Friday, August 5, 2016

A letter from Charles Fort

Charles Fort, born August 6, 1874, was a librarian of bizarre phenomenon in such books as The Book of the Damned and Wild Talents. He said of himself, "I am a collector of notes upon subjects that have diversity — such as deviations from concentricity in the lunar crater Copernicus, and a sudden appearance of purple Englishmen — stationary meteor-radiants, and a reported growth of hair on the bald head of a mummy — and 'Did the girl swallow the octopus?'"

And, concerning his research: "[Wise men] have tried to understand our state of being, by grasping at its stars, or its arts, or its economics. But, if there is an underlying oneness of all things, it does not matter where we begin, whether with stars, or laws of supply and demand, or frogs, or Napoleon Bonaparte. One measures a circle, beginning anywhere."

His books make fascinating reading, and while he can be flippant at times ("I think we're all bugs and mice, and are only different expressions of an all-inclusive cheese"), the letter below indicates he did take his work seriously. John found it and the envelope it came in glued to the inside of the back cover of a third printing (Feb. 1931) of The Book of the Damned he purchased some years ago at a used book store for $4.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

10 Inspiring quotes from William Makepeace Thackeray

When I walk with you I feel as if I had a flower in my buttonhole.

Bravery never goes out of fashion.

Follow your honest convictions and be strong.

To love and win is the best thing; to love and lose, the next best.

Dare and the world yields, or if it beats you sometimes, dare it again and you will succeed.

A good laugh is sunshine in the house.

Next to excellence is the appreciation of it.

The world is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.

Do not be in a hurry to succeed. What would you have to live for afterwards? Better make the horizon your goal; it will always be ahead of you.

When you look at me, when you think of me, I am in paradise.

William Makepeace Thackeray
18 July 1811-24 Dec 1863

Monday, May 30, 2016

A dozen from Walt Whitman, born May 31, 1819

Keep your face always toward the sunshine--and shadows will fall behind you.

I have learned that to be with those I like is enough.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.

We were together. I forget the rest.

I no doubt deserved my enemies, but I don't believe I deserved my friends.

Happiness, not in another place, but this place... not for another hour, but for this hour.

I swear to you, there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.

Some people are so much sunshine to the square inch.

I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best.

To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.

I exist as I am, that is enough.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

10 Inspiring Quotes

Here are 10 inspiring quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson, born this day in 1803 (d. 1882):

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.

Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.

Don't waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.

The only way to have a friend is to be one.

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.

Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.

Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A wise man born May 18

Quotes from Nobel Prize-winning philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell (1872-1970):
"The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge."
"There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge."
"Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric."
"Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don't know."
"The secret to happiness is to face the fact that the world is horrible."
"We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things we don't like."
"War does not determine who is right - only who is left."
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."
"The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."
"I've made an odd discovery. Every time I talk to a savant I feel quite sure that happiness is no longer a possibility. Yet when I talk with my gardener, I'm convinced of the opposite."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

My Hillary Dream

Local media always play on civic pride and act like Indiana is a major player in national politics (“Governor Doofus is on the short list!”) so it’s been fun to see our beloved state get national coverage, at least for a news cycle or two. We got a bump when Cruz announced Fiorina as his VP (and made the “basketball ring” gaffe that will probably cost him the primary here) while Trump appeared at a rally with Bobby Knight. Purdue students started lining up in the cold at 1:30 AM Wednesday for an appearance by Bernie at noon.

Bill’s been here, and Chelsea is coming tomorrow, but where’s Hillary? In my dream, that’s where.

I work for the US government in the Mideast. The entire office is abuzz because Hillary is touring the area. She’s met with OPEC people, sat on a camel, shopped at a bazaar, and done other touristy things (like she’s never been here before).

