Andrea James

Monday, June 24, 2002

Interview with a Web Monkey Grrrl - Ms. Andrea Roceal James

Andrea, would you consent to be a guest in the series of Sandhill Trek interviews? The series so far has featured Elaine Franconis, Denise Howell, and Jeneane Sessumblog sisters all. We have Halley Suitt coming soon, and I’m working on pieces with some token males to provide gender balance… Tom Shugart and Mike Golby right now, and Rageboy his own self has said he’ll do one when he has time, but he hates email and my note taking skills are rudimentary so we’ll have to work something out.

Andrea, some of the questions I’ll have for you will be quite personal, and my goal with the interviews is to reveal a more complete picture of the interviewee than the typical web surfer will get through occasional blog browsing. So, Andrea Roceal James… would you have time to share some perspective with me? We could start with a few biographical questions:

How old are you? Where did you go to school? What did you study? Where do you work? When did you get your first PC? And do you have a significant other? Who or who not?

-fp-

I just turned 24 (gasp! almost a quarter of a century!) last Dec. 31st (I like that everyone has a party on my birthday). I graduated three years ago from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma where I studied computer science, but got better grades in all my humanities classes (and there were a lot of those, since it was a small, private, liberal artsy university).

Right after I graduated, I was hired by a small software company on Whidbey Island called Logos Research Systems, Inc. Logos publishes theological ebooks and has its own ebook reading software that is geared toward in-depth scholarly study of the bible in as many languages as possible. I am a business applications developer, which basically means that I help code web applications that keep the company web site and online store functioning, and I also do just about anything else my boss assigns for me that I can conceivably accomplish (I wear many hats). Working for a small, Christian company has some definite benefits and definite headaches, but I’ve been (with a few exceptions), reasonably happy in my job so far. It’s definitely been a good first job out of college; I’ve learned a lot.

My first encounter with a personal computer was the Apple IIe when I was seven years old, in third grade. At the time, we were living in my grandmother’s home town of Wetumka, Oklahoma (don’t blink when you’re going through it). The elementary school there received a fair amount of money from the BIA, so there was an Apple in every classroom. Our teacher showed us how to plot graphics, and I really had fun with it and flew to the head of the class. My parents saw how well I was doing and bought us an Apple IIe for me to use at home. I started teaching myself Apple BASIC and playing games and have been addicted ever since. We kept the Apple for a really long time, until somewhere in the mid-90′s, when we had moved back to California (of which both myself and my dad are natives) when we bought a 386 with a modem, and I started venturing into the world of BBSes, and shortly after, the web and the internet in general.

I actually used to use Mosaic. So my parents were pretty pioneering in embracing new technology; I think they saw some of the potential of what computers can do, and even though they aren’t particularly techie people, they reached for a good thing when they saw it. Now they have their very own tech support consultant who will work in exchange for a free dinner.

As to my SO, he is my only “other” that has been significant so far; his name is Adam and he currently lives in Sydney, Australia. Yes, we are an “internet” couple, about which we are both pretty embarrassed. Neither of us were particularly interested in finding romance on the net. We happened to come across each other, began emailing back and forth, and kept liking each other despite our better judgment. Eventually we met for my birthday in Paris at the 2000/2001 rollover, and pretty much made the decision to stick together. Right now I’m working on a permanent residency visa for Australia, so that we can finally be on the same continent for more than a month at a time.

Here is a picture of me and my honey (who I think is quite the looker).

Oh god. In your 25th year and feeling very quarter-century. And so together. Makes it hard to write complete sentences.

It’s funny, I get a lot of that sentiment, but I don’t particularly feel together most of the time. One of the things that I like about the internet and computers is the delete key. I have a definite dark side and have heaping handfuls of examples where I’ve behaved pretty shamefully when I should have known better. I guess I just have to take everyone’s word for it, though… because even people who’ve met me in person, and been through my stuttering and my too-loud laugh and my spastic gestures will often say the same kind of thing. Have I mentioned I’m a perfectionist?

I have to ask this question because I’ve cruised your web site… what is a geek and how do you know if you are one?

Aha! a question I have a thought-out answer for. You’ll get a lot of definitions of “geek” (just as, I think there are a lot of perceptions of what a blog is). Some people use geek to apply to those who are really interested in an almost disturbingly, life-absorbingly obsessive way about computing and things that are related to it. Although I am a computer fanatic/addict (you should see how upset I get when my internet access goes away involuntarily or my computer has some kind of hardware failure), my definition of “geek” is pretty broad, as is my definition of “blog.” I think the Jargon Lexicon has a decent definition.

John Katz has a good definition in his book on Geeks, but I can’t find a good quote for some reason. I like the fact, though, that Katz emphasizes the community aspect of geekiness. Geeks aren’t loners. They just don’t compromise their personal integrity to fit in and be liked. But they like to have someone else to enthuse with.

Socrates was a geek. Galileo was a geek. Edison was a geek. e.e. cummings was a geek. Geeks are not just intelligent, they’re emotional and passionate about intelligence, they take knowing and learning to heart. They don’t care what others think about this intense focus. Being a geek doesn’t require a particular subject; you can geek out on just about anything. Anytime you enthusiastically relate details that would bore a normal person to tears, you are channelling geekiness. I think the connection between computers and geeks is just simply a factor of the times and the technology- geeks are really interested in using technology as both a tool and a toy. However, they like to know the underpinnings of that technology really well. A geek is not just someone who enjoys playing the little game that came with their cell phone; a geek is someone who likes the game, so learns how to code a clone of that game and begins to create their own original games and upload those to cell phones. A geek wants to know how and why things work.

