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.

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.

2016 Goals Revisited and 2017 Goals

Last December I made a list of things I’d like to do before my 30th birthday in early January. (The 7th, if you like keeping track of these things.) How’d I do?

Read 250 books. Check! I finished this one in October, and I’m ending the year with 275 books read. I also finished reading the entire Baby-Sitters Club series, which is where over half those books came from.

Write 500k words. Check! 250k of those words are from NaNo, as planned, and I sailed past 500k total for 2016 at the end of November. I also reached 2 million lifetime November NaNoWriMo words this year. I forgot about redrafting something outside of November, although I did write a second draft for NaNo this year.

Continue running/staying in shape. I fell off the wagon a little during NaNo, but for the most part, I consider this a success. As for the quantifiable goal, I ran six races, including four 5K races (one in April, two in May, and one in October where I beat my personal best by two minutes), one 5-mile race (April, where I got third in my age bracket), and one half marathon (December).

Decrease my debt. I don’t have actual numbers on this yet, but I have paid everything on time this year (that I know of), so I consider this a success.

Go back to Night of Writing Dangerously. Check! And had the time of my life.

Travel somewhere new. I went to a new Georgia mountain in March, Washington DC in June, a cabin in a new-to-me North Carolina town in November, and a few Bay Area suburbs that were new to me in November. Check.

Take a class of some kind. I dropped the ball on this one. Oops.

Be awesome. Looking at all the above accomplishments, I’d say this one wasn’t a failure at least.

Despite 2016 being a dumpster fire for many people, this year was a good one for me on a personal level. I accomplished a lot of things that I’ve been wanting to do. I’ve settled into a nice groove when it comes to work and paying my bills in a timely fashion.

So what would I like to do in 2017? Let’s see.

Sushi’s 2017 Goals

Read 100 books. Yes, this is way less than my 2016 total, but I currently have no plans to read entire children’s book series in 2017… yet. I’ve read at roughly this pace for the past couple of years after subtracting the BSC books, so this should be challenging but doable.

Start editing a book. This can include a rewrite of an existing book.

Publish something. This can be a short story, an essay, or even a novel, but I do want to have something published by the end of 2017.

Go back to Night of Writing Dangerously. This is going to stay here forever, let’s be honest.

Travel somewhere new. I’m not particularly well-traveled, so this stays on the list.

Learn basic Korean. My mom keeps talking about going to Korea to visit some of her family. I don’t want to go to a new place and not speak the language, so getting started on learning the language will be my 2017 mission.

Stay employed and decrease debt. Because this has been a challenge some years, it stays.

Begin training for a marathon. I was considering running a full marathon in 2017, but most of the ones I could get to easily are in March (meaning lots of winter training) or October/November (NaNo season and summer training). Running a marathon has been on my bucket list for years, and while I could theoretically start training now for a March 2017 marathon, I’d much rather do a little more winter training so I can learn to adapt first. In either case, something has to give, and I need to figure out what.

You might notice that there’s no yearlong word count tracker on the goal list like there was in 2016. There’s a good reason for that: I want to concentrate more on editing than pure output this year. Tracking all my writing this year has taught me a lot, but now it’s time for more dedicated, refined writing practice.

Here’s hoping that 2017 will be even better, both for me and on a worldwide scale.

NaNoWriMo 2016: In Summary

NaNoWriMo 2016 has come to a close, leaving me with feelings of simultaneous relief and scrambling to find something to do with all this time. You would think I’d be better prepared for this after fifteen NaNos, but no, I’m still figuring out post-NaNo life too.

First, the thing you probably want to know: I wrote 250,025 words in two novels and made up over 1% of my huge region’s total word count. 250,000 words was my easy-to-remember goal for 2016 NaNoWriMo; this aided me in passing 500,000 words overall in 2016 as well as passing 2 million lifetime words across fifteen November NaNoWriMos. I reached my halfway point on day 19, then fell behind and needed to write 100,000 words in the last six days to finish. I hadn’t written 100k in six days since 2010, and for good reason–it may be even harder than completing a 50k day.

(Fun fact: The first million words took ten NaNos. The second million took five. No, I will not be doing the next million in three.)

NaNoWriMo teaches me something different every year. This year, that lesson is: You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. I did a lot this November. This year and last year in particular have tested my ability to keep going throughout the month, much like 2011, when I also ML’d on top of doing many of the things that happened this year (and with a similar word count to boot).

