What I Read This Week (Nov 17 – Nov 23)

The End of Babies – The first time I’ve read a piece that so deeply and incisively describes my anxieties when I consider becoming a parent. (And that’s coming from someone who once dreamt of having a big family for years.)

Julián Castro: If Democrats Don’t Elevate Voters of Color, ‘Why The Hell Are We Democrats in the First Place?’

All Summer in a Day – A classic Ray Bradbury short story I’d managed to never read until this week.

‘I don’t know about normal love’: A church leader’s abuse and a woman’s years-long struggle – Content earnings for rape, sexual assault, grooming, and religious abuse.

The Magic Kingdom – “Capitalism, like all abusive relationships, creates a sense of learned helplessness in its victims. We are complicit in what it makes of us: we want so badly for what it tells us to be true.

The Middle of Everywhere – A writeup on the importance and beauty of vanishing tallgrass prairie,

The Quiet Rooms – What happens when children as young as 5 are put in “isolation rooms” for misbehaving at school? If I hadn’t already been a prison abolitionist, this piece would’ve done it.

Asians in California don’t believe hard work and determination alone equal success

Will There Ever Be a Me Too-Styled Movement for Bad Bosses? We are taught to take socially imposed power structures as a piece of nature, to believe our place within these systems as symptomatic of our strengths and shortcomings, to understand any drive to succeed and in so doing, get more power than other people, as the ultimate goal (and reward) of working life.” I liked this piece, but also feel it ignores the labor movement and others who have been pushing back against “bad bosses” and bosses in general for a very, very long time.

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October 2018 Reads!

I don’t know if it’s the chill in the air now that October is at its close or the fact that the holidays are fast approaching, but I have been reading voraciously the last couple weeks. It’s been a while since I’ve flipped through so many books in such a short time, and I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. Part of that is getting back in touch with my roots as a reader, which feels like something I’ve drifted from as streaming services have gotten better and I’ve gotten more and more addicted to my phone. But this month, I think it mostly had to do with the fact that everything I read was absolutely delicious.

The first book I picked up this month was The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare. Tessa Dare is hands down my absolute favorite romance writer. Her plots are always a fun ride, and I always find myself laughing and squealing out loud when I read any of her books. The Duchess Deal was no exception. The heroine, Emma, is brash and strong-willed, but still feels very human and grounded. The hero, Ash, is harsh yet seductive. It’s a bit of a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, mixed with the classic marriage of convenience trope. Though I can’t say it’s my favorite of her books–that honor goes to A Week to Be Wicked–I really enjoyed the characters and plot. It’s a Regency romance, but it grapples with issues that have been centered in our own time by #MeToo. All in all, it’s a really fun read perfect for anyone ready to settle down with a fun, light romance.

Of course, I couldn’t keep things fun and light for long. I crave intensity and dark stories, especially this time of year. Fortunately, I found a copy of World War Z at the library last Sunday. It’s been on my list for months, but there was never a copy at my library branch, so I always ended up picking up other things. Which was probably a good thing, because I basically did nothing for the next couple days besides hurtle my way through it. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I found it riveting. I love post-apocalyptic media, but the angle Max Brooks takes in World War Z is decidedly different. First off, the story is told in the form of interviews with survivors. Some have said that this defangs the story a bit–why would I be worried about these characters when I know these are the people who made it?–and I don’t entirely disagree. Still, to me, World War Z was less of a zombie novel and more of a dissection of inter- and intranational politics, human nature, and how governments and individuals react to pandemics and disasters. If you’re looking for a classic zombie story that focuses more on individuals or a small group, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re interested in reading more about a global response to a zombie apocalypse and the ways that society breaks apart and comes back together, I have a feeling you’ll be very satisfied.

After World War Z, I shifted back into lighthearted territory with Tony Cliff’s graphic novel Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. Delilah Dirk is a fascinating (and dangerous) woman living in the earlier part of the 19th century. She’s a thief who is constantly getting into wild shenanigans that involve exploding buildings and fast escapes, sometimes on horseback, and other times on her boat… which can fly. This is the kind of graphic novel I wish I’d been able to read when I was younger. Now, I read it and think, “God, I would love to write something like this.” It’s a fun ride with amazing art and lots of great banter. I found myself laughing aloud more than once. Delilah is dashing from the start and you can’t help but love her. Selim, the titular Turkish lieutenant, makes for an excellent straight man and traveling companion for Delilah. This is the first of the Delilah Dirk books and I’m definitely going to be picking up the rest.

