Thursday, March 27, 2014

Weight and Self-Image

I've been putting off writing about this for a long time, because I don't like to write about my more unattractive personality traits, no matter how human and normal they might be. But someone's gotta do it, damn it. If no one ever wrote about unpleasant things, nothing real would ever get said. In part I've been inspired by The Divided Mind by John E. Sarno, M.D., in particular a part where he talked about one of his own episodes with psychosomatic illness. He developed symptoms while on vacation with his wife (you'll have to read the book to find out what kind) and he had to admit that he resented taking her on vacation before the symptoms would let up. As he said in his book, this wasn't a very nice thing to have to admit, and he didn't like that about himself at all. It made him feel like a horrible person. That's the awesome and scary power of the unconscious. Sometimes it's easier on our egos to feel physically ill or cripple ourselves than admit that part of us is whiny and selfish, or whatever else might be going on. When I'm done with this book I'm going to check out some of his other ones. They sound fascinating.

Anyway, I've been fighting with my weight most of my life, even when I was skinny. I just didn't know I was skinny at the time. That tells me that I don't see myself very clearly. It makes it extremely difficult to know where I'm at. I can't look in the mirror and say hey, I'm huge or hey, I'm looking pretty good right now. I have a very athletic body and so I weigh a lot more than other people my height. Although I use the scales, it's better for me to use a tape measure around my waist and my pant size to gauge where I'm at. So, at 5'6", I'm about 175 pounds (right now less, two weeks ago I was a bit over) and wear a size 14. I know of very few women who are my height and weight that weigh as much as I do. So, there's the visual distortion, there's the weight wackiness (I feel ponderous whenever I look at the number on the scale), my intellectual goals which want me to be at a healthy weight where I can do all the stuff I like to do without hurting myself, my rational goal of maximizing my longevity and quality of life, and my not-very-subconscious goal of looking great and feminine and sleek (sleek's not going to happen with my shoulders. Just sayin'.)

Most of the time I'm okay with my size, and I'm strong and I have decent endurance though more cardio training is always good. I haven't done that in a long time now. Months.

Here's the ugly part, the things I don't like to admit.

Somewhat big doesn't trigger this–I grew up with a family where some members were perpetually round and I have some wonderful friends who are round that I consider healthy. But I'll see someone really big and the wow, how the hells, why the hells start going around in my head. I'm instantly ashamed of myself. And then I often imagine what it would be like to be that big, and to see that in other people's eyes every time they look at me, and I think, crap, I might never leave the house.

I have days when I want to do nothing but sweat so I don't have to face the scale at a given weight. I get really twitchy when I start to approach my pregnant weight. At the 175 mark I'm within five pounds of that. Maybe ten, if I'm generous with myself. 180 is the number in my head, but I think I went over that slightly when I was pregnant.

Pregnant. I'm almost as heavy as I was when I was pregnant with my first born child, with no child in my body. That slays my hopes and dreams and desires to be that super-fit grandma I might become someday if I'm lucky, the one who charges up and down mountainsides and goes skiing and fishing and all the things my mom does and other older women I admire do.

And now that I've said those things about my weight, I'm scared that someone I love and care about will think damn, if Kami thinks that's heavy, what does she think of me? I fear I'll hurt someone who has the same or worse self-image problems that I do, or that they'll hate me for thinking these things when they believe that I've got it good compared to them or whatever, and I start to make myself crazy and fearful.

So add to this mix of emotions that make me loathe myself, I have people I love that can't do all those things and I see them as beautiful and strong. One of them is very ill and believes they look fat. They don't. In my eyes, that person is thinner than I am. And that person probably is. I bet if we adjust for height and everything, that person is slimmer than I am. But that person doesn't see themselves that way, because that person's self-image is all messed up. Just like mine.

So I see someone super-heavy by my internal scale, and I try not to stare and try not to think the awful thoughts that I always do about how someone can 'let themselves go' and I think about myself and think, like I have room to talk, I have rolls like the Michelin Man, (but hey, my arms are totally like that, so, bonus!) and I go into a death spiral of shame and self-loathing and pity for the other person and I have this desire to try to help and encourage them. How awful is that, on top of everything else.

I'm ashamed to admit that I have the nerve to want to encourage and help someone who doesn't know me and would find it incredibly intrusive and arrogant and horrible to have a stranger try to be supportive about something so personal, when they have absolutely no knowledge about what I've done and been doing or not doing about my weight. I have my decisions to make and no one can make them for me. Our friends can keep us going, but a stranger has no business butting in. Just because someone is a certain size, or has twins, or moves with the aid of a wheelchair or whatever does not make them public property to ooo and aahh and approach with praise or sympathy or whatever. And yet people do this. And I think it.

