Everyone Should Cultivate Manual Training

Does this mean we should neglect our intellect? Absolutely not.

In fact, the opposite. We should strive to cultivate both mind and body to become the most perfect specimen we can become, daily.

I came across this passage while reading a bit this morning from Amateur Joinery in the Home (1916) by George and Berthold Audsley and thought it would be worthwhile to share.

There is a lot of good advice here but the above sentences stuck with me while taking the morning walk. “One never knows when life or limb may depend on the expert use of the hand and ordinary tools.” This could be applied to so many facets of an interesting life and is the basis of human survival that has put us where we are for a million years.

I have been using the down time afforded us by the events of 2020 to catch up on an ever-growing list of books and articles I have been amassing for decades. When I was working in archaeology full-time, the hundreds of pages of reading most weeks necessary just to keep current pushed many other interests into side avenues. I hope you all are using your time in a way that works well for you. In the mean time, this book is available for anyone with an interest in tools and working with their hands. It may even inspire new projects.

Click here to download a pdf file of the book. Amateur Joinery in the Home.

Friends

C.S. Lewis at work.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”

Wise words from a wise man. Stay safe…

Woody Guthrie’s New Year Rulin’s

New Year’s resolutions from Woody Guthrie’s notebook 1943.  It was an interesting time; the world was at war, America was coming out of an economic depression coupled with huge crop failures and sleazy bank practices, and the Guthries had made their way West to California with record numbers of displaced migrants looking for a better life.

1. Work more and better

2. Work by a schedule

3. Wash teeth if any

4. Shave

5. Take bath

6. Eat good – fruit – vegetables – milk

7. Drink very scant if any

8. Write a song a day

9.  Wear clean clothes – look good

10. Shine shoes

11. Change socks

12. Change bed clothes often

13. Read lots good books

14. Listen to radio a lot

Some are personal but most of these transfer well to anybody.  We all need improvement…

15. Learn people better

16. Keep ranch clean

17. Don’t get lonesome

18. Stay glad

19. Keep hoping machine running

20. Dream good

21. Bank all extra money

22. Save dough

23. Have company but don’t waste time

24. Send Mary and kids money

25. Play and sing good

26. Dance better

27. Help win war – Beat Fascism

28. Love Mama

29. Love Papa

30. Love Pete

31. Love everybody

32. Make up your mind

33. Wake up and fight

Science and Self-Correction

“One of the reasons for its success is is that science has a built-in, error correcting machinery at its very heart. Some may consider this an overbroad characterization, but to me every time we exercise self-criticism, every time we test against the outside world, we are doing science. When we are self-indulgent and uncritical, when we confuse hopes and facts, we slide into pseudoscience and superstition.”

 

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, p. 27

Wisdom of Dan Beard

On Loneliness

“When you feel you are sleeping on the breast of your mother, the earth, while your father, the sky, with his millions of eyes is watching over you, and that you are surrounded by your brother, the plants, the wilderness is no longer lonesome even to the solitary traveler.”

~Dan Beard

Your Rights vs. Doing the Right Thing

Chesterton, G.K.

To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same
as to be right in doing it.

G.K. Chesterton

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c0/Three_acres_and_a_cow.JPG

Chesterton self-portrait based on the Distributist slogan “Three acres and a cow.”

I’ve had an interest in Chesterton for quite a few years now and have really enjoyed reading his philosophy.  I’m no expert, but know that I find myself in congruence with many of his thoughts.  His famous and odd novel, The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare was my first real introduction beyond reading some of his more famous quotes and I suggest it for anyone as an interesting story.  It is a story of anarchists, detective work, poets, and Edwardian politics; what more do you need?  I certainly don’t agree with many of his tenets but he is a gem of a thinker for sure.

https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMmY4Y2E5MTctYjFiYy00ZTE1LTkwYzUtMWU1NDRmOGRmYzc1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDUzOTQ5MjY@._V1_UY317_CR21,0,214,317_AL_.jpg

He was quite a “looker” too.

For further reading, here is an interesting article, giving a glimpse into the man and his thoughts: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/07/07/the-back-of-the-world

Our personal education should never end…

Thoughts on Labor – 1854

“The aim of the laborer should be, not to get his living, to get “a good job,” but to perform well a certain work; and, even in a pecuniary sense, it would be economy for a town to pay its laborers so well that they would not feel that they were working for low ends, as for a livelihood merely, but for scientific, or even moral ends. Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.”

Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle 1854

thoreau1

It is far easier to excel when you find something you can love to do.  The one who does what he loves will do a far better job than the one who is just putting in the time for money.

Wilderness Time – Wise Words from John Muir

Photo from The Daily Beast.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.”John Muir (1838-1914)

The serenity of the forest. Photo from The Outdoor Project. Click the image for more information.

These thoughts are over 100 years old when the human population of the world was about 1/4 of what it is today…  We need to take heed of these thoughts more than ever.

John Muir

Dream On and March to the Beat of Your Own Drummer

Don_Quixote_16“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

donquixotereading

Take some advice from an unlikely hero, Don Quixote. 

Do your own thing… Have an adventure, go live in a cabin,

just follow your dreams…

Real Comforts

“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

kentgriswold's-tinyhouseblog-cabin-at-loch-voil-in-the-scottish-highlands-a-simply-beautiful-idyllic-place-to-be-photo-by-alex-von-der-assen-theflyingtortoise

Photo by Alex von der Assen as featured on Kent Griswold’s Tiny House Blog.

Heavy words when you think about them.

I like nice stuff.  I buy good clothes, decent shoes, and drive a new(ish) vehicle.  We all like new, nifty, better, and clever things.  The problem is that we are trained from a young age to grab the newest gizmo and gimmick presented to us.  We are programmed to stockpile and hoard.  Advertisers know this.  Bankers know this.  We spend what we earn, and then a little more.

work-buy-debtcycle1

When we pick up an object, we don’t always think of how this thing will add value to our life; or whose life was devalued to make it and bring it to us.

