Fear of the Unknown is Good

“I already know the answers.”

“He changed his mind. He’s not sure of what he thinks.”

“How can I choose when the advice changes from day-to-day? Don’t they know anything?”

The reality is that sometimes you don’t have all the answers, and that can be scary. The anxiety of unsureness isn’t something we learn to cope with well.

Worse than that, the idea of “I don’t know” is touted as a weakness. Friends, “I don’t know” can be a strength when learning is essential. When you are puffed up with all you know, your cup is too full to take in more. Being able to accept you don’t have all the data is the real strength. I don’t mean that in an Orwellian Ignorance is Strength kind of way, but more that it’s a good idea to be able to evaluate data and know how to assign truth probabilities to it,

As a classic example from a friend of mine, “If I open my hand full of this kitten over an open running blender in a normal Earth kitchen, there is a probability of 100% the kitten will fall towards it.”

You can change the parameters of the statement. “What if we’re on a space station? What if the blender has a lid? Can the kitten jump away?”

Those are all excellent questions, but the point is that as you ask those questions, your answers become more and more refined.

Which, as anyone who reads this knows, is precisely the job of the scientific method. It’s the constant refinement of understanding.

Far too many people think that, at a certain point, answers should be concrete. At the macro level, yeah, we’ll get blended kitten. But sometimes, the answers and lives depend on added parameters.

This circles around to an argument I got into about thirty years ago. We were talking about a science fiction show. One of the people there asserted that if aliens visited the Earth, that, of course, they’d be benevolent to humanity because at that level of technology, how could they possibly be anything else?

The sheaf of assumptions associated with this assertion went deep. I could not get through to the fellow that he was extrapolating beyond his available data — a phrase my father often uses when discussing ideas. The idea that this expression is so embedded in my own consciousness from toddlerhood might explain my own indoctrination to the scientific method, huh?

But he needed to believe, somehow, that if there were advanced aliens, they’d be benevolent. We have exactly zero data to support either a benevolent or malevolent race of possible aliens. He was utterly and completely convinced otherwise.

I was not talking to an uneducated person. He’d graduated from a good school. I even think his degree was in computer science, so it’s not like he’d never studied logic.

However, he could not apply those classes to anything outside of his field. (Yes, the Heinlein fans will begin to think of Gulf, I know…)

Common problem. We need to feel sure so badly we’ll shoot ourselves in the foot on many things. The idea of changing one’s mind to meet changing data is often seen as foolish or weak-willed. Even those of us who are proud of our abilities to see the data and come to the accurate conclusion might be fooling ourselves.

It’s a constant battle.

The Shocking Reason Why The Pandemic Isn’t Being Contained

Alabama ICUs are being overrun as Covid-19 tears through the state.

I know I appear to be on the liberal end of the spectrum.  I’m not by any sane standard.  I am merely not right-wing.

But to someone whose thinking is even more binary than mine (and that’s quite a feat), I oughta be punching the air and saying, “Hey, there, dummies!  I TOLD you so!  Didn’t I tell you so?  This is what you GET when you’re STUPID.”

I don’t feel that way about it. 

I feel sorry.

I am frustrated at the needless suffering.

No-one wants to do the tedious, boring, endless grind of work that is required to make this better.  It’s not as exciting as being Captain America bulleting through a factory to save a friend.  It’s not as inspiring as Patrick Swayze fighting for freedom with a pack of hot-looking teenager. (Sorry about the current gut, Jed.  I’m there with ya! Getting’ old sucks.)

This is the sort of challenge that America isn’t really very good at, and it’s kind of embarrassing.  We’re great a short-term extraordinary effort.  We really are, and it’s awesome.  I’m glad of that.

Where we’re falling down, and fellow Americans this is getting embarrassing, is at the patient, undramatic work required to build or fix the really big problems, or (when possible) engineer them out of existence.

We’re acting like adolescents with our first car and our first beer shouting, “You can’t tell me what to do!” 

We need to learn to tell ourselves it’s bedtime, friends.  If we don’t, we’re going to have other nations having a meeting to decide what to do with us, because a virus doesn’t stay within national borders.

