QUOTES OF THE DAY

A little over a month ago I began a project intended to add structure my day, since my airline went out of business. Collecting quotes has long been my hobby and I thought one way to indulge my hobby would be to share it with others. If you are on my email chain you have already seen these. Here are the Q.O.T.D. entries up to May 28.

QUOTES OF THE DAY – #1 – APRIL 16, 2020

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

-Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

“Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life.”

-Senator Alan K. Simpson

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #2 – APRIL 17, 2020

CONCERNING: TRUTH?

“Truth is mighty & will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this except that it ain’t so.” 

-Mark Twain1

“The way to make people trust-worthy is to trust them.” 

-Ernest Hemingway2

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

-Aldous Huxley3

Notes:

Quotes are often interesting because of the way they evolve. It may be that quotes, over time, become better versions of themselves. The Hemingway quote is a great example. I have always enjoyed it, but it is almost always misquoted. Most sources will relate it as “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” I like that because it is optimistic and hopeful. 

In fact, Hemingway’s quote, in a letter to Dorothy Connable was a cautionary statement about a man Hemingway considered to be an unscrupulous biographer, Charles Fenton. To capture the true spirit of Hemingway’s quote one should include the next sentence, “The way to make people trust-worthy is to trust them. But this man is not a person that works with that system.” 

1. Mark Twain’s Notebook (Harper & Brothers, 1935.)

2. Letter to Dorothy Connable, La Finca Vigia, February 17, 1953

Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters 1917-1961, edited by Carlos Baker.

(Charles Scribner’s, 1981)

3. Complete Essays of Aldous Huxley: Complete Essays, 1926-1930 Vol. II 

(Ivan R. Dee, 2000)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #3 – APRIL 18, 2020

ANTHONY BOURDAIN

SOME WISDOM FROM A TRAVELER WE WILL MISS

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”1

“Life is complicated. It’s filled with nuance. It’s unsatisfying. … If I believe in anything, it is doubt. The root cause of all life’s problems is looking for a simple f—ing answer.”2

“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”3

Notes:

Anthony Bourdain (June 25, 1956 – June 8, 2018) was not a predictable celebrity. He was a sometime drug addict and directionless youth who became the Executive Chef at a well-regarded New York restaurant. His 2000 book Kitchen Confidential became a surprise best-seller and catapulted Bourdain to fame and other media opportunities. Chief among these were No Reservations on the Travel Channel and CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Both shows, focusing on food and travel, revealed Bourdain’s fundamental humanity, humility, decency, and integrity. He was intelligent, broad-minded, and generous.

1. No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach

2. New York Times – retrospective (June 8, 2018)

3. No Reservations – Peru (April 10, 2006)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #4 – APRIL 19, 2020

ON HAPPINESS #1

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him; and you are torn by the thought of the unhappiness and night you cast, by the mere fact of living, in the hearts you encounter.”

– Albert Camus1

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

-Albert Schweitzer1

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

– Mohandas K. Gandhi1

“Fate often puts all the material for happiness and prosperity into a man’s hands just to see how miserable he can make himself with them.”

– Don Marquis1,2

HAPPINESS, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.”

-Ambrose Bierce3

Notes:

It is time, already, to address the gorilla in the room of every conversation about quotes. It is just damn difficult to authenticate quotes. For starters, many quotes by their nature, are spontaneous. Many really clever or insightful ones happen in real conversation and are not properly recorded by the listeners for obvious reasons. Do you carry a notebook around in your pocket to jot down the wisdom that comes out of your friends’ mouths? Exactly. My goal here will be to either properly document quotes, or, if the quotes are worthy but can’t be documented, to let you know. These are examples of those.

1. (Undocumented) These four quotes, by Albert Camus, Albert Schweitzer, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Don Marquis are widely attributed to these four men. I was unable to find a definitive source for any of them, though. Every single one is in character and could plausibly have been said by the given individual. Doesn’t that sound like Camus? Isn’t that exactly what Gandhi would say? Sure it is. That is the problem with quotes. I would give each of these about 80% credibility, based on my research. Sometimes that’s as good as it gets.

2. I love Don Marquis. You will hear more from him as this goes on. I love his wry humor and skeptical outlook on the world, and, perhaps most of all that he attended my alma mater, Knox College. 

“Donald Robert Perry Marquis (July 29, 1878 – December 29, 1937) was a humorist, journalist, and author. He was variously a novelist, poet, newspaper columnist, and playwright. He is remembered best for creating the characters Archy and Mehitabel, supposed authors of humorous verse. During his lifetime he was equally famous for creating another fictitious character, “the Old Soak,” who was the subject of two books, a hit Broadway play (1922–23), a silent movie (1926) and a talkie (1937).” (Wikipedia)

3. The Cynic’s Dictionary (1906)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #5 – APRIL 20, 2020

WILLA CATHER – A FADING VOICE WHO DESERVES TO BE REMEMBERED #1

“The dead might as well try to speak to the living as the old to the young.”1

“Freedom so often means that one isn’t needed anywhere. Here you are an individual, you have a background of your own, you would be missed.”2

“If you love the good thing vitally, enough to give up for it all that one must give up, then you must hate the cheap thing just as hard. I tell you, there is such a thing as creative hate! A contempt that drives you through fire, makes you risk everything and lose everything, makes you a long sight better than you ever knew you could be.”2

“In the course of twenty crowded years one parts with many illusions. I did not wish to lose the early ones. Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.”3

“Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there is a market demand — a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods — or it should be an art, which is always a search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values.”4

Notes:

Willa Sibert Cather (December 7, 1873 – April 24, 1947) was an American writer who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, including O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Ántonia (1918). In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours (1922), a novel set during World War I. (Wikipedia)

1. One of Ours (1922)

2. O Pioneers! (1913)

3. My Antonia (1918)

4. On the Art of Fiction (1920)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY – #6 – APRIL 21, 2020

DON’T LET THEM GRIND YOU DOWN

“Anyone out there who’s in junior high, high school, working it out, suffering, there are days you’re gonna feel sad, you’re gonna feel angry, you’re gonna be scared. That’s nothing you can choose. But you can make stuff. Make films. Draw. Write. It’ll make a world of difference.”

-Pete Docter1

Notes:

1. Oscar acceptance speech for Best Animated Feature for Inside Out (March 23, 2016)

Peter Hans Docter (born October 9, 1968) has described himself as a “geeky kid from Minnesota who likes to draw cartoons.” He is an American animator, film director, screenwriter, producer, voice actor and chief creative officer of Pixar. He is best known for directing the Pixar animated feature films Monsters, Inc. (2001), Up (2009), and Inside Out (2015). He has been nominated for eight Oscars (two wins thus far for Up and Inside Out – Best Animated Feature).(Wikipedia)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #7 – APRIL 22, 2020

EARTH DAY

“I tell everybody the Earth’s going to be here no matter what humans do. If we wipe ourselves out, the Earth will keep spinning and keep orbiting the sun. We want to save the world— for us.”

-Bill Nye1

“Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.”

-Greta Thunberg2

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, ‘What good is it?’ If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.

-Aldo Leopold3

“The thickness of the Earth’s atmosphere, compared with the size of the Earth, is in about the same ratio as the thickness of a coat of shellac on a schoolroom globe is to the diameter of the globe. That’s the air that nurtures us and almost all other life on Earth, that protects us from deadly ultraviolet light from the sun, that through the greenhouse effect brings the surface temperature above the freezing point. Now that atmosphere, so thin and fragile, is under assault by our technology.

-Carl Sagan4

Notes:

1. Pasadena Magazine, A Conversation With Bill Nye.

2. Address to the British House of Commons (April 23, 2019)

3. Conservation (c. 1938); Published in Round River, Luna B. Leopold (ed.), Oxford University Press, 1966, p. 146-147.

4. Skeptical Enquirer – “Wonder and Skepticism” (Jan-Feb 1995)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #8 – APRIL 23, 2020

ON SHAKESPEARE’S BIRTHDAY

“The worst is not, So long as we can say, ‘This is the worst.'”1

“The robb’d that smiles, steals something from the thief.”2

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”3

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”4

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.”5

“I think the devil will not have me damned, lest the oil that’s in me should set hell on fire.”6 

“Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.”7

“Everyone can master a grief but he that has it”8

“They have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps.”9

“For I must tell you friendly in your ear, sell when you can; you are not for all markets.”10

Notes:

1. King Lear – Act 4, Scene 1

2. Othello – Act 1, Scene 3

3. Hamlet – Act 2, Scene 2

4. Measure for Measure –  Act 1, Scene 4

5. As You Like It – Act 2, Scene 7

6. The Merry Wives of Windsor – Act 5, Scene 5

7. Julius Ceaser – Act 2, Scene 2

8. Much Ado About Nothing – Act 3, Scene 2

9. Love’s Labour’s Lost – Act 5, Scene 1

10. As You Like It – Act 3, Scene 5

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #9 – APRIL 24, 2020

ROBERT PENN WARREN – ON HIS BIRTHDAY

Fiction – All The King’s Men

“Upon my return I found the call in my box. It was Anne’s number, then Anne’s voice on the wire, and, as always, the little leap and plunk in my heart like a frog jumping into a lily pool, with the ripples spreading round.”1 

“And what we students of history always learn is that the human being is a very complicated contraption and that they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost.”1 

“…the air so still it aches like the place where the tooth was on the morning after you’ve been to the dentist or aches like your heart in the bosom when you stand on the street corner waiting for the light to change and happen to recollect how things once were and how they might have been yet if what happened had not happened.”1 

“So I tried to make what amends I could for being what I was…”1 

Non-Fiction

“It is to our credit that we survived the War and tempered our national fiber in the process, but human decency and the future security of our country demand that we look at the costs. What are some of the costs? 

Blood is the first cost. History is not melodrama, even if it usually reads like that. It was real blood, not tomato catsup or the pale ectoplasm of statistics, that wet the ground at Bloody Angle and darkened the waters of Bloody Pond. It modifies our complacency to look at the blurred and harrowing old photographs — the body of the dead sharpshooter in the Devil’s Den at Gettysburg or the tangled mass in the Bloody Lane at Antietam.”2

Commentary

“Most writers are trying to find what they think or feel. . . not simply working from the given, but toward the given, saying the unsayable and steadily asking, ‘What do I really feel about this?’”3

“A young man’s ambition — to get along in the world and make a place for himself — half your life goes that way, till you’re 45 or 50. Then, if you’re lucky, you make terms with life, you get released.”4

“Storytelling and copulation are the two chief forms of amusement in the South. They’re inexpensive and easy to procure.”5

Notes:

I love Robert Penn Warren. He was a remarkable talent and received all sorts of accolades and awards, not the least of which was the title Poet Laureate of the United States. Still, most of my admiration for him is based on his novel All the King’s Men. It holds up well today and, in some ways, makes one reflect on the kind of cynical populism rampant in the world today.

1. The Legacy of the Civil War (1961)

2. All The King’s Men (Harcourt, Brace, and Company -1946)

3. National Observer (6 February 1967)

4. The New York Times (2 June 1981)

5. Newsweek (25 August 1980)

Robert Penn Warren (April 24, 1905 – September 15, 1989) was an American poet, novelist, and literary critic and was one of the founders of New Criticism. He received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel for All the King’s Men and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1958 and 1979. He is the only person to have won Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry. In 1980, Warren was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter. In 1981, Warren was selected as a MacArthur Fellow and was named the first U.S. Poet Laureate on February 26, 1986. (Wikipedia)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #10 – APRIL 25, 2020

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

-Mike Tyson1

“A few more steps and we’ll be safe in the fire swamp.”

“We’ll never survive!”

 “Nonsense, you’re only saying that because no one ever has.”

-Westley and Princess Buttercup2

“Remember, none of your ancestors was a virgin.”

-Neil Pasricha3 

“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.”

-Daniel Kahneman4 

“People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely because chickens run about so absurdly that it’s impossible to count them accurately.”

-Oscar Wilde5

Notes:

1. Mike Tyson definitely said this during some pre-fight trash talk. He referred to it in a November 9, 2012 interview in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, but could not, himself, remember which fight.

2. The Princess Bride – (20th Century Fox, 1987) Adapted from the 1973 William Goldman novel.

3. 1000 Awesome things blog  – “#2 -Stopping to remember how lucky we are to be here right now.” (April 20, 2016)

4. Thinking, Fast and Slow – (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011)

5. Letter from Paris (May 1900)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #11 – APRIL 26, 2020

HE SAID, SHE SAID

“Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.”

-Virginia Woolf1

“Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.”

-H.L. Mencken2

“By all the vows that ever men have broke,

In number more than ever women spoke”

-William Shakespeare3

“Men are all right for friends, but as soon as you marry them they turn into cranky old fathers, even the wild ones. They begin to tell you what’s sensible and what’s foolish, and want you to stick at home all the time.”

-Willa Cather4

“I met a lady in the meads

Full beautiful—a faery’s child,

Her hair was long, her foot was light,

And her eyes were wild.”

-John Keats5

“The Book of Life begins with a man and a woman in a garden. It ends with Revelations.”

-Oscar Wilde6

“I did not always think he was right nor did he always think I was right, but we were each the person the other trusted.”

-Joan Didion7

“Maybe…you’ll fall in love with me all over again.”

“Hell,” I said, “I love you enough now. What do you want to do? Ruin me?”

“Yes. I want to ruin you.”

“Good,” I said. “That’s what I want too.” 

-Ernest Hemingway8

“After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.”

-Mark Twain9

Notes:

1. A Room of One’s Own (Harcourt Brace & Co., 1929)

2. A Mencken Chrestomathy (Alfred A. Knopf , 1949)

3. A midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 1 Scene 1

4. My Antonia (Houghton Mifflin, 1918)

5. La Belle Dame sans Merci (1819)

6.  A Woman of No Importance (1893)

7. The Year of Magical Thinking, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)

8. A Farewell to Arms (Scribner, 1929)

9. Extracts from Adam’s Diary (Harper and Bros., 1904)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #12 – APRIL 27, 2020

LISTEN

“I sincerely believe in this life, if we’re going to learn anything at all, you know, we will be learning from people who are different than us. Someone who speaks like me, who dresses up like me, who votes exactly like me is only an echo of my voice. We do not learn anything from echoes.”

-Elif Shafak1

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”

-Bill Nye2 

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new”

-The Dalai Lama3

Notes:

1. TED Radio Hour (July 27, 2018)

Elif Shafak (born 25 October 1971) is a Turkish-British writer, storyteller, essayist, academic, public speaker, and women’s rights activist. Shafak writes in Turkish and English, and has published seventeen books, eleven of which are novels, including 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World, The Bastard of Istanbul, The Forty Rules of Love, and Three Daughters of Eve. Shafak is an activist for women’s rights, minority rights, and freedom of speech. (Wikipedia)

2. University of Massachusetts Lowell 2014 Commencement

3. Widely attributed to the Dalai Lama, and a good quote, but could not verify the attribution.

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #13 – APRIL 28, 2020

HARPER LEE – ON HER BIRTHDAY

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

“Folks don’t like to have somebody around knowin’ more than they do. It aggravates ‘em. You’re not gonna change any of them by talkin’ right, they’ve got to want to learn themselves, and when they don’t want to learn there’s nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language.”

Notes:

All quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird (J. B. Lippincott Company,1960)

I love Harper Lee and I love To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course, to the average American reader that is akin to saying “I like Christmas!” To Kill a Mockingbird, at 281 pages, belongs, rightfully, to the pantheon of short American classics. If a young person today asked my opinion about what to read, my short list would include Of Mice and Men, The Old Man and the Sea, and Mockingbird

There is a certain type of “serious” reader who would “poo-poo” that list. It is a perverse rule of literature that the more popular a book becomes, the less it is esteemed (in some quarters.) These three are classics, not only because they are magnificent and deal with important “eternal” themes, but, to be honest, because they are accessible. They are easy and efficient, and, well, readable. That is by design. Brevity is hard work; believe me. Literature should be accessible. It should be inviting. We want kids to learn to love reading. We want more readers in the world. And if serious important ideas can be slipped into a thin little book, so much the better.

We all have our prejudices, of course (this is the part where I admit to my prejudices). None of us likes to see our heroes brought down. I sometimes say that I admire Abe Lincoln more because he occasionally had feet of clay, but I’m not sure I mean it. We need our heroes. We need real ones and we need literary ones. I will just come right out and say it, “We didn’t need a sequel (or prequel) to To Kill a Mockingbird.” I suspect there is a reason Harper Lee didn’t publish Go Set a Watchman in 1960. Without going into detail about the controversial 2015 publication of Watchman, I will just say this, “If Atticus Finch is even just a little tiny, teeny, bit of a racist, I don’t want to know about it.” 

Finally, I wanted to add a little aside. I hope I can make this work. Every high school freshman can tell you “To Kill a Mockingbird is not about killing a mockingbird.” That is an old joke, of course. But I think one gets a definite insight about the book if one understands how mockingbirds are, honestly, special. They are unique and they are amazing. 

Growing up in Illinois, I never saw (or noticed) a mockingbird until I was visiting Alabama in my late twenties. I was sleeping, and awoke in the middle of the night to a bird, or ten different birds, singing lustily, in a tree right outside my window. After awhile I began to think somebody, for some obscure reason, was pulling my leg. Birds, in my experience, don’t sing at night and no single bird that I knew of, sang with ten different clear and distinct calls. I walked outside and with a flashlight discovered a single little grey bird producing all of that music. 

Since then, whenever I’m in the south, I keep an eye peeled and an ear cocked for that little grey bird and I can never get enough of their music. I have even discovered that occasionally we are favored by their presence in the midwest. Last summer I found a mockingbird singing from the top of the old pine tree in our yard. I got a video of it which I will try to share here. Just listen for a minute or two and know that all of the bird sounds you hear are produced by this one little grey bird. Is it any wonder Harper Lee used it for a metaphor?

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #14 – APRIL 29, 2020

STUFF FOR ME TO REMEMBER TODAY

“Self-pity in its early stages is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable.”

-Maya Angelou1

“People with plenty of work to do are less enamored of self-destruction.”

-Garrison Keillor2

I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”3

-John Cage

Notes:

1. Gather Together in My Name (Random House, 1974)

2. Garrison Keillor Blog – “A Man Watching His Own Heartbeat”(August 30, 2018).

3. Quoted in Richard Kostelanet’z book Conversing with Cage (Limelight Editions, 1988).

John Milton Cage Jr. (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992) was an American composer, music theorist, artist, and philosopher. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage’s romantic partner for most of their lives.

Cage is perhaps best known for his 1952 composition 4′33″, which is performed in the absence of deliberate sound; musicians who present the work do nothing aside from being present for the duration specified by the title. The content of the composition is not “four minutes and 33 seconds of silence,” as is often assumed, but rather the sounds of the environment heard by the audience during performance. (Wikipedia)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #15 – APRIL 30, 2020

ANNIE DILLARD – ON HER BIRTHDAY

“Evolution loves death more than it loves you or me. This is easy to write, easy to read, and hard to believe. The words are simple, the concept clear—but you don’t believe it, do you? Nor do I. How could I, when we’re both so lovable?”

“Our excessive emotions are so patently painful and harmful to us as a species that I can hardly believe that they evolved. Other creatures manage to have effective matings and even stable societies without great emotions, and they have a bonus in that they need not ever mourn … It would seem that emotions are the curse, not death—emotions that appear to have devolved upon a few freaks as a special curse from Malevolence.

All right then. It is our emotions that are amiss. We are freaks, the world is fine, and let us all go have lobotomies to restore us to a natural state. We can leave the library then, go back to the creek lobotomized, and live on its banks as untroubled as any muskrat or reed. You first.”

“The world is a monster. Any three-year-old can see how unsatisfactory and clumsy is this whole business of reproducing and dying by the billions. We have not yet encountered any god who is as merciful as a man who flicks a beetle over on its feet. There is not a people in the world who behaves as badly as praying mantises. But wait, you say, there is no right and wrong in nature; right and wrong is a human concept. Precisely: we are moral creatures, then, in an amoral world. The universe that suckled us is a monster that does not care if we live or die—does not care if it itself grinds to a halt. It is fixed and blind, a robot programmed to kill. We are free and seeing; we can only try to outwit it at every turn to save our skins.”

“Let me repeat that these parasitic insects comprise ten percent of all known animal species. How can this be understood? Certainly we give our infants the wrong idea about their fellow creatures in the world. Teddy bears should come with tiny stuffed bear lice; ten percent of all baby bibs and rattles sold should be adorned with colorful blowflies, maggots, and screw-worms. What kind of devil’s tithe do we pay? What percentage of the world’s species that are not insects are parasitic? Could it be, counting bacteria and viruses, that we live in a world in which half the creatures are running from—or limping from—the other half?”

Notes: 

All passages here are from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper’s Magazine Press, 1974)

I love Annie Dillard. She is an acquired taste, no doubt. I fell in love with her on my first day of Freshman Preceptorial class at Knox College when we were assigned her Pulitzer Prize winning book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. And, the thing is, many (ok, most) other students hated Tinker Creek. From the first paragraph Dillard flies off in bizarre directions. If you are not, yourself, just a little bizzarre, you probably will be put off. Here is the opening paragraph:

I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest. I’d half-awaken. He’d stick his skull under my nose and purr, stinking of urine and blood. Some nights he kneaded my bare chest with his front paws, powerfully, arching his back, as if sharpening his claws, or pummeling a mother for milk. And some mornings I’d wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I’d been painted with roses.

She gets weirder from there and I, being a very weird person to start with and already enamored of nature and biology and Thoreau’s Walden (I hadn’t discovered Aldo Leopold yet), I ate it up.  

Annie Dillard (born 30 April 1945) is an American author born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her non-fiction narrative Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in 1974. She has since published ten other books. Her most recent is the novel The Maytrees. (Wikipedia)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #16 – MAY 1, 2020

JOSEPH HELLER – ON HIS BIRTHDAY

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”1

Notes:

1. Catch-22 (Simon & Schuster, 1961)

Joseph Heller (May 1, 1923 – December 12, 1999) was an American author of novels, short stories, plays, and screenplays. His best-known work is the novel Catch-22, a satire on war and bureaucracy, whose title has become a synonym for an absurd or contradictory choice. (Wikipedia)

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RETHINKING

Notes:

One of my readers wrote to me to talk about the H.L. Mencken quote from the HE SAID/SHE SAID post from April 26. She took exception to Mencken’s unfair generalization about women and to his using cheap humor at the expense of others. Referring to Mencken and another writer she said: “They think being funny gives them permission to be rude (or in Mencken’s case, just an A-hole).”

As my reader is someone whose opinion I respect a great deal I decided to rethink the quote. I’m glad I did because it revealed to me some subtlety in the debate which I had not considered before. Here is what I thought:

Your comment about H.L. Mencken really made me step back and think, not only about the “She Said/He Said” post, but about the idea of collecting quotes in the first place and the consideration that, as you put it very well, “being funny gives them permission to be rude.” Unfortunately, since I chose the quotes, I too am culpable.

I would like to protest, of course, that “I am not a misogynist!” or, as I sometimes claim to my daughter, “I am the least chauvinistic person you know!” Now that I hear it out loud that rings about as hollow as Trump’s constant retort that he is the “least racist person in the world.”

Quotes, by their nature are reductionist. They generate a conclusion with very limited data. And that is a problem. It is a problem when we quote someone else. It can even be a problem for a writer trying to explore new ideas. What you put on paper tends to be about one-one-thousandth of what ping-pongs about in your mind while you are writing, and yet it is that product by which people will judge your writing skills and your intentions.

I don’t believe I would want to undertake a wholesale defense of H.L. Mencken. The term A-hole probably captures him fairly well. Certainly many of his contemporaries thought so, from Franklin Roosevelt to the Mormon Church.

What I might argue is that Mencken, like some of my other favorite curmudgeons (Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, George Carlin) were equal opportunity jerks. They spread their vitriol over the whole culture. They gored everyone’s oxen. They slaughtered many a sacred cow. And that is their value. I am reminded of Mencken’s critique of American democracy, “the worship of jackals by jackasses.”

While someone needs to speak truth to power, stereotyping and insulting half the human race is not defensible. Why did Mencken do it, and why did I highlight it? These are valid questions and I think you hit the nail right on the head. Mencken did it to get a laugh and I, at least to some degree, did the same. That is the part that deserves introspection. 

I believe all ideas should be openly explored. If someone out there has a legitimate argument supported by empirical evidence that “all men are idiots” I think they should be able to say their piece. That is one thing. The interesting thing about Mencken here is that he’s not doing that. I’m not even convinced that he was a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist. As evidence I would offer this piece from Wikipedia about his own marriage:

In 1930, Mencken married Sara Haardt, a German-American professor of English at Goucher College in Baltimore and an author eighteen years his junior. Haardt had led an unsuccessful effort in Alabama to ratify the 19th Amendment …The marriage made national headlines, and many were surprised that Mencken, who once called marriage “the end of hope” and who was well known for mocking relations between the sexes, had gone to the altar… Haardt was in poor health from tuberculosis throughout their marriage and died in 1935 of meningitis, leaving Mencken grief-stricken. He had always championed her writing and, after her death, had a collection of her short stories published under the title Southern Album.

It seems clear to me that Mencken is not making a philosophical argument, but just “being funny.” After thinking it over, I have concluded that this is actually worse than an honestly proffered, but mistaken argument about sex relations. What to do?

I still want my favorite curmudgeons to use comedy and liberally-spread vitriol to cut the rich and the powerful down to size.  Having said that, I do not regard women as a category to be generalized, contrary to the Mencken quote I featured. So, I think, (drumroll please) that you are right. “Funny” does not justify “rudeness” in all cases, and particularly not this one. These things call for discernment. They call for human judgement, a thing which I need to work on constantly. To refine this argument into a rule is probably impossible but, after thinking it over, I believe my takeaway is that criticism and ridicule are useful and have their place. The “target” matters though, as does the imperative to kindness and to not stereotype.

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #17 – MAY 2, 2020

ONE IDEA LEADS ON TO ANOTHER

 “And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes. 

People aren’t supposed to look back. I’m certainly not going to do it anymore. I’ve finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt.”

  • Kurt Vonnegut1

Notes:

1. Slaughterhouse-Five (Delacorte, 1969)

My quote yesterday featured Joseph Heller on his birthday. His most famous book was Catch-22. That book, about fictional bomber pilots, got me to thinking about World War II. A subsequent discussion with my friend Dan about his father’s role in the war (very interesting, too) led me to reading about the fire bombing of Dresden and reminded me that one of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut, was actually a prisoner-of-war in Dresden when the bombing took place. That made me pick up and re-read parts of his book about Dresden, Slaughterhouse-Five. That led me to remember one of my favorite passages in all literature which is the one above. That’s how my mind works, I guess. 

For those of you who note that I have quoted Kurt Vonnegut twice already in 17 days, I will just say “sorry, but get ready for more.” Part of the advantage of starting your own quote newsletter is that you can feature your favorites. There will be more Vonnegut and more Hemingway and more Dorothy Parker and (sorry Misty) more Mark Twain. I am still offering a get-out-of-quote-purgatory card to anyone who wants it. Just send me an email and I’ll cut you from the list, no harm, no foul. Have a beautiful day. It sure looks nice so far.

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #18 – MAY 3, 2020

PETE SEEGER – ON HIS BIRTHDAY

“The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”1

“A lullaby is a propaganda song and any three-year-old knows it”2

“Shh. Listen to the sounds that surround you. Notice the pitches, the volume, the timbre, the many lines of counterpoint. As light taught Monet to paint, the earth may be teaching you music.”3

“The easiest way to avoid wrong notes is to never open your mouth and sing. What a mistake that would be.”3

“If singing were all that serious, frowning would make you sound better.”3

“Every time I read the paper those old feelings come on. 

We are waist deep in the Big Muddy and the big fool says to push on.”4

“There’s no hope, but I may be wrong.”5

NOTES:

By featuring Pete Seeger on his birthday today I have completed a trifecta of anti-war activists, Heller, with Catch-22, Vonnegut, with Slaughterhouse-Five, and now Seeger, with practically everything he ever wrote. Although I am, philosophically Anti-war, this arrangement of political thought is sheer coincidence. Whether you love or hate his politics, Pete Seeger was a powerful influence on American music for longer than probably anyone else who ever lived. He wrote and recorded and performed music in every decade from the 1930’s up to his death in 2014, at the age of 94.

 1. New York Times – “Pete Seeger, Songwriter and Champion of Folk Music, Dies at 94” (January 28, 2014)

2. Pop Chronicles – “Show 33 – American musicians respond to the British invaders.”  (February 14, 1968)

3. How Can I Keep from Singing: Pete Seeger  (Da Capo Press,1981)

4. Waist Deep in the Big Muddy (Pete Seeger, 1967)

5. NPR: Weekend Edition (2 July 2005)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #19 – MAY 4, 2020

STAR WARS – MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU (SORRY, COULDN’T RESIST)

Deep philosophy

Han: “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”

Luke: “You don’t believe in the Force, do you?”

Han: “Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny. Anyway, it’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.”1

Overconfidence

Imperial Commander Motti: “Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they’ve obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe!”1

Excuses, excuses

Han Solo: “Hey, Jabba. Look, Jabba, I was just on my way to pay you back, and I got a little sidetracked. It’s not my fault…”

Jabba the Hutt: “It’s too late for that, Solo. You may have been a good smuggler in the business, but now you’re Bantha fodder!”2

Wisdom from the Little, Green Guy

“Judge me by my size, do you?”3 

“Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering.”4

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”3

Wisdom? From the Tall, Evil Dude

“He’s as clumsy as he is stupid.”3

“Be careful not to choke on your aspirations.”5

I find your lack of faith disturbing.”1

Notes:

1. Star Wars (1977)

2. Return of the Jedi (1983)

3. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

4. The Phantom Menace (1999)

5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #20 – MAY 5, 2020

DOROTHY PARKER – FIRST OF MANY, I SUSPECT

“Salary is no object: I want only enough to keep body and soul apart.”1

“It takes me six months to do a story. I think it out and then write it sentence by sentence—no first draft. I can’t write five words but that I change seven.”2

“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.”3

“It’s not the tragedies that kill us; it’s the messes.”2

“Too f—king busy, and vice versa.”4

-Response to an editor pressuring her for overdue work

“The House Beautiful is, for me, the play lousy.”5

-Review of the Broadway play The House Beautiful

“They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.”6

“What fresh hell can this be?”7

-If the doorbell rang in her apartment

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”8

-From a review of The Elements of Style

POETRY

Résumé

Razors pain you,

Rivers are damp,

Acids stain you,

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful,

Nooses give,

Gas smells awful.

You might as well live.9

Unfortunate Coincidence

By the time you swear you’re his,

Shivering and sighing,

And he vows his passion is

Infinite, undying,

Lady, make a note of this —

One of you is lying.10

Experience

Some men tear your heart in two,

Some men flirt and flatter,

Some men never look at you,

And that clears up the matter.10

Inventory

Four be the things I am wiser to know:

Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.

Four be the things I’d been better without:

Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.

Three be the things I shall never attain:

Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.

Three be the things I shall have till I die:

Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.11

Thoughts for a Sunshiny Morning

It costs me never a stab nor squirm

To tread by chance upon a worm.

“Aha, my little dear,” I say,

“Your clan will pay me back some day.”12

To My Dog

I often wonder why on earth

You rate yourself so highly;

A shameless parasite, from birth

You’ve lived the life of Reilly.

No claims to fame distinguish you’

Your talents are not many;

You’re constantly unfaithful to

Your better self – if any.

Yet you believe, with faith profound,

The world revolves around you;

May I point out, it staggered ‘round

For centuries without you?12

The Flaw in Paganism

“Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)”13

CRITICISM

“Katharine Hepburn delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.”14

“Mr. Hodge plays with his accustomed ease, even carrying the thing so far as to repeat many of his lines with his eyes shut; and in a pretty spirit of reciprocity, many members of the audience sit through the play with their eyes shut.”14

“Anyone can do that—the stunt lies in not doing it.”14

“If you arrive late, you won’t know what anything is about, and if you are there all the way from the beginning, you won’t care.”14

“So seeing that there is nothing further to say, I shall go right on talking about The Circle, thus proving that I am a born reviewer of plays.”14

“Rockliffe Fellowes gives a likable performance of the secondary crook’s role, and there are some decidedly agreeable-looking doughnuts consumed in the first act. And that is about all one can say for Pot Luck.”14

EPITAPHS PARKER PROPOSED FOR HERSELF

“Excuse my dust.”15

“That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.”16

Notes:

I love Dorothy Parker, always have, always will. No further comment necessary.

1. The New Yorker (4 February 1928)

2. Interview, The Paris Review (Summer 1956)

3. Caption written for Vogue 1916

4. Interview, The Paris Review (Summer 1956)

5. The New Yorker (21 March 1931)

6. New York World (January 20, 1928)

7. You might as well live: the life and times of Dorothy Parker – John Keats (Simon Schuster, 1970)

8. Esquire (November 1959)

9. New York World (August 16, 1925)

10. Life (April 8, 1926)

11. Life, (November 11, 1926)

12. The New Yorker (April 9, 1927)

13. Death and Taxes (1931)

14. Dorothy Parker: Complete Broadway, 1918–1923 (2014)

15. Vanity Fair (June 1925)

16. The New Yorker (1929)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #21 – MAY 6, 2020

SIGMUND FREUD – ON HIS BIRTHDAY 

(ALSO THE BIRTHDAY OF MY BRILLIANT AND BEAUTIFUL WIFE – HAPPY BIRTHDAY MISSY!)

“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.”1

“Beauty has no obvious use; nor is there any clear cultural necessity for it. Yet civilization could not do without it.”2

“We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love.”2

“One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be ‘happy’ is not included in the plan of Creation.”2

“The first requisite of civilization, therefore, is that of justice—that is, the assurance that a law once made will not be broken in favour of an individual.”2

“Thinking is an experimental dealing with small quantities of energy, just as a general moves miniature figures over a map before setting his troops in action.”3

“What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books.”4

Notes:

1. Letter to Wilhelm Fliess (October 15, 1897)

2. Civilization and it’s Discontents (Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag Wien, 1930)

3. New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis “Anxiety and Instinctual Life – Lecture 32” (1933)

4. Letter to Ernest Jones (1933)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #22 – MAY 7, 2020

HELEN KELLER – ON OPTIMISM

Note from the quote collector:

I have been in need of a little optimism lately as, I imagine, we all are. My usual method to reassure myself that the world is fundamentally good and that everything is going to be okay is to call my father, whose cheerfulness and optimism have carried me through many a rough patch. I love you, Dad. 

Another source of encouragement, and a reminder that pessimism is a form of weakness, is a little book, on my shelves, called The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller. It is difficult to wallow in self-pity or indulge a negative outlook while you are reading the story of a blind and deaf woman who not only learned to read, but to write, and write brilliantly. She graduated college and studied philosophy and gave inspirational speeches and worked for women’s rights and suffrage and campaigned for worker’s rights and was a voice for pacifism and, did I mention she was deaf and blind?

Recently I discovered an essay Keller wrote in 1903, while in college. It is called Optimism and it is about, you know, optimism. It is beautiful and well-written. I could not write anything half as good today, let alone when I was a senior in college. And, did I mention that she was deaf and blind? 

Below are some quotes from Keller’s essay. It is a good thing to read right now and if, like me, you are feeling just a little sorry for yourself, it will kick you in the ass (gently) and encourage you to put on your big boy pants and get back at it.

Optimism

“I know what evil is. Once or twice I have wrestled with it, and for a time felt its chilling touch on my life; so I speak with knowledge when I say that evil is of no consequence, except as a sort of mental gymnastic. For the very reason that I have come in contact with it, am more truly an optimist. I can say with conviction that the struggle which evil necessitates is one of the greatest blessings. It makes us strong, patient, helpful men and women. It lets us into the soul of things and teaches us that although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to coöperate with the good, that it may prevail.”

“Thus my optimism is grounded in two worlds, myself and what is about me. I demand that the world be good, and lo, it obeys. I proclaim the world good, and facts range themselves to prove my proclamation overwhelmingly true. To what is good I open the doors of my being, and jealously shut them against what is bad. Such is the force of this beautiful and willful conviction, it carries itself in the face of all opposition. I am never discouraged by absence of good. I never can be argued into hopelessness. Doubt and mistrust are the mere panic of timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer, and the large mind transcend.”

“I, too, can work, and because I love to labor with my head and my hands, I am an optimist in spite of all. I used to think I should be thwarted in my desire to do something useful. But I have found out that though the ways in which I can make myself useful are few, yet the work open to me is endless.”

“Thus from philosophy I learn that we see only shadows and know only in part, and that all things change; but the mind, the unconquerable mind, compasses all truth, embraces the universe as it is, converts the shadows to realities and makes tumultuous changes seem but moments in an eternal silence, or short lines in the infinite theme of perfection, and the evil but a halt on the way to good.”

“The highest result of education is tolerance. Long ago men fought and died for their faith; but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage,—the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience. Tolerance is the first principle of community; it is the spirit which conserves the best that all men think.”

“Thus in my outlook upon our times I find that I am glad to be a citizen of the world, and as I regard my country, I find that to be an American is to be an optimist.”

“The test of all beliefs is their a practical effect in life. If it be true that optimism compels the world forward, and pessimism retards it, then it is dangerous to propagate a pessimistic philosophy.” 

“Let pessimism once take hold of the mind, and life is all topsy-turvy, all vanity and vexation of spirit. There is no cure for individual or social disorder, except in forgetfulness and annihilation. “Let us eat, drink and be merry,” says the pessimist, “for tomorrow we die.” If I regarded my life from the point of view of the pessimist, I should be undone. I should seek in vain for the light that does not visit my eyes and the music that does not ring in my ears.”

“No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.”

Notes:

Optimism (C. Y. Crowell and Company, 1903, by Helen Keller)

Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. The story of Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, was made famous by Keller’s autobiography, The Story of My Life, and its adaptations for film and stage, The Miracle Worker. Her birthplace in West Tuscumbia, Alabama, is now a museum[1] and sponsors an annual “Helen Keller Day”. Her June 27 birthday is commemorated as Helen Keller Day in Pennsylvania and, in the centenary year of her birth, was recognized by a presidential proclamation from US President Jimmy Carter.

A prolific author, Keller was well-traveled and outspoken in her convictions. A member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, she campaigned for women’s suffrage, labor rights, socialism, antimilitarism, and other similar causes. She was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1971 and was one of twelve inaugural inductees to the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame on June 8, 2015. (Wikipedia)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #23 – MAY 8, 2020

DON RICKLES – ON HIS BIRTHDAY

“Show business is my life. When I was a kid I sold insurance, but nobody laughed.”

“I used to play golf. I wanted to be a better player, but after a while I realized I’d always stink. And that’s when I really started to enjoy the game.”

“Eddie Fisher married to Elizabeth Taylor is like me trying to wash the Empire State Building with a bar of soap.”

“When you enter a room, you have to kiss his ring. I don’t mind, but he has it in his back pocket.”

-talking about Frank Sinatra

“I’m very shy so I became very outgoing to protect my shyness.”

“You throw your best punch, otherwise don’t do it.”

“Some people say funny things, but I say things funny.”

“An insult comic is the title I was given. What I do is exaggeration. I make fun of people, at life, of myself and my surroundings.”

“If I were to insult people and mean it, that wouldn’t be funny, there is a difference between an actual insult and just having fun.”

“I don’t care if the average guy on the street really knows what I’m like, as long as he knows I’m not really a mean, vicious guy. My friends and family know what I’m really like. That’s what’s important.”

“I want to be a dog, but I’m a pussycat.”

“After I graduated, I tried Broadway, which was difficult for me. It was tough to get a part on Broadway, so I just started talking to audiences at different social gatherings, and little by little I became Don Rickles – whatever that is.”

Notes:

Helen Keller one day, Don Rickles the next. I don’t know if you guys like this quote project, but I sure do. Thanks for reading.

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #24 – MAY 9, 2020

THREE VERY DIFFERENT VOICES – 

ON THEIR BIRTHDAYS

SIR J.M. BARRIE

“Of all delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact; not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed. When you play at it by day with the chairs and tablecloth, it is not in the least alarming, but in the two minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very nearly real. That is why there are night-lights.”

“Of course the Neverlands vary a good deal. John’s, for instance, had a lagoon with flamingoes flying over it, … while Michael, who was very small, had a flamingo with lagoons flying over it.

“How clever I am!” he crowed rapturously, “oh the cleverness of me!”

“Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.”

“I want always to be a little boy and to have fun.”1

WILLIAM “BILLY” JOEL

“Sergeant O’Leary is walkin’ the beat

At night he becomes a bartender

He works at Mister Cacciatore’s down

On Sullivan Street

Across from the medical center

Yeah he’s tradin’ in his Chevy for a Cadillac-ac-ac-ac

You oughta know by now

And if he can’t drive

With a broken back

At least he can polish the fenders”2

“Things are okay with me these days

Got a good job, got a good office

Got a new wife, got a new life

And the family’s fine

We lost touch long ago

You lost weight I did not know

You could ever look so nice after

So much time”3

“And the waitress is practicing politics

As the businessmen slowly get stoned

Yes they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness

But it’s better than drinking alone”4

EZRA KLEIN

“Just as youth is wasted on the young, money is wasted on the rich.” 

“Someone wisely told me once: the world always makes sense. When it doesn’t make sense, it just means we don’t have all the information yet.” 

“Political identities aren’t about tax cuts. They are about tribes… This is the result of the incredible rise in political polarization in recent decades. It used to be that both the Republican and Democratic parties included both liberals and conservatives. Since parties contained ideological multitudes, it was hard for them to be the basis of strong, personal identities.”

“Demythologizing our past is necessary if we are to clearly understand our present. But an honest survey of America’s past offends the story we tell ourselves…”

“And yet, we have not changed so much, have we? We still coach Little League and care for our parents, we cry at romantic comedies and mow our lawns, we laugh at our eccentricities and apologize for harsh words, we want to be loved and wish for a better world. That is not to absolve us of responsibility for our politics, but to trace a lament oft heard when we step away from politics: Aren’t we better than this?

I think we are, or we can be. But toxic systems compromise good individuals with ease. They do so not by demanding we betray our values but by enlisting our values such that we betray each other. What is rational and even moral for us to do individually becomes destructive when done collectively.”5 

1. (Hodder & Stoughton, 1911)

2. Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) (November 1, 1977)

3. Scenes From an Italian Restaurant (September 1977)

4. Piano Man (November 9, 1973)

5. Why We’re Polarized (Avid Reader Press / Simon Schuster, January 28, 2020)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #25 – MAY 10, 2020

DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

“The next suitable person you’re in light conversation with, you stop suddenly in the middle of the conversation and look at the person closely and say, “What’s wrong?” You say it in a concerned way. He’ll say, “What do you mean?” You say, “Something’s wrong. I can tell. What is it?” And he’ll look stunned and say, “How did you know?” He doesn’t realize something’s always wrong, with everybody. Often more than one thing. He doesn’t know everybody’s always going around all the time with something wrong and believing they’re exerting great willpower and control to keep other people, for whom they think nothing’s ever wrong, from seeing it.”1

“Routine, repetition, tedium, monotony, ephemeracy, inconsequence, abstraction, disorder, boredom, angst, ennui—these are the true hero’s enemies, and make no mistake, they are fearsome indeed. For they are real.”1

“And I submit that this is what the real, no-shit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about. How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.”2

Note: The following is from an article Wallace wrote for Harper’s magazine about a seven day Caribbean cruise he took on the M.S. Zenith. In true Wallace style he re-names the ship the M.S. Nadir and used that throughout the article.

“This is related to the phenomenon of the Professional Smile, a pandemic in the service industry, and no place in my experience have I been on the receiving end of as many Professional Smiles as I was on the Nadir: maitre d’s, chief stewards, hotel managers’ minions, cruise director-their P.S.’s all come on like switches at my approach. But also back on land: at banks, restaurants, airline ticket counters, and on and on. You know this smile-the one that doesn’t quite reach the smiler’s eyes and signifies nothing more than a calculated attempt to advance the smiler’s own interests by pretending to like the smilee. Why do employers and supervisors force professional service people to broadcast the Professional Smile? Am I the only person who’s sure that the growing number of cases in which normal-looking people open up with automatic weapons in shopping malls and insurance offices and medical complexes is somehow causally related to the fact that these venues are well-known dissemination-loci of the Professional Smile?3

1. The Pale King (Little, Brown and Company, 2011)

2. This Is Water (Kenyon College Commencement Speech, 2005)

3. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (Little, Brown and Company, 1997)

Notes:

This is David Foster Wallace. His writing is sometimes difficult and requires effort – but it is worth it. He was, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant and best American writers. His understanding of human nature and his ability to analyze and explain the experience of everyday life are unrivaled. His book The Pale King, quoted above, is a 500 page novel about, among other things, boredom. He captures the experience in a way that any human could recognize and say “Oh yeah, that’s exactly what it’s like.”  Another of his essays, The Planet Trillaphon as It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing, explores depression, the kind of depression he, himself suffered from, and takes the reader inside the mind of the sufferer – the internal battles and recriminations related to anti-depressant medications and their effect on a creative person.

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #26 – MAY 11, 2020

RICHARD FEYNMAN

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”1

“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.” 2

“Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.” 2

“It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.”3

“Physics is to mathematics what sex is to masturbation.”4

“Scientific knowledge is an enabling power to do either good or bad — but it does not carry instructions on how to use it.”5

“If an apple is magnified to the size of the earth, then the atoms in the apple are approximately the size of the original apple.”6

Notes:

1. Lecture “What is and What Should be the Role of Scientific Culture in Modern Society”, given at the Galileo Symposium in Italy (1964).

2. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character (W.W. Norton, 1985)

3. Quoted in Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992)

4. Quoted in Fear of Physics: A Guide for the Perplexed (1993)

5. Lecture, “The Value of Science” (1955)

6. Lecture, “Atoms in Motion”; section 1-2, “Matter is made of atoms.”

Richard Phillips Feynman (May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988) was an American theoretical physicist, known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as in particle physics for which he proposed the Parton model. For contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.

