These are a few of my favorite things: #39(Walden on Wheels : On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom by Ken Ilgunas)
This book takes us on an inspiring journey as we get to know how the author Ken Ilgunas frees himself from a massive educational loan by following the simplicity n frugality model of Thoreau’s Walden.
I was drawn to the book for 3 main reasons. First, I found Ilgunas’ desire to live super frugally in order to pay his loans Very refreshing. This is totally opposite of what I see the kids doing in India(majority though definitely not all). Parents here finance the most expensive education of kids, even taking loans in their own names. & after that if these kids don’t get a high paying job which they feel they deserve, they won’t pick up some small jobs to support themselves + they never dream of cutting down their royal extravagant lifestyle. They must have all the luxuries: expensive gym memberships, expensive food items. Even after draining their parents financially, they behave irresponsibly, can’t be bothered to switch of lights n fans even when not in use (electricity bills be damned, after all parent will be paying for that too in any case), they can’t even pick up after themselves or do things around home (they need to have their personal servants). The standards of living of these shameless, self entitled youth is very high. Ken Ilgunas is indeed the role model this generation needs.
Second I’ve always admired Thoreau’s experiments in solitude, simplicity & frugality.
Third I find the calm, quite life full of simplicity, solitude & grace which the author led far more desirable & charming than the grotesque life of the Filthy Rich n Famous
Here is an excerpt from the book:
My experiment began in the spring semester of 2009 when I enrolled in the graduate liberal studies department. Months before, I had just finished paying off $32,000 in undergraduate student loans — no easy feat for an English major.
To pay off my debt, I’d found jobs that provided free room and board. I moved to Coldfoot, Alaska — 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 250 from the nearest store — where I worked as a lodge cleaner, a tour guide and a cook. Later, I worked on a trail crew in Mississippi in an AmeriCorps program. Between jobs I hitchhiked more than 7,000 miles to avoid paying airfare. When I couldn’t find work, I moved in with friends. My clothes came from donation bins, I had friends cut my hair, and I’d pick up odd jobs when I could. Nearly every dime I made went into my loans.
I hated my debt more than anything. I dragged it with me wherever I went. While I was still leading an exciting, adventurous life, I knew I could never truly be free until my debt was gone.
I finally got out of the red when I landed a well-paying job with the Park Service as a backcountry ranger. Finally, after two and a half years of work, my debt was gone. I had four grand in the bank that was mine. All mine. It was the first time I had actual money that hadn’t been borrowed or given to me since I was a 13-year-old paperboy.
The more money I had borrowed, I came to realize, the more freedom I had surrendered. Yet, I still considered my education — as costly as it was — to be priceless. So now, motivated to go back to school yet determined not to go back into debt, I had to think outside the box. Or, as Henry David Thoreau might suggest, inside one.
In “Walden,” Thoreau mentioned a 6 foot-by-3 foot box he had seen by the railroad in which laborers locked up their tools at night. A man could live comfortably in one of these boxes, he thought. Nor would he have to borrow money and surrender freedom to afford a “larger and more luxurious box.”
And so: I decided to buy a van. Though I had never lived in one, I knew I had the personality for it. I had a penchant for rugged living, a sixth sense for cheapness, and an unequaled tolerance for squalor.
My first order of business upon moving to Duke was to find my “Walden on Wheels.” After a two-hour bus ride into the North Carolinian countryside, I caught sight of the ’94 Ford Econoline that I had found advertised on Craigslist. Googly-eyed, I sauntered up to it and lovingly trailed fingertips over dents and chipped paint. The classy cabernet sauvignon veneer at the top slowly, sensuously faded downward into lustrous black. I got behind the wheel and revved up the fuel-funneling beast. There was a grumble, a cough, then a smooth and steady mechanical growl. It was big, it was beautiful, and — best of all — it was $1,500.
I bought it immediately. So began what I’d call “radical living.”
My “radical living” experiment convinced me that the things plunging students further into debt — the iPhones, designer clothes, and even “needs” like heat and air conditioning, for instance — were by no means “necessary.” And I found it easier to “do without” than I ever thought it would be. Easier by far than the jobs I’d been forced to take in order to pay off my loans.
Living in a van was my grand social experiment. I wanted to see if I could — in an age of rampant consumerism and fiscal irresponsibility — afford the unaffordable: an education.
I pledged that I wouldn’t take out loans. Nor would I accept money from anybody, especially my mother, who, appalled by my experiment, offered to rent me an apartment each time I called home. My heat would be a sleeping bag; my air conditioning, an open window. I’d shower at the gym, eat the bare minimum and find a job to pay tuition. And — for fear of being caught — I wouldn’t tell anybody.
Living on the cheap wasn’t merely a way to save money and stave off debt; I wanted to live adventurously. I wanted to test my limits. I wanted to find the line between my wants and my needs. I wanted, as Thoreau put it, “to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life … to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
Not only is his story of adventure very gripping n absorbing, but the book is peppered with little gems of wisdom like these:
“Reading sixteenth-century French poetry, suffering through Kant, and studying the finer points of the Jay Treaty may seem to be, on first appearance, completely, utterly, irrefutably pointless, yet somehow in studying, discussing, and writing about these ‘pointless’ subjects, the liberal arts have the capacity to turn on a certain part of the brain that makes us ask ourselves questions like:
Who am I? What’s worth fighting for? Who’s lying to us? What’s my purpose? What’s the point of it all?
Perhaps many students would rather not be irritated with these questions, yet being compelled to grapple with them, it seems, can make us far less likely to be among those who’ll conform, remain complacent, or seek jobs with morally ambiguous employers” (p. 243).
“Discomforts are only discomforting when they’re an unexpected inconvenience, an unusual annoyance, an unplanned-for irritant. Discomforts are only discomforting when we aren’t used to them. But when we deal with the same discomforts every day, they become expected and part of the routine, and we are no longer afflicted with them the way we were…Give your body the chance to harden, your blood to thicken, and your skin to toughen, and you’ll find that the human body carries with it a weightless wardrobe. When we’re hardy in mind and body, we can select from an array of outfits to comfortably bear most any climate”
This book would be of huge interest not only for students, but for anyone seeking simple, spartan, frugal n calm way of living. We need more young guys like Ken Ilgunas n we need more inspirational tales like this.
- Walden on Wheels (sort of review) (ellenannelarson.wordpress.com)
- Walden on Wheels (intrepiddebt.wordpress.com)
- Walden on Wheels and back to the grind… or not? (ellenannelarson.wordpress.com)
- Blogging Walden: Economy (writingsenses.wordpress.com)
- Walden Pond (deliberatelivinginboston.wordpress.com)
- Walden II (philippmasur.wordpress.com)
- How I Paid Off My Loans: 3 Crazy-but-True Stories (thedailymuse.com)
- Book recommendation: Walden on Wheels (fiscallyfitchica.com)
- Walden on Wheels: terrific book (backwoodshome.com)
- WALDON ON WHEELS by Ken Ilgunas – Criticism (muymue.wordpress.com)
Miss Brill is a story about an old woman who lacks companionship and self-awareness. Each Sunday, Miss Brill ventures down to the park to watch and listen to the band play. She finds herself listening not only to the band, but also to strangers. She enjoys living vicariously by eavesdropping into the lives of others. Miss Brill spends her Sunday afternoon seated on a park bench, this is the highpoint of her life. She watches others around her and pretends that all of them including her-self are actors in a play; She weaves an elaborate fantasy around this thought n it gives her huge satisfaction to be involved in the grand scheme of things. On this particular Sunday she has chosen to wear her favorite coat which she believes to be fashionable. She is generally enjoying herself, listening to the band, lost in reverie n at the prospect of her favorite past time: Eavesdropping. But things take an unexpected turn, a young pair of lovers walks in n makes some rude comments about her. Why does she drag her old mug out of her home? Says the guy n the girl laughs at Miss Brill’s coat. This disheartens Miss Brill n she hurries home, forgetting even to stop at the bakery to pick up her Sunday indulgence of honey cake. Miss Brill is a story about the loneliness of an old, solitary Lady. But for me it worked differently. It spoke to me of two things.
1) Why do people take so much interest in the lives of others? Granted one may be living alone, but there are enough things in the world to engage oneself constructively without taking interest in lives of others. One can enjoy one’s glorious solitude with variety of things like music, gardening, reading which are richly rewarding n not pathetic.
2) Why do we let the opinions of others effect us so deeply n badly.By doing this we make ourselves a puppet into other people’s hands. Just one remark from the young woman about her coat n suddenly it ain’t her favorite coat anymore!! She goes home n packs it away. N by the way who is the young man to decide whether Miss Brill is wanted in the park or not? Instead of getting so wounded by careless remark by stupid young people, Miss Brill should have continued to enjoy what her special Sunday outing in the park n her treat of honey cake.
~The unhappiest people in this world, are those who care the most about what other people think. ~ C. JoyBell C.
