Sunday, August 31, 2014

Womanhood In A Nutshell

It's not being dramatic to say American women are in terrible circumstances.  To those who believe differently, before you scoff please read this through.  All in one sitting, read this through and realize that your mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts and wives are affected by everything below.  Half the country abides by what is written below.  No woman is safe, and that fundamental understanding is truly what separates us from the boys.  Men don't have to worry about a lot of the things women do, and while that street goes both ways the purpose of this article is to shed a little light on what the women in your life have to think about.  Every single day.

1. One in six will be the victim of sexual assault.  According to RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) 17.7 million women have been the victims of rape.  Do you really think if 17.7 million men were raped, humiliated, scarred and beaten that this would be allowed?  But when it's women, the reactions fall between "well, that's unfortunate" with little emphasis on fixing the problem, to accusations of how the accuser had a hand in their own attack.  Rape doesn't know an age limit or stick to a certain class.  To pretend it's only slutty young girls who don't wear enough clothes implies that mothers, responsible women, good Christian role models don't find themselves being victimized.  It also implies that acting or dressing a certain way incites rape and therefore bears some responsibility in the attack.  That couldn't be farther from the truth. And while we try to spread the message, untold millions of women suffer that fate as the price of our society's ignorance, plain and simple.

But hey, let's say that it did happen to someone you love.  Let's say it does, and they catch the guy, because that's supposed to make everything all better despite the nightmares, and this  happens:
A British man was sentenced to five years in prison for raping an unconscious woman. According to a report from the Hull Daily Mail, it took the jury just over two hours to unanimously conclude that Lee Setford was guilty of raping a woman who was asleep on his couch. But here’s what the judge told him upon sentencing, “I do not regard you as a classic rapist. I do not think you are a general danger to strangers. You are not the type who goes searching for a woman to rape.
In what world is a man found guilty of a violent felony beyond the shadow of a doubt by unanimous vote "not a general danger" to strangers?  Our world.  According to the judge's own words, the woman who was sleeping must have had a role in her attack because this guy was pretty ordinary.  Somehow, he didn't think it was (entirely) the fault of the guy who jumped on her while she was asleep and used her body against her will.  And somehow, not searching for a woman to rape makes him more upstanding than a fellow who just rips the clothes off a woman who is nearby and vulnerable.  There are plenty of cases in the United States of this exact type of thinking in the courts, but I chose a timely example that encompassed so many problems we see again and again.

Because guys... you see these cases and they slide out of your memory.  We don't. And for one in six of us, it's because we know just what that poor woman felt like because we have experienced it for ourselves. I get it, I don't lie awake at night worrying about whatever it is men worry about.  But before you dismiss this as something that doesn't happen, look at the number.  That's more than all the men in the state of Texas, Rhode Island and Georgia combined.  Any other crime that magnitude and frequency would be the shame of law enforcement everywhere, not a topic for debate on whether a low-cut sweater or falling asleep was asking for it.

2. It's a little more serious than "women just can't catch a break."  I grew up in the 1980s, when women were being encouraged to get out in the field and work, partly in response to the Regan-era layoffs and the resulting decay of workplace protections.  Here, in a nutshell, is a woman's career path:

  • If you make it through school, in light of the favoritism shown against women with mentors in the field, you graduate and get to work.  You're new and young and will have to answer questions like "how do you plan to juggle kids and your job" because your future has already been forecast.
  • If you graduate, you are one of many.  The Wall Street Journal reports more women are graduating than men on a consistent basis.  So yay, women are making progress!  Except we're not.  Because despite our success rate in finishing school, our working lives are not in line with our progress on that front.
  • If we have more women graduates who studies show outperform men in school, then why does USA Today report that 16 out of 500 as the most consecutive women to run Fortune 500 companies?  Where are all these bright, hardworking, outperforming and tenacious future leaders getting stuck? VitaminW gives us this this graphic to illustrate why half the graduates only occupy so few of the top jobs in their field.

