"Vulnerability is the key to longevity"

Eddie Smith, from 2016:

Modern survival is antithetical to everything evolution programmed us for. Today we have to:

  1. Eat much less than is available

  2. Move much more than we have to

  3. Take many more daily risks than we have to

Today, complacency is the tiger rustling in the bushes. Vulnerability is the key to longevity.

Too often, I equate vulnerability with fragility. They’re not the same thing.

On keeping a one-line-a-day diary

Sophie McBain

There is no space for unnecessary detail. It also takes only a few minutes to write, making it the perfect journal for people with busy lives, short attention spans and limited self-discipline.

I just finished keeping a 5-year diary and this article prompted me to restart it. One of the more mundane but helpful uses I found for it was tracking the movies/TV series we saw each year, each book I read, etc. When I look back at the list of 2012 movies, I find I cannot recognize a majority of the titles. Most of the movies we see — and their titles — are not that memorable.

I wonder why people who advocate keeping a journal feel the need to cite research on the beneficial effects of keeping a journal. Since McBain is writing for publication, she probably had a word count to hit beyond the simple telling of her story and what she found beneficial.  Still, I have the feeling that keeping a record of one’s days is something one is internally prompted to do because they want to do it. Keeping a journal because you think it will be good for you is like buying a treadmill to lose weight; both objects very quickly become tombstones in the cemetery of good intentions.

I found that, even with my limited self-discipline, I could not maintain a daily diary practice. I tended to more easily record the details of visitors, events, trips, and so on. Re-reading these brief entries sometimes call forth memories, emotions, and sensations I did not know I had.

But too many of my days were mundane — the daily work routine, the commute, nothing of note that was worth noting. I suspect I was making the diary a too-literal record of my day. If I hit a day where nothing much happened, then I think I will fill the space with something. Anything. Three gratitudes, a quote, my state of mind, a haiku, a doodle. Every day a line.

Graveyard vs Cemetery

Driving down backroads from the Jordan Lake Christmas Tree Farm, we passed a white clapboard church with a gravel parking lot and a graveyard. On my thematic purity rating for backroad country churches, it rated a 9 out of 10. (Points are deducted for paved parking lots, brick churches, and modern architecture.)

But the sight made me wonder: what’s the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery?

We learn from Jakub Marian that for centuries, burials were the province of the church; thus, part of the church property was dedicated to yards with graves. Graveyards are therefore associated with churches.

But as the population grew, the need for burial sites exceeded the churches’ capacity. Towns and cities established much larger, standalone burial sites separate from churches and called them cemeteries.

So, as Marian says, a “graveyard is a type of cemetery, but a cemetery is usually not a graveyard.“

Cemetery is the older word, a Latinate form of the Greek koimētērion “dormitory,” from koiman “put to sleep.” According to Marian, graveyard is a later word that derives from the “Proto-Germanic *graban, meaning ‘to dig,’ and it is related to ‘groove’ but not to ‘gravel.’”

There is something satisfyingly heavy, sonorous, and Anglo-Saxon about the plainer “graveyard” — with overtones of solemnity (“a grave aspect”), the long and short “a” sounds bridged by that vibrating “v”, the hard ending of that “d.” The word’s sound and its image are well-matched. Cemetery is almost too pretty a word for what it describes.

[We recently toured the nearby Maplewood Cemetery, courtesy of Preservation Durham. Three large city-sized blocks of burial sites, mausoleums, funeral urns, and the like; you see the history of Durham’s street names in the headstones. When the cemetery was established, it was on the outskirts of a small town; now, a growing city surrounds it with apartments, subdivisions, commerce, churches, and a bit of Duke Forest. A portion of each block was set aside for a Potter’s Field, and — it perhaps goes without saying — the rich and well-to-do’s plots are always on higher ground.]

What I believe, for now

I believe in going to the funeral.

I believe in going to the wedding.

I believe some occasions, though ceremonial, can be important to the emotional health of the individual and the community.

I believe in making order out of chaos -- or, if possible, making the chaos a little less chaotic.

I believe there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in Stoic philosophies.

I believe we are physical creatures evolved to live on this planet, in this universe, through a million-years long process. I believe we need to respect the soft animal within and what it needs. I believe the brain is a useful organ, but the socially programmed ego-mind can be a trickster.

I believe art is essential but not necessary.  

I believe art, creativity, spirituality, and deep religious feeling all draw from the same well and can evoke similar energy in its beholders.

