Category Archives: Blog Post

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: The Dedicated Teacher

I have written before, quite a few blogs ago I think, about what a difference in someone’s life a teacher can make. I spoke of the great educators Lou Pengi, Zinieda Sprowles, my teachers in New Hope, Pennsylvania, or, at the college level, Philip Lockhart, Leon Fitts and Robert Sider of Dickinson College. I might, too, have spoken of my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Hendrickson, or even my kind and gentle elementary school choir teacher, Mr. Schaeffer.

Yet, fond as I shall ever be of them, I don’t want to speak about my own teachers here; rather, I want to speak about a conversation that I had with my friend, the philologist, whose conferences, if you read this blog regularly, you already know I sometimes crash as a fifth-wheel pseudo-philologist, as a poetaster is to a poet. That self-same philologist is in fact also a teacher (actually a professor) but as he is my contemporary and friend, I have, of course, never taken a class with him. That said, he and I often consult about his courses, for he is, I would say, a dedicated teacher. He is also a dedicated educator. He spends a lot of time educating his students, whether in or out of the classroom. Yet he is also a teacher, and as such he and I, as I was saying, converse about the material for the class, the author he might be reading and, especially this time of year, about the content of his syllabus.

Recently the question of educational motivation came up: how can he motivate his less-than-excited students to grasp not only the content of his course but, more particularly, their entire education? He explained it this way: he is more concerned about the student understanding why in fact he or she has come to college at all than the details of Ciceronian rhetoric—though he is concerned with that, especially these days when students seem to come to university so ill-prepared rhetorically and historically.

Thus it was that we sat on his porch, enjoying a glass of wine and conversing about whether it would be a good idea to mention something in the syllabus—an aspirational statement beyond the normal “Goal of the Course” but filed under that heading on the syllabus—or whether it is better to let that emerge on its own during the course. He has, in the past, always chosen the latter option. He doesn’t believe in what he calls “over-leading” the student (which he insists is akin to “leading the witness” in a court of law). He wants the students’ love of learning to emerge organically, naturally. But this time I tried to convince him: “Put in something aspirational, just to get them thinking of your unstated goal right off the bat.”

We debated a long time. I suggested he insert something like, “The goal of this course is to master Ciceronian style and understand better the context of the speech (for he is reading a Ciceronian speech with the class in Latin) and also to better understand what a real education means, for enlarges upon the importance of the education of Caelius [the person focused on in Cicero’s speech] as a vital component of his defense.” Of course, he immediately corrected the split infinitive which I had put in only to distract him, for I knew he would fixate on the grammar rather than what I was proposing.

As things are, however, I am not sure what he will do. I hope he puts in some kind of aspirational statement, for it would be a terrible thing, I think, to go to college just to get a job and not an education. Isn’t education, after all, what one goes off to the university to get? I think that it is an employment agency, after all, that one actually goes to when seeking a job: “the goal of this agency is to get you a job.” Yes, that fits. “The goal of this course is to prevent you from being a driveling know-nothing.” Yes, that’s what he needs to add. I think I’ve got it now.

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Food

The one thing that everyone is interested in these days is food. I have been traveling, and I had dinner in Rome with two friends who even took pictures of their food before they dug in—two admittedly quite beautiful bowls of pasta. Before I was in Rome, I had been quite a bit further  north, in the Czech Republic for the first time.

When I came back from my travels, I was recently, as I am invariably, asked, “So, you went to Prague—how was the food?” Indeed, in both Prague and Rome the food was quite nice. Like the Italians, the Czechs pride themselves on food and, to an even greater extent, on beer. The food was quite good there—Germanic in terms of flavor, but more delicate—and the beer was quite good, too, though the lovely Czechs who took me out to dinner were disappointed on my behalf. I think they were muttering something about it not being the right temperature, but I am not sure whether they meant too cold or too warm. I imagine the latter, as the beer wasn’t very cold.

I was, of course, in Prague to meet up with my friend, the philologist, who was there to study a rare manuscript housed in the National Library. Inasmuch as I had been in Europe over a week before he arrived and had thus adjusted to European time, when I met up with him there he, having just arrived, was quite jet-lagged, and thus had a hard time working in the library for many long hours, even though he had traveled quite far to study that particular manuscript. But what has that to do with food?

It has this in common: odd as it may sound, he has a genuine hunger for manuscripts, perhaps more avid even than the friends whom I met in Rome have for food. His hunger stems in part from his strange penchant for finding not-yet-considered things scribbled between the lines or on the edges of the pages. These are known as glosses or marginalia, respectively. What I envy is not so much his job—it sounds, after all, a bit tedious, doesn’t it?—but it is the passion, the hunger that he has for his work, work that to the rest of us might seem quite boring.

But some people don’t like cooking, either, and I would argue those folks are missing out on quite a lot of fun in the kitchen, which brings us back to food. For cooking can indeed be very rewarding and, of course, produce a palpably enjoyable result. But whether you’re cooking or studying or writing or driving cattle, I think the key thing is the hunger, the inspired desire for the task at hand, not just the eventual collection of the paycheck but the excitement, even the passion that goes into producing it, that really counts.

Now you might say, what if I have a job that doesn’t whet my appetite constantly? Well, I think the best thing to do is to discover something about it that you really do enjoy. You might have to spend some time thinking about how to find that passion, but probably it can be found. No job is perfect—even my friend will admit as much about his manuscripts—but finding the passion in your work might mean finding passion in your life or your marriage or your family as whole. And that is a spiritual exercise as much as it is anything else.

houskový knedlík

Well then, what about food? As I said, the food in Prague was quite nice. I had some tasty soup (kulajda) for lunch and a tastier dumpling dinner (houskový knedlík). All this talk of food is making me hungry now, so I shall sign off with a simple Chinese proverb that may remind us to seek contentment in even a less than passion-laden situation: “Coarse rice for food, water to drink, and the bended arm for a pillow: happiness may be enjoyed even in these.”[1]

[1] Dictum of Confucius, as quoted in James F. Clarke, Ten Great Religions: An Essay in Comparative Theology (New York, 1888): 48.

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Why Old People Like Strange Things

I think I have figured out why old people like strange things. In part, of course, I am discovering this because I am getting older. But I think the chief reason that I have discovered this is because I have been rereading the Acts of the Apostles, a book of the Bible that few people read at all these days.

The chief reason for that is, I believe, because few people read any of the Bible at all. They are content to recognize it as “the good book” (when in fact for Protestants, at least, it is comprised of sixty-six separate books), instructions and guidance from on high, from “the Man upstairs,” or the like. That metaphorical description of God is, of course, less than dignified, even unbecoming. And at any rate fits with a no reading of but “general respect for Holy Writ.”

But old people, perhaps because they are themselves getting closer to the “top floor” (if I may indulge the societal predilection for undignified religious metaphors), would seem to be more inclined to read the Bible. Now most do it through something called a devotional book, which means some author has preselected bits and pieces of the Scriptures and then explained them. But some old people (and some young people, too, of course) prefer to read the Bible the way country musicians normally purport to drink whiskey—straight up.  And if they do that, then they eventually read, often for the first time, the book of Acts.

Which brings by back to why old people like strange things. For the book of Acts is not normally one’s favorite book of the Bible. It is action-packed, geographically challenging—one really needs a map to read it—and religiously complex (e.g. Acts 21:21 ff.). But old people really like this book anyway. Why? I think I figured it out. It is because the Church described in that book is so very unlike any church they have ever attended. The Church of the book of Acts is active, vibrant, exciting, spiritual, robust, bold, faithful. The church that the old people are members of tends to be just the opposite of these things. In fact, they have sat in their pews and from time to time wondered why people still come to church, when the liturgy is all that there is, and Holy Communion, of course, the latter of which in and of itself, they rationalize, justifies the fairly limited attendance. But then they get gloomy and wonder, when they see a young couple or, worse yet, a young family, whether that family’s child, when it grows up, will actually come to this church or attend any church. And then they think of their own children and wonder if they ever go to church any more, for they don’t ask their kids too much about that, as they are all grown up and it’s true: they have to make their own decisions. At least they come with them to church on the holidays. “Sally’s kids won’t even do that much,” they mutter to themselves before they head off to the after-church cake and coffee.

But when they read Acts, those old people really get excited. Their imaginations run wild, in fact, for they imagine a time when the Church was vibrant, was engaged in society, had meaning and was connected to something bigger, Someone much bigger. Not the “big guy in the sky” or the “man upstairs,” but to God himself.  And they ponder whether it could ever be so again. And that’s why they like the book of Acts. And so do I, and I know that it can be so and actually is in some churches.

Now that does not explain why old people like bad coffee—for they do, it’s a well-documented fact—or why they get unduly excited about a slice of apple pie, of which I am still not a fan, which means I must not be that old yet. Or why they love babies inordinately and feel encouraged when they see one—I am not there yet either, for I still think the world is in a tough spot and I do not become instantly optimistic by seeing or even holding a baby. Or why elderly men have such a penchant for t-shirts. I don’t think I know a single elderly gentleman who doesn’t wear a t-shirt or, for that matter, carry a handkerchief.

But they all love the book of Acts. And you don’t have to be old to read it. But if you’re not a Bible reader, I would advise you to read it only after you have first read a gospel (like Luke), for otherwise you might not understand what all the old folks are so excited about. But they are excited, and they are, strangely enough, inspired by nothing less than the very book of Acts.

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Irrational Fears

Snakes and tarantulas and scorpions. These animals are pretty common in Texas where I live. On separate occasions, we have found all three inside our house. But we are still alive. Snakes don’t normally kill you. Sometimes they curl up on your front porch. Sometimes, as happened to us recently with a rattlesnake, they sun themselves on a back porch, but they rarely try to kill you. The rattler went flying across the yard when we used a shovel to throw him off the porch. The rat snake that was on the front porch mentioned above—well that was a big one, and animal control apparently had to come to remove that hideous hisser.

But, even if there is the possibility of danger, one can fear snakes, or scorpions, or even tarantulas quite irrationally. Or anything, for that matter. When I was a lad, I was afraid of tunnels. I was sure, when Elaine would drive through the tunnel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s North Eastern Extension, we would become trapped and die. But we did not.

And thus, I would suggest, if we are going to indulge our fears, let us do so exclusively with rational fears. Those would be, for example, when your airplane loses its hydraulic system and starts swerving, and when you land there are fire trucks all over the tarmac. Okay, that one’s real. (And, yes, that actually happened to me.) Or when you find out you have cancer, or … ( you can fill in the blanks from here). And terrorism, too, I think is not an entirely irrational fear, but it is in fact unlikely to happen to you. Indeed, terrorism does strike fear into the hearts of even pretty rational people. So what can we do?

FDR famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” I think that quote perhaps sounds a bit cleverer than it in fact is. I think what he probably meant by it is that we must trust our institutions. It’s simply too easy to become cynical and indulge ourselves in conspiracy theories about our institutions. Rather, let’s believe that, even if our institutions, such as the press, sometimes go overboard—they can swing like pendulums between the far left (I won’t mention any particular cable news network or nationally broadcasting companies) or the far right (I won’t mention any PETA inspired names)—but they are trying (or at least some of the honorable journalists who work for any of those networks are trying) to keep America free by working hard to be the credible (at least sometimes) entities of the collective free press. We have to believe, too, in the democratic values that express themselves in wacky ways, like governors who hold extreme positions on the west coast or senators who hold the opposite extreme positions in the southwest. But the institutions, those are there for a reason and, if St. Paul is right—and he was writing under much greater duress than anyone in America ever has—they are at the very least overseen from Above (Romans 13:4).

Is this the case in every country? Certainly not. But it is the case here, so don’t lose heart, especially if you’ve been doubting your institutions, and indulging in fears larger than a tarantula but smaller, presumably, than the snake on the man’s front porch in Morgan’s Point, Texas. It was seven feet long. Okay, I agree; maybe that man’s fear was rational after all.

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Safety First?

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Disney has four key values, as laid out in the Disney Institute’s book entitled Be Our Guest. These inform their approach to how they manage their theme parks and their entire operation, and these “values” are, as listed in order of priority– Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency.

Now I can imagine why, if you’re a theme park with all kinds of potentially hazardous rides and with all kinds of shows that might involve fireworks or the like, safety would be first. So my point here is not to put down Disney’s order of priorities. But those priorities should, I think, likely be confined to the amusement park, for transferring them to, say, a family or a church or a college or even most businesses might not only be dangerous, but could even be worse than dangerous—it could be detrimental.  And, anyhow, can “show” really be a value?

Just think about it. Imagine calling a family sit-down after dinner and listing those priorities to your children. “Safety first, kids.” That sounds good, but maybe it sounds better than in fact it is. Do you mean by it, for example, no contact sports, which by the way are nearly all sports?  “Second, courtesy.”  That one is, admittedly, hard to argue against. But what about “show”?  “Always, kids, remember to put on a good show.”  No, I’m afraid that would just be promoting hypocrisy. “And don’t forget to be efficient!”  Well, yes, this is good, but is it really the fourth highest good? Wouldn’t sincerity, wisdom, diplomacy, kindness, gentleness, or even self-confidence outstrip mere efficiency?

In the case of church, safety first cannot possibly work. No preacher worth his salt can consistently preach safe sermons. Indeed, a good sermon must sometimes imperil the listener’s soul.  What about courtesy in a church? Yes, I think that’s important, but normally the churchgoer would call this hospitality or gentleness or even humility. And “show.” I’m sorry to say that the churches that prioritize show are often the fullest but, paradoxically, simultaneously often the emptiest. And efficiency? No, I’m afraid not. The best sermons often run over time. The coffee hour after church should be anything but efficient—it should be a time of fellowship that seems to lack any sense of time altogether. No, no efficiency here.

Finally college. Should colleges be and/or offer “safe spaces”?  While of course one hopes when one sends a child off to college that that child, no longer quite a child, will be safe, colleges, like churches, can only do their jobs correctly if they challenge the student, and that may mean by taking a sense of “safety” when it comes to their academic accomplishments, at least.  “Courtesy?” No, not so much. Some of the best professors I ever had were quite rude.  “Show.” God forbid. Taking college classes are not about being entertained but about being challenged and thus educated. And finally, efficiency?  Yes, certainly it could be good for the students to be efficient. But professors can only be real professors if they chase the occasional rabbit and actually make “inefficient” use of class time. Professors are not mere conveyers of content. Books do that. The best professors I had, as I recall them, often went off on tangents that sometimes taught us more than the lesson itself.

So, I would not put safety first. I’m not sure it should be last, but if it were always first, the best we could hope for is tea and crumpets instead of sports and information instead of material that challenges us to the core of our being, all conveyed to us in the most efficient and courteous manner possible. Yawn; sounds boring. No, safety, I’m sorry to say, just can’t be first.

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: “Life without Art” or “The Good Stuff”

The motto of the University of Pennsylvania is a simple but profound quote from the Roman poet Horace: leges sine moribus, vanae. It means, “laws without character (i.e. character formed by moral values) are empty.”  It is not simply because it is in Latin, though, that it is far superior to, say, Pepperdine’s which is, I think, meant to inspire potential donors: “Freely ye received, freely give.”

But Adelphi University has, perhaps, a motto even better than either of these: vita sine litteris mors est. The quote comes from Seneca’s Moral Epistles, and it is a strong statement about the power of the arts, for it means, “life without literature is death.”  And we should never take reading or literature for granted.

Try to imagine life without art.  You might, if you’re as bad at drawing as I am, at first think, “Good!  I hated Mrs. Tenbau’s art class in the fifth grade. She made us make lumps of plaster of Paris, paint it bright orange, and then she just harped on and on about “texture.”  Ye gads, even to me as a fifth grader, she appeared to be quite daft.

Kiss of Judas, detail from Scrovegni Chapel


Detail from Cappella Palatina

Fine, but what about no art. No prints in the bathroom, no paintings on the wall, no printed engravings of former presidents on our paper currency. No grandchildren’s drawing on grandparents’ refrigerators.  No visits to museums, ever.  No sculpture. No Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, no Palatine Chapel in Palermo, no Sistine Chapel in Rome. It’s kind of ridiculous to think about it, of course, but if you do, even for a moment, it is quite terrifying.


Which is why one should go to college to study art, and literature, and languages; the goal is not to get a job but to get an education. A diploma indicates that you have been graduated and thus educated, not that you have a job. And, by the way, not having a job is not terrifying, or if it is, such terror is almost always merely short-lived. In this country, one will most likely get another one. But life without literature, well, as Adelphi University’s college seal reminds us, it’s flat out death. And life without art—more death. And life without the capacity to communicate through language—more death. Goethe once said, “He who doesn’t know a foreign language doesn’t know his own.” True that, and with it more death, and gloom and doom.

On a more upbeat note, well, there is art, and there is literature, and languages other than English do exists, and you can even learn old languages like Sanskrit, Greek and Latin. And that’s a good thing, because Seneca bundles a powerful sentiment into just a few Latin words, and so does Horace. And that’s good stuff.

Here’s to the good stuff.




Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Dreams

For reasons I do not know, I am often asked about dreams. I have no idea why anyone would think that I would have an opinion, let alone knowledge regarding dreams. Unlike my mother and (rather more rarely) my grandmother, I do not read tea leaves, nor do I speculate about the stock market, nor do I play the lottery or even prognosticate successfully about politics—until three days before the 2016 election I thought Hillary Clinton would win, and, prior to that, I did not think President Obama would be re-elected (though I did think he would be elected the first time). In other words, I am far from an oracle. Yet time and again people ask me what dreams mean, and I have begun to wonder what it is about me that makes people think I would have any peculiar insight on that topic.

Yet, despite my lack of specific knowledge about dreams, perhaps I can address the subject in general terms. While I can’t comment on dream interpretation per se, I can say that dreams are important. When I say this, I don’t mean having dreams at night is important, though it might be for all I know. But having a dream—the way that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., did, for example—that is very important.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Why? It casts a personal or, in the case of Dr. King, a collective vision. It is both inspirational and aspirational. Following in the wake of Dr. King, we can dream of an America in which “people will not be judged by the color of their skin,” as he once said, “but by the content of their character.” Dr. King, I believe, was speaking about the merit that their character affords them, that each person would have the chance to receive fairly what he or she earned and not be held back for reasons of racial prejudice. And I think that most of us, or at least I hope that most of us, would agree with that.

But there are other kinds of dreams that cast less lofty visions. For example, you might dream of going to the Bahamas or Hawaii or on an Alaskan cruise. You might dream of your kids going to college or even getting some sort of graduate degree, being well educated and well cultured. Perhaps you hope, too, that they might have a better job than you do, have a happier life. You might dream that they would have less financial challenges than you have had to undergo, have less hardships, have more free time. And it’s okay, as far as I can tell, to dream about such things.

But be careful. For so many of those hardships, challenges, and difficult times were the very things that shaped you, hopefully, for the better. They did if you let them. For life, in that way, is like God. Either you’ll spend your whole life fighting with God (or at least the idea of God) or you’ll slowly (or perhaps suddenly) give in to both, realizing that if He’s just a crutch, like everybody says, then you, too, are in need of that Crutch. For fighting with God ends the day you realize that you’re broken. Only blind pride can keep you back from realizing that.

And life’s not dissimilar. When you stop fighting with the challenges of life—maybe that’s what St. Paul finally understood about life that is given to God instead of given to mere religion when he heard a Voice admonishing him not to “kick against the goads”—and embrace them and even be grateful for them, that’s the first step toward your own dream, not so much of visiting Hawaii as of living life well, even embarking on a greater dream like that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For his dream calls on all those who have ears to hear to put aside their prejudice, itself engendered by blind pride, and walk with him toward a better America and a better world.

But there’s one more thing I would add to my interpretation of dreams. You must remember old dreams to have new ones. You must remember Dr. King’s dream if you are to have your own. You must remember your parents’ and grandparents’ aspirations, hopes, and, yes, dreams for you if you are to have them for yourself or your own children and grandchildren. I think that is summarized in the Bible pretty well when the Prophet Joel says, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28). May you do the same, and may it be a dream that is both personal and collective, inspirational and aspirational.

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residuals Welshman: You Kiddin’ Me?

In Philadelphia and the area around that great city, where I grew up, if you want to express that you are flummoxed, you simply pose the question, “You kiddin(g) me?” The Philly accent is an essential ingredient for the question to reach the full bloom of efficacy.

This is the very question one might be compelled to ask when reading about Barcelona soccer legend Ronaldino, who is reportedly marrying two women at once in Brazil, where, though polygamy is illegal, it would seem that in 2012 a three-way civil union was approved, and thus, if the marriage was not a religious act but merely a secular act, it may actually be legal. You kiddin’ me?

I mention the possibility of Ronaldino’s three-way marriage in part because just two weeks ago I wrote about the changing face of marriage and then, within a few days of having written that, Ronaldino proposed (apparently twice). Did he get down on two knees to do so?

You kiddin’ me, right? But wait, there’s more. When asked about what floor he wanted to get off on, a man on an elevator made a “joke” by stating “Ladies’ lingerie.” I will admit that that is not a funny joke, but it is not funny I submit, not because it is politically incorrect—I know lots of politically incorrect jokes that are funny, and in fact maybe even most of the jokes I know are at least a little bit politically incorrect—but rather it’s not funny because elevators don’t stop at floors with titles like “Ladies Lingerie”. They stop at numbered floors or, in the most interesting cases, “mezzanines” or “lounges.” So he could have said, “I’d like to stop at the Sky Deck Lounge—it’s Lady’s Night!” and although I am not sure that such a statement would have improved the joke at all, at least it would have made some sense for an elevator stop. But, no, Mr. Richard Ned Lebow, who had no doubt been better known for having a truncated middle name than for being politically incorrect, obviously didn’t think about how elevators don’t stop in shopping districts (though perhaps escalators do) and thus he should adjust his impromptu joke. He just said it.

And the proper response from one Simona Sharoni, who happened to be along for the ride in that elevator coach, should have been, “You kiddin’ me?” and she should have thought to herself that she was more offended by the incoherence of the joke than the remote possibility that the mention of women’s lingerie in an elevator could offend anyone. But she did not, and she filed a complaint with the International Studies Association, for both were attending the annual conference of that organization.

But instead of Ms. Sharoni, who is a professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, simply formulating the correct Philly response, she—obviously not from Philadelphia—decided that the best course of action was to “Report It!” which is now a slogan on many college campuses. Perhaps she has simply bought into that mentality, and let me say, that it is absolutely the right thing to report some things, like professors who proposition (or worse) their students, students who stalk other students (or anybody, for that matter), and illegal activities in general. I’m not against reporting things. But, you kiddin’ me? Reporting a bad joke? What, you kiddin’ me?

But that is not the piece de resistance of this blog. Rather, it is a turn of events that occurred in Kunming City, China, where a family got a “dog” from the side of the road and brought it home to rescue and adopt it. The dog turned out to be a bear, and not just any bear, but a very rare, endangered species of bear (wild Asian Black Bear).

Dog or Bear?

“It gets bigger in time,” the adoptive father said. They tried to give the bear to a zoo, but the zoo keeper apparently required a birth certificate. Eventually they worked it out and now they won’t receive the full “punishment” for rescuing the bear. You kiddin’ me? I say that on two counts: The dog turns out to be a bear?! They get punished for rescuing the bear? You kiddin’ me? What could be weirder than that? A three way marriage? Ladies lingerie in an elevator?

You kiddin’ me?

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Say Something Funny

A few years ago a friend of mine asked me, “If you were required to do or say something funny on short notice, what would you do?”  He was being inducted into a club that required a clear sense of humor. As part of their ritual for joining that club, they had ordered him to “be funny now!”  I’m not sure what the club was called, but I think it was a very exclusive club, like the Turtle Club.

I’ve thought about that question over the years several times, and the reason I have is simply because sometimes one might actually need to do or say something funny on short notice. This happens regularly if you are married. I am not suggesting here that one should use humor to cover up or dismiss real problems. Those need to be addressed in an honest and sober way. But sometimes, I have found, your spouse simply needs to laugh, and you do, too, and laughing together can be a real balm for the soul and for a couple’s relationship, particularly for people who have been married a long time.

I say this because I think that laughter is just about the only thing that a couple can share throughout married life. Passion will come and go, and I suppose, when one is quite old the sexual kind pretty much just goes—though not according to AARP, so maybe this is just a rumor. The fruit of that passion, that is children and their rearing, well that can be quite a life-long project, but even so children will eventually leave the nest.  If they don’t you can, I suppose in an act of desperation, actually sue them to leave.

But humor, well, it is the product, I believe, of a healthy relationship. And even though it is something that one can find overused, as a way to deflect from a sober conversation, it is nonetheless vital. It’s more than just spice—it’s an actual ingredient in the recipe of life, though like spice, it’s a tasty ingredient.

So, when my friend asked me what I would do to be funny on short notice, I just answered him by barking like a dog, though not to a tune. And he burst out laughing, for he had done that very thing the evening before when he was joining the Turtle Club (or whatever club that was).  And sometimes, just barking like a dog is funny, though in this clip, the man’s wife seems less than amused.

I close with the top ten ways to be funny that are guaranteed* to make your spouse laugh:

  1. Wear your underwear on your head to breakfast and pretend that nothing is going on.
  2. Tell your spouse that your neighbor is a spy and act like you really mean it and you’re going to call the FBI; ask him or her to Google the phone number for the FBI while you watch the neighbor out the window.
  3. Pretend you like something you’ve never liked before, like golf or crochet or boiled, slimy okra.
  4. Temporarily rename your dog and insist that that has always been the dog’s name.
  5.  Insist that Christmas is “just around the corner” even if it’s springtime.
  6.  Pretend to have developed a new allergy to something common that almost no one is allergic to (e.g. tea)—this only works if you’re not already a highly allergic person.
  7.  Act like you’ve completely forgotten about old T.V. shows like Columbo or Hawaii Five-O and the you basically don’t remember the 1970s. This only works if you actually could possibly remember the 1970s.
  8. Insist that Bill Clinton is still the president of the United States and that, in any case, he never had any affair(s).
  9. Act like you want to go skydiving “right now” and say you’re calling in sick to work to do so; of course, insistently invite your spouse to come with you.
  10. Bark like a dog.

*Guaranteed in a figurative sense; not actually guaranteed.


Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Fact vs. Opinion: How not to Get Your Burger

“One problem is,” my friend who is a college professor recently said, “there seems to have been a breakdown in the distinction that high schools used to teach between fact and opinion. Students don’t know the difference when they get to college.”

I recall that this same friend used to complain about how poor students’ grammar was when they came to college to be taught by him. He used to say that he was disheartened when he would grade their first term paper in his class. “They don’t know the principal parts of English verbs,” he would remark. “One—a very bright one who has gone to medical school—even thought that the participle of take is ‘tooken’!”  And he would then lament that they know not how to place a thesis statement, how to develop the argument and present the evidence in the body of the paper, or how to summarize the evidence coherently and offer a conclusion that demonstrated the thesis statement.  These were, in the old days when we sat in a local bar and enjoyed a beer or two, what he used to complain about. 

But he has been complaining much less frequently about grammar for quite a while now, or even the way that their paper writing skills are deficient.  “Are they writing better?” I queried. That’s when he offered me the opening quote of this blog.

I’m not sure, though, that he’s right this time.  He knows a lot—he’s a college professor, after all—and I am but a humble writer, albeit with a decent command of English principal parts.  Yet I think what he’s calling the failure of the high schools to distinguish between fact and opinion might only be part of a wider societal problem.  So, perhaps he’s half right.

How so? For better or worse, the lines that once helped define societal norms have been blurred or erased.  Upon seeing Artemsia’s cunning action, Xerxes once hyperbolically lamented that his men had become women and his women, men. Now, of course, that would not be hyperbole. It would be politically incorrect, for sure, and beyond that, quite possibly literally true.  Nor is the expanded version of marriage what it once was; some have married trees,[1] others animals,[2] and others not others (even if they are seeing someone else).[3]  Moreover, if certain social pundits are correct, it will be expanded yet again.[4]

Caveat lector: societal “norms” are admittedly not always right. Jim Crow laws were once enacted in roughly thirty-five states, which would comprise the greater portion of the country and in that sense were a “norm” for much of the United States. But they were wrong.  Norms are simply conditioned responses; sometimes good ones, sometimes, not so good.  To take a current example, whether one should be allowed to marry more than one person can be seen as a legitimate question.[5]

But we are getting a bit far afield. Such a question can’t possibly be settled in a blog.  But a hint can be given: that question’s answer lies and will always lie exclusively in the realm of what Plato called the forms, some religious people, Heaven. Maybe an earthly example of that was on display this morning (American time) with the beautiful and deeply touching royal wedding of Harry and Meghan.  It reflected the “form” of marriage (which Christians call the union of Christ and His bride, the Church). Harry and Meghan took their vows before God, and it sounded like they meant it.  If they did, they were acknowledging that even for royals, ultimately the sense of right and wrong—in this case reflected their vows—does not come merely from society or from the individual, even a royal individual, but from God.

In closing, let’s get to the naked truth: if truth is left to the individual, if a Burger King closes, you might just strip naked to make your point about being upset that you didn’t get a burger because there is no “wrong” to prohibit you from doing so. Or, perhaps more poignantly, giving one’s thesis defense in one’s underwear is okay, too, if it makes the point (about not allowing to be told by anyone what you can or can’t wear). Since there is neither wrong nor right, why not make your point (about your burger or required attire) in such a dramatic fashion?[6]  It is, after all, just a family restaurant or a thesis defense.  If, conversely, it is “wrong” to behave thus, then doing so falls roughly under the category of what my friend called valuing opinion (feeling that one has the “right” to go naked) more than fact (a professor actually being in charge of the class and prohibiting indecency of any kind at the thesis defense)–if, in any case, my friend is even half right when it comes to fact vs. opinion.  But whether you agree with him or not, here’s another naked truth: if you decide to make your point in such dramatic fashion in the real business world (other than the business of a stripper, of course), you are not very likely to keep your job, and, though your buns will be exposed, you won’t get your burger, either.