31 Dec

2016: The Year in Books

I read 43 books this year. It’s not a lot compared to last year’s 71, but it was a full year.

  • Page count: 16,413, or 59% of what I read last year.
  • Library use: I read 17 library books and 26 books that I own.
  • Female and male authors: 33 of the books I read were by women. I read books by 26 discrete authors. Twenty of those were women.
  • Digital versus analog: I read 25 dead-tree books and 18 digital books.
  • Fiction versus non-fiction: I read just 3 non-fiction books this year.
  • Favorites: I read a lot of good books this year. I really enjoyed Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin, which combines all my favorite themes: linguistics, aliens, and feminism. I got out of my usual comfort zone of genre fiction and found some things I quite liked, notably My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt. My most favorites were probably The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin. I just love her writing.
  1. The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
  2. God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert
  3. Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert
  4. Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV by Jennifer L. Pozner
  5. Chapterhouse Dune by Frank Herbert
  6. The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
  7. The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo
  8. The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
  9. A Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta
  10. Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley
  11. Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal by J. K. Rowling
  12. The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
  13. A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab
  14. Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer
  15. Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
  16. Harry Potter y la cámara secreta by J. K. Rowling
  17. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
  18. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
  19. In Other Words Jhumpa Lahiri
  20. The Judas Rose by Sizette Haden Elgin
  21. Harry Potter y el prisionero de Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
  22. Earth Song by Suzette Haden Elgin
  23. Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
  24. Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
  25. Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiveristy by Steve Silberman
  26. Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
  27. Harry Potter y el cáliz de fuego by J. K. Rowling
  28. Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
  29. The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson
  30. Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
  31. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
  32. Authority by Jeff VanderMeer
  33. Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
  34. The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin
  35. Mr. Splitfood by Samantha Hunt
  36. Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
  37. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  38. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  39. Harry Potter y la orden del fénix by J. K. Rowling
  40. Harry Potter y el misterio del príncipe by J. K. Rowling
  41. Bitch Planet by Deconnick & De Landro
  42. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  43. The Devourers  by Indra Das

 

01 Jan

2015: The Year in Books

I made it through 71 books this year. It’s not as many as last year, but still highly respectable.

  • Page Count: around 27,128, based on statistics from LibraryThing.  This is about 77 percent of what I read last year
  • Library Use: 47 of the 71 books (66 percent) I read were from the library. Thank you, Sacramento Public Library!
  • Female and Male Authors: I read 41 books written by women and 30 written by men. Suck it, men. It takes a conscious effort to read more books by women, but it’s worthwhile, especially if you haven’t done it before.
  • Digital and Analog: I read 38 digital books and 33 analog (aka dead tree) books.
  • Fiction and Non-Fiction: I read 18 non-fiction and 53 fiction books.
  • Favorites: My favorites this year were Kameron Hurley’s books (all of them), Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, Who Fears Death, and Wolf Winter. The book I found most unexpectedly great was All My Puny Sorrows. It’s hard to pick favorites though because everything I read was pretty good this year.
  1.  The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells
  2.  The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells
  3.  The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  4.  The Whispering Muse by Sjón
  5.  Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson
  6.  Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap Americaby by Linda Tirado
  7.  Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
  8.  The Just City by Jo Walton
  9.  The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir
  10.  The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age by Astra Taylor
  11.  Loitering by Charles D’Ambrosio
  12.  The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
  13.  Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Skakur
  14.  Down and Derby: The Insiders Guide to Roller Derby by Jennifer Barbee and Alex Cohen
  15.  Infidel by Kameron Hurley
  16.  The Ambassador by Bragi Ólafsson
  17.  Rapture by Kameron Hurley
  18.  In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood
  19.  2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love
  20.  Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future edited by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer
  21.  The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord
  22.  Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
  23.  Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaii by James L. Haley
  24.  An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz
  25.  Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck
  26.  The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
  27.   A Darker Shade of Magic: A Novel by V. E. Schwab
  28.  Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone
  29.  This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible by Charles E. Cobb
  30.  The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  31.  The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber
  32.  Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone
  33.  The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
  34.  The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen
  35.  The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
  36.  Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
  37.  Dune by Frank Herbert
  38.  Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People by Elizabeth A. Fenn
  39.  Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert
  40.  The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton
  41.  The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
  42.  Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett
  43.  Children of Dune by Frank Herbert
  44.  The Undreground Girls of Kabul: In Search of A Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg
  45.  Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  46.  All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Towes
  47.  Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
  48.  The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
  49.  Dream London by Tony Ballantyne
  50.  Last First Snow by Max Gladstone
  51.  The Lies of Locke Lamora by Max Gladstone
  52.  Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
  53.  Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
  54.  The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
  55.   The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
  56.  Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
  57.  Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown
  58.  The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi
  59.  The Causal Angel by Hannu Rajaniemi
  60.  Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  61.  Luna: New Moon by Ian MacDonald
  62.  My Real Children by Jo Walton
  63.  Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
  64.  Butterflies in November by Auður Ava ólafsdóttir
  65.  Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  66.  Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  67.  The Art of Language Invention by David Peterson
  68.  Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
  69.  One of Us: Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway by Asne Seirstad
  70.  Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
  71.  Derby Life: A Crash Course in the Incredible Sport of Roller Derby by Margot Atwell
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.

