Coffee with a Side of Blackmail

sextortion ransom note
Copyright : iqoncept

My morning was hijacked by an email.

I was poking through my spam folder when I saw a message that appeared to be from myself but with a different email address. It began like this:

I do know @#$$%% is your passphrases. Lets get directly to purpose. No person has compensated me to investigate about you. You do not know me… 

I replaced the “passphrase” with gobbledygook here, but in the actual email, it was a password I had used in the past. My hackles went up, despite the horrendous grammar (or maybe because of it). The message was long, but the gist was they had downloaded all my contacts, and if I didn’t send them $997 in bitcoin, they would send everyone a video (they’d hacked into my camera) of me watching porn. Aside from my email address and the password, there was no specific information that indicated they knew anything about me. Ridiculous, right? Except…

I have watched internet porn before.

Just like most people probably have, at least once. My heart began hammering in my chest. I tried to laugh it off, but I couldn’t focus on my work. My overactive imagination kept conjuring up what it would feel like if my entire contacts list received that kind of video, how it could terrorize my family, my kids, even ruin my career. Then, I began to get angry. How dare this person hijack my brain with fear, distracting me so that a morning I planned to spend catching up on work was spent rereading the same paragraph over and over because I couldn’t concentrate. How dare they pray on people this way. It’s bullshit, and I’m not putting up with it.

I told Jason, you know, just in case it came to fruition, so he would be prepared. Plus, it always makes me feel less like the world is ending when I share, especially since he didn’t think it was any big deal. Luckily, despite what the malicious message implied, the notion of my watching porn has no chance of ruining my relationship. I went for a run, I calmed down. I feel better about it now.

I’m not the only one getting threatening spam.

I can’t help but think about the people who might be taken in by this, might actually send the money, or might not, but they live in fear of their worst, most embarrassing nightmare coming true. I’m mostly angry at the perpetrator, but part of the reason crap like this even has a chance of working is how horrified we all are that people might actually find out we like sex, that we might like to get creative with it sometimes, do something unconventional (not that watching porn is, at all, unconventional.)

Now that I am done being scared and pissed off, I’m viewing it as a warning shot — to be careful online and to teach my kids to be the same. I am, right now in my head, composing a conversation I need to have with them about suspicious messages and how to handle them, (i.e., tell me so I can help and/or track down and beat the shit out of anyone stalking and scaring my kids.)

It’s less embarrassing when you share.

I debated whether or not to share this story here. It’s embarrassing, but considering how many people watch porn, it’s also ridiculous to be embarrassed about it. Telling you myself, instead of waiting for someone else to out me allows me to be in control, to take back the power that internet trolls are trying to steal for their own gain.

I know there are other people out there who’ve gotten these messages — people who feel scared, annoyed, angry, embarrassed. And when we keep these terrifying situations to ourselves, it eats at us and grows larger and heavier. We lose to the internet terrorists who want us to be scared enough to succumb to their wishes or at least live in fear for a while.

But when we are honest about who were are, when we stand on the mountain and shout, “Yes, I’ve watched internet porn before. So what?” When we let all of our skeletons out of the closet to dance around in broad daylight, no one can impose a fear hold on us. Here’s the other thing you find out when you let out gossipy truths about yourself….in actuality, no one really cares all that much.

I’m a Complex Fellow, Unlikely to do Anything Twice

Little girl trying mom's lipstick. Growing up concept
Copyright: Alina Demidenko

When we come home from vacation, I am fifty percent likely to unpack right away, put everything where it goes and start a load of laundry. The other fifty percent…I leave my bag on the floor of the bedroom for a week and a half where I paw through it every time I need something. Either thing is just as possible.

I am wildly inconsistent about most things. (I can’t say “all things” because I’m not even consistent at being inconsistent.) I’m obsessed with Facebook until I decide I hate it and ignore it for three weeks. I exercise regularly until I decide life is too short to spend it working out and my running shoes start to grow cobwebs. I like routine very much until I start to get bored and want something novel until I feel overwhelmed and crave routine again.

Jason says I’m a complex person. I’m starting to think this isn’t a compliment. It’s confusing, even for me. Especially when I plan something when I’m in “do all the things, be with all the people!” mode but the actual plans fall in a “people suck, I don’t like to shower phase.”

My mother-in-law once asked me if I liked to shop, which seems like a simple enough question. My answer (Yes, when I’m in the mood to, but a lot of times not because of capitalist bullshit, you know, and it can be soothing to wander through a store but stressful when you feel you just HAVE to get a birthday present for someone and it can be overwhelming when you can’t decide what to buy and just end up putting everything you picked out back and leave the store in tears.) is stupidly complicating.

