My Newest Book is Here! – Chapter 1

I am happy to announce that the second installation of the Tackle the Library series is finally here! This book took me five months to write and I am thrilled to have the project completed. Plato is a tough dude to study and I read over 4,000 pages of text to write this tiny book. Do not fret, I guarantee that you will be able to understand Plato’s philosophy in this easy-to-read narrative. Below is the description.

Plato’s philosophy, political theory, and scholasticism shaped our modern day world. His ideas and writings are both important and honestly confusing. Have you ever wanted to learn about this crucial man but felt overwhelmed by the number of books on the subject? Have you tried to read dry Wikipedia articles on the “Forms” or the “Philosopher King” which soon made your eyeballs glaze over? Do you simply not care that much about Plato to commit a lot of time in dissecting his complicated beliefs? 

The Tackle the Library series takes the top 5 books on a subject and turns them into a cohesive story that is not only interesting to read but highly informative. Plato is one of the greatest philosophers of all time and is worth learning about because he attempted to understand topics which impact our everyday life: ethics, desire, virtue, wisdom, love, politics, and purpose to name a few. This book makes nonfiction a painless process – no other text naturally explains the background, the evolution, the application, the history, and the paradoxes of Plato’s philosophy in a way that keeps the pages turning. Stop staring at that dusty shelf of nonfiction texts in the library and crack open a book that you’ll actually want to read.

If your curiosity is piqued, please give this book a try. It will take you a couple hours to finish and you will gain an entirely new understanding of the world. Just like my last book, We’re all Chihuahuas, I am having a special weekend sale where you can download it for free. Please click this link or any link you see on this page to download. For the next three days, I will post the first three chapters as a thank you to my readers. I hope you enjoy and gain something from the experience.

Without further adieu…

Chapter 1 – The Cave

“The beginning is the most important
part of the work.” – Plato

The path seems to meander in the distance and turn hazy in spots from shimmers of light-reflected heat. You’re on a hiking trail and slowly ascending a steep hillside during the peak days of summer – magnificent in beauty but sweltering in humidity. A quick glance off trail reveals a shaded spot and a possible resting place before the final push upwards. Sitting under the shade, you set your bag down and notice a small opening. It is a hole that emits cold air – what appears to be the entry to a natural cave. After an arduous dig, the gap widens to a large opening that teases the curiosity. Slowly you descend until your eyes adjust and all of the surroundings become discernible; this is no ordinary cave but rather one with a group of mystified inhabitants staring at a particular wall. These inhabitants were born in the cave and were forced, since birth, to watch the shapes and figures on the stone – created by the tiny holes of light behind them. They believe these shadows are actual objects and there is no more to the world than what is observed on that slimy edifice. You tap a few on the shoulder and break the spell of their imprisonment. You turn them towards the light source and show how the images are created; they are stunned and cannot believe that their reality was just a mirage.

Exalted in your good deeds, you try to lead them further out of the cave. Surprisingly though, you see the inhabitants turn back to their familiar wall and continue in their most comfortable state – ignorance. The truth is too much for them, and they prefer to look at the shadows instead of understanding their outer and inner worlds. Frustrated, you grab a few by the arm and you force them out into the summer day. The cave dwellers’ eyes sear from the brightness and they are unable to see. You slowly get them use to their new reality, and eventually, they grow in their belief and reason of what the world entails. They go back to the cave and try to get more people – only a few more decide to step out – most remain steadfast to the wall. Having done your job, you continue on with your hike and immediately tap your phone and post about your experience. You get to the top of the hill and check the news, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and various other media outlets; looking up for a second you see the horizon and have a weird thought pop into your head – “Am I also looking at the wall of a cave?”

The idea of “The Cave” is one of Plato’s most relevant and endearing metaphors. In today’s world, we no doubt would have an easy time finding “cave dwellers” who propagate stupidity and selfishness – just imagine Plato reading the comment sections of an internet post. Plato was not pretentious in his view of humanity but hopeful that man could turn from ignorance and reach a better life through active reasoning; Plato wrote, “Apply yourself both now and in the next life. Without effort, you cannot be prosperous. Though the land be good, you cannot have an abundant crop without cultivation.” This cultivation begins with the belief that wisdom is something worth pursuing and that we can climb above our “sense perception” to a greater realm of understanding. Plato’s highest goal in life was not understanding the physical realities of the world – which our cave eyes could quickly ascertain – but rather the light source itself. The sun in the Cave metaphor is the source of all things good in this life: virtue, happiness, love, justice, courage, beauty, and loyalty are a few examples of the “goodness.” Plato wanted to understand a universal standard for the “Good” and a level of knowledge which would allow us to fully grasp our inner self – ultimately leading to a greater appreciation of life.