Of course, my reading binge isn’t about to stop any time soon. I just started Dietland, which I’m super excited about. Books with fat protagonists who take no shit? Count me in. I’ve also put a few books on hold at the library that I’ve been seeing people talking about nonstop on Twitter. Both Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun and Tasha Suri’s Empire of Sand seem like they’re going to be stellar reads with fresh takes on the fantasy genre. I also put Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway on hold, which should be a nice dive back into sci-fi. I’m also looking to explore more solarpunk fiction. My library doesn’t have a whole lot on hand since the genre is still so new, but I put in a bunch of requests and am hoping I’ll get to read them soon. I would love to hear recommendations from anyone else interested in the genre!

But enough about me. What have y’all been reading lately?

Pushing Through a Reading Dry Spell

In the final months of my undergrad, I was dying for the freedom to read whatever I wanted. I dreamt of a day when I would go back to all those books that had been collecting dust for years, waiting for when I had the brain space to read them. At the time, it seemed like the only thing missing that would allow me to fully dive back into reading was free time.

Well, I have free time now. So what have I been reading?

Not much.

I’ve been able to delve into some nonfiction books. I’ve really been digging Come As You Are over the last couple weeks. I listened to a good portion of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up before 428374928 different life things got in the way. I was also really enjoying What Your Clutter is Trying to Tell You on my commute to and from work, but my phone battery just isn’t what it used to be. The point is, I never quite seem to finish the books I start. The last book I finished was Turtles All the Way Down (which I reviewed here), which felt like a weird exceptional blip in this reading dry spell I’ve been having.

A huge part of the problem is that I read for a living. I read books as I look for writers to reach out to, and then read those books again as I proofread them. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be reading dozens (or potentially even hundreds) of submissions to the writing contest I’m running for work.

When I’m not working, the idea of reading seems entirely unappealing. I’m much more interested in curling up on the couch and watching/yelling at Mad Men or attempting to take over the world in Europa IV for the 574356th time of just sitting quietly on my phone and scrolling through Pinterest. This feels like a moral failing to me, having been an English major and a voracious reader since I was a toddler.

So, what’s a proofreader and webnovel manager to do?

I don’t have a plan in place just yet, but once I start figuring out how to get out of my tech- and work-induced reading funk, y’all will be the first to know.

How do you handle reading dry spells? Any tips for keeping up a reading habit? Leave a comment below!

[Review] Turtles All the Way Down

Mental illness is part of my everyday life. On a good day, it’s quiet background noise, a voice whispering cruel things that my rational self is able to ignore and brush aside. On a bad day, my nerves are jangling, waiting for my anxiety to pounce again and force me into a series of repetitive thoughts that get harder to control as every new thought appears. On a bad day, my brain will settle on something to obsess over and pick, pick, pick at it until I am struggling to get through my day.

So when I heard that John Green, master of writing relatable teenagers with varying degrees of social and/or plain old anxiety, was writing a book with a main character with OCD… I was pretty excited. But I’ve strayed from reading YA in recent years, as I am getting to the point where they no longer feel like they’re for me. Reading about kids in high school feels like reading about an alien planet I once lived on but have no desire to go back to. So I filed the knowledge away to be taken advantage of at another time, figuring I’d maybe read it someday when I had time.

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Luckily, my partner knows me better than I often know myself and put Turtles All the Way Down on hold at our local library branch before the book was even released. (Frugal and romantic! He knows the way to my heart, y’all.) It took a few weeks before a copy was available, but as soon as it was, I started reading.

And… had to stop not too far in.

It wasn’t because the book was bad. Oh, no. It was because it was too good. Reading it spiked my anxiety like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t have OCD, but the main character Aza’s fears of germs and disgust of things like the process of eating and digestion, and her constant questioning of whether or not she was real felt extremely familiar.

