Wednesday, April 14, 2021



The mainspring contains a lot of energy. Clocks and watches have to be disassembled periodically for maintenance and repair, and if precautions are not taken the spring can release suddenly, causing serious injury. Mainsprings are 'let down' gently before servicing, by pulling the click back while holding the winding key, allowing the spring to slowly unwind. However, even in their 'let down' state, mainsprings contain dangerous residual tension. Watchmakers and clockmakers use a tool called a "mainspring winder" to safely install and remove them. Large mainsprings in clocks are immobilized by "mainspring clamps" before removal.

"The mainspring is gone," I said. "Or I guess, to muddy the metaphor, the mainsprings are gone. My life still works, when I need it to. But the motive is gone.

"So what I'm hoping to understand -- to make -- is a new mainspring. And I thought, you know, I'm not proud, if there's a chemical shortcut I'm happy to take it. I think what I need, what I'm looking for, is a vision, an intense, clear vision, of...

"Okay, let's leave that be for the moment. If I could clearly describe the object of that 'of' then I wouldn't be here. I used to be able to tell you, pretty specifically. It was childish, but I knew what it was. It was the City on the Hill where the Cool Kids were, and I would go there and I would be King of the Cool Kids and all the women would want (in due order and without indecorous pushing or shoving) to sleep with me. 

"But I no longer believe in the City on the Hill. I no longer believe in the Cool Kids. I used to want in. But that doesn't drive me any more. So I'm adrift. I'm not particularly in pain, but... I'm not under sail any more. I'm just bobbing on the water."

"And you want to be under sail again?"

"Seems like madness, doesn't it? Isn't that precisely what the Buddha spent his life trying to achieve: freedom from being driven by fears and desires? And here I am, free at last, asking to be enslaved again?"

"That's one way to look at it, certainly. I can think of others. It's not how we typically look at it, in our profession, but we're not very philosophically sophisticated." Her smile hovered for  moment and disappeared. "But certainly a person needs a reason to get out of bed in the morning."

"Yes. And for the Buddha it was compassion. And maybe delight, I don't know. The delight is gone too. I mean, it flickers from time to time. But I wonder sometimes now if my earlier experiences of joy weren't just symptoms of my metabolic disorder, blood sugar swashing this way and that. I'm not transfixed by it now, not usually. There have been times in my life when I would turn a corner and see a fruit tree in blossom against a blue sky and I'd stagger, literally stagger, the beauty would knock me to my knees. Where has that gone? Now, now it's 'oh, there's pretty tree.' God help me."

"So you're thinking maybe if you nibble a mushroom, maybe you'll see the fruit tree of all fruit trees, lit up against heaven, and the mere memory of it will get you out of bed every morning for the rest of your days?"

I smile wanly. Why did I think I wanted a smart therapist? That was a goofy idea. "Yeah, I guess so. Something like that. Put that way it doesn't sound very... probable."

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Physics: Biology

 The ridiculous ease with which I'm losing weight on my new regimen makes me think I may have made this whole process much harder than it needed to be, by casting a biological problem (how do you get fat to leave fat cells faster than it comes in?) as a physics-and-will-power problem (how do you reduce calorie intake without overwhelming your will power?)

The physics-and-will-power solution worked, but it worked by main force, and it wouldn't have worked if a) I weren't already a guy who liked measuring things and keeping spreadsheets and b) if I hadn't been extremely canny about managing hunger hormones and c) if I hadn't had a nice calm stretch of water in my life that allowed me to devote the lion's share of my exertions of will to managing my eating. I suspect now I could have done the big weight loss with considerably less effort. But who knows? I still had to go through weaning myself from processed foods, from flour and sugar and seed oils, and that was never going to be easy. This (very mild) intermittent fasting regimen would not have worked if I had been eating as I was four years ago: four years ago fitting more than a day's calories into a ten-hour window was child's play. Now it's quite difficult.

But of course, we're only a month in, and we have novelty going for us, and we also have the nearness of the goal going for us: a .90 waist-hip ratio is very close. My 7-day rolling average stands at .905. I want to take it to .89 before even thinking of taking my foot off the pedal, because there's bound to be random fluctuation of .01 or .02. But it's very close, in the range of weeks, if not days, by now. And that's even without reckoning in prolonged fasts. I am (by my old way of reckoning things) within a couple pounds of my realio trulio end-goal.

The biology of weight loss boils down to having the time that the insulin is low and the glucagon is high -- and hence the entrance to the fat cells is closed and the exit is open -- being longer than the time that it's the other way around. Yes, accomplishing that will generally translate to being in an overall hypocaloric state, but that's accidental, not essential. 

That's my best understanding now. The proof is in the pudding, of course. I should know whether I'm right within a few weeks. 

Friday, April 02, 2021

Anoche cuando dormía...

 Oh well. Sometimes you just have to do something stupid: so here's a shot at "Anoche cuando dormía..." (Antonio Machado, 1903)

Last night as I was sleeping

I dreamed -- blessed illusion! --

that a fountain was flowing in my heart.

Tell me, water, by what hidden channel

do you come to me: spring of new life

that I never drank?

Last night as I was sleeping

I dreamed -- blessed illusion! --

that I had a beehive in my heart,

and golden bees were manufacturing

white wax and sweet honey

out of old grievance.

Last night as I was sleeping

I dreamed -- blessed illusion! --

that a burning sun shone in my heart:

burning because it gave the warmth

of a red hearth; sun because it dazzled, 

and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I was sleeping

I dreamed -- blessed illusion! --

it was God that I had in my heart.

There are three obvious things that have to be kept in translating this poem: 1) it needs to be in a popular verse form, something like English ballad measure, with regular meter and rhyme; 2) it needs to be in natural language, with only a few mild poeticisms, and 3) its parallelisms are fundamental and must be preserved.

Okay, so two out of three? It was beyond my powers to render this in any common English rhyme: I had to settle for a rough three-beat rhythm that was a least a little like the Spanish, and no rhyme at all. Yeats could have done it, maybe: but Yeats had his own work to do.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Sundry Remarks

Antonio Machado

I was hungry in the night, and I was wakeful in the early morning; but the moon was just past full and we don’t have the blackout curtains up, so I might have slept through that without noticing, if it had been full dark. Not a ferocious hunger, just a present one. It might have been wise to have eaten a little more when I broke my fast -- say half a bowl of stew -- I don’t think it would have taken much. In any case, I’m feeling quite stable at breakfast. So that’s good. So far I’m impressed by how fast things (meaning hunger, energy, etc.) have normalized. Now that I’ve had my breakfast, I don’t think that -- if you wiped my memory clean -- I’d have any way of knowing I was fasting yesterday.

All this fasting stuff is still experimental, and it’s way too early to plan schedules, but if I were to plan one right now, it would look like this:

1-day fast every other Tuesday (i.e. 4:30 Monday afternoon to 5:30 Wednesday morning), 
3-day fast every two months (i.e. 4:30 Monday afternoon to 4:30 Thursday afternoon)
5-day fast every six months (i.e. 4:30 Monday afternoon to 4:30 Saturday afternoon)

Yeah but
The thing is
With all this health ruckus settled, you are going to need to figure out what your days are supposed to be made of, Dale
What you are studying
What you are making
And how you know when you’ve done enough for the day
You have found one point of leverage
And that’s the moment you turn to
You need to turn to the study of the moment instead
There’s probably another point in the evening when you turn to YouTube
But anyway
Here’s a try:
In the morning half an hour, alternating Spanish literature and Canon
In the evening half an hour easy Spanish reading
That’s just an hour a day
And I’m sure you can do it
Even on hectic days
Maybe more on non-hectic days
But give this a shot
Right now it’s Machado’s poetry
And Lucretius
And the easy reading is Spanish’d Narnia
That’s not so hard, is it?
You can totally do this AND enjoy it
Silly boy.


Here's a go at translating "Sobre la tierra amarga..." (1903). I take unconscionable liberties with the stanza and the punctuation. Machado has three four line stanzas, but I think it works better in English with two sixes. And I can't bear ellipses in poetry. (What the hell are line breaks for?) But other than that it's a pretty close translation.

Dreaming, on this bitter earth,
has labyrinthine roads,
tortuous paths, parks
in flower and in shade and in silence;
deep crypts, ladders over stars;
altarpieces of hope and memory.

Figurines that walk and smile
(the melancholy toys of age):
kindly images
at the flowered turn of a lane,
and rosy chimaeras making their way
into the distance.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

2nd Fast

Today is the first 24-hour fast. Possibly 36, if I feel like going on till tomorrow breakfast, but certainly 24. I was going to start *after* breakfast, but I got up this morning and thought, “why the hell would I waste the 13 hours of fasting I’ve already accrued?” So my fast started at 4:30 yesterday, and I’ll break it at 4:30 today. I am having coffee, because piling caffeine withdrawal on top of fasting seems like asking for trouble; also I’ve taken my thyroid med and my vitamin D3. Otherwise, it’s water.

It’s oddly luxurious to not have to think about food prep and planning. Spacious. I have two white pint bowls that I use for my morning broccoli. In the evening I prep the broccoli and put it in the fridge, ready to steam in the morning, and last of all I start the dishwasher. In the morning I eat the broccoli, as I unload the dishwasher and make the rest of my breakfast; and before I sit down to eat my oatmeal and eggs I put the newly-empty bowl into the newly-empty dishwasher. So the one bowl spends the day on the shelf and the night in the fridge, while the other spends the whole day and night in the dishwasher, and in the morning they switch places: but the two never meet. But this morning they are on the shelf together, eyeing each other with suspicion and surprise.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?”

