It is the end of an era … at last.

Well folks … yesterday evening at 10:59pm Pacific time marked the end of an era for me. I have been toiling somewhat laboriously on a Bachelor’s degree in Intercultural Communication for the last 3 or so years of my life … and that is now over and done. For some of you, you will realise just how much of an accomplishment this is because I have started and stopped a degree in one form or another several times in my adult life. I finally found the right set of circumstances that allowed me to stick with it and finish it. I am done.

Of course, I still have to get my final grade and clear financial issues before I am granted that piece of paper, but for all intents and purposes, I am done. I don’t anticipate that my final grade will be a failing one unless I totally screwed up that last paper … and frankly even if I did screw it up badly, I see a “C” grade at worst anyway which is still a pass. For the record, I received a “C” grade only once in these last 3 years.

Which sort of reminds me of something my 4th form (or grade 15?) teacher once told me: “you’ll always be a B grade student, Camille, unless you apply yourself a little more”. It seems she had wisdom beyond her years … or she “put har goat mout’ pan mi” – depending on how you choose to see it. I am a little lazy when it comes to studying … although I suspect that psychologists might say it’s less about my willingness to learn and more about the way in which I learn. Intriguing idea, actually. I learn best when I listen and do, not read – and reading was half of the work on this degree; the other half was being one of only two active people in a team the whole course through. My husband jokingly says my degree is a piece of paper certifying that I am a team player who can and will carry a team.

But now is not the time to bitch about the structure or format of this program. Now is the time to drink alcohol, sing, and be merry about never having to go back into another accelerated 5 week class with a bunch of lazy teammates ever again. I am done and in a couple of weeks, I will have paper to prove it.

Next step, you ask? I dunno. I have this lofty idea that I want to do a Master’s in Psychology. My inner child is in turn both laughing and cringing at that idea. We’ll see. For now, it’s all about revelling in the freedom from classes, finding a job (I can stomach), and just being relieved at finally being done. Whether this degree means anything for the job search remains to be seen.

More anon.

Sinking ships, creatures of comfort, and Evernote

The other day, Evernote contacted me (as they probably did a lot of people) to do a survey for them. In return, they were giving me free Premium months. I wasn’t so much interested in the free months as I was in giving structured feedback on an app that I love so much that I stubbornly refuse to interview with others of its kind.

Well, refused (past tense) until this week, that is… with all the talk about OneNote, I had to give it a try. I am skeptical because I just have this feeling that at some point I will be required to fork out tons of dollars to gain the kind of functionality from OneNote that I currently have with Evernote. To be honest, I know that there is functionality in Evernote that I won’t get in OneNote, but I am not going to let that stop me from taking it for a spin around the block.

The other day, browsing Twitter over a weekend when the Evernote service seemed to have been limping along painfully whilst the Evernote support site boasts office hours during the week only, I felt a little bit like the crew going down with the sinking ship. There was something wrong; several people had issues, no one was around to help, and there were far too many references to OneNote on the web to be comfortable with in a time of crisis. I have to admit, I flirted briefly with the notion of abandoning ship.

I didn’t; for several reasons not the least of which is the fact that I am not a huge fan of Microsoft. And while the main portion of that reason is emotion, I believe the assemblage of all the reasons why I just don’t like their products is of sufficient weight to at least give me some credibility as a long-time disgruntled user. If I were forced to sum them up, I’d have to say that usability is just not intuitive for me. User-based, highly subjective objections, in other words.

Other reasons include things such as the cost-prohibitiveness of keeping up-to-date in a third-world country such as the one I was born in, the fact that their early offerings were badly unstable (if you’re old enough, think NT and driver/IRQ conflicts), and then there is the bloat that is Microsoft Word which speaks for itself – no?

Look, I know Microsoft products have improved greatly in the last few years. I know this because my iMac is bootcamped with Windows 7 and I have never had any issues with it. I would never go to Windows 8, though, and even more so that I’ve heard so many people complaining about it. And then there is the Surface Pro which, from all accounts is a pretty damn good product.

The thing is, old-time bias and prejudice doesn’t go away easily. (Ha! Considering recent news items, this statement is pure gold.) And if the experience with OneNote is anything like my first few moments just now, I am not going to be impressed at all. For some reason, I can’t get this particular note (?) to be formatted like a proper page. It has a PDF embedded and I am going to assume that paging works differently in OneNote where there embedded elements. The learning curve could just be steep. So I will be patient and spend a few days, maybe even weeks, playing around with it before I give my final say on it.

