Theodore is Seven Months

I’m back!!! Yes, I took a few weeks off from writing and many of you have messaged me about my tumbleweed blog. The lapse in posts was due to a few key factors – burnout, physical therapy, and my son. First off, the burn out was related to sleep deprivation and a general malaise in respects to the merit of writing posts. After a lot of soul searching, I renewed my commitment to SAPERE AUDE and its quest for wisdom. Secondly, I took a break because my physical therapy – which has been three times a week for the past four months – left me little time to write. Some will remember the post about my ailments but as a quick refresher, I have tingling in my hands, legs, and face. For a while, medical science scratched its head at my condition – not anymore! I now know that my tingling stems from a back injury I received almost five years ago – for a long time doctors thought the tingling was from anxiety, MS, neuropathy, B12 deficiency, and even stress-induced by my wife :). Now that we know for sure the cause of my problem, I have significantly improved through specific exercise routines, medical massage, and non-invasive laser therapy. My tingling is at an all-time low and I really appreciate the prayers and thoughts. On an average day, I commit four hours of my day to physical therapy, stretching, and exercise. Those four hours are required and I have to sacrifice other things like writing or reading to make up the time. Hence, I have had to make some changes and this brings me to my third factor in being absent – my Theodore.

Theodore is now seven months old and is more precious to me than ever before. When I was first beginning this journey, fatherhood was more theoretical than practical. I couldn’t connect with Teddy because all he did was cry and suck on my wife’s breast. Now though, Teddy and I can actually bond. He smiles at me. He laughs with me. He even walks around with me – through the assistance of a rolling walker. We aren’t at the point of tossing a ball with each other or discussing the Russian Revolution…but we are one step closer. To put it generally, Teddy now has a unique personality that grows each and every day. He is more interactive mentally and physically; we are about two weeks out from him learning to crawl and us having to childproof the house. He doesn’t cry constantly anymore and can entertain himself for a half-hour at a time. As I write these words, he is rolling around and making bubble noises. A month ago, I would have stopped ten times to console him while I wrote this paragraph – now he just smiles at me and tries to roll over the Chihuahua. The best measure of my bonding with Teddy is evidenced by my desire for more kids – just yesterday my wife and I had a conversation about trying for another baby. We are probably a few months from that point yet but it does explain the climate of my life. Not everything is baby heaven at the Oldham’s. Just last week my beautiful son awoke from his slumber with poop halfway up his back. My wife and I had to literally hose him off – in the process, I got both poop and water all over my clothes. As another example, just a couple of sentences ago I wrote that he was smiling…now he is crying his head off – the changes in his temperament are drastic, to say the least. Overall though, the fact that I am posting this blog is a sign of improvement for my sanity, my health, and my fathering ability. I will begin to post weekly again about my books and my lessons from life’s many curveballs.

Alexander the Exceptional

It’s been a while since I posted about my reading because of my son’s birth and all the complexities that come with a newborn. However, there is no need to panic because I am still keeping up with my daily page goals. My current project is Tackle the Library – Aristotle – the completion date is scheduled for June 12th. Aristotle is the peanut butter to the jelly of Plato – both philosophers form the bedrock of Western thought. To better understand Aristotle, it is essential to decipher his teachings within the context of ancient culture. One way of understanding that context was through my most recent book – Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman. Alexander the Great was the student of Aristotle for three years, and during that time he learned about medicine, philosophy, morals, religion, logic, and art; a breadth of study that led him to be one of the greatest kings of all time.

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Alexander was born in 356 BC to the then Macedonian ruler, King Philip. Macedonia was a northern state of the Greek peninsula and was looked down upon by the more cultured city of Athens. King Philip expanded his territory through an advanced fighting force and paved the way for his son’s conquests. Alexander took over the throne at age 20 after his father was assassinated by a jealous male lover. The young king quickly consolidated his control of Greece and went eastward to conquer the hated Persians. Over the next ten years, Alexander traveled 11,000 miles and established the largest empire up until that point in history; at only 30 years old, he ruled the entire world from Egypt to India.

