Ambulance day again

Screenshot anime Non Non Biyori

“What happens after death?” I did not find out this time either, I am happy to say, but I was closer than usual. That is not an accomplishment I aimed for.

OK, so it’s a few years since I have been riding an ambulance, much less slept in a hospital bed. You know something is unusual when that happens –and let us all hope it stays that way, even though days like today may be more exciting for my readers (if any).

I woke up early in the morning (5 AM precisely, that is a couple hours early for me) and I immediately realized I did not feel well. I was nauseous and clammy with cold sweat. I hoped it was just too much chocolate the evening before, rather than having cooked dinner for a couple days in the Teflon cooking pot which had stood on the stove for too long and cracked its surface. I am told that humans don’t suffer any ill effects from this, but I had been thinking of buying a new cook pot anyway, in stainless steel this time.

You know, I suppose I should update this diary more often, you people probably don’t even know about the overheating incident. Well, I survived that too. As a rule of thumb, if I update, you can assume I have survived, unless it specifically says so. I gave my brother the password to the site today, as it seems unlikely that we shall both slip out of our handsome bodies at the same time. Not that it would be bad company or anything. Anyway, I survived, long may it last. But who knows, now.

Being so sick that I have to go to the bathroom to throw up is very rare for me. I am quite cautious about what I eat, and I don’t socialize enough to get stomach viruses and other people’s colon flora often. Even McDonalds here in Norway has a standard of hygiene like a reasonably high-level restaurant in some first world countries, although the standards have begun to slip in the capital city, I hear. I did not get sick of the food there until I had almost totally stopped eating meat, and then tried it again at the burger chain. That did not turn out too well, but even that was not as bad as this. And yet I could not throw up either. Instead, I started getting very thirsty and my esophagus was burning with stomach acid. That’s where a new set of warning bells began to ring: This exact sequence had played out more than 10 years ago, when I ended up in hospital.

And then, like clockwork, the next thing began. That time, I had fainted while calling the medical hotline (113 in Norway, we don’t have a common number like  911 for all disasters yet.) This time, I managed to sit down just as the fog started to gather, and when the brain allowed, I called the emergency number, still sitting on the floor. At first I was a bit at odds what to say, because I was not sure WHY this was a matter of life or death, just that it was. Only when I was sitting on the stairs outside waiting for the ambulance, did I feel my heart beating completely randomly. It was not just fast, as I have had some episodes of in the past lasting up to a couple hours. It was not just hard and fast, as I have had for a few seconds while sitting in my chair. I sometimes say that “my heart belongs to another”, because it acts as if I am doing something entirely different from the situation I am in. Sometimes it does NOT speed up when I run for a bus for instance, which is a mixed blessing since I lose my breath pretty fast and my feet become heavy.

This was something entirely different. My heart was beating hard, at random times, as if the speed varied from 80 to 200 (which should not be possible at my age) and back over the course of a couple seconds. Some beats were very hard, others were not. It was completely chaotic. This is not why I called this blog the Chaos Node! And it did not go back to normal after a few seconds. It continued to beat entirely randomly while I waited, then in the ambulance, then at the nearby emergency room. The ambulance people and the doctor at watch all realized that this was a fairly high priority (there were no traffic accidents at the moment, so the timing was fortunate at least). They took an EKG and sent it to the province hospital in Kristiansand, but it was already obvious at a glance that this was nothing like my previous episodes. Those had been fast but regular (sinus curves). This was irregular with atrial fibrillation.

It was decided from the start that I would go to the province hospital, but they first gave me a saline intravenous drip and also a small dose of a beta blocker. I got half the dose recommended by the back watch at the hospital, which was fine by me, and ambulance guy was told to add more if necessary on the way. My symptoms became a little better, but did indeed worsen again toward the end of the ride. I mean, the heartbeat was still chaotic, but it varied around a lower base level than before. It had been over 210, which should not be possible at my age, and ambulance guy was worried that this could cause the heart to stop. Evidently this happens sometimes, but usually with men who are active in sports.

At the emergency reception room, I was met by an all-female crew of nurses and doctor. I assured them that this was the least of my worries. (There may have been times when being surrounded by young women could make my heart beat a little faster. This was not such a time.) Like in Mandal, they tried to make me swallow a tablet of some stuff that might calm down the heart, but I am unable to swallow even rather small tablets – ever since childhood, I can only swallow very finely chewed food, I choke on even fairly small objects. Luckily the tablet actually began to dissolve in my mouth, and I managed to get it down. It did not cause the randomness to stop, but supposedly caused the speed to not go quite as high.