Geeky people tend to not be easily pigeon-holed (and you could see a paradox there, except that I don’t see “geek” as a narrow, easily classifiable label). I know people who I’d consider geeky, but they don’t fit that sort of pocket-protecter nose-in-book image. Some have blue mowhawks and some dress up like preppies (although a lot usually just go with the jeans-and-witty-t-shirt combination). I know geeks interested in literature and the arts, and geeks who prefer engineering and physics.

How do I know I am one? Well, I fit the definition in my mind. And I think other people see me as “geeky”- The Geek Icon was not a phrase I coined myself, after all. I adopted it, though, because I felt like it fit and I felt better about myself identifying and enhancing that aspect of my personality. Katz also talks about how “geek” has become a reclaimed word (like the n-word for blacks or “queer” for gays). I use the term “geek” for myself to reclaim my dignity after years of teasing and not fitting in through middle school and some of high school. It’s in defiance of those people who think it’s OK to suppress those parts of the personality that wonder, explore, challenge, question, dream, imagine, fantasize, in order to “get along” and “fit in.” It’s a very non-conformist stance. I choose geekiness as much as I am geeky inherently, I think.

Based on your blog and the photos you sent, I’m guessing your art is very visual. I like very much the way you’ve blended the Sydney Bridge into a header on your portfolio page… The lomo cult is a little beyond me. My guess would be that this a crappy little camera that takes crappy pictures. Is there anything you can tell me about the box that would make me trade in my Brownie Sure Shot for it? Is this just a nostalgia thing for your days in St. Petersburg?

I’m definitely a visual learner, I like drawing and visual art even though I’ve never taken any significant formal steps to becoming a visual artist. It probably wouldn’t take me too much effort to become a visual artist if I just applied myself. I seem to have a natural instinct for colors and visuals.

Writing comes naturally to me, too, and I like it because it can call up imagery without the practice it would take for me to learn to draw or paint. Sure, writing well takes practice, too, but it’s something I’ve been working on since I was five or six years old, when I started finding the books my mom bought to read aloud to me and read them myself. I like the fact that you can practice writing well just by reading a good book. And as for sounds and music, well, I love, love, love all kinds of music, but don’t think I’ll ever be more than a mediocre musician. I like singing and supposedly have a good singing voice (according to all 3 people who I’ve let hear me sing), but I think I’m a much better appreciator of music rather than a producer of it. Still, it’s fun to pull out my guitar and try to turn my poems into songs.

As for Lomo- well, there are a couple of things going on with that. As far as I can tell, it is a cheap little plastic thing. Whether or not I take crappy pictures with it has yet to be seen (since I haven’t finished my first experimental roll of film yet). The appeal is really that there is no expectation about how the photo’s going to come out. My parents used to buy cameras for me, and I’d always take these really lame pictures with them and waste a lot of film. It got so bad that by the time I went to St Petersburg (more explanation to follow), I only took 6 pictures while I was there, because I hated taking them. My digital camera has worked well for me because I can just delete the crappy ones and try again. Now I’m going to venture into film again, but I’m setting the bar low so I won’t get discouraged. The other thing is that I loooove kitsch. The crappier and cheesier the better. I have boxes of little rubber animals and plastic bendable mice and voodoo dolls and fake coke-bottle glasses and pencil sharpeners in the shape of noses. I think it’s hilarious and collect it like nobody’s business. I see the Lomography thing as extremely kitschy, and that’s fun and gives me enthusiasm.

When were you in Russia anyway? And why? Or were you a spy and you would have to kill me if you got into details? What?

Well, the details about my trip to St Petersburg have now been declassified, so I can tell you without endangering you.

First, some small background. From eleven or twelve on, my dad worked for the National Park Service down in southern California. His first job with the park was as a maintenance mechanic on Anacapa Island, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. I got to spend a lot of my summer vacations out there with him, since he had to spend 10 days at a time on the island. Later, he got an onshore job, and the man who replaced him had a girlfriend who was a Russian citizen; her name was Olga. A few times when I was out on the island, I’d watch after their little girl (Melanie). Olga and I got along pretty well, and she actually invited me to come visit her in Russia for a summer. I was 15 at this point, and the USSR had just fallen.

I had to wait a year before I was able to go, and the summer before my junior year in high school, when I was 16, I stayed with Olga in Pushkin for three weeks. Wow! What a great experience for shy little me. I was independent and could take care of myself, but it was a great eye opener, and really served to push me out of my shell socially a bit. Not to mention the fact that it was just a grand cultural experience. This was before the Russian economy took a complete nosedive, so I got to see all these beautiful historical monuments that had been bombed out and left to rot since WWII being restored. Even though I got some grief for only taking 6 pictures (one was even out the plane window), I kept a journal and wrote in it nearly every day, which my parents loved. I still remember a little bit of conversational Russian.

 Turning Beauty Inside Out

I saw your “Turning Beauty Inside Out” page. I find it moving. Where does your sensitivity to these issues come from? The graphics, the bibliography (or if it’s links is it a webliography?) and the poetry all stand out. The allusive reference to Rivera and Kahlo just leaps off the screen and wrenches at the heart of an old surrealist with a left foot in Trotskyism such as me.

