Book Review: Endurance – Alfred Lansing

Overview: This book was amazing. Lansing tells the story of Earnest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which was an attempt to cross the Antarctic continent overland from west to east for the first time in recorded history. The party set out in 1915 in a ship called the Endurance. Shackleton’s crew consisted of twenty-eight men. After getting stuck in the ice, the elements at sea literally crushed the ship and left the entire crew stranded on the ice floe with nothing more than the supplies they could salvage from the ship, their pack dogs, and three life boats. Determined to survive, Shackleton led the men through months of freezing weather over sheets of ice in one of the most desolate places on earth. The things that the men endure are insane and it provides insight into what the human body can tolerate, and how in modern civilization we take for granted the relative comfort we perpetually exist in, especially when it comes to temperature. Between the months on the ice, open boat journeys through the sea, the entire crew of the Endurance ends up surviving, which is almost hard to believe. I recommend this book to everyone.

Lesson: To me this was an important lesson in history and a look into a world of an adventure most people would never dare be involved with. It was one hundred years ago now that Shackleton started his journey, and in those one hundred years life has changed drastically. It amazes me what the men were able to endure during their journey at a frozen sea. Mentally and physically, Shackleton’s men showed next level strength.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

It was, perhaps, the attitude of the men. They worked with a deliberate urgency, hardly speaking to one another . There was no display of alarm, however. In fact, apart from the movement of the ice and the sounds from the ship , the scene was one of relative calm. The temperature was 8 ½ degrees below zero, and a light southerly wind was blowing. Overhead, the twilight sky was clear.

The goal of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition , as its name implies, was to cross the Antarctic continent overland from west to east.

Shackleton’s unwillingness to succumb to the demands of everyday life and his insatiable excitement with unrealistic ventures left him open to the accusation of being basically immature and irresponsible. And very possibly he was— by conventional standards. But the great leaders of historical record— the Napoleons, the Nelsons, the Alexanders— have rarely fitted any conventional mold, and it is perhaps an injustice to evaluate them in ordinary terms. There can be little doubt that Shackleton, in his way, was an extraordinary leader of men.

In all the world there is no desolation more complete than the polar night. It is a return to the Ice Age— no warmth, no life, no movement. Only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate what it means to be without the sun day after day and week after week. Few men unaccustomed to it can fight off its effects altogether, and it has driven some men mad.

From studying the outcome of past expeditions, he believed that those that burdened themselves with equipment to meet every contingency had fared much worse than those that had sacrificed total preparedness for speed.

The adaptability of the human creature is such that they actually had to remind themselves on occasion of their desperate circumstances.

Though he was virtually fearless in the physical sense, he suffered an almost pathological dread of losing control of the situation.

Shackleton felt that if dissension arose, the party as a whole might not put forth that added ounce of energy which could mean, at a time of crisis, the difference between survival and defeat. Thus he was prepared to go to almost any length to keep the party close-knit and under his control.

In some ways they had come to know themselves better. In this lonely world of ice and emptiness , they had achieved at least a limited kind of contentment. They had been tested and found not wanting.

Each day blurred anonymously into the one before. Though they invariably tried to see the good side of things, they were unable to fight off a growing sense of disappointment.

But Shackleton was not an ordinary individual. He was a man who believed completely in his own invincibility, and to whom defeat was a reflection of personal inadequacy. What might have been an act of reasonable caution to the average person was to Shackleton a detestable admission that failure was a possibility.

Each day became so much like the one before that any unusual occurrence, however small, generated enormous interest.

For the first time in 497 days they were on land. Solid, unsinkable, immovable, blessed land.

No matter what the odds, a man does not pin his last hope for survival on something and then expect that it will fail.

More and more, as the days wore on, they fell inescapably into the routine of their existence.

Unlike the land, where courage and the simple will to endure can often see a man through, the struggle against the sea is an act of physical combat, and there is no escape. It is a battle against a tireless enemy in which man never actually wins; the most that he can hope for is not to be defeated.

Again and again the cycle was repeated until the body and the mind arrived at a state of numbness in which the frenzied antics of the boat, the perpetual cold and wet came to be accepted almost as normal.

