I Hate February

I hate February. February in Michigan is an entire month of dirty black snow piled in the parking lot of Walmart- jamming shopping cart movements and soaking unsuspecting tennis shoes. February, in Old English, use to be known as “Mud Month” and I swear I read somewhere that Native Americans used to call it “Month of Hunger.” February’s only redeeming quality is that it is 28 days long and it doesn’t drag on like January. Sure February has Black History Month and Valentine’s Day but we should honestly move both those events to March which holds more hope and positivity with the advent of spring. My Mom always chirps in when I get sulky over Michigan winters…You know the winter makes you appreciate summer more!” This Michigander philosophy should be the state’s official motto.

Pure Michigan – You Need Brown Snow to have a Summer Glow

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When my Mom says things like this I smile a little because deep down I know it’s 100% true. Once you get used to the seasons there is no going back. I think the change of weather is vital to human health. Have you ever lived in a place where it was the same weather all year round? I have and it destroyed my sense of time and space. Of course, people that live in those areas say it is fine but they don’t know what they are missing. The first legitimate day of spring after a terrible winter feels like a 24-hour orgasm; stepping outside into the sunlight and not having to wear ten layers of clothes is like walking out of a prison sentence. We are designed for contrast and a little masochism.

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The worst thing for our mental and spiritual health is monotony. We need regular changes in stimulus and to look away from the proverbial “white wall” of our daily life. Try to inject various changes into your routine so that dullness and depression don’t creep into your existence. Take a vacation. Go on a day trip. Read a new book. See a play. Go workout. Try some new food. Call up an old friend. Take a walk in the cold.  Spend a day without electronics. Say hi to a stranger. Write a blog post about February. Just try to remember that contrast is the key ingredient to life and without Winter we would never have Summer. I am at the tail end and my own “white wall” in respects to researching Plato for my next installment of Tackle the Library. So in honor of change and contrast, below is a list of all the new books I will be reading starting March 12th. This is a jumbled list of classics and some non-fiction – it doesn’t include six audiobooks which I am still picking out.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
The Anatomy of Story 
by John Truby
African Game Trails 
by Theodore Roosevelt
Maigret and the Ghost 
by Georges Simenon
The Pickwick Papers 
by Charles Dickens
All Quiet on
 the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Confessions of an English Opium Eater 
by De Quincy
The 39 Steps 
by John Buchan
The Subterraneans 
by Jack Kerouac
Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga 
by Hunter Thompson
Monsieur Monde Vanishes 
by Georges Simenon
The Moonstone 
by Wilkie Collins
Junky: The Definitive Text of “Junk” 
by William Burroughs
Another Country 
by James Baldwin

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The end of February also marks the completion of my Novella titled “We’re all Chihuahuas” which will be available in early March. I do hate February but at least the brown snow is good for getting work done. Think of some projects for yourself and start some new goals for spring. Don’t be stagnant and don’t waste your precious gift of life. February is almost over and I can see the sunlight peeking out of the clouds as I write this last sentence.

Two Types of Men

Being a man in today’s world is really hard. There are two types of men out there: the doer or the payer. The “doer” is the type of guy who gets his hands dirty and gets the job done on his own terms. The “payer” is the type of guy who pays others to get the job done so he can pursue other activities. I fall into the category of the payer. I would much rather pay a person to put up a fence for my squirrel-like chihuahua than spend the whole day cursing at wooden posts. The problem with my “man” status is that I am a cheap frick. Being a cheap payer is the worse combination because I don’t want to change the oil myself but at the same time I can’t stand the guy asking me if I want an upgrade to synthetic for $89.99. This always gets me in trouble. Just today, I spent 2 hours snow blowing my driveway. A true payer would have someone plow it while he sat in a chair reading Esquire. Me on the other hand, spends the whole time dreaming of sitting down to a good magazine while I begin to pummel the side of the house with a bunch of pine needles that I never got around to raking. A doer would have cleaned all the pine needles off the house, laid a bunch of salt, and put orange markers near the grass to ensure snow removal accuracy; instead, I cursed those pine needles, left the job 80% finished and spent the next hour arguing about planting grass in the spring with my wife.