  • Also, getting paid seventy-seven cents on the dollar may also have something to do with it.  It's hard to find incentive to work harder when your best efforts may only get you to equal ground (and that's a mighty big maybe).  Those who contradict the statistic point out that it is a bit skewed because women dominate fields like receptionist, waitress, and other low-paying jobs (despite our increased graduates with associates degrees and higher).  The seventy seven cents part is correct, the mistake is people say it's for "doing the same work."  It's not.  Because women don't get promoted to those high-ranking jobs, and are kept in supporting but low-paying roles, it's still valid to say that we earn that much less across the board.  Because if we were given equal opportunity and held to the same standards and rewarded by the same standards, that number would be zero.
  • If you land a decent job and are lucky enough to be able to afford to make a living with just one job, you now have to pay 68% more out of pocket for your health care costs.  As Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out, and to the utter shock of the researchers at PolitiFact, that statistic hasn't significantly  changed since 1994.  That's right.  I'm almost forty years old, and every year since I graduated high school, I have had to pay more for basic care and medicines, and told it was only fair because I might become pregnant and tax the system.  My whole life, there's been zero improvement on something necessary to our lives and happiness, and it's not going to change anytime soon.  And now, depending on the whim of others, my rights to healthcare, medicine and perfectly legal procedures can be taken away or restricted. 
  • And even if you do make it, you're one of the four percent and you've beaten a string of odds so long that nobody can really believe it, some asshole like Matt Lauer will ask you how you juggle kids and your job, and send you right back to that first job interview you had when you graduated college.  
Add to that being measured by how doable you are instead of how accomplished you are, getting ahead only for one boss to stall your career because of how he feels about women in the workplace, worrying about getting raped or attacked by a stranger who comes on to you and is turned down.  Entire articles are written about the things women have to do differently at all times or risk being attacked, while men go through few if any of those hoops to protect themselves.  Yet we're told we are treated as equals (we aren't) and that our voices are heard (not even close) and that we are valued members of the workforce (who get paid less and charged more for benefits) and that we're being bitchy or somehow wrong if we speak up.  

Long list, huh?  Now realize that if every single one of those problems were to go away, after fifty years of work and dedication and wholehearted attempts at reform... we would just then be on even footing.  Not ahead, not advantaged... even.

We struggle and live under this every single day, while patronizing jackasses tell us to be grateful we live in such a progressive country.  One that will at least give us food stamps after using us for cheap labor and pawns to score political points.

Don't you want more for the women in your life?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review: Microsoft Office 365 From A Writer’s Perspective

I have always prided myself on being a Linux girl. It took me years to get comfortable with it, but I stayed at it. Why? Because I hated Microsoft with a passion. Their exorbitant licensing fees and shady business practices made them nearly predatory in the market, and I still blame them for singlehandedly killing innovation in software for decades. So I worked at learning Linux out of spite, and Ubuntu finally gave me a platform on which I could build my work. Or so I thought.

Going back to school forced me to have Windows compatibility, there was just no other way around it. Many teachers are nearly computer illiterate, which boggles the imagination. They were unable or unwilling to accept PDF files or other generic forms. My employer uses Windows, and Office 2010. While taking the state required Computer Information Systems 101 (degrading though it may be) I was forced to use Office 2010 and of course I still knew my way around from work exposure. But I resented every moment of it.
But here's the deal: OpenOffice gave way to LibreOffice and they aren't the same. The compatibility is technically there, but flawed. You could not guarantee a smooth transition in .doc format between Open/Libre Office and Microsoft Office. My homework was just one example of that. Editors are famous for being dinosaurs and resisting technology. It's 2014 and many still like paper submissions. There is zero wiggle room with email submissions and attachments. An editor is not going to look twice, if the first glance reveals formatting issues they are going to throw your manuscript out and move on to the next one. Your brilliant writing will never get a chance to offset this liability. I have gotten this straight from the mouths of editors, and I believe them. 

The competition is just not up to snuff.  Google Docs is free, but has a few glitches. I had devastating data loss on some writing projects, and when I would move a manuscript to Microsoft Office to format it for submission, it was a nightmare. I love Google and still swear by my Chromebook, but Google Docs will leave me with trust issues for a long time. Plus, it also had compatibility issues, and tricks I learned at work did not easily move over to their flavor of Excel. Google Docs is great for throwing open a doc and doing that mental download that all writers know, when it's coming through fast and hot and it's all you can do to type it before you lose it. But once that moment has passed, you are ten times better served by having it in actual Microsoft Word, or you are looking at hours of reformatting and triple checking on top of your regular editing.