My boss Oscar (Richard Anderson, “Oscar Goldman” in “The Six Million Dollar Man”) slips quietly into his office after two-week’s leave. We’ve grown close over the few months I’ve been assigned here, so I go in and ask how was his trip home to the States. We’re joined by our colleague Gary (Gary Busey—I’m sorry it’s Gary Busey, I can’t help what my unconscious comes up with) and Oscar tells us the touching story of what will surely be his last visit with his 105-year-old father. (My dream Oscar is 80; actor Richard Anderson turns 90 this year.) He asked his dad what he wanted to do, and that’s how they spent the night in the Sonora desert under the stars, curled up in sleeping bags gazing at the night sky.

I feel privileged that Oscar told Gary and me the story because he’s not the sentimental type and will not likely repeat it. Oscar also shows us the pair of gold-and-pearl earrings his father gave him that had belonged to his mother. He was very moved by this gesture because he expected the jewelry to go to one of his sisters.

We’re sharing that moment when Hillary waltzes in. Somehow she knows Oscar has his mother’s earrings and asks to borrow them.

Oscar opens his mouth but, uncharacteristically, can’t find any words. I jump in and say, “NO!” and walk out. I leave Hillary yelling, “But I’ve got a book-signing tomorrow. I’ve got to have earrings!”

I return to my department of about twenty people and announce, “I said ‘No!’ to Hillary!” then add jokingly, “I’m being shot at dawn.” But nobody is laughing. They’re all in shock, murmuring to each other and not looking at me.

I return to my office and pick up my Meditation Box, a clear plastic box filled with clear plastic beads and tubes that fall into different shapes as you turn it. I’m trying to figure out how to turn some of them into a pair of earrings when Hillary comes in. I decide to meet my fate head-on and rise to greet her.

“Still friends?” I say.

She manages a weak smile and starts talking about her itinerary.

She’d never have been so nice if she’d lost her argument with Oscar, and I knew he’d loan her the jewelry for my sake if nothing else. I was right. She wore Oscar’s heirloom earrings the next day. Dammit.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Random, Useless Facts--Writer edition

Did you know Socrates left no writings at all? What we know of the philosopher comes via his students Plato and Xenophon and the playwright Aristophanes.
Here is some more trivia to drop when the conversation lags at the in-laws:
Lord Byron served wine in a human skull found by the gardener on the grounds of his estate. He even wrote a poem about it: “Lines Inscribed Upon a Cup Formed from a Skull.”

Printers during Elizabeth I’s reign were not permitted to include the scene in Shakespeare’s Richard II in which the monarch is deposed. The censorship was not lifted until five years after the queen’s death.

Sir Isaac Newton predicted the world will end in 2060. He calculated the date from the 70-some years he spent studying the books of Daniel and Revelation and discussed in Observations on the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John.

Shakespeare is credited with writing 37 plays and 154 sonnets. But the plays of another popular Elizabethan playwright—Thomas Watson—are lost to antiquity. Watson’s lyrical poems, written mostly in Latin, are available but his dramatic works have disappeared.

Readers love the story of Abdul Kassem Ismael, a 10th-century grand vizier of Persia. The scholarly ruler traveled with a library of 117,000 volumes carried by 400 camels trained to walk in a fixed order. The camel-driver librarians could lay their hands on whatever volume the master wished to consult.

Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence included an anti-slavery passage that was voted down by Southern delegates to the Continental Congress. Jefferson was so upset by this deletion (and other edits) that for years afterward he sent copies of both the original and amended versions to friends. Few colonials outside the delegates and his closest associates even knew Jefferson was the author until a newspaper article revealed his identity in 1784.

Descartes might have lived to a ripe old age had he not been so flattered by a queen. Queen Christina of Sweden lured him to the palace for private instruction in philosophy, but the harsh Scandinavian winter, lack of central heating, and hours of tutoring took their toll. Descartes caught flu and died at 54.

Writer Sherwood Anderson (Winesburg, Ohio) died of peritonitis. He drank a martini and didn’t realize he’d swallowed the toothpick along with the olive.

Why does the author of Ivanhoe appear on the Scottish bank note? He saved it. In 1826, when British parliament proposed halting the production of bank notes of less than five pounds, Sir Walter Scott wrote a series of letters to the Edinburgh Weekly Journal under the name Malachi Malagrowther defending the right of Scottish banks to print their own notes. His image still appears on all notes issued by the Bank of Scotland.

Leo Tolstoy advocated non-violence towards all creatures. He was giving a lecture on the subject when an audience member asked, "What should I do if attacked in the woods by a tiger?" Tolstoy responded, "Do the best you can. It doesn't happen very often."

Sunday, March 6, 2016

What books do you read once a year?

A literary friend posted on FB: “What books do you read once a year?” I posted one (Masters and Masterpieces of the Short Story) off the top of my head but he got me thinking of the many anthologies I hold dear. I keep most of them within easy reach of my bed--a little Chekhov before sleep, perhaps? Or some Porter? There is something so neat, so compact about a short story, especially one acknowledged as a classic. You know you will get all the factors that compose a satisfying story—a set-up, a conflict, and a resolution—in short order without the time-commitment of a novel.

One of the (many) benefits of having older brothers and sisters was—I got to read all the English textbooks they brought home from college! And they attended Duke, Centre, and Georgetown. How fortunate for me! Through these volumes I discovered some of the greatest authors in the world--Hemingway, Faulkner, Melville, Conrad, Tolstoi, Joyce, Mansfield, Welty, de Maupassant, Bowen, Mann, Maugham, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Lawrence, Woolf, Camus, James—to name just a few. I devoured them all and paid close attention to the notes scribbled in the margins by my elders.

The Art of Modern Fiction (Rhinehart and Company, Inc. 1949) introduced me to Hemingway's “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” Faulkner's “A Rose for Emily,”  Tolstoi's “Three Arshins of Land,” and Clark's “The Portable Phonograph.” Although it is fifty years now, I well remember reading each for the first time and the frisson I felt reading their last paragraphs. I’ve never forgotten Mann’s “Little Herr Friedemann,”” Zweig’s “The Invisible Collection,” or Trilling’s “The Other Margaret,” either.

I discovered Welty (“Petrified Man” and “A Worn Path”), Bowen (“A Queer Heart”), and Maugham (“Rain”) in Masters and Masterpieces of the Short Story (Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1966) mentioned above. Someone slipped a magazine article in this one which I use as a bookmark: “The Ten Greatest Thinkers” by Will Durant--from The American Magazine of March 1927!

One of my siblings brought home Twelve Short Stories (The MacMillan Company, 1961) in 1966. It includes Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams,” Mansfield’s “The Garden Party,” Joyce’s “The Dead” and nine other classics. What a great way for a 14-year-old to discover great literature!

Through Classic Short Fiction (The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1972) I discovered Conrad (“The Secret Sharer”), Kafka (“A Country Doctor”), and Lawrence (“The Rocking-Horse Winner”) and found another gem from Melville--“Bartleby the Scrivener.”

A Pocket Book of Short Stories (Washington Square Press, 1941) is perhaps my favorite. Cather’s “Paul’s Case,” O. Henry’s “A Municipal Report,”  Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw,” and de Maupassant’s “The Necklace” had such an impact on me!

All of these volumes came to me at least slightly dog-eared, and perhaps I should I feel a little guilty that all lost their covers long ago—but I don’t. They are all well-worn, well-read, well-loved. Thank you, Amy, Andy, John, and Louisa!

What books do you read at least once a year?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Happy 260th Birthday to Mozart!

The maestro on creativity:

“When I am ..... completely myself, entirely alone... or during the night when I cannot sleep, it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how these ideas come I know not nor can I force them.”

“Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.”

“It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.”

“To talk well and eloquently is a very great art, but that an equally great one is to know the right moment to stop.”

“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”

“All I insist on, and nothing else, is that you should show the whole world that you are not afraid. Be silent, if you choose; but when it is necessary, speak—and speak in such a way that people will remember it.”

“I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.”

“I never lie down at night without reflecting that—young as I am—I may not live to see another day.”

"A world that has produced a Mozart is a world worth saving."—Franz Schubert