Saturday, November 14, 2009
A recent blog by LADYBUG7157 about how hard it is to make herself do what she wants to do really hit a nerve with me. And it made me think about AKRASIA again -- that is, it made me think about AKRASIA again consciously, because akrasia has a powerful hold on my being and is pretty much where I live most of the time anyhow!
So what's akrasia? When I tossed the word out to her jokingly, LADYBUG7157 came back with a useful definition -- it's "the state of acting against one's better judgment".
But for myself, I think of it more along the lines of absolutely deciding NOT to do x (say, eating a piece of bittersweet chocolate) and then finding myself doing it anyhow. Mmmmm. So good! And maybe another piece would taste even better!! And so on.
I decide NOT to do it, and then do it anyhow. Eat it. And then I dump all over myself.
OR I decide TO do it -- get up at 5 a.m. and head to the gym -- and then turn off the alarm and roll over and go back to sleep. Compound NOT doing it with two warm croissants with butter and jam for breakfast. And then dump all over myself.
Akrasia, then, is pretty closely linked with self-condemnation. Bad bad bad bad bad.
As TS Eliot put it, "Between the idea and the reality/Falls the shadow". Yup -- it's called "akrasia" because it makes you crazy. Or that's what I believe.
OK, maybe that's not the etymological origin of the term. Akrasia is actually derived from the Greek word for power, "kratos", so a person in the grip of akrasia is acting without will power, or contrary to her "sincerely held" moral values. Which means akrasia has nothing to do with being crazy at all! But when it's happening, it sure does feel pretty crazy-making.
Akrasia is vividly present in many areas of human experience. Young woman decides that third date is too early for . . . erm, you know. But: scarcely notices she's changed the sheets and shaved her legs and put on the lacy undies anyhow because . . . she's already acknowledging that because of the power of powerlessness, akrasia, it just MIGHT happen!! Or: middle-aged fella heads to the casino with $50.00, just $50.00, because he's not going to spend a dime more, no way, no how. Gonna zero the MasterCard bill. But: completely forgets to take his debit card for the ATM out of his wallet and . . . probably it wouldn't hurt to play a little longer, and if necessary just pay the minimum on that whopping credit card this month, right??
Of course here on SparkPeople we're most aware of the akrastic "deciding to do something and not doing it and beating ourselves up " thingy in the context of weight loss. Or failure to lose weight. Or gaining back weight that once was lost and now is found . . .
Jumping into bed too fast and gambling away too much money are familiar moral situations where we expect to beat ourselves up if we don't meet our self-imposed expectations. So: if we writhe with self-loathing at SparkPeople when we can't make ourselves stick with the programme, is it because losing weight and controlling weight is a moral value? Yes, most of the time we probably think it is. There is the moral value of taking care of the body I've got -- avoiding diabetes or obesity-related cancers -- keeping myself strong so that I can be useful to others and my community -- not wasting food that others could use -- not wasting money on replacing clothes that no longer fit -- and so on and so on.
All right then. If weight loss is a moral value, and moral values are a product of the rational decision to identify what is good and behave wisely, why can't we just gird our loins and determine that we will exercise all possible power and self control and stick to our "moral values" of not eating too much and exercising enough??
Reason over passion? Plato thought we could control passion with reason, and he thought that we SHOULD make reason our ultimate focus. But then Plato and his "philosopher king" notion provides us with a pretty dry and unidimensional picture of what it means to be human. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.
Weight loss IS rational and technical: every excess pound is 3500 calories to be "not eaten" or to be "burned off" or some combo thereof. That's the wisdom of weight loss. But: I know too well when I try to compel myself to comply with unrelenting and unrealistic restrictions on calories, unrelenting and unrealistic prescriptions for exercise, then my decisions about nutrition and fitness may be rational but (don't know about you) they seldom work for me for long!
For me, weight control and fitness are also about emotion: vanity and appearance and black leather pencil skirts, right?? But deeper emotion too: the pleasure of feeling good, moving a fit body, experiencing strength, pride and comfort in my own skin.
Aristotle -- Aristotle was also fascinated by akrasia but much much more pragmatic than Plato about the whole thing. Aristotle was the great observer of how human beings actually do function and what human beings actually are capable of. That's because, I think, Aristotle understood that dwelling in the realm of conflicting impulses is where most of us spend most of our lives. And: here's the blinding insight into the obvious for me -- Aristotle knew it's essential that we do just that if we are to be fully human.
