Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What I Read: America Day by Day

Image courtesy University of California Press

How do you review a book by one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century? It's hubris, isn't it, for me to sit here and say what I think about it. Like Simone de Beauvoir needs my praise. She's just hanging out in the existentialist afterlife, smoking a cigarette with her espresso and dryly commenting on the failures of capitalism. But anyway.

Sometime last year I'd already read, but apparently never talked about here, her novel The Mandarins. I won't quote the whole thing here but I want to highlight this part:
In short: There are more true-to-life accounts of de Beauvoir's travels in America (maybe with [Nelson] Algren?) but those are apparently out of print and hard to find; I feel like I would have enjoyed those as well (and probably better).
You were so right, Past Me! You had no way of knowing how right you were!

The long and short of it is de Beauvoir spent four months of 1947 traveling across the US and collected all of her thoughts and impressions in the book America Day by Day and it's really, really good.

Given how resistant I am to hype, I am always reluctant to hype anything myself, no matter how much I love something. Instead, let me present reasons why I am probably the ideal reader for this book. How much you would like it depends on how much these statements also apply to you.

1. I just really admire Simone de Beauvoir (even though I'm creeped out by her predilection for sleeping with students, yikes, #yourfaveisproblematic). Whenever people ask you that "Who would you invite to a dinner party?" question, I can't think of anyone besides her.

2. I love road trips.

3. I was initially indifferent to, and then grew to loathe, the quintessential road trip novel On the Road. As the New York Times Book Review puts it:

For women, and men, who want to experience vicariously Jack Kerouac's open road with less macho romanticism and more existential savvy, America Day by Day...comes to the reader like a dusty bottle of vintage French cognac, asking only to be uncorked.

4. I love taking a critical, distant eye to Americans and American culture. Now that I live in Sweden, I get to be that token ambassador who explains things like why a pompous orange with tiny hands and a bizarre haircut is actually and seriously a presidential candidate, and I relish the role. America is weird as hell and anything that tries to explain, or just describe it, is fascinating reading.

5. The writing is observant but also introspective, almost always rich and complex. This is no "simple sentence structure with SAT words" dessert reading; de Beauvoir is thoughtful (though not without a touch of poetry). I'll close with one of the many, many passages I wanted to underline and share with the world:

[Americans] respect the past, but as an embalmed monument; the idea of a living past integrated with the present is alien to them. They want to know only a present that's cut off from the flow of time, and the future they project is one that can be mechanically deduced from it, not one whose slow ripening or abrupt explosion implies unpredictable risks. They believe in the future of a bridge or an economic plan, not the future of an art or a revolution. Their time is the "physicist's time," a pure exteriority that mirrors the exteriority of space. And because they reject duration, they also reject quality. It's not just for economic reasons that there is no "craftsmanship" in America; even in the leisure activities of domestic life, they don't aim for superior quality: food is cooked and fruit is ripened as quickly as possible. In every area they rush for fear that the result will already be outdated the moment it's achieved. Cut off from the past and the future, the present has no thickness. Nothing is stranger to Americans than the idea of seeing the moment as a recapitulation of time, as a mirror of the eternal, and of anchoring themselves in it in order to grasp timeless truths or values. The contents of the moment seem to them as precarious as the moment itself. Because they don't acknowledge that truths and values are evolving, they don't know how to preserve them in the movement that surpasses them; they just deny them. History is a large cemetery here: men, works, and ideas die almost as soon as they are born. And every individual existence has a taste of death: from minute to minute, the present is merely an honorary past. It must constantly be filled with the new to conceal the curse it carries within it. That's why Americans love speed, alcohol, film "thrillings," and sensational news. They feverishly demand something more and, again, something more, never able to quell their restlessness. Yet here, as everywhere else, life repeats itself day after day, so people amuse themselves with gadgets, and lacking real projects, they cultivate hobbies. These manias allow them to pretend to take responsibility, by choice, for their daily habits. Sports, movies, and comics all offer distractions. But in the end, people are always faced with what they wanted to escape: the arid basis of American life—boredom.

This book is supposedly hard to come by, at least the American translation, but when I looked it up myself it didn't seem outrageously expensive. If your French is better than mine, feel free to tackle the original. The edition I have, translated by Carol Cosman, is only $30 on Amazon, which isn't too bad. I love this book enough to share it but too much to actually loan it to anyone; the best part about it is that it is eminently re-readable. I'm already planning at least one more read-through so I can farm it for quotes.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Newly Listed: Viking Knit DNA Jewelry

Back in my yoga post, I mentioned that my favorite part about yoga was having chill-ass "me time" where I could think things through and get inspiration. Well, what you see here today is a result of that inspiration!

I first picked up Viking knit six (!!) years ago, but all told I haven't used it in many projects since then. While I enjoy the repetitive nature of it—it's a great way to keep your hands busy while you're watching TV, riding in a car, or listening to a podcast—and the end result looks really nice, I couldn't think of a way to incorporate it into my STEM jewelery (STEMery?) except as a space holder; a way to lengthen a necklace (such as Avogadro's number or Big G) that would otherwise be impossibly short.

Sometime later I saw a design with small beads woven into it, and that made an impression. Then in the middle of a yoga session, I drew the connection between the impression and my work: would it possible to weave beads in a particular shape? Say, a double helix?

As of this post, I'm not entirely sure of the answer. Viking knit is a two-part process; what you see while you're working on the thing is not really what you get by the end, after you pull everything through a draw plate a few times. So far I have two prototypes.

Copper Viking knit sciart biology jewelry DNA necklace
Copper Viking knit necklace inspired by DNA
Copper Viking knit sciart biology jewelry DNA bracelet
Copper Viking knit bracelet inspired by DNA
While they didn't turn out exactly how I envisioned them, they're still lovely pieces! So I'm offering both in the shop at a reduced price. They're still experiments, after all. Educational pieces.