But sufficiently provoked, there is hardly a creature on God’s earth that ultimately won’t turn and attempt to fight, regardless of the odds. In an unspoken sense, that was much the way they felt now. They were possessed by an angry determination to see the journey through— no matter what. They felt that they had earned it. For thirteen days they had absorbed everything that the Drake Passage could throw at them—and now, by God, they deserved to make it.

They looked up against the darkening sky and saw the fog curling over the edge of the ridges, perhaps 2,000 feet above them— and they felt that special kind of pride of a person who in a foolish moment accepts an impossible dare— then pulls it off to perfection.

A peculiar thing to stir a man— the sound of a factory whistle heard on a mountainside. But for them it was the first sound from the outside world that they had heard since December , 1914— seventeen unbelievable months before.

Book Review: Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed

Overview: Like many of the books I read, I discovered this one through Ryan Holiday’s monthly email for book recommendations. At first when I saw it on his list I overlooked it as something that I wouldn’t enjoy, but after some further thinking and research I ended up picking it up and reading it and thoroughly enjoying it. In her book, Cheryl Strayed takes questions from readers and answers them the best she can, using reason and her own life experiences to relate to the people asking her questions. The questions asked take on all sorts of different flavors and intensity, hitting on all of the most difficult subjects of our lives. She gives great insight and seems to have the mind of someone who has handled a lot and done a lot of thinking along the way. She seems like that voice in your head that you wish you could consult at all times, I highly recommend this book to everyone. I haven’t read the chicken soup books for teenagers since I was a teenager, but I would consider this to be one of those books on steroids.

Lesson: There are a lot of lessons to be found in this book, as a lesson is basically presented in every single question that she answers. The overarching lesson within each story is that life isn’t always an easy thing to navigate, and there is never going to be one right path where you get out at the end without any scars.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

Inexplicable sorrows await all of us. That was her essential point. Life isn’t some narcissistic game you play online. It all matters— every sin, every regret, every affliction

With great patience, and eloquence, she assures her readers that within the chaos of our shame and disappointment and rage there is meaning, and within that meaning is the possibility of rescue.

She understands that attention is the first and final act of love, and that the ultimate dwindling resource in the human arrangement isn’t cheap oil or potable water or even common sense, but mercy.

The people who squawk the loudest about such things have almost never had to get over anything . Or at least not anything that was genuinely, mind-fuckingly, soul-crushingly life altering.

I had not lived a sheltered life. I’d had my share of hardships and sorrows. I thought I knew how the world worked, but this I could not believe. I thought that if it was known that bad things were happening to children, those bad things would be stopped. But that is not the sort of society we live in, I realized. There is no such society.

We are all entitled to our opinions and religious beliefs, but we are not entitled to make shit up and then use the shit we made up to oppress other people.

Accounting for what happened in our childhoods and why and who our parents are and how they succeeded and failed us is the work we all do when we do the work of becoming whole, grown-up people. That reckoning is especially fraught when a parent has failed a child and so I advise you to (a) do everything in your power to thwart a fail between your child and his or her father, and (b) keep yourself from failing, should the father of your child persist in doing so.

Not because you’re obligated to the man— you owe him nothing— but because you’re obligated to your child.

That’s fine because what I remember about the study most vividly is really just one thing : that it’s devastating for a child to hear one parent speak ill of the other. In fact, so much so that the researchers found it was less psychologically damaging if a parent said directly to the child You are a worthless piece of shit than it was for a parent to say Your mother/ father is a worthless piece of shit.

Your behavior and words will deeply impact your child’s life— both how he or she feels about his or her father and also how he or she feels about him or herself.

It’s what most of us have to give a few times over the course of our lives: to love with a mindfully clear sense of purpose, even when it feels outrageous to do so. Even when you’d rather put on your steel-toed boots and scream.

Trust yourself. It’s Sugar’s golden rule. Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.

The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength . It’s nerve. And “if your Nerve, deny you—,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “go above your Nerve.” Writing is hard for every last one of us— straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.

