I learned some things about myself, too: what I’m good at, what I’m not so good at, how I react under pressure, and how I manage stress. But there are a bunch of other positive habits instilled by general military discipline that we come to take for granted. Here are just a few.
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
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.
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
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.
By the Way, I Forgive You (Brandi Carlile)
Be the Cowboy (Mitski)
Dirty Computer (Janelle Monáe)
MOVIE OF THE YEAR
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.
Crazy Rich Asians
TV SHOW OF THE YEAR
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.
Terrace House: Opening New Doors
The Great British Baking Show
GAME OF THE YEAR
2018 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.
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.
* 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.
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.
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.
The Nike running app – now called Nike+ Run Club – has gone through several transformations since I started using it, but its core remains more or less the same: it uses GPS to track your run, keep pace, and provide statistics. Achievements came and went and came back again. Social networking features were added. But NRC’s best feature – why I stay committed to this one app – is its coaching programs.
My running ability comes in ebbs and flows. For example, after finishing a particularly grueling training last month, I arrived in Hawaii physically depleted and unadjusted to the climate. I come back to NRC’s running programs time and time again because I know it will get me back to where I want to be with running. This time, specifically, I made a six-week program with the intention of preparing for the PRT. (Spoiler: I got a 12:30 – not my best time, but one that I am deeply proud of, given the circumstances.)
There’s nothing special about me. NRC spits out a program and I do it to the best of my ability. It always, always pays off.
Here is how to make a running program on NRC, and what you might expect from it.
On New Years Eve 2014, my friends and I went tubing in the snow, and on the way back, the car got a flat tire. We spent hours in the cold waiting for AAA, talking and teasing each other and reminiscing about the year that was quickly coming to a close. 2014 tried to stick it to us for the last time, but we made it home just before the big countdown. After that, everyone agreed that we wanted an easy year for 2015. “Please, please just be chill.”
For me, things turned out very well. Welcome to a really long post about a really great year!
When I came home for holiday leave, I kept hearing about how skinny I had gotten. This is very confusing to me because I’m the heaviest I’ve been since 2012. (It’s also a little baffling how easily people offer commentary on my body, but that’s probably for another post.) My focus on running this year has changed my physique a little. It’s not better or worse, I think, just different.
I ran up “the hill” in Busan and around the harbor in Sydney. I set new race records (26:40 for 5k, 53:40 for 10k) and ran a half-marathon for the first time. I started training for a marathon but recently lost motivation for the longer runs. It is really hard to want to spend more than an hour on the treadmill after the workday. Plus, that kind of training demands a sacrifice from strength work. Going forward, I think I’m going to try a more balanced approach. I’m getting a little blasé about fitness because I’m sort of on autopilot now, and other hobbies have been dominating my time and attention. (Read: Fallout 4 came out.)
I haven’t seen my counselor since the week before the court-martial (more on this another time). Not professionally, at least. I bought her a little glass kangaroo in Sydney to put on her desk, and we chatted for a while when I dropped in to give it to her. She reminded me of how far I’ve come in 18 months. She also told me what I didn’t need to be in a crisis to come see her.
My counselor is one of the best things to happen to me in a long time. If you have ever considered going to counseling but have some reservations holding you back, please give it a try! I know it can be scary, but there is nothing wrong with talking to another person to make sense of things. We do it with each other all the time! But a professional gives you a sympathetic but unbiased perspective, which is invaluable.
With the exception of a few difficult times, I’ve been consistently happy. I’m learning to manage my anxiety in a constructive way. I’m really lucky to have the Navy and my family and friends as support systems. I couldn’t have done it without them. Thank you all for being there for me, especially when it wasn’t easy and I was difficult to love.
My goal was to read two books a month this year, one physical and one audio. I ended up reading 41! I’m proud of this. A 45-minute walk to and from work made this pretty easy. Here are my top five faves from what I read this year:
- Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
- Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
- Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
- Bag of Bones by Stephen King
- Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)
I did two online classes on edx as well and both were challenging and fun! If you want to learn about something new but don’t want to spend money or, really, deal with rigorous academic demands, I highly recommend this website.
Still going to church, still trying to be a good Catholic. I got the chance to visit cathedrals in Nagasaki and Sydney and Zhangjiang, and while the differences were fascinating, it was the similarities that resonated most strongly with me.
