charting my life

I bought Sleep Cycle for my iPod touch because it sounded right up my alley. It uses the accelerometer in i-devices to measure how much you move while asleep to track your sleep cycles. Then it wakes you up when you will be most alert. How cool is that?

Well, it is pretty cool, but not because it tracks your sleep cycles, or because it wakes you up alert. First of all, sleep cycles are defined by brainwave patterns, not by movement. Perhaps it’s a decent analog–I’ve read that claim–but the charts that Sleep Cycle produces from my nights of sleep don’t look much like the examples of EEG readouts of sleepers.

Where in this graph was I dreaming? It looks like I fell asleep and woke up pretty abruptly, and was awake for a short period just after 6 am, but that’s all I can tell. I can also say that the app does not always catch it when you wake up. I’ve gotten out of bed to pee and not made a spike out of the sleep zone.

It is also not really useful for its primary purpose–to wake you up during the period that you will feel most rested. You set an alarm for the latest you want to wake up, and then a period of time during which it would be acceptable to wake up. The alarm is supposed to go off at the point in that period when you are moving enough to indicate that you are in shallow sleep. Supposedly, if it waited longer and let you go back into deep sleep, you would wake up groggy because of it.

Perhaps it’s just me, and perhaps it’s just that I’ve been in grad school, but I found that I never preferred to be woken up before I really needed to be up. I did not notice any benefit from being woken up when I started to move instead of when I had just enough time to get ready for school. Luckily, you can set it for “normal alarm clock mode” with no “wake-up phase.”

Still, Sleep Cycle is cool for a couple of reasons. First, It tracks how much time I give myself for sleeping. It starts counting when you set the alarm at night and stops when you wake up and keeps track. That’s how I know, for example, that I gave myself an average of 8 hours and 35 minutes to sleep in for the 155 nights before Reanna moved to Eugene. (It doesn’t work with two people in bed.) (And that included my last 125 days of grad school–not too bad!) That means I averaged fairly close to eight hours of sleep a night, with an estimated average sleep latency of 30 minutes. And that brings me to the coolest part.

As a chronic, intermittent insomniac, I’ve always wanted to know how long it actually takes me to get to sleep. Now I have a pretty good idea, thanks to Sleep Cycle. Many of my graphs look something like this:

I started trying to sleep just after 1 AM and drifted off around 1:45. I probably would have told you that I lay awake for at least an hour. Here’s another:

That looks like about an hour of insomnia. Don’t be fooled by the little initial drop–that was me lying very still, trying to sleep, before starting to toss and turn.

To finish off, here are a few other graphs, just so you can see some of the variety:

I kept track of my driving mileage this last year here, and my biking mileage here. I drove (that is, I was the driver of a vehicle) for 5,056.1 miles and bought 152.341 gallons of gasoline. I bicycled 837.52 miles during the same year, almost entirely in just-under-two-mile-each-way commutes to school.

That means, according to the .28 calories per mile per pound of body weight calculation suggested by this site, I burned about 31,658 calories of food by biking this year. That’s about 1,266 medium-sized carrots, or 220 beers. And, according to this site, that is approximately the same number of  calories that are in a gallon of gasoline, so I bought 152 times as much calories of gas to drive my 5,056 miles as I did food energy to bike 837 miles. That makes biking a heck of a lot more efficient! My driving calories could have gotten me about 125,000 miles on a bicycle.

I’d like to do a cost analysis, too, but I’m behind on updating Quicken. Maybe later.

Staff of NBTSC

NBTSC 2010 Oregon Staff

I’m in the woods of Vermont, preparing for the start of the east coast sessions of Not Back To School Camp. Today is staff orientation and the campers arrive tomorrow–over a hundred teenaged unschoolers. If I’m counting right, this will be my thirtieth session. I’ve only missed two since 1999.

