# 01 Dec 2021, 05:43PM: Another Swath Of Recent Reading:
Some more books I've read fairly recently.
Some time ago, while looking for Diane Duane tie-in novels to read, I found out that she wrote seven technothriller novels for young adults within the Tom Clancy's Net Force series. I've now read Death Match (I think reissued as Own Goal) and Safe House. They're a lot of fun! In particular, Death Match has some very accurate descriptions of what it's like to learn a second programming language, audit code, and deal with software supply chain concerns.
Once I heard that Charlie Jane Anders was working on the adaptation of Y: The Last Man, I thought "I'd like to see that" which reminded me that I might enjoy rereading the graphic novel. I did -- I think this was the first time I'd read the whole series in less than a day, so I followed some background details, visual motifs, and so on more than I had before. I cried once more in the last book -- oh how modern-day social media would have erupted at [spoiler]! Even though the TV adaptation has now been cancelled, I may still go watch the one season to see how they handled trans characters.
Also recently I read Alison Bechdel's newest graphic memoir, The Secret to Superhuman Strength, which was fun and funny and perhaps more personally relatable (for me) than either of her previous memoirs; I am attempting to get back in touch with the part of me that loves physical movement and strength and agility, and sometimes I have been, and Bechdel's journey isn't anything like mine but it still resonated.
My Lunches With Orson is a ride. Found via this Kottke.org post. Orson Welles, near the end of his life, complains, tells stories, self-sabotages, and offers a grudge-based history of a half-century of cinema. I will particularly remember the conversation in which he completely shoved away a promising opportunity -- that he needed -- because he didn't like the flicker of an expression on an HBO executive's face. I think it's kind of fascinating that Welles kept wanting to make work in film, a medium that required tons of collaboration, but burned bridges like it was his job. Maybe there's an alternate universe where Welles worked with a partner he could trust, starting in the 1940s -- someone he'd listen to when they said "wait, let's finish this first before you fly to another country". And I wish Welles, who wished other filmmakers would riff on F for Fake and borrow its cinematic language, could have lived long enough to see filmmakers do that -- once the means of production and distribution caught up.
The Revolution Will Not Be Funded is thought-provoking. Each chapter stands alone and I'm not all the way through it yet. A quote from Andrea Smith:
...the [nonprofit-industrial complex, NPIC] encourages us to think of social justice organizing as a career; that is, you do the work if you can get paid for it. However, a mass movement requires the involvement of millions of people, most of whom cannot get paid. By trying to do grassroots organizing through this careerist model, we are essentially asking a few people to work more than full-time to make up for the work that needs to be done by millions.
From Dylan Rodríguez:
arguably, forms of sustained grassroots social movement that do not rely on the material assets and institutionalized legitimacy of the NPIC have become largely unimaginable within the political culture of the current US Left.
From Paul Kivel:
The loss of vision that narrowed the focus of men's work reflects a change that occurred in other parts of the movement to end violence, as activists who set out to change the institutions perpetrating violence settled into service jobs helping people cope.
Kivel's chapter, "Social service or social change?" has many good "questions to ask yourself". And Madonna Thunder Hawk's chapter "Native organizing before the non-profit industrial complex" has a thought-provoking case study of what activists using a much more fluid volunteering model can accomplish.
Road Fever: A High-Speed Travelogue by Tim Cahill is a fun ride. I enjoyed the suspense of "will these two guys break the Guinness world record for driving the length of the Americas?" In particular, memoir about a stunt like this is nice because you get suspense but you're not actually worried that they're going to die in the undertaking. Cahill's an entertaining travel writer who lets us see his vulnerability around, for instance, feeling insecure about his masculinity when taking driving advice.
We Will Not Cancel Us: And Other Dreams of Transformative Justice by adrienne maree brown and Malkia Devich-Cyril is a small book I think I'll want to reread every once in a while. Like the pieces I rounded up on MetaFilter a while back regarding accountability and call-outs, and like Conflict Is Not Abuse by Schulman, We Will Not Cancel Us makes me aware that an audience is not a community, and that many groups I spend time in are not communities and are gonna have a much harder time meaningfully helping with accountability and repair.