Is social pressure to change our bodies all bad? I don't think so. Some social pressure is good. Social pressure reminds us to not be jerks, and helps motivate some of our other better natures including picking up trash, volunteering, etc. It's not the entirety of a given behavior (at least I don't think that people do everything just to please others and fit in) but it can be a valuable piece of a motivational spectrum to help get me off my butt. But some social pressure motivates people to distort their natural beauty, to carve up their faces and bodies until they don't look like themselves anymore, or to become housebound because they can't bear the stares. And some of that social pressure is entirely imaginary, about what I think people see when they look at me, versus what they really see. Some of that social pressure is distorted by a culture that is itself distorted (think the scary-thin models) and some social pressure is motivated by cruelty and our less-attractive selves. I don't like that part of me that stares at huge people, but others revel in it, laugh, make awful comments, and use weight as license to demean people and think less of them. I'm not sure that my desire to help overweight people become healthier is any better than the people that make fun of them. It's just as intrusive, but in the opposite direction.

There's nowhere I can take this. Society is what it is, I am who I am, and people are who they are. I just wanted to write about this because I'm a talker and a writer and I feel compelled to get this stuff out of my head and into the light. I think it's important to poke at this stuff, figure it out, and then do something positive if at all possible. I don't expect to change the world, or make people be nicer to each other. But maybe I can start a dialogue (or monologue.) This stuff has all been discussed before by others, but maybe not by all my readers, so, here you go. You've got thoughts in your head. What are you going to do with your thoughts, if anything? They're yours to keep, or to share, whatever you want or dare to do. If they're not what you want them to be and you're willing to fight to change them, I'll be here, silently cheering you on. I wouldn't dare actually cheer you on unless you asked me to, because ... well, you've read this far, so you know.

I'm scared to butt in where I'm not wanted.

I almost deleted this post. I don't know what it means that I didn't, and I don't know what it means that I put it up despite my qualms. I just hope that getting the thoughts out of my head will help someone or something someday.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Public Face: Who's it all about?

Recently I spend some time investigating some writers I'd never heard of for a friend who is handling the programming for a convention. Two websites and a few blogs later, I noticed a pattern of not-goodness. I'm keeping this super-generic because I don't want anyone assuming (wrongly or otherwise) that it's them. I don't want anyone to go hunting for a rock to crawl under. Nor would it be any fun if people assume I'm talking about them and get all defensive and decide that they're an exception for whatever reason.  I just want to offer some advice that hopefully everyone can use.

There are a lot of writers who blog about writing out there. Writers write, and writers obsess about how to write, when to write, why to write, who or what to write about, what music to write to, where to write, etc. I went in with that knowledge and expected that a writer's blog will involve writing on some level. So that's fine. It's natural for writers to obsess about writing on their blogs.


Assuming that a writer blogs because they want to connect with their audience, it seems to me that it might be a good idea to make the blog about the audience. Impart useful information, write teasers, talk about cats [because the interwebs were created for cute cat pictures, instant information (right or wrong might not matter as much as getting it right away) and porn, as we all know] or whatevs. Get excited about the latest book coming out, or report on the awesome that's the convention, book signing, movie that came out, fab new writing haunt, etc. But I would suggest avoiding what these authors did, which was make it all about themselves. I don't mean, don't make it personal. Personal is fine. But there's a difference between sharing and narcissism. These websites seemed very narcissistic to me.

Most readers tolerate promotion so that they can find out the latest about the writer's new work. There's the work, which readers like to read about so they can snag the latest info about the story they love, and there's the author, who is the respected creator but not the focus of the reader's interest.

The posts had nothing to do with me as an interested party who wanted to know more about the author's work, and the author themselves. I didn't care about how hard it was to write the synopsis for the person's latest work, though I've been there and it does suck. Discussing an imagined slight of The Author's craft by some unwashed, unworthy fellow author or a critical reader or whoever–I wanted to bounce off the site but I was doing research, so I reluctantly read on. I do enjoy reading about stuff like that sometimes, but usually only if the author is a celebrity and is misbehaving. In other words, I read about that at their expense, usually through a third party. (See the Anne Rice example coming up shortly.) I also like to hear about famous authors being awesome, but again, through a third party.

