Sunday Six – WoHH, April 19th

Sunday Six header

Ahhh, that time again! More from Wolves of Harmony Heights, mostly because that’s all I’ve been working on.  Excerpt is below the fold — and remember, “Sunday Six” pullouts are spoilery by default, so read with caution! Also, warning for a little bit of risque prose. Just a little! *grins*

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“Free range” is a variable

Everyone I know has posted or commented about “free range parenting” lately, due to several articles about it and a current case where parents are being charged with child neglect for letting them walk to a local park alone. It is an important topic regarding how, as a society, we are addressing issues like personal responsibility and maturity with our youth. I’m not a parent, but even from a distance I feel invested in this as a serious issue; kids need the freedom to learn how to fail, to make mistakes, to know how to get up out of the dirt and start over. *

Mostly, though, all the dialogue has been focused on “well in MY DAY…” followed by some glorious re-imagining of their tetherless, freedom-filled childhood, and how since it was (clearly!) so wonderful for them, then it must absolutely be the best way to raise a child.

Inspired, I want to share my own story:

My mother was a woman who suffered from crippling health issues, bi-polar disorder, and anxiety. Suffice to say, she was absolutely paranoid about my safety and was the acme of “helicopter mom” long before the term was coined. I was not allowed to even go around the block unsupervised. This was in the late 70s, back when all of my peers were enjoying their freedom filled, free-range childhoods.

I was insanely jealous.

When I got to 2nd grade, I would watch my peers troop out of our neighborhood and hike – by themselves!!!! – the five-or-so blocks to Eubank Elementary School, while my mother drove me the same distance. It was just humiliating. I was made fun of for that alone (among many other reasons, but I digress).

One of the primary reasons for mother’s decision was that there was one – ONE – major intersection in between our house and the school. It was a stop light intersection with two lanes of traffic. There was no crossing guard but there had been a few instances of kids getting hit by cars, which I believe was why there was a stop light there to begin with. That did not appease Mother, oh no, it did not, so in the car I went.

Finally, after a about a month, Mother was having a bad health day and I, being a selfish brat, connived to use that to my advantage. I would walk to school! I convinced Mother I would stay with the kids from our street who “knew how to do it”, I would be safe, I would be careful. She relented with ill-disguised displeasure. I knew I was taking a risk. I knew how much rode on this major milestone. This was my chance! I could show my mother that it was safe for me to be out of her direct line of sight! Free range childhood, here I come!

The walk to school was exactly as uneventful as I expect. A herd of us trapesed down the sidewalks, stopped at the stoplight, crossed the roads, and got to school unscathed. TRIUMPH!

The walk home later that day started out the same. We got to the stop light intersection. And then…the other kids started playing “beat the clock.” It was a popular game and one they obviously did every day, where they tried to outrun cars running through on a green light, or waited until the last possible moment before a light changed from red to green before crossing. It was suicide waiting to happen (and, as it happens, a kid was seriously hurt later that year; I remember clearly how upset Mother was by that even though she was homeschooling me by then) and they kept trying to push me into traffic to get me to play.

Terrified and horrified by the craven stupidity of my peers, I got home, put my little backpack down, and solemnly told my mother that it was okay if she wanted to drive me to school the next day. I did not tell her why (which I think proves just how smart I am!).

The lesson here, in case you missed it: making it out of your childhood alive does not mean that other kids did. There were many years where kids died of head injuries because it was socially acceptable for kids to ride bikes or skate without helmet. There were many people who died not wearing seatbelts because “how bad could it be?” Women used to drink alcohol in quantity and smoke while pregnant because their doctors told them it was okay. Children played tag with cars because everyone assumed all kids were smart enough not to.

I’m not saying that American parents aren’t suffering from a severe case of “helicopter-itis” in the raising of their kids; trust me, I see it every day here at the university, where students are crippled from self-development into adulthood by over-controlling parents. It is truly frustrating for them and for me. My own mother crippled me in a lot of ways by trying to protect me from all the bad in the world that scared her so much. Being over protective stops kids from learning important lessons about life. That is a real concern for their futures.

But while my mother was definitely overboard on the protectiveness, robbing me of a much of my childhood due to her paranoia, a lot of parents ended up with hurt or dead kids because they weren’t protective (or wary) enough – even when they thought (and were told) they were doing everything right.

There is a middle way here, but the trick is that it moves depending on the child and the parents and the current information we have about risks (that is, the safety of the neighborhood and the school). We’ve got to stop judging parents and children of today by value systems that were questionable to begin with and are definitely out of date now. Just because you never got hit by a car doesn’t mean your friend’s five year old is ready to walk five blocks to kindergarten alone – the reverse being, just because you weren’t allowed to date until you were 15 doesn’t mean your next door neighbor’s 12 year old isn’t mature enough to self-identify as queer.

More importantly, we need to understand that maturity and age are not synonymous (for kids, or for adults). Yes, violent crime has actually dropped compared to the 1970s and 1980s, but that’s no damn reason to give kids carte blanche to wandering around alone, especially if they are not mature enough to handle it yet. And you know who are the ONLY people who can make that call? That kid’s parents.

