Getting Enough Pizza For Everyone

I refuse to link to any of the coverage of the stupid Starbucks coffee cup, because I refuse to give anyone ad revenue for the awful, useless non-story that it really is. I further refuse to acknowledge any point of view that isn’t “this is a vapid, useless thing to get worked up about” or “The guy who got everyone all worked up about these is a con-man.”

Really, I just want to stop hearing and talking about it. So, let’s stop.

You tell ’em, dumpster divers.

What I want to talk about instead is political correctness: that invisible social contract oft-lamented by those who feel they’re unable to live up to it. That feeling that you have to walk on eggshells in order to not offend someone you’ve never met before. [I think there is another side to this discussion that I’ll likely explore in a later post, but for now, this one goes out to people who whine about everyone being “too PC”]

I fully understand, it is hard to acknowledge that you have made a mistake. Continue reading


The Hippest Miner

One of the things I forgot about running after Daylight Savings Time is that my favorite spot, the reservoir, has no lights around its track. While it’s generally fairly clear, I’d really rather not take the track without some way to see what’s around me–I’d really rather not go swimming in this weather.

I can solve this with a head lamp, which I strapped on over my headphones and handkerchief–now less to soak up sweat and more to keep my head warm. Combined with the gloves, which I wound up not needing, I got the distinct impression that I looked like a really hip miner.

Undeterred by the fact that I would, technically, be appearing in public so dressed, I set off. I had been sick all last week, so this was my first trip out in several days. Ever since I ran out of C25k programs, I’ve been doing roughly the same half-hour program each week, and I fully expected to fail this time because of the time off. Even altered my route slightly, so it would be a little shorter. I was a little surprised to complete the full half-hour, just a bit slower than usual.

That is, I was surprised until later that evening when my bladder woke me up. It was a long walk to the bathroom on sore stems…

Procedural Cop Drama

Let’s start with the controversial statement: Black Lives Matter.

Yes, we can also acknowledge that they aren’t the only ones that do. The reason those lives in particular are significant right now, is that they’re the ones being killed disproportionately right now, often by police.

Let’s also acknowledge that it’s not all cops: There are good cops, and there are bad ones. One bad apple does not actually spoil the bunch (except in your crisper drawer, although I think we can all agree this is not where the majority of news happens).

The Sci-fi version of the adage goes: one alien worm can infect the whole ship.

It’s always been particularly jarring for me to see bad cops coming to the fore when I consider the police officers I have worked with in the past: During my time as a journalist, I worked in a handful of towns and with the local law enforcement in each one. One of the departments in particular, as I got to know them best in nearly 2 years working with them, really impressed me with their openness to the press and to the people who would wander in. I spent a good couple of hours copying police blotter items from a public terminal behind the front desk in the station, and overheard a number of people come in with any number of complaints (none of which I recall or ever recorded for the paper).

My sense is that the Chief of Police in that town affected the department. He came to all of the discussions hosted by the town’s governing about installing an automated license plate readers on a couple of their vehicles. The Chief of Police attended several of the town’s Board of Selectmen meetings, listened not only to the arguments the Selectmen made, but to the townspeople who were concerned about the technology’s potential to invade privacy of ordinary citizens. Leadership can make a huge difference.

The discussion ultimately ran long enough that a potential grant the local PD could have used to purchase the technology ran out. The department said they might explore other grants in future and would try to develop a better policy for the future. Since leaving the town, news coverage there has been a bit spottier, but I couldn’t really dig up anything more recent than my articles about the topic, so it may have died there three years ago (I lost track of the story and could be wrong, though).

It’s anecdotal evidence that doesn’t at all exonerate police officers who are not upholding the laws evenly to all people. Your mileage may vary. While the counter-refrain that “All lives matter” is not an incorrect statement, it’s mostly associated with either serious misunderstandings, or outright lies about Black Lives Matter as a movement and as a slogan. The cops who are out there, and are actually trying to do good work certainly deserve our praise. Those who are committing atrocities in our name deserve to be called out and stopped.

My point is this: We’re hearing about bad cops and not good ones because there is a bias against those positive stories, but it’s not the bias the right-wing “news” machine is constantly banging on about. It may actually be a bias that Rupert Murdoch created: the bias to sensationalism. Another observation from my admittedly short years as a journalist was about the types of content that did well. The stories that I loved, poured my heart and soul into, and spent my time chasing down were invariably the ones that got a quarter of the reach of the stories I kind of hated and copied from police-provided materials: the police blotter from that public terminal and the arrest logs (which were handed to me with personal details redacted).

