Dungeons & Dragons : Meetings & Retreats

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In part because my last post was about suicide, and I kind of want to push that baby down the feed a step, I’m breaking from my usual pattern of uploading posts on Fridays to post about something that has become more and more clear to me: being a good DM, or GM or ST or whatever, is an incredibly useful skill. (I’ll use GM from here, as it is the term in widest use)

My sister goes to a lot of meetings. She’s been in higher education for a long time now, and is now in higher education administration, which means meetings galore. Her complaints about these meetings make frequent appearances on her Facebook feed, and then comes the chorus of agreement from others, in academia or related white-collar fields, who have similarly bad experiences in meetings.

I’ll say it – I give good meeting. I don’t love meetings and I understand why no one else loves them either, and in part because of this knowledge, I run pretty damn good meetings. In fact, I have realized that running good meetings (or good discussion groups or similar things) is one of my few features. I am currently the President of the Phoenixville Area Clergy Association and the leader of the Phoenixville Area Refugee Initiative solely because I am good at running meetings. (I have literally no other leadership qualities anyone can detect) As a pastor, I also run a lot of meetings – our board, and multiple committees, as well as Bible studies and other classes, planning meetings for weddings and funerals, annual retreats and training events; on and on. If I was bad at running meetings, or even just average, many innocents would suffer.

Where does this skill come from? It comes from running games for the last 25 years of my life. Think about it.

Taking Turns

In a discussion, making sure that everyone has a turn is exactly like running a combat encounter. Making sure everyone has approximately equal time and spotlight, that everyone gets to try to move their agenda forward a step, etc., is part and parcel of the GM skill-set. As a bonus, you’d no more skip a POC or a woman in a meeting than you would skip the rogue or the fighter. You know everyone gets to have a turn each round, and you keep going in rounds until you are done.

Keeping Up Momentum

As a GM you have learned when to talk to move things along, and when to sit back and let people roleplay with each other. You know when things begin to lag and you need to step in and move the story forward. You know how to creatively interrupt people who are stuck in a cycle that isn’t going anywhere. This skill is immediately applicable to any meeting or event you are running – you can read when people are just spinning their wheels and when they’re getting things done.

Rules and Rulings

When GMing a game, you always have to keep the rules in mind, and not only understand them, but also know when to apply them and when not to. In theory, most meetings are run according to Robert’s Rules of Order – where we get motions, and tabling, and calling the question, and all that procedural stuff that makes C-Span so action-packed. But not only is there widely variable knowledge of Robert’s actual Rules, but there are plenty of times when it is best to just set them aside. And who knows better when to set rules aside for the greater good than a skilled GM?

Prep

As an experienced GM, prepping even for a complex or difficult meeting is made relatively easy. If there is a curriculum or an agenda already, that’s kind of like having an adventure module to run. You have to read through, plan for the possible pit-falls, sketch out a few ideas for improvising, and you’re ready to go.

I tend to create things like retreats or classes form scratch, though. It can be a bit of a challenge, but honestly it’s usually nothing compared to prepping for a four-hour game session every week, where I have to keep five adults entertained while also telling a story, keeping rules in mind, adjudicating questions and debates, and juggling the agendas of every member of the supporting cast.

Go Run Awesome Games (and Meetings)

Compared to GMing a good game, running a good meeting is easy. I’m sometimes shocked at how bad some people are at it, but then I remember that they have not spent hours a week for 25 years prepping for, or playing in, RPGs. I have a feeling my 10,000 hours is long past, actually.

So everyone in every white-collar industry that features frequent meetings should start playing RPGs, is what I’m saying. Those of you who want to run good meetings should learn to be good GMs. As a bonus, you’ll be starting in on literally the best hobby there is, period.

You’re even welcome at my games – Friday and Sunday nights. I’ll show you how it’s done.

Suicide

I do not like telling stories about myself. It isn’t that I think people should not tell stories about themselves generally (though memoir is one of my least favorite genres of writing) – if you have a story to tell, more power to you. I just feel like…the stories I have to tell are about other people. Mostly made up people, if you get down to it. Make of that what you will.