Maybe if someone had decided that at least one adult needed to walk with those kids every day to and from school – OMG THE HELICOPTER-NESS OF IT ALL – some kids would have not been hurt/killed there. Maybe my mother (who could not be that adult because of her health) would have felt more secure in allowing me more freedom…but I think she saw the craven stupidity as much (if not more) than I did, and she definitely knew that I was not ready to handle that kind of peer pressure.

So instead, she hovered. For that, I’m honestly grateful.


 

*For the sake of this essay, I’m not addressing the issue of parents being charged with neglect or whatever for letting their kids walk to school – yes, I think that’s ridiculous. But this post is about children and parenting, not the law.

 

Online or Offline

For those of us living in the middle-class realm of the First World, we are coming up on a crux: living offline or online. This is less an issue about social media, where we have all invested at least a part of ourselves – even if only LinkedIn for the sake of our professional careers – than about actual productivity.

Adobe Creative Suite and Windows Office are both now almost exclusively online services. Your license to use the software is based on monthly or annual fees, not on a one-time purchase of a specific version of the software. If anyone believes that this isn’t the wave of the future overtaking us, they need to put down the luddite kool-aide and pay attention. After all, this is almost exclusively the model for a lot of mobile app services. Right now my subscriptions include Pandora, Office 365, gQueues, Out of Milk, and Penzu. My data is all “out there”.

Mostly.

Except for my writing.

I’m used to being very tight-fisted with my writing, creating redundant backups (cloud, hard drive, external drive) and generally only working from one place (my desktop). But I’m finding that I tend to write from my laptop as much as my desktop, and I like being able to tap into files from my phone to add things I think of on the fly. This is a problem for me because as a professional author, I don’t use MS Word or any other wonky “word processing” software, I use scrivener.

Now, scrivener is fabulous, and I love it. The only time I use MS Word is…well, on my laptop, or at work. For my creative writing, I only want to use scrivener.

For my “old school” self, this isn’t an issue. My licensed version of scrivener is on my desktop computer and that’s where the project files are too (backed up, of course). But that means I can only do creative writing at my desktop.

So here’s the conundrum: scrivener licensing allows me to put a second copy of the software on my laptop, I guess because they understand that people like me exist. But if the working project files only exist on my desktop, then there is no point in using scrivener on my laptop. The only way this would work how I want it to is for me to put the working project files in the cloud (dropbox being my preferred service) but as much as I appreciate that convenience, there is a part of me screeching about loss of control of my files. Also, if I’m offline, I can’t reach them at all. I’d also have to start backing up those files manually by saving them to my hard drive, which is a reverse of the process I have now which is done automatically by scrivener (which saves a back-up copy to dropbox every time I close a project file).

This is obviously not something that keeps me awake at night. And, I suspect, it is also mostly a reflection of my age and background. Those of us who were computer-savvy before the era of the Internet have trouble with the idea of not having our files physically in a specific location that we own and control – e.g. a hard drive of some sort that actually lives in our home. The fact is that they are more at risk in that location than in professional file hosting services is not lost on me, but still…habit. (This is discounting the privacy concern issues, which really are a separate post unto themselves; here, I’m just talking about productivity and convenience issues.)

Decisions, decisions…

What are Your Four Important Things?

4_important_thingsHard experience has taught me that there is only room for Four Important Things in your life – I don’t mean people or situations, but rather, personal priorities.

That First Important Thing is always “whatever it is you do to support your household and not go hungry.” It may or may not be something we want to do (it almost never is, in my experience) but it takes up a huge swath of time and energy in exchange for a roof over our heads, so we can’t claim it’s not important. The day!job I have now sucks up much of my day – writing it down, I realized that 11 hours of every weekday are spent at that job or doing things in relation to that job (packing a lunch, the commute, etc.).

Of course some people are lucky enough that their First Important Thing is something that they do because they want to, such as being a full time writer (my goal) or a full-time parent/homemaker or a full-time health care worker for impoverished communities or a full-time college student. Those are solid gold First Important Things.

But whatever the case may be, you’ve got four things. That’s it.

You may not think so or you may wish it were not so, but it is very much so and the harder we deny it, the harder it is to actually focus on the Four Important Things.

The reason for my declaration about Four Important Things is experience: I’ve spent years trying to have five, six, even eight Important Things I want to do. I’ve seen a lot of friends trying to append a fifth thing to their lives without unseating the original four. It’s never worked, for me or for them. It never will.

Sitting down to forge a realistic weekday schedule for myself really clarified that fact for me — namely, that I don’t have time to goof off, much less add something on top of everything else. For me, the Four Important things are: day!job, meditation, writing, and exercise. It’s just that simple.

Other people might have things like: parenthood, social justice activism, exercise, needlework; or day!job, cooking, fandom, and motorcycles; or parenthood, marriage, college, and playing the piano.

