The mysterious aircar

By reading several locked room mysteries that refer to other locked room mysteries I have gone from The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo, to The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux, to John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man, to Anna Katherine Green‘s Initials Only.

Initials Only is quite a trip. The murder victim, Edith Challoner, is a fancy society lady with a heart of gold. Unfortunately a heart pierced by a mysterious unfindable weapon though I am pretty sure I know what it is. No one even noticed the wound at first, since she was wearing a giant bouquet of poinsetta flowers pinned to her bosom. There was no blood – then after a few minutes…BLOOD. HMMMMMM. I leave you to imagine the bosom which could pull off a giant poinsetta arrangement.

An inventor, Orlando Brotherson — who is also a skilled, respected anarchist organizer and orator — is in love with Edith, but was scorned and may have sent her a threatening letter. Meanwhile there are some letters he wrote to her, and letters she wrote to someone but never sent, and some entirely different letters from someone else with the initials O.B. who turns out to be Oswald Brotherson, Orlando’s brother, who manages a mill or foundry or something.

No one knew in 1911 how comical this would sound since there is a brand of tampon called O.B. — Bless their hearts.

Sweetwater, the detective, is hot on the anarchist’s trail, becomes his neighbor while working as a skilled carpenter, and spies on him through a hole bored in the wall.

Oswald collapsed from typhoid fever on the same day as Edith’s murder – nearly dies — is nursed back to health by Doris, an 17 year old small town beauty – And Orlando shows up on his doorstep with truckloads of supplies to build his invention in a giant shed.

The invention turns out to be a helicopter (this is 1911, were there actual helicopters yet?!) which for no good reason at all they launch in a hurricane.

BTW I am not done but am pretty sure the inventor killed Edith with a gun that fired an icicle. Just out of arrogance? I mean, he decided just before he went up in the helicopter that really he never loved Edith anyway and 17 year old Doris is his real true love.

Huge props to this book for the poinsettas, dangerous anarchists, helicopter, and icicle gun (will update if that is really what the weapon was!)

Just realized I have no idea what O.B. stands for (the tampon brand) and so looked it up. “The product was named by the gynecologist Judith Esser-Mittag who also developed it. The initials “o.b.” are an abbreviation of the German phrase “ohne Binde.”

p.s. On helicopters: In July 1901, the maiden flight of Hermann Ganswindt’s helicopter took place in Berlin-Schöneberg; this was probably the first heavier-than-air motor-driven flight carrying humans. A movie covering the event was taken by Max Skladanowsky, but it remains lost.”

I miss the Before Times

For months I think of posting and then turn instead to a book or a game, Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley, endless fantasy and science fiction, mystery and romance novels. How to capture any of this? The feeling of the slide to fascism along with climate crisis after crisis. I’ve always said that my hope in life is to avoid living in a country with an active war going on around me, with a side bonus of continuing to have drinkable running water and electricity. Am I going to get to live out my life with those hopes fulfilled or what? The uncertainty on those points continues to grow. Are these, actually, still the Before Times, when we used to have it good, and we don’t know it yet? Horrors.

Work gave us an extra day off last Friday, just because of the stress of the pandemic and the wildfires and bad air. Since the air is so bad, more or less everywhere we could reach, and it was also 100 degrees out (no exaggeration) we spent the 4 day weekend opening the windows any time the air was either cooled off or below 50 on the air quality index, then shutting windows again and running all the air filters. I’m feeling my asthma all the time now with the tight chest and tense, anxious feeling that goes with it. Checking PurpleAir and various fire maps, checking my handheld air quality monitor many times a day inside and outside, taking more showers and cold baths, mopping the floor by skating around with bare feet on wet dishclothes to cool off the room.

I spent a day and a half doing geneology reserach and writing up a narrative of the lives of a great great great grandfather William and his family and then the same for his daughter, my great great grandmother Caroline Crane. You can see the family go from the early 1800s agricultural laborers in a very peaty, marshy bit of Lancashire near Garstang, to William in 1851 getting to go to school till around age 8, then being apprenticed a bit later to a tailor. He was moving on up; he was literate enough to write his name, while his father and grandfather were not. I traced his movements through 3 marriages; he lost his tailoring business and ended up in a brickyard, then as a navvy in a coal mine at Darcy Lever, where his oldest daughter married a collier, James Hutchinson.

