Diary, 8/5 to 8/10/19

Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

The author, looking fat and depressed

{8/5/19}  Weight 221.6 or 222.0.  Sometimes my bathroom scale provides two different readings.  Later, 221.2.  “Later” means “after making a dookie for Mommy.”

Nobody showed up for the Hemlock Club, so I gave it up after two hours.  Pablo called while I was on the bus headed for home; he wanted me to return to Dagny’s, but I refused.  He said he would come by later, but didn’t.

Well, I put together the bathroom cabinet, and it was easier than I’d expected.  Yawn.

Watched Intolerable Cruelty from the Coen brothers.  There were some big laughs, perhaps a lot of big laughs, but otherwise meh.  Comedies mostly don’t do it for me these days.  I guess I consider them “a waste of time”—why don’t I feel that way about trashy horror films?  Perhaps I am seeking dark places?  Yet I fast forwarded through two very ugly films yesterday, Madison County and Chromeskull:  Laid to Rest 2.  These were gore fests, lingering over scenes of peculiar damage to human bodies, especially faces.  What was I looking for?  Why, I was looking for the other things that trashy horror films are known to provide.  Usually in pairs.

The History of Mr. Polly turned out to be a silly comedy with modest charm and few laughs.  I watched the whole thing, with growing impatience with the eponymous character.

Yesterday I was reading Jean-Paul Sartre:  “An Explication of The Stranger,” in Germaine Brée:  Camus:  A Collection of Critical Essays.  I read about six pages, and thought that it was the best commentary I’d ever read on The Stranger—a book I’ve read fourteen times, starting in my teens.  Yet, I didn’t finish the piece, and feel no real desire to return to it.  Does this count as a symptom of depression?  Or am I “just not that interested”?  When does lack of interest become anhedonia?  The bathroom cabinet gives the lie to a self-diagnosis of depression.

Yesterday was Oliver’s birthday.  Why wouldn’t I be depressed?  Given my life and my world view, the amazing thing is than I’m not always depressed.

Last night I started reading Mark Epstein, M.D.:  Thoughts Without a Thinker:  Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective.  I was unpersuaded by the author’s delving into “the wheel of life” for insights into human psychology; what I saw was obscure metaphor after obscure metaphor, nothing I could use or even understand.  Buddhism offers a way to escape the otherwise endless cycle of reincarnation; but, as with Christianity and “sin,” I don’t believe in the problem, so I can’t believe in the solution.  Given my low opinion of psychotherapy and my feeble interest in Buddhism, I wasn’t motivated to continue.  Yet I put the book back on my shelf, thus allowing a later return to it.  Better it should go on the donate pile.

While reading Epstein I wanted to argue with him, wanted to argue that “I don’t need to meditate,” but didn’t want to just say “no.”  I felt that I had nothing to offer in contrast to his theory, and I quickly reviewed some books, seeking answers…what is a human mind?  how does it work?  what is a personality?  what is my personality?  what am I like inside?  I think that I am not anxious or depressed, but am I so sure?  All these questions, and only vague gropings toward answers, no real theory.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is valuable, but is much less than a model of the mind or of a human being or of a personality.  Cognitive-experiential theory, from another Epstein, offers just new words about the conscious and unconscious.  Fritz Perls merely tweaks Freudianism.  Neuroscience and cognitive science aren’t very helpful, either.  Or so it seems.  But what is the goal?

Herbert Benson has made a career of pushing meditation as a method of relaxation—his book is The Relaxation Response—but I can relax whenever I want to, by reading, nature, music, or even daydreaming, and meditation seems a total bore in comparison.  Pablo urges me to meditate, he meditates daily, but he’s a mess.  Which is anecdotal, of course.  But, once again, not seeing the problem, I see no need for the solution.  Pablo would point to “my depression” as the problem; I don’t dispute that I am sometimes depressed, but Johann Hari’s Lost Connections offers answers that I believe in.  As might be expected, Hari offers meditation, too.

A couple of weeks ago I tried Alan Watts:  Psychotherapy, East and West, and quickly gave up on it.  In looking at it now, I find much that I highlighted, much good sense in the 22 pages that I read.  Unlike Epstein, Watts makes no pretense that the reader might accept the eastern religions he talks about.  His approach is more philosophical (so far).  Quotes from Watts (from the omnibus volume Alan Watts:  Three:  The Way of Zen; Nature, Man, and Woman; Psychotherapy East and West, Pantheon Books, New York, 1957-1961, each book with separate page numbering):

“If we look deeply into such ways of life as Buddhism and Taoism, Vedanta and Yoga, we do not find either philosophy or religion as these are understood in the West.  We find something more nearly resembling psychotherapy.”  p. 3.

