Like/Don’t Like

One of the benefits of obsessively keeping everything is the creation of unintentional time capsules. Recently I found a word document on my computer titled “like don’t like.” On it were two lists: 1) What Don’t You Like About Yourself? and 2) What Do You Like About Yourself? According to the file info, I made the list in the fall of 2008, almost six years ago. A lot has changed since then.

Many of the things I used to dislike about myself have been fixed and turned into points of pride. I wrote that my “room is always messy” in 2008, where now I almost never let a piece of clothing touch the floor and rarely let dirty dishes sit for more than 30 minutes. I said that I was always “eating the same processed foods,” and now nearly everything I eat is homemade – including the sandwich bread.

Some things haven’t changed, but I see them differently these days. There was a time when I was ashamed of “always dressing the same.” It took a few years to realize the problem wasn’t the sameness, but what I was wearing. I didn’t feel stylish or put together, I was just safe and kinda comfortable. These days I am more confident in my clothes, but I make a concerted effort to limit my wardrobe to a small number of things.

I said that I didn’t like “my hips,” and while it’s true that they probably look better now than they did then, the real reason I love them now is because of how many people have complimented me on my figure. I guess sometimes the easiest way to love yourself is to let someone else do it for you.

Other list items are still works in progress. In 2008 I was frustrated because “I have a bunch of useless crap in my room.” I would never say that now, but I still wish I owned less. I’ve already gotten rid of everything I consider to be “useless crap,” now it’s a matter of learning what perfectly good possessions I can live without.

I wouldn’t say that I’m “tired all the time” anymore, but I still struggle with my sleeping habits. I remember one fantastic summer back in junior high. I stayed home every day, dictating my own schedule by what I wanted to do. It turned out that part of what I wanted to do was stay up until just after midnight watching Star Trek:Voyager in syndication, and wake up just in time for old Matlock reruns at nine. Once I got used to the schedule, I was consistently falling asleep moments after hitting the pillow, and waking up without an alarm right before 9AM. It was beautiful, and maybe one day I’ll figure out how to get back to that blissful sleeping schedule.

Finally there are the things I still don’t like about myself: I still have terrible posture – in some ways it’s even worse. I still never change my hair, despite always wishing it looked different. I still wish I had flexible hamstrings. I still check Facebook too much.

There were twenty items listed for what I didn’t like about myself, and only eight for what I did. But there was a qualitative difference between the Like and Don’t Like lists. The Like items were larger, more meaningful, less petty. More importantly, seven out of eight of the things I liked are still true. I still like my eyes. I still like that I’m articulate and independent and that I don’t flake out on people. I still like that I’m doing a lot. I still like my singing voice. I still like my writing.

I think one of the best things we can do is look back honestly on who we used to be. It’s a reminder that we haven’t always been right about everything, which means we might be wrong about something right now. It keeps us humble, it forces us to put more faith in others despite their flaws. That’s why I updated my Like/Don’t Like list, added a date, and stored it away again. Perhaps a future self will look back and find me laughably ignorant. She’s probably right.

My First NaNoWriMo

At some point near the end of college I realized writing is what I wanted to do, and that I was better at it than any of the other things I considered doing. So it was decided. I would be a writer. I knew it would take time. Nobody starts a career as a full-time writer, just like no one starts as a full-time actor. I could wait. I could get other jobs in the meantime.

I called myself a writer though. Or rather, I told people I wanted to be a writer. I rarely said that I was a writer to anyone but myself. Perhaps this was because I knew deep down that I was missing a key component: I wasn’t writing. Oh sure I dabbled in a scene or two, but I wasn’t doing it often. I wasn’t doing it consistently. And I wasn’t producing anything to completion. Writers write, and I wasn’t writing.

nanowrimo-logoI had known about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for some time, and I scoffed at it. Many people do. They look down on it because it encourages people, especially novices, to write as much as they can as fast as they can, even though a lot of it will be bad. That’s not real writing, I’d say. You can’t just put up an arbitrary goal and force terrible prose onto a page for the glory of pretending you’re a writer for a month. That’s idiotic.

I was a NaNoWriMo hater.

However I couldn’t think too poorly of NaNo because I had some good friends who did it every year. And they loved it. So while I still discounted it, I discounted it as a fun way for amateurs to bust out that one novel everyone has in them. Cross it off the bucket list. There was nothing wrong with that, I thought.

Haters gonna hate.

My friend Kristina is a vlogger and has a good-sized following online. She has done NaNo for years and one October I saw a video pop up on my news feed featuring her annual NaNo pep talk. I was mildly interested, so I watched it. She talked about her excitement, about getting ready, and casually mentioned that this would be her seventh year doing NaNo.

Seven.