I powered through it, though. There were so many portions of the story that pinged some core feeling inside me. Aza’s struggle with physical intimacy because of invasive thoughts about germs, her descriptions of “thought spirals” and questions about what controls our thoughts and whether our thoughts are us or not, and the way stressors in her life eventually get her to this point where she feels as if her control over her thoughts is even more limited than normal – so much of it felt like things I had experienced, and the writing is visceral enough that sometimes I had to stop and catch my breath for a minute and remind myself that I was okay.

However, while it felt amazing and made me felt seen to have these kinds of trials put to paper, the thing that really made Turtles feel important was its focus on healing. Note that I don’t say “recovery.” If you’re looking for a book where everything ends very neatly and the main character conquers their mental illness entirely and everything is hunky-dory, don’t expect Turtles to be that book. Aza is not perfect at the end of the novel by any stretch of the imagination. But she has taken the time to use the tools at her disposal to be the best she can be, and that was a deeply important message for me to read. This is a book about healing hurts and knowing that sometimes, even though you have healed, your pain can sometimes try to come back to haunt you, and that’s not the end of the world if you have the right tools to handle the pain when it arrives. It’s also about life going on, and how, despite mental illness often being an unwelcome guest that will likely never leave you, you can still go on to live your life and do all the things you dream of doing.

I felt like John Green summed up that sentiment really well at the end of his acknowledgments.

Lastly, Dr. Joellen Hosler and Dr. Sunil Patel have made my life immeasurably better by providing the kind of high-quality mental health care that unfortunately remains out of reach for too many. My family and I are grateful. If you need mental health services in the United States, please call the SAMHSA treatment referral helpline… It can be a long and difficult road, but mental illness is treatable. There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.

Despite some meandering plot lines and a kind of slowness that drags portions of the book down, I still think this is, if not one of the best, then one of the most important books I’ve read in a while.

Book Hoarding

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For the past several months, I have been trying to get rid of some of my books. It is… not going well. In the three-ish months (god, I really hope it’s only been three and not longer) since I resolved to separate my books into “keep,” “donate,” and “sell” piles, I have only been able to select about ten books that I’m absolutely certain I don’t want to keep. Some of them are gifts that I am just not all that interested in and never have been, while others were assigned reading that I always meant to finish but haven’t gotten around to. I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (yet), but from what I have heard secondhand, one of the most important things to do when tidying is ensure that the stuff you are keeping around you is stuff that brings you joy.

I love my books. I love having books on my shelf. But I’ve had to admit to myself recently that I have not made much time for sitting down and reading physical books. I read all day at work and I’ve prioritized other hobbies since leaving high school. I can’t say that it’s a good thing, but I tend to prioritize gaming and watching TV over reading. Which means that now, instead of having a shelf full of possible sources of entertainment, I have a shelf full of heavy decorations that are not being used.

I’m a big believer in secondhand books. I rarely buy any books with a hard cover or brand new, because I’m a very heavy user. I make notes in the margins and dog-ear pages. A lot of my favorites no longer have covers and are falling apart. Buying secondhand is simply part of frugal decision-making for me – why buy a book at full price that isn’t going to stay pristine? But a big part of my belief in secondhand books has always been being willing to let books go so that others can love them just as much as I did. But for some reason, I haven’t actually put that concept into practice for several years. I’ve gotten rid of a few textbooks I had no attachment to, sure, but not any of the novels I picked up from the free library in the laundry room and never started, or the books that I am entirely certain I have grown out of that I no longer have an emotional attachment to.

I’m not entirely sure why this is. I think to some degree I just haven’t had much time to de-clutter much of anything in my apartment over the last four years, and I’ve been lazy about taking on big projects. But a huge part of it is that I am deeply attached to my book hoard. The thought of decreasing my collection even by one book makes me uncomfortable. They’ve been a heavy presence at the corner of my eye for so long. Many of these books have been with me since I was very young and it feels wrong to release them into the wild for someone else to have. I can’t say they feel like part of me, but they certainly feel like part of what makes my space mine. I worry that I would be lonely without them.