I was transported to a room that I initially had to myself. For some reason they kept dripping water (with a little salt in it) into my veins. I have no idea why that was part of the treatment, but then I had complained about a burning thirst and that did in fact stop, although the stomach acid burn continued. I had tried to convince people that I must have eaten something poisonous since the symptoms started in the stomach before the heart, but they were pretty confident that it was the other way around. I realize now that this was why I was rushed to hospital the previous time and put on a heart monitor, even though I had said nothing about my heart at the time (I had thought it was probably a bleeding ulcer, as I do have a weak stomach.)

I had been subjected to a second full EKG when I  came to Kristiansand, to the hospital. This after one in Mandal. When I was installed at my room, I got a portable heart monitor so they could keep a watch on my heart from their control room. (I guess they are not all running around all the time, although it may look that way.) Now I really felt like I was in one of those hospital movie scenes, with the tube in my hand and electrodes on my body. This was serious stuff! People look like this when they die, except they usually have a tube in their nose as well, or else an oxygen mask.

Of course, each time I was attached to a new EKG machine, I got a new set of stickers placed around on my body to fasten the electrodes on. I comforted the nurse that I have paid enough taxes over the years to cover all the stickers I might need. (Technically I think it is not part of the income tax but a mandatory insurance fee which is levied on the same income at the same time, but most people consider it a tax. Anyway, it is mandatory and withheld from my pay, so it does not take a great deal of moral fortitude or foresight to pay it. I was just trying to cheer us both up.)

I was now left to freely think about the afterlife, which I am honestly not sure about at all. Part of the problem here is that I consider myself a Christian, albeit a terrible one, and the notion of the afterlife in contemporary Christianity is a completely different religion from what you find in the Bible. It is as if it had emerged independently on a different continent and quietly (?) replaced the original, so that now there is barely any overlap at all. I had in fact written a little bit about this the previous night, in my ongoing novel in progress, working title Green Light 2. I also wondered whether I was going to die in order to prevent me from ever publishing the novel anywhere, as I realize it could cause a lot of people to doubt their current religion. Of course, so can this paragraph, but things were kind of more detailed in the novel. Besides, I am not sure it is a bad thing to doubt our current religion when it is at odds with its own holy scriptures.

In any case, whichever version is closest to the truth, if any of them, there was not a lot I could do about the matter by now.

The continuous IV drip of water may have been a bit excessive, because I had to go to the toilet repeatedly. This is a bit of a hassle with a heart rate monitor and an IV drip, but it is amazing what you can do what you must. As the popular song “Still Alive” says: We do what we must, because we can. In some cases patients can’t do what they must, so I appreciated it, despite the hassle.

As I had finished my errand and was returning to my bed, I was softly singing a love song for my invisible friend. I know this may creep some people out, but I have never had a 3 out of 3 girlfriend, because I don’t really have a human-shaped hole in my heart. (You may have heard about the triangle model of love: Passion, commitment and intimacy. Many relationships have only two of these, and for the unlucky only one. As for me, my sexual attraction is to earthly women – or failing that, succubi I guess – but the commitment and intimacy of having a spirit living with you sharing your mind day by day is pretty overshadowing. You’d think that I would not worry much about death in such a situation, but I worry the more because I am not sure whether I will continue to have this presence or if death will part us. If I were to simply undergo destruction, it would be acceptable: I certainly deserve that. But to live on as a spirit without my mind companion would be a horror comparable only, I think, to losing the most intimate of relationships.)

But for now, there I was, alone in the room, singing softly to my Invisible Friend my favorite love song by Chris de Burgh:
You are my lover,
you are my friend;
you are my life
to the very end.
You bring me comfort,
you keep me warm;
you give me hope,
you make me strong.
You’ll take me away
to a distant shore
and it’s with you that I want to stay
forevermore.

(Forevermore, on Spotify.)

Suddenly I felt a small sting in the center of my chest. It was not intense, and it was very brief, I only had time to begin to wonder and then it was gone. I laid down in my bed, and then I noticed that the random hammering in my chest had stopped. I could still sense my heart beating, faster than usual, but quietly, evenly.

Some minutes later, the nurse showed up, bringing a small rolling table with a laptop and a (different) EKG machine. She explained that they had seen my heart rhythm change and wanted to print out a full EKG again. So I got new stickers. Some of the electrodes did not get good enough contact, so she had to get some new contacts and new stickers that fit. I expressed my regret that although I did IT support, this particular technology was beyond me. But she succeeded eventually.