He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II and became known to a wide public in the 1980s as a member of the Rogers Commission, the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Along with his work in theoretical physics, Feynman has been credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing and introducing the concept of nanotechnology. (Wikipedia)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #27 – MAY 12, 2020

GEORGE CARLIN ON HIS BIRTHDAY

“Irony deals with opposites; it has nothing to do with coincidence. If two baseball players from the same hometown, on different teams, receive the same uniform number, it is not ironic. It is a coincidence. If Barry Bonds attains lifetime statistics identical to his father’s, it will not be ironic. It will be a coincidence. Irony is ‘a state of affairs that is the reverse of what was to be expected; a result opposite to and in mockery of the appropriate result.’ For instance: a diabetic, on his way to buy insulin, is killed by a runaway truck. He is the victim of an accident. If the truck was delivering sugar, he is the victim of an oddly poetic coincidence. But if the truck was delivering insulin, ah! Then he is the victim of an irony.”1

“Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.”1

“I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don’t have as many people who believe it.”1

“Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? Some people have to go to work and don’t have time for all that shit.”1

“I think I am, therefore I am. I think.”2

“So I say live and let live. That’s my motto. Live and let live. Anyone who can’t go along with that, take him outside and shoot the motherf—er.”3

“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”3

“Here’s some bumper stickers I’d like to see:

We are the proud parents of a child whose self esteem is sufficient that he doesn’t need us promoting his minor scholastic achievements on the back of our car.

We are the proud parents of a child who has resisted his teachers’ attempts to break his spirit and bend him to the will of his corporate masters.”4

1. Brain Droppings (Hyperion Books, 1998)

2. Napalm and Silly Putty (Hyperion Books, 2001)

3. HBO special Carlin on Campus (1984)

4. HBO Special Complaints and Grievances (2001)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #28 – MAY 13, 2020

FRIENDSHIP

“The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend. I have no wealth to bestow on him. If he knows that I am happy in loving him, he will want no other reward. Is not friendship divine in this?”

-Henry David Thoreau1

“I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.”

-Nelson Mandela2

“I’ve always said there’s no hope without endeavor. Hope has no meaning unless we are prepared to work to realize our hopes and dreams but in order to that we do need to have friends. We need those who believe in us. Friends are those who believe in us and who want to help us whatever it is that we are trying to achieve.”

-Aung San Suu Kyi3

“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.”

-James Boswell4

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

-Jesus5

“I get by with a little help from my friends.”

-The Beatles6

Notes:

1. Winter: From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1888)

2. From his unpublished autobiographical manuscript written in 1975. Source: From Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations © 2010 by Nelson R. Mandela and The Nelson Mandela Foundation

3. Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought Acceptance Speech Strasbourg, Germany (22 October 22, 2013)

4. Life of Samuel Johnson – “September 19, 1777” (1791)

5. The Bible – John 15:13.

6. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – “With a Little Help from My Friends” (26 May 1967)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #29 – MAY 14, 2020

HAL BORLAND – ON HIS BIRTHDAY

“When father and I started out, that late April morning, it was like the dawn of creation, so sweet and clean and crispy damp-cool. All along the first two miles south from town the blackbirds in the big cottonwoods ka-cheed among the jade-flake leaves, leaves no bigger that a ground squirrel’s ear. The blackbirds themselves were like gems, jet set with ruby and gold, the red-wings and the yellow-heads, all ka-cheeing in the sun not half an hour high. And in the roadside alfalfa silvery blue-green in new leaf and dew, was a jackrabbit in from the sandhills for breakfast, the sun making his long black-tipped ears pink as rose quartz. It was all spring and new beginnings, a morning to be alive and laughing.”1

May 14 – The Green Land

“We think of this as the time of Spring flowers, fruit blossoms, lilacs. Actually, it is the time of leaves, the time of the countless greens which have not yet settled and matured into the standard green of Summer. This is the time when there is a whole spectrum of green across the land, when the whole world is dappled and misted as with a gently drifting haze whose color ranges from greenish yellow to greenish blue.”2

“I shall never get over the feeling that bogs and swamps are primitive places, a vestige of prehistoric ages. Swamp muck has the feel and look, even the smell, of land and life evolving; and the life I find in the bogland both plant and animal, has an ancient and faraway look, like life from another age.”3

Notes:

1. High, Wide, and Lonesome (G.K. Hall & Co., 1984)

2. Sundial of the Seasons – A Selection of Outdoor Editorials from The New York Times (Lippincott, 1964)

3. Beyond Your Doorstep (Alfred A. Knopf, 1962)

About 1995 I was given a book by my grandmother, who was a reader and a writer (she kept a daily journal from the 1940’s right up to the early 2000’s, an amazing feat in our modern age.) The book, by Hal Borland, was called High, Wide, and Lonesome and it captured my imagination. It was a book that my grandmother had read and enjoyed with my grandfather.

Both of them, born in eastern Nebraska (1919) and central Oklahoma (1917) respectively, possessed such an powerful affection for the great plains that it infected me, born nearly 50 years later and hundreds of miles east. Even after they moved to Illinois during World War II, a sort of reverse migration, they returned, time after time, to Nebraska and Kansas, and they shared their stories with me. I still consider myself to be an expatriate Nebraskan and I have read many of the books my grandmother loved, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Willa Cather, Mari Sandoz.

In 1910, when Borland was nine years old, his family homesteaded a piece of land on the plains of eastern Colorado. This was the end of the pioneer epic in the United States, but no less harrowing and no less romantic. The Borlands “proved up” their homestead (live 5 years on the land and make improvements in order to get title) but soon after, moved into town, Mr. Borland starting a newspaper in Flagler, Colorado. Like previous homesteaders in that region, they discovered that great plains land west of the 100th meridian is too arid for farming without the intervention of mechanized irrigation.

The newspaper business captured Borland’s imagination, also. He moved to New York City where he studied journalism and graduated from Columbia University in 1923. After graduating he wrote for the Brooklyn Times, United Press, and King Features Service. He worked for a variety of newspapers across the United States, including The Philadelphia Morning Sun, The Philadelphia Morning Ledger, and The New York Times, as a staff writer for The New York Times Sunday Magazine andan editorial writer for The New York Sunday Times. Borland also wrote short stories, poetry, novels, non-fiction, and one play.

While researching for today I discovered that I had, on my shelves, no fewer than four Hal Borland books. Two, High, Wide, and Lonesome and Country Editor’s Boy were from my grandmother. Two were from the collection of my wife’s grandmother, who loved Borland, also. They are Sundial of the Seasons and Beyond Your Doorstep

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QUOTE OF THE DAY – #30 – MAY 15, 2020

YES

“Don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying yes begins things. Saying yes is how things grow. Saying yes leads to knowledge. ‘Yes’ is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say yes.

-Stephen Colbert1 

Notes:

  1. Knox College commencement address (June 3, 2006)

MY ALMA MATER, YAY!

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #31 – MAY 16, 2020

TALENTED FRIENDS – SOME OF MY FAVORITE WRITERS

“So the story in its essence is only this: in a world full of war and terrorism, capitalist industry and vanishing ecosystems, a world where all things set in time or place or motion will eventually dissolve, there are still moments wherein one human being shows a small kindness to another, however forgotten or unobserved. That’s it. That’s the story.”

-Misty Urban1

“When he leaned in, I thought, He looks like a bird. I thought, will he hit me with his glasses? I thought, this is my last first kiss.”

-Misty Urban2

“My mother is alone in her kitchen but somewhere upstairs, behind her, my father snores in warm oblivion.”

-Misty Urban3

“Liberation takes the form of a yoke, the boundaries of life formed by tethers to those we love, those we created, those who created us. Without origin, we are without vector.

Independence is a prison of the singular.”

-Robin Abbott4

“If the news was about a death in the family, the captain had the affected sailor and hospital corpsman come to his stateroom. In that sterile setting, the captain informed the unfortunate man that his mother, father, or heaven forbid his wife or child, had passed away. He would offer some comforting words, then leave him and the Doc there until the man regained his composure. In the submarine’s confines, this was as close to a sanctuary as could be provided. The sailor would be given a respite from standing watch for a day or so, until he got his wits back together.”

-Dan Moore5

“The open mic boomed, “Conn, sonar, torpedo in the water! Torpedo in the WATER!” 

Hearts pounded in the control room. Grampus had no way of knowing if the Echo II had aimed correctly. The team had to plot it to confirm it. If it were an exercise torpedo, then the torpedo’s sound would slowly merge with the target bearing. But, if it was an errant shot, a malfunction, or worse yet, a warshot and Grampus had been counterdetected, then the torpedo would go after any iron in the water, exactly what Grampus was.”

-Dan Moore5

“You can have Spring when Robins don’t sing.

You can have one without cleaning.

You can miss daffodils, and the flowers’ frills.

Without baseball, it’s demeaning.”

-Dan Moore6

“I wanted to touch the clouds

But one foggy day

They came down

And touched me

-Gesene Oak7

“Even grownups kick

at the fallen leaves.”

-Gesene Oak8

Waters stagnate in the pond

Sullen frogs plop and splash

Brown opens in the green

Lilies drop their glowing blooms

Rose petals, too, droop and curl

Growing rabbits eat the rest

Evening offers little hope

Of cooling air or rain

To ease the panting dog

These days they stretch too long

When all is still cicadas sing

Monotony of melody”

-Gesene Oak9

Notes:

Being part of the Muscatine writers club, Writers on the Avenue, has been one of the most pleasant and rewarding experiences in my life. I love our group, I love the supportive, interactive feedback we offer each other, and I love the opportunity to read the work of really talented writers.

1. A Lesson in Manners “Sally” (Snake Nation Press, 2016)

2. Draft: A Journal of Process “Unified Field Theory”(Oct. 2017)

3. The Necessaries “The Necessaries”(Paradisiac Publishing, 2018)

4. Liberation (unpublished, though it should be)

5. From his upcoming novel

6. From River To River “You Know It’s Spring When” (Writers on the Avenue, 2018)

7. Climbing the Hill of Life “Cloudtouch”

 (Writers on the Avenue, 2017)

8. Climbing the Hill of Life “Walking the Discovery Center Trail in Autumn” (Writers on the Avenue, 2017)

9.  “Late Summer Song

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #32 – MAY 17, 2020

VIRGINIA WOOLF

“It’s not catastrophes, murders, deaths, diseases, that age and kill us; it’s the way people look and laugh, and run up the steps of omnibuses.”1

“The strange thing about life is that though the nature of it must have been apparent to every one for hundreds of years, no one has left any adequate account of it.”1

“One likes people much better when they’re battered down by a prodigious siege of misfortune than when they triumph.”2

“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners … These webs are not spun in midair by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to the grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.”3

“Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions — trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there”4

“What is the meaning of life? That was all — a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”5

“Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes. Any help we can give you must be different from that you can give yourselves, and perhaps the value of that help may lie in the fact of that difference.”6

“I read the book of Job last night, I don’t think God comes out well in it.”7

“My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery – always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud. And why? What’s this passion for?”7

Notes:

There is a fundamental unfairness to the world; it manifests in myriad ways. There is unmerited good fortune and undeserved suffering. There is an unjust and arbitrary distribution of wealth and talent. And even when someone with proper humility and a commendable work ethic is rewarded with true genius, the combination often destroys that person. You can’t say God doesn’t enjoy irony.

Virginia Woolf was a genius. She explored so much of human nature, and did it so brilliantly and insightfully, that her work should be revered (and is). Her talent should have brought her great joy and pride. But, like other such geniuses (Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, Anne Sexton, David Foster Wallace) whatever insights they gained through their genius was irreconcilable with the actual world they saw around them.  

Trying to find inspiring quotes in the work of Virginia Woolf is more a matter of sifting than mining. I ended up with twenty quotes (easily), that I wanted to share. I pared it down to ten, but it was a painful process. I hope they will inspire you to look deeper into her work. Don’t be afraid of Virginia Woolf.

1. Jacob’s Room (Hogarth Press, 1922)

2. Virginia Woolf’s Diary 1882-1941 (August 13, 1921)

3. A Room of One’s Own (Hogarth Press, 1929)

4. The Common Reader (1925)

5. To the Lighthouse (Hogarth Press, 1927)

6. Three Guineas (Hogarth Press, 1938)

7. These are awesome quotes and very widely attributed to Virginia Woolf. They sound like her, but I was unable to pin down their source. If they are hers they are likely from her diary or letters. 

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #33 – MAY 18, 2020

BERTRAND RUSSELL – ON HIS BIRTHDAY

(ALSO THE BIRTHDAY OF MY BRILLIANT AND BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER – HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHLOE!)

“It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.”1

“In the visible world, the Milky Way is a tiny fragment; within this fragment, the solar system is an infinitesimal speck, and of this speck our planet is a microscopic dot. On this dot, tiny lumps of impure carbon and water, of complicated structure, with somewhat unusual physical and chemical properties, crawl about for a few years, until they are dissolved again into the elements of which they are compounded. They divide their time between labour designed to postpone the moment of dissolution for themselves and frantic struggles to hasten it for others of their kind.”2

“The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.”3

“If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance with his instincts, he will accept it even on the slenderest evidence.”4

“I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.”5

“The old often envy the young; when they do, they are apt to treat them cruelly.”5

Notes:

Bertrand Arthur William Russell (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, essayist, social critic, political activist, and Nobel laureate. He is considered one of the founders of analytic philosophy. He is widely held to be one of the 20th century’s premier logicians. With A. N. Whitehead he wrote Principia Mathematica, an attempt to create a logical basis for mathematics. Russell was a prominent anti-war activist and he championed anti-imperialism. He was an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament. In 1950, Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought. (Wikipedia)

1. Principles of Social Reconstruction [Originally titled Why Men Fight : A Method Of Abolishing The International Duel] (London, George Allen and Unwin., 1917)

2. Skeptical Essays “Dreams and Facts” (George Allen & Unwin, 1928)

3. The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (Capricorn, 1918)

4. Proposed Roads To Freedom (George Allen & Unwin, 1918)

5. What I Believe (Kegan Paul, Trench Trubner & Co Ltd, 1925)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #34 – MAY 19, 2020

NORA EPHRON – ON HER BIRTHDAY

“I am continually fascinated at the difficulty intelligent people have in distinguishing what is controversial from what is merely offensive.”1

“It struck me that the movies had spent more than half a century saying, ‘They lived happily ever after’ and the following quarter century warning that they’ll be lucky to make it through the weekend. Possibly now we are entering a third era, in which the movies will be sounding a note of cautious optimism: You know, it just might work.”2

“And then the dreams break into a million tiny pieces. The dream dies. Which leaves you with a choice: you can settle for reality, or you can go off, like a fool, and dream another dream.”3 

“I moved into directing for a couple of reasons. … Most directors, I discovered, need to be convinced that the screenplay they’re going to direct has something to do with them. And this is a tricky thing if you write screenplays where women have parts that are equal to or greater than the male part. And I thought, ‘Why am I out there looking for directors?’ — because you look at a list of directors, it’s all boys. It certainly was when I started as a screenwriter. So I thought, ‘I’m just gonna become a director and that’ll make it easier.’”4

“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.”5

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”5

“I was so tired of seeing these stupid, cheerful books about aging. One of them even has this whole thing in it about how you are going to have the greatest sex of your life in your sixties and seventies. Which is just garbage. I thought about it and realized that there was one circumstance that you could have the best sex of your life in your sixties and seventies. That would be if you had never had sex until you were 60 or 70.”6

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”7 

“There is something called the rapture of the deep, and it refers to what happens when a deep-sea diver spends too much time at the bottom of the ocean and can’t tell which way is up. When he surfaces, he’s liable to have a condition called the bends, where the body can’t adapt to the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. All of this happens to me when I surface from a great book.”7 

Notes:

Nora Ephron (May 19, 1941 – June 26, 2012) was an American journalist, writer, and filmmaker. She is best known for her romantic comedy films and was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Writing: for Silkwood (1983), When Harry Met Sally… (1989), and Sleepless in Seattle (1993). She won a BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay for When Harry Met Sally. She also co-authored the Drama Desk Award–winning theatrical production Love, Loss, and What I Wore. In 2013, Ephron received a posthumous Tony Award nomination for Best Play for Lucky Guy.

1. Esquire (January 1976)

2. Interview in The Los Angeles Times (July 27, 1989)

3. Heartburn (Alfred A. Knopf, 1983)

4. Dreams on Spec (2007 documentary film)

5. Wellesley College Commencement (1996) 

6. London Times Online – “Get real – aging’s not all Helen Mirren” (March 4, 2007)

7. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman  (Knopf Publishing Group, August 1st 2006)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #35 – MAY 20, 2020

FAVORITE MOVIE QUOTES – #1

Inigo: “You seem a decent fellow, I hate to kill you.”

The Man in Black: “You seem a decent fellow, I hate to die.” 

-Inigo and Westley, The Princess Bride (1987)

“I’ve been in the revenge business for so long, now that it’s over I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.”

-Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride (1987)

__________________

”What’s the most you ever lost on a coin toss?” 

  • Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men (2007)

__________________

“There’s no crying in baseball!” 

-Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own (1992)

__________________

“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?” 

-Benjamin Braddock, The Graduate (1967)

__________________

Dave: “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”

HAL: “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

-Dave and HAL, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

___________________

Norman: “You like that word, don’t you? Bullshit.”

Billy Ray: “Yeah”

Pause –

Norman: “It’s a good word.”

-Norman and Billy Ray, On Golden Pond (1981)

Chelsea: “It just seems like we’ve been mad at each other for so long…”

Norman: “I didn’t think we were mad; I just thought we didn’t like each other.”

-Norman and Chelsea, On Golden Pond (1981)

__________________

“This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.”

Phil Connors, Groundhog Day (1993)

Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

Ralph: That about sums it up for me.

-Phil and Ralph, Groundhog Day (1993)

___________________

English Bob: “Well, actually, what I heard was that you fell off your horse — drunk, of course — and that you broke your bloody neck.”

Little Bill: “I heard that one myself, Bob. Hell, I even thought I was dead ’til I found out it was just that I was in Nebraska.”

-Little Bill and English Bob, Unforgiven (1992)

Kid: “Jesus Christ! It don’t seem real. Guy ain’t gonna never breathe again ever. Now he’s dead, and the other one too, all on account of pullin’ a trigger.”

Will: “It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”

Kid: “Yeah. Well, I guess they had it comin’.”

Will: “We all have it comin’, kid.”

Will Munny and The Schofield Kid, Unforgiven (1992)

___________________

“Some of us have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes, with boats, and friends, and noodle salad. Just no one in this car. But, a lot of people, that’s their story; good times, noodle salad. What makes it so hard is not that you had it bad, but that you’re that pissed that so many others had it good.”

-Melvin Udall, As Good As It Gets (1997)

___________________

“Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him … Then nothing would ever happen to him.”

-Dory, Finding Nemo (2003)

_____________________

“So it is that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed.” 

― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (1992)

_____________________

Pete: “Who elected you leader of this outfit?”

Ulysses Everett McGill: “Well, Pete, I thought the leader should be the one with the capacity for abstract thought, but if that doesn’t seem to be the case, hell, we’ll put it to a vote.”

-Pete and Ulysses, Oh BrotherWhere Art Though (2000)

______________________

Miles Massey: [after ordering food for both of them]  “I assume you’re a carnivore.”

Marylin Rexroth: “Oh, Mr. Massey. You have no idea.”

-Miles and Marilyn, Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

Waitress: “Yeah?”

Wrigley: “I’ll just have a salad, please – baby field greens”

Waitress: “What did you call me?”

Wrigley: “Uh, I didn’t call you anything.”

Waitress: “You want a salad?”

Wrigley: “Yeah. Do you… Do you have a… uh, green salad?”

Waitress: “What the f—k color would it be?”

Wrigley (turning to Miles): “Why are we eating here?”

Waitress: “What’s his problem?”

Miles: “Just bring him iceberg lettuce and a mealy tomato wedge smothered in french dressing.”

Waitress, Wrigley, and Miles, Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #36 – MAY 21, 2020

CLARENCE DARROW

“If there is to be any permanent improvement in man and any better social order, it must come mainly from the education and humanizing of man.”1

“I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure — that is all that agnosticism means.”2

“Chase after the truth like all hell and you’ll free yourself, even though you never touch its coat tails.”3

“At times I felt that I stood alone in the world, and it is not a bad feeling.  And it is well enough for a man once in a while to feel that he stands alone and is ready to fight the world.  It is good for your courage; it is good for your character.”4 

“You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man’s freedom.  You can only be free if I am free.”5

“When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President. I’m beginning to believe it.”6

“History repeats itself. That’s one of the things wrong with history.”7

“I have suffered from being misunderstood, but I would have suffered a hell of a lot more if I had been understood.”8

“There is no logical consistency in what a man does with his life. I run on emotions, like everybody else.”9

“I wish some fellow like Henry Ford or Rockefeller or some other patron saint of America with great organizing ability would teach us how to be inefficient and happy.”9

“I am sure of very little, and I shouldn’t be surprised if those things were wrong.”9

Notes:

I was a weird kid, I will admit. My heroes did not tend to be baseball players, rock stars, or captains of industry. I revered the men and women who spoke truth to power, iconoclasts who swam against the current and stood up for the little guy against the rich and powerful. In short, Clarence Darrow was my hero. It explains a lot about me today. I have never been brave enough to be a Darrow, but I aspire to be.

Clarence Seward Darrow (April 18, 1857 – March 13, 1938) was an American lawyer who became famous in the early 20th century for his involvement in the Leopold and Loeb murder trial and the Scopes “Monkey” Trial. He was a leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and a prominent advocate for Georgist economic reform.

Called a “sophisticated country lawyer”, Darrow’s wit and eloquence made him one of the most prominent attorneys and civil libertarians in the nation. He defended high-profile clients in many famous trials of the early 20th century, including teenage thrill killers Leopold and Loeb for murdering 14-year-old Robert “Bobby” Franks (1924); teacher John T. Scopes in the Scopes “Monkey” Trial (1925), in which he opposed statesman and orator William Jennings Bryan; and Ossian Sweet in a racially-charged self-defense case (1926).(Wikipedia)

1. Crime: Its Cause And Treatment (Thomas Y. Crowell and Co., 1922) 

2. Scopes Trial, Dayton, TN (July 13, 1925)

3. The Sign (May 1938)  

4. Quoted in Clarence Darrow, Attorney for the Damned, (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2011) 

5. Darrow’s argument in People v. Lloyd, 304 Ill. 23, 136 N.E. 505 (1922).

6. Quoted in Clarence Darrow for the Defense (Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1941)

7. Quoted in Peter’s Quotations: Ideas For Our Time (William Morrow & Co., 1977) 

8. Quoted in Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do by Peter McWilliams (Prelude Press, 1996)

9. Darrow’s Obiturary in The New York Times (March 14, 1938)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #37 – MAY 22, 2020

ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE – ON HIS BIRTHDAY

“The more we progress the more we tend to progress. We advance not in arithmetical but in geometrical progression. We draw compound interest on the whole capital of knowledge and virtue which has been accumulated since the dawning of time.”1

“I should dearly love that the world should be ever so little better for my presence. Even on this small stage we have our two sides, and something might be done by throwing all one’s weight on the scale of breadth, tolerance, charity, temperance, peace, and kindliness to man and beast. We can’t all strike very big blows, and even the little ones count for something.”1

“I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air — or as free as an income of eleven shillings and sixpence a day will permit a man to be. Under such circumstances I naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. There I stayed for some time at a private hotel in the Strand, leading a comfortless, meaningless existence, and spending such money as I had, considerably more freely than I ought.”2

“While the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty.”3

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”4

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”5

“Work is the best antidote to sorrow.”6

“To let the brain work without sufficient material is like racing an engine. It racks itself to pieces.”7

Notes:

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) was a British writer and medical doctor. He created the character Sherlock Holmes in 1887 when he published A Study in Scarlet, the first of four novels and more than fifty short stories about Holmes and Dr. Watson. The Sherlock Holmes stories are generally considered milestones in the field of crime fiction.