I don’t think my life is particularly interesting, and I also have a really bad memory. I don’t remember whole swathes of my life, for reasons I can only guess at and don’t want to get into. Suffice to say, in the rare event that someone tells a story of something they remember me saying or doing, especially years ago, there’s a good chance I’ll have no idea what they’re talking about. They say that people with depression have smaller hippocampuses, and maybe that has something to do with it, I don’t know.

But I listened to Mike Perna’s episode of Bard and Bible a few days ago, and I decided, OK, I’ll tell a few brief Doug stories. These stories are about suicide, so if you don’t want that, now you know to skip this post. (These are not all of my stories about suicide, but they are the ones I’m telling today) I respect your time, so I’ll keep them as brief as I can while still maybe making sense.

First, I’m perpetually the New Guy, and before that, was perpetually the New Kid. I counted, and I’ve moved 24 times in my 37 years of life. No, I’m not a military brat or anything like that. I’ve just moved a lot – with my family as a kid, then as an adolescent, then as an adult.

As the perpetual New (Fat, Nerdy, Short) Kid, I had to sharpen my natural defenses. The key was always humor. After being pretty steadily beaten up and bullied and made fun of up through elementary school, I put together that if I was able to be consistently funny I would generally be safe. Not all the time, but most of the time. Being my dad’s fifth child and my mom’s third child meant lax parenting, so I watched a lot of late-night TV even as a kid. I watched a lot of comedy specials, and as much as I could, I’d absorb them, and then replay them at school with my own spin in order to shield myself with laughter. By Middle School I had a pretty solid repertoire of Robin Williams and Richard Pryor, among others, and was always someone who was trying to be funny. All this to say, Robin Williams in particular saved me from a lot of ass-kickings. Beyond that, he always seemed like an amazing person. He’s a lifelong hero, the kind of rare, wild genius that I feel privileged to have shared the world with.

Next, I’m a teenager and I have a crush on this girl. She and I are really close friends, actually. We hang out a lot; when I sneak out, it is to go hang out with her. She knows I have this boundless teenage love for her, and she does not feel the same way, and we’re both aware of all of that. It was what it was. But I’d take what I could get, so we spent a lot of time together.

One night, I’m dropping her off at home (I had an early birthday and was an early driver among my friends), and she tells me that she’s going to commit suicide. I beg her not to, but she has made up her mind, tells me goodbye, gets out of the car and goes inside. I’m just sobbing in this Chevy Blazer for I don’t know how long. Eventually she comes back out, gets back in, and tells me that she won’t. If I’ll stop crying, and go home and go to sleep, she promises she won’t.

Then she does.

Next, a year or two later, I’m in my dad’s office. It’s very late, and I’m so depressed and upset and angry and sick of the shitshow of being alive that I have taken down the case where he keeps a revolver. Six bullets shine in little shaped holes like board game pieces. (Not a simile I thought of at the time) With shaking hands I open the mechanism that lets the cylinder fall to the side and I start putting a bullet in each chamber. Why more than the one bullet I’d be using? I have no idea. Symmetry, maybe.

I remember the nauseating weight of it in my hand.

I hold the gun, hands still shaking, feeling like I’m going to throw up a clot of darkness out of the pit of my insides; thinking about whether I’ll feel the impact of the bullet to the side of my head, or just feel a hot dry shove and then nothing, or what. Will I go to Hell, or just fall and never hit the bottom?

I would love to say that Jesus came to me then, or that I thought about the people who loved me and how I’d hurt them, or what it would be like for my dad to wake up to a bang and find my brains all over his shelves. I thought of those things, but I had already thought of those things, and yet there I was in that room, in that moment, weighing whether to end everything because that would also end the pain of being. I knew I would hurt people, but I thought they were misguided. They didn’t understand, would be better off without me.

What happened was, I hit bottom. Whatever step there was before the very last step – that’s where I stopped. I felt like I had fallen a long way, but had slammed into a cold concrete floor, and would not fall any further. I would hurt horribly, would be miserable, but I would not fall farther than that. Not now, anyway.

Feeling like I was going to pass out, I put the gun and bullets back exactly as I found them, went back to my room, told no one. I’d continue to fantasize about killing myself for the next fifteen or so years, but never did it. Obviously.