Office 365 is a monthly (or yearly if you want the savings) subscription that gives you access to all of the Microsoft products. Word, Excel, Publisher, Power Point, Excel, Access, One Note and Outlook. The whole kit can caboodle for seven dollars per month. I never have to upgrade. I have a terabyte of storage, more than I could fill in a lifetime of writing. I can use the cloud version on any laptop (including the Chromebook) and organize myself in a way that is familiar and compatible with other devices. The cloud version comes with a basic but handy version of Power Point, Word, Excel and Outlook. This is more than sufficient for traveling needs. You can download the full version of Microsoft Office 2013 and use it on multiple machines with your one subscription (instead of having to purchase Office for every machine in the house). That right there undoes a lot of the evil Microsoft has levied on the American people. By forcing a standard and charging individually, they made their products to where regular people couldn't afford to have them all. To buy the CD and license for Office 2013 is currently around $150. Publisher and Access are extras, costing about $120 each. I would have had to pay for this for each machine in my house, a total of four, if I wanted full compatibility. For my measly seven bucks, I get all of them on all of my machines and don't have to worry about storage or compatibility ever again. Deal.

Because the rest of my world is set up on Google, it was a relief to move my writing world into Office on the cloud. Through a single webpage, I could manage my writing (documents), my calendar, email, and even my business tracking through Excel. It is literally logging into your online office where everything is a click away. My personal and professional lives are now comfortably separated and I can click save and email seamlessly. I can make business cards, even format for self-publishing projects, anything I will need for my writing or consulting work is covered. I fought the good fight for over ten years, but I have come full circle. With reasonable prices on this, I am now far more willing to purchase a license for Windows 7 (you will never catch me using the monstrosity that is Windows 8) and I will eventually say goodbye to Linux. We had a good run, but in the end I am a writer and I have to use the tools of my trade. That is going to require Microsoft Office, and now that I have an affordable option I am going to use it.

I will write a follow up at some point, just an update letting writers know how I have fared and if I have come across any significant glitches that may affect others. But for right now, I could not be more impressed and I have written countless blog articles (including this one) that publish with a click, over 40 pages of manuscript and an unbelievable number of projects for homework. I've yet to encounter a single negative, even when working on the "diet" version that is on the cloud.

Microsoft, I refuse to apologize for my previous hatred because you deserved it. However, you have redeemed yourself with this new business model and you have a truly superior product. I will gladly pay seven dollars per month to enjoy the benefits of your impeccable upkeep. Microsoft Word sets the bar for writing software, and One Note lets me organize to my heart's content. I love this so much that I am moving my Operating System back to Windows full-time. My productivity is through the roof, and almost all of it is being able to log in and leave the world behind, and get down to business. I can now run my entire life through a series of apps that I can carry in my purse as well as run on my desktop computer at home. That's all this girl ever wanted.

The Rest Of The Story (Why I Write)

Of course I'm taking all the writing classes I can while obtaining my associate's degree. I have a great time, and I still learn plenty. The insight and feedback from an online course has really let me see how my writing looks through a different person's filters and voices. I've tried to take this feedback and turn it into the best product possible. If people didn't enjoy my writing, then there would be no purpose to my work.

Inevitably, we have to write a cheesy bio (I've used the same one for all classes. I mean, how many ways can you say "crazy cat lady nerd" and be original?). Writing classes also give you a soft assignment, which has been without fail to write an essay explaining why I write. The safe answer is that I write because I like the challenge, I feel I was born to do it, and I have spent nearly 35 years writing so why in the world would I stop now? Those are all true, and all valid answers. But there are some things you can't say in an academic setting, especially before you've had a chance to get a read on the teacher. So I leave some things unsaid. My blog, my rules, I'm going to say those extra things now.

The short answer: I write because I'm wired to do it. The long answer: my brain sees everything as a story, every person as a character, and every photo as capturing history. I'm addicted to the feeling. I couldn't stop, even at the cost of my own life. There is some primal magic about making it real, making people feel and participate in a world of your creation, that is just beyond any high chemicals could manufacture. Under the umbrella of journalism and character study, I've been able to get people to open up to me and share their stories, and tell me the most intimate details of their lives. I understand people in a way that few do, and they trust me with their secrets. There is a rush in being printed, in an editor choosing your work over the competition. I smile for days when an editor says something as simple as "great research" or "well done." Someone who understands my craft has just paid me a compliment, how awesome is that? It's the same way a musician feels when they nail a tough piece of music in front of a fellow musician, or an artist when the sketch comes out just right. There's nothing better. A pound of Columbian cocaine couldn't come close to making me feel the way I do when someone tells me how my writing has entertained or affected them. That's why I write. To not do so would be like dying, and to do it a bad job of it would be so frustrating that dying would start to look like relief.

Having said all of that, I don't do it just for the love. I do it for me. If nobody ever read my things, I would write less (demand is a blessed thing) but I would never stop. I wrote for myself for years, while I created things and then tore them apart because they weren't worthy of the readers out there. That's not to say I've never written crap, every writer does it. It's the same thing as missing a note or drawing an errant line through a sketch. But I did spare most of you the early years, when my characters were sappy and stupid, and knew nothing of life because I knew nothing of life. I didn't ask you to read the stories in which I worked out my personal demons. And for the love of baby Jesus, I never asked you to read my poetry.
Now you know why I write, and know of the terrible things I have spared you. You're welcome.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Project Pink Samurai Put On Hold

I have always enjoyed interviewing people and getting to know strangers. I'm pretty social by nature as long as I have my solitude after work is over. People don't scare me, though anyone who knows me in real life will confirm that I am a crazy person magnet. Whatever, it makes life interesting. However, as the following story shows, sometimes it makes it a bit too interesting.

Last week, I was going for a walk. This is pretty normal for most people, but not for me. I abhor heat, and I'm not a huge fan of the sun. However, I've been sick for a while and I felt the need to get out and work up a sweat. Keep in mind the nature of my illness made breathing very difficult, and while I am mostly over it, my lungs are still only working at partial capacity. Which is a fancy way to say that ten minutes into my walk, I was huffing and puffing and having serious doubts about whether I could continue. But I did, because I have to start with baby steps and get back to some level of physical fitness. With the help of my trusty cell phone pedometer, I had figured out a route that was exactly two miles long. A few sources I read said running or jogging two miles burned the same number of calories, so I worried about distance but not how long it took me to get there. Because I like quirky names, I called my fitness project Project Pink Samurai, because I wanted to be more graceful, light on my feet, and able to look fabulous. And what, I ask you, could look more fabulous than a pink samurai?

I saw a strange looking fellow by some large shade trees. I wasn't worried, he wasn't making an effort to hide. However, I kept a wary eye on him because I've been attacked before when I was young. More than once, actually. As I closed in on him, I slowed down and caught my breath a little, so I wasn't super weak when I caught up to him. I put my cell phone in my pocket, and freed up my hands just in case. And it's a darned good thing I did. There is no point in recalling the encounter here, word for word. The bottom line is, this man approached me, and I was polite but cautious. However, he became belligerent and threatening, and when I wouldn't keep walking (so he could walk behind me) he became even more threatening. Realizing we were approaching the point of no return, I decided to throw a bluff. Honestly, as a pudgy broad who had zero strength left, it was my only gamble. It worked. He took off, and when I pulled my phone out and called my husband, he trotted off quickly (I assume he thought I was calling the police). To prove to myself that I did have control over things, I walked home under my own power, despite my husband's pleas to let him come pick me up. I felt shaky and awful and sick, and I was desperate to feel like I hadn't just been reduced to a puddle of fear. But I had. Don't let my bravado confuse you for even a second. I was terrified.

I told a coworker about my walking pattern and the way I had learned to protect myself. By choosing an open, flat course I didn't allow anyone the opportunity to sneak up on me. By cleverly pretending to be texting, I had my cell phone's "selfie cam" on and was actually peeking over my shoulder discreetly to make sure I knew who was around me. I do not like to offend people, but neither do I allow anyone to linger behind me. Whether it's a family of four or a lone male, I step aside and allow them to pass. After listening, my thoughtful and sweet coworker said, "Wow, I never thought about what a woman has to go through while walking." I wanted to hug him. If only more people could realize this. So, for your consideration, I offer a few things to think about.
  • Do not be offended if a woman steps aside to let you pass. She's not being rude, she is doing what it takes to feel secure. In all the times this has happened, the decent guys have never said a word, and in fact made a show of staying a safe distance away so I did not feel crowded. It's not personal, don't make it personal. Ladies, don't be afraid to let someone pass. Many attackers will take advantage of a woman's tendency to fear being rude, and will use that to get in as close as possible.
  • When getting into shape, while it may feel good to wear yourself out, keep in mind that also makes you weak in case of attack. If any kind of potentially dangerous situation is ahead, stop for a second. Pretend you're checking your pulse, pretend you are checking your texts, do whatever it takes to have that reserve of energy just in case you need it.
  • Always carry something you can use to defend yourself, no matter how close to home you are. Even if it's just a dinky can of pepper spray, or in my case a plastic device that makes your punches hurt like hell, have something. And if you feel you need to take it out, don't do so with fear. Be angry, and never show fear regardless of how you actually feel. Chances are an attacker will consider moving on to an easier target. I could see my house for the majority of my walk. It wouldn't have done me a damned bit of good if he had decided to attack me.
  • Don't let the attacker move on to an easier target. Call the police and report anything suspicious. By doing so you are helping save the next potential victim who will be coming along. They may not be as prepared as you are.
As for me, I will take advantage of my employer's gym, where I at least know the crazies surrounding me. Stay safe, and I'll see you next time.



Friday, August 15, 2014

The Cussing Talk

I often get messages that discuss my salty language.  Some are aggressive, others are offended, and the rest are just plain curious.  Why do you talk the way you do?  Can't you stop using those words?  Don't you know how people perceive you when you speak like that?  Most of those people get short, perfunctory answers.  However, someone rather close to me decided to say something, and I had to take some time to think of a reply.  It wasn't because I was upset or angry, it was because this person is important enough to me that I believed they deserved not only an answer, but an explanation.  It was time to write one, and why not write one that would be available to anyone who asked?  Instead of writing a monthly Facebook post stating what I think, now I can just send them a link to this post.

So for anyone who questions me hereafter, this is why I use the words I do.

I grew up in a rural town, where the phrase "she wouldn't say shit if she had a mouthful" was a compliment.  Ladies always did this, ladies never did that, blah blah.  I decided at a young age, not this kid.  As an adult, I realized I am a lady, and if I cuss and speak openly, then ladies do in fact cuss and speak openly.  I get to define lady, because I am one.  The day I realized that was one of the most liberating moments of my life.

It took me a lot of years to figure out who I am, to myself and to other people.  To some I'm the worst person to ever exist.  Other people find me delightful, and frankly I agree with those guys.  But for better or worse, I do finally know myself, like myself and understand myself.  I am not going to be shamed or socially coerced into talking a certain way, and I am not going to be forced through pointless social hoops to make someone else feel better about something that never mattered in the first place.  I am who I am, without apologies or remorse.  If my salty language or other personality traits close some doors in life, they will open others.  And those are the doors I was ultimately meant to pass through.  If reader feedback is any indication, I get ten "thank you for saying what you think without filter" emails for each one asking me to tone down my choice of wording.  If there's one thing with which both my critics and champions can agree, it's that I'm honest.  I mean what I say and I say what I mean. Agree or disagree, one never has to wonder if I'm dodging a bullet or taking the easy way out.

In traditional Bonnie phrasing, I only have so many shits to give about things, and I choose to spend them on the ideas that do matter to me and leave the trivial ones to take care of themselves.

Life is a game you only get to play once.  Win or lose, I am going to play by my terms.  I realize my words are a reflection of my personality.  They are intended to be.  Some will understand, some will not.  I can't help that, and I wouldn't if I could. You either get me or you don't.  But I'm not changing anytime soon, so those who find my writing and ideas to be an acquired taste still have plenty of time.