Diary 2/23 to 2/27/2020

Copyright 2020 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

Chater book

{2/23/20}  Weight 214.2.  Still eating chips, though I didn’t binge yesterday.  However, I did have chocolate cream pie at lunchtime, and tried to “make up for it” by a light dinner.  Apparently I failed.

Good discussion at Dagny’s yesterday with N and L, who contributed the best line of the day:  “Take left foot out of mouth, put right foot in.”  This may have been in the context of L saying that he keeps running into people who know so much more than he does that he hesitates to open his mouth any more.

My best line was, “My ego is my most treasured possession.”

“Lines” aside, L talked about country music and his experience singing and playing; N told about his six-month bread-and-water diet, “master cleanser,” and deuterium water; we talked about Marcus’s Meditations; a story about Alexander the Great in India was shared by N; parthenogenesis, described by N, prompted L to say that “nature is brutal”; and so on.  After L left, I talked to N about A Secular Salvation and my attempting to deal with recent feelings of guilt and Walter Kaufmann’s book on guilt and justice; after I talked about Gestalt therapy and self-therapy, N mentioned the book Born to Win.  He also offered to loan me (today) a book on self-hypnosis and I told him of hypnotizing a man while in the Army in Vietnam.  We talked about women and love and family—I said that I had always been happiest as part of a family, first as a child, then as husband and father.  We talked about Pablo and how he fails to return borrowed books, and, in the context of “anger,” I complained about how he dismisses my opinions when he disagrees with them.  Then N talked about and loaned me The Path of the Masters and I loaned him Julian Baggini’s book on world philosophies.  I showed him the definitions of “Tao” that I had written in my “Words” notebook, which he read.  And so on, and so we filled four hours and a bit more.  It was often noisy and hard to hear each other because the room was crowded, but we persevered.  I took notes in my bullet journal or I could not have written this.  It all sounds rather intellectual and impressive, but mostly we were floundering in vague impressions and ignorance.

On The Aware Show this morning, a recipe was demonstrated; it includes “ancient earth minerals” as an ingredient, which prompted this comment.  What is this but someone’s laughable idea of how to sell dirt?  Because all earth is ancient, eh?  I have rarely seen anything on this show that I considered worth showing, and most of it is thoroughly foolish.  I only tune in at all because I am deciding whether to complain to Free Speech TV about it.  I think I have made up my mind, though of course I won’t necessarily follow through.  I don’t doubt that it’s one of their more popular shows, alas.

I finished reading Nick Chater:  The Mind is Flat; I’m not excited about it, as too much was familiar and overall it seemed weakly persuasive.  Reading Schiffman’s Gestalt Self Therapy has shaken my confidence in my self-understanding; Chater would likely argue that “self-understanding” is futile and based on a faulty picture of the mind.  I tend to agree with him, however, when authors speak of layers beneath layers in the mind, and the core self, and so on.  Schiffman takes such things for granted and relies heavily on the TA picture of the mind (i.e., “Parent-Adult-Child”).  Because Chater is arguing against some things I tend to believe, perhaps I need to read his book again.  I have noted some passages as important; I’ll know better what to do after I review and type those.

The TA picture was taken over and corrupted by later writers, notably the very popular and very annoying John Bradshaw, who would have us parenting (or reparenting) and nurturing our “inner child.”  This is a silly reification of a moderately useful metaphor.  I can’t really argue this point; my basic approach is, “whatever works for you.”

I did in fact experiment, once, with “my own inner child.”  This was forty years ago or more; I was at the time feeling the presence of a “Daddy-shaped hole” in myself, that is, I was maudlin about having lost my father when I was ten.  And I had been reading, and deeply impressed by, Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within.  So, I sat down on a log by a purling creek in Eaton Canyon in Pasadena, and, after watching the play of the waves at my feet, waves that made numerous tiny flakes of mica dance and glitter like gold, I imagined my ten-year-old self sitting next to me, and I attempted to reassure and soothe that self.  My eyes teared up, and when I stopped, I felt better.

