Friday, November 24, 2017

My Favorite Place in Portland

I'm a bottom feeder, right? We know that. So you'll believe me when I tell you about my very favorite place in Portland. It's this place:



It's the parking garage at 4th and Alder. The fancy glass you see is the elevator. You can ride up and look out over the city, up to the ninth floor! Which would be cool. But that's not what we do. We take the stairs. There are stairs, all the way up to the roof, which would be the tenth floor, except it doesn't get a number. Because it's the roof, I guess. There are four complete stairways, one at every corner. This is important, because if your knees don't really like you going up ten flights of stairs in one go, you can climb a bit and then walk up the ramp a bit to the next corner, climb a bit more, and so on. 



I admit that it's not particularly prepossessing at first. Concrete steps. Sometimes you navigate around someone's abandoned Big Gulp or soda can. And for a floor or two, maybe someone else is on the stairs. But usually not.



This part, honestly? Is not very exciting. But you keep going.




When you get halfway around, you can take a look and make sure the Morrison Bridge is going to be open, and that the traffic's going to be moving. If it looks jammed up, you might take the Burnside or the Hawthorne. (Note: this is what it looks like four days out of five. On the fifth day, the wind has swept the clouds aside, and framed between those two buildings, Mt Hood is brilliant, white, and break-your-heart beautiful.)



And now it's starting to get fun. Cityscapish. If you like that kind of thing. And you see that bit of sky? There's going to be more.



We're about halfway up now. There's more sky. No more people on the stairs: if there are, we'll startle each other.



More stairs and another corner. Those are the towers of the Hawthorne Bridge, against the sky, there.



And hey, the nipple of Pioneer Courthouse Square, peeking out there!



Round about the 8th or 9th floor, not only the people are gone, but the cars, too, most days. Now it's lonesome and a little eerie: the light washes back and forth through empty space.




And then you're on the roof, and it's a splendid solitude. Like the fells above the Lake Country. Well, sort of. With its own sublimity.



And sky. Lots and lots of sky.



And on the way back down -- because you didn't park way up here, that would be a silly waste of energy, driving the car clear up -- you can look down at the holiday shoppers. They're there too, the silly creatures.



I get to climb this glorious windswept tower twice a day, and I have it all to myself. I used to dread it becoming discovered and trendy, like so many other things in this city, but I've finally decided it's safe to tell y'all. I don't think anyone else is ever going to come up here.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A View Few Can Boast



Odd that Perseus, Greek as they come, 
should wear a Phrygian cap, and be fobbed off
by sleight of PR as a prince of Persia. 
These things happen though

to young men who travel imprudently, and meddle
with kings. I've seen it myself. The in-laws lay it down,
and next thing you're filching a timeshare eye,
and talking as fast as you dare. Maybe you're

the proud possessor of a detached, a still wriggling do,
an awesome ride, some troubling debts, and
an incomplete someone with a golden sword:
but still you're hung by your cap in the heavens,

and swung at the end of the pail for your pains.
In season and out your conical crown
points only and ever north, while your legs
climb over your head and your kilt falls up over your hips.

Is it for this, that a man conquers death? Apparently so:
this and passel of kids and a rescued princess
are what a man can hope for. And a pointy hat.
And a view few can boast on a midsummer night.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Housebreaking

LOL because they would kill us all, that's why.
But lengthen out your arm and hold the sun
between your thumb and forefinger, so.
There's still a space of time.

The mortar spits and spurts between the clenching bricks
as the walls come down, as the walls have always come:
ruins are arresting because so seldom
dies a house a natural death. Young men love

to wrench things apart and watch them fall;
Including things like you. Me.
Still I have held a nail like the sun
and driven it with a hammer, in my time,

And I was a young man myself, eager for wreck and ruin.
So things get built, even so, in the lulls
and arrhythmias of history.

The dust of wallboard,
the hanker of mold: we master nothing,
and the winter comes behind.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Arha

I think I have to make a project of conserving my attention.

Siphoning off attention has flowered into the primary business of the global economy. They have the resources. They have the tools. They have the people.

They have the extraordinary advantage on their side that people think they can't be fooled. You think you can't be fooled. I think I can't be fooled.

It wasn't true even when Dorothy Sayers wrote Murder Must Advertise, in 1933, a year which saw some other significant events. But read the novel (it's worth reading again!) and ponder how quaint it is, how primitive the tools were. They are far, far better now. More subtle, with a far wider reach. And infinitely configurable, in real time, directed by artificial intelligences that are already smarter than we are.

We, my friends, are toast. Buttered and jammed. They will eat us.

They are already eating us, and they are empowering us to marinate and cook each other. They don't mean any harm: they just want to make a buck. But that won't make us any less eaten.

Every day, I think I can make a Devil's bargain with them, and win. And every day I lose a little more of my soul.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The October Without Masks

In the morning I lie on the little Persian carpet in the wreck room and do my back exercises. Sometimes I think of the person who gave the carpet to us: exactly flying-carpet size, perfect for its job, remote from the place (Olympia) and time (our wedding, in 1981) when it arrived. The giver, with her perfectly ungoogle-able name, has vanished from our life. She was a poet. I wonder if she is still.

Anyway, I lie there and lay my hands on the hips and ribs and musculature that is surfacing as the flesh subsides. I guess I didn't yet do any resistance training the last time I weighed this little, because the body emerging is unrecognizable, supplied with ropes of hard muscle under the loosening skin. I dwindle, I become smaller, also I come into focus. It's pleasing, a little disquieting. I also am nearly sixty now, which becomes more apparent too. I am becoming healthier, lighter, more vigorous: or I am drying up, withering, and scabbing over. There is a second transition behind the present one, and it's easier to see now too. An old man looks thoughtfully at me from the mirror, sometimes.

Fall comes with a rattle and a sigh, and in daytime the yellow leaves are brilliant in the sun, at least for now. This morning, this world. Halloween comes, trying unsuccessfully to replace the meditative quiet of October with more easily confronted, store-bought fears. No. The night is not scary because of creepy-crawlies or animated corpses: it's scary because it's large and old and still, and the same stars that looked down on Alfred in the Fens look down on my battered Honda in the drive.

I am totally on the side of the night, now: totally a partisan of October, the old October, the October without masks. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Going Concern

Well, it's arrived: the real break-your-spirit, think-of-nothing-else hunger. It's been an extraordinary run: five months of losing a pound a week pretty nearly like clockwork, and never getting really hungry unless I was late with a meal. But I suspect the jig's up: I've tripped the alarm and the hunger hormones are on to me. I've lost 12% of my body weight, and somewhere around 10% is where it usually kicks in. I've been expecting it, but I had decided to just keep riding the escalator down until it started to jerk and spit and run rough.

Within a week or two I should be down to 195, which is a good stopping place for phase one. At that point I'll "go onto maintenance," meaning I'll stop trying to lose weight, for six weeks at least. In practical terms, what it means is I get a potato and a banana every day. It will leave me with 15 lbs to go to the fabled 180.

A potato and a banana! An entrancing prospect. I am looking forward to them eagerly.

When I embark on this orgy of luxury, one of three things will happen:

1) I will keep losing weight, but more slowly, at say half a pound per week. That's what the numbers say should happen. If that's the case I might not have to do the weight loss thing again: I might slowly drift down past 180, and come gently to a halt at some delightful weight my body settles on. Or

2) I will just hang out at 195, till such time (at least six weeks hence) as I feel ready to resume the struggle. Or

3) I will start gaining weight. The course of action in that case is straightforward enough. I just start chopping things out (half a potato, half a banana) until I level off.

The hunger may or may not subside, in any of these three cases. That's the really important unknown. If it doesn't, the whole enterprise becomes shaky, and I'll have to reevaluate at the end of the six weeks: I do not intend to spend years of my life obsessively hungry. If it does, then I don't really care which of the three scenarios I find myself in: whupping the food thing will still be a going concern.

Postscript: I wrote this a couple days ago and set it aside. The hunger has in fact subsided, all by itself, but I think I'll follow the steps outlined above anyway. My sense all along has been that it would be wiser not to try to drop all the way in one go. Leveling off is something I've never tried to do before -- I've never gotten that far -- so it will be interesting in itself. When my weekly average goes to 195, which should happen next week or the week after, I'll see what leveling off looks like. I might deal one of the new foods in first and give it a couple weeks to settle in, and then do the other. When I look at in near prospect it seems like a lot to change at once, to do both.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The Second Wife in the Stately Manor; or, a Discourse on Methods of Measurement

If you're going to lose weight, you're going to have to do at least one of two things: 1) declare some foods (including some of your favorite ones) off-limits, or 2) measure what you eat. Successful diets vary wildly -- it's well worth your time to browse through the National Weight Control Registry and get a sense for the diversity of ways people have accomplished their weight loss -- but they all have a least one of those two components. 

Popular diets tend to stress the first thing, declaring foods off-limits, both because it's easier -- no fiddling about with scales or measuring cups -- and because it suits our general approach to problems: find the wicked evildoers and cast them into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth! So you identify some foods and declare them evil, anathema, taboo. And I do that too, with a few things. I love pizza, french fries, and soda pop, but I'm probably never going to eat them again. They are so tasty, so dense in calories, and so slow to induce satiety, that I can't figure out any way to work them into a rational diet. They just don't fit. Some people are skillful at creating a disgust-response to these things, which probably helps a lot in avoiding them. I've never managed that though, and don't really want to. I take a dim view of demonization and disgust-responses as guides to living.

But anyway, that's not what I want to talk about now. What I want to talk about is the second thing, measuring. Far less sexy, I get that. But critical.

