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I Read It So You Don't Have To: Little Kids, Big City (by Alex McCord and Simon van Kempen)
Inspired by the overwhelmingly positive response to my previous 'book report' on Ramona Singer's Life on the Ramona Coaster (seriously, thank you all -- truly supporting other women 🙏🙏), I decided to try my hand at writing up yet another of the embarrassing number of Housewives books in my personal collection: Alex McCord and Simon van Kempen's Little Kids, Big City: Tales from a Real House in New York City with Lessons on Life and Love for Your Own Concrete Jungle. After reading just the title of this book, I'm already exhausted. It's pretentiously long and awkwardly phrased while somehow still managing to be entirely devoid of meaning. In other words, a perfect encapsulation of Simon and Alex. The summary on the back cover describes the pair as the "breakout stars" of RHONY, an assessment that I would charitably call 'debatable,' before going on to inform me that I can look forward to "informative and often hair-raising stories of life in the urban jungle," and that "Alex and Simon use their own hard-won experience as a springboard to discuss a host of parenting topics." I anticipate that this content will be quite useful to me, the guardian of four cats that I spoil endlessly and treat like my actual children. One of the pull-quotes on the back cover allegedly comes from our very own Bethenny Frankel. I say 'allegedly' because I refuse to believe that the following passage would ever come out of Bethenny's mouth (or keyboard or whatever):
Alex and Simon don't take themselves too seriously, which seems to be essential to parenting. Their fresh 'he said, she said' perspective on parenting is both humorous and insightful!
Please, take a moment and do your very best to picture mention-it-all, betting-on-horse-races-at-age-five Bethenny unironically using the phrase "fresh 'he said, she said' perspective." To describe Simon van Kempen and Alex McCord. Right, didn't think so. My experience reading Little Kids, Big City started on an unexpected high note when I opened the front cover to find that my copy (purchased used through Better World Books for the low, low price of $5.31 with shipping) had been signed by Ms. you-are-in-high-school-while-I-am-in-Brooklyn herself, Alex McCord! Truly a gift I do not deserve. Samantha and Debbie (whoever and wherever you may be), thank you for your service. I am forever in your debt. Unfortunately, as would soon become painfully clear to me, after starting off on such a promising note, I would have nowhere to go but down. The book, which is written in alternating passages from Alex and Simon, begins its introduction with a chronicle of Alex's "fashionably nomadic" early adulthood. Ever the proto-edgelord, she recalls, "I did all those things our mothers warned us about and had fun doing them." We switch to Simon's perspective to hear the deeply embarrassing story of the couple meeting through a dating app while Simon was on a business trip in New York City. No, there is absolutely nothing embarrassing about meeting someone on a dating app. But there absolutely is something embarrassing about using the profile name "Yetisrule" to meet someone on a dating app. To clarify, this was apparently Alex's username, and I remain hopeful that we will get a more thorough explanation of her connection to the elusive Yeti as this book continues. Alex tells us that, while she and Simon hadn't initially planned to have children, they eventually started to have "clucky feelings." I have never heard this phrase in my entire twenty-five years of life, but based on context clues and also a Google search, I learned that it means they wanted to have a baby. Don't worry, though! As Alex tells us, "You can be eight months pregnant and wear a leather miniskirt." Personally, this is life-changing news -- I had always believed that I couldn't have kids unless I was willing to compromise my 90s goth aesthetic! Maybe I'll rethink this child-free thing after all. The next bit of advice seems like it actually could potentially be sort of helpful. "No one is a good parent all the time -- nor is anyone a bad parent all the time," they reassure the reader. "You can become a parent without losing yourself." Unfortunately, as soon as I catch myself nodding along, the modicum of goodwill I'd built up is promptly trashed by a gag-worthy line from Simon: "If you take nothing away but a wry smile after reading our little tome, then we've done our job." I immediately vow not to smile until I'm finished reading this book. Excuse me, this little tome. The book starts in earnest with Chapter 1: "Does a German Shepherd Need a Birth Plan?" To be perfectly honest, I was not expecting a riddle at this juncture, but I am nevertheless excited to hear Simon and Alex tell us "why childbirth is not an intellectual activity." First, however, we get a passing reference to "Park Slope, home of the ParkSlopeParents.com message board made famous in 2007 with a so-ridiculous-it-got-headlines discussion on gender-specific baby hats and where feminism can be taken to extremes." And despite the lame alarmist allusion to ~*XTREME feminism*~, this line did manage to lead me down an interesting Internet rabbit hole, so thanks for that, I guess? Jesus Christ, I am on PAGE 4 and I am already so done with Simon. Presented without comment:
With the Park Slope OB-GYN, we had the first sonogram and saw the little blip on the screen -- our child-to-be. They say seeing is believing and as nothing was happening inside me, seeing confirmation on the video monitor that indeed my spermatozoa had penetrated and infiltrated one of Alex's ova made me aware that my days as a footloose and fancy-free guy might be coming to an end.
Y'all, I am currently working on my PhD in Molecular Biology. Which, if you were not previously aware, gives me the authority to decree that Simon is never allowed to use the word "spermatozoa" ever again. And so it is. I was about to say that Alex's passages are at least more tolerable, but it appears I spoke too soon.
The stats they quoted referenced a 40 percent cesarean section rate in the city, and I wonder how that can be acceptable? Are we heading toward Brave New World, where babies are scientifically created in petri dishes and gestated in artificial wombs? Oh wait, we're already there. Are we heading towards a Wall-E existence, where we ride around in carts everywhere and do nothing for ourselves so that our bodies break down and we're all fat, oozy blobs drinking protein from a straw? Somebody slap me, please!!
Truly, Alex, it would be my pleasure. As a Type-A person, just reading the story of Alex's first pregnancy and delivery gave me anxiety. She says that she just never really "felt the need to establish a birth plan" and that she "gave in to any craving [she] felt." Don’t worry, though -- "If I had suddenly craved chalk, ecstasy or Elmer's Glue, I'd have thought twice." I feel like there is some symbolism here to unpack (Could the Elmer's Glue be a metaphor for the childlike spirit of connection and unity???). Simon describes himself as "a learn-on-the-job guy" and tells us that he and Alex "failed to attend the last couple of [birthing] classes as by then we both just wanted to let instinct take over when the time came." As someone who has never trusted my instincts even once in my entire life, I cannot relate. Twelve days after his due date, baby François is born. Except it turns out that he actually was born right on time, but Alex "didn't keep regimented track of [her] periods" and miscalculated. What a bummer that modern medicine hasn't advanced to the point where doctors can guide you about that sort of thing. I don't even know what to say about this next bit, but God help me, I still have 215 more pages of this book to go.
Although the final stages of labor were very, very painful, I [Alex] never used our code word (tin can) for "game over, give me drugs." I definitely recommend using a code word, because it was kind of fun to scream, "I want drugs, give me drugs" through a contraction and have the midwife, nurse and Simon all know I wasn't serious. Once he [François] was finally out of my body, I experienced a tsunami of endorphins that was almost orgasmic, and I understand completely the stories other women have written about ecstatic birth. Simon was sitting behind me at the point of birth, and later when we untangled ourselves he discovered he'd actually ejaculated though hadn't felt any of the normal lead-up to that. It may seem distasteful to some, and definitely neither of us was thinking of sex at the time, but with the rush of emotion and my lower nerve endings going crazy, it's not too far a stretch to say that it's a profound experience.
Johan is born two years later, although it's unclear from the text whether either parent reached orgasm during the event. The chapter ends with a top-ten list entitled "10 Things We'll Remember That Happened During Pregnancy." These include useful tidbits like
Best advice I heard: men's genitals grow and change shape regularly, then go back to the way they were before. Don't worry about your female delicate bits being able to retract.
Which is…a lovely sentiment. But one that is slightly undermined by phrasing the first part in the grossest way possible, as well as by the use of the phrase "female delicate bits." I do like the idea that they "retract," however, because I think it's very cool to imagine the vagina as an SUV sunroof. By the grace of God, Chapter 1 comes to a close. In Chapter 2 (titled "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn, What's My Name Again? and Who is This Alien?" -- seriously, were they padding their word count with chapter titles?), we get more questionable parenting advice from the McCord-van Kempens. They glibly dismiss concerns about co-sleeping ("Simon and I both slept with cats and dogs our whole lives without squishing them"), which I honestly would be more annoyed about if I hadn't immediately gone on to read Simon's account of "the midnight race to the 24-hour pharmacy to buy a breast pump as Alex's breasts were seemingly engorged with too much milk and she thought they were about to explode and fly off her chest." As it stands, I'm truly too defeated to care. Again, just to be perfectly clear: no shade to having issues breastfeeding, all shade to using the word 'engorged.’ And also for giving me the mental image of Alex's breasts desperately struggling to flee from her body (though to be fair, who could blame them?). Proving that she does not inhabit the same world as the rest of us mortals, Alex tells us that she expected that her state of sleep-deprivation as she raised two young children would "spur [her] creativity with graphic design." For some reason, this does not seem to be the case. Alex is puzzled. Finally, we've come to this chapter's top ten list ("Top 10 Memories of Random Things We Did While in the Post-Birth Haze"). While these lists have so far been utterly irredeemable, they also mean the chapter is coming to a close, so I can at least take some solace in that. This particular list ranges from the irritating…
We subversively took sleeping babies to as many non-child-friendly places as possible to prove the point that children can be seen, not heard and not bothersome, such as dinner at the Ritz in London, the Sahara Desert, shopping on Madison Avenue, Underbar in Union Square and film festivals.
…to the truly unnecessary.
While changing François' diaper on day one or two, we both stood mesmerized by the changing pad as meconium oozed out of him. It was really the most bizarre and fascinating thing I'd seen to date.
With the couple's general backstory and credentials now under our belts, Chapter 3 ("The Screaming Kid on the Plane is NOT Mine! (This Time)") focuses on advice for traveling with children, which Alex admits "can be a complete pain in the you-know-what." I cannot describe the rage I feel at the fact that she has -- in no fewer than 50 pages -- forced me to read about both her newborn son's excrement and her husband's ejaculate, but cannot bring herself to use the word "ass." Alex, we're really far beyond that at this point, don't you think? Not to be outdone, Simon shares a conversation he had with François that is remarkable not for its content, but for the fact that one of Simon's nicknames for his son is apparently "F-Boy." Thanks, I hate it. This chapter's list ("Alex's Top 10 Travel Memories") includes the entry:
Both boys charging down Saline Beach in St. Barths like something out of Lord of the Flies.
So, like a horde of primal sadists? I'm wondering if Alex and Simon have inadvertently confused Lord of the Flies with the hit 2007 reality show Kid Nation. I really hope that's what's going on here. Chapter 4 ("'Mommy, Johan is Gone!'") promises to teach us how to handle accidents. I'm not sure how comfortable I feel taking emergency advice from the authors of this particular book, but (in large part due to the fact that I have slept since reading the previous chapter, giving the pain a chance to dull somewhat), I am willing to at least hear them out. After relaying a story of François needing emergency surgery after a foot injury, Alex tells us that at one point, she and Simon realized they had spent "nearly $5000 on Indian takeout" in the past year. For the mathematically averse, this works out to a monthly budget of roughly $100 worth of Indian food per week, making my quarantine Uber Eats habit seem downright quaint by comparison. The chapter-ending list walks us through the "Top 10 Things We Do in a Crisis," and fortunately, the tips seem pretty benign.
Knowing what calms the children down, such as making silly faces or reciting Shel Silverstein poetry backwards.
Wait, hang on. What?
reciting Shel Silverstein poetry backwards
I'm sorry, please forgive me if I have missed some recent, paradigm-shifting development in the field of early childhood education, but what?? As in, "ends sidewalk the where?" "Sdne klawedis eht erehw?" I am truly befuddled. Maybe the next chapter ("'Is Today a Work Day or a Home Day, Mommy?'") will have some applicable wisdom for me, as I will, in fact, be working from home every other week for the foreseeable future. And, I cannot stress this enough, I am a psychotically overinvested cat mom. Alas, we are instead treated to an unnecessarily detailed breakdown of how important it is to delegate, and specifically that Simon cleans up vomit and Alex cleans up "feces in the various forms that come out of children's bottoms at appropriate and sometimes inappropriate times such as the middle of Thanksgiving festivities." As if we needed another reason to consider Thanksgiving problematic. The chapter takes a brief commercial break…
When an everyday product can do double duty such as Dawn Hand Renewal with Olay Beauty, a dish soap that seals in moisture while I'm tackling cleanup, sure, I'll buy it.
…before closing out with a list of the "Top 10 Things We Do Because We Were Here First." I am happy to confirm your worst suspicions and tell you that item number one is indeed "Have passionate sex." In Chapter 6 ("I Saw Your Nanny…Being Normal?"), I find myself actually sympathizing with Alex for the first time in this book. Which is mostly just because the chapter starts by talking about all of the awful, catty parental competitions that seem endemic to a certain crew of white Manhattan moms, and it makes Alex come off at least slightly less irritating in comparison. That is, at least until a few pages later, when she starts to complain about a previous au pair:
She was sullen, melodramatic and kept a blog about how she hated Americans, hated France, hated us and the children but loved New York. I think she must have thought we were idiots, and when she asked us to leave early we were only too happy to get her out of our home.
I would love to meet this woman. I think we could be great friends. This chapter's list is even more difficult to parse than previous ones, because while it's titled "Top 10 Things Caregivers Have Inadvertently Done to Amuse, Annoy or Thrill Us," it's not at all clear which descriptors apply to which points. When a babysitter "accidentally used a household cleaning wipe when changing a diaper," were the McCord-Van Kempens amused? Annoyed? Thrilled? The world may never know. In Chapter 7 ("'Putting To Death Is Not Nice,' a Duet for Two Boys and A Guitar"), Alex and Simon share some of their hard-earned childrearing wisdom with us. Which basically amounts to Alex telling us that, while normally misbehavior from the kids incurs a warning followed by a time-out, she has also developed an ingenious new strategy where she actually steps in to intervene when the stakes are higher. Let's listen in:
A third permutation is when there's a behavior that has to stop immediately, say if Johan has a big blue indelible marker and is running through a white hotel suite. I swoop in and grab the marker as to risk a three count [warning] would be to risk decoration of the sofa.
Take the marker from the toddler immediately instead of trying to reason with him? Groundbreaking. Side Note: At this point in my reading, I am incredibly satisfied to report that I have discovered my first typo in the book, and in one of Simon's sections no less! ("These toads secret [sic] a poison…"). This is wildly pedantic of me and proof that I am a deeply sick person. We run though a list of "Top 10 Things We Never Thought We Would Have To Explain" ("10. Why hot pizza stones do not like Legos.") before moving right along into Chapter 8, "Don't Listen to the Well-Meaning Morons." Strangely, I have a very vivid memory of Alex saying "I have a chapter in my book called, 'Don't Listen to the Well-Meaning Morons" in some distant RHONY episode or reunion. I guess she was telling the truth. The chapter opens with a series of passages in which Alex and Simon respond to various comments that have been made about their parenting over the years. I think this device is supposed to be a bit of lighthearted snark on overbearing strangers, but instead just comes off as weirdly defensive and passive-aggressive. A few examples:
"My daughter is perfect. Her table manners are excellent, she never speaks unless spoken to and we've always had white sofas at home since she was a child, with no staining." -A woman with one preteen daughter, no sons Your daughter sounds boring. I wouldn't want my sons to date her..
