cafebedouin.org: 2017 Year in Review and Looking Ahead to 2018

I started blogging on January 1, 2017. I was inspired by Don Joyce of Negativland and Over the Edge to “start your own show”, to have a creative outlet where it becomes possible to explore ideas and different creative directions. I was also coming across other posts like “Everyone Should Blog” that helped reenforce the thought.

Originally, my idea was to try to write one quality essay a week. But, I ended up wanting to explore ideas in lengths and with references that was difficult to do week in and week out. Also, my writing felt stilted, academic and lifeless. I need more practice.

By the third week of February, I had decided to close my Facebook account and to limit, to the degree possible, my reliance on the companies of the feudal internet, i.e., Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. After deleting Facebook, the next step meant taking a hard look at my use of Google, which included looking to migrate my new blog off blogger.com.

It was easy to migrate to WordPress.com. It just took awhile because I was looking for a new email provider, installing Linux and later OpenBSD on my PCs, evaluating new services like NextCloud to replace Google, etc. It took a lot of time and energy, but I am very happy now I made this transition to a slightly more free, but also slightly more costly, relationship with technology.

I started blogging again in June, and I decided to try one post a day, partly so I would be forced to keep it shorter. As of this post, I’ve made 262 posts.

I like the commonplace book style of the blog, and I think there are some good bits that get sprinkled in. I used to write quotes of this sort in a physical book, and it may be worthwhile to post the best of them here in the coming year.

In 2018, I would also like to get back to more original content. I’m thinking it would be good to post something original once a week, but spread it across different forms: poetry, essays, drawing, photography and so forth. Maybe also do more brief commentary of 250 words or less, sketches of story ideas or fragments, aphorisms, book reviews and the like. The goal still being to post something everyday, something that seems weird or interesting, just with some more originals. Let’s see how it goes.

2018 Experiment: Daily Meditation

Background:

“Mere intellectual understanding is not enough. It is not by leaving the doctor’s prescription by the bedside or learning it by heart that we are cured. We must integrate what we have learned so that our understanding becomes intimately bound up into our mind’s flow. Then, it ceases to be theory and becomes self-transformation. Indeed, as we’ve seen, that is the meaning of the word: meditation: familiarization with a new way of being we can familiarize ourselves with all sorts of positive qualities in this way — kindness, patient, tolerance — and continue to develop through meditation.”

—Matthieu Ricard, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.

Meditation is popular. Tim Ferris informs us in his book, Tools for Titans, that 80% of the +200 people he interviewed for the book have “some form of guided-meditation practice.” Physicians have developed an eight week plan of guided meditation that they have used in clinical trials to treat depression. Neuroscientists studying long-term meditators think that meditation involves temporal integrative mechanisms that can change the connections of neurons and the brain itself. Many different religious traditions have established meditation practices, whether it is the reading of the Psalms to the whirling dervishes of Sufism. The overwhelming consensus seems to be that some form of meditation is good for you.

In our society, our focus is often on utility. Will meditation make me more effective? Will it keep me healthy? Will it help me to manage pain? What can it do for me?

In the Zen tradition, there is sometimes talk of five stages/styles of Zen:

  1. Bompu Zen or “Usual Zen” is meditation undertaken for utilitarian reasons, such as increased personal effectiveness, the ability to focus, enhanced mood, etc.
  2. Gedo Zen or “Outside Way” is meditation used as a spiritual exercise, particularly for any religious tradition that is not Buddhist.
  3. Shojo Zen or “Practice of Jhana” is meditation to reach enlightenment for oneself.
  4. Daiju Zen or “Great Practice Zen” is meditation made for the benefit and eventual enlightenment of all sentient beings.
  5. Saijojo Zen or “Great and Perfect Practice Zen” is, as far as I can tell, meditation for the sake of meditation, without striving for any particular result.

All of these reasons seem like good entry points into meditation practice. For my purposes, this experiment is not attempting to achieve any particular result other than to develop a consistent meditation practice and document some of the experiences in making the attempt to practice every day over the course of one year, while holding out the possibility of extending the attempt further into the future.

