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Browsing the poetry shelves you will come across numerous editions of the prose and poetry of Walt Whitman. His Leaves of Grass is probably the best-selling title today. Thanks to technology, you can buy his complete works with that book, patriotic poems, prose, The Wound Dresser and even his letters in a Kindle Edition for a mere 99 cents.
One piece of his writing you won’t get in that digital archive is a curious collection he wrote in 1858 under the pseudonym Mose Velsor. Walt wrote an advice column in the New York Atlas newspaper for “manly men.” The topics included diet, exercise, and grooming.
I suppose it was a Men’s Journal or Esquire column for the time, though it seems out of character for the man I have mentally archived as “the good gray poet.”
That is until someone uncovered the 13-part newspaper series from 150 years ago.
It has been published in at least two versions I could find. Manly Health and Training: To Teach the Science of a Sound and Beautiful Body is the series.
Walt Whitman’s Guide to Manly Health and Training is 75 manly chunks of advice.
It was also published in the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review.
Some of the columns headlines are pretty funny: “The great american evil—indigestion” and “Could there be an entire nation of vigorous and beautiful men?”
So how well does 19th century Walt Whitman‘s advice hold up for 21st century men?
Let’s start the day like Walt…
The man rises at day-break, or soon after—if in winter, rather before. In most cases the best thing he can commence the day with is a rapid wash of the whole body in cold water, using a sponge, or the hands rubbing the water over the body—and then coarse towels to rub dry with; after which, the hair gloves, the flesh-brush, or any thing handy, may be used, for friction, and to put the skin in a red glow all over . . . as soon as the glow is attained, the window, unless the weather is very bad, should be opened, and the door also, so that the room may become filled with good fresh air—for the play of the respiratory organs will be increased by the performances just mentioned, and it is at such times that good air tells best.
How about some breakfast? Walt was much the carnivore. “Let the main part of the diet be meat, to the exclusion of all else.”
Usually the breakfast, for a hearty man, might consist in a plate of fresh rare lean meat, without fat or gravy, a slice or chunk of bread, and, if desired, a cup of tea, which must be left till the last. If there be boiled potatoes, and one of them is desired, it may be permitted.
Let’s get groomed and dressed for the day.
The beard is a great sanitary protection to the throat—for purposes of health it should always be worn, just as much as the hair of the head should be. Think what would be the result if the hair of the head should be carefully scraped off three or four times a week with the razor! Of course, the additional aches, neuralgias, colds, etc., would be immense. Well, it is just as bad with removing the natural protection of the neck; for nature indicates the necessity of that covering there, for full and sufficient reasons.
Most of the usual fashionable boots and shoes, which neither favor comfort, nor health, nor the ease of walking, are to be discarded.”
Okay, we are ready to get on with the day!
Habituate yourself to the brisk walk in the fresh air—to the exercise of pulling the oar—and to the loud declamation upon the hills, or along the shore. Such are the means by which you can seize with treble grip upon all the puzzles and difficulties of your student life—whatever problems are presented to you in your books, or by your professors.
That walking gives me an appetite!
Lunch should consist of a good plate of fresh meat, (rare lean beef, broiled or roast, is best) with as few outside condiments as possible.
Maybe I should have saved that walk for after lunch. All this meat is making me a bit sleepy, but I must do some work!
A steady and agreeable occupation is one of the most potent adjuncts and favorers of health and long life. The idler, without object, without definite direction, is very apt to brood himself into some moral or physical fever—and one is about as bad as the other.
Well, I managed to work on a poem and a blog post and didn’t doze off (not completely anyway). The sun is low in the sky. It must be time for supper. I hope it is not meat again.
The supper, which must not be at a late hour, we would recommend always to be light—occasionally making this meal to consist of fruit, either fresh, during the middle and latter part of the summer—and of stewed fruit during the winter and spring.
It is easy for even the manly man to become a bit depressed after dinner. But don’t fear – Walt has advice for “the horrors” too.
