Archives for September, 2012


Words As A Lifeline In Hard Times

It's easy to be philosophical when everything's going fine.

I love when friends invent pithy quotes.

Yesterday, my friend Karen asked if I knew of any quotes along the lines of the above, which has been running through her head recently.

"To me it means when times are good and you're in your rhythm and conquering the world (or just fairly happy) it's easy to be philosophical about how to get thru the bad times," she wrote.

"Telling yourself...
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How To Be Comforting, And Not

"The pain never goes away, but it gets different. It gets bearable."

These are the words of a New York City cab driver, spoken to my parents when they were on the way to the morgue to face the unimaginable task of identifying their youngest son, my kid brother, who died unexpectedly.

The driver, too, had lost a child, and these words are perhaps the wisest I've ever heard for the recently bereaved.

I've lost a brother, both parents, and, during the most horrific years of the AIDS epidemic, several close friends. This cab driver’s words were comforting to me, and they are the words I use when expressing sympathy to others.

I think of them now because in response to my recent post, Face Reality, Life Can Be Random, a reader commented that the bland aphorism, “Everything happens for a reason” is particularly unhelpful in a time of bereavement.

Oh heavens, yes. Even if it were true that everything happens for a reason, which it’s not, when you’re in the dark belly of grief, no reason in the world can provide comfort. There’s even something a little callous about this attempt to justify loss, pain, and grief.

This observation got me thinking about good and bad things you can say when someone is grieving.

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Face Reality: Life Can Be Random

Everything happens for a reason.

I don’t know who said this first, but lots of people say it now and it annoys me every time I hear it.

I’m not a fan of magical thinking and that’s what this is—some sort of happy-voodoo, abracadabra, unicorns and rainbows, fairy dust and angels belief in preordination.

Of course, it’s a comforting belief. I get that. It makes the world feel less random, makes order of what might seem...
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Why Great Minds Gossip

"Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

Well pooh-pooh, la-di-da, and phooey on this quote, which shouldn’t even be allowed on a psychology website. Because really, what is psychology if not discussing people? People are endlessly fascinating, they are responsible for ideas and events, and you couldn’t figure them out in a lifetime of study. What’s so small about discussing people?

What about Freud? Didja ever think about him, Eleanor? He couldn't have gotten to all his ideas if he hadn't first thought about and discussed  people.

And can you even separate ideas from events and people? Aren’t the three all completely intertwined in this big glorious mess that is life? Ideas don’t exist in a vacuum, they are the product of people’s minds. To fully understand them, you have to understand where they come from. And events are the result of behavior. People again.
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Shaddup Already!

It is a common delusion that you make things better by talking about them. -- Dame Rose Macaulay

Is this true? I need to know.

I’ve always believed that talking things out is the right thing to do, but I am doubting, doubting, doubting these days. And here's this dame (a novelist and travel writer) telling me my belief is delusional.

But I need explanations. Is nothing made better by talking, or are some things made better...
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Three Ways To Process Criticism

How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.― Benjamin Disraeli

How are you at taking criticism?

I’ve gotten pretty good at it. If you’re going to put yourself in the public eye, you have to take your lumps.

I usually let rotten tomatoes land where they will. Readers often have unpleasant things to say to those of us with the audacity to put our thoughts in print. I’ve been called names, been accused of unspeakable acts, had my fitness for my job questioned. I hardly even consider that kind of thing criticism. Most of the time, it’s just people flapping their gums. I can imagine their red-faced sputtering and I hope they can imagine my eyes rolling.  Those rotten tomatoes miss me by a mile.

(I’ve also noticed that when someone agrees with something I’ve written, it’s because the idea is good and great minds think alike. When someone disagrees, it’s because, obviously, I’m an idiot.)
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Pithy Quotes Smackdown: God vs. The Devil

God is in the details.

The devil is in the details.

"So which is it?" a friend asked, peevishness implied in her email.

Good question.

I'm not going to try and trace the origins of these quotes. The former is usually attributed to architect Mies van der Rohe, but some people claim it was around long before he got around to it. "The devil is in the details" may or may not have been a spinoff from the God quote.

The more I think about these two quotes, the less contradictory they seem. After all God and Lucifer are two sides of a spiritual coin. Good and evil, black and white, dark and light, Yin and Yang (though I make no judgment calls on black, white, dark, light, Yin, or Yang).

If “God” is  transcendence, then God is in the details. It's the details that elevate whatever you do from good to great. 
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For John Lennon Told Me So

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.—John Lennon

When I first heard this aphorism a couple of decades ago, it hit me so profoundly that I asked my mother to work it up in a cross-stitch for me, which has hung in my house ever since.

I was going through a particularly hard time back then and was angry about some things that had and hadn't happened. These words helped me to relax and stop fighting what was because it wasn't what I wanted. It’s a sort of mindfulness quote. The words force you out of your head, with all its dreams and ambitions, and into the real world with all its disappointments and surprises. As Doris Day said, que sera sera.

I still recite the words to myself every time I find myself chafing from what is and yearning for what is not.

But sometimes – and I'm sorry John, you know I love you forever – this quote pisses me off.
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