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Author Archives: Sweet Machine

Gather round, Awkward Army, and join me, Sweet Machine, for a Shapely Prose Tent Revival!

This Way to the Holy Ghost Revival
(photo by Trey Ratcliff)

The occasion of our glorious gathering is the existence of the Pavlok wearable fitness tracker, described by the Telegraph as a device “which gives the wearer an electric shock if they fail to meet their daily exercise targets” and by the incomparable Lindy West as “like a Saw movie and/or dystopian nightmare in which thigh gaps have become the global currency.” Here’s the idea: you set some daily goal (which the Pavlok site suggests might also be something like writing 1,000 words or going to sleep on time, but let’s be real — they mean exercise), and if you do not meet your goal, the device will zap you like you are some kind of lab rat. I know what you’re thinking: a brief electric shock is just what I need to get sleepy for a responsible bedtime! (No. This is not what you’re thinking.)

I have so much to say about this method of fitness-by-torture that I could literally write all day and not finish. This post would grow and grow, my endless anger at the world that constructs beauty ideals so toxic that this seems reasonable to anyone spilling over until it takes over the whole site, breaking the tent poles and all. I will not do this thing. I will use my ability to control my own body and brain in this small manner. I will do this because I am in fact not a lab rat but a human being with autonomy and free will, and I don’t need to fucking strap a torture device to my wrist to be the kind of human I want to be.

This is not the first time I’ve written about efforts to introduce torture into weight loss. This idea makes a certain kind of insidious sense, if you buy into the notion that being fat is a moral failing of individual persons (an idea, btw, that transparently is at odds with the idea that we’re in the middle of an “obesity epidemic,” but who says logic has anything to do with fat-shaming?). If you think that fat people are fat because they are constitutionally incapable of eating less or exercising more, and that “calories in < calories out” is a method that will always lead to thinness, then the idea of torturing fat people just a little bit for their own good sounds pretty effective. I mean, sure, it’s unpleasant, but it will work, and that’s more important, right?

Look, it’s true that habits are hard to establish and hard to break. Gamifying your life is an intriguing possibility that uses rewards and punishments to provide external motivation for behavioral changes, and sometimes that works: it can be very very hard to overcome your internal inertia to do something good for yourself, especially if you are prone to depression. Personally, I have become worlds more likely to do the dishes and to write every day since I started using HabitRPG, a free site where I can set my own rewards for good behavior and also have a red panda cartoon companion level up with me. It’s just a little extra boost of motivation each day: if I draft a new poem, I am a tiny bit closer to buying a new dress from Ureshii. There are lots of ways to trick yourself into performing more self-care — including enjoyable exercise as self-care! — that are about building you up rather than breaking you down. Because you know what is not that likely to make you overcome self-loathing-based inertia and go for a jog? STRAPPING A PAIN MACHINE TO YOUR BODY.

This unholy child of Pavlov and Milgram is the logical extension of a fat-shaming culture. Not only are you supposed to volunteer to torture yourself, but you’re also supposed to spend money for the privilege. Make no mistake, Awkwardeers: this is part and parcel of the massive beauty and weight loss industries that sell you the idea that there is something disgusting about your body and then sell you products to fix it, thus reifying the disgust by making it real for you even if it’s not for anyone else.

You are not disgusting. You do not deserve to be tortured. You would not torture someone else, because you are not a torturer. You are a human being with as much worth as every other human being on the planet. You are made out of atoms that were ejected by supernovae when the universe was young. You are a fucking miracle.

Thus ends the lesson. Here begins the dance party!

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I’m in grad school for creative writing. It’s hard. Right now, I’m taking three classes, which means that I’m reading 500-plus pages a week, in addition to commenting on my classmates’ writing and producing a poem every week. Plus, I’m teaching a basic composition course for struggling writers, and a literature course (for the first time ever), so I’m writing lesson plans and grading essays for nearly 60 students. AND I work ten hours a week to supplement my stipend enough to buy things like toiletries, books and the occasional beer on a Friday night. Also, I need to clean my apartment and do laundry and run errands sometimes. And in addition to all of THAT, I’m expected to participate in meetings, go to outside lectures, and attend all the readings by my classmates and visiting writers. And I WANT to, because oh my god I love school. School is the best thing ever. I work my ass off and I LOVE IT. This is not really about grad school.

Millay

What people think an MFA is like.

Except it kind of is. I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which causes, among other things, crushing migraines and extreme fatigue. And there’s no cure for it, because ovaries, ew. Mostly, I manage. But there are days when I can barely drag myself around, and did I mention all the stuff I’m supposed to be doing? Sometimes I can’t do it all. Sometimes my whole body feels like a bag of wet sand that I’m not strong enough to lift. Sometimes I have to lie down and rest before I die. So I miss the reading, or the lecture, or the lunch meeting.