This branch of the family was full of examples of both collier and spinner/weaver/comber/whatever in the mills. Whether mines or mills, some patterns emerged. Maybe some schooling up to age 8 or 9, gradually increasing to age 11 or 12 if you were lucky later in the century. A relatively idyllic looking time as a young adult in your own household with a family of young children — if anyone was in school, and if the woman of the house wasn’t in a mill, you were doing GREAT. Then relatives either start moving in as they age or their spouses or parents die, then a couple of decades later you are living in some other 30 year old relative’s house.

I was able to follow James and Caroline’s life in Lancashire for a while. Then in 1911 45 year old James was out of work, and emigrated to the U.S. along with a neighbor. They ended up in Rhode Island where a bunch of my family is from. James and Caroline brought up a great-aunt who I know, so they don’t feel very distant, though they both died before I was born.

After my historical journey I read a book from 1931 called Boy, by James Hanley, about a Lancashire dockworker’s son who is forced to leave school at age 13 by his family to be a dockworker himself. The jobs are horrible and the other teenage workers abusive. (SPOILER ALERT) He then stows away on a seagoing vessel where he becomes basically a slave of the crew, who mostly try to rape him or push him around. He agonizes about his future. Cheerily, he then get syphilis in Alexandria. The captain murders him and throws his body overboard. It was an amazingly written book and I’d say, emotionally stunning. New vow to read everything by James Hanley. But I felt the weekend of 100+ heat and no good air to breathe might be better faced with a more formulaic series….I then plowed through all eight romance novels about the Bridgerton siblings (one book per sibling) by Julia Quinn. They are too mainstream heterosexual for me to be honest but I can “bracket” that by rolling my eyes or some sort of mental magic and they were funny and cute enough to be fun to read. I would also like to complain about how this sort of sex scene is written but there’s no point, let’s just know that it’s completely alien to me and I feel deeply grateful that is so. Nearly ready now to return to the land of war, the ocean, gritty, miserable generational poverty and abuse, etc that James Hanley shall bring me.

Still playing Animal Crossing, and still at the end stage of Spiritfarer, with only Buck and Elena on my enormous boat now, more or less ready to have Stella and Daffodil go through the Everdoor, not without crying I’m sure.

Justice for George Floyd rally, San Francisco

Home again after being at today’s rally at City Hall. I went out in support of the protests across the US right now calling for justice in the brazen police murder of George Floyd but also so many other police murders. If you are looking for information or a way to support have a look at the Black Disability Collective, donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund or one of the orgs they recommend. One more quick note please be aware a huge number of police murders are of disabled people and specifically of black and indigenous disabled people of color. Read up on it!!!!! Essential part of understanding disability justice!!!!

On to my report on the rally and march.

BART and bus were not crowded. I wore a cloth mask over my n95. Hit the Civic Center farmers market, got flowers and some cherries, and then was hanging on the lawn, people on the grass reading or also eating their farmers market cherries. As the rally started, I blocked the street on one side of City Hall with a few others (I’m a very effective traffic stopper). A large amount of police transport vans and white prison buses were gathered along the other end of City Hall, and I spotted a lot of cops as lookouts on top of the buildings surrounding us.There were speeches from the steps fo City Hall and then some chanting. Then I sat with this guy Hollywood as an enormous line of hundreds of cops quick-marked in lockstep across the center of the park, half splitting off to the other side and half coming to our side, where they assumed another formation half looking outward and half looking inward to the rally. They were in light vest armor with huge batons.

political march in downtown sf

This group took off marching down Market Street around 3:30pm, with maybe 50 cops in front and 50-100 in back. I ran into Yoz and Mikki and marched with them a while. I went from there to Embarcadero, slowly, then back along Market where I fell in with TWO different giant multi-thousand person marches. It was a lovely afternoon and there was great goodwill through the crowds, people handing out water bottles, the chants not being pointless, had some good conversations every time I paused to hang out with another wheelchair user. People’s signs were also really sweet and touching. There is just a lot of good fellow feeling as well as shared pain, anger, fear, determination.

marchers on market street

As I went back looking for an open BART station, Market Street was starting to be lined with cops in full riot gear. I would pause every half block or so if there was a group of them together and try to talk to them. Man what are you doing. You’re guarding this Old Navy rather than helping people in a difficult time. You don’t have to be a cop. You could get another job, you could do something better with your life, it is not too late. You’re young, you’re healthy! You can do anything with your life! You don’t have to do this, even right now. You could quit. You could join us and try to build a better world.

