27.5.20

Quotation: A Proverb on Taking a Hint (And How One Word is Enough)

In this quote post, I lay into a pithy proverb coined by a Roman dramatist about taking a hint (and when to take it).

A word to the wise is sufficient.”

— Attributed to Terence, Roman Playwright (born in Carthage, North Africa c. 195 B.C.E, and died c. 159 B.C.E.)

     I had scribbled this quote in my journal. I keep all of the journals I've written since I was eleven or twelve years old. I've slowly been digitizing them, which is why I came across this quote I had written down when I was a sophomore in high school. Taking an English class with a highly creative teacher, I learned to keep quotes that I liked so later I could think about them and write about them. As a teacher, I often have students think about quotes, and I encourage them to collect their favorites. Gone are the days of marble composition books — but kids today use Quizlet or Anki to collect what they like and find online. Or, quotes are made into memes (I have a Pinterest page devoted to quotes-turned-into-memes). But I never wrote about "a word to the wise" until now.

Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.
Photo by Joao Tzanno on Unsplash

     If you were to classify the quote, it's technically a proverb. In Latin, it's "Verbum sapienti sat[is] est." While it's attributed to Terence, the saying has taken on a life of its own. It's often written only as "a word to the wise" or "a word to the wise is enough." But what does it mean? When I first read the proverb, I misinterpreted it. I thought it meant, wise people (i.e., smart people) don't need you to talk to them too much. Just say a simple word to them, and that's enough. As if really smart people are incredibly tight-lipped. But that's not what the proverb is meant to convey. A word to the wise is more about the wise person. A sage doesn't need a lot of information to sum up what's going on in any given complicated situation. If you turn to a wise person, all they need is a hint of what you're going through, and they can infer a solution.
Wise Teachers Need Just a Word And That's Enough
     Teachers need this skill. In a school setting, millions of things are going on at once, and kids tend to expect their teachers to guide them — right? A wise teacher can infer correctly what's going on. I guess a modern version of "word to the wise" is the ability to "read the room." All it takes is a whiff of something, a word, an action, and a wise teacher can sum up a situation and intuitively enact a plan.
     In some ways, I am good at taking a hint and understanding the bigger picture. A lot is often unsaid. When people say "read between the lines," what they mean is pick up on the clues of what's not being said. Having exceptional emotional intelligence is a prerequisite for the wise person. Don't go to extremes in one's thinking. Trust one's gut. Act with purpose. Don't second guess. Avoid excessive speculation. Another quote comes to mind — the most simple answer is most likely the best one. That's from William of Occam, a fourteenth-century monk, and philosopher — 
 "The simplest explanation is probably the best. Don't complicate matters if you don't have to"
     And Occam is right. A reasonable explanation is often the correct answer rather than a many-stepped answer. Listen to people try to argue that NASA didn't send humans to the moon. It takes more steps to say that the moon landing was a setup than to simply accept the most reasonable (albeit spectacular) answer that we sent men to the moon.
Some Folks Need More Than Just a Word (And That's the Problem)
     Thinking of the converse of "word to the wise" is helpful. Have you ever tried to explain a situation to someone, but the person just couldn't seem "to get it"? At a dinner party, I had a friend tell another friend's wife, "Oh. Your mother is so pretty tonight." Even though I tried to save my friend from her faux pas she didn't get the hint. She ran right into the situation completely unaware that she didn't size up the situation properly. Some people are incredibly literal — they need everything spelled out for them. Usually, they are more rule-based individuals. Intuitive people can come up with solutions faster because they skip a few steps. And they accept when they are wrong. And they know when to avoid rules and when to follow them.
A Word to the Wise! Hear ye!
     Have you noticed examples of "a word to the wise" in your own life? Maybe you know someone who exemplifies the proverb. Or you have a co-worker or a boss who is exceptional at picking up on clues to solve a problem. Either way — let me know your stories. Leave a comment.
Sources: The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. United Kingdom, Oxford University Press, 2015. / Ammer, Christine. The Dictionary of Clichés: A Word Lover's Guide to 4,000 Overused Phrases and Almost-Pleasing Platitudes. United States, Skyhorse Publishing, 2013.

13.5.20

Quotation: On the Self in Relation to the Other in Psalm 139 of the Hebrew Bible

In this post, I talk about a passage from the Hebrew Book of Psalms that extols the self with respect to the Other.
Photo by Les Triconautes on Unsplash
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know.
Psalms (139:13-14)
The Ancient Songbook of the Hebrews
     The Hebrew Book of Psalms is an ancient songbook — but its music has been lost. No one quite knows how the psalms were set to music. All we have today are the words. Perhaps the words were sung a capella, or they were meant to be recited in a rhythmic pattern. There is a general suggestion that a lyre harp was the main instrument of choice. Attributed to the ancient King David, the psalms of the Bible number one-hundred-fifty. Each Psalm is a plaintiff voice to God, a prayer, but when read, the Psalms closely spell out a philosophy of the self.
     The "I" in Psalm 139 is an "I" closely tied to the experience of an Other. The first words of the Psalm are "Lord, you have probed me, you know me" (139:1). The Psalm sets the experience of the self in relationship to all-knowing God, a being who "knit me in my mother's womb" (139:1b). The experience of the self is one of relationship to a being greater than the self, a series of steps that brought the self from nothingness to being. Read in this way, the self is not an isolated molecule, a desiccated thing, a piece of something. The self is intricately bound up with the Other in such a way that the self is the other.

The Point-of-View of a Self Looking Backward 
     I have seen Psalm 139 used as an argument against abortion. The reasoning goes that since God has formed us in our "mother's womb" — the act of terminating a pregnancy is the annihilation of a future self. I imagine that suits pro-lifers well; and, I do begrudge them for their argument. But I see the verse of Psalm 139 tells a different story. The language of the Psalm is from the perspective of looking at oneself in awe. It is an epiphany that comes with awareness, with a self-consciousness that only comes from a sense of becoming. "I am a self!" — is a type of understanding a developed being has — that type of awareness that "I am a self — and this 'knowledge is too wonderful for me'" (139:6).
     The self of Psalm 139 is the self that has achieved the highest level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I come into this world kicking and screaming. No one asked my permission to exist. But here I am. I eat. I feed off my mother's milk. I kick. I squirm. I am dependent, and I barely recognize my own image; the world is me, and I am the world. But I break into self as a kind of divided self. I acknowledge that I am a "me," and it is traumatic for I feel at once the break from the other. It is a seismic break (but one that I do not remember distinctly). But I came out of it and entered childhood, with its ravages and glories, into adolescence and then into adulthood — where I now stand. I imagine David, the eternal lyricist, wrote this Psalm in middle-age — not as a mewling boy, not as the teenager who slew Goliath, but as the King who one day woke up to an understanding of his own being.

Positive and Negative Aspects of the Self in Relationship to the Other
     I do think there are positive and negative aspects of a self in relationship to the other. In Psalm 139, this relationship is seen as positive, as one that pervades one's being with an empowering message — that you are wonderfully made. It is the voice of a parent, for example, that has buttressed you with confidence, and you have internalized this encouragement. An inner voice that carries you through the toughest of times. But there is also a negative aspect of a self in relationship to the other — it is the demanding other. I see this demanding other when I cede over my power to another that seeks to punish. When I am not right in the world. When my being feels as if "foes ... conspire a plot" against me those "enemies I count as my own" (Psalm 139:20; 22b).
     I call the positive self concerning the other the creator. It is the feeling of being right with the world — perhaps that feeling one gets as a child when your teacher places a gold-bright sticker on your classwork, and you carry it home beaming. I call the negative self for the other the destroyer. It is the feeling of not being right with the world. Crushed by the other, we succumb to self-loathing and self-sabotage. The other of Psalm 139 saw us unformed — "my days were shaped before one came to be" (Psalm 139:16). The self stands between this tension of positive and negative forces. The "I" of the self entangled with an other.

What is a Self Free of this Entanglement?
    Zeus conspired to chain the old gods in a locked chamber in the underworld. Sons grow up to overthrow their parents. A self "knit together" in the womb grows up to be independent — at least, isn't that the purpose of adulthood? Freedom for the self is real. But true freedom is terrifying. I think of the choices I make in my life — most of them are habitual. Born out of necessity. Out of duty, even. But in that space of habitual service, can there be something like freedom? It is not every day one makes life-changing decisions — but I feel like there are axial moments in the life of a person that has set the pathway. Maybe there is more than one path. I do not know. 
    An axial moment in dance is when the dancer fixes their body in one place, using the spine as a focal point, so as to find optimal movement for all the joints. It requires determination, strength, and a nimble body — one that I do not have! — but I like the metaphor. I was knit together in my mother's womb but now I find myself standing on two feet. What is next? What step do I take? That choice is what defines me. And do I make it my own? Yes. That is what I hope.
What was your axial moment? Let me know in the comments.   

