Wednesday, July 2, 2014

This is not about you

A friend tweeted this today and it touched something of a nerve. Three lines in particular:

"If there's not a penis or an MBA involved, a decision can not be made." This seemed to sum up the whole of my working life—which has, admittedly, involved two brief stints outside of IT.

The line, "I don't want to fuck them [my colleagues] over" was another.

The line "I'm grateful" induced rage.

The problem of workplace sexism is everyone's problem. It's an unavoidable fact that commerce is dominated by men, and we've all been raised in a commercial environment that has gender bias at its core. That's history.

The problem is that, despite the opportunity that emerging industries like technology have to change this situation, they continue to fail to even begin to do so at the most basic level. It is a great disappointment to see such an opportunity squandered.

And women, dare I say it, aren't exactly great at advancing the cause. Why not? Take a look at the comic.

"I don't want to fuck them over."
First, we always disqualify our current employers, colleagues and friends from the public comments we make on gender bias.

I enjoy my current workplace but that sentence about penises, MBAs and decisions applies everywhere I've worked. That's not a slight on all my employers and clients and colleagues ever: it's a statement on the nature of the tech industry.

Alas, frequently, even when those things are present a decision remains elusive. In my experience, tech "decision-makers" are terrible at it. Male decision-makers, in particular, dilly-dally.

So much so that these days, one of my standard fallbacks when I'm dealing with someone who's flipflopping over a decision on something I've presented is, "Oh, sure, well, if you want to make that call, that's fine. Is that the directive then?" It never is. There's always a lot of backpedalling. I use this tactic because it's proven time and time and time again to be the shortest route to getting my ideas approved: reverse psychology works a treat on the indecisive.

These are the kinds of tactics women develop to get around gender-related bullshit. Which is entrenched in the industry. Including wherever it is that you work.

"I'm grateful."
Second, women go around stating publicly that we're "grateful" for our jobs. What, have we just come out of the Great Depression or something?

Technology work is work. It's a commercial exchange: your talents and your time for money. If you're any good at all, you'll be able to get work. Right now, most tech employers are bending over backward to offer free lunches and open bars and god knows what else to attract good people. People like you.

It's time we stop saying we're "grateful" for our jobs and accept the fact that, like everyone else in the workforce, we've just earned them. It's that simple. And that boring.

Third, we're too quick to jump on the love-my-job startup bandwagon. Where's the healthy scepticism, people?

If you want an example of a sector that's inherently masculine, in which exclusivity is entrenched and beer-swilling-brotherhood cliqueyness is not just the norm but actively demanded by employees, tech startup culture is it. Look no further, ladies. Step right up, be overworked and underpaid, start drinking at 11am and hashtag all your tweets #lovemyjob.

Why does anyone do this? Could it be that leaping aboard the startup-worship bandwagon is seen as an easy way to fit into what is an inherently exclusive culture? I hope it's not just that.

But let's face it: startups aren't objectively better places to work than established businesses. They have nothing intrinsic to recommend them over five- or 15- or 150-year old companies. They're just at a different place in their boring old company life cycle.

Maybe that suits you better at this point in your life. Great. Go nuts! Just leave out the propaganda.

It's not about you
That piece does much to point out that sexism isn't personal: it's general. It's inherent. It's not about me or you. It's not about employers we've had or clients we've worked with.

It's about incredibly uncreative thinking on the part of people who run and manage and work in technology businesses and who, supposedly, have both people and profitability at heart.

For women to proliferate the myth that working in technology is some kind of miracle, and that they're "lucky" and their company is "great" while pointing out that the industry is appallingly, inherently gender biased is duplicitous at best, and deliberately undermines the advancement of both women and the industry as a whole at worst.

Isn't it time we took a more balanced approach?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Having a story

I know I've entered short story competitions before, but I can't remember them. I think that's why I was eager to do something for the 2014 Jolley Prize.

These days, what with a steady job and all, there's plenty of time and space for feeling that sense that, out of nowhere, rises up in the nerves, the pit of the stomach, the backs of the eyes: the sense that you have a story.

I didn't enter the competition to win; I entered it to write something creative to a word limit and a deadline. I entered to see what was waiting in me, ready to be construed somehow through the process of transposition from brain to page.

I don't know that the story is very good, but I'm pleased with it at least. It's not just an end in itself, though. The act of getting it down, polishing it up, and putting it together has opened the possibility to doing that again. Doing it more.

What else is lying in wait? What else is waiting here?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

[too fast]

Speeding car;
blurred lights;
metronome: my heart.

Dark images,
dark imaginings:
the empty self
in the rain-slick path.

Careening cars
and mindless lights.
Strummed lungs,
deadened legs.
Bright windshield,
bright lightning;
empty hands 
and the black wasteland.

The rain: split diamonds
on the windscreen,
spilt gems
against the glass.
The world falls
and lists—
—we're going far too fast.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

It's time

Okay, so I finished The Goldfinch. The fact that I started in in January should give you a sound idea of how slow a reader I actually am. Whatever.

The bigger question is: what next?

The big answer is: Cannery Row.

It's been a while since I sat down with any Steinbeck. I think the time has come. Your warnings are welcome, but will likely not be heeded. John and I go back a ways, you see. It's time I paid him a visit.

Friday, January 10, 2014


One great thing about reading all of an author's work is the insight it gives into that person and their obsessions.

Donna Tartt and childhood bereavement. Bret Easton Ellis and self-obsessed paranoia. Cormac McCarthy and how love destroys us.

I spent the last year reading McCarthy's The Border Trilogy, which undoubtedly accounted for the lack of activity on this blog—all my thoughts were dismantled, held hostage by McCarthy's breathtaking, exquisitely horrific view of life.

When I say McCarthy, people mention The Road or No Country for Old Men, both of which are romps, rollicks, mere excursions when compared to the massive, marathon-esque insurmountability of McCarthy's unrelenting hopelessness in The Border Trilogy. I recommend it.

But all of these are Americans. By comparison, I've started to realise how apparently conservative, how seemingly gallant and polite are the British authors I've read. Their world view is more proper, more cultivated, and their works lack the staring, helpless overwhelm of the Americans.

Yet authors like Greene and Godden, Du Maurier and Lawrence reveal obsessions as ungraspable as the Americans'—they just do it more subtly.

With the Americans, you put the book down at the end of a passage gasping from the force of emotion in those paragraphs. You're as overwhelmed as they are.

With the Britons, you put the book down at the end of the passage in wonder, because what you thought was happening there was in fact a mask for something much deeper, and while you were caught up on the surface, you now realise, the author was whispering a darker, second story to your soul.

Either way, though, you get to the truth.

Right now I'm reading an author of each nationality. Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch presents the same premise as her previous two books: a great loss in childhood, and enormous, unapproachable grief to which some parts of the character, at least, must somehow adapt. And each line is designed to engulf the reader a little more completely, viz.:

"What had happened, I knew, was irrevocable, yet at the same time it seemed there had to be some way I could go back to the rainy street and make it all happen differently."

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Rage (and getting to know your editor)

Every freelance writer knows that the way to get published is to get to know the publication, and perhaps more importantly, to get to know its editor.

This way, you can understand what they want and need, what they're like, how they treat their job and publication - information which, of course, directly affects not just your chances of getting published, but also your desire to be published by them.

So the aspiring publishee studies both acceptances and rejections, among other factors, to try to spot some kind of pattern.

Having reflected on an acceptance today, I can only conclude that to be published in this publication, I must write in a barely-contained rage. Whatever that does to my writing, the editor likes it. Hmm.

The thing about writing in a rage is that you're less inhibited than you would be otherwise. You go further. You tell it like it is. Sometimes, the rage culminates in a biting sort of dryness that could, in the right light, be seen as sarcasm. Or bitterness.

But, you know, it's way too late to get all self-conscious. I sent the piece expecting rejection, and now, upon its acceptance, there's no time to wonder if I went too far. Now, I just have to prepare for the storm.

Friday, November 29, 2013


So listen, I got a job. A full-time, "permanent" position. And I did my first week this week.

This is my first permanent, full-time job in maybe ten years and my first non-freelance thing in five. And I'm finding that my perceptions of "work" seem to have become a little skewed in that time.

Okay, so it's only week one and there haven't exactly been any hurdles yet. Also, I seem to have landed in a decent organisation, which really, truly is saying something. And it's daylight savings, which means it's light before I wake and light when I get home. These factors are the grains of salt with which the following is tempered.

But at the end of the first week, the thing that strikes me is how much simpler it is to be employed than to freelance.

Each morning, I wake up and know I'm expected somewhere. So that is where I go.

That's all I have to do in the morning: just get to the office. There's no wondering what's in my diary, what I've forgotten, if I've failed to put the alarm on because I thought it was Wednesday and not Tuesday—nothing.

All I have to do is get up and go to work. Okay.

Then, once I get to the office, my desk looks roughly as it did yesterday. Actually, pretty much exactly the same. There's even a chair there! There's no scrounging space, scrounging powerpoints, scrounging blank paper or a power cable because I've forgotten mine.

There's even a chair. For me. 

So, what now? Well, I mean, just do the work. This isn't much different than freelancing, in that I enjoy the work I do, but now I don't need to wait for a brief or meeting before I can start: I can just keep doing what (ever it is) I'm doing.

I don't have to start a timer and switch it off again when someone calls and asks me to do something urgent. I don't have to constantly watch the clock to make sure I'm keeping to the time estimate. I don't have to rearrange other clients' work to fit new stuff in and try not to piss anyone off in the process. Yeah there are changing priorities and different internal "stakeholders", but Jesus, when they all work for the same company you can usually get some kind of compromise on what matters most. Even a grudging one. From the CEO.

And after work? My office appears to be one of those places where people love what they do, but also enjoy the rest of their lives. So no one sticks around much after 5. So, what then?

Well, it turns out that after 5, when you don't have to chase invoices or work out what the fuck you're supposed to be doing where tomorrow or whether you actually sent that deliverable or just dreamed you did or what you'll do when this or that project ends and who you should be speaking to or whether you're actually saving any money for that holiday or if it'll all just go on your next tax installment, you can do whatever you want.

Being tied down by no more than pets, I find myself gloriously unencumbered by expectations re: my free time. So indeed I seem to be spending it doing whatever I want.

I'm sure I, and the nature of work, have changed in the last ten years. And there is much to love about freelancing, so I expect I'll be back at it sooner or later. But in the meantime, I'm wondering what all the fuss is about re: full-time work. I'm wondering why we keep reading these articles about people working longer hours than ever at their tedious full-time jobs, the blight of busyness, etc. etc. And maybe I'll stop wondering, pronto, when the shit hits the fan and I'm pulling a pizza-fuelled all-nighter or whatever it is you're supposed to do.

But from where I'm standing right now, being employed seems, at the very least, like a much simpler proposition than freelance. And in this case, more creatively challenging and, already, more rewarding than much of the freelance work I've been landing lately.