The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light. Look hard. Risk that.

Of this I am absolutely sure: Do not reach the era of child-rearing and real jobs with a guitar case full of crushing regret for all the things you wished you’d done in your youth. I know too many people who didn’t do those things. They all end up mingy, addled, shrink -wrapped versions of the people they intended to be.

But compassion isn’t about solutions. It’s about giving all the love that you’ve got.

People die because they want who they want. They do all kinds of crazy, stupid, sweet, tender, amazing, self-destructive things. You aren’t going to make anyone “see the light and realize that what they’re doing is wrong.” You just aren’t.

My whole view of the world has gone dim. People are capable of the most astonishing and selfish acts. I used to focus on pursuing real joy and delight in my life, and sharing that joy, too. But now it feels like that light has gone out forever.

Acceptance has everything to do with simplicity, with sitting in the ordinary place, with bearing witness to the plain facts of our life, with not just starting at the essential, but ending up there.

I have breathed my way through so many people who I felt wronged by; through so many situations I couldn’t change. Sometimes while doing this I have breathed in acceptance and breathed out love. Sometimes I’ve breathed in gratitude and out forgiveness. Sometimes I haven’t been able to muster anything beyond the breath itself, my mind forced blank with nothing but the desire to be free of sorrow and rage.

You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got . You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that’s all.

But I do know that we are here, all of us— beasts and monsters and beauties and wallflowers alike— to do the best we can. And every last one of us can do better than give up.

Something ugly happened to you and you didn’t let it make you ugly.

I feel stuck. I want to leave , but I’m also terrified of hurting my husband, who has been so good to me and who I consider my best friend.

Forgiveness means you’ve found a way forward that acknowledges harm done and hurt caused without letting either your anger or your pain rule your life or define your relationship with the one who did you wrong.

No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you. Self-pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.

You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.

I believe there is something bigger than our individual selves that we can touch when we live our lives with integrity, compassion, and love.

He manipulates them with kindness as easily as he manipulates them with terror, and when he does that, things are fine for a week, then get bad again.

It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. And you’re going to bawl your head off doing it. But I promise you it will be okay. Your tears will be born of grief, but also of relief. You will be better for them. They will make you harder, softer, cleaner, dirtier. Free.

The narratives we create in order to justify our actions and choices become in so many ways who we are. They are the things we say back to ourselves to explain our complicated lives.

I’d give it all back in a snap, but the fact is, my grief taught me things. It showed me shades and hues I couldn’t have otherwise seen. It required me to suffer. It compelled me to reach.

Don’t stay when you know you should go or go when you know you should stay. Don’t fight when you should hold steady or hold steady when you should fight. Don’t focus on the short-term fun instead of the long-term fallout. Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore . Don’t seek joy at all costs. I know it’s hard to know what to do when you have a conflicting set of emotions and desires, but it’s not as hard as we pretend it is. Saying it’s hard is ultimately a justification to do whatever seems like the easiest thing to do— have the affair, stay at that horrible job, end a friendship over a slight, keep loving someone who treats you terribly. I don’t think there’s a single dumbass thing I’ve done in my adult life that I didn’t know was a dumbass thing to do while I was doing it. Even when I justified it to myself— as I did every damn time— the truest part of me knew I was doing the wrong thing. Always. As the years pass, I’m learning how to better trust my gut and not do the wrong thing, but every so often I get a harsh reminder that I’ve still got work to do.

Art isn’t anecdote. It’s the consciousness we bring to bear on our lives. For what happened in the story to transcend the limits of the personal, it must be driven by the engine of what the story means.

No matter what happens when it comes to your marriage or your work life or your geographical location, there is no being torn when it comes to your daughter unless you choose to rip the fabric yourself.

When it comes to our children, we do not have the luxury of despair. If we rise, they will rise with us every time, no matter how many times we’ve fallen before.

