Rejuvenating With Miranda Esmonde-White

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, August 11, 2016

Last year I discovered Miranda Esmonde-White on a special for PBS, based on her book, Aging Backwards: Reverse the Aging Process and Look 10 Years Younger in 30 Minutes a Day. You can watch Esmonde-White lecture about aging backwards  here. Esmonde-White focuses on how loss of muscle mass affects us as we age, claiming if we start stretching we can reverse the aging process. (If we don’t wait too late.) As we age, we shrink, and begin to hunch over. If we start stretching before that process has gone too far, we can reverse it. Just watch her lecture. Esmonde-White was born in 1949, and is two years older than I am. She’s tall, agile, bendy, balanced and graceful. She looks and moves like a much younger person.

Classical Stretch 10

I was quite impressed with her PBS special and ordered three copies of Classical Stretch – The Esmonde Technique: Core Workout for Christmas presents. Two were for friends who never exercise, and one for Annie, who’s addicted to it. She loved the video and regularly uses it. My two friends who never exercises, and who will remain anonymous, never used their DVDs. But testimonials from Annie are making them reconsider. And now that I’ve started with the exercises, they are worried its catching.

I recently went off my diet. I lose discipline now and then, and binge on unhealthy food. I quickly gained five pounds, started skipping some of my daily physical therapy exercises, and my back went out. I immediately returned to my diet and exercise routine, and slowly started turning things around. But while this was happening, I decided to try the Classical Stretch program. I figured I could use some extra help. The Core Workout I bought my friends was 55 minutes, and wanted something shorter to do before PT. I researched on Amazon and found Classical Stretch – The Esmonde Technique: Complete Season 10 – Strength and Flexibility.  Thirty 23-minute lessons. I thought $70 was kind of expensive for a 4-DVD set, since for $65 I can buy the entire three seasons of Star Trek original series on Blu-ray. But what sold me were the customer reviews that claimed it help their backs. $70 is not much compared to doctor visits.

I’ve never liked going to the gym, and especially disliked exercise classes like yoga, even though I like the concept of yoga. What I like about Classical Stretch is Miranda Esmonde-White has designed a workout that’s appealing to the aging me that requires no extra equipment, special clothes, and can be done practically anywhere and anytime. She claims we have 650 muscles and we need to systematically stretch them. I’m just starting out with this workout but I can already feel the difference. My back recovered in days, much faster than usual. And the rest of me feels different too. Moving around is easier. I notice my body much less. That might not mean much to someone who is young, but getting older is all about noticing the body.

Don’t let me mislead you. These exercises are easy to try, but hard to follow exactly like Esmonde-White. I think it’s going to be a while before I’m doing them right. I feel like a gorilla taking ballet lessons. The daily lessons are varied, and I assume after weeks or months, I’ll memorize them and won’t need the videos. Click on the image of the back of the video box below. It lists all the thirty lessons.

I’ve always wondered why classes for aerobics, yoga, or Pilates were mostly filled by women. Now I know. This kind of exercising is like learning to dance. Most women I know love dancing. Guys generally don’t. I’ve always felt completely inept and foolish trying to dance. I’m doing these exercises alone, and I don’t even worry about what I look like, or that I’m not doing them perfect – I just keep doing them. The 23 minutes goes by pretty fast. It’s not an aerobic workout, but I get a bit winded. Esmonde-White is right, these stretches make you feel younger – or at least looser. Whenever my back goes out, it feels like I age ten years. So when my back feels better, I feel younger.

I’m hoping if I make these exercises a permanent routine, I’ll actually rejuvenate. I limit my activities now because of my back problems. I’m faithful again to my plant based diet and losing weight. I hope between weight loss and these exercises I’ll feel young enough to want to travel, or just be more active.

[click on covers to enlarge]

Classical Stretch 10 - frontClassical Stretch 10 - back

JWH

When Is Forgetting Natural or Dementia?

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, July 25, 2016

This morning I sat down to write an essay, “What are the Most Important Concepts You’ve Learned Reading Science Fiction?” I was going to base it on Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany. I knew I’ve mentioned Empire Star many times on my blog, so I searched on that title. That’s when I discovered I had already written, “What Are The Most Useful Concepts You’ve Learned From Science Fiction?” And it was just over a year ago! How could I have forgotten that? Even the titles are almost identical (but not quite).

