The Troll Mirror

In the land of mirrors, there lived a troll.

In the land of mirrors, there lived a troll. His cave was damp and narrow just like every troll cave. It was as cluttered as other caves, smelled of the creatures the troll had dragged there for his meals and was marked by the trails of crusted blood smeared by rains that led up to the opening and into his lair.

The cave mouth was plugged by a boulder, smoothed by the rolling it had done at the hands of its owner. The troll had pushed it out of the way to squeeze by when he went on hunts, then eased it back again as he left so other creatures would not mistake it for their cave and set up housekeeping while he was out strangling bears and skewering dragons. The whole boulder rolling thing would have been tiresome to most creatures but not to trolls. It was just what was done with caves and boulders and legs and shoulders. They even had a song about rolling boulders. The words were much like the grunts and flatulence that composed most of their sounds, so no one else knew when they were grunting or singing.

The elder trolls told stories of how the ancient giants had walked along the earth, smashing mud together to make ranges of hills and mountains, then poking their fingers four at a time to make caves. The elder trolls did not know why but the elder giants said their ancestors were creating places for the giant birds to nest and raise their young. The birds and the ancient giants felt a sense of kinship to each other. The birds brought them back fresh gifts from distant fields and seas. The giants made them nests so the gifts would continue. The huge birds were gone now, and the giants were less fearsome than they had once been. The birds’ nests were troll homes and they hunted with the giants for their meals.

The land had become the land of mirrors when the lightning had come and turned swathes of desert into glass and then into silvery surfaces that gleamed back up at the sun. These made the days all the brighter and the nights glow with an eerie, omnipresent light that made them more frightening than the blackness had ever been before. Creatures that once could see better at night, had counted on that time for foraging, were blinded and needed to be careful whenever they left their holes. Creatures attracted by the reflective surfaces and the glow that emanated from them were eaten in scores by the beasts who had seen them gather around the ominous light the mirrors cast back at the moon.

In no time, gremlins had seen an opportunity in the silvery surfaces. They had created a market for these other-worldly objects. Working carefully, they had created hundreds, then thousands of mirrors from the sands in which they had been formed, making them tall for the giants, medium sized for the trolls and ogres, and a series of short sizes that met the needs of dwarves, elves, gremlins, and fairies. They carved them out of the hardened sands with shark tooth saws and polished them with the gritty flesh of bottom feeders—oysters, clams, abalones, and snails. They had placed them on their goat carts, lashing them on with the dried tendons of mammoths, and trundled their stacks of mirrors around to caves, to burrows, to under-mountain places, and to the forests that lay between ranges. Everyone they visited was spellbound by the radiant surfaces and had to have at least one, either through barter for whatever the gremlins could coerce or through promissory notes that would come due when a newborn was spawned. For a bit more recompense, they could purchase a custom frame for the sparkling pool of light, returning within a fortnight with the composite that held the mirrors so perfectly they enhanced what had already been the most beautiful thing any of them had ever seen.

Within a few years, all the homes in the world held a mirror. The mirrors held the faces of the world’s creatures, who stared into them endlessly, thinking they saw something they had never seen in the selves they saw staring back, something they never knew before the mirrors came. Some saw laughter they had not heard. Some saw sadness they had not felt. Some saw family members from the past and future appear, then run beyond the edges of the frame. Some saw the beginning of time (or the illusion of it) while some saw their fears or their end of time.

The troll who lived in his own cave just like the others had a bright silver mirror like every other beast in the world around him. He was a young troll, barely a couple hundred years old, and had inherited the mirror from his birth trolls who had long since been picked off during their hunts by something larger and fiercer than they were. He had not felt the same way about the mirror that they had felt and had stuffed it away in one corner behind some dusty animal skins and well-gnawed bones. Every so often as he rolled his boulder to the side, he saw a twinkle of light knife out from the forgotten thing. This would make him think about it for an instant, but he then forgot just as quickly. That is the way with trolls and their memories.

One day, he left his cave before dawn. He had heard from the slow grumbles of other trolls that it might be good to go to where the remaining sands held those silver lights, carved up by the gremlins to be sure but still there and still entrancing night creatures to gather around and stare, fixated by the mirror glowing. He had loped out with a herd of his neighbors and come back with several rare treats he would devour once they had dried hanging in the sun outside his hole. He finished hanging them and the sun came up just as he rolled the boulder aside and slipped in.

The mirror winked at him from behind the skins and bones, back in the tight grasp of the finger-long burrow he called his home. He remembered that it had done this before and stood wondering why it winked.