Doyle was a prolific writer; other than Holmes stories, his works include fantasy and science fiction stories about Professor Challenger and humorous stories about the Napoleonic soldier Brigadier Gerard, as well as plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction and historical novels. One of Doyle’s early short stories, J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement (1884), helped to popularise the mystery of the Mary Celeste.

1. The Stark Munro Letters (Longmans, Green & Co., 1895)

2. A Study in Scarlet (Ward Lock & Company, 1887)

3. The Sign of the Four (Spencer Blackett, 1890)

4. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes  “A Case of Identity” (George Newnes, 1892)

5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” (George Newnes, 1892)

6. The Return of Sherlock Holmes “The Adventure of the Empty House” (George Newnes, 1905)

7. His Last Bow (John Murray, 1917)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #38 – MAY 23, 2020

OWEN

Note from the quote collector:

What follows is a true story. I understand that it is not quite kosher to quote yourself in a collection of this kind. I am only the straight man here, however, which I think is okay. To fully get the goody from this you must know what the show The Goldbergs is. If you haven’t watched it you have really missed out. The concept is that Adam Goldberg (the show runner) has made a comedy series out of the events of his life growing up in the 1980s. It is excellent!

Me crabbing at Owen: “Turn that TV down, shut off those lights, pick up that garbage, etc., etc.”

Owen: “Oh Dad, don’t be such a Murray Goldberg.” 

Me: “Well his kid has his own television show. Do you have your own television show?” 

Owen: “No, but I’m writing a book which may be adapted into a screenplay.”

Me: “Is it about what a good Dad you have?” 

Owen: “No, it’s non-fiction.” 

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #39 – MAY 24, 2020

BOB DYLAN ON HIS BIRTHDAY

You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (1967)1

“Clouds so swift

Rain won’t lift

Gate won’t close

Railings froze

Get your mind off wintertime

You ain’t goin nowhere

Whoo-ee ride me high

Tomorrow’s the day

My bride’s gonna come

Oh, Oh are we gonna fly

Down in the easy chair”

The Times They Are A-Changin’2

“Come mothers and fathers

Throughout the land

And don’t criticize

What you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters

Are beyond your command

Your old road is rapidly agin’

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin”

Shelter From the Storm3

“Suddenly I turned around and she was standin’ there

With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair

She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns

‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm’”

Positively Fourth Street4

“I wish that for just one time

You could stand inside my shoes

And just for that one moment

I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time

You could stand inside my shoes

You’d know what a drag it is

To see you”

Mr. Tambourine Man5

“Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind

Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves

The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach

Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow”

A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall6

“And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?

And what did you hear, my darling young one?

I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’

Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world

Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’

Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’”

Like a Rolling Stone7

“How does it feel

How does it feel

To be on your own

With no direction home

Like a complete unknown

Like a rolling stone?”

Buckets of Rain8

“I like your smile

And your fingertips

Like the way that you move your hips

I like the cool way you look at me

Everything about you is bringing me misery”

Blowin’ in the Wind6

“How many times must a man look up

Before he can see the sky?

Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have

Before he can hear people cry?

Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind”

Notes:

Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman; May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, author, and visual artist who has been a major figure in popular culture for more than 50 years. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1963) and “The Times They Are a-Changin'” (1964) became anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements. His lyrics during this period incorporated a range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defied pop music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture…In 2016, Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.(Wikipedia)

1. The Basement Tapes, 1967

2. The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

3. Blood on the Tracks, 1975

4. Single, 1965

5. Bringing It All Back Home, 1965

6. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963

7. Highway 61 Revisited, 1965

8. Blood on the Tracks, 1975

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #40 – MAY 25, 2020

RALPH WALDO EMERSON ON HIS BIRTHDAY

“Never read any book that is not a year old.”1

“Poetry teaches the enormous force of a few words, and, in proportion to the inspiration, checks loquacity.”2

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.”3

“Every man I meet is in some way my superior; and in that I can learn of him.”4

“People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.”5

“To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven.”6

“We are always getting ready to live, but never living.”7

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”8

“In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”9

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”9

“The Religion that is afraid of science dishonours God and commits suicide. It acknowledges that it is not equal to the whole of truth, that it legislates, tyrannizes over a village of God’s empires but is not the immutable universal law.”10

“Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.”9 

Notes:

Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.

Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of transcendentalism in his 1836 essay “Nature”.

Emerson wrote on a number of subjects, never espousing fixed philosophical tenets, but developing certain ideas such as individuality, freedom, the ability for mankind to realize almost anything, and the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world. Emerson’s “nature” was more philosophical than naturalistic: “Philosophically considered, the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul.” Emerson is one of several figures who “took a more pantheist or pandeist approach by rejecting views of God as separate from the world.” … Emerson is also well known as a mentor and friend of Henry David Thoreau, a fellow transcendentalist. (Wikipedia)

1. The Conduct of Life, “In Praise of Books” (Ticknor & Fields 1861)

2. Parnassus, Preface (Houghton, Osgood and Company, 1880)

3. “Fortune of the Republic: Lecture Delivered at the Old South Church” (March 30, 1878)

4. As quoted in Think, Vol. 4-5 (1938)

5. The Conduct of Life, “Worship” (Ticknor & Fields 1861)

6. Emerson’s Journals (1822–1863) (December 20, 1822)

7. Emerson’s Journals (1822–1863) (April 12, 1834)

8. Emerson’s Journals (1822–1863) (November 11, 1842)

9. Essay “Self-Reliance” (1841)

10.  Emerson’s Journals (1822–1863) (March 4, 1831)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #41 – MAY 26, 2020

A LITTLE LEVITY 

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Lou: “You know what, you’ve got spunk!”

Mary: “Well, yes …”

Lou: “I hate spunk!”

“I came home the other day and everything in my apartment had been stolen and replaced with an exact replica. I couldn’t believe it. I said to my roommate, ‘Look at this stuff, it’s all an exact replica.’ He said, ‘Do I know you?’”

-Steven Wright

“If you’ve ever had to haul a can of paint to the top of a water tower to defend your sister’s honor – you might be a redneck.”

-Jeff Foxworthy

“By the Way, If Anyone Here Is in Advertising or Marketing … Kill Yourself!”

-Bill Hicks

“I used to work at McDonald’s making minimum wage. You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss was trying to say? ‘Hey, if I could pay you less, I would, but it’s against the law.’”

-Chris Rock, 

“I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. And for those who like country music, denigrate means to ‘put down.’”

-Bob Newhart

“The very existence of flame-throwers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.” 

-George Carlin

“I have low self-esteem; when we were in bed together, I would fantasize that I was someone else.” 

-Richard Lewis

“Do you ever get halfway through eating a horse and go ‘you know, I’m not as hungry as thought I was’?” 

– Tim Vine

“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” 

– George Carlin

“The second I get shampoo in my eyes, I’m 100% sure there’s a murderer in my bathroom.” 

– Bill Murray

“What a kid I got; I told him about the birds and the bees and he told me about the butcher and my wife.”

 – Rodney Dangerfield

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

 – Groucho Marx

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #42 – MAY 27, 2020

DASHIELL HAMMETT ON HIS BIRTHDAY

“If you have a story that seems worth telling, and you think you can tell it worthily, then the thing for you to do is to tell it, regardless of whether it has to do with sex, sailors or mounted policemen.”1

“Who shot him? I asked.

The grey man scratched the back of his neck and said: “Somebody with a gun.”2

“The people who lie the most are nearly always the clumsiest at it, and they’re easier to fool with lies than most people, too. You’d think they’d be on the look-out for lies, but they seem to be the very ones that will believe almost anything at all.”3

“I haven’t laughed so much over anything since the hogs ate my kid brother.”2 

“I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble.”4

“He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him see the works.”4

“Play with murder enough and it gets you one of two ways. It makes you sick, or you get to like it.2

“Listen, Dundy, it’s been a long time since I burst into tears because a policeman didn’t like me.”4 

“…It’s probably polite to pretend you don’t see people coming out of pawnshops, anyhow.”3 

“Be still while I get up or I’ll make an opening in your head for brains to leak in.”2 

“I don’t want to brag about how dumb I am, but this job is plain as astronomy to me. I understand everything about it except what you have done and why, and what you’re trying to do and how.”5

“But where knowledge of trickery is evenly distributed, honesty not infrequently prevails.”6

“Did it ever occur to you that everybody is more or less afraid of nearly everything, and that courage isn’t a damn thing but a habit of not dodging things because you’re afraid of them?”7

“If a man says a thing often enough, he is very likely to acquire some sort of faith in it sooner or later.”8

Notes:

1. (June, 1924 Interview, can’t pin down the publication)

2. Red Harvest (Alfred A. Knopf, 1929)

3. The Thin Man (Alfred A. Knopf, 1934)

4. The Maltese Falcon (Alfred A. Knopf, 1930)

5. The Novels of Dashiell Hammett

6. Nightmare Town (Argosy All-Story Weekly, December 27, 1924)

7. The Cure (unpublished story, first printed in The Hunter and Other Stories in 2013)

8. The Second Story Angel (Alfred A. Knopf, 1924)

Samuel Dashiell Hammett (May 27, 1894 – January 10, 1961) was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. He was also a screenwriter and political activist. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), and the Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse).

Hammett “is now widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time”. In his obituary in The New York Times, he was described as “the dean of the… ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction.” Time magazine included Hammett’s 1929 novel Red Harvest on its list of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005. His novels and stories also had a significant influence on films, including the genres of private-eye/detective fiction, mystery thrillers, and film-noir. 

During the 1950s, Hammett was investigated by Congress. He testified on March 26, 1953, before the House Un-American Activities Committee about his own activities, but refused to cooperate with the committee. No official action was taken, but his stand led to him being blacklisted, along with others who were blacklisted as a result of McCarthyism. (Wikipedia)

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QUOTES OF THE DAY – #43 – MAY 28, 2020

IAN FLEMING ON HIS BIRTHDAY

CBC Interviewer: “Is it possible, one of these days, that we will read a James Bond novel in which the hero is killed in the end?”

Flemming (with a wry smile): “I couldn’t possibly afford it.”1

‘I’m wondering whose side I ought to be on. I’m getting very sorry for the Devil … The Devil has a rotten time and I always like to be on the side of the underdog. We don’t give the poor chap a chance.2

“He disagreed with something that ate him.”3

“Never say ‘no’ to adventures. Always say ‘yes’, otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.”4

“Love of life is born of the awareness of death, of the dread of it.”5 

“It reads better than it lives”6 

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”7

“The gain to the winner is always less than the loss to the loser.”3 

“You can get far in North America with laconic grunts. “Huh,” “hun,” and “hi!” in their various modulations, together with “sure,” “guess so,” “that so?” and “nuts!” will meet almost any contingency.”8 

“The conventional parabola–sentiment, the touch of the hand, the kiss, the passionate kiss, the feel of the body, the climax in the bed, then more bed, then less bed, then the boredom, the tears and the final bitterness–was to him shameful and hypocritical.”2 

“When the odds are hopeless, when all seems to be lost, then is the time to be calm, to make a show of authority – at least of indifference”9 

“It was a room-shaped room with furniture-shaped furniture, and dainty curtains.”10

Notes:

1. CBC interview(1953)

2. Casino Royale (Jonathan Cape, 1953)

3. Live and Let Die (Jonathan Cape, 1954)

4. Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car (Jonathan Cape, 1964)

5. The Spy Who Loved Me (Jonathan Cape, 1962)

6. Diamonds Are Forever (Jonathan Cape, 1956)

7. Goldfinger (Jonathan Cape, 1959)

8. For Your Eyes Only (Jonathan Cape, 1960)

9. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Jonathan Cape, 1963)

10. Thunderball (Jonathan Cape, 1961)

Diversity

by: Dustin Joy

Every year, in July, at that point in the season when the compass plants are blooming and the hummingbirds are going at the feeder like a band of desperados, and I cannot imagine one more tedious, soul-withering, work-related conversation – I leave. It is not exactly a “damp, drizzly November in my soul” situation, but, like Ishmael, I certainly get the “grim about the mouth” thing. Unable to go to sea, I still make a concerted effort to visit “the watery part of the world.” I go to Lake Superior. I pack my Pequod, a kid-battered 2011 Honda Odyssey, with the people I love and I point my rig at Polaris.

I will stipulate here that there is a certain austere beauty to the miles and miles of corn we must traverse to get to the north woods of Minnesota. The gently rolling hills of Iowa, saturated with the green of midsummer, are not unlike waves on the ocean. Sea-sickness is a possibility. 

Iowa can be lovely and reassuringly monotonous. It is the emotional support animal of states. It calms you. As the Grant Wood landscapes ease by the windshield one at a time, you know what to expect. You are not, for example, going to top the next rise and find a fjord, or a pyramid, or a redwood tree. And yet, much as I admire constancy, were God to grant me telekinesis, I would slide Iowa out of my way and connect things thus that the west side of the Muscatine bridge would land me in St. Paul. 

North of the twin cities, Minnesota becomes a study in diversity. There is corn, surely, but along Interstate 35 it peters out, giving way to potato fields, then pastures lined with round bales of alfalfa, and then the first little lakes (10,000 I’m told.) These preliminary “lakes” are ponds, really, with reedy borders morphing into swampy little wastes of cat tails, red-winged blackbirds swaying atop many like 1920’s flag pole sitters. 

At this latitude the uplands, forming the pond’s catch basin, are covered in a wonderful mixture of birches and pines and aspens. White, paperish trunks alternate with blue/green boughs and the little green geisha fans which shimmer and quake in the wind. Below is the lovely orange duff of no longer green evergreen needles. In the interstices are ferns and mosses, yellow daisies, red columbines, purple lupines, blue harebelles, maybe a pink lady slipper. Lichens are not thick enough here to guide a lost hiker with the old “north side of the tree” technique but as you travel closer to Gitche Gumee they obtain a foothold and, on some Boundary Waters lakes it seems they are the dominant life form, inanimate though they be.

Superior is a sensory banquet and diversity is on the menu here, too. The “beaches” are fields of polished rocks: red rhyolite, grey/ brown basalt, blackish gabbro, green lintonite, and the elusive agates which every visitor cranes his neck to find.  Each one is rounded and shaped into a perfect skipping stone by the pounding, roaring waves. Driftwood logs are abraded, over and over, at the surf-line until they are as smooth as if turned on a lathe.

In a minute the lake is flat calm reflecting the blue sky like a great horizontal mirror. In the cove below the palisades, a coffee-brown river pours over the escarpment with a continuous pulsating roar. Children play in the waterfall, twittering randomly as they “rescue” crayfish from the little tide pools. Another minute passes and a gentle onshore breeze, air conditioned by eighty miles of fifty degree lake, rolls into the humid atmosphere in the cove and, suddenly, unbelievably, we are standing in a cloud. There is momentary silence, even from the waterfall it seems, as all the creatures thereabouts adjust to the sensation of floating in air. 

The breeze stiffens and the fog dissolves as quickly as it came. The giant lake reappears, riffled, not a mirror now, but maybe a broken mirror, reflecting nothing, or reflecting a million things. Behind and to the left there is a croaking sound, deep and guttural, from the boughs of a pine tree growing literally from the rock face itself. Upon the highest branch sits a raven the size of a pheasant and he cocks his great head and looks at me as if to say “what a curious creature you are, all pale an earthbound, and … those shorts are really not your best look.” A chipmunk crosses the bar, gingerly from one sun-hot stone to another, circumspect of me, and the raven, and the lapping wavelets. A mother loon and her two babies, the chicks riding high and dry upon her back, round the headland, crabbing into the breeze. She divides her attention between our world and the one below, ducking her head rhythmically, scanning for herring. When the trio is abeam me she emits a long, lonely cry which carries for miles and sounds more like “nevermore” than the raven’s sarcastic call. 

I am loathe to leave this place, ever. I will miss it for 358 days. I must go back to my my work-related conversations, though. I must drive through the miles and miles of Iowa. At the end of the day core competencies must be optimized, proven methodologies must be executed, synergy must be achieved, and we must monetize our assets… We must sit in our cubicles and file the paperwork and pull the same drill-press handle over and over and over and … why not? Aren’t our brains stimulated adequately when we consider best practices and seamless integration?

There is something missing, lest why the “need” for vacation? Why the Moby Dick ennui? I would like to say color, but that’s not it, exactly. A million acres of cornstalks certainly represent color in spades. And cornstalks can be pretty. And it’s not people, exactly. I work with some fine people and I live near some other fine people, even if they are mostly white, lumpy people who look a lot like me.

I contemplate these things from the mezzanine at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Our final stop is as different from Lake Superior as can be. But, there is something I like here. There is something intangible that Superior also has. It is something that satisfies a craving. As I sit and sip my root beer and watch the people moving in and out of frame I put it all together. 

A tall, slender woman passes, her skin the color of milk chocolate, and she smiles broadly and says “Haal-o” in an rich Somali accent. Opposite her a lady as white as a sheet of typing paper with lustrous, flowing auburn hair reads the Star-Tribune. A ruddy fat man, easily 350, in a Hawaiian print shirt, and carrying a bag from the Lego store, pauses below me on the landing to readjust his load. A Chinese lady plays Candy Crush on her cell phone as she waits for her husband and two sons to return from Sbarro. She sits back-to-back with a blonde twenty-something with an impressively braided pony tail and a shirt which says “On Wednesdays we smash the patriarchy!” A little girl in a pink pinafore licks a loosing battle with a giant ice cream cone. 

I get up and walk down the concourse and, on my right, two women in burkhas, one pushing a stroller, pass. I cannot see their faces but I know, somehow, that they are smiling. Next comes Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson’s doppelgänger and I wish, for the hundredth time, that I could pull a Freaky Friday switcheroo with him. Here is a young father in a grey pocket-tee and wearing a tie-dye backpack with the Build-a-Bear Workshop logo on it and an American Girl doll’s head and face protruding from the drawstring at the top. A 6’ 3” bald man, covered in tattoos, walks hand-in-hand with 5’ 2” woman, in what could be mistaken for a prom dress. It strikes me that if a Martian suddenly landed in the Mall of America parking lot one sunny day it would not be immediately clear to him or her or it that we were all of the same species.

And if our physical attributes aren’t interesting enough, our opinions and personalities offer glorious variety. People long to reveal themselves, and they do it. At the Mall of America tee-shirts are the chosen platform of expression. We have:

“Hold on a minute while I overthink this.”

I don’t snore, I dream I’m a motorcyle.”

It’s tough being a genius, but I manage.”

On a short, plump lady in line at Starbucks:

“I will not be forced to learn a foreign language to live in my own country.”

And:

“I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry.”

“I’m with stupid.” A map of Minnesota and Wisconsin with an arrow over Minnesota pointing to the left.

“Hey Babe!” Over a picture of Paul Bunyan’s companion animal.

“Your mom can party!”

“I bake because punching people is frowned upon.”

“Born to be mild.” With a picture of a three-toed sloth, in a leather jacket.

“I suck at apologies so, unfuck you, or whatever.”

“If you were in my novel I would have killed you off by now.”

“May the fetus you save be gay.”

“Spooning leads to forking.”

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”

“God, Guns, and Guts. Made in the U.S.A.”

“Back in my day we had nine planets.”

“Poop jokes aren’t my favorite jokes, but they’re a solid number two.”

“Strong people stand up for themselves, but stronger people stand up for others.”

“I never said all that shit. – Confucius.”

And, finally, the profound ones:

“You’re killing me, Smalls!” (blue)

“You’re killing me, Smalls!” (red)

“You’re killing me, Smalls!” (green)

And, on a very pregnant woman:

“You’re kicking me, Smalls!”

And I feel reassured here, much like I do on the North Shore. I feel at home with these people. I feel welcome at the Mall of America, even with my weird opinions and cock-eyed view of the world. I feel a sense of belonging to this mass of humanity, this cacophony of culture, this menagerie. 

There is a place, in this world, for monoculture. It’s called a cornfield, and it serves it’s purpose and even bears a simple beauty. But, in my humble opinion, diversity is better. I don’t know what axiom of the universe makes it so, but I know it is true in my bones. William Cowper said variety is the spice of life. That rings true to me.

I like hamburgers, but I don’t want them every day. I want Mongolian Beef and Pad Thai and authentic tacos and Chicken Tikka Masala, too. I like Mark Twain, but I want to read Tolstoy, and Joyce, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, too. I like corn and hogs, but I want some lupines and columbines and loons and bears, too. I love America, but I don’t want everyone in our vast, beautiful, diverse country wearing the same t-shirt.

That Smile

That Smile

1984

It was a fall day, one of those few and far between, pristine days that can only be described as crisp. The air possessed a clarity, a perfection of optics, that we pilots call “clear and a million.” For a few more minutes at least, I could see 93 million miles. The sun was setting, the color of an ember deep in the belly of a campfire, behind the bleachers of the football stadium.

I did not care for football nor about football. I did not usually watch the game nor, to be honest, did I share the devoted, patriotic hope that our Rockets would “Trounce the Tigers” or “Whomp the Warriors” or “Charge the Chargers” (not enough thought put into that last one by the cheerleading coach.) I might, if I scoured the entire varsity roster, have found a single name which didn’t inspire in me a visceral disgust. These were the beefy, bully sons of beefy, bully farmers who, by virtue of their great-great-grandfather’s covered wagon breaking an axle here, claimed pride of place in the community and in our school and on the football team. They were “the jocks” whom I hated with a white-hot passion when they singled me out for persecution and hated all the more when they ignored me. In my narrow world view, it seemed that they lived charmed lives, enjoying the adulation of the community, hero worship by the local WHBF sportscaster, and, I always imagined, the sexual attentions of any and all the girls in my class. 

Still, I attended the Rockridge home games religiously. I even came to enjoy the chilly autumn evenings with my breath visible in the air and the interesting contrast between the brilliance of the “Friday night lights” and the blackness of the cornfields beyond. I liked the unpredictable sounds generated by a crowd in the stands, the half-audible conversations of 500 people discussing soybean yields, PTA fundraisers, and, inevitably, the dickhead quarterback’s prowess on the field. I liked the occasional exuberant roar when our team scored, a bit like the flocks of red-winged blackbirds that twisted and turned in a synchronized ballet, as if a thousand organisms could share one brain. 