"Why are you outside?" - A bagel seller in Montreal, in February I'm hungry and the stroller is well protected under the plastic cover. Johan is warm and cozy, the others are asleep in the hotel and I'm going stir-crazy. Is that enough, or should I buy my bagel from someone else?
"Excuse me, your baby is crying." -- Someone said to Simon as they peered into the stroller to try and determine the cause of said noise. You don't say! Do you think, you stupid idiot, that I don't hear that? Do you think I think it's just loud music? Do you think I don't want him to stop and that I like it???
Sorry, did I say 'passive-aggressive'? Let's change that to just 'aggressive.' But despite bristling at being the recipient of unwanted advice, far be it from Alex to shy away from giving her opinions on the shortcomings of other parents.
There was a mom at another table who wore all black and told her hyperactive daughter that they had to have a family meeting to decide what to do next. The type of woman who might ask her daughter to "process her feelings" about which color to choose. The type of woman who wanted make [sic] a big huge hairy deal about including her daughter in the decision-making process and "negotiating" the next best step for the family to take in the pottery shop. Pardon me while I shoot myself.
I'm sorry, but I just cannot respect this take coming from a woman who calms her sons by reciting comedic children's poetry backwards. We next learn that there are "many websites out in cyberspace," some of which offer child-rearing advice. Simon summarizes their useless "vitriol" as such:
They say that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, whereas for the 21st century surely hell no longer hath fury, as it's all been hurled at the belittled and scorned Internet mom.
I'm honestly not entirely sure what this is supposed to mean, and my confusion continues all the way through this chapter's "Top 10 Ways We Make Ourselves Feel Better When It's All Getting To Be Too Much." We begin reasonably enough…
Check to see whether the person offering advice has children. How old are they?
Do they have a point? Are they right? It is entirely possible.
…before quickly losing all sense of self-awareness and flying completely off the rails.
Will we ever see this person again? If not, can we get away with unleashing our fury on them? Note, if you're reading this and decide to try it for yourself, go big or go home.
The last few chapters have been a bit Alex-heavy, but never fear -- Simon pops back up in Chapter 9 ("If I Wouldn't Eat That, My Kid Won't Either") to tell us a charming story about how the family refers to his Bolognese sauce as "Dead Cow Sauce," and this is because his children are incredibly enlightened and understand the circle of life and where food comes from. Or something along those lines. This chapter also provides a lot of really incontrovertible proof that, even though you may swear that your kids say the most hilarious things all the time, you are wrong. I love kids. I can play cool aunt with the best of them. But this "recipe" for "Johan's Concoction" tries so hard to be cute and funny ("whisk violently -- making sure to spill a little out of the top") that I could barely stifle my groans. For anyone who happens to frequent RebornDollCringe, I am strongly and inexplicably reminded of Britton. A list of "Top 10 Things We Don't Like About Children's Restaurants" culminates with
Where would you rather be? A bistro devoted to race-car driving, with 1950s toy cars on the walls, or T.G.I. Friday's?
Excuse me, ma'am, you must be unfamiliar with the concept of Endless Apps®. The title of Chapter 10 is "You'll Give in Before I Do!" and although the subtitle lets me know this is referencing "the art and warfare of bedtime," it's hard not to take it as a personal taunt from the authors. Most of this chapter is just transcriptions of 'cute' things François and Johan have said to try to avoid going to bed, but we do get this gem:
Slaying the dragon is our family euphemism for using the toilet (drowning the dragons that live in the sewer) and is fun for the boys to talk about, though probably not forever.
Before giving us a chance to adequately process this revelation, Alex goes on to reflect:
Hmm, perhaps I should delete this -- I don’t want obnoxious classmates getting hold of this book in 10 years and asking the boys if they need to slay the dragon in the middle of geometry class.
Alex, I assure you, you truly have nothing to worry about. Any self-respecting bully will be far too focused on the fact that Simon ejaculated at the moment of his son's birth to pay this comparatively trivial factoid any attention. The authors shake things up and end this chapter with lists of both "Top 20 Bedtime Stories" and "Top 10 Lullabies," both of which are thankfully inoffensive. In Chapter 11 ("Children Like Shiny Objects"), we follow Alex and Simon as they purchase the townhouse we see them renovating on RHONY. Although other (read: lesser) parents might store breakables out of reach or limit children's toys to playrooms and bedrooms, Alex and Simon were blessed with two boys whose aesthetic sensibilities are already quite developed:
One kind of funny thing that I noticed recently is that the toys the boys tend to leave upstairs in our red and black living room often tend to be red and black as well. I'm not sure whether that's intentional, but it's funny that the room always seems to match regardless of its contents.
The list of "Top 10 Craziest Places We've Found Objects" is mercifully absent of any orifice-related discoveries. After reading just the title of Chapter 12 ("Raising Baby Einsteins"), I'm bracing myself for the self-satisfied smugness to come. This preparation turns out to be duly warranted. Baby sign language is dismissed as "a scheme dreamed up by ASL experts who wanted to sell classes to easily influenced new parents," Mommy and Me classes are "not really for teaching anything," and we learn that Alex and Simon have instituted a bizarre family rule that "if a talking toy came into our house, it had to speak a foreign language or speak English in an accent other than American." We learn that Simon apparently does not know what antonyms are (for the record, Simon, the word you're looking for is homophones) and that New York City is replete with "wailing, nocturnal, type-A obsessed harridans willing to sleep with persons not their spouse if they think it will help their child get into THE RIGHT SCHOOL." Uh, yikes. After a tediously long description of François' pre-school admissions process, Alex informs us:
As a former actor, I've always gotten into play-acting and dressing up with my children. Perhaps a little too much. But I've taken the opportunity to show off a few old monologues, complete with bounding around like a puppy. If you have knowledge, why not share it? If you happen to know Puck's speeches from a Midsummer Night's Dream by ear with tumbling and staged sword play, why the heck don’t you share that with your boisterous boys, who love it and run around shouting, "Thou speakest aright!"
I am suddenly compelled to call my mother and thank her profusely for never making me put up with anything like this. Maybe I'll also get her thoughts on one of the tips listed in "Top 10 Favorite 'Developmental' Things To Do": "if they want something that you want to delay giving them, make them ask in every language they can before giving in." To me, this seems like an effective way to encourage your children to learn how to say "Fuck you, mom" in French as early as possible. In Chapter 13 ("Urban Wonderland"), Alex and Simon promise to share their unique perspective on "taking advantage of raising a child in the urban jungle." But mostly, we just get a rant about how everyone thinks their kids have weird names, and that makes Simon mad. This chapter's "Top 10 Reasons New York is the Center of the Universe to a Kid" list reminds us what truly matters: "there are more songs with NYC in their titles than any other city." Immediately after telling us how great it is to live in a city (excuse me, urban jungle), Alex and Simon switch tack and spend Chapter 14 ("'Daddy, a Cow! And It's Not in a Zoo!") expounding on the importance of exposing kids to nature. Sounds great, I'm on board. Unfortunately, we almost immediately take a hard left turn into a story from Simon's childhood where he and his brother are "befriended by this old guy, Dick, who lived on the outskirts of town in a small tin shed." We hear that Dick "occasionally pulled out an early Playboy magazine back from the days when the lower regions were airbrushed out," and that "there had been pretty strong rumors of pedophilia," before promptly returning to the main narrative with no further explanation. I can only describe the transition as 'jarring.' I can tell how exhausted I am at this point in the book by how hurriedly I skimmed the list of "Top 10 Differences We've Noticed Between City Kids and Country Kids." To be honest, I'm almost annoyed when a particularly bizarre quote manages to catch my attention, because that means I have to think about it for the full amount of time it takes me to transcribe from the page. I'm beginning to think that my initial hope that I could glean some useful cat-rearing advice from this experience may have been overzealous. Chapter 15 ("You're Such a Great Parent, You Should Be on TV (LOL)") is the only chapter to directly address the family's time on RHONY. It starts with this (attempted) comedy bit in which Alex and Simon pretend to be hilariously self-aware and self-effacing (Alex: "Look up 'Mommylicious' in the dictionary and you will see a photo of me in a ball gown, breast-feeding an infant while making Osso Buco and directing carpenters to build a bookcase for my Dickens and Shakespeare."). This posture would be infinitely more believable if I hadn't spent the previous 205 pages watching these two take themselves deadly seriously. But rather than share any juicy behind-the-scenes tidbits (or, indeed, convey anything of substance at all), Alex and Simon spend exactly 3.5 pages blustering about how it wasn't harmful for their children to be on TV before giving us a list of "Top 10 Hilarious Things The Boys Have Done While Filming or at Photo Shoots." Spoiler alert: none of them are 'hilarious.' Chapter 16 is literally titled "The Light at the End of the Tunnel," which makes me feel like this whole experience may have just been Alex and Simon playing some sort of twisted game with me. Alex tells us this is "the chapter of hope," but given that she then tells us about a time when she "spent one full hour discussing why magic markers cannot be carried around with the caps off, particularly in a hotel suite with white couches and walls," I'm not sure exactly where this hope is coming from. Also it seems like this markers-in-a-hotel-room thing happens weirdly frequently. We are then treated to Alex and Simon's "Top 10 Moments of Getting It,'" which includes
Apropos of nothing, Johan said, "You give us time-outs because you are teaching us to be good grown-ups."
This is a thing I'm sure Johan said completely organically and not in response to hearing his parents say "we're giving you a time-out so that you learn to be a good grown-up" approximately seven zillion times. This brings us to the book's Epilogue (a mercifully short two pages) featuring the line "If you made it to the end of this book, we salute you." Honored to accept this hard-earned accolade, I can finally close the book and start figuring out a way to erase the memory of Simon busting a mid-childbirth nut from my aching brain. Wish me luck!
I Can Make You Hot!: The Supermodel Diet (by Kelly Killoren Bensimon) -- Part One
NOTE: Although I was originally planning on posting this whole review at once, I was about a third of the way through the book when I realized that I was already quickly approaching the full length of my previous posts. So, in the interest of making this a pleasant experience for us all, I'm sharing the first half now, and will follow up with the second half in a few days. And honestly, KKB's writing reminds me of Inception in that it's almost certainly hazardous to spend too much time immersed in any single sitting. So fasten your seatbelts, and enjoy the ride! ------- So, a lot of you guys have been asking about Kelly Killoren Bensimon's I Can Make You Hot! (wow, is this what it feels like to be an influencer?), and I am thrilled to report that my adventure through this book's 264 pages was even more confounding than I could have possibly anticipated. I have a feeling that I'll need every ounce of my strength if I want to have any shot at conveying to you all exactly how bonkers this purported self-help book is, so -- without further ado -- let's begin. I Can Make You Hot!, subtitled The Supermodel Diet, has a fairly straightforward premise. Kelly, who "has done it all when it comes to nutrition and her body," will share her hard-earned wisdom with us, her humble readers. Or, as she says in her own words on the back cover:
In I Can Make You Hot! I'm going to clue you in to all the tricks I've learned from a variety of experts and that I now use to live my own life. I want you to be the best you -- happy, attractive, shapely, interested, interesting, and most of all, smokin' HOT!
The blurb promises that the experience of reading this book will be "like rooming with a supermodel and going on a diet together." Truly, only someone with Kelly Bensimon's tenuous grasp on reality would say this as if it were something exciting, rather than a scenario taken directly out of the third circle of hell. But before we can truly learn what it means to be HOT!, we're treated to a foreword by none other than Russell Simmons. As he shares with us:
Kelly is a great mother and is constantly instilling strong principals [sic] in her daughters. In my opinion, that's the essence of being HOT. Kelly is smokin'.
And just like that, I Can Make You Hot! is knocked out of the running for First-Book-I've-Read-By-A-Bravolebrity-That-Is-Also-Free-From-Glaring-Typographical-Errors. Better luck next time, champ! In case you were at all hesitant about Kelly's suitability for the job of helping the less fortunate among us reach their maximum potential, Russell clarifies:
Her beauty truly comes from within, and her clear internal compass and well-balanced lifestyle is what makes her an arbiter for what's hot. She has always had her own individual road map and is one of those people who beats to their own drum. Many are amazed by her leaps of faith and courage, which are products of her sustainable soul. And back to that energy! I used to think: If we could only package it. And now Kelly has!
I would kill to be a fly on the wall during a conversation between Russell Simmons and Kelly Bensimon. But all of these endorsements are making me impatient to dig into Kelly's advice, so I skim over the next few pages and arrive at the introduction: "What's HOT and What's Not." Almost immediately, Kelly reassures us that she was not always the gorgeous, talented socialite she is today -- "No. Let's just say that I was never one of those tiny, cute blonde girls who guys named their hamsters after." Excuse you what?I literally just walked away from my laptop to go talk to my boyfriend and make sure I'm not just ignorant of some otherwise well-known traditional male courtship ritual in which young men adopt rodents and christen them after the women they love. That doesn't seem to be the case, although please reach out if you can shed any additional light on this situation. Reasonably enough, before we can learn how to be hot, we have to know what hot is. Fortunately, Kelly wastes no time in getting us up to speed:
When I was trying to come up with a title for this book, I kept asking myself how I would define what I love. "HOT" is the word that best describes what I love, and it's not a word I throw around lightly. "HOT" is attractive, unique, and first-rate -- never mediocre. Avril Lavigne made a video called "HOT." There are "HOT" issues of all my favorite magazines. Hotmail.com was given that name to indicate that it was the best e-mail service, and www.urbandictionary.com, whose definitions are created by their readers, defines "hot" as (among other things) attractive, the best, and someone who makes you wish you had a pause button when they walk by because you don't want that moment to end. (I want you to feel like that "someone.") Health, wellness, and fitness are always hot topics. "HOT" may be a buzzword but it's also how I describe the best there is and the best you can be. I've used the words "smokin' hot" for everything from a killer chicken wing red sauce to a coveted couture gown.
There is…a lot to unpack here. My leading hypothesis is that Kelly must have accidentally exposed her internal circuitry to water and started shorting out while writing this passage, causing her to string together a rambling parade of incoherent sentences with no relationship to one another, save a tangential association with the amorphous concept of hotness. Also, it's factually inaccurate. A cursory Google search reveals that Hotmail.com was not "given that name to indicate that it was the best e-mail service." Rather, the service's name was selected as a reference to the use of HTML to create webpages, as is more apparent from the original stylization, HoTMaiL. I know from her savvy allusion to "www.urbandictionary.com" that Kelly is capable of navigating the Internet, so I'm disappointed that she's made such a careless oversight within the first three pages of the book proper. Kelly next takes us through a few scenes from her past to illustrate how she has come to understand the true meaning of "HOT." Here are just a few of the assorted pearls of wisdom that Kelly is gracious enough to share with us:
Is skinny hot? Naturally skinny is hot. Starving yourself in order to change your natural body type in order to get skinny is not hot.
