Monday, December 9, 2019

Eschew Intuition

Here's why you never want to develop intuition:

Consider the selfish, inconsiderate, uncivilized, deluded, and vaguely malevolent qualities you observe every day in people's words and actions. How could you possibly imagine that the unspoken stuff they're silently brewing up is, like, sparkly sunshine? People actually present their best side, disappointing though it might be. So why would you ever want to delve into the gurgling subterranean sludge (ala the "river of slime" from Ghostbusters II)?

Here's proof: How many times in your life have you ever coaxed/provoked someone into revealing what they were really thinking - into coughing up the thing they obviously didn't want to say - and found yourself glad to hear it? Has it ever once brought a good result?

If that can't convince you, then flip it around. Has anyone ever coaxed/provoked you into saying what you were really thinking and the truth was something they'd possibly enjoy hearing?

Why on Earth would you want to know what people are thinking?? 

Intuition's the ultimate be-careful-what-you-wish-for.

Don't fear intuitive people, btw. The Invisible Man sees everyone naked.


Late last night, some part of me itched (I'm not being discrete; I honestly don't remember where...I was 99% asleep at the time). En route to the itch, my hand was astonished to confront my abdomen extended considerably forward from where it ought to have been.

Perpetually skinny readers will find this horrifying description puzzling and unrelatable. The rest understand.

I might easily have launched into a mental reverie of despair for letting my weight get to this point (I'm ten pounds shy of my all-time peak). But then I recalled that I've been at the gym every day this week (after two months off due to injuries and illness) where I've been working out like a Tasmanian Devil. I've been eating very modestly, as well.

I also recalled all the morbidly obese gym newcomers I'd glimpsed over the years seeming uncomfortable and self-conscious. I always wanted (if I weren't so shy) to reassure such people:
This is not the place for you to be self-conscious. The gym is where you should hold your head high. If I see you in a doughnut shop, that's another thing. But here? You're like a shaggy-headed person in a barber's chair. You're like a muddy-handed person standing over a sink. You're in exactly the right place, doing exactly the right thing. This moment isn't your insecurity; this is your strength.
Thoroughly inoculated, I turned over and contentedly fell back asleep.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Fixing Recent Posts

Sloppy mo-fo that I am, I forgot, in "Fake Lamination" to explain how the product actually works. I added explanation toward the beginning of the post.

And in "Karma Yoga Dialogue", I forgot to explain why you'd actually want to adapt the perspective of a playful child. I explained this at the end of the post.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Slog Assist

The Slog's back end needed some adjustment after 11 years, so I turned to a company called Confluent Forms. Its proprietor, David Wil-Alon Kutcher, is on the Expert team for Google/Blogger's support forum, so he's got this stuff down cold. Confluent Forms does web development, branding, digital marketing and more - including advice/coordination for issues like web hosting, app development, etc.

Jillions of brash kids and dodgy offshore characters purport to do the same (I've been down that road too many times with Chowhound, my smartphone app, and sundry tech schemes), but David's a solid, experienced person who actually knows stuff. Also, his turnaround (even though I was far from his top priority) is impressive; David consistently replies more quickly than I'm able to process. I'm the slow gear. Highly recommended!

Also highly recommended: friend-of-the-Slog Paul Trapani of LISTnet has been providing ongoing tech help and advice all these years. Paul's skilled in a number of tech and biz areas, and if he can't fix a problem, he knows who can. LISTnet is a network for tech/biz needs, with solid local presence in Long Island (LISTnet = Long Island Software & Technology Network).

Fake Lamination

There's a really good cheap way to "laminate" cards and bits of paper without the use of fancy plastic-melting gizmos. Scotch Self-Sealing Laminating Pouches, Business Card Size are the answer.
It's just sticky plastic stuff that surrounds the paper, and you trim with scissors. Which sounds sort of cheesy and half-assed, but it actually looks totally professional - like magic! - and feels like it would preserve the paper inside for years.

