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.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Through Dickens


I am rereading Edwin Drood. Bowled over, as always, by Dickens' linguistic power: no other writer of English prose holds a candle to him. And more convinced than ever that if you want to understand the English-speaking world, this is where to look: this is the writer who most perfectly expresses -- and had no little hand in creating -- our culture. 

For better and for worse. We are cloyingly sentimental, given to wild outbursts. We but slenderly know ourselves. We are violently suspicious of institutions, which makes us -- paradoxically -- uniquely vulnerable to them. Our medical system, our prison system, our legal system, our political system: all seem to stalk among us, loathed by all, but never to be changed:  to change institutions you have to believe in them. We are political cripples.

And for a people deeply and genuinely committed to kindness, we are astonishingly cruel. In this too we follow Dickens. Our ferocious belief in our moral perfection leads us to very dark places. We fall in love ecstatically, fall back out again, and loathe our erstwhile infatuations with no apparent sense of contradiction; no uneasiness. We put together families and recklessly explode them.

We work frantically, wearing ourselves out, in constant terror of poverty. There is never enough. We are never out of the shadow of the workhouse. We are never done with being ashamed of home.

A way forward, if there is one, leads through Dickens. There's no way around him.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Bells that still Ring

 Yeah, well, the pandemic. I don't talk much about it. I had figured out how I was going to deal with it by March of last year: quit doing massage, and reduce my exposure to human beings who were not Martha to once per week (to go shopping.) That was no great hardship: I don't like human beings much anyway. My workplace was blessedly good about making it possible to work either alone there, or from home. Life went on.

I was surprised at how surprised people were. We all knew this was coming. We all know a much worse one is coming, for which we also refuse to prepare. Except apparently we didn't all know. I don't know exactly how you miss the foremost epidemiologists in the world repeatedly warning the public that we're in for zoonotic viral pandemics every decade or so from now on -- they've been perfectly clear since SARS 1 (2003) and MERS (2012) -- but lots of people managed. Social media has been full of people announcing how blindsided they were, and how nobody could see this coming. Jesus. Get a clue, you chuckleheads. Listen to a scientist once in a while.

So anyway, the point of the pandemic for me was the same as the point of Trump's election, and the same as the point of the wildfires in maritime Oregon. It's not the end of the world. It's not even something that impinges on me and mine all that much. The point is that we human beings are not going to look ahead and cooperate, not even in the face of destruction. We're not up to the challenges, and we're going down. It's that simple. The pandemics, the rise of fascism, the change of climate that makes rain forest burn like desert scrub -- those are the easy challenges. If we can't rise to them, it's absurd to imagine we'll rise to the harder ones coming.

So as a species, we've got our diagnosis: stage four pancreatic cancer. There's three ways of handling that: ignore it, defy it, or accept it. Most people I guess choose to ignore it. Defying it is maybe ultimately the driver of neofascism. (I don't really know: I understand those people even less than I understand most people.) But my way of handling it is to accept it. We're in humanity's final chapter. It's time to put our house in order and turn our attention to last things. All our collective hopes and projects are void. We're dying without heirs. What does that mean for an individual human being, living an individual life?

Well, it means give up. Give up on public life. It means settle private accounts and ask for forgiveness. It means shake free of the bitterness of the local squabbles and vendettas. Treasure these last moments with loved ones. The death of all people is not so different than the death of each one of us.


Thus Von Tal, who is sounding, frankly, a little unhinged to me: I think he's worried about his dad's health, and unhappy about his back being iffy again after all the work he's put into repairing and fortifying it. If you don't like people much, Von Tal, then the "fact" that they're going down surely shouldn't bother you, let alone induce despair? You're swimming at the bottom, my friend, and stirring up clouds of mud: you can't see very far from down there. Ease off a bit. Play a little.

So this morning: meditated, first thing. And that feels helpful.

It's time to take a vacation, and wander some country lanes. Time to look at the sea and the tide. Wind and wave.