In our first go-round of our first meeting, Grace asked us to say why we come to camp. This was my answer:

First, because this is where my people gather. The staff here are like family to me and for the rest of the year, they are dispersed. I can visit them one at a time or in clumps, by traveling. Camp is also where I am most likely to meet my future people. I’ve met almost all of my post-high school close friends at NBTSC.

Second, NBTSC provides the perfect supportive atmosphere to practice how I want to be and serve in the outside world: I want to be a space for love and inspiration to show up, strong and clear, for every person who crosses my path.

Third, since NBTSC happens once a year, every year, with the same basic mission, structure, and community, it provides a consistent backdrop to check myself against. My outside life continues to change, but here I am every year, back at camp. How am I showing up differently? How have I grown? Here that is quite clear.

Last, it’s super, super fun. The young people are beautiful, inspiring, and open. There’s lots of music, dancing and hilarity. I love it.

2010 Oregon session one group photo

NBTSC Oregon Campers (session 1) 2010

The now next-to-newest Long Now Seminar is by Jesse Schell, “Visions of the Gamepocalypse.”(Look under “downloads.”) He believes that we will soon be playing internet games 24 hours a day. Literally. He says “The 21st century will be a war for the attention of humanity,” fought between four groups: the Persuaders, corporate/advertising types trying to make money, Fulfillers, who are trying to satisfy people’s wishes, Artists, who are trying to push the envelope of their medium, and Humanitarians, who want to make people’s lives better. And he reminds us of the golden rule, “He who has the gold makes the rules.”

Here’s a YouTube clip of him doing the beginning of his spiel. He takes a few minutes to get warmed up, but it’s good. (The Long Now version is much better, but an hour and a half long.)

I kind of like the automatic tracking thing. I do a lot of tracking of my own life and it would be cool to have all of that stuff just show up in a handy stats program. But the idea of corporations and the government recording every movement of every part of my body is just creepy. Not worth it.

He even presents a plausible idea about putting commercials in our dreams and why we will love it.

This is my 14,179th day.

I was born on September 29, 1971. On my last birthday, I had been alive for 38 years, which is 13,880 days. (That’s 365 x 38 + 10 leap days.) Today is the 299th day of my 39th year, my 14,179th day.

I plan to live at least to my 100th birthday, if things remain pleasant enough. On that day, I’ll be 36,525 days old, so I’ve got at least 22,346 days to go. That sounds pretty good. I should be able to do a lot of good stuff in 22,346 days.

If you want to calculate your age in days but don’t want to do the math, here is a site that my friend David pointed me to, after I’d already sweated it out.

In May, this blog got 1,082 “views,” which means that many of its pages showed up on other people’s computer screens for some amount of time in 31 days. That’s my new record, and my first 4-digit month. I got quite excited as the number approached. I was checking my stats page several times a day. It was exciting and uncomfortable. I almost decided that I would not let myself check my stats for all of June. It’s not that I was wasting a lot of time on it, it’s just that I started feeling embarrassed about it.

NME Stats at May 31, 2010

I started this blog as a way of letting my friends and family know what I’m doing and thinking about, as a way of attracting Reanna’s attention (or someone else just like her), as a way of staying connected with friends and family and recording my history as I made it, they way I used to do with a yearly zine of the same name. I knew that writing my ideas publicly made me think more critically about them, and I liked the idea of living out loud, being the same person to everyone.

I’ve accomplished all these things, and this blog has been my most consistent source of inspiration for the last coming-up-on two years. It’s been great. My excitement over breaking 1,000, though, has got me thinking. Am I also trying to be famous?

To be clear, I don’t think I’m getting famous by writing this blog. It’s just making me think and feel about it. Even if I keep this pace up, 1,082 views is only about 34 per day, and I posted almost every day this month. I get a few people I don’t know finding the blog with search engine terms that I’ve written about, like “schizophrenia diagnostic criteria” or “are anti-inflammatories bad for you,” but most of my traffic comes directly here, on purpose. I imagine that means that there are maybe 40 folks who read this fairly regularly, and that’s easily accounted for by family and friends from school and Not Back to School Camp.

Still, 1,000 views means a lot more people are reading my writing  than they were two years ago, and that number could keep going up. My friend Jeannie recently beat 6,000 views and I thought, “Wow, that would be cool!” But there’s no way 6,000 views are all friends and family. A blog with 6,000 views is beginning to hit the public sphere–almost 200 a day. That’s not fame either, of course, but I bet those numbers keep going up, and maybe I could get there too, and I’m feeling a little tension about it.

Part of the tension is aesthetic. My aesthetic ideal of fame is from my music and record production career: I’d like to become just famous enough that fans of my kind of music are waiting for my next project, but not famous enough to get recognized on the street.

I’ve always felt comfortable with that picture, but now I’m becoming a therapist, and it appears that the therapist-fame aesthetic is different. My supervisors tell me that I should be unfindable–no public phone numbers, websites, etc. Clients should not be able to contact me except through the clinic, and they definitely shouldn’t be able to find out about my personal life. I can see the wisdom in that, but I don’t want to do it. I can make my phone, myspace, and facebook private, but I’ve got this blog and my band’s website, plus I show up on other websites that I prefer to be publicly affiliated with, like Not Back To School Camp, my swing dance group ELLA, and my family‘s music sites.

Another part of the aesthetic tension is about transparency. I have to be one person to everyone on this blog. Being the same person to everyone is an ideal for me but makes me uncomfortable. I have psychology-research friends, therapy friends, and co-counseling friends, all of whom would be distressed to some degree to learn how deeply involved I am in each field. My atheist friends can see that when I say I am agnostic, I really mean it. I’m not a hedging-my-bet atheist. I think about God a lot and take the idea seriously. My religious friends will see that I mock fundamentalism pretty regularly. And so on. The more well-known I get, the less I get to show people the parts of me I think they will like and hide the parts I think they won’t like.

And then there is the ethical aspect of fame. In a way, the better known I am, the better off my friends and family are–the more traffic I can drive to our businesses by mentioning them, the bigger audience I’ll have built for books I write or records I make. I can also bring more attention to worthy causes, potential problems, things like my Headlines From Psychology, that people would be better off knowing. The more fame, the more impact. A famous Nathen would be a stronger force for good. If I do say so.

On the other hand, the extent of my fame also forces transparency onto my friends and family, and they don’t all share my aesthetic preference for transparency. I didn’t really get this as an ethical issue until Reanna asked me not to use her last name on the internet. She wants to control what people can find out about her, and who doesn’t? I regularly tell people who video me dancing, “No YouTube!” But it didn’t even occur to me to ask the friends and family I’ve written about whether I could use their full names, or even post their photos. I’ve been considering starting that project soon. I like using full names, talking about real, specific people. So and so said such and such. This, however, a big reason Kerouac died friendless. I guess ethics trumps aesthetics.

[Oh! Here’s my opportunity to make that project easier for myself. If I’ve used your name (or if it seems likely that I will) in NME, please email me your preference: last name or no last name.]

I wrote most of this in early June, not knowing if I my views would continue spiking. It turns out they did not. At the end of June I’m almost exactly where I was at the end of May. I suppose it’s possible that staying level is an achievement, though, since I posted almost every day in May but only every other day in June. I’ve also lost a good deal of my both excitement and tension about my stats, though I still check them every day. Maybe it’s having watched them level off again. I’m tempted to start posting every day again to see if I can get another spike, but I think I’d rather post even less frequently and give myself time for more thoughtful essays. I’ll keep you updated.

I’ve been tracking my driving and biking mileage since my last birthday, just over six months. I just broke 400 miles on my bike, so I thought I’d figure out my mileage ratio. I’m at 401.8 miles on my bike and 3,283.2 miles on my truck. That’s 1 to 8.17 biking to driving, or 12.24% biking.

That’s pretty good, I think, considering I’m just a commute-cyclist. I drove less than half of the average miles for an American (7,500  in six months, according to WikiAnswers) and biked 37 times the average American miles (using 6.2 billion miles biked in 2001 from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and 285,669,915 people in the US in 2001, according to the, giving about 11 miles per person per six months, if my math is right.)

I expect my biking to catch up some to my driving, too. I drove to Joshua Tree for Christmas this year, accounting for over 2,000 of my driving miles, and I won’t be making another trip like that for quite a while. Without that trip, I’d be at about 1/3 of my miles biked.

Hmm… maybe next year I’ll track my walking too. That would be cool to know.

In In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan recommends eating a variety of species. It’s not one of his banner recommendations, which are 1. Eat food (would your great-grandparents recognize it as food?), 2. Not too much, 3. Mostly vegetables. (And I think he later added 4. Nothing that gets advertised.) His sub-banner recommendations are things like eat from an old cuisine and eat a variety of species.

I thought it would be fun to count the species I eat for a period of time, and do-able because since I rarely buy prepared food, I know what’s in everything I eat. I just carried a 3×5 card with me for five days and wrote things down as I ate them. It was fun. It got me a good compliment and gave me an outlandish truth for “two truths and a lie,” which was the check-in for my Crisis Center meeting this week.

It was interesting, too. When I think about food variety, I usually think about a variety of meals, or maybe stealing a meal from a different cuisine than usual, not number of species. The species  really added up fast. I had 58 at the end of day two. I did not go out of my way to make my list longer, either. Note that I have not thoroughly researched this list–I just wrote things down as I ate them. I am not well-schooled in which plants are different species and which are just different cultivars. I discovered, for example, in On Food and Cooking (a wonderful book, if you haven’t seen it), that two plants I wrote down, garnet yam and jewel yam, are not different species, and are not even really yams. They are kinds of sweet potato. They will appear below as “sweet potato” but other, similar instances have probably eluded me. It’s the end of my term and I’m too busy to look them all up. Please correct me if you catch anything!










bean, black

beets (root & greens)

bell pepper




cabbage, red





chicken (egg)




cow (meat, milk)



endive, Frisee


garbanzo bean



goat (milk)

grape, Sultana

grape, wine


honey bee (honey)






lentil (Red Chief)

lettuce (Boston, red leaf, sentry)




mushroom, common

nutritional yeast


olive (fruit, oil)

onion, yellow











potato, red








sheep (meat)



squash (summer, zuchini)



summer savory

sweet potato (jewel, garnet)







I’m keeping track of what species I’m eating this week, for a blog post. Michael Pollan says in In Defense of Food that it’s probably a good idea to eat a large variety of species. So I thought I’d keep track and see.

Tonight I ate dinner as I often do with my friend Seth Rydmark. He lives in a Christian dormitory that offers free dinners to guests of dormees. It’s a nice bunch of kids. (And beautiful singers–ever notice that Christians can mostly sing? They know the harmonies for “Happy Birthday”–stuff like that.) Seth and I get geeky about psychology (and sometimes theology) and are usually by far the last to leave the table, deep in some obscure conversation. Tonight, the salad was made of one of those baby-green mixes and I was trying to identify the species. I asked Seth if he knew the name of that pale, frizzy stuff. He said no and asked the girl next to him, and explained my project. She said, “Why would anyone want to do that?”

Seth said, “Well, you know, whatever there is in life, there’s a nerd for that. And Nathen is a nerd’s nerd.”

I’ve been working my whole life to deserve a compliment like that!

And by the way, does anyone out there know the name of that pale, frizzy salad green?

I stopped eating wheat for a few years in the mid-90s. I had been getting sick a lot and a doctor recommended I give it a try, postulating an allergy. I immediately stopped getting sick. It was great. I was happy. I must have had an allergy, right? The thing is, I didn’t start getting sick again when I started eating wheat again. And, around the time I went back on wheat, I got skin-tested for food allergies and wheat did not show up. Did this mean I never had an allergy? That it had been a coincidence that I had stopped getting sick? That I had an allergy that didn’t show up because my tissues had been clean for so long? That I had an allergy and skin tests are no good? That I used to have an allergy and I had grown out of it? Food sensitivity, I have decided, along with most food-related ideas, is a murky domain, and I’m sorry to say that looking into the opinions of experts has not been helpful.

The idea I developed at the time, and still believe to some degree, is that I do have some kind of sensitivity to wheat that may or may not be an allergy (whenever that term finally gets a good definition), and that surfaces during times of stress, like rocks when the tide goes out. I don’t have much evidence for this. Just that the story I presented above happened during a stressful few years of my life, and that wheat seems to be one of the three foods (along with red meat and sugar) that I get clear “you just overdid it” signs from my body: If I eat a lot of white bread, I can count on getting a little irritated in the back of my throat and feeling a bit…yucky, I guess, is the technical term.

I have some evidence against my idea, too. First, no noticeable reactions to moderate amounts of wheat. A true Celiac, for example, will be extremely uncomfortable for days after eating any wheat, rye, or barley–bloating, diarrea, various symptoms. Also, by far the most stressful period of my life was a few years ago, and I ate wheat through it and barely ever got sick.

Anyway, I have this idea, and I’ve been thinking about this set of symptoms I have. I’m not sick, but not being sick is not good enough, you know? I have these symptoms: 1) I have dandruff. Dandruff is an inflammatory reaction to a kind of yeast that lives in our scalps. 2) I’ve been having some pain in my joints and tendons, mostly in my hands, feet, and low back. Joint pain is often associated with inflammation. 3) I have what a urologist called epididymitis, inflammation of an epididymis, which feels like a slightly achy testicle. 4) I’m itchy. Couldn’t that have something to do with inflammation?

As you may have guessed, I’ve come up with a hypothesis, the Nathen Has Low-Grade Systemic Inflammation Hypothesis. NHLGSIH, for short.

I’ve also come up with a plan that sounds really fun, starting this weekend and going through to my birthday, at the end of September. Part of it is going off gluten (or, strictly, gliadin, the molecule in the protein complex that is called ‘gluten’ and that is in the gluten of wheat, rye, and barley, and that seems to be the problematic element) because of my food sensitivity idea–maybe I’m reacting to it at a low level and I’d be better off without it. Part of it is supplementation: anti-inflammatories (fish oil and turmeric, mostly) and bioflavanoids (picnogenol and grape pips, mostly). I can honestly say that I’ve never felt a clear benefit from a supplement, but what the heck, I’m giving it a try.

I’ll be watching for a clear improvement in any of my easily trackable symptoms (pains, dandruff) by my birthday. It would be nice to experience obvious changes, but I’m skeptical. Inflammation is another murky topic. It’s a very, very complex part of our immune response, involving a bunch of hormones and chemical cascades. No doubt in a hundred years inflammation as we know it will seem very quaint, along with balancing the humors. Anyway, without obvious improvement, I’ll go back to the good, crusty breads and not reading labels.

There are several weaknesses in my methodology. First, no control group. I need a second Nathen to eat gluten all summer but otherwise do exactly what I’m doing. Second, these are not the only diet changes I’m making. I’m also going off sugar and pretty much all other processed foods. I’m also going to be eating 50-70% raw food, by volume. I’m taking glucosamine, MSM, and chondroitin. I’m also going to start eating protein three times a day. Third, there are the lifestyle changes. I’m moving. I’m not going to school. I’m not going to be reading/computing/stressing as much. I’m going to be excercising a lot more. And meditating. I’m going to be making music. I’m not going to be dancing as much. I’ll still dance every day, but I’m not planning to do any camps or exchanges until December.

So it’s not even a very good quasi-experiment. But I’m so looking forward to it! I love changing up my diet. I get so much more creative about what I eat. I’m looking forward to my summer, in general. I’m going to stay in Eugene for most of it, which is unusual for me even though it’s my favorite time of year here. I’m going to relax. I’m going to eat some great food.

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