Reflections on Turning 30

I mentioned in my year-end post that the dad of one of my childhood friends once told us that your body gets older on the outside but you stay more or less the same on the inside. Eventually you reach a plateau for emotional maturity, the crest of an upward trend that hopefully continues throughout the rest of your life, while your body begins to do the opposite, dropping down the other side of this metaphorical hill.

Years are going by faster and faster. My foot is pressing down harder on the accelerator and I am unable, will never be able, to slow down, not until at last I stop for good. Someday this will worry me. Right now, I watch these years pass with detached, almost clinical, interest.

I’ve struggled with collecting my thoughts, on finding significance, on reaching the big 3-0. It doesn’t feel more meaningful than any other birthday, which for me is actually a huge deal because I love an excuse to celebrate something. So actually I take all of that back. This is a great event, as usual! Tomorrow, on April 1st, it’s all about me, bay-bee!

In lieu of depth and meaning, here are some lists.

Things that keep me young

  • Great genes
  • Always being a lil bit overweight
  • General zest for life
  • Jokes
  • Having a tumblr account (see image below for reference)
  • Hobbies that I’m genuinely very passionate about
  • Extremely niche hobbies that I’m wildly, ironically passionate about
  • A “yes, and” attitude
  • 7.5 hours of sleep
  • Minding my own business
  • Spite
  • Not smoking (probably)

Things that I wish I had learned sooner

  • Always have electrolytes somewhere in the house. It might save you a trip to the ER.
  • You can be funny and kind or funny and cruel. The second one is easier, but the first one is worth it.
  • There’s a big difference between being nice and being kind.
  • Wear sunscreen.
  • Recovery isn’t linear.
  • thank u, next
  • Everyone loves differently.
  • Virtues get easier with practice.
  • You’re not eating enough protein.
  • God doesn’t say no. He says, instead: yes; or, not yet; or, I have something better in mind.
  • The more comfortable you are with yourself, the more permission others feel to be comfortable with themselves.
  • Sometimes it really do just be like that.

I realized today that I’ve been writing in this blog almost continuously for five years. It is mostly a pain, but it forces me to put something out there into the world/void about a dozen times a year. I just wanted to take a second to say thank you to anyone and everyone who is reading this. Whether you know me personally or you just stumbled here by accident (most likely, you are a soft combination of the two), thank you for giving me a few minutes of your day. Thank you for reading.

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Books to Recommend to Anyone

I struggle with giving recommendations of any kind – movies, music, games, TV shows, and books especially. I worry that my taste is so niche that no one else will like what I like – or worse, that my recommendation will reflect some bizarre personality trait that will forever change that person’s perception of what I’m all about. So when you find me giving an emphatic recommendation, when I’m begging you to experience something, it’s because I believe so strongly that it isn’t just for weirdos like me.

It definitely helps to know the other person’s tastes. I thought that the movie Your Name was so beautiful and moving that I want everyone else to see it, too, and have a nice therapeutic cry, but I also understand that a lot of people are not about that weeaboo life. That’s totally fine; in fact, it’s probably for the best. Personally, I’m offended when someone recommends any young adult-genre books to me or any movie where violence and gore are featured prominently. Y’all gotta know by now that those are not part of my brand.

So when I say I would recommend these books to anyone, I mean that I would include no less than the following people: my family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, Bible study group, strangers, significant others, and people whose opinions of me I genuinely care about. It should come as little surprise that the majority of these picks were also recommended to me by friends and family – the people who know me best.

In no particular order:

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936)

An extremely useful book with a very lousy title. It would be more accurate to call it Common Sense for Dealing With People. It contains gentle reminders that other people are just like you and want to be treated with dignity and respect. Wild, right? But sometimes we do need those reminders, especially when we hit social roadblocks. Recommended to me by my mentor.

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell (2008)

An entertaining romp through New England history. This is worth listening to on audiobook – Sarah Vowell has a very distinct voice. I am partial to this particular book of hers because I’m from the region, but I think it is enjoyable for anyone interested in learning about our country’s earliest days. I also really liked her book Unfamiliar Fishes about Hawaii’s history and its “acquisition” (very dramatic air quotes) by the United States. Recommended to me by a close friend.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (2017)
We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (2011)

Usually I’d feel a little uncomfortable recommending books exceeding 500 pages, but these two stories made huge impressions on me. Both are translated works by non-American authors and both are multi-generational family sagas – the first about the Korean experience in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Japan, and the second about sailors from the Danish town of Marstal. I read Pachinko when it started receiving a lot of critical acclaim, and I picked up We, the Drowned completely on a whim (actually because of the very good cover art).

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson (1953)
Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson (1957)

Shirley Jackson is best known for her spooky stuff. People read “The Lottery” in high school to scare them out of being judgmental little terrors, and now that The Haunting of Hill House has a Netflix remake, Shirley Jackson is probably more popular than ever (at least, since she first published “The Lottery” and got flamed for it). A lot of folks don’t know that she has written humor, too, centering around her family life with her husband and children. Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons are those rare books that made me laugh out loud. Shirley Jackson is masterful at calling attention to small, seemingly mundane details – only this time, it’s for the sake of humor rather than horror. I’m on a quest to read everything Shirley has written, and if you don’t have a taste for horror, this is a book anyone can and will enjoy.

Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel (2013)

I picked this up at the small, dusty library at one of our deployment sites. Where better? As I worked my way through this book, I had a hard time containing my emotions – especially when reading in public. This investigative account of Iraq war veterans readjusting to civilian life will be challenging to read if you, too, have served, but it is so important that stories like these – true, tough, sobering stories – become part of our American collective social consciousness. So many people live their lives completely unaffected by our many wars churning overseas; they have to know what it’s like for the people who come home from them.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (2016)

An English nurse is sent to a small Irish town to observe a child, hailed as a miracle from heaven, who claims she can subsist entirely without food or water. Is the child telling the truth? If not, to what lengths will she go to maintain the lie? This story, based loosely on true events, demonstrates the careful balance between scientific skepticism and human empathy. It poses a tremendous moral question about the limits of personal autonomy. Recommended by a book podcast, and read it almost entirely in one sitting.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018)

This is a little closer to the “weirder” end of the spectrum given the subject matter one of the principle characters is obsessed with, but this is a short and important story about identity and belonging amidst intense social pressure to be different. The main character finds herself falling behind other people her age, socially – she only works part-time and has no interest in dating or starting a family. She is completely fine with it until the people around her make feel like something is wrong with her for being happy with what she has. There is something wrong with her, but not in the way that everyone thinks. Recommended by a ton of book reviewers toward the end of 2018.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2011)

Oh yes, you know I’m on this bullshit right now!

Despite being very interested in cleanliness and organization, I put off reading this book for ages. I was afraid of being browbeaten into minimalism, shamed for wanting to surround myself with all of my worldly possessions. But, at the start of this year, Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix was released, and she got wildly popular – and also widely condemned. I read her book not with the intention of implementing her method into my life, but to get educated on her ideas so I, too, could participate in The Discourse™. Unfortunately for me, Kondo is such a sweet and charming person, and her ideas about keeping only the belongings which bring you the most joy seem so fundamentally true and useful, that I couldn’t find much wrong with her system. In fact, I discovered that her critics were deliberately or mistakenly misconstruing Kondo’s principles. I am in the process of tidying my house right now.

Harry Potter (series) by JK Rowling

Obviously. Yes. Of course.

I am astonished that I am meeting grown adults who never experienced the Harry Potter stories. But what if the appeal wears off with age? Are the books still enjoyable as an adult? I started re-reading them a few months ago and, yes, these books are absolutely still a delight. So if you’re late to the Hogwarts Express and worried that it won’t appeal to you anymore, fear not: these stories are just as magical now as they were decades ago. JK Rowling is an incredible storyteller. Her ongoing murder-mystery novels (the Cormoran Strike series) are also very, very good, but I know that genre is pretty niche and not for everyone.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (1996)

If I were to write a book, I would want to write one just like Jon Krakauer.