Plato made it clear that most people will never leave the wall in the cave and few will cross over the threshold of understanding the highest truths. The journey out of the cave is a lifelong process and I wanted to give the ascent my best shot. Like Bilbo Baggins exiting the Shire, I soon realized that my path towards truth was not an easy road and not a solitary pursuit. To understand Plato, I enlisted the help of others and decided to read the top five books on the subject: Plato: Complete Works – edited by John M. Cooper, Plato’s Ethics by Terence Irwin, Preface to Plato by Eric Havelock, Plato: The Man and His Work by A.E. Taylor, and The Cave and the Light by Arthur Herman. These books were challenging and entailed 4,000 pages of cave-exiting illumination. My eyes are now turned from the wall and it is my job to help you understand how beliefs morph into knowledge and how knowledge morphs into wisdom. We will climb through the mountains of Plato’s philosophy and cover subjects which have perplexed humanity since the beginning of time: the soul, desire, virtue, wisdom, love, politics, and purpose. Plato lived over 2,400 years ago, but his teachings seem more relevant today than any other time in history – our world sinking further into a “virtual” reality. Ultimately, we study Plato to open up our perspective of our inner self and our humanity so that we can live a better existence and help others to cross over the bridge of ignorance. So let’s turn our heads from the wall and take a step towards the light – let’s TACKLE THE LIBRARY.

We’re All Chihuahuas – Chapter 1 and 2

For those wanting to get straight to Chapter 2 – 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.

Stay tuned for Chapter 3 tomorrow and don’t forget to download your free copy over the weekend. Thanks again for your support. 

The Best Gift I Can Give

During the Christmas season, I am generally a scrooge. Not surprisingly, I loathe shopping malls where the almighty god of commercialization is most worshipped. This past weekend, I was at a mall in Metro-Detroit – a suburban sprawl which requires a 30-minute commute to seemingly every destination. This mall was packed to the gills, and I felt like a human bumper cart weaving in and out of overpriced clothing stores. Me being me, I ranted to Christina the whole time about how stupid it all was and how I couldn’t wait for the holidays to be over. My wife is the opposite of my curmudgeon self; her ideal world would probably be the one located inside a snowflake where celebrations occur for maxed-out credit cards – Whoville. After a few grumpy rants, Christina started to deter my negativity with every woman’s rationalization for the holidays…

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Me – “What is the point of buying all these gifts that no one needs?! I can’t wait till the 26th.”

Christina – “MY LOVE (not said in a loving way) stop being an old man. Christmas is all about tradition and celebrating family.”

Me – “Why can’t we just celebrate family without all the gifts? It just makes us materialistic.”

Christina – “We have to give gifts because God gave us the gift of baby Jesus. That is why we need to stand in line for an hour at Pandora and buy a $100 charm. And if you don’t shut up I am going to buy some gifts at that new vegetarian make-up store that doesn’t believe in “sales.”

Me – “Alright, I’ll stop. Maybe we can find a “What Would Jesus Do” charm?”

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This conversation is a microcosm of the American Christmas experience. That is why I wanted to write this blog about the reason for the season. Jesus is indeed a forgotten figure during this time, and I thought it would be fun to juxtapose some of His philosophy with the philosophy in my most recent classic The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli.

The Prince is a how-to guide to being a powerful and successful monarch during the 1500’s. Although the book is old, it has many sad truths about how politicians can climb the career ladder – the term “Machiavellian” is defined as…

cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, especially in politics or in advancing one’s career.

Essentially, Machiavelli makes the point that a Prince needs to be ready at any time for battle…

“A prince should therefore have no other aim or thought, nor take up any other thing for his study; but war and its organisation and disciplice, for that is the only art that is necessary to one who commands…”

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 A key component in the battle of politics is to know when to be good and when to be evil…

“Therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.”