“I live here. I’ve always lived here.”

“Nonsense. *I* have always lived here.”

I’m sure they’ll sort it out. I wonder if I have twin in the world, occupying my negative spaces? I imagine I do.


So now I have done 24 hours! Not much of a struggle, actually. Of acute interest will be: what do my hormones do now? I just ate my usual dinner, though an hour late. Will I be unusually hungry tonight, or tomorrow? Stay tuned.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Belated End of Year Check-In

 I neglected my end-of-year check-in this year. So here it is, three months late. Here's the chart for the weight. Weight is a crummy metric for Metabolic Syndrome: it's analogous to cholesterol -- we rely on it because it's easy, and gives us a spurious but scientific-feeling accuracy. You can see the major contours below, though: I lost weight steadily from May 2017 to August 2018, going from 220 to 150; then I gained back ten pounds; for the two years thereafter I've held pretty steady at 160.

Below is the graph of my waist measurement over the same time (sorry, I don't know enough about the charts and PNG formats to get the scales to look the same: but they really are over the same period of time)

From this you get a better picture of what the changes in weight meant, and what I was trying to do. The year I gained ten pounds, I did it deliberately, and I did it without increasing my waist measurement, which I've been able to hold pretty steady in the 33" to 34" range. Waist measurement is fussy and inaccurate and frustrating, but it's actually a direct measurement of what I was most eager to do: reduce my visceral fat. So the ten pounds I gained was mostly muscle mass: something devoutly to be wished. Not because it's decorative, but because muscle means you can get up off the floor and carry groceries, etc.; and because it provides an excellent glucose sink for people (like me, like at least half the American population) that have difficulty managing glucose in a healthy way. The glucose that doesn't end up in your muscles lands in your liver, and the liver has to flail about trying to store it in various generally unhealthy ways.

The attentive reader will see that over the past year and a half I've tried repeatedly to bring my waist down another inch or two, with no success whatever. (That's where the blue line, which describes my intention, goes jagged, as I revise it over and over.) I had thought the same strategy I used for my original weight loss would work again: why wouldn't it?

Well, it wouldn't because within a week or two of cutting down my calorie intake, I would find myself binge-eating, just like the bad old days. God knows I don't want to start that up again. It was during one of these binge-prone periods that I had my blood lipids done, which showed a mild deterioration, and inspired my doctor to urge statins, and made me take the project of further reducing my visceral fat, and improving my metabolic health, more seriously. (Yes, yes, I know that cholesterol is a crappy metric for metabolic health, but it's not totally irrelevant, either. A happy liver just doesn't crank out that much cholesterol.) Hence the reduction of saturated fat -- the switch from the nightly hamburger and ice cream to herring and turkey (which is going fine!) Hence also the time-restricted feeding, also going fine, with a quite roomy ten- or eleven-hour feeding window: the idea of that is making sure that my insulin actually has time to fall for a reasonable amount of time. (Calling thirteen or fourteen hours a "fast" seems a bit overblown to me. "Not snacking" seems nearer the mark. But it makes sense that if you want to burn fat you'll have to stop flashing the "don't burn any fat! we've got sugar to burn!" signal at some point; i.e. let your insulin levels fall.)

And also I'm interested in real fasting, fasting for a day or two or three -- partly because of the the autophagy and senescent-cell-clearance speculation, which is fascinating but not really settled health science yet, and partly because it seems at least possible that it works for burning fat without lowering metabolism, which in real-life terms, may mean without kicking off binge-eating.

I'm interested too for what you might loosely call spiritual, or psychological, reasons: I've been hagridden by obsessive attention to food all my life, and I long to shake loose of it. I have never, in 63 years on the planet, gone a full 24 hours without food. This seems rather immature to me: not because I think I should have the will power -- I don't believe I will ever have any more will power than I have right now, or that I have, or should have, particularly more or less than anyone else -- but because I'd like to practice managing my endocrine reactions better. I would be a better person if I didn't get cranky and unreasonable at missing a meal, or at even the prospect of missing a meal. And I think with practice I might get a handle on that.

So that's the current project. Still pushing to get that waist/hip ratio down to 90%. And tomorrow is the next fast: 24 hours this time. (Or put another way, skipping lunch and dinner.) Wish me luck!

Friday, March 26, 2021

A Change of Days


The bound flow of a calligrapher's hand,

The bandaged fingers and braced-up wrists

of a gymnast's well-chalked grip:

What kind of gift

have you brought to this meal? 

What will you say 

that you have not said before?

With a primate's practiced peck

of thumb and forefinger I catch 

a sugar ant, and absentmindedly

roll it to its death:

I will notice the smell of its small catastrophe

later, when the sun is high, and I rub my eyes,

aching from the light.

I hesitate to go again into the world

until I can answer these questions.

If this small space is room enough for sin

why would I need more?