Reading the Classics

A few months ago, I purchased a set of the Harvard Classics, also known at as the five-foot reading list. When the books are stacked, they are five feet tall. So far I have read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and the Dialogues of Plato. There are 50 books all together but well over a hundred titles that fill the volumes.
There are two books that cause me to cringe when I think about reading them. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and The Origin of Species by Darwin are some of the longest titles in the series and could be some of the dullest reading I will ever experience. Did Adam Smith consider how to make economics fun when he wrote his book, I doubt it. Stuck on a boat in the Pacific Ocean would be the best place for someone like Darwin to write about some birds out of boredom and accidently write a classic.
I always hated required reading when I was in school but I will point out that having high school students reading old English isn’t the best way to introduce the classics or good literature for that matter. I could not stand The Scarlett Letter and As I Lay Dying was only readable to those who were familiar with southern white trash. I met some of these characters later in life and had moments where I thought “oh I get it now.” I remember thinking to myself that no one could be that dumb and then life proved me wrong. As for the Scarlett Letter I saw more than my fair share of affairs over the years and the only thing missing was the culture of shame that didn’t exist. This kind of behavior had become a new normal in certain work environments.
In order for a great book to have staying power it has to be written in a way that it will hold up a hundred years after it was written. I often think about Gatsby for an example of this, having known men to fake their lifestyles in order to attract women who were not really into them. Since the Harvard Classics were printed in 1909 Gatsby is not on the list along with all the other classics written during the 20th century. I’m sure I can find a list for those later on.
Some of the classics I am having a difficult time with include poetry and plays, something I always considered separate from literature. I can think of a handful of writers who were successful play writes during their lives, A.A. Milne, Tennessee Williams, and Oscar Wilde all paid their bills by writing plays and having them be a success in the local theaters. For most of these men their fame was later remembered from other literary works like The Picture of Dorian Gray and the Winnie the Pooh series.
When I recently read The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter, I learned how Tolkien and Lewis used poetry as a mental exercise for writing. Publishing such works was still common and people could make a living at it if they had talent. These days the readers don’t exist and writing such things is viewed at the intellectual version of writing rap lyrics in the ghetto, except less successful. While I say all of these horrible things about poetry I will admit there is an advantage to those who do it. It will expand vocabulary as you search for the right word for a line. There is a sense of rhythm that is missing from todays books and the only writers who still have this skill are slowly dying off. The symbolism and descriptions used in poetry is something that is missing from todays books. When a person writes a line such as “that morning he was dehydrated and his pee was the same color it would be an hour after taking a multivitamin” they could use a course or two of poetry.
I will eventually read The Wealth of Nations but I will always have in the back of my mind knowing that Smith lived with his mother, without a job, and was catered daily by her as he wrote. He was living the life of royalty with a serf caring for his needs while writing about capitalism. It would be like Ron Jeremy writing a book about celibacy and having it become a huge hit. The most interesting thing about Adam Smith’s book is that it is regarded as the standard for economics, and it would appear he was very bad at it and this was the only beacon of success he had in his life. I’m sure at some point an adult man still living with their parents, playing World of Warcraft or Minecraft, could write the next big book on relationships or personal responsibility. It could happen, I suppose.

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This is the only time we get

