How not to talk to sociopaths online

There have been a couple of major blowups surrounding egregiously bad online behavior of a very small number of individuals who cause widespread pain, conflict, and chaos. One involves online harassment of women in the gaming community. Another is the outing and documentation of a single troll in the science fiction writing community who has done incredible damage over many years and left a number of victims literally with PTSD.

Having been online since the early 90′s, I’m no stranger to trolling, and the conventional wisdom “don’t feed the trolls” that we all repeat to each other. It’s important to recognize that we know a lot more about what motivates trolls in 2014 than we did in 1994, but the core advice is not much different. Still don’t feed them. Really.

Science has taken a look at trolling and confirmed what we knew all along. These people are unredeemable assholes.

More specifically, internet trolling is so highly correlated with the mental disorders of psychopathy and narcissism, as well as the traits of machiavellianism and sadism that it might even constitute a diagnostic shortcut. It’s also clear that people who don’t have those illnesses/traits are not attracted to trolling, online harassment, griefing, and similar behaviors.

So the first thing you can do is thoroughly release any and all belief that the troll is a person who can be reasoned with. Forget it. They want to hurt you. Accept it. Believe it. Because wanting to reason with them and get them to see your point of view, or at least agree to disagree is the hook they use to keep you on the line when you should be sleeping, spending time with your family, or living your life.

Whenever you identify a psychopath or a narcissist in your life, the best and only thing you can do is get away and not engage. That’s true online as well. Online discussions, however, are very addictive, and it’s really hard to walk away when you feel like you’re losing, or just about to “win.”

There is no winning with a psychopathic narcissistic machiavellian sadist. Ever.

In the SF community, the “tone argument” has been exploited by one particular troll as an excuse to fire cruel and damaging invective at writers. The tone argument is any criticism that focuses on the tone of a complaint rather than the content. The reasoning goes that making the “tone argument” is a deflection, and it’s valid. If you are going to engage in a debate, it is a pointless deflection to criticize the tone. Knowing this, the troll has fired off horrific personal attacks and even threats against authors and was not properly shut down because he/she could then say that the person attempting to stop her behavior was using the tone argument on her. Don’t use the tone argument.

If you don’t like the tone, don’t engage. If you automatically disengage when someone’s tone or behavior violates your personal boundaries, you never have to make the flawed “tone argument” to begin with, because you’re not criticizing or trying to control another person. You’re merely excusing yourself from a situation where you’re not comfortable. It’s a healthy choice. Will you get the last word that way? No. Will you win the argument? No. (But you never will anyway.) Will things get said about you after you’ve left? Probably. So what?

How you disengage is your choice, but it should be brief and noninflammatory. “I’m not comfortable with this conversation, so I’m going to bow out,” is an awesome way to leave things. If there’s a fact about yourself that you feel you need to correct for the benefit of others, do so briefly. “You are mistaken. I was not in San Francisco that weekend.” Do not argue with opinion. Do not answer unfounded accusations or attacks on your character. Just get out.

My therapist gave me these words when I was struggling with a situation like this, and they are very good: “I am not having this conversation with you.” Do not give the troll any material. Just leave. If it is a moderated or supervised community, put in a private word with management about how you feel about the harassment, but don’t argue with them, either.

A few years ago, I was abused, stalked, and harassed online by a troll who at the time was described as “a nice guy in person.” He targeted me for a time, and I fed the abuse by attempting to reason with him. He followed me from one LJ comment section to another posting information he hoped would embarrass or discredit me. When I finally stopped responding, after expending way too much energy, he gave up and found other targets. I did complain to hosts of some of the forums where he was harassing me, but got no satisfaction. Such is life. When there’s only one victim who complains, they tend not to be believed or taken seriously. It sucks hard. Something should be done about that. There should be moderation and oversight. Everyone knows what trolling looks like. We all know it when we see it. It’s not that hard to for the site owner or moderator ban, freeze, and delete posts. There’s no need to be fair or justify it. All you need is to not like someone’s attitude. But site owners and moderators get stuck in their own fairness trap and often don’t really comprehend how damaging those particular words directed at that particular person can be.

But for your own self-care, please focus on getting the harasser off your radar and out of your world, not on justice. Some day, maybe you, too, will have the satisfaction of seeing your abuser publicly outed and excoriated. That has happened for me a couple of times. It just takes patience as other people have negative experiences with the same person and start to compare notes. Paaaatience.

A bonus of disengagement is that you don’t have to judge or prove the person’s character. If you’re in a racism conversation, and your opponent gets overheated and starts badgering you, calling you names, or personally attacking you, you don’t have to whip out a DSM and prove he’s a sociopath and call him out on his behavior. All you have to do is say, “I’m not having this conversation with you.” Magic. You’re done. And as a bonus, if the person you’re engaged with is actually a person of good faith who got a little over-angry and temporarily lost sight of their reason and empathy, you’ve done them a favor by ending the argument and treated that person with respect without invalidating the feelings and experiences they are trying to share. Your disengagement may even give you time to consider the other point of view. Once things cool off, you might decide your opponent had a point!