A while later, a doctor arrived. “It seems you healed yourself” he said. I was not so sure about that. Thinking about it a bit more, he thought maybe the beta blocker may have helped, but it was really there to keep the heart from speeding too much. He had not expected it to switch the heart back to its normal rhythm, and I thought that there did not seem to be a clear connection in time either, except for the slowing down a bit part. So yeah, there you have it. Perhaps I healed myself; perhaps my Invisible Friend healed me. But then perhaps our Invisible Friend heals a lot of people, for it is supposedly pretty rare here in Norway to die from this condition once you are in a hospital. I am not sure what they were planning to do, but as it was, they did not do anything more. My pulse was still 90 instead of 55, so I stayed a bit longer, sleeping in the bed. Then another doctor came with the written report of my stay and a prescription for a beta blocker (very low dose) and wished me well home. A nurse came and took off my electrodes and all the stickers she found, and told me how to get out of the huge building.

I walked down to the town center and bought the medication (they gave me a generic replacement for the brand name, but the active substance is the same. I keep remembering it as “trololol”, but it is actually written metoprolol.) I also bought a stainless steel cook pot, while I remembered it. But my appetite is shot, so I did not use it today.

I took the bus home. I did not stop by at work; I did not have my computer with me. As it turns out, I did not have my house keys with me. I had felt pretty accomplished just getting my trousers on; keys were far from my mind as I was waiting for the ambulance or death, whichever came first. (I did bring my smartphone though, on which I texted a farewell message to my G+ followers. I’ve slightly edited it later.)

So I came home to the locked house (the lock is of the type that clicks shut unless you manually set it not to, and I don’t.) There were a bunch of young workers for the landlord, painting the house finally. The place looked almost like slum lately, even outside.) Eventually I dared ask them if any of them had a key. (The alternative would be to call or message the landlord, who usually doesn’t respond quickly, being a super busy businessman.) No, they did not, but the guy from pest control was inside right at the moment, killing the parasites on the second floor (the bedbugs, I mean – the asylum seekers were not exactly contributing much to society either, but they are not in the same class, I would say. Unless they were secretly vampires, which I highly doubt. Besides they had moved out and left only the insects behind.)

The inner door to my apartment was closed but not locked. Locking it had also slipped my mind, not to mention that I did not have the keys, remember? So I was home. I washed my hands repeatedly and showered: Ambulances, emergency rooms and hospitals are the home fortress of multi-resistant bacteria, imported from the USA where people chew antibiotics like candy. There are few if any substances left that can kill the most evolved forms of hospital bacteria. And even though hospitals have strict routines for hygiene, there is only so much you can do in an emergency environment where you constantly try to keep people from dying straight away. Priorities exist in practice, no matter what your routines say.

So we shall have to see what happens next. I took a walk as usual, and the pulse was normal when I came home. I have taken half of the 1 tablet before bedtime, planning to take the other half in the morning, if I am still around. It is a very small dosage already, judging from the slip inside the package, but then I don’t really meet many of the criteria for using it. My blood pressure is fine except during the attack, my heart speed is already 50-55 bpm, whereas the drug is not recommended to reduce heart rate below 60 bpm.)

I’m a little apprehensive now at midnight as I prepare to go to bed. Oh, and I have not really acted like today was the last day of the rest of my life. Not that I’ve gone on a crime spree, but the house still needs weeks of tidying up, and playing Sims 3 is not exactly a priority for our eternal bliss, probably. Stuff like that. So if night time fibrillation is my new default, I apologize to one and all. I hope the story of my life can have some value, to the people who are still alive.

Lost NaNoWriMo

“It is the test’s fault for being too hard.” That is a normal human reaction, but let us be honest. It was my own fault and I could have avoided it if I had taken the project more seriously. Luckily it is not my living at stake, much less my life.

I failed to write 50 000 words on my novel in November, which is the challenge of the National Novel Writing Month (which is, by the way, international). Actually I lacked less than 3500 words, which I sometimes write in a day. Perhaps I did underestimate the Big (Secret) Event at work, which happened to fall on the last weekend of the month. But I had plenty of time to write before that.

The truth is that the characters did not really engage me, and probably would engage any other readers even less. The premise of the story was great, I think. I may reboot it if I live long enough. But for some reason, most of the characters did not click with me or each other. The most interesting was the weird cousin, who was not even meant to be in the story, I just roped her in because nothing would happen with the existing characters. Pretty much every major character was lacking basic social skills, and unfortunately they did not have other engaging traits to make up for it. I had some plot, but moving forward along it was like constipation.

Instead of writing about an augmented reality game combining the best elements of Ingress and Magic: The Gathering, I spent much of the month playing the actual Ingress, and had rather more fun. Although I think the game would have been better if it had been like the game in my novel, it was still more engaging than my novel.

