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I Met Someone This Morning October 31, 2013

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
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Last night was not a great night.

Well, it was a good night. The Red Sox won the World Series, and while I’m not a baseball fan at all, I do have a soft spot for the Sox. And it was way cool to see them win a pennant at home.

No, last night, I had started to unravel the problem with the SEO in my shop.

For the uninitiated, SEO is what makes your web page show up in searches. So if you type in something like “Snow White Baby Booties”, if my SEO is done right and well, this should come up:

Don't bother trying it...you won't find it. Just click this pic to find the listing, if you're interested.

Don’t bother trying it…you won’t find it. Just click this pic to find the listing, if you’re interested.

Anyway, mine hasn’t been touched because I really don’t know quite how it works, exactly. I’ve read up on it, but it’s kind of like taking a course that you missed the intro class too. You know you don’t know enough to take the class, but you’re not sure what information you’re missing, just that you’re missing…something.

Dealing with some computer stuff reminds me of being back in math class. I loathe math, and it’s because I’ve never really understood how that works, either. I remember doing my homework, reading the book and working out the problems, but not getting what the book was saying. So I struggled. And then I’d get to class and show the teacher and be told it’s wrong. Okay, why is it wrong? And he’d repeat what the book said. And that didn’t help, really, so I’d get frustrated and ask for a different explanation. And I’d try to work out the problem the way the teacher said, only at some point, it just clicked and I knew that there was some important part, some crucial bit of math I must have missed, only I have no idea what so I can’t even ask to have it explained.

That’s how I felt last night. I was overwhelmed and upset by something that should be really easy, but for me is dreadfully hard. Like math.

I went to bed, upset, and knew that I was going for a run this morning.

I started running again. I tried Couch to 5K some months ago, but realized after the first week that I was carrying too much weight still for my knees to handle. I really don’t want to blow out a joint and have to sit it out for weeks while I heal from surgery and get fatter, so I’ve been very careful with not pushing too hard, just hard enough.

But I really want to run. I don’t know why. I never have before. Hell, I’ve faked asthma to get out of running in gym class. (Sorry, Mrs. Nims.) I think it’s because it’s something I’ve never been able to do, and I feel the need to conquer it.

I don’t really like running, to be honest. Not really. It kind of hurts. I don’t really like exercise. If they create a pill that gives the same effect as working out without the sweat and breathing hard, I’m all over that shit like white on rice. In the meantime, I look at it as a challenge of sorts. I’m in a race with myself every day.

A day or two ago, it occurred to me that I look forward to doing my C25K routine. I’m kind of excited to lace on my running shoes and actually, you know, run. Then I get there and wonder for the whole 35 minutes if I’ve lost my fucking mind. It hurts. Hip is pinchy. I’m sweaty and red and trying to focus on keeping a good gait and relaxed shoulders, and pay attention to my breathing… it’s a lot to think about, really. Plus I’m trying to Keep Up With the Kardashians on E! while I’m running, and that’s distracting as hell.

But when I get done, I don’t know if I get that endorphin rush or runner’s high or what the fuck it is, but man, I feel like I can do any damn thing in the world. I might not be fast. I might be unbelievable to look at plodding along in my running tights. But I run.

1392615_603980829664354_1867805992_nSo, I went to bed last night knowing that this morning is my C25K day and while the run might not be fun, the post-run high will make it so much easier for me to tackle the SEO bullshit. Because I feel strong and powerful and hell, if I can run, I can do any damn thing.

And then it happened. I met someone in the gym today. And she’s TERRIFYING.

Usually when I run, I’m pleased that I can outrun Mean Jen. She just can’t keep up with my awesome and she knows it. So with this C25K program, you run for a bit, then walk for a bit, and eventually in stages, you work up to where the running bits are longer than the walking bits and at the end you’re running with no walking at all. I’m on week 2. I repeated week 1 figuring I’m not in a hurry and didn’t want to push it too hard, but felt after the repeat that I was ready to move on. And I’m doing very well. But I don’t like that it’s a 30 minute workout with only 20 minutes of actual interval training. I want to do more, so when I’m supposed to be cooling down, I keep running for that last bit, usually getting in a couple of extra bits of running.

