Author: Erik Grove

Making a Plan for the End of the World – A Personal Blog

Unrelated Chihuahua Yawn

Maybe you’ve heard this one before. How do you make God laugh? Make a plan.

Back in February I was talking to my counselor about the future. It used to be that committing to anything more than a few months in advance was challenging for me. It seems naive somehow, revealing your intentions to a fickle and arbitrarily malicious world. In eight months I’m going to go on vacation is dangerously vulnerable. If I put that on the calendar, someone’s going to get cancer or my house is going to burn down. I don’t like it but those are the rules. That’s life as I know it. I have receipts. Don’t get me wrong- I’ve always allowed myself aspirations as long as I remained sufficiently cynical about achieving them and never got too specific about when they might happen. This has all been generally manageable (I vacation rarely or spontaneously) but for mental health and marital/adult life reasons it’s not terribly sustainable. So, I’ve been working on it and earlier this year, I felt bold, and I looked across at my longtime counselor and I said I was ready. Buoyed by taking the first real vacation that required actual advanced planning I’ve gone on in ever last December, I had this whole 2020 masterplan worked out. I was going to do so many amazing things. And we high-fived (we didn’t high-five) and I decided that part of 2020 Erik’s Bold Masterplan was to take a break from regular counseling for a couple of months. Me and the world had an understanding. I was going to put things on my calendar (not too many, and all of them tentative of course I’m not a daredevil) and the world wasn’t going to give me house fire cancer. it was good and it was growth and I felt like a real grown up.

Enter Covid-19 stage left.

Yeah, that’s my fault everybody. I’m sorry. I made a plan.

Fuck.

I joke about this a little bit because I don’t have other viable coping mechanisms. My many amazing things for 2020 are insignificant shit things compared to the toll in life and community this unprecedented pandemic has wrought. Nothing I’ve ever wanted or could ever want is worth people dying. I’m so scared and angry and hurt at all this *flails arms, screams* that I just feel numb. I am, like a lot of the world, simply paralyzed.

Proof of life

Life- my life certainly but definitely not exclusively- is basically a tragicomic chaos buffet. You get your tray and you stand in line and sometimes you get chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs and sometimes you lose your job or someone you love too much finds the meth again. You cross your fingers for overcooked green beans but you know diabetic organ failure is coming out of the kitchen sooner or later. And the worst stuff is always the stuff you never even imagined. I was ready for slimy canned peaches or broken wine bottle soup or suicidal text messages or any number of calamities but I was not ready for Plague, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and his sidekick Proud Public Ignorance. Right after I got married a life insurance salesman asked me “BUT WHAT IF YOU GET DECAPITATED?” That was on my radar. I leave the house and I make sure I have my keys, my wallet, my phone, and my head still attached because I don’t want to be caught off guard. But this?

Fuck.

*deep breath*

Motherfucker

So what’s the plan now? I’m an adult man with multiple couches (they’re all from IKEA but they count, okay?) and equity in bank-owned things and at least three or four people that I’ve convinced that I have my shit together. I’m not willing to regress back to being scared of calendars.

The good news is that I’m really good in a crisis. Like plenty of totally well-adjusted maniac people, my brain operates best in a state of adrenalized panic. Like a moth born from a dysfunctional family flame, I am drawn to a vaguely sketched out metaphor for emergencies that I should really fix in the second draft. I’m thinking something something PTSD joke? Don’t worry folks. I can fix it in revisions! I can fix it all in revisions. *crazy man laugh turning to desperate hug-me arms* But I digress.

Anyway, I look in my trusty tool box and I’ve got bad jokes, good at crazy fucksplosions, running for far too long, and this. Writing. And that really seems like it should be the answer for me, right? I should be able to write my way to peace and the future and fixing that metaphor joke bit in the last paragraph.

Yeah, no.

(That metaphor joke bit isn’t going to be fixed in revision. There is no revision. The revision is a lie.)

Being creative- as a lot of creative people can absolutely tell you- is quite difficult right now. Some people can do it better than other people and even I’ve had days where it just came together but I can’t plan on work (writing is work) to give me solace right now. What I can do is go deeper, really set the way back memory time machine to the reasons and skills that led me to putting words together in fancy sentences (that’s what we, The Writers, call it). This journey of self-reflection leads me to two core concepts that insert jokey metaphor that’s maybe something about house foundations or concrete or something that I should maybe Google and what do you mean you don’t think I’m actually going to do that and this is just another joke bit? I’m not that predictable.

Anyway.

Two things: Vulnerability and empathy. They’re why I write. They’re what I look for in every story and my plan is to cling to them like a drowning man in a scary calendar sea lousy with Covid-19 sharks.

I asked my wife last night while I was lying in bed gripped by dread and uncertainty (like you do, #2020) if I’m Too Much? It’s something I worry about a lot. Do I talk too much? Am I too intense? Do I gesticulate my bony man paws too forcefully? I chatter when I’m nervous. And gesticulate. I’m always fucking gesticulating. I was a pretty quiet kid for a lot of my youth. I remember being afraid of speaking up too much because of what uncomfortable home drama I might accidentally vomit out. I felt like I was a dam holding back an ocean of feelings all the time and if I let anything through the dam would be washed away and suddenly I’d be telling the bus driver what that ambulance was all about in front of my house and a hundred other truths kids aren’t supposed to know or say or live with but I did because hey hey clap your hands for the childhood family trauma show. I felt a lot. I still feel a lot. Maybe too much. No one gives you the tools to measure these things but I’m pretty sure I have mid 90s McDonalds Super Size Me feelings. As I got older I needed a release for all of that Too Much and one release I found was writing about it. In a story (or blog post), no one can see you gesticulate (I AM GESTICULATING SO HARD RIGHT NOW AND YOU CAN’T JUDGE ME) and Too Much is often rewarded with approval. So, I was this weird kid that was sometimes rigidly self-repressed and sometimes Too Much and when I was Too Much people got uncomfortable and offered fake laugh excuses to leave and that felt Real Bad. But if I wrote a story or a poem or something I could just unleash that Too Much and teachers gave me extra credit. Sometimes they said I was brave which, and I am overdosing on the digressions here, but can we take a moment to reflect on how fucked up it is that me (a man in particular) being Too Emotional is upsetting but if I make it into a product other people can buy it’s socially acceptable?

Anyway. Thusward and undigressed, this was the genesis of a lifelong passion and a spiffy maladaptive coping mechanism. I invested a lot of years to learning how to communicate feelings outside of fiction. My first girlfriend one time when I was flustered asked me, “do you want to write it down?” and that pretty clearly defined my college years. Our relationship was largely built on emails and in-person I was curiously mute or when I was able to say something it was the wrong thing. It wasn’t what I really felt. It was something mangled and anxious and silly. I taught myself to be a present emotive person like a robot might and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But now I need to self-monitor for Too Much again. My wife said I’m direct by the way. I speak my mind. She’s diplomatic. I probably overshare too much. Invite me to your house party and you too can hear stories about burnt heroin spoons and the still Too Much pain I have set aside for special occasions!