Hoo, boy, I could go for miles on this. I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible and not bore you with a lot of teenage angst, here. Growing up, I had a pretty unique childhood, but it was also isolated from a lot of interaction with other kids my age. You don’t get a whole lot of neighborhood kids when you live on a sailboat until you’re seven years old. Also, being naturally pretty intelligent, I did well, sometimes better, at socializing with adults. Add to that my natural quirkiness and individualism, and you’ve cooked up a big fat mess of Getting Teased a Lot at School.

Now, I’m happy with my weirdness, but then, I felt like there must be something seriously wrong with me, and that extended to my perceptions of my physical self as well as my personality. I was a late bloomer, and fairly athletic (8 years or so of classical ballet lessons), so I didn’t hit puberty until I was 14, where most of my friends were needing training bras and starting their periods when they were 10, 11, 12. I got teased a lot, even at 11, for being skinny and flat chested. I also had, and still have, a pretty nasty case of oily skin, which causes a lot of blemishes, not only on my face, but my shoulders, neck and back. I think that was the hardest to overcome and still haunts me a bit. It was really frustrating to have a condition I couldn’t do much about, and for which there really wasn’t a medical solution (and believe me, I went to plenty of dermatologists, not much helped), but it scarred me and could be fairly uncomfortable, not to mention visually obvious.

Most of the teasing ended by the time I finished junior high, but the emotional scars and damage to my self-esteem lasted until I was in college. I finally ended up going to the college’s counselor at a really low point. Mostly what I needed was somebody objective to listen to all my self-doubts, so I could realize how silly most of them sounded. In my warped thinking, I felt I couldn’t trust my parents or my friends to tell me I was beautiful, because they loved me and had to think I was beautiful. It was a wonderful realization when I discovered that they wouldn’t love me if there wasn’t beauty in me. That their love was evidence of beauty and also brought it out in me.

 Kahlo Self Portrait...

I related a lot to Frida’s art, that feeling of being out of synch with what was accepted or expected, and then later making it a badge of pride. I feel like that’s really empowering, and from the statistics and other indications, it seems like teenage girls (and younger!) need that feeling of beauty and empowerment.

Kahlo said, ‘They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.’ What do you think about that?

Oh, fun, I can get philosophical here. I love being an amateur philosopher. I think this quote for me calls to mind the stories of Charles de Lint. He’s a modern Canadian fantasist/ magical realist, who writes short stories about faeries hiding in cities. One of the main premises in a lot of his stories is that reality is what it is because we all agree upon it. That it’s something borne of our consciousnesses, not something that just is out there. How do we really know what’s real and what’s not?

This is a concept that appeals to me and repels me at the same time. I have a wonderful love/hate relationship with it. On the one hand, I’m a total lover of absolutes. My personal value system and sense of morality intuits that there must be clearly defined right and wrong. Not because I was brought up that way, or indoctrinated to this concept somehow, but because that’s the way my brain really wishes things could work. And to some degree, I do believe it’s possible for this absolute reality to exist- the catch is that it’s impossible to know, because our perception of that reality is always getting in the way, distorting things, changing the angles, tricking us.

 Lego Me

The impish, spontanous, magical side of me, the part that’s the Crone’s Apprentice, simply DELIGHTS in this. How wonderful, how messy! Always new surprises and conflicts and growth coming out of these skewed realities. Do I think that faeries are real if I just believe hard enough? I really don’t know, but I sure as heck hope so, because that would kick ass. Do I think that Frida really had thorns and dead hummingbirds? Absolutely, just as I’ve been trapped in the belly of a shark and have sipped at the waters of the Lethe. Those metaphorical and personal experiences are definitely real, they affect us, move us to create.

Speaking of which, I’m guessing the Webmonkey thing is important to you. Are you a contributor at Webmonkey, a subscriber, or what?

Well, “Japanese New-Girl Monkey” is the nickname I gave to a little stuffed monkey of mine when I was about six years old, and today I often marvel at the wonderful Dadaist feel of it. I have no clue how I came up with that nickname. The original New-Girl Monkey is sitting on top of my server right now. “Webmonkey” is just a term I apply to myself in a generic sense. I have no affiliation to HotWired’s Webmonkey, although I do occasionally go there for reference.

 New Girl Monkey

“The original New-Girl Monkey is sitting on top of my server right now…” Whoa girl! Your server? With the web cam photos at your blog and the other photos on your other pages I think I have a pretty fair appreciation of your personal configuration… (leer)… but that’s just firmware and wetware… tell me about your hardware and software. What kind of computer(s) do you have at home? On the job? How involved are you in hooking it all up and making it run? Are you into Wi Fi yet? I just set up a base station router, installed wireless LAN cards and networked a laptop and a desktop unit for this older academic couple who really needed to be able to use their cable modem on their laptop from anywhere in the house. The laptop runs Windows 98 and the desktop runs Windows Me, and it seemed like I had a choice of sharing wide area network resources or sharing resources on the home network. Any hints on how to get printer sharing and modem sharing in a wireless MS peer to peer home network?

Oh, lots of tech stuff. Deep breath. Well, as you can probably tell, I’m definitely not shy of computers. This goes for tinkering with hardware. I have some of my dad’s mechanical interest and ability, although I certainly have a lot to learn in that regard. In fact, as a father-daughter project, we even put together his current home machine from “scratch”- not that we were burning circuit boards or anything like that, but we bought all the individual components and put them all together in the case and managed not to electrocute ourselves or blow anything up. That was a lot of fun.

