us think in different ways. When our beliefs are affirmed more, then we continue to build our firm belief system, making us less open to new ideas.

See, I don’t like this yelling. Sure, I’m not an exception to surrounding myself to people who are like me, but I also don’t like people yelling and generalizing–about any topic, not just social justice. I have my reasons: I’ve found that it’s harder to reason with people who are only yelling their views instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. And to be honest, when people are yelling, you practically have to yell back in order to get your voice heard in the conversation. I don’t like to yell my thoughts and views. When everyone’s yelling, only the very loudest get heard.

I don’t want that. I don’t want to yell in order to be heard. I don’t want to throw out generalizations just because that’s the lowest common denominator. It’s not the discussion on these issues themselves that bug me, not in the slightest. Discussion and action lead to change, and I’m glad to listen to (and occasionally contribute to) constructive discussion. When the discussion becomes destructive, that’s when I exit. It’s the call-out and dogpiling culture that has made its way around some parts of the activist and social justice community. Things like “You have no place to discuss X” or “You’re not part of this group, so your voice doesn’t matter” have no place in a constructive discussion.

Hearing things like “Ugh, men” (or white people, or straight people, or…) also grates my nerves, and these are not uncommon occurrences in the social justice community when a member of some majority group says something racist or sexist or misogynistic. This bugs me for several reasons. People who pass as the target of the comment but are not members of that group become targets, even if the speaker doesn’t intend it.

A large source of my anxiety stems from what people think of me. On the Internet, this is more magnified than ever as every tweet and blog post and status update can elicit a reaction from someone else, positive or negative. And because of the way so-called activists pile upon others for accidentally saying one thing without thinking, that causes even more anxiety for me. I don’t want to be dogpiled on just because of one comment, even after apologizing and moving on. It doesn’t matter what you say; someone is always going to find it offensive of *-ist or problematic. I know that. I just don’t want to be a target even after moving on from that.

Yes, staying in a small bubble is bad for many reasons. But sometimes bursting that bubble causes more trouble than it’s worth.

Fitbit, fitness, and me

I joined the fitness tracker revolution pretty late, in part because until the last couple of years, I didn’t really care about getting healthy and staying in shape. Why would I? I was young and thin and surely didn’t have to think about that stuff until later.

Then a few of my friends started getting into fitness and health. This happened around the time I realized that at 28, I wasn’t getting any younger, and to be honest, I was in terrible shape. I’ve talked about my adventures in running before and using a mobile app to track my distance and stats. But as more and more of my friends started getting Fitbits and discussing things like steps and distance and pulling ahead of another friend in a challenge, I started to feel left out. I wanted in on these challenges and badges as well–because if anything motivates me, it’s competition.

One of my friends had somehow acquired multiple Fitbits, so a few months ago he gave me one to test and see if I liked it. It arrived in the mail early on a Saturday morning where I had walking plans for the afternoon. I put it on a charger and let it charge while running around the house and finishing chores.

After finishing those chores, the Fitbit was charged enough for me to go on an afternoon walking outing, so I activated it on my phone’s Fitbit app, strapped it to my wrist, and headed out the door. I walked over Fitbit’s default goal of 10,000 steps that afternoon, getting this experiment off to a good start.

Over the coming days, my friends invited me to challenges. I earned badges for walking up so many flights of stairs and walking so many miles and taking so many steps in a day, which motivated me to do more to see what the next badge was.

Since many of my friends have Fitbits, this means our conversations occasionally turn to this bit of fitness equipment, especially when we’re comparing steps and distance and how we’re doing in our challenges. It can be a little obsessive sometimes, such as when I’m less than a hundred steps away from the next thousand, and oh come on, I could do that easily.

That 40,000 step day came from this way of thinking. I spent the day walking a seven-mile path (one way) and found myself at just over 38,000 steps upon arriving home. Knowing that I was unlikely to get remotely close to 40,000 steps in a day for a long time, I walked around the neighborhood until finding myself within a few hundred steps of 40k, then walked home and let my pattering around the house take care of the rest.

I’ve won fewer challenges than I would like thanks to being friends with some hardcore walkers. But for many of these challenges, seeing that I was within just a few steps of the person above me was enough to get me up and moving just to overtake them. The same has happened for comparing my weekly totals to those of my friends.

Fitbit has turned fitness into a game, and I am 100% okay with this. If friendly competition and statistics are what it takes to get me off my butt and moving around, then I will embrace it.

The release of Pokemon Go has added another element of my fitness regime. Since eggs are hatched through walking around (just like in the video games), I’m more motivated than ever to make my steps count. I make sure the app is open when walking around, even if I don’t intend to stop and catch that CP 10 Rattata in my path, because that distance walked will count toward hatching whatever is in that egg. (Porygon, Charmander, and Tentacool this morning for the curious.)

Just don’t play Pokemon Go while running on a hill. I learned this one the fun way and got the scrapes and bruises to prove it.

Thirty

Well, here we are. Thirty years ago I entered this world. My parents had no idea what they were getting into.

I was going to write some kind of deep post on ambition and existence, but I got all my freakouts over turning thirty out of the way before turning 29 last year, so there’s not much use in repeating that. Just think, in a few years the infamous midlife crisis is going to happen, so you may get to read even more of the same! Won’t that be exciting? (Not really.)

Cheers, y’all. Here’s to another thirty years (and beyond!) of making the world suck less.