Monthly Archives: August 2009

Woody Allen

Eighty percent of success is showing up.
I first heard this quote from my brother– thanks, apg.

Editorial: Every year towards the end of summer students ask me for the best advice I have for success in college, and I offer this quote. I also share these words with my friends, and in my own life I see their veracity everywhere. I’m curious why Woody picked ’80’, although his reason might be as simple as Douglas Adams’s explanation for why he offered ’42’ as the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. Alternatively Woody probably knows about the Pareto Principle (or the 80-20 Rule). Whatever the reason, I increasingly feel that showing up just might be the second truism I can trust on a regular basis; the first is here.

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Kay Ryan

Fool’s Errand
by Kay Ryan

A thing
cannot be
enough times:
this is the
rule of dogs
for whom there
are no fool’s
errands. To
loop out and
come back is
good all alone.
It’s gravy to
carry a ball
or a bone.

Appears in The New Yorker, August 10&17, 2009

Editorial: This poem evokes a childhood memory steeped in carefreeness. It goes something like this. My family had a trampoline growing up that I would jump on endlessly with my siblings, friends and neighbors. We called it the tramp. We also had a much-loved dog named Mimi who learned how to poke her head through the springs on the edge of the tramp while standing on her hind legs. She was a Springer Spaniel and she did this trick in order to spit out her tennis ball at our bouncing feet. One of us would then dive for the ball, jump as high as we could on the tramp, and hurl the ball forever in whatever direction. Sometimes we would do that trick when you fake a throw one way and then hurl it the other while Mimi had her head turned. It didn’t matter to Mimi. She eventually always found the ball. We could throw it into the deepest bush, over the house, over the fence, over the fence and across the street, over the fence across the street and over the next fence, and on and on. (Why we led her across the busy street with our throws I’ll never know.) It occurs to me now reading Ryan’s poem that while it took Mimi all of ten seconds to execute her trick of depositing the ball through the springs on the tramp, it might have taken her ten or twenty minutes to find her ball buried deep in a hedge far away. I always imagined that she was seeking our approval by proudly retrieving the ball. But this poem gives me pause and makes me wonder whether Mimi considered us jumpers an inconvenient necessity. Maybe all we were to her was a means to looping out, and that her pride and joy was not the delivery, but the search and discovery.

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Naguib Mahfouz

The darkness was thicker now and he could see nothing at all, not even the outlines of the tombs, as if nothing wished to be seen. He was slipping away into endless depths, not knowing either position, place, or purpose. As hard as he could, he tried to gain control of something, no matter what. To exert one last act of resistance. To capture one last recalcitrant memory. But finally, because he had to succumb, and not caring, he surrendered. Not caring at all now.
The Thief and the Dogs (1961)

Editorial: This passage describes a man’s last living moments. It strikes me as profound and nearly perfect. It also reminds me of the fitful, dreamless sleep that afflicts me when I am sick. But how could the living Mahfouz know about death? And why would it resonate with me, undead as I am? It seems good literature does this— it brings alien experiences, emotions and moments to unsuspecting readers.

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Naguib Mahfouz

It occurred to him that habit is the root of laziness, boredom, and death, that habit had been responsible for his sufferings, the treachery, the ingratitude, and the waste of his life’s hard toil.
The Thief and the Dogs (1961)

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Joao Padua

Marta Mamani, an Aymara indigenous woman, hits a drive during her work break at La Paz Golf Club on November 26, 2008. Photo by Joao Padua (AFP/Getty Images). Source here.

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Anton Chekhov

If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.
In 1889, Ilia Gurliand noted these words from a conversation with Chekhov (see Donald Rayfield, Anton Chekhov: A Life, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997, p.203). Chekhov repeated this point a number of times.

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Filed under Expectancy, Quotes, Sureness

Charles Simic

The Toad
by Charles Simic

God never made a day as beautiful as today,
A neighbor was saying.
I sat in the shade after she left
Mulling that one over,
When a toad hopped out of the grass
And finding me harmless,
Hopped over my foot on his way to the pond.

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Sherman Alexie

by Sherman Alexie

Here’s a fact: Some people want to live more
Than others do. Some can withstand any horror

While others will easily surrender
To thirst, hunger, and extremes of weather.

In Utah, one man carried another
Man on his back like a conjoined brother

And crossed twenty-five miles of desert
To safety. Can you imagine the hurt?

Do you think you could be that good and strong?
Yes, yes, you think, but you’re probably wrong.

Appears in the New Yorker, June 8, 2009

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Filed under Expectancy, Poems, Sureness