Saturday, June 16, 2018

Stopping on the Road

I was content to be a foot soldier of the Enlightenment. (Or so I say. That's the way we talk.) But now --

But now, at the same time that I renew my faith in objectivity, in reason, in measurement, in rigor -- I no longer expect them to win. And I am no longer content. Which is sort of backwards, but there it is. Whether our triumph was impossible or inevitable actually comes to more or less the same thing, as far as living a life goes: not much was required of me.

Victory or defeat, it never supplied a real meaning, a real answer to "what am I doing all this for? And what should I be doing, anyway?" But it made the question less pressing. In the meantime, I had yens to follow, itches to scratch, terrors to lay aside. One is an animal after all, first and last. (Or not.)

Can I say, finally, that I am really disabused of the illusion of importance? I am totally useless. And I can no more find a meaning than a Shakespeare play can read itself aloud. That's not the way meaning works. Persons mean things, and if people themselves are to have meaning, it can only be because they are being spoken. By gods or God. The existential notion that a person can mean his own life strikes me as (forgive the pun) absurd. How long am I to stand in the sun, trying to jump over my shadow?

It is equally absurd to try to believe in God because she would make this whole meaning thing work. Were she to exist, she would not be available for that sort of bargaining, and she would rightly scorn me, if I approached her with that motive. If Pascal really expected to win his wager on those terms, the more fool he.

No. If my life has a meaning, it already has it, and it was meant by someone else, and no doing of mine can find it or lose it. Or even understand it. So leave that.

(A squirrel comes to drink at the bird bath, looks up and sees me seeing him, and plunges away into the hedge.)

Still, a person could wake in the morning with a purpose, even an urgency. Some people do. And (I'm told) they're happier that way. But could I do such a thing? At this late age? "Had I but followed the arts!" But such nonsense. Art can't mean itself any more than people can mean themselves. It can only be: I see this thing and I must make it visible to others, because the loneliness otherwise is unbearable. Does that count as a purpose, or as an affliction? Both, I suppose.

This worries me: my generalized love for people is dwindling. I am as fond as ever of my friends and family, but my heart no longer rushes out eagerly to meet strangers. I have lost some critical bit of belief: I no longer assume that they will turn out to be unique and interesting. They will be the same old people going through the same old motions, and they will want me to take them seriously, and be cross with me because I can't do it. I never understood how much the conviction that there are interesting people waiting for me -- somewhere -- out there -- inspired me. If there are not, why leave the house?

This of course has nothing to do with other people. It's not that they are better or worse. It's that something in my temperament has shifted. And I don't think it's a change for the better. These are the first steps on the road to a morose old age: I had better stop right here.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Back from the Wallowas

The morning opens slowly, cautiously. A gray milk sky softly addressing the skylights; a breeze making the outer scraps of the hedge tremble. Rain is being thought of.

Back from the Wallowas, from that strange country of the conquest. Extraordinarily beautiful, but the proportions are beyond human. I wondered what houses cost over there, but I haven't even looked it up: I doubt I could live with that immensity, day to day, set against the tantrums and waywardness of human beings. The contrast would be a continual fret. And of course, living anywhere but the city, you would live there only to watch it being ruined. No. I'll stay here in the Valley where I was born.

You can't really photograph it the open hills, and you can't run through them the way you'd want to. You'd need to be an antelope to live there properly.

So I watch the ferns under the hedge shift and nod in the morning light. This is a good place. A human-scale place.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Enough Of That

The Luftschiff nuzzles at me like an unweaned puppy. But not that, I think... something else? -- But really, to think this way is to fall into error. It's not the thing that matters. It's the work, it's the kind of work, it's the quality of attention. Any thing will do. A poem. A regular old obscure blog-ramble. Don't get caught up in the thing.

I do not want to be a public person anyway, not in any ordinary sense. 

A quick shudder of fear, an awakening in a dim and unfamiliar room. Realizing how much I've lost, am losing; what a small person I have become. A querulous, petulant note has crept into my voice. You can hear it at the end of my last post. Enough of that.

I do not have to be smart, or accomplished. I just need to gather myself and attend to what's in front of me.

I need to be cutting things loose and throwing them overboard. Not that much I need for the journey; and nothing at the end of it.


