Diary, 11/7 to 11/14/19

Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto

{11/7/19}  Weight 220.4.

Saw Brie Larson on Running Wild with Bear Grylls last night and was smitten all over again.  She seems so unpretentious and gutsy and fun and just adorable, what can I say?  Of course, she’s not the first and won’t be the last.  It didn’t hurt that she said that when she was younger she was a “total geek.”

Totally stalled on The New Book.  Maybe “Shut Up and Write” this morning will help.

{11/8/19}  Weight 220.4.

I bought The Complete New Yorker from Pablo—it’s on CD ROM—and have now looked at all the cartoons in ten issues.  I don’t think I’ve laughed out loud even once.  A few were clever enough for a smile, a couple offered patterns that can form the basis of another, or several, new cartoons, but on the whole, I’m glad for the movie reviews.

That was yesterday’s news.  I also watched most of I, Robot, which I’ve seen many times, though rarely all the way through (not this time, either).  I always want something on the TV while I am eating, which often leads to watching an entire movie.  Robot is one of six movies in a set that I bought cheapish some months ago; in addition it has The Day after Tomorrow, Independence Day, and three other sci-fi things.  I mention these three because I seemingly never tire of the big SFX scenes.  The Fly remake disgusted and didn’t impress me when I saw it years ago; the other two I can’t remember and I don’t feel like going in the bedroom to check.  After saying that I had to check; the other two are Babylon, A.D. and The Happening—both were mindlessly watchable once, but that’s about it.

Feeling depressed today.  Not terribly depressed, but about as depressed as I ever get.  It never gets very bad, but it rarely goes away completely—or so it seems right now.  An hour of reading cartoons and movie reviews and copying cartoon faces from The New Yorker has cheered me up a bit.  I’ll be glad when some books arrive (I bought six from Thriftbooks, all psychology), because that will cheer me up, too.

Tomorrow is the first meeting of “The Willpower Group.”  I think I should prepare handouts, but have absolutely no desire to do anything resembling work.  I’ll go check the mail now.

Nothing in the mail, but I spent $65 at Target for tee shirts, a belt, shoe polish and brushes, and a scented candle for the bathroom, just for laughs.  At the bus terminal I found a cell phone and was able to return it to the owner, and that cheered me up.

Prepared and printed one-sheet handouts.  The job became easy once I gave it a little thought instead of just dreading “a big job.”  I recognized that I needed to focus on the first chapter of the book, and that I can’t attempt to summarize the book in writing—rather, I’ll read aloud what I want the group to hear, then give them their homework.  If it doesn’t work out very well, no surprise.

{11/9/19}  Weight 220.4.

Woke at 1:30 last night and was up for two hours.  I ended up reading a few pages of Albert Camus:  The Fall, which I’ve read before, decades ago.  It suggested to me a thought for a novel:  a man talking to a statue.  I didn’t say it was a good idea.

Willpower Group meeting today.  If nobody shows up who is not a HC member, I think I’ll just pull the plug on my three groups and save the $65 that is due this month to Meetup.com.  Though maybe I’m forgetting that five strangers came to the first meeting of the Pathfinder group.  So it’s clear that people do pay attention there, even if most are lookie-loos.

{11/10/19}  Weight 220.6.

On 12/27/18 I wrote:  “Thinking this afternoon, ‘I’ve always been a little sad’ and ‘I never really got over the death of my father.’  But both are false statements; the former is simply not factual, the latter I believe is false because I have also been very happy, and at one time wrote in my diary, or perhaps told someone, that ‘I’m happy and I’ve always been happy.’  That last statement is clearly false, but how could I ever have thought such a thing without getting over the death of my father?  It seems that if I could be that happy, that by itself constitutes the ‘getting over.’”

Now, what I’m seeing here is that we are pretty much unable to make an accurate assessment of lifetime happiness.  Any such assessment is likely to reflect one’s current mood, and perhaps nothing else.  Or, possibly, we can have some vague memories of what we habitually tell ourselves about how our life is going.  Typing page 98B of my Prison Diary, I find virtually the same thoughts.

