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Believe it or not, I’ve read another two books already.

First, I read The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck, for my book club.  This one will stay with me for a long time.  It’s not a great book, but the characters and setting were so vivid and unusual that they were memorable.  The book is naturalistic, with events mostly just happening to the main character, Wang Lung.  He is a peasant farmer in rural China in the early part of the 20th century.  He struggles to survive in harsh conditions, and ends up weathly due to hard work, some luck, and reliance on the land as the only source of security.  You might think this sounds like a great premise, but the author’s point is not to show how Wang Lung created wealth for himself, but to show a slice of life – the way real Chinese farmers lived and thought.  She did a good job by presenting a very likeable man whose character was flawed mostly by the cultural norms of the time: the treatment of women as less-than-human, family duty, and no ambition beyond the scope of one’s immediate surroundings.  This book is worth reading and has many interesting issues to analyze such as whether Wang Lung has any independent values, what is the cause of his unhappiness, and to what degree he can be excused for bad behavior rooted in the norms of his culture.  But mostly it is just interesting to observe the world that Buck presents.

Next, for a breather after the intense Good Calories, Bad Calories, I read Night Fall, by Nelson DeMille.  It’s a novel based loosely on the crash of TWA Flight 800 back in 1996.  There were some good aspects to it but overall I thought it suffered from too much testosterone and a very disappointing ending.  I’ve read this author before and I don’t like him much, even though I like the bad-ass-detective genre.  Vince Flynn and especially Lee Child are much better.

I strongly recommend Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes.  If you haven’t heard of it, the subtitle is, “Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease,” and that is an understatement!  This book turns everything you thought you knew about nutrition on its head, or at least attempts to. 

First, I want to thank all of you who recommended this book to me.  I have been liberated from my fear of fat!  I knew that I did better eating protein versus carbohydrates, but I still thought I should eat lean meats and low fat dairy products to minimize fat, both for weight control and to keep my cholesterol down.  Even after reading Taubes’ NYT article, What if it’s Been a Big Fat Lie, I didn’t quite get it.  Here is the inescapable truth: there is no correlation between dietary cholesterol and heart disease.  There is not even a clear correlation between the “bad” cholesterol in your blood, LDL, and heart disease.  And a correlation would only be a start anyway – as you know, correlation does not equal causation.  There is a correlation between the “good” cholesterol, HDL and heart disease: the more HDL, the less heart disease.  There are also some good theories for causation that fit with the studies that show this correlation, although they are not proven yet (in my opinion).  Still, nothing supports the conventional wisdom that suggests limiting fat in the diet–simply nothing.  The original correlations have withered away with conflicting data.  The theory has gotten consistently weaker through time.  Read the book – the evidence from the studies could not be clearer.   

Taubes has a much more ambitious purpose than just to debunk the conventional wisdom, though.  His goal is to inspire more formal study of the harmful effects of refined carbohydrates and sugars in the diet.  Overall, I agree that this absolutely needs to be done, but I think, along the way, Taubes ends up making some of the same mistakes he identifies in the low-fat advocates.  He puts too much faith in observational studies and anecdotal evidence.  I was much more convinced by his skepticism than his positive thesis.  To be more specific, I’ll use the author’s summary of his own conclusions based on the evidence he collected, and put in my two cents (in italics):

1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization. (Emphasis added.) I’m not convinced that “disease of civilization” is a valid concept but otherwise, I agree with this statement as a general rule for obesity and heart disease. This is where I think Taubes is brilliant and revolutionary.  His meticulous collection and presentation of the relevent studies is impressive and convincing.  

2. The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostasis–the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body. The more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being. This is where I think he goes too far, but I fully agree that there is enough evidence to treat this as a theory to be studied further. Further, I think it is enough to justify my own effort to reduce my carbohydrate and sugar consumption, but in a much more limited way than Taubes might recommend. I might even call it “probable” that carbohydrates are a big problem in a modern diet. But to call carbohydrates “the problem” is going too far based on the evidence he has presented.