I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before, but it hit me then like a ton of bricks. Kristina had six completed novels on her computer at home. My friend Kristina. SIX. I didn’t even have one. And unlike me, Kristina didn’t go around thinking about her fantastic writing career that was just around the corner, and looking down on people who only wanted to write one month a year.

Instead, she wrote six books.

It was a turning point for me. I did NaNo that year with four days notice, and I loved it. I began listening to podcasts about writing and going on writing forums. Everyone seemed to reiterate the same basic fact: what makes you a real writer is that you write. And now? I write.

This November marks the third year I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo. If you’re even the least bit interested I encourage you to join me (my username is NoodleDrive if you want to be my buddy). Some people may get snarky when you tell them you’ve arbitrarily decided to write a novel, but give them time. They might wise up eventually.

Haters Gonna Hate

Five Lessons I Learned from My Two Week Food Challenge

The Promise: “This is a two-week detox plan that’s actually realistic. You’ll learn to eat healthy, feel awesome, and stay that way.”

Lesson 1: It’s Great to Live Without Options

We think of choice as a sort of universally good thing, but choice is only as beneficial as the options you have and the decisions you make. If choosing means you get to pick something that is better, that’s great. But choice for choice’s sake is a burden. It’s wasted thought.

Grocieries Week TwoI had been thinking way too much about what I ate. I’d been making lots of choices, but none were better than any others. Every morning was an exercise in running through endless breakfast possibilities only to choose one of the same four things I always ate. Every night dinner involved staring at the open fridge and waiting for some divine sign to tell me if tonight was the night I should try that new recipe I bought all the ingredients for, or if it was a night to defrost some spaghetti sauce. Again.

I loved having no say in the matter for two weeks. There was no question when I woke up in the morning. No back-and-forth guilt about eating marshmallows at work. I looked in my meal plan and I ate what I saw. No discussion. No decision.

Lesson 2: Food is as Much or as Little Work as You Want it to Be

For as freeing as it was to never decide what to eat, it was a real pain having to cook so damn much. True to its promise, none of the cooking in the challenge was difficult. But everything had to be made. There was no putting leftovers into the fridge and pulling them out ready to go the next day. Salads had to be assembled. Smoothies had to be blended. Chopping and stirring and frying and futzing. Every day for two weeks. It was worse than NaNoWriMo.

With each meal and extra step, I questioned whether the extra work was worth it. I like pistachios, but I don’t like them any more than almonds, and almonds don’t have to be shelled.

Lesson 3: You Can Get Tired of Eating

I’m used to small portions of calorie-dense foods, so the salad-fest was a bit of a stretch for me. There is just so much to eat in a salad before you approach a decent number of calories. You sit there chewing and chewing. Five minutes. Ten. Twenty. Am I really still eating this damn thing?

I don’t handle eating fatigue very well. Unless I’m eating something outstanding, eating starts to feel like a waste of time. I want to move on, I want to do something else. I’m sick of ingesting, let’s get back to work. No, it says, you can’t. You have to eat more salad.

Lesson 4: Nothing is Perfect

When I was getting ready for my second grocery run, I noticed that I was supposed to be buying things I still had plenty of. I had to go through the list, item by item and match it up with the recipes. In the end I still managed to over-buy some things and underbuy others.

I made some mistakes in my estimations, I bought the wrong amounts, I didn’t always eat everything I was supposed to eat. I want to defend the challenge by blaming the problems on my own mistakes. I want to say that it could have been perfect. But realistically, everyone will always make mistakes. There is no such thing as a perfect food plan because it implies perfect implementation. Things come up. Batches get burned. You’ll never get it just right. There is no just right.

Lesson 5: True Balance is a Myth

One of the reasons I wanted to do this challenge was to eliminate questions of balance and quotas. Am I eating enough vegetables? Am I eating too much meat? Is it okay to give into my sweet tooth if I’m healthy in other ways? There’s so much good and bad and changing food science out there. Trying to answer these questions can be maddening.

Food in BowlThis challenge was (in theory) put together by a professional nutritionist, allowing me to outsource the balancing act. However she also put it together knowing that people like variety, and that not everyone will love every recipe (I’m certainly fine with never eating parchment fish again). So maybe sometimes I was eating blackberries not because of nutritional variety, but because of emotional variety. I already know I don’t need much emotional variety in my diet, which leaves the balance question just as open as before.
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I find myself looking back on Michael Pollen’s food rules with longing: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” It’s so simple, right? Stop comparing blackberries to raspberries and salmon to tilapia. Stop counting calories and just drink more water. It’s advice so easy that we’ve all heard it a million times and yet we never feel like it’s enough. We’re always looking for that magic bullet, that set of rules, that “one weird trick” that will turn food from an enemy into a friend. It’s unfair to put all of this onto a silly online food challenge, because while it may not have made me “feel like a champion at life,” the food was good and it was a fun experiment.