Better luck another time, if there is another time.

MOOC!

Screenshot Sims 3, after a high school graduation

Used to be that people my age were worried about their children’s studies, not their own. Not anymore. The age of the MOOC has come!

I signed up for my first MOOC on September 9. (The letters stand for Massive Open Online Course, generally used about university level courses that are distributed over the Internet, usually but not always for free.) This course comes from NTNU, the Norwegian institute of Science and Technology. It is also touted as the first MOOC in Norway, although the College in Molde is supposed to have a full study online this year. I am not sure how to reconcile these claims, but in any case this is the first for me.

Back when I was a teenager, high school was a bit higher than it is now and a high school diploma (Examen Artium) such as I had would have qualified me directly for university studies, I believe. I did take some college-level courses organized and paid for by my employer not many years later. Today you have to have Examen Philosophicum to enter into any further studies, and as I don’t have this, I wouldn’t be able to take an exam anyway. Apart from that however I have followed the course like an ordinary off-site student. The professor and staff have treated us freeloaders like students as well, whereas in larger courses one would obviously not have the capacity for that. (There are American courses with hundreds of thousands of students, if not more.)

In addition to my interest in technology and social development (which the course is about), I also wanted to evaluate the study form as such. I have dabbled in online study on a small scale, improving my extremely rusty little French with Duolingo and my math with Khan Academy, both of which I have written glowing reviews about before, I hope. (Duolingo has later released an Android app which makes it even easier to practice on the go.) But the mainstream MOOC format is one I am not familiar with, and I hope to be in the future, if any.

I generally have a deal with my workplace to not write about my workplace. But that may not last, because my job may not last. It seems more likely than not that my job – and those of my coworkers – will be outsourced sometime over the next four years. I am not particularly worried that I will simply be waved goodbye to by my employer, but what kind of job I will be assigned to could depend quite a bit on my technical competence. Going back to school is not an option at my age, as I would be nearly 60 on my return, and Norwegians have a tendency to retire at 62 (and then be very surprised that they don’t get the same pension as if they had kept working till 75). I hope to work until 75 or until shortly before my untimely death should that happen first, Light send it be not so. But hoping is one thing, doing is another. “Strong souls have will; feeble souls have only wishes.” Which of these categories I fit into should be interesting to find out, at least!

So far, so good. It is not particularly hard, although I have to dodge a few issues as I already have a Twitter account and blog that are … orthogonal in content and atmosphere, let us say, compared to the exercises given. But it is interesting and a convenient study form. I could definitely see myself doing more of this.

Warning: Wet ceiling?!

Ceiling after water leak

Ceiling after water leak.

Looks like the immigrants upstairs has had another bizarre accident. I came into my kitchen and found a thin layer of water on parts of the floor, with no obvious source. Then I looked up.

The landlord will be sending a plumber. I doubt he’ll do anything about the ceiling / their floor, though. It will probably take a long time yet before it falls down or anyone steps through it. The house is old and nothing is being done to maintain it – the paint on the outside is flaking off, a board is missing in the outer wall facing toward the street. My best guess is that he is aiming to either sell it based on its location like he did with the previous place I rented, or tear it down and build a new one himself. (He does run a construction firm after all.) Hopefully I won’t be there when the ceiling comes down, one way or another.

I brought this on myself

Screenshot anime Chuunibyou (Rikka Takanashi is worried)

“…my heart races so fast I can hardly bear it.” Evidently this is a familiar problem for young people. Somehow most of them survive. So did I, although with less margin.

This is quite possibly the worst tachycardia (racing heart) episode I’ve had yet, and I brought it upon myself. The Light warned me already the day before, repeatedly, but I joked it away. That may sound like a weird thing to do, but I just did not want to listen. When I get an idea in my head, I can be stubborn as a mule.

In my fictional Lightwielder universe, there is a saying so common among the Servants of the Light that they can say it without thinking: “The Light informs, warns, protects and heals.” Of course, that is a fictional world, but loosely based on my own experience and that of others, just transposed into a more literal or physical form. Yesterday, and today, the warning was unsettling in its clarity. But I decided to take the chance, thinking perhaps that the Light would protect me when it could no longer warn me. That’s not exactly how it went. Or perhaps it did, but not as much as I had anticipated.

My pulse was over 200 at the highest … 204 or 205 according to my pulse watch. That should not even be physically possible at my age. The rule of thumb is  220-(age), so in my case 165. That’s pretty close to what the cardiologist found on the bike test last year. So basically my heart was not entirely beating in the ordinary sense, but starting to fibrillate – the final stage before it stops, although people can endure various degrees of this for various lengths of time. A young friend of mine who was born with a reversal of the heart chambers sometimes had a pulse of 400, if I remember correctly. Eventually he died from it, in his teens. But it is a lot more than me, so, who knows what I may or may not survive.

