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Friday, November 23, 2012

Is Anybody Down? and Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Buckle in folks. You are about to get a lot of bang for your buck with this post. A true crime story, an armchair psychoanalysis of a sociopath, a free SEO lesson, and an action item list for how you can help stop web extortion.

Four posts in one. Hold on to your butts.

Part I: Is Anybody Committing Extortion & Wire Fraud?

Once upon a time, there was a revenge porn site called Is Anyone Up?  The business model was simple enough. Allow users to submit nude pictures of any person with or without his or her consent as long as he or she was above the legal age, post it next to his or her Facebook or Twitter pic, and place a humiliating animated gif or meme underneath it, making this site a favorite haunt of bitter ex-boyfriends and otherwise revenge hungry perverts.  For added fun, the site contained a section posting the angry reactions of people desperate to have their photos taken down.

How could someone be so cruel as to host this site?

$10,000 - $13,000/month in advertising revenue.

Once the site garnered a lot of negative attention and subsequent legal heat, the owner shut it down. He was apparently burnt out trying to keep it going amidst the onslaught of Internet rage. He wasn't happy about it.

Alas, this cautionary tale was not enough to dissuade other amoral opportunists. Enter Chance Trahan and Craig Brittain with a new site revolutionarily named site called Is Anybody Down?  The site operates under the same "business model" as its predecessor: taking submissions of nude photos and posting them alongside the person's name, hometown, and contact information. For added cruelty, the site encourages commenters to mock, ridicule, humiliate, and, worst of all, contact the people featured.

There is a link on the site that reads "Get me off this site!" that takes you to a page explaining that if you want your picture and contact information removed you should contact the "Takedown Hammer" with a link to his site. Well...it says "Takedown Hammer" now.  It did say, "The Takedown Lawyer" a.k.a. David Blade, who boasted 100% success rate with getting pictures taken down from Is Anybody Down?  For a nominal flat fee of $250, David Blade Esquire would get your pictures taken down, your contact information erased, and put all this nasty business behind you.  So why did he go from being the "Takedown Lawyer" to the "Takedown Hammer"?

Because it turns out David Blade is not actually a lawyer.

In fact, David Blade doesn't seem to exist.

Who own's the Takedown Hammer's website then? Who has theoretically been collecting these $250 fees from terrified and harassed victims?

It would seem takedownlawyer.com is registered to none other than Craig Brittain.

So if Craig and Chance are posting embarrassing pictures of people, then taking their money under a fake attorneys name in exchange for remove the offending content, that, friends, is what we call extortion and wire fraud. According to the latest federal (yes, it is a federal offense) sentencing guidelines, wire fraud alone can land you up to 20 years in prison, fines of $250,000 for an individual, $500,000 for an organization, an order to pay the victim's restitution, and confiscation of any property received from the offense.

So it's frowned on.

Of course, Craig (the more vocal of the two) is doubling, tripling, and quadrupling down on maintaining they are doing nothing wrong, that they are not the Takedown Hammer, and that they are not the bad guys here.  Nay, they're actually champions of first amendment rights, but better still they are making these women safer:

Craig Brittain's comments on the On The Media interview page.
"Thus, the very machine that you think is exploiting them is actually protecting them."
I now have the worst case of Godwin blue balls EVER.
They did look up from digging down long enough to notice the faces of actual legal hammers (sledges even) Marc Randazza and Kenneth White staring down the vacuous chasm at them. And boy are Craig and Chance pissed about it, which I'm sure is actually a product of being terrified.

They should be.

The whole sordid series of lies, intrigue, and impending legal decimation would take several blog posts to cover in and of themselves. So read the posts of those who are actually qualified to discuss the legal matters at play here:
Kenneth White's Popehat coverage of the Is Anybody Down? saga
Adam Steinbaugh's synopsis of Is Anybody Down? and some great investigative work
Marc Randazza's Initial Post on Is Anybody Down? and his offer to help victims
On the Media's interview with Craig Brittain and Marc Randazza
Part II: The Anatomy of a Sociopath

We toss around the word sociopath and, to a lesser extent, the word psychopath anytime someone does something particularly heinous and doesn't seem to perceive why what they're doing is wrong. Both terms essentially refer to Antisocial Personality Disorder, the difference being that psychologists like referring to psychopathy and sociologists like referring to sociopathy for obvious reasons.

The majority of society can agree that even extortion and fraud aside, what the owners of Is Anybody Down? are doing in putting these women (and men) at risk of being harassed, stalked, and potentially assaulted or worse is abhorrent.

We, as a society, are pretty good at sorting out what's what.

But is Craig Brittain an actual "sociopath"? I'm not a psychologist and am only going by the evidence of Craig's behavior online, but let's take a look at the revised criteria for antisocial personality disorder proposed for the DSM-V by the American Psychiatric Association:


A. Significant impairments in personality functioning manifest by:

1. Impairments in self functioning (a or b):

a. Identity: Ego-centrism; self-esteem derived from personal gain, power, or pleasure.
I think we can safely say that Craig Brittain is out for himself to the gross exclusion of all other human beings on earth. In response to a commenter on On the Media's interview Craig had this to say: "My business as it stands, content and all, with the exposure it gets - is worth upwards of $300,000 now. We are in the top 20,000 websites in the world this week, top 40,000 this month, top 80,000 on a three month scale, according to alexa. http://alexa.com/siteinfo/isanybodydown.com We're rubbing shoulders with IBM and NASA. Your opinion pales in the face of REAL facts." I think that about sums up his motivation for hosting this site.  Of course his motivation is a bunch of delusional crap, but he believes it and that is all that matters.
b. Self-direction: Goal-setting based on personal gratification; absence of prosocial internal standards associated with failure to conform to lawful or culturally normative ethical behavior.
This is the hallmark of antisocial personality disorder. A total lack of observance of cultural ethics and respect for the law. Not only is Craig thumbing his nose at the most basic ethic of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," but Craig Brittain's felony record would suggest that if he is indeed participating in an extortion/wire fraud scheme it will just be the latest installment in a pattern of illegal activity.
AND

2. Impairments in interpersonal functioning (a or b):

a. Empathy: Lack of concern for feelings, needs, or suffering of others; lack of remorse after hurting or mistreating another.
Obviously it takes an almost absurd lack of empathy to have a woman contact you to let you know that, because of your actions, her life has been threatened and her privacy invaded, pleading with you to please respect her privacy and take down her image and contact information, and then send her a snide e-mail detailing why you will not oblige.  But Craig took things a step further. Until recently, his site posted these pleadings, mocking these women for begging to have their pictures taken down. He has since removed those postings. Apparently, self preservation trumps enjoyment derived from hurting strangers. I'm sure he misses accusing women of lying about being gang raped, though.
b. Intimacy: Incapacity for mutually intimate relationships, as exploitation is a primary means of relating to others, including by deceit and coercion; use of dominance or intimidation to control others.
This we obviously can't know, because none of us know very much about Craig's personal life. It's worth noting that anyone who does have some level of intimacy with Craig probably has some serious pathology of their own for enabling and condoning his behavior.
B. Pathological personality traits in the following domains:

