Because it’s good blog etiquette to repay visits, I occasionally find myself at the blog of a twenty-something.  That’s a surprise.  When I began, I thought a blog with “Getting Old” in its title would be of interest, if any, only to boomers and beyond.  Apparently not always so.

The other surprise, which comes after I make an encouraging comment during the visit, is that the reply invariably expresses gratitude that someone with so much experience and wisdom has said something favorable.

Oh my!  Living a long time does, I suppose, provide some experience of what worked, and what didn’t, in one’s own life.  Which the person who lived the life can learn from or not, as the case may be.  But “wisdom?”   [The word always makes me think of Confucius.]  It’s what you think other people have when they’re older than you.

As my father used to say, “I have news for you.”  There isn’t any such thing. The only wisdom we oldsters might possibly offer the young (if they asked, which they don’t) is, “Don’t be such a damn fool.”   But who’s to say who’s a fool?

So lacking any wisdom of my own, even after all these years — I have looked elsewhere to find it for these younger visitors who expect it of me.  Looked — to be specific — in The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, compiled by Rosalie Maggio. (Beacon Press Boston © 1992).  I guess I sort of agree with most of the ones I’ve chosen. Well, sometimes I do.  But not always. That’s just the way it is with wisdom. Sometimes it applies, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes, who knows?  Holler when you’ve had enough.

[On Experience]

“Experience is what you get when you’re looking for something else.”  Mary Pettibone Poole, A Glass Eye at a Keyhole (1938)

“Experience is a good teacher, but she sends in terrific bills.” Minna Thomas Antrim, Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions (1902)

“A rattlesnake that doesn’t bite teaches you nothing.” Jessamyn West, The Life I Really Lived (1979)

“Experience isn’t interesting till it begins to repeat itself — in fact, till it does that, it hardly is experience.”  Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart (1938)

“I have come to the conclusion, after many years of sometimes sad experience, that you cannot come to any conclusion at all.” Vita Sackville-West, In Your Garden Again (1953)

[On Complacency]

“Unhurt people are not much good in the world.”  Enid Starkie. In Joanna Richardson, Enid Starkie (1973)

[On Dying]

“She’d been preoccupied with death for several years; but one aspect had never before crossed her mind: dying, you don’t get to see how it all turns out.”  Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982)

[On Concealment]

“There is nothing that gives more assurance than a mask.” Colette, My Apprenticeships (1936)

[On Life]

“Life itself is a party; you join after it’s started and you leave before it’s finished.” Elsa Maxwell, How to Do It (1957)

“Life seems to be a choice between two wrong answers.” Sharyn McCrumb, If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O (1990)

“It begins in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.” Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses (1990)

“You are dipped up from the great river of consciousness, and death only pours you back.” Dorothy Canfield Fisher, The Bent Twig (1915)

“Life offstage has sometimes been a wilderness of unpredictables in an unchoreographed world.” Margot Fonteyn, Margot Fonteyn: Autobiography (1976)

“It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another — it’s one damn thing over and over.” Edna St. Vincent Millay, in Allan Ross Madougall, Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay (1952)

“Life is something to do when you can’t get to sleep.” Fran Lebowitz, in Observer (1979).

“That it will never come again / Is what makes life so sweet.” Emily Dickinson (c. 1864), published in Bolts of Memory (1945)

“Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.” Alice Walker, “Only Justice Can Stop a Curse,” In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (1983)

[On Lovers]

“The absolute yearning of one human body for another particular one and its indifference to substitutes is one of life’s major mysteries.” Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince (1973)

“In a great romance, each person basically plays a part that the other really likes.”  Elizabeth Ashley, in San Francisco Chronicle (1982)

“Secretly, we wish anyone we love will think exactly the way we do.” Kim Chernin, in My Mother’s House (1983)

This was life, that two people, no matter how carefully chosen, could not be everything to each other.” Doris Lessing, “To Room Nineteen,” A Man and Two Women (1963)

“No partner in a love relationship [whether homo- or heterosexual] should feel that he has to give up an essential part of himself to make it viable.” May Sarton, Journal of Solitude (1973)

[On Lying]

“Never to lie is to have no lock to your door.” Elizabeth Bowen, The House in Paris (1935)

[On Marriage]

“The deep, deep peace of the double-bed after the hurly-burly of the chaise-longue.” Mrs. Patrick Campbell, on her recent marriage, in Alexander Woollcott, While Rome Burns (1934)

“The very fact that we make such a to-do over golden weddings indicates our amazement at human endurance.  The celebration is more in the nature of a reward for stamina.” Ilka Chase, Free Admission (1948)

“A man in the house is worth two in the street.” Mae West, in Belle of the Nineties (1934)

[On Memory]

“Sometimes what we call ‘memory’ and what we call ‘imagination’ are not so easily distinguished.” Leslie Marmon Silko, Storyteller (1981)

“I think, myself, that one’s memories represent those moments which, insignificant as they may seem, nevertheless represent the inner self and oneself as most really oneself.” Agatha Christie, An Autobiography (1977)

[On Men]

“The only time a woman really succeeds in changing a man is when he’s a baby.” Natalie Wood, in Bob Chieger, Was It Good For You, Too? (1983)

[On Survival]

“Misfortune had made Lily supple instead off hardening her, and a pliable substance is less easy to break than a stiff one.” Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905)


That’s about it for today.  Which one did you like best?  Let us know.

Don’t ask me which I like best, though.  I vote for cats.

“Dogs come when they’re called; cats take a message and get back to you.” Missie Dizick and Mary Bly, Dogs Are Better Than Cats (1985)

 [Ed. Note: Dogs are definitely not better. Just different.]


11 thoughts on “WORDS FROM THE WISE

  1. First, a blogger can never go wrong with cat pictures. I love that one.

    Second, I disagree with the quote about not learning anything from a rattlesnake that doesn’t bite. It depends. But rattlesnakes display many more behaviors than simply biting. The rattle, obviously, the snake’s preferences in habitat, and its tolerance or lack of tolerance for the nearness of humans. If a person observes closely (both their own behavior and the snake’s) I suspect she can learn a lot about how to continue avoiding rattlesnake bites in the future.

    Third, on Colette. Don’t know if a mask gives assurance. Isn’t the masked person always anxious about being unmasked? I’ve heard it said that high heels and fine fashion give a woman assurance. Weapons often give men a sense of assurance, or at least equality.

    Great quotes! I’ll have to return and read the rest of them. Too many for one sitting.


    • Thank you about the cats. We do love them, and their picture, dearly.

      I believe the Jessamyn West quote about the rattlesnake is metaphorical, meaning that we learn nothing about what’s dangerous to us until we’ve been hurt. Which is my experience as well, although not with real snakes. (I’ve never encountered one. I’m a city girl. ) However, if you ARE talking about real snakes, and you already know from other people that they can bite, obviously I must defer to your superior knowledge. I did say sometimes the quotes don’t apply.

      Colette was absolutely right. We all wear masks with other people, almost all the time. Are you really the John Hayden you present to us? If you meet a new woman you would like to impress, do you let it all hang out? I’m not the carefully crafted persona who appears in this blog,either, although that person is made up of significant aspects of me. There are huge areas of my life and personality (and appearance!) that are missing. (Or masked, if you will.) In my professional life, wearing lady lawyer clothes and sitting behind a big desk enabled me to make difficult telephone calls and confront difficult adversaries that I probably would have been unable to handle in gym clothes or a bathrobe, and without makeup — all other forms of masking.

      Come back to read some more after you’ve rested up, and we can have another tussle. I’m glad you like the post!


      • I know you’re right about the mask. I wasn’t thinking about masks in the sense of simply trying to put our best foot forward. We all wear masks to conform with what’s expected of us. It’s an essential part of civilized society.

        However, when a person is unusually insecure behind the mask, that can be a problem. If the mask is hiding a SECRET that the wearer feels must be hidden — say a crime, a mental or physical illness, or an addiction — that person is in constant fear of unmasking. I’m thinking, for example, of a veteran airline pilot who develops a heart condition. And can’t afford to retire. If he tries to wear a mask of perfect health, it could come to dominate his life and his mind. Or a professional person whose mask Is built around a falsified degree.

        BTW, I’ve been writing a bit recently about fictional lawyers. I wonder if you have any thoughts on John Grisham’s many attorneys, Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller character, or Perry Mason.


      • Criminal and medical secrets I know nothing about, and doubt that Colette was thinking of. Other kinds of secrets I may indeed know something about, and would prefer to keep to myself (that should keep you wondering), but being “retired,” have nothing to fear from “exposure.”

        I have been reading you on your fictional lawyers. You may note that I’ve had nothing to say. I gave up on Grisham after two books, never read Connelly, and Perry Mason I recall — with mirth — only from television. Sorry not to be of help here. I did no criminal law after law school (where we got to go to court, under supervision, to prosecute OUI and petty larceny cases), so wouldn’t care to opine on whether Grisham got things right, although I suspect he stretches the truth as to how things work in court. Mason is definitely fictional, legally speaking.


      • I think most real attorneys take a dim view of Perry Mason 🙂 I suspect Mickey Haller is also over the top. Grisham’s characters and stories cover a wide range. Some of his lawyers are stereotypes, some of them are over-idealistic. Some are quite humorous. In a few of his novels he gives serious treatment, dramatized of course, to important issues, such as capital punishment, product liability, and environmental law.


  2. Thanks for sharing what I call aphorisms. I still like them so much. At one time (when much younger), I read so many of La Rochefoucauld, Herakleitos, and Nietzsche (who also wrote many aphorisms in his “Beyond Good and Evil” book). I read your profile and I’m glad you’re so candid about the story of your life. I can’t believe you became a lawyer at 54. In fact I’m grateful you share this information. I definitely agree with the thought about experience resembling the rattlesnake. It’s the law in life. In fact, I like all of the thoughts you posted here. I myself have opted to have a very visual type of photography blog, I switched from Blogger to WordPress about a month ago. It’s all about Flora in the tropics. But I am myself undergoing a bit of a “middle age crisis”, so anything in the way of ‘philosophical’ I will appreciate. Blogging about Flora is what consoles me now.


    • Thank you for your interest in following my blog and your comments about this post. However, if you are looking for “philosophical” from me, I fear you will be disappointed. My comments on “life” usually come through anecdote and story. Any post full of quotations from other people generally appears when I don’t have enough time to write out something of my own!

      I’m sorry you need consoling and that you are going through a “middle age crisis.” Perhaps blogging about it might help?


  3. Perhaps I shouldn’t have called what I have a ‘middle age crisis’ but a ‘turning point’; whatever it is, blogging is helping even though it sometimes entails going ‘public’ about many things; but getting older is also helping me with the fact that it’s not such a bad thing under some circumstances.


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