January 6th, 2013 Comments Off
Willpower and I have had an interesting relationship over the years. We haven’t exactly been antagonistic, but our relationship has been misunderstood at best.
I’ve been no more or less capable of working hard, or resisting temptation than anyone else, but Willpower and I have chosen to enter a different sort of dance. One that moves toward a different set of priorities. Growing up playing first person shooter games, where life and energy are measured by a colored meter in the corner, I developed the notion that Willpower was just something that I used up, and restarted each day. I never gave it much thought.
Thinking of Willpower as a form of stored energy hasn’t been a shared belief among people in my life, though. As I grew up, I began to realize that most people think of Willpower as a character trait. I learned that judgements about discipline, productivity, and work ethic were judgements of a person’s worth. In a society that values those things, not showing them can create lasting problems.
Most people learn these lessons about character as they grow through adolescence. The lessons are in part how social values are transfered, but they are also personal markers to be carried around. For example, as a teenager I was told that due of my lack of discipline I was unlikely to do well in college, and therefore had little chance of going on to grad school (Grad school is a big deal in my extended family.) I had all the support in the world from my parents, but hearing that leveling commet stayed with me through much of my ife. It became a nagging voice, and part of my sense of “other”, later affecting many of my decisions in school and career.
More recently, I’ve been judged about how and what I eat. Obviously, eating too much, or drinking that beer is a sign of “no willpower,” right? Never a sign of being tired, or just hungry. As much as I want to think I have a thick skin, these judgements by friends and family wear on me. They are comments on my character, and play out in my head every time I reach down for another bite.
I never thought about willpower as an energy to be used consciously, so what if all this is about how I use my willpower instead of who I am? If I think about it a little differently, these judgements I face may just be a consequence of my choices, not attacks on my character. Since many of my choices aren’t based on typical social values, maybe those judgers just don’t notice the quiet successes I have while using Willpower in other areas.
Last year, I read this article, Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? It made a hell of a lot of sense to me. As I read it over, and followed links, I started understanding my life and the decisions I have made in a new way.
(I need to pause here to tell you that you absolutely need to read that article. It explains daily life and fatigue in an eye-opening way; at least for me it did. The article doesn’t provide methods to make better decisions, but it provides insight on where things go wrong in our decision making.)
I’m actually not a weak person, or lazy, and I have incredible willpower, thank you very much. Obviously, I fall victim to the fatigue described in the article like everyone else. I get tired and hungry, and my strength to make good decisions isn’t infinite, but when I consider how I want to live and the things I deal with, I would say I do pretty well. This might seem obnoxious, but I am proud of some of the tings I have been trying to do lately:
1. Write an honest blog, when there is nothing in it for me.
2. Maintain a vegetarian diet in a meat lover’s world.
3. Get my weight down, and be athletic.
4. Stave off diabetes.
5. Be my own boss.
6. Run a tight financial and parental ship.
7. Be an artist and use my MFA to add something to the world.
If you think about putting those things together and how out of control they could become, you will understand the relationship I have with Willpower. For example, pre-diabetes leads to cravings for food and sugar, and causes energy swings all day long. Adding vegetarianism on top cuts out a great hunger control, meat (the article even mentions protein in this way,) so eating isn’t a three-time a day coice. It’s all day long, every day.
My guess is that most of you, readers, face the same craziness and your own struggles, so let me make the subtle distinction that my point isn’t about the amount of, or how hard I work. I am sure that in relative terms, I don’t work all that much or all that hard. My point is about all the decisions I face. I make decisions and prioritize about everything in my life every minute of my day. Doing it all is a tough proposition.
Ok, enough of that, so here’s a story: When I sat down last spring at a family gathering it was the first time a few of my family members knew of my becoming a vegetarian. I had grown up as the one who went back for seconds, thirds, and fourths, and ate the giant turkey leg at Thanksgiving for dessert. I was known for not having much self-control when it came to food. So, here I was sitting down as a vegetarian. A few in my family didn’t understand the change.
As a typical result, there some issues at that meal. The first of which was bringing up my choice to be a vegetarian (even if it was brought up as a note of pride by my wife, it was not a good idea.) At that point, not only was I dealing with a limited range of vegetarian foods, (I was hungry) but then I had to engage in THAT conversation. It was not as pleasant meal, and was nothing like the fun family meals I remember from my youth.
The silver lining was that there was someone there, a guest from a different country, who had seen what I had to deal with. After dinner, she quietly told me that she thought I had been very strong for not just being a vegetarian, but to also defend it, and deal with the fatigue it caused. She had seen the sort of trouble I had with the meal, and was nice enough to recognize it.
As I go through life, I suck up many, many of those sorts of stresses, and it often takes a clear sweet voice from outside to make me realize how draining my “pleasant” activities really are.
