Rain, rain go away…

This is one of the best graphic representation of Greek Philosophy I’ve seen.

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I would love to say I am Stoic 100% of the time (the ideal sense of self) come hell or high-water… unfortunately I think the truth is more an osculation between cynicism and… sadly, epicurean-ism. Depending on external stimuli (or lack thereof)… most notably how well I slept. Sometimes I will manage some modicum of stoic behavior. Usually by accident… wandering off piste and then getting stuck in a rosebush*…

*which has, sadly, happened to me.

Of course stoicism remains the consummate goal, the benchmark as it were. My natural skill-set however favors… well… almost anything else. Which is, as I perceived it at least, grossly unfair. When this particular rodeo ends I have a good mind to speak to the manager.

Regrets…

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse working in palliative care, recorded what she perceived to be the top five regrets of the dying. They were:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Brown, Darren. Happy – why more or less everything is absolutely fine. Penguin Randomhouse. 2016

MJ. First off, I’d like to nominate Bronnie Ware for the most Australian name eva!

But she probably knows what she’s talking about, being there at the foamy, gurgling end for a whole bunch of us. Which is quite a tough gig in my opinion, since most of us…

Don’t want to get on the cart! (To paraphrase Monty Python)

Not to brag but I tend to rack up this precise list of regrets by the end of each day. Not through deep and serious introspection, but rather because I’m quite whiny… and have a tendency to feel sorry for myself. So I’m hoping when my time comes (covered in bed sores and crusty stuff of indeterminate origin) I’ve worked through all my regrets and general demise angst and am happy to go towards the light/infinite darkness/restaurant at the end of the universe.

We can only hope.

(That there is a restaurant at the end of the universe I mean)

‘Despite all my rage…’

‘…I am still just a rat in a cage’ – Smashing Pumpkins, Bullet with Butterfly wings. 

It is still, after all these years, one of my favorite songs. Even if I don’t lace up my sixteen hole doc Martens and step into the mosh-pit anymore… Mostly because that’ll mean a week of ibuprofen and misery afterwards… also lets be completely honest, at the venerable age of thirty nine, anything that may result in hard living happens WAY after my bed time (these days).

Enter stage left, Louis CK.

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… I’ve wasted a lot of time just being angry at people I don’t know. You know its amazing how nasty we can get as people, depending on the situation. Like most people are okay… as long as they’re okay. But if you put people in certain contexts they just change. Like when I’m in my car I have a different set of values. I am the worst person I can be when I’m behind the wheel, which is when I’m at my most dangerous. When you’re driving that’s when you need to be the most compassionate and responsible of any other time of your life, because you are fucking driving a weapon among WEAPONS. And yet its the worst people get… and I am the worst. 

This one time I was driving and there was this guy a head of me and he kinda, I don’t know, sorta, drifted into my lane for a second, and this came out of my mouth, I said, ‘WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT’. I mean what an indictment. What kinda way is that to feel about another human being, worthless piece of shit, that’s somebodies son! 

And things I’ve said to other people, I was once driving and some guy in a pick up truck… did… I don’t know, I don’t remember even, and I yelled out my window, I said ‘hey! FUCK YOU’. Where outside of a car is that even nearly okay? If you were in an elevator, and you were like right next to a persons body and like whatever he leaned into you a little bit would you ever turn right to their face and go ‘hey, FUCK YOU’. ‘Worthless piece of shit’. No, literally zero people would ever do that. But put a couple of pieces of glass and some road between you and there is nothing you would not say to them.

‘I HOPE YOU DIE!’ I said that to a person, ‘I HOPE YOU DIE!’ Why? Because you made me, [makes slight steering wheel motion]  go like this for half a second of my life. You tested my reflexes and it worked out FINE. So now I hope your kids grow up MOTHERLESS. I mean what am I capable of? I’d like to think that I am a nice person… but I don’t know man…

-Louis CK, HBO Oh My God Comedy Special

MJ. While Louis CK is talking about Road rage, this also feels a lot like Social Media to me. Do you think Jack Dorsey sometimes stares off across the Bay towards Alcatraz island and profoundly whispers to no one in particular…

‘I have become vitriol. Destroyer of civil discourse’

Its a very weird dichotomy we have. Normal human interaction versus our not so normal human interaction. I’m not sure which one is our baseline though and which one is abnormal. Maybe the angry version of ourselves is actually who we really are when we are freed from the confines of consequence. I know its probably not quite as simplistic as a flight or fight response but sometimes it feels that the rage is the real us, and everything else is just conformance.

I suppose in the end its our actions we should be judged by and not what ideology we ascribe lip service to and how much hypocrisy we spew. Louis CK final line sticks with me,

I’d like to think that I am a nice person… but I don’t know man…

Can you be a ‘mostly’ nice person? I mean giving someone the finger in traffic can surely be mitigated by some of our more desirable social traits… like (thinks for a while).. charity! (I mean that’s okay isn’t it?)

Is it a mathematical equation? Weighted positives and negatives tallied up to reveal our rating as a human being displayed on some ethereal pivot chart or dashboard. Would we want to know our score? I don’t think I’d want to know. (Admittedly I get anxious about the possibility of an Uber driver giving me less than a five stars…) Then again I suppose it all depends if you think words like ‘nice person’ actually mean anything.

In any event the utility of rage is low. Some might argue even zero. Of course the stoics knew this ages ago…

‘How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it’ – Marcus Aurelius

… and I do believe this. And I’m trying to quit. I really am. But its hard. Like on the same sort of level for me as giving up bread. Some days are okay. Other days all you can think about is a fresh baguette.

