Charlie's Blog: Reflections on a New Year 2018


Reflections on a New Year 2018

When you look back on your life, which seems to have been marked by no great efforts or achievements, think how much time you have wasted, and how you can recover it with penance and greater self-giving.

2017 is done and in the books. Here's a quick review. Donald Trump became president, and he has had one awesome year. There's really nothing much more than I can say about the year except that. Is Trump perfect? Heck no. But Reagan wasn't perfect either, and I am grateful that Reagan was president back then. One year in, things are much better than they were for the entire eight years of Obama. I think 2018 will also be awesome. Trump still has a lot left on his To Do list.

On the personal side of things, I am not so proud of 2017. I don't feel that it was a real year of accomplishment for me. I am still not a saint, and I have a lot to work on in that department. My besetting sin has been and continues to be laziness. That is something that I intend to work on in 2018. I'll have more on that in a minute.

The personal crisis that I have been having for the last year has been an internal tug of war over whether to continue being a writer or to give it all up. The belief is that giving up the literary endeavors will turn all that free time into productive work. The reality is that it just turns into boredom alleviated by reading. I write in lieu of hunting, fishing, and playing golf. I don't do any of those things which all amounts to spending a lot of time sitting outside instead of sitting inside in front of a keyboard. I am always bashing on those three things because they tend to be the hobbies of choice among the menfolk where I live. Generally, they pursue all three things with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, an RV, and a Corvette to finish out the package that I consider a waste of life. At the most basic level, writing has saved me a great deal of money that I would be blowing on adult toys. Writing like body weight exercises and long walks is free. Granted, having a computer and internet access helps, but I have used nothing but paper and pen when I needed to. Writing is cheap.

When I think about writing, I always have a picture of Ernest Hemingway in my head. I always imagine that Stephen King has H.P. Lovecraft in his head when he is banging out those novels. For me, it is Hemingway. Hemingway is not my favorite, but I like the fact that he brought a certain manliness to the craft. This is to be put into opposition to Truman Capote who I actually like as a writer but was an effeminate homosexual. Capote was not manly.

Both men had their demons and abused substances. I keep them in my brain as the north and south pole of writing. I strive to be Hemingway. Writing should be a manly endeavor. It should be a part of a life lived in a rugged way. Of course, Hemingway was a blowhard and a drunk which are two things I endeavor to avoid at all costs. But Hemingway shows to me that writing is not a waste of time or life. It is worth doing if for no other reason than it makes more out of a life that would be nothing but bullfights, tarpon fishing, and drinking.

I am a writer, and I need to make peace with that fact of life. My problem is that I make writing the scapegoat for all my failures in the rest of my life. If I could quit that useless hobby, I could make more money, get in shape, and maybe know Swahili. I don't know. What I know is that not writing does not magically make my life more productive and better.

The corollary to the writing thing has been the social media thing. I think Facebook is an unmitigated waste of time, and I do not use the service. But I find Twitter useful even if it is addicting. Virtually every writer, pundit, and blogger I follow uses Twitter. When I quit Twitter, the draw back to the service comes when one of these folks references Twitter or posts things on the service that I have to check out. Then, there is Donald Trump with the most famous and useful Twitter account of all time.

The other social media service I like is GAB. GAB is what Twitter used to be. GAB is freedom. I can post a link on Twitter, and it is virtually ignored. Yet, that same link on GAB gains a great deal of attention. Twitter is controlling and censoring its content, and I suspect that I have been shadowbanned. My experience on GAB is much more satisfying, and I can see it supplanting Twitter in the future. As for now, I use both.

Writing, tweeting, and gabbing eat time. Of course, everything eats time like going to Mass, reading the Bible, praying the rosary, sleeping, working, and what have you. Life really comes down to the choices you make with the time you've got. As H.L. Mencken famously quipped, “It is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf.” The point being that we are the product of what we do with our time.

I am currently working on a self-help book where I tackle head on this issue of time, habits, and the rest. I generally despise self-help books being reminded of that ridiculous self-improvement list in The Great Gatsby. But I do want to improve myself, and I don't see why that it is necessarily a bad thing. It is a new year, and we make those inevitable resolutions towards self-improvement. The failures in that department make the whole affair seem like a joke. And this failure is what has prompted me to write the book that I am writing. I want to figure out the problem, and writing is my way of thinking on a problem.

With the time thing, I think people are pulled between two poles in that department as well. People aspire to and are informed by the Renaissance Ideal. Think of Leonardo da Vinci or a polyglot polymath mathematician millionaire like Nassim Nicholas Taleb. These men were/are accomplished in many endeavors. It would be impressive except virtually none of them was encumbered with a 9 to 5 job. For Taleb, his pursuit of wealth seems to be for no other greater purpose than to free up the leisure needed to pursue his studies. For the Renaissance men of the past, they usually had a wealthy patron that kept them fed and clothed. If you find yourself just an average guy, don't feel bad about it. You didn't have the time to learn seven languages and earn three doctorates and sculpt the Pieta and climb Everest. You had to work and pay the bills.

