Sunday, October 20, 2019

Tired, Bone-Weary, and Old

An immense liberation: the heartbeat, slosh and knock, like a dishwasher heard from the other room -- sure, all that, and the fear that wakes you in the night with a sour taste, and a sudden jolt of forgetting -- but mostly the clouds moving, the dappled ground, the sense of space that comes when you have drastically, drastically shrunk.

And I have shrunk, and I may shrink some more, in prosaic inches and pounds. The desire to vanish altogether is almost overwhelming, at times. When I first lost my weight, I immediately embarked on a project to build more muscle. I was panicked by the thought of being small. But now I don't care. I want to be small. I want to turn sideways and vanish. I want to feel the air blowing through between my ribs and carrying the last bits away. Something for the squirrels to build nests with.

But that too is one of the deflections, one of the ways I have always evaded the real issues, and my patience with all those subterfuges is pretty much gone. The truth is that I have always been fearful and desperate for approval, and there is something unlovely and sly about the way I linger. But another thing I have lost patience for is blaming myself for being what I was inevitably made by my circumstances. I need only do that if I am determined not to change, if I'm not willing to do the work. I'm willing to do the work, now.

I ate lunch in my car, today. Romaine with bits of carrot and radish; almonds; two bananas and an apple. A rain shower visited while I ate, and moved on, and a rainbow appeared to the north. I wasn't feeling up to lunching with the other people in my workshop, even though half my motive for taking it was to find people to practice Thai with. Time out. And eating is still so hard, so fraught. I remind myself of our older, rather neurotic cat, Kiki, who can't bear to eat if anyone is moving about within a few yards of her. I sometimes try to sidle past her in the kitchen without disturbing her at her meal. I'm usually unsuccessful. She hurries away, and like as not Van Buren saunters up to eat her dinner before she can stand to come back.

So no: one thing at a time. Willing to do the work, but not all the work all the time all at once: that's not possible either.

The almonds were sweet and good. And I am tired, bone-weary, and old.

Thursday, October 17, 2019


I just read two books by Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis and The Righteous Mind. I heartily recommend them both: I think they both shed a great deal of light, and they both say things I've struggled and failed to express. As well as much that I had never thought of.

I am not likely, of course, to agree with the political opinions of someone who calls himself a centrist. While I agree with him that conservatives bring a great deal to the table, I do not think the current crop of Republicans are conservatives; I think they are simply a nightmare version of liberals -- far more like us, in all important respects, than they are like the Republicans of, say, 1970. They are not concerned with conserving anything but their own prestige and their own assets: and they are sold on a version of Christianity that Bonhoeffer neatly summarized as "cheap grace." No need for messy crucifixions or time-wasting penance! God approves of you right out of the box, and all He wants you do do is feather your nest.

(I actually think of myself in my heart as a conservative, although I longer call myself one, since it only confuses people. Those little online quizzes consistently identify me as "very liberal." They ask no questions about Edmund Burke, or perfectibility, or the importance of custom and tradition.)

Anyway. Where was I? Yes. I completely agree with Haidt that we arrive at the best solutions when Liberals and Conservatives (as he defines them) bang up against each other and knock each other's rough edges off. But I think the political positions of, say, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, are, in fact, just such compromise positions -- old compromises, informed by both conservatives and progressives as we used to know them. The Left used to have some bargaining power, because our labor was needed, and the sinister figure of the Soviet Union was lurking behind us. Now our labor is superfluous -- plenty more where that came from, should you need it, which you probably don't; and where the Soviet Union used to be is the gangster state of United Russia, a China which really would rather not bother with us, and a European Union that can't even mind its own store, let alone anyone else's. Different world. Our leverage is gone. And in the meantime, the very wealthy coalesced, under the Kochs, into a formidably organized and fabulously rich political machine. They hold all the cards, now, and they can only fail by drastically overplaying their hand. (Which seems to be exactly what they are doing, so maybe we have a chance after all. Who knows?)

But. Read Haidt, who is much cleverer about social psychology than he is about politics: both his books are very illuminating reads.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Ellen and W

Well, I'm on Ellen DeGeneres' side. 

Of course by several criteria George W. Bush is a war criminal. So is Barack Obama: I can't think of any criterion that rules George in that rules Barack out. Waging undeclared war? Check. Authorizing strikes intended to kill civilians? Check. Maintaining prisoners in inhumane conditions, because it's politically inexpedient to release them? Check. Authorizing torture? Check. The difference is that Barack is our war criminal, the scale is smaller, and the justifications are slicker. The victims, though, are just as scarred, injured, and dead.

Tu quoque is a much used and abused argument these days. I'm not saying I find the two men morally equivalent: I don't. George is more to be blamed because he caused a great deal more suffering. Barack is more to be blamed because he knew better what he was doing. For those who get a thrill out of reckoning up exact quantities of blame, and being sure to assign people to the correct seat in the correct circle of hell, no doubt there's hours of excitement here. I'll pass.

I'm not offering anyone forgiveness, and I don't hear DeGeneres offering anyone forgiveness either. What she's offering is kindness. The recognition of humanity, even in our erstwhile or present enemies. There are some notable authorities who recommend that. I stand with them. 

People can be wrong. They are wrong. I am wrong. I recognize at least one time when, had I been president, I would have made a disastrous foreign policy mistake that would have cost thousands, probably tens of thousands, of lives. It would have been a sin of omission -- failure to act in the face of the Serbian ethnic cleansing -- but that wouldn't have made it any less disastrous, or made the suffering of the Albanians any less. You all could have rightly despised me forever.

If you can't think of a disastrous policy mistake you would have made, as president of the United States, then -- to put it as gently as I know how -- you're an ignorant idiot. So shut up and let Ellen and W watch their football game. And hope you're never in a position to display to the world the depth of your ignorance and the shortfalls of your compassion.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Peeling Eggs

For over a year now, I've been eating three boiled eggs every morning. It's not that I particularly like my eggs boiled: I prefer them scrambled, and I make good scrambled eggs. But boiling eggs is easy, and one of the secrets of my dietary success has been the rule, "if it ain't easy, it ain't happenin.'" I start them boiling, and by the time I'm done with my oatmeal and brocs, they're ready: the part of my breakfast I most enjoy.

So I have a lot of experience now with boiling eggs, and I feel I can make authoritative statements about it. In particular, how to do it so as to make peeling them easy.

First, and most important: don't boil new-laid eggs. Just don't. There is no way to make really fresh eggs easy to peel. (And anyway, if they're as fresh as that, why wreck them by boiling them? Make an omelet.) I deliberately age the eggs I'm going to boil: I want them at least a week old.

Second: "shock" them with cold water. This helps, a little, though not nearly as much as some people think. Mostly it just makes them easier to handle when they've just come out of boiling water.

Third: some eggs will never peel easily. Ever. No matter how old they are, or what you do to them. The occasional egg comes along with a membrane that sticks tighter to the flesh of the egg than to the shell, and there is no good way to peel it. Surrender gracefully. You can strip the first layer of flesh off and scrape it from the shell with your thumbnail. Whatever. Do what you must. It's not your fault.

It's delightful when the shell slips off an egg all of a piece, and it makes you feel very skillful and clever. The impulse to take credit for it is overwhelming. But in fact it's just dumb luck. Anybody would have found that egg easy to peel. If you only boil eggs once in a while, you can be forgiven for thinking that you've got the hang of it now and you've solved that egg-peeling thing and you know exactly what to do with them. It's an illusion, I'm afraid. There is an impossible-to-peel egg in your future. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but soon.