The thing about dieting is that only the top flap of your brain, the cerebral cortex -- and not necessarily all of that -- is really into it. The rest of you is designed, top to bottom, to load up on calories when they're available, and even to overload when some windfall turns up. This worked fine in environments where calories took effort to obtain. You might have a lucky hunting day or find a terrific honey-comb, and have a huge feast and invite all your friends, every once in a while, but what weighed on the other side of the scale was that usually it took a fair amount of effort to get your food, and you weren't really motivated to put the effort in until you were hungry. Effort-free food, among hunter-gatherers, sends up the Party! Party! Party! signal. Everyone eats too much, everyone has a good time, everyone sleeps in the next morning. But then it's back to the leisurely, but full-time, job of finding and wringing calories out of stuff that didn't have that many calories in it in the first place. 

Now we live in a world where the Party! Party! Party! signal is going off all day every day. Let's not lose sight of the fact that this is a good thing. Having enough food is wonderful. Compared to not having enough, having too much and getting fat is a minor problem, a problem many people in the world would dearly love to have. But still it is, for us, a problem, and if we're not going to solve it by cultivating disgust-responses, we're going to have to solve it by eating less. To eat less we're going to have to know how much we're eating. And that means measuring.

At first glance, this seems trivial. Well, of course. So you just eat a little less. How hard is that?

As it turns out, it's excruciatingly hard, for some of us.* The thing is that we do most of our eating habitually. We don't ordinarily think about it much. We just eat what we always eat, and maybe decide what's for dinner, but we're not used to steering and micromanaging with the cerebral cortex all that much. It's tiring to do so, and leaves us less capacity for doing everything else we need to do. And the rest of the brain is not down with this project at all. So when we want to change what we eat, we're in the position of the second wife in a stately manor, surrounded by servants who are determined that things will go on as they did before. At any given time she can intervene and give orders, and while the servants are directly under her eye, they'll do as they're told. But as soon as her attention is elsewhere, they go back to doing it the way the old missus would have wanted it. The right way.

So what the servants do is -- fill up the plate, even if it's technically what our grandparents used to call a platter.** Add an extra spoonful of this and an extra dollop of that, because you wouldn't want to have to go back and get more. And condiments, condiments are just flavorings, right? Who wants to fuss about how much mayo, how much ketchup? As for apples, you pick the larger apple, because, after all, an apple? Who gets fat eating big apples?

By the time the servants are done, you're eating a lot more than you meant to. And you can't understand why the number on the scale isn't going down. You're being so good!

Well, no, you're not, actually. If you were running a calorie deficit your weight would in fact go down. You're going to have to lean on the servants, to get this right, and take as much of it out of their hands as possible. Here are my strategies:

1) Put the measuring phase as far away as possible from the eating phase. Ideally, do it when you're not hungry. Measure out the ingredients of anything you're cooking ahead of time -- not as it's actually transforming into food. When I'm making breakfast, I get a certain amount of cream with my coffee and a certain amount of sour cream with my eggs-and-salsa. The amount I get of each, each morning, goes into its own little cup: they're on the table before I put the eggs in the pan. You never, never, add from the big container right there at the table. You think they won't add two ounces of cream to a single cup of coffee? You think they won't look at that spoonful of sour cream and decide it was a little one so you should have another? You don't know the servants very well, then. If it's there, they'll do it.

2) Eat stuff that comes in natural units, and buy a lot of them at once. That way you don't keep choosing the biggest ones. A dozen large eggs are all about the same size. If you buy a dozen apples of various sizes, and you get just one each day, it doesn't matter than some are bigger than others: on average, you'll get an average apple. But if you buy just one or two apples at a time, you'll pick the biggest ones. You will. Trust me on this. Uncle Dale knows. Or if you're not buying natural units, measure the bulk and figure out how many servings ought to be in it. That's how many you get, and if they're too big early on they'll be smaller later. "This box is eight bowls of cornflakes, period. If there's nothing left on day eight, I just don't get any cornflakes on day eight."

3) Use dishes that are just barely big enough. I get a bowl of soup or stew for lunch every day. It's the same bowl, a little pyrex bowl that I can stick in the microwave. I have no idea how much it holds. I have no idea how many calories are in the soups and stews I make. But I do know this: those pyrex bowls hold only so much. It's not possible for me, even at my most absent-minded, to trick myself into eating more than they hold. The servants will fill it as full as they can, but they can't gradually fill it fuller on the sly. It holds what it holds.

These are my strategies for outwitting the servants, adapted to my own circumstances. You may need others. Each domestic staff will have its own particular methods of subverting the new regime, so it's hard to generalize. But you do need to be aware that the household is not all on your side, in this. They will thwart you if they can.


* Nobody really knows yet why it's so much harder for some than for others: there's an obvious large genetic component to it. Variations in will power explain little of it, less than you would expect. Stay tuned: science is working on this one.)

**  Did you know that a "dinner plate" used to be nine inches across? Fact. They're often, now, eleven or even twelve. The area of a nine inch circle is about 64 square inches; the area of a twelve inch circle is about 113. Pause on those numbers. 64 versus 113. "A full plate" holds nearly twice as much food now as it did in 1960. In fact that difference tracks pretty well with the waistline difference between the average American in 1960 and the average one now.