On blogging raw

My writing is deeply personal. I think of it as documentation of experience. Well, really I tend not to directly report from the front. It’s more of an Onion satire that somehow captures truth left out of straight stories. I think of it as coming at things from a “sideways angle.”
So honestly, this isn’t about me. It’s not just my way. Everyone speaks indirectly. Telling stories about friends to illustrate points about their own failings without ever admitting that’s what they are on about.
It’s annoying sometimes. Mostly it’s awkward and confusing. Poets like to emphasize the beauty, charm and grace. Storytellers too, though order and structure are their main game. Since I am performing as an essayist at the moment, I will say that my colleagues and I are intent on conveying all of these things but with minimal personality, or rather a detachment from personality that lends an artificial air of credence to our words.
The raw intellect can be a healthy snack. Of course, as in the case of rare seasonings such as saffron, it can be quite expensive. That it’s dry goes without saying. Preservation for the sake of posterity; one does wonder who exactly one is preserving it for?
Of course life is long enough in most cases, to make dehydration a quite practical concern. Don’t dry out, for example: you’ll die. But more commonly it’s nice to have all sorts of things stored in the pantry or in a kitchen cupboard. Things you don’t need every day but rather occasionally, to assist in baking bread for a potluck or making savory soup when company calls. And desserts too are all the more special when sweetened in part by the intervention of time.

Personal thoughts about food and well-being

I’ve had a personal journey with food, diet, weight loss, overeating, not eating enough. Closely linked to this is my feelings about food– I shouldn’t eat so much, I should eat better, I should eat more slowly. I really deserve all of this dessert, I know I should eat veggies but I just want ice cream right now. I have to eat all of this food right now, I’m starving! If I don’t clear my plate something bad will happen. And finally, more deeply, I’ve noticed that my overall mood and well-being are strongly linked to what I eat and when. Of course in my quest for personal health I’ve sought understanding through many conversations as well as a great deal of reading. As a practiced skeptic I’ve learned that no one really has anything like a comprehensive understanding of any of this. Also, I feel that I know enough now to be able to say some useful things myself about the topic.

1) Body weight is mostly not about how much you eat. Rather it is mainly about the quality of your diet and stress on your nervous system; Anxiety vs Depression

People claim that sugary food causes diabetes and/or obesity. But people who eat junk food don’t eat good food. How do we know it’s not the lack of nutrition that’s actually causing the problem? Further, people who eat junk food tend to be poor and under a lot of emotional/psychic stress. The obesity/diabetes epidemic correlates very closely with the neoliberal assault on the working class that started in the late ’70s, early ’80s. It correlates with the atomization of society, increase in latchkey kids, fearmongering in the media, moving jobs overseas, destruction of communities and a sense of community. We have food deserts in inner cities where all you can buy is junk food, certainly the produce quality is inferior. This is even a problem to some extent where I live in a working-class neighborhood of a Seattle suburb– a lot of the grocery stores have tons of food but the fresh produce is lacking compared to richer suburbs or city neighborhoods.

My personal experience is that my weight has fluctuated rapidly even though I’ve generally tended to eat a lot, certainly almost never missing meals except during occasional periods where I’ve fasted just as a personal experiment. And while I tend to binge on junk food I’ve always made sure I get regular full meals of nutritious food. Nonetheless I went from 150 down to 135, ballooned up slowly to 215, dropped down to 140 again. The only way I can account for it is lifestyle changes, changes in attitude. Diet just can’t explain it.

2) Food is a source of comfort. This is inherent to human biology.

This is something we all know is true, deep in our guts. Yet there is so much propaganda about it, we’ve all come to have our doubts. It’s a constant drumbeat, a barrage of information telling us what to eat, when, why, the consequences of overeating, undereating, eating the wrong food, the amazing things that happen when you eat the right food. And these lies get purchase in our minds. Which isn’t because we’re stupid and gullible. Rather it is because we have all these weird sensations in our guts that are confusing and hard to interpret rationally.

I referred to it in my introduction. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night feeling ravenous, that I absolutely had to eat immediately. And I did eat a lot. Actually this happened to me for a few weeks during the time I gained a lot of weight. It also happened again recently and I have not gained any weight since. Of course I say “it happened” but indeed I made the choice to give in to those cravings. I chose to eat that food.

