13 Feb

What to Expect When You’re Divesting

I said in my last post that I would write about divesting from Bank of America. I am here to deliver.

I had never really thought about where my money goes when I put it in the bank. Money is just in the bank, right? I guess I pictured a Scrooge McDuck-ian style vault, or something like you see in a heist movie. I’ve learned that’s not the case at all.

Scrooge McDuck jumping into a pile of gold coins

This is not what a bank is like.

I gradually became aware of the Dakota Access Pipeline issue via Facebook, which seems to be the popular method for obtaining information these days. At first my opinion was “That’s terrible, but it’s not like I can go protest in North Dakota in the middle of winter.” I started paying more attention to the issue and following the Injustice Boycott. I learned that there are actions that I can take other than going to North Dakota. I can divest from banks that fund the pipeline. I was also surprised to learn that Bank of America is invested in private prisons. This is not what my money is for.

Preparation

A week or so before I went to the No DAPL protest, I polled my Facebook network to ask if anyone had a credit union in Sacramento they liked and wanted to recommend. I got a lot of responses. Asking Facebook is, of course, not a replacement for actual research, but if you have well-informed friends I think it’s a good place to start. I got a number of responses including Golden 1 (which I was familiar with), SAFE, and Patel Co, among others. I also learned about the credit union co-op, which links credit unions together. This allows credit union members to use other credit unions’ ATMs. I would not have thought to look that up on my own.

I looked at the sites for a few of the credit unions my friends suggested and decided on Golden 1. For my banking, they seemed to have the best rates. There are also two branches near my apartment, so I knew it would be a convenient choice.

Before heading out, I paid my credit card off and moved all but $25 to my checking. I wrote down how much I had left in my account and put a check in my purse so I could give myself the money. I think there are other ways to do balance transfers, but that seemed the most straightforward to me.

Opening New Accounts

Fresh from the excitement of the protest, I went to Golden 1 on Saturday morning. My boyfriend came along, too. Although he wasn’t ready to switch banks, he wanted to learn more about the accounts they offer. We were also keen to find out more about getting a mortgage. We’re not ready to buy a house, but we are trying to figure out what we could reasonably afford in the near future.

I hadn’t been into a bank to do anything other than deposit or withdraw money in a long time. I went in, wrote my name down on their list for people who want to speak with someone, and waited for maybe 30 minutes. I suppose Saturday mornings are a busy time for the bank.

When my name came up, the bank employee invited us into his office. I told him I wanted to open checking and savings accounts and apply for a credit card (all replacements for accounts I had through Bank of America), and that we were interested in learning more about mortgages. Getting the accounts set up was fairly straighforward, but we were informed that we’d have to talk to a mortgage specialist over the phone and they’re all quite busy on Saturday. I asked that they call me back during the week (they never did call me back. We’re planning to go talk to someone at the bank soon).

To set up the accounts, I only needed to bring a photo ID and, of course, money. They have it set up so you can open a savings account with just one dollar. I had a lot of dollars. I wrote a check to myself (I wrote “Divestment #NoDAPL” in the check memo, just to feel good) and left about $50 in my old account, to cover any direct payments I might have forgotten about. The bank employee had me fill out a few forms and got my checking and savings accounts opened on the spot. I got a debit card that day, but was informed I might not be able to start using it for a few hours. One thing to be careful of if you are changing accounts and moving a large amount of money is that they will probably put a hold on the funds. I got a few thousand dollars within two or three days and the rest of my money dropped in after a week or so. Fortunately, this wasn’t an issue for me, but I recommend that anyone divesting plan accordingly.

I also wanted to open a line of credit to replace my Alaska Airlines Visa, which was managed by Bank of America. I found out that the airline miles I accrued as rewards stay with my mileage plan account, not with my credit card. Even though I was closing the card, I still kept the rewards. It seems like a petty concern, but I have a lot of miles saved up for a trip, so I was quite relieved. The bank employee had me fill out a few forms. I wasn’t able to find out right away how much I would get because a real person had to assess it. However, they figured it out quickly enough. I got a call two hours later to tell me how much credit I’d been approved for.

In total, I spent about an hour in the bank and probably another hour researching and preparing to switch accounts.

Closing Old Accounts

The main thing I wanted to ensure was the continuity of my paychecks. My paycheck is direct deposited into my bank account every other week. The people at Golden 1 said it could take two pay cycles to get my direct deposit set up and provided me with a form to do it. I came home and looked on my company’s employee site. I was able to update my direct deposit account online. I thought it might take two checks to start, but I got paid to my new credit union account the next Friday with no trouble at all.

After my paycheck came through, I went to Bank of America to finish closing my accounts. I run most of my bills through credit cards (and most of them through an account other than the one I was closing). If I depended on my Bank of America accounts, I would have waited a little longer before closing it all up. I only had about $8 left in my checking account.

I spoke to the employee there and told him I wanted to close my accounts. I said that Bank of America is invested in companies that fund private prisons and oil pipelines. He responded, “I can’t argue with that.”

I handed him my debit card, credit card, and ID. He seemed surprised that I wanted to close my credit card too. When I quit, I quit all the way. He had to make a phone call to close the credit account, but he was able to close up my checking and savings accounts through his computer. When he was finished, he took me up to a bank teller, who gave me my $8 and a receipt. This took about 15 minutes total.

Next Steps

It took two weeks to get my new credit card. After it arrived, I made a list of all the bills I pay and set about switching everything to my new accounts. It helped me to write it down, but I still found things I forgot as I worked through it. The good thing is that most places you send money to want to keep getting your money, so they will give you a warning when your card stops working. Now nearly all my bills are getting paid through my new Golden 1 credit card.

I still have an Amazon Visa card through Chase bank. Chase is worth divesting from, but it’s not as dire as divesting from Bank of America or Well’s Fargo. I have decided that, in the interest of maintaining my credit score, I’m going to stop using that credit card, but not close the account right away. Closing a lot of accounts at once can impact your credit score.

Overall, switching banks was fairly simple. I can understand that if you have a car loan or a mortgage, there is probably more involved than there was for me. That said, I think it is important for individual citizens to do what they can to spend money in a way that supports or defunds causes, as appropriate.

Corporations do respond to the pressure of people voting with their wallet. Just last week Nordstrom, among other retailers, announced it would stop carrying Ivanka Trump’s brand. Specific to divesting from DAPL, the City of Seattle and the City of Davis have both voted to remove their cities’ funds from Well’s Fargo. That’s major. Far from being hopeless, the cause is gaining momentum. Two cities have divested. Individuals are divesting. It might take longer than we like for us to stop this oil pipeline and others like it, but it will happen. I am choosing the radical stance of believing that our actions have an impact.

One More Thing

If you’re following the Injustice Boycott and you decide to divest (I hope you do), you can check out their instructions and fill out a survey saying you participated. This helps track the true impact that the boycott is having.

28 Jan

What Do We Want? Divestment

I had never gone to a protest before, until last Saturday. Things being what they are, I went to my second rally in the same week. Yesterday, I went to a “divestment block party” in downtown Sacramento.

I was hesitant to go protest in the middle of the work day. Ultimately, I decided that doing whatever I want in the middle of the day is my prerogative as someone who works from home. I arrived downtown early. Unnecessarily early, but I was nervous. I brought a backpack full of snacks and warm clothes, but I stupidly forgot my wallet. After debating about whether to go home to get it, I paid for parking using the car’s emergency stash of  quarters.

I walked around the block to the courtyard in front of the Well’s Fargo building, where the protest was scheduled to take place. I sat on a bench to wait, cold in the tower’s shade. Because I was so nervous about being early and didn’t see anyone else around, I texted the organizer to ask if people had met somewhere else, he told me they would arrive soon. Before the rest of the protesters showed up, a few cops on bicycles rolled in. Several Well’s Fargo employees came outside, joking that the protesters must have already come and gone.

A bike covered in knitting bearing a sign that says "Make America native again."

“If you’re not knitting bike cozies, you’re not paying attention,” one woman quipped to me.

People began to trickle in: two young women, another pair of women toting babies, a handful of professionally dressed people wearing neon green caps proclaiming them impartial legal observers, an old lady with a bicycle covered in knitting. I had never met the protest’s organizer before, but I sensed that the man with a bullhorn and a giant drum must be the guy. He said we would start soon, once the sound system arrived.

In the meantime, the police approached to let us know the rules. The protest organizer was not interested in speaking with the police, but a legal observer jumped in. I edged closer to find out what stance the cops were taking on the event. They told us we were not allowed to enter the bank or block the sidewalk. Because we didn’t have a permit, we were technically not allowed to be there but, the officer generously added, as long as we kept the noise level to a “dull roar,” they would let us stay.

The sound system—an amplifier in a wheelchair, with speakers perched on boards atop the armrests—arrived and the rally started in earnest. Another organizer started us in a round of chants. A woman handed out pieces of paper with lyrics.

Street by street, block by block, Sac stands with Standing Rock.

We got a good bit of a ruckus going, people started chanting louder, some were waving banners and signs with messages like “It’s easier to change banks than to clean water” and “Mni wiconi” (Lokotan for “Water is life.”). Once we were warmed up, an elder of the Lakota Sioux came to speak to us. He prayed in the Lakotan language, which was really interesting for me. He spoke to us about what is happening in Standing Rock, describing the actions there as domestic terrorism. As he talked, a women waved a type of incense around the group, in what I believe was a sort of blessing. Then, a woman of the local Miwok tribe spoke. She told us that native people here are also suffering. She said we need to focus on conserving water and that, after they are done attacking our water supply, the food supply would be next. She encouraged us all to use grey water systems and plant gardens. Then, she taught us a warrior song. Singing the song with the group felt powerful. I don’t know if it was the fact that we learned it from someone who has suffered, or because we were singing it together in a group, but it felt important.

Listening to native people speak about the oil pipeline affected me deeply. I admit that I have maintained a only surface level awareness of the DAPL protests in the last few months, but I had not looked too deeply into it. Maybe I knew that if I did, I would be horrified and I would need to act. You know what they say about ignorance. Hearing directly from native people about their connection to the land and how their lives are being destroyed was impactful. We learn so little about native peoples in school. What we do learn has a museum quality to it. This is what they believed, this is how they lived. But they live and they believe now.

After these speeches, they asked if anyone was ready to divest from Well’s Fargo. Two young women came forward and they were asked to kneel before the group. They bowed as if in prayer. We chanted and sang more. They asked if the women intending to divest wanted to say anything. One did. She held up documents from her new bank. She told us she feels she is a good person and she can’t stand by while her bank funds hate. She was on the verge of tears, and caught in something akin to religious zeal, she encouraged us all to leave our banks in search of banks that use their money to help people.

The women rose and the protesters walked them to the front door of the bank. A news camera sidled along the group. I stayed towards the edge, since my boyfriend begged me not to end up on the news during work hours (“It’s a long lunch,” I’d told him. “Still …” he demurred).

What do we want? Divestment!
When do we want it? Now!

The bank did not allow the women to enter. The police stood in front of the door. “They’re customers! Let them in” People shouted. Bank employees flitted about their fishbowl office. The young women held up their Well’s Fargo bank cards in front of the door. “We’re customers! We are your customers!” Soon a new chant swelled, “Let them in! Let them in!” People surged towards the door. The woman with the “It’s easier to change banks than to clean water” sign shouted at employees visible through the glass.

I saw three men wrench the bank door open from my spot at the back of the group. I had decided the best use of my person was to chant loudly, from the diaphragm, demanding justice. These men had decided their bodies were best used in a demonstration of force. I think at least one of them got arrested because I didn’t see any sign of the organizer after that, only another man toting the drum.

The door open, the bank employees yielded, welcoming the women inside. A cheer went up and a new chant began.

A people united will never be divided!
El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

The crowd pulled back from the door and reestablished itself in the center of the courtyard. The mood was ebullient. The woman with the microphone asked if anyone had something they would like to say. One native woman asked the elder who had spoken earlier to sing the Native American national anthem. Then the son of another elder took the microphone. He was angry, angry that his dad was in the hospital, angry that the government continued to deny natives their rights. I don’t blame him. If I were protesting an oil pipeline and the government did what they’re doing in Standing Rock, I’d be pretty fucking mad too.

The women emerged from Well’s Fargo after what seemed like an hour. One held her bank reciept aloft. The crowd cheered again. Then, we were directed to march across the street to Bank of America whose funds also go to the DAPL.

You can’t drink oil. Keep it in the soil!

Bank of America is my bank. I’ve had been considering switching banks, but hadn’t yet done more than research. When we reached the bank, they asked, “Who is ready to divest?” I raised my hand and so did one other woman. “Let’s get you inside!” she declared. It was then I remembered my forgotten wallet. “Actually, I don’t have my wallet today. I feel really dumb,” I admitted before the crowd. We sent the other woman in alone and I held her bullhorn for her in a silent apology for my uselessness. Unlike Well’s Fargo, Bank of America gave its customer no trouble, perhaps because we hadn’t been causing trouble at their door for the last two hours. She was in and out in five minutes, announcing “They take your money fast, but they give it back just as quick.”

A building with a long banner reading "Divest No DAPL" hanging from the roof

The DIVEST banner hanging from Well’s Fargo

The march continued. We moved to the sidewalk across from Well’s Fargo. When we approached, we saw that someone had unfurled a banner heralding the cause: “DIVEST No DAPL.” Then the marchers grew truly excited. “We have support on the inside!” they hollered.

I decided that was a good time for me to leave.

This was an interesting experience. I knew it wasn’t going to be anything like the Women’s March, which was huge and had no trouble with the police. I didn’t know what to expect but it was great to feel like I was accomplishing something. I would think that 50 or 75 or however many people showed up does not look like much to a bank like Well’s Fargo, but the people inside sure looked worried. Only three people closed bank accounts that day, but I wonder if anyone else was influenced to take their business elsewhere. Just participating in this processed pushed me from “This is something I’m seriously considering” to “This is something I need to do right now.”

In fact, I’ve already started divesting myself from Bank of America. I’ve been talking to other people about ditching their bank. My sister said she would look at moving her direct deposit to her credit union account. My boyfriend is thinking it over too. These are small changes. I’m one person with less than $10,000 in my accounts. I would like to believe that these small actions are adding up. I went to the protest thanks to a small action. I saw that a friend was interested in going on Facebook and I decided that I should go. That’s why I have decided to write about the experience. I will also write about my experience of getting a new bank account after that is finished.

It seems like so much is happening so quickly right now, but all these current events are the culmination of years of work by right-wing jerks to dismantle what I consider to be civilized society. Let’s all take some small actions and get out of our comfort zones. We’re going to need all the help we can get.

25 Jan

Blogging Through the Anger

I’m not an angry person. At least, I don’t think of myself that way. Some of my family members flare up with white-hot rage, a pyroclasticflow of madness. I’ve always been the even-tempered one, so it is unsual to find myself experiencing rage. I have raged at the news for days. When Trump was elected,  I spent some time being sad. Now that I’ve seen how much havoc a small band of oligarchs can wreak in 5 days, I feel fury.

There are many reasons to be mad. However, I can only be so mad at any particular moment. At least, until we unlock more dimensions. I’m sure my eighth-dimensional outrage will be a thing to behold. In the meantime, a tirade in three dimensions.

I saw today, on Facebook, this headline:

Lawmaker: Criminalizing Abortion Would Force Women to be ‘More Personally Responsible’

And I thought, “More personally responsible.” I don’t know if anger can stop time, but I am unable to confirm that time did not stop.

I ask myself: how could women be more personally responsible for childbirth? Actually, here’s what I wrote on Facebook. What I wrote without even reading the article:

Men are the ones who need to be “more responsible” for sex, are you fucking kidding me? Men can LEAVE. A woman is stuck with the responsibility for sex whether she chooses to keep it or not. This is a gods damned joke.

Where are the tragic stories of women deserting their partners? The children who never knew their mothers? The men rushing to the drug store to get Plan B because the condom broke. Oh, wait, those things don’t exist. Women are the primary party responsible for the consequences of sex. Women get pregnant. Women gestate for nine months. Women give birth. Women nurse infants. Women are the primary caregivers. It is woman who is personally responsible for the consequences of sex, not man.

The smug, woman-hating face of Texas State Representative Tony Tinderholt

State Representative Tony Tinderholt. Look at his smug, woman-hating face

Eventually, I read the article. The man making these comments (because obviously only a man would say something so unabashedly ignorant) is, in fact, a state representative in Texas (because obviously Texas). State Representative Tony Tinderholt believes, “that, if passed, the bill would reduce the number of pregnancies, ‘when they know that there’s repercussions .'”

I didn’t know that women were unaware of the reprecussions of sex. Women whose uterine linings shed themselves every month from, for some, as early as the age of 10. Women, one in five of whom are sexually assaulted. Women, who are raped by their own partners. Who could know more intimately of the repercussions of sex.

According to State Representative Tinderholt, it’s currently just too easy to get an abortion. It’s a “backup,” he says. Tony Tinderholt imagines women thinking to themselves, “Oh, I can just go get an abortion.” Sure, just go get an abortion. Walk down to the abortion store and put on my abortion hat and remove this zygote from my body. Truly a simple, painless, and stigma-free process in 2017 America. I do wonder if Tony Tinderholt has ever been with anyone to get an abortion? I bet he thinks he doesn’t know anyone who has had an abortion. I bet he’s wrong about that.

Here are some facts (regular, not “alternative”—or is the alternative to alternative facts “straight edge”? A lot of questions today.):

  • Women seeking abortion in Texas have to make at least two visits to a clinic. Super convenient for women with jobs. Or women without jobs. For no women, that is, is it convenient.
  • Women seeking abortion in Texas have to have an ultrasound at least 24 hours before getting an abortion. This is called the “Right to know” law and the medical practitioner is mandated to give out information about “medical risks.”
  • Women seeking abortion cannot have medication abortion. Even if that might be safer and easier for them.

The worst of all? Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world.

Opinions like those of Tony Tinderholt lead to misguided policies to “protect” women from themselves. These policies lead directly to higher mortality rates for women. Women are literally dying because of this smug asshole. Because of a man’s misguided opinion on what is best for women.

An image of women in red with red head scarves taken from the movie The Handmaid's Tale.

Coming soon to a real life near you.

Men like Tony need to admit that these policies are not to protect or help women. They are to control women and their movements. They are to prevent women from having control over their own bodies. That is unacceptable. Women need equal rights to men. We need them now.

A lot of douchebags have crawled out of their holes in the past week, largely in response to the Women’s March. Here are some honorable mentions of people who made me mad.

  • L.A. Times has put this more succinctly than I can, “An outspoken Nebraska state legislator who was fined for having cybersex using a state computer resigned Wednesday after causing further outrage by sending a tweet that implied participants at the Women’s March were too unattractive to be victims of sexual assault.” Right, because as all women know, only the pretty ones get the dubious honor of being sexually assaulted. Thanks, fella.
  • Some people are protesting at Planned Parenthood (what else is new) because they want it defunded (I’m not going to link this one). I’m going to give Planned Parenthood some extra money just for them! And I signed up to be a clinic defender. Fuck these people. The matriarchy is strong.
  • Another gem of a human being from Texas says, in regards to the Women’s March, “Just think about this. After just one day in office, Trump managed to achieve something that no one else has been able to do: he got a million fat women out walking.” Dude, walking was the least strenuous thing I did last week. I’m going to keep lifting weights until I’m strong enough to throw you through a window.
  • A man who owns a brewery in Sacramento, where I live, said in regards to the Women’s march that “the left just can’t accept loss.” He’s going to have a hard time accepting the loss of business to his brewery.

What I’m trying to say here today is that I’m fucking mad. I’m as mad as I’ve ever been I’m mad that these genuine buttholes feel emboldened by Trump’s election. I’m mad that women still don’t have equal rights, that there’s no equal rights amendment. I’m mad that in 2017 we still have men trying to legislate women’s bodies—not even just trying, succeeding. I’m mad that these assholes have come out of the woodwork.

But you know what I’m happy about? How motivated and strong women are. So many of us have awakened to the fact that it is incumbent upon us all to act. We must act up and we must act out and be loud and be all those stupid things that society tells you you can’t do. Today is the day. Tomorrow is the day too. The next four years are the day because, women, we got this. The matriarchy is strong and its roots are deep.

01 Jan

2017: What Am I Doing?

It turns out that I blogged not at all this year. I was too busy doing everything else. Even though everyone around me was asking “Is 2016 the worst year ever?” I, personally, had a really good year. I got a promotion at work and then got a new job after that, which is remote and pays a lot more. I played a lot of roller derby and I made a lot of progress in my studies.

Languages

I said last year I was trying to write more in both Spanish and Icelandic. I did some writing in Spanish, but not much. In Icelandic, I did a moderate amount, mostly guided by my tutor.

This year I’m going to keep working with my Icelandic tutor. I started taking lessons in May and it’s helped me immensely. I reached a point with my studying in the spring when I decided I just wasn’t able to work the language out without direction and feedback. In addition to taking lessons, my goals is to read one book in Icelandic. I bought a short, young adult novel a few months ago. It seems like something I can reasonably read.

I wanted to get through the Harry Potter series in Spanish this year. I got close. I’m about 100 pages into the last book now. I spent a lot of time reading and learning vocabulary from what I read. I didn’t do much more than that, but I think it was a good use of my time. I’m reading much more fluently than when I started and I’ve learned a lot of vocabulary. This year, I’m going to keep reading (I already have a little stack of books in Spanish to read next), but I also want to focus on language production. I intend to write more, definitely. It’s easy to find people to look over Spanish writing. I also want to find a tutor. I think the targeted practice and feedback will make a difference as I push towards fluency.

The other thing I started doing this year that helped immensely was keeping language notebooks. In the past, I had notebooks full of words, but this year I tried something new. Each week, I write down what my goals are for the language. On the facing page, I write down new vocabulary, grammar notes, or other things I learn. This helps me stay focused week to week and gives me a record of what I have done.

Derby and Fitness

Derby was a big part of my life this year, both on and off the track. I took on some jobs with our league and I started announcing at bouts! I was hoping to make the Bruisers this year, but that didn’t happen. In the last quarter of 2016, I did make our new C team, however, and I got to play my first bout. I am a much stronger skater and player than I was a year ago, so I feel confident that I’ll make the B team this year.

My fitness/derby goals for the year:

  • Build endurance, particularly on skates but also off.
  • Improve my agility especially in regards to quick footwork and lateral movement.
  • Announce at WFTDA playoffs.
  • Make fitness an everyday habit. I’ve started doing this since I’ve been working from home the last two weeks, but I want to make sure I’m building exercise into my day, not just focusing on going to the gym as exercise.

Everything Else

I have a lot of other goals. There are so many things I want to do.

  • Cooking: I am going to try two new recipes per month. I have some new cookbooks and I have been thinking about expanding and making some different foods. This will be fun for me.
  • Reading: Read at least 52 books and work through the backlog of books that I have (i.e., don’t buy so many books until I read what I’ve already got). I also want to read at least 6 books in Spanish this year and 1 in Icelandic.
  • Hiking and camping: My boyfriend and I got an America the Beautiful pass for Christmas. We made a point of going hiking more often last year, but this year I want to do more, especially since we have the pass. We also got a camping stove so I am looking forward to more camping and cooking.
  • Staying informed and active: I started paying for news and sharing things people can do to be politically active. This year my goal is to take political action (calling representatives, writing letters, etc) at least weekly and read some news every day so I know what is going on.
  • Relaxing: I am not always great at stopping what I’m doing and letting myself rest. I have so much I want to do that it seems like relaxation doesn’t help, but of course it

Here’s to 2017!

27 Dec

2016: The Year Ahead

As is my end-of-year custom, I am looking at whether I met my goals for 2015 and considering goals for 2016. I like to set goals for the year because they seem more tangible to me than resolutions. Plus, New Year’s resolutions are just goals you plan to give up on by Valentine’s Day.

For 2015, my goals were to read a lot, keep going to the gym, learn Icelandic and maybe start roller derby. And that’s pretty much what I did this year. I’ve read 70 books so far this year (I’m going to post my annual book list this week). I went to the gym pretty consistently and tried a few different workout programs. Of course, the most interesting things this year have been Icelandic and derby. It took me a while to find my groove with the Icelandic, but I’m almost done with a low-intermediate course. I have learned quite a lot. As for derby, it’s already taken over my life. I did rec league in April and May, and moved up to the birds in the summer. Today I actually skated my first scrimmage outside of my home league. My team won and I even scored a few points.

Okay, so, what’s up for 2016:

Languages

I plan to keep learning Icelandic because I am enjoying it. I’m nearly done with the second of five online courses offered by the University of Iceland. I want to finish the first four courses and get to a level where I can start reading the news by the end of the year.

I’ve also decided to get my Spanish to the next level. I am okay at Spanish, definitely not fluent, but I read news and do alright. I want to push myself for fluency in Spanish. I think the main thing that I need is more exposure to different types of language. I decided to read the Harry Potter series in Spanish and go from there. After I get comfortable reading some middle-grade books, I should be able to get into more interesting novels. After that, it’s not even work.

For both languages, I am going to practice writing more. I made an account on Lang-8, a site where native speakers correct the writing of people learning their language. My goal is to write once per week.

Derby and Fitness

Probably the most important part of 2015 was starting roller derby. I think it’s great and I find it exciting. My goal for this year is to make it onto Sac City’s B team, the Folsom Prison Bruisers. We’re having team tryouts in January. It would be great to move up early in the year, but I hope to at least make it onto the Bruisers by the middle of the year.

In terms of fitness more generally, I want to work on heavy lifting. After I started derby, I stopped lifting as often. Last month, I started the 5×5 Stronglifts program and I think I’m going to stick with that for a while. My goal is to squat my bodyweight (which is currently about 285. I can squat a little over 200).

Reading, Writing, and Everything Else

I am, of course, setting a reading goal again. My minimum goal is 52 books. I would like to get to 100, but it’s hard when I do so many things with my time. In truth, my goal is to read more books than I did in 2015.

This year I am also setting a writing goal. I have been thinking a lot about maybe writing some short stories or a novel, but that is not going to materialize on its own. My goal is to write 500 words/day.

I also want to waste less time on the internet. This has been an unofficial goal for a while, but I’m putting it in writing this time. It’s too easy to idly browse the internet when I could be reading or doing literally anything else.

This is honestly a lot of goals. I think most of it’s possible, but I do have a tendency to try to do everything and stress myself out when I can’t do everything. So, I suppose my last goal for 2016 is to learn when to relax and let things go. We’ll see.

11 Sep

Icelandic Update, or Is It Really an Update If I Haven’t Told You Before Now?

Here’s the thing: I decided to start learning Icelandic in January of this year. I had every intention of writing about the process. As even a cursory glance at this blog reveals, I have not done so.

Somehow, I’ve been chipping away at a basic understanding of Icelandic for months, but it seems like it’s only started to coalesce in my brain in the last month or two. Like I couldn’t have corralled meaningful thoughts about it until maybe last week. What’s up with that? Brains, I guess.

Icelandic is the first language that I’ve learned totally on my own. I’m not in school and I have no plans to learn it in school. I’m also not in Iceland—I’m in Sacramento, which is probably the opposite of Iceland. I mean, it was 108 degrees yesterday. You know, in September. Enough preamble, here’s what’s up with Icelandic.

How I Am Learning

There is a surprising amount of free material available for Icelandic. I think there are a few groups working to spread the language and generate interest so Icelandic doesn’t die off. It’s not in danger, but there are only about 330,000 people in Iceland, and from what I understand, most of them also speak English.

I started out with the Colloquial Icelandic textbook. I even paid for the audio CDs that accompany it. This book is well scaffolded and had good explanations of the grammar. Each chapter has two or three long dialogues, which are the main material for the lesson. They’re not really that long, but somehow, these seem incredibly long to me. The hardest part of working with this book is taking the time to carefully go over each dialogue. I struggle with starting tasks. Once I start, I don’t want to stop for the next three hours, but knowing that I have a long dialogue to parse makes it hard to start working. I’m only on chapter 5 of this book. I got a little frustrated with it a few months ago, but I’m slowly getting reacquainted with it.

What I’ve really had success with the Icelandic Online course. This is a free online course from the University of Iceland. There are 5 levels, each divided into 6 chapters. The chapters are further segmented into 5 lessons, and each lesson has 3 section. I really like this course because it’s in small pieces. I can usually get through a section in the evenings after work, if I don’t waste too much time on the internet. I also like that it’s interactive. It has activities and a way to check if you get the answers right. The hard part about this course is that immersive—there’s no English. Luckily, Icelandic Online also has an online dictionary. I look up a lot of words, but for the most part, I am learning a lot.

The work part of learning involves a steno notepad and a flashcard app. I write down the words I find and some grammar notes in my notebook. Then, I use the Anki app to drill it into my brain. This is the first time I’ve incorporated as many pictures as possible into my flashcards. It makes things more interesting and I think I’ve been learning the words faster.

An image of the front and back of a flashcard for the word 'girl'.

One of my flashcards.

Why Icelandic Is Great

I knew Icelandic was going to be challenging and fun (because I find this kind of thing fun). I did not know enough about it when I started to know why it’s great. The thing I most like about Icelandic right now is that it is full of words made from smashing other words together. For example, remember that big-ass volcanic eruption a few years ago? The volcano is called Eyjafjalljökull. If you break this apart, it’s actually three words stacked together. Jökull means ‘glacier’, fjall means ‘mountain’, and eyja means ‘island’. This is literally the island-mountain-glacier volcano (the word for volcano, by the way, is eldgos, or fire + eruption).

Now that I’ve got enough words in my head as a foundation (about 1,000 words, if you’re wondering), I’m starting to notice how words combine. Some don’t really seem noteworthy from an English-speaking perspective, like hjólastígur (hjóla is ‘bike’ and stígur is path, so: bike path). But it still feels good to figure out a word based on its components. I’ve also started thinking about the components of words that might not seem to split apart (again, from an English perspective), like borgarbúi, ‘citizen’. Borg means ‘city’ and búi is ‘to live’. So, citizen is kind of like city-dweller.

Pulling words apart doesn’t always have the desired effect, however. I learned the word rafmagn (electricity). I looked up ‘raf’ and found that it means ‘amber’. I don’t think this has anything to do with electricity. It would be like saying that the ‘win’ in ‘window’ is semantically meaningful.

Why Icelandic Is Hard

Icelandic has four cases, which I guess isn’t that many, but they can be complicated. The declension of each word depends on its grammatical gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter) and whether it is singular or plural. Icelandic is particularly weird, because case isn’t necessarily derived from the role a word plays in a sentence. Case is dictated by a noun’s preceding verb or preposition. Some verbs are accusative, for example, so the object of the verb takes the accusative case. This is new for me. It’s tricky, but interesting.

Other Thoughts

It’s very cool to be learning a language in an age when we have the Internet. I can get multi-media instruction for free, have native speakers critique my writing, compile a playlist of music in Icelandic, and find tons of Icelandic text online.

I’m definitely more committed than I was a few months ago (I mean, I knew I was going to do it, but now I feel like I’m actually doing it). My current plan is to finish the first-level Icelandic Online course, and then take their “Plus” course for the second-level class. That costs around $300, but you get a tutor and more practice, which sounds pretty worth it to me. The long-term goal is to be able to read books and news in Icelandic, and to be able to use the language like a badass when I eventually travel to Iceland.

I am also going to write about what I’m doing more often. This post was long because it was long overdue. The next one will be more focused.

08 Jun

Things I’ve Been Meaning to Blog About: Roller Derby

I have been meaning to blog about roller derby for about two months now. Or maybe three months. In any case, this is the blog post about roller derby.

Yesterday, I tried out for roller derby with the Sac City Rollers. The try out is a first step; if I did well, then I can join the “bird” class, which is rigorous training for players looking to join an SCR team in the future. When I started rec league (a somewhat casual, basic skills derby course) eight weeks ago, I knew I would try out at the end, but I didn’t know that I might have a realistic chance of making it.

On my first day of rec league, I strapped on all the derby gear I had just purchased. I was terrified of getting up off the bench and joining the women warming up on the track. I had gone skating at a local roller rink once a few weeks before. The results were not inspiring. After Coach Skella (short for Skellawhore, of course) encouraged everyone to get out and warm up, I gingerly scooched my way out onto the track. I moved my skates, trying to emulate the videos I’d watched on YouTube before class. Most of the other skaters were confidently gliding around the track like they had been born with silver skates on their feet. I have never wanted to give up so much in my life as I did in the first 15 minutes of rec league.

Fortunately, the rec league class is designed for people like me, who have the skating abilities of a 95-year-old woman. The first day we learned how to fall and how to stop. I drifted about on my skates while we listened to the instructions, lacking the dexterity to stay in one place, but I did learn how to fall with grace. As nervous as I was, I felt so much better after the first class. Knowing how to fall meant that even if I had no idea what was happening, I could stop and hit the floor without dying.

In each of our weekly classes after that, I only felt more confident. The first few weeks were rocky, but after every class I knew I had improved a lot. After I finished getting my skates adjusted in week three or four (including putting in some insoles so wearing skates didn’t hurt and loosening my trucks), I was definitely ready to take on the skills we covered in the rest of the class, like jumping, hitting, and skating as a pack.

Trying to summarize eight weeks of roller derby practice is difficult. The classes were all two-hour sessions, in the heat of a warehouse that SCR rents here in Sacramento. There’s no air conditioning and the floor is coated in a grimy film. Despite the temperature and the dust, everyone is working their asses off to be a badass and you can feel that everyone wants everyone else to succeed. Everyone is chill. There’s no room for dicks in roller derby.

The individual drills like learning how to crossover or transition or skate backwards were alright, but the most fun parts of rec league came from group activities. We spent one night almost exclusively learning to be in close contact with each other. We skated circles around a partner and then formed a line hands-to-hips and made the person in the back push. We raced. I hauled more ass than I knew was possible.

The last—and best—night of rec league we had our first scrimmage. Each rec league skater was paired with an experienced skater. My partner, Moaning Lisa or Mo for short, was friendly and awesome. She skated up to me during our warmup, asked my name (“Stone,” she immediately nicknamed me), and then we raced around to gather up the rest of our team. Playing a full scrimmage, even with a skilled partner, was incredibly taxing. I have a long way to go in building the endurance to play properly. The scrimmage also made me realize that, even though I have improved a ton, I still have lots to learn. I spent a significant amount of the scrimmage wondering what the hell I should do to make someone stop hitting me.

Amid all this rec leaguing and scrimmaging, I have been getting more involved in the league. I started going to watch their bouts (the derby name for ‘games’ or ‘matches’) at the beginning of the year, but for the last few months, I have also volunteered. I help set up chairs, move people through the will-call line, and sell raffle tickets. I’ve even started introducing myself by my derby name, Rosetta Stone. It feels strange but cool.

So, back to try outs. I’m still awaiting the results. I feel like I did well—I did my best in any case. I’m dying to hear. I hope I made it so I can go on to get my ass kicked twice a week as a bird.

08 Jan

2015: The Year Ahead

This post is a little bit late becuase it took me a while to figure out just what I wanted to say about the upcoming year. I feel like I accomplised a lot in 2014. I didn’t exactly accomplish all of my goals for last year, but I definitely did more than in years past. So, for 2015, my main goal is this:

Keep going.

I’ve been going to the gym 3+ times a week. I want to keep doing that. I’ve been walking a lot and I want to keep doing that too. Last year we went on a few camping trips and did some other outside things, which was fun. I started a new job that is actually someting I want to do. And, of course, I read 90 books, which is pretty great, especially since my goal was to read 52.

Other than “keep going,” I’m planning to read a lot again this year. I don’t know if I’ll hit 90 books again, but knowing that I can read that much is encouraging. I think I will probably read a lot.

I have decided to learn Icelandic this year. This I have already started. In the last week, I’ve studied the phonemes of Icelandic and started learning a few words and phrases.

I’m quite excited about Icelandic becuase this is the first new language I have started since graduating college. I considered doubling down on languages I already know something about, but I wanted a new challenge and I want something to look forward to–like visiting Iceland! So, Icelandic it is. I expect I’ll blog about the langauge learning process throughout the year.

This year I am also hoping to give roller derby a try. My local team, the Sac City Rollers does a newbie class. Once they start up again, I intend to participate. Soon I’ll be an Icelandic-speaking roller derby chic. Here’s to 2015.

01 Jul

Articles I Wrote at ALA Annual Conference 2014

I attended the 2014 American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas. Becuase I am not content to just sit and listen to everyone, I signed on to work as a stringer for American Libraries, the magazine of the American Library Association. I wrote articles about the sessions I attended and submitted them to the American Libraries
“The Scoop” blog.

In no particular order, here are the pieces I wrote while at the conference:

26 Mar

A Special Request and a Long Rant

On behalf of job-seekers everywhere, I would like to make a request. If someone you know is looking for work and describing to you the ongoing struggle involved in doing so, if you immediately have an idea, if you just know it would really help this person’s life …

DON’T SAY IT.

Yes, don’t say it. Close your mouth. Listen. Think. I hear you thinking, “but my idea is so good! I just want to help.” We know. I know you just want to help, but here is the situation. There are a lot of people in my demographic who are in the trenches, so to speak, as I am. This is what I am going through, what I have gone through, and what I suppose, I will continue to go through (I know I am presumptuously making this request for job-seekers everywhere, but I will illustrate with my own life).

I quit teaching last February. I threw myself into the unwelcoming embrace of the economy. I started looking for work immediately. I applied for jobs in librarianship, in writing, in California’s state bureaucracy, in anything that looked remotely promising. I put out at least 500 applications, I estimate, in a six-month period. During this time, I finished my masters degree (I graduated last May) and I worked as a freelance writer, which ended up being a lot of effort for not a lot of money. I did some phone interviews here and there for writing jobs in Seattle. I went on probably a dozen interviews for state jobs. Inevitably, no one called back.

In July, I was offered an “intermittent” position in one of the many offices that comprise the State of California. Intermittent jobs are essentially part-time. You can work 1,500 over the course of the fiscal year (July to June). For comparison, the state defines a full-time “year” of work at 1,920 hours. I didn’t want to take the job. I took it anyway because trying to hustle up writing clients was more exhausting that I had expected, no fairy godmother of librarianship had appeared to me to turn me into a real librarian, and the due date for my student loans was looming.

Hermes Conrad, bureaucrat in

It’s bureaucracy time.

I started working for the State. I didn’t (and still don’t) have health insurance because when you’re intermittent, you don’t qualify for insurance until you work a certain number of hours (I could qualify now but I have been informed that it is “hella expensive.”). I eased up somewhat on the job applications. This was partly due to exhaustion and partly due to a prospect. I had been invited to interview at the University of Virginia Library for an excellent librarian position. I spent time preparing myself for the interview and presentation. I was somewhat optimistic.

