Thursday, September 26, 2019

Reflections on a Tour of the Grand Spreadsheet

I just went through my grand spreadsheet, updating it with the weekly averages for my weight and waist, which meant filling in data for two and a half years. It was inefficient -- I could have written formulas to do the same thing -- but I find it useful sometimes to wade through data and get a feel for it at different scales and tempos.

In general, I'm happy with what I've accomplished and where I am. The great disappointment, of course, has been that no magic resolution has presented itself. The grand fantasy is that at some point one recovers normalcy of appetite, one can eat ad libitum without gaining weight. I'm pretty much certain, now, that that will never happen. I can restrict my daily eating carefully, or I can be obese; there is no middle option.

Given, then, that I'm restricting carefully, weighing and measuring, going to all this trouble (and the trouble is enormous: it occupies quite a bit of my uncommitted time), I might as well get exactly what I want out of it. So what do I want?

The question arises because I have been batting back and forth several potential steady-states, and how to arrive at them. Should I ride the present regimen down to a 32" waist, and see what that looks like? Or should I continue my gradualist, "follow the blue lines" strategy, trying to keep my waist very slowly dwindling while my weight very slowly increases, as my lifting program progresses and I put on more muscle? What, exactly, am I aiming for, and how will I know when I've gotten there?

One risk, as so often, is mistaking markers for actual goals, and obsessing on hitting numbers that don't actually capture the end-goals. And another risk, one I'm especially prone to, is setting a goal of endless progression: at present really what I'm attempting is to perpetually build muscle mass while perpetually reducing fat. I used to design my exercise programs that way, until I finally understood that basically what I was doing -- piling on more weight, more reps -- was guaranteeing that I eventually exercise to exhaustion or injury. Not clever. I should have end-points. 

What are the actual goals, then? There's an optimal body composition: I should get there and stay there. It's not that far off. I pretty much like how I look now. I don't particularly want to be bulky and hugeous. I'd like my waist to be a little trimmer, my legs to be a bit thicker; but that's about it. I think that if I do get to having my waist measurement be 90% of my hips, I probably will have something like a 32" waist, and I'll probably look as good as I want to bother with.

But backing off to get a wider view, looking good -- although I must ruefully admit it's the best motivator -- is only a side goal. What I really want is -- as a duty -- to live vigorously as long as I can, so that I can avoid being a burden on my loved ones, and hopefully help them out, for as long as possible; and what I really want for myself, my deepest wish, is for mental acuity and physical energy. That's what I want to maximize. And here's where I need to be careful to measure what I'm actually interested in. 

I am much more energetic at this weight and fitness. I used to be basically exhausted by dinnertime: now I often do things in the evening. Every night before bed I do the dishes and prep for breakfast, which would have been totally beyond my powers. But of course this extra energy is largely devoted to... keeping up my diet and fitness regimen. My disposable energy has not really increased: it may even have declined.

It feels better though. And feeling mentally sharper is priceless. I think better. I'm more concise, more methodical, quicker on the uptake. That's what I care about most. 

I have long harbored the notion -- probably picked up from the elderly protagonists of Michael Innes mysteries, and offhand comments by longevity buffs -- that if I restricted calories really severely I'd be sharper still. Now that I examine it by daylight, it doesn't seem especially likely: it's probably an ascetic fantasy. There's probably a sweet spot, and it's probably considerably this side of starvation.

There may be actual information about these things. I should seek it out. 

And I should think about how to measure these things. Energy and acuity. People like to say that this, that, or the next thing can't be measured. They're always wrong. Anything that can be perceived can be measured.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Morning: a fine rain, and wet branches gleaming.

At one point I grew self-conscious and annoyed with myself: It turns out I begin about half my posts by informing my public that it's morning. Morning is important to me. Morning is not a time of day so much as a state of being. Morning is freedom, possibility, freshness. A whole new world with the dew still on it, and not a trammel or a busybody to be seen. I love mornings. But not everybody does, and even if they did, the whole point of writing is to Make It New (we know this because Ezra Pound told us so, which maybe should rouse our suspicions right there) and anyway, how new and fresh is this morning, when to the reader (very possibly not inhabiting morning at all, or inhabiting it and wishing they weren't) reads the same damn thing every morning? So I pulled up my socks and tried to avoid it, or at least cut it out when I was done.

But this, O Reader, turns out to be a very bad idea. Because it means I begin my morning self-consciously, in an editing frame of mind, which is a very fine frame of mind in its way, but is NOT the writing frame of mind. And besides, most of what I have to say, if you boil it down, is that it is in fact morning. I write for the same reason the cock crows. There it is. So from now on, I am going to begin every post by informing you that it's morning. Feel free to skip that part.


Some time ago I read a book about cultural evolution, The Secret of Our Success, by Joseph Henrich. I recommend it, both for itself and for a way of thinking about our present political polarity. We do have a culture war going on, and it's important, and it's not as simple as it looks. I am thoroughly and unapologetically on the liberal side, and I think actually that we are winning handily, dark though the days look sometimes: but that's not my point, not at the moment. We liberals are outcompeting conservatives for several reasons: we pay more attention to science, which gives us a consistent edge; we're more open to innovation; our childrearing practices are more effective; we have a near-monopoly on education, the media, and the arts. Short of nuclear war or genocide, we are probably going to win this thing. But we do ourselves no service by refusing to examine the conservative strengths. They understand things we don't (culturally speaking), and they can do things we can't. We should think about that. 

The winner of this culture war is not going to be the smarter, better informed side (that's obviously us.) It's not going to be the more stubborn, belligerent side either (that's obviously them.) It's going to be the side that makes people feel safest, most special, most connected to each other, most like they belong to something, most like their lives are important and make sense. The side that seizes and holds that redoubt is the one that's going to win. We need to think about that. Because the problem is hard and the stakes are enormous.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Light of Summer

Morning: the throb of the washer: a single fat sparrow in the hedge, cautiously investigating the birdbath.

The skylights are covered with dew, and beyond them the sky is gray. A somber day: the light of summer already seems far away and long ago.

Ironic, that this new moment of nationalism comes precisely when global capitalism has made us all so much alike; and that we should be extravagantly focused on cultural difference precisely when there is so little of it left. There was more cultural distance between a Southerner and a Yankee in 1860 than there is between a Honduran and a Norteamericano now. We live in the same conditions: we respond the same way. If I were a strategist for the Right, I would put all my energy into trying to suppress language learning: I don't think there's any other way to try to keep up the fiction that we're terribly different from each other. We wear the same t-shirts and bill caps, eat the same food, watch the same kitties on YouTube. We work the same absurdly long hours under the same unremitting financial stress. We have the same loss of faith in government and the same witless loathing of our political opponents. The same inability to conduct a legitimate election. It's at this moment that we choose to defend our borders? What's to defend? Our uniqueness consists of playing football with a prolate spheroid, instead of a ball.

Speaking of which, what the hell, Thorns? losing 0-6 against North Carolina? Sheesh.

Just finished reading Jonathan Haidt's "Happiness Hypothesis," which I found disconcertingly like my own thoughts on the matter. I think I'm going to just turn back to the beginning and read it over. As always, finding my own thoughts in print makes me doubt them: if somebody else thinks the same thing, then we're both probably wrong, right? But it's also interesting. And I don't at all understand what he means by saying that "Happiness comes from between," so I need to read that last chapter again, in any case.

The other book I'm reading is La Tía Julia y El Escribor -- "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" -- by Mario Vargas Llosa, which is really quite a wonderful book, so far, though you have to be alarmed by the thought of a man dictating the story of their courtship to his lover, which is apparently how this book was written. Yikes.