3. Sugars–sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup specifically–are particularly harmful, probably because the combination of fructose and glucose simultaneously elevates insulin levels while overloading the liver with carbohydrates. I don’t think there is all that much evidence for HFCS being even more harmful than sugar (although there is enough to warrant further study), but what impressed me in his discussion of sugar is the mammoth amount of sugar consumed per capita in our country now – I can’t find the figures but it went from approximately 10 pounds a couple hundred years ago to well over 100 pounds per year now. Otherwise, my comments on #2 apply here.

4. Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. They are the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and the other chronic diseases of civilization. I would put the qualifier “most likely cause” on the first set of conditions and “a possible cause” on the latter. Note that Taubes says “dietary cause,” not “cause.” This means: as effected by diet. Taubes does not deny the interaction of genetic factors or other environmental factors. He is speaking strictly about effects from the diet. But, again, with the diseases of civilization! I think that would only be a valid concept if, in fact, the earlier part of this statement was proved correct. In other words, if we did prove that carbohydrates and sugars caused diseases x,y,z, and we found that those diseases cropped up with the introduction of those foods in various diets, then we would have a valid concept. Of course, we’d probably call it something different then, like, “diseases of refined carbohydrates” or something. Still, this is the first place I have ever seen (and I have looked all over the internet, including in academic articles) any evidence at all presented for the “diseases of civilization” concept. It seems to be so accepted that nobody bothers to explain or justify it. But Taubes did give a history of the idea and it was a fascinating and compelling set of anecdotal evidence, but I just don’t think it’s valid to speak of these diseases as a group (and the members in the group are not always clear either). I think that is dangerous assumption-making, and the kind of oversimplification that Taubes warns us about in the earlier parts of the book. (The term “civilization” is inflammatory, from an Objectivist’s point of view, but really it refers to agriculture, which many consider to be the necessary precondition to civilization. It really angered me, though, when Taubes quoted somebody who said that agriculture may have been the biggest disaster in the history of man, or something to that effect. Now that is the kind of anti-man statement I’ve heard when reading about the Paleo diet, at least in implication. If there are indeed “diseases of civilization,” they are still a small price to pay for our modern world! Also, as somebody pointed out in the comments here on my blog, if modern foods are causing health problems, the answer is more science, not reversion.)

5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating, and not sedentary behavior. Wow! This is another area where Taubes shook up my worldview. You just can’t understand this unless you read the book and the mountains of circumstantial evidence for this statement. I would add a qualifier to this statement that says that obesity “may sometimes be” a disorder of excess fat accumulation…or possibly, “may usually be.” I still believe some (many?) people are overweight because they eat too much, even when their internal nutritional needs are met, but Taubes presents a plausible theory (see details below), there is evidence for it, and it fits with my own experience.

6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter, any more than it causes a child to grow taller. Expending more energy than we consume does not lead to long-term weight loss; it leads to hunger. Again, you’ll have to read the book to understand and believe this. The key is that you can eat and the calories can get stored in your fat tissue without giving your cells the energy they need, so that being overweight is actually a manifestation of internal starvation. See #7. There is much evidence for this, but again, it really is not proven yet, in my opinion.

7. Fattening and obesity are caused by an imbalance-a disequilibrium-in the hormonal regulation of adipose tissue and fat metabolism. Fat synthesis and storage exceed the mobilization of fat from the adipose tissue and its subsequent oxidation. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this balance. If you haven’t read the book this probably doesn’t make much sense to you, but it is intelligible in the context of the science presented in the book.

8. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated-either chronically or after a meal-we accumulate fat in our fat tissue. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and use it for fuel. Again, maybe. I learned a lot about the role of insulin by reading this book and it was fascinating.

9. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be. I wish, but again, I only give this a maybe.

10. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity. Overall, I am pretty confident there is some truth to this theory, but I’m not convinced it is as clear-cut as Taubes suggests and I definitely do not think the evidence warrants cutting out most carbohydrates from one’s diet, regardless of the costs in enjoyment, convenience, and price.

Much of the reason I say there is not enough evidence for many of these claims is that there have never been any real studies testing the hypotheses!  Taubes claims that the fat hypothesis is so ingrained and accepted that to even undertake a test of these theories would be blasphemy, so to speak.  To Taubes’ credit, he calls the ten statements above his “own conclusions” and specifically calls for controlled studies.