Pug26

I’ve written 1,039 essays for this blog, and I’ve written hundreds more for other reasons. Let’s call it 2,000 essays. At what point is forgetting what I’ve written something natural, and when is it a sign of impending dementia? Occasionally, I’ve rediscover essays I’ve written and have no memory of writing them. Sometimes reading them brings back vague memories, sometimes not. Who remembers every meal they’ve eaten? Some forgetting is natural. Who can remember 2,000 of anything? Has any writer forgotten a whole novel?

Sometimes I know I’ve written an essay and intentionally rewrite it hoping to do a better job. Not this time. I thought I had a new idea. And I don’t think I could do better if I tried again. In fact, I was planning something smaller.

I don’t think I have dementia, but I wonder about the dynamics of forgetting. One of the fascinating aspects of getting older is learning my limitations. Everyone has limitations, but they’re less obvious when we’re young.

I wonder what the second essay would have been like if I hadn’t discovered the first.

Have I written this essay before?

JWH

Overcoming Inertia in Retirement

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 19, 2016

In retirement you can do whatever want – if you’ve have the drive. Otherwise you do what you feel. That distinction might be meaningless to many. (I imagine old hippies replying, “If you’re following your feelings, you’re doing what you want.”) The difference defines ambition.

All too often I feel like kicking back in my recliner to daydream about writing while listening to favorite songs on Spotify, rather than actually writing at the keyboard. Just now I was lazing in my La-Z-Boy when this essay occurred to me. I told myself this morning my number one priority was to finish the essay I’ve been working on weeks for Book Riot, and then finish an idea I have for Worlds Without End. (I do have growing guilt over not working on them, but writing this is what I’m feeling.) The trouble is both Book Riot and Worlds Without End each have an essay in the can waiting to be opened, so the pressure to write another isn’t that driving. (BTW, I’m not blaming my laziness of them.)

countdown to ecstasy

In the middle-third of my life, I hated being trapped in the nine-to-five world of work. Before that, in the first third, I hated being imprisoned in the K-12 school system. But I’ve got to admit without that outside pressure I never would have learned much, or put in my 35-years of work. (At least I’m honest about my laziness.)

If this sounds like I’m wishing for someone to crack the whip over me, I’m not. Na, I’m just whining about my own lack of drive. I didn’t have it then, and I don’t have it now. I’ve always admired people who live like guided missiles, always on target. And that’s the confusing thing about retirement. It feels like I’ve reached the target. The social security years can feel like being in the queue for nonexistence. How we fight that is important. It defines the game in the last third of life.

Don’t assume I’m depressed. I’m never bored. I go to bed every night near midnight, regretting the day is over, and wishing I had more time. Every day I do get a few things done I want, but mostly I overindulge my whims. And that’s quite satisfying too, in a heroin kind of analogy. My problem is I have too many things I both want to do, and feel like doing. My lament is I spend too much time with Ben & Jerry’s, and not enough with broccoli. (Not literally, just another analogy.)

Being the puritanical atheist I am, I’m hung-up on doing productive work in my existential random existence.

Most people think retirement is all about not working – not me. I might have a minor guilt trip about being unproductive, but I’m not about to get a job, paid or unpaid. I won free-time millions in the retirement lottery, and just need to figure out how to wisely spend them. This means creating my own definition work. Right now, I gauge productivity in essays. Any day I finish an essay, feels like a productive day. Even if I write a navel-gazing one like this.

If I actually write a hard-to-conceive, hard-to-implement essay, that takes great effort and research, I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain. That’s when I believe I’ve won out over inertia. It’s how I redefine rolling my rock.

JWH

Who Still Reads 1950s Science Fiction?

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Why are people still reading science fiction from the 1950s? I’m always leery to read science books more than a few years old, but crave science fiction written before NASA was created. I’m not alone in preferring moldy, aged SF, but I have no idea how many other fans are like me. I belong to an online book club, Classic Science Fiction, and many of the members prefer 1950s-1970s science fiction. But then, most of us collect social security too, so it might be nostalgia. There are a few younger members, and I’ve wondered how they got hooked on reading SF meant for their parents and grandparents. I’ve been updating “The Defining Science Fiction of the 1950s” with links to Amazon. Most of the books listed are still in print, although many are only available for the Kindle, or from Audible.com.