I believe if I had started writing fiction seriously 30 years ago, and persisted, I would be a different person today. I believe if I had persisted if only for 10 years in any of the many artistic projects I took on, I would be a different person today. I believe I was a different person then and that I am a different person today. I believe I will be a different person next year. 

I believe whenever I feel envy or regret that I am feeling my thought in the moment. I believe that negative energy carries no truthful information for me and can be safely ignored. 

I believe there is a spiritual dimension to life that has been expressed throughout the centuries in such sacred texts as the Tao te Ching, the Baghavad Gita, the Dhammapada, the Torah, the Koran, the Bible, and other similar documents. I believe they all point to spiritual truths using the language of their tribes and times.

I believe mythologies are also sacred texts that express life's spiritual patterns and human psychology as noticed by sages and enlightened individuals over generations. I believe if you read them as poetry rather than as prose, as metaphors rather than instructions, as ambiguous rather than declarative, they will always have something new to teach.

I believe all sacred texts and mythologies are true or all have their own way in to the Truth.

I believe the Tao the Ching to be "my" Bible. 

I believe there are modern sacred texts also, but we're too close to know which they are. I believe time will tell.

I believe that, physically and psychologically, we make emotional decisions and then reason backward to justify and explain them. 

I believe thinking is a power tool that, when applied to matters of the soul or psyche, can make life worse or at least less fun.

I believe our human psychology and social programming separate us from an experience of the Divine. I believe we create our own experiences of the physical world and we call those experiences "reality." I believe that creating those experiences doesn't make them hurt less. I believe I can recognize that I am making up that experience in the moment and I can choose to see where that takes me. 

I believe that what we call "God" is the Tao, the Divine, Universal Mind, the Formless, the Source Energy that is the resonating frequency of the universe. Another word for this divine creative and generative energy is Love. I believe when we feel Love, we feel at one with the universe and everything.

I believe all matter in this physical universe was created from this Formless energy, so all of us -- even Donald Trump -- are connected to the formless and the eternal. I believe we can acknowledge this as truth or simply carry on as if it were true and we should never stop looking for evidence to prove or disprove. I believe knowing this should not stop us from doing what needs to be done to change conditions in the physical world, or our little piece of it, that need changing, for the highest good of all.

I believe that voting matters, particularly in local elections. 

I believe there are few things better in life than a good laugh. 

I believe in Science as a verb, as a process for analyzing this material world. I believe that expecting a Final Answer from Science on any question -- from diets to dark matter -- is a foolish expectation because organized, formalized knowledge is always being revised. 

I believe that what some people call Science is more properly called Engineering.

I believe scientists or engineers who have spent their lives studying a specific topic know some things to be true, even though they cannot prove them empirically. 

I believe in writing and mailing birthday cards, Christmas cards, and sympathy cards to friends and family. I believe doing this for its own sake is satisfying.

I believe the understanding that underlies the 3 Principles to be about as close to the spiritual, philosophical, and psychological truth as I understand it at this time. I believe I have no other need for a self-help or therapeutic method than to continue studying the implications of the 3 Principles. I believe there is also a spiritual component to the 3 Principles that, when it goes missing, makes the whole less than its parts.

I believe I have not had the "Holy Effing Mother of God" moment that some 3 Principles followers have talked about. I believe it will come when it will come.

I believe I am still asleep and have yet to wake up.

I believe that I feel and live better when I have less on my mind. 

I believe in randomness and synchronicity as phenomenon that point to an order I cannot separate from chaos. I believe Tarot cards and coin flips are as good a way to make decisions and know myself as anything else.

I believe writing is "thinking on paper" (or onscreen). I believe publishing what I write -- even to a blog at the end of the internet -- is essential for my creative and spiritual sake, if no one else's. 

I believe the Universal Mind, the Formless, the Tao, Source Energy is impersonal and indifferent to us and to what we want, but when we move in harmony with it, then it provides us with what we need in the moment. I believe that the inspiration I feel to create comes from the Formless, bursts into this material universe as thoughts I cannot control, and that my state of personal mind -- call it consciousness -- will make those thoughts look more or less real to me. I believe I can be the thinker, and the one who observes the thinker.  I believe when I identify with the latter, and do not take my thinking personally, I generally feel and perform better. 

