If only I could view my friends’ updates and never read a single comment made by their friends. Is there an app for that?
Ah well, back to the comparative sanity of Twitter.
There’s a good case to be made for not bothering to wade through difficult fiction, and for me that comes when I’ve lost faith in the author. An unenjoyed book can put you off reading for a long while, whereas a stint of good reading only makes you want to read more.
On the other hand, sometimes you feel obliged to get through books you don’t care for; one of them’s when you have to read for school. The worst personal example I have of required reading is A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man. Years later when I joined a book club, a previous designated book had been that one. My fellow book clubbers speak of it in equally unglowing terms, but at least they didn’t have to write a damn essay on it. For that I had to read the damn thing twice. (That’s the book that made me change majors to linguistics rather than the Emperor’s-New-Clothes of English literature.)
Then there are times in your personal reading life when you know you’re reading a good book and that you’d be better off in some nebulous way for having read it, but although you can see it’s good, you just aren’t concentrating on it.
Huckleberry Finn, Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man have fallen into that camp for me recently. What to do when a book looks set to give you up rather than the other way round?
1. Write notes as you read and use them as book marks. I tend to write notes on fiction with a large cast of characters. Doesn’t matter how messy they are — the point of writing them is not to keep the paper but to keep the mind organised. You can write notes on a bunch of different things. Maybe on plot points — whatever seems most challenging about the work.
2. Read aloud. Reading aloud is tiring. So I sometimes read the first sentence of each paragraph aloud, then skim the rest of the paragraph until I get back into the story. Not good for public transport and quiet libraries.
3. Get onto Goodreads or Sparksnotes. This spoilers the plot. That’s the downside, but chances are you weren’t really gripped by the plot if you’ve got to this stage. You might remember a couple of years ago some study about how spoilers can increase your enjoyment of a work of fiction. I find spoilers necessary if I’ve just waded through five chapters with eyes-glazed-over and can’t face going back to find out what I didn’t absorb. Internet plot summaries tend to be chronological and you can always read only as far as you’re supposed to have got.
Not in these parts, anyhow.
Our daughter started primary school this year, at the zoned state school here in New South Wales. Upon enrolment you fill out a small pink form and tick whether you want your child to do religious education once per week or to be pulled out.
Almost every parent of the children in my daughter’s kindergarten class elected for their kid to be enrolled in religious education. Only four of kids stay in the classroom. The rest leave. I’m glad that this much is true; when I was at primary school, the few who didn’t do religious education were the ones who had to leave, making RE the classroom default. Mine were also secular schools.
What does my kid do while the others are learning about Jesus? Plays independently with the three other little atheists. This allows her teacher some extra planning time — to a point — and teacher workload is an issue in its own right, and independent play is also good, but what COULD the class be learning with that ‘lost’ hour? Oh, just the fundaments of evolution or something like that, I guess. Or physical education, which has been pushed right down to the bottom of the educational priorities with all that testing and an increasingly demanding curriculum. I didn’t understand evolution myself until I was well out of school and read up on it of my own accord. I had plenty of RE, though, and memorised enough verses in my time.
Earlier this year a girl on the bus gave our atheist kid a creepy thing to colour-in. Because segregating the religion only works yay amount when the R.E. kids are issued with proselytising materials, then take them outside the R.E. classroom into the wider school.
Fine, whatever. On the upside, our kid can’t really read. By the time she’s old enough to read fluently she’ll be old enough to understand our own family views on all this religious stuff.
But now she’s been assigned a part in the Christmas play which, fine, is Christian, and Christmas draws upon many different traditions so whatever. Except the lines I’m to practice with her go like this:
And for once, it’s not the lack of apostrophe which pisses me off the most. It’s the fact we can’t send our kid to school and expect that she gets a decent scientific, atheist education.
“My breasts felt like two empty sacks.”