This is an account of Chris McCandless, a young man who hitchhiked his way up to Alaska to live alone in the wilderness – and how he died. This is, I think, the only book recommended to me by my brother, who has way more interesting hobbies than reading. It appealed immediately not only to my love of investigative journalism, but also my heart’s deepest desire, which is to live in complete solitude in nature. This story shows clearly the dangerous line between idealism and cold, hard reality, and it is something I will never forget. Jon Krakauer is a truly gifted writer.


The most fascinating thing about this list is that none of my most favorite authors or books are on it. These books are so important to me that recommending them to someone else makes me feel intolerably vulnerable. Having someone reject them would feel like they are also rejecting me. It’s hard not to take it personally when it is your most favorite thing. These books reflect who I am.

But I am going to be brave. Here are some of those books, just in case:
Cryptonomicon or Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Mélusine by Sarah Monette
Saga (comic series) by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples
The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
The Likeness by Tana French
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

I hope some of these books will strike you as interesting. Please feel free to recommend your favorite books to me! I am always happy to read the things that you think are important or left an impression on you.

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2019 Bullet Journal Spread

Out with the old, in with the new!

A few days ago, I put up a Snap about working on the new year’s bullet journal. It was exciting to see how many people sent Snaps back of their own new bullet journal spreads. I love how people adapt the format to their own interests and needs.

Here is quick flip-through of my spread for this year. In case you’re wondering, where did you think of these ideas? The answer is that I didn’t, probably not a single one of them. I’m always scouring Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram for inspiration. Folks are unbelievably artistic and creative when it comes to their bujos. Now that I’ve found the format the works for me, though, I’m sticking to it.

This year, I am using a Dingbats A6 pocket notebook. It is the same size (see above) and price ($15) as the Moleskines I was using previously, but the paper quality is much, much better. Notice there is no ghosting or bleed-through despite heavy gel pen usage on previous pages.

We’ll see how it holds up in terms of durability after a year of throwing it around. It’s also taking a bit of spine-stretching to get it to lay flat. Finally, I’m not crazy about the pen loop, but it can be torn out if it becomes too obtrusive.

Here is the index page. The “front matter” before the logs are just a bunch of lists with useful information (addresses, books read, flying notes, etc). I haven’t finished these pages yet. They take the most work.

Speaking of a lot of work, I forgot how long it takes to write out these future logs. I think they are a good balance of being minimal and visually appealing. Here is where I put stuff that I know is happening a long time from now. Whenever I start a new month, I make sure that I reference these pages first to make sure I don’t forget anything… mostly birthdays and holidays.

I am using Pilot FriXon Erasable Gel pens. They cost one (1) dollar more than the notebook itself, but they are worth it. Having an erasable pen takes away a lot of that initial, new-notebook fear of “messing it all up” or “making it ugly.” It’s all gonna get messed up anyway. Let go of bujo aesthetic purity. (Advice to myself disguised as advice to you.)

If you read my previous bullet journal post, this will look familiar.

Each month gets an overview page. This year, I decided to make the calendar smaller so that I can put scheduled events (holidays, birthdays, appointments) and tasks on separate pages. Historically, I haven’t made as much use of the “to do” page as I ought to; I have a habit of putting chores without deadlines on random days of the week. This ends up causing a lot of unnecessary clutter. I’d like to start using the monthly to-do list for those things instead. Everything else is boiled down to the weekly log, the day-by-day look at tasks and appointments.

What I like so much about the bullet journal format, besides the creativity and flexibility, is that things that are written down are very unlikely to be neglected or forgotten; as you progress throughout the journal, you have to accomplish tasks, or move them forward, or delete them, but no matter what they have to be addressed. Very rarely does anything fall through the cracks using this method. I think it is very effective in staying on top of everything. Maybe it will be helpful to you too!

Need ideas or inspiration? YouTube has so many guides and flip-throughs. It’s its own rabbit hole. It’s probably my favorite YouTube niche; something about watching people create their bullet journals is very relaxing to watch.

Let’s hope that 2019 is our most organized year of all!

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2018 IN REVIEW

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WHAT HAPPENED THIS YEAR

I spent five months deployed: January, February, March, May, and June. It seems like a lot of time when spelled out like that, but for the most part it was easy and went by quickly. I got fully qualified and my aircrew wings. Best of all, though, I got to be in Hawaii for my birthday and I got to go home for a friend’s wedding and for Christmas too! I feel lucky. For all my worrying, things turned out okay.

I went on a trip to Alaska. I saw Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Kenai Fjords. Now I have a truer understanding of what constitutes a wilderness. Alaska is sprawling and untamed and beautiful. I admire it and fear it. I would love to go back someday.

I got to spend some time with a friend in Washington as well. I’m proud of these videos.

I ran my first half-marathon! It was fun and challenging, but I don’t think I’ll do it again.

I started going to therapy again. It would be dishonest to say I’ve made a lot of progress – sometimes you don’t know how junked up you are on the inside until a professional calls you out on your own bullshit – but I’m at least becoming aware of what the path ahead of me looks like. The biggest difference between the start and the end of this year is that I now see the journey as worthwhile.

I started volunteering regularly. On Wednesdays I help out at the library on base. I really like the librarians and the work, too: re-shelving, helping out with programs, cleaning, cataloging. The place is always super busy and the time goes by fast.

I read my most books ever – 75 in a year! Thanks, deployment! Even if you take out the comics and graphic novels and novellas, I went way beyond what I was aiming for. A book per week has become a reliably attainable goal. I will stick to it for next year. You can find all the books I read this year here.

My recurring resolution to write a blog post every month frustrates the hell out of me. I wish I would stop doing this to myself. But I’m in the habit of doing it by now, and I know if I drop it, I will probably never find the motivation to write anything at all. I need something that will force me to, even only once a month.

BOOK OF THE YEAR

Image result for whiskey when we're dry

I think we all harbor some sort of secret fantasy about the life we wish we could live. If I wasn’t such a coward, my dream is to move to some remote wilderness and stake out a solitary, sustainable life for myself. Whiskey When We’re Dry takes that daydream and shakes it up with my favorite fantasy life: a nineteenth-century, wild-wild-west story of a trick-shooting, cross-dressing young woman on a quest to redeem her family name. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Jessilyn has the authentically Western voice that I’ve been craving since reading True Grit and her integrity and tenacity left me feeling breathless, inspired, a little bit in love. I devoured every word of this story. I can’t wait to reread it.

2018 Runners-Up
Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples (volume #9 ruined my will to live)
The Witch Elm by Tana French
Circe by Madeline Miller

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

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Jonna Lee’s music has been making a huge impact on my life for almost a decade. Her entire iamamiwhoami project deserves a long write-up of its own. But her music and videos are so dear to me that anything I write feels so incomplete, so inadequate. I have been trying and failing for years to express how much I love what she does.

Think about the art that you appreciate the most. Try to describe it in such a way that conveys its significance in your life and encourages others to make room in their own hearts for it. I see this all the time when people recommend TV shows. You just have to watch it, they say.

For her three iamamiwhoami albums (bounty, 2011; kin, 2012; blue, 2014), Lee released the music and videos simultaneously. It was almost impossible to separate the visuals from the audio. The secrecy behind the project also made the release of each new video feel like a dispatch from the beyond, a clue that might reveal more of the machinations behind the creators.

Jonna Lee is a performer, though – she wants to interact with the audience behind the screens, take the audiovisual show to the real world. There was only so long that she could continue as iamamiwhoami. Though Everyone Afraid to Be Forgotten is her first venture beyond iamamiwhoami, it retains enough of the project’s visual motifs and audio samples that it feels like an authentic transition between the two.

Much to my relief, it stands spectacularly on its own two feet.