Methods:

“If you practice regularly for only five or ten minutes a day, without straining your body, you will soon want to extend the time you spend in sitting because of the increased feeling of bodily health as well as the great peace of mind that you will enjoy. Once you begin to experience bodily discomfort, stop sitting; otherwise, you will grow tired of doing Zazen [meditation] and come to dread the time when you think you should be doing it…Even in a big monastery, one does not normally sit for longer than forty-five minutes at a time without a short break. This is because the strain of keeping the mind taut at the beginning is very great, and this lessens the value of the actual sitting. Five to ten minutes done really well is worth a whole day done badly.”

—Jiyu Kennett, Selling Water by the River: A Manual of Zen Training. New York, Pantheon Books, 1972.

I am committing to doing at least one session of 25 minutes every day in the coming year. If desired and possible on any particular day, I will either do multiple sessions or do longer sessions of no longer than 50 minutes. I will use the Meditation Assistant app [F-Droid or Play] as both a mediation timer and log for my meditation sessions.

I will use the standard practices outlined as exercises in Ricard’s Happiness as a starting off point to focus my meditation practice. I will also look into other sources for understanding meditation, whether from traditional sutras, contemporary commenters such as Ayya KhemaChagdud TulkuSharon Salzberg, etc. or other sources, particularly those in the Zen tradition.

I will also write a weekly summary of practice for myself including: questions that come to mind, trouble spots, failures to practice, etc. Anything I find particularly interesting I will post to this blog. Quarterly, I will briefly summarize my experience and edit the results section to reflect my experience. At the end of the experiment, I plan on discussing the experiment and provide some conclusions, if there are any.

Results: TBD.

Discussion: TBD.

Conclusions: TDB.

2018 Experiment: HIIT Burpee and Running Program

Background: Maintaining a minimum fitness standard is a challenge, particularly as we age. American Heart Association (AHA) recommendations focused on HIIT strength training and running suggests two sessions of HIIT strength training and three sessions of running for twenty-five minutes each.

physical-activity-in-adults

HIIT program criteria:

  1. It can be done anywhere.
  2. It requires no equipment.
  3. It takes less than 20 minutes.

This program is an experiment to see what kind of results can be obtained from HIIT training using one program with one exercise in combination with an easy program of running. It is as simple a plan to meet AHA recommendations for physical activity as I could come up with that incorporates strength training and meets a minimum running goal of 10 miles a week, which is a very low weekly mileage for runners.

Methods: Use the Bats! HIIT Interval Timer. Set up eleven phases. Work, break and rest are in seconds. Blk is for block or number of sets. #/Blk is number of timed intervals per set. Min. is total number of minutes required to complete.

Phase Work Break Rest #/Blk Blk Min.
P0 10 60 30 12 1 15
P1 15 60 30 12 1 16
P2 20 60 30 12 1 17
P3 25 60 30 12 1 18
P4 30 60 30 12 1 19
P5 30 55 30 12 1 18
P6 30 50 30 12 1 17
P7 30 45 30 12 1 16
P8 30 40 30 12 1 15
P9 30 35 30 12 1 14
P10 30 30 30 12 1 13

Do each phase for a month, twice a week. For the work interval, do burpees (standard or an easier variation). During break time, I plan to rest completely. Then, rinse and repeat until complete.

Initial plan is to do this program Tuesday and Friday. After HIIT training, do an easy run/walk of 25 minutes. On Monday and Thursday, do a minimum run/walk of four miles or approximately 40/80 minutes, respectively. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays are rest days.

Experiment will be considered a success if Phase 10 is done four weeks in a row. If I go for four weeks without doing the strength training or reach December 31, 2018 without completing Phase 10 for four weeks, I will consider the experiment over. On completion, I’ll write up a post mortem with results and conclusion and if I want to try it again, how it should be modified.

Results: For four months, I followed this program. I got to phase 3. At the end, I completed 6 burpees for 12 sets for a total of 72 burpees in 18 minutes for 6 weeks. There were dramatic improvements in cardiovascular fitness. Strength was improved. I also gained 15 pounds, which was the reason I stopped doing it.

