Thursday, January 31, 2013


I'm late posting. Sorry, fan(s). My only excuse is life circumstances have combined to make me not care about a whole lot lately. But I do want to get this posted.

Our pastor concluded his 4-week sermon series on stewardship. He began his sermon this past Sunday by saying a friend of his had tweeted how he went to Starbucks because they had better coffee and Dunkin' Donuts because they had better donuts. He bemoaned having to go two places, but then made it all tongue-in-cheek by adding the hash tag #firstworldproblems.

So Pastor Mark looked that up, and came upon a number posts tagged that way. One concerned a man who said some pixels had failed on his iPhone. It seems that another had to do with difficulty of syncing multiple mobile devices. Mark gave us eight to ten equally humorous problems tagged as #firstworldproblems.

First World would refer to the developed, non-communist world. The wealthy countries, with America at the top. As he had said the week before, an annual income of $50,000 puts you in the wealthiest 1 percent of the world. And, he said, consider that we work five days a week and earn sufficient money to live seven days a week. And often it's only one person in a family who has to work those seven days.

So some of the problems we have in America are so inconsequential that they aren't really problems at all. Like the people I have to sit behind at the traffic light at Walton & 28th Street, who don't realize they have a lane to turn left into. They just have to move out. Those turning right from the opposite direction have their own lane. I fume about it, but what I really have is a #firstworldproblem. I have a good vehicle. The roads are well built and maintained. The driver are, if timid, careful. After driving in Saudi Arabia I certainly have nothing to complain about.

So, henceforth I'll try to consider that the little things that beset me are really #firstworldproblems, and I'd better not complain.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Biography in the future

I ran across something the other day in Thomas Carlyle's writings that I found inspiring.
Rich as we are in biography, a well-written life is almost as rare as a well-spent one; and there are certainly many more men whose history deserves to be recorded than persons willing and able to furnish the record.

Carlyle wrote this near the beginning of his "Jean Paul Friedrich Richter", a German writer. Published in 1827 in The Edinburgh Review, it was one of Carlyle's earliest essays on other authors that focused on the life rather than on some specific published work.

At least, that's how it seems to me at this stage of my Carlyle reading. I haven't yet read the Richter piece.

I like, though, what Carlyle said about biography. There are many more men whose stories deserve to be told than there are people to write the stories.

I confess to having an interest in writing biography. In fact, I've already written one, that of my wife's great-grandfather, titled Seth Boynton Cheney: Mystery Man of the West. Seth went west as a 49er in the California Gold Rush, then turned up thirty years later in the Texas panhandle, going to southwest Kansas a couple of years later. I wrote this in 2006, shortly before a family mini-reunion, and have updated it four times since as I learned new material or as I improved the text, tables, or pictures and maps. The book is just photocopied on 8 1/2 x 11 paper and put together in a comb binding with card stock covers. I give away or sell the hard copies to people that learn about and want it.

I wouldn't call that a complete biography. I haven't done a lot to work in the events of history and thus elucidate the doings of Seth. I need to say more about the discovery of gold in California, how the news erupted on the East Coast, how the people got to California and what they did there. That story has been told often, but more of it needs to be in Seth's bio. Then there's his years in the redwood area in northern California. And what life was like in the Great American Desert, as the Plains were known then. I have some historical references in the book, but not nearly enough.

But, two other biographies I would like to write. One is of John Cheney, the immigrant ancestor in the line. He came to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635, settling in Newberry Massachusetts. He lived a mostly quiet life, acquired property, elected or appointed to some town offices, serving on juries, witnessing wills and deeds of neighbors and friends. He supported neighbors during times of their troubles, putting himself at some risk for them. From genealogical research I have learned much about him. I think his story deserves to be told. He probably has a couple of million descendants in the USA, a good number of whom would be interested to know more about him.

The other bio I'd like to write is a joint one about my dad and mom, Norman and Dorothy Todd. Like John Cheney, they lived a mostly quiet life. They left twelve descendants (thirteen including the one very much alive but not yet born). There are many relatives, in addition to those thirteen, who might be interested in the story; and others, yet to be born, who might someday wonder what it was like in Rhode Island in the 1920s through 1990s and want to know more about this couple.

