WHY WORRY? CHAPTER XVII
THE FAD

Do not worry. Manifest your destiny.
WHY WORRY?
BY: GEORGE LINCOLN WALTON, M.D.
CONSULTING NEUROLOGIST TO THE MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL

XVII.

THE FAD

"Fads may be said to constitute a perfect mental antitoxin for the poison
generated by cerebral acuity."

--Courtney
Webmaster's Note: As used in the following article, the word "fad" denotes an interest or hobby.
There is nothing occult in the suggestion that the worrier cultivate a fad. Its object is to interest him in something outside of himself and of the monotony of his accustomed round. If it seems to him too much trouble to enter upon the details of the fad there is all the more reason for freeing himself from such mental inertia.

How shall we set to work to acquire a fad [hobby], without special opportunity or education, and with but little time at our disposal? Suppose we take the study of botany as an illustration, not necessitating class instruction. This useful study may be made also a charming fad, and one not beneath the notice of so learned and busy a man as Sir Francis Bacon, who found time and inclination to write an essay "Of Gardens," in which he mentions by name and shows intimate acquaintance with, over one hundred distinct varieties of plant life.

Sir John Lubbock (the Right Honourable Lord Avebury) in "The Pleasures of Life," says:

"The botanist, on the contrary...nay, I will not say the botanist, but one with even a slight knowledge of that delightful science...when he goes out into the woods, or out into one of those fairy forests which we call fields, finds himself welcomed by a glad company of friends, every one with something interesting to tell."

There are two ways of cultivating botanical as well as other knowledge; namely, the passive and the active. The passive method is to let someone inform us; the active is to find out something for ourselves. The latter is the only effective method. Suppose we start with the wild flowers:

The first step is to purchase a popular illustrated book on this subject, preferably one in which the flowers are arranged according to color. We first learn, in the introduction, the principal parts of the flower, as the calyx, the corolla, the stamen and the pistil. We find that the arrangements of leaves and flowers are quite constant, that the leaves of some plants are opposite, of others alternate; of still others from the root only, that flowers are solitary, in raceme, head, spike or otherwise clustered.

It now behooves us to take a walk upon a country road with our eyes open and our book under our arm. Along the roadsides passing vehicles have scattered the seeds of many flowering plants. We decide to pick and learn the first white blossom we see. This blossom appears, we will say, upon a plant about a foot high. We notice that its leaves are opposite, that its corolla has five petals and that its calyx is inflated. We now look through the section on white flowers.

The first plant described has leaves from the root only; the second is a tall shrub, these we pass, therefore, and continue until we find one answering the description, leaves opposite, calyx inflated, corolla of five petals. When we reach it we have identified the plant; we now feel a sense of ownership in the Bladder Campion, and are quite shocked when our friend calls it only "a weed." Meantime we have noted many familiar names and some familiar illustrations which we must identify on our next ramble.

On consulting our timepiece we find that we have absolutely spent a couple of hours in complete forgetfulness of the daily grind, to say nothing of having filled our lungs with comparatively fresh air, and having taken a little exercise. Best of all, we have started a new set of associations; we have paved the way for new acquaintances, Linnaeus, Gray, Dioscorides and Theophrastus, to say nothing of our friend "so-and-so" whom we always thought rather tiresome but with whom we now have something in common. We shall take up our daily grind to-morrow with a new zest for having forgotten it for a few hours, and find it less of a grind than usual; moreover, we now have an object to encourage another stroll in the country.

If we continue as we have begun we shall soon find ourselves prying into the more scientific works on botany, and perhaps eventually extending our interest to the birds, the beasts and the boulders. One of these days we may become quite proficient amateur naturalists, but this is only by the way; the real advantage to us has been the externalizing of our interests.

