Pen & Paper, Letter & Journal

Last week my family celebrated my daughters first birthday. It was a wonderful endcap to a challenging, fulfilling, and wonderful first year of fatherhood. Transitional moments and milestones tend to put me in pensive moods so I’ve been reflecting on the subject of permanence and longevity. Will I be remembered after I’m gone? How will I be remembered? How will my daughter see me, my work, my life?

I’m a dedicated reader of biographies. As a writer I think good biographies are monumentally useful because going deeply into a subject is a critical boon towards creating believable characters with depth and realism. Biographers use numerous sources to bring their subjects to life and give the reader a hopefully realistic portrait,the most useful sources are the subjects own words in the form of journals and letters.

Leonardo Da Vinci was a constant journal writer. He carried a notebook with him at all times and constantly jotted down notes and observation. His notebooks are a unique view into his mind. Napoleon Bonaparte was a prolific letter writer. The Bonaparte foundation has over 40,000 letters documenting his life in often minute detail. In the fantasy writers world most of what we know about H.P. Lovecraft, Clarke Ashton Smith, and Robert Howard comes from the large volume of correspondence between the writers. Letters and journals are invaluable windows into the lives of the past.

I’ve kept a journal for the past two years. Last week I was rewarded by thumbing through last years worth of writing and coming across the entry I made on the day my daughter was born. I had forgotten about it, honestly I must of sat down and jotted it during the hectic hours of my wifes early labor. Reading it a year later brought back vivid memories of that wonderful day. I hope that I can hold on to my journal so I can share the thoughts I had on that day with my daughter when she grows up.

All of this brings me back to the pensive meditation on permanence I mentioned above. How will I be remembered. With journaling a dying art and lettering six feet under, all that is left of us is the profanity laced, meme poisoned, digital trail of social media. With this in mind I searched out my old LiveJournal and MySpace accounts. I have a good memory so I managed to unlock both accounts. After a few minutes of reading the horror that poured out of my young adult mind I deleted both accounts. Next I went through early Facebook from 2006 when I first created that account. Once again, horror. Nothing that would get my acceptance to Harvard rescinded, but definitely filled with embarrassing stupidity. Looking at my posts from 2007-2010 one would be justified in having concerns about the health of my liver.

A decade ago we used social media differently. It wasn’t so serious, so scrutinized, so manufactured. It was off the cuff jokes, jibes at friends, stupid pictures, and invitations to go drinking. We set up obnoxious auto playing songs on our MySpace profiles, assaulting visitors with noise and crappy HTML templates. It was new, fun, and nobody really thought about how long the crap we posted would be floating around in digital space.

Now I have a crippling fear that when I die everything about me will come from my old social media profiles. My descendants will remember me from idiotic posts about Pabst Blue Ribbon tall-cans and rants on how much I hated Tarantino’s latest movie. Some social historian will dig up the stupidest crap and I will be immortalized by the digital equivalent of the vulgar graffiti found in Pompeii.

But isn’t that the real me? Isn’t that what social media was supposed to be. An open community bringing us together, being ourselves in the digital space. Maybe. But, personally I rather stick to pen and paper, letter and journal.

Day trip to Hakone

HakoneShrine.jpgYesterday the wife and I took a day trip to Hakone, a small town on the shore of Lake Ashi. Our schedule is completely packed for the foreseeable future, filled with baby events, work obligations, celebrations, and of course culminating with the arrival of the baby. So, it was nice to get to go on a little trip on our own.

The day started off with heavy rain and exploring the famous Hakone Shrine was a wet yet interesting experience. Initially, we were bummed that the rain obscured the majestic view of Mt. Fuji, but the gloom and mist had a surreal magical quality that I really enjoyed.

Eventually, the sun came out and we spent a few hours exploring the Hakone Open Air Museum which occupies acres of beautiful landscape, sadly littered with modern art. The museum’s centerpiece is a decent sized Picasso collection whos infantile scribbles left me underwhelmed. I yearn for the day that adult men and women stop pretending that mentally deranged garbage created by alcoholic sexual deviants gets relegated to the trash pile of history where it belongs. I do not believe that any man can gaze upon the garbage output of Picasso and feel any tingling of inspiration, wonder, or anything other than bewilderment at the joke that is so-called 20th-century art.