And there’s the other thing, the other foundational thing at the core of my desire to write: empathy. A lot of people have done things I don’t like to me or others or my dog. In my Too Much autoclave it turns to white-hot anger. Some motherfucker abandoned my dog before I rescued him. What kind of hellbeast monster person would leave a little dog to die on the streets of Bakersfield, California? Bakersfield is undeniably the worst place in California and my dog is the sweetest dog in the universe. I’m capable of hating that person but I don’t want to. Or actually, if I’m being honest, I can’t. It’s one of those ha ha ha oh right the trauma side effects of having the people that are supposed to be ones you love and trust being the ones that neglect and hurt you; you learn to excuse them because the alternative is being the kind of hellbeast monster person that hates the people that are supposed to be the ones that you love and trust. If I carried around all the rage my Too Much autoclave is capable of producing, I’d be overwhelmed by it. So some of the storytelling has always been to come up with reasons why. That motherfucker that abandoned my dog surely had a preponderance of bad choices and terrible circumstances. Maybe it was a dumb kid that wasn’t allowed to have a dog and had to choose between letting him go or being homeless. Maybe there was an accident and he wasn’t supposed to be abandoned. There are better versions of the story that make better people. A lot of why I write is to give those better versions of the story a chance. I need empathy. I need to understand why people do wrong things sometimes (or even always). I can’t hate anyone, not completely, because if I hate anyone I’m not sure I wouldn’t slip into hating everyone. Maybe I cover it well (ha!) but I can be an awfully cynical person that struggles to not expect the worst. The world is already a cruel arbitrary place. I need people on my side.

Bringing it back to around to a circuitous point: I write so I have permission to be vulnerable. I want to be vulnerable. I want to be seen and understood. I imagine we all do. And I write so I can see the possibility in other people. I write to remind myself how to be empathetic. So, while I might not be able to write my 2020 plans back or write away the pandemic, I think the solution is what it’s always been for me, if I can just get the jokes and cynicism out of the way:

Hey everyone. I’m scared and I’m trying my best every damn day. I think you are too. I don’t know if we’re going to be okay. I don’t know what okay means exactly. But I know I’m here and so are you and that means something to me at least. I’m going to tell you who I am when I can and I’m going to listen with patience and empathy and all the stupid sincere love I’ve got. The tragicomic chaos buffet has to have your favorite food sooner or later, right?

That’s my plan.

With love and butt stuff jokes,

Erik

You Won’t Be Here Long – A Personal Essay

When you grow up with a lot of chaos, tragedy, and trauma “normal” transforms into this two-headed beast that you’re always chasing and running away from at the same time. When I was 22, freshly dropped out of college, depressed, lost, living with my mom and on the precipice of being thrown out to couch surf with friends, I was in training for a seasonal dead-end job and I wrote a note to myself on a piece of paper: “You won’t be here long.” I folded that note up and kept it in my wallet. I kept it for years, transferring it from wallet to wallet and finally just saving it with a trove of other random mementos. That note was my mantra and it meant– and still means– so many things to me. It was reassurance. No matter how bad things are, they won’t last for forever. I would think of it in times of uncertainty and in times of outright misery and it soothed me somehow. It was also a warning. Savor every good thing because change is the only constant. There’s a carpe diem kind of romance in it but there’s also constant fear. I’ve had moments of contentment interrupted by that note. It’s a distillation of anxiety, grief, and helplessness. There’s no agency in that mantra. There’s no choice.

One of my favorite songs is by Wolf Parade — “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts” — and this is my favorite line:

Now we’ll say it’s in God’s hands
But God doesn’t always have the god damn plans, does He?

Life chooses for you and in my experience, life doesn’t generally have your best interests in mind.

So, this afternoon I was folding my laundry. About half of my closet is occupied with big bags of clothes I can’t wear anymore. Since I’m roughly an entire adult male lighter than I was a couple of years ago, I’ve had to completely replace everything except for some socks but I haven’t given away, donated, or thrown out hardly any of it. I got to thinking about why. I realized there’s a Venn diagram of reasons for this and as I consciously engaged with those reasons, my head filled up with scattered memories connected by my own peculiar psychological algorithms. I felt a lot of sadness but I also understood something new about myself and that note from a long time ago.

I guess I always start thinking about these things close to my birthday. August is a haunted house for me. My mom’s first big psychotic break happened the morning after my 10th birthday party. It’s one of the most vivid memories I have from back then. (A lot of my memories are Swiss cheese for a few years there). I remember the sun filtered through lousy curtains on the cheap mobile home carpet. I remember she told me that she had to get some help and the neighbors would look in on us and I couldn’t quite make eye contact.

Then, right before I turned 11, I regressed. After the first suicide attempt that I knew about and after a year of emergency room interventions, state hospitals, and what seemed like a Russian Roulette guessing game of psychiatric medications, my mom was home. We were very poor, she was unemployed, and ignoring calls from bill collectors and we lived far enough in the country away from other family or friends that the world felt tiny. I started sleeping in my mom’s bed next to her just about every night.

I was supposed to go to this great summer academic camp at the state college an hour away. My teachers pulled strings to get me in at the last minute because they knew my family was a disaster and I was a smart kid. My elementary school principle was the first counselor I had and he believed in me. Mr. Blue. He was one of the first in a long succession of strangers I would cry in front of. But when the time came to go away to camp– it would have been a week staying in a dorm– I couldn’t go. The idea of being away from home was too much for me to handle. I got next to my mom under an ugly blue and tan comforter that smelled like Merit Lights and I felt trapped. I was next to her then. I was safe. She was safe. But it wouldn’t last. It couldn’t. I felt it with an unshakeable certainty.

You won’t be here long.

My brother and I went to Washington DC that summer to stay with an aunt and uncle that I’d only ever talked to on the phone. I don’t think we’d been there a week before my mom was back in the hospital. I found out relatively recently as an adult that there was another suicide attempt. We had to stay in DC longer than originally planned– all summer, through my birthday– and I was fucking mess. I was fragile and emotional and clingy and it’s taken me a lot of counseling and maturity to have compassion for myself. For the longest time I would think back on my behavior at 10 and 11 and just think “quit your whining.”