This is a typical situation for people trying to “do things,” and I know I am not some hero for it. Again I’ve always thought I’ve been average in that way, but I choose to carry a different load of stresses than most. Trying to be responsible to the environment, society, family, and self is a draining burden. I am often not capable of it, and most days I am left drained. It is on those days that I get sucked in by simple vices like too much internet and sweets. It is also an unrewarding, and often lonely attempt at life. Choosing not to go with the flow, or compartmentalizing out misguided behavior (as in working an unethical job, or partying like a wildman when away from home,) is a constant source of challenge, even when its not seen or felt.
There are self-control boosting activities that I have learned of though, and the article talks about them a bit. Sugar being the first and foremost of them. Most people learn to hate sugar, because it is the essence of lost control. That candy bar at the checkout register is the final test of character isn’t it? No, actually its just a sign of your willpower being low. I’m not saying indulge in a crappy candy bar every time you go to the store, but when you do, it does not have anything to do with your character. Neither is a cookie between meals, or cussing in front of “proper” company, or being caught checking out an attractive person. None of it is a sin, nor, as I have said, nor does it reflect on you as a person.
Obviously, there are social and personal consequences to indulging, but usually they are fairly minor, so why should the psychological damage last and accumulate for so long? Breaking down that candy bar decision in the store, even if you ate one every time you were at the market, say 3 times a week, you would only be adding 180 calories a day to your diet; equivalent to a cup of juice, or a slice of toast. To put it into perspective, it takes 3500 calories over what you use up in daily activity to gain a pound of weight. So if you ate those candy bars you would add a pound only about every month. The issue with the candy bar, is that most people drain so much Willpower trying to overcome the urge they become even more susceptible to poor decisions later on. It becomes the slippery slope as it were.
Instead of being harsh on yourself for picking up that chocolate bar, go ahead and eat it, then use the added willpower it gives you to put the bag of chips or cookies in your shopping cart back and not bring them home. Then start setting up plans to shop when you’re not tired or hungry. Like on the weekend after breakfast. It works wonders for me.
I know, that whole crazy life thing is had to shake, but the correlation travels in two ways. Make better decisions, and life gets less crazy. Make a calmer life and you’ll make better decisions.
I’m always snacking on oranges and berries and apples. I LOVE fresh apples. And in this, I’ve used my urge for sugar to my advantage. Unfortunately, my blood sugar levels stay high, so I need to stay active to avoid the crash from eating all the fruit, but it also keeps my willpower high so I can stay active… thus letting me do what I need to do. By addressing the constant drain of energy as it is happening, I can avoid the situation where I want to grab that candy bar (at least in theory anyway.) Eating fruit and staying active work together to give me a power boost in what I can accomplish both mentally and physically.
The next control booster, which is hard to maintain, but very effective, is to be with people who love me. When I don’t have to worry about what I am saying or the weird things I am doing, I conserve a lot of willpower. This is a big reason why married people live longer, and why single people have a harder time accomplishing their “willpower” type goals, like losing weight. There is a lot to be said about social support. Social pressure, like finances and ethics take a huge toll on our ability to control ourselves. They are a strange quirk of being advanced, self-aware creatures. Our very complex nature is what causes us to weaken back into less evolved animals in teh willpower game.
I have found that financial, social and health stuggles almost always go hand-in-hand. They don’t have to do with discipline or laziness and personal character, as so many people believe. They are correlated, and self reinforcing. Problems beget problems, and unless adressed en-masse they are very difficult to overcome regardless of strength of will or discipline.
For example, when you exercise regularly you need discipline to keep it going, but it also provides a boost in willpower, because it gives your body a better way to control your sugar and stress. It is a cleansing way to release stress, and provides a break from decision making. Exercise is like a stress and decision making buffer, particularly when it is a form of natural, outdoor exercise. The correlation again travels in both directions depending on how the task is approached.
A financial budget works to same way. When you can maintain a long term financial situation, smaller shopping choices are less draining and the financial buffer eases stress and decision fatigue. WHen you are in a position to save money, spending money within a budget gets easier.
I guess the point for me is that I monitor my energy, and I make sure to either work towards boosting it, or using what I have in the best way possible. Food, sleep, socializing, money, work, exercise are all related, and play a roll in how our willpower works for or against our best interest. Using it in one area of life does indeed affect how much we have in other parts of our lives. So the next time you are judging someone, or more likely judging yourself based on how lazy or weak they look/you feel, or in control they/you seem, try to imagine what the rest of the day has looked like. Often you will realize that a candy bar at the checkout register might actually be in order and deserved.
December 28th, 2012 Comments Off
Way back in the Spring I wrote a series of posts about vegetarianism, and my eating habits in general. In them I mentioned how I was part of a medical study called E-LITE that tracked risk factors for Diabetes, and other related lifestyle risk factors. Dr. Ma finally published the results.
The original abstract is here: http://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.laneproxy.stanford.edu/pubmed/23229846, but you need access to the database to read it. Instead there is an article in Time about it here: Diet Strategies Show Promise in Lowering Risk of Diabetes (also here: Diet strategies show promise in lowering diabetes risk)
In essence, the study showed that there are good ways to get people to exercise and eat right other than geting expensive personal coaching, and they work pretty well. The group I belonged to in the study used videos, emails, and online tracking tools, along with some in-person training to help us stay on course toward losing weight and getting our blood tests in order. The training provided a goal for the program, and basic set of tools.