1. Antagonism, characterized by:

a. Manipulativeness: Frequent use of subterfuge to influence or control others; use of seduction, charm, glibness, or ingratiation to achieve one‘s ends.
Probably the most clear example of this is the revelation that Craig's assertion that all photos are submitted by site visitors and not through coercion appears to be categorically false. Apparently, resourceful little Craigy was going on Craigslist personal section and manipulating users by pretending to be interested in a hookup. Hat tip to Adam Steinbaugh for putting this research together.
b. Deceitfulness: Dishonesty and fraudulence; misrepresentation of self; embellishment or fabrication when relating events.
I mean, do I even need to address this? No. So I shan't. Oh, ok, just a little bit on the embellishment stuff. The dishonesty and fraudulence speaks for itself.
On the Media Interview Comments Section
 
c. Callousness: Lack of concern for feelings or problems of others; lack of guilt or remorse about the negative or harmful effects of one‘s actions on others; aggression; sadism.
Again, I think this is most evident in his direct interactions with the women that are pictured on the website. It is callous to not care about the danger they are in. It is a sadistic to then publicly mock them for it.
d. Hostility: Persistent or frequent angry feelings; anger or irritability in response to minor slights and insults; mean, nasty, or vengeful behavior.
Craig's ire toward Kenneth White and Marc Randazza is pretty intense, especially for a person who maintains he has done nothing wrong and claims that there is no way Ken and Marc can pursue legal action against him. But even in his interactions with other commenters, Craig will wax and wane between superiority-laden philosophical diatribes and name-calling temper tantrums. He wants so bad, as "a right-leaning libertarian" to pretend he is approaching all this as a professional business owner and unemotional observer, but he can never quite tamp down the angry little boy who wants to get back at all those stupid women and people who want to tell him what to do. Also, *vengeful behavior* is the reason that site exists at all.
2. Disinhibition, characterized by:

a. Irresponsibility: Disregard for – and failure to honor – financial and other obligations or commitments; lack of respect for – and lack of follow through on – agreements and promises.
We have no way of knowing this without knowing Craig personally.  I have no idea whether the guy can keep a dentist appointment or if he manages to pay his bills on time.
b. Impulsivity: Acting on the spur of the moment in response to immediate stimuli; acting on a momentary basis without a plan or consideration of outcomes; difficulty establishing and following plans.
This is another "gotta know the guy". Aside from a lot of sloppy cover up work that was clearly done without thinking through the outcome, you'd really have to know him to say whether or not he is truly impulsive.
c. Risk taking: Engagement in dangerous, risky, and potentially self-damaging activities, unnecessarily and without regard for consequences; boredom proneness and thoughtless initiation of activities to counter boredom; lack of concern for one‘s limitations and denial of the reality of personal danger.
The verbiage of this is slightly different from the DSM-IV, which included not only the denial of *personal* danger, but also included risk taking behavior that could be damaging to other people. I think under the old diagnostic criteria this is spot on. With this criteria the waters get a little murkier.
C. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are relatively stable across time and consistent across situations.
Hard to know whether Craig has been this way his entire life or not, but a felony record sure seems to indicate a consistent lack of respect for the law.
D. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not better understood as normative for the individual’s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment.
Basically, is this just part of Craig growing up? At the age of 28, I'd say not.
E. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not solely due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., severe head trauma).
And there's the rub. Maybe Craig just took a roundhouse to the face as a kid or has a severe meth problem. In either case, um, poor guy?
Again, I AM NOT A PSYCHOLOGIST, but it would seem that at a minimum Craig Brittain has a lot of antisocial traits if not the full blown disorder. Furthermore, one of the more obnoxious things about Craig is that he has managed to develop a construct in which he HAS to run this site, because "thanks to Obama" there are no other jobs. In his mind, he literally can't eat if he doesn't continue to admin Is Anybody Down? and to suggest he try to seek employment elsewhere is to sentence him to death by starvation.

There is a more specific antisocial personality disorder sub-type called Covetous Antisocial. This is a person who believes that life has dealt him a shitty hand. He is driven by entitlement and bitterness over what he perceives life has denied him.  He can justify any action by the belief that he can behave however he wants, because life hasn't been fair to him. Why should it be to anyone else? Why should it be to those women?

So how do you deal with someone with this disorder?

You don't. You avoid them like the herp.

Craig Brittain doesn't just not believe what he is doing is wrong. He CAN'T believe what he is doing is wrong.  The synaptic firings that would have to take place in order for Craig to stop exploiting people for personal gain or have remorse for endangering the lives of men and women on his site simply can't occur in his brain. So while it's tempting, hell...gratifying, to engage him and poke him with a stick, at best you are going to end up in a frustrating back and forth and at worst end up in his revenge-seeking crosshairs.

For the record: I hope Craig Brittain ends up proving me wrong in this armchair diagnosis and takes the site down and apologizes.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Part III: Search Engine Optimization for Everyone

I sometimes assume that everyone understands how Google "works" and that the rules are the same for individuals as they are for businesses and bloggers. But it occurs to me that many of these victims may wonder how people have even found their picture on this site, and more importantly what they can do about it. So here is SEO in a nutshell:

1. Google is not a person

Google is an algorithm. a ridiculously complex math problem that is being continually tweaked by the developers at Google with one end game in mind: serve the most relevant content for whatever keyword phrase is typed in that little box. So when a nude picture you texted to an ex-boyfriend in college with your work phone number listed underneath it suddenly appears in the first page of search results when someone googles your name and hometown, you can't call Google and make them take it out of the search results.

2. Domain names are not reserved

In the long list of extortionists on the Internet, domain squatters rank up there with the most annoying. Basically what they do is buy up domain names of business names or individuals' names, then contact the business or individual and try to sell them that domain name for a large sum of money. Worse, there are people who will even go so far as to publish disgusting or offensive content on said domain names, making it even more compelling to pay them so you can get rid of it.

Businesses at least have some copyright protection with which to sue, but individuals are often out of luck. If there is any content on your domain name that relates to you (like a nude photo with your name, hometown, and links to your social media accounts), there is a very good probability it will end up in the first page of results.

3. Google Hearts Experts

Everyone wants to know the secret to increasing their search engine ranking.The most simplistic answer is - become an expert on what you're trying to rank for. For businesses this means hosting a website that is not just easy to navigate and free from spammy keywords and junk text, but also contains lots of good, relevant, shareable content. This could be in the form of blogs, well written product descriptions, white papers, or infographics. For an individual this means maintaining an updated Linked-in profile, participating in forums about things that interest you, maybe starting a blog about something you care about, and making sure that you manage any social media accounts in your name.

4. Google Hearts Links...but not just any links

It's not enough to just say you're an expert and produce content that shows how you're an expert. Other people have to vouch for your expertise. Let's say your business sells widgets and you blog about widgets, have slideshares about widgets, and have several YouTube videos about widgets.  Google says, "Hmmmm...you seem to know a lot about widgets. But you also have four competitors who also know a lot about widgets. I'll stick you at 5." But then a widget collector writes a blog about widgets and includes a link to one of your slideshares on your site. Then Google says, "Oh! Well if THEY say you know a lot about widgets, then let's bump you up to 4."

To a lesser extent, it works the other way too. If a piece of crap link mill links to your site, Google gets all, "Gross. You're friends with him? Back to number 5 you go." So if you can't move up, you have to push others back down. You have to be continually putting out remarkable content that others want to share and link to, so the crappy links don't count as much. This is true for individuals, as well.

5. Laugh at any SEO professional who uses the word "Hat" to describe themselves

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there were "Black Hat" SEO guys (the Storm Troopers) and "White Hat" SEO guys (the Jedi). This was when Google was all about things like META tags and number of keywords on your site. "Black Hat" guys would do things like create dummy websites with a million links to  your website or listing all the keywords you wanted to rank for on your site 92 times at the bottom the same color as your background so no one could see them. "White Hat" guys would clean up your site navigation, help you work keyword phrases into your site, and write Google delicious META tags.