The thing is, I put my attention in one place and perforce take it off another. While I've fixed the eating and the spending, my distracted-social-media quotient has been rising. So now, with a little oomph to spare again, I'm battling that back. And I have my work space now, and I'm using it... so back to real reading and writing and thinking, and a couple hours' work in the morning before "checking" -- I'm beginning to loathe that word -- all the websites I "check," like a dog compulsively checking the fence posts as it trots along. This is doable: I'm doing it. One thing the success at losing weight has done is to increase my sense of efficacy by a lot. Of course I can do things and change habits: it only takes the intention and the attention and the resources. Bring them to bear on one thing at a time, until the new system runs more or less of itself, and then the oomph is free for redeployment.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Island in the Wreck Room

"My God, you just keep on losing weight," said my client last night. And then, her voice sharpening -- she's in her seventies, the age when losses keep coming -- "are you all right?" 

My Dad remarked, in his slow, thoughtful way, "160 seems kind of low."

Maybe. I'm at 158 now; trying to level out. I get no help whatever from my appetite, which so far as I can tell still believes I should weigh 75 pounds more than I do. I have to steer this thing myself, carefully and deliberately.

I am nothing like emaciated. But I do note a curiosity about just how small I could become, and a delight in having control over it: the germ no doubt of anorexia, which bears watching. Still the greatest risk by far is simply falling back. I have no intention of dropping the reins, and I have no expectation that exercising this control will ever be much easier. This is my life, as far as eating goes. It's a good life. I like my food. I like knowing what I'm eating tomorrow, and making sure everything is ready and prepped well ahead of time. I like being master in my own house. 

So I just watch the numbers carefully: the numbers will take care of me. The process becomes very slow, now, but I have a goal still: getting my waist measurement to be 90% of my hip measurement. At present those numbers are 35.25" and 36.25". When my hips were 37.5" I thought that number could not really go down much, but it did, by almost two inches. I really do think it's stopped, and will even rise now, as I'm working up my lower body strength (which has always lagged, almost ludicrously, my upper body strength). The nice thing about this goal is that I can't be tricked into mistaking muscle loss for fat loss, or fat gain for muscle gain. But it's slow going, building muscle while losing a bit more fat -- reaching this goal may take half again as long as losing the 75 pounds did. Which is fine. I am smack mid-channel, right where the charts and tables say I should be. There's no urgency about the finishing touches. So long as the distance between the two numbers is lengthening, I'm making progress.

Holding the hip number still, the waist number would need to drop to 32.6"; holding the waist number still, the hips would need to grow to 38.8". Just reckoning roughly, here -- there's no point in being exact -- I should be trying to lose an inch or so off my waist, landing somewhere around 33.5", and gain an inch or so in the hips, landing somewhere around 37". This of course strikes me as impossible, but I already am living in an impossible world, in which my waist has shrunk by fourteen inches. All things, apparently, are possible.

I work out every morning, alternating core-and-glute days (when knee and elbow joints get to take the day mostly off) with days of lifting, pushing, or pulling. I find all of this very satisfying, but it is a sort of Robinson Crusoe endeavor, alone on my carpet-island in the wreck room. I feel sometimes I should be more in the world than I am, more in contact with people. But when it comes down to it, I'm not feeling very sociable or very well-disposed to my countrymen. Let them lie in the bed they've made: I have other things to do.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Making It Taste Better


On Facebook, I said offhandedly, in re my morning broccoli, "I don't try to like it." A couple of people chimed in with helpful suggestions on how to make it taste better, which all sounded good (and all involved increasing its calorie density.) In my present frame of mind I found this odd, and telling. We go so automatically to "how do I make this taste better?" 

But I don't want my food to taste better. It already tastes so good I'm strongly tempted to eat more than is good for me. Why on earth would I want it to taste better? It's basically impossible for me to enjoy my food more than I do now. My levels of enjoyment tune to what's available and expected. Right now, my oatmeal is especially enjoyable because I like it more than my broccoli, and my boiled eggs are more enjoyable still because I like them more than my oatmeal. If I raised the baseline on the brocs, I could make the oatmeal tastier by adding, say, brown sugar and cream, and then make the eggs tastier by scrambling them in butter and adding various tasty things. I would end up enjoying the breakfast -- well, exactly as much as I do now, after the novelty wore off (which would take... two days? Three?) And I would start to get fat again. The enjoyment is a zero sum game, but the caloric accumulation is decidedly not.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Year of Dieting: a Historical Retrospect