Reading Frederick Perls:  Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, the introductory lectures called “Talk,” and being at first deeply impressed, then somewhat distressed, and finally feeling like he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  In this book he’s really trying too hard, I think.  Or maybe I just am not impressed with his theories about the importance of dreams and “dreamwork.”  Fritz disparages “intellectual understanding” which is perhaps the same thing as his “explanatoriness.”  But this is what I’m looking for.  His stressing the vital importance of “here,” “now,” and “how” as means to integration of the personality, seems to me pretty thin.  Possibly, reading the dialogues in the rest of the book will change my mind.

Reading Fritz makes me wonder, “What am I avoiding?”  “What are my phobias?”  and the like.  In other words, he makes me doubt my self-knowledge.  Most of the time, it seems to me that I have a very strong ego (in the Freudian sense), that I am invincibly sane; but sometimes I think I’m just nuts; and always there is “my neurosis” that I am struggling with.  I should perhaps think about that in top dog-underdog terms.  Briefly doing so, I find it seductive in some non-intellectual sense.  I need to ponder this.

In the meantime, I want to get that Prison Diary typed.

Yesterday I was telling people that I would go to the Unitarian-Universalist meeting this morning, but I got lazy and stayed home.  I just didn’t want to spend another “whole day” riding the bus, etc.  (Not to mention—!—that I didn’t feel like showering.)  Doing almost anything other than going to Valley Plaza or MacDonald’s takes a minimum of two hours more than it “should,” because of bus rides.

Sir Arnold Bax seems to me a very average composer.  I’m presently listening to the second of the two CDs I have of his music; I listened to the other last night.  When he’s good he sounds like Debussy or some other composer, and when he doesn’t sound like someone else “he’s boring.”  Maybe he’s just too military-British (right now, that is).  Or maybe he just doesn’t match my mood.

Well, I may not have taken a much-needed shower today, but I did something even more remarkable in my estimation:  I cleaned more than half of the top of my stove, the first time I’ve cleaned it in the over three years that I’ve lived here.  The dirtiest half, the area where I cook.  Why only half?  Because I’m old and I do what I want.  Mostly do what I want—because “what I want” is not always clear (hence, willpower challenges).  But the dishwashing habit clearly has slopped over into other areas of housekeeping.  Now, if I can just persuade myself to vacuum, and take a shower.  Have I turned a corner in my life?  Perhaps that’s too great a claim—but I have conquered the dirty dishes problem.

I also typed seven or eight pages of the handwritten Prison Diary, the first time I’ve worked on that in many months.  Long quotations from Emerson, beautifully written (“The American Scholar,” in part).  A few words about Thoreau made me long for the Journal all over again.  I once had the 20-volume Walden Edition, for which I paid $400 as I recall; I sold it to pay the rent during the dark early days of my marriage.  My whole library went down the same tube.  I built another good library out of dirt-cheap books, and that’s also all gone.  Prison has punishments beyond the obvious.

So, my “depression” is also gone, it seems.  Yet my social situation sucks almost as much as ever.  We’re a motley and shabby group, and I’m not thrilled with it—but it beats what I had two or three years ago, because at least I have somebody to go to the movies and Taco Bell with.

I’ve had two or three naps today; last night had its usual ups and downs.

The willpower book, or possibly my reading of Perls, et al., has kind of disturbed my equanimity, and made me question a number of previously “settled” questions, like, what do I really want?  Am I really healthy?  And so on, fundamental questions about who I am.

{11/11/19}  Weight 220.6 (at 5:30).

4:00 am.  What fun.

And hour and fifteen minutes of typing Prison Diary (hereafter, sometimes, “PD”) pages.  In these pages I talk about reading Emerson and quote some things he said about Thoreau, and I realized that N is living a very Thoreauvian life, sleeping in a tent in his mother’s back yard and trying, beyond anything I would consider endurable, to live a minimalist, small-footprint life.  He wears the same clothes every day, dressing like a Hindu holy man, the same flipflops with grossly dirty feet.  Beard in dreadlocks.  I don’t recall his hair, but it’s not cut short.  He’s 38, I think, and of course unemployed.  And in the PD I’m going on about my “Walden on Wheels” dream, which of course turns out to be impossible while I’m on probation (or ever).  I feel lucky to know him.  He fits perfectly into the Hemlock Club.