Over the years that followed, things evolved and devolved in predictable patterns. My mom got worse. And then my brother. Yadda yadda yadda. Psych wards and methadone clinics in McDonalds and sundry felonies, suicide notes and a whole lot therapy. The full house of dysfunctional hereditary bad decisions. I’ve written all the trauma poetry about it so forgive my nonchalance. I got through most of it with only a weekend stay in the mental health ward at 21 and a lot of overthinking and baggage. Even now I feel a knee-jerk shame for all of it and how it feels when I remember it. There’s this vicious voice in my head: does the little whiny baby want his mommy? Does the sad little fake grown up want his big brother to give him a hug? Does the lonely bastard boy want a daddy? I’m almost 39 years old and I’m pretty sure that voice is never going to go away.

Mostly, I got through all of my childhood and adulthood fat. It’s inaccurate to say trauma caused my obesity because obesity is a super complicated thing (and really, that’s a loaded word anyway) but I definitely sought and found comfort in food. Most people do, I guess. It’s your birthday! Have some cake! Your grandma died 😦 Have some cake! Food is so often the emotional punctuation of our lives. I’ve spent the last couple years not so much denying that but learning new grammar for food. Instead of standing barefoot at night on thin sticky vinyl in the middle of a trailer park permeated with poverty and desperation eating white bread and sliced cheese until my stomach feels like it will burst just so I can feel something better than the alternative, now I have a plum. Again, food and fatness and all of the threads between them are super super super super complicated and I’m being glib here partially because well, gallows humor, and partially because I have written so many other substantive blogs about it. This essay isn’t about food and trauma. That’s just a digression. This essay is about the clothes in my closet.

I don’t know what it’s like for other people that lose a lot of weight. I know that I do a lot of work trying not to obsess about the number on the scale but I kinda do anyway. I have this not-so-secret fear of losing control and “falling off the wagon.” Like, I might suddenly go into a fugue and black out only to wake up having eaten 37 pizzas and 89 deep fried Twinkies and I’ll have gained three hundred pounds and I’ll be live-streamed on Twitter, farting, while people point and call me names. It’s beyond ridiculous for so many reasons. It’s the same fear I have about suddenly losing my mind and ending up a drug addict or schizophrenic. Or losing everything I own and ending up back in that trailer park. In my head, I’m always barely not poor, not crazy, not drunk, not fat. In my head, I’m always barely not alone. The lowest point, the worst thing I can imagine, has a gravity for me. It always has.

You won’t be here long.

So those clothes. Those 2XL shirts and big and tall jeans. Those poncho sized t-shirts and shorts that literally fall off of me without a belt much tighter than the belts in that closet that could wrap around me with a dozen inches to spare. I need them don’t I? Because no matter where I go, I won’t be there long. Elastic snaps me back. Gravity pulls me down. I am a marathon running, happily married, professionally successful man living in a half million dollar house lousy with stone fruit and I am also a 10 year old boy crawled next to a volatile open wound of a childhood every single night, teeth chattering afraid of everything just going away because God doesn’t always have the best god damn plans, does He?

“Quit your whining.”

“You won’t be here long.”

But.

I’m happy. I am so, so happy. And my life is good. It’s really good. I am healthy and I am strong and I laugh and sometimes close to my birthday I think about all the strangers I’ve cried in front of and I know it’s healthy. Sadness is like the itch you feel when a scab is healing.

Something Counselor 3.0 (or maybe 4.0, hard to keep all my mental health professionals separate) told me twenty years ago comes to mind. Life isn’t a straight line. It’s a spiral. You don’t get farther away from the past. You actually get closer. Everything gets closer. Progress isn’t distance. It’s integration. I’m thinking about that right now. I’m thinking about my mom and 10 year old me. I’m thinking about 22 year old me and that note. I’m thinking about all the bad and the good and the rest. I understand a little bit more and understanding is a lot closer to compassion and compassion is a lot closer to acceptance. There have been times– some pretty recently– where I’ve wanted to fight the world. I’ve wanted to swing until my knuckles split and scream until my throat ached. I was just a little kid. Kids cry. And sometimes they get fat. And sometimes moms are sick and dad’s are dead and brothers get lost and it’s not fair and it’s not okay. It makes me angry and it should. If I have kids they won’t have grandparents. They won’t have uncles. That hurts so much. But after that anger and that hurt, in stupid little moments, folding clothes, there’s this memory origami, there’s an epiphany.

So those clothes. Those fucking clothes. Time to take them to Goodwill, right?

Fat Writer Running – Oh Hey a Marathon Happened


Hey everybody! The Eugene Marathon was *checks calendar* WEEKS ago and I didn’t blog about it! Some of you may be wondering what happened?!?!? did you run all the miles?!?!?! I did run all of the miles and it was awesome! But! First things first! Look at sweet new FWR header image. Isn’t it awesome?!?! I had my friend and awesome artist Pete Soloway design it for me. That’s cartoon me running! I love it!!!

Ok! Now let’s get back to me running for a really really really long time. I completed the marathon in pretty much the time I expected based on my last long training runs. There’s a funny thing that happens when you’re running for hours; you just do what you can do and know that you can’y do it any faster or more. It’s weirdly peaceful. I am an incredibly thinky person, always wondering if I’ve done enough, if I could do more, if I’ve done too much etc. Running a marathon completely nullified the thinky part of me. I knew I was doing my very best, giving all I had out there on that course and while I was physically challenged more than I’ve ever been physically challenged before, I felt a serenity and acceptance of things as they are not as I would overthink them to be. It was a life-changing experience and while I don’t think it’s necessary to run a marathon to find that center, I’m really glad I found my way there.

The event itself was fantastic. I cannot commend the folks running the Eugene Marathon enough. Running long distances solo versus doing it in an organized event is a whole different experience. Running alongside thousands of other runners with hundreds of volunteers offering you water, bananas, high-fives and hugs created a sense of community and fellowship that really helped to power through the toughest miles. I was also supported and cheered by my wife and some of my very best friends in the latter half of the race. Seeing them alongside the course taking photos and calling out was like seeing an oasis in the desert. I’m sure I could have limped through to the end on conditioning and stubbornness alone but I didn’t have to and I’m super grateful.

Post-race I recovered well initially. I had a blister on one foot from a pebble that stowed away in my shoe but otherwise after a shower and some lunch I felt great after the race. A couple days later I went out for a short run though and found that I strained a stabilizer muscle running on the outside of my right lower leg. I’ve been rehabbing it and taking it a little easy on running since but I got the all-clear from my leg muscle expert guy and knocked out an 8 mile run this last weekend so I’m working my way back up to long distance running shape. I probably won’t run another marathon until at least next year (or later– it’s a real time sink) but I’d like to run one or two half marathons.

