Efficient Learning: Diary, 2/3 to 2/6/21

Copyright 2021 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

Greta Gerwig as Frances Ha

{2/3/21}  Weight 209.0 at 6:30 am.

I’ve entered about 320 pages of my prison diary into the computer; it took four years.  I’ve picked up the pace, but to get it all done this year would require entering about five pages every day—I’ve rarely done more than four.  It could be done, however, and it’s a worthy goal.

My laptop battery is failing.  Since I no longer have reason to take it out of the house, I guess it doesn’t matter much.

In the endless effort to lose weight, I’ve stopped eating eggs for breakfast, now just having toast & jam, plus the usual banana and orange juice.  Last night I had a couple of extra ice cream sandwiches, 320 calories.  And a gain.

Reading my typed quotes from Anaïs Nin’s diary, volume one, I realized something.  Today I posted to my blog the previous several entries, including the embarrassments (?) of 1/31.  In my writing I continually push the boundary of what I am willing to reveal.  I questioned whether these things are embarrassments, yet if someone were to say to me, I read your blog post and was rather startled by what you said there…I would be embarrassed for sure, wondering about the wisdom of all this.  On Twitter today there was a picture of a woman who was on TV news, and in the bookcase behind her was a rather vivid dildo.  What if she had done that deliberately!

Well, I lied there, saying “continually.”  The only thing I do continually is breathe.  And blink.  It’s so easy to overstate things.  I guess if I’m going to be a “careful writer,” I have to rewrite.  And I hate to rewrite.

Even the use of “only” there was an overstatement.  Grr!

{2/4/21}  Weight ?

3:00 am.  These days, it’s unusual for me to have insomnia, but here it is.

Lying in bed, I wallowed in self pity and bitterness.  I have had a most unhappy life, a grotesque life, yet I have so little to complain about: Bell’s palsy and sexual perversion.  These two things aside, and the loss of my father aside, I’ve had a most fortunate life.  Yet my mood is as black right now as it ever gets.  I’m too depressed to be suicidal.

A little of Battle Beneath the Earth and The Twilight Zone and the mood lifts.  And so my grotesque life continues.  But my life can never be as grotesque as the life of an average Republican.  As far as I understand them, that is, which is not far at all.  It seems that their behavior, and mine, are a reaction to the deterioration of our society—they are driven into hate, is how it looks; I am driven into depression, or whatever this is.  Interestingly, it was just on 1/31 that I was congratulating myself on my mind being a “comfortable place.”  Maybe not so much any more, eh?

BBtE is totally worthless, yet it was interesting to me because it stars Kerwin Mathews and I couldn’t recognize him compared to the guy in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, the most notable movie of my childhood, which I’ve seen more than a dozen times since then.  I couldn’t believe it was him, but by studying his face for a minute or two, I could see that it was indeed the same person.  I can’t account for this change in the ten years that elapsed between the two movies.

Six pages of dictation; can I go back to bed now?  Please?

Had to shut off my screen saver; it was doing weird things to my laptop, not allowing me to resume working.

{2/5/21}  Weight 209.2 at 7:20 am.

I ate too much on the way and after getting home from grocery shopping.  Even so, only a 0.2 pound gain over two days.

Woke with the idea of people landing on a planet which reacts with hostility, somehow.  But, don’t they always?

Tinnitus seems to be getting worse.

Started reading Julian Baggini:  How the World Thinks.  Not enjoying the De La Rosa.

Dirty dishes in the sink for about a week.  Since I stopped eating eggs in the morning, I haven’t needed the frying pan or plates, and so have slacked off.

Feeling down this morning.  This seems to happen rather often.

Washed the dishes.  Still faced with vacuuming and removing stains from the carpet.

But I wanted to write…

One thought was, why does it enrage me when Pablo calls the Hemlock Club a “philosophy club”?  I should let him have his fantasy, surely—but I also hate to give visitors or strangers the wrong idea.  I don’t like the idea of biting my tongue, because a lot of people would be put off by the idea of joining a “philosophy club,” where they might find “relaxed chat about literature, philosophy, art, science” somewhat more appealing.  I should give them a business card, then, eh?  And of course, the subtitle on the card is “philosophical and literary salon.”  I wanted philosophy, indeed, but got little from the club; but “little” is better than…you know.

