• Excerpt from The Biographies of Ordinary People, by Nicole Dieker

    Summer 1989

    Natalie wore a red-and-white checked dress with strawberry buttons, and she could feel the ends of her hair brush her chin. She held on to Mommy's purse with one hand as Mommy pushed the stroller and Meredith walked a few steps ahead, in her dress that was blue.

    Yesterday Mommy had given them afternoon baths and then asked them to go out on the front porch and sit still while she cut their wet hair. She asked them not to put their feet near the broken part of the step because Daddy hadn't fixed it yet. Then Mommy put one knee on each side of Natalie to hold her in place as she cut and combed and cut again, and pulled Natalie's hair straight with her fingers to make sure it was even.

    They all had just-alike hair now, all new-school just-alike hair and different colored barrettes that had come from the same package. Natalie's barrettes were red, and Meredith's was blue, and Jackie's was yellow. Mommy had let them toss the old hair in the yard, for the birds. Meredith had not been happy.

    Now they were going to school for Orientation. They were close enough that Natalie could see the tent. She had never seen a school with a tent before. When they lived in Portland, she had gone to preschool.

    They stopped at the crosswalk and looked up and down the empty street for cars, because Rosemary knew you had to do it every time or one of her girls would forget, when they were older. She said the sing-song they had made up—"left, then right, then left again"—and heard three voices sing it along with her. Then they crossed, all together, Meredith not bothering to seek out her mother's hand.

    Rosemary knew Meredith was mad about the haircut. She had been watching the girls' hair in the Midwestern humid heat, seen enough long sticky strands attach themselves to a sweaty neck or arm. Nat's hair was like hers, which meant it looked thick and shiny no matter what, but Meredith and Jackie had Jack's hair, which brushed out fine and smooth but ended up clustered in limp locks like the wax on a melting candle.

    And now they all had neat hair, cut off their neck in sweet little-girl bobs, and Rosemary was the one who needed a haircut, but that would have to wait until after the girls were in school. She had used one of the girls' elastics to pull her hair back into a ponytail, wondering if it made her look younger or just made her look silly. She hadn't known what to wear to this event, so she put on a jean skirt and a T-shirt with pink stripes that felt nicer than the other ones. As she led her three girls under the tent she saw that most of the other moms were wearing shorts, and most of the kids were wearing shorts too. People in Kirkland only seemed to dress up for church.

    "Rosemary!" Donna was of course wearing shorts, and the Kirkland College graphic on her T-shirt had started to come apart in rivulets. "Hello, girls! Natalie, don't you look just like Strawberry Shortcake."

    Meredith knew that Natalie didn't look like Strawberry Shortcake; Strawberry Shortcake had a bonnet and red hair and a pink dress with a white apron. Natalie had strawberry buttons down the front of her dress. And Donna hadn't said anything about her, which Meredith knew to mean she didn't look like anything. Her dress was blue checked, like Dorothy's, but nobody would say she looked like Dorothy anymore because she didn't have braids. She had short hair.
    Meredith hated her hair because she no longer knew who to be. Sometimes when she was at church, or when her parents went shopping and they had to stand still and be quiet, she would pretend to be someone else and imagine what life would be like as them. What would Mary Ingalls be able to tell about the Methodist church just by listening to the people and feeling the rough fabric on the chairs?

    And now it was harder to imagine herself as Dorothy, stepping out into a world of color, pretending that the grocery store was Oz and she hadn't seen any of it before, staring at the shiny green apples next to the ones with the little brown spots. Not even when she was wearing a blue checked dress.

    After she had gotten her hair cut she had gone upstairs and looked at the picture of Betsy in Betsy-Tacy and Tib, because she wanted to see someone whose hair looked like hers. Mom hadn't let her keep a lock of hair, which would have made it a little better because she could have felt more like Betsy. Betsy's hair grew back, and it didn't stop her from making up stories.

    And then Alex came running up, and she was wearing a blue dress like Meredith's except hers had a fish print on it. "Do you want to meet our teacher?" she said. Meredith looked at her mom, hoping she would say yes. "She's right over there," Alex said, pointing to a blonde woman in a green jumper with an apple stitched on the pocket.

    "Stay under the tent," Rosemary said, "where I can see you."

    "You know," Donna said, after they had gone, "she wanted to wear a dress today because of Meredith. They are already such a pair."

    Rosemary watched the two girls talking to their second-grade teacher and thought how grown up Meredith and Alex looked, engaging in this conversation. She saw Alex say something that made them all laugh, and then she saw Meredith say something that made them all laugh, and she saw her daughter smile again, the real smile that seemed so rare. Alex was a good friend for her, a nice smart girl who might help her kid relax a little.

    "You make those dresses, right?" Donna asked. "That must be hard."

    "It isn't that hard," Rosemary said. She had been making clothes since she was a teenager. She and her best friend had spent Saturday afternoons picking out fabric and patterns for their prom dresses, and then cutting and sewing and taking turns pinning up each other's hems. Rosemary remembered how quiet and tidy her friend's home was; how she looked around at the ballerina figurines and the mugs stacked upside-down in rows, dripping dry next to the clean sink, and decided she would have a home like that when she grew up. Except now she knew ballerina figurines were tacky. "Do you sew at all?"

    "Never picked it up," Donna said. "Except for one summer in 4-H. I made a pillow."

    There was a general rush of excitement under the tent; a man was wheeling up a white box with a metal lid, and the words "Sno-Cone" stenciled on the side.

    "Better get your girls in line for snowcones," Donna said, as Rosemary watched every child under the tent begin to cluster around the man and the white box. She wondered if the snowcones would cost money, and if she'd have to be the mean mom if they cost too much, but as the first kids started peeling off, gripping sticky colored ice in paper cones, she realized they must be free.

    So she took Jackie's hand and walked Jackie and Natalie over to the end of the line, but they were stopped by two women—one of them short and round, in the general "apple and schoolbooks" outfit that designated her as a teacher, and the other tall and thin with a stiffly-sprayed cluster of gray curls.

    "You must be Rosemary Gruber," the older woman said. "I'm Peg Howard, the principal, and this is Deanna Cory, our kindergarten teacher."

    "Hi," Deanna said to Rosemary, and then she squatted down to Natalie's level. "I'm Miss Cory. Are you going to be in kindergarten with me this year?"

    "Yes," Natalie said, with one eye on the snowcone line.

    "We need to do Kindergarten Readiness," Peg Howard continued. "Most people do it at the beginning of the summer, but you hadn't moved here yet."

    Natalie knew the women were talking about her, but she also knew that all the other kids were over there, in a line, and that they were coming back eating something that Natalie had never seen before. Something with red or yellow or purple ice in it. Natalie wanted one, and she wanted to be where the other kids were. Some of the kids she remembered from the pool, and they were waving, and she waved back, and then she felt Mommy's hand come down on her shoulder, to hold her in place.

    Then the woman with gray hair asked Natalie to come with her, and walked her away from the snowcones and the other kids. They walked up to the school and opened one of the big doors with the gray bars. Inside it was quiet, and the lights were off, and Natalie's sandals made slapping sounds against the floor.

    The woman took Natalie into a small room with white walls and said that she was the principal, and that she wanted to ask Natalie a few questions. She asked Natalie if she knew her name and her address and her telephone number, and then she asked Natalie to say the alphabet, and then she took a book from a basket next to her desk and asked if Natalie could read it.

    Natalie could read but she didn't like it. She kept her eyes wide open and tried not to blink. This book had big letters, though, and it had pictures that helped her guess. Cat, dog, ball.

    Then the woman asked if Natalie could count for her. Natalie counted to ten, and then stopped.

    "Do you know any numbers higher than that?" the woman asked.
    Natalie knew from PBS and from Meredith telling her that numbers went all the way to infinity. She nodded.

    "Can you keep counting?" the woman prodded, and so Natalie continued, working her way up past twenty and thirty and then fifty and eighty and ninety. She could feel sweat on the back of her neck. She did not like the sound of her voice in this quiet school. She wondered what she was missing, under the tent outside. All the other kids were there and she was here. She wanted to be there too. She wanted a snowcone.

    When Natalie reached one hundred, she paused and looked at the gray-haired woman. The woman didn't say anything. Natalie suddenly thought that the test must not end until she reached a number she didn't know. She thought of all the snowcones and the kids in line. There wouldn't be any left.

    "Two hundred," she said, watching the woman to see if she could tell. "Three hundred. Four hundred. Five hundred."

    "Thank you," the woman said. "You can stop now." She made a note in a book, and then walked Natalie back outside. There were still snowcones, and the man put a squirt of both orange and red in hers. And then she saw the kids she knew from the pool, and she clutched her snowcone in its wet paper and ran over to them, forgetting anything else existed except these new friends and the taste of cold sweet ice in her mouth. She ran out from under the tent into the sunlight, dripping snowcone onto her red checked dress and its strawberry buttons.

    Nicole Dieker's serial novel, The Biographies of Ordinary People, tells the story of three sisters, their parents, and the past 27 years. Read and support the story at Patreon.

  • The phenomenon of the Breakup Explanation status update

    On December 5, 2012, musician Jonathan Mann posted Song A Day #1435.

    It was titled "We've Got to Break Up."

    Although I had worked with Jonathan Mann previously, I knew very little about his personal life. I watched this video several times, examining the elegant and kind way Mann and his ex-girlfriend sang about the end of their relationship and defined the boundaries they would have going forward. It was the first time I had seen anything like it.

