Wednesday, October 19, 2005

TV Time

Last night's chalice circle topic had to do with our relationship with food. Nobody but the leader knew the topic, and everybody but him brought food. Hah.

I got home pretty much after everyone had fallen asleep, so I cleaned up the kitchen and cycled some laundry and fed the cat. Then I stayed up for the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

Jon interviewed Bill O'Reilly. Jon was a gracious host but didn't let Bill get away with much. Like this exchange:
Bill: There's a lot of bad people out there and it's our job to go after them.
Stewart: So when are you going to start?

What I realize TDS was doing by having O'Reilly on was giving their viewers a chance to see just who Colbert is parodying (how many Comedy Central viewers actually watch Fox News I wonder?) and that's why Jon didn't go too tough on him... it was a better lead-in for Colbert to give O'Reilly plenty of leash and let him foam at the mouth a bit. Which he did of course. 'Twas fun.

Colbert is clearly still ironing out the wrinkles in the show, at one point confessing how hard it is to fill a show with 22 minutes of news. But I enjoyed that as well. I'm going to miss them both when we dump our cable. But at least we'll still have it tonight for the 2nd season premiere of Drawn Together.

Wow this is the most focused I've been on TV since the last election.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Syracuse Fast Break

Last night our minister met with the 15 or so people who did the three-day fast that coincided with the end of his month-long one. He'd prepared a wonderful and simple meal.

Before we ate, though, we lit candles and read aloud the names of the servicemen and women who had died in Iraq since his fast started a month ago (there were about 50 I believe). And remembered that many more Iraqis whose names we don't know have died as well. And then we sang "Spirit of Life", one of my favorite hymns.

The meal started with a single strawberry for an appetizer; my appetite didn't need much encouragement. But we all took our time nibbling at our strawberries, enjoying the texture and flavor. Then we had a tasty apple-squash soup the minister had prepared, along with some lovely homemade challah bread prepared by one of the other fasters. For dessert, the minister served up a very nice pear and raspberry custard.

I was fortunate to be sitting at the minister's table, and so once we started eating, got to hear some of his stories about food-related experiences during the month, some of which were pretty funny. (Note to self: if you want to have good anecdotes, you need to do something unusual once in a while.) We also talked about ritual and community aspects of eating, and I surprised people with the fact that my wife has made sure we eat dinner all together, with a chalice lighting and reading first. Of course I wasn't home last night, but my family wasn't all that deprived: they had Chinese take-out.

Afterwards we chatted about our experiences. Most felt what I did: a bit of a high, lightness, clarity, calm. More energy. A few had negative experiences: headaches, nausea, lack of energy. One of the things many noticed was that we were more deliberate, more intentional about everything. Perhaps it's just because we were being so intentional about food, and that touches so much of what we do.

We also talked about how hunger is part of many people's lives, whether because of choice, eating disorders, or poverty. How even 150 years ago many people needed to make sure their root cellars were full up by now or else they'd starve in the spring. Talked about eating locally and seasonally as a way to reduce energy consumption, or how as energy prices rise we might not be able to afford the luxury of fresh strawberries in October. One woman suggested it might be nice to do this regularly, like every 6 months. Yeah. Fasting is a good place to visit. I want to go back.

But I did enjoy eating again. And this morning, I slowly savored every bit of the eggroll my family saved for me.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Fasting Journal, day 3

I didn't get around to writing yesterday. Probably because it was busy at work and because I didn't feel like withdrawing from my family in the evening.

One of the interesting things is that I'm not really missing food, it's more like breaking the habit of eating. I'm paying a lot more attention to the way things look and smell (the air this morning was delightful). Things appear sharper, clearer to all my senses. I feel high.

I think I have more energy. After downing some fruit juice, I enjoyed a half-hour run with Oldest Son yesterday. I've had no trouble focusing at work. In fact, it feels like I've been more productive, though that might just be a placebo or observer effect.

I feel calmer too. Last night at home things were very hectic and it was the kind of night that would normally have had me blow my stack, but I felt oddly even. I don't even feel like I need as much sleep: this morning I woke up after only about 6 hours and felt quite rested.

I'm wondering if caloric deprivation is something humans have evolved to manage: if we're geared toward cycles of feast and famine? If so that could explain the extra energy I feel. I don't think it's "natural" to eat the equivalent of a feast three times a day.

No startling insights, but I have been thinking about things. Yesterday on NPR they were talking about whether and when to withdraw troops from Iraq. I remarked that we should consider the state of that country, the old "we broke it, we bought it" notion before we just unconditionally start withdrawing forces. My wife asked me if I wasn't doing it to get the troops home, what was I fasting for? I thought for a few seconds, and said "for peace".

I think making peace is a lot trickier than walking away from fighting.

Tonight a group of us at church are meeting to break fast with the minister. In a way I'm starting to mourn my fasting self. I know I can't continue to not eat, but it feels a shame to have to start. I remember this feeling from the last time I did an extended fast, having to slowly make myself eat again. I think I can understand eating disorders a bit better, so much of eating is about habit and mental state.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Fasting Journal, day 1

It's only the first day of my three-day fast, and already I am becoming enlightened. So far I have learned that:
  • Quitting coffee three days before starting a fast is a Good Idea.

  • I do not particularly like carrot juice.

  • My office is a comfortably close distance to the nearest toilet. My car, however, is not.

  • When I don't eat, I get hungry.
More wisdom to come...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Holy days

Tonight I've begun a three day fast. I ate dinner tonight, my wife's pasta e fagioli and two of the small, delicate chocolate chip cookies my son baked. Not quite three days really, but I don't need to quibble. Until Thursday night it's juice, herbal tea and water. No cookies, no wasabi peas, no midafternoon "walks" that happen to swing by the campus CVS and result in a bag of candy following me back to my office.

Why am I doing this? I admit I wasn't sure when I signed up, it just seemed like a good idea. But I've given it a little thought and have settled on three interlocking themes: solidarity, discipline, and healing.

Solidarity with my minister, who I consider one of the few spiritual leaders I've ever had reason to want to follow. He's been at this for most of a month. He's garnered attention, and not just for himself, but also for his congregation, his religion, and all the other people who oppose this unjust and undeclared "war" and feel powerless to do much about it.

I'm also doing it in solidarity with other members of my congregation, and on behalf of the others who may not be participating, or at least not to the same degree, but who I know are behind us. The way I used to support, in spirit, the members of my other congregation who marched in protest of the School of the Americas. It's a small thing, but something I can do.

Fasting is an opportunity to practice a spiritual and physical discipline. For several days I've been cutting out the unnecessary eating, and the alcohol and caffeine, in preparation. It complements the running begun mainly to help my Oldest Son get started but which is gradually changing from dreaded chore to antcipated activity.

The last time I fasted this long was about 20 years and 20 pounds ago, but I still recall the clarity and lightness I felt. I'm hoping for some of that sense of focus, and some of the extra time not spent obtaining, preparing, serving, and consuming food. Of course a good deal of that time will be spent peeing, but some of the time left will be for being aware of my thoughts, recording and perhaps sharing them.

I've never been much for meditation, at least the way I've understood it. But I've always known of and believed in the healthful effects it can have. I just haven't accepted the religious language attached to it. It's similar to the way spinal manipulation helps my back despite my not believing everything my chiropractor says.

For months now, maybe years, I've been focusing on ills and hardships. From the grand scale of hurricanes and earthquakes, war and pandemic, down to the financial, physical and emotional problems that are inescapable in a household, a family.

Like nearly everyone who wakes up in the morning, I feel there must be some purpose to each day. But I believe as Rev. Nick Cardell said that it is I who must give dignity to my life if I am to be worthy of the design, or build upon the accident. So I don't expect any lightning bolt answers from on high or even within, just some quiet time to understand the voice inside me.

And maybe in some tiny way, the healing I can work on myself will ripple outward, through my family, my congregation, my community, my country, the world. It's not much, in the way one grain of sand isn't much, and yet a brick building can't exist without all those grains of sand.

This fast then is my holiday, holy days, during which I both engage and detach from the world around me. A time I try to regain some balance lost, for me and my world.

Monday, October 03, 2005

NIDS: cutting-edge or quackery?

I was on a panel at a local autism/aspergers conference this past weekend. I'm glad I went, both to represent parents and people on the spectrum, and to keep an eye on what therapists and parents are being sold as autism treatment.

In the first presentation, a nurse representing the NIDS (Neuro-immune Dysfunction Syndrome) camp, used a great deal of "we think" and "hypothesis" type language, a big improvement from when I met her a few months ago and she was talking about how "we KNOW what causes autism".

But I'm still uncomfortable with a lot of what they say: there's a lot of talk about normalizing the immune system, as though they had already established a causal relationship between immune response and autism (they haven't even attempted any studies AFAIK). To say nothing of any efforts at testing whether or not the NIDS Protocol (dietary mods, antivirals and antifungals and antibiotics) actually does anything useful to help kids with autism (it's always kids, you know). The line is basically get the kids' immune responses "normalized" and then they get therapy.

I guess if the therapy works, it's because of the NIDS protocol. And if it doesn't, it must be the wrong therapy.

I just read this entry on quackery in Prometheus' blog and I think it describes Goldberg's approach very well. His approach takes difficult to diagnose disorders (CFS, Autism) and replaces them with made-up diseases (CFIDS, NIDS), and adds a protocol that requires special expertise to design and administer, tests that take special expertise to interpret, and promises nothing at all.

So I'm going to keep my eye on the NIDS crew. So far they seem to be flying largely under the radar of the mainstream autism establishment.