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Interpersonal Imposter Syndrome

There’s been a lot of public talk about imposter syndrome over the past few years, which I think is a very good thing. It affects pretty much everyone, but does its damage by isolating you inside your own mind, so the more “successful” people who admit to feeling like failures at times, the better everyone else can become at changing their own perspective.

I’m no exception – I certainly have moments where I downspin into ‘omg why did I ever think I can do this I’m going to fuck it up and everyone will realize I’m a moron’ but rarely does it get overwhelming. I’m pretty good at reminding myself that I’m talented and qualified, and I know I have the credentials and experience to back things up.

However, there’s another side to this that I’ve never heard discussed, and that’s Interpersonal Imposter Syndrome – imposter syndrome about relationships with other humans. If regular imposter syndrome is feeling like a fraud about your work, interpersonal imposter syndrome is feeling like a fraud about your friends and lovers.

That’s something I have in great abundance.

I constantly worry that the next thing I do or say will be the thing that makes my friends realize they don’t want to be friends with me. I often find myself falling quiet in discussions involving 3 or more people, because I assume the other people would much rather talk with each other than with me. If someone tells me they like spending time with me, my brain responds “you just haven’t found the part of me you can’t stand yet.”

A lot of these things can loosely fall under the heading of “abandonment issues,” because the in-the-moment fear is that people will leave me. Digging a little deeper, the real fear fueling that is the fear that they will leave because they realize they do not actually like me – that I am, in fact, unlikeable and unloveable, and everyone who likes or loves me just hasn’t realised that yet.

It’s nonsense, of course.

I am a complete and decent human being, fully capable and deserving of intimate connections with other people. But, just like regular imposter syndrome, this is not a feeling that responds well to reasonable arguments.

There’s been a lot of writing/encouragement around the “fuck what other people think, just be yourself” ideology, which I approve of, but it doesn’t address the root cause, which is for me the notion that I will be alone forever unless I actively make sure that other people like me. Compared to eternal loneliness, “being myself” doesn’t seem like such a great payoff.

The solution, as with regular imposter syndrome, is a bit of a trust fall. It’s a long hard slog of taking risks and occasionally having them pay off, of forcing your mind to focus on the good things you have instead of the times that didn’t work out. Being yourself and doing the things you’ve always wanted to do, and seeing some friends fall away and finding new ones. I’ve been putting a lot of work into this over the last few years, and I’m certainly no expert, but I can tell you this: it’s worth it, because I’m damn tired of living in fear.

Why ‘Douche’ Is My Favorite Insult

(I’ve been trying to write a piece about my current feelings on the Tech Industry, but it’s turned from a simple bullet list into a writhing ball of snakes, so instead here’s a bunch of swearing.)

Douche.
Douchebag.
Douchenugget.
Douchecanoe.
Megadouche.

Douche is my absolute favorite insult in the English language. I don’t think it’s the strongest, or the most broadly appropriate, but it’s definitely the one I relish using the most.

Have you ever noticed how many common English insults are just words for body parts? Dick, cunt, asshole, etc. I use these words with abandon (except for pussy, because it’s fucking ridiculous that female genitalia is a synonym for weak), because they’re all valid insults that communicate specific kinds of unpleasant behavior.

And yet, the original meanings of these word are things I’m quite fond of. Body parts? Yay! Sexual body parts? Extra yay! So I’ll call someone an ass if they’re acting like – well, like an ass – but I’ll always feel weird about it because actual asses are pretty great.

But douche! Doooouuuuuche.

Douches are a capitalist scheme to part women from their money. They’re pointless, harmful, and designed to take women’s cash at the expense of their self esteem. These days they exist solely to solve a problem that is entirely made up – the problem of “vaginal freshness.”

Well NEWS FLASH – vaginas are self-cleaning, they don’t need no chemicals sprayed all up in there to be “fresh.” The idea that the natural state of a cunt is gross and unhygienic is just another way to make women feel bad about their bodies and their sexuality.

And if purposefully making women feel unclean wasn’t enough, douching has been linked to all kinds of vaginal health problems, because it’s basically sending a big ol’ flood through a delicately balanced ecosystem of bacteria and protective mucous linings. Douching brings increased risks of everything from bacterial vaginosis to cervical cancer. It also makes it more likely you’ll contract an STD.

By the way, before there was such a thing as “feeling fresh,” douches were used as a primitive form of birth control. Before the advent of The Pill in 1960, the most popular brand of douche on the American market was an antiseptic soap formula made by Lysol.

If the thought of a Lysol product going anywhere near your vagina makes you cringe, then you’re a smart cookie – the Lysol douches were linked with poisoning and death. Oh, and they didn’t do much to help you prevent pregnancy either, yet they continued to be aggressively marketed to women as a way to save their marriage.

In conclusion, douches are the worst.

So if you ever hear me call someone a douche, know that I mean it in the fullest possible sense.

On Writing and Fear

I haven’t written here in awhile. In fact, I haven’t written anything of real substance here since I started my current job at <major tech company> over a year ago. Why?

I’m afraid.

This is the thought process that occurs every time I think about writing a blog post:

Oh, it’d be fun to write about X! But…

  • I’m going to do a bad job.
  • I’m going to get really hurtful comments.
  • People who’s opinion I value aren’t going to like it, and thus are going to realize they don’t like me.

If I don’t want to be hurt and lose my friends, I shouldn’t do it. It’s going to suck, anyways. I’ll just go bake something instead.

(as a side note, I’ve gotten really good at making bread)

I used to be better at overcoming this, but my shift to <major tech company> majorly compounded these fears. The media has a habit of lending unwarranted credibility to writings when they come from people employed by major tech companies. “Google/Apple/Amazon employee talks about controversial subject” is way more prone to attention than “some rando on the internet talks about controversial subject.” And when your new-job training includes things like ‘don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t be ashamed to see as a New York Times headline,’ well, it can make you a bit paranoid.

Additionally, re-submerging myself in mainstream tech culture meant re-exposing myself to stories of all the ridiculous bullshit that happens to women who speak up. Endless harassment, rape threats, death threats, people releasing their home addresses, people calling in false tips to police that cause SWAT raids to be sent to their house, etc. etc.. And even if none of these ‘extreme’ responses happen, there’s the standard stream of inane, often cruel comments, (often centered around a woman’s appearance) that are seemingly unavoidable on the modern-day internet.

And then, of course, there’s my insecurities.

Don’t be so full of yourself, the things you write will never be good or important enough to get that much response, be it positive or negative.

Even if you have good ideas, you can’t write well enough to fully articulate them and someone better than you will reply with a scathing argument and you’ll be shamed forever.

People don’t usually talk about these kinds of things for a reason. If you put these parts of yourself out in public, everyone’s going to realize how much they don’t like you, and all your friends will leave and you’ll never have sex again.

In short, the increased potential for attention plus the increased awareness of negative consequences of that attention (on top of my normal self-consciousness and perfectionism) have quieted me for a while.

Full disclosure, after I finished writing the above I put this article down for a few days, not sure I would finish or publish it. But here I am, writing again, and why?

Because despite the threat of abuse and criticism, despite daily reminders of what other online personalities go through, despite my own constant self-doubt, I still fucking want to.

I had intended to counter the first section with a list of all the things that I like about writing, but I kept second-guessing them and quibbling over wording and generally putting off finishing this.

But you know what? I don’t need to justify my own desires. It doesn’t need to make sense, to others or even to myself. Something I’ve been working on in therapy a lot is acknowledging and acting on what I want, as opposed to what I think other people want from me. Knowing that I want something is all the reason I need to go after it.

So I will write, and be authentic and put myself out there. I will make mistakes and say things I later regret and use words incorrectly. I will forget key points and prattle on about inconsequential details. I will sometimes be full of overly righteous anger and sometimes be foolishly insensitive, and I will have to deal with the consequences of all of that. But that’s ok, because the alternative is staying quiet and keeping my thoughts to myself, and that’s something I really don’t want to do.

Updated: Field Guide to Pride Flags

Exactly 2 years ago I posted a field guide to pride flags, which was basically me nerding out and researching the fuck out of every flag I could find at the time. Since then, I’ve gotten quite a few comments suggesting edits or additions, and with SF Pride in full swing and the historic ruling that came down from SCOTUS this week, I felt it was about time to implement them. :)

Here’s my updated list of flags – click through for the updated post with a larger image and details about each one. (and if you know of any others, let me know! I might add them in another 2 years…)

PrideFlags_Updated

Bad Boys of Boston: The Original Years

This weekend I received my copy of Bad Boys of Boston 2015, the 5th year of the pin-up calendar I started when I was at MIT. This year’s calendar is fabulous and I was very pleased to see they’ve returned to my “no one buys a calendar for the calendar” full-page vertical spreads. It made me nostalgic for my own glory years of calendar production, and I realized I’d never actually posted all of them in one place.

So for anyone who wasn’t lucky enough to get their hands on a physical copy, here in all their glory are the Bad Boys of Boston from 2011 and 2012:

(please note that most, but not all, of the photography is mine. I had some very talented friends assisting both years.)

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BBoB_2012_all

Golden Gate Fly-By Pictures

A few weeks ago I was tapped to take some photos of a helicopter joyride around the Golden Gate. I grabbed some friends, a picnic lunch, and a zoom lens, and camped out on Battery Spencer to wait.

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The weather was gorgeous, bright and sunny with almost no clouds. Great for flying, awful for photography. I had to get creative with the colors during processing to end up with something I liked.

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The other challenge was getting a small helicopter to be visible in the images with only a 200mm lens. I got plenty of shots of the chopper superimposed on the city itself, but it was awfully hard to pick out. Set against the detail-free sky, where it was also easy to crank up the contrast, worked well.

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Programmers and Painted Nails

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After the 2012 Grace Hopper conference I wrote a post in which I raged against the company that had the audacity to put branded fingernail polish in the swag bag. My exact quote:

“Nail polish? For attendees of a technical conference? Just… Fuck you. This is so very, very inappropriate  The thought that someone out there assumed that I, as an attendee of the Grace Hopper conference, would appreciate nail polish as a free gift, is incredibly insulting. It completely ignores the intellectual, technical side of me, and reduces me to someone who cares primarily about upkeeping my physical appearance.”

I had a brave friend who talked with me about this afterwards, saying she felt a bit hurt and alienated because she routinely paints her nails. The fact that she would have appreciated getting free nail polish made her feel that I was reducing her to someone who cares primarily about upkeeping her physical appearance.

This exact issue came up again at the 2013 Grace Hopper conference, during which I attended a fascinating set of short presentations on Representations of Women in the Media. One of the presenters attacked the Grace Hopper poster/logo itself, saying that the 3 women it pictured may be culturally diverse but in no way represented actual technical women. They all had slick, styled hair, wore business suits, and had painted nails.

She then displayed a (rather hilarious) photoshopped version of the poster in which she’d “fixed” the elements she found troublesome – giving them more casual clothing, messier hair, and, she was quick to point out, NO nail polish on any of them.

Come question time, a woman got to the mic and asked (and I paraphrase): “Why do you think technical women and nail polish are mutually exclusive? I paint my nails. I bet lots of women in this room do.”

At which point a good 1/4 of the people in the room raised their hands, displaying colorful nails.

The speaker gave some glib self-deprecating answer about how ‘she can’t keep nice nails because she’s always typing but maybe she’s doing it wrong’ and quickly changed the subject, but this issue is an important one.

It’s this idea that technical intelligence and feminine gender expression don’t mix. Which, of course, is bullshit because the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

Note that this is very different from the idea that technical intelligence and women don’t mix – that’s a concept that most everyone agrees is a problem and the tide is slowly turning. (for example, see: the Grace Hopper Conference)

So what do I mean by this? I mean that if a woman walks into a Google mixer with long pretty hair and a skirt, people assume she works in sales. If she walks in with a ponytail and a t-shirt and jeans, people are much more likely to believe she’s a programmer. On the job, feminine appearance can seriously undermine your ability to be taken seriously by colleagues. A friend in college once told me that a professor (a professor!!!) told her she’d never be good at physics because she spent so much time on her clothing and makeup. In short, I mean that this: “You’re an engineer? Really? Well you don’t look like one!” is not a compliment.

On the flip side, and this is the really insidious bit, I mean that feminists speaking at a conference promoting women in technology scorn the thought of programmers with painted nails and pretty hair. I mean that other technical women will also assume someone’s in sales if they walk in with a dress and heels on. It’s the idea that if you’re not 100% fighting the stereotype, then you’re doing it wrong, which is something I have seen come up a lot in feminism. I’ve been tackling it a lot lately, internally.

In short, it’s bad to assume that just because someone’s a woman that she wants nail polish. It’s just as bad to assume that just because someone’s a smart, technical women, that she doesn’t want nail polish.

You can’t fight stereotypes by declaring everyone has to do the exact opposite of what’s stereotypical – that’s just creating a new enforced stereotype. To truly fight stereotypes we must detach the ideas entirely, not replace them with something else.

Nail polish has nothing to do with technical intelligence. (It has nothing to do with gender either, but that’s a bigger battle.) It’s just a colorful paint that you can put on your nails. Some people like to use it. Some people don’t. That’s all, everyone go home now, we’re done.

Porn with Google Glass: please stop.

When Google Glass first came out, everyone in porn was all “Yes, it’s the future of the adult industry!” Quite quickly a comedy trailer was released by who else but James Deen showing the potential for Glass in porn. The full video, if there actually is one, has yet to be released, but today I stumbled across an actual professional shoot with Glass by Dominic Ford.

And oh good god, please please let this just be a fad.

Living in SF I see people on the streets wearing Glass and I giggle every time because they always look ridiculous. Now imagine some naked buff dude making a seductive ‘come-hither’ face while wearing Glass.

Oh wait, you don’t have to imagine it, because it exists. Excuse me while I go cry at the demise of humanity.

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And here’s the un-cropped version, because the full nudity just makes it so much worse.

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Here he is wearing it during the sex. (no sfw version, because it would rather ruin the point)

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slkjvhakeghlwdkgjdlsf. :( :( :( :(

Of course, it’s all worth it just to get high quality POV shots like, uh… this.

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Oh wait, did I say ‘worth it?’ I meant the opposite.

Meow-y Christmas!

Let’s just pretend this was posted on Christmas, yes? That didn’t happen because… reasons.

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This was my Christmas card from last year! (or, for my Jewish friends with a sense of humor, my ‘Happy Hanu-cat’ cards)

The original idea was more along the lines of the dramatic ‘disembodied head fading into background’ of meme fame, but when you’re working with cats you take what you can get. We started with some festive holiday costumes. (All photography by my friend Dan)

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I think these photos show what the cats thought of that…

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Although Sarah was rather fond of my hat.

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Eventually we got one decent shot with everyone looking at the camera and not looking pissed off. Even if I look totally ridiculous, but, well, that was the point.

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Print it, ship it!

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Bad Boys of Boston 2014 – Pre-Order now!

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(teaser photo stolen from the BBoB Facebook page)

I am incredibly pleased to say that the 2014 edition of the Bad Boys of Boston Calendar is coming soon, and you should all go put your pre-orders in now! All proceeds go to a very worthy charity, and you get to have half-naked men on your walls. Win-win!

Order Your Calendar Here!

If you don’t already know, this calendar is a project I started in 2010 while I was at MIT. It’s an all-male pinup calendar featuring MIT students, and all proceeds go to an excellent charity. I produced the 2011 and 2012 calendars, but when I graduated I wasn’t sure it would carry on without me as the driving creative force. I was deliriously happy when the 2013 calendar came out without me being involved at all! Today I found out the 2014 calendar comes out soon, and people in the Mission probably mistook me for a crazy person as I was skipping down the street towards the coffee shop, grinning like a fool.

Obviously I’m very happy to have a Bachelor’s degree from MIT, but starting this calendar is probably the thing I’m most proud of accomplishing during college.

(Oh, and if it’s not obvious, I didn’t take the above photo, no matter how much I wish I had)

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