automattic, career

Top Tips for Working Remotely

Sarah Blackstock's Top Tips for Working Remotely

If you work remotely or have considered it, you’ve most likely seen lots of advice about how to do it successfully, including how you should dress like you’re going into an office or have a whole room dedicated for your office space. And you know what? I don’t agree.

I’ve worked remotely successfully for over two years now (currently: at Automattic for WordPress.com), and the secret is: Do what works best for you. Try lots of variations until you get the right combination, and then be willing to change it up once those things aren’t working as well for you anymore.

Here are my top tips for how to work from home:

  1. Wear whatever you want! Take advantage of not having to go into an office and dress however you’re most comfortable while working. Do you need the structure of a business casual outfit to get in the right mindset? Fine. But if you don’t? Get cozy! My loungewear and sweatpants collection has expanded vastly over the past two years. When they became my work wardrobe, I wanted lots of cute options!
  2. Work from home or anywhere. Just remember to leave your house! I’m 100% fine with being on my own a lot of the time, so I don’t get that stir crazy feeling from staying home unless I stay in for quite a long stretch. If that happens, I make a Target run, out among the people, and I’m all set. If you need more time out than that, find a café or coffee shop and spend a workday there. I’m not big on official coworking spaces (too much networking and distraction), but I love a few hours at a table with coffee, snacks, and prime people watching at the local café. I also meetup with my local coworkers about once a month, so if you’ve got any nearby, plan a coworking session with them!
  3. Don’t sit at a desk all day every day unless you really want to. So many remote working tips include needing a dedicated work space. I have a desk, but do I spend all day there? Nope. Some days I spend no time at all at my desk. I let my tasks for the day and mood determine where I’ll be. I’ve worked from my couch, the dining table, standing next to a shelf holding my computer, the back porch on a sunny day, and even bundled up in bed. If you’re not home alone while working, a room you can work in with the door closed is a big plus, but don’t lock yourself in there every day unless you must. I like to change up what I’m looking at, so I tend to move around my house throughout the day.
  4. Take advantage of your very short commute. Instead of just working more because your commute was about 10 seconds, make time to take care of yourself throughout the day. You can have fantastic breakfasts and lunches, if you want. I like to spend my lunch break totally away from my computer doing yoga, watching an episode of a show I’m into, or reading for a while. Whatever I do, the point is to reset my brain for an afternoon of work, so it shouldn’t include working while I eat.
  5. Remember to take breaks. When you’re home, especially if you’re working from a particularly cozy spot, it can be easy to skip the breaks and work through several hours. But your eyeballs need to look away from the computer screen and your body needs a stretch, so make time for those too! You could take a quick walk around the block, workout, or do absolutely nothing for two minutes. I have a whole post of self-care ideas you can use for ideas on how to spend your breaks.

Basically, do what works! Don’t feel obligated to follow all the advice you see out there (including in this post!) unless it truly works best for you. Mix it up and find your favorites!

books, reading

Five Top Tips for Reading More Books

sb-five_top_tips_for_reading_more_books-pinterest

I’m a big reader. I got off track logging my books as I read them in Goodreads this year to prove I met my goal of over 100, but I’m confident I did. No doubt about it, even without the proof, I know I’m well over it. So if you’ve been wishing you’d find a way to read more books, I’ve got the tips for you! (And no, I’m not going to tell you to stop watching television. I love TV too.)

Last year I shared ideas for How to Read More Books in 2016, and I’m back today with five more top tips to help you along the way. I recommend reading the first post for the entry-level ideas to get started, and adding in these next five to level-up your reading habits.

  1. Give yourself a book budget. I don’t mean this as a way to decrease your book spending, but to increase it guilt-free. If you’ve set aside X dollars for books per month, it’s perfectly fine to spend the entire amount on books. It’s not meant for anything else. Buy books and stack them up to tempt you. Or fill out your ebook collection, so you’ll always find one that you’re in the mood to read anytime you browse your virtual bookshelves.
  2. Go to bed early, but don’t actually go to sleep. I go to bed at a laughably early hour very often because I settle in, get cozy, and read fiction. I often read tweets by people making jokes about going to bed early while I’m already in bed, to be honest. Sometimes I’m there so early, I get a few hours of reading in. (My problem is usually making myself stop to actually go to sleep at some point.)
  3. Always keep a book with you. Like Rory Gilmore, a book should be your constant companion. Luckily you don’t have to weigh your bag down like her if you don’t want to. Your phone is a perfectly fine place to store a current read to dive into on-the-go. Choose an app (Kindle, iBooks, etc.) and get a collection of ebooks going there. I like to blog about particularly great book deals I find (tagged: book deals) and/or tweet them using #bookdeals.
  4. Read non-fiction on your lunch break. I’m not very good at reading non-fiction in bed, so I save it for my daytime reading, which often ends up being my lunch break. I really like to take the time to reset myself for a productive afternoon by stepping away from my computer, so my lunch breaks are often used for exercising or reading (or both at the same time — hey, audiobooks!).
  5. Track, write, share, and take notes! Sure, reading is great on its own, but if you make the whole process a bit more interactive and form habits around it, you’re more likely to do it more often. Keep a list of the books you’ve read this year in your bullet journal or track them on Goodreads. Take notes as you read, or jot down your thoughts when you finish a book. Live tweet your thoughts about a book while reading it, or whip up a cute graphic with a quote from your current read for your Instagram (or #bookstagram, if you will).