I’ll admit, I’m not an expert and this is a partially researched idea, so I may not be able to lie the blame at the feet of Fox and Murdoch, but I do know what the end result looks like: It looks like stories that fit into a prevailing narrative getting more attention. It looks like news outlets taking a relatively minor kerfuffle over Starbucks making their coffee cups minimalist, and plopping it on your Facebook feed, so you can mock the ‘War on Christmas’ crowd. They in turn will see our mockery and take that as clear signs of a liberal conspiracy, and it’ll feed up through their news-based echo chambers. Both sides will make a huge ado about cups we ultimately toss in the trash, and the people writing the articles will rake in the ad revenue.

What I’m saying is this: If you want the news to be better, start reading better. Stop sharing articles that aggregate three or four tweets into a news story Look for stories that get to the heart of the matter. Do you want to see less of a media firestorm about random crap? Find stories about things you’re actually interested in, share those instead. Do engage in the Facebook-based whack-a-mole that is unfollowing crappy viral “news” outlets. I encourage you to challenge yourself by trying to find stories that challenge your understanding of a narrative, even if that may not be for everyone–if you are going to do it, though, stick to sources you recognize and trust.

And this is how you unfollow a news source.

Who Needs An Adult?

I’ve often said that, while you do have to get older and more mature, you never have to grow up. This is usually just before I buy myself a LEGO set or play some old game from my childhood. This is also acknowledging that for me to act like a teenager (when I am not) is immensely unappealing, and that I will ultimately have to make adult decisions.

What occurred to me is that, at the tender young age of 30 (31 later in the week), I’ve never really felt like an adult. Hypothetically, I have been one for some time: Legally speaking, 12 years. I’m nearing the point where I’ve been licensed to drive for half of my life. Given the preponderance of Tumblr posts and memes on the topic, I feel like I am not alone in experiencing this sensation.

I’ve written before about how many of the people writing about Millennials are more in need of brains than zombies are, but I didn’t really suspect an ulterior motive. I’m generally pretty optimistic. However, it seems to me that the writers of roughly 90% of all anti-Millennial thinkpieces are written by the Baby Boomers, and are at the very least contributing to the “I’m not an adult yet” mindset. I was content to assume it was the ramblings of people genuinely concerned but completely baffled by “the kids.”

For possibly the first time in the history of the internet, what changed my mind was actually a meme:

I’m more than happy to blame Fox “News” for their part.

It seems that, if this is not intentional, then it is the work of the generation that never seemed to grasp the phrase “Self-fulfilling prophecy.” I also note, with some chagrin, that there’s a tendency for non-Millennials with strong opinions on the generation tend to be the same crowd who lament the “Pussification of America” (and I use the term only because it’s one of theirs).

I do know this: We are adults. We don’t have to start acting like them, because we have the opportunity to define what that is. We don’t have to follow the model being laid before us by the loud-mouthed Baby Boomer crowd, and generally, we’re not. We’re more than capable of the adult decisions we have to make.

I’m hoping not to come across as ageist, but I believe the opening volleys in this “war between generations” was fired by the older generation. As I’ve remarked before, we hate to be typified and categorized–there is even a bit of disdain about being lumped in with “Millennials” every time I hear our generation described–but non-Millennial writers have been trying to class us as “unprofessional.” “selfish” and “vapid.”

Perhaps we should pity them, for they are ultimately clinging a losing cause. When I think of the majority of politicians, I envision old, aging men clinging loosely to the reins of power they don’t yet want to give up. The have had their turn, but are unwilling to let anyone else give it a shot–they’ve earned it, we haven’t. At least, that’s what I hear when people make arguments against, for example, gender equality and gay marriage.

But then again, what do I know? I’m only just an adult…

Note: Perhaps I just need more caffeine. I am writing early on a Monday morning…

Woefully Underprepared

Gym class was, for my entire high school career, an interruption to an otherwise normal day. These were days I’d have to break my routine, find a quiet corner in a locker room, and try to shut out the entire rest of the room while I tried to shut out my own body image issues. Of which there were several. The class itself was spent either outdoors or in the gym, largely waiting to be released. It occurs to me now, 10-15 years on, that I was left without a concept of physical fitness that would actually work.

Before we worry too much about bullying, I was generally left alone. I think I was seen as a warm and pleasant, albeit a little odd, kid who didn’t really fit in. I floated around my friend groups, and was ignored by those I wasn’t a part of. I was a very religious kid, and it was my way of escaping from the fact that I was unpopular: I didn’t need their approval, I had God’s. I mention this for context, I was talking more about the educational component.