All of this modulated sound, was underlaid by the carrier wave drone of the big grain dryer at the nearby elevator, the sonorous, white-noise of continuous combustion. I came to enjoy these things – or tolerate them. But they were not, ultimately, the reason I was there. I came for the band. I came for the marching band and, particularly, a pretty, little dark-haired clarinetist who had stolen my heart and took my breath away. 

She was the loveliest thing my newly-pubescent eyes had alighted on. She was an angel – in every possible sense. She was beautiful and confident but with the demure shyness of the cherubs in Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. And she was smart, the polar opposite of the redneck linebackers on the field. She thought interesting thoughts and said interesting things and knew about books, had read books, and despite being the daughter of a local farmer herself, whose grandfather’s father had broken an axle in Edgington Township, she was the opposite of whatever a beefy, bully was. She was decidedly different from the stuck-up, pageant-queen-wannabe cheerleaders sharing the field with her.

I watched her from the stands as she played the national anthem. I applauded wildly as they covered Wipeout, with accompanying full drum kit on a hayrack towed behind a lawn tractor. I gave the stink-eye to the football fans who talked through her performance.  I had, after all, offered their moron progeny the courtesy of tepid clapping at touchdown time. 

And I had contrived, when the band returned to their designated seats in the grandstand, to sit nearby, in a place that offered me a convenient view of the little black-haired girl and her clarinet.

She had other suiters, a fact which now makes me reflect on the unlikelihood of what happened. She had even accepted an invitation to the dance that night from a “friend.” Still, after the game, I waited in the grass practice field behind the stands, with happy people filing past to their cars (we won the game.) I was miserable. There is very little worse than being miserable in the presence of happy people. 

I had brought a pitiful little flower for her. Initially this struck me as a “smooth move” but, as the minutes ticked away, my droopy carnation seemed to grow more pitiful and less adequate to its purpose. I saw a couple of trumpet players pass on their way to the band room. When they saw me they pointed discreetly and emitted a joint titter that echoed across the lot. I felt small and cold and stupid, a nerdy boy shivering in a nerdy tan jacket and corduroys. I held out unreasonable hope that something might yet be salvaged of this pathetic catastrophe.

And then she appeared, disgorged with the streaming crowd, from the opening between the bleachers. She was with her best friend and she was laughing. And she was beautiful. She was wearing a black sweater with a panda knitted on the front. She was wearing black and white saddle shoes, and, oddly, a black bowler hat. Her cheeks were rosy from the cold, one of Raphael’s cherubs. She looked up from her clarinet and noticed me standing alone in the middle of the field and, to my ever-lasting gratitude, she smiled. She smiled genuinely, involuntarily, the kind of smile that a person hopes for, longs for, lives for, all his life. It was a smile that demonstrated, without the need for mere words, that she was happy to see me and my sad flower standing there. It was an honest smile, with no sign of irony, or artifice, or even charity.  She was happy to see me. She was actually happy to see me. My heart skipped a beat. 

She left her friend then, and she came to me, and she gave me a hug. I remember that hug as if it were here and now. I wanted to remember it. I concentrated on the moment to grasp it, to capture it, to file it away. I recall the chill air in my lungs from that first intake of breath. I remember her friend, over her shoulder, tittering as her bandmates had done. I remember the beep of a car horn in the parking lot behind, not a warning or a display of anger, but a friendly acknowledgement of one friend in a car to another in the crosswalk. I remember the smell of bratwurst and charcoal drifting from the concession stand. I remember the visiting team’s dejected bus idling nearby. But mostly I remember her, the feel of her sweater and the clean smell of her perfume and the unruly shock of her bangs protruding from beneath the brim of that bowler hat. Above all, I remember the enveloping warmth of her hug as if she exuded a supernatural energy that lit me up inside like a neon bulb. 

Skip forward thirty-four years.

The term long day doesn’t begin to describe the labyrinth I found my way out of. I woke up before dawn in the featureless frozen tundra that is Fargo, North Dakota. I mainlined caffeine in the form of an acrid-tasting, styrofoam-cupful of perfectly mediocre hotel room coffee. And I started the day.

My crew was crabby and the airplane was cold. Even the water bottles in the galley cart were frozen. We had to deice the hoar-frost-covered wings and it took forever. Ineptitude seemed epidemic, from gate agent to ground crew to air traffic control – to me. I signaled the ramper to disengage the ground power unit before deselecting the switch in the cockpit, precipitating a ten minute delay as I restarted the plane, reentered all of the flight plan data, and suffered the Flight Attendant’s caustic remarks when the plane went unexpectedly dark and quiet. We flew to Chicago. 

We swapped airplanes at O’Hare, from Gate B24 to gate F14 (about 1/4 mile of walking.) We had to repeat all the pre-flight steps we had accomplished, so laboriously, in Fargo. The new airplane was late and included its own catalog of maintenance deferrals, including one that limited our airspeed on the ensuing flights to 250 KTS (about 80 mph slower than our usual speed). 

The weather sucked. When we arrived overhead, Dayton, OH was suffering a runway closure, leaving only one plausible instrument approach, one which would allow us to descend to 450 feet above the ground. The solid cloud deck hovered 230 feet above the airport. Aside from the top third of a tall radio mast sticking up through the murk, we could see nothing. We entered a holding pattern. 

As you might imagine, people who buy an airline ticket to Dayton, OH would prefer to go to Dayton, OH. They are not well-pleased when you take them, after 3/4 of an hour of airborne holding, to Columbus.  They are less enthusiastic when you tell them the punch-line to the biggest joke of all;  Dayton’s weather will not improve until tomorrow night. We will be either: A. leaving them in Columbus, B. transporting them on a bus to Dayton, or C. taking them back with us to Chicago, from whence they had commenced. 

Every passenger was surly to the flight attendant, which translated into a general crabbiness on her part, which ultimately poisoned the congenial relationship the First Officer and I had built up over the course of four days. Oh, and the weather had deteriorated in Chicago. The windy city was windy as hell. We made it back to O’Hare four hours late, tired and disgusted. Then I had to drive home, three hours across frigid northern Illinois.

I pulled into our icy driveway, and, with relief, turned off the ignition. My hands were sore from clenching the steering wheel. My back hurt from leaning forward to peer out of the ice- obscured windshield. When I cracked the car door, I was greeted with a blast of arctic air that made me think, just for a moment, that I had gone full-circle and was back in god-forsaken North Dakota. 

I trudged to the house, dejected, exhausted, defeated, my thin leather wingtips filling with snow. I opened the back door of our crappy little house. The screen door, with it’s sticky latch, was frozen. I had to batter it with my fist to break it loose, which, of course, released a cascade of snow from the gutter down the back of my neck. The inner door, with the bad seal, was also frozen and required battering. All of these things should have been repaired long ago. Something about my door battering vibrated the filament of the motion detector light on the front of the house and it broke, leaving me standing in the cold, covered in snow, in total darkness. I stepped onto the cold porch, set down my flight case, and reached for the kitchen door. And the world changed.

The kitchen door swung open. The porch flooded with warmth and light and the aroma of something delightful. And there, in the glow of a new and different world, stood the little black-haired girl. She had waited up for me. She had, indeed, waited up for me for thirty-four years. And she had made me cookies. She took my wet jacket and hung it on its peg. She set my suitcase over by the furnace register. She reached up and took off my epaulets and put them in their place in the china cabinet. And, all this done, she gave me a hug, a warm,  enveloping, life-affirming hug. And then the little black-haired girl smiled. 

I am one lucky bastard.

 

By: Dustin Joy

His Barn

His Barn – a poem

by: Dustin Joy

The barn door creaks on ancient hinges,
like her knees, with aches and twinges.

She opens it with apprehension,
melancholy, belief suspension.

She came here just to get the spade,
to dig potatoes, while there’s shade.

To him it never was a chore,
scorning melons from the store.

He sowed these seeds with loving care,
pulled the weeds, ran off the mare.

Sweet corn might be nice for lunch,
bright green onions by the bunch.

A fresh tomato, one zucchini,
suitable for tonight’s linguini.

She turns to go, this barn is haunted.
She steels herself, she wont be daunted.

She takes the shovel, hard to heft it,
cleaned and oiled from where he left it.

These things were his, his pride and joy,
her husband’s bench, his tools, his toys.

His works of art, both wood and ferric,
colorful and esoteric.

Whirligigs, doo-dads, inventions,
moving sculptures, good intentions.

She picks one up, a clever what’s-it.
She smiles, she laughs, she cries, she hugs it.

Compassion, kindness, a touch of crazy,
serenity some took for lazy.

Whimsical, her dad thought feckless,
she loved him more when he was reckless.

His things still lie here, strewn about.
Others said to throw them out.

Sad memories, to best be rid.
They never knew him like she did.

Without his spark, his touch of dreamy,
she steps outside, the sky is creamy.

The setting sun, he loved the gloaming.
Across their lives her thoughts are roaming.

A widow’s world, can she adapt,
a sewing circle, perhaps a cat?

She locks his barn up, safe and true.
She smiles for him, he loved that, too.

Quotes, etc.

For most of my adult life I have been a collector of literary esoterica. I love clever turns of phrase (intentional or not), strange juxtapositions of images and words, and brilliant quotes, both funny and serious. To satisfy my habit I seek out these gems in the places I have long found them. Local newspapers (particularly police blotters) are a treasure trove of entertaining tidbits. I also search the ubiquitous local guide books found in hotel lobbies. Not every town can be New York City, open 24/7 and overflowing with culture. When you are a little burg in the middle of nowhere you may have to get creative to bring in tourist dollars. Superlatives may be hard to come by. A recent “facts” segment in the Eastern Washington State tourism guide states:

The Palouse region grows 18% of the country’s lentils. 

Yes, yes they do. You have to work with what you’ve got. 

You might even have to add a few qualifiers to your local claim to fame:

 COME AND SEE THE second LARGEST antique GUMBALL MACHINE IN southeastern McClean county MISSOURI!

I love these things, no matter how trumped up or qualified. I will happily drive 40 miles to see the largest ball of twine in Minnesota. I have. It is really big! – for Minnesota.

I plan to include more of my travel magazine finds in future posts as well as sundry items from small town newspapers. Here is a nice example from the Durango, CO Herald police blotter for Wednesday, August 22:

1:02 AM – Someone called to report that a man punched a car in the 900 block of Main Avenue.

1:26 PM – Someone’s tire was punctured in the 2700 block of Main Avenue. (This guy really has a problem with cars, I guess)

4:23 PM – Someone locked a bike to another person’s bike instead of the bike rack near Main Avenue and East Eight Street. (No crime too small)

10:54 pm – A man was in his underwear in the 500 block of Animas View Drive.

I think you see what I mean. This stuff is better than reality TV. 

I have been reticent, lately, about posting to my blog. I have been working on some other writing projects and, I must admit, have been a bit lazy. I hereby pledge to post more regularly. That may include my own essays, short stories, and poetry. It may also include some of the “stuff” I encounter in my travels around the country. It’s stuffiminterestedin, after all.

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Today I want to feature the fruits of my other collecting hobby – Quotations. Everywhere I go and in everything I read I seek out really excellent quotes. I jot them down in my notebook and store them away for future inspiration. I look for profundity  and humor. Great quotes are often the product of great minds, but not always. One of my favorite quotes of all time is a quick piece of bluster from the boxer Mike Tyson:

“Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth” 

Quotes represent, to me, the perfect distillation of complex or confusing ideas into coherent, often beautiful, English. I love them and I collect them and I will share a bit of my collection with you. The quotes presented here will obviously reflect my own biases both politically and philosophically. Still, I am open to the well-crafted quote from people who represent other points of view and even some who I do not respect very much (Mr. Tyson, for example, or … Ronald Reagan). 

I will start today with a couple of gentlemen who recently passed away and whose voices will be greatly missed. Both of these men were brilliant and intelligent and funny. Both had principles and were, in the truest sense of the word, humanists, which is the greatest compliment I can give a person. 

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Senator John McCain

The following quote was made by Senator McCain at a campaign rally on October 10, 2008 in response to one of his supporters who had called his opponent Barack Obama an “Arab” and said she was frightened of Obama being elected. This moment of political courage is unmatched in my lifetime. It shows definitively what a noble man John McCain was and why he will be missed so badly.

About Obama:

“No, M’aam, No M’aam, he’s a decent family man citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. He is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as President of the United States.”

More quotes by Senator McCain which reveal his humanity, brilliance, and logic:

“Our shared values define us more than our differences. And acknowledging those shared values can see us through our challenges today if we have the wisdom to trust in them.”

“Every day, people serve their neighbors and our nation in many different ways, from helping a child learn and easing the loneliness of those without a family to defending our freedom overseas. It is in this spirit of dedication to others and to our country that I believe service should be broadly and deeply encouraged.”

“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.”

“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”

“War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality.”

“Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed.”

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Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain was not a politician. He was a sometime drug addict and directionless youth who became the Executive Chef at a well-regarded New York restaurant. His 2000 book Kitchen Confidential became a surprise best-seller and catapulted Bourdain to fame and other media opportunities. Chief among these were No Reservations on the Travel Channel and CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Both shows, focusing on food and travel, revealed Bourdain’s fundamental humanity, humility, decency, and integrity. He was intelligent, broad-minded, and generous.

“I should’ve died in my 20s. I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s. I feel like I’ve stolen a car — a really nice car — and I keep looking in the rearview mirror for flashing lights. But there’s been nothing yet.”

“Life is complicated. It’s filled with nuance. It’s unsatisfying. … If I believe in anything, it is doubt. The root cause of all life’s problems is looking for a simple fucking answer.”

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”

“Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia — the fruits of his genius for statesmanship — and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milošević.”

“I love the sheer weirdness of the kitchen life: the dreamers, the crackpots, the refugees, and the sociopaths with whom I continue to work; the ever-present smells of roasting bones, searing fish, and simmering liquids; the noise and clatter, the hiss and spray, the flames, the smoke, and the steam. Admittedly, it’s a life that grinds you down. Most of us who live and operate in the culinary underworld are in some fundamental way dysfunctional. We’ve all chosen to turn our backs on the nine-to-five, on ever having a Friday or Saturday night off, on ever having a normal relationship with a non-cook.”

“Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have.”

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Favorite Quotes from others

Kurt Vonnegut – American writer

“I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead.”

“If what Jesus said was good, and so much of it was absolutely beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not?” 

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow.”

“Evolution can go to hell as far as I am concerned. What a mistake we are. We have mortally wounded this sweet life-supporting planet – the only one in the whole Milky Way – with a century of transportation whoopee.”

“Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.”

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”

“We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” (Vonnegut credited this statement to his son, Mark)

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Mark Twain – American writer

For those of you who think Mark Twain was some sort of comedian only, a humorist, try this on for size:

A God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell, mouths mercy and invented hell, mouths golden rules, and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him! . . . 

“What a helluva heaven it will be when they get all these hypocrites assembled there.”

“Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is. I dunno. If the Eiffel tower were now representing the world’s age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man’s share of that age; & anybody would perceive that that skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would. I dunno.

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” 

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.” 

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” 

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” 

“Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.” 

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” 

“I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” 

“God created war so that Americans would learn geography.” 

“Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.” 

“Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.” 

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Elie Wiesel – Holocaust Survivor, Nobel Prize Winner, and author of Night

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

“Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.” 

“Once you bring life into the world, you must protect it. We must protect it by changing the world.”

“That I survived the Holocaust and went on to love beautiful girls, to talk, to write, to have toast and tea and live my life – that is what is abnormal.” 

“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.” 

“Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.” 

“When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.”

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Henry David Thoreau – American writer

“It is never too late to give up our prejudices.”

“If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.”

“The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.”

“My greatest skill has been to want but little.”

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

“The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” 

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

When his aunt Louisa asked him in his last weeks if he had made his peace with God, Thoreau responded:

 “I did not know we had ever quarreled.”

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Stephen Fry – Comedian, actor, intellectual, and atheist

To the question “What if you are wrong and find yourself standing before the Pearly Gates talking to God:

“I will basically say: Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It is utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who created a world which is so full of injustice and pain. I wouldn’t want to get in [to heaven] on his terms. The god who created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac. Utter maniac. Totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him? What kind of god would do that? Yes, the world is very splendid, but it also has in it insects whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. They eat outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable. So, atheism is not just about not believing theres a god. On the assumption that there is one what kind of god is he? It’s perfectly apparent he’s monstrous. Utterly, utterly monstrous and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion.” 

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OTHER FAVORITE QUOTES:

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Martin Amis – British novelist and essayist

“To say he is humorless I mean to deliberately impugn his seriousness.”

“If God existed, and if he cared for humankind, he would never have given us religion.”

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Edith Sitwell – British poet and critic

“I am not eccentric. It’s just that I am more alive than most people. I am an unpopular electric eel set in a pond of catfish.” 

“I am patient with stupidity, but not with those who are proud of it.” 

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Dorothy Parker – American poet, writer, and critic

“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.” 

“Razors pain you,

Rivers are damp,

Acids stain you,

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful,

Nooses give,

Gas smells awful.

You might as well live.” 

“Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.” 

“Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.” 

“I don’t know much about being a millionaire, but I’ll bet I’d be darling at it.” 

“Tell him I was too fucking busy– or vice versa.” 

“By the time you swear you’re his,

Shivering and sighing.

And he vows his passion is,

Infinite, undying.

Lady make note of this —

One of you is lying.” 

“That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.” 

“What fresh hell is this?” 

“They sicken of the calm who know the storm.” 

When asked by a friend to use the word horticulture in a senetence:

“You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” 

“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” 

But now I know the things I know

And do the things I do,

And if you do not like me so,

To hell, my love, with you.” 

“This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.”

“I require three things in a man: he must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.” 

“Take me or leave me; or, as is the usual order of things, both.” 

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” 

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John Cage – American Composer

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”

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Bill Nye (the Science Guy) – Television presenter and science communicator

Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”

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Willa Cather – American writer

There are only one or two human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened.”

“I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.”

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Christopher Hitchens – British/American journalist, writer, and prominent atheist

“Our problem is this; our prefrontal lobes are too small and our adrenaline glands are too big and our thumb finger opposition isn’t all it might be, and we’re afraid of the dark and we’re afraid to die and we believe in the truths of holy books that are so stupid and so fabricated that a child can, and all children do, as you can tell by their questions, actually see through them.”

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Robert M. Price – American theologian and writer

“I’m going to hell according to someone’s doctrine. (Islam, Christianity, etc). I may as well call them as I see them.”

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Pete Docter – Director of animated movies UP, Monsters Inc., and Inside Out

Anyone out there who’s in junior high, high school, working it out, suffering, there are days you’re gonna feel sad, you’re gonna feel angry, you’re gonna be scared. That’s nothing you can choose, but you can make stuff. Make films. Draw. Write. It’ll make a world of difference.”

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H. L. Mencken – American journalist, essayist, and cultural critic

“A philosopher is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there. A theologian is the man who finds it.”

“On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

“Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.”

“It was morality that burned the books of the ancient sages, and morality that halted the free inquiry of the Golden Age and substituted for it the credulous imbecility of the Age of Faith. It was a fixed moral code and a fixed theology which robbed the human race of a thousand years by wasting them upon alchemy, heretic-burning, witchcraft and sacerdotalism.”

“The final test of truth is ridicule. Not the laws of the United States but the mother-in-law joke brought the Mormons to surrender. Not the horror of it but the absurdity of it killed the doctrine of infant damnation. But the razor edge of ridicule is turned by the tough hide of truth.”

“We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

_____________________________________________

Garrison Keillor – American writer and radio host

“People with plenty of work to do are less enamored of self-destruction.”

“One reads books in order to gain the privilege of living more than one life. People who don’t read are trapped in a mine shaft, even if they think the sun is shining.” 

“God writes a lot of comedy… the trouble is, he’s stuck with so many bad actors who don’t know how to play funny.” 

“Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known. ” 

“Intelligence is like four-wheel drive. It only allows you to get stuck in more remote places.” 

“Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.” (I’m not too sure about that one)

“The most un-American thing you can say is, ‘You can’t say that.” 

“They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad to realize that I’m going to miss mine by just a few days.” 

_______________________________________________

Anonymous

“Saying Lincoln was a Republican is like saying Nicholas Cage won an Oscar. Technically it’s true, but a lot of shit has happened since then.”

_______________________________________________

Malcolm Gladwell – Canadian journalist and author

“You don’t want bureaucracies run by Marine Corps guys. The worst thing that can happen if you’re in a bureaucracy is if the bureaucracy gets really, really good. Our liberties are imperiled overly competent bureaucrats.”

“We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we really don’t have an explanation for.”

“Insight is not a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads. It is a flickering candle that can easily be snuffed out.”

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Groucho Marx – American comedian, writer, and actor

“There is one way to find out if a man is honest: ask him; if he says yes, you know he’s crooked.”

“I dont want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

“A black cat crossing your path signifies…that the animal is going somewhere.”

“Quote me as saying I was mis-quoted.”

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Ernest Hemingway – Nobel prize-winning writer

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” 

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

“I drink to make other people more interesting.”

“It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”

“All thinking men are atheists.”

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

“But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” 

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”

“If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it.”

“All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.”

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Joan Didion – American journalist and writer

“we tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

“I did not always think he was right nor did he always think I was right, but we were each the person the other trusted.”

“Innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself.”

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Elif Shafak – Turkish novelist and essayist

“If we learn anything, we learn it from people who are different from us.”

“For extremism to work they need to dehumanize ‘the other.’ Fiction rehumanizes. Fiction tells us that the person you saw as ‘the other’ has a story. If you know that person’s story, you can connect with that person’s sorrow or hopes. In a world of so much conflict, we need the art of story-telling like never before.”

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Iris Murdoch – British novelist

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”

“I daresay anything can be made holy by being sincerely worshipped.”

“At crucial moments of choice most of the business of choosing is already over.”

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Neil Pasricha – Canadian author, blogger, and podcaster

“None of your ancestors was a virgin”

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Ronald Reagan – (Written by Reagan’s chief speech writer Ken Khachigian)

“How can we love our country and not love our countrymen, and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they are sick, and provide opportunities to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?”

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 Charles Dickens – English writer

“Spring is the time of year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade.”

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Eleanor Roosevelt – First lady of the United States and diplomat

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

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Samuel Johnson – English writer and lexicographer

“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

“Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.”

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.”

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Adam Smith – Scottish Economist

“Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.”

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Richard Feynman – American Physicist 

“Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” 

“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.” 

“Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.”

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” 

“If you thought that science was certain – well, that is just an error on your part.”

“I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb.” 

“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” 

“All the time you’re saying to yourself, ‘I could do that, but I won’t,’ — which is just another way of saying that you can’t.” 

“Physics is to math what sex is to masturbation.” 

“It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil – which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.” 

_____________________________________________

And, finally, some immortal wisdom from The Princess Bride

“A few more steps and we’ll be safe in the fire swamp.” 

“We’ll never survive.” 

“Nonsense, you’re only saying that because no one ever has.”