~I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
~No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. ~Eleanor Roosevelt
~ He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.” ~ Brigham Young
I find Buddha’s way of dealing with insults the best way. Once Buddha was passing through a village n some people in the village very angry with him for spreading radical ideas n inspiring youth to lead an ascetic life. So they gathered around him & started abusing him. Buddha listened to their abuses patiently n even compassionately!!! In the end he just said that he’d be passing through the village in the evening again n if someone had some more accusations they could abuse him then, People were surprised. They expected Buddha to retaliate n abuse in return, to get angry/upset/sad. But Buddha did none of these. He then explained that if someone gives you a gift n you don’t accept it, the gift is returned to the sender, in the same way he had not accepted the insult/abuse. Now I know Miss Brill is no Buddha n neither am I. But still we can remind ourselves of Buddha’s way n act a little more intelligently n not be wounded by harmful words of others.
Oh yeah, now the story!!! :
Although it was so brilliantly fine – the blue sky powdered with gold and great spots of light like white wine splashed over the Jardins Publiques – Miss Brill was glad that she had decided on her fur. The air was motionless, but when you opened your mouth there was just a faint chill, like a chill from a glass of iced water before you sip, and now and again a leaf came drifting – from nowhere, from the sky. Miss Brill put up her hand and touched her fur. Dear little thing! It was nice to feel it again. She had taken it out of its box that afternoon, shaken out the moth-powder, given it a good brush, and rubbed the life back into the dim little eyes. “What has been happening to me?” said the sad little eyes. Oh, how sweet it was to see them snap at her again from the red eiderdown! … But the nose, which was of some black composition, wasn’t at all firm. It must have had a knock, somehow. Never mind – a little dab of black sealing-wax when the time came – when it was absolutely necessary … Little rogue! Yes, she really felt like that about it. Little rogue biting its tail just by her left ear. She could have taken it off and laid it on her lap and stroked it. She felt a tingling in her hands and arms, but that came from walking, she supposed. And when she breathed, something light and sad – no, not sad, exactly – something gentle seemed to move in her bosom.
There were a number of people out this afternoon, far more than last Sunday. And the band sounded louder and gayer. That was because the Season had begun. For although the band played all the year round on Sundays, out of season it was never the same. It was like some one playing with only the family to listen; it didn’t care how it played if there weren’t any strangers present. Wasn’t the conductor wearing a new coat, too? She was sure it was new. He scraped with his foot and flapped his arms like a rooster about to crow, and the bandsmen sitting in the green rotunda blew out their cheeks and glared at the music. Now there came a little “flutey” bit – very pretty! – a little chain of bright drops. She was sure it would be repeated. It was; she lifted her head and smiled.
Only two people shared her “special” seat: a fine old man in a velvet coat, his hands clasped over a huge carved walking-stick, and a big old woman, sitting upright, with a roll of knitting on her embroidered apron. They did not speak. This was disappointing, for Miss Brill always looked forward to the conversation. She had become really quite expert, she thought, at listening as though she didn’t listen, at sitting in other people’s lives just for a minute while they talked round her.
She glanced, sideways, at the old couple. Perhaps they would go soon. Last Sunday, too, hadn’t been as interesting as usual. An Englishman and his wife, he wearing a dreadful Panama hat and she button boots. And she’d gone on the whole time about how she ought to wear spectacles; she knew she needed them; but that it was no good getting any; they’d be sure to break and they’d never keep on. And he’d been so patient. He’d suggested everything – gold rims, the kind that curved round your ears, little pads inside the bridge. No, nothing would please her. “They’ll always be sliding down my nose!” Miss Brill had wanted to shake her.
The old people sat on the bench, still as statues. Never mind, there was always the crowd to watch. To and fro, in front of the flower-beds and the band rotunda, the couples and groups paraded, stopped to talk, to greet, to buy a handful of flowers from the old beggar who had his tray fixed to the railings. Little children ran among them, swooping and laughing; little boys with big white silk bows under their chins, little girls, little French dolls, dressed up in velvet and lace. And sometimes a tiny staggerer came suddenly rocking into the open from under the trees, stopped, stared, as suddenly sat down “flop,” until its small high-stepping mother, like a young hen, rushed scolding to its rescue. Other people sat on the benches and green chairs, but they were nearly always the same, Sunday after Sunday, and – Miss Brill had often noticed – there was something funny about nearly all of them. They were odd, silent, nearly all old, and from the way they stared they looked as though they’d just come from dark little rooms or even – even cupboards!
Behind the rotunda the slender trees with yellow leaves down drooping, and through them just a line of sea, and beyond the blue sky with gold-veined clouds.
Tum-tum-tum tiddle-um! tiddle-um! tum tiddley-um tum ta! blew the band.
Two young girls in red came by and two young soldiers in blue met them, and they laughed and paired and went off arm-in-arm. Two peasant women with funny straw hats passed, gravely, leading beautiful smoke-coloured donkeys. A cold, pale nun hurried by. A beautiful woman came along and dropped her bunch of violets, and a little boy ran after to hand them to her, and she took them and threw them away as if they’d been poisoned. Dear me! Miss Brill didn’t know whether to admire that or not! And now an ermine toque and a gentleman in grey met just in front of her. He was tall, stiff, dignified, and she was wearing the ermine toque she’d bought when her hair was yellow. Now everything, her hair, her face, even her eyes, was the same colour as the shabby ermine, and her hand, in its cleaned glove, lifted to dab her lips, was a tiny yellowish paw. Oh, she was so pleased to see him – delighted! She rather thought they were going to meet that afternoon. She described where she’d been – everywhere, here, there, along by the sea. The day was so charming – didn’t he agree? And wouldn’t he, perhaps? … But he shook his head, lighted a cigarette, slowly breathed a great deep puff into her face, and even while she was still talking and laughing, flicked the match away and walked on. The ermine toque was alone; she smiled more brightly than ever. But even the band seemed to know what she was feeling and played more softly, played tenderly, and the drum beat, “The Brute! The Brute!” over and over. What would she do? What was going to happen now? But as Miss Brill wondered, the ermine toque turned, raised her hand as though she’d seen some one else, much nicer, just over there, and pattered away. And the band changed again and played more quickly, more gayly than ever, and the old couple on Miss Brill’s seat got up and marched away, and such a funny old man with long whiskers hobbled along in time to the music and was nearly knocked over by four girls walking abreast.
Oh, how fascinating it was! How she enjoyed it! How she loved sitting here, watching it all! It was like a play. It was exactly like a play. Who could believe the sky at the back wasn’t painted? But it wasn’t till a little brown dog trotted on solemn and then slowly trotted off, like a little “theatre” dog, a little dog that had been drugged, that Miss Brill discovered what it was that made it so exciting. They were all on the stage. They weren’t only the audience, not only looking on; they were acting. Even she had a part and came every Sunday. No doubt somebody would have noticed if she hadn’t been there; she was part of the performance after all. How strange she’d never thought of it like that before! And yet it explained why she made such a point of starting from home at just the same time each week – so as not to be late for the performance – and it also explained why she had quite a queer, shy feeling at telling her English pupils how she spent her Sunday afternoons. No wonder! Miss Brill nearly laughed out loud. She was on the stage. She thought of the old invalid gentleman to whom she read the newspaper four afternoons a week while he slept in the garden. She had got quite used to the frail head on the cotton pillow, the hollowed eyes, the open mouth and the high pinched nose. If he’d been dead she mightn’t have noticed for weeks; she wouldn’t have minded. But suddenly he knew he was having the paper read to him by an actress! “An actress!” The old head lifted; two points of light quivered in the old eyes. “An actress – are ye?” And Miss Brill smoothed the newspaper as though it were the manuscript of her part and said gently; “Yes, I have been an actress for a long time.”
The band had been having a rest. Now they started again. And what they played was warm, sunny, yet there was just a faint chill – a something, what was it? – not sadness – no, not sadness – a something that made you want to sing. The tune lifted, lifted, the light shone; and it seemed to Miss Brill that in another moment all of them, all the whole company, would begin singing. The young ones, the laughing ones who were moving together, they would begin, and the men’s voices, very resolute and brave, would join them. And then she too, she too, and the others on the benches – they would come in with a kind of accompaniment – something low, that scarcely rose or fell, something so beautiful – moving … And Miss Brill’s eyes filled with tears and she looked smiling at all the other members of the company. Yes, we understand, we understand, she thought – though what they understood she didn’t know.
Just at that moment a boy and girl came and sat down where the old couple had been. They were beautifully dressed; they were in love. The hero and heroine, of course, just arrived from his father’s yacht. And still soundlessly singing, still with that trembling smile, Miss Brill prepared to listen.
“No, not now,” said the girl. “Not here, I can’t.”
“But why? Because of that stupid old thing at the end there?” asked the boy. “Why does she come here at all – who wants her? Why doesn’t she keep her silly old mug at home?”
“It’s her fu-ur which is so funny,” giggled the girl. “It’s exactly like a fried whiting.”
“Ah, be off with you!” said the boy in an angry whisper. Then: “Tell me, ma petite chere–“
“No, not here,” said the girl. “Not yet.”
