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.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Critical Lessons

I've been told that a person who quits smoking for good does so, on average, on his sixth attempt to quit. I've mulled over this fact for a while. There's a similar (but less well-attested) fact about losing weight for good: it's really rare for somebody to do it successfully and permanently the first time around. I've seen the number five, but I suspect that's low. Whatever it may be exactly, it suggests to me two things: a) that it's harder than most people expect it will be, and b) people who eventually succeed do so because they accumulate critical lessons from their failures.

Who knows how many times I've tried to lose weight? I was startled, when I read back through my blog entries under the Whupping the Food Thing label, to find a 2013 attempt, which apparently lasted three months, of which I have no memory whatsoever. None.

I was a plump child. I skinnied down for a couple years when I was a teenager, but by the time I was in college my weight was drifting upwards, and it basically drifted upwards whenever I wasn't focusing on losing it. My mother was quite obese and she would predict darkly that my eating habits would lead eventually to me being terribly fat and (of course) miserable. I responded with my usual obstinate cheerfulness. Maybe I would be fat, but I didn't intend to be miserable.

But I took it to heart. In my inmost heart I knew I was going to be fat, and I was going to die early of cardiac disease, just as my maternal grandfather -- whom I strongly resembled, everyone said so -- had. He died at 62. (I have three years left, now, before I hit that ominous number.)

Anyway. I had a complicated relationship with losing weight. It was what my mother was always trying and failing to do. I didn't want to be fat, but I also didn't want to diet: they were both things my mother did. I wanted to be my own person.

But diets did happen. The first I remember distinctly was the Scarsdale diet. This was in the heyday of the vilification of fats and the glorification of grapefruit. One lost three or four pounds per week, if one stuck to it. One did not. One became extraordinarily hungry, and one white-knuckled one's way through for a few days, and finally one broke. So that was my first critical lesson: I was not going to win through this by brute force. Whether my will was peculiarly defective, I didn't know, but it wasn't up to the task I was setting it.

A couple decades later, along came Atkins, the vilification of carbs, and the glorification of meat. I LIKED that. I adore meat, and I love fat with all my heart and soul. Eggs! Hamburger! For quite a while, eating that way worked just as Dr Atkins said it would. I didn't even want to eat too much. I didn't want to binge. I was eating the food that spoke to my soul. I became a big low-carb convert, and swore by Gary Taubes, and regarded sugar as the Devil's own poison. Life was good.

Well, except. As the weeks went on, I got kind of sick of all that fat. I began to dream of carbs. I would fixate on them. They wandered into my daydreams. I knew they were wicked, and I wanted them. But my will held, until the Night of the Pepperoni. 

I wanted something to snack on, and I'd bought some sliced pepperoni (having carefully examined the label to make sure there was no sugar added, of course -- you'd be surprised at all the stuff they inject with sugar, these days!) I love pepperoni, but of course if it had no carbs it would not make me hungrier, and I would not binge on it.

I binged. I ate and ate and ate, voraciously and unstoppably. And miserably realized that it wasn't true, and I had gradually been realizing it wasn't true. I *could* binge on meat, and I would, and my present diet in fact was making me feel real crappy. My skin was breaking out. I was fatigued all the time. The low-carb magic was gone.

That was the end of the low-carb thing, for me. And the end of the Magic Macronutrient thing. Later I read more, and learned that the whole insulin resistance story actually had big holes in it. I didn't believe in the villainy of fats any more, and that was a plus, but I didn't believe in the villainy of carbs either. Maybe the problem was exactly what someone in the 1950s would have identified as the problem: I was eating too much. There was nothing wrong with sugar and fat except that they were calorie-dense and I was too fond of them, particularly when they teamed up, and especially when they were abetted by food scientist flavor-artistes. I read Stephan Guyenet's blog: he was writing about high-reward foods and dopamine signalling and so forth. Maybe my love of certain foods was not addiction -- he sensibly refuses to participate in that particular slugfest -- but it activated a lot of the same pathways and used a lot of the machinery of addiction.

