Dec 30, 2008
Begin the Day with Marcus Aurelius x2
Here is last night's bedtime reading from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations (2nd century CE):
1. Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interferences, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness -- all of them due to the offenders' ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow-creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man's two hands, feet, or eyelids, or like the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature's law -- and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction? (Penguin Classics, translated by Maxwell Staniforth, 1964)
When I searched for this quote online, I couldn't find the Staniforth translation, but I did find an older translation by George Long. See below for his different way of expressing the original.
1. BEGIN the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not [only] of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in [the same] intelligence and [the same] portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away. (Harvard Classics, translated by George Long, ~1910 -- if I am reading everything correctly)
I wish I could read ancient Greek -- I'd give you a third translation in my language of 2008.
Dec 16, 2008
Five Years? Five Years!
Five years and five days later, I agree all the more with the Archer Pelican's first post: Worth Doing Poorly.* Hugs to all whose friendships I've enjoyed here in blogland. I love us much.
*and take a look at the URL, which I just noticed. Heh.
Photo yoinked from PartyDomain.
Vartan Gregorian on Character In Difficult Times
Vartan Gregorian was one of my first grownup heroes. Born to modest means in Tabriz, Iran, he eventually moved to the United States, led the New York Public Library from misery back into light, and became president at Brown just in time for my senior year.
We met only once (and barely) but the myth surrounding him during my senior year strongly shaped my imagination of what an adult life could and ought be. Now and then I see his name in the news and I am reminded of his longlasting influence on my mindset. Who influenced his? Before all others, his grandmother.
In 2006, he shared with Stanford's graduating seniors a lesson she taught him:
I want to remind you that whether you like it or not, in order to survive and thrive, you will have to be lifelong students and lifetime learners. And yes, there are and always will be difficult times when you will think you have come to a dead end in your life or in your career, even an apparent point of no return, but let me tell you as one who has experienced those events once or twice, when that happens, think of what the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said when he spoke of the condition that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers gave birth to them, but that life obliges them to give birth to themselves over and over again. Time, experience, knowledge, education, love, one's values, all these can and do affect us and change us, and enable us to reinvent ourselves. I have invented myself many times and I'm sure you will do the same thing.
For me, Marquez's words have a particular resonance because they reinforce values that were taught to me by my maternal grandmother, whom your president mentioned. She raised me. My grandmother was an illiterate peasant, a poor one at that. I don't believe that she knew where Greece was, nor Rome, nor Stanford. She certainly did not know who Plutarch was, but even so she taught me the same lesson as Plutarch highlighted in his celebrated Lives almost 2,000 years ago, when he said, essentially, that character makes the man and woman. My grandmother was my first teacher. She instructed me in the moral lessons of life and the “right way,” through her sheer character, stoic tenacity, formidable dignity, individuality and utter integrity. She was for me the best example of what good character means. In spite of many adversities and tragedies, wartime ravages, poverty, deprivation and the deaths of her seven children, she never became cynical, never abandoned her values and never compromised her dignity. Indeed, it was from my grandmother that I learned that dignity is not negotiable. Your reputation is not for sale and must not be mortgaged as a down payment on your ambitions. It was my grandmother's living example that shaped the very foundation of my character. Between what I have learned from Plutarch and my grandmother—a combination of forces I would dare anybody to challenge!—I feel confident in telling you that in the coming years you will meet people who are more powerful than you, richer than you, smarter than you, even handsomer or more beautiful than you, but what will be your distinguishing mark will always be your character. And what will define your character? Your conduct, your ability to live by principles you believe in, even if that means fighting tenaciously for what is right over what you know to be wrong.
Nobody goes through life without encountering obstacles, disappointments, and problems. Nobody can keep from making mistakes or taking a wrong turn. Nobody can escape illness or avoid the specter of failure. Let me point out that coping with success is easy. How you deal with adversity, with failure, and with setbacks will reveal your true character. How nimble you are about getting back on your feet after some large or small disaster or defeat will help you to determine just how far those feet of yours will take you in the world.
As Gregorian states, himself, these are not new ideas. But when I hear them from someone admirable and living -- whose hand I have shaken, whose dandruff I've seen on the shoulders of his charcoal suit, and whom I have watched mincing his way down a sidewalk when his back was seized in chronic pain -- they stick a little harder.
Dec 04, 2008
"Where Do You Stay?" ("19 Miles a Second, So it's Reckoned")
Hanging out at the UMD homeless shelter, I once learned that the question, "where do you live?" is often phrased by African-Americans as "where do you stay?"
I assumed that the differing word choice was primarily a function of economics: people with less-stable incomes are more likely to stay at some address for a while rather than to live some address for a long time. But I'm now starting to think that the expression finds its origin in something more temporally and geographically distant. A quick online search indicates that this phrasing is also typical in parts of Africa and India.
Regardless, I'm growing more fond of the expression. Not only for my particularly peripatetic lifestyle, but for the wandering life we all seem to have whether or not we realize it.
Monty Python describe(s)* this nicely:
*can of worms, here: do you choose a singular or plural verb after Monty Python? My understanding from listening to BBC radio is that the British often use a plural verb after a singular noun that describes a group of people. "Manchester United are down three games". But then again, they also say "Parliament is". Hmmm.
Technology, Simplicity and Such
Yesterday, I happily acquired a Blackberry Curve with Verizon service. In the 28 hours since, I've been delighted at the improved reception (over AT&T) and the added functionality. Though of course I'm still climbing the experience curve. I barfed up my email sometime this evening and may have nine conniption fits between now and whenever I figure out how to fix it.
Still, I'm pleased.
Now on the topic of technology: Last night at the mid-week Quaker meeting we discussed a Pendle Hill booklet on Voluntary Simplicity. One of our members commented on his current "need" for a computer, cell phone, and car. I wholly agreed that these were needs for readily fitting into modern society. Mind you, (I think) I'd love to not feel the need to fit into modern society. But I do, thus the stuff.
In other technology-related things -- I think it was nuts for the automaker CEOs to drive from Detroit to DC for their meetings with Congress. I want them to have every bit of time and space they need for doing what needs done while they're still in charge. Sitting in the passenger seat of a car for 523 miles each way doesn't seem helpful. And it pisses me off that anyone in Congress might be smiling about it.
p.s thank you to all readers who commented or emailed with thoughts on cell plans.
Dec 02, 2008
Travel Lessons and Verizon -- Any Opinions?
One of the top three things I learned while driving around the US for four months: AT&T mobile sucks everywhere. Downtown Denver, downtown San Francisco, urban Portland, urban Claremont, suburban Hillsborough -- all bleah.
Several folks told me that Verizon -- while a bit more expensive -- has much better signal so I'm planning to switch. Any opinions? CNET tells me that I want either the Blackberry 8830 or the LG enV for a good combination of signal quality and functionality. Sadly, nobody praises the phones with the 3.0MP cameras, so it appears I will have to settle for a good phone with only 2.0MP.
Dec 01, 2008
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich x2
My friends Mike and Sel had some folks over to their place after the Carrboro Film Festival last Sunday. Sel worried that there wasn't enough food and asked if anyone would like her to make some P, B & J's. Replied Kyle, "You had me at 'P'."
Above, a PB&J at a Flying J Travel Stop somewhere around Nebraska. At the center of each sandwich, the peanut butter and the jelly were around two-thirds of an inch thick. That would put me into a coma so fast, but I guess it works for truckers.
I enjoyed sleeping at several Flying J's while I drove around the US in my Pontiac Vibe with the fold flat seats. The parking lots seemed safe and the morning showers were big and clean for ~$8.00. My only problem was on my first Flying J night in Ohio or thereabouts, when the 4 a.m. lawn sprinklers shot through my windows that I'd cracked open for air. It was a confusing way to wake up.