Entries Tagged as 'that’s what he said, by Frank Wilson'

that's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Watching the passing scene

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There is a poem by John Hall Wheelock called “The Part Called Age.” It was first published in the Sewanee Review in 1962, the year Wheelock turned 76 (he lived to be 91). The poem is an account in blank  verse of the thoughts the poet has as he strolls about the property he has inherited from his father (“these were his father’s acres / For so he still thought of them, though now they were his …”).

I could, I suppose, in good New Critical fashion, antiseptically separate the figure described in the poem from the writer of the poem, except that the poem is obviously autobiographical (there’s no good reason why a poem can’t be or shouldn’t be). [Read more →]

that's what he said, by Frank Wilson

To see like a child

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My wife and I live in a two-story row house in South Philadelphia’s Italian Market district, about 200 feet from Ninth Street, which is where the market is.

That happens to be only a few miles due south of where I spent the first eight years of my life, when my family lived in North Philadelphia, in a two-story row house at the corner of Sixth Street and Sedgley Avenue.

Across the street from that house was a scrap yard, and behind that the railroad (one of the less tony stretches of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s vaunted main line). It was a neighborhood of row houses and corner stores, factories, warehouses, and vacant lots. Our house boasted a tiny garden, and I can still remember helping my mother plant flowers there when I was about four. The flowers, I learned later on, were French marigolds and blue ageratum, and I always plant some in the tiny city garden I now have.

Sometimes my family would take the trolley that ran down Sixth Street to the very market I now live near, and recently I wondered just what trolley line that might have been.

Today, of course, it’s a bus route. When I looked it up, I found that it was the 47, the very bus that runs up Ninth Street now. Only that, to be precise, is the 47M, a supplement to the real Route 47, which still comes down Eighth and goes up Seventh, coming down Sixth on its way back, right past where our house in North Philadelphia still stands.

Silly as it must sound, I find it fascinating that the house I am likely to end my days in is just a block from the same public transportation route that the house I started life in was. [Read more →]

that's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Riffing and digressions

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Readers of this column will be aware that, from the start, its patron saint has been Michel de Montaigne, whose great essays began with commentaries on quotations that he had grown fond of.

And that is pretty much what I have been doing here. The reason I haven’t written much lately, though, is that I think I have discovered why Montaigne didn’t continue his essays as he began them. It isn’t so much that, sooner or later, you run out of quotations — you can always find one if you look hard enough — but rather that having to look for one is different from riffing on one that you’ve been thinking about for years. [Read more →]

religion & philosophythat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Life is a parenthesis between one darkness and another

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Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas.” That, of course, is the opening sentence of the book of Ecclesiastes, as translated into Latin by St. Jerome. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” as the King James Version has it.

The book takes it name from its speaker. “Eccleasiastes” is a Greek rendering of the Hebrew “Qoholeth,” variously thought to mean Preacher or Teacher, though it could also be understood as Member of the Assembly.

He identifies himself in the opening sentence as son of David, king in Jerusalem, and tradition has held that the author was Solomon. Be that as it may, he is someone who has seen enough of life to no longer be taken in by it. [Read more →]

that's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Life itself is grace

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I have lately found myself in a grand funk. The condition is well described by a sentence at the very beginning of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn: “There was nothing I wished to do which I could just as well not do.”

This doesn’t happen to me very often, and when it does I can never quite figure why. It descends upon me and envelops me, like a dense fog. This time it may have had something to do — I can’t say for sure — with a project of mine. I have been gathering the reviews I wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer with a mind to making a selection of them for an eBook. [Read more →]

that's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Playing the role of yourself

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I have a daily feature on my blog called Thought for the Day. It’s the first post every day, always scheduled for 9 a.m. Usually, it’s a quote from someone who was either born on that date or who died on that date.

Recently, the quote I chose was from psychiatrist Thomas Szasz: “People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.”

Fellow blogger Georgy Riecke posted a comment later that day saying only, “Or steals.” Later still, I responded to Georgy’s comment: “The way great poets do, according to Eliot.” [Read more →]

that's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Being alone can never be enough

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“All men’s miseries,” Pascal says, “derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”

Now as it happens, I have spent quite a lot of time alone during my life, usually by choice. I like being alone, always have.

But being alone and sitting alone in a quiet room are not the same thing. I certainly spend enough time on my posterior in front of a computer, and before that in front of a typewriter, and before that with pen and paper. [Read more →]

religion & philosophythat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Why Catholic novelists are so good

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I don’t know if many Americans these days are familiar with Charles Péguy. He was one of those strange figures that seemed more common around the turn of the last century, a time of considerable intellectual and social turmoil. Looking back, the ideas being debated at the time — anarchism, neo-scholasticism, spiritualism, among many others — seem less interesting than how idiosyncratically they were regarded by those debating them. [Read more →]

religion & philosophythat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

The resurrection of the body

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I don’t know if anyone today remembers Walter M. Miller Jr.’s post-apocalyptic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz. It won the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel in 1961.