    You don't have to choose

    Though it will be awkward, yes

    Just invite us to your parties and we'll work it out

    Don't feel weird, we love all of you

    Now, we see these types of status updates all the time. They show up on Facebook or Tumblr or via Twitter link, and carefully explain that the people involved in the breakup want to maintain an amicable relationship while still sharing a catalog of friends. They'll note which partner is changing living arrangements, or offer suggestions about how to include all parties at social events. Sometimes, they'll simply say that nobody involved wants to share details about the breakup and trust silence to stand in for privacy.

    When our personal lives become public through YouTube, blog posts, and social media, our breakups become public as well. We want to share this aspect of our lives in a way that makes sense with the rest of our public story. So we shape and create a narrative that is both true and just enough; that is, like Jonathan Mann's example, both elegant and kind.

    In case you think that this type of story-shaping is a uniquely Facebook-related phenomenon, remember that we've always communicated with each other through stories. The "how was your weekend" story we tell to our boss on Monday morning; the "what did you think of The Walking Dead" story we text to a friend after the season finale; and the story of our relationships, edited and embellished for various audiences. A coworker might not need to know that you and a partner are having a fight, a parent might receive a calm version of the story with an emphasis on how maturely you are handling the situation, and your closest friend will get the "that asshole" narrative.

    And, as anybody who's been in a relationship knows, saying "that asshole" to your closest friend is very different from saying "that asshole" to you and your partner's closest mutual friend. One is an expression of emotion to a sympathetic source, and the other is a chess move. When you take the next step and post "that asshole" to a public forum like Facebook, it's like pushing down the handle on a detonator.

    Many of us don't want to turn breakups into explosions. We also, instinctively, understand that a single sentence, the kind that is auto-generated by creating a Facebook Life Event, is not "just enough." It implies that there is a part of the story that we're not telling, and people who like sniffing around for sulfur will start contacting us, wanting to know whyyyyyyyyy, whose fault was it, are you mad or sad or ready to start dating again?

    So instead, we say in public: these are the new boundaries around the edges of my life, including the boundaries around the conversation I will have about this breakup.

    As Jonathan Mann told me:

    "The main reason I wanted to do a song/video was because I'd seen lots of breakup announcements on Facebook. Often, they came in the form of people simply changing their "single/in a relationship" status, and then that change being posted into the timeline. This always felt really weird to me. I understood the desire to let everyone know what happened, but being so vague about it made it seem almost like folks were asking for a certain kind of sympathy and attention in a really weird way. It made me uncomfortable.

    So I wanted to kind of flip that on it's head. The polar opposite of a vague status change: a full song and video explaining exactly what was going on and letting everyone know that we still loved them, and loved each other, and everything is OK. We're just breaking up."

    I wanted to hear from other breakup-status-updaters, so I put out the call on Facebook, asking people if they would be willing to anonymously share their stories with Boing Boing. One response highlighted the importance of the breakup explanation as a way to pre-empt additional conversation:

    "Because my relationship had been a fairly "stable" thing in my social circle, and very few people in it had any insight into the horrible problems said relationship had, we both felt that a blanket "Hey we're breaking up" announcement set up on Facebook would be the best route to go. We felt people would be really shocked by the whole thing (and really, a lot of people were).

    Honestly, I didn't want everyone asking me questions, (and looking back, I foolishly felt people would care more than they actually did/want to cause drama for some reason?) about why the break was happening. I wanted to reserve those conversations for people who I felt deserved to know the story, and who I could trust not to tell my Ex anything about my life once I left."

    When social media puts all of our friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and relatives on the same level of social access, it becomes important to, as this person put it, "reserve conversations for people who deserve to know the story." We've probably all been in social media conversations where we've had to endure unwanted advice or sympathy from people who might be on our Friends List but who are not actually our friends. A well-crafted breakup status inhibits this type of unwanted communication by being self-contained. If there are no lingering obvious questions to ask, we will not be forced to address them in a Facebook status comment thread.

    Breakup status updates are also crafted to allow both parties to end the relationship with a mutual agreement of respect. The person who wrote the "blanket 'Hey, we're breaking up' announcement" did it with the ex in the room, so both of them could approve the status before it was posted; when I wrote my own breakup status update, I sent it to my ex before posting it online to ensure that we both agreed on what was publicly shared.

    This is also important when people in a former relationship share a friend group; Mann and his ex-girlfriend advised friends to invite them both to parties, for example, and another person told me about a party specifically thrown as a way to introduce friends to the breakup:

    "An ex and I had a breakup party (we invited people via Facebook). People were a little confused about it, but it was really good. It directly let everyone know we were breaking up on good terms and they didn't need to choose sides or feel uncomfortable about it. Basically a relationship wake."

    In "We've Got to Break Up," Jonathan Mann sang about wanting to have kids. His son, Jupiter Mann, was born in time for Song A Day #1951. Since Mann's daily songs are part of his career, his old breakup status song is still available online and is, in fact, one of his most popular videos. Other people I heard from chose to take theirs down. Removing the breakup status post from the Facebook status history makes sense, the way removing or untagging yourself from photos featuring an ex-partner makes sense; this person is no longer a part of your public story, and removing images and references lets you literally reshape your own narrative.

