Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Talky Tuesday: Running, "Good" Fatties, and Inspiration Porn

I'm taking a break from the slow eking-out of my travelogues to talk about running. Again.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this on my personal Facebook:

Last Friday I woke up, had a cup of tea, and then went out and ran a 5K. Not any kind of official race; I mean I ran 3.1 miles, nonstop, around my neighborhood. (3.5 miles, if my running app is to be believed.) I'm including a recent, honest-but-not-flattering photo with this post so you can see more or less what I looked like when I did it, down to the hairdo and tanktop and sneakers. Probably equally sweaty, because damn Boston was SWELTERING that day. This is what a runner looks like. 
I'm talking about this on Facebook for a few reasons. The first is that I did something that I'm proud of, something I thought for years that I would never want (or be able) to do. Running a 5K was only slightly more likely, I thought, than going to Mars or winning the lottery. And last week I basically went out and did it by accident. Cool! I did the thing! I even *enjoyed* doing the thing! (And me *enjoying* running was, not so long ago, as alien to me as "enjoying paperwork" or "enjoying scrubbing toilets.") I worked hard at it for 18 months and then I did it without dying or injuring myself!* (I also did it without filling my albuterol inhaler 'script which in retrospect is a terrible idea for someone with asthma. Don't Do What Donny Don't Does!) 
*I did suffer a twisted ankle during all of this training, but not while I was actually running. I stepped off a sidewalk funny while I was in town. 
The second reason I'm talking about this is to be up front about something: it was hard. It was physically difficult (my earliest workouts were just 5 seconds of jogging mixed with 55 seconds of walking for a grand total of 15 minutes, and even those "easy" workouts were hard at times) and it was mentally difficult (exercising in public while fat and female is fraught). I felt weird and embarrassed and discouraged way more than I felt awesome. Sometimes it felt like there was something wrong with me for finding it so hard and progressing so slowly. If you feel like that about anything -- exercising, learning something new, coping with mental illness -- I want you to know that my fat, sweaty, awkward, struggling self knows what it feels like. I don't know if it'll get better for you or not when it comes to that particular arena of self-improvement, but I know what it's like in that moment and I see and recognize your struggle. We're all reforming fuck-ups together! 
The third reason I'm posting this screed with this specific honest-but-not-flattering photo is to make it clear that 1) I didn't wait until I wasn't fat, or until I was less fat, to try to do the thing and 2) I didn't do the thing to be a "good" fatty or to make me less fat. I did it because I wanted to, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could, and then at some point just because I liked it. 
This is what a runner looks like. It's not a "before" (hell, or even an "after") photo. It's me. The body I have *right now* can do this awesome thing. And maybe more! Maybe I'll train for a 10K. Maybe I'll benchpress my own bodyweight. Maybe I'll take dance lessons or take up MMA. Maybe I'll just keep running around three miles three days a week. During it all, I'll almost certainly continue to remain more or less fat. 
Every single person reading this is already capable of so much, just the way they are. All of us not equally much, or of the same things -- limits DO exist, illnesses and disabilities take their toll, we all only have so much spare time -- but often of much more than we realize. Your body is fine the way it is.
I shared this post with this picture of me visiting Diana (of Redskirts and Arisia fame) in Boston:

Diana looking all business casual dressy fly and me looking like a sweaty mess, in front of a burrito restaurant.

I suspect people might have misunderstood my desire to disable comments on the post. It was friends-only, and the friends on FB who get to see the friends-only stuff aren't assholes. I didn't think anyone would be mean or shitty about it—effusive praise is what would bug me, and naturally that happened (some of it more easy for me to digest than others). The idea that someone might process the picture and post as "inspiration porn" is what would bug me.

Inspiration porn, if you're unfamiliar with the term, is the use of images of disabled athletes or artists or whoever used as a means for the able-bodied to feel inspired (or to guilt them into Doing The Thing). This article on The Mighty has more information about that. While fatness and physical disability are not marginalized to the same degree, or equivalent in any way, I think, to an extent, images of fat people accomplishing cool shit are leveraged similarly. There can also be a well-meaning condescension and patronization when it comes to images of fat athletes or fat aspiring athletes: "How cute of you to try!" "Good for you for being a good fatty!"

This is better than images of fat people being distributed for the purposes of ridicule, but it's not really ideal, either. And it's exactly why I wanted to disable comments. I knew that no one was going to come at me with a shitty comment; it was much more likely for people to be effusive in praise and encouragement, all of which would have meant well but some of which would no doubt be coming from that place of "I'm inspired by your willingness to do this thing with a body I consider undesirable (even as we are friends because of my admiration for your personality etc.)" "I'm glad you're doing something to become less Fat." If you're thinking or feeling those things when you see pictures of fat athletes, please ch-ch-checkity-check yo' self.

On a positive note, I'd like to thank LineageWear for those awesome peacock bike shorts and my other leggings: they really are the #bestleggingsever. (If you don't have a pair of your own, you can shop through my LineageWear referral link and get a 10% discount. TREAT YO' SELF!)

I'd also like to thank Aardvark Sports Shop in Bethlehem, PA. When I walked in there almost a year ago to get fitted for my first-ever pair of running shoes, I thought I would die of embarrassment. But the employee who helped me was super chill and treated me and my big ol' duck feet with perfect, expert helpfulness and found me the perfect shoes. Gear matters, and without those leggings or those shoes I wouldn't have been able to do what I did.

And finally, I'd like to put in a good word for Charity Miles. A lot of times it was easier to go out and do the thing because I knew it would help a better cause as well as myself. Personally, I run for charity: water because damn there's nothing like a glass of cold water after a brutal run!

Playlist shout-outs include: basically every Tarantino soundtrack up to Kill Bill Vol. 1, Say Sue Me, Kanye (I'm trash), Garbage, Eve 6, Drunken Tiger/MFBTY, The Blue Hearts, and The High-Lows.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday 5: I Don't Get It Either

Twitch is an enormously popular livestreaming platform mostly for watching people play video games. It has more than 1.5 million broadcasters and more than one million visitors per month, and Amazon acquired it for nearly a billion dollars in 2014. Which of your computer activities would you livestream if there were a way to make some money doing it?

Y'all want to watch me write blog entries in real time, right? Right??

EDM (electronic dance music) is usually performed by DJs on stage in front of audiences, playing tracks they’ve mixed, right off their laptops. If you were a push-button DJ playing your tunes in a club, what would be your opening and closing songs, assuming everyone’s there because they’re into whatever sounds you’re into?

My opening song would be absolutely be "Gangnam Style," or one of the infinite mashups out there. This one might be my favorite:

Or this one:

What can I say? 2012 might have been my peak year.

As for the end of the set, I think this is a good closer:

What’s a good Adele song, and why is Adele so popular?

I don't know if I like this shade you're throwing on Adele, Friday 5! I'm not obsessed with Adele but I like her voice.

Speaking of 2012, I was also cheered to see that Adele was so popular with my Korean students. In a country that can be even more looks-based and body-conscious than the US, I hope that at least a few of my girl students realized that it's possible for them to be talented and successful without looking like a typical K-pop star.

I listened to "Rolling in the Deep" a lot with those kiddos, so that's probably my favorite Adele song.

The Walking Dead?

I don't get this one either, Friday 5.

Every generation seems to arrive at a “They don’t write ’em like that anymore” attitude. Why does it seem like most middle-aged people lose interest in new music?

There's actually a reason for this! I think it has something to do with the way your brain is still developing as a teenager versus how it is as an adult, and so music from your childhood and teenage years will always be more immediate and visceral for you than most anything else. In other words, nostalgia's a helluva drug.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What I Read: Stories of Your Life and Others

It's October and somehow I'm still not finished writing up all of the reading I did on my summer vacation (as well as what I did besides read on my summer vacation). This was a book I started and finished during my long weekend in Austin.

Image courtesy Small Beer Press

The problem with reviewing short story collections so long (months) after you've read them is that it's harder to keep all of the stories in mind. I know that I liked what I read a lot, but I struggle to remember exactly what it was that I read -- except the titular story, "Story of Your Life," which is definitely the strongest of them all.

After a quick refresher (as in, reading someone else's review on GoodReads), my memory came back to me. The other stories I remembered enjoying were "Hell is the Absence of God," "Liking What You See: A Documentary," and "Division by Zero." Despite winning a Sideways award (whatever that is?), "Seventy-Two Letters" didn't really appeal to me. Neither did "Tower of Babylon." "Understand" was mildly interesting, in that it was probably the most "traditional" science fiction of the lot (what happens when people give themselves supergenius intellects?), but it didn't have the same existentialist concerns or the same experimentation with form that characterized what I thought were the best stories. And, finally, "The Evolution of Human Science" is a clever and pithy little work and I enjoyed it in the moment I read it, but by the time I sat down to write this review I'd completely forgotten it.

What I appreciate about this collection is one of the same things I appreciated about The Three-Body Problem: author commentary is included at the end. It's interesting to take a peak behind the curtain and see the germ of an idea for a story (if I can mix my metaphors a little). Chiang has yet to produce a novel-length work, but I think many of the ideas in here have enough meat to become novels on their own. I look forward to any future work from Chiang, and I hope he tackles more long-form work in the future.

Monday, October 9, 2017

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 5: Austin, TX to Bethlehem, PA

The weather for my Monday flight out is appropriately dour and unpleasant: overcast, drizzly, and just plain "blah." It matches my mood.

I'm up half an hour before everyone else, so after I triple-check what small amount of luggage I have, I sit out in the living room with the cats and read some more James Tiptree, Jr. while the rest of the household wakes up and does their thing around me. Things move quietly and efficiently until Noah gets the text alert that my ride to the airport's arrived. I say my goodbyes at the door, but then an idea hits Noah.

"I'll come out with you. I just realized that the driver will probably be looking for me, since I called for the ride."

I'm reminded of our goodbye in NYC last October, when it was Noah disappearing into an Uber to the airport and I was the one left behind. On that equally gray morning, after hugging out our goodbyes, I had hung by the open door and watched him disappear down the stairs with our host, only for him to dart back at the last minute for a last hug. This time it's me vanishing into an Uber for the airport.

We meet my ride at the curb, a cheerful woman in early middle age. I swing my larger bag in the back of the car. Noah pulls me in for one hug then, and then the "one more hug" trick again right before I step in the back passenger seat. After that, he lets me go for real, and I get in the car.

It's the price you pay to pull up stakes and move to another country. Facebook and Skype and email help, but they're not the same. And some people translate better online than others. Noah is markedly worse than others. That's probably what makes our goodbyes so heavy.

On the plus side, I have a pleasant ride to the airport. It's weird talking to human beings for no reason again; it's weird how comfortable I am doing it (after stony silences in cabs and Ubers in Stockholm and NYC). Is this my inner American coming out? Is this who I've been all along?

No, it's probably just being in Texas. Extroversion acquired via osmosis.

We talk about music festivals: how much money people can make off of SXSW, how busy it can get, how small Musikfest (on my to-do list during this trip) is by comparison, even though both festivals have been running for about as many years.

Musikfest 2013. Image courtesy the official Lehigh Valley Flickr account.
I check in at the airport without a problem and see again that I'll be among the last board. Whatever. I make it on board and text Noah and my mom to let them know that everything went according to plan.

The weather in Newark is equally crummy and I'm convinced that we're going to hydroplane into the back of a tractor trailer or get sideswiped or anything else on the way home. I'm no longer used to car rides on the highway in inclement weather; is this a small sign of my own de-Americanization?

Obviously we make it home just fine. I get Priscilla, my indestructible-except-for-her-hinges laptop, up and running (how many months of updates do I need to install? too many), check in with my sambo on Google Hangouts, and then begin the long work of culling my library yet again. I work on the project off-and-on for the next few days; eventually I'll have five(!!) boxes of books for the Riegelsville library.

I take a break for Jeopardy!, because I'm a nerd, and then decide on my course of action for tomorrow: library and 'fest.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday 5: What Ails Ya

Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

How do you treat a bad case of the Mondays?

When you're a freelance tutor, you don't really get "the Mondays." People often have the most forgiving schedules on weekends, so that's when the bulk of your tutoring happens. Couple that with spending the work week on editing and other work-related tasks, the answer is that I don't get "the Mondays" because I don't have Mondays or weekends. My downtime comes in small chunks throughout the week and then periodically in longer breaks for vacations.

How do you fight off a case of the blahs?

I check in with what I'm doing. Usually I feel the most "blah" when I'm sitting at the computer and compulsively checking social media just for the sake of checking it. If I can stop that cycle and do something else (write, read, listen to a podcast while I play Diablo III), I usually feel better. I also recognize that I'm more prone to the blahs during the winter months, which I try to counter by lighting the apartment with full-spectrum bulbs and making sure to take a multivitamin with plenty of vitamin D.

The other thing I do is clean. Stuff tends to accumulate around me: papers get piled up, jewelry projects I intend to finish "soon, really soon" float around on my desk, things like that. Sometimes I feel "blah" because I'm surrounded by a mountain of unfinished things; when that happens, I take a day to clean up and organize. (The last time I did this, I found a year-old piece of unopened mail from Skatteverket.)

How do you deal with a bad hair day?

Ponytails and dry shampoo.

What’s your strategy for FOMO?

I don't know if I suffer from a "fear of missing out," specifically. On bad days I can be a fairly compulsive smartphone user (check Facebook! check Twitter! check your emails!), but for me it isn't an anxiety about missing out on something cool or exciting. It's about not knowing: not being able to answer that head-scratcher right away, not knowing what that email from a friend says, etc. I'd say that I have FONK (Fear Of Not Knowing) more than FOMO.

My strategy for FONK is non-existent. I can get sucked up into it really easily. If I notice what I'm doing, I'll switch out of email or Facebook and read something on the Kindle app instead, but I don't always notice.

How prone are you to Instagram envy?

Not at all, since I don't use Instagram!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Trek Thursday: Discovery

On Friday, JV and I sat down with our weekly pizza to watch the first episode of the new Star Trek series. I went in with cautious optimism: it had received a lot of good reviews (when they finally lifted the ban on reviews?), but all of my friends who are actual Trek fans (including Diana of Redskirts) were ambivalent at best about it.

Despite the caution in my optimism, I left the episode DISAPPOINTED.

I say this as someone who liked the J. J. Abrams reboot—initially. Rewatching it after mainlining TOS over the course of a few months, though, it loses a lot of the shine. (Or maybe I just paid better attention to the plot the second time around.) I didn't even bother with the second one. We've hit peak Cabbagepatch.

Discovery takes its cue from the Abrams' reboot more than something like TOS or Next Generation, both in terms of aesthetics and also in story style. It's a lot of whiz-bang visual effects, Dutch angles, lens flare, etc. The story is more about what will look good on screen and not what would be interesting to think about.

Also, minor point, but when you make a prequel fifty-odd years after the original material, first of all: why? (Do they want that Klingon–Federation war backdrop?) Second of all: if you're going to do that, why are you blowing the budget on these fantastic hyper-future sets that are so clearly more advanced than the tech that's supposed to be, in-story, ten? fifteen? years later? Say what you will about the Star Wars prequels, but the visual continuity between the prequels and the original trilogy (I can't speak for the new movies, haven't seen them and have no interest in there) is pretty solid.

There are also plenty of Star Trek episodes where the conflict is based on someone in Starfleet making a terrible decision that errs on the side of optimism and naivete. But the point always seemed to be that even if it ends up being a mistake once in a while, that's the Starfleet standard operating procedure and it's based on (what I think is) a pretty noble ideal. (Like, we just watched the Next Generation episode "The Samaritan Snare," where La Forge gets kidnapped when they stop to repair a broken-down ship right after we watched the first episode of Discovery.)

A Starfleet where striking first—and violently—is framed as "the thing that should be done" and the officer who promotes it is being framed as being unjustly punished is not a Star Trek I find particularly inspiring or entertaining. I don't have hopes for future stories: Kurtzman's previous writing is much more in the action-oriented line (Transformers, Cowboys vs Aliens) and one random, stilted-sounding drama (People Like Us). Of course, Fuller has worked on other Star Trek incarnations: he's also written stuff that's more nuanced than giant fighting robot cars (Pushing Daisies, American Gods, Dead Like Me).

Good thing I have so many more episodes of Next Generation left to go!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Talky Tuesday: What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Austin, TX, Day 4

It's my last full day in Austin and I try really hard not to be sad about it. Fortunately that's easy, because today's the day we go to Natural Bridge Caverns in San Antonio and see the bats!

Everyone sleeps in and I'm the first up, again. I've finished Stories of Your Life and Others by now (I finished it while I was waiting for the bus to/at Book People yesterday); my eye catches a James Tiptree, Jr. collection and picks that up.

"Take that with you," Elizabeth says when they wake up. "I'm basically holding on to those books to give away to people."

Noah and Elizabeth decide to take advantage of the rental car and do the grocery shopping for all of the heavy things (read as: kitty litter). I follow along, because I really do genuinely like wandering around grocery stores, even if (like my trip with Elizabeth yesterday) there's no giddy quality of planning and anticipation involved.

After we bring the groceries back (and make a quick run to the store to find a misplaced "bag of bags"), we decide to try to get lunch in town before the drive out to San Antonio. The places we check have incredibly long waits, though, so instead we get some macarons and a turkey and cheese sandwich (for me and Noah to split) and head straight to San Antonio and decide to eat there. Noah consults with a friend via text about the best tacos in San Antonio, and he responds: "Rolando's Super Tacos, Jesus is Lord."

A podcast interview with Eddie Izzard fills the silence on the long drive; a Texas state lawmaker (who both Noah and Elizabeth recognize, since they both work in the Capitol) drives very aggressively, ultimately passing us on the right, and Elizabeth and Noah both shriek in inchoate rage. (Apparently she's a garbage politician in addition to a garbage driver.)

We get to Rolando's Super Taco without incident. We took the "Jesus is Lord" part of the text to mean that really, they're awesome tacos, but then when we arrive we see it: bold text, professionally painted on the side of the building.

The tacos are, indeed, super. And the water glasses are comically oversized. ("Welcome back to America," either Elizabeth or Noah says when a "Jesus, this is huge" reflexively escapes my lips.)

Stuffed to the gills, we continue to the cave, which is a jaw-dropping tourist trap of truly American proportions. I suppose when your cave is in the middle of uninhabited ranch land, you can spread out as much as you like; there are two different gift shops, some kind of zip line attraction, a maze, gem panning, and even a cafeteria.

The next tour leaves in about five minutes, giving us enough time to stroll over to the tour holding pen. This cave opts for the "tour guide at every station" model, which I like less than the "have a new friend and personal cave psychopomp for an hour" model, but given some of the hairpin turns in the path, I see why it's run the way it is. I don't fall, thankfully, though Noah almost does.

They have an obligatory photo spot, which Noah and Elizabeth resent—"even if they don't sell your picture to you, they can use it in promotional material"—and so they strive to look as awful as possible when the flash goes off.

I shrug. "Joke's on them. I'm not photogenic at all!"

The cave itself is spectacular and miracle of miracles, my camera phone manages to capture some of the magic. I lose my mind repeatedly on the tour.

"Thank you for indulging my weirdo nerdy interests," I say as we follow the walkway back to the main tourist campus of shops and food. I still have OMG CAVE HIGH thrumming through my veins.

"You'd do the same for me," Noah replies.

"What would be the equivalent? That Eugene O'Neill play, I guess."

"Oh, yeah. Which one was that?" He stops to think and we both say, together, "'The Hairy Ape.'"

We wait in the cafeteria for the bat tour to begin. There's some short paperwork to sign, a waiver for something or other, and then we're out on the patio for a short lecture on bats. The bat colony here are Mexican free tail bats; they don't hibernate, so they haven't been devastated by White Nose Syndrome like the little brown bats in PA. But the BCI volunteer touches on WNS, and other kinds of bats as well. She brings up the flying fox: "Do I have anyone here who's six foot?"

"This guy is," Elizabeth says, pointing at Noah. The BCI volunteer asks him to stand and hold his arms to demonstrate the wingspan of a flying fox. Elizabeth and I both crack up, and she snaps a picture of his demonstration. The volunteer moves on to other bat species and Noah sits down.

As we're caravaning out to the cave where the bats will emerge, Elizabeth tells Noah, "I volunteered you to stand up because I knew you would love it. Everyone watching you? Perfect."

The drive to the cave is surprisingly long, though we can't be driving more than 20 mph, so that's part of it.

"They could just be really efficient serial killers," Elizabeth wonders as we drive. The rental car isn't exactly made for off-roading; I think we all are fervently hoping that we don't get a flat or suffer any other road maladies. The survives, and right away you can smell the presence of bat. Woof. It's a short walk through the Texan scrub and then we're at the mouth of a cave. Or not at, not entirely; we're a few hundred feet back, separated by a gentle slope full of rocks and debris.

At ground level a few benches have been built to seat bat observers, and some artificial terraces. We make our way to the front-most ledge and sit and wait, while the BCI volunteer continues to inform us about the nearby wildlife and other bat facts.

We see a few flutters of individual bats here and there, and then eventually they're out, like a bat vortex. They stream out and into some fields we can't see to feed on assorted pests. After a few minutes of watching, the BCI volunteer announces that she'll be leading people to the other side, right over the cave, so we can be right under the bats as they fly.

It's a pretty amazing sight, though I'm mindful of the fact that we're under animals and try to remember to not stand and gape with my mouth wide open. Don't want to be a bat toilet!

"They look like an aurora borealis," I say.

"There is a river-like quality to their flight," Noah agrees.

Again, I think of Vonnegut: If this isn't nice, what is? "Not everything is a total garbage fire," I comment, and Noah just laughs.

On our way out, we can still see bats silhouetted against the clouds in the vanishing daylight. According to the BCI volunteer, they can hit bursts of speed up to 100 mph. With the right wind and atmospheric conditions, I guess.

We pull back on the highway and listen to a podcast Elizabeth wanted to try out, The Babysitter's Club Club. It's two guys reading The Babysitter's Club books, one for the first time and one for the first time since childhood. It suffers the usual podcast problem: desperately needs more editing and/or more scripting, and much of the episode is full of only moderately funny banter. We all pick it apart a little, and then Noah puts on another podcast for the second half of the trip home: Pop Culture Happy Hour.

As we wind in to Austin, food comes up. Noah is hungry; Elizabeth isn't. (She had a huge platter at Rolando's Super Tacos, Jesus is Lord.) Elizabeth drops us off at the all-purpose eatery Noah and I had patronized for breakfast on Friday and goes home herself. Noah gets loaded vegetarian nachos (tofu instead of bacon!) and I get a cider. We sit and talk about everything important and nothing in particular: friendships, relationships, anxieties, veganism. There's no postponing the inevitable, though: we finish the nachos and my cider runs out and it's definitely time to go home.

"Should we wake you up, or do you have an alarm?"

"I'll set an alarm. Have I checked in?" Weird to phrase it like that, but since Noah bought the ticket, he's the one who keeps getting the email reminders from Southwest.

"Yes, I did that this morning."

"Okay, great."

A few minutes into me last-minute packing and double-checking everything, Noah drifts out of the bedroom. "Okay, so I didn't actually check you in. I had the window open to take care of the airport cab, but I never hit the button. Should I send it to you, or...?"

I wave him way. "You can just do it yourself, it's fine." If my flight back is overbooked and I get bumped to a later one, I don't really care so much.

"Okay. Night!"


My things are packed as best as they can be with me still in pajamas. I double-check my alarm (poor form to miss a flight someone else has paid for), and then drift off to sleep.