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.