Sorry this is so ridiculously late. I went to bed and slept almost twelve hours. Not sure why, except that my body might sense the onset of winter. I have been having allergies from h*ll but no sign of infection, which is new. Anyway, I gave in to the sleep, partly because we’ve been driving all over creation in all our spare time, looking for the “permanent house.” (We’re in a rental right now.)
Partly this is because I need a sense of permanence (and I need the d*mn research books which are either packed or thrown on a single bookcase, higgledy, piggledly with no discernible organization, which makes it hard to find just the sentence or the reference I need in the middle of a story.
Partly it is because the whole search itself keeps throwing off my attempt to establish “regular habits.”
“Regular habits” is often used in old fashioned mysteries, as in “he is a gentleman of regular habits” by which we are to assume they are somber and modest and unlikely to commit crimes.
I was talking, in a private group, recently with one of my fans who is in the mental health profession, and he was expressing his feeling that civilization is doomed, since we started not only allowing people with the worst possible genetic tendencies to survive (by subsidizing their survival) but we also subsidize their reproduction.
To an extent I think he’s unwarrantedly gloomy (and in his defense, he said nothing about weeding out the unworthy or the carriers of bad traits, okay?) Yes, the useless (in terms of societal maintenance or utility) flourish like the green bay tree, but they are also, to a great extent, dying young and hard. Yes, I know all the stuff about teeth per tattoo ratio. And I know if you have more tattoos than teeth you’re unkillable. But that’s only true to an extent. And at any rate, your continued survival is ALWAYS at the expense of others. Which means when the blue state hits a hard patch, your survival becomes very… chancy.
But it goes beyond that. I am somewhat sensitive to this, because I come from a mixed marriage. Dad’s family could have “We have the bourgeois virtues” engraved on their forehead. I grew up with such helpful proverbs as “them who don’t work when they’re young will break their backs when they’re old.” His paternal family was very well to do indeed, but grandad I suspect had the same sensory issues of younger son and in those days, being the 9th son they didn’t bother discovering that. His brothers (some of them at least) went to college, but he was considered “stupid” and left school in third grade to learn a trade (carpentry.) He eventually married grandma, who came from a relatively well to do background (in that her family owned several houses) but who had no one with a college degree and who were only wealthy in terms of the village. OTOH they had habits of thrift and work. (And I suspect their rise in the world had mostly been hampered by the permanent depression that seems to come with the Marques name. It was not the sort of depression that leads to grand dramatic suicides, just a sort of little grey cloud that makes your focus not as keen.) Not to say they were unlettered. For their time and place they were “bookish.” All the women knew how to read, and great grandmother would pinch the family budget in order to buy books. To her we owed the complete collection of Dumas and Sir Walter Scott, also Mark Twain and others.)
On mom’s side, OTOH…
It is rumored in the family that when dad announced his engagement, my grandmother threatened to not receive her daughter in law. (I’m sure rumors that she threatened to climb on the roof and put her head in the gas oven are false. For one she didn’t own a gas oven, and if she did, it wouldn’t be on the roof.)
Mom held this against her all of grandma’s life, but I’m the mother of boys and I don’t.
Mom’s family had roots in local gentry, but it was decayed. VERY decayed. Mom’s dad drank away his inheritance, and raised five kids in a one bedroom shotgun cottage with a dirt kitchen floor, in the middle of a slum. I suspect, from the architecture, that my grandparents’ (leased) home was once a crafter’s cottage in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, and for that time it was spacious and tidy, but in the 20th century? No.
As a little kid I hated going to visit my grandparents, because we passed an insula — i.e. an “ilha” (Beyond its meaning as “island” in Portugal the term is applied to any decayed building with lots of tenants. Some of them MIGHT be survivals from Rome, but that’s unlikely) and we’d have to run the gauntlet of half naked, (the bottom half) dirty kids begging for money and scratching at you for anything they could steal. Sometimes they took the ribbons from my braids.
With all this, all of mom’s sisters became solidly middle class, having married professional men. The brothers… well, one of them was probably brain damaged to some extent (or the result of too many cousins marrying.) I loved my uncle, but he never seemed fully grown up. He worked as an orderly at an hospital and married twice. The first time he married a woman from “decayed good families” and when that broke up he married a woman from the lowest urban class, and raised the second family in an urban slum. My second uncle, I did not like. He was accounted “the wit” of the family, but this was usually at others’ expense. He was trained as a plumber and made very good money, but it ran through his hands. He raised his family in the same slum he was raised.
Which brings us to heredity and “regular habits.”
It might be that my uncles received the short end of the genetic inheritance. Or it might be that being boys in Portugal they never had to work as hard for parental approval as the girls. Or it may be that grandad had problems with his sons in particular. I mean, I loved him dearly but he seemed to me to be a lousy father to ALL his offspring. However, for reasons of family dynamics and his history he might have been particularly bad as a parent for the boys. (I.e. he might have derided them and undermined their confidence more.)
I don’t know, and I don’t particularly care (it’s a long time. The uncles are both dead, and I have no contact with my cousins from them.)
However, it’s important to note something: from mom’s side, the only grandkids who went to college were my brother and I and the abandoned, cut-off (I’ve never met them) cousins of my oldest uncle’s first marriage.)