- Molly, Leaving Cheyenne by Larry McMurtry
I’m a big McMurtry fan, but I do prefer when he’s writing from a male point of view. Here he writes from Molly’s point of view. She’s lying on her bed missing her sons, who’ve been gone off to war. She’s contemplating her breasts. I can imagine what McMurtry, as writer, might have been thinking after he made the decision to write part two from a woman’s point of view. “Now, what’s it really like to be a woman? How would a woman feel? I know. Women have breasts. I bet women spend as much time thinking about their own breasts as I spend thinking about women’s breasts. Better put in something about having breasts.”
My question is: Do other women think this way generally about having breasts? If I were lying on my bed missing my hypothetical sons, I think my own anatomy would be the last thing on my mind. But, as just one solitary owner of breasts, maybe I’m the anomaly. Maybe other women think constantly about their breasts, as stand-ins for emotional states. “My breasts felt droopy that day. This reflected my generally blue mood,” or “My breasts felt perky at the party, it was a really good party.”
What do men have that might serve as the masculine analogue for a sexualised breast? I figure it’s testicles.
Let’s try the same but from Gid’s point of view. We’ve heard from Gid for the entire first half of the novel. He spent a good portion of that time feeling lonely, too.
“My testicles felt like two empty sacks.”
Larry McMurtry,said no one ever
Right now I’m reading a book from mega-selling fantasy author George R. R. Martin. The following is a passage where he is writing from the point of view of a woman — always a tough thing for men to do. The girl is on her way to a key confrontation, and the narrator describes it thusly:
“When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest …”
That’s written from the woman’s point of view. Yes, when a male writes a female, he assumes that she spends every moment thinking about the size of her breasts and what they are doing. “Janet walked her boobs across the city square. ‘I can see them staring at my boobs,’ she thought, boobily.” He assumes that women are thinking of themselves the same way we think of them.
Tell me, are there things that women writers consistently get wrong about the physicality of being a man?
it is only respect for your parents that will prevent me from murdering you outright… I would rather eat dog shit full of razor blades than have anything to do with you.
“Obviously,” Tiny is saying, “she’s just a hot smoldering pile of suck.”
Furthermore, you are an asshat. That is all.
he’s as big as a house (and I’m not talking about a poor person’s house either)
- from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
If I had a dog with a face like yours, I’d shave its ass and teach it to walk backwards.
I once had a zit that looked like you. Then I popped it. And then it looked even more like you.
This one time, I ate, like, three hot dogs and a bowl of clam chowder, and then I got diarrhea all over the floor, and it looked like you.
And then you ate it.
basement mole rat
- from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
…the Roman cults of Stercorius, Crepitus, and Cloacinus — respectively the divinities of filth, farts, and sewers…
- from The Atheist Manifesto by Michel Onfray
“Roscoe,” Vivi told him, “when I write my memoirs, you will be much more than a marginal character.“
- from Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells
(That one’s actually a compliment, but I figure it could function equally well as an insult.)
She wanted to say something sensible but knew not how.
- of Mary in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
From The Shocking History Of Advertising by E. S. Turner
But the most heartfelt and effective insult I’ve heard comes from a Bob Dylan song. It moves me every time:
And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand over your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead.
- Masters of War
midden — a dunghill or refuse heap
2. Literary Insults For Every Occasion, collected by Flavorwire
4. Hilarious Insults, Rendered Lovingly And Mailed To Strangers from Co.Design
5. The 50 best author vs. author put-downs of all time from Examiner
6. And for the opposite of a ‘literary’ insult, YouTube Insult Generator Means None of Us Are Safe
Yesterday I made pancakes for breakfast, and drizzled maple syrup over the top. This was to celebrate a birthday in our family. Normally for breakfast we’d be eating eggs fried in coconut oil, free range fatty bacon, with broccolini or 10 brussels sprouts.
When I say ‘normally’, we’ve been eating like this for over 2 years now: I hesitate to say the ‘Paleo Diet’ because although Loren Cordain created a longterm bestseller out of this branding, it’s too easy to poke at with the skeptic’s stick. People who eat a Paleo diet are already aware that the Paleolithic Era was very long and contained many different cultures who ate many different things, and that it’s impossible to recreate a Paleo diet these days anyhow because we don’t have access to the same seed stock etc etc.
