Friday, April 29, 2011

Walter Hamady | The Gabberjabbs

Years ago, a friend of Walter Hamady said (as Hamady himself recalls), "right in front of my mother, 'Walter, you are a bastard!' And my dear sweet mother pulled up bigger than life-size and with huffy indignation said, 'He is not a bastard! I know who his father was and we were married at the time!" more>>

Saturday, April 9, 2011

More Than A Few Least Favorite Things

The likes and many dislikes of Inez McAlister Faber in Out Here on Soap Creek (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1982), pp. 23-24—

Probably many people wiser than I dislike some of the things I like, such as hoeing, canning, cleaning house, cutting corn fodder, living in the country, being in my thirties, dahlias, roses, meals on time, empty houses with flowers still growing in the yards, old furniture, small boys, books, newspaper editorials, astronomy, chickens, dogs, cows, horses, meat or gravy cooked in a cast-iron skillet, waffles, carrots and spinach. It is quite likely that others, and I have no quarrel with them, like many of the things I hate, including petunias, cats, children who have been taught that they are cute, grown-ups who try to act kiddish, male or female sissies, superiority complexes, machine hemstitching, tablecloths hemmed on the machine, cows with horns, weedy gardens, dwelling houses painted green, rain on washday, so-called living rooms that are only used for company, and overstuffed davenports. Large women in striped or checked dresses, bad table manners, being flatly contradicted, people who handle books roughly or who lay an open book face down upon a table, people who read over my shoulder, inquisitiveness, concrete walks in front of farm homes, fried parsnips, mashed potatoes, interruptions while ironing, washing milk pails, cleaning muddy overshoes, cooking for visitors who do not come, going to bed, getting up, washing yesterdays dishes, and talking over the telephone.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Damaged Wings

Death's Head Moth
Ernest Hemingway describes F. Scott Fitzgerald as follows in A Moveable Feast (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1964)—

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly anymore because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Not Truss Worthy | Edward Marsh

Edward Marsh, Ambrosia and Small Beer (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965), p. 220—

A soldier up for medical exam proved to have been wearing a truss for the last 6 years, and was classified as P.E. or Permanently Exempt. On his way out he gave this news to his pal, who immediately asked for the loan of the truss, which was granted. The examiner asked how long he had been wearing it, and he said, "Six years," whereupon he was classified as M.E. "What's that?" he asked. "Middle East." "How can I go to the Middle East when I've been wearing a truss for 6 years?" "If you can wear a truss for 6 years upside-down, you can jolly well ride a camel for 6 months."

Get To Work | Richard Hugo

 Fine advice from poet Richard Hugo in The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979)—

Lucky accidents seldom happen to writers who don't work. You will find that you may rewrite and rewrite a poem and it never seems quite right. Then a much better poem may come rather fast and you wonder why you bothered with all that work on the earlier poem. Actually, the hard work you do on one poem is put in on all poems. The hard work on the first poem is responsible for the sudden ease of the second. If you just sit around waiting for the easy ones, nothing will come. Get to work.

Eddie Marsh Meets H.M. Stanley

Sir Henry Morton Stanley (1872), with Kalulu, his adopted son

A couple of times in my life, when I first met in person someone who I had been wanting to meet for years, I became suddenly, atypically tongue-tied. As Edward Marsh describes in his memoir A Number of People (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1939), he had the same experience when he first met the famous journalist and explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley (as in "Doctor Livingston, I presume") at a party (p. 41)—

At a party of old Mrs. Tennant's he [Stanley] crossed the room to where I was standing forlorn, and said: "I see you're looking neglected, so I've come to talk to you." This well-meant gambit completely froze the genial current of my soul, and neither of us could think of anything further to say.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Implicitness, Closure and Flow | Csikszentmihalyi

Diagram © Roy R. Behrens (2011)

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. NY: Harper and Row, 1990, p. 53—

Whenever I took our hunting dog, Hussar, for a walk in the open fields he liked to play a very simple game—the prototype of the most culturally widespread game of human children, escape and pursuit. He would run circles around me at top speed, with his tongue hanging out and his eyes warily watching every move I made, daring me to catch him. Occasionally I would take a lunge, and if I was lucky I got to touch him. Now the interesting part is that whenever I was tired, and moved half-heartedly, Hussar would run much tighter circles, making it relatively easy for me to catch him; on the other hand, if I was in good shape and willing to extend myself, he would enlarge the diameter of his circle. In this way, the difficulty of the game was kept contant. With an uncanny sense for the fine balancings of challenges and skills, he would make sure that the game would yield the maximum enjoyment for us both.

