Monday, 30 September 2013

The Men's Version of the ACoA Promises - Part Two

Okay, it's time to deal with the "intimacy" stuff.Because this is about the same place asthe feelings of loss and emptiness I mentioned at the start. So let's take a look at the ACoA promises:
1. We will discover our real identities by loving and accepting ourselves.
2. Our self-esteem will increase as we give ourselves approval on a daily basis.
3. Fear of authority figures and the need to "people-please" will leave us.
4. Our ability to share intimacy will grow inside us.
5. As we face our abandonment issues, we will be attracted by strengths and become more tolerant of weaknesses.
6. We will enjoy feeling stable, peaceful, and financially secure.
7. We will learn how to play and have fun in our lives.
8. We will choose to love people who can love and be responsible for themselves.
9. Healthy boundaries and limits will become easier for us to set.
10. Fears of failures and success will leave us, as we intuitively make healthier choices.
11. With help from our ACA support group, we will slowly release our dysfunctional behaviors.
12. Gradually, with our Higher Power's help, we learn to expect the best and get it.

I'm right there with 3), 6), 9), 10) and 11) and using words loosely, I'll go with 2) as well. I have no problem with 12), though I'm not good at expecting the best, nor with 5) and 8), though putting both into practice in this town could leave a man with an empty diary.

What give me the heebie-jeebies are 1), 4) and 7). And until I was half-way through this, I thought that was my fault.

"Discovering our real identities", "sharing intimacy" and "learning to play and have fun" arethe promises held out by therapists and self-help authors everywhere. That's because those goals appeal to women of both sexes, who make up the main market for therapies, and everyone gotta keep the customer satisfied. I'm a man of the male sex (there are men of the female sex as well, and I get on rather well with them), and those things don't describe my way of being in the world at all.

The dictionary says "intimacy" means something along the lines of "comfortable familiarity". However, that's not the freight it carries in these circumstances, where it means a mixture of closeness, empathy, trust and mutual understanding. And that's not the freight it carries for the insecure and needy people who fill therapist's rooms and read self-help books: for those people it means "making me feel as if someone cares about me and that the huge hole inside me gets filled up just a little".Dealing with needy and insecure people, our provisionof "intimacy" gets judged by the easing of their pain, which is a recipe for disaster, and anyway, their pain isfor them to pay a therapist to treat.And let's just say something else while we're at it:regurgitating the minutia of Her Day or Her Fears when you get back isn't intimate and it isn't sharing, it's dumping the garbage, and it's just rude and thoughtless.

Okay. I'm done with that.

ACoA and the therapists claim that we will feel connected with others by sharing our past experiences, hopes, fears, ambitions, circumstances and dreams. That happens to be true, but it also happens to be as rare as a big Lottery win. A prudent life has to be built on the assumption that, after we leave university,we will not meet anyone with whom we will connect, let alone connect and want to have sex and live with. (This is one reason a lot of clever young men and women go into accounting and consultancy, so they continue to be surrounded by clever, personable and ambitious young people for another few years. From my experience, regular companies do not have many pretty people working in them. And the people in the hip companies are painfully intent on letting everyone know just how freaking hip they are. Way too hip to get next to co-workers.) Whether or not you lead a good life should not depend on having the luck to meet someone who doesn't put their meanings to your words. If you believe in Evolution (or God) you have to believe we Evolved (or had Created) mechanisms for that. And we did: it's called art, literature, drama, comedy. (Only some art communicates, the rest is entertainment.) Art can let us know there is someone else who shares our views, beliefs and concerns.12-Step movements tell us that we will find such people in their Rooms, and for some alcoholics, druggies, adult children and the rest, that might be true, but it's not true for all of them. (I found getting sober changed some things but not everything: I couldn't make friends when I was drinking, and I can't do it sober either.)

After all, if it was easy to find people with whom to share in this marvellous way, why would the human race have invented booze, drugs, maypoles, dancing, travelling theatres, fireworks, the printing press, the movies, chocolate, nightclubs, painting, sports and free weights? Our forefathers did it because they needed stuff to add pep, zest and contemplation to their lives. I have a friend who can remember as a young girl sitting round the village fire listening to the adults talking and telling stories to make the evening pass. If that was as much fun as it needed to have been, those adults would not have TV's in their houses now. But they do. The human race needs diversions and accomplishments.