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Do not go to anyone who works from a booth. (Photo by Kevin Dooley; click for Flickr original.)

Do not go to anyone who works from a booth. (Photo by Kevin Dooley; click for Flickr original.)

Hello Captain Awkward and Awkward Army,

I have been in and out of therapy off and on for the last decade or so. I don’t want to give my entire life history, but I will summarize by saying that I have clinical depression, and have anxiety that hasn’t been formally diagnosed yet but which has been plaguing me for years now, and my siblings and I were raised in a one mostly normal parent and one parent with unacknowledged Borderline Personality Disorder household.

In the past, I’ve had some relatively good-for-me therapists, and some less-good-for-me therapists. I am trying to figure out what makes a good therapist overall, and how to tell sooner than several sessions in whether or not they will work well with me. My mostly normal parent has agreed to help me pay for said therapy for the foreseeable future, so I don’t necessarily have to stick with whoever my (crappy) insurance will allow. I’m VERY good at subconsciously and consciously steering away from uncomfortable topics, so a big important thing for me in therapy is a therapist who will help me not get off track, and who will ask me questions.

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fun house mirror

Your mom.

Dear Captain Awkward,
        Ever since I can remember my worth in my family has only gone up when my weight goes down. My mom was always telling me I was too fat and that I needed to pull my pants up over my stomach or that I needed to buy larger shirts so my “fat doesn’t hang out”. She even has my brother, grandmother and my father doing it. My mother is a functional alcoholic, and has been since before she was pregnant with me (my dad had come home to her being trashed when she was about 3 months along with me, but that’s not the point of what I’m writing about) and when she’s drinking her comments on my body get around ten times worse. She’s even gone so far as to text my father (whom she’s divorced) that I’ve gained [EXAGGERATED AMOUNT OF WEIGHT] and need an intervention. I honestly am not overweight, or at least don’t see myself to be. [WEIGHT INFO REDACTED] I have to wear extra large T-shirts because  I have an overly large bust and if I complain about not being able to find tops that fit she says that maybe if I went on a diet I would go down a few cup sizes. The only time she ever says anything positive to me is if she thinks I’ve lost weight. I would be completely comfortable with my body if it wasn’t for her breathing down my neck all the time about my weight. One minute she’s angry that I’m eating, and then another she’s angry if I haven’t eaten. There is absolutely no way that I can win with her. How can I make her leave the subject alone?

Sincerely,
I’m an 18 year old girl, not a victoria’s secret model.

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Ahoy there, Captain, and fellow Awkward Army.

Sad Keanu sits on Fry's dog

Artists’s depiction of how sucky things are right now.

As I am typing this, work has been massively stressful and busy for me–I work at the busiest gas station in my city and despite being part time, I consistently get 40-hour/at least 30-hour work weeks; the end of the summer semester is drawing very near, and next semester (which I only have a week break in between the two) is going to be even more hectic, with twice as many classes; because I am so busy, I very rarely see my main core of friends, who live 45 minutes away from me; I am in a very bad place mentally, dealing with lots of anxiety and general sad feels; and to top it all off, I have now split up from a boy I didn’t want to break things off with, because I’m still emotionally invested in him, even though we were on the opposite ends of “Displaying Affection and Something Resembling Caring” Spectrum and I was hoping to talk to him about it but we had a snit about him never hanging out with me that eventually accumulated into breaking up.  Read More

semaphore

We’ll figure this shit out.

Hi Captain & Team Awkward,

I’ve been enjoying the site for a while now and have been able to take quite a few pointers from y’all, so thanks!
 
I guess the shortest way to ask my question is this: What are the green flags in any (budding) relationship? 
 
Best wishes -
Looking Forward to More Awesomeness 

Dear Looking Forward,

Sweet Machine on deck. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to talk about good relationships instead of the icy jaws of loneliness! Instead, you’re writing from the skylight car of the Awesome Train and want to make sure you’re going the right direction. High fives all around!

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The Puns

Alternate plan: tell them you’ve changed your name to Kate Beaton. (Seriously, everyone go buy her book! WE LOVE YOU KATE BEATON)

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m an undergrad English student who just got published for the first time (yay!) and I’ll be starting work on my capstone thesis next semester (although I’ve already started reading and outlining and stuff like that). My family is currently very supportive and thrilled for me- also yay! Problem is, I’m not sure if that will continue once they actually read the paper in question. I promised to get them copies of the journal in the heat of the moment when I first announced my big news, and now I’m thinking that might not have been such a good idea.

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