Progress Report

by Bernard Brandt

Well, since a nephew of mine has solemnly informed me that no one reads this wretched little weblog, and since I have also noted that I haven’t written anything in said wretched little weblog for several months, I might as well write something. As Tom Lehrer once said, “Life is like a sewer: what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.” And so with Random Conjectures.

Actually, a part of the matter is that I have been pushing though Great and Holy Lent, and a part of the weird little religious cult that I am a part of, when I’m not LARPing as an old curmudgeon, is that one is supposed to keep things simple, and not indulge in idle entertainment. Writing, for me, is the idlest of entertainments, and so…

But, as King Harry the Fifth was reported to have said, ‘Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…’ I survived Holy Week with nothing more than a slight case of laryngitis (which started about two hours before the Pascha services that went from 11 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.).  While I wish that I could have been in better voice for the occasion, any liturgy that you can walk away from is a good one.

I spent much of the Passion Week before Pascha confecting another duck cassoulet, which I provided for the Pascha morning meal that we have at my little church at the end of the world. It was, alas, somewhat marred by being a bit over-salted, the result of my not removing all of the salt from the duck and ham confit that were a part of the doings. Fortunately, another nephew, who is a really good chef, made some suggestions which helped to salvage the portion of the cassoulet which I served for the family dinner the next day.

My mother continues her decline, but despite the fact that the stroke she has suffered has deprived her of the use of her legs, her right hand, and much of her speech, she remains remarkably good natured. I visit her weekly, as a part of my helping to watch over her to see that she does not get out of bed and fall. But, since she is now confined to a hospital bed in her bedroom, it is much more difficult for her to get out. She sleeps most of the time now, but there are some moments, now and then, when I hold her hand, and we communicate without words. She made it possible for me to come into this world. I figure that the least I can do is to help make her journey out of it as comfortable as possible. But my brother Bill and my nephew John (the chef) do much more to help her. I am both proud of them, and thankful for them.

I’m finally starting to recover from the depression which took me after my second wife, Beth, died of cancer in August of 2015. Thus, I am self-medicating far less, and am gradually losing weight, and just about all of my belly fat. As a consequence of all this, my blood sugars are normalizing, and my type II diabetes appears to be in remission. I’m also in a lot better health than I’ve been in some time. While at present, I am suffering some lower back pain, which is interfering with my walking, I’m doing some stretching which seems to be alleviating the back pain. We shall see.

But I have made use of Great Lent to make some changes in my life. The first has been a more organized form of prayer, which consists of praying at 6 am, 9 am, 12 am, 3 pm, 6 pm, and 9 pm. Or, if you prefer, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, and Compline. The prayers are the Trisagion prayers (with the ‘O Heavenly King’ omitted for now until Pentecost), followed by 100 repetitions of the Prayer of the Heart. I am also praying while walking, and am getting up to two hours a day (when not troubled with back pain).

But I have also developed a life of study around those hours. After my prayers for Prime, I have been using Duolingo to learn Spanish, French, Italian, and German, spending 45 minutes on each language. When I have completed the work on those four (which should be by next month), I intend to begin reading texts in those languages, and continuing with Duolingo’s courses in Portuguese, Greek, Russian, and Hebrew. Heute Europa: Morgen, Die Welt!

Of course, if anyone could give advice as to free online language courses which could do something similar for Latin and Modern Literary Arabic, I would very much appreciate it.

After my prayers for Terce (9 am) and my breakfast, I have been studying Mathematics via Khan Academy. In just a few months, I have gone from being an innumerate idiot to attaining 100 percent mastery of kindergarten through seventh grade math, and I am currently at 88 percent mastery of 8th grade math. I am also informed by Khan Academy that I am now at 58 percent mastery of their World of Math, which ranges from basic arithmetic to multi-variable calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra.

My current plan is to finish high school algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and probability/statistics, and while continuing with math, to add the KA course work in physics, chemistry, biology, electrical engineering, and programming. And, when I am finished with everything that KA has to offer, I will be turning my attention to this, this, and maybe even this.

After my prayers for Sext (12 noon) and my mid-day meal, I have been working on learning music. In part, this has meant learning basic musicianship, theory, and fixed pitch solfege. In part, this has also meant studying the standard texts on voice, and developing something resembling good vocal technique. And in part, this has meant learning how to play the classical guitar, and eventually, the renaissance lute. There is more that I intend on doing, but I will wait until I have developed a solid musicianship, and vocal and instrumental technique, before writing more about it.

After prayers for Nones (3 pm), I’ve taken lately to reading through the texts on this website. And yes, I know: it is a rather traditionalist, and rather anti-Roman, Orthodox website. But it is the only website I know of which provides a course of Orthodox Christian theology, based on the study of Scripture, Holy Tradition, and the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Anyone who could point me in the direction of an Eastern Catholic or even Roman Catholic website which teaches such things would have my gratitude.

Finally, after my prayers for Vespers (6 pm) and my evening meal, I read pretty much whatever I want to. This, for the most part, has been poetry (you know, Eliot, Auden, Dylan Thomas, that lot) and the copy of Modernist Cuisine that my nephew John loaned me.

All this, of course, is a work in progress, and subject to change. The reason for this self-tuition, however, is that I have been profoundly dissatisfied with the education I received in college, and which I have since garnered for myself. I want, finally, to have that humanistic, scientific, philosophical, and theological education which the Council Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote of in their encyclical, Optatam Totius. While it is a great pity that the Roman Church has for the most part failed to obtain and pass on such an education for its clergy and its clerisy, I see no reason why I shouldn’t obtain it for myself.