Relatedly: Just today I ran into this reaction to highly populated online settings:
I think it makes sense to treat much of the internet as fundamentally adversarial, exploiting unpatched bugs in the human mind. Don't get got.....
Over the last few years I've slowly left all the massive public communities like hacker news and spent that time instead on regular video calls with distant nerd friends and hanging out in small communities that have a strong focus on actually making things.
and thought about this post about invite-only code-sharing groups.
Where do I want to spend my time? What do I want to invest in and build? Given that I'm going to spend some amount of my time in the ocean and some in tidepools, what proportion should I spend in either, and how should I shape and choose the pools I'm in? I'm chewing on this.
I really enjoyed Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown but only recommend it to you if you are, at least a little, a hippie. Pam Selle's review gets at why. I read this on a short sojourn in the outdoors and recommend that approach.
A great recent discovery: the fiction of Kate Racculia. First I read her Westing Game-inspired Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, because of this book review, and found it funny, incisive, moving, clever, really insightful about human lives, sweet, and celebratory of ridiculous joys. Then I moved on to Bellweather Rhapsody and am now reading This Must Be the Place. Racculia writes novels about knocked-around people who sometimes make ill-judged decisions and find odd emergent relationships with each other, and -- like Philip K. Dick -- gives us the interiority of those characters and makes it comprehensible and relatable. In every book, sprinkled throughout, are little articulate crystals about particular kinds of experience that I don't think I've ever seen another author describe. My old lit teacher Mr. Hatch told us that literature is about different ways of being human, and I'm enjoying how Racculia does that.
Another recommendation from skygiants and at least one other online acquaintance led to me reading Evening Class by Maeve Binchy. It's sweet and engaging and suspenseful in a soap opera-y way. If you like multi-perspective braided narratives, check it out.
I've read a few T. Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon novels or collections over the past couple years -- very solid fun/comfort/laughs, often centering on gruff people doing hard things because they need doing, discovering their own talents and making unexpected friends. (Kingfisher is a pseudonym for Vernon.) A Wizard's Guide To Defensive Baking is fun, and Swordheart to me is particularly memorable because of the pragmatic, sensible, helpful priests of the White Rat.
Some time ago I started Celia Lake's gentle magical romance Mysterious Charm series with the first book, Outcrossing, and enjoyed it, and have now read the next two in the series. Sensible adults making considerate decisions and planning and speaking so as to achieve tasks while reducing inconvenience and hurt to others! What a concept! Very soothing and recommended.
I thought I would like Nghi Vo's The Chosen and the Beautiful more because I am rather a fan of The Great Gatsby. I found it a little disappointing perhaps because my hopes were wrongly configured (thinking that the author would find a way to insert this story into pre-existing dialogue without changing ANY of Fitzgerald's dialogue). But it was vivid and sharp.
And I read a bunch of the finalists for this year's Hugo Awards and to me a standout was P. Djéli Clark's Ring Shout. Harsh and visceral, didactic in the best way, and vividly atmospheric.
# 30 Nov 2021, 11:14AM: Sign Up Now For Free Maintainer Skills Workshops:
Maintainers of open source projects often need help learning how to address issues such as "how do we recruit and promote project members?", "what do we spend our money on?", and "how do I finally have the difficult conversation I've been putting off with that one contributor?"
So, starting in early 2022, I'm running eight videoconference sessions -- a combination of workshops, training, co-working, and discussion -- that you can sign up for right now! OSC will "offer a limited number of places to leaders of projects hosted by Open Source Collective on a series of coaching, training, and workshops designed to work through these issues and to begin building a library of documentation." OSC is sponsoring this so it'll be free of cost to participants.
