Thursday, September 30, 2010

Topic 22: Mental Indigestion


Eating Bacon

Back in the 1970’s when I was teaching expository writing to high schoolers, I began with the derivation of the word “essay,” which is the French verb essayer, to try or to attempt. Even the word “expository” says something about this type of writing, i.e. to make visible or reveal something. I also like the term “exploratory” in conjunction with writing because all of these terms are less intimidating than the word “rhetoric” which is half of the “composition and rhetoric” degree for graduate-level writing specialists.

Somewhere along the way from writing out the alphabet in crayon to writing the required senior research paper, most students lose the notion of “writing as discovery,” as an attempt to take an idea, pull it apart, examine it, play with it, and try to put it back together, not for fame or a grade but purely for the love of ideas and language. In “Age of the Essay,” (2004), Paul Graham puts much of the blame on the shift of the teaching of writing to English professors and the subject of writing to literature. Indeed, the traditional high school curriculum included the study of—and writing about—
Huckleberry Finn, A Separate Peace, MacBeth, and Hamlet and most of the academic writing took place in English classes.

The notion of the modern essay, as opposed to the classical rhetoric of the Greeks and Romans, began with such thinkers as Michel de Montaigne (
Essaies, 1575) and Sir Francis Bacon (Essays, 1597). Montaigne’s choice of topics epitomizes the notion of writing as attempts to explore a range of issues: “Of Cannibals,” “Of Thumbs,”That to Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die.” Bacon too examines an incredible range of topics: “Of Followers and Friends,” “Of Fame,” “Of Marriage and Single Life,” and of course “Of Studies.” Notice I said “thinkers” rather than “writers” because Bacon especially was a philosopher and scientist who used writing to explore those disciplines.

So, the little 1927 writing textbook by William Tanner taps into a long tradition of explorations through writing of the trivial and the tragic, the mundane and the monumental. Although the models Tanner uses are from issues of The Atlantic Monthly, I imagine most of those anonymous submissions came from people who had studied Francis Bacon. They would have read his essays in their entirety, perhaps lingering over coffee with something like this:

Abeunt studia in mores. Nay, there is no stone or impediment in the wit, but may be wrought out by fit studies; like as diseases of the body, may have appropriate exercises. Bowling is good for the stone and reins; shooting for the lungs and breast; gentle walking for the stomach; riding for the head; and the like ( from “Of Studies”).

That’s a lot for 21st century readers of tweets, blogs and e-mails to swallow. We prefer our Bacon in smaller, quotable bites:

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested” (from “Of Studies”).

Tired of intellectual mini-bites? Grab the Tums and enjoy some Bacon.


Paul Graham, “The Age of the Essay"

Sir Francis Bacon: “Of Studies”

Montaigne: Essaies


I’ve been taking antibiotics for the strep throat I got for my birthday and am experiencing some side effects, mostly related to digestion issues. It’s minimal really, and definitely not the worst that could happen according to the online list of possibilities. I mean, my skin isn’t peeling off and I don’t have any mouth sores, so I’m probably fine.

The main problem I have with this medication is that it smells really bad. “Why would you smell the pills?” asked my mother (a reasonable question, I suppose). I’ll tell you why: Although I quit smoking a few months ago, with a minor blip while on vacation, my sense of smell only came back last week. I don’t remember ever being able to smell this well (and yes, I checked to see if it was a side effect – but no). I got roses for my birthday and I can smell them from across the house. Milo, for reasons I haven’t figured out yet, has been secretly peeing on one of my blankets. The smell woke me up in the middle of the night.

And these pills smell bad. So bad, in fact, that I’ve been feeling like they were making me smell bad. I checked online if this was common, and also because the name on the pills didn’t match the name on the bottle and I thought maybe the pharmacist might have screwed up … I’ve been taking these pills for a week, but I only checked just now. I’ve been secretly worried all week that I’ve been taking the wrong medication, and that no one should have to take such bad-smelling medication, but apparently it’s completely normal. So that’s a relief. And also I can tell from the Google results I’m not the only person who smelled their pills.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Topic 21: Family Expectations


Tassles and Teaching

My mother graduated from UCLA in 1932. Although the male-to-female ratio of collegians was about equal at that time, only 10% of 18-21 year old women enrolled in college (Morgan and Huber 33). So, what made Winifred Fike part of that 10%? In notes for a class she took when she was 80 years old, Winnie wrote that her parents had expected her to go to college:

"I began college when I was 17 years old in 1927 at the UCLA campus on Vermont Avenue where I became an elementary education major. College was a “family tradition—no question,” but it had to be affordable, so I lived at home and worked during the summers at Goodyear Tire Company and a printing company. I usually commuted to the campus by trolley, “a long ride to school.

Family tradition. In my family that has meant education and teaching.

Great-grandfather Charles Bower Fike was a teacher in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania conducting classes not only in English but in German in the Pennsylvania Dutch region around McVeytown where my grandfather was born. My grandpa Fike was also a teacher for a time and his sister Irma taught elementary school for many years. I imagine the educational and career expectations for my mother had been made clear from the time she was a young girl. However, she married a geologist whose job required frequent transfers throughout the country. My mother told me that she taught only one day of school, that being when my brother’s teacher was ill and could not find a substitute in their rural Texas community

Most of the family expectations I can recall for myself were the rules imposed as part of raising “good neighbors and good citizens.” I was expected to be polite to elders, respect my teachers, make my bed, clean my plate, and cover my mouth when I coughed (“Carol, it’s just like there is a string attached from your elbow to your mouth that draws your hand up when you sneeze or cough”). Grandpa Fike reinforced expectations from afar by sending only books as Christmas and birthday presents, a tradition I continued with the young children in my family. Just ask my nieces. By the time I was 10 years old, I had already decided I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I don’t really remember being told, “You WILL go to college.” It was a “family tradition—no question.” Just ask my children.

I am the 4th generation of teachers in our family, but not the last. My niece Cathy came to her career in education late-- after getting an MBA and working in the business world. She has a tough job as a special education teacher whose students present a constellation of physical, emotional and intellectual challenges. I know if my mother were here, she would say “I love and am proud of
all my grandchildren,” but Grandma Winnie would still really enjoy the surprise of another teacher in the family. After all, it’s a “family tradition—no question.”