On her way home she usually bought a slice of honey-cake at the baker’s. It was her Sunday treat. Sometimes there was an almond in her slice, sometimes not. It made a great difference. If there was an almond it was like carrying home a tiny present – a surprise – something that might very well not have been there. She hurried on the almond Sundays and struck the match for the kettle in quite a dashing way.
But to-day she passed the baker’s by, climbed the stairs, went into the little dark room – her room like a cupboard – and sat down on the red eiderdown. She sat there for a long time. The box that the fur came out of was on the bed. She unclasped the necklet quickly; quickly, without looking, laid it inside. But when she put the lid on she thought she heard something crying.
I once read an amusing anecdote by Osho which goes like this:
One day Mulla Nasruddin told me, “I wish I had more land”.
I asked him, “But why? As it is you already have enough”.
He said, “I could raise lot more cows”.
I asked him, “And what would you do with them?”
He said, “Sell them & make more money.”
“And then? What are you going to do with that money?”
“Buy more land.”
“To raise more cows.”
This is the way it goes, you never come out of it.
Similar sentiment runs through this humorous & Brilliant short story by the Russian author Maxim Gorky
by Maxim Gorkiy
The kings of steel, of petroleum, and all the other kings of the United States have always in a high degree excited my power of imagination. It seemed to me certain that these people who possess so much money could not be like other mortals.
Each of them (so I said to myself) must call his own, at least, three stomachs and a hundred and fifty teeth. I did not doubt that the millionaire ate without intermission, from six o’clock in the morning till midnight. It goes without saying, the most exquisite and sumptuous viands! Toward evening, then, he must be tired of the hard chewing, to such a degree that (so I pictured to myself) he gave orders to his servants to digest the meals that he had swallowed with satisfaction during the day. Completely limp, covered with sweat and almost suffocated, he had to be put to bed by his servants, in order that on the next morning at six o’clock he might be able to begin again his work of eating.
Nevertheless, it must be impossible for such a man — whatever pains he might take — to consume merely the half of the interest of his wealth.
To be sure, such a life is awful, but what is one to do? For what is one a millionaire — what am I saying? — a billionaire, if one cannot eat more than every other common mortal! I pictured to myself that this privileged being wore cloth-of-gold underclothing, shoes with gold nails, and instead of a hat a diadem of diamonds on his head. His clothes, made of the most expensive velvet, must be at least fifty feet long and fastened with three hundred gold buttons; and on holidays he must be compelled by dire necessity to put on over each other six pairs of costly trousers. Such a costume is certainly very uncomfortable. But, if one is rich like that, one can’t after all dress like all the world.
The pocket of a billionaire, I pictured to myself so big that therein easily a church or the whole senate could find room. The paunch of such a gentleman I conceived to myself like the hull of an ocean steamer, the length and breadth of which I was not able to think out. Of the bulk, too, of a billionaire I could never give myself a clear idea; but I supposed that the coverlet under which he sleeps measures a dozen hundred square yards. If he chews tobacco, it was unquestionably only the best kind, of which he always sticks two pounds at a time into his mouth. And on taking snuff (I thought to myself) he must use up a pound at a pinch. Indeed, money will be spent!
His fingers must possess the magic power of lengthening at will. In spirit, I saw a New York billionaire as he stretched out his hand across Bering Strait and brought back a dollar that had rolled somewhere toward Siberia, without especially exerting himself thereby.
Curiously, I could form to myself no clear conception of the headof this monster. In this organism consisting of gigantic muscles and bones that is made for squeezing money out of all things, a head seemed to me really quite superfluous.
Who, now, can conceive my astonishment when, standing facing one of these fabulous beings, I arrived at the conviction that a billionaire is a human being like all the rest!
I saw there comfortably reclining in an armchair a long, wizened old man, who held his brown, sinewy hands folded across a body of quite ordinary dimensions. The flabby skin of his face was carefully shaved. The underlip, which hung loosely down, covered solidly built jaws, in which gilded teeth were stuck. The upper lip, smooth, narrow and pallid, scarcely moved when the old man spoke. Colorless eyes without brows, a perfectly bald skull. It might be thought that a little skin was wanting to this reddish face, to this countenance that was expressionless and puckered like that of one new-born. Was this being just beginning its life, or was it already nearing its end?
Nothing in his dress distinguished him from the ordinary mortal. A ring, a watch, and his teeth were all the gold he carried with him. Scarcely half a pound, all told! Taken altogether, the appearance of the man recalled that of an old servant of an aristocratic family in Europe.
The furnishing of the room in which he received me had nothing unusually luxurious about it. The furniture was solid; that is all that can be said. Oftentimes elephants probably come into this house, I involuntarily thought at the sight of the heavy, substantial pieces of furniture.
‘Are you the billionaire?’ I asked, since I could not trust my eyes.
‘Yes, indeed,’ he answered, nodding convincingly with his head.
‘How much meat can you consume for breakfast?’
‘I eat no meat in the morning,’ he avowed. ‘A quarter of an orange, an egg, a small cup of tea, that’s all . . .’
His innocent child’s-eyes blinked with a feeble luster, like two drops of muddy water.
‘Good,’ I began again, half disconcerted. ‘But be honest with me; tell me the truth. How often in the day do you eat?’
‘Twice,’ he answered, peacefully. ‘Breakfast and dinner suffice me. At noon I take soup, a little white meat, vegetables, fruit, a cup of coffee, a cigar . . .’
My surprise grew apace. I drew breath, and went on:
‘But, if that’s true, what do you do with your money?’
‘Make more money!’
‘To make more money out of that!’
‘What for?’ I repeated.
He leaned toward me, his hands supported by the arms of his chair, and with some curiosity in his expression he said:
‘You are probably cracked?’
‘And you?’ I said . . .
The old man inclined his head, and, whistling softly through the gold of his teeth, he said:
‘Droll wag! . . . You are the first human being of your species that I ever became acquainted with.’
Then he bent his head back and looked at me some time, silently and scrutinizingly.
‘What do you do?’ I began again.
‘Make money,’ he answered, shortly.
‘Oh, you’re a counterfeiter!’ I exclaimed, joyfully, for I thought I had finally got to the bottom of the mystery. But the billionaire flew into a passion. His whole body shook, his eyes rolled actively.
‘That is unheard of!’ he said, when he had calmed down. Then he inflated his cheeks, I don’t know why.
I considered, and put further the following question to him:
‘How do you make money?’
‘Oh, that’s very simple. I possess railroads; the farmers produce useful commodities, which I transport to the markets. I calculate exactly to myself how much money I must leave the farmer, in order that he may not starve and be able to produce further. The rest I keep myself as transportation charges. That’s surely very simple!’
‘And are the farmers satisfied with it?’
‘Not all, I believe,’ he answered, with a naïve childishness. ‘But they say that the people are never satisfied. There are always odd characters who want still more . . .’
Some people get fixated on acquiring more and more money without even pausing to think what do they want it for? Is it worth slogging for money after we have enough to get all our necessities? Where will all that huffing n puffing for more and more money lead us? Isn’t contentment a smarter choice?
~It is not the man who has little, but he who desires more, that is poor. ~ Seneca
~Greed will always leave you dissatisfied because you’ll never be able to get everything you desire. Greed never allows you to think you have enough; it always destroys you by making you strive ever harder for more. ~ Rabbi Benjamin Blech, Taking Stock: A Spiritual Guide to Rising Above Life’s Ups and Downs
~Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty.~Socrates
~Money is just a tool, don’t let it make you a fool.
Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell is the story of India Bridge n her married life. The story is told in form of vignettes/snapshots from events in her daily life rather than as one long continuous narrative. All the vignettes show how she interacts with her children, her husband, her Domestic Help n her Social Circle n thus draw her character sketch for the readers, one episode at a time. This makes the book different n interesting n a very breezy read.
I found India Bridge’s character fascinating in that I’m always incredulous that some people are actually like her .. she lives to please others. What will others think is her prime guide in doing anything. Even in something as personal as reading books. She doesn’t have any particular taste in books but reads whatever happens to be popular in the circles within which she moves n the purpose for reading books is so that she can talk about them with others!
Her character is brought out in several episodes in the novel, like when she gets upset at her son Douglas ‘cos he actually uses the expensive napkins which she keeps to impress her guests, they are meant only for show off n not for actual use, or when she advises her daughter to carry a purse instead of stuffing things in her pocket ‘cos all ladies are supposed to carry a purse. Her behavior strikes looks at times absurd, at times amusing & even hilarious.
She is also not very sure what she wants from her life n is in a state of perpetual confusion. On one hand she has too much free time n is at a loss as to how to pass that time, n yet she finds herself very busy when she wants to do something for herself like learning Spanish. Also she can’t do away with her cleaning woman though she could very well have constructively engaged in managing her home so as to avoid boredom of having too much time n not really having anything to do.
