Monday, 6 October 2014

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Book 18 of 2014 is one that i have read twice now. It is a favourite and often fits in to certain contexts in my life.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the Milan Kundera book that you must read.

I most identify with Sabina and have been told she is dysfunctional. Maybe she is but boy does she look hot in a bowler hat.

I give it 4.5 extra-martial affairs out of 5.

Should I read this? Absolutely. A classic that you must consume, at least once.
What did I learn? Love is totally and absolutely unique to who you are. Let no one dictate otherwise.

Building Scalable Web Sites

The 17th book of 2014 is Building Scalable Web Sites by Cal Henderson.

I read this because a developer I really respect at Thoughtworks recommended it. The reviews I read ripped it to pieces with comments like "I already know this" and "well yeah, duh." I still read it.

Once thing that you have to do as a lead is understand concepts so well that you can explain and teach it to other people. The thing I've seen a lot is that people dismiss the small things, the concepts that matter and talk about big ideas while not understanding where it all comes from.

This book is a great way to understand the basic concepts and teach you how to teach others. It talks about where no mainstream software engineering concepts come from in a way that fills all the gaps.

If you want to claim you are a great senior software engineer then read this with a little humility. I will guarantee you learn something. Or at least learn how to teach it.

I'd give it 3.5 checkins out of 5.

Should I read this? Yes. Anyone who intends to lead a software team should read this whether they are technical of not.
What did I learn? Humility and the ability to articulate what is in your giant brain.

A Rightful Place

Book 16 of 2014: A Rightful Place is a Quarterly Essay by Noel Pearson. The Quarterly Essay is a series of four essays a year written by current key Australians.

After reading this, I wrote Noel Pearson an email. It went...

"Hello Mr Pearson,

I have never written to anyone of worth before so forgive any mistakes I make.

I just finished reading your Quarterly Essay. I am not indigenous to this country. In fact, I am half Australian and half Papua New Guinean but I write you all the same. There is something to not belonging that I empathise with when I read what you wrote. Something raw and true.

Having never been a fan of yours, it surprised me how much I understood what you said.

You see, I grew up on Palmerston in the Northern Territory in the mid 80s to 90s. My school was less than a quarter white and that didn't seem odd to me. We used the word budju as a compliment and c*nt as a disgrace. I even still return to my parents house speaking in that manic drawl that is Darwin. There is a part of me that is goanna cooked over a fire and peanut flavoured grubs out of trees.

When I read you essay, I found a way to articulate and (sadly because it is required) defend the people I grew up with. The most amazing and ancient culture we have on earth.

I lost respect for Darwin (again) and Dickens (for the first time) and got teary at your conclusion.

I write this email because I'd like to thank you for saying it so well. For articulating your plight in a way others haven't before or maybe not so well.

You won me over, sir.

I live in Canberra. If I can ever buy you dinner and have a conversation, I would be honoured.

Damana Madden - a black Darwin girl"

I'd give it 4 non-racist remarks out of 5.

Should I read this? If you get a chance, read this. As an Australian, you should.
What did I learn? There is a way to help our first people but it means giving them control over their life and not just participation in the process.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Leave it better than when you found it

I will always post too many quotes, too many pictures of cats doing cat things, too many shots of food as I make people wait to eat, too many posts of shoes and possibly too many photos of myself. You will hear my happiness most of the time but sometimes my sadness, my contemplation, my exasperation and my wonder. There will be inane questions and tipsy checkins. Maybe shallow ponderings and epics revelations. Some days I will make you cringe and other days I will make you smile.

Either way, this is me. We do this once. Just once. Really, only once. I shall do it my way. If you can live with that then... good. If not, so be it. I gave up on cool when I was 12 years old and have been happy ever since. Now, I just want to be kind to myself and those I care about. Let everything be what it is and be ok with that. Own my choices and their consequences. Live the best life I can while treading carefully.

That is me.

The Imagination of Readers

From a book I adore...

“After all, reading is arguably a far more creative and imaginative process than writing; when the reader creates emotion in their head, or the colors of the sky during the setting sun, or the smell of a warm summer’s breeze on their face, they should reserve as much praise for themselves as they do for the writer - perhaps more.”

- Jasper Fforde, The Well of Lost Plots

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Being Born a Woman

“Being born a woman is an awful tragedy. Yes, my consuming desire to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, bar room regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yet, God, I want to talk to everybody I can as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.”

Sylvia Plath

Something Broke

At the beginning of August, I was mugged. Violently and viciously.

I sat on a cold hospital emergency department bed for six hours trying to stay awake as they observed my concussion. As a kid, I remember having a concussion but that isn't what I remember. It happened when I high-sided on a push bike. There was this almost eternal moment as my body flew over the handle bars and in to the concrete, face first. That's what I remember. Not the details of the concussion but the details of the accident that caused it.

The whole mugging thing was very different to that childhood bike accident. It is remembered the other way around.

