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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!
No doubt you have heard the expression that “less is more.” It’s a good line to use on kids and ask them why that might be true, but I would say that most people today would disagree. “More is more” is probably closer to the thinking of 2010.
Less is more is the proposal that we need to live more simply. It might be that having less material or outer wealth is the way towards increased inner wealth. Simplicity. Less stuff, less work, less stress, less debt as a way to more time, more satisfaction, more balance, and more security.
I thought about that aphorism because I came across a book called Less is More by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska. It is an essay collection from a number of writers that embrace the simple living movement. Oh yes, it is a movement. It’s not just something you decided to do one weekend or as your New Year’s resolution.
Simple living (also referred to as voluntary simplicity) is a lifestyle characterized by consuming only that which is required to sustain life. Adherents may choose simple living for a variety of personal reasons – spirituality, health, increase in time for family and friends, reducing their personal ecological footprint, stress reduction, personal taste, frugality or socio-political goals such as conservation, degrowth, social justice, ethnic diversity and sustainable development.
Not all people who embrace simple living have such lofty goals. Less is More is sub-titled Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness and it offers a balance of essays from the saving-the-planet approach to the simplify-your-own-life-for-yourself idea.
You don’t necessarily have to sell your home and buy a farm, become poor, live in a cabin with no electricity or travel the roads with just the clothing on your back. You might just feel like you have come down with some affluenza.
affluenza -1. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. (de Graaf) 2. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth. (PBS)
Downshifting might be the gentler way for you to start a less is more approach to your life. In downshifting, individuals live simpler lives and try to find a better balance between leisure and work. It’s different from voluntary simplicity because of its focus on moderate change and concentration on an individual comfort level.
Tracey Smith is the founder of International Downshifting Week downshiftingweek.com which is the official website for their ongoing awareness campaign.
Maybe you simplify just one part of your life. A good friend of mine who was also a teaching colleague has gone through a long, painful divorce. He continued to teach and he tried to simplify that. He continued to meditate. In fact, I think that took on a new intensity. But, most interestingly to me, he started working on an organic farm.
He didn’t have any real experience other than the backyard gardening. An observer might say that this new commitment was making his life less simple by adding responsibilities and time away from his children. But that’s not the way it has gone. The farm has become his sanctuary. Meditation and work have a very natural connection.
He’s not alone. The World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (AKA Willing Workers on Organic Farms) (WWOOF) is a loose network of organizations in the United States and internationally which facilitate the placement of volunteers on organic farms.
I have had a printed sign over my home desk that says “Simplify your life” for eight years, but I still haven’t totally succeeded.
My approach has been the same as when I thought twenty years ago that I might attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. I did the research. I joined a hiking club and went out every weekend and started building up my endurance. But I had two young children at home. I had my job (though teaching, I did have my summers off). It was unrealistic. So, I went on a simpler path (no pun intended). I divided the AT into sections. (see my post tomorrow for a bit more on that)
I probably will never hike every section of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. That’s okay.
I love to take photographs. I love to paint and draw. I will never master either art. Sometimes the best thing I can do is to take something I see or photographed and simplify it to a drawing or painting.
Oversimplification is not a good thing, but taking parts of this complex life we live and making them comprehensible, tolerable, even enjoyable, is a good thing.
There is a Japanese cultural habit of healthy eating called hara hachi bu, which means eat only until you are 80% full (literally, “stomach 80%”).
That is probably easier to follow in Japan where portions are generally much smaller than in the U.S. and the pace of eating is also slower. (Using chopsticks would certainly slow me down.)
One thing it does not mean in Japan is leaving a fifth of your meal on the plate, since it is bad form to leave food on your plate. Food is often served “family style” and you take only what you need, eat slowly and stop before you are full.
Stopping at 80% is a good way to avoid obesity without going hungry. The stomach’s stretch receptors take about 20 minutes to tell the brain that it is full. That’s why you probably feel really full about 20 minutes after you stop eating.
Hara hachi bu is discussed in a popular diet book called The Okinawa Diet Plan: Get Leaner, Live Longer, and Never Feel Hungry It’s based on a traditional Okinawa diet which emphasizes vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes (soy foods) and fish, and it limits meats. Many people see the diet as a a model for healthy eating and healthy aging.
Keeping that number 80 in mind, look at some health statistics for Okinawa that I found: heart disease rates are 80% lower than the U.S; the rate of stroke is also lower and cholesterol levels are typically under 180. their rates of cancer are 50-80% lower – especially for breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancers.
When I started searching online for more information on this 80% rule, I came across a blog post that wondered if this principle could relate to other aspects of life. The blogger (who writes about business presentations) related it to the length of a good speech, presentation, and even business meetings. He says:
“My advice is this: no matter how much time you are given, never ever go over time, and in fact finish a bit before your allotted time is up. How long you go will depend on your own unique situation at the time but try to shoot for 80-90% of your allotted time. No one will complain if you finish with a few minutes to spare. The problem with most presentation is that they are too long, not too short. Performers, for example, know that the trick is to leave the stage while the audience still loves you and don’t want you to go, not after they have had enough and are “full” of you.”
Does hara hachi bu relate to anything in your life?
I can certainly see situations where I would NOT want it to be a guiding philosophy. For example, I wouldn’t want my students giving 80% of their effort.
In this current economic downturn, perhaps it makes sense for all of us to use the principle in situations like our spending. Maybe, as with food, you only need to buy 80% of what you think you need in clothing, dining out, travel and non-essentials. Spend only 80%, save 20%. Donate 20% to charity.
Maybe we need to focus on that 20%. Give 20% of your free time as a community volunteer?
The diet is a good idea and a worthwhile pursuit. Any other suggestions about how to apply this principle to living?