The Great Escape—Storytelling, Software and the Pleasure of Other Worlds

"You may tune into the universal storehouse of knowledge at will and take from it knowledge which you did not have the previous moment. Every genius and mystic understands this and uses it continually."
 ~ Walter Russell, lectures to IBM executives, 1935

I can’t recall most of my grade school teachers, but my seventh-grade teacher, Mrs. Oscarson, is one I’ll never forget. For Mrs. Oscarson did two things for me that would go on to shape the woman I’d become. First, she assigned a major project—to write a novella. Second, she sent me and a few other kids to coding class instead of math. At the time, I had no idea how the two projects were related and would eventually define my life.

I’d just finished reading, The Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jane M. Auel, and instantly became obsessed with ancient historical fiction. Up to that point I’d been a fantasy girl, and still am, but something about Ayla’s adventures in a world so foreign and so ancient, awakened a desire in me to understand civilizations from the past. When Mrs. Oscarson assigned us our novella, I took on the project with great enthusiasm, enjoying the research as much as the writing. The story itself ended up being some sort of cheeky romance where the main characters fall in love while stranded in the wilderness. However, it was the process that sparked something inside of me, because for the first time in my life, I was creating my own world. I loved being lost in that place, thinking about my story even when I wasn’t writing, and wanting nothing but to get back to the typewriter (yeah, I’m that old) to write the next chapter.

While writing my first novella in English class, during math class I was down in the basement of the school (they seemed to put computers in basements back then) learning to code. It was 1985 and my little Catholic school had been the recipient of a set of Mac IIEs and some money for a computer science teacher. Mrs. McCrae (another teacher I will always remember) was a mom at the school who knew how to code, and she became that school’s first CS teacher. Using BASIC, she taught us how to program, eventually teaching us to use the software for graphic drawings. One of the first assignments she gave us was to write short stories for the kindergarteners, with pictures that would move when they pressed the space bar.

In hindsight, I’m not sure it was a coincidence that my first programming assignments were to tell stories.

Just like my novella, I found that time passed quickly while coding. My software was a world in which I was the ultimate creator. Nothing happened unless I typed it. Of course, sometimes what I typed was nonsense and didn’t work, but even trying to figure out where I went wrong was also an act in which the world around me was suspended, and I was oblivious to the other worries and cares of my life.

When I turned eighteen, I chose to pursue a career in software over storytelling for the plain reason that I wanted to eat. Like it or not, there isn’t a lot of money in storytelling, but even back in the early 90’s, one could make a good living writing software. I love programming as much as I love writing, and the act of writing a story feels the same as writing a program. In both cases time stands still and everything, even the incessant need to go to the bathroom, is forgotten.

I enjoyed working as a software engineer, and when I left it to raise my children, one of the hardest things was losing the chance to dive in and go into the flow. Small children demand to be seen and heard, here and in the now. There’s no escaping them, except when they’re asleep. At first, I would nap when they did, but one day, I decided to write a story instead. What evolved was a renewal of my writing, and it would be this act that gave my intellect the sustenance it needed in order for me to be satisfied at home with the kids. As they moved on to pre-school, I found myself writing more, escaping to worlds that had nothing to do with diapers, discipline or duty.

I’d discovered the power of imagination that underlies storytelling and software development at an early age, but I’ve only recently discovered the key to stepping in and out of those worlds with ease—meditation. Regular time spent in meditation, allowing the mind to rest, and going past the laundry list of life, enables me to switch on my imagination when I need it. I discovered this practice as an attempt to become a more mindful parent. I knew how I didn’t want to parent but had no idea what sort of parent I wanted to be. Jon and Maya Kabat-Zinn’s book, Everyday Blessings, suggested a meditative practice which I have been pursuing for fifteen years since. I still sit down everyday in contemplation, even if I don’t think I have time. Sometimes I can’t seem to relax, and the effort seems useless. Regardless still I seek out solitude, even if for a few minutes, and allow myself to just be.

The practice of regular meditation has taken my ability to imagine and innovate to a level I never understood when I was younger. Yes, I could write code and tell a decent story, and I enjoyed both acts very much. But I was always putting myself on the product, meaning I’d put my intellect in front of my imagination and force the storyline, or the software algorithm, around that end goal. Often this led to forced results, and even though the story was written, or my software compiled and worked, the product wasn’t beautiful, and sometimes the process was fraught with angst and awkwardness, thus destroying the bliss I would feel while creating. Most creators call this a block and when it occurs, we’ll try anything to bust through it.

Meditation has taught me that the way through a block isn’t to bust through, but rather to pullback and find another path. To consider that the block is there because I’ve been travelling down the wrong road in my imagination, and there’s a different solution I have yet to see. One of my favorite modern thinkers, Charles Eisenstein, suggests that rather than telling a story, perhaps we need to get out of the way allow the story to tell itself. I took his advice to heart when writing my latest trilogy and finally, thirty-three years after my first novella in seventh grade, I’ve written a work of ancient fiction that is beautiful and worthy of sharing with the world. (I don’t have an exact pub date, but my publisher, Literary Wanderlust, is shooting to release the first book, Origins, in fall of 2019)

However, the most profound part of this experience was the actual writing of the novel. Instead of planning the entire story, I meditated first, emptying my mind of all that was unnecessary. Once I was empty, I sat at the computer and opened my mind to the story, letting it pour through me. There were days when I didn’t even know what I’d written, and reading it later was a treat, like reading a novel written by someone else. I often didn’t know the next twist and turn. Being lost in such a world was life changing for me. Of course I did plenty of research, the story takes place in Ancient Egypt and in order to build the world I had to understand the culture and politics of that time. But I let the characters tell the story, and this is what made all the difference with regards to the experience. Never once did I have a block, and I actually wrote the first draft of all THREE books in nine months. Thus the Song of the King’s Heart trilogy was born. Such a thing had never happened to me before.

This then, is the reality of a state of flow—not only is it timeless, it is filled with possibilities the knowing mind cannot know.

In 2016, I was recruited to be the interim CTO for a small startup. (I live in the Bay Area, so startups are everywhere, like dandelions in the Midwest) In that role I realized that I still have a love for programming and all things tech. I also realized that in my eighteen years raising my children and focusing on my writing, a lot had changed, and I needed some schooling to be the CTO that was needed. I left that startup and began the process of retraining, taking business classes as well as intro to programming and advanced programming in Java at my local college.

At first the assignments were very easy, this is my second time through after all. I know how to code. But halfway through my first semester, the instructor gave us a meatier assignment. One that required planning, outlines and several functions and classes. In other words, a real program. I approached the work do as I’d often done in my youth, brute forcing my way in, but I found I couldn’t begin. I couldn’t enter that state of flow. As I began to panic, thinking I no longer had the ability to lose myself in the world of bits and bytes, I recalled how I’d approached writing The Song of the King’s Heart trilogy. I left my computer and sat down to meditate. An hour later I went to the desk and wrote my code. It compiled on the second try and worked perfectly within a few hours.

The best part is discovering that the flow of writing stories was the same flow as writing code. That meditation would be the key to entering such a place with ease wasn’t something I’d been taught, but this isn’t new advice. I recently discovered a copy of business lectures given to IBM executives in 1935 by the late thinker, Walter Russell, who had this to say, “Whenever you receive instruction, it will help to convert that information into knowledge more easily if you will give one hour of each day to quiet and reverent meditation in order that you may consciously make a pattern of your life from day to day…you will have many technicians here from universities who will tell you everything about the machines and about the business, but perhaps never again during your term will you hear what I am telling you, so be wise and let it sink deeply into your consciousness.”

Tis true that none of my instructors have yet to advise me to meditate before setting to my work, but I now write all my programs this way and every assignment is a joy. I think after all these years, I’m finally ready to write beautiful and meaningful software, as well as beautiful and meaningful stories. It just took a great diversion down the alternative path of mindful parenting, to become who I really am.

Just An Ordinary, Average Guy

image courtesy of Pixabay

One glance at my @Medium feed, and you’d think life was a contest of the best vs. the rest. I’m bombarded with titles like, “How I Switched Careers and Got a Developer’s Job in 10 Months,” “How to Achieve Your Most Important Career Goals in a Fraction of the Time,” and “Why Standing Out Is Essential to the Survival of Any Creator, Brand or Business.