So, what’s the problem?  It worked, right?  I have no adequate reason to say yes or no to that question.  It worked to the extent that I felt better; I have doubts that growth and self-actualization depend on “feeling better.”  Feeling better is useful in itself at times; it isn’t everything, or we’d all be taking Soma.  Feeling better, by itself, doesn’t fix the cause of the original bad feelings.  I take aspirin (or these days, acetaminophen) to make a headache go away; but if I get headaches all the time, I’ll go to the doctor.  I see “reparenting the inner child” as an emotional band-aid at best; let’s say that I’m prejudiced against it because I see it now as an advertising slogan for charlatans, in the same bag as “ancient earth minerals,” deuterium water, and so on.

Chater is skeptical of mental “causes” of bad feelings.  We speak glibly of the cause or causes of our depression; but this, according to Chater, is always a confabulation with no basis in reality.  (I don’t fully understand Chater’s book; I’m using him here as a symbol for a point of view.)  I am not prepared to abandon the idea of mental causes, though I might be leaning that direction.

Hemlock Club today with N.  We talked for most of four hours, again.  He talked about his favorable experience with alkaline water.  He also talked about the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  I had printed out the above part of this day’s entry, and he read that and we talked about parts of it.  I realized that I hadn’t included Pablo, who had been present for about an hour—I recall that he talked, but not what about.  He also showed up today, late (not surprising, he has another commitment every Sunday).  N made a joke or two about “mad men,” which I didn’t catch at first.  But I didn’t take many notes this time, so I don’t have a lot to say about the meeting.  Apparently N’s okay with meeting at Barnes & Noble, so we need to get J up to speed on that.

Finished reading Nick Chater:  The Mind is Flat:  The Remarkable Shallowness of the Improvising Brain, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2018, pb.  A crucial quote:

“But why does thought feel smooth, if it is actually ‘lumpy’?  The explanation is the same as that for the grand illusion more generally.  The brain’s goal is to inform us about the world around us, not about the workings of our own mechanisms.”  p. 182.

All follows from this evolutionary insight.  I was rather skeptical while reading the book, but despite that, I find that I am thinking in terms of the book’s conclusions rather than accepting, thoughtlessly, the “grand illusion” that the mind is what we have previously thought it was.  The quoted paragraph continues:  “Were we consciously aware of the continually flickering snapshots as our eyes jump from place to place, we would be all too aware of how our eyes are moving, but completely unable to figure out whether the world itself is like the changing set of images in a slideshow or a single unitary scene.”

Chater’s flat mind is initially hard to understand and accept, but it grows on you, and it explains many puzzling experimental results and introspections.  One last quote:

“What are we really like, deep down?  It seems hard to be sure of our own nature—each of us is, of course, a mixture of momentary thoughts and feelings, at one moment brave, at another timorous; sometimes stoical, at other times anxious.  But it is a seductive idea that our confusions and contradictions are merely the stuff of our turbulent surface, the vagaries of the moment pushing us here and there.  Deep down, perhaps too deep for us to fathom, lies our inner self, replete with the virtues and vices of our true character.  But mental depth is, we have seen, an illusion; there is no inner core, virtuous or venal.

“Yet if the mind is an engine of precedent, continually reshaping past thoughts and actions to deal with the present, then each of us is not just a bundle of character traits, but a rich store of distinctive past experience…”  p. 201-202.

When I ask myself “what is it like to be me?” I become confused:  which memory is the important one?  Am I this terrible person in memory 1, or this good person in memory 2, or this dull slug in memory 3?  Can I count good memories and bad, and whichever are more numerous say, “That’s me”?  And if I ask myself tomorrow, when I am in a different mood, then what?  Say, “I decided yesterday that…” or confabulate again?  All we do is confabulate, and remember our conclusion, and that’s our self-image until we change it.  That’s all we can do.

It is neither true nor accurate, that’s why we call them confabulations.  Something like that.  Thus I try to wriggle off the hook of my sometimes-terrible, sometimes-pleasing self-image.

{2/24/20}  Weight 214.2.  Duh:  eating pie and chips is not the way to lose weight.

Maslow says, “The thing to do seems to be to find out what one is really like inside, deep down, as a member of the human species and as a particular individual.”  Chater says that there is no such place as “deep down inside.”