Speaking of which, given the total failure of The Willpower Group to attract anyone other than HC members, I’m going to pull the plug on it, the Pathfinder Group, and the HC as far as Meetup.com goes, because Meetup has been almost a complete bust re getting anything going.  The HC has grown slightly, but not because of Meetup.  The one and only rousing success of Meetup was the first meeting of the Pathfinder group.  The thing is, I just don’t feel that I’m getting my money’s worth, and another $66 is due this month.  New groups attract (eventually) lots of “members,” none of whom have any interest in attending meetings.  The thing that has kept the HC going is not Meetup, but Dagny’s.

Typing and more typing of the PD.  Yay!  I searched the already-typed pages for quotes and copied many over to the Collected Quotations file, which now approaches 200 pages.  The PD now amounts to 131 pages—many more to go.

{11/12/19}  Weight 220.8.

Went to MacDonald’s for breakfast.  Saw an old woman, fat, white, poorly dressed, carrying a beer can like it wasn’t quite empty, walking around outside.  Went this way, then back again, gazed in through the window as though looking for someone, then to the door and stood, poking her head in, studying the interior for a full minute, then closing the door and wandering again.  When I finished eating, I decided to walk to Food Maxx, a few blocks (I had intended to take the bus, but it would have been a fifteen minute wait).  When I went outside, she was there, coming close as though to ask for money, but not speaking.  I walked across the parking lot to the corner, she following close behind me.  This was getting annoying.  I had $2 in my back pocket, which I always try to have in anticipation of giving it to Mr. Dalz, who lives between me and my closest bus stop—he catches me, on average, about half the days I go out.  But if this woman had asked, she would have gotten it.

I crossed the street and walked, feeling strong and energetic for once, and somewhat happy that she hadn’t asked for money after all.  Walked the whole block, studying the early morning shadows, seeing that she was still following.  Came to the next intersection, walked across, and turned my ankle, taking a tumble while cursing, “Damn it!”  The woman, of course, asked if I was all right, offered to help me up, me saying “I’m fine, thank you.”  Hurt my knee and my dignity.  Poetic justice?  Pride goeth before a fall?  I continued down the street, finally leaving her far behind.

Dalz got the $2.

{11/13/19}  Weight 220.0.

A dream/nightmare:  I am riding on the bus; flames are visible through the rear door.  Then, it’s daytime on a deserted city street.  Someone asks for information about bus routes.  There are no schedules on the bus, but I see pockets full of schedules on the buildings outside.  I get off the bus to get a schedule, but the bus pulls away, not allowing me back on.  I run after it because it’s moving slowly.  I can’t catch up.  I pursue it for a long way.  I think later I gave up the pursuit and more happened, but if that’s correct, I can’t remember what else there was.

Yesterday I had breakfast at MacDonald’s as mentioned in yesterday’s entry, and bought groceries on the way home.  Then I went to the Southwest Library, where I ate a granola bar.  Pablo met me at Barnes & Noble, then came to my place where he had a couple of ham sandwiches and a banana—possibly the only thing he’d eaten that day.  Anyway, I had a few chips, and two slices of toast with honey, one date, and two Hershey’s kisses.  I think that’s all I ate yesterday, and so, a 0.8 loss since yesterday.  At no time did I feel especially hungry.  Given how little I ate after breakfast, ordinarily I would have had a burger (with two slices of toast and a slice of cheese) plus chips for dinner, but I deliberately wanted to shoot for a loss, and not mindlessly stuff my face.  I can’t expect to lose almost a pound a day, and of course I won’t eat at MacDonald’s very often; but the described day’s consumption is very like how I’ve been able to (temporarily) lose weight this year.  On January 1st I weighed 219.0.  I want to get below that for the year, at least.  215 seems doable in the month and a half remaining, and “weight loss” is my current willpower challenge.  The critical thing is to control my snacking; yesterday it was “easy” because I had taken only the one granola bar with me, and I was out of the house from 11:30 until 4:15.  The second danger was to stop at a light dinner with a couple of add-ons.  So, I think I have my rules for this wp challenge:

