Remember virtue, that quaint thing leaders used to strive for? (Or so we thought?) Moral excellence, not just material success? It’s a concept with a lot of history … and the version that’s always resonated with me the most is Aristotle’s version. From Spark Notes (because it’s just easy):
Aristotle is clear that we arrive at moral virtue primarily through practice and that the value of studying ethical texts such as the one he has written is limited.
This view makes sense when we consider that moral virtue is not essentially different from other forms of excellence as far as the Greeks are concerned. If we want to achieve excellence in rock climbing, for instance, it helps to study texts that show us how to improve our technique, but we can’t make any significant improvements except by getting on a rock wall and practicing.
Analogously, it helps to read texts like the Nicomachean Ethics to get a clearer understanding of moral virtue, but the only way to become more virtuous is through practice. We can only become more courageous by making a point of facing down our fears, and we can only become more patient by making a habit of controlling our anger.
Since practice, not study, is the key to becoming virtuous, Aristotle takes a strong interest in the education of the young. He perceives that there is only so much we can do to improve a nasty adult, and we can more easily mold virtuous youths by instilling the proper habits in them from a young age.
Meanwhile on Planet Earth circa 2018, here we are pondering just how much more human grotesquery can we tolerate … in the air, in the water, in public life, in politics, business and government. The mess is bewildering. It makes one want to recoil, withdraw and start anew. It’s like as a society we need to have a “Walden” moment. Some kind of resetting of values, expectations and most definitely, leadership.
Begin again to begin again. A new year. I am grateful for what I have, for those I love, for this moment in space and time.
2017 was a tough one. When someone you love dearly is in a life or death situation, it really drains you. To the point you are consumed with it, hemorrhaging into all aspects of your day to day. But you learn to fight back. To keep it in its place. To reclaim your peace. You don’t surrender to the old unhealed wounds that have been quiet for the few years prior. You steel yourself and you keep on keepin’ on. And eventually the crisis abates. And once again here you are. Such is life.
There is something cool about aging. You learn to trust the cycle. You learn that the low moment is as temporary as the high moment. And everything in between is the true stuff of life.
had a difficult talk with my kids first thing. reminded them of the tough times in history they’ve read and learned about. reinforced that we are here to take care of each other, respect each other, love each other. that we believe (talking ourselves into it as we said it) that america’s democracy will survive.
removed facebook app from my phone and did not visit the site today.
avoided TV with the exception of SURVIVOR (which the kids begged for and love to watch as a family) and clinton’s concession speech.
downloaded this book and began reading it on my dark, dreary, almost wordless morning commute to NYC. i plan to be reading a LOT over the next four years, and keeping my video/social intake to a healthy minimum. read a lot of think pieces and these 3 resonated the most:
5. I am blogging here again for the first time since Prince died. Facebook feels toxic. I am so tired of reading self righteous and – in many cases – intolerant rants about the election from both sides. If you don’t have a unique take on things, if you are not willing to pause and reflect and consider the possibility that the world does not revolve around your own field of vision, then please for the love of Goddess please, STFU.
now, that doesn’t mean i’m not horrified by this insanity, which forebodes the impending 4-year long assault on civil liberties, personal choice, free speech, freedom of worship and the physical world as we know it. But I refuse to be reduced to a state of singular obstructionism by a vile, self-serving plutocrat and his tragically misguided supporters. He’s here today but this too shall pass. As I always have, I will treat those I don’t understand in a civil manner and not demonize, dehumanize or belittle them.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
I so clearly remember the world stopping the first time I saw Prince perform. Saturday night 1983, 8 pm or thereabouts. Mom and Dad went out and left us with a sitter. We were watching Solid Gold in the family room on 51 Cherry Place. There was smoke, there were electric drums, and then he (she?) appeared. Stop the press, who (or what) is that? It was Prince was in all his glory. Oozing sexuality at a time I didn’t know what sex was. Flanked by his pretty-slash-bad looking compatriots (who would soon come to be referred to as “the Revolution”). The song was “1999.” The sound and spectacle were unlike anything my eight year old psyche had yet experienced. I held my Fisher Price tape recorder up to the TV set and captured the sound so I didn’t have to wait to hear it again on the radio. I was awestruck.
