Friday, October 22, 2021

Getting Meta

 Today is a work day: -4, so I come out at 8

Pomodoro 1: planning 7:35 - 8:00. Yesterday was a grand success. The main insight gained: I read at a FAR slower rate than I thought. Either I have slowed way down, or I used to spend a lot more time doing it. To cover the Dickens ground at the rate I feel that I ought to -- about a hundred pages per day -- I would need to be reading over three hours per day. So, that insight alone was worth the price of admission. Yesterday I did a Planning, a Palmer, two Pythons, and a Dickens: 5 pomodoros, bumped to 7 by my handicap. 

I still don’t know what I’m doing with my life, but at least I’m doing something. Which is a huge relief. I don’t think I knew just how much being dead in the water was distressing me, till I got a little way on the ship. Just to have a wake again, and the sea whispering under the planks. And maybe, after all it doesn’t matter so much what I’m doing: I’ll figure out what I’m doing partly by doing it.

At present, the most important thing would be either Python or the blog, I guess. The blog. I love writing and being read: but it may be that the blog is a dead end. Blog readership is falling off, for one thing; and for another, I am constrained by my past there, by the speaking voice and choice of topics my readers are used to. How many times can I run my stumbling toward enlightenment schtick? Okay, I’m overwhelmed by the intensity of beauty, and I can’t summon what it requires of me: what good does it do to say that over and over (and to exaggerate it)? My handful of readers loves it, but that doesn’t make it the right next thing to focus on. We have lingered in the chambers of the sea. Maybe the time has come to leave them.

Pomodoro 2: blogging 8:05 - 8:30.  Okay, this is getting meta, as the kids say nowadays: I spent a few minutes revising & posting my Pomodoro notes from yesterday as a blog post. In for a penny, in for a pound. Whether they’ll be of interest to my readers, I don’t know: but that’s their business, not mine. “Planning” and “blogging” may actually be merging into a single thing. I’ve always used the blog partly as a planning device -- am I doing the right stuff with my life, in the right way? Am I on track? So this is not such a radical departure as all that. And what the hell, warts and all has always been my motto. I can write up what I’m doing here and maybe fluff it up (and censor it a bit) and post it on the blog, next day: it will keep me honest, insofar as that’s possible.

Pomodoro 3: Python Crash Course: 8:35 - 9:00.pp 157-180

Just reading, this session. Classes! Object-oriented programming was the hot new thing when I was doing my computer science degree: I always expected it to fizzle -- it struck me as the exact equivalent of literary “realism” in programming -- but it’s still here, twenty years later, so I better come to grips with it. Classes and inheritance and all. I’ll make my daytimer out of a “task” class. And now -- I better get to work. A lot to do today.

Pomodoro 4: Nickleby, 16 pp.

Thursday, October 21, 2021


At present, frankly, three pomodoros in a week would be a triumph :-(

Today is an Exercise day: -1 so I come out at 6

Pomodoro 1: planning 7:40 - 8:05. Well, sticking to THAT was easy-peasy, but of course there’s first-time excitement here. Next up: Will to Battle.

Pomodoro 2: Will to Battle 8:15 - 8:40.  Note: the 5 to 7 minute break to get a second cup of coffee and wash the breakfast dishes doesn’t break the flow: if anything, it enhances it. Just add the extra time to the pomodoro. (So: 8:47). So: exactly 12 pages. Now THAT is information. A flood of light, in fact. If I read these books at the rate of 30 pages per hour, then no wonder it’s been taking me so long. I’m not entirely sure how much of my time was fiddled away on washing dishes and fixing the candle (which needed tending) but anyway, it’s a data point. This gets me, anyway, to the end of Chapter 16, and a respectable amount of the book to talk with Jarrett about. W to B is no longer “important” this week. Now I will do some exercise stuff.

Pomodoro 3: Python Crash Course 10:05 - 10:30.  Pp 148-150

Parameter name of *args is a tuple of arbitrary length for passing who knows how many elements to a function

Parameter name of **kwargs likewise, is a dictionary of arbitrary length

“Python matches positional and keyword arguments first and then collects any remaining arguments into the final parameter”

Well, that time went by quick, but it was also just two pages :-)

Pomodoro 4: Python Crash Course 12:10 - 12:35.  Pp 150-162

import file_name  … all functions available; invoke as file_name.function_name()

from file_name import function_name  … brings the name into this file: invoke as local function

from file_name import function_name as fn … likewise, but the local name of the function is now fn

import file_name as fn … does the same as the first but invoke as fn.function_name()

from file_name import *  … makes all the functions in file_name local ones, with possible havoc. Doan’ do this.

Pomodoro 5:  Nicholas Nickleby, 16 pp

Planning Notes 

Approximate values (how many fewer pomodoros to expect on days of particular sorts):

Work day -4

Exercise day -1

Soup-making day -2

Shopping day -1

Massage day -1

Dad-in-Eugene day -6

I can adjust these as I actually get data

Current projects: 

Planning (metapomodoro)

Reading Will to Battle

Studying Python / to-do project / hex-map project

Reading Nicholas Nickleby

Writing blog posts

Is there a limit to how many projects I should keep current, or will that be self-regulating? I guess the Pomodoro idea is that you re-evaluate what the most important thing to work on is at the end of every session, so things will just naturally come and go. I don’t really need criteria: a minute’s honest reflection will tell me what the most important thing to work on is.

Open question: do I want to keep studying Spanish? If so, how? I guess the main thing is, I don’t want it again to displace everything in the pomodoro space, which is what it did before: I do want to do it, but I don’t want it to be the main thing I do. If it were a third of my pomodoros, that would be fine. Half is not fine. Most is very not fine. It becomes in that case a form of procrastination. So I guess the rule here would be I only do a Spanish pomodoro after I’ve done two non-Spanish pomodoros. But if I have the “most important” rule, and observe it, I might not need any other. Today I guess the second pomodoro will be reading Will to Battle, since I want to be sure to have enough to talk about with Jarrett on Saturday.

This is actually very exciting: I feel like I’m finally coming to grips with this thing. The most important two things generally, here, are going to be the planning and the python: really half of my pomodoros, in general, should be devoted to those two (Planning hopefully falls off rapidly -- I won’t really have that much planning to do. But I do have some!) And it’s not all meta-planning: there’s planning within the projects to be done. The basic, real aim here is to put my weight where I want to be putting it: NOT to let myself be diverted into the vales of vague self-improvement, but to actually be making things, and developing skills that I will immediately use.

I may want to make a radical distinction between morning pomodoros (only Most Important Things) and day/evening pomodoros (Anything Is a Win).

Saturday, October 09, 2021

The Quiet and Dark of Winter


She's gone: missing three days now. Martha thinks she's just hunkered down somewhere. My conviction immediately was that she is dead: that she sensed the onset of heart failure, or kidney failure, and crept under a bush somewhere to be still. I walk around the neighborhood, making my little "come get dinner!" clicks, and calling softly, sometimes. But I'm not really calling: I'm summoning the past. 

We've done all the things, of course. Now the days just drift by. On one of them we'll wake up with the new reality as settled business. Not quite yet though. 

A rare, obscure impulse to take a selfie on Sunday: there I am, still embodied, with a mask around my neck.

The rains are here, finally, but the lawns haven't even yet entirely greened. Still, this battered little city seems to have escaped the drought summer without a major smoke event, so we can count ourselves lucky. And now we go on into the quiet and dark of winter. 


And, just like that, two weeks gone. I didn't feel like posting this right away and getting a lot of "hope your cat's okay!" and "my uncle's cousin's stepbrother got his cat back by posting tuna fish pictures on the internet," and so forth. Also actually posting a picture of myself as an old man held me up. I keep thinking there's some mistake: I can't actually be old. If I come back to the post, and the picture, surely something other than an old man will be looking back out at me? But he's still there, so -- out into the world he goes.  Whoever he is.


How am I to live? I don't even know if that's the right question. Or rather, I suspect it is a question that answers itself: as a directional indicator, at least. If you wake up wondering, "how am I to live?" then you can be confident that you're moving, or at least facing, in the wrong direction. At present the sun is obscured in a pure white sky, so it's difficult to guess where the it might be. And likewise, every way I face seems to bring the same question. The failure of orientation is so complete that it suggests a sensory breakdown. If no attempts at light bring anything but darkness, then Mr. Occam would suggest that the problem is not a lack of light, but a lack of sight.

So "how am I to live?" has a simple and direct answer, valid under all circumstances. "Not this way."


Lear.  ...who is that can tell me who I am?

Fool.  Lear's shadow.

Lear's mistake is to try to lay down his burden. He thinks that he has earned a rest. Nobody earns a rest. We just go to our rest, when we are called. All that trying to lay your burden down ahead of time does, is deliver you to the mercy of hellkites, and take your true and loyal daughter away from you.  You may not understand it, but you are holding something together. It is not your job to second-guess the future. It is your job to pay attention to your nearest and dearest, and use whatever meager discernment the years may have given you.

Thursday, September 23, 2021


It's an effect that's easiest to see on a wet winter night, with a streetlight shining through a tangle of bare tree twigs: the surfaces that most directly reflect the streetlight to the observer form a circle around it, a halo of streaks. Each streak is itself more or less straight, but they're arranged in a circle, a sort of crown of thorns. It moves as you do, tracking with the light.

You don't usually see it with the sun, I think because the sun is just too bright: if you're looking that directly towards it you're too dazzled to see anything else.

The week of the fall equinox, though, the rising sun lines up with the east-west streets, and if you happen to be walking east on a tree-lined street at exactly sunrise, and the trees are wet from the recent rains, you can see the sun's version of it: a brilliant circle of golden fire. A doorway into a world of unbearable light.

You can't look at it for long, of course, and when you turn away and close your eyes, the negative image turns with you, in bruise purple and dark green. Within seconds, what you saw is replaced by what you wish you had seen; with fragments of Dante, with words for light. The golden apples of the sun. Mithraic altars built by homesick legionaries in godforsaken, rainswept Britain; Byzantine mosaics in candlelight. What did you really see? What door did you fail to open?

It's gauche, profane, even to talk about it. Is it better to leave it be, and maybe forget it; or to talk about it, and certainly distort it? Forgetting it seems like the larger disaster.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Between Showers

The wind bears me along, as water bears a fish.
There are eddies and volutes before me and behind;
thrash of leaves, the hiss and moan 
of a premature October: rain at last! And a sky
built like ancient masonry, clouds heaped, 
toppling, at one corner, while at the other 
a basket of fresh-washed sheets, not yet folded;
iron gray, tarnished silver, long streaks of yellow
Where the stain of the sun will not quite come out.
I walk, like the other old men of this neighborhood. The rest
are dead, I suppose, or housebound. One tiny wizened man
with a long white beard, I have heard is a geologist,
who can tell you exactly what the hill slope is going to do
when the Big One arrives: a useful man to know, 
quite apart from being immortal. We acknowledge 
each other gravely, peering out at each other
from under our white, bristled eyebrows: hunched old guys
who mean to give Death as good as we get. We walk:
we don't look back. Somewhere behind us 
is the piper of tinnitus, our attendant lord, 
that thin wail of quarter-tones 
like the surge against a jetty;
the sound is a delicate craft of bright steel 
glimpsed through the shifting cloud; its engine
is there and gone, there and gone. Flying on instruments now,
as the sky darkens, and lights appear in the windows.
Good night, dear loves: good night. It's time to scrape our shoes
and get in before the rain.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

In America, Where The War Is


Barnaby Rudge is the first of Dickens' books to be a real novel. It's wildly uneven in quality, but it's a complete novel, conceived and executed as such. It's meant to cohere: everything is in its place.

There are things about it which are downright bad. The supposed resolutions of the plot are mechanical and silly: the King pardons Barnaby, Dolly Varden renounces coquetry, and Mrs Varden (least convincingly of all) surrenders her "uncertain temper." None of this particularly makes sense, but Dickens at least knows it all has to happen. There is none of that rambling off the tracks of the plot which makes the earlier novels such odd junk-drawers, jumbled troves of jewels and plastic cereal-box prizes. The result is an orderly drawer with everything in its place. It's been achieved mostly by throwing out the jewels: but if Dickens hadn't learned to do it, Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend could never have happened.

The first time I read Barnaby Rudge it made almost no impression on me. I simply did not want to hear one of its messages -- that street rioters are mostly knaves leavened with a few fools. This time, I am  haunted by the image of Barnaby borne along by the mob, turned into a leader (and marked for execution) by his extraordinary innocence. It hits close to home, nowadays. 

The first time I read Barnaby, also, I had never had a corvid as a hearth companion -- as Dickens had. I was slower to credit how close these relationships can be, than I should have been. Dickens had a couple of pet ravens: Grip is a portrait from life.

Dickens' mythopoeic gifts never fail him. The image of the Fool and the Raven in the foam of the mob is indelible. Grip's meaningless slogans, picked up anywhere, taught to him for any reason or no reason, travel along with Barnaby and inspire him. The extremely slow John Willet likewise picks up a slogan for his son Joe's military career, and the loss of his arm in the British defense of Savannah (Georgia): 

'It's been took off!'

'By George!' said the Black Lion, striking the table with his hand, 'he's got it!'

'Yes, sir,' said Mr Willet, with the look of a man who felt that he had earned a compliment, and deserved it. 'That's where it is. It's been took off.'

'Tell him where it was done,' said the Black Lion to Joe.

'At the defence of the Savannah, father.'

'At the defence of the Salwanners,' repeated Mr Willet, softly; again looking round the table.

'In America, where the war is,' said Joe.

'In America, where the war is,' repeated Mr Willet. 'It was took off in the defence of the Salwanners in America where the war is.' Continuing to repeat these words to himself in a low tone of voice (the same information had been conveyed to him in the same terms, at least fifty times before), Mr Willet arose from table, walked round to Joe, felt his empty sleeve all the way up, from the cuff, to where the stump of his arm remained; shook his hand; lighted his pipe at the fire, took a long whiff, walked to the door, turned round once when he had reached it, wiped his left eye with the back of his forefinger, and said, in a faltering voice: 'My son's arm-- was took off--at the defence of the--Salwanners--in America--where the war is'--with which words he withdrew, and returned no more that night.

I regret, this time around, that by the time Dickens was finishing Barnaby he was anxious to be done with it and go on to other things: I feel (as an at least occasionally bitter old man) that the story of Geoffrey Hareton, if Dickens had turned his full attention on it, could have been made something more than sketch; and I wish he could have thought of something better to do with him than pack him off to a monastery. I suppose in Dickens view it would have been unseemly to leave him walking about on English soil, after committing (technically) murder. But Dickens' inability to scrape up a penny's worth of religious awareness renders Hareton's ending even more perfunctory than the bright "pack them off to Australia!" finishes of Copperfield's lost lambs. Once cloistered in a monastery ("known throughout Europe for the rigour and severity of its discipline") he is officially no longer a person of interest: all good English protestants know that being in a monastery is essentially being dead, and that there can be nothing more to say of him.

But mind, Barnaby Rudge was born into a literary world we can hardly imagine nowadays, before the flowering of the English novel that was marked (and largely formed by) Thackeray's Vanity Fair. Sir Walter Scott was the man to beat, and I would say that Boz beat him, even with this novel. If you haven't read Barnaby Rudge, don't bother, unless you've already read the standards: David Copperfield, Our Mutual Friend, Little Dorrit, Bleak House, Great Expectations. But if you have read those, and are curious to see where they came from, give it a go. Slow John Willet and Grip the Raven are worth the price of admission.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

The Cry of Gulls

The American Civil War was, top-to-bottom and on both sides, a religious war. If you don't understand that, you don't understand anything about America.

When I was young we were taught to sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in school. I imagine that's not done nowadays.


A faint yellow cast to the sky this morning, but it's been an extraordinarily easy smoke season here, this year, given that it's been weeks and weeks with no real rain. Everything is as dry as the shriveled sponge you might find on a high shelf in the laundry room. If the rains come soon we may get off lightly. They're still at least ten days away. I check the ten-day forecast every day. Nothing. It's been a lovely late summer: cool mornings and warm afternoons, and golden haze in the distance.


I used to wake every morning and spring out of bed: I'd be on my feet before I really knew I was awake, eager for the day, intent on my breakfast and my book and my brief ambitions. Now I wake slowly, even if my bladder is full and urgent. I look at my hands in the morning dark, open them wide and clench them curiously into fists, to see if they'll do it. Still alive: still strong. I'm still here, for some reason. Or for none. I hear the cry of gulls, in my mind's ear. They don't really come this far up from the river: it's some trick of my gimpy auditory processing. I turn on my side, throw off the covers, swing my legs forward into emptiness, freeze my core, and push myself upright with one arm. From there I can stand without any particular stress on my lower back. I sway slightly, reassuring it: see? I can move that much, and no sirens go off. A new day. Thus.


Glory, glory hallelujah! His truth is marching on.