Well, that little bit at the end is when I got Lady Gaga and Xtina singing in my ears. Those bitches are trying to kill me, I swear to God. Especially that little Aguilera girl. Man, oh man. She’s singing “YOU CAN’T STOP ME” and I’m all “RAAWWWRRRR!” and I boost that speed up and I flat out sprint. I’m not jogging or taking it easy. I’m running like something is chasing me, flat out, full speed. My chest is burning, my legs hurt, and I’m dripping sweat, but I can’t stop. And today I heard a voice in my head, right when I started to think I should slow down before my heart explodes, and she yelled at me, “KICK IT. YOU CAN DO THIS! PUSH THROUGH IT TO THE END! DON’T STOP NOW, MAKE THIS 90 SECONDS YOUR FUCKING BITCH, WOMAN!” And I ran. Shit, I was kind of scared not to.

When I slowed down to do my real cooldown, I think I might have looked around. I was panting, gasping for breath and my lungs were searing. And I smiled to myself as I wiped the sweat out of my eyes.

I think I just met Coach Jen. And there’s a chance she’s scarier than Mean Jen.

Mean Jen makes me want to build a blanket fort where I can eat Cheese Doodles and cry about not being able to do SEO, or because I still can’t buy pants in a regular store.

Coach Jen is ready to punch me in the face if I try to tell her I can’t do something.

I’m still sitting here an hour and a half after I got back from the gym, because I’m under mental orders to first write this blog post down so I don’t forget this shit later, and bookmark a site I found this morning that explains SEO for dummies and school myself properly in how to make this fucking website work, because, goddamn it, I need to be bringing in some cash to pay for my 5K entry fees and to keep me in top-of-the-line running shoes.

Coach Jen is scaring the crap out of me, y’all. I’d say more, but she says I’ve already wasted enough time with the navel gazing and I have fucking work to do.

And she also says I should go shower because I kinda stink.

She’s lovely.

 

Permission to Override Default Settings? October 19, 2013

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
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So, I recently crossed the 100 pound weight loss mark. Yay, me!

The thing is, I’ve done it before. Twice. Both times, 100 pounds was right around the halfway mark or so, give or take. And both times, there’s been an unfortunate convergence of factors that has led to me gaining it all back, and then some. I mention this because sitting here at that same point, I can feel the factors swarming around me, coming at me from all sides. Or at least that’s what it feels like.

The first frontal attack comes from the realization that I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the widely heralded “lifestyle change” that I’ve made.

I’m not sure why that is. Change is hard, that’s for sure, and I don’t think anyone really likes it. Heaven knows I don’t like it one little bit. I am a critter of habit, and it seems in my case, changing bad habits into good ones takes a hell of a lot longer than 30 days, that’s for damn sure. My lifestyle change started on November 17th of last year. I’ve been at it for almost a full year, and while parts of it have become second nature, the main core of it has not. Living like I do is not a habit for me, it’s a conscious daily choice I make. And lately, it’s been a hard choice to make.

I know it seems like it should be a no-brainer. THIS SHIT WORKS. I have lost 100.8 pounds through nothing more than a change of diet and regular exercise. No drugs. No surgery. No hypnosis. No mystery extracts from the Amazon or dubious injections. Every day, I eat three healthy meals and write them down in my food journal. I drink a lot of water, get out and move my body around for a bit, and really, that’s about it.

To do all those things, though, I have to override my default settings. Sometimes I’ll go long stretches without questioning the override. It seems like it just happens naturally. It doesn’t. But the decision isn’t always a fully conscious one. Some parts of my thinking have become  habit.

The other day I was in the grocery store and it’s Halloween candy season. I fucking LOVE Brach’s candy corn, and this is the time of year to get it. And I found myself walking past it without slowing down before I could even form the entire thought process of leaving it in the bin. Which I realized was a good thing. The entire thought process involved me understanding that I can’t have a few candy corns and move on. I will eat the whole bag in a sitting. So it’s best to leave it there and not even taste it. All that went through my head in less than 5 seconds.

And yet, as I walked away, I was sad. Like my-dog-just-died sad. I mourned the candy corn. I mourned the fact that I will never again sit here happily munching away on a whole bag of candy corn. That fact made me sad. I overrode my default setting successfully, but the system wasn’t happy about it.

What should have been a NSV (non-scale victory) felt like anything but.

I missed my old life of gluttony. For a few minutes, I really wanted it back. I wanted to eat without counting the cost. I missed that so much it physically hurt.

I’m not sure why my default setting is Fat , Gluttonous, and Lazy, but it certainly seems to be the case. I mean, I don’t like the results of having the appetite of a barnyard sow, but hells bells, I do love me some shit food. I want to eat, and what’s more, I want to eat CRAP. I crave junk food like no one’s business. Don’t get me wrong, I like good food. I am a good enough cook. And I eat so well that I’m almost never hungry. I won’t lie to you: most days I make it look easy.

But shit. My dirty secret, thanks to my default setting, is that I want to eat fucking Little Debbie oatmeal creme pies until I puke. I want to scarf a whole bag of cheese doodles and eat at least half of a large, greasy meat-lovers pizza in one sitting. And don’t skimp on the breadsticks.

I don’t know why this is. I just know it’s the way I am. And l have no solid evidence to support that I can ever change myself into someone else.

There are people in the world who never crave junk. They don’t drive past a McDonald’s and actually mourn the greasy goodness that they’re not eating. You ask them if they’d like a snack and they ask if you have any apples. And not because they’re dieting–because they actually like apples. They prefer the taste of a fresh piece of fruit to a bag of cheap Halloween candy.

Freaks.

So every day is an exercise in overriding my default setting of Gluttonous. Every day, no exceptions, every single meal.  And as days turn into weeks into months into almost a whole year, it’s getting harder to hit that override button. The longing for the foods I used to eat is so strong right now. My desire for food that does NOTHING but serve to make me (and everyone who eats it) fat is sometimes so overwhelming I can barely stand it.

So what happens is I start to give in a bit. I have some ice cream after dinner at my mother’s house. I pop a couple of chips into my mouth when I hand Larry his sandwich. I ask for a bit of his pizza, and I take the biggest one I can manage. Bites don’t count, you see, so I don’t write them. (Only they do count, trust me on this one.) And while ice cream once a week after dinner doesn’t seem like much, especially since I measure it and count it and write that down, it’s ceased to be a once-in-awhile treat and is slipping into a habit. And “I can have ice cream once a week” turns into me allowing myself junk foods more and more often because what’s the harm, right?

Yeah, that line of thinking got me an ass with its own weather system.

So I guess the best way to put it is that mentally, I’m struggling with the fact that at the moment, the desire to be healthy and fit is not much stronger than my desire to eat a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s while watching Firefly. And when the desire to EAT ALL THE THINGS is stronger than being fit and healthy, the slips start happening.

The slips are happening, and I kind of hate myself for it. Every time it happens I can almost picture the window popping up in my head: “Permission to Override Default Settings?” and every time I mentally click “no”, I die a little inside. I lose a little more hope. I sink a little deeper in the quicksand. So far, I’m hanging on, but sometimes, just barely. I can correct for system overrides, but wonder when the day will come when I just can’t be arsed.

I know failure is not actually inevitable. But some days it feels that way. Remember that I have no success to go on. I have never lost all the weight I wanted and kept it off. Ever. I had to fight hard to even begin the process because the idea of setting myself up for that kind of failure yet again is soul-crushing.