You're eligible if you are part of an open source project fiscally hosted by Open Source Collective. And in the sign-up form you can mention what challenges you're currently facing, and what problems you're looking to solve, so we can customize the topics we cover and the session structures we use.
If you're eligible and interested, please sign up by about December 9th, so we can start scheduling.
Edited to answer common questions: I anticipate that these won't be recorded, but I will be developing documents/resources based on the sessions and OSC will publish those under an open license.
And, in case you're interested, but not affiliated with OSC: these workshops are a pilot. Depending on how they work out, I'd be happy to discuss similar courses/sessions with other orgs! I'll know more around February (after we've done 2-5 of the sessions), and would be glad to discuss then.
# (1) 29 Nov 2021, 12:05PM: A Cool Thing That Could Exist:
Recently I read Tim Cahill's entertaining Road Fever, a memoir from 1987. Cahill briefly mentions the news of Black Monday intersecting with his road trip, which reminded me that Black Monday plays a much larger role in Michael Lewis's autobiographical Liar's Poker.
Thus -- I am not going to make this, but some enterprising digital humanities person with access to, like, the Google Books and Amazon ebook datasets could theoretically do it:
An interactive way to explore all the memoirs/autobiographies/diaries/letters ever published for references to things happening on particular dates. So you could see a sampling of different things people around the world noted down on or regarding a particular day -- like, wouldn't it be interesting to read, side-by-side, what Jawaharlal Nehru, Johnny Cash, Jane Jacobs, and Junichiro Koizumi had to say about August 6, 1945?
If this already exists, lemme know.
# 24 Nov 2021, 10:48AM: Health Insurance & Retirement Plans For Open Source Maintainers:
This is huge.
The Open Collective Foundation has just announced: "OCF now offers employment options to initiative workers—with health insurance!" As that page says: "Initiatives fiscally hosted by OCF can have employees, with access to benefits like health insurance. Costs related to employment are paid from the initiative's budget, with OCF as the employer." (Employees must be based in the US.) And through the OCF's benefits provider, employees can also opt into 401(k) retirement savings plans.
This is such a huge step forward for open source sustainability, in particular for projects with key contributors in the United States. Let's talk about why!
- Open source and fiscal hosts
- The United States, employment, retirement, and health care
- What you can now do via OpenCollective
- What this unlocks
Open source and fiscal hosts
A "fiscal host" is a nonprofit organization that helps out charitable endeavors by giving them certain kinds of legal and financial infrastructure and services. Here's why they exist:
If you start a mutual aid food pantry in your neighborhood, or a meditation meetup that turns into a real community, or an open source software project, eventually you'll likely need to find ways to take in and spend money without having everything go through one person's personal bank account/PayPal/Venmo. And sometimes you need a trademark to protect people against imitators, or you'd like for the domain name and the fridges and the storage unit to actually be held by the group and not just the founder.
In the United States, this means creating or getting help from a "legal entity" -- a corporation or some other organization that is registered with the government. And if you want to ask for donations or apply for grant funding, people often expect or require that your organization is a registered charity, often referred to as a "501(c)3", which means that donors can deduct their donations from the yearly taxes they pay.
It is hard and annoying to set up a 501(c)3 organization! You probably need to pay a lawyer and accountant to do bits of startup paperwork, appoint a board of trustees and have regular meetings, and so on. Sometimes this burden is way more than volunteers want to take on -- and if you mess up the recordkeeping and fall behind in tax filings, it's a real headache to catch up.
So some nonprofit organizations offer "fiscal host" (also known as "fiscal sponsor") services. Just like it's a big pain to set up your own datacenter and so a lot of people instead rent server time from Amazon Web Services or Heroku, a lot of small projects get a membership with a fiscal host to get access to legal and financial infrastructure. In this analogy it's like getting a dorm room instead of building a stately manor. The fiscal host covers its own costs by taking a percentage of donations given to member projects.
In the arts, a popular fiscal host is Fractured Atlas. In open source software, you'll see NumFOCUS, Software Freedom Conservancy, and others.