The weeks since the marathon have been a whirlwind. I delayed a lot of social and professional obligations during race prep and those caught up with me right away. I thought that once I got through my busy April my May would be one long weekend but that’s not how it’s played out. No rest for the runner. I’ve got writing projects, work projects, house projects, and backpacking trips all stacked up and now I’m imagining June will be long a weekend even though I already know it won’t be. Once you run a marathon, maybe you never really stop. I’m not sure, you guys. I’ll keep you posted.

Fat Writer Running – Less Than Two Weeks to the Marathon!

Hi there folks! The Eugene Marathon is less than two weeks away on April 28th! I have not blogged about it nearly as much as I intended to but I’ve got a little bit more time to try to make up for it before race day! So, let me get through some updates!

First, I’m totally on track and ready to go! While my blogging has been slackerly my runs have not been. With the exception of a chest cold that hit me hard around week 4 causing me to truncate one middle length run and skip another, I’ve stayed on schedule and I’m feeling really confident.

I finished a 20 mile run this past weekend and it felt really good. Crazy exhausting but good. That was the end of the most intense week of training of the whole plan and the next couple weeks are mellow taper weeks where I reduce mileage and allow myself to fully recover so I am at full strength for the marathon. Based on my times for the 20 mile and other 16+ mile runs I’ve done, I expect to finish at pretty close to 4 and a half hours. I really wanted to get a sub 4 hour time but it’s my first attempt and I’m a 38 year old asthmatic with diabetes that was morbidly obese for 20 years until about 2 years ago so I think 4 and a half is pretty damn good.

Getting closer to race day brings up a lot of emotions for me. There’s a sense of empowerment and self-actualization I have in getting this far and knowing that I’m going to be successful because I’ve done all the hard work. I had a simple and clear epiphany in the middle of an 18 mile run a couple weeks back; all that I need to do to finish is to not quit. The trick is to understand that the definition of finishing isn’t a fixed point. Obviously if I pull a muscle or twist and sprain an ankle during the marathon, I might not be able run to the end. There are a hundred (not terribly likely) ways that fate could intervene and stop me but there will be other races and other finishes and I have a sense, a rigid certainty fostered by pushing my boundaries week after week, that I will do it, that I can do it. If I just don’t quit. That certainty is addictive. It’s why I push myself and why it’s so rewarding. That certainty is why I’m running this marathon. It permeates every part of my life. If I can do this, what else can I do? If my definition of self is updated to include the capacity to do this seemingly impossible thing, what else about my personal narrative is wrong? If I could catch that feeling, that electric crackle of possibility and faith, and translate it into words that were better suited for it than the ones I’ve got, I would. I wish I could share it with everyone. I wish I could I shout out “you are more than you think that you are!” and not have people look at me and roll their eyes and say “put it on a cross-stitch, Weirdy McOldGuy” or “why don’t you just blog about it?” …

If I’m being honest, I also feel a kind of impending grief for the race being over. I have very mixed feelings about whether I want to run another marathon after this. On the one hand, it’s empowering and challenging and (sometimes) really fun. On the other hand it’s hard and time consuming. It has felt like a part-time job managing not just the runs but the pre and post run prep. But still, I think about it being over and there’s this pang of melancholy that I don’t think would be solved by just running another marathon or a super marathon. I think it’s a necessary grief for the person I’m having to say goodbye to at the end of this and an acceptance of needing to transform into a new life. After this marathon, I know I’ll be ready for the Next Great Thing. It’s not a run, I’m not really even positive what it is but I know that I can’t avoid it any longer. It’s exciting, and terrifying, and just a little bit sad.

Fat Writer Running – Marathon Training Weeks 1-2

Hi there folks! The Eugene Marathon is coming up fast on April 28th and I’m registered to run it! the plan was (is?) to blog about my training process week by week but I’m a little bit behind in the blogging so I’m trying to catch up!

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to make this disclaimer first. I’m going to be blogging about what I’m doing. Some of it is going to be definitely wrong– or at least not totally right– because this is my first marathon. I’m not an expert and you shouldn’t just do things I write about doing. Consult with professionals or people that know for sure what they’re doing before you decide to do silly things like run for 4+ hours.

Week -4

I knew I wanted to run a marathon as soon as I recovered from the half marathon last October but I ultimately registered on New Years Day and I was ready to get going right away. I found a 12 week training schedule that was pretty similar to the training I had done for the half marathon. Here’s the run schedule (there are also 2 cross training and 2 rest days not noted):

Week 1: run 3, 4, 9
Week 2: run 3, 6, 10
Week 3: run 3, 6, 12
Week 4: run 3, 6, 14
Week 5: run 4, 8, 16
Week 6: run 4, 8, 18
Week 7: run 4, 8, 8
Week 8: run 3, 10, 16
Week 9: run 3, 10, 18
Week 10: run 4, 10, 20
Week 11: run 3, 8, 10
Week 12: run 3, 6, race (6 on Wed, no cross-train)

I decided that I wanted to start more like 16 weeks out from the race and because I was already running regularly two 3s and a 10+ on the long run day, I felt confident enough in what I was doing to start the 12 week plan on week 3. I figured this would give me extra time in case I wanted to repeat weeks or skip a week or whatever. I also decided that for my cross training days I would do high intensity interval training or HIIT (I’ll come back to this in a minute). This all seemed smart but pretty quickly I learned my first hard lesson about marathon training:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

I did four weeks of this training, culminating with an 18 mile run that, for a few specific reasons that I’ll get to below, left me wrecked and nearly ready to throw in the towel. I started out pushing my body and my mind way too hard, too fast. I finished all of those runs, doubled down on the HIIT doing an hour of it twice a week, and decided that wasn’t enough so I started an upper body focused weight training program on top of it. In addition to all this marathon training, I took on more work at my day job, adding on a new project that increased my time by 50%. I also set some aggressive deadlines for myself on my writing projects with the intention of having a lot of new material ready around the time of Norwescon, the weekend before the marathon. I could do all of it and for about a month I did. But it was stupid and if I hadn’t course corrected, well I probably would have figured it out but it would have been real unpleasant.

I learned some key things during this “preview” training though. Here they are:

There is no hunger like marathon training hunger (and marathon training hunger will EAT YOUR SOUL)

Okay, so the soul-eating part is hyperbole but no joke, the combination of all the miles and the cross-training and just the all of it is so intensely draining that eating enough food has become a conscious effort. I track all my activity with my trusty Apple Watch. It tells me how many calories I’ve burned doing X, Y, and Z and I plunk in what I eat into MyFitnessPal and in theory that all tells me what my dietary budget is it’s pretty simple. It’s not quite so simple. Since I’ve been tracking my activity with MFP, I’ve maintained a calorie budget surplus of 500-1000 calories. That means I am consuming less than my body needs and that’s pretty much the trick I’ve used to lose 150 pounds in the last 20ish months. I’m weighing in now at a not unhealthy for my body type 195 now. My doctor says considering my higher than average muscle to fat ratio I’m within a couple dozen pounds of my ideal weight, which doesn’t seem like anything at all after losing 150. But I can’t both do marathon training and keep up that diet. To run that far and to do the HIIT and the weight training, I’m building muscle and the calorie math doesn’t really account for that. So, I had to adjust my targets. Now, I eat every calorie to maintain energy. No more surplus in the budget. Physically, it means I’m not dropping many pounds (only a few since January) but I am losing inches on my waist and my legs are god damn pistons. It’s a real psychological twist to go from constantly limiting food to eating ALL OF IT but I’ve been making these rice cakes with peanut butter that are pretty good, you guys.