That's because for Aristotle there aren't Platonic certainties, Platonic absolutes, eternal Platonic ideals, Platonic wisdom. Virtue for Aristotle is the art of the possible, the kind of wisdom in action which permits us to change and make our lives better. For Aristotle, all moral decision-making is an active process of "phronesis" -- sifting and sorting among shifting and contextual factors, some of which we are scarcely conscious of at any given moment. We have to weigh the fleeting, the evanescent, the non-quantifiable. This kind of moral decision making is much tougher than following unbending rules; much more nuanced than following unbending rules; much more uncertain too because every single day we encounter circumstances which we have never encountered before. Will never encounter again.
So: phronesis may allow for the caramel meringue torte when I'm enjoying a leisurely coffee with my sister WITHOUT self-condemnation and self-loathing -- because it's a sweet moment calling for something sweet. It may allow it, depending. Perhaps because I know tomorrow I will get right back to my oatmeal and calcium-fortified skim milk with new enthusiasm. After the gym!
Phronesis operates on the inherent understanding that moral decision making requires the integration of reason and passion.
Amazingly, this Aristotelian insight is also completely congruent with the most recent brain function studies. For example, new MRIs demonstrate that when the emotional centres of the brain have been damaged in an accident or for some reason have been removed surgically, a person is actually incapable of making fully rational or moral decisions. Such a person faced with a moral decision is paralyzed. The "decision-making" areas of the brain don't light up. They actually fail to fire!
Aristotle, clever guy, knew what contemporary science demonstrates: that the human exercise of rationality requires an integration of the emotional components of human cognition in ways which can scarcely be articulated or fully understood. Smothering passion with reason kills both. We attempt to excise the emotional component of human cognition through an act of purely rational will power at our peril. We are more likely to fail than to succeed, and we become less fully human when we try.
What about the cherished concept of the neutral, objective, rational judge in a court who suspends emotional response to analyze the facts in the context of the law and render a verdict completely congruent with precedent? Can't happen. Doesn't happen. And the wise judge knows it's not happening. Because the circumstances of this case are always different from whatever went before.
And what about when it comes to judging ourselves?
Bad bad bad because I had the caramel meringue torte? Nope.
Good good good because I got up at 5 and burned 400 calories at the gym on the cross trainer??? Nope.
Human because I did both? Both in moderation? Without beating myself up for not eating less? For not exercising more? Made the decision at the time in accordance with the circumstances? Didn't make myself too crazy?? Yup.
I gotta do both if I want to sustain a healthy body and mind and heart in the long run as a way of life.
That's what it is. A weigh of life.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
Every weekend (or oftener if I run out) I make a big pot of fresh soup and keep it in the fridge for midweek suppers.
When I walk in the door from work, my self-discipline is generally at its lowest ebb for the day. I'm always insanely hungry.
Even if I've stopped for an appetite-quelling fat-free sugar-free yogourt from the office fridge just before I hop in my car, I'll be hungry.
And I know about myself only too well that I can resist anything but temptation.
I KNOW that I can inhale 800 calories (cheese, crackers, butter, wine . . . ) in about 15 minutes while I'm just THINKING about what to have for dinner. Done it way too many times. Lived the reality that just 100 extra calories a day meant 10 extra pounds in a year -- and the next year -- and the year after -- until in 2001 I was 80 pounds overweight.
Took it all off. And then put twenty pounds back on in early 2009.
But if I did it before I COULD do it again. And I know just what time of day it's most likely to happen.
It's completely predictable at that crucial home-coming moment I could sabotage myself -- my 5:30 a.m. gym work out; my breakfast oatmeal; my leafy lunch salad -- my whole day's worth of careful attention to exercise and to nutrition.
So that's why it's vitally important for me to have supper ready to eat almost instantly. And for me what really hits the spot is a bowl of soup that I can nuke in the microwave in about four minutes.
Is four minutes fast enough? Nope. Sadly, experience tells me even the four minutes can be problematic. So weak-willed am I that four minutes is more than enough time to do myself a serious damage if I hang around waiting, opening and shutting cupboards, grazing mindlessly.
My soup has gotta be heated up while I'm outta the kitchen, away from temptation, shucking off my work clothes, getting into my jeans. Or into my jammies, depending upon how late it is when I roll in the door.