After that, my older brother Brian and I always seemed to own Prince’s albums on cassette. Not a lot of thought went into categorizing his style of music. He was just Prince: ruler of the radio and MTV. You loved seeing whatever he’d come up with next, and you generally hoped your parents wouldn’t walk in while you were watching one of his videos. #awkward I recall thinking “Diamonds & Pearls” was corny (it came out when I was 16 and hard core into Public Enemy, Ice Cube and the like…), but I got over it. There was an endless array to choose from in Prince’s repertoire. When I was deep into soul, funk and R&B in my college days, naturally his Purple majesty was very heavy in the rotation. Over time I also learned how influential he was on many of my favorite hip hop artists. Regardless of how you come to him, or what you think about him, if you want to get a party going, just put on some Prince.
In the Fall of 2001, I dressed as Purple Rain prince for Halloween. At the time I was living at home with my parents in NJ, commuting to NYC for work and hanging with friends in the city on the weekend. I had bought one of those cheap Party City purple pimp costumes just for the faux crushed velvet jacket. I had a frilly white collared blouse, purple pants, black pointy high-heeled boots, and my younger brother Kevin’s white electric guitar. I wore a curly black wig and drew on the facial hair with a black eye pencil. It was pretty impressive, if I do say so myself. (I did it BEFORE Dave Chappelle). My only regret is that I have no photographic evidence.
My adoration of Prince continued all through my thirties. And I bonded with others who had a shared love for his funkiness, his creativity, his sound. His 2007 Super Bowl performance was epic of course. And as people rediscovered Prince after that, I gloated in knowing I had loved him all along. A few years later in 2011, my girlfriends and I were at the concert at Madison Square Garden when he kicked Kim Kardashian off the stage. It was glorious (though even more glorious now, in retrospect).
In recent years, Prince had become somewhat of a meme. With his fro and his third eye girls and his Princestagram. Still cool, always cool. Nothing compared to him. Which also reminds me — Prince used phone lexicon before phone lexicon was a thing. “Nothing compares 2 U,” and others like that. Back then, it was actually pretty naughty/radical.
Now he’s gone and frustratingly I can’t access all those albums and hits I know and love backwards and forwards. He yanked his music from Pandora and Spotify, the two main ways I listen to music. I bought many of his albums over the years, but lost or otherwise just ditched my physical CDs. As for my old MP3s… they are on hard drives I no longer access, lost to the digital abyss.
At Yoga class on Sunday, as I knew he would, my radical hippie instructor spoke about Prince quite a bit. He played some of his more obscure tracks, and in the final chest opening pose he declared: “Lean back and open your heart to send some love out to the Purple One to ease his transition … in appreciation for all the joy he gave us.” It was a fitting tribute, and it made me happy. Lefsetz summed it up perfectly: “It’s such a shame our friendship had to end. But his music survives, as does his legend. Years from now his music and career will be studied, to see how someone listened to no one but himself but got it so right.”
When I was single I recall many people thinking of me as a Carrie Bradshaw wannabe. Assuming I was dating like a mofo, buying lots of shoes, and opining about my fantastic NYC life. To others I represented the other extreme: the Bridget Jones. A sad and lonely spinster, eating pints of Haagen Daas and spending New Years Eve alone at home with my pets. My reality was somewhere between those two, to the extent that you can summarize your life in Hollywood archetypes.
It is striking how quickly the external perception shifted once I got married, moved to the burbs and became a Mom. Now many people just ask me how the baby and kids are. It’s understandable given that I post lots of pictures of them on social media. It’s safe small talk, and let’s face it most people are allergic to intelligent conversation. But I never get used to it. In my mind, I’m the same old Col who likes to talk about the stuff of culture: Jonathan Franzen’s latest tome, Kanye’s latest Tweets, and what a scary maniac Donald Trump is.
People will always think what they want to think, see what they want to see. And in a crazy complex world, stereotypes are easy and help us all save time. But when you are the subject of them it can feel so bizarre and disorienting. So while maybe I’m supposed to be into Jack Johnson, in my mind’s eye, my walk on music is and will always be Pharoah Monch’s “Simon Says.”
My kids are avid readers. It is cool to behold. They read far more than I ever did, and I was no schlub in that department. Having tablets helps – when they finish a book, they immediately start on new ones. They share books and talk about books with each other, which further reinforces the literate environment in our home.
To my surprise and delight, H, my 10-year old, has also taken to discussing books with me. Often times after she finishes her homework and does a chunk of reading she emails me her thoughts while I am still at work. Her emails light me up as I ride the NJ Transit home … It’s a privilege witnessing her beautiful, expanding mind. How she approaches stories, problems and life in general with heart and intellect.
She recently read and was deeply moved by The Diary of Anne Frank, which prompted me to re-read it for the first time since high school. I was reminded of what a bright and spirited girl Anne was. Somehow in my memory she had shrunk into a little girl hiding in an attic. How wrong that impression was. Reading her diary I am reminded of my teenage journals. The highs, the lows…the kvetching about everyone.
H was so very upset and bewildered to learn what happened to Anne and millions of Jews during the Holocaust. We explained that yes, that all really happened and it wasn’t that long ago in the scheme of history. Had Anne lived, she’d be 87 today, which is just a few years older than H’s grandparents – a fact that really hits home. While H could not understand how the world could be so cruel, how people could be so inhumane, she did come to admire Anne and her Dad for bravely sharing her voice and making her story known to the world.
i am not one to jump on the RIP bandwagon with social media posts and tributes to dead artists and celebs. actually, i take that back. when adam yauch died i did change my cover photo.
regardless, it does get one thinking when a seemingly immortal voice like david bowie expires. one can’t help but face facts that some time in the not too distant future we too shall go.
and in all likelihood the entire world won’t mourn. (not that it would matter if they did). very very few will notice. and over time the record of our existence will drift into oblivion. the rich and poor, famous and obscure alike – we’re all headed to the same place. it reminds me of a poem by Spanish poet Jorge Manrique: “Coplas por la muerte de su padre.” I had to memorize and recite it for one of my Spanish classes in college. This stanza has always stayed with me:
Nuestras vidas son los ríos
que van a dar en la mar,
que es el morir;
allí van los señoríos
derechos a se acabar
allí los ríos caudales,
allí los otros medianos
y más chicos,
y llegados, son iguales
los que viven por sus manos
y los ricos.
in other words, death is the great equalizer. it’s helpful to think of when you get overwhelmed with life’s injustices. or just to give you a kick in the pants to do whatever it is that deep down you want to do. because time is short and in the words of ram dass,
I have a racing mind. Always have. At different times of my life I have it more under control. I have learned to harness and channel it temporarily, and then eventually the tamed creature breaks out of the cage and runs amok. And I find myself up at 1:31 am, typing. I’ve read the science. And I’ve experienced the feeling, the knowing that all this mental effluvia is fleeting and we ought not let it direct us in undue ways.
Tomorrow is my initiation into a new meditation technique. I dare not identify it by name … don’t want to sic their Google alerts on me. It’s the one that Howard and the Twin Peaks guy espouse, and Stevie Wonder sang about. Have I been sucked in by its marketing hype? Perhaps. But I remain ever the skeptic and shall not be a fawning follower of anything that doesn’t serve me.
I’ve tried other forms of meditation, but have not been able to practice consistently over time. The appeal for me is the clinical, practical. The absence of religion. And the fact that it can empower you to use it anywhere at any time. You don’t need fancy pillows, malas or anything material.
Meditation is not about trappings or style or any of the myriad ways the world has commercialized it. It’s ancient wisdom designed to reveal the best of humanity. It does the kind of good for the mind that Yoga does for the body. Or so it claims to. We’ll see!