It’s better to be underdressed than overdressed for the weather

I wrote about some of my gear on the last marathon blog. The lesson I’ve learned is when to not use it. When you first go outside for a run and it’s 40 degrees, your instinct is HOLY CRAP SOAK ME IN KEROSENE AND LIGHT THE FIRE I’M COLD but if you wear too many layers, life really starts to suck about 6 miles in. You’ll warm up from the run, I swear. But wear running gloves because there’s nothing worse than numb hands.

Dehydration really, really, really, really sucks

Toward the end of my half marathon training I started getting sick after long runs. The first time, it hit me hard. I couldn’t keep down food of fluids for a couple of hours and was bedridden with nausea. It was awful. I talked to other runners and read things online and talked to my doctor about it. I started paying close attention to water consumption and my recovery foods. I reduced my post-run nausea but didn’t completely eliminate it. It’s still something I’m tinkering with and I don’t think there’s a clear cut answer, which leads to the next lesson:

Listen to your body (because it knows better than your Facebook friends)

There’s a lot of advice for runner’s and some of it is super applicable. And some of it isn’t. My body doesn’t react the same way to the same things as other people’s. This goes for your diet and all of your habits. I eat a diet that’s about even thirds, protein/fat/carbs. It’s a little higher in fat and protein and lower in carbs than a lot of commonly recommended runner’s diets but for me– particularly with my history of diabetes– it works well. I adjust and tinker and pay attention to the results but it’s important to figure out what works because your body will adapt and you don’t want to throw curve balls at yourself. I normally eat 4 eggs, 2% cottage cheese, and an english muffin for breakfast. This is what I’ve been eating just about every day for 20 months. I switched it up and did a bowl of oatmeal and a couple hard boiled eggs before a run recently and felt great– until I almost lost all of it 3 miles in.

Week -1 (and the 18 mile run that challenged my faith)

So, let me talk about that 18 mile bastard. I had done the 16 mile run the Saturday before and I felt good. I felt cocky. I had plans out of town that coming Saturday and the weather was going to be beautiful on Thursday so I decided to swap my medium and long runs around. I would do 18 miles on Thursday and then do an 8 on Sunday. I’d been working myself hard and I don’t think I’d recovered from the 16 mile run. The truth is, I was already in trouble with my routine but I was in denial about it. I had only just realized I was not eating enough and it was effecting not only my energy levels but I was noticing that my mind was fuzzier. My moods were volatile and I was sleepwalking through a lot of the days. Then I went on that run. Running that 18 hurt. I had a blister on my foot from the 16 miler and covered it with moleskin. My knees ached just about right away. My right quad and left hamstring got tight and started burning a third of the way in. I was wearing too many layers. My time was slow and the whole run felt like a slog. I didn’t drink enough water. I limped to the conclusion of the run and knew I was dehydrated and in pain like I’d never been before. I got home and felt horrible. I was nauseous for hours. I was on my feet that evening and the muscle (and knee pain passed pretty quickly) but I was still wrecked when I ran 8 miles in two days and then all of the fatigue caught up with me. I haven’t missed a running day or even a cross-training day since but the original plan was to move on to week 7 in the schedule above but I just knew that I couldn’t. So, I started over at week 1, exactly where I would have been if I hadn’t decided to get a jump start on it all.

Week 1 and 2

All right, nerds. This is my training schedule for the first two weeks. I won’t break it down in this much detail every time but this gives you an idea of my routine and what the numbers are looking like:

Week 1:

Sunday – 8 mile run (this is technically the tail end of week -1 mentioned above). This was along my usual training path on the Trolly Trail. For a baseline, this is what a pretty slow run looks like for me with mile splits:

  • Mile 1 9’42”
  • Mile 2 10’27”
  • Mile 3 9’37”
  • Mile 4 9’43”
  • Mile 5 10’37”
  • Mile 6 11’52”
  • Mile 7 10’51”
  • Mile 8 11’22”

This path has an incline gain in the second mile, a drop in 3 and 4 and, as I do out and back it reverses for an incline in 5 and 6, drop at 7 and relatively flat for 8. As you can see from those splits. I started out alright. 9’30” is a pretty average mile time for me with fluctuations based on my physical condition and the duration of the run. The hills hit me hard on this run and I completely ran out of steam somewhere in that 5th mile, running slower and slower until I finished up.

Monday – Rest Day. I actually don’t do a complete rest day, something I may reconsider. I have my exercise calorie target set on my AppleWatch to 850 calories every day but I dial it down to 550 on rest days. I usually still do a 30-60 minute brisk walk on the treadmill on my rest day. I do this for three reasons. 1) I am still fanatical about exercising a little bit every day. It’s very habitual for me. I’m maybe a little addicted to keeping my exercise streak with my AppleWatch. 2) I find that walking after a long run helps my muscles recover. This isn’t scientific and maybe I would recover better if I didn’t. 3) I rely on my daily exercise to keep up my mood. It’s become a necessary antidepressant and anxiety antidote. Emotionally and mentally, I need it. For this rest day, I did a 70 minute walk at a pretty slow pace (~3.7 mph)

Tuesday – 3 mile run, treadmill @ 6.2 – 7 mph. I like using the treadmill for this short run because I can really dial-in the speed. I took this run easy because I was still recovering from the 18 miles and the 8. Splits for this mile:

  • Mile 1 9’26”
  • Mile 2 9’04”
  • Mile 3 10’01”

 

Wednesday – HIIT cross-training. For HIIT, I typically workouts from videos on YouTube. This is probably my favorite:

But I also like this one that the same duo lead. They just have great energy and make the workout accessible:

There are other videos from the same company (Self) and I’ll try them out as I rotate my cross-trainings. On this particular cross-training day, I did both routines for a total of an hour. I also took a brisk 15 minute walk.