I believe there can be snakes in the garden and that floods will come, so it's wise to be prepared. I believe if I let myself be led by intuition and insights "from the blue," that I will be better prepared for feast or famine than if I relied on reason alone.

I believe I am less fun than I used to be. I believe that when I ignore that type of thought, refuse to take it personally, and let it float by, another thought will come along. I believe that while I'm waiting for that next thought, I can chop wood, carry water, draw a picture, watch a Youtube video, or clean the papers from my office floor. 

I believe the Universe respects energy rather than justice. I believe the perfection and pleasure is in the doing. 

I believe people can do evil things in the world and to other people. I believe people can do good things in the world and for other people. I believe we have the capacity to choose either path. I believe when I'm in tune with the Tao or Source Energy, I will make the choice that's right for that moment.

I believe this list is inadequate, incomplete, thinly argued, and likely inconsequential. I believe it is the best I can do now, at this time. I believe this list points to something I cannot see or articulate. 

I believe some of what I wrote here is truthful. I believe some of it just sounded good to my ear. 

Audiobook: Mrs. Dalloway

My only experience with Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway is the exquisite 1997 movie. I'd tried listening to this audiobook version three or four times, and could never get past the first 30 minutes.

  <img src="http://tempblogfood.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/67ece-mrs-dalloway.jpg" alt="" />

For whatever reason -- a quieter mind, a longer commute -- I found the rhythm of it on this go-round, aided by the actress Juliet Stevenson's beautifully measured and performed reading. 

This is the first fiction I've experienced by Virginia Woolf. Listening to the book's numerous stream-of-consciousness passages felt very natural, with Stevenson dipping in and out the stream so elegantly I barely noticed the prose's bracing modernity and technique. 

What surprised me as a first-time reader was how much of the story was told, rather than shown, and, moreover, told through the consciousnesses of 20 or more separate characters. Sliding from one character's viewpoint to another in the course of a scene yielded deftly etched portraits of all the characters. The way Sally, Richard, Elizabeth, Peter, Miss Kilman, Lady Bruton all comment on Clarissa limns both her and them. Hugh Whitbread's shortcomings are funnier when detailed via the successive thoughts and impressions of Richard Dalloway, Lady Bruton, and Lady Bruton's stiff secretary Miss Brush, who despises him.

It's a book in which much is remembered and gone over, pondered and reconsidered, but in which not much happens, at least to the Dalloways and their set. The plot is minimal, there are no "stakes" to speak of. Ursula Le Guin wrote that we need to think of stories as having shapes and structures different and more interesting than the standard pyramidal rising action, climax, falling action. Mrs. Dalloway is a wonderful example of that. The individual streams merge to form a splashing river, with turns of phrase, images, and motifs shining out and taking my breath away when least expected.

And when I say "not much happens," that does not apply to the story of Septimus Warren Smith and his wife Lucrezia. Smith and Mrs. Dalloway were evidently intended as "doubles," according to Woolf, though they never meet and she only overhears the story of his suicide. 

Yet without Smith and Rezia, I think the novel would be only half as good, technically sterling but emotionally limited, as Clarissa and Peter's memories of their youthful summers and the winding down of their joys and possibilities are the sadnesses simply of time passing and growing older. Not insignificant themes yet not lapel-grabbers, either.

But Septimus. Poor Septimus. It's like he wandered in from a different story and refuses to leave until he's said his peace and shared his hallucinatory revelations. He lives in his hallucinations as Clarissa lives in her memories, but the anguish his shell shock causes Rezia, and the blinkered mishandling of his case by well-meaning medical men, brings emotional devastation and tragedy to the story. For me, its importance warps the gravity of the narrative flow. The description of Clarissa's party afterward feels like a dutiful epilogue; life goes on, yes, Clarissa has her epiphany, yes, but something vital has left the book. 

And too: I was surprised at how quickly the scene of Septimus' suicide went, at how little time Woolf spends exploring the aftermath compared to what one might expect today. Rezia sadly accepts that this has happened and is given an unasked-for sedative by the doctor. Peter Walsh, walking to his hotel, hears the sound of an ambulance, and another stream enters the river. It's a breathtaking moment.

Listening to this book became a thrilling experience, in its way, as I sought opportunities to spend more time with this book, its characters, and its world. I'm looking forward to hearing it again. 

Source: Naxos Audiobooks, via Audible.com


Mom's Day Memory

At breakfast yesterday with my parents, my brother and his family, I asked about the first home we grew up in, an 800 square foot bungalow in Garner, NC. My mother remembered a story about the place that neither David nor I could recall. 