One by one, he grabbed a skin from a dragon covered in the rare metal scales used for plates and swords, grabbed a skin from the hairy mammoth his fellows had helped him kill a couple of years before, grabbed a pile of feathers from some long-forgotten bird. He grabbed the thigh bones from a sloth he had found in a tree and the arms from an ape that had run from him as he galloped in its direction. He grabbed skulls he could not recall from creatures that had no name. All were tossed aside, and the mirror shone as if it had never been lost in the depths, hidden behind trophies of hunts that had kept him fed. He peered into its luminescent pool and saw himself as he had never imagined a troll could appear. He saw a troll that was like no other troll on his mountain, like none in the caves as far as his deep voice could bellow.

The troll that stared back at him was not the angry, raw, red-skinned creature he had thought he was… to the extent he thought about such things at all. The troll he saw had no jutting jaw, sharp teeth, clawed fingers, sharpened toes, sinewed arms, tree-trunk legs, barrel chest, hunched back, and matted hair. The troll he saw stood upright, had a patch of hair on the top of his head and was a healthy pink color from face to foot. The troll he saw smiled back at him. His mouth showed white teeth that were evenly spaced and all the same size, a jaw that closed with his upper jaw, a nose that was like a tiny pink plum in the middle of his face, not a gaping set of bleeding nostrils with no discernible shape. His eyes were blue, not a distant black, and his ears were like two flowers rather than the flimsy flaps he saw on all the other trolls. He began to weep at his own beauty, moved in a way nothing had ever moved him over his couple hundred young years in a world of eating and sleeping and rolling the boulder back and forth.

As he wept, the mirror glowed more, as if the tears revived it from a long, silvery sleep. As he cried, the mirror captured his weeping face, pink and well-proportioned, smiling through the tears (for they were happy tears) and cast it out across the world to all the other mirrors in other caves and burrows, branch and root, grass hut and hideaway. The transformed troll appeared in all his newfound beauty in every mirror in the world, and the other creatures marveled at this thing they had never seen in all their days and nights of staring.

For days, gathering and hunting were not performed. Creatures were safe, clustering around the moonlit surfaces in the desert where the gremlins had not carved every silvery surface for their own gain. Other trolls and all the dwarves, ogres, giants, gremlins, fairies, and elves looked upon this new, pink visage staring out at them. What was this odd thing standing upright in their mirrors with its tuft of hair on top, confident smile, toothy grin? Where did it come from and what did it mean? Quiet murmurs filled their air as they traded their pointless queries, answering with slow shakes of their heads and a renewed silent staring at their precious silver mirrors, radiant with the light of moons. They had fallen under some powerful spell, far stronger than those ever conjured for anyone they knew, against anyone they resented. And it was a peaceful spell all the same, not one that called for the blood of enemies or a full harvest.

Finally, the grip loosened and families shook themselves free of the enchantment. They headed out to find food, water, nectar, and fruit (for the elves and fairies did not hunt). They were all as hungry as if they had never eaten in their lives. The creatures who had gathered so meekly at the desert, who were just beginning to relish what they might be possible if they were not going to be a meal for the ravenous predators that stalked them day and night, were grabbed where they were cuddling and cooing with their other creature friends.

The troll broke away from the mirror as well and joined his companions in one of the most devastating hunts ever engaged in their troll cave community. Flesh was ripped, bones were gnawed, and pelts peeled from carcasses all around the desert with its shiny pools of reflected light, beacons beckoning them to the prey, spotlights illuminating them for the ease of their predators. But they all eventually tired of filling themselves and fell asleep, bellies bloated with bubbling gasses, heads filled with what they had seen in the days under entrancement of their mirrors.

When they all woke, they stumbled back to their caves, huts, branches, tangles, hideaways, and burrows. Their elders knew that there must be a discussion of what had happened in the mirrors. Two elders from each tribe of trolls, giants, gremlins, ogres, and dwarves came to the valley to meet the elves and fairies.

What had they seen in their mirrors? Did everyone see the same thing and did it have the same transfixing effect on everyone? As the conversations went on into the night and the next day, as everyone was given a chance to speak, it emerged that, yes, everyone had experienced the same effect and, no, never had anything similar happened to them recently or in any story from the ancients.

After more talk—and a bit of refreshment, for all of them looked forward to the fermented nectar prepared in the valleys (and kept secret from their tribes)—they decided that the figure in the mirror must be an emperor who had come to rule them all. But why had he only appeared in the mirror? And what was this pink thing standing upright with the big, toothy smile? Never had they seen such a thing! The smile was a beautiful thing. They all agreed it was a friendly look for a stranger’s face, even if they did not know what kind of creature it was.