This is the most desultory way possible of cultivating the fad. One may go a step further and transplant the wild flowers and the weeds. A busy and successful professional friend of mine, besides having a cabinet shop in his stable, finds (or makes) time to go to the woods with his trowel. He has quite a wild flower bank in his garden. I cannot give definite directions as to their setting out...I think he just throws them down anywhere...a fair percentage seem to thrive. I can remember the larger bur-marigold, the red and white bane-berry, rattlesnake-weed, rattlesnake-plantain, blood root, live-for-ever [Sedum purpureum], wood betony, pale corydalis, and fern-leaved foxglove, and there are many more.

Mushrooms and ferns offer fertile fields for special study. If the worrier has an altruistic turn he will find satisfaction in bestowing duplicates upon his friends, thus still further externalizing his interests. He will be surprised to find how many things there are in the world that he never noticed.

Whether our tastes lead us in the direction of photography, pottery, mechanics, collecting china, books and old furniture, of philosophy or a foreign language, we need not aim to pursue these avocations too profoundly. We must not compare our acquisitions with those of the savant or the skilled laborer, but must console ourselves with the reflection that we at least know more, or can do more, than yesterday. If our fads, now and then, make us do something that gives us a little trouble, so much the better, if it is only to go to the library for a book,--the worrier whose idea of rest and recuperation is to remain forever glued to an easy-chair is indeed to be pitied.

Collecting old prints, stamps, and coins, is by no means a waste of time. Fads of this nature offer the additional inducement of an asset which may serve, in a material way, to banish worry in time of stress. To reap the full advantage of the collection fads one should take pains to acquire a knowledge of the geography and history with which they are associated. Few are so unfortunately placed that they have no access to information on these subjects. The encyclopædia, at least, is within general reach, though rarely consulted by those who most need its aid.

Suppose one takes up history for an indoor fad. How shall he start in? Since he pursues this study only as a fad, he can commence almost anywhere. Let him decide to become familiar with the fifteenth century. The first step is to familiarize himself with the principal rulers and the principal battles of that time. Suppose he spends half an hour every evening upon the life of one or another ruler, as given in the encyclopędia or elsewhere. If he is sufficiently inventive to construct a pictorial or other plan in which to give each his place, so much the better. Having thus constructed a framework he can begin to fill in the details, and now the study begins to interest him. At any public library he can find a catalogue of historical fiction arranged according to centuries. Under the fifteenth century he will find Quentin Durward, The Broad Arrow, Anne of Geierstein, The Cloister and the Hearth, Every Inch a King, Marietta, The Dove in the Eagle's Nest, and other standard works, all of which he may have read before, but every page of which will have for him a new interest since he can now place the characters, appreciate the customs, and form a consistent picture of what was doing in different countries at this time.

The next step is to acquire, in the same way, equal familiarity with the preceding and succeeding centuries, particularly with the interrelations of the different countries, old and new.

The reader who has followed to this point will need no further hint. If he continues as he has begun, he will be surprised to find how soon he will be able to instruct, on one subject at least, the college graduate, unless that graduate has happily continued as a fad what he once perfunctorily acquired.

Another way of commencing this study, and the one, I confess, which appeals more to me, is first to establish a framework which shall cover a long period of time, then study special epochs. An interesting way to start this method is to purchase Creasy's "Decisive Battles of the World," and familiarize one's self with its contents. This will furnish pegs on which to hang further items of information, and will impart a running familiarity with different nations involved in war from the time of the supremacy of Greece, down to the battle of Manila, in the recent edition,--in earlier editions to the time of Napoleon.

The only absolutely essential reference book for this study is Ploetz's "Epitome of Universal History."

To make this fad interesting, the mere commitment to memory of facts and dates will not suffice. Items of history thus acquired will inevitably fade. The conscientious but ill-advised student who attempts to commit the "Epitome" to memory will fall by the way-side. Time is not wasted in dwelling sufficiently long on one subject to feel a sense of ownership in it, and there is opportunity for the exercise of individual ingenuity in devising means to accomplish this end. If one has the knack, for example, of writing nonsense verse (and this is a talent all too easy of cultivation) it will aid him in fixing by rhyme names and dates otherwise difficult to master, thus:

"Ten sixty-six is a date you must fix;" or "Drake was not late in fifteen eighty-eight."

The study of music, history, trees, flowers, or birds doubtless seems of trivial interest to one who occupies his leisure hours with such weighty problems as figuring out how rich he would have been to-day if he had bought Bell Telephone at 15, but such study is far more restful, and in the long run quite as useful for the over-busy man.

It is not necessary to devote an enormous amount of time to such pursuits. One has only to purchase Miss Huntington's "Studies of Trees in Winter" and learn the trees in his own doorway, or upon his street, to awaken an interest that will serve him in good stead upon a railroad journey, or during an otherwise monotonous sojourn in the country. A walk around the block before dinner with such an object in view is more restful than pondering in one's easy-chair over the fluctuations of the stock market, and the man who is "too busy" for such mental relaxation is paving the way for ultimate, perhaps early, breakdown.

Once started on the trees, the man who did not even know that their buds were visible in the winter, after absorbing the contents of the popular tree-books may find himself looking for something more elaborate. He may even look forward to his next western trip with pleasure instead of disgust, now that he anticipates seeing at close hand the eucalyptus, the Monterey cypress, and the pinus ponderosa.

Courtney says "to all this will undoubtedly be objected the plea of lack of time. The answer to arguments formed on such flimsy basis is that all the time which is spent in preparing one's self as a candidate for a sanitarium is like the proverbial edged tool in the hands of children and fools."

A little time spent in such simple pursuits as I have indicated, and a few weeks' vacation before exhaustion appears, may prevent a year's enforced abstinence from work on account of nervous invalidism. I am tempted here to say "A stitch in time saves nine," but adages are sometimes dangerous. Thus the adage, "If you want a thing well done you must do it yourself," has caused many a business and professional man to burden himself with details which in the long run he might better have intrusted to subordinates, even at the risk of an occasional blunder.

It is not wise to specialize too much in the pursuit of the fad. Suppose the busy man, having conceded the value of some out-of-door study, decides that he will learn the lumber industry, but take no interest in the shade trees. He will not materially broaden his interests in this way. He will rather add to his burdens another business. If he applies to this new business the same conscientious methods which are wearing him out in his present one, the value of the fad is gone, the new study has done him more harm than good, and when on his vacation, unless there is a sawmill in the neighborhood, he finds himself stranded with only worry for company. Similarly, if the study of history is taken up in the way a fad should be taken up, anything in the way of a book will now interest the worrier, for hardly a book worth reading fails to contain either a bit of travel, geography, biography, law, or something on manners and customs.

Permanent freedom from worry involves a change in one's whole view of life and method of thought. But the means by which introspection may be temporarily alleviated are by no means to be despised. Among these comes the pursuit of the golf-ball. Many a business and professional man who thinks he has no time for golf can easily escape for an hour's play at the end of the day, twice a week, and in the long run it will prove to be time well expended. In point of fact, most are hindered rather by the notion that it is not worth while to visit the links unless one can play eighteen holes, or that it is not worth while to take up the game at all unless one can excel. But the exercise is the same, and the air equally bracing whether we win or lose; the shower-bath will refresh us just the same whether we have played nine holes or twenty-seven.

The automobile ride, the drive, and, best of all, the ride on horseback, will often serve to banish the vapors. Many neglect these methods, not from lack of time or money, but from indisposition.

A busy professional man recently assured me that he had renewed his youth by going three times a week to the gymnasium and joining the "old man's class." Here is an opportunity open to practically everyone; it is a desirable practice if continued. The drawback is the lack of incentive when the novelty has passed. Such incentive is furnished by the fad, in the satisfaction of gaining new knowledge and broadening the thought-associations.


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Why Worry - The Fad

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