Here's what I use these for:

1. A small print-out I stick in my wallet containing my medical info, proxy and contact phone #s, and prescriptions (in Ariel 10 font). I headline it with "Medical Info" in red-colored Ariel 19 bold, and size/format the printout so the title appears conspicuously just above the wallet slot.

2. The same in Spanish (for trips to Spain and Latin America).

3. Contact info while traveling (hotel, Airbnb host, local emergency contacts back home).

4. A card with frequent phone numbers (I don't know a single number by heart these days, and phones do run out of juice, get stolen, etc., and cloud versions seem especially prone to failure at such moments).

If there's anything you keep in your wallet that gets shredded over time, just fake-laminate it. It's surprisingly professional in quality. And if you don't keep the above in your wallet, that's fine until there's an emergency, at which point you will be deeply, deeply screwed.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Karma Yoga Dialogue

-- What do the Zen masters and the yogis, etc., mean when they talk about transcending attachment?

That nothing matters. You absolutely don't need it to matter!

-- So, total nihilism. Just drop out, make no effort, and stop giving a crap....?

No, quite the contrary. Dive in, try hard, and do everything like your life depends on it!

-- You do realize you've contradicted yourself, right?

Well, it's a little bit paradoxical. Try it this way: care mightily about the thing you're doing right now - whatever it is! - but don't care in the least about the result, the reception, how it affects you, how you look, what it means, etc. Do the thing, but don’t make it A Thing.

-- How can you care about what you're doing without caring about the result? Don't they go together?

Not at all. There's a difference between caring about the Doing and caring about being the person who Does. Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing. That's why most singers are so awful.

-- Separating those parts sounds like it would take a lot of practice. Plenty of meditation, learning to "stop the mind" or whatever?

Nope. Actually, you yourself were a master of it once. You just forgot.

-- You mean in a past life?

No, as a child. When you played, say, cowboys and indians, you did so intensely, immersing all the way. And yet you always knew you were playing. You never lost track of that. You were deeply involved in the pretending...yet you knew it didn't matter. And you never paused to consider whether you were a convincing cowboy.

Then you came to consider that perspective juvenile. Under the guise of "growing up" and "getting serious", you locked yourself into the pretending and threw away the key - by deliberately forgetting that you're playing. Suddenly everything seemed to matter a great deal. It became a much more adult-seeming game.

Your priorities flipped, so you barely immerse anymore, but you're endlessly obsessed with how you come off. That's backwards to how you used to do it! And your perspective has frozen so tenaciously that when I remind you of your old way, it sounds like paradoxical nonsense!

-- So why is that way better?

Well, young children learn languages (even hard ones!), and assimilate a huge chunk of human knowledge and culture, in just a few years. Adults, by contrast, are considered pretty much unteachable. Young children have much less stress, and they're relatively lithe and energetic, not rigid and sluggish. And they can reframe easily at will, while adults nearly always wind up stuck in some frozen perspective or other.

You had to grow up. It was inevitable. But you made the mistake of assuming you needed to push this change - to play the role and pretend to be the changed person you saw each morning in the mirror - rather than be pulled to new obligations, remaining comfortably as you were. You could have grown up without blotting out your childhood self. But even now, if you simply let go (e.g. via meditation) of the reigns you‘ve pretended to grab, you'll find that the original, fundamental you has remained alive and well and eager to play. The only obstacle is your crusty super-reinforced sense of identity.

I've created a new tag/label for entrees in dialogue form - there are five such entries so far.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Housekeeping Note

I've expanded my previous posting, "Lining up the Ducks", with bagel porn and more.

Lining Up the Ducks

“Man plans, and God laughs.” - old Yiddish adage

“People with goals generally burn the toast.” - yours truly

I have blindly stumbled, scorning myriad opportunities, throughout my life, leaving me stranded high and dry on a remote island separated by vast seas from my hopes and dreams. On paper I'm an utter failure in many respects. And yet this is how I toast my bagels:

One of my favorite postings, "Decision Factors", discusses the ultimate futility of planning and choosing:
Big-picture scenarios are like cartoons, and we don't live in cartoonish big-picture images, we live in trivial moments. This is not a movie. We're raindrops slowly working down windows, not heroic protagonists.