Open Collective is particularly interesting here because its fiscal host service is fairly turnkey -- the application process is pretty streamlined -- and because a fiscal host within it, Open Source Collective, serves as fiscal host to nearly three thousand open source software projects. I would be surprised if there's another fiscal host out there that supports more.
The United States, employment, retirement, and health care
Your open source software project, once you're set up as a member project at a fiscal host, can now receive and spend funds. Great! So you can register domains, buy AWS credits and laptops and plane tickets, pay contractors...
Right, yes, you can compensate people for their labor, but in the US, the way you compensate them gets complicated. Because it's fairly easy to hire someone as a contractor ("freelancer"), but hard to hire them as an employee. And to talk about the difference I need to talk about how weird the United States is. In short: being hired as a "full-time" employee (usually at least 30 hours of work per week) usually gets a knowledge worker (such as a programmer) a lot of concrete benefits that would be unavailable, inconvenient, or more expensive if they were hired as a contractor, in particular concerning health care and saving for retirement. If you've been in the US workforce for several years you can probably skip this.
The United States, compared to approximately all other countries that have its level of wealth and infrastructure and so on, is completely strange and deficient in how we deal with healthcare and retirement-type care for senior citizens. A lot of this stuff is tied to employment here.
First: retirement. (I'll cover it first because healthcare will take longer.) How are people in the US supposed to support themselves after they stop working? Through a patchwork combination of stuff.
- You can save and invest "normally" in bank accounts, real estate,* securities, and so on.
- Some people get pensions (the employer keeps paying them after they retire) but far less than half the workforce can count on this, for various reasons.
- Since 1935, we've had the Social Security program.
Starting in one's 60s, almost every US worker is eligible for Social Security payments, and you get more if you earned more during your working lifetime. Some people can also get Supplemental Security Income. Many politicians scare voters by saying that Social Security is in crisis and that you will not be able to depend on it actually paying you any money by the time you retire.
- Since the 1980s, under Internal Revenue Code Section 401(k), there's a special kind of account called a "401(k)" where a person can make contributions to be saved/invested towards retirement. An employer can sweeten the deal by "matching" your contributions up to some amount, such as $5,000 per year. A 401(k) must be employer-sponsored -- that is, you can't do it just by yourself -- and you usually only get access to 401(k) benefits if you are a full-time employee. But there are alternatives called Individual Retirement Accounts which a person can create independently. It's a bit complicated but, when changing jobs, one can often "roll over" a 401(k) from one employer to another so that you have one big growing account rather than a bunch of little ones. The money in a 401(k) or IRA account gets invested in a securities portfolio; the accountholder gets to make some choices about what to invest in. You and your employer contribute the money "pre-tax" (it's deducted from your taxable income, so you pay lower income taxes) and you can't withdraw money, till you retire, without paying tax on that withdrawal -- but there's often a one-time tax exemption where you can take money out to use when buying a home.
That last item, sponsorship for 401(k)-type account and possibly some employer matching for contributions, is basically what a knowledge worker in the US now expects as a part of an employment benefit package. (And I don't love it! I don't love being handed a bunch of poker chips and directed to the casino that is Wall Street and told: go invest your retirement savings! You're in charge!** But that's the current state of play.) If no organization is your employer, then you have to do a bunch of workarounds to get a similar means of saving for retirement, and you miss out on the possibility of employer-matched contributions.
And then there's healthcare. How are US residents supposed to pay for doctor visits, medicines, and so on?
This gets super complicated as you can tell by just skimming the table of contents for the English Wikipedia entry on "Health insurance in the United States". But to painfully summarize: instead of paying out-of-pocket for medical stuff, most people have a health insurance policy, and their health insurer decrees what is approved and what's not, what bills the individual has to pay, etc. And insurance companies negotiate down the rates for what they pay for stuff, compared to the "standard"/"out of pocket" rate, so uninsured people -- generally least able to afford healthcare! -- actually get the highest bills! The main ways people get health insurance in the US:
- A lot of people get a health insurance policy as part of their benefits package with their employer. Generally employers only offer health insurance coverage to full-time employees. A really good benefits package has the employer paying the monthly "premium" (basic cost of having the policy at all); a less-good package means the employee has to pay some of the premium. An employee can put their spouse and dependent children on their plan as well, for an increase in premium. Costs are going up and have been for years.