I did actually want to know about the authors. And I found out plenty, though probably  not what the author intended. Reading between the lines, the authors sounded more interested in themselves as authors than they were their own work, or anything else going on in the world for that matter. They may be perfectly fine writers, but I'll never know because their web presence didn't inspire confidence in their writing. I'd expect that their books are in keeping with the level of self-awareness and insight into the wider world expressed in their blogs. Which is to say, they seemed to be using really tiny windows to look out at the world, and there were a lot of mirrors outside those windows.

I think an author-focused blog can work very well. Jay Lake famously blogs about his cancer journey. In fact, he's stated that he has more hits on his blog from others wanting information about his battle with cancer than his books. I think it's valuable to study how Jay talks about his cancer and how people respond, especially others who are facing cancer or have family with cancer. The information he gives helps people feel less alone, and prepares them for the things they'll have to face and decisions they'll have to make. This is valuable (and generous, and courageous.) I've also enjoyed author blogs when the authors discuss their trips to foreign countries, antics with their pets (again with the cats!) and stuff they've learned through research.

Contrast that to talking about how mean someone was when they offered unsolicited criticism of the author's work. If there was some insight, humor, something to entertain me, as a fellow crazy writing person I might have felt a connection. I've certainly had my share of weird, cruel and off-putting critiques. But as a reader, a potential buyer of the author's books, those posts turned me off more than anything. And, sadly, even as a writer sympathetic to the plight of other writers, my main reaction was to wonder if the author had a thick enough skin to survive in the business. That, and I had a flashback to Anne Rice's reaction to a bad review on Amazon. I still get a chuckle out of that. As entertained as I was by that whole debacle, it didn't endear me to Anne Rice, no matter how much I can sympathize with how hard it can be to deal with a bad review. She looked terribly unprofessional.

And these websites and blogs were just that. Unprofessional. It's not about the author. It's about the work.

And cute pictures of cats.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Divided Mind by J. Sarno

My DH and I are going to be at Norwescon 37. I hope we'll see a bunch of you there!

For once, I'm not overbooked. I'll have plenty of time to visit with folks. I expect I'll be spending a lot of time at the NIWA (Northwest Independent Writer's Association) table and possibly some time at barcon. I'm a bit of a foodie so if anyone has a suggestion for fantastic food around the SeaTac area, let me know.

Otherwise I'm assuming that I'm going to relax, do some writing, go to some panels, periodically sit in a hot tub, do some reading, and visit with friends.

Speaking of reading, I'm currently being blown away by "The Divided Mind" by John E. Sarno (which looks like Samo in the current font I'm seeing it ... see the whining in my last post for more rant-astastic information on this topic.) It explains a lot about the state of the physical and emotional health of, well, pretty much everyone in the western world right now. I firmly believe that not enough people get help for their mental and emotional problems and I think that this is in part because there's not a lot of quality care available, or maybe people just have trouble finding it or funding it.

I think a good indicator of whether or not a mental health specialist is worth the research, referral (if necessary,) time and expense is if they make things better within a finite period of time. And that may be what's going on with the majority of cases, but the public perception, or at least my perception and I don't think I'm alone, is that it takes years to work out your problems with your upbringing, and that puts the expense both in funding and time out of reach of just about everyone I know. What I like about this book is that the author addresses a problem and puts it in perspective. He then lays out a blueprint for how to deal with this problem, and what it's going to take. If all is as he presents it, then his methods are easily accessible, take a relatively short period of time to bring relief, and isn't going to rob you and your family of valuable resources forever. If the average person believed that this was what they could expect from a mental health program, I think most of them would sign up.

If. If they knew that the problems they're experiencing are mental rather than physical, and it seems that many of the problems we're facing, including lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, dare I suggest planar fasciitis, GERD, etc. may in fact be caused by a rather insidious mechanism triggered by the subconscious. It's actually been recorded and studied for over a hundred years. And yet psychosomatic illness is what happens to the other guy, or to the hypochondriac, not to, well, everyone. Really. It's, like, normal to have psychosomatic stuff going on. I should have figured this out. I had horrible dizzy spells that stopped me from going to school. No cause was ever found. And when I stopped going to school and we finished moving and things settled down, so did my dizzy spells.

Normal. It's not dumb, or a deficiency. It's a coping mechanism. And like a lot of coping mechanisms, sometimes it's worse than what it's trying to help us cope with or get through.

This book makes me happy. It's hard for me to contain my enthusiasm and delight. I feel I need to, though. I can't foist this on people who I think might need it. I can't wish stigmas away. If I could, then yes, I could go to people and say, oh, oh, you have to borrow this book from me and read it right away because it might help you! and they won't feel like I've just slapped them in the face and called them crazy and dumb and on top of it intruded into their private life.

Sometimes social stuff makes me crazy. Sometimes I really want to open my brain to someone else and let them see that all the things they might imagine that I believe about them isn't true. Sometimes I wish I could turn off the feeling that people assume things about me, because chances are they're thinking about the latest awesome You Tube video and don't give a crap about what I think about them. All that can help us be nice to each other and polite and kind and considerate, but it also can be an excuse to not say what we really want to say and it keeps us from telling the truth. Not the mean truth, but the scary truth, the real truth, the truth that exposes ourselves as much as it exposes the person we're speaking to.

Anyway, I'm only halfway through the book, but so far, I can definitely recommend it. The style is repetitive, but I suspect that's because the author is accustomed to disbelief and denial. Be prepared to be amazed.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Dear Font Designer ....

I spend several hours a month looking at fonts that I might want to acquire for my business. I'm pretty choosy. It's not just a matter of expense. I budget for fonts that will set me back over a hundred dollars and purchase them shortly before I need them (or sooner if they go on sale.) So if price is (usually) no object, what's getting in my way?

When I'm roughing the design for book covers and interiors I don't always have a specific thing in mind, so browsing through fonts helps me focus and suggests ideas. This means that your font design might suggest a concept that will result in my buying and using your font on my next project. I don't want to limit your creativity. Your vision and passion are an inspiration to me, and I'm always eager to look at your latest font.

Having said that, I'm often frustrated by some typographic tropes and give lots of gorgeous fonts a fast pass because of problems that come up when I'm trying to create a cover. Here are some very, very common problems that keep me from buying otherwise wonderful fonts:

Letters that look similar to other letters:  Usually, font designers are good about making certain that their letters look different from each other. They do a less-consistent job of making letters look uniquely like themselves in the grand scheme of all of typography. I see S letters that look a lot like a fancy P, and lowercase L letters that look like a lowercase T. A slanted, narrow, lowercase E when placed next to a F, T, or other letter with an overhanging element can be mistaken for an i with the dot obliterated. Here's the thing. When you have the entire font or a big block of text to look at, these visual misinterpretations by the human eye are rare because the context of all the letters helps our wonderful pattern-recognizing brain tell the letters apart. But if the title of my book is FiSh, which must stand alone on that book cover, it might look like FePh, or Tilk, or any other number of weird things depending on the font's idiosyncrasies. Those idiosyncrasies can have strong artistic and traditional foundations, but tradition doesn't help me a darned bit when I'm trying to make the reader understand that the book's title is FiSh. I recently saw this illustrated painfully in an otherwise beautiful poster where STRANGER seemed to read SIRANGER. For real. I even had a whole phrase to help me interpret the typography and I still had to take about fifteen seconds to see it. This is mainly a problem in swash and cursive designs, but I've seen it in decorative serif fonts as well.

Which leads me to letters that run into each other in unhelpful ways or that are spaced poorly, aka kerning and white-spacing: I think it's fair to say that all typographers, except perhaps novices working in a vacuum, address kerning and negative space to the best of their ability. For titling, I can adjust kerning to a certain extent and I'll be fine. Having said that, there's really nothing I can do with an r and n that combine into a figure that looks like an m but that, when I adjust the kerning, have awkward negative space around them so that they look ugly. The most common problem I run into? The capital letter M whose legs have such an extreme lean to them that even when the following letter's stem is touching them, the spacing still looks far too wide, white and awkward. The abbreviation Mr. and MA suffer in particular, and neither of those are an uncommon letter pairing. I find it maddening that this happens so often. All by itself, I have to say, the broad M letters look quite nice, but letters don't usually live in a vacuum. I rejected a huge number of otherwise wonderful fonts for the title job for MASKS because the combined slants for the M and A created a huge amount of white space that was not carried through to the rest of the title, even when I adjusted the kerning for SKS. As for body text, I'm not going to go through a whole book checking to see if rn looks like an m, so please, play safely out there, typographers.

Asian-inspired brush scripts that have letters that are too rough and have truncated parts meant to serve as absence of brush or a 'natural' brush look but end up looking unfinished and awkward:  Some of my clients are martial arts writers and would love to have a font that had the elegance and sophistication of good Asian-inspired brush calligraphy. Me too! The most common problem with the fonts I've looked at are incomplete letters. (The capital letter T in particular seems to always have a broken stem.) The second main issue is an almost random baseline and x height. I appreciate a certain looseness to the baseline and an overall feeling of freedom, but more often than not the baseline looks like someone tried to make a font that looked like Chinese or Japanese writing which is artful and gorgeous, but doesn't translate well into roman letters (roman letters are what most American and English readers think of as 'normal'). There's little respect for the roman letters in their own right and even less respect for the 'normal' baseline aesthetics for roman letters. Roman letters written as if they're set on a vertical rather than horizontal line and with a huge variation in ascender, descender and x height invariably looks sloppy, no matter how lovely the individual letters might be. More griping about baseline: capital letters are used to start the word more often than not, right? How am I supposed to ground my baseline with a broken stem? Sadly, such fonts that I attempt to use on a book cover end up looking like a Japanese or Chinese restaurant menu rather than a professional book design. I like that look ... on a menu ... but I'm trying to sell a book here, not food, and more often than not I need a formal mood. Artistic, good. All over the place, bad. Very short book titles can work using a rough font provided that the individual letters in the title harmonize well, but unfortunately, often they don't. Longer titles result in very poor results. I often have the feeling that the typographer is speaking with an awkward accent rather than working with a true understanding of the language of brush calligraphy. It would be very, very nice if there were alternates, btw, so that commonly used letters that repeat in words: e, s, t, o, a, r, etc. (and especially letters that are doubled) can have an alternate to make the title look hand-written. It would also be excellent if all the capital letters had alternates so that it's easier to ground that all-important baseline with something that will enhance the rest of title. I suspect that if I want a book title with Asian-inspired typography, my best bet will be to contact a brush calligrapher and commission a custom piece. Otherwise, I'll have to stick with calligraphic fonts with no brush-style elements but which have Asian architectural influences. There are some fine Asian-influenced brush fonts out there, but sadly they are very rare.

That about covers it for now. Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 03, 2014

Much To Do About Everything

Ack! It's been almost a month!

I've been using a list to keep track of things I want to accomplish. It's been working great, except that I've begun to realize just how much stuff I've got to do. That can be overwhelming. I'm more productive, but I'm also feeling constant pressure to get my list worked down so that I can have some leisure time without feeling guilty. I suppose I could have leisure time scheduled on my list as well ....

Which reminds me about something Steven Barnes teaches. Several times a day, take a few minutes (I try to do two or three minutes but sometimes I only do 30 seconds) to just breathe. Focus on your breath, make sure the breaths are deep and even and calming. Try to put everything else out of your mind. I wouldn't recommend doing this while you're driving. The point is not to multi-task and belly breathe while you're doing something else. The point is to take a mental break.

I've been doing this and it really helps. For the fifteen minutes total it takes out of my day, it gives me back a restfulness that's worth more than a nap of twice that length, and without the guilt of 'lost time' or the grogginess. Plus, on days when I don't do it or just do a couple of cheater 30 second sessions, I notice I'm less productive. If I don't give my brain the total break-and-breathe treatment, my brain takes it anyway, usually in the form of playing Bejeweled for a far longer period than I would have taken with the breathing. Besides, the breathing focuses me and clears my head. Playing mindless games on my computer A. keeps me at the computer, so it's not a real break and B. with my brain occupied the whole time, I don't get any silent, non-visual, black time.

What's black time? I don't honestly know what goes on. But when I breathe deeply, with my eyes closed, and deliberately don't think about anything, ideas start to pop in my head. Maybe I connect with my subconscious. I'm not sure. I just know that I come out of black time with workable stuff to do, whereas when I'm done playing a round of computer games, I have to spend time getting back into the working groove.

Weirdly (or maybe not) watching really good movies, reading good books, or tuning into a well-written tv series puts my brain into a great creative space too. I think it puts me into a playful mood. Not just any playful mood, either. Maybe my brain sees people at play and develops a desire to play Let's Pretend too. It's not as good as black time, but it's still better than playing computer games. The art equivalent of watching good movies is visiting Inspiration Hut or surfing Pinterest. I also enjoy paging through design and art books.

There's a big difference between how I view work and inspiration now and how I approached it as a kid. As a kid, inspiration was something that just happened, and I had a tendency to either do nothing until an idea whacked me in the back of the head, or I sat down and tried to think hard, and then I'd go with whatever came first that didn't seem lame. Now it feels less random. It's still mysterious, but I know if I breathe deeply, and then start to doodle, or do this, or do that, the thing that I'll need will appear and I can start to shape the vision into reality. It's nice to get excited and feel inspired, but I don't have to wait for that feeling to arise first. That feeling will come if I head in the right direction. I might be uncertain when I start on something, but if it's a good idea, guaranteed I'll be sucked into the project within a few minutes and the time will just fly on by. When I'm there, I don't care how much work I have to do. When I'm there, work feels like a blessing, and I want to do it all.