Those days are over.

The day of no-bullshit content creation has dawned. Anyone with a hat is probably either woefully out of touch with their profession or just a complete charlatan.

6. Your Google results are different from mine

Google doesn't just want to serve up relevant content. They want to serve up YOUR relevant content. Using your browsing history, location, and past search patterns, Google tries to give you what is most valuable to you personally. So, for example, if I google "orgasmic garlic cheese grits", Google is going to give me a map to Billy's BBQ in Chevy Chase.  If YOU google "orgasmic garlic cheese grits", you might get inferior grits somewhere else. For that I'm sorry. (But not really, because I want all the grits.) So don't take for granted that just because Craig Brittain's website doesn't come up in YOUR search results, doesn't mean that it won't for someone else who frequents sites of that nature.

Part IV: Be an Internet Hero

I share my industry "secrets" for a reason: we all have a responsibility to clean up the web litter and make Google results safe and meaningful. We all have a responsibility to stomp sites like Is Anybody Down? into the pages of results no one is ever going to bother looking at. We need to work toward putting all of these web extortionists out of business, be they domain name squatters, "Reputation Managers", revenge site proprietors, and any other opportunistic trolls and bottom dwellers. So here is your homework:

1. STOP POSTING AND TEXTING NAKED PICTURES OF YOURSELF

I say this with absolutely no judgment. When I was 16, before the days of MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter, I was screwing around taking pictures with friends and flashed the camera. A few years ago someone posted it on Facebook and tagged me in it. They weren't doing so maliciously; it was in the spirit of "Hey, look how stupid we were!" It wasn't even that embarrassing, and really all you could see is my stomach. Still.

There goes my bid for Presidency.

The point is no matter how sure you are that the person you're sending that picture to is trustworthy or how sure you are that your privacy settings are locked down, once something goes online, it is there forever.  Don't give Craig Brittain fodder for his revenge mill. And, parents. Talk to your kids about the dangers of sexting. 20% of ALL teenagers are sharing nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves. 22% of all teenage girls. So if your daughter has four other friends, statistically one of them has sent or posted a sexual picture.

It's chilling.

And for those of you who have never taken an inappropriate picture in your life, remember, before you stand in judgement of these girls who have shared these nude photos of themselves, there is a little thing called Photoshop. Anyone runs the risk of being victimized by people like Craig Brittain.

2. Keep calm...Clean up your own mess

Being victimized the way Craig Brittain has victimized these women is beyond unfair. It is criminal. Even if you are feeling guilty about sharing your picture in the first place, having your life endangered is a disproportionate consequence. But as eager as you are to get your picture and contact information taken down, it's important not to panic and get taken in by some con artist promising to get your picture down in exchange for money.

You don't need a reputation manager when you have yourself.

Firstly, contact the authorities immediately if anyone offers to take down your picture in exchange for money. Then contact an attorney. Many attorneys will work pro bono to help people being sexually exploited on the web. Then move on to step 3.

3. Build your web wealth

Craig Brittain doesn't get to show up in your search results. His site doesn't demonstrate expertise on who you are as a person. So start pushing his piece of shit site down in your results by creating content about yourself. Clean up old social media accounts (hello, MySpace). Start a blog on a topic you care about. Squat on your own stuff. Just because you don't use Linked-in or Facebook or Twitter doesn't mean you can't secure accounts in your own name so nobody else can. Buy domain names of your full name and any close misspellings. Parents, buy your kids full names so they don't get exploited either.  If something pops up in your search engine results you don't like, ask nicely that whomever runs the site take it down. Not all site owners are Craig Brittain. Go after those top 10 spots.

4. Help keep results fair for others

We all need to start leaving more feedback for businesses and each other, both the good and the bad. Sometimes we have a tendency to only review a business or write a blog or post about an individual when we're pissed off. But be fair. Everyone makes mistakes and has bad days. If your favorite local bookstore gets a nasty Google review, because a cashier was having a bad day, then write a positive review about a good experience you had. Likewise, if a friend ends up on a Craig Brittain site, you can help by sharing YOUR expertise on your friend. Write a blog post about an awesome camping trip you had or how she finished her first 5k or what an awesome mother she is. Don't lie or be misleading, but help people and businesses be fairly represented online.

When stuff sucks, say so respectfully.

When stuff rocks, share it!

5. Poop before you post

If you absolutely must seek revenge on someone, might I suggest you send them some poop? Not your own poop. That's taking it too far. But perhaps, some nice elephant dung. That's plenty. You'll feel better, they'll throw the poop away, and life will go back to normal. Posting a nude photo or other embarrassing information, because some girl dumped you is not a proportionate response. It might make you feel vindicated in the short run, but sooner or later a day is going to come where it is going to be very hard to live with. It will ruin her life, and even if you delete it, it will always be archived on the Internet. Furthermore, how would you feel if some creep showed up to her house and raped her? Would you be able to live with yourself?  Do you really want to be like Craig Brittain?

This Is Anybody Down? saga brings up a lot of interesting questions and important discussions about the limits of first amendment protections, laws regarding sexual exploitation on the Internet, and the responsibility we all have for our conduct on the web. Even though Craig and others like him fancy themselves freedom of speech pioneers and babble on about a "totally free Internet" what they are actually doing with their completely indefensible websites is increasing the likelihood of a government crackdown on web content and polluting Google real estate with their smut. Sites like these are why we can't have nice things. Bottom line: be part of the solution.

Not part of the problem.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Make Grandma Proud (i.e. STFU)




"If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all."

This is excellent advice. Gentle. Succinct. Meaningful. And everyone has a grandmother who, at one time or another, took their face into her wizened hands, leaned in close enough for the sweet smell of shortbread and Jean Nate to lull them into a stupor, and with kind eyes & a knowing nod, uttered these timeless words.  So you may be surprised to learn what your grandmother was actually telling you.

She was telling you to shut the fuck up.

And you know what? She was right.

We should all just shut the fuck up.

Every day it feels like I wake to a louder cacophony of abusive, condescending blather perpetrated by everyone around me. People I work with, people on social media, people to whom I'm related, people in the comments sections of news articles.  I even find myself getting dragged into it. Every day my brain is adulterated by the ceaseless jockeying for whose fattest mouth can gulp the most air with which to spew the most meaningless, abrasive nonsense for an indeterminate or otherwise pointless purpose, and every day I am struck by the near perfect arrogance we have managed to achieve as a society.

I talk about bullying a lot on this blog, and every week there is a new incident of someone taking a life, either someone else's or their own, because they simply could not see a light at the end of the shit and razor wire lined tunnel of verbal refuse that we all have to trudge through unendingly.

This week claimed the life of Felicia Garcia. A 15-year old girl, mocked and ridiculed and shamed until she did the only thing her adolescent mind could conceive of to stop the pain.

She threw herself in front of an oncoming subway train.

The last thing Felicia heard before her young life was snuffed out forever? The sound of her verbal rapists hurling sexual jeers at her from the subway platform.

Without fail, the noxious banter starts in the comments section of all the articles covering the story.


I'll paraphrase:

Anonymous Idiot 1 - "My heart goes out to this girl's family, but these teenagers don't deserve to have their lives ruined for acting like teenagers. Bullying is part of growing up."
Anonymous Idiot 2 - "Anonymous Idiot 1, people like you are why bullying exists. You were probably a bully yourself. You're apologist attitude toward this situation is disgusting."
Anonymous Idiot 3 - "None of this would be happening if there was still prayer in school. If we didn't have all these libtards worried about gay marriage, and got back to what the founding fathers wanted, we would all be better off and this Mexican girl might still be alive. There's a reason they call it the White House!"
Let me clear this up for everyone. Do you want to know who is to blame for that girl's death?