Each elder decided that they should all send scouts out from their regions to find the new Emperor and bid him return to speak to the council in the valley. And with that, they returned to their homes and chose representatives with the keenest sight, fastest feet, and greatest strength to go in all directions, within and beyond their regions, looking for the creature who had appeared in the mirrors.

When the elders returned home, they discovered that their families—indeed all relatives of all kinds in all the regions—were transfixed by the mirrors once again. The pink creature with the tuft of hair on his head and the charming smile was looking back out at them, and they were all feeling at peace with themselves and with each other. While the elders grumbled a half-hearted protest, they all were soon drawn into the mirrors’ clutch and could not break free.

The troll, of course, was doing the same but there was no one else in his cave but himself. His boulder was drawn across the entrance, and he was alone with the pink reflection smiling back at him. He vaguely heard some pounding at the boulder and was compelled to ignore it. They would think (to the extent they thought at all) that he was out hunting and leave soon enough.

When the scouts returned from their worldwide search, they reported that no such living thing had been found. The elders gathered to consider this news—and fill their bellies with nectar. Could there be an Emperor who had not presented himself for their consideration? There had never been an Emperor. None of them knew whether this was the usual state of things for Emperors as there were no stories that spoke of such a being. After a day and night of talking too much, drinking too deeply, and snoring that scared all animals in the valley with its scraping sound, they woke and decided.

The pink thing was Emperor, and that was that. He had appeared to through the magic of the mirrors. He smiled, stood upright, was pink, mostly hairless, and different in appearance from all the beasts they already knew (although the fairies were the pinkest of the beings they had known so far). He was given the power to gather meetings among all the elders and to settle disputes when they came up (which was, in truth, rarely).

As they had no idea where the Emperor lived or how to contact him, life went on very much as it had… with one crucial difference. If an elder failed at achieving a goal for his tribe, he would blame the Emperor for not guiding his hand to a wiser decision or a more satisfactory outcome. He would tell his people—and the other elders—that it must not have been what the Emperor wished it to be.

Soon, all the elders were blaming the Emperor for everything that went wrong, although they all agreed they were all simply fantastic at achieving their goals whenever they completed them.

And all the while, between hunts and forages out from his cave, the troll spent his days staring blindly into his extraordinary mirror, thus transfixing the population of the world with his upright pink self, a tuft of hair on his head and the big smile. What he did not appreciate was the effect he was having. No one knew it was only him and his mirror.

He had become Emperor, ruler of all and the reason for misfortunes.




Featured image (©2008, Jarek Tuszyński)

Something is Going Well Around Here!

The 1,000 “like” road marker disappearing in the rear view mirror…

The WP auto-post function just told me that I have accumulated 1,000 “likes,” which are all because the imaginary “you” have been appreciating what I’ve been pouring forth since June 22nd. It hasn’t been four months yet and I have so many “likes!” Who knew?!?

I’ve logged 87 posts (one was a repeat, so doesn’t really count and one was a reblog in respect for a new WordPress-induced friend) in 111 days, meaning that I’ve hit about 78% of the days between start and present. Not bad. Could be better. Let’s see if I can pick up the slack.

Thank you, everyone!


The Theory

It seems so simple in theory.

It seems so simple in theory.

Public servants should serve the public.

All of the public.

One hundred percent of us, wherever we are.

Whether they are mayors, bureaucrats, politicians, police, sheriffs, deputies, attorneys, judges, fire fighters, animal control, refuse collectors, water plant operators, council members, tax and bill collectors, employment agents, post office workers, unemployment agents, administrative assistants, public aid, teachers, principals, custodians, child care specialists, parole officers, correctional officers, wardens, it does not matter.

They are paid by public taxation—and I’m fine with that, honestly—but they tend to work for the people who make the most noise or have the most money.

The people who make the most noise are usually the people who can hire the best attorneys and who are connected to other “public servants” who also exercise their power inappropriately.

In short, powerful people with money get the most attention.

If a politician is elected by voters who follow one party or another, the politician should get busy figuring out what their entire constituency needs done.

They should do everything they can to get those things done.

They should even get their friends with more power and money than them to help get those things done.

For everyone.

Sometimes this happens.

Most of the time it does not.

Instead, we—the public that are “served”—get to hear a bunch of self-serving fabrications about why this or that is not possible because this one or that one is standing in the way.

This results in an answering round of accusations and lies.

As Kurt Vonnegut said quite a few times in Slaughterhouse Five “And so it goes.”

But it shouldn’t go because it has and it will.

It should go the way we need it to because we have lots of problems and we need people with political, administrative, problem-solving, consensus-building, resolution-achieving skills to get them done.

For us.

For all of us.

And I vehemently disagree that the way it is is the way it must be.

It should be better because we all need it to be better.

And those public servants, to whom we pay various sums of money, should be really busy snapping to it and getting those things done.

Instead of treating us as if we are interrupting their very important lives with our mundane problems.

Our problems are their problems.

That’s why we pay them.

There’s only one problem and we all have to solve it together.

We may not agree in how but we all agree that we are owed solutions by the people we pay.


Let’s get it done.


With our servants. Whom we pay. To serve.


Featured image: (this meets the attribution requirements as listed).

Question the Answers


A Thousand Swallows

What is it like?

What is it like
to start each night
with a sip, then another,
then a glass, and one more?

What does it say
when we pour a wee hair
when we rise, or at noon
to rescue the day?

When does the pretense
that we seek the truth
convert to a tale, a lie,
a rationale?

What is this stuff
that boggles our brains
when our families
wait for our love?

Why do we drink
our minds into dark
when life provides such
a beautiful feast?

When does a pastime
become an addiction,
a lifestyle, a refuge,
a death by immersion?

Who can love us
when we can’t love ourselves
enough to stop killing
our very own cells?

How do we stop
Consuming ourselves?
A step at a time
For the rest of our lives.


I don’t usually provide any explanatory note following a post. I feel that I should in this instance. I have watched too many friends start their adulthood – or leave their adolescence – with a “celebratory beverage” in hand and succumb to this dreadful addiction as they matured. It is a story that applied to both of my parents, who were intelligent, successful, driven people with full lives behind them when I entered the picture, yet they were less than they could have been for my brother and me due to their retreat into the bottle at various times of the day for various unexplained reasons. It was more common in their generation than, I guess, in mine. That does not make watching it happen any less awful. I was lucky. I always drank too fast and was sick before I knew it. This set up a helpful aversion reaction that I finally recognized when I was 25. I stopped but I had never really gotten started. The patient load-in of ethanol is the mechanism that creates tolerance and, if not attended, addiction. Please be careful. There are many ways to have fun; find a bunch of them that don’t involve self-harm.

Featured image from Pixabay, no attribution required

I Was Nominated (and Accept)

Confabler nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger Award!

My distant, yet close friend Confabler has nominated me for the Shiny Shiny Sunshine Award. I love her imagination and sense of whimsy; she lets her muse du jour lead and she follows. There’s a wonderful freedom to that which is (1) difficult to allow in the rational process of “writing” and (2) enjoyable to find.

1. If you were to choose an insect that would take over the world after human extinction, who would that be?

It sort of depends on our route to extinction. If it involved an epidemic, the population of flies might see a giant uptick. This would be a good one:

Gauromydas heros

If it is a slow process, then I nominate the Japanese Rhinoceros beetle because it would be awesome if creatures  with such improbably fashioned protuberances were to be the alpha species (Megasoma and Titan beetles would be acceptable alternatives):

Allomyrina dichotoma

 If our extinction took all other terrestrial life along for the ride, I would like to see this enormous isopod (a relative of our terrestrial roly-polies) rule the seas (note inclusion of actual human hands for sense of scale):

The underside of a male Bathynomus giganteus, a species of giant isopod captured in the Gulf of Mexico in October 2002.

2. How old were you when you first read Harry Potter? And your favorite author of course?

I was pretty old when I read my only Harry Potter book (the first one). I didn’t enjoy it enough to complete the series, although I’ve seen all the films and enjoyed them well enough. In the period I read that first one, I was typically reading a lot of history and didn’t find that it was a good use of my time. When I was really young, I read the Classics Illustrated versions of novels, which were quite good at introducing a curious young mind to the wonders of literature without having to do the work (sort of illustrated CliffsNotes (I didn’t use these in school though), if you will). When I was a little older, I read Robert E. Howard, Sax Rohmer, John Carter of Mars, H. Rider Haggard, Stanley Weinbaum, George McDonald fantasies, etc.

My favorite author is Gabriel Garcia Marquez for One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. His writing is so rich, amusing, full of simple wisdom and abundant humanity it is hard to believe he was just a human being writing about the lives he saw playing out around him. I literally would read some passages and have to put the book down as if I had just sipped the richest chocolate elixir in the world and needed to savor it until I sipped again. His Spanish-to-English translators did a good job in getting it right; Gregory Rabassa (OHYoS translator) was even praised by Garcia Marques himself!

3. If you were invisible what is the craziest thing that you would do?

Here’s an odd one: Go and hang around bigots, transcribe their conversations, and publish them for the world to see how terrible people speak when they think no one is listening (but, oh yeah, we have the internet so this already happens). If I could walk through things, which seems fair since I’m invisible, I would go around seeing what it felt like to do that—see if there were different textures to different things on the inside than on their surface.