She and Dad woke up one night to hear some strange sounds coming from the kitchen. They went to investigate and saw that David and I had found where the soda crackers were stored in the food cabinet, had strewn soda crackers all over the floor, and were crunching them under our feet. 

She said what made it so funny was that we were not saying anything. We were very seriously walking around the kitchen floor, crunching the crackers under our feet.

"Did you spank them?" Melissa asked.

"We just laughed. It was so funny," my mother said.

Happy Mother's Day, mom.

Photo: Lone Peony

Taken by Liz with her iPhone 7, Sunday afternoon, on the kitchen counter. The only peony this year.

  <img src="http://tempblogfood.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/d4a7e-lone_peony.jpg" alt="" />

In So Many Words

Richard Dalloway leaves his pompous colleague Hugh as they exit a jewelry store. Richard is struck by a desire to bring home a gift for his wife, Clarissa.

But he wanted to come in holding something. Flowers? Yes, flowers, since he did not trust his taste in gold; any number of flowers, roses, orchids, to celebrate what was, reckoning things as you will, an event; this feeling about her when they spoke of Peter Walsh at luncheon; and they never spoke of it; not for years had they spoken of it; which, he thought, grasping his red and white roses together (a vast bunch in tissue paper), is the greatest mistake in the world. The time comes when it can’t be said; one’s too shy to say it, he thought, pocketing his sixpence or two of change, setting off with his great bunch held against his body to Westminster to say straight out in so many words (whatever she might think of him), holding out his flowers, “I love you.”

Upon meeting Clarissa, he holds the roses out to her:

(But he could not bring himself to say he loved her; not in so many words.)

Instead, they sit and talk of the events of their day. He reaches out to hold her hand. 

He had not said “I love you”; but he held her hand. Happiness is this, is this, he thought.

I'm listening to a lovely reading of Mrs. Dalloway by the actress Juliet Stevenson. It's the third or fourth time I've tried listening to the book and I finally gave in to it on this go-round. I'm loving it. This little domestic scene of a long-married couple, comfortable in their silences, I heard today and my heart filled up. 


5 Updates and 1 Swivel

The Updates

Backups Update

The Time Machine backups to the Time Capsule are running flawlessly. I manually run the backup every Sunday morning.

The Backblaze initial backup is still running. I blame our lousy <1Mbps upload speed; also, I only run it full out when we’re not here. So it’s only running maybe 12 hours a day. Still, progress is progress.

The 5+ year old Western Digital 2TB drive is still connected to this Mac and it appears to still work, but I should just unplug it and recycle it. I should set up the newer 4TB drive, partition it, have Time Machine running continuously in one portion and set up a Carbon Copy Clone in the other partition. 

I should, but I haven’t.

At this time, I have no interest in spending time and money on a NAS device, though that seems the way of the future for file hoarders like myself.

Diet Update

I’m hovering at 210 lbs., neither gaining nor losing. I’m not practicing any particular eating strategy, apart from starting my 8-hour eating window at about 1:30 or 2 pm, and fasting once or twice a week.

I will try another stab at a full 3-day Potato Hack next week. Can I break through my 1.5-day limit?

CriticalMAS, in his post celebrating a full year of being 25 lbs. lighter, turned me on to the book Volumetrics. I have placed a hold at the library for this. I also like his Peasant Diet idea. 

Last week, I went back to my old Slow Carb lunch meals of chicken breast, lentils, and veg (splashed with apple cider vinegar, Tabasco, and seasonings). I found adding more chicken to the lunch kept me satisfied through the afternoon, with no crashing and no cravings. So my partial success with this lunch last year may have been due to not eating enough protein.

Fitness Update

Not walking 10,000 steps/day, not even close, some days not even half that. The nicer weather makes walking around the lake at work more attractive. My current audiobook is Mrs. Dalloway and that would go nicely with a walk.

Still alternating the kettlebell routines my coach mapped out for me, two or three times a week. Have been using the 35-lb. bell and that’s a workout; still not bored with it yet, still requires my full attention.

On Sunday, I did the 7-Minute workout (I use the Johnson & Johnson iOS app) just to vary my routine and see how I’d do. My goal was to do 2 sets of the workout, but I crapped out about a third of the way into the second set. This short, simple, high-intensity workout kicked my ass. My muscles are still sore.

