Movie Review: Ma

Listen, you pretty much already know whether you’re going to like this movie. Octavia Spencer stars in this horror film about a middle aged woman who buys alcohol for teenagers and lets them party in her basement. From the beginning she seems…off, and the situation doesn’t improve from there.

You either read that description and thought that it sounds terrible or, like me, you thought “this combines two of my interests: horror movies and Octavia Spencer.” Nothing that happens in the movie will change your mind based on how you reacted to this premise.

Octavia Spencer is, as always, a gem. Highly enjoyable way to spend a Friday night.

SPOILER below:

I’d give this a 3.5/5. I would have given it a 4/5 but I think the munchausen by proxy story thread was underdeveloped.

Stray Travel Thought

May is a truly miserable time of year to visit Costa Rica, so my recent trip wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. But one of the biggest things I kept thinking about while wandering around San Jose was that in America we have ceded so much of public life to the auto industry. All of the US prioritizes the needs and storage of individually owned cars above all other methods of getting around, and that’s simply not true other places. There are entire pedestrian-only avenues in San Jose filled with street vendors and people just walking in the middle of everything without fear. The only place in the US you see that kind of thing is literally in amusement parks. It makes me wonder what we could be capable of if we invested in public infrastructure and de-incentivized individual car ownership. I say this as someone who owns a car and loves it. But it’s possible that I just love it because owning a car makes the experience of living here materially better in ways that aren’t true in other parts of the world.

Unsolicited Book Recommendation: Tess of the Road

One of the best books I read last year was Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman. It’s a kind of meandering fantasy story about a girl who is rejected by her family and so she walks through the country. It’s episodic and understated, and a year later it still takes my breath away sometimes when I think about it. I’m quietly heartbroken that it didn’t win the Nebula’s Andre Norton award for YA SF/F.

Tess is given more room to be flawed and interesting and angry and complicated than I feel like many protagonists in young adult literature are. She’s given room to breathe and evolve as she walks the road and accrues new experiences. I think I actually cried a couple times near the end of this book.

One of the best things about this book is that the people in the world around Tess feel as real and fleshed out as she is. Character driven fantasy can sometimes fall into the trap of evolving the main character in a navel-gazey way that flattens the people around that main character. But there is a real sense that the world around Tess would move without her, and that people have their own complicated interests and motivations that are not just there to benefit the protagonist.

Tess of the Road is technically a sequel to the Seraphina Duology also by Rachel Hartman, but it’s not necessary to read that before jumping in here. Seraphina is on my list, but I still haven’t gotten around to it. Rachel Hartman is also working on a sequel called Tess of the Sea. I’m excited for when it comes out, but also a little puzzled as to where it could go. This snapshot of Tess’s emotional journey feels so complete.

I certainly plan on rereading Tess of the Road before the sequel comes out, and maybe a couple more times before that. This book is meditative and heartfelt; I could not recommend it more.

Too busy to function

since my last post i spent a week in cleveland for a conference, i ended my previous job, i started a new job, and now i’m in costa rica for things relating to the new job. a couple people in my life are super jealous i’m in costa rica, but they clearly don’t realize that i’m just staying in an office, and being in an office in san jose is not substantially different than being in an office in chicago. i’m not complaining. i’m just too busy to function, and it’s all fine. can’t wait to get back home on sunday and hang out with my cats. i miss my cats. no more traveling for a while.

Hell in a handbasket

Not long after I posted my last post, my boss suddenly had a bevy of harried questions for me, not all of which made complete sense. She scheduled two meetings in which I showed her and other employees (some of whom were perfectly capable, others not so much) how to run a simple script. Anyone at even the lowest pay grade in the room should have been able to figure out how to run it without a handheld tutorial, but, you know, here we are.

These meetings also included me bringing up some very serious concerns I’ve had for a while. My boss snapped at me, “Why didn’t you ever bring this up?”