In Everyone Afraid to Be Forgotten, every song, separately, is memorable. The more upbeat synth tracks that Lee has become known for – SAMARITAN (with excellent costuming by COMME des GARÇONS) and NOT HUMAN, for example – contrasts in sound but not in tone with her slower, echoing dirges (LIKE HELL, HERE IS A WARNING). The haunting live recording of DUNES OF SAND in Jonna Lee’s hometown church provides some of the dopest acoustics your ears will ever be blessed with.

But where Jonna Lee really excels is audiovisual thematic unity. Linking the music with the videos is what makes Lee’s audiovisual storytelling so compelling and unforgettable. So the first time I watched the album’s movie accompaniment, I was actually a little underwhelmed. It felt like there was something missing.

There is just something about the way she produces a short video, contained to one song, that is perfect. No one else is doing what she does. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

2018 Runners-Up
By the Way, I Forgive You (Brandi Carlile)
Be the Cowboy (Mitski)
Dirty Computer (Janelle Monáe)

MOVIE OF THE YEAR

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Look, this one isn’t deep. I like these women and I love a good heist. Ocean’s 8 is light-hearted, fast-paced, and fun. It doesn’t take itself seriously. I liked it when I watched it the first time and I was surprised when I really enjoyed watching it a second time.

2018 Runners-Up
Black Panther
Crazy Rich Asians
Bird Box

TV SHOW OF THE YEAR

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During my first deployment this year, I was on a lot of overnight watches. It wasn’t a real watch, though, because I got to watch a lot of TV. And I watched the entirety of Brooklyn Nine-Nine in an embarrassingly short amount of time.

Once I started, I couldn’t stop. This show is pretty close to perfect. It is hilarious at no one’s expense, my favorite type of humor. Many of the episodes convey substantial moral messages. All of the characters have substance and depth – most of all, in this year’s season, Rosa. Her coming out was portrayed so perfectly that it stayed with me all year long. It was honest, it was authentic, and it gave me hope. It made me feel less alone during a time when I was very lonely. I’ll always be grateful for that.

2018 Runners-Up
Terrace House: Opening New Doors
The Great British Baking Show

GAME OF THE YEAR

Image result for celeste game breathe2018 was the year of beautiful indie games that made me cry. It started with Monument Valley – both, though neither are 2018 games – and then there was Florence and later Gris. What all of these games had in common was they felt like playable works of art.

Just on the surface, there is a lot to like about Celeste (by Matt Makes Games, also creator of TowerFall). The music is some of the best I’ve ever heard; seriously, ask anyone I work with: I have been listening to the soundtrack nonstop for months. If you’ve taken the time to read all of these words (thank you) and you get nothing else from this post, put on some good headphones and listen to the music* from Celeste. The pixel art is also gorgeous. The game controls are so simple and tight that there is zero room for error. As a 2D platformer, Celeste belongs to a genre that is notoriously brutal and unforgiving. From the very start of the game, though, Celeste sets an encouraging tone for the player: “You can do this,” the protagonist tells herself. “Just breathe.”

“Celeste gives me the tools and guidance to succeed so that every death is my own fault,” writes Emily Heller for Polygon. “I find this oddly comforting, since I know every stage can be bested; I just have to keep trying.”

There are going to be many times during this game where you want to give up. I can’t count how many times I rage-quit (though I can say exactly how many times I died, since the game keeps track). But after some time away, I would resume the game and beat that seemingly impossible puzzle almost effortlessly. Why was it so hard before?

Celeste Mountain makes manifest the climbers’ deepest fears. For Madeline, a physical embodiment of her anxiety discourages her from continuing her journey. Madeline first tries to outrun this part of herself, then musters up her courage to confront her head-on. I don’t need you, Madeline tells the negative part of herself. You’re holding me back. This pushing-away has terrible consequences, though, and Madeline hits rock bottom – literally the deepest depths of the mountain. There, she realizes that she can’t conquer Celeste without accepting herself in her totality, fears and all. Madeline’s contrition and reconciliation with the negative part of herself moved me to tears. Together, supporting one another, they summit the mountain.

Through some challenging gameplay (just want to emphasize that again: this game is very hard), Celeste teaches the player that progress isn’t always linear. Through Madeline’s experience, the game reveals that the only way to conquer your fears is through self-love. It is the starting place for true change.

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If you play Celeste (and I really, really hope you do), remember that the effort is what makes it rewarding. It is supposed to be hard. But you’ll get better, and you’ll return to earlier levels and wonder how in the world you found them difficult at all. Facing your fears and accepting yourself sometimes demands an intense inner struggle, too, but you’re going to come out on the other side – or on the top of the mountain – better for it.

2018 Runners-Up
Into the Breach
Florence
Gris

* Lena Raine, the composer for Celeste‘s music, wrote a really interesting blog post about her creative process using as an example one of the game’s most popular tracks. As someone who knows nothing about music, this sort of thing is super interesting to me, and maybe it will be for you too.

FOR NEXT YEAR

I am still trying to stop swearing. I was doing pretty well at this for a while, but inevitably we are influenced by the people around us. I’m going to keep trying.

I have to stop using my phone while driving. This is a terrible habit. Even with my phone mounted to my dashboard, I don’t need to keep changing my music while I’m driving, and definitely I don’t need to read a text or check my Neko Atsume cats “real quick” at a stop light. If you’re in the car with me, please keep me accountable.

I want to – need to – write more. It’s a shame that the only writing I do anymore is for work and for this blog. I have to find some way to stay inspired. Someone please start a creative project with me to maintain my motivation.

Some undefined fitness goal? I focused a lot on running and swimming this year with an appalling collection of tan lines to show for it. Maybe 2019 is the year I come back to the church of iron? Maybe it will be the year I find the balance between the two? Maybe I will give up and be fat in peace at last?

Finally, I am turning 30 soon. I thought this would scare me. With the exception of things that are the result of trauma, as I get older, I feel less afraid, less frantic, less rushed. A family friend once told me that, in his head, he doesn’t feel any older than he was in his twenties; it’s his body that betrays him. I think I’m starting to understand what he meant.

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Bullet Journals and Me

“That’s unprofessional,” one of my LPOs on the ship told me as I scribbled a reminder on the back of my hand. It was his passive-aggressive way of telling me to stop doing it. I didn’t listen because 1. it wasn’t an order and 2. I have a bad attitude.

Fed up with my bullshit, my chief told me explicitly to stop, which I did, for the most part. I started writing on my wrist instead, right below the strap of my watch. I patted myself on the back, thinking this was very clever: it was more or less out of sight but still maintained the spirit of my stupid system. But of course they caught on to this, too, and the jig was up.

I was certain that, if a reminder about a task wasn’t immediately in front of my face, I would forget about it for good. I’m like an infant with object impermanence, but for things to do: once it’s out of sight, it’s completely out of mind. I had to find some other way.

If you’re in the military, you’ve seen those little memorandum books: green, pocket-sized, reporter style. The memo notebook’s larger, hard-covered cousin, the logbook, was a precious and scarce commodity on the ship; having one of those was a status symbol. The highest tier of Navy notebooks was the leather-bound, magnetic-clasped varieties carried around by Chiefs and Chief-aspirants.

In other words, this was me, your typical shitty E-4:

This was your workcenter supervisor:

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This was your LPO:

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This was… yeah:

So I started small, with one of those little memo notebooks. For the most part, it worked out pretty well. It fit easily in all my pockets and it was so cheap and common that I could scribble all over it without feeling any sort of organizational impulse.

I mentioned that it was cheap. What I mean is that it wasn’t durable, and ship life takes a toll on things. This little book was rained on, sweated on, HAZMAT’d on, put through the laundry once or twice by accident. But for all I put it through, it’s still more or less intact and (arguably) legible.

And then bullet journaling hit the internet like a ton of bricks.

It is an incredibly, almost insultingly, simple method of organization. It takes a list of tasks and breaks down big, long-range plans to the smaller, daily tasks. A bullet journal, at its essence, is an agenda that you design for yourself from a blank notebook. The original method suggests organizing pages by year, then month, then week, but the appeal of the bullet journal – and why it became so popular so quickly – is that it gives you a broad framework under which you can develop a system that works best for you. And I was definitely in need of a new, better system.

