Friday, December 16, 2011

Four Tips for Interacting With A Formerly Fat Person

I meant to write this post a month ago, but my experiences coming home for the holidays reminded me I never got around to it, and it seems like as good a time as any to put this down.

What inspired this is the variety of reactions I get about losing weight from my friends and family, especially people who haven't necessarily seen me in a long time. I can tell it makes some people uncomfortable (for whatever reason - it's not my place to speculate) but it also elicits some well-intentioned behaviors in others that, frankly, are a pain in the ass to deal with. So undersand that I've written this as a friendly and helpful tips, and I fully understand that the last thing my friends and family want to do is hurt me; I just don't think people realize how things come across sometimes. I want people to see things from my point of view without coming across like an overbearing jerk, so please take this advice in the spirit it's given.

So, some tips for interacting with a former fat guy.

1. You don't have to keep offering me food; or, no means no. Food is wonderful; it tastes good, and it's an inherent social driver for our culture. It's also something that I had a very self-destructive personal relationship with that I have repaired for my own health and well-being.

A key part of that process for me was identifying both what I wanted to eat and in what quantities. I'm really good at keeping my diet sustainable. I know full well how much and of what I can eat. You don't have to go out of your way to prepare super-healthy stuff when I'm around, but if you're serving biscuits and gravy don't expect me to take a massive bowl of it.

Let me put it this way: it's very obvious that I've lost a good deal of weight in the last seven years (it's hard to hide the physical change of 150 pounds off.) Looking at me is a reminder. You know I've lost a lot of weight. So, please ask yourself this: if I was a recovering alcoholic and you were aware that I used to have a self-destructive relationship with alcohol, would you offer me a drink? Would you continue to offer me drinks throughout the day if I politely refused the first one (or two?) How do you think I would feel if you did, even if I knew you were doing it out of politeness?

Apply that to food. It's not a perfect correlation but I would argue that what I'm recovering from is very similar to addiction, and the mental processes I use to stay healthy is similar to how recovering addicts make it through the day.

I don't like to throw food out but if you heap a bunch of it on my plate after I tell you not to, I will. Also understand that it's a lot harder to control portions once the food is on your plate. I still nibble. I'm only human. I know my weaknesses, and I control them by not putting the food on my plate in the first place. Like the booze, I know where the food is and if I really want to make that choice I'll do it myself.

2. Yes, I'm still self-conscious about my weight. Please understand that as much as I'm proud of what I've done that being fat left lasting psychological damage, in no small part related to the fact that my weight gain was directly linked to my depression. You don't have to reassure me. I appreciate it, but honestly it's best just left alone. And yes, looking at pictures of me when I was much heavier is very uncomfortable for me. That's why I've personally only kept a handful myself.

3. I want to inspire you but in a healthy way. I've noticed that when I'm out with people they'll often pick up on the fact that I'm ordering healthy, smaller quantities or loading up on fruit at the salad bar and skipping the full-fat ranch dressing. Then they turn around and order something way outside of what they would normally eat. Cool, let me inspire you; in fact, that's one of the best parts about having made such an achievement is helping others see that it is possible. That being said, understand that the me you see now and the way I eat now is the result of seven years of constant, hard work.

Say you went to a martial arts competition and saw a guy jump through the air and break 15 bricks with his hand, and you thought, "that's freakin' awesome. I want to do that!" and you go and break your own hand trying to break a single brick. That dude worked up to where he is; so have I. If you try to jump on the train at my stop, you're going to end up hurting yourself, or worse doing something unsustainable with your diet and turning around and getting even madder when it doesn't work out.

Having spent seven years gaining weight and seven years losing it, I can say this: it's not something that comes easy and it doesn't happen overnight. You're going to make small failures and backslide and lose heart and hope along the way. But if you want to lose, really want to lose, then talk to your doctor and start doing something sustainable. You may have to lose a bunch to kickstart yourself (like I did with two different low-carb diets.) You may need way more exercise than I did. It's going to be different for you, but it is do-able. Don't break your hand trying to smash some bricks. Train up to it. It's really the only way it will work.

