Author: Erik Grove

Fat Writer Running – How I Lost 100 Pounds Without a Fad Diet, Surgery, or Powder Drugs

 

Here’s the clickbait, folks. Here’s how I whupped ass and transformed myself from a really fat writer to a kinda fat writer. These are my secret secrets. The grocery store check out tricks. The life hacks. Just remember:

Actually wait. Forget that. Share this EVERYWHERE. Give me all the web traffic and troll comments. IT IS MY SUSTENANCE YESSSS MY PRECIOUSSSSS

*cough*

But first, some caveats. What I did is just what I did. It is not a template or medical advice or magic. My circumstances apply specifically to me and what worked for me might not work for you. And really, you shouldn’t just do what a guy says on the internet anyway. You should always make informed choices about your life and your body with your healthcare team and in consultation with none of anyone else’s fucking business. There is a lot going on with your body and your life and you are the only one that gets to make choices about it. I’m not fat-shaming or fitness guru-ing or judging or any of that. This is a very complicated web of topics and I’m going to focus on some of them in more detail in future blogs but this one is just what I did that seemed to have good results for my specific circumstances and my specific goals. Take it with salt, sugar, powder drugs, and a chaser of who does this guy think he is anyway? Oh, and there’s nothing wrong with fad diets or surgery or powder drugs. I don’t mention them to belittle them but to contrast my approach with those approaches and because I need a headline to get people clicking on the clicky thing and headlines don’t really have room for nuance. I am completely supportive of anyone that finds bliss and power eating only celery or smoking drugs or cutting a motherfucker with a scalpel just to see a new kind of red. Well, maybe not the scalpel thing. Don’t email me pictures of your murders anymore please thanks.

Anyway.

Here’s what I did:

I consumed less and I exercised more.

It’s not sexy and it’s not one simple internet trick but it worked. In future blogs I’m going to break it down more. I’ll write about how I consumed less and and what less meant for me. I’ll write about exercise. But what’s really most important is not what I did – it’s why I did it and what it meant to do it the way I did it. There were four guiding principles that really worked for me and it’s these principles that I credit with a lot of my success.

Fuck the numbers.

CONFETTI YOU GUYS WOOT WOOT

Yes, my blog clickbait specifically talks about losing 100 pounds and yeah, that’s pretty cool. I hit that milestone between first blog and this series and this one. High five, you guys! But really, fundamentally, the number doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what my clothing size is or what my BMI is. What matters to me is that I feel good, I’m healthy, and I can do awesome stuff. If you feel good and you’re healthy and you’re doing awesome stuff you’re already doing it right so you don’t need my blog or anyone else’s blog to talk you out of the good choices you’ve already made. We get fixated on things that don’t matter. What matters is how you feel, your health, and living a life full of awesome stuff. There’s a tremendous amount of social toxicity that gets in the way of that relationship with our bodies but don’t lose perspective.

There’s no finish line.

I’ve known a lot of people that have done low-carb/no carb/keto diets with a lot of success. I’ve seen most of those same people gain a lot of the weight they lost back. I didn’t want to do anything that was a temporary fix. I’ve done temporary diet and exercise routines before and saw my progress revert. I wanted a fundamental shift in my life that was never going to revert. I wanted to find a path forward that felt like I path I could commit to for the rest of my life. I needed something sustainable and balanced and I feel like I found it. There will be diversions from this path but I know what the trailheads look like and I can head back to it.

No Cheat Days.

I am adamantly and fundamentally opposed to the concept of Cheat Days. They are, in my full-throated opinion, poisonous ideas. A “Cheat Day” implies that you’re being tested and when you cheat you’re getting away with something. Who would I be cheating? This is about feeling good, being healthy, and doing awesome stuff remember. Am I cheating the feeling good part, the healthy part, or the awesome stuff part? I get it – the idea of saying to yourself “ON SUNDAYS I CAN EAT 37 PANCAKES AND LASAGNAS AND CAKES AND MILKSHAKES” compartmentalizes your hunger and shame but nah, man. Fuck that. Hunger is literally your body turning on the low gas light. Metabolism is super complicated and that gas light sometimes goes on when it maybe doesn’t need to go on but if you were driving your car around and that was happening you would get the light fixed – you wouldn’t ignore it or overstuff it with pizza. And shame? Well, shame is our puritanical inheritance. It’s the original anxiety and I don’t want to compartmentalize it, I want to understand it and let it go. So Cheat Days, to me, play into a bad relationship with hunger and with shame. It’s more sustainable and realistic to just have a reasonable amount of pancakes sometimes. I’ll definitely talk more about hunger and shame and finding a place for whatever you might want for a Cheat Day in your regular life in future blogs but I think it’s important to just throw out this idea. At least, it was for me.

I celebrate myself and eat tacos whenever I want because tacos are delicious

Trust the numbers.

Yeah. This one contradicts the first one. I contain multitudes. OLD SCHOOL WALT WHITMAN Y’ALL. For me it was difficult to sort through the psychological and the physical challenges to my fitness and well-being. An anxious mind will whisper all kinds of lies to itself and when you team that up with external pressures and expectations- khaki pants commercials, hotdog vendors shouting “hey fat guy!” from across the street, and that look of panic on someone’s face when they see a fat person is sitting next to them on an airplane – it’s just a lot. For me it was paralyzing. The worst part about losing hundred pounds is that every high five along the way sort of feels like a backhanded compliment. I’m doing great now but boy was it scary there for a while when everyone was afraid I might get hungry and confuse their faces for donuts and go full fat man cannibal. A year ago, thinking about the state of my life it seemed hopeless. I needed to do so much and it was going to be so hard and so slow and what if I couldn’t do it? My head was a mess of doubt, insecurity, and our old friend from the last paragraph, shame. Honestly, my head still is but finally, I trusted the numbers more than the mess. I recorded what I did. Everything I ate. Every step I took. I shut out the shitty lying voices and focused on the data. And then I just mathed the motherfucker. Everyone’s numbers, everyone’s math, is going to be different but if you can find the rights numbers and figure out the right math, you have a place to start. I didn’t start out with a goal of losing 100 pounds -it was the feeling good, healthy, awesome stuff goal remember. I checked my progress and calibrated my approach to my goal with numbers. If I wasn’t feeling good, did I need to eat more? Did I need to sleep more? If I wasn’t able to do awesome stuff, did I need to take some vitamins? I would try things, document the numbers, and see how it worked. In practical terms I relied on smart phone apps to track food that I ate, exercise I did, and my glucose readings, as well as feedback from my doctor. I’ll write about those tools later but the takeaway for me is that I stepped back from the subjective and trusted the objective.