The last thing I tried was probably the smartest, and might actually have worked eventually, if I had had the patience to wait twenty years. Rather than try to fight the demons, I'd try to simply go around them. Learn to make food in my own kitchen, and displace the high-reward foods by crowding them out with plain good foods that weren't so dense in calories and didn't produce such a pleasure-storm. This was probably a necessary step too, because I learned stuff about maintaining a kitchen and preparing food and planning stuff out that I needed to learn. 

But I wasn't losing any weight: in fact that steady upward drift was, if anything, faster. I was getting uneasy about the state of my knees and hips, if I stayed heavy. If walking became really uncomfortable, and I stopped exercising, what would become of me? Well, I knew what would happen. I have plenty of clients who are caught in that predicament -- moving hurts too much, and the only comfort for it is eating, which makes moving even harder, and comfort even more necessary. What happens is that you get really fat, and moving gets really hard, and eventually type 2 diabetes comes along to keep you company.

I really didn't want that.

So I came up with the present program, which has been working for me for the largest weight loss, over the longest time, of any of these attempts. It's convenient. It's simple. It doesn't require fussing. I decided to go public with it, to add the threat of public humiliation to my motivations. And I banished one turn of phrase from my speech. I decided I was not going to say, ever again "I am trying to lose weight." That's what I used to say, if someone offered me something that I wasn't supposed to eat. "Oh," I'd say, apologetically, "I'm afraid I shouldn't, I'm trying to lose weight." 

But I'm not saying that any more. I'm saying, "I'm losing weight." That's all. And I'm not apologizing. I'm doing this thing.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Five and twelve

Arcturus setting last night, over the roof of the garage; the Sickle sweeping endlessly backwards; a mist rising from the streets. Vega so directly overhead that looking up at her, and turning to orient myself to the Summer Triangle, gave me vertigo. The desire for something afar / from the sphere of our sorrow.

All the things that tumble up out of the ground, or out of strollers, and take their improbable places as earthly powers, for a little bit, before they tumble down again.

Leaves going yellow. There will be floods and blockages where there were fires: detritus coming down the rivers, muddy water in the streets. But above the dirty clouds and the ruined air there are still stars.

Every morning I lie on my little Persian carpet on the concrete floor, and lay my hands on my ribs, which are gradually rising, like the basalt circles on the beach when a rough winter comes and the sand is washing away. Like that.

Ribs and hands, sets of little bones in parallel, go instinctively to each other, and play little mathematical games. With five and twelve you can do anything, anything at all.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Birth of a Right



Al Franken wrote to me this morning—we're tight, like that; he emails me a couple times a week—and he began:

Dale, 
Health care is a right. It's not a privilege.
Now, I've been in favor of universal health care in this country since before a lot of you were born, so I'm happy to see my buddy Al take up the cause. But it was the language that caught my attention. I hear this phrase a lot, these days, and I'm perplexed. Because in my youth, health care was not a right. Not even us leftie commies thought it was a right. It was something we thought everyone could and should have: but that's not quite the same thing. Rights are inalienable. They're intrinsic to being human. They're something—to stick to the ground they grew in—they're something that God intended as part of every human being's humanness.

A lot of people don't live on that ground anymore. I never did, having been raised atheist. So I'm a little cautious of the rhetoric of rights. What exactly are we talking about? Jefferson knew quite precisely. "They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights." That's clear enough. But what do I mean, when I say that people have a right to free speech? Do I mean something other than "I think everybody ought to be able to speak freely"?

I think I do. Certainly we produce these assertions, not as our own whims, but gravely, as fundamental laws of human nature: we're not talking about "laws" like laws against jaywalking—our tone implies—but "laws" like the law of gravity. We may know that an ancient Greek would have been totally baffled by the notion that health care could be a right, (and would probably dispute that political rights could ever properly belong to someone who was not the male head of a freehold in the first place.) But we nevertheless hold that rights are—somehow—self-evident. Like my friend Al up there. He doesn't go on to argue it. You don't need to argue things like that. You state it and you're done.

You can see that this is true from the way the Republicans have fumbled the Obamacare repeal. You might expect Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell to say, "What nonsense. Health care is not a right. It's something you buy if you can afford it!" This is clearly what they think. But, as highly evolved political beings, they know, they can tell by its scent in the air, that to say so would be be political death. So they tie themselves in knots.