The trick for me seemed to be that I was responsible to someone for keeping up with my weight-loss efforts. I more-or-less knew what to do, but being given clear tools and procedures, plus expert advise on how to count calories and track my activity took the decision of which guru to listen to out of the equation. Once I masted the techniques for eating properly and staying active, I sought out more tools, like phone apps, exercise software, and more in depth info on food chemistry. The basic foundation was still the same though.
Having to check in and give blood every 3 months made my commitment real, and a fixture in my life. There was no convincing myself I was in good medical shape if my blood sugar came in high, or my cholesterol was off. There was a lot of power in the notion that this effort was about something other than the rolls of fat on my belly; many of which I still have despite much better blood test values.
The institutional nature of the program seemed to help keep my effort focused on numbers. Food and weight are so emotionally charged, but when a medical institution tracks you without passing judgement, it is easier to get out from all those issues that revolve around self-esteem and being “healthy”. I’ve never been comfortable taking off my shirt in front of people, because of the “other”‘s judgement I feel, but the study technicians that measured my waist size every visit put that discomfort at ease. I knew they were seeing everyone come down in weight, and that they would be keenly aware of the disconnect between weight and health. I knew I was getting healthier (my blood tests were getting better, anyway,) so I felt better about the rolls on my gut. They also seemed to have been trained, or were genuinely very gentile about being pleasant and encouraging about the whole process.
Through the whole study there was a good combination of humanity existing within a large anonymous institution that worked really well. Beyond the health and medical basis of this study, it was in fact a study of how an institution can relate to people as individuals and encourage them/us en masse to do the better and harder work of getting healthy in our lives. I think it serves as a model for any institution that needs to change people’s behavior, yet doesn’t have endless resources. Make people feel like there is someone at the other end of the needle, chart, and monitor, and the heavy lifting becomes a team effort instead of yet another chore on our list of life’s burdens. We all benefit when we all are in it with each other.
December 4th, 2012 Comments Off
A lot of people are interested in sustainability and climate change, but where do I begin learning about the issues? Often the science is confusing, and leads many lay-thinkers to the wrong conclusions. Its best to start with sources holding open discussions, and expressing different points of view. I like the dot Earth blog, recieve and read Sierra Magazine every other month, and hit some interesting blogs. Plus, I get an alumni magazine from one of the world’s premiere green campuses, UC Davis. Organizations of all sizes from The Environmental Defense Fund to The Sierra Club to The Nature Conservancy, to The Natural Resource Defense Council to Green For All, and a score of others (feel free to comment with your favorites), work on policy and structural change from global and national levels down to the local and regional on a range of different issues. They all work to change the cultural landscape on what it means to be Green.
There is no shortage of groups, people, and resources addressing the environment and sustainability, but they all seem to have slightly different points of view and goals. Who has the right approach? Who is worth considering? Which ones have the best ideas for the greater good?
In addition to all the information out there, there are hoards of people of are trying to live sustainability, and take action on our problems, but sustainability means different things to different people. Some groups and individuals are amazing while others seem to just be taking advantage of “Green” marketing. From informative science based articles from NASA to the often less-than-useful bunch at Treehugger.com, there is much thought going into our collective futures. Lately, though, as more and more momentum gets behind these movements, I have been finding that broad public change is still scarce, though not all meaningless. With individualistic economic concernes cycling into dominance over and over again, all over the world, few major institution seem ready or able to address the root causes of our problems.
You would think that with climate deniers slowly dwindling away there would be more political movement on the issues we face. According to a recent article by Sierra Club chief, Michael Brune, even Republican politicians, who have been silenced by the agenda-driven Right, are ready to address climate change if they can get out from under party politics.
The country is primed for action, but something is going wrong.
October 18th, 2012 Comments Off
With the horse and pony show going on during this election cycle, I can’t help but notice that there is a big nagging issue that nobody wants to touch for fear of letting the cat out of the bag. It’s the reason why they don’t talk about climate change, or the everlasting European debt crisis, or talk about the future at all.
The candidates and media assume that our goal as a country is to “get back” to unchecked consumption of our world’s resources. Economists call it growth.
Has anyone thought that “recovering” slowly and carefully is the best approach right now, until we figure out how we will deal with an overpopulated, overexploited planet?
I think Obama actually has been tending toward a slow, smart recovery, but can’t even come close to that admission in an election season. Last election he talked about a shock and awe economy. While gas prices are cheap and the credit is flying, no one thinks about what they are doing, but when prices spike and their cards are maxed out, people go into shock and start complaining. They start blaming everyone else for their short-sightedness.