“The psychotherapist has, for the most part, been interested in changing the consciousness of peculiarly disturbed individuals.  The disciplines of Buddhism and Taoism are, however, concerned with changing the consciousness of normal, socially adjusted people.  But it is increasingly apparent to psychotherapists that the normal state of consciousness in our culture is both the context and the breeding ground of mental disease.”  p. 4.

“…the therapist who is really interested in helping the individual is forced into social criticism.”  p. 8.

“The aim of a way of liberation is not the destruction of maya but seeing it for what it is, or seeing through it.”  p. 9.

“…the minister might become an extraordinarily helpful person if he could see through his own religion.”  p. 13.

“…psychotherapy and the ways of liberation [Buddhism, etc.] have two interests in common:  first, the transformation of consciousness, of the inner feeling of one’s own existence; and second, the release of the individual from forms of conditioning imposed upon him by social institutions.”  p. 13-14.

In reacting to a quote from Norman O. Brown:  “Is this not a way of saying that what needs to be analyzed or clarified in an individual’s behavior is the way in which it reflects the contradictions and confusions of the culture?”  p. 16.

“It cannot be stressed to strongly that liberation does not involve the loss or destruction of such conventional concepts as the ego; it means seeing through them…”  p. 20.

“…the richer and more articulate our picture of man and of the world becomes, the more we are aware of its relativity and of the interconnection of all its patterns in an undivided whole.”  p. 21.  Much of the chapter is devoted to arguing that there is no way to “carve nature at the joints,” a position with which I am in full agreement.

Now, the problem with the “therapy” or treatment that I am receiving from the feds is that “…the therapist who is really interested in helping the individual is forced into social criticism.”  The feds are not interested in social criticism, just in “keeping control.”  In our last group meeting I saw the futility of questioning the questioners, in this case, the book we are working through.  We had been flailing for half an hour over “the cycle of relapse,” how to answer the questions, when I spoke up for the first time, saying that I was having trouble relating the task to my own life, that I had been masturbating daily since I was fifteen, there was no conflict, etc.  This immediately enlivened the others, who then began complaining about the assumptions of the book and the program—not the first time this has happened.  As is inevitable, this went nowhere.  Our complaints don’t matter, only our compliance—and it is compliance that can improve our lot.  We are not there to get better, only to behave better.  That’s how law works.  It doesn’t matter who you are, only what you do.

Listening to some shakuhachi music now, I am reminded that I have often wished I could play the sitar, or more recently, the shakuhachi.  I certainly could buy a shakuhachi.  In fact, I should.

So, The Frankenstein Theory:  a moderately effective buildup to a whole lotta nuthin’.  No thrills, no surprises, almost no fun.  It would have been more believable (if it’s believable at all) if the explorers had walkie talkies and/or another kind of two-way radio.  Phooey.  One has to wonder why such movies get made; this one clearly wasn’t super-cheap, because it’s all outdoor location stuff in snow.


{8/6/19}  Weight 221.0.  Lowest weight in two months or more.  Later, 220.4.  I’m finding that when it comes time for dinner, just having a “snack” is enough to satisfy me—perhaps a method for weight loss?  Yesterday I had two pieces of buttered toast and a “frozen dairy dessert” (faux ice cream sandwich).  My more typical dinner would have added a quarter-pound burger with cheese, and probably potato chips or, rarely, a half-cup of beets or potatoes.

4:45 am.  This morning’s dream:  I am in Vietnam on guard duty at night when I discover an “enemy” infiltrator lying flat on the ground in shadow.  I want to take him prisoner but want to summon help to do this, because maybe he is not alone, so I fire my rifle into the air.  I am thinking and rethinking the possibilities when I wake up.  That seems to happen, when problem solving is required in a dream, it wakes me up.

Watched Short Term 12, which was mostly nothing special about Brie Larson managing a group home for troubled kids.  The real problem was that about half the time I couldn’t hear the words, and there were no subtitles.

Reading the 1/1/19 entry just now reveals that I’ve had the trike for the whole year, yet have ridden it only three or four times.  [8/11/19: “Whole year” is wildly inaccurate; I bought the trike in late February of 2019.  But I see now that my reading was hasty, I said “the whole year” not “a whole year”; but I reacted to the latter.]  It’s time to get rid of it.  This is not a new decision, but even so…

Also, I was talking about “serious work in the revision process” on KM—is that ever going to be done?  Not if I don’t work on it, which I haven’t for about a month.

Now 5:45 am—thinking that I should go back to bed.


{8/7/19}  Weight 221.8.


{8/8/19}  Weight 221.8.

I dreamt this morning that I was having a conversation with my stepfather, he asking me if I knew about certain things that to me suggested Irish history.  I said that I knew nothing about it, it was “a huge, gaping hole in my ignorance,” which is poorly expressed.  That’s all I remember.

Taking a shower yesterday, I neglected to make sure the door wouldn’t fall out, and so it did.

