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.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.
Tagged , , , ,

Making Time for Yourself

Someone asked me recently what I would be doing to entertain myself if I was back home. I didn’t have an answer. This is, I think, for two reasons:

  1. I haven’t lived in Hawaii for long enough to carve out a familiar, comforting routine. Of the past nine months (whoa) since coming to Hawaii, I’ve been away for almost six of them, and the others were seeped in an overwhelmingly liminal feeling.
  2. Almost all of the things that make me happiest are portable.

Think about it: if you were to leave home for a while – a few weeks, or many months – what is it that you would miss? If you have a family or spouse or even a pet, they have to stay behind. That’s rough, but this is about you. Who are you, apart from everyone else? What entertains you? What activities make you feel like you are fully yourself?

I like to ask people what they look forward to doing when they get home from work and all the chores and errands are finished. My dad would never let us pick up an activity if there was work left to be done; it made really appreciate my leisure time and, more importantly, live fully inside of it, free from to-do lists nagging at the edge of my attention. So when it is time for you to put your feet up and relax, what do you reach for? If it’s something you can carry with you, then, I think, you’ll always have a little bit of home with you wherever you go.

I’m sure I have a biased perspective. It took a long time, but now I am used to living away from my family and friends, and I had to learn how to make myself happy without them around for support, filling up my time and space. And I guess I’ve always been a quiet, introverted nerd. Outdoorsy and athletic, too, but my parents wanted me to be, and I’m not sure how many of those impulses are inherent and how many are the result of habit and upbringing. In fact, even those physical activities are, for me, solitudinous – running, swimming, hiking: all alone.

2055_9afefc52942cb83c7c1f14b2139b09ba

Illustration by Chris Buzelli (from a great essay, titled “At Home in the Liminal World“)

When your principle form of diversion is depends on you alone – your creativity or motivation – almost any hobby can be carried along with you. I do things alone. I associate solitude with home. In a way, then, I can bring a little bit of home with me wherever I go.

Even amidst the roar of propeller blades and the chatter of the crew on the headsets, when I open up a book, I am transported to a different place, any place of my choosing. I can play my Nintendo Switch in a crowded, noisy lounge and forget that anyone else is there. Even writing this post, or any creative writing – I keep a notebook in my backpack, ready to seize the opportunity when inspiration strikes, and my phones “notes” app is filled with scraps of ideas and descriptions that I want to remember or revisit. When I run, it’s just me and the music (and suffering). I’m getting back into video editing, which requires a surprising amount of concentration and a challenging learning curve and a lot more invested time than I remember from before. All of these things bring me the most joy, and I can do all of them whether I’m at home or on the road.

Sometimes people get their “me” time, some comfort of home, from being around other people – group activities, team sports, spending time together. They could feel comfortable wherever they go. That is wonderful, a truly enviable characteristic. But this post is not about that.

I am deeply interested in people who make it a priority to carve out time for themselves, who have some quiet interest that draws them away from the company of others. Now, more than ever, it is so easy to waste time. (I’m guilty of this just as much as everyone else my age; I spend a truly appalling amount of time scrolling through memes and watching the same youtube videos over and over.) I’m fascinated by people who have clear priorities, who set boundaries on the time they’re willing to give to others and the time they insist on keeping for themselves. It takes some bravery and focus, and sometimes awkward explanations, to detach from the world around you and turn the focus inward instead, to be wholly and authentically yourself. I have a lot of respect for people who make it look natural and effortless, especially since I’m pretty firmly entrenched in the “antisocial weirdo” camp.

So if you have some secret hobby or passion, something that you do for you alone when no one else is watching, I’d like to hear about it sometime. I think I understand you a little bit already, and I’d like to know more.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

My First Big Race

Here is one of the productivity mind-games that I play with myself: I think of two tasks that must be completed that day and only do one of them.

Wait, you might be thinking. Doesn’t that mean you’re only half as productive as you need to be?