My hardware at home is pretty slapdash at the moment. My server isn’t much — during a mass upgrade at work a few years ago, I bought an old P-100 that my company was getting rid of. I souped up the RAM a little to a whopping 64MB, and added a 40G hard drive, and installed Debian GNU/Linux on it. In addition to that, I have one of the earlier models of the Graphite iBook running OS9, which I use for graphics, checking email, browsing the web, writing, etc. I also have a multi- function printer/scanner/fax, and a whole heck of a lot of spare parts from older computers. I even have the motherboard and other old pieces from that 386 my family bought in the mid-nineties. Someday I will block out the time to turn it all into something, maybe add another whole machine to act as a mail server or DHCP server or something like that.

For my net access, I’m using DSL. I have a block of static IP addresses to use for whatever I like on my home network, and I’ve manually configured the machines and plugged them all (very wired) into a hub. I’d love to go wireless, but I just don’t have much disposable cash at the moment to throw at wireless network cards (something to do with trips to Sydney or something like that). It’s OK, though, I have a small apartment and lots of cable. I’m also no networking guru, so I don’t have any hints about shared resources on a network. With my two machines at home being what they are, it would be a nightmare to network them together tightly (everything I’ve heard about networking a Mac with something not a Mac makes me kinda scared); I just use ssh to manage my server remotely or move files between my two machines. So I haven’t really taken the opportunity to learn much about that level of networking (although I know a passing amount about TCP/IP and simple protocols).

At work, my duties are pretty much non-hardware oriented. When I get a new machine, I set it up myself, and when the company moved from Oak Harbor to Bellingham, I pitched in a lot to help get machines moved and set up at the new location. Day-to-day, I’m primarily a developer, with a teensy bit of occasional customer service thrown in. At work, everything is under the MS umbrella; this company was founded by a former Microsoft employee, so a lot of MS technology is used in our product, which is Windows-only. That means I end up dealing with three different operating systems on a daily basis, including work and home, so I’m pretty comfortable in any of them, and don’t have a strong affiliation with one or the other.

Oh yeah, and watch the leering! My dad might be reading this when it’s all finished and published. ;-)

Sorry if my leering was out front there. I don’t want to piss off anyone’s dad! What are you doing for father’s day? Hallmark holiday for sure, but still a nice time for acknowledgement….

Oh, I don’t take too much offense at leering, but I like to establish boundaries I’m comfortable with. Believe me, I’ve been on the receiving end of worse. Heck, today at lunch while I was out walking around, I was approached by some random elderly gentlemen, who I could swear (aided, I’m sure by a generous quantity of alcohol) asked me, “Will you marry me for a day?” I was so flustered all I could think to answer was, “I’m sorry, no, I don’t think so.” But it made me crack up later.

I anticipate Father’s Day to be low-key but fun. Since my parents only live an hour’s drive away, I’ll go over to their place and give my dad his present. He’s quite the gourmet, so I got him a really nice cedar plank to try out some plank wood cooking.

 Joan-like in her Joan-itude Your picture on the web reminds me of a young Joan Baez. You are kind of a guitar girl at this point too, regardless of what you said about your music before. I read a nasty comment that blogging is to journalism as garage bands are to symphony orchestras. Care to noodle a bit about that — kind of give me some impressions?

Well. Up to about high school age, I listened almost exclusively to classical music. I loved Tchaikovsky, I’d play a tape every night and fall asleep to it, until my parents were sick to the death of the Nutcracker Suite (which I also danced to every year before Christmas in a semi-professional production). I loved the soaring way that the romantic composers made me feel, and it was something that didn’t move me the way modern music did. Then, near the end of high school, I discovered a musician called Tori Amos, who is a brilliant pianist, and was enough like that classical tradition to capture my attention and not be dismissive. She also had lyrics I found really compelling, and she was sort of my “gateway drug” to finding a lot of modern music that could move me the way the classical stuff did.

So, bringing in the blogging and journalism element here, I hear a lot of voices that want to make it blogging VERSUS journalism, where one is going to reign over the other, and then I hear some quieter, and I think wiser, voices saying there’s room for both, and they both say important things, but different things. I actually think comparing blogs to garage bands isn’t so far off the mark. It only becomes a snarky statement when you assume that garage bands aren’t capable of producing anything worthwhile. Well, a lot aren’t, just like a lot of blogs are boring. But there are some garage bands that just click, and for a while, the people get together, and they groove, and they experiment with music and expression, they have fun, they create. That’s exactly what, to me, blogs are really about. At least, that’s why I blog. Maybe some blogs are trying to become symphonies- if so, good luck! It’s going to take a lot of hard work for anyone to produce something on that level.

The Smiths’ song “Panic” has a line that goes something like: “Burn down the discos/ hang the blessed DJ/ because the music that they constantly play/ says nothing to me about my life.” For me, this is the heart of the matter for both journalism and symphonies, blogging and garage-band rock (and I’ve had some few CDs in my collection that are just that sort of thing, friends of mine who know how to play and just go out and jam together and record it). If I pick up a copy of National Geographic, I’m going to expect a certain amount of professionalism and factualism, but I’m not going to read the article if it holds no interest for me, if it doesn’t have some emotional spark or some deeper meaning. The same goes for blogs. A blog could have some typos or have some rambling pointless posts every once in a while, but if it has that spark, I’m going to keep checking back. Does it say something to me about my life? Does it change me, challenge me, move me, comfort me, scare me, make me laugh? That’s really the crux of it here.