So we eat a Paleo template diet, which doesn’t include added sugar, and with people I don’t know really well, these days I talk about our food choices as little as possible. That’s still quite a lot of talking, because food always comes up. Book club conversations go a little something like this:
“Would you like one of these [magnificent looking baked goods] that I made this afternoon?”
“No thanks, I’m fine. Thanks.”
“Oh that’s right. You don’t eat anything these days, do you?”
“I gave up sugar two years ago, yes. Still on it. Yes.”
“Oh, but these don’t have much sugar in them.” *sugar crystals on top of sugar biscuits glint under firelight*
“No thanks. They look delicious, though. Oh, look at that knitting. What are you knitting? Anything? Anything at all?”
“You do need a bit of sugar in your diet, you know.”
And at this point I reach a conundrum: Do I argue with this, or do I let it go? Because the fact is, humans don’t need sugar in order to live a healthy and full life. Specifically: there is no metabolic pathway which relies on fructose or glucose or any other kind of sugar in order to function properly. This sort of conversation can get uncomfortable, because first it depends on a definition of ‘sugar’. Humans may not need sugar, since our bodies can be well adapted to fat. Nor can humans avoid a bit of fructose, because fructose exists in tiny amounts in green vegetables, to let humans know that the leafy thing not poisonous. There is no fatally poisonous plant out there which includes fructose. Which explains why we like it so much. Ergo, we can’t avoid fructose because we can’t healthily avoid vegetables.
I did a lot of research before changing our diet completely. The following fact resonates with me the most, and I keep coming back to it:
There are many different healthy diets around the world, from cultures who eat very little besides sweet potatoes, and others who eat little other than goat’s milk and blood. But there are two things which unite all healthy diets, transcending time and space. Healthy diets are:
1. High in fibre
2. Low in sugar.
And we are part of the zeitgeist and not at all hipster. Indeed, we are the cliche.
People do mean different things when they say, “I’m giving up sugar”, from
We started off closer to 4, but have settled between 3 and 4, with celebratory food limited to the birthdays of immediate family members and Christmas.
Yesterday’s pancake celebration was appreciated mostly by the resident 6 year old, who demonstrates a very human need for rituals which surround celebrations — this is something we all seem to need — but since this family eats (super expensive) free range bacon on a regular basis, switching to any other kind of food for celebratory purposes actually means a lowering of nutritional standards, and in our case the pancakes feel like the food people have survived on in times of need. Indeed, the Disney version of Little House On The Prairie shows the family stopping on their journey west to eat pancakes, which they only ate because they had nothing else. Flour products start to feel like the food of peasants. (And for much of the world, pancakes would be a step up. Acknowledged.)
Anyway, I had a slight bellyache after eating those pancakes, which is super common for those of us who have switched to eating nothing but whole foods.
A woman called Eve O. Schaub wrote a memoir called Year Of No Sugar, and in this article she explains the feeling you get when you’ve been eating really well for ages then you suddenly eat something highly processed: You really, really do feel like crap. I don’t care if it’s placebo — it’s a thing.
I could write a book-length memoir about this topic, too. But I can’t be bothered and apparently it’s already been done, so here are the main things I’d like to say about giving up sugar in Australia. These are different things I might say about giving up sugar in Japan. In Japan it would be easier, especially if you live in the north, where there is no tradition of adding sugar to everything. In fact, I did by default give up sugar when I lived in Japan some years ago.
The situation is much different in Australia.
About 2 years ago I approached the director of our daughter’s preschool and asked if they might reconsider their birthday cake tradition. With a roll of 70 kids, there was cake dished out every week, and that’s on top of the ‘cooking lessons’ they get — gingerbread men, easter eggs made of cheap ‘chocolate’ products, flavoured milk (to teach stirring) etc. I was asked to write a letter about this to formalise my complaint, so I did, and a year after that the director finally got around to putting a stop to the cake tradition. (Coincidentally, she had given up sugar herself, because the nutritionist had put her on an exclusion diet to remedy a skin complaint). By that stage our kid was due to leave preschool anyhow. (For all I know, the birthday cake tradition started up once me with the gob left.)
