A Little More on Leisure…

Following on yesterday’s post about rest and leisure

One of my favorite bedside books is The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang. Lin gained popularity as an erudite Chinaman back in the 1930’s but, to my knowledge, none of his fine books are in print today.

Lin was a great believer in leisure as a means for refinement and reflection. He states that,

It is clear that only in a society with leisure can the art of conversation be produced, and it is equally clear also that only when there is an art of conversation can there be good well-written essays.

…both the art of conversation and the art of writing good prose…is possible only in a life of leisure.

Is this true? Can you grind away at your job for twelve hours a day and then rush into your office and dash out sensitive haiku or enlightened prose? Lin thinks not:

Businessmen who are busy the whole day and immediately go to bed after supper, snoring like cows, are not likely to contribute anything to culture

But we have quashed most leisure out of our culture. We take our work home each day on our iPhones and computers. Paying the family bills takes two parents working full time. We order dinners, groceries, and dog-walkers on-line. And conversation? How? How to break through the surgically attached headphones or the stare that never swerves away from the phone screen?

It’s fascinating and prescient that Lin connects art, writing, and conversation with leisure. He argues that it takes time laying about to develop these skills. They can’t be crammed into a busy brain. It’s a kind of play, really. Playing with words, or ideas, or paint. Play rarely happens under pressure.

So take a few minutes this weekend to be a bum. A layabout. A lolly-gager. You’ll be better for it.

Cheers!


Go here to read more about Slow philosophy.
See here for a Kindle download of The Importance of Living.

Ms. Haft and the Nasty Word

Hot For Teacher
I’m stretching it but you get the point.

I was a junior and in love with writing and with science and, along with every other testosterone-sick guy in school, with Ms. Haft. She was freshly graduated from college and she wore her hair long and her skirts short. It’s still odd to me, but rather than standing or sitting, she would teach while kneeling on her desk. The younger teachers eschewed rows and columns and circled our desks around the perimeter of the room. One day – it’s one of the few clear memories I have of high-school – Ms. Haft walked into the room, climbed onto her desk, knelt down, and in the most droning, flat, and unemotional voice said “fuck”. Pencils, papers, jaws – everything dropped. Every set of eyes shot up from whatever they were looking at and turned to Ms. Haft. The air left the room. After a very long and very pregnant pause, she said it again. Fuck. And then again. Fuck you. Fuck me. Well, fuck it all.

All of a sudden, school got interesting.

She explained that today’s lesson had two parts. Part One was that we would circle the room and everyone would say Fuck out loud in turn. Just utter the word. Just form the sounds pushing air from your lungs and out your mouth. Touch your upper teeth to your lower lip and say it. Fuck. Good god. What harm can come from expelling air and forming a sound?

We went ’round our circle one-by-one. A couple students, pale and panting at the idea of letting such an abomination squeeze through their lips, shook their head No. I think one person gathered up and left. Some, given permission to swear for probably the first time, said the word over and over until told to stop. In the end, I think everyone in the room except for two or three, completed the odd lesson.

Lesson Two was much less interesting: words are meaningless. Do you imagine that ‘Fuck’ has any real meaning? Do you imagine that lovers would say such a word to each other? If we never bat an eye when the word is spoken would people continue to use it? Words only have meaning when we agree to their meaning.


But isn’t that exactly what culture is? An agreement that words and gestures and swimming pools and a dozen wives mean something?

The very purpose of words is to convey meaning and no word is meaningless. Words move us to great joy or to great pain. Words can elevate a nation. Words can change your life in an instant. “I’m leaving.” “I Have a Dream!” “Math is hard.”  How many girls have never forgotten when their dad told them that he loves them even though they are chubby? How many adults have never imagined what wonderful things they can do only because someone three or four decades ago told them that “you’re not good at that.” My own father remembered me at four-years-old reaching for his hand once to walk across the street. He said that he slapped my hand away and said “Big boys don’t hold hands”. It was meaningful enough for him to remember it fifty years later.

I disagree with Ms. Haft about the meaning of words but she alluded to something that I do agree with: dark things lose their power when exposed to light. I can’t help but think of this when I read that another group or government office has been ordered to cut off communication with the press or to shut down parts of their website. There might be a good reason for these actions but, without open and free communication, we can’t know.

I don’t know what happened to Ms. Haft. I don’t remember if she was there for my senior year. The last thing I remember of her was when she caught on that my buddy and I were the sole members of our high-school Maoist club. We dropped pamphlets and commie art in teacher’s mail each morning and beamed for days after Ms. Haft told us that the school board had called a special meeting to discuss ‘communist infestation’ at the school.

Cheers


As and aside, it’s said that the most frightening moment in film is when Clint Eastwood sings a solo in the wonderful movie Paint Your Wagon. Here you go:

For my money, though, when the band who rescued rock and roll doffs leisure suits and does the two-step to Hot For Teacher, well, I cry a little bit. Except that the song is redeemed as a showcase for every amazing thing that Van Halen does with six strings.

 


As always, thanks so much for reading. Be sure to add your email above to receive notification of more posts. Please do leave comments and, if you like the post, please pass it on by using one of the share buttons.

Healthy Bodies And Victoria’s Secret?

Healthy Body Image? Not what Victoria’s Secret is selling.

Well, here’s good news for human beings. The MS Business Insider opines that market forces in women’s underwear are shifting away from pencil-thin models toward healthy looking bodies. They cite as evidence a strong uptick in sales of lingerie at stores such as Adore Me and Aerie who market primarily to the non-waif crowd. It seems that curves are in. Or at least getting there.

Part of this issues from the fact that Americans have grown fatter over the past decades. Once anything becomes a norm within a culture, it cycles back onto itself as the de facto standard. In this case, it’s mostly a good thing. People are coming to reject the marketing mantra that you must look like this or be shaped like this to be happy and attractive. And exercise research reinforces what is intuitive: fit and strong, as opposed to wan and weak, are important components of a healthy lifestyle for all adults. 

The Insider ties several marketing moves into the explanation including Sports Illustrated’s editorial decision to include different body types in their swim wear issue and a backlash toward Victoria’s Secret for putatively moving their catalog offerings toward soft-porn. They note Iskra Lawrence as someone who is ‘curvy’ and who is having success in modeling and speaking out against the unhealthy lifestyles of models forced to adhere to the ridiculous standards of advertising executives.

Keep a grain of salt handy. Popularity and fashion do and will change. What makes a healthy lifestyle doesn’t. There will be constant controversies about diets and health and sales people will continue to prop up something new as an essential for what-ails-you. But the science of health is steady: good food, moderate and consistent exercise, and meaningful relationships are what make you healthy and happy.


Thanks so much for reading. Please do leave comments and, if you like the post, please pass it on by using one of the share buttons.

Cheers!

 

What If Your Mountain Was Just A Mountain of Crumbs?

 A Mountain Of Crumbs

I found much to enjoy here and much to relate to: my grandparent’s extreme frugality and my mother’s granite belief in the duty of hard work. My family’s sloughing off of the old ways. Gorokhova tells the interesting history of a young girl growing up in the Soviet Union but I wish she would have parsed her story more thoroughly. Why was her mother such a staunch supporter of the state? How did the author decide so easily to leave country, family, and friends? I would have loved for her to juxtapose the poverty and security of the Soviet welfare state versus freedom loving Americans who, awash with money and religion, allow people to ‘sleep under bridges’ and suffer without health care.

It seemed so easy for the author to leave her homeland and family. Leading up to the point, she never expresses longing for freedom or for the West. Mostly she is perturbed with silly state protocol – the same things I feel when I renew my driver’s license. In fact, her decision to leave isn’t really even a decision: she simply jumps aboard a wind that blows from an American student: he proposes to her as a means to help her leave the USSR with the caveat that he will continue to see other women while they are married. This apparently presents a better future than the author is expecting in Moscow but she doesn’t explain why.

However much I wished for something deeper, I was absorbed by the book and story. The prose is wonderful, especially for a non-native speaker. The characters can be thin and, typical for memoirs, there are dry spots but the story will carry anyone with an interest in family or history. This isn’t quite Tolstoy or Solzhenitsyn but a very good read in its own right. I’m not sure of the book’s appeal to those without a connection to Russia or the Eastern Bloc. Well worth the cost.

A Mountain of Crumbs
The mountain hamlet of my Slovak Grandparents

Three-and-a-half stars. Well worth the price of admission.

See here at Amazon
See here at Goodreads

Go here for the author’s website

 

 


Thanks so much for reading. Be sure to add your email above to receive notification of more posts. Please do leave comments and if you like the post, please pass it on by using one of the share buttons.

Exercise to Overcome the Onslaught of Luxury

 The Onslaught of Luxury

I talk to my children a lot about luxury and the lives that we live as everyday-run-of-the-mill Americans. I don’t want them to imagine that our lifestyle is anywhere near normal for most people of the world. And though we are able to mask the effects of our luxurious lifestyle using drugs, we suffer from high rates of ‘luxury diseases’. These are ailments that appear to stem from our diets and from our lack of exercise. The number varies, but it’s commonly said that up to eighty-percent of aging American’s health issues are related to weight and diet.

I thought about this while I lolled on the couch watching the television show Mountain Men last night. My favorite is an old fella named Tom who lives in Northern Montana. It’s been a cold winter in Montana, and Tom’s meat stock is low. He sets out for a hunt, and to use as much of a deer as possible, he hunts with a homemade bow and arrow. A rifle, he explains, destroys much of the meat of an animal while it explodes through the body. But an arrow, if shot correctly, kills as quickly and makes the entire animal usable. I have my own qualms about hunting but this attitude is refreshing compared to people who hunt elk or antelope for trophies from a mile away using high-powered rifles. On the day of the hunt, Tom drives into the woods, loads up his pack, and walks into the trees looking for deer tracks. There is fresh snow so he is able to follow the tracks easily. Finally, he comes upon a group of does and tracks them for a mile until he spots a buck. Just like humans, he laughs: when there are fertile females around a stag won’t be far behind. He approaches the buck, takes his shot, and then tracks the animal until he finds it dead. He ends the day back at his house butchering the deer in the dark as the temperature drops to less than zero.

How Did Humans Evolve?

Evolutionary psychologists refer to the EEA or Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness. There is controversy about the environment that humans evolved within but it certainly includes much of the lifestyle that Tom enjoys. His day begins with splitting wood for warmth and for cooking. He walked miles in the snow and cold hunting a two hundred pound deer which he then drug out of the woods. Not bad for a seventy plus year-old man. His waking time, just like our ancestors, is spent burning calories – it’s easy to see why the body wants to hold on to fat.

Do you live like this? I don’t either.

And that’s why I exercise. I spend my working days in an ergonomically adjusted chair at a desk with no sharp edges. I force myself to get up to talk to people rather than use instant messaging all day. I buy fattened cow at the grocery store where they give away free cookies just for gracing the front door. My wife and I prefer clean and healthy food but our schedules often make it easiest to cook up something from a box that is laden with fat, salt, and sugar. Nothing in my evolutionary history has prepared my body for this onslaught of luxury.

It’s no wonder that we suffer from such high rates of heart attacks and cancers and obesity disorders. And without opting out of the normal rat-race, I see no organic way to circle around this. (See here for a book review of someone who did opt out – good stuff!)

So try to mix in a little physical hardship in your day. Do something that makes you sweat. Push the mower. Carry the garbage can to the curb instead of using a cart. Chop some wood. It’s how you were made to work and your body will respond with a thank you of pleasantly achy muscles.

Cheers!


Thanks so much for reading. Be sure to add your email above to receive notification of more posts. Please do leave comments and if you like the post, please pass it on by using one of the share buttons.

Writers, Eaters, Success Seekers – Should You Follow Trends?

To Follow Trends or No?

If your Twitter feeds looks anything like mine then you are inundated with advice from every corner. 6 Words To Avoid When Writing a Short Story! 18 Rules for the NEW Social Media! 5 Essential Trends in Exercise Marketing! It’s all hype. Most of it is the same-old-same-old junk repackaged by a ‘content marketing’ genius. Some of it is good. Some of it bad. Most of it is mindless filler intended to get you to click your mouse.

But remember this: the tried and true – the thing that works –  is a hard sell. Want to lose weight? Then consume fewer calories than you burn each day, every day. You will lose weight. It’s a law of nature. But no one will a buy a book with that title. Want to be a better writer? Then write more. And when you are done then write even more. Write until your fingers ache. There is really no other way to improve than to do more. Yet who pays for this advice? Who clicks on an ad claiming that “We Will Teach You French in Only Five Hours a Day!”? No one. Ages ago my classical guitar teacher told me that I could be a good player if I would commit to practicing for eight hours a day. I still don’t know if that was a compliment or a sarcastic slam.

I’m not saying that everything new is bunk. Nor am I saying that everything old is genius. What I am emphasizing is that you should invest the time to know the merits of what you’re investing in compared to your long-term goals.

Should you Follow Trends?
Even if I knew who this was, I wouldn’t release their names. I’m just too nice.

Take a look at the sad souls here. I don’t know who they are and I would protect their anonymity even if I knew. But I guarantee that they were trying to look the part. A manager or publicist told them that this is how they had to look. Go with the trends! Forget talent! Forget singing ability! Or magic or whatever they were doing. “Look the part and legions will flock to you!”. And maybe they did. For a night or a month or maybe for a year. And maybe it was a fantastic year. Maybe it was worth this hideous picture. But if you are looking for something lasting then it’s tough to beat whatever has worked for the successful who come before you.

Cheers!


Thanks so much for reading. Be sure to add your email above to receive notification of more posts. Please do leave comments and if you like the post, please pass it on by using one of the share buttons.