All of us. Because none of us will ever just shut the fuck up.

Felicia's last tweet. Two days before she took her own life.

It may very well be true that those teenagers were just acting like "any other asshole teenager," as one commenter put it. That may be. And you know what? Who could blame them. Honestly. Who could blame them for labeling and humiliating an easy target when they hear their parents using racial slurs about the president? Or see adults from their church on Facebook spewing their intolerant garbage? Or watch people in power accuse a law student of being a whore because she's advocating for better access to contraception? Or read self righteous rants about a corporation that has literally made a federal case over not wanting to provide health insurance that would pay for a pill which categorically does not do the thing they claim it does? Or watch rape victims being re-traumatized day in and day out for weeks by the insensitive remarks of a bunch of crusty old men trying to win a popularity contest?

Case in point, people are bullying each other over an article about bullying!

And as usual all of the focus is placed on the victim. Why wasn't she stronger? What environment lead her to be so weak? What kind of negligent foster parents were not instilling the necessary self esteem in this girl that would give her the coping skills to withstand this barrage of sexually explicit verbal abuse every day for years?

Perhaps, and I know this is a radical concept, there was nothing wrong with that child. Maybe, just maybe, if the "asshole teenagers" had ever been exposed to a single adult who said, "You know, I'm having a thought about that guy over there, but maybe I should just shut the fuck up?" then they wouldn't have the abhorrent sense of entitlement to just spew banal thoughts that have no other purpose than to humiliate and subjugate and control another human being.

Where do we get that sense of entitlement? That almost compulsive need to comment and weigh-in and preach to people who never asked for our opinion and who we don't know all that well?

It comes from a dramatic miscalculation of our right to tell other people our truth.  Because I hate to break it to you, that's all you own.

Not the truth.

Your truth.

The older most people get the more wisdom they think they have. They start to say things like, "If I only knew then what I know now" like they have somehow achieved unique enlightenment just by virtue of having existed for a couple of decades doing the same bullshit minutiae that everyone else around them is doing.

Not me. The older I get the more I realize how little I know of other people's experiences and I have a humbling perspective on how little I will ever know in the ridiculously small blip my life is on the infinite spectrum of time.

I don't have all the truth. I will never have all the truth. So sometimes, I should just shut the fuck up.

And don't think I don't already sense the condescending chiding of my religious friends who will be the first to say, "We do have the Truth. Scripture. I know what's true, because the Bible tells me so."

While the Bible could indeed hold all the truth of human existence and how we should live our lives, you have not and will not decode that meaning with 100% accuracy ever in your lifetime no matter what your preacher tells you. If you don't believe that, then I invite you to pick up a history book and read all the abominable human treacheries that have been heaped on man in the name of "knowing the Truth". You are not better than those people, and frankly you are operating under the exact same dangerous delusions that allowed them to do what they did.

Furthermore, if you believe that God is "how marvelous" and "how wonderful" as the old hymn says, then you should accept that by virtue of something being wonderful YOU HAVE TO WONDER. To believe something is marvelous YOU HAVE TO MARVEL AT IT. You have to have humility and the decency of doubt. You have to try to live by broad principals, but not cleave to man-made dogma, ESPECIALLY when it injures other people.

A comment I got a couple of days ago on a blog I wrote over a year ago.

Also, if you disagree with me on a political issue or a lifestyle choice or my favorite color, and you have the audacity to tell me (or anyone else) that "come judgment day" I'm going to regret holding the beliefs I hold, let me explain the difference between you and me.

The absolute worst I will think about you is that you're wrong, that you are probably a miserable person, and that I feel sorry for you.

What you think about me is that I am going to burn in sulfuric fire for all eternity. My tortured screams piercing the acidic darkness, finding no hope, no sympathy, no mercy, and no comfort.

O_o

Really?!  What kind of a person is ok with the fact that they have the capacity to imagine that about another person, let alone SAY that to someone? I didn't rape your dog or kill your children or key your car, Guy. I had a thought you didn't like. Calm down.









It cannot be stressed enough how narrow your perspective is even if you live to be 110. Your life experience that shapes your world view is but an infinitesimal milispec in the unending sea of time that has made up existence thus far.

So that is exactly how much right you have to judge how people you have never met live their lives. And if you could even comprehend less than a milispec, THAT is how much right you have to abuse people around you in defense of your woefully uninformed opinion of a world you have experienced less than a fraction of.

So shut. The fuck. Up.

You saved yourself for marriage and then committed yourself to a member of the opposite sex? Great! Embrace your choice.

You think that republicans are bourgeois automatons that don't care about people who make less than Donald Trump? Brilliant. Vote Democrat.

You think that girl in the cubicle next to you has probably banged so many guys that her mother has terminal shame cancer? Ok. Keep concerning yourself with the genitals of strangers to distract you from your slow march towards inevitable death.

You read half of one news article on a publication's website that either 100% validates what you already believed or that you were 100% already against before you ever fired up your browser? Congratulations. You have mastered 4th grade reading comprehension.

I'm not saying don't have an opinion or express yourself. Far from it! I'm not even saying don't judge people. Think whatever you gotta think to sleep well at night. I certainly do both with relative frequency.

But if you get the feeling that you need to open your mouth and let loose a runny dump of your presumptions about a person or an issue or an event, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is there any hope, whatsoever, that by heaping your opinion on the person/people in question you may actually change their manner of thinking?

2. Is there anyway that the manner of delivery or vocabulary that you use will be injurious to another human being?

3. If so, has the person who could be injured done anything actually damaging to you or your family? Not hypothetically or philosophically, because that's bullshit. Actually robbed you or a loved one of something?

4. Are you comfortable being a person who injures other people for the sake of being right or exerting power over someone with whom you don't agree?

5. Are you comfortable with your children knowing you are that kind of person, and potentially probably acting just like you someday?

Answer Key

1. Yes = 0 No = 1
2. Yes = 1 No = 0
3. Yes = 0 No = 1
4. Yes = 0 No = 1
5. Yes = 0 No = 1

Check the answer key. If your score was greater than zero, then do yourself and all of us a favor.

JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP.

There is a reason that learning to gracefully, hell MERCIFULLY, just shut the fuck up sometimes is the takeaway of most elderly folk's reflection on a long life of dealing with a lot of different people.

In the pursuit of being right, of telling others how they are wrong, of beating people down until they know their role, of giving a commencement speech every time something that makes you even the least bit uncomfortable hoves into your field of vision, we are literally killing children.

Maybe. Just maybe. It would be better if we all just took a deep breath every now and then, picked our battles with some humility, and for the love of a peaceful Facebook feed and no more dead teenagers...

Just SHUT THE FUCK UP.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Take Your Bow

Number 12. I worshipped Deron Feldhaus.

It was Halloween. I sat at my desk in my gold and black basketball uniform, feeling a nauseating combination of sick and scared. The air was thick with the smell of floor polish and burnt heating coils from the recently ignited heating system. All around kids were either in dress down day clothes or in uniforms from sports teams or the cheerleading squad. There were only two sounds that could be heard.

The popular kids discussing the "cheer scale system" and the nervous shuffling feet of those who knew they would be its victim.

That afternoon there was going to be a pep rally. Every athlete for every sports team was going to be individually announced. It had even been rehearsed. There was an element to the festivities that hadn't been rehearsed, though, but was being widely discussed in every corner of Lexington Traditional Magnet School.