Thursday- 4 mile run. I have a 3 mile loop around my house that’s the perfect length with a healthy amount of hills. This is the route I ran for my half-marathon training a lot and there’s a particular part I can repeat to do an extra mile. So, this is what I ran. This has 178ft of elevation gain pretty spread out.  Splits:

  • Mile 1 9’40”
  • Mile 2 10’19”
  • Mile 3 10’20”
  • Mile 4 10’41”

I think this run demonstrates I was still recovering. Those are pretty slow times for me on my home turf.

Friday – Rest Day. I did a 30 minute brisk walk. This was ~4.4 mph.

Saturday – Long run. 9 miles. This is the same path I did the 8 mile on Sunday but instead of running out 4 and then turning around, I ran out 4.5 and turned around. Here are the splits, which are a bit better but still not my “usual” or expected. It’s worth noting this was a very cold day- just above freezing – and I got rained on. Which is every lousy when it’s so cold. There are really three things that impact a runner – sun or lack of sun, rain/snow, and wind. This particular day had close to the worst of all three conditions

  • Mile 1 9’31”
  • Mile 2 9’54”
  • Mile 3 9’32”
  • Mile 4 10’14”
  • Mile 5 10’45”
  • Mile 6 10’27”
  • Mile 7 11’47”
  • Mile 8 11’13”
  • Mile 9 10’28”

Out of the gate a little faster- which is sometimes not better. Exerting too much upfront means it’s easier to run out of steam toward the end. In this case, I pushed for the first 3 miles and then I started to slow. I was completely wiped out before I hit the hills on the way back.

Week 2:

Sunday – Rest Day. I walked down and back up a steep hill by my house (244 ft elevation gain) in a half hour walk.

Monday – Cross-training. I did 1 and a half of my videos for 45 minutes of HIIT and walked for 15 minutes to hit my exercise targets.

Tuesday – Indoor short run. This is my speed training run and what I try to do every Tuesday. I warm up on the treadmill at 5.5mph for 5 minutes, then 6mph for another 5, and then increase the speed .1 mph for every subsequent minute up to 30. This ends up being more like 3.25 miles and it’s a challenge! Running over 7 mph is pretty taxing for me. The splits show the steady progression of speed:

  • Mile 1 10’00”
  • Mile 2 9’30”
  • Mile 3 8’38”
  • Mile 4 (partial mile) 8’38”

It was with this run that I finally started to feel like I had recovered from the 18 mile run from the a week and a half previous. In addition to the actual run, I tapered down with another 15 minutes of walking at a progressively slower pace to recover.

Wednesday – Cross-training! Both of the HIIT videos I posted above.

Thursday – 6 mile run. With this run, I did my 3 mile loop around my house twice. You can see from my splits that my times were on the slower side again. It was raining and my muscles hurt pretty bad. So, I was feeling great on Tuesday! Then I pushed too hard and crashed by Thursday. It was about here that I started to think I might be overdoing it with the cross-training.

  • Mile 1 9’31”
  • Mile 2 10’16”
  • Mile 3 10’46”
  • Mile 4 10’45”
  • Mile 5 11’22”
  • Mile 6 11’33”

Friday – Rest day. I did a 35 minute brisk treadmill walk at my default fast walk speed of 4.4mph.

Saturday – Long run. 10 miles. Here we go! This was a good run. It was very cold and especially windy. My left hand was numb and effectively didn’t function at all when I was done. It hurt like frostbite and I had to hold my hands in front of the heating vent of my truck for 10 minutes to get the feeling back. But hey, I ran much faster and felt much better than the 9 mile run the prior Saturday. For high level reference, I ran the 9 mile at about 10’25″/mile average this one was 50 seconds/mile faster down to 9’35”. That’s a big swing! …  Weird priorities, I guess. Splits:

  • Mile 1 9’15”
  • Mile 2 10’02”
  • Mile 3 8’51”
  • Mile 4 9’10”
  • Mile 5 10’09”
  • Mile 6 9’39”
  • Mile 7 10’36”
  • Mile 8 9’44”
  • Mile 9 8’53”
  • Mile 10 9’16”

The worst hill is the one on the way back and you can see that when my time went up between mile 6 and 7. This is a great way to end week 2! To do a marathon in under 4 hours you need to run about 9’15” miles and running a sub 4 would be killer for a first marathon. Honestly, if I ran this pace of close to it in April, I will be very pleased.

On Writing: Never Tell Me the Odds

Everything I do is doomed. Statistically speaking, I am addicted to lost causes and people are always ready to remind me. Only 8 writers will ever write professionally; the other 786 million of us will only know sorrow or work for hire clickbait erectile dysfunction pop up advertisements. 723% of all people that run recreationally or for sport will injure themselves. XYZ% of everyone that ever loses weight will just gain it back and more because of homeostasis and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. 3 out of every 2 marriages ends in divorce, most companies are probably just going to lay you off anyway, Nancy. Addicts and alcoholics are all going to relapse sooner or later, and 100% of all lives will end in death. Well, at least one of those isn’t an exaggeration. It turns out that the odds, as they are often framed, are real bummers, and ultimately, if you were smart, you probably just wouldn’t do anything. The good news is, I’m not smart, you guys. I’m a dumb, dumb man.

Let me take a step back and approach this a different way. I am generally and constantly confused by slot machines and those bright blinky casino games. I remember the first time I decided, hey I’m legally allowed to do this so I’m gonna, and I gave the machine a dollar. It flashed a lot of nonsense and then my dollar was gone. I guess that’s exciting for some people? I don’t find gambling fun or stressful or addictive; I just find it perplexing. Gambling is predicated on the thrill of the outcome, the possibility of a big win or a big loss, of chance teetering on the brink. Intellectually that makes sense to me but ultimately I don’t do things because of the outcome; I do things because I like doing the things and there’s nothing inherently fun about flashing lights and my missing dollar.

And because all good points come from three totally unrelated directions, I was talking to an old friend recently about an idea that’s central to a lot of 12 step philosophies (this is one of the ones they put on coffee cops); let go and let God. Neither of us are especially theistic people and we talked about how challenging so many of these ideas are if you’re not a churchgoer, if maybe, you’re a cynic, or an agnostic, or even a full-throated atheist. I’ve known a lot of people that have found something in the 12 steps and even more that have found meaning in God and, in my way, I’ve found meaning in them also. Just maybe not the exact same meaning. What I suggested to my friend is that God, in that coffee cup summation of belief, is not the most important part of that sentence. People are always skipping over the first part. It’s more about the letting. So many religious beliefs advocate surrendering yourself to a higher power, and a lot of my fellow Sunday morning snoozers get so hung up on the higher power part that they miss the surrender bit. I suggest that if you can do the surrender bit, the higher power bit probably works itself out. If you can live your life, just doing your best when you can and learning when it’s okay to let go, still finding the courage to shrug and look at those statistics in my opening paragraph and surrender to the uncontrollability of the universe, to the beautiful, swirling entropy that maybe has a master conductor and maybe doesn’t– well, I think that’s most of the way.

