Monday, February 17, 2020

Her Permitted Say

A clear blue sky: a new day.

This time not on anyone else's behalf: this one I am making for myself, "of hammered gold and gold enameling,.." 

I am weak, but not so weak as I was, and there is still time, a little bit of time.

The first one, appropriately enough, is the Arabian Nights: The Book of One Thousand Nights and a Night. Foolish and embarrassing stuff, but you enter by the door that opens to you. And there is that moment, that moment of surfacing from one tale to find yourself in the framing tale, and the vertigo of half-remembering that there's a frame above this one too, which hints of a frame still larger and more unknown.

Every night we wake from sleep: there's always the hope, or the fear, that someday we'll wake from waking, and recover the thread of the previous tale, the one of which this life's tale was just an explanatory aside. 

And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Vanishment

During my forty-five years or so of trying to lose weight, with varying intensities of effort, crowned with failure after failure, I gradually formed my expectations for what would happen if I succeeded. If I finally really lost weight, I would be celebrated and praised; people would be fascinated; I would be cornered at parties and asked for the secret of my success. I would modestly plume myself: admired by all, and anxiously consulted by would-be followers. What I didn't really expect was that I would disappear. 

But in fact I vanished. I was littler, of course: a continual wonderment to myself, a small lithe creature made of bone and hard muscle, that could wriggle through small spaces like a boy. My body in fact is a delight to me. This is the boyhood I never had. Even though I was only pudgy, and not yet fat, when I was a boy, I was intensely shy, and intensely aware of being weaker and slower than my peers. (I skipped a grade early in elementary school, so this was simple fact, not damaged self-image.) Only now am I having the experience of being physically competitive, full of energy, light on my feet: my vigor astonishes me. But I am smaller, and I have disappeared.

I should have expected this. There are two kinds of people: people who have never had much trouble with their weight, and people who have struggled with it all their lives. Neither kind wants to hear about my success. In crossing over, I have become suspect, unreliable, a traitor of sorts. The first sort are not interested, because -- why would they be? They know why people are fat: it's because they stuff their faces and have no will power. A previously fat person may have reformed, but there still is a whiff of bad character about them. Someone who let that happen to them? Ugh.

To the second sort, I am a standing reproach. I don't want to be. I do not in fact think that it is the fault of fat people that they are fat: I think that I have been extraordinarily fortunate in having had the resources to address a problem that ordinarily is insoluble. My solution is not portable. In a sense, I have nothing to say to fat people. My advice would run: "Establish a life essentially free of social, psychological, and financial stress; free up two hours per day to deal exclusively with preparing food, and line up a perfectly supportive household with no dependents. Then, here's what you do: ..." Who is still listening, by then? Who should be? Almost no one. 

Still, I'm a little sad sometimes, a little wistful. I had friends I valued, who have dropped away. A life of being jerked around by one's own hormones, dragged about against one's will, leaves marks. I will always be a fat person, as an alcoholic will always be an alcoholic; and in losing weight I have lost one of my communities.

Hard to know, hard to know. I was disappearing anyway, for other reasons and in other ways. I have always had a deep longing to disappear: that operates as well. To turn sideways and vanish into the air, light as bubble, a fleeting arc of iridescence floating on the wind: it may be the deepest desire of my heart. So it may be that I was due to depart anyway. I'm less and less present in the online world, as well as in such incarnate worlds as I ever inhabited. But on occasion I miss some of my former friends, and some of my former life.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Surly

So it's colonoscopy time again next week, and I'm surly about it. I don't mind the procedure. I even enjoyed the first one -- or was interested by it, anyway -- because they didn't put me under and I could watch my insides on the monitor. The procedure is fine. What makes me grumpy is a) it's a hideously expensive and elaborate test without a large likelihood of return on investment, and b) it disrupts my painfully-arrived at diet for a whole week, forcing me to choose less healthy foods. No seeds, no nuts, no whole grains. So my breakfast oatmeal, with chopped nuts, is out of bounds. Replaced it with home fries this morning. The quarter cup of peanuts I eat in the afternoon I guess gets replaced by a couple tablespoons of creamy peanut butter: I'll need to go buy some today. And the flax seeds I chew in the evening are of course out. For a week. To reduce the chances of an early exit by colon cancer by half a percent, or whatever it is, while taking the small but severe risks of bowel perforation, bad anesthesia outcomes, and hospital-sourced infections.