I found the early part of the book the most interesting, where Taubes makes it clear that the erroneous fat hypothesis became gospel through a mixture of bad science, inertia, and government interference.  He goes as far as to say:

It’s possible to point to a single day when the controversy was shifted irrevocably in favor of [the fat] hypothesis–Friday, January 14, 1977, when Senator George McGovern announced the publication of the first Dietary Goals for the United States.  The document was “the first comprehensive statement by any branch of the Federal Government on risk factors in the American diet,” said McGovern.

This was the first time that any government institution (as opposed to private groups like the AHA) had told Americans they could improve their health by eating less fat…The document itself became gospel. It is hard to overstate its impact.

Another interesting issue is the concept of public health.  In a chapter called “The Greater Good” Taubes traces how the desire to “achieve the greatest good by treating entire populations rather than individuals” leads to patients who are not motivated to change their behaviors, which in turn leads to “experts” who exaggerate risks and try to create social pressure to change people’s behavior, whether it is good for any particular individual or not.  Recognizing that this is an instance of collectivism at work really helps to understand the succession of “public service messages” we receive about health, which invariably are later revoked.  Think about the campaign against salt, or the outrageous exaggerations of the anti-drug campaign.

I could write even more about this book but I’ll end with my own conclusions.  I do not think that carbohydrates are bad in the way that Taubes does so I suppose that I fundamentally disagree with the book.  (It is, after all, called “Good Calories, Bad Calories.”)  I think the balance is off in the standard American diet–it is slanted too much towards carbohydrate consumption, in part because of convenience (which is a value) and in part (more recently) because of the low-fat campaign.  (Taubes specifically takes issue with the idea of a “balanced diet,” claiming that the concept comes from the errors in the fat hypothesis, but I don’t agree.  Because I do not think there is enough evidence, I default to a principle which fits with all my other knowledge about health, and life in general for that matter.)  For now, I’m not so much reducing carbohydrates as adding fats back into my diet.  For me, that means that carbohydrates are falling away more naturally, since I don’t really like to eat much of them anyway.  I’m really just retraining myself to stop thinking in terms of fat being bad.  Once you see the Big Fat Lie for what it is, you will be shocked at how ingrained it is into your psyche.   I intend to trust my body’s signals more than I have in the past, and to be even more skeptical (if that is possible) about nutritional studies.

Book Reviews

I’m still working on the bible, but in the meantime, I’ve read a couple of other books I should note.

I read Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner for my book club and enjoyed it as light fiction.  The main character, Cannie, pines over the loss of a loser-boyfriend and finds that if she is going to recover and have a happy life, she needs to address her self-esteem issues.  Cannie is smart and likable, and the plot kept me interested.  The book had some juvenile elements to it – some hysterical-dumped-female moments and a fantasy trip to L.A. when Cannie sold a screenplay – but I could overlook that.  I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

Based on a recommendation from a friend, I skimmed Sleep: A Groundbreaking Guide to the Mysteries, the Problems, and the Solutions by Carlos H. Schenck to see if it might give me any ideas about my insomnia.  I found that it wasn’t really necessary to read it because my friend had already given me the best advice he had gleaned from it:  regulate your circadian rhythm by using blue light in the morning and blocking blue night at night using special glasses.  I’m going to try my full-spectrum light each morning and see if that alone will help. I won’t rate the book since I didn’t read the whole thing, but it seemed to have a really good overview of the wide range of sleep problems out there.  Interesting stuff!

A Good, Light Read

I highly recommend my latest read: The Difference Between You and Me, by Kathleen De Marco.  It’s set in Hollywood and revolves around two women trying to get into the movie business.  They are indeed, very different women, and their parallel stories combine to create a theme that I can say is almost something along the lines of: the morality and practicality of the Benevolent Universe Premise.  Both women learn that people can be trusted and that achievement is possible – achievement in this world that is practical and spiritually fulfilling at the same time.  Cynicism and second-handedness both explicitly fail. 

The book does not dive deeply into philosophical issues – it stays at the surface level of psychology, but it does it well.  The plot is fun and riveting, and basically lighthearted, which fits the theme perfectly.  