No excuses. Start reading.

I’m up for chatting about your recent read anytime. 😉

feminism & equality, pop culture, television

Veronica Mars: Iconic Feminist Show and Teen Girl Detective

Veronica Mars: Iconic Feminist Show and Teen Girl Detective

Veronica Mars is one of my favorite television shows, and the title character is a fantastic depiction of a smart, vulnerable, brave, fallible young woman. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend setting aside some time and watching the entire series. (If you’ve got Amazon Prime, it’s available for free there right now or it’s less than $20 per season.)

Below I analyze a few episodes from the first season of Veronica Mars, in relation to feminist theory (and just because I love it).

About the show

In Veronica Mars, the main character, Veronica, attends school while moonlighting as a private investigator. (If you haven’t seen it yet, you may want to come back later, unless you’re one of those people who love spoilers.) Set in a fictional, affluent town called Neptune, California, Veronica Mars frequently covers issues of race and class division, and feminism is addressed through the struggles and triumphs of Veronica and her friends.

Veronica is a cute, blonde, white girl from California who viewers may assume is more surfer girl or spoiled brat at first, rather than the snarky, tough, girl-detective she actually is. Season one starts after Veronica has experienced a major upheaval: the murder of her best friend and subsequent firing and loss of status of her Sheriff father. It also depicts her rape after being drugged and her attempt to discover what happened to her and who’s to blame. Through flashbacks we see how she transforms from the sweet, naïve girl she once was, to the street-wise, sleuth we meet at the start of the show.

“Pilot” – episode one

In the first episode (“Pilot”), Neptune High’s teenaged motorcycle gang is bullying Wallace, a new student. When Veronica tells the leader, Weevil, to leave Wallace alone, Weevil replies, “Sister, the only time I care what a woman has to say is when she’s riding my big ol’ hog and even then it’s not so much words as just a bunch of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs,’ you know?” Instead of responding to Veronica’s request or ignoring her to continue picking on the new guy, his instant reaction is to belittle her as a woman, although it has nothing to do with the ongoing conflict. Weevil’s instantaneous, reflex-like response points to a lack of understanding (or care?) as to why such a comment is not okay.

Veronica Mars Pilot, Wallace Snitch Flag Pole

Gender is tied to certain cultural beliefs and representations and these establish how relations between women and men are occur and are understood.1 Weevil’s immediate disrespect and gendered attack on Veronica expresses his belief, whether intentional or not, that men can and should hold power over women. The idea (and real force) of men having power over women exists throughout society, and here Weevil has clearly internalized the idea that power is based on gender, which tainted his interaction with Veronica as well. 2 (Don’t worry. He learns.)

“Meet John Smith” – episode three

In “Meet John Smith,” Justin, a fellow student at Neptune High, approaches Veronica with a made up case as a guise to spend time with her. He asks her to locate his father, who he believes to have died a decade before. Veronica finds him, to Justin’s surprise, and when Justin’s mother hears about it, she acknowledges that his father is actually alive but tells Justin to forget him.

In spite of his mother’s warnings, Veronica takes Justin to meet his father and they find out he is now a transwoman. When Justin was five-years-old, his mom learned of his dad’s wish to transition, and not only divorced him, but also told their son he was dead, rather than allowing father and son to continue their relationship. When Justin sees his father again for the first time in ten years, he recognizes her (his father) as the woman he frequently assists at the video rental store where he works, although it’s over an hour drive from her house.3

It’s no secret that heteronormativity and gender binarism,4 including the belief that people fall into two distinct and complementary genders with natural roles in life, exists throughout our patriarchal society. And due to their overall position of power over women, men have long used their power to control women’s lives, including through threats of separating them from their children.5 Here Justin’s mom used her power over Justin’s father to deny him access to his child when he expressed his true identity as a woman. Did giving up his manhood mean he, later she, became secondary in rank to Justin’s mother, a person recognized as a woman at birth? Would a court system have treated each of them equally and fairly, as two women and biological parents, regardless of their individual gender identities throughout each of their lives?