While listing to the latest podcast by Joe Rogan I felt like I was listening to myself and friends discussing the life of Hunter S Thompson. Like many things in my life I was late to discovering Thompson and other members of his generation. Growing up in a blue-collar house I wasn’t exposed to the hippie movement and was far from understanding the peace and love movement. I wasn’t allowed to listen to the Beatles when I was growing up because they were ‘Satanic.” To this day I still don’t enjoy the Beatles but I will admit they made a huge contribution to music, boybands.
A new book about Thompson is coming out called Freak Kingdom and covers Thompson’s career as a journalist before he was known as a drunken Wildman. For full disclosure, I have read most of Hunter’s works and this includes his collected letters, huge volumes of letters compiled in a way to jump from a letter to the president to complaining about NRA membership fees and seeing nothing for it. most amusing was his book club fees and how he begged them to come after him because he was poor.
There was a time for people like Hunter and luckily for Hunter he knew his place during those years. Most of us drift through our lives looking at the small things that drive us, paying bills, getting laid, or where to eat next. The great generation stepped up to something greater than themselves. The Hippies and counter culture, well they… I don’t know what the hell they were doing but at least they did it. for the last thirty years I haven’t seen anyone doing much of anything. People protest like they did in the 60s but in far fewer numbers. Less than 1% of the US population fought in the Iraq or Afghan wars. Women’s lib movement has turned into destroying a man’s life because she really didn’t want to give that blowjob and he should have known by reading her mind. There are no heroes these days. We don’t have a Mohammed Ali to say “no” to the big problems in our society. Journalist no longer ask the hard questions going after Cheeto von Fuckstick, Nixon’s non-aborted result of anal sex. The public doesn’t help in this regard preferring to read 3rd grade level click bate or look at the latest pictures of Kim Kardashian’s ass.
It’s not just this generation that will be judged as a waste of space to humankind. The previous few, generation X to the present hasn’t produced a human being worth talking about in the years to come. The life of a writer used to be as big as the tales they told. Actors and directors once had talent and the ability to make due with what they had. Music was more than just a beat and shitty lyrics.
Times are different compared to when Hunter was alive. Newspapers were still around. The internet did not exist yet. People cared about what was going on in the world. People read books. Things were happening and people were participating. People were divided back then but they also talked to one another. The types of conversations Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley had on national television are regarded as hate speech now on YouTube. This system is breaking down and there is no one to stop it.
I enjoy learning about these men of their times because I think there is still something to learn from them. If you planted any of them into our current situation odds are they would have died unknown and broke. They were the men of their times and to try and place the anywhere else is pointless. That isn’t to say that we don’t need a Hunter s Thompson or a Gore Vidal for our own time. I hope that these people will emerge and that the world will embrace them for what they are. An example of how we can better ourselves and in doing so make the world a better place, even if its only a little bit.
We can’t go back to the previous times that we though were more wonderful than they really were. I once heard a person say they wished they could have gone back to Studio 54 and experience what it was like. Of course, they skipped the part were most of the bartenders and the owner died later on from AIDs because of the party lifestyle that was Studio 54. As a culture we like to romanticize the highlights of certain times while ignoring the repercussions of those events. I don’t mind talking about the past, learning from what people have to offer, but it is foolish to wish that you could have been there. It is even more foolish to think that somehow, in some way, you are going to recreate that feeling, the mood of the time and transport yourself into a place you had never been and weren’t meant to experience.
All we have is what is before us. The world is forever changing and it is for us to exist in it, engage it, and participate in a way that you are seen and remembered. Make your mark in your own way and perhaps if you are lucky you can leave the world a better place than how you found it. those are the people who are remembered later, the ones they build the mausoleum dicks for. The others, the people who eat, sleep, and fuck their way through life not giving a shit about anyone but themselves, those are the future worm food that time will forget. The coal chugging mouth breathers that history will remember for one thing, destroying the world. The world is filled with knuckle draggers and when there are many few will stand apart. That isn’t to say we don’t have the mouth breathing elite, also known as white trash with money, they are money and it proves something that I have always said, having money doesn’t prove you are smart.
There is a line I am waiting to hear, one that will project someone out of the crowd with this social justice bullshit and the slew of simple-minded motherfuckers that the world is infested with. I don’t want to hear an apology, I don’t want a list of excuses, I want someone to look these losers in the face and tell them to “fuck off.” We have life really good these days. I have more information on my phone than all the libraries in the world from a hundred years ago combined. We have less wars, less poverty, less crime, and for some reason people are now making up things to be pissed about like pronouns.
The times of Hunter, Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolf, Ginsburg, Kerouac, etc. are gone. We have to accept that and when we do we may finally acknowledge that it is up to us to be the heroes of our time. The most common phrase a man says after accomplishing something great is “who else was going to do it?”

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Losing my voice and finding it again

Last week I came down with a cold, that turned into a sinus infection, that turned into a throat infection, and as of Sunday I lost my voice. My daughter who is turning two I May has run of the house now with a dad chasing behind her trying to say “no” but only managing a funny squeak that she ignores. When I returned to work yesterday most of my conversations were managed with shoulder shrugs and head nods. Communication with the world has become difficult but at the same time the burden of trying to express myself is gone leaving me to walk around and observe without interfering.
Last week I was almost half way through recording an audiobook version of Hobbit Baby until I became sick. I diverted my time towards things I could still work on, this blog and the rewrite of After the Day. Schedules have shifted and with my voice still gone I have no idea when I will be able to start recording again. I haven’t posted a YouTube video in about a week and I am starting to wonder if someone is trying to tell me something or if I just want to view this as a mandatory break from the usual chaos that is my life.
With being sick family time over the weekend was limited to a few things and had me napping along with the kiddo while my wife tried to do things around the house. One thing that I miss and look forward to trying again for the first time is smoking my pipe. At an antique outside of town, I came across a 14 oz tin of George Washington pipe tobacco that hasn’t been in production since 1974. The tine was sealed, it was heavy, and when I snuck into a booth and pried open the top, I discovered it was still filled with the original contents never before touched. It was the one thing I bought at the shop and I have since stashed it away to try one day when I’m not feeling like a walking pile of crap.
To make matters worse I found out on Friday that my father had a heart attack and went to visit him in the hospital. It wasn’t until I went to see him, I found out he had been there since Tuesday and I hadn’t learned about it until one of my aunts called me. I don’t know why these life lessons always hit me hard in the face like a huge flashing billboard but it could tone things down a bit. Talk less, listen more, okay I think I got it. Take better care of yourself before YOU have a heart attack, that one I can check off the list. Work will still function if you are not there, I’m still learning this one. I think most people use work to feel important in their lives. Find better ways to talk to your kid, when you can’t say “no” what can you do? If you weren’t doing your usual time-wasting shit what would you be concentrating on?
As I continue on and try to navigate the world without a voice, I start to think more about the things I am write and working on. What is the best way to say this or that? Is this really three sentences or one? Is this character truly that much of an asshole?
My choice of entertainment has changed a bit, listening to audiobooks instead of the usual podcast that I have since unsubscribed to. I’m almost finished with Marcus Aurelius The Meditations and last week I finished Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. I’m slowly working my way through the Harvard Classics, a set of books I picked up for $40 at the used bookstore. Mark Twain once said that classics are something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read. As I go through these books, many of which are no longer discussed or printed to the point where audiobooks are not available, I wonder where society is going. I have met people who will only read the latest of a certain field, arguing that it is the best up to date information about a topic. When I throw away books that had been donated to the library, I find the old up to date books that have gone the way of the dodo. Nobody reads Dr. Spock anymore. Authors that were once at the peak for literature are now tossed into the recycling bin. Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer are names never discussed these days. The Great generation is now becoming the forgotten generation. I have heard people say that Socrates and Plato are hokey Greek fags that need to be forgotten, while the democracy these people enjoy was modeled on the civilization those fags lived in. People are converting to Flat Earth theory because of YouTube videos while a guy where silk robes in ancient Greece was able to predict the size of the earth by measuring shadows at the same time of day and he was not far off from the actual number.
As the world goes on, science takes us further expanding our lives it is also making things so easy we’re are becoming dumber by the minute. The classics were talked about in school but it was never required reading. I read the Great Gatsby a few years ago for the first time, and found myself thinking about it weeks later, pissed off at Daisy, wanting to smack Gatsby for being a fool, and in the end realizing that is why it is such a great book. And yet, even when it was first released, it was never read. Copies sat in warehouses and never saw the light of day. People have replaced bed time books with toilet tweets and we wonder why things have gone to shit.
Daylight is burning, for the first time in weeks the sun is out and it is warm enough to take the little one out for a walk. I don’t want to have a heart attack and I don’t want to look back thinking I should have spent more time with her. She knows about ten words now and the last thing she needs is me repeating one of them all the time. The best thing I can do today is take her for a walk and listen while she explores the world.

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After the Day for the last time

