From Luddite to Tech Wizard

In five short years

Photo courtesy of the author

No one would have foreseen me going into the tech field, least of all me. This was not a straight path.

In high school I signed up for “Keyboarding” because I wanted to learn how to play an instrument. Turns out, it was a touch-typing class. I was like, “Guys, the typewriter is going the way of the dinosaur. No one needs to know how to type!”

Not only was I oblivious to computers becoming a thing, but I was also slow to learn the technology. Especially since I’m not into porn, and cats arrived on the scene much later.

I recall asking my husband what an external hard drive was. He said, “It’s a hard drive…that’s external. What’s not to understand?”

I answered his question with a question: “What’s a hard drive?”

~~~

When I was in ninth grade, I told my father I wanted to be a nun when I grew up. I wasn’t interested in getting entangled in marriage or reproduction or the world at all. I just wanted to be married to the Lord. You know, a typical fourteen-year-old’s fantasy.

“You’d have to be Catholic,” my father said.

Aw, man! There’s always a catch. I’m not any type of Christian, so it wouldn’t even be a relevant stretch for me to become a Catholic nun.

Why can’t there be a generic convent? One that’s not connected with any particular religion. 

“We celebrate all Gods here! Or none of them! You’re welcome even if you’re an atheist who just feels like wearing a nun’s habit and working in a garden or scrubbing floors all day.”

~~~

I learned my way around a computer little by little. Typed a few school papers, started blogging in 2006, took a class on Web design. But I was never the early adopter; I remained at the back of the pack. I think I was the last person in America to get a cell phone that didn’t have physical buttons for each letter of the alphabet.

I just love how they’re called smart phones, but we use them for the dumbest stuff.

Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. Swipe, swipe. Dr. Google: “What does gonorrhea look like…not because I have it, I’m just curious.” We’re melting our brains watching videos on TikTok, playing mindless games, pretending to text while we’re waiting for our friend to show up.

~~~

All of this is to say, I didn’t plan to go into the tech field. I’ll point to my English degree to back up that statement. Why am I telling you about this? Because you can’t be what you can’t see (said Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund).

Ironically, my only reference for the tech world was Office Space, which I saw in the theater in 1999, long before I knew what a hard drive was. Then I found myself working for a motherboard manufacturer — in an administrative function — without fully comprehending at first what role this particular piece of plastic and metal played inside a computer.

AND THAT’S HOW I BECAME A TECH WIZARD. I’LL TELL YOU MORE ABOUT IT AS SOON AS I CAN FIGURE OUT HOW TO TURN OFF CAPS.

The Real Reason Behind the Fall of Icarus

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Let me get this straight, Icarus — we’re to believe that you were smart enough to design a way to fly of your own volition, but stupid enough to fly “too close” to the sun?

Uh-uh. I’m not buying that story. Something else went down. A mistake so foolish and easily avoided that you decided to blame the sun.

Do you know how far away the sun is, Icarus? Well, I don’t either, but I do know it’s far enough that you would die of old age long before its heat melted your fake wings. And that’s provided you’re wearing a space suit. If not, you would die of myriad other causes first, such as lack of oxygen, freezing temperatures, and all those other factors human bodies don’t like.

Hold up — you flew nude? Weren’t you concerned about your nether regions? You should have worn armor. Shorts and a t-shirt. A toga at the very least. You could have crashed into a tree and broken your ding-a-ling.

No risk mitigation was considered at all, clearly. If you had earned your Project Management Professional certification, you would have thought ahead and made accommodations to correct for anticipated risks.

Even if you’re not good at math or physics, and even if you don’t realize how very far away the sun is from Earth, all you needed to understand the risks posed to wax wings was to witness the world’s most ubiquitous fail when the scoop of ice cream falls off a small child’s sugar cone and lands in a mushy mess on the sidewalk.

Here’s what I believe really went down: you were flying up, up into the sky, when suddenly, you found yourself facing off against a dignity-stealing bee. The bee is rushing you, trying to sting your face, your bare torso, your easily accessible backside. You’re swatting at it like mad, trying to knock it off course. But this bee is determined. They always are.

“Off with you, you damn-ed bee!” you shout, but it refuses to comply.

Your flight path is suffering due to the erratic swatting. You’re dodging left and right, regretting that you left your clothes at home, because your ding-a-ling — as your lowest hanging body part — is now your Achilles heel. You’re realizing how terribly, terribly vulnerable you are. To a fuzzy little bee, no less!

You’re sweating profusely as you thrash back and forth. With the last swat, your wings are coming apart. You fall back to Earth, where your father comes to collect you.

“My son! My son!” Daedalus cries.

“The sun! It was the sun!” are your last words.

You can’t have “Brought down by a bee” carved on your tombstone. That’s just shameful. But if it was the all-powerful sun, a massive ball of plasma upwards of 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit (or 5.778 Kelvin, in case you want a data point that you can’t possibly compare to anything else you know), you’ll die a hero.

“At least he tried!” is what the public will say.

Whereas if they knew about the bee…

“Well, that was just dumb,” they’d say, shaking their heads.

So, you leave everyone to suspect the sun. But they’re also left wondering why you didn’t wear clothes. Seeing someone’s nether regions, both straining and dangling at the same time, as they slowly lift over your head and into the sky just isn’t a good look for anyone.

Gaslit by Toddlers and Robots

Source: Wikimedia Commons

After my 3.5-year-old used the toilet and flushed, I instructed her to wash her hands.

“Why?” she said. “I didn’t touch anything.”

“You just touched the toilet handle,” I said.

She responded, without missing a beat: “It’s an automatic toilet.”

My overly confident child thought she could convince me that we have fancy, self-flushing toilets. I think I’d have noticed that nice perk!

~~~

Have you seen those self-cleaning public toilets? I first saw them installed on Seattle sidewalks.

It’s a single toilet inside a capsule. You insert a quarter, the door slides open, you do your business, and when you exit, hot water and bleach are blasted over every surface to disinfect it.

I’ve never used one myself, because I am terrified about getting stuck inside when the wash cycle kicks off.

But it’s a pretty ingenious way to keep an unsanitary place slightly more sanitary.

I need my house to do that each time I leave. Domesticity is not my cup of tea. I’m so not interested in dusting, mending, decorating, whatnot.

My parents were some of the hardest working people on the planet. They ran their own bakery, worked odd hours, raised five children, and always managed to keep the house clean with a fresh cooked meal on the table. How did this apple fall so far from the tree? I guess as a kid watching my parents work their asses off, I decided, “This is gonna have to skip a generation.”

I bought an expensive robot vacuum to outsource some of my work. Turns out, it does precisely the half-assed job I would have done. The sales pitch was that this state-of-the-art machine makes two passes over each section of floor, and if it discovers an especially dirty area, it will go around in a spiral until it has cleaned every last bit of mess off the floor. Yeah – not by a long shot!

Instead, it moves as though going through a corn maze, while blasting right on past crumbs and dirt. It’s like, “I didn’t see that.” Then, it keeps getting stuck under the edges of furniture, and there is nothing more pathetic than watching a flat, round robot panic: “Eh, eh, eh!” When it has decided that the job is done, it races back to its platform to empty and recharge.

I’m like, “Uh-uh! Where do you think you’re going?! You’re not done, Mister!”

(I realize I have already written a story about said robot, but it’s killing me that I was hornswoggled into paying hundreds of dollars for this thing!)

Did you know that a robot is on par with a three-year-old’s ability to gaslight others?

Bee vs. Human Dignity

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Why must bees rob us of our dignity? You’re sitting at a table outside a cafe on a sunny day, and you lean back in your chair and take a deep breath of fresh air, exhale, and smile as the sun warms your face. Then, out of nowhere, a bee comes at you. You swat it away.

Ok, no problem, it’s gone, you think. And no one was the wiser.

But the bee comes back around for a second pass. Now it’s perched on the edge of your beverage.

What does this thing want?!

You wave it away, angrily. But, like a boomerang it comes back, faster and closer. Now it’s got a hard look in its eye. Before it just wanted to mess with you; now it’s out to get you. You know you’re mere seconds from getting stung. You haven’t been stung in a long time and don’t know how you’ll handle it – will you cry in public? Will your face swell up, because it turns out you’re allergic? You don’t know, and the unknown is scary. So you’re swatting and swatting, but this darn bee won’t take the hint and leave.

You’re forced out of your seat, backing away from the table, all the while keeping your eye on this bee that’s completely unstable. You’re being terrorized by this tiny, fuzzy flyer, and you have no choice but to cave to its demands.

Everyone around you is a witness to your cowardice as you’re ducking and diving and shrieking. Why does this bee have it out for you? It’s not going to anyone else. It’s not locating flowers like it should be doing. It came here, to this cafe, all with the intent of stealing your dignity! What did you ever do to deserve this?

Happy Spring, everyone. Stay safe out there.

To Mansplain or Not to Mansplain

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In college I had an English professor whom I admired. Not only was he knowledgeable, but he also had a sense of humor. Especially, whenever he recited Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in old English (entertaining, but also exhibitionistic).

I was struggling a bit to keep my head above water and met with the professor during his office hours. Before fully hearing me out, he declared that I had a time management problem. Then he went on to describe left brain versus right brain gobbledygook. I looked at him with an eyebrow raised.

“Do you know what I’m talking about?” he asked me. “Because you look confused.”

Yeah, I’m confused, I thought, why you’re talking down to me like this.

I was a grown woman with a job, a husband, and bills to pay, not some eighteen-year-old living on campus. The struggle was real!

As a left-handed person, I very well understand the differences between left and right-brained thinking. I just couldn’t for the life of me understand why this man was prattling on about that, of all things, when I had come to him to discuss competing priorities in my life.

The professor didn’t give me a chance to explain myself, what all was going on in my life. Instead, he made assumptions and talked at me like I was a child. Unfortunately, like a child, I didn’t realize I had the right to call him out. This was my first time experiencing classic mansplaining. To this day, it remains the best example I’ve ever experienced.

If I could go back in time, I would tell him off in Chaucer’s own language, not have sat there silent and resentful.

How dare ye scallywag besmirch my good name this morrow? OK, that’s more pirate than old English, but something to that effect. It would’ve really blown his mind in language he understood.

Government-issued astronaut diapers

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Remember when that astronaut got busted for her ill intentions toward the other woman in her love triangle?

“No, that doesn’t ring a bell.”

The one who wore diapers on her road trip?

“Oh, yes! That astronaut!”

Everyone remembers the diapers. Everyone mocked the diapers. But I can tell you, as the mother of a toddler who has just gone through potty training, the diapers make complete sense. Whenever we leave the house now, I have to plan our itinerary very carefully to ensure my daughter will have bathroom access at least every two hours, whereas before she had a portable and disposable toilet. All that was required was a backpack to tote extra diapers around in. Now, I have to locate a public bathroom, repeatedly insist that she not touch anything, and hold her so she doesn’t fall in. It is laborious, unpredictable, and often more unsanitary than a soiled diaper.

Let’s forget for a moment this astronaut’s goal, which was to eliminate her competitor. The level of dedication she displayed is admirable. We should all be so single-minded and productive. Pit stops didn’t factor into her itinerary.

The thing us earth-dwellers didn’t seem to consider is that this woman was doing exactly what she was trained to do – wear government-issued astronaut diapers on missions. These astronauts are constantly carrying out complex, time-sensitive tasks – tasks that cost the US government millions of dollars per second. There’s no time for potty breaks. There’s no way you could get out of that bulky astronaut uniform quickly enough, anyway. Especially in zero gravity.

The only thing that doesn’t make sense to me about this story is the irony of an astronaut – someone used to traveling at upwards of 10,000 MPH in space – choosing to drive hundreds of miles instead of taking an airplane. That’s like depositing your check at the bank instead of uploading it electronically from the comfort of your own house.

Driving? Doesn’t make sense. Adult diapers? Makes complete sense.

Coffee Mug, Interrupted

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Upon starting as an Administrative Assistant at a manufacturing plant in New York, I was given a tour of the long building by the fifty-something head Administrator. She had short auburn curls, wore wire rimmed glasses, and kept her lips tightly pursed as though everything big or small, alive or inanimate, tested her patience. Slight of figure, she dressed like a 1960’s high society woman in sheath dresses with three quarters sleeves and matching flats.

The tour wrapped up in the kitchen, where the Administrator beckoned to the sink laden with used coffee mugs.

“You are to wash anything left here by other employees.” I thought she was joking, but her pursed lips told otherwise. Employees were supposed to wash their own mugs and store them upside down on the drying rack, but didn’t, and evidently it was my problem.

“Now, where to keep your mug,” the Administrator wondered aloud, as she tapped her rosebud mouth with her pointer figure and scanned the kitchen.

Why not the drying rack, same as everyone else’s? I wondered.

There was no space in the entire kitchen to store my coffee mug, determined the Administrator. 

“Follow me,” she said, holding the mug I’d brought from home far from her body as though carrying a bag of dog doo.

I followed her obediently as she zigged and zagged, got up on her tiptoes and crouched down low, looking for a good storage option somewhere in the building. Aside from the room where products were made, literally the rest of the property was designed for storage of said products.

I found myself standing with the Administrator in the reception office’s single-occupant bathroom. 

“Ah!” she exclaimed exuberantly. “Here we go!” 

Beneath the sink was a cupboard, which the Administrator opened. She hinged forward and set my mug on the top shelf, just above the stockpile of toilet paper. Closing the cupboard doors, she rose with her pink lips upturned in a prim smile. One more crisis averted, one more battle won, one more feat accomplished. 

I frowned at the cupboard, then at the Administrator’s back as she left the bathroom.

I’d rather just keep it in my hand, thanks! I wanted to call after her.

After all, what was the plan for when another employee beat me to the bathroom with a newspaper tucked under their arm? Would I knock on the door and ask the occupant to please pass me the mug from the cupboard? 

I never touched the mug again, needless to say. It’s probably still in that cupboard, collecting dust and spiders.

Suddenly Old

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The moment you realize you’re old. It comes for all of us.

For me, it started when I asked the twenty-something hostess for plastic cutlery to go with my take-out. She met my gaze with a blank stare.

“Cutlery?” I repeated.

Still, she looked confused.

“A fork and knife?” I mimed eating.

“Ah! Yes!” she said, offering me a sealed packet of plastic cutlery.

I must have sounded as extravagant as the upstairs elite.

It makes me uneasy that my primary care physician is younger than me. Not because I fear she lacks adequate experience, but simply because my doctor isn’t supposed to be younger than me.

It looks like a chess match is under way in my medicine cabinet there are so many bottles of supplements and prescriptions. Mammograms and colonoscopies are suddenly a thing. My knees creak. I’ve got a turkey wattle forming under my chin. The flesh where my biceps should be swings back and forth when I use a hair dryer. Where did that extra skin come from?

All I can do is try to take these realities in stride just as I must when my three-year-old tells me I look like a dinosaur and my husband tells me my hair smells like a goat.

The Problematic Courtship of Fireflies

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The firefly, known in some regions by the adorable name of peeny wally, has a few things inherently wrong with its mating process.

Summer evenings in the east coast suburbs are rendered magical by flickering green lights as fireflies fill our yards. It uses a self-generated light to attract a mate. Which seems pretty impressive until you consider that both the firefly and its potential mate are miniscule participants in a game of Marco Polo…in the dark…in the sky.

If a human being were seeking a partner and was like, “Now you see me…now you can’t! Here I am! Nope, here I am!” it would make courting belabored and difficult. Of course, we have the benefit of arms and hands, and could at least reach out in the dark and feel around.

But this humble little guy is a tiny whirligig in the sky, amongst other tiny whirligigs in the sky. Light or no light, you’re still just trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Might I suggest a few adaptations?

One:

Why don’t you just leave the light on? Until it’s time to turn the light off, if you know what I mean.

Two:

Land on something and blink on and off. At least you’re stationary.

Three:

Evolve to have orange wings and look for your mate in daylight. If you weren’t charcoal gray, you could find each other by your blindingly bright jackets.

Four:

Why are you all so spread out anyway? Why not just inhabit one single swingin’ bachelor pad of a tree? That way, you’d be guaranteed you couldn’t take a millimeter-long step without your little stick leg touching a potential mate.

So, there you have it, peeny wallies. I hope you’ll take my suggestions into consideration.

Because with these self-perpetuated hinderances decreasing your very chance of finding others like you, I don’t know how your species even survives.

2020: The Year of Falls

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In addition to 2020 being the year of the pandemic – social distancing, working from home, supply chain shortages, and so many other peculiarities – it was also the year I had three big falls.

Fall #1: We moved from a high rise in the city to a house. Our first night in our new house, I was awakened at 4:00 AM by my toddler crying urgently. I leapt out of bed on autopilot, intending to go comfort her. Instead, I crashed down in the darkness, landing flat on my belly like an unreasonably heavy sack of potatoes. My right leg had evidently fallen asleep and wasn’t functioning. While it was numb from the calf to the foot, I felt it in High Definition as my knee smashed on the wooden floor. My husband sat up with a jolt, fearing I’d suffered a heart attack. The light of day revealed a large bruise on my skinned knee, and I had a limp to go with it.

Fall #2: Descending the stairs, my foot slipped, and I went sailing through the air, crash-landing three steps later. I earned an angry purple bruise on my thigh the size of a baseball, which was sore for weeks.

Fall #3: On those same stairs, I slipped again a few months later. The results weren’t as dramatic that time, but my ego was certainly bruised.

Had I forgotten how to use stairs after all those years of living in high rise buildings? Had elevators made me go soft? Was my house evil?

No, it was none of those things. The first fall was clearly the result of a numb appendage. The following two were due to the custom wool runner lining the stairs. It was far too slick, failing to provide exactly the stabilization it was designed to offer. Since replacing it with synthetic carpeting, I haven’t slipped again (knock on wood).

In a year of COVID oddities, inconveniences, and altered routines – where it was hard enough to secure basic creature comforts, like toilet paper – I had this additional phenomenon to contend with. As we moved into 2021, I recall reading all sorts of articles and quips online basically giving the finger to a commonly reviled year, wishing it good riddance. Then, 2021 turned out not to be so different.

Suffice to say, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that 2022 is better than the best parts of the past two years combined. I hope it is for you, too.