Tuesday, January 19, 2021


 I thought I would sleep late this morning, since nothing was on my schedule and nothing looms: but I woke at four. I stirred the stew in the slow-cooker -- there's a hot spot on one side where the rice starts to glom, otherwise -- and went back to bed. Counted breaths to a hundred and fifty, little sheep jumping over a uvular stile, and then gave it up. I was brooding on Senate rules and presidential pardons, viral mutations and vaccine distribution: for all the world as if all that was in my sphere of control, and anxious courtiers were waiting for my pronouncements at the Rising From The Royal Bed.

So I got up, and here I am, a semi-retired sixty-something nobody in particular, having shooed away the phantom courtiers, figuring out the shape of the day. Nearly seven, and not a trace of dawn in the midwinter sky. There probably would be if I went outside, but from here it's all reflections from the lamp, the lurid glow of the laptop screen, the little green and red and amber lights of various electronics that dot our nighttime. For background music, the hum of many little motors doing little tasks: the heat exchanger, the fridge, the clock of the microwave, who knows what-all? Always that ambient buzz, not quite harmonizing with the silvery song of of my tinnitus. What was silence like, again? Does anyone remember?

And a candle. Lucretius and the votive candles arrived post-haste a couple days ago -- somebody drove up from San Bernardino and up over the Siskiyou Pass, with a dull ache in their bladder, and ate a burger and fries in Medford while their rig grumbled in the pullout, to deliver them to me, and I'll never know who it was. Somebody else, equally unknown, drove it to my front porch, and, a bit unnervingly, posted picture of the box standing there on my doormat, which was emailed to me within seconds of being taken. I opened the door and there it was. "You look so like your photographs!" I told it. Anyway, thanks to you both, and may the days be kind to you! The candles work splendidly: my coffee stays hot, but unembittered. Whether Lucretius works so well, I don't know: I'm going to finish Stephenson's Quicksilver first.

Here comes the dawn. Beyond the hedge, a soft surprisingly mauve sky: I had though we'd have one of those dark leaden overcasts, but it's a free sky, with real light washing over it. And now the first squirrels are moving in the laurel branches. So the world is still here.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Balance and Quickness

I've had an informal goal for a while of working up to being able to do twenty pull ups in a row. But recently YouTube served up a video to me, made by a guy my age, who was doing a pull-up challenge, clearly chuffed with himself for being able to beat Jeff Cavaliere.  Cavaliere's challenge was to do fifty pull ups in as few sets as you could, with of course various parameters for what counts and how much rest between sets and so on. For the first set, this guy did 19 pull ups, and he had a few more in the tank. So here's an old  guy, a guy my age, who can do twenty pull ups. It's possible.

He had an enormous back and shoulders, and I thought: you know, I don't particularly want to look like that. Maybe twenty pull ups actually isn't what I want. The number came out of thin air, basically -- I think Jeff Cavaliere said something in some video about "banging out twenty pull ups" -- and I never really investigated farther. It just lodged in my head, and since I'd recently worked my way up to being able to do five or six, from having been unable to do any at all, I thought, "cool! That's what I'll work up to!" And it's just been sort of a brain burr, since then.

It makes sense that you'd need a huge back to be able to do that. Or else that you'd have to be very light. But being shaped like a gorilla is not actually what I want. I want a body that's lighter and quicker than that, not so specialized for one movement. And it's not like I *need* twenty pull ups, in my daily life. It's just a number that floated into my life, and now it's lodged there. I think it's time to gently dislodge it and let it float away. Twenty pull ups is not in my future.

What I do want is more quickness and balance. Watching the generation ahead of me, it becomes clearer and clearer that if I manage to dodge the chronic "diseases of Western Civilization" -- cancer, diabetes, atherosclerosis -- what will take me down is simply falling. Falling and hitting my head, or falling and breaking my hip. That's what I should be training to avoid. I do almost nothing that requires balance and quick responses, which means, I'm pretty sure, that they are gradually deteriorating. I have the requisite strength, now -- I can sit down on the floor and stand up again without using my hands or my knees. So that's great: no amount of balance or quickness would help that much if I were not strong enough to catch myself on the way down. But on the other hand, no amount of strength will help if I topple too far before trying to catch myself. I'm going to need the balance and quickness, too.