I guess sharing these titles from my feed reveals more about me than the content of Medium, obviously their software thinks I want to read these things, which means I must fit their Type A, competition driven profile. Yet, these headlines don’t draw me in, rather they vex some part of me that just wants to scream, “ENOUGH ALREADY!!!”

Part of my perfection exhaustion comes from being a perfectionist since I could walk. I’ve always wanted to produce quality work. And if I’m honest, I did want to stand out. When I was 23, my goal was to be a VP in a major tech firm by 40. Instead, I’m a housewife, raising ordinary, average sons. The other day my mother told me she’d been speaking to a friend of hers who worked at Motorola, the same company I worked for when I took time off to raise my kids. The woman told my mother, “If she hadn’t left, she’d be a VP by now.” In those early years at home, such a comment would have brought me to tears. Now I find it amusing. Who knows if I’d be a VP. Does it really matter? Honestly, I’m only 46, I have at least 42 years left in my life. Why should I be a VP now? Why not be one when I’m 60? When the rest of you, who have been slaving away trying to have it all by the time you’re 40 are ready to retire, I can pick up the work. What you say? I’m too old? I’m currently taking advanced Java at the local college, and I just got the third highest score in the class on the midterm, which was about the same as my performance the first time around, when I was 19. Too old to program? Too old to manage a company? Who makes up these stories?

In the end, this race to the top is a story we’ve agreed to as the modern narrative of a successful person: Hustle as a kindergartener, stand out, play five instruments, launch your first startup by 16, found a volunteer organization, have three kids and be a CEO, all by the time you’re 35, because you know, the clock is ticking, ticking for everyone, ticking away…

This need to fulfill our life’s goals by 35 is the driving factor behind the destruction of childhood. Rather than allowing our children to grow slowly, through play, curiosity and love, we put them behind desks at 3, force them to know their times tables by 6, take away recess by 9, standardize test the hell out of them all the way up to college, force them to declare a major at 17, while also producing a resume that puts them out there, at the top of their class. 12+ Advanced Placement tests, 33+ ACT scores, 1450+ SATs, a Gap-year filled with trips to third world countries, several leadership positions… you know where I’m going with this. Our belief that we must reach our career goals before 40, our fight against time, has put our children in a place where being ordinary is failure. Where being average augurs a future of being left behind, with nothing, but an average life to live.

It’s no wonder our kids are anxious.

In their new book, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt recommend pulling back and letting our kids play, removing homework in the early grades, and allowing children to take physical risks as antidotes to the mental health crisis we find ourselves in. I have mixed feelings about their advice, because I’m one of those parents who took the road less traveled and let my kids have a childhood, and now find the college admittance process to be terrifying.

I’m told everyone finds it terrifying, whether your kid is extraordinary or not. Perhaps it was an act of defiance, but when others were sending their kids to preschool, I was taking mine out for long walks in the forest preserve with their grandparents and letting them play in the mud. When others were bragging about their kindergartener being able to read all the Magic Treehouse books, I sent my boys to Waldorf schools, where their constant need to move wouldn’t be seen as a pathology fixed only by drugs and therapy. My kids didn’t read until 4th grade, nor did they have homework until that time. But they had recess, climbed redwood trees, and played capture the flag on a regular basis.

Eventually they moved on to a college prep school and did well there. Both had over 4.0 weighted GPA’s, both with 8 AP classes on their resume. However, in part due to my reluctance to push them into the adult world, they’re fairly average on paper because everyone has a 4.0 GPA. As a matter of fact, 49% of high school seniors in 2016 had a 3.9 or higher. Thanks to test prep classes, most kids rock their standardized tests as well. So how does a college differentiate students? Take more APs earlier is one way to boost that GPA. Activities are another. The other day, as my youngest son compiled data about himself, he realized just how ordinary he is.

“Mom,” he said. “I’m nothing. I don’t stand out, yet this is what everyone tells me I must do. Stand out!”

I already mentioned his grades, but in a world where 49% of kids have an A average, obviously the A is no longer special. My husband has long considered himself special, but his achievements of high school would no longer land him the Presidential Scholarship Award he received in high school, unless of course in addition to being a genius and a state champion in swimming he'd also launched a business and rescued kittens from trees on a regular basis. Nor would I get into computer science at Purdue University now with my 3.7 GPA, 30 ACT and transcript void of a single Advanced Placement class. Hell, I didn’t even take calculus my senior year, opting instead for a Pascal programming class for my math credit—but that choice is what led me to major in computer science. Had I taken calculus, I wouldn’t have remembered how much I loved programming, and probably become a lawyer instead 😉

The point here is that I had no need to be extraordinary then, nor do I need it now. I’ve found that if you live long enough, and you continue to learn and try new things, you naturally build a resume with time that is quite interesting. But to do it all by 35? What’s left after that? Lying on a beach in Bermuda? Boring.

I chose the path I did for my boys for two reasons: First, I wanted them to have a childhood filled with scrapes, a bit of danger, and lots of mud. Second, I wanted their love of learning to remain intact. Spend time with a toddler and you’ll see that wanting to learn, wanting to know, is the default setting for humanity. That our kids have lost their curiosity is not nature, it’s nurture, and we’re lying to ourselves if we think our need to excel at every damn thing we do isn’t part of what is hurting our children. Stealing their curiosity for the sake of getting ahead of the competition in grade school is a gamble on their mental health.

Given the conversations I have with my sons, I think they still love to learn. They often come home from high school, and now college, sharing some sort of wonder from the day. Whether it’s how cancer begins in the cells, the foundations of ethics and philosophy, or how light waves work, they’re hooked on knowledge. But proving that to an admissions officer is difficult, because other than their love of knowledge, the resume is short. My youngest has a leadership role, he works part-time at the ice-cream shop, has been driving since 16 (yeah, most of the kids his age don’t drive, go figure?), has performed on stage internationally, has a film credit and is directing a version of “Rumors” for his thespian club. But unfortunately, it’s not quite enough. In this world, such a resume is utterly average. He hasn’t really specialized in anything. Instead, he’s a bit of a renaissance man, which seems romantic but doesn’t stand out on paper.

Yet what if being average is the great act of rebellion called for in these times? Choosing to raise my kids eighteen years ago rather than pursue a career in tech felt rebellious. It certainly wasn’t what was expected of me, but it saved me from the anxiety and depression that perfectionism demanded of me. What’s wrong with being an ordinary, average guy? It’s a vulnerable place to be while everyone else is hustling around you, but the development of the soul is a slow process. It meanders through experience, taking its time learning and gathering lessons. You might get into that dream college, and you might even find the key to the corner office by the time your 35, but you can’t avoid the call of the wild. In the end, your soul will demand attention, and here’s the bitch, it will come knocking when you least expect it. A childhood filled with days on the couch reading stories, hikes with grandparents and lots of mud is one that prepares you to answer the call of the soul, rather than deny it until you can barely breathe due to anxiety, nor fall asleep at night, due to the worry and pressure that’s eating away at your mind.

I know that my son will be accepted to the right school for him, just as his elder brother found his place (he's at Reed College in Portland). The admissions process is but one of the many things that’s been turned upside down in our ever-anxious world, yet it still manages to pair students with institutions of higher learning. Just like the publishing process, which is a grueling experience for any aspiring author to go through, for the most part produces beautiful literature, even if the path requires 50+ rejections combined with a bit of luck. I know he will be okay, as long as he loves learning and is able to meet life as it comes.

When my eldest graduated from high school, I serenaded him with the song, “Simple Man.” There are many things I could want for my sons, but most of my dreams for them are cages for their souls. Who am I to determine their path? I found the classic song contained the message that, while perhaps contrary to the speed of our times, is the secret of a life well lived, even if it means being average.

“Boy, don't you worry, you'll find yourself
Follow your heart and nothing else
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied"

Husband and Wife

Our wedding vows, written 20 years ago.

The Impressive Clergyman: Mawwiage. Mawwiage is wat bwings us togeder today. Mawwiage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam wifin a dream…
And wuv, twue wuv, will fowwow you foweva…
So tweasure your wuv—
Prince Humperdinck: Skip to the end!