In 2016, I started with one of those light green logbooks mentioned above. I had become a first class, after all. It was time to move up! The logbook withstood damage better than the memo book, but it was harder to carry around. Bulky and with sharp corners, it was not very pocket friendly.

But it was my very first bullet journal, the first journal in which I used an organizational method, not just scribbling and crossing-out on any available empty space. It took some getting used to, but it ended up being a really useful system. I felt more “on top” of things: less forgetting, less falling through the cracks, more reliable in showing up where and when I was needed.

Next, I tried a small, grid-lined Moleskine notebook. In the stationery corner of the internet, Moleskine is your basic bitch, but for me, anything that wasn’t military-issue was a huge upgrade. I used this style of notebook for two years – 2017 and 2018 – and it helped me learn what qualities of a bullet journal were absolutely essential for me. I had developed a system!

(Moleskine’s classic notebook. Pocket-sized. $15. An entire year in the size of my palm.)

Here are the elements that have been consistently included in each new iteration of my journal:

  • Index
  • Future log (year at a glance)
  • Addresses
  • Passwords and log-ins
  • Books read, movies and TV shows seen
  • A few pages for misc notes and scribbles
  • Blue brains (flying notes)
  • Monthly log (month at a glance)
  • Weekly log (where the action happens!)

Everything from the index to the blue brains comprises the first quarter or so of the notebook. I like to keep the odds and ends separate from the logs. This is what this year’s index looked like:

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You can see how I would be devastated if I were to misplace my bullet journal. It contains an entire year’s worth of data. That’s why it’s so important to me to keep it close and handy at all times: it has become an extension of myself. One of my mentors calls his notebook an “external brain.”

Here is an example of what it looks like on the inside. A typical monthly and weekly log:

The monthly “to do” stuff carries over through the weeks ahead. Once you write down a task, the bullet journal system forces you to address it in some capacity: complete it, move it forward or backward, or delete it if it becomes irrelevant. This is ideal for tasking triage, or managing the most important, urgent stuff first. Used correctly, nothing gets lost, even amidst the chaos.

You can see how there is some bleed-through on the pages and how the binding on the notebook is coming a little loose. For 2018, I am trying a new brand of notebook: the Dingbats pocket-sized notebook. It is almost identical to the Moleskine, but has better paper quality and appears more durable. But that’s the only big change. With small tweaks here and there, I’ve found a way of staying organized that works really well for me – without being unprofessional.

If you’re looking for a way of staying on top of your to-do list in a way that makes sense to you, why not start from scratch? Bullet journals give you a loose but usable structure, flexible enough for you to manipulate it as it works best for your own life. It has helped me quite a bit; I can’t imagine not using it anymore. If you are interested, here are some resources on how to get started.

The official bullet journal website
Why I started a bullet journal, and so should you (Financial Times)
Why do millennials love bullet journals? Control. (Vox)
The Bullet Journal, Minus the Hype, is Actually a Really Good Planner (Lifehacker)
Bullet Journaling for Beginners (and Impatient, Unartistic People Like Me) (Medium)

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Amazon Kindle: Oasis or New Paperwhite?

NOTE: I’ve had this post in the holster for a while. I wanted to make sure I used the Oasis enough to give it a fair review. Then those clowns over at Amazon went and released a Paperwhite-Oasis hybrid this week for half the price. What the hell! Why do I keep giving those jerks my dollars?

Here is the post anyway.

I like to read. I spend a lot of time doing it. It is a big part of my aesthetic.

I got a regular Kindle – no bells or whistles – as a birthday gift a few years ago. I was incredibly touched by the thoughtfulness of it; someone essentially provided me access to infinite books. I had never owned an e-reader before and I have to admit I was a little bit of a stuck-up purist when it came to reading. Physical books only! Gotta smell that good binding glue.

But the idea of reading all of the Game of Thrones books without having to lug around massive tomes was pretty appealing. I decided I would use the Kindle just for the big and cumbersome books, especially on the ship where personal space was limited. A compromise, right?

I ended up liking the Kindle a lot, especially after learning how to use the library’s e-book system. Unlimited power! It hasn’t replaced physical books, but at this point I almost wish that it would: my book hoarding is starting to get a little out of control and I live in less than 600 sq/ft of apartment space.

Anyway.

The Kindle, as a basic e-reader, is excellent. The battery life is unbelievable, especially if you keep it on airplane mode (which, if you get digital books from your library, you should, so you can keep your loans after they expire! STREET SMARTS!). It is inexpensive and durable; mine has a few scratches but, for all that I put it through, it is in great condition. It fit perfectly in the back pocket of my shipboard coveralls, even in a protective case. With no LEDs, it is very easy on the eyes, especially at bedtime.

So over the summer I found myself post-deployment rich and wanted to buy something nice. Why not a new e-reader – a quality e-reader? Perhaps the Gucci of digitized text? Even though I use my Kindle almost as much as I use my phone, I still felt a little guilty buying a new one, since the old one still works just fine, so many years later.

There are a few things about the regular Kindle (not Paperwhite) that I don’t like.

  1. It is tough to read one-handed. This is not something you would guess just by looking at it. The symmetry of the Kindle is visually pleasing but it requires the reader to pinch the corner or side of the device to keep it in hand. It doesn’t have page-turn buttons, and tapping the screen one-handed demands uncomfortable contortions – not unlike reading one-handed with a physical book when it comes to the position of the little finger.
  2. It doesn’t have a backlight. This isn’t a dealbreaker for me; I don’t mind using a book light or switching to my phone if I need illumination. I think my eyes are getting worse, though, and lately I have been having a harder time reading without the extra light on the screen. A backlight would be convenient, but only if it doesn’t keep me awake after reading in bed at night.
  3. The operating system is insultingly slow. It takes ages to recognize a wifi network. Sometimes I have to reset the device before it syncs up with my Amazon account and downloads new book purchases. Also, I can’t purchase books directly from the Kindle device. In fact, I can’t purchase them through the Amazon app on my phone, either. I have to use my internet browser to navigate to Amazon’s webpage to buy the book, then wait for it to get sent to my Kindle. This is incredibly short-sighted; I’ll reach the end of a sample of a book and think, I’d like to read more! But I have to go on a choose-your-own-adventure style quest to get the rest of the book. Amazon, for real, what the hell?
  4. The screen is framed by the device’s plastic body. Unlike a tablet, for example, which has one smooth, continuous surface, there is a gap in between the screen and the body of the e-reader. Dust and sand love to get up in there and hang out. It is really hard to clean that stuff out once it’s in there. And it’s always in there. It lives there now, perhaps forever. There is little bits of every place that I’ve ever been, still lodged in the corners of my Kindle. That would be kinda nice if it wasn’t so gross.

Which e-reader would correct these issues? Specifically, which Amazon brand of e-reader would correct these issues, because I’m a brand-slave due to my Kindle library?

The Paperwhite has backlighting, but shares the same physical structure of the original Kindle (ie, nooks and crannies for dirt to hide). The Voyage solves that issue and has page-turning buttons on the sides so the reader doesn’t have to swipe the screen. But I was curious about the asymmetry of the Oasis. It doesn’t appear intuitive, but after some thought, I could see how the imbalanced grip would actually be more comfortable, if a little strange-looking, for one-handed reading.

It’s definitely not cheap. For $300, I got one without ads. What a treat.

But is the price tag worth being able to dunk your Kindle in the bathtub like a teabag?

Here are the pros:

  1. Reading one-handed is a lot easier – if holding the device relatively flat. If I’m sitting upright on the couch or at a table, it feels very comfortable. My thumb rests along the page-turn buttons and I don’t have to move my hand at all to turn the page. This is wonderful.

    (Holding flat – comfortable, balanced, and ergonomic! Holding upright – say, in bed, laying on my back – the corner gets a little stabby into the palm after prolonged reading.)