But even with all those emotional ties, I can’t help but consider things like what will happen when I move out. How many boxes will all these books take up? (Too many.) Will I really want them in whatever new home I end up in? Even if I don’t move out any time soon, do I really want to keep all that space for books that are going unread when I could use it for vital storage of other, more useful items that have had to be tucked away elsewhere? And the more I think about things like this, the more I realize that my hoard is less of a comforting presence and a collection of knowledge and more of a reminder of my issue with letting keepsakes go. So I think back on Marie Kondo’s rule to only keep things around that bring you joy and ask myself: are my books bringing me joy? Some of them. But most of them feel like an anchor.

That tells me that I have to do something about this. I treasure my books, but I need to move forward and let them go. I need to let other people find them and treasure them and hopefully crack them open once in a while. And I need to do it soon.

Fingers crossed.

 

I Hate Dieting: A Response to “Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age”

I said it: I hate dieting. I really do. From the compulsiveness it creates in myself and others to the sanctimoniousness of ex-fat people who can’t seem to talk about anything except how terrible it was to be fat and who consistently find new, innovative ways to throw currently-fat people under the bus, to its pervasiveness in modern culture – I hate it. I hate going to parties and talking to women who I know are perfectly intelligent and getting caught in a discussion about weight loss, because suddenly we are no longer saying anything particularly smart or useful. We just repeat a conversation we have had with dozens of other women a hundred times before.

I’ve written a bit here about body image and how fat positivity has changed my life (and, quite frankly, probably saved it in many ways), but I honestly feel like that post was too tame considering my relatively radical beliefs about fat bodies and diet culture. One of those beliefs is that dieting is ugly. It warps people’s brains and twists cultural concepts of what it means to be a worthwhile human being. I know because I’ve been on diets and been given all kinds of weird and terrible diet advice over the years. I will honestly never get over being told by my pediatrician when I was 12 (and pretty normal-sized – I was already at my adult height but I was at an average weight for that height) that I should avoid eating fruit if I was going to be eating lots of sugary things because the extra sugar from the fruit would make me fat. I was shocked. My doctor was telling me to eat less fruit? When she didn’t even know what I ate every day? We barely ever even had juice in the house because of my parents’ concerns about sugar.

That same doctor told me that I needed to try Weight Watchers or maybe go to a support group for fat teens a few years later. I was ashamed and angry at the time, even though a small part of me agreed with her. I was 15 and hated my body, like most 15 year olds. I wouldn’t attempt to take up her advice until I was almost 17 and my father was moving to a small Mediterranean country famous for its limestone beaches. Horrified by the thought of being in a swimsuit in public at my size (which, admittedly, was not small, but  I was certainly not the beast I thought I was), I started Weight Watchers several months before I left. I spent a good portion of my junior year of high school counting points and doing my best not to cheat. I ended up losing about 40 pounds, but I honestly could barely tell the difference. I still felt just as bad about myself as I ever had. I swam that summer and loved it, but eventually quit the program because I just couldn’t keep up the motivation to continue and actually get down to my goal weight of 125 pounds.

Fast forward to a few years later. I had started college and found the fat acceptance movement. (Also, a note here: I believe that while the body positivity movement and the fat acceptance movement have some of the same goals, body positivity has been watered down so much by corporations that it has become meaningless. The body positivity that helped me love myself is not the same body positivity I see everywhere today selling tea cleanses and telling people they need to “get fit.” To be frank, every good thing that body positivity is giving to people now is ground that the fat acceptance movement paved the way for, and did better.) Over the course of the intervening four years since finding the movement, I am a completely different person. Bigger, yes, but also happier. I still have body image issues and really bad days, but my good and neutral days far outweigh my bad ones. I still worry about how other people perceive my body, but that’s a consequence of being fat in a world that is constantly telling me I shouldn’t be. I am more unapologetic about my size than I have ever been.

But stories like “Losing It” still hit me hard. This is one of the passages that really got to me:

 I told Foster that Obesity Week made me sad. First, it was the profusion of educated people in the room studying me and my people as if we were problems to solve. But second, it was because if you have this many hundreds of smart and educated people trying to figure this out, and nobody has anything for me but superfood and behavior modification and an insertable balloon and the removal of an organ, it must be that there is no way to solve fatness.