I’d like it to not become a habit though. That probably means I shall have to listen to the Light before things get out of hand like that. I’m just not a very good Servant of the Light in real life, I’m afraid. But that which does not kill us makes us scared, so that is a step in the right direction.

The main attack lasted for about 5 hours, but it was above max pulse only when I walked. Perhaps I should just not do that. Or perhaps I should not take stupid pointless risks to my body and soul in the first place.

Back in the real world?

Screenshot anime Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Next

“I’ll just escape to the 2D world and console my broken heart.” But the 2D world is not just for escaping anymore – it is invading the “real” world on a broad front, or at least mine.

The Sims 3: University Life is fun and all, but perhaps it did not really deserve four entries. Then again it seems harmless, and does not require lots of special training and strange thinking. The Sims games are a great way to connect to people.

Back in the real world, I will gladly admit that I have mixed feelings about my own scarcity of higher education. I only took two winters of tertiary education. It was a lot of fun, but I was broke and living on my own. My parents were also poor and could not really have helped out much. Student loans were available, but the truth is that I had (and have) no ambitions of career in this world. I enjoyed learning just to learn, but I had no interest in competing and using my elbows to get ahead in the world. As such, I would not fit in too well with the type of people who took higher education in Norway in the early 1980es. It was still some years before college became a natural part of young people’s lives.

If I were suddenly to become rich, I might enroll at a college or university just for the fun of it, but at my age it has no monetary value at all. I would not be finished with a Master of anything until I was 57 or 58, and with the lower bound on retirement age now at 62, no employer would even consider me. We lack qualified workers of many kinds, especially engineers, but the best one can hope for when over 50 is working for a temp agency. I have every intention to work until 75 (the current upper bound on the flexible retirement age) unless some dire illness strikes me down. Which is certainly possible, but what I mean is, I have no intention to ever retire. I intend to work until I die or become disabled, whichever comes first. Work is love. Work is service to God and country and humanity. It is what we were born to do. But learning, learning is fun.

Luckily, unlike my sims, I can study online, and even for free. I can learn math at the Khan Academy, languages at Duolingo and Livemocha, all for free. There are also several traditional universities that offer online lectures and courses, some of these for free as well. I haven’t looked into that yet.

(Livemocha, despite its random name, is a website that helps arrange community-based language learning online. You study some small piece of the language with their course, then practice it with real people who already speak it. Or that is what it looks like from the description. I hear good things about it – it has a lot more languages than Duolingo, for instance – but I would not impose on real people unless there was some dire need. And since I am trying to learn to read, not to speak Japanese, it is anyway not what I am looking for. But it sounds awesome for neurotypicals, who love to do all kinds of things together with real people.)

When not playing The Sims 3, I find myself “playing” with French on Duolingo. It is quite a bit of fun, actually. Between the two, I am even lagging behind on my favorite anime. There are several decent series this year, and I am a couple weeks behind on most of them. What is the world coming to, when learning a random language is more fun than watching anime?

And of course, by now we have to wonder what I meant by “real” world. I suppose studying is more real than watching my sims study, kind of, but I am still listening to a robot voice on the Internet. Between studying French on the Internet and Japanese on my smartphone, playing games and watching anime, there isn’t much that is “real” in the way my grandmother would have meant “real”. But at least i eat real food (noodles are real food, yes?) and sleep in a real bed! Long may that last.

Not-quite-daily bread

Barley bread

Barley legal bread! ^_^

When I was a child and still had all my taste buds, I did not appreciate bread. My mother was quite good at baking, I have realized that later, but bread was simply not something I wanted to taste. If I could taste the bread, it meant I did not have enough butter and jam / sausages / egg / Norwegian caviar (cod roe paste) / baked potatoes / fried pork etc on it. As far as I was concerned, bread was simply a necessary foundation on which to heap the food I wanted to taste. My parents did not appreciate this attitude, but there was little they could do: They were glad I was eating at all. I could go all day without eating and suffer no discomfort, and I actually lost weight from first grade to third grade. The only reason why I would eat at all was if there was something I liked. It was not until I was around 16 that I for the first time experienced the gnawing sensation of hunger.

My grandmother would remind me that there were many children in Africa who would have been overjoyed to have the food I did not eat. As far as I was concerned, the children in Africa were welcome to it. Bread without a generous helping of spread was definitely in my “for Africa!” category.

