Wednesday, November 30, 2011

refrigerator magnets

The Internet version of this column was screwed up by the newspaper that printed it so I am parking it here for my own purposes.


Everybody's got 'em, I suppose -- the refrigerator magnets whose wit and wisdom serve as reminders in a busy and sometimes confusing day. But I would also guess that those short-and-sweet reminders began accumulating long ago, probably with mom and dad whose wit and wisdom had likewise accumulated from both their mom and dad and from subsequent life experiences.

"Don't put all your eggs in one basket;" "A stitch in time saves nine;" "Put up or shut up;" and "If someone tells you something is 'free,' grab your wallet."

Whether hung on the refrigerator or posted somewhere in the mind, these micro-philosophies act as guide posts and support structures -- small suggestions that help create the lenses through which to see the world and cope with it. They are not terribly serious, perhaps, but also they can be quite serious.

One of my favorite reminders, for example, comes from the American humorist Will Rogers, a dry and apt observer of the society he lived in:

There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

For my own purposes, this serves as a strong reminder that experience trumps intellectual structures or beliefs ... no matter how sincere such structures or beliefs may be. Keep it real.

Another one posted on my mental refrigerator is Beatle John Lennon's

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.

Like anyone else, I can get so caught up in the scheming and sweating that goes into creating a happier, saner existence that I lose track of what a saner existence consists of. Lennon's observation may not be the perfect antidote to some over-zealous endeavor, but it offers a nudge towards a greater sanity.

A wider perspective is similarly added with the light-hearted

Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.

Or, for those disinclined towards an ethereal realms, there is the pure silliness (and a reminder to laugh) of

Unattended children will be given espresso and a free puppy.

Each such short saying or observation -- you with yours, I with mine -- carries with it a wider and deeper meaning and impact. It is like the tip of an iceberg that implies a greater substance at a greater depth. In times of doubt or uncertainty, such observations may not give a perfect answer or solution, but they do suggest alternative directions... or perhaps a chance to laugh at our own solemnities.

For example, Bill, a friend of mine, once rewrote Benjamin Franklin's

Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise

His rendition read:

Early to bed and early to rise ... and you never see any of your friends.

Bill's version supplied a tweak to Ben's own upright and moral tweak, but morality, for anyone interested in such things, has a way of needing a tweak from time to time.

The up-side to our collections of physical and mental refrigerator magnets is their ability to gently correct. The down-side can be a mindless reliance on what, after all, is just a suggestion. Words of wisdom are only as wise as the action they can provoke.

So, for example, anyone can quote Gandhi:

Be the peace you seek.

The words may be a wonderful encouragement, but if the encouragement is not acted upon, then Gandhi's meaning is relegated to a means for making excuses -- looking good without living up to what may really be pretty good.

As the sound bites that existed before sound bites, many of the refrigerator magnets anyone carries around with them has a touch of Shakespeare at their base: It was the bard who wrote:

Brevity is the soul of wit.

And while not everyone longs to be a wit, still it is nice to have our directions pointed out in small, easily-digested bites. These refrigerator magnets are like the hors d'oeuvres of a life philosophy -- not the main course that shows itself in action, perhaps, but a tasty prelude that can add savor and point to the satisfactions to come.

Or, to corrupt and expand a bit on an imaginary and lisping Will Rogers as he considered the electric fence:

It's the pithy stuff that counts.


  1. In your piece, the quote that started "There are three kinds of men..." reminded me of a favourite of mine, "There are three kinds of people in this world, those who can count and those who can't."


  2. I only have one on my great white expanse and to me it's truth really sums up life and existence.

    "Dead Puppies Are No Fun."

    Frank Zappa

  3. Thanks. Joke time -

    Redneck Hooker

    A redneck was walking home late at night and sees a woman in the shadows.
    "Twenty dollars", she whispers.
    Bubba had never been with a hooker before, but decides what the heck, it's only twenty bucks, so they hide in the bushes.
    They're in there for only a minute when all of a sudden a light flashes on them. It's a police officer. "What's going on here, people?", asks the officer.
    "I'm making love to my wife!", Bubba answers sounding annoyed.
    "Oh, I'm sorry", says the cop, "I didn't know."
    Bubba says, "Well, neither did I, til ya shined that light in her face."