- Military veterans are eligible for some free services and some very subsidized health insurance through the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Disabled people, and people over 65, can use low-cost Medicare as their health insurer. Medicare is a program run by the national (federal) government.
- Poor, disabled, and some other people can use Medicaid as their health insurer. Medicaid is run by individual states and some of them have different rules for who's eligible. There's a related program called Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
- Individuals can buy insurance policies to cover themselves and their immediate families. This got a little more feasible in 2013 after the passage of the Affordable Care Act -- there are standards for the quality of the policies available, and you can't be rejected for having a "pre-existing condition." We talk about this as "buying healthcare on the exchange" or "buying a marketplace plan." It's inconvenient and can be expensive, but it's still a better bet than being completely uninsured in case something awful happens, and for many people it is a huge savings (sample horror story and open source maintainer-specific story).
- Some professional organizations have deals with insurers to help members buy health insurance plans for themselves and for their small businesses, e.g., veterinarians and science fiction writers, ideally at lower prices than in the open marketplace. Some of these partnerships only work in certain states, e.g., the Freelancers Union.
- Students at colleges and universities sometimes get health insurance coverage through those schools.
- Until your 26th birthday, you're eligible to be insured through your parent's health insurance policy.
It's way too complicated! Even people eligible for government-subsidized insurance often don't know how to get it! "More Than 6 in 10 of the Remaining 27.4 Million Uninsured People in the U.S. are Eligible for Subsidized ACA Marketplace Coverage, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program"! Costs have gone way up because for-profit insurers came into the industry and started raising premiums! We spend way more per person on health care than in other comparable countries and the quality and speed of care we get is less! And even insured people end up with huge medical bills -- medical bills are the number one cause of people in the US going bankrupt, which means selling or liquidating all your assets to pay your creditors!
And I haven't even gotten into the huge pain of choosing or changing health insurers and policies! Any given doctor, hospital, procedure, or medication may be covered by some health insurance policies but not others, and it can be tedious or even impossible to find out ahead of time whether a particular insurer will cover something! If you switch insurers, you'll sometimes have to find a new general practitioner or specialist! If your GP or a specialist stops taking your insurance then you have to scramble to find a new one! (Yes, this includes mental health practitioners!) This is particularly awful in rural areas with few doctors, or places where the only health facility around is affiliated with a religion that prohibits care that you need!
There's nearly a century of politics I haven't gotten into here -- the main thing to understand is that middle-class people in the United States are, reasonably, pretty scared of being really poor during our final years, or of being ill and really poor due to huge medical bills (which is way more likely if you don't have health insurance). And the main way we protect ourselves against those outcomes is by getting employed someplace that will give us employer-sponsored health insurance coverage and a 401(k) account.
If you make your wages as a contractor instead of as an employee, then it's harder and more tedious and more error-prone and more expensive to arrange for health insurance coverage and retirement savings. And you're less protected against changes in health insurance costs and thus against the headache of switching insurers. This basically is also true if you run a tiny business and are self-employed. And the precarity is particularly scary if you're disabled, or if your spouse or child has expensive health needs.
And so: if an organization wants to hire someone, to compensate them for labor, some people will only do it as an employee, not as a contractor.
But it's tedious and expensive to get set up to employ someone and give them those benefits, and to fund and administer those benefits on an ongoing basis! In contrast, there's very little paperwork needed to pay someone as a contractor.
And that brings us back to open source projects....