If the victim of ‘the horrors’ could but pluck up energy enough to strip off all his clothes and gives his whole body a stinging rubdown with a flesh-brush till the skin becomes all red and aglow, he would be thoroughly cured of his depression, by this alone.
Is it 10 pm already? Then it is time to go to sleep.
Ten o’clock at night ought to find a man in bed—for that will not afford him the time requisite for rest, if he rise betimes in the morning. The bedroom must not be small and close—that would go far toward spoiling all other observances and cares for health. It is important that the system should be clarified, through the inspiration and respiration, with a plentiful supply of good air, during the six, seven, or eight hours that are spent in sleep. During most of the year, the window must be kept partly open for this purpose.
Well, we quite a full day. Perhaps, we should do a bit of reading in bed to close out the day. We could read some poems. But we also have another “new” Whitman book we might read. Zachary Turpin, a grad student at the University of Houston, is the person who rediscovered the columns on microfilm last year. He also discovered a long-lost novel of Whitman’s titled Life and Adventures of Jack Engle. It has one of those 19th century subtitles with a colon and a semi-colon. Wow. “An Auto-Biography; A Story of New York at the Present Time in which the Reader Will Find Some Familiar Characters”
Back in 1852, Walt Whitman was a sweet 33 years old and not doing very well as a housebuilder in Brooklyn. He was writing. He was working on a free-verse book-length poem that would be published as Leaves of Grass and clinch his place in American literature.
He was also working on a novel. It would be published under a pseudonym and it did get serialized in a newspaper. And then it was forgotten, until Turpin rediscovered it after some clues led him to the Library of Congress. It seems that the LoC had the only surviving copy of Jack Engle. has lain waiting for generations.
The novel was also published in the WW Quarterly Review. Here’s how chapter one opens.
Punctually at half past 12, the noon-day sun shining flat on the pavement of Wall street, a youth with the pious name of Nathaniel, clapt upon his closely cropt head, a straw hat, for which he had that very morning given the sum of twenty-five cents, and announced his intention of going to his dinner.
Attorney at Law”
stared into the room (it was a down-town law-office) from the door which was opened wide and fastened back, for coolness; and the real Covert, at that moment, looked up from his cloth-covered table, in an inner apartment, whose carpet, book-cases, musty smell, big chair, with leather cushions, and the panels of only one window out of three being opened, and they but partially so, announced it as the sanctum of the sovereign master there. That gentleman’s garb marked him as one of the sect of Friends, or Quakers. He was a tallish man, considerably round-shouldered, with a pale, square, closely shaven face; and one who possessed any expertness as a physiognomist, could not mistake a certain sanctimonious satanic look out of the eyes. From some suspicion that he didn’t appear well in that part of his countenance, Mr. Covert had a practice of casting down his visual organs. On this occasion, however, they lighted on his errand-boy.
“Yes, go to thy dinner; both can go,” said he, “for I want to be alone.”
And Wigglesworth, the clerk, a tobacco-scented old man—he smoked and chewed incessantly—left his high stool in the corner where he had been slowly copying some document.
Ah, nothing like a 19th century novel to lull you to sleep. And I really need a good 8 hours in order to wake up early, take another cold shower, eat some breakfast meat and start another manly day!
I have often told my good friend Scott that we are both “seekers.” It seems we have spent most of our lives searching for… well, that’s a hard sentence to complete. In search of Truth? Enlightenment? God?
“Spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) is a phrase that gained popular usage as a way of saying that you self-identify as someone that has a hard time believing that an organized religion is the only or most valuable means of furthering your spiritual growth.
Though I was raised a Catholic, I parted ways in my late teens and explored a number of other religious seeker from Quakers to Buddhists and finally decided that there was no group that filled my needs or answered my questions.
SBNR became very “New Age” and got mixed in with “mind-body-spirit” and holistic movements such as tai chi, reiki, and yoga. They became groups to join and pay for memberships.