The popular students were going to institute a "cheer scale system", whereby everyone would grade how cool a student was by how loudly they applauded for them at the pep rally later. There were even lists filtering around and unspoken warnings about what would happen to those who did not comply.  Being one of the most bullied kids in the school, I wasn't privy to the discussions or the lists.

Only the dread.

Oblivious or otherwise indifferent teachers led their classes into the massive gymnasium that afternoon. Lexington Traditional Magnet School used to be a high school in Lexington, so the gym was particularly cavernous and looming compared to other middle schools.

As the festivities got underway, the "system" began to grind its cruel gears with even more brutality than I'm sure the elite kids could have hoped for. Up first, the cheerleading squad. Thunderous ovation for each bouncing girl, until a chubbier member walked up to take her bow.

A slow, smattering of patronizing golf claps echoed through the gym.

I broke out in a cold sweat.

"Please, God. Please just let this be over fast. Just let a few people clap for me."

The football team. The soccer team. The baseball team. Cross country.

Over and over, kid by kid, the merciless vetting continued.  In hindsight, one of the more disturbing aspects of this day was how painfully obvious it was what was going on, but not one adult tried to put an end to it.

By the time it was the girls basketball team's turn, the only thing keeping me in that gym was the weight in my stomach and being paralyzed with apprehension.

A tall popular set of twins' names were read.

Thunderous applause.

A blonde girl who was cousins with some of the more popular kids went up.

Polite applause.

A husky center walked up.

Golf claps.

My heart was racing. My palms were sweating.  I just wanted it to end.

"Ann Bransom. B-Team. Forward."

No one clapped.

I hung my head down and concentrated on the floor. Tears welled up in my eyes and fell no matter how hard I tried to will them back. The silence seemed to stretch on for hours, even though it was only a minute. I don't remember how long I had to stand there or even what happened the rest of the day.

I just remember the silence. And the shame.

That night, I told my mom I wasn't going trick or treating.

"I'm in seventh grade," I told her. "Trick or treating is for little kids."

That day, I gave up being a kid. I gave up athletics, which I had loved since first grade.

Worst of all?

I gave up taking a bow.

When I started running last year, it was 100% for myself.  With two kids, I desperately needed the me time. It was also nice to not have anyone depend on me.

If I flaked on a run?
Oh well. It's just me.
If I got injured?
No biggie. Just me.
Can't hit a distance milestone?
Who cares? No one. It's just me.

And if there's no one in the bleachers...there's no one to not clap.

It's a hard line to tow. On the one hand, if you're running to please other people, you'll never really enjoy it. Believe me, I've spent hundreds of hours in therapy trying to overcome my people pleasing tendencies.

On the other hand, if you have never fallen into the arms of the run community, you are missing out on some of the most healthy, positive, compassionate, nonjudgmental, healing folks I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Friends, I have a confession. I have been sick with dread over this half marathon. Not for the reasons that most people are. I was not afraid of falling and breaking a leg. I was not afraid of getting explosive runners trots and spray painting the Midway scenery. I was not even afraid of coming in dead last.

I was afraid I wouldn't finish, and then nobody would clap for me.

In the days and weeks leading up to yesterday's half, I have found myself right back in seventh grade, hearing the phantom whispers of people who not only didn't want to see me succeed. They were actually looking forward to seeing me fail.  Those voices have been battling with all the voices belonging to my new run friends, who have gotten me to this point over the last year.

I am so glad that the latter won out.

A gift from my sister when I started training. Worn during the race.

I have had so many texts and posts cheering me on leading up to yesterday morning. The folks who gave me my race packet even recognized me from LexRunLadies and offered their encouragement. The day of the race was even better. First I saw D.J. in the mile long porta-john line. I immediately felt better seeing a familiar face. Then I saw Krissie's sparkling face & giant shiny hand, and I knew that whatever was going to happen, I would be supported.

Katie caught me goofing off around Mile 11.

One of the benefits of being one of the slowest people out there is that you get to see all your favorite people jogging toward you after the turnabout. Nathan hollered out at me and gave me a thumbs up. Then I heard, "TEAM SHARK!!!" and saw Kelly and Brooke's excited faces. April gave me a clap as she passed, and I was able to pay it forward to LaTonya and Katie after I made the turn around. I passed Eric and the look I got told me he was proud, which meant a lot coming from him.  The LexRunLadies water station looked like they were about to burst into song, they were so happy to be out there cheering for everyone.  Our times spanned the gamut of under 2 to over 3 hours, but we were all out there together.

Team Shark sprinting it in with me.

Then there were the people who weren't even there, but were talking in my ear through RunMeter. Erin has no idea how much it helped knowing she was following my little dot and telling me how close I was to each mile marker. Glenn, Kristina, Alan, Stacy, and Jimmy made me feel like I had people carrying me mile after mile.

Then I got to the finish area. And there were my babies and my parents and my husband.

"Mommy! Mommy! Go Mommy!"

Then I see Brooke and Kelly. Team Shark. They came back to run it in with me.

Then all the LexRunLadies and LexRunDudes were at the finish line for big hugs.

Team Shark!

Then holy crap. The phone.

Bing. Bing. Bing.

I had over 100 tweets, FB likes, comments, and text messages yesterday from people congratulating me.

What my mom posted on my Facebook wall.

I've spent 18 years believing I'm not worthy of praise. Of affirmation. Of friendship.

I've got 99 problems, but a half marathon ain't one.

Not worthy of taking a bow.

Yesterday I got a standing ovation.

I'm not sure I'll ever be good at taking a compliment. Or taking credit for my accomplishments. And I'll probably never not be devastated by being told I've failed at something. Or being snubbed by people who just don't get me.

But I ran a half marathon.

Dammit, I ran a half marathon.

I'm going to take my bow.

"It" doesn't get better. YOU get better.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Crowdfunding Will Set Us Free!

Limited edition Rideout Photography art print of piano keys
Photo courtesy of Rideout Photography. Donate here for a limited edition print.

 This week's new Oatmeal comic "The state of the music industry"  could not have come at a better time. It perfectly (and of course hilariously) portrays the evolution of how musicians, and frankly any artist, has had to make money over the last twenty or thirty years.

"A long time ago" you had to pay an arm and a leg to the large corporations that stood between the artist and the fan for CDs, merchandise, and concert tickets.

Then in the late 90's the Internet decided to get it horribly wrong. With Napster and other Napsterish services, the fan got the art, but neither the artist nor the corporations and the many people they employ got anything.

Now, we are getting better, though we still have a host of middlemen we have to go through to get the art and music we want. They are, however, notably less expensive middlemen (e.g. Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, etc.)

Finally, we look to the future, where hopefully the distance between the fan and his or her wallet and the artist and his or her work will be imperceptible.

Crowdfunding is a good start. Crowdfunding will set us free.

Crowdfunding is hardly new; both IndieGoGo and Kickstarter were founded in 2008. However, this past year has sparked a huge rise in the use of crowdfunding platforms. This is largely due to some major campaigns hitting mainstream news. The campaign that raised over $700,000 for the bullied bus monitor Karen Klein was raised on IndieGoGo.  Penny Arcade is revolutionizing the model for monetization of web comics over on KickStarter.

It is convenient that The Oatmeal put out his comic about the evolving relationship between artists and fans as I was turning this blog over in my mind, because he is who introduced me to crowdfunding.

I know. I live under a rock.

After the Oatmeal's crowdfunding phenom, and my subsequent IndieGoGo campaign's success, I was hooked on this concept. I honestly did not believe that my first campaign would be successful, because, unlike the Oatmeal, I don't have 15,000 fans that want to give me money so I can keep being awesome. What I learned, though, is that you don't have to.  People just have to believe in what you are doing, what you are doing has to be relevant, and people need to feel like they are getting something out of supporting you.

When artists, charities, inventors, and start ups get their funding directly from the people who want to support them or the product they are offering, everybody wins.  Contributors get to be on the front end of the creative funnel, instead of waiting for the product to shoot out the other end, and creators get to connect directly with their fanbase and give back to the people who keep them in food and clothing through incentives and perks.

If you see a product that looks awesome, but needs help getting off the ground or an artist or musician you love needs funding for their next project or album, I strongly encourage you to give. Wouldn't you rather pay for the things you want in the beginning, than pay extra at the end, because the entrepreneur or artist had to go to a bank to get a high interest loan?  Or, worse. You don't get to enjoy the art, music, and technology you love, because the people who produce them couldn't stay on their feet? How awesome would a world be where we cut out the middle man and support the people who make stuff we like directly?

I'll give you a great place to start.

When my buddy Alan approached me and said that he wanted some help re-branding his photography business, he had one major problem that no amount of marketing was going to help.

Last year, all of  Rideout Photography's equipment was stolen.  $6,000 and their livelihood gone in one night.

In addition to being two of the most incredible photographers, Alan and his partner and wife Kristina happen to be very dear friends of mine.  Kristina is my running buddy and Alan is my framer extraordinaire.  So I got to thinking.  If I can raise $2,500 to stick it to an attorney who I've never met, surely we can raise enough money to get Rideout Photography back in business here in Lexington, where you can't shake a virtual stick without hitting a Facebook album or Flickr account containing a portrait, family photo, or other digital memory that would not have been possible without this amazing pair of people.

So that is exactly what we are going to do.

Second Shot - Cameras for a Cause

This campaign is to raise money to replace Rideout Photography's stolen equipment. Of course, being the people they are, Alan and Kristina refused to take help without paying some of it forward to other young photographers just starting out.  So 5% of all proceeds raised will go to the University of Kentucky Photography Department.

In addition to the online campaign, all donors and local art fans are invited to attend a pop-up gallery event on the first night of Lexington's fall gallery hop.  September 21st, from 6-8pm at a yet to be determined location, every single online donor will have an incredible portrait shot by Rideout Photography.  There will also be a live photography project taking place in which guests are encouraged to participate.  Can't give out too many details on it right now, but holy crap, it is going to be awesome.

Donors can get all kinds of amazing perks and swag depending on how much they donate.  But more important than what we get by supporting the Rideouts right now is what we get down the road.  Please peruse their album below and tell me we don't need more of this art here in Kentucky.


Seriously.  And all of these images are from the perk gallery and are being made available as limited edition prints to donors. So go donate!!

Thank you so much to the people who have already donated and shared via social media.  We have a ways to go, so let's roll up our sleeves and make this happen for this incredible couple.

What You Can Do to Help

  1. Donate to the campaign
  2. Share the campaign on Twitter, FB, and Google+
  3. Add a campaign widget to your blog or website
  4. "Like" the Second Shot Facebook Page
  5. RSVP to the Pop-up Gallery Event co-hosted by Ace Weekly
  6. Follow Rideout Photography on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest
  7. Visit Rideout's website and enjoy!
For more information on this campaign, see my "Second Shot - Cameras for a Cause" Campaign cover story in this week's Ace Weekly magazine.  For more information on crowdfunding in Lexington, KY see this article in the same Ace Weekly edition. Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Celebrating One Year of Running and a Shark Deficit

Photo by hermanusbackpackers

I am a closet co-sleeper. In fact, I am co-sleeping against my will. So I am less of a closet co-sleeper and more just a prisoner of co-sleeping. A POCS. Hannah Jane will be 3 this Saturday, and the kid has been sleeping in our bed since she was 6 months old.

TWO AND A HALF YEARS OF BEING KICKED EVERY 15 MINUTES.

It started out of desperation. We needed sleep. Sleep deprivation was ruining our marriage and, frankly, robbing us of the joys of parenting. So we started letting her sleep in our bed.

She just never left.

Hannah is finally at the age where you can BEGIN to reason with her. So I am trying with all my might to reason, beg, and bribe this leech out of my bed. Unfortunately, with the ability to reason, also comes the ability to exaggerate, lie, and have irrational fears. This led to the following conversation taking place a couple of nights ago:

Me: "Why won't you sleep in your own room?"
HJ:  "There's sharks in there."
Me: "There are no sharks in there. If you sleep in there 3 nights in a row, Mommy will take you to the toy store and buy you anything you want."
HJ:  "Anything?"
Me: "Anything you want."
HJ: "...I want a shark."

Don't be fooled. This is not the false logic of a toddler. This is the thinking of an evil genius.

If she gets a shark....

she can put it in her room....

and then....

there really will be a shark in her room...

and then she can sleep with mommy and daddy.....

FOREVER.

This is how entire civilizations are conquered. It's also how I got fat.  I am the queen of buying myself sharks. We like to think that our excuses are anything but excuses. We want them to be valid reasons.

They're not.

Excuses are just sharks of our own creation that we use to terrify ourselves into not exploring the depths of our potential.

Today is my first Runniversary. One year of running. When I began this journey a year ago, I couldn't even walk for 30 minutes. Now, I can run 10 miles. I've lost 61 pounds, my blood pressure is low, my resting heart rate is in the 40s, and I feel great. I can keep up with my two crazy kids, I've made amazing new friends, and I can say with conviction that fitness is now my lifestyle, not something I see other people doing and wish I could do. What is the best thing about getting addicted to running?

Running has drained my shark tank.

It's very hard for me to cling to excuses anymore. You can't have experienced the evolution of running, and then tell yourself with a straight face that you aren't capable of something. That doesn't mean that you are unrealistic. Just as I know I can't go out and run a marathon tomorrow, I also know that I can't quit my job and start writing full time tomorrow.  It just means that if writing full time is what I want to do, I know that with time and patience and hard work, I can do it. 

Or learn a new language.
Or become a black belt.
Or demand love and respect from people in my life.
Or defriend people who are toxic.

When you've felt your muscles groaning, sweat pouring down your face, your lungs expanding to their hilt, your heart pumping as hard as it can, the thrill of a PR, and that moment when you can stop running, because you've just crossed the finish line and friends are cheering you on, you become your own super hero. A super hero that wrestles sharks.

350 Miles.
80 Hours.
Over 100 runs.

1 Year of Running.

Can't wait for the next 1,000 miles.

Let's do this.

In celebration of my Runniversary, I will be heading out to the weekly run at West Sixth Brewing Company tonight at 6pm. What better way to celebrate a year worth of running, than with 3 miles and a free pretzel? And of course beer. If you are one of the many people who have encouraged me, cheered for me, and talked badly to me when I needed it this year, please come up, and say hi, so I can thank you.  And so you can sign my Runniversary shirt! :)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Should You Be Arguing Against Gay Marriage: A Helpful Chart

This week the gay marriage debate has, once again, been thrust into the media forefront. Oddly, this time around, by chicken.

While I'm sure that many people expect me to write a long, well-thought-out blog post about Chick-Fil-A and their latest shenanigans, the truth is...

I just don't have the energy.

I have already written about the gay marriage debate, and my views on whether or not Christians should be pro gay marriage or against. The day I posted it was mentally exhausting. I lost my shit in my own comments section and have since been chastised for it. My only defense is that when I talk about gay marriage, it is not some philosophical discussion being held at Bible study in someone's basement filled with like-minded people, or from the safe anonymity of the local paper's online comments section.