If you look at his policies carefully, you might see a pattern of long term investment geared toward a lean future. His “all of the above” energy policy is actually a practical way to approach am energy cliff when nobody wants to admit there is a looming energy crunch. An everyone-gets-a-say educational reform, where states are encouraged to try out various reform approaches, is also a good way to get a diverse generation prepared for a tough future. Even his foreign policy reveals this forethought. In a future where the US can’t afford to be the world police, we will need all the worlds regions to be aligned without being directly dependent on the US.
Our general population is so amazingly shortsighted, it makes me sad that we can’t have a public debate about the (non-fanciful) future we are heading for. I wish more people could or would recognize the caliber of thought and effort Obama’s team is putting into buffering us from the consequences of our deep-seated problems (edit: or as it was originally posted “deep seeded problems.”) His policies are not necessarily what we need, but when there is no debate, the unacknowledged, between-the-lines approach is all we will get. And if he loses we won’t even get that. It will be back to a path straight over the cliff.
Strangely, what makes our problems hard to swallow is that they come from our success. We are much less violent as humans than we have ever been, and we are continuing to get more civil (Think of all the protests around the world that formed instead of wars, and the rebel groups seeking peace talks.) Our medical advances are saving ever more people and becoming more ubiquitous. And, our resource extraction/food production has become more efficient than our ability to consume (amazing to think that it is possible.) The result is overgrowth, overpopulation, and yet still increasing societal stability. We have done great things as humans.
It doesn’t always seem like it’s true, because we are so used to it, but humanity is progressing at an amazing rate. Despite the loud public whining about how bad things are, this growth has let the us get ahead, and live out our individual dreams of owning stuff and being entertained. It’s not just here, either. People all over the world have more material wealth and long term stability than ever. Over the last half century, world poverty rates have shrunk drastically, and the standard of living has improved for much of the world’s people.
Unfortunately, it has also lead to a new generation (by the real definition; people born within the 30 year peak, valley cycle) that is complacent, comfortable, and out of touch with the historic struggles that have defined humanity. This generation now assumes that an easy life (often, not even knowing that is what we have) is assured and is the natural human condition. We are delusional, in a word. (Edward Albee’s The American Dream, form 1961 is a great play about this generational legacy of delusion.) As much as this generation organizes protests for freedom and opportunity, and seeks the civil progress we all want, they are also generating an impasse.
We have become delusional to the fact that our way of life is actually an anomaly of generational success. We have lost touch with the fact that our joy-ride must come to an end, and that the piper must be paid. We are still stuck on this rock with a whole lot of people who all want more than they have, and more than the earth can provide.
Each election cycle seems to prove to me how screwed we probably are. It is not dire because we can’t solve or diminish most of our problems, but because most of us are so delusional that we can’t even recognize the signs of our dark future. In all the election hubbub, the “worst draught since the dust bowl” swept through 80% of our country and killed huge tracks of crops and natural land. No one seemed to notice. No one honestly accepts that the oceans will die, the carbon sinking tundra will completely melt, rain forests and coral reefs will be lost, the population will hit nine billion, and pollution will hit its highest levels ever all within a decade or two. The candidates we get seem to be drifting further and further away from these truths, and it is feeding the delusion.
For those who know my THT work, it was conceived of exactly 4 years ago, during the last presidential election for this very reason. We have been delusional for so long, that society is now based on it. We are upside down in our priorities and politics, and have been that way for quite a long time. In fact, probably for most of my life. Generational goals, like flying to the moon, or feeding the world, or preserving the last great places are long gone in favor of the monthly tick of the “jobs report.”
You will also know that over the last 4 years, I’ve also changed in many ways. I have been attempting to rid myself of my own latent delusions; the ones illuminated in my THT guides. I have to say it has been very tough, and it is far from complete, but the road has been a rewarding one. All of the things I enjoy like parenting, making, eating, playing, and others are so much better when they are the result of honesty, love, contemplation, and care. Four years ago, my family and I chose to stop chasing the typical American Dream, and as a result we ended up living in a place that lines up with our morality, ethics and ideals. It wasn’t a coincidence, it’s not easy, but it also isn’t an unmet Dream.
So, I guess we do face a choice about our future, and I hope more people catch on that it isn’t limited to electing a president. We can face the totality of the daunting challenges that will affect all aspects of our lives, or we can pick and choose what we want to see, and wonder years from now why it all went wrong.
If the “seed” connection from the title doesn’t make sense yet, it will in the coming weeks. I’ve been working for a while on a series of posts about a new way I have been thinking about Humanity. What if the humanity we have experienced through history thus far has just been a seed? What if humans are destined to use up the Eden we were given in order to become something larger and sustaining?
September 17th, 2012 Comments Off
At one point in my life I wanted to be a comic book artist. I know I used to draw a lot, but I’ve never really bothered keep track of what I drew or when. Now that I see this old sketch book my mom found, I remember drawing all this, and all the hopes and dreams I had when I was making them. I’m not exactly sure when I did these, but based on the last two, they were done in the years leading up to high school.