This is a strategy I learned by taking care of small children. Instead of asking them to come up with something to do on their own – which, if you’re familiar with the amazing and terrible natural creativity of children, could be conceivably anything – instead give them a choice between two plausible options, two things that you’re willing or able to accommodate. It’s a subtle tactic for letting them feel like they’ve made an authentic decision, one within realistic parameters of your choosing. Usually everyone ends up happy.

I guess I need to treat myself like a toddler.

Anyway, knocking out one to-do item every day is a good way to eventually and systematically accomplish all important chores. I find that it encourages me to triage tasks naturally; the things that I think need to be done immediately can actually be put off without consequence. This strategy has relieved a lot of self-imposed stress in my life.

But this post isn’t about time management. You can take that advice with you to the bank, free of charge, a gift from me to you.

For the past few weeks, when I come home from work, I’ve said to myself: okay, you’re either going to write about the big race or you’re going to go for an actual run.

Looking at the date of this post, you can figure out what I’ve been choosing: actually running, every single time. For someone who loves writing and hates running, this has been an inscrutable development. Do I like running more than I think I do? Do I have some sort of writer’s block about the subject of running itself?

I don’t know yet. But the result is that I’ve been running every day, so that’s all right. That’s what I like about this time management technique: even when I’m putting something off, I’m still getting something done.

Today I want to rest, so today I will write.


I trained for eighteen weeks using a program on the Nike running app. I was deployed for all but three of those weeks. I did very little strength training during this time, focusing instead on the four or five runs per week in the program. As time went on, so did the mileage. Towards the end of deployment, on my “long run” days, I was finding myself on the treadmill for two hours or more. My toenails turned black and fell off. I replaced my sneakers and wore down the cushioning almost immediately.

I started to realize that there was a lot more to a race than the big event itself. Preparation demands a huge time commitment.

I’ll come back to this idea later.

It was unbelievably humid on the day of the race, something I didn’t realize until about a mile or so in. I was already soaked through with sweat. The announcer at the starting line had pleaded with participants to stop at each aid station along the way to stay hydrated. I’m glad he did, otherwise my stubbornness and fear of stopping (what if I couldn’t start again?) might have led to very serious dehydration. I grabbed a cup of water or sports drinks from the outstretched arms of volunteers, slowing to a walk while I drank, then launching myself back into the fray before I could talk myself out of it.

I feared, more than anything, my own mental fragility. How easily could I talk myself into quitting?

As it turned out, it was the aid stations that kept me going – not just physically, but psychologically. As faster runners left me in the dust, as my legs and lungs began to hurt, I told myself: just make it to the next aid station. If you need to stop when you get there, you can, but for now, keep going.

Somehow, I did. I threw back the water and kept going.

I had expected the last few miles of the race to be the hardest due to elevation changes; it was a surprise when I struggled throughout the first half. I think I was pushing myself too hard to keep up with other runners. Over and over, I shrieked inside my own head: slow down! Save energy! So I pushed through the discomfort of the humidity, struggling to breathe, and puttered my way around downtown Honolulu. Slowly, willing myself to go even slower.

I started seeing runners coming from the other direction, runners in clusters of twos and threes, surrounded by motorcycles and vans. Cameras and shouts of encouragement from their teams. The real runners, those in the chase, those with something at stake in this race. It was incredibly humbling, and it put things into perspective. What did I have to be anxious about? I was competing with no one but myself. All I had to do was get through it.

By the time we had circled back around and approached the starting line in downtown Waikiki, around mile eight, I started to feel better. My pace felt comfortable and sustainable. At the same time, though, I dreaded what was ahead.

And here it comes, I thought, seeing Diamond Head looming in the distance. The first big hill began at the nine-mile mark, where an aid station offered nutritional gel packs. My sweaty hands struggled to tear it open. It made my mouth feel like glue, but it worked: the runners in front of me started to stop and walk up each of the hills around the crater. I kept going. My run had slowed down to a degree that was almost cartoonish, but I was still running. I didn’t stop. I was passing more and more people.

By the ten-mile mark, I realized there was only a 5k run left to go. “Only” a 5k! I felt a surge of adrenaline when I realized that I was going to finish. It helped that the worst was over; the elevation began leading downhill, and I was seized with giddiness. I road it out all the way to the finish line. But by the time I slowed to a stop, I didn’t feel much of anything at all. Just glad, I think. Glad that I did it, and glad that it was over.

37-2510222_full

My goal time was 2.5 hours, factoring in a very slow pace. I worried that if I got ambitious, I would burn myself out too fast and might not be able to finish at all. Given the weather conditions that day, I’m glad I allowed myself to freedom to be slow. Crossing the finish line, I saw a time below 2.5 hours. I didn’t care about anything more specific than that. When they put a medal around my neck, it said “Finisher,” not “Finished but did it real slow.” All that mattered was that I got there.

And I did it! I didn’t stop, I didn’t quit, and I maintained a consistent pace. I was proud. I am proud. I had never run at all before I went to boot camp. And now here I was! Your body can do a lot more than you think it can. It was a great experience – challenging, especially at the start, but worthwhile.


So now that I’ve run a half marathon, the next step is to go for a full marathon. Right?

At the start of this post, I mentioned how time consuming it is to train for a long race. I hadn’t realized it until I had gotten myself pretty deep into the program. The question, to me, isn’t whether or not I want to run a marathon. I do. I would like to, someday. It seems like a tremendous accomplishment. The real question is: am I ready to invest the time into preparing for it? And right now, the answer is no.

This happens a lot. I meet some goal, and although I feel happy and proud, I find that the journey to that point burned me out and makes me want to avoid that thing in which I’ve saturated my life. It happened with weight lifting, then swimming. Now running, too. I still run, but even on the best of runs, after 30 or 45 minutes, I think, all right, that’s enough. I want to do something else now.

The race itself – the experience, the medal, the photos – it is just the final, visible, demonstrable product of months of unseen effort. The resulting pride is rooted not just in that one run, but in all the runs that led to that finish line.

What makes distance running so special – something I knew factually but realized on an emotional level standing in the middle of a crowd of ten thousand runners, people of all ages and ability levels and backgrounds – is that any able-bodied person can do it. Any age, any income level, any range of athleticism. All one needs is a pair of sneakers and time and willpower. Running is an astounding equalizer. I felt swallowed up in that crowd, like I was being carried along on a flowing river. And it felt good.

As long as I have legs to carry me forward, running will always be there. Even if I put it aside for a while. I will get older and I will get slower. That’s okay. It doesn’t have to be about the time on the clock. It’s about how the journey to the finish line changes you, changes how you think about yourself. There will be a time in my future when I need that change. God willing, my body will let me run through it.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I Didn’t Shave For Four Months. I Hoped It Would Free Me.

Most folks “let themselves go” a little bit while deployed. Our socializing is restricted to those on our crew, so eventually we stop worrying so much about putting up appearances, for better or worse. (Like all good things, this can get taken too far: on the ship, some people get disciplined into performing basic hygiene, like showering.) It is a refreshing reminder, for example, to look in the mirror after months without makeup and realize you’re still cute!

I was going to a cold and dry environment. Most of the time, my legs would be covered. And there would be no liberty, no seeing new people or new things, so there wasn’t much of a point in shaving. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to not shave and see what happened. I was hoping the experience would liberate me, like cutting my hair short. I thought I would cross a new threshold and realize it was so much better on the other side.

The hair on my legs went from stubbly to bristly to long, shockingly long, long enough that I could feel the wind through the hair when I walked around outside. (This, I realized, was a sensation I had never felt before, not once in my life. I started shaving my legs when I was so young, still in middle school, before I even had the chance to actually grow adult body hair.) The hair was dark but not particularly thick; it looked like the hair most guys get when they first start trying to grow a mustache. Frankly, it looked like pubes. It was longest by my ankles, disappeared by the tops of my calves, and returned, thinner and lighter, on my thighs. It was not soft, but then again neither is the hair on top of my head. My family has thick, coarse hair. My legs, it turns out, are no exception.

I hated it. I hated it at first, I hated it throughout the duration – it looked wrong, it felt wrong – and I hate it now, even with weeks of retrospect. I hate myself for hating it. I read many, many articles by women who stopped shaving and loved themselves more for it. I am deeply envious of them – and ashamed of myself for not feeling the same way. Being ugly, after all, is one of the worst sins a woman can commit. Almost anything else is excusable: be crass, be cruel, be empty, but for God’s sake be easy on the eyes while doing it. What does it mean when I find myself ugly? How much of this feeling is reducible to my own personal preference, and how much of it is the product of social pressure, drilled into my head since I was a child? How do I even begin to separate the two?

It is one thing to buck social convention when you feel well-liked and comfortable. You can take solace in knowing that you have people who will love you and want to be around you no matter how hairy you are. During this experiment, though, I felt lonely – something I feel not when I’m actually alone, strangely, but when I’m deprived of solitude and forced to socialize – which added to a general malaise of low self-confidence. This demanded a whole separate exercise in bravery, one that I struggled with a lot.

(To be fair, throughout the deployment, no one said a negative thing about my body hair to my face. In fact, the few people I confided in about it were very supportive and kind and understanding. I’m grateful for that. But being in an environment of constant negativity gets under your skin after a while. It amplifies that personal negative voice droning on in the back of our minds, the one that tells us we are ugly and stupid and terrible. It makes it seem more real, more manifested.)

But it wasn’t all bad. I didn’t mind the underarm hair. It grew into a soft and reddish tuft, a surprise. If I wasn’t such a social coward, I wouldn’t mind keeping it grown out. Another discovery: there is a spot right below my left knee where only a patch of hair grows, alone in an otherwise hairless area. It looked like a little goatee. It was hilarious.

From this experience, I also got to reflect (more than I wanted to) on how much of my self-worth comes from the perception of how attractive I am to others and how much of my personality is rooted in a desire to be liked. Who am I when I’m not trying to be more socially palatable? To be sweet and funny and smart?

I’m still working on those answers. In the meantime, though, I started shaving again. There is some shame in letting social pressure win, but that defeat is quiet and personal and invisible. By contrast, body hair is a public, noticeable thing, an consistent opportunity to invite embarrassment. It was a serious emotional challenge to post these photos here, evidence of something now gone – never mind wearing it on my body every day.

A few years ago, I would have been mortified to see a photo of myself without makeup. That doesn’t bother me anymore. Maybe someday in the future, then, I’ll be brave enough to be hairy, live and in public. Not now, though. Not back here in sunny Hawaii, where everyone is always sun-kissed and in swimsuits and groomed. Not yet.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Anatomy of a Flight Suit

On the ship, we wore coveralls. They were designed to be easily donned in the event of battle stations or, more realistically, being late for watch. The newest variant is even fire retardant so they won’t melt to our skin in the event of a casualty. Fires happen onboard ships a lot more often than you might think, so thanks, Navy! They’re also a very dark blue – one might say Navy blue – for an important tactical purpose: if we were to fall overboard, we would be completely camouflaged with the ocean and thus impossible to visually locate, quickly freeing us from our miserable contracted servitude as we sink down to Davy Jones’ cold, dark locker and are united at last with our father King Neptune.

Too much? Sorry, a lot happened last year. No worries, though; I’m in aviation now. In this community, the most danger I’m regularly exposed to is Taco Tuesday and an unbelievable amount of whining.

Anyway, what makes a flight suit different is that it was designed to have pockets that can be comfortably and easily utilized while sitting, which makes sense, because flying is mostly just sitting still for many hours. Seated accessibility: isn’t that the sexiest idea you’ve ever heard? It didn’t get the screen time it deserved in Top Gun.

So what does one do when she has so much holding space on her person ready to be utilized at any time? Look no further: here is the stuff I keep in my pockets when I fly.

flight suit

  1. Can you imagine starting your workday with your supervisor checking your clothing to make sure your ID card is in your left breast pocket? We’ve got a regulation for everything. Welcome to the United States Navy, FORGED BY THE SEA! I don’t follow this rule in the other working uniform, but by some convenient accident, it happened naturally with this one. Also here: dogtags, earplugs, chapstick, one or two of the 300 Splenda packets I packed for deployment. Look, this is war. You have to be prepared.
  2. The right breast pocket is my dedicated utensil drawer. Someone once asked around the plane if anyone had an extra spoon, and I pulled them all out in a flourish and handed one over. “Do you mind a pocket spoon?” I asked. He didn’t. I guess this is who I am now: a plastic cutlery hoarder. Sometimes they stab me in the sides, or I break them in half if I move around too much. Worth it. You never know when you might need to snack, and snacking is 99% of my in-flight tasking.
  3. Under the flap, you’ll find slots for pens. I keep one (1) pen in there. I saw another flier stick a spare fork in the other slot. The flap won’t close over it, so he had a fork sticking out of his sleeve. This is a very distinguished look. One piece of plastic conveys an impressive message: anytime, anywhere.
  4. This is where I keep my bullet journal/external brain, which contains my planner and flight notes. No jokes on this one: bullet journaling is very good and useful. Okay, one joke: use of the word “bullet” makes using a day planner 100% more tactical. (“Tactical” word count so far: 2)
  5. There’s a long pocket along the left inseam, with the bit of white string hanging out. It’s supposed to be for a knife. Doesn’t that sound cool? On the ship, I kept a multitool on my belt that I bought at the Exchange for about $30. On the plane, I carry a knife that retails for $129.  This demonstrates that I am both bougie as hell and also ready to cut open a carton of soy milk at a moment’s notice. “That’s a nice knife,” I have actually been told, in real life. It was a gift from my dad, okay? You can be sentimental and tactical (3).
    UPDATE: I have learned that this pocket is, in fact, for a piddle pack. This is in some ways much better and, in other ways, much, much worse.
  6. I didn’t know what “FUD” stood for until I started flying. Play along with me: read on and see if you can figure it out from context clues. The plane has a bathroom but we’re not supposed to use it – sort of. Understandably, no one wants the terrible job of having to clean everyone else’s dookie, so the entire community came to an agreement that pooping on the plane was restricted to trash bags, to be tied up and hung belowdecks (or whatever the plane equivalent is, I don’t know) where they will be exposed to the external temperature and freeze. This means that everyone sees you coming out of the head carrying a bag and they know immediately about your bowel-related crimes. If you have gripes about pooping in public, this is the walk of shame of your nightmares. Naturally, my sweet mother thinks this is hysterical. She is right: it is. I haven’t pooped on the plane yet (fingers crossed), but I can’t go that long without peeing. Can anyone? Women lack the requisite bodily infrastructure to pee into the portable urinal, which is removed from the plane and dumped out after flights. In comes the FUD, out goes my pee, which is at least 75% coffee. I’m proud of how skilled I’ve become at peeing while standing up; it is probably the most useful thing I’ve learned in aviation thus far, and I went through some truly buckwild training last year, so that’s saying something. Also included in this pocket is a small package of wet wipes. I’m not an animal.
  7. If you put anything dense in these pockets, it will bang against your shinbones while walking. For something small and heavy like a knife (!), this will actually hurt quite a bit. I fold up my ball cap and flight gloves and tuck them in here. They are light enough that they move easily, at the same rate as the legs of the flightsuit itself. I often forget that they are there and then panic thinking I left my gloves behind. A time-honored military tradition is slapping various parts of your body until you find which pocket you put something in. I made that up just now – everyone does this, probably. Hopefully?
  8. Disregard first sentence regarding previous pocket. I keep a plastic water bottle in here and sometimes a small paperback for sneaky tactical (4) reading.

I bet you’re still reeling. Eight whole, functioning pockets – what an unimaginable luxury! All of this can be yours, too, if you make some small concessions, such as all personal autonomy and thousands of miles of physical and emotional distance between you and the people who care about you the most. Did I mention there was a pocket for a knife, though?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

2017

2017 is over. We did it, everyone! Good job!

2017

EVENTS
In January, I did a practice parachute jump in air crew school that didn’t go so well. Something felt wrong, but I wasn’t in pain, so I pressed on until the adrenaline wore off. I was shocked when the x-rays showed two fractures because, though my foot was swollen as hell and I couldn’t put any pressure down, it didn’t hurt at all. This is a sharp contrast to when, at a different school in May, I felt back pain so severe that I thought my kidneys were failing. Despite the pain, the ER said there was nothing wrong: a pinched nerve, maybe? They gave me a shot and I slept it off. It spooked me pretty bad that I could experience sudden, intense pain for no reason.

I bought my first car. It is a 2013 Hyundai Accent and it spirited me across the country from Florida to Washington, seeing some amazing stuff along the way. Maybe I should have been nervous, driving so far all on my own, but I wasn’t, even when situations might have called for trepidation. I’m glad I did it; this solo road trip was the highlight of my year. It showed me that there is so much of America that I haven’t seen yet.

The Patriots won Super Bowl SBLI in one of the most exciting games of all time. I will never shut up about it and I’m not sorry.

I completed some of the most challenging training of my life, forcing me to face a lot of fears. Someone once told me that you either have a good time or a good story. Some of it was good times. Almost all of it makes good stories.

I moved to Hawaii. Thanks, Navy, for letting me spend a few years in paradise. I’m going to make the most of it.

I went on my first aircrew deployment. They call them “dets” but I have a compulsive need to be contrary in the most pointless and petty ways imaginable. Anyway, I’m still out here, and it has confirmed two suspicions: that the aircrew life is offensively easy, and that I still want to get out of the Navy. I was afraid that I was going to fall in love with this stuff and struggle with the temptation to reenlist.

RESOLUTIONS
To write a blog post every month. I did it! I’m going to continue this goal. It has demonstrated to me the value in simply putting something out there, especially if it’s not perfectly polished. Usually, my attitude when submitting a new blog post is: here’s a new piece of trash for the garbage heap! But once in a while, I’ll scroll back through what I’ve written and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was at the time. Some of it is even okay!

To get back to (arbitrary weight). I made this goal before I broke my foot literally in the first week of the year. Then I moved from Florida to Washington to Hawaii. I am, of course, making excuses, but this was not the year for stability. The hardest part about staying committed to any body-related goal is that I’m more or less fine with how I look. My body is okay. It always has been okay. It is really hard to maintain a weight-loss goal when it’s not motivated, to some extent, by self-hatred. Is this what getting older is like? Just accepting your fleshy meat prison the way it is? That said, I haven’t given up completely. I still have to fit in to uniforms for another 34 months and I will not buy more!

Read as many books as last year. 32 last year, 48 this year. My TBR list grows faster than I can chip away at it. I’d like to be better and braver about quitting books that don’t grab my attention, but I have a hard time leaving them unfinished. This is ironic for someone who, at the moment, has 15 unfinished blog posts in the queue. (Soon, 14.)

I wanted to stop swearing. What was once edgy and is now so commonplace that it defeats the point. Cursing has evolved into verbal laziness; sailors substitute swears in place of any word at all, making the things they say ironically, unintentionally bland. Conversely, the recent rise of ironic wholesomeness and the use of creative non-swears packs a much more interesting punch. I like saying things in funny and, hopefully, memorable ways. So if I’m going to swear, it had better be a necessary component of the idea. Otherwise, I’m going to try to find a more accurate word.

I haven’t thought of any new resolutions for 2018. These are all okay, besides the weight loss one, so I guess I’ll just keep on with this sort of thing.

FAVORITES
MUSIC: I WAS BORN by Hanson
I finished a write up about another artist a few weeks ago. I let it simmer. When I came back to this post, though, I realized what I really wanted to talk about was Hanson. Yes, MMMBop Hanson, from our childhoods. Remember them?

I don’t know anyone who would call themselves a Hanson fan specifically, but I am almost certain that you have heard a Hanson song, enjoyed it, and had no idea who you were listening to. They are like that: every few years, Hanson steps back into our cultural consciousness, releases a top 40 banger, and humbly fades away.

Hanson released a two-disk, 26-track greatest hits album a few months ago: “Middle of Everywhere,” which I bought immediately after watching them perform on an NPR Tiny Desk Concert (it’s worth a watch). What amazed me the most was not how much they had grown or changed across more than two decades of making music together, but how much they had stayed the same. Not only do the older songs hold up over time – MMMBop was 20 years old in 2017, and it still has its youthful sing-a-long charm and positive, hopeful message – but Hanson has maintained their essence over their entire lives. How many of us figure out our artist niche as children? These guys did. In the NPR concert, when they play “This Time Around,” I found myself remembering the all the words, despite not having heard it in two decades. Hanson is like that: subtle, memorable, enduring.

There is something about Hanson that is quintessential to American pop, a slice of our music culture at its best: pure, upbeat, hand-clapping tunes with joyful harmonies that only siblings could pull off. Hanson makes good music, then and now. They deserve a lot more attention than they get.

I want to see the sights unseen
I want the extraordinary
Everybody’s waking to the same clock
I could never be another chip off the block

Runners-ups:
“GONE” by ionnalee
“Echo in the Hills” by Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt (2014, but listened to it a lot this year)
“New Rules” by Dua Lipa

MOVIES/TV: TERRACE HOUSE: ALOHA STATE
Terrace House is seriously underappreciated.

915beefe9e67a78d84d50d7a01be4f8ad1e83b0d

It is a reality TV show in which six young people – three guys, three girls – live together in a house, and everything they do is filmed. Think MTV’s Real World, but not quite so 90s and much more Japanese. The biggest difference is the tremendous, echoing absence of the kind of drama we have come to associate with American reality TV. Much of Terrace House is, as a friend put it, “delightfully mundane.” We watch them go to work and school. We watch them cook and clean together. We get to see their outings to beautiful places. Sometimes they fall in love. The best part about the show, though, is the extremely Japanese tradition of having a crew of commentators routinely interrupt the program to discuss what had happened and what they expect will happen next. They are hilarious; I can’t believe the US hasn’t adopted this practice yet.

When drama does happen –  well, first of all, it is incredibly low-key, since the Japanese are traditionally not super confrontational. But the tensions and arguments that do arise are emotional rollercoasters because they are entirely organic and authentic, not contrived by producers behind the scenes. When things get tough, you realize that these are real people with real lives and real feelings. You become invested in them and their happiness. You share in those quiet frustrations and awkward conversations because they are so deeply relatable. Terrace House captures the entirety of real lives: the good, the bad, and the ugly. What makes it so great, though, is how it shows that life is mostly good.

Aloha State – the first iteration of Terrace House to be filmed outside of Japan – was released on Netflix (worldwide) in late January, when my foot was broken and my own fate regarding living in Hawaii was up in the air. The second part was released shortly before I high-tailed it out of Pensacola, fully healed and confident that I was inching my way closer to the Aloha State. The third part came out when I was in Washington, only one school away from completing that wretched pipeline. Finally, the last part came out when I had arrived in Hawaii; I finished the last episode on the day I signed the lease to my apartment. I made it. So, yeah, this pick is a little sentimental, but it’s a good show and it gave me hope that I would make it to Hawaii someday.