In my own life individuality, freedom n authenticity have been the prime values. I have an inner locus of control. I think over everything from the reference of my own values. Whether it be my decision to remain child-free or not to pursue a career outside my home or choosing to be Agnostic n Buddhist rather than follow the religion I was born into, never following religious rituals, not watching Cricket (the most popular sport in India) even when it’s an Indo-Pak match (and everyone insists on talking about anything else when such a match is on), not buying expensive jewelry or expensive anything,using a very basic mobile (no smart phone) n camera, etc. all my decisions are made after long careful reflection on my own values n to please myself rather than others. I also have the ‘courage’ to be vocal about my contrarian choices, be it online or in close relationships in my life. After my marriage a friend of my DH hinted that I should remove the article on child-freedom from my blog ‘cos it gave a wrong impression of me as a woman and as a wife!! & I was like, helloooooooo this is giving very much the right impression of me as a woman ‘cos that is who I am, take it or leave it. I also remember a married friend who had to quit job being literally afraid to break the news to her parents ‘cos her parents believed pursuing a career was the only right path for her. Again I never have any problem in breaking any such news to my near n dear ones,’cos my life, my rules, my way, as simple as that. Why should you be having any problem with my decisions as long as I’m not hurting you or interfering in your life a your happiness?!
Now coming back to Mrs. Bridge…her character reminded me a lot of Peter Keating from Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, which is one of my most favorite books of all times. Peter Keating like Mrs. Bridge lives to please others. Peter Keating is a conformist who lives for fame, always seeking approval from others, always doing what would look good to others & not what he actually wants: He wanted to be a painter but became an architect instead; He loved Cathy but married Dominique because Dominique is more beautiful & sophisticated & hence a better wife to impress the world; he rises in the profession by flattery, manipulation, lying, cheating n even near-murder. “Always be what people want you to be,” is his motto. He is what he is because of others, he depends on others for his identity.(As opposed to the protagonist of the novel Howard Roark who neither cares about what others think of him nor spends much time thinking about others)
Mrs. Bridge’s social life is what Guy Debord refers as ‘Society of Specatle’.Debord argues that the history of social life can be understood as “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.” People are becoming more n more interested not in who they actually are but in how they appear to others, much like Peter Keating n Mrs. Bridge.
You can read the book here:
The Hermit by Eugene Ionesco
I love everything about this book, starting with the title ‘The Hermit’…the word Hermit is so beautiful n peaceful. To me it signifies one who has found value in one’s own company.
(Great minds are like eagles, and build their nest in some lofty solitude.~Arthur Schopenauer;
Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone. ~Tillich, Paul)
I was immediately attracted to the Title of the book a couple of years back (& I reread it just now). At that time I did not in any way know about the Genius of Eugene Ionesco or that I would start loving his absurd plays.
Then there is the most wonderful opening sentence of the novel:
At thirty-five, it’s high time to quit the rat race. Assuming there is a rat race. I was sick & tired of my job. It was already late: I was fast approaching forty. If I hand’t come into unexpected inheritance I would have died of depression & boredom.
(Now it is a coincidence that I too gave up the rat race if there was any rat race for me to begin with at 35, not that I was bored of my job…I was thoroughly enjoying my stint as a teacher but there came a time when I said to myself enough was enough…already time to quit n explore new things..the new things being doing nothing but devoting a large part of my time to thinking n philosophizing, devoting time to explore n adopt a simpler way of living, a frugal way, a Zen way, a quiet way, far from the madding crowd, far from the white noise of the society n confirmity )…so our unusual protagonist retires at 40 & devotes his time to ponder over the existential issues & the real meaning of our lives, not the superficial or mundane but the actual why n how of the human existence. He devotes his time to ponder over the nature of time, memories, death, infinity of the Universe, n such. Most people would regard him as eccentric n that is the general opinion of people towards him in the novel…sample these conversations & interactions of the narrator with various people:
~ I have a suspicion that the way I lived, the way I acted, rarely if ever going out, must have struck to her as odd. She made a number of allusions to my inactivity. According to her, I had no right to be retired in the first place. Not at my age anyway.
~Yes, that was it: they are all hostile towards me. What did they have against me? The fact that I didn’t live the way they did; that I refused to resign myself to my fate.
~She asked me questions that were vaguely indiscreet: “So it’s you again! Where are you going at this time? You always seem to be going out. And yet it’s safe to say you’re not going to work. You are lucky. Not like the rest of us.”
& the Best of all
~ I was about to drift off when Jeanne (His maid) came into the living room. As she rubbed the furniture to make it shine, she upbraided me, telling me that the life I led was unhealthy. Wasn’t I going to buckle down & find some work for myself ? All right, so I had an inheritance. That’s no reason to sit around and do nothing all day. At least get married. Did I intend to go on living all alone like some impotent? I ought to start a family. I should have children. Man is made to have children, and there is nothing cuter than little ones underfoot. And then when they grow up and you grow old, they don’t abandon you to poverty; no, they reach out a helping hand when you need it the most. If there’s anything worse than living alone, it’s dying alone, with no one around to offer you a little milk of human kindness. I didn’t know what was in store for me. As for herself, she had a husband she didn’t get along too well, but now he was sick. They had had a child, a boy they had brought up with tender loving care, he had a heart of gold, only he had gone away and left them; he had a heart of gold, it was only because of that wife of his. They hadn’t heard from them in a long time. Apparently they had a baby. She had also had a daughter whom they had raised with similar loving care. A lovely girl. That is, she had been. But she too had a baby, only the baby had died. After that she deserted her husband. She came back home for a while, then left again, she had begun living fast n loose, from all that they had heard. Some cousins were in contact with her and kept them informed. Apparently she was on drugs. Children are ungrateful! You bleed yourself white for them, they aren’t all that easy to bring up in the first place and then when they grow up they go away and leave you, forget you: the best thing is not to have any. You’d better not count on them to show you any gratitude in the time of need.
I told her I was sure she was right. That didn’t stop her, she was still talking, with the dustrag in the right hand while she gesticulated with her left. She made me promise to marry and have children.
This conversation with Jeanne is perfectly classic Non-Sequiter dialogue in which Eugene Ionesco excels. The maid has not too good experience with her own children & yet she wants our guy to marry n have children. Somehow everyone is uncomfortable with anyone who leaves the race of conformity n who wants to live life on his/her own terms, then everyone will jump over each other n try to convince her/him to make the conventional choices no matter how badly they themselves are faring in life with their conventional/conformist choices. I too find myself on receiving end. People try to convince me that I must be bored to be staying at home all day n doing nothing since I don’t have any children either. No matter how happy I am & I look they are not convinced. How can I be happy until I am behaving like everybody else? Unless I have a fancy Job Title n a fat pay packet?
And one more thing is that people never value anything we do for it’s own sake. Not for making money but for the joy of doing the thing, like Vincent Van Goh painting his master pieces none of which sold during his life time. He said he painted for the sheer joy of painting regardless of them not selling. People can’t accept the fact that a guy wanna leave his job n focus on his inner life.
But I admire him for his ability to quit, afterall all of us know many people who crib about Monday mornings n enjoy life only on weekends n yet they can’t give up their lousy jobs ‘cos they gotta buy stuff to impress the people whom they don’t like’…that urge seems to be powerful for the masses of people.I guess it’s very easy to quit the drudgery of work if one wants to follow a simple n frugal life. Our guy (he remains unnamed in the novel) doesn’t squander money on big n fancy things like flashy car or luxury villa or such but just buys himself a modest flat where he can be with himself
I found his character intriguing in it’s aloofness. He tends not to think too much about other people. He is very much attached to his girlfriend upto the extent a person of his nature can be attached to anyone. Yet when she leaves him he has great difficulty in recalling her name…he’s always like ‘I miss Yovne or was her name Marie?!! In this sense he reminded me of another of my favorite character Meursault from ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus (“Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.”)
I like this novel for what goes inside the mind of the narrator. This book is not for anyone who likes suspense/thriller. I never like that kind of books where you are on tenterhooks as to what will happen next. I could not care less for a whodunit. My kind of book is that in which nothing happens…just life goes on at it’s own pace n that’s it. So no wonder I found this book extremely satisfying.
- These are a few of my favorite things: #26 (The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco) (ritusthoughtcatcher.wordpress.com)
- Postcard from Wonderland (storyofalice.wordpress.com)
- Explain Yourself (farthertogo.com)
- How to Live like a Writer (literatureandlibation.com)
- Review: ‘The Chairs’ at Cutting Ball Theater (theatrestorm.com)
- Rhinoceros (morningstaronline.co.uk)
- Belief and Wonder – Or Why I Love the Fantastic (follownopath.com)
The Bald Soprano is an Absurd play by Eugene Ionesco. At the beginning of the play we see an English couple, the Smiths who are sitting and discussing the day’s events or at any rate Mrs. Smith is discussing n her husband is reading the newspaper n clicking his tongue n responding sporadically (As seems to be the tradition of husbands n wives all over the world. What is so great about the sadistic boring newspaper that husband’s prefer it over the wives juicy talks?). Anyways, the conversation takes place in non-sequiturs which makes it totally inane and totally hilarious. Examples
MRS. SMITH: Mary did the potatoes very well, this evening. The last time she did not do them well. I do not like them when they are well done.
MR. SMITH: A conscientious doctor must die with his patient if they can’t get well together. The captain of a ship goes down with his ship into the briny deep, he does not survive alone.
MR. SMITH: All doctors are quacks. And all patients too. Only the Royal Navy is honest in England.
MR. SMITH: Here’s a thing I don’t understand. In the newspaper they always give the age of deceased persons but never the age of the newly born. That doesn’t make sense.
MARY: But it was you who gave me permission. MR. SMITH: We didn’t do it on purpose.
Then they go on to discuss a family where everyone is named Bobby Watson. So Bobby Watson has died n yet Bobby Watson is supposed to be married in a few days. Bobby Watson is unemployed n Bobby Watson faces a tough competition in business. their illogical conversation continues till their maid comes n announces that they have some guests, The Martins, who are invited for dinner n who are standing outside ‘cos they were too shy to come in. (At this point Mrs. Smith who had only minutes earlier said ‘There, it’s nine o’clock. We’ve drunk the soup, and eaten the fish and chips, and the English salad. The children have drunk English water. We’ve eaten well this evening. That’s because we live in the suburbs of London and because our name is Smith.’ now says, ‘Oh, yes. We were expecting them. And we were hungry. Since they didn’t put in an appearance, we were going to start dinner without them. We’ve had nothing to eat all day. ‘) Then they rush to change…now it is the turn of Martins to carry on the absurd conversation, they forget that they are married n come to the conclusion that they must indeed be married by elimination n deductive reasoning. & so the absurdities continue…
To me the play spoke about the futility of our conversations. We human-beings flap our mouths a bit too much n insist on chattering despite not really having anything to say. Why are we so uncomfortable with golden silence n fill our time n space with trashy, meaningless gossip? Though we don’t talk in non-sequiturs but if we really think about it, our conversations are mostly unnecessary n as meaningless as that of The Smiths n Martins.
I get really terrified by the amount of small talk that happens at the parties. People go n on n on about the topics of no interest or relevance. They keep repeating what they have read in the newspapers forgetting that others get the newspapers too!! & I live in constant terror of phone calls for gossiping. I very much prefer the written communication which is so non intrusive n non abrasive.Though I don’t really yap all that much but the verbosity in play inspired me to introspect n find more opportunities to stay quiet. (“Never miss a good chance to shut up.” ~Will Rogers)
The Bald Soprano is a parody of our conversations, of the so-called dramatic situations of our lives, and of our inability to remain silent…. By a deliberate, stark use of the banal and a repetition of the worn-out clichés of language, Ionesco generates an unusual, fresh atmosphere.The Reader’s Encyclopedia of World Drama
This reminds me of one amusing story recounted by Osho tells of how each day Lao Tzu went for a morning walk. Often a friendly neighbour would follow him, but knowing that Lao Tzu did not like idle chitchat, the neighbour would keep silent. One day the neighbour had a visitor who also wanted to come; they took a long walk of several hours but the visitor was not comfortable in the silence and felt suffocated by it, so much so that when the sun was rising he said: “What a beautiful sun … look!”Later Lao Tzu said to the neighbour: “Please don’t bring this chatterbox with you again, he talks too much. ‘Cos I know the sun rise is beautiful, you know it is beautiful, he knows it is beautiful, what’s the need to blabber?’
“Talk, talk, talk: the utter and heartbreaking stupidity of words.” ~ William Faulkner
Silence is the means,
silence is the end, in silence only silence permeates.
If you would understand,
if you want to understand,
then only one thing is worth understanding – silence.
Osho : Early Talks – Bhuribai
See the Other Absurd Play reviews on my blog:
- Review: ‘The Chairs’ at Cutting Ball Theater (theatrestorm.com)
- Day 43 – Dangling Perspectives (schelleycassidy.wordpress.com)
- How to Live like a Writer (literatureandlibation.com)
- Rhinoceros (morningstaronline.co.uk)
- These are a few of my favorite things: #26 (The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco) (ritusthoughtcatcher.wordpress.com)
- Silencing the Mind With Lao Tzu Quotes (soulmagnitude.wordpress.com)
Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment by Natheniel Hawthrone
Dr. Heidegger, an eccentric scientist, invites his old friends Colonel Killigrew, Mr. Gascoigne, Mr. Medbourne, Madam Wycherly & tells them about discovery of water from the fountain of youth. All the four are very eager to grow young again n greedily drink the potion. They indeed grow young again & start behaving in their old ways, dancing, flirting, chasing money n being engrossed in politics. Dr Heidegger himself is wise & says that having taken up so much time to grow old & wise, he has no desire to grow young again. But his friends share none of his wisdom. They see old age as something dull & youth as the only desirable thing. They want to have their beauty & vitality back , not realizing that their youth was wasted in silly pursuits. In fact they represent the majiority attitude in our society which worships youth & dreads old age. I’ve heard many folks (esp women) saying that they want to be 16 forever!!! Why can’t people age gracefully, enjoy the wisdom that comes with age, instead of running after youth??…youth was fine while it lasted but there is a time for everything. I for one am loving growing older…don’t wanna be 18 till I die. I’m 37 going on 75.
The belief that youth is the happiest time of life is founded on a fallacy. The happiest person is the person who thinks the most interesting thoughts and we grow happier as we grow older.”–William Lyon Phelps
“Aging is no accident. It is necessary to the human
condition, intended by the soul. We become more characteristic of who we are simply by lasting into later years; the older we become, the more our true natures emerge. Thus the final years have a very important purpose: the fulfillment and confirmation of one’s character.”
“I don’t know why people are so afraid of getting old…there are tremendous gains…the ease and the security of feeling essentially being able to cope…” Hedda Bolgar
Here is George Carlin telling us advantages of growing old (1.40 mins onwards)
Read the story here:
& watch it in action here:
This is a Diary of a man (Tchulkaturin) who is about to die & who declares his existence to be superfluous, frivolous & meaningless. Being a diary it shows us the inner life of the narrator & I always love a peek into the inner lives of people who think interesting thoughts (& insights of a dying person are even more interesting, ‘cos they grow more reflective & more honest). Although written in 1850, it reads like a contemporary work (though at some places it does talk of strange things like old fashioned Balls & duels…I never understand duels-men ready to settle small differences in opinion by killing or being killed, rather drastic) .
When Turgenev published Diary of a Superfluous Man in 1850, he created one of the first literary portraits of the alienated man. Turgenev once said that there was a great deal of himself in the unsuccessful lovers who appear in his fiction. This failure, along with painful self-consciousness, is a central fact for the ailing Chulkaturin in this melancholy tale. As he reflects on his life, he tells the story of Liza, whom he loved, and a prince, whom she loved instead, and the curious turns all their lives took
It is peppered with interesting observations on Life, Death, & (unrequited) love. Sample these:
~But isn’t it absurd to begin a diary a fortnight, perhaps, before death? What does it matter? And by how much are fourteen days less than fourteen years, fourteen centuries? Beside eternity, they say, all is nothingness–yes, but in that case eternity, too, is nothing.
~My father had a passion for gambling; my mother was a woman of character . . . a very virtuous woman. Only, I have known no woman whose moral excellence was less productive of happiness. She was crushed beneath the weight of her own virtues, and was a source of misery to every one, from herself upwards. In all the fifty years of her life, she never once took rest, or sat with her hands in her lap; she was for ever fussing and bustling about like an ant, and to absolutely no good purpose, which cannot be said of the ant. The worm of restlessness fretted her night and day. Only once I saw her perfectly tranquil, and that was the day after her death, in her coffin. Looking at her, it positively seemed to me that her face wore an expression of subdued amazement; with the half-open lips, the sunken cheeks, and meekly-staring eyes, it seemed expressing, all over, the words, ‘How good to be at rest!’ Yes, it is good, good to be rid, at last, of the wearing sense of life, of the persistent, restless consciousness of existence! But that’s neither here nor there.
~Yes! I fought shy of my virtuous mother, and passionately loved my vicious father.
~But it occurs to me, is it really worth while to tell the story of my life?
~No, it certainly is not, . . . My life has not been different in any respect from the lives of numbers of other people. The parental home, the university, the government service in the lower grades, retirement, a little circle of friends, decent poverty, modest pleasures, unambitious pursuits, moderate desires–kindly tell me, is that new to any one? And so I will not tell the story of my life, especially as I am writing for my own pleasure; and if my past does not afford even me any sensation of great pleasure or great pain, it must be that there is nothing in it deserving of attention. I had better try to describe my own character to myself. What manner of man am I? . . . It may be observed that no one asks me that question–admitted. But there, I’m dying, by Jove! –I’m dying, and at the point of death I really think one may be excused a desire to find out what sort of a queer fish one really was after all.