I agree with you about blogs and garage bands… what are a few of your favorite blogs? I know I have some I go back to over and over to see what’s new, and then I have some that when I see them I’m just blown away (like Wood’s Lot) but I don’t have the time or the faculties to absorb everything that gets put out there. Tell me about a few good blogs and why you like them please.

Wow, this is kind of hard, because I feel like I have to play favorites almost, which I hate doing. Every blog on my blogroll is among my favorites. Those are also the ones I tend to check every day. I kind of use my own blogroll as the list of stuff I’ll keep coming back to, and not just a link exchange/ link whoring medium, whether it’s because I want to catch up on friends of mine (like Avi’s Journal, ChaoSpirals, or Ryan’s journal), or it’s because I’ve just somehow run across the blog and I really like it.

I’ve mentioned before in my own blog, and I’ll say it again here, but I’m really attracted to the notion of group blogs, and I’ve found Blogsisters to be really gratifying in that respect. I know it’s received a lot of attention, and I’m not trying to plug it because I’m involved. Honestly, even if I wasn’t a contributing member, that’s probably somewhere I’d hit every day anyway. I’ve participated in email lists, bulletin boards, online fora before, and I like the conversational feel to them, and the whole buffet of voices. A lot of times my interest has waned in participatory groups like that because the forum will get overrun with idiots and trolls, or enthusiasm will peter out. I hope that doesn’t happen with Blogsisters, because right now there a lot of smart, interesting women with lots of moxy posting things there and expanding my mind.

I kind of like killoggs for the same reason, although it’s not a community I participate in or even really fully understand. I like to see how groups of friends create little subcultures on the net. I used to be very involved in an online community in my teenage years when I was roleplaying. I liked the idea of people creating a big story together. I think killoggs does that (although it’s a very strange story indeed, and probably an acquired taste for most people), I think the blogging community that I am starting to get involved in through Jeneane and Elaine is starting to become that for me. I go to killogs every day because there’s usually something that either makes me laugh or makes me think; and there’s definitely a “youth culture” appeal to killogs for me.

I love Jeneane, Elaine, Marek, and Golby for their poetry and poet-like ways of writing. I love Kent’s Fishrush site often for it’s pure zaniness. The amateur philosopher and 12-year Christian in me enjoys going to AKMA‘s blog for the wonderful insight and good, meaty, interesting examinations of important topics. Rageboy to get my mind in the gutter and stop being such a Good Girl all the time. I read Matt Duncan’s blog not just because he’s my friend, too, but because we have a lot of similar interests- writing, literature, using the net as a form of communication, being sort of geeky and counter-culture, roleplaying, and he often brings up good links or topics that I like to mull over. b!X reminds me to pay attention to world events, because I often get overwhelmed by it and want to hide my head in the sand, and I can’t afford to. It amazes me how he seems to keep up that battle, when I just want to turn off the bad news and absorb myself in a good book. I know I’m leaving people out, but it’s due to my inability to keep track of all the good stuff flying around out there.

I think most writers are also great readers. I wonder if you’ve run across Marion Zimmer Bradley? She’s been speaking to young women across a few generations with some inspired science fiction as well as some interesting, romantic yet feminist novels about mythic figures like Guinevere and the Lady of the Lake. What do you like to read when you have time for a good trash novel?

I definitely know Bradley well, and have some of her sci fi books as well as her fantastic revisions of Celtic and Greek myths/history. I first read The Mists of Avalon in high school for an honors English class. After that, I got hold of The Forest House, the semi-prequel to Mists. Later, also Firebrand, which retold the Trojan War from Cassandra’s point of view, and one of her Darkover books. I like a lot of sci fi/ fantasy written by female authors, but don’t really consider them “trash novels”. Patricia C Wrede was one of the very first fantasy authors I read when I was 6 years old, also Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and the books that followed in that series were VERY formative for me. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale chilled me to the bone. I’m also a huge, huge fan of Ursula Le Guin. I’ve read her Earthsea books several times, as well as her sci fi books like The Left Hand of Darkness (which I got to study in college for a literature as art class).

I think when I’m looking for a fun, easy read I turn to children’s books or short stories (especially Ray Bradbury, I love that guy! or anything evocative of him). I’ll read just about ANYTHING when I’m desperate enough, though… when I was a kid and couldn’t buy my own books, I’d sometimes sneak my mom’s Harlequin romance novels (bear in mind, this is after I’d read EVERY other book available in the house); but after the novelty of the sexy parts wore off, that got old really fast, and I really can’t stand the thought of reading one now.

I often find myself re-reading favorite books, not just fantasy and sci fi, but also some classic literature. I love Jack London’s The Sea Wolf, Kipling’s Captains Courageous, Nabokov’s Lolita (I have to balance all those female authors with some good ol’ testosterone, you know), Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki (can you tell I have a weekness for ocean adventures?) and I’m proud to say I actually made it through Joyce’s Ulysses, although I don’t know if I’ll try to tackle that one again. I like Faulkner, too, and Jane Eyre was a story I got a lot out of in high school. Uh oh, I see that if I keep going in this direction, it could go on forever, so I’ll just stop now. Mostly, I’m an incurable bibliophile, and I’d much rather curl up with something hefty than a trashy novel any day, although I’m sure there are some who’d consider my taste for fantasy and sci fi to not be very “literary.” The one thing that I read that comes closest to “trash” in my mind maybe is comic books.