08 Oct

Derby Life: Bird Style

I last wrote about roller derby after bird try-outs. Because I’m the kind of woman who leaves you hanging for four months, I am only now coming back to writing about it. I think aspects of my life that focus on improving incrementally are difficult to write about. There’s no great climax like there is in a movie. In the end, it’s just a lot of practice. That is hard to turn into something interesting.

Anyway, I did make the birds. I have made the most of it, but in retrospect, I think I may have advanced prematurely. The first month or maybe month and a half of bird class was incredibly hard. I almost cried a lot of times (and one time I really did cry). I dropped out of the warmups (and I still do sometimes) because I felt like I couldn’t breathe anymore or because my quads/back/calves were burning. Actually, I talked to my coach one night and she leveled with me and said that I probably wasn’t quite ready to move up, but my work ethic convinced the coaches to let me anyway. That damn work ethic, always making trouble.

I think in June I was not truly ready to move up, but I am so glad that I did anyway. After a month or two, I lost my “baby giraffe” skating style (an observation from a fellow skater) and a teammate told me she felt safe skating with me (the implication: I was unsafe until then). By August, I moved beyond being a hazard to myself and others. I am sure I made 100 times more progress by moving up to the birds than doing another round of rec league. And for what it’s worth, I went to a few rec league classes over the last few months too.

A baby giraffe

Me, circa June

The last month or so, I have started feeling more confident about my skating. I’m not a beast yet, but I think I have recognized that I have the potential to be a little fucking beast. The best thing has been discovering what I’m good at: not getting knocked down. Once I stopped skating like a newborn foal, I found that I am very stable. I credit this to the two years of weightlifting I have casually engaged in and to being a larger-than-average human. Now, anytime I find myself sucking spectacularly at something, I try to remember that no bitch on the track can take me out. It’s a small comfort.

The thing is, I do suck at a lot of things. I am starting to suck less at some of them. When I started the bird class, I thought my biggest problem would be speed. It seemed like I couldn’t keep up in any drill and I was always the slowest one out there. I think I am still relatively slow if we’re factoring in endurance, but I am getting a little faster. We recently tested how many laps we could skate in a minute. I managed to roll out 5.5 laps, which is actually a respectable pace. Can I do that for five minutes (or, okay, two minutes)? No, but it’s progress. The first time we did that test in rec league, I think I skated 1.5 laps. That means from April to September, my speed increased by 5 laps/minute. That will probably never happen again!

At this point, I think my biggest issue is actually stopping. I can stop, but not fast enough and not accurately enough. My current nemesis is the tomahawk stop, which rather than trying to explain, I will refer you to this video. Being able to stop and change directions fast is actually more important than just skating fast when you’re playing. Unless, perhaps, you are a jammer, which does not seem to be my calling right now.

Probably the most telling for me in terms of perspective and feeling like I’ve made progress has been skating with newer skaters. Last month the bird class helped out with the rec league scrimmage. And last week, a group of new skaters joined the bird class. I could see the difference between where they are now and where I am now. My stride is more solid, I can skate close to people, block, and stop without drifting halfway around the track.