Rich opportunity awaits at every juncture of every decision tree. Any choice, no matter how bright or disappointing, can yield a jackpot or a dud. In the end, it's not about the choice, it's the chooser. It's you, playing the cards you're dealt - both good hands and bad - with delight and exuberance. If you focus on the rich immediacy, rather than the cartoonish big literally can't go wrong.
So... "where do I see myself in five years?" Continuing with my earthworm emulation - i.e. ingesting soil all day while expelling slightly improved soil. It's only a downer if I dramatize it. Which I don't. And, oddly, with that one little flip, I appear, perversely and magically, to win. Slothy ambitionlessness somehow yields surprising results. Not that it's something I think about much. I've got bagels to butter.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Hearing Aid Adventure

Could there possibly be a lamer, less enticing and sexy title? Beige thingie stuck in your elderly wrinkled ear lobe so you don't need to keep hollering "HUH???" at the grandchildren. Awesome! Pure click bait! "Save to Favorites"!

Despite the seeming dullness of the topic, I'm going to go long with this one, because I was surprised every step of the way...and surprises are the stock in trade here in Slogsville. Also: this totally cracks me up, though your mileage may vary.

Betcha can't wait to scroll down! Hell yeah, hearing aids! Here we go!

In the 80s and 90s I was (here’s video proof) one of the hardest-working musicians in New York City. I spent thousands upon thousands of hours laboring directly in front of screaming guitar amps, PA systems, and corn-fed trumpeters whose sense of self worth revolved around playing higher and louder than the human auditory system can tolerate. Unsurprisingly, mine couldn't.

I imagined I'd be ok; that I'd be an exception. Full-time professional musicians are essentially blue collar workers (though better trained than doctors or lawyers), and we have that familiar stoic toughness. I remember watching the guys toiling atop the smoking Trade Center pile after 9/11, all of them figuring that their tenacity, combined with the sacred nature of their mission, made them indestructible. Tough guys don't sweat fumes.

I was horror-struck by the tableau of inevitable cancer. Yet, in my own irrational tough guy pride, I kept returning to my position in front of guitar amps, PA systems, and brutish trumpeters, certain that I was exempt. After all, I performed miracles, screaming my head off on a difficult instrument for twelve hours at a time (often doubling or tripling up my gigs), maintaining high standards even while dead tired. I could tough it out through anything. As someone who could "get 'er done," I was like a Conway Twitty hero plowin' fields with his all-American John Deere slide trombone can I get a "hallelujah"?

Sure enough, I wound up, shmuck-like, with more than 50% hearing loss, mostly high-range (kids' voices might as well be the chirpings of birds). My audiologist didn't just suggest a hearing aid; he was shocked that I'd managed without one. Huh? Managed without one! Huh? MANAG....

Deaf jokes never get old.

Search the Internet all day long and you'll find no hiply wry accounts of "that time I got my hearing aid" on, say, Reddit or McSweeney’s. No amusing stories on The Moth Radio Hour, or comedy sketches from Upright Citizens Brigade. The topic's akin to catheters and walkers: bone dry and inherently "too much information." You do whatcha gotta do, grandpaw, but I don't need to hear about your ear canals...

I get it. Ladies, I don't want to hear war stories about your diaphragms, either. Canals of all sorts are inherently private.

A man, a plan, a canal – Panama!

Thing is, though, that this widespread aversion will soon evaporate, once Ira Glass loses bladder control (sorry for the image) and Generation X turns the corner. But, for now, I find myself once again at the leading edge, the first of his brashly self-aware generation of writers to undergo this. Or, at least, the first to admit it.

In 1997 I was the first food blogger (sample here). Now I've blazed a trail with hearing aids, and look ahead to one day tackling liver spots. Oh, and also, man, don't you just hate it when the worms have eaten through the wood and start wiggling around the box? Remember to tip your waitresses! Home safe!

Funniest hearing aid posting ever! :) :) :)

Tim Conway
My audiologist's waiting room is stocked with folks who can nostalgically recall a time when they'd have been described as creaky. On my last visit, I watched with bated breath as the door opened and remained ajar a very long time until there finally appeared - from my viewpoint to the side - a stooped, stone-faced gentleman eking forward in shuffling micro-steps. His body was so rigid that he appeared to hover, like a ballerina executing a lateral sweep of the stage in delicate mincing steps. Brava, grandpa! Brava!

I maintained a poker face, but he seemed to read my mind as our gazes briefly met, him smirking oh-so-faintly in ironic self-recognition. As a child I watched Tim Conway play the decrepit old guy on the old Carol Burnett show, and decrepit old guys at that time were definitely not in on that joke. But Grandpa Ballerina sure was. The look he gave me was as cocky as his body was frail. Message received: "Laugh up, deaf boy; your time's coming!"

There's no generational divide in an audiologist's office. Welcome to the end of the line.

Deaf Folk Ain't Picky
Here's the aid-iest lemonade I've made from the lemons of 50% hearing loss: I no longer sweat audio quality. At all.

I've never been much of an audiophile; just enough to feel ashamed for doing it wrong and missing The Full Experience. I've up-spent a few times out of this sense of guilt. But no more. My ears are scratchy transistor radios, so I keep nice light low-sample-rate MP3s on my phone, make all audio connections via lousy bluetooth, and will waste no more time lurking on AVSForum.

I also can't drink any more, either, which means no more hangovers, fewer calories, lower (though I was always conscientious) not an iota of a chance of DUI from accidentally going over the line. None of this is "positive thinking"; it's just accurate thinking; a rejection of the commonly-held delusion that negativity is the realer reality.

The average person with hearing loss waits seven years before getting a hearing aid. It's a question of vanity and stigma, and I - still a baby at 56 - certainly felt my share of reluctance.

But in the middle of all this, I realized, thunderstruck, that I've worn, since childhood, a highly intrusive medical device on the front of my face, revealing to one and all the feeble weakness of my vision; my deficit. Yet not only are my glasses no big deal, but I've been deliriously happy to see that, for example, trees have leaves (and not just blurry green halos).

So I can also put on a far less conspicuous gadget and hear individual leaves blowing in the wind and crunching underfoot? Awesome! More perception-boosting gizmos, please!

Having reframed the situation, I felt no hesitation in moving forward.

Truly, this thing is invisible. The days of bulbous beige mushrooms are gone. A stylish sliver hides behind my ear, and you can't spot the filament extending into my ear canal even if you're looking for it. Ear buds are 10,000 times clunkier, and they're stylish; a status symbol. So why did I wait all this time again?

Nobody Wants the Middle Hearing Aid
My health insurance seems to say they'll pay 70% of the cost. As you know, health insurance is a non-transparent con game where they make up the rules as they go along and benefit payments are opaque crap shoots. But, thankfully, hearing aid companies offer generous trial periods and easy I went ahead and ordered the Cadillac of Hearing Aids, which comes in three levels of exorbitance. 

I kept asking the audiologist to explain the price levels and their respective bangs-for-the-bucks, but he remained maddeningly vague, and I finally pieced together why. This isn't like buying a hedge trimmer, where you look for a sweet spot between inadequacy and extravagance. If you're getting a hearing aid, you wanna frickin' hear. Not "modestly sufficient" hearing; you want, of course, duh, to hear extravagantly. My audiologist knew that I would - that everyone does - order the top one. I'm not sure the other models even actually exist. What sane person goes "Geez, that sounds like more hearing than I really need!"

If you have crappy insurance (I might; we'll find out when they actually send the check) or can't afford even the copay, that's a different matter. There are dodgey off-the-shelf alternatives, Costco options, etc. But unless you’re paycheck-to-paycheck, you'll scratch together the (considerable) cash for the good one. Of course you will. Your audiologist only pretends to offer a choice. It’s a charade.

Is This Thing On?
Give a nearsighted person their first pair of glasses, and they may weep with joy, wondering why they didn't do it sooner. It's night and day. But hearing aids aren't like that...for many reasons.