What does this tell me? I’m not as fit as I’d like to think. (I’m fitter than I would be if I didn’t do all this stuff, though.) Adding the 7-minute workout to my regular kettlebell workouts to vary the conditioning is a good idea.

I realized recently with a shock that I’ve not been to a yoga class in maybe 10+ years. I need to get back to that; my muscles and posture would love me for it. 

Productivity Update

We met with a financial planner recently and I was shocked at how ill-prepared I was in pulling my info together.

To pull together what I needed for the meeting, I emptied my paper inbox into various piles on the floor and it was shameful, SHAMEFUL, a floor full of shame for me and me alone. Piles of paper. Months of postponed decisions. A midden of trapped energy. Sorting through all that paper, finding homes for everything, setting up some simple filing or even paperless systems so I feel on top of what’s coming in – that needs to go on my Now page.

Speaking of my Now page: I’ve stalled on the video editing project. My inspiration for it is not high right now. I could attack it from a point of low inspiration, but based on my experience with the last video, I know I’d have to redo it all and start over. I will wait for the carousel to circle back and then jump on the horse when my mood about the project is higher.

Diarizing Update

Still writing the 5-lines-a-day for our weekend exploits, but not bothering to record daily stuff.

Not using the 1-second daily video capture. Though I probably will when we go on vacation – that would be a neat souvenir.

Up till yesterday I had a pretty good record of blogging daily. But lately I’ve been splashing in the shallows, reposting links or adding to the Commmonplace Book quotes, settling for the good-enough post. (Lowering your standards is an underrated strategy.) 

We were so tired from our busy weekend that I decided to relax my self-imposed daily-blogging rule and think about what I wanted to do next with the blog.

Hence, the swivel.

The Swivel

The definition I like is that a swivel is omnidirectional, whereas a pivot is one-dimensional.

One of the Now page items I don’t refer to much in this blog is the Three Principles. The Principles are a form of spiritual psychology I’ve been reading and thinking about for the past 5 years or so.

I was thinking of starting an anonymous blog to do a bit of writing about the Principles. But to make the most of my Now goals of blogging daily and continuing my Principles self-study, I will start bringing the spiritual side of my life and thought to this blog.

I am frankly uncomfortable about this because I feel I can barely articulate my thoughts and feelings on this topic. I had a coach a few years ago give me the homework to “write something someone might criticize.” Spirituality is that topic for me. 

The blog will still feature ephemera and whatever catches my fleeting attention, it will still be a logbook and catch-all, but it will also start reflecting other interests and become a little more personal.

In Praise of the Small Town Library | Literary Hub

If you don’t happen to live near a college or a bookstore, if your relatives aren’t bookish, the public library is literary culture in its entirety.

Steven Kurutz’s longish memory piece (about 12-15 minutes to read) is a love letter to his small-town Pennsylvania library and how it made him the person and writer he became. 

The first public library I remember visiting was the one-room Garner Public Library on Main Street, with I think a smallish room to the side where the magazines were. I remember it as large, though that is probably childhood memory playing a trick.

I remember first seeing The Maltese Falcon at a movie night there, with one of those loud reel-to-reel monstrosities on a small white screen. It was wonderful. When I got into the Doc Savage pulp adventure novels in my early teens, this little library – incredibly – had Philip Jose Farmer’s strangely uber-serious fictional biography of Doc Savage. How did those small-town librarians know what I wanted when I wanted it?

A tiny place, but a dear one. They moved into a much nicer metal-and-glass building beside Town Hall, with more room for more books and a community room, and it became a place for the bookish and introverted among us to hang out. But it was never as cozy. 


This headless robotic cat pillow will wag its way into your heart - The Verge

Susan Weinschenk’s talk at TriUXPA the other night on the future of human-technology interaction surfaced some intoxicating ideas.

One of them was that, as humans, we anthropomorphize our devices and machines. We build relationships with them (i.e., Eliza), even name them. As Alexa and Siri devices proliferate, we should expect devices to encourage more relationship-building. (We should also expect voice-control to be the interface of the near-future, so start practicing now.)

The technology will get better at anticipating or reacting to human expressions and actions. But as these devices get better, we can expect those people who have difficulty maintaining person-to-person relationships to prefer programmed familiarity.

Susan demoed the video for Qoobo – “the headless robotic cat pillow” – that I hope is an evolutionary path leading off a high cliff and deep into a bottomless crater of dark. It is one of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen – surely its makers are having a laugh?

I shared this Verge article with Liz, who said this about the video: 

Love that they say “hate the unconditional love?” - there’s irony for you. Also, I can’t fathom why they couldn’t have included a head too. Creepy and unnatural! 

Photo: Cafeteria Menu Board

On my way to tonight's TriUXPA event, I grabbed an early supper at my favorite place to eat in Raleigh: the one and only K&W Cafeteria in Cameron Village. There are other K&Ws around, but this one is the homiest and the sweetest. Look at those choices -- what's not to like??

Backups update

With the network problems seemingly taken care, we were still plagued with occasional, maddening slowdowns when watching Netflix or even just browsing on our devices.

But when I shut down the iMac or put it to sleep, the network would suddenly leap to life or become more stable. Hmmm.

I’ve been running Backblaze since mid-January and it’s still doing its initial backup, so it says. I noticed I had its performance to Faster Backup, which meant a slower network. My ignorance of Backblaze preference settings comes to the fore. Some Googling around clued me in to what I needed to do so the uploads would not affect us while we are trying to get stuff done online.

So I have set Backblaze to back up from 11pm-6am, when we’re sleeping. And while it’s backing up, I set it to perform faster backups – this will saturate our little DSL line but that’s OK, we’re not using it at night. We have a minuscule upload rate, but I’m hoping these new settings help finish the job while not inconveniencing us.


If you move a meeting forward, what does that really mean? | Oliver Burkeman | The Guardian

All of which is a reminder of how odd it is that we think of time using spatial metaphors at all – indeed, that it seems virtually impossible not to. Ask me about the coming month and I can’t help picturing a sequence of little boxes, like a calendar; ask me what I did yesterday and my eyes shoot upwards, as I consult a “space” somewhere behind my head. Your specific images may not match mine, but anthropologists suggest that the basic metaphor – “time is space” – is a cultural universal. Which is a pity, in a way, because I’m pretty sure it makes our experience of time more anguished than it needs to be.

Mark Forster wrote in one of his books about “spaciousness” being a quality of life he valued. When talking of how we move through the day, “spaciousness” evokes a different feeling than “cramped.”

As Burkeman says, time as space is a useful metaphor. Time is money, is another. An academic uses time the way a sculptor uses clay is another metaphor I’ve heard.

At this point in my development, metaphors are useful until they’re not. They’re fun to talk about and they can lead to insights sometimes, but it’s useful also to know when to let them go. And to know that they’re momentary thoughts.

“Time” does not really exist, the way trees and cars and physical bodies do. It’s a concept humans have made up because it’s useful to keep the trains running and we know when to celebrate birthdays, but time and its passing is a thought we create for ourselves. The way time can pass quickly or slowly to us – and differently for someone else in the same circumstance – is a clue that time is a thought we’re paying attention to (or not) in the moment.

As the mystics tell us, there is no past and no future. There is only now. What happens to the time-management industrial complex when there is only now? As someone for whom time management has been my shadow religion for nearly 30 years, this is something I’m pondering quite a bit.

Emergency funds

The Two Cents column on emergency funds has the good, standard advice offered by financial planners and investors. 

There's a 1-3-6 guideline for deciding how much to save, with a link on the page to a different article offering a 3-6-9 guideline

Of course, this assumes you have enough money to squirrel away to being with. Most of my adult life was spent at interesting but lower-paying jobs and paying off credit card debt racked up during periods of unemployment. If I had enough cash to contribute to my 401K and cover my bills, anything extra went to paying off the credit card.

It is only fairly recently that I reached a certain comfort level with how much I have in the bank, but I will always feel I started too late and saved too little.

The YNAB blog has its own take on do you really need an emergency fund. YNAB, an online budgeting application, stands for "You Need a Budget"; I started using it about 1.5 years ago and wish I'd known about it years earlier. It changed my financial life (but that's a story for another blog post).

I thought the YNAB article more applicable to my situation than the Two Cents piece. As the YNAB writer notes, and I've seen in my own finances, the more I'm tuned in to my priorities and budget categories, the less need I have of a line item for emergencies. 

If an emergency car repair or dermatology visit results in a surprise bill in the hundreds of dollars, I now have enough saved in those categories to cover the expense.  So emergencies are covered by my "true expenses" categories, where expenses are variable, hard to predict, but tend to be outsized.