I spent a lot of time traveling in November. NaNoGiving was the second weekend of November, with a bunch of Wrimos (mostly overachievers) in a cabin in the woods, making food, playing games, exploring the farm, and occasionally writing. I got home on Sunday night, then spent Monday and Tuesday working before leaving for San Francisco on Wednesday morning, where I attended NaNoWriMo’s Night of Writing Dangerously.

While this year’s Night of Writing Dangerously was my least productive one to date, with less than three thousand words written, it (along with the overall trip to San Francisco) was my most fun one. I met so many Wrimos, including several I’ve known online for years (and two longtime fellow Wrimos from England and Japan!). I won a word sprint and drank some Cosmonoveltons. I visited NaNo’s office again and packed their tote bags for NOWD and met even more Wrimos and explored San Francisco and ran nearly 12 miles up and down the hills and didn’t die. And then I went home on Monday, worked on Tuesday, and set out again on Wednesday to see family for Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, all this travel and my mood due to unrelated things in November put a damper in my time leading the @NaNoWordSprints Twitter. I have a hard time leading sprints and multitasking as it is; combining these with my apparently inability to concentrate on writing meant the sprints I led usually consisted of goofing around on Twitter or the forums instead of writing. Since time was at a premium this month, this led to me leading fewer sprints, which made me feel guilty because sometimes I’d see an open spot for sprinting but really need a break from well, everything.

I also found it harder to concentrate on my writing. In the past, I’ve been able to concentrate for lots of word wars and sprints, netting at least a thousand words in fifteen minutes, maybe even ten minutes if I ignore all typos the entire time. This year, this rarely happens unless I leave the house specifically to write. I used to be less productive at write-ins than I would be at home, but this has changed over the last year or two, with write-ins (and generally leaving the house to write) providing with more consistent bursts of writing. This may be related to my shift in how I’ve approached writing over the past few NaNos.

In my earlier years, I would come up with an idea before NaNo, scratch down a little bit of character or plot development, then hit the page writing. This changed over the past two NaNos, when my ideas came at the last minute when panic started to set in, and I couldn’t motivate myself to figure out anything more about the plot or character besides “eh, I don’t know, this character does stuff”. While it worked for one of my novels last year and this year, both drafts of the same novel, it didn’t work so well with the other novels I wrote in 2015 and 2016. Because of having only the vaguest idea of what was happening, I found myself stressing out more, not less. And not having at least some idea of what’s happening makes sprinting more difficult. Maybe I’ll become a planner after all.

Despite (or maybe because of) everything happening this November, NaNoWriMo was still my best one yet, and I’m already counting down the days until Camp NaNo and NaNoWriMo 2017.

How was your NaNoWriMo 2016? Did you reach your goal? Come to an epiphany about your writing? Have a straight-up blast writing?

An open letter to the new Wrimo

Dear first-time Wrimo,

Welcome to NaNoWriMo! When you signed up, you were likely told that NaNoWriMo is a challenge that enables writers and writers-to-be to write a novel in a month.

They lied. Okay, they didn’t truly lie, nor did they tell a little white lie. They told a lie by omission, but not one of those lies where finding out the full truth would be shameful.

So come here. I’m going to tell you the truth.

NaNoWriMo is so much more than writing a novel in a month. Yes, there’s definitely a lot of writing involved. And I won’t lie, writing a book in a month is hard. It requires determination, persistence, and refusing to give up when things get tough. There’s a reason the average NaNo win rate is less than 20%.

There will be days where you sit down at the computer to write and don’t want to write a word. No matter how long you stare at the screen and poke your characters and beg them to make words, they won’t. These dark days may make you feel like quitting NaNo altogether, or even worse, quitting writing altogether and letting your creativity bury its head in the sand and never come out. You might fall behind and find it more challenging to catch up, and as the days go by, the words to be written grow only higher as the month goes on.

But there will also be days where the words of your story are forming themselves faster than you can get them on paper (or screen). You might find yourself scribbling down a new idea while waiting in line or putting off work or school. Some days, every element of your novel will fit together perfectly and reignite your excitement for your story. This feeling is what we This happens to every writer, even professionals. Heck, this happens to everyone living life: some days are just better than others, but if you stop now, you won’t know what’s waiting at the end.