[Compare Arthur Koestler's contention (in The Act of Creation) that the value of cryptic communication "is not to obscure the message, but to make it more luminous by compelling the recipient to work it out for himself—to re-create it."]

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Here's the Butter—But Where's the Cat?

Frances Simpson, Book of the Cat (1903)

Victor Frankl, "Reduction and Nihilism" in Arthur Koestler and J.R. Smythies, eds., Beyond Reductionism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), p. 403—

There were two neighbors; one of them contended that the other's cat had stolen and eaten five pounds of his butter; there was a bitter argument and finally they agreed to seek the advice of the rabbi. They went to the rabbi and the owner of the cat said: "It cannot be, my cat doesn't care for butter at all" but the other insisted that it was his cat and the rabbi said: "Bring me the scales." And they brought the scales and he asked: "How many pounds of butter?" "Five pounds." And believe it or not, the weight of the cat was exactly five pounds. So the rabbi said: "Now I have the butter, but where is the cat?"

Grasshopper Lecture | Louis Agassiz

Louis Agassiz statue at Stanford University, as toppled by the San Francisco earthquake in 1906

Louis Agassiz, in Lane Cooper, ed., Louis Agassiz as a Teacher: Illustrative Extracts on His Method of Instruction. Ithaca NY: Comstock Publishing, 1945, p. 82—

In 1847 I gave an address at Newton, Massachusetts, before a Teachers' Institute conducted by Horace Mann. My subject was grasshoppers. I passed around a large jar of these insects, and made every teacher take one and hold it while I was speaking. If any one dropped the insect, I stopped till he picked it up. This was at that time a great innovation, and excited much laughter and derision. There can be no true progress in the teaching of natural science until such methods become general.

Humphrey Howarth's Naked Duel

British poet Samuel Rogers, in Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers (1856)—

[In 1806] Humphrey Howarth, the [Army] surgeon [and Member of Parliament], was called out [challenged to a pistol duel], and made his appearance in the field stark naked, to the astonishment of the challenger, who asked him what he meant. "I know," said H., "that if any part of the clothing is carried into the body by a gunshot wound, festering ensues; and therefore I have met you thus." His antagonist declared that, fighting with a man in puris naturalibus would be quite ridiculous; and accordingly they parted without further discussion.

Drunk by God!

British poet Samuel Rogers, in Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers (1856)—

Dr. [George] Fordyce [a prominent Scottish physician] sometimes drank a good deal at dinner. He was summoned one evening to see a lady patient, when he was more than half-seas-over, and conscious that he was so. Feeling her pulse, and finding himself unable to count its beats, he muttered, "Drunk by God!" 

Next morning, recollecting the circumstance, he was greatly vexed: and just as he was thinking what explanation of his behavior he should offer to the lady, a letter from her was put into his hand. "She too well knew," said the letter, "that he had discovered the unfortunate condition in which she was when he last visited her; and she entreated him to keep the matter secret in consideration of the enclosed (a hundred-pound banknote)."

Mad Magazine in Collision

Frank Jacobs in The Mad World of William M. Gaines. New York: Bantam Books, 1973, p. 77—

In the fall of 1954, [William M.] Gaines [founder and publisher of MAD magazine] and Nancy [a close friend and staff member] were turning into a gas station on West 96th Street in Manhattan. As they made their turn, a car came down the street and barreled into them. No one was hurt, and Gaines exchanged the usual insurance data with the driver of the other car, whose name was Gene Zahn. About a year later, two blocks from the gas station, Gaines pulled up to a newspaper stand. After buying his paper, he returned to his car, backed out a few feet, and was struck by a car rounding the corner. No one was hurt, and Gaines exchanged the usual insurance data with the driver of the other car, whose name was Gene Zahn.

"Didn't we have an accident a year ago?" Gaines asked.

"I believe we did," answered Zahn, giving a polite nod to Nancy, whom he remembered from the previous run-in. "Say, don't you think it's time you two got married?"

Gaines thought if over and decided that the point was well-taken. Within a month, he and Nancy were married.