Friday, June 11, 2021

Narnia After The Snowmelt

The lab numbers are back, and the cholesterol ones haven't moved at all. The triglycerides went down sharply, but my triglyceride numbers were already pretty good. I really thought that losing these last two inches from my waist, and cutting out the red meat and ice cream altogether, would move the needle on the cholesterol: but not a bit. 

I had already laid down the number that was going to make the statin decision: if the total cholesterol / HDL ration was still over 5.0, I'd start taking them. My number was 5.5, so -- here goes. I don't buy the story of cholesterol being a driver of ill health, but there's probably some value in taking the LDL level down. If I have any side effects from them, I'll stop. I don't really view it as a terribly important decision, which is why I sort of picked a number out of a hat to make it for me. I've already given it more energy than it deserves.

Anyway, I'm glad to have gotten my waist down to 32 inches, which is sort of the land of fable, for me. I wake up in the morning, suck in my gut, and explore the terrain curiously with my hands: the segmented columns of the rectus abdominis and the lat-like flare of the obliques; the easily palpable guy-wire of the linea alba, the startlingly strong pulse of the abdominal aorta. A landscape I knew was there from my anatomy texts, and from years of doing massage on other people, but which I'd never been able to read with my fingers. Narnia after the snowmelt.

So lots of crosscurrents, here; and lots of over-interpretation. I can fix on the small waist, and the greatly-improved triglyceride/HDL ratio, which is quite close to 1.0 now, and which is supposedly the best marker for insulin sensitivity (in Caucasians), and think of this as a victory. Or I can fix on having caved in on the statins, which means that I'm not immortal after all, that I haven't outrun the medical establishment, and that I'll die awash in medicines like my mom did, not even knowing what the hell all of them were for. 

Or I can decline all the stories, and acknowledge that actually very little has changed, and that possibly the most important development of the past three months has been learning not to dread going a day or two without food.

I am in the critical phase now: the weeks after the weight loss, when my motivation for tracking and restricting intake is lowest, but my body will make its most determined hormonal bids to get the fat stores back up. People focus on the weight loss, but that's actually the easier part. The harder part is convincing the body that this is the new normal. My set-point may come down -- the evidence on that is scanty and contradictory -- but if it does, it will take a long time, at least as long as the weight loss did. Some people say that if you nudge your intake up very gradually, your metabolism will speed back up even while your fat stores remain constant. Maybe, but maybe that's wishful thinking. It would be nice if it were true, but I don't see any reason to think it must be.

So I set my data points for my do-it-yourself homeostasis: nudge my weekly intake up, and if the 7-day rolling average of my waist-hip ratio hits 0.91, fast it back down to 0.89. That should keep me in range. And I can entertain myself by working on getting my glutes swole, to cheat up that denominator.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Fire Drill

I pull into the three-quarters full parking lot and find a space on the far side, so that people with trouble walking can get the nearer spaces. (One of those things you can allow yourself to do when you're semi-retired and not in a hurry any more.) A beautiful morning. Some deep breaths. Do the little juggling routine: key into my pocket, glasses off, tie on mask; glasses back on, get out of the car, fish the key back out of my pocket, lock the car. 

I stride toward the building, feeling bold and enterprising. But I slow as I approach. A wave of some dozen masked people comes out. A second, and a third wave. Each wave wanders deeper into the parking lot, and then stops. What the hell?

Oh. I've seen this behavior before. It's a fire drill. More waves come out; they gather in little clusters, chatting: some cheerful, some resigned. Who knew how many people were in a nondescript, three-story medical building? There must be a hundred of them.

I stop well away from them: they're all masked and probably all vaccinated, but a crowd is a crowd and it's going to be a while before I'm comfortable in one. (As if I ever was.) Besides, nothing's happening till the floor captains have counted noses and the drill is over. So I go for a little walk in the parking lot. It's  godforsaken stretch of ground between the light rail tracks and a shopping center. But it's a bright and blessed June morning nevertheless.

Every one files back in, and after a few minutes, to give them time to become a functioning medical organism again, I follow them, and after a reasonably short time (but long enough to have been asked my name and birth date three times) I'm back on the sidewalk, plus a wad of gauze taped to the inside of my elbow, and minus a vial of blood. My lipid panel! It's been three months since the last one: I'm ten pounds lighter and two inches narrower, and now I get to see if I've moved my numbers.

This is wildly, wildly outside my comfort zone. I actually made this test happen. I initiated an interaction with my health providers. I have never done such a thing before.

It's boy thing, I guess. You always hear of women needing to drag their husbands to the doctor. I've never exactly needed to be dragged, but I've tended to go limp -- like a peaceful anti-nuke protester -- and I certainly never started anything.

But now I have, and I'm feeling absurdly cocky and sure of myself. A bit pathetic, but -- hey, it's part of the project of inhabiting my own life, and it's gone well so far, and I'm taking it as a win.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Prawns with the Heads and Tails on

What put you off Dickens, you said, was his absolute moral certainty. And sure, I know what you mean: there is a juvenile insistence on innocence and depravity which can be grating. Especially the innocence part, which generally means a weak, languid inability to assert oneself. The Victorian enthusiasm for Little Nell strikes us as pathetic, if not pathological.

But as I read The Old Curiosity Shop, I am struck by the centrality of the demonic Quilp. The narrative adores Quilp: he draws Dickens' attention as Edmund draws Shakespeare's in King Lear. Whenever he is on stage, the language gains force; the dramatic intensity shoots up; everything becomes more vividly felt and extravagant. Sure, he's the bad guy: but without him, could there be a play? Of course not. What actor would turn down such a gorgeous role?