Yet I can’t be sure if that was a good or bad thing for me to do. On the one hand I have all these outside voices telling me I shouldn’t eat too much and I can harm myself by doing so.

On the other hand I have my experience: In one case I gained weight, in the other my weight stayed basically the same. I have lots of reasons to believe the weight gain had to do with other things. When I was gaining weight I was depressed. I had little purpose, didn’t go out much. When I tried to start a job or volunteer somewhere I would quickly find excuses to bail. I was able to continue relating to family and friends to some extent as well as form new relationships with roommates when I moved. But overall my life was very empty, I felt very stuck. Now it’s possible that lack of exercise was my problem. I had a lot of aches and pains during that time. I chose to remain mostly sedentary, moving around some but minimally. However this is in contradiction to my period of initial weight loss. During that time I wasn’t depressed but rather super anxious and stressed out. I spent many days, even months lying down. I kept eating. But I lost weight, I didn’t gain it, despite my lack of movement. My best guess is that it was the stress that caused me to lose weight and the depression that caused me to gain it. Not the food particularly.

Which brings me back to my choice to binge on food in the middle of the night. In every case I can remember, I felt better afterward and was able to return to sleep. So I just see no reason to think it was an unhealthy choice.

Generally speaking I’ve noticed that junk food tends to make the most effective comfort food. I’ve come to accept that I can recover from difficult and stressful emotions by bingeing on junk food. I’ve also come to accept that there are some hard limits on the human body to process food and emotions. So I’m more careful than I used to be about what I take on.

Nonetheless, I find it incredibly liberating to see food as a very powerful tool. That there is no sin in it. Rather it’s up to me to use it wisely and to the best of my ability.

Post-mortem on Oregon Standoff

I have no personal stake in the situation and live in Seattle. Because I used to be an activist living in Oregon I am a follower of the Oregon Rural Organizing Project (ROP) on Facebook. For a few weeks I’ve followed news about the situation and also I’ve been talking about the standoff with people in person and on Facebook. Some of this was discussion/debate with friends. Some of it was through the ROP facebook page, which has included posts from local people directly involved.

I’ve found it personally captivating because I immediately saw it as an opportunity for the left (in this case it would have to be the ROP as the local left, the only people equipped to have a real impact because of their personal stake and personal relationships.) My thinking was not fully formed but I had a sense that this was an opening; national as well as state-level media were focusing intently on the situation. I imagined myself in the shoes of the ROP and felt that this was the moment to shine. A do or die moment to really make a difference for the local people. To draw attention to neglected rural communities and bring their concerns to prominence.

Certainly overdramatic. And yet I think more than a grain of truth. So I reached out to the ROP on facebook and tried to make my case. I felt that focusing on the harassment and intimidation tactics used by the militia was a mistake. This was the focus of the media, representing the government’s interest in maligning the militia and directing attention away from legitimate criticisms of federal land use policy– as well as legitimate criticism of the punitive treatment of local rancher Dwight Hammond and his son. The ROP response was that they were following the lead of their constituents, the people of Hammond County who were in a panic, terrorized by the militia and just wanting them to leave.

It appears that this state of paralysis continued until the government raid, greeted with cheers and relief from the people of Burns. What I wish the ROP had done is talked to the militia. Tried to find some way to build an alliance, however tenuous and fragile. Because at best all that happens now is a return to square one. At worst it’s actually a strengthening of federal power which it will continue to use locally to pursue it’s existing agenda of neglecting and abandoning large sections of the rural population, descendants of loggers, miners, ranchers who are no longer of use now that the west has already been won.

I guess if I can say anything hopeful, it’s this: Every failure is part of the learning process. In my experience eventually I hit rock bottom and decide I’ve had enough failure, now I’m going to do things the right way. I think this is how learning works– it’s not really a choice to do better but rather there is a point of maximum humiliation that simply breaks one’s will to screw up any longer.

I’m not sure that really qualifies as a hopeful thought. It’s what I’ve got to offer right now.

