Yay constantly learning

The Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast has been running a series of sponsor ads recently from The Great Courses. As part of their sponsorship, TGC is running special offers. I used one advertised on SYMIHC and bought “The Masters Of War” for dirt cheap.

It’s kinda awesome.

I really love learning new things. I love hearing new people tell me about things with which I am already familiar, because then I learn new things. I love topics that are complete mysteries to me, because then I learn new things. I love revisiting information I once had but haven’t seen in a while, because then I learn new things.

I love new things.

This week I’ve been watching “Masters of War,” which I downloaded, and catching up on The Ancient World podcast, and reading Storey’s Basic Country Living and Greg Rucka’s novel Bravo.

The world is full of new things to learn.

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July 29 2014

I would like a squishable manatee.

I would also like to hide a tool box in my hair.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

— Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

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Continuous is not the same as constant

In the last four years I’ve developed, for the first time in my life, the habit of working out. I love weight training — purely love it. I love lifting heavy weights, I love moving my body (itself a rather heavy weight) through the world in new and novel-to-me ways. I love the growth and improvement, the sense of accomplishment I get from learning to do new things.

I enjoy reading fitness books. The New Workout This, the Ripped Body that. 30 Days to Whatever Things We Put On the Cover. I find these books, while frequently implausible in their claims, to be inspirational. The more reasonable ones are still laughably out of my reach for the most past. I am not a testosterone-fueled twenty-year-old cis-male. I am never going to look like your cover photo. But I find them encouraging — aspirational rather than despair-inducing.

There is one thing, though, endemic to fitness books and programs, that I must willfully ignore. The idea of constant improvement.

There’s a mantra in fitness that each workout ought to bring some small modicum of improvement over the last one. A bit more weight. A better time. One more rep. A bit farther. If I adhere to this thinking, I inevitably hurt myself. My tendons get horribly sore and inflamed to the point where I can’t go about my daily life activities. The idea that continuous improvement must mean constant and unceasing improvement is a recipe for disaster for me.

So I read the books, and watch the YouTube videos. And I go and work out. And I ask myself what a reasonable metric for improvement might be. Measurable improvement each week? Each month? I’m past the age of forty — maybe simply Not Losing Physical Ability is metric sufficient unto the day?

I don’t have a clear answer on this point. But I do know that, each time I go to the Y and lift, I should NOT exhort myself to lift heavier weights every time.

Nopetopus says nope.

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No manifestos, only habits

I’ve mentioned before that I am a reformed procrastinator and slacker. I spent a great deal of my young adulthood not participating, not committing, not getting involved. “I’m not good at projects,” I would say, and avoid starting any. This was completely true; I was terrible at finishing things.

Much later in life I read something that resonated for me. Namely, that nothing is ever “done,” it’s only “done enough.” That perfectionism can lead to fear of failure, and that fear of failure leads to decision paralysis, and nothing ever gets started because one is so worried about not finishing.

In my house we summarize this with the saying, “there is no ‘clean’, there is only ‘cleaner.'” The house will never be CLEAN. But it can be cleaner than it is right this minute, if I just pick up one damn thing.

There are a number of books and programs that I like because they fit this ethic.

I love Unfuck Your Habitat. UFYH has a basic theory, which is that no-one deserves to live in filth and squalor. Moreover, that everyone can makes things better, one tiny step at a time. UFYH is against marathon cleaning, in which everyone ends up exhausted and depressed and crabby. UYFH is about twenty minute of cleaning, then a break, then another short clean.

UFYH is about making new habits that will help you enjoy your life.

I appreciate, and somewhat use, the Getting Things Done program. (Book, program, motivational lecture series — it’s kind of a vaguely cult-y thing.) GTD proposes systems for handling decision-making that ultimately reduce one’s cognitive load. The idea is that the fewer things you have hanging out it the back of your mind, causing you stress and anxiety, the more executive function you will have for actual decision-making. I, personally, find this to be the case.

GTD is also about new habits.

I like Nerd Fitness. the core principle of NF is that we can all change out habits. That changing one’s life (fitness, diet, health) is a matter of changing tiny things every few weeks.

NF argues that sweeping changes don’t last, but habits do.

Now, all of these sites are somewhat hectoring in tone. They all take as a fundamental premise that we humans are kinda lazy, kind unmotivated, and a bit fearful of change. So there is a certain amount of “oh for pity’s sake, what do you mean you can’t do this one tiny change?” This works well for me. It might not work well for you.

But at that same time, all three things are full of cheerleading, and motivational remarks, and applause for fulfilling basic accomplishments.

I don’t know about you, but some days I really appreciate applause for fulfilling basic life accomplishments.

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What sticks with you

It’s funny, what sticks with me from the books I read when I was younger.

I ponder this as I watch what fiction my kids take in. J and I have talked about this, about how there’s no way of knowing how kids process stories. I, for instance, read a lot of things as prescriptive when they were probably meant as descriptive — and descriptive of dysfunctional or terrible things, at that. Observing my habits, no-one on the outside could know that understood the Little House on the Prairie television series to mean “conform at any cost, lest the entire town know and shame you,” but that I found Stephen King’s IT to be inspirational literature.

Tl;dr, people’s heads are complicated.

I digress.

The point I set out to make, however, is that sometimes the oddest little things stick in my head. There’s a series of books, the Fifth Millenium books, jointly written by S.M. Stirling, Shirley Meier, and Karen Wehrstein. They are post-apocalyptic fantasy, full of cultural mashups and depictions of women, queers, and people of color that were liberating to teenage-Sigrid, but are, um … more problematic, now.

(Still. I can’t slam those books entirely, even though I wince at many bits. First portrayal of lesbian and bisexual women who actually had sex I had ever read in my life.)

Hm. I digress again.

ANYWAY.

The bits that sticks with me the most comes from Lion’s Heart and Lion’s Soul, the two books by Karen Wehrstein that tell the life of Chevenga, leader of the army that destroys the evil Arkan Empire. In them, at some point Chevenga is pondering something he calls the size of his shadow. How we go through our lives and we do things, and we cannot predict how those actions ripple through people’s lives. We can’t predict or control how our shadow falls. Yet, we owe it to others and to ourselves to be aware of our effect in the world. We need to remember to look behind ourselves and see if we have thoughtlessly caused harm or offence. And, if so, we need to turn around and go try to repair the damage.

I think about that, when I look at human systems. The actors, in these systems, do they know where their shadows fall? Do they care? How much of a given mess could be fixed by someone stopping to turn around and check the path of their actions, to reach out and help someone back up?

It’s funny what sticks with you, in books. Knowing where your shadow falls.

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Well, that’s a diagnosis of sorts

For those of you following along at home, I have some sort of ongoing throat … issue. For a terrible week in February of this year I was diagnosed with throat cancer. (Which I don’t have, as it happens.) The last … year, more or less, has been an effort to figure out what’s wrong with my throat.

The latest throat biopsy results came in, and I have …

… da-da-daaah! …

… reactive lymphoplasmacytic infiltrate.

I recommend you don’t google it. All the results come back “sqaumous cell carcinoma,” which is the cancer diagnosis I had in February.

Which, I don’t have.

So, barring cancer, what “reactive lymphoplasmacytic infiltrate” means is “there’s weird gunk in your throat and the cells keep bursting and we don’t know why and it’s EVERYWHERE.”

So.

That’s a thing.

The next step is go talk to a rheumatologist. I’m not sure why? Possibly because they are simply out of ideas …

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Home again

So, yeah ….

I am back from vacation!

I wish I was still on vacation.

I am tired.

I don’t want to resume my normal responsibilities, like work and homeschooling and paying bills.

I am glad to see my girlfriend again.

I am glad to be back with the dogs.

We got the tree branch that fell across our front door removed.

We are drying out the flooded basement.

Life returns to normal.

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