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All good things must come to an end – at 32, Alexander mysteriously died; some say it was poison while others say it was from natural illness. The death of Alexander led to the eventual decline of the Macedonian empire. Aristotle was eventually pushed out of Athenian society because of his former history with the great king. I marvel at the life of Alexander the Great because he was mature beyond his years. At 25, my average day entailed Facebook and TV. At 25, Alexander’s average day entailed riding a horse into battle and leading thousands of men to victory. I believe Aristotle played a vital role in the great king’s success; throughout Alexander’s campaign, he was concerned with the central tenets of Aristotle’s teachings: political justice, virtue, ethical leadership, and philosophical contemplation. Alexander’s success led to the founding of Alexandria in Egypt – the city became the epicenter of culture and intellectualism in the ancient world.

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For me, the story of Alexander and Aristotle points to one fundamental fact: Mentors and teachers make a big difference in a person’s life, no matter the age. I’m sure we can all think of that favorite teacher from long ago; my favorite teacher fostered a love of writing. What we must ask ourselves is whether we are a mentor in someone’s life right now? Are we passing the baton on to the next generation? Are we equipping our friends and family to live the best lives possible? How are we fostering the future Alexander the Great or even the next Alexander the Exceptional? Like the lighthouse of Alexandria and the great philosopher Aristotle, be a beacon of wisdom for the world.

 

We’re All Chihuahuas – Chapter 1, 2, 3

For those wanting to get straight to Chapter 1, 2, or 3 – scroll down. For all those new, please read on.

I am excited to announce the release of two books over the next month. The first book, which is free to download from Amazon starting Friday until Sunday (Click any hyperlink in this blog to reach the download), is titled We’re All Chihuahuas: A Shaky Dog on a Human Journey by yours truly. Below you can read the description.

“This is the story of Max the Chihuahua. It is the harrowing adventure of pleasure and pain – a journey that mirrors the winding road of our own life. It is a tale of interchange between the brain of a shaky 6-pound beast and the soul of an unsuspecting human. An epic with a most peculiar cast of characters and a most peculiar climax – which will leave you thinking – ‘We’re all Chihuahuas.'”

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Max the Chihuahua

The second book is Tackle the Library: Plato which is the second installment in the series. As a special perk to all my loyal readers, I am going to post the first three chapters of each book on this blog over the weekend (this weekend will be We’re all Chihuahuas with Plato coming in a couple of weeks). It would mean a great deal to me if you would download the book for free at this link and leave me a review. Writing is only worth doing if it helps others – I hope this book brings you insight, smiles, and happiness.

And without further adieu…

We’re All Chihuahuas

Chapter 1 – The Reciprocity of the pound

The concrete floor was chilly and damp. Almost like walking barefoot on a sidewalk after the first frost of the season. The coldness of the ground was, however, warmer than the barks heard echoing throughout the chambers. Howls that sounded ethereal and forced – the noise of desperation. It wasn’t a place one would want to be or for that matter smell. Smell is such a personal experience that it is almost impossible to translate the horrible odor that saturated every surface of this lost place. The effervescence was a mixture of wet hair garnished with fermented feces and pooling urine. Ammonia was the main ingredient permeating the air – a continual assault on the molecular bays of the noise.

If one could surmise, they may guess that this place was a men’s bathroom at a Cub’s game after a bad batch of $1 chili cheese dogs; or maybe a more macabre setting like a gas chamber after a quick cleaning. No, it was neither of these humanoid places. It was a place further down the evolutionary ladder. A place where man and beast come to stare at each other in a manner not akin to preservation like a zoo – but rather a sight similar to used merchandise – like a decaying thrift store. It was the dog pound. More specifically the Flint, Michigan dog pound built in 1949 on the very same day the Russian’s tested their first nuke – perhaps a sign that there would be many hardships to come. The founding of the “pound” – as we will call it – is not our primary focus. Our focus is its inhabitants, with one inhabitant in particular. This is the story of Max the Chihuahua; a story not about saving dogs from pounds or even canine adoption. It is a story of how one small Chihuahua changed forever in that scary place. It is the story of all of us. It is the story of interchange between the brain of a shaky 6-pound beast and the soul of an unsuspecting human.

Chapter 2 – Old School Swat

The infant years of Max are not entirely known. He was born somewhere in the hillbilly outskirts of Flint where poor whites make their nests in the hope that their 1 mile move no longer categorizes them as living in the ghetto. It almost goes without saying that Max was born in the white Juggalo region of Flint because no sane black Flintoid would want a 6-pound rat-dog to protect their home. In this district of America, there are two choices of a pet – guard dog or toy dog. The former is the choice of those who need to compensate for some Freudian love of the father and the latter is the choice of those who can’t decide on the taxonomy of their pet – should it be of the canine or ferret genus? We must assume that Max was born in a 1920’s cut-out GM working-class home which now has Craigslist furniture, a 500 lb plasma TV, and a kitchen pantry stocked with every variety of Hamburger Helper (not store brand of course). This little puppy begins his life in the heart of America and Americana – Faygo pop and failed dreams.