For me, the ultimate HOT girl is the nineteenth-century Gibson girl.
…Bethany Hamilton, the young surfer who lost an arm in a shark attack and didn’t let it stop her from pursuing a sport she loves. She's smokin' HOT.
pregnancy is smokin' HOT
I'm distracted from my diligent note-taking by a line that truly makes me laugh out loud.
I don't want to pretend that I'm "just like you." To do that would be disingenuous, and you wouldn't believe me anyway. But I may be more like you than you think. My hair may be ready for Victoria's Secret, but my values are still Midwestern.
I appreciate the honesty! As I continue reading, I am pleased to learn that I am, in fact, already consuming this piece of literature in the appropriate way. As Kelly says:
I urge you to make notes as you go along, either in the book itself or, if writing in a book is anathema to you, in a little notebook to use as your own personal guide. Jotting down ideas as they pop into your head is the best way to process them and be sure that they don't leave again before you've had a chance to commit them to long-term memory. Then, if you've made a mistake, when you go back and see it there on paper, you'll remind yourself not to do it again. Or, as I like to say, you'll avoid getting bitten by the same food dog twice!
Bitten…by the same….food...dog? Never change, KKB. (As an aside, what's the oveunder on Kelly having even the slightest idea what the word 'anathema' means?) If I'm being totally honest, this book is making me feel a little superfluous. What more can I add when the source material is so impenetrable to begin with? How does one parse the unparseable? Newly humbled, I suppose I'll have to be content with just gaping in confusion alongside the rest of you. And now that I think about it, what better book to build me up from these insecurities and encourage me to be my best? In the words of Kelly herself:
After all, why wouldn't you want to be HOT? What's the alternative? Being "not so hot"?
The book is organized into seven chapters, one for each day of the week, focusing on seven distinct facets of hotness. We start our journey on "Monday: Make a List -- Plan and Prepare!" and are immediately blessed with another one of Kelly's philosophical ramblings:
To me, living well is the only option. What, after all, is the only alternative? Living badly? Who aspires to live badly? I want you to live well, and that's going to take some planning.
Eager to improve myself, I read on:
What are your goals for yourself? If you're going to make changes in your life, you need to have a plan, you need to prepare, and you need to take the time to get it right -- so that you don't wind up wasting your time. This is my plan, and from now on it's going to be yours. Monday is going to be the day you make a HOT plan and prepare for the rest of your week. Let's get started together!
I can't help but feel like this is one of those answers that beauty pageant contestants give when they don't actually know how to respond to a question. Or like a motivational speech written by a rudimentary AI. I can't quite articulate exactly what it is that makes Kelly's writing seem so utterly devoid of logical coherence, but it truly falls into the literary equivalent of the Uncanny Valley. Reminding us that "this isn't just about budgeting your food; it's about budgeting your life," Kelly peppers us with even more helpful tips -- "You don't want to be that person who is snacking while you're shopping. That's not hot -- period." and shares a stream-of-consciousness-style list of "Staples I keep in my house." Which may possibly be some kind of freeform postmodern poetry. Judge for yourself. Kelly advises the reader to "get out your calendar or PDA" to get a sense of your schedule. "Then use your PDA to find the closest well-stocked market and go there. Making life easy for yourself is what it's all about." Now is as good a time as any to clarify that this book was published in 2012. I'd be lying if I said reading so many consecutive Housewives memoirs hasn't made my grasp on sanity a bit shaky, but I am fairly positive that 2012 was not a banner year for the Personal Digital Assistant. Kelly has taken the time to pluck out a few particularly incisive pearls of wisdom throughout the book to highlight as "Kelly's Cardinal Rules." I would love to help clarify exactly what this one means, but I'm afraid I'm utterly clueless. One thing I do know for certain, however, as the chapter comes to a close, is that "human contact is HOT; texting is not!" The week continues with "Tuesday: A Little Ohm and a Little Oh Yeah! -- It's All About Balance." It is imperative that you work out, says Kelly, adding, "I've never met a smokin' hot couch potato and I bet you haven't either." Her personal exercise routine, as she shares, combines aerobics and yoga "because life is all about balance." As she quips, "I'm sure even Gandhi cracked a smile from time to time." A panel titled "HOT Tip" admonishes the reader: "Don't call it working out because exercise shouldn't be work!" If you'd like to spend a morning in the style of Kelly Bensimon, it's as easy as eating "a couple of oranges" and drinking coffee -- "I love coffee; I would probably marry coffee if it proposed." She also lets us in on some of her secret, highly advanced workout routines designed to maximize your time in the gym and propel you towards your full potential. Such as the "Happy Twenty," in which you run for 18 minutes and then do 2 minutes of squats. We get further instruction on the hottest ways to run on the following page, where a two-page spread advertises "a few of my HOT tips for having a fun run." To ensure that you're able to start your journey to HOT as quickly as possible, I've taken the liberty of transcribing one of her most valuable nuggets below:
Run in the street instead of on the sidewalk. I took a lot of flack for this when they filmed me on Season 2 of the Real Housewives of New York City. The thing is, I think that people walking down the street while texting are a lot more dangerous than a car. Drivers will go out of their way to avoid you (accidents are too much paperwork, and they really mess up a day), but strolling texters will walk right into you without even seeing you. You could also get smacked by a shopping bag, a stroller, or even an oversized purse. Sidewalks are really obstacle courses. Beware!
Kelly shares some standout tracks from her workout playlist ("It's much more fun exercising to music!"), including the perennial pump-up-the-jam classic, "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver. With no regard for thematic continuity or overarching structure, the next page is dominated by the header "Get Leggier Legs."
An April 10, 2009, article about me in Harper's Bazaar captioned one of the photos "She's got legs." I was born blessed with long lean legs, but I work very hard to keep them looking the way they do. I'm tall, but I could just as easily have long, large legs. And long and large is not hot. Unfortunately I can't give you my legs. But I can help you to be the best you can be.
Truly inspirational. I think. We continue on with Kelly's advice for "how to avoid the 'freshman fifteen," accompanied by a list of what she refers to as "Kelly rules." These run the gamut from near-sinister
Get rid of any negative thoughts. Negative-town isn't Fun-town.
For every cheeseburger and fries, you owe me 12 cartwheels on the quad with your friends.
to bizarrely specific and also racially insensitive.
If you starve yourself for a day because you want to lose weight for Homecoming, you owe me 5 minutes of sitting Indian style in a corner and meditating on why you thought that was a good option.
Upon further reflection, I think I would actually be extremely motivated to stick to a diet if the alternative was being reprimanded by Kelly and forced to think about my poor life choices. As a scientist myself, I was ecstatic to see that Kelly has drawn from a diverse array of scientific disciplines to develop her HOT tips and tricks. Physics, for example:
From Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion A body in motion stays in motion. The velocity of a body remains constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force. So if you want to step up your exercise routine, try running in sand instead of on the pavement, or bike through gravel. That way your body will have to work harder in order to stay in motion.
Even biology has something to teach us about how to be HOT:
You are a living organism; life is an organic process. You need to be up and active, ready to enjoy the process. Be open and available and ready to do fun stuff. Participating in what you love is HOT.
I'm truly impressed by Kelly Bensimon's unparalleled ability to reframe the most basic common sense as divinely inspired wisdom. We see this in lines like
If you're feeling a bit frazzled and you need to calm down, you might want to take a yoga class.
or, as we read in another "HOT Tip" panel
Don't be afraid to drink water while working out.
I refuse to believe that this is a problem any person has ever faced. Even Aviva Drescher is not afraid of drinking water while working out (although, for the record, she is afraid of aluminum foil). Kelly closes out this chapter by encouraging the reader to "do one thing every day that takes you out of your comfort zone." If you find yourself lacking inspiration, she provides helpful suggestions, such as "try a fruit you've never eaten" and "try tap dancing." As she asserts, "there's nothing more foolish than sitting on your butt when you could be moving your body and having fun." I turn the page, and the clock rolls over to Wednesday -- "Diet = 'DIE with a T.'" Cute. I bet Kelly would find that Tumblr post that's like "she believed" to be unbearably clever. She wastes no time in letting us know:
I don't believe in diets; diets are for people who want to get skinny. I want you to be happy. If you feel good about yourself, you'll make good choices. If you starve yourself to be skinny, you'll be undermining your sense of self-worth and you'll be unhappy every day. Eating well -- a variety of high-quality, fresh, unprocessed foods -- is for people who want to be happy -- and if you're not happy you won't be hot! Happy is always better than skinny.
This is starting to feel like some sort of word problem from Algebra II. If happy is better than skinny, but hot is equal to happy, diet = die + t??? Kelly tells us that all women fall into two categories: overachievers and underachievers. Being an overachiever is good, and being an underachiever is bad. Here are some things you can do to become an overachiever:
Make good choices.
When in doubt, have fun.
Kelly's motivational-phrasebook app apparently starts to glitch out right about here, but she continues on:
Stay positive and move forward. This is your last try at today. Yesterday may not have been great, but, today is better -- you just need to see it that way. The choice is up to you.
The idea of someone being in such a dark psychological place that they are able to find inspiration in those words is so deeply sad to me that I can hardly bear to consider it. Thankfully, Kelly has already taken a hard left turn into what I think is some sort of extended metaphor:
I've already said that you need to treat your body like a Ferrari, but maybe you prefer a Maserati, an Aston Martin, a Corvette, or even a Bentley. Whatever your luxury car of choice, if you treat it well, it will increase in value; if you treat it like a bargain rental car, it's just going to wear out -- and being worn out is not hot!
Ah, yes, I'd momentarily forgotten that cars almost always increase in value after they're purchased, and don't have a culturally ubiquitous reputation for losing most of their resale value immediately. Solid analogy. Apropos of nothing, we get a "HOT Tip" list of "model diet secrets that DON'T work." I'm extremely glad that Kelly encouraged us to take notes while reading -- I'd be devastated if any of these pointers had escaped my attention.
Eating Kleenex to make yourself feel full does not work.
The Graham cracker diet does not work.
Drugs do not work.
Well, I suppose this clears up some Scary Island confusion. Had Kelly indeed been doing meth (as the reported cat-pee smell might suggest), she would be fully aware that many drugs are, in fact, extremely effective ways to lose weight. But lest you start to lose faith in the expertise of our fearless leader, read on: "when it comes to food choices, I've probably made every mistake in the book." By which she means that she ate Chinese chicken soup before giving birth to her first daughter and it made her sick, so she ate a turkey sandwich before giving birth to her second daughter and she didn’t get sick. To be perfectly honest, I'm struggling to find a way to apply this wisdom to my own life, but I'm sure it will become clear in no time! Kelly is relatable for the first time so far in the following passage:
When I was accused of being a "bitch" on national television, I was really upset. My response was to find comfort in Mexican food and margaritas for lunch and dinner three days straight.
But we promptly return to form on the next page as she recounts her daily diet of "2 green juices," "a KKBfit lunch," and "a KKBfit dinner." I'd like to take a moment to appreciate how generous it is of Kelly to share her wisdom -- earned through a lifetime of catastrophic missteps -- so freely. It certainly didn’t come without a cost, as the following anecdote illustrates:
On the last day of my juice fast, I took my older daughter to a Yankees game where we gorged on sushi. (Yes, they have sushi at Yankee Stadium) As a result, I was stuffed and blinded by carbs when A-Rod came up to bat and hit a home run. Was I able to savor that A-Rod moment with my daughter? Absolutely not. I was in a food coma. Will I ever let myself be thrown into a food frenzy again? No! Lesson learned: I made another stupid food choice, and because of that choice I missed that home run moment with my daughter. From now on, when I go to a Yankees game I'll have a small hot dog instead….I want you to do the same.
Verily! Heed her words of wisdom, lest ye not also lose the precious chance for thine own A-Rod moment. But don’t think this caution means that you have to get caught up in the minutia of your day-to-day. On the contrary, appropriate planning means "you can stop obsessing about your carrot intake and concentrate on what it is that's going to make you a great person in life." To help illustrate this point, Kelly introduces us to the "Kelly pie."Otherwise known as a pie chart. This is a helpful way to really visualize how much time you'll have now that you can cut that pesky carrot-pondering out of your day! Kelly even offers some thoughtful "hints" to divide your pie:
Celebrate your own health. We take health for granted.
Get up in the morning and say, "I'm so grateful to be where I am and look the way I do," no matter what your size is.
Tell yourself you look HOT, because you do.
Believe in your ability to make good choices today and every day.
Be mindful of what you eat. If I have to be mindful of what I eat, so do you. We're in this together.
Ooh, sorry Brad, I won't be able to make it to this afternoon's meeting -- it actually conflicts with my daily session of believing in my ability to make good choices today and every day. No, I understand how that could seem like an abstract sentiment rather than something that actually takes up time within your daily schedule, but if Kelly has to do it, so do I! And to be honest, my day is packed enough as it is -- it takes at least a second or two for me to tell myself I look HOT (because I do!), and I'm just worried that if I try to squeeze anything else in, it will cut into my mid-morning health celebration. Wish I could help! In a strangely threatening aside, Kelly commands: "Write down what you ate for the last two days. Don't lie. We can start fresh tomorrow, one bite at a time." In a section titled, "What I Eat Every Day," Kelly enumerates her "three go-to breakfasts": "two oranges or a plate of mixed berries if I'm not going to be very active, all-bran cereal or some other high-fiber cereal with almond milk or unsweetened coconut milk if I'm going on a long run, riding, or doing something else that requires extra energy, and on weekends, I love making pancakes to eat with my girls." As should be apparent, this is far more than three breakfasts. I am irrationally angry, in the same way I was when a Bachelor contestant said their favorite food was a charcuterie platter. That's cheating. (And yes, I do strongly identify with my Virgo moon, thanks for asking.) Kelly inexplicably (apologies if I've used that word for the zillionth time already) tells us that "a plastic cup that says 'Forced Family Fun' from www.themonogramshops.com makes the smoothie go down with a giggle." Also, "sitting alone in front of the TV eating ice cream is not hot!" We are then introduced to one of Kelly's more advanced strategies, which she calls "Energy Economics." This means that you might need to eat more on days when you are busy and/or exercising, and less on days when you're relaxing. So many innovative ideas, this book has really packed a punch for its < $5 price tag! Another ingenious idea? "Stuff cabbage, sweet peppers, tomatoes, or even onions with ground meat, chicken or turkey seasoned with salt and pepper. Bake until the meat is cooked through and the vegetable is softened." Granted, I have been a pescatarian for almost a decade at this point. But disemboweling an onion, jamming it full of hamburger meat, and cooking it for some indeterminate amount of time at an unspecified temperature seems…wrong. Circling back to her theory of Energy Economics, Kelly explains,
If I don't eat [well], I'm violating my own laws of energy economics and my body goes either into inflation mode (too much energy when I don't need it) or recession mode (not enough energy in the bank for me to draw from). The key is to create economic equilibrium: eating well so that I feel good, which allows me to be happy.
I am begging someone to start a GoFundMe where we raise money to pay Kelly to explain how the economy works. The next page introduces us to "The KKB 3-Day Supermodel Diet," which is less of a diet and more a random assortment of miscellaneous health-related sentiments that reek of the 2009 pro-ana tumblrsphere:
Chew your food 8 times instead of 3 or 4.
