Terry Teachout On The Good Life

Terry Teachout is one of my favorite writers on the arts, but his recent visit to his home town seems to have made him even more eloquent than usual.  In this post, he shares that, while he left in the 70′s and has spent his adult life moving frequently and working in the spotlight, his brother stayed in their small home town, serving the community and raising a family. 

My brother and I, in short, have both led typical American lives. It is fully as American to stick close to home as it is to become a wanderer, but it’s the wanderers who get most of the press, perhaps because we’re the ones who write it–and I’m not so sure it should be that way. I left home to find myself, but my brother didn’t have to leave home because he knew who he was. I call my mother every night, but he sees her every day. I write books, but he has a grown daughter. I like to think that my work may ultimately prove to have some lasting value, but I’m sure that he’s done more to make the world a better place.

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NCAA Tournament Brackets

My NCAA Tournament brackets are at left.  A little early, perhaps, but I think they’re all solid. 

I have my local team, UNLV, beating Illinois this Friday, but then falling to Kansas on Sunday (much like last year).  For that matter, I think Kansas will take the championship this year, beating out defending champ Duke in the final. 

BYU will make it to the sweet sixteen, where I predict they’ll fall to Florida.  Mountain West Conference winner San Diego State will do a little better, getting to the elite eight before Duke takes them down. 

I got my chart here, by the way.  Steve, you got your brackets to put up here?

Send Love With Inappropriate Greeting Cards

Does your honey have a sense of humor?

If yes, read the cute idea below.

If no, get a new honey.  Then, read the cute idea below.

Here’s a great way to send love to that special someone: give them a hilariously inappropriate card.  Not inappropriate in the sense that the card is offensive, but in the sense that it’s not for the person or occasion in question.  The weirdness and confusion will always bring a smile.

Is she going in for surgery?  Give her a “congratulations on your bar mitzvah” card.

Is he graduating from school?  Send him a card that thanks him for inviting you to his baby shower.

Get a bunch of St. Patrick’s Day cards this week.  Give them out in October. 

Don’t forget birthdays!  The older the friend, the younger the card should be.  Your grandma will love getting a card with Dora the Explorer on it.

Did your honey just turn 40?  Present one of those flowery sympathy cards that says, “My prayers are with you in your time of sorrow and loss.”  Wait, no.  Actually, that one makes sense.

Spoiled Brats

Who’s a spoiled brat?  You are.

So am I.  Everybody is. 

Consider how infinitely blessed our lives are.  Even in the midst of recession, illness, heartache, and all the other “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” at any given time, we still enjoy more blessings than we could possibly count.

Fairly few major advances were made anywhere worldwide for hundreds and even thousands of years, compared to the those made during the lifetimes of many still living.  Any of us, right now, could go to the nearest grocery store and find a wider variety of fresher food, for a relatively lower cost, than would have been available anywhere in the world a mere century ago.  Widely available electricity, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, antibiotics, and refrigeration alone make the last few generations especially blessed, compared to all the rest of history.

We take for granted a standard of living superior to that of royalty throughout most of world history.  We’re constantly surrounded by such a bounty of wonders that, for anyone reading this, our everyday lives would have seemed miraculous to our grandparents when they were our age, and impossible to their grandparents at any age.  Throw in our vastly advanced achievements in transportation and communications, and we actually live lives richer than those of the gods of ancient mythologies. 

Heady stuff.

But does this make us spoiled?  Absolutely.  Continue reading

Why I Blog

There are four main things that keep me going here.  In order of their importance to me:

1.  Journaling.  I began this blog primarily as a novel way to juice up my journaling habit.  Though I rarely include here the kind of overtly personal information we associate with journals, I usually do write about things that are related to my life, and events that are important to me at the time.  Looking back over my entries, this has really been a very effective way to chronicle my own history. 