At first I thought the device wasn't doing much. The world sounded like the world, and the differences were awfully subtle. But then I realized the paradox: this is the benefit of getting the best model. Cheaper ones surely make you remember you've got it on! You're paying for this subtlety; for a familiar impression of the familiar world aside from the key targets of delicately precise improvement. Strategic brushstrokes, not augmented reality.

And there are more fundamental reasons why the first reaction to a hearing aid is less revelatory than the first reaction to glasses:
1. The two senses work differently. The world requires reasonably good visual focus, while a blurry blob of hearing serves decently. There's a big difference between not being able to read the menu and having some trouble in certain circumstances making out certain speech from high-pitched voices. So when you put on your first hearing aid, it's not "night and day."

2. Glasses give your retinas exactly the input they'd receive with naturally good vision. Hearing aids are an imperfect, unnatural solution. You need to get used to a new way of hearing. So when you put on your first hearing aid, it's not "night and day."

3. Your brain is less plastic with hearing. Clearer, keener signal is disorienting at first, and the confusion is compounded by the fact that, per above, this is not a natural or perfect solution. So hearing aids take practice. So when you put on your first hearing aid, it's not "night and day."
Everyone embraces glasses from day one. The improvement makes you an instant believer. Hearing aids, at first, leave you agnostic.

Shit's Deep, Bruh
So you're trying to decide whether to move forward and buy. Or whether to keep what you just bought. Here's the crux as it will immediately strike you: How much trouble and expense and discomfort and gizmo management are you interested in withstanding for a slightly better edge on hearing what people are saying?

If you're the least bit introverted, that’s an easy excuse to bail. In your rational, logical mind - where everything that happens is like a two-dimensional comic strip panel - you've been merely not hearing people well. A finite problem. But in the deep gurgling primordial DNA pits of your personhood, not hearing people well is profound impairment....even if you feel like you can still kinda-sorta make out good enough.

The margin between "barely hearing good enough under most conditions" and "hearing good enough" may seem not worth much trouble or expense. But you need to try a hearing aid for a length of time and in a variety of situations. I've had mine for five days, and experienced two momentary intimations that, despite the subtlety of the difference, it's a whole new ballgame.

(One such moment was when a friend told me I was speaking more softly than usual. You mean I’ve been blaring all this time? Shudder! But it felt more relaxing, less stressful to talk. So I stuttered less, and was less at a loss for words. It felt like my 1990 self speaking, and I hadn’t realized I haven’t been him since 1990!)

Distorting your decision is the fact that hearing loss is such a long and gradual process that you're surely worse than you realize. That's why it's very common for other people to notice your hearing problem before you do. And that's why people with hearing loss socialize less without quite understanding why. They often blame it on a blasé disinterest in people - who, not coincidentally, they've spent years straining to understand! Like the lobster in the the gradually-heated pot of water, there's no alarm tripping point to let you know you're in trouble.

What's more, the average seven year wait to correct the problem allows new social habits to harden. If you're thinking there's no one you’re particularly keen to raptly listen to, anyway, consider that this may be your hearing loss at work; a classic wag-the-dog situation. Flip the script, and 1. Improve the hearing and 2. Go out and forthrightly overturn taciturn habits. It doesn't get better if you wait longer.

The Freakier Freakiness
In a posting titled "Expert/Layman Triage Fallacy", I pointed out a problem with talking to experts. When they're not telling you that your freaky observations are actually perfectly normal, they're rolling their eyes at reports which are merely freaky. You, not being expert, can't possibly anticipate. So you look ditzy when your reports fail to hit, because experts are oddly blind to this phenomenon.

Audiologists seem to be an extreme version. With no remote idea of what's normal, I blurted out every random observation that occurred to me when I first tried them on. Sure enough, some made him say "Actually, that's not weird at all....", while the rest made him furrow his brow and try to suppress a visceral WTF.

