Confessions of a Bad Friend

No one ever really leaves their school days behind. We graduate older and somewhat wiser than when we entered, but carry with us personalities and associated baggage formed during that time.

The teenage years are a crucible in which we are shaped. Whether it is a good thing that this happens in school is a debate for another day. It just is.

Sadly, some of us, me included, could be horrible people during those days. Just absolutely wretched. Worst of all, we could be wretched to people we considered friends in order to acquire status in the eyes of people who were really also kind of horrible.

That’s right: I had good friends I threw under he bus, on more than one occasion. Because I could be kind of an asshole when I was younger.

More than “could be.” I kind of was.

It’s shameful to think about, but less embarrassing. Age gives perspective, and moments like these are why we are able to learn and grow.

But man, I’d love to have some of those years back.

I thought of this particular individual as I filled out my application for a security clearance for work. A part of the application involved listing the names and contact information of those who have known you for a certain amount of years.

“Ah, my friend [NAME WITHHELD] would be perfect!” But then two thoughts came to mind:

  1. Would he actually respond, or even give me a positive reference?
  2. Can I truthfully consider this person a “friend”? Does he?

The answer to question 1 is unknowable. But I know the answer to question 2 is an unequivocal “no.” Continue reading “Confessions of a Bad Friend”

The Ladder Generation

I am of the first generation to do worse-off financially than its parents’ generation.

I’m okay with that. There are other things that we can give to our children and the succeeding generations, hard-fought bits of wisdom that will help them avoid the same mistakes we made, and some advice regarding things they can do now to make the future easier.

This will be short and sweet, and is meant to elaborate upon a tweet thread from a few days ago that got a halfway-decent response.

Becoming an adult is a good thing. Reject the youth-worship that’s engulfed American culture for the past 50 years. It will stultify you more than nearly anything. Learn. Grow. Progress. Improve.

And sometimes . . . sometimes, listen to old guys.

Alright my friends, here we go:

  • Avoid Expectation Inflation: We are living in an anomalous time of unprecedented material abundance and physical security. Our parents likely never faced hardship, and they–maybe even our grandparents–grew up in a post-World War II world where (1) prosperity seemed to happen without even trying and (2) the older generations wanted to make sure that the younger generations never experience similar hardship. This led to many of us thinking that if we just followed The Rules, we’d be similarly successful–a house bigger than our parents’, more cars, better vacations–just because! This is not the case. It seems self-evident now, but when you’re in the sea, you don’t really notice the water. It’s okay to not have exactly the same lifestyle your parents had. Or even better, if you want that lifestyle, get serious about what it takes to achieve it. The rules have changed. It’s different than when your parents were younger. That world is over. I had the misfortune to be in my teens and twenties during this transition. The transition is over. You are aware of it now. Realize that the future is what you make of it, and not a given.
  • Be Serious: Don’t just think about what you want out of life and where you’d like to be. Make a plan. Bring it to life by writing it down. Make a list of where you’d like to be one year from now, five years from now, and ten years from now. Add some concrete steps you can take, or systems you can put into place, in order to get to where you want to be. Put it away for a few months and then revisit it to see where you are. The time and relative lack of responsibility that you have now won’t last forever. Lay the foundation in your 20s so you have something solid to build upon in your 30s. This ties into the next bit of advice. Continue reading “The Ladder Generation”

Jane Austen: The Conclusion

So now that I’ve read every single Jane Austen novel, ever, it’s time to make sense of it all, isn’t it? Isn’t that what blogs are for, to try to create a context–a larger story–even when there isn’t one?

Especially when there isn’t one?

Or maybe, just maybe, I really enjoy writing about reading. And writing.

In any event, I can safely say the following two things:

  1. Jane Austen’s novels are fantastic,
  2. Jane Austen may very well have written the best dialogue the English language has ever seen

What? That’s high praise from a dude reading chick lit, man! But like I said in my very first Jane Austen post many moons ago:

 In reading Sense and Sensibility, I’m struck by how nice it is to enjoy a story where men are manly and women are womanly, each sex exhibiting strengths, weaknesses, and in general complimenting each other the way those in healthy relationships should. Throw away all of the social stuff regarding the limited opportunities for women at that time and enjoy the story for what it is.

No, this isn’t some evil member of the white male patriarchy lamenting his lost power (first of all, I never had any power to begin with). It’s just . . . unique to read a story from a world where people seemed to have confidence in their identities. For starters, there wasn’t any self-loathing or existential angst in these stories. That would invade literature later.

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Anyway, I’ll divide this post into The General section and The Specific section (names subject to change). In the former, I’ll go over what I admire about Jane Austen’s writing, her strengths, and any criticisms I may have. And in the latter part, I’ll give a brief rundown of each book, my takeaway, and an overall rating/ranking that I’m sure will upset most people who study Jane Austen’s works more than I do, but what the hell, it’s my blog. So here goes! Continue reading “Jane Austen: The Conclusion”

Book Review: Lady Susan by Jane Austen

And here we are, at the conclusion of my highly enjoyable read-through of the complete works of Jane Austen. The final story in my novel is apparently the one that Austen wrote first but published last–or to be more accurate, it was published posthumously. In any event, the epistolary Lady Susan is a quick, funny, light but ultimately satisfying conclusion to my survey of this giant of English literature.