Next, I’m working as a barista in San Anselmo, California, while going to seminary. I’m at Marin Coffee Roasters and in walks Robin Williams. My hero. The shimmering barrier of humor between me and innumerable ass-kickings. The guy who, for all intents and purposes, is the person I want to be. Yes, he suffers from depression, I’ve read all about that and his marriage troubles and his drug abuse and so on – but he does all of these things and is also world-famous for being hilarious and wonderful. Meanwhile, I’m a broke, depressed Seminary student. He did things in the world – I was just a fan. Yeah, I’d trade lives with the guy, no question.

He was a big bike-rider at the time, and Marin Coffee Roasters was kind of a bike hangout, so he comes in and orders a small mocha. I make him his small mocha, and he says thanks; shares a small smile. I am literally clamping down on all of the things I want to tell him, just boiling up inside of me, because honestly he looks exhausted and I don’t want to impose on the guy. Well, I want to follow him home like a whimpering puppy and hope he takes me in, but the mocha is all I give him.

Last, Robin Williams commits suicide on August 11th, 2014 – three years ago today. Three years later I’m still basically without words. He got to that moment, and bottom for him was just one step farther down than it was for me. He fell past where I stopped, and that was that. The person I desperately wanted to be for years was dead, and I was alive.

And then Prince, and then Chris Cornell, and then Chester Bennington, about whom Mike Perna spoke so eloquently on the Bard and Bible podcast, which set this post in motion.

If you want someone to talk to, I am always available, for this, for anyone, any time. I don’t advertise that, but maybe I should. I have talked to other people who have been in that place, and I have been there, or somewhere like it.

You can also talk to other people who want to help, and who want you to live.

I don’t have a conclusion for this. No summation, no lesson to walk away with. Just what I wrote. Just that and no more.

Daredevil and Punisher; Sensitivity and Strength

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I recently responded to the disappointment of Iron Fist by watching Daredevil season 1 again. And, having finished season 1, Netflix helpfully offered up season 2 as my next choice, and choose I did. Watching these two seasons of Daredevil, featuring the Punisher in the second season, got me thinking about superheroes, the supernatural, and game design, and a whole lot of things. Here’s a start.

Sensitivity Versus Strength

Normally, in the United States, sensitivity and strength are seen as oppositional aspects of a person. If someone is overly sensitive, we are concerned that they are vulnerable to the harshness of the world, and would expect them to be weak, to be a “snowflake”, to require trigger warnings on a regular basis. Right now, in fact, I would say that a sensitive person is subject to more ridicule than I’ve seen in a long time. Our society has no idea what to do with sensitive people, in fact – it’s either bitter mockery or ironclad defensiveness, it seems.

On the other hand, I think we assume that a strong person is insensitive. They are tough, thick-skinned. They  have a hard exterior. We respect toughness, the ability to take punishment and continue. “Even so, she persisted.” The capacity to grit one’s teeth and persist despite pain and privation and opposition.

It is like there is a sliding scale, with Sensitive on one end and Strong on the other, and everyone is somewhere between the two. More of one is less of the other. And there are plenty of examples we might think of, of sensitive people who do not seem to be very resilient, and strong people who are callous and unfeeling, or at least seem that way.

Daredevil

Daredevil is a really interesting superhero, for me at least, because his strength comes explicitly from his sensitivity. He is formidable because he is sensitive. He is blind, but his other perceptions are so acute that he has superhuman perceptions of the world around him. He can echo-locate, and he’s a lie-detector, and he can perceive what is in the next room without opening the door. He has superhuman agility and balance – all of this because of his sensitivity. He’s like Zatoichi, or a blindfolded Zen archer – yes, a fictional trope, but also an interesting take on strength in a genre where it is normal for bullets to bounce off the hero.

In the Daredevil show on Netflix, they make a lot of his moral sensitivity, especially in contrast to the Punisher. He has his interactions with his priest, Father Lantom – who as an aside is one of the few good portrayals of clergy in media – and these interactions show another side of his sensitivity, and another way in which that sensitivity gives him strength. There his interactions with Claire Temple, who continually nurses him back from death’s door after a particularly bad beating, and more than one episode is spent while he is limping and stitched together, frustrated by the limits of his body and its vulnerability.

Punisher

The Punisher is obviously a superb foil for Daredevil. For him, Daredevil is a “half measure” – a guy who can’t get the job done, who can’t do the ‘necessary’ thing and kill the criminals he opposes. In contrast to Daredevil, if the Punisher has any supernatural ability, it is his ability to take damage. He spends the entire show with his face and body brutalized, but is never slowed very much by his injuries. He is a personification of hardness and strength, an implacable killing machine.

Of course, the core of Frank Castle’s story, what makes him the Punisher, is pain and loss. This is, again, part of the tough guy trope – he is driven to become an unfeeling killing machine because, underneath it all, he feels so deeply. But not in a way that causes him to reflect much on his actions, like Daredevil does, nor in a way that makes him something other than a killing machine.

Interlude: Yes, I Know

Yes, both of these are supremacist power fantasies. Daredevil is the power fantasy that even if I lose something of myself, even if I am hurt, it will only make me stronger. I can turn my hurt, my vulnerability, into yet more strength, and use that strength to punch criminals in the face all night long. Punisher is the power fantasy of empowering victimization. I am hurt deeply once, and that one hurt justifies every hurt I inflict on the world around me. His is the logic of every war, every retaliation, of Trump’s MAGA uprising, and the particular male fantasy that if you pushed me too far, or hurt my family, I’d become a killing machine too. All of that true, but that’s not where I’m going here.

To Be Formidable

What if sensitivity is strength? What if the are the same thing? Not in a Daredevil since, where his senses are so sensitive and acute except when he is pummeling his foes into submission, and not in the Punisher way, where his deep hurt at the loss of his family is what fuels his bottomless murderous rage. But in an everyday way, the way that a child can demonstrate better than a superhero.

It doesn’t require any strength, any resilience, to be insensitive. You’re not tough, you’re just numb. Maybe you numb yourself with substances or other behaviors, or maybe you’re just a little numb by nature. If the world hurts you less, toughing it out is no great feat. Maybe you get used to numbing yourself, or maybe you get used to coasting through trouble. Life just requires less of you.

Just as it requires less of me to live a white-hetero-male-privileged life. I might be hurt by the world, but overall, the world hurts me less than others with less privilege. (Imagine how quickly a Black Daredevil or Punisher would be caught or murdered by police) It certainly is not easy, but it is in a sense on “Easy Mode” as John Scalzi calls it. My baseline life requires less strength.

What requires strength is to live in the world and remain sensitive. It requires so much strength, in fact, that humans flock to addiction and various kinds of anesthesia to avoid doing just that. We want stories of tough, impervious heroes; of victorious, immortal gods. We trade liberty for security, offering it up before we are even asked, and thanking our leaders for the privilege of losing who we might have been. Build the wall! Take my data, please!

The truly formidable person is the one whose strength and sensitivity flow together. She who feels more, sees more, and knows more must also endure more. And the more we feel, the more we see, the more we know and care, the more we must endure. The stronger we must be, and the more formidable we become. But even if that is not the kind of strength that many of us seek out, nor the kind of strength that makes it into our stories very often, it is just that kind of strength that we need right now.

Detoxing Masculinity

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It’s weird to feel called to deal with masculinity, in its many current toxic forms, when I don’t see myself as very masculine to begin with. With the exception, maybe, of body and facial hair. But my adolescent experience was getting bulled and being called a “faggot” until I learned to defend myself with humor (and occasionally fists). My dad was convinced for a couple years that I was gay because I wasn’t dating and had a couple really close friends I spent all my time with. But on some level, his assessment also amounted to “faggot”, and that made an impression on me. (I don’t know that he ever changed his mind) Terrible at sports, short and never in good shape, not sexually active until well into my 20s, depressed, prone to anxiety and panic attacks, not good at fighting or fixing things, phobic of firearms because of a past experience – not anyone’s picture of masculinity. What was I into? Nerdy stuff, and theater, and and writing; lots of reading and video games. Maybe a couple of stereotypically male interests, but zero masculine interests.

And yeah, there’s a difference. I’m sure my dad or brothers would explain it to you if you don’t know. Me – male. Them – masculine.