More stuff is not the path to happiness…

Jobs, Work, and Taking Control of Possessions (an updated ramble)

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

Comfort in the parlour. Artist, John Edward Soden, ca.1836–1897.

Comfort in the Parlour. Artist, John Edward Soden, ca.1836–1897.

Possessions don’t make us happy!  Situations do.

Possessions, desire, covetousness, craving, yearning, lust; these forces drive humanity. Somehow each generation of moral thinkers know these things are ultimately wrong and look for something deeper.  With virtually every major religion and most schools of moral philosophy reiterating this through the millennia it’s surprising any of us even pretend to a higher conscience in the age where consumption is a human’s primary role.

taoist-monk

A Taoist monk wearing a coat made from cast-off scraps of cloth as a sign of his un-attachment.

And yet, each generation produces it’s share of radicals who cling to the hope that we can get more from life by having less. 

At some point, some of us have an epiphany about what is truly important in life.  It’s not the pursuit of money.  Life is short, so if you don’t enjoy what you do from day-to-day, them something needs to change.  Look around.  How many ways are people and companies trying to sell you something you didn’t even know you wanted?  Is it worth selling your soul, one hour at a time?  Not to me.  Not any more.  Like so many people before me, I wasted much of my youth.  Not all of it, but large swaths of time were sold away to an employer for mere money.  Not that giving time to a cause is an evil in itself.  Helping a friend, working with kids, or teaching a skill; all are noble pursuits and are, in a sense, work.  These things just don’t fall into that class of mindless drudgery that makes up most day jobs.

Filling a McMansion with junk is not a road to happiness. It's the road to enslavement.

Filling a McMansion with things you don’t need while struggling to pay the mortgage is not a road to happiness. It’s the road to enslavement.

Even in our hobbies, generally they are just fillers.  Something to be done in our leisure time, and somehow not part of “real life.”  Isn’t this backwards?  Shouldn’t we fill our days with things we love; music, family, reading, writing, wandering, or just plain idling?  We are taught to criticize the idle and there is possibly some logic to it.

At a family or village level, its easy to see how we might resent someone who doesn’t pull their weight; and rightly so, but that doesn’t mean we need to forget to live a satisfying life along the way.

I am often amazed how angry even the most privileged people become when they think someone is getting a handout for free.  Taking this to an extreme, people relish in the schadenfreude*.

I think many of us are that person at some point in our lives, but with  spiritual growth, this petty thinking will be only a phase.

vino_monaco

Finding your  joy.  In this case, a little wine, song, and presumably, camaraderie.

We have, as a society, confused real and honest work, with mindlessly stumbling to a job.  Even with a so-called “good job” most of us have no stake in our employer, other than making sure the check comes regularly.  Choosing to not punch the clock does not make one a slacker.  My friends and acquaintances who choose to live outside this system are the hardest working people I know.

They just don’t sell their lives cheaply for others’ gain.

kitchengarden

Maintaining a garden is work, but providing for yourself and family directly eliminates the constant need for the middle-men.

Taking control of your needs, even a little, alleviates some of the more abstract time demands paid out to someone else by serving yourself directly.  The most negative comment I have heard about doing these things for oneself is “I don’t have enough time!”  Yes, doing things like gardening or making clothes or furniture or tools takes time but at some point it becomes a trade-off.  Is it a bigger waste of time to commute and hour to work each way or spend two hours with the kids in the garden?

For me, there’s no question; and I’m certainly not the first person to reach this conclusion.

Indischer_Maler_um_1650_(II)_001

Finding your inner peace.  Dervish, with leopard and a lion, ca 1650.

I think this need for, or as a result of, spiritual awakening is the driving force behind many religious and philosophical movements over many thousands of years.  And, of course, they are all the one true path, religion, paradigm, whatever-you-call-it (leading to division, persecution, strife, and war; some irony, eh?).  Once the epiphany hits, there is realization that the system is not really necessary.  To make it through life, few possessions are truly essential.

Join me on a journey to a better life…

gandhi

A well-known photo of the personal effects of Mahatma Gandhi.

“Chase your passion, not your pension.”
— Denis Waitley

*Schadenfreude– the feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune; an all-too common evil in humanity.

Seven Years at a Time…

An old look at the life of man –

Unknown artist, Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council.

Seven years to childhood’s sport and play,

Seven years in school from day to day,

Seven years at Trade or College life,

Seven years to find a Virtuous Wife.

Seven years to pleasure’s follies given,

Seven years to labour hardly driven,

Seven years for some a wild Goose chase,

Seven years for wealth a bootless race.

Seven years for hoarding for your heir,

Seven years in weakness spent in care,

Then die and go – you should know where.

The artist depicts it in ten stages, then you die, but who’s splitting hairs?  All roads lead to the same end.  It looks like I need to get on to Pleasure’s follies for a couple more years.

Baden-Powell’s Last Message to Scouts

Most people that know me are aware that I owe much of my foundation and success in life to a very positive experience in the Boy Scouts of America.  There were many lame troops and leaders not worth their salt but I, and several of my closest friends, were fortunate in finding ourselves thrown together as a cohort in an excellent troop that spent much of it’s time camping, hiking, and generally messing about in outdoors; we were unknowingly living the roots of Scouting and loving it every day.

scoutscamping

Scouts camping; early 20th century America.  I think that is a 42 star flag? Interesting.

I recently came across a copy of what is known as Baden-Powell’s (founder of the Boy Scouts) last message to Scouts.  I even kept a framed copy of this hanging on my wall for many years.  While working at camp, we often read this short piece out loud at closing campfires as a fine message and an excellent way to bring an end to an exciting week of learning and adventure.