So in a manly no-nonsense spirit I'm going to replace 1), 4) and 7) as follows:

1) We will exercise, eat well, groom and dress well, and experiment with anything we fancy until we find some stuff we really like. We will avoid junk food, junk culture and junk people, and if necessary sit in peaceful silence until something or someone worthwhile comes along. We will not go on being limited by what those SoB's in our past told us we can't do.

4) We will find the confidence to: choose the right people to work with so we can advance our ambitions and plans; choose attractive, well-balanced people to form relationships with; and to handle the occasional crazy person who just makes life more interesting.

7) We will make damn sure we entertain ourselves the way we want to be entertained at least once a week.

Sure I would love to meet someone who "gets me", and who hears what I say, but in the meantime I have to go on breathing. Even if I did, I would still need to earn a living, iron my shirts, stock the fridge, cook my food, commute and exercise. Also sleep and commute.Instead of talking about the benefits of something that may never happen in the ACoA's life, it would be better to talk about how one lives with hope, self-respect and an immanent sense of disappointment that one's feelings could be more vibrant and rich, but just not today.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Men's Version of the ACoA Promises - Part One

I was reading the official Big Book of ACoA recently, and as I always do when I go near that subject, had mixed feelings: loss, emptiness, relief and irritation. Let's deal with the irritation, because that came from the fact that I started to be convinced I should not be feeling the loss and emptiness.

ACoA's have low-level but chronic psychological pain: they feel empty, unloved, rejected, ignored, fraudulent, isolated, cut-off, unheard and generally are pretty sure that everyone else is having a fun time except them. They feel this all the time, not just now and then, they feel it like the skies in England are grey. They get breaks every now and then, like the famous "sunny intervals" of an English day, but then everything goes back to grey and empty. And here's something you will not read: this is hormonal, it's body chemistry, it's a drug no-one would buy the second time if you could synthesise it. It's not just a belief, or a habit of thought, or an attitude, it's natural drugs, triggered by years of upbringing and experience. That's how it was for me, and I don't imagine I'm anything special.

ACoA and the therapists claim to be able to do two things. The first is to help the sufferer stop feeling that pain, to silence the inner harping voice, to loosen the grip of all the shitty things that people told them about themselves, and after a while, generally to stop feeling bad about themselves. That can be and is done, and I don't have a problem with that claim.

It's the second claim I have a problem with. That is the one where, not only can the sufferer stop feeling bad, they can start feeling good about themselves, without the aid of external props, validations, pills, potions and paychecks. I have two problems here.

First, "feeling good" is hormonal. It's not what you feel when your body has no downer-hormones circulating in it, it's what you feel when you have upper-hormones circulating. When you have none, you feel like I do most of the time: which is nothing, much, except it's a nothing against a long history of horrible, so I appreciate it. Think of my emotional state as one long progressive house track.

Civilians wander around in a much more active hormone state than that, going from blissed-out on oxytocin to jacked on adrenaline in the course of even an hour. Me and mine can do the adrenaline, but not the oxytocin / endorphin bliss. Our bodies never acquired the habit of letting the bliss hormones loose: we were too busy with hyper-vigilant monitoring of our environment and so we could set off the flight or dissociation reactions before whatever it was hurt too much. We never learned to "feel good".I've said before that I don't do oxytocin, and I'm betting I don't do endorphins either. I do some kind of thrill-hormone, these days brought on by very special music

and a few things around peace and contemplation and serenity, but I have nothing around feeling so good I can greet the one hundredth straight grey day with high spirits.

Theidea we can "love ourselves" and "feel good" independently of any and all events in the outside world is not a serious suggestion about any real world we live in. It'san over-reaction to the way ACoA's try to fix themselves. Feeling awful, we go to parties, take exotic holidays, pick up girls, get promotions, buy toys, try to win awards, tell jokes, ... and, of course, none of it works. None of it fills the Inner Emptiness.

This is because the Inner Emptiness can't be filled. We can't feel as if we belong, even when other people tell us we do, and may even mean it. This makes external validation all the more important. Not validation from other people, but from progress in our chosen endeavours. Depending on what those endeavours are, this progress might make us better people, but it probably won't make us friends, and it certainly won't fill any empty holes in our emotions. But it does give us a reason for feeling good about ourselves. It gives us a reason to deserve our own respect.