4.what food makes you feel like a hungry hyena?

This has changed so much over time! These days, I don’t get this kind of urge anymore. In my early adult (late teen?) years… ICE CREAM!!!!

5. A song that makes you dream?

Gymnopedie #1 by Erik Satie

6. Have you ever planted a tree?

Yes. Unasked but answered: quite a few!

7. Choose your man: superman/ Spiderman/ iron man and if he was your best friend one thing that you would make him do?

Can I choose Supergirl? If I can, I would have her take me around to various places in the world, build shelters so I could stay there and visit free, then whisk me off to the next place on “our” list (she would be enjoying the sight-seeing with me, of course! What kind of boor do you think I am?!?!).

8.How much time do you spend in front of the mirror everyday?

As little as possible, which involves shaving and brushing my teeth. I find that shaving my teeth first helps with the brushing.

9.why you started blogging and tell us about the post enjoyed the most making.

I was having a bunch of conversations with people who did not seem to understand the wonderful humility of learning and doing science and wanted to see how well I could write about how science is a discipline that can assist us all in not leaning out too far over our skis (getting ahead of ourselves and pretending we know stuff we don’t). Blogging has become so much more than that since my first post on June 22, 2016, and I have had so much fun writing fiction and revisiting some poetry I wrote several decades ago (and finding them easier to “fix” than I remembered).

I’m not sure which of my posts I enjoyed the most. They’re all my children so I like them all? I probably like the odd bits of fiction that I had no idea were inside me when I woke up and then found them on the page looking up at me. I like The Big Day of these. Of the science posts, I like The Mess: Parts 1 & 2 and the Appendix 1 items best (maybe). Of the historical pieces, I like Risk Management. Of the life pieces, I like Building Blocks the best. Anyone who reads this is encouraged to make up their own mind; I am hopelessly biased.

10. Which social media platform are you addicted to (including WordPress)?

I don’t do much social media except WordPress. I don’t like Facebook at all and deleted my account. WordPress is addicting but in a very healthy way! You get to create something and share it with new friends from all over the world. That’s a great addiction have.

Now the rules:

1.thank the person that nominated you.

Thank you, Confabler. You are a true virtual friend, and I don’t mean that in any Pokemon way either!

2. Answer the questions from your nominator.


3. Nominate fellow bloggers you follow.

Hereinafter lie the following nominees in no particular order (order, of course, being an illusion):

Confabler – it would be completely wrong not to boomerang this thing back at her; how could I like what she writes and like that she nominated me but ignore why we share interests at all?

November_child –  in her poetry, every word is judiciously considered for its various meanings and the images they stir and she makes great short stories that are deep and playful and serious all at the same time

anonymouslyautistic – for doing an AMAZING job of writing about this misunderstood spectrum of living – and for inviting others who share her interest to contribute

English Lit Geek – because she searches the web and her library for poems that communicate her inner soul to us all out here in the ‘sphere and I appreciate this!

Wiser Daily – because this guy writes REALLY well about every single subject he wraps his mind around, because he is not a scientist but writes extremely clearly about science, because he is just a damned good writer!

Breathmath – because they are doing an astonishingly serious job of trying to get the world to see the beauty in mathematics

Sheryl – because she’s written a book, is working on others, has great tips for doing the same, and kindly visits my offerings fairly often

The Nexus – because he writes REALLY well about physics and does a great job of doing what I set out to do, whether I’m doing it on any given day or not

The Biology Yak – because she is passionate about biology and shares her passion in every word on every topic she chooses

afternoonifiedlady – even though I have no idea what it is to be an afternoonifiedlady, I love her rants about living with and without her ex and trying to wrestle with notions of romance – she is very witty and amusingly pissed off!

Yaskhan – for her lovely, succinct way with words

urbanagscientist – because she is at least as worried about the misunderstanding of science as I am

Luke Atkins – because he writes really well about difficult subjects and he writes like the stuff matters a lot, which it absolutely does!

And there are more in my list of 119 writers that I am following but this is enough for now.

4. Give them 10 questions to answer.

If you wish (and I clearly cannot impose this on any of you, please respond to confabler’s funny questions. I enjoyed them, maybe you will too!

Kind regards, MSOC

It was Generous of confabler to choose me. Now I have to Jump off and do other stuff!

An excerpt from “Adam Bede”

I had an idea for today’s post but was spirited away by a more worthy prospect.