Having enough money to cover an unexpected expense is a good feeling, one I've not had for most of my adult life, and I savor it.

"I need to figure that out..."

Over the years, I have set a few mental triggers for myself that let me know my thinking is revved up and running away with me. 

One of them is when I notice I'm talking to myself, either letting my in-my-head voice loose or carrying on my side of an argument that either has happened or has yet to happen.

Another is when I hear myself say "I need to figure that out..." This is usually a signal to me that I am in my head, my thinking is revved up, and I need to take a step back from the situation.

Saying "I need to figure it out" is like saying "I need to think about it more," which is usually the last thing I need to do. When my mood is low, thinking about the problem just makes me feel worse. In fact, my feelings are an indicator that I should avoid actively thinking about the problem. 

I like the description of thinking as a power tool, like a drill. A drill is useful for specific tasks, but it's not something to be used every day, as we would use a hammer or a screwdriver. Thinking is useful for planning a trip, troubleshooting a DSL connection -- practical stuff. But thinking about concepts like my career, my life, my place in the world -- the thinking there gets dicey and not to be trusted. 

Now, when I hear myself say that trigger phrase, it's my cue to stand up, walk around, breathe deeply, get some blood flowing, change up what I'm focusing on -- distract myself, in other words. Later on, an insight or next step may pop into my head when there is less thinking on my mind, and then I'm over the hump. 

Update: Dr. Amy Johnson, author of The Little Book of Big Change, posted a video circling around this question of "figuring things out."  


Can a Male Artist Still Paint a Female Nude? | The Cut

While feminist art critics have for decades pointed out the shortcomings of the “male gaze,” the post-#MeToo reckoning with the art world’s systemic sexism, its finger-on-the-scale preference for male genius, has given that critique a newly powerful force. And the question of the moment has become: Is it still an artistically justifiable pursuit for a man to paint a naked woman?

I remember some 30-odd years ago reading John Berger's Ways of Seeing and the two pages displaying female nudes, looking back at the viewer who is looking at them. Male nudes have never figured as much, except, as one of the quoted artists observes, Jesus naked on the cross.

The article, by Michael Slenske and Molly Langmuir, is in two parts. The first interviews male painters who continue to paint female nudes while the second enlists seven female artists to talk about men and women painting nude women and the effects of current -- or in the case of Judy Chicago, past -- events. 

But before you read, scroll down to the third part, titled "Duelling Gazes," and study the gallery of female nudes. No artist names are attributed to the pictures. Instead, you are asked to guess who created each image: a man or a woman? Most all of the paintings are discussed in the article so you will eventually puzzle out who painted what. I wish I had done that before reading this article, to see how my own biases are calibrated.

I liked this quote from Marilyn Minter, whose paintings ran afoul of anti-pornography feminists in the last decades of the last century:

“I was a traitor to feminism, but my side won,” she says. “Now it’s the return of all that.” Her larger point? “There are no safe places: This is the world, it’s pretty awful, and it’s pretty great at the same time. But the minute you try to pin down sexuality, it’s going to spit in your face. It’s totally personal, it’s fluid. Trying to make rules is a waste of energy. Progressives can take each other apart — we do it all the time — when the bigger enemy is these neo-Nazis. That’s where the energy should be, not trying to police fucking paintings.”

The Guiding Greene Light of Harry Crews

“Graham Greene—you’ve probably heard me quote before, because god knows, it’s true—’The writer is doomed to live in an atmosphere of perpetual failure.’ There it is. There it is. Nah, you write things and write things—write a book for instance—and write and write and write and write and write, and you know, it’s not—every writer writes with the knowledge that nothing he writes is as good as it could be,” Crews told Dangerous Minds in 2010.


Sometimes the Best Way to Read is to Mark Up the Book | Literary Hub

In order to understand writing, I have to annotate it. I started with Hopkins. I bought a used edition of his selected poetry and prose, and started writing in the margins of the beige pages. This wasn’t defacing; this was an act of communion.

One of the joys for me of second hand books is reading the marginalia. It’s not always clever or profound, but sometimes I see the conversation, the interrogation, the connections made, between a reader and the text and it can be thrilling. I remember reading somewhere that Coleridge’s annotations and marginalia were so impressive that friends and patrons would pay him to read and annotate books that they would then keep as cherished keepsakes in their personal libraries.

