Archive for the ‘Essay’ Category

Sanity Hacks

April 28, 2018

Listen to Your Fixations

Actively listening to the words you tell yourself inside your head is called metacognition. It’s the first step in stilling your mind and figuring out who you really are. This can be very frightening and very painful, but it’s worth it.

It’s a lot more fun to think about other people’s problems than it is to think about our own. That’s why we do it all the time. But fixating on other people’s lives is a colossal waste of time and effort.

What’s going on inside our heads when we fixate on people? Usually, it’s one of these three things:

1) Jealousy
2) Something about their life or their behavior makes you feel insecure
3) They’re exhibiting some trait that you recognize in yourself and that makes you uncomfortable.

Listening to your fixations and looking inward for their causes can teach you more about yourself than you ever wanted to know. But it’s worth if you want to live your own life.

Don’t Expect Life to be Fair

We are complex social organisms and our intense preoccupation with fairness is an essential aspect of our biological makeup. This trait is even observable in other social organisms.

But life isn’t fair. And you can drive yourself crazy fixating on how everybody else deserves to be punished for not being as righteous as you are. But it’s a colossal waste of time and effort and it won’t get you anywhere.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be held accountable for the things we do. We need to have rules and laws and courts and judges for society to function. And we need to be vigilant in our efforts to make these institutions function as fairly as humanly possible.

But don’t fritter away your precious time on Earth fixating on the great unfairness of it all. That will only make you miserable.

Live Your Own Life

When I hear myself thinking about what other people should or shouldn’t be doing, I try to quell my overactive mind by repeating this mantra:

Mind my own business. Live my own life.

This happens several times a day. Unfortunately, fixating on what other people are doing and assessing the rightness or wrongness of their behavior is a natural part of being human. But so are jealousy and hatred. That doesn’t mean they’re good for us.

We can’t prevent ourselves from wanting to regulate other people’s lives, but we can monitor our thinking and try to focus on our own behavior as much as possible.

Don’t Let Resentment Rule Your Life

Some clichés are really helpful and this bit of folk wisdom is invaluable:

Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

Even if you have a legitimate gripe with the person you resent, your resentment is your own issue. Unless magic and voodoo dolls actually work, there’s no way your resentment is going to change the world. It’s just going to make your spirit ill.

Work to make the world a better place and spread as much love as you can. You can also go to yoga class and try to breathe your resentment away. It helps.

by Richard W. Bray

Judgement Machines

February 4, 2018

From natural selection’s point of view, the whole point of perception is to process information that has relevance to the organism’s Darwinian interests — that is, to its chances of getting its genes spread. And organisms register this relevance by assigning positive or negative values to the perceived information. We are designed to judge things and to encode those judgements in feeling.

Robert Wright, Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Enlightenment

Like any paradigm, evolutionary psychology is an extreme oversimplification of our multifarious existence. Even if we accept the premise that human beings are shaped by evolutionary pressure, which I do, it does not automatically follow that everything we are is the direct result of “natural selection.” Many mutations and alterations in our genes are merely coincidental.

If, for example, a parrot with an efficient nutshell-crushing beak happens also to be blue, its descendants are likely to be blue despite the fact that their blueness does not foster their success like that marvelous beak does.

Human beings are not “designed” by evolution; we’re the product of happenstance. And nobody can say for certain what the “whole point of perception” is. But you needn’t be a natural selection determinist to appreciate Wright’s picture of human consciousness.

The Difference Between Berry and Toadstool

Wright is certainly correct to say that human beings automatically assign “positive or negative values” to “perceived information.” Every thought we have is wrapped inside a feeling. These feelings often had the benefit of keeping our Hunting Fathers alive long enough to pass along their DNA. That’s how we got here.

Determining the difference between berry and toadstool, lamb and lion, or friend and foe is an essential survival skill. Our ancestors survived and prospered thanks to the happy associations they made with the delicious berries that sustained them and the painful associations they made with frightening beasts that killed their friends and relatives.

The Old, Old Tale of Narcicussus

It’s natural for human beings to constantly analyze and reevaluate the world we live in. And, as social organisms, we evaluate ourselves in relation to others. That’s why we’re forever recalibrating our opinions of one another.

