Welcome to my blog, aka my place to comment and reflect on things I find inspiring, amusing, irritating, or baffling. When I was young, my Stanford PhD, former physics professor, software engineer father used to help me with my math homework, and I, being mentally deficient in all things math, could never quite get it. He would constantly say to me, "Jill, it's not rocket science." (Did I mention the PhD was in Aeronautics and Astronautics??) So I thought it would be an appropriate title for this blog because everything I write about is, indeed, not rocket science.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Why Coverage of the Little League World Series Makes Me Crazy

Of course I love that the Little League World Series exists and is such a great experience for kids. In fact, Petaluma won third place this year, which is amazing. It's not the event itself that makes me crazy, but the fact that it's covered extensively on TV every year, when women's sports remains relegated to the back burner and as fodder for comedians (WNBA anyone?). During the Olympics, the U.S. women dominated and Americans were riveted. We ate it all up: soccer, volleyball, swimming, gymnastics, etc. But as San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy reminded us in his article, the country's love affair with women's sports ended the day after the Closing Ceremonies. 

Here's my gripe: Alex Morgan and Hope Solo and Abby Wambach and dozens of other amazing athletes have no national audience post-Olympics (in fact, most of them don't even have a league in which to play). But 12 year-old boys on Little League teams have a massive audience and gain massive exposure. It makes me crazy. 

I think it's a self-fulfilling prophecy: ESPN and other networks don't show women's sports because no one watches them. But guess what? No one watches them because they don't show them or talk about them. The occasional time they're on TV, no one cares because we're not invested in the team. We don't know anything about the players, the league, the coach, anything. When you know someone's story, you become invested and want to watch them play. But we typically don't know anything about female athletes...until the Olympics comes around.

I am definitely not an expert on women's sports, and there's probably a lot of stuff going on that I don't know about. But I do have a husband who watches ESPN like it's Jesus preaching the gospel, and I never hear a single mention of women's sports. So when August comes around and he is watching the Little League World Series, I inevitably go ballistic and begin my yearly rant. 

(I should note that my husband is a women's soccer coach and is atypically interested in women's sports, which is fantastic. But I know he's unlike most men in that regard.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Flannel Shirt

I went shopping recently and was dismayed to find flannel shirts back in style. When I was a freshman in high school (1993-94), grunge was at its peak. The glam of the '80s was over, and it was all about Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, etc. Girls dressed like homeless men. The manlier and baggier, the better. This style lasted through my junior year. I had a closet full of flannel shirts, two of which were my dad's awesome Pendletons that he wore in the '60s and '70s. I would wear said flannels with an over-sized t-shirt underneath and some baggy, ill-fitted jeans. I even wore sweatpants to school (the real sexy kind, with the elastic ankles), and I owned various colors: maroon, grey, and navy. Oh, and my hair was hippie-long and parted in the middle, with absolutely no style. But lest you cast judgement, I was not an anomaly. This was the style. Every single one of my friends dressed like this and had the same long, middle-parted hair and wore the same baggy, boyish clothes. We thought we were hippies (of course we had no idea what being a "hippie" meant). We thought we were awesome.

Of course nothing humbles you like the passage of time. My friends and I now laugh at how hideously we dressed. We literally looked like boys. And the cruel irony is that we had these tiny little bodies, bodies that we would kill to have now, and we covered them up with men's clothing. So you might understand why, almost 20 years later, I struggle to embrace the flannel shirt comeback. I know that they are tailored and not over-sized like they used to be, but I can't. I just can't. Never again will I dress like a homeless man, no matter how fashionable.

(This isn't a great picture, but it's the best I could find. It's from 1996, and I have my dad's Pendleton tied around my waist. I'm also wearing a Star Wars t-shirt - another fashion gem.)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Cleanin' Out My Closet (I'm Sorry Mama)

I couldn't resist the Eminem reference. This weekend I cleaned out my closet, which I try to do twice a year. I'm really good about getting rid of stuff (but am also really good about replacing stuff with other stuff), with the exception of my junk closet. I'm quite ruthless when it comes to purging my closet, and I have a few tips for anyone who holds on to things for too long and hates to get rid of that sweater that you "might wear one day!"

1. Put it on! If you're unsure about whether to keep an item or not, put it on. Chances are, it's out-of-style, too big/small, or you hate the site of yourself wearing it (amazing how that happens with fashion in just a few years). Then the choice is easy: DONATE (I donate everything to Goodwill, and if you are one of those people who throws perfectly good clothes away, then the karma gods will enter your closet in the form of moths and eat holes in all your cashmere sweaters).

2. Don't keep anything out of emotional guilt. "But this was expensive, and I only wore it once - that would be like throwing money away." Well, guess what? You already spent the money so it's long gone, and now it's just sitting in your closet, taking up space, making you feel guilty. "But I bought this in France 10 years ago and it's just so pretty." Have you worn in it 10 years? Exactly. "These shoes are gorgeous, but they cripple my feet when I walk." Unless you're a masochist, you're never going to wear them again. DONATE. 

3. If you haven't worn it in a year or more, get rid of it - you're most likely not going to wear it anytime in the future. I've heard from professional organizers that a good strategy is to turn all your hangers around so that the hook opening faces you. When you wear an item, put the hanger back facing the normal way. Over the course of a year or so, you can easily see which ones have been turned around and which ones haven't. Get rid of the items that haven't.

4. If you're talking yourself into keeping something, don't. Uncertainty usually means it should go. And besides, it's probably a doozy that should have been ditched four years ago.

Do I have things in my closet that I should probably get rid of? Sure. A couple of jackets, some sweaters and sweatshirts. I'm definitely guilty of a few of the above things. But for the most part, I'm excellent at saying goodbye to old clothes. I've never once regretted getting rid of something; I wasn't wearing it anyway, so how could I miss it? And I know that by donating it, someone else is getting a lot more use of out of it than I did.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

DVR Killed Channel Surfing

Remember channel surfing? It's something we did before DVR, when we watched like, 5 shows. Now I watch 20+ shows (not all at the same time, of course - some are summer shows, others are fall/winter shows). That seems obscene, but it's probably pretty standard. DVR (and Netflix and other content streaming sites) have changed the way we watch TV. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don't think it's either because I don't think we're watching more TV, I just think we watch more shows that we love and do less mindless channel surfing (when was the last time your DVR was empty and you had nothing to watch, so just flipped through the channels?). We now have the ability to record a ton of shows and to catch up on prior seasons via Netflix, Hulu, whatever. And it's also much easier to get into new shows with DVR (remember setting up tapes to record shows??). You think, "Hmmm, that show looks interesting, I think I'll give it a shot." It's so easy. You record it, watch it, and are then hooked. Sigh. Add another show to the list.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Mini History Lesson: Gold Rush Prostitutes!

I started this blog for two reasons: to build my non-academic writing portfolio and because I love writing, and I feel like I have a lot to talk about. When I started, I didn't have a theme in mind - I just figured I'd write about anything that struck my fancy. But as I've written more and more, it seems that a common theme keeps appearing: culture. I have been contemplating this new social media culture that we live in and how to navigate it with integrity. My attraction to cultural themes and topics makes sense because I am a social historian (I have a BA and MA in History, which makes me a historian, but that still seems weird to say).

My career counselor told me that I should write about a variety of topics, including history, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to do a little history lesson on one of my favorite subjects: women's history. I wrote a research paper in grad school about working women in the California Gold Rush. This is a very abridged, modified version of my paper. (My paper was actually about non-prostitute working women during the Gold Rush, while dispelling myths surrounding prostitution, but because the topic of prostitution is probably more interesting to the non-history nerd, I'll just write about that.)

When imagining the historical West, images of cowboys, Indians, saloons, prostitutes, campfires, gun fights, and gold fortunes come to mind. These images are ingrained in people’s understanding of this time, with Hollywood movies and novels promoting them. As you might imagine, these images are mostly myths and stereotypes. Historians work to dispel myths because romanticizing history is endearing but crippling and leads us away from the truth.

As is true of women’s history in general, California gold rush women are often misunderstood or ignored completely. A specific myth has a stranglehold on women’s gold rush history and taints their presence in this era: the prostitute. No western movie or novel would be complete without one (or several). Two stereotypes comprise the prostitution myth: one is the nature of the occupation itself, including the type of woman who practiced the profession; the other is the number of women who participated. One imagines a buxom, flirty white woman with curly locks, giggling and seducing men at saloons. One also assumes that women were doing little else in California during the Gold Rush besides offering sex to lonely miners. The prostitution myth is debilitating because it ignores the presence of countless businesswomen during the Gold Rush, and it does not embody women’s actual experiences or the reality of prostitution. Did prostitutes exist during the Gold Rush? Yes. Prostitution, however, was much different than people would like to imagine. It was a profession embroiled in desperation, abuse, and exploitation. Prostitutes were expendable members of society—cast-outs and nobodies, and the plight of non-white women was worse because they were already regarded as third-class citizens. No matter where they came from, the choice to be a prostitute (if a choice were available), was usually out of desperation and accompanied by a life of misery. It was not a romantic existence, and the most common way out of prostitution was suicide.

Some interesting facts about Gold Rush prostitutes:

"[Non-white] women . . . . were the most likely to work as prostitutes in gold rush California, providing sexual services to men in exchange for typically paltry sums. The Native American, Chinese, Hawaiian, Mexican, and African American women who dominated the profession lived desperate lives that were shadowed by violence, disease, alcoholism, and crime. - Edith Sparks, Capital Intentions: Female Proprietors in San Francisco, 1850-1920

“[Chinese] girls who escaped foot binding—called ‘Big Feet,’ were relegated to field work—if they were lucky. Unlucky ones were sold by desperate parents or stolen by Chinese agents, and shipped off to California . . . . Here, they were sold at auction for perhaps three hundred dollars in a land that was supposed to be free of slavery.” - Susan Butruille, Women’s Voices from the Mother Lode

Doesn't that cheer you up? Definitely changes your perception of prostitution in western history, I hope.

Also, the point of my whole paper was that most women during the Gold Rush were NOT prostitutes. Most of them came with their families, and they had to work to support their families and survive (because the men were working at the mines, making no money - another fun topic). Many started successful businesses, and in fact, the founder of Vacaville, California, was a woman named Luzena Wilson, who built and operated a successful boardinghouse there during the Gold Rush. The next time you drive to Tahoe on Highway 80 and go through Vacaville, you will think of Ms. Wilson, the successful businesswoman, non-prostitute, who founded the town in ~1850.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

Remember that dorky song, "Make new friends, but keep the old/One is silver, the other is gold"? We used to sing it in rounds when I was a Girl Scout, and sometimes my friends and I still sing it to be silly. Well, my friends and I were chatting the other day about how as an adult, it's more difficult to make new friends because it's easier to keep the old. They've been your friends for so long that you might not even remember how you first met. They know everything about you and your family; they know how you operate and what makes you tick; they know what kind of mood you're in within 10 seconds. But how do you achieve this level of friendship with a new, casual friend? At this age (30s), it seems more difficult to go from casual friend to good friend.

By casual friend, I mean your co-workers whom you might go to happy hour with occasionally, but otherwise would never hang out with outside of work, or your friendly neighbors whom you chat with once in awhile, or your gym acquaintances with whom you gossip. But what about making new, good friends? The kind you can ask to give you a ride to the airport at 6 a.m.; the kind you can enjoy non-awkward silence with; the kind who know embarrassing things about you but would never think less of you (because you know an equal amount of embarrassing things about them).

Most of my friends whom I'm super close to are from my past: high school and before (preschool!) and college. But in the past 10 years, I can count my new friends on one hand. One of them I met in grad school, which is a unique and intense experience that quickly bonds people, and two of them I've known for years, but they happened to be in my sister's graduating class and we didn't become close until recently. And some of my new friends became friends by default - a friend's boyfriend/girlfriend who's automatically initiated into the group. 

It's not that when you reach a certain age, you become a social retard incapable of making friends - I just think there aren't as many opportunities. School is a hugely uniting experience where everyone is looking for friends. And post-school, we get settled into our lives and just don't need as many new friends, I suppose.

And it's not that I have a lack of friends. I have many wonderful friends whom I see regularly. But how does someone in their 30s, without kids, make new, good friends? (I asked my mom this question, and she said that once you have kids, you meet a ton of people and easily make new friends.) For instance, I have a friend from the gym whom I've known for about two years, but we're still just gym friends. We text back and forth, but that's the extent of our outside-the-gym relationship. How do you break from the casual friendship into the, "let's hang out outside of where we normally see each other" friendship? 

I suppose it's more difficult for adults because we're busy - busy with work, kids, life. And laziness is also a factor - if I really wanted to hang out with my gym friend, then I easily could. I could suggest we grab lunch or coffee, and that get-together might lead to others. It just takes someone to make the first step. And then the second step. And then keep going until you feel comfortable asking them to drive you to the airport at 6 a.m.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Phone Diet Results

It has been one week since my last post, when I said I was going to try and only use my phone when "necessary." Here are the results:

- Waiting for my sandwich order at the deli - no phone. Success!

- Waiting for my dress at the alterations shop - e-mail only. Moderate success.
- Watching TV last week - no phone. Success!
- Driving in the car (as a passenger) - e-mail and Facebook. Fail.
- Watching TV last night - played with phone a lot. Fail. (In my defense, the Olympics were kinda boring.)

I'm pretty impressed with myself, as there were many times that I really wanted to play with my phone and didn't. Did I feel less stressed and overwhelmed? Not particularly. But I think I might have felt a little more relaxed...just a little. It was only one week - I'm going to have to give it some more time and see if I notice any long-term positive effects. Like getting over my FOMO.  

Oh, and one thing that I did a lot of while sitting and waiting: people-watching. Man, is that fun.