World Covid-19 Cases 5/24/2020

I want the problem (inso much as is possible) to be fixed.

We need to grow up as a nation.

You’re Not Taking Your OWN Chances

Surgical mask - Wikipedia

In spending far too much time on Internet forums and such, I saw a comment from someone I knew to be a sweet lady, kindly, and generous.

In talking about the Covid-19 crisis, she did not agree with the social distancing, mask-wearing, and changes in her routine, saying that this took away a great deal of what made life living for her and she would “take her own chances.”

My heart sank.

I would never have pegged this woman as mind-bendingly selfish. I would never have said that she was callous about other people, but that statement pulled me up short.

Up until then, I had in my mind the people who objected to the Covid-19 virus as callous, selfish and hostile to other people

I don’t think that was what was going on. I think what was going on was a misunderstanding of how disease works.

If you used the expression R0 to someone (pronounced “R-naught”) pre-Covid-19, you probably would have gotten a blank look. Many of us now know that the R0 factor is how many people will most likely catch a disease if you catch it. For those of you who are not yet familiar with the concept, it means that if you catch a particular disease, you can pretty much bet on a certain number of people also catching that disease. The R0 of ebola, for instance, is 1.5-1.9. If you get ebola, chances are good that you’ll pass it on to at least one person before you die, maybe two.

The R0 for Covid-19 is somewhere between 3.8 and 8.9. This is higher than smallpox, friends. Yes, it’s not quite the killer smallpox was, but that’s not the point.*

If you do not take appropriate precautions about Covid-19 (personal distancing, hand-washing, avoiding contact with people outside your direct household, and wearing masks when you do have to do so) you are not taking your OWN chances.

If you do not take precautions, you are taking risks for other people.

You know how your freedom to swing your fist ends at someone else’s nose?

Wear a mask in public, friends. That’s the OTHER person’s nose.

*For what it is worth, I am grateful down to my bones to everyone who got a smallpox vaccine. I can’t get one, but HURRAH! it’s a non-issue now, isn’t it?

One Year Later: My Life Revolves Around My Health

Last year I had a health scare with a lifestyle component. Never mind that there’s a genetic component. Health problems are All Your Fault, and you’re a lazy bad person for having them, right? Healthy is for the virtuous, and we all know that people with illnesses get them because they’re all bad and stuff, right?


Did I Change My Lifestyle to Manage my Blood Glucose Levels?

I did make a couple of changes and did get my blood sugar under control. I dropped an a1c reading from 6.0 to 5.5 using two things: a ketogenic diet and an average of 45 minutes of moderate exercise every day. I took this figure from my fitness watch and just took a straight weekly average of how many minutes a day, I got my heart rate into the aerobic range. So… pretty accurate for how much I move.

All this work didn’t make me skinny. Not even close. While the weight loss was significant, I’m still well into the plus size range. But the goal was never to get skinny. The goal was to manage my blood sugar, and I did.

You can manage some health issues with diet and exercise, yes. If you’re willing to let your life revolve around it. Know what? I have the luxury of the time and money to do that.

My Life Revolves Around My Health

Is a ketogenic diet a time-consuming, expensive pain in the ass?

Yes. Yes, it is.

And, no. No, it isn’t.

I mean, the food is tasty. I like bacon and eggs. I enjoy salads. I love a good steak. Strawberries and real whipped cream? Bring it. I like nuts. So, as far as enjoying my meals, heck yeah, I do! I might want to snack sometimes, but I’m not dealing with actual hunger.

However, I’ve had to resurrect my bento hobby and adapt it to my diet. See, whenever I’m out and about, I cannot count on a satisfying meal, or need to pay for a really expensive one. Not much in my diet besides nuts is shelf stable! (Most of those “meal bars” marketed as low carb aren’t. At least according to my fasting blood sugar readings!) That drives the price of “convenience” food up. Sure, sure, I can buy boiled eggs and cheese or something, but wow, at over a dollar an egg, I’m better off planning and making a bento. Honestly, this hobby is a lot of why I can tolerate eating a ketogenic diet.