I sense a strange mix of geekiness, artistry, angst and anger in all this. I am sure my early self, the one that drew all these, would have be mortified to see my current self sticking them up on the web like this. I’m glad I’m not that kid anymore, and can look back on these drawings without the embarrassment I had in my youth. Talk about a Napoleon Dynamite, “Lyger” moment here.
It is amazing what some old drawings can stir up in ye ole’ noggin. There is so much buried down in my psyche that I don’t often access, yet is still present and influential in my personality.
September 13th, 2012 Comments Off
I just heard a song from Nirvana on that internet music site, and it brought back a few memories of the first time I heard them. This will definitely date me, as does most musical preferences for people, but maybe you’ll relate.
I was a Sophomore in high school and one of my friends let me listen to it on his portable CD player. For whatever reason, late in Spring, the idea came up to drive up to the mountains for a day of skiing. I don’t remember who brought it up, but my parents offered to drive. We woke up at 5am, one Saturday morning, and 3 of my friends came along. I had known these guys since 1st grade. We went to grammar school together and then to the same high school. By this point, though, we had started to drift apart, so it was one of those throw back trips that we all seem to need.
High school does that to kids. When we are all confronted with becoming adults, we are forced to look in ourselves and realize, or maybe decide who we will be. We start forming the sort of lives we want to lead. The four of us hadn’t hung out much for months, and hadn’t done anything like this for a year at least. That trip to the mountains would be our last outing together. We had just become too different.
For one day though, we shared some good times, and some songs on a CD player. The day of skiing was memorable for sure, too. The highlight of the day was the first run down an intermediate slope. The two of us who had skied before were a little shaky, yet we tried to give the other two some help. At the top, once we got of the lift, we were all surprised to see one of the newbies, tear off down the slope. I thought he had played us about not knowing how to sky. The other guy who knew how to sky went down after him to find out. I stayed up to help the fourth down.
When we got to the bottom, there was a great story of how he really hadn’t known how to sky, and just figured pointing them straight downhill would be simple enough. Fortunately he didn’t hit anyone, but he did crash in the middle of a bunch of people, and sprayed snow all over some lady. He also got yelled at for going too fast, and nearly killing someone. It was all good fun.
On the way home we piled into my dad’s Chevy extended cab and headed home. About 20 minutes into the 3 hour drive the CD player came out, and surprisingly it got passed around. We all got a chance to really listen to Nirvana.
Like I said, we had been drifting apart and now belonged to slightly different crowds, but the music made us all connect. There were no issues sharing and being quite while the others listened. We were sharing something important, something special. It felt good knowing we all were on the same page and felt the same way about this guy wailing away. It wasn’t so much that the music was good, but that it was our music. It was and for our generation. My parents didn’t know what we were listening to. The radio station hadn’t started playing it. Courtney Love hadn’t started defiling her husband’s music. Before all that, and Cobain’s demise, Nirvana was grunge for us gen-Xers. He wasn’t a genius, or a master, as his suicide has suggested to some. The music was just a representation of a certain sentiment at our given time.
So much music is that way, and every generation seems to have moments of clarity and voice, along with every individual. There is nothing particularly meaningful in that point, but its fun to be reminded of our youthful discoveries once in a while.
August 31st, 2012 Comments Off
It has been 10 years to the month since I last worked a nine-to-five job and sat in a cubical day in and day out. It seems like it was only a few years ago, yet it is starting to fade. It was such a pinnacle moment in my life. It scares me to know that it is so far away and obsolete, now.
Since then, I have done a few interesting things, like traveling, working at NASA on a very cool project called SOFIA, going to grad school to earn my MFA, and most importantly raising my son. In these last ten years, I have also made decisions that have slowly eaten away at the opportunities I worked to create for myself. They aren’t what you would expect though. I didn’t get into anything seedy or indulge in a vice. I have, conversely, cleaned my life up, but I am starting to realize that I am now on the wrong side of society.
Where did it all start to go wrong? I think the first sign of my downward slide was when I gave up soda. It wasn’t much at the time but proved to be a gateway. That was right around the time I left my legendary first and only “real” job as a professional services engineer. Coincidence?
The next move in my downfall was to give up cable TV. Way back, after I started in that one and only job, I had ordered cable when I knew I would have a regular salary. When the AT&T guy didn’t show up twice, I said screw it. I told myself I would never order cable again. I am now hooked to the internet 24/7, but at least I am typing out my own thoughts most of the time, and not sucking up hours and hours of TV like I used to when I was a teenager.
A year or two later I was hooked on organic food. This was before Michael Pollen was even close to being in the public eye. I’m not totally sure, but I also think this was before there was even a corporate, I mean government, USDA organic standard. I remember talking to my brother-in-law about it whenever we would get a chance to see each other. It was new and sort of revolutionary back then. A rebellious move, but I only wish I knew what it would lead to.
Now, I buy organic cotton clothing, compost all our scraps, have a garden, can fruits, have no gaming system, live as a vegetarian, and drive a Prius. How far I strayed.
