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.

lewis ck.png

… 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.

bd2fc32f2ffc06d5e42fceae235fe142.jpg

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

isacks-lb.jpg

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

11694824_10152853850376666_6723261293241421103_n.jpg

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.

q.png

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.

1200px-Gadsden_flag.svg

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.

Benjamin_Franklin_-_Join_or_Die.jpg

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.

0b1a9fc03764076eda04ef6694fae2be.jpg

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.

IMG_2023.JPG

“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.

unnamed.jpg

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*)

death.jpg

* 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.

IMG_6594.jpg

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…

IMG-7370.jpg

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)

photo-8-e1515487186170.jpg

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.

updated_b3_legends-of-ahn-_kingc3a2c2b4s-dark-tidings.jpg

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!