Everyone already knows that, though. Here’s the real secret, the thing you don’t see when you click the Sign Up button. NaNoWriMo–nay, stories–can change your life. Whether you come out of the month with a completed novel or not, you did the thing so many people say they’d like to do some day but never actually do. You started. That’s more powerful than you think. When you start, it’s easier to keep going, and going, and going, until you reach your goal, from finishing that novel to publishing it for the world to read.

The effects of NaNoWriMo are also great at seeping into your non-November life. If you decide to take on something big–maybe start running or take a road trip across the country or jump out of a plane–you may find yourself wondering if you can do it. I can tell you this now: you can. After all, you completed the momentous task of writing a book in a month without giving up. You can do anything you set your mind to, and your built-in community is ready to cheer you on.

And when you land on the finish line, you’ll wonder why you ever considered quitting in the first place.

Get your rockets ready and buckle up. You’re in for the ride of your life.

Let’s blast off our creativity together.

Love,
Sushi
15th-year Wrimo (and hopeful 15-time winner!)

Nanowrimo and social anxiety

As I’ve discussed in many past posts, I’m a pretty anxious person about things that don’t really matter at all, but oddly chill about big issues that affect not only me but society at large. This anxiety leaks into my social life in ways both big and small.

While a lot of my social life revolves around NaNoWriMo, it wasn’t always that way. I grew up as a socially awkward kid who was known at school for being smart but never popular, and didn’t have see too many friends outside of the confines of the school day. Outside of informal get-togethers with the friends I had roped into doing NaNo, I didn’t go to a single NaNoWriMo event until going to college in a large city–to be specific, a large city that I had chosen specifically because of its active NaNo region and the existence of a creative writing major that I would never end up pursuing. (Priorities, you know.)

I started attending write-ins and events in college, often at the coffee shop down the street from my alma mater. That was over ten years ago, and the only other students at those write-ins were other people I dragged along. Even though most of the attendees were adults, we still got along well, and many of us are still in touch to this day.

After finishing college, I stayed in the area, with one year moving back in with my parents. Unemployment and graduating in the worst of that great recession are the pits, yo. Eventually I moved back to this NaNo region, and it’s the same region I’m part of now (and even MLed for a year). That’s where my social life and NaNoWriMo started becoming more and more synonymous. More and more of us started hanging out in the then-new regional chat room, and a few of us stayed in the chat room after NaNo ended. This led to get-togethers outside of November, many of them having more to do with food and games than writing. Over time, the people attending many of these events (a lot of them at my house) grew closer, which became evident during events.

Just as with the NaNo forums, I was fortunate to be there when the group was young and not yet as established as it is now. This put me in a position to contribute to the underlying culture of this community and help build the group into a community I wanted myself and others to be welcome in. Did I succeed? I’m still not sure.

***

One of my major sources of anxiety is trying to fit into an established social group. The group can be for anything–board games, events, writers, even approaching a person(s) at an event and saying hi. If everyone else already knows each other and I’m the one new person, I find myself worrying about fitting in and saying something dumb and not sitting there sounding dumb when everyone else is talking and trying to befriend some of the people in the existing group and making myself appear as positive and wonderful as I see myself on my best days.

Surely I’m not the only person who feels this way at events that often include established social groups. Things like NaNo, for instance. Reaching out is hard, whether you’re the new person or an established member who has trouble reaching out to others. Even more fun, it’s not immediately obvious which people are feeling awkward or anxious when they’re the new person in a group, or who needs that extra nudge to feel welcome.

As one of those people who is bad at reaching out to new folks while also struggling with approaching the existing people, making new people feel welcome at events is hard. There’s a certain comfort zone associated with staying close to existing known people, yet events like NaNo attract lots of new people every year. Which is great! But it’s also easy to stay with those known people at the expense of introducing yourself to new people. Or if you’re the new person, it’s easy to stay off to the side by yourself and think everyone hates you when really, many of us are a bunch of awkward nerds who did the same thing in the past. And once you feel unwelcome at an event, it’s easy to think this is how everyone acts all the time and therefore never return. I’ve seen several people at NaNo events only once, and despite my trying to reach out to them (an effort in itself), they’ve never come back–at least to events I attend.