Well, it made me feel better, and no one beat me up for it, so. I actually felt anguish for them as they stood their in their storm trooper armor. They will beat someone tonight, they will throw tear gas or shoot rubber bullets, they’ll put out someone’s eye, either just because they’re amped up, because they think they have to defend a fucking MALL SHOP, or because they are full of hate and violence, to show off for each other how tough they are, and it will do damage to their own selves in the process, as well as to living people and to the fabric of our society. I felt a sort of motherly pain for them. I’m sorry that sounds cheesy but it’s true I felt like an old crone looking at fresh-faced evil not unable to be redeemed.

Many people took pictures of me from the sidewalk as I marched, as they were doing video or snapshots of the crowd I could see them start at the sight of me (I’m really something!!) and zero in and then just follow me trying to get the right shot of the wheelchair lady. I don’t mind, I’m representing.

Then home via BART. Take note if you are downtown that Powell and Civic Center BART are now closed, and I heard but didn’t verify that Embarcadero was closed. I am worried about the amount of people who may get trapped in downtown with riot cops ready to mix it up. It is going to be scary tonight.

Despite everyone telling me to stay safe I felt it was important for my own conscience to go out into the street and put my body and health on the line for black, indigenous, and other people of color, for their safety and freedom and health. We need to defend our communities. None of us are safe if we are not all safe.

The last few days I’ve been just donating to bail funds but that has a horrible feel of “Like Uber, but for activism” in that I stay home because it’s “not safe” for me, (risk factors of the rona, or from some fear of being disabled in a riot, and definitely the fear of being shackled ot a hospital bed which seems to be what happens to wheelchair users who are arrested) when it’s actually not safe for anyone and the whole idea I get to opt in to be “safe” while tweeting revolutionary thoughts like a vanguardist while others risk their lives and they I pay them, is too gross for me to deal with. At least get my ass out there for one day. I’m not even missing work. Over and out!

liz with protest sign

Pokétears

Logged into Pokémon today to send gifts to my friends’ kids. It isn’t so much fun to play it when I’m not out running around town, getting interesting pokestop gifts to send, catching weird creatures, and hatching eggs. As I then used up the rest of my hoard of gifts on other friends I felt weepy. I miss riding the bus all over town, I miss the J Church, I miss BART, feeling free & intermeshed with the map and all the people of the city.

Sent a gift to some random neighbor whose name I don’t remember but who is a tech journalist and travels around a lot (good gifts from other countries!). We met on the street as I caught him and his partner battling a gym (at the library). Sent another to my pal “yeetrio”, a young man who approached me on the platform at BART since he spotted me playing – we’re ultra friends and nearly to “best friends” months later. I saw him go to Costa Rica and then come back again! Sent one to my dad who is my top Lucky Friend. I can tell he has gone out to do his rounds in the back of Huntwick (Huntwick Stump Bear!) and Meyer Park in Houston.

It is always sweet when someone sends me an obviously cool gift (I’m looking at you Denise and Tarrant but also whoever keeps sending me “Midnight Rollergirl”.

Animal Crossing continues – today I made nearly 1 million on the stalk market by selling my turnips on someone’s island from a discord channel. The fellowship on there is very sweet as well. Sumana and Leonard and I keep visiting each other’s islands to admire the decor and flowers and trade tips.

Feeling sentimental about games – I need to gear up to work on my big game again but it has obviously taken on a different feeling now. It is set in the Before Times, but it’s actually about history and time travel and change as the Traveller deepens their knowledge of the time and place they’re in (and goes back & forward in time as well.) So, I guess that’s where my feelings about the pandemic and our city will go.