Or giantess. Whatever.

Lady Susan details the foibles of the recently widowed Susan Vernon and her machinations. Quite what she’s aiming at, Lady Susan herself doesn’t seem to know, save that (a) she thinks very little of her sixteen-year-old daughter Frederica, and (b) she is a shameless flirt.

That’s right, Lady Susan is the early 19th-century British equivalent of a thot. She constantly craves attention and validation for her fading beauty and feminine wiles, wants to be catered to, and has a read supply of thirsty beta orbiters happy to oblige. If social media had been around in her day, Lady Susan would have been an absolute queen of it.

If you rankle at my use of modern-day Internet terminology, know that I use it only to underscore the fact that socio-sexual dynamics have changed so very little across time.

And thinking in these terms makes Lady Susan all the more hilarious. Continue reading “Book Review: Lady Susan by Jane Austen”

Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

The great Jane Austin read-through continues with her final published work, Persuasion, which hit the public in 1817 some six months after Austen’s death.

Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of a minor baronet Sir Walter. Sir Walter is a widower who doesn’t care much for Anne at all, devoting most of his time and attention to his eldest daughter Elizabeth. But the handsome and vain Sir Walter, more concerned with appearances and being thought of as a member of high society, is also a bit of a spendthrift. In addition to shunting off his parenting duties to Lady Russell, his late wife’s friend and Anne’s godmother, he’s burned through the family fortune.

But Lady Russell has a solution: The Elliots should rent out their estate, Kellynch Hall and retire to more modest lodgings in Bath until their debt is paid off. Like Northanger Abbey, the city of Bath is one of Persuasion‘s main settings–in fact, the two books were originally published together. And like Northanger Abbey, and pretty much every single Jane Austen book, marriage is a central theme.

I understand it: in early 19th century England marriage was one of the few ways in which a young woman could improve her lot in life. Every single work of Austen’s is a variation on this theme. That said, she does such a good job with the characterizations and in setting up her problems and resolutions that these stories never get stale. Continue reading “Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen”

Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Another book finished in my read-through of the works of Jane Austen, that famous British author known for her tales of romance that were simultaneously good entertainment and critiques and commentaries on British society. This time it’s Mansfield Park, Austen’s third novel, published in 1814.

Some consider her works to be, and I hate this term, “chick lit.” That is, not a type of gum, but “literature for women.”

To borrow a phrase from our English friends, bollocks.

Good literature is good literature. Calling Austen “chick lit” is like saying a book like The Killer Angels a “guy book” just because it’s about the Civil War.

I see Jane Austen, in a way, as the intellectual forefather (foremother?) of Ray Davies, the great singer and songwriter for the rock band The Kinks. Both of them poked fun at English society and norms, not with meanness and snark, but with a great deal of love and affection.

Enough background. On to the review.

As with my reviews of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, I don’t to rehash plot points here, and instead answer a very simple question:

What should anybody, particularly a male-sort of person living in the twenty-first century, read this book? What did I get out of it?

Again, being an American living in the year 2016, I am not quite as familiar with what was going on in English history in the year 1814 except as it implicates America (for example, there was this war between England and America that started in 1812 . . .). And to be fair, Mansfield Park is no sweeping historical novel, using world events as a backdrop.

I am also not that knowledgeable about the norms of the British class structure in the early nineteenth century, save for that it was pretty rigid and that, for women, marriage was one of, if not the, only way to improve one’s lot in life.

Instead, while reading, I focused on some of the more ordinary points that Austen tried to make, particularly as they pertain to relationships.

And in this regard, as with the other Austen novels I’ve read, Mansfield Park doesn’t disappoint. Continue reading “Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen”

Reinventing the Reinvented Wheel

Sometimes it gets, to use an overused Internet term, exhausting 

What does?

Life. Existence. History. 

No, I’m not going goth on you. Let me explain. 

Every single generation in human history ignores the lessons of the past, screws up, realizes that the old timers were right, and desperately tries to keep the next generation from making the same mistakes. 

Except it never works. Ever. 

Check out the Strauss-Howe generational theory. Whether you buy it or not, it presents a compelling case as to why we see the same patterns again and again in history. 

It’s kind of depressing to think a nut, especially if you don’t like the particular cycle, or generations archhetype, you find yourself in. 

This blog is an attempt to make sense of the world, tie everything together, and help people, particularly younger ones, avoid the mistakes of my past. 

If even one person finds what I do here useful, I will consider that a success. 

However, I’m selfish. I’m greedy. And I’m a narcissist. 

I want to help more people. Educate them. Talk with them. Dare I say it, change them. 

Even…[CORNBALL WARNING]

…[YOU WERE WARNED]…

CHANGE THE WORLD. Continue reading “Reinventing the Reinvented Wheel”