The second attack comes at me and makes me not want to go to the gym. This one is sneakier. Because when it comes to eating shitty food, the excuses for not doing it are pretty damn lame, and I almost feel like an asshole using them. I mean, it’s actually easier for me to live with myself when I admit I ate something because I just wanted it, because trying to rationalize it by saying it was too hard to find a good food that fit into my eating plan is just fucking stupid. At the end of the day, you still had a “Fuckit” moment and ate it because you wanted it, so stop trying to rationalize that shit.

But the gym. Ah. That’s different. Head cold? Better stay home. It won’t be a good workout because I can barely breathe. Done right, you can drag that out for a few days. Maybe a week if it’s a Man Cold. Tummy bug? Ooh. You don’t want to spread that nasty shit to other people, and it’s going to be a couple of days before you can trust a fart completely, so staying home is a good bet. You can get a few extra days out of that if you play the Weak and Dehydrated card.

My right knee is feeling the effects of hauling my fat ass around for all these years, and there are days I really do have to rest it. I do NOT want to have to sit out weeks of recovery after I blew out my knee. There are things you just should not ignore, and times when rest is what your body needs more than a workout.

I’m at the point where I’m latching onto any little excuse and making it into a reason.

“I can’t get there until after supper and I hate working out that late because I can’t sleep.”

“My knee hurts.”

“I overdid it yesterday.”

“There’s no time.”

Bitch, please. I’ve got a million of them. My 6 days a week workout schedule wants to be five in the worst way, and from there it’s a slide to four, then three…one day I’ll realize that going back after a few days off is just too hard, and I’ll stop going.

A third attack comes from my own demons. Body image is kicking my ass. It was easier to love myself and how I look when I had accepted Fat as who I am. I admit I’m happier with how I look with clothes on. I’m more confident. I like fitting into chairs without a second thought and the idea that the next time I get on a plane I won’t be crowding the person next to me at all is a happy one.

And I know the majority of folks don’t love how they look naked.

I look like a human mudslide. There’s no way to put it more gently than that and be descriptive. And I know it’s temporary. But to look at myself in the mirror when I get out of the shower and not see how far I’ve come but how far I have to go before I resemble anything less than truly hideous is daunting. It’s disheartening.

I hate my weight. I currently weigh 257.9 pounds. That’s still morbidly obese. It still feels like I’m running with sandbags tied to my legs. I can’t do squats or any number of weight based exercises because I just weigh too goddamn much. My weight is holding me back from all the things I want to do. All that is left to me is plodding along at what feels like a snail’s pace.

I’ve been the same weight for two weeks now. Not gaining, but not losing, either. The dreaded plateau might be here. Maybe it’s the slips, or the blowing off of the gym too often, or a combination of the two. Or maybe it’s just my body readjusting for a bit before letting go of the rest of the weight. Or it could be that I’m eating too much. Or too little. Or building muscle. Or retaining water.

IT COULD BE JUST ABOUT ANYTHING, BUT ALL I KNOW IS THAT THE SCALE IS NOT MOVING AND I’M WICKED PISSED ABOUT THAT.

Simply put, it feels like I am never going to get there, wherever “there” is. And it’s so much work to go nowhere.

Logically, I know that going back simply is not an option. Like it or not, being 360 pounds again cannot happen. I will die. And the only thing between me and losing the next 100 or so pounds that will get me into the healthy weight range for my height is my own determination to make it so. It is entirely up to me whether I fail or not, whether I choose my default settings because it’s easier, or if I make the hard choices. But where the hell did my determination go? Why doesn’t it just hang out with me all day like it used to, and more importantly, why are there moments where I can’t I call it up anymore?

Why do I keep wanting to go back to my default settings of Fat, Gluttonous, and Lazy? Jesus, I wish I knew.

