Tuesday, August 28, 2018


Master of the Senate, the third volume of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, continues to illuminate the history of my country as no other has done for me. It is a biography of Johnson -- one of the best biographies I have ever read -- but it also, and more importantly, is a history of the United States in the 20th Century. I finally have a bridge from the Civil War era, which I felt I understood quite well, to the present. I can follow the lineages. The line that leads from Nathan Bedford Forrest to Joseph McCarthy  to Donald Trump senior to our present affliction; the line that leads from Ulysses S. Grant to my grandfather (a socialist carpenter who moved from New Jersey to Texas, and named his son after Eugene Debs) to Hubert Humphrey to my father and to me -- all this territory is awash in light. So grateful. History is a magnificent thing. To be able to understand the backstory of your own life, and to be able to see the conflicts of our time in a longer perspective. So valuable.

Then there's this book, Atul Gawande's Being Mortal. A lovely and important book. One of the tasks of this part of my life is preparing the end of it properly, so as to save myself and others much grief and expense. I love Gawande's nuance and precision, his recognition of the forces at work. I've seen I suppose more of the ends of lives than most people, as an in-home massage therapist, and I'm grateful for knowing so intimately how the end stages go, and what the choices really mean. 

As usual, I'm a keen follower of the long trailing edge: neither of these books is new. But if you haven't read them you should.


I continue. 153 lbs. Today I did five consecutive pull-ups, a personal record. I can do a two-point stand (rising to standing, from being seated on the floor, without aid of hands, elbows, or knees.) 

Power was out Sunday morning, so I went to Tom's, for the first time in, oh, six months I suppose. I do like the distant sociability of eating out and working in a cafe, but I don't really miss the food, and I can't really justify the expense. Mulling over whether there might be other ways to arrive at the same end.

My concentration continues to concern me. I am working on my diet book, but not nearly at the rate I would like to be -- four or five pages per week, maybe. It seems to me that I should go several times faster, since really I know what I want to say and how I want to structure it, and I have plenty of free time. But the time, all too often, seems to run out into the sands of social media and disappear. Hmm.

Still, at least I *am* reading and writing again. So that's good.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Heart of the Matter

Just finished this novel, which is quite beautiful in its odd way, and strikes me -- however it may have struck other people -- as a deconstruction of Catholicism, and of Christianity generally. What does it mean to suffer for others? Does the idea even make sense? Does expiation by suffering create goodness, or poison it? Or both?

And can pity be a vice? It can be, I think, and this novel seems to think so too: a version of pride, of believing we can take care of people, that we know best for them, that we can intercede for them. And believing that so strongly, it's only a small step to deceiving them for their own good: protecting them from information that would only hurt them. The more we take on, the more we isolate ourselves, and the more we forget that we ourselves are deceived and pitiable and desperately in need of help.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Two Real Things; And What I'm Doing, Pt 2

Now when I drive the car the world spins by, slightly blurred, unimpressed; it doesn't give damn which of us is moving, or whose eyes have gotten old. The tape runs: I arrive (as we say) at the store, just as I used to. It's just that the car has never really moved, and no one in the store will see me. Well, except that one solid, oddly real young black woman, who very deliberately does not look at me. She has her own stories, and she intends to keep them.

Once again, the self-check runs awry. This time, to my surprise, it scans the overlarge bar code on my eighteen-egg carton, at which it balked before; but this time it will not read the little bar code on the little sticker on the apples. In frustration, I try to look them up, but I'm not sure the apples I key in are the right ones. Am I paying too much? Too little? Really, I can't say that I care, even if I am so near and careful these days.  It accepts the apples, with a tag of "appl.gold." I'm trying to buy jonagolds, cheap at 98c per pound, but I've probably paid for golden delicious at some higher rate. Whatever. I pay with a card, and carry my bag out into the parking lot. A perfect half moon appears over the trees. I stop to look at it. Two real things, I've seen two real things on this trip: the young black woman and the half moon.

I stow the grocery bag in the passenger seat, and drive home. I take the engineer's route: possibly slower, but it edges around the hill on a couple little twisty alleys instead of dropping down fifty steep feet, and then going right back up on the main drags. The inefficiency of that route appalls me. It matters no more than the price of the apples, of course. In both cases the real contours of what we're doing here are not to be altered. You go to the grocery store a certain number of times, then there's a brief time when somebody else has to do it for you, and after that everyone adjusts to your absence.

