Summer Self Improvement Report (Or, Where’s Huston Been?)

So, in case nobody noticed, blogging was a wee bit light this summer.  Actually, chances are that nobody did notice, as the light blogging has dropped my daily hit count down to some of its lowest levels ever.  There’s a chance that nobody will ever read this!

So, what gives?  Well, my summer was eaten up by a few things: I put a ton of time into the autobiography of President Monson that I posted a few days ago, I took 18 credits of classes for my job (I wrote a few dozen essays and research papers this summer when I much rather would have been scribbling away here), and, alas, more than a little time and energy was expended in the management of a stressful matter. 

But I also devoted a lot of my summer to the work of self improvement.  After a pretty successful Spring, I started out this three month block with an ambitious list of twelve items to work on.  I finished seven.  Two others were very close–in fact, one of those that carried over to Fall has been finished already and another should be done within a week–two more were in process, and one was just a dumb idea. 

Here’s a report on the seven things I accomplished, in the order they were done:

1. Complete five more New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles.  Check.

2. See five more movies on the AFI list of 100 best American movies.  I saw:

All About Eve.  Smart, effective noir, but predictable and slow–some scenes plodded on past ten minutes after all tension and wit had been spent after five.  B

High Noon.  Regarded as an “existential Western,” this is a taut, real-time thriller of staring imminent doom in the face and how we react to it.  The noble heroics of an everyman sheriff made this one of my favorite movies.  A+

It Happened One Night.  One of the early romantic comedies, Clark Gable cracks funny in a surprisingly enjoyable road trip where two opposites end up falling for each other.  I know, I know, what a formula, but this movie is where that formula came from.  B+

Stagecoach.  Very early John Wayne Western where he’s a kid who ends up defending a wild stagecoach ride from all kinds of danger along the way.  It never fails to surprise me just how visceral the action in such old movies can be.  A+

The Best Years of Our Lives.  Three guys come home from World War II to face the harsh realities of veterans trying to go back to a “normal” life surrounded by people who can’t possibly understand them.  This message never gets old and makes this movie just as relevant now as when it rocked the nation when it came out.  First they were heroes overseas, then they had to keep being everyday heroes back home.  A

3.  Follow all spiritual promptings for a week.  You know all the quiet, nagging thoughts that we know we should act on but usually ignore?  I vowed to do them all for a week.  Every random thought to say or do something that would require me to change what I had already planned to say or do–I would take them seriously.  My actual performance: maybe about 70%–there were still plenty of ideas that popped into my mind that I know I should have done, but which I was too lazy or proud to follow up on.  Still, I felt a lot better after giving up more of myself for a week.  Most of these ideas required me to speak up to someone in some way, or to get up from something comfortable I was doing to do something less comfortable.  In all fairness, I did this the week between the school year ending and summer school starting, so there was a peaceful atmosphere in general.  Next time, I need to do this in a normal setting.  And maybe do it for a month.  And dig up enough strength to not still ignore 30% of promptings.

4.  Grow a beard.  After three weeks, it still itched like crazy, but looked really cool.  I shaved because my parents planned an extended family picture, which happens only about every ten years.  I’ve already told my wife that when the weather gets cold, the beard is coming back. 

5.  Practice yoga six days a week for four straight weeks.  This is the most consistent I’ve ever been at this, and it really did me a world of good.  I’m trying to keep up the health I built this summer (I tend to get pretty weak during the hectic school year).  This felt awesome, though. 

6.  Read five more books on my lists.

The Analects of Confucius.  Thoughtful and worthwhile, but nothing unique or revolutionary.  Frankly, much of this was pretty bland.  B-

The Federalist Papers.  Reading all of these essays from three Founding Fathers about the meaning of the Constitution was a tour de force of learning about government.  I wrote an awful lot of notes in here.  Some essays were better than others, but almost all of them have significant things to say about how government should work–and flatly indicts the way things are done now.  Powerful prose and logic; undeniable inspiration.  A+

The Frogs, by Aristophanes.  An ancient Greek comedy that genuinely made me laugh out loud (yes, lol!) a few times.  My favorite joke in the play, very roughly paraphrased: one character, upon entering the underworld, asks, “Where are all the idiots and perverts who are supposed to be here?”  The other lead character looks out over the audience and says, “Oh, there they are.”  I found a Broadway musical version of this and checked the CD out of the library: it was entertaining.  A

A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather.  A woman whose vibrant spirit has been worn down by frontier life mutely reaches out to a kindred spirit in town.  Typical Cather.  By far the most beautifully rendered of the books I read this summer, it was heavily slowed down by a trite plot and predictable themes.  I wish my list would have required O, Pioneers! or Death Comes for the Archbishop, instead.  B-

The Tempest, by Shakespeare.  Nabokov called this the first science fiction story.  I loved the realistically erratic characters and subdued optimism.  A+

7. Finish a church-related project.  Check.

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