Disengagement with internet trolls and other psychopaths is win-win. Except for the psychopath, who is temporarily inconvenienced to find another target.

None of this is to say that abuse is ok or that a victim is at fault in any way if they are targeted and do end up being bullied, harassed, or abused. For one thing, not engaging isn’t a total solution. A determined harasser can find ways to get around any blocks you put in place. For another, everyone has defenses and vulnerabilities that an abuser can hook into, and it’s very human to find yourself getting caught up in trying to argue with, control, understand, or do damage control of the situation. These people practice and are very good at what they do and have no conscience about lying. Lastly, you would have to have a heart of stone not to be hurt by some of the horrible attacks, even if you are working very hard to ignore it.

A last word on PTSD, which has been reported by a number of victims of the current science fiction community scandal. PTSD is a real fallout of being victimized by a personality disordered individual. I’ve experienced it. I think it’s because of the cognitive dissonance they create with their dishonesty and the multiple faces. The mere fact that this person who has shown you absolute cruelty is the same person who has “friends” who back him up, defend him, and even call him “a nice guy” is enough to break your mind into a million pieces. PTSD happens when a traumatic event is “too disturbing” for the brain to process normally, so it gets stuck in fight or flight mode. It’s a miserable experience and my heart goes out in complete sympathy with writers who are going through this due to “reviews” of their work. That’s just not right. It’s not ok. And when you minimize trauma to a PTSD victim, you invalidate them, and that in itself is retraumatizing. So while we’re focusing on the bullies and trolls, let’s spare some compassion for the victims and give them the support they need to heal. It wasn’t “just a review.” Not to that person, in that time. Have compassion.

Life, the universe, and everything

I was reminded of the existence of this blog by a weak hacking attempt this morning. I started this iteration of my personal blog three years ago, in my mother’s hospital room, as she was entering what would be her final illness. A lot of water has passed under my bridge since then, and my life has taken me in directions recently that haven’t been very amenable to blogging. Since I have just turned 42, the canonical age for the answer to “life, the universe, and everything” according to Douglas Adams, I thought it would be a good opportunity to brainstorm or free associate the many lessons I’ve learned in my 42 years, or the past three, or the past year. Much experience can’t be transferred or really explained, but for most of us life gives us many opportunities to learn what are essentially universal truths.

My learnings of 42 years:

1. Love is not enough, but it’s worth doing anyway.

2. Health really, truly is more important than size or beauty.

3. Getting to age 42 in perfect health is something to be deeply grateful for.

4. Boundaries are hard, but necessary. The closer you are, the more love you share, the more you need boundaries.

5. Most people are basically good.

6. Some people literally make those around them insane.

7. You can recognize a state of cognitive dissonance in yourself when you start overthinking, excessively ruminating, needing to prove someone else wrong to justify your own position, or just feeling an extremely intense confusion or avoidance around a certain subject. When that happens, someone is lying to you or manipulating you, generally someone you like and trust. Ouch.

8. When we blame others, it is usually projection. “You spot it, you got it.” When someone tells you what your problem is, they’ve just given you a free peek inside their heads, so don’t take it personally.

9. Anger is a healthy catalyst for making your life better, when channeled appropriately. (“I am worthy of respect. I will not allow others to mistreat me. I will not participate in immoral behavior, etc.”) Don’t listen to George Lucas. Anger is not the dark side.

10. Shared values are more important in any relationship than shared interests.

11.  Disengage sooner. Life is short. If someone isn’t getting you, stop. (Oh, how I’ve learned this the hard way.)

12. You can’t please all of the people, all of the time.

13. Good things come to those who wait.

14. You can give too much. Way too much.

15. When others attack us, it is usually more about them than us.

16. When people show you who they are, believe them.

17. Letting go of a negative influence invites positive energy into your life.

18. Forgiveness can’t be forced.

19. Mastiffs shed vastly more than Newfoundlands.

20. Don’t let others define you.

21. Self care is more than flossing.

22. If you find yourself explaining to an adult how to be kind and empathetic, you’ve found someone who is capable of neither. Run!

23. Pretty much everyone is just as confused as me.

24. There are no adults.

25. But that doesn’t mean it’s ok to behave like children.

26. Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds

27. Sugar is bad for you. Portion it accordingly.

28. Don’t try to make sense of insanity. Don’t talk to the crazy.

29. Keep a budget and live within your means, but don’t panic if things get off track. It happens.

30. You don’t know what someone is thinking or feeling unless you ask them.

31. I’m ok with some people not liking me. And if they let me know, it’s like having a magical trash can that empties itself.

