Monday, August 17, 2009

Keeping It Short

A parent educator once told me that preschool teachers are just middle class bag ladies, so it shouldn’t surprise you that when my father-in-law retired from his position teaching English at the UW I saw it as a great opportunity to get “quality goods” cheaply. Since I was seeing him weekly, I began asking for ideas about what I ought to be reading. He started me out with Tom Jones. As I made my way through it, I kept Otto appraised of what I thought. He would listen patiently, then let me know how wrong I was.

This has been going on for more than 10 years now and is the reason I rarely read anything written since 1950. I’m only half joking when I say I’m earning a masters in English.

There is so much to love about classic novels, but my favorite part is mining them for epigrams. I know not everyone is as fond of the pithy comment as I am (my wife has no patience for them, for instance), but I can spend entire afternoons contemplating the implications of certain well-turned phrases. One of my first orders of business upon being hired at Woodland Park was to start sharing them on the bulletin boards of our classroom. I didn’t limit myself to novels, however; I’ll steal from television as readily as from Joseph Conrad.

Here are some of the quotes that have graced our walls over the years.

Laurence Sterne
My Sterne quotes come from his great novel Tristram Shandy, a remarkable work from one of the great clowning spirits. Reading this experimental masterpiece (which I’ve now done 3 times) it’s nearly impossible to believe that he was writing during the 18th Century.

. . . so long as a man rides his Hobby-Horse peaceably and quietly along the King’s highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him, -- pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it?

I have a hundred difficulties which I have promised to clear up, and a thousand distresses and domestic misadventures crowding in upon me thick and threefold, one upon the neck of another.

-- Certainly it was ordained as a scourge upon the pride of human wisdom, that the wisest of us all should . . . outwit ourselves, and eternally forego our purposes in the intemperate act of pursuing them.

Fyodor Dostoevsky
Both of these quotes come from the greatest novel ever written, The Brothers Karamazov. It’s one of the few books that have truly moved my soul.

As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naïve and simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too

No one grows wise through another man’s woes.

George Eliot
Eliot’s a great novelist, of course, but probably not of the highest order. She does, however, come up with some of the greatest epigrams in all of literature.

The world would be a poor place if there were nothing but common sense in it.

So our lives glide on: the river ends we don’t know where, and the sea begins, and then there is no more jumping ashore.

It was that mixture of pushing forward and being pushed forward, which is a brief history of most human things.

Truly . . . the uncertainty of things is a text rather too wide and obvious for fruitful application; and to discourse of it is, as one may say, to bottle up air, and make a present of it to those who are already standing out of doors.

It is not true that love makes all things easy: it makes us choose what is difficult.

No list of quotations would be complete with out him . . .

There is nothing to be done for a person who isn’t constantly asking What should be done?

How can you love people without encouraging them? And how can you be loyal to people without educating them?

Hold the young in awe.

The Tao Te Ching
The difficulty with the Tao is two-fold. First of all the “church” that has evolved from Lao Tzu’s teachings barely resembles its source. And secondly, it’s nearly impossible to translate ancient Chinese into English without losing a lot. That said, I keep a copy of the Tao in my car and read from it almost every day.

Don’t aim to perfect yourself.
Don’t rush into changing yourself.
Just do what needs doing
while accepting your feelings.

Let your feelings flourish . . .
and get on with your life of doing.

Water is frail and feeble.
Yet it gets its water work done.
It moves toward its goal.
Just being water.
You know its power.
Just be water.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
I originally began looking into MLK’s writings five years ago as I was preparing for our classroom celebration. Like most people, I was only really familiar with the I Have A Dream speech, but I learned that it was only the tip of the iceberg.

I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world. It is not an expression of impractical idealism, but of practical realism. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love.

Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation.

Mister Rogers
I will never have his personality, but I do aspire to be like Mister Rogers. You probably know that he was an ordained minister and he always spoke of his work with children as his “ministry”. The best thing is that he could teach without preaching.

Love is like infinity: You can’t have more or less infinity, and you can’t compare two things to see if they’re “equally infinite.” Infinity just is, and that’s the way I think love is, too.

Listening is where love begins . . .

Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.

All our lives, we rework the things from our childhood, like feeling good about ourselves, managing our angry feelings, (and) being able to say good-bye to people we love.

Tom Waits
I tend to be drawn to the solitary, male singer/songwriters like Johnny Cash, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. As far as epigrams go, Tom Waits gets the special star.

Ask a king or a beggar
And the answer they’ll give
Is we’re all gonna be
Yea, yea.

You must risk something that matters.

I don’t wanna have to shout it out
I don’t want my hair to fall out
I don’t wanna be filled with doubt
I don’t wanna be a good boy scout
I don’t wanna have to learn to count
I don’t wanna have the biggest amount
I don’t wanna grow up.

Grab bag

It is love, not reason, that is stronger than death. --Thomas Mann

You shouldn’t wish your child is a genius, you should hope (s)he’s an optimist. --Edward Hallowell

The opposite of play isn’t work, it’s rote. --Edward Hallowell

Nothing is perfect . . . except everything. --Josephine (age 3)

In limitations he first shows himself the master. --Goethe

Love is what's in the room with you . . . if you stop opening presents and listen. --Bobby (age 5)

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties. --Francis Bacon

Isn’t it love that keeps us breathing?
Isn’t it love we’re sent here for?
--Bonnie Raitt

Time is eternity that stammers. --Umberto Eco

I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvelous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural . . . --Joseph Conrad

That’s what life is . . . coming to places like this. --Six Feet Under

Together we’re a genius. --Six Feet Under

Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. --Rumi

(Fairy tales) tell children what they unconsciously know – that human nature is not innately good, that conflict is real, that life is harsh before it is happy – and thereby reassure them about their own fears and their own sense of self. --Arthur Schlesinger

This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. --Jack LaLanne

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right name. --Chinese proverb

There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in. --Leonard Cohen

It is not only necessary to love: it is also necessary to say it. --French Proverb

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1 comment:

Brian H said...

I may steal some of these.

I teach fifth grade and I like to put a weekly quote on the wall and the kids have a week to digest it, put it into their own words, tell me what it means and why I felt it was important enough to make it on the wall. You have some good ones here!