I felt a twinge in my heart when I first I read that. Because, yes, there’s a tiny part of my brain that has been programmed for 22 years to think that I should be as small as possible who wants a “solution” to my problem. The de-programmed part of me has realized that the solution is loving myself and trying to help others do the same, but being reminded that there are people out there doing their best to find a “fix” for the problem of fatness.

A few paragraphs later, when Brodesser-Akner describes her experience with intuitive eating classes, I almost cried:

I went to an intuitive-eating class — intuitive eating is where you learn to feed yourself based only on internal signals and not external ones like mealtimes or diet plans. Meaning it’s just eating what you want when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. There were six of us in there, educated, desperate fat women, doing mindful-eating exercises and discussing their pitfalls and challenges. We were given food. We would smell the food, put the food on our lips, think about the food, taste the food, roll the food around in our mouths, swallow the food. Are you still hungry? Are you sure? The first week it was a raisin. It progressed to cheese and crackers, then to cake, then to Easter candy. We sat there silently, as if we were aliens who had just arrived on Earth and were learning what this thing called food was and why and how you would eat it. Each time we did the eating exercise, I would cry. ‘‘What is going on for you?’’ the leader would ask. But it was the same answer every time: I am 41, I would say. I am 41 and accomplished and a beloved wife and a good mother and a hard worker and a contributor to society and I am learning how to eat a goddamned raisin. How did this all go so wrong for me?

It was hard for me to read because I’ve been there, and some days I still am there. Our culture has such strange ideas about food and how it’s supposed to be consumed and who is allowed to consume food and how much of it is socially acceptable for them to consume that it seems impossible that there are people in this world that do not have a fraught relationship with the food they consume. I am still working on intuitive eating, especially when I am in a group setting. Intuitive eating is so much easier when there isn’t a potential audience. But I’ve gotten a lot better. Still, though, the idea that eating a raisin is hard is something that I felt deep inside myself. Eating is complicated and difficult.

But this was the moment where the author lost me:

Weight isn’t neutral. A woman’s body isn’t neutral. A woman’s body is everyone’s business but her own. Even in our attempts to free one another, we were still trying to tell one another what to want and what to do. It is terrible to tell people to try to be thinner; it is also terrible to tell them that wanting to lose weight is hopeless and wrong.

I don’t know if diets can work in the short term or the long term. For the first time, I began to think that this was something worth being made crazy over. Our bodies deserve our thoughts and our kindness, our acceptance and our striving. Our bodies are what carry our thoughts and our kindness and our acceptance and striving.

I agree with her first few statements. Women’s bodies aren’t neutral, and it is terrible to try to tell people to be thinner, especially as we are learning more and more that dieting doesn’t work in the long-term except for a very small number of people and that weight cycling like that caused by dieting can be very harmful.

But deciding that dieting is “something worth being made crazy over” and that dieting involves “thoughts and… kindness [and] acceptance and… striving” is honestly appalling to me. Dieting is quite literally the exact opposite of acceptance of one’s body and self. I completely understand where Brodesser-Akner is coming from, but I feel like deciding to give in to something as harmful as the weight loss industry because it allows one to perpetually strive for a “better” self is self-destructive. Accepting disordered eating because it feels like the only option can only end in disaster.

So I want to propose something to anyone who is struggling with being fat or with disordered eating or both: try to be kind to yourself. Self-acceptance comes slowly. And sometimes self-acceptance means that you have to accept that you do not look exactly how you want yourself to. Self-acceptance means changing your expectations of yourself and your goals for who you want to be. It means thinking about what you want for yourself beyond being smaller. It means realizing that you’ve put a lot of time and energy and brain space into thinking about your weight and trying to “fix” it that could probably be better spent thinking about and doing other things. Some examples of small ways that you can be kind to yourself:

  • Push back against negative thoughts. If the part of your brain that likes to say cruel things tells you, “God, that outfit looks terrible on you,” respond back with something like, “It looks fine and I like the color.”
  • Every year, one of my favorite podcasts, The Sporkful does a New Year’s Food Resolution episode. Here’s a link to the 2017 episode. The host, Dan Pashman, encourages listeners to pick a food they want to eat more of each year. This year, my resolution was to eat more fruits and veggies that I hadn’t tried before, and eat them in ways I had not tried them before. It may already be August, but I still think this is something worth trying.
  • Do things that are good for your body just because you like them. I discovered that I really like running, so I do that sometimes. Maybe there are healthy things that you haven’t tried that you really like, like swimming or dancing or roasted brussels sprouts with olive oil and a delicious blend of spices. Maybe there’s a thing you love to do that you’ve been putting off because you think you’re too fat to do it anymore. You should do it anyway. Life is short, and waiting until you’re thin enough to do something might mean you wait forever.
  • Eat some good things just because they taste good and you want them. I mean, sure, moderation in all things, but sometimes you just have to eat a bunch of ice cream. Sometimes you want to buy a whole cake just for yourself. Sometimes you want to make homemade tempura and enjoy the taste. It’s okay. You can give yourself permission to do that sometimes.
  • Take a look at pictures of fat people, and not just ones that are inspiration porn. I recommend blogs like Fat Girls Doing Things or going through hashtags on Instagram like #plussize, #plussizefashion, #fatspo, or #fatpositive. It can make a huge difference to see people who look like you on a regular basis. And, if you’re not fat, this is still something you should do, because we should all be trying to normalize fat bodies.

I know it feels like it, but weight loss isn’t the only answer out there. You can unlearn the vicious things people have taught you to believe about your body. You can have a completely fulfilling life while being fat. There’s another way to do things, and it’s worth trying.

I’ve been neglecting this space. Luckily, it was for good reason. I just started working full-time for a company I really enjoy working for. I’m still trying to find a rhythm with non-work stuff, but I feel like I’m starting to make some headway.

Even though I haven’t been posting much here, I haven’t neglected writing completely. I recently wrote a post called “5 Tips That Will Make You A Better Writer” for work that I’m pretty proud of.

I also just recently read “Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, which I found really compelling. I appreciated the personal touch Taffy brought to the story as a person who has tried many different diets, but I also found the dissection of how diet companies and a thinness-obsessed culture have co-opted parts of the fat positive movement and started using “body positivity” to sell the same products they’ve always sold really important to talk about. I have a whole heck of a lot to say about that, so I’ll likely be getting up a post about it in the next few weeks.

It’s been a week since I graduated now. I’m only just now starting to feel like I’m coming up for air. I’m still trying to catch up on sleep, still trying to work out a routine for myself. It doesn’t quite feel like freedom yet, but I know it will soon.

I’m trying to figure out my work situation and finances right now and try to put myself in a position where Future Me is comfortable. I’m also trying to give Present Me a break, because Present Me seems permanently exhausted and always just on the verge of a cold. (Dear God, please don’t let it really be a cold.)

On the positive side, I’ve had a lot more time to do things I feel like doing. I’m already halfway through the latest season of House of Cards (it’s killing me, y’all) and I finally got to do some of the main quests in Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I have been playing for 2+ years now! It feels really good to get home and actually relax. No worries about assignment deadlines or applications or papers or projects. My Me Time feels like real Me Time and not time stolen away from me doing productive things. It’s incredible. I spent my Saturday playing Don’t Starve Together and getting my teeth cleaned, which is an ideal Saturday.

Oh, I also started reading Farm City by Novella Carpenter. It’s my latest public transit read and I’m really enjoying it. Definitely an light, easy read that’s right up my alley. Urban gardening? Squat gardening on land that wouldn’t be used otherwise? Creating community with gardening?? Wonderful. I have some issues with some of the implications in the novel re: gentrification, but there’s a lot of stuff that makes it a worthwhile read for me. Definitely check it out.

Also, speaking of reading: I haven’t finished it yet, but I read most of The Abyss Surrounds Us for work and absolutely loved it. It’s a combination of a future and futuristic world that isn’t necessarily any more dystopic than the present world, but still extremely different, kaiju, futuristic pirates, and lesbians. I wish it had come out when I was younger, but I was really glad I got the pleasure of reading it now.

All of this to say: things are not perfect, but they are good, and they feel like they are going to get better.