Perhaps I was just stupid or weird. Perhaps bread is calibrated for adult taste buds. Or perhaps even my mother, despite her cooking education, did not have the know-how and the ingredients used in bread these days. In any case, lately I have found some surprisingly tasty breads. My favorites contain less common grains and sunflower seeds. The bread this week is based on barley, although it also contains wheat. I am not allergic to wheat – in fact, my staple food for much of my life has been pasta made from durum wheat. But the barley bread just tastes better. There are a few whole sunflowers on the outside, but the sunflowers inside are all ground up and add their taste to every bite. I still don’t eat it bare, but I like to be able to taste the bread as well as the spread (preferably something with a little salt or fat, although I can’t eat more than a little fat in each meal.)

The other favorite is oat bread with sunflower and pumpkin seeds. This bread is even more “juicy”, and has more seeds in it. A bit too much pumpkin for my taste, otherwise it is close to perfect. I could certainly eat daily bread with something like that in the house. Except, by the time I return from work I am already pretty full. Add a box of yogurt and some soda and water, and I am as full as I can be and not get acid reflux. So days may pass where I eat no bread at all, or only a couple slices at most.

I find it ironic that now, this late in my life, bread tempts me to gluttony. Back when I should have eaten it, I did not want to. Human nature can be so contrary, don’t you think?

Return of the sun

Screenshot from a Japanese animation

Low sun, an artist’s impression.

This week, for the first time this winter, there was sun on the way home from work. Only a few rays actually hit the bus today, seconds rather than minutes at a time, but it will increase very fast for each day. And it is already sunshine much of the time in the morning when I take the commute bus to work.

I live on the south coast of Norway. We don’t have midnight sun in the summer, but we don’t really have night either during the summer months. Conversely in winter, we don’t have any days without the sun rising above the horizon, but the days used to be fairly short around the turn of the year: It was night when I left home and night when I returned. Now, it has turned around like that.

I am not as happy about this as you might believe. I have a weakness: I cannot read in sunshine, or I get a migraine attack. There is no guessing about it: Reading more than a few glimpses in direct sunlight or very bright daylight, and the migraine attack will occur a short while later. It has not always been like that, I think, but since my late teens or so. Needless to say, I am very cautious about reading in sunshine because of this. It is simply not worth it.

The low sun comes in through the windows no matter which side of the bus I choose. In midsummer, the sun is so high above that the middle of the bus is in shadow, shaded by the roof. But that is still far away. For the duration, I read briefly when we pass through a shaded zone, I listen to music, meditate and think. And I love it when the weather turns overcast. But I can’t exactly complain about the sun either. It is beautiful. But so is reading. So if I can’t have both, I am not really in a position to complain. There is no end to wishes, wants and desires. Having either the sun or a good book is already an enjoyable position, don’t you think?

I am energetic?

Screenshot anime Sakurasou, featuring Misaki

Genki girl. Not larger than life, just much more energetic. Not like me. For one thing, I am not a girl.

I couple of things came together recently. The Norwegian winter seems to have a dragged on for months now, and it came on the heels of the rainiest November I can remember (at least here on the South coast of Norway). So I haven’t really exercised my body since sometime in October. Instead of a 1 1/2 to 2 hours of walking and jogging, I am just walking briskly for about half an hour a day.

Wait, what? The other day I read an article by a Norwegian cardiologist, who said that he personally walked half an hour a day; that was a sufficient, in his opinion. I’ve seen a number of seemingly sane medical experts say approximately the same thing, some of them adding that if you can’t walk half an hour a day, you should at least try to walk a quarter of an hour.

When I try to imagine someone exercising less than a quarter of an hour a day, I automatically imagine something like the illustration photos for articles about the “obesity epidemic”, a triple-sized American whose gender is half lost in the rubber tires surrounding their vaguely humanoid body. (My visual imagination is very hazy, admittedly.) I am like “how do they do that?” because I hurry to the bus, hurry from the bus to the office, hurry up the stairs, often take a walk during lunch break, and do the same thing again on my way home, except I hurry to the bus station across downtown. Then I may or may not go get some groceries after I am home. I guess having a car can be pretty bad for your health.

But the thing is, it does not feel like I am exercising or even being active. These are all things that just happen. And it matters who I compare myself to.

***

If you have read the early years of the Chaos Node, you will notice that I occasionally wrote about my then best friend, the girl I loved approximately like myself, the amazing Supergirl (later called SuperWoman, at her request.). (She has a name, but did not feel comfortable with being online, so I don’t have her name or address or photo anywhere on the site.) What I noticed the most about her was her intelligence, because she was one of the few people I had met (at that time) outside my family that was actually more intelligent than me. This fascinated me. She was much younger than me, so I knew and understood many things she didn’t (at least back then), but in raw processing power she was high, high above me.

