Teddy Roosevelt was a writer first, a soldier second and a politician third. He was, also, a husband and a father. He wrote books throughout law school and, eventually, dropped out to run for political office in New York. That set the formula for the rest of his life—writing and politics. He wrote about everything, not just war and policy. He wrote about nature and his adventures in the still wild West.
He was America’s trust-busting President, pulling behemoth Standard Oil apart like warm bread in 1911. I think he’d say this about Facebook, Twitter and Google, also being eyed by Federal powers as monopolistic candidates for potential breakup: “They are wonderful tools, but terrible masters.”
As a writer, T.R. did what all writers do, discount the moment in preference for some past or future or a time that will never come—fantasy. A writer says “I will examine something, right now, at the cost of this moment” which happens to be the morning of June 9, 2019. In my southern California neighborhood, just outside the window, a squirrel is eating giant, purple, overripe figs like he had a basketball to his face and little newborn sparrows are learning to fly, bouncing from limb to limb. A baby rabbit is munching fresh, green shoots in the yard. We call him Junior.
Back to T.R. He was like a top that had to spin at maximum capacity, otherwise, it’d wobble and fall over. If you want to know what I’m talking about I recommend this book: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmond Morris.
It used to be hard to imagine what it would be like to be a writer like T.R. But not anymore. So many of us do it. If you’ve ever asked questions like ‘who am I?’ or ‘why am I here?’ odds are you’re a writer—you have the soul of one. Facebook and Twitter have made us all writers, in fact as well as in sentiment.
Soon we may even be paid for it. Some are arguing that the free services provided by those platforms, great as they are, are too expensive. That’s because the data they collect on us, through the content we add (our thoughts and desires, basically the Freudian id) becomes packaged and resold as marketing data to other online merchants. They make a fortune off of it and should pay us for it, or so some are saying.
It made me think, what if a guy like Teddy Roosevelt were a young co-worker of mine. What kind of modern man would he be? Ever wonder how folks like that would behave today, in modern circumstances? If you believe the old saying the French are fond of that “the more things change the more they stay the same,” it makes it easier to make the comparisons.
Maybe that’s where we are; right back where we used to be. We have public lives again, but they’re online. We aren’t all so isolated in our post-war huts watching the same 5 shows night after night. We’re in the mix again, shouting each other down at the public square. Teddy would be doing the same thing but he’d also be writing books, running for office and rafting down rivers chasing kingpins running drugs from God-knows-where to everywhere. In short, he’d be doing all the modern stuff on top of the same old stuff high energy people have been doing forever.
We all, from time to time choose to discount the moment we have before us in favor of isolation on a page whether Facebook or real-life pen and paper. But it’s a road to misery if you stay on it too long. Always be getting on and off. It’s good practice for the change we know is coming, one way or another. Write a little, then get going again.
The book on T.R. by Morris is a little bible on how to live an authentic life, free of stifling remorse, regret or the overwhelming negative psychosis which seems to be a modern plague but, I believe, was in all ages, now and in all times. As thinking animals, we tend to add up everything that’s wrong with the world and carry it around on our shoulders. We think some concocted privilege or unique, unfortunate circumstances prevent us from living an authentic life, the one we should have had. But that’s wrong.
This is a book that shows us we are free to live the life we want, no matter what. It’s true. Today is Sunday, June 9, 2019, the only one that will ever exist. T.R. would have understood that and done ten things before his head hit the pillow.