 

Those were my four Big Ideas. Maybe they will help you or help you think about your own principles. Maybe not. At least you got a picture of Uncle Walt. And here’s an otter. You know why.

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Fat Writer Running – On the Intersection of Body and Keyboard

A year ago, I started to get pretty concerned about dying. I’ve been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes for just under 7 years and I’ve been fat my entire life. Last spring, with my health slipping out of my control and the serious risks it posed to my plans of not dying young, I started making significant changes in diet and exercise. Since then, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve lost – as of this morning – 99 pounds. I went from taking 4 medications every day to manage my diabetes to taking a minimal dose of only one. I have not tested outside of normal healthy ranges in months. My doctor gave actually me an award for my amazing- and rare- turnaround. I run about 3 or more miles 3 or more times a week and I’m even beginning training for a half-marathon in October. I can’t fit in any of my old clothes, and I haven’t had a serious cold or significant allergies in a year. Intellectually and creatively I feel like I’m firing on all cylinders. I’ve also felt an increase in my confidence and a decrease in anxiety and occurrences of depression. All in – on every metric, in every way, I feel better than I have in literally my entire life. I didn’t begin this to lose a certain amount of weight or fit in a particular size of pants. I began with the intention to transform my behavior and perspective from here on out and the most rewarding thing has not been the change on my bathroom scale or waistline – it’s been in my head. It’s the transformation from “I can’t” to “I can and I did and I’m gonna do it again and then some with rad rock music playing super loud, and you should join me.” It’s pretty fucking rad, you guys.

As I’ve shared parts of this story, more than one person has asked me if I’m “writing it up” and my response has been an uncomfortable “no?” I’ve even had some folks tell me that I’m “inspirational” – whatever that means. I’ve done absolutely none of this for anyone else. In fact, the changes I’ve made in the last year were completely selfish. I did all of it for me. At first I did it so that I wouldn’t die, and then because it empowered me and finally because I really like how healthy feels.

Then again, as weird as it  is for me to write about, I do have a lot to say about food, exercise, “fatness”, and a more balanced and sustainable life, and I am a writer. It says so right up there in the webpage header. So I’m going to try something new here. I’m going to write a series of blogs this summer (possibly beyond) on all of these dense and related topics. Don’t worry – I’m not going full self-help fitness blog. As with most things, I see important connections between what’s been going on with my body and what’s going on creatively. Writers are not merely brains in computer chairs. We are the expression and result of our experiences and points of view. We are as influenced by the health of our bodies as we are the health of our minds and I think –  in fact I have experienced – that a healthier body improves creative output.

To put it more succinctly – take care of your meat suit and you will become a better writer. Let me tell you how.

So, here’s what you can expect from this series:

HI THERE THIS IS AN OTTER

— Some blogs will talk about my personal experiences – what worked and what didn’t work as well for me with food, exercise, and philosophy – over the last 12 months.

— Some blogs will talk more generally about the impact of the intersection and optimization of well cared for meat suits and writing sweet, sweet fiction

— Some blogs will be a combination of both

— Some blogs will feature gratuitous otters

— All blogs will feature plenty of corny jokes because c’mon

My plan is to write and post a few blogs weekly and I have several outlined and in early drafts. While I continue to run and write top secret kick-ass laser kung-fu space fantasy two-fisted action this summer, I will bring you- and the otters- along for the ride.

On Lloyd: Some Words About An Old Friend

Facebook is weird. In the mix of sponsored posts, media click bait posts, and instagram brags, I saw a note shared to someone I’m friends with about someone I used to know named Lloyd Porter that has passed away. Lloyd was this tall, friendly cowboy that smelled like pipe tobacco and worked as the technical trainer in a call center I worked at back in 2003/04. I always liked Lloyd and was happy to see him but I haven’t had occasion to think about him in well over 10 years. Thinking about him today though, I realize I owe a lot to Lloyd. I maybe owe Lloyd my entire life.

https://allthingslorane.com/tag/lloyd-porter/

In 2002 I was not doing awesome. I was freshly dropped out of college and the economy was still reeling from 9/11. I applied to literally dozens of fast food jobs in Eugene, Oregon and was turned down by all of them for not having any experience. I took a few different seasonal jobs before I landed a gig working phones for Harry & David selling gift baskets and fruit of the month clubs that holiday season. I was pretty good at Harry & David and didn’t mind the work but the job ended after Christmas and I found myself homeless, drifting from a couch at one friend’s house to the laundry room floor at another.

I managed to land a job working in customer service for a tech company call center in downtown Eugene after New Years 2003. I was pretty good at it but it was not a career or a real direction. It (barely) afforded me enough money to get an apartment above a beauty salon a few blocks away but I would have quit or been let go from it and not thought anything more about it – except for Lloyd. In talking with Lloyd (he was a chatty guy) I got it into my head that I could probably do the technical support job that made $2 more an hour. $2 more an hour was huge for a recently homeless college drop out. Lloyd encouraged me and a group of customer service workers to take a placement test (that he coached at least me on) and helped get us all trained to be technicians. I was computer literate but I was not a technician before Lloyd’s training. He made the subject matter accessible and stressed the skills I already had – common sense and clear communication. After training I did really well and that job led to another job that led to another job that connected my resume together and created a career that’s kept me from being homeless or unemployed since. The house I sit in is paid for by jobs I got because Lloyd said, “yeah, I think you can do this- let me try and show you.”

