Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Prayer of the Nation

God give us men! A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and ready hands!
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor, and who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And scorn his treacherous flatteries without winking.
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty and in private thinking!
—J. G. Holland (1819–1881), “The Prayer of the Nation,” circa mid‑1850s

This poem has a storied history and has been used over this past 160 years by many persons and groups who believe themselves to be in the right, even some groups that many of us see as evil — even some persons and groups that the opposing side would simultaneously claim as their own impassioned battle cry.

But for those of us who are inclined to do so, let’s not overanalyze the poetic prayer or argue politics. For the moment, let’s just have this without regard to gender or religion, free from distractions of wandering connotations or intents, put aside for now the malleability of human minds and the multitudes of viewpoints; and let’s simply enjoy this poem for the plainness of its words, the timelessness of its ideas, and the inspiration of its call. I intend it here primarily as an interesting example of old words made new, of vintage literature meets current events.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Politics meets literature meets (rigged) social media

Here are my picks for the best of #TrumpBookReport and #TrumpBookReports on Twitter, October 19th–23rd 2016:

Trump's foreign policy answers sound like a book report from a teenager who hasn't read the book. "Oh, the grapes! They had so much wrath!" @AntonioFrench

Alas, poor Yorick: and let me tell you, he was poor. He lived in hell, with some mean hombres. I knew him. I knew him well. @GemmaJKenny

Les Misérables, of course they are miserable, the inner city is a mess folks, believe me. People stealing bread everywhere. @calydonianbore

Look, I don't know Voldemort. He said nice things about me. If we got along with the Death Eaters, wouldn't be so bad. @mayapraff

Pride and Prejudice? Two of my best qualities, my pride and my prejudice. No one prouder or more prejudiced than me folks. @politislob

Gatsby? He says he was great. I don't know. People are saying maybe not so great. I'll make Gatsby great again. @briandfrancis

Hamlet? Such a disaster. Can't decide to be or not. Bigly indecisive. And Ophelia? Not my first choice. @KDanielGleason

I can show you how to kill a mockingbird. I could stand in the middle of 5th Ave and kill a mockingbird and not lose votes. @Lemons_N_Laughs

To Kill A Mockingbird? Believe me — if those mockingbirds had guns they wouldn't have been killed. @GloriaBB2

I prefer the Mockingbirds that don't get killed. @BarrettAll

Juliet. Such a nasty woman. She made Romeo kill himself. And believe me he could have done better. Look at her. @CatherineQ

Sleeping Beauty? The Prince just started kissing her. Didn't even ask. When you're a prince they let you do it. @sameernoorani

The first rule of Fight Club is I don't have to accept the results of any fight I lose in Fight Club. @faithchoyce

Hester Prynne. Very nasty woman. Very nasty. There has to be some form of punishment. There has to. @B9lyEquivocal

That Giving Tree was a loser. It gave and gave and gave. Horrible deals. Ends up a stump. Schmuck. @warrenleightTV

It was the best of times. Wrong. It was the worst of times. Many people were saying it. These two inner cities. Disasters. @Eggface

Two things, okay? War. And peace. Many, many people, and we're talking powerful people, say to me: "You're a great reader." @DanKennedy_NYC

Who knows For Whom the Bell Tolls? It should toll for me, but the bell is rigged. Very rigged. Hemingway golfed with Bill. @j2250

Anna Karenina. Such a nasty woman. @jpodhoretz

Noah was so bad. I'll deport the animals. All the animals love me. I'll build a beautiful ark. God will pay for the ark. @JamesMelville

Lady Macbeth? Nasty woman. MacDuff? One bad hombre, ok? The witches rigged the prophecies, believe me, total disaster. @amandasgardner

Anne Frank, Disgusting! And she was captured. I like people who weren't captured. She's no hero. @stlgotswagga

This book was a disaster. Could've solved the mystery myself. Nancy Drew? Not very attractive. Too nosy. Probably ISIS. @ira

Believe me, she loved to eat, that very hungry caterpillar. No self control. Sad! @a11ssa

The duckling was very ugly, ok? Some people were saying the duckling was a swan, but I saw it and believe me: total disaster. @marthacohara

Winnie the Pooh... don't get me started. Low energy. Lazy. Overweight and no stamina. Always eating. He should be drug tested. @Morgans_Twitt3r

I wouldn't have given Hester Prynne an A. I'd have given her a C, at most. @KarenBoman

Sauron, a great Lord. He respects me and I'll tell you what else, he has very strong borders. No one just walks into Mordor. @CharlieAndyFitz

Emily Dickinson is not nice. All those hidden poems? What else is she hiding? Bigly crooked. @mollybirdsmith

No one has more Sense & Sensibility than me. Austen knew it. You know it. Crooked Hillary can't accept it. Sad. @PanamaVeggie

The Bell Jar. No bells. No jars. Only empty promises. Sylvia Plath. Such a nasty woman. Total loser. Pulitzer rigged! @jgeveritt

Stupid title, The Bell Jar. No bells, no jars. Believe me, I've got the best bells. The best. Big, beautiful bells. @democracydiva

Hester Prynne is a nasty woman, believe me. She's a LIAR. I never grabbed her by the petticoats, ok? Total bimbo loser. @hmurrr

War and Peace? You can't have war and peace. I wanted peace. Crooked Hillary wanted war. Disgusting. @jwwatson63

I was against that war from the beginning. #warandpeace @petz4peace

Why'd Tolstoy tell em there'd be war AND peace? I'd use the element of surprise. 21 Medal of Honor recipients endorse me. @DustinSwonder

War and Peace: You have no idea if it was the Russians. @Blkbyrd

Charlie wins chocolate factory. It was rigged, folks. Believe me. @galbaseballgeek

Where The Sidewalk Ends — Hillary has had 30 years to complete the sidewalk. It's her fault the sidewalk ends. @twiticulture

Robin Hood? Total loser. Criminal. Should be jailed. Worst economic plan ever! Helping the poor for free? I'll prosecute. @GenXMedia

Leaves of Grass? Ah! too bigly, too many words! I don't have time to read... But that "Song of Myself" I like that one. @herbalista58

Moby Dick. I apologize if anyone was offended. It's just locker room talk. @cflash

We're gonna catch so much rye, you won't believe it. We're bringing those rye catching jobs to America. @steventurous

I was against the war in Troy. Ask Hannity. And Helen was maybe a 6. She wouldn't have been my first choice, believe me. @BrentSirota

There was much ado, believe me. So much ado. Many people are saying how much ado there was. And about what? Nothing! @marthacohara

Shakespeare didn't write anything, it was all me. The medieval media was rigged. @Nderavin1

Bill Shakespeare... To be or not, pick a lane. By the way — Juliet, I never touched her. @CheapSeatsComic

What language is this? Can't understand a word of it. Shakespeare, what a loser. @StoutYeoman

Crooked Hillary wants you to say farewell to your arms, but when I'm president no one will have to say farewell to arms. @brnwdbwlr

Global warming was a hoax invented by the Chinese, my opponent claims it's 451 degrees Fahrenheit now. I don't think so. @ForrestLockwood

The Waste Land. Dry rocks and dry throats. Don't believe it, folks. Climate change is a hoax. Totally rigged. @PoetryArchive

"nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands" –ee cummings WRONG! Just look at my hands. The fingers. Long. Beautiful. @MDowdLambert

There's a Lord — and he's got rings. Lots of rings. The best rings. And two of the best Towers anyone has seen. @ageofkarl

Dorothy came to Oz illegally, murdered people. Should be in jail. Sad! @traydogg654

Gatsby, great parties, lots of locker room talk. I don't know him though. He's not my best friend. Daisy can do better. @claudia_nichole

Well, if you've got the crime, you've got to have the punishment. I believe in law and order, folks. Law. And. Order. @KevinMKruse

So the boy kept taking more and more from the tree every year without giving anything in return? That makes him smart. @LisaStuardi

And Troy just wants to bring this horse in without vetting it. It's full of Greeks and they're rapists and murderers. @steventurous

Be, don't be. This Hamlet guy needs to make up his mind. When I make up my mind, it's great. I make the best decisions. @roseknows

Hester? Nasty woman. Scarlet coming out of her eyes, out of her, wherever. @AtmnR