I was introduced to it the year before by my college freshman Latin teacher. I haven’t looked at it for more than half a century.

Recently, though, while searching for something to post on my blog as a “thought for the day,” I came upon a quote from it: “You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.”

Now, one of the things I’ve found about riffing off quotes, as I do in this column, is that a quote that intrigues you will often just stop you dead in your tracks. [Read more →]

sciencethat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

The presumption that we are not alone

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I suppose most people have heard “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” sung by the drug dealer Sportin’ Life in George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. The song voices doubts about certain passages in the Bible. But the title phrase is applicable to a range of assumptions well beyond that.

It is, for example, widely assumed that Earth cannot possibly be the only life-bearing planet in the universe, given how vast the universe is and how many planets there must be. In fact, of 2,326 planets so far spotted by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, 10 are said to be about the size of Earth and orbiting their suns in what is called a “habitable zone.” Kepler-22b in particular looks promising. Temperature there seems to be around 72 degrees and it circles a star much like our sun.

I don’t really get emotionally engaged by this. It’s fascinating either way. [Read more →]

religion & philosophythat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Sweeping your way to truth

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My last column served up a modest proposal regarding the philosophy curriculum, suggesting that larval philosophers supplement logic with the experience of making meatloaf.

I’d like to continue in that vein with a further suggestion: That they try to arrange, from time to time, to fill in for the janitor.

I am not being frivolous. [Read more →]

recipes & foodreligion & philosophy

Soup and philosophy

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W. H. Auden says somewhere — I believe in one of the essays gathered in The Dyer’s Hand, which I do not happen to have at hand — that he preferred systems of irregular measurement. In other words, inches, yards, and ells to, say, the metric system.

I share that preference, principally because such irregular systems do not pretend to a precision that is in fact unattainable.
Consider the circle.

[Read more →]

sciencethat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Neutrinos and a flock of pigeons

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Have you heard the latest neutrino jokes?

Here’s one:

Neutrino.

Knock, knock.

And here’s another:

“We don’t allow faster-than-light neutrinos in here,” said the bartender.

A neutrino walks into a bar.

Don’t get them? Well, in a Wall Street Journal column, physicist Michio Kaku put it this way: [Read more →]

religion & philosophythat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

We need techniques, not rules

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This year marks the centenary of the great Polish poet, Czeslaw Milowsz, who won the Nobel Prize in 1980. To mark the event, Cynthia Haven of Stanford University has put together a collection of essays called An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czeslaw Milosz. Contributors include Seamus Heaney, Helen Vendler, W.S. Merwin, and Robert Pinsky.

I’ve only just read Haven’s introduction, “From Devenir to Etre,” and one passage in particular has grabbed and held my attention. Ten years ago, Haven interviewed Milosz at his home in Berkeley, Calif., and asked him about être and devenir. His reply was evasive: “My goodness. A big problem.” [Read more →]

getting olderthat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

The surprise of old age

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“The biggest surprise in a man’s life is old age.” Thus spake Leo Tolstoy, who made it to 82.

It is hard to disagree, especially if you find yourself, as I do, on the cusp of three score and ten, the so-called Biblical age. Of course, old age is not surprising in the sense that it is unexpected, but rather that it turns out to be so different from what you may have expected. [Read more →]

that's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Doing your best under the circumstances

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Recently, I posted on my blog as a “thought for the day” this quote from Jean de La Fontaine: “A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.”

My own life offers evidence in support of this. I was the editor of my college newspaper (co-editor, actually: I shared the duties with a colleague, because I was also the main editorial writer), but when I graduated I had no intention whatever of becoming a journalist, principally because the idea of facing deadlines on a daily basis did not appeal. [Read more →]

religion & philosophythat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Daring to create anything

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Somewhere in Sexus, the first installment of The Rosy Crucifixion, Henry Miller writes that “imagination is the voice of daring. If there is anything godlike about God, it is that. He dared to imagine everything.” [Read more →]

that's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Shakespeare’s rich ambiguity

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Recently, I watched a DVD of Julie Taymor’s film version of The Tempest, in which Prospero is renamed Prospera and is played by Helen Mirren. I rather liked it. The Tempest is my favorite Shakespeare play, and I am always moved to tears by those great lines toward the end: [Read more →]

religion & philosophythat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Saying “thank you” not as easy as it sounds

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I think the best thing that has ever been said on the subject of prayer was said by the medieval mystic known as Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

This, of course, is precisely the most difficult prayer to utter when you are not feeling at all reverent …and yet it would seem the one most necessary at precisely such a time. [Read more →]

that's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Plain and simple kindness is true and real

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One of the great passages in modern poetry occurs in the opening section of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” the section called “The Burial of the Dead”:

… There is shadow under this red rock,

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),

And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

I remember when I first read this in college. It struck me then — as it still does — as a most ingenious and effective representation of existential terror. I thought of it again early one morning last week. [Read more →]

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