The hard thing about “self-understanding” is at least hinted at in yesterday’s entry:  it won’t sit still.  Memories are a multitude, a mixture of good and bad former “selves” in action, making any kind of final judgment just a straw clutched in a windstorm.  Then, when we consider the question again, our first impulse is to stare at the memory of the straw.  Just as when looking at a page of print we see one word while all else is a blur, any attempt to look inside results in a fixation on one tiny piece—we have no wide-angle lens for looking inside.  And, like Chater’s picture of the mind, we may clutch straw after straw, never seeing the grand canyons over which we are flashing, because it’s the straws that are important; seeing the canyons would be worse than not seeing them.

So:  if reading Schiffman has “shaken my confidence in my self-understanding,” so much the better.  Wilde has it right:  “Only the shallow know themselves.”  What, if anything, does this do to my ASS project?  If it doesn’t wreck it altogether, then it doesn’t mean a thing—I don’t have to be confident about what I write, I just have to write it.

Stephanie Miller this morning is defensiveness-too-far.  It seems that she is shell-shocked from attacks by “Bernie bros.”

Thom Hartmann scaring me by explaining a couple of ways that repuglikkkans could steal the 2020 election for the Bloatus.  He says that we need to prepare for it.  Uh, how do we do that?

Another scary fact:  the coronavirus can survive on inanimate surfaces for a week or two.  The cherry pie you buy at the grocery store could kill you.  I am suddenly persuaded that hand washing can be important if/when the virus begins spreading in the U.S.  Or maybe I should say, Bakersfield.

Jascha Heifetz is impressive in Debussy’s Sonata No. 3 from 1917, his last composi­tion, a 1950 recording I’ve had for months but don’t recall playing before.  The second movement, Intèrmede:  Fantasque et léger, was surprisingly jazzy.  The third movement had amazingly fast fingering, reminding me of the sensation when I type “tion,” seemingly a blur of a single motion rather than four separate keystrokes.  Except he plays more like a dozen or twenty notes in a burst.  The later (on the disc) Respighi sonata, alas, is mostly irritating.  Dozing during the Ravel trio, I dreamt that I was walking in shoes on a big cushion and the fabric caught my right foot.  How silly.  The fast second movement startles me from another doze.  I should go to bed.

Rachel Maddow reveals that our baby Bloatus last year fired the chunk of the staff at the CDC that handled new pandemics.  This is incredibly ominous.  I think yesterday or today he appointed some former gubernatorial candidate to head our response; this doofus (the new head) was on Twitter trying to get information on corona virus maps today, Maddow said.  Apparently, Americans are going to die because we have a stupid fool in the White House.  Or should that be “more Americans”?  Yes it should, because Puerto Rico.  The news from the Justice Department is also dire.  The American people have work to do.

A disk of music by Hugo Alfvén (mostly Swedish rhapsodies) is much more cheerful and pleasant than my usual sonic wallpaper.  Despite this, I guess I’ll keep it.  (Not a joke—I’ll be getting the Joker soundtrack soon, and if it’s not über-dark I’ll be disappointed.)

I realized a few days ago that I am no longer feeling the “fuckton of guilt” that I noted in my bullet journal on 2/6.  It is not obvious to me what has changed, since, despite mentioning it fairly often since then, including to Dr. Holder, I haven’t really looked at it or analyzed it much.  Actually, in looking back I see a reasonable effort in my 2/11 entry, two weeks ago.  Maybe that’s all that was needed?  It seems inadequate.  On 2/19 I was saying that I needed to take a hard look at it.  There is a quote from Maslow that changed my thinking about guilt; I’m still looking for it.  I’m sure that it was in Schiffman, but I’ve been unable to find it there.  The gist was that there are two kinds of guilt, extrinsic (“Mommy wouldn’t like that”) and intrinsic (“I’m trashing my ideals”); Maslow says that his self-actualizers may feel a lot of intrinsic guilt.  I’m always trying to persuade myself that I am a self-actualizer (one in a thousand, in other words); it’s difficult to forget how fucked up I am, you see.

In my bullet journal—I was hoping to find the Maslow quote—I see that I was asking whether my charity (to Pablo and panhandlers, mostly) might be unconscious penance.  I’m doubtful.

Found it in the Maslow quotes from Toward a Psychology of Being in my CQ:

“We must differentiate the Freudian type of superego from intrinsic conscience and intrinsic guilt.  The former is in principle a taking into the self of the disapprovals and approvals of persons other than the person himself, fathers, mothers, teachers, etc.  Guilt then is recognition of disapproval by others.

“Intrinsic guilt is the consequence of betrayal of one’s own inner nature or self, a turning off of the path to self-actualization, and is essentially justified self-disapproval….  Seen in this way it is good, even necessary, for a person’s development to have intrinsic guilt when he deserves to.  It is not just a symptom to be avoided at any cost but is rather an inner guide for growth toward actualization of the real self, and of its potentialities.”  p. 194-195.

Now, the problem is, I no longer remember what I was feeling on 2/4 and 2/6.  Here are the relevant quotes, copied from the 2/7 entry here:

  • 2/4: I can’t take my ‘depression’ seriously because it’s not justified by my life, because it doesn’t last, and because I don’t deserve any better.  I don’t deserve joy.
  • 2/6: I’m carrying a fuckton of well-earned guilt.  What to do?

Calling my guilt “well-earned” suggests to me that it’s intrinsic guilt, according to Maslow’s theorizing.  I have plenty of “justified self-disapproval” because of goals I’m not pursuing enough to suit me—especially writing.  I could add exercise.  My exercise “rule” has been ignored since day one, so it seems it’s not the right goal.

Exercise, dishes, weight loss, and typing:  these are the WP goals on which I have made some progress, despite recent setbacks.  It seems that rededication is in order.

{2/25/20}  Weight 213.0.  A pleasant surprise.

So Congress is coming up with $2.5 billion “to fight the coronavirus.”  This is like finding that your neighborhood is on fire and going shopping for a fire engine (after having sold your fire engine last year).  In addition to which, we have the Bloatus repuglikkkans in charge.

The news this morning is uniformly depressing:  Bernie’s gonna get the nomination, and Trump’s gonna steal another one.  Not exactly—but my track record in picking Presidential elections is 0%.  I don’t think I can say anything sensible about this right now.  I hear a voice from the back of the room saying, “So what else is new?”

I have this lovely book, Cognitive Neuroscience, which is a giant paperback that I don’t seem to be able to read very well in my usual reading space, that is, it’s awkward to hold, to turn pages, and to highlight.

So Maslow says that my guilt is “an inner guide for growth toward actualization of the real self.”  That seems to be the takeaway from my mulling yesterday; but how do I turn that into action?

A good start would be to answer the question (i.e., confabulate about), “What am I feeling guilty about?”  If I ignore the distant past…but I have no energy or interest at the moment to tackle this problem.  I’m waiting for Democracy Now! to start in thirteen minutes, and after that (or during that) I’ll take a nap.

On the other hand, I picked up Schiffman and found my comment on page 112:  “I don’t seem to have an inner battle, despite my guilt.  All my guilt is from the past.”  This is only partly correct; my inner battle is about writing the book, and my guilt is about writing the book.  It’s all about ASS.

I don’t know if that’s correct, that’s just the result of my three-minute analysis after I closed the laptop.

The flap over Bernie Sanders’s comments on Cuba amount to this:  he presents us with a shade of gray, providing an opportunity for Mayor Pete and others to call it black.  The proper defense is to present again the shade of gray and hope that people will listen.  Unfortunately, some people aren’t interested in listening, they’re interested in “scoring points” by lying.

This “mulling about my guilt”—is that what the last chapter of ASS is going to be?  Only if I can come up with a plan, probably another WP challenge.