A year and four days ago, rather mysteriously, I began the "Tom's and Burgerville diet." I say mysteriously, because I had grown extremely skeptical of diets, and had more or less decided to be through with them. I don't know what motivated me to make one last try. The process is meticulously reported in a document titled "Yet Another Diet Plan," but it begins, like any good epic, in medias res:

The “diet” part actually happens later. What happens now:
  1. Make the chicken soup 
  2. Measure waist and weigh myself every morning. We’re establishing baseline 
  3. Prep salad and brocs every morning (OR the evening before, if the morning will be challenging (i.e. Monday, Thursday) 
  4. Breakfast is the full Spanish omelet with toast, hashbrowns, sour cream, 5 creams in the coffee. The full catastrophe. 
  5. Lunch is the brocs and the soup and an apple and a cutie orange 
  6. Dinner is the Tillamook w/ half a small vanilla shake, and the (already prepped, right?) salad. 

We’ll do this for two weeks. It is, of course, remotely possible that this IS a diet, that I’ll be running a calorie deficit. In that case we just continue. Otherwise -- we just start cutting the splurgey things, one by one, till we do achieve calorie deficit.


No mention of why. No mention of goals. As I remember it (an introductory phrase that should induce extreme caution) I fully meant it to be the last attempt, which maybe lent it some extra heft. When I failed this time, I would have failed for good. Enough already. I'd thrown enough of my life at this problem. And apparently I had the basic method down, which was to eat the same thing every day, to weigh and measure daily, take a weekly average, and to cut something out of the daily regimen if this week's average weight was not a pound lower than last week's.

The first item was to make the soup, which was to be mainstay, and still is. Every four or five days I make a four-quart slow cooker full of soup. I've only been late once or twice, in which case I substituted a can of tuna for the bowl of soup. This is the most I have ever cooked, consistently, in my life.

I did, and still do, weigh and measure myself every morning.

At item 3 we hit what I did NOT succeed in doing. I failed to make myself the daily salad and broccoli almost at once. Many months into the diet, I was still only eating either one a couple times per week. This is an important thing to notice. Eating less turned out to be far easier than eating differently. Even now, when I finally have made the broccoli part of my daily routine -- I prepare a bowl of it every evening, and microwave it, covered, in the morning, as the first part of my breakfast -- even now, the salads are hit or miss. Four or five times a week.

For nine months I kept going to Tom's for breakfast, although I had to abandon parts of the breakfast to keep the pound-per-week loss going. Whenever the weight loss started to stall out, every six weeks or so, I jettisoned another component: first half of the hash browns, then one slice of toast, then the other half of the hash browns, and the other slice of toast, finally two of the five creamers. The Spanish omelet with sour cream stayed my breakfast, though, for nine months, through three quarters of the weight loss.

Lunch stayed the soup and the two pieces of fruit, for this time, too. (The broccoli was, as I say, haphazard at best: I soon viewed it as optional.)

Dinner was the Tillamook cheeseburger from Burgerville, and half of a small milkshake (Martha and I split one.) This held steady for the same first nine months. The salad happened only occasionally.

In mid-January I hit my initial goal of 180 pounds. Right around then I suddenly changed a lot -- largely because I was tired of spending so much money on restaurant food that I was not actually very thrilled about any more. (After nine months, even Burgerville loses some of its luster.) I began eating at home. I tried to swap out for equivalent calories on the meals. This was hard to do. I don't think most people grasp the extreme difficulty of accurately measuring calories in the real world. There was some trial and error.

My first cut at the home regimen looked like this:

Breakfast: 1/3 cup steel-cut oats w/ 2 tbsps chopped nuts, bowl of broccoli, one egg, black coffee
Lunch: bowl of soup, apple, orange
Dinner: hamburger patty (1/3 lb), a microwaved potato, a cup of ice cream

On this, I started losing too quickly. I added a second egg to my breakfast almost at once. A month later I added an afternoon snack of 20 almonds and a banana. Now I really was eating the broccoli daily, and the salad more often. It was starting to look more like the diet of sane person.

When I wasn't losing a pound a week any more, I cut the hamburger to a quarter pound, and finally I cut the ice cream to half a cup. Somewhere in this time I started buying my potatoes in ten pound bags, and eating two or three of them with my dinner. (They're about half the size of the big potatoes you buy individually.)