It also changes how I interact with travel. Bento are great for travel – sort of. Taking a trip on an airplane or a train, it’s nice to slip a bento in your bag and go. But meals out become incredibly expensive, and you’re always wondering how much sugar is being used even in meat sauces and marinades. Cruises? You can handle it, but you can’t just, you know, eat a meal. You need to talk to the waiter to make sure what you’re getting is okay for you to eat, and you need to be careful about hidden carbs at the buffet. Theme parks? You can get hot dogs and hamburgers without the bun, sure. It’s also really expensive. Simple carbohydrates are cheap calories, after all. I don’t say this to snark it. I have a whole nother rant on why the abundance of calories isn’t the daggone evil people like to put it out to be, but that’s for another blog post.

Anyway, even though a ketogenic diet is more expensive, I suppose it’s cheaper than insulin. But the reality is that insulin may need to be a thing in the future. I’m doing what I can, but at a certain point, one’s genetics does factor in.

It’ll be blamed on me not being skinny, of course.

Is Daily Exercise a Time-Consuming, Expensive Pain in the Ass?

Yes. Yes, it is.

And, no. No, it isn’t.

Forty-five minutes a day is a lot of damn time. I’m doing it and to be frank, I’m glad of my fitness watch, as it means that I can wave the data under my doctor’s nose as proof that yes, I’m exercising at recommended rates and intensity, and I’m still not getting skinny.

It’s still a big chunk of my day.

A short workout is half an hour. On busy days, I’m up at five in the damn morning to get that walk in. Unlike a lot of people, my treadmill was a wonderful and frequently used purchase, even two years later. Expensive? Yeah. I could go outside. Except I live in Northern New England. I don’t like to walk in bad weather and generally won’t. It’s very hard to talk yourself out of a half hour walk on a treadmill in front of your bedroom door.

A longer workout is a swim. That’s a minimum of an hour in the pool, but you have to add a minimum of a half an hour on either side to get to the gym and clean up after the swim. Expensive? Yes, gyms with pools are expensive. I genuinely enjoy swimming, but the way I go at it is most certainly because of the need to get in large wodges of exercise.

Do I ever take long walks? Sure. I live near some amazing trails, and my husband and I often take an hour for a nice long walk. I find this a somewhat less… irritating use of my time. Hanging out with my husband is important, and a walk is a way I enjoy doing it.

It’s still all about managing my blood sugar. If I skip a day, my fasting blood sugar spikes a couple of days later. Almost a direct correlation. It’s why I continue to exercise.

Oh yeah, I check my blood sugar every morning.

Concentrating on Health is Distracting

I can’t just… have a meal without thinking about it most of the time. I’ve always been in the habit of meal-planning and cooking, and thank goodness for it. I don’t know how someone who didn’t plan and cook a lot would handle this.

How am I going to get in my workout today? That’s a consistent question. I know, the idea is that you’re supposed to do it just like brushing your teeth. I don’t. *shrugs* The reality is that I don’t have a consistent schedule.

Here’s the thing: The mental energy that it takes to get me eating and exercising according to my health needs is mental energy I do not spend on family, work, creative projects or other things. That’s real. Perhaps there are people who have unlimited mental energy for all this. The very real reality is that I don’t. If I were in a survival situation of some sort – rotten family dynamic, job insecurity or anything like that, I don’t know that I could do this.

I can see easily how diabetes can be poorly managed from a lifestyle point of view.

So, the smug health-is-a-virtue jerks can suck it.

“Unskilled Labor” is a scam

I am very proud of these slippers.

Would I show these on Ravelry, excited about the project and expecting congratulations on my knitting prowess?

No, I would not. The reason I am proud of these is a bit subtle.

They’re just slippers. They’re made out of leftover cheap acrylic yarn made on the spur of the moment because my husband’s old slippers had died and this was a way to get him some quickly. They’re not even interestingly awful, like something cruel, informed people would snark at a craft fair. They’re just something some old lady might make sitting irrelevantly in her rocking chair.

At least, that’s the cultural narrative.

