Chagall: The Song of Songs
A person is full of sorrow
The way a burlap sack is full of stones or sand.
We say, “Hand me the sack,”
But we get the weight.
Heavier if left out in the rain.
To think that the stones or sand are the self is an error.
To think that grief is the self is an error.
Self carries grief as a pack mule carries the side bags,
Being careful between the trees to leave extra room.
The self is not the load of ropes and nails and axes.
The self is not the miner nor builder nor driver.
What would it be to take the bride
And leave behind the heavy dowry?
To let the thin-ribbed mule browse in tall grasses,
Its long ears waggling like the tails of two happy dogs?
~ Jane Hirshfield, After
This is a poem of wisdom rather than a poem that’s delightful as poetry. Ideally a poem should provide a marriage of both wisdom and artistic delight. Here, we could argue, the message is too explicit. As Henry James said, “To be direct is to be inartistic.” But the wisdom itself is a kind of delight.
And perhaps wisdom itself is a kind of poetry (to steal from Wallace Stevens, who said that money is a kind of poetry). There is imagery in this poem, but no music, and not much surprise once we absorb the initial lesson: to think that grief is the self is an error. Overall the poem doesn’t, ahem, enthrall me. It’s too didactic and general for that (Jack Gilbert often fails in this manner). Still, what the poem says is a gift, the way that a compact little essay can be gift, or an aphorism, a mantra that helps us be resilient in adversity.
A person is full of sorrow
The way a burlap sack is full of stones or sand. . . .
To think that the stones or sand are the self is an error.
To think that grief is the self is an error.
I can’t begin to say how wonderful this observation is. If you happen to be in a place of sorrow, it might be good to write or type these lines in large bold font and tape them to the mirror, to remind yourself that you are not the heavy sack you are carrying. This includes physical afflictions, such as suffering from a chronic illness — you have to keep reminding yourself that you are not the disease; that you are still you, a bright and loving person, funny and generous, passionately interested in poetry and music and astronomy, cooking and gardening (or whatever your delights happen to be).
I admit that when you are in the heavy clutches of medicine, it’s difficult to remember that you are not the disease. Difficult but possible, between visits to see the various doctors. And during such times it’s more important than ever, this love for whatever it is that you love, for what carries your essence apart from your affliction.
Just my use of the word “carries” reminded me of the saying that language is fossil poetry, metaphors we no longer even notice. A poet can remind us of what is precious by using images, making us notice the metaphors. Any poet who puts on the page the statement of what is important is writing wisdom poetry. Harold Bloom said, “The ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy can never end, and wisdom writing is more poetic than philosophical.”
True, Jane Hirshfield does use poetic metaphor and imagery to convey her message, and tells us,
Self carries grief as a pack mule carries the side bags,
Being careful between the trees to leave extra room.
~ a reminder that the self carries the grief, but the self is not the grief. The self is not the sack, the side bags, the sand and stones in them (or did we expect the load to be gold and precious stones? In traditions that exalt suffering [Nietzsche: All religions are at bottom a system of cruelties], that would not be far-fetched). As for being careful to give extra room to the side bags when you pass between the trees, that reifies the self-as-mule, and also points out the difficulty of carrying such a load of losses and disappointed expectations. It’s a full-time job, carrying those bags, jealously preserving the grief, making sure we don’t come too close to anything that might dislodge it — an encounter with the freshness of the present rather than the half-real past. But that’s going beyond the poem, into the marshy terrain of questions such as “Is depression self-limiting, or self-perpetuating and self-enhancing?” It depends on the individual case, and on how the present changes the past — the present that, minute by minute, we still have the power to create.
The ending seems to return to the first statement that the self is not the burdens it carries. In the end, the self is compared to both a bride and a mule (I find this a marvelous conjunction):
What would it be to take the bride
And leave behind the heavy dowry?
To let the thin-ribbed mule browse in tall grasses,
Its long ears waggling like the tails of two happy dogs?
Even the dowry — perhaps the weight of expectations — is seen as not much more valuable than sand and stones. It’s wonderful that Jane Hirshfield doesn’t use the modern colloquial term for the stuff we drag along from the past: baggage. By going back to earlier times when a person or a mule carried the bags, she makes the pointlessness of that behavior more vivid and pathetic (and the bags get heavier and heavier the longer we carry them). It’s up to us to interpret what the heavy bags stand for: our possessions? memories of negative events to look over like photo albums? too much responsibility that shouldn’t be ours? Resentment that the richer, larger life that seemed to be our birthright lies somewhere else, and we can’t get there from here?
Hirshfield has a Buddhist orientation, and we recognize the image of dropping the burden, the sack full of stones and sand, as the moment of enlightenment. But I also see something marvelously American here. The individual is seen as having a great value, even stooped under the burden s/he’s carrying. The soul is a bride, happiest when unencumbered. In the ending of the poem there affirms, I dare say, the pursuit of happiness.