There’s a nagging voice in my head that tells me to eat more whole grains, no, eat less read meat, no, add chia seeds to everything, no, cut out all dairy. Sometimes the voice gets on her high horse and tells me that what I’m buying ruins the planet or traps third world citizens in poverty and I should know better. When she gets mean she says that I’m doing it all wrong, that I’m falling short of the completely achievable perfection that all those healthy, beautiful people on TV must have mastered. She tells me that no matter how good my abs look there’s always those love handles to work on. She’s there at every meal, on every shopping trip, and every time I look in the mirror. Sometimes I think of her, and I wonder if we’ve been going after the wrong toxins.

My Clean Eating Challenge, Part Three

This is the second half of my clean eating challenge journal. You can read the first part here.

Day 5Arparagus & Pouched Eggs

This morning’s Asparagus with Poached Eggs was tasty enough, considering my aversion to asparagus and recent encounters with eggs. Even so, by 11AM I was hungry again and already craving my mid-day snack. Fortunately my boyfriend and my better judgement intervened and told me if I ate my snack early I’d be kicking myself come 3PM. They were right.

Dinner was Turkey-Basil Meatballs with Tomato Sauce with Sautéed Collard Greens. The name is the recipe, and the writer in me cringes to see the word ‘with’ used twice. But the food was good, and an interesting look at life without gluten (using greens where I would normally use noodles).

One problem with recipes that simply say “one bunch” of collard greens as a measurement is that they don’t consider the possibility that you’ve never bought collard greens before and you have no idea that your local store sells double-sized bunches. There’s a lot of collared greens in my freezer.

Day 6

Shakshuka

Lunch today was Shakshuka: two eggs poached in asparagus and tomato sauce. The eggs took much longer than the specified seven minutes, which led me to overconfidently walk away from the pan and overcook them. It was still good, though it’s weird to eat a dish made of mostly sauce.

Snack was six strawberries with a tablespoon of almond butter and holy cow was it delicious. I’ve been missing peanut butter and while almond butter isn’t quite the same, it was a reasonable substitute. I was worried that I had eaten my snack too late and too close to dinner, but those worries vanished when I realized what a herculean task dinner was going to be.

Roasted EverythingThere’s no real oven in my apartment, just a little toaster oven. This evening’s dinner involved roasting large batches of three different things for different lengths of time. This recipe would be unreasonable even if I had a real oven. If you do it right you have to use three full-sized baking sheets and be able to fit them all in the oven at once. Unfortunately the meal was delicious. It even looked fancy. For as long as it took to prepare and as cold as my cauliflower got by the time I was ready to eat, it may have been worth it. I’ll have to play around with this one more in the future.

Day 7

Snack was blackberries with yogurt. The second bin of yogurt I bought was a different brand than the first, and I can really taste the difference. It’s creamier, smoother, and seems to have more flavor. I hesitate to point out that the better yogurt also happened to be organic, since the organic label has grown meaningless with over-use. But in the interest of experimentation, I’ll try out some other yogurt brands (both organic and non) in the coming months.

Day 8

Last night I was hit by a monster cold, which had turned into something truly atrocious by the time I woke up at 5AM to cancel my meetings and tell work I wouldn’t be coming in. I took some generic NyQuil and managed to get a solid 5 hours of sleep before sickness pulled me up again a 10AM.

chickpea avodcado feta saladBreakfast for today was supposed to be Cauliflower Hash with Fried Eggs, but I couldn’t fathom trying to eat such a thing. Instead I opted to switch it with tomorrow’s breakfast, a Kale and Banana Smoothie. The smoothie was awful and I don’t think it was the sickness. The flavor and texture of kale are too overwhelming for a smoothie. I’ll take a spinach-based drink any day.

I took another nap and managed to get myself out of bed with enough energy to fix my lunch – Arugula Salad with Eggplant, Avocado, and Chickpeas. It was actually pretty good, and I didn’t get that bad taste from the arugula that I had last time. Perhaps several days in the fridge toned down the sharpness, or the flavors of the salad were able to offset it. Or maybe I was so stuffed up I couldn’t taste things properly.

Cauliflower HashDay 9

I was still in recovery mode today, so breakfast didn’t happen until almost 11AM. I had the Cauliflower Hash with Fried Eggs that I was supposed to have yesterday, and it was pretty good. It’s a hash made of onions instead of potatoes, and it turned out nice and sweet. I did opt to include just half an onion though, since eating a whole onion the day after a bad cold seemed unseemly.

My snack was fantastic. They call it Banana Avocado Pudding. I’m not sure what distinguishes a pudding from a smoothie in their eyes, but I loved it. The avocado makes for a really smooth texture and adds a lot of tasty fat to the banana. This is definitely a recipe I’m going to be keeping around.

Radish & Egg SaladDinner was Snap Pea Salad with Feta, Radish, and Hard-Boiled Egg. I wasn’t looking forward to it. But I ate it, because that’s what the plan told me to eat. It’s the primary benefit of this food challenge. For as much work as it’s been to make my food, I haven’t been thinking about it at all. There’s no question of snacking, no indecision about dinner. There’s no guilt about how many handfuls of chocolate chips is too many, or concern about skipping breakfast in favor of a sizable morning snack. I know exactly what I’m going to eat all day, every day. It’s made having a food restriction easier. I’m never wondering if there will be something I can eat at the party, because I won’t eat anything at the party. I’m not eating anything I didn’t make and bring. There’s freedom in that level of restriction.

We don’t often think of how stressful choosing our own food can be. Each choice you make is a little taxing, no matter how small a choice it is. It’s been a lot of work to stick with this challenge, but it’s never been a drain on my decision muscles. Today one of my co-workers brought me one of the new pumpkin-flavored chocolates she got for the reception desk. I didn’t eat it. I didn’t even think of eating it. During this challenge, there’s no such thing as temptation.

Day 10

My snack was a pear with two tablespoons of raw, unsalted peanuts. Fun Fact: It is close to impossible to find raw, unsalted nuts in the modern supermarket. With last week’s pistachios I had to settle for roasted but unsalted, and for this week’s peanuts I had to get Spanish peanuts instead of the regular ones.

Second fun fact: Spanish peanuts aren’t very good. They’re a little “green” as my boyfriend put it. It’s like you picked the peanuts before they were ripe, and now they taste like leaves.

Parchment FishMy dinner of Asian-Style Cod in Parchment with Bok Choy had a couple of problems. The recipe has you cutting a piece of parchment paper in the shape of a heart for absolutely no reason (I kept mine a solid, honest rectangle). It also has you putting raw bok choy and shallots under a piece of fish and then cooking it for only 12 minutes. This makes for some very raw and severe veggies, especially the shallot. The fish itself was nothing to write home about. I forgot to add the chopped peanuts, but that’s probably for the best.

Tomorrow’s snack is carrot sticks with hummus again, a combination I’ve discovered I only really like as an appetizer served at someone else’s house. There’s something truly unfulfilling about it, like I’m just eating to keep myself busy. I have a problem with eating out of boredom, but I’d rather get rid of the habit than replace it with carrots.

Day 11

Overnight OatsBreakfast was Overnight Oats with Strawberries and Chia Seeds. It was good and flavorful enough, but it’s hard to overcome the basic feature of being soggy and cold. I think I’d prefer to ditch the oats and milk in favor of granola.

For lunch I had Snap Pea and Radish Salad with Quinoa and Arugula. This challenge has been a real tour of salads, and I’m discovering that I only find salads tolerable when they include something filling. Today that was the quinoa, which made the whole salad a lot more satisfying and cut the strength of the oil/vinegar dressing. The other thing I’m finding is that I don’t like oil/vinegar dressing.

Shrimp Lettuce CupsI forgot to add the tamari sauce to my Spicy Tamari Shrimp Lettuce Cups, but shrimp and garlic is such a good combination I didn’t notice. Eating was a royal mess. Perhaps next time I can cut up the lettuce into little bite-sized pieces and eat it with a fork. Lettuce cups are interesting in theory, but in practice they just aren’t worth it. I’m fine ordering lettuce cups when I’m out at a nice restaurant with friends, but does every meal need to feel like an experience?

Day 12

I ate a Chive and Feta Omelet this morning as my last meal. Technically I should have finished the challenge at the end of the day, but ending early was one of the scheduling concessions I had to make. Like all the omelets I made during the challenge, the Chive and Feta turned out well. But I’m sick of eggs for breakfast. I’m glad I can go back to smoothies now.

BreadFor lunch I ate out with friends and managed to stay unintentionally gluten-free. For dinner I celebrated my new culinary freedom with chocolate milk and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was nice to throw together something simple. It was nice to make a meal without measuring spoons. Most of all, it was nice to have bread again. Maybe I am gluten-dependent.

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I’ve got one more post coming about what I learned from my food challenge, plus a bonus post on which recipes I recommend.

My Clean Eating Challenge, Part Two

I did it! I completed the Buzzfeed Clean Eating Challenge as promised. I journaled every day to track my progress, and ended up with a LOT to say. Here’s the first part of the challenge. In upcoming posts I’ll have the rest of my journal, an overall assessment, as well as recommendations on which recipes are worth trying and what I’d do differently if I did this challenge again.

Day 1

I was pretty off-put by the Blackberry Yogurt Parfait at first. I’m used to berry things being sweet, and it wasn’t sweet at all. I almost put a dollop of honey in it just because. The thing is, after a while the lack of sweetness didn’t bother me. I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with love for the dish, but somewhere near the halfway mark it stopped tasting like it lacked something. Of course that might work with any food – you eat enough in one sitting and it’s bound to start getting better or worse. Can I train the sweet tooth out of me? I’ll have to see if this translates to other unsweet dishes.