We can sometimes shoe-horn other things in there, such as learning a foreign language during our bus commute to work or doing crochet while we watch TV with the family at night. As those examples show, though, those activities usually are pasted over on top of other things we need or want to do. The Four Important Things, however, always stand on their own. When life gets busy and extraneous activities need to be cut, the first things to go are the side-projects, not the Big Four. Occasionally, desperate times (e.g. a newborn arrives, or you become very ill) will even unseat one of the Four Important Things, but that’s rarely for too long.

If we want to change or re-prioritize, the best plan is for one of the four to be phased out. I want to phase out the day!job and write for a living, which will free me up to add a new Important Thing (what will it be? Dancing? Painting? Bicycle riding? A romantic relationship? I don’t know!). Sometimes an Important Thing phases out naturally to make room for something else – a good example would be those times when we drop exercising as a priority because we start a new relationship, or we drop out of fandom because we get pregnant and are hit with “sudden parenthood syndrome”. It happens.

Or you might become chronically ill or injured, which can flat derail any number of other plans and will supplant at least one Important Thing, likely forever. Definitely not an optimal situation, but again, it happens.

Then there is the reverse, where one of the four is eliminated without adding a new Important Thing to the mix. That’s where we get “empty nest syndrome” where parents whose kids have inexplicably turned into self-reliant adults have to come to grips with the fact that as far as personal investment goes, parenthood is no longer one of the Four Important Things on the radar – not to say that the intrinsic importance of being a parent is diminished, just that the time, energy (and, hopefully, finances!) involved drops exponentially. Or you graduate college but aren’t much invested in anything past that – if your other Important Things are your day!job, your relationship, and gardening, you might end up focusing on those things and find yourself drifting along aimlessly for years.

The worst thing, of course, is for one of the Four Important Things to be an addiction – to drugs, or shopping, or porn, or gambling, or…whatever. I’m not sure there is any way to undo that, in the sense that even in recovery, the addiction itself will always be a Very Important Thing to account for.

Back to my point, which is the fact that I had to sit down and really look at my own schedule with open eyes, and figure out what I can do, and when I can do it. Working out and meditating account for about 30 minutes each, a little more than an hour all told when time for preparing and straightening up afterwards is factored in. Easiest way to knock these out is in the morning, meaning I have to get up a little after 5 AM to have those done by the time I need to get ready for work at 6:30 AM.

Writing is officially my Second Important Thing (hopefully moving up to first here soon). After 11 hours centered on the day!job, my time is outrageously limited, but I have to get in at least an hour and a half every day if I can. That can only happen in the evenings. So I get an hour for dinner when I get home, write from 7 PM to 8:30 PM, and have an hour to goof off, relax, or work on a side hobby. Anything that deviates me from that course will sink the whole plan, because to get up at 5(ish) AM I have to be in bed at the latest at 10 PM.

I really do need one day off a week from the pressure, and that seems to be Saturday. I’d rather write on Saturday, and maybe I can shoehorn it in sometimes, but the truth is that rest days are important too. This is the newer, mature me: understanding limitations and working with them. Trying to do otherwise usually ends with me in a stupor, anyway.

Sunday: back to the grind, even if I get to sleep in.

This means I have to watch for getting caught up in dinner plans with friends, or allowing tumblr to suck me in. It means not writing fanfic for fun, or “vegging out” for the evening, or taking art classes at night, or dating. It means I need to “keep my eyes on the prize” every day, and not sit around staring at the computer waiting for magic to happen.

No room in that schedule for regret or distraction, no room for wishful thinking, no room for self-loathing. These are my Four Important Things, and they are all I have time for.

Writing About (my) Rape

NOTE: I’ll be talking about my own rape, in specific but not intimate detail; warning for if that is a trigger subject for you.

An artist friend who was putting together a collaborative art show on rape culture asked me to contribute. I said I would try to write something, maybe a spoken word piece, but then never did.

I simply couldn’t do it.

It is, in fact, easier to write about rape in a blog post, where there is pretense of distance and objectivity, even in first person. I can say, “I was raped” and then move on clinically to the aftermath, the social constructs of rape culture, and where my experience fits into my sexual awakening over the years.

But to write emotionally about it, to reflect on that experience by tapping into my reactions and self-perception…no, I could not do that. That surprised me, although I wonder at the fact I was surprised.

My rape was rather low-key, and although all rape is about power and not sex, it was a situation where I felt I had “put myself” in the way of sex. It was not quite a date rape. I was crashing with a friend for a few days, and he decided that since we had dated once for a couple of weeks in the past, having sex was on the menu. I said no, we went to bed separately, and then he showed up in my bed later that night. I felt obligated – he was putting me up when I needed a place to stay, after all.

I did not go to his bed. I never said “yes”, in fact I explicitly said “no” when he asked. But did not I shove him out of bed either. I did not enjoy myself; we did not talk about it afterwards. He thanked me and went back to bed. I went to sleep.

The result of this uncomfortable violation was that I did not know I had been raped. It took me years of reading about rape, rape culture, and rape victims to realize that I had, in fact, actually been raped. For those not familiar with how rape is marginalized in our society, that probably makes me sound like an idiot. In fact, I kind of felt like an idiot when the realization hit me, for a lot of reasons; an idiot for not realizing it sooner, mostly.

