A happy surprise: My wife came home yesterday with a new DVD collection: 20 Tales of Terror. It includes 26 hours worth of classic (public domain) horror films. Since today is a rainy, fall-like day, I think this will be the perfect background to today’s slate of client work.

Just finished Adam Cesare ‘s VIDEO NIGHT. This is my kind of beach read. 80s nostalgia, solid horror story, just enough campy gore and characters who are largely angst-free. Perfect.

Up next…

I binged through 2 seasons of BLACK SPOT on Netflix in 3 days. It’s that good. God how I love bleak European horror/thriller television. 

Captain Laurene Weiss is the head of the Gendarmerie of Villefranche, an isolated town amidst a foreboding mountain forest. The town’s murder rate is six times the national average. There may or may not be an ancient evil hiding among the trees. Come for the concept, stay for the low grade sense of impending doom.

Are you serious, or not serious? “In your actions, don’t procrastinate. In your conversations, don’t confuse. In your thoughts, don’t wander. In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive.” – Marcus Aurelius

No, life isn’t easy, but it isn’t complicated either. The above rules are simple, clear to understand and easy to remember. In the affirmative they simply tell us to do three things well.

  1. Act
  2. Be clear in thought and word
  3. Stay calm

It’s the execution that gets tricky. We can’t say we don’t know how to live well, we can only say if we are serious about putting it into practice or not.

“But what does Socrates say? ‘Just as one person delights in improving his farm, and another his horse, so I delight in attending to my own improvement day by day.'” – Epictetus

Books, magazines, gyms, classes, machines and more are dedicated to helping us hone our bodies. We are a people addicted to the idea of fitness and physical beauty, and there is nothing wrong with that. But what if we spent half as much time building our character and capacity for virtue as we do our bodies? I venture that we’d be much better people.

Be a craftsman. Work in the 21st century, especially in the west, is often a means to an end, that end being money, the more of it the better. This is pretty soulless stuff, and we see a movement against it pop up now and again, from craft breweries, to the etsy marketplace. Heck, even those much-maligned artisinal cheese shops run by millennials with man buns are motivated by the same impulse – to make work an end in itself, to be more of a craftsman at an art than a cog in a wheel.

I think we can all take something from this resistance to the money at all costs culture. What if we all looked at our work, whatever work that might be, as more of an art, as more of something that can be continually practiced and honed until we are true masters at it. I think it would make our chosen careers more fulfilling. It would also make us more free since it is hard to be a slave to a job that you consider your own personal craft. It is simply what you do.

“Love the humble art you have learned, and take rest in it. Pass through the remainder of your days as one who wholeheartedly entrusts all possessions to the gods, making yourself neither a tyrant nor a slave to any person” – Marcus Aurelius

“For I believe a good king is from the outset and by necessity a philosopher, and the philosopher is from the outset a kingly person.” – Munsonius Rufus

The concept of the philosopher king has been around since at least Plato. The picture of a leader who carefully weighs the ethical and moral worth of each decision before committing to an action is comforting. It would certainly be a huge step in the right direction if one were to imagine how to fix the current mess of the global political system.

But could that really work? The sheer number of topics to be deliberated and weighed seem to make this type of thoughtful governance impracticable. Can you imagine a president or prime minister debating with her cabinet like Socrates in the agora for hours at a time over every little issue. While I am sure the actions eventually taken would be on much firmer ground than many are today, I think government as a whole would come to a near standstill. What may have theoretically worked for Athens, a city state of 250,000, would simply fail to scale to the 83 million citizens of a modern Germany to give one example.

So does this mean the whole idea of the philosopher king is a bust? Not necessarily, we are all after all kings of our own destiny, and our lives are fertile ground for exactly the kind of deliberation Rufus was getting at. Our major life decisions would benefit greatly from some Socratic dialogue before we render decisions and decide on a course of action. So we then can be philosophers who are kingly persons, if we chose to be.

” You must build up your life action by action, and be content if each one achieves its goal as far as possible- and no one can keep you from this.” Marcus Aurelius

Life is made up of moments, and if you keep your eye on what is directly in front of you and just do that well, then you’ll live a good life. Big obstacles are intimidating, but they are conquered by small, very doable actions.

Don’t focus on the the big intimidating goal. Losing 20 pounds is hard. Writing a novel is hard. But choosing a healthy meal right now is easy. Writing 300 words right now is doable. Keep doing the small things well an the big things will fall into place.

” Good people will do what they find honorable to do, even if it requires hard work….they wan’t do what they find base, even if it brings wealth.” – Seneca

For some reason this quote reminds me of Captain America, which I suppose is timely coming just off the Fourth of July. He too did what was right, even though the cost was great. He too shunned what was wrong, even when it would have been easier and even understandable.

Come to think of it, Captain America behaves stoic throughout the whole Infinity War series. He doesn’t get overwhelmed, focuses on what is in front of him, and keeps pushing until the job is done, regardless. But he’s not a mindless automaton either, there is real pathos in his character. Pretty stoic if you ask me.

I guess a motto of , be like Cap, isn’t such a bad thing, is it?

“Protect your own good in all that you do…” Epictetus

How does one protect his good? Why? Is it under attack? Will someone steal it in the night? Epictetus is somewhat esoteric when it comes to his meaning here, for when he speaks of good in this way he almost seems to be talking of the soul.

So to the first question, how does one protect his good, or soul? First and foremost we have to not let the sometimes overwhelming negative news of the day infect us with its rage, or worse its apathy. In a sense we need to stay naive, or like children.

I don’t think he means we should be ignorant of the world around us, more that we should deal with what is in front of us, where we can affect real change. The rest, those things beyond our reach, we need to let go. By focusing on the problems that we can fix we maintain our hope, which in turn protects our good.

As for the second question, is it under attack or threat of theft, I’d say yes. Anything that tries to steal our attention away from our own, or our community’s, betterment is trying to steal the good. Where we place our focus is where and what we grow. Toxic politics, wealth for wealth’s sake, recognition- these are all things that can steal the good from us and we need to be vigilant about how much attention we pay them.