After going to bed for a morning nap, ideas began coming, as the cliché goes, thick and fast.  Here’s what I wrote in my bullet journal as a result:

  • Can self-analysis act as self-therapy? I think yes—because that’s what I’ve been doing all my life.  But it’s not like having a professional therapist.  And I can’t separate the strands of causes of my growth.  Can ASS serve as a model of self-therapy for others?  Lacking authority, I can’t claim that.
  • I’m watching too much news (again). Am I seeking control?
  • My transsexualism was a gift: it taught me to look within.  “…looking within:  the true work of therapy.”  Schiffman, p. 150.
  • I told Pablo that “Pastafazool [was] my best friend.” Transference!
  • My “one word of advice for the circumcised”—what a shockingly adult thing to do! [This happened in prison.]
  • Men in group have said I’m “overthinking”—I don’t often intellectualize like a Freudian might; I analyze, which is a good thing. [Perhaps more to the point:  am I using analysis as a way of avoiding other approaches?  A gestalt approach might be tried:  “stay with it; feel the feelings”; and surf the urge?]
  • Transference is a failure to recognize the nature of the therapist’s job.
  • My standard approach to most things (conversations) is “serious adult taking care of business.” At home alone, I’m self-indulgent.  Hence, ASS  Also why I get impatient with Pablo [because he’s so seldom a serious adult taking care of business].

Words in brackets were added during typing.  There’s a lot to unpack, a lot of further analysis to do.

The coronavirus is climate doom in miniature.  I say this because national treasure Rush Limbaugh is dismissing it as “the common cold.”  This kind of stupidity is lethal.  Perhaps he says things like this because “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”?

Second big drop in the Dow Jones.  Now, I don’t want the economy to go bad; but if it does, that’s bad news for the baby Bloatus, which is good news for the country.

Bad news from Rachel Maddow again, her show devoted to this issue:  our government is lying about the coronavirus (2019-nCoV, or COVID-19), saying we’re perfectly safe, and is completely unprepared to handle the crisis because the preening promise-breaker destroyed the safeguards that Obama put in place.  Apparently only four states can even test for the virus.  We could already be infected and not know it.  We’re doomed.

Prediction:  the repuglikkkans will try to blame Obama and the Democrats.  Because they would rather see you die than say anything against the baby Bloatus.

I’m already making plans mentally; let’s see what I’m thinking:

  • Stay home as much as possible, stay off the bus, don’t eat out, don’t shake hands.
  • Buy a ton of disinfectant stuff, including wipes. Take supplies when I go out.
  • Stock up on canned fruit and whatever else I can. Freeze bread, burgers, cheese.
  • Be careful with mail received, assume it’s contaminated; don’t buy off the Internet.
  • Try to persuade CPC to hold meetings by phone, the only required outside event.
  • Outgoing mail to go to landlord, not the post office.
  • Be afraid. Be very afraid.

It’s a good thing I’m getting paid tomorrow.

I can’t imagine how bad it will get—will the buses stop running?  Will they stop delivering mail?  Will grocery stores close?  If it gets bad enough, yes, all these things can stop.  I need to start stocking up now, because things are going to disappear from shelves, and it may take two paychecks to get all I want.  I can’t buy books this month.

It’s going to be solitary confinement.  I’ll crawl in my shell and lock the door as soon as cases are reported in California, or if a lot are reported elsewhere in the US.

{2/26/20}  Weight 213.2.

Coronavirus—clearly—will suppress voter turnout, supposedly bad for Democrats.  But there’s no telling what will happen with the virus or anything else between now and November.

So I’ve begun stocking up for the coronavirus panic, spending $150 at Food Maxx this morning.  I needed groceries anyway, and so might have spent $100, but I doubled up on some things, like getting three dozen eggs (instead of 1.5), extra frozen burger patties, two extra bottles of orange juice, fruit juice that doesn’t need refrigeration until opened (because my orange juice is better than that), canned fruit, three loaves of bread (to freeze), and so on.  I skipped other things altogether (sodas, ice cream) because the cart was full and I have to take this stuff home on the bus.  I focused on things that will keep, the idea being that I’ll eat everything else first, waiting for the panic, as well as minimizing in-the-meantime trips to the grocery store.  If the panic never comes, so much the better, and no harm done—but San Francisco has already announced a State of Emergency in anticipation of future diagnoses.

I don’t anticipate getting everything this month, though I’ll complete what I can get this month; if the signs remain ominous but not panic-inducing, I’ll stock up more next month.

{2/27/20}  Weight 213.8 at 2:40 am, 212.6 at 7:40.

2:42 am:  insomnia because COVID-19 and Dr. Holder’s shocking ignorance of basic atomics.