I went to Christmas midnight Mass at home in an area that was mostly wealthy and white. The church and the choir were incredible, but I couldn’t help but notice how miserable the other parishioners looked. Maybe they were tired because it was so late. But, despite the beauty of the place and the joy of the celebration, the people around me made it feel like a funeral. It made me grateful for the joy and kindness that I see at the chapel on base. I’m going to miss it when I leave.
I made pretty poor decisions in terms of romantic partners this year. Fortunately, I can look back at them with only mild embarrassment instead of hurt or despair. It warrants serious reflection, though. Why do I find myself attracted to vacant, trifling people? Why do I give so much to people who give so little in return?
I don’t have the answers yet. Until I do, I think I need to be a little more choosy about in whom I invest any emotional energy.
We had a number of big certifications this year, including one for the system for which I’m responsible (which also involved a coworker and I desperately troubleshooting at the eleventh hour): TMI/MCI, 3M, ATFP, DC. We got the Battle E! I went to a few great schools, including the SAPR VA school, which was one of the most positive and useful experiences I’ve had in the Navy to date. I began my Reign of Terror as workcenter supervisor. We went to China, Singapore, Korea, Australia, Hong Kong, and Guam. I got my second warfare pin and got recognized as JSOQ, which, for some reason, doesn’t seem to happen often for my department. A big thank you to my chain of command for advocating for me!
There have been a lot of changes to my own division this year and most of them have been very positive. We got a bunch of motivated, hard-working, cheerful booters, and I adore each one of them. Our upper chain of command have been almost entirely replaced, and I’m learning a lot from our new leadership. I don’t dread going to work as much as I used to. I’m happy and grateful to be a part of my division. I don’t think I could have said that last year. (Actually, I know I wouldn’t have – I went TAD to engineering to get away from them.)
After coming home from one of our underways, I picked up the ukulele that had been sitting, neglected, in my closet. The challenges that frustrated me to the point of quitting seemed to fall away. I’m not good at it, but I love singing and making music, and it makes me happy even when it sounds like trash. No one has to listen to it but me! (And maybe my neighbors.)
I got a PS4 and have played The Last of Us, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Destiny, and Fallout 4, and if you’ve interacted with me for more than 30 seconds you know which of those takes the cake.
I didn’t see many movies this year, but of those that I did see, Mad Max: Fury Road was the best, and probably one of my favorite movies of all time. Honorable mentions to Jurassic World, The Martian, Spectre, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
I started writing a novel but was quickly reminded how much I struggle with writing fiction. I quit soon after. Oh well. I tried. Shout out to my friends who are still writing their stories! I see you!
Other adventures: I tried pole-dancing for the first time in Tokyo. The Patriots won the Super Bowl, and I cried about it at work. I went to Japan’s bizarre fertility festival. One of my friends made all of my favorite foods for my birthday, including a cheesecake. I bought a living room set! I went to the hot springs in Hakone. I also went to Kyoto via bullet train, where we got to dress up like ninja and samurai! I shot a bunch of guns for work (including M-16 full auto and a laser gun) and for fun (bird shoot while home on leave). I was reunited with a dear friend in Guam. I spent a day with Aboriginal people in Australia. I developed a taste for whiskey. I dressed up as Yuffie from FFVII for Halloween and spent the night in Tokyo. I hit $10k in savings. I cried at the airport on holiday leave when my friends showed up to greet me. Lots of crying this year, but, as opposed to 2014, most of it was happy tears!
GOALS FOR 2016
All in all, the best parts of this year came from my family and friends, old and new. It’s not just the big stuff, either. It’s the little moments that matter, and they most easily come to mind when I slide into one of those dark places. You guys make my world better just by being a part of it. Thank you for sharing your kindness, joy, humor, and passions with me. Thank you for being exactly who you are. And thank you for reading my blog!
Here are some things I’d like to do in the coming year:
- Climb Mt. Fuji! The ship will finally be around during climbing season. No excuses!
- Stay single. This will be challenging because I love to love. But I’ve been a serial monogamist since 2008, and it’s time for a break.
- Read 48 books, or more! (I may have a problem.)
- PCS. I guess this is inevitable but I’m still excited about it! I love Japan but I’m ready to start the next chapter of my Navy life.
- Be more diligent about journaling. Day-to-day events seem boring and unremarkable until time passes and you realize those things were actually very special!
I’ll finish with a story:
When I was home for the holidays, my dad and I were arguing about my Life Choices. We both agreed that the Navy is not a long-term situation for me. His perspective is economical: for each year that I spend in the Navy, I’m losing money that I would make at a better-salaried job. I argued that I was living comfortably and had opportunities from the Navy that I wouldn’t get any place else, and that I was going to enjoy it until it no longer served me. Things got a little tense.
After he left the room, I complained to my brother about the argument. “What if I look back on this fight in 30 years and realize that he was right?” I worried. My dad’s girlfriend, with whom I don’t have much of a relationship, told me, very seriously, “Don’t listen to him. Follow your heart.”
She didn’t have to support me. She didn’t have to weigh in at all. She had no dog in the fight; if anything, it was in her best interest to agree, at least outwardly, with my dad. But that simple vote of confidence reminded me that it’s okay to trust my instincts, that I have the support of good people, and most of all, that things in my life are going pretty well. I’m a very lucky lady.
The idea of getting “too big” is probably pretty hilarious to most male gym rats. Growth is the goal, always the goal, sometimes defined in inches or pounds but always striving toward bigger. Strength is an accessory to the fact. Cutting fat, an addendum, often remembered last minute before spring break after months of eating in excess. Most men, at least, recognize that putting on mass takes a tremendous amount of effort and focus. Very rarely does it happen by accident. Imagine: the skinniest dude you know goes to the gym a few times and wakes up one morning to find himself suddenly, inexplicably massive. “I didn’t want to get huge,” he’d lament, reaching a veined, bulging forearm into the microwave to retrieve his taquitos. “But my buddy made me do leg day once and now none of my pants fit my thighs.” A tragedy.
The opposite is true for women. It took two decades of myth deconstruction, especially after the heroin-chic look of the 90s, to get a casual female gym-goer to approach the weight room. Why did it take us so long to figure out that showing muscle tone requires muscle mass? (Probably because of folks like Tracy Anderson espousing that women should lift no more than 3-pound weights.*) Now, in 2015, a lean, athletic appearance is in vogue. Women throwing around some serious weight at the gym – once an oddity, later a “cool girl, one-of-the-guys” quality – is, wonderfully, from my experience, a regularity. Lady lifters tend to enjoy better health and self-esteem. Guys be like, dat squat booty. Everyone’s happy.
So what happens when you do get big enough?
When I started exercising, I didn’t have a particular aesthetic goal in mind. I figured I might like myself better if I cut back on mac and cheese and World of Warcraft and made myself sweat a few times per week, I guess? So discovering and actually enjoying weight lifting was a happy accident. I was extremely uncomfortable at first, especially sharing the weight room with, you know, the real athletes at my school, but time and research made things feel more and more natural. Soon I was strutting in there with my head held high. I wasn’t strong or fast but I was committed, and if gym rats respect anything, it’s persistence. Hitting a new PR made me feel invincible, unstoppable. “I never thought I could lift that,” I’d think, “but I did it. So what else have I been telling myself that I can’t do?” And, in time, I also bought in to the indefinite-growth, gains-for-gains’-sake mentality; with hard work, I would keep getting stronger, to infinity and beyond. Appearance and body weight were irrelevant, as long as my lifts were going up.
Ship life changed that. Maintaining a serious gym schedule underway can be a challenge. Slowly, over the course of a year, lifting sank lower and lower on my list of priorities. Gym time itself often felt like a luxury; I was happy just to jump on whatever equipment was immediately available and get out in less than an hour. I gained a few pounds – nothing too noticeable, nothing to feel bad about – and also a bit of complacency, which was worse than the extra body fat.
And then I started running.
Running, for the record, is the worst. Every step is pain, each mile an exploration into new and exciting dimensions of torture. Thighs slapping together, chafing. Gasping, lungs aching – am I voluntarily trying to suffocate myself? My glasses slide down my face and sweat rolls into my eyes, my mouth, and my shirt lands with a wet plop on the floor before I hobble into the shower. So I’m not a fan. Or, at least, I wasn’t. I ran underway more or less out of necessity, since, with limited resources, it’s the simplest and most accessible form of exercise. At some point this year, though, something changed. I was running more often than I was lifting. I stopped dreading cardio. Sometimes, I even looked forward to a run, particularly those on the main deck in view of the setting sun. For a once-devout disciple of the iron, this was a terrifying development. So much of my identity, I thought, had centered around my strength and my gainz. Lifting, at one time, had made me different, made people respect me, admire me, my PRs, my ass, and – wait, who was I doing this for again?