I think he does well to distill his core values in a few simple lines.

“Happiness doesn’t come from being rich, nor merely from being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so can enjoy life when you are a man.”

B-P knew both great hardship and prosperity during his life and understood that most youth to whom he was speaking had very little themselves.  Real happiness come from within.

“Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one.”

A core value in Scouting has always been to give cheerfully to others and in that way find satisfaction and meaning in one’s own life.

“the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best.”

As he ends his letter, he segues from childhood to transition the message into one of lifelong relevance.

“‘Be Prepared’ in this way, to live happy and to die happy – stick to your Scout promise always – even after you have ceased to be a boy.”

Rules of Conduct – From the Pen of Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson wrote reams of good advice, important political philosophy, the Declaration of Independence, and many other things (which is why we know so much about him).  To some of his younger relations he sent his favorite “Rules of Conduct” to help the people he cared for better and more insightful humans.  These thoughts evolved over time so versions vary slightly depending upon the source.  Here is a facsimile of the ten point “rules” with a slightly different version spelled out below.

Thomas Jefferson's Advice.

Thomas Jefferson’s Advice.

  1. Never put off to tomorrow what you can do to-day.
  2. Never trouble another with what you can do yourself.
  3. Never spend your money before you have it.
  4. Never buy a thing you do not want, because it is cheap, it will be dear to you.
  5. Take care of your cents: Dollars will take care of themselves.
  6. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
  7. We never repent of having eat too little.
  8. Nothing is troublesome that one does willingly.
  9. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
  10. Take things always by their smooth handle.
  11. Think as you please, and so let others, and you will have no disputes.
  12. When angry, count 10 before you speak; if very angry, 100.
T_Jefferson_by_Charles_Willson_Peale_1791_2

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Charles Peale, 1791.

Despite some obvious flaws that glare in the light historic hindsight, Jefferson was steeped in classical philosophy and was a great thinker in his own right.  If we all could live by these rules the world would be a better place.

And finally, while providing an outline for his daughters’ education he suggested while he was away on business:

“With respect to the distribution of your time, the following is what I should approve:

From 8. to 10. o’clock practise music.
From 10. to 1. dance one day and draw another.
From 1. to 2. draw on the day you dance, and write a letter next day.
From 3. to 4. read French.
From 4. to 5. exercise yourself in music.
From 5. till bedtime, read English, write, &c.

..I expect you will write me by every post. Inform me what books you read, what tunes you learn, and inclose me your best copy of every lesson in drawing. Write also one letter a week either to your Aunt Eppes, your Aunt Skipworth, your Aunt Carr, or the little lady from whom I now enclose a letter. . . . Take care that you never spell a word wrong.  Always before you write a word, consider how it is spelt, and, if you do not remember it, turn to a dictionary. It produces great praise to a lady to spell well…

If you love me, then strive to be good under every situation and to all living creatures, and to acquire those accomplishments which I have put in your power, and which will go far towards ensuring you the warmest love of your affectionate father,

Th. Jefferson”


He was known, like most of us, as a far-from-perfect father but his advice was sound.  Three hours of music per day, be good to all living creatures, draw, dance, and read. Obviously, this advice applies to the wealthy and elite who do not toil all day but even in the modern world there are worse ways to spend an idle day.

It sounds like a wise path.

Escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane…

This thought feels more pertinent than ever right now.    Instead of just finding faults in others,  I think it wise to examine who else stands on the side you are on.  Are these the people you want to be?

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.  ~Marcus Aurelius

Creating Every Day

Make something with your hands every day, some wisdom from Mahatma Gandhi.  It has been my goal for a long time now to follow this creed and it makes me happy nearly every day; even if it is something small, it is a small victory.

Its a tragedy of the first magnitude that millions of people have ceased to use their hands as hands. Nature has bestowed upon us this great gift which is our hands. If the craze for machinery methods continues, it is highly likely that a time will come when we shall be so incapacitated and weak that we shall begin to curse ourselves for having forgotten the use of the living machines given to us by God.”  ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Lest we forget what makes us human.

Henry David Thoreau, “Woods Burner”

Here’s an interesting article about Thoreau’s early career and the incident that may have been a catalyst for his move out of town into the woods nearby.  As it happened a year before the Walden experiment, it may have had some bearing on the idea.

From the Boston Globe:

On April 30, 1844, Thoreau started a blaze in the Concord Woods, scorching a 300-acre swath of earth between Fair Haven Bay and Concord. The fire was an accident, but the destruction of valuable woodland, the loss of firewood and lumber, and the narrowly avoided catastrophe that almost befell Concord itself angered the local residents and nearly ruined Thoreau’s reputation. For years afterward, Thoreau could hardly walk the streets of his hometown without hearing the epithet “woods burner.”

…at the end of April, Thoreau went boating with his friend, Edward Sherman Hoar. They caught a mess of fish and Thoreau built a fire in a tree stump near the water’s edge to cook a chowder. The winds were strong and the woods were exceptionally dry from near-drought conditions. The fire leapt from the stump, into the dry grass, and then rushed toward the trees.

Thoreau and Hoar tried to extinguish the flames on their own, stomping in the burning grass and beating the flames with a board from their boat. But once the fire reached the trees, they knew there was no stopping it without help. Hoar set out for Concord in the boat, and Henry ran through the woods ahead of the flames, seeking help nearby. He encountered one farmer who refused to help him, because he thought the fire was “none of his stuff.” Thoreau ran on, eventually encountering an owner of the woods then ablaze. The man ran to Concord to summon the town, and Thoreau, exhausted, climbed to the top of Fair Haven Hill to wait for help and watch the woods burn.