How we feel about others is a function of how they make us feel about ourselves. The world is our mirror, as W.H. Auden notes:

A friend is the old, old tale of narcissus.

Severing how we feel about others from how we feel about ourselves is not possible  we don’t exist in a vacuum. But we can examine our natural tendency to “judge things and to encode those judgement in feeling.”

Jesus commands: “Judge not.” But judgement-free perception simply isn’t possible. What we can do is listen to our thoughts and examine the feelings that ignite them.

Avoiding Misery and Masochism

Don’t squander your precious time on Earth trying to figure out who deserves to be happy. There’s always going to be people you can point to as undeserving of the gifts life has bestowed upon them. Should it really be your task in life to figure out who’s to bless and who’s to blame? By fixating on the unfairness of it all, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of misery and masochism.

I’m not suggesting that we should accept the world the way it is. On the contrary, fighting injustice and trying to make the world a better place is one of the best ways to find meaning in this crazy old world.

 

by Richard W. Bray

Listening to Yourself

January 14, 2018

Metacognition

Metacognition means thinking about thinking. You can do this by listening to the words you say aloud, and more importantly, by listening to the words you silently tell yourself. That’s where the real action is — inside your head.

Self-awareness begins by examining the words and phrases your mind creates and then asking yourself if it would make sense for someone in your position to say such a thing.

Phrases to Watch Out For

Any sentence that begins with the words “I don’t care” is probably a lie you’re telling yourself to protect your feelings. Here are some examples of the types of ego-preserving lies we tell ourselves and one another all the time:

I don’t care that dad abandoned us when I was four.”

“I don’t care who she’s going out with.”

“I really don’t care if he ever loved me or not.”

Here’s another example: Whenever you hear yourself say, “He’s just_______,” “She’s just_________,” or “It’s just________,” it’s probably because someone or something has hurt you and made you feel bad about yourself. And now you want to diminish someone or something to make the hurt go away. It never works, but our brains are designed to do it anyway.

For example: Let’s say that Walter is bragging to the guys about his hot date with Gladys. Poor Alex secretly adores Gladys, but he never quite got up the nerve to ask her out. Now his brain is cascaded with defensive outrage and denial:

“Walter is just a stupid, arrogant, spoiled asshole.”

“She doesn’t really like him. She’s just going out with him because he’s tall, good-looking, and his parents are rich.”

“She’s just a dumb little bitch for going out with that guy”

We Think by Feeling

We often talk about thoughts and feelings as though they were in competition with one another. “Don’t let your feelings get in the way of your decision,” is a common refrain. But there is no such battle occurring in our souls between thinking and feeling. Thoughts and feelings are inseparable. Thoughts don’t exist in opposition to feelings — thoughts are better understood as the residue of feelings. “We think by feeling,” is how the great American poet Theodore Roethke put it. This observation has been confirmed by a whole body of modern brain research.

Scottish philosopher David Hume figured this all out over two hundred years ago without the benefit modern fMRI machines that tell us which parts of the brain are involved in the decision-making process. Hume was one seriously smart and reflective dude.

The Unexamined Life

Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living, but it’s also been noted that ignorance is bliss. So what should you do? Who knows? Metacognition is both painful and enlightening. The question is: Can you handle the truth?

By Richard W. Bray

 

Applying Joseph Sugarman’s Copywriting Tips to Content Writing

April 24, 2017

Copywriting usually means putting the right words together in the right order to get people to pay money for something.

But sometimes copywriting means saying the right things to get people to feel good about your client.

Content writing is copywriting designed specifically for professional websites.

Content writing shares these two major goals with copywriting:

a) getting people to pay money for something.
b) getting people to like someone/something better.

But medium affects message. In addition to selling the product and the client, content writers must regularly supply a substantial number of words on topics that are useful and interesting to the client’s audience. For example, if the client owns a fitness gym, engaging and informative blogs on health and nutrition should be of interest his customers.

Good content is important to SEO and good SEO brings more visitors and more visitors mean more money for the client. And when visitors stay longer, it’s good for SEO, which means more customers and more money. (Of course, this only applies if you’re selling a product or service people want; not even Don Draper could sell something people don’t want.)