Are these books bought by old folks remembering, or new folks discovering?

Defining My Task

I know this essay will interest damn few people. I’m going to put a lot of time and effort into writing it, and few will read it. My hope is it will be a honeypot that will attract those folks who also love reading 1950s science fiction, so please leave a comment. My theory is science fiction from this era has distinctive qualities and appeals. My goal is to begin to define those attributes and attractions. I say begin, but I’ve tried this before. Like psychoanalysis, you can’t discover all self-knowledge in one session. I don’t know why I can’t let this past go. And I don’t know how much debugging it will take before my brain will be free.

New is Better

Personally, I believe the best science fiction books written in the last twenty-five years are better crafted than the best science fiction written in the 1950s. Now I’m talking about writing, storytelling, characterization, plotting, and all the mechanics of creating a book. With every decade I believe the skills of writers are evolving. I also believe the imagination and science that goes into science fiction has constantly progressed over the decades. So, why bother reading old science fiction at all? Few science fiction readers read science fiction from the 1920s and 1930s. It’s just too primitive. Most have stopped reading science fiction from the 1940s and 1950s. The 1960s seems to be the oldest science fiction that many modern readers discover, with books like Slaughterhouse Five, Dune, A Wrinkle in Time, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Man in the High Castle.

Time is hard on science fiction. It doesn’t age well. Reading science fiction is the most exciting when you’re under twenty-one. And since every generation has its own hope for the future, the science fiction they embrace is what’s new and exciting. By its very nature, science fiction tends to invalidate its past. Except…

Nostalgia for the Golden Age

If you remain a science fiction fan long enough you come back around to where you began. Most readers go through a science fiction reading phase, and eventually move on to other genres. Most people just dabble with science fiction. The kind of reader I’m trying to identify is different. Science fiction was their childhood religion, born again into faith in the future, like the theological have a faith in the past. Sometimes I feel my obsession with comprehending old science fiction is a kind of exorcism. I’m trying to deprogram myself. Other times I assume it’s just a dynamic of getting older, and I’m merely seeking comfort reads.

I worry as I get older, I’m being sucked into a black hole of nostalgia. I fight this by reading as many nonfiction books and novels published in the current year as I can, but all too often I discover myself returning to books from the 1950s and 1960s. Lately, I’ve been watching old episodes of Gunsmoke and Perry Mason, preferring the ones that came out in the 1950s. I even bought the first season of Gunsmoke from 1955. And I started listening to Gunsmoke’s radio show that came out in 1950. I don’t think that’s typical for folks of my age, since all my friends love new television shows, movies and books. I wonder if I have some kind of time disease that makes me want to travel to the past.

When I was growing up, the Golden Age of Science Fiction was considered 1938-1946,  mostly due to the editorship of Astounding Science Fiction by John W. Campbell. Certainly many of the classic science fiction short stories I read in the early 1960s were reprints from that era. Then Peter Graham said, “The Golden Age of science fiction is 12.” That felt so right that no other age has ever usurped it. The science fiction that imprinted on me at age 12 is the atomic clock by which I’ve measured all science fiction since.

My favorite SF novel in 2015 was Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. I admire it for great intellectual speculation. But, it’s no match emotionally for my favorite generation ship story, Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein. Orphans first appeared in book form in 1963, reprinting two novellas from 1941, “Universe” and “Common Sense” that were originally published in Astounding Science Fiction.  I turned 12 in 1963. Aurora is a much more ambitious and sophisticated novel than Orphans in the Sky. Aurora had more to say about science and science fiction, but it’s the Heinlein story that resonates with my heart.

Time out of Joint by Philip K. DickAll my favorite Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke books were published in the 1950s. I came of age in the 1960s, and my favorite science fiction writers from that decade are Delany, Dick and Zelazny. All their books are dated. They weren’t always enlightened when it comes to political correctness by today’s standards. And they were all men. Two were gay, but I didn’t know that at the time.

The real question is: Are these old science fiction books still readable, still lovable, by later generations who have no nostalgic ties to the past? Who still reads 1950s science fiction?