4. I'm not judging you. For some reason I get the impression that people feel judged, especially around their choices at mealtime. Guess what: it doesn't matter to me what you're eating (unless you feel guilty and try to get me to eat more because you're feeling that way, in which case see #1.) I don't care if you're fat or skinny or eating a ton or eating like a bird unless I feel like you're directly putting yourself in danger, in which case as a friend I would say something - just like I would hope you're doing the same for me.

Please understand that, if you feel like you need to lose weight, what I want most is to inspire you, not judge you. You'll have to make that decision on your own though. Hopefully my experience will help serve as a realistic way to show you how it could be done.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Kids Are Alright

I started not understanding Occupy Wall Street's purpose. I fell into the media trap of reciting a talking point: they have no message! But the more I spoke to members of the movement, people online, people at Occupy Seattle itself (yes, I've been a few times), the purpose and message became more clear. Occupy started focusing itself as well, which helped. Switch to Credit Unions? Yeah, I get that. And old friend who worked in finance until 2008 (heh) has been telling us the same thing for months. The Beautiful Competition's been saying it for years.

The more I learned about Occupy, the more I realized I've seen this before. I was quite an activist in my college days: supporting Nader in 2000, working on a certain filmmaker's TV show, railing against corporate greed and a fundamentally corrupt system.

Youthful Indiscretions

After Bush was elected and 9/11 happened any sort of discourse about these subjects came to a grinding halt for several years--while the very interests we sought to highlight proceeded to continue their ruin of our economy. Not just the American economy mind you, but the global economy.

It's been a strange past month. I've watched as friends and family attack the Occupy movement with a variety of strawmen and non sequitors. I've seen relations of those family members struggle to try to find a job several months out of college--hardly a unique phenomenon, and one that's central to the heart of the Occupy movement.

Yes, it's the protesters who are messy.

They're not too proud to go and flip burgers (despite being told that incurring tens of thousands in debt is the way to avoid burger-flipping): it's just that there aren't enough burger-flipping jobs available. "They should shut up and get a job" in response to Occupy is the response you'd make only if you were utterly clueless about the economic situation in this country (and now spreading into the EU.)

There is a certain amount of irony here: the very boomers whose protests in the civil rights movement and against the Vietnam War are the same people who simply don't understand Occupy, for whatever reason. I was reminded yesterday of a verse written by these very boomers more than 45 years ago, which are oddly prophetic for Occupy. Here's a video to accompany it.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.
Much of this coalesced last week when I read this stunning article about a Catholic's loss of faith after the Penn State pedophilia scandal. It's not so much about a loss of religious faith but a loss of faith in institutions, leaders, and those who should be serving as role models. In a way it's the loss of faith in the boomers who protested war but put us in this situation by allowing the monied interests to have their way with America. I grew up on The Simpsons: the first episode to hit Fox came out in my very formative fifth grade year. The Occupy grew up on South Park, a far more nihilistic cartoon lampooning literally everything. For The Simpsons generation, there are institutions we should still be able to trust. For the Occupy generation, the South Park generation, just a few years younger than me, they have been raised to suspect and distrust literally everything.

It's an isolating proposition. It's the ultimate existentialism, a body of internal self-reliance that would probably scare the ever-loving shit out of most people who rely on religion, leaders, institutions, or something for meaning. As the boomers drift around like boats on the ocean taking refuge in new age nonsense while ignoring the economic ruin they've enabled if not condoned, the South Park generation is taking to the streets.

Occupy Paper Street

In a Facebook conversation the other day about the above article I mentioned how much that nihilism reminded me of the film Fight Club. If there's a movie that encapsulates what we were trying to achieve (or at least, Cassandra-like, trying to bring attention to) in the last 90s, Fight Club would be it. It isn't a glorification of violence and anti-establishment behavior: the film is a warning that a corrupt and awful system stacked against those who enter it at a young age will inevitably reach a breaking point.

The Simpsons generation still trusted too much in the ability for things to sort themselves out. We were drowned by the jingoism following 9/11, the patriotism suppositories forced on us by the extreme right who said anyone who questioned their actions were traitors while the literally robbed us blind and ruined 99.9% of us while they made out like the bandits they were.

This isn't to say that we don't have our place in Occupy, as do the boomers who have joined and supported it, as do the Vietnam vets who are protesting, the 84-year-old retirees who have been pepper sprayed, as does anyone who understands what's happening here (what it is, is exactly clear--if you've been paying attention.) But fundamentally it isn't our movement. It belongs to the South Park generation.

They've watched as the institutions they have been told will uplift and protect them have repeatedly, fundamentally and systemically failed.  And rather than accepting this fate they have taken to the streets, formed General Assemblies, put into action fundamental democratic principles, and enacted steps to raise awareness and start taking things back. They are doing what we tried and failed to do 10 years ago.

Despite the movement's many shortcomings (see, we can't do anything without questioning the institution!) it has the best chance of success of any political movement since the 1960s. It's their time. They have my support. Their success won't be stunted but enabled by their fundamental distrust in the institutions that lead us here--all of them. Those kids are alright.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Red State Welfare

Because I'm trying to get away from subjecting my friends and family (OK, my family) on Facebook to my political views, I'll post this here instead.

One of my favorite little facts about America: those states who receive more federal money than they contribute to the tax base are almost identical to the states who routinely support candidates who propose doing away with such programs. This is not a new trend at all.

Attention conservative red state welfare queens: I'm tired of my hard-earned tax money being taken out of my state and reallocated to yours, where you guys don't work hard enough to support yourselves. Why don't you go get better jobs you lazy right-wing conservative bums? I mean seriously, surely there must be some well-paying jobs in your states somewhere. That's why all of us fled for the coasts, right?

Until then though we should put your fantasies into reality, remove the subsidies us blue-staters are paying into your states, and watch your states roads, schools, and infrastructure crumble even more. Because that's how a community ought to support itself by your own rules and standards, right?

Or maybe we could all, you know, support each other. Like us awful class warfare liberals have been advocating - and you all have been taking advantage of while calling us names and taking away our rights in the same breath.

Hypocritical jerks. There, I called you a name. Although I'll just use a conservative argument and say I'm "refusing to be politically correct" and you can't argue with me, nyah nyah!

Man I'm out of practice at this whole rant thing.

Monday, November 07, 2011

NaNoWrMo Or Something

Hey, did you know its National Novel Writing Month?

I realize it's supposed to be a way to motivate aspiring writers to actually get off their asses and, you know, write.

For some reason it always turns into feelings of guilt and anxiety when I see a half-dozen writerly friends updating their word counts and I don't realistically have time to plow through several thousand words a day for a month.

The problem is my own. I need to set lower goals first: I've got some short story ideas knocking around I should finish off. With the ease of e-publishing these days, I could just release a collection of stories on Amazon, post it on Facebook, get a few dozen sales from friends and family and I'm on my way!

Call that "National Writing Anything To Keep Some Kind of Momentum" month.

Saturday, November 05, 2011


Blogging's a funny thing. You don't do it for more than a year, realizing you've just kind of left a part of yourself dangling out there (and let's face it, a pretty esoteric closing post to boot.) Then you write one letter to Google and tell yourself "hey, I should publish this somewhere other than Plus so I can actually, you know, find it in a week" and all of a sudden you've got ideas for blogging again.

 Blogger's gone and got itself a new interface. It looks like the rest of Google's interfaces: less Web 2.0 and more Tech 2015. I feel like I'm using an interface designed by Apple's interns.

 My life has changed in many ways in the last 15 months. New job. New tech. New games played. New hobby (winemaking). The anti-greed movement I've been a part of since college has gone and made itself more mainstream by camping out in public parks. My dog's grown up, and one of my cats has moved on. In other words life is moving forward.

 My problem with blogging has been writing for the sake of writing. Therefore my previous mission statement still stands: I will only write if I feel I have something of value to add to the conversation.

Otherwise, you can just catch up with my personal shit on Facebook, and my more newsy shit on Plus. And when I occasionally dip back into Twitter... well... I don't reliably use it anymore because the value just wasn't there.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

An Open Letter to the Google Plus and Reader Teams

Dear Google Plus and Reader Teams,

I've been tracking closely the development of both Plus and Reader; I was excited to try the former and have been a long-time user of the later. Reader has been an important tool in my digital toolset for years; I use it personally to track and read important news and updates from friends' blogs, and I have used it professionally and semiprofessionally as a monitoring tool for blogs, social media, and news.

Like many other Google Reader users I met the announcement of Reader's integration into Plus with some skepticism; at best I was cautiously optimistic. When I finally switched over yesterday I found the new UI different but nothing that would cause any permanent harm; I have suffered through UI and design pages on services beginning with the Prodigy network back in 1990. Although they cause short-term confusion there hasn't been a single instance where I've ceased to use a service because of a UI change. I would prefer something with more color delineation between posts, but you're receiving enough feedback about that from people far more qualified as designers than I am, so I'll leave that be.

The main piece of feedback I have about the new Reader is around its social sharing features. Reader's sharing features were, for myself and many others, a self-selected and silo'd social network. I followed users (offline friends mostly) who actively shared news and other content I found interesting, and would occasionally comment on that content and have conversations with each other. Rarely would these develop into full-blown conversations (and if they did we typically moved to IM), but the information discovery mechanisms of this service were invaluable to me both for professional development and personal enrichment.

I understand how to share content through Reader into Plus; this is not the issue. The frustrating thing about this change is that I no longer have the option to filter content from others in the same silo I had in Reader. This, frankly, was functionality I expected when Plus launched (if you check my account, it's one of my first Plus posts.)

Reader gave me a way to get content from a few people without drinking from the social media firehose of less-relevant updates. I love my friends to death but I don't want to have to filter through 10 pictures of their kids to get to the one news story they found interesting. Facebook doesn't allow for this kind of filtration, and neither did Plus when it launched – which would have been its defining competitive factor. This is the beauty of Reader's old system; if was a filtered network.

In short: rather than cloning Facebook's functionality, I wish Plus had been more like what Reader was in its content filtering.

My recommendation then is twofold:

1. Make a feature in Google Reader where you can automatically create a Plus circle from the people you've followed. This was a basic exporting beat Google completely missed; why should I manually have to recreate a circle of followed friends from one Google product into another? That should have been one click, or done automatically, behind the scenes. Google's value proposition is its platform ubiquity; this was a missed opportunity to demonstrate this is actually the case.

2. Within that circle (or within any circle in Plus) allow me to filter posts from people in that circle to only show +1s from Reader. I love my friends to death but don't want to cruise through a dozen pictures of kids in Halloween costumes to get to important news.

To put this a different way: turn circles into content silos, not just person groups.

In fact, this kind of filtering is what I expected from Plus in the first place. It would be a true differentiator from Facebook's platform, which forces me to filter in reverse, by blocking updates from certain apps like Farmville. Instead, Plus should allow you to filter down, only showing updates from certain apps that I self-select – like Reader, or Twitter, or a photo sharing site.
I will still continue to use Reader for my RSS feeds, and look forward to a Google app that duplicates the closed nature of the network in Reader I had come to appreciate and enjoy – and for which there is now an enormous gap (and opportunity) within the digital landscape.

I have long been an advocate of Google's services and overall value proposition for years. I may be one of the few Wave fans still left in existence. I understand that decisions like this are made at far larger levels than one piece of consumer feedback can ever hope to affect and change, but I certainly appreciate any consideration you'd give to the above recommendations.