Discussion: If I were to do this again, I’d focus on the number of burpees per work set and bring down the number per set and add sets over time. For example, I’d start with doing 1 burpee per minute for 10 minutes. As able, I’d add 2 minutes a session until I was at 20 minutes, then I’d drop down to 2 burpees per minute for 10 minutes and repeat the process.

I found that I could do 1 burpee every 3 seconds. So, you could work up to 10 burpees every minute and still have a 30 second recovery period per set. If you did that for 20 minutes, it would be 200 burpees. This is enough fitness for the vast majority of people.

The program above, in contrast, required doubling the amount when you go to the next level. It was very difficult. There needs to be a more gradual adaptation. Using the program outlined in the discussion section, I suspect it would probably take two years to start at 10 burpees in 10 minutes and work up to 200 burpees in 20 minutes.

Two sessions per week is reasonable. As long as you were doing the more gradual program, you might be safe doing as many as three.

The major issue is that doing this kind of exercise is going to fundamentally change your body composition and your weight is going to go up. I think it is worth doing. But, if your goal is to lose weight, then you’ll need to do that first and then do this program when you are ready to build your strength and fitness.

Conclusions: Properly modified per the discussion session, this technique is worth exploration as a way to maintain fitness and strength. But, it should not be confused with a weight loss program. This program will put weight on you, a lot of it.

2018 Experiment: Ketogenic Diet

Background: A ketogenic diet is centered on fat as the main source of calories. While approaches vary, it typically involves getting >66% of total calories from fat, a gram of protein for every kilogram of weight, and minimizing carbohydrates to the degree possible, which means absolutely less than 50 grams and ideally, less than 20 grams. There have been studies done that support this approach, and there are books and articles on the Internet that explain the ketogenic diet in great detail.

I have been following a ketogenic diet since November 1, 2017. I lost 10 pounds in two months. I plan on continuing a ketogenic diet, with some reasonable flexiblity, through 2018.

Methods: The goal is to eat 70% fat, 20% protein, and as few carbs as possible. To get this high level of fat, I put coconut oil in coffee, drink coconut milk and add olive oil to food. Protein is mostly from tofu, egg whites, some seafood, and protein powder in water. Throw in some nuts and green leafy vegetables, and you have most of your calories for the day.

When feasible, I’ll use the Fitbit site to track macronutrients like fat since they have a nice database or products where you can scan the barcode of packaged food and get nutritional information.

A common problem with the ketogenic diet is low fiber intake. I am supplementing with whole flake psyllium, avoiding products like Metamucil since they have added sugar to make it more palatable. I’ve found just gulping a lot of water along with the psyllium mixed with water works fine to get the mixture down.

I will consider the diet a success if I can get my weight down a total of thirty pounds and keep my average weight below that level for the remainder of the year.

Results: I’ll do a quarterly review of my progress.

Discussion: TBD.

Conclusions: TBD.

2018 Experiment: A Reading List

Background: I have thousands of books in my book queue that I would like to read, but never seem to find the time for. In 2018, instead of reading whatever seems good at the moment, I’m going to try sticking to an idiosyncrastic list of 101 books and/or collections I’d like to read in the coming year.

I’ll consider it a success if I manage to read a quarter of the titles on this list by the end of 2018. If I can manage a third of them, I’ll consider that an excellent outcome.

In the end, it is alright if I end up reading a handful of these books. I also intend to either do a book review when I complete a title or post interesting quotes as I find them.

Methods: Stick with the list. If I want to read a book off list, I’ll review this book list and ask: Is this off-list book more interesting than all the unread titles on this list? If not, then it can wait for next year’s list.

Results: All the titles below that are in bold I read about eight titles completely. Those that are in italics  I at least checked out and either skimmed or read portions of them. For each, there are around fourteen titles a piece.

Discussion: There is a real disconnect with a list and the actual reading. Each had different problems. For example, I read about half of a Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and lost interest. The Art of Looking Sideways is really better as a coffee or side table book, and it is not something most people would read straight through. While I am interested in reading SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, its availability from the library didn’t coincide with motivation on my part.

Conclusions: If a list like this is going to work. It needs to be fewer titles, and the titles there need to be either really short, really good or something that really interests me. A lot of the books here missed for one or more of those reasons.