Runners-up:
Get Out
The Last Jedi
My Brother, My Brother and Me
The Great British Bake-Off
Brooklyn Nine-Nine

BOOK: PRIESTDADDY by Patricia Lockwood
Boy, is it hard to pick just one, but it seems right to pick something that was published in 2017.

sex-talk-with-a-priest-in-training-1481212613

Priestdaddy is a memoir about the author moving back in with her parents after her husband’s health troubles render them financially unstable. Her dad, somehow a Catholic priest, is a caricature of a man, especially a conservative man. Lockwood describes her childhood and adult interactions with her family in the most delightful, tender, earnest ways possible, but also with an edge of smarmy, self-aware standoffishness that I imagine must come naturally when writing about one’s family as though they were specimens under a microscope.

Seriously, though, Lockwood writes like a dream. She makes me want to write a book just like this one. It is the only book I read this year that made me laugh out loud like a maniac – multiple times. It is so, so funny – a perfect memoir.

Another reason why I chose Priestdaddy as my book of the year – and, argh, looking at the runners-up below, it was a tough choice – is that I could give this book to almost anyone and I know they will enjoy it. Lockwood’s family, despite being somewhat unusual, is described with such a familiarity that I think anyone can see their families in hers. It shows that you can be different from the people you love, and who love you, and still be important to one another.

If you read only one book this year, it should be this one.

Runners-up:
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002)
Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson (1953)
We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (2006)

GAME: LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD
zelda

I’ll be honest: I struggle to maintain interest in video games lately. I’ll play for an hour, tops, then be ready to do something else. This is a huge departure from years ago, when I would block off entire segments of my day to play MMORPGs and online FPSs. My entire college experience consisted of having nervous breakdowns over my courseload and evading depression in the forgiving arms of World of Warcraft. Probably less destructive than alcoholism, but definitely more embarrassing. Anyway, all of this to say that it was a surprise to find myself sinking many, many hours into a game again.

I have some discussion of the plot here, but I don’t think anything constitutes a spoiler. If you haven’t finished the game yet and don’t want any preconceptions, skip it. Otherwise, you’re probably in the clear.

A criticism that I often hear about BOTW is the lack of story. We have come to expect video games to be so cutscene-heavy that they are primarily movies and secondarily interactive. In BOTW, there is as much plot as one is willing to find. The “lack of story” criticism misses the point: Link wakes up completely devoid of memory. The story is revealed mostly through found objects, locations, and conversations – things that jog Link’s memory. The entire plot of the game is figuring out what went wrong a century ago so he and Zelda can make it right.

(And this game’s version of Zelda is so human, so unforgettable – a young princess with a destiny so important that she’s deeply insecure about her ability to fulfill it. Early memories show her as abrasive and arrogant, distrustful of Link and resentful of his presence, lashing out because she’s so afraid that she’s not good enough. I’ll admit that I got a little emotional watching Zelda’s anguish over her failure to accomplish what had been set out for her, especially as the fate of Hyrule rested on her shoulders.)

Here are some more accurate criticisms of BOTW: controlling the camera is extremely annoying, especially in battle; the world is so vast and full of things to discover that it is basically impossible to fully complete (at the time of this writing, I’ve finished the main story and am working on the DLCs, and I’m barely 25% of the way done!); the Blood Moon cutscenes are frustrating and intrusive and sometimes unskippable; the final boss fight was easy and a little underwhelming (though I didn’t play it on Master Mode).

And here are some more good things about BOTW: the secondary characters, especially the Champions and their descendants, are wonderful; the game is fun to play even if you’re just exploring the open world, and it feels like there is always something to find or do; the game design and music are so, so beautiful; Link’s ability to climb on and over anything (an unbelievably important but underappreciated development for this franchise) makes the world feel completely open to the player; the impermanence of weapons feels authentic and realistic; the physics of the game are extremely good and allow the players to find creative and unusual solutions to puzzles.

BOTW is the best game I’ve played in a long time. It has completely revived the somewhat stale, predictable “The Legend of Zelda” games in a really exciting way. I’ve put more than 100 hours into it, and I still have a long way to go. I’m okay with that.

tldr: Link is my son and I love him very much.

Runners-up:
PUBG
Bury me, my Love
Super Mario Odyssey

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,