Ten thoughts on a Monday [3]

one

This was the sky and city hall as Ed Lee lay in state. Maybe this was the day he was moved. Northbound Van Ness was closed for a while, causing quite a traffic snarl. I’ve seen it before: someone important dies and to honor him, the masses suffer in traffic. Say it with me, there’s got to be a better way!

two

The holiday season has me saddened that fois gras is banned in California again. I’m surprised because there’s a growing French population in the Bay Area and banning foie gras is culturally insensitive to them. Would we ever ban the sale of halal meat? Halal slaughter is arguably more cruel than gavage, but since Islam is a religion and fois gras is not, I guess California sees fit to ban one but not the other. Maybe the answer is to make a religion that has foie gras as a ritual food item.

three

People acquire a certain hardness when they’ve faced challenges in life. Especially chronic problems like abusive parents, hunger, unstable housing situations, poverty, etc. It isn’t their fault, but I’ve noticed that the hardness makes them less pleasant and terrible conversationalists. They do too much posturing to influence how others see them, and frankly, it’s dull. The people I find most dear have lived sheltered lives, laugh easily, trust willingly, and say things like:

It’s so bad being homeless in winter. They should go somewhere warm like the Caribbean where they can eat fresh fish all day.
Lady Victoria Hervey

four

Notebooks marketed towards women too often have silly “inspirational” sayings on them. But if a man were using a notebook that had “Follow your dreams” stamped on it in swirly gold foil, wouldn’t you find it silly? Is it that designers think women are silly, or is it that we actually are silly? Oh, maybe designers are silly.

five

I found a note I wrote to myself last time I was drunk.

When drunk you will forget everything. How to spell. Your own name. How to stand up on your own two legs. But you won’t forget that you need to floss.

It appears I have some strange obsession with flossing.

six

I would love to find a way to give compliments to a person without them thinking I’m flirting. Or, more generally, a way to be nice to a person (give them attention, ask them to events with me, offer them baked goods) without them thinking I have ulterior motives. I blame the skewed values system of our society. The way we talk about sexual relationships as something more than “just friendship”. For example, I have friends with lovely eyes, the cutest giggle, great fashion sense, amazing hair, and I can’t admit I think these things without it sounding like I’m flirting or like I want “something more” when I don’t. I suppose I could go back to when I didn’t realize everyone thought I was flirting. But that era had its own problems. Like people who I considered friends kissing me out of nowhere (or so I thought).

seven

I never heard of Sam Altman until yesterday when I read his blog post , which appears to imply that if we shame people for having views like “gays are evil and deserve to die” then we create an environment that is bad for innovation. Most in my friend group agreed that this was a poor argument without much evidence to support it. But one friend started spewing terms like “online lynch mob” and “thought crime” and “liberal bubble”. It was ironic to see how quickly someone who thinks of himself as a supporter of open discussion, disagreement and innovative thought sought to shut down and dismiss arguments from those who disagree with him.

eight

I have a thing for Muji. I almost got hauled in for additional questioning at Denpasar airport for refusing to give up the Muji forks I was trying to get through security. Aren’t they beautiful? I wonder what it says about a person when they buy themselves flatware for Christmas. Never mind, no I don’t: it’s probably nothing good.

nine

This snowman is visiting SFMOMA for the holiday season. I didn’t grow up somewhere snowy. So I had winter fantasies about snow based on movies. Sledding, snowmen, ice skating, magic. I am assured isn’t like that for people who actually live in it for months at a time, but to me, snow is still magic.

ten

A friend of mine asked how I lost “all that weight” and I was reminded again of how little our perceptions of ourselves line up with how others perceive us. I thought my clothes fit better, sure, but I didn’t think my weight loss would be noticeable to others. The best resource for information about lasting weight loss is Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Obesity Code. He addresses why low-fat diets don’t work, why most diets fail, and gets into the science behind what causes weight gain and why it is so much easier to gain than lose weight, especially with traditional dieting advice. But don’t take my word for it — there are about 1000 5-star reviews on Amazon and the book is an easy read: see what you think.

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Aria, Bach’s Goldberg Variations

I have been told too many times that I should have goals. This started with a warning from a high school teacher who was convinced that I would never find a direction and I’d just “spin.” She wasn’t wrong.

I am not good at having goals because examples I have heard have made me unspeakably sad. Career goals, marriage? Having a house? Having X dollars in my retirement account? Is there really nothing more to life? Then there are contrived goals, like traveling to every single country. Those don’t appeal either. Again, the pointlessness is depressing. Who knew goals were so maudlin?

I’ve found an acceptable goal for now: learn how to play the Aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Ideally, I’ll be able to play it more or less like Glenn Gould, minus the moaning.

Don’t let the tempo deceive you. This piece is not easy. I was trained in classical piano for nine years, and I’ve never played a song that felt this vulnerable. You can’t fudge a note, casually slide past in a hurry, speed up or slow down at will, use the pedal to hide. None of it. And the ending invites speeding because the climax is so exquisite you just want to get there faster.

I’m also reading Grit. Maybe that’s why I thought having a goal would be good. We’ll see.

The wrong way to blog

(hint: it’s how I blog)

I once read a helpful article by an established and successful blogger (I forget which one now) about how to blog. It was a list of advice for beginners. For whatever perverse reason, I didn’t take any of the advice. Whether from some misguided sense that I’m sui generis or just an inability to think of how to do some of it, I’ve pretty much failed.

This post will serve as a post-mortem of sorts. And maybe I’ll improve going forward. We’ll see. What did that article say? Here’s what I can remember:

Pick a theme. I don’t have a theme. Some people have cool DIY projects, or adorable kids, or some theme that attracts readers and keeps them. I honestly have nothing that I could write volumes about. Unless it’s trolling. But the internet needs an entire blog on trolling like I need an ass rash. (Which is not at all, in case that wasn’t clear.) If you’re a compelling writer or you have interesting random stories, it could work to have the theme be… your life. But then you have to be willing to share a lot about your life. Interesting stories, pictures, thoughts.

Update regularly. The blogs I like the most post 1-2 times a week. To be honest, my favorite blogs are Mormon family blogs. The regular updates make readers feel like they’re friends. A reader with an emotional attachment to your story is more likely to stay around. Plus, it’s more interesting if people comment, isn’t it? When I had a Livejournal, I remember looking at the world through a lens of “how can I tell this story on Livejournal?”

Know your audience. Me, I have no clue. I think my mom used to read. Now, it’s just people who find this through google searches on my more controversial posts. That’s fine, but I’ve had a hard time finding an appropriate voice or tone to use here. Which makes posts sporadic. If you can picture your audience (even if it’s just one person), you can pretend they’re sitting across from you and you’re telling them something. You can imagine them smiling as you tell them a story, or nodding along as you tell them something they didn’t know. It helps. Even if your audience is an imaginary person or a profile like “Older Englishmen who like to garden.”

The rest of the tips were about marketing and ways to boost viewership. Rest assured, I didn’t get involved with any of that. Monetizing a blog is a pipe dream unless you’re truly outstanding at something. Or unless you’re selling a pipe dream. Though I may be constantly judged for my lack of morality, even I have to draw the line somewhere. So I’m afraid I can’t tell you the 10 easy steps to replace your job with a blogging gig. Alas.

 

 

My longest fast

Also my first serious fast. I did one for 3 days in college because I wanted to prove a point to a friend (with no diagnosed medical problems) who was convinced she would pass out if she didn’t eat every 2-3 hours. I noticed then that after day 2, hunger went away. The same thing happened this time.

Day one was a normal day. I got hungry a few times, ignored it, and powered through. The hunger didn’t come back worse each time, it just came and went at about the same level. Apparently, if you exercise on day 1 and deplete your blood glucose, you start burning fat faster. I’ll try that next time. Day two must have been the beginning of ketosis because my mouth tasted bizarre, like fake sugar, and I was constantly thirsty. I still got hungry, but less so than on day one.