32. Dieting is bad for you.

33. Life is so much easier if you know what you’re making for dinner by 9 AM.

34. Being in touch with your feelings makes you a more awake, more conscious person.

35. Being out of touch with your feelings makes empathy impossible.

36. If you are judgmental of others, you are probably judgmental of yourself. Ouch.

37. Renovating a house kills your soul. But in exchange you get more storage space.

38. What goes around really does come around.

39. Children grow up.

40. Life never stops surprising you.

41. Some of those surprises will be extremely unpleasant.

42. But a few will be beautiful.


Just Because You’re Not Offended Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Offensive

There’s been a huge controversy over three recent issues of the quarterly magazine of the Science Fiction Writers of America, The Bulletin. The debate began with issue #200, which used a vintage piece of Red Sonja artwork for its cover.

A number of people questioned the appropriateness of this image for the cover of our professional publication, particularly as it was presented without context or explanation.

Perhaps in response (it’s not clear), Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg took up the task of summarizing the accomplishments of women in the field in their regular Dialogues column in two subsequent issues, but went about it in a pretty clueless, tone-deaf manner, making repeated reference to “the ladies” and referring to professionals as “lady writers” and “lady editors.” There were also a couple of (positive) comments about attractiveness.

And then there’s an article by Jim C. Hines about the problematic aspects of cheesecake book covers (again, presumably for balance), and, quite randomly, an article by a male writer that used an extended Barbie metaphor to make a point, in an obvious, but tragically unsuccessful, attempt at humor. The ‘Barbie’ piece made reference to the doll’s “perfect” proportions and “sweater fillers” and praised Barbie for “maintaining her quiet dignity as a woman should.”

I think that sets the scene. The culmination of this scandal, however, happened in Bulletin #203, in which Resnick and Malzberg responded to the criticism with a tirade on censorship and free speech that reminded me of my beloved grandfather’s (may he rest in peace) vigorous arguments in favor of the divine right of kings. Malzberg invoked the specter of “liberal fascists” attempting to shut down the conversation, and Resnick hinted darkly that his network of spies had identified the “anonymous” complainants as people who had made comments to SFWA President John Scalzi “at Confusion.”

Others have answered Resnick and Malzberg, and as far as I can tell R/M continue to dismiss it all as “liberal fascist” attempts at thought control. I’m not going to rehash all of that.

However, I’m here to say something simple: the Red Sonja cover does’t actually offend me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not offensive. I’ve looked at it a couple of times, I’ve listened to the criticisms, and I’m still not offended.


Because you know what? Much as I am not particularly BOTHERED by Red Sonja, above, it, admittedly, is a rather silly image, and could have been better if the artist had originally envisioned her as a warrior, not a piece of meat. And that is a point that would never have been made if everyone had my laissez faire attitude about it. Other people being offended by things I am not actually generates useful conversations and improves the world for us all. Because people like Jim C. Hines have spent time and energy criticizing covers that objectify women, we are starting to get better book covers. That means everybody wins.

Rather than expecting everyone to have the exact same concerns and sensitivities as me, I live in a world that contains many viewpoints and ideas. I also have some concerns and sensitivities about things that others may not have thought about, and when I bring them up, I hope people will listen and consider, even if they don’t agree.

Convention Success Tips for Shy Writers

I think of myself as a quiet and reserved person and an introvert, so it was a little startling to be called a “social butterfly” as one acquaintance did in San Jose over the weekend. “You know absolutely everybody!” he said.

Well, it’s a fair cop. I’ve been in this business for sixteen years, and the set of pro sf writers in the field is basically a small town. There are several thousand of us, and of those a group of maybe 500 who are frequent or regular convention-attenders. After a while, you get to the point where you either know everybody, or are connected to everybody. I happen to think that this particular rotating group of connections and acquaintances are some of the best people in the world. If you parachute into the middle of an average, mid-sized midwestern city, you could spend all day wandering around looking for people as fascinating, smart, motivated, and dynamic as those who are just literally lying in your path at a well-attended SF lit convention. Why not enjoy it and make the most of it?

Why attend conventions at all? First of all, convention attendance is totally optional. You can be a successful writer without ever setting foot in one, and if you don’t like it, that’s well and good. You don’t have to attend. And it’s important to know this, because if you do go to a convention, it’s good to go with the attitude that it’s all optional and anything good that comes from it is just gravy.

That said, there are some very good reasons to go to conventions. Human interactions are crucial in any business, it doesn’t matter what kind. If you are someone who makes and sells shrubberies, you may be very successful as the only shrubber in your local market, but it’s still very nice to get together with other shrubbers to share experiences, seek support, and get new ideas. You might even find ways to work with other shrubbers to enhance your own business and make a little extra money together. Who knows? Anything can happen.

It can be paralyzing to go into a convention with the idea that you’re there to “do business.” Forget the elevator pitch. Don’t even think of it. Instead of worrying about making a good impression on people that will be useful in your career, form an expectation that you are just there to look around, and be curious about everyone who crosses your path. That person might be a famous writer or editor, but they might also be a radically cool fan. It doesn’t matter. Whatever serendipitous meetings occur, that is what is meant to be. Have fun, talk about your kids and pets and the weather and favorite movies, and let the business happen organically. And it will. Because trust is a basis of business interactions, and showing people pictures of your cat on your cell phone is how you build trust. Just do it.