And at that point, when even the guys on the other side of the fence feel they can't deny it out loud, I think that we have to say—yes, health care has in fact become a right. Whatever rights may be, access to health care is one of them. So my question, dear reader, is—how did this happen? It's a sea change. A new right has been born in our very presence. Did you see it being born? Do you understand how it happened?

Or was I simply wrong, and has it been a right all along? Just because I was there to observe the waning years of the 20th Century, doesn't make me an expert on them.

I would love to know what you think! This one puzzles me.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Halfway

The halfway mark: I've lost 21 pounds, and I have 21 more to lose to get to 180, which is where I change things again. That landfall is scheduled for March 1st: at present I'm far enough under the blue line that it might happen as early as mid-February. At a pound a week, these things take some time: I've been four months under this regimen and I've got at least four to go. 

I chose 180 because it tended to be the upper limit of the "healthy weight" ranges given by various tables. I'm really not sure where I want my weight to settle, and I don't want to fix my attention on some particular number -- say, the 160 that the same tables tend to mark as the healthy midpoint -- in case it turns out that, for instance, 170 is fairly easy to maintain but 160 is hellish hungry all the time. I just won't know till I get there. But I'm pretty sure I want to get at least to 180. I'm a mesomorph, I lay on muscle pretty easily, but I'm no bodybuilder. There's no reason I ought to be way off the norms.

So at 180 I enter the "maintenance" phase, in which I'm basically eating as I intend to eat for the rest of my life. Here's how it goes, in theory: whatever my daily dole at that point -- I cut out the last of my breakfast toast, last week, and I expect I'll need to cut out something more before I hit 180 -- I get to keep. I just go on as I was when I hit 180. But I'll get to add some 300 calories daily: my notion at the moment is that I will take that largely in bananas (which I find myself craving!) and undressed potatoes. But basically it will still be the Tom's-and-Burgerville diet.

Should I cross back above the 180 line, I'll ditch the new stuff and revert to the regimen that originally got me there, till I get a weekly average of 180 again. But what I expect is that I'll still be running a slight deficit, and my weight will drift down a bit and hit whatever level it likes. That number -- whatever it may be -- will be my genuine maintenance weight, the one to stay within a couple pounds of.

So, is it Burgerville for good? Well, I hope not. Gradually I'll substitute other calorie-equivalent meals for the Tillamook-cheeseburger-and-half-a-small-milkshake, taking extravagant care with my measuring. But the Burgerville dinner will be there as my fallback. 

That's the plan, as it stands now. I have no reason to think that my appetite will ever function normally. I will never -- I've fully accepted this now -- I will never eat ad libitum again. Which is not such a dreadful thing. It's just food. There are liberties that are more important to me.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Lifesaving Writers

It's been a long time since anyone helped me live. Time was, writers arrived regularly to save my life: Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Ursula Le Guin, CS Lewis; then William Butler Yeats and TS Eliot and William Blake, then Tolstoy and George Eliot. Then they stopped. Oh, writers came along to amuse me. Charles Dickens. Patrick O'Brian. PG Wodehouse. Terry Pratchett. I enjoy them, I appreciate them. But no one is saving my life, nowadays. I've grimly taken my own path. I don't believe much of anything, anymore. So perhaps I've removed myself from the game. I find it hard to get far in novels now. I get impatient. "Yeah, yeah," I say, "you're just making this up: you'll find the world as it really is a harder row to hoe." And I toss it aside.

Modern poetry is a different matter. Lifesaving is not part of its agenda (or when it is, I find it tiresome.) It's observing, savoring, appreciating, paying attention. I like that. That helps.

Maybe it's that I don't believe in lifesaving any more. Or maybe it's that the song has gone out of me. Or maybe it's just that I'm not so impressed by literature's devotees anymore, even if they have read Milton and Shakespeare and all those other highfalutin Greeks. They're all interested in understanding life: but the point, as Herr Marx would have said, is to change it. And how long do you think we have, anyway? It takes hours to read a novel. Meanwhile the boats are drifting down the river, and the surf is getting ugly by the bar.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Triste

Still smoky -- Mt Tabor a ghostly silhouette, and the West Hills simply not there. The sun a baleful red disk, when she shows at all: I think there's a thin overcast above the smoke. But the air doesn't stink so much, now, and the feeling now is less apocalyptic than resigned. Triste.