Little Max was loved with the utmost care and affection. His Flintbilly owners had little money to spare, but they nevertheless showered him with toys, food, and name brand Chihuahua accessories: a bone-shaped bed, Superman t-shirt, and elf costume for Christmas to name a few. He was spoiled like an only child – the beezneez of all the dogs in the neighborhood. As with all cute babies, however, there was a slight problem with his trachea. Max was a barker. His bark brought about a mild pain in the ear and was more infuriating than a toddler singing a catchy tune on the radio. Max barked because he was excited about the world and all that it had to offer. He wanted to explore. He wanted to learn. He wanted to play. Everything that Max saw he barked at because his brain thought it was a fellow friend. Someone is at the door – let me celebrate! Someone is walking around the room – let me celebrate! Someone is giving me food – let me celebrate! Max’s brain computed everything as a proverbial birthday party – a never-ending waterfall of stimulus that mimicked a baby’s first taste of chocolate cake. BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! All day and all night long.

As one could guess, Max’s barking got old real fast. His owners could never focus on reading the instructions on the box of Hamburger Helper or watch YouTube videos about Game of Thrones conspiracy theories. They were invariably trying to correct little Max’s birthday party brain. Max would actually think the yelling was a good thing as if his frustrated owners were exploding verbal streamers. Slowly but surely, Max’s owners lost patience and began to threaten him with punishments of all sorts. They would put Max in his cage; this led to more barks of excitement because it was a game of hide-and-seek. They would spray water at him every time he made a peep; this led to more yelps of excitement because it was a water park experience! They would call Max a “bad boy” and shake their finger at him; this led to more barks of excitement because his owners seemed to be dancing the Charlie Chaplin. Finally, all came to a head one day when Grandma visited. Grandma was old school and believed in corporeal punishment – the likes not seen since the firing squads of the Wild West. Granny quickly took a rolled up newspaper and swatted little Max on his skinny flank.

The second that hard paper hit Max he felt what it was like to be a supernova in the throes of morphing into a black hole. Pain shot through his small body as if it were a drug injected by an addict itching for a fix. He squealed and bolted for the safety of his once “hide and seek” haven. His demeanor was timid for the first time. His composure was broken. His soul was shaken. This swat was no mere swat; it was a jolt that taught Max that the world is full of pain. The cosmos was no longer an endless river of sparkling stimulus born from the stars to flow directly into his heart. The world was, in reality, like a boulder which one attempts to climb – all the time risking cuts, bruises, and fatal falls. As these thoughts were going through Max’s head, his body began to convert the neural impulses of anxiety into psychosomatic tremors of fear. These earthquakes manifested themselves into a phenotype most common among small dogs – constant shaking. Max couldn’t control the shaking and with each new shiver, Max was reminded of the scary experience of the swat – an experience that set his life on a whole new trajectory.

Chapter 3 – Cries of a Former Life

Grandma’s brief visit, unfortunately, turned into a permanent stay. She was losing her mind and could no longer take care of herself; often one could find her folding toilet paper or pretending to understand the plot of an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Her dementia came with auditory hallucinations and sensitivity to the slightest noise. Max soon learned that he was never safe around Granny because any peep he made would send her into terrors. The newspaper regularly met his hide for no particular reason. Sometimes Max would be quietly dreaming about something until a bolt of lightning woke him – his tired eyes beholding Granny with her newspaper. Of course, Max sometimes did deserve a swat because he began to bark as a form of revenge. He would carefully plan an escape route – gauging whether his cockroach-like body could squeeze through a space – and bark purposefully to upset Grandma. He would jolt into a crevice while curse words were hurled at him – the black and white of the paper skimming the darkness in search of flesh. It was a game of cat and mouse. Sometimes Max won, and sometimes Grandma won.