This advice sadly has a lot of relevance today for politicians and government officials. Put in another way, one must appear in public as an angel and in private as a demon – sounds like a House of Cards episode.

The advice of the Earthly Prince must be juxtaposed with the Heavenly Prince of Jesus. Jesus said that…

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Luke 6:27-30
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Humility and generosity should be the most common tools of today’s leaders. Aggression, deceit, and pride all help individuals reach temporary power – shortsightedly killing the goose to get the golden egg. Leadership depends on relationships and relationships depend on some degree of love.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7
So this Christmas let’s give each other the gift of mercy. Let’s be more patient with each other. Let’s be more empathetic with each other. Let’s be more honest with each other. The material gifts on the 25th will eventually fade away, but the rewards of virtue will make you feel like royalty throughout the rest of the year.
Merry Christmas Everyone

The American Dream…Nightmare

What is the American Dream? Is it a dream of opportunity and wealth? Is it a dream that is still attainable? Is it even a dream and not a nightmare in disguise? I always saw the American Dream as the ability to reach any goal in life. America was and still is the land of entrepreneurship, innovation, and Cinderella stories. Great men and women came to this country for a better life – many times from places where dreams were never mentioned. My wife and I are blessed to be on the right side of the American Dream (read on to know what that entails), but many people do not have the same position. For a majority of Americans, the dream is no more realistic than an episode of Leave it to Beaver. 

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Everyday people struggle to meet their bills, pay for food, find employment, save for retirement and notice optimism in the nightly news. It is even worse for minorities who not only struggle to find well-paying jobs but also worry about harassment and unfair treatment on an institutional level. To better understand the nightmarish side of America, I read Death of a Salesman by Arthur MillerDeath of a Salesman won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1949 and is one of the greatest American plays of all time. It follows the downfall of Willy Loman – an exhausted salesman who is losing his mind in the rat race of business. It is a gut-wrenching ride that requires you to question the very foundations of success.

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On the surface, Willy Loman looks like a prime candidate for the American Dream: He has a beautiful wife, two sons, a suburban house, a successful traveling sales job, and friends who admire him. These surface level attributes quickly fade away with reality: He regularly cheats on his wife, his one son is a womanizer while his other son is a wandering thief, his house constantly requires repairs, his job no longer pays the bills, and his supposed friends are nowhere to be found. By the end of the play, Willy is completely lost in the past reminisces of “better” times and his dreams of being a respected businessman. Arthur Miller paints a sad picture of what the American Dream can look like – a lifetime of sacrifice only to be fired and thrown to the curb of American capitilism.

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In the end, Willy kills himself so his family can collect the life insurance – his funeral is only attended by a few people. So what should we take away from this anecdote of the American Dream? I think Arthur Miller was pretty spot on. The American Dream is not for everyone and success is as elusive as a fleeting mistress. We should reframe the American Dream from one of material/prideful success to one of relational/altruistic success. Let’s not dream of being loved by everyone and impressing others with our possessions. Let’s dream of lives filled with close relationships that are synergistic – fostering self-actualization. A life well-lived is in our grasp, but we have to reframe our dreams – less external pridefulness and more internal peacefulness.

“Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.”
-Arthur Miller

1% Christian History

My old college roommate and I started a tradition last year. Each Christmas, we buy each other a book that we think would be beneficial reading. I didn’t know what to expect from my greasy friend but waited patiently for my gift to arrive. One day, I walked up to my porch and saw a package that looked like a wrapped encyclopedia. I wasn’t too far off; my dirtbag roommate bought me a 1000 page book on the history of Christianity – Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch. This book loomed over me all year and I kept putting off what seemed like a Sisyphean task. By the end, it took me about 50 hours spread over a month.

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Christian history is difficult because it isn’t like normal history – it is a weird dance of facts, figures, and eternity. Having eternity involved complicates everything because you either have to take the Thomas Jefferson route and get rid of all supernatural events or take the Jack Van Impe route and prepare for the apocalypse. These two extremes frame the gamut of Christian beliefs and preface why Christian history is one continuous story of division. From the moment Jesus died on the cross, his disciples went out and preached the Gospel – within a generation, groups were already disagreeing on the intricacies of theology. The Christian church as we know it today is like a box of peanut-brittle that has been shaken by a two-year-old. Originally there was one solid chunk but now there are thousands of variant morsels. This post will only focus on one tiny but very important nugget of Christian history – as the title surmises, this book could fill 99 more blogs.

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The 1% we will cover is one of the most important moments in the Christian church – the Chalcedonian Schism. The Council of Chalcedon met from October 8th to November 9th in the year 451 AD. This Council was called by the Roman Emperor Marcian as an ecumenical meeting for all the important churches at the time – the Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Oriental Orthodox. At this point in history, the Christian church needed to clarify theological doctrine and adjust the power roles of western and eastern leaders. The main reason for this meeting was to clarify the true nature of Jesus.

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How could Jesus be both God and man? Before the meeting, there were groups who believed Jesus appeared on earth as a man disguised as God (Docetism) while other groups believed Jesus was, in reality, a normal man chosen by God (Adoptionism). These beliefs led to Nestorianism (which viewed Christ as having some mixture of divine and human elements) and Eutychianism (which viewed Christ’s divinity as completely consuming his humanity like a drop of vinegar in the ocean).

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The Council of Chalcedon sided with a watered down Nestorian view which became known as Dyophysitism – which states that Christ is one person in two natures – “distinctively” man and God in one. This led to the creation of Miaphysitism which held the belief that Christ is one nature and that nature has “inseparable” components of man and God. Confused yet? Again, Dyophysitism believes that Christ is one person with two separate natures while Miaphysitism believes that Christ is one nature which is both divine and human.

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This Dyophysitism decision at the council was agreed upon by the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, the Oriental Church broke off from this definition and became known as Non-Chalcedonian. The Oriental Church includes the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. This schism had drastic effects on the eastern church as a whole by shifting power to the west and decreasing overall cooperation. This separation was one variable that allowed the new religion of Islam to take over eastern strongholds of Christianity; the west would not realize their mistakes until the first crusades 600 years later.

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Our current world is shaped by the decisions at this council: The politics of countries, the religious makeup in the Middle East, and the West’s ignorance of the Oriental Church. So what can we learn from the Council of Chalcedon? One huge lesson is that Christianity can come in many different flavors, shapes, and sizes. Christians shouldn’t be divided into little pieces of peanut brittle. Christians should work together under one absolute truth – Jesus is the son of God who died for our sins so we can have eternal life and spread His message of grace; in a world still divided, we need to focus on that point more than ever. Don’t get hung up on the details and throw your hands in the air thinking religion is stupid. If you focus on loving others, you will obtain the other 99%. 

 

The Original Desperate Housewife

Do you ever desire extra spice in your life? Ever wondered what it would be like to be rich and famous? Or even just daydreamed about an evening that didn’t include the word “Netflix?” I for one have a high threshold for boredom. This characteristic stands out starkly when I spend time with my sister who is an adrenaline-junky-extrovert; a fun night for me is usually turning on the X-Files while a fun night for her is turning the pedals on her bike for a 20-mile ride.

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An awesome component of modern life is the plethora of options available to avoid boredom. This was not the case back in the 1850’s. Life during that time for the poor entailed a lot of hard work for both men and women. If you were lucky enough to have money, life could be filled with all sorts of social activities and luxuries. One of the worst places in society for boredom was that of the middle-class woman. Women in the middle-class had enough money, so work was not required but not enough money to be a member of the social sphere. This equation more times than not ended with the original “Desperate Houswife.” This was the situation that inspired Gustave Flaubert to write his most famous work Madame Bovary in 1856. A story that broke the mold for novels and was banned for some time because of its literary realism.

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Madame Bovary follows the marriage, affairs, and extreme dissatisfaction of Emma Bovary. Emma simply wanted more from life than what her simple doctor husband could provide – she dreamed of “true” love which she read about in her novels. Love to Emma was supposed to feel like a gush of refreshing water falling from the skies, not the humdrum monotony of her marriage – even though her husband was patient, caring, and intimate. She not only wanted a prince but wanted to be respected as a princess – when in reality she had the means of a farm girl. At one point Emma did feel she had reached complete bliss during her first affair…

“‘It’s because I love you,’ she would interrupt. ‘I love you so much that I can’t do without you – you know that, don’t you?…I’m your slave and your concubine! You’re my king, my idol! You’re good! You’re beautiful! You’re wise! You’re strong!”

