Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Count of Monte Cristo: Why I Write About Becoming Like Edmond Dantes

1997: A young farm kid named Travis gets a reading assignment from his English teacher: the class will be reading "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas. Despite the prescribed pace, I manage to complete reading the book in about half the time. My regulars at the local YMCA that I lifeguarded at smiled and shook their heads as I described how captivating the story was that weekend. My parents probably thought nothing of it, as I'd routinely stay up in my room or curled on the couch reading something (I come from a family of readers). If nothing else, reading this literary classic probably shaped my life more than anything else in high school.

Fast forward several years. During college I was able to find a battered copy during a beginning of term book sale. And read it voraciously. After graduating, that copy lived on the sailboat I called home, and was read regularly. When the advent of digital reading came and my wife bought me a Kindle, it was one of the first titles I found. On average, I'd say I've read the book about once every other year.

Why am I so obsessed with Edmond Dantes? When I draw my vision back to the 10,000 foot level, I think to myself, "He's the kind of person I find myself idealizing." Not so much in the area of vengeance (although obviously a significant part of the story) but more so in the area of roundedness. When presented the opportunity to learn every the Abbe Faria had to teach, Edmond grasped those things with desire. He poured himself into the task of creating a better self. And while his initial motivation was to avenge his circumstances, I don't believe this character is necessarily wrong. The first three chapters of Solomon's book of Proverbs appears to speak positively of the gain of wisdom:

"...making your ears attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding;..."

Analyzing my intrigue with Edmond Dantes made me realize the appeal of his character was in his multi-faceted nature. He was at ease in every situation he found himself in. All topics were not just fair game, but areas of expertise for this man of mystery. Truly, he was the original man of mystery. 

I'd like to say my fascination with becoming like Edmond isn't hubris. I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't almost equally obsessed with James Bond (Daniel Craig's version of course, and probably Roger Moore a close second.) But I think it's a not unworthy goal to be comfortable in as many situations as possible, to be able to adapt to the environment you find yourself in. And may through the study of numerous and varied topics to become better able to think critically, to frame arguments, and to find solutions to complex problems. Wicked problems, as my war college professor described them.

So I decided to set off on a personal quest, to spend my life in the pursuit of an ever-expanding body of knowledge and skills, to become the most rounded person I am capable of. A Renaissance man. Probably not "The Most Interesting Man in the World." But close.

As a Christian, this is a difficult topic. Humility would appear to contrast this pursuit. So to some extent, this quest is a challenge in successfully combining the two desires of my life: to know God, and to become the most capable man I can be. With that perspective, "I Am Edmond Dantes" seeks to be a vehicle to:

1) Record life lessons learned
2) Describe the results of my efforts (and maybe have some accountability to achieving results)
3) Process the challenge of combining spiritual thinking with lifestyle design
4) Communicate those things to others

So there's a manifesto for you. Cheers to the journey ahead. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Life Lessons: Travel Smart

One of the lessons I wish I knew when I graduated from the Naval Academy (heck, even while at USNA) is how to travel smarter. Since taking a job that requires me to travel about once a month, I've become intrigued by several resources for light travelers.

Probably my favorite, OneBag was a great resource to renew my thinking in this area. Another site was by Andrew Hyde. Also a good read.

I won't repeat everything they've said, but a couple things that are serving me well.

Get One Great Bag

I accidentally ran across a Delsey Helium Pilot personal carry-on for a rail trip, and have used it faithfully over the last few years as my one bag. It stows overhead, stows beneath the seat in front of me, and fits perfectly in the trunk of our car. With careful planning it can serve me for over a week. Laundry keeps me afield longer if necessary. My next move is to "upgrade" to a similarly sized leather bag, more for looks than anything.

Find the Right Travel Accessories

To make one bag work takes a little ingenuity. I have a couple of accessories that make traveling this light possible. I keep all of my liquid toiletries in a heavy clear vinyl bag in one of the end pockets. Easy to pull out for TSA inspections. My dry toiletries (razor, comb) go in another small zip pouch kept in the same pocket.

I bought a clothes folder that fits snugly within the main compartment of my bag; I think this is the model from Eagle Creek. I use this to neatly fold my dress shirts. I also have two small "packing cubes" that I use to separate my underclothes and workout gear. Small pouches or zippered bags are used throughout to sort items for handiness.

Use a Travel Checklist to Pack

The OneBag website gives a great piece of advice in using a checklist to pack. Mine is a 5x7 card, folded and always kept in the top pouch of my bag. I wrote the list a while ago and add items if necessary now. It's not an "everything" list; it's more of a mental reminder of things to think about. Many items are kept in my travel bag permanently, so I don't have to think about packing at all.

The list helps me sort through what I need for a trip as well as helps me remember to repack everything when I'm ready to come home.

Items that are permanently kept in my bag: phone charger, HDMI cable (for my tablet), extra microUSB cable, book light, spare glasses, collar stays, goggles for swimming, several plastic bags for wet items, a small mesh bag for laundry, one pouch of dry laundry detergent, some quarters, and a few dryer sheets (in case I need to do laundry), extra headphones, pens & note cards, and a flashlight.

Be a Great Air Traveler

One of the travel methods I tend to dislike the most is air. While you probably can't guarantee a perfect flight every time, you can do your best to make it a better experience. A few things that I've learned.
  • Be a part of every major miles program (and hotel programs as well). You may never use the miles, but if you aren't collecting them, you will never use them. Do this early! Like right now!
  • Only wear slip-on shoes at airports. Never laces. Maybe zippered sides.
  • Before hitting the TSA line, my pockets are empty and in the front pouch of my bag. Only an ID card and boarding pass in a shirt pocket.
  • I tend to use my flight time to relax (vice feeling I need to do work). With that in mind, I almost always pack the same way: I have a small satchel, easily stored in my carry-on and removed once through security. It counts as my hand-carried item. In it are my tablet, phone, headphones, earplugs, a paper book or magazine (for take-off & landing), and some snacks. The beauty of the tablet these days is that it (or a good phone) substitutes for an ebook, video player, video game console, and more. I've never felt the need to, but many flights have wifi, so you could surf (but why? Really?).
  • Food: I try to use my airport experiences to find something interesting or comforting to eat. It's a cheat day for me, so anything is on the table.
  • Smile: I like to talk with new folks, and keep a positive attitude. More than anything, it tends to help reduce the friction involved.


Do your best to think through your travels ahead of time. You'll get many opportunities to build and practice your skills, so make the best of it!