And I know it’s easy for me to throw my stones from a distance, aimed generally south, hoping I hit someone in harney county, if I”m lucky. I just don’t think these militia members are particularly evil or weird or stubborn or whatever. From what I’ve read they are sincere people, making personal sacrifice and travelling a long way from home to be part of something they think might make a difference in a world that we can all agree is going to hell very rapidly. Yeah, if they were walking around my town with guns and telling me what to think and refusing to listen to me I’d probably feel relieved when the FBI arrested their arrogant leader. And I’d be happy to see his smug smile at least fade a bit into something more of a scowl. And I probably would kind of feel some regret that one of his henchman had to die but I would accept it as a necessary sacrifice. But I wouldn’t be proud of this behavior. Instead I would recognize it as simply what I had to do to survive a situation that was beyond my control. And I’d try to do better next time.

Oregon standoff still standing?!

I think the standoff in Harney County Oregon could lead to a very good resolution and set a very good precedent for activism going forward.

The various militia have very little popular support but they do have strong internal discipline and leadership.

The federal government has lots of power but little willingness to oust the militia. This is because the Malheur refuge doesn’t mean that much to the feds. Nor does the federal government place high priority on the comfort of residents in Harney County who are living with the stress of frequent intimidation and harassment from armed militia members. However a violent confrontation that leaves people dead would really be a black eye for the Obama administration. Clinton really lost a lot of respect from people after Waco.

The local population appears to be demanding simply that the feds step in and make things less comfortable for the milita. By cutting off power to the refuge for example. While this might help I think a more powerful approach would be to deal directly with the militia. The militia claims to be representing the people and seeking redress of local wrongs against the rural people in Oregon. I say– hold them to it. Start talking to the militia about the real local needs and request that they begin to bring those needs forward publicly.

By all accounts most of the people in these militias are regular folk just like the citizens of Burns and the rest of Harney County. Maybe they have some quirky religious beliefs and a strange penchant for firearms (stranger and a bit more obsessive than even your average American.) Nonetheless they have ears which no one has been asking them to make use of. Other than their charismatic leaders. And that’s the heart of the problem, in my opinion.

Running out of Time

I looked in the mirror this morning and saw my pale face, tired eyes. Neck bent forward, head tilted up to see straight ahead. I don’t want to write about that. It’s boring, it’s painful, it’s too close to home.

I’ve met a lot of people, talked to a lot of people over the years. I can see their grey hair well enough, wrinkles, love handles. People tell me of their suffering, seem to discount the immensity of my own by comparison. At this point I believe that everyone has it rough before they open their mouths. It seems like they need to see the words go in my ears anyway.

It means something to me too. When I can see the effort of one of my kin to understand my fumbling communications. I find it comforting that something as simple as a smile or an offer of chocolate can still warm my heart, even as the winter persists in pressing up against my skin.

I’m only 32. Not that old. Although I rarely get the caveat any more about my abundance of time left when I deign to speak of my troubles. More common is a circuitous response, remarkably so given the usual terseness, that manages to both acknowledge and offer sympathy for my pain all while carefully hedging against any material offer or commitment of support beyond the words spoken during our brief interchange. While these social niceties have brought me great frustration (and continue to,) I feel more and more that I am receiving the world’s welcome into the middle-aged club; it’s ok, I guess. At the parties maybe no one dances with quite the same passion anymore, but at least by now we all know the steps.

I’ve always preferred quiet dinner parties anyway. Board games and the company of familiar faces, maybe a few that merely remind me enough of someone I know that I’m a bit unsure if in fact they are indeed new to me. We all get older. I don’t think aging gracefully is much of a choice, honestly. It’s the only way to make it through.

Of Cows and Birds: Oregon

I’ve been resisting reading about the situation in Oregon on federal land. I’m pretty sure I didn’t want to look too closely because of the intensity of emotion I encountered at even the outer penumbra of this particular cloud of human drama. The heart of the matter, I suppose I reasoned, must be pulsating with a lot of power. A dark electrical storm or furious blizzard tucked away and I felt that I’d rather not get too close.

Of course as we know ignoring the weather won’t change it. On the other hand, yelling at in won’t change it, nor pointing a gun. Well, that’s not strictly true. In our hubris we have developed techniques for creating rain by actually firing projectiles into clouds: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_seeding

So maybe weather is an inappropriate metaphor for the standoff in Oregon (cold as it is there.) Because while we’ve demonstrated a remarkable facility for controlling the world around us, we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to managing ourselves. Indeed this struggle is a good example of how we so easily direct attention outward while neglecting to tend to our inner wildlife refuge.