We learn to win our own respect, and so gain self-respect. We wake up and go to work, earn money and pay our taxes and due bills because that's what a responsible member of a post-modern urban economy does; we exercise and stay in shape because that's how we respect our own bodies, and we avoid junk food and eat well for the same reason; we avoid junk culture and read science, mathematics, philosophy, law, economics, history and other non-fiction, because that's how we respect our minds.The validation is external because it comes from measured progress in an activity we perform in the world-lived-in-by-us with the equipment ready-to-hand. It is our engagement with the world.The progress is not progress-towards anything: reaching goals is never satisfying - exhilarating maybe, but never satisfying. "It is progress we seek, not perfection" - the satisfaction is in the process.

You may be thinking that this sounds as if it doesn't really need people, and isn't the whole point of ACoA recovery to be able to have proper relationships with people? Especially girl-people, for, you know, intimacy? What's the point of being a well-read Adonis if you still can't get laid, I mean, have satisfying intimate adult relationships? This isn't the time to go into Step Two and outcome-independence, but the short answer is that practising both is essential for your dignity, sanity and mood.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Gherkins and Cheesegraters

I have a number of things in progress that are taking longer to work out than I thought, so in the meantime, here's a photograph. Lunch is currently a Classic-no-onion from Byron near Spitalfields Market, and some developer has just knocked down a totally bland block of brick to put up heaven knows what equally bland modern stuff. In the meantime, there's some open sky and this view of the City Towers.

Three weeks I've been on cow for lunch, and I feel a lot better for it.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Staying Sharp Over Fifty

There's a neat piece by Quintus Curtis over at Return of Kings about staying in shape for older men. Turns out, "older" means mid-thirties over at RoK. At 59, I find the idea that ‘older’ is mid-thirties a huge joke. Anyone under 40 is, unless they have had some serious life-experiences of the kind usually involving bullets or poverty, pretty much a babe in arms to someone who has been through the wasteland. (The wasteland are those twenty years between 40 and 60 or thereabouts when you realise you've seen a lot of this before, your career has peaked, the hormones are easing off, and you have to grind out large numbers of days and years for no other reason than you woke up alive again, and it does not matter how many different reasons you invent for living, you're now doing this on sheer freaking endurance. But more on that later.) I read what these young guys say because the people my age are usually a way more inclined to rationalisation, resignation, flabby triceps, and worst, fake wisdom, like they’re all suddenly Seneca, but without, you know, actually being billionaires like Seneca was. The Manosphere self-improvement guys are much closer to my temperament and attitude, and confirmation always feels good.

A couple of places my mileage varies on the advice. I don’t like travelling: I find the whole to-and-from airports thing way too stressful, though I’m fine once aboard the plane. Also going on holiday on my own brings on feelings of loneliness which I cover up by being busy, busy, busy. And then there’s the whole bit where I have to come back. Yeah – that cab ride back from the airport really puts the cherry on the icing. (This is a very ACoA thing, civilians won’t have the first idea of what I’m talking about.) Travelling on business is fine, and going with good company is okay as well. I don't make great company for myself. Sure I appreciate the sights and sounds, but I did this in 2011, and holding back the t(y)ears  gets to be tiring after a few days. Maybe if I was in a cottage by the sea and practicing sight-reading for guitar for a week it would be better.

Which brings me to the next item. Learning new stuff, sure, but why is it always a foreign language? If that’s what you non-mathematicians do, that’s fine by me. It’s just that everybody says this, and nobody says “learn some of the math / science that you flunked in school” or “learn to play chess properly” or “learn to sight-read - the alto clef”. It’s always a damn language. I’m hopeless at languages. Like all nerds, I remember systems and processes, not isolated facts like what cabbages are called in Romanian. I get that in the context of pick-up, a language is more useful than an understanding of the quantum mechanics of the hydrogen atom, but they might give the science a nod here.

I loved, loved the idea of the  "non-game-changers". The stuff we do that actually doesn't move us forward, but feels like it should be useful or stuff we should do. The original cartoon suggests reading Ulysses as a non-game-changer, and, having read it, I kinda see what the cartoonist means. Reading Proust is a big deal and stays with you, but Ulysses - and maybe even Musil - not so much at all. 

Here's the news from and for 50- and 60-somethings. Take Mr Curtis' advice. All that stuff works. And from what I see everyday, you need to start. Yesterday.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Right and Wrong Uses of Secret Data

People are shocked, it seems, shocked, to discover that their governments may be spying on them. Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have done excellent work, at huge personal risk, to let us know the exact degree to which the NSA and GCHQ are grabbing data about us. They are, possibly flawed, heroes and that's the end of that part of the story.

