Five Simple Ways to Lift Your Spirits

This weekend we returned to Standard Time—or, as I like to call it, Darkness Savings Time. This is usually a week where I can feel kind of meh, but I have made efforts to get on an earlier schedule, which helps, not to mention a daily dose of Vitamin D. I have some other simple actions that I often take to get myself out of a funk. I thought I’d share them with you. It’s good to keep a list like this handy, so that when the doldrums come you’re not sitting around waiting for the flash of inspiration that never comes. So, here are five simple things you can do to pull yourself out of a funk.

1. Get a hair cut, or shave.  I don’t shave every day; instead, I keep my beard and the hair on my head at about the same length. Believe it or not, I use clippers without any guard. Sometimes I let this go a little too long, and then on a day when I’m feeling run down, I look in the mirror and notice that I look like a wooly mammoth, which is unbecoming of anyone professing to belong to the human race. I get out my clippers, my jaw line becomes discernible once again, and usually I’m in a better mood. Total time investment: maybe ten minutes.

Those who are recently shorn often look and feel younger, thinner, and more vigorous than their bushy counterparts. What’s more, I find it to be a better solution than dressing up, which can be uncomfortable. No matter how skinny I get, there is always a point on my hip bones where the trousers and the belt start to dig in, so taking care of my hair—one of the remaining unhappy elements of the human body that evolution has yet to take care of—is often a better solution to get me feeling better about myself again.

2. Clean your house.  I came home from work yesterday, took one look at the clutter that I allowed to build up over the past few weeks, and heaved a sigh of disgust. Sometimes life gets crazy and our homes become, more or less, a kind of pit stop. We throw things here and there until the clutter mounts up to poetic proportions. This makes our living spaces unlivable, so that when we are there we don’t have the hideaway from the rest of the world that we need. As with any overwhelming task, it helps to break it down. Focus on one area that you really need to use with a sense of peace. Need to get some reading or writing done? Concentrate on your den or office. Wish you could cook a big meal for friends? Focus on the kitchen and dining room.

I actually have a studio apartment, which changes the game completely, but makes the matter much more crucial. There is no such thing as picking up a mess and simply moving it to another room—one of my favorite techniques of yore. My problem du jour is the clothing pile from Hell.  Of course, instead of addressing this yesterday, I took a nap. I needed it. And no one sees my apartment anyway. But when it is clean, I actually get a sense of comfort from being there.

3. Take a long walk. I was tempted to make running an option here, since, as I have discussed before, its benefits are manifold, but walks have their own specific up-sides. I am thinking, in particular, of their ability to reveal heretofore unseen corners of the world to the observer.  The Fall is a really good time for this. Take the opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasures that nature offers, like John Adams did in the last episode of the HBO series about him. Yesterday I was walking along Pine St. in Philadelphia when I found a tree whose leaves had turned to colors of yellow and red so that it looked like the whole thing was ablaze. Against the evergreen shutters of the nearest house, it was a gorgeous site. I should have taken a picture.

These are the kinds of things you see on a walk that you often don’t see on the drive home from work, either because you’re tired or you have to pee or whatever. I have discovered new restaurants this way, too. One important thing: Walk slow. This is not exercise; it is not a task. It is leisure, and that’s ok. Not every important thing in life has to do with making money or taking care of your family. Your own self is important too. So, leave the house, and don’t tell anyone where you’re going.

4. Call an old friend. Forget social media. Pick up the telephone, or get on Skype, and listen to the sound of an old friend’s voice. Tell him your problems, your plans, your fears, your frustrations.  We only have so many true friends in life, and these days we tend to be spread out all over the place. There are people that I don’t speak to for months or years at a time, but when we get going again, it’s like we never missed a beat. Those kinds of friendships are great, and necessary.

It’s easy to get distracted by the people around us, but often these are not our friends but rather people who want something from us and are massaging us in an effort to get it. It’s good to be nice to acquaintances, but it’s important to know that they are not our friends. Stick to your most reliable five friends, and don’t be afraid to call them when you need to. If they are good friends, they will tell you when you are full of crap, when you are lying to yourself, when you aren’t being realistic, and when you are not giving yourself enough credit.

I remember getting ready for a recital a few years ago and complaining to a friend that it wasn’t going well, that I had no business playing in public, that I should do something else for a living, etc. With each finished beer my autobiographical commentary got worse. Then the recital came. He pulled me aside afterwards and said, “Now listen, everything you said was absolutely untrue.” I needed to hear this, and coming from someone who studied with one of the world’s best percussionists, it was encouraging. I needed to hear that. Stay in touch with these people, because chances are that many people in your immediate vicinity are mere operators.

5. Sing. Music in general is beneficial, even just listening to it. Better than simply listening is actively listening, and better than actively listening is actively making. When I was a kid, I would play the piano for hours after coming home from the windowless prison block that was labelled an intermediate school. Singing in particular is most beneficial because it forces your body to use more oxygen, which gets your brain fired up. I have dragged myself to my voice lesson, thinking that I was too busy, tired, sick—whatever—to go through with this. But on those days I usually leave completely refreshed.

You could sing anything, really—maybe a song by Johnny Cash or Ray Charles. I actually recommend art songs, and before you think this is too snotty for you, hear me (or read me) out. Many of these songs have melodies that anyone can identify with, along with texts that are as sagacious as the Psalms and not half as gory. They speak mainly of love and death—which is to say, of life. Many of them are translated into English. I’ll bet you can find many of them at Look for recordings on YouTube.  I recommend music by Faure, Schubert, Brahms, and Grieg, just for starters. There’s a lot out there.