Yeah. clarifying, would be the word for this last visit to Eugene. Of course, my father's mortality evokes my own. He handles it much as I would (will): he knows damn well that muscle mass is the key, and he's just not being able to produce it. What works at 63 no longer works at 92. And you can swap the numbers around however you like, but even if they're 83 and 112, you get the same answer. At some point it stops working.


When I visit, now, he makes sure that I know that he wants me to have his onyx bookends. It's hard to know if he knows that he's said that before: he's always had the good teacher's capacity for clear repetition. He knows it's not enough to say something once. One of the reasons I've always been a poor teacher is that I'm not able to repeat myself. If I even suspect that I repeating myself, I stop short; I'm mortified; I can't proceed. Not that it actually stops me from repeating myself: I'm often startled, if I look back at my older posts, to see how often, how tiresomely, I say the same thing. I've said all this before, too. 

The bookends are massive, Mexican onyx, from some foray into Juárez. And I do indeed like them.


The mallet just kisses the huge metal disk: it rings, or rather throbs: a low tone on the edge of hearing, but a sweet call. If the huge slow earth were a cat chirruping with pleasure at the sight of a friend, it would make this sound. More things, more things in heaven and earth. A la deriva, but at least in motion. The sky is a pure wordless blue. This year's wildfires haven't started up yet. And we don't actually know that they will.  There's lots we don't know.

Thursday, May 13, 2021


My version of the "Retrato" with which Antonio Machado introduces himself in Campos de Castilla (1912, revised 1917.) At this point, trying to translate him is a lunatic venture. This poem rhymes abab, but you'll just have to imagine that part: no way am I trying to do that in English.


My childhood is memories of a patio in Seville,

and a bright garden where the lemon tree grows;

my youth, twenty years on the land of Castile;

my history, a few events I don’t care to recall.

I was not a Don Juan or a Casanova

(you know my sartorial attainments!)

but I duly received Cupid’s arrow,

and where I found a welcome, I loved.

There are drops of Jacobin blood in my veins,

but my verse flows from a serene spring;

I’m not a man who lives by a catechism,

but (in the good sense of the word) I am good.

I love what’s beautiful, and in the modern vein

I’ve cut old roses in the garden of Ronsard:

but I don’t love the current stylists’ “product”;

I’m not one who warbles with the new flock of birds.

Not for me, the romances of hollow tenors;

the chorus of crickets who sing to the moon.

I pause to tell voices from echoes,

and among the many voices, I listen to one.

Am I a Classic or a Romantic? I don’t know. I would leave

my verse as a commander leaves his sword:

known for the strong hand that wielded it --

not for the metallurgical lore of its forger.

I talk with the man who always goes with me

(the person who talks to himself hopes someday to talk to God):

my soliloquy is a heart-to-heart with this good friend

who taught me the trick of philanthropy.

And in the end, I owe you nothing. You owe me what I’ve written.

I go to my work. With my money I pay

for the suit that I wear and the house I inhabit,

the bread that feeds me and the bed where I lie.

And when the day of the last voyage arrives,

and the ship that never returns is ready to leave,

you’ll find me already aboard, traveling light;

half naked, like the sons of the sea.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Anabolic / Catabolic Switch


This is possibly the most information-rich of the graphs I keep. The blue line is my hip measurement and red line is my waist measurement. I was not tracking the hip measurements until my big weight loss was nearly complete, unfortunately: it would be interesting to see what that looked like. But there's two and half years of daily measurements, here. To me there's one really striking fact that jumps out at me: my visceral fat is always either rising or falling. It's really striking given that my muscle (as represented by the hip line) was doing pretty much exactly what I was aiming at: a slow steady increase. But my visceral fat (as represented by the waist line), despite my best efforts at a slow steady decline, never did that. Not even for a couple weeks at a time. It was always either rising or falling, and always at about the same slope, either way. When you back off and just get the gestalt of the chart, it's obvious. This despite a very rigorous discipline in the number of calories consumed: I did change things, occasionally, but always in a controlled manner, and never by more than 100 daily calories. Yet, between those changes and the very occasional binges, the chart shows this very strong pattern.

