strangers in the bright light

Today is the autumn equinox. Days draw shorter from here, and soon it will be Christmas. We are entering October, and now we are nearly done with 2017. I have a fondness for the last three months of the year. October is the last month to get any work done, and the first month to start planning for the next year. November is full of birthdays, of family and of friends. December is for travel and holidays, for family dinners and for plum-cakes, for quietly winding down and resting before starting it all over again.

My 2017 has been topsy-turvy. It hasn’t been as rough as the years before, thankfully. On the other hand, it hasn’t been a year of progress as well. It has been stagnant and mellow in its better months, and rough in the worst. I wonder what it is like to have progress, sometimes. I can see progress in myself, in the person I am, in the person I am becoming from all my meanderings and choices. I cannot see that progress yet directly in my circumstances. Will and work haven’t yet sufficed to bring about the people and circumstances I want into my periphery. There are some difficult issues causing stress, mostly related to immigration.

I am trying to sort out what to do about dysfunction at the workplace. In this industry, sexism runs rampant and unchecked often, and it exists in forms both subtle and overt. I try usually my best to keep my peace and to ignore all markers, so as not to endanger my livelihood or sanity. So when we are at lunch in the office cafeteria, and when a teammate talks crudely about spunk being a term for sperm, I pick at my sushi and stay quiet. So when my boss lies about something and I call him out on it, I get to be labelled emotional, and I have to just ignore that as well. I have to close my eyes and ignore every   lewd and inappropriate comment that comes my way from coworkers who likely have been getting away with this sort of thing for way too long. Every time I bring this up anywhere, I get told to dress like one of them (wear jeans), to talk like one of them (swear a lot, be loud, be aggressive, be confident even when you don’t have enough reasons to be confident), and to just be one of them (play ball, love beer). The standards are different sometimes; if I have a job, it is because I am female and not because I am qualified, and my failure to be pretty is as awful as my failure to perform as expected in my job. It is not just my current workplace. It has been the case, to varying degrees, at every single place I have worked at. In careful and studied ignorance I have found salvation usually. That was the easiest path. I could never be one of them without overwriting near every trait of my personality and self. It was easier to ignore all of that, and suffer quietly when required. However, now I am thinking about my future. Is this industry worth it for me for the amount of sacrifice I need to make on a daily basis? Already, my normals have been shifted for what I consider as acceptable behavior. Should I risk needing a therapist for the rest of my life to be here? What is it that I receive in fulfillment or wealth in this industry that I cannot obtain in some other form of employment? I would rather work with more well-adjusted colleagues for less pay. Robotics is heavily male-dominated, much more so than even software engineering. Perhaps a change in direction is called for. I am thinking about all of this as I close the year. The workplace affects more than just the work. I have been affected by this, slowly over the years, and it has impacted decisions I have made about where I live, who I date, and what kind of friends I make. The Bay Area, and even San Francisco, are not the easiest places to find people who aren’t in this software industry or services catering to this industry. I want to meet people who are out of this altogether, as I used to on the East Coast. I miss the spark and wit of diverse conversations I had with people I knew from Emory, from Harvard, from Yale, none of whom were in tech. I wonder where I have to go to meet such minds here. I want to look at life as it is, to discuss the past, to discuss the what-ifs, without constantly being on the lookout for problems to solve, for inefficiencies to disrupt. Most of what we tell ourselves about our work here is make-believe, and we have gotten very good at making ourselves believe. And sometimes, I find it necessary to completely step outside this place, away from these people, to see what reality can be, to see what interactions based on more than a shared faith in self-important make-believe can be. There is lingering sadness in me still, as I think about all of this, about what I expected to have here, to build here, and about what has happened to me or around me to people I have cared for in the years I have been here. There are no easy ‘fixes’ to the systemic issues at play here. My concern, now, must be my life, and to find out how to take it forward, to healthier places. I visited a few cities to see what the living conditions are, to see what my daily level of interactions would be like if I stepped out on the streets, out to the parks or the beaches. I am still mulling things over.

There is a saying in my mother tongue. The gist of it is that someone who is desperate enough, or brave enough, has only the sky above and the earth below, and nothing else to worry about or to consider in their plans. Desperation and bravery are different feelings that lead often to the same results. Both bring about a lack of fear, and reduced risk-aversion. I have noticed that in my life. It is only when matters had become terribly desperate, or when I had been extremely brave to take risks the circumstances changed drastically enough to cause a huge differential in the before and the after.

I learned to do new things this year. Scuba-diving is my favorite water thing now. I learned it in Puerto Rico. I am very sad to see the storms ravaging their beautiful land this week. The people there seemed genuinely warm and kind, and they were courteous and helpful to me as I traveled through the island. I tried kayaking as well later this year, near LA. Around the Channel Islands, you can kayak through the sea-caves, and the sunlight on the water and the mineral-deposits on the rock surfaces are beautiful.

I heard from an old, dear friend. His wife and him had offered me shelter and safety in that eventful summer of 2012, a lifetime ago. They have a lovely boy now. I like thinking of them as KNN, stringing their initials, and that algorithm is one of my favorite algorithms to explain to kids. That algorithm is my sermon to explain that most basic concepts aren’t hard unless you strive to make them hard, unless you strive to make them sound complicated.