As with so many affairs, the woman and man had very different outlooks…

He had had such things said to him so many times that none of them had any freshness for him. Emma was like all his other mistresses; and as the charm of novelty gradually slipped from her like a piece of her clothing, he saw revealed in all its nakedness the eternal monotony of passion, which always assumes the same forms and always speaks the same language.

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Ouch! Unsurprisingly, the relationship dissolved when the chap realized Emma was a little nutty. This dialogue represents the main point of the book: seeking happiness and contentment from outside sources will never be satisfying. Emma never finds happiness because she is always looking for the wrong formula: If I could only have (fill in the blank), I would be happier. Happiness is never something that happens to us. Happiness is something we cultivate internally. It is a practice just like building muscles at the gym. Emma never “exercised” and many people today fall prey to the same idleness. Are you bored? Are you discontent? Are you fed up? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you need to practice happiness. The best way to avoid the “Desperate Housewife Syndrome” is to be proactive and grateful. Gratitude is the single best exercise to prevent Emma-like mistakes that always end in disaster. What are you grateful for? I for one am thankful that I am not Madame Bovary’s husband.

***To practice daily gratitude, I downloaded the app “Insight Timer” which provides various meditation breaks. Try it out and friend me (Jon Oldham).***

 

A Most Unlikely Emperor

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Today is my third wedding anniversary. Three years ago I read vows to a woman while crying like a little baby. Our relationship since the wedding has continued to mature – our laughs and conversations keep getting better and better. Probably the best part of being married is that I can feel loved even when I am laying on the couch in my underwear while simultaneously eating pork rinds and singing along to Toto’s “Africa.” Without Christina, I would not be able to regularly read and write; it would be nearly impossible to complete classics while getting texts and updates from Tinder or eHarmony. Instead of swiping right or left on an app all I have to do is swipe right or left while cleaning the floor – this causes an immediate summons to the bedroom.

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Thank you, Christina, for helping me to be a better man and helping me get through the tough books which my former self would never have opened. One of those tough books was my most recent classic I, Claudius by Robert Graves. There are some books that are hard but interesting and others that are hard and boring – the latter is I, Claudius. Before reading it, I had the feeling one gets right before running the mile for the Presidential Fitness Test – an increase in heart rate, anxiety, dread, and the overarching desire to play dead on the ground. However, like the mile run, upon completing this story about the Roman Emperor Claudius, I felt a euphoric high that only comes from adversity.

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I, Claudius is technically fiction but written with historical accuracy as the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius. Claudius was a family member of the Roman court and the book details his life from his birth in 10 B.C. to his ascension as Emperor in 41 A.D. What is cool about the autobiography is that Claudius details the lives of fascinating Emperors like Agustus, Tiberius, and the evil Caligula. Claudius was born with a limp and a severe stammer which forced him into isolation from his more “Romanesque” brothers and sisters; at the time physical strength, aesthetic beauty, and elegant speech were desirable attributes in the royal court. Claudius became a bookworm and spent his time writing obscure histories. Most people thought he was stupid and treated him like a second-class citizen.

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Rome was a brutal place, and his family members were routinely killed by rival factions to climb the political ladder. When Claudius was middle aged, his nephew Caligula took over the throne. Caligula was a monster who slept with his sisters, killed his father, and smothered the former Emporer Tiberius. Caligula would end up killing most of his rivals and any family member envious of the throne. The only one who survived Caligula’s insanity was Claudius. Claudius played dumb and used his wit whenever threatened. In the end, Caligula was assassinated, and by accident, Claudius was chosen to be the Emperor. It’s actually a great story because Claudius more than any of his siblings deserves the throne because of his humility, intelligence, and levelheadedness; ironically, these attributes not only make for a great Emperor but also a great marriage. Here’s to many more years with you Christina – thanks for helping me always get to the finish line.