On my toes

I have a small but nice thing to report. For the first time in 10 years, I can stand on my toes.

The thing that has done the trick is a simple pull-up bar which is mounted in a doorway. I saw this in my friend Erica’s house & bought one for something like 25 bucks back in January. It’s mounted in the bedroom closet doorway, the only one in the house that has room since I took the doors off the closet.

So, every day at least once or twice I stand there and do 20 or 30 half-pullup, half toe stands. With my “bad” leg, I have to think very carefully about where the weight is balanced and concentrate on the ball of the foot. It’s also good to keep my stomach muscles engaged.

There’s no way I can do an actual pull up, and I certainly couldn’t stand on my toes, but with the combined support I can do a weird hybrid. Bonus side effect, it straightens out my mid and upper spine amazingly so now I’m doing this so that my back will crack.

Last night there were bins of clothes in front of the closet. I was too tired to put them away. But I kind of wondered… could I stand on my toes without holding onto anything?

Tried it first holding onto a bookshelf and was able to do it. AMAZING. Then …. balance difficult… bad leg freaking out and slightly-less-bad leg screeching in protest . . . I did it unsupported and held the position. Showed this off to Danny and then quit as I don’t want to be unable to walk at all the next day!

10 years ago I couldn’t place my feet flat on the ground! Fixing that took me a year!!!!

I’d like to also say that therabands drive me up the wall, not sure why, a combination of factors. I’ve never really mastered them. Probably I need the kind with handles (the elastic hurts my hands). The closet bar has been so much more helpful and less painful.

I’m also doing the world’s tiniest weight lifting project with 2 lb weights, straight up, then straight up with arms rotated, then a “tree hug” type of move. At least once a day. It is also helping my neck and upper spine.

Well, that’s all — it’s just a lovely feeling that I can make this small change through easy and gradual habits.

Culture growing in its corners

Danny sent me this music video from one of his late night expeditions through the internet and it gives me a little surge of goodness. The dancers and singers are coordinated with their faces and bodies in little boxes like a video conference call, especially well done as the song unfolds and the social motion moves from box to box.

This is so heartening. They took this piece of our reality and turned it to a perfect expression of uncertainty and determination.

Careful I’m an animal
Trap trap trap
First of the secondary class class class
You know I don’t trust you what’s the catch catch catch
Don’t you fucking touch me I will gnash gnash gash

Cause I am an old phenomenon
And I am an old phenomenon

It has been interesting too as I have been interviewing quite a lot and in early March the interviews went all virtual – phone and video rather than going to offices. I’ve been working remote for nearly 20 years so it seems normal to me, but some others weren’t used to it, nervously referring to “Brady Bunch” or “Hollywood Squares” (dating us GenXishly from our afternoons of reruns).

Friends came by on their daily dog walk today, to shout up to me on the porch from below on the sidewalk. I passed them a newly potted succulent in a bag and they gave me a Quarantini cocktail in a mason jar. This is how our social life will be for quite some time. Tonight is another friend’s birthday party via some video conferencing tool. People have planned small performances. I might dress up.

For the last few weeks I dove fiercely into Animal Crossing, and its Discord channels and reddit posts, and also have kept up my Stardew game for kids. The core is now a fairly solid group with a couple of early teens and then my son joining sometimes from virtual-college-campus of his room in Santa Cruz. Others played for a while and then went off and formed their own small groups. I can see them playing together from the Steam notifications of their games and when they earn badges. Hosting these small spaces has been comforting and good for me and I hope for them too. I’m also sending Pokegifts (when I can replenish them) to some younger kids who are newly allowed more “screen time” by their desperate parents!

I did a small amount of work with some local medical PPE maker groups. It’s amazing to see that happen, like any disaster response, small groups spring up fast. As they combine their missions & processes evolve. You can kind of see (from where I’m sitting) some people going a non-profit forming route, some trying to form business connections, either way making something more like sustainable institutions, or finding the existing ones and figuring out how to support them in a way they can handle. The usual institutional or business paths aren’t working at all, so medical staff are just going directly to hackerspace and maker folks, doing fast rounds of prototyping, testing, feedback, & then rapidly scaling up production.