I had an idea for today’s post but I have wanted to quote Mary Ann Evans for quite a while. I recently read Adam Bede, the first of her novels I have ever read. Somehow, I made it through a perfectly good education without reading Silas Marner or Middlemarch or The Mill on the Floss, so I started with her first: Adam Bede. If you don’t recognize the name Mary Ann Evans, which was quite a plain name (how many Mary Ann Evans’s are there in the English-speaking world?), it is because writing novels—or anything else, for that matter—was viewed as an improper way for women to conduct themselves when she lived her full life. Mary Ann Evans became George Eliot. She wrote some of the most significant fiction of the 19th Century.

In the following section, seventeen (or I should say XVII) chapters into her narrative, she titles this bit “In Which the Story Pauses a Little” and goes on an aside to her audience about the nature of the characters she has chosen to portray. She sets her story around 1800 in a tiny village, a relatively remote section of central west England not far inland from Liverpool. They rely on their local lord for some employment, for commerce with somewhat larger villages and towns for their livelihood and supplies, and live rich lives full of problems in spite of their lack of importance to historical events on the grand canvas of the world. She pauses to explain why her novel isn’t full of derring-do and romance in the way other novels the readers of the time (and of this time, honestly) have come to expect. I find her rationale beautiful and utterly human. Please enjoy… and pardon the length.

“But, my good friend, what will you do then with your fellow-parishioner who opposes your husband in the vestry? With your newly appointed vicar, whose style of preaching you find painfully below that of his regretted predecessor? With the honest servant who worries your soul with her one failing? With your neighbour, Mrs. Green, who was really kind to you in your last illness, but has said several ill-natured things about you since your convalescence? Nay, with your excellent husband himself, who has other irritating habits besides that of not wiping his shoes? These fellow-mortals, every one, must be accepted as they are: you can neither straighten their noses, nor brighten their wit, nor rectify their dispositions; and it is these people—amongst whom your life is passed—that it is needful you should tolerate, pity, and love: it is these more or less ugly, stupid, inconsistent people whose movements of goodness you should be able to admire—for whom you should cherish all possible hopes, all possible patience. And I would not, even if I had the choice, be the clever novelist who could create a world so much better than this, in which we get up in the morning to do our daily work, that you would be likely to turn a harder, colder eye on the dusty streets and the common green fields—on the real breathing men and women, who can be chilled by your indifference or injured by your prejudice; who can be cheered and helped onward by your fellow-feeling, your forbearance, your outspoken, brave justice.
“So I am content to tell my simple story, without trying to make things seem better than they were; dreading nothing, indeed, but falsity, which, in spite of one’s best efforts, there is reason to dread. Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult. The pencil is conscious of a delightful facility in drawing a griffin—the longer the claws, and the larger the wings, the better; but that marvellous facility which we mistook for genius is apt to forsake us when we want to draw a real unexaggerated lion. Examine your words well, and you will find that even when you have no motive to be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings—much harder than to say something fine about them which is not the exact truth.
“It is for this rare, precious quality of truthfulness that I delight in many Dutch paintings, which lofty-minded people despise. I find a source of delicious sympathy in these faithful pictures of a monotonous homely existence, which has been the fate of so many more among my fellow-mortals than a life of pomp or of absolute indigence, of tragic suffering or of world-stirring actions. I turn, without shrinking, from cloud-borne angels, from prophets, sibyls, and heroic warriors, to an old woman bending over her flower-pot, or eating her solitary dinner, while the noonday light, softened perhaps by a screen of leaves, falls on her mob-cap, and just touches the rim of her spinning-wheel, and her stone jug, and all those cheap common things which are the precious necessaries of life to her—or I turn to that village wedding, kept between four brown walls, where an awkward bridegroom opens the dance with a high-shouldered, broad-faced bride, while elderly and middle-aged friends look on, with very irregular noses and lips, and probably with quart-pots in their hands, but with an expression of unmistakable contentment and goodwill. “Foh!” says my idealistic friend, “what vulgar details! What good is there in taking all these pains to give an exact likeness of old women and clowns? What a low phase of life! What clumsy, ugly people!”
“But bless us, things may be lovable that are not altogether handsome, I hope? I am not at all sure that the majority of the human race have not been ugly, and even among those “lords of their kind,” the British, squat figures, ill-shapen nostrils, and dingy complexions are not startling exceptions. Yet there is a great deal of family love amongst us. I have a friend or two whose class of features is such that the Apollo curl on the summit of their brows would be decidedly trying; yet to my certain knowledge tender hearts have beaten for them, and their miniatures—flattering, but still not lovely—are kissed in secret by motherly lips. I have seen many an excellent matron, who could have never in her best days have been handsome, and yet she had a packet of yellow love-letters in a private drawer, and sweet children showered kisses on her sallow cheeks. And I believe there have been plenty of young heroes, of middle stature and feeble beards, who have felt quite sure they could never love anything more insignificant than a Diana, and yet have found themselves in middle life happily settled with a wife who waddles. Yes! Thank God; human feeling is like the mighty rivers that bless the earth: it does not wait for beauty—it flows with resistless force and brings beauty with it.
“All honour and reverence to the divine beauty of form! Let us cultivate it to the utmost in men, women, and children—in our gardens and in our houses. But let us love that other beauty too, which lies in no secret of proportion, but in the secret of deep human sympathy. Paint us an angel, if you can, with a floating violet robe, and a face paled by the celestial light; paint us yet oftener a Madonna, turning her mild face upward and opening her arms to welcome the divine glory; but do not impose on us any aesthetic rules which shall banish from the region of Art those old women scraping carrots with their work-worn hands, those heavy clowns taking holiday in a dingy pot-house, those rounded backs and stupid weather-beaten faces that have bent over the spade and done the rough work of the world—those homes with their tin pans, their brown pitchers, their rough curs, and their clusters of onions. In this world there are so many of these common coarse people, who have no picturesque sentimental wretchedness! It is so needful we should remember their existence, else we may happen to leave them quite out of our religion and philosophy and frame lofty theories which only fit a world of extremes. Therefore, let Art always remind us of them; therefore let us always have men ready to give the loving pains of a life to the faithful representing of commonplace things—men who see beauty in these commonplace things, and delight in showing how kindly the light of heaven falls on them. There are few prophets in the world; few sublimely beautiful women; few heroes. I can’t afford to give all my love and reverence to such rarities: I want a great deal of those feelings for my every-day fellow-men, especially for the few in the foreground of the great multitude, whose faces I know, whose hands I touch for whom I have to make way with kindly courtesy. Neither are picturesque lazzaroni or romantic criminals half so frequent as your common labourer, who gets his own bread and eats it vulgarly but creditably with his own pocket-knife. It is more needful that I should have a fibre of sympathy connecting me with that vulgar citizen who weighs out my sugar in a vilely assorted cravat and waistcoat, than with the handsomest rascal in red scarf and green feathers—more needful that my heart should swell with loving admiration at some trait of gentle goodness in the faulty people who sit at the same hearth with me, or in the clergyman of my own parish, who is perhaps rather too corpulent and in other respects is not an Oberlin or a Tillotson, than at the deeds of heroes whom I shall never know except by hearsay, or at the sublimest abstract of all clerical graces that was ever conceived by an able novelist.”

And that is all I need to know about being “stylish,” good readers. Take it from Mary Ann Evans, it is not a quality to be found only in the rich and debonair or poor and picturesque. It is a quality that we all have in our own measure. Take some time to read more about this amazing woman. Here’s one article but there are more articles available right at your fingertips:

As the entire novel is in the public domain, you can download the pdf here and send it to your Kindle or other e-readers if you wish. You can also purchase her complete works for e-readers for a few tuppence (erm, dollars really but who’s counting?).

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“This Above All…

To Thine Own Self Be True,…”

We are at our most fragile when we are surprised. In that moment, our adrenal glands kick in and inject a dose of adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) into our circulatory system and we are a little more ready to make a decision: (1) run, (2) fight, or (3) calm back down and laugh it off (failing this, tell your surprise visitor not to do THAT again!).


Epinephrine (aka adrenaline)


In that moment, we are afraid. Our body expresses fear. Muscles tighten, pupils dilate, the heart beats speed up, jaws clench, blood moves faster. All of this in spite of overwhelming evidence that we are in a safe environment surrounded by people and objects we understand are not going to harm us. Our mind rushes in to assess and decides whether it was a false alarm or an alarming problem.

The odd thing about our minds is that a lot of us live in unacceptable circumstances—in communities or nations that have an irrational fear of us (and we of them), with parents who have never accepted the enormous responsibility of raising children, with friends and/or acquaintances who are making “poor life choices” (as the saying goes—there are less euphemistic ways of saying this), with a “partner” (from Latin for “a sharing”) or “spouse” (from the Latin “to bind oneself through a solemn promise”) who is neither. Because these are chronic circumstances we become accustomed to them and do not run (or fight, but running is probably the smarter choice anyway). We are numb to what should be surprising. If something surprising actually does occur (a fit of violence, a denigrating or abusive phrase, a self-destructive spiral), we do nothing… unless it is so incredibly bad that our minds finally kick in and we embrace a change, we go in search of freedom.

The irony of these situations is that (1) our bodies respond to the momentary surprise that poses no threat and (2) our minds shut down when we’ve become accustomed to constant danger, continuous insult, and injury. This is not ironic in any hipster way. It is ironic in an often life-threatening—and at the very least, mental health-threatening—way. Another way of saying this is that we are most fragile when we have done the least to correct the problem.

If I knew how to solve this all-too-common conundrum, it would be great. But I don’t.

Every one of you does, though.

Our minds (if not our mouths, our voices) scream it at the screen every time we see someone do something dumb in a horror or suspense film: “Don’t go in there!” or “Get out of there!” or “Don’t trust them!” or simply “RUN!” Has anyone ever screamed “get in there, it’s bluffing!” or “that giant machete is just for weed whacking!” except in jest?

And yet we—and those dumb screen characters—do go in, don’t get out, do trust them and/or (usually all of the above) stand there like vertical corpses waiting for the meat wagons to arrive.

The cure, of course, is to know yourself. I googled “know yourself quotes” as I begun this offering and chose the Brainy Quotes site to cite some wisdom (ah, English homonyms! your mysteries confound generations of ELL students, both native and immigrant!). To be honest, why should you believe a thing I’ve said, particularly when so many have said it before me and have become famous for being worthy of a Brainy Quote citation?

Here’s one:

“Only as you do know yourself can your brain serve you as a sharp and efficient tool. Know your own failings, passions, and prejudices so you can separate them from what you see.” Bernard Baruch (1879-1965)

Baruch was an influential advisor to many U.S. Presidents; this pattern started in 1916 during World War I and continued through the Great Depression and World II. His influence diminished during President Truman’s administration.

It is the “know your own failings, passions, and prejudices so your can separate them from what you see” that I particularly like. From my point of view, understanding your own strengths, weaknesses, loves, and biases, coming to terms with what really makes you the person you are is (1) the most difficult job you will ever have and (2) you are the only person who can do it. It does prod you along to have help from an excellent professional counselor but the work of knowing yourself is all yours to dig through and discover. I emphasize “professional counselor” because it is their only job to listen to you and tease your own views out of the morass of fuzzy wonderings that typically cloud all of our minds. The brightest writer, the most insightful mathematician, social scientist, teacher, or student can all have significant blind spots when it comes to why they do what they do. Your friends are going to tell you what you want to hear or what their morass of fuzziness programs them to say. Your parents? The same. Your boss? Well, that’s easy—they REALLY don’t want to hear about the chutes and ladders of your inner dreams! Your spiritual leader may or may not give you good advice; hardly a week goes by without a story about some “shepherd of souls” who has fleeced their flock of funds, run off with a congregant’s spouse, or suffered the little children. Counselors do this mess too but you are paying them to behave in an ethical manner and they have liability insurance if they violate their code of behavior by violating your trust.

Thales, another of the earliest Greek philosophers and scientists, dropped this wisdom sometime around 600 B.C.E.:

“The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.”

Would Thales be surprised if he popped in and checked us out? Still found us floundering around like a swarm of protozoans in a drop of pond water? Somehow, I think he’d just nod and go back to sleep. He knew it was difficult and it still is!

Here’s a couple more, this time from a philosopher and spiritual leader who emerged from the Hindu belief system, although he took a detour in his early life:

“The question of whether or not there is a God or truth or reality or whatever you like to call it, can never be answered by books, by priests, philosophers, or saviours. Nobody and nothing can answer the question but you yourself, and that is why you must know yourself – Immaturity lies only in total ignorance of self.” Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986)


In obedience there is always fear, and fear darkens the mind.

In this second quote, we’re back to the topic that I raised initially—fear. In the initial case, it was the autonomic fear that comes from being startled, surprised, shocked by some momentary touch. At those moments, we fear what might come next… then nothing does (usually). When we enter those lethargic, depressed, paralyzed states that come from constant danger, we have embraced fear as a friend and it no longer has its critical effect. In those moments, though, we have negated everything we know about ourselves, anything we have ever learned through introspection and/or counseling (which leads to introspection). We have become a shadow self with limited features, an outline of our head, shoulders, torso, arms, and legs, but nothing of the enormous knowledge that lies within that silhouette. If we come to know ourselves, we can all do an improved job of seeing the dangers as they approach, we can turn around and go back the way we came and start our journey again.

We do not NEED to be shocked into survival. We are always vulnerable, which can be good, but not if vulnerability results in our diminishment, not if the fragility that can accompany vulnerability and self-knowledge endangers us.

It is best, then, to face ourselves, to look at what we do well and what we do poorly. It is okay to have a variety of strengths and weaknesses. We all do, every single human being on earth, however they portray themselves. The key is to come to as clear-minded an understanding of ourselves as humanly possible, then don’t do things that expose your fragilities to your bêtes noires, your nemeses. Be fragile in your  truth but not to them.