 

Book Review: Into Cold Blood – Truman Capote

Overview: A well-known family, the Clutter’s, lived in a small town known as Holcomb, located in Kansas. They were headed by Mr. Herbert Clutter, who was respected and renowned in the community. He had a wife and two children. Unknown to him and virtually everyone else, two inmates in the Kansas penitentiary once spoke about how Mr. Clutter kept a safe that always contained $10,000. The inmate, Richard Hickock who was receiving the information, decided to take the information and do the worst with it. This story is about what Richard and a troubled former fellow inmate did to the Clutter family, and how they were caught for their crime afterwards. This is a compelling book into the sick actions of troubled human beings, and sadly, these unnecessary troubling events happen far too often. It is a true story that took place in 1959. Capote gives the reader a look into both sides of the coin. Both the crime and the justice.

Lesson: A complete stranger is capable of doing terrible things to you for no logical reason whatsoever.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there.

At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them— four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy re-creating them over and again— those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.

The Rupp family were Roman Catholics, the Clutters, Methodist— a fact that should in itself be sufficient to terminate whatever fancies she and this boy might have of some day marrying.

“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.”

He may successfully accumulate, but he does not accumulate success, for he is his own enemy and is kept from truly enjoying his achievements.”

“When Homer died, I used up all the fear I had in me, and all the grief, too. If there’s somebody loose around here that wants to cut my throat, I wish him luck. What difference does it make? It’s all the same in eternity. Just remember: If one bird carried every grain of sand, grain by grain, across the ocean, by the time he got them all on the other side, that would only be the beginning of eternity. So blow your nose.”

Imagination , of course, can open any door— turn the key and let terror walk right in.

They were crazy about each other, but he was jealous as hell, and he made her so miserable, being jealous and always thinking she was passing it out behind his back, that she shot herself, and the next day Jimmy put a bullet through his head.

Whether you realize it or not— your present confinement is embarrassing to me as well as Dad— not because of what you did but the fact that you don’t show me any signs of SINCERE regret and seem to show no respect for any laws, people or anything.

He can seem so warmhearted and sympathetic. Gentle. He cries so easily. Sometimes music sets him off, and when he was a little boy he used to cry because he thought a sunset was beautiful. Or the moon. Oh, he can fool you. He can make you feel so sorry for him—”

Envy was constantly with him ; the Enemy was anyone who was someone he wanted to be or who had anything he wanted to have.

The trouble was that they were forcing each other to mourn and remember what in fact they wanted to forget.

fits in with the psychoanalytic hypothesis that the child’s exposure to overwhelming stimuli , before he can master them, is closely linked to early defects in ego formation and later severe disturbances in impulse control.

However, even an attorney of moderate talent can postpone doomsday year after year, for the system of appeals that pervades American jurisprudence amounts to a legalistic wheel of fortune, a game of chance, somewhat fixed in the favor of the criminal, that the participants play interminably, first in the state courts, then through the Federal courts until the ultimate tribunal is reached— the United States Supreme Court.

Parenting Balancing Act & the Associated Joy

I’ve been a dad for one and a half years now. While I haven’t written much about being a dad or my daughter up until this point (the act of physically sitting down and typing it out), it doesn’t mean that I haven’t thought through some of the things that I would write. When you write, you hash out a huge portion of it in your head long before you even put your hands on a keyboard. Maybe I’ll start writing about being a father more, maybe I won’t, but for certain I will never stop thinking about being a dad, and how to be a better one.

Being a parent is hard. So far, it hasn’t really been hard in the ways that I thought it might be hard when I was counting down the days to my daughter’s delivery date. Warming up a bottle is easy. Anyone can change a diaper. Playing and keeping a toddler entertained, even for hours at a time, isn’t really a physically or emotionally exhausting endeavor. The hard part, and probably the hardest part for most parents, is trying to measure up to the standards you set for yourself as a parent while trying to balance out all of the other crap that we have to do as adults.

Your kid needs a place to live, they need food to eat, clothes to wear, health insurance, toys, et cetera. In order for these terms to be met, you likely have to dedicate a large proportion of your waking hours each week towards securing the above items. This means that automatically parents are thrown into an uphill battle. You probably won’t be able to afford the time that your children deserve. And the more children you have, the more that time might be divided. I’ve lost more sleep battling with thoughts about how I can devote more time to my daughter than I have lost having to wake up and feed her in the middle of the night. This could just mean that I am lucky that she has been sleeping through the night since she was four months old.