With butter.

Oh my god. Stop it!

I suppose there exists a state of being where I no longer think about delicious bread. Or resort to odious terse vocabulary and triple digit diastolic when somebody vexes me. That day… however, is not to today.

It might be tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

 

Christmas letter from Iwo Jima

Lieutenant Leonard Isacks died just two months after writing this letter home to his boys. On February 20th, 1945 he was killed when a Japanese mortar round hit his foxhole on Iwo Jima. He left behind his wife and three children.

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My dear little boys:

I am writing you today, just a week before Christmas eve, in the hope that you will get this little note at Christmas time. All of this coming week will be holidays, and I can just imagine the fun you will be having, especially when you know that it is just a few days before Santa Claus will be coming. If it were possible, I would like to come down the chimney myself and crawl right in to your stocking, wouldn’t that be a surprise! I would enjoy it even more than you, but since your Dad is far away and Santa Claus has the only reindeer’s that will fly through the air, I’m afraid we will have to let Santa Claus use them. After all he has so many places to go in such a short time.

I won’t be able to give you a Christmas present personally this year, but I do want you to know that I think of you all of the time and feel very proud of the way you have been helping your Mother while I was gone. I know that it is only natural for young, healthy and strong boys like you are to want to play and have fun all of the time: but I do want you to think about helping Mummie, because it is hard for her to do everything while I am gone. I know that you would like to give me a Xmas present too, so I will tell you what you can do, and this will be your Xmas present to me. Everyday ask Mummie if there are errands that you can go on for her, and when there are errands to run, say ‘Sure Mummie’ and give her a big smile: then during the day go up your room and look around, if there are toys scattered all around or you left some of your clothes on the floor, pick them up: also, when Mummie is busy trying to clean up the house, don’t leave her by herself, but ask Mummie if you can help take care of baby sister. If you will do those things for me, that will be the finest Xmas present that you could give me. Oh yes and CC, are you eating your meals like a real man now?

Well my boys, I guess you often wonder why people fight and have wars, and why lots of daddies have to be away at Xmas time fighting, when it would be so much nicer to be at home. That’s a hard question to answer. But, you see, some countries like Japan and Germany, have people living in them, just like some people you and I know. Those people want to tell everybody what they can do and what they can’t do. No one likes to be told how to live their life. I know that you certainly wouldn’t like it if one of the boys in the neighbourhood tired to tell you what church you should go to, what school you should go to and particularly if that boy would always be trying to ‘beat up’ some smaller, weaker boy. You wouldn’t like it, would you? And, unfortunately the only way to make a person like that stop those sorts of things or a country like Japan or Germany, is to fight them and beat them… and teach them that being a bully (because after all that’s what they are) is not the way to live and that we won’t put up with it. What does all of this mean to you? Just simply this, my boys, Dad, doesn’t want you to ever be a bully, I want you to always fight against anyone who trys to be one; I want you to always help the smaller fellow, or the little boy who may not be as strong as you: I want you to always share what you have with the other fellow and above all, my boys have courage, have courage to do the things that you think are right. To do those things, you need a strong body and a brave heart; never run away from someone you may be afraid of if you do, you will feel ashamed of yourself and before long you will find it so easy to run away from the things that you should stand up and fight against. If you and lots of other boys try to do the things that Dad has been talking about in this letter, it may be that people will not have to fight wars in the years to come and then all of the Daddies in this world will be home for Christmas and that is where they belong. Perhaps some of the things I have been talking about… you don’t quite understand, if you don’t, Mummie will explain them to you, as she knows….

A Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year… God Bless you. Daddy

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MJ. This letter had a profound impact on me. As some who tries to follow the principles of stoicism I think its important to remember that the whole point of life is to die. (And preferably to die well)

I think about death a lot. I try make it part of my daily routine. When I leave in the morning to go to work I try and say goodbye to my wife, child and dogs as if its the last time I will see them. That doesn’t make it a soppy, gushy drawn out affair every morning, but it does make me cognizant to do it properly and not an event where I’m stumbling out of the house with a coffee in hand, bagel in mouth and mumbling ‘later’ down the passage.

It also underscores to me that I have a responsibility to these people that doesn’t necessarily end with my demise. While I don’t necessarily believe in Utilitarianism. I do believe creating life requires a level of commitment and culpability on the part of the creator to ensure that your creation has the best possible statistical chance of doing well (without messing them up). And while I understand that everyone has a different value system, ascribing different weights to the different things we can pass along to our progeny, ie financial assistance, stability, values, etc I tend to think of this more along the lines of risk diversification and so try add a little bit of everything of what I deem important.

In any event. It is also why I blog. I could get t-boned by a semi on my way home tonight. In a couple of months my two year old daughter won’t remember very much about me and in time, there will be only vague memories and notions. I’d still like to be there for her in some form or another. I’d like there to be some evidence that she was loved. This is what your dad was like. This is what he thought about. Hopefully she will think about it. Build on it. Modify it. Change it. And then pay it forward to the next generation.

Ad infinitum.

 

Anonymity and the power of celebrity

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I really liked this…

taken from the Daily Stoic interview with the The Stoic Emperor discussing anonymity and the power of celebrity on social media…

In Japan, during the Edo period, actors had to live in the red light district. It was considered scandalous for respectable people to interact with them. They were thought to be frivolous and contaminating. Do I think that kind of moral panic was justified? Not entirely, but actors are people that trade in illusion. They have a theatrical identity that is very powerful, though it may be built on nothing. Actors and other celebrities tend to be among the most powerful people on social media. They often have confident opinions that are based on very little information. They spend more time looking in the mirror than looking at the facts. They have direct access to millions of people. This is very interesting, and very dangerous.

MJ. I’ve made no effort to research if this anecdote is true, the Japanophile in me wants to believe (and so I do). While I try not get all misanthropic about the human race and our propensity to heap undue value on the (often inane) cerebral musings of the entertainer class… it doesn’t always work out that way for me. That’s not to say my own thoughts are any less vapid but I am comforted by my lack of adherents. After all…

‘With great power comes great responsibility’ – Ben Parker

which I don’t think is always appreciated by people peddling an agenda or exerting their ego on the world. I tend agree with the The Stoic Emperor. Rather assume anonymity and let your thoughts and words be judged on their merit rather than be colored by the cult of your personality.

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Caveat. If I do become famous and attract millions of followers… you should totally listen to me (and potentially elevated me to a position of authority). I have your best interests at heart. For realsies.

The Gadsden Flag

The Gadsden Flag is named after its designer, Christopher Gadsden (1724 – 1805), a merchant, politician and general who created the flag during the American Revolution in 1775.

The flag is rectangular with a yellow field. A stylised Timber Rattlesnake occupies the centre of the flag with the text ‘DONT TREAD ON ME’ positioned underneath.

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The Timber Rattlesnake was prolific in the American north east at the time but has since been mostly extirpated. Its symbolism in representing the original thirteen Colonies was originally conceptualised by Benjamin Franklin. A year earlier Franklin had published a drawing of a snake, cut into eight sections, with New England represented by the head and the all following segments labeled as one of the colonies following their order along the coastline with South Carolina as the tail.

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Underneath the snake was written ‘Join or Die’. Franklin appreciated the Rattlesnake and felt that it could be a good choice for the embodiment the American spirit. While originally intended as an appeal to unite the colonies during the French-Indian wars, the symbolism gained traction with the colonists as a uniquely American creature exemplifying American principles.

Paul Revere added Benjamin Franklin’s drawing to the name plate of Isaiah Thomas’s newspaper, The Massachusetts Spy where it was pitted against a British Dragon.

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The quote above the snake is taken from the play, ‘Cato, a Tragedy’, written Joseph Addison in 1712. It is based on the last days of Cato the younger, a Roman stoic who best known his incorruptibility and his resistance to the tyranny of Julius Caesar. ‘Do Thou great Liberty inspire our souls, And make our lives in thy possession happy – Or our deaths glorious in thy just defence’.

The Continental Navy was established in 1775. The navy flew the Liberty Tree Flag which depicts a pine tree on a white field with the words ‘Appeal to Heaven’ written underneath. In order to assist these Navy ships in ship-to-ship actions as well as conduct amphibious attacks, the Second Continental Congress authorised five companies of Marines to be mustered to accompany the Navy ships.

The first Marines to be enlisted came from the City of Philadelphia. They supposedly carried drums depicting a coiled rattlesnake with thirteen rattles and used the motto ‘Don’t tread on me’. Christopher Gadsden represented South Carolina at this Congress. Before the departure of the first naval mission, the new appointed commander, Commodore Esek Hopkins, received a yellow rattlesnake flag from Christopher Gadsden to serve as the personal standard of his flagship.

More recently the Gadsden Flag has reappeared, being claimed by conservative organisations and various libertarian groups as a banner representing their particular dogma.

MJ. I really like the concepts of libertarianism and if I was under duress to identify with a particular ideology I would likely tick the libertarianism box. Having said that, I don’t really understand this desire to build a club, create a secret handshake or indeed appropriate a historical flag to represent a group of people. I suppose I can broadly appreciate the marketing value of a ‘cool’ flag and the group psychology involved, I’m just weary of the identity echo chamber, group-think and getting wrapped up in libertarianism the brand. Also yellow just isn’t my colour. But just because I have no interest promoting my political beliefs by draping the Gadsden across my living room wall doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Each to their own. I more of a… 

‘Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself’ – Robert Greene.

kinda guy. The history, however, is fascinating. 

F’ing Nature.

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“It is also a mistake to conceptualize nature romantically. Rich, modern city-dwellers, surrounded by hot, baking concrete, imagine the environment as something pristine and paradisal, like a French impressionist landscape. Eco-activists, even more idealistic in their viewpoint, envision nature as harmoniously balanced and perfect, absent the disruptions and depredations of mankind. Unfortunately, “the environment” is also elephantiasis and guinea worms (don’t ask), anopheles mosquitoes and malaria, starvation-level droughts, AIDS and the Black Plague. We don’t fantasize about the beauty of these aspects of nature, although they are just as real as their Edenic counterparts. It is because of the existence of such things, of course, that we attempt to modify our surroundings, protecting our children, building cities and transportation systems and growing food and generating power. If Mother Nature wasn’t so hell-bent on our destruction, it would be easier for us to exist in simple harmony with her dictates.”

Peterson, Jordan B. 12 Rules for Life. Penguin Random House, 2018

MJ. I really liked this passage. I thought it was remarkably stoic.

Blueberry milkshake-less

All things considered my day so far has been relatively rubbish with a long dead end meeting sequenced into my morning so as to cause maximum disruption to my day. After that I had one of my warehouse staff bursting into tears in my office because he feels he can’t cope with the pressure of his job*. A forty minute exercise where I tried to be empathetic (not really my strong suite).