I've done a little bit of searching around and I don't think anyone has tried to do what I'm trying to do. If they have, they're not writing blog posts or tutorials about it. Unfortunately, these two projects used up the last of my copper wire, so things will have to wait a bit!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday 5: Two Thousand Zero Zero Party Over Oops Out of Time

What’s your favorite song from 1999?

At this point in my life I was listening to a lot of Oasis, The Beatles, and the local oldies radio station. I was definitely not listening to ALL THE HITS!, but a few songs made it on my radar. Most notably "Better Days (And the Bottom Drops Out)" and "Mambo No. 5," the only Billboard Hot 100 Singles to be on albums I later purchased for myself. (Go ahead and mock me for my Lou Bega, I don't care! He brought at least one preteen to Perez Prado, so that's something.)

I think this was also the year I bought "Americana" but that was released in 1998, so.

What are some of your favorite films from 1999?

I was only 13 (I just made some of you feel really old, and others feel really young) so there wasn't a whole lot I saw in theaters. A lot of movies that came out in 1999 I saw later on DVD (like Dogma, The Ninth Gate, and The Matrix) or on TV (Office Space). But I only remember seeing three in theaters: Inspector Gadget, Toy Story 2, and The Phantom Menace. Toy Story 2 was probably my favorite that I saw that year. I don't remember how I felt about The Phantom Menace. I was too young to really be bothered by Jake Lloyd's acting, but I think I was old enough to not be amused by Jar Jar.

What’s something interesting that happened on your birthday in 1999?

The US officially had a surplus, which I realize is hugely significant in terms of economics but is kind of...not that sexy. In sexier news, a week before my birthday is when the first Apple iBook launched.

How did you ring in the new year as 1999 became 2000?

I don't really remember. I think we may have gone to a New Year's party at a neighbor's. This is notable because we usually just celebrated at home.

What’s something that’s gotten better since 1999?

I guess most things except climate change?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What I Played: Firewatch

I heard a lot of chatter about Firewatch, partially because it was selected as the Indie Game Gang's Game of the Month earlier this year, and so when JV gave me some Steam store credit for my birthday, I picked it right up.

First of all, I am so far behind on my Steam library. There are games I got for my birthday last year that I haven't even touched yet. #NegligentGamer Unfortunately, now that I'm starting an advanced Swedish course on Monday, finishing off those games is going to have to wait until next year. Or maybe in three years, after I'm done with teacher school. If I still even want to go to teacher school? Ahh!

Anyway, on to Firewatch. It's a short little game about being a firewatch in Wyoming. Can I just say that I want that job? Well, kind of. I love being by myself and I like being close to nature, but I'm definitely not much of a hiker or a wilderness expert. Henry does a lot of hiking and climbing and rappelling, more than I could probably handle in a day.

An actual firewatch station. Your digs are much more comfortable. // Image courtesy Peripitus.
Henry's taken this job because he's had to put his wife in terminal care for early-onset dementia, so he's got a lot of shit to sort out while he's kicking it in his little watch tower.

The only person Henry has contact with for the summer is Delilah, his supervisor. She's a mountain away, so their only communication is via radio. She's essentially Henry's boss and periodically sends him out to check on people using fireworks, bear sightings, etc.

After a bit of a slow burn (heh), things get real creepy. I honestly haven't been this freaked out by a story in a long time. It's not a ghosts-and-monsters creepy; it's very a much a thriller kind of creepy.

The gameplay mostly consists of you walking around in a first-person perspective, the typical WASD-and-mouse layout. Periodically there are items you can interact with or radio Delilah about. There are dialogue trees, mostly with Delilah. The biggest challenge in the game (for me) was navigating the territory. You have a map of your sector of the park, and a calendar, and that's how you get everywhere. No fast travel, no helpful in-game marker pointing you in the right direction. I still have no idea if the map was huge or small or in-between; it felt kind of huge because I had a tendency to get lost or to not see tiny little breaks in the brush to continue through. (In particular I had the WORST time trying to get back to my watchtower from Jonesy Lake the first time I had to go that way, holy shit.)

So that's the game, for those of you who haven't played it. Overall, I enjoyed it, and I would recommend it for anyone who likes mysteries and thrillers. Go play it!

 Everything after this point, including the comments, comes with a huge SPOILER WARNING for everything after the break there. And while generally I don't care much about spoilers—sometimes spoiling a story for yourself makes it more enjoyable—I think this is a situation where the spoiling takes away from it.

I'm not a fan of horror or thriller movies or books, in general. I don't find them engaging the same way I find other kinds of stories. That said, I think video games are the perfect medium for thrillers—because a game is interactive, you are way more invested in the protagonist's success (or just plain survival) than you would be otherwise, and that investment is a really great way to leverage people's fear and discomfort. My blood was definitely pumping on more than a few occasions. Was someone going to jump out from the woods and ax murder me? Was someone going to come back and find me poking around their stuff? I don't think this story would have been as engaging if it had been a movie or a novel.

But my favorite part is a little harder to explain. For a while, neither you nor Delilah have any idea what's going on. Your working theory is that there's some kind of fucked up human psychology experiment going on with you two as the subjects. On the face of it, that sounds ridiculous, but when you're in the game and you find transcripts someone's taken of all of your radio conversations and a mysterious fenced-off area and you have no other way to contact anyone (this is the 80s; no Internet, no cell phones, and the phone lines don't reach that far into the park wilderness). it makes total sense.

And that's what's so realistic about the game: how the most banal events and coincidences can inspire completely over-the-top paranoid delusions even in reasonable individuals of sound mind. That's how it happens in real life. We've all done it; some people just take it a further, unhealthier extreme than others. I think that's the greatest strength of Firewatch.

I also appreciate their attention to detail (as much as possible). The extras, like the notes between previous firewatches, or little Turt Reynolds, make it extra immersive. It reminds me of Fallout in that respect: there are just so many tin cans and rolls of duct tape and things around, exactly how it would be after an actual nuclear apocalypse.

After a lot of thought and reading, my only question left is: why did no one come to look for Ned or Brian? I played the game over the course of weeks, so there might have been something Delilah said about the two of them early on in the game that I subsequently forgot (like that they had no family or friends), but I don't think so. Ned and his son have been missing for years and no one's come calling to the park to ask if they know anything about it? Whaaaaaaat?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Talky Tuesday: Yoga

Since the topic came up in my last Talky Tuesday post, and since Natalie has been blogging about it as well, I figured I might as well get around to spilling my thoughts on yoga. Honestly, this was a topic I wanted to cover pretty early on when I came up with my Talky Tuesday idea but other, slightly more urgent things always seemed to take precedence. Now those are all out of my system (mostly) so I can finally put my thoughts on yoga out there.

My (Brief) History With Yoga

I first became aware that there was this thing called yoga at some point in high school. I picked up Teach Yourself Yoga at some point—I have a memory of it being in a gift shop at EPCOT, of all places—and made a few efforts to read up on the beginner asanas included in there, and to follow the recommended routine at the back. That didn't really pan out.

It wasn't until my junior year of college that I actually took a class. While I was still curious about yoga, at this point I just wanted the lowest-impact phys ed class possible (and I had already taken golf). Hah! Even though I had the world's gentlest, most mellow instructor—a beefy woman's lacrosse coach who practiced for the "chill out" benefits rather than the "sick flexibility gains" benefits—there were days when it kicked my ass. Nonetheless, it was a positive and encouraging experience, and I kept with it afterwards. I have yet to attend another class, though; I just practice on my own.

If you're a yoga nerd and would like me to be specific, by the way, the class was just typical hatha yoga.

My (Also Brief) History With Rinzai Zen Meditation

A couple of years after that yoga class, I graduated college. (Woohoo!) In the weird in-between time I spent at home, wondering what to do next, I stumbled across a meditation Meetup organized by a local Rinzai Zen Zendo. I continued to sit with them as long as I was home, returning when I could in between stints overseas.

How These Two Are Related

Image courtesy Jonathan Natiuk
Buddhism, or more specifically Zen meditation, has been the hip thing in the US since (arguably) the 1960s, thanks to beatniks and Shunryu Suzuki. Since then, meditation (Zen or otherwise) has gained a small foothold in both medicine and psychology as treatment option with a surprisingly high level of applicability. (Though of course there has also been a fair amount of skepticism and controversy. But that's another post. For now, I refer you to Jo Marchant's Cure, particularly Chapter 9: "Enjoy the Moment.")

Essential to both practices, at least how I learned them, is the concept of breath. In yoga, you attend to your breath, moving from one asana to another on inhales or exhales. In mindfulness meditation, you draw your attention to the here and now by focusing on your breathing. The method I was taught was to simply count my breaths backwards from 10, over and over.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how the two practices can be merged. Ever since my experience with Zen meditation, I have tried to apply the principles of focused breathing during my yoga sessions. When you live in close quarters with another human, it can be a little weird to announce, "Okay, I'm going to sit on the edge of the bed and do nothing for five minutes, please don't disturb me." But there's nothing weird about saying, "Hey, I'm going to do a bit of yoga now."

My Subsequent Yoga Philosophy

People have all kinds of reasons for starting a yoga program. Everyone's reasons are their own, and they're equally valid, but given the way yoga is marketed and promoted, I think it's easy to miss the point.

When YouTube channel after YouTube channel and class after class features lithe, flexible young women, we get an idea about what yoga can do and also who yoga is for. The same goes for images of yoginis maintaining asanas that require an incredible amount of body strength.

"Wow," we think. "I want to be able to do that."

And I get it. If I can engage in gender stereotypes for a second, yoga is a really attractive way to get women who would otherwise be intimidated by strength training interested in...well, strength training. Not to mention that yoga helps with flexibility and balance—two skills we have heard again and again that we will lose in our old age (if we're not careful).

In all of this, yoga is a tool to change (or at least maintain) the body. We want to be stronger. We want to be more flexible. Brutal honesty time: we want to be thinner. (Isn't that what "stronger" and "more flexible" are often code words for? #realtalk) Whatever it is, we want to transform our body, whether in terms of appearance or ability. We also (again, #realtalk) want to cheat death and prolong the inevitable as much as we can. The longer we stay fit and flexible, the longer we have on this Earth, right?

These are admirable goals, I think. To the extent that they don't become a competition with yourself, anyway. Increasing my own level of aerobic fitness and learning to master and enjoy an activity I thought was not for me is certainly part of my own motivation behind my running while fat plan, after all.

Maybe it's because I'm pursuing those goals elsewhere that I have an entirely different take on yoga. Of course part of my yoga practice is centered around what I can do to support my new running habit (lots of tree pose), but the reason I keep coming back to the mat is that I just want to chill the fuck out. I don't go to any great lengths to push myself (which is why you'll never see me holding a plank for 10 minutes at a go) and I don't particularly care if I never truly master some asanas. I just want to spend some time in my head, without stimulation, and breathe for a little bit. When I carve out this time for myself, I benefit. My mood improves and I can come back to my work (writing, editing, lesson planning, promoting, crafting) with fresh eyes. Once in a while, ideas that have been percolating for years suddenly all come together in one eureka moment after another.

I'm not entirely on track with my 101 in 1001 goal of "1001 sun salutations." Like I said, I have my ups and downs. But even if I were, I can't imagine that I would be anywhere near capable of performing fantastic yogini feats. My yoga victories, such as they are, are inconsequential. Teeny tiny. Maybe yoga on the daily for a whole week, or having a reeeaaaal niiiice streeeeetch in pigeon pose before I go out running. (Oh, and by the way: my ass hovers quite a few inches off the floor in pigeon pose.) That's okay! It's okay to be team Tiny Yoga Victories. I'm right there with you.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday 5: French Kissing

What’s your favorite kind of French fry?

Image courtesy Dodgerton Skillhause
Is there more than one kind of French fry? :O I guess there's waffle fries, curly fries, etc. And potato wedges? Do they count? Well, I guess my favorite is the typical julienne fries, a la McDonald's.

Where can you get really good French toast?

Image courtesy Laura Musikanski
I have no idea. There's a cafe in Old Town called "B.A.D. (Breakfast All Day) Cafe"; they might be the ticket. But any time I have to go to Old Town, it's always after they've closed.

What are your feelings about French salad dressing?

Image courtesy Domas on Morguefile
I've never had it. As a kid I was all about dat ranch, 'bout dat ranch. Now that I'm a grown-up, I'm happy with just olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Even then not much, and I prefer the olive oil to the balsamic vinegar. (JV prefers the balsamic vinegar, so when we make salad for dinner we have to add the oil and vinegar to our respective dishes.)

What’s something you know how to say in French?

Quel'que chose je sais comment dire en français. :P I had to dig way too hard for that, and I'm not even sure I got it right. Ouch.

What French films have you seen?

At first I thought this was really great cosplay. Then I noticed the advertisement in the back. //
Image courtesy Thibaud Van Rillas.
Amelie, The Triplets of Belleville, Le Grand Bleu, and Léon. I'm trying my best with my 101 in 1001 goal about foreign movies, but those foreign movies are rarely French. Oops.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What I'm Watching: Booktube

Somehow I've become caught up in the community that is Booktube. BookTube? I don't know. I guess "caught up" is a misnomer because I don't participate myself and I rarely even comment, but I enjoy watching people talk about books—more than I would have guessed, especially considering that everyone's favorite books are YA and Harry Potter.

In no particular order:

1. Memento Mori

Why I like the channel: Adam focuses almost exclusively on serious, meaty books. I'm all for YA cheese once in a while but I have zero interest in discussing it (unless it's terrible, then I love being a snarky bitch) and also I hate all your faves. What I do care about is 1) finding out about new, less splashy and bestseller-y literary fiction and 2) hearing people's thinky thoughts on serious fiction.

Recent video I liked: His review of Kafka on the Shore. "White people love Murakami," hahah. He ain't lyin'. I feel him; I think I want to like Murakami more than I actually like him and I feel like everyone "gets" him except me.

Twitter: MementoMoriAdam

GoodReads: AdamDurand

2. Manda the Glittery Nerd

Why I like the channel: First of all, I always like seeing people who look like me on YouTube. There are lots of reasons I would never start any kind of YouTube channel, but putting myself out there is at the top of the list. So many YouTubers are thin and cute and that's not me. (I'm cute, arguably, but definitely not thin.) While Manda does have more of a YA focus than I would like, she's still a really fun, expressive, and energetic person to watch and makes me think that maybe I could have a channel, too?

Recent video I liked: Her recent reads: books 9 - 13. The screen grab for this one is adorable, but I also appreciate her being honest about Zenith. What happens when a couple of BookTubers put out a book? BookTube loves it, or maybe more accurate BookTube feels obligated to say nice things about it. Anyone who has qualms about something popular is aces in my book.

Twitter: TheGlitteryNerd

GoodReads: Manda the Glittery Nerd

3. The Secret Stacks

Why I like the channel: I think it's important to have people in your life who are different from you. Of course "have in your life" is a bit of an overstatement when it comes to a random BookTuber I don't actually know, but you know what I mean. Being an athletic track and field kid who attended a Quaker boarding school, RJ has a different experience than someone like me (unathletic nerd who basically came out of the womb reading), and that means I get to hear about books I wouldn't otherwise know about. Also, it's good to see the Philly metro repped on ye olde BookTube. SEPA 'till I die, etc.

Recent video I liked: 50 Facts About Me (With Embarrassing Pictures). I like seeing people's awkward early years photos, what can I say?

Twitter: TheSecretStacks

GoodReads: RJ

4. Squibbles Reads

Why I like the channel: Squibbles Reads is probably the most productive BookTube channel I follow, so I always fall behind quickly, but she tackles thinky-thinky issues about books in addition to just reviews. Reviews have their place, and it makes me happy to see people be happy about books (or to watch people really rip into a book they hated), but reviews don't tell me a whole lot about you as a person and that's the most interesting book of all!!!

Recent video I liked: Why I DNF'ed Booktubeathon. I dig people being honest about their real lives and their struggles.

Twitter: SquibblesReads

GoodReads: SquibblesReads

5. Books Are My Social Life

Why I like the channel: Saajid is bubbly and charming. Of course I'm interested in all of the Booktubers I mentioned here, but when I get the little alert that Books Are My Social Life has a new video I probably prioritize that more than the other channels, because his videos (including the snarky commentary he includes in comments or the edits) cheer me up.

Recent video I liked: FIRST SENTENCE CHALLENGE! feat. Sabirah. Saajid and Sabirah are both adorable together. I basically want to adopt them. The challenge is also an interesting one: how many books can you recognize by their first sentence?

Twitter: Books_Social

GoodReads: n/a

Do you Booktube? Anyone you want to recommend?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Newly Listed: Avogadro Cuff

After a long, long crafty hibernation, ALL OF THE INSPIRATION hit me ALL AT ONCE. Unfortunately, the inspiration chose a bad time, as I've just started a new part-time job and am due to start studying full-time in September. Oops! Also, the ideas I've had require a few more supplies than I have on hand, but I'm not really ~~feeling going shopping.

First world problems, y'all.

Anyway, the first new item I have to share with you guys isn't really that revolutionary or cool. It's an Avogadro bracelet like any other Avogadro bracelet I've done, except that I've decided to represent the digits in length (in inches) rather than by number of beads.

Sciart jewelry bracelet chemistry Avogadro black blue Swarovski bracelet
Avogadro's Number in black Czech glass with Swarovski accents by Kokoba

If that was a confusing explanation, you can read about it in more detail on my freshly updated "Where are the numbers?" page.

One of the things that's tricky with physical constants rather than irrational numbers is that you're limited in terms of styles that work. All the rest of my memory wire cuffs, for example, are irrational numbers (usually pi). With irrational numbers, there's always another digit you can tack on if a bracelet isn't long enough. With the physical constants, things eventually run out.

Sciart jewelry bracelet chemistry Avogadro black blue Swarovski bracelet

But I really like the look of those memory wire cuffs: understated, stackable, mix 'n' match. Why should the chemists and physicists and the biologists be left out?

I have a few other ideas coming down the pipeline: some Viking knit, maybe some maille, and some more bead ideas. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday 5: Down the Rabbit Hole

What was the subject of one of your memorable YouTube holes?

I am averse to Internet video like no one else. If you embed or share a video, I'm probably not going to watch it. I deliberately seek out videos on YouTube (and have recently become enamored with BookTube!), but I rarely binge watch anything or watch anything spontaneously. I guess it's a combination of having the s-l-o-w-e-s-t dial-up in the world growing up and reading faster than people can (reasonably) talk: I'd rather read what you think than hear what you think. If the BookTubers I follow all decided to start blogs instead of make videos, I switch over in an instant.

The only genre of video I can get somewhat sucked into are jewelry tutorials. Even then, I often skip ahead to the part that's the most confusing/that I forgot/that I was wondering about.

What was your most recent Wikipedia hole like?

It was probably related to research for a birthstones post. I need to keep going with those.

What’s a recipe you got from the internet and actually prepared? How did it turn out?

Shakshuka by Calliopejen1
Image courtesy Calliopejen1
I can't stand Pinterest anymore because it's full of hyper-Christian* soccer moms (a sign that I need to really just destroy my "following" list and start over), but it was worth it just to stumble across shakshuka. I prefer to make mine with a couple tablespoons of gochujang rather than tomato paste, because otherwise the dish is a bit bland (even with the bell peppers), but this has become one of my go-to recipes.

What apparently little-known website do you enjoy?

Hm, "apparently"? I can't think of any. I'm not much of an Internet hipster. I'm still on LiveJournal; does that count?

What apparently popular website can you just not get into?

Pottermore (at this point I think I'm stuck getting inundated with ~~~new~~ Harry Potter stuff basically for the rest of my life).

Most social media except Facebook and Twitter.

*There are chill, progressive, and philosophical Christians in the world, and I have no beef with them. But they do not seem to be the kind of Christians taking to Pinterest, to put it diplomatically.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What I Read: Nimona

Holy MOSES apparently I finished Nimona without talking about it?!
Image courtesy Noelle Stevenson/HarperCollins

I think the most interesting thing for me is: why did I love Nimona but loathe Fangirl? Rainbow Rowell and Noelle Stevenson seem to exist in a sort of mutual fannishness: they like each other's stories, and people who like the one usually like the other.

Except me. If I had read Fangirl before I read Nimona, the quote from Rowell right on the goddamn cover would have put me off. I don't think I would have avoided the boook; I probably would have enjoyed it even more, actually, because praise from Rowell would have lowered my expectations considerably. (So, um, maybe I should have read Fangirl first?) The more I think about Fangirl, the more I kind of really hate it and it's actually sadly put me off Rainbow Rowell forever. YOU DONE GOOFED.

So, since it's been a couple months since I finished Nimona and all of the thoughts and feelings I had immediately upon finishing it have been dimmed by time, I'll be comparing it with Fangirl as a way of focusing and recollecting my thoughts. Also, I am fueled by rage.

First of all, they are different mediums. Media? Nimona is a graphic novel and Fangirl is a traditional novel. While I don't think a visual medium would have smoothed over Fangirl's many, many flaws, there is the possibility that I enjoyed Nimona-as-graphic novel more, even much more, than I would have enjoyed Nimona-as-traditional novel. I think the story of Nimona is great, but Stevenson is maybe not a wordsmith; I can see how subpar writing would have ruined the story for me. (I'm not trying to imply that Stevenson can't write; I'm just saying I don't know if she's a good writer or not.) So Nimona goes into this with some advantage there.

Some reviews on GoodReads have been honest about Stevenson's art style not being for them, and I get that, but I quite liked it. My only beef is the lettering. Having read my fair share of comics and "classic" graphic novels (and also having kind of shitty eyesight), I do have kind of stuffy, traditionalist opinions about lettering. But I like Stevenson's quirky, doodle-y art style a lot, enough that I could work through the spidery handwriting of her lettering.

Second of all, Nimona is not a doorstopper paean to fanfiction and arrested development.

Third of all, Nimona has stakes. I get that not every story can or even should be about saving the world, but those also aren't the only stakes in Nimona. There's Nimona's relationship with Ballister, there's Ballister's relationship with Goldenloin, and there's Nimona and Ballister trying to figure out where they belong in the world, and there's Goldenloin questioning everything he's been taught as a hero. Even if you take out the "saving the kingdom" element of Nimona, there's a lot going on. The actual, interesting issues that Cath has—anxiety, inability to cope with her mother's departure, the stresses of being raised by a single, bipolar father, weird codependent relationship with her sister—aren't really explored so much as strategically deployed by Rowell to give a shallow, boring story about a shallow, boring person more gravitas.

And finally, Nimona doesn't have a neat and tidy ending. Kind of ironic that the fantasy story takes the gritty, realistic ending, while the realistic fiction story takes the deus ex machina "everything is magically better!" ending.

Moving on to more general thoughts now that I've warmed up:

Going back and reading other people's reviews to jog my memory, I've learned that 1) other people were seeing a queer subtext with Goldenloin/Ballister that I was not and 2) that this subtext is actually the Word of God and that Stevenson regrets not being more clear with it. On the one hand, queer representation is good, but on the other hand I never read Goldenloin/Ballister as gay; instead I thought it was nice to see The Power of Friendship between two men.

I think we need more models for close and emotionally vulnerable male friendships. Emotional vulnerability is always skirted around in those kinds of relationships—usually male friendship gets coded as snarky, ironic banter. (I guess here I'm thinking specifically of Clerks because that's my go-to male best buddies model.) But anytime a male friendship approaches something like serious feelings, it immediately gets read as some kind of homosexual subtext (and the shippers go CRAZY). And I don't know—I do think that men should stop worrying about being perceived as gay or effeminate or weak, absolutely, but I think we need to give men in media more space to be emotionally vulnerable to other men (who are not their father or brother figures) without making it a question of their sexuality. Anything else kind of reinforces the idea that default straight male is stoic and tough and "not in touch with their feelings" and that is bad news for everyone.

My other, final thought is that the physics and logic in Nimona's world was a little goofy. This is going to be super spoiler-y, so you have been warned! I'm not quibbling over the mass issues that come with shapeshifting—it's a goddamn fantasy story, Elsa that shit and let it go—but the whole last scene where Nimona's been split in two? And Ballister uses the doc's energy experiment to save/stop her? I feel like there was a lot going on there that I didn't understand. Sometimes you read a story and a character says, "Okay, we need to do this to stop the thing!" and you're like, "Yeah, that makes sense!"; sometimes a character says, "Okay, we need to do this to stop the thing!" and instead you're like, "Um, if you say so, I guess." That's how it felt for me. Maybe it's just a question of re-reading things.

End spoilers!

Overall I loved this little book and I'm glad I picked it up on a whim. I need to double check, but this might also count towards my 101 in 1001 list—I bought it long before I read it, but maybe not a whole year. Since Nimona is no longer available online, you'll have to get it in this dead tree version if you want to read it. But it's worth it, I promise! (Praise from Caesar is praise indeed.)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday 5: The Force Which Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

When did you last have to force your way into something?

Not into, but our apartment door doesn't properly shut unless you body slam it.

What’s something you’ve recently used physical force on?

See above. Also: hole-punching documents.

What was the last food you had to force down your throat?

I'm a grown-up. I can eat food that I like!

When did you last have to force a smile or a laugh?

I was at an English Debate Club meetup a while ago—months, by this point—and one of the participants who came out with us for beers afterwards turned out to be kind of unpleasant. He did that thing where people hold forth instead of actually having a conversation (twice, even: once in a conversation I could overhear and then again in a conversation with me) and what he held forth on, in addition to not being particularly interesting, did not paint him in a good light. "I'm not homophobic, but..."


The whole thing was so weird that I didn't know what to say, so I just smiled and nodded and then very abruptly left when other people wanted to get falafel.

What are the best and worst things about the Star Wars movies?

The best thing is that some people are really pressed about the leads in The Force Awakens and how they're not all white men. The worst thing would probably be most adult fans. Sorry guys, I just can't get into it. But I will gladly enable young people's passion for the movies, because they can enjoy it without being obnoxious.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Talky Tuesday: Running While Fat Plan

There's been so much on my mind lately, but I've just been up to my eyebrows in editing and life that I've put any really heavy blog posts off. Well, let's get one out of the way, then.

Running While Fat

Image courtesy GaborfromHungary

Hello, Internet. I'm fat!

It's times like these I'm glad almost zero people read my blog, because otherwise this is the point where people come out of the woodwork to let me know that I'm unattractive and deserve an early grave. No, really; if fame meant having to field those sorts of comments, I'm okay with obscurity.

I was never a super athletic or sporty kid. There was no joy in movement for me; I didn't have all kinds of crazy little kid energy to burn off. I liked to read and play video games. In the summer I loved to swim and in the winter I loved to go sledding, and that was about it for movement. I remember being fascinated by martial arts but being too timid to ask my parents if I could have lessons. I suspect I would have had a miserable time, anyway. After all, if countless summers of t-shirt soccer and kiddie softball hadn't made me any more athletic, karate wouldn't either.

But now I'm a grown-ass adult and my higher brain knows that I should probably do something, because my work involves sitting at a computer all day, and then sometimes sitting and talking with people in their houses. Over the years I've tried a lot of dorky exercise videos and things, none of which stuck. I also tried to get into running a few times, because it's so minimal: just put on the shoes and go. I had a few false starts, but I think I've figured it out now, and so here I'm going to share how I've finally made peace with running.

Running While Fat: The Philosophy and the Paradigm

0. Why I chose running.

I had a lot of reasons to choose running. First, after the initial investment (see point 1), running is free. You don't need equipment, you don't need to schedule a visit to the gym, you can do it anywhere (mostly—see point 2). It's possible to do indoors, if you want. Your downstairs neighbors might complain but jogging in place is always an option! There are things that I know I love (swimming) or would be interested in trying (martial arts, dance), but I don't have the schedule or the expendable income for those sorts of things right now. Running it is!

Running also just seems like a pretty basic skill, on top of which you can layer other skills. Most sports, for example: they would probably be more fun for me if I enjoyed running, or at least didn't mind it. And all the cardio is good for your heart and lungs and such.

Finally, I wanted to challenge myself to learn to like something I thought I hated. My life in Korea taught me to be more adventurous with food; why not use my move to Sweden to teach myself into being more adventurous with my fitness? I tried running before and fell out of it, but I think it might be possible for me to like it. It hasn't hit the seafood threshold yet; I don't know for sure. (Though every couple years I give seafood another go, just to make sure I still hate it. So far, I always do.)

Your reasons for starting a running program will probably be different than mine. That's cool. I just wanted to share my take on it. :)

1. Get some proper workout gear.

I hesitate to endorse this particular piece of advice because I'm wary of participating in mindless consumer culture, but on the other hand good quality clothing makes a difference, especially if you are a fat girl. At the very least, if you are a fat girl, you probably have boobs, so a sports bra of some type is important. (I get along fine with a boring not-really-sports cloth bra/crop top from KappAhl; the sports stores here do not cater to people of my size, go figure!)

But there is something totemic and motivating about having good workout clothes. I don't necessarily mean cute workout clothes, though that might help—I just mean comfortable. And I mean something that will be your ritualistic "I'm running now" outfit. For me, I decided to invest in a pair of Lineage Wear leggings. This isn't an affiliate link and I'm not getting compensated for this post; I just think these are really comfortable leggings. They also go up to a 5X, with plans for options of 6X coming down the pike. (If you're wondering, I have these Watercolor leggings in the capri length.)

It's a silly thing, but having something comfortable that doesn't get in the way when you run helps. Something that you know is high quality, so that you can think of it as an investment in yourself. (There's that consumer capitalist framework again, though! But oh man, something about pulling on those leggings makes me SUPER EXCITED for a run.) Otherwise (and I know this from sad, uncomfortable experience), at least make sure you're wearing something breathable and cotton-like on your nethers, and anywhere that's going to get a lot of sweat and skin rubbing on skin. I run in my LineageWear leggings, and I do yoga either in them or some cotton jersey trousers. I've sometimes made the mistake of wearing the polyester trousers because everything else was in the wash, and oh man, no bueno. Anything that talks about wicking away moisture is A+.

Good shoes are also important, though I think you can save those for later. To start with you'll be walking for the overwhelming majority of the time; you can upgrade to a "running shoe" when you start running a little more. Something that is comfortable to walk in for long periods of time is your best bet. (Like with sports bras, I am sized out of shoes here. I'll have to wait for a good wide width running shoe until I go back to the states in October.)

Music is also essential for me. It's a good distraction and a good motivator.

Finally, in this age of smartphones, it can be really motivating to augment your workout, so to speak. My phone can't handle Pokemon Go (battery life lol) but it can handle Charity Miles, an app I've talked about before. There's also WoofTrax/Walk For a Dog, which focuses exclusively on dog shelters. I prefer Charity Miles because it brings a lot of different charities together in one app and lets you choose which one you'd like to support, instead of just being an app for one charity in particular. But you do you!

2. Embrace the outdoors.

I realize this isn't possible for everyone. Some people, especially fat people, have had really discouraging experiences exercising in public. Other people don't live in areas where it's safe to walk or run outside.

But if you're just intimidated about huffing and puffing where people can see me, I want to say: I feel you. Swedes are generally private, keep-to-themselves people and so I can go puff along with my fat self and no one will really give me grief/that awkward, condescending "congratulations on doing something about your health!" "support."* But it took a lot of nerve to work up to allowing myself to sometimes run in public. Where other people could see me. Where actual runners could see me (and lap me).

Working through that ick is worth it, though. For one, it's just good for your mental health to be outdoors, especially in nature (or in nature-like spaces). For lack of a better term, it's been proven to recharge your mood batteries. For another, it also puts you in better touch with what is comfortable and what your body can handle. When I was running on treadmills, I was really caught up in my pace and the number and staying at a certain pace the whole time rather than staying at a certain comfort level. When you're running in the real world, you can instantly change your pace to match how you're feeling; on a treadmill you've got all those numbers staring you in the face, like a silent, digital version of Jillian Michaels.

Fuck that noise.

3. Be gentle.

Jillian Michaels is a good segue into my next point, which is probably the most controversial. (Good thing I'm an Internet nobody!) But when you're someone like me, who spent a whole lifetime not being a super athlete, pushing yourself too much at the beginning of a new exercise regimen is definitely a bad thing. I would go so far as to say that pushing yourself at all is a bad thing. (At least at first!) Learn to be okay with being slow. Like, really okay. And really slow.

My armchair psychology theory is that when trying to form a new habit that is completely antithetical to everything else you've enjoyed thus far in your life, you need to start at the incredibly, trivially easy level at first. That way you can build up lots of successes and positive associations with the new habit. This theory is based on large part by Elodie Under Glass's post on Captain Awkward about Low Mood Cycles.

When the habit is finally a habit (and I can't say for sure when you will that feeling in your gut like IT'S A HABIT, but maybe after the three month mark?), and you've spent some time enjoying the habit for its own sake, then you can start to push yourself. But to be able to enjoy a challenge, you first need to feel like you have some sense of mastery.

Not to mention that going too hard, too soon will almost definitely lead you into injury, and no one wants that.

4. Ignore the competition. (Even with yourself.)

To quote Cat Ellen, "This body, this day." If you're like me, you haven't spent your whole life being super sporty. A lot of the other people you see out running have. It's still okay to be slow. (There are people who can walk a mile faster than I can currently jog it, I have no doubt.) Movement is movement, and movement is beneficial.

When non-athletic people express frustration or despair over being the slowest runner on the block (or the worst dancer in class, etc.), already-fit people provide encouragement along the lines of, "As long as you are improving and doing better than before, it's all good!" In other words, it's okay to not compete with others, so long as you're competing with yourself. These are the same people who work really hard towards lifting heavier or running faster and who get really excited about new personal records.

