Tuesday, July 10, 2018

About That Crisis



My last post about "how do I serve?" elicited some responses that made me stop and reconsider: several people said, in essence, "what makes you think you aren't serving right now?"

I'm doing four things these days: 

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

So... why do none of them count as useful? 

The Dale Health Initiative, which has been the spotlight act lately, has been wildly successful. And that is basically the problem: it's a success; I've won; so now it's over. I have a hard time with success. When I meet a goal my standard response -- this drives Martha crazy -- is to fall into a phase of angsty self-doubt. Somehow my success is not real: I've just put one over on people. It's not as perfect as it should be. It's not where I really should have put my energy. Something's wrong with it: something's wrong with me. The fact that I've transformed my diet, lost 65 pounds, shrunk my waist by fifteen inches, built lots of new muscle and strength, attained mobility and flexibility and endurance that I never had in my youth -- none of that matters, because I still consume too much sodium. (Yes. Welcome to the Dale mind.) 

It's largely a natural response to hedonic adaptation: "if this is such a great success, then why am I not wildly happier than I was before?" --Well, because that's not how day-to-day emotional happiness works. It's the increase in well-being, it's the achievement in excess of expectation, that feels good. It has to work that way or it would fail in its main motivational function. When my circumstances improve, in a short time they simply become the new normal. And just maintaining the gains (or losses, I should say?) is a lot of work. The rewards are mostly in, but a lot of the costs remain.

And of course, the Health Initiative is self-absorbed and (the way I do it) isolated. Most of my meals I make just for myself. Exercise happens in the Robinson Crusoe island of the Wreck Room: there's no "going to the gym." So there's not much in the way of doing anyone else any good, unless its reflection via the blog is helping anyone.

But -- more important -- I've managed to discount everything else I do as basically having run its course. I've cast it to myself that I'm coasting to the close, and just waiting for all my  enterprises to die. And that's where my perceptions are most seriously out of whack. It's just not true, not true of any of them. I am at the moment a bit stymied and frustrated in all of them, but it's not a crisis, and there are clear paths forward for all of them, if I just slow down, take them one by one, and address the difficulties. These things are doable. None of them has dead-ended. I just haven't had much attention to give them, so of course they've been coasting.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

A Long, Slow, Obscure Developing Crisis

I was and remain skeptical of the notion that will power (self-regulation, putting-off-the-marshmallow, whatever you want to call it) is trainable, and I still find it difficult to imagine what the mechanism of that "training" might be, but I don't know how else to explain the steady progression in my self-control. There were changes in my life a year and a half ago that substantially reduced my stress, and which made bringing my eating under control possible, but those were one-offs, and this development seems to keep going. There's all kinds of ways in which I can self-regulate now, all kinds of planning I can undertake and carry out. Eating, spending, exercise, social media fritter: they're all becoming workable.

I suppose an explanation that doesn't involve the will being generally trainable would simply be that when you've got more will available, you construct new daily routines, and as those daily routines become habitual, the will you used to construct them becomes available for new construction. That would account for the appearance of steady progression. It looks like more and more self-regulatory power, but actually it's just that the steady finite surplus "accumulates" in the form of habits.


There also of course is just an enormously increased sense of self-efficacy. But none of this quite explains how easy it now feels -- how progressively easier it feels -- when I encounter a temptation, to shrug my shoulders and say, "sounds nice, sure, but I'm not someone who yields to temptation any more. That's not who I am."


On the other hand, I am in a long, slow, obscure developing crisis: the grandiosity of my former self -- the flip side of yielding to temptation -- has also been going away, and it leaves me up against my limitations and my mortality, in a particularly bleak way. In the last third of my life (assuming luck), what can I do that's of any use to anyone? How can I serve? I don't know. So many of my basic assumptions are dissolving, in this corrosive political atmosphere. I need to find or make a compass: I need to wake with a purpose. Eating right and exercising are well and good, but they're instrumental goals, not ultimate ones. The point of maintaining a car is that you eventually mean to drive it somewhere.

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 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

Breakfast

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.