Hunter S. Thompson’s birthday

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Today is the famous “Gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s birthday. An early influence on my writing–though fortunately not on my lifestyle–Thompson’s own style is incredibly idiosyncratic.  With its own sort of caustic, violent, debauched poetry, it sings in places with rhapsodic eloquence. It can also be quite insightful.

[image from phrases.org]

[image from phrases.org]

So in honor of his birthday, here’s a link to a letter he wrote giving some advice about finding a meaningful life. It echoes his Nietzsche-like adage, “Buy the ticket, take the ride” and shows the candor and humility that characterizes some of his better writing. I hope you enjoy.

Also, happy Nelson Mandela Day. Get a peak at the Google Doodle for some moving quotes. If anything, I think both men, in their own vastly different ways, strove to criticize the hypocrisies and silences that uphold corruption, injustice, and oppression.

Schopenhauer, a man for all seasons (especially bad ones)

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Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), a German philosopher, and a regular in past posts on Backyard Philosophy, stands out for a few reasons–not counting his love of puddles and his obstinant rain-or-shine walking schedule.

[Image from Wikipedia]

[Image from Wikipedia]

He was one of the first major modern thinkers to actively, even aggressively, take an atheistic stance. He was also one of the first to incorporate Eastern Philosophy into his thought, particularly the Hindu Upanishads and Buddhist discourses. He influenced Wagner, Freud, Nietzsche, and Albert Swietzer, among others, and remains a favored philosopher of musicians.

Schopenhauer also coined the word “pessimism,” using the Latinate pessimismus in 1835. This is his main claim to fame, exemplified by the oft-quoted advice, which he may have never said: eat a frog each morning, so that the rest of the day won’t be as bad.

Indeed, Schopenhauer may be one of the most “pessimistic” thinkers in Eastern and Western thought, earning him the dour sobriquet “The Great Pessimist.” And this, not his love of poodles (unfortunately) has stuck.

But despite this pessimism, or maybe because of it, Schopenhauer’s writing has a certain power. While many of his thoughts are “old” and remain warped by egotism, misogyny, and indignation–particularly his spiteful essay On Women–other pieces offer a unique, applicable insight for life, even in the present day.

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Writerly Routines

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As I’ve alluded to in a past post, routine can be central to writers, or creative people in general. In an era that values efficiency and innovation–where so many want to be the next Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs–anything that encourages these traits gains an immediate capital.

[image from dorkboycomics]

[image from dorkboycomics]

For one, it can ease the strain required to enter the creative mode. As some research shows–so eloquently elucidated by John Cleese–one needs a space in time and place to innovate. Stuck with daily stresses, the creative mind can stagnate by worrying over the necessary pitfalls and backtracks required for the creative process. A set hour and a closed door pushes that stress outside.

Making set time also forces one revisit similar issues for an extended period. This helps to inspire seemingly sudden insights that actually occur through long-term reflection, the “slow hunch” as writer Steven Johnson puts it. Doing something everyday keeps one foot in the creative enterprise as the rest of the day unfolds. One never knows what may trigger the insight–a new task, an observation, or help from a colleague–but if one is miles away from an issue, they may never notice.

And at the most basic level, a routine keeps one disciplined by encouraging habits. In a reductive sense, a productive routine is nothing but a series of productive habits, i.e. of heavily ingrained actions that one does with little to no thought. If authors write everyday at 6:00 a.m., it becomes habitual. They keep writing then, regardless of other circumstances, just as one may brush one’s teeth before bed.

That said, breaking a routine can also be affective. While some thinkers, like Kant, were heavily routine and disciplined, others thrived on ambiguity and sprawling, uncertain days. Sometimes travel can be a handy catalyst, too. With it, one breaks from the daily perspectives and concerns of the routine. As one of my friend’s puts it, “Journey outward, journey inward.”

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Link

The Creative Brain

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The Creative Brain

I’ve been out of town since Friday, so I haven’t been able to write much. But one of my friends came to the rescue and sent me this link to a fascinating article. It is a fun, but informative and insightful look at the human brain at its most creative and touches on similarly aligned issues, like the link between genius and madness.

While a little long for a quick read, it is well worth the look.

#Media_Literacy

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Monday’s Merriam-Webster word of the day was hashtag. Few other elements of social media have endured the same ire and satire. I’m sure many eyes rolled with the #ashtag selfies from this past Ash Wednesday. And Jimmy Fallon has poked fun at them with major celebrities. In both instances, I found myself laughing, but I didn’t know why.

[from business2community]

[image from business2community]

Indeed, the octothorpe, relabeled and retrofitted for new media, has broken beyond the realm of the phone. In its new place, it has had some helpful uses. The hastag organizes the flood of rapid-fire information on Twitter. Revolutionaries and activists in the Arab Spring used it, and for journalists, it lets their observations climb above the noise and sail alongside other “trending” news and topics. And, as with any creative use of language, a well-used hashtag can trigger a laugh or a smile.

So why the scorn and parody? To me, I think it’s the growth pangs from a new mode of speaking entering our lexicon. We’re still learning how to use the hashtag, and as with any piece of literacy, open use creates some strange, comical combinations and incurs the skepticism of tradition.