  2. Fingers curl quite naturally along the lip on the back.
  3. I can buy books directly from the device! What should have been a default feature (and smart business tactic) now feels like a luxury. So, thanks, I guess?
  4. It is waterproof – or so they say. I’ve taken it in the bath a few times and haven’t had any accidental (or deliberate) dunks yet. I don’t feel nervous about ruining it with my wet hands and I can read by candlelight thanks to the backlighting. This is actually very nice, but backlighting is certainly not unique to the Oasis. (And now the waterproofing isn’t, either! I died and went to hell.) img_6814
  5. The operating system and page refresh are much faster, noticeably so.
  6. The battery life is comparable to the ordinary Kindle, but only if you leave it on airplane mode. I read a lot of complaints about this before purchasing, but so far it seems fine to me.
  7. The screen is one smooth, continuous surface – no gaps or crevasses for the entirety of the desert or beach to hide in when I travel.

All in all, what I like about the Oasis is that it’s much easier to hold, it’s nice on the eyes for both device design and actual reading, and it corrected a lot of the software issues from previous iterations of the Kindle.

If I could go back in time, would I hold off on buying the Oasis in order to wait for the improved, waterproof Paperwhite?

Probably not. My biggest complaint about the regular Kindle/Paperwhite is how uncomfortable it is to hold one-handed. That is still true; the physical design is unchanged. The asymmetry of the Oasis fixes this problem, at least to my satisfaction.

But should you buy it? Would I recommend it to others?

Honestly, if you have a few hundred bucks to piss away, sure. I don’t really have any huge complaints about the Oasis – but I’m not sure that I have effusive praise, either. All in all, it’s not so different from the much cheaper, earlier Kindle that I own. There are tons of other non-Amazon, more affordable e-readers out there, too. I would probably recommend one of those.

Or I can give you my old Kindle as a gift, just as it had been given as a gift to me. It still works great! Given the choice between the two, though, I do always reach for the Oasis. That’s worth something.

Just probably not $300.

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Patriotism and Colin Kaepernick

My dad likes a quote that is often attributed to Churchill: if you’re not a liberal in your twenties, you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative in your thirties, you have no brain.

“Uh oh,” I said on the phone with him this weekend. “I’m almost 30. You’d better convince me soon.”

judge judy

One of the things that we argue about lately is protests that involve patriotic symbolism. My dad reveres his parents’ generation, particularly the sacrifices they made during World War II. From his perspective, taking a knee before the flag is a grievous disrespect to the legacy we’ve all inherited as Americans – especially the sacrifices that fuel the freedoms we enjoy and, sometimes, take for granted. My dad is grateful almost beyond words for all the hardships his parents endured to give him a better life. It is a very touching message. It inspires me to follow his example and venerate my parents more.

I think I understand his perspective. But what bothers me is when people say that protesting the anthem is disrespectful to veterans specifically. It seems like civilians tend to invoke the armed forces as a sort of moral rallying cry. I think this is for two reasons:

  1. They recognize that they have done nothing to sacrifice specifically on behalf of their country, and
  2. They want to make it known that we ought to venerate those who do.

This seems to manifest as feel-good displays of public adoration, big in style but small in results. A recent article in The Atlantic, “The Plunging Morale of America’s Service Members,” says,

Our military is a major part of who we are as a country; it is the force that has undergirded the post–World War II international order. Being an American means being deeply implicated in that, for good or for ill. But… the solution to our current dead end doesn’t lie within the military itself. The military can’t set its own goals, can’t determine its own budget or which ideals it fights and dies for, and can’t decide how its losses will be honored, dishonored, or appropriated after the fact. So while America as a whole chooses to express its love for its military in gooey, substance-free displays, our military waits, perhaps hopelessly, for a coherent national policy that takes the country’s wars seriously.

What would such a thing look like? It would probably look like rescinding the open-ended Authorization for the Use of Military Force and making the president regularly go before Congress to explain where and why he was putting troops in harm’s way, what resources the mission required, and what the terms of success were. It would look like every member of Congress carrying out his or her constitutionally mandated duty to provide oversight of our military adventures by debating and then voting on that plan. It would look like average Americans taking part in that debate, and scorning anyone who tried to tell them they couldn’t. It would look like average Americans rolling their eyes in disgust when our leaders tell us we’re not at war while American troops are risking their lives overseas, or claim that Americans must support the wars their country engages in if they want to support the troops, or when a press secretary argues that anyone who questions the success of a military raid in which a service member died “owes an apology” to that fallen soldier. It would look like our politicians letting the fallen rest in peace, rather than propping up their corpses for political cover. And when service members die overseas in unexpected places, such as the four killed in Niger last year, it would look like us eschewing the easy symbolic debates about whether our president is disrespecting our troops by inartfully offering condolences or whether liberals are disrespecting our troops by seizing upon those inartful condolences for political gain. It would look like us instead having a longer and harder conversation about the mission we are asking soldiers to perform, and whether we are doing them the honor of making sure it’s achievable.

In short, it would look like Americans as a whole doling out a lot fewer cheap, sentimental displays of love for our troops, and doubling down on something closer to Gunny Maxwell’s “tough love”—a love that means zeroing in on our country’s faults and failures.

The essay is worth reading in full. It describes why service and sacrifice don’t exist in a vacuum – they are only as good as the mission, “one that is achievable, moral, and in keeping with the values of the society they represent and whose flag they wear on their uniform.”

“I’m willing to listen,” my dad said, after we had argued back and forth about what it means to kneel before the flag. “Give me something to read and maybe I’ll change my mind.”

So here we are. This brings us to Colin Kaepernick and the NFL.


As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and Syria, and Yemen, and Pakistan, and Somalia, and Libya, and… – drag on, morale and recruitment are down. The military is visibly, painfully scrambling to keep people in the service and to get them to actually deploy.

Someone over at the Pentagon must have realized that direct advertising wasn’t working. The branches could show commercials until they bled dry and no one would pay attention – at least, not beyond a vague mushy feeling about The Troops™. No, what the Department of Defense needed was to inspire Americans, to appeal to their love of country, to motivate them to action – to join the fight, to continue funding the fight, to keep seeing the fight as relevant and necessary. Instead of promoting the military specifically, they would instead commercialize patriotism itself. At the very least, it would encourage Americans to continue to support the ongoing – endless – wars overseas. At best, more desperately-needed bodies in the war machine.

So the Department of Defense start paying millions of dollars to promote America, the brand. Fly-overs. Service members in uniform. A giant, billowing flag. And, of course, the anthem, our most favorite and sacred song. The government paid millions of dollars to sports organizations to dial the ‘MERICA up to eleven. And somewhere along the way, these patriotic displays went from a sentimental salute to government-sponsored marketing to untouchable and holy – something mandatory.

Known liberal softie who has never experienced the terror of war John McCain (may he rest in peace) wrote,

“Americans across the country should be deeply disappointed that many of the ceremonies honoring troops at professional sporting events are not actually being conducted out of a sense of patriotism, but for profit in the form of millions in taxpayer dollars going from the Department of Defense to wealthy pro sports franchises… Fans should have confidence that their hometown heroes are being honored because of their honorable military service, not as a marketing ploy.” (NPR)

Further reading:
Pentagon paid sports teams millions for patriotic events (USA Today)
NFL’s tangled ties with national anthem don’t run deep (CBS)

This is our starting point. This is, actually, my reference point. I am a white woman. I have never experienced the sort of discrimination highlighted by Kaepernick and many others. I believe he is right and should be listened to, and there is plenty of evidence to back him up. But the point I’m trying to make here is not whether or not Kaepernick’s protest is a valid one; it’s whether or not taking a knee is disrespectful to the idea of America, symbolized by the flag and anthem and, because it seems like we’re always dragged in when it’s politically convenient, veterans.

What idea of America, though? Whose idea of America? Not my dad’s, certainly – the idea of the greatest generation storming the beach at Normandy, raising the flag at Iwo Jima, returning homes as heroes from a just and popular war. That is something terribly idyllic.