I was convinced that spirituality had more to do with the interior life of the individual than that of a group.
There actually was a group known as Seekers (also known as Legatine-Arians). They were an English Protestant dissenting group that emerged around the 1620s, inspired by three Legate brothers.
These Seekers considered all organized churches of their day corrupt. They were patient – waiting for God’s revelation. They were not an organized religious group in any way that would be recognized today. They were not a religious cult. It was an informal structure and localized. To be a “member” didn’t mean you couldn’t belong to another sect. Many Seekers were also Quakers.
But to me that doesn’t sound like “seeking.” To be a seeker, one needs to actively be in search of something, not waiting for revelation to come to you.
Seeking is not limited to religion and spirituality. It is a quest to know more about everything.
If you do an Internet search on just “in search of” books, you will find a very wide ranges of things being sought. From those in search of memory through the science of the mind, to those in search of Schrödinger’s cat in quantum physics.
I think I was a seeker from my earliest teen years. I definitely searched for answers to many questions in books. In novels that weren’t always considered to be about seeking (Siddhartha, Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, Slaughterhouse-Five), I found Seekers. I found books that were about seeking too – The Seven Storey Mountain, Dark Night of the Soul, The Wisdom of the Sufis, Carlos Castenada’s books and others.
College exposed me to many of these books, but it also brought me to other people who seemed to be on a similar path. It was a time of experimentation. We followed paths that seemed to hold new possibilities, including sexuality and drugs.
After college and as a young husband, I felt like there were other unexplored worlds contained in this one we believe we live in that I needed to first find and then examine.
During this time, In Search of… , a weekly television series appeared. It was devoted to mysterious phenomena. There had been three one-hour TV documentaries (In Search of Ancient Astronauts, In Search of Ancient Mysteries and The Outer Space Connection) that were narrated by by Rod Serling in the voice that had intrigued and frightened me in my younger years from his Twilight Zone.
Certainly, a lot of the 146 episodes of the series (hosted by Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy) were fringe science at best. Those ancient astronauts came from the book Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Däniken and though I never believed his theory, it certainly made me consider us being alone, or not alone, in the universe. It led me to seek out more about the Mayan culture and other mysteries.
The seeking certainly wasn’t restricted to religion or spirituality. The TV program shifted from UFOs, and the Loch Ness Monster to cults, the disappearances of cities (Atlantis, Roanoke Colony), ships (Mary Celeste) and people (Amelia Earhart, D. B. Cooper). Some of this was quite real, more like history than the paranormal.
I remember the show’s opening disclaimer and was able to find it online. It is pretty close to a seeker creed.
“This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producer’s purpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine.”
In college, I had a girlfriend who was deep into the occult and “strange worlds.” Many of the topics she exposed me to, I found out more about in the years to come. I found several books by Arthur C. Clarke that were not his sci-fi novels, but non-fiction collections about mysterious worlds and strange powers. I suspect that Clarke didn’t write the books, but was attached to the project. only the foreword but
When I started reading aloud the first Harry Potter book to my son, I was amused when we came upon a Seeker. It is a position in the wizarding sport of Quidditch. The one Seeker on a team has to find the Golden Snitch, and until the Seeker catches it, a game does not end. What is your Golden Snitch?
There is a song “The Seeker” written by Peter Townshend and performed by The Who. I hope that as a Seeker all my searching low and high won’t end as the song does – that I won’t get to get what I’m after till the day I die.
I’ve looked under chairs
I’ve looked under tables
I’ve tried to find the key
To fifty million fables
I asked Bobby Dylan
I asked The Beatles
I asked Timothy Leary
But he couldn’t help me either
They call me The Seeker
I’ve been searching low and high
I won’t get to get what I’m after
Till the day I die
I bet that a lot of people reading this post are making resolutions for the new year, and I suspect that cleaning up messiness both literal and figurative in their life is on many of those lists.