In the meantime, my trusty Evernote shall ever be at my side – no matter what. I’ve been with them since 2007 (I thought it was 2009, but 2009 was the first time I bought Premium) and I won’t give them up … not yet.

Medicine isn’t as precise as you thought it was

I never really thought about how imprecise medicine is as a profession until this week. Last week Friday, I went in for a routine laparoscopy with a goal to ease my endometriosis symptoms considerably. We surmised that we would find endometriosis based on symptoms and history. It sounds like we were right (“sounds” because I haven’t seen the doc for the followup visit yet, so not 100% sure what he found).

The imprecise aspect, though, is that this is my second of such surgeries (the first was 4 years ago) but this one leaves me in far less pain than the first one did.  When I think about it, I realise that the first one used lasers to burn the tissue. Thinking in retrospect and logically, that would hurt more. Still, I was so anxious with dread in anticipation of the pain that I was quite useless. Not that you’d know since, in true INTJ form, I let no one know just how anxious I was.  But I digress …

That alone isn’t why I say it’s imprecise. And in fact there are several aspects of this surgery that make me think that. This time around I didn’t get antibiotics to go home with (I don’t know if they gave me a large dose before I left the hospital or not) and they gave me simple Naproxen to manage the pain – nothing too high-powered. Well, not quite true – they gave me Percocet, but only if the pain kept me awake or was too unbearable even with the Naproxen.

On top of that, when I think about how in times past, with my level of pain pre-surgery for as long as I have had it, the procedure I would have undergone was more hysterectomy than laparoscopy. The level of understanding of the conditions affecting women’s reproductive systems and the fatality numbers was just too overwhelming. It was just better to take it all out and reduce the overall risk. As it is, I still have all my reproductive organs – which is a fairly big deal considering.

Incidentally, I gave them permission to take as much as they wanted to for further study of the disease. Honestly, I want women some time in the future to be able to avoid this crap in the first place. Two surgeries for the same diagnosis, two different kinds of after-care and pain levels … and only 4 years apart. Still, what I now know (based on discussions with my doctor within the last few months) compared against what I have learned over the years prior is eons apart. And this is at the foundation of the reason for my post.

What we have learned about endometriosis is stunning in its entirety … yet there are still very few doctors who have access to that body of knowledge. My doctor of 4 years ago in Texas was supposedly the best around – yet he didn’t know much about endo. At least not enough to educate me sufficiently. (Course, chances are that was less about the extent of his knowledge and maybe more about his ability and/or willingness to impart that knowledge to me.)

This doctor here in Washington said one thing that made the whole thing finally make sense to me. He said, “The uterus has 3 openings”.  We don’t think of it that way – we think of it as having only the one opening. The tubes, however, are wide open and give almost complete, unfettered access to the abdominal region; hence the “leakage” of fluid from the uterus into the abdomen. And thus begins the nightmare that is endometriosis. The biggest piece of information I got, though, was that while ALL women have this backwash backflow thing going on, in actuality only a small subset of those women experience the kind of scarring that causes the symptoms I have been living with for decades.

My luck.

Still, it is overwhelmingly reassuring to know that there is information now available to doctors to help me and other women like me. It might take some time for your friendly neighbourhood General Practitioner to get access to that info, but the info is there. And if you are like me, you will ask and ask and ask until someone answers you satisfactorily.

Well, today is the last day …

That sounds ominous. I don’t mean it to be. I am not disappearing into the nether. I’m still here … will be here. Today, though, is a last in a couple different ways. It’s the second day of my last class at the University of Phoenix. In just under 5 weeks, I’ll be the proud holder of a Bachelors of Science in Intercultural Communication. Boom! And I know that some of you are wondering how on earth I ended up doing a non-tech degree instead of just continuing with my tech career. Here’s the thing though, and I knocked the socks off my BFF the other day with this: I ended up in tech by accident!!!

When we were finishing up my second year of 6th form (I can’t think of an equivalent in US parlance; think of it as basic entry-level University classes), my best friend at the time said to me “Bah! It’s easy to get into School of Law. Try getting into the Department of Computer Science! Now THAT one is hard!” I know – it sounds pretty stupid now when I say it, but for us it seemed easy to get into the Law Faculty at the University of the West Indies. In retrospect, and considering I failed to get in, the flaw in our reasoning is pretty obvious. Nevertheless, I took her on and submitted an application to the Department of Computer Studies at the then College of Arts, Science, and Technology (it’s now known as the University of Technology, Jamaica).

