So a billion years ago I set out on a mission to be the best version of myself by pursuing what the Greeks called arete which loosely translates to excellence in all things. Broadly speaking it’s being excellent in all the ways a person can be excellent mentally, physically, intellectually, spiritually and practically.

I have to confess though, I let the Matrix get the better of me. I plugged in, became one of “them” and lost sight of what I am about and what I want to achieve.

Luckily, Morpheus found me and I am unplugged again, but I’m going to have to rebuild the parts of my mind I haven’t used for a while.

Which brings me to Isaac Watts…

One of the most popular and prolific Christian hymn writers of all time — including Joy to the World — was a man named Isaac Watts, who lived in England in the late 17th and early 18th century. Watts was a well educated Nonconformist (in the religious sense, not the modern one) who, along with his hymn writing, published a number of books on logic, science, and the learning process, at a time when these concepts were only just starting to grab hold as a dominant ideology, replacing the central role of religious teaching.

Watts wrote a book called Improvement of the Mind. And in this book he shared a set of general rules for the improvement of knowledge. Although written in the 18th century, these rules can still be applied today.

So here are the rules:

Rule I. DEEPLY possess your mind with the vast importance of a good judgment, and the rich and inestimable advantage of right reasoning.

Rule II. Consider the weaknesses, frailties, and mistakes of human nature in general, which arise from the very constitution of a soul united to an animal body, and subjected to many inconveniences thereby.

Rule III. A slight view of things so momentous is not sufficient.

Rule IV. Presume not too much upon a bright genius, a ready wit, and good parts; for this, without labour and study, will never make a man of knowledge and wisdom.

Rule V. As you are not to fancy yourself a learned man because you are blessed with a ready wit; so neither must you imagine that large and laborious reading, and a strong memory, can denominate you truly wise.

Rule VI. Be not so weak as to imagine, that a life of learning is a life of laziness and ease;

Rule VII. Let the hope of new discoveries, as well as the satisfaction and pleasure of known trains, animate your daily industry.

Rule VIII. Do not hover always on the surface of things, nor take up suddenly with mere appearances; but penetrate into the depth of matters, as far as your time and circumstances allow, especially in those things which relate to your own profession.

Rule IX. Once a day, especially in the early years of life and study, call yourselves to an account what new ideas, what new proposition or truth you have gained, what further confirmation of known truths, and what advances you have made in any part of knowledge.

Rule X. Maintain a constant watch at all times against a dogmatical spirit.

Rule XI. Though caution and slow assent will guard you against frequent mistakes and retractions; yet you should get humility and courage enough to retract any mistake, and confess an error.

Rule XII. He that would raise his judgment above the vulgar rank of mankind, and learn to pass a just sentence on persons and things, must take heed of a fanciful temper of mind, and a humorous conduct in his affairs.

Rule XIII. For the same reason have a care of trifling with things important and momentous, or of sporting with things awful and sacred: do not indulge a spirit of ridicule, as some witty men do on all occasions and subjects.

Rule XIV. Ever maintain a virtuous and pious frame of spirit: for an indulgence of vicious inclinations debases the understanding, and perverts the judgment.

Rule XV. Watch against the pride of your own reason, and a vain conceit of your own intellectual powers, with the neglect of divine aid and blessing.

Rule XVI. Offer up therefore your daily requests to God, the father of lights, that he would bless all your attempts and labours in reading, study, and conversation.

You can read the full set of rules here.

Or you can buy a copy of Improvement of the Mind.

The heavy rain has us all inside. There’s only one thing to do is this circumstance and that’s tweak the blog because we have to stay relevant right?  So I’m experiment with a couple of  live blogging applications.  One from 24LiveBlog and the other (out of date, but hopefully still works) by Chris Northwood called Live Blogging.

Why am I doing this, I hear you ask.  Well I want to add an element of curation to the blog.  My current solution has been to use Tumblr or my Facebook Fan Page to curate interesting things I find on the web that I don’t quite want to turn into a full blog post.  I’ve seen a couple of other blogs that embed curation into a single blog post on their site. I like the idea of that so I went hunting for a solution.

I tried 24LiveBlog first.  It wasn’t quite what I was looking for.  I think it’ll be perfect for actually live-blogging an event, but as a curation format, not so much.

Which brings us to this post, which I am creating using Chris Northwood’s Live Blogging plugin for WordPress.

Speaking of staying relevant…

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Teenagers, of which I have two, do some crazy things in an effort to stay clued in and relevant amongst their peers.  And unfortunately some of their antics get played out on social media.  Fear not, here’s the definitive teenager’s guide to social media don’ts.

Ok, so there’s the first link in this chain done.  I’m going to follow the rest of the steps to turn this ordinary WordPress post into a live-blogging post.