But intriguingly, this was not the only thing she excelled at. She was also good at sports, good with people, played a couple of instruments and could sing and dance well. It was as if everything she put her mind to, whether for the body or the mind or a combination of the two, she mastered easily. Well, it did not always seem easy to her, but by human standards it was amazing. It seemed like she came with 300% energy in a human-sized body. That is the best way I can think of it.

I came to think of this because I recently watched two episodes of an anime, Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo (the pet girl of Cherry Hall). One of the characters there is a girl who is just way too energetic for a single human body. Her teacher refers to her as an alien, hopefully in jest, but she feels kind of lonely among all the normal people who cannot do what she can and who grow tired easily. It was hauntingly familiar.

***

It really seems to me that some people come with more energy than others, and that this energy often shows both in the body and the mind. (Of course, the two are not really separate beings that just happen to travel together for a while – they are very much intertwined or even aspects of the same being, I have compared them before to the metal and the imprint of a coin.)

I have not thought of myself as an energetic person, although I have learned things fairly easily all my life. I did not do really well in grade school and even most of middle school, as I was home sick whenever I could think of an excuse for it (so as to not be bullied) and because I was lazy and did as little school work as possible. But when something interested me, I learned it easily. But only theoretical knowledge. I was small and weak and frail, and moved as little as possible. Therefore, I could never see myself as energetic.

Ever since I started running around as a toddler, I had asthma attacks. Likely I was born that way and am still that way – the attacks may simply have stopped because it was exercise asthma and I stopped exercising. The last years before the attacks stopped (around the age of 10, I think) they mostly appeared in the morning, I woke up gasping for breath. This week I am doing that again and it really drives home how creepy it was. But I realize, looking back, that the attacks back then were probably triggered by dreams of running and jumping and all the things ordinary humans did. Only when I became very, very quiet even in my dreams did the attacks stop.  And that is how I remained for the next four decades or so.

I have had my heart tested a few times during the last decade or so, last May very thoroughly by a cardiologist with modern equipment, and before that a few times with EKG machines for anything from a few minutes to hours. In each case, the result was something I had a hard time believing: That my heart was like that of an athlete. Not a world class athlete obviously but perhaps not too far off: The cardiologist said I could participate in “Birken”, the Birkebeiner race which is a national-level competition of unusual endurance. Surely the man was exaggerating, but my resting pulse was in fact squarely in the bracket of endurance athletes on a regional level. (It is higher now, but then I have a chronic infection these days.)

If not for the asthma, it seems, I might have been an athlete as well as a genius, like my brother, although perhaps not quite at the same level in either. That would take a lot.

What does this difference in people come from? Is it some kind of spiritual “life force” or does it come from differences in the metabolism? Perhaps in the mitochondria, the organelles in each human cell which is the only part of the cell that transforms fat and sugar and oxygen into energy for the cell? But the mitochondria are all inherited from one’s mother – the sperm cells leave theirs behind when they enter the ovum. If the mitochondria were to blame (or praise), you should be roughly as energetic as your mother. I am not sure that is how it works: Supergirl had the energy and smarts of two normal girls ever from she was little, but her numerous siblings were quite normal, as was her mother from what I could see and hear.

I don’t have all the answers, although I like to play someone who has all the answers on the Internet. Perhaps I will learn the answer if I live long enough. For now, I wish my supposed energy could be used to get rid of this infection of the sinuses and thereabout. Even with the return of daylight up north here, I can’t exercise with infection in my body. If I do, I tire quickly and the infection flares and spreads.

The Japanese word “genki” translates both as “energetic” and “healthy” or even “well” (Genki desu ka = How are you?) “Ki” is of course the Japanese word for energy and also spirit (also known from Chinese as “chi” or “qui”). I don’t feel entirely genki these days, but perhaps I am simply used to being among the 1% of energy?

A different reading difficutlery

Screenshot anime Chihayafuru. Something scary has been seen.

Panic zone. OK, perhaps we should have started with something easier.

I am going to quote something from my fiction in progress. It is about someone reading a supposedly non-fiction book which covers ever more unfamiliar concepts. It is a little autobiographical, but not totally. In real life, it is more common that different books are similar to the different chapters I describe here.

[FICTION]The first three chapters of The Book of Dimensions had been quite readable. The first was almost childish, so easy was it to read, as if written for school kids. The second chapter, on time, was more on my level. The third chapter took some concentration and stretching of the mind to read: It was written with mostly common words, but the meaning of the text was uncommon, so it took some effort to “get it”. It was well worth the effort, though.