I’m not a man that other men are drawn to. I don’t think I’m, like, repellent, but I’m simply not the sort of man that other men look to as an example. For my own examples, I look elsewhere, to other men who are quite different from me. I am, at the very best, male-neutral as an adult. But no one’s looking to me to learn what a man is and does – with the possible exception of my daughter, at least at this stage of her life. (Yikes. OK. Deep breath.)

This isn’t to say that I’m not acknowledging that I am awash in male privilege – quite the opposite. The things that female colleagues in my profession have to deal with are just ridiculous (not to mention black colleagues, gay colleagues, etc.). I would have to ignore everything they have ever said not to get it. I was born with the straight white male winning Lottery ticket, and it is my job to do what I can to dismantle that. Got it – I am in. But. I’m thinking through this, and have been for a long time now, precisely because I see the need to do my “straight white man work,” but the man part is the most challenging.

I’m a default participant in male privilege, but I am not an active participant in masculinity, if that makes sense. Nor am I gender-nonconforming. I’m just gender-blah. And there’s a part of me that has this intuition that Doug over here doing his due diligence as a man is a bit like Doug over here playing Dungeons & Dragons – it’ll have no impact on the wider world other than being another weird thing Doug does. And I could do worse, so I do some of my man-work over here. It’s just, let’s say, not a strength; not a clear path forward.

Even though I understand that male privilege can be experienced as monolithic, it gets complicated in that masculinity is not monolithic at all. And I know that part of the agenda of feminism, which I whole-heartedly identify with, is to enable the full expression of all of these diverse takes on gender. But…I’m not sure how to actually do that, and not just do that, but help the world around me do that too.

Feel free to roll your eyes and post a comment about the obvious thing I’m missing. I’ll keep slowly chiseling through my own baggage in this area and trying to do more good than harm, and maybe I’ll put it together.

Local Resistance in the Age of Trump

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Update: I went to a local demonstration in support of immigrants and refugees, and it was a lot of fun. I met some new people and found a couple other organizations that are working to resist the Age of Trump in various ways. There were a lot of other clergy there, which was nice to see, and a good mix of POC, immigrants, men and women that reflected our town. 

Whenever I have to fill in my “hometown”, I just fill in whatever town I happen to be living in at the moment. The concept of a hometown is one I’ll never have, for better or worse. The idea that I come from a single place, or that my family comes from a single place, is simply foreign to me.

When I was six, we moved from Palm Harbor FL to Rocky Hill CT. The next year, from Rock Hill to Canton CT. The next year from Canton CT to somewhere – I forget, but we moved again halfway through that year to Oldsmar FL (I remember because I changed schools halfway through 3rd grade). Then we moved from Oldsmar FL to Safety Harbor FL. I lived there for a while, up to the summer after 10th grade when I moved out with my mom to squat in my grandparent’s old condo in Dunedin FL. Then I moved back in with my dad in Safety Harbor again while my mom moved to Akron. The next year, I moved out to live with my mom in Akron OH. I went to College in Wooster OH, and came home for summers and breaks first to a duplex and then to a rental house in Akron OH. During that time I spent a summer living in Chicago IL working as an intern at a church. When I graduated college I moved into a friend’s apartment in Wooster until I was broke, and then moved back in with my mom in Akron. Then we moved in with my girlfriend wife Pam, to a new apartment in Akron that we split three ways. Then Pam and I moved out to our own apartment, elsewhere in Akron. Then we moved from Akron to San Anselmo CA so that I could go to graduate school. Two years later we moved to an apartment in San Rafael, and six months later to yet another apartment in San Rafael. Then we moved to Orrville OH so I could start my first position as a pastor, and a year later we moved to nearby Dalton OH. From Dalton we moved in with our friends in Columbia MO for nine months, and from Columbia MO to live with my wife’s mother for a few weeks in Glenside PA until we find our own place in Jenkintown PA while I worked at my second pastoral position. Then we moved to Royersford PA for my third position, where we live now.

That’s about 24 moves so far in my life. Some short-term and some longer-term, but still. I’m 37, so on average I’ve been moving from one place to another every 1.5 years my entire life. Lot’s of reasons for that, and in some cases, for no discernible reason. This is just how things have gone so far. The places I can say have felt kind of like a hometown, at least for a while, include Safety Harbor FL, Akron OH, and now Royersford PA. Places I’ve put down a few fibrous, tenuous roots before moving on again.

There’s also no hometown for any part of my family, really. If we just count immediate family, they can be found in various parts of Florida, Memphis, Arkansas, coastal Maine, Cleveland, and so on. There isn’t a place we all came from.

This plays into how I function in the world. Social media is absolutely crucial to my sanity. If I didn’t have ways to connect over large distances, I would be desperately alone a lot of the time. I mean, I love my wife and daughter, but they would literally be all I have in my life almost all of the time. It recently occurred to me that I wouldn’t actually know it if my dad died unless I made it a point to keep in contact with some of my family in Florida (who are not communicative with me, the black sheep), and I am only able to do this through social media.

And social media, so crucial to my connection and sanity for so long (all the way back to AOL and dial-up, because I’ve always had to connect over a distance), is now a crazy shit-storm in the Age of Trump. It was very bad during the Age of Dubya, but for much of that time the internet wasn’t the main way people connected yet. During the Age of Obama, it was a crazy place but often focused on snark and satire. It was possible for me to keep up those connections, and strengthen them; to become a nascent blogger and that kind of thing. We started Two Friars and a Fool, I got into Twitter, wrote and edited some books, etc. Social media helped me be productive and even more connected.

But now it feels exactly like being locked in a cage and rolled through town while a crowd of people throws rocks and feces at each other while I pass. The horrors and offenses are no longer daily, they are hourly; with six different simultaneous Facebook Live posts focusing on each one. The connections are still there, and the creativity, but it is in the midst of a slurry that is at the moment so dense as to be incomprehensible most of the time.

The Trump administration clearly has the strategy to just spray us with offensive nonsense and unconstitutional authoritarianism, depending on the spinelessness of the GOP which controls Congress and, soon, the Judiciary. I see no reason not to assume that will be a winning strategy – we’ll see. What’s happening now is unprecedented and no one knows what’s going to happen.

In light of the Age of Trump, what should I be doing? For the past few weeks I’ve been glued to social media watching in horror as we careen off the cliff and into the void. I can’t even see the bottom yet, but it might be very deep indeed. Mostly this has been paralyzing, and I’d rather not be paralyzed.

One of the paradoxes of our information age is that we can be aware of things going on all over the globe, but we don’t actually have significant power to affect those things. If I do everything in my power on a given world issue, I will have negligible impact. Maybe if I get a thousand, or ten thousand, other people to join in, we might move the needle. 3-4 Million people marched a few days ago, and we’ll see what comes of it. I marched with 10 million people worldwide against the Iraq War 15 years ago, and we’re still fighting there.

Which brings me back to the hometown issue. What if the problem is that all of this energy is too dispersed? I’m getting caught up in literally fifty different issues in the world, and at best, whatever force I can bring to bear is dissipated into 1/50th of its potential. If I had a hometown, and it was 20 years ago, that’s where I’d be active, right? If I had a hometown, that’s where I might be able to push and actually cause something, anything, to move. Even just a little.

This thinking is leading me to realize maybe I should focus more of my energy locally. I haven’t been to any big protests or demonstrations in years, but I was a speaker at a local peace vigil in response to fears around Trump’s election victory, and we’re planning more such vigils. I’m going to a local demonstration tomorrow at lunch time and will be joined by some local clergy there. Our Clergy Association is talking about what we can do in this new, awful context, when most of us have a sizable chunk of Trump supporters in our congregations. There are a number of us that are also talking about committing to settle a refugee family locally.

I don’t know how long I’ll live where I am now. Based on the past, I’m a year overdue for another disruption and move. I’m also a year and a half before my temporary position potentially ends.  I wonder what I could be part of, locally, in that year and a half.

The Fat Curmudgeon’s Guide to Going to the Stupid Gym

I am now a person who goes to the gym. And it really, truly sucks. But maybe this will be helpful if you are on the verge of becoming a person who goes to the gym too.

God, Why?

A lot of people will lie to you about the gym, and about exercise in general. This may be in part because they are not fat people, so their experience of their bodies is different, I don’t know. But let me be clear – the gym sucks. It is not a happy place. You are a human-sized hamster going nowhere and sweating and chafing while you do it. It does not feel good. It does not open up vistas of health and flourishing. It is total CENSORED.

You do not go to the gym to have fun or to make friends. You are there to serve time. So don’t worry about dressing a certain way or making eye contact or smiling. Who smiles and makes contact in a prison yard? No one, that’s who. No, you are there to serve your time and get out.

You’re there because you don’t want diabetes, or because you don’t want your diabetes to get worse, or because you’ve lost digits to diabetes and you don’t want to lose more digits. You’re there so you don’t die in agony from a heart attack in a few years. Or you are there because you had a heart attack but survived and don’t want another one because that CENSORED hurts, and it’s scary. You are there because you want to keep having brownies for breakfast and people should get off your case about it! You are there because your spouse keeps bothering you, and it takes courage for them to bother you, so they probably are doing it because they love you. Whatever.  You are there because you have to be.

If the universe was governed by a merciful deity, things like this would not be necessary, but there it is.

Seriously, Why Would A Person Do This?

It’s important to plan to go to the gym every day. Every. Damn. Day. See, here’s the thing – half the time CENSORED will happen and you won’t be able to go. So if you plan to go two or three times a week, when CENSORED keeps happening, as it always does because life is a bunch of CENSORED, then suddenly you’re going once a week because of all of the CENSORED.

Don’t go to the gym once a week. That’s a waste of your time. It’s like eating once a week, or drinking alcohol once a week – not enough. You have to do more for it to help. Pretty soon the CENSORED piles up and once a week turns into zero times a week, but diabetes and heart disease and a bunch of health CENSORED still has a gun to your head and you still have to go.

So you commit to going to the gym every damn day, and then CENSORED happens, and you end up going to the gym four or maybe five times a week. Remember to give diabetes the finger when you go.

I Hate This So Much

Here is some specific advice from a fat curmudgeon to help take the edge off of your captivity:

Dress like CENSORED. Wear a ratty hoodie and sweatpants or your own equivalent. Wear a shirt that doesn’t fit anymore under the hoodie because who cares? The hoodie part is important, though, because you can put your smartphone in the pocket of the hoodie. If you put it in the pocket of your sweatpants and start moving around, your pants start falling down. #fatpeopleproblems Or wear something else with a pocket. That smartphone will be your lifeline, to remind  you of all of the wonderful places in the world that are not a gym, and all the joyful things to do in the world that are not exercise.

Come to terms with the fact that you will just lose time now. I don’t live far from the YMCA where I go, but measuring from getting up, driving over, getting on an elliptical for enough time to matter, driving home, showering and dressing back in human clothes totals about an hour and a half. That’s an hour and a half out of my life – I don’t get that time back to do things I’d rather be doing, which is almost anything. Remember, you are a hostage. You are serving time. The gun is to your head. I dull the edge of this loss of time by listening to music and listening to podcasts on my phone. iTunes or whatever Android podcatcher you like (I like Podcast Republic, but whatever works) are your friends. Learn a new language. Listen to the news. Download the NPR One app and listen to NPR shows. (Whatever you do, do not look around at other people, or up at the damn TVs they have, or listen to their CENSOREDty gym music. The people, the TVs, the music, it’s all just terrible. Bring your own auditory world and make peace with captivity.)

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you must not give a duck. You need to not give any ducks, not a single duck, not even a sneaky duck that just slips out. No ducks are to be given. I put in my earbuds and turn them up. When the person greets me at the entrance and scans my card, I have no idea if I’m shouting at her because my music is so loud. But I don’t let myself give a duck. I go in and don’t stretch anywhere near a mirror, because who the duck wants to do CENSORED near a mirror? What am I, some kind of deranged narcissist? What’s with all the mirrors anyway? I’d join a gym that had no mirrors solely for the fact that they had no mirrors. But, again, no ducks are to be given. Stretch wherever you want. Right in the doorway – people can go around you. No ducks. When you’re on whatever machine, make noises, grunt, sweat, fart, swear under your breath, wheeze, whatever gets you through it. Give. No. Ducks. (And while exercise is awful, practicing not giving any ducks is probably a very valuable thing) You can say it to yourself in rhythm with whatever torturous thing you’re doing – I. Give. No. Ducks. Say it out loud. Whatever.

Probably pick an elliptical. It’s a good choice for a number of reasons. First, jogging is total CENSORED. Your bones will hurt almost immediately, and stuff is jiggling around uncomfortably, and you won’t be able to jog very far, and it’ll be demoralizing. (Couch to 5K is total CENSORED. I did 1/8th of the recommended first workout for a week and felt like I was going to die. Whoever came up with that was not fat and did not have asthma) Just…just ignore runners. I don’t know what’s wrong with them either. But jogging and running are awful, even compared to everything else at the gym. The elliptical is better because it doesn’t jostle your bones and joints and jiggly bits as much. It also has some technology in it, so you can do things like set a calorie goal. And it can do things like raise the resistance, and make things slightly less soul-crushingly boring than a treadmill. Which is, again I cannot emphasize this enough, literally just a human hamster ball.

Do not get a personal trainer. If the gym offers free time with the personal trainer, do not take them up on it. Because…come on. Do I have to say it? Just don’t.

And, a crucial note on any machine: remember to input your weight. This is absolutely necessary for us fat people. Me on an elliptical is like a normal person on an elliptical with 100lbs of rocks stuffed in their clothes. I burn way more calories than a skinny person doing the same thing. If you don’t input your weight, the machine assumes you are some kind of lilliputian, and you will feel like you are accomplishing nothing. No, put in that big fat number and watch as you burn twice the calories as the skinny person next to you. The more you burn, the quicker you can get home and back to things that don’t suck.

This Is Total CENSORED, Isn’t It?

This is when it hit me, a few days ago. It was freezing and pouring rain and windy – just awful, miserable weather. But to the gym I went, because I serve my time now. So I got there in the morning, which was unusual, as I’m usually there after work. But in the morning, the place is packed. The parking lot was full, and even the overflow lot only had a few spots. I drove around looking for a spot, and decided, duck this, I’m going home. The weather is miserable and I don’t want to walk across a huge parking lot in horizontal freezing rain and I’ll just come back tomorrow or something.

I was heading out, and then it hit me: No, I am a person who goes to the gym now. And with a feeling of sinking despair, I realized that I would have to turn around, park in the damn overflow lot, walk through the damn horizontal freezing rain, and get on the damn elliptical. So I did.

And that’s probably what has to happen – you have to decide that you are now a person who goes to the gym. Then you go to the gym, because reasons. And then you go again.

 

Our Larva

Poppy is six months old now, and it seems like maybe a time to write down some observations.  A lot of this is captured in pictures or videos, but maybe these will be things I’ll want to revisit someday.

Sounds
Early on Poppy was very careful with sounds.  She would coo now and then, and then we would coo back, or praise her, and she would just look at us.  Sometimes she would quietly work her lips for a while, as if about to say something, but she usually didn’t.  She seemed to practice a few times before she tried to make other sounds too.  Now she has mastered a sound she repeats a lot, something like “mwa mwa mwa”.  She also loves noisy raspberries.

Flying
I’ve never seen a baby do this, but for the past month or two, when on her tummy, Poppy will put her arms out straight to her sides, like wings on a plane, raise her head, and kick her feet back behind her.  It looks like she expects to take flight as a result of doing this.  She never gets anywhere, but seems to just do this periodically over the course of a day.

Jingle Duck
One of the first times we really connected, Poppy and I, in a specific way, was when we were in Walmart.  I hate Walmart, and she wasn’t too happy with it either.  So I reached down and shook a jingle-duck that she has hanging from the handle of her carrier.  She looked right at me, reached up, and shook the duck in return.  She gave me this very clear look that said “Yeah, dad, I get Jingle Duck.  What’s your point?”  She then did the same thing a few times for me, and once for Pam.

Wiggle
Usually when she sees me, especially when she wants me to pick her up, she does a full-body wiggle, from feet to head, so much that she contorts away from me for a moment.  It is very cool to watch, and is something she has been doing for a few months.

Glowing Rectangular Screens
She loves TV, XBox games, and there is an iPhone app called “Look Baby” that she can actually use herself.