[liveblog]

“Rejoice young man in your youth…”

I remember reading that quote on the big screen as the music fired up at the start of Oliver Stone’s, Platoon. I was cadet candidate for West Point at the time. On one side of me sat my buddy Sean, a short blonde kid from Pennsylvania. On the other side of me was Bill, a tall dark haired boy from somewhere I can’t recall. We all wanted to be infantry officers. Going to see Platoon was suppose to be a motivational hoorah hoorah thing, but by the end of the film we were speechless. What had we gotten ourselves into? War is a nasty business.

The rest of that quote says “…and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgement for all these things.”

I’m in a foul mood this evening. Work has been slow. The rental property people have been squabbling over a few pennies. And now God, it seems, has it in for me for things I did in my youth.

I’m suppose to be writing about wonder, an emotion that some say is one of our most important emotions. Others, of course, say, wonder is a childish emotion that we outgrow. Adam Smith, the 18th century moral philosopher, defined wonder as ‘when something quite new and singular is presented… [and] memory cannot, from all its stores, cast up any image that nearly resembles this strange appearance — that staring, and sometimes that rolling of the eyes, that suspension of the breath, and that swelling of the heart’.

I’m trying to recall when the last time I gazed upon something in wonderment in the way that Adam Smith describes. Probably the last time was in Snowdonia National Park. Even though I’ve been there numerous times, I still find something in the Welsh mountains that causes me to stop and say wow!

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But holding strictly to Smith’s definition, I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen something so different that I could not recall from my memory stores something that resembled what I was seeing. Am I just getting old? Or can it be that I’ve seen too much. My cup is full.

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1:9

The truth is, I’ve grown too comfortable. Age has nothing to do with. I’ve let myself get distracted by the mundane and the endless task of making a buck. The daily grind is a beast. And if I’m not careful, it’ll grind me to dust.

That has to end here and now.

If I follow Smith’s example, I have three ways I can re-engage my sense of wonder. I can engage the sensory, like the assault on my nose from the hot-sauce on these wings the barman just slid on table. Or I can engage the cognitive like marvelling at the technology involved in making driver-less cars. Or, I can look to the spiritual and know ( or at least take on faith) that life is so much bigger than me. My problems are not as big as I imagine them to be.

I wanted to say one other thing and that’s about curiosity. I believe curiosity and wonder go hand in hand. Curiosity is all about noticing and being drawn to things you find interesting, and in that, finding novelty and meaning in experiences, even in things that are familiar. When you are curious you see things differently.

So there it is, my mission over the next coming weeks, to regain my sense of wonder through engaging my curiosity and see things with new eyes. That’s my plan.

I’m really excited about the upcoming opening of Spa Town Comics in Leamington Spa. Now I’ll be able to get my comic fix locally.

I spoke to the owners of Spa Town Comics, Lisa-Marie Nelson and Dan Mailler:

spa town comics

Details
What: Spa Town Comics grand opening
When: Saturday, 3 September 2016
Where: Lower floor, The Royal Priors, Leamington Spa
Time: 9AM – 5.30PM

Links
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/spatowncomics/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/SpaTownComics

The title is taken from a H.L. Mencken essay. He was writing about notable Baltimore cops. He used the line to describe his youth and I’m borrowing it now by way of nodding to my own youth.  My 48th birthday has gently come and gone.

I had lunch with one of my bros. His birthday is the day before mine. He says he uses his birthday as a time to re-evaluate his goals, to check in and see how his life is different or not from the year before. I’ve kind of fallen out of the habit of re-assessing big life goals. I’m happier these days just to drift like one might do on a lazy summer afternoon in a canoe down a meandering river.

I could ask myself the big life questions, but I am of no mind to. My life is what it is in the here and now. That’s not to say that my life is perfect or anything. In fact, it’s far from it. But then, what is the perfect life? Does such a thing exist?

These days I live my life much like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I cross my bridges when I come to them and burn them behind me, with nothing to show for my progress except the memory of the smell of smoke, and the presumption that once my eyes watered.

That’s not as bleak as it may sound. In fact, it’s liberating. I’m mostly free of remorse, nostalgia, anxiety and hope. And being free of these awful things allows me to experience life as it unfolds before me.  Occasionally I slip into one of those four states. But then, like Dorothy, I click my heels three times.

Be here NOW.  Be here NOW.  Be here NOW.

Let the drama go.

Most of the people around me seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere.  I have to fight the urge to be another lemming in this suicidal race.  It’s funny, our relationship with time.  There’s a great tendency for us to want to speed time up or slow it down.  And sometimes, even to reverse it.  Logically we know we can’t. Yet we waste a ton of present time trying to do it anyway.  It’s the curse of being a domesticated primate with a capacity to imagine something that doesn’t exist.  And not only to imagine it, but to be consumed by the feelings as if what’s in our imagination is real.

I’ve lingered on this subject too long.  Time to go do something real like push a stupid amount of weight off of my chest.

Chow.


Notes
The actual line spoken by Guildenstern in the Tom Stoppard play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is: “We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except the memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.”

I have a habit of saying yes, sometimes without thinking.

That’s how I found myself being shoved a pair of baby blue socks with the word Airhop printed on them in pink.  I then sat through a safety briefing that encouraged us to have fun at the same time reminding us that said fun could potentially end in serious injury or even death.  The last time I had a safety briefing like that, I was jumping out of an airplane at 13, 200 feet.

We were in Bristol at the world’s largest Trampoline Park.

My daughter thought it would be a fun thing to do while we were all down in Bristol.  I wasn’t so sure.  How much jumping can you do for an hour? Well, it turns out loads.  And it’s tiring. And it’s fun.  And if you’re an old fogey like me, you’re guaranteed to be sore the next day.

There are a variety of activities to do from obstacle jump to dodge ball to jousting to basketball and pit diving.

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You can get your bounce on.

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I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this, but in the end I did.  It was great fun and most definitely a workout.  I was thoroughly beat at the end of the hour. I had to crawl back to the car.  When I got home, I collapsed.

Next time I might pay more attention to the questions my daughter yells from her room in the late evening of a random Thursday.

As I sit listening to these tunes, I realise they are all pretty intense in subject matter. I know it’s Friday and usually folks pop in the party mix, but if you find yourself with a spare hour and you’re looking for an intense ride, then this is the playlist for you.

1. Prostitute – Guns ‘N Roses

The last song on the Chinese Democracy album, possibly my favourite track of them all.

What would you say
If I told you that I’m to blame?
And what would you do
If I had to deny your name?
Where would you go if I told you
I love you
And then walked away?
N’ who should I turn to
If not for the ones
You could not save

Awesome!

2. Like a Stone – Audioslave

I love everything about this song, the drums, the bass, the awesome guitar solo and the lyrics.

On a cobweb afternoon in a room full of emptiness
By a freeway, I confess I was lost in the pages
Of a book full of death, reading how we’ll die alone
And if we’re good, we’ll lay to rest anywhere we want to go

3. Shake Me Down – Cage the Elephant

Pretty melancholy stuff, but it reminds to appreciate the people in my life now and to appreciate my life as it now, no time for wistful thinking about the past or wishful thinking about some distant future.

4. Stuck – The Heavy:

Love, man,  is brutal.  This song speaks to those trying to hang on to a relationship that has clearly run it’s course, but one person doesn’t want to let go. Don’t put this track on if you’re in that position now or you’ll just cry.

And I don’t know if I can do it by myself
I just feel like I’m responsible
And I don’t know if I can do it by myself
I feel loved but I’m not capable
And how can I breath
Till you make your mind up
How can I think of leaving you when

I’m stuck

5. Undisclosed Desires – Muse

I love just turning this track up and dancing to it with my eyes closed.

I want to reconcile the violence in your heart
I want to recognise your beauty is not just a mask
I want to exorcise the demons from your past
I want to satisfy the undisclosed desires in your heart

6. The Great Beyond – R.E.M.

I wonder if they are any answers in the great beyond. I’d like to think so, but sometimes I’m not so sure.

I’m breaking through
I’m bending spoons
I’m keeping flowers in full bloom
I’m looking for answers from the great beyond

7. One Last Breath – Creed

Please come now I think I’m falling
I’m holding on to all I think is safe
It seems I found the road to nowhere
And I’m trying to escape
I yelled back when I heard thunder
But I’m down to one last breath

8. Darkness on the Edge of Town – Bruce Springsteen

I think might possibly be my all time favourite Springsteen song, but ask me tomorrow and I’d probably tell you a different song. The Boss just has so many great tracks.

Tonight I’ll be on that hill cause I can’t stop
I’ll be on that hill with everything I got
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost
I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town

9. Unconsolable – X Ambassadors

Another one of those intense tracks for me that merit closed eyes and swaying body.

I hope we stay
Thick as thieves, butter and bread
Pillars of colonial homes
And I wish I could shout you out
False start
Don’t get your cane caught in the cracks
Buckle your seatbelts, polluting the airwaves
Single and lonely

10. Police Station – Red Hot Chili Peppers

I saw you on a TV station and it made me want to pray
An empty shell of loveliness is now dusted with decay
What happened to the funny paper?
Smiling was your money maker
Someone ought to situate her
Find a way to educate her
All the way, time to come and find you
You can’t hide from me girl, so never mind what I do

11. Astral Weeks – Van Morrison

I put this one last so you can drift away on a slipstream between the viaducts of your dreams. Enjoy.

If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dream
Where immobile steel rims crack
And the ditch in the back roads stop

Here’s the full playlist on Spotify: