Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Less Red Meat, More Chinese

Little surges of delight.

The joy of figuring out practical things. Algorithms of daily life, such as "supplement vitamin D, lightly, in the dead of winter, when I stop walking to and from the train with bare arms."

I think I've quit eating red meat. We'll see how that goes. I've eaten (at least) a quarter pound of hamburger daily for most of my adult life. I'm very, very used to it. I couldn't have succeeded in my weight loss without it. But now it might be time. There's a tectonic rhythm to these lifestyle changes: the pressure builds for a long time, and then suddenly, one day, for no observable reason, there's abrupt, surprising movement, and everything reorders around the new behavior.

... or it might not. My body's kicked back pretty hard against efforts to stop meat-eating before. But I'm still eating tons of animal protein, more than my body can possibly process. So swapping in bean salad for my nightly burger might pass under the radar.

It would be nice to not be supporting the factory feed-lot world any more. And nice not to have to clean grease off the stove top (wall, counter) every evening. Meat is kind of a chore.

In unrelated news: I've been reading about language acquisition recently, and it seems that "massive comprehensible input" method is what's recommended now. Read and listen -- to stuff you can mostly understand -- and your brain does the rest behind the scenes. But you have to do a lot of it, and it only works if you're receiving comprehensible, interesting messages. There's not much point in even trying to speak or write until you've absorbed a ton of it. Which makes my failure with Chinese make sense. I never had comprehensible input, of any kind: so my dogged memorization of Chinese characters yielded exactly nothing in the way of reading capacity. You have to understand something, and build on that kernel. It's a bootstrap problem. If you're not actually receiving messages the clutch doesn't engage: you can rev the engine all you like, but you're not going anywhere.

So if I ever take up Chinese again, I'm going to get a tutor I can hear and make them point to things and talk about them in Chinese, walk me through kids' books with pictures. What's that? What's he doing? Why?

Thanksgiving tomorrow. Going to my daughter's wife's aunt's, for a totally low-stress, unfraught holiday. Grateful for that.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


“Death I think is all right, you know? It’s a natural ending of everything. But I think it’s very important to be alive until the last moment. It’s important that death seem to be just an accident.” Mario Vargas Llosa, a 2015 interview in The Telegraph.

A sudden sharp yearning for everything to come to a point: it comes of years of reading stories, watching movies, listening to songs. The turn, the denouement, the moment the wave crashes -- so important to narrative, and so rare and ineffective in life. 

I view weddings and graduations and funerals and so forth with a distant horror: people are prone enough to fetishizing their expectations and encapsulations, without being encouraged in it. Let's all sit around and reinforce each other's prejudices, and wrap ourselves up on the bandwagon with barbed wire! I escape such things when I can.

The universe does sometimes squeeze itself into a ball, but it does so on its own timetable. Generally at dawn, or just before. With this, as with so many things, the trick is to wait, with my hands empty, and with all distractions put aside. So if that is, in fact, what I want, as I so often say -- well, there's how to do it. No secrets there: it's pretty obvious.

In the meantime, I follow the Wordsworthian life of accumulation, willy nilly. I don't believe in it but I don't know what else to do. Another day goes by, another four Spanish words learned, another eighteen pages read. Even when you don't want to harm anyone, you don't particularly appreciate being so obviously harmless. "Anodyne" is the tag I would spray paint on an urban wall, if I were to do such a thing, which of course I wouldn't. 

And this, I suppose, is simply my version of the pathetic lament of the middle aged white guy, indoctrinated to be a soldier but unwilling to shoot or be shot. So I reread my military history, fiddle with my toy soldiers, train for combats I fully intend to avoid: a wearying business, really. Housework is a better return on investment. A clean sink may not be the sun over Austerlitz, but it does at least shine.