List:

  1. Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Americanah.
  2. Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations.
  3. Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.
  4. Bowles, Paul. The Stories of Paul Bowles.
  5. Bradbury, Ray. The Stories of Ray Bradbury.
  6. Browne, Harry. How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World.
  7. Butler, Octavia E. Bloodchild and Other Stories.
  8. Calvino, Italo. Italian Folktales.
  9. Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities.
  10. Carroll, Peter J. Liber Null and Psychonaut: An Introduction to Chaos Magic.
  11. Carter, Angela. Burning Your Boats.
  12. Cerón, Rocío. Diorama.
  13. Chagdud, Tulku. Gates to Buddhist Practice.
  14. Congdon, Lisa. A Glorious Freedom.
  15. Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Charlie Bucket, #1).
  16. Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
  17. Dinesen, Isak. Carnival: Entertainments and Posthumous Tales.
  18. Endō, Shūsaku. Silence.
  19. Epictetus. Discourses and Selected Writings.
  20. Etheridge, Chuck. Border Cantos Trilogy: Book I.
  21. Euripides. Medea and Other Plays: Medea / Alcestis / The Children of Heracles / Hippolytus.
  22. Ferriss, Timothy. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.
  23. Fletcher, Alan. The Art of Looking Sideways.
  24. Frank, Pat. Alas, Babylon.
  25. Galbraith, Carrie. Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society.
  26. Galeano, Eduardo. Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone.
  27. Gallwey, W. Timothy. The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance.
  28. Garson, Scott. Is That You, John Wayne?
  29. Gessel, Van C. The Shōwa Anthology: Modern Japanese Short Stories.
  30. Girard, René. Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World.
  31. Gorey, Edward. The Gashlycrumb Tinies (The Vinegar Works, #1).
  32. Gracián, Baltasar. The Art of Worldly Wisdom.
  33. Grass, Günter. The Danzig Trilogy: The Tin Drum / Cat and Mouse / Dog Years.
  34. Graves, Robert. I, Claudius (Claudius, #1).
  35. Greitens, Eric. Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life.
  36. Gyasi, Yaa. Homegoing.
  37. Hadot, Pierre. Philosophy As a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault.
  38. Hagy, Jessica. How to Be Interesting: An Instruction Manual.
  39. Hamel, Christopher De. Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts.
  40. Hansberry, Lorraine. To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: An Informal Autobiography.
  41. Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
  42. Hwoschinsky, Carol. Listening With The Heart: A Guide For Compassionate Listening.
  43. Ingalls, Rachel. Three Masquerades: Novellas. 12/2017.
  44. Jaeger, Werner Wilhelm. Paideia 1: The Ideals of Greek Culture: Archaic Greece: The Mind of Athens.
  45. Johnson, Denis. Jesus’ Son.
  46. Keene, John. Counternarratives.
  47. Kelly, Joe. I Kill Giants.
  48. Kennett, Jiyu. Selling Water by the River: Manual of Zen Training. 12/2017.
  49. Khema, Ayya. Be an Island: The Buddhist Practice of Inner Peace.
  50. King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
  51. Kreider, Tim. We Learn Nothing.
  52. Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness.
  53. Le Guin, Ursula K. The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories.
  54. Lee, Min Jin. Pachinko.
  55. Van Lente, Fred. Action Philosophers!
  56. Lichtenberg, Georg Christoph. The Waste Books. 12/2017.
  57. Lin Yutang. The Importance of Living.
  58. Liu, Cixin. The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1).
  59. Liu, Cixin. The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2).
  60. Liu, Cixin. Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3).
  61. Manguel, Alberto. The Dictionary of Imaginary Places.
  62. Matthiessen, Peter. The Snow Leopard.
  63. McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.
  64. McLuhan, Marshall. The Book of Probes.
  65. McMurtry, Larry. Lonesome Dove.
  66. McPhee, John. Draft No. 4.
  67. Mercier, Hugo. The Enigma of Reason.
  68. Mirtalipova, Dinara. Imagine A Forest: 45 Step by Step Lessons to Create Enchanting Folk Art.
  69. Miłosz, Czesław. Selected and Last Poems 1931-2004.
  70. Moore, Alan. Jerusalem.
  71. Moten, Fred. The Little Edges.
  72. Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
  73. Novy, Adam. The Avian Gospels, Book I.
  74. O’Connor, Flannery. The Complete Stories.
  75. Ōe, Kenzaburō. Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness: Four Short Novels.
  76. Palmer, Ada. Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota, #1).
  77. Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects.
  78. Rothenberg, Jerome. Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Bought.
  79. Sanderson, Brandon. The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1).
  80. Sanderson, Brandon. Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2).
  81. Sanderson, Brandon. Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3).
  82. Sapolsky, Robert M. Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.
  83. Scharf, Caleb. The Zoomable Universe: An Epic Tour Through Cosmic Scale, from Almost Everything to Nearly Nothing.
  84. Schopenhauer, Arthur. Essays and Aphorisms.
  85. Seneca. Letters from a Stoic.
  86. Shakur, Assata. Assata: An Autobiography.
  87. Shepard, Lucius. The Jaguar Hunter.
  88. Shklovsky, Victor. Zoo or Letters Not About Love.
  89. Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
  90. Spiegelman, Art. Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History (Maus, #1).
  91. VanderMeer, Jeff. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction.
  92. Vargas Llosa, Mario. Conversation in the Cathedral.
  93. Vonnegut Jr., Kurt. The Sirens of Titan.
  94. Ward, Jesmyn. Sing, Unburied, Sing.
  95. Ware, Chris. Building Stories.
  96. Willink, Jocko. Extreme Ownership: How U. S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. 12/2017.
  97. Wilson, August. Three Plays: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom / Fences / Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.
  98. Woodring, Jim. Congress of the Animals.
  99. Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own.
  100. Zehme, Bill. Lost in the Funhouse: The Life and Mind of Andy Kaufman.
  101. Zweig, Stefan. The World of Yesterday.