But it's the wrong story and it's the wrong issue. Budgetary waste aside, it doesn't matter what some snoop agency knows about you. What matters is who they share it with and what they use it for. The guiding principle here is that the State may not take action against one of its taxpayers or citizens without first having proof that will meet the required standard and convince a jury, and that the defendant is able to examine the evidence in open court. (Exceptions when the defendant is someone who can threaten or apply social or economic pressure, or plain violence - then some anonymity might be useful.) Otherwise secret evidence cannot be used to bring charges or make administrative decisions and judgements. It may be used, I suggest, to let the Police know that, for instance, should they choose to be waiting by Smugglers' Bay next Tuesday night, a small boat containing a large amount of cocaine will appear. But the Police must catch the criminals and find enough evidence. Tactical direction is acceptable. Letting construction companies know that Bert Smith calls people on the contractor's blacklist is not acceptable. These are not subtle judgements. Secret information can be used to prevent a kidnapping, but not to prevent a protest march or a strike. One is a crime and the others are not.

In practice, the weakness with sigint has been that as soon as it is used in a decisive and specific manner, the people against whom it is used know it and the survivors can and will change their codes and methods. At first thought you may suppose that this no longer applies: the NSA and GCHQ are more or less openly tapping voice and data lines - or more likely, simply taking a copy of what is sent on those lines - and won't stop just because Customs ill-advisedly move against three thousand people allegedly involved in, as it might be, cigarette smuggling.

There is so much data now flying round the world that no organisation, no matter how well funded, has a hope in hell of analysing it all in any useful time-scale. Journalists are rightly concerned, since it's very east to identify and store mails to and from, e.g., "" and its servers. Looking at the internet and phone activity of the 40 million or so UK citizens online is past the capability of any technology. Joe and Jane Doe have little to worry about - unless they get onto the guest list. Then they do need to worry. Not because of what the snooping may turn up, but simply because they are on the list. That list has to remain the secret of secrets, shared with nobody, not even the Inland Revenue, airport security or the recruitment department at the BBC.

We are paying to have the security services secretly observe people who would "have sold [their] king to slaughter, His princes and his peers to servitude, His subjects to oppression and contempt, And his whole kingdom into desolation." (Henry V Act 2, Scene 2) Using secret information for that purpose is entirely correct. It is for the King, or in our case, the Courts, to move against the traitors, and to do so openly. Good King Hal shares his evidence with the accused, which is more than MI6 or GCHQ will do.

Inevitably, self-important officials, or State employees who have lost their sense of perspective, confuse their plans and policies with high treason. The enemy becomes anyone who opposes their budget a The officials employed by the State will always want to move against people you and I have never heard of but who, in the self-important eyes of those officials, pose a threat to their jobs, stability and probably undesirable policies. Use of secret data for that purpose is an abuse: we the taxpayer are not paying anyone to preserve some bureaucrat's job and expense account.

We should not be protesting about the acquisition of secret data. We should be making clear what we, as citizens, consider to be the proper use of secret data.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Unemployment and Forward Guidance

Mark Carney (for Martians: the new Governor of the Bank of England and a Canadian) says he won’t be making it worth taking your money out of a sock and putting in a deposit account until unemployment is below 7%. And 7% isn't a trigger, he was making noises about how unemployment around 5% would show that the economy strong. (Think about that for a moment: 1 on 20 people can't get jobs, and that's "strong"? Who's kidding? "Strong" is when employers who don't pay enough lose all their people next week to another employer who will.) Anyway, I thought you might like to see how often even 7%  happens. At a first glance, between 1971 and this year, it happens 48% of the time. 

But wait. Around 100 or so of those months were in the pre-modern era when we had strong Trade Unions and other such horrors, so they don't tell us anything about this economy, and at least another 100 were in the “bubble” era Oughties, which nobody thinks is coming back. That brings the proportion down to… 11%. Most of which was in the lead-up to the bubble.

So unless Mr Carney thinks there’s another bubble on the way, a sock still looks like a good option. Especially since, as you will remember, a few months ago all the pundits were talking about how the UK economy had a puzzlingly large number of people in work, given its output. Employers were supposed to be holding on to people “for stock”. In other words, there’s plenty of productive slack in the current workforce and employers will have no reason to hire even as the economy picks up. I'm not sure I believe that, but I do think that the 5% unemployment rate in the Oughties was very different from the 5% in the late 70's. It's made up of a lot of long-term unemployed, ethnic minorities are over-represented, and there were clearly a lot of people whose employment was pretty marginal, as they were tossed out of work briskly after 2008. Unemployment decreases slowly and increases sharply. Unemployment in the Tens is much more sticky than it was before the Modern Era. 

It could be that Mr Carney is as aware of this graph as you are now, and chose 7% exactly as a way of saying "interest rates are NEVER going back up again, EVER" which of course he couldn't say out loud. Remember, just as the largest direct or indirect employer of low-paid, contract and off-shored workers is the British State, the largest payer of interest is also the UK Government, which would mean me and you, as taxpayers. Nobody really wants interest rates to go up again. Except savers and investors. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

August 2013 Review

August was another of those months that I thought sucked, and on careful inspection it turns out it did. I don't know anyone who likes August: it's a long month, not much happens, and it's usually humid and hot with no sunshine. So this one was different: at least the sun shone. August is review-the-finances-month, and it took a while to find anyone paying even 2% for savings. My Cash ISA stayed put, and it turns out that The Bank actually offers a decent one-year bond rate for the money I can't get into a Cash ISA, so there I am. I don't need to rant about savings rates - you know what I'm talking about.

Sis and I had supper at 1701, the upmarket super-kosher restaurant attached to the oldest synagogue in the City, hiding off Bevis Marks behind an ornate gate with a bouncer in front of it. The food was worth the visit, and we both took some photographs of City towers in a magic evening light.

Tired of being tired and having no fun in the gym - being hot and sweaty before you've even lifted will do that - I changed my gym routine around without really thinking about it. I'm now doing fewer exercises but with higher weights. At the start of the month I raised eyebrows by doing 3x10 box-jumps on a heap that came about six inches above my knee. The jump was okay, but on trying to do abs later, I found that I'd hit my lower abs really hard with the fast knee-raising needed to get the height. So having proved the point, I stopped doing that and graduated to 100lb+ deadlifts with the big wheels, which I'd been working up to slowly with some regular bar weights. I hit a lifetime best 2x3x80 kgs with a spot one Saturday, and started again on the pull-ups after my shoulder recovered. This time I'm going to focus on reps to exhaustion and decrease the support only when I can knock out 3x10 and still breath afterwards. I I started swimming on the non-training days, for about fifteen minutes, mostly as an excuse to shower and change before going home so I feel better. And as a way of trying to get tired enough to sleep.

On the night of Monday 12th I didn't get to sleep. Nor on the Wednesday, nor on the night of the Bank Holiday. I was fine during my week off at home. There's another post about that, but having insomnia is no fun, especially when it's the no-sleep-at-all variety. 

I met my nephew at the Tate Modern cafe after work one Friday to help him with a statement for university application. He still wants to go and he still wants to study some combination of History, Politics and Philosophy. Since he's working and doing all sorts of interesting stuff - webmaster, architectural photographer, marcoms production - his desire is strong. I would have, I think, given up. The idea of explaining why one wants to study a subject at university strikes me as silly, but maybe the world is full of kids who know they need a piece of paper and don't really care what it is, along as it says Upper Second.

I tried using the Overground from Calpham Junction to Shoreditch High Street. It takes longer, but it's restful and doesn't have the crowds. I won't use it all the time, but every now and then it's a change.

I watched a bunch of DVD's, including Big Boys Gone Bananas, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, Pumping Iron (finally!), Of Time and The City, Chris Marker's Level Five, Park Row, Howl, Godard's Film Socialisme, and the two programmes about Sylvie Guillam: Portrait and At Work. I read The Swerve, The Pop Revolution, Future Babble, Paris Peasant, The Night, Octopus, a couple of short studies of Rothko and Jaspers, and two books of pop-ish sports psychology: Mind Gym and Peak Performance Every Time.

And then it was over, and September is almost over already.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

City of London Towers at Dusk

Sis and I went to high-end kosher restaurant 1701 the other week and came out on Bevis Marks at exactly the magic moment of dusk. We snapped away with our cameras - iPhone for me, AS510 for Sis, and got these. The City just doesn't look any better than this.

Monday, 2 September 2013

New District / Circle Line Rolling Stock Test

So I'm standing on Sloane Square station a couple of Tuesday evenings back during a week off work, when something strange comes into the station. Whoo-hoo new rolling stock on test!

Just looked this up, and it's called the S-stock, and is the through-corridor stock that's used on the Met line now. Fewer seats, more standing, seven cars. (That's a lot of people standing by Hammersmith eastbound in the rush hour.)