Earlier you said you checked in with a counselor at your college. My other name is Jonny Denial, and I have had a long history of avoiding help rather than seeking it. What turned you on to the counselor? What influenced you to check in and discuss your personal problems with a helping professional?

Well, let me tell you right off, it took me years of trying to handle it myself before finally making that decision to go into counselling. I was in the middle of my sophomore year, my best friend and I had just had a huge argument (where we were both being pretty snotty and at fault); neither of us handled it well; she decided we needed to talk about it right then, and I was so flipped I just needed to be by myself to calm down. It ended up with me trying to hide in the closet, her yanking on my arm, and me using my foot to push her away from me, almost a kick in the stomach- then I ran off and wandered around Tacoma in a semi-hysterical state until about 3am (see? I told you I wasn’t always as together as I seemed). I think this is the closest to a total mental breakdown I’ve ever been, and I scared the crap out of myself for having behaved that destructively and insanely. I KNEW at that point I couldn’t fix whatever it was on my own or with just the help of my friends and family.

And, to be honest, I was also pretty open to the idea of counselling in general because of some personal history. My mom has a degree in psychology and has worked at a state hospital. Both of my parents have been through several types of counselling at various stages in their lives for various reasons, and they have been a good example about being open and talking about feelings. Also, when my family was dealing with this problem of alcoholism in my pre-teens and early teens, I went quite regularly to Alateen meetings, which was something that worked really well for me personally. I’m not trying to be a counselling/self-help/ twelve step evangelist or anything, but for myself and my family, these things ended up being really useful tools for dealing with our personal pain and scars, and we haven’t been too proud to use them. I think that background helped me realize, when I was wandering around Tacoma past midnight, laughing and crying at the same time: “Hey, this is sick behavior, and there’s a way I can stop it if I’m willing and I do what I know I need to and what I know has worked in the past.”

I don’t want to make it seem like I loved going to counselling, though. I hated it. I’d get butterflies before I went. I didn’t really enjoy talking to the counsellor. It was pretty humiliating sometimes. But after I left each session, I felt lighter, I felt a little bit more healed.

You’ve been apprenticing with Elaine, and Rageboy has been writing about snakes, and you’re kind of a Python expert… does any of that worry you?

Heh! I’ll give you a straight-man answer first: I like snakes! I’m a big fan of animals, creepy crawlies included (even after being viciously mauled by a hobo spider). I’m sure you can tell from that childhood picture on my bio page that I don’t have a problem with snakes, that I’m even fascinated by them.

The priestess Pythia used to be the voice of the oracle at Delphi, so snake associations can be quite powerful and a path to knowledge or wisdom (but not an easy path). I was also born in the Chinese year of the snake, which supposedly characterizes me as someone possessed of natural intelligence and wisdom. The serpent convinced Adam and Eve to eat the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden, giving them knowledge of good and evil (which, I believe, wasn’t the “sinful” part of the story). So snakes might not be safe, but they sure are interesting!

Now for the hidden subtext part: I used to have huge anxieties about sex. It embarrasses me to admit it (but hey, I’m good at embarrassing myself), but I actually used to have snake-related nightmares. Dreams about eels crawling into my underpants and biting me, dreams about one-eyed snakes (seriously!) wrapping themselves around my arms and staring at me. It’s all so typically Freudian it makes me want to smack my subconscious. Most of my anxiety had to do with not being loveable or attractive enough, and some of the other self-image problems I talked about earlier. Now that I’ve dealt with those issues and have a boyfriend who cares for me deeply and finds me beautiful even when I’m not at my best, I don’t really have dreams like that anymore.

I was on vacation and I left the laptop home to prove it. Then I ran across this Kinko’s near UCLA and decided to push out a few questions using mail2web.com

You’re as bad as I am. ;-) I found a Kinko’s in Tacoma that will give you free broadband access if you have a laptop (you only have to pay for net access if you use one of their machines), so every time I go back visiting the old alma mater, there I am…

I’m glad you did it, though, this has been a slow week and this email gives me a chance to divert myself.

So, on to your questions…

I want to come back to the self image issues. You have a personal interest in a lot of young women’s issues… teen pregnancy and eating disorders to name two that you’ve blogged on at Blog Sisters (where I can look but I can not touch).

While you were very forthcoming sharing your angst regarding self image earlier, I wonder if you have ever had an eating disorder yourself? And if so, I hope you can talk about it here.

Hmm… I wouldn’t say I’ve had anything I’d classify as an eating disorder. I’ve watched my mom struggle for years with food addiction and trying to keep her weight down, but despite my healthy appetite, I wouldn’t consider myself food addicted.

I could never be bulimic. I utterly hate throwing up.

I don’t think I was ever anorexic either. I was active, but always more concerned about being too skinny rather than too fat (although, as a desk jockey, that’s less of a problem nowadays). However, I’ve always been probably of more than normal sensitivity to hunger levels and blood sugar levels. I get incredibly moody when I haven’t had enough to eat. There were times when I was unhappy with myself that I’d use that physical weakness as punishment, put off eating when I was hungry because I felt I didn’t deserve food. This probably only ever happened a handful of times, nothing to seriously endanger my health, so I wouldn’t consider it a disorder in itself, but just a symptom of a greater self-esteem issue.