Are You There God? It's Me Margaret and I've got blood coming out of my wherever. @KinglaKing

There were mice AND men, I mean, and everyone has been saying it, these were some bad hombres... with mice. @joepete104

There's this student at Notre Dame, great guy, the best grades, crippled. Hunchback. Is Obamacare working? You tell me. @lawnrocket

I could teach that Sheriff of Nottingham a thing or two about Law and Order. Stop and frisk! Make our forest safe again! @JoePolizzi_PMP

Nowhere does it say that anything actually happened between Lolita and Humbert, it was just boy talk. @summerbrennan

I did not Pat the Bunny. That was just locker room talk. @MACarter73

The Raven, ok? It's about a yuge bird, believe me. And he's black! The black birds are living in hell, we all know it. @CaptNevermind

Dr. Dolittle. Loser. Talks to animals. No one respects animals more than me, folks. I'm famous, I can pet any cat I want. @MaydayCosmo

The wardrobe was tremendous, my sons shot the lion, and the witch is Hillary. @RuckCohlchez

Garden of Eden. Really nice asset. Adam should have known better than to listen to crooked Eve. Such a nasty woman. Sad! @heathwcarter

The Bible. Judas, good guy. Only one of the 12 that made money. Media crucified him. @dudearino1

The good book. BEST book. The son of God descends from heaven to teach us how to live. It's called "The Art of the Deal." @stirling79

Koran. Wrong! @7im

Thrasymachus totally crushed Socrates in the debate. RIGGED! Make Caves Great Again! @ethicistforhire

The wolf was very nice to Little Red Riding Hood, when she made up all kinds of nasty lies about him. And you look at her. @planespotted

It's all lies, folks. That wolf never touched Granny. All lies. Just look at her and you tell me. @annashenanigan

I did not grope her on a train or on a boat or on a plane. I did not grab her here or there... well maybe I did. @VentureValkyrie

Big Brother is watching. He will find those 30 thousand emails. Crooked Hillary. @jennfel

Henry VIII: Good guy. A lot like me. You don't ask. You just grab them by the girdle. When you're a king, you can. @jordanemoore

The Western Front was so quiet. Too quiet, I say. I would never have left the western front like Hillary and Obama did. @VocalMinorityNV

Mein Kampf. Great book. Tremendous. Story about a young boy's summer camping trip. My supporters love it. @Cave_DweIIer

War and peace is a horrible book. It should just be war. I love war. @rleader86

War and Peace? I love war, I'm very, very good at war. Wars make money; peace, not so much. Nuclear war the best. @pbsmithmd

Little women? All liars! Plan to sue! Never touched them. @RockyMountain

What was it called? Belittle Women? Great book. @Steg68

Darcy? Great man. Tremendous man. Has 10,000 a year. Attractive wife but she's got a mouth on her. @clementine_ford

They knew how to do it in olden times. Women who were up for action wore an A on their tops. A for Action. @Nina1172

Hester Prynne, very sloppy. Still hasn't lost the baby weight. I'd give her a big scarlet F — for fatty. @ReformedintheQT

I don't read. If I want to read a book, I just have my people make it into a movie. Then I watch that. It's true, Folks. @thechaosmanager

Sure, I read the book, but I won't tell you the end. I'll leave you in suspense. @sarahjbury

Still not one book report from Crooked Hillary! Too busy unrolling red carpet for ISIS. Plenty of time to read in prison. @TrumpBookReport

#TrumpBookReport is the best thing on Twitter right now. The. Best. Bigly. All the polls say so. Bigly! @ChrisWadeJ1519 {#TrumpDrSeuss is pretty good too but nowhere near the same LOL factor. —tεᖇᖇ¡·g}

Friday, October 21, 2016

Some old pen names

Here are some of the interesting pseudonyms I've come across in my readings over the years. After each nom de plume is the real author name.