Lunch was the Asian Chicken Salad. The original recipe called for napa cabbage, which I couldn’t find at the store. I’d like to give this salad the benefit of the doubt and suggest that a different cabbage would have changed things. As it was, it was flavorless. It was like an experiment to see how difficult you could make it to eat chicken. Between the cabbage and the carrots, it felt like so much water and connecting fibers, and very little actual nutrition. Perhaps when the challenge is over I’ll try it again with a more rich and flavorful leaf, like spinach.

Cauliflower-SteaksI was really hungry by the time I started my Cauliflower Steaks with Lentils. I was nervous about the cauliflower steaks because it felt like one of those recipes that looks good on Pinterest but doesn’t work in real life. I’m happy to report that it looked weird but tasted great. My lentils were soupy, but that might have been due to some inattention on my part followed by impatience as the cauliflower was done so much sooner than the lentils. Either way, the combination turned out great.

I made it through the day with average energy levels. I experienced the usual late afternoon, post-lunch slump. When I went to bed I was still hungry.

Day 2

Feta & Scallion OmeletEverything I made today tasted great. I don’t think a Scallion and Feta Omelet is something I would normally reach for, but it turned out really well. My smoothie snack was sweet enough for me, though not as sweet as the smoothies I usually make. I suppose there’s a telling lesson in that sentence.

Lunch was Greek Salad with Lentils. The salad itself seemed huge, at first I didn’t even think I could eat all of it. The photos clearly indicated that the lentils were supposed to resemble beans, but mine were confidently oatmeal-like. I opted to make them a side dish, and they were a delicious complement. I wonder what it tastes like when you make them correctly.

Greek SaladI have never bought fennel in my life. On my shopping trip I circled the produce section four times before admitting that I had no idea what fennel looked like and asking the man stocking salad dressings. When it came time to chop it I had to enlist my boyfriend to help me figure out what they meant when they said to cut it into wedges. But in the end the Roasted Chicken Breast with Fennel and Spinach was amazing, and a testament to how much one can do with just salt, pepper, and olive oil.

I was hungry when I came home from work today. The same was true yesterday. The challenge is somewhat calorie-restrictive, but I’m wondering if it’s too restrictive. Or perhaps I’m normally eating too much. Is it possible to be gluten dependent?

Caluiflower OmeletDay 3

Today did not go well. I’m normally not very hungry first thing in the morning, so it made sense to start on breakfast after making and packing the rest of the day’s food. As I was putting the finishing touches on my Cauliflower Omelet breakfast I started to feel weak. I was suddenly very hungry. I guzzled some water, it didn’t help. I felt a knotted emptiness in my stomach. By the time the food was on the plate and the plate on the table, I wasn’t even sitting up straight. I hoped that my breakfast would fix the problem, but it didn’t work. I felt weak and dizzy. I wanted a spoonful of peanut butter. Just one spoonful. Anything to feel like there was gas in the tank.

Blueberry Qunioa Fennel SaladI moved to the couch to alternate between lying down and forcing a few bites down. I told work I’d be in late. I could feel the cooked egg in my stomach and it didn’t feel good. I thought about the smoothie I had made as a snack yesterday and it sounded good. It would be a deviation from the plan, but it would be sticking with the same ingredients. I gave myself another 20 minutes before I caved and made the smoothie. I started to feel a little better instantly, but the unsettled stomach would be with me for most of the day.

Lunch was a disappointment. I think I would have been okay with my Quinoa-Fennel-Blueberry Salad with Mint and Lime if it had a lot more blueberries – and maybe no lime. But I ate it anyway. I still didn’t feel great.

In the late afternoon I attended a meeting where the host had provided snacks. This was a real test. The cheese and crackers were calling me, especially after the morning’s struggles. But I stuck with it. I ate a couple grapes to be polite, then got out my pre-packed carrots with hummus.

Salmon on LentilsMy Simple Roasted Salmon dinner turned out well. I had no idea I could buy a salmon fillet from the store and just stick it in the oven for 8 minutes. The only seasoning is salt, pepper, and lemon. I’ve been afraid of cooking fish for a long time thinking it would be hard to get right. But this was easier than Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

Mmm. Cheese.

Day 4

Lunch today was Arugula Salad with Salmon, Green Beans, and Dijon Vinaigrette. Mine was rather understated because I hate green beans and didn’t make any. In eating this salad I discovered a very important fact about myself that has always been true but never previously identified.

I hate arugula.

I know I’ve had it before. I’ve had it many times. But it was always mixed in with other things and prepared by someone else. It was one of many leafy greens in a salad mix, or added to the top of a pizza. The taste is familiar and extremely unappetizing to me. Arugula tastes like plant. I realize that I eat a lot of plants, but arugula actually tastes like one. It’s like when you’re a little kid and you eat the leaves off of weeds just because. It’s plant-flavored.

Salmon ArugulaUnlike all those occasions when I’d had arugula in a restaurant or at a friend’s house, this time I knew exactly what was on my plate. There was no mistaking it, no shrugging it off as a weird spice mix. It was straight up arugula, no apologies. And it was gross. I still ate the whole thing. I was hungry.

This is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping would happen during this experiment: I would try new things and learn more about cooking and my personal tastes. The fish and the vinaigrette were fine, I just would have preferred a different green. And now I know. I suppose my only regret is that I still have a lot of arugula waiting for me in the fridge.

I can’t help but notice a pattern formingI haven’t felt full in days. I get hungry, and then less hungry once I eat. I talked with a co-worker and she recalled similar problems when she went on a paleo diet for a while. Her paleo friends warned her that the transition might be hard. “Your body is used to a certain number of calories from certain sources at certain times of the day.” She suggested I might just be going through an adjustment phase, and I’ll feel better next week. Here’s hoping.

Cultural Shift, Brought to You by GeekGirlCon

In the world of comic book, video game, and other nerdy conventions, there’s been an unfortunate harassment problem. Specifically it is harassment of women who come to cons dressed in costume, and it takes many forms: catcalls, groping, name calling, etc. One particularly problematic form it takes is people taking photos of women in costume without their consent. A common manifestation is the “up-skirt shot” where a harasser will do something like pretend to tie his shoe so he can take a photo of a woman’s crotch from underneath her skirt. While harassment is a problem at nearly all conventions, many do little or nothing to stop it. GeekGirlCon isn’t like that.Sailor Mars

GeekGirlCon is a Seattle convention with a specifically female-focus. While men are invited and encouraged to attend, it’s meant to be a celebration of “women contributing to science and technology; comics, arts, and literature; and game play and game design.”

While many conventions suggest that you should ask permission to take someone’s photo, GeekGirlCon insists upon it – and they mean what they say. Not only is the policy laid out explicitly in all their rules and codes of conduct, they stress consent in other ways. They make sure the official convention photographers are easy to identify so you can tell them apart from attendees. They give attendees the option to get special stickers indicating they don’t wish to be photographed at all. These stickers are honored even by those official photographers looking for candid shots. They also make it clear that if you ever see a photo of yourself on any official GeekGirlCon site and wish to have it removed, all you have to do is ask. It’s a very different atmosphere than the normal (though understandable) position of “we reserve the right to use your photo in all promotional material.”

Because of this kind of support, the rule of asking before photographing is well-followed. EXTREMELY well-followed in fact. Even if you are already posing for someone else’s photo people will ask if it is okay that they snap one as well. It’s a good policy and I’m glad they have it, but it’s had an even greater unintended consequence.

Outside of the harassment, there is a culture of benign yoyeurism at most cons. You walk by in a costume and people stare. Sometimes they try to be subtle and avert their eyes when you look over. Sometimes you hear people whisper to their friends, “Oh hey look, Sailor Moon.” Occasionally people will take your picture without asking, and when you catch them it’s clear that they just didn’t want to bother you, or didn’t think their personal photo was worth asking you to turn around. Sometimes you can tell the photo they got was pretty bad because of how you were positioned. They think it doesn’t matter because they’re the ones choosing to have a bad photo. I don’t think they realize how frustrating it can be for people who spend hours making a costume perfect to then have a bad picture taken.

Like I said, this voyeuism is benign. It’s not harassment, there’s no sexual overtone, and it doesn’t make the person in costume feel violated or unsafe. But it’s weird and sometimes annoying. You knew when you put on your costume that it would attract attention, but it’s still weird to have people stare and whisper from a few feet away.

GeekGirlCon has unintentionally abolished this voyeuristic con culture. Since you have to ask before taking someone’s picture at GeekGirlCon, you have to talk to people more. And once you start talking, you can’t stop. When I walked by in costume I didn’t hear any hushed conversations. Instead, people would tell me directly how much they loved my costume, the character, and/or the show. Even if it was just a short and simple, “Your costume is great,” it was always direct. There was nothing furtive, no whispers or sideways glances. People smiled and talked and engaged each other.

It’s a good reminder of how culture shifts happen. I’ve never even heard the voyeurism thing identified before, and I hadn’t really thought about it until I noticed its absence. It was so subtle, so light, and so accepted that no one even bothered to give it a name. All GeekGirlCon did was make a rule and stand behind it. They didn’t mean to change the culture, it happened on its own. I’m reminded of a story I heard recently about child custody laws in Oregon. Previously there had been a default of children going to the mother if there was no objection from the father, and the majority of children ended up with their mothers. The law was changed to make joint custody the default. Technically the fathers always had the right to ask for joint or full custody, but it was only after the default changed that they began to fully exercise that right. There was a huge shift in the number of fathers who requested joint or full custody after the law changed. Oregon didn’t force its fathers to stay active in the lives of their children. All it did was suggest that being a father means as much to men as being a mother does to women. And the culture shifted.

It felt great to be in costume at GeekGirlCon. I was proud of my outfit and the work I had put into it. I got to have conversations with people about the show I was representing and about the work that went in to creating my costume. I had a great time and talked with some wonderful people. And most importantly, I got to smile for every picture.Sailor Scouts

 

My Bookmarked Life

I realized recently that on the right side of my browser, next to the bookmarks I actually use, there lived an endless string of forgotten links. They just sort of ran off the edge of the bookmarks bar into oblivion. In theory they’re not causing any harm. They don’t take up space. But they are visual clutter – a constant reminder of yet another part of my life I don’t have a complete grasp on. Since there’s no reason to have useless buttons in front of me, I set to sorting and deleting.

BookmarksThe first few were easy. Some bookmarks were no longer useful, others had to be categorized. I had a link to an online food journal for those times when I need to be intentional about my calorie count. But I don’t usually need it, so I moved it to a Food Reference folder.

I kept clicking and deleting, and before long I found myself falling down a rabbit hole of people I once thought I would be. I found hackaday.com, which is full of useful suggestions like adding bluetooth to your bathroom scale, or building a Wimshurst Machine from plastic bottles. At some point in my life, I envisioned being the sort of person that would “hack” everything. I would make everything myself, adjust everything myself, be the master of my surroundings and everything in them. But from the point of view of the person I am now, I look at this as so much useless junk. I don’t need to add bluetooth to my bathroom scale because I don’t even have a bathroom scale. While I love science, the at-home tinkering aspects just never appealed to me. I was always a bigger fan of the theoretical and astronomical over the practical and mechanical. Making a lightbulb potato is nice, but I’d rather learn how stars are born.

In my Culture section I deleted a lot of links to OpenCulture. Not because they aren’t useful pages, but because I don’t need the link. I know that if I need a list of free eBooks or free university courses or free classic movies that OpenCulture is the place to go. When people talk about the benefits of the internet, they are talking about sites like that. Knowledge, art, history, education – free for all and available at our whim.

There were recipes left over from before I was tracking them in Evernote. There was a link for thefreshloaf.com, apparently from a time when I was going to be an amateur artisan bread maker (I only recently got my bread machine to produce something I actually want to eat).

There was a link to Mac keyboard shortcuts from a time when they weren’t second nature to me. I found an article on making a Get Home Bag from a time before I started keeping in-case-of-volcano shoes and a full first aid kit in my car.

There was a Name That Color website for identifying the code definitions of colors from before I realized such sites are easy to find via Google at any time. Same with the sites full of guitar chords.

Some bookmarks were so old they no longer worked, like an article about Star Wars Burlesque I was saving for the photos of the awesome costumes. However it should come as no surprise that a Google Image Search of “Star Wars Burlesque” accomplishes the same thing ten-fold.

It’s funny how things like this creep up on you. I wouldn’t have thought of myself as having a lot of bookmark clutter, but I did. I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to keep things “just in case,” and that’s the dangerous path bookmarking takes you down. I better keep track of this site, just in case. I might need this information someday. Someday when I’ll act on it. Someday when it interests me enough to pursue. Someday when I care enough to do more than file it away.

The Nine Stages of Grief

Stage One: Staring Out the Window

The first stage of grief begins immediately after you realize loved ones have flown up from Florida to be with the dying person. It is a little known fact that when death is anticipated, grief begins before death occurs. This stage involves going to work and acting like everything’s fine, but staring out the window at nothing in particular while doing nothing of consequence at your job. Symptoms include clicking back and forth between tabs on your computer, and continually checking your Facebook to see if any of your family members have posted something new since this morning.

Stage Two: Hysterical Weeping

Because death is anticipated, an overwhelming sense of futility and hopelessness takes over. You want to share your anger with the world, but the only Facebook status you can come up with is “Fuck Cancer” and it doesn’t seem appropriate. Instead you go home to your apartment and hold your phone up in front of your boyfriend so he can read the text message you got from your sister. He needs to hear the news but you can feel the tears pooling inside of you and you know if you tried to explain it with your own voice the message would dissolve into howling.

Weeping begins slowly in the kitchen before moving to the couch. You want to say a lot but your words feel callous because rather than dwelling on your own relationship with the dying man, you’re flooded with a sense of cosmic injustice. There is something objectively terrible about what is happening. He has five kids and a loving wife and the whole family has been through so much already. Each suffered through a divorce. They’ve seen death and abuse and for years there was no light in her eyes until he came along and they only had seven damn months of marriage before cancer came to take it all away again.

