MORE FROM MORGENBESSER

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Sidney Morgenbesser’s paradoxical words as he was dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) are not the only ones he’s known for.  Here, from Wikiquote, are some of his less bitter remarks. (Remember, he was a professor of philosophy.)

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During a lecture, the Oxford linguistic philosopher J.L. Austin made the claim that although a double negative in English implies a positive meaning, there is no language in which a double positive implies a negative.  To which Morgenbesser derisively called out from the audience, “Yeah, yeah.”

Asked by a student whether he agreed with Chairman Mao’s view that a statement can be both true and false at the same time, Morgenbesser replied, “Well, I do and I don’t.”

During campus protests of the 1960s, Morgenbesser was hit on the head by police. When asked whether he had been treated unfairly or unjustly, he responded that it was “unfair, but not unjust. It was unfair because they hit me over the head, but not unjust because they hit everyone else over the head.”

When challenged why he had written so little, Morgenbesser fired back: “Moses wrote one book. Then what did he do?”

Morgenbesser described Gentile ethics as entailing “ought implies can,” while in Jewish ethics, “can implies don’t.”

When asked his opinion of pragmatism, Morgenbesser replied, “It’s all very well in theory but it doesn’t work in practice.”

Asked to prove a questioner’s existence, Morgenbesser shot back, “Who’s asking?”

A student once interrupted him to complain, “I just don’t understand!” He responded, “Why should you have the advantage over me?”

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What I take away from all this is that I think I wish I’d known Morgenbesser, but maybe it’s better that I didn’t.  I’d be afraid of what he’d say to me. I’m no philosopher, and I already don’t understand anything.

Is there anything more than anything for me not to understand? If there is, I’m sure Morgenbesser would have found it.  And then where would I be?

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OTHER OLD FOLKS AGREE

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[I’ll be away from home and computer for a while, visiting Bill’s new baby granddaughter in Los Angeles. I should be back online with new stuff no later than February 16, and maybe earlier.  In the meanwhile, I ‘m re-running some earlier pieces that newcomers to the blog may not have seen, and others may not mind seeing again.  This one was the second piece I posted, right after “Why Blog About Getting Old?,”  which is now a Page.]

[Re-blogged from November 15, 2013]

OTHER OLD FOLKS AGREE

Bill is entirely supportive of my blogging efforts. Bill is the man I’ve lived with for the past twelve and a half years.  Since you’re probably wondering, I’ll get it over with up front:  our meeting was real geriatric chick-lit.  I advertised, he responded, we met. His apartment was five minutes away from mine. It didn’t take all that many dates….

Anyway.  When I showed Bill the first post of this new blog about getting old — now also a page, if you missed it — he wanted a piece of the action.  (He qualifies; he’s three and a half years older than me.)  He ran — well, walked — to find a selection of excerpts from the last diaries of Bernard Berenson, the renowned art historian.  The excerpts were (you guessed it) about getting old.

“Here,” he said.  ”You need quotations.”  Bill didn’t think my first husband’s ashtray made the point of that first post (now a page) forcefully enough.

I know all about citing to authorities.  During part of my past life, I was a lawyer and, among other things, wrote briefs for a living.  Show me a brief without copious citation to authorities, and I’ll show you a lawyer who loses the case, and the client.

However I am now retired from my earned income stream and no longer need to convince anyone of anything quite so persuasively.  But I do try to please Bill whenever I can, just as he tries to please me (most of the time).  So I looked at what Berenson had to say.  Here he is on August 13, 1956, when he was ninety-one:

I still want to learn.  I still want to understand, and I still want to write.  How shall I get rid of these lusts?  Physical incompetence only will emancipate me from their slavery, but what kind of freedom will it be? The antechamber of the End.  But how I still enjoy sunlight, nature and stormy skies, and sunsets, and trees and flowers, and animals including well-shaped humans, and reading, and conversing!”