Over these years, I let my sports religiosity drift, too. As a kid I had a huge sports card collection, and would pour over the box scores each and every day. I played soccer, but I followed the main stream sports without question. At some point over the last ten years, though, I became a fervent “alternative” sports practitioner and dropped my fanhood. Can you believe it? I used to love the Sharks, Giants, Niners, and even the A’s, but if you asked me, now, to name a player on any of those teams, I couldn’t do it.
I’ve gone to a different major sporting event each of the last few years since my son was born, from hockey, to baseball and now football, in an attempt to maybe rekindle something. With my son growing up, I don’t want to deny him a chance at a normal life, so I feel it is my obligation to teach him how to play all these sports, and take him to professional games. I have to tell you though, at each and every pro game we have gone to, I have felt out of place, bored, and a little scared of the fans. At the football game, I intensely felt all three.
At first, I thought all this movement away from the main stream had to do with being a parent or a stay-at-home husband. I guessed it was all the kids songs and late nights reading Thomas the Train, or singing the ABC’s, but it went back further than that.
I started to blame all the artists I got involved with in grad school. They are a deviously “Unamerican” crowd after all, but again I think the seeds were planted long before my MFA program.
As far as I can tell, my current predicament began forming all the way back in grade school. I was told I would be “somebody who could make a difference.” It doesn’t sound like much, but to a wide-eyed sensitive boy like myself, that was a very dangerous idea to suggest. It was license to be myself, act responsibly, and make decisions based on my conscience (built up to seek social justice by those same teachers.) Going through high school the pattern was there, yet no one saw it in time to confront it.
I made decisions based on what I thought was right and wrong, and tried to not hurt or judge anyone, including my parents or family. As a result, I didn’t drink or smoke. I didn’t stay out late without telling my parents. I respected my teachers and wanted to learn, even though it was fairly boring. As a result, by the time I graduated, I had a job, a graduating GPA in the high 3′s, and one friend who wasn’t anywhere near my age. I was going to a good college, and I actually believed I would get somewhere important through being smart and doing the right thing.
Fast forward to today, and you can guess how out of touch I am, and how few people I interacted with, never mind friends. I am shut in my house doing chores, playing games with my amazing son, and without a job prospect or even much of a career path. I am an artist. Yikes! I kid myself by thinking that my artwork is relevant, and that I will have more time in coming years to get it out there for the world to soak up, but we all know that my work isn’t relevant, I won’t have more time, and no one will ever really care much for what I do. Without my wife’s grace, who knows what sort of depressing suit I would be.
I am on the outside after all, and time is not on my side. I am out of touch with the common experience, and therefore my timelines are off. My work talks to a different cultural site (if it even goes beyond my head,) and as a result little of what I make is useful or meaningful to anyone.
Beyond the basic question of how I will make a living in this type of life, there is a deeper question here. It is the question that I am getting at under my jest. How close to the cultural center does a person need to be for work to be valued? I am not truly an outsider; I speak the common language, I have the same middle class background and interests, but I am also not capable of being in the here-and-now. Being current is what cultural producers/employers/curators/etc. seek. Being in the here and now is what normalcy requires, and what sanity is based on is it not?
How far afield can a person stray before they become lost from society, I wonder?
June 22nd, 2012 Comments Off
When I was younger I was really in to TV. Lots of TV! I’m pretty sure it rotted my brain, but I think it also spurred my visual imagination, and precursed some of the imaging skills I have today. As a teenager I liked the typical action movies, but I also really got into nature and technology shows. They gave me a vision of growing up and one day discovering or inventing something important for the world. Now, that hasn’t happened yet, but maybe one of these days I’ll get to it.
One of my favorite show on the Discovery Channel was an Australian show called Beyond 2000. They had segments on all the latest technological and science developments from around the world. As the 90′s progressed, the name seemed a bit passé, so they changed it to Beyond Tomorrow, but by that point the show was on its way out.
I remember seeing shows that featured techs like E-Ink, which is now in use in the B&W Kindle, wrist watch video screens (Ipod Nano) and futuristic vehicles. They had one show about the flying car, which I think is still in the works, and another one about hybrid transport trucks with aerodynamic spoilers and hydrolic, regenerative braking. Very cool and cutting edge stuff back then, and unfortunately even for today.
Nearly everything I saw on those show was in production, and at some point over the last 20 years some of it has popped up in our lives. The ones that never came to be, though, have always made me wonder about the politics and business side of what products make it out of the labs. For example: why haven’t trucking lines spent time and money upgrading their trucks. They are in the business of efficiency and energy use, so why has it taken so long to do the very, VERY simple things that save huge amounts of fuel and money. I remember from that TV show back in the 90′s that adding an aerodynamic cone to the back of a truck would save 30% in fuel costs, and a hybrid braking system another quarter. That seems HUGE, and cheap to implement. Why haven’t we seen them?