The children of my aunts are middle class and relatively well to do, but never pursued college.
And my brother and I were raised more or less BY my dad’s family, where all the cousins but one (and that one for various reasons) have degrees. (Most of them engineering or medicine. The cousins in law, psychology and I are the black sheep.)
To me — and I realize anecdotes aren’t data — having grown up in my family, it was perfectly clear that my brother and I weren’t that different from our maternal cousins. In fact, mentally, we probably had more in common with mom’s side of the family. (Except for my grey cloud thing.)
Mom’s dad was a brilliant man, who could discourse with and intimidate college professors (one of his favorite games) on his self-taught knowledge. I remember he had a lot of books in his carpenter’s workshop, and he seemed to have known all the luminaries of the arts and literature from when he was a young man. (The fact these were mostly Romantics probably did nothing for grandad’s moral character, mind.)
Dad’s side, people were smart and bookish (save for the one uncle who inherited grandad’s issues) and well informed of the world, but the casual brilliance, the ability to learn with minimal effort, and the almost casual way of correlating knowledge were missing. My brother and I, though, seemed to realize early on that we learned easier than other people.
And I figure therein lay the rub, at least for my aunts’ children and maybe for the ones of one of my uncle’s.
When you know you can “cram” stuff two hours before the test and remember it for ten years, or even deduce the stuff you should memorize from other stuff you’ve picked up, it’s very easy to leave it till it’s too late.
And yet, my brother and I had results like those of our paternal uncles, not our maternal ones. How?
Well, mostly because we were raised under the influence of dad’s mom. And because mom adopted the culture of the family she married into. For both my brother and I there was “no try, there’s only do.”
So, while my classmates could come home with Cs or Ds and have their parents say “it’s okay, do better next time” the only time I had a negative grade in a test (and the teacher had mis-graded) I got threatened with being locked out of the house.
Look, in first grade, I knew myself to take after mom’s family. I was indolent, unless forced not to be, a wretched planner, and very fond of wasting time (and money.)
But I knew those were simply not acceptable. If I wanted to keep grandma’s respect (and I’m still aiming for that, even though she’s gone. She might still be keeping an eye on me, after all. Formidable woman, grandma, I don’t think a little thing like death can stop her) I had to develop regular habits that countered my innate defects. And so I did. I studied EARLIER because I was afraid I’d be sick just before the test and unable to study. I applied myself. I didn’t miss classes. I didn’t go to coffee shops or hang out with the bad girls on my spare time. I knew my tendency to the irregular and the bohemian and I tried to counter it with “regular habits.”
This is part of the reason I watch myself, all the time. Like, you know, not admitting I’m sick, because it might be just an excuse to do nothing. It’s also part of the reason it took me so long to stay home and try to do the writing thing — I wanted to write, and was as close to having a vocation for it as it’s possible, but it seemed like an irregular, bohemian and risky way of life, while having a regular nine to five job was what I’d been trained for and SHOULD do. It was only having kids, and not wanting to give them to someone else to raise that got me to stay home and also write on the side.
Unfortunately we’re all susceptible to what Kris and Dean call “bad life rolls” from a game they developed to teach their students how a writing life can change. Over the last three to four years, starting I think with burnout, and a sudden relaxation of the stress I’d lived under (when it became obvious Indie was an alternative) my “regular habits” broke.
I’d long ago realized the only way I CAN make a go of writing is to establish a work routine and writing hours. If I didn’t get up when Dan got up to go to work, I was as likely as not to get up at noon, take till three pm to get dressed/showered, and generally get nothing done. Even as a stay at home mom that was deadly (I wanted to model good habits for the boys) but as a writer that was deadly. I could very easily write only one short story a year.
So I made/make it a point of getting up when Dan does, getting dressed by the time he’s dressed.
The complement to this is “get to my desk when he gets to his” — but that means I have a little more time to linger over a cup of coffee and the morning instapundit — and only knock off when he does.
But having been very burned out, then ill, for … oh, a good four years, I couldn’t concentrate and I broke my regular habits and fell into irregular ones of loitering on social media, checking news obsessively (though I also do that when I’m … not feeling good about the state of the world) and such.
I’m trying very hard to build new ones, but hampered by things like house sale/search for house.
None of which matter. I still need to try as hard as I can to build regular habits again.
Because I suspect while some genetic component goes into developing bourgeois virtues, a lot of it is just “regular habits.”
There is some back up for this in that the countries that industrialized later are those we associate with slovenly habits of time and application. BUT if you read to the beginning of the industrial revolution you find those habits even among the famously punctual British people.
Which brings me to the mental health professional’s assessment that we’re breeding civilization away. Yeah, to an extent, maybe.
But man is more than what he’s born with. The worst thing we’re doing to the new generation is teaching them (in school, in popular entertainment, in philosophy) to mock the bourgeois virtues, those “regular habits” of careful spending, careful living, regular schedules and faithful work.
And that — THAT — will be the undoing of Western civilization.
Teach your children well. Give them regular habits. Enshrine those as “the way to be” and don’t be afraid to criticize people who don’t have those habits in front of your kids.
Humans are social apes. Social disapproval and general enshrining of regular habits will bring even those who weren’t taught from childhood into the fold.
Humans are unruly apes, but habit is a powerful force.
It might yet save civilization from itself.