Your parents have been telling you this since you were a kid. Your spouse, roommate, officemate and others may have been suggesting it. I am constantly trying – and failing – to achieve a state of orderliness that I can maintain.
The chaos of a house or room or closet, garage, basement, or even a desk drawer or desktop just seems wrong. I also think that achieving even a small feat of order – such as an empty inbox – gives us not only satisfaction but the hope that we can accomplish the same order in our larger areas. may even in our personal life.
People are writing books about how to clean and organize, and I wrote here about the combined joy and sadness of throwing things away. But that process (and those readings) can make you very anxious and just remind you of your failures to get rid of the mess.
A good amount of the rhetoric of the recent election was about cleaning up the mess in Washington D.C. and across the country. Donald Trump’s campaign was a mess. But he won.
But I have to thank podcast episode 53 of Hidden Brain for turning me on to the book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. For the New Year, I appreciate a book that celebrates the benefits that messiness has in our lives.
Embrace the messiness and chaos! It is important. Stop resisting.
The author, Tim Harford, is an economist, but he looks at research from neuroscience, psychology, social science, and examples of people who did extraordinary things in messy and chaotic ways.
Some qualities that we value – creativity, responsiveness, resilience – seem to require a degree of disorder, confusion, and disarray.
This messiness doesn’t have to be visible, like that pile of stuff on and around your desk. Think about how unexpected changes of plans and unplanned events can generate new ideas and opportunities. Yes, these things can also make you anxious and angry, but you need to let that part go.
The book (and the podcast for the not-lazy but more aural learners) can help you stop underestimating the value of disorder. I’m typing this on the couch surrounded by unread magazines and notes for things I want to write and the remains of breakfast – and I feel fine.
Did you know that you have a chronotype? Did you know that there was such a thing as a chronotype? This weekend I’m thinking, like many of you, about the new year. I’m not making any new resolutions because I have plenty of past ones that were never resolved to keep me busy for a lifetime.
But today I am considering that part of my problem might be not knowing the best time to do things. I mean from the best time to have my coffee, to the best time to go for my exercise walk, to the best time to have sex. The answers vary according to your body’s chronotype.
You can find lots of self-help advice out there about WHAT to do and HOW to do it, but not much about WHEN to do it.
The when part has to do with your biology, hormones and the circadian rhythms of your body clock.
In the book, The Power of When by Michael Breus, you can “Discover Your Chronotype–and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More.”
I’m not sure you can confirm all those times so easily, but it is certainly interesting to take his quick online quiz and see what chronotype you are supposed to be.
Are you a Bear, Lion, Dolphin or Wolf? Once you know, you can do some lifehacking on when to do different activities. I came out as a Dolphin.
Your chronotype is your biological clock. It is when your body naturally wants to do things like sleep, eat, exercise and work. Most of us fight our body’s internal clock because we follow the unnatural clocks and schedules that tell us it’s time for breakfast, time to go to work, time to get to sleep.
Circadian rhythm is your body’s 24-hour timekeeper. It regulates not only sleep but also body temperature, hormone levels, blood flow, and gut bacteria. It also ebbs and flows, so certain tasks done at certain hours will yield better results.
I have a habit of taking my prescription drugs in the morning, but it may be better to do it before I go to sleep. I don’t take any cholesterol drugs but they work better before bed because that’s when the liver also starts breaking down cholesterol, and the drugs can work in tandem with the body. It seems that blood pressure pills may have more impact at night because some people with hypertension don’t experience a natural dip in blood pressure when they sleep.
Your chronotype can shift as you age. No chronotype is “better” than any other and some things are shared across types. For example, when it comes to romance, for all chronotypes, 11 am to 2 pm is when bonding hormones are at their lowest. Forget that lunch date. Go for the dinner hours.
According to a study Breus cites, most people have sex between 11 pm and 1 am and that is the worst possible time. Late at night, levels of sleep-inducing melatonin rise and testosterone is at its lowest. When you wake up, testosterone levels are at their peak. Breus says, “I’d love for everyone to make a point of having Saturday-morning sex.” Set a reminder for next weekend.