Kaepernick and people of color in general have a vastly different experience of America than my dad did – or, despite being Kaepernick’s age, than I did. I am capable of believing that different people have different experiences, and some of those experiences are rooted in other people’s unjust perceptions of them. Surely we have all been in a position where someone treated us badly for something beyond our control. And what is more beyond one’s control than the color of their skin?

Political protest is as old as our country itself. Our country was founded on political protest, and the right to do so is guaranteed in our Bill of Rights. But there is this idea that kneeling for the flag is an abuse of those rights, and moreover, a slap in the face to those who have made sacrifices to uphold them. Who else? It is disrespectful toward the military.

When Colin Kaepernick began his protest of the national anthem in 2016, he started by sitting. But before 2009, teams stayed in the locker room while the anthem played.* A former Green Beret turned short-time Seattle Seahawk named Nate Boyer wrote Kaepernick an open letter, in which he says, “During college football games, both teams usually wait in the locker room until after the national anthem. That always bothered me. Leading the team out of the tunnel while carrying the American flag meant a lot, but I still regretted not being out there to stand for that song.” He describes the pride he felt during his first NFL game, when he was allowed to demonstrate his patriotism. “As I ran out of the tunnel with the American flag I could feel myself swelling with pride, and as I stood on the sideline with my hand on my heart as the anthem began, that swelling burst into tears.”

( * With the NFL’s recent ruling that protesting players must remain in the locker room during the anthem – a return to the previous norm – President Trump said, “Isn’t that worse than not standing?… I actually think in many ways it’s worse.”)

What’s most impressive about Boyer’s letter, though, is the absence of condemnation of Kaepernick’s protests, despite these patriotic symbols holding so much personal significance to him.

Even though my initial reaction to your protest was one of anger, I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying and why you’re doing it… I look forward to the day you’re inspired to once again stand during our national anthem.

Boyer had listened and tried to understand. Kaepernick listened, too. He got in touch with Boyer and together they came to a compromise:

We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates. Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect. When we’re on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security.

 

Kaepernick asked Boyer to kneel beside him. Boyer declined, but he said he would stand alongside Kaepernick – showing solidarity while still staying true to his own ideals.

Listening. Understanding. Compromise. This is the my generation’s version of the idyllic America – different people with different opinions coming together and supporting one another’s rights.

In an interview with NPR, Boyer said something very beautiful about the act of kneeling.

In my opinions and in my experience, kneeling’s never been in our history really seen as a disrespectful act. I mean, people kneel when they get knighted. You kneel to propose to your wife, and you take a knee to pray… So I thought, if anything, besides standing, that was the most respectful.

Further reading:
Colin Kaepernick vs. Tim Tebow: A tale of two Christians on their knees (Washington Post)
Tim Tebow not happy about ‘Tebowing’ being brought into national anthem protests debate (USA Today)

It’s worth mentioning that there are many veterans who disagree with Kaepernick and, by extension, Boyer. Boyer wrote a follow-up letter that echoes these concerns. I think many veterans, fighting increasingly unpopular wars on behalf of population who doesn’t care about them, neglected by the government when they come home, feel like their service is being taken for granted. This is a real and true feeling. They need their sacrifices – the deaths and trauma, the missed birthdays and weddings, the time away from family and friends – to mean something. When we see those coffins come home draped with the flag, we have to believe the flag was worth it. I get it.

But this isn’t about the military. It never was. We keep getting foisted into the conversation because we have the deepest link to these symbols. It’s hard not to take even perceived disrespect very personally. But despite the jets and bunting and songs and confetti, none of this was ever about us or our service or our sacrifice.

It’s about everyone else back home.

Further reading:
SOLDIERS SPEAK OUT ON KAEPERNICK: His protest ‘makes him more American than anyone’ (Business Insider)
Minorities in the Military Open Up About the N.F.L., Kaepernick and Nike (NYT)

(Both of these articles are worth reading. They contain some pretty spicy Hot Takes on racism and civilians selectively caring about veterans.)

One Army veteran is quoted in the NYT article above,

As a black man and former service member with two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, the sad reality is that statistically speaking, I was more likely to be killed by a police officer at home in New York City than by the Taliban or an armed combatant in a far-off land. I have parted ways and broken ties with former comrades who I went to war with because of their foolhardy and abhorrent views on unarmed black people being wrongfully killed and their complete misconstruing of the Kaepernick protest.

These men want complacence and silence, even though we fought for and had friends who died for the right of citizens to speak freely against injustice and inequity. I realized that these same white comrades, even after sharing the bond of service, ultimately only judge and value me in the same way as their favorite black athletes: as a commodity.


But what good does it do? If kneeling causes so much offense and controversy, is it really fixing anything? Isn’t it making it worse? Tearing us apart as a nation?

NFL players occasionally wear pink for breast cancer awareness. Pink doesn’t cure cancer, but it draws attention to a terrible disease and the hope for a cure. After all, wasn’t that the point of paying the NFL to make these patriotic overtures to begin with – to raise visibility of service members?

“It starts the conversation about social issues,” I told my dad. “He has a platform. He is getting people to acknowledge a problem.”

“But he’s being paid millions of dollars to play football,” my dad said. (He was. Now, blacklisted from the NFL, Kaepernick has a contract with Nike.) Why isn’t he protesting on his own time? (See above: platform, conversation.) Why isn’t he taking actual steps to address these issues?

It’s a little unfair to expect Colin Kaepernick to fix racism. But he is still trying to make a positive impact. This must have been such a frequent but inaccurate criticism of Kaepernick that Sports Illustrated did a substantial profile on his charitable work – and awarded him the 2017 Muhammad Ali Legacy Award “for his steadfastness in the fight for social justice, for his adherence to his beliefs no matter the cost.”

Images courtesy of the Sports Illustrated profile – which is already a little bit dated and doesn’t include Kaepernick’s most recent charitable endeavors (see below). It is long but worth reading; it emphasizes how Kaepernick uses his money as investments toward social change rather than as simple fire-and-forget donations.

If all athletes took such a specific, targeted approach to their charitable endeavors, [Adam Jackson, the CEO of a grassroots Baltimore-based think tank] says, they could affect immediate structural change in their communities. “They all tweet, they talk, they wear T-shirts—and that’s cool,” he says. “But that’s cultural. And cultural change can go but so far.

“The purpose of protest is to change the environment that gives everyone else permission not to care about these issues. If there were 100 Colin Kaepernick’s—or 2,000!—then you’d be talking about a real social movement.

“Just kneeling,” he says, “is a cop-out.”

The article also observes the “hypocrisy in NFL teams and fan bases that want players to appear charitable—visiting sick children in hospitals, for instance, or cutting ribbons at community center openings—but not actually jump into the fray themselves, especially on thornier issues.” Kaepernick, by contrast, isn’t trumpeting his efforts, but letting the actions speak for themselves. And these actions are making waves in small communities.

And, of course, we always have to circle back to the military. We’re going to be part of the conversation whether we want to or not.

When Kaepernick first took a knee, he clearly (and later frequently) noted the reason for his protest: to draw attention to police brutality and the need for reform. That act meant even more to Collette Flanagan, [mother of a young black man shot dead by a Dallas police officer], than did the $25,000 he donated to Mothers Against Police Brutality, the organization she started in her son’s honor. It has pained her to see Trump and other detractors misrepresent the quarterback’s initial intentions, to see the meaning of his kneeling shift beneath him. Kaepernick’s protest was never about the military or the flag, as the President has suggested. It was always about injustice, specifically young black men being killed. Men like her son.

