Reasonble Words: Hermann Hesse

A bit of night time ritual (and implicit advice) from Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game,” which I tackled last year at the recommendation of a friend and found well worth it.

“Before his evening meditation he and his aides, the coach and the meditation master, were supposed to review each official day, noting what had been well done or ill done, feeling his own pulse, as meditation teachers call this practice, that is, recognizing and measuring one’s own momentary situation, state of health, the distribution of one’s energies, one’s hopes and cares–in a word, seeing oneself and one’s daily work objectively and carrying nothing unresolved on into the night and the next day.”

Wolf's Moon
Anindo Ghosh’s “Wolf’s Moon” from his Flickr stream.

Reasonable Words: Quotation

Seen on the wall of an office at the Harvard Medical School (scribbled on a Post-it):

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Julius Richmond

“Don’t let what is urgent make you lose sight of what is important.”

Julius Richmond MD, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

Commonplace Book: Churchill or Not, etc.

Catching up on book reviews, and found some fun tidbits. First From a TLS column on a new book called Churchill in His Own Words: the disclosure that some of his best bits might be false attributions.

To wit, his famous riposte to the loony “never end a sentence with preposition” canard:

“This is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put.”

And even better, considered criticism of his fellow British politicians:

Clement Atlee, “A sheep in sheep’s clothing” or, of Arthur Balfour, “If you wanted nothing done, Balfour was the man for the task.”

This one is too good to be false, an exchange with Nancy Astor during dinner at Blenheim.

Nancy Astor:(appalled by something Churchill had said): “Sir, if I were married to you, I’d put poison in your coffee.”

Winston Churchill: “Madam, if I were married to you, I’d drink it.”

In the same issue, a reference to the Frost essay on poetry with these lines that keep circling back in my life as some of the only consistently reliable advice on writing I’ve encountered:

“No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

and on poetry:

“It should be of the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same as for love. No one can really hold that the ecstasy should be static and stand still in one place. It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life-not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.”

Finally, from a review of a book called “Swimming Studies,” a reflective memoir by a serious competitive swimmer who did not realize her Olympic dreams (didn’t even make the team). The writer, Leanne Shapton, makes a distinction of “swimming” with “bathing.”

“And yet all this control and self-denial are what (in this book at least) define swimming, as opposed to bathing. “Swimming” is what people who want to be the fastest, the best, do. It involves never letting your feet touch the bottom, never resting, both literally and metaphorically. “Bathing,” on the other hand, “implies having some contact with the ground while in the water–propulsion and speed are secondary.” Bathing is what the rest of us do. Shapton’s husband, a poor swimmer who seems from Shapton’s account to be a grounded person in both senses of the word, is a bather. “Watching him in the waves, I realize he doesn’t see life as rigor and deprivation. To him it’s something to enjoy, where the focus is not on how to win, but how to flourish.” Full review by Elizabeth Lowry.

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