It could be sheer happenstance, but I suspect I'm seeing an important physiological truth here: that for me there's an master anabolic/catabolic switch that has only two settings. It's either on or off.

I have always held, as an article of faith, that what I wanted was a slow steady loss of fat, until I hit the desired level (i.e. where I am now), whereupon I would ease up on the calorie restriction slightly and level off, and live happily forever in the perfect steady-state. But I realize now that I have no particular reason to believe such a thing is possible. I mean, clearly a steady state is possible for people whose appetites have never been broken: but it may not be possible for me. I may have to settle for a consciously-imposed version of homeostasis, flipping this switch back and forth every few weeks. Or maybe, with fasting as a new tool in my kit, it's will be a matter of generally leaving the switch on, but fasting for a few days every time I hit a tripwire, to jolt the line back down.

The steeper slope of the last visceral fat loss, by the way, coincides with taking up a ten or eleven hour feeding window. I'm playing with making that window smaller, and being done with eating for the day by 2:30. (This sounds quite stern and draconian if you don't take into account that my first meal of the day is often before 6:00 a.m. It's just a slightly early supper: the equivalent, for someone who's less of a morning person, of knocking off eating by 5:30 p.m.) I find, to my great astonishment, that I really don't like going to bed on a full stomach, now: it feels weird and impairs my sleep. 

The time-restricted feeding and the general calorie restriction don't coexist entirely comfortably: I'm still thinking about that. In general, I'm sort of doing both, since I generally don't want to cram any more eating into the feeding window than I'd be allowed under my usual calorie-restriction anyway. But on the rare occasions that I do, maybe I should let myself, so long as it's just a matter of more of my usual food.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Four Years

On May 11th, 2017 -- four years ago next Tuesday -- I undertook a diet, for the last time. I weighed 222 pounds, and my goal was to get down to 180. If I failed -- or if I succeeded and then gained the weight back -- I was done for good and all. No more diets ever again.

I didn't really understand the scale of the enterprise, back then: that the project would take up the lion's share of my intellectual, spiritual, and physical energy for four years. I succeeded. I weigh 152 pounds today. If I maintain the success for another year, I grant myself permission to declare the success official, and probably permanent; but the cost was proportional to the benefit. I would do it again, but not entirely for the reasons I started. Everything looks a little different, from this vantage. I am, for one thing, much more charitable toward my previous failures. I was navigating with crappy information, and shockingly bad advice, and I was working full time. There was no way I was going to succeed back then.

Why would a person devote this much of their life to a silly project like losing weight? In theory I buy back the four years by having won back as many years and a healthier life: but that's statistical and speculative. If I die in a car crash tomorrow, the joke's on me.

Well, some of the story is personal and rather sad. My earliest memories are of my mother collapsed in an armchair, her sky-blue eyes wide and blank, slowly and inexorably eating a container of store-bought chocolate fudge frosting with a spoon. She would eat it to the bottom and swipe every bit of it clean with her finger. She fought with her weight all her life, and lost. She warned me that I too would ruin my life if I kept eating as I did. I kept eating as I did. She was clinically depressed, and the depression was so inwoven with the eating behavior that there was no untangling them. I loved to eat too, and we would often binge together, united in defying the world's determination to take our one pleasure away from us. I learned early the phase-shift between obedience and defiance, between fighting oneself and giving way. It dominated my life for a long, long time, and not just in the domain of food.

There were two of me: one who meant to eat well and one who did not. They would struggle for motor control. At times it was so finely balanced I could watch my hand slowly reaching for the freezer door, and then jerking back, and reaching again, and jerking back, as the different selves struggled for mastery. Sometimes one would win and sometimes the other. Even as one won motor control, the other would be planning and scheming: I could binge on ice cream while planning my next diet. I could also force myself to eat a salad while planning my next binge. Only one self at a time ordinarily had motor control, but they were both thinking all the time. It was an exhausting way to live, and it did not leave me with a high opinion of myself.