Mules on Duck Pass Trail, near Mammoth Lakes, Eastern Sierra Nevada, California
“When we are a thousand miles away from poetry, we still participate in it by that sudden need to scream — the last stage of lyricism.” ~ E.M. Cioran
The first time I came across this, it passed me by, but now, after a series of time-wasting absurdities, I suddenly get it.
Scream or Howl?
Howl is the more advanced art form.
~ “With all the horror going on in America, I wonder whether many writers may not be finding it a little difficult or even, on a strictly personal level, somewhat inappropriate now to be writing the same kinds of novels and stories they did in “pre-Trump” era — ones about disintegrating relationships or one’s journey of spiritual growth and self-discovery, say, and other such ordinary and to some extent beautifully solipsistic stuff of daily living. And I would imagine it might be a bit harder for poets these days, too, to focus with the same old intensity on deconstructing language or exploring the transcendental wonder of a blade of grass in the middle of a flowering meadow… surrounded by a burning forest.
Our world is on fire, and one has to squint hard and pinch one’s nose to ignore this fact.”
~ M. Iossel
I know I’ve been affected even in the little comments I write on Facebook. I think about some detail of my personal journey of recovery from Catholicism, say, and it seems too small to mention. On the other hand, things I wouldn’t have given much thought before, like the recent dream that the roof of my house has partly collapsed, chunks of it hanging over the staircase, and it seems more than personal — the sky IS falling down.
Then there is simply the factor of being massively distracted by events such as the recent back-to-back shootings, Siberia on fire, the Arctic on fire, Antarctica and Greenland melting to bare ground, the bees dying — anything but the kind of tranquillity in which to recollect emotions, as Wordsworth advises. Poets and writers of the past took it for granted that there would be a future for humanity, or that ghastly ideologies such as that of the Nazis were a one-time phenomenon, defeated, never to be reborn.
And yet, what can a writer write about if not personal experience? Especially if we are talking about writing as art.
From an earlier blog of mine:
~ “Mass murderers often see themselves as victims—victims of injustice. They seek payback for what they perceive to be unfair treatment by targeting those they hold responsible for their misfortunes. Most often, the ones to be punished are family members (e.g., an unfaithful wife and all her children) or coworkers (e.g., an overbearing boss and all his employees).”
“The thing about mass killers is that they externalize blame ,” Fox told me. “ All the disappointments, all the failures, the broken relationships, are because other people treated them wrong. They don’t see themselves as being inadequate and flawed .” ~
A neurotic blames herself for everything: “It’s my fault.” But there is a personality disorder where the person *never* blames himself. It’s always someone else’s fault, or even a whole group’s fault. Thus, blame the Jews and/or the immigrants. “I am a victim of those evil-doers, and they must be punished.”
In memory of those killed in the recent shootings — especially the couple who gave their lives to save their baby
“I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked [James] Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don’t know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That’s what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say ‘people,’ that’s what I mean.” ~ Toni Morrison
At first I wanted to dissent, and then remembered that yes, as Toni points out, Joyce wrote only about the Irish. Balzac’s characters are strictly French. This list could go on — and we don’t complain about the “narrowness” or provincialism of those writers.
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” ~ Toni Morrison (1931-2019)
~ “Thoreau, in taking to the woods near Walden Pond, became the emblem of American self-reliance, the quintessential philosopher of a return to nature and the virtues of a small, sustainable life. Though still taught in nearly every high-school in the country, most people dismiss him because of his mother’s cucumber sandwiches––that is, we are now able to recognize the extremities of privilege that permitted him to write this touchstone of American thought. While not quite on a scale with the wholesale murder of tens of thousands of indigenous people, Walden has come to represent the idea that there is a price to bucking society. Living outside the borders of traditional society typically involves some kind of exploitation.
Nowhere does this become more apparent than in the small American communities that have sought a reworking of the social order. While writing We Went to the Woods, I researched several intentional communities in the US, though I focused particularly on the Oneida Community in Upstate New York. A small Utopian commune that blossomed and waned during the middle of the 19th century, Oneida was a perfectionist community that believed in shared labor, collective discussion and (a version of) sexual equality. And like many intentional communities, the question of sex became the largest and ultimately most divisive issue for these Utopians.
Oneidans practiced “complex marriage;” the term “free love” is apocryphally attributed to the founder of the Oneida community, John Humphrey Noyes. While ostensibly this served to undermine the patriarchal system of traditional marriage by allowing both women and men to choose their own sexual partners, it should come as no surprise that this isn’t entirely how it worked out. Initially a satisfactory arrangement wherein members chose their partners, soon these choices were being determined by a committee of elders, headed up by the male (and aging) founder of the community. I’m sure you can guess who had the largest number of young, attractive wives under this system.