Today I think, You know what’s wrong with me? I need to be more social. Tomorrow it’ll be, You know what my problem is? I don’t have enough alone time. I need to be busier; I’m bored. I’m overwhelmed; I need more downtime. Like seriously, could I land at just one end of the spectrum of a problem just once? Like for more than a few days at a time?

How is it that I can be equal parts people-pleaser and stubborn, “You’re not the boss of me, I don’t have to if I don’t want to even if I know it’s good for me”? How can I have BOTH of those feelings inside me simultaneously?

I need every day to be a choose your own adventure book, so I can adjust my life on a dime. Do you, A, go to the meeting? B, take a nap? C, drive to Mexico? Take a random day like next Tuesday, and given the option, I might pick any one of those. You can’t predict it. More importantly, I can’t predict it.

I’m going to go upstairs and read now or maybe play Rocket League badly with my family. Or perhaps I’ll invent a time machine so I can go back and talk to Einstein about the theory of relativity and hope that, in person, he can explain it to me. Really, any of that’s pretty likely.

When I Grow Up…

Start up
photo credit: Stock Photo, copyright, yarruta 

When I was a kid, adults always asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew the answer was supposed to be a paying gig, so I shrugged my shoulders noncommittally and hoped they’d just move on. The truth was, I didn’t want to be anything when I grew up, at least nothing that qualified as a valid profession. After all, no one was going to pay me to make up dances in my living room at my own pace and only when I felt like it.

As far as I could see, being an adult sucked. They got up and went to work eight or nine hours a day, got only two weeks vacation and didn’t even get summers off. They were obligated to stay at their place of business until quitting time. They paid bills and did responsible things like washing dishes, mowing the lawn and paying for car insurance.  Screw that, I thought as I spent long summer days roller skating up and down our steep neighborhood driveways with friends or sprawled across my bed with a book by myself.

I liked to make up stories. I wrote down the rambling thoughts in my head in the form of poetry or barely-legible prose. Not a practical career choice, that of a writer — may as well decide I’m going to be heavyweight champion of the world. NOTHING I liked to do was marketable.

I went to high school with a lot of high-achieving teenagers, and in college, my friends found their places. They were pre-med, pre-law, civil engineering. Being a writer didn’t fit in with my family culture nor my school cohort unless of course, I could make myself a noteworthy best-selling author. No pressure. So I spent most of my college years making out with boys and figuring out where I could get my hands on some beer. I graduated from college because that’s what was expected and because I was tired of people telling me what to do.

I didn’t know there were other roads to adulthood, and indeed, there weren’t as many options as our kids thankfully have today. There are young entrepreneurship programs now that have kids developing their own marketable products while still in high school, for example. That’s awesome, but here’s another thing to think about:

What if we widened the definition of “successful?” We heap praise on the ambitious, but is being content where you are such a bad thing? Is wanting “just enough” really worse than aiming for the stars? Why did I have it in my head anything less than “best-selling” was a failure? Why wasn’t “pretty good writer who ekes out a living” a viable option if it made me happy?

I’d like to see us continue to support the kids and young adults who have ideas and goals and want to run with them to the top, make all the money and/or change the world. But let’s also remember it takes more than wild idealism to make the world go around. Some of us don’t want to be millionaires or develop the next life-altering piece of technology. Some of us don’t want to be all-star athletes or biomedical engineers. Some of us just want to be allowed to do our art, share it with people, and be left alone.

 

 

That April Person is AMAZING

IMG_5584
April the awesome, performing yoga in her game room
IMG_8378
April the slug, taking a nap in the middle of a weekday

I’m in one of those slug phases, where I can get distracted from work tasks by just about anything. Today, this led me to scrolling through my own Facebook page. I relived summer vacations with the kids, enjoyed my photos of hikes, re-read some articles I posted and loved them all over again. Several hours went by. I got sucked in.

As I scrolled, though, I thought wow, this person has a cool life! She hikes, she goes on great family vacations, she writes, she does fun things with friends and family, she has thoughtful sociopolitical opinions. Who the hell is this person?

I bet SHE doesn’t get sucked into Facebook for hours at a time. I bet SHE never yells at her kids or feels bored and unfulfilled. I bet SHE never spends a whole weekend on the couch binge-reading the entire Divergent series and ignoring everyone.

Oh, wait…she does. She has kids who are creative, active and funny….and also sometimes inconsiderate, out-of-control and irritating. She has a spouse who is warm, witty and introspective, who also is obsessed with a video game and doesn’t hear the kids when they’re talking to him. She is creative, kind and transparent and also, sometimes a slug that doesn’t accomplish anything she set out to do that day.