Bought a small board with attachable letters yesterday at Target.  I put it in the bathroom with the motto, “Fly high, for fuck’s sake.”  Now that strikes me as a stupid thing to do, because I feel incapable of flying high.  I suppose the closest I could come would be to publish my book, contact Oliver, and take dancing lessons.

Went to the VA Hospital yesterday and, at last, got the wax out of my right ear.  It’s been impacted for about two months.

The bathroom “space saver” cabinet came with a lot of small parts which I dumped into a plastic tray that had once held frozen lasagna or something.  A convenient way to handle such things.  As I was nearing completion of the assembly, I looked for the dowels that were to hold the top assembly to the bottom.  I couldn’t find them.  What had I done with them?  I looked and looked, I checked the instruction sheets, and finally, there they were, right where I had overlooked them several times.  What accounts for this blindness?  I had been looking for steel pins, not wooden dowels—though the very name “dowels” suggests to me pieces of wood.  The drawing, which showed blank cylinders, had suggested metal to me, and so I couldn’t see the wood.  Next I needed the plates that were the counterparts to the magnetic catches to hold the doors closed.  I couldn’t find them.  I looked and looked…and finally found them, right where I had been unable to see them.  Again, I had misled myself in interpreting the drawing…I’d thought they would be about twice the size of what they actually were.

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”  George Orwell, quoted in Tony Judt:  Ill Fares the Land, The Penguin Press, New York, 2010, p. 11; source not further defined.

What gorilla?  [Reference to an old, well-known psychological study of attention.]

Coincidentally, I read something similar in Sonia Johnson:  Wildfire:  Igniting the She/Volution, Wildfire Books, Albuquerque, NM, 1989, but failed to note or mark the page and now can’t find it, but here’s something close enough:  “Women’s world never left this planet.  It is still here, right in front of our noses.  We recreate it as we learn to see it and to live in it.”  p. 11.

The Judt is so dull—excessively general and vague—that I quickly gave up on it.  The Johnson is anything but dull, though I find it dubious.  I’ve often heard it said, perhaps from Lao Tzu, that resisting something makes that something stronger.  Johnson is arguing that by resisting patriarchy, women help to keep it going, so the solution is something like, in my words, living as though there were no patriarchy.  How this is supposed to work in detail, aside from women giving each other abortions and such, rather than going to their male gynecologists and/or trying to get laws changed, has not been spelled out so far.

If you constantly slip through the cracks in your programming, it won’t always go well.  (A thought suggested by something in Johnson.)

Laundry today.  In fact, right now.

I mailed a package of books to Salomé, and wanted to record the titles in case I want to reacquire them:

  • Ron Judkins: The Art of Creative Thinking
  • Dorothea Brande: Becoming a Writer
  • Rico: Writing the Natural Way
  • Thomas Kane: The New Oxford Guide to Writing
  • Salomé Goldberg: Writing Down the Bones

Of these, the only ones I definitely want to get again are the Judkins and Goldberg—the Goldberg in particular because I reviewed the highlighted parts, was impressed by them, and saw that I hadn’t finished the reading.  I’ve typed extensive quotes from the Judkins and so don’t especially need it again.  It’s unfortunate that I didn’t have a copy of Anne Lamott:  Bird by Bird to send her.  These are the best books on writing that I’ve seen.  John Gardner’s books could be added as well.


{8/9/19}  Weight 221.2.

Two hours or more of insomnia last night.  I watched some Red Skelton movies and news and read a little of The Fellowship of the Ring.  Then back to sleep, with many fragmented, chaotic dreams, set in a school, with me trying to get a drink and much running back and forth, indecisively.

Yesterday I finished painting the sign to sell the trike, around three o’clock.  Much annoyance in trying to get the alarms off so I could recharge them.  It turns out that only one is rechargeable.  In removing a tiny screw I dropped it and was unable to find it again, but there was a spare.

Much noise during the night, seemingly right outside, yet I never saw anyone.

So I’m getting these things done that I’ve procrastinated about for months—the bathroom cabinet, the sign to sell the trike, and the “Fly high” sign on my wall.  Yet I haven’t tried to contact Oliver.  I could write that letter and mail it today, yet I feel no ripeness.

I’m finding it difficult to find anything to read.  The four novels I’ve tried, I’ve given up after the initial dip.  The Rorty books haven’t grabbed me.  The foundations of mathematics was a long shot, certainly, but I haven’t gone back to the Kaufmann bio, which I thought was a sure-fire winner.  The last book I finished was the McGinn.  The Camus collection, the Watts books, the Epstein…everything bores me lately, it seems.

The trike is sold, or in the process at least.  I’m getting $60 and/or a chair for my living room.  This is a small fraction of what it’s worth, because I spent about $400 on the trike and accessories.  But I’ll get more use out of what I’m getting that I was out of what I’m giving.  The purchaser/trader is Audrey, a 66-year-old woman living a stone’s throw away.  We had talked once before and exchanged names but we both forgot.  She also introduced me to Kendra, a pregnant young woman living across the way.  Audrey also found the missing screw, by accident.