Adjust your expectations. You are not going to go to a convention and walk out with a huge novel contract. Don’t even think about it. Put it out of your mind. You are just there to make friends. Do you like having friends in your day-to-day life? Friends are good. Humans need friends. You are just there to meet some people.

Also, if you are new to the scene and don’t know very many people, prepare yourself to spend some time alone. Bring books to read. Plan one or two solo sightseeing outings. If the hotel has a spa, make an appointment. Get comfortable with the idea of eating alone in a restaurant or bar. Bring a spouse or a partner if it makes you more comfortable, but don’t let that close you off to hanging out with new friends. If you and your companion form too tight a knot, no one else can get in.

Your goal should be to make one or two new friends at each convention. You can’t spend all of your time with that one new person, but over time things will snowball.

Sign up for things. If the convention offers any tours or workshops you can sign up for in advance, do it. You will meet people, and those people will be well-disposed to making new friends because of the situation. In a writing-oriented convention, whatever you’ve signed up for may have a pro running it, so you get to meet at least one professional in your field.

Volunteer for panels. If you have some professional credits, let the convention know you’re coming ahead of time and are willing to help out on programming. They are often very happy to have you, and may offer you free membership. Panels are also a good way to get used to public speaking, since the burden isn’t on one person to carry the entire show.

Connect with online friends. Look for opportunities to meet up with online friends. Check out parties, mixers, tweetups, and other organized get-togethers. Again, these are situations where people will be very open to meeting you and it will help you overcome your natural reserve.

Make plans in advance. If you do have someone you know will be at the con, make plans ahead of time. People have a way of getting busy, or getting tired, and you might miss them otherwise.

Bring a book. This is a trick I learned a number of years ago. I carry a book around at conventions. If I go to the hotel lobby looking for friends or new, interesting people to meet, and there’s no one I can immediately approach and begin chatting with, I’ll park myself at a table or the bar and read my book. The book itself is a conversation-starter, and at a science fiction convention, most people share your love of book-reading. You won’t get very many pages read before someone comes along and interrupts you.

Ask questions. Never have an awkward conversation again in your life. When pauses emerge, throw out a question. Where are you from? Have you seen the new Star Trek movie? Do you like cats? Don’t fill every silence. Let your new friend ask you some questions, too.

Fans are cool, too. As writers, we naturally gravitate to other writers. These people instantly get us. But don’t overlook the fans. Science fiction fans are very often extremely smart, successful, interesting people. And fans also have their own brand of power in the business. It’s fans who make decisions about programming and inviting guests of honor, etc., etc. If you make a good impression on the fans, you will definitely have a better time at conventions. BE NICE TO THE FANS.

Cut your losses. Everyone knows that conventions also attract…well…weirdos. People you don’t want to know or spend time with. In fact, this is one thing that tends to scare writers away from conventions, because if there are one or two of these types in a room, it can give you a bad impression of fandom in general. Practice some conversational dismounts to get you out of conversations you don’t want to be in. They can vary from, “Excuse me I need to visit the ladies’ room,” to “You are making me uncomfortable please leave me alone.” (And please carefully tune your dismount to the audience. No need to be cruel.) I’m sorry about this. I apologize on behalf of the whole genre. The important thing to remember is you don’t have to let someone monopolize your time if you don’t enjoy their company. You are at the convention to have fun!

You are not there to get laid. I mean, if you do get laid while you’re there, it’s great. But don’t treat the convention like a singles bar. This is a bit of a tough transition sometimes for writers who started as fans, because there is an element of con culture that is all about hooking up. And that’s great. But the writers by and large are NOT there to hook up. So what I’m saying is assess your social environment very carefully and only hit on people who are clearly available.

Allow extra days for travel, if you can. Arriving a day early and leaving a day late will make things much less stressful. Much. I particularly recommend the leaving a day late strategy. That last night at the con can be the very best, especially for shy folks, as you’ve had a day or two to gradually relax and start feeling comfortable with new people.

Schedule some downtime. I often treat myself to room service one night, which not only gives me some time to recharge, but takes the pressure off for one meal. No need to find dinner companions, choose a cuisine and restaurant, make an expedition, make scintillating conversation, etc.

Comfortable shoes. Need I say more?

Buy a banquet ticket. At some conventions, like Nebula weekend, you’ll have a chance for a sit-down meal with strangers. Go for it, even if it’s expensive. I met my friend Jay Lake that way. Every time I’ve done this it’s worked out great. Again, this is a situation where you’re automatically placed in a group, so no need to approach anyone or find a good opening line. You can just ask a question and you’re good to go.