I never fall. I think of myself as a person who does not fall. But by the time I start falling, it will be late in the game to fix it.

I do a few things to cultivate balance. I often put my socks on standing up, for example. I do step-ups onto a chair, as part of leg day, which was meant to be a quads-and-glutes exercise, but has turned out to be much more of a balance exercise. But I do nothing to cultivate quickness, nothing at all. I think I need to learn to hop, and scamper over rough terrain, and do a lot of getting quickly to the floor from various directions and in various attitudes. I'm quite sure all these motor sequences can be trained, and that someone's already thought it all out. I just have to go find them. Find them, learn them, and practice them.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Opinions: Throwing Rocks: Being a Traffic Cop

Good morning.  There is a moment when you feel the lever shift, under your hands, and you look up to check whether the top of the load has shifted against the sky. But mostly it's quiet, this morning: another silent rush of the tide under the pylons. The gulls are not awake yet, and we're in the deep quiet of January.

Von Tal is restless, and he writes:

We've got an American public whose historical understanding of the Revolution is that one day a crowd threw rocks at soldiers in Boston, and that from then on victory was a forgone conclusion. Six grinding years of keeping an army in the field, hunted up and down the Atlantic coast, was superfluous detail. It would have been "names-and-dates-of-battles" trivia: no need to teach that, or learn it.

So now a bunch of wannabe revolutionaries are hiding at home wondering why their revolution isn't accomplished, since they clearly have done all that was necessary. They threw the rocks: why isn't there a new government?

On the one hand, of course, thank God: if they had known what they needed to orchestrate and organize, things might have gone otherwise. On the other hand, if they had known what signing up for a revolution actually entailed, they might have thought better of it in the first place.

I've watched left wing idiots doing the same thing all my life: now I'm watching right wing idiots doing it. You don't want six years barefoot and bleeding in the snow, don't sign on, guys.

Yeah, well, maybe. How do you know? How do you know any of the stuff you supposedly know? And what are you willing to bet on it? 

The twice-warmed coffee is sour on my tongue. Finally, after much dithering, I ordered some votive candles online, to be coffee warmers. I already have the little scaffold for my cup to sit on. I have a boy's love of open flame, and my theory is that keeping the cup warm, rather than reheating in the microwave, will a) keep me at my post longer, b) keep my coffee warmer longer, and c) reduce the eventual bitterness of multiply reheated coffee. This being a thing, Herr von Tal, that a man might actually gauge by experience and actually know. So the candles, I am informed, left San Bernardino by truck yesterday, accompanied by Stallings' translation of Lucretius. In the 21st Century economy this is not an odd packaging, nor an odd origin. Why should candles and Lucretius not arise in San Bernardino? Riddle me that.

And here is Mark Manson on opinions:

One thing I would add to this, is that an unexpected bonus is the emotional relief that comes of shedding opinions. One does not realize, until one does it, how heavy the burden of all those opinions is, how anxiously they must be defended, how vulnerable they make you to every passing stranger. I practice not having opinions about other drivers, when I'm on the freeway. What do I know of what they are rushing toward, and what they are fending off? "No one made me a traffic cop," I murmur. Thank God. I am so grateful that no one made me a traffic cop. And I am correspondingly grateful for the people who undertake that burden, leaving me to float, irresponsible and free, in the flow of traffic. If someone's driving strikes me as aggressive or erratic, I simply drop back in the current till I'm well away from them. 

There was a time -- there are still times! -- when I soberly thought it was my duty to think like a traffic cop, and come to decisions about the culpability of any driver who irritated me. Just how wicked were they being? How inexcusable? What punishment should be meted to them? How much better than them am I? All these questions struck me as reasonable and responsible. Now they strike me as signs of immaturity, if not mental illness. "No one made me a traffic cop." It's something of a mantra.

Lots of love, dear ones. I hope your day has unexpected presents that delight you.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Hijas de la Carne

No lo cuento para que me comprendan, ya que he renunciado a semejante pretensión; ni para que comprendan al Príncipe Hurón. Lo cuento porque dicen los sabios que las palabras son hijas de la carne y como tales se pudren si las guarda encerradas.

I do not tell it so that you will understand me, since I have renounced such a claim; nor so that you will understand Prince Hurón. I tell it because the wise say that words are daughters of the flesh, and they spoil if you seal them up.