Max was testing the limits of his environment and climbing further up the craggy boulder of life. He still found enjoyment in things but his rose-tinted glasses were now binoculars – continually searching the horizon for potential danger – and possible mischief. One day this game all came crashing down. Max’s owners went out to celebrate their anniversary via breakfast at a cheap Greek diner. It was only Max and Granny at home, which meant Max had to be on his guard. Now around three years old, Max was more agile and faster than his former puppy self. It was much harder for Grandma to attack him and Max was beginning to flex his teenage ego. Like all teenagers, Max felt invincible and wanted to push barriers. Each Friday, Grandma ate two powdered donuts in remembrance of her husband who died of diabetes 20 years ago. Max knew this routine and knew that Grandma would always get up after her first powdered donut to get more coffee. With a sly position under the table, Max jumped up on the chair and sneakily grabbed the stout donut – hurriedly running behind the couch. The donut catapulted Max into a nirvana hitherto unknown. It was like the feeling one gets after not having sex for some time – the sensation almost virgin.

While Max was experiencing his pseudo-erotic moment, Grandma was coming back to the table and questioning where her donut went. Her dementia was making her question whether she had already partaken in the nostalgic treat. As if fate meant it to be, Grandma experienced a brief moment of lucidness. She knew for a fact that she had not eaten the donut and quickly spotted a trail of powdered sugar progressing towards the couch. At that very moment of following the sugar line to its terminus, Max exited his home of ecstasy looking like Rick James after a night out at the club. Both eyes met, and Max knew he only had one option – bolt to the haven of his cage. Time seemed to slow down at that instant. All sensations became piqued: The worn walls revealed new stains, the molding carpet felt extra sticky, the stale air whispered cigarette smoke and Axe Body Spray. Grandma, in a state of sheer madness, chased Max across the room and attempted to scoop him up before he escaped into the steel fortress.

Flying across the room, the two bodies synchronized with each other – Max was dumbfounded by the geriatric speed exuding from Grandma’s varicose legs. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four feet left until safety. What seemed a sure bet of escape took a turn for the worse when Max realized his blanket had been removed that morning for its weekly cleaning. Without his coverage the cage was like a fortress with no roof. At that very moment of misgiving, his owners opened the door with a large box of leftover gyro meat and a bouquet of Wal-Mart roses. The two-love birds witnessed the pursuit which was awkwardly climaxing. Max had to decide whether it was wise to enter a cage without a blanket or risk crawling into some crevice to wait out the storm. What to do? What to do? All seemed like a tangled cord of lights in Max’s brain until one knot loosened and the whole strand illuminated in tandem. The plan was to bolt through his laconic owner’s legs and catapult himself outside via the still open door. All was decided in a split second. Max weaved in between their legs and saw for the first time in his life the front yard – a small overlooked detail being that he always did his business on indoor puppy pads or his favorite spot on the shag carpet. The world was his oyster and exploration his aphrodisiac – without looking back, the cries of his former life faded in the distance.

Stay tuned for Tackle the Library – Plato later this month. Thanks again for your support. 

Emotional Vampires

Have you ever met someone who drained you emotionally? Someone who took advantage of you or left you questioning your own sanity? Or even someone who defied all your niceties and norms of social intelligence? Unfortunately, most people answer yes to these questions and admit they were the victim of an Emotional Vampire. Emotional vampires are people that don’t suck your blood but rather suck out your emotional energy. I remember interacting with an individual in college who made me want to pull my hair out – many nights I laid awake wondering if I had done something wrong and how I could protect myself from being drained. My wife actually led me to this topic by suggesting the book Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry by Albert Bernstein, Ph.D.

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Emotional Vampires are all around us, and they materialize as spouses, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers. Like the mythical Vampires in the movies, Emotional Vampires cannot see there own reflection in the mirror – oblivious to their blood-sucking personalities. These individuals do not have full-fledged personality disorders which are diagnosable; they do however have attributes which provide fangs for their emotional draining: antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and paranoid vampires are the most common. I like to think of Emotional Vampires like food sensitivities. People with peanut allergies have a diagnosed problem which could kill them; people with peanut sensitivities are bothered by peanuts, but they are not hospitalized if exposed. Using this same line of thought, a person with diagnosed Antisocial behavior needs medication and treatment. An Antisocial Vampire has “sensitivities” in comparison to the clinical diagnosis, but they still behave similarly in some degree.