So Dickens may be morally certain, but his novels are not. What if the meaning of life is self-assertion and dominating your inferiors? How do you know it's not? Is it better to be Nell's grandfather, or Dick Swiveller, than to be Daniel Quilp? I don't think so, and I don't think the novel thinks so. I'm only a hundred pages in or so, which is barely getting started in a Dickens novel, but there's an interesting absence here: where is the young hero? Where is the young Dickens stand-in -- the Copperfield, the Clennam, the Pip? The shadowy narrator has already effaced himself and vanished. The entire field of virile masculinity is occupied triumphantly by Quilp, who faces down legions of discontented female rebels with ease and relish. I can't think off-hand of another Victorian novel that leaves the Young Hero slot so empty. Instead what we get is Quilp, leering at his mother-in-law in the mirror, and crunching up the heads and tails of prawns and the shells of boiled eggs.

Dickens, like Shakespeare, goes where the story takes him. And that to my mind is the whole duty of a storyteller.

When I realized how few books I would still get to read in this life -- do the numbers sometime, O fellow reader; you will be as appalled as I was -- I sketched out a course of "great books" to read. At first I had four historical categories, from which I'd pick books in turn. But soon I realized that might leave me reading, say, John Gower, or Ben Jonson, without ever having gotten back to Macbeth or Copperfield: that couldn't be right. So I expanded the categories to six: Ancient & Classical, Medieval & Renaissance, Shakespeare, Enlightenment & 19th Century, Dickens, and Moderns. And then I said the hell with it. I could die tomorrow. It's Dickens and Shakespeare that I want to read. Gower and Jonson can wait: they can wait till my next life, if necessary. And suddenly all my vacillation and weariness about reading were gone. I will crunch up my Shakespeare plays with their tails and heads, and my Dickens novels with the shells: and be damned to comprehensiveness or correctness. 

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

The Doubts

They come in delicately, like shrimp,
their antennae forming long and graceful curves,
their expressions undecipherable. These are the doubts.
They move slowly, seemingly without intention,
but they crowd until the panic starts to rise.

Is it the opaqueness of the eyes, or the stiffness?
Or maybe the capacity for suffering, beyond
mammalian imagination? They die in multitudes
when the waves go bronze, and the sea's skin
is a rocking shell of copper colored plates.
They die without objection, quiet to the last,
not rushing even then. And the sun goes down.
Evening brings the smell of their decay.

You asked me once to tell about the whales
still in the deep places, untroubled. So I did.
I had a voice that persuaded then: I was young
and believed in victory. Far out to sea and far below,
I said, they are moving, huge and slow, older than us,
older than time, waiting us out. They know places still
that we do not. At last you fell asleep,
exhausted by fear and wretchedness: but I lay awake
and all night the stars picked their way across the sky.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Making the Corn Right: Nixtamalization

"Nextli" is Nahautl for "ashes,"
"tamalli" for corn meal dough.
"Nixtamalization" is soaking the corn
in a wood-ash solution.

Everyone did it:
if you lived on maize, you prepped it
with wood ash. Otherwise
you were courting deficiencies

of niacin or amino acids.
And yes, right now, yes
I could do with a tamal.
But the point is

No one knew why they did it
Or they believed they did it
for some other reason:
it made the corn right.

And this is why I say
to storytellers, 
great and small:
just make it right.

Don't worry about niacin.
You don't have to know what the fuck 
the ashes are doing. 
You can be wrong

and still be right.
the goddamn

Thursday, May 27, 2021

4th Fast

 This one was 48 hours. Much more challenging than 36, because the second night I got only two or three hours' real sleep; I dozed a couple more, but it wasn't near enough. My body clearly thought this was no time for sleeping: I should be out tracking an elk or gathering a yam. Maybe next time I'll cut my caffeine in half; that might help.

It will be interesting to see where my numbers rebound to, as I re-feed. In previous fasts they've bounced back surprisingly little. I give myself permission to eat the food I missed, the day after my fast -- i.e. if I want to double the portions on my next three meals, I can -- but so far I seem to want only one make-up meal, and then I'm back to my usual routine. I actually expected a lot more bounce-back in the numbers than I'm seeing. If it turns out that losing weight was as simple as fasting occasionally, I'm going to be pissed. All those elaborate meal plans and finicking about macros! 

I'm joking (mostly). I had to learn how to eat way differently. I had to give up processed foods. I had to learn to plan. I had to learn to maintain a kitchen. I had to give up spontaneous eating, except on three or four special occasions per year. It wasn't going to work without that.

But still, compared to the misery of continuous calorie restriction, this is just absurdly easy. Sure, I get hungry from time to time, but I was hungrier -- way hungrier -- when I was fat. When I was fat I was ferociously hungry several times a day. I think people who have never had a disordered appetite do not have any conception of how desperate that hunger is. Compared to it a 48-hour fast is a walk in the park. Who cares? I get to eat day after tomorrow. It's not like I'm going to starve.

It's downright comical to see the graph of my weight drop like a stone, off the bottom of the chart, after so many years of grimly driving it downwards, pixel by pixel. 148.5. But we have still to see the bounce-back, and to see if cravings arise. So far, nada.

I finished the fast at 2:00 yesterday, which is more or less dinnertime in my current routine. I ate "breakfast," and then a couple hours later I ate "lunch," and I was done. Now I'm back to the usual.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Catch and Release

"He must be very fond of you," said Rosa.

"He bears up against it with commendable fortitude, if he is," returned Mr. Grewgious, after considering the matter.


I return to Dickens, like a fish to the sea.