The impact that Lloyd’s decency and generosity had on me is both subtle and irreplaceable. Every friend I have now (and I have a lot of them) that I’ve made at jobs since 2003 – Lloyd deserves part of the credit for that. All of my financial decisions that impacted where I’ve lived and all the people I’ve met where I’ve lived – Lloyd deserves part of the credit for that. My dog. My wife. My truck. My MacBook that I’m typing this on. Lloyd deserves part of the credit for all of it.

It seems to me that our lives, that the world, is overflowing with Lloyds. People who do nice things just because they’re nice people. This thought humbles me and inspires me. I want to be a little bit like Lloyd whenever I can be. I want to recognize every other Lloyd I meet.

Lloyd didn’t need to encourage me. He didn’t need to talk to the bosses on my behalf. He didn’t need to coach me about the differences between FAT 32 and NTFS. I didn’t do anything to properly repay him for it. I never had enough context to know how much I had to thank him for. I do now.

Thank you, Lloyd Porter. Thank you for my life. Rest in peace and cowboy boots.

On Writing: If a Tree Falls on A Blogger Does He Get Any Clicks?

Hey. Did you guys know I have a blog on the internet? 🤯 I know, right?

Let me back up and get you all caught up. Over the weekend I attended Norwescon up in the Seattle area. I’d never been and it was really great. I highly encourage writers and fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the like to check it out if you haven’t already. Anyway, as these sorts of conventions tend to do, Norwescon made me reflective about my writing and publicly available content. 2 or 3 years ago I was very ambitious about this blogging business and I posted a lot of stuff. That content generation has really fallen off obviously. There are three reasons for it and – shock! – I’m going to blog about the three reasons I don’t blog as much right here, you guys!

BECAUSE OTTERS ARE ADORABLE YOU GUYS

Reason 1: Blogging and tweeting and podcasting and all of that other platform building social media stuff is really time-consuming. When I was doing a podcast it took me at least 8 hours a week to script, record, edit, and post. That’s eight hours I wasn’t writing short stories or novels to sell and eventually that time investment just didn’t make sense for me. I still blog and tweet and I look at my podcasting mic longingly all the time. I want to blog and podcast and tweet out adorable otter pictures. I just need the cost/benefit to tilt a little closer to benefit.

Reason 2: You didn’t clap your hands. It’s kind of shameless of me to blame the audience but seriously, writing blogs without readers and recording podcasts without listeners eventually just starts to seem sort of sad. It’s like throwing a really great birthday party for yourself. You can rent a pony and hire a French horn soloist but if there’s no one else there, the French horn soloist just looks at that pony and then at you and he gets super uncomfortable. Trust me. (I’m sorry, Kyle.) My podcast averaged 3 listeners a week. When I started out I thought “oh, I just need to build up a backlog and then surely, listeners will come” but that never happened and that leads to reason 3.

 

OTTER YOU GUYS CMON

Reason 3: I’m kinda bad at this, you guys. Look, I think my blogs are entertaining and informative. I try to put useful content in them for writers and non-writers. I distill my wisdoms and philosophies and I don’t think that they’re completely without merit. I try to include jokes and pictures of otters. But I’m considerably less good at promotion. I have like 7 Twitter followers and most of my social media presence is my wife giving me pity clicks. I need to meet people and learn hashtags and stuff and while I’ve not been blogging that’s something I’ve been working on. My primary takeaway from Norwescon this weekend was that it doesn’t matter if I write super sweet jetpack otter amazing fiction, if I don’t have an audience I may as well be writing technical documentation on the best utilization of multipage spreadsheets for businessing and oh god i just fell asleep a little bit sorry. If there’s one lesson I could teach 12 year Erik who dreamed of being a writer, it would be to stop typing a little bit and be more social (with people that aren’t his D&D group). I’m not socially shy at all and I don’t feel anxious with public speaking or crowds. That’s a tremendous privilege and I am not unaware of it. I was the class clown in school and I starred in my own play in college. I raise my hands at con panels and shake hands and all that good nudge nudge wink wink retweet my stuff and tell your friends pretty please stuff. The problem I have is that I’ve always valued writing over marketing. I’m a workaholic and always have been. Given the choice between meeting a bunch of strangers or writing for a few hours, I have always chosen to write. I, mistakenly, assumed that once I built up a backlog of content, readers would magically arrive. Nope. I have a whole lot of blogs (WordPress says there are 77 published for this site) and hours of podcasts and literally a million words of pretty okay reading material and I have no magic readers. I have otter pictures and self-doubt.*

But! I know what I need to do. Norwescon lit a bulb over my head and a voice came down from the heavens and gave me guidance – work less and have fun with people more. It turns out people enjoy fun. Who knew? I generally prefer work but I’m willing to see if this fun fad is going to last.

In the meantime, my words aren’t going anywhere. There’s a lot of great content on this blog. I have that backlog. I’m going to link some of my personal favorites right here. I’ll come back and blog more. But it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be very seriously fun. Prepare yourselves. Put that in your spreadsheet and business it.

*Note: I really shouldn’t be grubbing for sympathy here. I have a literary agent that believes in me and I have a book I really believe in out for submission to editors right now. Things could turn out pretty well for Ol’ Erik. But still. Give me all your clicks and retweets and comments. I need your approval so so desperately. I’m an insecure clown man. Tell your friends.

 

Looking for Uriel – A Personal Essay

On Writing: Hey Ho! Let’s Go! The Ramones Way

On Writing: Critics and Trolls

On Writing: Off Ramps, Ice Barbarians and Jon Hamm’s Hair

On Writing: Diversity and the 21st Century Writer (Part 1)

On Writing: Kill Your Tokens (Diversity and the 21st Century Writer Part 2)

Hesitation Marks – A Personal Essay

On Writing: NaNoWriMo Diary 2017 – Day 1

People like images so: MONKEY ON A BICYCLE

Hey all. I’m participating in NaNoWriMo which is what the cool kids call National Novel Writing Month. If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s both an awesome 501(c)(3) and a month long writing contest where us masochistic few write a 50,000 word novel by 11:59 on November 30th. Here’s NaNoWriMo’s mission statement:

National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.

NaNoWriMo (the organization) also does other great educational and creative programs and you should check them out right after you read my blog!

November 1, 2017:

Started the first day of this month-long marathon pretty casually. I had a morning appointment downtown, then met some friends for lunch, before heading over to meet my agent and talk about how we’re going to make hundreds upon hundreds of dollars selling my books. He had updates on a couple of projects we’re shopping around and we talked about some future stuff. Good author/agent conversation. Good coffee.

Metal, you guys.

I mentioned I’m doing NaNoWriMo to get my weird out before I start work on some more marketable prospects. He expressed tentative support for my alien brain process as long as I get him the materials I owe him for a proposal while I’m listening to Iron Maiden and thinking about Santa Claus. I agreed to this because I like to be an agreeable author and he is going to make us hundreds upon hundreds of dollars selling my books

After our meeting I decided to walk home instead of doing what a normal not alien brained person would do. It was a nice afternoon in Portland and only a little over 5 miles. I figured the time alone wandering the streets of my city would help percolate my alien brain juices and I was right. I spent some time thinking about listening to Iron Maiden (I forgot my earbuds so this was a music free 5+ mile stroll) and thinking about Santa Claus. I thought about a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles covered in ashes and full of skeletons and demons. I thought about elves on motorbikes and the Backstreet Boys, standing a sad suburban vigil in a fictional mall. Yeah. That’s the stuff. This book is going to be real weird. 

While I didn’t get any words down today, I got excited about my project and worked through some of the finer points of my plot.

It’s important, even in the mad dash race to the finish line of NaNoWriMo that you take the time to daydream about your story. You might not need a 5+ mile walk from the Willamette River to far SE Portland to do that but if you do, hopefully the weather is still nice.

On Writing: Star Trek: Discovery

 

I have other stuff to do but I blog very rarely and also there’s a new Star Trek TV show and I watched it. So. Here’s a little review/response and then a little bit about the impact of audience expectations/branding.

Real quick no spoilers review: I liked the first two episodes of Star Trek Discovery. Sonequa Martin-Green is great. Doug Jones is great. Michelle Yeoh is great. The production design is lush and manages some big budget gravitas. There are things I liked more and things I liked less. I have big picture reservations about the CBS All-Access model and the nature of the show as a prequel. I also think it’s kind of a bummer to watch so far and strains a little more than I expected against my expectations of Star Trek. I’m going to blog about more of that below.

First, the Star Trek bonafides preamble: I’ve been watching Star Trek all of my life. I grew up on the shows and the movies. I’ve seen every movie for the last 30 years on opening weekend and I’ve seen the majority of the TV episodes multiple times* (there’s an asterisk here because I really didn’t like Voyager or Enterprise). When Star Trek: Deep Space Nine first premiered it played at 11 PM on Sunday nights in my area. I was in middle school but I stayed up every Sunday until midnight to watch it and went to school bleary eyed. I’m not a convention-going Vulcan-ear-having fan but I’m more inclined to give the brand a chance than literally any other property I can think of based on the strength of my affection and nostalgia for spaceships and budget SFX and phaser sounds. That said, half of the Star Trek TV shows and movies have been pretty bad and William Shatner is not doing his legacy any favors with Twitter. I will always happily give Star Trek a shot but Star Trek: Nemesis happened, you guys, and I’ll never forget.

Here’s what you should know about Star Trek: Discovery. I’m not going to summarize the whole plot but there will be some details that you may want to avoid if you want to watch it without any advanced knowledge. The show’s titular ship, the Discovery, does not appear in the first two hours of the show. The bulk of the cast also does not appear in these first two episodes. This is not an ensemble show in the Star Trek model. It’s a show with a clear protagonist (Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham) and it seems determined to upend some of the familiar Trek conventions. The good news there is that Martin-Green is a charismatic and versatile performer and she can more than carry a show. The decision to give the show a central character and to pin the emotional and storytelling stakes on her is a good one and if the show ultimately goes on to have a long and celebrated life it will be a big part of why. The first two episodes unfold directly as a result of Burnham’s actions – and those actions are not all heroic or sympathetic. That’s a pretty significant change to the usually squeaky clean boy scout image most associated with Star Trek (mostly, to be fair, from Star Trek: the Next Generation onward). The show is steeped in interpersonal conflict and that really creates narrative possibilities we haven’t seen in this property before. I can dig it.

Here’s some other things you should know about Star Trek: Discovery. It doesn’t feel much like Star Trek yet. The characters use Star Trek words and interact with Star Trek things but despite the title it isn’t terribly interested (so far) in strange new worlds, new life, new civilizations, etc. Klingons feature very prominently in these opening two episodes (and, based on what happens, will probably be pretty involved for the rest of the first season at least) and there is some philosophical debate around inter-species contact, but more than ever before these Klingons feel particularly contemporary and familiar rather than strange and new. Where the original iteration of Klingons seemed to cast them as grumpy mustached space Russians, Discovery makes them religious nationalists eager to restore the Klingon empire to glory. That might sound familiar to viewers because we see these sorts of characters on the nightly news. This observation isn’t necessarily a criticism but it gives the show a weary cynicism. At it’s best Star Trek is buoyant and optimistic and this is a little bit dour. It may be that the show runners intend to start with dour, to show a journey through hopelessness and out the other side, but for viewers like me that could do with a little bit more aspiration it’s a little bit disappointing. There’s not really any warmth or humor or wonder. The ending of episode 2 is, frankly, pretty bleak.

There are other things that Discovery does that I liked a lot. The opening credits are beautiful and the makeup is really next level, particularly for Doug Jones’s Saru. Unfortunately, the script has some real weak points that only seem worse with further scrutiny and the pacing, especially in episode 2, is a little too decompressed. I’m also not convinced that this show needs to be a prequel or that they really needed to go back to the most famous Star Trek IP; Klingons and Vulcans. The same story and themes could be explored with new ideas. It makes the universe feel too small to me and the storytelling feel too timid. By opting to go this direction, the show necessitates comparisons with prior iterations and for a franchise that started out with all-new ideas that’s totally unnecessary.

