City or Country? The Constant Question

For the majority of my adult life, I have lived in one city or another. Arguably, my hometown in Western New York–really, a small city–contains a walkable urban center with access to pharmacies, parks, the post office, the public library, and a handful of restaurants, bars, and modest shops. Like many towns throughout the Rust Belt, the joint terrors of Walmart, peripheral sprawl, automobile dependency, and the contemporary drug scourge have hollowed out the core, stripped it of its past vitality and vibrancy, and degraded its public spaces. When I walk through the downtown, I seldom pass another pedestrian. Many of the surrounding neighborhoods appear shabby and neglected.

This past weekend, my wife and I traveled to this corner of rural Western New York to visit my family and celebrate my younger sister’s recent engagement. Along the way and during our brief stay, I remembered what makes this corner of the Empire State great. Although it might lack the dazzle, variety, and culture of a big city, Western New York bursts with nature.

Rolling hills, green in the spring and the summer; brown and red in the autumn; and brilliantly white in the winter, hug the town. At almost every street corner, one can spot these hills with a mere turn of the head. The Allegheny River and its tributary the Olean Creek wind through town. When I was in college, a cleared and paved trail opened up along the River. On my way to and from my campus jobs, I would ride my bike along the trail. During weekends, I would often retreat to my favorite spot just off the path, a bench facing the river, and watch the slow water and gaze at the green hills. As English major (and a passionate and dedicated lover of literature to this day), I felt the tug of the Romantic poets and their sentimentalization of nature.

Allegeny River
Allegheny River in the morning, at an undisclosed location in Western New York (Photograph by author).

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The Simple Life? Thoughts on Eric Brende’s Better Off

Last summer, I happened across a decade-old book, Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende. This volume appears to be Mr. Brende’s sole publishing credit; in fact, he seems to have embraced the philosophy explored by his work and effectively constructed a life beyond the parameters of the internet and the computer age. He does not maintain a website, a Twitter feed, or an Instagram account. Brende seems to have “flipped the switch.”

Several weeks ago, I dedicated not one but two posts to Self and Soul and its thoughts on searching for the good or ideal life. Better Off is a similar book, stirring up similar musings. What is the good life? This question has bedeviled saints, philosophers, artists, and writers since the dawn of recorded thought. Both Aristotle and Socrates punched at the question. Every man or women likely ponders the question at different moments throughout their lives.

Better Off
Eric Brende, Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology (New York: HarperCollins, 2004).

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Self and Soul … More Thoughts

When I launched this blog, I envisioned it as venue to explore the history and culture of Jersey City, my adopted hometown. However, the blog is evolving into  a sounding board for my musings on culture, literature, the humanities, and other topics within and without my homestead in the Garden State.

Never fear, Jersey City boosters, an upcoming post will return to the writings of Washington Irving. Incidentally, my post on the connection between Irving and Jersey City is my most read piece, popular with readers in Britain, Europe, Russia, and India. I’m flattered and, more importantly, I hope that a few new souls have discovered and enjoyed Irving’s stories. Continue reading

Book Review: Self and Soul: a Defense of Ideals

Several weeks ago, I heard a remarkable conversation with author and academic, Mark Edmundson, about his new book Self and Soul: a Defense of Ideals, on the always engaging and entertaining Art of Manliness podcast. During this past weekend’s snowstorm here on the Eastern seaboard, I found myself sitting in my parlor and enjoying a day with no particular demands, errands, or responsibilities by attending to my first and greatest passion: reading.

In this case, I read Edmundson’s Self and Soul, largely ignoring the majestic natural beauty just beyond my window. When I’m given a choice between print and the world, print more often than not wins. Continue reading