A few months after the fire, Emerson purchased a plot of land at Walden Pond in order to protect it from woodcutters. And in March of the following year, Channing wrote to Thoreau, urging him to go to Emerson’s plot at Walden and begin the “grand process of devouring yourself alive.” Thoreau moved to Walden four months later. Perhaps he sought refuge from the angry people of Concord, perhaps he felt compelled to atone, somehow, for his offence, or perhaps the fire awoke him to the fragility of life: nature’s, man’s, his own.

Years before the fire, Thoreau wrote in his journal, “To regret deeply is to live afresh.” And later in “Walden” he wrote that he came to the woods because he did not want to die having never lived. Perhaps this keen sense of urgency – the impulse to live the life he has imagined before it is too late – derives in part from Thoreau’s having witnessed how quickly an unthinking act can turn tragic.

https://i2.wp.com/historyofmassachusetts.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Concord-Freeman-May-3-1844-Fire-in-Concord-Woods.jpg

There is some interesting history I was not familiar with until a few years ago.  Here’s the link to the full article at the Boston Globe.

A shiftless, bookish fellow, who worked well with his hands but without much career direction or ambition to take the easy path.  Sounds like a familiar story.

A Need for Heroism

There is a need for learning the right stories in childhood.

A young knight facing a dragon, Warwick Goble (British, 1862–1943).

“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”

― C.S. Lewis

Hiking, Backpacking, or Just Enjoy the Walk

“Hiking – I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”   John Muir
___
I’ve spent a lot of my adult life walking long distances, without a trail to follow, through wild and untouched places, mostly as part of my job. This can be a thousand miles or substantially more some years and it was usually the most enjoyable part of my work.
Walking gives you a lot of time to think or meditate and is really a lost art to modern folks.  I have worked with college students who don’t know how far or fast a human can walk in a day or even in an hour.

Hiker with walking cane, hat and backpack – Photographer: Eduard Schlochauer – via Getty Images)

___
I find that I walk a little slower than most of my colleagues and friends.  I am a natural saunterer and like to look around which is maybe why, as an archaeologist, I find a lot of artifacts and cultural features when I walk.  I want to take in the landscape, the plants, animals, the geology, and the smells of a place. I like to walk in silence.  It is rarely a race for me and I don’t like to focus on the destination as much as the walk.  Many people I know walk with a pack by putting their head down and looking at the ground while trying to walk as fast as their bodies will take them along.  This is no fun to me.  Walking is about the most enjoyable thing I can do.  That’s why I’m so fond of writers like John Muir and Henry David Thoreau.  They loved to walk and see its value on so many levels.
___
So, I’d like to suggest leaving the insanity behind for a while, pack a small rucksack, grab your best guy or gal friend, and take a walk in the wild.  Your mind will thank you for the break.
Who knows what great memories you’ll make along the way?
When I’m asked if I want to go hiking or backpacking I usually say ‘no but I’ll walk with you while you hike.’
I’m strange that way, I know.
GTC

A Story of an Old Time Sheepherder

It was a lonely life on the range.  “Even if a herder does not particularly care for reading, he will be driven to it in self-defense.”  I wanted to re-share a good story about sheepherding life.  Gilfillan was a shepherd for 20 years and went on to become a well-known humorist, author, and speaker.

Archie Gilfillan was South Dakota’s sagebrush philosopher. His prairie wit en­tertained people in the ranching areas of Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming and South Dakota through the Great Depression.”

As to why he never married,

“You profess sincere and unbounded admiration for the beauties of the opposite sex and you practically lay your heart at their collective feet; and then you meet some individual who combines the poorer qualities of a mama wildcat and a bitch wolf, with a voice like a buzz saw, the temper of a slapped hornet, and a dis­position that would curdle the milk in four adjoining counties. And then you have to revise your opinion of the sex all over again –– and downward.” In short, he never met a woman he liked who would have him as a husband.

The full article can be found here in South Dakota magazine.

 

Bread – Some Thoughts from Cobbett

Every woman, high or low, ought to know how to make bread. If she do not, she is unworthy of trust and confidence; and, indeed, a mere burden upon the community.  –William Cobbett

Today this should probably read “Every homemaker” instead of “Every woman” but, as Cobbett composed this treatise in 1821, he assumed that the home and cooking were the domain of the women and the men were to labor outside the home.

Bread

I have a mixed relationship with bread.  I love to make it and eat it, and have for many years, yet I don’t eat a lot of it as it seems to easily fatten me up and doesn’t always sit well in my gut; the same reasons I rarely drink beer these days.  However, I am very aware that bread, in one form or another, has been a staple in the Western World for millennia and should not be overlooked so I occasionally dive in and start making bread regularly again.  I can’t stand the modern garbage marketed as “bread” as it barely resembles the greatness of a real, leavened or fermented loaf.

By the early 19th century, big business was already encouraging families to buy bread instead of bake at home and there can be some sense in this, especially in the city (fuel cost for cooking, the efficiency of oven sharing, etc.).  Cobbett thought this purchase instead of make mentality was one of the many atrocities that kept laboring families unnecessarily poor.  Foolish practices that kept the poor from ever improving their lot was a major theme of his life and we can learn from this.

I have included his treatise on bread here.  He also spreads himself pretty well as to how he despises the potato as Ireland’s lazy root (before the famine).

https://i2.wp.com/www.mediatinker.com/blog/images/bread-ad.jpg

Despite the bad press and nay-saying of diet fanatics in recent decades, real bread still finds its way onto my table.  What do you think?

https://shiftinglight.com/images/090415.jpg

No Apology Necessary

As we head into the weekend, I wanted to share a short essay.  This may be a lengthy read by internet standards but I would like to suggest that you pour yourself your favorite beverage or if you are at work then skive off a bit and take in the wisdom of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Robert Louis Stevenson 1850-1894

AN APOLOGY FOR IDLERS

“Boswell: We grow weary when idle.

“Johnson: That is, sir, because others being busy, we want company; but if we were idle, there would be no growing weary; we should all entertain one another.”

Just now, when every one is bound, under pain of a decree in absence convicting them of lese-respectability, to enter on some lucrative profession, and labour therin with something not far short of enthusiasm, a cry from the opposite party who are content when they have enough, and like to look on an enjoy in the meanwhile, savours a little bravado and gasconade. And yet this should not be. Idleness so called, which does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognised in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class, has as good a right to state its position as industry itself. It is admitted that the presence of people who refuse to enter in the great handicap race for sixpenny pieces, is at once an insult and a disenchantment for those who do. A fine fellow (as we see so many) takes his determination, votes for the sixpences, and in the emphatic Americanism, “goes for” them. And while such an one is ploughing distressfully up the road, it is not hard to understand his resentment, when he perceives cool persons in the meadows by the wayside, lying with a handkerchief over their ears and a glass at their elbow. Alexander is touched in a very delicate place by the disregard of Diogenes. Where was the glory of having taken Rome for these tumultuous barbarians, who poured into the Senate house, and found the Fathers sitting silent and unmoved by their success? It is a sore thing to have laboured along and scaled the arduous hilltops, and when all is done, find humanity indifferent to your achievement. Hence physicists condemn the unphysical; financiers have only a superficial toleration for those who know little of stocks; literary persons despise the unlettered; and people of all pursuits combine to disparage those who have none.

But though this is one difficulty of the subject, it is not the greatest. You could not be put in prison for speaking against industry, but you can be sent to Coventry for speaking like a fool. The greatest difficulty with most subjects is to do them well; therefore, please to remember this is an apology. It is certain that much may be judiciously argued in favour of diligence; only there is something to be said against it, and that is what, on the present occasion, I have to say. To state one argument is not necessarily to be deaf to all others, and that a man has written a book of travels in Montenegro, is no reason why he should never have been to Richmond.

It is surely beyond a doubt that people should be a good deal idle in youth. For though here and there a Lord Macaulay may escape from school honours with all his wits about him, most boys pay so dear for their medals that they never afterwards have a shot in their locker, and begin the world bankrupt. And the same holds true during all the time a lad is educating himself, or suffering others to educate him. It must have been a very foolish old gentleman who addressed Johnson at Oxford in these words: “Young man, ply your book diligently now, and acquire a stock of knowledge; for when years come upon you, you will find that poring upon books will be but an irksome task.” The old gentleman seems to have been unaware that many other things besides reading grow irksome, and not a few become impossible, by the time a man has to use spectacles and cannot walk without a stick. Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life. It seems a pity to sit, like the Lady of Shalott, peering into a mirror, without your back turned on all the bustle and glamour of reality. And if a man reads very hard, as the old anecdote reminds us, he will have little time for thought.

If you look back on your own education, I am sure it will not be full, vivid, instructive hours of truantry that you regret; you would rather cancel some lack-lustre periods between sleep and waking in the class. For my own part, I have attended a good many lectures in my time. I still remember that the spinning of a top is a case of Kinetic Stability. I still remember that Emphyteusis is not a disease, nor Stillicide a crime. But though I would not willingly part with such scraps of science, I do not set the same store by them as by certain other odds and ends that I came by in the open street while I was playing truant. This is not the moment to dilate on that mighty place of education, which was the favourite school of Dickens and of Balzac, and turns out yearly many inglorious masters in the Science of the Aspects of Life. Suffice it to say this: if a lad does not learn in the streets, it is because he has no faculty of learning. Nor is the truant always in the streets, for if he prefers, he may go out by the gardened suburbs into the country. He may pitch on some tuft of lilacs over a burn, and smoke innumerable pipes to the tune of the water on the stones. A bird will sing in the thicket. And there he may fall into a vein of kindly thought, and see things in a new perspective. Why, if this be not education, what is? We may conceive Mr. Worldly Wiseman accosting such an one, and the conversation that should thereupon ensue:–

“How now, young fellow, what dost thou here?”

“Truly, sir, I take mine ease.”

“Is not this the hour of the class? And should’st thou not be plying thy Book with diligence, to the end thou mayest obtain knowledge?”

“Nay, but this also I follow after Learning, by your leave.”

“Learning, quotha! After what fashion, I pray thee? Is it mathematics?”

“No, to be sure.”

“Is it metaphysics?”

“Nor that.”

“Is it some language?”

“Nay, it is no language.”

“Is it a trade?”

“Nor a trade neither.”

“Why, then, what is’t?”

“Indeed, sir, as a time may soon come for me to go upon Pilgrimage, I am desirous to note what is commonly done by persons in my case, and where are the ugliest Sloughs and Thickets on the Road; as also, what manner of Staff is of the best service. Moreover, I lie here, by this water, to learn by root-of-heart a lesson which my master teaches me to call Peace, or Contentment.”

Hereupon Mr. Worldly Wiseman was much commoved with passion, and shaking his cane with a very threatful countenanced, broke forth upon this wise: “Learning, quotha!” said he; “I would have all such rogues scourged by the Hangman!”

And so he would go his way, ruffling out his cravat with a crackle of starch, like a turkey when it spreads its feathers.

