Joyeux Anniversaire, Creative Mornings Geneva!

Le chapitre genevois de Creative Mornings fête son quatrième anniversaire ce mois-ci. Quatre ans déjà que cette équipe de personnes adorables propose des petits-déjeuners, présentations et rencontres mensuelles à Genève. Tout ceci a commencé dans la ville de New-York en 2008 à l’initiative de Tina Roth Eisenberg (aussi connue sous le nom de Swissmiss). Elle a décidé d’organiser des conférences matinales accessibles et gratuites dans son quartier. Son idée a rapidement essaimé. Aujourd’hui, 144 villes à travers le monde ont des chapitres locaux organisés par des bénévoles. Genève a la chance d’en faire partie.

J’ai été un lecteur de Swissmiss et un spectateur des vidéos de ses conférences avant le début du chapitre genevois. Naturellement, lorsque le chapitre genevois a commencé, j’étais très heureux. Cela coïncidait avec ma sortie de l’Université. J’avais bien besoin de rencontrer des jeunes professionnels de différents horizons et cette communauté m’a accueilli à bras grands ouverts. J’ai eu la chance de pouvoir participer à presque tous les petits déjeuners et rester fidèle à ces événements même après avoir trouvé mon emploi actuel. Les organisateurs sont vraiment supers. Toutes ces opportunités d’apprendre et de rencontrer des gens m’emplissent d’une immense gratitude.

Cet anniversaire est l’occasion idéale pour moi de proposer une courte sélection de quatre conférences qui m’ont marquées:

Je me réjouis beaucoup de continuer à aller tous les mois au Creative Mornings Geneva. Si vous n’êtes pas encore venus, j’espère que vous pourrez vous libérer pour venir la prochaine fois…

Merci encore aux organisateurs. Vous êtes géniaux!

Santa Monica

Walking alongside the beach in Santa Monica, I was jet-lagged out of my mind. The fresh scent of the ocean trickled up my stuffy nose. The sun was shimmering on the rolling waves and made me squint.  The afternoon breeze shuffled palm trees’ leaves, yet it offered no respite from the heat. I had put my sun screen on too quickly while waiting for my breakfast order and could feel myself burn.

See them tumbling down
Pledging their love to the ground
Lonely but free I’ll be found
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds

…was all I could think of.

Tumbling Tumbleweeds features in The Big Lebowski’s soundtrack. Be careful about the films you watch on your way to Southern California. They might color your impressions. I had re-watched The Big Lebowski a few weeks prior and I adore that film. Mulholland Drive also looms large in my psyche. And I took the opportunity to watch Inherent Vice on the plane. For more films that capture the essence of the Los Angeles area, you may refer to this list.

In my haste to get an uncomplicated and rejuvenating vacation, I had decided that (a) I could handle jetlag well (without any evidence) and that (b) I wasn’t going to experience much culture shock because of US cultural hegemony

Countless US TV dramas watched, McDonald’s meals eaten, an addiction to Coca-Cola: I was ready to see the United States for the first time without a hitch. Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Baywatch, Baywatch Nights, and Pacific Blue are works of fiction, turns out. And travel is hard. I concluded I was a delusional moron as I struggled to put a foot in front of the other in the middle of the afternoon in Santa Monica.

Beating myself up and humming Sons of the Pioneers’ songs in my head could be done anywhere. So much so, you might wonder “Why travel at all?”. But then, I was doing that at the beach watching the Pacific Ocean.

That morning, jet-lag induced insomnia got me up at 4am. I listened to the cars go down the motorway and felt the hotel room vibrate while, seating at the desk with my travel guide, I planned my activities for the next few days. From my phone, I booked tickets to see the Space Shuttle the next day. As the sun was coming up, I decided the Pacific Ocean would probably do me good. I would head for Santa Monica.

Climbing on bus with lots of high school students, I could feel the Monday vibe. The bus trip from Aviation / LAX station to Santa Monica offered me the opportunity to live through Los Angeles traffic. Numberless giant billboards flanked avenues selling burgers, spirits, medication. Two or three times, sirens announced an ambulance or a fire truck trying to zip through.

Low buildings in strange pastel colors. Hills covered in olive bushes. Suddenly, the Ocean appeared in a flash of bright morning light and we passed Loyola Marymount University, went down over Ballona Creek, skirted Marina Del Rey and made our way to Santa Monica.