Ultimately, I think Star Trek: Discovery is an appealing television show with a strong, interesting lead and compelling visual design. I am definitely interested in seeing more but it’s a poor fit for the Star Trek brand – especially right now. If Discovery had been released in context with other more traditional Trek content it would seem like a bold alternative and I think would be easier to embrace. But this is the first Star Trek show in 12 years. A lot of fans, and casual viewers, might rightly expect it to feel something like the franchise they know.

Branding is a powerful presence in a story (or content). “Star Trek” has a meaning for people. I show up for “Star Trek.” That’s to the property’s advantage but if they stray too far from what “Star Trek” means for people they create disappointment that they didn’t need to create. There seems to me to be a lot more latter-day Battlestar Galactica in this show than bolding going where no one has gone before. In fact, these seems to be a lot of similarities between these Klingons and Cylons. That really creates a backlash for me with the brand, I’m afraid.

Similarly, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why I so aggressively hate the CBS All-Access distribution model and it has a lot to do with the name and the associations the name generates for me and how it forces me to compare it to other alternative services. I don’t mind paying for TV. I subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and HBO Go. I buy TV shows I want to watch that don’t air on those services on Amazon. I would pay up to $3 for each episode of Star Trek: Discovery and feel pretty good about it. That’s more than CBS is asking for with All-Access. My complaint isn’t about money. I value good content and I pay for it. I think that’s part of being an ethical grown up consumer. No, my reticence is about not wanting to get another user name and password, give out my credit card to another company that might will probably Equifax me on a long enough timeline, install another app, learn another UI, learn all new bugs and quirks. I don’t want that. I think most consumers are sick of that. I would probably pay for an add-on channel on Amazon or Hulu for CBS All-Access.

More than my app fatigue though, CBS All-Access does not compare favorably to its competitors. To get the commercial free version they want a comparable amount of money to HBO Go, Netflix, and Hulu and it does not compare in terms of content available even a little bit. Out of context, it seems like a pretty decent deal. I could watch Star Trek: Discovery and, uh, well, I literally would watch nothing else because CBS is not a network that makes content for me, but if I was the CBS target demo (older, whiter somehow), I could get a lot of enjoyment out of 2 Broke Girls and NCIS and all the fucking Macguyver. I assume. The thing is that Netflix and Hulu and HBO Go make content for multiple kinds of audiences so I can not watch that show with the scientologist guy from That 70s Show that doesn’t appeal to me and still watch the show with the scientologist lady from That 70s Show that does. Next to the alternatives CBS All-Access is real thin. Also, it’s CBS. My whole life CBS has been a TV station you can watch for free with an antenna and it had that comparble quality. Star Trek: Discovery seems like a real stretch in terms of budget and content for that CBS but it’s still called CBS so I expect CBS. The previews of upcoming episodes of Discovery look more like the CBS I expect – the effects look worse and there’s a lot more white dudes – so I have to wonder, are these two episodes of Discovery a bait and switch? If the service wasn’t called CBS All-Access I might be less skeptical. This is the downside of branding. I show up for “Star Trek.” I change the channel on “CBS” before Mark Harmon shows up. These two big brands crash into each other for Star Trek: Discovery and I’m not sure what to do. I want CBS All-Access to fail so it sends a message to stop making new subscription services for every damn thing maybe more than I want this cynical post-Trump new Star Trek.

On Memos: A Memo About the Memos About the Google Memo

So there’s this Google Memo you might have heard about. As someone that has strong opinions on diversity and someone that has spent and still spends a lot of professional time in the tech sector, I have a point of view on this. Specifically, to get my bias out upfront, I think it’s an MRA-influenced garbage fire of toxic ideas and deeply shitty intentions. But MRA-influenced garbage fires aren’t new and I don’t have time to write blogs about all of them. What really gets under my skin and has spurred me to write this, are the think pieces that have come out of the woodwork defending the memo while patronizing and gaslighting anyone that’s disgusted by it. The Google Memo was written by one guy but now media outlets like the Atlantic, Washington Post, and CNN are now saying “hold on a second, maybe this fella has some good ideas.”

Nah. Fuck nah.

So, I’m responding not to the singular dude that started this but to the hot takes that have defended it. I’m going to do my best to split up my memo to those memos about the memo into discreet arguments I’ve seen or heard people make defending the MRA-influenced garbage fire.

Have you even read the whole thing?

Oh boy. So this is a pretty common tactic to dismiss people’s opinions about something on the internet. First it implies that no one could possibly object to the Google Memo if they just read it and let the Google Memo’s totally rational rationality and science wash over them. If you have read the whole thing, you probably read it wrong, right?

“Which insecure man baby though?”

Disclosure: I’ve read the Google Memo. I wish I hadn’t. It made me sad and irritable and I’ve ranted about it a lot to my friends and my wife. Somehow despite the very soul-shaking terror of impending nuclear annihilation from an insecure man-baby with a bad haircut, this still really upset me.

But there’s more to this argument than just insulting the intelligence of everyone that disagrees with you. There’s an implication that you somehow owe shitty people a chance to finish their shitty arguments and that’s not how it works. If a crazy person comes up to me and starts screaming crazy bullshit in my face, I’m not waiting for the crazy person to finish so I can have an informed conversation about the crazy bullshit. I’m going to walk away. When it’s clear that someone is full of crazy shit, it’s okay to say fuck that crazy shit and walk away especially if you’ve heard a lot of crazy shit and that crazy shit is demeaning and hurtful. The idea that anyone has an obligation to just sit tight and listen to anything is a notion better suited for abusive relationships than open dialogues.

So how about this: if the memo’s author wanted people to have an open mind and read the whole thing before criticizing it, he should not have loaded it with crazy bullshit that literally starts with the title of the memo; “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” That title, a thinly veiled dog whistle using familiar terms and language for anyone that’s had to endure right-wing bullshit, is a pretty clear indication of what’s going to follow. Right there at the title I could have stopped reading it. He could have titled it, “Ideas to Improve Diversity at Google” (because apparently that’s his ultimate goal, you guys) or “I’m Totally Not an MRA Racist (*wink, wink*)” and that might have worked better. So if some folks just saw that title and said, nah, fuck nah, I think that’s totally valid. But if we go deeper, the first line says “I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes.” Raise your hand if an argument that started with “I’m not a racist or sexist but…” ever went anywhere not awful. Again, this is dog whistle shit. He’s saying what MRAs and white nationalists and the whole contingent of privileged white dudes with opinions about people that are not privileged white dudes always say.

#NOTALLPRIVELEGEDWHITEDUDES

Again, you could be forgiven if you read that, had a bad feeling, and said nah, fuck nah and that’s valid. It doesn’t make you a snowflake or intolerant. It makes you a person that has enough self-respect to set appropriate boundaries and leave an argument when you feel you have had enough of it. And sometimes, you guys, that’s before the argument even gets fucking started.

I could go on, bit by bit through this memo and really highlight all the shitty places where a person might tap out that are ALL perfectly reasonable places to stop reading and draw a conclusion but I need to move on.

Pretty, pretty gaslight

Actually, it’s not a screed – he’s being quite reasonable.

This is the close relative of the argument above. I’m going to dive back into my college courses on reason and logical to reply to this shit. First and foremost this argument suggests that if the memo is reasonable than objections to it are probably not reasonable. This argument is a very thinly veiled attack on people that disagree. It also seeks to dehumanize a topic to make it about the validity of an argument structure rather than the validity of the argument itself. It’s argumentative misdirection. Instead of legitimately reviewing the merits of the memo author’s points, the conversation is reframed to make you discuss the style of the argument. The way this works is that once you agree (which you shouldn’t) that the argument is seems reasonable, you find yourself halfway to an MRA rally.

*cough* Insert Godwin’s Law here *cough*

It’s true that the memo author isn’t dropping F-bombs (that’s a polite way to say FUCK, you guys) and is generally delivering his point of view in a very formal and precise way using what seems like very well-considered college educated words but, and this might blow your mind, presentation <> reasonableness. A lot of really awful people with really awful ideas have presented them in a very polished way..

To determine overall reasonableness, I think we need to figure out what the author’s intention is with this memo and I’m going to jump ahead here but that intention seems to be to get Google to change or eliminate their current programs that encourage diversity. He has some other ideas but I think even people that think the Google Memo author should get a high five can agree that what he’s really going after. Is that reasonable? Some people might think so. They might think, as the memo author does, that the existing diversity programs are discriminatory or unnecessary or ill-considered in some way. But I don’t it’s reasonable. I think it’s shitty. Reasonableness is not a verifiable thing. It’s an opinion. STFU about reasonableness and just say your opinion on the argument.

Actually, the Memo is right because Science.

I’m just going to tackle this whole thing in one place: no, the Memo is not right. It’s an MRA-influenced garbage fire full of incredibly toxic, awful concepts. The worst of these concepts you’ve probably seen in the think pieces that have condemned the author but I am going to dig into them and comment a bit more here.

Quick side note: I’m not going to refute the sources of the Actually, Science arguments because I’m just one person and don’t that kind of time and also because I understand science well enough to know that science is not a record of FACTS set in stone, it’s a constantly evolving and dueling set of hypotheses. A lot of assholes that want to prove their Actually, Science bullshit are hiding behind a wall of links and organized data. This is a distraction. I don’t mean that research and knowledge is a distraction in and of itself but if you find yourself not arguing about the intrinsic wrongness of the assertion that women are biologically less able to code software but instead are passing sources back and forth, you’ve already lost.

The worst ideas come in the section of the memo that’s titled “Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech.” This is where the MRA-influenced garbage fire really starts to heat up. The first point about this section, and most of the Memo, is how it cleverly tries to shift the narrative to Actually, Science, you guys, as if invoking Science as a grand concept somehow makes the ideas less repugnant and more valid. Except science has been used to justify and explain all kinds of bullshit thinking so it’s important to establish upfront that just because you call it science A) doesn’t make it actually science and B) doesn’t make it right. I mean, look at that cat picture up there. LOOK AT IT. We’ve had wars against people that used “science” as evidence for the superiority/inferiority of certain people.

Did you know that Climate Change is a hoax? 100% of the scientists at Right-Wing Think Tank Science University of Des Moises, IA agree!

Where the memo author really starts making me want to yell at him is when he starts talking about biology. Really, there are fewer women in tech because of prenatal testosterone, he suggests. Women have a harder time learning Javascript and you would understand why if you studied  “evolutionary psychology.” Quick digression on evolutionary psychology – it sounds kind of innocuous and boring but it’s not. It is, at it’s core more of a philosophy or scientific approach that seeks to find evidence for its existing conclusions. It is inherently Right on the political spectrum. It’s also a buzzword for, you guessed it, MRAs.

Anyway, the memo author goes on and writes about women (on average, he’s real careful to clarify it’s not all women – actually, some of his best friends are women, you guys) and how they have (on average, seriously, he’s not a misogynist) lower tolerance for stress and higher anxiety than men. This, our author tells us, can be see anecdotally by reading women’s comments on internal systems. I guess, the possibility that a fucking bro was writing a manifesto about women being prone to anxiety because of Science might make women uncomfortable wasn’t considered another plausible explanation by our reasonable author or that men, on average according to studies I could probably find because there’s a niche study for most things, are less likely to communicate their emotional state in a constructive way?

There’s even a quote he offers from the Totally Definitive And Absolutely Settled Science (Probably Sourced from an MRA Reddit) about how even if there was “greater nation-level gender equity” a gender personality gap would widen because, Actually, Science. His quotes definitely sound like they came from somewhere that makes an effort to seem “reasonable.” I’ll give him that.

There was a book some of you might remember from the early 90s called the Bell Curve. It was really popular with a lot of the same folks that think this Memo is “reasonable.” It used “science” to demonstrate that some races are not as intelligent as others. It was bullshit too.

Oh, and because the author thinks it’s important to verify his Actually, Science by suggesting that the gender gap in tech must be biological, he says that the gap is universal across the world. It’s not. And it wasn’t always like that here. The gender gap is a cultural one and if you disagree you probably haven’t read both of those links and thousands of other studies that support it so you’re point of view is invalid. #ReasonableArgument

But again, all of this science talk is just parlor tricks. It gets us away from the truth: there aren’t more women or people of color in tech because there aren’t more women or people of color in tech. This isn’t an Ouraboros or paradox, it’s how society works. To get into a particular industry you need mentors and connections and peers. Even if you don’t get a leg up on an internship because your uncle works at the tech firm, you can ask your uncle advice on the interview. If you don’t have someone like that to talk to, you’re at a real disadvantage. If you don’t have peers you can’t ask them “hey, is this normal or fucked up?” or “how much money do you make a year?” These are typical conversations I can have and have had with my male peers in tech. Even if I can’t talk to my male peers in tech for advice or leverage their presence to get opportunities, they are still role-models. That NPR Planet Money piece I linked to up above that showed the presence of women dropping precipitously in technology can be directly correlated to how media and 20th Century culture determined that computer were “boy stuff” and presented almost exclusively male role models for tech in movies, TV, etc. If there were more women and POC in tech, they could be mentors, peers, and role-models. You know, just like the ones that help the Memo Author get where he is today. The Actually, Science stuff is just pompous bunk.

Ultimately, I’ve written coded for a living. This author, and unfortunately many others in tech that don’t agree with this author, make tech seem really, super hard. They make software coding seem like you can only do it if you’ve got a PhD and you’re in MENSA. That’s not really true. Coding is a lot more like learning a foreign language than it is doing algebra in your head all day like a math prodigy. Yes, it requires learning a lot of stuff but so do a lot of things. Nurses have to know what drugs will fucking kill you but that’s women’s work and coding Google Maps is real genius stuff, right? There’s a long history of our toxic male-dominated economy devaluing certain kinds of work that women do and deifying work that men do. This Memo Author wants to make it seem like his skills are so super duper rare and amazing (and I’m sure he’s a smart, competent bro) but he’s just not as special as he wants us to think he is. And when he sits down in front of his computer, his penis has no impact on whether or not he does his job properly.

But Diversity Programs Just Lower the Bar and Stuff – or – WHAT ABOUT THE QUALIFIED WHITE MALE CANDIDATES?!?!?

This is a straw man that needs to be thrown into that fucking garbage fire. There aren’t qualified competent men in tech that can’t get good jobs because of diversity programs. That’s a bed time story used to scare insecure bros. It seems to taken as a given by people that believe this is happening that companies, like Google, are choosing because a qualified white male candidate and a completely unqualified diversity candidate and because of the SJWs and Obama they have to choose the unqualified diversity one and the Christmas Party is going to get cancelled because Muslim. That’s the Affirmative Action bogeyman that conservatives have been leaning on for decades and it’s not real. It’s the brother-in-law of the Cadillac Welfare Queen. It’s an excuse for blatant racism and discrimination as an argument about protecting all the qualified white men that are being left out of it all. If a company has a diversity program or an Affirmative Action program it’s there not to hire unqualified candidates but to give opportunities to diverse candidates when they have reasonably equivalent skills and traits for the job. Does anyone really think that the world is full of companies that are so clueless that they will damage their profitability because of PC Culture? And if you think that have you considered that maybe you’re an idiot?

Yeah, I’m sure there are plenty of anecdotal stories about qualified white men that didn’t get the thing they wanted to get that one time but guess what? There are A FUCK TON more stories about women and POC being discriminated against for HUNDREDS of years in this country and also RIGHT NOW. Why is Chad McMayonnaise’s sad story the only one that rates? Sometimes systems don’t work and sometimes, even *GASP!* qualified white men do not get what they want every time. Life sometimes isn’t fair. You know women and POC know a lot about that and they could help counsel these disaffected qualified white men.

Back to the memo specifically there’s one bit that’s worth unpacking in detail. Under the author’s section on the harm of Google’s Biases there’s a bullet point that reads: “Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate.” This is the most egregiously offensive part of the whole memo to me and it plays into the BUT THE WHITE MEN argument. The Memo Author is implicitly suggesting that “diversity” candidates haven’t earned their place at Google like the white men have. This “lower the bar” language is super coded racist and sexist terminology that goes way back. The bar is a subjective and a moving one. Who decides what the bar is and where it should be set? Seems like right now the white men have claimed that bar and, shockingly, they meet it perfectly but diversity candidates would require it to be lowered. Maybe it was set to disproportionately benefit white men and that bar wasn’t even necessary or appropriate for the job at hand? Ultimately, THIS is the heart of the memo author’s argument. Diversity candidates have slipped into Google through the backdoor and they don’t deserve to be there.

In Conclusion.

There are a lot more of these bad takes out there but I’ll leave it with this: there is a clear political and cultural divide in the US right now. It’s between the people that think that all you need to do is grab onto your bootstraps and Ronald Reagan up into your cowboy saddle. People enamored with that American Dream of independence and grit and desert vistas and homesteading and self-made men. The confidence in that idea of American Exceptionalism is so unshakeable, so core to the identity of some people, that to suggest there is systemic inequality in our country and to propose means to solve for it that don’t involve everyone just teeth gritting and pledging allegiance to the flag is anathema. That’s one part of the divide. Everyone else is on the other side.

Throughout this blog post I’ve referenced the memo author but haven’t given his name. That’s partially because my arguments are more with the larger conversation around this memo than the memo itself. But it’s worth thinking about James Damore for a just a little bit. By all accounts he seems intelligent and well-educated. He grew up in a town called Romeoville that has a poverty rate of 1.9% (versus the national 14.3%). He went to one of the top 10 public schools for math and science in the nation. He was a chess master as a kid. He was a graduate student at Harvard. And, obviously, he landed a job at Google, a very competitive and desirable employer. What I’m wondering is when he pulled himself up by bootstraps exactly? Was it in his affluent hometown? Or his local top 10 math and science public school? Maybe he never really had to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Maybe James Damore was born above the bar he wrote about diversity candidates lowering.

Post-posting Edit: There’s a strong chance I will edit this blog post for typos and maybe even add addenda. Don’t freak out. Also, if you like this a great compliment is sharing it with your social networks. 