Days 3-6 were fantastic. I never have energy like that when I eat food. I felt more focused and clear-minded. I didn’t get groggy in the afternoons. I wasn’t hungry. I lost about 1.5-2 lbs a day throughout. This was mostly water weight. I’ve been off the fast now for nearly a week, but I haven’t regained all of the weight. I’m still 2-3 lbs lighter than when I started, which is about how much fat loss I had expected.

One question I do have about fasting to lower insulin resistance is how many times or how long the fasts have to be to show stable changes to the body’s set weight? Theoretically, the body has a set-point for weight which gets nudged higher as insulin resistance builds. But when insulin resistance goes down, does this set-point decrease as well? Is it harder to decrease it than increase it?

After the science, my second favorite thing about fasting to lose weight and improve health is its simplicity. It appeals greatly to the sloth in me to be told that 95% of weight loss depends on diet (and only 5% on exercise). It is wonderful not to have to cook. Or clean up after meals. Or think about what to eat. Or shop for it. Modified versions with “eating windows” are simple too: eat 1-2 meals between these hours and never at any other time in between. How easy is that?

Another thing I love about this diet: I have enough fat stores to see me through a week-long backpacking trip. How wonderful not to have to pack anything to eat. Or a trip to one of these tropical islands with over water bungalows and exactly one severely overpriced restaurant. I can go for week-long vacations and never have to worry about eating! I’ve never before been so pleased about my fat stores. Finally, they’re useful for something.

La Maison des Cariatides

Or, my first Michelin starred restaurant experience.

I had a long debate with myself about whether it would be worthwhile to eat at a Michelin starred restaurant. For me, it was always going to be about the food and nothing else, as long as the “else” wasn’t so atrocious as to be a distraction (think of the decor or service at the average authentic Chinese restaurant run by average authentic Chinese people). In the end I let it boil down to a simple test which you can try at home. Blindfolded, can you tell what color gummy bear you’re eating? If not, the experience probably won’t be worthwhile for you because your palate can’t tell anyway. If you’d be just as happy at KFC, why bother paying extra?

Here are some pictures from my experience at La Maison des Cariatides. It’s housed in what looks to be a centuries old building with statues at the second floor and carved bust detailing in the window arches.

This appetizer was not on the menu. Deep fried cheese with a sweet and sour sauce.

The 4 unopened eggs were not for eating. N asked. This one tasted like a creamy bacon mousse.

The sauce on this scallop was made from roasted hay. It enhanced the flavor of the scallop without overpowering.

Neither of us knew beforehand what “Ris de veau” was. The texture reminded me of brain, but it turns out to be glands. I don’t think I’ve had glands before. It seems the grilled part extends deeper than just the surface, and of course, the grilled part is my favorite part.

This might not look like much, and it might not be fancy, but these are the best creamy, cheesy mashed potatoes I have had in my life. They’re probably 50% butter by volume.

See this nice waitress offering us a cheese course? I had some of every cheese. If you do that in France they consider you a glutton. Whatever. Worth it.

The first time I recall enjoying anise flavor. The dust is an anise powder on a white chocolate wafer. Which the grapefruit sorbet wore like a little hat. The refreshing fantasy of every summertime beachgoer.

The presentation on second dessert seemed haphazard to me, but I was just so pleased no one was trying to get me to eat flowers or foam that I didn’t mind so much. The cigar looking bit had this smoked flavor.

This wasn’t on the menu either: a bonus 3rd dessert of Paris-Brest.

Overall, an amazing first experience at a Michelin starred restaurant. I thought it would be more formal and stuffy than it was. I didn’t notice anyone wearing anything dressy. The atmosphere was upscale but comfortable. Perhaps because this was in France, not the U.S. — but other patrons seemed to be there just as a regular meal: not a special celebration or event. I’m told that it’s not nearly as common for the average French person to indulge in a sit-down restaurant meal as it is here: that if they do, it’s going to be seriously about the food and not about getting full fast. So in that vein, that probably means there are not as many “mid-range” restaurants between quick kabob type places and places like this.