When Old Becomes Classic

I recently wrote “The Classics of Science Fiction in 12 Lists” over at Worlds Without End. It’s fascinating to see which science fiction books from the 1950s are still being remembered. Because some of these lists were from polls, I assume many of the voters were young. Studying the lists though, show more titles from the 1960s than any other decade. Does that mean 1950s science fiction is finally fading away? Some of the 1950s SF titles are books now taught in school like The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Of the thirteen lists, here are the 1950s books that were at the top of those lists. I note how many lists each were on.

Literary Recognition

Most of the 1950s science books that are available today are from a few publishers that specialize in reprinting old science fiction. Not always. I was surprised to see The Chrysalids by John Wyndham in print from New York Review Books Classics. Does that mean the literary elite are finally accepting the genre hoi polloi? They also publish Chocky, a 1968 book also by Wyndham. What really blew my mind, was NYRBC has a collection of Robert Sheckley stories, Store of the Worlds. And just when I thought I couldn’t be anymore amazed, I saw they have reprinted The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (1973) by D. G. Compton. This is about as shocking as when Library of America began reprinting Philip K. Dick. But, we’re getting away from the 1950s. On the other hand, it suggests that some science fiction is being remembered by people other than old farts who grew up reading science fiction.

I should note that The Foundation Trilogy has been reprinted by the Everyman’s Library, which is a nice distinction too.

Remembering Old Books at the Movies

Of course, the main way modern people remember old books are when they are made into movies. Childhood’s End (1953) by Arthur C. Clarke, was recently shown as a SyFy miniseries. The Ray Bradbury books mentioned above have movie and television versions. The Day of the Triffids (1951), again by Wyndham, has had many visual interpretations. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959), The Puppet Masters (1951) and “All You Zombies…” (1959) have film versions to remind young people to read his books. I, Robot (1950) by Isaac Asimov was remembered in film, but only in title. It would be great if someone would film the stories. And I Am Legend (1954) by Richard Matheson and The Body Snatcher (1954) by Jack Finney are remembered for their horror and science fiction. Most of the science fiction we remember from the 1950s actually comes from the classic SF movies of the 1950s.

Collecting Pulp Magazines

Robert A Heinlein_Have Space Suit Will Travel F-SFCollectors might be a large segment of 1950s science fiction fans. They seek out old science fiction magazines, first editions from specialty presses like Gnome and Fantasy, or first editions of what’s now consider classic science fiction of the the 1950s. Some collectors go after hardbacks with dust jackets or paperbacks with wraps by artists they love.

By the the 1950s, the magazines had switched from pulp format to digest size. So true pulp collectors mine the 1940s and earlier for their collecting habit. Some of those digest magazines are showing up on the internet. A mostly complete run of If Magazine is available at Archive.org, part of its Pulp Magazine Archive. It’s a shame that some authors felt the need to request their stories be pulled. It’s like they have erased themselves from 1950s SF history. I wish the copyright laws made an exception for magazines, so that any periodical older than 25 years could be archive online if the entire issue was scanned as one document. I doubt authors would lose sales. Evidently many people wanted to read the old If Magazines. They have over a quarter-million views. From time to time I meet pulp magazine collectors. Lately they swap digital scans, but in the old days I knew guys who owned thousands of the original magazines, but those artifacts are disintegrating. It’s great pulps and digests are being preserved online, but it’s a shame copyright laws don’t support those efforts. Many of the novels we know from the 1950s first appeared in a 1940 pulp. Another favorite title, Galaxy Magazine, is showing up at the archive. I’m waiting for F&SF and Astounding, the top venues.

What Was Unique?

The Puppet Masters by Robert A. HeinleinUltimately, any novel is about the times in which it was written. Science fiction books from the 1950s were really about the 1950s, and not the future. For those people who didn’t grow up during that decade, what does 1950s science fiction convey about those years? I was born in 1951, so the 1950s were my childhood. My memories of the 1950s were of vast suburbs filled with tiny track houses, hordes of kids playing in the streets, wearing cowboy hats, six-guns, fake coon-skin hats, or space helmets, watching Saturday morning cartoons, or Saturday afternoon Tarzan flicks, hanging around at night observing the grown-ups smoking and drinking, begging for sips, while listening to them argue about divorces and shrinks, or kooky stuff like UFOs, Bridey Murphy and Edgar Cayce, or scary stuff like atomic bombs and fall-out shelters. My 1950s wasn’t Leave It to Beaver 1950s, but we loved watching those television shows that define the 1950s today. Even back then we knew life wasn’t like television, but we wanted it to be.

