Tuesday, May 28, 2013

George Washington has a green living room. And one tooth.

I went to Mount Vernon two summer ago.  

George Washington's living room was painted a pale shade of green.  This was a status of his wealth, since that color was particularly expensive.  Like having a tiger in a cage in your living room today, I suppose.  

He also only had one tooth by the time he died.  He was proud of that tooth.  Washington purchased custom dentures that fit around it, because again, he was wealthy.  Nonetheless, his chompers were a constant source of agony.

A middle class American today lives better than a 1%er 200 years ago.  Higher standard of living.  Higher life expectancy.  Better medical care.

I opened my dad's fridge this summer.  He likes to shop at Grocery Outlet (an amazing place).  Inside: exotic goods from all over the world.  Pomegranite juice.  Mango smoothies.  Beers from Germany.  A cheese plate.  Various sausages.  All sold in bulk, and cheaply.  

One or two centuries ago the things in my father's fridge would have been unattainable, except at great cost.  Now they are sold at discount prices. The capitalist system has bestowed a bounty on the average Westerner.

It doesn't mean much unless you appreciate it.  Americans live in a fairy tale. What we want is on demand, when we want it.  Our poor are fat instead of starving.  Poverty here is nothing like poverty throughout the rest of the world, or human history.

Yet a quick stroll through Twitter and Facebook reveals a lot of complaint and discontent.  Why?  Comparison is the thief of joy.  No, you don't stack up to Donald Trump or a hedge fund manager or the rich kids of Instagram.  But who cares?  Money isn't the point of life, not does it measure success.  Plenty of sad, unhappy rich people out there.

Count your blessings.  Enjoy the little things every day.  Is your belly full?   Is your water clean?  Does your waste flush out of sight?  Are you safe?  Are you warm?  Are you healthy?  Do you have friends?  Are you loved?
Your life is better than you know, and better than most of the world.  Just enjoy it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Tangled.  The best way to describe this weekend.

Wanting to do everything.  Did nothing (or so it feels).  Tangled in financial goals.  Numerous decisions on home repairs.  I'm almost 30! (Where did that thought come from?) Looking for clarity. Write life goals.  Reevaluate.  Reassess.  
Still stressed.  

I take the dog for a walk.  Better.  I ride my bike.  Ahhh, that's it.  Exercise clears the mind.

Now Facebook gives me this gem.

"All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on."

What's important, what's not.

Pet the dog.  Play some ping pong.  Drink some wine.  Good enough for tonight.  Bigger questions tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I'm a Nerd. I Love History: Ancient Rome Edition

The Roman Empire is just so fascinating.  I'm teaching it to my seventh graders now.  Just finished Following Hadrian by Elizabeth Speller.  He's an interesting man, widely regarded a great Emperor of the greatest Empire the world has known.  Yet he is so insecure.  So unhappy.  Happiness is not wealth and power.

After finishing that book I went on a Wikipedia binge last night, clicking one article after another well past midnight.  The rainy weather lends itself to these sort of pursuits.

The usual stuff is interesting.  Gladiators and wars.  Legions and ever expanding Empire.  Barbarian hordes and collapse.

From Republic to the Empire's fall, Rome is so gloriously complex it's hard to wrap my head around.  I've been studying it casually for years, teaching it to middle schoolers for half a decade, and I feel as if I'm just beginning to understand it.

There is intrigue, murders, battles won and battles lost.  Treason, treason, and more treason.  There are dozens of famous names, used and used again with only "the elder" or "the younger" to tell them apart.  Hundreds of legacies that stay with us today.  One could spend a lifetime learning new things.

For example, did you know that at one time the Roman Empire looked like this?

This is Rome during the crisis of the Third Century, when two sizeable chunks of Rome broke away.  Rome almost fell in the late 200s.  Just learned that last night.  It was all reunited by a fellow name Aurelian, whose name lends itself to the French city of Orleans.  From there Diocletian (the only emperor to retire willingly) and Constantine propped things up, and on the Empire went for another 150 years or so.

The fascinating tidbits go on and on.  Diocletian, who when begged by the people to return to the throne, said he'd rather farm his cabbage.  Vespasian and his toilet tax.  The noble Cincinnatus who was later emulated by George Washington.  The reigns of Nero, Caligula and Elagabalus make for lurid reading.  It's fun sometimes to lose yourself in history.  More fun to see how history has left its mark on us, and what we can still learn from it.  More on that later.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The People We Don't Like

People are not rational.  That is what makes us human, I suppose.  

One interesting example that's crossed my mind lately:  The people we don't like often have more influence over our lives than the people we do. 

We avoid locales and social gatherings we'd like to go, if someone we don't want to see might be there.  We miss opportunities.  All for the people we don't like.

It doesn't make sense.  Decide who and what matters in your life, and live it for them.  For the people who don't, why factor them into the equation?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cork Board

I keep a cork board by my bed.  It's always full, and always changing.  Reminders, sayings and quotes come and go.

Two items hold special meaning for me.  One is the memorial program for a former student of mine who passed away two years ago.  He went to bed a healthy youth on a Saturday, woke up ill on Sunday, and was in a coma for a week until he died.  Viral meningitis of the heart.  It happened suddenly and with no warning.  I wrote about it here.

Another is my girlfriend of 7 months, myself and my dog on a hike.  She looks beautiful, Winston looks cute. It's a sunny day.  I'm smiling goofy, but I'm clearly happy.

I don't know how long I'll keep them up. For now they remind me that Life is Good, and Life is Short.  No seconds to take for granted.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Winston has taken strides

Winston has taken strides.

"Lay down" has been added to his repetoire of tricks.  Compliance is not immediate.  He paws the air vigorously, thinking I mean shake, before lowering himself.  This is done with much wiggling and writhing, channeling Uriah Heap, though to cuter effect.

Fetching has improved tremendously.  We've gone fetching a ball from kitchen to living room, to chasing the Chuck-It across vast expanses.  The ball is not yet willingly returned.

A consistent response to "Come!"eludes me.  Our success rate hovers around 70%.  Sometimes he gets this coy look in his eye.  He sits there in a weird, lumpy way.  Not like a normal dog, but slouching on his butt, like an off-balance egg with legs.  His belly pops out, I can see his wiener, and his lazy eye gets really lazy.  I feel as uncomfortable as a lady on the New York subway might.  He just sits like that, ignoring me.

I try to grab him, he runs.  Then plops.  Off-kilter. Belly out.  Eye wonky.   I approach. He runs.  Repeat.

I've learned to solve this problem by lots of swearing to myself.  Usually if I go inside, he's at the door in minutes.  Then one of two things will happen.

He may, knowing he was bad, look at me with puppy eyes and tuck his tail, saying "I'm sorry!"  Though I want to strangle him, I give him lots of love, and bacon flavored treats.

More frequently, he bounds into the house gumming the thing that drove him to disobedience.  A turd.   First it was a deer turd, which crumpled into a million pellets on the carpet.  Next, a flat, round turd of unknown, perhaps bovine origin.   Today, a deer turd in the shape of a human turd, which confused and scared me.

Still, I am glad I have a puppy.