Don’t get too wrapped up in status. If there’s one thing I’ve seen in sixteen years, it’s the coming and going of hot new writers. Trust me. Slow and steady wins the race. So there are hot new writers getting a lot of attention, collecting awards. They are just as anxious and insecure as you are, and often they sort of stop writing and disappear a few years later. Some of this year’s batch of superstars had me thinking of meteors from years past, wondering where they are, what they’re doing, are they still writing? Don’t sweat it. Honors, awards, accolades–all very capricious. Do you have some cat pictures on your phone? Whip them out. Cat pics are eternal.

Don’t be an asshole. You know how they say some people can do it and get away with it? They are not getting away with it. Trust me. Those people have lost friends and opportunities. It only looks like it doesn’t stick. Don’t be that person. It’s not worth it.

Don’t cart the internet around with you. If you’ve encountered someone on the internet and you’re meeting them for the first time in person, it is largely best to simply start over. If you’ve had extensive conversations online, then of course acknowledge it. But most people don’t have a perfect memory for every discussion or flame war, and, more importantly, if you set aside any charged interactions you may have had online, you may find the person is actually really cool.

Be authentic, be genuine, be sincere, be yourself. Have some faith that you are an interesting person and others want to know you. Wear what you want that makes you feel awesome. Be a good listener. Be forgiving of yourself and others. You’re not always going to say the right thing. You might make a faux pas, or someone around you might. Laugh it off. Let it go. Be gentle. Be kind. Make jokes. Buy drinks for people. Find ways to help.


Writing Updates

I’ve been remiss in posting writing news here, so I have a number of updates from the past  couple of months to share.

AnLab Reader’s Choice Award. I flew to San Jose to pick up my check and certificate for the Analog Reader’s Choice award for short story for “Titanium Soul.” This is the second time I’ve received one of these, the first being for a fact article. It’s particularly gratifying to take one home in the short story category, as I believe that it is the most competitive category, and the one most paid attention to by readers. And although it is not as high an honor as, say, a Nebula in our field, there is something really nice about taking it home knowing that it was voted on by the actual readership, in a process as perfectly free of politics and logrolling as it could possibly be. My sincerest gratitude goes to the readers of Analog for their appreciation and the effort they made in reading the magazine and filling out the ballot.

Year’s Best 18. David Hartwell chose another 2012 Analog story of mine, “The North Revena Ladies Literary Society,” for his 18th Year’s Best Collection. I’m very pleased and honored. This is the first time I’ve had any kind of a Year’s Best publication, and it feels like a major milestone.

Heroic Relics in Buzzymag. My story “Heroic Relics” was published in BuzzyMag. It’s nice to have something free and online to point people to.

Nebula Weekend Mini Con Report. This is about my fourth or fifth visit to a Nebula Weekend event, and I’m always surprised by how rewarding they are. I wasn’t very good at doing conventions early in my career, due to shyness, but I’ve evolved to the point that one person this weekend called me a “social butterfly” and said that I know “absolutely everyone.” I was talking with Jay Lake about this, and we both agreed that if you just show up, you start meeting people. I’ve been in the business sixteen years, and attending a convention, particularly one with a lot of writers in attendance, is an amazing opportunity to meet a lot of people who have a lot in common with me. I strongly recommend Nebula weekend as a great business/networking event. I think it’s widely overlooked as such because of its award-handing-out function, but it’s also a pretty good place to go as a writer and remind yourself that you’re not insane–that there are a lot of other people out there that give up their free time to scribble and share in the rewards and frustrations of this crazy lifestyle/vocation.

Four Year Yogaversary

I’ve been practicing bikram yoga for four years this month. It’s hard to believe. In some ways, I think I’ve come a long way. In others, I can’t believe how little progress I’ve made. Of course, the whole idea of “progress” in yoga asana is somewhat wrongheaded thinking.  Still, I’m a bit attached to that concept.

I find I attach a great deal of importance to postures that are very difficult for me, like standing head to knee and hands to feet, and relatively little importance to those that come more easily, like half moon back bend, triangle, and fixed firm. In reality, each is equally important and my best effort in each is perfectly fine.

Still and all, I am glad to note that I am seeing incremental changes (let’s not call it progress) in some poses. For example, just recently I realized I could let go of my foot in tree pose. That pesky foot will drift down unless your hip is flexible enough to keep it in place. A month or two ago, I gave letting go a try, and lo and behold, it stayed!

I am gradually gaining strength in toe stand. I still can’t balance on one foot, but I am much stronger getting into position with my hands on the floor. I have a great deal more strength in triangle, and these days my corrections are all about upper body position.

It’s hard to believe I still can’t straighten my legs in hands to feet, still can’t lock both knees in standing head to knee, still can’t lock my knees in stretching pose, and so forth. For a while recently, I was determined to diagnose whatever was holding me back and work on extra at home, etc. Then I remembered that every other pose that came into place for me has come naturally, like letting go of my foot in tree pose. And I decided to wait and just do my best in class. I’m sure there’s a life lesson there, somewhere.

The Lipid Panel

I finally had a chance to get some solid data on the results of my no-sugar, no-processed food lifestyle of the past six months when I went in for my annual physical last week. Overall, my health is great. Everything checked out, I had no complaints, everything is working, I don’t need medicine or treatment for anything. The doc offered me a nasal spray for my sinuses, but honestly the mild chronic congestion is barely a blip on my radar, not worth spending money or taking a drug every day to manage.

Here’s what came up on my lipid panel:

Total cholesterol 241

Triglycerides 64

HDL 61

LDL 167

Chol/HDL ratio: 4.0

Fasting blood glucose 92


So my total cholesterol and LDL are high–still. I think the lowest TC I’ve ever had in my life was about 200, and I’ve always been in the borderline zone. This is the first time I’ve come up high. However, my HDL is really excellent and my triglycerides are super low. I don’t have any previous results in front of me, but I believe in the past my triglycerides have been around 145, and my HDL closer to 45 or 50. Fasting glucose is actually higher than it’s ever been, but well within normal range so no concern there.

So I have several thoughts about this:

1. Obviously getting off sugar, white flour, and processed foods in a very strict way has done wonderful things for my HDL and triglycerides. Go me!

2. I am not that concerned about the LDL for a couple reasons. One is that my mother was on statin drugs for a time for her supposed high cholesterol, and yet her autopsy showed pristinely clear arteries. And that is the case sometimes–high LDL/TC numbers don’t automatically translate to artery disease. (Statin therapy does not reduce or eliminate plaque in arteries. It just reduces LDL, thereby, theoretically, reducing future plaque development and cardiovascular risk. So Mom’s arteries were not clear as a result of treatment.They were clear because they were always fine.) That doesn’t mean mine are pristine, but it does make me less inclined to worry about one value when it’s literally the only cardiovascular risk factor I have.

3. Furthermore, there is some science indicating that there are two types of LDL. Pattern A LDL is a larger, fluffier particle and is thought to be benign. Pattern B is a denser particle, and is thought to be linked to higher risk. You can’t know which kind you have without a special type of test. However, a low ratio of triglyceride to HDL is highly suggestive of Pattern A. My Tri/HDL ratio is close to 1. This is *very* low, and definitely a ringer for the Pattern A type. Some doctors accept this as valid, others don’t. It is not settled science, yet, but it also suggests I don’t have anything to worry about.

4. My doc referred me to a nutritionist. I’m not sure if I feel like doing that or not. I think it could actually be pretty positive, since at this point I am an extreme health food nut, and, hey, I wouldn’t mind being told I’m doing well by a pro. But I’m awfully busy and I think there’s not much that can be accomplished by tweaking my diet at this point.

5. That said, it wouldn’t kill me to go a bit easier on the red meat and butter. Living with a growing teen boy, we’ve fallen into a pattern of eating vast quantities of red meat, because that is what he is craving for his growth. Plus, butter has become my go-to vice in the absence of any sort of regular access to sugary treats. (Well, butter and GIN.) I could work on that. I only need to drop two points to get back into the borderline range, and then everyone would be happy. (Well, I think my doc still doesn’t like me being in the borderline range, but hey.)

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the checkup and the overall results of my diet. I continue to have improved energy. In fact, my doctor gave me a lengthy explanation of how she has to put “fatigue” on my chart in order to get insurance to pay for a Vit D level. But she also let slip that she assumes every working Mom is chronically fatigued. Guess what? I’m not. I get all the sleep I need, and have plenty of energy every day, even though I do probably have a lifestyle just as stressful as any other working Mom. I’m glad that thus far my state of advanced youth has not begun to affect me. I can’t stave it off forever, but so far WINNING.

I’ve lost about 22 pounds in the past year. I think there are another 10 to 20 that could shake off. Since I am not actually driving that bus–not counting calories, fat, carbs–I don’t know where my weight is going to settle. That should be interesting to find out, and I like the idea of my body finding its own weight, rather than me picking a number from a chart and then trying to get TO it.

My blood pressure was 114/84, which is really high for me, personally. I’d been having a very anxious day for reasons unrelated to the appointment, so I think in the future I may see my BP back to my personal normal of 90/60, but the number I got is normal and fine and of no concern. My heart rate was 60, which surprised me since I was anxious and I have not historically had a lower-than-average heart rate. Hopefully, that indicates good cardiovascular condition, rather than bad timekeeping by the nurse, or something.

(Another theory on the BP is that my yoga practice has improved the tone of my nervous/circulatory system so that it doesn’t bottom out like it used to. That would actually be a positive. Don’t know if it’s the case.)

My creatinine was 1.0, which is at the tippy top of the normal range. I was alarmed, at first, but when I tracked down more information, it turned out this just probably means I have good muscle mass, and no surprise as I work out a lot.

My vitamin D level was well into the normal range, which is great since I had been treated for low Vit. D in the past. My hemoglobin was 13.7, also great since I’ve been anemic in the past.

All in all, it looks like I’m going to survive.

How to Kick the Sugar Habit

There’s been a good bit of health news floating lately around suggesting that sugar is worse for us than we thought, such as a study finding a relationship between sugar consumption on a population level and type II diabetes, independent of other factors like obesity. As a result, a lot of people I know have been experimenting with lower sugar or no-sugar diets. I think it’s a great thing, but it’s so hard to do. Obstacles range from the ubiquity of sugar in processed food to deep emotional attachments to certain foods. I thought I’d share some tips from my experience that have helped me get sugar (mostly) out of my diet. I’m not perfect. I have calculated indulgences, and also just plain fall off the wagon some times. But I do feel in control, and I have a new perspective that there’s a strange sense of obligation that goes with consuming sugary foods that I am now free of. So here are some things that have helped me, and some things I wish I’d known earlier in the process.

1. For the first month or two, it helps to go completely cold turkey and be a real nazi about it. No sugar at all, not even trace sugar. It helps reset your taste buds, and, more importantly, forces you to confront all of your problematic foods and triggers all at once when you are in a strong psychological position of being in a honeymoon phase with the whole thing. Read the label on everything. You’re going to be shocked and disappointed when some of your favorite foods turn out to contain sugar for no apparent reason. It’s fine to throw them out, or maybe donate them to a food bank, to get them out of your face. Once your palate has adjusted, these foods are going to taste weird to you, anyway.

2. Tell all of your friends and family that you’re not eating any sugar. People are pretty supportive about it. That will help immediately with what you imagine are awkward social situations where someone has made you a delicious turtle fudge brownie cheesecake and will be plunged into suicidal depression if you don’t eat it. (Wishful thinking, it turns out. No one gives a crap if you don’t eat the goodies. It’s just more for them.)

3. Don’t use artificial sweeteners. In my opinion, this does nothing to change your craving for sweets, and you’re becoming part of an uncontrolled long term experiment on the long term effect of chemical sweeteners on human health.

4. Find tasty alternatives for some of your favorite sweet treats or meals. For example, instead of brown sugar, I top my steel cut oats with mashed banana. And a really quality cheese with crackers is a pretty satisfying substitute for a number of otherwise sugary snacks. Cheese, whole grain crackers, and nuts by the handful have become daily snacks at my house. Unsweetened iced tea is my go-to drink at restaurants.

5. If you feel deprived or have major cravings at first, that is normal, and it will pass.

6. Resign yourself to give up on a short list of items that can’t be replicated without sugar of some sort. I’m talking about stuff like ketchup and barbecue sauce. I order my burgers with mayo and green olives.

7. Eat before problematic occasions, or bring your own sugar-free snack. For example, I spend one or two evenings a week writing in coffee shops, and at first felt rather deprived not to have a treat from the pastry case. So I started bringing a piece of fruit. After the first couple of times, I was no longer bothered by cravings. You sort of have to tackle these situations one-by-one until the trigger for eating sweets fades and there are many triggers.

8. Don’t force this on family or friends. Of course sugary sweets are bad for us, but people are complex and maybe your family member or friend needs their daily cupcake for now to get through something else. It’s also really hard to focus on more than one self-improvement project at once, so while they may agree and approve of what you’re doing, it could be a while before they find a place in their own lives for it.

9. Don’t enable your family and friends if it is going to be a problem for you. There’s a surprising amount of guilt that can happen if you don’t bake cookies for your family or offer a dessert with Sunday dinner. Get over it. Your family members, even the kids, can handle their own sugar supply. So don’t let their “needs” for sugary foods undermine what you need to do for your health. (If you are ok with making desserts without ever tasting them, that is great. You are a stronger person than I.) If you are accustomed to showing your love with food, try to stifle that impulse. Having had a couple of people in my life with that particular fetish, it’s actually really f—ing annoying. Cut it out!

10. Once you’ve gotten through your sugar nazi phase, decide what indulgences are “worth it” for you. I know someone who has no indulgences ever. She has type II diabetes, and can’t afford to have even an occasional sweet treat. For myself, I will have a dessert or treat if it is really “worth it.” It has to be more than a store-bought cake with crisco frosting or a jello salad at a pot luck. For example, if I’m at a restaurant that is reputed to have the world’s best tiramisu, yes, I am going to order the tiramisu and enjoy it. This happens maybe once a month.

11. If you are going to indulge, go big. There are two reasons. One is that it makes it special if you have a really spectacular treat and really fill up on it after long periods of virtuous abstinence. Another reason is that a large indulgence is unlikely to lead to a slippery slope where you are back to mainstream sugar consumption. If you treat yourself with a teaspoon of honey in your coffee, all that will happen is you’ll want it again tomorrow. If you treat yourself with a huge hot fudge sundae, it will be an awesome transcendent experience and you’re going to feel like crap the next day, too. It’s not likely you’re going to fall into a hot fudge sundae habit accidentally. In fact, you may never want one again!

12. Don’t worry too much if you fall off the wagon. This isn’t alcoholism. You don’t have to confess or start your sobriety clock over again. Nothing bad is going to immediately happen. You can start again the next day with no penalty.