The apple migrated to breakfast, because I found myself really wanting something sweet with my second cup of coffee. The orange migrated to become a bedtime snack. The salad became more frequent: I generally eat it (just a pile of romaine with some carrot and radish) when I'm hungry but it's not lunchtime or dinnertime yet.

I approached the endgame with extreme caution: I knew it was where I was most likely to screw up. The goal I really wanted to reach was having a waist measurement that was 90% of my hip measurement. I still haven't reached that, and I don't know if I will. I had other criteria for stopping the weight loss, though: I decided that 150 lbs would be just too small, and that if my strength started going down (as measured by reps lifting weights) it would mean I was losing muscle mass, and I should stop. So any one of those three conditions was to trip the halt! wire. Sure enough, when my weight went under 160, my strength started dwindling. It was time to stop. I added another egg to breakfast, a few more almonds to my afternoon snack, and a third (or fourth) potato to my dinner. The weight loss part of this is done.

This is what the regimen looks like now:

Breakfast: oats with chopped nuts, broccoli, three eggs, coffee, apple
Lunch: (salad?), soup
Snack: banana and 1/4 cup almonds
Dinner: (salad?), 1/4 lb hamburger patty and 3 or 4 potatoes, 1/2 cup ice cream
Snack: orange

All this stuff is plain: I don't use any condiments but salt and Worcestershire sauce.

I don't presently plan to change anything. Still hoping to lose a couple more inches around the waist, but by stepping up my exercise rather than by cutting back on food. 160 lbs seems to be about where my body likes to be. And if the last couple inches don't go, then they don't.

I had a 50 inch waist a year ago. It's 36 inches now. I'm pretty psyched, and I'm pretty confident that I've hit a solution I can live with indefinitely.

It's been a long haul.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018


After a while doing fitness training you start to recognize The Next Thing You Need To Do. 

And it's pretty much never the cool stuff, which you took to right away. It's the stuff you're bad at, the stuff that makes you nervous.

I don't work out in a gym, but if I did, it would be the stuff I'd be embarrassed to do there because, if I could do it at all, it would be with a ludicrously low load. And people would be hiding smiles behind their hands. ("Oh my God, that old man deadlifting twenty pounds! Isn't he adorable?")

I knew from the moment I tried them that I hated and would always hate lunges.

Now, a lunge is not an obscure movement pattern. You take a step and sink down until the knee you've left behind touches the floor, and then you come up again. That's pretty basic. There must have been a time, in my remote youth, when this was an ordinary and nonthreatening thing to do. But I grimace when I even think of it, now.

I don't have a lot of groin flexibility, for one thing. Just the stride makes me anxious -- I'm opening up too far, I worry about pulling an adductor. And then -- since it's a movement I avoid -- I don't have the balancing instincts. There's a real risk that I'll simply fall over sideways. 

In other words, it's exactly the thing I need to work on. Okay. So they go into my routine, as one of the Big Six. Lunges, holding dumbbells. Work up those quads. Develop the balance muscles and the motor skills. We do this thing.

But a new worry came along. I added them to the end of an already tiring sequence (my "lift" day). When I finished the simple set of lunges -- eight lunges on each side, twice over -- I felt lightheaded, like I might just keel over. Syncope. Not good. Was I over-stressing my heart? Was this fitness thing just a brief Indian summer before my inevitable cardiac collapse? Was I rushing to my doom? I stopped the progressive load, but I kept them in the routine. I didn't want to give up but I didn't want to kill myself. 

I was intimidated enough by the exercise that I wasn't really thinking clearly. I was working hard when I did the lunges, but certainly not harder than when I did, say, squats. Why would these be harder on my heart than anything else? That just doesn't make sense.

Well, the penny dropped this morning. It was totally silly and obvious. I was focusing my attention on my balance, really paying attention to what I was doing, doing the movement mindfully... and holding my breath. If you do this sort of exercise, even lightly loaded, and you don't breathe, you run out of oxygen. It was neither mysterious nor sinister. 

So now, I breathe. Which actually helps the focus, rather than impeding it. And I did another set, unloaded, just for the hell of it, which was totally easy, and I didn't keel over, and I'm not too old to lift, and the dogwood tree is really, really beautiful this morning.