I recently read Thing Explainer by Randall Monroe of the xkcd/What If? fame. It’s interesting (and often hilarious) that using simple terms does not always lead to clearer understanding. Specificity can be pretty important, especially technically speaking. But the book is a lot of fun. As Monroe says in the introduction, using only the most common words in the English language eliminates the fear of sounding stupid.

So, in the spirit of Thing Explainer and sounding stupid, here is a description of my job in the Navy using xkcd’s simple writer and only the most common 10,000 words in English.

I fix the boat’s kill stick-blocker system. The system has computers with a lot of boxes. Each side of the boat has a box way up high for listening to things that send out radio waves. These listening-boxes can send out radio waves too but that might break the thing out there that we’re listening to. We can look at the numbers from the radio waves on the looking-box in the dark control room. The looking-box shows us where the radio wave sender is and what it might be. People who aren’t kill stick-blockers aren’t supposed to know these numbers, but it’s not hard to find them if you really want to.

Kill sticks move very fast. If one of these hits the boat, there would be fire and a lot of people would die and it would be a very bad day. The listening-box looks for radio waves from the kill sticks and uses computers to send those numbers to the looking-box. If we see those numbers, we have to do something about it. This might mean sending radio waves back at it, or hiding in light metal clouds, or sending off another stick with its own radio waves. There are people on the boat who can use special guns to shoot down the kill stick when it is very close, but this is hard to do when the kill stick is moving two or three times faster than sound.

Once in a while, the smaller computers turn off for some reason or the listening-box has a problem. It’s my job to find out why. Sometimes this means going outside when it is very dark and the boat is moving side to side a lot. Sometimes this means sitting in front of the looking-box for a very long time. Sometimes it means being outside in the sun and looking at all of the computer-boxes inside the listening-box. It is usually on these days that the old coffee-drinking man yells at us a lot and shows us what we’re doing wrong. I like these days the best. Most of the time, though, my job is to keep the boxes clean and check them to make sure they’re ready.

Thank you to DW (very smart kill stick-blocker friend) for thinking of “fast kill stick” when I was having trouble simplifying “missile.”

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On New Years Eve 2014, my friends and I went tubing in the snow, and on the way back, the car got a flat tire. We spent hours in the cold waiting for AAA, talking and teasing each other and reminiscing about the year that was quickly coming to a close. 2014 tried to stick it to us for the last time, but we made it home just before the big countdown. After that, everyone agreed that we wanted an easy year for 2015. “Please, please just be chill.”

For me, things turned out very well. Welcome to a really long post about a really great year!

When I came home for holiday leave, I kept hearing about how skinny I had gotten. This is very confusing to me because I’m the heaviest I’ve been since 2012. (It’s also a little baffling how easily people offer commentary on my body, but that’s probably for another post.) My focus on running this year has changed my physique a little. It’s not better or worse, I think, just different.

I ran up “the hill” in Busan and around the harbor in Sydney. I set new race records (26:40 for 5k, 53:40 for 10k) and ran a half-marathon for the first time. I started training for a marathon but recently lost motivation for the longer runs. It is really hard to want to spend more than an hour on the treadmill after the workday. Plus, that kind of training demands a sacrifice from strength work. Going forward, I think I’m going to try a more balanced approach. I’m getting a little blasé about fitness because I’m sort of on autopilot now, and other hobbies have been dominating my time and attention. (Read: Fallout 4 came out.)

I haven’t seen my counselor since the week before the court-martial (more on this another time). Not professionally, at least. I bought her a little glass kangaroo in Sydney to put on her desk, and we chatted for a while when I dropped in to give it to her. She reminded me of how far I’ve come in 18 months. She also told me what I didn’t need to be in a crisis to come see her.

My counselor is one of the best things to happen to me in a long time. If you have ever considered going to counseling but have some reservations holding you back, please give it a try! I know it can be scary, but there is nothing wrong with talking to another person to make sense of things. We do it with each other all the time! But a professional gives you a sympathetic but unbiased perspective, which is invaluable.

With the exception of a few difficult times, I’ve been consistently happy. I’m learning to manage my anxiety in a constructive way. I’m really lucky to have the Navy and my family and friends as support systems. I couldn’t have done it without them. Thank you all for being there for me, especially when it wasn’t easy and I was difficult to love.

My goal was to read two books a month this year, one physical and one audio. I ended up reading 41! I’m proud of this. A 45-minute walk to and from work made this pretty easy. Here are my top five faves from what I read this year:

  1. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  2. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  3. Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
  4. Bag of Bones by Stephen King
  5. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

I did two online classes on edx as well and both were challenging and fun! If you want to learn about something new but don’t want to spend money or, really, deal with rigorous academic demands, I highly recommend this website.

Still going to church, still trying to be a good Catholic. I got the chance to visit cathedrals in Nagasaki and Sydney and Zhangjiang, and while the differences were fascinating, it was the similarities that resonated most strongly with me.

I went to Christmas midnight Mass at home in an area that was mostly wealthy and white. The church and the choir were incredible, but I couldn’t help but notice how miserable the other parishioners looked. Maybe they were tired because it was so late. But, despite the beauty of the place and the joy of the celebration, the people around me made it feel like a funeral. It made me grateful for the joy and kindness that I see at the chapel on base. I’m going to miss it when I leave.

I made pretty poor decisions in terms of romantic partners this year. Fortunately, I can look back at them with only mild embarrassment instead of hurt or despair. It warrants serious reflection, though. Why do I find myself attracted to vacant, trifling people? Why do I give so much to people who give so little in return?

I don’t have the answers yet. Until I do, I think I need to be a little more choosy about in whom I invest any emotional energy.

We had a number of big certifications this year, including one for the system for which I’m responsible (which also involved a coworker and I desperately troubleshooting at the eleventh hour): TMI/MCI, 3M, ATFP, DC. We got the Battle E! I went to a few great schools, including the SAPR VA school, which was one of the most positive and useful experiences I’ve had in the Navy to date. I began my Reign of Terror as workcenter supervisor. We went to China, Singapore, Korea, Australia, Hong Kong, and Guam. I got my second warfare pin and got recognized as JSOQ, which, for some reason, doesn’t seem to happen often for my department. A big thank you to my chain of command for advocating for me!

There have been a lot of changes to my own division this year and most of them have been very positive. We got a bunch of motivated, hard-working, cheerful booters, and I adore each one of them. Our upper chain of command have been almost entirely replaced, and I’m learning a lot from our new leadership. I don’t dread going to work as much as I used to.  I’m happy and grateful to be a part of my division. I don’t think I could have said that last year. (Actually, I know I wouldn’t have – I went TAD to engineering to get away from them.)

After coming home from one of our underways, I picked up the ukulele that had been sitting, neglected, in my closet. The challenges that frustrated me to the point of quitting seemed to fall away. I’m not good at it, but I love singing and making music, and it makes me happy even when it sounds like trash. No one has to listen to it but me! (And maybe my neighbors.)

I got a PS4 and have played The Last of Us, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Destiny, and Fallout 4, and if you’ve interacted with me for more than 30 seconds you know which of those takes the cake.

I didn’t see many movies this year, but of those that I did see, Mad Max: Fury Road was the best, and probably one of my favorite movies of all time. Honorable mentions to Jurassic World, The Martian, Spectre, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I started writing a novel but was quickly reminded how much I struggle with writing fiction. I quit soon after. Oh well. I tried. Shout out to my friends who are still writing their stories! I see you!

Other adventures: I tried pole-dancing for the first time in Tokyo. The Patriots won the Super Bowl, and I cried about it at work. I went to Japan’s bizarre fertility festival. One of my friends made all of my favorite foods for my birthday, including a cheesecake. I bought a living room set! I went to the hot springs in Hakone. I also went to Kyoto via bullet train, where we got to dress up like ninja and samurai! I shot a bunch of guns for work (including M-16 full auto and a laser gun) and for fun (bird shoot while home on leave). I was reunited with a dear friend in Guam. I spent a day with Aboriginal people in Australia. I developed a taste for whiskey. I dressed up as Yuffie from FFVII for Halloween and spent the night in Tokyo. I hit $10k in savings. I cried at the airport on holiday leave when my friends showed up to greet me. Lots of crying this year, but, as opposed to 2014, most of it was happy tears!

All in all, the best parts of this year came from my family and friends, old and new. It’s not just the big stuff, either. It’s the little moments that matter, and they most easily come to mind when I slide into one of those dark places. You guys make my world better just by being a part of it. Thank you for sharing your kindness, joy, humor, and passions with me. Thank you for being exactly who you are. And thank you for reading my blog!

Here are some things I’d like to do in the coming year:

  • Climb Mt. Fuji! The ship will finally be around during climbing season. No excuses!
  • Stay single. This will be challenging because I love to love. But I’ve been a serial monogamist since 2008, and it’s time for a break.
  • Read 48 books, or more! (I may have a problem.)
  • PCS. I guess this is inevitable but I’m still excited about it! I love Japan but I’m ready to start the next chapter of my Navy life.
  • Be more diligent about journaling. Day-to-day events seem boring and unremarkable until time passes and you realize those things were actually very special!

I’ll finish with a story:

When I was home for the holidays, my dad and I were arguing about my Life Choices. We both agreed that the Navy is not a long-term situation for me. His perspective is economical: for each year that I spend in the Navy, I’m losing money that I would make at a better-salaried job. I argued that I was living comfortably and had opportunities from the Navy that I wouldn’t get any place else, and that I was going to enjoy it until it no longer served me. Things got a little tense.

After he left the room, I complained to my brother about the argument. “What if I look back on this fight in 30 years and realize that he was right?” I worried. My dad’s girlfriend, with whom I don’t have much of a relationship, told me, very seriously, “Don’t listen to him. Follow your heart.”

She didn’t have to support me. She didn’t have to weigh in at all. She had no dog in the fight; if anything, it was in her best interest to agree, at least outwardly, with my dad. But that simple vote of confidence reminded me that it’s okay to trust my instincts, that I have the support of good people, and most of all, that things in my life are going pretty well. I’m a very lucky lady.

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According to the Washington Post, a 40-question psychological survey used to determine whether an individual is a narcissist was recently replaced by a single question. I’m going to spoil it for you. The question is, “Are you a narcissist?”

“It’s pretty cool actually, because narcissists aren’t afraid to tell you they’re narcissistic,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University. “If you ask people whether they have casual sex or take drugs, they’re not likely to be honest with you. But narcissists just aren’t ashamed of their narcissism,” he said, “And they’ll tell you so.”

My first impulse was to think about myself, so I was off to a great start. I thought about my self-confidence, which is rapidly approaching excess. I remembered that I’m often criticized for arrogance and told that I’m hard to work with. I have high expectations and a sense of entitlement. I recognize, shamelessly, the excellence in what I do. I boast about my achievements and I love attention. Look at me! Look at me!

Am I a narcissist? Well, sure. And, true to the Brad Bushman’s assessment, I don’t see it as a problem, either. At least, I don’t see it as being any more of a problem than anyone else’s worst personality trait, though perhaps that is my own deluded rationalization, or I am using uncommonly lousy people as a basis for comparison.

