Your Occasional Stoic — Do Not Mourn An Unknown Future; Do Not Fear Death

Even if you are going to live three thousand years, or as many times ten thousand years, remember that no man loses any other life than the one which he now lives, or lives any other life than the one he now loses. The longest and shortest are then to the same. For the present is the same to all, though that which perishes is not the same; and so that which is lost appears to be a mere moment. For a man cannot lose either the past or the future — for if you do not have it, how can anyone take it? Bear these two things in mind: all things from eternity are of like forms and come round in a circle, and that it makes no difference whether a man shall see the same things during a hundred years or two hundred, or an infinite time; and second, that the longest liver and he who will die soonest lose just the same. For the present is the only thing of which a man can be deprived, if it is true that this is the only thing which he has, and that a man cannot lose a thing if he has it not.
Meditations, 2. 14

383px-Marcus_Aurelius_Glyptothek_Munich

Marcus was obsessed with Death and deals with it repeatedly throughout the mediations. Here, he takes an almost Buddhist view of it –be here now and all that. Do not mourn an unknown future, or a past already lived. What you have, what you can control, is today. Focus on this, and you need not fear death, because today is all anyone ever has.

Ok, fine, cool story bro. But as I’ve struggled with in many of these annotations, this radical insistence on the present isn’t practical. If I do not look forward to an old age I may not have, I cannot prepare for it. If I fail to prepare, I will fail to survive.
Herein lies one of the central contradictions in stoicism. It insists on controlling the moment, but if we fail to look past the moment, we’re doomed. Wrestling with this contradiction, finding the right balance, will be a subject of many, many of these annotations.

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Shaara’s Killer Angels


Killer Angels, Michael Shaara

The book that really started my obsession with the civil war.  A novel about the battle at Gettysburg told from the perspective of a commanders from both the Union and Confederate sides. A stunning work. I’m generally not a fan of military history, I could care less about troop movements and tactical decisions. There’s always something a bit macabre, I think, in treating battles as if they were football games. Analyzing the most efficient way to kill men generally leaves a bad taste in my mouth, so I generally stay away from military history and historical novels set during war.

But this book is different. Yes, there is quite a bit of discussion of the mechanics of the battle, but those tactical sections are grounded by the time Shaara spends developing Lee, Chamberlain, Longstreet, Buford, and their men as complex, compelling characters. The scenes of Chamberlain and his men holding the line against a confederate attack, and suffering horrific losses in the process, left me in, no joke, in tears, as did the penultimate scene of scores of confederate soldiers run to their deaths in Picket’s charge.

The civil war was a bloody, awful, horrific thing. This book does not sugar coat it. Though perhaps it does glorify the violence and sacrifice.  I dare you to come away from this book not admiring Chamberlain for his bravery, or loathing Lee for his horrific politics, belief in human bondage and arrogance.  Still and all, though it may wallow a bit in the glory of war, it’s still well worth your time. Not just one of the best novels written about the civil war, one of the best books written about it, period.

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Here’s My Jimmy Breslin Story

Here’s my Jimmy Breslin story:

I was working at the Center for Constitutional Rights on a campaign to stop the price gouging of collect calls from prisoners and I was pitching every single columnist in New York City to cover our story.

The only person to call me back was Breslin.

I was at dinner at an Indian Restaurant when I got a call from an unknown number. I picked it up and the man on the other line said “Yeah is this Sean? This is Jimmy Breslin”
Having been raised by an old school Irish newspaper man, I about had a heart attack. I kept calm and pitched him. He was interested, so I gave him the background explaining the insane rates prisoner’s families pay for collect calls and what we were trying to do to stop it. I offered to put him in touch with a family member and he said something along the lines of “I’ll fight for these people, but Jesus, don’t make me talk to them.” He was a far from perfect man. He ended up quoting me, unfortunately. But he wrote about our campaign in his standard Breslin style — direct, passionate, pissed off — in his weekly Newsday column.

It was the first media hit the campaign got, and it made other journalists take us seriously. .

I left PR soon after that, my work complete.

Rest in peace, Jimmy. They really do not make them like you any more.

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Roy’s God of Small Things


The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

I read the God of Small Things almost fifteen years ago, so let’s be honest, my memory is a bit hazy. I remember being blown away that it was a first novel, but in hindsight, that may have been naïve. Its complex narrative structure, following twins in two parallel story lines, full throated investigation into the social ills of India, including the caste system, misogyny, and more, and its gorgeous prose could only have been the work of someone who labored over every page for years and years as an inspiring novelist would. I remember feeling like the prose was beautiful and the sense of place illuminating, but the political message a bit too polemic. Still, an important book on the nature of love and politics in India. Worth your time,

Recommended.

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Your Occasional Stoic — Pity the Gossiping Neighbor

Nothing is more wretched than a man who is always out and about, running around in circles. As Pindar says, the poet says, “delving deep in the bowels of the earth” seeking by conjecture what is in the minds of his neighbors, without perceiving that it is sufficient to attend to the divinity within him. Reverence to the divine in himself consists in keeping it pure from passion and thoughtlessness, and dissatisfaction with what comes from gods and men. For the things from the gods merit veneration for their excellence; and the things from men should be dear to us by reason of kinship; and sometimes even, in a manner, they move our pity by reason of men’s ignorance of good and bad; this defect being not less than that which deprives us of the power of distinguishing things that are light and dark.

  • Meditations 2.13

marcus-aurelius

The Greek doesn’t actually name Pindar, it merely says the “poet” but the quopte is from a Pindar Fragment.

There’s a lot going on here – first the now standard cheerleading of Marcus to himself to be not like the gossiping neighbor, judging the motivations of his friends, but more like the stoic sage focused on his own, inner strength (and weaknesses).

Stay away from thoughtlessness, Marcus tells himself, again. Focus on facts. Don’t let you passions control your actions.

Still and also, pity the gossiping neighbor, the harm he does it not just to those he judges, but also to himself, moving farther from knowledge by failing to interrogate his own mind before worrying about the minds of others.

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The BQ(Q) – Dale

Thanks dale for sharing your story!

Name

Dale @dalepfrimmer

Sex:

Male

Age (at the time of first BQ):

49

Height:

5’10

Weight (at the time of first BQ):

175

At which marathon did you get your first BQ?

3:24:56 at Des Moines 2016

Tell us a little about the race.

It was hot and humid that AM, 60 degrees at the start. We first walked out of the hotel that AM, and I thought ‘oh my, this is going to be interesting’. It was my first time running Des Moines and I loved running on the blue track in the Drake Stadium. Seeing yourself on the big screen and there was a live band playing. I was smiling and humming Greg Kihn’s “They Don’t Write Like That Anymore” for a couple of miles after Drake! There was a killer hill at mile 24 that was brutal.

How long had you been running when you ran your first BQ?

3 years

Did you run in college or high school?

I didn’t run in college or high school, but ran in the Army. Didn’t really run much after getting out of the Army though.

What was your approximate lifetime mileage at the time of your first BQ?

Unknown

How many miles did you run in the year before your first BQ?

1200

Approximately how many races did you run in that year?

This was 3rd marathon of 2016, ran Los Angeles in February, day after the Olympic marathon trials, but it was very warm in LA that week. Ran Fargo in May and although I PRd, fell short of the BQ goal, fading over those last five miles.

Did you follow a canned program? If so, which one? If not, can you give us an idea of what your training philosophy was?

Yes, used the standard Hal Higdon Advanced 18 week plan (three 20 milers in the plan). Didn’t adjust the plan and tried to stick to it fairly closely.

Did you run with a running club or utilize a coach?

Yes, running with others was a huge help. Ran with a 5K group out of the local shoe store every Tuesday night and did group runs for the long runs on Saturday morning with the Rochester (MN) Track Club. Nice to have water stations set up and not have to carry extra on long runs. The social aspect of meeting on Saturday AMs, kept me motivated and helped pass the time.   

Did cross training play a role in your training? If so, how?

Not much cross training, probably not even as much as I would have liked. I biked a little and did some yoga, but not as much of either as I would have liked.

Did speed work play a role or specific workouts play a role in your training? If so, how?

Not too much speed work in the plan, it rotated track workouts (800’s), tempo runs and hills. I think the one workout that felt like it was the ‘special sauce’ of the plan was during a planned 20 mile run, my running best friend and I pre-loaded 7 miles at a slow pace and then ran a local half marathon at race pace. I came away from that run brimming with confidence and ready to race.   

Any other thoughts you would like to share with those of working towards a BQ?

Things don’t have to go perfect to have a good race. It was hot and humid, I couldn’t get my music to work, I bumped my watch– so it was a half mile off, and my sun glasses kept fogging up with the humidity. It would have been easy to go down the negativity rabbit hole, but I stayed calm, stayed positive, and pushed it.

I’ve been thinking about something I heard on a recent Runners World podcast, is it better to under promise and over deliver or make a, as Jim Collins would call it, big hairy audacious goal (BHAG)? I had announced to enough friends and colleagues that I was going to BQ that after failing to reach that goal in the Twin Cities, LA, and Fargo, that it was going to happen in Des Moines.  

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Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late


How Late It Was How Late
James Kelman

When I was twenty, I lived in Berkeley California and worked as a tele-fundraiser for a number of large nonprofits. Yes, I was the guy calling to ask you to donate to the Sierra Club. My co-workers were an incredibly eclectic mix of punks, artists, ex-cons, and weirdos. One of these co-workers was a guy working his way through a phd program (in literature? I forget). He also did the whole book scout thing on the side, picking up books from thrift stores and discount markets and then reselling them to the higher end used bookshops. He opened my eyes to an enormous amount of literature and I wish I knew whatever happened to him.

Anyway, among the literature he opened my eye to was this novel of a man struck blind, wandering a bleak sad Edinburg, written almost entirely in a Scottish dialect.

“You know that Walden books in downtown Oakland?” He said
“Yes” I replied
“They have a stack of remaindered copies of How Late It Was, How Late”
“Ok”
“Its up for the Booker prize, I went down there and found two American firsts in the pile, you should pick one up.”

So I did, even though I was a kid, and didn’t know what the Booker Prize was or even what a remaindered book meant. I read it, and it made me work, in those first fifty pages, parsing the language, figuring out what the hell was going on, and then I loved it, ever dark, sad, bleak Scottish page of it, and without a random co-worker at a shit job, I’d have never know it existed. .

I still have that copy by the way. American first edition.

Recommended.

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