They’re also the culmination of nearly 45 years of achieving mastery in several subjects.

You see, I didn’t open up any pattern book to make them, even though I’d never knit socks in that size or with that weight of yarn before. I didn’t even use a spreadsheet to do the calculations.

The learning process for these slippers started on a snowy day when I was a child. On snow days, because they were rare and had a holiday feel to them, my mother made cookies with my brother and I. But sometimes… Well, we’d want to make more cookies than the recipe on the back of the yellow Nestle’s bag of semi-sweet morsels. That’s when Mom taught us not only how to add, but how to add fractions.

The learning process continued as I got older and wanted to learn to write a computer program. My father didn’t let me turn a computer on. Oh, no. He handed me a pencil and paper and taught me to write out what I wanted to do with that program. That’s how I learned that thinking out the design phase of a project was important, even though I didn’t think of it that way in my grammar school mind.

On the learning process went, with math teachers explaining that fractions are really ratios and how to calculate, with my mother teaching me to sew garments and dozens of books on how to create proportional irregular shapes. It went on with me reading books on clothing and how design ease worked, and how much to create for different sorts of garments. It went on with learning how to knit, and learning from other books and other knitters various skills in creating garments and the ratios that tended to be consistent across body shapes. It went on with learning to use Excel as a tool to create garments so often that I memorized certain calculations.

On, until one day, my husband needed some slippers. I asked him to tell me how long his foot was. And then…

I just gathered up some leftover yarn, pondered for a moment about some ratios and I sat down to knit. I did it as casually as you’d drink a cup of coffee and tell your family about your day, with as little conscious thought as bringing in the mail.

People call things like manufacturing and garment work unskilled labor. I know better. I also wonder what other work is really a culmination of years of various studies that we dishonor like that.

Gluttonous Reading

It has been a long time since I’ve ignored what I “ought” to be doing and dive into a book. I would occasionally treat myself to gulping down a new release by a favorite author on the day it was released. We’re talking once every other year at best if a book is released when I don’t have too much I really must get done that day. (And dammit, I am tired of the October Daye novels being released the day after Labor Day when I almost always have to be working. Looking at you, DAW. You did it again this year with The Unkindest Tide…)

Audiobooks, you see, mean that I usually don’t have to in order to enjoy a story. I can listen to a story and clean the house or cook a meal or knit a sweater. For the most part, that has been a blessing.

Except… I’m finding myself needing to read in a way I haven’t for quite literally decades. Reading like I did when I was a child and a teenager — walking around with a book, resenting mealtimes, because I was reading, dammit, reading in the bath and then getting far too hot and sprawling on my bed in a towel to cool off while I read some more. Guzzling a book in a day or less.

I’m not fighting it, because I’m pretty sure this is going to circle back to my writing eventually. And maybe I’ll have to corral it a bit because I am a grownup with Responsibilities.


I’m looking for new material.

Generally, a book that sucks me in presents the reader with a Different World with New Customs. That doesn’t necessarily mean science fiction or fantasy (I loved The Chosen, after all) but that’s definitely where I find it most.

Any suggestions? The lusher and richer the worldbuilding – especially the social structure, the better.

You Win. I’m Too Tired to Fight It

I’m back to lifting weights and while I’m not as weak as I feared, I’m not as strong as I hoped. I am very sore this morning, but not as sore as I’ve been when getting cocky about how strong I was after a hiatus in lifting.

My dumbbell set is enough to carry me for about six months, I think. Then I need to decide whether or not to join a gym or buy a bench with a bar. I’m really leaning to buying the bar. The things that keep me out of the pool are a million times worse in the weight room and I’m tired of fighting it. While I need to burn some energy on my body and health, the microaggressions on being The Fat Lady Who Works Out and Never Gets Skinny are too much.

I’m tired.

I’m tired of newbies trying to make a Project out of me.

Way to go assuming my intelligence and intrinsic motivation there, cupcake.

I’m tired of the weight loss talk in the locker room.

If you’re working out an extra hour because you put whipped cream on a single slice of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, you don’t have the problem you think you have.