Brush your teeth and chew mint gum as soon as you finished eating. When your mouth is fresh and minty, you'll be less tempted to eat again.
The final tip ("nurture yourself") includes a reminder to "blush your checks [sic]." Which may be a typo, but could also very well just be some strange Kelly saying that no one else has ever used in the history of the English language. On the next page, we're introduced to "Kelly's Food Plate."Which other, less sophisticated people typically refer to as the food pyramid. Kelly also takes a brief aside (in a feature box labeled "hot button issue") to expound upon her favorite delicacy, the humble jelly bean:
If you're a fan of the Real Housewives of New York City you probably remember that on Season 3 I took a lot of flack for eating jelly beans and talking about processed and unprocessed foods. I was actually making light of that food snob moment. Who stops at a gas station and asks for carrots? Did you bring your organic food cooler with you on this road trip? The important part is not to be a food snob; but when in doubt choose the best option. Sometimes it's better to be happy than it is to be right. Was I able to make my point? Clearly it wasn’t in the cards at that moment.
This is a truly stunning synthesis of her experience. Underestimate Kelly at your own peril -- this girl has been playing 4D chess for longer than we know. The chapter continues with some tips from Kelly on how to make the most of your meal planning and shopping experience. And no -- you have no excuses:
There's absolutely no reason why you, wherever you live, can't eat "colorful" foods. All over the country there are "gi-normous" supermarkets where fruit and vegetable aisles are bursting with every color of the rainbow.
I am starting to get a "gi-normous" headache trying to make sense of this chaos. Kelly's advice that we can "mix and match what's there to make a FrenAsian or an ItaloGreek meal" is not helping. We also get some tips for how to grocery shop responsibly:
Always go with a list and never buy more than two items you planned on taking home.
This is incoherent, right? I know I need to wrap up Part 1 of this write-up pretty soon, because I've read this sentence at least two dozen times trying to make some sense of it, and am still at an utter loss. I assume she's left out a negative somewhere, but at this point, I realize I've already thought about this tip for approximately ten times longer than Kelly ever has, so I'll move on. For the third or fourth time so far this book, Kelly segues into a literal grocery list. To be fair, this is a very effective strategy to take up several pages with minimal text. And what could be more compelling than
Shitake/oyster mushroom combination packs
Truly the voice of a generation! Decades from now, English teachers will be teaching their students about a fabled wordsmith who once uttered those eternal words, "shitake/oyster mushroom combination packs." Because this book has absolutely no respect for logical cohesion, we are hurled immediately into a diatribe about how expensive it can be to buy organic -- "I recently walked out of an organic market having paid $400 for just three bags of groceries." As I read on, however, it becomes quickly apparent that Kelly has no idea what the concept of 'organic' even means:
"Organic," in any case, seems like something of a misnomer to me. I know the Food and Drug Administration has regulations for certifying foods organic, but to me, for foods to be truly and totally organic, they would have to be grown in a test tube or a greenhouse with no exposure to the natural elements.
Well, sure Kelly. If that's what you would like to use the word "organic" to mean, be my guest. She tosses us another crumb of helpful guidance, but it only serves to make me feel exceptionally sorry for Kelly's daughters and everything they have to endure:
Plate your food as if it were being served to you in a fine restaurant. Use a fancy foreign accent as you invite everyone to come to the table. Or try saying it in French. My girls love it when I announce, "Le dîner est servi!"
We learn in yet another "HOT tip" that "fast food doesn't have to be fat food," and Kelly tells us for the eighth time that she eats two oranges every morning. In what has already become a recurring theme for me in this book, the following passage makes me desperately curious to know how Kelly thinks science works:
One question people frequently ask me is whether I believe in taking vitamins or supplements, and the answer is "yes, I do," because, even though I know my diet is healthy, I can't be sure that I'm getting all the nutrients I need. All the vitamins and minerals we need can be found naturally in foods, but how do we know, even if we're eating a healthy diet, that we're getting everything we need?
I flip back two pages to confirm that Kelly told us quite recently how important it is to read nutrition labels to know what is in the food we eat (to make sure we avoid foods "whose labels are full of words you can't pronounce"). Exactly how she is reading these nutrition labels yet still manages to have no inkling how anyone could possibly begin to assess their vitamin and mineral intake eludes me. She continues:
I don't want to take that chance. I think of the food I eat as fuel and vitamins as my oil -- my body's engine needs both. Vitamins and supplements are not food replacements, but we're exposed to so many environmental toxins on a daily basis that I believe we need to supplement our diets to counteract all the harm those substances can cause.
I can certainly think of something that is causing harm to my psychological stability at this particular moment, which I should probably take as a sign to wrap things up for today and go read some incredibly dense Victorian prose or something to remind myself what a properly constructed sentence looks like. Promise I won't leave you waiting for long!!
As this is a language of tastes and strands of DNA analog names cannot be written phonetically and are instead replaced with a human name or Earth analog in [brackets]. Span: The diameter of an average [Gaian] = 0.94mm, Kilospan = 0.94m. Beat: The amount of time it takes an average [Gaian] to move their cilia = 0.064s, kilobeat = 1min 4s. Work Cycle: 10 kilobeats. Equivalent to around 15 hours on their time scale Day: Day length on [Gaia] = 28h 16min. Equivalent to around 3 months on their time scale. Year: Year length on [Gaia] = 224.4 days = 264.3 Earth days. [First] [Previous] [Next] Director Townsend combed through the pile of reports in his inbox carefully, most of them were on the drone project. It was a massive stroke of luck that his facility was the one that was closest to where the drones had been captured, some components were going to be shipped to other labs soon, but at the moment his lab had a head start on any research coming out of these things. While his name won’t be on any of the papers, having them come from his lab was still something. Though there was also the risk of the unknown and active cyborg technology getting loose or self-destructing. The higher ups would not be pleased if his lab ruined their only samples. So far, the physicists were having little luck disassembling the device the drones had been found with. The drone dissection team was having a little more progress, though so far they were mostly just confirming data that had already been gathered from the first crushed drone. The ineffectualness of the comm jammers when the agents were capturing these things was still a worryingly open question. Oh well, its a bit optimistic to hope we would make much progress on the first day. He thought ruefully. He made his way down to the latest report from the dissection team, noting that there was a considerable pause between it and their last report. He clicked it open and as he read his bushy grey eyebrows rose steadily higher up his forehead. When he finished he sat back and stared at the far wall blankly for a few moments. …shit it really is aliens. Or at least the things are claiming to be from aliens. Jesus, if they are telling the truth this is an even bigger issue than we thought. He read the report again and started making calls. Alison was in the middle of explaining that the phase “we can fix that” can apply to metaphorical concepts like widespread fear when a knock on the lab’s outer door interrupted them. Carl went through the signal blocking pair of doors and had a brief conversation with the person outside. He walked back in looking thoughtful. “The director just read our report and is sending in some language experts, they should be here in a few hours. He called NASA too and they are wanting more data about the spaceship they’re looking for. I just gave the messenger our updated report about tiny things inside the wasps beingthe aliens, so that might cause some ruckus as well.” Alison glanced over at the cage. “Did you understand that?” She asked, testing their vocabulary. “Affirmative. Minor. Highly.” The wasp at the front of the cage replied. “What did you understand?” “Read. Arriving. Language. Desire. Information. Vessel. Message. Small. Inside.” “Yeah that’s pretty scattered. I’ll explain, it was multiple messages. The first was saying other people who have knowledge about languages are coming to help you communicate with us soon. The second was saying people are desiring more information about your vacuum ship, and the third message was that we told our decision maker that you are naturally evolved not made.” The bug stopped looking around at the ceiling and turned to face her again briefly. “Understood. Request. Vessel. Information.” Alison smiled. They are so ADHD. Or maybe they are trying to find escape routes. I’m glad they followed that explanation though regardless. “How large is your vacuum ship.” She asked, figuring that was a good place to start off. The bugs paused for a moment before the one up front held out two front legs around a millimeter apart. “Single. Length. Unit.” It said, gesturing at the two legs with a third limb. Alison nodded. “Understood. How many standard length units long is your ship?” She asked, as David zoomed in a camera to get a close up shot of the bug’s gesture. They hissed at each other for a moment before the bug replied “Lack. Knowledge. Numbers.” Alison sighed and began explaining base ten counting systems and the words involved. At this point most of her coworkers had returned to their various jobs examining the dead wasps and let Alison take the lead on the communication attempts, as her original job of studying the “drones’” computers was kind of out the window. I guess I’m not the worst of us have this job. Given all the behavior and computing capacity tests I was planning I’m probably the closest thing we have to an interrogator at the moment She thought wryly as she finished her short lecture. “Did you understand that?” She asked. “Eve! Wake up. It stopped talking.” Frank sent. Eve jerked out of the light doze she had fallen into. “Huh, what? Oh, yeah falling asleep in front of it during a lecture probably isn’t good.” She said, remembering the long kilobeats she had just spent trying to look like she was paying attention, it had been talking for ages. “Did anyone follow what it was saying?” She sent sleepily, the last she remembered it was drawing dots and symbols on one of its big glowing screens and saying something about places. “Yeah, we think those squiggles it was drawing under the clumps of dots are symbols for different numbers. They kind of match some of the symbols we have seen on the phone too, so that’s interesting. Anyway, it seems that it uses a system of displaying number in multiples of ten by grouping symbols next to each other. It’s pretty straight forward, though annoyingly it’s sound language messes things up. As best I can tell, they having different words for each grouping, so you need to learn a new word to say a larger type of number. Why not just say the names of each symbol making up the number?” [Frank] trailed off grumbling. [Walter] [sighed] and sent over [Frank] “Regardless, we think we know enough to use the symbol numbers at least. I still think we should have just sent them 330 [beeps]. That would have taken way less time.” “This will be faster in the long run.” [Eve] replied. “…I hope. How complex are the symbol numbers?” “I think we can show the length in just three symbols, so it’s not that bad.” [Frank] sent. “The vison-based version is actually logical…” “Alright, we get it, you don’t like the sound version. Let’s just answer the question already.” [Erin] snapped. Nerves were beginning to wear thin after nearly a tenth day stuck in this bare glass room. “Alright, alright, help me grab the interface tool.” Alison watched excitedly as the aliens began moving their little stylus on their phone again. They drew a crude 3 and then the radio let out three short tones. Ah good, checking their work I guess. “Three, yes.” She replied. They then drew another 3 next to the first and the radio let out a rapid squeal of beeps. “Err, I can’t count that fast.” Alison muttered as she played back the signal a few times slower. There were 33 beeps. She grinned. “Thirty-three, yes.” The drones then added a zero at the end and Alison rushed to count the slightly slower stream of beeps that the radio spat out. 330, they seem to have gotten it She thought with some relief after she finally finished counting. The bug up front was looking bored again. I really should try and tell them apart better; I might need to add some colored dots on them or something. Oh shit, they might have names, we never introduced ourselves. I’ll have to do that after this. “Three hundred and thirty, yes.” She replied, putting those thoughts out of her mind for the moment. The bugs carried the stylus away from the screen, thankfully not adding another digit. One of the ones standing near the phone flew onto the screen and pointed at the number. “Vessel. Unit. Lengths. Numbers.” The radio said, Alison wasn’t sure if it was the alien on the phone or the one up front speaking, they all used the same voice. “That’s the length of your vacuum ship in the units you showed us?” Alison checked. “Yes.” “Huh, so about this big?” She said, spreading her hands a third of a meter apart. “That’s pretty small.” “You. Large.” “…fair enough.” Alison said, noting the dimension down. “Is that the ship you used to travel between stars?” “Yes.” How the hell did they go interstellar in something the size of a football? She thought, shaking her head. Something for the actual interrogators to ask. “You drew the ship as an oval, is that roughly its shape?” She said, looking back up at the wasp in the front of the cage. “Word. Oval.” She drew a quick oval on her tablet. “That’s an oval.” “Vessel.” “No, I mean the shape, not what its representing.” “Symbol. Named. Query.” “Yes, we have names for different symbols.” “What. Symbol. Mean.” “It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a type of shape.” “Understood. Type. Form. Not. Symbol.” “Err, yes. Anyway, your ship is oval shaped?” “Not. Flat.” She sighed and tried gesturing with her hands to outline a 3d ovoid “Like this? A not flat oval?” The wasps paused and watched her hand motions for a bit before replying. “Yes.” Alison dropped the charades and grabbed her sketch again, drawing length and width lines around the craft. “Ok, so its three hundred and 30 units long, how wide is it?” She said, waving her stylus from one side of the drawing to the other. The creatures wrote 104 on their phone. “Unit. Lengths.” The radio finished. “Ok, what is the ship made of?” The wasps seemed to struggle for words for a bit before one of the drones grabbed one of the chips of plastic scattered around where they had been sawing on the phone. It gestured towards the fleck. “Minor. Link.” “Slightly similar? Comparable?” “Yes.” Alison wrote down ‘Some sort of polymer.’ She then quickly sketched the scene of the ship between Earth and the Moon. “Anything more you can tell us about the ship’s location?” She asked, pointing to the rather vague drawing. “No. Ship. Move.” “But it moves around in this area?” “Many. Do. Yes.” “Oh! So there are several here? How many?” The wasps froze and hissed at each other again briefly. They then wrote 38. That’s not suspicious at all. Alison thought, noting the pause. “Are you lying?” She asked, squinting at them. They flinched. “No. Considered. Found. Negative.” “Say again?” The little bug up front twitched with annoyance. “Considered. Lying. Decided. Not.” Hmm, I’m not sure if them admitting that makes me trust them more or less Alison thought, making a note of the incident. “Is there anything else about one of your ships that would help us locate them?” “No.” “Ok. I’ll send this to my decision makers now.” She said, stepping out of the lab briefly to feed a paper copy of her report to a scanner outside. This seems kind of over kill given they don’t seem to be classic computers at all, but they could still have some computers on board their little wasp vehicles, or they could just be good hackers. Cyberweapons could still be an issue. Alison mused as she walked back in. She stood looking at the cage awkwardly for a moment, wondering what to ask next. They look pretty pathetic in there; we need to get an actual habitat or something set up for them if we plan on questioning them for long. Oh right, I still haven’t done introductions. She cleared her throat. “I am sorry, I haven’t told you my name, I am Alison. Do you have names?” “Yes. Not. Sound.” “Your name is Not Sound?” “No. Name. Not. Word. Scent. Memory.” “Oh. So not speakable then?” “Yes.” “That is a shame. I would have liked to know them. You are multiple individuals, right?” The wasp up front tilted its head slightly. “Query.” “Different minds.” “Yes. You. Query.” “Yes, I am an individual too.” “You. Many.” “What do you mean?” “Many. Small. Life.” “Oh, cells. Yeah, I have lots of cells. I still only have one mind though.” “Confirmed. Idea.” “You were wondering about that? I guess we are pretty alien to you. Are you not made of multiple cells?” “One. Creature. Yes.” A biologist would have a million questions right now. Alison bet. “Hey Carl!, I think you’ll like this.” She yelled to her coworker on the other side of the lab room. He glanced up from a scan of one of the wasp’s legs and hurried over. “What is it?” “I figured you’d like to know our guests here are unicellular.” He blinked. “That’s…interesting. It fits what we saw when that one was crawling around. How the heck to they think though?” “Memory. Chain. Folding.” The radio hissed. “That isn’t very helpful.” Carl muttered. Two wasps grabbed their stylus again and drew a triple helix shape. “Memory.” The radio said. Carl peered closer. “…that looks like the triple stranded DNA analog we found in the wasps’ nerve cells. Interesting, they encode memories into their genome?” “Word. Genome.” “Err, data storage for replication.” “Similar. Type.” “Fascinating. I really wish I could get a good scan of one of them but that might hurt them. How tolerant of ionizing radiation are you?” Carl asked. “Word. Ionizing.” “Rips electrons, small charged matter pieces, from atoms, um, small matter building blocks.” “Large. Bad.” The wasp up front opened up its head, and a tiny shimmering ball oozed out. Alison zoomed in with one of the cameras and watched as it formed several limbs and began flicking them around just above itself. Alison frowned with confusion until she noticed the faint shimmering on its body was actually not on its surface at all, it was coming from a faint translucent sphere englobing the creature. The alien was gesturing at it. “Need. Shield. On. Surface.” The radio hissed. “Star. Power. Hurt. Forget. Insane. Die.” The creature slid back into its case again and the wasp shuddered back to life. “…ok, important note, X-rays are off the table.” Carl said worriedly as he jotted down a report on his tablet. “You said you need those shields on the surface, do you normally live under ground?” “Under. Water.” “Ah. Do you need those shields when in your flying bodies?” He asked. “No.” “How long can you stay in those things?” “Many. Day.” “How many?” “Err, I don’t know? It should be largely indefinite right?” Asked [Frank]. “The life support systems are only rated for around 4 days of total use. Indefinite for most practical purposes, though it wasn’t expected for us to be using them nonstop like this.” [Walter] sent softly. “At the rate this questioning is going they might actually keep us for that long. Heck, that would only feel like half a tenth day to them. And that’s assuming they are planning on letting us go at all.” [Erin] replied grimly. “Maybe that would be a good bargaining chip into letting us go? There is no point in keeping us longer if we will just starve.” [Eve] wondered. “I mean, they could just be planning on killing us when they are done. They might not want us reporting back to the fleet.” [Walter] pointed out. “Important questions.” [Eve] sent. “Lets ask them quickly.” The wasps drew a 4 on the tablet, Carl and Alison shared worried looks. “That won’t give us much time at all.” He said. The radio hissed “Time. Limited. Vessel. Return. Query.” Alison grimaced. “That depends a lot on how communications with your ships go. If they run away or attack then we won’t be able to send you back. How do you think your people will respond to us contacting them? Or will they contact us soon? They must know you are missing.” “Decision. Makers. Know. Self. Gone. Long. Time. Think. Dead. Highly.” “Hmm, will they be willing to talk if we contact them and show them that you are still alive?” “Possible.” “What would their reaction likely be?” “Fear. Curiosity.” “We can work with the latter. Is their understanding of this language similar to yours?” “Yes. Same.” “OK, we might want to improve yours more first so you can act as translators. We wouldn’t want a misunderstanding with them.” “How. Long.” “Depends on how fast your translator improves, I’ve already noticed some improvement.” “Interaction. You. Confirmation. Assists.” “That’s good, some language teachers should be arriving in a few hours and they should be even better at that.” “Word. Hours.” “One 24th of a day.” Alison said, writing the numbers out on her tablet. “Long. Time.” “Yeah, your craft running out in a few days is a worrying time constraint. We might have to work out a way of synthesizing the stuff you need. What is it that will run out in 4 days?” “Food. Machine. Fail.” “Could you give us a sample of your food?” “Do we really want to give them the ability to keep us here forever?” [Walter] asked. “Beats starving to death if the deeper downs do something stupid.” [Erin] replied. “Maybe we should wait until we know that has happened first. Getting rid of that leverage should be our last resort.” “Come on [Walter], they are slow, it might take them days to get a synthesizer running. Besides, we could still threaten to kill ourselves if they refuse to let us go.” [Erin] pointed out, gesturing at him with an antenna. “That’s a bit bright, but fine I get your point.” [Walter] [sighed]. “I guess I’ll give them the sample then.” Said [Frank] “You already have way too much exposure time [Eve].” “Fine by me.” She replied. “I feel no great need to make myself feel even more exposed again.” “Yes. Give. Where.” Alison pointed to the back wall of the cage where the hatches were set and then went into the back room where they were operated. The room was an organized mess of various boxes full of testing materials that had been hastily cobbled together when they had heard about the wasps being caught and sent here this morning. On the near wall was an array of small hatches and the mechanical levers that opened them. She pulled a lever that operated the inner door for the smallest of the four hatches, and waited a few moments until Carl told her a wasp had gone in and out. She then closed the inner door and opened the outer one on the little airlock like chamber. Looking inside she didn’t see anything at first, until she spotted a dark mote of dust sitting in the center of the cubby. Being careful not to blow it away she scooped it up with the tip of a scalpel and deposited it into a sample vial. She walked back to Carl and passed it to him, he squinted at it confused for a moment. “I’m pretty sure the little speck in there is the sample they gave us.” Alison said “Or it might be a mote of dust, I can’t really tell.” “I’ll go check with the microscope.” Carl muttered as he headed back over to his work station. A couple of moments later he yelled over his shoulder “Yeah this was it. It’s actually a tiny plastic bottle, looks like it was made with a bit of the plastic from the phone case. I’m going to need some really good tweezers to get this open.” Alison left him to his work and turned back to the cage. “After food is there anything else you will need?” “More. Cage. Swim.” “Yeah, that box was meant just for a few tests, not long-term habitation. What kind of habitat do you need?” “An apartment would be nice but somehow I’m guessing they don’t have a standard sized building laying around.” [Frank] muttered. “A water tank and a plastic block with some holes punched in it shouldn’t be too hard for them to make, and would give us at least some crude “rooms” to relax in out of sight.” [Eve] sent, along with a mental image. “Hmm, yeah. And if we specified a soft material it wouldn’t be too hard for us to just carve out rooms ourselves. There wouldn’t be any appliances in them or anything, but it beats swimming around an empty tank or just sitting in our craft for tenth days on end.” Another engineer agreed. “OK, let’s draw this out on the device.” Alison spent a few minutes copying several sketches for what amounted to tiny fish tank decorations, mostly some minuscule blocks of plastic and wood with various nooks carved into them. Security will probably want to go over all of this to make sure that they couldn’t make anything dangerous out of it but so far it seems pretty innocuous. “Alright, what water conditions do you need? Do you need salt water?” “Word. Salt.” “It’s a mineral made of…ok let me get a periodic table. I figure you guys know about atoms and stuff, right?” “Matter. Building. Blocks. Yes. Very.” “Good, let me just give you our words for them then.” [Walter] and [Erin] watched the giant’s slow lecture with bemusement. “I’m no chemist but they seem to have a decent grasp of the basics.” [Walter] remarked as the creature above them slowly blinked and one of its fingers continued its gradual progression towards the next label on the chart it was holding. “It didn’t mention quarks at all so they don’t seem to have gotten that far.” One of the fabricators replied. “True, though it seems to be trying to keep things short, thank the depths. Its only describing how they categorize different elements and isotopes, that just requires mentioning protons and neutrons.” [Walter] replied. “Also, look at how many elements they have on that chart, they must have some transuranic elements on there. I wonder how they got samples of those; you need to be pretty close to a super nova to get those.” “They use radioactive materials for power, they can briefly make supernova like conditions.” [Erin] pointed out. “Lovely thought.” [Walter] sent. That would be an interesting question to talk to the creature (err… Alison) about, but it taking a kilobeat to answer puts a damper on things. The creature eventually finished explaining the labeling system for the chart it was holding up, and pointed to elements 11 and 17 which it then called “Sodium” and “Chlorine”. It then drew a pair of circles next to each other with a dashed line in between. It labeled one circle 11 and the other 17. It tapped the drawing and said an unknown word, [Walter] figured it probably meant “ionic bond”. The creature did some more scribbling and then showed two smaller circles with 1’s in them linked to a bigger circle labeled 8. The smaller circles were linked to the bigger one with solid lines. It then drew a copy of that molecule next to the first and showed them being linked together with a dotted line. It then pointed to each type of line and named them. “Hmm, that’s clearly a pair of water molecule given the elements in them, I think it’s showing us how to draw different bonding types.” [Frank] sent. The thing began opening its mouth and the team waited a few hundred beats for it to speak. “Provide” “Many-atom” “Types” “In” “Water” “I think it wants us to list the minerals the tank water will need.” [Eve] sent. “That makes sense. Ugg, that’s going to take awhile to draw. Let’s get started on it then.” [Erin] grumbled as she flew over to the stylus again. The team spent a few kilobeats listing the components and concentrations of standard hab water. Alison finished noting down the materials list, it was pretty short, just water with a few trace minerals to keep osmosis in check. She didn’t know enough about fish tanks to know if the oxygen concentration listed was normal or not though. “OK, this all looks like stuff we can get. I’ll submit a request for this stuff to the director.” She said, walking out of the lab again. While she was waiting for the scanner in the hall to finish, she turned to the bored looking intern sitting nearby. “Any word about how the director is handling this?” She asked the messenger. “Nothing worth interrupting you guys.” He said, flicking through the messages on his computer. “Some notices to other departments about requesting equipment to studying that lifting machine, not much progress on that still. Some proposals to try getting your aliens to turn it on for us, though security is vetoing that idea at the moment. The director is in talks with the FBI about moving those things to a different facility, it’s kind of a clusterfuck at the moment. The government doesn’t really know what they want to do with the things.” Alison let out a breath “Yeah no kidding, I don’t think anyone has a plan for dealing with captive sentient amoebas. I think we might have to return them to their ship soon, their life support will supposedly run out in a few days. Any word on finding their ships?” “NASA is working on it right now.” Henry glared at the radar data again for the millionth time before starting slightly as his phone rang with his boss’s number. He worriedly grabbed it. “Hel-“ “DC called a few minutes ago. They are asking about any signs of small ovoid spacecraft in between the Earth and the Moon. The anomalies you are checking might not be an instrument error after all.” His boss said breathlessly. Henry blinked. “Umm, how big of a spacecraft are we talking here? The data is showing a football sized body zipping around. Are these some microsats they are trying to locate? There is no way they could have the fuel for the maneuvers this thing would supposedly be pulling.” “That matches what they described. They asked for 32 cm by 10 cm sized ovoids. The radar signatures you sent me last night are consistent with a rotating ovoid, and accelerating like that definitely rules out a natural body.” “It also rules out an unnatural body. The blip changed trajectories like crazy, the g’s those maneuvers would produce is absurd. It’s clearly an instrument glitch.” “On both the radar system and the thermal telescope?” His boss asked pointedly. Henry sighed. “Fine, if they want to double check it themselves they can be my guest. I’ll send the files over now.” Director Townsend had been juggling phone calls all afternoon thanks to this alien issue. The linguists and questioners the NSA was sending over were going to arrive any minute now, and there was talk of them leaving with the creatures. “Yes sir, I realize this is a matter of national security, in fact I would go so far as to say it’s a matter of international security. But we are currently one of the more secure locations to house these creatures, and we need to keep studying them. This is an alien species for crying out loud, the place we need them is in a lab. We don’t even know what they eat yet, we need to do more research on them before we can send them off to some military base.” Townsend said with restrained frustration, this was the third time the NSA director had brought this up. The man on the other end of the line sighed. “Fine, if there really is that much left to do you can keep them for now, but I will be sending additional security. Finish your work quickly.” Townsend glared at the phone briefly after the general abruptly hung up. Ugh, at least he was somewhat willing to compromise. He grumbled to himself as his phone immediately began ringing again, it was NASA. “Director Townsend speaking.” He said urgently. “Director, this is Bernstein again. We have found several matches for the objects you described. There were several unexplained small objects caught on radar over the last few weeks, and even some thermal images as well. We began a search for more of them an hour ago and we think we found another one. Its in a low elliptical orbit that misses most of our radar stations, though we managed to get a good read on it a few minutes ago. Its albedo is crazy low, its messing with the radar a bit too, but we spotted it with an infrared satellite as well. Its quite a bit warmer than a normal rock should be.” “Sounds promising. Keep a close eye on it, we might be giving them a call soon.” He hung up and checked his messages again and saw the interrogators had arrived. Let’s hope they don’t make a mess of things. (Continues in comments) [Next]
I wanted to share some tips and knowledge in skincare since a lot of the same questions are being asked in most posts here. I am not a doctor. this is all based from experience, knowledge, research, advice from dermatologist and another great sub skincareaddiction. Remember skin care is a personal journey (trust me! i have a lot of trial and errors too) Basic Routine: AM - cleanse - moisturizer - Sunscreen PM - cleanse - treat - moisturizer From this, you can add items to suit your personal skin care needs. For example. Oily Skin AM - Cleanse - Anti redness Toner - Spot treat with BHA - Oil free, gel type moisturizer - Non greasy sunscreen PM - double cleanse - Calming Toner - BHA - Niacinimide - Moisturizer For dry skin, maybe add more (7x if u like lol) toner or a heavier moisturizer, etc. You dont need to put a lot, start with the basic routine then add one item at a time so you know what works, what your skin doesn’t like. Everyone’s skin is different. For example, silicones are okay for some, for some it causes irritation and clogged pores. Some are okay with zinc, some aren’t. Always patch test first and YMMV. Always look for the science behind it thus its important to research and check reviews. The cosmetic/skincare industry will try to sell you a lot of stuff. Summary of my other thoughts (references down below) - Always wear Suncreen, indoors, outdoors, cloudy day. As long as there is light (UV index of more than 1), there is UVA, blue light, UVB etc. - alcohol is a no-no (alcohol, alcohol denat, SD alcohol) - fatty alcohols are good (cetyl, stearyl, cetearyl alcohol) - perfume causes irritation - Natural doesnt always mean no irritation - Double cleanse what? 1st cleanser (oil/balm) to remove make up/sunscreen, 2nd cleanser (at correct PH) is the gel/foam/liquidy type. Remove dirt, make up, spf. Squeaky clean is not the goal. Do not over cleanse. Strip in the bedroom not your moisture. - A broken moisture/skin barrier causes skin problem for all skin types (even oily ones) - Hydrating your skin is different from moisturizing. (Multi molecular weight) Hyaluronic acid, glycerin are popular plumping/hydrating ingredient. Although some moisturizers can be hydrating. - They talk about toner as being connected to Ph level or whatever, toning is just a hydrating step, dont complicate it. - Dont over exfoliate, add one chemical exfoliant at a time (either BHA, AHA, PHA, etc). Once your skin gets acclimated then use all the acids, LoL kidding. Be nice to your skin and say no to physical exfoliation (microbeads). 