Tag Archives: quotations

Agree, Disagree? “Those Who Are Not Grateful Soon Begin to Complain of Everything.”

“Those who are not grateful soon begin to complain of everything.” 

–Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

In the United States, we’re approaching the holiday of Thanksgiving — a great reminder to stop and take a moment to be thankful.

In my experience, gratitude does drive out resentment, anger, and annoyance.  And complaining! When I think about how grateful I am that I didn’t have to cook Thanksgiving dinner, I stop grumbling to myself about the fact that I don’t like asparagus.

Do you agree or disagree with Merton?

Did Pablo Picasso Paint Fakes? The Question of Creativity.

For some reason, I keep thinking about a story I read several years ago, in Arthur Koestler’s book, The Act of Creation.

This anecdote caught my attention because it was about a subject that interests me — the mysterious nature of creativity. Plus it had a certain koan-like quality, and boy, do I love a good koan.

This story sounds apocryphal, but Koestler says it’s true:

An art dealer (this story is authentic) bought a canvas signed “Picasso” and travelled all the way to Cannes to discover whether it was genuine. Picasso was working in his studio. he cast a single look at the canvas and said: “It’s a fake.”

A few months later the dealer bought another canvas signed Picasso. Again he travelled to Cannes and again Picasso, after a single glance, grunted: “It’s a fake.”

“But cher maitre,” expostulated the dealer, “it so happens that I saw you with my own eyes working on this very picture several years ago.”

Picasso shrugged: “I often paint fakes.”

I know this feeling well — the uncomfortable feeling that even though a particular piece of my work is original, it nevertheless feels repetitive, imitative, a perfunctory variation on one of my common themes.

And in other situations, too.  Every time I go clothes-shopping, I’m tempted to buy a black cardigan. How many black cardigans does one person need? Not many.

This is always a warning sign to push myself harder, to break through the familiar to something new.

On the other hand, sometimes I re-visit material (like this very story!) many times, because I get something new from it, each time I think about it. Over time, its significance becomes clearer to me. For instance, I write about my personal commandment to “Be Gretchen,” very often, but every time, it’s new to me. But that’s not true of all subjects.

Do you know this feeling — the feeling of painting your own fake?

Thinking About Paris — and What Churchill Said About London on September 11, 1940.

Like  just about everyone, I’ve been following the horrific events in Paris.

And I keep remembering a speech that Winston Churchill gave — on September 11, 1940.

On that date, which many years later would come to be so significant, Churchill gave a broadcast about the “Blitz,” the brutal nightly bombing of London.

Churchill’s words seemed to have been written for our own times:

These cruel, wanton, indiscriminate bombings of London are, of course, a part of Hitler’s invasion plans. He hopes, by killing large numbers of civilians, and women and children, that he will terrorise and cow the people of this mighty imperial city, and make them a burden and anxiety to the Government…Little does he know the spirit of the British nation, or the tough fibre of the Londoners…who have been bred to value freedom far above their lives. This wicked man, the repository and embodiment of many forms of soul-destroying hatred, this monstrous product of former wrongs and shame, has now resolved to try to break our famous Island race by a process of indiscriminate slaughter and destruction. What he has done is to kindle a fire in British hearts, here and all over the world, which will glow long after all traces of the conflagration he has caused in London have been removed.

One of the most extraordinary things about New York City in the period after the attack on the World Trade Center was that, despite the shock and devastation, there was a tremendous mood of morale and determination.

As I was researching and writing my biography of Winston Churchill, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, I was repeatedly struck by how apt his words seemed to be, for other times and circumstances.

What he has done is to kindle a fire in British hearts, here and all over the world, which will glow long after all traces of the conflagration he has caused in London have been removed.”

The image is the One World Trade Center, here in New York City, with its spire lit with the colors of the French flag.

Have You Read the Book “Peter Pan?”

“John lived in a boat turned upside down on the sands, Michael in a wigwam, Wendy in a house of leaves deftly sewn together. John had no friends, Michael had friends at night, Wendy had a pet wolf forsaken by its parents; but on the whole the Neverlands have a family resemblance, and if they stood in a row you could say of them that they have each other’s nose, and so forth. On these magic shores children at play are for ever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more.”

— J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

One day, when I think I’m finally ready, I’ll undertake the great challenge of my writing life: to write the book I’ve been thinking about for decades, Symbols Beyond Words.

And when I do, J. M. Barrie is going to be all over that book. If you haven’t read Peter Pan, read it. It’s not what you expect.

Carl Jung, Flannery O’Connor, C. S. Lewis but not J.R.R. Tolkien (except for Tom Bombadil), Elias Canetti, Virginia Woolf, The Golden Bough,  the movie The Piano, the writing of Bob Dylan (I never listen to his music), Robertson Davies tried so hard but never really got there…I have a long way to go before I can write that book.

When Did You Experience the Truest Feeling of Joy You’ve Ever Known?

“To this day, the truest feeling of joy I have ever known is the door opening at a friend’s house to reveal my father — in his tweed overcoat– there to rescue me from a bad play date.”

— Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl

This rang true for me, because I have to admit: Of my whole life, one of my most purely joyous memories is when a student came to our high school chemistry lab to tell us that field hockey practice was cancelled for the day, because the sprinklers had been running all night, so our cleats would have torn up the grass. I was so happy.

Do you have a memory like that — of such great happiness, over such a small thing?