I felt more like I had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, which if you read between the lines on that translates to “it was my fault.” Part of me still feels that way, despite arguing with myself about it for years now. I felt violated and disappointed, but not like a victim, if that makes sense? “I was standing on the beach and the wave knocked me down” is more how I viewed it at the time.

The wave, in this case, being a fully self-aware, sober man who had the choice to just stay the hell out of my bed as I had requested but instead, as it were, knocked me down.

I was not traumatized by the event as some rape victims are, and it is hard for me to weigh my rather plebian experience against those who have been physically beaten and/or restrained. So, I did not think that it would be difficult to write how I feel about my rape.

I was wrong.

There is no emotional breakdown or breakthrough for me to illuminate here, just dawning awareness. I couldn’t force myself to write on the subject, and as most of you know, forcing myself to write is pretty much my stock in trade. I do it every day. But in this one instance, that failed, and I stalled. That, I think, was the weirdest part for me.

I wondered if perhaps I have nothing to say on the subject on the emotional level. It happened a long time ago, and while it took years to understand that I was raped, there has never been much of an emotional pitch to that turmoil – surprise, more than anything. “I was raped? Really? Well…yeah, I was, wasn’t I? No wonder I hated it so much, no wonder I stopped being close friends with him.”

Even if, to this day, we are “Facebook friends.”

Such, I suppose, is rape culture. It puts the burden of the rape on the victim, and then convinces us that nothing untoward ever happened, and let’s our rapist think they did nothing wrong.

I’m sure I feel something about that, but I’m not sure what.

All hope abandon…

I posted a link to an article that really resonated with a lot of people I know. It talks about the confusion of not having a set, clear path in front you, and how we often shape our lives by the decisions we’ve made in the past rather than our expectations for the future. It resonated with me too, which is why I posted it, but it also pulled at another issue I’ve wrestled with a lot in life: hope.

The article I’m talking about, When Way Closes is a short meditation on the frustrations of feeling like our lives are out of control, directionless, and pointless.

That’s a real condition; the thought “I have nothing to live for” hit me hard right before my major psychological breakdown in 2008. It was not a plea for death but rather a simple reckoning: there was no reason for me to get out of bed in the morning. Oh sure having a job and paying bills, yes, those responsibilities kept me going to that job I truly loathed. But personal reasons? Goals? Hope? Zip nada none. I was living mostly for the express purpose of staying alive. There was nothing ahead of me to live for.

Which was the result of both the choices I made and didn’t make. Either way, doors were closed and I moved on, forever trying to make things “better” in a way that did not involve any kind of personal risk, self-discovery, or lifestyle change. Oh, the irony.

I put all my bets on hopes I had for the future, but I did not want to do the work necessary to deal with my demons and my fears. The result was that I slowly pushed myself into a full breakdown that took a year and half to pull out from.

While I can say “I put myself there, I have no one to blame but myself,” I think it is also accurate to say, “I did the best I could with the resources I had at the time.” Both statements are equally true.

I always tried for better, and cornering myself into a nervous breakdown was definitely not done on purpose. I desperately grasped at ideas to improve my life, work, and career over and over. I made plans and I had goals and I worked my ass off. I ended up making poor choices and I misdirected myself plenty of times but it was always with the best of intentions. My strategies were flawless…except for the fact that they were also wrong.

So, “way closed behind me” and things changed whether I wanted them to or not.

The article talks about how, when we are confused about the future, we should look to our past. Doing that (post-breakdown, after-therapy) I realized that a lot of my bad choices were protective, keeping me out of environments/jobs that would have been psychologically horrific for me, despite the fact that I pinned all my hopes on those careers working out. Hind sight, ammirite???

I would craft plans based on hopes I had about results, then derail myself out of fear and insecurity and be confused about why that happened. I failed to realize that the plans were, themselves, flawed. Wash, cycle, repeat. Repeat and repeat, because hope is merely high-octane desperation.

Mostly, this cycle kept going because I thought as long as my path was clear and my goals concrete, I would not fail. Crashing and burning due to self-sabotage was never accounted for, even if I knew that was exactly what was going on at some level, even if I claimed bad luck or other people or the whimsy of fate. If only I could get it right! Yet, when I finally turned to look at how “way had closed” behind me, each time it was clear as day: blinded by hope, I would stumble onto a plan to improve my life, only to defeat myself out of self-defense, then sink into despair because my hopes had been dashed.

In reading Andre Come-Sponville’s book “The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality” I was reminded of one of the great lessons of Buddhism: suffering is born out of desire.

Not, as we tend to define the word these days, desire in and of itself as a sexual or material craving. The desire meant here is far more along the lines of “hope” – we hope for what we do not have, and then fall into despair when we don’t get it or we get a corrupted version of our dreams. Suffering does not arise because human emotions are bad and we should dissociate from them, but from the hope we rest those emotions on.

Where things careen off the tracks, I think, is where hope lives.

While I’ve never been a big proponent of “follow your bliss” – I’m far too much a type A personality for that nonsense – I know that doing so is part of the secret of “finding way” (as the Quakers call it). But what are we to hope for if no part of our path is clear? What do we work towards?