😁 - Why do they like to exfoliate? Its helps with hyperpigmentation, acne scars and has brightening effect (other notable ingredients vitamin c, niacinimide) - Retinol and vitamin C are tricky yet important ingredients. Vitamin C is unstable. Skin care brands often are misleading about Retinol components. - Vitamin C easily oxidizes, once you open the bottle or been sitting on a shelf of a long time, exposed to sun and other elements. Its just poof a waste, even if its marketed as stable with Ferulic acid, etc. that’s why the L-Ascorbic Acid powder is popular (although not easy to use) but is the most effective version out there. There are other vit c products (cheap or expensive) that are said to be effective and hyped by many, YMMV. - most Retinol products are a sham. Just use retin-A or tretinoin (for efficacy) if you’re worried about wrinkles. - Some noteworthy retinol products: Dermatica, Curology, Adapalene, Diffirin, Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol, Avene RetrinAI - Collagen supplements gets metabolized in your stomach before it reaches (if any left) your skin. So you can’t drink beautiful skin but always drink water not sugar, dairy. - Retinol, Niacinimide, Vit C are the only ingredients that has proven to address ‘mature’ skin, wrinkles. Note i didnt use ‘anti aging’ ‘reverse time’ ‘freeze time’ ‘rejuvenate’ ‘detox’ etc LoL those are marketing cliches. - Peptides at most are moisturizing. The only science backed up peptide is the one found in TO Buffet + Copper Peptides and NIOD CAIS2 - Apply skin care beginning with lightest to heaviest; liquid type to cream, last is oil. Popular youtube beauty/skincare vloggers: Hyram, James Welsh, gothamista, Liah Yoo, etc. They all can teach you something or two but they are not doctors/experts/chemist. Sometimes they agree on certain products, sometimes they dont. But they push products (does gothamista really use all of those (tons and tons) products?) I bet she uses NIOD CAIS2 consistently though, just a guess. Liah really looks young though (genes?). They are fun to watch too. For example, Krave Beauty Matcha is a holy grail for James Welsh but ‘its okay’ for Hyram. Gothamista likes ‘the face shop oil cleanser’ but I seriously cant get over the perfume. But they all like (not sure about Liah) Klairs Soft Airy UV essence and Purito centella unscented sunscreen. Liah does not like alcohol but now, Krave Beet the Sun Sunscreen has alcohol. Read up on science: - Thebeautybrains.com - The beauty brains podcast hosted by a cosmetic chemist - Lab muffin - written and vlogged by a chemist - Beautypedia ingredient list - Cosmetic Cop - Paula Begoun Read, cross check, find references Finally, big and expensive clinics will ask their dermatologist / aestheticians to sell products. Be aware. Find a good, honest, within your budget dermatologist. Get to know them, be friends with them. He/She can provide you a lot of insights and help, even free stuff. *if i missed something, got something wrong and/or additional thoughts, please please do make a comment and let me know. Thanks! References: https://www.paulaschoice.com/skin-care-advice/skin-care-how-tos/how-to-put-together-a-skin-care-routine https://www.paulaschoice.com/expert-advice/skincare-advice/sensitive-skin/why-fragrance-free-products-are-best-for-everyone.html https://labmuffin.com/how-bad-is-alcohol-in-skincare-really/ https://thebeautybrains.com/2014/03/which-anti-aging-ingredients-really-work-the-beauty-brains-show-episode-21/ https://www.dscribe.net.au/2019/09/27/busting-clean-beauty-myths-with-lab-muffins-michelle-wong/ https://www.reddit.com/SkincareAddiction/comments/fr5275/misc_why_retinol_can_be_misleading/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=iossmf https://thebeautybrains.com/2020/01/peptides-in-skin-care-episode-208/ https://www.reddit.com/SkincareAddiction/comments/hufym6/psa_how_to_recognise_impaired_moisture_barrie?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=iossmf https://coveteur.com/2020/05/18/hyaluronic-acid-hydrating-alternative/
Howdy y’all, this was an email that I sent to all my friends that are studying right now/beginning to prepare, so please excuse the language and how personal it is. Some of my friends thought it would be helpful to post on here, and I'm all about sharing the love, so I thought why not. I'm swamped with secondaries right now (I waited until I got my score yesterday to submit them), but I will try to reply to anyones comments ASAP as possible. Greetings friends. After a tumultuous summer I finally got my MCAT score back, and I did well enough that I feel comfortable sharing my MCAT journey and all the resources I used. I got a 525, so I like to think I might have an idea of what I’m talking about and am not full of shit. If you have any questions just let me know, we’re all in this together. I’m gonna try to break this email up by sections, but there’s a chance I might ramble so just deal with it. A couple things to start off with: No one really talks about this but I thought the most important thing is to have a GROWTH MINDSET 😤. No but really, if you wanna do well you need to have confidence in yourself. If you don’t believe that you can get a good score then you probably won’t. Obviously you should set realistic goals and don’t become depressed when you don’t get a 528, but I’ve always thought it was best to aim high. Another thing is that the MCAT isn’t really a test of intelligence, it’s just a test of your work ethic. Before I did any studying I thought I’d be fine since I’ve done well in all my undergraduate classes. NOPE. Even if you have a 4.0, there will be so, so many things you haven’t seen before that you need to learn. I’ve seen a lot of people consign themselves to lower score because they think they’re not as smart as other people. Even if it doesn’t come as easily to you, if you work at it you can do better than you think. On that note, you need to cut the bullshit out of your life and make the MCAT a priority. One thing that really helped free up my time was when I stopped going out 3 days a week. We all love the Wednesday night harp show but know what I love more? Having a stable future. It is sucky, and you won’t have as much time for your friends or relationships. This means you can’t be hanging out with the broskis every other day, you can’t be fucking your ex at 1am, and as mentioned you won’t going to the bars or parties. Yeah it is AIDS, and I’m still salty that I barely hit the bars last semester especially when they are closed for the foreseeable future. However, if you want to do the best you can then need to eliminate distractions. I was lucky enough that I have a great support system, friends, and family to help me through this process. They understood when I couldn’t hang or didn’t text back for a week, and they didn’t get pissed because they knew I had to grind. I have stories of people with friends or significant others that can’t take the lack of contact and it causes problems - I can’t tell you what to do but if that happens to you I would suggest reevaluating who you hang out with and if they have your best goals in mind. Things that are helpful before you even start studying Depending on who you are, there is a chance you are getting this email ahead of time before you even need to worry about the MCAT. In that case congrats on being responsible, but please enjoy your life before this consumes it. Anyway, there are a couple things that I think would be helpful that nobody ever talks about. First and foremost, being able to read quickly is a huge blessing. I have always been a nerd and used to get in trouble for reading during class, so I am lucky in that this wasn’t a huge issue for me. The MCAT is timed and presents a lot of information to process, and if you can read fast that means you can get through the material much quicker, allowing you more time to check on questions that you have flagged. Since you will be making hella flashcards (read below), it will be really helpful if you can type fast. I type all my notes for school so I am fairly proficient (lucky for y’all or there would be no way in hell I would type this novel), however if you are not the best then there are several online typing websites you can use to improve your speed. Since the MCAT is all multiple choice there will be no things that you need to type, but it will save you a tone of time during your review. Finally, this makes sense but try to do your best in your undergrad classes and learn to retain information, not just get the day. If you barely passed orgo the first time you took it then it will take even longer to relearn it for the MCAT. Likewise, even though I got a 4.0 in biochem I didn’t memorize all the pathways, and it was annoying to have to relearn it. If you are in the position, keep these tips in mind and it will save you some time. How I studied (chronologically in general): Tbh I kinda bullshitted my way into MCAT studying for a while, as I didn’t really know anyone else who was studying at the same time. This is one of the things I highly regret, as I feel like I wasted too much time by not having a solid plan. There are services online that will build you a study plan for like $150. I never used them because I can usually self motivate, but if you are one of those people that cannot focus then you might wanna look into it. The first couple months I spent doing content review, which basically means I went through every page of the Kaplan books and took detailed notes. In the end, this was a COLOSSAL waste of time and I highly regret it. Hundreds of hours were put into making notes that I never used again, and those hours would be much better spent doing practice questions or something else. I would still recommend looking over the books because they provide a good basis. However, if I could go back I would probably just skim through them and maybe take light notes. Another thing I will discuss more - you need to be studying using active recall, which for most people means doing practice questions or flashcards. Don’t fall into the trap of reading over notes, thinking “that makes sense,” and then moving on with your life. Studies have shown repeatedly that is simply not the move, it does not work, and it is fake news. No, you’re not better than everyone else and learn better from reading your notes. If you still wanna disagree on this, just delete the email right now and continue to delude yourself. After I did a content review, I couldn’t really tell you what I got done. I have about a 2 to 3 month gap in my memory on how I studied, which is why I suggest using a schedule. I assume I spent most of this time doing practice questions, and I also know that I got through all of UEarth Right around this time is when COVID hit, which really threw a wrench in my plans. I was originally supposed to test on 4/25, but miss rona pushed my test back 2 months to 6/27. I knew that I needed to really get my ass in gear in the last 2 months to get up to my goal (at that time my goal was a 520), so this is when I really started to put the work in. Since my semester had ended, I basically studied everyday, full time. I struggle with waking up in the morning, and although on average I wanted to wake up at 7 everyday I usually got up at 9. I would workout (except when I got lazy which was more often than I’d like to admit), and then make a smoothie and study. My routine usually consisted of doing my Anki review cards in the morning, doing some practice questions, then doing new Anki cards in the afternoon. Something that I struggled with was working at home, and honestly if at all possible do not study in your own house if you can avoid it. I would usually go to the student union or find a nice spot outside, and I was lucky because my roommate moved out and I was able to use his room as an office with my phone in a different room. I would usually try to do a practice test every Wednesday and Sunday, spend the following Thursday and Monday reviewing it, and then spend the other days doing any practice I had left. As I got closer and closer to the test date I was eventually running out of practice questions and had more and more Anki cards, so I would end up just doing hella Anki cards a day. Per Section Tips First off for every section I was kinda surprised with how well I did, a whole lotta luck and everyone’s prayers went into it so excuseeee me if I can’t back up my score. Chemistry/Physics (C/P): This section was a pain in my ass. I had done well in chemistry and physics in class, but at least at MSU you get a cheat sheet for PHY 231/2. The MCAT has no such luxuries, and you will be forced to memorize everything. Everyone stresses on orgo, but if you look at the content breakdown orgo is only 5% of the total content, and if you didn’t feel the need to do that good you could ignore orgo and probably do fine. I noticed that after doing a lot of practices, a lot of the stuff is very repetitive and testing the same things. You need to know your distillations and kinematic equations and how to find the resistance in parallel vs series, but honestly the stuff the section covers isn’t as hard as it seems once you get used to it Critical Analysis of Bullshit aka Reading aka CARS: If C/P is a pain in the ass CARS has been the bane of my existence. “But Paul, how hard can reading be you illiterate fuck? The answer is just there you gotta read it!” Alas, this is not the case. I’ve read all my life, I got perfect scores in ACT and SAT reading, but CARS doesn’t really test your reading ability, it just tests if you can figure out the AAMC’s bullshit logic they use when writing questions. I ended up doing well in this section on the real thing, but honestly it has been one of the hardest things to improve and I can’t really give any huge game changers I used to boost my score. One thing that did help was after each paragraph, I would take a couple seconds to mentally summarize what I just read. Some of the material is insanely boring, and unless you stay engaged it will be hard to retain it and then answer the questions. In addition, you can’t spend time trying to find every answer in the text, as sometimes it will be vaguely implied and you have to ~feel~ it. The official AAMC section banks (discussed below) offer some good practice for this, and I would also recommend signing up for Jack Westin reading passages and doing those. I honestly think CARS is just something you have to practice over time and cross your fingers, do a rain dance, and pray that it will come to you. There is no quick fix and it’s impossible to cram for, so try to just start ASAP Biology/Biochem (B/B): So tbh I have been an intro biology TA for 4 semesters now, meaning I have technically taken the class 5 times and a lot of the basic material is child's play (why you gotta fight with me at cheesecake). First off for the love of god memorize all the amino acids, glycolysis, and the Krebs cycle. You can’t get around it, they will ask questions about it, and it is easy points. Something else that’s important (really applies for the whole exam but) is that learning how everything is interconnected and applying concepts. You can’t really use sheer memorization for this, and a lot of questions I would get right because I was like oh shit this is just like a different concept I learned that I can apply to this. There are many many topics covered in this, so like everything else I would suggest just trying to absorb as much material as you can. Psych/Soc (P/S): Honestly it is a beauty that this section is last because it is the “easiest.” I think that if you are struggling to get your score up, this is probably the easiest section to do it in because it is just memorizing a bunch of terms. Sure you need to rote memorize a lot of stuff, but many questions are just definitions and don’t really test your problem solving that much. I also found that I always finished psych with ample time left, so it gave me time to check on your answers. One thing I’ll warn you about is on the actual test, psych was hard as hell and I felt like it was my worst section by far, while it ended up being my best one. Keep in mind that even though this section is more straightforward than other ones, there will still be some curveballs. Also, process of elimination is essential in this section, as you will often get questions that require you to know 4 different theories - even if one is something you have no clue about, you may be able to eliminate the other options. Actual Test Day and Trusting the Process: Alright first when you take the test (applies to full lengths and every test in general) there are a couple strategies I used that I think helped get my score. First off, when actually taking the test I would usually try to make a quick first pass on it. The MCAT setup lets you flag questions, and if there was a question I had no clue on or one that I guessed on and went back, I would flag it by clicking the flag in the upper right hand corner. This not only allowed me to get through the whole test, but meant that I wouldn’t waste time on hard questions when there were easy questions further in the test. After making my first pass I would then review all the incomplete questions and flagged ones, and if I still had time I would go through the whole test again. More than once I caught a question I hadn’t flagged that I got wrong, so this was helpful. Something else that was helpful was meditating. I don’t think I ever truly meditated, but between sections I would close my eyes and try to focus on my breathing. I know it sounds like some hippie bullshit but it actually works, I think it kinda helps calm you down and stay focused. It is easy to feel like you bombed one section and then let it affect your other sections, but I would try to push this out of my head and think along the lines of “okay even if chemistry sucked you can still do perfect on every other section and kill it.” Something else I wanna discuss is scoring and low yield vs high yield concepts. Low yield and high yield is something that you will hear a lot, and basically refers to content that should be expected to be seen a lot (high yield) and content you may not ever see (low yield). An example of something high yield would be the structure of amnio acids, while something low yield is something like Kuber-Ross end of life stages. Some people only focus on the high yield stuff and ignore the low yield stuff, but personally I think that is a mistake. My philosophy is that you should go into the MCAT feeling like you know everything and are prepared for anything they might throw at you. Obviously you won’t and you will still be confused on some topics, but at least you are more likely to do better. Now if you have limited time that is a different story, but if you are able I would suggest treating everything as high yield. In regards to scoring, something to keep in mind is that it is much much easier to improve at a lower level than at a higher one. The difference between the 515 I scored in March and the 525 I got in June was only a difference of ~15 questions right, and represented hundreds of hours of studying. Tbh, I theoretically could’ve gotten a 528 if I had gotten only 3 more questions right. For that reason (at least in my opinion), it is kind of hard to study for a score past 525, and that entire range (98-100th percentile) is based on your content knowledge and luck. If you are already scoring high you will probably notice the lack of advice and guides online to scoring in that range, as most things are focused on getting you to a 515 (generally most people’s target). Similarly, if you start out at a 490 it is going to be much easier to get to a 500 then from a 500->510, and a 510->520. Just