I’m tired of health being seen as a virtue.

Yes, healthy habits can be helpful. Overall health is often a crap shoot and luck plays a significantly bigger factor than you think. Ask anyone who had healthy habits and is slammed with a chronic condition.

Thing is?

I miss swimming. I’m eyeing a local college gym (I can join because my husband and I work for an affiliate organization) that is amazingly cheap, but does have crap swimming hours. Thing is, my own schedule would allow for me to swim there. I may still go back and just allow myself the indulgence of snarling at anyone who dares speak to me. I don’t really want to behave that way, but while I’m fine with flinching before diving into cool water, I’m less sanguine about flinching at the talk constantly surrounding me in the locker room.

But, ya know, I miss this:

Self-Improvement Literature

I’ve had it with self-improvement literature.

This is not because I consider Improving Oneself an unworthy goal. Rather the opposite. Ultimately, I think that it’s the second most important goal you can pursue.

The most important goal, of course, is Improving the World.

Sometimes the goals intersect. If you’re a cruel jerk, certainly learning to be kinder is going to improve the world – especially for anyone close to you.

I did figure out what it is that a lot of self-improvement literature, especially crap written by 30-something male bloggers, revolves around what I can only call status seeking behaviors involving a better body or a bigger wallet without giving even the slightest thought as to why you’d want it.

They have titles like Crushing Excellence and How to Achieve Your Dreams and Be the Most Awesome You or some nonsense.

They never, not once, ask you to ask yourself why you have the dream you do. Having achieved decades-long dreams that turned out to be damn nightmares, I think this is a real flaw in the process.

If your dream is money, why? Seriously why? How much do you need and why do you need it? Money is not a unilateral good. It’s the lack of it that sucks. So, knowing why you want a specific amount is a good thing.

A lot of times personal excellence will revolve around physical fitness. Anyone who has met me knows full well I am a big believer in exercise. Thing is, it’s not a moral thing. Being a better athlete doesn’t mean you’re a better human. Being strong or having a lot of endurance is nice, and if you’re healthy enough that exercise will give that to you, it’s wonderful to have, no doubt. But it’s hardly a moral value.

Which, I think, brings me around to my objection to a lot of “success” literature.

A lot of the literature doesn’t talk even a little bit about character. Are you kind? Are you honest? (No, kindness and honesty are not diametrically opposed) Are you the kind of person who thinks that making small improvements to the world around you is a Good Way to Live? (Quick test for the able-bodied: In what condition do you leave the shopping carts in the parking lot?)

The idea that developing one’s character isn’t even on the radar of a lot of these writers makes the whole Crush Your Goals mentality seem like a lot of cotton candy nonsense. Might taste pretty nice, but I don’t see that it has a lot of substance.

Over Hill and Under Hill

I am trying to think of a project for November. I might very well do NaNoWriMo, as I have nothing better on my mind.

The reality?

I haven’t the slightest idea what I want.

Or rather, what I want that seems to be Worthy of Doing.

All these productivity books and inspirational material and all that smack? They talk about that damn Robert Frost poem. Let me tell you, I’ve done things that were out of the norm. Just being out of the norm, just being extraordinary, doesn’t blasted well make something worth doing. I mean, sure, sure, it might be.

But it might not.

Figart Consulting? Sure, sure, I get a charge out of my “office” folding up in my purse so that I can work anywhere. In my pajamas, on a train, on a balcony at the beach. That’s all awesome.

But without self-control, it means you’re working everywhere, which isn’t necessarily a great thing.

So what about some of the other writing projects or community building I’ve participated in?

Yeah, sure, that was worthwhile, though I cannot say that ultimately the circumstances surrounding their creation were particularly happiness-inducing. I learned a lot and left a body of work behind me that has been stated to be worthwhile from some sources that are more than a little flattering.

And that’s all cool. But when trying to think about what to do with one’s life and one’s time, sometimes I think the advice we get doesn’t make much sense. A lot of it seems to be a bit too much centered around what other people are going to think about you when you’re gone.

You know what?