Further reading:
Colin Kaepernick Not Stopping, Donations Roll Past $1 Million (Forbes)
Colin Kaepernick jerseys to raise money for charity sell out hours after going on sale (CBS Sports)


My mom, my gentle, patient, affectionate mother, suddenly really likes war movies. Maybe it helps her appreciate the horrors that other Americans have endured for the sake of her freedom. Maybe it helps her relate to the military more, and by extension, me. But when I started having panic attacks as a result of a trauma I experienced while in the military, she said – not out of malice, but helplessness and misunderstanding – that happened a long time ago. Shouldn’t you be over it by now?

get up

But it was only four years ago. Sometimes trauma lasts centuries, spans whole generations, disappears and reemerges, and takes on different forms, like severing the head off the Hydra.

Sometimes we think that time and social progress are correlated, that as we grow in knowledge we will also grow in justice. As a general trend, I want to believe it is true. As an American, I want to be proud of our way of life. As a veteran, I want to trust in the good intentions of the civilian population and lawmakers in particular. When someone thanks me for my service, I want to believe that I represent something worth the gratitude. But the march of time is not a guarantee of positive human development. Believing such a fallacy makes us morally lazy at best and, at worst, cruel or indifferent to the plight of others.

My dad is allowed to object to Kaepernick’s protest. That’s his right as an American, and I will support him. The philosophical underpinnings of those rights are worth fighting for. But he has to find a justification for his indignation beyond his appreciation for the sacrifice of the military. I won’t let my service be used as a political prop to be waved around when convenient. I made an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America” – not the anthem, not the flag, not some symbol, but our actual, written rights. Even if that means challenging my most sacred ideas of what America is all about. Even if that means challenging my dad, who I love very much, and who raised me to be as argumentative as I inevitably became. Our differences in opinion keep us both sharp and passionate. Sometimes we even listen to one another.

When I was in SERE training, one of our last experiences was listening to the prison guards go on a tirade about how awful America is while tearing up and burning an American flag. The officers in our group, kneeling in front of the formation, turned around, putting their backs to our tormentors in silent protest. We enlisted immediately followed suit. We couldn’t stop the enemy from disrespecting the flag (and before anyone gets upset, no flags were harmed in the making of this training – it was torn up in the correct, ceremonial method, but we were all so delirious with hunger and exhaustion that we didn’t realize it), but we didn’t want to acknowledge it, either. It was an extremely moving, unifying moment of defiance. I cried then, linking arms with the sailors beside me. I still get choked up whenever I talk about it in person.

It was emotionally compelling. But it was also the completely wrong thing to do.

Our instructors – those people who were preparing us for the very worst experiences of war – explained later that the flag is just a symbol. It doesn’t mean anything on its own, only the meaning we give to it. America, they said, is who we are. It is what we carry in our hearts, and the reasons that we choose to fight. The flag is just a piece of cloth that can be torn up and destroyed (and, if you’ve invested so much into it emotionally, enemies will use that against you). But America is an idea, and ideas are unkillable.

I’ll end with this: an excerpt from The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a brilliant literary work describing the destruction caused by totalitarian regimes and Soviet communism in particular.

At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ovation.” For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy applause, rising to an ovation,” continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who’d been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on – six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly — but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them? The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter…Then after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of his interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:

“Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!”

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Your First Travel Video

Do you find yourself taking a bunch of videos when you travel? Interested in putting together a beautiful, polished video collage to show your friends and family? You’ve come to the right place. Here is an easy, 10-step guide on how to make your very first travel video!

  1. These first few steps are for your hardware and software setup!
    • Win a GoPro at your work’s holiday party. Try to sell it because your life is not extreme enough to warrant an action camera. Give up. Keep it.
    • Spill water all over your hand-me-down MacBook. This is crucial: it will prompt you to buy a better computer, one which will not only be able to run a weighty Adobe program, but will also let you play all your old Steam games again!
    • Optional step: procrastinate on video production by playing Team Fortress 2.
    • Download Adobe Premiere Pro. Your favorite people on YouTube use it. How hard can it be?
  2. Go somewhere. Do stuff. Record it. (Important!)
  3. Download your videos from your camera to your computer. Watch them all. Realize that this step is extremely tedious and that no less than 98% of your footage is trash. Put it off for months (not recommended); revisit optional step in #1.
  4. To choose a song that encourages a particular vibe, leave your music library on shuffle for a month. Agonize.
  5. Throw clips haphazardly into Premiere. Try to construct a narrative completely free-form. Spend weeks wondering why this is so hard. Why it won’t work?
  6. Return to step 3. Stress out under self-imposed deadlines. Decide to Get Serious™.
    • Map out the song you’ve chosen. How many seconds are there per line? Verse? Chorus? This helps understand how much time to dedicate to each segment.
    • Select video clips so that they fit into these time constraints.
    • What? That’s it? That’s so much easier. Why didn’t you do that from the start?
  7. Watch dozens of instructional videos on YouTube on how to add cool effects to your video. Spend an entire day doing a single title sequence. Decide that that is enough. Who are you trying to impress anyway? You know your family will be stoked to see whatever garbage you churn out.
  8. Brief interlude for creative crisis and/or impostor syndrome.
  9. Watch your video all the way through no fewer than 100 times, scrutinizing for any possible mistake. Realize that you’re actually enjoying your own content. This indicates that you are, in fact, finally finished.
  10. Post your completed video to your social media. Congratulations! Watch those likes roll in!

In all seriousness, though, I have a lot of fun making videos. I’m struggling still to understand Adobe’s Premiere, but the more I use it, the more ideas I get for other videos to do, traveling and otherwise. It motivates me to get better!

Here are all of the videos I have made so far, in chronological order. Thank you for watching!

 

 

 

 

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Intermittent Fasting

Our deployments are frequent but short: eight weeks, a few times a year. Two months is the perfect amount of time to experiment with something new, especially if it can lead to a positive habit.

Last time, I was out for twice as long, and I didn’t shave the entire time. It was a psychological struggle from start to finish, and I was relieved to finally get rid of my body hair when I got home. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. I tried it. It wasn’t for me.

This time: intermittent fasting. It was a lot easier. (???)

I got the idea from the people I work with. “Metabolic window!” one of them shrieks about halfway through the day, like a ring of a bell to bring pigs to the trough. They all swear by it, though, saying that it helped them stay lean but also maintain muscle mass.

These were not my goals. My issue – my perpetual torment – is that I feel completely ruled by cravings. Being hungry makes me miserable, and, for some reason, I am always hungry, always thinking about the next meal. I don’t know why I’m like this, but I am, and I don’t want to be. My hope was that regular, daily fasting would help calibrate or at least manage my appetite such that it didn’t consume so much of my brainspace.

Anyway, the idea behind IF is simple: you fast for longer than you feed. Different people use different techniques, but most common seems to be 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of feeding – which, in practical terms, amounts to skipping breakfast or dinner. No caloric intake at all while in the fasting phase.

It is particularly interesting how we seem to be moving beyond the “six small meals a day” trend that was so pervasive only a decade ago, at least in terms of popular nutrition. Intermittent fasting is almost exactly the opposite.

I didn’t execute this perfectly, especially at first. I didn’t want to give up my coffee-with-sweetener at the start of the day. Then I had a bottle of Black Blood of the Earth shipped to the deployment site, which provided my morning go-go potion and kept me in the fasting phase for an extra few hours. (Black coffee allegedly does not break the metabolic window.)

We can’t drink while deployed, and I try not to eat any of the vast abundance of delicious desserts on prominent display at the galley (again: my eternal misery). So no alcohol or sweets. Besides that, though, I didn’t really change anything. In fact, I ate like trash. People assume that because I don’t eat meat, I’m very healthy, all the time. Not so, I promise you. My deployment diet was 90% potato with the previous food-service contractor, and when they changed over, it became 90% bread in the convenient form of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. So, yeah, not a particularly balanced diet.

“Please,” my body wailed. “Feed me a vegetable. Just one, once, please.”

And that’s the wild thing: despite that, it sort of worked.