Since the mugger ran up behind me, I had no idea that it was coming. There was no anticipation and the associated fear flashbacks that come with that. It happened so fast that even as he pushed me to my knees and slammed my face in to the ground, I didn't have time to put my hands out to stop myself. 

One second I was standing. The next I was wiping blood out of my eyes.

In the 20-30 seconds it took the first person to come to my aid, my emotions ran from shock to terror and then to anger. Not anger as I thought I had known once or twice in my life but an irrational overwhelming anger that made me scream, swear like  a potty mouth and attack my attacker.

I hope to never feel that level of anger ever again in my life. It was accompanied by thoughts including telling myself that if he was going to rape me that he would have to knock me unconscious and I would fight him until he knocked me out. Luckily, it didn't come to that.

Fighting him was not a rational or aware thought. It was fight or flight and I couldn't get up off the ground with him standing on my stomach and pulling at my bag. In my normal mind, I would have let him take it but in this case I used his holding the bag as leverage to kick the hell out of him.

The oddest part of all of this is that I feel mortal. I always have but now I feel a raw kind of mortal. And I don't want to die because someone else decides it or because I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time or because of some disease. I want to die when I choose to.

I have never felt more sure of anything before. No one chooses how I live and no one chooses how I die.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Divergent - Insurgent - Allegiant

Books 13, 14 and 15 of 2014 are the Divergent trilogy.

The first book is Divergent, which has recently been made in to a movie. The movie is a shallow interpretation of the book. The first book is both good and bad. It is not the original tale that everyone claims it is but more a mix of Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

It is however easy to read and very entertaining.

Unlike Katniss Everdeen, Tris (the main protagonist) is a little too caught up in teenage love and self absorbtion for me. She does improve rapidly in the second and third books though so it is worth persisting.

The second book of the trilogy, Insurgent is less about action and more about character development. I actually wish they'd taken the time for that in the first book. It worries me that people will not continue on through the whole story because the first book is a little shallow. The second book makes it worth it. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the middle book more than the first and last. I've only ever felt that with Lord of the Rings. Think Helm's Deep.

Then the third in the series, Allegiant made me sad and happy. Finally, a story that ends in a non-Hollywood way and concretes this as a possible stayer for years to come.

Without giving too much away, I will say that this series is worth reading. It is dystopian, aimed at teenagers and therefore easy to consume and a gripping plot to keep you engaged.

I'd give it 3.5 punches in the face out of 5.

Should I read this? Yes. it is good fiction and entertaining.
What did I learn? "Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, every one. We can't escape that damage. But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other."

Thursday, 28 August 2014

When Depressed, Don't Be Strong For Others

I was mugged at 10:30pm-ish on a Tuesday night. An ambulance took me to hospital. I spent 6 hours sitting on a bed being observed for concussion. Not allowed to sleep. Not up for bothering anyone to tell them I was there. Not overly fussed about anything other than my iPhone going flat. Gawd, it got boring.

At 4:30am, I was allowed to leave. Still an outpatient in ED meant that I didn't even need to sign any paperwork. Just called a taxi and went home.

When I arrived home just before 5am, I facebooked that I had been violently mugged and had only now returned home. Then I crashed. Exhausted, I fell in to a deep sleep fully unaware of how many people were panicking. 100+ missed called and 212 text messages greeted me when I awoke on Wednesday morning.

As I scrolled through the plethora of contact, the phone rang. I hit ignore. Another person called, I ignored that too. Then my sister called. A single thought ran through my mind... "she won't make this about her. I won't have to make her feel better about this having happened to me."

That summed up the entire morning. I didn't have the energy to make other people feel ok about me being mugged. I'm sure they were calling because they cared but they were also calling for themselves.

I didn't have the strength to tell them how ok I was. To tell them how I'd be ok. To not cry or let them hear the waver in my voice. I just couldn't give that at the time.

It reminded me of something. When you are going through things, some people will come to you to find out if you are ok but they want you to say yes you are. They want to hear that it will all be ok and mostly for themselves. They aren't selfish or mean. They just can't see passed what they feel to what you are going through.

When this happens, you have every right to choose not to give them anything. You are within your rights to not give them the little you have left to let them know you are ok. Don't answer the phone to everyone. Answer to at least one person who won't make it about them. They are a valuable friend because they won't take from you.