At home I pour the oats into their big plastic jar, set the apples on the counter to be washed, and put an extra old plastic bag around the burger to put it in the fridge. (In my pantry chef days I learned that a single layer of plastic really doesn't do it, not for a couple days in the fridge. Whether this notion is true, I have no idea: it's just another one of those unreal swirly things that go by.) Life is mostly made of unreal swirly things. But there's an occasional moon, an occasional young black woman, to keep you off-balance, to keep you wondering if some of these things might not be real after all. You think you're being careful and you think you know the difference; but you aren't and you don't.


Despite the large recoveries of control over my life -- or possibly because of them -- I find myself in some anxiety about how I'm spending my time: does it really line up with what I want to be doing for the next couple decades, should I be lucky enough to be doing anything at all? The answer to that is rapid and easy: no. It doesn't. I need to look it over again, the list of things I'm committing myself to doing, and a rough outline of where I'm actually putting my time. Do I actually have a rough outline of that? Actually --

Actually, no, I don't. And if this weight loss enterprise has taught me anything, it's that my intuitive sense of quantities and proportions is worth diddly squat. I need to measure and track, if I want to have any idea what's going on. Pound in stakes, and measure the high-water marks.

Closer, yes: we're closer than we've ever been. And nobody is looking for precision or perfection here. But I do need to know what I'm doing.

Friday, August 10, 2018


A while back, in an online forum, someone wrote about having once been obsessed with their weight, in a bad way. They went on to give in evidence -- well, everything that I'm doing. Tracking everything. Carefully measuring weight and girth daily. Planning food intake carefully and following the plan exactly. This, she said, was her unhealthy obsession. She didn't want to do that again. She just wanted to lose weight.

So I mulled that over for a while. I suppose one person's unhealthy obsession is another person's due diligence. I feel less obsessed -- less hagridden -- by food than I have ever felt. It's true that I plan and track. But when I'm not shopping, cooking, eating, recording -- I'm not thinking about it. I used to fret about food a lot, and I spent a surprising amount of time "deciding what to eat." Mealtimes nevertheless came upon me suddenly, causing chaos and dismay. What should I eat? What did Martha want to eat? What should we do, at that tangled intersection of spending and indulgence and health risk and consumerism and HOW CAN WE SOLVE IT RIGHT NOW BECAUSE OH MY GOD I'M STARVING?

I used to eat so much more, and yet I was starving so often. The hunger was brutal. People with unbroken appetites have no idea how hungry we get.

I only get that hungry now if I've missed a meal by a couple hours. The uncertainty itself was a big contributor. If I didn't know what I was going to eat -- and knowing there was a part of myself that would try to stop me from eating what I wanted to -- there was a mounting anxiety as the hunger sharpened, and it all came to a crisis, and something had to be done immediately. There was no way to satisfy all the contending, contradictory demands, and the way of sheer indulgence glowed brighter and brighter and easier and easier before me. There was no way to do it right; but by God I could do it wrong in style! And not much later, I'd be eating epic quantities of takeout pork fried twice, followed by ice cream, followed by wheat thins. Eating my way through the evening. Maybe eating right would start tomorrow.

I have a hard time seeing my present way of eating as more obsessive than that. Yes, I plan it all. Yes, I write it all down (which takes about twenty seconds, with standard abbreviations. A typical food day's diary entry looks like this: "8/6/18 hb, al+b, chili, salad, hd, orange.")

And it's just food. It's not self-worth, or appreciation of art; it's not a moral triumph or a collapse into self-indulgence. It's just food. I like it. I eat it up. When I'm done I forget about till my next meal -- also planned, also ready to go. If this is obsession, so be it. I'll take it over my former experience, gladly.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Boiled Down to Six Principles

Here's the list:
  1. Eat your favorite stuff
  2. Track what you eat
  3. Measure systematically
  4. Eschew variety
  5. Steer by your own weight
  6. Minimize decisions
It was surprisingly hard to boil my weight loss success down to principles, and I found I couldn't do with less than six of them. There they are.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Stuckness and Failure

If you recall from our recent episode, this was the list of things I am doing:

  • The Dale Health Initiative (diet and exercise) 
  • Working at the Library Foundation (my day job) 
  • Massage 
  • Writing my blogs (this and my not-dead-yet massage blog) 

And there were reasons I felt stuck, stymied, and semi-failing in all of them. To take them in order:

The Dale Health Initiative has actually been a major success: my sense of failure here is a weird psychological phenomenon, "success hangover," which afflicts me sometimes in moments of victory. It's entirely bogus. I am down to 154 lbs, running one last weight-loss experiment to see where I want to set the parameters for the long-term management of my weight and size. I am becoming appreciably stronger and better-muscled every week. There is simply no way to categorize this as stuckness or failure. So my job here is some simple CBT-style "talking back" to the anxious, depressive mind. It has succeeded, it is still succeeding, it's pretty cool, and I have the striated delts and the sixpack (well, fourpack, anyway) to prove it. Enough.

Work at the Foundation: there was actually at least a grain of truth here. There were some things I was not keeping up with well: there's a couple low-visibility tasks I tend to put off, because I hate them. And my last data-pull for a fundraising campaign was flawed and weird: I had to patch it up after the fact -- never something you want to do, working with data -- and I never figured out what was wrong in the first place. I'm at peace with making mistakes. If you can't make peace with that you don't belong in software. But I hate not being able to reconstruct my mistakes, not being able to learn from them. That is a failure. 

So I've put in some serious time designing checks for my next data pull, and process for documenting the steps -- things I should have done long ago -- so that if something goes south again, I'll catch it in the act and know what I did wrong. And I've instituted a new zero tolerance policy for putting off those tasks. If one of them shows up, I deal with it that day, right away, and I set myself up for public accountability on them. They're not very important, it's not that hard, and I just need to do it.

So that's two down. Next up: massage.

It's high summer, in a heat wave, and my appointments have dwindled. I've lost a couple of regulars and I'm not seeing many new people. None of this is surprising: it's part of the game. Regulars die, they move away, they realize they can't afford it. None of this has to do with me losing weight, turning sixty, and suddenly looking my age. 

I'm doing a lot of processing of having a very different face and body. I have lines, wrinkles, topography. There are hills and gullies where there used to be smooth swells. It's all very different. I don't really know who I am any more. And so, in the fashion of my kind, I connect the anxieties: business obviously has gone down because I look different.

Well, probably not. For one thing, I don't actually look worse: I think most people would say I look better. I may not have as much body weight to use, but I'm stronger and my stamina is better. I used to sweat profusely when anxious -- as, for instance, when seeing a new client -- and now I don't: now it takes a LOT to make me sweat. My appearance actually is just not a very good explanation for the dwindling business. Sure, there are people who won't want an old guy. So what?

And the dwindling business actually doesn't need an explanation. There's normal attrition of clientele, there's the summer heat, and there's the fact that for the last half of my massage career my viral "What People Really Look Like" essay has done all my marketing for me. I've actually had an unusually long run of having my practice filled with long-time regulars. Now I need to drum up business. There's not anything that needs explaining, here. There's just stuff that needs to be done.

I need to update my equipment. My table is shabby, my linens are worn, my carry-bag is busted at the seams. None of this matters with regulars, who don't notice and wouldn't care if they did. But they matter for first impressions.

I need to market. I hardly ever update my massage website. I don't even know what it looks like on a phone: I've never had to worry about it, and I haven't kept up with such stuff. It's not particularly easy to schedule with me. In a business with a lot of "threshold resistance" that's stupid. I need to market, and I need to make it easy to schedule. This is not rocket science. It's business 101.

So there's obvious ways forward.

The last item, the topic of writing -- we'll take that up later. There's plenty to do there, too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018


I acquired stuff yesterday. I don't do that very often nowadays. But I got a 6 quart slow-cooker off Craigslist for $15, which required going to the west side; and while on the west side I stopped at a used sports equipment shop and bought a couple 25 lb plates for my barbell. And now I have new stuff. I'll be able to make six days' worth of lunches at a time, instead of four. I won't have to shift all my plates off the barbell onto the dumbbells and back again; and now, with the big plates, the barbell sits high enough off the ground that getting the bar up onto my lap for hip thrusts will no longer be a weight-lifting challenge in its own right. 

Stuff that's new to me, that is. You could buy these weights at 62 cents per pound used, or $1.09 new. (Why, why would anyone care whether their plates were new?) I carried the plates one at a time out to the car, delighting in them. I have always had a thing for hunks of solid metal. I had some silver ingots at one time -- before I wised up about investing -- and I used to just take them out sometimes to heft them, and feel the weight and density and close-bonded strength of the things. Same with these plates: metal delights me, and no doubt one of the reasons I cling to my antiquated "standard" weights (rather than Olympic) is that they are simply metal. No plastic sleeves, no rubber bumpers: just iron. Ferrum. Fe. The most common element on earth, by mass; and, as a word, as pretty an illustration of metathesis, and the corrosive influence of the letter 'r', as there is in the English language.

Me, my jammies, and my eye-urn in the new workspace

So. Many delights, and half-again-ing of recipes, in store for me. And a lovely day for a swim at Broughton beach. (Tuesday! It's the weekend!)