Dealing with the hunger pains was extremely challenging at first, especially during the last hour or two of the fast when I knew feasting was imminent. In time, though, it became surprisingly easy to tolerate, an annoying but manageable ache. Let’s take a moment here to appreciate how incredibly, horribly privileged this sounds: while I was whining from being hungry, I always had food nearby, ready to eat as soon as I was within my window. I knew, at all times, that the hunger was self-imposed and could be terminated at any time. There are so, so many people who are hungry in the world, and not because they choose to be for the sake of a strange body experiment. And that sucks. I think that made this exercise worthwhile possibly even in a moral sense.

After a time, then, being hungry didn’t feel like the worst possible suffering anymore. I could walk by the donut counter and not feel actual agony over not being able to eat any of them. IF significantly reduced my biggest weaknesses: my appetite and my cravings for sweets. That alone is a (Borat voice) great success.

A downside, though: after six weeks of uninterrupted, fairly reliable intermittent fasting, I started noticing a significant decline in energy and difficulty sleeping. This could have been attributed to any number of other things going on in a deployment setting, but in case anyone else experiences similar symptoms, it might be a good idea to take a break for a while. And also to talk to a doctor before starting any new diet!

Overall, I’m glad I gave this a try. It’s the sort of thing I could stick to for some time, possibly even longer than eight weeks. Will I, though? Probably not. But I know that intermittent fasting is something that works for me if I need to stop being such a baby about being hungry and wanting donuts all the time.

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An Obituary for Alice Gleba, My Grandma

Grandma wrote her own obituary. She wrote down what song she wanted to play at her funeral and what clothes she wanted to be dressed in. She last updated it in 2014. This is a comfort: she was ready.

She wanted to be remembered for her family, of course. Her parents and siblings, all of whom predeceased her except for one brother. Her children, two daughters and two sons, and her seven grandchildren.

Grandma was the daughter of immigrants, first generation Americans from Austria. I wonder often about what their experience was like, coming to the USA at the turn of the century. Grandma was born in 1928, only a year before the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. Her family owned a farm and a bunch of land in New Britain, CT, which must have mitigated somewhat the effects of the Depression, but my grandma was always ruthlessly frugal. So is my mom, who shared a bed with her sister during their childhood. She and I would share that same bed when we stayed over Grandma’s.

Grandma worked at Precision Grinding in New Britain, CT for fifteen years. Her children walked to school, just a few blocks from their home, and she wanted to be there when they came home for lunch. She must have given her children a decent childhood. They all turned out very well.

Her husband, my grandpa, died when I was still very young. I don’t remember much about him, besides the oxygen and dialysis machines which kept him alive in his final years. Mom told me that he volunteered for the army during WWII and stormed the beach at Normandy. She said it was a horribly traumatic experience, that he saw his friends dying all around him from a hail of bullets and from drowning. He didn’t talk about it much. He was so poor that the army was his best chance at a better life, if he came out on the other side of it. He did. I don’t know how he and my Grandma met. I don’t know much about him at all. He was very quiet.

My mom and my grandma were very close. Grandma would come see us in Rhode Island, taking us kids out for a day so my mom could have some time to herself. She would walk us down the street to the Newport Creamery. One year, when my leg was broken in a skiing accident, she pushed me in a wheelchair all the way. She would order a scoop of vanilla ice cream and pour a tablespoon or two of coffee over the top. As a kid, I thought it was gross. Now, as an adult, I think it’s very cool.

In her obituary, Grandma wrote that her “favorite pastime was working in her garden and taking care of her yard. She also enjoyed reading and making trips to the library for new books. She liked to take nature walks, ride her bike, and cook her favorite meals.” This is a beautiful and simple summary of a life that spanned almost an entire century.

In her backyard, Grandma had a big tree that cast the whole lawn in shade, like a giant umbrella, and a statue of the Virgin Mary. She kept old road bikes in a small shed, along with her gardening tools. She would ride her bike around the neighborhood even in her 80s. It took getting hit by a car to get her to stop. Even then, she still took daily walks, picking up trash in the street as she went. More than once, she was sprayed by a skunk, which we all thought was super funny. Neighbors recognized her. All of that land used to belong to her family, Mom told me. Now it is just the one house, the house my mom was raised in, and soon, not even that.

Growing up, the whole family went up to a German family resort in the beautiful Catskill Mountains during the summer. We would hike and hit golfballs at the driving range and swim and eat and eat and eat. Someone always got stung by a bee. One time, my brother got stung by about a dozen bees, and it was sort of my fault. It seemed like everyone there knew Grandma, and she knew everyone else. She tried to teach me how to dance the polka. She would clap along to the music and she knew the words to some of the traditional German songs.

She had a sly sense of humor. She liked to play Rummy. Whenever she wrote to me – for my birthday and Christmas and Easter – she would apologize for her bad writing and spelling. It hurt me that this was something she felt like she had to say, because there was nothing wrong with how she wrote. She didn’t think she was smart, maybe because each subsequent generation of her family was more educated than the previous one, but there are many different ways to be smart. My grandma was an intensely practical person and capable in ways that I will never be.

I would video-call her and my mom on Sundays. When I’m on deployment, it was the highlight of my week, giving me a boost in morale that would carry me through the next few days. She had been losing her memory for a while, and when I was away, she would ask me every week: where are you?

“I can’t tell,” I would say awkwardly.

“She’s in West Hartford!” my mom’s fiance John would yell in the background. He had been in the Navy. He knows how it is sometimes.

“You can tell me,” Grandma would say. “I won’t squeal.”

She told me I had a nice smile and, when I expected her to give me a hard time about my haircut, she said she liked it, said it must be much easier to deal with. Grandma got it.

“Do you regret joining the service?” she would ask in a low voice, heavy with confidentiality and some other emotion that I couldn’t quite pin down.

“No,” I would say, trying to sound positive. The word would hang there, suspended between us, never really touching down. I think we both knew I was lying, at least a little bit. I think my Grandma understood what the military takes from its members, even when it tries to give them back something in return.

In the last few years of her life, my mom went to see her every weekend, being there for Grandma as Grandma had been there for her so many years ago; “the circle of life,” my mom says. Grandma knew it was Sunday because her caregiver would help her into her sneakers in the morning. Mom brought her to the mall to people-watch. They ate at the same restaurant and everyone knew her there. She would watch funny animals on youtube, asking John if he knew the animals in the videos personally, and that’s just about the cutest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.

Even as her health began to fail, she was charming and funny and stubborn. She refused to move out of her home for an assisted-care facility, clinging to this last shred of privacy and ownership that often gets taken away during one’s old age. It was a source of controversy and, sometimes, frustration for my family – where does her autonomy end and overriding concern for her safety begin? – and demanded a revolving door of lady caregivers, a compromise. For Grandma’s happiness and pride, it was worth it. She was in the most comfortable and familiar place possible when she began to slip away.

Grandma died peacefully on June 23, 2018. My brother, a doctor, was at her side in her final moments. This, too, is a tremendous comfort, and he is very brave. The rest of the family was on their way to my uncle’s surprise birthday party. They were rerouted to the hospital instead. “You know how hard it is to get everyone together at the same time,” my mom said. It was a surprise of another kind, but at least everyone was there.

This is my first time dealing with grief from a grown-up perspective. I’m thinking – constantly, much more than I want to – about what it might have been like for her to die. Did she know it was time? Was she afraid? Did she think about her husband? Her kids? Did she know that her children and grandchildren were on their way to her, rushing, frantic?

“Don’t be sad,” my mom told me over the phone, still in the hospital room. “She wouldn’t want you to be.”

It’s a common idea, but it is true. Grandma didn’t have time for all that.

She was 90 years old. The scope of the history that she lived through is almost inconceivable to me. I think often about how different the world was when she was my age and what things were like for her then. I hope my mom lives as long as her mom did. I hope I do too, and see as much as she did, and be as vivacious and strong and tenacious as she was. I will miss you, Grandma. You were our connection to a whole different world of triumph over hardship and tradition. I’m lucky to be part of your family.

Grandma

Alice Gleba, 1928-2018

 You can find her official obituary here in the New Britain Herald. You can leave a condolence for our family here. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
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