  • Alice Addertongue (Benjamin Franklin, 1706–1790)
  • Ray Adverb [character] (Dave Barry, b.1947 — anagrammatic)
  • Æ (George William Russell, 1853–1919 — a.k.a. Æon)
  • Anthony Afterwit (Benjamin Franklin, 1706–1790)
  • Aristides (William Lloyd Garrison, 1805–1879)
  • Samuel A. Bard (Ephraim George Squier, 1821–1888)
  • Caustic Barebones (Thomas Bridges, 18th century)
  • Honey Bee (Eliza A. E. Smith, 1819–1905)
  • Benevolus (Benjamin Franklin, 1706–1790)
  • Cantell A. Bigly (George W. Peck, 1817–1859)
  • Hilarius Bookbinder (Søren Kierkegaard, 1813–1855)
  • Boz (Charles Dickens, 1812–1870)
  • Mrs. Margaret Caudle (Douglas W. Jerrold, 1803–1857)
  • Cobweb (Joseph Tinker Buckingham, 1779–1861)
  • The Cocoa-tree (Philip Francis, 1708–1773)
  • Shirley Dare (Susan Dunning, 19th century)
  • Silence Dogood (Benjamin Franklin, 1706–1790)
  • Dolly Dawdle (Mary C. Painter Lukens, b. circa 1841)
  • ΕΛΑΧΙΣΤΟΣ (Thomas Foster Barham, 1766–1844)
  • Fax (Augustine Barnum, 19th century)
  • The Ghost of Harry the Eighth's Fool (A. H. Forrester, 1804–1872)
  • Benjamin Goosequill (James Makittrick Adair, 1728–1802)
  • Spiral Groove (Wilson MacDonald, 19th century)
  • Winning Hazard (Albert De Vere, 19th century)
  • Parenthenopeus Hereticus (Mr Gordon, 18th century)
  • Forlorn Hope (Matilda A. Bailey, 19th century)
  • Dr. Humbug (Joseph Reed, 1723–1787)
  • Mr. Inkle (Christopher Anstey, 1724–1805)
  • Dud Jermyn (Walter R. Benjamin, 1854–1943)
  • Cupid Jones (F. S. Saltus, 1849–1889)
  • Dick Kitcat (Richard Doyle, 1824–1883)
  • Lady who prefers to be anonymous (Emily Jolly, 19th century)
  • Mrs. Literary (S. Elizabeth Hillyer Ballard Maynard, 19th century)
  • George Washington Makewright (Frank Cahill, 19th century)
  • Massachusettensis (David Leonard, 1740–1829)
  • Scriblerus Maximus (James Love, 1721–1774)
  • Minnie Mayflower (Catharine Stratton Ladd, 1808–1899)
  • Magnus Merriweather (Charles Remington Talbot, 1851–1891)
  • Doctor Merry (J. Wyndham, 19th century)
  • Vieux Moustache (Clarence Gordon, 1835–1920)
  • Nemo Nobody, Esq. (James Fennell, 19th century)
  • Nobody Nothing, of Nowhere (James Alexander Young, 1810–1870)
  • Sir Gregory Nonsense (John Taylor, 1580–1653)
  • Cornelius Scriblerus Nothus (Thomas Burgess, 1756–1837)
  • Oliver Oldschool, Esq. (Joseph Dennie, 1768–1812)
  • Jonathan Oldstyle (Washington Irving, 1783–1859)
  • Maurice O'Quill (Martin Van Buren Denslow, 19th century)
  • Peter Paragraph (James Makittrick Adair, 1728–1802)
  • Parallax (Samuel Rowbotham, 1816–1884)
  • Anser Pen-Dragon (Samuel William Henry Ireland, 1775–1835)
  • Ebenezer Pentweazle (Christopher Smart, 1722–1771)
  • Periwinkle (Louisa May Alcott, 1832–1888)
  • Philo-Veritas (Thomas D'Arcy M'Gee, 1825–1868)
  • Phœnix (Henry Martin, 19th century)
  • Q (Edmund Hodgson Yates, 1831–1894)
  • Queen of Hearts (Mrs. E. M. Patterson Keplinger, 19th century)
  • Queerquill (Mary T. Waggamon, 1846–1931)
  • Peter Query (Martin Farquhar Tupper, 1810–1889)
  • Mrs. Ramsbottom (Theodore Edward Hook, 1788–1841)
  • Sarah Search (Frederick Nolan, 1784–1864)
  • Σ (Thomas Sharp, 1771–1841)
  • Sigma (Lucien Manlius Sargent, 1786–1867)
  • Solomon Secondthoughts (John Pendleton Kennedy, 1795–1870)
  • Harry Wandsworth Shortfellow (Mary Cowden Clarke, 1809–1898)
  • Abel Shufflebottom (Robert Southey, 1774–1843)
  • Johannes de silentio (Søren Kierkegaard, 1813–1855)
  • Gabriel Silvertongue (James Montgomery, 1771–1854)
  • Smelfungus (Patrick Proctor Alexander, 1823–1886)
  • Sophie Sparkle (Jennie E. Hicks, 19th century)
  • Mr. Sparrowgrass (Frederick Swartwout Cozzens, 1818–1869)
  • Simon Spunkey (Thomas Green Fessenden, 1771–1837)
  • Patience Strong (Winifred Emma May, 1907–1990)
  • The Greatest Hypocrite in England (John Wesley, 1703–1791)
  • The Most Impudent Man Living (William Warburton, 1698–1779)
  • The Most Unpatriotic Man Alive (Charles James Fox, 1749–1806)
  • Theodore Thinker (Francis Channing Woodworth, 1812–1859)
  • Arminius, Baron von Thunder-ten-Tronckh (M. Arnold, 1822–1888)
  • Herman Thwackus (Jonas Clopper, 19th century)
  • Christopher Twist-wit, Esq. (Christopher Anstey, 1724–1805)
  • Tydus-Pooh-Pooh (John Bowring, 1792–1872)
  • Uniche (Mrs. R. A. Heavlin, 19th century)
  • U. Donough Utis (Richard Grant White, 1822–1885)
  • Vagabondia (Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1849–1924)
  • Veni Vidi (Mrs. J. Cunningham Croly, 1829–1901)
  • Daddy Violet (Napoleon Bonaparte, 1769–1821)
  • Forest Warbler (M. R. McCormick, 19th century)
  • Wh†††††††d (George Whitefield, 1714–1770)
  • Who Thinks-I-To-Myself? (Edward Nares, 1762–1841)
  • Deep Will (William Pitt, 1759–1806)
  • Edgar E. Wordy (Edward Gorey, 1925–2000) Gorey also used several other names — many anagrammatic — including: E. G. Deadworry, Drew Dogyear, Gary Dredwoe, Addée Gorrwy, Om, and Ydora Wredge.
  • Demetrius Wyseman (Duke Willis, 19th century)
  • Xenette (Pamela S. Vining, 19th century)
  • Xo Ho (Horace Walpole, 1717–1797)
  • F. Yrubslips (Francis Spilsbury, 18th century — anagrammatic)
  • Mr. Zigzag, the Elder (John Wykeham Archer, 1808–1864)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Current events & old literature