“I am supposed to be an utter fool and the more I read the more of a fool they think me.”
-Robert Graves ,  I, Cladius

The Count of Monte Cristo

“All human wisdom is contained in these two words – Wait and Hope”
-Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

The past couple weeks were quite busy for me because of Christina’s graduation and a particular book that I needed to read. This book was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, and I was putting off reading it because of its sheer size – almost 1500 pages. To read this many pages in a span of two weeks required a lot of time, patience, and questioning. I say questioning because it is not every day you see a person walking around with a massive gray book. On a couple of occasions, young children asked me if I was reading the Bible or the Dictionary. People thought I was a Jehova Witness or some sort of hipster-encyclopedia salesman trying to pawn off printed editions of Wikipedia. The book itself became my second half and each night, depending on my mood, I would stare at it with elation as the best book ever written or dread as the longest book ever printed.

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I just finished it today, and without a doubt, it is one those books that forever changed the way I look at literature and the potential of writing to impact human thought. The plot is one of revenge and redemption: a young man is unjustly sent to prison, escapes, and returns to bring ruin to those who wronged him. Most people have seen the movie, but the plot of this novel is nothing like that of the 2002 film; a 10 season HBO drama would barely give it justice. To better understand this epic story think of those 200 layer salads your aunt brings to a potluck; at first, it looks too formidable to eat, but with each successive layer, you find yourself enjoying the complexity, and eventually, you crave reaching the bottom which contains that mysterious jello.

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The Count of Monte Cristo is a story about revenge, greed, death, despair, hope, love, and wisdom. Throughout the plot, there is an overarching theme of contrast – characters swing from the highest peaks of happiness to the lowest states of depression; opulence is juxtaposed with impoverishment. The main character, The Count of Monte Cristo, was at one point on the verge of death from starvation and at another the most wealthy host of a grand dinner party in the heart of France. This contrast is highlighted throughout the book because it represents Dumas’ ultimate point to the reader, “Wait and Hope.” Or put in another way, one must be patient in life and hope that God will look favorably upon their plight. The Count of Monte Cristo waited and hoped for his rightful revenge, and his wrongdoers were eventually punished.

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Alternatively, other characters in the book waited and hoped for their loved one’s safety and were rewarded with both a stronger relationship and a greater appreciation for life itself. A fuller life is the ultimate reward of “Wait and Hope,” because it allows one to not only reflect on the future but also appreciate what is had in the present. One of the best examples comes at the end of the book when the villain is eventually imprisoned. He has lost his family, his fortune, and his fame but still he waits and hopes that a savior will come. His savior does come in the form of the Count of Monte Cristo, who through his own ability for hopefulness forgives his transgressor. Life is burdensome, and when we don’t feel like it is in our favor remember that even in the lowest depths of existence, hope and patience are tools that can carve a way out of any indomitable prison.

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My Wife…the Doctor

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This June 21st, my wife and I will be technically celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary; I say technically because, in my opinion, we are going on 8 years. In 2009, my eyes beheld an exotic beauty who would forever change my life. Sure we didn’t have the marriage certificate, but I knew she was the one for me; 100 years earlier, our union would have been sealed in a matter of months. However, modern day society requires a very long waiting period, primarily because of one thing – school. See, back in 2009, our pimply-first kisses were constantly interrupted by an unending load of tests, homework, and research projects. Of course, we made time for each other, but there was always that incessant character of “school” in the corner staring us down during our cuddle sessions. School for me ended in 2013, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief – that sigh was short-lived because Christina was far from done; unfortunately, my wife decided to go on to reach the pinnacle of all degrees – a doctorate. What defined our marriage more than anything was education. Everything that we did had to be worked around syllabi which seemed to always paper the walls as if we were conspiracy theorists locked in a room – connecting each assignment with red yarn. To throw fuel on our fire of misery, Christina approached every project with a resolution that always seemed to satisfy Asian stereotypes.

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Christina approaches school completely different than myself. When I was in school, I didn’t take notes or really study the material – I knew how to take tests and get good grades without stressing out; I was always the guy asking for a pencil and storing my papers between the pages of books. Christina is the complete opposite. She not only takes notes but attempts to convert lecture information into a piece of art – multicolored pens work together to form a perfectly spaced and punctuated tapestry. These works of art are then put into a dewy decimal system – housed in a myriad of trapper keepers – an amount that would even make Staples envious. Folders of all shapes and sizes are strewn throughout the house, and somehow each one needs to be referenced for an assignment. The library of plastic is used to reach a perfect score – this being my biggest struggle with my wife’s schooling. Doctoral school is the zenith of education, you can’t go any higher upon completion. Hence, grades don’t really matter. To Christina, Doctoral school is no different than elementary school in the importance of the report card – the gold star will be obtained at all sacrifice. That sacrifice was my sanity. Here is a typical dialogue…

Me, “Hey my sexy woman, you want to go see a movie on Saturday?”