In speaking to Dr. Holder on Tuesday and telling her about my transsexual episode (fantasy) in my twenties, she wanted to explain how my psyche was split according (useless) Jung, so she apparently thought it necessary to explain “split” by talking about the hydrogen atom and hydrogen bombs.  She’d have done better talking about doughnuts.  She said, “You know how they split the hydrogen atom?”  After trying to imagine what she could mean, and failing, I tried to straighten out her thinking, that the hydrogen bomb doesn’t split hydrogen atoms, but rather combines hydrogen atoms into helium.  It was uphill all the way, and I doubt that she got anything out of it.  I certainly didn’t feel enlightened about the state of my psyche.  The  experience was troubling regarding her general competence.

As for the coronavirus, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve become a bit paranoid about it, telling Pablo yesterday that I was stopping receiving visitors and would not be attending Shut Up and Write this morning.  He didn’t laugh in my face, but it wouldn’t have surprised me—well, actually it would have, since we were on the phone.  So, while trying to get back to sleep, I was imagining carrying antiseptic wipes and using them on the bus and doorknobs and so on, and wondering if I would end up seeing the Anya Taylor-Joy Emma, walking backward through theater doors and so on.  And so on.

The very stable idiot in the White House did us no favors by holding his press conference yesterday—he understands what’s going on with the pandemic about as well as Dr. Holder understands the hydrogen bomb.  Meanwhile, treasonous Fox News and others are crying “fake news” and “Democrats,” and Moscow Mitch McConnell says it will take two weeks to pass a funding bill to fight the virus.

Anyway, after spending $150 at Food Maxx yesterday, I met Pablo and we went to Wal-Mart, where I spent another $70-something getting more groceries and a thermometer and a few items for him.  Rachel Maddow’s show got me a bit panicky by informing me of someone in northern California who had gotten infected via community spreading, I think it’s called.  The beast is among us here.  I am somewhat undecided about whether it’s better to do more shopping today, or to just hole up with what I already have.  The risk today is surely nonexistent, so I suppose I’ll do the shopping.  In fact, I need to get to the library also.  The best I’m likely to be able to do toward self-isolation, finally, is to leave the house no more than once a week.

This stupid virus has wrecked my plans for saving money, though stocking up is just a matter of cash flow, not much extra expense.  It has also radically changed my daily life by occupying center stage.  I want to avoid taking unnecessary chances, is all, but that’s hard to do with inadequate resources and information.

Since the feds require me to visit Dr. Holder four times a month, and since said visits require four bus rides each, I’m thinking about taking taxis.  Um, no.  At least, not yet.  That would be about $140 per month.  I believe it’s on the bus that I face my greatest chance of exposure.

The ridiculous truth is that I’m vastly more likely to catch and die from the flu.  I’ve been overreacting to the news coverage, and all the shopping just reinforces the paranoia because of cognitive dissonance.  I need to chill out for a while.  But, no harm done.  I’ve built a small stockpile, which maybe makes sense even without COVID-19.

I watched a few minutes of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I’d seen in part a couple weeks ago.  The actors are attractive, and it has something of the look and feel of a Jane Austen movie, but it’s just not nearly as much fun as one wishes.  So I gave it up after ten minutes.  I’m still reading David M. Shapard’s The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, about a third of the way through.

Awkwafina as Nora From Queens, on the other hand, is pretty damned funny.  I’ve seen three or four episodes.  Cute and outrageous, what’s not to like?  I wish Pablo could see it, because the latest episode has Ma Wen—or whatever her name is, the “muscle” person from Agents of SHIELD—as a guest star, and she’s a favorite of his.

Near the end of Muriel Schiffman’s Gestalt Self Therapy, which has been more interesting than I expected, primarily because she talks a lot about her own self-therapy (sorry, it really needs the hyphen).  I’ll want her other book, but can’t imagine when I’ll get a copy.  I suppose it wouldn’t be that difficult (Thriftbooks).  That and some Perls and perhaps Maslow’s Motivation and Personality.

Watching promos on Link TV and seeing “Border Blaster” and realizing that there’s another word, “boarder.”  I hate English.  At least the spelling.

Copyright 2020 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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