Once off the bus, I got my map out and that prompted the bus driver to ask me where I needed to go. She kindly gave me directions. Bus drivers, especially women, are very kind to tourists who look lost. Looking lost and confused is like my super-power. What would be great is to be able to turn it off sometimes when I need to look confident.

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Anyway, I had very good green eggs and ham at Huckleberry (1014 Willshire Boulevard, Santa Monica). It was ham on biscuit with eggs on top and arugula salad. It was awesome. I drank San Pellegrino with that because American waters are confusing.

After my meal, I felt somewhat refreshed and walked down to Pacific Palisades. I had my first few encounters with few of Santa Monica’s many homeless people. A man suddenly appeared behind me as I was waiting at a crosswalk. His arm was extended and a bag full of pills was dangling from his hand. “Can you take my pills home?” he asked. I just walked right through without answering. Thankfully, he did not follow me.

An old couple fed squirrels right next to the sign that forbade it. There was a memorial honoring veterans from each branch of the armed forces. And homeless people under every tree. This juxtaposition made me a bit sad. It might say something about South California. Or maybe I was just tired.

Arriving near the stairs that went to the bridge over the road to the beach was close by. Excitement took me again.

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A whole bus load of French tourists were standing around. They were laughing and joking among themselves having a jolly old time — being French. I stood there taking in the scenery and listening to their conversations. It was nice hearing my mother tongue even if I had only left less than 72 hours earlier. One of them was comparing the vegetation to the Côte d’Azur. Typical French move to compare every place with France all the time.

I reached the golden sands of Santa Monica. I took my shoes and socks off to feel the sand on my soles and between my toes. My last visit to a beach must’ve been more than 15 years prior. I walked to the ocean. People from another part of the country asked me to take a picture of them. I did. And kept walking towards the water.

Once I went down all the width of the beach, I toyed in the wet sand and let the waves lick my feet, letting my eyes get lost on the horizon for a long long time.

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I turned my attention towards the pier with its Forrest Gump-themed restaurant, arcades, amusement park, etc. I found some kitsch and ugly postcards to send home to my family and kitsch aficionados friends.

I walked up and down the pier and watched the ocean and listened to the waves crashing and remembered Kerouac’s Big Sur.

I walked through downtown Santa Monica to the California Heritage Museum (2612 Main Street, Santa Monica) housed in a beautiful old home. I learned it is closed on Mondays. The Aquarium below the pier is closed on Mondays too — by the way.

Triceratops fountain, 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica

I went to the 3rd Street Promenade where big metal dinosaurs spew water in flowery pools. There were people in red shirts collecting money for a charity. As I was coming out of Urban Outfitters, I was greeted by one. He said “Are you from Switzerland?”. As far as I know, I had no obvious tell. I was floored. So his ice breaker worked. I, obviously, asked how he could tell. He wouldn’t tell. I listened to his presentation about homeless children. He had heartbreaking pictures of blond children crying covered in slime. I answered that I didn’t consider a donation at this point.

At the end of the street there was a mall. None of the brands looked familiar at all. I visited the Disney store and walked through Bloomingdale’s. They were opening something called a UNIQLO. The sun was getting low — might have been 5pm — and I got hungry. The food court of the mall was deserted and nothing looked promising.

My appetite was still off — way way off. I knew I had to eat but didn’t know how much, so I settled for a crepe place on 3rd street. I always found francophilia intriguing. There were old French ad posters for Folies Bergères, the Côte d’Azur, sun screens, flours. I ordered banana crepes and a chocolate milkshake. I’d been parked in the loner spot. It was a stall, so I couldn’t do much people watching. The other clients were tourists just like me anyway.

I missed the sunset. In may, the sun doesn’t set in the ocean anyway. The picturesque sunset in the ocean as a constant is also a false idea planted in heads by television. This isn’t the way the solar system works.

I walked up and down the promenade once more. and started to inquire about bus routes to go back to my hotel. The rapid line was done for the day. The slow line, I didn’t know where to take. It was dark and my phone wasn’t much help. Using the timetables at the bus stops was difficult in the dark. I found the right stop but I wasn’t on the right side of the street. I missed a bus.

Finally, I went to the right bus stop and turned the looking lost thing to its maximum. I engaged in conversation with an newly wed Italian couple on their honeymoon. They were on an organized tour, coming from Las Vegas. We confirmed among ourselves that it was the right bus to take. We were joined in our conversation by a student from China who was studying in Northern California and came south for a vacation. We climbed on the bus when it came and sat. At night the bus’ windows were mirrors and there wasn’t anything to see. I just had to trust that we were going to the right place.

We talked about our lives and our travels. Every once in a while one of us would interrupt to ask the same questions about where we were, where to get off and will everything be all right in the end. After reassurances, we would talk again about life and our travels. I was headed for the terminus so I didn’t worry too much.

When I arrived at LAX Metro Station, I took the green line to my hotel in Redondo.

Training for NaNoWriMo: lessons learned

Lots of friends have been taking up sports or have made life-altering decisions. Since I am past the reading/writing fatigue of college, I decided to do something for myself by upping my writing output. A legit attempt at NaNoWriMo would do me lots of good, I thought. My previous attempt didn’t benefit from a strong enough commitment and social pressures. It failed at about 15’000 words. Hence, I decided to do a mock run in August first this time.

To cement my commitment, I bought the second edition of Chris Baty’s book on the Kindle app. It’s a quick and delightful read. The book has a first part that is general and then, it has a chapter for each week of the challenge. It was on August 5th that I first wrote 1700 words.

My challenge was to write 1700 words each day for 31 days and have, at least, 50’000 words by the end. If I could do that in August, I would have a shot at NaNoWriMo in November.

mock-nanowrimo-run-2015-09-05On the one hand, in actual fact, I failed to reach my goal. At the end of day 31, a little more than 48’000 words had been written. On the other hand, it is a huge victory and a source of pride. I haven’t quit. I have a draft novel today that I didn’t have 32 days and one hour ago. It is 50’010 words long. It can be done faster if I am even more rigorous and reduce social obligations further.

Screenshot-2015-09-06-01hPictured above is the finish photo with the word count of 50’010 words.

Lessons learned

Here are the lessons I need to remember for November…

Get in a rhythm and stay in it. We all have periods where we’re more productive. Me, it’s before breakfast so when I have time and energy I can make up to 60% of my daily goal then. Those days tend to be the ones where I can reach 100% with ease and go to sleep early enough to repeat the performance early the next day.

Authors will start following you and you’ll get into lists when you use the #amwriting hashtag. That’s nice and OK. Self-publishing gurus and book tour bookers will also follow you and talk about marketing your best-seller. Ignore them. You’re not writing a best seller. You’re writing draft 0 in a long series that might become decent prose one day.

Don’t count on bountiful days to repay word debt. The second wind of week #3 is less impressive than advertised. I haven’t caught it and therefore had trouble remaining steady. 3000 words days have yet to happen to me. My record is 163% on the last ditch effort. Therefore…

Don’t accumulate word debt. One thousand six hundred and sixty seven words per day is a tall order (for me, at least).

This is silly. Forget all the life altering potential of the exercise. It won’t redeem all this time you’ve been writing slowly or not at all. It won’t make you sexier. Beginner’s mind is important. Even more for the last 10 than the beginning 20 days.

Try and surprise yourself. Keep things unbalanced and moving forward. It’s the best thing about being a write-by-the-seat-of-the-pants person. Don’t resist the climax. Shit is going to happen to characters. At some point, it felt like I wanted to protect them from harm which stalled me.

A task does take as much space as it is given. If I have a whole day to write, I struggle to get to 100% just as much as if I have only a few hours.

Close your browser or, better yet, disconnect. That means you can’t rely on YouTube for music but it’s still worth it most of the time.

Don’t mix languages. If you write in English-as-a-second-language, don’t use music with French lyrics. It is exhausting. The more languages are mixed the more words I have to look up.

Hone your capacity for concentration. I have to keep working on that. I mean, who doesn’t?

Changing register and jotting down something else to clear the pipeline can be helpful. It doesn’t count in your word count but a quick blog post can help clear your mind. Projects with a nano scope can replenish your energy.

Put several reminders for the recycling and garbage collection days. Forgetting sucks. Also dishes, cleaning the toilet and the bathroom sink are sacred chores that can’t be passed.

Get people around you excited. Little gold stars, likes, comments and encouragements are tremendously helpful. Don’t hesitate to tell people when you’re struggling too as 140 characters pep-talks can save your bacon. You can use this Jaime Murray gif.

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You may also be interested in the first lessons I wrote about earlier and How to Establish a Writing Habit which I wrote for Paper.li more than two years ago (Gee! I do evergreen content well).

Acknowledgements

Thanks to for her kind words on Twitter and her podcast.

Thanks tofor his very useful and motivating book and kind words on Twitter.

Thanks to , , , , Benoît Perrier, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and the ones I might have forgotten for their gold stars and encouraging words on Twitter.

Thanks, in no particular order, to Julien, Jérémie, Darja, Kelly, Clément, Brigitte, Renee, Errol, Sophie, Yann, Rukkmini, Resshmini, Christina, Jeremy, Pilar, Marisa, Nicolas, Hania, Patricia, Kiara, and Fredrik for their Facebook “likes” and benevolent comments.

I feel indebted to you all because you kept me moving on the path. Thanks to everybody.

Stop trying to become a machine

We shouldn’t want to emulate the qualities of machines but rather go as far as possible in the other direction and develop uniquely human qualities like empathy and courage and kindness.

For all we know, they will remain uniquely human qualities — embodied and encrusted in the myriad complexities of the human experience. Even though we invent machines that appear to be intelligent, we won’t be able to know their minds. They will be others and we’ll need to build relationships with them.

As far as I know, we can’t have that relationship until we fully accept what we are and what we bring to the table.

Instead, we’re trying to become productive 24/7 never sleep properly. We’re trying to catch up with the algorithms and the robots who largely run our economies now. This strategy is bound to fail. So of course, we’re trying to cheat death and become machine-like by augmenting ourselves in ways that would make us as efficient as computers.

The fact is, we can use the tools without having to loose ourselves.

The fast and cheap curse

Cheap and fast usually bring friends to the party. Among their annoying friends is convenience. Cheap and fast websites are quickly considered an easy and self-evident commodity that isn’t worth any serious consideration. The first thing to fly out the window when you focus on cheap and fast are the arguments and questions that should precede any kick-off meeting and guide the creation of websites. “What is this website achieving for your department?” becomes an off-topic and time-consuming distraction. Everyone starts acting like it’s a rude question; as if the asker meddles with their private affairs.

“Just do the website!”, they’ll say. The word “just” insinuates itself into every sentence. It will soon be accompanied by weird semi-shrugs and sighs. It’ll spread in the team like a virus.

“Just” is toxic. It means that a half-assed website is acceptable as long as it’s cheap, fast and as long as you don’t bother people with questions. A CMS, templates and half-baked internal documents do not a website make because the job of a website is not just to exist. A website isn’t a testament to the power of the people who commissioned it. It isn’t a shrine to the cult of the emperor. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. When websites are driven by organisational ego, things go awry quick.

Proper websites have goals and provide a service to visitors and guests. Visitors and guests, by the way, have their own motivations. Having to say it seems silly. Yet project leads who hesitate to address the website’s purpose tend to overlook visitors and their reasons to visit the website in the first place. Spending time discussing the organisation’s and the visitor’s goals to find the overlap is the heart of the matter.

IT-minded, deployment-obsessed, cost-shaving, and discussion-hating internal web teams are at risk. Technology makes it easier and easier to push words, images, videos and sounds to servers. Commoditized publishing platforms such as Medium, WordPress.com and Squarespace will reach into the enterprise very soon and put our website spinning teams out-of-business.

Instead of focusing on cheap, fast and convenient, we should steer our practices and culture towards thoughtful craftsmanship, accompany our internal clients in the shaping of their communication initiatives, think about visitors and address content. Such a change will ensure that our jobs are secure because no vendor or service provider can take that away. Moreover, it will make our organisations more in-tune with both employees and the outside world. And that will make us loads of cash.

On inner-life and friendships

Being there for friends and family who have issues with their health – mental or otherwise is not easy. I do care and want to help further. On the one hand, overstepping their boundaries can be uncomfortable for them. On the other, helping without letting their suffering tear you down is challenging. A tore down friend is of little use. If I can learn to help more without wearing out or stepping over lines, I will be a better human. Hence, I am excited by this week’s discussions.

A mind is a delicate thing. My own gives me trouble sometimes. When I lock the door every morning to go to work, I check with one hand then the other. Despite of that, I feel an urge to go back and check again as soon as I turn the corner.

The most severe it ever got was when I was still new at my job and just got into my first flat. I’d check the windows and the stove as well as the door and needed to go back in and start over quite often. I talked about it to friends over dinner after a meetup — got some advice. It lasted a month or two. Thankfully, I am back to checking only the door.

You’d think that the absence of a door or work-related stress would make anxieties disappear. Well. No. They catch up with you pretty fast. I had been on holiday for three days. One morning, turning the corner after leaving my hotel, I heard “I flushed, right?” in my head. I almost burst out laughing on the street at the silliness.

Come on. I worry about the chambermaid liking me? Is that what’s happening? She hasn’t got the time or the energy to give me a single thought. Worrying if people like me. Fearing being rejected. Big on that. Being an anxious pleaser-type weighs on my ability to form and maintain relationships.

The internet and the web afforded me the luxury of staying at my desk and still have friends online.  With the rivers of abuse and harassment overflowing, people are more guarded than ever — with good reasons. Time was, you could form acquaintances and relationships online. I was on ICQ, and Caramail, “The Pretender” and “Dawson’s Creek” fan forums. Went on Jabber and then Twitter — it used to be such an idyllic place. Now, with the climate of rising suspicions, most of the people I follow online seem to no longer assume people’s intentions are good anymore. This barrier to forming acquaintances or friendships online becomes harder to overcome every hour. When I try to overcome them, errors are made — often by me. Misunderstandings occur. It gets strange and nobody’s satisfied.

Erin Kissane wrote a great piece called “Ditching Twitter” about changes in the use of the service and what shall be done to cope. It’s a great read. Perhaps, I’ll start writing e-mails to people I admire again. I used to be less crap at that than I seem to be at getting through to them on Twitter.

Apart from the dramatic changes occurring online, shame as well as the necessity to safeguard a reputation (to remain employed, for example) often stop people from discussing health – especially mental health – issues. One of the benefits of Geek Mental Help Week will be, I hope, to make these discussions even more common. Fortunately, I do have IRL friends with whom to realtalk about inner-life — even though few of them are social media enclined or geeky.

Finding such friends is difficult and requires great deals of courage. Confessions and disclosures are not a currency accepted by all people. Some respond very positively, listen without issuing a judgment and offer their own stories in response. Others do not want to hear of any kind of struggle whatsoever, offer lame advice or, worse, a morale to your story. Attitudes vary widely from individual to individual. You, therefore, have to try and see case by case which can also be awkward and strange. When they go over well, disclosures can bring people together in subtle and new ways. It’s often worth trying.

This is published for #GeekMentalHelp Week, an initiative announced by Andrew Clarke on his website. Authors facing more severe issues have written courageous pieces. I encourage you to read them.

Geek Mental Help Week

On the week of October 27th, we’re going to have a global discussion about mental health in the web industry through magazines, blogs and podcasts. You can read all about Geek Mental Help Week on Andrew Clarke’s website. Our industry is demanding, fast-paced and the fact that we work alone in front of a computer for long stretches of time puts us at risk. I can’t wait to learn more about how to help others even as I face my own mild anxiety.

If you have something to say about mental health and/or help, consider publishing your thoughts during the week of October 27th.

Elevator Pitch

I’m flying to Barcelona on Tuesday for a few vacation days before going to Confab Europe 2014. Looking forward to meeting people I admire, I promised myself to write an “about page” for my site and brush up my resume to find a coherent and concise way to introduce myself.

I have to marvel at people who always could narrow their roles to a single job title — I struggle with that. And it is a problem in conferences and other events. I, either, do too many things or am reluctant to accept a single label. We all do what projects require — don’t we? But it’s an unhelpful answer. Whispering “I am called webmaster, an anachronism, from eons past. I do… everything” is too theatrical, not much more useful and increasingly inaccurate. “Jack-of-all-trades” does have negative connotations.

Hence, I devoted last week-end to taking my own advice and return to my “Skills and Professional History Assessment”. It is a magical document which I periodically update to keep professional anxieties at bay. According to this inventory of my present skills and responsibilities, I do CMS customization, copy writing, editing and social media community management on various projects. Now I just have to memorize that and say it clearly 🙂

What this also tells me is that I am indeed focusing more and more on content management . It is good news.  What is still lacking is the strategy and organisational change part. Small team, huge organisation — learning a lot every day. If I keep at it, it will come.

 

Notes around Ethics, Sexism and Manhood

Twitter erupted because of celebrity leaked nude pictures again this week. This is just the latest in gender-related abuse and violence to flare up in my timeline. There are countless others. More come sadly every day.

Social media is very much the “Parliament of the Moment” as John Roderick described it in episode #122 of Roderick on the Line. Sometimes, you have to shield yourself from it. However, some feminist Twitter accounts have made me acutely aware of the depth and extent of sexism. If you still can’t believe how bad it is, follow @EverydaySexism for a week. It is positive to gain a little comprehension and exert your empathy muscles — even if the anger proves difficult to deal with.

Perhaps it is well to be angry. On the morning after somebody stole and released these photos, my Facebook feed was full of people taking the “tech angle”. One after another, they blamed victims for not using strong encryption. Not having data security experts in their entourage. (Oh. Hum. This is Bryan. He is my 256-bit encryption key bearer.) Or they recycled stale arguments against the “cloud”. Most of the aforementioned geeks get angry when the hue of gray changes on a button’s drop-shadows. And they are pissed — albeit not surprised — at the NSA’s mass surveillance. Yet, they seemed to leave the perpetrators of this abuse off the hook. My anger pump went to 11.

We’re talking about the violent grabbing of someone’s property and an unacceptable violation of their intimacy. This is a maddening issue of ethics. Many have written about it, some eloquently and some even with proper disdain for keyword density. The Verge has a great post about the reaction to this leak versus the NSA mass surveillance thing. Jessica Valenti wrote a thoughtful piece for the Guardian explaining why we shouldn’t seek out these leaked shots. Scott Mendelson on Forbes calls these events what they are: sex crimes. They’re all great pieces. I don’t have anything to add about these events.

Every time abuse and humiliation of women are discussed. I am lead to examine my own ethics and how I interact with women day to day. Including to woo them and seek their company. Not only because I am a self-centered person but also because my own behaviour is the only one that I have a little bit of power over. And, it’s something we shall all do if we’re to get better at living together. “How am I to conduct myself in this world?” is a question worth asking. It surfaces periodically. I had never felt articulate, pissed and courageous enough to post about it online until now.

One semester of gender studies is enough to give you a lot of guilt about privilege and defamiliarize you with a lot of thought-patterns and ubiquitous stereotypes. For one of my seminars, I picked apart Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” — one of my favourite books, and uncovered countless instances of prejudice and revolting one-dimensional female characters. Taking a book from your formative years and deconstructing it is a terrifying exercise because it shows how aesthetically pleasing stories and tropes make it right past our defences and lodge themselves firmly in our consciousness — and most probably our subconscious. One semester isn’t nearly enough to put a mind right, though. It has left me confused and afraid and without the vocabulary to even properly voice my concerns.

My mind rattled and chewed on personal history and literary influences obsessively for weeks after that. For example, the Romantics’ language that I was enamoured with when I was a teenager proves to be deeply problematic. It not only objectifies women. It is based on complimenting a woman on separate parts of her body in sequence. For example, poets state their appreciation of a neck and collar bones abstracted from the woman they belong to. Just a random example. It can be construed as symbolic slaughter, can’t it?

Then, there’s the blues I listen to. Blues songs are often sexist and sometimes outright misogynistic. But their form is often so cool that you want to overlook it. Not to mention self-pity is sometimes a comfy cushion. In her column about pop songs, Ann Friedman concludes that we can compartmentalize and appreciate music that may be sexist. I am still not sure it is OK, though.

When I am in full freak out mode, part of me (Let’s call him my inner Earl of Lemongrab) becomes convinced that everything I say contains, encoded within, sexist and/or misogynistic things. I imagine exchanges with women I admire. I won’t have finished my first sentence and a loud buzzer is going to s… See? I just metaphorically equated having a conversation with a woman to a game show. Objectification. (Hello!) Oh. What is coming out of my mouth?

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Some (Most?) of that comes down to irrational insecurities. In the face of the ubiquitous abuse women face online, the endless street harassment, revenge porn and other rivers of shit we (Yes. I include everyone.) have to deal with all the time, these concerns can be dismissed as petty and laughable. But at the heart of it lie some big and important questions about the ethics of language use, sexism and how we sustain relationships.

It’s all part of the larger “how to be a man” line of inquiry. It is a valid one. That problem is long ways from being solved. Ann Friedman wrote “What Does Manhood Mean in 2013?” in her The Cut column and said:

“Patriarchy” doesn’t just mean concrete systems that ensure only men have access to the upper echelons of power; it also encompasses our ingrained cultural understanding of what men should be and how they show dominance.

She makes a good point that we have to address this question for the sake of all genders. However, we can’t get to it because we need to, with good reason, address endless streams of sexist attacks. In the meantime, it continues to be “confusing out here”, as Ann Friedman wrote, and I sometimes feel baffled.

To humanities graduates seeking employment

Lots of friends I had left behind in university ranks are now considering entering paid employment. Even though unemployment is low in Switzerland, getting a job is still difficult. Transitioning from a liberal arts education into the “workforce” is an especially long ordeal. So I worry…

The worst part is fear. Politicians and employer union representatives keep screaming that there are too many college educated people who they label as “unemployable”. It’s HR-speak for “useless”. It saddens me. It carries a lot of stigma. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to wash the label off. When counsellors at the unemployment office, friends or family say you have to work on your “employability”, what they mean is you have to weasel out of being useless. These levels of jargon and condescension are hard to stomach. No matter. They’re right on some level: you will have to change, gain experience, etc. However, you’re not as far behind as you might think. It’s a matter of attitude and learning to market your skills.

Young humanities graduates are squished between romantic ideals of our “calling” as defenders of the besieged humanities and the harsh realities of a world which seems in perpetual crisis. At my graduation ceremony, the dean of our faculty told us that starting a career would take 18 to 24 months of suffering. Right after that, an 80 year old alumnus said that it was our responsibility to “shine a light” upon the world and dispense humanistic lessons on scientists, engineers and bankers who seem to run things (poorly). If you’ve ever bought into the idea that your role would be to impose humanist values upon the uncaring, you better saddle up. It’s gonna be a hell of an attitude adjustment.

Such arrogance gives credence to the prejudice we face from employers — in fact. They don’t care about our values, what we learned about the human condition by analysing the Prose Edda, or the inconsistencies of chivalric discourse uncovered by Chaucer’s tongue-in-cheek humour. Calling knights hypocrites may get you somewhere among gender studies and feminist intellectuals, but in most workplaces it only makes people snigger at your inadequacies and question your competence. Nobody cares. The phone’s ringing — you better get to it.

 

If they don’t care about medieval literature, what do employers care about? They care about weird shit like getting things done on time and under budget. Since you took two years to submit that twelve page paper about “Hamlet”, you may not see yourself as an ideal candidate just yet. But don’t worry. You just have to adapt. Unlearn some old habits and learn some new ones. That’s really what this 18 month period is about. Wave goodbye to your humanities student self.

All young graduates are in the same boat. Or at least they face the same rushing river. Even people who got degrees which seemed more marketable when you started college need to adjust. It’s raining MBAs and they are more prone to grandiose expectations than humanities students.

Once you are sufficiently distraught and poor, you’ll have no scruples left. You’ll use our secret killer-rhetoric techniques to sell yourself. There are lots of experiences which come from growing in the humanities you can sell. For example, do you remember when you had to get the signature of two super-busy professors, run from one department to the next, talk to twelve administrative assistants and five teaching assistants just to register for an exam? And then had do it all over again to get the credit? Believe it or not, this kind of grit is marketable. Put that down on your resume: You know how to navigate horrible backwards bureaucratic systems and get results. That will come in handy because there are lots of bureaucratic systems in large organisations. And it’s only an example of all the things you manage very well already.

  • Revisit your past, every growth opportunities, every teachable moments and every task. Make a list.
  • Then, gather job postings that might interest you and analyse them as you would a literary text.
  • For each task description, prepare arguments with stories about how you already did a version of that.

Always speak to the fear. Looking for a job is scary. Hiring might even be scarier. The people across the table from you are scared out of their minds — always. Their hire may be a mistake and they will look bad if you under perform. It is very important that you raise no alarms in their minds. As humanities students, we always were taught to address complexity and unpack simplifications to expose flaws. Do that in private. In public, you’ll get farther by reassuring people.

I don’t expect any of this to sink in and make a difference on your first reading. There are a few resources that might help you, though, such as the classic podcast “Back To Work” — especially episode 7. Statistics do say that you’ll have a hard time no matter what you read off the internet. Make the best out of that time and learn as much as possible about yourself, work and how to get things done. Eventually, you will find a nice job and you too will know the joys of being baffled by office politics, bewildered by unclear hierarchies, perplexed by obscure expectations and inconvenienced by endless rambling meetings.

Have faith, dear reader. Have faith.