Fight Back Against Bad Days – Bear Bryant

Fight Back Against Bad Days – Bear Bryant

One of the great lessons of trying to live under the Renaissance flag is the realization that life doesn’t always feel that way. Yes, life is magical and wonderful and marvelous and, according to the Yiddish proverb, “the greatest bargain” since we get all this for nothing. But some days, try as you might, that mystical feeling of oneness just isn’t there. Or worse, it all seems like a bad joke. Some days, your carefully constructed inner mansion (or inner Alexandria) suffers some kind of natural disaster or missile attack or salacious, high profile crime, and calls into question all your feel-good assumptions. When those days come – and they will – here’s a quote to keep in mind. It comes from the great college football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant: “There is not a person alive who isn’t going to have some awfully bad days in their lives. I tell my players that what I mean by fighting is when your house burns down, and your wife runs off with the drummer, and you’ve lost your job and all the odds are against you. What are you going to do? Most people just lay down and quit. Well, I want my people to fight back.” The hell with lemonade. Here’s to staying strong and fighting back when life pelts you with lemons (or rocks). Now it’s your turn – when did YOU fight back when life knocked you down? I’d love to hear the story....

Read More

Paradoxes About Life

Paradoxes About Life

Fitness and personal development blogger Chris McCombs just put together a pretty cool post about the paradoxes of life – 39 Strange Things About Life. Technically, they’re not all paradoxes, but they are insightful and serve the important function of realigning your perspective. It’s altogether too easy to get bogged down in the details of our day to day stresses (or as E.M. Forster put it 103 years ago in Howard’s End, “this outer life of telegrams and anger”). But real life – the mostly invisible one we tend to neglect because the artificial one masking it keeps us so distracted and busy – is magical and strange and redemptive. In fact, Chris McCombs addresses that himself with his #23: “We’re always trying to get stuff done so we can get to the things we actually wanna do.” Check out the full list here and let me know what you...

Read More

The World Is Getting Better, Not Worse

The World Is Getting Better, Not Worse

Is the Human Race in Decline? I read a comment on another blog yesterday in which an individual argued that humanity has been “decaying” over the last three to four centuries because we’ve basically devolved from a supposedly “high level of spiritual knowledge and understanding of life to lower levels where the technical language is the norm.” The commenter went on to argue that people today are confused and incapable of comprehending anything complex. Unless something is delivered simplistically, his point was, most people “grow tired and bored.” The trend, therefore, is for everything to be reduced more and more into an overly simplified form to the point where, the commenter asserted, adults now act like children. In fact, he even went so far as to suggest that in the future most literature would be a form of children’s literature. Now, it’s not my intention to slam or ridicule the author of those comments in any manner. But his underlying hypothesis is intriguing and not totally uncommon,  and I feel it’s important enough to explore and address – has the human race been in intellectual, spiritual, and moral decline since peaking in some golden past, in this case somewhere between 1613-1713 (i.e. three to four centuries ago)?   Renaissance, Reason, and Enlightenment To me, the Age of Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, was a natural extension of the European Renaissance that preceded it. And to be sure, it was a heady time as science and reason began to take firmer root in a world that had previously been dominated almost exclusively by organized religion. So I can certainly understand why someone would argue that the Age of Enlightenment was an historical high point and a phenomenal era of human achievement. After all, this was the era of Descartes and Hobbes and Pascal and Newton and Milton and Jefferson and Voltaire. They certainly don’t make them like that any more . . . Of course, it goes the other way, too. Because back then, they didn’t quite make them like Einstein and Stephen Hawking and Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King Jr. Now, from a historical perspective, the era doesn’t align cleanly with the 1613-1713 period...

Read More

The 3 Piles of Shit

The 3 Piles of Shit

Back in my college years, I developed this theory I called The Three Piles of Shit. (I originally considered titling this post The Three Piles of Crap in order to keep this blog’s family friendly status unparalleled on the web, but hell, if you can’t be true to the spirit of your own youth, how can you be trusted when it comes to anything important?) Regardless, this wasn’t so much a theory as it was a metaphor of how I envisioned my role in life. Or more specifically, how I envisioned navigating my life. Basically, I divided the universe into three piles.   Pile #1 – The Universe itself This was all the stuff I didn’t know and hadn’t experienced. It was absolutely gargantuan in size because, well, it was the universe. And my objective, as I saw it, was to sort through that pile, to start working through it piece by piece, taking an individual idea or experience from the Universe and then, after evaluating it, placing it in one of two separate piles. Most of the ideas, thoughts, experiences, etc., would go into Pile #2.   Pile #2 – The Discard Pile Pile #2 is the discard pile. That’s not to say it contains only worthless items. On the contrary, it contains some extraordinarily valuable information and resources. For example, I have nothing against mechanical engineering or the ability to hang wallpaper. I’m thrilled that we live in a world where there are mechanical engineers and individuals who are gifted when it comes to applying wallpaper to a wall, but in the end, those two disciplines just aren’t for me. (I also suck at connecting a tank to the back of a toilet without ending up with either a leak or a cracked tank.) Moving an item from Pile #1 to Pile #2 should not be construed as a judgment on my part that the item in question is without merit. Without doubt, there IS a lot of crap in Pile #2. But there are a lot of other very valuable elements as well. It’s just that those elements don’t personally resonate with me. They don’t appeal to me, they don’t speak to me, they don’t call...

Read More

There is No Right Way to Bounce Back

There is No Right Way to Bounce Back

Harleena Singh over at the Aha!NOW blog recently posted a piece on How to Rise Up Every Time You Fall. It’s a good mixture of inspiration and pragmatism (and there’s also a cool inspirational video at the end). It made me think about my own process of bouncing back from failure or disappointment – timely since I did, in fact, experience a personal and financial disappointment last week that knocked me off course for about three days and forced me to ask myself some tough questions.   Getting Knocked Down At my core, I’m a pretty optimistic person. OK – for those who know me, I’m not equating being optimistic with always being positive (I’m working on it). Rather, it’s more about believing that the future – both the world’s as well as my own – will continue to improve. I like to think that the worst – e.g. Hitler and Stalin – is behind us, and that the rays from the future sparkle just a little bit brighter each year. But at times of failure or disappointment, my default assumptions are tested. Have I been fooling myself all along? What do I really have to show for my efforts and my life? Shouldn’t I be farther along by now? Of course, that could be the melodramatic ego talking, convinced as it is that it just took a bullet in service of the spirit. But there is undoubtedly some kind of repairing or rewiring process involved in bouncing back or getting back up, and I think it’s more complicated – and important – than simply the ego’s convalescence.   Bouncing Back To me, what’s more interesting than getting back up is what’s happening while we’re lying in a crumpled heap in the dirt. That’s where the real growth occurs. That’s where we ask ourselves the tough questions (after we stop asking the easier, self-pitying ones) that lead to growth and change (as Harleena Singh points out). To me, it’s not a matter of getting up or giving up – it’s a question of whether we’re stronger and wiser when we do eventually get back to our feet. Because if we keep getting up after being knocked down without learning,...

Read More

Best Literary Ending – Middlemarch

Best Literary Ending – Middlemarch

At nearly 800 pages in length (in the edition I have), George Eliot’s Middlemarch isn’t a quick read. And yet that’s what makes it so enjoyable. I don’t find all 19th century long novels or novelists to be equally enjoyable, of course, but there’s nothing quite like allowing yourself to be absorbed into a richly-drawn narrative for weeks or (depending on your schedule) months at a time. I had a similar experience when I read John Irving’s A Son of the Circus (Irving’s love of 19th century novels has clearly informed his own storytelling). I didn’t feel so much that I was reading a book as much as I felt like I was living in a world. And in the case of both Middlemarch and A Son of the Circus, they were worlds that I immensely enjoyed living in while I was there.   Middlemarch on the Fly I don’t wish to give the story away – even though you’ve now had more than 140 years to read it (just what exactly have you been doing for the last 14 decades anyway?) – but a major conflict by the end of the novel is the dilemma faced by protagonist Dorothea Brooke. Dorothea, in a case of naive idealism, makes a disastrous choice early on to marry the much older – and overly cerebral – Edward Casabaun. Casabaun is cold and self-centered, and has his head so far up his ass, he spends his entire life researching and preparing to write a major philosophical work (with the grandiose title, The Key to All Mythologies), but never actually gets around to writing the book before his small, atrophied heart finally (I suspect) just gives up in frustration and craps out. (How’s that for a highbrow review?) Casabaun has money – which Dorothea would like to use for noble purposes such as helping others and making the world a better place – along with a hottie younger cousin (Dorothea’s age, in fact) named Will Landisaw. He’s pretty idealistic, too, and it’s clear from the very beginning they’re well suited for one another. Landisaw has no fortune of his own – there was a disinheritance due to Landisaw’s grandmother’s marriage to a poor...

Read More