So I don’t care about the chances and the likelihoods and I don’t do it for the blinky and the big cash-in. I care about doing what I do when I’m doing it and surrendering the rest of the time. Maybe I’ll write a billion words and they won’t mean a thing and I’ll never see my name on the spine of a book at a neighborhood rummage sale. Making anything– hell, trying anything that matters– it’ll break your heart. I had a literary agent and he was a good dude and I wrote three books and they were good books we put them out to publishers and they didn’t work out and now I don’t have an agent anymore and I’m back at beginning of the merry-go-round. I felt that so hard, you guys. It challenged my faith in my craft and it hurt and I had to decide to hold onto it or surrender it and I gotta tell you; surrendering is a process. I surrender and then I surrender and then I stop surrendering and grit my teeth and shake my fists and then I go for a run and then I surrender a little more and then I see something irritating on Twitter and I catch myself unsurrendering and that seems like how it’s going to go.

Most of my life falls into two broad categories; things I can control and things I can’t do a damn thing about. I can control the value and inherent enjoyment I get out of doing my work so I do. I can’t control if it will be successful. Seems like some people are so concerned with what the slot machine is going to do after you put in the dollar that they don’t notice that putting a dollar into a machine is, ultimately, pretty boring.

Fat Writer Running – Marathon Training Week 0

Hey everybody! The Eugene Marathon is just under 12 weeks away on April 28th and I’m registered to run it! Over the next 12 weeks I’m going to blog about the training process and all of you get to kind of run along with me to the finish line. Sound good? Let’s get to it!

First blog is for all the prep prior to the first week. I’ll post a blog for the first week later this week.

Week 0 (and before)

There are a lot of things I did and that I recommend before beginning a marathon training schedule. Here’s a bullet pointed list!

  • Run a lot! Personally, I don’t think it’s a great idea to start running with marathon. I did Couch25k a year and a bit ago and then, finding that I really liked running, trained up for a half-marathon and did that last fall. I have been running for fitness and leisure for about 15 months now. I feel comfortable with it and I like it. One of the challenges of running a marathon is finding physical and mental peace in running for literal hours. I’ve done more than a half-dozen 2+ hour runs and feel prepared for the 4+ hours it could take me to complete a marathon.
  • Pick a marathon to run! This might seem like a no-brainer but not all marathons are the same. Consider the time of year, the elevation gain, the size of the event, and things like convenience to get there when making this decision. Last October I did my first half-marathon in the Columbia Gorge and it was awesome! But that course has a lot of elevation gain and it was awfully challenging. When I decided to commit to my first marathon I opted to do one on flatter ground. I also wanted to do one in the springtime rather than fall and in a place where I knew some folks that could cheer me on. I picked Eugene but I also considered the Newport marathon and other events in Portland itself. You can’t properly train until you know what you’re training for and when it’s happening.
  • Talk to your healthcare team! I have asthma, type II diabetes, and a mostly benign heart condition. Before I committed to the grueling training schedule and put my money down for a marathon registration I consulted with my docs and got their advice. Based on those conversations, I’ve tweaked my asthma meds, and settled on strategies to manage my diet and blood sugar. I also got some clinical high fives for setting health goals that really boosted my confidence.
  • Pick a training plan and schedule! There are a whole lot of training schedules for marathons. I spent several hours pouring over them and considering the pros and cons. I ultimately picked this one because it’s pretty simple, mirrors the training I did for my half-marathon, and it’s a 12 week program– something especially helpful when considering a marathon so early in the year.
  • Get all that gear (to put on your body)! Running can be a remarkably frugal exercise. All you really need is your body and a place to run, right? Well, yes and no. You don’t need a whole lot of gear but gear can definitely be helpful. The most important thing in my opinion is a good pair of shoes. I’m on my third pair of running shoes since I started running seriously and got this newest pair about a month ago. They’re nicely broken in and ready to go now! I’ve tried different brands and I’m still learning and testing out my preferences with running shoes so I’m not going to recommend any one killer shoe but what I do suggest is buying them from a place that specializes in running shoes. I use Foot Traffic here in Portland. They know their stuff, have a great inventory, and can help analyze your gait and answer any of your questions. There are a lot of similar stores out there (I got some trailrunners I quite like from REI) and I’m of the opinion that they are well worth it for the customer service and expertise. The next most important type of gear is running apparel. You don’t want to run in cutoff jeans and cotton shirts. There are all kinds of moisture wicking synthetic fabrics that will keep your temperature and sweat and friction under control on long runs. I have several shirts, shorts, and some running pants. I don’t think any one brand is substantially better than any others for the basics but your mileage may vary. I do have a pair of Adidas running pants that have zippers on the pockets – that’s surprisingly useful. Another thing to remember; socks. Good running socks prevent blisters and blisters are the worst. For Christmas my wife got me a several pairs of Saucony runners socks and they are true MVPs. In addition to the basics, you want to think about the weather. I have several pairs of very light weight synthetic base layers for when it’s especially cold and I got a good rain running coat from Foot Traffic. I also very much recommend running gloves. You might not think about it but trust me- running in the winter or early spring without gloves is brutal. A final plug here- think about chafing and sensitive parts of your body. If you have nice lightweight synthetics, you’ll probably be fine but I absolutely must have NipStrips and I have learned this the very bloody, very unpleasant, way. Parts of your body (feet, nipples, thighs) are likely going to get rubbed raw. Do whatever you can to avoid this. Final final plug for moleskin for blisters on feet. Good stuff. Anyway.
  • Get even more gear!  You should also think about what you need/want to carry with you on your runs. I have an AppleWatch. I love it and recommend some kind of tracker to monitor your running lengths and give you analysis on splits and heart rate recovery – stuff like that. I also take headphones and my iPhone so I can listen to music. I need a place for my phone and keys so I got a runner’s belt. I’ve also found that I like to carry water with me rather than having to be reliant on water fountains on long runs so I have a super light hydration pack (1.5 liters) and a bigger hydration pack I have for hiking (with modular bladder, 2 or 3 liters) that I can use for extra long distances. I also always carry a handkerchief, sometimes tied around my wrist. It’s might look weird but having it there and accessible to wipe sweat from my eyes or deal with a runny nose is worth a few odd glances.
  • Get food gear! You also want to think about what you eat during and after a run. This is especially important when you’re running for more than 6 miles. On any run that I go for more than an hour I try to take Gu runner’s gels (packets of 100 calorie energy boost) so I ordered a box of my preferred flavor varieties from Amazon. Gels are a weird thing and some people tolerate them differently. Also, some flavors are great and some are awful. I prefer citrus flavors. They make my mouth feel fresher than the chocolate or caramel ones. I take 1 before my run and keep 1 gel for every 5 miles or so of my run in my runner’s belt. I also have a few tubes of Nuun hydration tablets for post-run rehydration, a stupid amount of protein bars, Muscle Milk, Vitamin Water, and other snacks to pick me up from the post-run crash. When you’re running for hours your body is consuming massive amounts of nutrients and calories and you want to try to be prepared for that. On my longest run to date (18 miles!) my AppleWatch estimated that I burned over 2300 calories- or more than I normally eat in an entire day. You’ll want to prepare for the munchies that follow that kind of output.
  • Plan your training routes! It’s a good idea to know where you’re going to run. I do three runs a week with one of them usually on a treadmill. I always do my long runs outside and I have a preferred path. I’m pretty committed to it as it’s close to home and I know it’s literal ups and downs but there are downsides to it- specifically a lack of reliable public bathrooms and water fountains (hence why I carry a hydration pack). When you run for hours and hours and you drink water along the way to keep from getting dehydrated there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to need to pee. Your running route should have some options (or you might learn to run with your legs crossed).
  • Set a goal (that isn’t insane)! My actual goal is just to complete my first marathon. I think 4 hours and 30 minutes or under would be a respectable time and that’s officially what I tell myself and others I’m shooting for. But I really want to do a sub four hour marathon. That’s kind of nuts for me physically but it’s my stretch goal. It’s a good idea I think to know what you plan to do so you can monitor how well you’re doing.
  • Playlist and fun stuff! If you’re a crazy running person like I am, running for hours is fun and relaxing. Part of that is the music I get to listen to along the way. Planning for a marathon run is like planning for a long plane ride. You don’t want to get bored.

