mt. solitary a weblog


This is a photograph of Nahal Cziv, a stream in northern Israel, the location of our first venture out of the city for almost six months. There was almost no one around, the sun was out, the water was cool, it was sublime.

Instead of the usual few-hundred-word format, this month I have small amounts to say about a few topics.

1. The honorific Abu

In the fantastic graphic novel The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf, the author describes the tradition in Arabic culture to refer to a man as Abu (which means father of), followed by his eldest son’s name. He says that his own father had chosen his name many years before he was born based on how his father would like to be called for most of his life.

I was thinking this week about the intense reflective experience of having children, and began to understand this idea a little better. There are humbling moments as a parent where you watch your own child and can imagine yourself as a child, where you realise you aren’t doing such a bad job of this whole thing, and that your own parents didn’t do such a bad job either. It’s a very vivid reaffirmation of the self and of the whole messy and eternal cycle of humanity, and I can see the appeal of making it part of your name. (I am purposefully ignoring the other implications of the tradition in a very patriarchal society).

2. What happens when you stop running

When things are difficult in life it’s common to feel a slightly stronger pull towards the easier options: for me that usually means low quality food, alcohol, less sleep, less exercise. I wonder if it’s possible to quantify and measure this pull. It’s clear that these things all compound each other: it’s harder to break a single bad habit than to just form a new one. It feels a bit to me like the second law of thermodynamics, that fighting against the accumulation of bad habits is like fighting entropy, trying to reverse the natural course of the universe. I think this very strange and uncertain year has pushed a lot of people further along this path than they’re used to and that they’re comfortable with.

I can say and have experienced that with the right combination of circumstances the same can happen in reverse. Good things can lead to more good things, that walk you do in the morning can lead to a healthier day and to another walk the following morning. But once the easier options have become the default it becomes harder and harder to reverse the inertia.

3. Can I write fiction here

A brief thought: I haven’t written fiction of any sort for a long while now, and I have a few old ideas kicking around in my head that I would like to give some air, and (very) limited time to do anything. Maybe I could post the occasional short story to Mt. Solitary, once a year say, to make time for that as well. So November (the month of the NaNoWriMo novel-writing event, which I’ve tried and not succeeded to do twice) I think will be the Mt. Solitary fiction month, and next month I will post a short story here.

4. SAD in summer

Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) is common in northern hemisphere countries with very cold winters, during which the prevalence of depression and anxiety rise drastically as people spend significantly more time indoors and have far fewer hours of sunlight in a day. This disorder has a strong cultural resonance: cold has a persistent association with depression, lonliness, the feeling of waiting for it to be over so the warmth will return.

I have been living in a very hot place for the past five summers, and I’m starting to think maybe I have a similar experience with hot weather. Summers in Israel are relentless. They last around five months, have zero rainfall, and contain long periods with very high humidity and high temperatures. There are days when the sky fills with dust and visibility drops to a single kilometre. There are upsides of course, you can spend a lot more time at the beach, there is plenty of sunlight, it’s much easier to dress for hot weather than cold. But overall I find the experience of summer to be exhausting and count down the days until the weather starts to get cooler again (as of today I’m still waiting).

5. Reading, watching and listening