No, when I talk about the rights of gay people to get married, it is with actual people in mind. Real names and faces. Loved ones. People I care deeply about and for whom I have tremendous respect.

So, yeah.

I get heated.

I post too much about the subject.

That's what you do when you are passionately defending real people, not just abstract opinions.

I have other stuff going on in my life. Personal struggles that need attending.  I am also super busy at work, which is a good problem to have.  All that said, I have had raging insomnia the last few weeks and last night was kept awake by nightmares of cows and Muppets and Dan Cathy.

So, for now at least, I do need an outlet for my anger over the issue and a way to have the arguments that need to be had, without taking time away from my work and my life.  So I've done what any obsessive compulsive person would do.

I've made a helpful chart.

For the foreseeable future, anyone who wants to debate me on or shame me over the gay marriage debate will simply be referred to "The Chart".  This includes my gay friends who think I don't talk about it enough and my fellow Christians and extended family members who think I am going to burn in hell.

If you are like me and can't believe we are actually having this debate in the year 2012 and are sick and tired of talking about it, but afraid of enabling this covert bigotry to continue by becoming cynical on the matter, feel free to also refer others to "The Chart."

I am now going to spend the remainder of my lunch break exercising my God-given right to read articles about men who dress up as goats, and stuff my face with fast food that is politics-free.




Thursday, July 19, 2012

Adventures in the First Amendment and Copyrights: Oatmeal Fans Dish Out One More Bowl of FU

Last night all the LLB's Delicious Oatmeal that Might Have Been money FINALLY cleared my account. The final amount donated was an astonishing $2500 by 113 funders. Squeeeeeee!!! :D


This is the part where most people who help raise money for charity get to talk about the AWESOME charities that will get the money that so many AWESOME people donated (and maybe share some of their reasons for donating).

Alas, this was no ordinary charitable fundraiser. Unlike most fundraisers, this fundraiser has a villain. And this villain's mere existence and thinly veiled threats have forced me to begin this blog with something far less moving, and, frankly, downright sinister.

I must begin this blog with math.

Now if you were to go to a charity bake sale, you might assume (or not) that some of the money you are paying for Miss Edna's scrumptious Macadamia Nut Snickermunchies would not go to Our Lady of Faith's Orphans With Acne Benefit Fund, but rather to pay for the table and chair rentals, the tent, the porta john for that lactose intolerant alter boy's ill advised consumption of Sister Gertrude's tres leches cake, and other various and sundry overhead expenses. You would assume this, because, presumably, you are not a moron.

Charles Carreon still thinks you are a moron.

So for Charles Carreon's sake, who I'm sure will take credit for the money raised (even though half of it went to the organization that squished him like a sickly water bug), let's breakdown exactly where every last red cent went.



Firstly, the money you raise on IndieGoGo comes from two separate sources: credit cards/bank transfers or PayPal.

Delicious Oatmeal raised $1280 in CC payments. The 9% IndieGoGo fee was $115.20, credit card processing was $38.40, then (because we raised more than the $1000 goal) we got a 5% rebate of $64.

So, we netted $1190.40 from CC/Bank donations.

Now PayPal.

Gross PayPal donations were $1220. IndieGoGo 9% was $109.80, PayPal processing was $36.60, and the 5% IndieGoGo rebate was $61.00.

We netted $1134.60 from PayPal donations.

Add those amounts together and $2325 of the $2500 made it to the charities. $1162.50 each. Although, for the purposes of being obnoxiously thorough, Americans for the Arts got an additional $.50, because they only accept whole dollar amounts. I'm sure Charles will nail me on that one.







(Aside: Every time more than 3 numbers are involved in an equation, an English major hurls themselves off a bridge.  I narrowly escaped this time.)

How would you like it if every time you donated money, you had to have all of that spelled out for you in order to donate? Obviously, that information should be made easily accessible by any donor, which it is on every page of IndieGoGo. But what if you had to have it shoved down your gullet before every donation?

This is what Charles Carreon claims he wants.

Worse, Charles Carreon wants you to only be allowed to donate if you are doing it for the right reasons. In his view, the right reasons cannot include bitchiness, vindictiveness, pettiness, humor, mockery, satire, publicity, or anything that doesn't make him feel warm and fuzzy inside (<---Read his real reason for suing).

Well, Mr. Carreon, the Internet has spoken. And it is a resounding "fuck off."

Some comments from Delicious Oatmeal:
ozzlander88 said 16 days ago
Yay free speach…. boo asshats
Will said 16 days ago
Made on behalf of Tara Carreon, for hours and hours of entertainment.
rus.sundholm said 16 days ago
Anything that is a stick in they eye of CC is alright by me.
Deborah said 17 days ago
Love to help show that I can donate money on my own behalf and to help the important work of the EFF and freedom of speech

It is none of your business why anyone donates to any charity. It is also not your job to "help" us  assess the legitimacy of charities. We are capable of doing that, without your help. I'm also waiting with bated breath for your donation of the additional $175 you find so egregious to pay for credit card processing and the use of IndieGoGo's web platform. You may send it PayPal to design at annbransom.com. Just make sure to add a little extra for good measure, because like IndieGoGo AND you AND everyone else, PayPal doesn't work for free.

But here is something you can have for free.

Some excellent advice.

If you want people to believe you don't care what they think about you, then don't post their "hate" mail in your own museum of narcissism. If you believe in the First Amendment, don't threaten to sue satirists and then act surprised when they don't sit by and eat crow. If you don't want people to think you are a poisonous douche shrub, then don't liken people criticizing you to the horror of rape. Most importantly, if you don't like people shining a light on your bad behavior, then STOP BEHAVING BADLY.

We are waiting, Sir.

Tara is still jawing on Nader Library. Oatmeal is still writing hilarious comics. Charles Carreon still thinks he's a real attorney. People continue to fight against him, even when the Internet has moved on to the next sparkly object that's caught her fickle eye. But at least in this battle against censorship, four charities got to benefit. Matthew Inman raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars for the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. We mighty Oatmeal fans raised $2500 for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Americans for the Arts.

Thank you so much to everyone who donated. Please remember to keep the spirit of charity and the war on censorship going.

Even when it's not hilarious.

Holding the receipts for EFF and AFTA Donations. Smiling the smile of the just. Hi, Tara!! :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Running 10 Miles and Other Symptoms of Mental Illness

Yes. I run in these.

This time last year, I was 2 weeks post partum, sitting at my kitchen table, bawling into a bowl of my Vietnamese mother-in-law's homemade pho. I was 206 lbs, swollen in places I didn't even know could retain fluid, and feeling vaguely like a walrus an hour after Thanksgiving dinner.

I was not a happy walrus.

As my MIL started lecturing me about crying, in Vietnamese (at least, I think that is what she was lecturing me about), I tried to pinpoint exactly what I was crying about. This is not an easy task in the throes of post partum blues and sleep deprivation that would make a Navy Seal feel sorry for you. I managed to come up with an answer, though.

My life required more energy than my body was able to give it.

Life altering decisions made in moments of utter personal strife should be the first red flag that one is embarking down a path to insanity. Fast forward to this past Sunday, when the levels of insanity I have reached since those steamy, tearful moments a year ago in my kitchen came into 20/20 focus.

I ran 10 miles. Double digits.

Several people have now asked me what it feels like to run 10 miles. I think it would be easier to describe what it doesn't feel like. Emotions run the gamut in a spectacular pendulum between a sensation of actual flight and a sensation of impending death. Most people tell me I am crazy for running at all, much less 10 miles. Crazy is probably an understatement.

I have a lot of experience with the first 8 miles.  Here's what those are like.

Mile 1 - Pantophobia
(Fear of EVERYTHING.)

The first mile is the most terrifying. Every run is different, some good, some bad, and some REALLY bad. The first mile gives me the time and creaky joints to consider just how bad it might get. Is this going to be the run I get hit by a car? Break a bone? Get sudden, explosive runner's diarrhea and poop my pants?

The first mile is the time I fear ALL THE THINGS.

Mile 2 -Clinical Depression 
(Characterized primarily by regret.)

Mile 2 is the mortal mile. My heart has reached the uncomfortable "this sucks so bad" target range, I'm far enough away from my car/house that it will be devastating to do the walk of shame back, and an overwhelming amount of regret floods my body.

Why running?
Why couldn't I have taken up darts?
Or knitting?
Why couldn't I just be happy fat?

Mile 2 is when I regret every ounce of ranch dressing I've ever eaten, and pray that the car I was afraid of hitting me during the first mile is just around the next corner.

Mile 3- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
(Check everything. Now do it again.)

Mile 3 is the moment when I know if I make it just one more mile, I'll have covered a respectable distance. The 5K. Well...3.1 miles. That extra .1 is important, because this is when ALL THE NUMBERS MATTER.

Heart rate. Miles per hour. Minutes per mile. Time. Distance. Song track.

I start checking and rechecking, because it gives me hope that if I can just finish this third mile then even if I have to quit, I could still provide quantifiable data that I didn't waste my time.

Mile 4 -Bipolar Disorder 
(Specifically huge mood swings & racing thoughts.)

Mile 4 is the distance decider. By the end of mile 4, I'm either going be convinced that I am totally done and will probably never run again, or I am convinced I could run another 20 miles. Additionally, I am either completely depressed over my lack of stamina, or over the moon with how far I've come physically and how epically life changing this run is going to be.  In order to stay in the game, I have to try and clear my mind.  This becomes difficult, when my mind goes something like this:

"Holy crap, my heart is going to explode.  I wonder what my heart looks like right now.  OMG, that is disgusting.  Why do I think things like that?  Jeffrey Dahmer thought things like that.  I wish they'd replay that special with Jeffrey Dahmer on MSNBC.  Is NBC a conservative station or a liberal channel?  I can't remember.  Speaking of liberal, I wish I would have applied that anti-chafing cream a little more liberally.  Chafe is a funny word.  I wonder what fingers I use to type the word chafe..."

Mile 5 - Depersonal Disorder 
(Who is that chubby girl running way down there?)

Mile 5 is when whatever fluid is cushioning my brain gets siphoned off to be used in some other shrieking organ, and my muscles start to tear away from my soul.  This is when I am no longer actually in my body, but hovering above myself somewhere thinking what a moron that girl is for running this long, but also kind of enjoying whatever song she happens to be listening to.  I am vaguely aware that she started running for a reason, but at this point I am not sure if the girl I am seeing is running from a psychopath or if SHE is indeed the psychopath who believes she is possessed by a Wendigo and has to run until her feet are no longer on fire.  Either way, it's of little consequence, because there is nothing I can do to stop her.

Mile 6 -Psychosis
(Why else would you run longer than an hour?)

For most runners, six miles is generally what we can run in an hour.  So if I'm on mile 6, it means that I have or intend to run MORE than an hour. 

Imagine your favorite kind of cake (or pie, if you prefer, but if you do, know that many of these mental illnesses apply to you and you should seek help).  Now imagine that you are laying in a pile of marshmallows with nothing but a plate and fork and a gigantic piece of that cake.  Now imagine that you taste that first sweet, sticky bite and it is more than you could have even hoped for in terms of taste and texture and satisfaction.

Now imagine the total opposite of that feeling.

That is what running more than an hour actually feels like.

Our brain, believing that we are being run down by, assumably, a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex, convinces us that we are instead eating that cake, just to give us the will to keep going. There is absolutely no other way to explain why an otherwise fairly rational person would run more than 60 minutes.

Mile 7 - Delusional disorder 
(Yeah, I could totally run an Ironman. I'm kind of a big deal.)

Once I reach mile 7, I know I am more than halfway to half marathon distance.  This is about the time when delusional disorder sets in, and I become completely intolerable to be around.  This can be summed up in a variety of behaviors I may begin engaging in, including, but not limited to:

  1. Singing loudly (because I start believing I am a better singer than Bette Midler)
  2. Smiling idiotically (because I am practicing my finish line face for the Ironman I will no doubt be winning next week)
  3. Telling terrible jokes (because I am now funnier than Russell Brand)
  4. Yelling "Love you!" at anyone I pass (because I am too awesome for this to result in a restraining order)

Mile 8 -Grief 
(Over the death of reason.)

The eighth mile is when negotiation starts, being one of several stages of grief.

If I can just make it to that tree, please let me stop running.

I will never eat white bread again, if I can just stop running.

I will not sleep in this Sunday, if please, God, you will just strike me dead right now so I can stop running.

I also experience the other stages of grief in rapid succession: pain (obviously), denial that I have actually run this far and certainty that I am about to wake up and be disappointed, anger that someone who loves me didn't stop me from pursuing this insane hobby, and, finally, acceptance that I will probably, thank God, be dead in the next 10 minutes.

~~~

This brings me to the two new miles.  The last miles I had to conquer Sunday to achieve the coveted double digit runner status.

Mile 9 -Disassociative Identity Disorder 
(All of my personalities running in tandem and losing track of time.)

I'm not sure what happened during mile 9, because I completely blacked out when I did so.  Krissie was with me, so maybe she can shed some light on what happened during mile 9, but until then I am left to assume that my personality traits fragmented into several individuals who, as a group, were able to relay through this segment of psychotic distance together.

Mile 10 - Euphoric Mania
(I'm the queen of the worrrrrrrrrld!)

Mile 10 is when I fully appreciated and enjoyed the hilariousness of my jello legs, the sweat pouring down my cleavage, the heat embedded in the apples of my cheeks, and the laughter of my fellow runner.  I could recognize the worth in all those things for one reason.

IT WAS ALMOST OVER.

Me after 10 miles of running.  Like a crazy person.

Mile 11+  - The Phantom Miles 
(The miles you run after you stop running, otherwise known as mental stability.)

Naturally, if the above was not hyperbole, no one would run 10 miles more than once.  Furthermore, no one would go on to run half marathons, full marathons, ultra marathons, Ironmen, etc.

So why do people do this running thing? Why do we keep running through shin splints, sore knees, upset digestive tracks, burning lungs, and side cramps?

We do it for the phantom miles. The miles you run after you stop running.

That's me running 10 miles of the Run The Bluegrass course on the far left.
Photo stolen from Krissie Bentley. Check out her blog. You'll thank me.


When you are running through the pain and the exhilaration and all the endorphins coursing through your veins, you are truly alive. More alive than you are at rest. So when you consider all the things that happen when you are not running, they become so much more precious and vibrant.  That euphoria carries over, not just in the car ride home from the trail (although, I did spend much of that twenty minutes screaming "WOOOOOOHOOOOOOO!!!!!!" at the tops of my burning lungs).

You carry it with you everywhere.  You start to see everything through those hypersensitive lenses that 175 beats per minute give you.

Today, 48 hours later, my body feels like I have been wrecked by a train.

But you know what?

I can't wait to run another 10.