Now this, of Mr. Wiseman’s, is the common opinion. A fact is not called a fact, but a piece of gossip, if it does not fall into one of your scholastic categories. An inquiry must be in some acknowledged direction, with a name to go by; or else you are not inquiring at all, only lounging; and the workhouse is too good for you. It is supposed that all knowledge is at the bottom of a well, or the far end of a telescope. Sainte-Beuve, as he grew older, came to regard all experience as a single great book, in which to study for a few years ere we go hence; and it seemed all one to him whether you should read in Chapter xx., which is the differential calculus, or in Chapter xxxix., which is hearing the band play in the gardens. As a matter of fact, an intelligent person, looking out of his eyes and hearkening in his ears, with a smile on his face all the time, will get more true education than many another in a life of heroic vigils. There is certainly some chill and arid knowledge to be found upon the summits of formal and laborious science; but it is all around about you, and for the trouble of looking, that you will acquire the warm and palpitating facts of life. While others are filling their memory with a lumber of words, one-half of which they will forget before the week be out, your truant may learn some really useful art: to play the fiddle, to know a good cigar, or to speak with ease and opportunity to all varieties of men. Many who have “plied their book diligently,” and know all about some one branch or another of accepted lore, come out of the study with an ancient and owl-like demeanour, and prove dry, stockish, and dyspeptic in all the better and brighter parts of life. Many make a large fortune, who remain underbred and pathetically stupid to the last. And meantime there goes the idler, who began life along with them–by your leave, a different picture. He has had time to take care of his health and his spirits; he has been a great deal in the open air, which is the most salutary of all things for both body and mind; and if he has never read the great Book in very recondite places, he has dipped into it and skimmed it over to excellent purpose. Might not the student afford some Hebrew roots, and the business man some of his half-crowns, for a share of the idler’s knowledge of life at large, and Art of Living? Nay, and the idler has another and more important quality than these. I mean his wisdom. He who has much looked on at the childish satisfaction of other people in their hobbies, will regard his own with only a very ironical indulgence. He will not be heard among the dogmatists. He will have a great and cool allowance for all sorts of people and opinions. If he finds no out-of-the-way truths, he will identify himself with no very burning falsehood. His way takes him along a by-road, not much frequented, but very even and pleasant, which is called Commonplace Lane, and leads to the Belvedere of Commonsense. Thence he shall command an agreeable, if not very noble prospect; and while others behold the East and West, the Devil and the Sunrise, he will be contentedly aware of a sort of morning hour upon all sublunary things, with an army of shadows running speedily and in many different directions into the great daylight of Eternity. The shadows and the generations, the shrill doctors and the plangent wars, go by into ultimate silence and emptiness; but underneath all this, a man may see, out of the Belvedere windows, much green and peaceful landscape; many firelit parlours; good people laughing, drinking, and making love as they did before the Flood or the French Revolution; and the old shepherd telling his tale under the hawthorn.

Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them. If they have to wait an hour or so for a train, they fall into a stupid trance with their eyes open. To see them, you would suppose there was nothing to look at and no one to speak with; you would imagine they were paralysed or alienated; and yet very possibly they are hard workers in their own way, and have good eyesight for a flaw in a deed or a turn of the market. They have been to school and college, but all the time they had their eye on the medal; they have gone about in the world and mixed with clever people, but all the time they were thinking of their own affairs. As if a man’s soul were not too small to begin with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life of all work and no play; until here they are at forty, with a listless attention, a mind vacant of all material of amusement, and not one thought to rub against another, while they wait for the train. Before he was breeched, he might have clambered on the boxes; when he was twenty, he would have stared at the girls; but now the pipe is smoked out, the snuffbox empty, and my gentleman sits bolt upright upon a bench, with lamentable eyes. This does not appeal to me as being Success in Life.

But it is not only the person himself who suffers from his busy habits, but his wife and children, his friends and relations, and down to the very people he sits with in a railway carriage or an omnibus. Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things. And it is not by any means certain that a man’s business is the most important thing he has to do. To an impartial estimate it will seem clear that many of the wisest, most virtuous, and most beneficent parts that are to be played upon the Theatre of Life are filled by gratuitous performers, and pass, among the world at large, as phases of idleness. For in that Theatre, not only the walking gentlemen, singing chambermaids, and diligent fiddlers in the orchestra, but those who look on and clap their hands from the benches, do really play a part and fulfil important offices towards the general result. You are no doubt very dependent on the care of your lawyer and stockbroker, of the guards and signalmen who convey you rapidly from place to place, and the policemen who walk the streets for your protection; but is there not a thought of gratitude in your heart for certain benefactors who set you smiling when they fall in your way, or season your dinner with good company? Colonel Newcome helped to lose his friend’s money; Fred Bayham had an ugly trick of borrowing shirts; and yet they were better people to fall among than Mr. Barnes. And though Falstaff was neither sober nor very honest, I think I could name one or two long-faced Barabbases whom the world could better have done without. Hazlitt mentions that he was more sensible of obligation to Northcote, who had never done him anything he could call a service, than to his whole circle of ostentatious friends; for he thought a good companion emphatically the greatest benefactor.

I know there are people in the world who cannot feel grateful unless the favour has been done them at the cost of pain and difficulty. But this is a churlish disposition. A man may send you six sheets of letter-paper covered with the most entertaining gossip, or you may pass half an hour pleasantly, perhaps profitably, over an article of his; do you think the service would be greater, if he had made the manuscript in his heart’s blood, like a compact with the devil? Do you really fancy you should be more beholden to your correspondent, if he had been damning you all the while for your importunity? Pleasures are more beneficial than duties because, like the quality of mercy, they are not strained, and they are twice blest. There must always be two to a kiss, and there may be a score in a jest; but wherever there is an element of sacrifice, the favour is conferred with pain, and, among generous people, received with confusion.