In my late 20s, I started running (you can go to the beginning of these archives for thoughts on that). Until I got to that point, I didn’t think I could run, in fact I told people as much. My understanding of fitness was that it only really worked with days spent at the gym, and was probably too expensive and time-consuming for me. I’d never learned how to stay fit. I’d never really had fitness explained in a way that I could understand. My sister being sick was a catalyst for me doing something, but I was (still am) figuring a lot of it out from scratch.

In my elementary school days, I kind of enjoyed outdoor games: I recall playing kickball, tag, Scramball, foursquare, games along those lines. Then things changed when middle school began, as that’s when the locker room became part of the ritual. This is when gym stopped being fun, it’s when I started to feel self-conscious (everyone loves Puberty, right?), and it’s when the athletic kids really started to set themselves apart from the lazy ones (guess where I fell).

What I’ve learned since then is that it doesn’t take a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does take effort. I learned that I can run, but that I need to start small, with short intervals. I learned that it’s within me to exercise, and I have learned the value of it. I even have a vague sense of how calories work. These are all things, as I was running recently, I felt like I should have learned in high school.

Which means that when “Gym period” turned into “Physical education” I learned nothing. I think some of it was a language barrier: I was being taught in a language, metaphorically speaking, which the sports kids could understand but was foreign to me. The value of it was also entirely lost on me, as I was apparently expected to just understand its inherent value–in the same way most classes were presented, but with seemingly fewer practical applications.

I was trying to think of how my gym experience could have been improved, while still on the run, and I started to feel like a Couch to 5k program over 10 or so weeks, followed by some yoga classes would probably have had more benefit than my entire 3 year gym career. Rather than treating it as recruiting for sports teams, the teachers could have focused on how it was within all of us to get some movement and burn some of our energy.

I’m no expert, but I can judge my results 10+ years on…

A Contextual Shift

The white pick-up truck in front of me was battered and rusty. It had certainly seen better days, and it’s up to speculation whether the rain was doing it any favors. In the center of the bed canopy window, written in white on black text, styled to look like it was stamped it into being on a massive label maker, were the words “Resist Despair.”

This seemed like a message of hope. No matter how bad things got, you are tough and you can overcome it. Even when it looks like your truck is about to rust where it stands, resist the temptation to just lose it.

There was something nagging me about the other spartan decorations on the back of the truck, so I looked up the phrase from another bumper sticker: “One world, One brotherhood” the next moment I was stopped. The Google results weren’t really that encouraging–Along with some possibly racist memes, I think the fourth hit was a Google Book upload on Indian Nationalism.

Which is when the context shifted, and I couldn’t see the previously hopeful message anymore. Now, “Resist Despair” was a comment made by someone who had never experienced depression to someone in the midst of it. It was a toxic “Man up.” It was insensitive, it lacked understanding. It was a command, it was not a suggestion.

I’ll take a moment here to remark that I’m not really that bent out of shape about some random person’s bumper sticker, but I am a little intrigued by the way that context made such a difference in that one moment. Context is a powerful force, clearly. It was enough to take me from inspired to resentful in the space of a Google search.

Even sadder is the fact that I have no idea if that’s even what the “One world, one brotherhood” thing is supposed to mean. Additional searching is coming up with nothing really significant, even if the sentiment feels like it could be positive. Hell, it’s even entirely possible I misread the sticker.

But the reason I’m banging on about it (aside from boredom) is that it strikes me how hard it is to separate oneself from one’s context–even if you’re actively trying not to be part of that context. Which is where this starts to get hard to swallow: How I appear to other people is beyond my control. This is going to be somewhat informed by my context.

The context I largely inhabit is that of the straight, white male. This is how I present when I walk down the street. I can’t change that. I also can’t change the actions of my contemporaries, many of whom I don’t know. I can’t really apologize for them either, I’m not responsible for their actions. But I know that people are affected by them, and that may affect how I am perceived.

This may be part of the reason it vexes me when I see things like an all-male panel dictating the future of women’s health. Or Hollywood films casting white people into roles for non-white people. Or the entire Men’s Rights Activist movement. It’s because other people are tainting my context with ideas that I disagree with; I don’t want to be lumped in with those people.

Given that I look like them, for all a stranger knows, I may well be. In the same way that the dude with the truck could be a reasonable, pleasant human being and his otherwise potentially innocent bumper sticker might just be tainted by the vagueness of its context. No amount of yelling and flapping my hands about how different I am will change how I seem–it’ll probably make it worse. I’m willing to allow that this is how I could look to other people–and seeing as I’m just as guilty of snap decisions, how can I be mad at someone for doing the same?

So what can I do? There is nothing to be gained by getting mad at people who lump me in with the sexists and racists (especially as no one has yet). All I can do is try to be better than my contemporaries, call people out when it’s appropriate, and associate with more like-minded folks.