Wife, (Staring blankly at the computer as if high on meth) “Um…I need today to work on an assignment…it will probably take me a while.”

Me, (Calmly petting my Chihuahua) “Well, how much is it worth?”

Wife, (Now drooling as if a mini-stroke occurred) “5 points but I need those points to bump my grade up to an A-”

Me, (Sticking my chest out in rage and tightening my grip around my Chihuahua’s neck) “It doesn’t matter! You are a fricking crazy Filipina woman! Why the heck did you want this doctorate?!”

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Let’s just say, after 8 years of schooling my patience was at a minimum. There were so many occasions when Christina was flat out depressed, tired, and utterly ready to quit school; and sadly, I didn’t help many times with my negative comments which sent us both into despair. This doctorate tested our relationship on a daily basis and strained our marriage to a point I never want to see again. Like a storm when it reaches its apex, we thought there was no end to the suffering. But at last, hints of sun came from the skies, and the last drops seemed to be falling – not in a hail but a refreshing mist.

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All came to a head last week when I saw my wife walk across the graduation stage and receive her degree. The feeling I had at that moment was one of pure wonderment. Christina not only received a Doctorate of Nurse Practitioner but also earned honor cords for exemplary grades. I thought I knew my wife after 8 years, but that day I saw her in a brand new light; beyond any doubt, she is the hardest worker I have ever beheld. She motivates me to be a better man, and I would never have pushed with this blog if I didn’t see Christina pushing with school. So Christina, I just want to thank you. Thank you for never taking the easy way out. Thank you for raising the bar. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for the life lessons. Thank you for the smile that always crosses my face when I say – “Dr. Christina-Elizabeth Cabuena Oldham.”

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The Diary of a Nobody

“It’s the diary that makes the man.”

-George Grossmith

Did you ever have a diary? I always thought a diary was for wimpy little girls who needed to get their emotions on paper via multi-colored pens. I kept a paper diary only two times in my life. The first time was a dismal attempt at recording my “feelings” after coming home from a mission trip. We were told to read the Bible and write about our sinful teenage misgivings – after writing “I looked at a girl’s butt” for the hundredth time, the diary got thrown out. The second time was when I lived in Honduras for three months. My Mom recommended that I record all the happenings so in the future I could look back at the events with greater detail. That diary was actually a success, most of its contents included missing Christina (my future wife) – and with parallels to my first diary – her well-shaped contours.

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I still thank my Mom today for suggesting the diary in Honduras, and I think it primed me in some ways to create my third diary: SAPERE AUDE. This blog is really just a public journal with an overarching theme of discovering wisdom; it’s kinda like a log for a runner but instead of miles ran, it is the number of books read. Blogging is an incredibly rewarding experience that channels my inner little girl to express myself to people all over the world. Throughout history, people have kept diaries in the hopes that they would be published for public consumption – this was most popular in the 19th century and led to the classic The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith.

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The Diary of a Nobody is the fictitious diary of George Pooter who is a lower-middle class Englishman in the 1880’s. Pooter writes in his diary in part to record important moments, witty jokes, and mishappenings which are regular occurrences. Mr. Pooter personifies the class structure of late 19th century England; the lower classes try to be more like the upper classes, and the upper classes scorn their faux ladder climbing. One attempt at modeling the upper class was writing a diary which many wealthy people kept to later publish – making them quite famous. The problem is that Mr. Pooter is a “nobody” in a family that makes fun of the idea of his diary becoming syndicated; it’s the modern day equivalent of a friend saying they deserve a reality show because of their exciting life – (cue eye roll). 

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The thing is, I identify with Mr. Pooter with this blog. I know that it is just me rambling about weird subjects, but sometimes I think it may make me famous one day; maybe my post about the War of 1812 will go viral! One can fantasize, but the real motivation for keeping any type of diary is the ability to look back in time. Life is so fascinating that writing consolidates details that may otherwise be forgotten – thankfully I can share those memories with my readers – even if I never surpass the status of a “nobody.”