Indeed, these sexual practices proved to be the downfall of the entire community. Dissatisfaction and infighting splintered the group internally, while the society outside of Oneida, ordinary civilians living in Hamilton, NY, agitated to have Noyes arrested for rape. After he fled the country, the Oneida community gradually disbanded, until it reincorporated as a silver manufacturing company, Oneida Limited.
Much of the seed money for the Oneida community came from high-quality steel animal traps that caught animals from the size of rabbits to bears and held them captive until they either froze to death or were slaughtered. Production of these traps was a niche market, and Oneida was able to generate a great deal of their capital from the high demand of the 19th century, selling their traps overseas as well as domestically.
Eventually the community transitioned towards making spoons, a much less morally ambiguous enterprise that capitalized, ironically, on the idea of the nuclear family. But it is maybe a larger irony that a non-violent, often vegetarian community owes their financial success to a fantastically cruel method of hunting, a method they exploited to great profit even while claiming not to believe in capitalism or private property.
Oneida made a good attempt—of the many Utopian communities I looked at, Oneida had a pretty good innings, and managed to achieve a number of its goals, even while ultimately falling short. Even as it collapsed, the personal wealth of the original members was protected—incorporating as a silver company allowed the community to redistribute earlier contributions in the form of shares, ensuring that few were left destitute. Still, unsurprisingly, male privilege won out as the community transitioned back to a traditional society—women, especially those who had borne children out of wedlock, found themselves unwed mothers, unable to hold property or maintain businesses they had begun. Those who weren’t able to remarry fell through the cracks, and died poverty-stricken and shunned.
No matter which example of Utopia I looked at, there seemed to be a simple reality: Someone pays for the privilege of learning how to live. I wanted to explore how humans who are invested in moral and political rightness find themselves doing evil—to each other and to those outside the group. Having made a decision to live ethically, how do people nevertheless justify bad behavior? What sorts of conversations happen as people begin to rationalize their compromises? And, ultimately, problematically: is there any other way to change the world?” ~
Note the women’s peculiar clothes. That too seems characteristic of Utopian communities: they make their women dress funny. It’s just another way to control them, to make them feel they are schoolgirls in uniform and should obey the rules.
A bit more about Oneida:
“The Oneida Community was a perfectionist religious communal society founded by John Humphrey Noyes in 1848 in Oneida, New York. The community believed that Jesus had already returned in AD 70, making it possible for them to bring about Jesus’s millennial kingdom themselves, and be free of sin and perfect in this world, not just in Heaven (a belief called perfectionism). The Oneida Community practiced communalism (in the sense of communal property and possessions), complex marriage, male sexual continence [coitus without ejaculation], and mutual criticism.
The Oneida community believed strongly in a system of free love (a term Noyes is credited with coining) known as complex marriage,[5] where any member was free to have sex with any other who consented.[6] Possessiveness and exclusive relationships were frowned upon. Unlike 20th-century social movements such as the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, the Oneidans did not seek consequence-free sex for pleasure, but believed that, because the natural outcome of intercourse was pregnancy, raising children should be a communal responsibility. Women over the age of 40 were to act as sexual “mentors” to adolescent boys, as these relationships had minimal chance of conceiving. Furthermore, these women became religious role models for the young men. Likewise, older men often introduced young women to sex. Noyes often used his own judgment in determining the partnerships that would form, and would often encourage relationships between the non-devout and the devout in the community, in the hopes that the attitudes and behaviors of the devout would influence the non-devout.
Oneida embodied one of the most radical and institutional efforts to change women’s role and improve female status in 19th-century America.[26] Women gained some freedoms in the commune that they could not get on the outside. Some of these privileges included not having to care for their own children as Oneida had a communal child care system, as well as freedom from unwanted pregnancies with Oneida’s male continence practice. In addition, they were able to wear functional, Bloomer-style clothing and maintain short haircuts. Women were able to participate in practically all types of community work. While domestic duties remained a primarily female responsibility, women were free to explore positions in business and sales, or as artisans or craftsmen, and many did so, particularly in the late 1860s and early 1870s. Last, women had an active role in shaping commune policy, participating in the daily religious and business meetings.
The complex marriage and free love systems practiced at Oneida further acknowledged female status. Through the complex marriage arrangement, women and men had equal freedom in sexual expression and commitment. Indeed, sexual practices at Oneida accepted female sexuality. A woman’s right to satisfying sexual experiences was recognized, and women were encouraged to have orgasms. However, a woman’s right of refusing a sexual overture was limited depending on the status of the man who made the advance.” ~ Wiki
~ “Many surviving color words from Old English — dun, wan, sallow, bleak, dusky, swarthy, bright, murky, dark — refer to colors which are not hues. These words have more to do with chroma (reflectivity, brightness, quality of light) than with hue (wavelength). We tend to think of color only as hue. Out of all this you can get an insight into that world. Look around you and subtract all the artificial, man-made pigments from your world. Then look at what is left, and you may see why glitter and dark mattered more than pink and purple in naming what you see. Northern Europe through most of the seasons is a landscape of brown, gray, and dull green. The eruptions of color in spring and fall must have been brief and amazing, with an almost hallucinogenic intensity.