It did, however, teach me a lot about being a human being. I understood early a truth that many people never learn: that I could not control myself. In a knock-down drag-out fight between my will and my hormones, my hormones would win. Not every time, sure. but the self determined to eat all the food only has to win every once in a while, to win the war. You can win a dozen battles a day for six days, and eleven on Sunday morning, and still, there you are: eating enough on Sunday evening to make a comfortable week's surplus of calories. Your 83 straight victories mean exactly nothing. You're a glutton, and everyone can see that you're a glutton, no matter how baggy your shirts are. 

So I learned some compassion for people, the hard way: I learned early, and believe to this day, that no one can actually control their appetites. "Those who control their desires," said William Blake, "do so because theirs are weak enough to be restrained." I could count myself lucky -- and it was sheer luck -- that my desires were no more destructive and unacceptable than they were.

I have not mastered myself. I have learned, at great cost and with sustained efforts, to maneuver myself and arrange my life such that the self that doesn't give a damn about eating well gets control seldom, and has limited access to food when he does get control. I have not beaten him, and I never will. 

We do, however, jog along more comfortably together than we used to. I still binge from time to time, under certain kinds of stress, and I imagine I always will. But I waste far less energy fighting with him, and far less being ashamed of him. I watch him go to work now with mild interest. Huh! I failed, and a binge is coming on. I don't particularly try to stop it, or even to limit it. It will wear itself out. All I require of myself is that the next day I spend some time analyzing exactly where and how I could have planned ahead or intervened so as to head it off, so I can prevent the next one. Occasionally there is no answer: nothing on God's green earth could have prevented this binge under these circumstances. Fair enough: you do what you can. No one can do more.

For the first three years of my "success" you will find two- or three-day holes in my spreadsheets where the binges happened. When the binge guy was in control, I could not muster the wherewithal to record my food consumption, my weight, or my measurements: I only started recording again when my disciplined self was in the saddle. Now there are no holes in the spreadsheets. I record binges as meticulously as I record everything else. They are just information, and I need all the information I can get. 

So, there's some of the "why": putting this Manichean struggle somewhat to rest opens up some space, at least in theory, to live in a different way. To escape the depressive atmosphere of my childhood, and that blank, blue-eyed gaze into nothingness. It's fun to be lighter-weight. It's fun to be able to do pull-ups, and to imagine living to be eighty years old. But I don't know if it would have been worth four years of sustained effort, if that had been all I gained. Maybe: maybe not.

But this, this measure of peace with myself: yes. This was worth the four years.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Machado, Roses, Back Pain, and Covid

Another Machado poem, "Tal vez la mano, en sueños…":

in dreams maybe the hand 
of the sower of stars 
sounds the forgotten music 

a note on an immense lyre 
and that humble wave comes to our lips 
in a few truthful words


The climbing yellow roses make their serpentine, parasitic way through the laurel, and dangle from the eaves. They're not really roses and the laurel is not really a laurel, I'm told; they both have odd polysyllabic names in clumsily grafted classical tongues. But I'll call them roses and laurel. It's my damn hedge. The roses are gorgeous this year: apparently this ominously dry April suited them.


The back? It's no longer giving me pain, if I'm careful. I don't want to be careful, is the thing. And I most particularly want to do what my back least wants me to do: go for long walks. So I'm perpetually peeved.

Nevertheless, my energy returns, and that's welcome. Continual pain, even if it's low-level, easily managed pain, does weird, unwelcome things to my spirit. It shrinks suspiciously from contact: it contracts, and wrinkles. I become a self-absorbed teenager again. Bad enough the first time, when it was age-appropriate. I weigh how much of investment I want to make in learning do-it-yourself physical therapy. My faith in American-trained physical therapists is low enough that I don't even want to bother trying to get insurance to pay for a few random sessions with some random PT. Better to spend that energy actually learning and experimenting.