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Bernstein provides several techniques for identifying and dealing with Emotional Vampires. You may know a Vampire if he or she thinks their needs are more important than yours, that the rules don’t apply to them, that it is never their fault, that they don’t need to wait for anything, and that they can get their way through throwing tantrums. This list identifies adults who are primarily toddlers when it comes to certain undesirable circumstances.  Let’s use the example of Ted and Nancy – a married couple who most of the time get along. Nancy is an OCD Vampire who continually needs order and control in her life. One weekend, Ted decided to clean the entire house and surprise Nancy with a night off from her regular routine of cleaning. Upon entering the home, Nancy says nothing and goes to the kitchen. Ted assuming that she didn’t notice – is about to bring up his hard work – when Nancy passively makes a comment about the dishes having dried on food. Ted kicks himself for not scrubbing them better and is about to bring up all the other things he cleaned when Nancy looks over at the garbage and tells Ted to take it out. Ted is frustrated at his mistakes and takes the trash to the curb; upon reentering the house he sees Nancy busily recleaning the dishes –  she grudgingly accepts Ted’s hug, but she internally scorns him as he desparingly slumps into the sofa to watch TV. 

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Emotional Vampires show their fangs when things are not going their way – which ultimately disguises their sharp weapons from most victims. The best way to combat these bloodsuckers is to not reward their bad behavior. Say you have a boyfriend who is a Paranoid Vampire. You go out for an afternoon with a friend and come home to a warm embrace. All is well until you begin to get drilled with questions as if you were hiding some malevolent secret. Paranoid Vampires will cross-examine their victims – ad infinitum – unless a firm stop is made early in the relationship. Most Vampires will stop in their tracts if you prevent yourself from becoming emotional and approach the situation with a rational mind. Vampires love fights – whether passive or aggressive – and no progress will be made if you mirror their well-practiced behaviors. The best thing to do is to take a “time-out” and compose yourself for a more productive-future conversation. Emotional Vampires are not “bad” people, and many are famous figures who run the world. The traits of a Vampire can be a blessing or a curse depending on the situation and objective – think of the success of a narcissist or the creativity of a histrionic. What’s most important though is to know when to spot a Vampire and to understand how to approach their off-putting behavior – the first step, however, is the hardest – a long look in the mirror.

10 Things I Learned About Ancient Rome

I just got back from a vacation to Rome! I don’t have any pictures or souvenirs because this vacation was more imaginary than real. Thanks to my student loans, I was only able to explore the great city and the history of the Roman Empire through my most recent book SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard. I won’t bore you with the details of the Roman Empire because I think my last few posts have been a little dry. I do have a funny anecdote and a short list that may pique your interest in Roman history. First the anecdote. I was reading this book at 8:30 in the morning outside the Secretary of State. The doors were locked until 9:00 am but the gracious staff members had allowed people to queue just outside the main seating area. This small vestibule was packed full of people and the well-structured line that had originally formed soon morphed into a large blob. This DMV-amoeba was made up of young and old who were anxious for the doors to open – so they could get on with their day. I had my book and was trying to read when a large woman answered her phone. This phone conversation was not meant for the waiting vestibule of the Secretary of State – most people began to shuffle their feet when her voice began to rise.

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I tried to focus on my book but I thought of something right at that moment that really brought ancient Rome to life. I was reading a book about a city in which there was probably a similar scenario over 2000 years ago. It made me think about Romans and their own frustrating moments – allowing me to see the humanity of a long lost society. Eventually, the doors opened and we shuffled in as if entering the Colosseum itself. This is a simple antidote but it is important to remember that when we read about the past we forget that people lived fairly routine lives that are often times looked over. I guess my point is that we can’t look over the details of the Secretary of State waiting room – those details sometimes teach us more than a book. Below find nine interesting thoughts about Ancient Rome.

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  1. The letters SPQR stand for “The Senate and the Roman people” – the war cry of the expanding empire.
  2. The founders of Rome were Romulus and Remus who were abandoned as infants and survived by sucking on the milk of a wolf – another name for a wolf in early Latin was a prostitute.
  3. Roman public baths were a regular source of infectious diseases and many Roman dignitaries died from infection after visiting them.
  4. Rome itself was ridden with malaria because of its location next to the water and the humid climate – disease killed more Romans than any invading barbarian horde.
  5. The Roman law laid out best practices for killing infants who were not desired.
  6. Rome was the first city in the world to reach a population of 1,000,000 people.
  7. Rome was founded in the 8th century BC – a simple town for many years before it began to control rival towns on the Italian Penisula.
  8. The city of Rome’s population in the first century BC was estimated to be 40% slaves – all different races and ethnicities.
  9. Emperor Caligula was supposed to have made his horse a consul and priest.
  10. Emperor Tiberius was supposed to have trained small boys to swim underneath him while in a pool and nibble on his genitals.