Maybe scaling back on the weights wouldn’t be the end of the world. Maybe running – becoming one of “those people” – wouldn’t prompt an identity crisis. Maybe athleticism falls across a broad spectrum and isn’t limited to brute strength – shocking, I know. These were new perspectives, ones I had only considered theoretically, detached from myself and my goals. I remember trying on new swimsuits recently – strapless bandeau tops, perfect for correcting those crew-neck tan-lines – and observing my body as though for the first time. My lats and chest and shoulders exploded out of the top of the suit. I looked ridiculous, somehow big and small at the same time. But I was also bursting with pride. This mass is me, all me, all mine. I made this. This is physical, visual evidence of years of hard work and commitment, of trying and failing, of stepping outside of my comfort zone and pushing myself past my limits. I am, in fact, “big enough” – strong enough, fast enough, good enough.
You’ll see me by the pool in those swimsuits. You’ll still see me in the gym, too, and running around base. It’s okay to let your priorities change. Sometimes you have to sacrifice one goal for the sake of another. “Good enough” is not an appeal for mediocrity or complacence. It’s not a rallying cry to abandon your goals. But it’s not quitting or failure, either. It’s a realistic assessment of your accomplishments and recognition of your achievements. It’s about self-acceptance and pride in self-creation. Most of all, it’s about allowing yourself to experience the peace that comes from completion. And it’s nice to move on.
* In a spectacular demonstration of thoughtlessness, Gwenyth says in this very same video that the arm she uses to carry her 30-pound son is less flabby than the other.
Briefly, for the uninitiated: the Navy has semi-annual fitness assessments (PRT). Every six months, we weigh in and do a fitness test consisting of sit-ups, push-ups, and cardio. Those who fail either the body composition (BCA) or physical aptitude (PFA) assessments are assigned to a remedial fitness program (FEP) until the next PRT. If a member fails the PRT three times within four years, he or she gets separated from the Navy. Command fitness leaders (CFL) oversee PRTs twice a year and FEP in between. When the start of the next PRT cycle is ten weeks away, the command issues a 10-week notice which is essentially a schedule of events. 10 weeks is usually when people start caring about the PRT again (trying to cut weight, practicing push-ups, etc).
Guess what? If we start the next cycle in April, we’re as close as 20 weeks away from the next PRT. If you’re in FEP, or if you barely squeezed by this year and want to stay out of FEP next year, the time to start caring about the PRT is now! Right now!
Make a few small changes, stay consistent, and you won’t have to worry about stomach wraps, hours in the sauna, and starvation in 10 weeks. You won’t injure yourself trying to do too much physical activity in too little time in preparation for the PFA.
So let’s get started today! Here are some lifestyle changes that, if you begin now, will make your life much easier in the spring. It’s time to get our minds right and commit to the challenge ahead of us.
KNOW YOUR WEAKNESS
Food is my weakness. Each and every time I sit down to eat, or walk past the desserts, or get invited to go out, I have to recommit to my goals. Left to my own devices, I will gain weight in the blink of an eye from sugar, alcohol, and carbs.
If you’re a BCA failure, you have to dial in your diet. It’s not fun or glamorous but there is absolutely no way around it. No amount of exercise will redeem you if you’re not eating right.
If you’re a PFA failure, start small and slowly build up your physical capabilities. Here is a program for running. Here is a program for push-ups. Here is a program for sit-ups. Not a single one of them says, “Week 1: wake up and run five miles without breaking a sweat.” It takes time, and right now, you have time. Make the best of it.
STOP DRINKING CALORIES
Do you know how many calories are in a Starbucks coffee? The store here on base has a calorie chart right next to the cashier. When I saw that the small-sized coffee I ordered was almost 500 calories, I nearly threw it away. I could eat four apples for that many calories, and I’d probably have more energy from them, too.
The elimination of sugary drinks – energy drinks, dessert-coffees, sodas – from your diet could easily help you drop weight. In fact, if you’re trying to cut weight, there is no reason at all to be drinking your calories, especially not on a daily basis. Make that Starbucks coffee a special treat and drink regular coffee during the week instead. If you hit the chu-hi stand more than once a week, scale it back to a few times a month instead. Try getting a full night’s sleep instead of relying on energy drinks.
PLAN MEALS IN ADVANCE
Yeah, it sucks to eat a meal you brought from home when everyone else in your shop is eating stuffed-crust pizza, but it sucks to get kicked out of the Navy, too. McDonald’s and Subway are convenient and plausibly even delicious but planning meals out in advance removes the need for a quick, easy solution to hunger, one which brings you farther away from your body composition or fitness goals.
Have a plan beforehand and stick to it, so when the temptation arises to do what everyone else is doing, you’ll have something else to fall back on. Eat at the galley, which is both healthy and cheap. Bring a lunchbox of leftovers to work. Fill your fridge with leans meats, fruits, and veggies. Be uncool; own it. Get out of FEP. Have a killer body and zero regrets.
Find something you enjoy, or at least can tolerate, and do it as often as possible. This doesn’t mean super high intensity for hours and hours. 20 or 30 minutes of exercise – sweating, heavy breathing, accelerated heart rate – is all it takes. You might not realize it right away, but a little bit of effort every day pays off in the long run. Push yourself and be patient.
If you failed the run, you gotta run more. If you failed sit-ups or push-ups, you gotta practice those. If those are things you hate, you don’t have to do them every day – we’ll do a lot of that in FEP. But try to get away from the mindset that exercise is an unpleasant chore. Navy exercise is not all exercise. In your own time, do what works for you.
Sweat it out. Hydrate. Eat good food. Rest. In 20 weeks, FEP will be in your rearview. And, if you stick to good habits during the whole year, you won’t have to worry about the BCA or PFA ever again.
If you need more specific advice or someone to keep you accountable, I’m here for you. Message me, talk to me at work or at FEP, leave a comment. Whatever it is that you need to do, I want you to succeed!
If you’re interested in starting a healthier or fitter lifestyle but don’t know where to start, here are a few basics. If they seem super obvious, it’s because they are. People tend to start looking for drastic and uncommon explanations for their problems before nailing down the fundamentals. And, although these are simple and straight-forward, I know that doesn’t necessarily make them easy to accomplish. We all struggle with one or more of these, but they’re still important and worth giving some extra consideration.
For a while, I stopped listening to an album that I really enjoy because it was the soundtrack to a time in my life that I was trying to lay to rest. Born and Raised by John Mayer is one of his best, in my opinion, but I’m pretty biased in favor of anything remotely folksy. It was an instant favorite. I listened to it over and over in the spring and summer of 2013. Now it’s bound to memories of that time – many of which I want to forget.
Born and Raised makes me think of…
- Sandy, sunburnt skin and cold showers.
- Two long road trips. Trips to the fish market in his 1968 Volkswagen beetle with no A/C, the leather seats making my legs and back sweaty in the heat. So many trips to Dunkin’ Donuts.
- Learning to sail. Intense anxiety. Not wanting to sail again. Doing it anyway, to make him happy.
- Dirty motel rooms.
- Brunch by the beach. Sunday morning mimosas.
- Lap swim in the dark. Watching the sun rise through the sky lights of the locker room.
- Muggy morning runs on the unlit chip trail.
- Staying in on Friday nights to play Borderlands 2 together.
- PAC events. Loving color guard, hating drill. So many graduations.
- Long marches. Sweating through a uniform every day.
- The sunset over Pensacola. A year of being in love, wildly, but receiving very little in return. Struggling between selflessness and sacrifice versus needs and expectations.
These are mostly happy memories, but I don’t have enough distance from that relationship to look back on that time with a detached but appreciative fondness. I’m not ready yet. Even positive reminiscing dredges up negative feelings; the rose-colored glasses eventually come off and I remember the deprivation, manipulation, rejection, and ultimately the destruction of my self-esteem. The music recalls memories of the past, and memories of the past invariably lead to feelings of sadness and hurt.
But I love that album. I don’t want to lose it because of these now-bittersweet memories, so I’ve been trying to “reclaim” it. I’m trying to associate it with a new kind of experiences. Whenever I’m feeling happy or peaceful, I’ll play the album or sing it to myself. I’d like to cognitively reassign the album to positive feelings which are independent of time and location. I want to enjoy the music again, earnestly, freely, with no emotional baggage.