The phrase that pulled at me from Comte-Sponville’s book was: “If we want only what we do not have, we cannot have what we want.” It’s a bit like a riddle but it’s also accurate. For example, those who are filthy rich tend to crave more and more money, no matter how much they already have. They are obsessed with hope, which feeds their greed. They will never have what they want, and in the end, turn craven in their desperation.

We tend to think that if we don’t have high hopes and a high-resolution path for our goals, then we are doomed to fail. I think far more often, putting our hope into exacting plans means that when things (inevitably) fail to go to plan, we end up completely disordered. Yet, maybe those plans were not actually well suited to our true goals. Maybe we suffer because of hope, not failure.

When way closes behind us, it does point us in the direction we were meant to go, but we still can’t get anywhere if we let the fog of hope cloud both our vision and our understanding of our past. It’s not about thinking, “well, the turn to the left is a closed door, therefore I must go right” but rather, “why is that door closed? How I can keep doors like it open? Should I?”

It’s not to say we should not have goals or plans, but perhaps we would be better served by looking at our future with the mindset of, yes, “follow your bliss.” That we should look at how “way has closed” behind us not as failure (the result of hope) but as lessons we created for our future selves. Or as Comte-Sponville also wrote: “The wise act, while the foolish hope and tremble.”

Basing all our plans on hope for what we don’t have is a recipe for disaster. Likewise, failing to plan is planning to fail. The point where these two ideas converge is where we look at how “way has closed” and understand our true motivations, wants, and needs.

 

Sunday Six-ish! WoHH (3/15/15)

WoHH coverOooo! More Wolves of Harmony Heights! I love this particular scene, from Chapter 6, where Liz Hart and her friend/lover Brandon Chase confront the out-of-town stranger Hardey Gochenour when she finds him hanging out at 2am in the morning at a diner with her son and his friends, who are all supposed to be grounded already. Not suspicious at all, Hardey! Of course, there is a lot going on that none of the men in her life are not actually telling her….

Brandon walked up to the table. “Man, I thought we talked about this.”

Hardey leaned back casually while the kids all cowered. “We did, but I think we took different things away from that conversation.”

Brandon glowered. “I thought you weren’t this stupid.”

“You know what the situation is,” Hardey said, tipping his head towards Augie.

“Well you know what? I don’t!” Liz pushed Brandon aside. “There is nothing sketchy at all about your meeting up late at night with a group of teens, is it? You are so fucking lucky I’m not calling the cops!” Liz rose in fury, and the few other people in the diner stared at them.

Your body is not a carburetor

Recently a friend of mine posted about a lot of weight she had lost and her improved health/bloodwork after starting a new way of eating (or WOE, for short). It doesn’t matter which WOE she used, here – Weight Watchers, Mediterranean, the Zone, Atkins, LCHF, whatever, it doesn’t matter. The fact is that she improved her health and lost some weight doing it.

What made this post stand out for me is that a friend of hers immediately jumped in to give all sorts of weight loss advice that was neither asked for nor needed, under the guise of being supportive. When her advice was routinely rebutted by my friend, who kept saying over and over, “thanks but I tried that, it did not work for me” the woman got hostile and defensive and, in the end, rude.

And here’s the worst part: the advice that was being given was in and of itself damaging. More so, it was based on the idea that all fat people are stupid.

It amazes me how often that assumption is made. One time, I was walking down the street talking to a friend. Kind of out of the blue, she said, “Have you thought about losing weight? It would be so much better for your health; it’s really important.”

I stopped dead and stared at her in utter disbelief.

Not because she was wrong (debatable), but because she felt compelled to tell me that. I’m 45 years old, and thanks to modern processed foods and my mother’s twisted obsession with body fat, I’ve been overweight pretty consistently since I was about 10 years old. That’s 35+ years of mostly being fat, and only being thin a few times under the duress of disordered eating and obsessive exercising.

Now, at what point does she think I missed the message “fat is bad”? Was I out the day the memo was passed around? Did I skip that lesson? Did I somehow, miraculously, live for 35+ fucking years in a society that is obsessed with body image issues and that has a deep seated hatred of anyone who is more than 10 pounds overweight and NOT figure out for myself that my life would be better if I were thinner?

No, I did not. I got it, I got that message loud and clear. No one who has even an ounce of body fat on them has missed that message.

The problem is that we, as a culture, have been told so hard and so long that losing weight is easy, therefore being fat is a choice; that it is a decision we make at some point and is something we have complete control over. We’re taught “calories in/calories out” as if the complex biological system known as the human body is as simplistic as a carburetor engine, and we’ve been taught “eat less/exercise more” under a diametrically opposite belief that the less fuel you give an engine, the more it burns.

Well, you can’t have it both ways, and you also can’t reduce the incredibly complex human metabolism to the first law of thermodynamics. I mean, I get it: I wish it were that easy too. But it’s really, really not. While it is possible to eat less, exercise more, and lose weight, it is not successful. Successful is something that improves your health and has long-lasting effects. Successful is something that leaves people feeling good about themselves, at a healthy weight, and not hungry all the time. Successful is something that applies to a method that does not have a 95% failure rate, as traditional low-calorie diets do. (Ask any scientist or even an undergraduate student: any experiment with a 95% failure rate is, to put it kindly, a fucking failure.)

I get into arguments with friends about this not because they know what they are talking about but because it is such a closely held belief that no one wants to let it go. It sounds so EASY, of course it must work!

But if it did, I assure you, obesity would not be an epidemic. I would not be fat, that’s for sure. I would have not only lost weight but kept it off during one of the dozens attempts I made at the “eat less, exercise more” diets I’ve tried over the last 30 years. I’m not lazy and I have crazy mad willpower and even right now, overweight and out of shape, chances are damn good that I eat much more healthfully and probably much less than you do.

But the myth holds. My friend who asked if I had ever thought about losing weight was thin and had been thin her whole life, yet felt compelled to say what she said because she really believed that somehow, I’m just so lazy and inefficient and, possibly, stupidly ignorant that it’s never occurred to me to try and lose weight. To her, losing weight should be easy (eat less! Exercise more!) so if I have not lost weight, then it’s obviously because I’ve never really, honestly tried. Like, maybe it just never occurred to me? For fuck’s sake.

Here’s the thing, though: eating less than what your body decides it needs is not a magic bullet for getting healthy. In fact, it is a very practical, sure-fire bullet for ruining your health. Here’s what I mean:

The myth is that if you don’t eat enough, your body will go to its reserves (fat) to give you energy.

This is true.

But first, it will do a bunch of other things, because the human body does not want to tap those reserves. They are emergency stores, for lack of a better term, not a candy bar you break out during a long afternoon when you skip lunch. This should surprise no one, but obviously needs to be said: the body will go to extremes to NOT eat itself.

First, the body will tell you it is hungry. Then, when you don’t eat or you don’t eat enough, it will tell you it is still hungry. And then it will remind you that hey, you’re hungry. Look at the time! You’re hungry! Still! Hungry! HUNGRY! HUNGRY HUNGRY HUNGRYHUNGRYHUNGRYHUNGRY FOR FUCKS SAKE EAT SOMETHING YOU FUCKING MORON!!!!!

Then when you STILL don’t eat, the body does not magically start eating itself. The body abhors cannibalism, and it will do anything to avoid it. So it turns down the metabolism; slows everything down so you don’t use as much energy. This is efficient. This is exactly what the body was designed to do.

Now you are HUNGRYHUNGRYHUNGRY and also lethargic.

According to traditional diet advice, this is now the perfect time to go for a run!

If the insanity of this hasn’t struck you yet, then you aren’t paying attention.

Eventually, if you stay hungry for long enough and force your metabolism to spike using intense exercise, your body will finally, unwillingly, regretfully start eating itself. It will start with the fat stores, then move to the muscles, then to the organs. The key to success in this war is to stop pushing so hard at that magic point in between fat and muscles. But how? Your body is in deficit and eating itself. It has no concept of balance, here: either you are eating enough to live on, or you’re not. If you’re not, then the body assumes “ffs still starving? Fine!” and just keeps eating itself.

You hit that magic number on the scale and finally! You can sleep in and not go for that long run every morning! You can up your caloric intake from 1200 to 1400! Time for those extra two ounces of cheese! Woo!

Your body sees this mild concession as the end of the battle, but not the war. It’s cautious; it doesn’t trust that it won’t happen again, so it lowers the baseline metabolism to keep energy stores safe. It ramps up the hunger signals, reactivating cravings that might have been pushed to the side by deprivation.

And within six months to a year, you’re back where you started (or, more likely, even heavier than when you started), with friends telling you that you should really lose weight because it would be healthier for you. Because, clearly, you just have no willpower.

Here is what no one wants to admit: being fat is not a condition with universal causes, and there is no universal solution. Current research is starting to completely reframe the issue of obesity. Traditionally, being overweight was the problem, and “eat less/exercise more!” the solution. What is being explored these days is that obesity is actually a symptom. Overeating isn’t a disease, and under-eating isn’t the cure.  Obesity happens because of other factors, and those factors can be as individual as people.

Some people gain weight because they overeat due to depression or in response to issues like domestic violence; some people have thyroid problems; some people have physical or psychological addictions to sugar or other foods; some people have food intolerances; some people have insulin problems stemming from genetics and/or bad habits; some people have to take meds for other health reasons which have side effects like hunger and weight gain; and yes, there are even a few very rare individuals who don’t give a flying fuck and overeat because they want to.

In addition, the modern diet is a landmine of addiction and psychological dependence. We are completely addled by sugar, which is in nearly every process food on the market (even processed deli meats; go ahead, check the labels, I’m not lying to you). Sugar itself is totally natural and an important staple of our diet, but not in massive quantities. While it’s addictive, cutting it out completely is impossible and ill advised (that is, fruit is a natural sugar, and fruit is healthy, but if you have a problem with sugar, fruit can be a trigger; it’s a vicious cycle) so people end up on a hamster wheel of deprivation/binging.