This book saved my life. Poorly written, and breaking barriers no one wanted to see broken, what started out as a way to kill long lonely nights turned into a gateway to freedom that I needed. Five years ago, I put a book on Amazon before knowing what it was. It was raw, filled with misspelled words, bad grammar, and horrible dialogue and somehow it sold.
At that time in my life I was divorce, living alone, dating life had a bunch of downs and no ups, and debt was pulling me down. I had branched out into various hobbies, things that I had wanted to do early on in life but held back by different things which no longer influenced my life. Included in these hobbies was writing.
One of the first things I did after my wife and I split was going to best buy and picking up a laptop to write on. It sat in a closet for a year before I took it out and started pecking the keys. I had many adventures after my thirtieth birthday. Fishing, hunting, and gardening took up a good portion of my free time. Once hunting season was over and winter was in full throttle I was stuck inside, without a television and the radio my only outside friend. Sitting in my dining room with a bottle of red wine and a pipe filled with captain black gold I started to write a short story. I had lost track of where it was going and so I wrote another. I continued this process until I had three or our stories in front of me and realized I was writing them all in the same world.
The last couple of days have taken me back to that time. Sitting at a dining room table like I do now and listening to classical music from NPR, I go over my first novel and rewrite the work for the last time. I found the original version, the one I uploaded with all of its horrible flaws, before the suggestions, edits, and critics took over. Starting from scratch I’m turning it into what it could have been all along and something that is truly mine again. I have learned some lessons along the way. Don’t look at sales figures. Don’t read the reviews. Don’t let people distract you with other projects that are not your own. Drink less beer. Write drunk. Edit sober… sometimes. So maybe I haven’t learned my lessons on a lot of things or maybe some of those things are myths to begin with. You don’t have to always enjoy what it is that you are doing but it helps.
As I go through these pages and play with the words, slowly transforming this thing into something else entirely, I know that I will still come back to it a few times. Reading an audiobook will point out a few more changes along the way and that is okay. After this year I will no longer come back to this book. My life has changed since that time and I have written several things since then that nobody wants to read or talk about. After the Day has turned into my white whale and it is time to put it down for good.

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In my own little bubble

I stopped watching the news about two weeks ago. YouTube has a habit of loading my feed with several news stories that I have to scroll through and I’m starting to hate it. I only subscribe to a few channels and besides posting my own videos I don’t know if it’s worth watching anymore. I don’t know if my stress level is any better than before since my daughter has woken up early every day that I stay up late to work on my next book. Today is Friday and the lack of sleep is piling up.
Andrew Yang is the only politician I have been supporting this election and he is the only one that doesn’t comment on the recent news events as part of his election campaign. I follow his post on Instagram and make snotty comments to the Russian trolls that have started to pop up. You know when your candidate is a threat when the trolls start to appear.
Audiobooks have become my vise these days. Last month I read The Post American World by Fareed Zakaria and even thought it was written ten years ago it still applies today. Roughing it by Mark Twain gave some insight into the world of America’s greatest writer. The David Foster Wallace Reader was a struggle like any of his books are only in this case they were lumped into one volume. The Inklings was insightful with the stories of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis explaining the many reasons why these two are still read today.
I awoke with a massive headache yesterday that never went away. It could have been a lack of water, maybe a lack of coffee, or not enough sleep which I need more of in my older state. This morning it was gone and along with a tall glass of water I also consumed two glasses of milk and standing next to me is the first cup of coffee I have had all week.
There was a pleasant surprise waiting for me in my banking app where I found my tax return had been deposited. Most of it was transferred into savings and the leftovers stayed in checking as a buffer for any future “oops” that might come my way. I don’t have a house payment due until April and while I would like to be further ahead and have more money going towards the principle a new washer and dryer ended up on my plate, both at separate times. The proverb of “Shit Happens” is alive and well and while I can sit here and complain the bright side is that I had the money to take care of these problems. 52% of Americans don’t have the money for an unexpected $500 bill. Thankfully I am somewhere in the 48%, and I would like to stay there.

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A Century of Loss (or All the Dogs will Die!)

With Earth Day come and gone I am reminded at the path our species is taking. I went to the celebration downtown and left disappointed, more so than when I arrived, at what was really a party for middle-aged baby boomers to brag about their high mileage cars and the protest they have been attending over the decades. One doesn’t have to look hard to find that what they accomplished was little, if anything. There was a sense of nostalgia for the 60s as I looked at people with rainbow-colored shirts who had not bathed in days telling people how they were working to save the planet, while driving god knows how many miles to attend a mostly dead event. After a quick round through the park I was done.

Earlier in the week I read a story online about the end of Syrian tobacco and how it would no longer exist once the last of the blends were sold from the online retailers and brick and mortar stores. This may sound like whining to some and in one case i was called a white capitalist pig for bringing it up. “With all the death and destruction that happens over there you are complaining about tobacco?” Sure he had a point but what I was trying to point out is the loss of a species that may never be seen again. Sure, it is tobacco, not food, not a medicine, but still it represents something that is lost from our world. Over the coming years we will start to hear about crops being lost, species of insects and birds that will never been seen again, and lakes that disappear from the landscape. In the coming generations there will be animals and food that our descendents will only be able to read about.

I watched a documentary about a chef who was trying to reconstruct a recipe from a hundred year old cook book. many of the technics had been lost over the years but slowly they were able to piece together the ingredients and make what was close to the original meal. There is one difference between this story and what is happening in the world, the ingredients will be lost forever. I learned on earth day that the sugar maples that i grew up with in my yard and the syrup i savored on my pancakes will no longer grow in my home state of Michigan. Many of the birds I listened to outside my bedroom window will be gone. The insects I watched crawling on the plants in the garden will no longer exist. My daughter might be the last member of my family to experience these things that have been a staple of our life here, the end of an era with unknown repercussions in the future.

Many people were bragging about their electric cars at the Earth Day event, talking about the need to convert our power sources to renewable, their point was to boast about being ahead of the curve on climate change while they charged their cars on electricity produced by coal and natural gas. They didn’t consider the power it took to manufacture the car, the oil that went into the tires, the fuel to transport the materials for the batteries over the oceans so that they could enjoy a vehicle with less guilt associated with it.

While my city discusses how to waste a 30 million dollar gift given to it by donors the only things I have seen done with the money was provide free WIFI in the park and the planned removal of a racist fountain that is crumbling to pieces and should be destroyed since it provides no social or historical merit. There was one obvious use for the money that they could have done, one that would provide financial security for the city and helped the planet a little bit. The city has several large plots of land that were once the factories for paper and automotive manufacturing, contaminated land that they are constantly talking about “cleaning up” but instead sits there unused. Why they didn’t consider putting a solar farm on these lands is beyond me. providing the majority of the city’s power, reducing the tax burden on its citizens and providing jobs for locals, it is a win win all around and yet they are more concerned about a fountain crumbling in the park. Priorities are, needless to say, fucked up when it comes to our political appointees and I have to wonder why these people stay in these positions as long as they have.

With choices like these I hope you come to understand why my vision of the future is bleak at best. Instead of talking about climate change and pushing the agenda that we need to discuss we are preoccupied with where Donald Trump put his dick before the election. The last male white rhino died this year and more species are disappearing from the planet than we can talk about. Maybe if we changed the discussion to a different topic we can make a difference. My suggestion “all the dogs are going to die!” get the dog lovers involved, they tend to care more about their dogs than their own lives or the lives of other humans for that matter. So when talking about climate change start out with “all the dogs are going to die!” If you have a friend who smokes a pipe tell them “all the good blends will go extinct if we don’t solve climate change.” Those guys, myself included are already concerned about some of the big loses we ahve had in our hobby over the past year. Thanks FDA, you don’t know how to regulate opiates but you have become concerned about an ancient hobby that built this country? Again, messed up priorities.

I do my best when it comes to helping with the problem but then policy sometimes contradicts what is best for everyone. My place of employment offers a reimbursement for parking spaces downtown but no incentives for people who walk or ride their bikes. While I live less than a mile away I am told to use my parking money or lose it, weird right? In my garden I grow heirloom plants that may go extinct with the changing climate, saving the seeds each year in the hopes they will keep growing and not die out half way through the season like some of them have.

Today I ordered a can of the Syrian blend that will be no more. Yes, i know that by having it shipped I will have added to my carbon footprint for my own selfish desires. My goal is to sit down, open the can, smell the aroma, taste the flavor, and write the most accurate description i can muster so that those in the future will know what it was like to experience something that no longer exist. Think of it as cataloging a vintage of wine that has come and gone. It’s all I can do, document what this world was like and hope that people care in the future while blaming us for ruining everything.

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Fail now so you won’t later

I have been gardening for several years now. I have played around with urban farming and I have had good years and bad. For those people who think that they can store some seeds away and put them in the ground when they really need to, I have some bad news for you. Gardening, like most things in life worth doing, is something you become better at over time. For a person to try living off of what they grow is almost suicidal that first year. If you don’t trust me look at Walden and see how well Thoreau did that first year.

I have played around with several styles of gardening, Square foot, Bio-intensive, traditional, victory garden, and the list goes on and on. I discovered a mix that worked well for me and the area I live in. This is something that will be different for everyone in their own areas. what works well in one place might not in another. The point I am making is that if a person is planning on gardening later for food then they better start now. It doesn’t take long. start with something small.

With a simple book like Square Foot Gardening a person can play with a four foot by four foot garden bed and learn some basics in a few hours a week. Start small and build up to something bigger.

There isn’t much to starting your first garden and if you are the type of person that doesn’t have the time or comes up with some other excuse this year than maybe you’re not cut out for surviving the apocalypse anyway.

 

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