-- Angélica Gorodischer, Kalpa Imperial

It doesn't happen very often, nowadays, that I finish a book and think, with total conviction, this one I will be reading again. But it happened with Kalpa Imperial.

Friday, January 08, 2021

A Surgeon Extracting the Stone of Folly

Pieter Van Huys

Alas! If it were so easy.

The llama, orgulous of his orgle,

His fifteen minutes of fame, or his hour;

Our ornaments of desire that strangely lapse

With the mere shift of a species. And thus this day

Gray and still, and the morning incomplete.

But we are spirits of another sort, which is to say

That kindness walks among us, and grief,

And uncertainty about how to greet this guest.

Do we offer him a seat, hang his black

And faded hood up on the hat rack, stand his scythe

With the umbrellas? Do we distract him with a long discourse

Concerning the rights of vegetable loves?

He is obliging, to a point, but he has a job to do.

Count this love then in the hidden book, the ledger

Suspected in the jumbled shelves just glimpsed

Behind the scowling holder of the house. We can't help thinking

Even now, that someone older, more astute,

Must be keeping score.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Day, 2020

 This is what I have always desired above all else: that this day should be a day like all others, a day with a morning, an afternoon, and a night, any of which might be made into anything. 

Rightly or wrongly, I've always disliked holidays: days that absolutely must be one thing and no other. They seem to me a disrespect to the world, an imposition on it that we have no right to make. Who are we to call this day Christmas, as if days were a thing to be ordered and sorted and classified by human beings? Who knows what we've lost, over the years, how many days born in the tenderest part of winter, that might have been days of learning or of loss, that have been made by brute force into days of festivity? It's hard for me to see this act of coercion as homage to Jesus of Nazareth, who came to make everything uncertain and raw-skinned and new. 

(Though he himself celebrated Pesach, and I doubt he would have had much sympathy for my desire to escape the strictures of a human life. What would I build with an unformed day, but the same old jail I build every day?)

Still. The longing for freedom reaches its peak on holidays, on the 4th of July and on Christmas. It's then that I most want to be far away from other people, far away from their anxieties and desires. Stop chattering, just for a moment, and let me think! All I want is one moment of stillness, one moment in the heart of winter, or in the heart of summer, unnamed and unnameable. 

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

A Pale and Uncertain Blue

 The moon carefully makes its way through the laurel leaves, to take up a post where it can look in the west-facing window. A quarter till seven, and no sign of dawn. She is still brilliant; mostly full; criss-crossed with hedge twigs. A small, hard, ambitious light, which illuminates nothing. I am not friends with the moon this morning. I just want the sun to rise, and bring summer with her.

So, a vaccine trial has come to town, and I'm going to try to sign up for it, I think: most of my hesitation is about the fine print. If I'm in the placebo group, how long am I committed to wait to get a real vaccine? Apart from that, it's a no-brainer: the control group is only 1/3 of the total, so that's a 66% chance of getting a good vaccine quite a bit earlier than the average Joe. It's not even in the first round of stage-3 trials -- in fact it will probably be approved for emergency use by the FDA while this trial is going on -- so if it does anything icky to people, it's something that doesn't show up for months. Meanwhile, COVID has also come to town, with a vengeance, and it definitely does icky things to people. Where do I sign?

As I write, the sky lightens, and the moon begins to lose her grip. No longer the absolute mistress of the sky.

The giving season has begun in earnest: for the next six weeks my workload doubles or triples. I bump up to thirty hours per week, instead of twenty, and work almost as much as real people do. As always, when this happens, I marvel that any regular working people keep their health into their fifties and sixties: there's simply not enough time to take care of yourself properly. Realized as I was going to bed last night that I'd inadvertently skipped my daily walk. That sort of thing is fine, for six weeks. Year round, the stresses would accumulate and things would start to break down. And one thing leads to another, when that happens. You eat more because you're tired, and you stop exercising, and then you're more tired, and joints get huffy and obstinate, and hauling yourself around the house turns into more than you want to do... and it just goes on, until you're totally sedentary, totally stressed, eating like a maniac, and just waiting for the first critical system to go. It's no mystery to me why American health is so poor.

But enough. Light is coming back to the world. The hedge is green instead of black. The blue of the sky is pale and uncertain, but it is blue, and it will become bluer.