My life as a kid in the 1950s was a whole lot like Peanuts. The adults lived in their world, and we kids lived in ours. By today’s standards my parents would have been jailed. I walked to school starting in the first grade. When we lived in cities I ranged for blocks on my bike, when we lived in the country, I ranged for miles hiking the woods. I discovered science fiction in the 1950s via black and white television, with tales of space patrols, alien invaders, and monsters. Even though my mother forced me to go to church, I never got Christianity. I believed in rockets and space travel. And that’s probably why I keep returning to 1950s science fiction. It was my religion.

Strangely, the book the reminds me most of my 1950s is Confessions of a Crap Artist by Philip K. Dick. It was written in 1959, but not published until 1975. Most people were Beat back then, not just the Beatniks. Life was simpler, but it had an edge that doesn’t come through in the old TV shows. Maybe that’s why I like Gunsmoke today, it showed more of the grit of my childhood. Actually, all of the PKD’s literary novels remind me of the 1950s. But so does his science fiction novels. Those were about nuclear war, paranoia, invasions, and alienation. Americans in the 1950s worried that Russia was going to bomb us out of existence, and commies had infiltrated our friends and associations. The pod people of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers were a perfect stand-in for fear of communism. Ditto for Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. And those writers combined fear of communism with the UFO craze. Few today remember the wackiness of UFOs.The Body Snatcher by Jack Finney

1950s science fiction spent a great many words imagining the collapse of civilization. But it also imagined colonizing the solar system, and even other solar systems. 1950 began with children’s shows about space patrols, that many adults got hooked on. Long before 1966’s Star Trek we had 1956’s Forbidden Planet. 1950s science fiction often pictured a space patrol as another branch of the American military services. 1950s imagined World Governments, United Planets, and Federations of Star Systems. You have to wonder what happened to America when in 1977, the galaxy became an evil empire.

Another common theme in 1950s science fiction was psychic powers. Science fiction writers believed supermen and superwomen would evolve any day. Childhood’s End in 1953 imagined our replacements, Homo superior, doing away with Homo sapiens. Clarke recycled that theme in the psychedelic sixties with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Theodore Sturgeon and Zenna Henderson wrote about strange people that you wondered if they were mentally ill, gifted or psychic. And John W. Campbell went overboard at Astounding promoting Psi-powers. I don’t know why so many sci-fi stories in the fifties were goo-goo for the woo-woo, but maybe it was a wish for transcendence. In many ways it prefigured the New Age movement that emerged in the 1970s. But some Americans have been hung-up on psychics since 1848, and the Fox sisters.

That’s the thing about reading 1950s science fiction today, or even other novels from that decade. I came of age in the Psychedelic Sixties, and we thought we were unique. But the more I read from the 1950s, the more I realized everything that was going to happen in the 1960s began staging in the 1950s. Before Hippies there were Beats. Before Timothy Leary and LSD there was Aldous Huxley and The Doors of Perceptions (1954). Even though I didn’t discover Jack Kerouac until the late sixties, he became a substitute father-figure when my dad died in 1970. They were about the same age, and both were drunks dying months apart. I’ve been trying to grasp their 1950s ever since.

A harder thing to explain about 1950s science fiction is the humor. You’ve just got to read Robert Sheckley to understand what I mean. Or Fredric Brown. Or the satire of Vonnegut, Tenn, Pohl and Kornbluth. Or the bizarreness of Philip K. Dick. Both F&SF and Galaxy featured lots of humor and satire. I didn’t start buying these magazines until the mid-sixties, but I grew up devouring their old annual collections I found in libraries. I began unearthing the 1950s in 1962.

So many of the great science fiction stories of the 1950s were about the end of the world, or the collapse of civilization. Some of my all-time favorite novels are about the end of the world as we know it, like Earth Abides (1949) by George R. Stewart, On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute, or Alas, Babylon (1959) by Pat Frank.

The 1950s were strange in that people thought civilization was coming to an end and hoped to expand civilization across the galaxy. What a schizoid dichotomy.  And I grasped that as a kid. Maybe that’s the trip that got laid on me that I’m trying to understand. To me, the absolutely best inheritance I received from the 1950s were the Heinlein juveniles I first discovered in 1964, when I was still twelve (the Golden Age of Science Fiction). In fact, all my reading of science fiction feels like it’s been downhill ever since I first read Have Space Suit-Will Travel, Tunnel in the Sky, Time for the Stars, The Rolling Stones, Red Planet, Starman Jones, Farmer in the Sky, Between Planets, Space Cadet, Citizen of the Galaxy, The Star Beast and Rocketship Galileo. There were other young adult SF from the 1950s that I loved; books by Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov, Donald Wolheim, and the whole series from Winston Science Fiction. But the Heinlein twelve were always the pinnacle of SF for me.

All those kid SF books from the 1950s instilled a belief I’d grow up and live in space. That didn’t happen. Maybe its that promise of a future that never came to be that keeps me reading old science fiction. In some ways I feel like a person that’s died and learns there’s no heaven. Do those of us who read old science fiction do so because we’re trying to recapture the promises of the golden age? I’ve long known science fiction was my religion substitute growing up. Even though I became an atheist to SF long ago, it still haunts me. I just can’t deprogram myself. I will never go to Mars or Heaven. Which is funny, Ray Bradbury has a story called, “Mars is Heaven!”

This self-revelation came to me in 1967, when I read “The Star Pit” by Samuel R. Delany, in the February issue of Worlds of Tomorrow. It’s about the barriers we face in life, about understanding our limitations. Delany knew in 1966 he and I were never going into space, and his story is symbolic for all of us who dreamed those 1950s science fiction dreams, but who would never leave in our space ships.

JWH

p.s.  I know this is a bone I can’t stop gnawing. Anyone who has regularly read my blog, knows I’ve covered this territory before. I write these posts as a form of psychoanalysis. I usually come to two realizations. One, I’m disappointed that the future I imagined as a child, is not the future I found as an adult. Two, I was conditioned as a kid to love certain kinds of stories, and I can’t get away from that pleasure. I’m like an addict that says, “I can stop any time I want” but I don’t. Sometimes I rationalize reading old science fiction by telling myself that I’m studying it as an academic subject. But that’s not quite honest either. One thing I keep urging myself,  is to move forward in time. To relive the science fiction of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, etc.

How Not To Die by Michael Greger, M.D.

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, July 10, 2016

You will never understand the need for health until you have chronic health issues. I wrote a review of How Not To Die by Michael Greger, M.D, over at Book Riot. It got 4 shares. I had made the mistake of not targeting my audience. Book Riot readers are mostly young, so most of them don’t have health issues – yet.

I believe How Not To Die is an essential book for anyone who craves health, but your willingness to read it will be proportional to had bad you feel. It’s a shame we don’t eat healthy our whole life, rather than waiting until we see the shadow of the Grim Reaper to start. If you suffer poor health for a variety of reasons, you should read this book. To be specific, if you have:

  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic pains due to inflammation
  • Mystery ailments and autoimmune diseases
  • Getting old and tired

Then this book is for you. You can get a feeling for why you should buy this book by visiting NutritionFacts.org and watching several of the videos. Dr. Greger is a medical journal reading monster. He analyzes all the data we hear about on the news, that’s always so contradictory and confusing, and then rephrases it so it makes sense. The book is a summary of all this knowledge, broken down into different health problems.

Since I have clogged arteries, and have already had one stent put in, I know what it’s like to hunger for health. I also have spinal stenosis, and know about chronic pain. And I’m overweight. I have learned to control my conditions and lose weight with diet and exercise. I don’t take daily pain pills or anti-inflammation drugs.

esselstyn5Years ago I discovered that physical therapy and exercise would controlled my back and leg pains, and my neuropathy. But I didn’t eat healthy and weighed 240 pounds. Just before I retired, I was having trouble breathing, with dwindling stamina. I had to have a stent put in. That’s when I read Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyne, Jr., M.D., and saw the documentary Forks Over Knives. Both prescribed a plant-based diet for improved health.  Even though I’ve been a vegetarian since the 1960s, my version of vegetarianism wasn’t healthy.

Because I felt bad, I was willing to give up my favorite foods, and go on the plant-based diet. I lost 30 pounds, and felt great. My LDL cholesterol went down to 91. Then I started cheating on the plant based diet. I gain several pounds, and began feeling bad again. My LDL went up. I’ve since become more strict with myself, started losing weight again, and felt better. I know the plant-based diet works because every time I cheat for a week, all my health indicators go negative.

The reason why How Not To Die is such an important book is because Dr. Greger explains the science behind eating a plant-based diet, and why eating what I love is bad. The plant-based diet is not fun. I don’t go hungry, but it’s hard to follow. The main drawback is learning how to cook. The next biggest obstacle is learning to eat different. Plus, I’m troubled because the plant-based diet seems counter to what we’ve been taught about nutrition. I eat little protein and even less fat. Dr. Greger shows overwhelming scientific evidence that following this diet is healthy. And that’s why his book is worth reading. Nutrition science is confusing, and overwhelming. His book and videos carefully shows how in study after study, science is learning that a plant-based diet is healthier, and can reverse the damage done by a lifetime of poor eating. All I can say is the book is convincing, because when I apply it, I feel the results.

The sad thing about all of this is I know how to help myself, but I keep fighting that knowledge. I want to eat foods that hurt me. I know they hurt me because of trial and error. I have more stamina, energy and sense of well-being when I’m on the diet. When I return to eating peanut butter, eggs, cheese and butter, I can feel my arteries clogging. Yet, I crave those foods in an insane way. For the most part I’ve already given up on candy, pop, desserts and other obvious junk foods. When I eat junk food I feel much worse almost immediately. When I give into my sweet tooth, my writing discipline disappears, and I start skipping exercise. I become a couch potato. But with cheese, peanut butter and eggs, its more subtle. I feel happier, but I start slowly gaining weight again, and eventually begin noticing shortness of breath. That’s when I jump back on the diet. But after a couple months, I’ll cheat again.

The title, How Not To Die, is very literal with this book. I doubt many will read it – unless they are suffering. If you are, you might want to give it a try.

JWH

Writing for BookRiot and Worlds Without End

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A couple months ago, Book Riot invited writers to submit two essays as part of an annual process for finding new contributors. I did. Then a few weeks ago I was told my essays were accepted in the next stage of that process. Since then, both have been published, and I’ve been invited to be a regular contributor. That’s very exciting because it’s validation for my retirement project.

Before I retired, I dreamed of writing science fiction because I’d finally have all the free time I needed. But after I retired I never got into the routine of writing fiction. Blogging has kept me busy for many years now, and I’ve learned to love writing essays. During my second year of retirement, I decided to switch goals from novelist to essayist. Since then, I’ve worked towards writing better essays. Blogging is self-publishing, and easy. I figured I needed to write for other sites, and assumed if other folks published my work, it would be proof my writing was improving. When John DeNardo invited me to write for SF Signal, it felt like I had taken a big step forward. Sadly, SF Signal closed its doors May 5th, after thirteen years of award winning work.

Fate brought the Book Riot opportunity just as SF Signal died. And then Dave Post at Worlds Without End asked me to write for them. I feel like I’ve taken a couple more big steps, and hope this means my work is still improving. Acceptance certainly pushes me to work harder. Maybe I need to start reading all those writing books I’ve bought years ago.

Here’s what I’ve written so far:

Writing essays is a great hobby for retirement. It keeps my mind fit, gives me a goal for the future, and reason to make each day count.

Pug9

JWH

The Psychology of 1, 10, 100 and 1,000

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, May 15, 2016

1 is a special number. We can only be in love with 1 person at a time, like ducklings imprinting on their mother. This week 2 of my friends told me The Game of Thrones was their all-time favorite TV show. We can only have 1 favorite of anything—books, friends, movies, beverages, television shows, foods, songs, photos. There must be a psychology that’s special to that number. 1 is never enough, is it? How many people can we love, how many good friends can we have? I believe there’s a practical limit to that too. It might be 10 at any one time, and maybe 100 in a lifetime. Some people claim 1,000s of friends. Really?

1 10 100 1000

Psychological researchers used to say 7 of anything is the most images people can retain in their mind at once. Newer studies claim fewer. Multitasking is a myth. We’re like old Macs, good at quick task-switching. I can picture 6 marbles in a triangle pattern of 3, 2, 1. When I add number 7 next to the group of 6, the group of six disappears. Back to 1.