Seeing some of the professional logistics people jump into this was mind blowing (I’m thinking of the guy who works in some kind of concrete/cement industry and his mojo in finding the right kinds of plastic and foam.) That’s still happening and will keep happening for months. I thought immediately of Kevin Carson’s book, The Homebrew Industrial Revolution as small local manufacturing sprang up overnight. I am on 4 slack channels and have so many spreadsheets, docs, wikis, etc. At this point just reading them and speaking up if I see someone asking a question that I know the answer to.

The couple of actual moments I got someone supplies or facilitated a connection were amazing.

The city feels tense. When I go out I’m feeling so aware of the moment between the Before Time and what might come, and trying as always to savor whatever is good and functional about it. The tense feeling, like, you can feel people’s increasing desperation and worry, The people who are out are either a bit freaked like me trying to do their thing, or are a hot mess even more than they may have been before, with less dilution by other people.

I got a mask and a bandana to Bob who lives on the street a few blocks away but the other guy (Junior) was nowhere to be found. (He will lose a mask quickly or forget about it anyway unfortunately.) I wanted to get them masks because the city has just declared them mandatory, and it seems worrisome what will happen to them if they don’t comply.

Everyone seems to be going just a little off the rails.

I’m worried about everyone.

out with mask

Feeling a bit uncreative, and dull, and stressed, but I hope that will pass, I think the stress of unemployment was really piling onto the stress of enormous pandemic and world economic collapse. Thank fucking god for Animal Crossing and my practice from various past illnesses and endurance/resilience, as I just hunkered down to get through some time till I figure out how to Actually Cope.

We are baking and like everyone else in this town I have a pet sourdough starter. Its name is Bubbles.

Our actual pet, Dashboard the cat, is extremely comforting.

I’m excited to watch the Philharmonic Baroque Orquestra’s production of Saul from last November, which I missed b/c I was sick and I was SO SAD about that. I listened to it and read the libretto a zillion times. Because of the pandemic, they’ve made it public.

Another bright spot, Ars Minerva is planning a production of a 17th century opera, Messalina, which can’t fail to be AMAZING.

Giant blockquote because it’s just too good.

Carlo Pallavicino’s MESSALINA plot:
A sex farce with teeth. Clever, lecherous Messalina turns the tables several times on the gullible Emperor Claudius, who is hardly innocent himself. Meanwhile two other couples suffer their own romantic vicissitudes. Furtive assignations, frustrated trysts, kidnappings, betrayals, sudden recognitions, a heroine and a hero both in drag, and a plot as convoluted as only 17th-century Venetian opera can put together, all lead to a reconciliation that will last only as long as Messalina can keep pulling the wool over Claudius’ eyes.

From musicologist Wendy Heller book: Emblems of Eloquence: Opera and Women’s Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice:

“This chapter deals with Roman empress, Messalina, the adulterous wife of the emperor Claudius, who in Messalina brought to the luxurious stage of the Teatro San Grisostomo an unmatched reputation for decadence and sexual excess […] Messalina provokes the most basic sort of fear — that a woman will deprive a man of his place not only in bed but also in his public role in society. Messalina relinquishes her role in the opera, avoiding the bloody death of her historical model. She serves to reinforce an essential lesson about the dangers of female sexuality.”

This is so my favorite kind of thing!! Bring it on!!! If it has to be delayed another year, I’ll keep donating and waiting!

From the song (remember that, at the top of this post?) by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down,

Sip on joy the purest drink
Move to make
Thought to think
They can feel us from afar
Avenues and boulevards

I’ve been so politely at the bottom
Pull it tight boot strap
Strap it on and top em
I’ve been so politely at the bottom
Pull it tight boot strap
Strap it on and top em

That dull feeling, converted to fierceness, because fuck it,

liz with glitter on

From the state-wide lockdown

Next two weeks are going to be intense as the wide spread of COVID-19 becomes more obvious and hospitals get overloaded. People are upset now about just staying home, and it’s going to get so much worse/more traumatic. I hope we all are able to be kind and compassionate to each other and hold space for each other. This is just the beginning.

The California state-wide lockdown started last Thursday evening. Here’s some details.