There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy, we sow anonymous benefits upon the world, which remain unknown even to ourselves, or when they are disclosed, surprise nobody so much as the benefactor. The other day, a ragged, barefoot boy ran down the street after a marble, with so jolly an air that he set every one he passed into a good humour; one of these persons, who had been delivered from more than usually black thoughts, stopped the little fellow and gave him some money with this remark: “You see what sometimes comes of looking pleased.” If he had looked pleased before, he had now to look both pleased and mystified. For my part, I justify this encouragement of smiling rather than tearful children; I do not wish to pay for tears anywhere but upon the stage; but I am prepared to deal largely in the opposite commodity. A happy man or woman is a better thing to find than a five-pound note. He or she is a radiating focus of goodwill; and their entrance into a room is as though another candle had been lighted. We need not care whether they could prove the forty-seventh proposition; they do a better thing than that, they practically demonstrate the great Theorem of the Liveableness of Life. Consequently, if a person cannot be happy without remaining idle, idle he should remain. It is a revolutionary precept; but thanks to hunger and the workhouse, one not easily to be abused; and within practical limits, it is one of the most incontestable truths in the whole Body of Morality. Look at one of your industrious fellows for a moment, I beseech you. He sows hurry and reaps indigestion; he puts a vast deal of activity out to interest, and receives a large measure of nervous derangement in return. Either he absents himself entirely from all fellowship, and he lives a recluse in a garret, with carpet slippers and a leaden inkpot; or he comes among people swiftly and bitterly, in a contraction of his whole nervous system, to discharge some temper before he returns to work. I do not care how much or how well he works, this fellow is an evil feature in other people’s lives. They would be happier if he were dead. They could easier do without his services in the Circumlocution Office, than they can tolerate his fractious spirits. He poisons life at the well-head. It is better to be beggared out of hand by a scapegrace nephew, than daily hag-ridden by a peevish uncle.

And what, in God’s name, is all this bother about? For what cause do they embitter their own and other people’s lives? That a man should publish three or thirty articles a year, that he should finish or not finish his great allegorical picture, are questions of little interest to the world. The ranks of life are full; and although a thousand fall, there are always some to go into the breach. When they told Joan of Arc she should be at home minding women’s work, she answered there were plenty to spin and wash. And so, even with your own rare gifts! When nature is “so careless of the single life,” why should we coddle ourselves into the fancy that our own is of exceptional importance? Suppose Shakespeare had been knocked on the head some dark night in Sir Thomas Lucy’s preserves, the world would have wagged on better or worse, the pitcher gone to the well, the scythe to the corn, and the student to his book; and no one been any the wiser of the loss.

There are not many works extant, if you look the alternative all over, which are worth the price of a pound of tobacco to a man of limited means. This is a sobering reflection for the proudest of our earthly vanities. Even a tobacconist may, upon consideration, find no great cause for personal vain-glory in the phrase; for although tobacco is an admirable sedative, the qualities necessary for retailing it are neither rare nor precious in themselves. Alas and alas! You may take it how you will, but the services of no single individual are indispensable. Atlas was just a gentleman with a protracted nightmare! And yet you see merchants who go and labour themselves into a great fortune and thence into the bankruptcy court; scribblers who keep scribbling at little articles until their temper is a cross to all who come about them, as though Pharaoh should set the Israelites to make a pin instead of a pyramid: and fine young men who work themselves into a decline, and are driven off in a hearse with white plumes upon it. Would you not suppose these persons had been whispered, by the Master of the Ceremonies, the promise of some momentous destiny? And that this luke-warm bullet on which they play their farces was the bull’s-eye and centrepoint of all the universe? And yet it is not so. The ends for which they give away their priceless youth, for all they know, may be chimerical or hurtful; the glory and riches they expect may never come, or may find them indifferent; and they and the world they inhabit are so inconsiderable that the mind freezes at the thought.

First published in the Cornhill Magazine, July 1877. Included in Virginibus Puerisque, 1881.

https://i2.wp.com/www.timberrecreation.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/timberrechammockforest.jpg

We NEED Community – by Damien Patrick

This is a topic I have often thought about.  I come from a family that was in no way “close.”  I had kind and caring grandparents who filled in when others wouldn’t but the expectation I was given at home was to get out, move away, do your own thing.  That’s all fine as a product of the “Baby-Boomer” generation.  With my own grown child, I cannot believe we live so far apart. Thousands of miles actually.  I don’t think this is because of a poor relationship, but is just a factor of the twenty-first century.

Here are some thoughts from the “Kindness Blog” today.

Can I ask you some questions?

Why, when we grow up, do we move out from our family home and then go and buy or rent a house in a street full of complete strangers, sometimes many miles from our loved ones? When did this practice start, why and to what benefit?

As a teenager, I too grew up, moved out and lived away from my family. Because it was the done thing. The thing everyone else did. I never questioned it and even now, many years later, I still live away from family. But why?

I have elderly neighbours where I live now. One in particular, in his eighties, has a host of medical conditions yet, despite his many healthy challenges, he has a cheery, welcoming disposition and a great sense of humour. From speaking with him many times, I understand that his children and grandchildren do not ‘have the time’ to visit him all that often. Perhaps once every few months for an hour or so they pop in to see him. This despite them living fifteen minutes away in a car. I’m not judging here, just making an observation. They don’t have the time? Really? My neighbour is lonely and has told me that, of all the things he suffers from, isolation and loneliness is his greatest pain. If he hasn’t hurt his children in the past, damaging their relationship, and if his children love him, why is this situation occurring? Why don’t they come and see him more regularly? Will he die alone, lonely and lost, with his body found days after his passing?

Why don’t we live with our families or at least close to them?

Maybe in the same street for example? I appreciate that for some of us we couldn’t think of anything worse but if you truly love your mum, dad, brother, sister, cousin, granddaughter….wouldn’t it make sense to be as close to them as possible?

I imagine a family living side by side, each with their own separate house in the same street. Practically, this might not be possible because of existing house owners, but I can dream, right? The children would be watched over by many loving eyes, the elderly would be taken of and family could share time together. There would be support, face-to-face time, conversation, love, laughter and there would be real community. Not to say an increased sense of safety and connection. Blood with blood, loving one another, protecting each other.

Instead of that I see people who are away from their families. People that don’t even speak to their neighbours. People who avoid eye contact. People that go to work in jobs they often don’t like, travelling distance every day with a sad face to earn money for rent on a flat which they spend their evenings in sat lonely and lost. How sad.

Why? What’s gone wrong? I’m asking.


Loneliness is a killer

In August 2017 the American Psychological Association presented research based on two meta-analyses. The first examined 148 studies involving 300,000 participants and found that increased social connectedness was linked to a whopping 50 percent lower risk of premature death. The other study, examining 3.4 million people across 70 different studies, revealed that social isolation, loneliness, or living alone has as significant or equal an effect on premature mortality as obesity and other major risk factors. It is time to take our own loneliness – and that of those around us – seriously.

Kindness Blog

Can I ask you some questions?

Why, when we grow up, do we move out from our family home and then go and buy or rent a house in a street full of complete strangers, sometimes many miles from our loved ones? When did this practice start, why and to what benefit?

 As a teenager, I too grew up, moved out and lived away from my family. Because it was the done thing. The thing everyone else did. I never questioned it and even now, many years later, I still live away from family. But why?

 I have elderly neighbours where I live now. One in particular, in his eighties, has a host of medical conditions yet, despite his many healthy challenges, he has a cheery, welcoming disposition and a great sense of humour. From speaking with him many times, I understand that his children and grandchildren do…

View original post 432 more words

Thoughts About Minimalism and Survival

Learning a thing or two from the past…Part 1, 21st century Westerners are not the first to minimalize.

kylixdonkey

How much stuff do we really need to lug through life?

There’s a lot of recent talk about Minimalism as a social movement and this fits well with my personal philosophy and my interests in preindustrial technology and survival.  Not long ago, minimalism was mostly associated with artists, aesthetes, wanderers, mystics, and philosophers.  That is to say, the fringe element, outsiders, and weirdos.  These things come in cycles and I think, as a backlash against generations of sell-out philosophy and the creation of a professional consumer class, many people are reaching for something new.

We come to learn that everything old is new again.

I’ve been pondering history and prehistory on a full-time professional basis for several decades now.  As hard to believe as it may be, I even get paid a salary to do it.  One of my professional interests involves the tools, tool-kits, and strategies for surviving that various people have come up with for dealing with the world.  As a sometimes primitive skills-survival instructor and full-time frugalist I think it important to not reinvent a lifeway when we have millennia of ancestors who dealt with most of the same issues we do today.

San

A San bushman demonstrating fire-making.  Ostrich egg canteen in the foreground. These people probably resemble our ancestral way of life and have very few possessions, even in their harsh environment.

For most humans, for most of our history, owning too much stuff has never really been an issue.  We had what we needed and either made what we needed or did without the things we didn’t have.  It brings a smile to my face to know that more than 2,500 years ago, various thinkers people in China, India, Greece, and the Middle East were contemplating the nature and evils of acquiring stuff; some were even writing about it.  That’s not to say that I have immediate plans to become a wandering mendicant like a medieval friar (as appealing as that might sound to some) but I do have an interest in lightening my material load and some very specific goals for the coming year.

mendicant

Medieval European mendicants represented by a pilgrim and a friar.

My foundation as a minimalist (and I may not be very good at it)-

I have been thinking about what stuff a person needs to survive since I was a teenager who enjoyed backpacking and travel.  Like virtually every young boy, I had grand ideas of escaping the family and traveling unhindered across the world.  My family weren’t exactly readers but I devoured Jack London and Mark Twain stories as a kid.  I loved the extensive and well-thought out gear lists provided in the Boy Scout Handbook, the Explorer’s Handbook, and the Philmont Guides.  I read Larry Dean Olsen’s great book of Outdoor Survival Skills and Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker again and again.  I read about the mountain men of the fur trade, and always, took note of what they carried or didn’t seem to need.  I would copy lists into a notebook and revise them while sitting in some boring high school class, making my own lists of what I have, what I need, and what I want.  This thinking encouraged me to work and save money to buy a better knife, backpack, or camping stove.  I was probably the only kid I knew who wanted, and got, a file and whetstone for Christmas one year (my grandpa was good that way).  My friends and I spent our teens and early twenties hiking and camping year round, mostly in the woods of the Ozarks in southern Missouri testing our mettle at that time in life time when all teenagers know they are invincible.  Some of us even made it to Europe, Asia, Africa, and beyond.

Books

A few of the many books I ended up possessing on a quest toward fewer possessions.

In a modern sense of survivalist, many people look to the military or the loonies of the social media.  Often, military service is the time when young men and women are introduced to such things for the first and only time in their lives.  Realistically however, the military itself acknowledges it’s shortcomings on a personal basis as (with the exception of a few special operations units) its entire system is dependent on lengthy and complex supply lines, support chains, and de-emphasis of the individual and personal decision making.  Military survival is generally approached as a means of keeping alive until help arrives.  Great for fighting a war, but not always so good when you are turned loose into the world.  This sort of survival strays from our point here anyway.

Just remember –

The things you own end up owning you.

~Chuck Palahniuk

 

More (and less) to come soon.


* here are a few links to modern Minimalists of various ilks and philosophical merit.  A journey through these links will hint at the breadth and depth of people on different paths but moving in the same direction.

Read, research, think, and enjoy!

Three Men in a Boat (a book of subtle humor and deep philosophy)

“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need—a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.”

~ Jerome K. Jerome. “Three Men in a Boat.”

I highly recommend this little book as an English classic about three young and idle gentlemen in need of a holiday; filled with good humor, philosophy, and observations about life.