Reflections on Aphorisms #93

Got a lot more writing done today than I did yesterday. Didn’t keep track, but I think it was in the area of about 4000 words.

Also finished listening to Bird by Bird, which I plan to write a review of later on in the week.

I’ve had the burst of inspiration I need to finish up most of the current freelancing I’m doing. Now the only thing that remains is to turn that inspiration into good writing.

Aphorism 131

Our temper sets a price upon every gift that we receive from fortune. 

François de La Rochefoucauld


There’s an old cliche about not looking gift horses in the mouth.

Our brains are wired to function in a primal mode most of the time, even if we aren’t conscious of it. We’re not thinking rationally because reason is something that has to be learned and consciously practiced, and even then we’re emulating it rather than really owning it as a function of our being.

So when we see something good, our first reaction is to look for the trap. Maybe our newfound bounty will attract larger, more dangerous scavengers.

A manifestation of this is that we’re often more critical of the good things in our life than we are of the bad ones.

Think of how many ways a loved one can annoy or irritate you. If you’re a writer, like I am (kinda), you will have realized (or will soon realize) that they can be very distracting, especially if they take advantage of your “free time” when you need to be exercising the discipline of writing.

This is only exacerbated by the modern era.

If only we lived without the joys of modern telecommunication. We’d just have to deal with constant uncertainty and lose access to the ability to get in touch with all our business associates, friends, and distant relatives at any moment!

A small price to pay, is it not?

However, it is much better to have both loved ones and technology in our lives. There are costs associated with them, either in the form of the dollar or the investment of time, effort, and emotion that accompanies relationships. We call this sacrifice, in case anyone was curious.

If you don’t have loved ones and you don’t have technology, you probably feel it. I don’t think I’d be able to write a thousand words per hour (I have written 400 words in eight minutes just now) without an electronic device of some sort. I could maybe pull it off with a typewriter, if I were really disciplined and had time to practice. My handwriting is so abysmal due to my pitiable manual dexterity that I doubt I would ever reach anything close, and I’d struggle to stay legible, in manual writing.

Perhaps I could have made do with dictation, but that’s only become trivially inexpensive in the modern day with the advent of computers that do it, and even then you wind up with all sorts of issues.

But technology is also our greatest distraction in the modern age. It’s full of wonders, delights, terrors, trivia.

It gives us a way to spend our whole lives doing nothing at all, like reading the blogs of master’s degree students or taking a voyeur-like interest in videos of cats, and those are at least redeemable uses of the internet. Cats are good for the soul, and mine has been deceased for some months. I live vicariously until my lifestyle and fear of loss return to a state which will allow me to welcome a new companion into my life.

We are often better at finding the benefits in our suffering than in our strength. My cat passed away right before I was due to leave town for a week and a half; she was killed by a stroke and if it had happened when nobody was around to check on her she would probably have died of thirst and hunger. The designated catsitter would have been informed of her reclusive tendencies and thought nothing of the disappearance until it was too late. Although her passing was difficult to deal with, there was a small glimmer of relief in the sense that we were able to be there with her as she suffered and were able to have her put down before she suffered terribly.

On the other hand, if you asked me what the benefits of my teaching job were before I left to go back to school full-time, I would have hemmed and hawed and had a really hard time giving you a concrete answer that really spoke to the truth. It’s not that I don’t miss teaching (I cried for hours on my last day), but rather that it’s easy to overlook how nice things were when you were busy actually dealing with them, how much watching students grow brings meaning and satisfaction to your life.


Appreciate the strengths of the good things; they may not be so obvious as they are made out to be.

Accept pain when it offers opportunity and improvement.

Remember that most things I have, even the things that are “intrinsic” to me, can be taken for granted and lost. Do not let that cause anxiety. Instead let it encourage me to use what I have when I have it.

Reflections on Aphorisms #13

Going to do a series of shorter reflections on aphorisms for a while so that I can focus on other writing, once I get back into a schedule I’ll be doing more. Until mid-week next week I’m going to be doing just one a day, and then perhaps even a tad longer than that.

Aphorism 20

“I believe the best definition of man is the ungrateful biped.”

Dostoevsky, quoted in The Viking Book of Aphorisms


Dostoevsky is probably one of my favorite writers. Carl Jung trash talked the writers of philosophical novels in his book Modern Man In Search of a Soul (Amazon affiliate link), arguing that they explained too much. On the contrary, I believe that philosophical novelists like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy represent valuable insights to how we feel about ourselves.

Human ingratitude is a common idea. We are limited in many ways by an inability to appreciate. Some of this is only natural. Gratitude must be learned. My experience working with children has taught me this. There is also the fact that what we consider to be good for us is not always good for us, and that what is considered to be harmful may actually be quite beneficial. We make for ourselves images of our own reality.

The problem is that we are idolators. We never truly consider what we need instead worship what seems to bring a satisfaction. Most of the time this is sufficient. After all, satisfaction often is tied to something good, at least in a first-order effect. If we eat we will no longer be hungry. However, the world is not simple.

The exact point at which our ability to appreciate breaks down may very well be unique to each individual some people besides themselves bemoaning the consequences of something they once believed to be good, feeling deceived and tricked by reality itself. Others, incapable of appreciating the immediate effect, never pay attention to what they have. The truth, painful as it is, is the I have seen very few people who are truly happy in every sense of the word. I believe this to tie directly to the problem at hand.

My life

I have learned as an adult to be that much more thankful for what I have. I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the worst deprivations known to people but also I have learned to see what I have rather than what I do not have.

This does not mean I never want anything, and I can’t claim to be a savvy consumer who never wastes money on things that wind up being unfulfilling, but it does mean that what I want does not feel like a necessity.

There was a time when entitlement was a buzzword. It may still be, I simply do not expose myself to so much foolishness as I did in my youth. I think that’s a great antidote believing that the Universe owes you something is to remember what you’ve might not have. I am a fan of the stoics. Sometimes I find myself to be a better member of their company than others, but key lesson that I have is that you are responsible for how you feel much of modern martyrdom is elective. There is no rule or oppression that holds most of us down. It is only ourselves.


Appreciate what I have.

Do not envy.

Tear down idols in my life.