something to keep in mind as you format your plan of attack. As you approach your test day, most advice says to just relax and not do any material, but since I’m the kid that will still be looking at his notes while the test is being passed out in the front of class, I found this hard to do. At the end of the day however, the studying you do the last day and honestly in the last week won’t make that much of a difference. If you have been scoring in the 510 range on all your official FL’s, do not expect that you will suddenly get a 520 on test day. When you take the test, you will go to the Pearson Vue testing center (leave your phone in the car), sign in, get your palm scanned and photo taken, and then be led to the testing room. You will be asked to flip out your pockets, and the proctor (in my case a student) will lead you to the room. Keep in mind that if you want, you can ask the proctor for some disposable earplugs, in addition to the over the ear headphones that are next to your computer. Miraculously, I found that my room was actually pretty quiet, and I had no trouble concentrating. I took the test in the middle of COVID, which means they shortened the test to allow for 3 tests a day in order to fit everybody in. Because of this, the test was a little under 6 hours long instead of the 7+ hours it normally is. I had a smoothie for breakfast and went to the bathroom before, and I chose not to take any of the breaks. If you feel like you need a drink of water or to take a piss, keep in mind that it takes some time to get checked in and out, so really your 10 min break turns into 5. Now after you took the test, do your best not to freak out. Personally I got jimmy johns, then sat in my car and called my dad. I felt confident on FL4 but felt like I bombed the actual test, and all I could focus on were the questions I had likely gotten wrong. This is normal, everyone feels that way, and odds are you didn’t fail. I then spent the next 2 weeks tweaking and reading horror stories of people who did good in practice and then bombed their actual test - for the love of god don’t do this, try not to do something school related, and just relax. It is out of your hands and there is nothing you can do, so don’t worry about it because I bet you did great. How to take a full length (FL): If you do any research online, you will likely see people refer to something called FL’s. These stand for full length tests, and they are released by AMCAS, the company that makes the MCAT. These tests are the best gauge of how well you will do on the MCAT, as I’m pretty sure they are just old MCATS. You should pretend that each FL is the real thing - that means taking it in a quiet environment, no notes, phone away, etc. There are currently 4 AAMC FL’s, which means 4 practice test (representing more than 1000 practice questions) Now, here’s where I go against the thread. The conventional wisdom is to take your full lengths within a month of your actual test, and your test will be ±2 points of the average of your FL’s. However, I was originally supposed to test April 25th, and when it got pushed back to June 27th I had already taken FL1-3. This means I couldn’t take the average, since there were 300+ hours of studying done between FL3 and FL4. Personally, I find I learn a lot from reviewing practice questions, and as such it’s going to be natural to improve on subsequent ones. A lot of people only focus on actually taking the test, but actually reviewing the test is essential, and probably one of the most important things to do when studying for the MCAT. Every question is multiple choice, and therefore has 1 right answer and 3 wrong answers (except the questions like I, I & II, II & III but fuck those questions). This means that when doing any sort of practice, you should not only know why the right answer is right but why the other 3 are wrong. If you can do this for every question, you know your stuff. To test if you’re doing it right, if you were to look through old practices you should be getting almost every question right. If not, you probably need to focus on how you review information. My scores on the full lengths were 514, 515, 513 (rip CARS) and 524. A note on third party practice tests - do NOT trust scores from third party tests, at least not at face value. First of all, the companies have a financial incentive to make them harder. You might notice that companies like Kaplan have a money back guarantee if you don’t do better on the actual test than their practices. To make sure you never claim it, they make their tests way harder than the real thing. For reference, I got 510 on a Kaplan FL and scored 524 on FL4 the next week. Furthermore, the AAMC has a very specific format that you need to get used to, a format not used by other test making companies. This holds especially true in CARS - basically disregard any 3rd party cars test, as it is fake news. Anki I was going to throw this in the section below but I realized that Anki was so instrumental in my success it deserves it’s own separate header. Anki is basically a flashcard app, but it has some features that make it amazing. When you use online flashcards like quizlet, it will basically have your cards in a pile and there is no way of ranking them. With Anki, whenever you look at a card you can rank it by difficulty, and then cards that are easy will go to the back of your pile while difficult ones will stay at the top. That way you can maximize your time. What you should be doing is basically making an Anki card on anything and everything. This includes right and wrong questions, things that you kinda know but not quite, things you see online that you aren’t 100% confident of. If there is a topic that you don’t know well enough to teach to another person, you should make a card for it. This is mentioned below, but in addition to making your own cards I would use a master deck. That is basically a compendium of all the knowledge that will be on the test. They are usually not super in depth, but offer a great way to get a general understanding of stuff. The important thing after making the cards is actually using them, and this is where I dropped the ball. I didn’t really start going through my Anki decks until a little over a month before the MCAT, and since I had accumulated over 6000 cards including the master deck it meant I was doing more than a thousand reviews a day. Anki is made for long term learning not cramming, and I would recommend working on cards simultaneously as you make them. I am not an expert on Anki, but there are a lot of YouTube videos and resources out there that can explain it better than I. I would also recommend downloading the Heatmap add-on to track your progress and to motivate you to keep up with it, as well as the image resizer add on to make it easier to add screenshots. Also something that made studying easier for me was that I would often do my Anki cards while hammocking. Obviously it would be difficult depending on your location/the season, but I love outdoors and it was much better for me to work on a deck outside rather than cramped inside an office. Some of you have requested I send my Anki decks, which I did because once again, we are all in this together. However, I would generally warn against using other peoples flashcards or Anki decks. If we both took the same test there would be questions I thought were easy that you thought were hard, and vice versa. It is gonna be a waste of time, since your study plan should be custom to YOU, nobody else. Seriously though, download Anki and use it. Without Anki I would not have done well. Plz. Other Resources I Used: AAMC Official Material - This includes the full lengths I previously discussed, as well as other section banks with official practice questions. These are very helpful, as they are written by AMCAS and the MCAT is written in a specific way. You will notice as you study more that while questions test certain knowledge, but official questions are written differently than 3rd party ones. Among the AAMC resources are something called Section Banks. These are basically the hardest questions that are likely to show up on the test. Don’t fret when you get half of them wrong, because they’re designed to be hella hard. They are another great resource to study from, because if you can nail the hardest content then everything else will seem easy. UEarth - UEarth can straight up have my children, it is probably one of if not the best resource you can use. Basically UEarth is a paid service that has 1900 practice questions, styled exactly like the MCAT. Questions are broken up by sections (Chem, Physics, Bio, Biochem, Psych, Soc, Reading), and furthermore by subsections (for example Chem could have circuits, magnets, thermo, mirrors, etc). UEarth allows you to make custom practice tests, and you can choose the type of questions you want. The real beauty of UEarth is that they give detailed explanations for every question, including why the wrong answer is wrong. This allows you to figure out why you chose the wrong answer (which as mentioned, is important). I went through UEarth on my first pass over spring break (and made Anki cards for them), and then went back over a month or so later and redid all of the questions I had gotten wrong previously. This was important, because if I still got them wrong it meant that I didn’t learn the subject. Kaplan - Most people purchase a set of books, and the 2 most common are the Princeton Review and Kaplan. They’re basically the same, so flip a coin or whatever. One thing that is nice with Kaplan is you have access to their online services. At the end of each chapter in the book there is a 15 question quiz, and they have all these online when you make an account. They also provide you with 3 free practice tests, which are nice. NextStep Full Lengths - As I’ve mentioned, I learn best when doing practice questions. NextStep is a third party company that sells practice tests and section banks. Even though they are very deflated, they still are great for testing your content knowledge. I got the bundle of 6 tests, and was able to do so when they had a sale. Depending on how long you are studying for, I would definitely use NS tests if you can. JackWestin CARS practice - JackWestin is apparently just a dude that is good at reading. CARS is one of the hardest sections on the MCAT, and he has a free email service where you sign up and they send you one passage a day. I would recommend doing that literally after you’re done reading the novel I’m writing right now, and then actually do it. I had like a 3 month period where I would just delete the emails every day, and that is stupid. If you do one passage a day you’ll spend only ~10 minutes, but you’ll be doing the equivalent of an entire CARS practice every week. MileDown Anki Deck - Legend has it that Mr. Miledown was an extremely gracious person sho spent his gap year making a comprehensive review of all the MCAT material. The Miledown deck is an Anki deck of a few thousand flashcards that encompass all of the knowledge that should be on the MCAT. Theoretically, if you go through the entire deck and learn everything then you will know everything that will be on the MCAT. It can be downloaded from reddit if you google it. There are several other master decks (the other one I know of is Jack Sparrow), I only used the MileDown one and I was fine but do some digging. Reddit - this was also instrumental for my MCAT success. I was never big into reddit, but I made an account specifically when preparing. There is an MCAT subreddit with an absolute wealth of knowledge. If you have a question, I can almost guarantee that someone has asked it before. There are tons of people that are apparently altruistic af, and will take time out of their day to give detailed answers. Reddit is also huge when reviewing your FL’s. If you have a tricky question google “reddit MCAT FL# C/P #” and there will probably be multiple threads with different explanations. Reddit also has some funny memes and people will post very helpful tips or study sheets. There’s also lots of posts like what I’m writing now, where people will outline their study strategy and give tips. I think one of the reasons people do so bad on the MCAT (after all 50% of people score below a 500) is simply because they are not aware of what is out there. Stuff attached to this email - I attached some of my favorite resources that I used when preparing. Highlights include the Khan Academy document and The Miledown Overall Review pdf. Some of the website links are to very specific topics, but ones that I struggled with and found helpful. It’s helpful, and ctrl f is your friend. I also attached my Anki decks. What I Wish I Did Differently: I obviously got a great score, however there were several things that I would have changed. As mentioned, I wasted a lot of time on my content review. Unless you are actively recalling the content, there is very little you will learn from reading and taking notes. I could have easily shaved a couple hundred hours off my study time if I kept this in mind. If I had an actual schedule to follow, I would definitely have been more efficient - some people find that it helps to have a study buddy to keep each other accountable. In addition, I should have been more diligent at following a routine and waking up early. Especially in summer with my test 2 months away, it was really easy to sleep in until 10. I would try to remind myself that if I woke up 3 hours earlier, that means I can finish 3 hours earlier. In the same vein, it is important to set boundaries while you study and try to enjoy your life. I would often try to “study” until 10 at night, which usually consisted of me going on my phone while my laptop was open with flashcards. This is just stupid, either you are studying or not; you can’t halfass it. Miscellaneous You might have noticed that I didn’t do any sort of standardized program. It may work for some, but personally I find that when you’re being taught with everyone else, it is very easy to either get ahead and be wasting your time or fall behind and struggle. I am also poor. Many people like private tutoring, however that is also extremely expensive and many times it is easier to find the answer yourself. In a similar thread, you need to keep in mind that MCAT companies are for profit companies. This is where my cynicism will show through - the primary goal of these companies is to maximize profit, not get you the best score. Of course they want you to do well so they will look good, and I’m sure individual teachers do care, however as a whole they are trying to sell you something. As part of my Kaplan book set I was able to have a 30min call to help plan for studying. When I asked her about other resources like UEarth and Nextstep, it was evident that she was basically told by her boss not to endorse anyone but Kaplan, so she steered me back towards their own products. They are not praying on your downfall, but just keep that in mind when you get advice from someone. Also if you can’t tell already, the MCAT is hella expensive. Including the fee for taking the test, I spent around $1100 throughout the whole process. I was lucky to be in a position where I was able to work over the semester to save up, but it is something to think about. Something that also really helped me was an app called Forest. It is an app that will grow mini virtual trees when you don’t use your phone for a given amount of time. Growing trees gets you coins, which you can use to unlock more trees and even use to get the company to plant real trees. It sounds cheesy, but it was really helpful for me and helped me stay off my phone. A note on mental health: The MCAT is a real bitch, and I knew of lots of people that I either knew personally or saw online that had their mental health really affected. I am lucky enough to not suffer from high anxiety or other disorders, but given how stressful it was for me I can’t imagine dealing with it on top of other shit. At the end of the day, the MCAT is just another standardized test and the score doesn’t define who you are. At worst you would have to retake it, and even if you have to take a gap year it is not the end of the world. Ik you might think it is easy for me to say since I got a good score, but even after I got the score in the back of my mind I was like hmm well if I had gotten XYZ right maybe I would’ve done even better. Unless you’re a genius you probably won’t get a 528, and that is okay. Do the best you can, remind yourself that med school admissions are holistic, and at the end of the day remember to take time for self care. Alright folks that’s a wrap. I think I included most of my thoughts, but I’m sure I forgot a few things. Let me know if you have any other questions, you can reply to this email or just text me. Feel free to send this to your friends, I really don’t care and I want everyone to do as best they can on the MCAT. We are all smart and capable and we will all get into medical school and be doctors someday. I believe in you. Everything you need to know in science: https://jackwestin.com/resources/mcat-content/aamc-mcat-science-outline Electrostatic Equations: https://www.reddit.com/Mcat/comments/ha9rff/tips_for_understanding_electrostatics_instead_of/ Understanding linear to chair conformations of sugars: https://www.organicchemistrytutor.com/converting-between-fischer-haworth-and-chair-forms-of-carbohydrates/ Converting 3rd party FL scores to actual ones: http://joel.vg/converting-3rd-party-mcat-scores-to-actual-scores/ Memorizing Erikson stages: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BcwntGAB34 Link to MileDown MCAT Overall Review (too large to attach): https://www.reddit.com/MCAT2/comments/96hwed/umiledown_s_god_tier_review_sheets/
My grandma died and passed down her cabin to my brother and me. My uncle's done something terrible to my brother and father, and now I'm all that's left
Just joining us? I recommend starting at the beginning. Too far back? You can read the last update here.
“Dad,” I whispered, untying the ropes holding him to the chair. “Where’s Eric?” No answer. Just groans. He rolled his head down, eyes milky white. “Dad.” I gave him a few gentle smacks on the face. He looked drunk. Wasted. “Seriously, we need to leave. Now.” Another long, low groan. “Dad…Are you okay?” I let the rope drop from my hands, taking a step back. I recognized those eyes. I’d seen them before. I took another step, and something snapped beneath my foot. I looked down. A syringe. Three of them. No. “Matthew…” Dad rasped. “The river.”