This is the best novel I’ve read in a long time.  I truly loved it.

I just finished reading Positive Discipline: The First Three Years: From Infant to Toddler–Laying the Foundation for Raising a Capable, Confident Child (Positive Discipline Library) by Jane Ed.D. Nelsen, thanks to discussions at Principled Parent and Rational Jenn.  Overall, I didn’t think this book was very helpful.  It didn’t have enough examples, for one thing.  Or maybe I just didn’t think the examples were very good.  I also didn’t like the foundation that was laid for positive discipline – that one of the top needs of human beings is “to feel like we belong” or to “feel a sense of connection.”  However, I agree with what the authors call the building blocks of Positive Discipline:

  • Mutual Respect.  This is a big one in our home.  Sam is not our pet, but a separate human being who deserves to be treated as such.
  • Understanding the belief behind the behavior.  This is where I lost touch with what I was doing, as I’ll explain below.
  • Understanding child development and age-appropriateness.  This sounds easy, but it’s one of the biggest challenges for me. 
  • Effective communication.  Obviously a good thing, but I would have liked much more in the book about how to achieve it.
  • Discipline that teaches.  What is the point of discipline if it doesn’t teach?  Again, this is an area where I lost my way.
  • Focusing on solutions instead of punishment.  Punishment, almost by definition, is arbitrary.  The authors don’t seem to believe in natural consequences, though.
  • Encouragement.  The authors believe in “celebrating” effort and improvement, as versus praising success.  I partially agree with this.
  • Children do better when they feel better.  I would call this motivation by love instead of by fear, which I stole from Ayn Rand.  The authors really just touch the surface of this whole issue with warm-fuzzy talk.

I much preferred the books of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, which I reviewed here.  The ideas are very similar, and I’m sure that their views on discipline are considered part of the Positive Discipline school.  I thought, though, that the foundation they laid for the ideas was much more solid, the books were written in a less “dumbed-down” manner, and that they included a greater wealth of concrete examples.

Still, the experience of hashing this out on the blogosphere and reading the Nelsen book was exactly what I needed right now.

To remind you of my context, I’ve been struggling with some new discipline issues with Samantha for the past couple of months.  She went through one of her spurts of development, which is great, but it always brings new challenges.  This time it was the typical two-year-old move towards independence.  I understood that this was a good development, and continued to use encouragement, redirection, choices and challenges for most of the issues.  I really tried to let her defy me and test me and push the limits.  She was experimenting!  But she started hitting again, and I was having a hard time with the basics tasks of the day: diaper changes, getting her coat on, getting her in her car seat, etc.

I went through a phase in December where I had decided that Sam needed to “obey.”  I had never needed to think in those terms before, but I didn’t know how else we were supposed to get out of the house.  We initiated time-outs as a consequence for not following instructions in a reasonable time, whereas we had only done time-outs for hitting before.  We were able to get her to listen, but it never felt right and it was painful and very time-consuming.  And it wasn’t like she had learned anything – she just “disobeyed” less often. 

Rational Jenn mentioned a common PD phrase that I had never heard before and it brought me back to my senses:  Assume Positive Intent.  As she says, “this means that the parent should err on the side of thinking that the child is trying to fulfill some positive need or desire of his own, rather than intentionally trying to do something undesirable…”  This is the way I looked at almost all of Sam’s behavior.  But not hitting.  For some reason, when she went through her first hitting phase, I decided (and Adam agreed) that hitting was “heinous” behavior – off the charts, out of bounds, not to be tolerated, etc.  We decided to give her an immediate time out every time she hit or struck us.  This worked (mostly) and we thought we had this discipline thing down.  But when Sam started getting “defiant,” I started thinking that maybe this was just like the hitting.  After all, she needs to listen and obey me when I tell her not to run into the street, right?  She needs to “obey” sometimes, right? 