Edith.  It seems in the deep waters of social life, as in those of the sea, we should not be able to get the beautiful things they contained, if it was not that storms threw them on our shores. We can discern much, as you say, when they are clear, but their greatest treasures are only given up after agitation. The waters must be troubled before they heal.

Lyulph.  I am afraid our waters are as restless as the ocean, so they should at least be always healing. Human progression is a strange thing, such oscillations backwards and forwards, it is often most difficult to see that any advance is made....

Edith.  Antagonism and division seem ruling spirits of our age. We struggle for union and seek the wells of contentment, and find only the waters of strife; but let us have comfort and remember that when the waters are troubled it is only that they may heal.

—Henry James Slack, The Ministry of the Beautiful, "Conversation XIII: A Rocky Lane in Summer," 1850

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

James Lendall Basford: Watchmaker by Trade, Aphorist by Leisure

Mr James Lendall Basford was a watchmaker and jeweler in Massachusetts who published two books of his own aphorisms — Sparks from the Philosopher’s Stone in 1882 and Seven Seventy Seven Sensations in 1897 — “the result of ideas which have forced themselves into expression during a period of the author’s life, extending from early youth to middle age, amidst the many cares and perplexities of a business life.”

Basford was born 1845 January 27th in Livermore Falls, Maine and passed away 1915 January 30th in Wareham, Massachusetts. Below are some of his quotations. You can find many more on various pages of The Quote Garden.