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Writing in the afternoon

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Somewhere a few years ago I read in an anthology that you can’t write in the afternoon. It has to be in the morning or at night, said the author, but the afternoon was a dry landscape without inspiration. Nothing worthwhile grew there. Or if it did, it was weed-choked and gravelly, like a forgotten sidewalk.

I’ve always remembered that piece of advice. But here I am, writing in the afternoon.

What’s it like? Somewhere nearby birds chirp–robins, I think–and a drier rattles with its cargo downstairs. The day is quiet and cloudy, like a teenager not quite ready to face the sun, rolling up a gray ruffled blanket over his eyes as the sounds from the road–the sounds of people awake for the past five or six hours–filter in. Already, I’ve been to a graduation and eaten two meals. I’ve done some cleaning and exercised. I did some work and read. I still have more to do later on today: write a press release, clean more, cook dinner, do some thesis research.

And that’s the odd thing about writing in the afternoon–the part that makes it hard: you are mid-stride in your 24-hour step through life. Stopping to write, you feel adrift. You’re drowsy from a morning of tasks, and a stomach of food, but you know you can’t rest, realistically, after you write. The day must go on.

But despite these difficulties, it has a certain thrill.

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A rainy juxtaposition

blackbyrd:

A post I wrote for my personal blog, blackbyrd.wordpress.com, but I feel it’s definitely applicable for Backyard Philosophy.

Originally posted on Blackbyrd fly, blackbyrd fly:

Lightning flashes. Rain hits my window, creating rivulets that slide down slow as molasses.

A peek at some raindrops.

A peek at some raindrops.

I’m safe in my room. My hotel room. My own bathroom in the back, my own king-sized bed in the front facing the window. I turn off the TV and my bedside table lamp to make it lighter outside, but sky blue sheer curtains interrupt my view slightly. The air conditioner hums to remind me I can’t open my window to smell the rain.

I’m under the covers, picking at the acne between my eyebrows and trying to string together the web of raindrops on my window to make something work. Anything work.

My parents and brothers have roofs over their heads, even though it isn’t raining where any of them are right now. There’s just one storm cloud over the palace –– yes, palace ––  I call “home.”

I can’t help…

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A Beautiful Tribute to the Writer of Calvin and Hobbes

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I found this link today to some inspiring words from Bill Watterson, the reclusive creator of the beloved Calvin and Hobbes series. The words critique the high-climbing, fast-paced American view of success and happiness: work hard, keep climbing, and one day you’ll be happy, or at the very least you’ll have fame, success, and a lot of money. Pointing out the statistics and the logical fallacies  to view entails is not new. Neither is Watterson’s encouragement to break away from social pressure and follow personal passions, ignoring the flak and shame that comes from following “the road less traveled.”

[image courtesy of NPR]

[image courtesy of NPR]

Some people may think such encouragement is trite or naive. It’s the sort of drivel that idealistic college kids tell themselves when struggling in classes and accruing debt or peppy elementary teachers post on walls, but ultimately, it’s a lie,as pervasive and false as the American dream. But when one considers the way Watterson lived out his own advice, the words gain a new depth. He did resist corporate pressure and created one of the most beloved, evocative comic strips around. Not everyone would want to fallow his path, and many may think his reclusive life unstable and unhealthy.

But still, hearing such words in such a monoculture of competition and corporate ambition is refreshing. Hearing such words from Watterson, transformed into a homage by cartoonist Gavin Aung Than–that is truly moving:

“This Incredible Tribute to Calvin and Hobbes will Make you Cry”

Birth of a Francophile

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An older piece that used to be another blog that is, alas, no more. I found it again today, made some edits, and decided to post it, being an old favorite of mine. Enjoy:

I sat around reading warning labels as a kid. Maybe some kids played basketball or kickball. Nope. Not me. That’s where I first learned French.

The words were musical. Though they burbled from my lips in coagulated lumps of mangled forms, I sensed the potential for improvement. For lush vowels and fluid links. Of course I had no idea what they meant, either.  Attention! I said to my dad. Regardez! Gonflable! The last one means airbags, in case you’re wondering.

I started taking French in middle school. My teacher was a lean woman with a face like Edith Piaf and frenetic red hair that never changed, as is suspended in perpetual clothes-folding static. A lyricist of French grammar, she sang songs about the imperfect tense to the tune of jingle bells, and if we misbehaved, she swore in Greek under her breath.

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Five books that made me

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As the American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote (or so the various quote websites have us believe),“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” So it is with me. books picture

A confirmed bibliophile, I may not be a surprising case, but I’ll never forget one of my co-workers at Lowes. An older man with rough hands, worn blue jeans, and work boots, he rasped contracting stories in a cigaret-stained voice about “idiots who didn’t know shit about construction.” 

But one day, during his break, when I was reading Don Quixote over a turkey sandwich, he sat down and started talking about books. Books he read in school, like Hemingway, Austen, Faulkner, and Dickens. Books his wife read, like Jody Piccoult and John Grisham. Books his father gave him, worn how-to manuals and beat-up hardcovers gathered from outdated encyclopedia sets.

“I miss reading,” he said, leaning back in his metal fold-out chair. “I miss the stories.”

Soon, I went back to the registers, thinking about it. Probably nothing would happen. But a few weeks later, he came in and pulled out a worn copy of the The Old Man and the Sea.

“My favorite,” he said. “I’ve never forgotten this book.”

Since then, I haven’t either.

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