I’m not going to delve further into the difficulty of the balancing act. The point is that human development requires a lot of work. The more you outsource it the less impact you have on the end result. That truth is the most difficult thing to me about being a dad. Some things you can’t control, and one of those things might be that you aren’t going to be able to commit as much time directly to your child as you might like.

So as a parent you have to find a way to be content in doing the best that you can. One of the best ways that I have found to be content, happy even about the difficult balancing act, is to let yourself get lost in the joys of your child every chance you get. When your kid is laughing about the exact same thing for the twelfth time in a row, when you see them walking for the first time and they look like your friend during spring break in college, or in my case, when my daughter says “night night” to any and all living and material things at all times of the day, let yourself slip into their world. Let their joy take you away from all of the crap that comes with being an adult. Once upon a time, long before all of the overhead, responsibility, you lived with that same intense curiosity, that supreme innocence, and you too once might have said “night night” to a battery powered fake candle the moment that it was turned off. If you can’t fully engage yourself when you are with your child, then you are probably eventually going to let all of the extra crap diminish your influence on the opportunity that sits right in front of you.

The best part about being a parent to a young child is getting the opportunity for them to take you away from the crap. Maybe you get to spend all the time in the world with your kid, and maybe it is only a few hours a month. Maybe it is strictly through long distance video calls. Whatever the situation might be, be grateful that you get the opportunity to be swept away by your kid, as long as you let yourself be taken.

Right now I have tears in my eyes, which might be one of the reasons I usually do the writing about being a dad in my head, and not in front of the computer.

I have attached a video of my daughter walking into a wall moments after she put a towel over her head. It might not have been one of those moments of joy for her, but good god there are some amazing moments when it comes to witnessing human development. If you have a child, the next time you see them, do the best you can to fully engage in their little, ever expanding world.

Hitting the wall

Book Review: Doomed – Chuck Palahniuk

Overview: I didn’t get into this one as much as I hoped, but I did mostly enjoy it when I was reading. The main character, thirteen year old Madison Spencer, has been damned to hell after a failed Halloween ritual. She visits her somewhat disturbing past and what her life has consisted of during her damnation, and ultimately realizes that she has always been a pawn in Satan’s grand plan. As with all of his books, Palahniuk uses nihilism brilliantly to tell a uniquely twisted story.

Lesson: A billion people would shout obscenities every chance they got if they thought it would give them a good shot at getting into heaven.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

When you die , trust me, the most difficult person to leave behind is yourself.

“Religions exist because people would rather have a wrong answer than no answer at all.”

Like it or not, the road to Hell is paved with sustainable bamboo flooring.

Death isn’t the end of peril. There are deaths beyond death. Like it or not, death isn’t the end of anything.

“It’s ironical,” he says, “but I’ve got to die to make a living.”

Granted, we might develop some skills, achieve some profound insights over a lifetime, but by and large who you are at eighty-five is who you were at five. One is either born intelligent or not. The body ages , grows, passes through near-lunatic phases of reproductive frenzy, but you are born and die essentially the same person.

Civilization is a condition which unsocial misfits impose on the rest of popular, easygoing, family-oriented humanity.

Nothing except deep misery leads to real success.

It’s exhausting, the energy it takes to unknow a truth.

You never know the complicated deals two people negotiate in order to stay married beyond the first ten minutes.

I yearned for the impact because I knew that nothing else would shift the parent/ child balance of power as effectively. If I could goad them into slugging me just once, forever afterward I could cite that incident and use the memory to win any argument.

I wait. There it is, my greatest weakness: hope.

The public has contracted out their own self-expression. All love must be mediated through greeting cards, assembly-line diamond jewelry, or professionally arranged, factory-farmed bouquets of roses.

Suppressing a lifetime of social conditioning, I resolve not to comment about the weather.

How could you ever bring yourself to love so deeply if you truly knew how brief a lifetime can be?