I loved that there was serious care and consideration put into every dish, but no push to challenge or over-decorate. The dishes were whimsical, but no one expected me to eat ants from a skull.

Would I do it again? Sure, in a heartbeat. This experience has also inspired me to avoid mediocre dining experiences, if only to save up for places like this instead.

What’s in my purse

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I remember reading articles in magazines where famous women would empty out their purses for magazines and talk about the contents. They probably got paid to pimp certain brands and products. I understand that I’m not famous and no one cares what’s in my purse, but I thought it’d be fun to write a post about it anyway.

  1. Phone. Okay, not really my phone. But how to take pictures of your phone with your phone? I haven’t gotten to that level of ninja yet. iPhone 6s, if you’re curious. I don’t like that the 7 has a nub camera that sticks out. Or that I have to drill my own headphone jack.
  2. Wallet. It’s not big enough for all the cards I want with me so that leads us to…
  3. Wallet addition. This holds my slightly-less-commonly used cards.
  4. Shopping sac. Yeah, the black rectangle with reindeer and trees. It’s from Monoprix and self-declares as the best shopping sac in the world.
  5. Floss. Worst feeling ever: something stuck between your teeth that you keep trying to dislodge with your tongue. But it won’t budge.
  6. Keys. The boat keychain lets me hang my keys near the door.
  7. Chapstick. Actually, I haven’t needed this in a while. Maybe I should remove it. I’m told this chapstick makes me look like I’ve been feasting on fatty pork. Attractive!
  8. Pen. I can only remember to do things if I write them on my hand. I don’t have the habit of checking notes or productivity apps, but my hand is pretty much always in plain view. Otherwise I have bigger problems.
  9. Comb. I shed like a Persian cat in summer. If I combed my hair inside the apartment my boyfriend would probably evict me.

Before you ask, I don’t have any makeup in my purse because I don’t know anything about it. I sometimes participate in studies where they pay me to apply makeup to my face and report back if I develop a rash, so I’ve decided I only wear makeup if I’m getting paid to do so. Plus, makeup doesn’t make me look cute. It makes me look like Donald Trump.

Yeah, you should quit your job

Disclaimer: I don’t have a degree in life coaching and no, you shouldn’t be taking advice from a stranger on the internet who doesn’t know you or your situation at all.

Lately several friends have asked “should I just quit my job?” They tell me they’re unfulfilled, bored, frustrated with management. I always tell them “If you can afford to, then do it.” Note: I don’t ask them if they have plans. I don’t ask what they would do instead and whether they’d make the same money. I’m just an enabler. Here’s why.

There’s a guy I knew, let’s call him Ol’ Mac. He’s the father of one of my exes. Ol’ Mac was a responsible family man with two kids, so he stayed for years at a job he hated. He woke up every morning at 5am to drive about an hour to work and would get home pretty late most nights. He hated his job so much that his wife would sometimes find him staring at his socks in the morning. When asked what he was doing he’d miserably say “I’m thinking about which one goes on which foot.” He stuck it out until his official retirement day so he could get a full pension. (Yeah, I know this isn’t sounding like a story about quitting your job. Just wait for it.)

So, you’d think he’d be delighted with retirement, right? Well, after watching golf on tv and snoozing most days for a while, Ol’ Mac began to feel bored and restless. He took on odd jobs to get him out of the house. Then word got around that he was looking to come out of retirement, and he was offered a job doing the things he liked about his old job (hands on technical stuff) with none of the parts he didn’t (bureaucratic managers who didn’t know what they were talking about). It was a more relaxed schedule: one week on, one week off. It even paid better than his old job.

What can we learn from this one anecdote? We all know that the plural of anecdote is not “evidence” but that being said, I’ve heard variations of Ol’ Mac’s story repeatedly. People quit their jobs without knowing exactly what comes next, but they figure it out. And in all cases, they’re happier than before they quit. So if you’re miserable or frustrated at your job and you live for the weekends, save money until you can live without a job for a few months, then quit. You’ll figure it out too.