A tip for traveling cross country alone

Sunday was incredibly trying. I was supposed to fly back to Chicago from Syracuse, but due to severe thunderstorms in Chicago, a ton of flights were grounded. And because I cheaped out and went with Frontier, they would be unable to get me on a replacement flight until Tuesday, which was less than ideal seeing as how I needed to get back to work.

So, I did the only thing i could think of at the time. I rented a car and started driving back. I got a late start since I was supposed to be on a mid-afternoon flight. If I had known I’d be driving, I would have started much earlier.

I’ve driven through Ohio a bunch of times this year and decided to stop at around 9:30 at a Super 8 just west of Cleveland, since I thought I had a good handle on how long it would take me to get from Cleveland to Chicago given reasonable traffic conditions.

I know this is sounding like a lot of background. “Where is my travel tip?” I hear you asking.

Always. Always always always latch the deadbolt and security latch on your motel door, friends.

At 12:57 AM an angry drunk couple started aggressively rattling my door handle and talking about how bullshit the hotel keys were, throwing themselves at m door trying to get it open. It turns out that the spacey kid at the desk gave them a key to my room (153) instead of the vacant room across the parking lot (135).

I knew it was 12:57 AM because the man’s slurred yelling woke me up, and in my panicked haze I realized that I needed to alert them that the room was already occupied. So I shouted “This is already a room!” three times and made some truly horrific groaning noises, and went back to sleep.

If I hadn’t had the security latch in place it might have turned into a much more dangerous situation. As it was, I was merely miffed that two days in a row were not going as planned, and I went to sleep dreaming of cuddling with my kitties.

Heat Wave

It’s so hot here in Chicago that a couple times I’ve started to feel drunk just by sitting in my office and sweating myself into inebriation.

My plans for the weekend include alternately getting ahead on some of my work projects and playing Just Dance 2019 while chugging some pedialite.

No one is invited.

Cat musings

I spend probably far too much brainpower devoted to making sure that my cats know that I love them equally and that I don’t have a favorite. I don’t know if it’s working.

My two cats, Darien (the tuxedo cat) and Aliester Meowley (they grey longhair cat), have very different love languages and methods of getting my attention.

Darien is a gentle bean, gregarious and fun loving, but doesn’t really open up emotionally until he gets to know you pretty well. He loves being near people, almost cuddling, except for when he’s feeling particularly vulnerable or lonely, in which case he will headbutt the softest part of you repeatedly until settling down for a brief snuggle. He likes to be on things. Any time I clean off a surface (countertops, the bed, my dresser, the china cabinet) he needs to be there. He thinks tidying up is a game for his benefit.

Black and white cat standing on a somewhat cluttered china cabinet

Aleister is terrified of new people, but once it’s just the three of us, he’s the real master of the house. He needs to be held and petted and kissed nearly constantly, and when he’s feeling neglected he will exfoliate my entire face with his tongue. Batting him away does no good. He’ll just keep coming back until either he’s done, or I decide to pay him the attention he thinks he deserves. He’s constantly climbing all over me with his little needle fists, kneading my mushy bits and accidentally giving me tiny little stabs.

selfie of jess sitting on a couch with a large grey cat sitting on their chest and getting up in their face

It’s easy to give in to Aleister and snuggle him constantly, but sometimes I worry that Darien feels left out so I try to pay Darien special attention.

I finally got them both cat scratch lounges so they don’t have to fight over the one. Whenever I want a moment to myself I sprinkle cat nip over the scratch lounges. It’s the only way for me to get any peace.

two cats, one black and white, one fuzzy and grey, hanging out on carboard scracth "lounges" and consuming catnip

Responsibility Update

I said back in April that I was trying to start building up a Fuck Off Fund, and I really wanted to take it seriously. Without talking specific numbers, I said that I wanted to save up six months of living expenses – at my current standard of living – and have it in a savings account. Just in case.

I also said that I expected to hit 10% of that savings goal by the end of Q2. Here’s an update.