James Lendall Basford
James Lendall Basford (New England, 1845–1915)
watchmaker & jeweler by trade, aphorist by leisure

{photo & signature from Google Books
modified by t.g. using cameran collage}


Sparks from the Philosopher’s Stone, 1882

“How often do our thoughts play 'hide-and-seek' with us in our memory!” ~James Lendall Basford

“Deep thinkers often lose two good thoughts by coming to the surface to record one.” ~James Lendall Basford

“Most of what is said under excitement is regretted when we become ourselves again.” ~James Lendall Basford

“The man who never has money enough to pay his debts, has too much of something else.” ~James Lendall Basford

“No monarch is so well obeyed as that whose name is Habit.” ~James Lendall Basford

“Men usually take better care of their boots than of their stomachs.” ~James Lendall Basford


Seven Seventy Seven Sensations, 1897

“Gray locks,—Nature’s flag of truce.” ~J. Lendall Basford

“Joy comes to us like butterflies, but sorrow like wasps.” ~J. Lendall Basford

“The Present gallops away with clattering feet, while the Future steals noiselessly upon us.” ~J. Lendall Basford

“Men sin and the law punishes; the law sins and the devil rewards.” ~J. Lendall Basford

“Life is a long road on a short journey.” ~J. Lendall Basford

“Life is a series of ever-changing color, and each day has its hue of romance.” ~J. Lendall Basford

“Let us fly from the Past on the wings of Faith.” ~J. Lendall Basford

“One neglect makes ten regrets.” ~J. Lendall Basford

“The healthiest herbs in literature are prov‑erbs.” ~J. Lendall Basford


Sunday, June 19, 2016

More than I could ever ask for

Emily Saliers quote I asked my father for a dollar and he gave it a ten dollar raise
{cameran collage}

“But there was a time I asked my father for a dollar
And he gave it a ten dollar raise
And when I needed my mother and I called her
She stayed with me for days...”
—Emily Saliers, “Prince of Darkness,” 1989


Happy Father’s Day to my Papa
who always gives me more than I could ever ask for —
not in money but in time, love, support, responsibility,
happiness, great memories, and valuable life lessons!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Remembering The Grammar Mudge

Richard E. Turner (1937-2011)
The Grammar Curmudgeon, a.k.a. “The Mudge”

Richard E. Turner (1937–2011)
Rich Turner (1937–2011)
Rich Turner was a professor, copyeditor, editor, curmudgeonesque grammarian, and beloved husband, father, and grandfather. He was born 1937 in South Africa and passed away 2011 in New Jersey. Since 2002 he published grammar and writing tips as well as his own personal essays, articles, and “grumbles” on his website The Grammar Curmudgeon at grammarmudge.cityslide.com. Having hosted the archived site for the past five years, his family will be taking it offline at the end of this month. With their permission I am reprinting two of Mr. Turner’s essays below, so that everyone who has enjoyed his writings and personality can have this online memorial. There are also several quotations from his essays on The Quote Garden. In honor of The Mudge, we present to you “An Open Letter to My Grandson” from January 1997, and “Kindness to Animals,” originally published July 2005.


An Open Letter to My Grandson
by Richard E. Turner

When this was written, I had only one grandson. Now, since I have three of them, the title should probably be “An Open Letter to My Grandsons.”

By the time you read this and can understand it, I may not be around anymore. That’s the way it goes, and there’s no point in trying to change things we cannot change. A big part of life is acceptance, or, as someone said, “All you can do is wash up and show up; everything else just happens.”

My first advice is not to give any advice, unless people ask for it. Even then, you may need to figure out whether they really want your advice or merely want you to agree with them (as is usually the case).

Obviously, my advice not to give advice is a self-contradiction. When, as will sometimes happen, you are caught in contradiction, you can always quote Walt Whitman [“Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes)”] or Emerson [“Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”]. Where the rules are clear-cut, consistency is good; where they are not (which is most of the time), consistency may be the sign of a closed mind.

Cultivate openness of mind. It is a rare quality because most of us harbor inflexible biases without realizing that we do. You should, of course, develop a set of values to guide your behavior, but you should be wary of inflicting your values on others (or expecting others to agree with you).