In general, even people you had a great effect on aren’t going to give you an extraordinary amount of thought after you’re gone. I’m not talking about close personal relationships here. I mean the wider world.

Take Heinlein. I cried when I heard he died, yes. His work had a deep and profound effect on my life. His life? That effect meant nothing to him. It couldn’t. He never knew I existed. He died before the effects of his work on me could make themselves known in the world. Hell, he might have rolled his eyes or been horrified at what I’d done with his work and his ideas.

I think, other than attempting to be kind (and God, can you misjudge THAT!), you can’t live your life with an eye to your legacy. It makes your days anxious, empty and unsure.

But even so, our lives are limited. What makes the actual hours one lives worthwhile? Making stuff? I find extraordinary pleasure in making stuff, yes. I have a skull table runner on a black tablecloth right now that I made for my October decorations and they make me happy. I feel good that I did it, and I had fun doing it.

Does it benefit anyone in the wider world? Not really. I have this home I keep neat and orderly and nicely decorated, and the only reason I do it is that it gives me pleasure to be in it. I rarely have company, so few people see it.

Knitting? I get sweaters I like out of it, and that’s nice. That’s not Road Less Traveled stuff, though. There really won’t be much of a legacy going on because I knitted my husband a Slytherin Sweater while listening to Spinning Silver (BTW, the audiobooks is extraordinarily well done).

Working out? Certainly, I like having a body that’s strong enough for my needs. I want my blood sugar to go down, so I’m dieting. That’s less a project and more health maintenance. I’d like to put off the day I must go on insulin as long as possible. So far, so good. That’s a nice goal, but hardly Great Work.

“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.” — The Hobbit, or there and back again, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The reality? I love my quiet life and my little hobbit hole. And I feel vaguely guilty about loving it, as if loving that little life is really copping out somehow. I think that’s why I am starting to chew my lip at the Excellence Literature that we’re seeing. It’s as if this quiet life is somehow not worthy, even when it was chosen with open eyes and on purpose!

Do You Consider Audiobooks Cheating?

No, I don’t.

However, the answer is a bit subtler than that. For people who use a phonetic alphabet, there are serious reasons to encourage small children to read until they master decoding. That’s a fancy way of saying that you can look at text in a phonetic alphabet and understand it easily.

Okay, the simpler way to put it is that kids need to practice reading until they master the process. *grin*

Reading text is absolutely a necessary skill. However, in terms of obtaining information, while reading is a major way to do so, it is simply not, nor has it ever been, the only way. Oral traditions are rich sources of information. The problem with them up until recently was how ephemeral they were. But a recording? That preserves more than just the text of what was said, after all.

Believe it or not, there was a theory in the middle 20th century among some scholars that reading silently is a relatively new phenomenon. It has since been debunked, but the reality is that it is common for many people when they read to “hear” a little voice in their head as they do so.

In school, if the goal is to master decoding text, then listening to an audiobook would certainly be cheating, as it skirts the point of the exercise. If the point of the exercise is to gain and retain information, then no, listening to an audiobook is not cheating.

The thing is, I’m not in a classroom myself. I read almost entirely for entertainment, even when it’s so-called scholarly material. I want to be exposed to a clever idea, or fun characters or an interesting plot. I want to learn a new thing.

For the most part, I do this through audiobooks as I am a bit time-crunched. I have work to do, I need to make sure I get enough exercise, I want a clean house. I can take a walk and listen to an audiobook. I can cook a meal or wash dishes or do anything else required to keep my home tidy while listening to an audiobook. So, I do.

I was certainly praised as a child for being a voracious reader. *shrugs* When I was a kid, I took pride in this and a sense of identity from it.

As an adult, I tend to lump books, text, and audio, in with other entertainment media and don’t necessarily see casual fiction as all that nobler than zoning out in front of The Sopranos. The only difference is that I’m getting my dishes done while I’m doing it. I read a lot of books, but I’m not a scholar particularly. I’m doing it for entertainment.

So no, it’s not cheating. It’s not a contest for which I am expecting credit. Is it cheating to learn about astronomy from watching Cosmos rather than reading a popular book on the subject? Of course not.