When I decide to get rid of something, I’m always in a great hurry.  Just like when I’ve decided to buy something.  It’s generally stupid.

10:30 am and the outside temp is 77°.  This is a hopeful sign.  I need to leave here at noon.


{8/10/19}  Weight 222.0.

Up at 3:20 am.

Yesterday I learned something disturbing about my memory which I’ll try to explain.  Whenever I get up, one of the first things I do is to check my calendar and cross off the day.  Yesterday I saw that I had an appointment at noon, at a place which requires me to leave the house ninety minutes before the appointed time in order to ensure arrival on time.  The details of this procedure are unimportant.

So, seeing that I had to be there at noon, I needed to catch the 10:30 bus.

Comes a knock at the door.  It is a neighbor wanting to know about the trike, I told her sixty bucks, she didn’t have it right then, etc., etc.  I looked over the accessories, installed the alarm that I had recharged overnight, and so on.  She returns some time later for further discussion.  She returns again with the sixty bucks.  I unlock the trike and so on.  So, that’s done.

I check the time, see that it’s 10:30, remember “noon,” and figure, okay, I need to leave at noon to get to my appointment by 1:30.  I proceed to do this.  On the bus I remember that I had promised to meet Pablo at 1:15.  How can that be?  I must have miscalculated or misremembered…yesterday, “noon” meant something different…much confusion and growing conviction that I’ve fucked up, again.

Eventually, the sad truth is revealed, I’ve missed my appointment by arriving ninety minutes too late.  Befuddled old doofus, again.

The fatal error was failing to double-check at 10:30, relying instead on the disembodied memory, “noon,” as being “the thing I needed to remember,” and equating that with “the time I need to leave.”

Putting this together with the failure last week to “see” the needed wooden dowels and the other parts, as described on 8/8, I’m thinking, “hyperfocused.”  I was focused on “metal pins” instead of seeing the more typical definition of “dowels.”  Yesterday I was focused on the trike excitement instead of seeing “what do I need to do today?”

Perhaps the comparison is stretched at the seams.  Perhaps there is no general thing I can do to help condition my mind/brain to avoid these “blindness errors” in the future.  There is, at least, something I can do to reduce the possibility of missed appointments:  when I have a critical appointment that I absolutely do not want to miss, I should write the time on my hand.  Now, if I had written on my hand, “12:00” yesterday, would that have helped?  No, I needed to write “10:30” on my hand.  When I have two times working, as I did yesterday, the time to rivet to my forehead, so to speak, is the earlier of the two.  Then, when that time approaches, I will panic and get my butt in gear.  Indeed, no need to write it down if I just make the initial remembering correct.  “Noon” was correct in one sense, because it was the appointed time; it was incorrect in one sense, because it was not the time that I needed to remember.

Probably, my thought of “hyperfocusing” is incorrect, there is no commonality between the two failures of mind/brain.  But I was thinking, because I read so much, in essence taking every available spare moment as an opportunity to open a book and so relieve my momentary boredom, I lose my bearings in the larger scheme of things, letting that free-floating “noon” reassure me that the important thing is being taken care of.  Perhaps if I had paid more attention to “what is it that I need to remember?” instead of thoughtlessly, hastily, seeing “noon” and so remembering “noon,” and leading myself into regrettable error.

Of course, it’s not just reading—the real issue is boredom.  I never stop for a breather.  Even when I have a free moment, what comes to fill that moment is anxiety, the urgency to reach out a hand to pull something over, something to engage my attention.

A book that I quickly decided was “worthless”:  Srini Pillay, M.D.:  Tinker Dabble Doodle Try:  Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind, perhaps was discarded too quickly.  If, yesterday, I had defocused…if that’s even a useful way of thinking of yesterday’s blunder…?

Writing on my palm isn’t necessary, as I noted above.  What’s necessary is just to remember the right thing.

Or more generally, “two times?  potential confusion!”  The bus is going to be a permanent part of my life as I decline (further?) into senescence, so any appointment is a potential confusion—there will always be “two times,” the time to leave home and the time to be there.

Defocusing now, what do I see?  I need to backup to the thumb drive; I need to get back to bed; I’m hungry; trapezius tense; intestinal uncertainty; slight bladder pressure; faint constant sounds from the air purifier; purifier needs UV bulb; left eye feels dry, again; enough.

Had the beginnings of an interesting conversation yesterday with Pablo:  meditation, mindfulness, “the perfect moment,” and so on.  Not so interesting that I want to try to write it out at 4:00 am.

This is the first evening in more than a month that I haven’t needed a fan.  At 7:35 it’s 80° inside and 88° outside.

Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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