Turns out, that was a good move, because I had no backup plan for failing to get into Faculty of Law at UWI. And no amount of begging was able to get them to look past the abysmal failures that was my 6th form exam results. I was never a big studier – I was always the kind of person who either “got it” while doing it or writing it, or not at all. Even today – things mostly sail over my head unless I get a chance to write them down or do them. 6th form studies are just that … studying. There isn’t a lot of classroom work, and teachers expect you to do most of the work on your own. Having been spoon-fed all my school years, I was a complete and utter failure at the self-study deal. So … no University of the West Indies for me, but luckily the College of Arts, Science, and Technology accepted me without so much of a batted eye. And thus I entered the technology field. Luckily for me, not only was I pretty good at it, I actually enjoyed it too.

Anyway, to get back to the subject at hand – this is my last class. I haven’t checked in at all since yesterday except to beg for team favours. It’s pretty appalling how much I am slacking these last couple of classes. The University of Phoenix is … one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever had. I will have to talk about that in another post. Suffice it to say that … teamwork is not my strong suit when there are people who are dimwitted and lazy on the team. Call me callous if you want …

On top of that is it’s also the last day of the Mists of Pandaria expansion in World of Warcraft. Yes – I’ve been playing WoW again lately – a lot. Hubster and I had stopped for a while, and I had even managed to stay away from games almost altogether for a long time. Then the Hubster grabbed ahold of my heart strings and tugged. He said, “I miss WoW. I miss I miss us in WoW. It is where we met, after all.” And here we are, back in-game for yet another expansion. This time it’s the Warlord of Draenor. And if you aren’t in the WoW world, you probably don’t realise just how much of a HUGE deal this expansion is. I have heard a few people say that with WoD, we go back to when things were like vanilla WoW when people actually had things to do other than mash buttons mindlessly. That’s either a good or bad thing depending on where you’re standing. In my case, it means back to the basics of enjoying the game and to hell with the people who are racing to get to end-content on day 2.

I have some health issues that I am taking care of starting tomorrow too. So maybe I can see today as the last day on this side of the solution? /shrug Maybe. Suffice it to say, the next 2-5 weeks is going to be both hectic and surreal. :) I can’t wait.

In any case, if I disappear off the grid again for a while, it’s not quite “business as usual” … I am just super preoccupied with school and WoW and (channeling Arnold Schwarzenegger) I will be back. Heh. :)

How Stereotypes hurt us, from a personal perspective

If you’re like me, in any of the smallest of ways, you’ve chafed at the bit that is stereotypical roles for all your life. I struggled long and hard as a child with statements such as “you should focus on behaving like a lady” and “but you should wear (read:like) pink; pink is for girls” and “frills are just so pretty, I don’t know why you don’t like them – you’re a girl” and “but patent shoes are so formal and show class”.

Embarrassingly, I thought long and hard (obsessively in some instances) about things like why boys stand up to urinate and why girls must sit. I will even admit to experimenting a little with the reversal of that concept. We won’t get into the details… let’s just say the results were hilarious in retrospect, if humiliating at the time. Chalk it up to youthful ignorance of human anatomy. When I learned more about how our bodies are built, I heard the gong go off in my head on the why of that particular fact. Some of our “norms” are as a result of biology – case in point. A ton others, though, are not. Like how long we keep our hair or what colours we wear. Those things are dictated by society, not biology.

Something someone very dear to me said to me recently got me thinking. There are so many ways in which we produce cookie-cutter children and we are not even remotely aware of those ways. Why? Because it is what we were taught growing up (much in the same way I was), and we saw how it went for those who were socialised in ways other than the “norms” of society. Shunned, ridiculed, abused, discarded. Better to be “normal”, isn’t it?

But I have to ask you this: how does that feel, that “normal”? Does it feel comfy to be in your “normal” skin? And just for a second, I want to ask you to set aside that “but I wouldn’t fit in” feeling and really think about how it feels to be “normal”.