My hatha yoga teacher, Priscilla (who provided the wonderful insight about aiming for infinity) reported about the experience of getting cochlear implants a few years ago, in a series starting here.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Mental Tickertape

If you could peer into a human brain, reading the mental tickertape, here's what it would look like:
I'm cold. I'm bored. I hate it here. I hate my job. I hate my boss. I hate my apartment. I can't believe my friend said that thing to me in third grade. I'm cold. I'm hungry. I'm fat. I need to get back to the gym. My knee hurts. I'm hungry. I'm fat. It's cold.
This is the sort of thing many/most/all people do all day, every day: a running moment-by-moment tabulation of how the universe fails to be optimal, starting with the current sensory critique, leaping to associations triggered by that critique - crackling way back to some painful thing that happened in second grade or whatever - and then re-registering the current sensory critique. Round and round.

If you don't believe me, sit in the window of an urban Dunkin Donuts and study the faces of people walking by. See if your observations don't perfectly jibe with this sort of internal narrative. I challenge you to find one person who's not obviously absorbed in aimless, senseless rumination.

Hell is what's missing, while Heaven is what’s right here, right now. Heaven is letting go into the moment, utterly accepting and embracing it, without resistance, even if it seems unacceptably marred by the recognition that you're cold and you hate your boss and your knee hurts and your friend said that thing and you're cold. Heaven is a perennially available frame of perspective.

The nonstop tabulation of grievance is extremely hard to keep up. It's a real accomplishment! Great job, seriously! People who are unable to finish a book or to work down their to-do lists manage to sustain this ambitious lifelong project. Their commitment is phenomenal, their labor heroic, and they hardly ever waver. In fact, that's why they never get anything else done! They're busy!!

Reading this, you may acknowledge that you ought to work on being more present, more mindful, less critical and ungrateful. Perhaps attend a seminar. Get to work chipping away at the problem. But, no, that's crazy. The lifelong spree of critical tabulation has been the hard thing. Not spending every waking second finding fault with the universe isn't work, nor would it be an accomplishment. The dropping of a task is not a task.

If you found yourself digging a ditch in the blazing noon sun, would it be hard to put down the shovel and go sit under a tree and relax? Would you need to learn how to do this, or practice it? Would you need, like, instructions? No! You'd just let go of the damned shovel!

And the moment you do, you'll recognize how fruitless it's been, all along. You get literally nothing from this. It exhausts and depresses you, disrupting efforts to think clearly or get stuff done. If you knock it off, you'll enjoy 50 free IQ points, a few extra hours in your day, and the ecstatic relief of having cast aside a crushing burden.

Intelligence either stems from plenty of mental horsepower, or else from wasting fewer cognitive resources, freeing up more of the mental horsepower you've got. This Slog is an eleven year record of what's possible when a merely reasonably-bright guy ceases ruminating over useless bullshit. I actually started much earlier - as a child - but only decisively dropped the shovel over the past decade.

Since then, my mental tickertape has become richly interesting. It's no longer a whiny, needy, tedious, unendurable energy-sucking screed. The interestingness had always been there, but the trash-thinking was louder. In rare moments when my grievance tabulation spontaneously paused (due to exhaustion or surprise or emotional shift - or simply from uttering the magic words "I give up!"), I often experienced a brush with epiphany, eureka, and inspiration. It would arrive and quickly be gone, like a bolt from the blue. I never imagined that was, all along, the underlying default, and that I'd been tirelessly working to drown it out.

Hmm, I already made the same point, pretty much the same way, here. After 2373 postings, I suppose it‘s unavoidable. But while there are topics where I ration my retreads (because most people "got" it the first time, or because it's some nerdy narrowness only I'd ever obsess over) this is something we need to hear frequently, and from different angles, hoping some tendril of truth might stick.

I was graced with more than tendrils as a child, and yet it took until my mid 50s to finally drop the shovel and get out of the blazing sun. In my 30s and 40s, I deemed my still-foggy insight some sort of accomplishment. But no. It was a simple flip of perspective; a "reframing", that's all. It's not a matter of acquiring wisdom, it's a comical forehead-slapping recognition of having been an absolute idiot. This is not a leap forward, it's a letting go of what needlessly held you back.

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