Secondhand Lonely

“‘Show? To who? Girl, I got my mind. And what goes on in it. Which is to say, I got me.’

‘Lonely, ain’t it?’ Nel’s question sticks out in my mind like the point of an index finger toward a shameful secret unfurled before a judgmental public. Lonely, ain’t it.

‘Yes. But my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else’s. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain’t that something? A secondhand lonely.'”

—Toni Morrison, Sula. New York: Knopf, 1976, parts quoted in Zoë Gadegbeku, “My Secondhand Lonely,” Slice. Spring/Summer 2017. Reprinted on Longreads.com.

Much worth thinking about in Zoë Gadegbeku’s piece. For me, the deeply personal account obscures some points that could be made about the presentation of self, moving beyond romantic love and including alienation within larger communities, and so forth. But, I empathized with much that was said here even though I have a much different background.

The Human Cost of the Ghost Economy

 “To think of The Ghosted is to think of injustice, a cataloging of fist-fights, tuberculosis, detention centers, scabies, crabs, lice, roaches, hot plates, Section 8 housing, laborers hiding under blankets in the backs of trucks, children lying stiff against the tops of trains, assembly lines in windowless heat-filled rooms — a type of economic violence many consumers try to close their minds to. We do not want to think of them because of what it says about us…

…the people working in the warehouses, and the landfills, and construction sites, and digging ditches, we will all one day be dead, or injured, or humiliated, or imprisoned, or abandoned. All of our needs outsourced. Benefits and overtime and healthcare and pensions and retirement and workers comp and unemployment, no longer. Planning no longer. Stability no longer. College no longer. Health no longer.”

–Melissa Chadburn, “The Human Cost of the Ghost Economy.” Longreads.com. December 2017.

Ave Maria Bamford: The Gift of Mental Illness, aka Looking at The Bright Side of Life

Maria Bamford on Mental Illness, Climate Change, Losing, Dying Young, Addiction, Being a Single Mother, Relationship Failure, Financial Ruin, Loneliness and Unspeakable Tragedy. Sounds hilarious, doesn’t it? And it is! Once the Joneses hear about the advantages of mental illness, everyone’s going to want it.

Want more good news? You probably already have a mental illness. Luckily, there’s probably a prescription medication that’s just right for you. Ask your doctor!

https://www.topic.com/ave-maria-bamford/ave-maria-bamford-the-gift-of-mental-illness