I wish I knew how to stay motivated for the long haul. I’d like to find that mojo again because the holidays are coming up and I know it’s the perfect time for me to go right to my default settings. So much good food, and everyone in the world splurging because “Hey, it’s only once a year!” They don’t understand that for someone like me, once a year can lead to a string of failures that cause a total system crash. I just need the power to maintain my control over food–to not let it control me. I’m losing that battle more than I’d like these days, and I’m a little scared.

I wish I knew why it was so hard right now. I wish I could just get a bit of that momentum back that’s allowed me to cruise along for months at a time. I know I’ve made a positive lifestyle change, and the results have been nothing short of stunning, but right now I’m struggling with it, and just wish I had some way of knowing that this isn’t going to be another failure on my record. I wish I knew that at some point, the changes will become permanent and I will have changed my default settings.

I just can’t say it for certain at the moment. And I wish I could.

Life After Etsy October 18, 2013

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius, Sticks and String.
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I believe in handmade things.

I believe in the artisan movement.

I believe that things that are made with skill and care and attention to detail have more inherent value than anything made by a machine or on an assembly line.

I believe in art for art’s sake, even if I don’t understand it sometimes.

I believe there is a market for handmade artisan goods.

I believe I am not alone.

I’ve been on Etsy since it was just about to celebrate its first birthday, and in recent years I’ve found cause to rant about its policies as far as what handmade is, how they enforce it on their own site, and I’ve seen a tide creeping in slowly but steadily during that time.

When I opened my first shop, I was as new to internet sales as Etsy was. We were both still feeling our way along. As my knitting skills improved with much time and practice, I began to understand more and more what the artisan handmade movement was really about. I stopped looking at the things that came off my needles as mere objects that were utilitarian, no different than what you could buy in a retail outlet somewhere, and began to see each thing as an individual work of art.

Every stitch is made by my hands. I am an artist, and I work in fiber.

And as that realization grew in me and took hold, I grew as an artist. I embraced what I am.

Etsy did the same thing, seeing what it is and where it wanted to go. It embraced what it was becoming, only we grew apart. Etsy saw that their biggest selling vendors (and biggest source of income) were hitting a ceiling. Some of their policies meant that when a seller felt that they couldn’t grow any more on Etsy, they’d close up shop and leave to where they could have parts of their products manufactured. They could use drop-shipping to fill orders. They could hire help to produce product and fill orders.

That kind of growth is what makes this country great, don’t get me wrong. I believe in growing your business as far as you can.

But at some point, you have ceased to be handmade.

That’s a conundrum for Etsy. How do we claim to be a handmade site, yet keep these very lucrative sellers with us bringing in all their money?

We redefine what “handmade” means.

I don’t think hobby crafters will mind so much. Etsy is a terrific platform for folks who make things and want a great looking place to sell them. Etsy has a name now, and a reputation (or at least it did), and if you understand that you need to drive your own traffic to your own shop and don’t expect Etsy to promote you in any way, it’s great. Easy to use, very affordable, and you can look professional with very little effort.

Business crafters will be in heaven. The ceiling is gone. If you need to hire other hands to make your handmade items, if you want to have your creations mass produced in a factory, you can. Oh, there will be new rules and new caveats, but you are no longer hampered by having to run a one-person show.

It leaves artisans in the lurch. When you create art, whether it’s a painting, a fine aged cheddar, or an embroidered pair of baby booties, it is essentially a solitary process. It’s as much about the process of bringing an idea to life as it is about seeing the idea realized. It’s putting yourself into what you make, and it’s why paintings by fine artists sell for way more money than prints or reproductions of the same picture. The original is where the artist has left himself, in every brush stroke and line and shadow. It’s why you eat an artisan cheese slowly, tasting every bite, pairing it carefully with the right complementary flavors, as opposed to slapping a square of Cracker Barrel on a Triscuit and munching away while you watch football. And it’s why that pair of hand-embroidered booties gets packed away carefully in a cedar chest until the baby that outgrew them announces that they are expecting a child of their own, unlike the $10 pair that came from the Gap and went into the bag being donated to the Goodwill.

I believe that when you say something is handmade, that should mean something.

Etsy and I disagree on what that something is, and it’s why it’s time for us to part ways.

I’m in the process of opening my own online shop. Etsy has always served as my own personal craft fair and art gallery. I make whatever comes into my head, and Etsy gives me a place to show it off and maybe exchange it for a little cash. But I’d like to be more than a hobby knitter, and I think I have the skills to see that happen.

When I went to Seattle over the summer, my main reason for going was to check out the Urban Craft Uprising show and find out why I didn’t get in. It was eye-opening, for sure. It was a large hall, and it was full of artists and craftsmen. And my art was easily up to (and in some cases far beyond) anything I saw there. It was gratifying to see that if nothing else, I have the skills to compete at that level.

But I needed to see what the vendors that got in were doing that is so different from what I was. And about halfway through the show, it was starting to become clear. It was at the booth of a crafter who made all felted things. I was interested because I do a fair amount of felting myself. She had a very small line of items: vases, coasters, bowls, and some wall art. She used a limited palette of colors, and very simple designs. And I remarked at the time (out of earshot of the artist) that I didn’t think I could be that sort of crafter. I’d be bored to tears reproducing the same simple designs and colors all the time, and not being able to give my creativity free rein.

It was a common theme, too. Soap makers produced a small line of really good soap. A woman selling leather bags and cases had a limited number of sizes, and a very unified design theme. Jewelry makers created to a theme or a medium, like the one seller who embraced the 8-bit geekery of old video games, and another who worked in laser-cut wood. And every booth was like that. They made one thing, and they made it very well.

By the time we left, I knew that if I’m going to be an artist at that level, I need to focus. If I want to “quit my day job” and compete in that lucrative marketplace of artisan handmade, I need to figure out what I do well and concentrate on it. I don’t need to leave myself room to grow…I need to figure out how to keep myself in check!

I thought about it a lot, and there was a lot of discussion about what my focus should be. I can knit anything. It’s kind of a point of pride with me.

But looking at it from a business standpoint, my biggest seller and most popular item that I make, by far, are the knit booties with hand-embroidered soles. Without boring you with the numbers, focusing on booties is kind of a no-brainer from a business standpoint.

Creatively speaking, I could make them all day long. And lately, I do. Because every pair is different, and the only limit to what I stitch on them is my own imagination, when I say the possibilities are endless, I mean it. Even though they’re all the same, they’re all very different. It’s hard to get bored with them.

Using booties as the centerpiece, I added baby sweaters and hats under the same umbrella. I chose a palette of colors and a limited selection of styles that I’d produce. So rather than just booties, a customer could get a set, or individual pieces, and can always have something made and personalized just for them.

I’ve also found that less-traditional baby designs are wildly popular. Sure, the monkeys sell, and flowers and such. But a Killer Bunny with Big Teeth? Sold the minute I list it. Skulls? Can’t keep them in stock. Dragons? Sold. When I think of the expression, “This is not your grandma’s knitting,” it strikes me that many people my age *are* grandparents, and we’re defining what “grandma’s knitting” actually is.

So the new shop is called Sprogtoggery, and my focus is on baby things. I have a Facebook page started and ready to go, and the shop is just about ready to launch. I had a vendor supply issue getting buttons (because I insist on using artisan handmade buttons and not just any old thing you can get at Joanns) so I’m a bit behind getting sweaters finished. I hope to be open by November 1, God willing and the creek don’t rise.

My logo is simple, and when the graphic designer showed it to me, she had added the words “100% artisan handmade” under it, and that pulled it all together for me. That’s the focus, and the emphasis, and the whole reason I do what I do. I know that the artisan movement is alive and well, and it is because there are buyers out there who know that when you buy something handmade, you’re not just getting a “thing”. You are getting something special, something beautiful, and something worth preserving.

Now I have to get back to work. These ends aren’t going to weave themselves in, and there are no Chinese kids in my basement gonna do it for me…