Do you have music that makes you remember certain times in your life? Has it ever been hard for you to listen to an artist or album after it became associated with a bad time?goodbye cold, goodbye rain goodbye sorrow, goodbye shame
New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite holidays! It’s a time to reminisce on the past year – what you’ve seen and done, the people you’ve met and lost, how you’ve changed. It’s a time to be with friends and family; New Year’s is a great capstone to the holiday season as a whole. It’s also a time to look forward at the year ahead and… SET GOALS!
I’m very Type A. I get anxious if I don’t have a to-do list for the day. I also get really excited about setting goals. And what better time to do so than at the cusp of a shiny new year? It’s a perfect excuse to do something positive with your life.
I had some vague goals for 2013: MOAR BOOKS and MOAR WEIGHTS. They were so unspecific that it was hard to be unsuccessful. I didn’t read a single book until July, but I ended up reading more than 20 before the end of the year. Next year, I hope, I’ll read just as many. There were a bunch of unexpected fitness accomplishments, too: I participated in two weight-lifting competitions; I deadlifted twice my body weight; I did my first pull-up and now I can do six in a row; I ran my first 10K; I swam my first two miles and my fastest 500m to date. And, thanks to conscientious eating and a lot of patience, I lost more than 10lbs, too. So I’m still pretty far away from squatting 225 and benching a plate like I want to, but these other accomplishments are great, too, and I’ll remember 2013 as a big year for fitness!
But maybe you’re someone who thinks New Year’s resolutions are stupid, or a waste of time, or not for you. Maybe you’ve tried resolutions in the past and were discouraged by failure. Maybe you’re just not the forward-thinking sort and prefer to look toward the past for guidance instead of idealizing about the future. I’m actually really surprised and disappointed by the amount of negativity I’ve seen toward resolutions this year – especially people challenging the legitimacy of a goal when it’s made on behalf of the new year. It must be hard for unambitious people to see others getting excited about making a positive change in their life because unmotivated folks know they probably ought to be doing the same thing and, rather than dignify another person’s resolutions with support or even set their own goals, they take the easiest option, which is doing nothing and trying to negatively influence others to do the same. Ignore the haters. Even if you set the bar too high and don’t complete your goal, you came a lot further than someone who went nowhere at all.
*drops the mic*
Anyway, if you’re one of the naysayers, ask yourself: what would I like to change about myself or my lifestyle? How much control do I have over this? What can I accomplish with a small but consistent effort? And, finally, why not try?
My challenge, really, is to think about reducing what makes you unhappy or maximizing what makes you happy in a way that ensures year-long compliance. I mean happiness in terms of what brings you confidence, fulfillment, and purpose, not just what brings you pleasure and enjoyment (though those are important, too). Think about something that will increase your quality of life or your appreciation for your own talents and abilities. Or be brave, step outside of your comfort zone, and use the new year as a reason to try something completely different. Happiness, I think, is not a mysterious thing; I bet you already know what you’re passionate about, what you’d like to dedicate more time to. My challenge to you is to actually do it in 2014! Make it a priority this year in a small, manageable way. No one besides Scrooge becomes a new person overnight. Don’t let the little things get in the way, and when big obstacles arise, work your way around them, and then get back in the saddle.
Really – what have you got to lose? The worst case scenario is that things stay the way they are. In the grand scheme of things, that’s probably okay, too. And, if you don’t make a resolution, be supportive of those who have. Someone who speaks openly of the things he or she wants to accomplish is much more likely to actually meet those goals. You can help keep them accountable without condemning the motivation behind their goal – a new year.
My resolution for 2014 is this blog! I have ideas that I want to share with other people, but Facebook doesn’t seem like the right platform. A blog will encourage me to write more, which helps me organize my thoughts. Plus, it will make it easier to talk about things like ship life and deployments, health and fitness, books and video games, and all the other things that fill my life. I’ve never blogged publicly before so this might be a challenge for me. I’ll do my best to stay regular (weekly, maybe?) and relevant. I hope you’ll be patient with me while I learn how to do this.
Will you give it a try, too? What’s important to you? What’s your resolution this year?