 

 

Book Review: Invisible Monsters – Chuck Palahniuk

Overview: I am a long time fan of Palahniuk, and lately I have been focusing on reading some of the stuff of his that I haven’t read. Invisible Monsters fits in with his normal style. It is dark and enters a realm that most people wouldn’t dare to go. The story follows the narrator who experienced an accident where she lost her jaw. The story jumps around with each chapter, sometimes talking about events before the accident and sometimes after. Sometimes after she meets Brandy, the only person in the hospital who didn’t treat her like a monster. The only person who she wasn’t invisible to. Together they rob houses of drugs and make the worst decisions they could possibly make for no just reason. Before the accident the narrator was a model, and afterwards a monster.

In a weird way the story reminds me of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It takes you on twists you wouldn’t have predicted and the characters are completely ridiculous. And sick, really.

Lesson: The quest for eternal beauty and attention can be the ultimate downfall in life.

And of course, the book is littered with passages that can be applied to several different walks of life, which is why Palahniuk’s stuff is so appealing.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

It’s all mirror, mirror on the wall because beauty is power the same way money is power the same way a gun is power.

No matter how careful you are, there’s going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn’t experience it all. There’s that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should’ve been paying attention.

Brandy, and any smart woman knows a beautiful man is her best fashion accessory.

I’m living the life I love, I tell myself, and loving the life I live. I tell myself: I deserved this. This is exactly what I wanted.

Besides, it happens fast for some people and slow for some, accidents or gravity, but we all end up mutilated. Most women know this feeling of being more and more invisible everyday.

The whole time I was in the hospital, no way could I fall in love. I just couldn’t go there yet. Settle for less. I didn’t want to process through anything. I didn’t want to pick up any pieces. Lower my expectations. Get on with my less-than life. I didn’t want to feel better about being still alive. Start compensating. I just wanted my face fixed, if that was possible, which it wasn’t.

I saw my blood and snot and teeth splashed all over the dashboard the moment after the accident, but hysteria is impossible without an audience.

The same’s those talk shows on television, it’s so easy to be honest with a big enough audience. You can say anything if enough people will listen.

“The only reason why we ask other people how their weekend was is so we can tell them about our own weekend.”

Game shows are designed to make us feel better about the random, useless facts that are all we have left of our education.

People are all over the world telling their one dramatic story and how their life has turned into getting over this one event. Now their lives are more about the past than their future.

The uglier the fashions, the worse places we’d have to pose to make them look good. Junkyards . Slaughterhouses. Sewage treatment plants. It’s the ugly bridesmaid tactic where you only look good by comparison.

Almost all the time, you tell yourself you’re loving somebody when you’re just using them.

“Don’t you see? Because we’re so trained to do life the right way. To not make mistakes.” Brandy says, “I figure, the bigger the mistake looks, the better chance I’ll have to break out and live a real life.”

It’s because we’re so trapped in our culture, in the being of being human on this planet with the brains we have, and same two arms and two legs everybody has. We’re so trapped that any way we could imagine to escape would be just another part of the trap. Anything we want, we’re trained to want.

The feeling is of supreme and ultimate control over all. Jump to the day we’ll all be dead and none of this will matter. Jump to the day another house will stand here and the people living there won’t know we ever happened.

I was tired of staying a lower life form just because of my looks. Trading on them. Cheating. Never getting anything real accomplished, but getting the attention and recognition anyway.

Be famous. Be a big social experiment in getting what you don’t want. Find value in what we’ve been taught is worthless. Find good in what the world says is evil. I’m giving you my life because I want the whole world to know you. I wish the whole world would embrace what it hates.

Book Review: Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bear and the Wild Heart of Football – Rich Cohen

Overview: Before I say anything else, this book is awesome. This is coming from someone who is not a Chicago Bears fan and never before reading a book about the Bears. Rich Cohen takes you down a path of the history of football, which ultimately leads to the 1985 Chicago Bears and their dominating season which led to a Super Bowl championship. Maybe it was so interesting to me because I didn’t know much about the origins of the sport. Did you know that football basically started as a league of average people who were playing on factory teams? The learning experience combined with Cohen’s sarcastic writing style resulted in me not wanting to put the book down.