So folks, the lesson here: social media is just the cover photo of the very long, winding, complex novels we humans are. There are no bad guys, no good guys, just people, doing their best, being awesome sometimes and sometimes fucking things up. We all do it; cut yourself some slack. And don’t judge.

Where Did 10,000 Steps Come From?

clique-images-315489-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Clique Images on Unsplash

Ten thousand steps. That’s how many we’re supposed to get. But did you come across that article about bodybuilders who conserve their energy all day (take the elevator, drive the car to the mailbox) so they have plenty of fuel for their high-intensity workouts? Did you read that bit about high-intensity exercise being bad for your joints? Did you see the one that said weight-bearing exercise is optimal for bone health? It’s a wonder we don’t all throw our hands up, go home to binge-watch Game of Thrones and eat ho-hos. (What are ho-hos, anyway? I’ve never had one, but they seem to be the ambassadors of junk food.)

According to one Guardian article, the ten thousand steps thing was originally an arbitrary figure used by a Japanese marketing campaign to promote the first wearable fitness device in the mid-sixties. The “research” was based on the fact that most Japanese citizens took 3,500 to 5,000 steps daily, so 10,000 seemed a good round number to shoot for.

Since then, there have been more robust studies about step count. Indeed, taking 10,000 steps versus 5,000 per day is correlated with a decreased risk of heart disease amongst other morbidities. But what about 6,000 steps? Most studies to date only compare 5,000 versus 10,000.  Maybe 6,000 steps would be enough to improve some people’s health. This is important because telling people who are basically sedentary they have to take 10,000 a day or die of heart failure trying is intimidating. Why try? ‘Might as well fire up Game of Thrones and order pizza. More realistic goals might be more successful.

Another thing these step studies don’t take into account is intensity. A running stride is generally longer than a walking stride and takes more energy per stride. This means 10,000 running steps takes more energy than 10,000 walking steps, but you didn’t need science to tell you that; your burning lungs give you all the info you need on that one. What if your steps are uphill versus on a flat surface? That takes more energy too. The 10,000 steps target is more about marketing gadgets than a useful application of hard science.

Speaking of hard science, a recent Scientific American article referenced a study of our early human ancestors which found they (and we) need exercise to stay healthy, unlike our ape predecessors. They estimated how far early hominins traveled in an average day, and guess what they came up with? At least 10,000 steps or approximately five miles per day. This is largely based on observations of modern, hunter-gatherer societies in Tanzania.

Modern innovation has allowed us humans to be lazier. And it’s in our nature to rest when we are able. It’s part of what got us this far — the ability to rest when we could and conserve energy for the next hunting or gathering session. Now that we aren’t motivated to work hard by the sheer need to survive, we sit around a lot more.  Our bodies have evolved to need exercise, however, so in modern times, we are healthier when we make a concerted effort to get it. Ten thousand steps, however, which may be an admirable goal in some situations, is a gross oversimplification and overgeneralization of what our bodies need. In those hunter-gatherer groups in Tanzania, there are lessons for us beyond mileage and steps:

Beyond the copious amounts of exercise and whole-food diets, daily life for these cultures is full of fresh air, friendships and families. Egalitarianism is the rule, and economic inequality is low. We do not know exactly how these factors affect the health of hunter-gatherers, but we know their absence contributes to chronic stress in the developed world, which promotes…disease. (Pontzer, 2019).

It’s not useful to develop specific requirements (10,000 steps) and then apply them to every human on the planet. We are more variable as individuals than that, but we can make some generalizations that apply to most people. As a whole, we feel better when we move more, connect with friends and family in quality ways and go outside some. If counting steps helps you do those things and you don’t get obsessive like I do, go ahead and count. But remember, you don’t HAVE to. Your body, by and large, knows what it needs. If you listen to it, it will tell you when it’s time to get up from your desk and walk around. You’ve got a built-in step counter right there in your body. It’s free and won’t coerce you into the latest upgrade.

Sources:

  1. Cox, David. “Watch Your Step: why the 10,000 daily goal is built on bad science.” The Guardian September 2018. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/sep/03/watch-your-step-why-the-10000-daily-goal-is-built-on-bad-science.
  2. Pontzer, Herman. “Evolved to Exercise.” Scientific American January 2019: 23-29. Print. 
  3. Williams, PT. “Greater weight loss from running than walking during a 6.2-yr prospective follow-up.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health April 2013. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23190592.