Tend to your own garden; what other people grow in theirs is not your concern, unless their actions harm others. What others believe is their own business, even if it’s diametrically opposed to some of your own most cherished ideas. Besides, your ability to change other people is either highly limited or nonexistent.

This principle applies to religion as well as to morality. If you believe in a Higher Power, that Higher Power is your own, as is everyone else’s Higher Power. You have neither the obligation nor the right to proselytize. The best you can do is develop your own sense of spirituality, follow it with all the integrity you can muster, and let your example speak for itself.

Seek knowledge. Knowing stuff is good. Do this when you are young because your ability to absorb and, especially, to remember will deteriorate sooner than you expect. Recognize, too, that the power of intellect is limited. “Smart” doesn’t account for a whole lot, and it isn’t synonymous with “good” or “happy” or even “successful.”

Although book knowledge is useful, what really matters is what you learn from experience. Observe the world. As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” (You probably have not heard of Yogi Berra; he was a baseball player and manager who had many curious sayings such as this one.)

You may have noticed that children’s powers of observation are quite acute. One reason for this is that, to children, the world is literally wonderful – full of wonder. They see a lot because much of what they see is brand-new. After a while, though, we start to take what was once wonderful for granted – the changing sky, the seasons, the taste of food, the many sounds that we hear each day.  We allow distractions that are not really worthy of our attention to divert us from “smelling the roses,” as the cliché puts it. Try to recapture the sense of wonder whenever you can.

Develop the art of listening. Courtesy requires that you listen to what other people say, but you should go beyond this. By listening carefully, you can develop a sensitivity to language and an understanding of how people think and feel. A sense of the magical power of words can benefit anyone, not just writers and editors. And one does not need to be a psychologist to understand the complex internal choreography of thought and feeling that underlies people’s words.

Listen also to the wordless world. Though the world of words may inform your intellect, that which cannot be expressed by words will inform your spirit. Give every form of music a hearing, especially the wordless music that expresses what words cannot, whether in the form of an inspired symphony or the sounds of the natural world. This kind of listening requires no intellectual understanding; it resonates within a part of us that is beyond intellect.

Try to at least start doing these things when you’re young. Resist the natural tendency of youth to live too much in the future, believing that the future is forever. While you cannot expect to be wise and young at the same time, you can avoid the fate of those of us who treat life as a three-act play, doze during the first two acts, and wake, when the play is nearly over, to discover that this is the only performance. We do not, as far as I know, have the chance to rerun our lives.

Numerous metaphors have been used to describe life. Among them is the metaphor of life as a battle. Try not to think of life in these terms because, if you regard life as a struggle, it will become one, and you will have little joy. It is far better to think of life as a journey in which the difficulties are hills to climb. The hills are there for a reason (even if you don’t know what that reason is), and the sense of satisfaction after climbing the hill is almost always worth the effort.

But perhaps the best metaphor is that of life as a river. If you let the current carry you, you will be far better off than if you try to swim against it. This does not mean that it is an effortless ride; some parts of the river will be hazardous, requiring great skill to navigate safely. You will need to learn when to ask someone else to help with the paddling and when to stop paddling altogether.

Finally, and possibly most important, you should take time to see the humor in it all. The world is a funny place, and funniest of all are the creatures who walk about upright on two legs, believing that they run the place. You should not take it too seriously, and that includes what I have written here.


Kindness to Animals
by Richard E. Turner

Since I am a self-confessed, card-carrying curmudgeon, kindness is not generally considered to be one of my prominent character traits. Nevertheless, we curmudgeons tend to have a soft spot for so-called lower animals because the supposedly higher animals – namely, our fellow human beings – continually distress, disappoint, and annoy us.

We do acknowledge the scientific evidence that our species has appeared to evolve physically more than any other. We admit that the human brain is probably more complex than any other known living brain, although we seriously question the uses to which our species has put this organ, and we often wonder whether some of our kind use it much at all. After all, there must be some reason why the adjective stupid is more often applied to people than to other animals. As for our supposed sense of morality – the ethics that we presume that amoral* lower animals lack – the verdict is still out. The most highly developed human brains seem hard-pressed to agree on what is “right” and what is “wrong” in many situations. While we may argue that lower animals cannot do this either, that they live by instincts alone (a hypothesis now being refuted by many scientists), our relativistic morality does not necessarily mark us as superior. An equally valid conclusion could be that it serves mainly to make us more confused.