I did have plenty of friends with eating disorders, especially because of my childhood involvement in ballet, where there can be a lot of pressure on girls to conform to a certain “dancer” body image. Along with that, my own tendencies to use food as a weapon, and watching my mom struggle with her confusion about food and love, I think all those things together made me sensitive to body image issues and eating disorders without having to significantly suffer through one myself.

I’m not sure still how to intelligibly sum up my self-image issues. They were never anything that fit into a neat package like an eating disorder or self-mutilation or anything like that. I came from a loving family, despite some of the dysfunctionality (but who doesn’t have dysfunctionality?). I can’t blame it on my parents telling me I was worthless or ugly- in fact, they still brag about me to all their friends. I think that’s one reason I turned to poetry, to express both my unhappiness and the confusion that surrounded it. There were a lot of factors that played into it- I’d come from a very unusual and sheltered childhood, where I was used to being the center of attention; I was always my own person and rarely gave in to conformity, and suffered a lot of flack for that; I tend to be proud to a fault, and don’t always take criticism well, and I tend to want to please others. I was very smart, and during my childhood and adolescence always seemed to have just enough insight to make me dangerous… I took the teasing of my peers really hard, and I took it to heart. There was (it felt) so much of it, that there MUST have been some truth in it. I was wrapped up in myself enough that I couldn’t see that inside, a lot of the teasers were just as insecure or maybe more so.

Also, what about love? I know you have a man in Australia that you’re planning to join. Is this your first and only significant relationship, or was there anyone before him who may have had a claim on your heart? If so, how and why did that end?

Oh, this is a dangerous question, because it’s sort of a sensitive issue with me. Ouch! Well. I’ll start out by saying that until I was about 17, when I graduated from high school, you couldn’t get me to confess I was attracted to a boy if you tried to drag it out of me with wild rabid angry horses. Needless to say, I didn’t really date at all through high school or even college. When I say “really,” it’s not to be evasive, but just to account for a horribly abortive attempt at a long distance internet relationship with a guy from my freshman through my junior year of college. It was something that lasted for a long time, but ended up not having any real significance in my life except to learn how not to have a romantic relationship. There were a few other fumbled attempts that occurred before I met Adam, but he’s the first man I’d consider myself having a “real” relationship with (despite the distance), because this is the first time both I and someone else have made a stated, firm commitment to pursue something together. A lot of the previous buggy versions of relationships were just centered around my lack of self-esteem and my need to feel loved and attractive, which is why they didn’t last very long or contain much substance. If I don’t go into detail, it’s because most of my memories of the whole business are pretty unpleasant, and I don’t want to really waste this space griping about the other people involved, because ultimately, it was me choosing to enter into these negative situations. I just happened to make choices motivated by the wrong things. I think I’m happy now, and making choices motivated by better things (though I think the real test will be living on the same continent with this guy, but I’m not particularly worried). Even though I’m still maybe a little bitter about the past, at least it provided some important lessons and a fair amount of decent (if angsty) poetry.

And here’s a boat question… how long did you live on that boat? How much do you remember about those days?

My parents had owned sailboats and been into sailing a lot for several years before I was born. They made the decision to move aboard when I was two years old, and purchased a brand new sailboat. I believe it was a 38′ Downeaster, named Katherine, after my mom, Mary Katherine.

This is one of my favorite pictures of me on Katherine.

And here’s a lot of boring technical information on Downeaster 38′s, although I don’t know why anyone but a sailing enthusiast would go there, but just in case….

We moved off the sailboat when I was seven. I really, really loved that time in my childhood, and remember a lot of it quite clearly, and very fondly. I will always have an ache in me for the sea; I’ve only lived a significant distance away from the ocean for one year in my life, when we moved to my granny’s hometown in Oklahoma for a while after living on the boat. I still have deep dreams where I can feel the rocking of the boat under me.

I spent a lot of time poking around the docks, catching crabs with bits of leftover bacon, sticking my fingers in sea anemones and watching their tentacles curl around my finger. I loved going out for a sail; even at 5 or 6 knots an hour (which is not very fast at all), there was a huge rush to it, the movement of the boat, the heel (when the boat leans from the force of the wind pushing it), the wind blowing in your face gave this exhilerating sense of movement, it’s one of the freest feelings I’ve known. I have a lot of memories of sailing, of going out to the Channel Islands and anchoring, of wandering around the docks in Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. I spent a lot of time undressed or half undressed, barefoot and brown all over. At that age, I was known to strip down to my underwear in restaurants, so unselfconscious and uninhibited, it was a very different picture from my preteens and adolescence.

It was a really magical time for me. I had an entire personal mythology created for myself. On Santa Cruz island, there was a cove we anchored at a lot called Little Scorpion, which had a sea cave that you could fit a dinghy into. At the back of the cave was a pebble beach that made a constant rumbling sound, amplified by the cave walls, as the waves rolled over it. We called that cave the Dragon Cave, because my parents told me there was a dragon snoring way in the back of the cave, sound asleep. I really believed the dragon was back there, even though I logically knew and could observe that it was just the pebbles making the noise, I fed off that sense of wonder, and it still feeds me now, just thinking about it. I know that dragon’s back there right now, dreaming away the centuries, snoring peacefully in its sleep.

I remember a lot of “ordinary” things made wonderous like that; one time a homing pigeon that had got lost in a storm landed on our boat, and we decided to take care of it, and named it Dorothy, after the character in The Wizard of Oz. Suddenly this perfectly boring pigeon had become imbued with sort of a mystic importance, it was a part of a story that included us. It’s this sensibility that defines a lot of what I’m interested in now that I’m an adult.

Hope you’re enjoying your trip!

-Andrea

This picture of you got me to thinking about the solstice. Any magic happen last night? I spent hours and hours in the Denver airport waiting for a plane to Madison. Not too magical…

The magic was working on a lot of levels for us, I think. The weather was gorgeous, for one. Clear, clear skies, and wonderfully hot. There were five of us camping together at Whidbey Island’s Deception Pass State Park, and it was a good group of personalities. We all laughed together and had fun, throwing frisbee and hiking around and throwing rocks into the water.

The girls (my friend Jennifer, who was my roommate sophomore year of college, and Jeni, who was my housemate in my senior year, and me) all met up early, set up the tents, bought the food. We relaxed, and Jennifer told us some of the traditions for Jani that she’d participated in when she lived in Latvia a few years ago. We made wreaths of flowers and wore them on our heads, and danced around to Latvian folk music, made all the other campers point and stare at us.

The guys showed up later, around dinner time, our friend Kevin from college, and my friend Matt, who I’ve known since college, but who hadn’t met anyone else before. We ate dinner and then walked around along the shore of the Sound, watching the sun set behind the San Juan Islands.

We stayed up past midnight (another Jani tradition), then all went to bed and got up early. When the morning fog had burned off, we crossed Deception Pass Bridge and hiked around Bowman Bay and saw a bald eagle. The magic wasn’t in anything out of the ordinary, it was in the fact that we all had such an easy, wonderful time. Before we left, we girls found a tree and tried throwing our flower wreaths up into the tree so that they stayed. Every missed throw was another year until we were supposed to get married. Jani is definitely a Beltane-May-Day sort of fertility holiday.

Tell me about your career in technology. Where have you been, where would you really like to go from a work perspective? Sydney is understood, but when you get there do you want to lead? To create? To plan? To do? What would be your ideal job and what toys would your ideal workgroup have to provide you to make it all worthwhile?

This is a question I’ve pondered, but I’ve never arrived at any detailed answers. I can say that I do like what I currently do (job-wise). It’s something I do in my spare time anyway, whether or not I get paid for it. I know I’m the kind of personality that maybe would do well in management or an administrative position, but would probably hate it. I kind of like being told what to do in a work environment. This might sound really pathetic to some people, but ultimately I like to produce. It’s not as if I’m fond of being micromanaged- I hate to have someone breathing over my shoulder. I just recognize my strength as being able to produce rather than to guide or lead others.

My ideal job would be something, I think, where I’d get to work on a larger variety of projects. Right now I’m mostly maintaining and developing for the same few web sites, and while it has its advantages, I feel a little bored, because most of the time it’s the same few problems that come up over and over again and need to be solved. I like having a lot of variety and flux. As for toys- they’re fun but not required. I’m just happy with a machine that works and the software I need to do the job. Toys are more for the experimenting I do on my own time.

I also wonder how long I’ll stay in the tech field. For me to stay in that field, I’d need to have a job that allows me to express my creative side as well as being logical and structured. If my job became something that was too technical, I’d get burned out really quickly and probably just quit and become a writer or a poor starving artist.

And finally… you have fifty or more growing and productive years ahead of you in this still new millenium, where do you think we’ll be by the time you’re settled in the old programmers rest and relaxation villa? A transportation system of ubiquitous canals and personal watercraft? Nasal implants that invoke transformative technology with an “I Dream of Jeannie” nose twitch? Whirled peas? What? And how do you see yourself crossing the gulf of time between now and then?

As far as where technology will be by the time I’m retired, I have no idea. I love speculative fiction, but I don’t think I have the vision of a Ray Bradbury or a Jules Verne. I think the net will be a bigger part of our lives by then; I find Tad William’s vision of overwhelming virtual reality in his Otherland series of epic novels to be astute, maybe even not too far from what the truth will be.

As for what I plan to be doing, I hope I’ll be active and use my time to do the things I really love- to be creative, to travel all over the world, go sailing, spend time with my family and friends, and always always keep learning and growing. And hopefully I’ll be somewhere warm and close to the beach.

I don’t do well with long-term plans. I seem to come up with plans in three-four-five year chunks. I don’t see myself as someone who changes that in the future. I like being spontaneous and kind of going with the flow. When I have a goal, I work toward it, and I plan out what I need to to get there, but if circumstances change, I like to think I’m flexible enough to step back, take stock, and say, where do I want to go now?

In all, I have a pretty optimistic outlook on the future. I’m concerned about the fact that we as a species seem to focus more on getting technology to do what we want without a very careful examination of the consequences, but I’m also a believer in people’s ability to survive their own mistakes and learn and grow because of them. I just hope we don’t make a big enough mistake, like a nuclear holocaust or too much devastation from pollution and over-use of resources. In the same way I’m optimistic about my own future. I don’t know where I’m going all the time, but when I do, I’m pretty sure I’ll get there. This might be simply due to the fact that I’ve had a lucky background, a good upbringing. Not a lot of bad things have happened to me, so it’s easy to be optimistic. I hope that if bad things do come along, I can weather them with grace and perspective.

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