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by: Dustin Joy

If this isn’t nice…

If This Isn’t Nice…
by: Dustin Joy

Well I’m not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short, and the days too fast
The things you lean on are the things that don’t last
Well it’s just now and then my line gets cast into these
time passages
Time Passages – Al Stewart

Kurt Vonnegut, in his later years, concluded many of his speeches with a simple lesson. He was scrupulous about crediting the idea to his uncle Alex. He felt that a simple mental exercise had made his life better. In Vonnegut’s words:
And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim, or murmur, or think at some point, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

I have been trying to take Vonnegut’s advice to heart. I think his mantra contributes to a better life. I think it works in the present tense but, I would like to suggest, it applies quite as well to events in the past.

Memories are our possessions. More than any other kind of property they belong, personally, intimately, to us. Only dementia can steal away the treasure we possess in our memories. They can be called on for strength in times of trouble. They can be a reservoir of hope, and they can serve, per Vonnegut’s suggestion, to uplift the spirit and remind the downtrodden that there once were good times and might be again.

Sometimes, when I am down or nursing a grievance, I go on a little mental journey. I am buoyed by a lovely memory, a piece of mental real-estate which has been mine for nearly 40 years. It never fails to offer me comfort. I close my eyes and relive an afternoon from my childhood and, no matter the present circumstances, I feel better.

A boy of 14 and a man of 65 are in a boat. They are not speeding down the channel but floating, drifting among tall trees, the trunks of which have been overtaken by a Spring flood. Here and there one can see little mounds of earth poking up through the floodwaters, but mostly it is a wet world. It is a wet world dappled with sunlight and filled with a the croaks of frogs, the plops of turtles, and the startled cries of wood ducks.
The boy guides the wooden boat with a pair of oars. He is a skinny boy with a notable awkwardness in his manner. He is no athlete and mostly lacks grace and coordination, that is, on land. Here he is smooth and efficient, propelling the narrow craft between the maples and the cottonwoods quietly. He executes long power strokes when he can but is compelled, frequently, to retract one or the other oar into the boat, dripping, to avoid bumping a branch.

The boat is a beauty, his Grandfather’s pride, and the boy takes pride in it, too. He takes pride in it’s lovely alternating oak and pine ribs. He loves it for the sleek, elegant curve of its transom and the v-shape of it’s bow. He loves the creaky brass oarlocks and the varnished gunwales. He loves this boat because he knows it’s history. He knows the story of how the boat was ordered from a catalog and arrived at the depot in town on the back of a railroad flatcar.

He can recite the outdoor sagas; this bow piled full of wild ducks and monster catfish whose length matched the boat’s beam. The boy loves this boat precisely because it is an anachronism. It is an oddity among the fleets of metal Jon Boats which ply the Mississippi. Other fishermen have been known to mock it at the boat ramp – impractical. At this point in his life the boy sees the boat as a proxy. He is coming to realize that he himself is, if not an oddity, then at least odd. His quirky pastimes (collecting coins, reading the encyclopedia, flying model airplanes) are symptoms of a congenital “un-coolness” which will be made painfully manifest in high school.

There is a fine line between quirky and weird, after all, between eccentric and crazy. He senses this already. He knows that the lovely cheerleader who sits next to him in English class, will not really be part of his life, his daydreams notwithstanding. If he has to be odd the boy wants, somehow, to be oddly beautiful, like his Grandpa’s boat. That afternoon, enjoying nature, soaking in the sounds, the smells, the warmth, and taking in the wonderful curiosity of floating on an island, the boy is transported. He is transported from the daily life where he is an awkward, bumbling nerd to a place where he is competent and impressive and beloved.

I still have my Grandpa’s boat, and… I am still odd. I retain the memory of that perfect day, and the flood, and the wood ducks, and my Grandpa, sitting in the bow seat, leaning back and resting his head on a boat cushion. I still remember how the narrow sunbeams burrowed through the canopy of branches above and exploded in the rivulets of water running down the oars. I remember the serenity and the solitude and the perfection of the day.

Neuroscientists have demonstrated that the “use” of a memory; recalling it and then storing it away again frequently alters or degrades it. Like the famous telephone game our memories undergo a loss of fidelity and can, in fact, begin to incorporate elements which were not present in the actual incident. But It may be that perfect fidelity is not what matters.

It may be that, as a crutch to mental health, a modified memory is just what the doctor ordered. My treasured afternoon with my Grandpa is sweet to me and though it is possible that it did not occur as I describe it to you here, let alone how I might describe it to you in five years, or ten, it is of great value to my sanity. I miss my Grandpa. I miss the way he cocked his head to listen for geese. I miss the rough feel of his five o’clock shadow when he would puff out his cheeks and I would run my little hand across the whiskers. I miss the way he would pretend to struggle with some simple mechanical device so that I could “help” him. And I miss the genuine and exuberant little whistle of appreciation he would give for some trifling achievement I had obtained. I have never had a better cheerleader, and I never shall.

And so I draw on this memory frequently. I open the rusty file drawer and I pull out the yellowing folder. Inside is a photograph as vivid and as clear and as powerful as it was the day I put it there. I pull it out and I look at it and I remember. I think to myself, and I exclaim, or murmur (as is appropriate) “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Charity Nebbe

 

Charity Nebbe
by: Dustin Joy

Note: In case you are wondering; yes, this post was approved by my dear wife. 

 

I am obsessed with Charity Nebbe. In case you don’t know who Charity Nebbe is, I will tell you. Charity is a public radio host and the on-air personality for the show Iowa Ingredient. She is smart and clever. She has a playful wit and an infectious laugh. She listens politely and says intelligent, insightful things. Charity is pretty. She might not be considered beautiful in a shallow, conventional, commercial sense. She has a generous, natural nose that is to me, superior to those rhinoplastied monstrosities we see so often on TV. She has short, pixyish hair, giving her a flirty, devil-may-care look. She is thin but with just the tiniest bulge of a belly as if to say, “sure, I go to the gym,” but I’m not one of those “I go to the gym people.”

Charity is a vegetarian, but not a preachy one. She’s written a children’s book, and…get this… she won an Emmy. Well, okay, a regional Emmy. Charity is an Iowa girl. She lives on a farm near Kalona, with her two kids and her … baker husband. He’s a baker. Not that there is anything wrong with that. God knows loaves must be baked and someone must bake them. So what if he wears an apron?

Charity was born in 1975 which makes her only five (or six …or seven) years younger than me. She grew up in Cedar Falls and attended Iowa State University majoring in Political Science and Biology. I majored in Biology with a concentration in Political Science. I know, right? Charity went on to a successful career in radio. With her undeniable good looks and irrepressible joie de vivre, the move to television was inevitable. Each week on IPTV she gives Iowa, finally, something to be proud of.

Now I know you are asking, “how does he know all these cool things about Charity Nebbe?” or, perhaps, “why does he know all these cool things about Charity Nebbe?” It’s not because I have stalked her. Parenthetically, that is really unfair of you to think that. I just did a little research on Wikipedia, that’s all. My interest is a healthy interest, literally. Ive learned a lot from Iowa Ingredient. I’ve learned about the merits of arugula, kale, and organic honey. I’m a better person for my obsession.

And here’s the thing. I am married. I am happily married and have been for 26 years. I love my wife with all my heart. I’m not at all suggesting that I would leave her and my beloved, beloved kids to run away with Charity Nebbe to a cabin in the high Sierras where we would hike and paddle around mountain lakes in kayaks and eat wild chanterelles which Charity would sauté up with a little garlic and thyme wearing that cute apron.… I would not do that.

But my wife and I have a deal. If, hypothetically, the rock star and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin shows up at our front door in Illinois City and asks my wife to come away with him to the south of France I, as a good husband, would step aside and … go back in and watch Iowa Ingredient. Likewise, and it’s only fair when you think about it, if Charity Nebbe someday recognizes that her glamorous life as a public television star is hollow and meaningless and that her …baker…husband does not adore her like…well, like his precious crescent rolls…then.

I think I have a perfectly acceptable, not-at-all weird obsession with Charity Nebbe. I watch her show. I know things about Charity that I do not know about Jaques Pepin or Mara Liasson. So what? I care, for some reason, that Charity raises chickens and that she once went sky-diving. I really don’t care how much marijuana Rick Steves smokes. Why is that? Is it okay to Google Charity Nebbe? Would it be okay to write her a fan letter? Does it matter that I am a middle-aged man? Why? If I were a teenage boy with a poster of Ariana Grande on my wall that would be okay. But if I’m an adult man with a life-size poster of Charity Nebbe on my wall (and I’m not saying such a poster exists) am I eccentric?

Maybe this obsession is like my infatuation with geocaching. Maybe it is a little stranger, like my brief devotion to the discography of Glen Campbell. Both were harmless and transitory. Charity Nebbe is a real, live person, though. It’s not that Glen Campbell wasn’t a real person. But a superstar is really more of an abstraction and, ultimately, it was just Wichita Lineman, Galveston, and By the Time I get to Phoenix that rattled around in my iPod for a time. I was really more obsessed with Jimmy Webb than Glen Campbell.

I could download episodes of Iowa Ingredient I suppose and study them like the Zapruder film. That is a tolerable eccentricity. If I drive past Charity’s house, though, that is a different thing, maybe? If I call her at work or write her a letter that is odd? Probably. If I meet her outside her office with a heart-shaped box of candy I’ve probably crossed some kind of line. Women, in our culture, have put up with this sort of bullshit in a way that most men never will.

The news today is full of men behaving badly, and stupidly, in the company of women. Certainly these things run on a continuum. There’s Jimmy Carter, who admitted to “lusting in his heart” and then there is Donald Trump who, you know, said all the things he said…and continues to say…and continues to say. There is normal, and then there is deviant. But where, exactly is that line?

I suspect every person becomes obsessed with another person at some point in their lives. These interests are usually controlled. You are a “fan” or you have a “man-crush” or you “really enjoy the company of” so-and-so. You might know that Mark in accounting is an avid cyclist. But a “normal” person doesn’t fish Mark’s discarded chewing gum out of the garbage can when he leaves the room.

I once had a co-worker who followed the Moody Blues around the world, spending, by her own estimate $50,000 on travel and concert tickets. She was clearly obsessed with Justin Hayward in a way that was unhealthy. Or was it? It appeared to make her life richer and, at worst, constituted an occasional nuisance to the Justin Hayward. Until it doesn’t. It is that “until it doesn’t” that is the problem.

I don’t think I’m crazy. I will never pursue a relationship of any kind with Charity Nebbe. I predict that my interest in her will fade like my devotion to Hemingway’s short stories, my crush on Pam Dawber, and geocaching.The only question that troubles me is this; does the unhealthy obsessive know when he crosses that line? Does the devoted fan recognize when he becomes a scary creep? I fear that, at some point, he does not. That is the scary part, scary to the obsessive, but scarier by far, to the target.

Distilled Arguments

Distilled Arguments

The world is a complicated place. Determining the facts, figuring out the truth, making the fine distinctions necessary to alight on the right course of action, these are difficult things. They call for free inquiry, diligent research, the application of logic, and a thorough challenge in the free market of ideas. At least that’s what I think.

Our President and his administration see things differently. Their world is a small, simple place where the opinion of every redneck in a pickup truck is equal to that of a PhD in physics. In their minds all political arguments can be formulated from a bible verse (mostly Leviticus), a twangy country song, or a Fox News ticker.

Not only have the President and his cronies done away with free inquiry and the thorough vetting of facts, he has even made a mockery of the need to explain and justify his positions. Our complicated world and all that is in it must now be distilled down to a nasty 140 character screed from the Chief Executive of our nation.

Question: Compared to other Presidents, how did Barak Obama carry out his duties during his first term? Was he an effective leader? Was he a good steward of our resources and talents as a nation? Did he advance our nation’s purposes on the world stage? Was he a steady and sane force for good? How did the economy perform under his leadership? What do the data and statistics say?

These are all great and necessary questions for determining the direction our democracy should take in the future. Here is what Mr. Trump reduced these questions to:

“Obama is, without question, the WORST EVER president. I predict he will now do something really bad and totally stupid to show manhood!”

The irony is so rich it makes Scrooge McDuck look like Mother Theresa.

Apparently those of us who value education and science and the pleasure of intellectual inquiry have lost. We who find beauty in a cleverly and subtly woven argument cannot compete with the President’s literal mind and lightning-fast thumb. SAD!!!!!!

I surrender. I concede that the American public will not sit still for complicated explanations. Our eyes glaze over at anything short of fireworks if it lasts longer than a YouTube video. But the problem is, I still like philosophical questions. I still believe in science and investigation and free inquiry. What is a boy to do?

Here is what I’m gonna try. Without much confidence I am going to take a swing at dumbing down some complicated political and scientific ideas I have spent years trying to understand. I have not been able to get them down to 140 characters but most of these will be shorter than a YouTube video of guys kicking each other in the balls. I call these DISTILLED ARGUMENTS. I’m thinking of making this an occasional series. I’ll start with a pair of contentious ones. Here goes:


EVOLUTION:

This is an easy one, I think, the no-brainer which generated our enormous brains. Here is the argument for evolution in seven lines.

  1. Offspring tend to have a combination of the physical characteristics of their parents. (Well, Duh!)

2. In every generation fewer offspring survive than are born. (Duh, again)

3. The ones who survive are the ones who reproduce. (Duh, Duh, and Duh)

4. In limited environments (all known environments) some individuals will be more successful than others. Those are the ones who survive and reproduce.

5. The next generation will be made up of the offspring of these survivors.

6. Repeat this process for thousands or millions of generations and you have a population made up of individuals well adapted to their environment.

7. That is evolution in a nutshell and it is not complicated or unlikely. It is simple and it is inevitable.

 

 


Next, a political argument. Everyone I have ever met in Canada thinks this is a no-brainer (and I’ve met quite a few.) If you disagree I would love to hear your thoughtful, well-reasoned argument.

 

WHY WE SHOULD HAVE A SINGLE PAYER HEALTHCARE SYSTEM:

1. People should not die because they are poor. People should not be bankrupted because they get sick. If you cannot accept these two assertions as axiomatic I will acknowledge the intellectual consistency of your argument but I can never find common ground with you. I cannot teach you to care about other people and show empathy.

2. If you accept the above premises you have accepted, unambiguously, the proposition that providing the best health care possible to all Americans is somebody’s obligation.

3. It’s our obligation. There’s nobody here but us chickens. We Americans need health care. We are the ones who must provide it. That means taxes, or premiums, or whatever you want to call them.

4. The cost of doctors and nurses and hospitals may be “too much” but they contribute to the goal of using the resources available to provide healthcare to all Americans.

5. Insurance Companies, conversely, who must make a profit for shareholders, do nothing but take resources away from the system.

6. While for-profit insurance drains the system of resources the concept of “insurance,” spreading the risk over the entire American population, makes perfect sense.

7. An insurance pool of the entire population paid for by the entire population is, in fact, the most efficient possible model for providing healthcare to all citizens.

8. People who are healthy now but do not buy insurance are parasites on the system. There is nothing noble about them because every single person requires healthcare at some point in his life.

9. Finally, I have to address the boogie-man of rationing. Rationing will and currently does exist in every healthcare delivery model on the planet. In our current system for-profit insurance companies do the rationing and have, of course, the incentive to ration coverage aggressively. A government payer system would have to ration care, also, but without the incentive to make a profit could base such decisions on science and logic and compassion. And, if people were unhappy with the way the government was carrying out this responsibility, we could vote them out of office. Try voting the President of United Healthcare out of his office.

Nuff said.

 

I will have more distilled arguments in the future. If you think I’m off base or mistaken I’d love to hear from you. Give me a comment.

 

by: Dustin Joy

Checkmate

Since I was a little boy I have believed that showing off, tooting your own horn, or otherwise bragging was improper and unseemly. But …. Since a man as classy and esteemed as our President does this on a daily (minutely?) basis perhaps I can be forgiven one little lapse.

For the last three years I have entered the River City Reader Short Fiction contest. The real challenge is embodied by the word “short.” All pieces must be less than 300 words and incorporate a writing prompt from literature selected by the River City Reader editors. For most writers (who can’t shut up by their very nature) cutting a story to 300 words can be a real heartbreaker. Sometimes editing can feel like ripping the guts out of a beloved idea. It is good practice, though, and frequently results in a better product.

The first year I entered I got an honorable mention for my story A Hero – of a sort. Last year I did not place, but had my story Chicory printed on the Reader’s website. This year (drum roll please) …I WON! Amazing! Against obviously superior entries my little story called Checkmate got first place. I credit the clever title, suggested by my friend Gregg.

The story, I think, is about marriage. It is about the kind of loving, respectful, yet playful traditions that evolve in a long relationship. These little rituals become the cement which bond the couple together and strengthen both to allow them to weather life’s storms. This couple, both book lovers, obviously has a long history of arguing about literature and promoting their own favorite authors. This is one such episode.

2017 Short Fiction Contest Winners

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Note: For those of you not familiar with the authors referenced, here is a little primer.

The first quote offered is from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II, Act 3. His retort that she is a “saucy minx” sounds a lot like Shakespeare and originates in that era but I couldn’t find any evidence that it was his. The most recent use of the term I know of is by Prime Minister Hugh Grant in one of my favorite movies, Love Actually, in reference to Margaret Thatcher.

The second quote is from Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. The longer quote is better but I had to abbreviate it for the contest because 300 words is 300 words. It reads:

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

It killed Hemingway, of course, which is referenced later in the story. He shot himself in 1961 with his favorite pigeon gun.

The third quote, “Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size,” is from the wonderful but troubled British writer Virginia Woolf. She authored Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Waves. This quote comes from her brilliant essay A Room of One’s Own which argues the need for “room” for women in our male-dominated literary canon.

After struggling for many years with depression Woolf killed herself in 1941 by filling her coat pockets with stones and walking into the Ouse River in Sussex, England.

The last two quotes are from my favorite author, Mark Twain. The first is from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court  which was one of the writing prompts for the contest. The second is from Extracts from Adam’s Diary which was Twain’s humorous take on Genesis. In the book Adam is at first perplexed and annoyed by the arrival of the first woman, Eve, finding her difficult to live with. Ultimately, he finds he cannot live without her.

______________________________________________

 

Checkmate
by: Dustin Joy

She ran her arthritic fingers through his wispy hair. The infusion pump clicked. There was a far-off rattling of a candy striper’s cart.

His breathing suddenly ceased to be metronomic, punctuated now with little clearings of the throat.

She laid her book down. “You awake?” Silence. “Are you okay?”

He spoke without opening his eyes. “A man can die but once; we owe God a death.”

“You’re not dying. It’s a hernia.”

He groaned.

She laughed. “You thought you’d trip me up with … Shakespeare?”

“All right, you saucy minx.” His eyes opened slowly. “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

“Do you want some ice chips?”

“Ice chips? You’re stalling.”

“Please, you think I don’t recognize that old misogynist?”

“Papa Hemingway? Take that back or I swear I’ll relapse into my coma.”

She considered for a minute. “Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.”

He smirked. “Well, Virginia Woolf says you’re not doing your job. And rocks in your pockets? A real man uses a shotgun”

“Your point being that Virginia Woolf wasn’t a real man?”

He stroked his chin. “Inherited ideas are a curious thing, and interesting to observe and examine.” He smiled wickedly. “Gotcha!”

“Nice try, but at least Twain was a feminist. He threw off inherited ideas and spoke for suffrage. How about you?”

She kissed him on the forehead and he sighed.

“Since I’m dying, do you want to hear my favorite Twain quote?” he asked. “It’s from Adam’s Diary.”

“Okay.” She looked intrigued, but wary.

“I see that I was mistaken about Eve; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.”

She smiled. “I like that one.”

 

 

 

Hamilton – A Review (of the soundtrack. I still can’t afford Broadway tickets.)

 

For the last few months I’ve been part of a local writers group and it has inspired me to explore different forms of writing. I’ve now written short stories, non-fiction essays, even poetry. This is my first try at a review. 

 

HAMILTON

A few years ago we drilled a new water well at our house. When I say we, of course, I mean that we hired a crew of professional drillers to do it for us. While I did not turn even a spadeful of earth, I found that I could sit for hours and watch these masters of their craft at work.

As they emerged from the ground on steel cables, the heavy lengths of pipe would be casually tossed over the shoulder of the hoist operator and would arc around his back and be guided smoothly and apparently effortlessly into the rack by his assistant. Any one of these 1000 pound chunks could maim, cripple or kill in an instant. These men knew their business. They knew the physics involved in every step even if they had never drawn a vector diagram. They were masters of their art. Watching a master work is one of the great pleasures of life, as far as I’m concerned.

I have never considered myself a Broadway guy. I worked on the lighting crew for Godspell in high school but if more recently, I had won tickets to see Rent on Let’s Make a Deal I might have asked to trade it for curtain #2. Also, I seem to have a powerful curmudgeonly aversion to anything that is suddenly “must see.” When the crowd is surging one direction, I am usually lurching in the other. So it was with great skepticism and out of respect for her feelings that I let my daughter play and sing for me a few of the songs from the Broadway phenomenon called Hamilton. “Pffft! A rap version of the life of a more or less obscure founding father. Yeah, that must be great.”

I will grudgingly have to tell you: It is !@#$% GREAT!

Taking in Lin Manuel Miranda’s play is like watching a ballet, or in my vernacular, watching a couple of really talented guys drill a well. The music is masterful. He makes it look easy. But the songs are complex with layers of meaning and each interacts with and builds upon the preceding songs. Miranda’s songs draw you into the story. You find yourself suddenly invested in the lives of people who are dead two centuries. You catch yourself getting choked up about the plight of a former Secretary of the Treasury. You find yourself rooting for the ostensible villain, Aaron Burr. You are made to care about the women, Eliza, Angelica, Peggy, and Theodosia, who made these founding fathers what they were but never got the credit. I don’t know what you can say about someone who can take a Broadway skeptic and have him humming “talk less, smile more, don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for” as he walks through an airport. Lin Manuel Miranda drills a mean well.

The story of Alexander Hamilton’s life is compelling. It has been told before, of course, in history books and biographies. We look at his face nearly every day on the ten dollar bill, though most could not say what he did to earn that honor. Miranda’s genius, aside from songwriting of course, was to recognize a good story when he heard one and to retell it in a way which is fundamentally true but which also distills the battles of a lifetime into an understandable and digestible morality play.

An example is worth a thousand explanations:
Hamilton is blackmailed, at the height of his powers, by the husband of the woman he has had an affair with. Not one man in ten-thousand would do, in that circumstance, what Hamilton did: he openly published an account of the affair to undercut the blackmailer. This is a truly unique and fascinating episode which reveals a unique and fascinating personality. It requires some unpacking as to motivations and consequences. Hamilton stopped the blackmail at the expense of his wife, his children, and his career. The approach turns out to be consistent with his history, and his hard-headed principles, while it would be unthinkable for a modern celebrity, say Bill Clinton, to take this approach.

