Sunday, November 08, 2020

Through the perilous fight, o'er the ramparts we watched...

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I spontaneously felt like singing that song.

Sure, I've sung the song before, but had never felt any connection with it. It's a war song about fighting for a symbol, and all too often fighting for the symbol itself means fighting against the principles the symbol is supposed to represent.

Like when I was a teenager and people tried to deface the US Constitution with an ironic amendment to ban burning the flag. Or more recently as fascism has come marching in, dripping in stars and stripes.

But after we'd held our collective breath waiting for the results to come in, I felt I could see the last shreds of democracy still waving gallantly in the dawn's early light.

Democracy. It's such an easy thing to lose. When a president can openly line his pockets with foreign contributions and face no consequences. When he can brag about breaking the law, and the government is unable to remove him from office for it. When he can shrug at the murder of a journalist for a US newspaper. And then openly plan to use a stacked court in order to overturn an election. That's all it takes. That's all it takes to go from a government of the people to a government of the people in name only.

Naturally this victory doesn't mark the end of our problems, rather the beginning of a long, hard process of making things better. It's the foot shoved into the door of democracy that a would-be dictator and his cronies were trying to slam shut for good. And now it will take tremendous strength and perseverance to pry the door open.

The Unites States of America is a country built on conflicting foundations. One foundation is made of the enlightenment ideals of liberty, justice, and universal human rights. The other part is built on the polar opposite of those values: slavery and genocide. These two motifs have continued to shape the country throughout its history. Naturally I hope the good will one day defeat the evil. And, although I guess we can't be certain to have defeated the current threat until January 19th, I think we've taken a small but critical step in the right direction.

I'm especially happy for the young Americans coming of age at this moment in history. They might have learned the lesson that there is no hope; that they simply live in a country where the president is above the law and journalists mysteriously disappear -- so they might as well give up and just try to scrape by as best they can as individuals. Instead they learned that they can work together and push back -- and they can keep pushing farther, towards liberty and justice for all.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

State of the Me: 2019-2020

Since this new year is a nice, round number -- and I'm hitting 20 years of marriage and 20 years of living in Europe at the end of this new year -- I'd like to give a two-decade review this time.

The three main axes are home/family, career, and creative projects.  All three have had some significant ups and downs.

Let's start with career since that's the simplest one.  It's been a mostly upward (if bumpy) trend since I started as a software engineer around twenty years ago.  Overall I think I've done a pretty good job o treating setbacks as "crisitunities" that ultimately led to gaining good experience. 

Some highlights include the time I had the opportunity to take a product from slides to production as the sole engineer in the company, and another where I served as CTO for more than two years.  Plus, I've written three books on Java programming and have given numerous lectures.

From this past year, I'm especially proud of the three lectures I gave for Climate-KIC the Journey -- including one where I was invited to speak at the Community Summit in Hamburg.  This was a great follow-up to the Climathon in 2018, where I had a great time assisting as an invited expert.  I also gave a talk on building a career through startups (at the Impact Hub).  This was a follow-up to some of my earlier writings for The Startup.

I have just started a new job, and so far it looks like it's going to be an exciting challenge.  I'm doing straight-up engineering (no management), and the project is one that's up my alley.  Of course leaving my previous job was something of a disappointment.  I really wanted to make it work, but I learned that -- while I can fix a lot of things -- there are some big factors outside of my control, even as CTO.  Ultimately, I had stop banging my head against the wall and move on.

Maybe at some point I'll be CTO of another tech startup (hopefully something related to addressing climate change!), but I will have to make sure that I'm really on the same page with the others running the company before accepting this level of role again.  I have learned that agreeing on the grand overarching goal just isn't enough to make all of the other components fit into place.

The path of my creative projects has been a bit bumpier.  Through the first decade of the current millennium I built a beautiful dream -- a work I poured my heart into and am still proud of.  But over the years I found that I couldn't make it take off.  I couldn't get it to soar.  It was devastating to watch that dream die.

I took up blogging around the same time.  It was amazingly fun at first because I could write essays on a variety of subjects that I'd been thinking about -- and people would read them.  But over time that became frustrating as well because the amount of time and effort it took to build any kind of audience and community (here and at Main Street Plaza) was so wildly out-of-proportion with the size of the community I could build.  I've found myself slowly giving up.

That said, I've had a great experience working with people and making friends within the Mormon Lit community.  I loved giving talks and panels at Sunstone.  (See this roundup post for links to some of my publications and presentations.)  The Brodie Awards (which I built) are still going, and there's an exciting new project in the pipeline at Mormon Alumni Association Books -- so hopefully in the upcoming year I can rekindle some of the projects I started.

But for my personal creative/artistic work, my biggest breakthrough came in 2015 when a new story came to me.  During a magical 3-week vacation in Paris I wrote wrote it out and figured out how I could actually draw it in my favorite story format :  la bande dessinée (as a comic book).  Now I've drawn more than 2/3 of the first book (of three), and I love the results!  I'd be done already if it weren't for work.  My new goal is to have book one done before the first half of 2020 is up.

Regarding family and home -- well, I'm happy with what I've built.

I started the millennium on a high note by marrying my true love and starting my new "happily ever after" life in France.  (I recounted act one of this romantic adventure in an essay for the book Baring Witness, 36 Mormon Women Talk Candidly about Love, Sex, and Marriage.) 

It was challenging to start a new life in a new country at the same time as starting a new family -- with two babies who arrived shortly after we installed ourselves in Bordeaux -- and no support network of family and friends there to help us out.  But it was a wonderful, magical time.  I finally felt truly at home living the life I chose for myself.

Moving to Switzerland in early 2008 was hard.  I think that challenge was the main impetus for starting this "state of the me" series, as I explored how I felt about starting over as a foreigner in a new place surrounded by a language I did not speak -- it was as though all of that life I'd built as a person integrated into French culture had been erased.

But, over time, I learned the new language.  I've learned a new city -- Zürich -- which I love now probably as much as I loved Bordeaux.  I became a citizen of France years ago, and we're all on track to become citizens of Switzerland.

My children were so young when we moved that they don't really remember living anywhere except for Zürich -- specifically this one neighborhood of Zürich where we've been living since 2010.  It's a great environment for kids, teens, and young adults because it's so easy to get around on foot, on bike, and especially on public transportation.

I'm glad that my older son passed the Baccalauréat exam this past year and my younger son is on track to pass it as well in a couple of years.  Both boys are very bright, so I had expected them to both be at the top of their respective classes throughout school, but that didn't really happen.  Maybe I should have pushed them harder and run a more disciplined household. 

I think what really stopped them from becoming high-achievers in academics was lack of effort (and lack of motivation to make an effort).  And I think that problem stems in part from each one having a best friend at home and feeling secure and content.  They have all sorts of projects that they collaborate on, and they should be able to build careers in some sort of informatics engineering, so I think they're doing fine the way they are.

My relationship with my husband has grown deeper and more loving over the years.  He is my best friend in the sense that he is the one person I can completely count on to have my best interests at heart -- and vice-versa.  I think that's key to a successful relationship -- each partner cares deeply about the other's happiness and well-being.  Partners, not competitors.

The one home-front area that needs some work at the moment is our home itself.  It's a beautiful apartment that fits our lifestyle well, but the clutter is starting to take over.  One of my goals for the next couple of years will be to sift through all of our junk in the basement storage and in the apartment.  I want to get rid of everything we don't need and organize the rest.  I hate to devote so much of my time to piles of consumer goods, but they're starting to crowd my space, and I don't want to just throw them all in a landfill.

The first part of my organizing-stuff program was to get all of the Legos in order (see this video).  And I made a beautiful Lego city  which has been a super fun project to share with my kids:


Now I'd like to clean up the rest of my stuff.  In particular, I plan to sign up for some online portal to sell or give away anything that's not useful to me but might be useful to someone else.

As for the world at large, it's hard to be really optimistic or hopeful.  The devastation we humans are wreaking upon our environment (that we need to survive) isn't slowing down, yet it needs to turn around and reverse immediately if or species is to survive past the next few generations.

On the bright side, it's encouraging to see worldwide climate strikes -- led by young people who aren't OK with the future that's being passed along to them.  And it's good to see that US democracy has enough breath of life left in it to impeach that criminal.  But US democracy is still on life support and it's not clear it will pull through.  We need to wrench out this kleptocracy and rebuild the civil, democratic institutions and social infrastructure if we are to make the changes necessary to save our world.  Specifically we need to stop the use of fossil fuels pronto, in addition to addressing the related problems of worldwide exploitation of people and resources, and the corresponding wars.  Can we build sustainable, just, and democratic systems to replace our current mess?  I hope so.

I hope Elizabeth Warren will win the US presidency, as I think she really has the skill, passion, and knowledge to take down the current stranglehold that the ultra-rich have on American society.

And I guess my biggest source of hope is the rising generation (from millennials on).  It looks like they recognize the kind of mess we're in, and I hope they are becoming galvanized -- learning down to their cores how dangerous authoritarianism, corruption, and runaway inequality really are.

Here's looking forward to 2020 -- good luck to us all!