The modern advocate of the Renaissance man would be Tim Ferriss. It is hard to read or listen to Tim Ferriss because you can't decide if he is an accomplished individual or a flim-flam man. I won't debate the question here, but I can say that he advocates a very ambitious Renaissance ideal way of living. The problem is that you still have to pay the bills which is how you get a book like The 4-Hour Workweek. Basically, Ferriss has a collection of tricks and gimmicks to allow you to make money and also live a leisured existence to pursue the things you are really passionate about. I have read the book, and I think it is a load of crap.

You can't be a Renaissance Man and work a 9 to 5 job. It just isn't possible. Once you accept that fact of life, you end up feeling relief as you step off that treadmill of ambition. This is where Leo Babauta comes into the picture. Unlike Tim Ferriss with his ambitions and flim-flam gimmicks, Leo eschews ambitions and stresses simplicity. Instead, you should focus on a few goals like quitting cigarettes, getting out of debt, or losing weight. With a laser like focus on modest goals, you can achieve those goals pretty easily. And his methods work. Leo's Zen Habits blog has been very popular and has helped a lot of people achieve their goals. I would endorse Leo's methods except that I have watched ZH become the most boring blog on the internet. I have grown tired of being told to "breathe" and "wash my bowl." The irony of Leo Babauta is that he has freed himself from the 9 to 5 job he once had but has nothing to fill that time with except traveling and practicing Zen Buddhism or whatever. The result is that he has become a bum with a blog.

It doesn't matter if you pursue the maximalist ambition of a Tim Ferriss or the the minimalist simplicity of a Leo Babauta. Both of those guys have one thing in common. They ain't working for a living which is the story for 99% of the rest of us. Leo and Tim are bums. I'm sorry, but it has to be said.

So much self-help advice makes working a job the enemy of a successful life. Naturally, I reject that. I think laziness is the enemy of a successful life not work. And this is why so much self-help advice sounds like flim-flam. These gurus tend to be people who are good at getting out of working and finding ways to get paid to play. This gets re-labeled as "following your passion." But it amounts to getting paid to play.

I think the correct path is a blend of these two approaches that embraces work instead of trying to escape it through tricks and gimmicks. I think you have to combine simplicity and hard work. This path is gritty and not glamorous. The belief is that there are just a few things in life worth your time and effort, and it takes a lot of work to make progress in those things. Basically, you should eschew ambition and gimmicks and put on your hard hat and get to work.

"Get It Done" has become a personal mantra for me. I credit Larry the Cable Guy and his "Git-R-Done!" catchphrase as inspiration. Larry plays a blue collar guy though this is just an act. But we toss out the catchphrase at my work because it just sums up what working is all about. While the managers waste time talking about it, we blue collar guys just go and get it done. People spend more time thinking and talking instead of doing. "Get It Done" means that the time for thinking and talking has ended, and the time for working has begun.

I find that so many issues in life are not from a lack of inspiration but from a lack of perspiration. The reason Beethoven and Goethe were so excellent at what they did is because they worked at it. And they didn't waste time playing. I can tell you now that you will not get Faust or the Fifth Symphony from either Tim Ferriss or Leo Babauta. You won't get that stuff from me either.

My model for living are the quiet years of Jesus Christ before He began his public ministry. Jesus was a carpenter. He was blue collar. His father, Saint Joseph, was the same way. They weren't Renaissance Men. They just worked hard and lived morally superior lives. They combined hard work and simplicity. Later on, St. Paul the Apostle would do awesome things in spreading the Gospel like no missionary of his time or since. Yet, he wrote much of the New Testament, started many churches, and made a living as a tent maker. St. Paul was totally blue collar. He just worked hard and was able to do so being free of family obligations.

The goal in personal development is to strive to turn time into work. The goals may vary from person-to-person, but the way remains the same. Take the time you have and turn it into work. This is why I write. Despite working a job, I still end up with free time, and writing is a way for me to turn my free time into work. As such, it is a worthwhile endeavor in comparison to watching ball games. It probably isn't as profitable as driving for Uber or Lyft during that time, but I don't care to risk getting shot playing taxi cab driver. So, I write.

In 2017, I decided to avail myself of an opportunity to make money by simply working more. That simple decision paid off. I put in more hours and eschewed vacation. The result is that I have more money in the bank than I did in 2016. To put it simply, I worked more. No secrets. No gimmicks. I just put in the hours.

In 2018, I am going to work more on all my projects and not just my job. That is my only resolution from this year which is an expansion of the one I made last year. I am going to work more, play less, and GET IT DONE. Even if I fail, my failure won't be because of laziness. I can accept failure on many terms, but to fail as a consequence of being slack and lazy leaves a trace of bitterness like nothing else.