Stumbling Into Stoicism
In which Dr. Andy compares himself to Aretha Franklin
I seem to have stumbled into Stoicism.
The most-consumed Stoicism-booster these days is Ryan Holiday, author of the books with the titles The Obstacle is the Way, Ego is the Enemy, and, this year, Courage is Calling. Holiday must be working through the holidays in order to publish a new book every year. This list of “don’ts” gives you a sense of what he means by Stoicism:
7 Stoic DON’Ts:
1. Don’t be overheard complaining...even to yourself
2. Don’t talk more than you listen
3. Don’t tie your identity to things you own
4. Don’t compare yourself to others
5. Don’t suffer imagined troubles
6. Don't judge others
7. Don’t overindulge in food or drink
As perceptive readers will be able to track from what I write below, I attempt to follow these precepts, though with varying success. The first, about complaining, is my favorite. The poet Randall Jarrell once quipped, “The people who live in a golden age usually go around complaining how yellow everything looks.” This is how Doris Day put it: “Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.” People who spend their time complaining that they have no friends need not ask why.
My newfound love of audiobooks, the end of my live Pub Quiz, and an extended Covid hiatus from my radio show have helped me adhere to the second precept: “Don’t talk more than you listen.” Just this morning, an absent colleague asked me to chair a meeting he was due to run not because I was the most qualified to do so, but because he knows that I love chairing things (though not departments).
We all have to prioritize. John Lennon said, “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace.” With this quotation in mind, I would love to think of myself only as a peace-loving anti-materialist, but I just noticed that there are items in my Amazon cart. With regard to Holiday’s third precept, I tie my identity in part to my “ownership” of our French bulldog. Her name is Margot, and strangers can’t get over how affectionate she is, and how expressive her face is. I figure that somehow these qualities reflect well on my wife Kate and myself, to have raised such a dog. It helps that French bulldogs come this way.
Although Margot almost never barks, lately as part of my son Truman’s bedtime routine, I have taught Margot how to vocalize. I ask her to “SPEAK,” she does, and then we shower her with affection as if she had just learned how to conjugate the French verb blablater. After playing this game for a few minutes, Margot is always proud of herself, and exhausted. Like a princess who refuses to give up all the trappings of her office, Margot proceeds through life from one nap, from one snuggle, to another. She is our domestic bodhisattva, compassionately privileging our happiness over any other concern.
Speaking of religious concerns, Aretha Franklin is singing the Marvin Gaye song “Wholy Holy” in my ears. Her voice is transcendent. I’m comfortable with the fact that I will never be able to sing like Aretha. Of course, I don’t know that she was particularly talented at writing trivia questions about Ukrainian pumpkin production trends. We all have our strengths.
Check out this paragraph from Tuesday’s New York Times: “Battered by a major storm, Sacramento on Sunday logged its wettest day since record-keeping began in the 1800s. Eight days prior, Sacramento broke a different record — the longest dry spell in the city's history, with 212 days without rain. It's a study in contrasts playing out across California.”
When it comes to suffering imagined troubles, I have found that neither the extended drought nor the recent record-breaking deluge was as bad as we could have imagined. Of course, maybe it’s easy for the guy with the new (or “newish,” as the real estate listings sometimes put it) roof to be talking so complacently. This morning, beholding the new lake in our back yard, we turned off our sprinklers.
With my PhD in English, I was trained to judge words – and the sentences, paragraphs, and books that they constitute – but I’ve learned to excuse myself from departmental conversations in which people merely gossip about others. I’d rather sit down with a good book or take a long Arboretum walk with my wife Kate. Life’s too short to track others’ peccadillos, much less spend time faulting them for their various offenses and infringements. If you are willing to listen, Aretha is always calling.
With regard to food and drink, I’ve been tracking my macros and letting my phone count my steps. If I did any of this accurately, I would be losing at least a pound a week. The scale says I have been losing closer half an ounce a week, meaning that I will be reaching my target weight around the time that I drive my current Davis Senior High sophomore off to college.
This season, this stoic dad won’t be stealing Halloween candy, but I may be eyeing a second piece of pumpkin pie. How about you?
Thanks to the teams that offer sustaining support of the Pub Quiz and these weekly newsletters, including the Original Vincibles, Quizimodo, and The Outside Agitators. You should form / found / or find a team so that you have a reason to gather with your friends. Memberships that get you the weekly quiz (31 questions a week!) start at just $10 a month. Don’t let only the lucky teams have all the fun! See Patreon for details.
P.S. Locals will want to see the Davis Senior High production of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors that opens this Friday. The show opens Friday, October 29th at 7:30. My son Truman plays Antipholus of Ephesus!
Here’s what I found in today’s Blue Devil Bulletin: “DHS theatre’s fall play, The Comedy of Errors, has performances from October 29-30 ,and on November
4-6th at 7:30p.m. **On the 31st there is a matinee at 2:30p.m. Visit the Blue Devil online store for tickets. Prices: Students $8 and Adults $12
* Proof of a negative Covid test in 72 hours before the show is needed in order to attend.”
P.P.S. Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:
Film. What actor appeared in Enemy at the Gates in 2001, Road to Perdition in 2002, Cold Mountain in 2003, and The Aviator in 2004?
Countries of the World. The smallest Asian country is also the lowest-lying country in the world. What do we call this chain of islands?
The Last Presidio. The last and only Presidio in California to have an active military installation is the home of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. About a three-hour drive from Davis, California, name the city where this Presidio is found.
Happy Halloween! Slow down and stay safe. Also, Happy Belated Birthday to Catriona McPherson, a devoted patron of these newsletters.