*just to be fair, his job today was to sit and scrape the rust off the generator and paint those sections with red-oxide.

In order to catch up I thought I’d treat myself to Uber-eats and work through lunch at my desk. Unfortunately when my Uber arrived my blueberry milkshake had tipped over and painted the inside of his carry compartment (including some other peoples food with blue foamy goodness). Damn. I was really looking forward to that milkshake.

If this had been my sales managers food she would have poked him in the eye and then tombstone pile driven his head into the curb. Like a scene from American History X. Alas I am soft (or exceptionally stoic). I said it was fine. And tipped him anyway.

Now post event I’m having the decision making angst. I can’t decide if I was just conflict adverse after a long morning of fighting with people. Or if it was a serious c’est la vie moment. I’m hoping for the latter, although maybe I’m just trying to convince myself.

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Hmm.

On death

Memento, homo … quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris’ (remember human, that you are dust and to dust you will return)

Interacting with a skeletal chassis wrapped in a black cowl and wielding a farming implement of questionable hygiene seems a little dated. (and let’s be honest, somewhat Pratchetty*)

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* look at me, creating an adjective.

Having never experienced death, I’m loathed to hypothesize on how our interaction will play out. I imagine some surprise (on my part) possibly followed by some light Q&A, maybe a pamphlet or laminated brochure being thrust at me, ‘Welcome to the afterlife’. Hopefully I will think of something witty to say, I’d like to make a good first impression. I think that might be situation dependent though, difficult to say something clever if you’ve just died in a suicide bombing and you’re preoccupied with picking drywall screws and bits of pressure cooker out of your skull (well.. what’s left of it)

Then again population dynamics being what they are, perhaps I’m being optimistic for a personalized experience. It seems more likely that we all get corralled into some sort of foyer or boardroom (along with the proletariat of the world) for the Death powerpoint FAQ. Which will likely fail to live up to the expectations, given the agitated excitement of the recently deceased.

After snacks and a bit of light banter we get separated into groups, based on religious preference, and led down markedly different aesthetic corridors. Atheists, agnostics and mixed faith couples unwilling to be separated are left to mill around aimlessly in the foyer. ‘Your representative is running a little late’, says Death. Which is somewhat of a relief. That we even have a representative I mean.

‘Something about the Hell-mouth over flowing’, Death mumbles. The audience shares looks of concern. Death laughs, ‘I apologize, a little joke I make, gets you guys every time, ha ha.’

It amuses me to consider some form of post death experience. For the most part it keeps me entertained about the inevitable. As Monty Python famously said, ‘Always look on the bright side… of death’.

For the most part however we as Homo sapiens aren’t amused by anything involving death. (From now on I shall refer only to the process and not the individual) We take it all very seriously, so seriously in fact that we attempt to prolong the inevitable. Not content with just kicking the bucket down the road (so to speak), we also spend an inordinate of time and effort creating narratives ranging from reanimation to resurrection to reincarnation to deal with post event uncertainty and potential consequences thereof.

What happens when we die? I have no idea. I mean I understand that we bloat, rot and get served up as a delicious all-day buffet for a menagerie of microorganisms (More than usual I mean). But that my consciousness is somehow backed up into an ethereal soul that streaks skyward on my demise, unfortunately, feels unlikely. If pushed for an answer I assume my consciousness just ceases to exist and that I disappear. Although to be fair, it’s difficult for me to conceptualize nothingness.

The good news is my thoughts and belief system(s) are completely irrelevant. As are yours. Untested and unprovable they remain purely theoretical until some future yet undetermined date. But feel free to continue any formalized rituals or mental models that you suppose might prepare you for the end, I certainly will.

Homo sapiens as far as I can tell have two purposes, to breed and then to die.

As to the former, breeding, we spend a disproportionate amount of time preparing ourselves, practicing our technique, validating mates and then post procreation, mopping up vomit and making aeroplane noises. In contrast we spend almost no time all considering our second prerogative, death, which is far more guaranteed and much less optional.

Death is an uncomfortable conversation. Only psychopaths, depressed people and philosophers think about death and dying. Death in my culture at least has become almost a taboo topic. I have (almost) never engaged with a co-worker at the water cooler about the manner in which they would like to die. Which is strange considering it’s a commonality we all share.

My genealogy is that of the Teutonic and Scandinavian tribes, who thought about death quite a lot. For the male of the species their entire life was dedicated towards a glorious end. Death in battle guaranteed a spot in the feast hall of Valhalla, whereas slipping in your own piss, falling down a gravelly incline and breaking your neck merely meant an entry on the waiting list (probably near the bottom). Better to die with an axe embedded firmly in your face and skip the queue.

But then out with the old gods and in with the new. Glorious self-serving death becomes a frowned upon exercise. (Along with masturbation and bacon*) However death is still very much in vogue. But more of the martyrdom variety and then once a critical mass of adherents is achieved, inflicting death on other faiths.

*both of which I love.

Since then dying seems to have picked up a lot of negativity. Possibly because it is so often prefixed with pain. The death part, as far as I can tell is completely painless. It’s the preamble that frightens us and then potentially what happens afterwards.

41 million minutes. That’s roughly the time allocated to me. Statistically speaking. Of that, at the venerable age of 38 I’ve used up 21 million of my minutes already. Leaving me with roughly 20 million minutes. (back of a napkin mathematics) Of that, I’ll be sleeping for at least 6 million minutes of that. Leaving me…. 14 million minutes. This is assuming I survive long enough to achieve my statistical allotment.

On some level we all know that life is short. We bandy about idioms like ‘Carpe diem’ and the more churlish ‘Grab life by the balls’. All of which are supposed to impress upon us the shortness of life and, that we really should get off the couch and ‘get after it’.

Is waking up every day and pretending that this is your last day a viable strategy? On the face of it I’m inclined to disagree, but only because I can imagine days like this to be frenetic, hedonic and ultimately exhausting. But that is more based on my personality. I often marvel at other people’s endurance to cultivate such a lifestyle and more perhaps more importantly to thrive in it. I have none of that zeal,. (I am completely dysfunctional until infused with at least one caffeinated beverage)

I have however, (recently) decided that since I am here and conscious, I should at least give try impress upon the world that I existed and leave some sort of mark to prove that ‘Jo was (in fact) here’.

Housekeeping and accouterments

I cleaned out my shooting bag yesterday. I seesaw between fanatical orderliness (The Prussian trait of Ordnungsinn) and the worst kind of slovenly disregard for my gear.

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Everything is neat and tidy (again) and the empty shell casings have been transferred into… a plastic fishbowl… which now graces a position of prominence on the bookshelf in my office…

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Where I imagine that it makes an interesting feature. You may also be able to deduce from this picture that I am a Ryan Holiday fanboy. I would deny it of course…. but I think I really might be. Although I’ve stopped following him on Instagram, because his donkeys and daily workouts are boring and repetitive*. Also I am back on Instagram. (#resolution fail)

*I can be mean about a stoic. Because if he chooses not to feel slighted, he won’t be 😀

The previous resident of the fish bowl was a Brown house snake I’d caught. It had wrapped itself around the light next to my kitchen door and on leaving to go work I’d suddenly become aware of something brown and snake like in my peripheral vision.

I wearily managed to unfurl it from around the light and coaxed it into the fish bowl using my fencing épée. Being relatively juvenile in mind I had to bring it to work to show everyone my achievement. (you know, show and tell)

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I even went to the pet shop and bought it a pinkie, which it dutiful devoured. But then I felt sorry for it, so it was transferred it into a Tupperware container and gave it to one of my sales guys who released it that evening on his small holding.

In other, sadder news, I finished book three of Kings Dark Tidings on Audible this morning on my way in to work.

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I love this series. I’m generally not a big fan of the fantasy and sci-fiction genres, (because there’s so much rubbish) Nick Podehl, the reader of Kings Dark Tidings series, is phenomenally good. In fact he may be my favorite voice artist. I’m sad that I have to wait another year for the next one. My binge reading/watching mind demands immediate satisfaction!

Why I can’t have nice things

1 January 2018. 5am. Joey is standing outside his house on the asphalt, stretching out his spine in anticipation of his run. He selects the Outdoor run icon on his Apple watch, it dutifully starts counting down, 3, 2, 1 and then… it goes dark. What the…  I take a closer look. The whole face of the watch has just popped off and is semi-dangling from the housing. The watch is dead. I stand there, perplexed.

No………..

Sadly, the first thing I think of is how this has just completely stuffed up my ‘perfect month achievement’ award.

Then I think how sad it is that ‘THAT’ is my first reaction.

I take the watch off, shove it my post box and go running.

Its a good run.

At least I think it is. It feels like one, even if I don’t have any empirical evidence to back up my hunch.

I suppose there are several ways I could interpret this event. Most clear to me is that the god(s)* of quantifiable self, hate me.

*I’m not sure if this a monotheistic god or a polytheistic pantheon so I make allowances for plurality.

Briefly I wonder what I might have done that’s annoyed them. Its a fairly exhaustive list of sins, strikes and misdemeanors…. difficult to narrow it down to just one category. Could be anything.

I imagine Seneca would have taken his Apple watch and smashed it on a rock, just to prove he didn’t need it. (Maybe) Although more likely is that he had previously negatively visualized his Apple watch arbitrarily failing. And so he was mentally prepared for the loss of an achievement award.

Things I should have anticipated.

Arbor mortis

I wake up every day at 03H59.

Which is a stupid time (I know). But it is also a very considered time. Most importantly its thirty one minutes before Jocko Willink gets up. I have a this weird competitive thing (slash mental disorder).

I don’t actually roll out of bed and attack my day (unlike Jocko) and kill my enemies. It takes me a solid ten minutes to check my feeds and then to haul my (plus-size) carcass out of bed. Then I loiter around and lollygag for a bit. This morning I was trying to figure out how to hard-reboot my fitbit (which decided to commit suicide during the night), but there’s always something. Also… I thought it might stop raining if I waited.

At zero dark thirty it was still bucketing down. Decided to swap out my backpack for a poncho instead for my 5km tour de neighborhood. On my way back and probably 700mtrs from my house I suddenly hear a thunderous crack behind me. I turn, three or four meters away this huge tree comes down across the road, directly were I was a second ago.

Holy cow! I stop and stare. Death by tree. That would have been… so incredibly… uncool!

An hour later, dry, in the car and on my way to work I drive to where the tree fell in the hope of an instragramable photo. Alas, the crazy German whose tree it is, has already, rather diligently, taken a chainsaw to it. Looking at it in the light now, it turns out to be a much bigger tree than I had initially given it credit for.