These exact circumstances that make large events like kickoff and TGIO super-awkward for awkward people are the same circumstances that make write-ins an ideal social situation, at least in my experience. At write-ins, it’s perfectly okay and even encouraged to ignore everyone while tapping away on your project. You can even go off to a corner by yourself and write if everyone else around you is talking. In fact, if you do so, you’ll probably be viewed as one of the more productive people there. All this social anxiety is one of the reasons I’m no longer an ML. Having to be socially “on” all the time during a write-in was too exhausting when all I wanted to do was ignore everyone and write. Hosting write-ins as a regular participant and not an ML means that I can still look around for people who look lost, but there’s no pressure to be the one in charge, making it perfectly fine to lose myself in the words.

So here’s a question: how do we make NaNoWriMo communities even more welcoming to those who aren’t super willing to jump into an established social group when some of us have the same quirks? From local in-person events to the forums (including the private ML forums), jumping in can be intimidating while existing members suck at reaching out. What can we do to make sure everyone who wants to play a part in the thriving NaNo community can do so?

This is something I’ve been struggling with for years. I don’t have any good answers to this question in part because I’m a tragic noob when it comes to social situations. What about you?

Adult Coloring Books and Me

Over the past few years, coloring books with abstract and intricate designs have popped up in more and more places. These coloring books aren’t necessarily for kids–they’re designed for adults who find coloring in these things to be meditative, a way to relax and destress.

A few people I know enjoy coloring in them with gel pens or colored pencils or whatever they can get their hands on. They fill those designs with patterns that are worthy of displaying on the wall while I watch in amazement. That’s great–if coloring books can reduce someone’s stress, go for it. I am all for stress reduction and relaxation.

The problem is these same coloring books that are designed to reduce stress and anxiety actually have the opposite effect on me. Instead of helping me to destress and relax, adult coloring books cause me to panic and freak out even more. This trouble isn’t limited to adult coloring books, and it’s not limited to my attempts to color in adulthood. Even as a child coloring in books based around some big media empire, coloring books left my brain racing with questions.

What colors should I use to color this thing? How can I make this design the prettiest thing I can possibly make it? Which color scheme should I use? What if I color outside the lines and mess up what I’m coloring, something that’s even more likely with intricate designs?

And finally, couldn’t I be doing something more productive with my life than coloring something I’m probably never going to do anything with? This doesn’t contribute to any of my long-term goals or interests, so why am I doing it in the first place?

All these questions leave me paralyzed with possibility, afraid to pick up that crayon or colored pencil or gel pen and just start.

In a way, these attitudes extend to creativity in general. Starting a creative project is often the hardest part of the process, simply because deciding some of the first things, like the first sentence or first few lines, can set the tone for the rest of the project. But for projects that go through iterations, like novels, the first version is often not the last. Many novels go through multiple rounds of revision before seeing the light of day. I can fix whatever gets screwed up. With coloring, I can’t, which is a problem since it’s even easier to make mistakes.

So you can keep coloring in your adult coloring books. I’ll stick to writing to destress.

The weirdness of the BSC universe

If you’ve been following me on this blog or elsewhere, then you probably know that I recently finished reading the entire Baby-Sitters Club series. I’ve been trying to maintain some semblance of chronological order, mainly trying to stay within the same big storylines of the series. Think Dawn moving to California, Stacey starting to date someone else, etc.

But some things about the BSC universe are just… odd. I’m not talking about the characters and how a bunch of 13-year-olds are allowed to stay out later than I ever was, not to mention have the responsibility of supervising young children without adults present. I’m talking about the weird, niggling inconsistencies in the BSC universe that make no sense at all. Here are a few of them.

Watson Brewer’s wealth. Stoneybrook is located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, one of the most affluent and educated counties in the nation. Almost all the fathers whose occupations are mentioned work in law or finance (Mr. Kishi), occupations of moderate wealth. Oddly, almost no one in the series thinks of their family as rich, even though they do think of Watson Brewer as wealthy. I guess when you live in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, being the CEO of an insurance company is what cuts it for being rich. But this doesn’t explain the full mystery. It’s mentioned several times, mostly in the Little Sister books, that Watson grew up in the mansion he lives in now. This probably means the land has been in the family for awhile or his father was also well off. (I also assume Watson’s father is dead because he’d probably at least be mentioned, but that’s another story.)

Just how big is Stoneybrook, anyway? For a sleepy Connecticut town, Stoneybrook seems to have an awful lot of resources. Take the schools for starters: public elementary, middle, and high school, at least two private schools, a community college, and a university. (Although the last two could be used interchangeably.) There’s also Kelsey Middle School, the public school Kristy’s neighborhood is assigned to, where the Thomases have to pay a fee to keep Kristy in SMS. Yet later in the series, Kristy takes the bus home from SMS. Isn’t this reserved only for people living in the school district? While it’s possible Kristy’s neighborhood was rezoned to SMS between seventh grade and the first of many eighth grades, it’s also unlikely. Side note: this zoning issue is glossed over when Abby moves in two houses down from Kristy’s house.