I hope these facts piqued your interest and help you appreciate a future vacation to the city of Rome or maybe just give you something to think about while waiting at the Secretary of State.

US Grant – America’s Unlikely Hero – Part 1

A long time ago, my good friend Chuck asked me an interesting question. “Jon do you have a favorite author that writes like a fine wine or a three-star Michelin restaurant? I honestly had no answer to this detailed inquiry. At that time I was just starting on my journey of reading, and I couldn’t distinguish an average author from a great author. My palate was not entirely up to par, and my neural taste buds were still in an immature state. I finally have an answer for my friend after being exposed to so many different writing styles – the author Ron Chernow. Chernow writes biographies in such a detailed way that the reader feels like a fly on the wall of history. He is most famous for his book on Alexander Hamilton which became a hit Broadway play and his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on George Washington.

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His books regularly make appearances on the New York Times bestseller list even though they are on antiquated topics and extremely large in breadth. I picked up his most recent book Grant, which is 1100 pages and a fascinating tale of 19th-century history. I would argue that any person who dislikes history would love this book and find newfound interests. Think of Chernow as a gourmet chef and Ulysses S. Grant as a prized but unknown ingredient. Through excellent writing, Grant’s powerful life hits you in the mouth like Emeril Lagasse throwing spice into a hot skillet.

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US Grant was born in Ohio on April 22, 1822. His father was a tanner and he grew up as a shy boy underneath an outspoken father and overly standoffish mother. Grant was described as silent, modest, respectful of women, and courageous against neighborhood bullies. From a young age, he stood up for the underdog and spoke few words of malice towards even his most ardent detractors. He was sent off to West Point by chance since a cadet was kicked out at the same time Grant’s father requested his son’s admittance. While at West Point, Grant excelled at horsemanship but was no star pupil. He did excel at mathematics, but his career in the military did not look promising. Upon graduation, he was stationed in Missouri where Grant met his future wife Julia Dent and his future Confederate father-in-law Colonel Dent.

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During this time, America entered into war with Mexico and Grant was jettisoned into combat – an environment he excelled in. He served as a logistics specialist and honed critical military strategies during this conflict. Grant also learned something even more indispensable while in Mexico: the characteristics of the future generals of the Confederacy. Upon the completion of hostilities, Grant was stationed in the burgeoning gold rush town of San Francisco and Northern California. This was a difficult time for Grant because he missed his new wife and his family. He took to drink and was reprimanded for drinking by a persnickety leader – eventually leading to resignation and a marred reputation for the rest of his life. Grant did have a drinking problem, but it never got in the way of his leadership. If it had, he would not have achieved his remarkable feats after leaving the military in 1854.

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Civilian life was hard for Grant and he struggled to find his place in society. At one point he was so economically distraught he had to pawn his watch for Christmas presents and take a job at his Dad’s tannery store as a simple clerk. He walked around Galena, Illinois with his old military jacket and an unkempt beard – most people astonished to see his state of poverty. Compounding his problems, both his Father and Father-in-Law saw him as a failure and regularly forced their views upon him as if he were a child. He was a beaten man during this time, and his woes continued to worsen after his former California business speculations soured; these speculations were undertaken because Grant overly trusted acquaintances and people in general.

1867 Chromolithograph of Ulysses Grant by Fabronius, Gurney & Son.

He had such high integrity for himself that he couldn’t understand how other people could be cruel in their business dealings. When all seemed lost in Grant’s life, the most significant conflict in American history broke out – the Civil War. As if awakened by a jolt of electricity, Grant felt it was his chance to use his former military talents and serve the Union. The only problem was that no one wanted him because of his previous drunkenness and his paltry political connections. Not receiving any worthy commissions, Grant decided he would bake bread for the soldiers. Just before applying for this culinary position, fate opened up her doors. To be continued…Part 2 next week.

