This is wisdom from the late Fred Rogers. We can sing together. The life we live is a form of music, that, played right, energizes the universe. Live in it, sing in it, and laugh. It is very good to learn many things.
Category Archives: wisdom
All art on this planet (with the possible exceptions of paintings by monkeys and elephants, and the songs of whales and dolphins) is about people. What is art, after all, if it is not a reflection of who and what we are?
I am the man from the setting sun who comes from the past to deliver the future.
Every bit of art I do now is done as my own mortality, the end of my own story, is soon to reach the final page. I have lived six decades complete and have begun to live the seventh. I am close to the sunset. But I have wisdom to share from a lifetime of struggle, and reversals, and successes, and joy. And in a dark time when it appears the world could actually be ending, I wish to do the only thing I can to help, provide pictures and stories that might prove useful to you.
So, all art is about people. Even the art with no people in it. That art, at least, has a creator who was most probably a people… or a monkey… or an elephant.. or a… well, you get the idea, don’t you?
The homeless man wandered onto center stage just as the spotlight went on. He shaded his old eyes against the brightness and looked outward into the dark theater. It was probably some kind of mistake.
“Oh, so now it’s my turn to talk, eh?”
There was no response.
“Well, if you’re expecting something funny to come out of my mouth, good luck with that. More than half of what I say that makes people laugh is the result of depression, ill health, and just plain ignorant stupidity. And the other half of it is not meant to be funny, but is because I don’t always understand what I am saying.”
There was an embarrassed chuckle somewhere in the darkness.
“I mean, you can’t expect too much from me. I’m a bum. I have no money. I have no job. Not having any work to be bothered with is kinda good. But the other thing kinda sucks.
And all the great comedians that used to stand on this stage and try to save the world through humor are dead now. It’s true. Robin Williams died recently. George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, and Bill Cosby are all long gone.”
There was some nervous laughter in the theater.
“Oh, I know, Cosby only thinks he’s dead. But he kinda killed the character delivering the wisdom in the form of observational comedy, didn’t he.”
“But most of them old boys tried to come up here and tell you the truth. And the truth was so absolutely unexpectedly wacky and way out of bounds that you just had to laugh. And the more wicked the humor, the more you just laughed. You didn’t do anything about the problems they talked about. But you sure did laugh.”
“It seems like the more they told you the truth and the more you just laughed about it, the more old and bitter they got. Sardonic? You know that word? Not sardines, fools, but sardonic. Bitterly humorous and sadly funny. Seems like a lot of them old boys got more and more bitter, more and more depressed up to the end. More and more sardonic.”
“I mean, Carlin was calling you stupid right to your face at the end. And you just laughed it off.”
The theater had grown eerily silent.
“But it ain’t all bad, is it? I mean, at least you all can still laugh. Only smart people get the jokes. The ones Carlin moaned about were laughing because everybody else was laughing. Those weren’t the ones we were talking to. There’s still life out there somewhere. Maybe intelligent life. Maybe aliens ain’t located any intelligent life on Earth yet, but they’re still trying, ain’t they?”
“You shoulda listened more carefully to what they were saying. Life and love and laughter were bound up in their words.”
“So I guess what I’m really saying is… just because I happened to get a rare chance to say it to you all… learn to listen better. The voices are quiet now. But the words are still there. And laughing at them is still a good thing. But remember, you need to hear them too.”
The theater suddenly filled with the roar of a standing ovation. The old man bowed. And this was ironic because… the theater had always been empty. No one at all was there now.
Talking to a school administrator the other day about the challenges my children and I have been facing in the last year, I had one of those experiences where you get a look at your own life through someone else’s eyes. “Wow, you have really been on a difficult journey,” he said. I just nodded in response. Financial difficulties, health problems, dealing with depression… life has been tough. But you get through things like that by being centered. Meditation tricks. Things you can do to smooth out the wrinkles and keep moving forward.
I always return in the theater of my mind to a moment in childhood where I learned a critical lesson. My life has been one of learning how to build rather than destroy. It has been about creating, not criticizing.
When I was a boy, I was a serious butterfly hunter. It started when Uncle Don gave me a dead cecropia moth that he had found in the Rowan grain elevator. It was big and beautiful and perfectly preserved. Shortly thereafter, I located another cecropia in the garage behind the house, a building that had once been a wagon shed complete with horse stalls and a hay loft. I tried to catch it with my bare hands. And by the time I had hold of it, the powder on its wings was mostly gone. The wings were broken in a couple of places, and the poor bug was ruined in terms of starting a butterfly collection.
Undeterred by tragedy, I got books about butterfly collecting at the Rowan Public Library and began teaching myself how to bug hunt. I learned where to find them, and how to net them, and how to kill and mount them.
I discovered that my grandfather’s horse pasture had thistle patches which were natural feeding grounds for red admiral butterflies (pictured top left) and painted lady butterflies (top right). But if you wanted to catch the rarer mourning cloak butterfly (bottom picture), you had to stake out apple trees, particularly at apple blossom time, though I caught one on the ripening apples too.
But my greatest challenge as a butterfly hunter was the tiger swallowtail butterfly. They are rare. They are tricky. And one summer I dueled with one, trying with all my might to catch him. He was in my own back yard the first time I saw him. I ran to get the butterfly net, and by the time I got back, he was flitting high in the trees out of reach. I must’ve watched him for half an hour before I finally lost sight of him. About five other times I had encounters with him in the yard or in the neighborhood. I learned the hard way that some butterflies are acrobatic flyers and can actually maneuver to avoid being caught. He frustrated me.
The tiger swallowtail was the butterfly that completed my collection, and it was finished when one of my cousins caught one and gave it to me because she knew I collected them.
But then, one day, while I was sitting on a blanket under a maple tree in the back yard with my notebooks open, writing something that I no longer even recall what I wrote, the backyard tiger swallowtail visited me again. In fact, he landed on the back of my hand. I dropped the pencil I was writing with, and slowly, carefully, I turned my hand over underneath him so that he was sitting on my palm.
I could’ve easily closed my hand upon him and captured him. But I learned the lesson long before from the cecropia that catching a butterfly by hand would destroy its delicate beauty. I would knock all the yellow and black powder off his exquisite wings. I could not catch him. But I could close my hand and crush him. I would be victorious after a summer-long losing battle.
But that moment brought an end to my butterfly hunting. I let him flutter away with the August breeze. I did not crush the butterfly. It was then that I realized what beauty there was in the world, and how fragile that beauty could be. I could not keep it alive forever. But it lasted a little big longer because I chose to let it.
So, here is the lesson that keeps me whole. Even though I had the power, I did not crush the butterfly.
When I started this whole blogging-every-day thing, I decided the rule had to be 500 words written in a day. And I meant to hold myself to writing 500 words somewhere in the writing day, whether it was my blog post or the novel I was working on, or a combination of both. I followed that rule religiously through more than 1,500 blog posts and five first draft novels. I found it easier and easier to surpass 500 words on a daily basis. There are all sorts of bits of time available and I collect ideas faster than a rich kid generates empty candy wrappers. The more I call on the well of words for more words, the more words are available. Now, it seems, writing only 500 words is the trick.
I suppose I have become an Old Man of Words. I know both the rules and the exceptions.
Knowing that I can write more than 500 words easily, then the question becomes, why don’t I? Well, the cardinal rule is “Say it short. Say it simple. And say it sweet.” That rule can generate a lot of wonderful writing, full of juicy ideas that splash with flavor when you bite into them. Ernest Hemingway knew that rule. Every poet knows it. Readers generally prefer the easily accessible idea expressed with elegance.
Now, I also have to admit a guilty pleasure in perpetrating purple paisley prose. That is the style of writing in which I generally write convoluted sentences with complex ideas that fold back in on themselves and over-use alliteration to criminal degrees. Charles Dickens liked to do that with descriptive details. Paragraphs about the boarding schools of London, the streets filled with child chimney sweeps and flower girls, and dingy mind-dulling workhouses could take up two or three pages per paragraph. And two pages further on, he layers more details on the same setting. Piles and piles of words and wordplay fill the pages of William Faulkner, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust. And if you haven’t read at least something from each of those gentlemen, you will never know what you are missing. But you can prune your paragraphs like a greenhouse master florist with limited space will do to his orchids, and you can actually end up fitting great beauty and powerful content into something even more limited than a 500-word essay. In fact, if you take your ideas and distill them, and keep distilling them, over and over, you will eventually have pared the words down into poetry.
So, there you have it. The reason my essays are about 500 words. This one is four hundred and forty one words.
Some books come along telling a story that has to be taken seriously in ways that don’t make sense in any normal way. The Alchemist is one of those books.
What is an alchemist, after all?
An alchemist uses the medieval forms of the art of chemistry to transmute things, one thing becoming another thing.
Coelho in this book is himself an alchemist of ideas. He uses this book to transmute one idea into another until he digs deep enough into the pile of ideas to finally transmute words into wisdom.
There is a great deal of wisdom in this book, and I can actually share some of it here without spoiling the story.
Here are a few gemstones of wisdom from the Alchemist’s treasure chest;
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting…” (p.13)
“It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary; only wise men are able to understand them.” (p.17)
“All things are one. And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” (p.24)
“And when he had gone only a short distance, he realized that, while they were erecting the stall, one of them had spoken Arabic and the other Spanish. And they had understood each other perfectly well. There must be a language that doesn’t depend on words, the boy thought.” (p.45)
All of these quotes from the book, as you can see, come from the first third of the book. There are many more treasures to be found in this book. I should not share them with you here. Just as the main character of the story learns, you have to do the work for yourself. But this book is not only an enjoyable read, but a map for how you can execute your own journey towards your “Personal Legend”. In fact, you may find that the book tells you not only how to go about making a dream come true, but, if you are already on that journey successfully, it tells you what things you are already doing right.
A wizened old man in a wizard’s robe walked up to a twelve-year-old boy.
“Okay, ask your question, and make it good.”
“What?” said the boy. “Who are you, old man?”
“Never mind who I am. I can answer the ultimate question. I have lived a long life. I am very wise.”
“Being old makes you wise.”
“It logically follows, yes. But surely you have a question for me. I know the meaning of life. I can teach you great magic, deep knowledge, and truth. So what will you ask?”
“But the only wisdom that is real,” said the boy, “is knowing that people like you and I really know nothing in the face of the vast, complex universe. I’m twelve. I don’t know anything. So I am also truly wise.”
“I can’t argue that. It is circular reasoning. A circle is a closed loop. But the snake who eats his own tail in the circle of life is a short-lived fool.”
“I guess you are right. That probably does make you wise to know that.”
“But you haven’t yet asked your question. The good one. What is it that you most need to know to make a success of your life?”
“But I have asked it. You just haven’t answered.”
“You did? But what did you ask?”
“Who are you really, old man?”
“Ah, that one again. Well, at heart, I am the same boy that I was when I was twelve. I have learned my whole life long, so I am considered a teacher. I have spent every coin I have ever earned while experiencing my life, so I am a poor man. But no man on earth can ever be richer than me. I have peace of mind. And that is everything of value that there is. If I am to say who I really am, then I must admit, I am you.”
“I thought so. In the end, that’s who we all are.”