I often feel like I am in a constant hurry.  So when I encountered the following quote from Anaïs Nin, speaking of her diary writing, I had to copy it here:  “Henry has taught me to linger, to wrestle, to be patient.”  While in prison I typed twenty pages of quotes from Volume 1 of her adult diaries (1931-1934).  I’ve been reading my prison quotes—hundreds of pages—but this is one of the few from Nin that seemed important, ten or more years later.  It’s from p. 319.

This “hurry” thought reminds me that when I finish reading a book, or decide to abandon it, I have often said that I need to stay with the book for a while, try to reinforce its lessons, write about it perhaps.  It’s a wish that I could make true, but usually don’t, and I never remember the wish at the crucial time—if I write about it, it’s because I want to write, having some emotion that I want to express.  And so, I misjudge books through a haste to be done with them (mostly to get on to the next book), and I forget what I’ve read because I make no effort to chew the juice out of them.

Indeed, I’ve sometimes thought that this “stay with it” idea might well apply to each chapter, page, even paragraph, as I work my way through.  It’s a rare book indeed that I come anywhere close to this ideal, the recent Maslow being one.  I might say that the book has to earn that kind of attention from me.  And maybe that’s completely appropriate and sensible.

Another Nin:  “I yearn to be delivered of this book.  It is devouring me.”  (p. 315)  I might use it in KM, though for me, and perhaps for her, it’s overwrought.  And of course, I claim to want to tell the truth.

“K-shaped recovery”:  translation:  the 99% losing the class war.

Well, slap my face:  of course the class war is already lost.  The losers are getting angry; they’ve been angry for a while.  The fools, however, succumbed to the foolers again and elected their worst nightmare in 2016, then clung to the Cheetolini as he went down for the third time.  And then they tried to break the already-broken government.

Bertrand Russell: “In philosophy ever since the time of Pythagoras there has been an opposition between the men whose thought was mainly inspired by mathematics and those who were more influenced by the empirical sciences.”  The History of Western Philosophy, Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, 1945, p. 828.  Of the latter he names Democritus, Aristotle, and “the modern empiricists from Locke onwards.”  I find the last (i.e., Locke onwards) more congenial than other philosophers, though between Plato and Aristotle, I’ll take Plato, and I haven’t read Democritus.  Actually, I’ve read very little pre-Hume, getting whatever knowledge I have of that from Russell and Durant and Edith Hamilton.  I am easily bored, you see.

Listening to Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.  Reluctant to get on to the vacuuming.  Had an itch yesterday or the day before to read Russell on “logical analysis,” the last chapter of his History.  I’ve read the whole book at least twice, started it again in mid-2019 but didn’t get even as far as Plato, but examining what I highlighted, I want to read it again.  Along with the 799 others that nag me.

The recording—Igor Markevitch and Orchestre Lamoureux, from 1962—sounds good, and the performance is vigorous (i.e., I like it).

Pizza for breakfast, rotisserie chicken and Dave’s Killer Bread for lunch, now almost 2:00.  No dictation done; watched some of Thom Hartmann and Randi Rhodes; read a little of the Nin quotes and The Monkey is the Messenger (De La Rosa).  In other words, distracted.  Actually, the dishes were a higher priority than dictation, and I did some other cleanup:  a little on the stove and the fridge, both desperately dirty and never cleaned by me in the five years I’ve lived here.  Probably quite dirty when I moved in—I know the top of the stove was, so it’s unlikely anything here was at all clean.  I’ve never looked inside the oven, I think.  I don’t want to rush into anything.

Hmph.  The SF ended without the cymbal-crash I was expecting.  I felt deprived.

Moving right along, I’m feeling sleepy after lunch, and I already had a nap after breakfast.  Sometimes it seems like all I do is sleep and eat.  The problem is, when I’m feeling sleepy, I don’t want to do any of the things that need doing.  I wish I had carried out my idea of getting a housekeeper.  I still could, but not this month.  I think it’s inevitable.

Dinner was jam on toast, followed by cookies.  A loss tomorrow morning is barely conceivable.

I want to carry through with the forbidden theme of the Fynn novel.  I wanted to write now the idea that Apple might talk about Anaïs Nin’s diaries, read from them to Fynn.  I imagined her saying, “I don’t ever want to wear clothes.”  A quote that stimulated this train of thought:

“…when I was sixteen I took moonbaths because I thought they would influence my destiny, grant me a more mysterious life, a night life. I had heard that the effects of the moon were dangerous. This tempted me. In Richmond Hill, in my bedroom, I would lie naked where the moonlight shone through my open window, in the summer, bathing in it and dreaming of the kind of fantastic life it would create for me.”  p. 158.

Another:  “I will never be able to describe the states of dazzlement, the trances, the ecstasies produced in me by love-making. More than communion, more than any joy in writing, more than the infinite, lies in the unity achieved by passion. It is the only moment when I am at rest, that is the summit, the grace, the miracle.”  p. 251.  These are from Volume Two, 1934-1939.

You can see where this is leading.  She will make demands on Fynn that he cannot fulfill, thus driving him into the desert to die.

Pablo came by, thus killing my chances of doing anything useful between 4:15 and 6:30, or there about.  I did finish reading the Nin quotes, and we watched some useful things on Free Speech TV, showing me that this is what I need to do when he comes over.  And, of course, he left me some dirty dishes.  I don’t object to this, but having had dirty dishes for a week which I finally washed today, well…

He does wash my dishes sometimes, though.

More Nin, from Volume One:  “I told him my theory of skipping meaningless details, as the dream skips them, which produces not only intensity but power. He begins, ‘Wednesday morning I stood at the corner …’  I say, drop ‘Wednesday’; drop the extra weight to achieve speed, the essential … A literature of ‘cuts.’”  p. 166, ellipses in original.

“[Henry Miller] freed himself of all tasks but one: to write, perhaps at the expense of others, at the expense of smaller men and lesser artists.”  p. 257.

I hear a bass playing, a neighbor—this is new and very regrettable, but doubtless no worse than what I inflict on them.

{2/6/21}  Weight 209.6 at 5:45 am.  Not unexpected.  I last weighed this much on 1/28.

Four pages of dictation this morning.  Internet browsers not working; the weather app works.

Hemlock Club tomorrow.

A nap and more dictation; now depressed at 10:00 am.  In part I’m doing dictation so I won’t “have to” do vacuuming.  Best would be to do dishes (again).  Don’t want to.  Want to be self-indulgent.  Reading, I suppose, is a self-indulgence that wouldn’t depress me further again later.

Catching a few minutes of Greta Gerwig in the appallingly dull Greenberg and recognizing her from Frances Ha and recognizing also that I find her amazingly attractive.  This is a puzzlement because she’s not especially pretty, not especially clever or amusing, yet there’s a vulnerability, naturalness, and honesty that I find irresistible.  I felt much the same after seeing Frances Ha (reviewed in diary, 8/1/19, called her “very lovable”).  This business of “falling in love” with images on a screen is bad for me and bad for humanity.  At least, I sense a danger in the “love and longing.”  Surely I’m just spouting conventional “wisdom,” here, however.

Stuffing myself with potato chips hasn’t lifted my depression, of course.  My early lunch (10:30).  Food Maxx is selling chips marked $4.89 for $2.99, or $1.99 each if you buy two.  Who can resist potato chips at less than half price?  Not me, obviously.

If I wanted to study as opposed to just reading all the time, how might I go about it?  Start by setting goals?  I have a textbook, Cognitive Neuroscience, that might be worth the effort to study.  It would begin with reading—but how?  Ordinarily, I’d read straight through, but for something like this, I think a different approach is called for.  Read a chapter, then decide what I want to learn of that material.  Write out some bullet points and memorize them?  Not word-for-word, but point-by-point.  Does this make sense?  This memorizing would be agony.

What about, say, Rorty’s Consequences of Pragmatism?

Highlight the passages that seem to me “worthy of note”; reread the highlighted parts periodically.  Set up a “schedule for review” in the Bullet Journal, and mark off the completed tasks.  Not allow boredom to divert me away from the goal.

Or, type out quotes, print them off, and file them for, again, periodic review.  In any case, just putting the book back on the shelf for “whenever” isn’t quite cutting it.  I think the schedule, and sticking to it, is the important thing.  The other parts—highlighting and copying—are good; I need to make better use of that work.  And it’s hardly a burden to do something like this.  A little planning, and the follow-through, that’s all that’s needed to make me a genius, right?  Sure.

Even a schedule isn’t necessary; just a bookshelf.  Each morning—mornings are best for this kind of work—take the book at the left, sit down with it, and go through it, either page-by-page or marker-by-marker (tape flags for target pages).  If it takes more than one session, put it back at the left, and continue the next morning.  When done with a book, put it at the end of the line.  When it gets over-familiar (i.e., “thoroughly learned” or “boring”), refile the book to its normal storage place, or get rid of it.  Possibly, write an essay or summary in your own words.  This [reviewing] could be virtually painless, if I can remember to do it each day.  It’s just a minor tweak of some of my usual practices.

Tape flags seem an important, actually, a crucial part of the system.  After reading and highlighting a book, put it on the shelf.  First time reviewing, add tape flags to each page with highlighting that you’ll want to revisit every time.  When a page is “learned,” remove the flag.  When all flags are gone, you’re done—write the essay/summary.  (I can see some essays going begging.)

What about languages?  Languages really need to be tackled daily, or don’t bother.  The language book could be permanently at the left end of the study shelf.

The point is not penance or self-torture; the point is to make better use of my very real efforts to learn things.  To work smarter, not harder.  And “smarter” here means “more systematically,” with a system that’s painless, not labor-intensive.

Now the question is, what to study?  German, Chinese, or hieroglyphics, or none?  German or nothing—the others are “play.” i.e., I have no hope of coming within a parsec of fluency.  It’s not at all obvious how I should study German, however.  The method applicable to the other books doesn’t seem suitable.  Maybe the Remarque novel; learn the unfamiliar vocabulary page-by-page.  Read a page over and over again, until no lookups are needed.  I don’t have a textbook.

A philosophy book, a neuroscience book, and a self-help book.  Philosophy should be The Faith of a Heretic, because it’s foundational for my philosophy.  Rorty’s Consequences of Pragmatism would also be good, at least the “Introduction.”  Lost Connections, The Willpower Instinct, and The Bullet Journal Method, my self-mastery trio, two of which include some neuroscience.  That’s six books, but the German I’ll be reviewing every day.  So, any particular book gets reviewed every fifth day unless it requires more than one day for review.

The goal is to be able to speak fluently on these books, and to apply their lessons or knowledge to my life.

This idea is exciting.

Two paragraphs from the “Introduction” to Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition, by Henry Thoreau, Jeffrey S. Cramer (ed.), Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2004:

“It was the poet’s business, he explained in a Journal entry on 19 August 1851, to be ‘continually watching the moods of his mind, as the astronomer watches the aspects of the heavens. What might we not expect from a long life faithfully spent in this wise?… As travellers go around the world and report natural objects and phenomena, so faithfully let another stay at home and report the phenomena of his own life.’

“It must be remembered, however, that Walden is not strict autobiography but a literary work in which Thoreau takes liberties for the sake of the artistic integrity of the mythic life he is creating. Differentiating between his actual life and his ideal life, Thoreau wrote to Harrison Gray Otis Blake on 27 March 1848: ‘My actual life is a fact in view of which I have no occasion to congratulate myself, but for my faith and aspiration I have respect. It is from these that I speak.’” p. xviii.

Finished my first review, The Bullet Journal Method.  I did not add any tape flags to the two that were already present.  Mostly the review just made me want to read the book again, but I’m not going to do that.  It’s clear, however, that this method is most suitable to books I’ve read very recently.  I presume that this will sort itself out as I continue cycling books through “the shelf.”  I’m going to leave the German for tomorrow (or likely Monday, since tomorrow has the Hemlock Club in the morning).

Copyright 2021 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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