The start of primary school was celebrated with gingerbread men, because it’s apparently impossible just to read a classic tale about a gingerbread man without also eating one. Every fundraising meal deal includes food which is not only full of sugar, but of ethically dubious dinosaur shaped chicken-meat, fried in damaged oils. Almost everything from the school tuck-shop includes sugar. When the students volunteer to do an important job such as MC assembly, they are rewarded with a chocolate brownie. I first noticed this school culture when attending their information session, so at the interview I told the principal that we’re a sugar-free family and I don’t agree with sugar being used as reward. He told me I didn’t have a thing to worry about, that their reward system involves blue stars blah blah blah, but sure enough, sugar features highly each week in class. I pack no sugar in our daughter’s lunchbox but she gets it not only from birthday parties but from the place where she is required to be every day of term, and there is not a damn thing I can do about it.
You won’t find an Australian school which allows peanuts or tree nuts — these are common anaphylactic allergies in Australia. So the Paleo recipes you find online which rely on nut flour aren’t permissible as part of a lunchbox. Nor is dairy, sometimes. Well, my daughter can take dairy, but she has to sit on the ‘dairy seat’, which is hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, and so if I do pack berries with heavy whipping cream, the kid chooses not to eat it.
Since treating refined carbohydrates as sugar means giving up bread, no bread. I can see why bread became popular, though. Sandwiches are really convenient.
Obviously, school lunches need to be brought from home when you’re a sugar-free family. The thermos is your best friend. You end up making large dinners, and sending leftovers for lunch. You’re rewarded with a healthy kid who never has a day sick, but it does all take time, and time is a resource that many people don’t have much of. Summers in Australia are hot — our child’s school isn’t air-conditioned(!) and so you’ll need to include freezer packs around the salads and meats and boiled eggs. (Though you’d need to do that anyway. That said, we never had freezer packs and we turned out all right. *taps cane angrily*)
Before I got rid of sugar I was seriously worried that I might not be able to do it. I figured I was addicted (in the broad sense of the term), that I just liked it too much, that eating life would be unsustainably boring, and I already don’t smoke or drink… I figured I might, if I were lucky, be able to give it up for a few months, and I’d see how I felt, then keep going if it were worth it. (People on the Internet and in books said that it was.)
Sure enough, it is worth it, for all the reasons that many others have already gone into. But in hindsight, my worries were misplaced: I thought that giving up sugar would be like going onto a permanent restriction diet, constantly salivating over things I could no longer eat. In fact, what happens about a week after giving up sugar is that your taste starts to change. Fruits start tasting sweeter. Carrots start tasting sweet like fruits. Feta cheese started (weirdly) tasting like Russian fudge. (It was after making a shit tin of Russian fudge — and obviously scoffing way too much of it — that I started this whole ‘journey’, as they say.)
If you keep with it, you’ll probably end up making other dietary improvements, such as replacing damaging fats with healthy ones, or switching flour products for starchy vegetables, or taking up a sport or buying kettle bells… (It has taken two years, but I’ve now done all of these things) so it’s hard to know how much of any health improvement can be attributed to the elimination of sugar. Commonly reported, and true of me: you won’t get colds very often, and when you do it won’t be for long. Minor health complaints you didn’t really know you had will miraculously disappear. You’ll be able to work with your brain all morning AND all afternoon without thinking of food or sweets or coffee (assuming you also gave up coffee… as I had to do *sniff* in reluctant acknowledgement that heart palpitations are not a Good Thing). Your brain, in short, works better. And the brain is really quite important and something you should look after. You are your brain.