I think that attitude is fine for seasoned jocks, but I don't think that's a mindset that's helpful for everyone. If you make your goal to decrease your mile time by a minute, then you will be freaked out if you have a bad run and it feels like you're only getting s-l-o-w-e-r. If you're finally enjoying running for the first time in your life but realize you're not getting much faster, you'll feel like you're somehow doing it wrong.

I like data, so I like to keep a vague track of my mile pace, but I found that when I was working on driving that number down, I was enjoying my runs less. And if I was enjoying my runs less, it would be easy to give up on them entirely. So now I just keep track of the number and let it be what it is. My focus is now on building my endurance so I can jog for longer periods of time at a stretch, which is arguably just a different kind of competition with myself, but even so the first priority is that I listen to my body and have a good run.

Running While Fat: The Actual Game Plan

The Couch to 5K program is wildly popular. This is the one I tried and failed a few times, and I think it's because the program is inherently flawed. At least when it comes to very unathletic people (such as myself)—it's probably just the right program for a reasonably fit person who's just recently become a bit deconditioned. There was a point in time where I could start the first week without a problem, but today...I'm not so sure. There is also some terrible point where you jump from running 8 minutes at a time (something I grew pretty comfortable with) to running 20 minutes. This after the program had previously increased the running intervals by 2 or 3 minutes at most. Maybe there's a physiological or training reason behind it, I don't know, but it's a huge psychic roadblock that I think is to the program's detriment.

For the rest of us who were essentially life-long couch potatoes, I would recommend starting off with Jeff Galloway's conditioning program. (The link is a Word document download; I don't know why he doesn't just put it on a regular web page, but there you have it.) Instead of starting you out with a full minute of jogging, which can be difficult for a lot of people, it starts you out with 5-second intervals every minute and builds up to 15-second intervals. It also builds up your exercise time and distance.

After I finished this, I started on Galloway's 5K training schedule. Note that unlike the Couch to 5K program, he doesn't give recommended running versus walking intervals as the weeks progress. He does suggest some run/walk intervals for different mile times, but to be honest the formatting doesn't exactly make it intuitive to grasp. Running With Karen seems to have screencapped a much easier to understand explanation.

I should note, also, that those paces are estimates; in my experience, they are very optimistic. My 15-minute mile intervals correspond to something like a 16- or 17-minute mile in real life. But it's not a competition; this body, this day.

The intuitive thing would be to start with the "slowest" run/walk/run interval mentioned and then build up from that. So after you've done the conditioning program, move on to running for 30 seconds and then walking for a minute. After you can handle that comfortably, move up to 30 seconds of running and 45 seconds of walking, etc.

I've modified this plan slightly, because I think if you sandwich in a few interval patterns from Couch to 5K, it makes the increase less drastic at the beginning:

1. 30 seconds running / 1 minute walking
2. 30 seconds running / 45 seconds walking
3. 60 seconds running / 90 seconds walking
4. 90 seconds running / 2 minutes walking
5. 2 minutes running / 2 minutes walking

and so on. Note that I haven't tried all of this yet; so far I'm still hanging out comfortably at 60 seconds of running / 90 seconds of walking. Another option would be:

1. 30 seconds running / 1 minute walking
2. 40 seconds running / 1 minute walking
3. 50 seconds running / 90 seconds walking
4. 1 minute running / 90 seconds walking

and so on, if you're really intimidated by the jump from 30 seconds to 60 seconds.

Your best option may even be something I don't have listed here. Feel free to tweak the intervals to something you're comfortable with!

Running While Fat: Supplements

While lots of people might just go out running as their main form of exercise, for non-athletes, I don't think "just running" will work. All those runners have pretty stable, strong leg muscles from years of training; someone just starting out does not. I think strength training is important in general, but I think it's especially important for people beginning a running program. You'll be better at running if your legs are stronger, and if you're better at running you'll want to keep doing it. Strengthening your leg muscles also protects you against injury. Long-time athletes are probably okay just going out for a run every few days, but if you're anything like me (a sedentary nerd), you're going to need a bit more than that.

People like to clutch their pearls over fat people and their knees, but this is a relatively simple problem to solve. If you strengthen your leg muscles, particularly the ones related to knee injuries, then your knees will probably be fine. (See the earlier point about being gentle with yourself, as well; you can avoid most serious injuries by taking it easy.) If you can afford a visit to a physical therapist, I would recommend it. They can assess your movement and see if you have any quirks that might lead to a knee injury (or any other kind!) and provide some exercises you can (most likely) do at home. If you don't have the money or time to see a physical therapist, the Internet has you covered.

My cross-training regimen includes squats, heel raises, leg raises (as recommended in this video), and side leg lifts. I've also been a long-time yoga enthusiast (more on that for another post); since I don't have any prior knee injuries, I've modified my daily Sun Salutations to include tree pose. I actually do this one with my eyes closed—believe it or not it gets a lot tougher! And the struggle to maintain balance is a good way to strengthen the muscles that will protect you against knee injury. (Though note that tree pose is one to strengthen already-healthy knees, not help recover injured ones.)


I don't think anyone's put together a really solid running plan for fat people that takes into account both the physical aspects (which include being really deconditioned and just generally unathletic, regardless of weight) as well as the mental aspects (a life-long aversion or, at best, apathy about movement). I don't think this is the perfect running plan, either. It's not even really a plan. But I hope that by sharing my ideas, I can encourage fellow fatties and non-athletes to learn to like running.

*A lot of ink gets spilled about this, and I don't want to get into the debate in this post, but if you want to make a fat exercising person's day, you probably don't want to go the route I just described.