Old English brun and hwit both meant “bright, shining,” though now both are used to mean hues (although we still speak of “burnished” wood or metal). One of the knottiest linguistic problems in Old English is blaec, which is the common ancestor of the seemingly irreconcilable modern words black and bleach. The Old English word seems to have been used to refer to a type of colorlessness.” ~ Online Etymological Dictionary
~ “I’ve discovered the beauty of “micromastery”: working to develop competence in a single, concrete skill. The term was coined by the writers Tahir Shah and Robert Twigger; Twigger later published his 2017 book, Micromastery: Learn Small, Learn Fast, and Unlock Your Potential to Achieve Anything, which contains instructions for laying a brick wall, making sushi, and brewing beer. In the introduction, Twigger writes that he was stymied by the idea that he had to work for years to acquire any truly valuable skill, but that he still wanted to learn and create, so he decided to focus on making the perfect omelet: his first micromastery.
A micromastery isn’t about spending 10,000 hours becoming an expert at something. It typically requires a much smaller commitment (though can vary based on the skill). A micromastery can be learning to fold fitted sheets, for example. You also don’t have to choose something banal and useful: You could learn to read hieroglyphics or dance the tango, rather than change a flat tire or fix a leaky faucet. Because the skills tackled in a micromastery are often simple and always repeatable, it almost always guarantees a payoff.
Micromastery can have health benefits as well.
As you become more engrossed in your endeavor to learn a new skill, you can enter what Czech psychologist Mihaly Csikszmentmihalyi famously called a “flow state”: a mode “in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.” Flow is the way many of us played as children: effortlessly mindful and engaged. In our era of endless distraction, taking attention away from the to-do list and redirecting it to a concrete activity can be a significant salve for the mind. A “flow” experience is analogous to meditating, which has been shown to improve focus and decrease anxiety.
Doing a successful micromastery also boosts confidence. “You will develop skills that are transferable between micromasteries — rapid learning, structural information about knowledge acquisition, performance skills, memory improvement — which is an empowering thing,” writes Twigger.
It might also keep your brain healthy. While there are many factors that contribute to cognitive decline, such as genetics and poor diet, research suggests that challenging yourself intellectually might help to stave off symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Aging and Health, which provided over 2,000 seniors with different types of brain training and followed up with them periodically over the course of ten years, concluded that “results support the effectiveness of cognitive intervention in maintaining cognitive health over the long-term.” ~
The author suggests learning how to cut your own hair, building a brick wall, and so forth. For me, cooking and gardening seem to be enough for now, though I admit that picking up another skill would be exhilarating. The more competent you become dealing with things, which don’t have to be practical — they can be purely enjoyable — the greater your sense of competence, and the more positive emotions you experience. You can also be of use to others, which is a special kind of satisfaction.
I remember my joy and lasting satisfaction when I decided to learn one micro-skill (long before I knew about the benefits of micromastery). There is an exercise in Pilates known as “roll-up.” I noticed that it’s a very efficient exercise since it engages a lot of muscles. It’s a special slow-motion sit-up, with proceeding to stretch to touch your toes. I decided to learn to do a perfect roll-up. Never mind the many other Pilates exercises: I chose the roll-up. Based on my past experience, I knew that the most efficient way was to do just a few roll-ups every single day.
It worked. Within a month or so, I heard, “You make it look so effortless.” It’s never completely effortless — if it seems too easy, just make it even more slow. In any case, my relatively small investment of time and effort brought me the pleasure of competence, better abdominal and back muscles, better posture, and — a priceless sense of satisfaction.
1. “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; Bring a friend, if you have one.” George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill.
“Cannot possibly attend first night, I will attend the second…If there is one.” – Winston Churchill, in response.
2. A member of Parliament to Disraeli: “Sir, you will either die on the gallows, or of some unspeakable disease.” · “That depends, Sir,” said Disraeli, “whether I embrace your policies or your mistress.”
3. “He had delusions of adequacy.” – Walter Kerr
4. “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” – Clarence Darrow
5. “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” – William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).
6.”Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.” – Moses Hadas
7. “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” – Mark Twain
8. “He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends..” – Oscar Wilde
9. “I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here.” – Stephen Bishop
10.”He is a self-made man and worships his creator.” – John Bright
11. “I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.” – Irvin S. Cobb
12. “He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.” – Samuel Johnson
13. “He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.” – Paul Keating
14. “In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily.” – Charles, Count Talleyrand
15. “He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.” – Forrest Tucker
16. “Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?” – Mark Twain
17. “His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” – Mae West
18. “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” – Oscar Wilde
19. “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts… For support rather than illumination.” – Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
20. “He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” – Billy Wilder
21. “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” – Groucho Marx
22.”He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” – Winston Churchill
One of my greatest favorites is Mae West’s “His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.”
On the lighter side: On the lighter side: I wonder if this could be one way to portray the writer/thinker/artist in relation to society . . .
Nothing like a stormy sky. It took a year or so living in Southern California before I realized that what I loved most was clouds, rain, storms, great lightning — even blizzards . . . what I’d call “Gothic weather.”
This is Ireland, the Rock of Cashel, south Tipperary. Most buildings come from the 12th and 13th centuries. Of course the sheep couldn’t care less, and that’s one of the many reasons we don’t envy sheep.
speaking of sheep . . .
I was told, “God can read every unclean thought in your head,” which was scary enough. If you fell in love with a boy and had a fantasy of kissing him, that was “sinning in thought.” The priest told us quite specifically that kissing was a sin, and of course if you did it “in your heart” that was just as bad. You could also sin by complicity, sin by not taking action to prevent sin, and on and on. Pretty much you were doomed to sin non-stop. I hated to get out of bed because that meant another day of not being able to avoid sinning. Sin was big. Sin and punishment.
Jan van Eyck: detail of The Last Judgment, c. 1430
Let’s quickly detox with a happy image: This is how we were born: happy and playful and innocent, not “fallen” and in need of salvation. The average human is no more in need of salvation than this dolphin.
Edward shared this delightful anecdote: “Pope Clement VIII (15th Century) baptized Coffee. He was asked if a Christian could drink coffee. It is said he replied, “ This Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it.”
Pope Clement VIII
It’s interesting that the arguments the ancient Greeks used to “prove” the existence of the gods are the same are those used today: prayer (and animal sacrifice) works, while lack of prayer brings on disaster; believers experience the god’s presence and receive signs and miracles . . . same stuff, pointing to human psychology rather than external reality. It’s known as the “argument from personal experience.”
“I sacrificed a bullock to Zeus, and my son came back from the war alive” — who could fail to be persuaded by that?
Here is an interesting exercise: replace the word “god” with “Zeus”:
Zeus works in mysterious ways.
Zeus sends suffering to those he loves.
Zeus never sends you more suffering than you can bear.
Man was created to serve Zeus.
The relationship between gut microbes and weight gain has long been overlooked in humans, but people have known about similar effects in animals for decades. After World War II, antibiotics became affordable and abundant for the first time. Farmers began giving the drugs to their livestock—for example, to treat a milk cow’s infected udder—and noticed that animals who got antibiotics grew larger and more quickly.
This led to a flood of patent applications for antibiotic-laden foods for all sorts of livestock. In 1950, the drug company Merck filed a patent for “a method of accelerating the growth of animals” with “a novel growth-promoting factor” that was, simply, penicillin. Eli Lilly patented three new antibiotics to mix into the feed of sheep, goats, and cattle because the microbe-killing agents “increased feed efficiency.” In the ensuing decades it became standard practice to give livestock copious doses of antibiotics to make them grow faster and larger, even though no one knew why this happened, or what other effects the practice might have.
Researchers have only recently shown that these antibiotics kill off some of the microbes that occur normally in the gut and help livestock, and people, digest food. By breaking down nutrients and helping them pass through the walls of the bowel, these microbes serve as a sort of gatekeeper between what is eaten and what actually makes it into the body.
Killing them is not without consequences. Just as antibiotics are associated with faster growth in cattle, a decrease in diversity in the human microbiome is associated with obesity. As the usage of animal antibiotics exploded in the 20th century, so too did usage in humans. The rise coincides with the obesity epidemic. This could be a spurious correlation, of course—lots of things have been on the rise since the ’50s. But dismissing it entirely would require ignoring a growing body of evidence that our metabolic health is inseparable from the health of our gut microbes.
In 2006, Jeffrey Gordon, a biologist at Washington University in St. Louis, reported that the microbiomes of obese mice had something in common: Compared with their lean counterparts, the heavier mice had fewer Bacteroides and more Firmicutes species in their guts. Biochemical analyses showed that this ratio made the microbes better at “energy harvest”—essentially, extracting calories from food and passing it into the body. That is, even when mice ate the same amount and type of food, the bacterial populations meant that some developed metabolic problems, while others didn’t. Similar bacterial patterns have since been confirmed in obese humans.