2.  The Joy of Composition.  The popularity of blogging has dropped in general because it’s a lot of work.  For me, it’s never been a chore.  I love trying to form the perfect combination of words to present an idea and get it across clearly and memorably.  Blogging is a stress-relief hobby; the very act of writing is fun for me, whether or not it reaches anybody else’s eyes, though I do enjoy having an appreciative audience.  Which leads to my next reason:

3.  The Great ConversationContinue reading

Highly Recommended Reading: The Last American Man

I gave Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love a warm but restrained review.  At the end of that book, though, I saw an ad for her previous book, The Last American Man, her biography of modern mountain man Eustace Conway.  The blurb noted that Conway had been a survivalist since his teens, and had been living in the woods full-time since 1977, in addition to such stunts as walking the entire length of the Appalachians and riding a horse from coast to coast.  I got this book quickly, devoured it ravenously, and am delighted to say that my praise for this book of Gilbert’s will see no trace of the hesitations I gave her most recent and more popular effort.  The Last American Man is easily the best thing I’ve read so far this year.

One of the problems with Eat, Pray, Love is that it often reads like an unedited diary.  This friendly casualness is largely a strength, but it can become grating when someone dwells for so long on the neurotic nuances of their own head.  My only expectation upon opening The Last American Man was that Gilbert’s gift for prose might work more effectively if she were not at the center of the action, and I was greatly rewarded–her narration of anecdotes, her sequencing of events, and her general sense of balance and perspective throughout the book are nearly flawless.  This is a top-notch biography. 

Gilbert does perhaps spend a bit too much time reporting on Conway’s love life, but if so, it’s a small fault.  The women who have factored into Conway’s life make his story richer, and show us even more of the man himself.

And Conway is the hero of this book, in any sense of the word.  Gilbert worships him, and his plain but forceful life demands our respect and esteem–not to mention that it’s seriously entertaining.  Any preconceptions you might have about Conway based on what I’ve said so far will be shattered by the deep reality of his true story.  Continue reading

Spring Self-Improvement Report

Last year, I started breaking down my list of lifetime goals into smaller steps and making those my resolutions.  Instead of just starting at New Year’s, though, I split the calendar up into the three major divisions that my life as a father and teacher naturally fall into: a Spring semester, summer, and a Fall semester.  To keep my summer at a useful three months, I schedule those goals to be done in the three months before I report back to school for the new year, which means that this year my “summer” is defined as May 22-August 24 (even though I still have two weeks left this school year). 

That also means that my Spring semester for self-improvement–January 1 through May 21–just ended.  I had set ten goals for myself to achieve during this time, each correlated to the larger “bucket list,” and it went surprisingly well.  For comparison, out of the ten goals I set for last Fall, I only accomplished…two.  A poor, piddling, puny little two.  This time around, out of these first ten goals for 2010 (including the eight I rolled over from last year), I finished seven.  Not bad. 

Continue reading

William Penn vs. Marcus Aurelius

In my ongoing quest to read the Harvard Classics and Great Books of the Western World, I recently read two short works that could very well comprise a planned pair across languages, cultures, and centuries. Both William Penn, British entrepreneur of the 17th century, and Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century, have left didactic manuals of living well, each taking the form of a series of loosely connected maxims. Penn authored Some Fruits of Solitude; Aurelius his immortal Meditations.

Both manuals are typically pious, practical, and assert our ability to master the world around us in some way. However, where Penn relates his life’s wisdom to us in statements of morality so simple that they were probably already clichés in his day (“Be good and do nice things”-style advice), Aurelius gives us a dynamic, challenging web of rules that would transform life into a noble adventure. He may not have invented Stoicism, but he certainly gave history its most memorable phrasing.

Consider these four representative quotes from the first book of Penn’s Fruits of Solitude, which I noted because they were actually among the most useful and memorable lines:

165. There are some Men like Dictionaries; to be lookt into upon occasions, but have no Connection, and are little entertaining.

184. It were endless to dispute upon everything that is disputable.

256. Unless Virtue guide us, our Choice must be wrong.

489. The truest end of Life, is, to know the Life that never ends.

Good, sure, but hardly the stuff of legend. Marcus Aurelius, on the other hand, frequently discourses in his book, in digestable snippets, on the cosmic nature of our physical connection to the universe (and the peace of mind that such realization can engender as it detaches us from the stresses of magnifying the present), as well as sharing friendly little adages about what to do when you wake up in the morning but don’t want to get out of bed:  Continue reading

MSP: Second Class Requirements 7 a,b,c

Second Class Reqiurement 7:

  1. Tell what precautions must be taken for a safe swim.
  2. Demonstrate your ability to jump feet first into water over your head in depth, level off and swim 25 feet on the surface, stop, turn sharply, resume swimming, then return to your starting place.
  3. Demonstrate water rescue methods by reaching with your arm or leg, by reaching with a suitable object, and by throwing lines and objects. Explain why swimming rescues should not be attempted when a reaching or throwing rescue is possible, and explain why and how a rescue swimmer should avoid contact with the victim.

I wish I’d looked at this sooner.  Now I have to go swimming in October. 

This afternoon I called a family friend who has a pool.  When I asked if I could come over and jump in for a bit, she said it was fine, but asked if I was sure.  “It’s really cold!” she said.  Yes, even in Las Vegas, pools get cold in October.

I picked my son up from school this afternoon and told him that we were going to make a quick stop to work on one of my Scout activities.  His main reaction was that he wanted to dunk his head in the pool. 

First, I did requirements a and c, which did not make me get in the water.  Yet.  I summarized the handbook’s rules for safe swimming and demonstrated how to rescue a swimmer in trouble. 

Then it was show time.  I regret now just how long I stood at the edge of the pool and hesitated before jumping in.  I was pretty afraid of the cold. 

Finally I did.  The cold didn’t hit me until I broke back up to the surface.  I swam the length of the pool and back with a loud gasp from the chill every time I took a breath. 

I figure if I’m going to follow in the footsteps of Boy Scouts as much as possible, I should probably get used to occasionally getting into very cold water.  It actually felt a lot better as soon as I got out.  In fact, mostly to make up for my sad hesitating before jumping in, I jumped in again and did another lap.  I still hesitated, but not quite as long, which is something, at least.  My son almost missed that second try, as he was busy dunking his head. 

I found out soon after that the water was 62°.  This experience at least let me teach my son by example an important principle that he probably gets tired of hearing me preach: suffering builds character.

Journals For Little Kids

Eight years ago I had the idea to sit my little kids down each week and talk to them about whatever was on their mind.  I would type what they said as they spoke, and that would be their journal.  It’s been a huge success.  I’ve started with each kid when they are two and can communicate in cogent sentences.  As the oldest two got to be about seven or eight years old, they started keeping their own journals, but these first, early journals have been priceless. 

Not many people can say they have journals going back to when they were two years old. 

My younger daughter loves it so much that she asks to write in her journal almost constantly.  She just turned five and already has 29 single spaced pages written. 

As they get older, sometimes the kids will ask why they should keep journals, and then I just pull up these files and we look up whatever they wrote around this time of year throughout their lives.  Two days ago, my oldest son went back and looked up his thoughts about a Jimmy Neutron costume he wore five years ago. 

It’s because of these journals that I know what my oldest daughter, now 12, was thinking about on Saturday, October 20, 2001, when we started doing this: “Today I don’t feel good.  My tummy hurts.  I love to go swimming.  I love my Ellie.”

David O. McKay’s “Ten Rules For Happiness”

I love this list, from former LDS Church President David O. McKay (1873-1970):

 

TEN RULES OF HAPPINESS
By President David O. McKay

1. Develop yourself by self-discipline.
2. Joy comes through creation — sorrow through destruction. Every living thing can grow: Use the world wisely to realize soul growth.
3. Do things which are hard to do.
4. Entertain upbuilding thoughts. What you think about when you do not have to think shows what you really are.
5. Do your best this hour, and you will do better the next.
6. Be true to those who trust you.
7. Pray for wisdom, courage, and a kind heart.
8. Give heed to God’s messages through inspiration. If self-indulgence, jealousy, avarice, or worry have deadened your response, pray to the Lord to wipe out these impediments.
9. True friends enrich life. If you would have friends, be one.
10. Faith is the foundation of all things — including happiness.

Priorities

Thinking of this always gives me a little comfort:

I have two credit cards and a debit card.  I use them so rarely that, if you showed me the numbers on any of them, I wouldn’t recognize them. 

However, I have my 14-digit library card number memorized.

Life is good.

MSP: Meeting Boy Scout Joining Requirements

There are ten:

1.  Meet age requirements.  Wow.  The first thing to do on the first day of this project and I’m already defaulting.  *sigh* 

2.  Complete a Boy Scout application and health history signed by your parent or guardian.  I printed one out from the Scout Web site and filled it out.  Unit type?  One option was “lone Boy Scout.”  I guess that’s me.  After filling in a birthday from the 70′s, I wondered what to put for grade.  I have several courses done beyond a Master’s Degree.  I estimate I’m in grade 19, and put that down.  For school, I put the name of the school at which I work.  I do not check the box to subscribe to Boy’s Life: my Webelos-age son already gets it.  Each month when it comes in the mail, I read it before giving it to him.  Parent or guardian signature?  I go ahead and sign.  I have no health history form, but no health history problems, either.

3.  Find a Scout troop near your home.  I figure that when a requirement says “troop or patrol,” I’ll just substitute “family.”  Check. 

4.  Repeat the Pledge of Allegiance.  Continue reading

The Man Scout Project

The following post is the first in a new series dedicated to my efforts to do all of the work needed to become an Eagle Scout.  In fact, I’ve created a new blog to go along with this: The Man Scout Project.  Why a new blog when I have a well established habit of throwing together all of of my disparate interests here, in this lovingly disjointed junkyard that I call Gently Hew Stone?  Because this project is specific and special; and because if nothing else this might help motivate me.  But fear not, connoisseurs of GHS’s amalgamation of incongruous juxtapositions: I’ll cross-post everything here. 

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I am 31 years old, and I want to be a Boy Scout. 

I’ve been surrounded by Scouts all of my life, and they always seem to have the most exciting lives, full of fun, camaraderie, new experiences, and adventure.  The ones who’ve gone the furthest with it appear to have gotten the most out of it, and are often the most fulfilled people I know. 

Like a lot of people, I wasted my teenage years watching TV, playing video games, obsessing over trendy music, and feeling sorry for myself for no good reason.  I was never very happy, and as amazingly wonderful as my adult life is, I’ve always regretted those years of freedom, strength, and opportunity that I threw away on nonsense.  I admit it: I feel like I need to atone for that great blank canvas that life handed to me and which I only ruined with thoughtless scribbling.  It’s not that I did a lot of terrible things, it’s that I just didn’t do very much at all.  And I hope that I can make up for it a little now–and enjoy life to the fullest–by becoming an Eagle Scout. 

Of course, this isn’t official.  Boy Scouts ends at 18, and nobody older than that can become an Eagle Scout.  I have no illusions about joining a troop of teenagers, or having a Court of Honor, or anything like that.  I simply intend to go through the Boy Scout Handbook and do all of the activities on my own.  I want to have the skills and experiences that an Eagle Scout would have had. 

I’m beginning with the following expectations: Continue reading

“Take refuge in nature, labour, sleep, music, or human understanding”

“How intense can be the longing to escape from the emptiness and dullness of human verbosity, to take refuge in nature, apparently so inarticulate, or in the wordlessness of long, grinding labour, of sound sleep, of true music, or of a human understanding rendered speechless by emotion!”

–Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago