I Stayed Up Too Late Writing This Again
Now with 100% less politics (sorry Max) and 0% more Pain and Power of Chores (sorry Fitz)
My pattern of writing at obscene hours continues with this newest installment. There are more of these but most are too short or too meandering to post.
There comes a time at night, usually between 10:30 and 11:00, when a primordial urge abruptly takes me over, as compelling as it is random — introspective, metaphysical, emotional, and sometimes ideological writing. It always starts when I’m lying in bed trying to fall asleep. I get up with a groan, knowing that I should at least try to get something done instead of lying awake in silence. I put on some old crooner or big band, maybe Duke Ellington, maybe Harry James, maybe Bing Crosby, and let the algorithm do its work. I start out cleaning, belting the lyrics whether I actually know them or not. Books and clothes get put away and some real progress gets done, but the biggest issue spot is always my desk.
The desk in my bedroom is the final destination for any and all of my detritus as well as my main workspace for school. This is, of course, a problem, and I set to work tidying it up. My vocal chords usually get a bit strained by now so I stop singing so enthusiastically, too. Eventually, I reach a satisfactory point and rummage about for some notebook, journal, sometimes even notepad, to write in. The writing begins in my trademark hurried scrawl (nobody actually sees the handwriting so I don’t need to make it legible for anyone other than me), often with an under-sharpened pencil and an underdeveloped idea. Sometimes I stop and think for long periods thinking of what to write, and sometimes I can barely get the words on paper fast enough. But I press on, back turned against the wind.
Who knows what or why this time is mine to write in more than any other hour of the day, and who knows how long this specific writing spree will last. My bad hand posture-induced cramp is starting, but Aretha seems nowhere near stopping.
All of this music swirling around me is essential, tangential as its inclusion in this writing may seem at first glance. I truly abhor writing in silence. It swallows up any creative thoughts one might have and spawns daydreams galore. On pain of getting into a diatribe over some topic or contention and the slow encroachment of ‘70s rock on what was once the sole domain of swing, I should be getting to bed. It will be a pain to type this up in the morning (it has been), but discovering something I’ve typed up will not ignite nearly as much nostalgia. Let me leave you with something I discovered tonight cleaning my desk...
Three men stand before a clear lake
Why have they come here?
There is so much more to do.
MT, 6/3/18, 10:53 PM
The Only Constant
“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside of your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.”
- Roy Bennet
Any change, big or small, is never able to be completely prepared for. You can steel yourself, set things in motion, do anything under the sun; but still, despite all that you will never be ready when it finally comes for you. And unexpected change... you’re like the fly in the proverbial windshield. So, once change does come, what can you do? The answer is always to take it in your stride and adapt. That’s how you get through life, through changes big, small, and everything in between. This is shown most by uncomfortable changes. You have to be able to see the light in every cloud, to have a good outlook that flies in the face of daunting challenges and situations.
”And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
I do not know who I will be. Granted, many people don’t, but that not knowing is what defines me. From someone who values knowledge above few other things, the essential uncertainty of my future is at once terrifying, tantalizing, and thrilling. There is no way to glean any facts or certainties - I am Magellan and time is my Pacific. But I also am always connected to the past like a fish to water. Tales of great thinkers, great conquerors, great achievers and great epics stretching back through the millennia. I live my life in the past, nose always buried in some tome or, less commonly, Wikipedia article about who knows what. I delight in learning about 13th century Balkan geopolitics. I relish reading about court intrigues of the late Qing era. My daydreams take me to Constantinople, Waterloo, Painpat, Lepanto, and a million others. I need that connection; it sustains me and inspires me to one day take part in one of these stories. That is what compels me at my core, the great hissing boiler in the bowels of the SS Max Troiano.
By Max Troiano
“The interest of businessmen is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought never to be adopted, till after having been long and carefully examined with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public.”
-Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776
(I wrote this at 1am because I couldn’t sleep, and it may or may not be sane or coherent in any way. I wanted to clear my mind by talking about my day before going to bed but instead wrote a small novel’s worth of political treatise. More is probably to come in the coming days.)
Today was great. I hiked with Moka and my family at Callahan State Park in Framingham, a new place I’m excited to return to. I didn’t exercise but the hike was about three miles through rolling terrain, so it’s better than nothing. We played Guess the Song as a family on Zoom with the CrossFit gang, and ended up winning! I think our off key rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody harmed our chances more than it helped, though.
Jack and I were able to spend some great time together playing Battlefront. I’m delighted to have him back from college (although the circumstances are less than ideal) and want to do more stuff with him in the future. It’s crazy how awesome it feels to have him back — honestly, I didn't really think I’d feel he’d miss him when he left but now that he’s home for who knows how long I find myself enjoying his company immensely.
(Warning: politics incoming! Turn back while you still can!)
Warm Earth, Dark Night, Bright Stars
By Max Troiano
“Stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they're watching me.”
The place I go is so unique that it only exists for one night, once a year. It can never be found by anyone looking for it, and can never be forgotten by those who remember it. In this place, the only sounds are your steady heartbeat and the tops of the trees tentatively swaying, not wanting to disturb the calmness all around.
We sneak out of the cabin at night, careful not to wake the snoring masses all around. A crunched leaf or a snapped twig, a careless trip or stifled cough, could kill it in an instant. But it still lives, against all the odds. And finally, after what seems like an eternity, we arrive. The dusty earth of the field, still faintly warm with the heat of a summer day, welcomes us with a light puff. It settles down as we do, grateful to have a companion.
We sit on the ground for a few moments, breathing the calm air, the day’s mosquitos finally gone. It is late, but my mind is still wide awake, letting every sense soak up the world around me like a thirsty sponge. At this moment, I am the only person alive - maybe the only person alive ever. All there is is you, the earth, and the air. Nothing else.
I lean back and lie fully prone on the ground, eyes wide open and pointing to the merrily twinkling stars. They are omnipresent, omnipotent, and all-powerful. Silent and sure, keeping watch over every living thing. Perfection encapsulated, beauty ensconced in a patchwork quilt of pinpricks upon the firmament. Never have I felt so alive, and never have I felt so small.
There is no telling how long I lay there. It could have been seconds, it could have been hours, it could have been years. Not even the stars know for sure. But every time the world threatens to collapse out from under me, I return to that earth, that night, and those stars. And I know, no matter how far I roam or wherever life leads me, I can go back to this place. This is the place I go.
The Power of Hubris and the Death of George Washington
”Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” - Otto von Bismarck
The greatest American to ever live should not have made it past his 22nd birthday. George Washington’s first battle was the disastrous 1754 Battle of Fort Necessity, where an unsuspecting and unprepared column of British soldiers, led by the starry-eyed then-Colonel Washington, attacked, was surrounded, and nearly obliterated just south of modern-day Pittsburgh by a numerically superior force of French, Abenaki, Lenape, and Shawnee. Washington was so consumed by his desire to prove his worth to his British superiors that he sparked a global conflict between Britain, France, and their respective allies that killed 1.1 million people; more than the Civil War, War on Terror, and Revolution combined. But that same hubris and vanity which nearly got Washington killed might have actually killed the father of our nation — and his upstart rebellion with it — if he hadn’t come so close to annihilation 20 years prior. Hubris did not make George Washington the man - but it made George Washington a legend.
For Better or For Worse
By Max Troiano
Friends who encourage you to do more help you to be more, for better or for worse. My newfound friends over my past three years Fenn have done just that to me. It took a year and a half or so for me to find the groove of things with them, but it had all neatly fallen into place by Halloween of last year when Max Merhige invited me over to his house along with four or five others. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew from the start it was going to be different. It was a slick dark night, the kind of night where every light shone off the wet pavement and the trees still slowly dripped with the afternoon rain. I softly pulled up to the house and got out of the car, the doorlight casting a weak glow onto the grass. I tentatively stepped in the door, and we were off.