And anyone who has given up sugar for any length of time already knows this, but here’s why it’s hard:
1. Read up about fats, and eat a bunch of healthy ones. (Fatty fruits like avocados and olives; coconut oil and good quality butter for garnish and frying; avoid transfats and seed oils — there, I just saved you a whole bunch of reading.) Unless you increase your fat intake (assuming you’re following the government’s low fat recommendations) you’ll have real trouble subsisting on a sugar-free diet. You do need to get your calories from somewhere.
2. Pick your conversations. Be aware that food is a very political thing. You might as well talk about religion or abortion rights, really. Women especially — we all have some sort of relationship with weight-loss diets, which gets enmeshed with body image issues, which is conflated with self-worth. Women have absorbed the low-fat, high-carb (by default) message more thoroughly than men have, and you won’t be persuading anyone who isn’t ready to listen. This includes correcting people who are straight out wrong: A wise person once said, you don’t have to turn up to every argument you’re invited to. You can just say, “Gotta die of something,” when people point out, again, that putting cream in your coffee is going to kill you dead. (My husband works in a big office and they’re used to him now, and to his cream clogging up a space in the communal fridge, but he had months of that.)
3. Your friends will be the ones who like you even without the food and alcohol lubrication. So you may end up with fewer friends, but better ones. Some of them may even change their diets along with you. Birds of a feather, and all that.
4. You can’t support different diets under the same roof. Not long term. My husband needs to be milk and gluten free, so we all are. Gluten is particularly insidious, because even a tiny amount makes a difference and spends at least 6 months in the body (though I’ve heard varying times around this length.) So we can’t have bread crumbs floating around on the bench. (Besides the fact lots of people who advocate sugar elimination also advocate elimination of gluten products, and I’m inclined to believe those people now.)
5. Health improvements are rapid at first, but keep on keeping on. If you’ve given up sugar, you’ve probably given up processed food. If you’ve given up processed food you’ve probably given up man-made transfats (I say ‘man-made’ because they do actually occur in nature), and it takes 2 years for the body to get rid of those, because our tissues use them as building blocks. So if you go on an elimination diet for six weeks and your particular health complain doesn’t improve, try it for two years and then see. (Though six weeks is pretty magical, mostly.)
6. Eating well is expensive. People say it’s not. In Australia, it is. If you compare eating well to buying all your foods in the form of Big Macs, then yes, you’ll come out better off eating whole foods, because Big Macs are expensive last time I checked. But if you are sensible, budget-wise, and have been bulking your meals up with pasta and other flour products then yes, switching from flours to sweet potatoes, and from crackers to tree nuts, and doubling your vegetable intake, you’re going to be spending more on your food bill. (But less at the doctor’s, and less on medications.) It may seem like you’re spending way more at the supermarket/butcher’s because you’re no longer splashing out on incidentals at fast-food venues, because you never thought to include those in the food bill in the first place.
7. Find a doctor who’s on board with this stuff or who at least doesn’t try and get you off it. I don’t actually know how my doctor feels about my switching to a so-called high fat diet because I HAVEN’T HAD TO GO SEE HIM YET. Hooray me. I can tell you what the dentist said, though. Fantastic gum health. (And I hadn’t actually been in for a pro clean in almost two years.) This is particularly gratifying because I have severe gingivitis in my recent ancestry, which is apparently a window into heart health.
8. On that note, you can’t just switch your diet without a good intellectual understanding of why you’re doing so. I read a bunch of books (Gary Taubes, William Davis, Udo Erasmus, Nora Gedgaudas, Sally Fallon et al) and listened to a heap of Paleo related podcasts before a switch flicked over in my head. Some of these people are anti-vaccinations. I just thought I’d mention that, because I am pro-vaccination. Strongly. Long story short, use your thinky things, do a lot of reading, and practice skepticism as best you can, given your level of philosophy and science training. Rule for life, that.
I am stoked with our high fat, low carb way of eating. It has been a bit hard, but not in the ways I expected. We gave up nothing and gained so much*.
*Mainly, my husband now controls his severe asthma without 2x daily Seretide. This has been the most obvious health improvement of all.