Happy Holidaze

justin-aikin-655510-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Justin Aikin on Unsplash

I am officially hibernating. Except I’m pretty sure animals who hibernate don’t eat cookies and drink chardonnay. But in every other sense of the word…

  • very little activity? check
  • lots of naps and sleeping? check
  • snuggled up in the den? check

On Christmas day, I sat around with my parents, drank wine, talked, and watched old movies. Then we went to visit my in-laws, where we sat around, drank wine, and watched sports. Now I’m back at home, and I am sitting around, waiting for Jason to get home with the wine and whiling away the hours on my computer while the kids rot their brains with all-day video games. The TV is on, but I’m not watching it. I just can’t figure out how to turn it off with the remote not working.

I waffle between feeling like this is a nice little break and feeling guilty for acting like a slug. I also feel guilty for letting my kids rot their brains and eat whatever the hell they want. ‘Cuz that’s what parenthood is all about — worrying and feeling guilty.

I’m not sure this really qualifies as self-care. I have acid reflux from all the crappy crap I’ve been ingesting, and I’m pretty sure today’s irritability has something to do with very little physical activity. BUT…

Maybe the part of my brain that makes “good” decisions — the part that says “go for a run” and “clean up the laundry” and “eat some vegetables” — needs a break every so often. Maybe my superego is tired and needs to let my id run the show for just a little while. Id says things like “have another piece of pie” and “you are rockin’ it in the Words with Friends solo games!”

It’s possible I’m rationalizing my behavior; it’s possible I’m right. It’s also possible, though, that I’ve both enjoyed spending this extra time with my kids, and they are driving me a little nuts. I haven’t been alone in over a week. Maybe my superego is busy keeping me from shouting at people. Maybe the wine and the cookies and the sluggishness is how I cope with that. Or maybe it’s just the holidays.

I’m Going for It…No, Really This Time.

old-school typewriter

I tend to beat myself up, periodically, for not being a better person.

I’ve been saying I’m going to write a book for…well, most of my life, and it has yet to happen, which is embarrassing.  For a long time, it was just that I lacked the confidence in my abilities, and then I had little kids, which took up too much space in my brain for anything longer than 500 words. Oh, I have started a book plenty of times.  I’m in the running for an award: “Most half-books on a hard drive ever.” I always get cold feet and quit, though.

Why?

Unfortunately for me (and for you) the “why” is a complex mess. I’m writing, creating story like crazy, then… I have a few days where the creativity is flagging. I feel like I should be doing something more productive or lucrative. Read “lucrative” as something that makes more definitive money, since that is the measure of success in a capitalist society such as ours. But money is a personal thing, too. Jason stresses about money, and I would like to relieve some of that mental burden he carries because I love him and we are partners.

Then, I write a book, self-publish it, no one buys it, and I lose money on the deal. Jason loses his job, we’re in danger of living in a cardboard box on the street and end up in a flophouse in Duluth. Jason hates me because it’s all my selfish fault for wanting to do what I love instead of making a living to support our family. You see how quickly I can get from publishing a book to homelessness?

So then I stop writing the book

and go back to my piddly freelance jobs that don’t make a ton of cash either but at least make it more quickly. And then I don’t want to sit in front of my computer writing a book (or anything else for that matter) in the evening because I’m tired, both body and brain, and I want to hang with my family or read or go to bed early.

All of these thoughts stemmed from my getting pissed off at advertising this morning

for taking up too much of my time and attention — popup ads in front of articles I’m trying to read, junk email, junk snail mail. I swear I recycled a whole tree after leaving the mailbox this morning.

The junk mail led me to all the other things that are distractions from writing a book. There are a lot of them. Some of them are forced on me like door-to-door solicitors and pop-up ads, and some are tempters like my phone games. Some are guilt inducers like volunteering at school.

I’ve tried to cut the cord so many times,

tried to simplify my life. I go on an “unsubscribe” rampage, but I always get sucked back in. Now though, I think I’m ready. It still feels scary, but I can do it. I’m going to stop writing for other people, stop accepting the distractions, and focus on writing my stuff — my blog, my book — and have the confidence that, even if the book is a flop, we’ll figure something else out before we end up in an actual flophouse.

It’s time for me to belong to myself,

to belong everywhere and nowhere. (Thanks, Carrie Harper, Brené Brown and Maya Angelou for that idea.) Deepak, a friend of mine who took the leap to quit his existing, comfortable career to start a business about which he was passionate told me he knew, in order to be successful, he couldn’t have a “way back.” He cut the cord completely with his old company so he would HAVE to make the new business work. It was scary, but it’s working. That’s been rattling around in my head since he said it to me, so it must resonate with something inside me. Yep, I’m going for it.