As often as we hear of LGBTQ equality in the news, until recently it had been quite rare to hear the ‘T’ within that group addressed specifically and purposefully in relation to acceptance and ensuring equal rights, so it’s not hard to imagine that a court system would favor Justin’s mother (the “real” woman) in a custody battle even now. In fact, there’s no need to imagine it. Google “transgender parent custody battle” and you’ll see pages of stories about trans parents losing their children simply for being trans. Not abuse or neglect. Just gender identity. Veronica Mars acknowledges this sad fact.

“Like a Virgin” – episode eight

The patriarchy influences what women wear, the food we eat, and how we care for our bodies. The woman of the nineteenth century was idealized for delicacy, agreeability, and sexual passivity, and the rules that instructed women’s daily lives were specifically addressed and put into words. These days the so-called rules are often less direct and are more likely to be conveyed through images throughout society that instruct us on acceptable body shape, facial expressions, beauty standards, and behaviors.6

Veronica Mars Purity Test Locker gifIn episode eight (“Like a Virgin”), an online Purity Test containing detailed questions about sexual experience makes the rounds at Neptune High. As one girl explains, “Anything under sixty is really slutty.” A boy sitting nearby replies, “Unless you’re a guy.” The lower a person scores below 100 on the test, the less pure they are. When Cole admits to having scored a 91, a friend cracks a joke that Snow White, a Disney princess, got a lower score. Right away it’s clear that the acceptable scores for boys and girls are different. (Veronica, a frequent target, got a fictitious 14.)

When the Purity Test website starts allowing people to buy the results of others to see their scores, numbers are painted on corresponding lockers and accusations fly. Cole’s girlfriend, Meg, gets a 43 painted on her locker, although she says she never took the test and has always claimed to be a virgin (an impossible feat if that score is true). To save face, Cole7 later tells their friends that Meg is “good at everything she does, and she does do everything.” Meg continues to protest the score, but no one listens to her (except our favorite girl-detective, Veronica) because Cole has managed to hit certain societal cues, such as all boys and men being highly sexually active and “good girls” trying to cover up their secret, slutty ways.

“M.A.D.” – episode twenty

Similarly, in a later episode (“M.A.D.”), a girl named Carmen tries to breakup with her longtime boyfriend, but he blackmails her instead. He forces her to continue dating him, including the continuation of the physical aspects of their relationship, by showing her that he has a video of her simulating a sex act on a popsicle while in a hot tub. She has no memory of the night it was filmed and had no idea anything was ever recorded until he uses it against her. His threat to post the video online and email it to her parents and classmates works because he’s reinforcing the idea that girls must behave a certain way or face the consequences when they don’t (even if, like Carmen, it’s due to being drugged and secretly filmed).

The modern day requirements of what it means to be a “lady” were not being met by Carmen in the hot tub and rather than knowing he shouldn’t have filmed her or threatened her with humiliation, he uses his power over her and her shame in being “unladylike” to get his way.

Veronica Mars with camera season 1

The trend continues…

In later seasons of the show, Veronica Mars continues to address serious issues head-on. The show’s real power comes in through Veronica, dedicated righter of wrongs, who takes on each of these issues, digs until she finds the truth, and saves the day. While it’s full of tough situations for Veronica, her continued perseverance and determination sees her through. The show allows her to confront issue after issue and provides an outcome in which the cute, teenage girl gets to come out on top.

Although many of the lessons are often at the expense of Veronica and other girls on the show, the reaction to them is what makes Veronica Mars particularly adept at dealing with them. (Plus she teaches her fair share of lessons through the cases she solves too.) Veronica and others may be victimized at times, but she never lets herself or anyone else be tossed aside as a nameless, faceless, powerless victim.8

Footnotes:
1: Joan Scott, “Deconstructing Equality-versus-Difference”
2: Charlotte Bunch, “Not by Degrees: Feminist Theory and Education”
3: Aww. She drives so far every week just to see her son!
4: Definition of gender binary
5: Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”
6: Susan Bordo, “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity”
7: Ugh. Cole is such a weak, loser-dude. Own your score, bro!
8: Because she’s awesome.

europe, life, travel

A Visit to Ghent, Belgium

Last year when we went to The Netherlands to visit family, we took a road trip down to Ghent, Belgium for a night and strolled around the city for two days. It reminded me of a miniature Amsterdam, without the modern touches the Dutch are so great at weaving into their charming, old cities. It was quite lovely, as you can see:

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent_fromboat

ghent_castleexterior2

Gravensteen Castle was built in 1180, and is right in the city center. At the time of my visit (last August) it was one of the oldest standing structure I’d ever visited. (However, I went to Rome shortly after my night in Ghent. America is such a young baby, yall.) Also, while in the castle, I saw a guillotine that had actually chopped off heads before. (Ahh!)

ghent_castledoor

ghent_rooftops

ghent_afterdinner2

ghent_afterdinner

I was working on organizing my photo archive tonight and these reminded me how thankful I am to have these experiences and not even need these photos to know what it’s like to stand in a place so old and fantastic. Life is good.