I stared at my father in disbelief. It felt wrong seeing him like this; glassy eyed, groaning and hardly able to keep himself upright. He had always been such a force in my life, or at least an immovable object. Nothing seemed to sway him. He was bulletproof. Now, though… Freed of his ropes, he groaned and his body lurched forward. I caught him as he fell, and something slipped out of his open jacket. The syringe. I'd thought Jake used it to inject Eric, but this one was full. No, of course dad wouldn't have given it to him. He'd never jeopardize Eric's life. The lab had probably been full of doses like this one, and Jake had taken his pick while I was unconscious. I helped dad onto the floor, laying him on his side so he couldn’t fall again, or choke on his vomit if it came to it. Then I looked back to the needle. My heart thundered as I reached for it. It takes several doses to induce the transformation. Nolan’s words echoed in my head as I gripped the syringe. An emerald green fluid swam inside of it, the tip of its needle covered with a thin plastic cap. I swallowed, looking back to my dad. He lay on the floor, a trail of spittle falling from his open mouth onto the hardwood. Every few moments he would twitch, sometimes his legs, sometimes his arms, sometimes his neck. Is this what the serum did to him? I slipped it inside my jacket. “Jake knows,” I said quietly. I wasn't sure if I was talking to myself, or him. “That’s why he’s done this to you. He knows Nolan’s dead, so he’s turning you into one of them.” I became aware of the weight of the dagger on my belt, the feeling of its cool silver against my thigh. “He needs you to summon Pri’deom.” I couldn't let that happen. Dad’s eyes rolled in his head, but I knew he was looking at me, or trying to. His voice was nearly gone now, barely there beneath the moans of pain. He was becoming one of them. A monster. “Matthew…” he said. “Please.” ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I raced through the woods, hardly aware of the bushes and bramble scratching at my face. I knew where I needed to go now, beyond any shadow of doubt. The river was where we had met Nolan. It was where he’d given us the book. It was where our nightmare began. And it was where it would end. I leapt over a fallen tree, landing in a puddle of mud with a cold splash. I shivered as it sprayed up and over me, but the sensation was gone as soon as it had come. I didn't have time to be cold. To be distracted. I needed to get to Eric. At my pace, and with the help of the night vision goggles, it didn't take me long to reach the river. When I did, I positioned myself behind a large, thick berry bush. At my proximity, it was enough for me to see through the bramble, but not enough to be seen at a distance. I twisted the focus on the goggles, zeroing them in on the shore. Eric stood just short of the water, his back to me and his hands at his sides. He was as still as a tree, and silent, gazing out over the dark river. I parted the brush enough to get a clearer view of the shoreline. No sign of Jake. Damn. Without seeing him first, I couldn't prepare for him, and if I couldn't prepare for him, then I didn't have a chance. I chewed my lip nervously. Maybe Jake wasn't here. Maybe he'd gone off to do something for his bullshit ritual and left Eric alone. Maybe I could approach Eric now and the two of us could get in Jake's truck and tear out of here. No. That would be too easy. Too obvious. Besides, Jake knew I was still alive. If he had wanted me dead, he would've made sure of it. Was he waiting for me then? Fuck. I was always horrible when it came to parsing through this planning shit. I stared at my brother for several long moments, wondering what he would do if the roles were reversed. Then a thought struck me. Why wasn’t he running? Trying to make a break for it? Eric was all alone out there. Unless he wasn't. A twig snapped in the distance, somewhere along the riverbank, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I swallowed, holding onto the dagger with a vicegrip. Another snap of a branch, followed by the shuffling sound of parting brush. Jake lumbered from the other end of the treeline. He carried a black bag, tucked neatly under one of his massive, brown arms. Christ, he looked rough. His eye sockets were two red, gaping holes while his body was covered in fur matted by layers of crimson. My heart raced in anticipation. I had them both in my sight. Now, I just needed an opening. An opportunity to plunge the dagger into Jake’s heart. Easier said than done. “Can you feel him, Eric?” Jake said, his voice more raspy than before. The shotgun blasts may not have killed him, but they seemed to have slowed him some. He sounded pained, and his movements looked sluggish. He stopped short of Eric and dropped the garbage bag on the stone shore with a dull thump. "He's on the way. Nearly here." He leaned down and untied the top of the bag with a sigh. "When this is over with, you’ll thank me. It’s a real honor, I’m telling ya’.” Eric didn't say anything, but slumped his head forward. His silhouette, stark in the black of the night, looked like a portrait of defeat. He'd given up. Maybe he had the right idea. I was too stubborn, though, by about ten miles. Jake reached inside the garbage bag and pulled something out. Something large. I narrowed my eyes at it and then choked back a retch. It was a corpse. One mostly rotten, its flesh blue and black, with fungus growing all over its face. And I knew that face. “Ma' would have wanted to see this," Jake explained to Eric. "She spent her life trying to make it happen.” I brought a hand to my mouth, feeling sick to my stomach. That was grandma’s corpse. Had he kept it this whole time? What had we buried at the funeral? “There,” he said, sitting grandma up against a large rock. “I told you I’d make it happen, Ma.” He ran a finger through her brittle, gray hair and then slowly lowered himself next to her. “Soon you’ll be able to rest, Ma. I swear on that.” I recoiled, the sight making me nauseous. Jake was more monstrous inside than out. First, he'd killed grandma, and now he was parading her corpse around like a doll at a kid's tea party. I squeezed the dagger and took a deep breath, then another. I can do this, I told myself. I have to do this. It didn't seem like there'd be a better opportunity. The way he sat now, looking toward Eric and the river, meant his back was to me. The trouble was, he was sitting in damn-near the center of the stone shore. Getting over there without making a sound would be hard, maybe impossible with the rocks wet from the storm, they were likely to slip and shift. Damnit. Think, Matt. I ran a hand through my hair, considering the various ways this scenario might play out. In each of them, Jake turned around, found me and beat me to death. I looked to Eric, who remained as still and silent as ever. If our roles were reversed, he'd have known what to do. That was his whole shtick, planning shit out and not paying the price for being an impulsive moron. Still, it was a role somebody had to fill. I said a quiet prayer and then moved from the brush as silently as I could. The forest floor was loamy and soft, ideal for my sneakers to live up to their namesake. The stone beach on the other hand… I paused upon reaching it, gazing forward with thr goggles. Jake still hadn't moved, though it sounded like he was whispering something to grandma's corpse. A shiver ran through me and I ignored it. This was far from the weirdest shit I'd seen all night. Shake it off, Matt. I stared at the slick stones and swallowed. One stray pebble clacking against another would quite literally jeopardize everything. I had to do this carefully. Perfectly. “Go on, Eric,” Jake said. The sound of his voice nearly made my heart beat out of my chest. “Welcome him home.” “I… I don’t think we should,” Eric said. "Have you thought this through? What do you really know about Pri'deom?" His voice was uneven, stuttering and anxious. Good. That meant he was still my brother. “I've thought about this for decades,” Jake growled. “I know you're a good kid, Eric. I know that, which is why I made you His host." His massive, furry hand tussled grandma's decaying hair. "Ma always felt it should have been Matty, but he's too much of a shit, y'know? And Pri'deom… he deserves the best." Eric whimpered. His fingers dancing at his sides. "Still now…" Jake said. "I told you to stay still." "I know, I just… what if Pri'deom isn't what you think he is? What if he's going to do something terrible?" Jake chuckled, and when he spoke his voice was laced with menace. "He'll do plenty of terrible things, I'll bet. But sometimes terrible is necessary. You and I, Eric, we can't possibly understand something like him. Something so much greater than us. Greater than anything." Eric didn’t move. He didn't speak. He just watched the river, his messy hair caught in the dying storm's breeze. "He'll save us," Jake said solemnly. "But first we need to welcome him home. Now go on, say his name. Guide him." Eric was silent. "Say it!" Jake bellowed, and I nearly jumped. His voice was so loud that my ears rang. Eric winced at Jake's demand, but whimpered Pri'deom's name all the same. “Again. Guide him home!” “P-Pri’deom.” The air seemed to shift, the clouds growing darker. I wasn't an expert on dark magic or evil rituals, but that didn't seem like an especially positive sign. I was running out of time, either I moved or I lost Eric forever. Fuck. Jake grunted, and the sound of shifting stones filled the night. He adjusted his position while holding a hand to his side, over a blood-matted strip of fur, most likely one of the places dad had shot him. So, I thought, regular punishment couldn't kill him, but it definitely still hurt him. He groaned, leaning back and stones began tumbling down the shore, clacking into the river with dull splashes. Now. I slipped forward, my footsteps in concert with his movements, using their sounds to mask my own. Yes, this could work. Another stretch from Jake, another step for me. But then he stopped moving. Comfortable, at long last. The stupid ape. Shit. I was left standing in the middle of the stone shore, halfway between the treeline and Jake. If I risked moving again, there was a good chance he'd hear me and then that'd be it. Game over. But if I didn't… “Almost there, Eric," Jake said, looking up at the darkening sky. “Keep speaking his name. Guide him and you'll be rewarded for it." He chuckled. "You'll be the body of a God." Eric did, his voice sounding broken, fragile, and scared. “Pri’deom," he said. His shoulders quaked with silent sobs. "Pri’deom. Pri’deom.” “Louder!” Jake screamed. He beat the ground with one of his massive fists. “He needs to hear you from beyond the veil, don't he? Shit, I can hardly hear you from over here!" That answered one question. Jake's hearing and mine weren't so different after all. That was good. I just hoped my head-to-toe mudbath would be enough to hide my scent from him. "I ain't gonna remind you again, boy. Say his fucking name and be loud about it!" Eric whimpered, and I felt horrible, but I needed him to speak louder too. I needed his voice now more than ever. “Pri’deom,” he said. “PRI’DEOM!” Good. With each of his shouts I stole another meter of space, and soon I was close enough that I smelled the rot and decay of grandma’s corpse. Another two steps and I smelled the matted blood on Jake's fur. Being so close to him, with such a clear view, made me appreciate what a monster he truly was. I shifted the dagger in my grip, swallowing as I tried my best to determine just how I was going to plunge this thing into his heart. Where was his heart, anyway? His torso was massive, it seemed liable to be swimming around anywhere in there. Wait, I thought. What if I didn't aim for the heart at all? Nolan had cautioned that Jake wouldn't be put down by a few slashes of silver, but maybe I could get the dagger somewhere else to slow him down. His neck. Or his spine. If I could hurt him enough that he couldn't hurt me back, I could finish him through the heart. It was a longshot, but then, it was also my only shot. Eric shouted Pri’deom’s name again, and I crept forward. One step. Then another. Each footfall guarded by my brother’s voice, echoing across the water, over the trees, and apparently into an entirely different dimension. I made a mental note to avoid mentioning any of this to my therapist if I survived. She already thought I was crazy enough. A moment later and I took the final step, coming up directly behind Jake. His matted, brown fur was short and reeked of blood. Even sitting down, he was nearly two feet taller than me. I wouldn't be able to reach his neck. Not reliably. But I could sever his spine. Something moved in my periphery and I glanced. Eric had turned around. He was facing Jake now. Facing me. Shit. No time. I raised the dagger and plunged it forward -- but that moment had been enough. Jake was already moving even as the dagger raced toward his spinal-column. The dagger sank into his flesh and he let out a shriek of pain. His wound sparked and sizzled and he stumbled forward, writhing in agony. He was moving though, which meant I missed his spine. Not good. I dashed forward, knowing I had a window the size of an ant to get this right. I tore the dagger from his back and raised it up-- And Jake's arm caught me in the side. I let let out a wheeze of surprise as my body flew backward, landing on the stone shore with a painful crunch, the goggles rolling off of my head. “You!” Jake bellowed, rising from the rocks. Fresh blood wound its way from his lower back down the fur on his legs, and his mouth snarled, its horrible, jagged and broken teeth dripping saliva. "You can't help yourself, can you, Matty?" Each of his words came out in a small roar, while his entire body trembled with anger or pain. "You're a real pain in my ass, and I don't think I care anymore. I think I'm gonna kill you." He took a step toward me and it felt like the whole shoreline shook. "Sorry, Ma," he said, glancing at grandma's cadaver. "It's him or Pri'deum, and I ain't got a choice." I scrambled backwards, beach stones slipping beneath my hands and feet. I knew I needed to stand up. Needed to run. Needed to do anything, but my body was in agony. Jake hadn't held back with that last smack, and it was all I could do to gasp breaths from my panicked lungs. Then I realized how fucked I really was. I'd lost the dagger. Shit! I scanned the area frantically, looking up and down the shore. I must have dropped it when Jake pulverized my ribs. Where was it? There. My heart sank. It was next to a fallen tree, some thirty feet away. And Jake was closing. It was far. Much too far. I didn't have a choice though. I lurched to my feet, ignoring the slicing pain tearing across my body, and then I dashed. Each footstep shot daggers through me, but I grit my teeth and ran in spite of it. Jake was faster. He leapt, his massive body crashing on the stones in front of me. His hands clenched into fists. “Too long,” he growled, “have I let you get away with your disrespect.” I stepped backward, my will to fight evaporating. Jake was hurt, sure, but I was damn near dying. I wheezed another breath, tasting blood in my mouth, and dropped to a knee. The only shot I had at stopping this was on the other side of a were-sasquatch, and I could barely move. It was over. “Damn it." Something warm slipped down my cheeks and I realized I was crying. I fell to my hands and knees, the tears vanishing on the already wet stones. "Damn you, you asshole!" Jake's shadow draped across me. "Damn me?" He kicked at me and I tumbled, my body rolling over the stones and further from the dagger. I slid to a stop on my back, spitting out a mouthful of blood and gazing up at the sky. It had grown so dark. "Jake," I said. It hurt to even speak, but I needed to. With everything I had, I sat myself upright. "Let me go instead of Eric. Let me be the host, like grandma wanted." It was all I had left. I couldn't fight him anymore. I couldn't stop this. But maybe I could still save Eric. "You don't deserve it," Jake said. He stepped towards me, his demeanor different now. More resolved. It didn't matter what grandma had wanted, he was finally going to kill me. So be it. I'd given everything I had, and honestly, I was in so much pain that dying seemed easy now. Still, I looked to Eric. I wanted him to know how sorry I was for all of this. I wanted him to know that no matter what, he was my brother and I loved him. Eric was looking back at me. Unmoving. Silent. And smiling. What? I blinked, his eyes looking different. Narrower. His face had lost the anxious framing from earlier. Now he looked calm. Collected. "Eric?" I rasped. "I let you live because you were family, Matty," Jake said. I became aware that he was standing beside me now. "Eric!" I said more loudly. Jake gripped me by my hair and lifted me from the stones. "I figured this family deserved to see the world we were making. Figured we were owed it. But my patience is shot." His other hand grabbed my arm and squeezed. The pain was unbearable. I screamed, louder and harder than I'd ever screamed in my life. It felt like my muscles, my tendons, and my bones were being ground to dust. He lifted me to his gaping jaws, pressing them against the side of my head. "I’m going to rip you apart," he whispered. "Limb from limb." Trees shifted in the distance. "And what's more," Jake continued, his canines, slick with saliva, sliding against my face with every word. "I'm gonna really have a good time of it." Something rumbled in the woods, and Jake paused, sniffing at the air. I hung limp by my hair, rotating slowly before him. The rumbling grew deeper. Faster. Like a rockslide thundering toward us. Jake tossed me to the ground, and I groaned, my body seizing up in pain. I was faintly aware of something sharp digging into me, but I didn't have the energy or will to care anymore. "Fuck," Jake said. The trees parted, and something massive burst out of them. Something angry. [x.x]
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