The only real reason I'm going ahead and doing it is to convince my doctor that, although I won't take steroids, I'm really a good little patient who usually does what he's told. And the only real reason I want to stay on good terms with my doctor is that if I'm dying in pain I'll want opiates, and the physicians' guild holds the monopoly on them. Simple as that.

Among the many ironies of my life is that politically I'm dedicated to universal health care that, in my own person, I don't particularly want. I would far rather go without health insurance. Much of modern American health care, and especially the expensive parts of it, I would gladly forgo. I want the vaccines; I want the emergency trauma care. I want the check-ups. But I don't want a heart transplant. I'm not excited about dragging out my potential cancer death or cardiac failure, and I have no interest whatever in spending much time in the sleepless disease-vector boxes that are modern hospitals. God. TVs on all the time, lights never more than half-off, and never a let-up in the goddamned noise; I'd rather sleep on the street than in a hospital. Drug me if I'm in pain and let me die already.

I love medical science. I love being able to look things up and nose around in research articles. Medical science is wonderful. I'm not one of those people who bitch about "Western Medicine" per se, or who thinks alternative medicine is fabulous. But our peculiar three-player medical delivery system, in which all the money extracted has to flow through an insurance company before it reaches any caregiver, and runs through multiple curtains of obfuscation and profit-taking before it gets there, does not thrill me. And it would be lovely if I had somehow had back some of the $500 to $800 per month I've been paying, decade after decade, for medical services probably worth $5,000 in total. Seriously: it's hundreds of thousands of dollars I've paid into this system. I could find a use for a few hundred thousand extra dollars.

I probably won't post this: there's not really any point, and it sounds too like a certain sort of right-wing yapping that I don't want to encourage. I'm not thinking clearly enough, perhaps, about all the unknown unknowns. The number of ills that can befall a person is truly astonishing, and I might well wake up grateful in a hospital bed tomorrow morning.

But I am still surly. Even if the scrambled eggs and home fries this morning made really a nice change from boiled eggs and oatmeal. I just want everything to hold still long enough to lose that goddamn inch or two from my waist. I don't want to spend my time chasing rather remote chances of colon disease when I'm staring down the barrel of quite likely cardiovascular disease. Living long enough to get colon cancer would really be something of a feat, given my history and my family history. Something I could be proud of.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Tudors and Italianate Lords

The mediæval lord had been, by comparison, a coarse fellow; he had merely lived in the largest kind of farm-house after the fashion of the largest kind of farmer. He drank wine when he could, but he was quite ready to drink ale; and science had not yet smoothed his paths with petrol. At a time later than this, one of the greatest ladies of England writes to her husband that she cannot come to him because her carriage horses are pulling the plough. In the true Middle Ages the greatest men were even more rudely hampered, but in the time of Henry VIII. the transformation was beginning. In the next generation a phrase was common which is one of the keys of the time, and is very much the key to these more ambitious territorial schemes. This or that great lord was said to be "Italianate." It meant subtler shapes of beauty, delicate and ductile glass, gold and silver not treated as barbaric stones but rather as stems and wreaths of molten metal, mirrors, cards and such trinkets bearing a load of beauty; it meant the perfection of trifles. It was not, as in popular Gothic craftsmanship, the almost unconscious touch of art upon all necessary things: rather it was the pouring of the whole soul of passionately conscious art especially into unnecessary things. Luxury was made alive with a soul. We must remember this real thirst for beauty; for it is an explanation—and an excuse.  --GK Chesterton, History of England.  (By "territorial schemes" he means such things as the enclosure of the commons & the dissolution of the monasteries.)

One thing that makes Chesterton's history so readable, for better and for worse, is that he actually cares. He's on one side or the other, in any historical conflict that he discusses. He's not (usually) unfair or tendentious, but -- for instance -- he sees the advent of the Tudors as the ruin of much of what was good in medieval England, 

A lot of history I read when I was younger studiously avoided taking sides, and I think it was the poorer for it. Oh, eventually you figured out whose side the authors were on, but it was thought unseemly for them to actually say it out loud. The narrative problem is insuperable: if the writer doesn't appear to care who won, then why should the reader? Why are we reading history at all?


Saturday, January 11, 2020

Off On An Expedition

Morning. Still dark. A glimpse of the moon through the hedge, shaking free of the clouds for a moment, but it's gone again. La puesta de la luna. It's late, after 7:00, but there's barely any light in the sky, even now. Winter still holds its dominion.

(Oh! There's the moon again, just above the neighbor's rooftop!)

We use such similar verbs for the setting of the sun, in English and Spanish: the same verb you use for putting things away, or setting them carefully in place. The rising, however, is different. La salida de la luna, they say in Spanish, the going-out of the moon, as if the moon was leaving on a shopping trip. I always have a hard time remembering that, since to me the moonrise signifies the coming of the moon, not its departure. It's joining us, not leaving us. But that's not how Spanish sees it: to Spanish, the moon is off on an expedition, when it rises. Leaving the house.

Finally some light in the sky. La salida del sol, though my breakfast-nook windows don't look east. The skylights are blue with early cloudlight, and the trees and hedge are suddenly an intense, sharp-cut black.

Last couple of days I read G. K. Chesterton's little History of England. Chesterton, Chesterton, what are we to do with you? You're so good when you're good, and you're so bad when you're bad. You wear better than most your contemporaries, though. 

Here he is being good:

We have all read at school that Simon de Montfort and Edward I., when they first summoned Commons to council, chiefly as advisers on local taxation, called "two burgesses" from every town. If we had read a little more closely, those simple words would have given away the whole secret of the lost mediæval civilization. We had only to ask what burgesses were, and whether they grew on trees. We should immediately have discovered that England was full of little parliaments, out of which the great parliament was made. And if it be a matter of wonder that the great council (still called in quaint archaism by its old title of the House of Commons) is the only one of these popular or elective corporations of which we hear much in our books of history, the explanation, I fear, is simple and a little sad. It is that the Parliament was the one among these mediæval creations which ultimately consented to betray and to destroy the rest.


Thursday, January 09, 2020

Under the Hunting Skies

A etched cry in the high hills.
A cloud shadow runs from the gully to the rise:
a small uncertain thing shifts and turns
under the hunting skies

Tell me the story as you heard it first
when the rain was rattling pots by the door;
a small uncertain thing gathers itself
and gathers itself once more.

You remember the king who studied the dust
where the rain had written his epitaph?
The clouds went kiting away that day
and swept the floor with a laugh.

A small thing  dodges left where the ticking 
of white and black caught the eye:
grows sure-footed as the beat quickens,
and dodges again to the right.

Say what you like for the hunter,
say what you like for the prey:
the game goes to the swift and the wary
as the cloud shadow runs away.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

End of Year Check-In, 2019

Here's the charts for 2019:


Weight in 2019
Waist in 2019

The project for 2019 was to increase my weight by ten pounds, while losing half an inch off my waist. The weight-increase worked fine. But things went off the rails twice -- there were two periods in which I had a week or two of not eating according to program, and some binges -- not on the scale of binges as I used to know them, but bad enough. Things may or may not be under control again: it's too soon to know. I ended the year with my waist an inch and a half larger: not at all what I was aiming for. 

The unevenness itself is telling. My eating is not "fixed," and I doubt it ever will be: I think the safest assumption is that my appetite is permanently broken, and I will always have to monitor and deliberately control my eating. So that's discouraging, although I expected it: most people who have maintained weight loss over years report the same thing. The other thing to note is that going off the rails corresponds exactly with stress: it's not difficult to locate my parents' health troubles in the summer, or the onset of the holidays, on either graph. That's the decisive factor, and it's largely out of my control. This probably runs into the ditch any time my family has serious worries.

But backing off a bit, it's worth pulling up the full charts, back to the beginning of this project in May 2017:


Weight Since May 2017


Waist since May 2017

On this scale, the failures of this year look less important. Basically I lost the weight in the course of 15 months, and have kept it off for a subsequent 16 months.

I decided from the start that "success" in this project meant still being on track and in control five years later -- to wit, in May 2022. And in fact, my goal at the start was to get down to 180 lbs and stay there -- my present 160 is way beyond what I had thought possible. I need to remind myself -- since I tend to forget -- that this has still been, according to my original goals, wildly successful.

Other notes. The experiment in quitting red meat, and substituting bean salad for my nightly hamburger, was a resounding failure, and is involved in the end-of-year collapse. I've backtracked on that one. Maybe someday. Maybe not. 

The other thing to note here is that now, in maintenance mode, exercise actually matters. I attribute part of my success in losing my weight to totally ignoring exercise as a contributor to weight loss: it's a trivial factor, not worth taking into account, if you're trying to lose a pound a week. Calorie intake totally swamps calorie output ("you can't outrun your fork," as they say.) But when you're talking half a pound a month, or half an inch a year, the exercise is an important factor. I had cold viruses twice in December, and basically stopped lifting for that month, and even stopped walking for a week or two, which had a lot to do with how bad the numbers look there. I'm lifting again now, and have done some thinking and planning about how to get back on track after exercise setbacks: hopefully I won't be so derailed again. Not exercising at all feels really crappy and depressing. I need to get back to it as quickly as possible, even if it's just "ghost workouts": going through the motions with light weights (or none.)

So that's the year: 2019 is a wrap.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Unsettling Prospects

A deeply discouraging start to the new year. More on that anon, maybe: I have my end of the year report to get out. Stepping back a ways, I can see that I'm just a couple pounds and a waistline inch on the wrong side of the blue lines, with both numbers being about where they were a year ago: I haven't gained ground but I haven't lost it either. The important habits are in still in place. The recent defeats may have been local and temporary. We'll see.



A lot of reading that has given me furiously to think. Tony Judt's Postwar, a history of Europe from 1945 to 2005 (which is when it was written), was excellent. I, like everyone else in the West, paid far too little attention to the details of the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Finally making up a little lost ground there. But I have at least some context for understanding the EU and Brexit and Orban and so forth, now. It's strange to be so old that I can read judicious and illuminating narrative histories of times I actually lived through.

And, running athwart that stream, I read David Sinclair's Lifespan: Why We Age -- and Why We Don't Have To. From the title you would assume a tiresome and stupid book full of silly claims, but it's actually a serious and thoughtful book by a respectable Harvard medical researcher. He thinks, with good reason, that living to 120 years in good health will soon be normal, rather than exceptional -- for people who can afford it, anyway.



It's an interesting thought-experiment: what if I have sixty good years in front of me? How would I change my life, how would I think about it? I have been assuming, reasonably enough, that I have five to fifteen years of good health in front of me, which is time enough to wind down and tidy up. How does the prospect of sixty years change things? That's another lifetime, as we have traditionally reckoned these things: plenty of time to establish a new career or two, or to take on some really big projects. It's an appealing prospect, and whether Sinclair turns out to be right or not, it's interesting to just "try on the view," as Lama Michael used to say. I am by habit inclined to focus on cutting losses: it's healthy for me to buck that tendency. Supposing I don't deteriorate? What if fifteen years from now I'm getting fitted with new-grown eyes and ears, and can do calligraphy and eavesdrop in cafes better than ever? Priorities shift: proportions change.

You don't realize how confined your point of view has been, until you come to a sudden prospect and look into the distance.

But it's also unsettling, and stirs up anxieties from the bottom of the pond. Questions about being good enough, and unwelcome impulses toward grandiosity. I don't want those demons back.