I love the mystique of the sailor. I was reminded of this noble life by reading Tai-Pan, the great novel by James Clavell. Here is a choice excerpt:
A ship was charging through the east channel in full sail. Her free-lifting square sails and gallants and royals were swelling to leeward, cut into rotund patterns by the buntlines and leach lines, her taut rigging straining and singing against the quickening wind. The rake-masted Clipper was on the lee tack on a broad reach and her bow wave flew upward, her gunnel awash, and above the froth of her wake—white against the green-blue ocean—sea gulls cried their welcome.
It’s a world that’s removed from us. Today’s journey is centered on freeways, Iphones, and the drive thru line at Starbucks. Amazon, Instagram, and Snapchat. What do we know of bunt lines, lee tacks, or gunnels? And yet, it’s a world that planted the seeds of America—ocean discovery. It was the sailor, intrepid in his spirit, that forged the open ocean. It was the sailor that landed on the savage lands of America, bringing civilization to the teeming forest. It was the sailor that planted the seeds of adventure in the American spirit.
We owe so much to the ancient sailors—their courage can teach us to dream bigger, to reach higher. The sailor is a role model to the modern man.
Imagine you were in prison for 10 years. During that time, 10 songs played over and over. The music was horrible—angry vocals with lyrics about a violent world. You hate the songs at first. But then, for your own sanity, you learn how to process them—you learn how to accept the music as part of your consciousness.
But then one day….you escape! You break out of prison, run to the shoreline, and steal a boat. You spend hours rowing on the open sea. Eventually, you come to a deserted island. It’s beautiful place, filled with clean water and tropical fruit. You kiss the ground and cry. Thank God you’re out of prison! Thank God you’re free!
Do you know what happens now? Do you know what happens now that you’re “free”?
You think about the songs that you heard in prison – you’re still a prisoner.
Prison is psychological, not just physical—it lives in your your mind as well. This point was elaborated on brilliantly in Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. The main character commits a double murder and he’s never caught—but he’s emotionally tortured by the guilt. The point is clear enough—he’s already in prison. He’s already serving a punishment.
What agitating”songs” are currently being played in your prison?
First solution: eliminate those songs. These “songs” could be people you’re surrounded by, television shows you’re watching, etc. Some tough decisions will have to be made. You might have to distance yourself from people you otherwise love – even family. But your personal happiness comes first. You can’t make somebody else happy if you’re miserable.
Second solution: teach yourself to think again. Read great books, hit the gym, only watch selective programming on television. Remember that ideas are the food of the mind. Garbage in, garbage out. So you’ll have to teach yourself to “eat healthy” thoughts. Like all changes, it won’t be easy. But it must be done.
Freedom is a mental state, as well as a physical one.
I stumbled upon this line in The Idiot, by Dostoevsky. A masterful book by a literary genius:
“It is better to be unhappy and know the worst, than to be happy in a fool’s paradise.”
In short, it’s better to be a realist—to know the cold truth. And I agree…it seems like a good idea. Great men are better than fools. The genius is above the idiot. But I believe in something more: a higher plateau.
To be happy when you know the worst…that’s the goal!
Despite everything, your toes are tapping. You’ve read the history of foreign wars, massacres, and mutilations. You’ve seen into the darkness of the human soul. You’ve seen how a fantasy is destroyed by reality. Yet still, your toes are tapping. You skip to and fro like a child.
Strength: The ability to achieve happiness in the middle of carnage. How many people can do it? How many people can achieve it? Your degrees and diplomas won’t matter. Your travel destinations won’t be relevant. Only an ability to skip freely through the world. To lift yourself up like a child. To laugh madly like a loon.
People will think you’re stupid. Don’t you know about suffering? Don’t you know about the endless riots and robberies? Of course you do. But you’ve learned something great. You’ve risen above the carnage.
Chaplin received a lot of praise as a great “silent” comedian—a man who relied on physical comedy to tell a story. However, I always found Harpo Marx to be more memorable (no slight to Chaplin of course, who was legendary in his own way).
Their differences were noteworthy…
Harpo was a world-class musician. And for me, the harp is a magical instrument—a device that hijacks the listener’s ear; it takes you into the auditory clouds and leaves you there. Heaven on earth! Harpo was a master of the instrument; he had a boyish charm, exemplified by the way that children loved him. My favorite renditions by Harpo were “Blue Moon” in At the Circus, “Suwanee River” in Love Happy (fast forward to 1:03:00 of the video) and “Everyone Says I Love You” in Horse Feathers. His performances can bring tears to your eyes.
Harpo was also part of a unique team—this allowed him to shine in a way that Chaplin never could. Harpo could lean on the talents of Chico and Groucho (my apologies to Zeppo and Gummo for the necessary omission). The Marx Brothers had a chemistry that melded into one—they were like a singular figure. Harpo worked well with Groucho, but I really liked his rapport with Chico. It’s funny how they were paired as “friends,” yet they were diametric opposites: an Italian gambler and a clownish mute. Yet their partnership was believable. It was a strange combination that managed to fit perfectly—like chicken and waffles, or French Fries and mayonnaise.
And finally, his antics were unique. He would honk his horn, place his leg in a person’s hand, or make a face called a “gookie.” These comedic charms have become a trademark. That’s the sign of a great actor—being unique. Anyone can copy, mimic, or imitate. But it takes a great mind to forge a unique idea. To give birth to an original thought. For these individuals, we reserve the title of “genius.” They are the heroes of a generation.
The German language is a train wreck. Guttural noises, crashing against one another. A reckless orgy of words. An assault upon the ear drums. Many foreigners have been ear raped on the mean streets on Munich.
But let’s give credit where credit is due—Germans have some great words. Like all great words, there’s only ONE way to describe the situation: and that word fits perfectly. There’s no need for an endless pile of synonyms, soon to be forgotten.
Weltanschauung = The worldview of a particular group of people
Schadenfreude = Pleasure derived from the misfortune of others
Waldeinsamkeit – The feeling of being alone in the woods
It’s time we gave more respect to this noble language. I believe that learning to speak German is an honorable goal. Sure, you will twist your tongue, sound foolish, etc. You’ll spend a lot of time and money. Your friends will wonder what you’re doing and you might even question whether it’s worth it.
But remember…the ability to say Backpfeifengesicht at the right place and time is priceless.
Ideas are spoken in the classroom of your mind…and what do they say? When you’re surrounded by excellent men, the ideas are uplifting, challenging, and they lead to personal growth. The ideas are centered on great books and people—the best in what has been thought and said. When you leave the classroom, you feel spiritually refreshed. The world is an open highway, leading to a city of gold.
But not all people are great. Some are clowns: the haters, the purveyors of bitter jealousy. Their goal is to disrupt the class, to incite, and to agitate—they have a misery that must be shared with all. They might be great at something in life—some rote trade, not requiring a spiritual satisfaction. But when it comes to enriching others, they’re incapable of giving back. They don’t make people better. They’re looking for an audience, not a conversation.
You have to limit the membership into the classroom of your mind. People won’t change their way of thinking; so you have to control who enters the classroom. Don’t waste your life with the wrong students in your class—you’ll fritter away the years of your life.
Is this you? If so, when will you change? When will you start putting your foot down?
Happiness is discriminatory. It realizes that humanity is not a brotherhood. It’s a Serengeti of battles, and you have to choose your soldiers carefully. Who will go into battle with you? It should be an individual who is dedicated to personal success, a person that is working to be better.
You’ll never climb the mountain of success if you have to carry other people’s backpacks.