Cold turkey

SSC getting deleted is probably very good for me; my main timesuck is now gone. I’ll miss the comments section which was sometimes an excellent resource, but I’m sure without it I’ll be more productive and present IRL.

Lockdown life changes

I count “lockdown” as the period starting three weeks ago when I was asked by my employer to work from home. It intensified two weeks ago when schools closed, and intensified even further one week ago when our youngest child’s daycare closed. In that time, I’ve noticed some things in my life have changed:

  • My workout routine has suffered, especially in the past week. I am hoping to get it on track again this week.
  • My sleep hasn’t been great. I think it’s because after spending 14 solid hours around my family each day I am ready for some alone time, and the only time I can get it is when I should be going to sleep. I need to find a better balance there, maybe give up 1 to 2 hours at the end so I can go to bed at 10:00 or 10:30 instead of 11:30 or 12:00.
  • I’m playing a lot more chess. This is a timing thing: I happened to get back into chess because I was teaching it to our oldest child, just before I and lots of other people found themselves with time to spend playing it at home online (and in my case at least, against the computer).
  • I’m completing a lot of home projects and gardening tasks. That is my favorite thing about this strange period.
  • I don’t hardly drink at all now. I’ve never been a big drinker to start with, and I already had given up purchasing alcohol to keep at home since some time around the new year, but now I don’t have anywhere else to go drink, either. This is fine except on hot days like yesterday where I had completed some gardening tasks and really wanted a Miller Lite!
  • I’ve had to put playing and recording music, both by myself and with others, mostly on hold.
  • My beard has grown out of control. My wife is complaining. I look like a Sikh without a turban. This happened mainly because of a combination of laziness and time constraints. I kind of playfully like the look but definitely don’t want to make it permanent, so I’ll find a time to buzz it shorter today or tomorrow.

Some things have been notably unaffected:

  • My diet
  • My writing habits

Fine art as philosophy

One of the conundrums of fine art, it seems to me, is that to be a fine artist is to do philosophy, but in an abstract way with pictures, sculptures, music, stories, etc. (instead of by submitting philosophy papers to journals, the way actual philosophers do). Art that does not contain philosophy is usually relegated to the lower-status categories of folk art or corporate art or pop art or the like.

It’s a conundrum because fine artists mostly focus on developing their technique: the ability to express and articulate meaning through their artform, and it is through technique that art is mostly assessed. The philosophy being expressed and articulated, meanwhile, is taken for granted; there isn’t really an expectation that the artist will commit an equal amount of time and effort to developing a unique or insightful philosophy. Still, when we go see fine art or study it, we usually also want to know what the artist was trying to “say” with the artwork. Thus why artist statements are ubiquitous: ultimately, we sort of regard artists as a class of philosophers.

If their philosophy is simplistic or bland or worse, that’s typically overlooked. A songwriter can gain renown and prestige from writing a love song despite millions of other songwriters also writing love songs. So long as the love song’s musical elements are interesting and/or pleasing, its underlying themes can be hackneyed and cliche, or even contradictory or nonsensical. Very few people would dispute Jean Sibelius’s status as a fine artist of orchestral composition, for example, but the nationalist themes dominant in his work are, from a philosophical perspective, rather trite and uninteresting. If he had developed these with as much sophistication as, say, his ear for creating lush string harmonies, then it would be different.

Almost nobody has enough time in their lives to fully develop both fine artistic skill and a salient, formidable philosophical worldview to express with it — even if they are among the vanishingly few endowed with the intellectual and physical capabilities to do both. This is what makes artistic works that are both technical masterpieces and philosophical heavy-hitters so rare and astounding.

Iso tank

I scratched a curiosity itch and spent an hour in an isolation tank tonight, floating on my back in total darkness and silence. (Thanks to my wife who bought me the float as a Christmas present.) I found the experience mostly relaxing, but at all times it was thoroughly…itchy. I was itching the whole time. I couldn’t believe how itchy I was. Maybe the itchiest I’ve ever been.

Anyway, I was excited for this when she first got it for me, because I thought I was going to be seeing crazy phosphenes and exploring the deepest cavities of my consciousness and having a sort of Vision Quest and all the rest. None of that happened even though I completely let go of my expectations during the preceding weeks and during the drive to the spa. Instead, it was exactly like lying in bed on those nights when I can’t sleep, just letting my mind wander. Which is fine, but not particularly revelatory, and not particularly worth paying money for (so it looks like I won’t become a repeat customer).

Floating was itself a nice experience; I eventually hit a sweet spot where I wasn’t thinking about what I was supposed to be experiencing and why I wasn’t experiencing it, and instead I was merely thinking about things in my daily life (and feeling itchy) and that was nice. Apart from the itching it was very comfortable, too. But I could probably do all that lying in my bed, with less itchiness.

