Beware The Assassin

Beware the Assassination of Your Dreams!
“Beware the Ides of March” was good advice once, though it fell on the deaf ears of the unsuspecting Julius Caesar that fateful March day in 44 BC. Of course we all know, (either from history books or movies,) what those words were to portend; the assassination of Caesar by members of the Roman Senate. In Caesar’s defense however, the warning he received was from an unreliable source, and was rather vague in detail, and therefore, difficult to act upon.512px-Vincenzo_Camuccini_-_La_morte_di_Cesare

Consider first of all that there was nothing inherently sinister about the Ides of March. The ancient Romans followed a lunar calendar. Like the Nones and the Kalends, the Ides were simply markers in the month that corresponded to phases of the moon. The Ides marked the full moon which fell in the middle of the month, specifically the 15th during the months of March, May, July, and October. The Nones marked the 5th or 7th, and the Kalends the 1st of the following month.

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Photo by Gianni Zanato on Unsplash

Now consider what we know of the source. According to the Greek biographer, Plutarch, (who later became a Roman citizen,) these cryptic words of warning were spoken by a soothsayer whom Caesar passed on his way to the Forum on the Ides of March. The account is recorded in Plutarch’s “Life of Caesar” from his Parallel Lives anthology written sometime in the early 2nd century AD. It must be remembered that in ancient times, factual history was often altered and embellished to suit a writer’s purpose of moralizing, or creating a more engaging story.Brutus_Eid_Mar

Accurate or no, Parallel Lives influenced and informed the writing of numerous authors for centuries to come, perhaps most notably, the writings of William Shakespeare. It is his play, “Julius Caesar,” that immortalized the expression “Beware the Ides of March” and so put it on the lips of people everywhere ever since. It soon fell into the vernacular as a kind of nonspecific ominous warning about an equally nonspecific threat that people still speak today whether they know of its origin or not.

This got me thinking. Is Caesar’s warning good advice today? Might we benefit from the advantage of hindsight that Caesar did not have? Do we have cause to “Beware the Assassin?”

When I think about my own life as a writer and musician, I realize that I sometimes play the role of assassin to my creative ambition. I do this primarily by listening to various lies about my abilities and by comparing myself to others. Nothing kills motivation faster than pondering the mind-boggling number of talented writers and musicians who already exist, and then imagining that I have anything worthwhile to contribute to this cacophony of voices already over-taxing the ears of the world. I mean, honestly, what could I possibly add?

Luckily, before I stab my creativity to death, I usually remember the truth that this kind of thinking is a lie. As a unique individual I have something original to say that only I can say. My job is to be busy about doing the work knowing that with every word written, every note explored, I am strengthening and validating my voice. I am compelled to create regardless of any reward or notoriety for doing so.green-chameleon-21532-unsplash

While it is highly unlikely that anyone reading this will be a target of assassination, it is possible that you yourself are playing the role of assassin to your own dreams.  Listening to lies that you aren’t talented enough or that you are too old to follow your dreams will surely wield the mortal blow to that creative part of your soul. Instead, why not heed the warning that circulates on this day and unlike the hapless Caesar be on the lookout for anyone or anything that is conspiring to destroy what is uniquely you, and go another way.

 

 

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A Thing of Beauty

Confucious said:

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

“Please select a photo from the magazine that you think is beautiful and then write a paragraph, in English, explaining why it’s beautiful to you.” That was the assignment I gave my advanced ESOL (English as a Second/Other Language) class during our one and a half hours together on a recent Tuesday morning. We had been exploring the broad topics of health and beauty for several weeks. In the previous class I had taught a vocabulary building lesson on the many synonyms for the word beautiful, such as captivating, stunning, and alluring. I explained the more finely nuanced connotations evoked by the use of these alternative adjectives to help them better convey a more precise emotion.

“Beauty is not caused. It is.”—-Emily Dickinson

And so they got busy with heads bent, as they thumbed through the magazines and began to write. After sufficient time, I went around the room asking each student to show the class the picture they had selected and to share what they had written. As you might expect, their selections were quite diverse, reflective of beauty’s many incarnations: a water garden, a mother fox with her kits, Olympic athletes, a kitchen interior, a gold watch, the ocean, a turned wooden bowl, a plate of pasta, the hand of a small child in the secure clasp of a grandparent’s aged hand.

“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”—- Franz Kafka

Likewise, their responses revealed the many factors that combine to create a definition of beauty, unique to the eye of each beholder: emotions, memories, and the senses. The kitchen and the food recalled the warmth of fellowship with family and friends around the table. The athletes exemplified noble attributes of character like courage and humility as well as awe at the grace and agility of the human body. The water garden and the ocean spoke to their hearts’ yearning for peace, tranquility, and union with nature.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”  —-  Helen Keller

We all agreed that there are as many dimensions to beauty as there are words to describe it. What we found universal is the joy and appreciation that come from noticing the beauty that surrounds us in everyday life. For me, as their teacher, my students are a thing of beauty. Each week a group of ten to thirteen adults gather together, representing almost as many different countries, all with the same desire and commitment to learn English. In each class I am in awe of their fearlessness. It is no small thing to struggle publicly to find the right words to express your feelings in a foreign language. But this they do, always striving to improve. Not just trying to get by, but to excel. And that is a very beautiful thing indeed.

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”—– Marcus Aurelius 

Dear Readers, What is a thing of beauty to you? Please share!