  • Normal breakfast
  • Select midday snack at breakfast (where possible); one granola bar, plus one if needed seems to be effective
  • Avoid other snacking until dinner
  • Normal or light dinner no earlier than 4:00 when at home

The question is, what happens if I persist with these rules for multiple days in a row (assuming “light dinner”)?  Will I keep losing weight, and will I be able to both stick with it and avoid bingeing?  I don’t feel especially hungry this morning at 6:00.

That’s the other thing I wanted to mention:  I took a single melatonin last night at bedtime, and slept straight through with one brief interruption.  These days, such a night would be a rare event without the melatonin.  While it’s not a powerful effect, I think I can conclude that the drug usually helps me get back to sleep after I have gotten up to urinate.  And while I haven’t tried much experimentation, it looks like doubling the dose does not have additional effects (such as letting me sleep straight through).  Of course, I also didn’t have a lot to drink yesterday, and nothing after 6:00—one wishes that vasopressin were available OTC (and for all I know, it is).

Having been pleased by 50 Psychology Classics, yesterday I ordered 50 Self-Help Classics from Thriftbooks for $0.99, my “free book” reward, which I think amounts to 10% every time you spend $50.  It’s been difficult finding more psych books that I want to read.  I received these in the mail from Thriftbooks:

  • Frederick S. Perls: Gestalt Therapy Verbatim
  • Hugh Prather: Notes to Myself
  • Sidney M. Jourard: The Transparent Self

I read the introductory material and a couple of transcripts in the first, and I’m currently reading the third without much enthusiasm; the second I read a few pages of yesterday and decided to dump it.  I’ve read Prather before, about forty years ago, and, at that time, thought this one good enough to buy a second book, but I’m thinking that reading many science-based books lately has soured me on his, essentially, greeting-card musings.  These cost $13.15.  I have three more on the way from Thriftbooks:

  • Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality (received today)
  • Gestalt Self-Therapy
  • Abraham Maslow: Religion, Values, and Peak-Experiences

I read the Maslow maybe twenty years ago, and I tried the “self-therapy” book before but didn’t get much out of it.  The first is new to me.  But I’m not sure that Gestalt Therapy (hereafter “GT,” sometimes) is going to keep me happy.  My doubts about Verbatim on 11/10/19 have made me question GT altogether, which is probably an overreaction.  When I read these books and more—all the Perls readily available in my twenties—I indeed moved on to other things, but a few of the techniques stayed with me as, at least, things to try, and some of the concepts remained to shape my thinking, for better or worse.  Concepts like “ego boundary,” “projection, introjection, retroflection,” and Perls’s “brazenness.”  How much of this is Perls and how much Freud I cannot say, and I suppose it doesn’t matter.  I’m not sure, too, that these concepts have actually been of much use or have much affected my thinking.

I’m trying to remember…maybe I just moved on to Pinker and Dennett without really thinking about how these authors affected my fondness for “Fritz” and his psychology.  Certainly, “the modular mind” was a big deal for me at one time, and I suppose still is, though I didn’t think about it much while reading post-prison books:  Dehaene, Epstein, McGonigal.  Perhaps it’s not necessary or even interesting to try to separate these strands and effects.  My thinking, or perhaps I should say my understanding, has been most influenced lately, as best I can tell, by Epstein.  But my “understanding” probably can’t withstand much examination; it’s more a feeling and shift in focus, perhaps.  The focus these days is on application rather than theory.

Given all the self-help and psych books I’ve read in my life, I’d guess a hundred, I can point to only one that I know specifically has helped me, and that’s McGonigal [The Willpower Instinct].  It seems to me that I’ve come a very long way, psychologically, since my teens.  Some of that undoubtedly, and conceivably all of it, is due to growth and maturation because of life experiences, of which reading psych and self-help books is but a small part.  All the Perls and Maslow and Rogers have been very interesting, but I cannot point to this or that specific change in my behavior as due to any other book, and regarding that book I can point to two:  I’ve got my dishes washed (and that problem is solved) and I watch slightly less “junk TV.”