Miranda captures and distills this story masterfully into the song The Reynolds Pamphlet. He opens with whispered voices saying “Have you read this?” This sets the salacious tone. The song, two minutes and nine seconds long, progresses quickly to the taunting voices of Hamilton’s antagonists Thomas Jefferson and James Madison singing “never gonna be President now. Never gonna be President now. That’s one less thing to worry about.” In these lines Miranda speaks to the complexity of Hamilton’s relationship with his fellow founding fathers and invites the question: who has one less thing to worry about, Jefferson or Hamilton? The next heart-rending verse is sung by Hamilton’s sister-in-law and long-time confidant Angelica, as she dresses him down and leaves him twisting in the wind with the phrase “I’m not here for you” and “you can never be satisfied! God I hope you’re satisfied!” It ends with the powerful final phrase uttered again by the uncomprehending crowd “Have you ever seen somebody ruin his own life? His poor wife.”

Hamilton’s behavior would be incomprehensible to us here, except for the beautiful and haunting song Hurricane which precedes it. If past is prologue as Shakespeare says, Hurricane, explains Hamilton’s particular devotion to the idea that the truth will set him free and to his confidence that he could explain things, to the nation and to his wife, through his writing.

Hurricane is somber, opening with spare, low piano chords, accompanied by Miranda’s (Hamilton’s) pain-filled voice telling the story of his traumatic childhood on the small, poor Caribbean island of Nevis. His father had abandoned the family early in his life and his mother died when he was 12. Miranda’s powerful verse “She was holding me. We were sick and she was holding me,” encapsulates, in 12 words, much of what we need to know about the tragedies that shaped Hamilton’s view of the world and established his recurring insecurities which he confronted with hard work and “excellence.”

As in all his songs, Miranda’s metaphors are beautiful and poignant here. The hurricane which destroys his town when he is 17 offers him his first opportunity to “rise up” from his squalid condition and to show the world what he is capable of through writing. At that tender age, he wrote an account of the hurricane which was published in newspapers and brought him to the attention of community leaders on his home island. The song’s refrain “I wrote my way out,” begins a powerful momentum at this point which replaces the somber opening. One senses, as Hamilton must have, that his ability to “write it all down” was his salvation, from a real hurricane, and later from the metaphorical one that surrounded him when his enemies discovered the affair and subsequent blackmail. “I’ll write my way out, overwhelm them with honesty. This is the eye of the hurricane. This is the only way I can protect my legacy.”

Perhaps the saddest part of the song is the naiveté revealed by Hamilton’s confidence that other people hold and respect his principles as well. If not one in ten-thousand would respond to this crisis as Hamilton did, not one a thousand would understand and forgive his forthright confession. At the end of the song, as he contemplates writing the Reynold’s Pamphlet there is a swelling crowd of voices urging him to “Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it.” It is a foreshadowing, really, of the collision with Burr that costs him his life. He seems to be asking “How can anyone object to what I’m saying, controversial or not, as long as it is true?” His audience, the readers of the Reynold’s Pamphlet, obviously did object, as did Burr seven years later, about the “truths” Hamilton told about him.

If Hamilton is a morality play, as I have suggested, it is a hazy and troubling one. It would be facile here to sketch Burr as the Snidley Whiplash of the play; he is a killer, after all. But Miranda captures the reality that there is seldom a white hat and a black hat in human interactions. In the song The World Was Wide Enough Burr sings, not in his own defense, but resignedly “He may have been the first one to die, but I’m the one who paid for it. I survived but I paid for it. Now I’m the villain in your history. I was too young and blind to see. I should have known. I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.” Burr is not Snidley Whiplash and Hamilton was no Dudley Do-Right. They are friends, even admirers of each other in the beginning. As years go by and water passes under the bridge, their relationship is sabotaged by their own stubborn and disparate philosophies and by the magnitude of the dramas that envelope them.

Leslie Odom Jr.’s Burr is a complex character. He is a man of high ambition but a cautious nature. His trademark motto “Talk less, smile more” is reiterated in no fewer than four of the songs, by himself in Aaron Burr, Sir and The Election of 1800, by George Washington in One Last Time, and even by Hamilton himself, reluctantly in The Room Where it Happens. His personal philosophy, “work hard, keep your head down, and good things will happen to you,” seems to pay off for him early on. He is elected to the New York State Assembly, appointed New York Attorney General, and ultimately elected to the U.S. Senate, replacing Hamilton’s Father-in-law Philip Schuyler. The one and only time he embraces Hamilton’s hard-driving philosophy, in The Election of 1800, it leads to his downfall.

Hamilton’s philosophy is very different. If Burr’s is “keep your head down” Hamilton’s is “stick your neck out.” He is vociferous and bombastic. He says what he thinks always and frequently draws the ire of his rivals, and as we know, eventually his friends, notably Burr. Burr admires Hamilton’s work ethic but scorns his headstrong ways. He expresses both in the song Nonstop. He sings, “Why do you always say what you believe? Every proclamation guarantees free ammunition for your enemies.”

Hamilton retorts in the song The Room Where it Happens.
“When you got skin in the game, stay in the game. But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game. Oh, you get love for it. You get hate for it. But you get nothin’ if you wait for it, wait for it.” The verse is a direct taunting challenge to Burr’s contemplative song Wait for It.

Wait for It, to me, is one of the most beautiful and enlightening pieces in the musical. It reads like a mantra that Burr repeats to himself, justifying his actions and inactions. Despite his ambition, Burr is afraid to take a chance and therefore passes up opportunities. He believes, honestly, that prudence is his way forward. His self-catechism carries him through the first few verses as his confidence in his own strategy augments with his successes:“I am the one thing in life I can control. I am inimitable, I am an original. I am not falling behind or running late. I am not standing still, I am lying in wait.”

His confidence flags in the middle as he contemplates Hamilton’s success. “Hamilton faces an endless uphill climb. He has something to prove. He has nothing to lose.” That’s not me, he seems to say. I am a Senator. I have a successful law practice.

The repetition of his mantra in the chorus, “Wait for it! Wait for it! Wait for it!” doesn’t ultimately assuage his burning envy of Hamilton’s reckless, but successful, methods. He grudgingly acknowledges the method of Hamilton’s madness:

Hamilton doesn’t hesitate
He exhibits no restraint
He takes and he takes and he takes.
And he keeps winning anyway
He changes the game
He plays and he raises the stakes.
And if there’s a reason
He seems to thrive when so few survive, then Goddamnit, I’m willing to wait for it.

Miranda has spoken about writing Wait For It:
“I think we’ve all had moments where we’ve seen friends and colleagues zoom past us, either to success, or to marriage, or to homeownership, while we lingered where we were—broke, single, jobless. And you tell yourself, “Wait for it.”

Burr tells himself that, until, ultimately, he no longer believes it. It is a bitter revelation and he concludes the song confused, shaken, and uncertain of what he believes.

Life doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes
And we keep living anyway
We rise and we fall and we break
And we make our mistakes
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive
When so many have died
I’m willing to
wait for it.

There is comedy here as well as tragedy. Miranda is a master of both. His Message from the King monologs are extravagant tongue-in-cheek works of art. They provide the needed history lesson again in the form of an efficient metaphor, the breakup of a relationship. The talented Jonathan Groff portrays a flamboyant King George III. In the first of the monologs, called You’ll be Back he plays the part of the spurned boyfriend who is irked, but also heartbroken that his “loyal subjects” are no longer so loyal.

You say,
the price of my love’s not a price that your willing to pay.
You cry,
in your tea which you hurl in the sea when you see me go by.
Why so sad?
Remember we made an arrangement when you went away.
Now you’re making me mad.
Remember despite our estrangement, I’m your man.
You’ll be back, soon you’ll see,
You’ll remember you belong to me,
You’ll be back. Time will tell,
You’ll remember that I served you well.
Oceans rise, empires fall.
We have seen each other through it all,
And when push comes to shove,
I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.

There are several clever little historical tidbits in these pieces in addition to the reference to the Boston Tea party. The final verse of You’ll be back includes a reference to George III’s mental illness in his later years.

When you’re gone, I’ll go mad.
So don’t throw away this thing we had,
Cause when push comes to shove,
I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.

 

From the follow up song I Know Him there is reference to George Washington’s precedent-setting refusal to run for a third term as President. “They say, George Washington’s yielding his power and stepping away. Is that true? I wasn’t aware that was something a person could do.”

And, finally, in the song What Comes Next King George nurses his wounds about losing the war:

They say,
The price of my war’s not a price that they’re willing to pay.
Insane!
You cheat with the French, now I’m fighting with France and with Spain,
I’m so blue,
I thought that we made an arrangement when you went away.
You were mine to subdue.
Well, even despite our estrangement, I got a small query for you,
What comes next? You’ve been freed.
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You’re on your own. Awesome! Wow!
Do you have a clue what happens now?
Oceans rise, empires fall,
It’s much harder when it’s all your call.
All alone, across the sea,
When your people say they hate you, don’t come crawling back to me.

When I reflect on the importance of this musical, I come back again and again to Miranda’s metaphors. They are efficient and masterful. Each one provides a perfect brick in the edifice of Hamilton, building a complex and intriguing story of ambition and pride, of loss and sorrow, and, ultimately, a questionable redemption. The metaphors make this play and deserve a final review.

Hurricane – a literal hurricane, surely, but also representing the self-inflicted storms of Hamilton’s life.

The Room Where it Happens – A brilliant metaphor for Hamilton’s (and Burr’s) powerful ambition to play a role in the shaping of the new nation.

I am not Throwing Away My Shot – The expounding of Hamilton’s carpe diem philosophy which is cleverly integrated with the two duels central to the story – the one in which his son was killed and the one in which he was.

Wait for It – Previously explored above.

Quiet Uptown – A beautiful meditation on death and sorrow, and dealing with them.

If you like musicals, or perhaps even if you don’t, if you are a history buff, or even if you’re not, Hamilton is a pleasure and an education. Miranda, of course, has taken liberties with the historical record. The story is true to the spirit of the feud which led to Hamilton’s death at Burr’s hands, but alters slightly the details. He inserts Burr and Jefferson into the episode called We Know about Hamilton’s Democratic-Republican enemies confronting him about the Reynolds Affair. They probably weren’t there really, but it is a minor offense and certainly moves the narrative forward more smoothly.

Thanks to Hamilton many more Americans will know about their history than do now. Will that knowledge be perfect and comprehensive? – no. But neither is history perfect and comprehensive. Hamilton is a work of art, a well-drilled well, brought to us by a master at the top of his craft. I will still admit to being a Broadway skeptic, but I’m learning. Anyone got tickets to Kinky Boots?

By: Dustin Joy

3…2…1…Liftoff!

In May my beautiful daughter graduated from high school. She is smart, talented, witty,  and clever. She is a hard worker who always got good grades and did as she was told. Just yesterday she was a tiny baby cuddled in my arms. Today she walked across the stage an impressive young woman. In the Fall she begins a new adventure at St. Olaf College. I could not resist, in such a moment, expressing to her how proud I was and to offer some small piece of advice for what it is worth. What I wrote is a tribute to her. It is also a tribute to my own parents who made me what I am today. I am fortunate to have such a family.

 

 

The Launchpad

Dear Chloe,

There are plenty of times in our lives when we have to do what we are supposed to do. As an adult you will be obliged to tow the line, to meet your obligations, to smile when you don’t feel like smiling, to laugh at jokes you don’t find funny. You will be asked to demonstrate your acumen, your diligence, your gumption, and your stick-to-it-iveness. You will be required to do the sensible thing, the rational thing, the thing calculated to achieve the maximum return on investment. In the words of Roger Hodgson:

They sent me away to teach me how to be sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

There will be ample time for all that. For four years and more you have done that. You have learned how to do that. You have done what you ought. You have done what you were told. You have gotten the straight A’s.

I believe life must amount to more than that. I think there is more to be gotten out of it. I think that stuff is a foundation for building a more impressive structure. Even the animals work day-to-day to make a living. The nobility that is within us, if it exists, is not simply an extension of the economy of animals – getting and consuming. Nor is it the natural extension of that economy – the accumulation of wealth and dross. The truly noble things that people have accomplished, Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, Salk’s Polio vaccine, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Armstrong’s footprint on the moon, were not done for the money. They were not achieved by people obsessed with security or the accumulation of wealth.

Thoreau described what I’m talking about in Walden. He said about the average man:

He has no time to be anything but a machine. How can he remember well his ignorance — which his growth requires — who has so often to use his knowledge?

At Cape Canaveral, in Florida, there is a place called complex 39A. Most days it is a quiet place. You can feel the salty breeze off the Atlantic here as it rustles the marsh grass. You can hear the squawk of the gulls and see the pelicans wheeling overhead. It is a place of beauty and silence. The manmade obtrusion into this place of nature is an industrial looking platform rising many stories into the air. Standing by it is a water tower. Beyond that are several smaller towers topped out with lightning rods. This complex stands on an earthen berm built up for the purpose many years ago. These skeleton-like structures, stark as they appear, have a purpose more noble and awe-inspiring than the pyramids. They are merely a foundation, sure, but a foundation assembled lovingly and with meticulous attention to detail. This is the place where thousands of individuals, dedicated to a dream, realized the aspirations of thousands of generations of humans who looked up at the night sky and thought “what if we could…” The summer your mommy was born this quiet place was the center of the world’s attention and imagination. The hard work of building the foundation was complete and from this little berm rose a rocket on a pillar of flame which carried with it the aspirations of those thousand generations.

On your graduation day this example may seem like hyperbole. It may seem a grandiose metaphor – the Saturn V launchpad and you, going off to St. Olaf. But I assure you it is an apt metaphor. All those visionaries I mention above, Thoreau, King, Twain, Salk, Armstrong, started from a firm foundation built up by their parents, and their parents, and their parents.

Mommy and I love you very much. Our aspiration is to be your foundation. We want to be your launchpad. We have worked every day and socked away money and planned and worried so that you can have this opportunity to be the rocket, to find your dream, to imagine a better world and do what you can to make it a reality. This is your chance to think big thoughts and explore the amazing worlds a place like St. Olaf can show you.

I know that everyone you meet today will ask you “so, what are you going to study in college?” This comes with the implication that you had better choose a major that “pays off.” I say “to hell with that!” Going to college is about building yourself as a human being starting with the foundation your parents laid for you. What if Martin Luther King had majored in accounting because there was a “good living” to be made? What if Mark Twain had become a plumber because there was a “lot of call” for that in Hannibal, MO?

You are smart. You are capable. You are a hard worker. You have good social skills. It would be a horrible waste for you to take on a mundane, work-a-day, “practical” profession that did not draw out and call upon your natural gifts. You may not know, right now, what will inspire you. You may not know, for awhile, what the world calls on you to do and to be. That is what education is for. That is what St. Olaf is for. That is what youth is for.

We are your launchpad but, more importantly, we are your safety net. Whatever I have accomplished, whatever chances I have been able to take to achieve my dreams, were made possible by the foundation laid down by my Mom and Dad and by the safety net they provided me while I was struggling to “figure things out.” My Mom and Dad lived in a mobile home when I was born. My Dad worked third shift in a machine shop to buy me toys to inspire my imagination. My Mom clipped coupons and made us beany-burger and skimped and saved. All of these things laid a foundation for me so that I could go to college, so that I could explore the world, so that I could find my place. They did not expect or ask me to pay it all back. They worked and saved and “did without” as a pure gift to me. It is an awesome responsibility.

The only way I have found to pay my parents back is to live by their example. Mommy and I have worked and saved and “done without” because we believe in the sacred obligation of building a foundation – a launchpad. I want you and your siblings to have the opportunity, the freedom, to be all that you can imagine. As my parents did for me we now do for you. Your only obligation is to do the same for your kids someday.

Love,

Your Daddy

 

A Noble Ditch

In my last travel related post I told you of my experience at the U.S. Rocket center in Huntsville, Alabama and of my infatuation with the Saturn V, the most powerful transportation machine ever built and certainly one of the fastest. Today I found myself, unexpectedly, spending the greater part of a day in downtown Syracuse, New York where I became, if not infatuated with, at least deeply fascinated by another museum dedicated to a much slower mode of transport.

After an amazing lunch at the Creole Soul Cafe (who knew Syracuse, NY would have absolutely amazing cajun food?) I walked up to the Erie Canal Museum which lies on the aptly named Erie Boulevard. It turns out that the boulevard, now blacktop instead of water, was the route the famous canal took through Syracuse. The museum is part of the original Weighlock building where passing canalboats were, quite literally, weighed to assess their toll for canal passage.

The Weighlock at Syracuse – Now the Erie Canal Museum.

Looking at a Saturn V rocket and the Apollo program in it’s entirety one can scarcely believe that this little ditch was its equivalent, perhaps it’s superior, in 1820. Considering the resources and technology of a still young nation this project was audacious. In fact, when asked to help with the financing of it Thomas Jefferson, no slouch in the visionary department, wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. “…little short of madness,” he is said to have commented.

It fell, instead to the Governor of New York, Dewitt Clinton, a bunch of progressive legislators, and some even more visionary but less celebrated thinkers and engineers to bring this crazy idea to life. And, like the Little Red Hen, when the wheat grew, was, harvested, ground into flour, and baked into a nice warm loaf, New York ate that loaf and became, well, New York.
Many big cities grow organically from a wide spot in a river. Clinton’s audacity was to build the river. Cities like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, and, to a greater extent the Big Apple, grew from these seeds.

If going to the moon seems like one giant leap (to quote Neil Armstrong) the building of the Erie canal, in it’s day, was no less improbable. To understand the difficulty it is useful to assess the terrain of upstate New York.

Starting in Albany the canal follows the course of the Mohawk River west. This makes a lot of sense. The more your route can follow existing rivers the less you have to dig. Also, to New York’s great good fortune, the Mohawk possesses a unique characteristic unknown to other eastern rivers. It flows east into the Hudson, but it rises west of the Appalachian mountains. It’s valley transects the one insurmountable obstacle which stymied so many dreamers intent on building a water route to the Ohio or the Great Lakes.

Minimizing the digging is not the only consideration for a canal, though. The Mohawk route made sense from a hydrological point of view, also. A canal is not a static system. Moving water is what makes the locks work and allows boats to change elevation. That means that water must be added to the system continuously from the highest elevations. Having rivers nearby makes that possible. Only sea level canals like the Suez are not subject to this requirement.

The Erie Canal route across upstate New York is emphatically not a sea level affair. Even with the advantage of the Mohawk, the elevation changes from Albany to Buffalo were daunting. The net rise from tide level on the Hudson at Albany to Lake Erie at Buffalo is about 600 feet. That’s just a little less than the height of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The best locks that could be constructed in 1825 would raise a boat about 12 feet. That would require about fifty locks, a big job. However, kind of like your Grandpa’s old story about walking to school “uphill both ways” the Erie canal route doesn’t just slope from one side of the state to the other. From Albany it goes up to about 420’ at Rome, then back down to about 380’ near Montezuma, then back up again at the Niagara River to 565’. In between it crosses rivers, creeks, valleys, and hills. The original “Clinton’s Folly” had 83 locks, each hand dug, lined with clay and stone, and fitted with heavy gates and valve systems. This was not child’s play.

Not a sea-level affair. A contemporary profile view of the Erie Canal route. Click on image for enlargement.

Looking at the map of the canal and upstate New York one is struck immediately by a question. You slap your head and think, “these people couldn’t have been that stupid.” The question is; Why build a canal across 363 miles of forests and swamps when you could, near Oneida Lake, cut a few miles up to Lake Ontario, ship your goods on this vast natural waterway to Niagara Falls, and build a short canal to bypass the falls? It is a good question, but there was, indeed, a method to the madness.

Firstly, canal boats are a great deal different from the sailing vessels required to navigate big open bodies of water like Lake Ontario. They are long and shallow draft to fit their highways of water. They are not designed to take big waves or make top speed under sail. So it would have been necessary to swap one for the other at Lake Ontario, again at Niagara Falls, and again to proceed on Lake Erie. If these dreamers had wanted to load and unload cargo three or four times they would have just kept transporting goods the way they had for years; overland in horse drawn wagons. Secondly, building a canal around the Niagara Falls, while doable (Canada did it in the mid-1800’s near Welland), was not an easy task. There is a reason Niagara Falls is such a famous attraction. It’s a damn 167 foot tall waterfall.

The truth is this though; It was mostly politics. In those days Canada was not the benign little puffball that we know today. Canada, or as they were in actuality then, England, was a very real existential threat to the new nation. We had just fought two wars against them and a multitude of skirmishes. It is easy to forget now, but was undoubtedly vivid in the American imagination then, that only three years prior to the commencement of canal construction, a British force had occupied Washington, D.C. and set fire to the White House and the U.S. Capitol. Only in September 1813 had the U.S. won undisputed control of Lake Erie during the famous Battle of Lake Erie which we all remember, if we remember it at all, from Oliver Hazard Perry’s cable to Washington after the victory, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” The U.S. never did achieve decisive control of Lake Ontario.

To make a long story short we didn’t trust them, we didn’t like them, and we certainly didn’t want them to get the benefit and control of trade in the western Great Lakes. The New Yorkers spent extra time, extra money, and probably extra human lives to keep their new canal just out of reach of those dastardly Canadians. Thanks to their sacrifice we are not obliged to eat poutine three times a day.

Seriously though, building the Erie Canal was a matter of blood, sweat, toil, and tears. The claims of 1000 men dying of swamp fever (probably malaria) during the excavation through Montezuma Marsh in 1819 are probably exaggerated. Still, it is quite likely that many hundreds of men were crushed, drowned, lacerated, blown up with gunpowder, and killed by epidemics.

Consider, if you will, the difficulty of removing a single tree stump. Even today, with chain saws and tractors, and grinding equipment it is difficult, at best, to remove the stump of a large tree to below grade level. If you are digging a canal, grade level is not good enough. You must remove the entire stump including the tap roots. For a tree of considerable size, like the American Chestnuts comprising the primeval forest of upstate New York, these roots can go 20’ deep.

The engineers who met these challenges were clever men. The way they solved the tree stump problem tells you all you need to know about their resourcefulness. Below is a picture of their stump puller. It’s elegant use of simple mechanics and leverage is an inspiration.

Stump Puller – An elegant solution to a big problem.

The catalog of challenges faced by the Scots Irish immigrants who dug the canal, the German Stonemasons who built the locks, and the engineers who mapped out the route, were astounding. In building locks, bridges, aqueducts, and machines to do so, these men advanced science and technology in their age no less than did the NASA scientists who built the Saturn V.

Some of their achievements are truly astounding. There is, of course, the 363 mile long canal 40’ wide and 4’ deep. There are also the 83 locks. Beyond that are the marvelous creations that Pharaoh might have been proud of. There is the “Deep Cut,” a high spot in the bedrock near Pendleton where men, without the benefit of dynamite, chiseled a channel for the canal 40’ deep and 7 miles long. There is the “Flight of Five” locks climbing the Niagara Escarpment near Lockport. There is the giant aqueduct of stone crossing the Genessee River at Rochester. And, there is the “Great Embankment,” a mile long earth fill 76’ deep crossing the valley of Irondquoit Creek. These are all remarkable feats.

A river crosses a river – The Erie Canal/ Genesee River aqueduct at Rochester.

