IT’S SNOWING! I haven’t had a snow day since I was 17, but I also didn’t have to go into my office job today and was going to work from home regardless. Not remotely fair, and the desire to curl up with a book is immense. The snuggle struggle is real, you guys. But I have money to make and a university course to pass, so I loaded up some podcasts and have ended up having an unusually productive day? Maybe being locked inside the house with a foot of snow on the ground is a good way to focus haha. So here is how to have a snow day as an adult!
Step 1: Ughh. Just get it together.
I got showered and dressed and put perfume on to get into ‘the work mood’, which is weird because I never wear perfume when I work from home. Clearly that should change.
Step 2: Do your physio.
Wait, that’s just me.
Step 3: Chain yourself to your desk!
Shit I’ve done so far: some market research for Etsy, a section of my course (I’m studying women’s suffrage and hellooooo the only thing I’ll ever talk about at dinner parties ever again), cleared out some of my emails and done some graphic design. One of the designs is for this very blog’s sidebar:
The other is a cool Heroes of Olympus-inspired poster I’ve wanted to do for ages:
Step 4: But take lots of breaks to make a cup of tea and stare at your snowy garden!
Do you want to build a snowman? Yes. Do you want to go outside? No.
Step 5: Check your dogs are still alive
Both dogs refused to go outside this morning. Fred inspected the garden at midday and Donnie chanced it about half an hour ago. They have the right idea.
Step 6: Rinse and repeat until 5pm
Or whenever you normally clock off when you work from home!
YOU’RE WELCOME. I have to go and do some more physio now. I might also build a snowman.
Yesterday I floated an idea with some fellow bloggers and Etsy sellers, and their response didn’t make curl up in embarrassment, so here goes. Last week I posted a photo to Instagram of the Kuang Si Waterfalls in Laos, with a link to the accompanying hilarious blog post. In the space of a few hours, which is the average lifespan for an Insta post, it got three likes. I work in digital marketing so I would have understood if I had tagged the post badly, or done a dodgy caption, or posted a photograph of an actual turd. But the Kuang Si Waterfalls are literally paradise:
My cousin even wrote some comments, so every point on the old ‘how to post a good Insta photo’ check list was ticked: funny caption, relevant tags, engaged audience, LITERAL PARADISE. I gritted my teeth and thought ‘maybe it is time to take a break from Instagram.’ I’ve been cutting down on my social media follows and posts generally lately because I’m busy, and if LITERAL PARADISE can’t reach my other friends and family, let alone potential blog readers, what is even the point? Intagram’s recent algorithm changes are making it harder and harder for people to see recent content, or even just… content. I think I see more ‘sponsored posts’ and ‘recommended posts’ than I do actual posts, and then photos from a week ago show up on my timeline that I completely missed a week ago. I’m not an expert but I did some Googling and here is the science behind why that happens:
When you post a photo, Instagram shows the photo to 10% of your audience
If within the first 10-60 minutes, your post gets high engagement (likes, comments, shares), Insta shows it to the rest of your audience (the exact amount of time seems to be debatable, but it’s definitely no more than an hour or two)
If the post doesn’t perform then Insta, um, doesn’t show the rest of your audience.
TEN MINUTES. Here is a good article with more info, by the way. I dunno about you, but a lot of my followers are in a different timezone and a lot of the rest are spam accounts that don’t care anyway. No one sees anything in 10 minutes! Anyway, that’s not the point. Algorithms used by Insta and Facebook show you posts based on what the algorithm thinks you want to see, based on your history and previous engagement and whatnot, not on what you actually might want to see (again, I am not a computer expert, if anyone has a good explanation for how algorithms actually work, hit me up).