Moving along past the lusts and well-shaped humans, we come to him again on December 20, 1957, when he was ninety-two:

I ought to consult an aurist, a urologist, an eye specialist, an up-to-date dentist, etc., in fact spend most of my time and money in an effort to prolong life.  Why?  Living at my age and with all my disabilities is anything but a picnic.  So why cling to it?  Partly out of mere animal instinct.  Partly out of curiosity about tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.  Partly because I am not resigned to giving up, and still am eager to achieve….”

He clung for two more years.

But clinging is not exactly my style, unless we’re talking about Eleanor Roosevelt’s style of clinging:

When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”

So if we’re doing quotations, I much prefer Henry James.  As in The Ambassadors, Book 5, Chapter 2:

Live all you can: it’s a mistake not to.  It doesn’t matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life….The right time is any time that one is still so lucky as to have….Live!”

Which is not entirely dissimilar to the sentiments of poor Dylan Thomas, who never had the chance to get old, having destroyed himself early on with drink and despair:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

 Old age should burn and rave at close of day:

 Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Or, if that’s too passionate for you, consider Oliver Sacks, younger than me, who wrote in The New York Times on July 6, 2013, on the occasion of his 80th birthday:

I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.  I am looking forward to being 80.”

Free to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.  That sounds about right.  Thank you, Oliver (if I may).

Thank you, Bill, for your helpful suggestion.

And now that we’re all squared away with the quotations, one more thank you — to Alexander Portnoy (and Philip Roth) for lending me the end of this post:

So….Now vee may perhaps to begin.  Yes?

[Note on why I call this my “new” blog:  Not so long ago, I had another blog called “Learning to Blog” — for test-driving this blogging business.  Although it’s now my “old” blog, you’re cordially invited to visit:  http://www.ninamishkin.wordpress.com ]

WORDS FROM THE WISE

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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)

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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.]

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NOW FOR SOME WISECRACKS…

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[This is the comic relief part of the blog.  Where you try to think of something funny about getting old.  Not so easy, is it?]  

Old age is … a lot of crossed off names in an address book.” Ronald Blythe,  British author.  (The View in Winter)

“Keep breathing.”  Sophie Tucker’s reply, at the age of 80, when asked the secret of her longevity.  (Attrib.)

“By the time you reach my age, you’ve made plenty of mistakes if you’ve lived your life properly.”  Ronald Reagan,  U.S.  president.  (The Observer, “Sayings of the Week,” 8 March 1987).

“Have a chronic disease and take care of it.”  Oliver Wendell Holmes’s formula for longevity.

Longevity, n. Uncommon extension of the fear of death.”  Ambrose Bierce  (The Devil’s Dictionary)

“Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long time.”  Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber, French composer.  (Dictionnaire Encyclopedique  [E. Guerard])

The principal objection to old age is that there’s no future in it.”  (Anonymous)

The years between fifty and seventy are the hardest. You are always being asked to do things, and you are not yet decrepit enough to turn them down.”  T.S. Eliot  (Time, 23 Oct. 1950)

Get up at five, have lunch at nine, supper at five, retire at nine.  And you will live to ninety-nine.”  Francois Rabelais (Works, Bk. IV Ch. 64)

Dying while young is a boon in old age.”  (Yiddish proverb)

“I will never be an old man.  To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.”  Bernard Baruch  (The Observer “Sayings of the Week,” 21 August 1955)

Senescence begins and middle age ends, the day your descendants outnumber your friends.” Ogden Nash.

“Old age is the most unexpected of all the things that happen to a man.”  Leon Trotsky ,Russian revolutionary  (Diary in Exile, 8 May 1935)

Growing old is a bad habit which a busy man has no time to form.”  Andre Maurois (The Ageing American)

 A ready means of being cherished by the English is to adopt the simple expedient of living a long time.  I have little doubt that if, say, Oscar Wilde had lived into his nineties, instead of dying in his forties, he would have been considered a benign, distinguished figure suitable to preside at a school prize-giving or to instruct and exhort scoutmasters at their jamborees.  He might even have been knighted.”  Malcolm Muggeridge (Tread Softly for you Tread on My Jokes)

The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”  George Santayana (Dialogues in Limbo, Ch. 3)

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 Wouldn’t it be nice to have a round of applause here?  Alas, we can’t. (Sigh.)  All these good people are dead.