Stay home except for essential needs

Everyone is required to stay home except to get food, care for a relative or friend, get necessary health care, or go to an essential job. If you go out, keep at least 6 feet of distance.

and,

The California State Public Health Officer and Director of the California Department of Public Health is ordering all individuals living in the State of California to stay home or at their place of residence, except as needed to maintain continuity of operation of the federal critical infrastructure sectors.

Here’s the PDF of the description of critical infrastructureEssentialCriticalInfrastructureWorkers; it’s pretty interesting.

At our house, things are nearly as they usually are, since I’ve worked from home for years and have had long periods of limited ability to go out. Danny is WFH, and we like being around each other, and the (adult or nearly so) kids are with other parents right now. It’s pretty peaceful. I am not 100% feeling well (exhausted, headache, low fever hits me a couple of times a day) but also not super sick and not coughing. I’m getting lots of job interviews, which is great.

My morning routine is as follows, wake up around 6 or 7 and blearily read tumblr, twitter, or Hacker News or reddit, whatever, till I either doze a bit more or get up for coffee.

Coffee, toast and jam, hanging on the couch by the window, reading a book or reading news, going through my email and whatever slack-channel backlog happened in the night.

Meds, face wash (I have to specially deal with dry eye effects so that also means a hot compress and eyedrops) I’m trying to get dressed in the mornings rather than lurk in PJs till noon, but it’s inconsistent. Today I dressed nicely, put on some face goop (The Ordinary hyaluronic acid) and some cologne (Elizabeth W Vetiver, which miraculously doesn’t set off my allergies!). 2nd cup of coffee, turned on my day-spectrum light. Cleaned the litter box. Do some arm weights on the porch to greet the day. Tick off all the “morning things” boxes in Habitica.com.

I go through my calendar and make sure I know what’s happening today, writing it out on a little slip of paper to keep by my side. Today I have 3 short interviews, at 10, 11, and then 1pm.

Since it’s Tuesday, at noon I’ll be going out on the porch to howl like the SF Siren and loudly declare that This is a test!! The noon siren has been silent for the past few months and I miss it. Last week, when I did this I made some people walking by laugh really hard, exactly the goal!!

3-5 pm is my Stardew game with a crew of kids. After that, this week and last I’ve been basically going to bed early and reading as I’m tired/sick feeling and my head hurts. A little house cleaning and tidying here and there. I have joined our friend Rubin’s evening hangout over Jitsi, yesterday watching him do some sort of 3d printing project, Jarrod doing architecture work, Merlin and friend sewing masks, while I studied for systems design interviews. My Slack channels (weirdlings, disabled-techies, mozvets are the most active right now) are a beautiful lifeline.

Morning and evening I wipe down the faucets, counters, door handles etc with bleach spray for whatever that’s worth, and there is lotion by the kitchen and bathroom sinks to help with the frequent hand washing. No one is really interacting with us but Danny has been going out for minor groceries every few days and we have had food delivery and packages arrive (thank you all the workers doing this and I’m tipping nearly as much as the food cost).

Once I feel better, more gardening and organizing is on my list, and more exercise, maybe taking a little spin around the block via powerchair (we are 2 blocks from a lovely park with views of the whole city, so that is an option too)

I am grateful for our cozy house and relative security.

The bright and lovely world

I remember coming out of the house to go to the doctor one time after being ill and house-bound for something like three weeks. The vibrant activity, movement, color, all the people and buses and trees and birds and signs, moved me to tears. I still think of that moment of epiphany every time I’m going on the bus down Mission Street and feel a surge of love.

I’m not feeling super well this week, still interviewing but at a somewhat slower pace as I am getting easily tired (and sporadically running a low fever – still unsure if it is vaccine side effects, just some sort of routine sinus trouble, or a mild case of the Rona.)

Our fridge broke and we had to throw a lot of food away; I got a used fridge from a handy appliance shop just one block from us. Four guys delivered it and took out the old fridge. I bleached all the counters, fridge, and door handles before they came in to protect them, and afterwards to protect me. And tipped high in cash. So appreciating their work. It was quite stressful considering the possibility of trying to get through the quarantine/statewide lockdown without refrigeration for our food. Very happy to now have a working fridge again!

Once I feel a bit better, I have some plans to further organize and clean out our little “office” section of the living room, and to slowly repot every plant on the front porch. Work on my BART game would be nice too and I have several zine and book projects, any of which would be fun to fire up again. (They have fallen by the way as I’ve been either obsessed with jobhunting, de-stressing from interviewing, reading coronavirus news, or destressing from that by like, reading and more game playing.)

Every day I have been running a Stardew Valley game for some kids of my friends and that is now a nice part of the structure of my day.

I highly recommend unlimiting your children’s “screen time” at least for now. Minecraft, Roblox, are good choices for social gaming (and can be played in creative mode for those who don’t like combat games).

Hunkering down

As we go deeper into social distancing, I have some thoughts to share.

Danny and I both tend to read the whole internets (usually while we should be sleeping) and keep our finger on the pulse of things so it is interesting to compare notes with him about the rapidly changing situation and responses and theories and all that.

It’s been touching to see people “reaching out” to me as a possibly vulnerable person. Often folks who I have known online a while and who are worrying about me b/c I am disabled. Thanks friends. (I am fine and have a lot of social support and also sufficient money.) I also got a pneumovax shot yesterday to potentially decrease a bit of risk of getting extra lung infections on top of COVID-19. Danny started working from home (partly to protect me which I appreciated more than I realized I would once he said it).

I had some plans to go circulate letters to neighbors offering mutual aid but I find that I’m just a bit exhausted emotionally. I might do it next week. Instead, right now, I am donating cash to the Disability Culture Club (Venmo to @DJCultureClub) and am hosting a Stardew Valley group game for kids/teenagers/anyone stressed (with the Unlimited Players mod). Hosting a small online space and making it hospitable and building out a game Discord channel is something I can do, and all the kids are out of school for weeks if not months, so why not. Gaming is now my activism, lol?

Here’s more about the DJCC:

Are you a disabled person or elder in the [SF/Oakland] East Bay needing extra support during COVID19, maybe because you can’t risk exposure on public transit, your attendant called out, etc? Please share your needs with us at https://tinyurl.com/DJCCsupportform so we can try to assist. Please know we are prioritizing BIPOC, will be triaging needs, and can’t make promises (grocery stores are sold out of a lot and we are disabled volunteers of color doing mutual aid, not the Red Cross!)

If you are an ally wanting to offer support, the best way is to Venmo us at @DJCultureClub to pay for hand sanitizer, masks, gas, caregiver pay, protective gear, groceries, and to fund ongoing mutual aid projects like this. We also very much need local abled volunteers who are not in contact with those at risk to provide support. Please complete our ally form here: https://tinyurl.com/DJCCally

The job hunt continues, and all the places that interviewed me and then said “we’d love to hire you but we can’t accommodate remote work” then went the very next freaking week (or two) into their entire company going remote. I should go back to them and say they should reconsider since I’m an expert in doing tech work from home — as I’ve done it successfully for two decades.

A lot of disabled people are having that sort of feeling of half resentment, half hope (or some other proportion, maybe it’s more 90/10 or 99/1!) at society’s ability to suddenly bend and adapt and change its structures NOW, for everyone, when they wouldn’t a week ago, for us. Or, are expressing some level of eye rolling as people go stir crazy after 2 days staying at home. Hi, welcome to a lot of our realities (me and other people who have had long periods “home-bound”). Oh, it feels so sad that you can’t go to that event you had tickets for and were looking forward to for months? Yeah I know. (Also skimming over the obvious horribleness of people hoarding stuff that for some disabled/ill people are necessary daily survival supplies, like alcohol wipes, etc but let’s move on for now…)

I can’t stay in that feeling for long, and what you should try to do to move out of it and let go of the bitter or resentful feelings, is realize we have many coping skills to share. Just like you, an experienced disabled or chronically ill person, would do to mentor a newbie, (Like we do all the time!) here is where your experience comes into play, and your having gone deep into these feelings and emerged again, becomes somewhere that you shine. That can sound too much like “we exist to teach the abled a lesson” but that isn’t it — because they’re not going to necessarily stay in able-landia, the world is changing for at least the medium term, and millions of people recovering from severe pneumonia isn’t going to result in millions of able healthy not-chronically ill people. They will need us, for solidarity and to know how to live well and we will need their mass political support even if it is new and based on their own new needs. (I’m thinking free universal health care here.)