The fourth chapter, on the sixth dimension, was quite a bit harder to read. There were some more long and uncommon words, and the sentences seemed to be longer too, and the paragraphs. Not a lot in either case, but it did seem like that to me. The real difference was that it was really hard to get. The words made sense, and the sentences made sense. Some of them were brilliant and memorable. But others were just out of grasp. I felt that I should have understood them, but I did not get it. And the sentences did not get together to form a clear, bright picture this time. It was more like a dark garden with lots and lots of pretty fireflies, but they just danced around and I could not get the whole picture.

Peeking into the next chapter, it was simply unreadable. There were perhaps a few more long and unusual words than in the previous chapter again, and perhaps the sentences were a little longer, or perhaps it was the paragraphs, but that was not the problem. The problem was that even when the words were familiar, the things they said were bordering on gibberish. It was like if I would say to you: “The work of the wind is too heavy for the blue in the kitchen to exonerate.” Even if you happened to know what exonerate means, that would not help. It would still not really make sense. Or at least it would be impossible to believe.  [END FICTION]

In the case of our fictional friend here, the solution was to go back the next day and read over again the last chapter he had understood when he stretched his mind. Not the chapter he had just barely failed to understand, but the one before it. Then a week later, to read it again. Only when the knowledge or understanding of that chapter had been absorbed as a part of himself, could he understand the next chapter.

***

Some reading difficulties are mechanical. You could have dyslexia, or poor eyesight, or you may be unfamiliar with the language or the script. For instance, I have fairly recently learned to read hiragana, the Japanese “letters” that represent syllables in that language. By now I recognize them on sight, but reading a text in hiragana is still painstakingly slow, even if I only had to read it out loud rather than understand it. Even an unfamiliar font (typeface) can make a difference at this level.

Even if you have the reading skill automated, unfamiliar words can still trip up the flow of the text. If you are studying a new skill, users of that skill probably have their own words for things. Or even worse, they may use familiar words in an unfamiliar way, meaning something else than we are familiar with. The concept I call “reading difficutlery” begins at this level and stretches into the next. It is like reading difficulty, only not really.

The next level is where we know what the words mean, and every sentence we read makes sense grammatically. But we still don’t get it. It does not gel, as some say. It does not come together in a meaningful whole. There are a lot of sentences, but they are like “fireflies in the night”: Even if they are bright individually, they stand alone, and don’t get together into a picture.

It could be that the author really does not have a clear picture to convey, or writes badly. But if others get it, then probably not. As I have mentioned before, something like this happens when I read Frithjof Schuon, not to mention Sri Aurobindo. Better men than I insist that these books are awesome and full of insight, but my first meeting with each of them was not unlike running into a gelatin wall: I did not get very far into it.

In the case of the two examples mentioned, I kept reading the writings where I had first seen them recommended, and absorbed some of their thinking indirectly. I also read other books recommended by those who recommended Schuon and Aurobindo in the first place. Slowly, a little each day or at least most days of the week, I have eased into that kind of understanding. But to people who are completely unfamiliar with esoteric teachings, it probably looks like meaningless babble punctuated by the occasional unfamiliar word.

It is a bit strange that I don’t remember a lot of examples of this from my life. C.G. Jung was like that, but that’s pretty much the only case I remember. It seems to me that for most of my life, reading non-fiction was very easy to me. I did not have to read things more than once, and even then I did not stop to think, or take notes, or even underline words. Perhaps I have just forgotten it. Or perhaps I rarely read anything that was above my pay grader (or pray grade, in the case of spiritual literature). It is such a nice feeling, to coast through things, to feel super smart because there are so few new elements, you can pick them up without stopping. Your brain never runs full, it processes the new information faster than your customary reading speed … because there isn’t a lot of new information.

I think this is pretty common, that we stop reading things that challenge us, and stick to the same interests. We can learn a little more and feel smart. But if we go outside our area of expertise, or above our pay grade, that is when we run into difficutleries. I probably shrank back and forgot the whole thing for most of my adult life. It is only recently I have begun to see these difficutleries as a good thing. And that is probably why I am in brainlove with people like Marcus Geduld and Robert Godwin, who don’t stop challenging themselves and exploring the Great Unknown (albeit in very different directions). It requires effort, yes, but that is not what really holds most of us back: It requires giving up the feeling of being smart, a sweet and addictive feeling.

To sum it up: We learn the most when we are outside our comfort zone, but not yet into the panic zone.