Yes, I have been saving, but I hit a bit of a setback between changing jobs, getting an expedited passport (I still need to get that expense reimbursed from work), and traveling to Columbus, Santa Fe, and Costa Rica all in the same month. My ability to save was somewhat stymied. I still made a good faith effort though.

It’s the last payday of Q2 and I’ve managed to save 5.7% of my Fuck Off Fund total savings goal. So a little better than half of my somewhat ambitious original declaration. Not bad, seeing as how I didn’t even announce my savings intent at the beginning of the quarter.

However, this is slower than I would ideally like to be saving. I don’t have any international travel plans coming up, and I think 10% per quarter is a reasonable target, so by the end of Q3 I would like to reach 16% of my total Fuck Off Fund savings goal.

Again, probably no one cares about this, but many sources online say that announcing your intent to people you know helps with accountability. Feel free to poke me periodically about how my journey to financial responsibility is going.

Losing Ephemera

Do not mistake this screed for something well thought out or researched. I’m having a crisis and working it out here on my semi-secret blog. Comments welcome.

What’s a part of the internet you think back on and realize that you’ve lost something beautiful, both as an artifact and as a piece of yourself?

I think back to gURL.com circa 2003. We still have the archive to look back on, but it’s not the same. gURL had personality and was useful in a way that a lot of the more sanitized sites we see today aren’t. The archive page linked above includes links to things like

  • “i have a sharp pain around my ovaries. is that normal?”
  • make fake blood for your halloween costume!
  • featured user generated poetry
  • a prompt to write about what you’re thankful for, with the chance to be featured to other site members
A screenshot of a gURL.com tattoo generator game from 2004.

Today when you go to gURL.com it redirects to the Seventeen Magazine website, and headlines as of this typing include

  • Khloe Kardashian Just Got Real About Claims That Tristan Cheated On His Pregnant GF with Her
  • Taylor Swift Made Katy Perry Cookies with the Words “Peace at Last” to End Their Feud
  • Fall Might Be Cooler, But These Trends Will Keep You Looking HOT
A screenshot of seventeen magazine's online headlines from June 2019.

Now, I’m not precious about the Kardashians or girls being interested in fashion. I think it’s great that these things exist and I’m happy for the people who find joy in this content. But outlets for these stories existed before, and will continue to exist until the breakdown of civilization. But the unique, quirky, earnest, and informative world of gURL.com has been completely erased.

Cover of "Deal With It: a whole new approach to your body, brain, and life as a gurl," published by gurl.com in 1999.

When I was a tween my mom bought me the gURL.com book. It, like the website, is heavily influenced by 90s zine aesthetics. Lots of block letter headings, and bright colored background chunks where blocks of text lived. It included frank discussions about puberty and development, in a way that had a sense of humor and was devoid of shaming tactics. It feels painfully earnest now, looking back at previews on Amazon.com (where the book is available used for less than $2). It’s like a relic from the kid’s room at Lilith Fair. But I learned a lot from that book. So much so that nearly twenty years later I remember it fondly and can still picture the aesthetic of the book.

Screenshot of a page from the gurl.com "Deal with it" book depicting disembodied mouths with colorful speech bubbles quoting online users.

What will tweens today be able to look back on and remember fondly and specifically? Everything looks the same now.

"Old man yells at cloud" screencap from The Simpsons.

But I’m not just worried about the kids these days. What is it doing to all of us that our online history is both so permanent and so fleeting? All of our transgressions [teenage indiscretions on Facebook, leaked nudes, poorly worded or understood tweets (or hell, BBS posts – I have no idea what people are keeping on me from the old days of the internet)] are screencapped and infinitely distributed – held against us forever. (or at least that’s what they want us to believe) None of us, especially in the United States, has any real right to be forgotten. But the things that shaped me [gURL.com, a half remembered fanfic that wormed into my brain in the summer of 2003 but which no combination of keyword searches seems to produce, proto social networks that allowed for customization like myspace and vampirefreaks] are either gone or have been purged of their historical content. The MySpace purge of 2013 was devastating. The admission from them earlier this year that all of the music is gone was played for laughs on Twitter, but we should be horrified that so much of ourselves that we thought safe is lost forever because some DBA fucked up one day.

Our desires, secrets, and fuck-ups are profitable. Our passion projects from a decade ago are not.

We’re forced to deal with our mistakes forever, and have those mistakes mined and used to create ever more accurate and invasive models for advertising to us every second of our waking lives. But the context from which those mistakes were made is eroding. What is that doing to our image of ourselves? What is it doing to our ability to relate to and trust one another?

This is all happening at the same time as the physical world around us is eroding. If we really want to talk about disappearing context, let’s take a look at the increasing lie that is “seasons” or “historical precedent” when it comes to weather.

Everything seems like it’s falling apart. Inside and out. Physical and digital. With only the glaring and irreversible consequences of our mistakes remaining.

And it’s not like the physical and digital are separate here. Hyper-specific advertising and machine learning models are inherently created to maintain the status quo. Machine learning does not identify how to make things “better.” It takes training data and makes more of what already is, whether or not that will produce a more desirable outcome for its targets. This leads to things like disinformation campaigns around vaccines or climate science. People don’t want to change their lives or confront their flaws, and we have created giant reflective chambers where people will only ever need to interact with things that re-entrench those worldviews. Digital lack of foresight and maximization of “engagement” has real world policy and behavioral implications.

What can we do to turn this ship around? I don’t have answers. If the failures of the modern condition could be solved with code, they would have been. Everything we do in that arena only seems to be making things worse. So what do we do? I can’t be the only one perpetually on the brink of a nervous breakdown fueled by existential despair, can I?

As everyone knows by now (I have the zeal of a newly sober junkie who is desperate to let everyone know about it), I have removed myself from the social media giants (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). I’m still on Goodreads. I don’t think that’ll change anytime soon. But I’ve been developing a bit of a Tumblr habit that I think I’ll need to squash. I feel like these behemoths are a large part of the problem; they provide the illusion of granting context and increasing engagement, while really stripping us of those things. There’s no such thing as context in a 280 character tweet, and stringing a bunch together into a choppy simulacrum of a blog post is no substitute. The things that you see in “feeds’ are filtered by their potential to enrage you, because that’s the best proxy software engineers have discovered to figure out what will engage you, and you don’t see them in any sort of logical order (like chronology or topic) that might enhance your understanding rather than muddle it further.

But there’s a compelling argument to be made that by abandoning these noisy public squares, I’m ceding my right to a voice. If I retreat to secure my own oxygen mask, I lose the access necessary to help others secure theirs. I’ve been very deliberate about not linking this blog on any of the social media giants. I’m not hiding it, but I’m not promoting it as part of my “””brand””” either. Am I making a mistake by not letting the public image of ‘Jess’ absorb every part of me?

To some extent I think we can look to art for guides on what we might do to retain a sense of individuality and meaning. The central question of queer art and queer life is “how do I exist meaningfully in a system that does not want me?” and it’s a potentially useful and inspiring avenue of thought to go down. But that only addresses the social conundrum in which we find ourselves, and not the way in which social and ecological dissolution are increasingly interlocked.

What can an individual do to actually affect things? We can call our congresspeople until the cows come home, and some of us have. We’ve voted, but still there’s no meaningful global or local action on the climate, or researching increased bacterial resistance to medicine, or kids in cages, or any of the existentially threatening issues we face. Received wisdom does not seem to be working. Many people I see online seem to be advocating for a revolution as the agent of change, but at the end of the day we’re all armchair anarchists, and Netflix is an effective opiate.

Who needs a guillotine when you’ve got a gif?

Read some things by people who are smarter than me:

Dear Chipublib: why?

It is a constant source of frustration for me that the Chicago Public Library overdrive setup only allows a person to have 5 digital holds at a time. I can check up to 20 things out, but I can’t have more than 5 holds. This seems totally flipped to me! Shouldn’t I be able to reserve more things and put the bottleneck on taking books out, rather than flagging books for the future based on availability?

Someone smarter than me is probably going to have to explain it to me someday. Probably something to do with money. Bah.

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.

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.