Max Merhige, Max Libby-Grantham, Will Simon, Nathaniel Pynchon, Ethan Rich, and I sprinted around the questionably grippy pavement, nearly sliding into telephone poles and each other as we tried to be the first to get the candy bars. There was no plan, I was completely out of my comfort zone, and I was without a doubt having the time of my life. My friends bring out the best and the worst in me, inspiring me to both confidence and recklessness, on the one hand invigorating and on the other worryingly flippant of the consequences of our actions. I will never again be the fearful boy with a head stuck inside a book that I was at the start of my time here at Fenn. I have only spent three years, a small fraction of my life, with these people, and for better and for worse will not spend much more time with them. But that time which I have has undoubtedly changed me — and for the better.
”You know what this needs? More obscure references to Greek mythology!” -Tennyson, probably
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle,--
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me--
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1833
Ulysses is the epitome of Romantic poetry, chock-full of mythological references and metaphors. I found it in a mundane, modern way, scrolling through Poem Miner, waiting for something to catch my eye. And, well, Ulysses did. What originally pulled me in was that first line; “This is my son, mine own Telemachus.” I was hooked. This was not a piece of folk poetry with hundreds of variations; this was something venerable, secure, and positively ancient. I read through the whole thing, silently mouthing the words to myself. By the end of it all, I was certain that this was going to be my piece.
The Power of Music
The Man in Black
Grandparents are an oft-forgotten yet critical part of the development of any child lucky enough to grow up with them. I certainly count myself in that number with all of my grandparents, but one really stands out; my maternal grandfather, or Papa as I call him.
Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of tinkering around with him in his basement, experimenting with hammers, scrap wood, drills, saws, and whatever other dangerous objects we could get our hands on. We would spend hours down there, talking about cars, life, and whatever aimless project the two of us happened to be working on. The tinkering was in many ways just something to keep our hands busy while he dispensed advice and anecdotes from his colorful and storied past on every topic he could think of. This veritable torrent of wisdom was only matched by my 8-year-old mind’s neverending tsunami of questions, all of which he patiently and kindly answered. I value that time immeasurably, and consider what I learned from him manually and mentally one of the basic building blocks of who I am. Slowly, he’s grown infirm and much quicker to tire, and our last session in the basement was years ago. It pains me to say this, but my time with him has always been limited; I’m happy to have had such character-defining moments with him.
However, it wasn’t just the two of us down there; our near-ubiquitous companion was the music of the Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash. His rumbling baritone, reminiscent of days gone by, was constantly being piped from an ancient iPod through dusty beat-up speakers, Marshall Grant’s bass echoing off the concrete walls. And, despite all the talking and building and learning, I found time to listen to Cash’s lyrics, so much so that even years later I can sing almost all of his songs verbatim. And, God almighty, what lyrics they were! In my opinion, Johnny Cash was the greatest lyricist of the 20th Century. Just read this excerpt from Sunday Morning Coming Down, 1970:
“Then I headed back for home
And somewhere far away
A lonely bell was ringing
And it echoed thru the canyon
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday”
Or from Man in Black, 1971:
“I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.”
The effect that has on an impressionable young boy cannot be measured. My passion for politics and history come in large part from my grandfather and Johnny Cash, the two men as inseparably linked in my mind as the Sun and Moon. I consider, on a regular basis, “What would Cash do?”, wondering what he would think of today’s world. And, always, always, I try to do what he would have done.
When I am old and tired, my mind fogged by the miasma of stacked decades, I will most likely not remember whichever of my classmates is reading this. However, I know I will remember what his music taught me. And when I drift off into the great dark forever, the old man and the Man in Black will be waiting for me on the other side, ready to tinker in the basement one last time.