A new sprinkling of ash on the car, which swirls as I open the door; absurdly, I try to shoo the ash back out as I get in. 

The temperate rain forests burn, from time to time. The scars of the Tillamook burn, out in the Coast Range, are still plain to see, and that was in 1933. So global warming does not necessarily have much to do with it. This was the driest summer I have ever known, in the maritime Northwest, and I suspect climate change, but I can't convict it. But in any case the weather has changed: the cloud-shapes are different. The state I grew up in has vanished.

What happens now depends on the weather. September is often -- was often -- a pretty dry month. A couple good soaks would stop the fires now and probably leave some of the beautiful places more or less intact, or in shape to recover in a few years. But if it stays dry, and the wind chases the fire back and forth, up and down the gorge, for weeks, that's a different story. So we won't know for a while. I dread the time when we finally go up to have a look, whether it's two weeks or two months from now.

The Oregonian is already posting sad stories about how much people will miss the Gorge, which does not land well with me. We don't know yet how much we've lost, or how much we'll miss it. And in any case, I've got plenty of time: I'll be sad for the rest of my life. I'm in no particular hurry to start.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Almost Black

After a long time quiet on the table you suddenly ask:
"what color am I tonight?" The question falls
like a weighted plume. It strikes, and I say,
"Oh! -- let me check" -- stalling for time -- but I know
I am bound to tell the truth: "you are purple,
deep purple. Very deep." I don't say "almost black."
You know. I'd mention the midnight sky or raven sheen,
but a lie that plain sticks in my throat:
I can invent a color, if I'm quick enough,
but I can't lie about one, once told.
"Not a usual color for you," is the best I can do.
As I pull your arm over your head, stretching the lats,
your hand comes to rest on my ribs: a touch
you sometimes allow yourself on nights
when you are purple, deep purple,
almost black.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Two Secrets of my Success

The secrets of my diet success? Well, there's two, and they're interrelated.

The first is, I AM NOT DOING MY OWN MEASURING. I don't trust myself. Now, I am an exemplary measurer. For a long time in fact I was a professional measurer. I'm comfortable with measurement. I understand that a big apple, which looks half again as big as a small apple, may well have four times the volume. It easy when estimating by volume, to be off by 400%, even when you're not biased. But I still don't trust myself. 

Estimating by weight? Better. (Are you really going to weigh every thing you eat, every time? I'm not.)

No hungry person who's measuring the food they are about to eat is unbiased. It's simple as that. Add several 400% errors together, or even 50% errors, all leaning one direction, and the fact of the matter is that you don't know within a factor of 2 or 3, how much you're eating. You don't have a clue. Your numbers will be garbage. And research on self-reporting confirms this. You think you're an exception? You're not. So the answer is simple: don't measure your own food. Have someone else do it.

Calories in / calories out is a reliable principle. (No, not because of the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, which applies only to closed systems and has no plausible application to the open system -- of staggering complexity -- which is the human gut and fat-storage system. It's reliable simply because it has been rigorously and repeatedly tested.) It works great if the calories are measured accurately. It's pretty useless if they're not.

If we really wanted to measure calories, we'd be in a fix, really. It's just too hard. But we don't actually care about the absolute numbers. We just want a deficit. Fewer calories going in than are coming out, by roughly 500 per day. We'll figure out if we're getting that deficit by measuring something else -- our body weight.

So I don't have a clue, no idea at all, how many calories are in my breakfast, and I don't need to. I don't know whether the guys in the kitchen actually put two eggs or four into my omelet. I don't know how much sour cream is in the little plastic cup the server brings. I don't know how big the two slices of toast she brings me are: all I know is that I only eat one of them. 

Do all these things vary? Of course they do. But I'm not in control of the variation. So they vary randomly. All the errors don't fall one way.

So now we come to the other secret of my success: MY PROCESS IS SELF-CORRECTING. I weigh myself carefully every morning -- actually I weigh myself three times and average the results, every morning. Then Wednesday morning I take the average the last seven days' weights. Now I have a number that I actually have some confidence in. 