This is why we make lists. You might remember to bring home 4 items from the grocery store, but probably not 10. And certainly not 100. On Spotify I’ve been building TOP 1000 playlist of my favorite songs. When the list approached 500 songs, I realized there were songs I loved way more than others. So I created a TOP 100 list. It quickly filled to 123. As I listened to that list, I realize that some of those songs didn’t belong. The list is shrinking towards 100.

If asked, what my TOP 100 favorite songs were, could I recite that playlist from memory? No, that’s doubtful. That’s why we have TOP 10 lists. Few people think in lists like I do. But if they did, there’s a psychological dynamic that works with the number 10. Maybe because we have 10 fingers, or we use a base-10 numbering. 10 is memorable, but we want more than 10. That’s why we see people listing their 12, 15 and 25 favorites. I’m guessing we have the capability to love 100, or even 1,000 things. Yet, I think 10 is the around the limit we can recall quickly. A TOP 10 list can be recited to a friend, but a TOP 100 requires writing down.

I can love a 1,000 songs, but not a 1,000 movies or books—definitely not 1,000 people. A 1,000 song playlist is manageable, but not memorable. The songs are unforgettable, but I could never recite 1,000 song titles. If I had more bookshelves, I could fit 1,000 books in this room where I write. I had over 800 before the last culling, but I’ve since pared them down to less than 400. Even that many is too many for me to handle at age 64. I’m forgetting what I own.

Sometimes 1,000 is practical. Other times 100 or 10 is workable.

When Olivia and Annie told me their all-time favorite TV show was The Game of Thrones, they asked me about mine. My immediate answer was Breaking Bad. I think it hurt their feelings I didn’t agree with them. I assured them The Game of Thrones was in my TOP 10. But I was mentally rattling off many shows I liked more. In no order, Downton Abbey, Humans, Mr. Robot, Big Love, The Man in the High Castle, Battlestar Galactica, The Sopranos, Fargo, Deadwood, came quickly to mind. Ooops, did that make The Game of Thrones number 11? Were there older shows I love more, but I just couldn’t remember them at the moment? In 1961, my list would have included The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Twilight Zone and Have Gun-Will Travel. Would any old favorite make it to my current TOP 10?

Time constrains the numbers we can embrace, the magnitudes we can grok. On my TOP 100 playlist is “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” by Duke Ellington from 1926. A TOP 10 list tends to focus on the current, but a TOP 100 can span time. My TOP 100 songs span 106 years. The oldest song I love is a 1910 orchestral arrangement of “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (Pavane for a Dead Princess) by Ravel. My TOP 1000 contain choral, classical and operatic works created 100s of years ago.

My guess is TOP 10 lists focus on recent experiences, whereas TOP 100 lists will span decades, and TOP 1000 can cover centuries. The beauty of subscribing to Spotify is I have a fantastic library for building my playlists. Back in the 1970s, when I haunted record superstores, I used to wish that I owned all the albums in the store. Spotify grants that wish times 100. For the past couple years I’ve been searching out my favorite songs from a lifetime of listening. That list is at 444. I’m guessing it will get close to 1,000 by the time I finish. I know collectors can own 1,000s and even 10,000s of LPs, but physically ownership is not the same psychological awareness.

I wonder, and this is just from personal experience, if 1,000 is the upper limit of our comprehension? I used to own 1,001 Books To Read Before You Die. I never read it all the way through. I eventually gave it away because it overwhelmed me to think I still had another 800 books I had to read. I figure I’ve read at least 2,500 books in my life, and probably seen more than 5,000 films, but I doubt I could ever remember more than 1,000 of each, even if I starting writing titles down with the aid of Wikipedia and IMDB. I can handle a playlist of 1,000 songs, but not a bookshelf 1,000 books, or a rack of 1,000 DVDs. When I was younger, I did, but getting old is shrinking my universe.

For a while, maybe into my 70s, I’ll search out the TOP 100 books and movies I want to cherish. I expect, as the years go by, that number will dwindle. Eventually, I’ll be down to remembering my TOP 10 of everything, and finally, if I have the right kind of death, my TOP 1 of favorite people and things will pass through my thoughts as I fade away. If I can distill that number down before I die, I’ll tell my last friend to mention them at my funeral.

JWH