Ammon Bundy wants local control of public land but the locals don’t want his help. They do share Bundy’s anger at the feds– it was local cattle ranchers, Dwight Hammond and son who tried to stop a federal fence-building crew and the feds arrested them. Their arrest galvanized significant local support, including a protest of 500 local ranchers.

I don’t know the details of the situation and no doubt there’s blame to bear on all sides. Nonetheless the ranchers clearly have legitimate beef. The federal refuge is in their way, disrupting their ability to raise cattle, and in turn their needs hamper the various federal workers trying to run their refuge as a place for birdwatchers to visit. It’s a real problem.

And while the outside militiamen are even more ham-handed than the local ranchers, they too have a fair point. How come the feds get to arrest people at gun point while all we can do is shame them by spreading around fliers with pictures of the arresting officers?

Do the feds have a legitimate point? It’s harder for me to see from where I stand as one of the cattle– I tend to resent the prod and the slaughterhouse. The electric fence. The smell of hamburgers from the fourth of july barbeque. The laughing and carrying on that still cool evening summer air conducts from the farmhouse to my ears so easily and fully every year until I die. I tend to resent it, like I said.

And yet the birdwatchers must watch their birds. And the ecology needs protection as well as understanding. We need to protect it. We need to understand it. The cattle ranchers might be a dying breed. Maybe they aren’t. Why we need guns to solve this problem is a bit confusing, to say the least. Maybe we’re figuring that out too. I’d like to think that we are. In our own sloppy way. Making messes, then cleaning them up and with luck having a good laugh about it afterward.

I want a world where ranchers and birdwatchers can enjoy one another’s company. Maybe it’s at a fundraiser gala at the refuge visitor’s center. Maybe it’s at one of those backyard barbeques. Hamburgers, definitely. Maybe even some poultry. Probably leave the rare birds off the menu. Though we could always decorate it with photographs… Really come to think of it we should have proper steaks, I think. And a slide show really would be good for after the dinner. You know get all the best bird pictures in there and have one of the storytellers get up with his binoculars around his neck and his thinning hair and his wireless mic and tell us all about it. Yeah for some reason my mind is set on the vistor’s center. I don’t know why– I’m still thinking with my fourth stomach, I think 😉

Don’t Worry; be Hungry

I was just at the library browsing shelves. It’s a small library yet it has multiple shelves of books on the topics of food and health, many emphasizing weight loss and “eating right.” This is clearly a topic that has deep appeal. And yet we live in a time of abundant food. Certainly in a US urban area. I personally can feed myself on food stamps. It would be hard to eat really well on my allocation. In the past I relied on food banks. Since then I’ve branched out and no longer need them. I can easily dumpster dive for all sorts of nutritious food. I grow a lot of food in my backyard garden. Also I get free food from people quite regularly through my various social engagements and volunteering. And I’ve learned that there are many very nutritious edibles growing all over the place even in dense urban areas, certainly in the not as dense suburb where I live. Indeed every summer and fall it’s a common sight around here to see trees standing over large quantities of rotting fruit.

So it seems to me that there is immediately something very peculiar about the ubiquity of anxiety about food. Perhaps we don’t often reflect on its strangeness because this worry is so familiar to all of us. Likely hunger and anxiety are deeply linked in the way our bodies function. Perhaps they overlap to some extent. Certainly I think so.

There’s a lot more to say on this topic. And I will say a lot more, eventually. I’m starting to get hungry 🙂 For now I want to reflect a moment on the other side of hunger: satiety, fullness, satisfaction. It seems like junk food can never fill you up no matter how much you eat, though it can make you sick. Which is weird because it’s also very high in calories. Like eating a whole bag of chips or hershey’s kisses and then you don’t feel satisfied until a few hours later when you eat dinner. Anyway, that’s something that I’ve done– more than a few times 🙂

And yet on other occasions I can make a meal of ice cream and be perfectly happy. We are all familiar with the concept of comfort food. For decades now major food manufacturers salivate at the sight of an unhappy person, seeking to feast on souls. Michael Moss is only the most recent journalist to eloquently describe this phenomenon. But anyone who has ever felt a bond of kinship with Tony the Tiger knows at a gut level what’s going on.

The trouble I’d say is getting that gut feeling to go up the spinal column and take up residence in the penthouse. Where the view is distant and broad, encompassing a wide perspective. And one can feel safe above it all.

Of course, that doesn’t sound like much fun. Satisfying, perhaps. To be secure and to know it.