Source:
NABRE: New American Bible Revised Edition. United States, Saint Benedict Press, LLC, 2011.

9.5.20

Quotation: On the Process of Healing (And the Surprises of a Pandemic)

Time is usually the best medicine

— Ovid (43 B.C.E.-17 C.E.), Roman Poet

In this post, I get a little personal with Ovid's quote on time and healing.
A young boy is dressed up as a doctor for Halloween.
A young boy dresses up as a physician for Halloween.
Is Ovid's Prescription for Healing On Point?
     Thank you, Ovid. You old miser of a poet. I think of you and your prescription on time when I think of my ankle. Ever since the global outbreak of the Coronavirus and nearly the entire planet in isolation — I have been off my legs more than usual. Staying at home, I can elevate my ankle even when I am working and I have taken to piling up a corner of my bed with pillows. I prop up my leg and watch whatever's popping on Amazon Prime Video. 
*snapshot of me looking not quite so elegant* 
      I am pitiful at self-care even though I preach it to my friends. "Self-care," I tell my work wife Amira, "Yes, mama." "No," I tell her when she imitates me. It's "Ma-MA" — you have to enunciate it like a proper gay homo sapiens. Of course, she reminds me that she is not gay (so how the heck would she know how to pronounce it correctly?) — but she loves my epithets and exonerations. I call Amira my work wife because she is. We work together at the same school and even though we had a rocky start to our relationship — she thought I was a creepy straight, nerd guy with glasses — we hit it off once she realized I am a flaming homosexual and yes, I'm still a nerd guy with glasses. Yay! Identity politics at play. And friendship. It comes in joyous bursts way more comforting than an ill-fitted ankle.
Ankle Pain and Estranged Boyfriends (And a Shoutout to My Work Wife, Amira) 
     I've had ankle pain in my left leg for, oh, about five years. It comes and goes. Short spasms of pain, then the pain subsides, and I forget about it. And like a surprise call from my estranged boyfriend, it returns — a familiar pain — I've almost become used to it. Like I've become used to my former boyfriend who sends me Facebook messages when I least expect it — a familiar cycle where I realize why we are estranged, what brought us farther apart. But. I like him. But the lingering sadness of why we broke up still remains. 
      Suffering is not an abstract concept. However, suffering is also not transitive — it does have a discernible object — it's there, you feel it but it's not like you can say, "There. There is my pain." I say, for instance, "I am sad. I am forlorn. I am aggrieved;" in fact, "I feel" is a grammatically correct sentence. But you cannot say, "I am pain." To say, "I suffer" is a close approximation, but even this utterance seems to lack the punch of an object, of a source of suffering. Perhaps that is why we call people who suffer, "patients" — since suffering (and by extension) pain — is a passive emotion, a feeling of protracted misery that takes time to heal.
Healing Wounds With the Best Medicine — Time
     One version of Ovid’s quote is “Time heals all wounds,” rather than time is a proper drug. I like the idea of time healing wounds — but did you know that Alfred E. Neuman once said time heals all wounds, except for your belly button? And I am fairly positive that Adam and Even did not have to worry about that particular wound since they technically did not have umbilical cords. Thank you, first parents. You made it suck for the rest of us.
Greig Roselli wears a surgical mask during the 2020 Coronavirus outbreak in New York City.
The outbreak has brought me a strange gift of healing. I am grateful, right?
     The photo (above) is cringe-worthy. I step outside. How ’bout dat? And I say, “You did this for what?” Crossing the avenue to drop off mail in the blue U.S. Post Office box, I think, ‘Who will collect this? I hope they stay safe.’ I feel a tinge of worry. This feeling of needing to stay protected. How everyday activities have become tinged with anxiety. The social contract has taken a beating this season. It’s rainy. Today. And I just read in the newspaper that a polar vortex is set to hit the northeast. I long for a long hike in the Catskills. And for the fun of it - a visit to the sauna - I could use a peppermint soaked hot house shower - don’t you? And my ankle feels better. I am surprised. I feel strength returning to my tired tendons. A source of life has come back to me — a paradoxical gift of this damn epidemic. Thank you, Covid-19 — you ugly, mothereffer. Self-care, yes, Mama! (That’s pronounced Ma-MA).

8.5.20

A Lesson in Opposing Viewpoints: On Appearances and First Impressions

Don't trust too much in appearances.
Quintillian, Ancient Roman Teacher and Writer (c. 35 - c. 100 C.E.) 
Clothes make the man.
Recorded by Erasmus, Counter-Reformation Writer, and Scholar (1466 - 1536 C.E.) 
N.B. The phrase is found in Multiple Babylonian, Greek, and Latin Sources. Even Polonius in William Shakespeare's Hamlet says it: "The apparel doth oft proclaim the man."

Clothes on a line

Two Ideas About How One Ought To Present Oneself
     Here is a set of dueling philosophies — one based on suspicion of outward appearance — and the other, an appraisal of appearance's worth in civilized society. Which one rings more true?
     I want to trust in the idea that appearances do not tell the entire story of a person. However, I read once that the average person takes X seconds to make a judgment about a person they just met. Do I think you should dress appropriately for a job interview? Yes. But getting the job, keeping it, excelling at it, and growing as a person — will take more than appearances. So maybe the lesson is that you show the world what they want to see and hope they can see who you really are once you get your foot in the door. However, I am tickled by this notion that if we did not judge by appearances — as much — wouldn't the world be a better place. I am thinking of internalized racism — the idea that society is infused with systematic racist beliefs that undermine everyday people's ability to be successful. I had a boss that said, "Dress for success" and "Fake it till you make it," but I think she also told us in a work meeting that she says those things because we live in a world that does judge by appearances. One has to rise up to the occasion — but what about when we meet oppression and resistance to our goals because of our appearance?
The Moral Dilemma of the Two Television News Anchors  
     I think of a dilemma I once read: two television news anchors apply for a competitive job at a cable news station. The job requires facetime on-air every day during primetime television. The first candidate has a degree in media broadcasting, but they have a missing front tooth. The second candidate has a degree in English, but they score well on visual appeal (according to an internal poll). Is there a moral problem in hiring the second candidate based on visual appearance, only? This dilemma bothers me because most people I present this problem to will say, "Hire the candidate with the most experience and the best background for the job" — but I see on social media how people will degrade media personalities for the way they look. There is cognitive dissonance in our society.
Can We Have Our Cake and Eat It Too?
     On the one hand, we want to celebrate ability and prop up a meritorious system based on skill and aptitude — but we are held back by our biases and what we deem "normal." How do we break the cycle? Let me know in the comments. 
Sources: 
  • Erasmus, Desiderius, and Barker, William Watson. The Adages of Erasmus. Canada, University of Toronto Press, 2001.
  • Stone, Jon R. The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations: The Illiterati's Guide to Latin Maxims, Mottoes, Proverbs, and Sayings. The United Kingdom, Routledge, 2005.

7.5.20

Quotation: On the Hoped-for-Hopelessness of Fame (and its Many Counterparts)

Si post fata venit gloria no propero.
*
If fame comes after death I am in no hurry for it.
— Martial (40-102 C.E.), Roman epigrammatist
Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

On Death and Fame from Ancient Rome
In Ancient Rome, Twitter hadn't been invented. But — they sure did have epigrams — a short string of text that delivered a potent, salient message. In this post, I supply you with an epigram on death and fame from the ancient Roman writer Martial. It is a pithy quote — and remarkably accurate for our fame-obsessed American culture and society. 
Martial's Quote is a One, Two Punch in the Gut
The quote has a double pang to it — first, it is a quick jab to fame itself. It alludes to the nature of celebrity as elusive — in the same way, we see TikTokers and YouTubers all vying for a piece of the fame-pie on social media. Second, it is a reminder that one ought to be careful about how one chooses to live out their life. The temporal finitude of life. And — really, who will remember me — ten, twenty, one hundred years from now? 
But, Even When Considering Finitude . . .
On a more positive note — perhaps it is not beneficial to think of remembrance in such grand, macro terms. People remember me now. And perhaps, I won't end up like Emily in Faulkner's short story — a rose will be placed on my grave. I am also thinking about Nietzsche's demon in a paragraph from his book The Joyful Wisdom  commit yourself to this life even if it is final and limited. Now don't get too upset. Like people do — it's not morbid to talk about death — if it is a call to action to live one's life.

Source: Roberts, Kate Louise. Hoyt's New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations. United Kingdom, Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1922.

6.5.20

Quotation: On Considering Heteronormativity in Society (Thank you, Jane Austen)

It's a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. 
Mrs. Bennet — from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Nineteenth-Century British Novelist
A lion roars.
Photo by Adam King on Unsplash
Source: Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. United Kingdom, RD Bentley, 1853.