Esteemed thinker: Gelett Burgess

the goops Manners are the simple etiquettes between humans that can dictate whether an interaction will be a pleasing or unpleasing experience. Manners are not instinctive; for example we will not find a pair of dogs discussing which one will have the bone but rather they will grab and grapple until the victor is munching happily away at the marrow.

Instead, manners are learned activities that can be passed down from generation to generation like grandmother’s linen tablecloth. But unlike that tablecloth which only dons the table on special occasions; we can only hope that manners are always showing. Alas, this is not always the case and what was once considered ill mannered are now simply part of the norm.

Let me present a few examples of manner interpretations having changed through time. In the earlier part of the 20th century, speaking on the telephone in public was conducted in a private “telephone booth” so as not only to maintain some modicum of privacy but also as consideration to others around. Today, speaking on a cell phone is as conducted everywhere and those around, whether they like it or not, are subjected to its intrusion.

Food today has been packaged in a fashion whereby children hardly need to use any utensils but rather finger their way through a meal; yogurt is squeezed through tubes, chicken is pre-cut as finger- food, and fruit is rolled into plastic-like material to be peeled and eaten. Even waffles are now designed to be neatly fit in the hand and dunked in syrup without the assistance of a fork. Often table manners have been modified for convenience.

And then there was the removing of a man’s hat when indoors, which was once considered good manners but is now regarded as quite archaic.

However, as times have changed our interpretations of manners the one conduct that has not gone out-of-style is the custom of please and thank you whereupon I say, I am pleased that you have stopped by and thank you for taking time from your busy day to read this post! And oh yes … have a most pleasant day!!

Gelett Burgess Today’s post acquaints you with the esteemed thinker: Gelett Burgess (1866-1951) American poet, artist, and humorist. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, his career began after graduating from MIT with an engineer degree. Best known today as the creator of the Goops and the famous Purple Cow verse, he was also the author of many books and a brilliant, iconoclastic American humorist.

From his title, More Goops and How not to be Them, I bring you one of his poems, “At Table” which will indeed fit neatly into today’s post. Enjoy!

At Table

Why is it Goops must always wish
To touch each apple on the dish?
Why do they never neatly fold
Their napkins until they are told?
Why do they play with food, and bite
Such awful mouthfuls? Is it right?
Why do they tilt back in their chairs?
Because they’re Goops! So no one cares!

First image: 1900

A.A. Milne and the library

library For many the public library is synonymous with tranquility; it is a place where one can find things they may have lost and find things they may not know they wanted. It is one of the few places left where you can receive something without giving back anything except your time.

What a wonderful establishment, rows and rows and shelves and shelves of books; all maintained by others, cataloged in a way where they are easily found, and allowed to be taken home with little more than a promise that you will return them within a reasonable about of time. So much so that if one wished they could renew the book for many weeks thereafter.

Yet, with all its positive attributes, it has been threatened like an endangered species; for as much as many praise its existence, patronage and funding has been reduced in many communities where its very existence may soon become merely a memory of the past. And oh what a shame that would be, for though we may enjoy our digital ebooks and a coffee shop attached to the bookstore… wouldn’t it be a disgrace to lose such a dear and faithful friend, the one place where tranquility resides, the good old library.

Today’s blog returns the the esteemed thinker: A.A. Milne (1882-1956); an author whose books you may have first encountered at your earliest trip to the library. Poet, journalist, playwright, and writer, Alan Alexander Milne was born in London, England. After serving in the British army in WWI, he devoted his career to writing. His best known works include the children’s poetry collections in the 1920s, When we were Very Young and Now we are Six. a.a. milne

From his book, Not that it Matters, I have selected the essay “My Library”. Having carefully snipped and strung together some of his fanciful words, I hope you will find them to your liking. Take time from your hectic day to read and enjoy A. A. Milne; I believe you will find him still quite entertaining…

“When I moved into a new house a few weeks ago, my books, as was natural, moved with me. Strong, perspiring men shovelled them into packing-cases, and staggered with them to the van, cursing Caxton as they went. On arrival at this end, they staggered with them into the room selected for my library, heaved off the lids of the cases, and awaited orders. The immediate need was for an emptier room. Together we hurried the books into the new white shelves which awaited them, the order in which they stood being of no matter so long as they were off the floor. Armful after armful was hastily stacked, the only pause being when (in the curious way in which these things happen) my own name suddenly caught the eye of the foreman. “Did you write this one, sir?” he asked. I admitted it. “H’m,” he said noncommittally. He glanced along the names of every armful after that, and appeared a little surprised at the number of books which I hadn’t written. An easy-going profession, evidently.

So we got the books up at last, and there they are still. I told myself that when a wet afternoon came along I would arrange them properly…
If I gave you the impression that my books were precisely arranged in their old shelves, I misled you. They were arranged in the order known as “all anyhow.” Possibly they were a little less “anyhow” than they are now, in that the volumes of any particular work were at least together, but that is all that can be claimed for them. For years I put off the business of tidying them up, just as I am putting it off now. It is not laziness; it is simply that I don’t know how to begin….

Let us suppose that we decide to have all the poetry together. It sounds reasonable. But then Byron is eleven inches high (my tallest poet), and Beattie (my shortest) is just over four inches. How foolish they will look standing side by side. Perhaps you don’t know Beattie, but I assure you that he was a poet….

You see the difficulty. If you arrange your books according to their contents you are sure to get an untidy shelf. If you arrange your books according to their size and colour you get an effective wall, but the poetically inclined visitor may lose sight of Beattie altogether. Before, then, we decide what to do about it, we must ask ourselves that very awkward question, “Why do we have books on our shelves at all?” It is a most embarrassing question to answer…”

First image: At the children’s library, John Collier, Date Created/Published: 1943 Aug.

Christopher D. Morley and the haircut

hair cut There are some things that we do which is universal; for example, getting a haircut. For within my lifetime I have yet to meet a person who has not at one time or another returned home rather unhappy. And although we know in our heart of hearts that the locks that have been cut will grow back, we may still feel like a lamb having just been sheared.

So traumatic is a bad haircut that it is enough to send a young person coming up with any excuse to stay home from school. For who doesn’t remember the emotional pain and embarrassment which was executed by a rather unkind classmate.

A poor haircut can make you believe as though you have the largest ears or the longest neck. It can make you feel as though you are ten years old again, or have been transformed back to the 1980s. And although your hairdresser or barber will look at you like they have just painted the Mona Lisa, no amount of lies will make you feel better when staring back at you in that over-sized mirror is you with a very miserable haircut!

So take note that the world may be a very big place but in spite of its vast landmass… you cannot hide from a getting at least once… a bad haircut!

christopher morley 3From his essay Sitting in the Barber’s Chair I bring back to you the esteemed thinker: Christopher Morley (1890-1957) American author, journalist, poet, and essayist. I believe that once again he will stir you away from your hectic day and enchant you with a small but worthy bit of humor.

“Once every ten weeks or so we get our hair cut… Of course, we believe in having our hair cut during office hours. That is the only device we know to make the hateful operation tolerable…
We knew a traveling man who never got his hair cut except when he was on the road, which permitted him to include the transaction in his expense account; but somehow it seems to us more ethical to steal time than to steal money…

We like to view this whole matter in a philosophical and ultra-pragmatic way. Some observers have hazarded that our postponement of haircuts is due to mere lethargy and inertia, but that is not so. Every time we get our locks shorn our wife tells us that we have got them too short. She says that our head has a very homely and bourgeois bullet shape, a sort of pithecanthropoid contour, which is revealed by a close trim. After five weeks’ growth, however, we begin to look quite distinguished. The difficulty then is to ascertain just when the law of diminishing returns comes into play. When do we cease to look distinguished and begin to appear merely slovenly? Careful study has taught us that this begins to take place at the end of sixty-five days, in warm weather. Add five days or so for natural procrastination and devilment, and we have seventy days interval, which we have posited as the ideal orbit for our tonsorial ecstasies…”

First image: Sergeant from Fort Benning getting his son’s hair cut at a barber shop in Columbus, Georgia 1941

Esteemed thinker: Jonathan Swift

Conversation_Marcel Duchahamp As we become more and more adept at using our fingers to transpose our thoughts, such as via emails and texts, so has the art of conversation become relegated to being much more succinct. However, there are times when longer conversations are a necessary tool , especially during an occasion such as at a party…which leads us to the reality that we all know those persons or person who engage us in conversation, only to drop us like a hot-potato when someone else, more to their liking arrives … leaving us standing idly by the cheese dip and hoping to strike up another conversation with an alternative guest.

Then there is the conversationalist that likes to jump into the exchange even before you may have completed your thought. For them the “me show “never has ended and is only at a pause while you are speaking. Makes you wonder if they are really listening to you; I would have to say not.

Having a conversation with yourself can also cause much confusion, as well as instigating particularly strange looks from others. This chat to yourself needs to be relegated to personal space, such as the car or shower.

Conversations on the telephone, this may be a safe bet, for not being able to see the party on the other end can keep you from seeing their eyes rolling. However, these conversations are too often cut short when it is interrupted by that all too popular noise…the click… meaning that someone will trump you…(Alas this reminds us of the party goers.)

And lest we not forget that there was a time when meals were accompanied by good food and good conversation; sadly only to be have been replaced by inanimate objects, the cell phone.

So… take heed for if you find yourself engaged in a conversation, do not get to used to this tête-à-tête because it most likely will be over before you even know it.

Jonathan_Swift_by_Charles_Jervas_detail_web Today’s blog introduces the esteemed thinker Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) 18th century satirist and author of the great work Gulliver’s Travels. Born in Dublin, Ireland, his father died when he was only seven months old, his family relied upon relatives for financial assistance. In 1704 he published his humorous take on religion, A Tale of the Tub; becoming an active figure of the Dublin society and politics becoming a blunt critic in efforts of improving Ireland.

For your pleasure today I have snipped from his book The Battle of the Books, and bring you a portion of a most humorous essay titled, “Hints Towards an Essay on Conversation”. Although the mid 1700s was a time when people prided themselves as being conversationalists, we will soon learn from Mr. Swift that this art was not without its trials and tribulations during his time.

And now, without anymore interruptions, let us take a few moments for the illustrious writer, Jonathan Swift.

“…There are some faults in conversation which none are so subject to as the men of wit, nor ever so much as when they are with each other. If they have opened their mouths without endeavouring to say a witty thing, they think it is so many words lost. It is a torment to the hearers, as much as to themselves, to see them upon the rack for invention, and in perpetual constraint, with so little success. They must do something extraordinary, in order to acquit themselves, and answer their character, else the standers by may be disappointed and be apt to think them only like the rest of mortals. I have known two men of wit industriously brought together, in order to entertain the company, where they have made a very ridiculous figure, and provided all the mirth at their own expense…

There are some people whose good manners will not suffer them to interrupt you; but, what is almost as bad, will discover abundance of impatience, and lie upon the watch until you have done, because they have started something in their own thoughts which they long to be delivered of. Meantime, they are so far from regarding what passes, that their imaginations are wholly turned upon what they have in reserve, for fear it should slip out of their memory; and thus they confine their invention, which might otherwise range over a hundred things full as good, and that might be much more naturally introduced…”

First image: 1909 by Marcel Duchamp, pen and ink
Second image: Portrait by Charles Jervas