And here’s the thing: some of you will tell me it feels perfectly fine. That’s the thing about stereotypes. They actually do fit some people. The hurtful part is when it doesn’t. We can’t all be the same. And we shouldn’t have to be. I am firm advocate for allowing people to grow into the kind of people they want to be instead of the kind of people society says they should be. And the way to do that is to stop insisting that they stick to the “norms” that society dictates. A 3 year old boy can most definitely have long hair and wear pink if he wants to. Objections to either of those are society talking, not biology. We have to remember that.

I applaud the trashing of gender stereotypes because I have never been comfortable with the “typical girl” one at all. And I think it hurt me far more than it needed to be forced into pink frilly dresses and socks with patent leather shoes and bows in my hair. It hurt because I was uncomfortable and we often associate discomfort with other items. For example, church became a consistently bad thing growing up because it was when Mom forced me into pink, frilly dresses and socks with patent leather shoes. That’s harmful – no matter what you think of church and religion. A child’s recollection of church should not be as a result of how he or she was dressed.

Do me a favour – please. The next time you think “Oh but that’s not very masculine/feminine” stop for a moment and ask yourself whether whatever it is you are criticising is a biological dictate (like urinating standing up), or societal (long hair and pink for a boy). And if it is societal, acknowledge that the reasons why you want to change them is not because it’s wrong, but because you are concerned about them being shunned, ridiculed, abused, discarded. Then allow them to experiment and choose and hope they realise that society can be unforgiving on their own before it is too late. Perhaps, like me, they’ll realise that to be vastly different is to draw unwanted attention to their lives. Or perhaps they’ll say “to hell with it – I will be who I want to be” and chart the course for new lands.

Remember, some of our most loved heroes and creative geniuses were far from “normal”. Maybe that is what it takes to succeed – the courage (or crazy) to challenge the status quo. Maybe that’s what we need to change the world we live in. Allow those harmful stereotypes to die the miserable, lonely death they deserve.

Testing a new plugin

If you see this post, then this new plugin works and I am in love with Evernote anew.


Editing to add more information … this plugin had a note on its plugin page that said it had stopped working. Except that it works perfectly fine. This post was created using it. So I can write in Evernote and publish from it as well. Beauty <3!

About that job I mentioned …

Remember me saying that I got a job using those supposed “soft skills”? Yeah … Well, I had to quit that job. … And … I’ve spent a great deal of time over the last few weeks wondering whether my subconscious generated an excuse to quit because I was so dissatisfied with the job … or whether I really was too sick to continue at that point in time.

The truth is there were several things wrong … not the least of which was the fact that I was overqualified and I felt it acutely every minute of every day. When they interview you, they really only need to know that you’ve completed high school, have a basic work ethic, and can pass a drug screening. Nothing more really. Having some computer skills is a bonus, having some customer service skills is also a bonus … but not a requirement.

The bottom line is that it required basic skills but was tough as hell because people. Look lemme tell you something … considering my gross misanthropy, it’s a wonder I lasted as long as I did. Sick or not, I don’t know how much longer I was going to be able to stand sitting and allowing people to shit on me that way. Oh yes – there were some fun and enjoyable and rewarding calls. Sure. But there weren’t enough of them for me to work that hard for that little.

I tried to hang on … I really did. Ultimately, it’s always better to hang on to employment when you get it in this economy. The problem is … well, I spent all 7 weeks sick. The only week I wasn’t sick was the first one. Thereafter I was either flushing out a sinus irritation, or developing a cold from that sinus irritation or getting over a cold. In the final 7th week, the cold took my voice on Saturday morning and it was gone for a full 5 or 6 days thereafter. Which is kind of pointless for a job where you need to be talking. And they are very strict at this place … 2 absences and they fire you. Considering it was going on 2 days, I figured it was best to just quit. Within a week of leaving, I was better … much better. I hesitate to point fingers because while I know the building wasn’t the cleanest (and someone else actually said to me once that the ‘place was one giant petri dish’), I also know my resistance was probably low having worked from home for 4 years prior. It was as much me as it was the building. Regardless, it just wasn’t going to work.

Still, I learnt some things. I learned I absolutely can do just about anything I put my mind to. That those “soft skills” that I thought I didn’t have, are just unpolished … or unpracticed. But also … I learned I need to be happy in my 9 to 5. I was miserable – every day, all day. That is just no way to live.

So while I finish the degree and re-analyse what I want to do, I am back volunteering at the Dispute Resolution Center in downtown Olympia because that gives me a nice warm feeling deep down inside, that I am making a difference. Can’t beat the kind of work that is fulfilling … even if it doesn’t pay a dime.