What makes them more mind-blowing is to consider the catalog of things these men did not have. In 1817 they did not have bulldozers (invented 1923), diesel excavators (1930’s), or even steam shovels (patented 1839). They didn’t have the aforementioned dynamite which Alfred Nobel did not perfect until 1867. There were no rubber boots (Wellingtons invented in 1852). There was no nylon rope (1940’s), no steel cable (1830’s), no really very good steel at all (Bessemer process 1855). Feeding huge numbers of men in a remote wilderness area was difficult too because there was not yet refrigeration (1856). There were no antibiotics (penicillin 1928), exactly one “sort-of” vaccine (smallpox, 1796), and no anesthetic (1842) for the inevitable amputation of infected limbs. These men made Chuck Norris look like Steve Urkel.

They worked 12-15 hour days in terrible conditions with inadequate equipment and, in most cases, for about $12 – $15 per month. The unluckiest, and there were many of these, had been lured to the United States by deceptive advertisements in Irish newspapers promising a good job with decent pay, three meals a day, and an allowance of whiskey. The workers, too poor to pay, were brought to the U.S. by the Erie canal contractors and their passage was charged against their future meager earnings, making them, immediately, indentured servants. They were basically slaves without chains.

Once the canal was completed, New York’s investment paid back, and the financiers made rich, the men who labored to build this canal did what laboring men have always done – they took a deep breath and went back to work. Because they had to. They built railroads, worked in dank mines, and dug more canals.

A canalboat (2016 recreation) in the weigh lock chamber at Syracuse. I am standing where the opening in the building is visible in the previous weigh lock building photo.

Sleeping quareters on a canalboat. Cramped but cozy.

The Erie canal changed the United States. It enriched the country, it sped up western settlement, it insured U.S. dominance of the Great Lakes, and it helped to make New York City the financial and cultural powerhouse it is today. All these things were bricks in the great edifice which became U.S.A. – the Superpower. In this way the Erie canal, “Clinton’s Folly,” the little ditch, changed the world.

As I walked back to my hotel through the streets of Syracuse I thought about these men. I thought about rockets and I thought about canal boats. My thoughts drifted to the pyramids, the cathedrals, the railroads, the highways, and to all these ostensibly “good” things brought forth by men and women who got very little out of the exercise but exercise. Others with money and capital and power got more money and capital and power. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “So it goes.” And yet.

There is nobility in hard work and in struggle and in the creation of things which make the world a better place even if such benefits do not accrue to those who build them. The thing which raises human beings above the animals is not that we have iPhones, but that we can make iPhones. The Gateway Arch is a magnificent thing, but so is the Niagara Falls. What ennobles the Gateway Arch is not that it is pretty and gleaming and very, very tall, but that some man imagined it and a few men developed a plan to make it a reality, and hundreds of men and women with their hands and their feet and their brains summoned it into existence.

The Erie Canal, no less than Michelangelo’s David, was a work of art. The sacrifice of those who built it is not dimmed because their masterpiece has been superseded by bigger, better, and faster modes of transport. The nobility is in the striving, made all the more noble by the difficulty of the task. As John Kennedy said about sending men to the moon (the Saturn V) so might we say about the Erie Canal. We do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Therein lies the nobility.

by: Dustin Joy

Goosegrease



I realize it’s been a few weeks since my last post. Given that one of my most recent blog posts concerned whether or not to continue blogging you might have guessed that you were finally rid of me. No such luck!

On the contrary, I’ve actually had some interesting things going on on the writing front. I’ve been working on a few new pieces for the blog, but also, get this, I seem to have actually sold my first piece of writing for real money. Well, I haven’t got the check in my hot little hand yet, but I have apparently had an article accepted for publication in Plane and Pilot magazine. I’m not quite sure which issue it will appear in but I’m pretty excited about it and hoping it leads to more in the future. We shall see.

Also, I’ve joined a writing group based in Muscatine called Writers on the Avenue. It is comprised of local writers, some amateurs, some with a number of publications under their belts, and all friendly and eager to hear each other’s work. We get together once a month and bring something we have written to read out loud. There are poets and comedy writers and essayists and novelists. It has been great fun, so far.

One of the most entertaining parts is a word challenge exercise. At the end of the meeting each member, in secret, writes down a word on a piece of paper. The words are collected and make up the challenge list for the next meeting. Each member is obliged to write an essay, article, poem, short-story, etc. incorporating each word from the list. It can be a bit of a challenge, especially when our local comedy writer contributes words like GOOSEGREASE. It is interesting to see what people do with the list. Some are very clever, indeed.

Below is my first attempt. It uses all the words. That’s about all I can say for it. Hopefully mine will get better over time. The quote I use later on in this short-story is from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and here is meant to give the protagonist hope that his hosts are good and thoughtful people. Our group leader, an English professor from the local community college, reminded me, however, just what a nasty little play M.O.V. was and that the speaker, Portia, hardly had clean hands when delivering these pretty words. Good point, I think. Though I still like the way it turns the anti-semitism of the play on it’s head a little bit here.


 

THE LIST:
affirm
classical
genesis
goosegrease
gumption
grit
heartless
inspired
prime
quality
repulsive
spout

THE STORY:

 

Goosegrease
by: Dustin Joy

The kitchen was redolent with goosegrease when Emily opened the back door and beckoned Mark inside. The aroma of freshly baked rolls enveloped him. A big, stainless pot of potatoes churned on the rear burner of the antique gas stove and an old-style percolator gurgled softly on the front burner, a curl of steam starting to rise from it’s spout. The pies cooling on the counter, apple, sweet potato, and pumpkin, carried him back to his own Memaw’s kitchen, another place of warmth and pie.

Still, Mark had hesitated, reluctant to enter this old clapboard farmhouse, at the end of the sidewalk, at the end of the gravel road, at the end of Illinois. “The end of the world,” was what he thought. The end of their fledgling relationship seemed a distinct possibility.
Emily had told her grandparents that Mark was coming with her for Christmas, of course. She had assured them that he was a nice boy and a fine student, endowed with grit and gumption and good manners despite his big city origins. He was studying English literature at the University of Chicago.

Likewise, Emily had assured Mark that her people were, like her, warm and loving. They were not heartless racists with repulsive opinions despite their rural origins. The fact that sweet, beautiful Emily derived her DNA from them gave him hope, but not much confidence.

The long voyage down Interstate 55, his Prius a very small boat on this ocean of corn, had inspired in him an irrational dread. The presence of no fewer than four pickup trucks in the driveway seemed to affirm his fear, as had the tattered confederate flag he had glimpsed near a fallen-down barn a few miles down the road. He was not certain that he was the first African-American to visit this township, but he was pretty sure he was the first to cross this threshold.

Emily, a smart girl who understood well the genesis of his fears, patted Mark’s hand and reached up to give him a kiss. Then she disappeared down the short hallway past the classical cupboard with its bird-claw feet, the mahogany washstand with its ceramic pitcher, and the oak bookshelf with its ticking mantle clock.

Mark stood alone in the kitchen, rotating slowly in his apprehension and indecision, the prime meridian of his gaze taking in the pantry and the sink and the pot-bellied stove and the refrigerator covered in unfamiliar photos, save one. Then he saw, in the far corner, a framed needlepoint and below it a basset hound slumbering on a big, puffy pillow.
He approached the dog gently, and she, waking to his presence, raised her nose and nuzzled his outstretched palm. He patted her head gently as he read the little name tag attached to her collar – Portia. He smiled – a coincidence perhaps? Then his eyes were drawn to the needlepoint again. It was a quote, one he knew quite well, and from his favorite writer, too.

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes

“It’s going to be alright,” Mark thought. He stood and followed Emily down the hall.

Getting Frosty in Hell: I back a Trump Decision…sort of

You might want to sit down for this. I’ll just come right out and say it. I have decided to endorse a decision Donald Trump made. I can hardly believe it myself. I can assure you it is not because I agree with Trump’s odious world view or wish to associate myself with some of the hateful xenophobes who voted for him. Indeed, when I consider Trump I am most nearly in agreement with the assessment of the author Philip Roth who has said:

“Trump is ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art. He is incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance. He is destitute of all decency. He wields a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

I object to many things Donald Trump has said and done. I need not belabor my disgust with regard to his treatment of women, his demonization of immigrants, or his enabling of racists. His transparent effort to destroy critical government agencies which promote education, protect our environment, and insure worker safety are just plain despicable.

But what really sticks in my craw is this; Trump appeals to people’s ignorance. He denigrates experience. He undermines science. He has suggested, over and over again, in subjects as varied and complex as climate, medicine, foreign policy, and trade, that his judgement trumps the experts.

Think I’m exaggerating? I’ll let Trump speak for himself:

 

“I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world.”

“I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth.”

“Nobody knows politicians better than Donald Trump.”

“Nobody knows more about debt. I’m like the king.”

“Nobody knows banking better than I do”

“I understand money better than anybody. I understand it far better than Hillary.”

“I think nobody knows the system better than I do.”

“I know more about contributions than anybody.”

“Nobody knows more about trade than me.”

“Nobody in the history of this country has ever known so much about infrastructure as Donald Trump.”

“There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.”

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.”

“I know more about offense and defense than they will ever understand, believe me.”

“There is nobody who understands the horror of nuclear more than me.”

“I understand the tax laws better than almost anyone, which is why I’m the one who can truly fix them,”

“If Cory Booker is the future of the Democratic Party, they have no future! I know more about Cory than he knows about himself.”

 

The last absurdity is the cherry on top, of course, but altogether these quotes accurately represent a dangerous man. I have always been uneasy around people who are absolutely sure of themselves and their own judgement. They are dangerous whether they be religious zealots who are certain that God hates the same people they do (what a coincidence) or the “free market” apostles who want to outlaw the fire department because it is “Socialism!”

Well, I believe in experts. I believe in eggheads and poindexters and squares. I believe in people who read books and do research and carry out experiments. I place my trust in people who dedicate their lives to the acquisition of knowledge and mastery of skills.

When I need a surgeon to cut open my brain and remove the tumor I want a serious intellect on the job, not some good old boy who spends his evenings parked in front of a television with a brewsky in his hand. When my plane leaves the ground and soars seven miles into the air I want an expert at the controls. I want a pilot who understands Bernoulli’s Principle, not the guy who stayed at the Holiday Inn Express last night. And when my government has to make a decision about the efficacy of vaccinating kids for polio I want a PhD scientist on the case who has dedicated her life to studying infectious disease and not some Hollywood actress or reality TV star.

I believe global warming is real. Why do I believe this? Is it because I have carried out extensive experiments incorporating ice core analysis, satellite observations, expeditions to the south pole, and excruciatingly detailed number crunching? No. I have not done these things. But, you know what, there are people who have. They are called scientists. They work at top universities and government agencies. They have decided it. The evidence is in. All major scientific bodies in the United States whose work pertains to climate science have concluded that global warming exists and that human activities are a cause. These include NASA, NOAA, the National Academy of Science, the American meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

These are experts. These are scientists and policy wonks who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of truth no matter where it leads. If you really believe that Donald Trump knows more than they do about our climate you need to crinkle some tinfoil onto your antenna, buddy, because you are getting some serious static. (Sorry, for those of you born after 1990 an antenna is a small array of aluminum rods wired to a television or radio in order to … okay, for those of you born after 1995 a radio is a …..oh, to hell with it.)

The organizations who deny this evidence, for the most part, are business entities who stand to lose money if action is taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. That is called a conflict of interest and, under President Trump, these folks are the foxes who guard the henhouse. The new Secretary of Energy is Texas governor Rick Perry, an oil industry backer from an oil-rich state. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt from Oklahoma is, you guessed it, an oil industry backer from an oil-rich state. Trump’s Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson who was CEO of ExxonMobil for ten years. It is easy to discern a pattern here.

As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was fond of saying, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” It would be one thing if Trump’s conflict of interest burdened cabinet came out and gave speeches saying global warming was a hoax. Everyone can express such uninformed opinions in a free society. What is absolutely unacceptable is what they have done, instead. They have put an end to climate research by gutting research budgets. This is not seeking truth. This is a child sticking his fingers in his ears to avoid hearing the truth. That’s tolerable for an individual. That is horrible for a democracy.

So, given all that, what Trump decision am I willing to ratify and support? Here it is. Drum role please:

I think the U.S. Senate should confirm the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. I think the Democrats in the Senate should vote to approve him despite the Republicans disingenuous refusal to give Merrick Garland a hearing and a vote.

I have three reasons for this. First, I think the Democrats should live up to their Constitutional responsibilities in a way that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans would not. It is a bummer to lose in politics. It stinks to have your bitter political rival win a round and get to steer things the way he wants. It would be satisfying to plant our feet on the ground, cross our arms, and, without regard to principle, simply oppose every action Trump takes, just like the Republicans have done for the last eight years.

Mitch McConnell said “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President.” You will notice he did not say “to serve the American people or to uphold the Constitution.” As the absolute type specimen of the self-serving, opportunistic politician McConnell abandoned even Republican ideas whenever they were adopted by the President. The Obamacare insurance mandate famously condemned now by Republicans as some kind of Communist plot was, actually, (whisper) a Republican idea. As I said in my last Trump essay Republicans used to be the party of shouldering your responsibility and eating your vegetables; not so much anymore.

The second reason I can and do support the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch is the same one which prevents me from supporting Pruitt, Perry, DeVos, and, indeed Trump himself. Gorsuch is an expert. He is an egghead. He is a thoughtful, intelligent, and serious man who I just don’t agree with very much. He is not a political hack now, even if he might have flirted with that category in his youth.

I have read extensively about Judge Gorsuch, have studied some of his rulings, and watched much of his confirmation hearing. As a Liberal I am, of course, concerned about Gorsuch’s family history. His mother, Ronald Reagan’s EPA Director, was indeed an ideologue and a political hack devoted to destroying the agency she was tasked to lead. I could never have supported her confirmation.

I am also troubled by Gorsuch’s record in George W. Bush’s Justice Department. His role in justifying the use of torture and encouraging Bush’s questionable “signing statements” gives me pause. Gorsuch has replied that he was just doing his job. That, of course, is the well rehearsed line of the scoundrel, but it is also, to some degree, defensible. To succeed in Washington, at least to the level where you might be on someone’s short list to be a Supreme Court Justice, you must have established some political relationships and have found some backers. It appears that Gorsuch did this by working a mid-level job on Bush’s team.

Also, I say naively, people can change. People can mature. People can rise to the challenge of new professional responsibilities. I believe judge Gorsuch may have done so. For ten years he has been a Federal Judge and, by all accounts, he has been a fair one. Is he a conservative? I’m pretty sure he is. Does he advocate strict constructionism? Probably. Do I wish we could have Merrick Garland, instead? Sure I do. But, that brings me to the last of my three reasons.

We have very little choice. Due to the (Let’s be generous here and call it poor judgement) of a few thousand people in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania we have President Trump. Due to the poor judgement of a few thousand people in Missouri, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania we have a Republican U.S. Senate. Replacing Scalia with Gorsuch, in my opinion is a small move in the right direction (possibly a very small one). There is not a great deal we can do to stop it since the Republicans hold all the cards.

A bigger catastrophe, from a Liberal point of view, would be the retirement of Justice Ginsburg under these circumstances. Political capital and the good will of the American people are real things, like it or not. If we fight Gorsuch to the bloody end and lose anyway we may not have anything left to fight Trump should worse come to worst.

So, based on my analysis, can we oppose Pruitt and Perry and DeVos and still support Gorsuch’s confirmation? I think we can. They are ideologues who claim to know more than the experts. We may not agree with Gorsuch about everything, but he is a serious expert on the law who takes the law seriously. That may be all we can hope for and all we need. Many of the “Conservative” Justices appointed to the court by Republicans, if they are serious men and women who respect the law, have a funny way of finding the middle ground when liberated by their lifetime appointments. I am thinking of Justice Blackmun, Justice Souter, Justice O’Connor, and Justice Kennedy. I have no way to be sure, but I think Gorsuch might have that potential.

 

by: Dustin Joy

To Blog, or Not To Blog? That is the Question.

When I began this blog, in May of 2015, I had a desire, as I think we all do, to say something, to have my voice heard. I wrote in my introduction:

Every blog is an act of vanity. The idea that anyone else gives a damn about your “observations” on life is presumptuous at best and probably ridiculous. But I like to think it is also a hopeful thing. It is an effort, like Facebook or a phone call, to make a connection with other people in the hope of finding something in common.

I also wanted to hone my craft and see if I could develop a voice that someone other than my Mom would want to hear. I said, “I enjoy writing. It helps me organize my thoughts and better understand what I am seeing and thinking.” I still think that is a valid and worthwhile motivation. Self-improvement through practice can pay unexpected dividends. Still, I am reminded of the lyrics of the 1987 song Come from the Heart – “You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watching.” For a blogger I guess the motivational tagline would be “You’ve got to write like nobody’s reading.”

I certainly think I wanted some readers, though. I wanted this website to accomplish something, to have an effect. I had some goals, vaguely, about touching someone’s emotions, teaching someone about something, or persuading someone to think differently. I hope I have not been unrealistic in my expectations.

I believe that I have fairly valued the output of my pen. I assigned the exchange rate for my writing at exactly zero dollars and zero cents. After all, I acquired the domain name, registered the website, designed the website, and built the website. Critically, I also paid for the website. I did not even require my readers to suffer the inconvenience of looking at ads. As a novice writer the market dictates this. There are a lot of damned good writers out there and today they are easy to find. I acknowledged as much in my intro:

The internet is a big place with many options, so while my site is called stuffiminterestedin you can be sure that stuffyou’reinterestedin is only a click away.

It is said, although there is little research on the subject, that the average blog has a lifespan of 100 days. Another source says that 60-80% of blogs are abandoned in a month. I have been at this now for almost two years. I suppose this is an appropriate time to take stock of my little project. So, what has been the result?

In the two years since my post called Merle, which was a tribute to my Dad’s cousin, I have written and posted 52 essays, articles, or stories. These averaged 2,125 words per post which adds up to 110,509 words (feel free to count them if you like). Wikipedia says, in its Word Count article (somebody has too much time on his hands) that a novella is between 17,500 and 39,999 words and a novel is anything over that. They say, further, that “Numerous American universities limit Ph.D. dissertations to 100,000 words, barring special permission for exceeding this limit.” I am pretty certain that some of you who wandered into my blog unawares probably reflected that it reminded you of a bad Ph.D. dissertation at times. I guess I should ask for special permission to proceed.

My point here is that, for better or worse, I have gotten some writing practice in the last two years. My blog posts, as promised, were all over the map. Some were short (210 words for my story called Chicory). Some were long (8,117 words for my essay called Michael, about finding a dead body).

Some were good (I think The Boy in the Picture and A Step Forward are some of the best things I’ve ever written). Some could have been better (I loved the idea of St. Louis Breakfast when I had it, but I think the execution was a bit ham-fisted).

Some were self-indulgent (okay, a lot were self-indulgent: And the Loser is, Close the Door, and Being Ward Cleaver). Some were unabashedly sentimental (Missy, The Boy in the Picture, A Force of Nature, and The Sycamore). Some were nakedly political (Washington vs. Trump, Trump – A Retraction, President Trump – There, I Said it, and Mister We Could Use a Republican Like Herbert Hoover Again).

I hope some of my posts were informative (Glacial Erratics, My Giant, and Spiders, Ewww!). I hope some of them made you think (Thank God?, Tiny Glowing Screens, The Island, and Raise my Taxes, Please). And, finally, I kind of hope a few of them made you laugh (Minor League Hero, North Dakota – The Dirty White Pickup Truck Driven by Vaguely Threatening White Guys with Facial Hair State, Sex Appeal vs. Bacon, The Dude, and A Hero – of a Sort). All in all, I’m pretty proud of the output.

Still, I have two questions: 1. Has it been worth it? and 2. should I continue? Neither answer is obvious to me at this point. I like blogging and have gained some skill in writing short-form essays and stories This will come in handy in case I’m ever kidnapped by that Saw guy and find myself chained to a radiator and am required to save myself by writing a clever essay about the Westminster Dog Show or cutting off my own leg with a butter knife. Is that enough reason, though, to divert myself from legitimate concerns (working, spending time with my wife and kids, bathing)? There is also the non-negligible cost of maintaining a website. GoDaddy doesn’t advertise during the SuperBowl for nothing, after all.

To keep stuffiminterestedin.com going I think I need some evidence that it is accomplishing something worthwhile. My site view numbers are not impressive, and possibly never will be. I am content with that. What bothers me, a little, is that I receive almost no feedback from those of you who read my blog. Since August of 2016 I have had exactly 1 legitimate comment from a reader. Part of the idea of this, as you recall, was “to make a connection with other people in the hope of finding something in common.” If I write and you read but tell me nothing about the experience I’m not sure what I’m getting out of this except writer’s cramp.

Even a lack of feedback from my readers might be tolerable to me if I did not, instead, receive 3-4 comments per day from “spammers” whose motives I’m not sure I understand, who don’t seem to have a grasp of the English language, and who appear to be trying to hock Viagra on my website. Here is a verbatim comment left on my blogpost about the Illinois budget crisis from, apparently, the owners of the high-quality website sextoysfun.

Great beat ! I wish to apprentice even as you amend your website, how can i subscribe for a blog web site? The account aided me a acceptable deal. I had been a little bit familiar of this your broadcast offered brilliant transparent concept.

Attached to the comment, as always, was a link to their website. It’s like getting a Valentine in the mail and finding out it is from your insurance agent.

I have two or three good friends who read my posts religiously and can be counted on to offer some praise or constructive criticism. You know who you are and let me say, loud and clear, your attention means the world to me. But, realistically, I could email each of them my useless rants each week and “save the postage.” I could get on Facebook and dump my sage observations between the Trump memes and photos of people’s dinners. But, dang it, blogging is an act of vanity and I like the idea of this website.

There is a passage in Walden which has always captured my imagination. It is a critique of capitalism in parable form and I wonder if it applies to this situation. It goes like this:

Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. “Do you wish to buy any baskets?” he asked. “No, we do not want any,” was the reply. “What!” exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, “do you mean to starve us?” Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off—that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed—he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy. I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. 

Like Thoreau, I may continue to weave baskets, even if it is not worth anyone’s while to buy them. I find that my profession is, for the time being, lucrative enough that I can afford to take time for writing. Also, I spend a great deal of time in hotel rooms, so the bulk of my writing does not rob my children of my treasured presence in their lives (yeah, right). Even so, I’m confident that even Thoreau (with an ego such as he had) would not have minded some constructive feedback about the quality of his baskets.

I, quite frankly, am getting too old to want to make a fool of myself if I don’t have to. God knows I do it too often without intending to. If this blog is meaningful to you, please send me a comment. It’s easy to do. It doesn’t have to be a dissertation- a few words will do. And it doesn’t have to be praise. Rip into me. Point out my grammar mistakes. Assail my logic. Call me a doo-doo-head. If you are the type of guy who keeps a bust of Donald Trump on your mantlepiece with a candle burning beside it and you have been suffering in silence while I been “dissin’ your guy,” give me your two cents. I would love to have that conversation. And, what the heck, if you enjoyed my picture of the guy in the chicken suit reading a newspaper or were floored by the eloquence of my prose, you know, mention that, too.

by Dustin Joy