Soup. It works for me because I need something filling, something full of vitamins and minerals and complex carbs, but not too high in fats or in calories.
My protein intake generally requires attention, so the soup may be accompanied with a handful of almonds or walnuts, a spoonful of peanut butter, maybe a lilttle cheese, maybe some chicken or shrimp or chickpeas. And these protein partners could be "add-ins" to vary the basic soup or "on-the-sides" to go with the soup. If I'm still hungry after bowlful number one -- bowlful number two is a real possibility! A second bowlful will still be within my calorie budget!
My soups generally aren't based on any particular recipe -- it's just a matter of what happens to be available in the fridge or in the cupboard or in the cold cellar. I very rarely make the same soup twice, and that's probably why I don't get tired of eating the same soup every night for the week or so that the pot lasts.
Last weekend there were some amazing vegetable bargains at the supermarket. I bought 10 pounds of huge beets for $2; 10 pounds of onions for $2; 10 pounds of giant carrots for $2; and 20 pounds of potatoes for $2. All fresh from the farmers' fields just a few miles down the road from my house.
So this afternoon I scraped and steamed about 8 of the carrots, 6 of the beets, 2 of the onions and 4 of the potatoes in about four cups of water until they were quite soft.
Then I pureed them in small batches in the food processor, and stirred in a large can of diced tomatoes, some vegetable broth, and some rosemary plus some Frank's hot sauce for zip.
What a mess! Little splatters everywhere! With a serious potential for lethal staining -- I'll have to be careful not to spill any anywhere while I'm slurping away this coming week.
But: glorious flavour! glorious fall fragrance! glorious texture! above all, glorious colour!
I'll pick up a little fat free sour cream to swirl in each serving after heating it up, and chop some fresh dill on top for garnish.
So simple, so beautiful.
Magenta velvet in a bowl.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
My Friday night Latin American dance class with my husband is really turning into a highlight of my week.
It's such a great break from the intense "left brain" stuff which is our work (we do work together-- which doesn't necessarily mean seeing a lot of each other at work.) Most days we get up at 5 a.m. and hit the gym for 5:30, and most days we aren't home much before 6:30 or 7 pm. Not to complain -- life is good, the work is interesting -- but it's pretty demanding and stressful.
It's not surprising, then, that Friday at 7:30 p.m. finds me exhausted and overwhelmed and wondering if I really really want to move my butt out the door for dance class. However, I'm discovering once again that when I do, Friday night at 9:15 p.m. will find me exuberant and energized and looking forward to the weekend.
We've been ball room dancing off and on for at least 20 of the 30 years we've been married. Waltz, fox trot, two-step, salsa: we've tried them all. So are we good at it? Not so much! No one would mistake us for a Dancing with the Stars episode, that's for sure.
The sad truth: neither of us is a "kinesthetic learner". I have to work hard to hear the rhythm and make my feet move to the beat of the music: so does he.
Rumba, jive, cha cha, merengue, samba: each dance with "basics" and each with specialty steps and new routines. Posture, gaze, hand position, signals: it's not just my feet, but my whole body which needs to be coordinated -- and coordinated with my partner's body.
Am I a rabid feminist? You are right. (Although: a girly feminine version of same). And in ballroom dance, the guy has to lead. The gal has to follow. Gulp. But I've gotta put up with it, wait for his signals, because : it just won't work any other way. And of course the passion for dance is primarily mine -- he's there because I love it so much, he's trying so hard because I love it so much -- so that balances everything out. Really.
You can bet we screw it up -- OK, it's the "New Yorks" after the basics, but then shoulder-to-shoulder? Dang! We went right into the hand-to-hand! Again! And how do we end the hand-to-hand? And what's the segue to the next routine?
We step on each other's feet. We kick each other's shins (those jive flicks can be lethal!). We get momentarily exasperated. With ourselves. With each other. And then a move happens with such smoothness and coordination that we're both gaping with astonishment! Where did that come from?? Can we do it again? Probably not, but we can try!
We sweat (500 calories burned for the 75 minutes, says the tracker: but I bet THAT"s a gross under-estimate).
We laugh. We come home and have a glass of wine. And we sleep better, both of us.
Dance class is a nice decisive break with the week that's done -- even if more likely than not I'll end up logging in from my home computer to my work computer and doing a little sumpin' before the weekend's passed.
Still: for a few moments we've felt like pretty hot stuff! And that means: I'm loving our Friday night dance class!
Sunday, October 25, 2009
I am attending a family wedding in Austin, Texas in November and I don't have very much information about it. So here I am, requesting a bit of advice/insight about "local norms" and wedding dos and don'ts as they may differ from those practised here in the more obscure regions of the GWN (that's Great White North: Canada!).
No, we don't wear tuques and mukluks up here all of the time. Just late October through May. Then we switch to mosquito repellant and bathing suits. (And yup, I'm exaggerating).
But here's the thing. Although I've travelled quite a bit (including to such "exotic" destinations as Kyoto and Cairo) and although I love visiting the USA, it's still true there is no place that can make me feel so much like a visiting anthropologist as the States.
I suppose that might be because we (both Americans and Canadians) are all expecting cultural dislocation in the exotic places. When we are in certified "foreign" destinations we probably all try hard to be respectful of cultural differences (removing our shoes at the door in Japan; covering our female heads at least in Muslim countries).
Whereas there is an unconscious expectation as between Americans and Canadians that we really aren't all that different. Aren't there golden arches in both places? WalMart too? And Americans do know about Mounties, moose and mountains, maybe even Celine Dion and poutine!
But Americans and Canadians in many ways are quite different. I recognize that when I see American tourists here in the GWN. Sometimes with pleasure: love your friendliness. Sometimes not so much. Won't say: don't want to hurt anyone's feelings! Because: I'm pretty sure that when I'm in the States, I'm probably treading on toes fairly frequently as well.
For example, I recall a trip to the theatre during a stay in Sanibel, Florida which completely astonished me. Mostly because of the intensity and overtness of the patriotism expressed uniformly by all the Americans in attendance. The "history of music" theme advertised turned out to be the history of AMERICAN music only. We Canadians didn't have OUR hands over our hearts at the Star Spangled Banner finale. Wouldn't have done so had it been "O Canada" either! Canadians (although fiercely patriotic) tend never to say so . . . or if the topic comes up, to make self-deprecating jokes.
There are similar differences in the expression of religious values as between Canadians and Americans -- Canadians may be devout, but it's generally a private matter within a religious community. And there is a host of other disjunctions. I run smack up against them over and over again on SparkPeople itself (which does not detract one bit from this warm and welcoming site, which of course I expect to be American). But they sometimes puzzle me. For example -- I haven't seen even one mention about President Obama's recent Nobel Prize. It would not be for me to say anything -- but I had been waiting for some outpouring of pride, exultation, exuberant hope. It never happened. Or if it did, I for one didn't see it happening.
All of this of course is quite a detour into my own inquiry on what has to seem a far more trivial concern: what do you wear to a Texas wedding in November? Said wedding to be held at what promises to be quite an elegant venue (a 1916 mansion at the local art museum).
I don't know the bride and really don't want to bother her. And of course the groom is not going to be of much help! Nor is this about me or -- at least not entirely: I am not wishing to make a big fashion statement. But only not to stand out (in a bad way). And to be respectful, of course, keeping in mind that a wedding can also be a religious observation and perhaps is more likely to be so in Texas.
So far as I've been trying to find out "what to wear to a Texas wedding" by googling. But in seeking insight into what might be appropriate, I'm getting a lot of contradictory information.
Some sites suggest that people go to weddings in golf shirts and khakis (that would be guys, presumably) even when the groom and male wedding party are in "tuxes" (Canadian: "black tie") and the bride/bridesmaids in long gowns. I won't be doing that.
Several suggest that trousers for women aren't dressy enough: I can eliminate those if necessary (although I do have a pair of lovely evening trousers . . . which would if acceptable have eliminated the "long or short" issue).
A number suggest that "skanky" is bad -- too much cleavage, front or back -- and at age 58 I won't be doing that. Wouldn't have done it at 18 either.
Some sites suggest that female wedding guests never wear white (we're agreed on that one, except perhaps in a tropical locale had the bride requested it for picture purposes).
More troubling is an apparent absolute and unilateral edict against ever wearing black to a wedding, since black is just for funerals. Really?? black evening-type wear would be my go-to, by a wide margin of preference. It would mean I could shop in my closet, which I always prefer. But I don't of course want to suggest by wearing black that anyone is in mourning over this wedding. Particularly since it is a second wedding at which the adult children from a previous marriage will be in attendance.