As a cheap payer I struggle with a constant envy towards the doer type. I say to myself, “Wouldn’t be nice if I enjoyed tinkering on a car?” or “Wouldn’t it feel good to shoot an animal dead?” Instead of enjoying the raw aspects of masculinity I spend my time looking for tire rotation coupons and informing my Dad about the health benefits of dark chocolate. Being a cheap payer is like being in masculine purgatory. I go into projects like a moaning preteen – in the end, the project never turns out sufficient and I can’t boast of any success to my wife. Here is a familiar play:

-Christina: “Jon, can you fix the paint chip on my car?”

-Me: “Um…I am actually writing a blog post so I don’t think so…”

-Christina: “Do it or I will get it professionally done.”

-Me: “Alright…” Three weeks later “I fixed your paint chip!”

-Christina: “Great how did you do it?”

-Me: “I bought some car-spray paint from Auto Zone. Do you like how it looks?”

-Christina: “I’m going to reread my Wedding Vows to see if there are any loopholes!”

So what is a cheap payer to do in a masculine world where you either wear Carhartt jackets and ride 4-Wheelers or wear fancy sweaters and drive golf carts? Honestly, I don’t think I will ever get rid of my cheapness and I don’t think I will ever enjoy working with my hands. My solution is to overcompensate my manliness in two ways: communication  and accepting help from others. I think men are lacking in these two areas and they fit right into my hobbies of reading and conversing. Many times the doers can fix material things but fall flat on their faces when it comes to emotions, conversations outside of sports, and asking for directions. I need to play to my strengths and be the guy who knows the right thing to say at the right time. The guy who knows what he is talking about but also knows how not to be a “know-it-all.” In respects to asking for help, I am going to use more YouTube tutorials, my Dad, and random strangers if I am in a quandary. Instead of feeling like a hopeless terd when trying to figure out a project, I can use the advice of others to empower myself and become motivated. Of course, the ultimate goal is to be a man who knows when its worth it to pay and not worth it to pay – a doer with the right priorities and the humility to seek out a friend. For now, the pine needles will stay and I will look online for DIY tree sap removal.

 

 

The Labor of Adversity

Happy Labor Day everybody! Today most of us are eating a bounty of grilled food, spending time with family, and catching up on well needed rest. In honor of Labor Day, I wanted to write a post about my most recent book All Souls: A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick Macdonald. This book is a memoir which tells the author’s story of growing up in the south Boston projects during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. The area he specifically grew up in was referred to as “Southie” and was primarily inhabited by poor white-Irish Americans. The name Southie was given to this area because of its geography and because of its long history of racial tensions. In the 70’s, the city of Boston decided that Southie needed more integration and subsequently started busing black students into neighborhood schools. This led to riots, murders, and a host of drop outs by Southie teens who didn’t want to deal with dangerous race wars in between class hours. In addition to school integration, Boston began to give Southie housing to immigrants which added fuel to the already racially hostile neighborhood. The race riots and integration protests eventually subsided but the tight-knit Irish community had one big problem that would never go away. That big problem was Whitey Bulger. Whitey ran a drug syndicate that brought more cocaine per capita into Southie than any other neighborhood in the country. This cocaine led to a plethora of drug related violence, deaths, and jail time for all age groups in the Southie projects. The author grew up with 10 brothers and sisters who were all raised by his single mother. The book is full of tragic stories about his siblings and their involvement with illegal activities. In the end, four of his siblings died because of murder, suicide, or negligence by the healthcare system. Sadly, all members of the Southie neighborhood directly knew of someone who was affected by drugs. The ironic thing about Southie was that people refused to talk or snitch to the police and most upheld Whitey Bulger as a celebrity. The FBI would eventually pursue Whitey and force him to flee his beloved Boston. The hardships of this book are quite depressing but the author decided to stay in Southie and would lead support groups for those who had lost loved ones and bring out the truth of Southie’s violent inner workings.

The story of Southie is a sad realization that there are places in America where kids and families are constantly surrounded by hate, violence, and addiction. The beautiful thing about America is that people have opportunities to move up and out of neighborhoods like these and make better lives. The author of this book lived in Southie but chose a different path then his drug dealer friends.  I commend all those people who have worked hard to overcome adversity and they are the ones I will think of this Labor Day. No matter what your current condition is, you can work to improve yourself and your environment. I have been blessed with a very privileged life and I know it is easy for me to say these things; T\that is why I loved this book because MacDonald is a perfect example of someone who lived through the worst and came out of it with his head held high. This Labor Day let’s assess our own situation, work towards a better future, and always believe that we can make the best out of any circumstance.