Bird class is twice per week, but the title of this post also promises “derby life.” Derby has already begun to take over my life. I’m not fighting it though; I figured it would be one of those things that is a life commitment. I’ve been volunteering at bouts, usually with setting up the track. I recently learned how to set up a track without any guidelines on the floor, which is a handy skill. It makes me feel like I could play derby anywhere. I’ve also been helping out at bouts and scrimmages as a non-skating official (NSO), which involves tracking penalties, scorekeeping, etc. Everyone says that NSOing is a good way to learn the rules. I sort of doubted, but it is helping me learn the penalties and what to pay attention to during games. Last weekend, my league hosted a tournament and I spent the whole weekend alternately NSOing and making sure the track didn’t get fucked up. It was a full couple of days.

WFTDA Track Dimensions

WFTDA Track Dimensions

Another side effect of derby life is that it is making me more committed to being a badass in everyday life. Well, my own definition of badass. I started learning Icelandic earlier this year. It’s possible that I might have naturally become more serious about it over time regardless, but the last few months I have been studying like crazy. It’s fun and interesting to me. Plus, I want to be able to do justice to the name Rosetta Stone. I’m also going to the gym more consistently and eating a little healthier. For example, I always want to get a Slurpee after practice, but I know it’s not actually going to do anything for my body (and that the 7-11 near our practice area is probably unsafe, but, okay), so I don’t.

If you’re still reading this, you may wonder what’s next. Well, as my coach has reminded us, birds isn’t supposed to be forever. My next goal is to move up onto my league’s B-team, the Folsom Prison Bruisers. They just held try-outs for the Bruisers in September, but I didn’t try out because I knew I wasn’t there yet. One of our weekly practices is combined with the teams, so I have a fair idea of what I would be getting into. I still can’t make it through their warm-up. Although, I’m told that most everyone feels like they’re going to die and it’s not just me. A 25-woman paceline is probably enough to make most women want to fall over.

The next try-outs are (I think) in January. I am going to be tomahawking my fat ass off between now and then. I think if I can master that, and keep improving my other skills, I’ll have a respectable chance of moving up.

Hopefully, I’ll stop being ridiculous and write about this at least a little more often. I had been thinking about writing more lately. Yesterday I received the best “write more!” sign that I could ever possibly get. One of the rec league skaters told me after practice yesterday that she had read my blog and it made her feel better about trying rec league. I was surprised that she had not only found it and read it, but that she happened to be in the same practice with me. I was both stunned and pleased to have made a difference for a new skater. So, if you’re new and you’re reading this (and you made it this far), here’s the truth: roller derby is fucking hard and it hurts like a bitch. Just keep working and you will definitely improve. That sounds cliché, but it’s true. Now, go skate!

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 Jun

Wayfinding in Las Vegas: Walking Shortcut from the Riviera to the Las Vegas Convention Center

I’m in Las Vegas for the American Library Association Annual Conference 2014 (#alaac14). I’m staying at the Riviera and I can actually see the Las Vegas Convention Center, the location of the conference, from my hotel room. I discovered a short way to walk from the Riviera to the Convention Center. I took a few pictures to share the route with my fellow travelers.

Exit the Riviera through the doors near the hotel check-in desk. When you walk out, you are facing the parking garage. Stay on the sidewalk and walk past the parking garage. Keep walking past the tennis courts.

Riviera backlot

Follow the sidewalk past the parking garage and tennis courts.

Near the end of the sidewalk path, there is a sign that points to the right. Cross the street and turn right into the small, fenced-off parking lot.

Follow the arrow. Turn right.

Follow the arrow. Turn right.

Walk straight through the fenced-off parking lot and through the gateway to the Convention Center parking lot.

20140626_133512

Walk through the gateway into the Convention Center parking lot.

From here, you can cut diagonally across the Convention Center parking lot. Enter the Convention Center near the visitor’s center. Go up the escalator and walk through the causeway to get to the main area of the Convention Center.

I hope this helps a few people get where they’re going. Enjoy the conference, everyone!

31 May

How to Give Good Interview: A Post That Goes Beyond Getting Dressed

Today, a friend told me that her 18-year-old daughter wanted my advice for job interviews. My knee-jerk response was “Why does anyone want my advice?” Then I remembered that I have interviewed a ridiculous amount of times in the last few years. Hence, I write this post.

This afternoon, I clicked one of LinkedIn’s many clickbait articles about job interviewing. I always want new advice about interviewing because it was difficult for me to learn how to interview well. It frustrates me that most interview tip articles read something like “Wear clothes! Know where things are! Don’t offend people at the office!” These tips are insulting. Of course you should know where you’re going before you go there. Yes, you should wear appropriate clothes. Do people not know this? There are literally thousands of articles about this. We can move past telling people to dress appropriately for job interviews.

Interviewing is a skill. It is a skill that you learn. Like most skills, you improve by practicing. The year I got my first teaching job, I went on approximately 15 interviews. It might have been as many as 20. I lost count. The next summer was more of the same: I went on a lot of teaching interviews and some State of California job interviews too. Now I interview for all kinds of jobs. I am definitely positioning myself in librarianship and writing, but you never know who might be interested in what you have to offer.

You can prepare for interviews. An interview is not a spontaneous presentation. It is not a test of quick thinking and wit.  When I realized that I could prepare for interviews, my strategy changed completely. I used to show up for interviews hoping that it would not be horrible, thinking there was not really anything I could do to prevent it from being awful. Now, I show up for interviews ready for battle.

Before we continue, I have to admit something: interviewing is hard. It is hard emotionally. After an interview I am tired. I analyze the things I said and the things I did not say. I usually schedule interviews such that I don’t need to return to work after. I spend the time afterwards sleeping, playing video games, and eating baked goods.

The preamble is over. This is what I do when I have an interview.

Phase 1: Preparation

Analyze the Job Description

Knowing the job description is the most important factor for interview success. The most common opening question in an interview, in my experience, is “Describe your education and experience as it relates to this position.” If you know what is in the description, it is much easier to answer this question.

If your English teachers ever made you annotate a text, recall those skills now. Print out the job description. Yes, print it, like physically on paper. Get your hands on that job description! As a former English teacher myself, I go over mine in red pen, but you can use a rainbow marker or whatever makes you happy. Get ready to mark this business up.

Read the job description. I underline key things like what they want me to do in

the job. I circle skills they want. In the margins, I write a one- or two-word note about what I did or learned related to this. If the description mentions “presentations” I make a note like “teaching.” If it says “MySQL” I write “MLIS classes, Stanford MOOC” because I took a database management class and a MySQL/PHP class during my MLIS (masters in library and information science) and I did a MOOC (massive, open, online course) from Stanford University called Introduction to Databases. Sometimes I don’t have a good note, but I can mark something so I can think about it later. Go through the whole description making notes.

Start Your Notes

When I make notes for an interview, I usually write on paper because I remember what I write better than what I type. However, typed notes are neater and can be easier to read in an interview. If you have bad handwriting, try writing your notes first and then type them later. Then go learn how to write properly!

I start my notes by writing what kinds of tasks a person in the job has to do and what information a person in the job needs to know. For an example, I did a screening interview for a technical writing job today. According to the job description, the employee needs to:

  • Learn the product.
  • Write product descriptions.
  • Define standards.
  • Interview SMEs (subject matter experts).

And the employee needs to know or have:

  • Analytical skills.

  • Strong communication skills.

  • PHP, MySQL, C++, or Perl.

That is an abbreviated list, but hopefully you get the point.

Research the Company

This part can be the trickiest, depending on what the company is. I have interviewed at a lot of public agencies (schools, libraries), which have a lot of easy-to-locate information online. If you are searching for a privately-owned company, this is more difficult. Some things you want to know because they help you frame your responses (think mission or vision statements) and some things you want to know so you can understand what you might be getting yourself into. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of the types of things to look up:

  • Mission and vision statements: You want to know what the organization’s goal is. This seems like a straightforward concept, but there is a lot of variance. A school’s mission, for example, is generally to educate people, but the mission statement might include something about fostering diversity, creating life-long learners, or preparing students for college. Whatever the things are, you should talk about them. Work them into your responses when interviewers ask why you want to work there.

  • Strategic plan: Where is this organization heading? What are its specific goals? The strategic plan tells you this. Again, strategic plans are usually online for public agencies. They may not be online for private agencies. I have found strategic plans to be helpful when preparing for library interviews, in particular.

  • People: Who works here? This is where a LinkedIn account is handy. I look up people doing the job I want to do at the organization and look at their LinkedIn page. Try not to look at their LinkedIn page more than once or twice because LinkedIn tells people how often you look at them. You don’t want to look like a stalker (I worry about this. I’m not sure if others really care). If you can, look for blogs written by the employees. You might not find exactly the people who you end up facing in an interview. That’s okay. This research can give you an idea of the type of people who work at a place. It can help you decide if you think the organization is a good fit for you.

  • Blogs and social media: What does this company say about itself? They almost certainly have a blog. They probably have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and maybe even a Pinterest or YouTube channel, depending on the field. Read the blog. How does this company portray itself? Reflect those values back to the people interviewing you. It will make you look like a good match for the company.

  • Glassdoor and related sites: I like to check Glassdoor when I prepare for an interview. Glassdoor does not have data on every organization, but it can help you figure out how much people get paid. There are sometimes reviews of the company by employees. Remember that people tend to review only when they are really impressed or really distressed. Consider the reviews, but do not take them too seriously. File them away in your brain. If you see any warning signs in your interview that the organization is as bad as people say, feel free to run in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.

Research the Job

You will not be the first person in the history of the internet to interview for your type of job. Use the internet. What is the job title? Google “Interview questions for [job title].” I searched for “interview questions for technical writers” and found a ton of pages full of questions. This can be overwhelming. My advice is to skim the questions and think about the kind of answer you would give. I don’t write answers to everything because I take writing too seriously and I overdo it if I write practice answers, but I do put a few sentences together in my head and then say them out-loud. This helps me remember what I want to say and it keeps me from stumbling over the words in an interview.

There are way more potential questions than there are questions employers actually ask. Think about your specific job and what they are likely to ask (note: guessing accurately takes practice and you will still be wrong most of the time). Also consider some common, general interview questions. One I like to be ready for is the “What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?” It is difficult for me to answer this question spontaneously. My real greatest weaknesses are not something I want to tell an employer (reveal nothing to the enemy!). I like to be ready with things that are true but not crushingly accurate. It’s also a good idea to discuss how you overcome your weakness when you answer this question. I usually go with noisy environments and perfectionism as my problems. For noise, I say that it is hard to work in a noisy environment, but I get around this by wearing my headphones or sometimes even earplugs. For perfectionism, I say that it can be hard for me to get started writing or to finish something because I want to do so much research to be sure I have not missed anything. I solve this problem by setting a strict project schedule, moving on when I know approximately 80% of what I need to know. Your answer to this question should be personal, but know that it isn’t cheating to have something in mind in advance.

Finish Your Notes

Now that you are done with your research, you can finish your notes. I list the stuff I need to do and stuff I need to know for the job and next to those things I write something to remind me what to say. I also note the basics of the mission and vision statement, strategic plan, or any other relevant organization-related concepts. Don’t get too crazy with this. I keep my notes to one or two (hand-written) pages at most.

I sometimes write a list of “talking points” in my notes. This is a spot where I note anything that I think I should focus on or bring up in my interview that is not necessarily related to the job description. My talking points are usually based on what I find in the mission statement or strategic plan. For example, if a strategic plan mentions that the organization is updating its policy handbook, I would mention that I am studying technical writing and just finished a class on policy and procedure writing. This is something that might not come up in the course of, say, a librarian interview, but I would want to point out because it is a skill they probably want and can use.

Make sure your notes look decent. You will be sitting at a table with the interview panel. They can see your notes. If you have drawings of weird things or anything unprofessional, they will notice it. Type your notes if you need that to have things look tidy and don’t scribble on them!

Phase 2: Interview

Pre-Game

Try to take some time to relax before you head to the interview. Listen to some upbeat music, play a video game, go for a run. Do something that makes you calm. I don’t think I need to tell you what to wear or to show up on time. However, be aware of what you take into an interview. You don’t need a big purse or backpack. I take a folder or notebook (I have this folder from Staples) with my notes in it, three or more copies of my most recent resume, and a pen. Do not bring your phone. Leave your phone in your car. Personally, I do not want a potential employer to see my on my phone first thing when they walk into wherever it is I’m waiting for them. Spend the time in between when you arrive and when they summon you to review your notes and practice saying things in your head.

The Actual Interview

Interview! It is upon you! Shake hands with everyone and say things like “It’s nice to meet you.” I am not good at pleasantries, so I stick with the basics. After everyone sits down, hand the people interviewing you a copy of your resume. I say something like “Before we get started, here is an updated copy of my resume.” Just keep it simple.

They will ask you questions. In my opinion, the best interviews are when they provide a list of the questions. It is a lot easier for me understand questions that I read than questions that I hear. It is okay to ask the panel to repeat questions! You can ask for them to repeat it whether you really need it or if you just want some time to think.

One of the best realizations I made about interviewing is that you do not have to say everything perfectly if you know when to stop yourself. When I start answering questions I want to say a lot. If I feel like I am getting off track when answering a question, I stop myself and say, “I feel like I’ve gotten off track. Can you repeat the question?” It’s okay to do this. I think it looks good when you have the self-awareness to know when you’re not really addressing the issue anymore. I have not received any negative responses when doing this. I do not recommend using this strategy for every question, but if you do it two or three times, that is okay.

Your Questions

After the panel is finished with their questions, they ask if you have any questions for them. You should always have questions ready. This is something you can research in advance. I have some questions that I use in most interviews because there are certain things I want to know about. My questions usually include:

  • How do you train new employees?

  • Tell me about the organizational culture here.

  • What is your management style (especially good if they asked you about what type of manager you work well with)?

  • How do you see this position developing over the next few years?

  • What do you do to support professional development?

  • What does success look like in this position?
  • What is your first priority or the first project you want done by a new employee in this position?

Asking questions is important not because you care about the answers (you probably do though), but because it gives you more chances to respond. Take the management style question. If the manager’s style is different than what you said you like, you can take some time to clarify. You can explain how you would work with this manager. Interviews are a process. Both parties want to know more about each other. You have to look for places where you fit in. You cannot passively let others decide you are a good choice.

After you finish your questions, you need to ask one more to close the interview. There are several ways to phrase this, but you want to ask something resembling, “Based on what we discussed, do you have any concerns about my ability to do this job?” This gives you one last chance to make an impression. Going into an interview, you probably know what your weak points are. For me, I know that a lack of experience in the field is my worst thing, so I expect an interview panel to say they are worried about my lack of experience. They could say anything though, so be ready. If they have a concern, explain why it is not a problem and why you are great anyway. Tell them how you will overcome it and why you are worth hiring.

Finally, say thank you to everyone one more time. Tell them that you are really interested in the job and you hope they will choose you. If you didn’t already, ask when they expect to contact you with their decision. Try to get at least one person’s name or business card on the way out so you have someone to contact with questions later.

Phase 3: Decompression

Relax

After the interview, get some lunch (or whatever meal you’re on), go home, and relax in whatever way suits you. Interviews are draining as hell, so you should take the rest of the day off and not feel bad for doing it.

Follow Up

The next morning, send an email to the manager or contact person. Remember that business card you maybe grabbed on the way out? Use that to get in touch with someone. In your email:

  • Say that you appreciate that everyone took the time to talk with you.

  • Reiterate your interest in the position.

  • Ask if there is anything else they need from you. I typically offer more writing samples. What you suggest varies based on your field.

Forget Everything

I say this because I do not want you to go crazy. I go over everything in my brain after an interview, but after a day or so of that, I try not to think about it. There is no guarantee that anyone will call you or even send you a rejection letter (I know, it’s incredibly gauche). I assume that if I have not heard anything in a week, I will probably not hear anything ever. Do not maintain high hopes for long periods of time. This results in sadness.

The End

There you have it. My comprehensive guide to interviewing. I am sure there are other strategies, but I find this to be effective. I welcome questions and constructive criticism.