At what point does this turn from being an issue of will power to one of physiology?

If you don’t have the answer to that question, and you don’t, then shut up. If you aren’t someone’s nutritionist or doctor, then shut up. Being thin is not a badge of honor or a success; it’s just how your nature/nurture cards played out. If you are naturally thin, I guaran-fucking-tee you that every fat person you know has a much better grasp of nutrition, exercise, and calorie counts than you do. The majority of us have been on the hamster wheel of “Eat less! Exercise more!” at least once if not a dozen times. Every single one of us has tried Weight Watchers, Atkins, the Hollywood diet, supplements, and Slimfast.

Some of us have even starved ourselves into anorexia because that is easier. I’ll give you a moment to wrap your mind around that one.

Got it? Good. Yet over and over, well-meaning idiots tell us that we should think about losing weight, because it would be healthier for us. Our clothes would fit better, you know? Just eat less and exercise more, it’s so easy!

Yes, thank you, we know.

My point here is to ask you to rethink what you assume. If you are thin, don’t assume it is because you have a better grasp of portion control or calorie counts than your fat friend (who, very likely, eats less than you do because their metabolism has been depressed by yo-yo dieting). You really don’t, I’d lay money on that. Don’t assume that the fat people you know are idiots who have never been exposed to diet advice before in their lives (they have…every day…by everyone).  Don’t assume that being fat is a simple problem with a simple solution, because chances are you don’t know a damn thing about the actual reasons why that person is fat in the first place.

Most importantly: Don’t treat obesity as if it is a personal failure of willpower or dedication. When you do that, you are telling people who are overweight that they are lazy, stupid, and lack self-control—yes, that’s exactly what you are implying, even if that’s not what you meant. Claiming you are “just trying to help” (when no one asked you for your help) is an excuse for your rude behavior. Concern trolling is more about feeding your sense of arrogance and superiority than it is about helping people. Period.

Remember, the traditional “Eat less! Exercise more!” paradigm fails 95% of the time. Instead of thinking that 95% of the people involved are pathologically compulsive and lazy, why not accept the fact that the primary assertion of that hypothesis is just fucking wrong.

Sunday Six – WoHH (3/8/15)

So in fandom — or at least, I think that’s where it started? Hard to track this kind of thing down — there is a thing called “Sunday Six”, where authors post six sentences from their WIPs (Works In Progress). It’s a great way to engage readers and keep people interested in work that won’t be available to be read for a while. Given the torturous hell I’m putting everyone through with my writing updates about Wolves of Harmony Heights, I thought it might be fun (cruel? pointless?) to share progress on it, “Sunday Six Style” (although I think it’s actually eight sentences? Euclidean numbers. Not my thing).

Here you go, from chapter two, my main character Liz Hart talking about motherhood with her co-worker, Shawnna Franklin as they are working in the gas station mart that Liz manages:

Shawnna frowned as she broke down the empty boxes. “You know your son is one fine looking boy, right?”

“He’s gorgeous.” Liz nodded.

“No, Liz. That’s you as a mother remembering what he looked like as a loaf of bread in your arms after giving birth. I’m telling you as the mother of an eleven year old girl who thinks Augie is ‘super adorbs’ that your son is going to be a heart-breaker in about another year.”

“I…what?” Liz frantically flipped to the picture albums on her phone. “No.”

#

Writing with nothing to lose

A couple of things recently got me to thinking about how I identify myself as a writer. First, I have many friends who are published authors, ranging from the highest-falutin literary high-brow to proud but low-brow hacks and everything in between, and I adore all of them. What they write has very little impact on how I view them, despite being raised and educated to automatically assign more importance to the “serious” writers of “literary fiction” than the authors of commercial fiction. Yeah, that’s called snobbery, and I don’t like that about myself. My inner elitist, though, is pretty well entrench – and tragically, at the very least, how I do not judge others is definitely how I judge myself.

Second, two articles about writing hit the waves this week, one in response to the other. The first was Mr. MFA’s “Things I can Say about MFA Writing Programs Now that I No Longer Teach in One” which was…unsurprising. His entire slant is towards high-end literary fiction, the kind that wins important awards and will be assigned reading in classrooms decades from now, and his comments reflect his belief that not all people have the talent to write that kind of story. The other, Chuck Wendig’s “An Open Letter to that Ex-MFA Creative Writing Teacher Dude”, was also unsurprising, taking the tack of a commercial fiction author encouraging writers of all stripes to never give up, to keep writing, and to write what they want to write.

Simply put: one perspective is elitist, the other is populist. Never the twain shall meet.

This reflects my issues with writing. Honestly, for the past seven years, I’ve mostly defined myself as a fanfic writer. It’s where the bulk of my creative energies have gone, and I am very proud of (most of) the work I did during that time. But in the hierarchy of “being a writer” it’s the lowest, most shameful and most denigrated rung on the ladder. It’s not even on the ladder, it’s the dirt at the bottom that the ladder rests on…and I could carry that metaphor into some kind of positive affirmation but what I’m talking about here is not my opinion but the mainstream perspective, which is definitely mired in the hierarchic model (fanfic at the bottom, great literary classics at the top).

But fanfic was a natural home for me. Despite being raised in a very elitist environment when it came to literature, I’ve always leaned towards the populist side of writing. My first long stories were Star Wars and Star Trek fanfiction (I was around ten to twelve years old, this was back in the 70s), and my first truly original stories were pretty horrible mary-sue affairs. Adults would cluck about my “talent” and encourage me to “expand my horizons” but I really didn’t want to. I loved spaceships and adventure and romance and horses. (Look, I was twelve. Horses. OKAY?)

The result of this dynamic was an intense feeling of shame for wanting to write “fun stuff”. That stuff doesn’t count, it’s embarrassing, it’s low-brow and a waste of my talent.

When really, a waste of my talent was not writing regularly for over ten years.

Between 1997 and 2007, I mostly did not write (long story, lots of reasons, ref. Grieving Futures). Fanfiction got me writing again because it didn’t count and I had nothing to lose; no one was judging it aside from other fans, because most writers liked to pretend it didn’t exist, and I did it under a pen name anyway. It was a safe place for me to unfurl as a writer and simply write without shame the things I wanted to write. I wrote a lot of smut but also some interesting forays into social issues and relationship exploration as well as murder mysteries. I’m not defending the quality of that output, but I am defending the fact that writing fanfic saved my writing life.

Then, eventually, I was confronted with the idea of writing my own stories, full of characters and world-building I created myself. Some of that was influenced by fanfic practices (fancasting my characters, playlists, etc.) but a lot of it comes from a life of enjoying a rollicking good tale. I want to entertain people, give them characters to embrace and journey with and love dearly.

So I did. Under a pseudonym.

The elitist in me was still ashamed of the idea that people might judge me for writing commercial, popular fiction. There was the idea that I could go one way or the other, and as long as my populist side was safely tucked away under a fake name, I, KimBoo York, might still be able to write the “serious words for serious readers” that the elitist in me demanded.

But here’s the thing, and I think it applies to a lot of goals in life: you can say you want to do something over and over until you are blue in the face, you can make plans to start doing it, you can talk about how you are going to do it…but if you are not actively doing it or trying to make it happen, it really is not as important to you as you claim it to be.

That’s it.

If you want to learn to draw but aren’t drawing, or you want to dance but aren’t dancing, or you want to run a marathon but aren’t even jogging, then no, you actually do not want to do those things. You like the idea of doing them, but you don’t want to do the thing. Not really.

Not to say there aren’t reasons for why you aren’t doing them, but….well, no. There are no reasons, I mean outside of illness, depression, physical pain or life trauma (the eternal exceptions to all rules! RESPECT!). There might be a lot of reasons you are not the lead in a Hollywood movie, but there is no reason you can’t study acting, memorize and practice classic monologues, or even go to auditions just to get a feel for the process. Barring health-related reasons, if you would rather take your precious down time (from work, from parenting, from care-taking, from whatever) and do anything other than the thing you claim you desperately want to do? Then you don’t want to do it.

Here’s what I mean: I want to learn French. I would be so cool to speak and understand French! But I don’t ever actually practice learning the language. Duolingo makes it dead easy, and free, and there really just is no reason I could not spend half my lunch hour learning French. But I don’t. Ipso facto, I’m not as enamored of learning the language as I think I am.

Likewise, “serious words for serious readers” never happens. Oh, it’s true that I’ve tried my hand at writing a few non-genre, literary short stories about real people. I bored myself, okay? BORRRRRING. Hated it. It made writing into a pretentious chore for me.

Last fall, as I saw how little time I was investing in something I claimed was important to me versus how much time I was investing in something I really do love, I realized that the elitist in me was the minority voice. Mr. MFA Dude can have his literary pretensions, I’d rather hang with Wendig and many of my friends on the populist side. My literary heroes are Elizabeth Peters, James White, Arthur Conan Doyle, and all those Star Trek novel tie-ins.

My equivalent of “tossing my hat into the ring” is my paranormal, poly-romantic, adventure story Wolves of Harmony Heights. As most everyone knows by now, WoHH started off as a NaNoWriMo story back in November. I blew past 50k words and kept going. It’s still going. It will probably hit near 150,000 words total (well into the 400 page mark) and I plan to self-publish it.

Yes, self-publish it. Why? For the same reason I started writing fanfiction back in 2007: I have nothing to lose. I’m not writing this story to land a great contract or become famous or rich or popular. I’m writing it as a testament to the stories I love to read and watch and, yes, write. I’m writing it because doing so, as hard and frustrating as it is sometimes, is just plain FUN. I’m writing about werewolves and witches and bad guys and good people and in the end, the fact that doing so is personally rewarding to me is enough. That’s why I’m writing it, that’s why I’m publishing it.  That’s more than enough reason for me.

At long last, I’m admitting and accepting what has really, truly, and always been true: I’m a populist writer. And for the first time, I’m not ashamed of that or trying to hide it away. As they say, haters will hate, and they are welcome to waste their time doing so. Me? I’ve got stories to write.