I have a few books that so captured me I had to create my own index in the back of the book and underlined or scribbled in the margins beside a line or paragraph that unsettled me or caused me to see things in a different light. Guy Claxton’s Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind is one such book that leaps to mind. 

But Nick Ripatrazone is not so much in dialogue with the text he’s reading; instead, he’s making marks on the page to understand how the words make poetry. It’s a sign of my own ignorance and innocence that it never occurred to me to annotate a poem this way, but of course it makes perfect sense.

Fiction writers are advised to do the same thing: copy out by hand or keyboard a short story or even a novel that means something to you. (Harry Crews meticulously studied and typed out the whole of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.) By feeling every comma and period under your fingers, you’re engaging with the text not as a dreamer, but as a student, an apprentice.

The nearest thing I’ve done to what Ripatrazone describes is when I used to act. My script would be marked with blocking, underlined emphases, and – whenever I got a speech – breaking the long passage down into smaller passages with hash marks, finding a rhythm both musically and emotionally that the words could travel on. 

As pretty as a pristine edition of a book can be, there’s something about a book that’s been argued with, pored over, and written in that makes that book way more interesting.

Nancy for a new age

Orange Crate Art's ongoing coverage of the Nancy comic strip -- from the acclaimed Fantagraphics book on how to read Nancy to the recent changeover of the daily strips to artist Olivia Jaimes -- convinced me to start reading the strip. (See all his Nancy posts on his Pinboard page.)

I read this week's strips and also like what he praises: its dryness, its cleverness, its hipness to what a kid and an audience would know about the current world. Tom the Dancing Bug's sarcastic awareness of comics tropes seems an influence, also.

OCA also alerted me to the AVClub article on the controversy surrounding the changeover to Jaimes from the former daily artist Guy Gilchrist, who is still doing the Sunday strip. Fans tend to the conservative, so it's understandable that those who knew what to expect from a daily Nancy strip now don't know what they're going to get. But that's what I find exciting.



Soviet film posters of the '50s and '60s

The Guardian web site runs an online gallery of pictures or images on a theme. The movie posters here reflect the thaw under Khrushchev, though some of the movies themselves continued the East vs. West propaganda struggle and the rightness of the Soviet path. A few evoke Socialist Party poster images but you can see the designers straining for a bolder, more experimental style.

They don't quite shake a literalism to the human figure and most lack a strong central image to anchor the composition. By contrast, Saul Bass's striking poster designs for Vertigo and Anatomy of a Murder make bold statements that stop you dead and evoke a sense of the movie without directly illustrating an event. The Soviet posters feel more tentative, yet there is a quiet mood and craft to some of them that invite the eye to stop and linger. 

I love the red and black contrasts of 25 Baku Commissars, the scratchboard effect of Black Sunglasses, and the leaf-print/snowflake designs surrounding the couple in Young and Green.

But if I had to pick one to take home with me and put on a wall, I think it would be Black Seagull: the image's woodcut nature, the contrasting black-and-yellow palette, the stiff lines of the dress folds indicating movement, the primacy of the female image as the plane draws near -- they all get my attention.

Black seagull

Don't fight the system -- create a new one

You never change anything by fighting the existing. To change something, build a new model and make the existing obsolete.
— Buckminster Fuller

A friend of a friend is a priest in a progressive area. He is very innovative in his methods to help people in his community who are in need. 

In cases of injustice, his attitude is to not fight the system, because that just causes the system to entrench further and – worse – it defines what you’re doing in terms of the system. The established system controls the terms of the debate.

Instead, he prefers to create his own system, with its own approaches and strategies. If you create a new system that is in integrity with your values, and it produces better results than the old system, then you (and maybe others) will use the better system more often. The new system takes over without a struggle and the old system loses its authority. No battles are needed, only preferences expressed.

It takes more creativity and courage to work this way. You are deliberately stepping outside everyone’s boundaries of certainty into the chaos of uncertainty. Yet, it’s from that chaos that new, creative thinking arises.

Bringing this down to the level of my obsessions, I see old systems at work in the self-improvement realm with established diets, fitness regimens, productivity, etc. New systems come along – like the Bullet Journal – to become established systems in their own right. 

I have tended to follow established systems due to the lure of the “sure thing,” only to often experience mixed results. I’m glad I did them, because I learned more about the domain and how I operate within those rules. And sometimes, that system produced exactly the results I wanted.

But in other areas, I think I may be better off walking in uncertainty and seeing what new thinking emerges.