What’s more, Gordon found, the microbiome associated with obesity is transferable. In 2013, his lab took gut bacteria from pairs of human twins in which only one twin was obese, then fed the samples to mice. The mice given bacteria from the obese humans quickly gained weight. The others did not.
Gut bacteria are also transferred between humans, in the form of fecal transplants, as an experimental treatment for serious infections like Clostridium difficile. In one study, obese patients who received transplants from lean donors later had healthier responses to insulin.
Short of this sort of hard reset of the microbiome, preliminary research has shown that adding even a single bacterial species to a person’s gut can alter her metabolism. In a clinical trial reported last month in the journal Nature Medicine, people who took a probiotic containing Akkermansia muciniphila—which is typically found in greater amounts in non-obese people—saw subtle metabolic improvements, including weight loss.
Over the past decade or so, multiple studies have shown that obese adults mount less effective immune responses to vaccinations, and that both overweight and underweight people have elevated rates of infection. But these were long assumed to be effects of obesity, not causes.
“When I started my lab there wasn’t much known about how the immune system perceives the gut microbes,” Hooper says. “A lot of people thought the gut immune system might be sort of blind to them.” To her, it was obvious that this couldn’t be the case. The human gut is host to about 100 trillion bacteria. They serve vital metabolic functions, but can quickly kill a person if they get into the bloodstream. “So clearly the immune system has got to be involved in maintaining them,” she says. It made sense to her that even subtle changes in the functioning of the immune system could influence microbial populations—and, hence, weight gain and metabolism.
This theory was borne out late last month in a paper in Science. Zac Stephens, a microbial ecologist at the University of Utah, and his colleagues had been working with mice with altered immune T cells. They noticed that over time, these mice “ballooned,” as Stephens puts it. One of his colleagues started calling them “pancakes.”
To figure out how such an immune change could cause obesity, they tested the biomes of the mice with and without the immune alteration. They found that healthy mice have plenty of bacteria from a genus called Clostridia, but few from Desulfovibrio, and that their guts let most fat pass right through. Those with an altered immune system had fewer Clostridia and more Desulfovibrio, and this microbial balance helped the gut absorb more fats from food. These mice gained more weight and exhibited signs of type 2 diabetes.
“Whether this applies in humans, we don’t know,” Hooper says, “but this is a tantalizing clue.”
Mice are not humans, but their microbiomes are about as complex as our own. Reduced Clostridia and increased Desulfovibrio are seen in people with obesity and type 2 diabetes. Bacteria can reasonably be expected to function similarly in the guts of different species. But even if they don’t, this experiment is a demonstration of principle: The immune system helps control the composition of the gut microbiome.
It does so by regularly mounting low-level immune responses to keep populations of bacteria in check. “The gut is under a constant state of inflammation, so to speak—constant immune stimulation from all the microbes,” says Stephens, pushing back on the common misconception that inflammation is always bad. The role of the immune system in the gut is to maintain balance. Changes to the body’s defenses, which can happen as a result of age or illness, can cause certain species to flourish at the expense of others.
Lindemann says the fact that the immune system regulates the inhabitants of the small intestine is well established. He compares the bowel wall to a customs checkpoint: The goal is to weed out bad actors and illegal cargo, but allow legitimate trade to progress as rapidly as possible. In the case of the immune-altered mice, he says, “we have a colonic border patrol that is seemingly out to lunch, allowing bad actor Desulfovibrio to bloom.”
If similar microbial changes have comparable effects in humans, it could have far-reaching implications for our diets. The very ideas of “nutritional value” and “calorie content” of food seem to vary based on the microbial population of the person eating it and, potentially, her immune status. A person’s own microbes—and those contained in any given food—would have to be considered as another component of the already flimsy calories-in, calories-out equation. This would also compound the challenges already facing nutrition labels.
People trying to control their weight might conclude that tinkering with their own microbiomes is the solution. This stands to fuel the already dubious and barely regulated industry of “probiotic” supplements, which has been projected to grow to $7 billion by 2025. But the answer probably won’t be so simple.
“A lot of the recent research on probiotics suggests it’s really not easy to keep and sustain new communities,” Stephens says. The immune system could explain that. “It may well be that your immune response gets ‘stuck’ at an early age based on what you’ve exposed it to. Probiotics might not be enough to change a person’s microbiome, because your immune system determined early on that certain microbes are either appropriate or inappropriate in your gut.”
Stephens says the relationship between weight and the immune system is likely to get more complicated before it gets simpler. That makes it difficult to give concrete advice. “Keeping diverse gut microbes with diverse dietary sources is probably the safest advice for now,” he says. “That will stimulate a healthy, strong immune system that can learn and regulate and do all the things it does, in ways we’re just beginning to understand.”
