Against all odds, it happened today. I was able to get some rides and actually have fun. I made most of the waves I went for (though getting up is still a struggle). And despite being as crowded as summer---well, it was fifty degrees out---it was a mellow, friendly session. The sun even peeked out.
Yesterday I had an epiphany that made all the difference. This is going to sound stupid to you, because you all know it. In fact, people have been telling it to me for years, so in a sense I knew it too, but there is knowing and then there is knowing. It was simply this: as long as I get some paddling speed and momentum up before catching the wave (hopefully creating the feeling of being one with the board) I am going to catch it. I am going to know I am going to catch it, and in that way have an extra split second to prepare for getting up, increasing my chances of standing.
I also realized that when I get up on one knee I have to keep my hands on the rails the whole time; there is no other way to do it. And releasing my hands is the key to getting up quickly and balancing. Conversely, there is no way to do a popup with hands on the rails. They have to release.
Today I did about half and half, half hands on, half off. That is something to work on.