That said, hi, I’m actually a bit scared, knowing we’re all going to get this sooner or later, and having had a lot of respiratory illnesses, I’m scared of having a worse one, because it’s scary and hurts and you feel super anxious not breathing well, and it would be a heinous way to die and I don’t want to die. However, if I do, not to be morbid, at least I have the comfort that I have had a really great life.

On the hunt

After 7 years at Mozilla I am now looking for a new job. 70 of us were laid off in mid-January. I tweeted about it on the day of the layoff; my tweet was quoted in the tech press and some newspapers. For a few days, this got a lot of attention. Meanwhile, also on the day of the layoffs, we started a Slack channel for mutual aid, and a spreadsheet with our names, contact info, job titles, and links to resumes or LinkedIn profiles. From the tweet getting the attention, a lot of recruiters and hiring managers looked at our spreadsheet. And, awesomely, I found out later that when Wayfair laid off 500+ people, they copied our spreadsheet format for their own organizing! This, for me, put a healthy spin on the layoff. The solidarity we expressed was and is very cheering. The story was now about our teamwork and support for each other.

As I looked into open release manager positions it became clear that the closest role to it was Technical Program Manager, and you can think of release management as a specialty of being a TPM.

Initially I was keeping notes on what I applied for in the Mac Notes app, but that got clunky. So, I created a project board in GitHub to manage all the applications I was sending out. Each job listing became a GitHub issue, and the project board has columns for “Interested”, “Applied”, “Interviewing”, “On-site”, and “Nope”. As my applications move through these stages I simply move its card. Within the columns, it’s also useful to me to have colored labels for “Waiting for a response”, “Scheduling in progress”, “Interview scheduled” and “Study needed”. Each issue contains the job listing, a link to the listing, names of people who I’ve talked with and their contact info. And, every interview or email I have for that job gets its own comment on the issue.

Sharing that project board didn’t work as easily as I would like. I made a generic version of the repo, with blank cards and an explanation of a way to use it, but when you fork a public repo, you can’t then make it private. The project boards also don’t fork – they have to be copied separately.

So, I made the same job hunting board in Trello and have shared it for anyone to use.

It’s very helpful to have an organized system like this — it lets you apply to many jobs at once and keep all the details readily at hand.

I am actually enjoying the interviews and studying for them. To study, I read about the company, maybe looking up all the tech in the stack they use or reading about the general space they’re in, their competitors, etc. For someone like me who enjoys diving into endless Wikipedia ratholes this is a pleasure. I try to write out what I’ve learned, sometimes more than once to synthesize the information in different ways.

Another way to study and prepare is to write out my answers to various common questions. For a program or release manager role, this seems to be focused on describing situations you’ve been in and what you’ve done. For example, describe a technically complex project you worked on and how you managed it. Describe a time when you got negative feedback and how you responded. Tell about a time when you had to balance many different projects and what tools you used and describe the result. So, here I tried to reflect on things I’d done at Mozilla that I was particularly proud of and could remember well enough to describe! Writing them out in paragraphs and then as bullet points means that I won’t get stuck for answers to questions about my own experiences.

Another type of question that needs study is the “system design” problem. So, say you are starting out on a project to create a photo sharing app. WHAT DO YOU DO. Fun! At least I think so. There’s plenty of guides on thinking through problems of this sort, some general and some specific. Here’s one I really liked, Vasanth’s System Design Cheatsheet. You can take this general structure and work through some specific situations like a photo sharing app or a messaging app.

Anyway, I miss Mozilla, and working on Firefox, but I’m learning a lot and keeping my spirits up. I have plenty of interviews. Wherever I end up I’ll learn some new skills and advance in my career. Going into Mozilla, I wanted to work as part of a large collaboration alongside many other engineers. I definitely got that — I learned so much and am grateful for all the opportunities I had there and fabulous people I got to meet.