So now I think I’ll go rub up against a corner in my house for a while and go to sleep, if I can stop scratching.

On not hybernating

Below, I share my technique of staying in shape during the winter months. If you have a set of dumbbells you can lift ten times and a pull-up bar you can do this too. But first a lengthy introduction nobody asked for!

During the past few years I’ve been good about going to the gym and lifting weights regularly, and I’ve become a lot happier with my physique and more confident overall, especially when people I haven’t seen in a while make positive comments about how my body looks. But something annoying happens every late fall/early winter:

First, I get sick and don’t go to the gym for two to three weeks . Then after a week or two back I get sick again because working out is actually bad for your immune system.

Then a voice rises up in my head and says “Don’t worry about it. It’s winter, you’re supposed to sit inside and put on a layer of fat. You’re basically a bear. Think of it as building mass!” and for anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months I yield to this voice, until the crocuses are popping up and my arms are looking scrawnier and I yell at myself and get back to the gym to find out I can barely lift two thirds of what I left off at. It’s like I’m Sisyphus, sighing as he watches the boulder roll past him down the mountain one more time.

Another thing happened, too, where I switched jobs in the fall. My new job does not have a fitness center in the building like my old job did. I got trial memberships at different gyms in the area, but I hated driving to them at 4:30 in the morning, I was irritated by how surprisingly crowded they were at that time, and I hated having to listen to the loud crappy music they piped in. In fact I hate hearing any music while I work out. At my old job the gym was silent, and if people wanted music they brought earbuds. What a concept! Guess I got spoiled.

But I realized I only needed a few more pieces of equipment to be able to work out in my garage, and acquired them one by one over several months — for the same money a gym membership would have cost me. I highly recommend this to anyone with a small space they can work out in. All I needed was a bench, a joist-mounted pull-up bar, and some dumbbells, and if you buy them used or at auction they can be pretty cheap, or you can find much cheaper versions of these brand new such as removable door-mounted pull-up bars. As it happens I already had a curl bar and a barbell as well, though I could probably get by without these.

Still, the big issue was that when it got really cold, not even space heaters and leather gloves made my garage a habitable space to work out. So, after getting sick a couple times, I felt like nature had finally won. I decided maybe I’d put weight lifting on hiatus until the temperature got consistently back up over 45˚F.

A few times in my life I’ve given bodyweight workouts a try but for whatever reason it never stuck. I think it’s because I didn’t have a plan, and I wasn’t utilizing bodyweight as well as I could have. But this time it’s different.

I devised a split routine that spans all five workdays and except for one exercise doesn’t require me to go to the garage. Monday is chest day: that means pushups with various hand positions and add-ons. Tuesday is legs: squats, lunges, and jumping squats. I”ll probably add calf raises in there too next week. Wednesday I use my dumbbells to do a circuit of shoulder exercises: overhead press, lateral raise, front raise, bendover flyes, shrugs, and upright row. Thursday is back and core day: I put on my gloves and tolerate the cold of my garage just long enough to do pull-ups, then come inside and do planks. Friday is arm day: dips off the edge of my ottoman, diamond pushups, and out to the garage for chin-ups.

Friday is my favorite because at the end of it I can barely raise my arms.

The kicker is how I structure the sets. Instead of doing three or four sets of 8-12 reps, I start with one set of 12, then do a set of 1, then a set of 11, then a set of 2, and so on until the last set is the middle number. This keeps the difficulty pretty even all the way through and motivates me to keep going. It also keeps it interesting, I guess.

The true prison method dictates that you should only rest for 6-12 seconds between sets (enough time to walk a lap in your cell) but I sometimes rest as long as a couple minutes.

The number of sets I start with and the amount of time I rest changes depending on the exercise: I can start at 12 with chin-ups but only 10 for pushups, and I have to start my pull-ups at 8. I can start squats with a set of 20 or 30 though. Obviously, whatever number you start with drastically changes the total number you do.

I’ve mentioned dumbbells and a pull-up bar, but theoretically you can do these exercises without any equipment. The internet is full of tips and tricks for that.

The goal is to do your whole workout in a short span of time (like, 15 minutes) so it doubles as intense cardio. I’m not quite there yet, but give me a couple months. When it gets warmer I’ll probably keep this structure but expand to the equipment in the garage.

Tattoos, coda

I still can’t wrap my mind around how someone voluntarily gets a tattoo if he considers his natural skin perfect (in essence) and doesn’t consider the tattoo an effort to improve the skin. And how, if he gets the tattoo and doesn’t severely regret it, he doesn’t consider his former skin as having been inadequate.

Yet when I’ve asked people with tattoos if they considered their natural skin inadequate or essentially imperfect, or the tattoo an improvement or perfection of their natural skin, the vast majority answer No.

How is this possible? Either they’re not being honest or the whole “I want a tattoo” mindset works in a completely different way than I am capable of imagining.