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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