Mawwiage is indeed what brings me to the page this morning, for today I’m celebrating 20 years of bwessed awwangement, a dweam wifin a dream…

Last night, my husband and I went out to dinner to celebrate, and he gave me a beautiful poem that he’d written. This is one of the things that hooked me from the beginning—his love letters are worth saving and I’ve kept them all these years. He’s the poet and I’m the writer. I wish I could repay him with the words of a bard, but instead, he gets a blog dedicated to what he does best…husbanding.

Sometimes I wonder if we should get a medal. After all, being faithful to the same person for over 20 years of your life seems to be so old fashioned these days. Yet it appears that many of us Gen X’ers and Millennials are doing just that—staying together. As a matter of fact, a new report by University of Maryland professor Philip Cohen found that from 2008 to 2016, the U.S. divorce rate dropped by 18 percent. He writes, “Since the 1990s, the prevalence of divorce for people under age 45 appears to level off, whereas it continues to rise for people over age 45.” Thus add divorce to the list of things millennials get credit for killing off.

My husband and I are older than 45, don’t we get any credit for killing divorce as well?

Jokes aside, I love being married to my husband and in this age of personal identity, committing to a 23-year monogamous relationship (I began dating him when I was 24) may seem too traditional for some. There are good reasons to doubt the idea of “till death do us part,” particularly from a technological standpoint—he and I could both live to be 100!!!! But marriage has been good for me, for both of us really, and while we no longer believe in the “diamonds are forever” motto of the ever-corrupt De Beers corporation, I would still say yes if he asked me to marry him today.

Living with someone for decades isn’t easy, and it’s not for everyone, but I haven’t found it to be the challenge that so many make it out to be. To be honest, if you were to ask either of us what we thought about the sacrifice of marriage we’d probably tell you it’s actually the path of least resistance. Neither of us are great at dating, we’re pretty shy, as well as independent, so the constant hooking up-texting-ghosting-hooking up cycle terrifies us equally. The time and effort it would take to get to know another man in such an honest way in today’s world of Tinder is not for me. Sex without love is nothing, especially after decades of loving sex, so why even consider playing? Of course, we’re both engineers and logic will prevail before emotions, even desirous ones, any day.

It boils down to this: I love being a wife because my husband is a good man. He’s kind, attentive, he can cook, and is quite handy. He’s a great parenting partner and a good friend. He’s also quite romantic, as is evident in the poetry he writes for me that will always make my heart flutter.

There aren’t any magic formulas for a great marriage, but Walt and I have held three things sacred all these years that I think have made this ride so much easier. I offer them today in his honor, for in the end it is my relationship with him that has defined half my life and made me the woman I’ve become.

Have Sex Regularly

This idea was mine. Shortly after we had our first child, I was driving to work and heard an interview on the radio with author Laura Corn. She’d just released her book, “101 Nights of Great Sex” and I lost myself in her interview. She was fun, excited and presented excellent data on why sex was not only important for relationships, but also for our wellbeing. Intimate touch and orgasm are good for us on many levels. Since then, Ms. Corn has published many books to encourage couples to add a little romance to their lives in fun, adventurous ways. It’s not always possible to have sex twice a week (that’s the premise of all her work, that twice a week you come together to be intimate) but making sure some time is spent in one another’s embrace takes commitment, especially in marriage, because work, kids and social schedules always encroach on a couple’s time. Planning in the way Ms. Corn suggests is one way to ensure the attraction that brought you together remains, even after decades.

Speak To One Another With Integrity

This is my husband’s mantra. Early in our relationship, he mentioned that some couples tended to talk to one another in derogatory ways, creating a biting, sometimes mean banter. It might start off as sarcastic, or even dark humor, but we do sometimes irritate the other and we’re not perfect. When our “sins” become reasons to poke fun of the other, the dialogue can eventually erode to cruelty. Add in children who hear Dad swear at Mom or call her lazy, or Mom treating Dad like another child she needs to take care of, and sometimes the family can gang up on one another. Nothing ruins desire more than a put down by your lover. From the beginning my husband vowed to refrain from speaking to me that way and I’ve tried very hard to do the same. As I said, no one is perfect, but when I speak about my husband, to his face, to my children, and even to my friends, I make the effort not to sugarcoat things, but to speak with integrity and without mocking him. There really doesn’t have to be a battle of the sexes.

Don’t Take Anything Personally

This bit of advice comes from my husband’s Grandma Audrey. At her 100th Birthday celebration I asked her for the secret to living so long. She told me to not take anything personally. Everyone has something going on, and they’re most likely not even thinking about you, so don’t take it personally. She’s 100% correct and this is excellent advice for all relationships, especially marriage. We’re going to let the other person down, but if everything is turned into an offense, then life becomes a crisis. When life is a crisis, it’s hard to speak to one another with integrity, and it’s damn near impossible to be intimate. Yes, my husband has let me down, but was it because of some malicious intent against me, or was he distracted? We change as we grow, and sometimes during those life changes, we don’t see eye-to-eye. If I take it personally, then it’s no longer about him and his growth, it’s about me, and that can only lead to either him staying the same to appease me, or me growing anxious because something is different, and it can only be because I’ve done something wrong. My husband jokes that I’ve reset my life at least five times since we’ve been together. Thank goodness he hasn’t taken any of those changes, shifts, and new interests as signs that I’m not happy with him. I change because I’m growing up, don’t we all?

Mawwiage…a dweam wifin a dweam

Perhaps the best advice I ever received was to marry well. As I look back on the first twenty years of my own blessed union, the most impressive thing to me is how fast the time has passed. We've raised two young men, moved three times, once across the nation, changed jobs, gone to school and pursued a variety of interests. It literally feels like a dream, not because it’s perfect, but because time itself seems suspended. Where did those years go? And what will the next twenty bring?

I love you Walter. I’m glad we’re husband and wife.

Practical Advice for Women Beginning Their Computer Science Degree

Image from Pixabay

As August winds down, it’s time for those of us embarking upon college to gear up and start classes. As I prepare for my own programming and software project management classes to begin, I can’t help but think back to my first run at college, as a freshman in computer science at Purdue University. It was a while ago, but often it feels just like yesterday. College is a huge transition on so many levels, but it’s also a time of unimaginable learning and development. Who you are now is not who you will be in four years.

I’ve been reading a lot about how the number of women in computer science hasn’t been rising, even though we’ve spent countless hours and dollars on outreach programs for girls. There are many solutions being suggested, from single-sex classrooms and STEM badges for Girl Scouts, to making computer science classes friendlier to women and minorities. While I applaud most attempts at trying to sell this entertaining career to all types of folks, this article is NOT about any of that. Instead, I want to offer my own advice to girls who have decided to take on computer science this fall, right now, as things stand at this moment in time. For I too was in your shoes, the first time was decades ago, but I’m taking a second stab at it now as I retrain to return to tech after a hiatus raising my kids and chasing my dream to become a novelist. And while some things have changed, many things haven’t and what was true for me as an 18-year-old is still true for me now.

So, if you’re a freshman female heading out to college to study comp sci, I want to congratulate you on your fine career choice. Not only is a career in software engineering intellectually stimulating, it’s also quite adventurous. At every stage of development you’ll be working on solving problems and puzzles. Whether you’re defining the requirements, or out in the field diagnosing a bug, this is a career that will continue to inspire you for as long as you love doing it.

As you head to university, I’d like to pass on some advice, woman-to-woman, to help you get off to the best start possible.

If you like to solve problems and puzzles with machines, then you belong

I’ve read more than a few stories on Medium and other news outlets about women who said they left their STEM majors because when they walked into their first class, they noticed that there weren’t any other women in the room. Thus, for some reason, they felt that the major wasn’t for them. To this I say to you, “OH HELL NO!” As a female in computer science, you will be the minority in the room. You might even be a super minority, as I was. At first, I didn't realized there weren’t many other women in my CS classes. In the beginning, there were more of us. But by junior year, there were about five of us. I’m not kidding. Not only that, I was the only white, sorority girl. With my bleach blonde hair tied back in a huge bow (it was the early 90’s) and Greek letters on my chest, I stood out like a sore thumb.

But so what? It never occurred to me that I didn’t belong. Here’s the thing, I like solving problems with machines. So did everyone else who was left by junior year. With time, you will work together more in groups and make friends, even if they’re not the same gender or race as you. My favorite memories are hanging with my all-male crew, talking about our senior project while listening to Bob Dylan and wondering why anyone would use recursion for anything other than fractals. They’re guys, not the devil. They’re not out to get you just because you’re different.

We can’t stop living our desires merely because we might look or act differently than others who share the same passions. Otherwise, there’s no point in life, is there? Last spring, I enrolled in the Intro to Programming class at my local college. The first class was like déjà vu. Not because I was one of the few females, as matter of fact it was an incredibly diverse group with women and men about 50-50 as well as several African Americans and Latinos. This made my heart soar. What made me different this time was my age. I’m 46, and everyone else was no more than 20. They didn’t look like me. Should I have left the classroom, believing that tech is beyond me because I’m not 20? No, that would have been ridiculous.

I like solving problems with machines, so I belonged in that class. If you like solving problems with machines, you belong in Intro to Programming as well.

Coding is a lot of work, so get ready to develop some grit.

This is something I think most first years don’t quite understand. Your assignments will take time, lots of time. Not the initial ones, but by the fourth week expect to spend at least 10 hours a week on your programs. I knew this going into my class last semester, but as I listened to the students complain about the workload, I realized that many had not been prepared for this.

This is just the way things go in computer science. Like writing a novel, writing code is a process. You have to go through the stages, from reading the assignment, to figuring out the best solution, to writing your code, to testing it and turning it in. Yes, the "Rockstar" programmer next to you who’s been coding since he was 10 will be able to code faster than you, at first. But he still has to take the time to understand the requirements and design a solution, and bugs are the bane of every coder’s existence. Very few get it running under all test conditions on the first try. So budget a lot of time for your assignments. That way you won’t be so surprised.

The thing is, you need this experience now to make sure you really love this type of work. In the workplace, sometimes you will be coding for the entire day. Sometimes, when a release is ready, you’ll be coding and testing through the weekend. And if your code breaks in the field, you need to be ready to fix it. It’s not an easy job, and I don’t think sugar coating it to get more people to try it is a good idea.

But then again, if you love solving problems with machines, then the time will pass quickly. You won’t even realize you spent 8 hours coding. I loved those late nights in the Math-Science lab (these were the early days of the internet, and dial-up was an excruciatingly slow experience, so we had to work on Unix servers in the lab, not in the comfort of our own room or a trendy coffee shop). We’d get pizza sent in, even though it was against the rules, and code together until the wee hours of the morning. I still lose track of time, especially when stumped. I’m actually looking forward to my assignments this fall in Advanced Programming. To lose myself in my code is the same as losing myself when writing a novel.

And when your code runs and passes all tests—ah, there’s nothing like it.

The math requirements for this degree can be hard—but don’t give up!

Math was never my strong suit. Particularly math after Calculus II. For some reason, it literally went over my head. There were many times I wondered if I’d make it, and those were some of the lowest grades in my time at Purdue. I even entered behind in math, as I didn’t take calculus in high school and it ended up being a pre-requisite for my first CS class (high school counselors weren’t as on top of it back then). I wrote about the experience, and I’m so glad that I didn’t give up. Math is beautiful, for so many reasons. And while you may wonder if it’s necessary, it’s my belief, and the belief of many of the experienced engineers and engineering managers I’ve talked to, that one of the main values of a computer science degree is the advanced mathematics curriculum that goes with it. To think like a computer, you need to understand algorithms, and the three years of higher math will change you, literally at the neurological level. Even if you barely pass, you will be a better programmer for it. Trust me on this. Don’t let it stop you. Remind yourself that you love solving problems with machines, and that your multivariable calculus class is teaching you how to think like one. I can’t do any of that sort of math now, but I can still think like a machine. I was forever changed by my struggles in math, and it was a change for the better.

Hey hardware girls, you’re amazing!

I’ve been focused on computer science majors, but I want to give a quick shout out to all those girls about to embark on a degree in engineering. No matter what the bros in Silicon Valley think, without hardware engineers, we’re screwed. It’s very exciting that you’ve decided to learn both and while you too will experience many of the same struggles as your comp sci sisters, your degree is like CS+10. There will be challenges you can’t even imagine, but the payoff is high. Many of the most successful women in technology have an engineering degree. The charismatic Ginni Rometty of IBM has both her CS and EE degrees, and longtime Xerox CEO, Ursula Burns, has a degree in mechanical engineering. One of the first women I worked with out of college, Kelly Marquardt, was an electrical engineer and is now VP of R&D Strategic Customer Engagements at Cray. The world might be obsessed with software, but without a machine to run on, all those bits and bytes are just someone’s imagination.

Welcome to computer science…I truly hope you find it to be meaningful work and that you make your mark in the world of technology. From this corner of the blog-o-sphere, I am cheering you on.

Universal Basic Income—The Unfinished Business of the Feminist and Labor Movements

What do a housewife in Chicago and a factory worker in Detroit have in common?

No one wants to pay you for your labor.

You read that correctly—your work has no economic value. Society needs you to work, or civilization will fall, but we're not gonna pay you on our dime. Various politicians might give lip service to the importance of the family or the right for workers to earn a living wage, but in the plain truth is, for most of history, caregivers and laborers have been viewed as nothing but slaves. That we even paid a living wage to our labor class from the early 1940’s till the early 1990’s is a miracle, and a first in modern society.

It might seem harsh to call our caregivers and laborers slaves, especially since the Feminist and Labor Movements of the early 20th century did so much to change that outlook, but the truth still remains. For even though Feminists would like to deny it, raising children takes time and attention which means an employer’s and children’s needs are often at odds. And even though the stock market hates it, the men and women doing the most labor-intensive work in our society actually need to eat and sleep under a roof at night.

While Feminism made strides in opening doors for women to get their slice of the economic pie, they have yet to solve the problem that children need to be raised and that work of caregiving deserves a living wage. And while Unions popped up all over the land fighting for justice for those who work the factory line, build our roads, extract and mine our minerals, put out of fires and protect us from harm, they’ve lost ground in the past twenty years, no longer able to extract living wages, retirement, safe work conditions and other benefits from employers, and instead leaving those who do the most dangerous work in our world behind in poverty.

I think about this a lot and how a Universal Basic Income might finally grant ALL those who work the freedom to choose their masters. I’ve written about UBI from a feminist perspective, a technological perspective, as well as an economic perspective. I’ve even suggested that money isn’t even real, at least not the way you think. My study of wages, money and reward has led me to the unseemly fact that all civilizations, including the one we now find ourselves living in, were founded on unpaid labor both within the home as well as the most labor-intensive part of the economic pipeline—those jobs that need the most physical effort.

Consider this, the first law on the books against slavery was made in 1777 CE, when the state of Vermont outlawed it. The first nation to outlaw slavery was England, in 1807 CE.  Slavery is one of the cornerstones of human society and there’s evidence that it existed long before writing. Most experts agree that the concept of owning another person only became affordable with the advent of towns and cities, where surplus food from the countryside was stored, which may have started as far back as 10,000 B.C.E. Thus for at least 12,000 years, the idea of owning a human was completely acceptable. Slavery is even older than currency, and while we no longer allow slavery in most of the first and second world economies, our monetary systems were based on a significant portion of the work being free. Owned humans provided labor in two key areas: the raising of children and household maintenance (mostly women) and the extraction of raw materials for the creation of goods, and the building of infrastructure (mostly males).

In the female realm, marriage contracts provided this free labor. Women were sold by their fathers to potential husbands (the exchange of a dowry), and then mated to produce and raise children. In addition to birthing and raising children, wives also took care of the home, the elders, prepared food and provided free labor for the social structures needed within the community. In exchange, they were given food and a home.

Of course, there was sometimes romance and love in this situation, but monetary policy cares nothing about love. The economic conditions of the marriage arrangement at its most basic is one in which the husband provided food and shelter for a mate who provided children and the labor of the home. Women in most societies didn’t chose who their husband would be, their family did. And within that economic system the labor of the home was unpaid, and still is to this day. As wealthier classes came into existence, wives of rich merchants or nobles for example, were able to purchase slaves, usually women, to help them run the household. This would free the women of the upper-class to educate themselves and eventually they would be the ones to see the economic inequality within marriage, and begin to fight for the liberation of women, starting with women of privilege.

Yet to this day, women of means need lower-class women to do the work of the home so that they can “lean into” the workplace and make their fortune, and too often, the lower-class women that make it possible for some of our sisters to break the glass ceiling struggle to make ends meet. Since the liberation of women into the workplace, and all of the property, fertility and divorce rights that went with it, the work of the home is at best a minimum wage job with no unemployment, retirement or health benefits, whether providing care for the children, or cleaning the house. And for those women who chose to do this work themselves, the wage is zero.

In the male realm, slaves were used to do the hard work of extraction, whether in the mines or in the fields, or building infrastructure, such as roads, monuments and aqueducts. Men were sometimes born into slavery, but more likely taken by war into slavery. Slaves were the great prize in any battle. Their unpaid labor is what fueled our economies for centuries upon centuries. The Sumerians, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Mongols, Europeans, you name it, all of those empires were founded on the unpaid labor of male slaves. Their back-breaking work was the origin for all goods, and still is. We can’t have computers without the mines, and someone has to extract the minerals. Google Lithium Mine Workers and enjoy the story of the tech industry's slave labor.

We’ve made strides to use technology to advance this aspect of labor, yet until the 1800’s, the business plans for all enterprises had at their foundation slavery—the extraction of everything from bananas to chocolate, to sugar to gold was done by unpaid slaves. Hence, the most grueling aspects of business were done for free. The only obligation the slave owner had was to house and feed their slaves, to the extent that they wanted productivity from their purchase. Hungry men can’t crawl on their bellies all day in the coal mine tunnels. Men without shelter won’t live very long. Thus, the labor wasn’t exactly free, just like the women doing the work of the home, the men doing the work of the fields needed food and shelter, and their owners provided it.

It is within this structure of unpaid labor that currency was born. And in many ways, we’re still operating in the same way, for even though we’ve come to accept, in part, that humans can’t be owned, that we should be compensated for our labor, and have a choice as to where we invest our labor, our monetary system still trends towards free and unpaid labor as the foundation of its success. Wages and benefits are the largest portion of any profit and loss statement. Reducing those costs is the easiest way to raise profits.

We have the understanding that all men and women are equal under God, but have yet to create an economy where all labor is paid. It’s the economic need for slaves that made the early Greek philosophy of the rights of the individual dangerous. This is why they gave Socrates a cup of poison hemlock, at some level they knew where “know thyself” was going. For once the individual human is glorified, then the issue becomes which humans are to be free? Citizens? Slaves? Women? What do you do when the rights of the individual are in direct conflict with the economy in which you live?

When America outlawed slavery, it fell to the employer to make sure the laborer was paid enough to provide his own food and shelter. Emancipated slaves lost the protection of their masters but gained the freedom to choose who they would work for. The transition wasn’t pretty, and many people were taken advantage of in the early Industrial Age. Enter the Labor Movement. And we’ve been struggling to make the balance sheet work ever since. The end of slavery flooded the paid labor market with freed slaves. Later the Feminist movement would add educated women to the labor pool, and now labor is cheap. So cheap it can no longer pay for food and shelter. In the end, supply and demand will always have its way.

This is why the Labor Movement worked so hard to make sure that the profits created by the work of human hands be distributed to the workers themselves. Yet today, many working-class men and women find themselves unemployed, with no one ensuring they have food and shelter. People who broke their backs, some literally, to give us the world we live in, are ignored, unseen. The economic system might have bent for a while to ensure the dignity for those who labor, but as soon as it could ship the jobs overseas where slavery still exists (China, Burma, Taiwan), businesses did just that, and our government looked the other way. It’s only a matter of time before those slaves are replaced by machines. Consider Foxconn, the maker of iPhones. In 2010, their workers began committing suicide. The answer? Better wages, or working conditions? No, the solution was robots to replace at least 60,000 of them in 2016. Even the low-paid Chinese worker with no union rights is too expensive. Better to replace them with machines.

What then to do with our unemployed laborers? What to do for the caregivers that earn less than a living wage? How do we create a world where their work matters? The work of extraction and building must continue, even with machines at our sides. And the work of caring for children and our elders is important work. Often laborers and caregivers are the heart and soul of their communities. Do we let them go hungry, so that the coders and financiers of the world can make millions and break glass ceilings?

I find it strange that we’d rather pay a low-income woman money for sub-par childcare, but not pay her money to raise her children herself. We’d rather subsidize an out of work laborer with food stamps, than pay him a living wage to fix up houses in his neighborhood, clean up rivers and lakes polluted by industry, or use his body to protect his people and then reward him for it (just think of how we treat our veterans). Universal Basic Income, especially when combined with Social Credit projects such as the one Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang  proposes, can take the ideal that all of us are free one step further. This is the unfinished business of the great worker and women’s movements of the 20th century. Universal Basic Income is the completion of the promise to the caregivers and the laborers of our nation. It’s the only way to create an economy that is no longer at odds with human rights, and instead works FOR the people, rather than against it.

Techno-progressives: Your President Has Arrived!

Photo courtesy of the Yang2020 campaign

Believe it or not, 2020 is right around the corner. While Democratic voters are gearing up to fight against Donald Trump, the list of potential candidates to take part in the showdown is currently slim. I’m surprised that none of the big names have come out to express their interest. Normally by this time, high ranking political leaders would be traveling the country and announcing exploratory committees to measure the viability of their candidacies. Summer is the perfect time for such musings. At the moment, some, like Bernie Sanders, have let us know they won’t be running, as he’s declared he’ll run again for the Senate in 2020, and several others are keeping their options open, yet only two have actually declared their candidacy—Representative John Delany, and businessperson Andrew Yang.

Today I want to talk about Andrew Yang.

For me, the primaries are the best part of the political process. Admittedly they're a bit long, but tremendously exciting, because this is the phase where the national dialogue is set. To get yourself, and your ideas, into the Democratic debates allows a candidate to share ideas with the American people in a way that publishing books and giving speeches does not. This is why I’m very excited about Andrew Yang’s bid for the presidency. Not only is he a part of Generation X, whose time has come to lead this nation, but he’s a proponent for Universal Basic Income, something that I, as both a woman and a software engineer, am very interested in. Technological unemployment is a real thing already, and Andrew Yang has taken the time to explain why in his book, The War on Normal People. In preparation for a meeting with him, I read his book and I highly recommend it for every Democrat who is interested in living in a truly progressive society. In addition to sharing the raw data on the unemployment and underemployment situation at the present moment, Andrew describes the path we’re headed down, and how to take advantage of the increase in productivity due to technological advancement and invest it in humanity.

The cornerstones of the future that Mr. Yang envisions are what I would call the Triangle of a Technically Advanced Society. At the heart of his plan is Universal Basic Income, where he proposes an automatic $1000 per month per person over the age of 18. If you’re interested in the details of UBI, you can read Andrew’s book. If you’re just curious and don’t have much time, I’ve written about it here, here and here. Mr. Yang calls this the Freedom Dividend, and he’s not the only futurist who believes that this is absolutely necessary if we wish to avoid a catastrophic mess twenty years from now. In his book he writes, “In a future without jobs, people will need to be able to provide for themselves and their basic needs. Eventually the government will need to intervene in order to prevent widespread squalor, despair and violence. The sooner the government acts, the more high-functioning our society will be.”

Folks who live in the upper-income “bubble,” as Andrew puts it, may not be aware that living conditions are already eroding in many places. We can argue back forth about who is to blame—business or lazy people—but at it’s heart this is a security issue. A nation cannot have too many of it’s men unemployed or underemployed. There must be a balance. Inequality will always exist, but our technology is ready to make sure that we all have food, shelter and healthcare. Stephen Hawking said this in 2015, “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

Yet as Andrew points out, this is our decision. We’re the ones allowing our technological advancement to help the few. In an instant we could vote for a different world, one where the machine-wealth is shared. This then is the reason why Mr. Yang’s candidacy is so wonderful—he will be the first candidate to discuss Universal Basic Income on the public stage. To have this come up in the debates is reason enough to get him there, because as Bernie Sanders showed us, once the discussion begins, there’s finally a chance to move forward.

The second pillar of Andrew’s plan is universal health care, for all the reasons any decent progressive has been debating for decades. Health care costs are a huge drain on American families, and second only to housing in out-of-control expenditures. Thus Andrew has this going for him as well.

The last pillar mentioned in The War Against Normal People is the concept of timesharing and Social Credits. To me, this is the glue that has been missing between UBI and single payer health care. In his chapter, “Time As the New Money,” Andrew writes, “Even with the Freedom Dividend attending to people’s ability to feed themselves, the thing that still freaks everyone out about replacing jobs is this: What will people do all day?”

As a householder, I must admit that the idea that paid work is the only work of life is naive at best. If you have a body, you have work to do. If you have shelter, you have work to do. Ask any woman who has chosen to stay home and raise her children—the work of life doesn’t stop when you lose your paid employment. However, it isn’t a bad idea to encourage our citizens to use their time to help others, and to reward them in some way for their actions. Building community is work that is also overlooked in today’s market, yet this is the very labor that forces us to meet our neighbors and care about one another, as well as keeping our communities clean and safe.

Just what is timesharing? Essentially, it’s an easy-to-use application (think Tinder for help wanted) that enables those who have a need, for example the elderly woman who needs her lawn mowed, to connect to those who have time, say a middle-aged truck driver who lost his job to self-driving vehicles. The truck driver sees that his neighbor needs help, accepts the job via the app, and then shows up to mow her lawn. Rather than a monetary exchange between them, the app awards the truck driver a certain number of Social Credits. He can collect these credits and with time use them for various rewards, such as sports tickets, or gift certificate for Cabela’s, or even a family vacation. It’s just like the rewards you get right now for using your credit card, only in this scenario, you’re improving the world directly around you—your own neighborhood.

This might seem too cheesy for you. Or maybe you think humans shouldn’t have to be rewarded for helping others, but by combining social work with the UBI, many unemployed folks, as well as those choosing to stay home to care for children or the elderly, can find both economic stability as well meaning and connection with others in their community. Moreover, helping others out builds a network that just might land you a job. I can’t tell you how many people have come to me with work offers as a result of the network I've built while volunteering in the community.

Many communities in America already practice something like this, called Time Banking. Communities involved in Time Banking have reported many benefits, yet Andrew’s plan takes it one step further. He writes, “Now imagine a supercharged version of time banking backed by the US Government where in addition to providing social value, there’s real monetary value underlying it. This new currency—Digital Social Credits (DSCs)—would reward people for doing things that serve the community. The government would seed each market with an initial investment, but administrators would be local.”

Upon further thought, I can’t help but wonder if there would be a way to tie DSCs to a cryptocurrency model, where the blockchain is the heart of the technical application and the new DSC currency becomes the money of the future. That would take the concepts I proposed in my blog Blockchains Instead of Beggars to a whole new level.

As a techno-progressive, I’m totally in for Andrew Yang and look forward to working with him. I hope to join him in shaping the conversation going forward and encourage anyone who desires to live in a technologically advanced society to help get him to the debates. Inequality stands in the way of the future, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Supporting a candidate like Andrew Yang in the presidential primaries is key to opening up a dialogue about the future with the nation. It’s time for these ideas to become mainstream. If you’re interested in discovering more about Andrew Yang and his mission, visit his website

Share his book with other progressives, donate to his campaign, and attend local events. If we can get him into the debates, we will have done something quite remarkable. I haven’t been this excited about a presidential primary in a long time. May 2020 be the year that America wakes up to the possibilities of Universal Basic Income.

Everyone deserves a Freedom Dividend. What will you do with yours?

Messaging Matters—Our Obsession with Doom is Hurting Our Children

Our kids are hurting. From watching one another self-hurt on Musical.lyto the high rate of male college drop-outs, to the increase in suicide and mass-shootings led by our youngsters, it appears the next generation is crying out in pain, and most of us don’t want to see our role in their angst. We’ve done the best we could. We’re busy. There isn’t enough time or money. It’s the government’s fault. It’s the gun owners’ faults, it’s the media’s fault.

At some level, all of that is true, but we need to step back and admit it’s our fault as well. Each of us who lives in this society takes part in the society, particularly in the messaging that our kids receive. The culture we give them is the culture that they will literally embody, whether we like it or not. So perhaps we need to take a moment to look at the culture, and more specifically the messages we share with one another and our children.

The Buddhists practice the Noble Eightfold Path:

Right understanding (Samma ditthi), Right thought (Samma sankappa), Right speech (Samma vaca), Right action (Samma kammanta), Right livelihood (Samma ajiva), Right effort (Samma vayama), Right mindfulness (Samma sati), Right concentration (Samma samadhi)

The idea here is profound, yet one we often overlook when creating the societies in which we live. Beginning with the right understanding, we are able achieve right concentration and overcome the suffering of our souls. That lonely ache of being human can be transcended, if only we have the right understanding to follow the rest of the Eightfold Path.

We learn this understanding initially from those around us. If the elders practice right thought, based on right understanding, then through their speech, actions, livelihood and efforts they will hand down right understanding to the next generation.

Therefore, what we do reflects what we say which reflects what we think. Taking a sample from my Facebook, Twitter and Medium feeds, it becomes clear that the understanding we are teaching are kids is FAR from right in it’s thinking, speech or action. Rather than follow hope, we follow doom, and we sell it to anyone with eyes to see it and ears to hear it. Unless you live in a cave, you can’t escape the myopic American vision of death, destruction and hopelessness. Given our obsession with doom, is it any wonder that our kids want out? Whether through cutting, killing themselves or others, or escaping into video games, the world we’re telling them, the world we’re showing them, isn’t one of empowerment, it’s one set on pity and helplessness.

What exactly do I mean? The examples are endless, but here are four lies I think we feed each other, and thus our children, that teach them the world isn’t worth their time and that they themselves are irrelevant.

1.       The world is better off without humanity.

Yes, we’ve all heard this one. I hear it several times a day, when I bother to leave my cave and partake in this world I love so much. And every time I hear these words uttered, my heart breaks. Why, dear humans, do you hate yourselves so much that you would think this? Of course, we may have gotten ahead of ourselves when it comes technology combined with our yet-to-be-fully-developed frontal lobes, but we know enough now about biodiversity and the web of life to understand that the eradication of any species brings imbalance and great harm. We try to get rid of mosquitoes so that less humans die, only to create other pests intent on killing us. Hey, the fact that some parts of nature want to kill us isn’t because we’re evil. We really need to get over that concept. Viruses keep our population under control the way mountain lions keep the deer population under control the way birds keep the mosquito population under control. If humanity were to just die off, then who would be the hands of the Earth? Do you really think we’ve nothing to offer? Nothing at all? We have much to learn, that’s true. But the same minds that built oil rigs can figure out how to turn the sun into the next sustainable power-grid. Someone will do it, all we need to do is encourage them. And if that someone(s) happens to be the next generation, do you think teaching them that the world is better off without us is the road to such a monumental discovery? Not sure this message is one of motivation folks.

Rather than focus singularly on how much we suck because we used nuclear energy as a weapon of mass destruction rather than a tool for clean energy, we might want to also use that unfortunate event as a lesson and focus on how clever we are and how we can advance to the next level in our quest for renewable, constructive energies. The same brilliant minds are behind both destruction and redemption, but feed the soul with too much despair, and you’ll get what you fear. We can learn just as much from our successes as our failures, so a little truth, beauty and goodness can go a long way. Humans have made beautiful things as well: vaccines, the Davinci robot, bullet trains, art, physics, stories, comedy, music that will make your heart soar as well as cry, other humans. We can do that you know, create other humans. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not a miracle.

The message is this: Humans are stupid and evil. The world would be better off with us. Maybe the world is better off without me.

2.       Raising children is beneath us.

Many believe that by increasing their wealth, sending their kids to fancy camps and lessons, hiring the best tutors, being able to afford private school tuition and granting their kids the best in life is showing love. But more than anything, giving them our time and attention is what matters most. Yet in today’s world, wanting to spend time with your children is a big no-no if you want to be a successful, independent adult. Caring for kids makes you weak, puts you at an economic disadvantage and according to feminist theory, the very act of homemaking is misogynistic, patriarchal and designed to keep women down. Sick kid? Unless they're vomiting, have a fever or a rash, stuff some Mucinex down and send them on the way. Can't be late for work, the boss will notice and the promotion depends on pretending no one needs you at home.

Kids can feel this resentment. They know that their mothers feel vulnerable and afraid to leave the office at three to pick them up from school and care for them. They know that society would rather encourage they be sent to daycare, where other women, often the lowest in our caste system, working for $10/hr, raise them, rather than their own mothers or fathers. Here’s the thing though, kids take work. The human mammal needs tons of physical care the first seven years of their lives, and then a lot of emotional care until they’re young adults. But if we do this, if we invest our time in them, then they launch from the home, become adults and take their place beside us in the work of citizenship.

What message do our children hear when they’re told that having kids is the number one way to ruin their careers? We message this mostly to young women, but do you think the males don’t hear as well? Even Betty Friedan was wise enough to suggest that women would never be economically free until men entered into the work of the home. We pitted women’s needs against our children’s needs and now wonder why more men haven’t opted to be the main caregiver? When you spend decades messaging motherhood and caregiving in a negative light, who’s going to want that job?

Moreover, the kids know at some level their needs conflict with the economic and emotional freedoms their mothers deserve. We message that they’re a burden, that they’re the number one reason women are trapped, and are victims in society. Do we think they don’t internalize this? Do we think we haven’t internalized it in some way ourselves?

The message is this: Our mere existence puts our mothers—the first voice, the first heartbeat we hear in this world—between a rock and a hard place. Maybe it would have been better to never have been born.

3.       Everyone is either oppressed, or an oppressor.

Identity politics is king right now, and as a result you are either a victim of your identity or oppressing someone with your identity. There are many examples of this, the one that I’m most familiar with is the idea that the future is female, but only if you’re a badass female. Heaven forbid you might like to have babies and spend their early years with them. That makes you a victim, not a real female. As for men, particularly white men, you’re an oppressor. You can’t be anything else, due to your privilege, and god help you if you want to be an elementary school teacher, because only perverted men want to spend time with other people's children, and if you stay home with your kids you’re just as much a victim as any woman who would do the same, so we really don’t need you at all, unless we want a baby, but then we’d be victims again, wouldn’t we?

That’s an exaggeration of course, but it isn’t easy wearing the face of the oppressor and being told that’s the only role you can hold. Worse is being told you’re a victim due to your gender, color, etc. and that due to the natural imbalances in our society you will never be anything but, even if you do hold the role of CEO or Prime Minister. You’re still a victim because if you’re not a victim, then you’re an oppressor. There are no other options.

What point would there be to overcome your victimhood if the only other role in our Western world is that of oppressor? Yet who would give up being an oppressor if the only other option is to be oppressed?

Real life isn’t like this. The people I meet in my daily life don’t line up into such simple categories. At any moment, with the right understanding, thought, speech and action, we can be neither oppressor nor victim. We can be human together. To think otherwise is lazy thinking. We can’t control what others do, but we can control how we react to them.

To claim that either you’re a victim or an oppressor is to teach one another that there’s no hope, no room for growth and no personal accountability. The victims will never be truly satisfied, and the oppressors can never be truly forgiven.

The message is this: You’re either a victim or an oppressor. You can never break out of your role, for the other option is no better. Maybe I should just stop trying.

4.       Robots are going to replace you.

I’ve mentioned this before in an essay on resiliency, but it’s worth bringing it up once again. It may be that robots may replace many of the jobs that are familiar to us right now, but that doesn’t mean they will replace US. You and me. We’re people, how in the world does that robotic arm in the surgical unit replace US? My surgeon’s role will change, but her role didn’t even exist three centuries ago, not like it does now. Technology has brought surgery to a whole new level and will continue to do so. Would you go to a surgeon who only used ether and a rusty knife? Hell no. We should celebrate the fact that the surgeon today is joined by a robot. This is cool stuff people, and it’s only going to get cooler.

It’s hard to know what the future will bring, but we will need each other. We aren’t defined by the work we do in any given moment, rather our lifetimes tell the story of our efforts. We will do many things, but we will still be here. Star Trek’s Data might just be the ideal companion, completely programmable AND fully functional, but is he really the final solution? Perhaps, given lie number one above, many of you think this is a good thing. You pray that robots replace us in all ways, and rather than evolve ourselves into the new work of the future (whatever that will be), we die off. Or AI kills us.

But I don’t think that will be the case. As I suggested in The Zen ofArtificial Intelligence, AI might just be the Buddha we need, the mentors we will create ourselves in order to teach ourselves that we are worthy, that we are made in the image and likeness of the gods (all the creation myths claim this you know), that the Earth is better off with us, that we are worthy of care and that we can be more than victims or oppressors.

Otherwise the message is this: The robots our parents are creating right now will eventually take our jobs, our wealth, our sex partners and render us useless. Honestly then, what’s the point?

Pass me that bong, I got nothing but hours of Fortnite and several Netflix series to binge on the agenda—today, and every day.

1972—A Great Year to be Born Both Culturally and Technologically

Perhaps everyone thinks the year that they were born was the best. We humans are naturally narcissistic, aren’t we? Yet middle age often forces us to look backwards in order to look forward, and as I review my life and it’s various stages it becomes clear that the timing in which my childhood played out was truly blessed. Particularly as a female. The work had already been done to allow me agency over my body and mind, yet we still had a sense of humor when it came to gender relations. Moreover, both technologically and culturally those of us born in or near 1972 seem to have hit the mark with each monumental shift.

Of course, there were issues—we were latchkey kids, our parents beat us, and the food and air were quite toxic, but when seen from an evolutionary viewpoint, Generation X seems to have grown up with the best of the “good old days” when it comes to culture as well as a front row seat in the digital revolution. And that my friends, makes us unique.

The Seventies
If you were born in 1972, most likely much of this decade is forgotten. I personally can’t remember anything before 1977. However, those last three years of the decade that I do remember are remarkable. First, there was Soul Train. I can’t even tell you how much I loved turning on the TV and dancing every week. This was by far the funkiest thing to ever hit the tele, and it would shape the way I dance and dress for the rest of my life. I still prefer a good disco/funk song and platform shoes make my heart sing. The show began in 1971 and was the first must-see-tv for me.

When I wasn’t dancing inside, I was outside. We were ALL outside. Let’s put it this way, we woke up and ate crappy cereal with cold milk (my favorite was Honey Comb) then our mothers pushed outside and basically said, “Don’t come home till I call you for dinner.” Such was the day for the child of 1972.

What in the world did we do all day? I made mud pies in the lake, played kick the can at dusk, rode my bike all the places my mother said I couldn’t (sans helmets) and hung out at the parks, which were places of injury, screaming and challenge. Our slides were so tall, you’d get vertigo standing on the stairs, which was were the line would form. Yes, kids pushed each other down. It was everyone for themselves. The teeter totter was where you discovered your friends and your enemies. The merry-go-round made you sick.

Lunch would be at whatever home you happened to be at when you were hungry—the mom of the house would hand out baloney, mustard and cheese sandwiches on Wonder Bread that we’d eat with dirty hands as we ran on to the next event.

In the evenings, the calls from mothers all around the neighborhood would sound out, “Dinner time!” Games would end, bikes were mounted, and tired, skinned knee children headed home to meals of Shake ‘n Bake chicken and fries cooked with Crisco in the FryDaddy.

While I wasn’t in charge of the music in my house at this age, some of the greatest rock and roll ever made was recorded and performed during this decade, and I grew up to the sounds of The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder and Blondie, the list just goes on and on.

And my first movie…Star Wars: A New Hope, at an drive-in movie theater.

The Eighties

Oh, where to begin? While I admit there are some questionable fashion trends from this era that should forever be forgotten (like leg warmers, big hair, neon, the mullet and overuse of the word like), this truly was a great decade to be a kid. I was eight when the eighties arrived and would spend the decade in wonder as so many firsts began to come our way. Before this decade, I listened to 45-inch records on my little blue record player (I still have it, just in case the Smithsonian calls). By the end of this decade, I had a CD collection that would take up half of my dorm room, and a CD player that I could hold in my hands. I still remember my first Walkman, as well as listening to the radio all day to hear that one song I wanted to record for my mix tape. I experienced the technology as it arrived, from the record to Spotify, and that alone makes this life of mine special. But the digital revolution would cross all areas of life, not just music.

Trips to the local, single screen movie theater to watch E.T. or Ghostbusters were a treat, often topped off with Dairy Queen after the show. But then came the VCR, and with it, video rental stores, movie marathons and terrible, cheesy horror movies like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween at every sleep over.

Speaking of sleepovers, spin the bottle anyone? Five minutes in the closet, or in the confessional during recess (I went to a Catholic School) were a favorite middle-school game that often never went further than kissy-face, as my husband likes to call it. Oh, the scandal of it all.

The fastest way to find a girl during the 80’s was to follow the spiral telephone cord as it wound its way from the kitchen into the nearest closet, hallway or bathroom, where she’d huddle away for hours, gossiping about absolutely nothing. But by the end of the 80’s, I had one of these in my car. It was for emergencies only, but boy it was cool.

Say what you will about some of the pop culture of this time, I admit Paula Abdul and Wham! weren’t always easy on the ears, but Michael Jackson and Madonna ruled the radio waves while bands like REM and Guns N’ Roses launched their careers. And U2’s Joshua Tree…wow. Just wow.

One of the most amazing things about being a child in the 80’s was the introduction of the personal computer as well as video games. While we still played kick the can till dusk, we also had Mario, and my personal favorite, Pitfall. We are the first generation to have both worlds to play in—real and virtual. I learned to program in 1985 on a TI. We learned to play Pac-Man in the arcade and then some of us went on to work in technology and found PayPal, Twitter and Tesla (yes, Elon was born in 1971).

And speaking of careers, while college was something many people did, it wasn’t so competitive. I never took an AP class or test, didn’t even take math my senior year, took the ACT twice, applied to three Big Ten schools total, accepted the one who accepted me first, and headed to Purdue University in the fall of 1990 to study computer science. Fast forward to today and my own sons, with their eight AP classes and ten standardized test scores, can’t get into a CS program, because they got B’s in their foreign language classes. My how times change.

The Nineties

Oh, the music. Eddie, Kurt, and Courtney. Seattle changed our lives and as the music went from poptart to dark grunge, our bangs fell from the heavens (thank GOD!!!!) and we traded in our neon jelly shoes for soft flannel shirts and torn jeans. Star Trek: The Next Generation (oh Data you sexy thing), Twin Peaks (the first time around) and X-Files (I want to believe, I really do) were now my must-see-TV.

As I mentioned earlier, 1972 was an ideal year to be born as a girl in America. I bring up my gender because all the hard work had been done already for me when I came of age sexually. In 1990, a young woman could go to her college Planned Parenthood and get affordable birth control. We never had to worry if the clinic would close down. It was the same with abortions—yes, both conservative and liberal girls got them—and we’d stand by our sisters, knowing it was never an easy choice and helping them cope with the decision both before and after. Yet never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that our rights to family planning could be taken from us. Our mothers fought for it, and we demanded it.

Coming of age sexually in the 90’s was almost a dream compared to times before and times after. Given the AIDs scare of the 80’s, we were sexually more conservative, sometimes choosing to have a one-night stand, but mostly making out with strangers in bars, leaving them with our phone numbers written on a cocktail napkin, wondering if they’d call. Sometimes they did, often they didn’t, but while a kiss is a sweet, intimate thing, it isn’t sex, and it’s no big deal if he doesn’t call. The next night we were most likely kissing someone else. Once I was at the local bar in my college town and a friend of mine, someone I’d had a crush on for a long time but never did anything about, came in, grabbed me and kissed me, quite passionately I might add, in front of everyone! When he pulled away he said, “I’ve always wanted to do that,” and then he left. It was exhilarating, fun and all part of the dance of flirting.

Yes, there were consent issues, it’s not like Millennials invented date rape. But we weren’t so scared of one another as a group. You knew who the players were (I think you call them douche bags now) and you stayed away. We didn’t demand they changed, all the women on campus knew that the Beta House wasn’t safe. We went to parties in groups and left in groups. No sister left behind. We also said no, a lot. But we also said yes. We flirted with one another. We pinched each other’s asses and bought each other drinks and danced closely, face to face. We dated, and actually went out to dinner and a movie without the expectation of getting laid.

The men I came of age with sexually had not been fed a steady diet of internet porn since the age of twelve, and I think that makes a big difference. The college boys of the 90’s grew up stealing their Dad’s Penthouse or watching the same rare porn video from the “bad” father’s collection over and over before Mom came home from work afterschool. I could trust them, because while their behavior wasn’t perfect, their expectations matched mine. Yes, they wanted sex more often than I did, but saying no wasn’t a big deal. They continued to date me. They weren’t expecting a porn star.

People my age know what we’re losing when it comes to gender relations, and it makes us sad. We want to have fun again. To flirt again. To not have to take every damn thing a man does so seriously. Sure, it got a bit annoying when every guy I met would ask me my major and then say, “No really, what is your major?” when I answered I was in computer science. But I didn’t take it personally, I’d still be single if I let everything a man did offend me.

But I have that luxury, because in the 90’s, sex was natural, sex was good, not everybody did it, but everybody could.

And as I graduated in 1994, I entered a fairly good job market. In technology, things were booming, and would continue to boom, until the year 2000, when the whole bubble burst the first time.

The 21st Century

What have the babies of 1972 been up to? We seem stuck in the middle between aging Boomers who won’t let go of power and angry Millennials who feel the world has screwed them. We’re also taking care of both of those generations. Many people just a bit older than myself have an aging parent they’re caring for as well as young adults still living in the house. I’ve been busy since 1999 raising my own children (let’s hear it for Gen Z) and trying to figure out how to give them the same world I had, or at least the best parts. By the time I had kids, the playgrounds were coated in rubber mats and there wasn’t a dangerous activity within miles. I was a young mother for working women in my generation, married with two small boys by age 29, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my generation who took away the scary slides. We’re the ones trying to get them re-installed. Worse, those playgrounds were empty. As I’ve written before, the SAHM experience was lonely and isolating for me. The neighborhoods were desolate, no kids in sight for my own to play with. Such a difference from my childhood where we spent hours with other kids, not a parent in sight, unless we wanted a baloney sandwich.

Makes it pretty tempting to just put my kid in front of the Wii for entertainment.

I can’t give them the experience of all the firsts I went through. I do let them play with my record player though. I can’t change their pornafide dating culture either, but I flirt with their father and encourage them to be clear about their expectations with their lovers. Nor can I ease the college application process, reduce the student debt they now all face, or improve the job market. Things seem to have moved to a painful place and turning around appears impossible. The only way is to go forward and create a new story.

We have something to share, those of us born around 1972, the dead center year of Generation X, technically defined as those born between 1965 and 1981. As a larger group, we’re a bridge generation, the last to know what life was like before the information age, yet the first to adopt the digital world and shape it. While we’ve been busy raising kids and figuring out the work/family balance, we have been in the shadows between the massive Boomer and Millennial populations. We’ve been a neglected and overlooked generation in many ways, but perhaps that’s because we’ve never had to really fight for anything. The Women’s and Civil Rights movements were fought by our parents. The identity politics wars of the now are being fought by those younger than us. We’ve been able to reap the best of the modern age, hitting the mark every time. But our culture needs us to lean in and make our mark. What we choose to do with our time now that the reigns are being handed to us will determine the course society takes. We were a generation of latch-key kids and allowed to manage our time on our own without the distractions of today’s world and no one checking in on us. This makes us quite independent and resourceful. If anyone can help create a new story and usher in a better world, it’s those of us who have reaped the benefits of being born at just the right time, don’t you think?