The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.
– Ulysses S. Grant

Thankfulness for Loneliness

For the past three weeks, I have been living alone – my wife started her new job as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner in Benton Harbor, Michigan. I wanted to work a few more weeks in Flint because I like my coworkers and our credit card is smoking because of some recent trips to the furniture store. I knew being alone would be difficult, but I had no idea that the experience would lead to a weird blog post. Before I get started, I must clarify that I was not “completely” alone – my Chihuahua stayed with me so Christina could entirely focus on her transition. The first couple of days after my wife’s exit were not bad at all; actually, it felt like a brief vacation – a break from picking up after myself and worrying about peeing on the toilet seat.

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The two to three-day break from a spouse is the worst possible thing for a marriage. The reason for this is twofold. The first is that it gives a person a false understanding of what it feels like to be alone. Humans seem to have a camel-like reservoir that enables them to go through mini-droughts of human interaction; we are just peachy doing our own thing for a couple of days. The second reason is the natural consequence of our camel mentality – we think that the reserves will never fail and our mini-vacation mindset will last forever – making us question the point of having a spouse in the first place. Pause for an important note. This camel mentality is only present in long-term relationships – so all you firecracker young couples can take a chill pill. As I was saying, it was great being a slob and my longing for Christina was just around 15% battery life.

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Fast forward to four days of being alone. The reserves just seemed to take a pitfall as if my hump was the gas tank of a hummer accelerating on the freeway. From that point on I started to look at pictures online of my wedding day. I watched Sam I Am and actually cried. I dreaded going home after work. I began to talk to my books as if the characters could listen. I called my friends excessively as if we were living in some 1980’s sitcom. I went on like this for close to two weeks. I began to miss Christina as much as a man wandering the desert misses water. My senses started to play tricks with me as if they too wanted some sort of interaction: unidentified objects flew past my field of vision, voices were heard in adjacent rooms, inner thoughts morphed into OCD tendencies.

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It all came to a head on one of the last days before I was reunited with Christina. As usual, I was reading, and the house was eerily quiet. There was a noise in my bedroom that kept nagging at me, and I thought it was just another one of my lonely hallucinations. After finishing my book, I decided to investigate and went to my bedroom. The noise was there, but I just couldn’t pinpoint it. With a flick of the switch, I saw what my loneliness had come to. The sound that I heard through the whole house was actually Max – yet again playing his skin flute on top of my pillow. As soon as the lights came on, he froze like a homunculus deer, and we both awkwardly gawked at each other. It was at that point that I reached my lowest level in this experiment of seclusion. I shut the light, went back to the couch, and just stared at the wall – with the same faint noise continuing in the background. Here is the moral of the story: too much loneliness is not suitable for man or beast. We need people, and we need to appreciate our loved ones. That is why in this season of Thankfulness I am appreciative of my loneliness – just the right amount makes you come bumbling into your wife’s arms like a soldier who has come back from war – or merely a traumatic encounter with a chihuahua. 

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The Forgotten Genocide

I found myself last night eating a double-decker plate of apple pie with an unfortunate amount of whip-cream on top. While feasting, I thought about how thankful I was to be able to shove my face with food. Have you ever been without food before? Not like a diet or a 3 pm snack type of hunger; the kind of hunger where there is no escape and no relief to the pain of emptiness. I am thankful this holiday weekend that God has blessed my family with the polar opposite of that painful state. Unfortunately, there are individuals around the world who suffer from hunger on a daily basis – over 796 million people lack enough sustenance to lead a healthy lifestyle (foodaidfoundation.org). That statistic is doubly disheartening with the fact that the world wastes one-third of all food production each year – 1.3 billion tons (fao.org).

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I bring up hunger specifically because I just finished a book that details one of the worst genocides in our modern history – Not Even My Name: A True Story by Thea Halo. This genocide took place between 1913 and 1922 against the Christian ethnic groups of Turkey – Armenians, Assyrians, Pontic Greeks. In total, the Turkish government killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, 300,000 Assyrians, and 500,000 Greeks through blatant murder and death marches. The book pointedly tells the story of Sano Halo – a Pontic Greek – who experienced these events and actually escaped with her life to America. As you’ll read, the Turkish authorities were ruthless against Halo’s family and used hunger as their principal weapon.

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The causes of this genocide are myriad, but one of the most significant catalysts was the Ottoman Empire’s fall during World War I. The Ottoman’s were prolific during the medieval ages but slowly declined by the 19th century – their central territory located in modern-day Turkey. At the turn of the 20th century, the Turkish government began changes in their state that aimed to lift up Turks and bring down historic ethnic groups located in the country. These “reforms” mixed with defeats in WWI to form a true hatred for everything “Western”; leading to the systemic extermination of millions of people to purify the decaying Turkish state and bring it back to its once glorious Ottoman apex. The government forced these “foreigners” – who historically lived in the area for thousands of years – into work camps, deportation marches, and mass graves.