Most of the things I’ve done in my life so far were planned out for me when I was a child. My father used to plot out my life for me and it drove me crazy. He would say, “You can learn Spanish in Mexico, like I did.” And “You’re going to go to a women’s college, like your mom!” Or “ You’ll study abroad, like we did.” The only part I really objected to was the women’s college part because it didn’t sound very fun. When I hated high school and begged to be allowed to drop out and take my GED, we made a compromise. I could take extra classes and finish early if I did something productive with my time off. So, I went to Mexico for two months and studied Spanish, just like my father had 25 years before.

When it came time to look at colleges, I fought the all-women’s education plan right up until he offered me a trip to San Francisco to visit my aunt if I would agree to visit the Mills College campus. We drove through the front gates and down the eucalyptus lined drive and parked the car behind the Tea Shop. I saw a payphone and suggested we call mom. “Do you like it?” she asked. “Yeah,” I said. “The campus is beautiful. I guess I’ll go here.”

That’s how I made one of the biggest decisions of my life – one that has affected every single choice I’ve made since. Because it was pretty. And maybe because Dad always said I would.

When it was time to pick a study abroad program, I asked a friend for advice. She suggested Brighton, where she had gone the year before. I didn’t know anything about any of the places offered and I didn’t feel like doing any research. On the life plan sketched out by my parents, studying abroad was next on the list and one place seemed as good as any other. That’s how I moved to England for the first time – the other biggest decision of my life.

I’m coming off pretty lazy in this essay, and I guess that’s true. Moving back to England after college to attend library school, going to work in the prison – those were the first choices I made that I hadn’t been told I would do. And moving back to Arizona, which I always SWORE would never happen, that was my choice too. And it wasn’t until I ventured out in the world that I realized how lucky I am – that not every family is like mine. I couldn’t have done any of this without their support, which they give me even when I don’t meet their expectations.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Topic 20: On the Pleasure of Escape


The Pleasure of (Temporary) Escape

Milo The Magnificent has gotten loose twice this week. The first time was at our usual walking spot. On our drive up the hill, an antelope had crossed the road ahead of us, and rabbits were hopping through the brush; so, Milo was ready to follow his nose for adventure. When we reached the rendez-vous point, I opened the truck door, slid out and got his leash ready, but he leapt past me and took off on a 15-minute romp through the Alligator juniper, cat claws and wild sunflowers. Milo does not come until he is good and ready. Milo lives to run.

The second escape came yesterday when the All-Clean car pulled into the driveway for the bi-weekly house-cleaning. When he heard the car, Milo began barking and ran for the front door. He does this partly to prove he is a watch-dog but mostly because he loves the cleaning ladies, who give him a little treat when they arrive and lots of praise. This time Milo hit the screen door in just the right place and popped it open. He had done 20 laps around the car before the ladies could get the doors fully open, and then he jumped into the car and scrambled around on their laps before they could get out. Milo also lives for attention.

Although I hold my breath and fret when Milo takes off like this—bad Milo—I know he will always come back when his instincts are satisfied and he remembers his perfect life of steady meals, daily walks, lots of petting, a boxful of toys, and comfortable places to sleep. His escapes are TO something, not FROM something, a momentary return to the pre-domesticated freedom of the wild.

I too enjoy my temporary escapes. From a very young age, I lived in, and traveled through, the pages of books, the longer the story the better. I roamed the universe with Podkayne of Mars, wandered the moors with Jane Eyre, and got drunk on life with Zorba the Greek. I’m sure that my love of travel came from devouring all those books. Who could read
The Portrait of a Lady or The Razor’s Edge without longing for Paris? Who could read Sherlock Holmes or Dickens without pining for London? And if I could travel in search of my literary heroes, so much the better: Ernest Hemingway’s home and 6-toed cats in Key West, Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm in the Lake District, Albert Camus’ gravestone in Loumarin Cemetery in Provence, the Bronte Parsonage in Yorkshire.

I’m really not really much different than Milo. At the end of a journey---whether as an armchair traveler or a real-time jet setter—I am content to return to my home on Harris Drive and my domesticated life daily walks, steady meals, lots of attention, stacks full of books and comfortable places to read.


A Clean, Well-lighted Room of One’s Own

About 15 years ago, my parents hired a bunch of high-schoolers to build a shed in our front yard. They did a pretty good job. It matches the house (both are barn-shaped). In addition to having a lot more storage space, the shed includes a finished room in the back with a separate entrance, carpeting, phone jack and electricity. It’s supposed to be my dad’s office but to this day, he has never used it. Maybe when he retires…

Anyway, over the years this room has had several incarnations. When I was in high school it was my painting studio, and I got paint all over the walls and ruined the carpet with linseed oil and turpentine. I went through a phase where I painted giant, vague self-portraits. The only trait I shared with the girls in the paintings was the hairstyle – not unlike the cartoons I draw for this blog.

After I went off to college, all the paintings came off the walls and the studio became another storage area. I’m sure the parents have cleaned and organized it several times with the intention that someone would use it, but when I returned home this summer, it was full of old files, broken furniture and bicycles.

Since I’ve moved back I’ve taken a class and then started this project, both of which required a quiet space for me to work. I tried sitting on a chair in the living room with the computer in my lap, but no one recognized that was “work” time – instead it was “ask Megan a question” time, or “can you get the phone Megan, you’re closer” time. I set up a desk in my room but then my mother decided she didn’t like the way it looked and took it out.

Finally, I asked how long it would take clean out the room in the shed so I could use it. Mom must have heard some hint of desperation in my voice, because an hour later she and my dad had dragged all the junk out of the room and into the yard. We moved in the desk that had been banished from my bedroom, moved all of my journals and books and plugged in my laptop. And I finally have a clean, well-lighted room of my own.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Topic 19: The Influence of Proximity


The Power of Positive Proximity

The challenge of trying to respond to these sometimes archaic, often head-scratching daily topics, is discovering what I really WANT to say as opposed to saying something that will just fit the topic. I have started this essay three times. The first time, I wrote about peer pressure as an often negative example of what the term “influence of proximity” might mean. I’m sure we can all point to places in our lives when we did something we wish we hadn’t purely because our friends dared us to. Big-haired, white-lipsticked, black eye –shadowed as I was in 1964, it was inevitable that I would give into peer pressure to smoke, which I attempted at lunchtime in the back of a friend’s car. Fifteen minutes later the whole school knew about it because in an effort to be cool, I also got sick (luckily after I got out of the car). We all have those stories.

But, once I got that out of my writing system, I started thinking about the positive things that come out of being part of a strong sphere of influence. That same year in high school, a group of us jokingly formed a “Constructive Criticism Club.” I imagine at the time we did it to encourage each other to lose weight, grow our fingernails, and attain some kind of previously unmet goal of social acceptability, but in reality we banded together to talk about books, dream about going to college and laugh a lot. That “laugh a lot” part was really important.

That recollection led me to think about the bursts of creative energy that have come out of time/spatial proximity of people who probably were risk-takers and innovators and rule-breakers individually but whose spark of genius was encouraged by association with a group. Most people need models and mentors, I think, in order to push the boundaries of what they think they can do. When two young, Harvard-trained Unitarian Ministers in New England decided to form a discussion group for “disaffected young clergy” in 1836 (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), I don’t think they would know that the Transcendental Club would attract the minds and creativity to start a Movement. Imagine the conversations when Ralph Waldo Emerson and his friend Frederic Henry Hedge got together with Bronson Alcott (Louisa May’s father), Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Margaret Fuller, who became the editor of their publication The Dial. What began as critique of their theological roots and exploration of European philosophers led to advocation of women’s rights, Utopian social experiments such as Brooke Farm and Thoreau’s sojourn at Walden, and eventually to anti-slavery protest.

Whether a philosophicall/social movement such as the Transcendentalists or an artistic movement such as the Harlem Renaissance in New York or the congregation of artists and writers in Paris during the 1920’s, there seems to be that notion of synergy where the total effect is greater than the sum of the individual parts, or what we might call The Influence of Proximity.

Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy –Transcendentalism


The Serendipity of Browsing

One night when I was still working, a prisoner shouted to me from across the library,
"Miss! Where you keep the black books?"
"We don't segregate books in this library."
"Seriously Miss, how am I supposed to find other books this guy wrote? You should have a system and put them in some kinda order, like, by genre, you know... law, cooking, fiction..."
"Yeah, we do have a system."
"You gotta fiction section?"
"It's arranged by the author's last name."
"Oh, right. That's a good system."
"I think so too."

Setting aside the fact that I obviously failed that prisoner when I gave him the library induction, the way books are shelved in a library can actually be a complicated notion. The inmates who worked for me in the prison library were tasked with shelving the library materials. It was a continuous struggle to get them to put the books where they belonged instead of in the first space they came across. One time they tried to convince me that all the books should be re-shelved according to size because “it would look so much nicer” and had completed a section before I could stop them.  

Everyone’s heard of the Dewey Decimal Code, but it’s actually a really outdated coding system (i.e. Philosophy & Psychology get the 100’s, Religion gets the entire 200’s section, but computers only get from 004-006). However, with the DDC and other subject based shelving systems, items placed next to each other are usually related. This system lends itself well to browsing, as people are often searching for a specific topic rather than author (except in Fiction). In the library world, there is a notion of the ‘serendipity of browsing,’ the loss of which is often bemoaned when discussing the digitization of information – when card catalogues became online catalogues, and when people started using Google to answer their questions, instead of the Reference section. The serendipity of browsing is the idea that one often finds exactly what they are looking for, seemingly by accident.

But it’s not an accident – not really. You may be randomly browsing the Just Returned shelf, or wandering the stacks with a vague idea of what you’re looking for, and suddenly stumble upon an entire section relevant to your interest. There is a psychology to this – people choose reading material either because it was recommended (in reviews, by a friend, and by virtue of having been recently read) or because they are looking for specific information. Non-fiction books are not shelved alphabetically because people would have to run all over the place to find what they were looking for; it would incapacitate the ‘serendipity of browsing’ and diminish the influence of proximity.

The influence of proximity is really a matter of convenience. People usually shop at the grocery store closest to their home, pick the restaurant closest to the movie theater and fall in love with “the girl next door.” And when browsing, they look for more information on a subject and expect to find it within arm’s reach. Those aren’t the only options and they may not be the cheapest, the best, or even available, but close and convenient often rank high when making decisions (at least, when I make decisions). And it is this somewhat lazy human personality quirk that Mr. Dewey was catering to when he came up with his system.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Topic 18: On Riding Pegasus with Spurs


Pondering Pegasus

One of my favorite Walt Disney movies is the 1940’s animated feature
Fantasia, which introduces children to classical music through a “concert” performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Each of the 8 sequences is accompanied by a story with characters ranging from Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice to dancing elephants. Beethoven’s Symphony known familiarly as “Pastoral,” uses every fantastical creature from Greek Mythology, from fauns to unicorns, including a new-born Pegasus who is just learning to fly. Children liked this awkward little fellow so much that he was later named Peter and figured in several short cartoons. If anything Peter and his multicolored winged playmates (pegasi—plural of Pegasus) look like the prototype for the “My Little Pony” plastic collectible toys that became popular in the 1980’s, with their bright sherbet colors and fat little bodies. Less prominent in the sequence were the pegasi parents, an elegant cream-white mother who evokes the grace of a swan, and a coal-black, dignified father. For many children, Fantasia may have been their first lesson in Greek mythology, and a pretty tame version it was.

A college student at Harvard in 1927 would have been much more familiar with classical mythology, and the winged horse Pegasus was most often depicted as a large, powerful beast, “the thundering horse of Zeus” (
Greek Myth Index: Pegasus). In the original Greek, untamed legend, Pegasus was the result of a union between Medusa and Poiseidon (in the form of a horse), born when Perseus cut off Medusa’s head. No little Peter Pegasus raised under the protective wing of his elegant mother. This Pegasus would be depicted in paintings with rippling muscles and the power and fight of a wild bull, such as in Italian artist Giovanni Tiepolo’s 1746 “Bellepheron Riding Pegasus.”

Bellepheron is the other part of mythology attached to the story of Pegasus. He was given golden reins to ride Pegasus in various challenges, eg. against a fire-breathing monster called a Chimaera and later the Amazons (that’s the really simple summary of a very complicated myth). In some stories Bellerophon tried to ride Pegasus up to the heavens, but falling or being bucked off, the horse having been stung by a gad-fly sent by a jealous Zeus.

So what might today’s topic, “On Riding Pegasus with Spurs,” mean to the young, mostly male collegians who would own the1927 textbook on writing? Is Bellerophon the message for them rather than Pegasus? Some people barely hold on when presented with daunting challenges. They are afraid of the ride, of being bucked off and just want to get through it without harm. Others may have more courage, may even enjoy the thrill and speed of riding the back of adventure. A final few not only grab the reins, but take control and fly to the heavens, whatever the risk. Is this a leadership model for the young American male? Future captains of industry and daredevil entrepreneurs?

As for me, I’m thinking more about the horse, the beautiful, powerful, wild and free creature who is the winged companion to the gods. I like to imagine the white-winged Pegasus soaring through the skies, unencumbered by a rider with golden reins and spurs. Unlike Bellapheron, this Pegasus reaches the heavens, and we only have to look up into the skies during early autumn to see him. Perhaps tonight?

Disney Archives

Greek Myth Index


Still sick. Got strep throat for my birthday. No good. So, here's a clip of the pegasi from

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Topic 17: The Tyranny of Trifles


The Tyranny of Trivial Pursuits

The Books: I began buying old books at thrift stores when I was about 13. The first one I bought, a green-leather covered school edition of A Tale of Two Cities, cost about 25 cents but the value plummeted when I turned to my favorite page and found someone had removed the section that began “T’is a far far better thing I do….” My personal library has grown so big that I have boxes in my basement waiting for the bookcases I dream of building someday. I have a tiny children’s book with my grandfather’s name scrawled inside and the date 1890. I have my high school English book with my name scrawled inside and the date 1964. Asking me to cut down my book collection is like asking me to sever a digit or remove a friend’s name from my address book. I finally had to implement a rule: I have to get rid of a book to get another one. That rule was pretty well sabotaged this summer when I teamed up for travel with daughter Megan, who didn’t become a librarian because she likes to alphabetize. Her book collection already rivals mine and currently is housed in a stack of plastic milk crates. I’m not sure she knows that I have boxes of her books from toddler-to-teen stored in the attic of our shed.

The Bookmarks: As a teacher, I could justify buying books on our travels instead of the usual tourist gewgaws . Problem, of course, is that suitcases get REALLY heavy and, well, there’s that old problem with storage again. Just never enough bookshelves. So, I began shifted to collecting bookmarks instead. Easy to carry, fit in a drawer, cheaper, most tourist sites have them. I have everything from a pressed flower bookmark from Bronte Parsonage to a tongue dispenser painted and inscribed “Mom” to the special yearly photo bookmark of the “Distinguished Literary Ladies,” my book club. II probably have 100 of them by now—many of them gifts—but I still haven’t figured out how to display them. And I still use scraps of paper, Kleenex, and grocery store receipts to mark my place in the stacks of books by my bed. Where are those pesky bookmarks when you really need them.

The Christmas Decorations: Now that the weather is starting to change, it’s time to think about the approaching holiday seasons. My garage shelves have boxes labeled for each holiday, but Halloween and Thanksgiving are just the warm-up for the Big One. The day after Thanksgiving I start removing the whatnots from my curio cabinet shelves and the china cabinet. I pack up the coffee cups and dishes, and start converting my house into a Christmas Wonderland beginning with the Angel Advent Calendar. Out come my precious collection of crèches, the Prescott Christmas mugs, the book table edition of A Christmas Carol, all the introduction to the main event, the decorating of the Christmas tree with all the hand-made and unique ornaments, including Queen Elizabeth, four of the wives of Henry VIII, and the stuffed mice hand-made and embroidered by my sister-in-law 40 years ago.

My Name is Carol, and I Am…A Collector.


Has been struck down with a sore throat, chills and 102 degree fever. Will update again when feeling better.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Topic 16: On Looking Wise


The “Harmonious Human Multitude”

I have struggled with today’s topic for almost 24 hours, and it still puzzles me. On sounding wise, being wise, but looking wise? Professor Dumbledore? Merlin?

Anybody with glasses and a beard? The only time I ever concerned myself with trying to look wise was when I started teaching college and wanted to achieve a sense of authority in the classroom (at the time I was using a diaper bag as a briefcase). Most often such attempts at establishing a professional persona merely succeeded in making me look old, not wise.

What I really want to think about this morning is Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). He does kind of look wise in paintings although he doesn’t wear a beard. Carl Van Doren, Pullitzer-prize winning biographer and historian of the American Revolution, described Ben Franklin as the “harmonious human multitude.” That descriptor sounds poetic when you say it out loud, and it even looks wise, but what the heck does it mean?

The author of Poor Richard’s Almanac valued clear, economical communication that reflects “Franklin’s lifelong quest for words which most efficiently communicate what he had to say” (Leary 71). After all, he was a printer and a writer before he was an inventor and a statesman. We learn in school about Poor Richard’s aphorisms and the lengthy list of Franklin’s inventions and accomplishments: discovery of electricity, bifocals, the Franklin stove, lightning rod, even swim fins. Fewer people have read his autobiography, which wasn’t actually published until 1868.

Franklin’s Autobiography is written in the same straightforward style as his other writings although it sounds very formal by 21st century standards. According to Professor Lewis Leary, he wrote it primarily for his grandson with the intention that most grandparents want for the younger generation, that they benefit from the wisdom gained from both their elders’ accomplishments and mistakes. In the book, Franklin describes in detail his reading habits as a child when “all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books” (71). Apprenticed to his older brother who was a printer, he later began to borrow better books from his friends apprenticed to book sellers, so that “Often I sat up in my room reading the greatest part of the night… to be able to return them in the morning" (72).

What I appreciate about Ben Franklin is that his wisdom seems to have been in being able to be both a thinker and a doer. He must have sat around thinking before he ever took that kite out into a lightning storm, but if he had been afraid of getting wet, nothing would have come of that pondering. When I finally looked up Carl Van Doren’s phrase and read the lengthy description of what it mean, I understood the appropriateness of it. “The multitudinous” part refers to the long list of accomplishments of a doer; the “harmonious” part refers to a certain simplicity and integrity of thought in Franklin’s wisdom. But, let Mr. Franklin speak to himself about his philosophy of life:

“Well done is better than well said.”

Sources: The Electric Ben Franklin

American Literary Essays edited by Lewis Leavy


It's so simple to be wise. Just think of something stupid to say and say the opposite.
- Sam Levenson

Today’s topic is not about wisdom, but rather the appearance of it. Creating the illusion of wisdom is more important than acquiring it. I had a teacher once who told our class that we should smile even if we are unhappy, because people will think we are happy and will treat us as if we are happy and then we will be happy.

Yeah, that always seemed like crap logic to me too, but … how much satisfaction can one get from actually being wise? But looking wise can open all sorts of doors.

Looking wise is quite simple. First, get a pair of glasses. If you don’t actually need glasses you can just go to Claire’s Accessories and get a pair of stylish frames with no prescription. (Sidenote: I do not wear glasses because I wear cardigans. My eyes are probably fine, and I am always cold. If I wore glasses too, I would look too much like a librarian cliché. I feel that would be unwise.)

Second, you need to develop a mental library of quotations on a variety of subjects. Marlene Dietrich said:
“I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with more authority by someone recognizably wiser than oneself.”
Notice that she said “recognizably wiser” – once again the celebrity and appearance of wisdom prevail over actual wisdom. Using quotations makes you look wiser than you are, when actually you are just using your memory.

Third, you need to cultivate a slightly distracted personality. Miles Kingston, a columnist for the UK’s Independent, wrote on this same topic. His advice is to “keep still and say nothing at all.” Also, you should have epiphanies often, but don’t share them. Follow Dr. Gregory House’s example, trail off mid-sentence, say something vague like, “Of course!” or “Shit! I forgot to carry the 2!” and then dart off with no explanation.

You must tread carefully. Any appearance of wisdom so carefully cultivated can be undone in a second with bad advice, an inappropriate joke (example: my Dad), or if someone should see you without your glasses. But if you follow this advice, in no time you will start to look wise. You will discover that people respect you, they’ll recommend you to others and they’ll seek your advice. They’ll say nice things about you, they’ll say you’re an old soul or that you are smart or insightful or… wise.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Topic 15: Humorous Blunders


Shoes, --and Ships and--Blunderbusses

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."
From Lewis Caroll’s 1872 “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (

Whenever I send an e-mail to family or friends that is just a bunch of rambling, disconnected thoughts, I put in the subject line: “re: Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax.” I have never actually called their attention to it, but I figure it is almost a caveat emptor that I have much to say about nothing, and nothing much to say.

At first, I thought the topic of “Humorous Blunders” would be easy. I have a book’s worth of anecdotes that illustrate my keen ability to fall on my face or put my foot in my mouth or step on somebody’s toes. But, most of them are better spoken than written so that I can at least use my facial expressions and arm gestures to punctuate the story of “My Most Embarrassing Moment.” But the topic “Humorous Blunders” is another one of those oxymorons we are getting used to with these topics from 1927. SHOES.

Blunders are serious in their consequences. When I fell on the rope tow in Banff as a novice skier and knocked down the next 20 people on the rope, it was an embarrassing moment but it didn’t constitute a blunder. When I was giving an orientation to a group of new faculty and suddenly realized that my shirt was not only on backwards but inside out, that was a humiliating moment but it wasn’t a blunder. When I walked into the Men’s Room at the British Library, well that might have been a blunder if the urinals were in use and someone had gotten injured trying to cover his privates, but luckily the room was empty. Most dictionaries would say that a blunder is a “stupid and grave mistake” (Concise Heritage Dictionary). By definition, then, a blunder can’t be humorous. SHIPS.

The word “blunder” brings to mind another word having the same derivation, “blunderbuss.” A blunderbuss is a gun with a large mouth almost like a trumpet, and most people have probably seen it associated with the pilgrims chasing down turkeys on Saturday cartoons. In fact, in Cartoonland, when the hunter shoots a blunderbuss, it is more likely to take down the pilgrim not the turkey. Over time, the term “blunderbuss” has come to mean, not just a weapon, but the one who uses the weapon, i.e. a stupid, bungler. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I enjoy learning about words and hearing unusual words. Blunderbuss is one of those strong, emphatic words that “shoots” right out of your mouth, like poopsnagle or clodpate or balderdash or jabberwocky. SEALING WAX.


A Humerus Blunder
(this is my attempt to be like my mom and not only title my essay, but also use a pun)

March 31, 1994 was a Thursday (thanks Internet!) and also spring break. I was alone in the house talking to my best-friend Noel on the phone. My brother was walking the dogs. My parents were in China. My uncle Doug, who was supposed to be supervising us, had taken my grandmother to get her car re-upholstered because the ceiling fabric was falling down. It’s funny the way details stick with you, how they burn into your mind after a traumatic event.

I was 12, so the first thing I would do when I got home from school was call Noel. Noel and I went to school together, we sat next to each other in class and we passed notes to each other all day long. Some how we still found it necessary to speak to each other on the phone for 3 or 4 hours every day after school. On the weekends and holidays, if we weren’t having a sleepover, the phone calls would extend to 12 -36 hours a day.

We didn’t have cell phones back then. Or cordless phones (or even push-button phones). So, I had to sit at the kitchen counter, twisting the cord with my fingers and tipping back on the stool, while kicking the wall with my tennis shoe. That was the only comfortable way to spend hundreds of hours on the phone.

I had been warned against tipping back on the stool. My mother always told me I would break something (myself, or even worse, the stool), but on that day, my mother wasn’t around to protect me from myself because she was in China trying to ignore my father as he urinated off the Great Wall. And Uncle Doug (who has a history of neglecting me) was off with my grandmother doing non-essential, purely cosmetic, and utterly pointless car maintenance.

The first time I fell off the stool, I dropped the phone too. I picked myself up off the ground, and laughing, told Noel I’d fallen. The second time, I took the phone with me and Noel got my scream right in the ear. "Did it again," I said. "Isn’t it funny how I don’t learn from my mistakes?"

The third time something broke. The pain was instantaneous, but I had the presence of mind to hang up with Noel (“Gotta go”) before I threw up.

I went out on the deck, my arm hanging uselessly and painfully at my side and scoured the neighborhood for my brother. I screamed and yelled and got his attention and he came running home with the dogs. He was only 10, so I don’t know what I thought he was going to do for me, but he suggested calling 911. Instead, I called Noel back, because her mom used to be a nurse. Noel’s mom arrived about the same time as my uncle. Since he was supposed to be the one in charge, he took me to the hospital in grandma’s nicely re-upholstered car. I leaned back in the seat and stared at the ceiling and thought, “Huh. They did a good job, that looks really nice.”

We had to wait forever at the hospital because some lady got hit by a car and shattered her pelvis. We could hear her screaming. I remember thinking, “Why didn’t she look where she was going? That accident was totally preventable.”

Finally, I got x-rays and the doctor gave me a splint instead of a cast, because I was a girl and girls don’t fall down as much as boys. That is actually what he said.

The next day my parents came home and thought that my broken arm was an April Fool’s Joke and we had to show my dad the hospital bill before he believed it. I was looking forward to getting back to school the next week to show off the injury, but was dismayed to discover that my arch-enemy Taylor, who had the same birthday as me and was always stealing my thunder had once again upstaged me by breaking his own arm! And he had a cast! God, I hated him.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Topic 14: A Model Obituary


A Model Life

A well-written obituary is much like any other kind of writing. It uses concrete detail, avoids platitudes, provides accurate facts and reflects the nature of the subject. I want to add “tries to be interesting and entertaining” although people may disagree. I often read the New York Times obituaries just because they are so well-written; they do entertain me. Most of the obituaries in my local newspaper fall into two categories: the free “just the facts” basic information about the deceased and funeral plans provided by the mortuary and the paid obituaries written by friends or family members that include the more intimate details of the loved one’s life, capturing if possible a little of what made the deceased a unique person. I have read numerous family obituaries to fill in the genealogical gaps for my family history project. Sometimes I get real surprises.

M. Virginia Fike Rosenbaum (1921-2005) was my
mother’s first cousin, the daughter of Grandpa Fike’s brother John. I have a single, small photo of Virginia dated 1952, and she looks like a typical housewife, perhaps a neighbor of the Cleaver family on Leave it to Beaver. However, her obituary shows a woman who was anything but typical. At the time of the photograph, she had already risen to Account Executive for the Henry J. Kaufman Advertising Agency in Washington, D.C., started her own agency, then purchased the Allegany Citizen which she edited and published for almost 30 years. She later owned a surveying company and was the first woman county surveyor in Maryland. These are but a few of the business credentials detailed in her obituary. She was also a social activist and devout Catholic, who “purchased a school house and held classes for Catholic children in rural Maryland and Pennsylvania” (source: May 13, 2003 The Republican online edition). Her accomplishments are too numerous to fit into a single page, making her the ideal subject for a “model obituary.”

The same year the photo of M. Virginia Fike Rosenbaum was taken, Grandpa Fike’s Aunt Annie Grassmyer died (1868-1952), Her obituary is barely a paragraph, mostly giving the family lineage of the “already deads” and “left behinds, “ including mention of a favorite nephew Herbert Grassmyer with whom she had lived for years. Aunt Annie never married, instead was caregiver and housekeeper for her elderly mother and a male relative until both died within weeks of each other in 1911. I have a single, small photo of Annie by herself but lots of family pictures with all the Fike and Grassmyer siblings and their children. Sometimes I need a magnifying glass to pick her out, one of several plainish older women in long skirts and aprons. Yet, she stands out in her own way. She is the one who is always smiling. Her accomplishments? Less tangible than Virginia’s, harder to capture in words: devotion to mother, delight in young children, deep roots in her Pennsylvania Dutch community, faithful church-goer who taught Sunday and donated her “spinster’s mite” to the Methodist missions.

A model obituary? No. A model life, a happy life? Yes, yes.


"Died tragically rescuing his family from the wreckage of a destroyed sinking battleship."
– Royal Tenenbaum’s headstone.

One day short of her 100th birthday, Ms Hammond passed away in her sleep. Ms. Hammond spent most of her 20’s in England, where she attended library school and then worked as the library manager for a maximum-security prison. She returned to the United States in the midst of the Great Recession, and lived with her parents. Shortly before her 30th birthday Ms. Hammond received an unexpected and anonymous inheritance, which left her financially secure for the rest of her life.

From that point on, she focused on writing and traveling the world. She divided her time between the US and the UK. Over the next 60 years, Ms Hammond published more than 30 works of fiction, but is more famously known for her literary travel guides, which remain on the best-seller list to this day. Ms Hammond was among the first civilians to travel to the moon, and her subsequent novel, “A View of Earth from the Moon” was credited with popularizing Lunar Travel in the mid-2040’s. Ms Hammond was a prolific diarist and her journals, which numbered in the hundreds, have been preserved in a special collection and donated to Mills College, where Ms Hammond received both her BA (2004). and her MFA (2024).

A life-long advocate of libraries and information literacy, Ms Hammond was instrumental in securing an endowment to ensure that public school libraries were staffed by qualified, professional librarians.

She is survived by her partner of nearly 70 years, children and grandchildren.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Topic 13: On Wearing New Shoes


These Shoes Were Made For Walking

I guess if there were ever an expert on the topic of wearing new shoes, it would be Imelda Marcos who, when the palace walls came tumbling down, didn’t have time to pack her 2,700 pairs of shoes. Well, maybe she packed her running shoes. Right now, my shoe “collection” fits in one of those cloth things with pockets, that hang over a door, and they represent my evolved fashion rules:

  • Comfort over style
  • Black is better
  • Cheap is even better
  • Too much choice is confusing
There are pockets for ten pairs of shoes, and currently seven of those ten pairs are black (my walking shoes are stowed in the closet). Not that I haven’t coveted a stylish pair of shoes in my day.

Most American women of a certain age and middle-class background will tell you that their rite of passage into womanhood was not some mystical, meaningful, spiritual ceremony but a trip to the store (they didn’t even have malls when I was a kid) to buy: the first bra, the first make-up, and….the first pair of high heels. I really had to fight my mother on the shoes because the “All the other girls have them” never worked for anything;. I finally won the battle during 7th grade and proudly wobbled around in my brand new ,1- inch, squash-heeled Capezios. As with my fashion choices (see T#5 on dressing well), my Imelda years escalated from the Capezios to a peak when I was in college. I had the heels, I had the colors, I had the styles, and I had the bunions and blisters to prove it.

My ultimate “new shoes” experience really occurred because of my belief in the late sixties that beneath my Campbell Soup fat-cheeked, freckle-covered, chubby girl exterior was a Bohemian romantic with a touch of mystery. The closest I came to fulfilling this fantasy was the purchase of a pair of espradrilles when I was travelling in France with my boyfriend of that time (who became the husband of this time). Espadrilles were those rope-soled canvas shoes that were ubiquitous and cheap in France at the time. But, they rose to a level of romantic sophistication when worn by Brigitte Bardot or Catherine Deneuve, whom I had actually seen walking down the street in Aix-en-Provence. If shoes make the man, then espradrilles would make me into a tres chic Bohemienne. These espradilles were the perfect color of blue, somewhere between marine and navy. They fit fine, so I slipped them on and headed off for a day of sightseeing with Marc. No busses, no metro, we walked everywhere. When it began to rain, I really wanted to get on a bus, but Nooooooo, we had to walk back to the hotel to save money. By the time I got into the room, I was soaked all the way through and so were the canvas shoes. Shaking with chills, I pulled off the shoes. I looked down, and there they were, two pruned-up blue feet. Dyed the exact color of the espadrilles. Stained the color of the espadrilles.

So much for “La Boheme.”


One time I bought a pair of patent leather work shoes that were totally cute and extremely cheap. The first time I wore them to work, I was barely halfway across the parking lot when the pain set in my heels.

I didn’t want to get a blister so I quickly tucked the bottoms of my jeans (it was a Thursday) into the shoes and went through the gate into the prison. The pain only got worse. It takes approximately 7 minutes to get from the gate to the library but it felt like 7 hours. I was trying so hard not to limp; I had tears streaming down my face.

I didn’t stop to actually examine my feet until I reached the library and by that point, my jeans were soaked halfway up the calves with blood. A prison is pretty much the last place you want to have an open wound, except for maybe a cesspit. Luckily the first aid kits are well stocked. I disinfected my heels and wrapped them with gauze and lined the shoes with band-aids. There wasn’t a lot I could do about the jeans, but luckily they were dark enough that they looked like they’d soaked up a puddle instead of half the blood in my body.

Believe it or not, I continued to wear those shoes. (They were cute!) I didn’t stop wearing them until I’d worn holes through the soles, which then detached and flapped as I walked. My library officers (aka fashion police) loved that.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Topic 12: Interesting By-Paths


Blue By-ways
At the end of May 1986, we bought an old Clark motorhome and headed off with two pre-schoolers on an 18,000 mile journey around North America, no itinerary and no calendar, going to sleep when it got dark, getting up when it got light. Space was tight, but we always had room for books and a chapter an evening of Tom Sawyer read out loud got us through the first month. I brought along a book that had been popular in the early 1980’s and I savored it as we drove along the Trans-Canada Highway and turned south for Glacier and Yellowstone, William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways. I love a good map as much as a book—I’m the family joke on this one—so the title appealed to me, taken from the color system on the Rand McNally maps to show the “roads less taken” of rural America.

By the time we had followed the blue roads across the midwest , Ontario and Quebec, the weather and the leaves were changing and the metal walls of our Rolling Home were beginning to confine; so, we headed down the coast of New England and found a post- Labor Day deal on a cabin near Orleans on Cape Cod. From the serendipity of travel without routine, we settled into a simple daily rhythm. After breakfast we wandered the little cove behind the cottage, perfecting the art of “turn up stuffing” we had learned from reading Pippi Longstockings, to find little treasures of fishermen’s line, water-worn glass, and discarded crab shells. Later in the morning, would make a trip to the little public library, then explore the now tourist-less towns and beaches of the Cape.

As the weather began to chill, we repacked the RV with the idea of heading south to the warmer Carolinas, but we spent one more week traveling the backroads of Massachusetts in search of Thoreau and Dickinson. Two images from those final days in New England stick in my mind, and they could not be farther apart in the emotions they evoke. The first is of five-year old Megan, pigtails flying in Pippi Longstockings fashion, screaming in terror as she lost control of her two-wheeler bicycle and gained frightful speed. She knew I was laughing as I tried to chase her down (it was the pigtails, kiddo), and she has never quite forgiven me for that. The second was a last, quiet walk through the woods with kidlets and walking sticks in tow. Suddenly, we came to a fork in the road that stopped us. Which way to go—left, right, turn around? And then I felt it, I mean I really FELT it, the incredible beauty and depth, the profound simplicity of one poem:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
(Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken” 1920)


When I was in college, I would occasionally go through phases where I didn’t feel like seeing anyone, and I would plot a course to my classes that I knew would avoid the busiest parts of campus. Sometimes this meant it would take a half an hour to walk to a class that would otherwise have taken 5 minutes. At Mills College, in Oakland, I wandered the hills above the school and would spend hours sitting on the banks of Lake Aliso, writing in my journal. I marveled at the overgrown beauty so close to a major freeway and wondered why more students didn’t come up there. But whenever I saw one, I would bristle with irritation.

While studying abroad at the University of Sussex, in England, I did the same thing, but had a lot more people to avoid. Luckily there was a lot more ground. The university is located in the South Downs, which was considered an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is now a national park.

Just over the hill from the university was Stanmer Park, which consisted of a scattering of cottages, a church, farmland and a large house – where the lord of the manor must have once lived. No one lived in the big house anymore, and it appeared to be undergoing renovation, and the surrounding parklands seemed mostly to be used by dog walkers.

I discovered these places by accident. I had been vaguely aware that there was a lake and a park, but I didn’t know where they were and never deliberately set out to find them. That made my discovery of them, in the course of grumpy, anti-social wanderings through overgrown paths and woods, all the more special.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Topic 11: On Waiting for the Postman


Please, Mr. Postman

Our mailbox is looking pretty shabby, the black paint faded from the sun at 5000 feet altitude. The numbers on the box have been replaced several times because neighborhood kids (maybe even the Hammond kids) used to pull off one of the four numbers to leave “666.” The address itself is our fourth in 27 years although we have never moved, evidence of the growing population of our community. The first mailbox was out on the main road along with about 15 others on a long post built by the county, Our mailing address was simply our name and “Camp Wood Route,” not even a number.

Eventually, the county gave us an official house address and notification put up a mailbox at the end of our driveway. I felt a leap in my heart in a Steve Martin “Hey, the new phone books are in” kind of way, the same excitement I felt when the Costco was built and we didn’t have to drive down to Phoenix anymore. Our own address, our own home delivery, and by golly, we would actually see a postman. Of course, out here the postman is somebody hired by the postal service who drives around in a little truck, no uniform and pouch, no dogs nipping at his legs.

During those 27 years, the mail has changed along with the addresses. The chatty letters, birthday cards, even the bills have disappeared as the older loyal letter writers died and the cards and bills replaced by e-vites, e-mails, e-cards and egads…paperless billing. I miss those letters, full of little tidbits of family news and neighborhood gossip, political rantings. As I pour over generations of letters saved by various family members, I appreciate the history—and love—captured in the hand-written notes:

“Dear Grandma and Grandpa—

We received your letter and am sorry Buster is dead. We have a Agora kitty and paid a dollar for it. I shot three sparrows a few days ago and the kitty sure did like them” Love, Edward (from Los Angeles, 1920)

Dear Mother—

This is the first chance I have had to answer your letter. Sol phoned me early Thurs. and asked if I wanted to go to Mexico with no expenses, so here I am. We are about 75 miles from Cananea or 120 south of Bisbee. It is a mining proposition and Mr. Guth is the owner. We are having a swell time if we don’t get anything else. I will get a letter off soon. Love, Edward (from Mexico, 1935)

Dear Mother—

It is getting close to time for me to go out in the hills again and I will get my letter writing done so that it can get on the boat. I received your letter on the 10th. We had been up the coast on a job and when the boat came after us it had our mail. That is one of the things we live for up here—the mail. Love, Edward (from Alaska, 1938)

I guess the postman was always the best friend of lovers and mothers, both of which I have been. Nowadays, I save the e-mails with the family news and political ravings in an electronic folder, ready for archiving to keep the family history trail going. But, I still get a little pang of excitement when the dog starts barking at the approaching postal truck. I run for the door, “Hey, the new Netflix is here.”


Last week a friend called to say that he’d sent me a letter. So far, it hasn’t turned up, and I’ve found myself doing something I haven’t done since the advent of e-mail and Facebook, -- waiting for the postman.

Most days, Milo lets me know when the mail has come by barking at the white jeep that stops in front of our driveway. I’ve always encouraged this behavior by taking him with me to get the mail – an impromptu ‘walk’ in the middle of the day. For him, it’s a quick chance to re-mark his territory unencumbered by a leash, but for me, it’s a daily dose of disappointment.

When I left England, I didn’t get around to forwarding my mail, or even really informing anyone that I was leaving. Since I’d paid all my bills and loans, I didn’t really see the point. And since I’ve returned, I haven’t done much to lay down postal roots. I don’t have a bank account or any bills to pay. I subscribe to two professional journals, but I’m not sure how often they come, and I have a hard time remembering to read them. So, getting the mail has mostly been a favor for my parents – although how much of a favor is questionable. Since they don’t have a designated place to put the mail, I usually lay it down … wherever. This is the sort of thing that led to the electricity getting shut off when I was a kid. They had the money but couldn’t find the bill.

My point is, I don’t receive mail very often. So, when I hear that a real-live-actual-hand-written-letter is en route, I get pretty excited. So, what’s taking so long?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Topic 10: Hairpins


A History of “Hairpins"

It is a typical Friday at the Edwards home near Pearl and Beekman streets in Brooklyn Ward 23. On May 19, 1902, all but one of the six Edwards “girls” still lives here with their widowed mother, along with several Olssen relatives and a boarder or two. From Helen, the oldest at 34, down to Estelle, 17, they wear their hair in the romantic fashion of the day: long and swirled up into soft buns, tresses held in place by numerous combs and pins. They congregate in the kitchen and talk as they prepare another meal for a dozen.

Tonight, they listen while they work as Estelle reads aloud from the New York Sun, America’s first penny newspaper. Although the Sun features plenty of news articles, for reading out loud they prefer the lighter pieces. Aha, just the topic to give the Edwards ladies a good chuckle, “Hairpins.” They laugh, one mentally counting the pins in her hair, another quickly pushing back a stray curl. Estelle lingers over a particular paragraph. What can a woman do with a hairpin in 1902? She can
“fix a horse’s harness, restore damaged mechanical toys, wrestle with refactory beer stoppers, improvise suspenders, shovel bonbons, saw cake, jab tramps…. In fact, she can do what she wants to; she needs no other instrument” (215).

It is now 1915, and an eager group of young men are huddled in a classroom of the Columbia University School of Journalism in uptown Manhattan. The School of Journalism exists because of a major bequest of one of the great names in American writing, Joseph Pullitzer, and these future writers are eager to show the world that they represent the values of Pullitzer, himself a writer and publisher of the New York World, which had merged in 1910 with the Sun. Although the World had a reputation for sensationalism, Pullitzer had a grander, idealistic vision of the role of journalism:

Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. … The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generation (source: Columbia University School of Journalism website )

These future journalists, some of whom would all too quickly earn their reputations covering world wars, the crash of Wall Street and the recession, were probably given a textbook published that very year by their own professors William Cunliffe and Gerhard Richard Lomer entitled Writing of Today: Models of Journalistic Prose. “Young gentlemen, before you go out into the world to 'mould the future of the Republic,' please turn to page 214 in your books and read today’s journalistic model, taken from the May 19, 1902 Sun. Its title? “Hairpins.”

Sources: Writing of today: models of journalistic prose edited by John William Cunliffe, Gerhard Richard Lomer


What is there really to say about hairpins? I always thought they were called Bobby Pins, but maybe that’s like facial tissue and Kleenex. I care so little that I’m not going to bother looking it up. Anyway last night, I sent my mom this essay I found on
Hairpins, which I thought, was clever and funny and then she totally stole it for her essay. So, I’m not going to do that again. I’m not here to write your essays for you, Mom. I can’t even write my own.

Maybe she stole my idea

(I call it an idea, but it was more like this:
‘Hey look what I found! ‘
‘Great, I’ll take it! ‘
‘Wait… what?’)
because I always steal her hairpins. But I didn’t think she knew about that… I never use them on my hair, because I have barrettes and hairclips and covered rubber bands and ten billion other doodads I can use on my hair. Her hairpins are too big anyway and my hair rejects them. They work their way out of my hair until they are projecting like the little antennae on the 3-eyed alien creatures from Toy Story.

So, I use her hairpins mainly to clean under my fingernails and to pick locks. In fact, just the other day I locked myself out of my bedroom because I’d hung my purse on the doorknob (something she warned me about). But I wasn’t worried because I knew just what to do!