My guess has always been that fuel costs are unnaturally low in this country (A book I read on the subject as a teenager was Against Empire by Michael Parenti ), so truckers never bothered. My guess now is that there have been DMV regulations, and a set of anti-progress capitalists (An oxymoron?) that prevented anything from sticking out past the main trailer.
With the price of gas inching higher and higher with every boom-crash cycle, I suppose I was bound to see something turn up. On our trip to Arizona a few weeks ago I saw this truck, and a few others, retrofitted with some aerodynamic spoilers, presumably within DMV codes yet shaped to improve gas mileage. Finally; though not as cool looking as I had imagined.
Just think, some technology we will probably need today to beat the peak energy curve has been around for at least 20 years. What other simple techs are out there that might save our globally warmed butts? And that some schmoe buried for the sake of a quick buck?
June 15th, 2012 Comments Off
When I posted about hot dogs in my vegetarian posts I kinda made an exaggerated claim (surprise!) about people who like hot dogs not eating vegetables. This month’s issue of Sierra, as if to smack down obnoxious bloggers, has an interview with Natalie Coughlin. In it she says,
Also, my guilty pleasure is a really good hot dog. It’s funny because I eat mostly vegetarian and I’m all about health, but one of my favorite foods in the world is hot dogs, which is terrible.
She also says she is an urban farmer. That much more to like. Even more to root for this summer. Go Natalie!
May 25th, 2012 >
Since I started writing these posts on vegetarianism, I have been asked again “why [am I] a vegetarian,” asked if I “am still a vegetarian,” asked for advice about diets because I am an “expert,” agreed with, disagreed with, and generally been put at the center of some weird conversations about meat and food. I suppose that is why I write, to stir up some “food for thought” as one of my friends likes to say.
After all these posts on food and being a vegetarian you may be wondering where I am getting all this (Or simply that I am a hack, egotistically trying to make a big deal out of my latest lifestyle choice.) In my writings, you may also notice the lack of citations. It’s on purpose. I don’t link out too much in my writing anymore, because it has become a narrative. I write stories that dip in and out of logic and reason, facts and opinion, and are meant to pull you, my reader, along with my musings. That is not to say I am writing fiction, or am pulling your leg though. I just like to build a world where an idea can be stretched out for all its worth without being destroyed in a debate. Parallel thinking if you will. It’s more entertaining and informative that way.
Much of my thinking on food comes from a combination of media, observation, and experience. I think that can be a pretty powerful combination even if it doesn’t live up to scientific standards, or classification as art. This is a place of Arte de Timo after all. (Look on the About page.)
Here are some of my pivotal “sources” for my writing, and things I recommend.
Media – Books I have read other books and lots of specific articles online, but the following are the big philosophical ones.
1. The first book I read about food was Coming Home to Eat. The book deals with eating locally and thinking about where food comes from. The author took the idea of locality to the extreme by conducted an experiment where he only ate food from within 100 miles of his house in Tuscan for a whole year. The book taught me two things: 1. Think more about food, then act more on food. 2. Experimenting on yourself is fun and rewarding.
2. No conversation about food these days can start without bringing up Michael Pollen. Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto changed my way of thinking about food, as they have for millions of others. I learned to be skeptical, persistent and in depth in my eating choices. Food is a hugely complex topic that reaches everything in life. To figure food out, I have to study, and test myself. What are those chemicals? Why am I scared of them? Is organic really better?
3. The latest book that has blown my mind has been Wendel Berry’s Bringing it to the Table. This guy has been thinking and writing about food for 40 years, and he’s nailed it since the beginning. Most alternative/sustainable food ideas stem from him. Michael Pollen even admits that Berry is the original. This book paints an amazing and complete picture of farming and food, and where it all went wrong. Berry’s arguments are vivid and enchanting. We know how to live better, and it ain’t through “bigger, faster, cheaper!”
Media – Movies I’m going to just list the best of them here.
1. Forks over Knives
3. The Future of Food
5. Broken Limbs
6. Food Inc.
7. King Corn
This will seem obnoxious, but hey, that hasn’t stopped me before, but I actually watch people eat, all the time. I pay attention to the reactions people have to their food. Admittedly, judgments do surface once in a while, but that isn’t the important part, so I try not to let that get in the way of seeing what’s going on. Watching people of all ages respond, for example, to salty foods and sugary foods is very telling of their overall eating habits. So are the vegetables on a person’s plate, and how they are eaten. These observations are along the lines of how we use and see manners at the table. “Please” and “thank you,” napkins and elbows, cookies and chips really do show off how considerate and civil we are.
In addition to watching others, I also feel and think about what I am doing in comparison to others. I can’t know what others are feeling when they eat, but if I eat similar foods and a build up a few different perspectives on what that food does to a person physically and emotionally, I can start to form a profile of food and people. For example, in my observations, people who like hot dogs often don’t like to eat vegetables, presumably because they lack the intense sensations that the salts and refined sugars in the hot dogs provide. Whereas, someone like me who eats a lot of fruits and vegetables finds sugary things like hot dogs, cake and generic purple jelly unappetizing and quite unpleasant.
This is a big topic for me, but I’ll give you the key points. Two years ago I got a letter from my doctor recommending that I join a study called E-LITE. The idea of the study was to determine what life tools are required to get people to change enough to improve medical health outcomes. They divided the participants into three groups. The first got some money, were told to lose weight, and left on their own to figure it out. The second, my group, was brought in for a 3 hour session, given a scale, pedometer, DVD’s and a regiment on how to count calories and record our activities. The third group was given all the same things but were also given access to personal trainers, and brought in for personal health sessions on a regular basis. In addition to all this, the participants were tested for weight and girth, plus our blood chemistry tested every few months.
I lost 15 pounds and got in shape in the first three months, plus I had the tools, both technically and skill-wise, I needed to keep the pounds off and monitor my activity. The cool part is that I also had detailed records of my blood chemistry to go along with all the other records I had for weight, physical activity and food. I could experiment!
What I learned was that the general advice given out by doctors about lessening health risks is pretty much right; nothing much more, and not much less. What I mean is that, is that as far as blood chemistry goes and the risks we can infer from them, getting the numbers into medically healthy ranges is usually as simple as losing weight and exercising. Not a very complicated recipe, but one that gets clouded because of all the lifestyle drugs and trendy diets out there. Reduce your intake by 3500 Kcal and you will lose a pound of weight. Once I realized all this it was a matter of planning how much to lose per week, eating to my numbers, doing a lot more exorcize, and tracking the decline of my infer-able health risks like diabetes.
Since I could track my blood chemistry through the study, I could test which behaviors were most important in my body. For example, I found that weight and then exercise controlled my blood sugar. As my weight went down so did my fasting blood sugar. As I got in shape and exorcized, so did my long term blood sugar level. Exercise! Exercise! Exercise!
An interesting result about vegetarianism was that since my decision lined up with a blood drawn, I could see how it affected in my body. The result was that it controlled my cholesterol somewhat. Since I became a vegetarian, my totals have gone down quite a bit (maybe 20%), though my HDL/LDL ratio’s are off because I also became out of shape in that time.
In the two years I also experienced a lot of ups and downs that were directly related to my eating. I had mood swings when I didn’t eat enough over the course of a day, and my elbows hurt if I was going low on calories for too many days in a row. I have done a lot of little tests involving salads and fruit, wheat flour vs. corn, caffeine or not, and generally how to balance hunger vs. healthiness. Together with my commitment to farmer’s market foods, gardening, and cooking and canning fresh foods, I think I have built up some good experiences with how to eat really well, maintain energy and health, and address many of the social concerns I have with food production. Answers? Maybe not, but experiences, I do have.
A great example of this knowledge comes from two restaurants I’ve eaten at lately. The first was an organic bistro in Paso Robles called Thomas Hill Organics. The other is a South Indian place here in Santa Clara called Dasaprakash South Indian. The first was a new place, I think. We obviously have never been there, but the place also seemed like it just opened. There were too many servers, and they were all a bit excited and nervous. Without getting into a lot of detail, the food was good enough, but my vegan pizza just didn’t fill me up. It wasn’t that it was too small, but the sprinkling of lentils and thin crust felt like the cooks had no experience actually being vegan or vegetarian. It gave me the impression they cooked it for a steoreotype that in their head about who vegans are.
It was a meal that followed the letter of the law of veganism, but lacked any sense of meality. The rest of the menu had steaks and salmon, etc. so vegetarian food wasn’t the focus. It felt like they were aware that their clients might be vegan or vegetarian, and so provide several options, but were also going to punish any vegans or vegetarians by making us/them order several items and glasses of wine to actually feel like a meal was had. It was uninspired to say the least.
Compare that to the vegetarian Indian restaurant, and everything about a vegetarian meal changes. That Indian meal made me feel like a king. It was fiery, complex and rich. We ordered three combo type platters and at the end of it all my stomach was screaming at me both because I ate a lot and because it was so confused about the ten thousand flavors I had just eaten. Both meals were comparable in price, service and portions. I was equally hungry going into both, and would say I like pizza and Indian food equally, so the difference was the experience of the meal making. The Indian restaurant wasn’t strictly traditional (we got served what was basically Mexican salsa on one of the plates), but it made sense because it had thousands of years of experience behind it. The organic vegetarian French bistro food was…, well, new.
Is a vegetarian diet right for you? After getting this far, my hope is that the answer isn’t simply “yes” or “no,” but maybe something with more nuance. Maybe the time isn’t right for you, or your lifestyle doesn’t give you the extra time to prepare better meals everyday. Or, you do so much exercise and have so little time to cook, that high calorie meats are where you have to be right now. My hope is that you will want to study your food a little bit, make some observations about how it affects you, then build up some new experiences with what it could be for you at this point in your life.
As some men realize, Polish sausages for dinner every night may have been tolerable in college, but will definitely cause problems after thirty. Look forward to changing your diet. It’s good for you, and you might just be better for it.