Webster Firemen’s Carnival & Parade

Tonight marks the beginning of the annual Fireman’s Carnival in Webster – the parade begins at 6:30 PM, and the carnival runs through Saturday night’s midnight fireworks display.

This year the parade is expected to be bigger than ever, as fire companies from farther afield than usual will be attending to show their support for Webster, which suffered the tragic loss of two firefighters in December of last year. Those who come to enjoy the parade and the carnival this year, make sure to send your thoughts and prayers to the families of Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, for whom this will be the first carnival since the tragedy. It will likely be a difficult weekend for them, and we at Yesterday’s Muse Books wish them all the best.

On a brighter note, another of the firefighters injured on that day recently returned to service. Our thanks go out to Joseph Hofstetter for his continued service, as well as to Theodore Scardino, who was also wounded and is still recovering.

Journey as Destination

NOTE: This post was originally written in April of 2012.

I am writing this blog post aboard a train, on my way to New York City for the Manhattan Vintage Book & Ephemera Fair. The unique blend of anxiety and excitement that characterized the final days of preparation for the trip has subsided, and I finally have a few hours to relax.

As often happens when I travel by plane or train, I find myself musing on things philosophical. Something about gazing out a window as countryside hurtles past lends itself to reflection. (I’ll warn you now, this post will be one mostly dealing with thoughts on life in general, but worry not — I will tie it into books towards the end.)

The dialectic part of my brain can’t help but juxtapose the lazy idyllic landscapes with the quick steel of the train as it rumbles through. That dichotomy unearths the usual inquiries I tend to draw forth at times like these, most of which are comparisons of points on continua: leisure and work;  personal fulfillment and social responsibility; beauty and efficiency; love and friendship.

In life we continuously balance considerations such as these with one another, sometimes effectively, other times poorly, and I think our management of those balances determines how good we feel, and how effective we are in accomplishing our goals.

The problem is, most of us don’t view the relationships between these considerations the way we view other cyclical processes. Breathing in and breathing out are easy to think of as a single process. But thinking of work and leisure like this seems less instinctive. We have a tendency to elect one as the other’s superior, to favor it any time the two conflict.

It’s easy to tell when one is favoring breathing in or out too much – it’s uncomfortable, and not sustainable for very long. Other signs of imbalance are more subtle – we become irritable or agitated, less patient with minor inconveniences. What’s worse, we often ignore this feedback, or don’t link it to its cause, and continue behaving the same way. Sometimes this can make us pretty miserable people to be around (I can say this, I’ve been that guy – in fact, I was that guy when I was preparing for this trip).

Am I saying we need to avoid work? No. What I am suggesting is that, as a culture, we rearrange our way of looking at things. And here is where the title of this post comes in. Too often in life we conceive of things in a way that marginalizes some aspect of life. If we are headed to the store, the drive there becomes a nuisance. Our daily commute to work becomes a necessary chore. Our job is a necessary evil to sustain our lifestyle.

What this does is set parts of our life against one another. It makes us resent all the journeys for not being the destinations. That strikes me as a difficult way to live, and also as pretty boring, and definitely quite constricting. After all, if I make my life all about destinations, that means I need to know exactly where I’m going all the time.

If, instead, we embrace journeys as something to be valued, it changes the game. There need to be moments in life when we stop, look out the window of the train, and just think for a while.

Which brings me to books, and why I believe they are so important. Books give us that opportunity. They remove us from the incessant bustle of everything else; they demand quiet attention, and at the same time encourage us to relax. They are the window of the train, but better, because every book looks out on something different, brings you a different world, one you weren’t specifically looking for, one that has the potential to surprise and excite you, reinvigorate you, take you down a new path, or make you believe that something incredible is possible. They don’t just pick you up in Rochester and plop you down in New York City, they let you see everything in between.

It turns out a lot goes on between page one and ‘The End’. Don’t miss it.

Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 11:39 AM  Leave a Comment  
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What Really Matters

NOTE: This post was originally written in March of 2012.

At this point most of us have seen numerous news reports about the tornadoes that devastated small towns in several states over the past week. A number of people were killed, and many families lost everything in a matter of moments.

It got me thinking about a recurring theme I have noticed in many books and films: characters realizing what they truly treasure in life. Why do we value the things we value? Certainly what we should value most of all is our lives, and I think this point has been suitably addressed through the recent interviews and commentary on this string of tragedies.

I am interested in what makes us value things. I remember seeing a movie recently in which the main character was asked what she would take with her if her house were on fire. I thought it was an interesting question, and it was fascinating to see how it played out as the film progressed.

For many the answer would be ‘valuables’, meaning jewelry, laptops – things it would be expensive to replace. For the more romantic among us, the items chosen would be mementos, some seemingly worthless, but that it would be impossible to replace.

I am most certainly in the latter camp, and what’s more, my career seems to be based on this very tendency — I preserve the ephemeral, nostalgic, and eternally charming objects of the literary world. This feeds into a larger context, which is the current debate over digital versus print media.

For the longest time I believed that my resistance to the trend of e-books and their ilk was due to my particular stubbornness. While that may yet prove true, I think that sense of value is a larger factor. Books, and of course many other objects that we generally view as the accumulated clutter of life, often hold value for me not because of the text they contain, but because they have been assimilated as part of my existence.

I remember reading The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin for the first time in tenth grade. I still have the copy I read, a rather unspectacular paperback volume published by Quality Paperback Book Club, which included this story and several others. I made these a topic of an English paper I was assigned, and because of this underlined the text extensively (horror of horrors!). I remember reading it again recently, and being struck by which passages I had singled out. Some seemed chosen for rather juvenile reasons (don’t we all sometimes feel a bit foolish at what we used to say and think?); others seemed incredibly astute (was I really open to that sort of insight at 16?).

What does the internet say this book is worth? Between $6 and $10. Probably closer to $6 in this condition. The Kindle edition is $7.99, the same price as a new paperback.

So why do I value my copy so much more highly? Were I to have a Kindle, why would my tendency be to save this worn paperback before grabbing the Kindle? Those who know how the Kindle works will respond: “Well, simple, you can just get a new Kindle and re-download all the books you’ve purchased. They keep records of that.” Sure, that’s great, very convenient, and much less tragic than if my personal library were to go up in flames.

But this is why I don’t value digital content at all. I don’t need to. Someone else is doing that for me so I don’t have to worry. Everything is replaceable at no cost to me. Here you go, sir, good as new. Can you imagine how you would treat your favorite books if that were the case? Or, for that matter, your car? Your house? Your family? Yourself?

The reason things are valuable to us is because they can be damaged or destroyed, lost, stolen, etc. The things we treasure are the things that can be taken away forever. Sure, we worry about losing those things, but isn’t worry just another word for love? Is that something we want to give up?

If the modern world’s solution to the anxiety of loss is for me to surround myself with things it is by definition impossible to value, I think I’ll take the road less traveled. And it will make all the difference.

Rainy with a chance of showers

It’s been a rainy week here in upstate New York, which is typical for this time of year. It’s interesting to see, though, how despite all our technological innovations, despite all the conveniences we now enjoy… weather still wins. No matter what we throw at her, mother nature can basically swat us like flies. It’s humbling, and in an important way, I think. We need to know that we are not the center of things, even though our senses would have us believe otherwise. We need to realize we are part of something greater, and try to figure out where we fit into that. Easily said, right? Well, luckily, I think that the process is the important part — learning, adapting, trying new things… the truth is, there is no answer, no end of the rainbow. But we need to behave as if there is, because that is what life is about. What weather tells me is that this world isn’t here for me — it’s the other way around. It will be here long after I’m gone. What I need to decide is what part I want to play in the ongoing cosmic game. Am I going to treat a rainy day like a wasted chance, or am I going to learn to live with what I’m given? Once we ask the question, the answer is easy — the problem is, many of us never do.

Today’s book:

Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’

Published in: on April 3, 2009 at 6:21 PM  Leave a Comment  
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