I haven’t always been this way. For the first 20+ years of my life, I felt crippled by self-loathing. Even the slightest hint of negativity against my work or my character left me paralyzed, incapable of functioning. I felt worthless, like a burden, a waste of space. Also, during my sophomore and junior years in college, I was very depressed. I treated myself and other people horrendously. It was the rigorous demands of my professors which began to shake me out of that funk, an effort that endured through my chains of command in the Navy. They deliberately set me up for failure through unreasonable expectations and made me deal with it. I saw that falling short wasn’t a big deal – I looked around and no one besides me even cared that much – especially when I began to understand that these failures tended to be out of my control.  Messing up wasn’t the end of the world. I could be decent without being perfect. So I failed and embarrassed myself and bumbled along through my last years of college and then my first years of the military. It would seem like this might turn someone bitter and complacent, but, for a Type-A asshole like me, it made me persistent and resilient and, in time, proud.

It makes sense that, with the swinging of the pendulum, I’ve found myself on the other side of the self-esteem spectrum. I have faith that time, experience, and maturity will eventually slow me down to a respectable median of jaded adult complacency balanced out by nagging Catholic guilt.

But I think there are a few important ways in which I depart from the standard DSM definition of a narcissist. For one, I am very empathetic. I care deeply about the wellbeing and happiness of others, especially those close to me. I am thoughtful and find a lot of joy in making other people feel good about themselves, sometimes to the point of being annoying and overbearing. In that vein, I’m also a pretty positive person. I try to make complaints into jokes. I’m still terrified of being a burden to someone else, especially professionally, which I think is the source of my need to over-achieve. I learned some hard lessons in two decades of being way too critical of myself and others. Now I do my best to withhold judgement and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I want others to do the same for me, but it would be pretty naive to expect them to.

So whatever qualms you have with my personality – and most are totally valid and not at all lost on me – consider this: self-esteem is not a zero-sum game. I don’t take away from your own self-confidence by having confidence in myself. I see this a lot when someone compliments me and I agree with them. I get accused of being full of myself. First of all, thank you for being nice – really! It makes me happy, but I don’t need another person to be the arbiter of my self-worth, and if I don’t respond to a compliment in a way that meets your expectations, maybe you should take some time to think about your true motivation behind giving a compliment. Was it to make me feel good, or to make yourself feel good about making me feel good? Second, I think people assume that recognizing a positive trait in yourself is a comparative assessment. But it’s not! If I say that I look cute today, I’m not saying that I’m cuter than everyone else. You’re putting words in my mouth. My head is so far up my own ass that I’m not even thinking about anyone else’s cuteness. I can be cute and they can be cute at the same time. Great! But right now I’m talking about me, not them, so stop making it about someone else! Me me me!

Am I really hurting anyone by being such an insufferable narcissist? I don’t think so. It seems like most criticisms of my personality are actually reflections of other people’s own insecurities. There will always be those who hate me simply because I don’t hate myself. I can’t change what they think about me. I can only change how I think about myself, and for now, I’m doing more or less okay with being frustratingly, obnoxiously confident.

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I came home after dark last night. A flat tire turned a 30-minute bike ride into an hour-long walk. Sweaty, hungry, I kicked off my shoes at the door, eager to shower and make dinner. I was still listening to my audio book when I flipped on the bathroom light and leaped backward in surprise. A beetle or cockroach – I didn’t get a good look – scampered under the sink.

I poked my head out from behind the door, using it as a shield. The insect didn’t reemerge. I skirted the edge of the bathroom, practically pressing myself against the wall to get as far away from the sink as possible. I undressed quickly and conducted a ten-point search before entering the shower. My gaze never left the bottom of the shower door, lest the bug try to sneak up on me while I was slippery and naked and vulnerable. What if it had friends, poised and ready to attack when given the signal? What if it took flight and launched itself at me like a creepy little missile? What if it crawled on me?

The evening transpired as usual: cooked dinner, watched Netflix, folded laundry, and no tiny trespasser to be seen. I was, however, extra careful when making my way up to the bedroom, shaking out my sheets and peeking under the mattress. I awoke with no evidence of having been devoured while I slept.

This morning, when I continued to tread cautiously around my own house, I realized I was being ridiculous. This little bug could have been under the sink the entire time I’ve lived here and I never worried about it. I see a single insect one time and suddenly no part of my house is safe? What was I so scared of?

We might be able to cohabitate peacefully. I gave him a name: what else but Kafka? Now that he had an identity, I started to imagine him with sentience, and then with a life of his own.

Kafka, wearing a police hat and wielding a baton, patroling the darkened house, shining a little flashlight into the house’s tiniest nooks and crannies and, snapping his mandibles, telling the spiders to scram! (I wish he wouldn’t do this. The spiders and I are now on fair terms.) After his rounds, he sits at his post by my front door, drinking a steaming cup of coffee and unfolding yesterday’s paper. Occasionally, he looks down at his wristwatch, ensuring he is ready at the top of the hour for his next round. Time moves slowly through the dark and cool and quiet of the night.

Kafka, sensing that he has overstayed his welcome, packing a tiny knapsack. He takes one last look at my house before crawling to the train station in the light of a humid September dawn. He is on a journey around Japan to discover himself, but he takes the time to put photos in the mail: at the peak of Mt. Fuji, leaning against his walking stick; dressed in a samurai costume and brandishing a little katana with historic Kyoto in the background; holding up a cup of sake in a Sapporo onsen, surrounded by steam and mist. He returns to my house, almost a year later, and realizes there is nothing left for him here. Wordlessly, he turns to leave. Though there is a tear in his eye, it is not enough to extinguish the spark of hope in his heart.

Kafka, transforming into a human. He becomes handsome senator with a passion for justice and equality. He is immediately captivated by my charm and intelligence and begs to take me away from this life. One morning, he strides into the White House and demands that I be released from the military. The president, of course, has heard of my daring naval exploits and is hesitant to terminate my contract. Eventually, after much negotiating, he relents. I go on to become a brilliant and well-published professor of philosophy. Meanwhile, Kafka balances his political career with raising half a dozen foster children. Not once do I suspect that he was once a creepy little bug. In our twilight years, he, too, forgets, recalling only the enormous joys and miseries of a thoroughly human life.

Is this silly? Yes, clearly. But so is sleeping with one eye open and tip-toeing around my own house because of an insect the size of a tootsie roll. His little presence hasn’t affected my life at all. I can’t control under whose sink he decides to hide. So, in my own imaginings, why not choose laughter over fear?

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Sunday duty at home is usually quiet. Very seldom is the brass onboard. No contractor work or major evolutions means that watchstanding is more relaxed. We have no choice but to be on the ship, so those on duty try to make the best of it by catching up on work, getting ready for the week ahead, or just doing whatever activities they would have done at home. One of my coworkers, anticipating an easy day, brought his guitar. I had a book.

In this mindset, on my last Sunday duty day, I asked my duty department head if I could go to Church. Technically, we’re not supposed to leave the ship on duty, but as long as it doesn’t interfere with watchstanding or other responsibilities, DHs usually let their sailors take off for a short time. So, when I asked, I had my arguments all ready.

“Ma’am, can I go to Church this morning at 8?”

I braced myself. I was revving up for a fight.

“Yes, of course,” she said, gently, kindly. “Go.”

“I’ll only be gone an hour and I’m not on IET or – oh,” I stopped, awkwardly, realizing that she wasn’t giving me even the slightest bit of trouble. That’s it? Just like that? I can go? A wave of relief washed over me. I thanked her (twice) and left. No one stopped me.

Ash Wednesday Mass in Busan, South Korea, 2014. A holy day. A duty day.

Ash Wednesday Mass in Busan, South Korea, 2014. A holy day. A duty day.

Joining the military necessarily means a loss of one’s autonomy. The needs of the ship often come before the needs of individuals. Personal plans that require time away from work, even on weekends, are never a guarantee. In many ways, you forfeit control over your ability to manage your own time and make decisions. A recall, ship’s movement, major evolutions, duty – all of these take priority. Those with families have it especially hard, and a supportive spouse is more or less essential.

I also understand very well when it’s simply not possible to attend Church: underway, an all-day watch, a major event, a casualty – all of these would understandably, from a professional and, I think, moral perspective, would take precedence over a Sunday Mass. I have a commitment to the ship that goes beyond any other civilian job responsibilities. Sometimes the ship needs me in a way that nothing else could.

In a conflict, though, which takes priority: your ship or your faith?

I have had a few negative experiences at my command when it came to balancing the needs of the ship and my own need to practice my religion. Specifically, the conflict was that I had no demands that would have prevented me from attending Mass, but I was reprimanded or outright forbidden from doing so anyway.

One of these situations was a duty day. It was a holy day of obligation. I asked to go, citing the lack of responsibilities (late night watch, no team membership, work done, no drills), and was told the following: “If I let you go, I have to let everyone else go, and that’s not realistic or fair.” This argument was both fallacious and insulting, a great example of the rules being read too literally to the point of being nonsensical. Besides, on the same day, this person also allowed a number of duty personnel to attend two separate events off the ship – a mando-fun picnic and a Captain’s Cup game – because they were “command functions.” The hypocrisy was overwhelming and still continues to trouble me, more than a year later. I was scolded for having a bad attitude (true) and for not taking my duties seriously (not true). I was not allowed to leave the ship. And, according to the duty status instruction, he wasn’t wrong for preventing me from doing so.

The other situation wasn’t a duty day. I was in engineering. We were getting ready to light off after a long SRA, which meant working weekends. My chief openly admitted that our work was done and we were coming in on Sunday just for show, since the rest of the department had to work. With that in mind, I asked to come in an hour late so I could go to Mass before work. I offered to stay an hour later to make up for the lost time. Chief said no, citing the same reason as above: “If I let you come in late, I have to let everyone come in late.” This time, I lost it. It wasn’t that there was some tasking that was preventing me from going. There was no work to be done, especially during that one hour. We all knew that we would just be standing by all day until they let us go – one of the many infuriating aspects of ship life. The fact that I couldn’t fulfill this moral obligation for absolutely no reason made me totally break down. My division officer, seeing me clearly upset, told me, with agitation, “Just go.” It was humiliating that it had to come to that. This time, I got to go, but it was at the expense of my professionalism and military bearing. My chief and division officer thought I was using Church as an excuse to not work. That hurt me.

Given these two negative experiences, it’s pretty clear why it was such a relief to be given that one hour for Church without any drama. My DH didn’t have to let me go, but she did, and it made a huge difference in my attitude. I was engaged and involved in the demands of the day. I was eager to be supportive of the duty section, as though in return for a favor. I was positive and attentive on watch. My morale was great, even on weekend duty, and it cost the duty section nothing at all. Isn’t that a good example of the correct balance of priorities? In the absence of necessary or urgent professional demands, why not allow personnel to address their personal, human needs? It makes for less resentment and more productive, reliable sailors.

It actually doesn’t matter how many personnel are onboard the ship at any time if they’re all bitter and vindictive, showing up late for watch or not at all, hiding when duty section gets called away, not responding to casualties. We’ve all seen the creative ways that sailors get into trouble after their liberty has been curtailed for a while. After being told “no” to their needs for so long, even the strongest willed person will eventually break, turning around and telling the Navy “no” in response. A healthy balance of personal and professional priorities keeps everything (and everyone) going.

For better or worse, the ship is rarely the most important thing in a sailor’s life. When I think about whether or not to stay in the Navy, it’s those negative experiences – those restrictions on my autonomy, particularly being needlessly prevented from doing something that is very important to me – that come to mind first. It is difficult to belong to an organization which prioritizes strict (“strict”) adherence to rules at the expense of practicality and of their personnel’s non-professional wellbeing. Sometimes, shit happens. I know. You can’t always get what you want, especially as another cog in the wheel. But, repeatedly, in the long run, is it worth it?

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The idea of getting “too big” is probably pretty hilarious to most male gym rats. Growth is the goal, always the goal, sometimes defined in inches or pounds but always striving toward bigger. Strength is an accessory to the fact. Cutting fat, an addendum, often remembered last minute before spring break after months of eating in excess. Most men, at least, recognize that putting on mass takes a tremendous amount of effort and focus. Very rarely does it happen by accident. Imagine: the skinniest dude you know goes to the gym a few times and wakes up one morning to find himself suddenly, inexplicably massive. “I didn’t want to get huge,” he’d lament, reaching a veined, bulging forearm into the microwave to retrieve his taquitos. “But my buddy made me do leg day once and now none of my pants fit my thighs.” A tragedy.

The opposite is true for women. It took two decades of myth deconstruction, especially after the heroin-chic look of the 90s, to get a casual female gym-goer to approach the weight room. Why did it take us so long to figure out that showing muscle tone requires muscle mass? (Probably because of folks like Tracy Anderson espousing that women should lift no more than 3-pound weights.*) Now, in 2015, a lean, athletic appearance is in vogue. Women throwing around some serious weight at the gym – once an oddity, later a “cool girl, one-of-the-guys” quality – is, wonderfully, from my experience, a regularity. Lady lifters tend to enjoy better health and self-esteem. Guys be like, dat squat booty. Everyone’s happy.

So what happens when you do get big enough?

When I started exercising, I didn’t have a particular aesthetic goal in mind. I figured I might like myself better if I cut back on mac and cheese and World of Warcraft and made myself sweat a few times per week, I guess? So discovering and actually enjoying weight lifting was a happy accident. I was extremely uncomfortable at first, especially sharing the weight room with, you know, the real athletes at my school, but time and research made things feel more and more natural. Soon I was strutting in there with my head held high. I wasn’t strong or fast but I was committed, and if gym rats respect anything, it’s persistence. Hitting a new PR made me feel invincible, unstoppable. “I never thought I could lift that,” I’d think, “but I did it. So what else have I been telling myself that I can’t do?” And, in time, I also bought in to the indefinite-growth, gains-for-gains’-sake mentality; with hard work, I would keep getting stronger, to infinity and beyond. Appearance and body weight were irrelevant, as long as my lifts were going up.

Ship life changed that. Maintaining a serious gym schedule underway can be a challenge. Slowly, over the course of a year, lifting sank lower and lower on my list of priorities. Gym time itself often felt like a luxury; I was happy just to jump on whatever equipment was immediately available and get out in less than an hour. I gained a few pounds – nothing too noticeable, nothing to feel bad about – and also a bit of complacency, which was worse than the extra body fat.

And then I started running.

Running, for the record, is the worst. Every step is pain, each mile an exploration into new and exciting dimensions of torture. Thighs slapping together, chafing. Gasping, lungs aching – am I voluntarily trying to suffocate myself? My glasses slide down my face and sweat rolls into my eyes, my mouth, and my shirt lands with a wet plop on the floor before I hobble into the shower. So I’m not a fan. Or, at least, I wasn’t. I ran underway more or less out of necessity, since, with limited resources, it’s the simplest and most accessible form of exercise. At some point this year, though, something changed. I was running more often than I was lifting. I stopped dreading cardio. Sometimes, I even looked forward to a run, particularly those on the main deck in view of the setting sun. For a once-devout disciple of the iron, this was a terrifying development. So much of my identity, I thought, had centered around my strength and my gainz. Lifting, at one time, had made me different, made people respect me, admire me, my PRs, my ass, and – wait, who was I doing this for again?

Maybe scaling back on the weights wouldn’t be the end of the world. Maybe running – becoming one of “those people” – wouldn’t prompt an identity crisis. Maybe athleticism falls across a broad spectrum and isn’t limited to brute strength – shocking, I know. These were new perspectives, ones I had only considered theoretically, detached from myself and my goals. I remember trying on new swimsuits recently – strapless bandeau tops, perfect for correcting those crew-neck tan-lines – and observing my body as though for the first time. My lats and chest and shoulders exploded out of the top of the suit. I looked ridiculous, somehow big and small at the same time. But I was also bursting with pride. This mass is me, all me, all mine. I made this. This is physical, visual evidence of years of hard work and commitment, of trying and failing, of stepping outside of my comfort zone and pushing myself past my limits. I am, in fact, “big enough” – strong enough, fast enough, good enough.

You’ll see me by the pool in those swimsuits. You’ll still see me in the gym, too, and running around base. It’s okay to let your priorities change. Sometimes you have to sacrifice one goal for the sake of another. “Good enough” is not an appeal for mediocrity or complacence. It’s not a rallying cry to abandon your goals. But it’s not quitting or failure, either. It’s a realistic assessment of your accomplishments and recognition of  your achievements. It’s about self-acceptance and pride in self-creation. Most of all, it’s about allowing yourself to experience the peace that comes from completion. And it’s nice to move on.

* In a spectacular demonstration of thoughtlessness, Gwenyth says in this very same video that the arm she uses to carry her 30-pound son is less flabby than the other.

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I bought the FITBIT CHARGE HR about a month ago based on a very positive review from a shipmate. (Actually, I bought the device ages ago, and it took more than a month to arrive. I guess these things are in-demand and back-ordered.) This is my first experience with a fitness tracker. Here are my most and least favorite aspects.

charge hrPROS

This device tracks a whole lot of stuff. Steps, miles, elevation, heart rate, calories burned, sleep, and activity – all monitored without any user input. As something worn on the wrist, it is very unobtrusive. Best of all, its default display is the time and date! If I was going to be wearing something on my wrist all the time, it had better double as a watch. Many fitness trackers that I researched lack this simple, essential feature. The data it gathers seems to be mostly accurate; sometimes I’ll watch it count the steps as I’m walking, or I’ll review the mileage after a run. Because of its placement on the wrist, however, it probably counts some non-walking movements as steps, but this number is probably negligible.

App Integration
I think the strongest (and weakest; see below) advantage of a FITBIT tracker is the accompanying app. It is very intuitive and easy to use, and it does much more than displaying data. The user can track food and water intake. The app can scan bar codes and allows manual inputs for calorie counting. If the user has a weight-loss goal, the app will make suggestions based on difficulty and amount of time to reach a certain weight (ie, a difficult goal of 5lbs in a month as opposed to a leisurely goal of 5lbs in three months). The most fun aspect of the app is its social feature. Users can challenge others to have the highest step counts throughout the workweek or weekend. I’m not ordinarily a competitive person but I was surprised by how eager I was to be just as active as everyone else. For better or worse, comparing oneself to others is easily the most motivating feature of the app.


Internet Dependence
For folks with consistent and reliable access to the internet – and I think we’re beginning to take this sort of thing for granted – this won’t be an issue. When I finally got the CHARGE HR in the mail, my ship had just gotten underway. I expected I would be able to use the device on its own until I could download the app. Not so. Setting up the device requires internet, bluetooth, the app, and, for me and for many who neglect this stuff, the latest version of the iOS software. The device was completely unusable until we returned home – even setting up the time and date had to be configured via the app, use of which also requires an internet connection. Because of the app’s dependence on internet access, much of the tracker’s functionality and features are inaccessible to me once I go underway: I can’t modify the time or date (annoying when we cross time zones), sync my data from the device to the app (including being able to view heart rate and sleep patterns), set vibration alarms, etc. Many of these things should be accessible solely via bluetooth. During the ship’s operational cycle, this is going to be a huge inconvenience. I will say this in the tracker’s defense, however: it did store three or four weeks of data and synced it to the app without issue when we returned home. Nothing ended up getting lost, so I’m willing to forgive this deficiency.

Not Waterproof
This is truly baffling. How is a fitness device intended to be worn on the body not waterproof? It is advertised as “sweatproof” and “splashproof” but is not recommended to be used while swimming or showering. What happens when swimming or another water-based sport is the user’s primary fitness activity? I can buy a $10 watch that is water resistant to at least 30m. Why couldn’t this $150 device have been engineered to do the same?


Overall, I’m really enthusiastic about the FITBIT CHARGE HR. It encourages me to be more active in a very simple “I should get off my butt and walk around” sort of way. I need this especially underway when I’m more sedentary than usual. The heart rate monitor and sleep tracker help me better understand the quality of my workouts and sleep. The longest I’ve gotten out of the battery is almost four days, but I tend to charge it whenever I remove it to shower. Best of all, the black version goes with anything that I wear.

I don’t think anyone, regardless of their goals, needs a fitness tracker. But, if you’re interested in incorporating into your life a subtle reminder about your activity level, the CHARGE HR is a fun and fascinating luxury.

UPDATE, 20MAY2015: The pedometer/mileage function is a little inaccurate while running. It seems to be a half-mile short for each run of 3-4 miles, and nearly a mile short for a 10k. I used this page and a bit of trial and error for calibration.

UPDATE, 09AUG2015: Somewhere between Australia and Japan, the button on the side of the device fell off. I have no idea what caused it – all I do is run on the treadmill. It is surprisingly hard to use the device without the button. I emailed FitBit to request a new one, but I am still pretty disappointed in the fragility and poor craftsmanship of the thing.

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I used to have the world’s worst self-esteem. No matter what I did or said, there was that mocking, derisive voice in the back of my head telling me that I was pathetic, I was a burden, and why did I even bother to try? I was obsessed with perfection and I hated myself for each slip-up. Now, when I open up and express my insecurities, people seem surprised. I’ve become so much stronger and more confident. But it happened very slowly. Over the past few years, my life experiences have allowed me to overcome three essential fears – ones that I think everyone deals with, to different extents.


I cut off all my hair a little over a year ago. I did it because I thought it would look fierce and it would make my daily routine easier (and I was right on both counts). I’ll be honest, though: when I saw my hair being hacked off, I was struck with terror. What if I look horrible? What will people say about me? Will they make assumptions about my sexuality? Luckily, once you start lopping off inches of hair, there’s no going back, otherwise I would have stopped my stylist right there.