Wrong.  She cannot keep herself from running into the street right now.  She cannot stop herself from hitting every time.  She does not have the impulse control to do it.  And, although I never made the mistake of thinking she was doing these things to be “bad” or to make me crazy, I treated her as if she was doing something bad.  Why is hitting different than anything else I’m trying to teach her, like not throwing her food, touching the animals gently, or using crayons only on paper, not walls?  We have no issues with those things.  We teach.  Over and over, we teach, and she learns.  I can trust her with crayons and a coloring book at her table unsupervised because she knows that if she draws on the furniture, she’ll have to stop coloring and help me clean up.  She still might forget and mess up sometimes, but then I’ll just show her again.  And right now, it’s my job to physically stop her from running into the street.

So, thanks to my mommy-blogger colleagues and many intelligent comments on their blogs, two weeks ago I decided to eliminate time outs, and to treat hitting and all other undesirable behavior in a consistent manner.   The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that now that I regard hitting just like everything else, I realize that there are all different kinds of hitting and ways of reacting.  Sometimes I ask her why she did it.  Sometimes I say “ouch, that hurt, please don’t do it again.”  Sometimes I tell her I need to walk away from her because I don’t want to keep getting hit.   I’ve even told her that it hurts my feelings when she hits me, because, guess what – that’s true.  I read the situation in a flash, and I usually have a sense of what to do.  It’s only been two weeks, but it’s going very well.  There are no battles of will in our house anymore.  And there are very few battles at all.  Discipline has almost been a non-issue. 

Also, my fear of having to use force to get her to do something has diminished.  Here is a great example.  I have to put drops in her eyes for conjunctivitis.  I tried “bribing” her with a fruit candy if she cooperated, but no fruit candy can compete with the fear of the eye drops.  Yet, she must have the eye drops.  Finally, I told her that I had to hold her down, and I did so while she thrashed and screamed.  It wasn’t fun, but I don’t feel guilty about it like I used to.  I think the reason is that I have let go of any idea that she must obey me, which means that she must go against her own mind.  I know she doesn’t want those eye drops, but I’m not going to trick her into cooperating, which is what time-outs and rewards do.  The natural consequences of not having the eye drops are just too far removed and too serious to let her experience them, and in these rare cases (and they really are rare), I know what I need to do.  There is no conflict.

Well, that’s where we are at the moment.  I am so happy that I’m writing this blog and reading others by thinking parents.  When talking about mommy-bloggers, most people talk about the need to “vent” or “share” or to know that others are experiencing the same things they are.  Sometimes I need that too.  But I need ideas even more.

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Got my car battery replaced.  Good thing because the car was dead and I thought it might have to wait until Monday.  Also a good thing because Adam took care of it for me.  That man is spoiling me lately!
  2. Created, cooked and ate a dish of carrots and celery with a cream sauce.  Those are 2 of my least favorite vegetables, but I liked them this way.  The sauce was just a roux with heavy cream and chicken broth, plus nutmeg, salt and pepper.  I wonder if there is a way to make a low-carb roux substitute.
  3. Joined a book club.  Thanks, LB!

VI Warshawski

I forgot to mention another book I read in the middle of those last 4:  Blacklist by Sara Paretsky.  This is one of a series with female detective VI Warshawski – you might remember the movie with Kathleen Turner.  I had read one other in the series before and disliked it, and should have learned my lesson and not bothered with this one.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I feel like I’m in a dark place when reading this author.  The main character is action-oriented and competent, but she is sad for some reason that I don’t fully understand.  The stories move along and I keep waiting for something to make her proud or happy, but nothing does.  It’s depressing.

Besides the Great Books series, next up is Positive Discipline: The First Three Years: From Infant to Toddler–Laying the Foundation for Raising a Capable, Confident Child (Positive Discipline Library) by Jane Ed.D. Nelsen (thanks Principled Parent) and probably some kind of easy fiction I’ll pick out at the library.

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. I started the Ten Years of Reading in the Great Books of the Western World series.  I found my notes from 2002, and I had read the first few readings by Plato and Aristotle, so now I’m on Plutarch.  Last night I read about Lycurgus.  The Spartans really were the Soviets of the ancient world, weren’t they?
  2. I exchanged phone numbers and email addresses with my next door neighbor, who seems very nice and has two young kids.  I’m going to invite her to my party.  I’m really working on this making friends thing.
  3. When Adam came home from work, he immediately saw what kind of a day I had had, and promptly did the dishes.  What a man!


Book Reviews

Here’s a recap of the last 4.5 books I’ve read.  I definitely want to review each book I read here on my blog from now on, mostly to keep a record for myself.  I think it will help me to retain what I’ve read better.  Please don’t judge my overall reading habits by this selection of books.  I go through phases with my reading – I’ll be into Russian literature for a few months, then biographies, then US Weekly.

  • Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky.  Great recommendation from Jean Moroney.  I would subtitle this book, “Exercises in Introspection,” although I guess that would be confusing to a lot of people.  It really is a beginner’s guide to introspection: how to differentiate thoughts from feelings, how to identify feelings that lead to moods, how to connect the situation and your evaluation of it to your emotions, etc.  There are worksheets to help you do exercises to work on these identifications.  Most of the book was old-hat to me, but I did like the section on assumptions and core beliefs, as I’m still trying to figure out where I get my misanthropy and some other issues.  The Three Good Things exercise is related, but not quite the same. 
  • The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls.  This was a choice from the library of my step-mother-in-law. (What a horrible title; she sounds like a witch.  Just the opposite – Deb is vivacious, sweet, and smart.)  This book is based on the author’s experience as the child of two horrible human beings.  They were early hippies, rebelling against “the system,” and so refused to hold down steady jobs, moved around constantly evading the law, and treated their children like animals.  The father was a drunk and the mother hid under a blanket eating chocolate while her children were starving; they were actually taking food out of garbage cans at school to survive.  I can’t say I liked the book, but many of the horrifying stories will stay with me for a long time.  It clarified what immorality looks like in “regular” people.  What I find interesting, though, is that this memoir is really just a reality read - no different than reality TV – and yet books like this are heralded as “fine art,” “intelligent,” and “spectacular,” while reality TV shows are seen as low-brow and disgusting.
  • The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards.  Another selection from Deb’s library.  I disliked this best-seller.  I found it to be shallow and pretentious.  The author asserted all of these “deep” emotions in her characters, but I didn’t find that the situation and personalities actually gave rise to those feelings.  It was corny.
  • You’ve Got Male by Elizabeth Bevarly.  Yes, I tried a romance novel.  I hadn’t read one since my 20′s, or maybe ever.  I’m not sure.  When Sam and I were at the library we walked past the romance section and Sam pointed at one of the girly girls on a cover and said, BARBIE.  It cracked me up and I picked up this book just for fun.  But I couldn’t get past 40 pages.
  • Hold Tight by Harlan Coben.  This is my usual fare: your basic mystery/thriller.  This one was average. 

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Our friend Kyle is visiting from Orange County.  He’s a teacher at the best school in the country, as far as I’m concerned.
  2. Watched Dr. Horrible.  Joss Whedon is a genius.
  3. Cooked and ate an excellent dinner, if I do say so myself.  Top sirloin with garlic and thyme, baked potatoes, and a basic salad.  You just can’t go wrong with The Joy of Cooking.

This is Nora.  Her servants are my aunt and uncle-in-law, Betsy and Burnell.  Betsy is a Suzuki Method piano teacher and has given us some great tips for fostering Samantha’s love of the piano.  They also gave us Nora’s book, which Sam absolutely loves.

You might find something a bit familiar about 36 seconds into the video.



Reading List

The absence of an imminent move has made me feel ambitious again.  For close to 2 years, I’ve told myself, “no, not now,” to so many of the values I want to pursue.  I was afraid it would become a habit, but the moment we moved I felt a weight lifting and an excitement brewing.

I thought my to do list was long before, but now it’s growing like mad.  The difference is that the things on my list now will advance my life instead of just maintaining it.

One thing that’s going back on my list is a big project called getting a Western Civ education.  I have temporary but open-ended custody of the Great Books of the Western World series (thanks, Stace!).  I started reading straight from the ten year plan about ten years ago, but dropped it…well, when we moved from Chicago to New Orleans.  Three things have inspired me to start up again:  1) I heard an interview with this guy on NPR and he talked about St. Johns College where they have a Great Books program, 2) We unpacked our series and put it back up on our bookshelves, and 3) I ran across this reading challenge and thought that I can finally get organized about reading again too.

Let life begin again!

New Ayn Rand Book

I’m excited about this new book of Ayn Rand interviews, Objectively Speaking, edited by Marlene Podritske and Peter Schwartz.  I’ve probably read most of the print interviews already, but it’s been a while.  Since I can’t afford to buy recordings of all her audio interviews, this book will fill that gap nicely.  Too bad it’s not available for Christmas.

If you’ve never heard Ayn Rand interviewed you’re missing out.  Treat yourself to the pleasure of observing a brilliant mind in action: the Ayn Rand Institute has a nice selection of her lectures and interviews you can listen to for free.  I just listened to the beginning of Speaking Freely, a wide-ranging interview by Edwin Newman, and I’m blown away all over again by her clarity and precision.

When Samantha was born, on September 2, 2006, I thought there was something special about the date.  September 2.  September second.  9/2.  Sept. 2nd.  What was it that made that date so familiar?  Finally, I realized that it was the date in Atlas Shrugged that was often noted on the calendar hanging over the city.  Ayn Rand used the trick of characters noting that date to help readers mark the time as years pass in the story.  I always wondered if the date had any significance to her. 

I found out from The Ayn Rand Institute that September 2 was the date that Ayn Rand began writing the novel.  A day for great beginnings, indeed.

Today is the 51st anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged.   I suppose this is the book’s real birthday, even though I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for September 2. 

Fifty-one years old and still going strong.  If you haven’t read it lately, now is a great time.

I haven’t been doing very well appreciating the little things lately.  Moving really sent me into a tailspin.  You see, I have time sickness. 

Barbara Sher, in, “I Could Do Anything if I Only Knew What It Was,” calls time sickness, “a form of hysteria that makes you believe you must fill every waking hour going after what you want, that everything must be done at once because time is about to end.  You have no sense of the future, the leisurely course that time actually takes in most of our lives.” 

The concept of time sickness gave me so much insight into this problem I’ve had for as long as I can remember.  It helped me to figure out that I want to be a writer (since I could let go of the idea that I had to be perfect immediately) and it was part of the inspiration for the theme of this blog.  I knew something about this problem of mine before, but it makes all the difference in the world to have a clear definition and the memorable term, “time sickness” to hold as shorthand in my head.  Every time I start getting the feeling, “I shouldn’t be wasting time doing this because I have 15 other, more important things on my to-do list for the day,” I try to ask myself if that is really true or if it is just my time sickness.  It’s ALWAYS my time sickness.  The feeling is strongest when I’m doing things like brushing my teeth, eating, taking a shower, or talking on the phone with a friend.  For some reason, I consider those things “expendable,” and I think I should be doing things like paying the bills, planning activities to do with Sam, or cleaning the house.  But when I’m paying the bills, planning activities to do with Sam, or cleaning the house, I think, “I really shouldn’t be doing this; I should be submitting article ideas to magazines or taking a nap.”  There is no time when I am satisfied that I am doing what I should be doing.  There is no time when I allow myself to fully live in the moment without a nagging sense of guilt that there are things still undone.  I am always in a rush and I’m always exhausted from the marathon that I run every single day.  Time sickness.

So I’ve been working on it and I’ve been improving.  But our recent move threw me for a loop.  My to-do list grew to a length that overwhelmed my ability to be self-aware.  We only plan to live in this rental house for a year while we explore the DC suburbs for a place we want to buy, so I had it in my head that I couldn’t start living until I got the house unpacked and organized.  I would not allow myself to focus on anything else because I felt if I didn’t rush through it I’d be unpacking the whole time we were here and I’d be in a permanent state of “moving” for the next year and a half.  While it is true that moving sucks, my time sickness compels me to make it much worse than it actually is.  In reality, if I just went on with life, unpacking a little bit each day and not worrying about how long it would take, I wouldn’t mind the unpacking so much at all, and it probably would get done just as quickly.

I’m just getting over this relapse now.  I got my hair cut last week, something I would not have allowed myself to “waste” time on a few weeks ago.  I’m starting to spend more time just being with Sam, not doing anything in particular, but just watching her or tickling her or waiting to see what she wants to do next.  I’m working on it.  And even though I’m not perfect, I’m once again starting to enjoy the process of working on it.

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