… which probably explains my Facebook feed.

Belated Disclaimers

Today marks the end of my 9-week Couch to 5k program. Which I’ve completed three times, maybe four so far. And that I started again around May of this year. I am probably not a sporting role model.

Since I started running roughly two years ago, I lost around 40 lbs. I think I lost more, but regained a few during my idle time about this time last year. My philosophy on weight loss and exercise is fairly lax: As long as I’m making net progress week over week, I don’t worry too much about it; I don’t even sweat the off weeks, because it sets the bar lower for the next week. That said, here’s the belated disclaimer: I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I mention this because I’ve probably given some advice to friends, family, and inadvertently to my readers. I realized it when I recounted what I did to my girlfriend, who took some of my advice, which didn’t pan out. There’s a lot I don’t know about the human body, nutrition, etc. While what worked for me, did, it may not work for you.

One of my life philosophies is that your mileage may vary. This, I find, applies to most situations regarding personal situations, and it’s mostly a pithy way of saying “do what works for you, but don’t assume it’s going to work for someone else.” I am more comfortable endorsing that as a way of life than I am endorsing running as a weight-loss program, mostly because it covers my ass well. If it works for you, let it work; I’m not going to tell you what not  to do.

You can also combine my two philosophies into a pretty sweet (at least I think it’s sweet) corollary: Don’t worry too much about weight: yours, or that of another person. If it works for you, it works for you. Your body is also going to work differently than another person’s. So, the answer for them may not be as simple as exercise, it could be any number of variables that you simply don’t know about. So, don’t be judgin’.

Because I am already probably overstaying my welcome already by saying “I don’t know what I’m talking about” and then immediately switching to “But here’s my advice,” I’ll probably stop here.

I should probably also drop a lampshade on the fact that I don’t really have as much influence as I probably sound like I think I do. I know I don’t, but as usual, this is the kind of thing I think about when I’m actually out running.

Telling a Story Backwards

A good story is more than a beginning, middle and end. A good story begins with a hook (grab the reader’s attention), builds the tension, runs into problems, reaches a climactic scene, and crests Freytag’s pyramid with some of the most interesting information. The promise of a fascinating tidbit to come is one of the things that’s supposed to keep a reader interested.

A few years ago, I was pretending to be a journalist for a living. One of the first and strangest lessons I had to learn coming to journalism from fiction was that what’s called “good storytelling” in fiction, is there called “burying the lede.” You want the hook to be the really fascinating conclusion, and expect the reader’s attention to peter out as your story does. There differences in how one approaches the two different kinds of stories, especially in the Buzzfeed-fueled era of journalism where the article just has to be “good enough” to get out the door, but I’ll spend a good few hours happily rewriting from scratch an idea for a short story I like until every last comma is in the place I think it should be.

Writing for journalism usually struck me as a little sad: we were writing words with the foreknowledge that no one would read them. That we expected people to get 90% of the info from the first two paragraphs, and included the last several mostly for the handful of people who needed more background. I took some pleasure from the archival processing of information for posterity, but knew that readership would sharply drop off as soon as newer news took its place. There’s probably something to be said about the collectively short attention span of the average news-consumer, and I will at least make my comment this: It’s terrifying how easily that brevity can be manipulated; outrageous stories that call for immediate action can be instantly derailed by a different, equally large story that calls for similar levels of action.

Apropos of nothing: one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman, and one of my least favorite, Ernest Hemingway, both started their writing careers as journalists. I’ve always found Hemingway’s work to read more like journalism, using a style I’d describe (using a friend’s phrasing) as “Third-grade descriptive,” while Gaiman’s prose tends to sound beautiful to my ears. I suppose that really should be a sign that anyone can have the spark of literary genius about them.

Unabashed man-crush.

Where journalism and fiction intersect is in their ability to capture a zeitgeist. The way the world looks around a thing speaks volumes about that thing. It’s important, I believe, to read both kinds of stories written in a particular period to best understand that period. Journalistic stories capture, as best as possible, the facts of a particular event. Fiction stories will try to capture the emotions about that event. You need both to best understand anything. Where journalists and historians work to preserve the details of an event, authors exist to bring humanity back into it. Journalism is the study of what happened, and I suppose I’ve always been more interested in the author’s focus, which is why.

As a reader, I’m certainly guilty of leaving the crusts of news articles on my plate, while I devour prose whole–cover to cover–just before bed.  It’s not really my place to judge what that says about the quality of the news compared to prose, That I’ll leave to more interested, verbose and likely boring critics. but as a writer I can say that’s not really what I want when I put pen to paper–or at least finger to keyboard. But, this may have a lot to do with why I’ve never sought out a journalism job since.