Cohen does an amazing job at building the back story of the coaches and players that made up the 1985 team. You also get a look into how the sport has evolved, and how different the game is played with the knowledge of things like brain damage caused from getting and delivering hits. Even if you aren’t a diehard football fan, I think the story of the 85 Bears is a story anyone can enjoy and value.

Lesson: There are quite a few things someone could take away from this one. For me, the one the resonated the most, was that football players just like anyone else will probably at some point face the end of one life chapter and have to enter a chapter that is entirely different. Playing football is a completely different world than the world of being a realtor. But everyone gets old, every human body wears down, and you cannot play football forever. I think most people have their own version of football, and everyone will struggle with the stark difference between the life with football and the life without.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

It was a peak moment in our lives and, though we did not realize it , a peak moment for them, too. These were young gods, as vivid as the astronauts in Tom Wolfe, as free as the cowboys in John Ford, gunslingers drinking rotgut and throwing dice, but it would not last. Before long , they would fall back to our world , rejoin the masses they left behind in tenth or twelfth grade.

So this is why people suffer through mediocre season after mediocre season, I thought. So this is what’s on the other side of all that losing. It’s not just the victory. It’s being among the winners, sinking the humdrum concerns of your life into a raucous crowd, being welcomed by the mob.

You don’t think about what it will mean when you’re forty. You just think , Whoa, I’m missing it! It’s panic. It’s like that bad dream you have when you’re a kid. It’s the day of the big test and you’re late for school.”

When people say I was great in my day, I say, No, I was just able to control my mind for those few seconds before impact. I never slowed down . I sped up . That’s what makes a hitter. Not size, not speed. It’s the ability to suppress your survival instincts.

America has become endless childhood, where any passion can take you pro.

Only two original franchises survive: the Chicago Bears and the Arizona Cardinals, who previously played as the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Cardinals, and the Racine Cardinals, not because they were based in Racine, Wisconsin, but because the roster was made up of guys who hung out on Racine Street on Chicago’s South Side.

In the early years, most NFL teams played in baseball stadiums, and many took the name of the host team. Hence the Pittsburgh Pirates, who played in Forbes Field, and the New York Football Giants, who played in the Polo Grounds .

A coach was now able to operate from a position of omniscience , the position of a god, where he could linger over each move the way a chess master lingers, his hand resting on the rook, considering each consequence before committing.

We’re all going to get hurt and die. The only freedom is the freedom to choose how we respond.

People know this story from Brian’s Song, a movie about Sayers and Brian Piccolo, who shared the backfield in Chicago. Piccolo died of cancer in 1970. That movie— a story of rivalry, friendship, disease— is etched in the memory of a generation of fans.

Very few players make it to college, fewer still to the pros , and most of those, stars at every other level, flame out. You see them years later, pushing a broom or carrying boards at a construction site.

It was one of those trials that come in every life, a moment in which you know , just know, that if you weaken or lose focus, you’ll be washed away by malaise, slide into dissolute wandering.

In his relationship with his grandfather, McCaskey stands for my generation in our relationship to the tough old America: we inherited a country we did not build.

He’s you raised to the highest power, a kid who wished the same wish, only his came true.

“I like doing what I do now, which is pretty much whatever I want. Didn’t make a lot of money in the game , but I put four kids through college, so I did all right.”

He’d been so busy planning the future that he never noticed the dream country from every window of the bus.

As you grow up you become too tasteful to enjoy things that once filled you with pleasure. Past thirty, most of us become too smart for our own good.

It was the feeling you get on Sunday night after a long weekend times a billion. I looked out the window. What is this life? I asked myself. What does it mean? Why does every minute pull me away from everything I love?

“I miss being twenty -five years old and playing with my friends,” said Plank. “Now we’re scattered across the country and it’s all in the past. If you’re lucky enough to experience something that intense when you’re young, you pay for it the rest of your life.”

And is it better to accept the world as it is and be happy or to struggle and be miserable?