When will I get these done? They are not on the publishing schedule, or even on the writing schedule. They are not commercial projects (though the John Cheney book might have some commercial potential). So we'll see. Maybe they'll be written and I'll become a real biographer some day.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The hope that future days will be calmer

Those who have read my blog for a while know that I read in the writings of Victorian British writer Thomas Carlyle, especially his letters. For a previous post drawn from Carlyle’s writings, see here. Or you could search by “Carlyle” in the search feature of this blog. Here, let me make it easy for you.
Yesterday I went back to the Carlyle Letters Online for little break in the work day. I decided to do some reading in the letters of the period when Carlyle was preparing his German Romance: Specimens of Its Chief Authors, with biographical and critical notes, 4 Vols., which was published in early 1827. I began with a few letters in 1825 where Carlyle wrote to someone about his research and early writing, and skipped through the letters for the next two years, judging from the index to which correspondents he was likely to write about this. I ended with several letters to the publisher in the month Carlyle finished the writing and was reviewing proofs of the early volumes.
Today I decided to go back further in time, to do the same thing in the couple of years leading up to Carlyle’s first full length book, a translation of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. That was published in 1824, so I began in 1822, again just skimming through the list of letters to his different correspondents. In February 1822 I saw a letter that might have something about it, in its earliest gestation, and so pulled it up. 

It did not have anything about the Wilhelm Meister, but I found this buried in it. Nor do I in the smallest abandon the hope that future days will be calmer than those that have passed and are passing over us. Depend upon it, my good friend, there is a time coming, when tho' we may not be great men, we shall be placid ones; when, having mended by much toil what is capable of mending in our condition, and resigned ourselves to endure with much patience what in it is incapable of mending, we shall meet together like toilworn way-farers descending the mountain cheerily and smoothly which they climbed with danger and distress. “We will laugh and sing and tell old tales” and forget that our lot has been hard, when we think that our hearts have been firm, and our conduct true and honest to the last. This should console us whatever weather it is with us: the task is brief; and great is the reward of doing it well.
Given all that, I admire Carlyle’s confidence. “Future days will be calmer…tho’ we may not be great men, we shall be placid ones…toilworn way-farers descending the mountain cheerily and smoothly which they climbed with danger and distress.”

I don't know for sure that Carlyle ever found those calmer days. At least, if you believe the complaints in his letter, he didn't. He wrote how he was a slacker when in fact he worked himself into ill health. He complained about every book he wrote, from the moment of conception till it was born to the world. As I wrote in a previous post, it seems that for every book he would describe it as a sorry enterprise, one he was anxious to be rid of.

I have to take and consider this advice, however, whether Carlyle actually achieved it or not. I'm still comining that mountain, not always cheerily. The cost in time and mental energy are sometimes almost exhausting. I go from completing this post to work on China Tour, hoping to get my 1,000 words written tonight—even though it's 8:45 p.m. already.

So, I will say along with Carlyle, the tast if breif; and great is the reward of doing it well. Oh, God, help me to embrace this and carry it through.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

How To Be Rich

Our former pastor started the practice of preaching stewardship sermons during the month of January. Our current pastor is continuing this and is in a four week series on stewardship. I missed the first one last week when I stayed home due to the flu.

Today was the second in the series, and part 2 of the topic "How to be rich."

Now, you have to read that title carefully. It's not How to get rich, or How to become rich. It's how to be rich.

Pastor Mark talked about the money type of richness, as well as the other types of richness. Rich in blessings. Rich in family and friends. He said that people can't always define what it means to be rich, but most people would want to be there. So most people (at least in the USA) have thought about it.

Paul the apostle wrote to Timothy that he should command those who are rich in this world not to be arrogant, and not to rely on their wealth, but instead to rely on God. It's good advice now.

The USA is a rich country. More of the world's wealth is concentrated here than anywhere on earth. Taking Paul's advice, we need to be careful that that wealth doesn't make us arrogant as a nation. We should not flaunt our wealth, but rather use it for good.

It's something to think about.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My absence

Sorry, readers, for my long absence. We traveled much for Christmas and New Year holidays, and I came home sick New Year's Day. I finally went to the doctor on Friday, and learned it is the flu. I'm on antibiotics, but not a lot of improvement yet.

Consequently, I haven't felt much like writing: not on my novel, and not on my blogs. Hopefully I'll be back after a few days of healing.