I have a conviction, based on basically nothing, that this week will mark the peak of the second Covid wave in Oregon, and that we really have blundered our way past the halfway mark. The lack of discipline and public spirit so far does not make me optimistic about how we'll fare if a really bad virus comes our way. We are rich children who expect our parents to buy our way out of any trouble we get into. It's not always going to happen that way.

Meanwhile, I personally, continue to bear a charméd life. And this May is quiet, cool, and sweet, whatever the summer will bring.

Lots of love, dear friends.

Saturday, May 01, 2021


A rhetorical device (also known under the Greek name paralipsis) by which a speaker emphasizes something by pretending to pass over it: 'I will not mention the time when…' The device was favoured by Chaucer, who uses it frequently in his Canterbury Tales. --The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms

I am reading Samuel Delany's Tales of Nevèrÿon. A strange ship has come to the Ulvayn Islands -- a ship captained by a large black man and crewed by some forty blowsy female hands -- and the locals, outraged by this crew's attempt to recruit some of their daughters to their company, swim out to the ship by night and burn it. It is all to me rather obscure -- I am confused about both what this ship is and why the locals are outraged. But Delany is apparently anxious that he is telling a story so conventional that his sophisticated readers will be contemptuous, because he announces that "certain storytelling conventions would have us here... insert some fictive encounter between the girl [the protagonist] and one or more of the sailor women..." But he is not going to do this, he solemnly says -- after giving a couple examples of the meetings he has in mind -- because such meetings frequently do not happen, and because reading them lets us off the hook by making us feel we have already responded adequately to the discomforts of the story (? I think? Since I don't quite know what conventions we're talking about, I'm not sure I have this part right).

This is a thoroughly Chaucerian occupatio -- there's nothing Chaucer enjoys more than informing you that he is not going to tell you this, that, and the next thing, in considerable detail. Since I'm all at sea as to what the convention is that he's rescuing me from, I'm a little perplexed, but probably I just haven't been reading the right things. That's all right: you have to start somewhere.

It is a little startling to be told, in a fantasy story, that the author's conscience will not let him narrate something because that something happens infrequently. The hobgoblin of realism is to plague us even here? Maybe this is just a joke, but it doesn't feel that way to me. It feels sincere: that he felt a conventional twist to the story coming on, and he resisted it on our behalf, but he did want to let us know what the danger was and why it was avoided.

What is clear is that Delany feels that it's his responsibility to make it new (as Pound would say) and to make it real: and that to do less would be to participate in the sin of making us comfortable in the story: making us feel that there was nothing we needed to feel uncomfortable about, nothing we actually needed to do.

All of us who received a literary education in the 20th Century will recognize this as our time's fundamental justification of the study of literature. What literature was for was to make people uncomfortable: and nothing was worse, more unliterary, than a book that made you complacent. You could in fact measure a book's worth by how uncomfortable it made you. The end result of this doctrine was that most of the 20th Century's deliberately literary works are unreadable: the literary production was enormous, but the amount that will be read a hundred years from now will be very small; my guess is that future readers, if we have them, will mostly skip from Tolstoy and Dickens to whatever the 21st Century has in store.

Anyway, that's my view of it, a curmudgeonly view, and possibly a ridiculous one. Time will tell. My view of the storyteller's job, in this modern world -- a world which is saturated with stories, brimming over with them -- is to repair the old stories, to take the stories that have become painful and ill-fitting, for one reason or another, and make them over so that they suit us in our new-made world: that stories are precisely a comfort and a refuge, and it's what they ought to be. Which is not to say there's nothing to be learned from them. There is. Obviously I think so, since I have dedicated my life to them. The stories, the great stories: we go on telling them, it's the most human thing we do, and we desperately need the right stories to allow us to go on working together; to go on recognizing -- for instance -- that strangers are not necessarily enemies; or that people make mistakes in good faith. What we learn is seldom groundbreaking. It's not science, where the world is really made brand new every ten or twenty years. These are old, old lessons: that loyalty is better than treachery, that courage is better than cowardice, that honesty is better than lies. Promises must be kept and children must be cared for. That sort of thing.