13. Challenge yourself to get through the next holiday or big social occasion with no sugar. It’s hard the first time you do it, but once you get through it’s very freeing and empowering. After you’ve done this a couple of times, you’ll have a clearer head to decide whether a special occasion merits an indulgence, or if it’s just a same-crap-different-year situation. Easter is coming. Can you get through Easter without any sugar? You can do it!

Good luck!


Sequence a Science Fiction Writer, Acts of Whimsy Fundraiser Last Day

The fundraiser to sequence Jay Lake’s cancer is in its final hours. We’re hoping to reach the $50,000 goal level, which will unlock a cookbook with recipes from authors and friends of the Lake family. The book will be released as a free ebook in conjunction with the fundraiser, but there are also plans to print physical copies to benefit a charity for grieving children, so I really hope we can unlock this final goal.

As a bonus, Tobias Buckell will also shave his head if we reach $50,000. I think we can all imagine the glory and wonder of Toby with a shaved head. Surely this is worth $50,000 all by itself. Let it not be said that we have not entertained you!

Here is our latest Act of Whimsy, a selection of Klingon Pickup Lines that you can use in real bars on real women. (Results may vary.)


Home Improvement Update

The home addition project is not finished yet. We’re past talking about when it will be finished. It will be finished when it’s finished. However, even though the rooms aren’t quite move-in ready, there are a number of aspects that we’re really enjoying right now.

1. Having a driveway and garage wide enough to park in. I love this so much and it never gets old. We used to have to do this dance on garbage day, where we moved one or both cars so we could wheel the bins down to the curb, and then the same thing in reverse. It was so difficult and tiresome. It’s so easy to take out the trash, now. Not only can we wheel it to the curb easily any time we want, but we can store the trash cans in our garage, which makes it simple to empty trash and run a bag of it out any time we need to. That was not possible in the previous garage configuration. We have not yet experienced the luxury of parking in the garage, because we have some tools and building materials staged, there, but that’s going to be great. Another thing I love is the garage door and remotes, and being able to enter and leave through the garage, rather than clumping all the way down the driveway, walking around to the front of the house, and hiking up the front steps, there to track snow and much through my living room.

2. No drafty porch. The old porch was a drafty nightmare. It was enclosed, but did not hold heat or insulate at all. Two interior-style french doors separated the old porch from the living room, so all winter long there were these awful cold drafts, made worse when we let the dogs out, because you would have to open a french door, then go to the exterior door on the porch to let the dogs outside. The whole process lasted approximately three hours each time, which allowed a cubic buttload of cold winter air into the living room every time. We are so blissfully free of that aggravation we barely remember it. I think that cold draft may have been slowly wearing away at our marriage.

3. Central vacuum. We installed this in conjunction with the construction, at times in a great hurry, because it had to go in before the drywall went up, and the drywallers were here before we were half ready. Brent and I spent hours plotting out the runs of vacuum pipe. It was amazingly complicated, but we did it. Now that the pipe is in and the vacuum working, oh my god, it’s amazing. This weekend I vacuumed the whole house–including most of the added space–in about half an hour. We have six inlets total. Two are the kind you sweep into, and four that you plug a hose into. The sweeping kind is particularly awesome, as you can do a quick sweep of pet hair without getting the hose out of the closet. It’s also much quieter than a conventional vacuum, and it whisks dust away instead of stirring it up into the room.

4. New water line. Our house was built in 1924, and we knew early on that the old water supply line from the street was not going to support water pressure for our two new bathrooms. The cost was, if I recall correctly, about $3500, and I was not thrilled to pay it, but we had a new water supply line installed, and, again, it’s just wonderful. The shower now gushes water at a rate that I am sure is far above the government limit–as I “modified” the flow restrictor a few years ago to compensate for the bad water pressure. That combined with the searing hot, endless capacity water heater makes every shower a peak life experience. Lovin it.

5. Sunny spaces. The new rooms, although they are not finished, have become really nice areas to go and hang out in, especially the master bedroom, which has a floor and trim. (At this point it just needs a bit more paint and some closet fittings to be finished.) I’ve already moved a plant out there, and the cats spend hours and hours each day playing in that room. Glen practices his violin in there, because the cathedral ceiling makes for some very good accoustics.

6. House just looks great. With the exterior finished and painted, the house looks cute and friendly and welcoming. I enjoy coming home to it and we get many compliments from neighbors and passersby. In fact, over Thanksgiving weekend, we were very amused to see our house had become a sort of attraction on a neighborhood walking tour, as our neighbors were bringing their visiting family members by, standing across the street, gesturing broadly at the roof and walls and such.

At this point it’s a little hard to imagine actually living out in those rooms. They’ve become sort of a museum exhibit at this point–a space not wholly belonging to us. Even though it’s been quiet for a few weeks, I sometimes hear banging up there and assume it’s someone building something. (It’s always the cats.) But eventually it’s going to be really cool to be hanging out in there, doing what I’m doing now–blogging, surfing the web, chillaxin, whatever.