Joseph Sugarman wrote extremely successful advertising copy for a long time. He specialized in direct mail and advertorials, advertisements disguised to look like articles in magazines. It’s not easy to get someone’s attention when she’s sorting through junk mail or reading articles in a good magazine. Sugarman needed to suck his readers into his copy and engage them to the point where they read the entire thing. And then many of them would pick up the phone and call the 800 number where operators are standing by.

Sugarman’s genius is to make his copy extremely compelling from beginning to end.  As any writer can tell you, that’s not an easy thing to do.

People voluntarily seek web content via a link or a search engine.  So content writers don’t need to grab their readers with the same intensity that Sugarman did. But content writers do need to be able to hold their readers, and Sugarman was great at that. Like copywriters, content writers want to hold the reader long enough to garner a sale or at least hold the reader long enough to get his contact information.

Tips from Joseph Sugarman for Content Writers

Here’s some tips from Joseph Sugarman’s Adweek Copywring Handbook which apply to content writers as well as copywriters:

You control the environment. Unlike a store where you spend thousands of dollars to create an environment, you can do it all simply in the copy of your ad or the look of your web site (38).

At the preliminary part of the sale, you must get the prospective reader to start saying yes. In order to do this, you should make statements that are honest and believable (40).

Emotion Principle (66)
a) Every word has an emotion associated with it and tells a story.
b) Every good ad is an emotional outpouring of words, feelings and impressions.
c) You sell on emotion, but you justify a purchase with logic.

You can create a warm and personal atmosphere when you use words like I, you and me. This will create the feel of a personal form of communication (88).

Use as few commas as you can get away with (106).

Break up your writing with paragraph headings because they make your writing look more inviting so your reader will start the reading process (114).

Never forget that just as a song has a rhythm, so does copy (120). Always listen to the words you write inside your head or even read them aloud if it helps.

by Richard W. Bray

First Day of College Composition Class—Syllabus, Tone, and Thesis Statement

February 19, 2017

zzzzthesis

I do more talking on the first day than I usually do. (Reminder: A teacher should always keep a lozenge in her briefcase. Better to have it and not need than to need and not have it.)

I spend the first day of English Composition class teaching about thesis statement and tone.

Of course, I go over the syllabus first. I always hated it when one of my instructors spent the entire first session covering every word of the syllabus, giving us a preview of each upcoming lecture, so I tell the students that they made it this far and they should be able to read a syllabus on their own. Instead, I focus on the required texts for the class, my grading policies, due dates for assignments, and my expectations for appropriate classroom comportment.

I stress the following sentence from my syllabus:

It is important to maintain a cordial demeanor which facilitates free and open discourse.”

In other words, in this classroom we need to be able to disagree with one another without being disagreeable.

I tell my students that it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Professor Bray, I disagree with everything you just said for the following reasons….”

However, it is not acceptable to say, “Professor Bray, you are stupid and your mother dresses you funny.”

I beg my students to disagree. Please, I tell them, disagree with me, the authors we are covering, and anyone else in the class. That’s what we are here for, the free and open exchange of ideas. My students will receive no brownie points for agreeing with the instructor. This is true for the classroom discussions and also for their essays. Students are not graded on the positions they choose to take; they are evaluated based upon the quality and structure of their arguments and the style of their prose.

In order to teach students about thesis statements and tone, I select two short essays that vary in style and substance; usually I read them a serious article first (for example, Katha Pollitt on reproductive rights or Pat Buchanan on trade policy) and then I read them something lighter (a silly article by Jon Carroll about his cat, perhaps). Before I read the articles, I ask who can tell me what a thesis statement is, and then I type their answers into a machine which magically projects words onto a large screen for all to see.

Their answers will include:

An essay’s argument, an essay’s main point, an essay’s main point distilled into one sentence.

I tell them these answers are correct, but in my class it’s okay to state a thesis in two or even three consecutive sentences rather than trying to jam it all into one very long and awkward sentence with too many clauses and too many commas.

When I ask them where the best place to put their thesis is, they tell me it belongs at the end of their introductory paragraph. I say, “Correct.” (Good job, high school English teachers!)