Predictably, I did not get the UVa job. I spent a month being reluctant to apply for things and make a real effort, but soon after I traveled to Seattle to interview for the librarian pool at the Seattle Public Library. I was accepted. I have since received approximately two notifications of open jobs. I have not been asked to interview for either. Sometime amid all this I also interviewed at the California State Library. Within a week, I received a letter saying I didn’t get the job. As is common in state service, I suspect they already knew who they intended to hire.

Since I am creating a litany of job-market lamentations, I suppose it is only fair to include the one about New Mexico. I did a phone interview for a position at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. They called my references and decided they wanted to interview me in person. Only when my librarian mentor, Kathleen, told me that it was a paraprofessional position did I realize why I was seen as such a good candidate—and also why the pay was so low. I declined a second interview.

At this point, I re-evaluated my application carpet bombing strategy. I realized that I could not afford to take a job that paid less than $40,000 (or more than that, depending on the location). I also realized that I did not want to move somewhere that I would want to leave immediately because one day I would like to stop living like a gypsy, make friends where I live, and buy a house (in any order). I narrowed my parameters for job searching. While I limited my scope geographically, I expanded it in terms of work type.

By December, I realized that I had about a year of freelance writing experience. This, I reasoned, could help me get a full-time writing job. Despite numerous applications, I don’t have a writing job beyond the ongoing part-time gigs I already had. I nearly got a junior technical writer position in Seattle, which is exactly what I want if I can’t get a library job, but it fell through when I told the recruiter I would need a week or two to move. He said that they needed someone sooner. I revised my stance and told him I could move immediately, but a week later, I found out that they had hired someone else. How dare I not be available to start a contract position with three-day’s notice! It is really my own fault I don’t have a proper career.

Since then? I continue to apply. Every weekend I send out at least five applications, but some weeks it can be as many as 20, depending on what’s available. I have about eight active job alerts from ineed.com and myriad alerts from other services that occasionally surface in my inbox. I check LinkedIn weekly. I browse INALJ (I Need a Library Job) and the ALA JobList, plus several library job-related Twitter feeds. I now have my resume listed on Mensa’s job board, for what that’s worth. I check certain organizations to find out, specifically, if they are hiring. I browse through a list of every librarian job in the country that has been posted in the last week. And I do this EVERY WEEK. It is exhausting. It is like running a marathon except instead of being done after 26 miles, you will be done when you reach some as yet undetermined distance. You don’t know what it is. You get tired and want to quit, but then you remember that the end could be just another mile away and you wouldn’t want to have stopped when you were so close. So you keep running.

But the final indignity, the last straw, the gust of wind that tipped me over the edge this week was back here at my stupid state job. I treat state work as a tertiary career plan. If all else false, my father reassures me, I can move up in state service (because it is full of complete idiots, he tells me). In February, I interviewed for a position that was in the next classification up from my current one (the state takes is classifications very seriously) and in the office where I work. It turned out that I was not yet qualified for this particular bureaucrat level, which was irritating, but something I could live with. Finding this out also brought forward the information that my experience doesn’t actually count as much as I think it does. One way to move up is to accrue a year of experience in my current class. Well, a year for me at my limit of 1,500 is only about 78% of a real year as the State counts it. Again, could have lived with this information, even though I was seething that no one felt the need to me. The hiring manager for this position told me I could have a different full time job, within my current class. They wouldn’t even need to interview me. This seemed like an appropriate consolation prize. It didn’t come out until this week that they were actually scheduling interviews for this position and that they “unintentionally mislead” me regarding my path to full-time, health insured bliss. I am scheduled to interview, but apparently there are some very competitive candidates, which I understand to mean “We like these other people more.” Even that would have been fine, had my administration had the emotional maturity to let me know this could be a problem in the first place. I can’t tell if they are being malicious or incompetent, but I am at a point where tolerating either is just too much to bear.

the California State Library building

California State Library, a magical place that provides jobs to all the worthy, newly-minted librarians

So, when I say that I am frustrated with the job market and that I just want to be a librarian or maybe a writer. When I say that I am a bit cynical, having a rough go, exhausted, or somewhat depressed and people respond with comments like:

“Have you tried the state library?”

“Have you looked at any of the UCs?”

“Is the Sacramento Public Library hiring?”

“What about volunteering?”

“Why don’t you talk to some people in the field?”

“Did you look online?”

I have a strong urge to kick the shit out of them, no matter how nice they are trying to be. What you don’t understand if you haven’t tried to get a job lately is that it is god-damned near impossible. I have done everything “right.” I have experience in more than one field (teaching, writing, and now … bureaucracy?), I have two bachelors degrees, a teaching credential, a masters degree, I have published academic work, I go to professional development, I participate in library organizations, I prepare thoroughly before interviews if I am lucky enough to get one, I have an active social media presence that promotes me as a person of note in my field, I apply for SO MANY JOBS.

So, when people try to “help” by offering the first idiotic thought that occurs to them, it is, to be blunt, fucking insulting. For the last year, getting a job has been my job. I have applied for things that I never would have imagined I would apply for. I have interviewed. I have networked. I am exhausted with my life. I would never have thought it would be so difficult. If I had a time machine, I would tell my 18-year-old self to get an associates degree, get a full-time job and get my education while I work because I would probably be better off right now.

Next time one of your friends or loved ones is telling you about their job search-related suffering, stop yourself. Choose your words carefully. Please don’t offer advice. Listen to what we have to say. Commiserate with us. Tell us that you support us and ask if there is any way you can help. Offer to take us out for frozen yogurt. But for the love of whatever god you subscribe to, don’t fucking make suggestions.