In many tv shows and films, the voiceovers lend zero added value

gossip-girl-gossip-girl-2024112-1024-768I’m still watching, and loving, Gossip Girl, but I’m also really put off by the voiceovers by the mysterious “Gossip Girl”. Perhaps there are one or two situations in which the GG voiceovers say something revelatory or interesting, but in general they’re incredibly obvious. For instance, the show will cut to a picture of some girl messing around when she should be studying on a test and then Gossip Girl will say, “Oh no, looks like little Jenny Humphrey is all play and no work.”

Like, umm, yeah, we’ve got eyes. I don’t know why anyone ever thought it was a good idea to have voiceovers that describe what we are looking at. The most egregious offender, in this instance, was the most recent Great Gatsby film. In that case, every single one of the voiceovers was either banal or flatly untrue. For instance, when Caraway first meets Gatsby on the stairs, the voiceover goes on and on and on about how brilliant and magnetic his smile was, when, err, we can see the smile. We’re looking at it. The smile is okay. Leo DiCaprio knows how to smile. But it’s not the greatest smile that ever was. And when the voiceover tries to sell the smile so hard, then it just reveals what it’s not.

In Gossip Girl, the voiceovers seem to be consistently misused. They’re almost never used in the most obvious way, which is to deliver background exposition about things that are difficult to dramatize. For instance, the voiceover never tells (i.e. gossips to) us anything about some kind of secret history that the onscreen characters might share. The voiceover never serves as counterpoint, in order to highlight some kind of irony in the scene: some truth that’s the opposite of what’s being said or shown. It’s really the most flat-footed element of an otherwise very deft show.

The only show with good voiceovers that’s coming to mind right now is Scrubs. In that case, the voiceovers worked because they were used to set up the show’s frequent cutaway jokes. But they were also used, in many cases, to quickly fill us in on background details and set the scene at the beginning of the episode. And, also, to tell us what was up with the various patients we were seeing. The voiceovers also worked because JD had a very warm, very humane voice. And he was also one of the main characters of the show, so the voiceovers continued his narrative arcs and character development. However, even in Scrubs, the closing voiceovers were frequently saccharine, moralistic, and unnecessary.

Knee problems

For twenty-seven years, I didn’t do a lick of exercise. Then, about nine months ago, I started lifting weights on occasion. It was good, I suppose. I got a little bit swole. But my body was having none of it. Almost immediately, I started having knee trouble. I thought that maybe my knees would be strengthened if I kept doing it, but no, that was a foolish thought. Instead they got worse. Now it’s not just exercise. They sometimes ache even from just walking around (although exercise is, by far, the worst for them).

I went to my doctor recently and he sent me a list of knee exercises. I suppose I’ll do them and I suppose I’ll get better. But I am such a pessimist about everything health-related. Everytime something happens, I just assume that it’s going to be a permanent fixture in my life. For instance, for maybe 2-4 years, I had horrible insomnia. I did everything I could think of to stop it. I stopped drinking coffee, stopped looking at light sources before going to bed, stopped smoking, started waking up at the same time every day. And…it got better. I don’t know what did it. Probably a combination of things. But it got better. Nowadays, I almost never lie awake for hours. I actually look forward to going to bed.

I’ve had all kinds of other health things like that. For instance, there was the winter when my entire body itched. And the year when I kept waking up in the middle of the night with the need to urinate, only to find that when I went to the bathroom, I actually didn’t need to urinate. And there’ve been several periods in my life, usually 2-4 weeks long, when I’ve had horrible lower back pain.

Everything’s always gone away. So I imagine that I’ll do some exercises and the knee thing will go away too. It’d be nice if it went. It’s not that I particularly want to run and stuff. But now that I’m normal-weight, it’d be nice to know that I can do physical activity type things if I want to.

I assume that everybody has health blips like these (well, everybody who’s lucky enough to not have serious health problems). But no one talks about them. Somehow I’d figured that there was just a day when you’re like fifty years old when suddenly your body starts breaking down. But nope, it’s a gradual process: a steady accumulation of wear and tear. I imagine it’s a bit like a car. My car is seven years old. It has many dings and dents. The windshield wipers have become curiously ineffective. The acceleration is not particularly responsive. There’s something funky going on with the bumper. At one point, the cruise control randomly crapped out. But it’s all pretty minor. The car runs. It almost never breaks down. It gets me where I want to go with a minimum of fuss. But it’s still noticeably worse than when I got it.

Obviously none of this should be a surprise to me, but it still was. The steady degradation of things. It’s so easy, when you’re a kid, to take your body for granted. But when you’re forced to think about the reality of it–the idea that my body is an extremely complicated system that we don’t really understand–then it’s a little frightening. But oh well. It’s still (mostly) running fine.

There are two blog posts that I want to do my best to avoid, so I’m going to post about plastic surgery

p16nq7mu4916hl1bbt1de6dtfci60_8285I’m a longtime reader of blogs, and there are two surefire signs that a blog is done. The first is when the writer is constantly posting about how they’re sorry it’s been so long since they’ve posted. Notice, it’s not actually a problem to take a gap of weeks or even months between posts. What’s a problem is when all you can talk about is the gap. Because that means that even when you’re present, you’re not really present.

Secondly, I don’t ever want to post about how I’m having trouble thinking about something to write about. Because that’s also just spinning wheels. I’d rather post about something really silly or trivial than post about that.

Luckily, I have my trust fall-back when writing blog posts. Actually, I have two fallbacks. The first is to write about books. Which I can’t do, because I’ve been reading the same book for weeks. Secondly, I just overshare like crazy.

For instance, yesterday I was talking with a friend about what plastic surgeries we’re thinking about getting done. This is not a speculative conversation. We’re both seriously considering these various procedures. For me, I was saying that I wouldn’t be averse to getting my loose skin taken in surgically once my weight loss was done-ish. Because you know what? It does kind of sag. And it is not the best. I have no idea how much that costs, but I think I could maybe afford it within a few years.

Secondly, if there was a surgery that really restored your hair, I would be so on top of that! Seriously, I’d spend a lot of money to have hair. Unfortunately, all the existing treatments are a bit unsatisfactory, so I guess I’ll just keep shaving my head. But hair. My god, the guy who figures out how to really give you back your hair will be so wealthy.

I guess I’d also consider getting my eyes fixed. I have super astigmatism, so regular lasik wouldn’t do it. But there are procedures that’d take care of me. I mean, contact lenses are okay, but they’re a bit of a hassle. And I feel like glasses make me look like a goober.

One of many secret weight-less fantasies

Okay, gonna begin here with a trigger warning for people who’re triggered by weight loss and diet and stuff. You all should not read any further.

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Anyways, via Ampersand I found the following question posted to “Dear Polly.” It’s about a woman who wasn’t attracted a man because he was overweight, but then when he lost lots of weight, she was attracted to him, and then he has sex with her and subsequently blows her off in an emotional confrontation where he calls her shallow.

But after a conversation of vague, ambiguous answers, I finally blurted out everything that I was feeling. I wanted him, and I felt like he was punishing me for not being interested in him before. He started laughing, then called me shallow. Saying that he could never date me because he “would have to get on a scale every morning” to determine if he was worthy of me. That his personality had not changed, and that a small change in physical appearance shouldn’t take my interest level from 0 to 100. He then went into lawyer mode, showing me Facebook posts from his heavy days and now; the same clever Facebook status that had gotten 30 likes when he was overweight got over 100 now that he was thin. He then became upset, near tears even, and told me that the saddest part of losing weight was that people finally complimented him on qualities he’d always had.

Now I’m not going to say that either party comes off looking good in this situation. Both the woman and the man come off as heartless and unempathetic. However, I think that both parties are also really understandable. Obviously, as someone who’s lost a considerable amount of weight, I have at times felt like that man. I mean, it sucks to be with people who you know would not have found you attractive before. And I’ve also fantasized about putting paid to the kind of person who would have rejected me before.

But I also sympathize with the woman. I am like every other human being in the world. I weed out potential romantic partners on the basis of looks. And if you’re not attracted to a guy, then you can’t be with him. And if his looks change, but all his other great qualities remain the same, then it makes sense that you’d want to be with him.

I mean, I think Polly nails it in her answer. What’s happening in this story is that a lifetime of feeling-shitty-about-himself is leaching out of that man’s system and poisoning his relationships with other people. And the reason that the woman feels so bad about this, instead of laughing it off as just one of those things, is that she’s also got hangups about her looks. She doesn’t want her looks to be a factor in her loves, so she’s upset at being reminded that that’s just not how things are.

Anyway, the reason that I posted about this story is that this the weight loss fantasy. This is what people dream about. They hope that everyone will regard them differently and that they’ll be more beloved in every possible social situation.

But I think that the reality of weight loss for most people (including myself) is that you get to the end, and you’re like…”That’s it?”

Because the truth is that I am not a supermodel. I’ll never have six-pack abs (due to loose skin, that’s literally impossible for me). And I’ll always be myopic and balding. In fact, when I look in the mirror, I often perceive little-to-no difference between how I look now and how I looked when I was 110 pounds heavier.

And as far as I can tell, people haven’t really treated me differently. I mean, I am much more popular, both in person and in social media, than I was three years ago. But that’s a result of so many things (including some very conscious changes in how I manage my social and social media lives), that I’d have a hard time attributing it entirely to the weight loss.

I have no doubt that being thinner makes it easier to interact with people, particularly strangers, and that it brings me opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. But…it’s not a world of difference. Let’s call it maybe 10-20% improvement.

And, you know, that’s pretty much it. That’s what happens when you lose weight (at least as a man–I’ve no doubt that it’s very different for women).

Oh, I am able to wear t-shirts now. I do like that. Before, t-shirts were a no-go because their shapeless cut is no good if you have chest or stomach fat. Nowadays I even wear the free t-shirts that are given to me by various organizations. Oh my god, I can even wear t-shirts from the thrift store. That’s something, I guess.

The real reason that we go to restaurants…

1lardHad a realization recently while eating tortilla chips at a restaurant. They were unbelievably delicious. But halfway through the bowl, I realized that they were basically just a salt delivery system.

All the time, I go to a restaurant and order something and it is delicious and then I wonder, “Why does home-cooked food never taste like this?”

Well, restaurants prepare their food safely out of sight, so they can put more sugar and salt and fat and lard and oil in it than I could ever imagine using.

Restaurants aren’t special. I mean, they have industrial equipment back there that allows them to cook more food at once, but it’s still basically just stoves and ovens and griddles and all the other things that we can do. And sure, the chefs in a restaurant are quick and precise and understand the ways in which their ingredients are affecting the taste of the finished product (whereas I pretty much just mechanically follow the recipe and hope that it’ll taste good). But still, I think that at least half the reason we go to restaurants (and half the reason that restaurant food is so good) is that they put unhealthy ingredients into their food at quantities that we would never imagine doing it in our own kitchen.

For instance, a friend was once telling me that he’d been trying, over and over, to make pad thai, but it never came out quite right. Well, obv, he wasn’t using enough oil or sugar. If he had used enough, then it would’ve tasted right, but he wouldn’t have wanted to eat it anymore. It’s only when the preparation is cloaked by an anonymous professional in an anonymous kitchen that we can sit back and enjoy our salt.

Even after losing a great deal of weight, it’s very difficult for me to actually _see_ the differences in my body

I have lost a lot of weight. As a result, I look very different from how I used to look. However, I don’t really perceive much, if any, of this difference. When I look in the mirror, I still see the same person as always. And I don’t mean that in some mystical way wherein I’m able to recognize the essential Rahulness of the person looking back at me: I mean that I actually see the same person. To my own eyes, my looks have not really changed.

I am not a student of neurology, but I think that our crazy brains might be, to some extent, responsible for this dysmorphic perception. The eyes aren’t optimized for perceiving differences in how a person looks over time: they’re optimized for looking at someone and identifying them. When I look at someone, all my brain wants to know is, “Do I know this person? And, if so, who are they?” To that end, the eyes and the brain pull out the essential features of that person’s appearance and disregard the noise. Otherwise, I might get confused if a person was dirty or wearing different clothes or wearing makeup. The brain doesn’t want to pay too much attention to features that don’t impact survival.

Obviously, this supposition is pseudo-scientific, but I have noticed that my eyes perceive my body in a very different way from my hands. The sense of touch isn’t designed to pick up patterns in the same way: it’s designed to convey the specific properties of what is being touched. Where my eyes have seen no change, my hands will pick up on incredibly minor changes. For instance, sometimes I’ll touch my face and it’ll feel different. Not just a little bit different, either: it’ll feel completely alien. I’ll touch the back of my knee or my shoulder, and the sensation I’ll get will be so different from anything I’ve felt before. It’s fun, but it’s also very unsettling.

Anyway, it’s just an observation. Sometimes people will look at anexorics or other people with severe body dysmorphia and wonder why they don’t notice that something’s wrong. But it’s obvious. The thing you see when you look into a mirror isn’t what’s there. It’s not even mostly what’s there. It’s mostly a figment of your imagination.

Today, when I was in the gym, I was standing around during an interval between sets, and I stood very close to the mirror and really looked at myself and it’s impossible to describe what I saw. For a brief moment, the person in the mirror shifted around and looked very different. Nothing in the image had changed, but I was able to perceive a different part of it, kind of like a magic eye painting snapping into focus. A very strange experience.

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It was a bit like seeing the arrow in the FedEx logo

After losing 106 pounds, I am finally (for the first time in my life) at a “healthy” weight

weightloss-scaleFair warning: you shouldn’t read this post if you find discussions of dieting and weight loss to be upsetting. In fact, I know that plenty of my friends and my readers do have issues in that vein, so I considered not writing this post at all. However, given that I have dedicated a substantial amount of my attention and brainpower over the last two years to the task of losing weight, it’d be disingenuous of me to pretend that it’s not something I care about.

Yesterday, I stepped on the scale and got a reading of 221.0. My highest recorded weight was 327 in December of 2011. For a 6′ 7″ person, 221.0 pounds gives a Body Mass Index of exactly 24.9, meaning that I am now officially within what the government would call the “normal weight” range.

Over the last two years, a third of me has disappeared.

I haven’t had a strong emotional reaction to this milestone, because I already had it. Over the summer, when I was at Sewanee, I got my lowest-ever weight reading (at 232) and realized that I was someday going to reach normal weight. At that point, I’d had eight days of sleep deprivation, so I wasn’t in the stablest place, emotionally, and I immediately took to bed and began crying because I just felt so angry at the world.

I’ve been overweight since age twelve. And for the last fifteen years, countless people have said or implied that I should lose weight. I remember how excruciating it was to be eating dinner with my parents and watching the news when one of those “childhood obesity epidemic!” segments would come on. I didn’t go to a doctor for nine years because I was tired of being lectured about my weight. And I always heard, “Oh, if you start now, it’ll be much easier than if you try to do it as an adult.”

But was that really true?

What was the child Rahul supposed to do? I remember binge-eating late at night–consuming everything in the cupboard–and having a horrified out-of-body experience, just staring at my hands as I poured out bags of chips and opened candy bars and guzzled sodas and knowing that there was no way I could make myself stop. Every year, I’d make a grand plan to lose weight and dream about how great it would be to finally be thin, and then I’d go into the basement and exercise on the machine for a few weeks and finally flame out and feel even worse about my inability to hold it together. I remember my puzzlement at the strange red scar that appeared on my stomach when I was in ninth grade and then my worry as the marks grew and proliferated until they covered my whole body. I remember being at summer camp and someone saying, “Wow, there’s a scar on your face” and then running home and looking in the mirror and seeing three parallel marks on my right cheek. I started seeing stretch marks everywhere. I’d look at the lines of my hands and wonder whether they were going to slowly grow and widen and stretch up my arms. I would lay up at night worrying that the stretch marks would cover my entire body and turn me into some kind of Nosferatu-like monster.

It was only when I went to college that the weight gain stopped. Part of that was that I took up smoking. And part of it was that I no longer had junk food within arms reach. Eventually, much of my weight-related angst subsided. So much so that it almost seems strange for me to remember what a huge obsession it used to be.

I feel a lot of pity for the child that I used to be. Because now that I’ve finally shed the weight, I can’t stop thinking: What was I supposed to do? When people told me to lose weight, how did they think I was going to accomplish that?

How was it possible for me to eat differently? I didn’t even buy my own food. That’s the insanity of what we do to our kids. Like, how was I supposed to control my eating when I wasn’t even the one who was buying my own food?! I know that if I, as an adult, started stocking an unlimited supply of cookies and chips and soda, then it would be impossible for me to lose weight. But people expected me to just go from eating everything within arm’s reach to not eating it. It’s like expecting an alcoholic to stop drinking even though you refuse to take all the liquor out of the house.

And it’s not my parents’ fault. I asked them to buy all that stuff. But the fact remains–there was an essential lack of empathy there. If anyone who’d asked me to lose weight had stopped and really thought about what they were asking, they’d have realized it was impossible.

I think that people thought I was somehow not aware that I was gaining weight and not aware that being overweight is considered quite bad and that if I just knew it, then I could somehow stop it. And the terrible part is that I thought those things too. I spent large periods of time trying to forget that I was overweight. And when I’d suddenly realize it, I’d go all out trying to do all the things I was supposed to. And then, when I inevitably failed, I’d internalize the failure and wonder why I couldn’t do it.

Losing weight is extremely difficult for adults. My parents have full control over their environment and they’ve struggled with their weight for decades. It’s really not easy to lose weight. It requires an immense amount of control. In comparison, quitting drinking was easy. When you quit drinking, the temptation decreases over time. But when you quit overeating, the temptation never diminishes, because you are continually reminded your body of how pleasurable it is to eat. After a meal, there’s always the desire for one more serving. And  you always need to fight it down. Every single day.

In order to make that fight winnable, you need to be able to utilize every single tool. You need freedom of movement, so you can avoid food when you need to. You need freedom in your kitchen, you can only buy and stock the foods that work for you. You need the freedom of disposable income, so that you can pay more money for food that’s healthier. You need freedom of schedule, so you can arrange your meals at your convenience.

You know who has none of these things? A child.

I have mixed feelings about writing this post. Studies indicate that 95% of people who lose weight will eventually regain it. And not just part of it, either–they’ll regain all of it and more. That makes sense to me. I know that if I relaxed my control, I’d immediately be back where I was. People say things like “It’s not about dieting, it’s lifestyle change.” But that’s not true. It is about dieting. There is no lifestyle that can ever make your body think that prolonged starvation is natural.

Sometimes I think that I would literally rather die than regain the weight. It’s not possible to imagine a failure that would be more public and more indicative of a loss of virtue. And that terror has something of the same quality of the terror that I felt as a child. In making physical progress, I have, in some ways, undone much of my emotional progress.