In theory this means all accounts (businesses, personal, robots pretending to be people) have to engage with followers by commenting, posting to Insta Stories, watching Insta Stories, etc. Officially, the new algorithm is a way of rooting out fake accounts that spam everyone. But it is also a sneaky unofficial way to get more people to use the app. To gain followers/readers/customers, we have to give Instagram more of our eyeball time, and thus give Instagram’s advertising partners more of our eyeball time. Small businesses or bloggers are more likely to pay for a sponsored post to reach more people, but how many of us see a sponsored post and immediately engage? I do sometimes, but not when I already follow that account and can’t see their organic posts!
Anyway. At first I was annoyed with Instagram as a regular person, then I was annoyed as someone whose job includes posting to Instagram for clients who expect results, and then I was annoyed as someone with a blog, Patreon and Etsy shop that deserve way more coverage than they get. But I don’t like moaning about a problem without trying to fix it, so I’ve had an idea for a little protest project.
As I said before, Instagram is fundamentally concerned about hooking users into spending more time on the app. It needs us to engage, because it’s a for-profit company that relies on advertisers paying lots of money in exchange for exposure to lots of people. And the only thing that really resonates with businesses is money. If users spend less time scrolling and watching Stories, there will be less exposure for advertisers and less revenue for the company. If lots of users spend less time on the app, citing the algorithm, the boss dudes might consider improving it.
So I’m taking a two week break from my personal Insta accounts, effective Monday 26th February. I can’t delete the app because I have clients who will want me to post for them, but I won’t be on my account, or the alternative Etsy account I run. If you’re annoyed too, join in! Of course, you don’t have to take two weeks. If spending an hour less a week on there is all you can manage because you have customers and friends to keep up with, that’s cool too. I am clearly not going to be monitoring you – this is a fun lil project that will stop me gritting my teeth so often, not Black Lives Matter or the gun control protests. I’m not really expecting to get through to a multi-million dollar company. There’s not really a time limit either – I can’t see this going viral and all 800 million Instagram users taking a two week break, somehow. And I’ll definitely be back on the app in a fortnight, because there are people on there I really care about. But best case scenario, Instagram’s bosses remember their audience is a community and worst case, I get a bit of headspace and meet some other disgruntled bloggers and business owners!
So if you’re taking part, hit me up in the comments – I’m also on Twitter and Tumblr, and my blog Facebook is here. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org too. I wanted to hashtag #FuckInstagram but I think that might be too combative. I’m thinking maybe #ItsNotMeItsYou?
Luang Prabang in northern Laos is one of the few places I saw in South East Asia that I would return to for a two week suitcase holiday. If you enjoyed yourself in Greece or Italy, you will like Luang Prabang. Awful incoming journey and unavoidable Asian plumbing aside, there’s something for everyone: nature, history, pretty sunsets, temples and waterfalls. Waterfalls!
The Kuang Si Waterfalls
Isobel, if you’re reading this: remember when we were messaging and I told you I’d just dropped my knickers in a drain? This is where that happened! So Kuang Si waterfalls are just outside Luang Prabang and they are absolutely stunningly beautiful.
That water lends a new meaning to the term ‘icy blue’ though, it was bloody freezing. But beautiful! If it wasn’t for the freezing thing, I would have moved right in forever. The trees, the running water, the wooden huts in which visitors change and, if they are not paying attention, accidentally drop their undies in a drain. It was a running drain full of, hopefully, waterfall water.
There is a little bear sanctuary-slash-zoo near the waterfalls, which I am in two minds about. On the one hand, caged animals is an oxymoron. On the other hand, sun and moon bears are seriously endangered due to poaching (apparently some SE Asian cultures think bear bile is good for sexual virility. I can’t think of anything worse for sexual virility). The enclosure we saw definitely seemed kind of small, but the charity that runs the sanctuary recently posted that they have just bought more land and the bears did seem pretty chilled and happy.
There are, of course, at least three wats in Luang Prabang. I checked out a couple, although if I am being totally honest, after a while one wat looks a lot like another wat. Then again, I can’t tell Michel Barnier apart from David Davis.