Be that as it may, even we curmudgeons believe that kindness to animals (meaning, of course, other animals) is an admirable, possibly ennobling, trait. I’m not talking only about the fuzzy, loveable animals we have as pets. I, for example, am partial to warthogs, although I wouldn’t have one as a pet. Somehow, I feel that any animal that ugly (in my perception of beauty) must have a beautiful soul.** Besides, if warthogs didn’t find each other attractive, there wouldn’t be any baby warthogs, would there? No great loss, you say? Well, that’s your perspective and is not the warthog’s view; nor is it mine.

I suppose that a case could be made against poisonous snakes, vultures, rats, and such creatures, but they are only doing what they must to protect themselves and survive. One can hardly fault a grizzly bear for mauling a two-legged intruder who threatens its young or stands between it and dinner. After all, people clobber and sometimes kill other people for little or no reason. Animals do not wage war, and, though I’m no zoologist, I don’t think many of them kill for the sheer fun of it.

I’ve never understood people who shoot animals for sport. Oddly enough, people who would never think of killing a dog or cat for fun are greatly entertained by killing a deer or bear or elephant that has done nothing all its life but mind its own business. Besides, there are better things to shoot. For instance, when your computer or washing machine has broken down beyond repair, take out your trusty AK-47 or Smith & Wesson and blow that sucker to smithereens. It won’t feel a thing.

What fool thinks that animals don’t feel pain? They have nervous systems and brains. Some of the less-developed species and orders indeed lack central nervous systems (yes, I swat flies and step on ants), but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about sentient creatures. We can’t be sure what feelings they have – biologists are still working on that – but their inability to express feelings in words doesn’t mean that they don’t have them. That they can’t shed tears doesn’t mean that they can’t feel hurt, mentally as well as physically. As Mark Twain observed, man is the only animal that blushes – or needs to. Does that mean that other animals can’t feel embarrassment? I swear I’ve seen many a cat or dog, caught in the act of doing something it knows it shouldn’t, look embarrassed.

One of my fellow curmudgeons, the late Cleveland Amory, wrote that he was forming the “Hunt the Hunters Club,” the motto for which was, “If it’s red and moves, shoot it.” Perhaps I should revive this noble cause.

Still, putting aside the issue of hunting, there’s no reason why we cannot be much kinder to other animals than we are. I confess my regret that I was raised to be a carnivore, and I envy people who can take their kindness toward animals to the limit of eating nothing but plants, especially when I read the horrifying articles about the way some animals are treated before they are slaughtered as food for humans. I don’t like to think about what something I’m eating looked like or how it felt when it was alive. Yesterday’s loveable and attractive animal is tomorrow’s fricassee. Yech!

Still, this is all the more reason for those of us who are habitual meat-eaters to be kind to the animals that live among us and even to those that are fortunate enough to live in the wild, mostly apart from us. As with our own kind, it costs us nothing to try to understand them, to empathize with them as much as is humanly (and humanely) possible, to be gentle and considerate.

To end where I began, we curmudgeons often have difficulty viewing our species as superior, let alone noble. In particular, this curmudgeon feels that the actions of people who are cruel to animals are proof of the human capacity to be barbaric and mean. On the other hand, ironically, people who treat animals with respect, consideration, and kindness give the word humanity at least one positive meaning.

* For the first time on this website, I am using a word link that takes the user to definitions at answers.com. If you click on amoral, you will go to sources clarifying that amoral does not have the same meaning as immoral (the opposite of moral) but refers to the state of being neither moral nor immoral, of existing outside the context of morality.

** “That’s ridiculous,” you say, “Warthogs don’t have souls.” How do you know? It could be that, when they die, their beautiful souls ascend to warthog heaven, the Great Mudhole in the Sky.


Bookplate of Richard E. Turner
Bookplate of Richard E. Turner

“Grammar Checker – A software program that is not needed by those who know grammar and virtually useless for those who don’t.” ~Richard E. Turner (1937–2011), “The Curmudgeon’s Short Dictionary of Modern Phrases,” c.2009