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Sano Halo was 10 around the time the Turks came to her village and told her family to prepare to leave the next day. With guns pointed at their heads, they abandoned all their possessions, their livelihood, and their history. They were forced to march all day without breaks for food or water. The Turkish guards would beat them if they took a break or begged for food from local villages. Sano would end up marching 6 months straight – her younger siblings all died from hunger during that time. Eventually, even her mother died of exhaustion and Sano was forced to live with a Turkish family as a maid so she could have regular food.

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Sano was poorly treated by this family and eventually ran away. She was ultimately taken in by a family friend who arranged her marriage to an Assyrian man from America. She was able to reach Ellis Island and eventually had a happy family of 10 children. Sano was the unfortunate exception to this horrific story, and the Turkish government did their best to cover up its despicable deeds. In the aftermath of the genocide, textbook producers were paid by the Turkish government to exclude their actions and paint the country as a modernized beacon of the middle-east. This cover-up is one of the reasons Hitler felt so empowered to begin his own genocide…

“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
-Adolf Hitler 1939

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Sadly, this Holocaust is still seldom recognized, and the Turkish government refuses to officially refer to it as a “genocide.” However, the genocide and death march was crystal clear for Sano, and thankfully her story was recorded so we can honor her family by spreading this knowledge. I challenge you this Thanksgiving weekend to think about how hunger can destroy and think about how blessed you are have not only food but a place to call “home.” Spread this message and help others learn this history. Not only will it help us prevent another genocide but it will help us be more thankful for the blessings we take for granted each and every day.

Further movies and books on this period in history…

Aghet: A Genocide (Documentary)

Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial, and Depiction (Documentary)

The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response (Book)

Suicide and Russian Wisdom

Have you ever contemplated suicide? Many of us probably have uttered some wish for death at one point in life. If I’m being honest, I think of death whenever my alarm goes off Monday morning and when I get an email from my boss with the subject line – We Need to Talk. Humans are unique in the fact that we have self-awareness and hence the ability to decide whether or not we want to continue living. No animal has the thought process to end its life; I will never find my chihuahua refusing tortilla chips so that he can slowly starve to death. It makes me think of this line in Moby Dick…

“For there is folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.”

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To end one’s life is a tragedy because there is always hope and always unforeseen victims. Last night I watched the Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams for the first time. The film follows a creative group of prep school boys and their experimentation with the world of poetry. Without completely ruining the ending, one of those boys ends up committing suicide because his father sees no point in him pursuing the arts. Unfortunately, Robin Williams committed the same act three years ago. The cause of suicide is complex and cannot be generalized; many times it is an amalgamation of different mental-health ailments. In some cases, suicide is performed as an act of revenge. Why would someone kill themselves for revenge? The best answer to this question comes from Leo Tolstoy in his epic novel, Anna Karenina. 

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Anna Karenina is set in 19th century Russia and follows various characters of the noble class. Anna gets mixed up in an affair and eventually is forced to leave her son and social standing; Vronsky, her lover, actually cares for her and does desire to create a new life for their unconventional family. Unfortunately, Anna begins to feel paranoid about Vronsky’s affections towards other women – which were baseless in reality. By the end of the novel, Anna can no longer love Vronsky because she thinks herself worthless – rationalizing that any moment she will be thrown to the curb. Anna had no control over her destiny because her husband would not grant a divorce. She decides to commit suicide because she believes it will punish the people in her life. She does end up eliciting negative emotions from Vronsky and her husband, but her suicide eventually fades from memory.

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At the end of the book, the characters are moving on and slowly becoming happier with each day. The sad fact is that Anna can never move on. Her reasons for suicide were revenge, and in a way, she achieved her goal. The only problem is that her goal of revenge caused only temporary emotions while the means to that end was permanent. This is the problem with suicide as a whole – feelings are transient and actions are permanent. Life moves on, and no matter what, there is always hope. There is never a time in our lives when change is not knocking at our doors. That change may bring positive or negative feelings – neither are constant. Whatever the reason – revenge, sadness, hopelessness, anger – don’t ever fall for the lie that change is impossible.

“All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”

-Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina