Musings from speculative fiction: Queen of the Tearling

As a lifelong fan of speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), I read the genre for both leisure and intellectual stimulus. When a book or series captures my attention, it’s usually because at least a few of the following things are true: the plot is well-constructed, the characters are interesting/engaging, the writing is competent, and something in the story is relevant to my life (past or present).

Cover art for Queen of the Tearling, first book in the trilogy

The plot of the Tearling trilogy centers around a young woman who lived in isolation with two foster parents until she turned 19, at which point she leaves home to reclaim her dead mother’s throne. She is supported by a small group of soldiers, the Queen’s Guard, but has no real political support within the nobility, military, or clergy. She makes some rash through ethical political decisions upon taking the throne from her profoundly corrupt uncle — decisions that her impoverished nation does not have the power to back up. Luckily, magic saves her in a number of dangerous situations and shores up her credibility with her few supporters and the people.

I’m now reading the second book in the series, The Invasion of the Tearling, and what keeps hooking me is how her guard keeps urging this 19yo queen to avoid alienating other influential people in the kingdom… which she does anyway, because they’re all pretty corrupt and terrible. Her people maintain surveillance on her enemies but fail to share the information they have gathered with her. Thus (or perhaps despite this?) she keeps making rash decisions that seem to be lining her up for inevitable failure. I figure magic will intervene, but I really want to shout at the lot of them.

That said, it’s interesting to think about how one’s ability to lead is weakened by insecure connections both inside and outside one’s organization. Kelsea Glynn and her supporters apparently accept that there are some things she should not know, which makes it harder for her to do her job, and harder for her supporters to do theirs. Whatever obstacles my team and I face, I hope that we always go into it fully united through communication and unity of purpose — especially since we can’t count on magical sapphires to bail us out of sticky situations.

A walk along Johnson Creek

Your 30 seconds of Johnson-Creek-watching zen

I took a walk around midday, today — between rain showers — and stopped to watch the rushing waters of our swollen local creek. I like living close to water, even when it’s a (usually) small body. There’s something both evocative and calming for me, watching the points of movement and stillness — I find myself thinking about where in my life I am the rock, and where I am the water… and remembering how I am also the creek itself.

Today I am really enjoying listening to the audiobook version of The Anatomy of Peace, a book about conflict resolution. It’s a little corny in places, but also has some rich, powerful ideas that I’m enjoying revisiting. For example, I am reminded that, “We separate from each other at our peril.” Following the example of the characters in the book, my thoughts flow and eddy around the people that I have, in large and small ways, distanced myself from.

Meal plan for Jan 25-31

One of the ways I ensure our family eats healthfully while managing my mid-week stress, is to plan out our meals every week. I try to incorporate leftovers from other meals, as you can see below. I also consider what kind of evening activities we might have scheduled, and if I know an evening will be rushed, make that dinner dish on the weekend if I can.

Here’s this week’s plan:

  • Sat: Indian Butter Chickpeas w/rice (pictured)
  • Sun: cannellini bean pasta with beurre blanc
  • Mon: fried rice w/leftover poached chicken (make ahead)
  • Tues: chicken and wild rice soup (make ahead)
  • Wed: black bean bowls
  • Thurs: leftovers
  • Fri: pizza
  • The lost city of Bayocean

    If you enjoy watching short documentaries, and you’re interested in learning more about Oregon, you might check out the Oregon Public Broadcasting show called Oregon Field Guide.

    Tonight I watched a really interesting and very sad episode about the lost city of Bayocean, Oregon. Apparently in 1907, a family of real estate developers founded a resort town on a spit in Tillamook Bay, which they marketed as “The Atlantic City of the West.” The town was built, lots were sold and things were thriving… until a single jetty was built on the north side of the bay entrance. Because a southern jetty was not built, ocean currents immediately began eroding the land that Bayocean was built on, until eventually the town had to be abandoned. Everyone who had invested in the town or bought their retirement home there… lost everything.

    Stories like this always make me so hungry for more detailed background on how these civil engineering decisions were made, and what motivated the people who made the final calls that basically condemned an entire resort development. (Not that I think it was necessarily the wrong decision; just because something is built doesn’t mean it has the right to exist or should be prioritized over other things that have also been built, or y’know, people.) 

    Seemingly simple decisions can result in so many unforeseen consequences, and can affect people who weren’t considered when the decision was being made. I wonder what the relevant Army Corps of Engineers leadership regrets about Bayocean, if anything. (Maybe nothing at all!)

    Good things

    When your job involves a lot of finding where things are broken and fixing them, it’s easy to get in the habit of only paying attention to broken things. To help me offset all the criticism I regularly pile on my own head (there’s a lot), a friend recommended a simple little app called 3 Good Things.

    It’s so basic that it seems absurd to have an app for this, but the design is friendly and spare, which I like. You set a time to receive the prompt, “What went well today?” And then you can journal about the high points of the day. On some no-good, very bad days, I confess I just write things like “had a nice cup of tea” or “tv on the couch” or “my socks are warm.” On better days, there’s better stuff, like “great conversation at dinner” or “the kids’s joy at the trapeze lesson.”

    A mobile screenshot of the 3 Good Things App Store listing

    It’s silly and minimal, but it helps me notice where hope, love, and sometimes even joy, are hiding in my life. You might like it too?

    Dancing with production

    I always enjoy the excellent podcast Hurry Slowly (hat tip Josepha Haden Chomphosy for the recommendation), and a recent episode called “Are you Satisfiable?” really resonated with me this week. The episode centers on the ideas of writer, facilitator, and activist adrienne maree brown, who recently published the book Pleasure Activism.

    The whole interview is wonderful, but this particular passage caught my attention:

    I think in the workplace, it’s been interesting to see how that kind of thinking, like “oh everything should be scheduled and controlled and managed,” moves us further and further away from the natural and organic rhythms at which creativity and miracle actually want to happen.

    And I’m getting curious and interested about spaces that are starting to adapt to… what does it mean to acknowledge that we have organic human beings, um, in these places, and that there are processes that have an organic pace to them….

    There’s something about being in right relationship to change that acknowledges that not all change is mean to be driven; some of it is meant to be experienced in other ways. And that perhaps the changes we’re in now, which are climate apocalypse changes, perhaps those changes are only happening because we’ve been trying to drive production, and instead we need to slow down and learn to dance with it, dance with what’s happening in the world, and I’m really getting curious about that.

    adrienne maree brown, on the Hurry Slowly podcast “Are you Satisfiable?”

    Personally, I am very comfortable when everything is scheduled and controlled and managed, but have found that I am much more able to think creatively when I am not scheduling and controlling and managing.

    Likewise, I frequently find myself with a seed of an idea, that escapes me when I try to force it into being. If I leave it alone, though (I think of it as allowing the idea to gestate in my “back brain”), the seed is much more likely to grow and bear fruit. It resonates with me that my organic brain might best create on an organic pace.

    I also love the idea of dancing with production, rather than trying to drive it. So much of technology work — development, design, documentation, support — is creative work. What could happen if more respect and space were given to the non-linear, non-schedule-able process of creation?

    Innovation and Empathy for Loss

    In reading Megan Risdal‘s excellent article, Reflections on Stack Overflow: Building Successful Communities, I was struck by a particular passage:

    Have empathy. Loss aversion is a very real thing. Even if simplifying something is the best thing for users by all other accounts, taking something away still hurts. And this impacts not just end users, but the people who originally worked on a feature. You can have empathy by understanding how they use the feature and asking about the historical context around its original creation.

    – Megan Risdal, Reflections on Stack Overflow: Building Successful Communities

    Here’s a good definition of loss aversion: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-loss-aversion/

    I think technologists in particular — because we are so fond of innovation — tend to look down on people who express aversion to loss. That disparaging attitude isn’t very respectful, and thus doesn’t lead to very respectful or productive conversations.

    Certainly, change is a part of life, but likewise every change is a kind of a death — perhaps the death of something that should die, but any loss can cause deep sadness… and even a crisis of belonging. When innovating, it’s worth asking yourself whether you can find a way to give people the space to grieve the loss associated with the change, holding space for their pain, rather than just brushing them off as short-sighted enemies of progress.

    Talking leadership, events, and open source with Cory Miller

    I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with my friend Cory Miller about leadership, event organizing, and open source today. Check out that conversation if you’d like to hear about the three epiphanies that have changed the way I think about my work!

    Cory has a ton of great content on his Youtube channel, too — he’s a wise leader with a strong sense of ethics, who has also shared some important insights around mental health in the tech entrepreneur space. If you care about those things too, check out his body of work; it’s great.

    Post-summer camp study hall

    After I pick the kids up from summer camp every day at 4, I still have an hour of work to do (at least). If the kids want to watch some tv, they have to spend some time with their workbooks. So our afternoons frequently look like this, with all of us working at the kitchen table together. 

    I wish I could say they smiled all the time while working. Heck, I wish I could say that about myself. 

    Worth reading: The Skamania County Pioneer

    I spent a weekend on the Columbia Gorge recently, and happened to buy a copy of The Skamania County Pioneer, the local paper, in a Stevenson, Washington. 

    1. There are still local newspapers in small towns; isn’t that good to know?

    2. This paper has a Sheriff’s Incident Log that is pure, unadulterated GOLD. 

    Out-of-towner subscriptions are only $35 per year. If you want to help support local papers, and can spare the cash, you can call (509) 427-8444 to subscribe and keep up to date on the happenings in the Gorge. If you also like to use story prompts for writing exercises, you’ll be quite pleased with the Pioneer’s Sheriff’s Incident Log, as you’ll see in the photos below. 

    That green trailer haunts me to this day.
    “covered in red paint for some reason.”
    Horses. Always skedaddling when you least expect it.
    Relax everyone. The goats are ok.