 So we shall just have to thank The Macmillan Dictionary of Quotations, (Chartwell Books, Inc. 2000) instead.  

And get serious again.

OTHER OLD FOLKS AGREE

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Bill is entirely supportive of my blogging efforts.

Bill is the man I’ve lived with for the past twelve and a half years.  Since you’re probably wondering, I’ll get it over with up front:  our meeting was real geriatric chick-lit.  I advertised, he responded, we met. His apartment was five minutes away from mine. It didn’t take all that many dates….

Anyway.  When I showed Bill the first post of this new blog about getting old — now also a page, if you missed it — he wanted a piece of the action.  (He qualifies; he’s three and a half years older than me.)  He ran — well, walked — to find a selection of excerpts from the last diaries of Bernard Berenson, the renowned art historian.  The excerpts were (you guessed it) about getting old.

“Here,” he said.  “You need quotations.”  Bill didn’t think my first husband’s ashtray made the point of that first post (now a page) forcefully enough.

I know all about citing to authorities.  During part of my past life, I was a lawyer and, among other things, wrote briefs for a living.  Show me a brief without copious citation to authorities, and I’ll show you a lawyer who loses the case, and the client.

However I am now retired from my earned income stream and no longer need to convince anyone of anything quite so persuasively.  But I do try to please Bill whenever I can, just as he tries to please me (most of the time).  So I looked at what Berenson had to say.  Here he is on August 13, 1956, when he was ninety-one:

I still want to learn.  I still want to understand, and I still want to write.  How shall I get rid of these lusts?  Physical incompetence only will emancipate me from their slavery, but what kind of freedom will it be? The antechamber of the End.  But how I still enjoy sunlight, nature and stormy skies, and sunsets, and trees and flowers, and animals including well-shaped humans, and reading, and conversing!”

Moving along past the lusts and well-shaped humans, we come to him again on December 20, 1957, when he was ninety-two:

I ought to consult an aurist, a urologist, an eye specialist, an up-to-date dentist, etc., in fact spend most of my time and money in an effort to prolong life.  Why?  Living at my age and with all my disabilities is anything but a picnic.  So why cling to it?  Partly out of mere animal instinct.  Partly out of curiosity about tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.  Partly because I am not resigned to giving up, and still am eager to achieve….”

He clung for two more years.

But clinging is not exactly my style, unless we’re talking about Eleanor Roosevelt’s style of clinging:

When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”

So if we’re doing quotations, I much prefer Henry James.  As in The Ambassadors, Book 5, Chapter 2:

Live all you can: it’s a mistake not to.  It doesn’t matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life….The right time is any time that one is still so lucky as to have….Live!”

Which is not entirely dissimilar to the sentiments of poor Dylan Thomas, who never had the chance to get old, having destroyed himself early on with drink and despair:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

 Old age should burn and rave at close of day:

 Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Or, if that’s too passionate for you, consider Oliver Sacks, younger than me, who wrote in The New York Times on July 6, 2013, on the occasion of his 80th birthday:

I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.  I am looking forward to being 80.”

Free to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.  That sounds about right.  Thank you, Oliver (if I may).

Thank you, Bill, for your helpful suggestion.

And now that we’re all squared away with the quotations, one more thank you — to Alexander Portnoy (and Philip Roth) for lending me the end of this post:

So….Now vee may perhaps to begin.  Yes?

[Note on why I call this my “new” blog:  Not so long ago, I had another blog called “Learning to Blog” — for test-driving this blogging business.  Although it’s now my “old” blog, you’re cordially invited to visit:  http://www.ninamishkin.wordpress.com ]