Sunday, April 19, 2009


I was thinking last week, as I got dressed in the dark--wait, I should explain. I was dressing in the dark, in the locker room at work. It's not as weird as it sounds, well, not as publicly weird: we have a single-shower locker room, one user at a time, so no one knows that I take off my coat, gloves, and sweater(s), and change my shoes in the dark (until now). I thought to myself, "I do this for the energy savings, but it's great preparation for sailing and camping and the like." And it's true; I can dress very efficiently in the dark, now.

That sort of thought--A (what I'm doing now) is excellent preparation for B (what I'd like to do)--is one that comes easily to me. And it helps get through a boring task, like changing one's shoes, if one can think of it in terms of future adventues. And, yes, there's a downside: you can fall into the habit of thinking of things in the future and missind the present.

But I'm writing now about the upside. The habits I form (keeping the lights off, for example) create not just skills but an approach to life: efficiency with energy and materials (not so much efficiency with time, as all who know me well will attest), for example. Camping, biking, sailing, working, living: it's all the same thing. What's the most efficient way to get from here to there? What's the best habit to be in to use the least energy, in as many circumstances as possible?

In the vivid past tense, as opposed to the generalizing present, here' a quick summary of the weekend's camping expedition (Full details, with pics, may be forthcoming. I won't promise, however). In short, it was fantastic. Fifteen of us (Bat Jr., Dr. Fledermaus, twelve students, and I) piled into cars and headed off to the Dunes for some hiking, beach football, hanging out around the campfire, and general relaxation. Oh, and wrestling (I won, if I may brag just a wee bit).

To continue the philosophizing, actions form habits, and habits form character, as Aristotle teaches in the Ethics. But you also have to remember the Poetics and that character and action must fit together. And sometimes you find yourself in situations for which you're unprepared. And if you're me, as I sometimes find that I am, those situations for which you feel completely unprepared often involve your interaction with automobiles.

It's not that I'm entirely opposed to them; it's just that I've become less and less comfortable with cars.

And, they are probably uncomfortable around me. Or they should be, if they know what's good for them. As we were packing up to head home, I needed to give the clamshell trunk of the Element a hip-bump to shut it. There was only one problem: the top half of the Element's trunk is at belly-button height, not hip height. So, I did what any normal red-blooded American male would do. Actually, I didn't. Rather that shoving it with the hands, I stood behind the car, jumped up and bumped it with my butt. And shattered the back window.

Let me repeat that, because I hardly believed it with my own eyes when I did it. I put my own ass through the back window of our car. Brilliant. Oh, and did I mention it was raining?

Anyhow, after we drove back to town (I was sensibly banished to riding shotgun in a student's car), I had to drive to Logan Square to have the window replaced (by the good people at Fernandez Used Auto Glass). It was terrifying, like a scary movie where bad things keep happening but they're never quite bad enough that you know that's what the movie's been bulding up to. A car accident happened in front of me, for example. I saw two bikers riding down the same street as me and wanted to offer them a ride, just to protect them from my karma--when I changed my route to get away from one of them and he turned up in front of me three blocks later, I thought to myself, "God damn it, man! You're doomed! Get away!" I felt like a self-aware Oedipus, and accepted our joint fate.

It turned out that fate had other things in store for me. I got the window repaired, and, under strict admonition to avoid highway speeds until the glue set--I visited the new REI store in town (I was very impressed by the huge bike selection, and hugely lucky that today was the quarterly garage sale, so I came away with a big ol' bag of goodies--shoes, gloves, a random set of kayak deck bungee hardware, and a 16" BMX wheel--for about twelve bucks), as well as Sam's Wine (getting a thank-you gift for BatDog's weekend walkers), and Zaleski and Horvath, a place I'd been desiring to visit since it opened.

The delivery of a fresh hot latte to Dr. F, and the delivery of a thank-you note within hours of the incurrence of the debt of gratitude, have, I think, set karma aright in the Dingbat household. An evening of hockey certainly helped, too.


Patricia said...

Actually, you and automobiles have never really had a very good relationship - in fact, unhealthy is probably the best characterization.

Dingbat said...

Good point! I suppose I should consider the long term history here.

kevin c said...

good ideas here! i "practice" sailing by every once and a while sleeping on the floor or an impossibly small couch; and by not holding on to anything while on the train/bus.

David said...

Good story -- games on the beach sound like fun.

I wonder about one thing, though: you talked about Aristotle saying that 'habits form character', but I think he might have had a different intention than the one I read here. To my mind there are two meanings of 'character' at stake here, one being 'a character in a play', and one being 'moral fibre'.

I think Aristotle meant that the habits of a person are ultimately at the core of the display of their characterisation within a drama -- an effective means of representing them to the audience.

However, I think that the common wisdom about character, as in 'demonstrating strong character', would be that it is moments when habits must be left by the wayside, as insufficient to the circumstances, that suggest character. If every day is just 'business as normal' for someone, then they probably are not demonstrating character -- unless, of course, business shouldn't be as normal, and it is through force of will that they act so. In which case, of course, character remains an aberration in the face of the expected or anticipated.

You could say that the archetypal Greek hero (Achilles) might display 'character', but since Achilles is essentially in agreement with himself, and only at odds with the social and political norms of others, that probably isn't the case. In fact, off the top of my head I'm hard-pressed to think of a classical Greek hero who sublimates his own desires for a greater good which he seeks out himself (rather than being ordered/forced to by a god).

Nicholas said...

On an etymological note, on the other hand, 'kharassw' has the something like the meaning 'I imprint' or 'I impress'. And I should think that, as perhaps our fingertips attest, it is the habitual actions which leave the most significant impressions, and form, as it were, our 'character'.

I've never read Aristotle.