The great thing about quitting is I can retort with things like, “I have, repeatedly, and at length,” and when she asks, “Why haven’t you documented this anywhere?” I can cut her off and say “Didn’t you read the agenda I sent out prior to this meeting with documentation I’ve been working on? It’s point #3.” And what’s she going to do, fire me for snark?

Anyway, after this I get to go on a road trip. I only have to come back in next Friday for some cursory stuff and an exit interview. Things are not in a great state, but they’re certainly no worse than I inherited them, and that’s at least something.

So long suckers.

Last day in the office

Not technically my last day on the job. I’ll be available for questions and calls as necessary while I’m at PyCon, but this is functionally my last day. I’ve been trying for nearly a week now to shore things up and to get people to ask me questions as they have them. I’ve been almost entirely left to my own devices, with any updates or concerns I have falling on deaf ears.

I can’t believe my boss insisted I wasn’t giving her enough time with the notice I gave her. She didn’t even use the time she had.

I’m not going to miss these people at all.

Review: The Merry Spinster

4/5 stars

As with most short story collections, there are a couple I really loved and a couple I could have done without. That’s just the nature of the format, I think.

Ortberg’s strength in all of his writing, both here and online, is his unique talent for creating distinct, believable, voices. Whether it’s the cheeky, omnipotent narrator in “The Daughter Cells” or the un-self-aware self-righteousness in “Cast your Bread upon the Waters,” he does a fantastic job of giving each character a rich texture and inner life that can be difficult to achieve in short fiction.

“The Wedding Party” did the least for me; I wasn’t really familiar with the source material for that story and the meandering conversation left me cold.

“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” absolutely broke my heart. I’ve been in that friendship. It absolutely rips you apart, and you can’t even see it happening.

I probably wouldn’t recommend this as the first of Ortberg’s works for someone to read. Start with Texts from Jane Eyre, then read some Objectivist Harry Potter. You’ll know by then whether Ortberg’s work is for you.

The Minorest of Gripes

The beginning of a Slack correspondence does not need to start with “Good Morning” or “Hi jess” or “Hello, can I ask you a question?”

Slack is an informal medium with immediate feedback mechanisms. When I see someone start a conversation with “Good Morning” followed by a solid two minutes of typing indicators, I don’t come away thinking “Oh how polite!”

I sit there thinking “Jesus fuck what did I do this time? What am I going to get chewed out about? It’s probably nothing, right? But then why is it taking them so long to spit out what they want?” And it’s usually nothing serious, but I’ve had terrible experiences in offices before, where every communication devolved into (often gendered) admonishment. So I have some precedent indicating that I should dread typing indicators.

I wish people would just say what they mean, and say it quickly. My manager at my previous job used to tell me “jess, you’re a straight shooter,” and he would laugh, but it was clear that it wasn’t a compliment. It’s possible I’m just missing a fundamental trait that would just make me better at office relations.

Getting the hell out

I gave my notice. It went fine at first. My boss was super gracious and I wondered if she’d been body snatched.

Then, of course, 10 minutes later she pulls me into a conference room to ask if my timeline is firm. I don’t fault her for asking once. But I re-explained to her that I had already accepted another offer, and that my last day would be May 10. She then proceeded to repeatedly state how stretched thin everyone is, and ignore the fact that I gave her a firm deadline. She asked if I could stay a month so that they could find and train my replacement.

I kept trying to say no and she kept cutting me off and instructing me to “think about it” and that I didn’t “have to answer now.”

I responded by emailing HR with my official timeline.

Of course, I know that the team is stretched thin. I also know that it’s stretched thin because many of the team’s resources are devoted to working on bullshit. It’s part of the reason I’m leaving. It doesn’t matter whether I give them one week’s notice or five. They’re not going to be ready for me leaving either way.

Also, Illinois is an at-will state. That goes both ways. The fact that I’m giving them anything is a courtesy and it’s one that they wouldn’t give me were they the ones to terminate our employment contract.