It was nice spending all day exploring new places, trying out food, and just hanging out. Not to mention that we ended our adventure with a stop at the specialty liquor store where I bought myself some Stouts.

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Goals and Resolutions 2018

In four days it will be 2018, a whole new year of adventure and excitement. With the dawning of the new year, many of us will take the time to reflect on the past and plan for the future by making traditional New Year’s Resolutions. According to some random internet poll, that I found on Wikipedia, 50% of Americans make resolutions. Unfortunately, 88% of people fail, with men having a 22% success rate and women only 10%.

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I use an unruled moleskin for everything, story ideas, lists, random lines, sketches. Freeform Journaling is an indispensable part of my life. 

 

I like goals so I make resolutions every year. Not only do I make them, I make sure that I put my plans down in writing and make a digital copy that I keep on my phone that I use to motivate and keep myself on track. I believe in the power of goal setting and the concrete permanence of physically writing them down allows me to conceptualize and solidify the ideas.

Last year I made three resolutions. Unfortunately, all three were rather vague and didn’t specify concrete milestones or achievements. Looking back I genuinely succeeded on one goal, but the other two are somewhat up for debate. So this year I decided to take a systematic approach and use a rule of three style setup. Three general resolutions or visions with three specific milestones each.

Using sets of threes imbues the process with a mythological magic, three is a powerful number. Three witches, three wise men, three sisters, three little pigs, three Christmas ghosts, three Musketeers (ok ok four technically), three Brothers Karamazov(spoiler… ) on and on. Three is magical.

So this year I picked three areas of life that I wanted to focus on, improve, and advance in. Physical health, writing, and family life. For each one, I wrote a one to two paragraph vision on what I want to achieve this coming year. These paragraphs I scribbled on the left side of my journal. Then, on the right side of the page, for each of the three, I chose three concrete and attainable goals pertaining to the overall theme.

  1. Resolution: One or two paragraphs.
    • Goal 1
    • Goal 2
    • Goal 3
  2. Resolution: One or two paragraphs.
    • Goal 1
    • Goal 2
    • Goal 3
  3. Resolution: One or two paragraphs.
    • Goal 1
    • Goal 2
    • Goal 3

For example, my first Resolution is as follows:

PHYSICAL HEALTH & FITNESS: 2018 will be a year where I will seriously focus on health and fitness. With the implicit goal of drastically improving my strength, endurance, and overall well being. I will completely eliminate horrible vices such as smoking and binge drinking, two behaviors that I significantly decreased in 2017 but still indulged occasionally to my detriment. My goal for 2018 is to become the strongest I’ve ever been for my own benefit, made more important by my upcoming fatherhood.

GOALS:

  • Quit Smoking completely.
  • Meet strength goals using my ongoing Linear Progression program.*
  • Eat 80% Primal/Paleo avoiding sugar and junk.

*I will outline actual numbers in a future post.

So I have three Resolutions following the above format, each has a written blurb followed by three concrete goals. I made sure that each one of the bullets is reasonable and achievable within the next twelve months. This is all written in my journal where I keep story ideas, interesting lines, sketches, and all sorts of crazy stuff. I also took a picture of the outline that I saved on my Evernote app so I can look it over anytime on my phone.

I think that short-term goal setting, specifically when put down on paper, is a fantastic way to focus one’s mind and cut through the mental and emotional clutter that plagues so many of us, especially us writers. I highly recommend using a system like the one above or even just free writing ideas down in your journal or on your blog.

Happy New Year and may all your upcoming goals be achieved!

 

 

Barbarian Book Club: 25 July 2017

July turned out to be a month of minimal reading and writing. I only read one book worth mentioning here and my fiction writing was almost non-existent. Reading time was spent on physical fitness books and philosophy centered on masculinity, finance, and lifestyle. In the near future, I’m going to write about my workout regimen and recommend some great books on fitness, but that topic deserves its own post and dedicated discussion.

Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose, was the one book I managed to read for pleasure. A fascinating and detailed look at Benjamin Tallmadge’s Culper Ring, a Patriot spy network working out of British occupied New York during the American Revolution. The young officer Tallmadge became the spymaster and handler for a group of   The young officer Tallmadge became the spymaster and handler for a group of fascinating individuals and the book takes an in depth look at their communications, mostly done through letters using invisible ink, and the trial and error methods they used to set up an effective chain of communication between themselves and General Washington. washingtonsspies

The early modern era from about the Reformation up tends to be my favorite when it comes to history and I especially love the Revolutionary War. I also enjoy history focused on day to day life away from the military and battles, so this book was perfect. Reading through letters between the Culpers gave me a better understanding of life during the Revolution. For example, there was a good amount of discussion about raids between non-regular Royalists and Patriots, who often attacked civilians indiscriminately and were more concerned with loot than with the principles of war. Not to mention the fascinating look into life in occupied New York and the massive black market, red light districts, and illegal activity that sprung up out of vice and necessity.

Revolutions: A Weekly Podcast. On the topic of history, I wanted to mention this podcast, which has been part of my daily life for the last few months. I listen to it every morning on the way to work and every afternoon on the way home. I catch myself looking forward to driving just so I can do some listening. Right now the I’m getting towards the end of the French Revolution. Robespierre is no more, the Thermadorians are in charge, and well-dressed Dandies are roaming the streets beating their opponents with large sticks. The French Revolution is terrifying, a well-intentioned start that spiraled into terror and mass murder. Contrasting the philosophy and personalities of this revolution with the American one is interesting. What kept the American Patriots from slipping into the same insanity that engulfed the Jacobins? What kept strong personalities like Adams, Washington, and Hamilton from becoming tyrants and murderers like Robespierre and Saint-Just? frenchrevolution

Reading a book about spies put me in the mood for some modern day espionage so I bought some Le Carre to scratch that itch. I also need to find a few good books about the French Revolution and maybe do a bit of reading about that famous Corsican, a personality I don’t know much about outside of popular culture. So any recommendations are welcome.

Barbarian Book Club: 11 May 2017

April was a slow month for reading. I turned 34 in the middle of another beautiful Japanese Spring. When your whole world explodes with beautiful cherry blossoms, light rains, amazing greenery, the last thing you do is sit around and read all day.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence. I discovered Mark Lawrence throughRedSister one of his short stories in Grimdark #1. It was a raw, brutal tale about a farmer who avenges himself on a band of thugs that murdered his family. On the strength of that story, I bought his entire Broken Empire trilogy and continued to read all the way through the Red Queen’s War series. So when Red Sister, a brand new standalone was announced, I was excited and preordered. Sadly it was a total let down; stupid, silly, filled with cliche, and downright boring. Lawrence stuffed everything I hate about modern fantasy into one book. It was such a boring chore to get through that I would make excuses to myself and ended up taking over two weeks to read a novel that I would usually finish in a day or two.

The Green Pearl by Jack Vance. To get the bad taste out of my mouth and break my reading slump that started to overtake me I went back to a master. The Green Pearl is the second book in the Lyonesse Trilogy. Wow… I loved Suldrun’s Garden but this one solidifies Lyonesse as one of my favorite fantasy TheGreenPearlseries ever. This novel is pure fantasy,  beauty, and magic mixed with sorrow and darkness. The story continues where the last one left off and it is full of battles, truly magical magicians, multiple worlds, sinister creatures, and everything that is missing from modern fantasy. Vance is a master and this trilogy has to be one of the most underappreciated pieces of fantasy written in the last thirty years.  Do yourself a favor and pick this up.

Soto recap, a disappointing attempt at reading modern Fantasy left me dejected so I turned to a classic master to rejuvenate me. I enjoyed The Green Pearl so much that I jumped right into the final book in the series, Maudoc and looking forward to finishing it as soon as I publish this post.