Wise Words, Hard Times

In the interests of feeding my own creativity (and thus feeding me and my cats and other dependents), I read newsletters from people working outside the fiction-writing sphere. One of those newsletters is called Dense Discovery, a collection of thought-provoking cites about all things tech, with a particular focus on graphic arts and design. One of my best buddies in college was a graphic designer, and I loved how his mind worked (and lot else about him too). I have kept a casual eye on the field of graphic design ever since.

One feature of Dense Discovery is called Worthy Five, where, in sound-byte fashion, somebody lists a phrase worth knowing, a newsletter they read, a twitter account they follow, a concept worth understanding, and an activity worth doing. This week, writer McKinley Valentine offered the following worthy phrase: You don’t have a problem, you  have a solution you don’t like.

I read that idea as a little nasty–having a solution you don’t like, can’t morally accept, lack the means or resolve to implement IS a problem–but I also see wisdom there. People don’t like to wear masks, they don’t like to be wrong, they don’t like to do the hard work of listening to differing viewpoints and finding common ground, they don’t like a whole lot of solutions to vexing conundrums, myself included. I know I would lose weight–maybe only temporarily, and with all sorts of metabolic backlash, but I would–if I’d just starve myself.

Another quote offered in this week’s newsletter: “Looking at life from a different perspective makes you realize that it’s not the deer that is crossing the road, rather it’s the road that is crossing the forest.” (Muhammad Ali)

I’m reading Dickens’ Sketches by Boz these days, and I’m struck by how he could leaven  huge, windy, lofty, bravura sentences and cinder block paragraphs with zingers. “A proper melodrama (three murders and a ghost)…” This is now literary canon law regarding melodrama, and enviably efficient guidance too.

That skill, of encapsulating wisdom in memorable and brief words, fascinates me. It’s like the next step after poetry in terms of effective communication. A whole worldview in a sentence. I don’t have this gift–it takes me 90,000 words to get my worldview across–but I am so glad other people do. I will be thinking about that business of the deer, the road, and forest all week, and further about solutions I don’t like where I see only problems.

Have you come across any pithy wisdom to help you through the trying days? Are there authors or friends who have the knack of condensing a whole worthwhile perspective into a few words? Maybe you just carry a few of these worthy aphorisms in your head, not sure where you picked them?

To three commenters, I’ll send ARC files for My Heart’s True Delight. The web store already has this title on sale, and the print version can be purchased from Amazon here.

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13 comments on “Wise Words, Hard Times

  1. I’ve been saving reading your blog, Grace, during the Pandemic as a Saturday night treat. If I take care of business, do work for my professional society, answer emails, check on online orders etc.etc.etc. and if I take care of all these little nasty bits before bed, I read your blog and make a comment.

    I just forwarded to someone who needed to know *the latest* an email of someone who is making me CRAZY with her *the pandemic can’t stop us, let’s make art the usual way* stuff. She’s a nice person but driven and not happy we local artists are having to come up with new and creative ways to go about our usual business. BUT the signature on her emails includes the following quote…..”if you can be anything, be kind”….and while she is making me CRAZY I thought that sentiment is perfect for these times and beyond.

    Take care, Grace!

  2. I guess because of the increased isolation I’m going through, I have found myself worrying more than I usually do. I’m usually pretty good at keeping fears at bay. But lately, more and more, I have found myself worrying about “what ifs” – you know,”what if _____ happens?”

    So I have found myself thinking about what Mark Twain said about worrying. “Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.” He goes on to say that most of the things he worried about never happened. I keep reminding myself of that. Worry is a wasted emotion.

  3. Not sure where it is from (Wikipedia suggests Persia), but my very favorite aphorism is “This too shall pass.” It reminds me during the bad times that better days are ahead. Similarly, it reminds me during the good times that I should wring all the joy I can from them, as difficult times might be around the next bend in the road.

  4. Tonight I have been watching on television here in the U.K Sir Captain Tom more speaking to Piers Morgan about his life and what made him decide to raise money for our hospitals during the pandemic by walking around the grounds of his home with his Zimmer frame at the grand age of 100.He raised 39 million.He repeatedly said he constantly told himself “Tomorrow will be a better day and never to give in.He believes this has got him through many a rough patch.A life truly lived with determination and steadfastness.

  5. “I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking.” Dorothy Sayers

    And I’ve bored people with them for years. But Ms. Sayers is good. So is Dorothy Parker. Mark Twain & Will Rogers are two of my favourites. And in English you can’t beat the Bible and Shakespeare.

  6. My friends Mother had a great saying…Less said, less mended.

    I try to remember these words during conversations with friends, coworkers and family members.

    And I try to think of three positives every day- that seems to help with the isolation piece of the pandemic.

  7. Authors who have the knack ….? Well, there is Grace Burrowes of course! But one of my stuck on the wall with tape quotes right now is from Eleanor Roosevelt: We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.” Also something Obama said but it’s from the 1940s I believe: the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.

  8. The deer/forest quote is my new favorite and will be placed in my “things to think about folder”!

    I have a number of quotes that resonate with me.

    “Today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut that held its ground.” – David Icke
    (I don’t know who David Icke is, but the message of tenacity is important for me.)

    “Precisely the least, the softest, lightest, a lizard’s rustling, a breath, a breeze, a moment’s glance – it is little that makes the best happiness.” – Friedrich W Nietzsche

    “I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    “Dare to be honest and fear no labor.” – Robert Burns

    and, last but by no means least:

    “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

    That Einstein guy said a number of things that are brilliant… I will refrain from listing all of my favs.

  9. My mother said,”there is always another side to ta story” As a physiotherapist I treated a gentleman who was so impressed with his recovery that he asked , in a very circumlocutory fashion, if I could help his wife (and him) because she refused sex as it was painful with her stiff hip. “Sure, send her in.”The wife didn’t know why her husband had wanted her to visit me and after lengthy questioning of what join pain, stiffness limited her enjoyment of a full life, she replied, after a long pause, that she would like more flexibility to improve her golf swing. I fixed her back and threw in the hip for good measure. We all see life with different eyes.
    Also, if I may, the old Welsh saying “Music and Love are the wings of the soul. ” Never fails to inspire !

  10. Thank you for writing about Dense Discovery. I signed up to get the weekly newsletter. I really liked the one you mentioned: “Looking at life from a different perspective makes you realize that it’s not the deer that is crossing the road, rather it’s the road that is crossing the forest.” (Muhammad Ali)

  11. With apologies if this is intruding! (I did a google search for my own name, sorry)

    I was interested in you saying that quote can be kind of nasty and harsh – as soon as I read it I was like, “oh yeah, I totally see how it could be seen that way”.

    I honestly mostly use it for more personal things, like my “problem” is I need to apply to renew my passport, which involves a bunch of tedious bureaucracy. I’m acting like there’s some big thorny challenge here, when actually I just don’t want to do it.

    (The phrase actually comes from AA, and so refers to a drinking problem and the solution being to stop drinking, which naturally is not a solution anyone addicted to alcohol is going to find appealing)

    But to look at it for ‘bigger’ things, I guess what I’d say is, to broaden out what you think of as “solutions”

    So for example if I was broke and close to being evicted, and was offered a job at a refugee detention centre (in the US it would be called ICE), that’s something I personally can’t morally accept.

    But that doesn’t mean the “solution I don’t like” is taking the ICE job. The “solution I don’t like” is probably asking family and friends for money, or even subletting my house for a few months and sleeping on the streets. There is (almost) always another option besides the morally unacceptable one. It might not feel like much of a solution, but it’s a path that can be taken.

    When I have two unpleasant one paths to choose between, I often delay choosing for a long time. But I hide the delay by researching endlessly. Like in that situation I’d start googling glassdoor reviews for ICE or “how to ask your friends for money” articles, as though either of them could give me new information. I think I need to know more, but actually I just need to make a hard choice.

    In any case I’m not esp trying to defend the expression! These pithy type phrases are useful when they work for you, but there’s no reason to try and make something work if it doesn’t.

    This is a long one, but it’s one of my favourites:
    “So long as there is death there will be sorrow, and so long as there is sorrow it can be no part of the duty of human beings to increase its amount” – Bertrand Russell

    It also helps me with decision-making, even though it’s saying something obvious, because it reminds me what side I’m on, when it comes down to it. When I get really confused about a decision, I’m like: what does it come down to? And it comes down to that.