Fat Writer Running – Just Say Thank You

Stop the presses! it’s another FWR blog post! This one will be short and  (mostly) sweet, I promise.

People ask me for advice sometimes. It’s crazy, right? I don’t think of myself as terribly advice worthy but it happens! Recently, I’ve been getting more questions about losing weight but I’ve also gotten questions about writing or resumes or having sweet, sweet heavy metal hair. Anyway, when I’m asked, I am always happy to offer feedback, encouragement, or guidance. It will be sincere and honest and based on my personal experience and it may be completely worthless. That’s okay! It doesn’t hurt my feelings if you don’t do what I suggest! There are three things though, dear readers, that I ask you to try to do when seeking advice not just from me but from anyone. These three things can be tough and I slip up on them all the time but I think it’s worth trying.

Don’t Argue With Me.

I was a jerky know-it-all when I was younger. Regardless of what anyone had to say I had the hubris and book learnin’ to refute it with passionate and often rude intensity. This most frequently came up when I asked people to read my writing or the topic of diet and exercise came up. Both were– and remain– deeply emotional and personal topics. I would argue with my friends and peers to the point where it could bruise the relationship. I offended some people I respected because I couldn’t listen to them without needing to be right. And I still struggle with it! I get notes back on a new piece of work and sometimes I want to scream and stomp around like a petulant teenage punk muttering how no one gets it like I get it. The thing is, with writing and weight loss and life, I’m always most sensitive about the things that I’m insecure about. I struggle to be as confident as I need to be sometimes and it’s in my own crippling personal doubt that the petulant teenage punk waits, ready to storm out and try to protect me with my most effective defense mechanism; the argument. I’m wise enough now to understand that rationally, though emotionally I’m sometimes still powerless to it.

So it’s with that preamble and with utmost understanding and empathy that I implore you not to argue with me or anyone else when they offer you the courtesy of their point of view or summation of experience. If you ask the best way to lose weight and I say “eating well and exercise works for me” it’s not useful for either of us for you to say “yeah, but these 728 articles say that’s not possible and 1600% of everyone that’s ever done that has gained 200 pounds and died and my aunt Sheila only ate clovers and drank 7 liters of olive oil a day HOW ABOUT THAT YOU FUCKING LIAR?!?!?!” Just get out of here with that nonsense. If you want to learn anything from anyone you need to listen and understand what they say even if you don’t agree with them and just because you don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean you need to argue about it. These are basic concepts I could swear we all learned from picture books or Disney movies right? I know we have the Internet now and that’s really upended things but c’mon. Try to argue less in 2019. It’s a huge time sink and it’s a distraction. Discuss and explore and follow-up and engage- but don’t argue. And obviously, punch Nazis and believe women but don’t argue about it on Facebook. Everyone’s got better things to do.

Don’t Waste My Time.

This second guideline is maybe more curmudgeonly and self-serving but it’s no less critical. Want me to read your short story? Will do! But you should probably read it first and make sure it’s not full of plot and spelling and other obvious and simple errors. Want to ask me about food recipes? Cool! But you should probably be comfortable with some basic terminology or know how to Google things. I could write a million examples from my day job but I think you get the point. I’m the tyrant that rejected short fiction and poems for literary journals because the writer ignored the submission guidelines. I’m the guy that tossed your resume in the trash because it was unprofessional and looked sloppy. I do these things because my time is valuable. So is yours! I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. That’s okay! In fact I’m confident some argumentative fellow who ignored this post up to now could spot some typos and “well, actually…” me about this very blog. It’s not about perfection. It’s about respect. If you ask me for feedback or advice, please do a reasonable amount of due diligence. Think things through a little bit. Acknowledge and appreciate the investment I’m making– that anyone is making– in you. If you’re terrified that I’m going to bark at you for wasting my time, first, I’m more of a wagger than a barker, and second, just put on your empathy hat. Count to 16 or something and ask yourself if you’re going forward with good faith and that’s probably good enough.

Just Say Thank You.

When I was 17 I had a mentor named Brian, a great but occasionally scatter-brained guy that was old enough to be my father. He was returning to college the same I was starting and had all these crazy stories about being a pastor and brokering truces with gangs. Sometimes Brian would offer me compliments about something and I would minimize or argue that I didn’t deserve them because I was a Very Serious Tim Burton Boy and Brian gave me the absolute greatest advice; “just say thank you.” I took this to heart for compliments but it took me a lot longer to embrace it for criticism. Now, if someone gives me unexpectedly bad notes on something the best way to get my petulant teenage punk in check is to start by thanking the note giver for their time. Maybe I’m old-fashioned but a little bit of a gratitude goes a very long way. If you ask for advice and I give it to you, the FWR guide to etiquette says you should probably reply with something like “hey, thanks buddy!” Just try it! It’s a magical life hack. Thanking someone helps you to recognize and value their time and investment and it can ease some conversational tension. I swear by it. Thank people more in 2019, you guys! It’s the magic currency that keeps polite society functioning!