Some of his advice I have heard before. For a long time I had heard that because we are more insulin-resistant after 3 pm,we don’t efficiently convert sugar to energy, and instead store it as fat. So, you should eat your big meal earlier as often as you can. Of course, that doesn’t fit in well with most working folks.
Of the four chronotypes (Dolphin, Lion, Bear, and Wolf), most people fit into the “Bear” category.
I haven’t tested the chronotypes theories out yet (New Year?) but you can take a start by taking Breus’s quick chronotype quiz to find out which one you are.
For Dolphin me I’m going to think about whether or not:
- My most creative time of day is between 10:00am and noon.
- My 4 key personality traits are: cautiousness, introversion, neuroticism, intelligence
- and my 4 key behaviors are: avoiding risky situations, striving for perfection, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, fixating on details.
- I already know that my “Sleep/Alertness Pattern” is that I usually wake up feeling unrefreshed (sleep apnea too) and I get an energy boost late in the evening.
- I’m supposed to be most productive: in spurts throughout the day.
- I agree that when it comes to naps, I try to catch up on sleep but can’t quite make it happen.
- My fellow dolphins are unihemispheric sleepers – one half of the brain shuts down while the other half stays alert. Not a bad thing if you want to prevent drowning and being eaten by predators, but a drag for those of us who are land dwellers in houses. Dolphins lie awake thinking about mistakes they’ve made. Sometimes we don’t know whether or not we actually slept at all.
I like those watery dolphins, but I’m not thrilled about being one. So long, and thanks for all the fish.
My first association if I hear “Norwegian wood” is the 1965 Beatles song on Rubber Soul. That album, and particularly “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” made a big impression on me when it was released.
My second association is a novel I read back in 2000: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. At the start of that novel, the protagonist hears an orchestral cover of the Beatles’ song and it sends him to a place of loss, nostalgia, and back to the 1960s. I checked back on the book before I wrote here and discovered that the book’s original Japanese title, Noruwei no Mori, is how the Beatles song is translated and that it means more of a Norwegian forest (a wood) rather than wood as in furniture (which is what the song implies).
Mori or forest is the closer association in my third and newest association with Norwegian wood. This is the title of a Scandinavian publishing phenomenon that is not a Stieg Larsson thriller, but a kind of handbook for chopping, stacking and burning wood.
I first heard about this book on a podcast at the start of the year, but I only recently encountered the book on my local library’s shelf. Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way by Lars Mytting is a bestseller in Norway, Sweden and Britain.
It is ostensibly advice on how to heat your home with wood. But the way that it goes into the history and details of the very old traditions for cutting and stacking wood and our more primal passion for open fires, seems to have moved people beyond a how-to or DIY book to viewing it as a kind of book of practical philosophy.
I have skimmed the book and learned about Scandinavian culture and more about the chopping, stacking and drying processes than I probably need. My home did have a wood stove years ago, but we got rid of it when my sons first came into our lives – fears of burns. I have a firepit now and I readily admit to really enjoying making a fire and sitting next to it with a drink and just staring at the flames.
But how does a book about chopping and burning wood become a bestseller? How many of you reading this have a desire to learn how to build a smokeless fire? It seems that the appeal is at least half in the parts that are less about making that fire. For example, he offers advice about choosing a husband based on his wood pile.
“It’s a very common thing among older Norwegian men to create this enormous monument of firewood that outlives them, and also a very nice heritage that they leave behind.” With a bit of woodpile envy in mind, size matters and so does creating a “sculptural stack.” In Scandinavia, local papers run competitions to find the best woodpiles.
Lars Mytting covers all the phases through gathering the wisdom of growers, choppers, stackers and burners. He covers the science of tree culture and of combustion. I suppose there is some “renewable energy” interest in all this, though fires are quite polluting, especially if built poorly.
I think the real bestseller broader appeal is more of a meditation on the human instinct for survival, and a call back to some part of us that has mostly died out. These ideas might rekindle a spark of the neolithic you hiding inside.
Who doesn’t love sitting by a campfire or fireplace? We even get into fake fireplaces and flames and have watched a Yule log burning on video. A Norwegian television program based on the book aired in 2013 and they followed the show with a six-hour video of an open fire in a hut. Along the way, it had a million people tuned in. People were live-tweeting the logs burning and commenting that it was time to get on a new log, or suggesting they add more spruce or birch.
Lars Mytting was born in Fåvang, Norway in 1968. His “definitive wood-cutting bible” is a good fireside read as we enter late fall and winter and fireplace season.
I am more of what Mytting calls an “armchair wood chopper” as I don’t go out in the woods with an axe or keep a stack in the backyard. But, as the author’s neighbor told him, “a wood fire is about so much more than heat.” Luckily, my Paradelle neighborhood never gets down to the -30C mark, but I get great comfort from the firepit even on a cool 70F summer night, and I love the smell of fresh-cut wood.
And I still want to cut logs and build a little cabin one day. It will have to have a little wood stove or fireplace too.
The scent of fresh wood
is among the last things you will forget
when the veil falls.
The scent of fresh white wood
in the spring sap time
as though life itself walked by you,
with dew in its hair.
– Hans Børli
About 10 years ago, I read a book called Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities. Place-based learning is an educational philosophy. It is also known as (or is related to) pedagogy of place, place-based education, experiential education, community-based education, education for sustainability and environmental education.
The term Place-based Education was coined in the early 1990s by Laurie Lane-Zucker of The Orion Society and Dr. John Elder of Middlebury College. Orion’s early work in the area of place-based education was funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and I received a grant from the Dodge back then to do a project with a community and elementary school in New Jersey using this philosophy.
Back when I was teaching in a middle school and working on that grant, I had used another book by him, Mapmaking with Children. It’s definitely related and concerned with having kids get a better “sense of place” for their community.
I’m a map fan and for me this is more than geography education. You can work with kids and start with mapping close to home in their known world. Then it can “zoom out” to nearby neighborhoods, bordering towns and beyond. I saw this as visual literacy and critical thinking.
I know that many educators use it along with community projects involving the environment or service projects. In the project I did for that grant, we had set one of the goals to be having every kid work with at least one parent closely and we did a day of field trips around the town and area with them,
I saw the mapping as way beyond a social studies class. I had a lot of fun having students make maps of imaginary places and setting from books they were reading.
Place-based education is more aimed at solving community problems. It uses the students’ local community as one of the primary resources for learning – the unique local history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place. The community can be just the school grounds or the town.
You might zoom out later but at the start it is definitely better o zoom in on the community rather than national or global issues. Think global, act local.
Kids always liked that this was very much hands-on learning, project-based learning, and involved getting out of the classroom.
More recently I saw an article on place-based learning that got me thinking about this again. This idea of community as classroom and learning that engages students in solving real problems in the community is still very valid. Even more important to me is the idea of place.
You can easily imagine a nearby woods or river as a classroom for science. What about using it for writing poetry or for a math lesson? Getting away from just using textbooks and worksheets is probably more of a challenge for teachers than for students.
Sobel has kept the philosophy moving forward and he consults and speaks on child development and place-based education for schools. He has authored seven books on children and nature. Perhaps his best known book is Beyond Ecophobia.
That article mentioned above is by Bernard Bull and he suggests six starting points for using place including thinking beyond the “field trip (something that is often not feasible for teachers to consider these days anyway) and building a community network of groups and people in the community who own or work in places that align with the curriculum.
Place-based learning didn’t take a real grip on education when it first was promoted, but I think it has so many possibilities for dropping the many walls, literal and figurative, that hold back innovation in education.
And this is certainly an approach that parents can take with their kids, even if the schools are not willing to take on the challenge.
This article first appeared at ronkowitz.wordpress.com