This is the point where I tell them that different types of writing are bound by different types of conventions and expectations. For student essays (but not for other types of student writing such as journals) I expect them to follow specific conventions, such as placing the thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph and supporting their arguments with “evidence” (the quoted opinions of people who are assumed to know what they are talking about for one reason or another.) I tell them that the two essays we are covering today are written by professional writers for popular consumption. Such authors are under no obligation to follow any of Mr. Bray’s rules for academic writing. For example, fragments and one-sentences paragraphs can be very effective tools, but they are not generally acceptable in academic writing.  Furthermore, many professional writers believe that a thesis statement placed at the end of the introductory paragraph is a clunky device.  And I agree with them, but you will nevertheless be marked down substantially if you do not have a clear thesis statement in any paper you submit to me. However, in the essays we are about to consider, the thesis statement might be at the beginning of the essay, it might be at the end of the essay, it might be broken up and scattered throughout the essay, or it might not exist at all.

Next, I ask my students what the word tone means in relation to writing.

Probable answers include: mood, attitude, voice

I tell them that these are all good answers. I also suggest that they think of tone in relation to a person’s actual speaking voice. Many of the authors I teach are people I have seen on television so I can imagine how they would sound reading a particular essay. For example, in my head I hear how Pat Buchanan stresses and elongates the second syllable of “bamboozled,” one of his favorite verbs.

Then I ask my students for adjectives that could describe the tone of a particular piece of nonfiction prose.

I get answers such as: sad, angry, sarcastic, light, witty.

I tell them these are all good answers.

I inform them that my rule about tone is that is must be appropriate in relation to the chosen subject matter of and essay and also appropriate for the anticipated audience for an essay.

For example, if one is writing about 9/11 in a mainstream American news magazine such as Time, a witty tone would not be appropriate. Also, if one were writing an essay for young children about the adorableness of puppies, a sarcastic tone would not be appropriate.

(I briefly explain the distinction between sarcasm and verbal irony, something we will go into in detail at a later time.)

Lesson Plans

#1 Distribute first article.

#2 Instruct students to get out their writing utensils and number the paragraphs.

#3 Instruct students to look for and mark possible examples of tone and thesis statement as I read the essay aloud.

#4 Instructor reads the essays aloud.

#5 Allow students an additional seven minutes to look for examples of tone and thesis statement.

#6 Pair and share (if time permits and if you’re into that sort of thing).

#7 Review as whole class discussion.

An appropriate answer for an example of tone in the essay would be: “The author is using a verbally ironic tone in paragraph six when she says, “I just love it when my boyfriend leaves me dirty laundry to pick up.”

#8 Repeat steps 1-7 with second article.

#9 Instruct students to save the articles for later use with this exercise on strong verbs.

#10 Remind students that it’s going to be a long semester and send them on their merry little way.

by Richard W. Bray

Seven Ways of Looking at a Line of Poetry

November 6, 2016

zzwaking

Anthropologists tell us* that “some time between 75 thousand and 60 thousand years ago” homo sapiens underwent a remarkable change (194). This event occurred “somewhere on the African continent (most likely somewhere in its eastern or southwestern regions)” (193). Suddenly, our already impressive brains developed the capacity for symbolic thought. Our ancestors, who heretofore merely consisted of roving bands of uppidy carnivorous weapon-wielding bipeds, were transformed into artists, shamans, scientists, and engineers. World-domination was now only a matter of time.

These new-and-improved brains rendered representational art, handicraft, metaphor, music, dance, language and poetry essential to our existence.

As Kurt Vonnegut notes, this spectacular transformation gave us not only the capacity and the inclination to produce Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; it also gave us the capacity and the inclination to

burn people alive in the public square for holding opinions which were locally unpopular, or build factories whose only purpose was to kill people in industrial quantities.

I’m seriously into words. I have argued that it’s ultimately impossible to separate language from poetry because our ancestors began playing with words as soon as they began to invent them. Uttered phonemes are automatically poetic just like every basket and every arrowhead homo sapiens produce is a work of art.

Death and disruption at an early age hurt Theodore Roethke into poetry, as W. H. Auden suggests “mad Ireland” hurt W.B. Yeats into poetry. And oh what prodigious poetry Roethke did make! I’m going to spend a little bit of time talking about how to say the third line of a villanelle Roethke wrote called “The Waking” because my brain spends a lot of time thinking about such things.

A villanelle is a nineteen-line Italian form in which the first and third lines are each repeated three times. (I’ve written a few of them myself.) (A smartass once wrote on this blog that “the cool thing about villanelles is that once you’ve written the first three lines, you’re 42% finished.”)

Here’s the first stanza of Roethke’s “The Waking.”

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

I told you the dude was prodigious, right? Anyhow, the first and third lines of a good villanelle must be firm and flexible as much heavy lifting is expected of them. Here are some examples:

Time will say nothing but I told you so.

(First line of Auden’s “If I Could tell You”)

(I think I made you up inside my head.)
(Third Line of Sylvia Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song”)

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(Third Line of Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”)

Now back to “The Waking.” If a reader must read the same lines four times in a nineteen-line poem, the poet should provide her with options about which words to stress. Here are seven ways to say line three of “The Waking”:

#1 I learn by going where I have to go

Learning is about destination rather than free will.

#2 I learn by going where I have to go

The essential lesson is in the destination

#3 I learn by going (pause) where I have to go

The journey, so to speak, is the destination.

#4 I learn by going where I have to go

The lesson is in the doing.

#5 I learn by going where I have to go

The important thing is that the experience is educational.

#6 I learn by going where I have to go.

It’s imperative to take a certain route that is nonetheless educational.

#7 I learn by going where I have to go.

I find out what I’m supposed to do only by doing it.

Art inevitably pops up wherever you have people and it’s our sacred duty to make it available to our children. (But this isn’t another jeremiad about those sick, sad losers who think our children are merely their test scores).

by Richard W. Bray

*Ian Tattersall, Masters of the Planet

The Funny Men of My Youth

June 27, 2016
Jan Murray

Jan Murray

Sometimes I like to do the Grumpy Old Man routine with my students: “When I was your age, Sonny, I had to walk barefoot to school in the snow, and the long, arduous journey was uphill—both ways.”

None of this is true, of course. My parents always provided me with good shoes and it’s only snowed once in Claremont in the last fifty years. I stole that joke from one of my childhood heroes, Bill Cosby. I still love to tell that joke, but I no longer attribute it to Cosby.  Once the most avuncular man in America, Cosby is now, allegedly, nothing but a sick old creep.

Bill Cosby’s fall pains me; I spent so much time with his comedy LPs as a kid, and it really felt like I knew him. One of my favorite Cosby albums was called I Started Out as a Child. It took me over a decade to get the joke in the title. Another Cosby album title was also quite funny: To my brother Russell, Whom I Slept With (but I still haven’t completely worked out its implications).

The comedy albums of Cosby and The Smothers Brothers were a big part of my childhood.   (For you younger readers, albums, also called records, were large flat black petroleum-based disks that created marvelous sounds when played on something called a turntable.  Albums were very fragile, which may have accentuated the reverence we had for them).   In junior high school I discovered the more “mature” comedy records of George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Cheech and Chong.

When I was a kid, back in the dark ages before VCRs, HBO, and Comedy Central, in order to see the great comedians, you had to watch the three major talk show hosts: Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Johnny Carson. I would rush home to see Mike Douglas in the afternoons and Merv was on in the evening, but Carson, the King of Comedy, was on after my bedtime, so I would listen to The Tonight Show through the slats in the hall door while my parents thought I was asleep.  If I laughed too loud my mom would shout, “Go to bed.”

The old-timer comedians like Buddy Hackett, Jack Benny, and Henny Youngman that I loved to watch on tv when I was a kid frequently spoke about something called “working the Catskills.” Since there was no google back then, I asked my dad what the Catskills were. He said that they were mountains in upstate New York (hills really, by California standards) where people from New York City used to go on vacation.

Decades later I was watching a PBS documentary on the history of Jewish Comedy in America which went into great detail about the Catskills (also known as the Borsch Belt). One of the people featured in the documentary was Jan Murray. I thought, “Jan Murray is Jewish. Who knew?” Then it dawned on me–the overwhelming majority of the comedians I revered as a kid were Jewish. And as I think about it now, the non-Jewish comedians from my youth like Cosby, Bob Hope, George Carlin, Red Skelton, Flip Wilson, Danny Thomas, and Johnny Carson are really the exceptions.

by Richard W. Bray

Women (and Men) in Love

June 19, 2016
Simone De Beauvoir

Simone De Beauvoir

What about romantic love?  Is it merely, as the scientists say,  a trick played upon us by the chemicals in our brains, an evolutionary mechanism that provides a bond that will last long enough to increase a human offspring’s chances for survival?  Yes, probably.  But so what?  Romantic love’s utilitarian origins don’t preclude it from being good and beautiful.

There are several indications that the experience of heterosexual romantic love is in many ways different for men and women?   (I should point out, however, that men and women have many more characteristics in common than we have differences. We are not two separate species. Furthermore, there are myriad variations within members of each gender. And both nature and nurture account for differences between men and women: men’s and women’s brains function somewhat differently and, across cultures, we tend to be socialized in very different ways.)

Several years ago, Johnny Carson asked cartoonist Kathy Guisewhite: “What’s the difference between men and women?”*

Guisewhite replied: “I really don’t think men sit around discussing women the way that women are constantly obsessing about men. You know, we’re constantly asking each other, ‘Why are they like that?’ or ‘Why do they do that?’”

Guisewhite has a point. Women certainly do spend more time talking about men than men spend talking about women. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. And for most of Western history women were legally and socially subservient to men, passed along as chattel from father to husband.  This is still their situation in many parts of the world.

When your very existence is dependent upon pleasing someone who is bigger and stronger than you are, someone who has the legal right to assault you at any time, knowing your oppressor becomes an essential survival skill.

In her book The Second Sex, French feminist icon Simone De Beauvoir describes “The Woman in Love”

Since she is anyway doomed to dependence, she will prefer to serve a god rather than obey tyrants—parents, husband, or protector.  She chooses to desire her enslavement so ardently that it will seem to her the expression of her liberty; she will try to rise above her situation as inessential object by fully accepting it; through her flesh, her feelings, her behavior, she will enthrone him as supreme value and reality: she will humble herself to nothingness before him. Love becomes for her a religion (The Second Sex 643).

De Beauvoir chooses an epigraph for “The Women in Love” by Lord Byron which declares that romantic love is “to a man’s life, a thing apart”, while it constitutes “woman’s whole existence.”  This is not entirely true, of course.  Most men do fall in love, and a few of us have even died from a broken heart.

But how many men do you suppose would go out and buy a book like Relationship Rescue by Dr. Phil?

 

*Carson and Guisewhite quotations are reconstructed from my fallible memory

by Richard W. Bray

 

Walking Makes Humans What We Are

June 12, 2016

WWHUNTERS

I have never hunted animals. And I used to wonder how hunters walking around lugging heavy guns could ever get close enough to their prey in order to shoot it. Most animals can easily smell/see/hear humans long before the hunters get into firing range and then they could simply run away. Meaty mammals tend to be much faster runners than humans. What I didn’t realize is that human beings are designed to walk and walk and walk until our prey is too exhausted to continue. Then we use our weapons to kill it. And then we cook it and eat it.

In Masters of the Planet, an excellent introduction to human evolution, Ian Tattersall describes how the ability to walk great distances was key to the hunting prowess of homo ergaster, “an extinct ancestral form on the evolutionary scale of the genus Homo” that “lived in eastern and southern Africa during the early Pleistocene, that is, between 1.8 million and 1.3 million years ago.” Tattersall explains that “although homo ergaster would hardly have been fast compared to four-legged predators, its newer slender hips and long legs would have made members of the species exemplary distance runners.”

This evolutionary innovation gives homo sapiens a huge advantage over our prey because, unlike humans, “most mammals do not have the capacity to shed the heat load acquired and generated during sustained activity in the tropic sun, except by pausing in the shade while it slowly dissipates, largely through panting.” That’s why hunters will eventually catch their prey.   “In the heat of the day, the human ability to simply keep going would have allowed these lucky bipeds to single out, say, an antelope, and to keep chasing it, until it fell from heat prostrations” Or we can just kill it with our weapons when we get close enough.