~Winter again. The snow is falling in flakes. Superfluous, superfluous. . . . That’s a capital word I have hit on. The more deeply I probe into myself, the more intently I review all my past life, the more I am convinced of the strict truth of this expression. Superfluous–that’s just it. To other people that term is not applicable, . . . People are bad, or good, clever, stupid, pleasant, and disagreeable; but superfluous . . . no. Understand me, though: the universe could get on without those people too . . . no doubt; but uselessness is not their prime characteristic, their most distinctive attribute, and when you speak of them, the word ‘superfluous’ is not the first to rise to your lips. But I . . . there’s nothing else one can say about me; I’m superfluous and nothing more. A supernumerary, and that’s all. Nature, apparently, did not reckon on my appearance, and consequently treated me as an unexpected and uninvited guest. A facetious gentleman, a great devotee of preference, said very happily about me that I was the forfeit my mother had paid at the game of life. I am speaking about myself calmly now, without any bitterness. . . . It’s all over and done with!
~Yes, one can’t help saying with the Russian philosopher–‘How’s one to know what one doesn’t know?’
~peculiar sort of consolation which Lermontov had in view when he said there is pleasure and pain in irritating the sores of old wounds, why not indulge oneself?
~Kirilla Matveitch offered me a seat in his coach; but I refused. . . In the same way children, who have been punished, wishing to pay their parents out, refuse their favourite dainties at table.
~I fully realised how much happiness a man can extract from the contemplation of his own unhappiness. O men! pitiful race, indeed!
You can read the Novella here:
- Turgenev (halsmith.wordpress.com)
- Nothing (wildejourneys.wordpress.com)
- The “Perfect Moment” (tanyasylvan.com)
- Novella Month – Guest Post by Kyle Minor (emergingwriters.typepad.com)
- 14 Russians that inspired the language of love (rbth.ru)
- Juxtaposition Makes Makes Commentary Superfluous (iowntheworld.com)
These are a few of my favorite things: #16 (Mrs. Frola & Mr. Ponza, Her Son-In-Law by Luigi Pirandello)
Mrs. Frola & Mr. Ponza, her Son-in-Law, by Luigi Pirandello is one of the most engrossing & entertaining stories I’ve come across recently.
Read the story here (In a very reader friendly, short Presentation Format, & if you are really interested in reading the original story just do a google search for Mrs. Frola & Mr. Ponza & follow the link to google books, obviously the second option is better, literature is best enjoyed in it’s original form)
So who is right? Mrs. Frola or Mr. Ponza? The story is left open ended & hence it gives the reader much food for thought & reflection, which is the main function of literature, I suppose.
Both Mrs. Frola & Mr. Ponza can’t be right, or perhaps they are in their own way!! Later this story was adopted into Pirandello’s play ‘Right You Are! (If You Think So)’…the title of the play is very meaningful. Perhaps all of us live in our private worlds which we create by our own perspectives, thoughts, imaginations & paradigms. If Mrs. Frola imagines her daughter to be alive then that is her reality.
“Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. . . If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication … and there is the real illness.” ~Philip K. Dick
& Perhaps that is why even if we leave aside this fantastic tale, communication becomes so difficult. We may keep belaboring our point of view but people will hear only what they want. each one keeps living in his/her own world.
Do you feel your life will be all milk n honey if you win a lottery ticket?? Do you believe money is the solution to all your problems?? Well read this story & think again ^-^
The Lottery Ticket by Anton Chekhov
IVAN DMITRITCH, a middle-class man who lived with his family on an income of twelve hundred a year and was very well satisfied with his lot, sat down on the sofa after supper and began reading the newspaper.
“I forgot to look at the newspaper today,” his wife said to him as she cleared the table. “Look and see whether the list of drawings is there.”
“Yes, it is,” said Ivan Dmitritch; “but hasn’t your ticket lapsed?”
“No; I took the interest on Tuesday.”
“What is the number?”
“Series 9,499, number 26.”
“All right . . . we will look . . . 9,499 and 26.”
Ivan Dmitritch had no faith in lottery luck, and would not, as a rule, have consented to look at the lists of winning numbers, but now, as he had nothing else to do and as the newspaper was before his eyes, he passed his finger downwards along the column of numbers. And immediately, as though in mockery of his scepticism, no further than the second line from the top, his eye was caught by the figure 9,499! Unable to believe his eyes, he hurriedly dropped the paper on his knees without looking to see the number of the ticket, and, just as though some one had given him a douche of cold water, he felt an agreeable chill in the pit of the stomach; tingling and terrible and sweet!
“Masha, 9,499 is there!” he said in a hollow voice.
His wife looked at his astonished and panic-stricken face, and realized that he was not joking.
“9,499?” she asked, turning pale and dropping the folded tablecloth on the table.
“Yes, yes . . . it really is there!”
“And the number of the ticket?”
“Oh, yes! There’s the number of the ticket too. But stay . . . wait! No, I say! Anyway, the number of our series is there! Anyway, you understand. . . .”
Looking at his wife, Ivan Dmitritch gave a broad, senseless smile, like a baby when a bright object is shown it. His wife smiled too; it was as pleasant to her as to him that he only mentioned the series, and did not try to find out the number of the winning ticket. To torment and tantalize oneself with hopes of possible fortune is so sweet, so thrilling!
“It is our series,” said Ivan Dmitritch, after a long silence. “So there is a probability that we have won. It’s only a probability, but there it is!”
“Well, now look!”
“Wait a little. We have plenty of time to be disappointed. It’s on the second line from the top, so the prize is seventy-five thousand. That’s not money, but power, capital! And in a minute I shall look at the list, and there — 26! Eh? I say, what if we really have won?”
The husband and wife began laughing and staring at one another in silence. The possibility of winning bewildered them; they could not have said, could not have dreamed, what they both needed that seventy-five thousand for, what they would buy, where they would go. They thought only of the figures 9,499 and 75,000 and pictured them in their imagination, while somehow they could not think of the happiness itself which was so possible.
Ivan Dmitritch, holding the paper in his hand, walked several times from corner to corner, and only when he had recovered from the first impression began dreaming a little.
“And if we have won,” he said — “why, it will be a new life, it will be a transformation! The ticket is yours, but if it were mine I should, first of all, of course, spend twenty-five thousand on real property in the shape of an estate; ten thousand on immediate expenses, new furnishing . . . travelling . . . paying debts, and so on. . . . The other forty thousand I would put in the bank and get interest on it.”
“Yes, an estate, that would be nice,” said his wife, sitting down and dropping her hands in her lap.
“Somewhere in the Tula or Oryol provinces. . . . In the first place we shouldn’t need a summer villa, and besides, it would always bring in an income.”
And pictures came crowding on his imagination, each more gracious and poetical than the last. And in all these pictures he saw himself well-fed, serene, healthy, felt warm, even hot! Here, after eating a summer soup, cold as ice, he lay on his back on the burning sand close to a stream or in the garden under a lime-tree. . . . It is hot. . . . His little boy and girl are crawling about near him, digging in the sand or catching ladybirds in the grass. He dozes sweetly, thinking of nothing, and feeling all over that he need not go to the office today, tomorrow, or the day after. Or, tired of lying still, he goes to the hayfield, or to the forest for mushrooms, or watches the peasants catching fish with a net. When the sun sets he takes a towel and soap and saunters to the bathing-shed, where he undresses at his leisure, slowly rubs his bare chest with his hands, and goes into the water. And in the water, near the opaque soapy circles, little fish flit to and fro and green water-weeds nod their heads. After bathing there is tea with cream and milk rolls. . . . In the evening a walk or vint with the neighbours.
“Yes, it would be nice to buy an estate,” said his wife, also dreaming, and from her face it was evident that she was enchanted by her thoughts.
Ivan Dmitritch pictured to himself autumn with its rains, its cold evenings, and its St. Martin’s summer. At that season he would have to take longer walks about the garden and beside the river, so as to get thoroughly chilled, and then drink a big glass of vodka and eat a salted mushroom or a soused cucumber, and then — drink another. . . . The children would come running from the kitchen-garden, bringing a carrot and a radish smelling of fresh earth. . . . And then, he would lie stretched full length on the sofa, and in leisurely fashion turn over the pages of some illustrated magazine, or, covering his face with it and unbuttoning his waistcoat, give himself up to slumber.
The St. Martin’s summer is followed by cloudy, gloomy weather. It rains day and night, the bare trees weep, the wind is damp and cold. The dogs, the horses, the fowls — all are wet, depressed, downcast. There is nowhere to walk; one can’t go out for days together; one has to pace up and down the room, looking despondently at the grey window. It is dreary!
Ivan Dmitritch stopped and looked at his wife.
“I should go abroad, you know, Masha,” he said.
And he began thinking how nice it would be in late autumn to go abroad somewhere to the South of France . . . to Italy . . . . to India!
“I should certainly go abroad too,” his wife said. “But look at the number of the ticket!”
“Wait, wait! . . .”
He walked about the room and went on thinking. It occurred to him: what if his wife really did go abroad? It is pleasant to travel alone, or in the society of light, careless women who live in the present, and not such as think and talk all the journey about nothing but their children, sigh, and tremble with dismay over every farthing. Ivan Dmitritch imagined his wife in the train with a multitude of parcels, baskets, and bags; she would be sighing over something, complaining that the train made her head ache, that she had spent so much money. . . . At the stations he would continually be having to run for boiling water, bread and butter. . . . She wouldn’t have dinner because of its being too dear. . . .
“She would begrudge me every farthing,” he thought, with a glance at his wife. “The lottery ticket is hers, not mine! Besides, what is the use of her going abroad? What does she want there? She would shut herself up in the hotel, and not let me out of her sight. . . . I know!”
And for the first time in his life his mind dwelt on the fact that his wife had grown elderly and plain, and that she was saturated through and through with the smell of cooking, while he was still young, fresh, and healthy, and might well have got married again.
“Of course, all that is silly nonsense,” he thought; “but . . . why should she go abroad? What would she make of it? And yet she would go, of course. . . . I can fancy . . . In reality it is all one to her, whether it is Naples or Klin. She would only be in my way. I should be dependent upon her. I can fancy how, like a regular woman, she will lock the money up as soon as she gets it. . . . She will hide it from me. . . . She will look after her relations and grudge me every farthing.”
Ivan Dmitritch thought of her relations. All those wretched brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles would come crawling about as soon as they heard of the winning ticket, would begin whining like beggars, and fawning upon them with oily, hypocritical smiles. Wretched, detestable people! If they were given anything, they would ask for more; while if they were refused, they would swear at them, slander them, and wish them every kind of misfortune.
Ivan Dmitritch remembered his own relations, and their faces, at which he had looked impartially in the past, struck him now as repulsive and hateful.
“They are such reptiles!” he thought.
And his wife’s face, too, struck him as repulsive and hateful. Anger surged up in his heart against her, and he thought malignantly:
“She knows nothing about money, and so she is stingy. If she won it she would give me a hundred roubles, and put the rest away under lock and key.”
And he looked at his wife, not with a smile now, but with hatred. She glanced at him too, and also with hatred and anger. She had her own daydreams, her own plans, her own reflections; she understood perfectly well what her husband’s dreams were. She knew who would be the first to try and grab her winnings.
“It’s very nice making daydreams at other people’s expense!” is what her eyes expressed. “No, don’t you dare!”
Her husband understood her look; hatred began stirring again in his breast, and in order to annoy his wife he glanced quickly, to spite her at the fourth page on the newspaper and read out triumphantly:
“Series 9,499, number 46! Not 26!”
Hatred and hope both disappeared at once, and it began immediately to seem to Ivan Dmitritch and his wife that their rooms were dark and small and low-pitched, that the supper they had been eating was not doing them good, but lying heavy on their stomachs, that the evenings were long and wearisome. . . .
“What the devil’s the meaning of it?” said Ivan Dmitritch, beginning to be ill-humoured. “Wherever one steps there are bits of paper under one’s feet, crumbs, husks. The rooms are never swept! One is simply forced to go out. Damnation take my soul entirely! I shall go and hang myself on the first aspen-tree!”
So there..winning the money might not be such a good idea after all. All the feeling of relaxation, love n contentment were evaporated at the mere speculation of a chance to win big money. This story very well illustrates, ‘Money doesn’t change people, it merely unmasks them’. This story is a very insightful commentary on human nature. Reminds me of a joke , ‘A man comes home one day and says, “Guess what honey? Pack your bags, I won the lottery!” The wife squeals with delight and says, “That’s great! Should I pack for the mountains or the beach?” He says, “I don’t care, just pack n get out of here!”
The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant is a tragedy that highlights the downside of discontent, ingratitude & showoffism (living to impress others & be admired by others). Matilde is a very beautiful woman born to a poor family & married to an equally poor clerk in the Department of Education. Her husband is very loving but Matilde is very unhappy. She feels she is born to lead a life of luxury & to be rubbing shoulders with the rich & famous. She has lot of things going for her…she is beautiful, she has a loving husband & a good domestic help so she doesn’t have to slog it n do the domestic chores. But instead of enjoying the good things she does have she’s always pining for things she doesn’t have. One day Liosel brings her an invitation to a ball dance held by some high official in his ministry. Liosel also gives her money that he’d been saving, to buy a new dress for the ball but then she also wants jewellery to go with her new dress. When Liosel suggests she could wear flowers she scoffs at the suggestion. Then it is decided that she will borrow some jewellery from her rich friend Mme. Foresteir. Thus Matilde attends the party dressed upto nines complete with the borrowed necklace. She is the center of attention that evening. That is perhaps the best evening in her life, reveling in all the attention lavished on her. But alas! Before the Ball ends she loses her friend’s necklace. So they buy a ditto new necklace on instalments & return it to Mme. Forestier. Then spend the next ten years slogging to earn the money to pay for it. Matilde has to do away with her domestic help & do all the chores. Soon she loses her beauty & starts ageing prematurely due to toil & worry. The final tragic moment occurs when she meets Mme. Foresteir in the market one day & learns the the necklace she borrowed was a fake!!! The story wouldn’t have been half as tragic if the lost necklace was indeed real n expensive. Through the fake necklace we are given the message that at times we may be lured by the glitter of glamorous life but it is nothing but hollow n empty from inside. The real joy comes from contentment & gratitude for the things we have in life n not for running after mirages.
Here’s a beautiful animated adoption of the story (subtitles in English)
- The Rise of the Short Story – RobAroundBooks (booksexyreview.com)
- Back to the Classics Challenge 2013 (surgabukuku.wordpress.com)
- Happy, dark, or ironic – Short stories with a twist (annykchoi.com)
- French author Guy de Maupassant on war (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- These are a few of my favorite things: #5 (An Uncomfortable Bed by Guy De Maupassant) (ritusthoughtcatcher.wordpress.com)
‘How much land does a man need?’ is a very profound story, a timeless classic by Leo Tolstoy. It’s a commentary on the human greed & it’s futility. It tells the story of a Russian peasant Pukhom who declares at the beginning of the story that if only has a little more land he’d be content & happy. Eventually he learns about a village where a person would be allotted as much land as he can cover by walking in a single day from dawn to dusk. The only condition is the person must return back to the point where he started. This is dream come true for Pukhom. He loses no time in going to this place & grab the land by walking. But as he walks his greed gets better of him & he walks & walks & walks. In the end he collapses as he reaches the starting point. & he is buried in six feet of land. Apparently that is how much we actually need.
In a way this story captures the essence of human greed, the greed that spans 60-80 years of our life is condensed in a few pages. That’s why it becomes a powerful mirror to us. It’s very easy for us to see that Pukhom suffered ‘cos he got too greedy. But isn’t it how people are in today’s world? They don’t know where to stop running the rat race. They can’t seem to define their enough. They get caught in the pursuit of more & more. When they buy a car they are happy for about two months, then they are already bored with it and are onto the race to acquire something new. New cars, new phones, new vacations to exotic destinations, new posh homes, vacation homes, retirement homes…phewwwww…the list is rather endless. & before one finishes this bucket list of endless wants they are DEAD, without having really lived, without appreciating the peace, quiet, tranquility, beauty, poetry, that is all around us. SAD
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Pocket 515 – 1948) (niteowljr.wordpress.com)
- Target Stays Current In Literary World, Offers Book By “Emerging Author” Leo Tolstoy (consumerist.com)
- ‘The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy,’ reviewed by Michael Dirda (johndwmacdonald.com)
- Target really wants you to read Les Miserables by “emerging author” Leo Tolstoy [Fail] (fark.com)
- What I’m Reading: ‘The Cossacks’ by Leo Tolstoy (bisforbooksandrisforreading.wordpress.com)
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – A Book Review (ectorward.wordpress.com)
- Target Annoints Tolstoy as an “Emerging Author” (the-digital-reader.com)
- Anna Karenina: A Dissection of the Famous Russian Novel by Leo Tolstoy (20andsuch.wordpress.com)
- Day 360: Reading Tolstoy (500approaching50.wordpress.com)
- Anna Karenina, new film (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
These are a few of my favorite things: #7 (There’s a Man in the Habit of Hitting Me on the Head with an Umbrella by Fernado Sorrentino)
There’s a Man in the Habit of Hitting Me on the Head with an Umbrella by Fernando Sorrentiono
Translated by Clark M. Zlotchew
There’s a man in the habit of hitting me on the head with an umbrella. It’s exactly five years today that he’s been hitting me on the head with his umbrella. At first I couldn’t stand it; now I’m used to it.
I don’t know his name. I know he’s average in appearance, wears a gray suit, is graying at the temples, and has a common face. I met him five years ago one sultry morning. I was sitting on a tree-shaded bench in Palermo Park, reading the paper. Suddenly I felt something touch my head. It was the very same man who now, as I’m writing, keeps whacking me, mechanically and impassively, with an umbrella.
On that occasion I turned around filled with indignation: he just kept on hitting me. I asked him if he was crazy: he didn’t even seem to hear me. Then I threatened to call a policeman. Unperturbed, cool as a cucumber, he stuck with his task. After a few moments of indecision, and seeing that he was not about to change his attitude, I stood up and punched him in the nose. The man fell down, and let out an almost inaudible moan. He immediately got back on his feet, apparently with great effort, and without a word again began hitting me on the head with the umbrella. His nose was bleeding and, at that moment, I felt sorry for him. I felt remorse for having hit him so hard. After all, the man wasn’t exactly bludgeoning me; he was merely tapping me lightly with his umbrella, not causing any pain at all. Of course, those taps were extremely bothersome. As we all know, when a fly lands on your forehead, you don’t feel any pain whatsoever; what you feel is annoyance. Well then, that umbrella was one humongous fly that kept landing on my head time after time, and at regular intervals.
Convinced that I was dealing with a madman, I tried to escape. But the man followed me, wordlessly continuing to hit me. So I began to run (at this juncture I should point out that not many people run as fast as I do). He took off after me, vainly trying to land a blow. The man was huffing and puffing and gasping so that I thought, if I continued to force him to run at that speed, my tormenter would drop dead right then and there.
That’s why I slowed down to a walk. I looked at him. There was no trace of either gratitude or reproach on his face. He merely kept hitting me on the head with the umbrella. I thought of showing up at the police station and saying, “Officer, this man is hitting me on the head with an umbrella.” It would have been an unprecedented case. The officer would have looked at me suspiciously, would have asked for my papers and begun asking embarrassing questions. And he might even have ended up placing me under arrest.
I thought it best to return home. I took the 67 bus. He, all the while hitting me with his umbrella, got on behind me. I took the first seat. He stood right beside me, and held on to the railing with his left hand. With his right hand he unrelentingly kept whacking me with that umbrella. At first, the passengers exchanged timid smiles. The driver began to observe us in the rearview mirror. Little by little the bus trip turned into one great fit of laughter, an uproarious, interminable fit of laughter. I was burning with shame. My persecutor, impervious to the laughter, continued to strike me.
I got off – we got off – at Pacifico Bridge. We walked along Santa Fe Avenue. Everyone stupidly turned to stare at us. It occurred to me to say to them, “What are you looking at, you idiots? Haven’t you ever seen a man hit another man on the head with an umbrella?” But it also occurred to me that they probably never had seen such a spectacle. Then five or six little boys began chasing after us, shouting like maniacs.
But I had a plan. Once I reached my house, I tried to slam the door in his face. That didn’t happen. He must have read my mind, because he firmly seized the doorknob and pushed his way in with me.
From that time on, he has continued to hit me on the head with his umbrella. As far as I can tell, he has never either slept or eaten anything. His sole activity consists of hitting me. He is with me in everything I do, even in my most intimate activities. I remember that at first, the blows kept me awake all night. Now I think it would be impossible for me to sleep without them.
Still and all, our relations have not always been good. I’ve asked him, on many occasions, and in all possible tones, to explain his behavior to me. To no avail: he has wordlessly continued to hit me on the head with his umbrella. Many times I have let him have it with punches, kicks, and even – God forgive me – umbrella blows. He would meekly accept the blows. He would accept them as though they were part of his job. And this is precisely the weirdest aspect of his personality: that unshakable faith in his work coupled with a complete lack of animosity. In short, that conviction that he was carrying out some secret mission that responded to a higher authority.
Despite his lack of physiological needs, I know that when I hit him, he feels pain. I know he is weak. I know he is mortal. I also know that I could be rid of him with a single bullet. What I don’t know is if it would be better for that bullet to kill him or to kill me. Neither do I know if, when the two of us are dead, he might not continue to hit me on the head with his umbrella. In any event, this reasoning is pointless; I recognize that I would never dare to kill him or kill myself.
On the other hand, I have recently come to the realization that I couldn’t live without those blows. Now, more and more frequently, a certain foreboding overcomes me. A new anxiety is eating at my soul: the anxiety stemming from the thought that this man, perhaps when I need him most, will depart and I will no longer feel those umbrella taps that helped me sleep so soundly.
Rather a fantastic or bizarre situation, eh?? hmmm …to me the tapping on the head by umbrella is the allegory for some miserable situation that we sometimes find ourselves stuck in out of the blue. At first we huff n puff n cry n moan. We struggle to get out of it. Much as we dislike it, the situation persists like sisyphus’s stone rolling down. Slowly like Sisyphus we become used to it n even grow attached to it!!! There’s a cute short film adaptation of the movie. The movie goes one step further…when the guy tapping the head with umbrella loses his umbrella, our narrator hands his own umbrella to the tapper so that he can continue tapping!!!
The Author takes all precautions to avoid falling trap to an anticipated Practical joke by friends, but…..
An Uncomfortable Bed by Guy De Maupassant
One autumn I went to stay for the hunting season with some friends in a chateau in Picardy.
My friends were fond of practical joking, as all my friends are. I do not care to know any other sort of people.
When I arrived, they gave me a princely reception, which at once aroused distrust in my breast. We had some capital shooting. They embraced me, they cajoled me, as if they expected to have great fun at my expense.
I said to myself:
“Look out, old ferret! They have something in preparation for you.”
During the dinner, the mirth was excessive, far too great, in fact. I thought: “Here are people who take a double share of amusement, and apparently without reason. They must be looking out in their own minds for some good bit of fun. Assuredly I am to be the victim of the joke. Attention!”
During the entire evening, everyone laughed in an exaggerated fashion. I smelled a practical joke in the air, as a dog smells game. But what was it? I was watchful, restless. I did not let a word or a meaning or a gesture escape me. Everyone seemed to me an object of suspicion, and I even looked distrustfully at the faces of the servants.
The hour rang for going to bed, and the whole household came to escort me to my room. Why? They called to me: “Good night.” I entered the apartment, shut the door, and remained standing, without moving a single step, holding the wax candle in my hand.
I heard laughter and whispering in the corridor. Without doubt they were spying on me. I cast a glance around the walls, the furniture, the ceiling, the hangings, the floor. I saw nothing to justify suspicion. I heard persons moving about outside my door. I had no doubt they were looking through the keyhole.
An idea came into my head: “My candle may suddenly go out, and leave me in darkness.”
Then I went across to the mantelpiece, and lighted all the wax candles that were on it. After that, I cast another glance around me without discovering anything. I advanced with short steps, carefully examining the apartment. Nothing. I inspected every article one after the other. Still nothing. I went over to the window. The shutters, large wooden shutters, were open. I shut them with great care, and then drew the curtains, enormous velvet curtains, and I placed a chair in front of them, so as to have nothing to fear from without.
Then I cautiously sat down. The armchair was solid. I did not venture to get into the bed. However, time was flying; and I ended by coming to the conclusion that I was ridiculous. If they were spying on me, as I supposed, they must, while waiting for the success of the joke they had been preparing for me, have been laughing enormously at my terror. So I made up my mind to go to bed. But the bed was particularly suspicious-looking. I pulled at the curtains. They seemed to be secure. All the same, there was danger. I was going perhaps to receive a cold shower-bath from overhead, or perhaps, the moment I stretched myself out, to find myself sinking under the floor with my mattress. I searched in my memory for all the practical jokes of which I ever had experience. And I did not want to be caught. Ah! certainly not! certainly not! Then I suddenly bethought myself of a precaution which I consider one of extreme efficacy: I caught hold of the side of the mattress gingerly, and very slowly drew it toward me. It came away, followed by the sheet and the rest of the bedclothes. I dragged all these objects into the very middle of the room, facing the entrance door. I made my bed over again as best I could at some distance from the suspected bedstead and the corner which had filled me with such anxiety. Then, I extinguished all the candles, and, groping my way, I slipped under the bedclothes.
For at least another hour, I remained awake, starting at the slightest sound. Everything seemed quiet in the chateau. I fell asleep.
I must have been in a deep sleep for a long time, but all of a sudden, I was awakened with a start by the fall of a heavy body tumbling right on top of my own body, and, at the same time, I received on my face, on my neck, and on my chest a burning liquid which made me utter a howl of pain. And a dreadful noise, as if a sideboard laden with plates and dishes had fallen down, penetrated my ears.
I felt myself suffocating under the weight that was crushing me and preventing me from moving. I stretched out my hand to find out what was the nature of this object. I felt a face, a nose, and whiskers. Then with all my strength I launched out a blow over this face. But I immediately received a hail of cuffings which made me jump straight out of the soaked sheets, and rush in my nightshirt into the corridor, the door of which I found open.
O stupor! it was broad daylight. The noise brought my friends hurrying into the apartment, and we found, sprawling over my improvised bed, the dismayed valet, who, while bringing me my morning cup of tea, had tripped over this obstacle in the middle of the floor, and fallen on his stomach, spilling, in spite of himself, my breakfast over my face.
The precautions I had taken in closing the shutters and going to sleep in the middle of the room had only brought about the interlude I had been striving to avoid.
Ah! how they all laughed that day!
Alas, A man often meets his destiny on the very road he took to avoid it!!
Translated by Gustavo Artiles and Alex Patterson