So you’re not a real singer? Good! Remember the words of H.L. Mencken: Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Excellence certainly has its place, but so does recreation. And you just might surprise yourself. You might be better than you realize.  Just don’t try Liebestod the first week.

Well, there you have it, a little arsenal of weapons with which to fight the principalities and powers of gloomdom. More tools to use in the discipline of rejoicing. All the best to you.

Two LRC podcasts to drive the Anti-Saloon League batty

Seventy five years ago yesterday, Prohibition was repealed.  It would figure, of course, that this was not motivated by common sense, but rather by political greed.  Lew Rockwell talks to Mark Thornton about all this.

Be sure also to listen to the interview with Thornton about the drug war.

It’s interesting to me that, with respect both to alcohol and drugs, they became more dangerous after they were banned–so that whole bit about banning stuff for our own good is probably complete garbage.

Nonetheless, if you can find more than five people that you know who are capable of having a reasonable conversation about these substances, you are doing better than I am.  Americans love to find the faults of others and to correct them, even if it means ruining lives in the process.  Mencken said that most citizens love the law the most when it is established in order to protect them from themselves.

Everyone knows that the drug war has been an abysmal failure, but its status as a quasi-religion (a false one, to boot), with Nancy Reagan as its heavenly queen, pretty much prohibits reasoned discussion about the subject, let alone a sane recognition of the principles of non-aggression and personal responsibility.

On learning to stand up straight

I generally have a tendency to think about things too much, and to be too cautious in my decision making. I have, at times, passed up opportunities because of too much risk, or so I thought. In the area of music, which is my profession, this happens a lot. I shy away from projects with indefinite outcomes.

Today, however, I may have turned a corner. During my late night practice session, something clicked in me, and I caught myself being bold, taking the initiative, in a certain way. We have such a tendency to walk around with “the look of the hunted,” as Richard Weaver said, unsure of ourselves, and asking, “Is this right?” or, “What will others think?” I have been plagued by this kind of stupidity for years.

With boldness, however, comes achievement. I got more work done tonight than I’ve gotten done in days. I was operating with less sleep and later in the day, but there it is. The thought occurred to me that our ability to meet our expectations depends upon the posture we take. If we crouch down like the hunted, we will be eaten alive. If we stand up straight and make bold to do something, we have no boundaries.

The first posture is one of safety, the second is one of liberty. Most people do not want to be free, they want to be safe, said Mencken. But only the free will be able to do anything that’s worth a damn. Sure, if things go badly, one tumbles hard, but it sure beats being a cog in the wheel of the “Mediocracy,” doesn’t it?

All of this would seem to advise us to avoid ordinary people. If we spend our time with the fearful and the unremarkable, we too will be unremarkable. It is far better to fill our contact lists with the names of the extraordinary, for the extraordinary man brings out the good qualities of those around him.

F.A. Hayek once remarked that societies which suffer an onerous government are often less virtuous than freer societies. It’s probably true as well that freer societies have more excellent men in them. Indeed, liberty encourages boldness, and vice versa, and liberty also encourages harmony amongst men. And so, if we are free, we can sing along with the Psalmist, Ecce quam bonum, et quam jucundum habitare fratres in unum!

Richard M. Weaver

I seem to have begun a trend of reading books about language.  Right now I’m delving into H.L. Mencken’s The American Language, Fourth Edition.  In addition, however, while browsing around the library website I happened upon Richard M. Weaver’s Language is Sermonic, and I can’t wait to get started on it.  I’ve placed a hold, and I’ll head up there as soon as traffic dies down.

Weaver is an interesting character.  Raised in rural North Carolina, he had the sagacity of an octogenarian, even at a relatively young age.  His writing style reminds me of a wonderful teacher I had in college who was raised not far from Weaver’s hometown.  When I finished Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, I felt as if my whole brain had been rearranged, and in a good way.  It’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read.

The careless or biased reader of Weaver might try to pigeonhole him as a Tory, or, worse, a theocrat, but based on what I’ve read of him so far, I’d be very cautious about assigning exact labels to his political thinking.  He was too smart for that, for one thing.  The closest one might get is by calling him some kind of old school conservative–of the John T. Flynn or Albert Jay Nock variety rather than of the Buckley or Goldwater asylum.   For what it’s worth, the final chapters of Ideas Have Consequences, written already in 1948, spell out possible cures to our ailing culture:  the protection of property rights (which at this point would be more like the recovery of property rights), the restoration of language, and piety and justice–which can probably be summed up as tradition, that is, respect for our fathers and our history.  Notice that only one of these cures–property rights–relates even remotely to the State, and that it involves the negative role rather than the positive.

Take some time to get to know the work of this Southern aristocrat.

H.L. Mencken on Democracy

“Now and then, in a human body otherwise apparently healthy, certain lowly varieties of cells run amok and begin assaulting their betters: their aim is to bring the whole body down to their own vulgar and incompetent level. The result is what is called a cancer. In the social organism the parallel phenomenon is called democracy. The aim of democracy is to destroy if possible, and if not, then to make ineffective, the genetic differences between man and man. It begins in the political domain–by setting up the doctrine that one man’s opinion about the common affairs of all is as good as any other man’s–but it always tries to extend itself to other and higher domains. In a democratic society it is more hazardous than elsewhere to show any oddity in conduct or opinion. Whoever differs from the general is held to be inferior, though it may be obvious, by any rational standard, that he is really superior. People who live under democracy tend to wear the same kind of hats, to eat the same food, to laugh at the same jokes, and to admire the same mountebanks. They become, as the phrase has it, standardized.  Their laws lay heavy penalties on any man whose taste in reading, in drinking or in any other private avocation differs from that of his neighbors. Life tends to be regimented and unpleasant, and everyone is more or less uneasy.”