    I also heard from a person who decided to reshape this public narrative even before the relationship formally ended:

    "Several months before I could admit to myself that my relationship with my then-husband might be ending, I went through a life purge. I thought that if I could lighten my environment, maybe I would feel emotionally lighter as well. I stripped our apartment of duplicates, items that hadn't been used in more than six months, and objects I had until then held onto for sentimental reasons. I closed unused accounts. From active accounts I deleted statuses/photos/albums shared before that year and any information I thought was too revealing. This included hiding my Relationship Status from public view."

    Why do so many of us write and post stories about our breakups instead of, as this person did, hiding our Relationship Status updates from the public? Well, to start with, by the time that a relationship reaches the point where it needs a breakup explanation, there are probably a lot of people—from parents to coworkers to mutual friends—who are invested in that relationship's story, if not the relationship's success. Writing a breakup status update is a way to inform these people about a relationship's end, but it also lets us reframe the end of a relationship as something besides a failure. As Jonathan Mann explained:

    "The song got a hugely positive response both in terms of the content, i.e., let's not get awkward about this in social situations, and also just in general. People seemed to really resonate with a heartbreak song that wasn't sad but joyful. I heard from a ton of people who were going through breakups at the time who said the song helped them through."

    In that aspect, sharing the truth about our relationships and breakups—even a highly edited, boundary-bound truth—is just another a way to connect with each other; to accept Facebook likes and expressions of love from people across all of our social circles, and to let that little bit of emotion resonate with other people who have had similar experiences.

    Because, at some point in nearly all of our lives, we've got to break up.

    So we use this elegant and kind way to tell people the story of what happened.

  • Less time, more packaging: Amazon Prime Now tested

    Despite my knowing many of Amazon's flaws — the hatchet they've taken to the publication industry, the warehouses where low-paid workers race around all day putting orders into smiley-face boxes — I love using Amazon services.

    Amazon is literally where I shop; I made six individual orders from Amazon in January alone, which averages out to a little more than one purchase per week. Two of these orders were for clothing, one was a Kindle book, and the other three were for streaming media, including season passes to Broad City and Downton Abbey.)

    So I am the perfect candidate for Amazon Prime Now, Amazon's new delivery service that promises to get you select Amazon catalog items in one hour. The only trouble is that I don't live in "select areas of Manhattan," the only part of the country where Amazon Prime Now is currently available.


  • The Year We All Wore Kigurumi

    By Nicole Dieker

    So here's how it happened.

    I mean, that's not really how it happened. You could say it happened because five days before that tweet, I went to a party and saw a friend dressed as a giant fleece dinosaur. A green fleece dinosaur, with yellow spikes. And she looked so cool.

    (I mean, so warm. But also: so cool.)

    And I was cold. It's been a cold and dry winter, and by then my arms and hands had crackled into a dry red rash.

    So I bought mine, and then two of my friends bought kigurumi immediately after I did, and when I asked, online, who in my friend group had passed the idea to whom, the way the dinosaur passed to me and I passed it to the fox and the corgi, but the fox had also wanted one after he saw the hedgehog, who was inspired to buy one after seeing the owl, who was inspired by yet another friend, and so on—I mean, why do we do the things that our friends do, anyway?

    Why did this idea spread, and not another one? Why the kigurumi, and not, say, the Forever Lazy? Why weren't we all inspired to go out and buy really nice shoes?

    The first time I saw a kigurumi was in 2012, at the California Extreme convention. I forget when I started to see them everywhere.

    They are not particularly ideal garments. They—well, shall we just say that they don't get washed all that often, and that sometimes you can tell that they aren't washed all that often? I find coffee stains on mine, and I take a wet rag and some soap and scrub them out, but this thing is going through the laundry slightly less often than my sheets and slightly more often than my bras.

    (That'd be every three weeks, for people keeping track. Sheets are every two, and bras are whenever I remember that bras are supposed to be washed.)

    It's difficult to use the toilet in a kigurumi, not in the least because you have to figure out how to keep the hood and tail bits from dragging on the floor immediately in front of the toilet, which—even when regularly scrubbed—is not the place on which you'd like to rub your favorite fleece outfit before putting the fleece back on your head.

    Of course, because kigurumi have both a dropped crotch and dropped armpits, they don't collect a lot of body odor. This is a plus, because you tend not to wash yourself before climbing into your kigurumi either. It's a "spend the entire day watching Netflix" outfit, the sort of thing you wear as a transitional stage between "bed" and "clothes."

    (In fact, it's kind of like getting out of bed and taking the bed with you.)

    I didn't understand, until I owned one, what the draw was. I didn't get that it was kind of like finally getting to wear the futuristic jumpsuit that we know, someday, will be our due: perfectly comfortable, non-constricting, providing complete ease of movement. Of course future people would want to wear these while they were out doing space things. Of course I'd want to wear mine all day long.

    Plus it's also shaped like both a blanket and a stuffed animal, and you get to choose your animal. We are the generation of online quizzes, the MBTI result in the dating profile, House Stark and House Ravenclaw—and I will never forgive Pottermore for putting me in Slytherin.

    You see people you know pick dinosaurs and corgis and foxes and penguins and you think oh, yeah, I see you now. I almost bought a My Melody kigurumi because I liked the color, but I am not a My Melody. Nor am I a snake, thank-you-very-much Pottermore, I'm the cheerful and high-strung blue owl downing a cup of coffee as he races to start Disney's Sing Along Songs.

    So you get to pick your thing, the perpetual enjoyment of the picking of the thing, and then you get to swap pics with all your friends.

    My sister said "you bought a janimal?!" and sent me a link to J-Animals, the "Americanized" version of kigurumi:

    And you do sort of have to bring up the specter of cultural appropriation at some point; the Japanese word kigurumi originally referred to a type of performer who dressed in an animal costume, not the costume itself, and I know about as much of the kigurumi's origins and history as the sentence I just typed.

    And now, look, the white kids have gotten ahold of it. Yay.


    Like a lot of us, I got my kigurumi from Kigurumi Shop, the LA-based retailer that sells kigurumi made by Japanese manufacturer Sazac. As of this writing, Kigurumi Shop has 129 pages of user-submitted kigurumi selfies on its Tumblr. The vast majority of kigurumi wearers who sent in images are female, and yes, many are white—at about a 3 to 1 ratio—but it's clear from these images that the animal onesie is for everybody, or at least anybody who wants one.

    There are also a lot of group selfies on that Tumblr. Animals side by side, signifying their solidarity and their individuality. It is the archetypal image of the group of friends, at least going back as far as the images we grew up with, like Sailor Moon (another appropriation): everyone the same and different; belonging by uniform and unique by character.

    My rash cleared up almost immediately after I started wearing the kigurumi continually. I know it's not because of the kigurumi—I could probably have gotten the same effect with a Wild Side Snuggie—but skin behaves differently when it is warm.

    But that's still not why I bought it. Not precisely.

    Are all the awkward teenagers and geeky adults who are obsessed by the idea of basically dressing up like stuffed animals actually attempting to make themselves less scary to get the love and care they need and want? Or maybe attempting to make the world less of a place where they are rejected and terrified and alone?

    —Lizzy Acker, KQED Arts

    When you spend a lot of your time on Twitter, disconnected and connected simultaneously to your favorite people, you find ways of, as my crew calls it, "doing a friendship."

    Sometimes doing a friendship means dropping $60 on a fleece onesie that seems like a strange thing for an adult to wear. I mean, yes, the kigurumi is comfortable and adorable but it's also, you know, we could have all bought robes or something. It didn't have to be the kigu.

    (At one point we did all talk about buying robes, so that the next time we were all in the same place we could wear our robes.)

    There's so much that's been said about the rise of the self-selected family, the group of friends who are like the friends on Friends, but not so much that's been said about what happens when that family disperses just like a real one does. The way that adulthood is structured today, with independence and personal agency deferred by a decade, you often don't begin to know where you belong and who your true people are until you're in your 30s. By then, you all live in different places.

    So you figure out whom you want to stay close to, and how to do it. You figure out not only how to do a friendship, but how to craft one with the tools you have available.

    Someday we might be all in the same room, in our kigurumi, together.

    Until then, we'll find other ways of being friends.


  • The secret to success is working on the Right Thing

    Photo: Vancouver Film School (cc)

    If you were going to give someone "how to succeed in a career" advice, what would you say?

    You'd probably start off with the usual statements about hard work and persistence. Maybe throw in something about networking — it's not what you know, it's who you know, amirite? (With a friendly slap on the shoulder for good measure.) If you were a certain type of person, you might cite that Ira Glass piece about how it takes a long time for talent to catch up with taste.

    Well, okay. Let's say the person in this case is talented. Let's say they're persistent and they work hard. Let's even say that they're good at networking and have good taste. Even with all these attributes in place, not everybody succeeds. It's more than that, and it's something beyond that.

    Here's the advice I would give: You have to be willing to work hard. You have to be persistent. You have to develop your talent and your connections. But—most of all—you have to be working on the right thing .

    Nicole Dieker at work.

    Here are some of the things I've done, all of them with the same work ethic and persistence and latent ability:

    • Launched a children's theater in rural Missouri
    • Taught Shakespeare at the University of Hyderabad
    • Worked as an executive assistant and project manager at a think tank
    • Put 100 songs on the internet for 100 consecutive weeks
    • Took my geek musician act across the country
    • Completed a successful Kickstarter and recorded an album in a Los Angeles recording studio
    • Tried to develop a card game and take it to market
    • Began working as a freelance writer, telling stories about my life to The Billfold, Yearbook Office, The Toast, The Magazine, Boing Boing, and many other publications

    I brought the same Nicole to every project, and every time I started a new project I was prepared to become a professional children's theater director or project manager or indie musician or whatever it was.

    And I'd say I was reasonably successful at many of these potential life paths. Hard work, persistence, and natural ability does get you pretty far.

    But it was only when I ended up on the writing path—and I did "end up" there as a fluke, when I started looking for ways to make extra money between indie musician gigs—that I realized my work felt different than all of my previous jobs.

    As a writer, I was connecting with people in a way that I never did as a theater director or musician (or even as a project manager). People were seeking me out and asking me to write for them; I wasn't having to pound the pavement scrambling for gigs. I was no longer in a position where I had to hustle for secondstage spots at geek conventions and then play music "for the exposure." Publications were writing me and asking me to take the mainstage space, as it were, and offering a pay rate that allows me to make a living.


  • GeekGirlCon is an oasis of acceptance

    I didn't feel safe going into GeekGirlCon. Hours earlier, Game developer Brianna Wu had tweeted about the threats she'd received, about calling the police, about sleeping somewhere else.

    Just thinking about it made it hard to sleep. The next day, I was almost late to game critic Anita Sarkeesian's opening panel, and was one of the last to be let in. There had been a bomb threat, of course, though we wouldn't know about it until afterwards. They searched our bags.

    Some might say I'm too close to be impartial. Last year, I was a panelist, played a ninja gig in the lobby, and ended up, singing and playing a ukulele, on the cover of the program guide. But this is what I have to tell you: for one weekend this October, GeekGirlCon created an oasis.

    The night before it began, Wu left her home. Two days after it ended, staff members at Utah State University received a threat stating that if Sarkeesian were allowed to speak on campus, "she is going to die screaming like the craven little whore that she is."

    In between, though, we had these two days at the Washington State Conference Center.

    "No matter what you love, what you geek out about, who you are or what you look like, you are welcome," says Amanda Powter, GeekGirlCon's executive director. "Because so many spaces haven't felt or been safe and inclusive for everyone—safe from harassment, open to thoughtful criticism, and encouraging diverse representations—our goal is to create one where people can come, have fun, have meaningful conversations, be themselves, and share their love of whatever it is they geek out about."


  • The Gorilla Workout helped me transform my body

    People who get to know me quickly learn that I don't like sitting still. I got a standing desk—technically, a wireframe crate stacked on top of my ordinary desk—as soon as I could, and I often call it my "dancing desk" because I will put on my headphones and rock out to Daft Punk or Pomplamoose or Mouth Sounds while I'm writing copy and articles.

    (One of the benefits of working from home is that you get to rock out whenever you want.)

    I love dancing, but my favorite part of ballet class was always the barre exercises: pointing, holding, trying to get that extension just a little higher. I studied Suzuki movement technique in college (it's the one with all the stomping), and after I graduated, I got really into Ashtanga yoga. People gravitate towards specific types of sports or exercise, and for me it's the type where it's just you working with and against your own body, pushing at its limitations, feeling the stretch increase and the muscles grow.

    But even with all the morning yoga and desk rocking-out I could handle, I'd still end up with a lot of cold and wet nights in Seattle with nothing to do but sit and stare at books or TV. I love books, I adore TV, but I wanted to get moving.

    Running was out, first because of the wet and second because I tried Couch to 5K and gave myself permission to quit after I could successfully run 3K. (It just never got fun. I was always bored and uncomfortable.) Sports are a non-starter because I can't catch a ball even if you throw it directly at me. It had to be something else.

    I first found out about the Gorilla Workout the same way a lot of people find out about it: through a friend. Every few days, there'd be another tweet about how amazing this workout was and how this friend could feel his body growing stronger.

    So I downloaded the app.

    No, wait. I did one better. I paid for it. Skipped the free version and gave Heckr LLC my 99 cents, trusting that it would be a solid investment.

    Nearly a year later, I am ready to talk solid. Or, as another friend put it: "Wow, you're getting really ripped from that app."

    Is it possible that a basic calisthenics app, one that gives you a series of workouts in slowly increasing difficulty, can actually change your body? I hadn't expected it to; I just wanted a reason to get off my seat and move around. Most of the time, I didn't even break a sweat. And yet my body transformed.

    My muscles, especially in my arms and back, became much more defined. I lost weight—about six pounds total, and potentially unrelated to the workout—but also gained a bit of bulk. Sleeves tightened up, that sort of thing. Because of my genetics and natural body shape, I'm always going to be small and curvy, and I wasn't doing the Gorilla Workout to try to get some thigh gap or bikini bridge. But the texture of my body has changed. (To put it in the most blunt and evocative manner possible: my boob tacos are now hard tacos.)

    So I wanted to know: was this for real? Was I an example of "results not typical?" Or does the Gorilla Workout really make a muscular monkey out of anyone who is willing to go through the steps?

    I set up an interview with the man behind the Gorilla Workout, Rick Hecker. I wanted answers, and I wanted to know how 20 minutes of exercise, four nights a week, could actually transform a body. (That's, like, the type of claim you see on a late-night infomercial, or the "one weird trick to reduce belly fat" that we all know not to click on.)

    Rick Hecker was more than happy to take my call. As it turns out, I'm not the only person who's transformed her body through the Gorilla Workout—not by far.

    ND: Let's start with the why question. Why did you decide to develop the Gorilla Workout?

    RH: Well, I guess the impetus of all of it was that I'm actually a professional web developer, and at the time I was a web designer, and I actually just wanted to get into the app development field.

    It was also a time where I was feeling out of shape, and I didn't really know exactly what to do but I knew that I didn't really want to go to the gym. I wanted something I could do at home.

    I started really getting into body weight exercises and fitness and doing stuff without equipment, and at that time I was making up my own programs, and I thought it would be cool to make an app that does something a little more regimented than what I was doing.

    So I ended up working with an accredited personal trainer and putting together the way the app flow would work, and we wrote this program to help people do the same thing that I did because it worked out really well for me.

    How did you and the trainer decide how to order the exercises and how to group them?

    For the most part, you want to focus on antagonistic muscle groups. If you're looking at a single day's workout, if you're targeting the upper body that day, usually what we would do is say that your first exercise would be something for the anterior chain. Something for your chest, or pushing exercises. Maybe the next exercise would be pulling, or something for your back.

    So one day you do pushups first, then supermans second. First you're working on a push movement, and then the supermans are a pulling or a back movement. That's how a day is organized.

    As far as how we planned out the entire program, it's essentially upper body one day, lower body the next day.

    At the time we had thought "do we want to build in rest days?" Do we want to have it that regimented? I really wanted the app to be flexible to anybody's schedule, so we definitely encourage people to rest, and we state that in the app, but we didn't want to say "you have to rest every other day," or you have to rest a specific number of days a week, because everyone is different in how their body reacts and what they need.

    We just provide a whole slew of days. If you want to train six out of seven days every week, you can do that. Sometimes we get emails from people saying they're doing two workouts a day. We leave rest days open, but we did try to group the exercises so you wouldn't be working the same muscle groups every day.

    So you've gotten a lot of emails from people, then. I was very curious, when I started, because I have a background in yoga and I do a yoga practice in the morning as well as Gorillas in the evening. The Gorilla Workout changed how my body looked. I could see muscle definition on my arms and legs and back, and I was curious if these results were typical. Was it just me, or were you getting a lot of responses like this?

    The best part has been getting people's feedback. We don't solicit stories from people, but we do get stories. People leave reviews, or we get emails sent to our support email, people saying "hey, I've lost 30 pounds doing Gorilla Workout, I just wanted to thank you." We've definitely had people say they're seeing more definition and toning.

    We also hear people say "this has even helped with how fast I can run a mile." People training for marathons have said stuff like that. This has increased their short-distance cardiovascular endurance. We've received feedback along the whole gamut, from body composition to helping people's cardio.

    That is amazing. So here's my next question: I know that I do substitutions often, primarily because I don't have a chin-up bar in my apartment. So whenever the Gorilla Workout assigns me pullups, I do pushups instead. Do you hear about other people doing substitutions, or is everyone else following the directions?

    That's actually one of the more common—I don't want to say complaints—that pullups are in the program. Back exercises are very limited as far as the number of exercises you can do with just your body weight. The pullup is such an important and instinctual movement. It wasn't something that we wanted to remove.

    So people get pullup bars, or they go to the park and use something there. We do have people email and ask "what should I do instead?" We typically recommend that if you can't get a pullup bar, you should get the kind that you put in your doorjamb.

    You can also use resistance bands to do something similar. You lock your bands in a doorjamb and pull down in a motion that's similar to a pullup.

    Unfortunately, other than the pullup, there really is no body weight equivalent to work your lats and your back in such an efficient manner. It's something that's hard to replace.

    That's good to know. If you're like me, and you're motivated enough to exercise, but you're not motivated enough to go on Amazon Prime and order a pullup bar that'll show up in two days, maybe this will motivate people to actually do it!

    And now I have to ask: since you're doing a workout at home, what should you watch out for in terms of potential injury?

    If something happens while you're doing an exercise and you feel some kind of pain, usually that's a sign. If you feel something like that, you should immediately stop and assess "is this something that's really bad?"

    We'll get people that get really bad muscle soreness after their first few Gorilla Workouts, especially if they're new to training or have never trained before. The muscle soreness that you feel is pretty intense. That's something that gets better over time, but people will feel that muscle soreness and wonder "did I injure myself, because this is terrible!"

    But there is a different feeling between muscle soreness and actual injury. It's important to know the difference between the two. You have to learn the difference between "my muscle is sore" and "I pulled something."

    That brings up a key point. When I started the Gorilla Workout, I had an exercise background, so I already knew what I was doing and I was able to start right away with the Level 3 Workouts. I feel like this may have helped me see results more quickly, not to mention that the whole thing was easier because I already knew how to do 50 pushups in a row.

    But let's say you're brand new, and you're having some struggle with it. I've heard that from some of my friends as well; they've started on Level 1 and they're struggling.

    How would you motivate them to keep going?

    In your case, coming from a friend, I think you would be the best person to motivate other people. Motivation from friends is always one of the best ways to keep going. Find a workout partner, someone who will do it with you, maybe someone who can guide you.

    Also, honestly, resting sometimes can be enough. It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes if people are very, very into "I have to do this, I have to meet this fitness goal," you can get into a place where you're overtrained or overexerted. Taking three to five days off and coming back, you might be surprised that you're stronger.

    I think the best way to stay motivated is to do the Gorilla Workout with someone. Find someone to do it with you. Keep each other accountable.

    We have people who email us and say that they do it with their friends, or moms will say "I do this during the day with my kids." That's really rewarding to hear.

    It's also fun to share it on Twitter. That's how I heard about it; a friend tweeting "I completed Gorilla Workout 1, 2, 3, whatever." And I was all "Well, I can do that! I wanna do what you're doing!"

    Social sharing is great for us and it's great for users as well. As soon as you make the decision to say "I'm going to tell all of my friends that I just completed Day 1 of Level 1 of Gorilla Workout," you're making yourself accountable.

    If you're ready to make yourself accountable, you can get the Gorilla Workout on iTunes or Google Play. Heckr LLC also just released Gorilla Weight Lifting for people who are interested in building strength with weights, currently available on iTunes.


  • The card game we couldn't make (and then someone else did)

    At 4:08 p.m. on May 8, 2012, I sent my friend Alice Lee an email, subject line "A super idea for a card game that is SURE TO MAKE MONEY OH YEAH."


    So Dirty Balderdash was fun but seriously all you need for that is an actual game of Balderdash (or, barring that, a dictionary).

    But what about a slash fic game? We'll call it OTP for One True Pairing.

    Something along the lines of:

    Dealer/judge draws one card. We'll say for example Hodor.

    Then everyone has to play a card from their hand as their OTP and explain why they ship that slash.


    I ship Wheatley/Hodor because you know Wheatley gets off by being carried around.

    Bonus X-rated version: players have to do mini sexy fanfics about their OTPs.

    Would you play this? :)


  • The joy of telling people how much money you make

    Every week, for over a year now, I sit down and I write out how much gross income I've earned that week, and I share it on my Tumblr.

    Here are some of the more recent numbers: $725.58, $991.57, $654.10. A year ago these numbers were $300, $72, $897. I call my series "This Week in Freelancing," formerly "This Week in Independent Musicianry," when I was trying to make a go of it as a full-time musician. (Now, I'm a freelance writer and ghostwriter who occasionally plays shows. The numbers are better.)

    They say "write the thing you want to read," and although there are many other musicians blogging about their travels and struggles (I am particularly a fan of Marian Call's blogs and marginalia), there were no musicians I could find who were simply setting down how much money they were actually bringing in every month. So, a few months after starting my life as the full-time solo member of the nerd-folk act Hello, The Future! I started tracking my income, publicly, online.

    One of the subtle assumptions of independent musicianry is the idea that once you go full-time, you somehow make a full-time income as a musician. When I made the leap to full-time, I was doing so on two years of steady performance and a quantifiable history of album sales. This, in retrospect, seems grossly early, but I didn't switch to full-time without doing my research. Other musicians in my genre, who were doing about as many performances in equally prominent venues, were full-time. It seemed logical for me to make a similar move.

    In touring and performing, I was categorically successful. In earning any kind of "full-time liveable income," I was not. Even though I have earned over $20,000, gross, as a musician, which represents a whopping lot of CD sales, and even though I could pull in $500 at an average convention and over $1,000 in a weekend at bigger events like GeekFest or MAGFest, the simple expenses of travel, as well as the overhead of producing multiple CDs, t-shirts, hoodies, posters, and other merchandise, wore me down financially. My business was barely breaking even; there were no profits left over for other budget line items like rent and food.

    It was important, for me, to share that online. It was very important for me to share that, at least in my example, spending a month traveling to five cities to play three weekend conventions and five solo shows did not actually equate to a living wage. I lost money, often. Even when I got a venue fee, and even when I sold piles of merch, I still, technically, paid to play.

    I also learned that I paid to play every time I put something on the internet. I might sell a $10 album, but Bandcamp takes a cut, or iTunes takes a cut; then PayPal takes a cut when the money hits your account, and then you owe federal, state, and city taxes on your income, not to mention sales tax on physical merch sales. If Bandcamp takes 1.5 percent and PayPal takes 3.6 percent and sales tax takes 6 percent… eventually, by the time you're done, only a very small percentage of that $10 sale comes back to you — and most of that "profit" already got eaten up by the cost of making the album.