How this came about is worth considering.  I formulated and committed to rules.  But I’ve done that before, and decades before reading McGonigal.  Reading McGonigal got me excited about the possibilities of willpower—what effect is there beyond that?  A little terminology (“Will power,” “Won’t power,” and “Want power”; “surfing the urge”); a sharpened focus on awareness of choice; perhaps a new dedication to, and hope for, self-improvement.

Now, I hate to interrupt this, but the House Impeachment Hearings are about to begin, and I’m thinking that I need to attend to this.  I’ll likely turn it off as soon as Republicans begin their grandstanding and sabotage.

In fact, I watched the whole 5½ hours and then some.  Very little was completely new, but the level of detail was high, and I thought that the Repuglikkkans managed a few things that Fox “News” will be able to repeat (endlessly) with straight faces.  I probably shouldn’t talk about Fox because I can’t stand very often to watch them.  I may give it a try this evening.

It’s now 3:30 and I’m waiting to have dinner.  I feel hungry, but it’s not feeling difficult to wait for 4:00.

In my “Willpower Notebook” under “Exercise,” I had a possible rule:  “No shopping for pleasure if you haven’t exercised for the week.  Not even on payday.”  I just crossed that off because I haven’t enforced it or even thought much about it—also, I think it’s too severe.  Too, given that “weight loss” is my primary WP goal now, I’m abandoning that rule.

I’m going to try for a “light” dinner again tonight.  That means, basically, two pieces of toast with honey, a couple of figs, and a few chips.  We’ll see how that goes.  I don’t anticipate trouble, but I’m doubtful.

My doubts were prophetic:  I added a later course of nuts and raisins and a granola bar.

Watched crazy Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, which was interesting enough, but really just not that special.  The big crowd scenes were pretty impressive, but it too much of it seemed a bit synthetic and phony, and there were too many dull speeches.  It’s a real pity that this was a white man’s project.  Seems to me I saw a French film that was way more weird and exotic; alas, I can’t remember the title.  And, finally, you can add this one to the list of movies who needed an astronomy consultant:  you can’t have a full moon on the same day as you have a solar eclipse, which requires a new moon, i.e., two weeks off.  Why don’t they ever consult me?  I didn’t exactly hate this movie, but I can’t recommend it.

I’m ignoring the increasingly preposterous elements, since I don’t criticize Marvel for theirs.  Oh, wait, I guess I didn’t ignore these…

{11/14/19}  Weight 220.6.

I’ve sampled many books lately, quickly abandoned The Fall, and am now reading Gestalt Therapy.  It starts with an unwelcome (because lengthy and “boring”) consideration of experimental versus clinical psychology; surprisingly (because I read it, or some of it, many years ago and didn’t recall), its approach talks a lot about self-therapy, which of course is how (if at all) it will be of use to me.  [I put “boring” in quotes because that’s what Fritz does, as a reminder that I cause my own boredom.]

Apocalypto’s costumes and makeup really deserve a nod or something, they were quite remarkable.  Much attention was given to teeth.  The music was unobtrusive and rather nice, but hardly a strength.  The story was very ordinary, like my review.

Melatonin again proves useful, allowing me to very quickly return to sleep twice or thrice without difficulty, even at 4:30.

I have absolutely no desire to be going out at 8:00 this morning, but will grit my teeth and do so, both because I told Pablo I would, and because I need to get the work done on Kick Me.  Given that it is my first real book, it’s too bad that I’m not excited about it.  I saw a cartoon in The New Yorker that illustrated the life cycle of an author’s feelings about a work-in-progress that was all too accurate—it ends at a low point.  But this is just a mood.  I don’t plan to do any further rewrites, but once the last editing is done, I’ll put it on ice for a while as I ponder whither my baby?  Or, so I intend this morning.

Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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