Our ancestors made the remarkable transition from prey to predator.  Human beings are designed to vanquish by walking and running after animals until we get close enough to kill them.  This evolutionary history remains a major component of our collective psyche whether we like it or not.  And we should never forget this, even in an age when, for most of us, meat comes from the back of the supermarket.

So, Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare, in addition to being a marvelous parable on the efficacy of slow and steady diligence, is also the true story of how Our Hunting Fathers survived. Human beings are designed to “simply keep going” and going and going.

And simply trudging along is how our species came to inhabit and dominate so much of the planet.

I’m really glad that I exist as a human being; I wouldn’t trade in this particular vehicle of consciousness for anything in the world.  But our evolutionary success has had ominous ramifications for many of our fellow inhabitants of planet Earth.

As novelist Kurt Vonnegut notes, the human tendency to simply keep on walking and consuming has a dark side:

humanity itself had become an unstoppable glacier made of hot meat, which ate up everything in sight and then made love, and then doubled in size again.

Soldiers drilling, refugees fleeing, shoppers shopping, children strolling to school. Walking. It’s what we do and it’s one of the most essential things that makes us who we are.

Final word to Fats Domino:

By Richard W. Bray

 

 

 

 

Warning: Sugar and Wheat Will Make Your Brain Swell

June 5, 2016
Dr. David Perlmutter

Dr. David Perlmutter

In the 1973 Woody Allen movie Sleeper, we follow the travails of Miles Monroe, jazz musician and owner of the Happy Carrot Health Food Store. Miles dies in 1973, but he is reanimated two hundred years later into a crazy dystopian future. Miles is the victim of unauthorized cryropreservation. (Don’t you just hate it when that happens.) Anyhow, Miles is taken in by Luna Schlosser (Diane Keaton) and her wacky band of radical chic revolutionaries. Sleeper is one of Allen’s funniest movies, with none of the Bergmanian angst of the writer/director’s later movies. (I’m not suggesting that Allen’s early movies were necessarily better than his later ones, just funnier. Crimes and Misdemeanors, a dark and brooding “later” Woody Allen film, is a masterpiece.)

At one point in their struggles against the risibly inept future totalitarian power structure, Miles complains to Luna that he misses his old life running The Happy Carrot. Luna attempts to disabuse Miles of his nostalgia by telling him that his so-called health food wasn’t really good for people and in the future science has proven that the healthiest thing we can eat is “deep-fried fat.”

It’s easy for Woody Allen to have fun lampooning the health food craze.  For one thing, the list of unhealthy foods just keeps growing and mutating: Red meat, processed food, eggs, pork, butter, sugar, gluten, dairy, saturated fat, corn syrup, sodium, margarine, cheese, cholesterol, fried food, barbecue, preservatives, seafood, soda, pasta, junk food.

Remember when eggs were supposed to be really bad for you? Now not so much. And fat used to be bad, but now we have good fat and bad fat.  It’s all so confusing.

Anyhow, several months ago I was eating cookies and doing housework and watching Public Television (I’m such a multi-tasker) when a man came on the tv and told me that my cookies were going to make my brain swell and probably give me Alzheimer’s Disease someday. (It’s not as crazy as it sounds; Americans who live to be eighty-five have a fifty percent chance of getting Alzheimer’s.)

That man’s name is Dr. David Perlmutter, and he convinced me that sugar is poison and wheat isn’t food.

So I gave up my cookie and chocolate habit and I quit eating bread, burritos and pasta. Life without bread is sort of weird. Bread is almost synonymous with food in our culture. When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray that God should “Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:2) bread is not merely a metonym for all food but for spiritual sustenance as well. Jesus makes a similar analogy in Matthew 4:4. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

I didn’t go the full-Perlmutter; I still eat some carbs–some rice and potatoes and corn tortillas.  But I lost thirty pounds in a few months.  I was as skinny as I had been in college, down to a thirty-two inch waist. All my pants were falling down, so I got some new ones.  Then I gained back about ten pounds as my body adjusted to the new diet.  Unless disco comes back, I probably won’t be wearing those thirty-two inch waist pants any time soon.

People tell me I look good and I feel great; my moods and my energy levels are much more consistent.

 

by Richard W. Bray