What you can now do via OpenCollective
Thus: In the United States, the need for reliable health care and health insurance causes a tremendous number of open source contributors to have to take full-time jobs with employers. Sometimes these employers hired them to work on their open source projects, but more often, they're working either 0% or a very small percent of the time on open source, and they're working most of the time on proprietary software. So they squeeze in open source maintenance work during vacations, nights, and weekends.
A big focus in open source sustainability right now is finding ways to pay the maintainers. Instead of maintainers scrambling for nights-and-weekends spare time to maintain software, we should get them wages that would enable them to spend their core labor hours on open source maintenance. And though some companies and academic institutions are interested in employing particular maintainers full-time, it's probably more resilient if projects can take in relatively smaller donation streams from many sources, and combine them to hire maintainers.
But all the fiscal hosts and similar services I'm aware of that serve open source projects -- until now -- only let you pay contractors, not employees. They did not, until now, help member projects get employee-level benefits for individual laborers.
Now, an open source project fiscally hosted by OpenCollective "can have employees, with access to benefits like health insurance. Costs related to employment are paid from the initiative's budget, with OCF as the employer." Employees must be based in the US. They're using Justworks, a company that helps small businesses provide employment benefits. In particular: 401(k) retirement plans and health insurance coverage.
So your open source project can gather donations via the OpenCollective platform, then use them to hire a US-based employee -- who reports to the project as a whole, not just one company, yet gets the benefits and at least some of the stability of a traditional employee.
Open source maintainers in the US now have substantially greater freedom to leave their jobs, go independent, and still protect their health and their future.
What this unlocks
Look at what's already happening with people who don't have to worry as much about health insurance. Check out Freexian, which is an effort where Debian developers club together and get sponsorship money, so they can each spend a certain number of hours each month consulting on really important parts of Debian software and infrastructure. A lot of those people who can take advantage of that are in Europe, or are in other places where health care isn't in question. So they can choose contracting work (or switch back and forth between full time employment and consulting, or combine flexible contracting with a stable part-time job) a lot more easily.
So now this possibility opens up more to US-based open source maintainers. We can better crowdfund and recruit US-based programmers and other workers to work on under-produced under-supported infrastructure, like Debian, or autoconf, or various glue libraries.
All the stuff we've been trying to do with grants, Tidelift, GitHub Sponsors, and similar initiatives: they're more likely to succeed, because more people -- both existing maintainers and apprentices willing to learn -- will be available to hire. If you run a program like Django Fellows, where you pay contractors to support the project through community management and code review, you can now expand your candidate pool and recruit US workers who want to work as employees.
And! we can better crowdfund and support innovative research, possibly in directions that big companies don't love. Indeed, we can better invest in FLOSS software that has no commercial competitor, or whose commercial competitors are much worse, because for-profit companies would be far warier of liability or other legal issues surrounding the project, such as youtube-dl.
More generally: any given open source software project that has a substantial user base now has a better chance at being able to hire one of its US contributors to provide ongoing maintenance and support. And so more projects will be able to sustain themselves with user support, instead of burning out unpaid volunteers and stagnating to a crawl and then a halt.
Some of this I'm basically copying and pasting from the "what if we had universal healthcare" section of my talk "What Would Open Source Look Like If It Were Healthy?" Because this is, potentially, a huge step for the health of open source.
I do consulting to help open source software projects get unstuck. Sometimes I advise them on which fiscal host or funding platform might suit their needs. The advice to get set up on OpenCollective has just gotten more attractive, and I hope other startups and nonprofits in the space pay attention. Adding this benefit to more fiscal hosting or funding services would be a tangible and significant way to improve open source contributors' freedom.
# 11 Nov 2021, 12:54PM: The Narrow Trash Talk Window:
Sometimes I am playing a game in a competitive manner with friends. Our shared cultures sometimes include "trash talk," playful insults offered among players that are meant to express comfort and camaraderie and creativity while firing up the competitive spirit. I think.
I came very late to the level of security necessary to really understand and enjoy teasing directed at me. I remember a specific moment in 2007 when a friend jokingly called me the b-word, and I understood: Oh! He doesn't really mean it! And him calling me that is an expression of and deepening of our friendship, because he counts on me to trust and understand him enough to know he doesn't mean it! And I generally don't insult people (at least, not on purpose!) so that skill isn't one I have well-honed.
So, when I do try to imagine trash talk, my insults either go way too florid and comedic ("Are you waiting for the pyramids to crumble? Did someone dip your fingers in concrete before this game?") or too cutting and possibly hurtful ("Hey, it's really unlikely you would win this anyway, because you're starting from a poor socioeconomic foundation and you went to a bad school!"). Or it just ends up being genuine feedback ("You're slow because you keep looking for the perfect move instead of a good-enough one!").
This is not a particularly dire problem nor one I really need to solve.
# 13 Oct 2021, 11:25AM: Some Recent Reading:
I've recommended several short scifi/fantasy stories I've enjoyed by posting about them on MetaFilter.
In addition, here are a few notes on some books I've recently read.
I read the harrowing memoir Year of the Nurse by Cassie Alexander. She's a registered nurse in an ICU in Northern California, and her contemporaneous writings from early 2020 through mid-2021 show us the risks and the costs and the waste of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's piercing, edifying, darkly funny, sad, and a clear, loud warning about the damage done to our health care workers. Recommended but of course watch your own mental health while reading -- content notes for discussion of death, of course, and also suicide. A few quotes:
where's the drama in an endless cycle of competent people doing competent jobs?
(from early in the crisis): This feels a lot like being drafted for a war that some people still don't even believe we're in.....It's not going anywhere. It's endless. Like knowing that you're being chased by a steamroller and someone's gone and nailed down both your feet.
Do you realize if they get more than 50 cases in South Korea, they shut everything back down? They treat every life there like a treasure.
I can usually bounce back with a day off and gardening. But my bounce is getting stiffer and the boxes I compartmentalize all my shit into are getting very full.
Me, this morning, watching my traveler that I'm training pull out an old N95 to use from their backpack, because she thought we wouldn't have enough PPE: "Darling, put that away and WELCOME TO CALIFORNIA."
I think you shouldn't be able to opt out of a covid vaccine until you've seen five people die of covid at a hospital. Like up close and personal. Their last 72 hrs. times five.
[what she aims to give families around a deathbed]: enough time to say good-bye and hopefully circle around to the story-telling part of things, laughing about memories and sharing photos. Where it's not about the dying person in there anymore -- it becomes about knitting together those who will be left behind.
How are we, the sane ones, to take this? Knowing that people around us would gladly chum the waters with our countrymen for sport?
[her first time seeing her friends in person since February 2020]: starting to sob, "You all lived. You all lived!"
... since 2016, the average hospital turned over 83% of their RN workforce, due to a combination of churn and burn at the lower end of the experience scale, and older RNs retiring out.....We kept coming to work because we trusted in, believed in, and wanted to help our coworkers....until I and other nurses stop picking up extra shifts, at my hospital and so many others, upper management will never learn....
There's just going to be a gap of a few years in there, post-covid-times, where you shouldn't trust any nurse that's too excited to be working.
I'm still mad that last year happened the way it did, when it didn't have to. I'm mad that serving a mad king "broke" me. But mostly I'm mad that so many people died who didn't have to.
An amazing read that I wish didn't exist [if you read this, Cassie Alexander, I think you understand].
I'm friends with Benjamin Rosenbaum so I was looking forward to his new novel The Unraveling. I had a good time but I wanted the constant idea-flourishing that I get from Rosenbaum's nonfiction speaking and writing (e.g., on college and on hacking games you play with your kids), and I got that in the first third or half of the book. Then, in the second half or last third of the book, I knew where things were going and it felt like a kind of familiar story. But it's an interesting read with some ideas and one character who will stick with me, and feels like it's going to be a 2021 must-read for people who want book-length speculative fiction that plays with gender. I think it might feel brain-breaking to readers who haven't read any of Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series, or the 2nd and 3rd books in Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy.
(Speaking of which, the last of those Terra Ignota books, Perhaps the Stars, comes out in a few weeks, so maybe I'll go reread the first one and read the second and third so I can catch up. I also saw there's a new Neal Stephenson book coming out pretty soon, and once that would have led me to literally take time off from work to read it the day of release, and instead I'm looking at this blurb and saying like "oh no are you a climate change denier now? please say no.")
I enjoyed the anthology It Gets Even Better: Stories of Queer Possibility. Lots of sweet sci-fi and fantasy stories, some more moving and some more funny, starring queer people. For a taste, read Aimee Ogden's reprint "Venti Mochaccino, No Whip, Double Shot of Magic": "his coffee comes with a nice cantrip that'll help him send all his emails for the next week with zero typos and exactly the right number of exclamation marks." I always enjoy rereading Zen Cho's "The Perseverance of Angela's Past Life" and I had a took note of "I'll Have You Know" by Charlie Jane Anders, "unchartered territories" by Swetha S., "Frequently Asked Questions About the Portals at Frank's Late-Night Starlite Drive-In" by Kristen Koopman, and "The Cafe Under the Hill" by Ziggy Schutz. The most memorable pieces: "Sea Glass at Dawn" by Leora Spitzer and "What Pucks Love" by Sonni de Soto. "Sea Glass at Dawn" tells the warm and loving story of dragons helping a human figure out how to control a new talent for fire. "What Pucks Love" illustrates the worries and joys of a relationship between an asexual person and a person with a strong sex drive, using a telescoping story structure to lovely effect.
Speaking of happy stories, yay for romance novels -- engaging, sweet, attentive to interiority, valorizing courage and care! I read some Alyssa Cole (An Extraordinary Union: An Epic Love Story of the Civil War, Loyal League #1, plus Let It Shine which was more memorable and visceral for me) and enjoyed that. I've now started Celia Lake's gentle magical romance Mysterious Charm series with the first book, Outcrossing, and enjoyed it and will probably read more.
Division Bells, a romance by Iona Datt Sharma, stands out because it stars bureaucrats trying to draft and pass a bill concerning renewable energy, and goes into lovely detail about the workings of the British Parliament, and brings that signature Datt Sharma emotional texture -- deft glimpses of indirectly expressed grief and melancholy and attentive care and hope -- to a Happy-For-Now romantic triumph.
And I've just read a really awesome romance, For The Love of April French by Penny Aimes. Aimes is a trans woman, and one of the protagonists, April, is a trans woman navigating romance after having been burned before. This novel reminds me of Courtney Milan's Trade Me in its realistic treatment of work in the tech industry, and it reminds me of Becky Chambers's work in its lively cast of supporting characters. And it goes places I haven't seen before in romance -- I haven't read that much romance that incorporates kink communities and negotiation, and Aimes's work felt very accessible to me -- and I'm eager to read more of the author's work.
I am unfortunately not super interested in reading further work by Andrew Hickey after reading his The Basilisk Murders (The Sarah Turner Mysteries, #1). The premise -- people start dying during a singularity/cyberlibertarian/longevity conference on a private island and a skeptical journalist tries to solve the murders -- sounded great! But Sarah Turner's characterization is wobbly and the narrator's choices of what to tell us leave me consistently unsatisfied, and the dialogue rang hollow. I started to wish I were rereading one of Nicola Griffith's Aud books instead.
Ah, that reminds me: sometime in the past year I read Nicola Griffith's gripping, propulsive, addictive detective series starring Aud Torvingen (The Blue Place, Stay, and Always). As page-turning as candy and as deep as a meal -- stories of love, grief, work, sex, achievement, vengeance, cities, disability, and slow true friendships. Here's Griffith talking about what Aud represents to her. If you read the first two books then have a hard time finding the third, you can borrow Always via the Open Library (do not look unless you've read the first book, as the description for Always includes spoilers for The Blue Place).