Shannon is smart, but what about the others? Shannon’s character traits in the series include being smart and blonde. Yet Stacey is always mentioned as being good at math (a trait I appreciate since she’s not portrayed as a typical nerd), Kristy talks about getting her usual straight A’s occasionally, and Mallory’s straight-A record is a plot point in Don’t Give Up, Mallory. I doubt they’re the only ones who get good grades; Mary Anne in particular seems like a good candidate for strong academic performance. One explanation, like that of the Brewer mystery, is that most of the BSC (Claudia aside, obviously) does well in school, but Shannon goes beyond just being smart and participates in a lot of school activities on top of being smart, which therefore makes her more known for being smart (kind of the way I was known for being smart in school).

Housing inconsistencies. Oh, housing. Mary Anne’s old house on Bradford Court likely has three bedrooms, as it’s mentioned that Mary Anne and Dawn would have to share a room when Jeff visits. But when the Hobarts and their four boys move into Mary Anne’s old house, there’s no mention of any of the boys sharing rooms that I recall. Did they add on to Mary Anne’s old house? Is the house bigger on the inside? We may never know. Stacey’s old house experiences something similar when Jessi’s family moves in (and later, Aunt Cecelia). Did the McGills have that many spare rooms? There’s no mention of any the Ramsey children sharing a room. Conclusion: Stoneybrook houses are TARDISes.

Housing inconsistencies, part two: Who lives where in Kristy’s neighborhood? Which families live in which houses on McLelland Road turns out to be an inconsistent adventure in the series. Morbidda Destiny (or Mrs. Porter) lives next door to the Thomas-Brewers. When the Stevensons move in, they live two houses down from the Thomas-Brewers. Do they also happen to live next door to Mrs. Porter? I don’t remember if this is ever mentioned; if you know, please let me know. There’s also the inconsistency in who lives across the street from the Thomas-Brewers. Hannie is often mentioned as living across the street and one house down from Karen in the Little Sister books. Both the Delaneys (later the Kormans) and the Kilbournes are described as living across the street from Karen. Not to mention there’s another neighbor of the Kormans mentioned in Mary Anne to the Rescue named Mr. Sinclair. So who lives where? I’m still not sure, to be honest.

Why is New York City such a big deal? Stoneybrook is about an hour from New York City by car, so it’s an easy day trip and an easy commuter trip via train. Karen visits NYC in several of the Little Sister books, and naturally she is excited for each trip. (Come on, she’s seven.) When Ed McGill is transferred to his company’s Connecticut office, the McGills pack up and move to Stoneybrook. This is understandable, given Stacey’s current social situation and not paying Manhattan prices. But why don’t they just stay when Ed is transferred back to New York City? This would have saved the family a move and a house search post-divorce. Heck, Ms. Stevenson made the commute to NYC from Long Island and continued to do so after moving to Stoneybrook. This makes me wonder if any of the other parents made the commute, although I don’t think it’s ever mentioned. (Especially Mr. Kishi, one of the few non-lawyer fathers in the book. How many lawyers does Stoneybrook need, anyway?)

Claudia, Janine, and intelligence. Janine’s IQ is one of her major characteristics in the series, yet she’s using her IQ of 196 for taking community college classes. Setting aside the fact that a 196 IQ is very unlikely to start with, the way Janine is treated throughout the series is a subject of discussion. It’s possible that Claudia exaggerates Janine’s intelligence, as she does with many things, but what about the other characters? If Janine has such a high IQ, then why isn’t she off pursuing some other extracurricular activity? I’d bet that she got teased at least a little bit as a kid, In Claudia’s Book the Kishis send Claudia to an alternative school for awhile. Why did they never do anything similar for Janine, or let her skip a grade or two (like Charlotte Johannsen), or send her to something like CTY or TIP? Janine would probably love programs like these. Now I want a Janine’s Book just to find out if this ever happened.

I’m probably putting way too much thought into many of these things, but I can’t help it; thinking about weird things like this is simply what I do. Even though my hopes aren’t up to getting answers to these questions, I’d welcome any possible explanations.