I always imagined going out in blaze of glory, something akin to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid (1969) or the ending from Cowboy Bebop (1998). Or even something along the lines of the Battle of Camarón,

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Δ At the battle of Camarón, having run out ammunition the last five French Foreign Legionnaires mount a bayonet charge against the enemy. Two were immediately killed but the other three were captured. When brought before the Mexican Major, surprised that there are only three men left he exclaims, ‘These are not men! They are demons’. 65 Legionnaires outnumbered 46 to 1 inflicted 190 casualties and wounded over 300. 

Being killed by a falling tree seems quite passé in comparison.

Being of a stoic disposition (in so far as I like stoicism) death is supposed to be quite a blasé event (Look at me getting my é and ó on). Still, given the option to tick a box on checking out I’d obviously prefer dying… well… ‘well’. Trundling along and suddenly the world going dark because of a rapidly descending conifer is certainly not how I imagine it going.

Not that I would care, obviously. I’d be deader than a door-nail.

George S. Patton died stupidly. After defeating the Nazi’s he was driving along musing on how wasteful war was when the staff car he was driving in had to brake suddenly to avoid an army truck. While all the other passengers were only slightly injured, Patton hit his head on the glass partition that separated the driver from the rear passengers. He suffered a neck injury and was paralyzed. He died two weeks later.

Versus

Erwin Rommel who had two SS officers visit his house. ‘You can take this vial of poison and die with dignity, or we kill your family, and potentially everyone you know and love’. Rommel puts on his uniform says goodbye to his wife and son, drives to the outskirts of town and drinks the poison.

Given the choice I would choose the latter every time.

Anyways. I’m glad I avoided at least one ignominious end. Obviously I might not be so lucky next time. The only way to choose the way in which you will die is to kill yourself. The samurai might have been on to something. Although disemboweling myself seems like a tough ask.

Momento Mori. Motherfucker.

Headgames

I suffer from depression.

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My head-doc tells me I’m genetically disposed towards this kind of chemical imbalance. I try argue with her that depression is symptomatic of something else and that anti-depressants are simply treating the manifestation of the cause. She counters that seizures are symptomatic for an epileptic and that some people are genetically disposed towards epilepsy, would I therefore argue that an epileptic forgo his medication and reduce their stress levels as a form of treatment.

I slump back down into my high back wing chair, momentarily defeated. I point out that a real psychiatrist should have a chaise longue or a settee instead of wing chairs. She says settees are for psychologists. I laugh. I tried Cognitive behavioral therapy once. It didn’t do much for me. Well… that’s not entirely true. Cognitive behavioral therapy is actually a lot like stoicism actually. You re-frame your problems, changing the way you think about them. I don’t really have any ‘real’ problems… other than I think life is pointless. (some might call that a biggie) That is to say I appreciate our complete and utter insignificance in the grand scheme of the universe. I find that annoying.

I decided (on my own volition) to go off my meds. And had a massive relapse as a result. Which is why I’m back at the head-doc. Even though I think life is generally futile I prefer to be functional while I’m acting out my futility. The drugs don’t change your subjective feelings about the world, but you don’t mind it so much.

I used to judge people who were ‘depressed’. Toughen up. Or get over it. But if you’ve never experienced the crushing lethargy your brain can inflict on you its a difficult thing to appreciate.

Interestingly whenever they change your medication they ask you if you’re having suicidal thoughts or think about death. As a stoic I find I have to answer that question carefully. Eventually I went with, ‘Academically I think about death ALL the time’. But no, I don’t think about suicide, ever.

Except for the poisoned cupcake. Which is really more about euthanasia than suicide.

You should keep a poisoned cupcake in your fridge. The day you forget that the cupcake is poisoned and eat the cupcake is indicative that dementia or Alzheimer’s is now firmly entrenched in your mind… and things are going downhill from there anyway. Might as well end it (by accident).

I obviously don’t mention my poisoned cupcake theory. Most people I mention this to tend to look at me askance. I don’t really have a poisoned cupcake in my fridge. Probably because cupcakes don’t last very long in the domicile of the Jo. Poisoned or otherwise.

I ask how long before I can try go off my meds again. ‘Two years’ she says. I stare at her unconvinced. That’s a really long time I mumble. But the alternative is just barely utilitarian life where I struggle with the most basic tasks. So for the time being I will stick with the program. Annoying.

Unspecified whine

I fumbled and dropped my Tupperware on the way to the kitchen this morning, which resulted in my chicken being distributed in a large circumference around my personage. I briefly considering eating it anyway. But the questionable hygiene of the office firma and the judgmental stares of my co-workers swayed me away from this endeavor.

This, as it turns out, has been indicative for my Monday so far – basically fubar. I’m trying to take it my stride with stoic resolve and fortitude. But I’m hungry and entering the realm of the ravenous hostility that comes from not eating for three hours.

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I’m wallowing, (mostly) in self pity but also achieving some more general type wallowing that comes from privilege. I’ve tried to infuse a modicum of imperturbability into my psyche by looking at pictures of suffering. I have a folder on Pinterest for just such occasions, aptly named, ‘Pictures to make you sad’.

Its not doing anything for me today. As an aside, Kevin Carter (who took this picture, that won the 1994 Pulitzer prizes for photography) killed himself in a park near my house. As a child I used to catch tadpoles and crabs in the river there. Unfortunately these days as an unsupervised minor undertaking such a venture you are more likely to catch Diphtheria, experience unbidden sodomy and then have your organs harvested in room lit by single flickering light bulb. Which as I understand it, is less amusing than keeping river creatures in a glass jar until they belly up and die after a few days. I’m glad I got to kill larval stage animals without compromising my sphincter integrity or losing a kidney. It doesn’t seem like a good trade off.

