Thursday, May 17, 2012

Patience and poisons.

This is the post I promised the other day on:

Surf Fishing, German Shepherd Dog competition, Saunas VS. Steam Rooms and Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy.

Dear Reader,

How in the hell is he going to connect all that?  With patience and poison.

Who is the greatest writer that ever lived?  What’s the greatest book ever written?  What’s the greatest novel ever written?  These questions are, of course, impossibly general in nature.  Can you really compare fiction to non-fiction?  A great History and to a great Novel?  Of course not.  And it’s not just the absurd nature of trying to universally label one work over all others, but the virtual impossibility of coming to grips with what exactly we mean by “greatest.”  Do we mean “best?”  Ok.  What do we mean by best?  Biggest?  Most pages?  Most words?  Most moving emotionally?  Wait though, what moves you emotionally might not move me emotionally, unless of course the writer has managed to tap into that Jungian universal subconscious stuff -- then we all love it.  Right?  Wrong.  What was the language in which the writer wrote the book, Russian?  Ok, what if the translator botched it?  How would you know?  You wouldn’t, you would just think the book sucks and that all those fawning Russian fans (who’s first language is of course Russian) are a bunch of uppity snots getting their furry-hatted didactic on.

So you see where I’m going here, it’s a can of worms.  And you know what you do with worms, right?  Use them as bait when fishing.  Not Surf Fishing but close enough.   Have some patience and I swear to God the title will make sense by the end of this post.  I hope so.

There are however a few things we can say with a fair degree of certainty, one is that we can agree that most people agree that William Shakespeare was the greatest writer that ever lived.  Certainly the greatest writer in the English language.  And two, is that Tolstoy hated Shakespeare.  Thought he was a hack.  A bad dramatist and not a true artist at all.  Here’s what Leo had to say about Bill in a 1903 essay:

“I remember the astonishment I felt when I first read Shakespeare. I expected to receive a powerful aesthetic pleasure, but having read, one after the other, works regarded as his best: King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, MacBeth, not only did I feel no delight, but I felt an irresistible repulsion and tedium...
"Several times I read the dramas and the comedies and historical plays, and I invariably underwent the same feelings: repulsion, weariness, and bewilderment...  Being desirous once more to test myself, I have, as an old man of seventy-five, again read the whole of Shakespeare, including the historical plays, the "Henrys," "Troilus and Cressida," the "Tempest," "Cymbeline," and I have felt, with even greater force, the same feelings, this time, however, not of bewilderment, but of firm, indubitable conviction that the unquestionable glory of a great genius which Shakespeare enjoys, and which compels writers of our time to imitate him and readers and spectators to discover in him non-existent merits,—thereby distorting their aesthetic and ethical understanding,—is a great evil, as is every untruth.”

Yikes.  So arguably the greatest novelist of all time thought arguably the greatest writer of all time sucked.  Where does that leave mere old “us?”  I mean, really, I’m not gonna argue with Lev are you?  Ah, but here’s the thing of it, Tolstoy didn’t consider himself a novelist, nor did he think War And Peace (arguably the greatest novel ever written) was a novel.  He considered it an epic in prose.

War and Peace and Anna Karenina are  certainly two of the greatest novels of all time, but the guy who wrote them considered one a novel and one not a novel.  I’ve read both.  Trust me they’re novels.  They’re the pinnacle of “realist fiction.”  But they are most definitely novels.

Tolstoy had a tendency toward the complicated and the paradoxical, he had extreme moralistic and ascetic views.  I mean this is a man whom at the age of 82, in 1910, after decades of agonizing over it, gathered the nerve to abandon his family and his wealth (and I mean chucked it all!) and embark upon the life of a wandering ascetic.

 Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount had a transformational effect on Tolstoy - leading to his becoming a Christian-anarchist (so much for The Vatican, The Middle Ages and all those Crusades, right?) and an anarcho-pacifist.   Try to imagine yourself at 82 years-old, decades into a comfortable retirement and then walking out the door one day to wander around and essentially seek inner truth by attempting to utterly rid yourself of “self.”  Wait.  What?

Complicated.  Yes. Sir.  Paradoxical?  Yep.  You see, Tolstoy was also a pacifist.  And an Anarchist.  Wait.  What again?  He was both a pacifist (non-violent no matter what) and an Anarchist (seeking to overthrow all government - he said undermine, but that’s Lev splitting his definitives again and playing silly little syntax games).  So, then, a passionate believer in complete non-violence between human beings in any form who nonetheless espoused the complete overthrowing of all government.  By non-violent means.  Which of course is impossible, because even if the pacifists remain non-violent the government will not, they will engage in violence.  See where this is going?  In order to remain non-violent and overthrown the government you have to incite violence (ok maybe not incite it, but be a part of it)  even though you claim you are neither inciting it nor participating in it, you, of course, are. Yep. Tolstoy.  Paradoxical.  Copy that.

Tolstoy died in 1910 (of pneumonia, jacked up on morphine and camphor) just days after having finally made the decision to go off-grid, give everything up and seek transcendence through utter personal, physical, material and financial deprivation.  Decades it gnawed at him to do this, and imagine that; he makes the decision and then dies.  That, my friends, is called cosmic irony.  Only slightly less ironic than the death of the famous monk Thomas Merton (The Seven Story Mountain), who after having taken a vow of silence and not uttering a word for many many years, took a week vacation outside the monastery and said something, then was promptly electrocuted in his hotel bathtub.  I think a fan dropped into the tub.