If all this uncertainty makes nutrition guidelines and nutrition even more inscrutable, it also stands to do some good by undermining the moralizing and simplistic character judgments often associated with body weight. Seeing obesity as a manifestation of the interplay between many systems—genetic, microbial, environmental—invites the understanding that human physiology has changed along with our relationship to the species in and around us. As these new scientific models unfold, they impugn the idea of weight as an individual character flaw, revealing it for the self-destructive myth it has always been.
A vintage ad — there was a time when being overweight meant you didn’t have TB.
I always assumed that antibiotics are given to livestock to prevent the diseases caused by overcrowding and other stress. But it’s to fatten them up . . .
And yes, a fecal transplant from an obese person will make the patient gain weight — this was discovered soon after fecal transplants were first performed. I’m not suggesting fecal transplants from lean donors as a method of losing weight.
From another source:
~ “New evidence indicates that gut bacteria alter the way we store fat, how we balance levels of glucose in the blood, and how we respond to hormones that make us feel hungry or full. The wrong mix of microbes, it seems, can help set the stage for obesity and diabetes from the moment of birth.
In studies of twins who were both lean or both obese, researchers found that the gut community in lean people was like a rain forest brimming with many species but that the community in obese people was less diverse—more like a nutrient-overloaded pond where relatively few species dominate. Lean individuals, for example, tended to have a wider variety of Bacteroidetes , a large tribe of microbes that specialize in breaking down bulky plant starches and fibers into shorter molecules that the body can use as a source of energy.
Diet is an important factor in shaping the gut ecosystem. A diet of highly processed foods, for example, has been linked to a less diverse gut community in people.
A new appreciation for the impact of gut microbes on body weight has intensified concerns about the profligate use of antibiotics in children. Blaser has shown that when young mice are given low doses of antibiotics, similar to what farmers give livestock, they develop about 15 percent more body fat than mice that are not given such drugs. Antibiotics may annihilate some of the bacteria that help us maintain a healthy body weight .”
I began to lose weight soon after my surgery in June 2017. It was difficult to cook — cooking requires standing — so I ate frozen dinners three times a day. In retrospect, I noted that practically all of my frozen dinners included white rice (I avoided noodles due to gluten). Protein was rather limited compared to my previous high-protein, low-carbo diet (I didn’t yet know that excess protein gets converted to glucose, and thus induces higher levels of insulin, the fattening hormone). Veggies in those dinners? Generally broccoli.
Again, just as the time I switched from being a vegetarian to being an Atkins fan (it worked wonderfully at first; it wasn’t just the rapid weight loss, but also an incredible improvement in mood and energy), I became interested in the subject of optimal diet. It was an amazing reversal: sweet potatoes and white rice became my staples. White potatoes made a comeback — no wonder I loved them in childhood! I eat cabbage-family veggies with every meal — apparently they mimic calorie restriction. My protein is still more than recommended, but wild-caught seafood may be different than, say, hamburger. I liberally use coconut oil, red palm oil (the sustainable kind), extra virgin olive oil, and, now and then, grass-fed butter.
It’s delightful to be slender again. One inconvenience is having to make my clothes smaller. Fortunately I know how to sew.
ending on beauty:
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.”
~ John Masefield, Sea Fever
Winslow Homer: Blown Away, 1888

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I agree to the terms & conditions and want to receive emails from Hip2Save. Walgreens Deals 8/11-8/17 By Kirstie | Branded Content Editor Aug 10, 2019 @ 10:00 AM MDT
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Jul 9, 2019 19:03:01 GMT elifsu said: I can believe Elia was dutiful enough t give birth to her husband a third child even though she may die during the birth. Because maester didn’t say she will never give birth again after Aegon. I also do think Daenerys’ eyes aren’t that purple but with Daario and Aegon they paint their hair blue to make their eyes look blue to hide their Valyrian heritage while Daenerys constantly wear purple to make them look purple.
I had recently expressed this idea of Dany’s eye color needing enhancement to appear “violet” over on the Heresy boards as well. I think most people think this is tinfoil but the text seems to indicate some kind of bluish tone to her eyes, something that wearing plum colored clothing that can make her eyes appear violet. So, just like we see blue used to make something appear bluer, I think we could have the same eye color that uses purple hues to make eyes appear more purple. Could Elia Martell have birthed a purple eyed, silver haired daughter before her own death? I think so.
Jul 9, 2019 19:03:01 GMT elifsu said: If Rhaenys really survived I would like the idea of her being Nymeria, though I don’t know her age, or maybe Sarella? And she isn’t a half Summer Islander bastard and her game isn’t about the Citadel? Is it possible?