Speaking of creepy crawlies (after reading Caroline Paul – Fighting Fire) my wife and I have become very cognizant of not letting my twenty month old daughter develop irrational fears. Ie. We have been super careful not to unfairly demonize snakes, spiders and other hexapodal invertebrates… its cute when she says ‘hello’ to the Daddy-long-legs or the Christmas beetle. But obviously less endearing when she tries to offer salutations to a Black Widow or tries to high five hornets. My mother muses out loud that her grandchild is a Hindu. I think she means a Jain… but I don’t really want to get into it with her. To my mother all Indians are Hindu. In any event I have become this weird black-helicopter parent*. Which in invalidates 90% of the concepts I imagined about being a parent. It certainly wasn’t how I was raised…

* which is basically like a regular helicopter parent, but supposedly working in the background in stealth mode (with varying degrees of success) and only intervening under dire circumstances. Sometimes I wonder if I’m coddling her.

In other news I had this idea that I would start this week by cutting down on my caffeine intake. It hasn’t really worked out for me so far today. I’ve also taken four Tramadol (not all at once) in an effort to rid myself of this throbbing headache. So I’ve been pumping myself full stimulants and opioids since I woke up. I marking today down as a failure for cleaning living. Just thought I would mention it.

Sellers remorse?

So…

I sold all my bitcoin yesterday.

I’m trying to be stoic about it…  but really I’m having some big weird feelings about this. Some might argue this marks an auspicious day. Either the worst financial decision I’ve ever made, or the best. Hoping for the latter. Usually when I sell a stock I never look at it again. I don’t want to see the opportunity cost of my decision. Unfortunately bitcoin prices are plastered at the bottom of every single news feed and on every second banner ad… so when bitcoin goes to $100,000 I can walk up the hill behind my house and shoot myself.

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It turned out to be quite a whimsical decision in the end. (like most of my financial decisions really)

I used to have a yellow post-it note stuck to the wall next to my framed KAL print. I’d written ‘Pigs get slaughtered’ in thick black sharpie. I wrote it after getting killed on this horrible geared trade that eventually got suspended. Just thinking about it makes me want to punch myself. Gah! I was greedy. And I paid for it. That post-it and the KAL print served as a vague set of guidelines for all future trades.

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Will I make money off this trade? Yes. Am I being greedy by not selling?. Yes. Post-it condition satisfied. Is the bitcoin market completely hysterical? Yes. KAL condition satisfied.

Sell.

In the end all money is bullshit. USD, EUR, Bitcoin. It has value because we believe that it has. Sapiens really got me to look at the world differently… ha ha. Look at me trying to justify my decision with some sort of psychobabble and philosophy shtick. Whats done is done.

I see this post going either of two ways…

Bitcoin hits $20,000 and I delete it… (out of sheer embarrassment)

OR

Bitcoin crashes through the floor and I link it to it at every opportunity.

A case for the commute

Joey likes Mustachianism. I am however a poor adherent of this philosophy. This is likely due to a number of deeply rooted pathological conditions where,

1. I don’t like being told what to do. So I constantly rage against good advice. Often becoming uncooperative and doing the opposite.

and

2. Once a concept reaches a certain critical mass of partisans I tend to get combative and burdensome on those around me and trundle off to go find something new.

One of the core tenants of Mustachianism is ‘Live close to where you work’, which is conceptually logical, good advice and offers a range of benefits. I refuse to accept this.

There are some advantages to a lengthy commute. Okay, maybe only two that I can think of. The first is the time to listen to audio-books and podcasts… for without my commute I doubt I would have the ‘time’ to commit to such an enterprise.

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The other is being able to practice stoicism.

Because of the variable nature of traffic our minds struggle to develop a bulwark against it. While it may feel like a Groundhog day, each day is a different experience. Each day various commuters try to end you in slightly different places and in slightly different ways. Gridlock and weather varies in time, location and ferocity.

This chaotic environment is a fantastic modern day proving ground. It easy to espouse stoicism. Its harder to practice it when someone has just cut you off, slammed on brakes and almost forced you into a collision with the concrete retaining wall.

I don’t always succeed in letting it slide. Occasionally the slight is of such vitriolic intent I immediately default to a much more primal state of being, which is often accompanied with coarse language and referencing their female progenitor in crude and unseemly terms. In my juvenescence serious transgressions may have even been followed up with some aerobatics involving a run-up.

These days such occurrences are exceptionally rare… and I haven’t roundhouse kicked anyone in anger for… quite some time now. I like to say a decade, but my wife likes to remind me of an unfortunate situation where someone tried to mow me down at a pedestrian crosswalk, an experience which may have irked me into barbarism.

But barring some almost imperceptible transgressions I’ve had a good run. So much so that I am almost tempted to rummage around in my stationary and stick a gold star on my ample forehead.

There used to be a sign next to the door at my old Boxing/MMA gym which read ‘Leave your ego at the door’. I always through this was cute but largely meaningless, because NO-ONE left their ego at the door, least of all the coaches and instructors. It was a hyper aggressive and competitive environment where ego reigned supreme.

Eventually when I started teaching at a CQC school, there was also a sign next to the door. ‘Train in chaos, thrive in chaos’.

I like this much more.

How can you practice stoicism in a perfect bubble? You need to expose yourself to hardship. While I’m not advocating the Admiral James Stockdale* approach to stoicism or the Nelson Mandela** approach I do think we need to put ourselves in situations that challenge us and take us out of our comfort zone.

* Shot down over Vietnam, James Stockdale spent seven years as a POW. He largely credits Epictetus with getting him through that ordeal

**Nelson Mandela spent 27 in prison. He credits the stoic poem Invictus for his presence of mind.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. 

When compared to real hardship an arduous morning commute seems a little feeble as a comparison. But I feel I need to use whats available to me. I don’t have any other real hardship. My liberty is not curtailed. I do not struggle with disease or disability. Generally speaking I lead a soft and coddled life, my commute is all I’ve got.

My hope is that I can get to a point where traffic no longer affects me and that hopefully that presence of mind is absorbed into other areas of my life where I’m inclined to have a bad emotional response. Check out queues, airport security, flight delays, poor service etc.

I’m definitely not there yet. But hopefully one day, maybe.

 

Embracing the suck

‘It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows’ – Epictetus

One of the (many) disappointing things about getting older is realizing all the things that you used to believe are no longer true. Spoiler alert. There is no Santa Claus. I am also starting to doubt the authenticity of a mega-fauna Sylvilagus that has been perennially dispensing chocolate eggs since the dawn of time. I’m also convinced there are no real ‘adults’ either, just a lot of people playing pretend. The older I get the less I know, which makes me yearn for my youth where I knew everything. I also wish I could still hang upside down on the monkey bars without something snapping in my back.

Being a prisoner in my own life I try to use my hour of ‘free-time’ before I go to bed as efficiently as possible. In lieu of killing-stuff on PlayStation I now try and further myself by reading books that make me feel stupid. I’m desperately trying to emulate my heroes. Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite poem is the Nibelungenlied (the story of Siegfried the Dragon-slayer) which he read in the original German. Jan Smuts loved Prometheus Unbound by Shelly and read Greek Tragedies in their original format. Joey likes… Tintin. The Calculus Affair is my favorite.

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Behold my Kryptonite *hits head on the edge of his desk* If ever there was something that can tear any remnants of ego from the dark recesses of my brain this is it. This book is making me feel more stupid than I ever thought possible.

I read it line by line and think, oh that’s a nice line or cool word combination. But by the end of the page (which takes me about five minutes) I can’t remember what happened at the top of the page. Let alone the previous page. I mean I have a general sense… that God was hanging out with his Arch Angles and Mephistopheles comes to visit and that God says ‘Want to bet you can’t tempt Faust?’ And Mephistopheles says ‘Hold my beer’. But the nuances are generally lost on me.

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This book is kicking my butt. I can confidently attest to Epictetus that he shouldn’t worry, I don’t really know anything about anything.

I get the sense that I could read this entire book, spend all this time and only ever understand it from a Wikipedia summary point of view. I would never be able to have an intellectual conversation about it. I find that quite disheartening as it starkly illustrates my limitations.

‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’ -Theodore Roosevelt

To be fair I am at least trying. And that’s something. Even if it does feel like an exercise in futility. I just wish I was a bit smarter.

Worst stoic ever

I am undoubtedly the worst stoic ever. The garden variety cactus on my desk displays more apathea and general zeno-ness than I could ever muster. For its crimes and in a display of churlish petulance I am depriving it of water. Which, typically, it seems to be taking in its stride. Annoyingly I seem to gravitate more towards Nero rather than Seneca. Albeit without ever having burned down a city (allegedly) or committing matricide.

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Seneca however is not my stoic of choice. I like a more clear cut exemplar. For me Seneca was either the best stoic or a sanctimonious motherfucker. I have see-sawed between both extremities during my tenure grappling with stoicism. My official position as of now is that I have no position. Besides is this really something I should have an opinion on? I shouldn’t be comparing my adherence to a particular philosophy against someone else. There is no score card or checklist, no certificate at the end of the day displaying your stoic-ness in empirical percentage terms. ‘Congratulations ,with your score you managed to edge out Massimo Pigliucci in the category of General Stoicism’

As an aside… if that does happen I might be tempted to air-punch…. and possibly engage in a victory lap. Or two. I am sad to admit there is even a slight chance of some dance moves being perpetrated upon the world. See opening line, paragraph one.

Marcus is more my kind of stoic. If only because I read Mediations before I read the Moral letters to Lucilius. Marcus just seems so much cooler than Seneca. Coolness clearly being a factor when I was younger and more impressionable. Besides Seneca messed up his own suicide, that doesn’t speak volumes for his prowess to get things done. Marcus on the other hand was martial and a man of action. But he was also humble and practiced forgiveness and that seemed to sit better with me. When he wasn’t putting Christians and Germanic tribes to the sword I mean (or doing a REALLY shit job raising his son). Generally speaking we are more skeptical these days when it comes to following the personal philosophy of a modern day genocidal despot. But if you choose the operating system of an ancient warmongering autocrat, thats totally fine. Maybe in two thousand years Idi Amin will spawn his own cult of adherents. If Homo Sapiens is still around obviously.

Still the intervening years have made us a slightly more genteel species and curbed some of our more basic tendencies. Stoicism has aged well. That can’t be said for many other philosophies or even belief systems. I think stoicism to is credit allows us interface with it at our own pace. We can implement it piecemeal as and when we become ready. As my appreciation for this astounding system grows I find it becomes more accessible to me. I am not sure if that is everyone experience.

In event, my intention is not to remain the worst stoic ever. I am aspirant to move onto ‘slightly better than worst stoic’ in the near future and then potentially see how we go from there. Wish me luck.