But the point of all of this is what do patience and poison have to do with anything.  Tolstoy was nothing if not a patient man. Patient as a writer (War and Peace has 580 separate and distinctly three dimensional characters playing across a sweepingly epic story landscape - spinning those plates is patience like Job had), patient as father and grandfather, and patient as a social reformer - he was a devout pacifist and what do pacifists do when the government sends in the military to force you back to work from a country wide general strike?  They wait.  Patiently.  And then a very large number of them die.  But still, it tends to work.  Ghandi?  Martin Luther King Jr.?  They loved Tolstoy.

And the poison part?  Tolstoy saw government and the wealthy as the poisons of mankind.  I agree a little on the former but not regarding the latter.  Still he went after the poison with patience.  I think he succeeded.  Remember the 1960‘s?  American Civil Rights legislation?  Thank Leo Tolstoy.

Being patient
Ok, here’s the Surf Fishing part.  It takes a lot of patience as well.  The fish are out there, yes they are.  Whiting, Pompano, Sheepshead, Redfish (all delicious eating - Tolstoy was a vegetarian, I am too, except for the fish part ;) all hang out just off shore, maybe a little beyond the first set of breaking waves, where I live that’s about 150 to 350 yards depending on the prevailing conditions and how the fish are feeling that day.  What can I control?  Only my gear: pole, reel, line, rigging (I recommend Mutard Pompano Pro Rigs) and where and how far I cast my bait.  After that it’s a waiting game.  Patience.  The poison?  That’s whatever stress, pressure or worry I’m carrying around.  And you know what worry is, right?  That’s a bunch of stuff that you have no control over, that you walk around obsessing about as if you have some control of it.  When I rig up and cast out while I’m standing waist deep in the ocean, with the hope (patient hope) that I’ll catch something, that makes the poisons go away.  Meditation.  I highly recommend it.

Maverick Vom Evans
German Shepherd Dog competition is an exercise in total patience and understanding.  All wrapped up in actually communicating with another species.  I’ve been training my dog, Maverick (pure bred GSD) for about 4 months now.  The GSD is an enormously athletic dog, has very high “drive” and as such is a high maintenance responsibility.  I don’t mean I have to buy him jewelry and current fashions to keep him happy either, I mean if you do not have the time to devote to the exercise of both the mind and body of an animal as eager to learn and please and protect, and needful of being in direct personal communication with you -- and if you don’t run him two to three times a day - then you’re abusing that German Shepherd Dog.  You are denying him the life he was purposed to live.  I’m very lucky because I do have the time, energy, desire and wherewithal to devote to him.  And the rewards are incredibly gratifying.

Maverick is exceptionally willful, highly intelligent, incredibly agile and he actually reasons.  Our relationship is built on a firm foundation of respect.  He lives in our world, not the other way around, so of course it’s me training him.  But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t rip my throat out.  He could, but he’s smart and he knows if he did that then he’d have nobody to throw the tennis ball for him.  

So we’re good.  Me and him.

Maverick at the beach!
The patience part of this piece of the post puzzle is obvious I think.  He’s eager to learn, eager to please, and I have to be patient with him because of course he doesn’t speak English.  So far though, things have gone better than my wildest expectations.  His vocabulary (words or phrases which either indicate something I want him to do, or not to do) is around 20 now.  Each one of these is also accompanied by a hand signal, about 2/3 of the commands I do not have to speak now.  I just give him a hand signal and he and I understand each other.  In the same way he will behave in a very particular manner to communicate to me that he either needs or wants something.  I’m patient with him and he’s patient with me.  I respect him, his intelligence and his potential, and he respects me as the alpha dog who’s not going to let anything harmful happen to him.

How great is that?

And the poison part of this piece of the puzzle?  Well, working my GSD, exercising him and communicating with him, learning with him (it’s a two way street) is a very focused endeavor.  When he and I are at it, it’s a pure sort of communication devoid of envy, frustration, anger, worry etc...  none of that nasty human-to-human stuff we all fall prey to from time to time.  Just a pure exchange of respect and learning.  I love that.  It purges the mind of those unfortunate human psychological negativities.  He and I are working toward honing our communication to the point where we can compete in  working dog and obedience competitions.  Well, that’s what they call them, but Maverick and me will just pretend they’re “communication competitions.”

Now, wrapping this all up, saunas and steam rooms.  This one should be so freaking obvious I should hardly have to write it down.  Sauna, hot and dry.  Steam room, hot and humid.  Human go in full of toxins and poisons (bad air, bad food, bad attitude), human come out poison free and sweating like the proverbial pig.  So go in, sit, sweat, be patient and get the poisons out.  Physical and mental.  I do this at least once a day.  But, if you need some history, here ya go:

“In Finland, Estonia and Latvia as well in Russia, the sauna is an ancient custom. It used to be a holy place, a place where women gave birth, and where the bodies of the dead were washed. There were also many beliefs and charms that were connected to sauna. It was, among other things, a place for worshipping the dead – it was thought of as such a wonderful place that even the dead would surely like to return to it. Curing diseases and casting love spells could also happen in the sauna. As in many other cultures, fire was seen as a gift from heaven in Finland, and the hearth and 

the sauna oven were its altars.”

Latvian sauna
Ancient stone sauna door

After all, one of the greatest things Tolstoy ever said, and I’m paraphrasing here was, “Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change themselves.”

So be patient, get the poisons out and change yourself for the better on a daily basis.  The world, your world, will be the better place for it.

Thanks for reading and check back soon.

And sign up to follow so I don’t have to keep sending out those mile long recipient-list emails!

Best as always,



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  3. I did not know very much about Tolstoy including Shakespeare's hatred towards him until now. Enjoyed this on my Thursday morning. :)


  4. Mollie,

    Thanks. Yeah, Leo was not a big fan of Bill. Oddly enough.

    I just posted a new column you might like.

    Check it out.