I know Austin's municipal motto is "keeping it weird". And that it's the live performance music capital of the world: hoping to catch a few acts! Which should mean there is some margin for edginess, even at what looks to be a fairly traditional wedding celebration.
In any case I'm prepared to believe that Austin is not entirely in compliance with the stereotype of Texas: cowboy boots, Stetsons, BBQ?? -- and maybe I've got that stereotype wrong anyhow. Because Texas writ large is probably way past 1980s Dynasty-style big hair and shoulder pads. (But should I be making a salon appointment??).
Cutting to the chase: can anyone tell me that black would be OK? If so, much appreciated. If not, also much appreciated.
And: are there any other pointers I should know about, so that I can disappear gracefully into the background?
Or should I just forget about the impossibility of looking like a native and wear my toque and mukluks?? Of my anthropologist disguise: grass skirt, bone through the nose?
You can see I need help!! All assistance gratefully received!!
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Today I was ironing an "emergency" shirt for our son. He can iron, he does iron, but he was running late to get to work -- and I was prepared to show a little mercy!
Our iron worked fine long enough to get the shirt done for him, thank goodness -- but then it completely pooched, for no reason at all that I could see. When I tried to iron a couple more blouses for myself for next week, all I got was languid temperature, water oozing out everywhere, no robust "shots of steam" -- persistent wrinklies!
I don't do very much ironing at our house -- mostly, that's my husband's department. He has a whole group of golf buddies who iron their own shirts, actually -- they call themselves the "iron men". "Les hommes de fer" of course (NOT "les hommes d'affaire"). One anniversary without prior consultation as to choice of gifts, he gave me a new iron -- a pitching wedge -- and I gave him a new iron -- of the steam variety! Deluxe models, of course, in both categories. His golf buddies loved the coincidence. And we thought it was pretty ironic.
So: with this background it's pretty clear husband thinks that having a really good steam iron makes quite an essential difference when it comes to whipping through either his golf shirts or his work shirts. When equipped with the appropriate iron, he'd rather do them all himself because, frankly, he's pretty particular!! Verging on the OCD. He eliminates every tiny crease. He times himself. Competes against himself to improve his times. And since he really can't get through a week without a functioning iron, the two of us knew we were going to have to stop off at the big box housewares store on the way to grocery shopping.
Although he had reconciled himself to the absolute necessity of buying the new iron, husband did first of all want to see if the broken iron we had could be repaired. (Then we would have two! maybe he could give ironing lessons!! Inveigle our son into competitions!!!). And so he detoured to the front of the store to make the repair inquiry at "customer service".
I harboured no such delusion -- everything now is essentially welded shut and disposable, no matter how expensive -- so I headed straight to the back of the store to see if I could find another iron of the identical model. The best. Even though it had pooched, still the best.
It was not long before I could see my tall handsome husband approaching down the long long aisle clutching the irreparable iron. But -- and this was a surprise -- he was not alone. Unprecedented for a big box -- he was getting the personal escort treatment. From a store clerk about our age who (sorry -- but it WAS self-evident) found him pretty attractive! (Well, he is that). And (I was reading the thought balloon over her head) this attractive guy was probably single. Maybe newly divorced. Well, duh. After all, what other kind of guy would be buying an iron??
With a big smile upwards in his direction, talking non-stop about ironing techniques based upon her personal experience, putting forward the possibility that a less-costly model might be good enough -- and without acknowledging my presence whatsoever -- the store clerk brushed past me. Customer service to the max. Very helpful. Very. Making sure this "single" guy's attention was directed to the appropriate shelf. With all the very very expensive irons, yes, and the less costly ones too. Which might, after all, do the job. With the right techniques.
(Do I ever get this kind of service? a personal escort? right to the shelf? when shopping for housewares?? Uhhhhhmmmmmmmm, no. Maybe not!!).
And then, she realized.
I wasn't just standing there. I was WITH HIM.
I pretended (very kindly indeed) not to notice her dawning realization. I smiled sweetly. I listened as her ironing advice lost its steam.
Husband (who is very modest. And very focused on the acquisition of his new iron) really did not notice. Until I clued him in, privately, after we were back in our car.
Well, we've got a new iron. Just like the old one. For a good price, too: turned out it was marked down.
And yup: we did enjoy the iron-y. Part two.
Get An Email Alert Each Time WATERMELLEN Posts