It was either the urgent need to pee or the cat’s footsteps on my face that woke me. Regardless of which intrusion on my slumber was responsible, I was rousted at roughly 5:00 this morning. I knew yesterday that this morning’s health-related routine would expose yesterday’s irresponsible behaviors. It was no surprise, then, that my weight increased, along with my blood glucose number. The fact that I got essentially no exercise yesterday exacerbated the situation. If I can muster the energy today, I will make up for three days of slothful behavior. And if I can retrieve the discipline that seems to have gone dormant, I will return to a healthy diet; no more donut holes, cookies, and other such goodies. And I will not go overboard on popcorn. Radishes must again be my go-to snack. And celery sticks.  Some days, though, I wonder whether complying with dietary restrictions is wise; I am denying myself simple pleasures just to delay the inevitable. Everyone dies, eventually. How much time, really, am I getting from these routines? Perhaps the payoff is avoidance of a slow, excruciatingly painful, demise. But there’s no guarantee of that. It’s like buying a term-life insurance policy, betting it will pay off before the policy expires, turning its alluring benefits for beneficiaries into useless, vaporous memories.

We always long for the forbidden things, and desire what is denied us.

~ Francois Rabelais ~


Thinking such morbid thoughts (depending on one’s perspectives) causes me to examine other restrictions on behavior. Why adhere to social mores when the only penalty for breaking the rules is public contempt? How difficult might it be to cope with—and survive—contempt? Perhaps being shunned would be uncomfortable, but surely it is survivable, right? It is a matter of determining the cost-benefit of “bad” behavior, isn’t it? It’s true that I might be excoriated for making advances toward a married woman, resulting in the cost of being castigated by people who matter to me. But if my overtures were successful, I would need to evaluate the benefits of the transgression, analyzing the relative “weight” of the positives versus the negatives. Incidentally, this conversation is strictly hypothetical. No romantic relationships were harmed in the making of my points.

But, on a more serious vein, the penalties for breaking the rules, whatever they are, must be sold as serious and either physically or emotionally (or both) painful. Otherwise, the rules would have little effect on restraining or encouraging (depending on the context) behavior. Even if the actual pain of transgressions is minor, we must sell it (and buy it) as far more painful than most people can tolerate; and far more long-lasting. The alternative to good behavior (breaking the rules) must be presented as monstrously undesirable. I suspect we all know this, though our knowledge is, for the most part, buried in the subconscious areas of our brains. So, we are brain-washed into thinking our infractions are potentially life-shattering and horribly painful. Better to behave, we therefore think to ourselves, than to misbehave and taste the resulting sweet nectar. This rumination leads me to this: how has this hidden set of behavioral modification practices and principles come into being? What are the benefits to society for some of the least offensive restrictions with which we live? I am sure this topic could be fodder for a lengthy and potentially interesting exploration. But I am getting older by the second. I cannot afford to waste my time on such matters. Except, of course, to write about them.


Three people have made unsolicited comments about my new glasses. Most people, it seems, are like me: we notice that “there’s something different about the way you look,” but we can’t quite put our fingers on it. So we keep it to ourselves. We’d rather be safe than sorry. We’d rather not say “have you lost weight?” for example, for fear of opening up a conversation about the person’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. But the real issue is this, I think: I (and many like me) are simply not especially good at recognizing changes in others’ appearances. We do not pay sufficiently close attention to details of a person’s appearance to know exactly WHAT is different; we know (or don’t) only that something is different.

As it happens, I think I will take my new glasses in for a reevaluation. The frames are okay; but the lenses seem perpetually “smeared,” as if they have a fine film of oil on them. I think they were not properly polished. We’ll see what the “lenses in two hours” people have to say about my complaint. Assuming they hold onto the glasses, I will revert to my other glasses; they still work perfectly well.


You are on my mind. You know who you are. You are right to think what you think.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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