It is ok to give that energy you have to yourself.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Retrospection brings Revelations

My mate Jim and I are doing Dry July. At a sober dinner and subsequent Koko Black chocolate inhalation session tonight, we had a mini retrospective. I just realised that it has only been 2.5 years since I moved out of my parent's house. I'd spent 3 years prior suffering clinical depression. It was so bad that my mother gave me two tasks in the day that were all I had to achieve: Make my bed and check the mail box for mail. Those two things would exhaust me. Some days I couldn't do one or both and I'd sob at my failure. Some days, I'd do both and we'd celebrate the success.
When I left Darwin at the very end of 2011, I wasn't quite sure if I'd be able to feed myself, work an entire 5 day week or stop myself crying if I ever started. Since then my failures have been vast but all lessons learnt. My heart has been broken once since but it kept beating. My brain chemistry has kicked my arse several times and I kicked it back.
I don't cry randomly anymore though. I don't wish to die. I pay my own bills and cook my own meals. I finally forgave myself for not being perfect. These are major achievements for me.
It has only been 2.5 years and I'm functioning quite well now. Even I'm impressed.
Thanks, Jim. You made me articulate it. This isn't an affirmation. This is surprise and pride mixed with slightly too much chocolate.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Confusion and Coffee

I often feel like an appropriate mix of comfortable conformism and antisocial complacent genius.

There is a constant struggle in my head around what I expect for myself and what I am not thoroughly convinced others want me to be. The latter is mostly imagined but it is still there. It doesn't make me change too much of who I am but more acts like a voice in my head that is unimpressed with my willingness to just give in and do as society tells me.

The thing is, I'm not really a bad arse or a rebel in any way. As a child and late in to my teens, I was the kind of girl who did what was expected of me. If my parents asked me to do something then I did it without question. I was a cluey kid and thought a lot about the world that I saw through fiction and no-fiction books. I did not however think much for myself.

The road was set out for me by my educated middle-class parents who I never for one moment doubted loved me dearly. First was primary school then high school and then a degree of my choosing. Something you could get a job in and that you enjoyed doing was the only real criteria I was given. I lived at home the whole time with my three square meals a day and all the comforts of my parents lifestyle.

I met my husband (now ex) outside a second year Discrete Maths class. He was geeky and kind. We talked about ideas and concepts and ideologies and literature and movies and music until we somehow got married 9 years later. In that almost-decade past, I did what was expected of me. Had the long term partner of equal intellect who loved me, two indoor pedigree cats that roamed our over-sized inner-city Canberra townhouse filled with expensive furniture and too much kitchenware. I threw lavish dinner parties with equivalent friends. I was friends with other couples with similar lives that validated my own. I wore an apron and baked. Enough said.

There are people I'm still friends with today who can vouch for the seemingly happy girl who had a pretty decent middle class life. I often wonder if they see me as the same type of person now as I was then or if they even saw me as happy. I thought I was happy. That I had everything a person could want.

Then it all went to shit.

My life fell apart through a series of inevitable miseries which I now see as a time of growth. Oh time, it is a friend and a brutal enemy. It helps you forget the pain but it gives you wrinkles. I'll accept the wrinkles as payment though.

The middle part (for those who didn't live through it with me on Facebook and Twitter) is a story for another time over several glasses of old Champagne that the waiter pours carefully so as not to waste a single drop.

The end part is now. Who I am now. What I am now. Those are not questions. There are solid answers. There are also solid uncertainties.

I have a good job that I love. Each morning I wake up enthusiastic about the coming workday. People joke that I am comfortable outside of my comfort zone and they are right. There is a comfortable thrill to the work I do but it is based in educated guesses and almost two decades of experience.

My ogre-like layered circle of friends are ordered and solid, if a little commutative. I am one of those lucky people who has a group of people who love me, despite knowing me. Some are so close that they will pick up the phone to me in tears or to me singing Pharrell or to me having butt dialled them because they are on speed dial and they won't hang up. Others interact with me at regular lunches or drinks or even via old fashioned Facebook stalking. Most don't live in the same town or country as me but those that do are people I can call on for mischief and adventures.

Then there is what I refer to as family. It isn't people I've given birth to. That really was never my thing. It is a Papua New Guinean definition of family. People who you are stuck with but actually like. That is my family. We support each other through everything. There is an unquestionable loyalty. I often joke that if my sister dislikes someone then I do to, without even having to have met them. We spend a lot of time laughing together. We don't really fight because we are grown ups. We know that even when one of us is being annoying that it is driven by love. That makes everything cool.

So I spend a lot of time on my own but a lot of time with people. I read and write a lot. I work a little too much. I spend so much time texting and talking on the phone that I had to sign up for the Optus Extreme User plan. But then I spend so much time in silence that a weekend day can pass and I've not spoken a single word. All of these contradictions are the sum of what makes me happy.

Maybe I am a hedonist or selfish or narcissistic or all the things that I worry about in my head. Things that people said in passing or that I heard in something they said. Maybe I am generous, loving and kind like my friends and family describe me as. Maybe I'm a little of all of them.

Either way, this makes me happy.

My life is not a series of adaptations. It is a series of conscious steps involving trying different sides of my life that has resulted in me being very happy and comfortable in a lifestyle that sometimes makes others uncomfortable. It is best to understand that I live each day to honour who I am and live my ethos. This makes me not just happy but content.

I often feel like an appropriate mix of comfortable conformism and antisocial complacent genius but I like that mix.