Yes, several of the Sand Snakes could be possible and would work better age wise, but Rhaenys had the kitten named Balerion and she was said to be hiding under a bed when Amory Lorach found her. Arianne crawls from her bed, “weak as a kitten” and she has some dragon imagery, in books, in cyvasse pieces (this is a black dragon like Balerion was) and in association with her affair with Arys Oakheart. I would be utterly convinced if not for the age difference between Arianne and Rhaenys, although honestly the age difference doesn’t really derail my tinfoil. And the story seems to be setting up Arianne, fAegon and Daenerys up for some sort of interaction. It could mirror Rhaenys, Aegon I and Visenya.
As to the Sand Snakes, the younger four that Oberyn had with Elaria Sand are all too young to be Rhaenys, as I think the eldest of those girls is 13 or so, being born in 285/286.
The four older daughters are all interesting. I’m going with the wiki for their ages because I am too lazy to research that myself right now. Rhaenys was said to be born in 280, the same year that Rhaegar and Elia were wed.
Obara Sand is the eldest and is born in 271/272. She has brown hair and a mannish look. Just age wise, I think she is too old to be a stand in for Rhaenys.
Nymeria Sand is said to be born in 274/275, which also makes her old to fit the age of Rhaenys, but she is an interesting possibility anyway. She is quite beautiful, has dark hair and dark eyes (and Rhaenys was said to have taken after her Dornish mother in looks). She is elegant but has a love and talent with knives and she has a vengeance in her heart for the Lannister’s, especially Tywin. Of course, most of Westeros knows that Tywin was responsible for Elia’s death. I think, even despite her age, Nymeria could be an interesting possibility.
Tyene Sand is said to be born in 276/277, so her age would be closer, but she is golden haired and blue eyed. I guess this coloring could come from Rhaegar, but it doesn’t fit what we know of a young Rhaenys, who had dark hair and eyes. Also, Tyene’s mother is known to Arianne, which makes Tyene unlikely to be the hidden princess.
Sarella Sand is said to be born in 280, which makes her the perfect age to be Rhaenys. But Sarella has a mother from the summer islands, so she should be quite dark in coloring. Now, this might be a false assumption, although I really think that Alleras is Sarella, being the right age and right color to be Sarella. This fits with Doran saying that Sarella is out of Dorne, therefore he has no ability to imprison her with the other Sand Snakes.
Of these eldest four girls, I think Nymeria is the best fit, both in coloring, in beauty and she has that definite need for revenge against the Lannister’s, but she and Arianne (born in 276) are the same age, and therefore I would just as likely think Arianne is the hidden princess. Of course, if Arianne is Rhaenys, then were is the real Arianne?
Jul 9, 2019 19:03:01 GMT elifsu said: And lastly about Rhaella and her babies, I am currently entertaining the idea of Rhaella trying to stop PTWP prophecy because that’s why they forced her into marrying Aerys and that’s why her sons are the ones dying. I am thinking if Shaena who was born when Aerys, Rhaegar, and half the court was in the Rock, actually survived and was Ashara Dayne (major tinfoil) and Rhaella saved her so they won’t marry her to Rhaegar. But is there a way she could save Daeron and Jaehaerys?
This idea of Rhaella is possible. We know that Aerys didn’t trust her. Fidelity is what is implied, but what if it’s something else he didn’t trust her with, as in children. I think we are told she wasn’t allowed to be alone with Viserys. As to Ashara possibly being this child, maybe… she does have violet eyes, and I think Aerys had violet colored eyes. We don’t know about Rhaella’s eye color, but it stands out to be that the three children that we are told are from Aerys and Rhaella’s marriage have indigo eyes (Rhaegar), pale lilac eyes (Viserys) and “bring out the violet” in her eyes (Daenerys). In the real world, these shades of eye color seem possible but in GRRM’s world, it seems like children inherit eye color from one parent or the other, without combinations. Ned and Cat’s children have Stark grey or Tully blue eyes. So, how can Aerys and Rhaella really be the parents of all three of these children with three different eye colors. I think at least one of them isn’t from both Aerys and Rhaella, and maybe more.
If Aerys was trying to make the PtwP prophecy happen, then I could see it possible for Rhaella to be trying to subvert this possibility. But we know so very little about Rhaella, most anything about her is a good deal of speculation. But I am certainly not afraid of speculation, and I find this idea interesting. Shaena Targaryen was said to be born in 267, Rhaegar was born in 259. Why such a big age difference between this eldest and second eldest child of Aerys and Rhaella? I’m surprised by this, actually, but perhaps there are several other miscarriages not listed between Rhaegar and Shaena? However, this would make a child who was Shaena be around 14 at Harrenhal. This is around the age that Lyanna might have been, and perhaps Ashara, too. Ashara has violet eyes, like Aerys, but dark hair. We don’t really have confirmation of Lyanna’s coloring, but if she does resemble Arya, she should at least have dark hair. How are Aerys and Rhaella producing dark haired children? Perhaps Rhaella had dark hair? This does feed into tinfoil that I have read that makes Gerold Dayne a child of Aerys or Rhaella.