Stage Three: Distracting Nostalgia

After an hour of crying you realize that you can’t keep this up all night, and you pick a movie off the shelf that you used to love. It’s a superhero film and it’s more than a decade old. It’s nice to see practical effects for a change but you remembered being more impressed with the film back in high school. When it’s over you put the DVD back in the case and put the case in the box of stuff headed for Goodwill.

Stage Four: Memory Flashes

You ruminate on the last time you saw him, and the time before that. You remember hearing how one doctor said he had no hope, and another said this cancer would never kill him. For some reason you remember that day in stage combat class ten years ago. You were practicing how to safely drag a person across the floor. The teacher told you that as the victim you were supposed to look like you were fighting against it while actually helping your partner calmly pull you to the other corner. Fighting on the outside while internally accepting the inevitable.

Stage Five: Death

You’re at work when you get the message that he’s gone. His wife and kids were there, so were his parents and her parents. You don’t cry this time, but you briefly revert back to Stage One and stare out the window for the next 20 minutes.

Stage Six: Shower Crying

You realize that if you cry in the shower there’s no mess and no one can hear you. Your shower is long and you waste a lot of water and you don’t care.

Stage Seven: Bridezillas

You eat chocolate chips and watch people be awful to each other.

Stage Eight: Sad Cleaning

You ferociously clean your desk and the surrounding areas because at least it’s something you can do. You cleaned the living room just six days ago, so nothing’s actually dirty. You choose to vacuum the same patch of carpet over and over again, imagining that if you do it enough now you won’t have to do it ever again.

Stage Nine: Detachment

You sit down and write down 600 words of how you’re feeling. You put it in the second person in the hopes that maybe it didn’t really happen, and it’s just an abstract idea you once had. No one died today. There’s no 11-year-old girl who just lost her dad. There are no funerals to attend and no phone calls to make. Thanksgiving will be the same as always. There are no empty seats at the table.

__________________

My Clean Eating Challenge: Part One

A while back I stumbled upon the most researched, thorough, useful article I believe BuzzFeed has ever published: The Clean Eating Challenge. The concept wasn’t new. It was a diet plan for a two week “detox” that was supposed to make you feel amazing. Normally I am weary of anything claiming to detox you, because that’s what livers are for. I’m also weary of anything suggesting a short-term diet will have long-term effects.

However this particular eating challenge excited me because of it’s completeness. Many diet plans give a list of restrictions or rules with a few suggested recipes. Some offer complete meal plans with no shopping guides, meaning you have to go through each meal individually to figure out what to buy. Other plans list ingredients to buy, but no provision for what to do with the other 3/4 of the jar of sour cream you invariably end up with.

This challenge had it all. There were meals and snacks for every day for 14 days. There were recipes with instructions as well as Pinterest-ready photos of the completed dishes. There were full shopping lists of everything you needed to get at the store, split into two trips you had to make at specific times. They even went so far as to warn you when to take things out of the freezer to defrost, and which meals would be using leftovers from other meals (in case you were considering switching any around). Hell, there was even a list of required kitchen instruments.

Day 1At the time I found it, I was at a bit of a loss nutritionally. I wanted to change my diet but I didn’t know how. And I didn’t know why. Something about it seemed off, like I should be able to have a diet that was more nutritious or that gave me more energy or cost less money or was easier to prepare. I didn’t even know what I was looking for, just that I hadn’t found it. There was something appealing about having zero choice or decision for two solid weeks. I would eat what was on the plan, nothing more, nothing less. I would have to, because I would have a mountain of produce in the fridge that would go bad if I dared stray from the path.

Unfortunately the main appeal of the plan was also its main problem. In order to do it right I needed two uninterrupted weeks. I couldn’t have parties or barbecues or work events that might require me to eat food. I also had to start the plan on a Sunday in order to have lunches I could pack for work while using up the proper leftovers. While there was a provision in the plan for deviations, I couldn’t see how I would make it work without wasting food. And for me, wasting food (and therefore money) was not an option. I looked at my calendar and found a set of weeks about a month away when I could do it. But then things came up. I moved my food challenge dates. It happened again. And again.

Finally I was fed up with pushing it back. I wanted to do this little food experiment and I was never going to do it if I kept waiting for 14 uncomplicated days. I printed out the entire 50 page plan and started combing through it. I figured out that I could skip the first two days and start on Tuesday with only a few minor adjustments. I could, and would, make it work.

The final step in my preparation plan was writing and publishing this post. I’m doing so to guarantee at least some small level of accountability. The challenge starts on September 30th, which means you should see a follow-up post by October 16th, maybe October 20th at the latest.

If you don’t hear anything from me by then, I expect to hear something from you.