I compare it to the previous week's number. If it's not a pound lower, I drop something out of the breakfast. Permanently, for good. A couple weeks in I dropped half the hash browns. A few weeks after that I drop the rest of them. Then I dropped half the toast. How many calories was I dropping each time? I have no idea, I'll never know, and I don't care.

(Actually it's a little more complicated than that. I only chop something out if I'm not a pound down *and* if I'm "over the blue line." But it would work either way.)

So I don't have to guess about anything, or know any absolute calorie values. If my calorie expenditure drops because my metabolism shifts, or because I'm twenty pounds lighter, or if my calorie intake increases when the guys in the kitchen start buttering my toast more heavily, the scale will know about it within a week, and the diet will change accordingly. I don't have to guess, or think, or worry, or compensate. It's all taken care of. It's out of my hands.

And so when I eat -- I just eat. I love my food: I don't know if I've ever enjoyed eating so much, as I have in the past three months. And I know my diet will work, because it fixes itself if it doesn't. I'm home free.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Fat Weird Guy Talks About It

May 11th to August 26th

The weight loss goes on apace, one pound per week (a pound per week is the blue line, in the chart above: my personal idiom for "on track" has become "below the blue line," as in "well anyway, I'm below the blue line on that, so I don't need to sweat it.")

I'm a mass of conflicted feeling about sharing this. On the one hand, it's the main thing I'm doing right now. On the other hand, it's something I should have fixed and been done with forty years ago.

Back to the first hand: being fat has been a plague and a distress to me all my adult life, bearing false information about my self-control (which is actually average-to-good) and creating a default self-image as being the fat weird guy no one takes seriously. But back to the second hand: you don't get away from being the fat weird guy by talking about it. You get away from it by pretending it was never there. That must have been some other guy.

First: it's actually working. Well over three months and it's still working, and it's not even hard. Second: well of course it's working. All diets work. Losing the weight isn't the hard part (though it's damn hard enough): it's keeping it off that's hard. Don't crow till you have something to crow about.

First: I'm just excited about it. It's so cool that I've found a way that works for me.
Second: yeah, but it's stupid and expensive and self-indulgent. Restaurant food twice a day, every day? 

First: it comes of actually learning a bit about obesity science, and getting past a bunch of stupid popular notions about how weight loss works, and relying on what's actually known about it. We know a lot more than we used to, and I've kept up with it. It comes in the category of "fixing life problems by actually understanding how things work." 
Second: so then what if it all collapses tomorrow? You don't actually know any of this is working, and you won't know, in any meaningful way, until 2022. If we even get to 2022. Speaking of which, shouldn't you be focusing on maybe ensuring that there is a 2022, rather than on weighing 160 pounds when (if) we get there?

First: there was that weird experience of seeing that a ridge of visceral fat was actually pushing up between the right and left rectus abdominus, shoving through from the abdominal cavity because there was no more room in there. And various interesting results of there now being room again. Increased bladder capacity. Recovery of libido. 
Second: man, are you trying to drive away readers?

First: but people should know about this! Eating the same thing every day. And eating the stuff you really like, just cut back to where you're running a slight calorie deficit. Focusing on satiety and brain chemistry and reward psychology, rather than on fairy tales about macronutrients and insulin. This is hot stuff! 
Second: like us fat people never have anyone telling us that there's some new way to lose weight, championed by someone three months into a new diet? All diets work. You bring nothing to the table but the old misery wrapped in a new cloth. Shut your trap until 2022. Then you can tell people all about it.

First: it's my blog and I'll do as I damn well please.
Second: well, don't say I didn't warn you, that's all.

* * *

There's plenty more, but you get the gist. Anyway. That's where we are now. Estimated arrival time of 180 lbs, which is the end-point of the current phase, is March 1st, 2018. ETA of a 40-inch waist, my most eagerly awaited milestone, is January 1st. Stay tuned. If First Hand wins the day, there will be updates.

Friday, August 25, 2017

A Quick Quiet Fish

But it is good to shake free, and to think clearly, to run the numbers, to make sober projections. To be still and quiet and take stock.

I have always been good at pretending not to care what other people think. It was a survival skill, in middle school, and sometimes it serves me still. Learning to really not care what (most) other people think is a much more advanced skill.

Cutting loose of what other people think altogether is probably a bogus enterprise: it wouldn't mean not caring what other people think, it would mean only caring about what the shadow audience my mind invents thinks. It would take away the only value of social anxiety (gathering in and using the judgement of others) and replace it with smugness. The alpha male of one's parents' basement. It's a common enough solution, but it's not the one I want.

So no, not altogether. But. My little brushes with being a public person have made me quite clear: I do not want to be a public person.

And the whole dream of "being a writer" -- what does that mean, but craving an imbalance, wanting to be in conversation with a large number of people, but still have only your own opinion be important? That's what being a writer is. Being able to talk to a crowd, say your piece, and walk away. Never to have to engage. Never to have to change your mind.

No: I think I'm done with that notion. I don't actually want to be in relationships like that. I actually want to know. I want to understand. I want to end my day with a larger understanding, not a smaller one.

Unless what I really want is to disappear altogether. I think of that sometimes. I tire of being myself, of shoring up the fragments of my ruins, of the fret and busyness. I want to strip off these bulky stiff canvas clothes, and dive into the lake, a quick quiet fish, where the sunlight comes dim and strange in the water. What is all the rest of this for?

I don't know: I really don't know.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Climbing


I must read and write again -- that's the long and and short of it. 

The other stuff, the diet & exercise, the languages, the frugality & investment, keeping up with the political news & carefully fashioning political opinions, maintaining a social media presence -- all these were all meant to be ancillary to a literary life, a life of reading things that are beautiful and dangerous, and writing as close to the truth as I can. But I've let tending the scaffolding replace tending the building.

No. The real reading and writing have to be there, or all the rest is useless.

Last night I pulled The Mezentian Gate off the shelf, and had a good look at its cover, which, as a teenager, I thought was the last word in hauntingly beautiful art. Now I find it extravagant and crudely colored, vague where it should be precise, and precise where it should be vague -- much like Eddison's book. But that's not the point. The point is that at the time, Eddison bowled me over and took me somewhere else, and so did this cover artist. (Barbara Remington, I find: the same as made the Tolkien paperback covers that so entranced my teenage self. And so exasperated Tolkien: "what is the thing in the foreground with pink bulbs?" he demanded. Very rightly. What the hell is it?)



It's good to become aware that the extraordinary literary and artistic experiences I had were, in my mature view, experiences of stuff that was second-rate. It's not the quality of the stuff that matters, in the end; it's the quality of the experience. At fourteen Eddison was as steep a mountain as I could climb.

But anyway -- I have not done much climbing lately, though I have much better equipment and a lot of experience. So it's time to climb again. Read things that require all my attention, and write in answer to them. Even if it all turns out to be second-rate. If I'm here for anything, if I've trained all my life for anything, this is it: so I had better do it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Solvencia

The fact of the matter is that last fall I went into the ditch, and I'm only now climbing out of it.

In November, the presidential election. I was following it closely and I knew exactly what it meant: the end of democracy and social progress in the United States for the rest of my life. 

In December, my mother died. My failure as a son was complete and beyond remedy.

So. I've spent a while walking in despair. It's an interesting country.

People who express a lot of despair actually don't live there: they're teasing themselves with it, playing tag with it. They don't really believe it. When you believe it, it stops being a thing. It's not an alternate route: it's your own road, and it's the only road, and it's actually a pretty good place to have a good think. It's quiet there.

So I learned some things: one, that although I would have said I didn't have much hope for America, I would have been lying. Losing all hope for my country meant losing a lot, for me. It woke me up to how much I loved it and valued it: how basic a part of me it was. 

Of course, it's always been a painful relationship. So there's some relief in ending it. I still live here, but my alienation is absolute, now. I'm a foreigner. An expat with no pat to be ex of.

I don't want anyone else to despair: I'm not writing this to urge anyone else to despair, or to stir up anyone to confute me. Not interested. 

Losing my mom was another thing, more complicated, more difficult. It was a relief, first of all: I never expected her to die without having ruined me financially and emotionally, so to wake in a new bleak world, still solvent and still capable of love, was a surprise and a bitter-tasting pleasure. 

It marked the end of all joyless obligation. Obligation is a good thing, and I am happy with all my remaining obligations: they are all based on love. That's a luxury that I've just begun to understand.

So I'm starting my life over, just waking up. I have everything to do over again.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Before My Coronation

It was in the mid 1980s that I tossed my battered edition of the Canterbury Tales into my briefcase, gave a brief smile to my students, and walked out the door. I walked down a dim hallway and then out into the thin Connecticut sunlight and headed for the train station. I was done with academia forever, though I didn't know it at the time: I would never wear a tweed jacket again.

You don't leave academia just like that. It stays with you for a long time. It's a self-contained world, and its tumults can seem very important. One professor's scandal, another's missed tenure, are huge events. The cliques are as formidable as in high school; the rivalries as bitter; the betrayals are felt deeply.

And there is beautiful, difficult work being done. People make fun of academics -- they're easy targets -- because universities are mature institutions and the low-hanging fruit in most fields was gone centuries ago. The work still to be done is harder to explain. It takes some expertise to understand why it matters. But it does matter. Not all of it, of course. But at Yale I learned tremendous admiration for the careful, painstaking work that added up to, say, really knowing what the Beowulf-Poet meant by a particular image or turn of phrase. I will not laugh at the work these people do. I realized I was not up to it -- I was too slapdash and quicksilver. My work, when I finally found it, would be different: but not better. Just different.

There's a lasting regret in not being part of that secret ministry. But I hope I learned from them a rugged skepticism, a devotion to the verified fact, a respect for the second (third, fourth) opinion. I never heft an edition of some old poet -- an edition full of glosses and footnotes and erudite introductions -- without a surge of gratitude. I have been rescued from so many mistakes and misinterpretations: I have been handed the clean, beating hearts of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson. I'm grateful.

Nevertheless, I'm grateful too to have walked away from it. There's a culture of despair and depression that cobwebs academia -- especially now, when the promises of tenure and respect have proven mirages, and the remuneration dwindles while the work mounts. It's not, generally, a happy place. Much of the conversation, as I remember it, was savoring the hopelessness of the world, and counting over the number of ways in which we have decayed and the number of things we stand to lose.

I am myself in deep social and political despair, but I don't want to dwell on it or share it. Such solutions as come will come by addressing what can be addressed, and trusting in the mutability of things. I was on a retreat one time with my favorite Buddhist teacher: he had come down with a nasty flu. He sat on a bench, pale, miserable, panting slightly. I asked if he was feeling any better, and that drawn face was suddenly transformed by his characteristic impish grin. "Well, sometimes," he said, "impermanence is on our side."

So it is. And, at the same time, the beauty keeps coming, the sweetnesses of summer and skin, of cold water and blue sky, and my own incongruous, inexplicable good fortune.

So. I find myself gravitating to people who love to solve problems and fix things, and who plan for things no larger than their own households and their children's lifetimes. Cheery straightforward optimists. I simply want to work on things that I understand pretty well, and help people I know can be helped, and solve problems within my scope.

And it helps to remember that I've been a singularly crappy prophet. In the 1970s, when I was a teenager, I knew -- knew for a certainty -- that in twenty years we would have had a least one nuclear war, and that even without one, overpopulation would have made the world an uninhabitable hell-hole. Maybe I was right then, and just had the timing off by a couple decades. But maybe I was totally wrong. And maybe I'm totally wrong now in my gloomy expectations.

In any case, I have not noticed anyone anxious to make me emperor of the world: so spending a lot of time figuring out what I will do after my coronation is probably not a good use of my time. There are many other things to do. My neighborhood is full of joys to be made and sufferings to relieve.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Looking Forward

I don't want to spend all that much time looking forward to the next phase of getting my eating under control. There are too many variables in play, and it still seems surreal to me that I'm chugging along dropping a pound a week while feeling totally undeprived, feeling in fact self-indulgent. Any day now my body may realize that it's dropping weight, and some alert guard down in the hypothalamus, or wherever, will see the needle drifting down to the red and throw the "Starvation!" breaker. Then I will be thinking about food all the time, and refraining from eating will absorb all my mental energy. And then, inevitably, even in the little paradise I've made for myself in my little cottage in Portland, I'll need mental energy for something else instead, 300 million years of evolution will kick in, and I will have eaten both sides of the menu and three aisles of the grocery store before I entirely know what is happening. I know how this works. I'm an old hand.

I have emergency plans in place. But I'm hoping that if I do this very cleverly, that breaker will never get thrown. I have a hypothesis that the explosions of self-indulgent pleasure, morning and evening, may keep that guard drowsing. That keeping the weight loss to about a pound a week will make it gradual enough that the needle never really drops to the red. But for now, I just keep my eye on the ball, make my lunch soups well in advance, plan my life carefully so that I stick to the clear water. 10 pounds down, 32 to go. Even supposing all goes well, all the way through the Christmas holidays, it's March before even this phase, the drive to 180, is done. 

That will be a dangerous time. I'll still be twenty pounds above where the standard tables say I ought to be. It will be tempting at that point to try to drive to the finish line of 160, just to prove I can. But I think what I should do at 180 -- always supposing I get there -- is deliberately level off, by adding more veggies and plain potatoes -- i.e. bulk, and high-satiety-per-calorie foods -- and just see what being there is like, for at least a few months. I may find a sweet spot somewhere in the neighborhood of 180. If so, I'd be happy to just stay there, and maybe play with swapping in some different foods for my high-reward ones.

Because part of the stealth plan, here, is to make my high-reward foods so familiar that they're a little tiresome, so that I don't mind swapping them out sometimes for stuff that's less calorie-dense. I'm hoping to gradually switch them out till my diet is a bit less of a nutritionist's nightmare. I'm fully aware that the full British breakfast and a hamburger-and-milkshake dinner is not a diet that makes a centenarian. But being sixty pounds overweight doesn't make a centenarian either. You work with what you've got: I've got an appetite habituated since childhood to high-reward foods. It's not going to vanish overnight. But it may be malleable. Things do change.

Friday, July 07, 2017

To Tirzah

When I first read William Blake, as a teenager, the connection was immediate and visceral. This was my man: the only god in the literary pantheon (I took the dignity of the canon much more seriously back then than I do now) who understood the world as I did, and who saw himself as the forerunner of a new people, just as I did. My heart was full of revolutionary nonsense and mystical passion: I loved a lot of writers I subsequently came to think silly.

I never came to think Blake silly. He is not silly. His absolute rejection of cruelty and paltering resonates with me as strongly as ever, as does his commitment to the clear and boldly drawn line. Hier stehe Ich, Ich kann nicht anders.

But there was one poem that came always as a slap in the face. It was "To Tirzah," and it was strangely out of keeping with the other Songs, a throwback to the sort of Christianity he otherwise rejected, the Christianity of Old Nobodaddy who hated the body, hated women, hated reproduction:

Thou, mother of my mortal part,
With cruelty didst mould my heart,
And with false self-deceiving tears
Didst bind my nostrils, eyes, and ears, 
Didst close my tongue in senseless clay,
And me to mortal life betray.
The death of Jesus set me free:
Then what have I to do with thee?

There must be some hidden message, some history I didn't know, I thought. I read it carefully -- I read everything carefully in those days, when the world was young, alas! -- and then steered around it. I have probably every other poem from the Songs by heart: but I had to go and look up the text of Tirzah, just now.

It has a reputation, says Wikipedia, as a difficult poem. It's not a difficult poem at all: it's just a poem that most of us would rather not hear. It's a categorical, contemptuous dismissal of his mother.

I can't help but think, at this distance, that it was precisely this poem -- though I consciously rejected it -- that sealed my intimacy with William. I too found myself helplessly bound to a person whose love threatened to choke and silence me, who seemed determined to bind me to the low horizons of worldly desire. Her heart's desire was to see me pluming myself in an expensive suit: was this what I had been born for? No. No, there had to be something beyond that.

I hate the poem. All the more in this time, when America is wracked by a childish tantrum of over-mothered, over-schooled boys who never got their time playing in the mud. It's dangerous, wrong, ungrateful, stupid. It cannot nor it will not come to good.

Nevertheless. There it is: manifestly wrong, self-contradictory, irreconcilable; and an indelible inheritance.