Women in particular are taught from a very young age to amount their self-worth to their beauty. I see a lot of girls, especially ones who are new to the Navy, relishing the attention they get from guys. They love being desired and feeling attractive, and, actually, there’s nothing wrong with that. Once you let it dictate your self-worth and your behavior, however, is when things get tricky. What if I had stuck with my long hair just because some guys didn’t think I was cute anymore? What if I had continued to have a bun constantly affixed to the back of my head just to fulfill some parochial understanding of what a girl should look like?

Cutting my hair taught me three things:

  1. My opinion of how good I look is the most accurate and useful.
  2. Sometimes I do things for myself without any regard for what others think.
  3. I have qualities that are vastly more interesting than traditional beauty.

The last point was especially freeing. There is so much more to you than even your worst insecurity. You can have three arms and still have a razor-sharp wit that leaves everyone reeling. You can have birthmarks or scarring and still create art, music, or writing. No matter what you look like, you’re always going to be someone’s favorite person, and I think that is worth a lot more than being physically appealing to many people who, in turn, only see you as the sum of your attractive features.

It’s okay to be attractive. It’s also okay to be unattractive. But, if you’re very concerned with your attractiveness to others, please also concern yourself with your other wonderful qualities as well. I think a well-rounded, interesting person is the most attractive of all.


I was never important enough for anyone to waste their time disliking me. Growing up, I usually kept to myself and was friendly even to those I didn’t care for. People might have thought I was weird or boring, but those struck me as pretty neutral assessments. It wasn’t until I joined that Navy that people began to dislike me for no reason.

This has happened a few times: someone will confide in me, “So-and-so says you’re a bitch.” And, each time, I’ve had to ask, “Who is so-and-so again?”

I wasn’t being petty or dismissive; I hadn’t interacted with these people enough to remember who they are, never mind to make any judgments about their character. That they had already formed negative opinions about me was a new and alarming experience. My first reaction was to be as pleasant as possible at all times to all people. But that was very exhausting and, sorry to say, dishonest. I experimented with different temperaments, sometimes deliberately and sometimes due to other circumstances, and found that people continued to say mean things about me no matter what I did or how I acted. So I gave up. Now I just act like myself.

Here’s an example: I stopped smiling for no reason. Being warm and ebullient makes someone instantly charming and likeable, but it never felt authentic to me. I felt like I was tricking people into liking me. I don’t consider myself cold or mean – not in general – but I’m definitely reserved and introverted, and trying to pretend otherwise was very difficult for me. It is so much more relaxing for me to maintain a neutral or “serious” expression on my face than to be cheerful and pleasant. It might make others a little less comfortable around me or more reluctant to interact with me, but the peace that I feel when I’m not putting on an act is worth it. I’m not often bubbly, but I’m almost always happy, precisely because I’m being true to myself.

There is a distinction I want to make, though. There is a huge difference between, “I’m going to do what I want and if people don’t like it, it’s not my problem,” and, “I’m going to do what is authentic to me because I recognize that I can’t be liked by everyone all the time.” The first attitude rejects any personal responsibility for the effect your words and deeds have on others, which is immature. The second attitude, I think, allows space to accept social consequences without affecting your self-esteem.


The Navy made this one very easy. I fail every day, in big and small ways. I say the wrong thing and get in trouble. I try to perform my job independently and get corrected, publicly, and have an example made of me. I put a lot of time and effort into a project only to be told that it’s garbage. Three years ago, the slightest expression of displeasure would have left me paralyzed and unable to function. Now I’ve been yelled at so many times that it doesn’t affect me anymore.

The only way to get better at accepting failure is to keep failing. I think this is inevitable as life goes on. What once terrified me is now a source of amusement; instead of hiding my shortcomings due to embarrassment, I openly share them with others in a way that I hope is both amusing and instructive. Talking about how I messed up usually makes it seem pretty trivial. And, usually, that’s because it is!

Getting over a fear of failure not only boosted my self-esteem, but it made me much more willing to pursue opportunities for which I don’t feel completely ready. The Navy loves trial under fire, and some of the best learning experiences I’ve had were from jumping in head-first, doing what I could, and hoping for the best. I’ve become more eager for new experiences and responsibilities, even if I don’t expect to be any good at them, and I’m often surprised by how well I end up doing. I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try. No one expects perfection, and trying my best is almost always good enough.

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I celebrated the start of 2014 on the flight deck of my ship. A few minutes before the countdown began, all of the ships on the waterfront went dark. Then, at the stroke of midnight, they pointed their searchlights toward the center of town and blared their whistles while fireworks lit up the night sky. I was stuck on duty during my favorite night of the year but I still felt filled with joy and hope. My Navy adventure in Japan was just beginning.

2014 turned out to be the worst year of my life. There’s no point in tip-toeing around it. I experienced more grief and despair than I thought I was capable of enduring, maybe because I’ve been relatively sheltered from those feelings in the past. But, as the year comes to a close, I see that the storm has passed. So, instead, I’ll recount the things that kept me going during such a trying year. I had a very successful first year onboard my ship. I have a chain of command which supported me during the hardest times of my life. I made rank and got to move into my first house. I made a lot of new friends and remained close with those I have back home. I saw a lot of new places and had a lot of new experiences. I stayed physically, spiritually, and intellectually healthy despite, at times, falling apart emotionally. I fell in love in a way that continues to thrill and terrify me. A lot of lousy things happened this year, but it was the wonderful things that kept me going. It would be dishonest to overlook that.

The most important lesson that I learned this year was overcoming my pride and accepting help. I learned how little I can actually do on my own. It was naive (and even ungracious) to disregard how dependent I am on the support of others. I am not an island; I couldn’t be even if I wanted it (and sometimes I still do). I don’t have to carry my burdens alone. Even better, I don’t have to feel guilty for sharing the struggle. I get a little emotional thinking about those who willingly helped me carry the weight that I didn’t realize was crushing me until it was lifted off. If you’re reading this – if you talked to me, if you treated me with kindness and understanding, if you stood by me when it wasn’t easy or pleasant – you saved me. Someday, I hope to do the same for you, or for someone else in need.

2015, I think, will be a year of self-care. I will continue to learn how to manage my anger and anxiety. I will practice my faith, even in the face of criticism and opposition. I will read even more books than last year to expand my knowledge and imagination. I will challenge myself physically but I won’t pressure myself to conform to any weight or aesthetic standards. I will try my hardest to set a positive example in the workplace and not let the toxic environment dissuade me. I will reach out and support others in the way they have supported me. I will empathize more than I condemn. And, when I need to, I will settle down in front of the PS4 or Netflix with a blanket and a glass of wine, and I will not feel guilty about it. It might be a year of selfishness, but I think it will enable me, in the future, to be better to myself and better to others.

If I could survive 2014, I can get through anything. I hope 2015 doesn’t test that theory. But, when it does, I’m ready to meet those challenges because 2014 gave me both problems and solutions. I have the strength to fight and adapt, and when that strength fails me, I have the resources and support that enable me to rebuild. Once again, then, I look toward the new year with joy and hope.

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Briefly, for the uninitiated: the Navy has semi-annual fitness assessments (PRT). Every six months, we weigh in and do a fitness test consisting of sit-ups, push-ups, and cardio. Those who fail either the body composition (BCA) or physical aptitude (PFA) assessments are assigned to a remedial fitness program (FEP) until the next PRT. If a member fails the PRT three times within four years, he or she gets separated from the Navy. Command fitness leaders (CFL) oversee PRTs twice a year and FEP in between. When the start of the next PRT cycle is ten weeks away, the command issues a 10-week notice which is essentially a schedule of events. 10 weeks is usually when people start caring about the PRT again (trying to cut weight, practicing push-ups, etc).

Guess what? If we start the next cycle in April, we’re as close as 20 weeks away from the next PRT. If you’re in FEP, or if you barely squeezed by this year and want to stay out of FEP next year, the time to start caring about the PRT is now! Right now!

Make a few small changes, stay consistent, and you won’t have to worry about stomach wraps, hours in the sauna, and starvation in 10 weeks. You won’t injure yourself trying to do too much physical activity in too little time in preparation for the PFA.

So let’s get started today! Here are some lifestyle changes that, if you begin now, will make your life much easier in the spring. It’s time to get our minds right and commit to the challenge ahead of us.


Food is my weakness. Each and every time I sit down to eat, or walk past the desserts, or get invited to go out, I have to recommit to my goals. Left to my own devices, I will gain weight in the blink of an eye from sugar, alcohol, and carbs.

If you’re a BCA failure, you have to dial in your diet. It’s not fun or glamorous but there is absolutely no way around it. No amount of exercise will redeem you if you’re not eating right.

If you’re a PFA failure, start small and slowly build up your physical capabilities. Here is a program for running. Here is a program for push-ups. Here is a program for sit-ups. Not a single one of them says, “Week 1: wake up and run five miles without breaking a sweat.” It takes time, and right now, you have time. Make the best of it.


Do you know how many calories are in a Starbucks coffee? The store here on base has a calorie chart right next to the cashier. When I saw that the small-sized coffee I ordered was almost 500 calories, I nearly threw it away. I could eat four apples for that many calories, and I’d probably have more energy from them, too.

The elimination of sugary drinks – energy drinks, dessert-coffees, sodas – from your diet could easily help you drop weight. In fact, if you’re trying to cut weight, there is no reason at all to be drinking your calories, especially not on a daily basis. Make that Starbucks coffee a special treat and drink regular coffee during the week instead. If you hit the chu-hi stand more than once a week, scale it back to a few times a month instead. Try getting a full night’s sleep instead of relying on energy drinks.


Yeah, it sucks to eat a meal you brought from home when everyone else in your shop is eating stuffed-crust pizza, but it sucks to get kicked out of the Navy, too. McDonald’s and Subway are convenient and plausibly even delicious but planning meals out in advance removes the need for a quick, easy solution to hunger, one which brings you farther away from your body composition or fitness goals.

Have a plan beforehand and stick to it, so when the temptation arises to do what everyone else is doing, you’ll have something else to fall back on. Eat at the galley, which is both healthy and cheap. Bring a lunchbox of leftovers to work. Fill your fridge with leans meats, fruits, and veggies. Be uncool; own it. Get out of FEP. Have a killer body and zero regrets.


Find something you enjoy, or at least can tolerate, and do it as often as possible. This doesn’t mean super high intensity for hours and hours. 20 or 30 minutes of exercise – sweating, heavy breathing, accelerated heart rate – is all it takes. You might not realize it right away, but a little bit of effort every day pays off in the long run. Push yourself and be patient.

If you failed the run, you gotta run more. If you failed sit-ups or push-ups, you gotta practice those. If those are things you hate, you don’t have to do them every day – we’ll do a lot of that in FEP. But try to get away from the mindset that exercise is an unpleasant chore. Navy exercise is not all exercise. In your own time, do what works for you.

Sweat it out. Hydrate. Eat good food. Rest. In 20 weeks, FEP will be in your rearview. And, if you stick to good habits during the whole year, you won’t have to worry about the BCA or PFA ever again.

If you need more specific advice or someone to keep you accountable, I’m here for you. Message me, talk to me at work or at FEP, leave a comment. Whatever it is that you need to do, I want you to succeed!

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