On Writing: Past Prologues and the Lie of Scarcity

blue-title-page

I was doing some picking up and light reorganization in my living room when I found a black binder behind some things on a bookshelf. When I pulled it out I found that it was a printed copy of a manuscript I wrote more than 10 years ago called Blue. Blue was envisioned as a big family drama heavily inspired by episodes of “Six Feet Under” and Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. I don’t think I have a digital copy of this book anymore. I lost a hard drive in late ’06 and then another a few years later so most of my work from this time period is lost. Over the last week or so I’ve been reading sections from it aloud to my wife before bed and boy, do I have some thoughts about it now. It almost seems unfair that my wife gets this perfectly preserved window into who I was when I was 24 years old. More than a photo album, this book- a great big emo time capsule overcrowded with song quotes from early 21st century indie bands- says a lot about who I was then and what I thought life was all about. It also gives me a lot of insight into my evolution as a writer and, in it’s raw poorly edited form, highlights my biggest creative Achilles Heel.

vincent-adultmanFirst off, on a very personal level, there are a lot of funny 24 old delusions that I see now in Blue and they make me laugh. Like how all of the “mature” characters were accountants. I thought I really understood stuff back then and wrote characters that were 10, 20, or 30 years older with the kind of confidence that only idiots and fools can manage. At 24 I was barely out of college and literally started writing this book while I was staying with my mom. I barely had a real job let alone a career. I had more debt than income and I don’t think I owned a piece of furniture that wasn’t very second hand. But I was damn sure I knew what the inner life of a 60 year old woman was all about.

businesscat

GET ME ACCOUNTS PAYABLE RIGHT MEOW, YOU GUYS

I was also surprised to discover that there was a lot of doing it happening in the book and by doing it I mean the sex which I was clearly an absolute master of at 24, as all 24 year old are. The truth of course is that I started writing this on Valentine’s Day after going out stag to a party that depressed the shit out of me because I was nursing a relatively fresh heartbreak. I remember that I sat in my car in the parking lot in my mother’s apartment complex after bailing on that party either waiting for her- that haunting 24 year old her- to call or pick up her phone or say what I wanted her to say or say something at all and she didn’t. I took all that rejection and awkward longing and I started writing this book. So, it’s not surprising that it’s crazy thick with sexual and romantic frustration but back then I thought that was subtext. I thought I hid my feelings the way writers can in thoughtfully obscured characters and plots but reading it now it reads like a business cat emoji, self-conscious tear stains, Neutral Milk Hotel songs, a dirty cartoon of stick figures doing it, and a tiny note scrawled in the margins that says “but why didn’t the pretty girl…?”

Anyway, as satisfying as it is to kick my younger self around a little bit for being young, the constructive thing I’m getting out of re-reading Blue is seeing a really bad writing habit on full display without any hint of self-consciousness. It’s like my creative super-villain is just hanging out in that book, totally not hiding at all, kind of waving at me and pretending we’re best friends. Part of me is like, “dang 24 year old Erik, he was right fucking there and you just invited him over to watch Gilmore Girls WTF?” and the another part of me sees the value in getting to know my enemy, the Lie of Scarcity.

The Lie of Scarcity is the lie that creators tell themselves when they are convinced that the thing they are making needs to have everything in there because there will never be another opportunity to create a thing ever. It’s a lie that there’s a finite number of creations you can create, a scarcity of creative output, and therefore you better stuff it all in there whether it fits or doesn’t fit. It’s a lie I catch myself believing all the time. It’s a lie I find myself whispering right now. “Put more in this blog post, Erik. ALL THE JOKES. ALL THE THEMES. MORE PICTURES OF OTTERS.” I have to say no, shut up, this blog post has enough in it, and otters don’t even have anything to do with this so why would I put them in here? But in Blue, I did not say no. I gathered up my feelings and experiences and reflections of my entire life and I put them on the page and I’m telling you guys, that make the page pretty crowded.

others-cute-baby-sea-otters-free_189729

god damn it

In no particular order here are some of the big ticket plot points in Blue (SPOILERS): mental illness, cancer, bad sex, alcoholism, the death of a spouse, sex addiction, bulimia, coming out as gay to friends and family for the first time, suicide, good sex, abortion, chemotherapy, Catholicism, puritanism, drugs (obviously), weird sex, turning 30, 12 step programs, genital lice, homophobia, divorce, and kind of boring sex. I’m probably missing some of the sex in there and some of the other drama but you get the general idea that there was not a life event I knew anything about that wasn’t included. I was clearly ambitious but in a book that was around 400 pages long there was nowhere near enough room to cover each of these elements (and the NINE main characters) with appropriate care and consideration. Some things came out as well-thought out, if a bit lacking in depth and wisdom, and others were well under half-baked. I got feedback that it was challenging to keep track of everyone and everything that was going on back then but I discounted it. I couldn’t imagine the narrative working without all the switchbacks and subplots and reading it now, I know I was right. The narrative wouldn’t work which is why I needed to fundamentally reconsider the narrative itself. I needed to get past that Lie of Scarcity, tell my anxious writer brain that wants to write every writing thing every time I write, and find the beating heart of the story, the part of the story that was true and necessary and personal. I know now, and I knew then, what that was but I complicated it. It would have been better to write 3 books with some elbow room in them than to write 1 standing room only but I guess when I was 24 the only future I could imagine was becoming an accountant and I needed to say what I had to say before the accountant truck picked me and took me to the business things store to get my ties and highlighters.

No kids! It's a trap! The Post-It Notes are a TRAP!

No kids! It’s a trap! The Post-It Notes are a TRAP!

I wish that I could read this book now and not relate to the anxious urgency 24 year old Erik felt writing it but I can’t. I still feel it. I don’t know what story will be my first to break through, to be my published success story. As I write this, it’s the one year anniversary of my literary agent expressing interest in representing me. A year ago, I was sure that was it. I was sure I was on the fast-track to my dreams. But I’m still writing. Will the book that initially got my agent’s attention be the one? Will the next one I wrote? Will the one I’m working on right now? Those questions are with me when I sit down to write and the Lie of Scarcity tells me I better be sure I’m writing enough. I never know what story will be my first impression and I never know which one will be my last. No writer ever does. It’s why the Lie of Scarcity can be so insidious. It’s also why you should keep your old shitty writing to remind yourself what’s at stake.