Luang Prabang has a market with the usual street food, clothes, trinkets and jewellery but it also sells gorgeous indigo-dyed clothes and accessories. I’m not sure how big the local textiles industry is, exactly, but one blue scarf would have set me back £25 after haggling, which was my daily budget and about 20 times more expensive than the average cotton scarf, so I think that the industry is a) highly skilled and b) relatively unique to Luang Prabang. I really, really want to go back and buy an indigo scarf.
There is a really cool alleyway in the town with vendors selling the absolute best street food I have ever tasted from giant pans. I think it cost 50p to fill up a bowl with vegetables and eat til I was ready to hibernate. Full disclosure: I did get a run of the shits while I was there, although that could have been down to literally anything. Possibly the encounter with the drain.
I already wrote about the Killing Fields of the Cambodian genocide and the Vietnamese War Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels, and Laos makes the third corner of a really shitty triangle. I will write more about Laos’ civil war and America’s ‘secret war’ when I post about Phonsavan, which is the next place we stopped in Laos. I blame my politics A Level, but of my favourite parts of Luang Prabang was its UXO museum. UXOs are ‘unexploded ordnance’, basically, bombs that were dropped but never went off. At least 2 million tonnes of ordnance was dropped on Laos by American forces between 1964 and 1973, but a third didn’t detonate (per capita, Laos is the most heavily bombed country in history). Over 50,000 people have been killed or injured by ordnance since 1964 and the clean up operation is slow, expensive and dangerous. I don’t have a picture, but there’s a whiteboard outside the museum detailing the exact number of injuries and deaths caused by UXOs per year since 1964; 2016 was the first year no one died from one.
I scrolled through my WordPress gallery and I seem to have shared a ridiculous number of photos of bomb shells. Ten points to anyone who can tell me the names of every type of munition in this photo!
So I’ve had a long day and I promised myself I was winding up the work, because the only thing more depressing than being at home on a Friday evening in your pyjamas is being at home on a Friday evening in your pyjamas, writing. But I actually have the Freedom app installed so my Internet cuts off at 11pm so I had a mooch around the stats pages of my websites and it turns out this post on marriage proposal ideas from 2011 is my most visited ever. It doesn’t even make sense. The post, I mean, not the fact a lot of clearly desperate people are continuing all the way to the third page of Google to get advice on how to propose. Ironically, my parents are now separated although I still do not know how they got engaged.
Anyway. I’m writing this at 10:40pm because the stats page seems to think the better-performing blogs are the ones from 7 years ago that I put zero thought into and contain so many in-jokes I can’t actually remember what my original point was. Ugh, youth.
I lied about the writing. It’s not depressing, it’s really good. I’m tentatively hopeful I might finish it before I hit my mid-twenties. I kind of want to go back to writing it right now but my eyes are fuzzy. Ugh, human restrictions. Happy weekend!
Since we are celebrating a century in the UK since some-but-not-all-actually-not-many-but-SOME women got the vote, I thought I’d better use my hard earned freedom of speech and say hello. Coincidentally I am doing an Open University course at the moment (I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned that?) and the current topic is Chartism. I had never heard of the Chartist movement before I read my textbook, and it turns out that is because a) Chartism was an early 19th century movement to gain universal suffrage in Britain but b) it didn’t actually work so c) no one really bothers talking about it unless they are specifically discussing history or humanities (hiii). But it’s really interesting!
In 1842, several hundred thousand people took a charter and petition with about 3 million signatures to Parliament, demanding that Parliament consider giving people the vote. Well, male people. But all male people over 21, regardless of the land they owned! The charter also demanded that any old person could run for Parliament, and that MPs be paid, so you didn’t have to be rich and bored to decide to go and run Scunthorpe or wherever. Aside from the fact the charter didn’t mention women at all and wanted annual elections (Christ what a thought) Chartists were quite the modern community. They utilised the printing press and organised grassroots local meetings. They even tried to get co-operative living off the ground to stop miserly middle class middle men ripping off the working poor. Anyway, it didn’t work. The Chartists did three or four national petitions in total, but the aristocracy was terrified that if they rescinded a tiny little bit of power, there might be a revolution as violent as the one in France, so they resisted change as long as possible.
Anyway, now we’re here. 2018! The people are in power! Sort of. Mostly? I read a fascinating article yesterday about the female-driven economy and it was simultaneously uplifting and depressing. I knew the stat that there are more CEOs named John than there are women CEOs, but I didn’t know that when airbags were first released they killed a lot of women and children because the presumably male engineers testing them hadn’t thought to test for anyone who weighed less than 250lbs.
It’s funny what a centenary will do to you: hearing the Today Programme chat to and about extraordinary women this morning has spurred me on a bit. I had a business meeting today, and until this morning it wouldn’t have occurred to me to call it a business meeting but actually it was a meeting in which I did business. I also made a video for my Patreon page and transcribed 1000 words for my giant story project. The next part of The Elastic Band Theory, by the way, is online now. Am I doing open heart surgery? No. Am doing important work that I should talk more about? Yep.
I guess I knew this academically, but I’m only just starting to understand why there are so many men named John in the FTSE 100: most men I know ooze confidence in their ability to get shit done, or at least possess the confidence to go and get shit done. Most of the women I know just get on with what needs doing without thinking much of it. I feel like women generally are more likely to say ‘I went to work then made the dinner and walked the dog, feeling a bit knackered to be honest’ than say ‘I just put in a five hour shift, cooked a healthy nutritious meal for four people and took the dog on a two hour hike! I’m feeling tired but it’s so worth it when I see my children happy!’ If my brother or dad were running an Etsy store, they would have scheduled that business meeting about two years ago. I had the confidence to send an enquiry email three weeks ago. It’s almost as though I’m socially conditioned to think less of my abilities than all the men I know are. How odd. I wonder if there’s a group of people who believe men and women are the same and should be treated as such?
IT’S A NEW MONTH. WE HAVE SURVIVED JANUARY! SPRING IS ALMOST NEARLY HERE. I’m feeling dangerously new years resolution-y, mostly because the sun is out and I am about to re-dye my hair. New beginnings are upon us! Or upon my washed out highlights, anyway.
Followers of my fiction work may have noticed a new story popping up on my stories blog. The Elastic Band Theory is brilliantly strange and inspired partly by a drunken conversation on New Year’s Eve about Pablo Escobar and partly by people’s suggestions of posh town names when I asked for ideas online, so I should probably thank a) my friends, b) the power of Facebook and c) gin. I’m working on a big old project at the moment have I mentioned that so I’m rooting around for ideas for my next short story that aren’t too long or convoluted. Since The Elastic Band Theory felt a bit like a group effort, I thought I’d expand the group and ask you guys. Yes, you, reading this on your mobile while you wait for a bus. You.
Continuing with the new-month-new-start theme, my current ideas are:
Something about rebirth
Easter/Mardi Gras/Lent/resurrection (which is kind of like rebirth if you stand on your head and squint?)
The commercial evils of Valentine’s Day
Okay Valentine’s is not very spring-like
But I have mixed feelings about it which can come in useful when writing characters
I mean, I’ve made an entire print collection taking the piss out of Valentine’s Day, but people buy those prints thus earning me money what does that say about my relationship with commercial evils?
I mean it might snow here before March so possibly I should just do something about the weather
What do you think? I’m leaning toward something that explores my complex relationship with V Day, but I’m aware that in a week or so, no one on the planet will want to hear the words ‘Valentine’s Day’ again for another year. Let me know and I might, I dunno, get writing.
PS The next instalment of The Elastic Band Theory will be available tomorrow for those of you signed up to my Patreon, and on the story blog on 6th February. Shit gets real. I’m excited.