Tag Archives: Harvard

A classic is a book no one reads, Mark Twain said

"I read from Mark Twain's lips one or two of his good stories. He has his own way of thinking, saying and doing everything. I feel the twinkle of his eye in his handshake. Even while he utters his cynical wisdom in an indescribably droll voice, he makes you feel that his heart is a tender Iliad of human sympathy."
“I read from Mark Twain’s lips one or two of his good stories. He has his own way of thinking, saying and doing everything. I feel the twinkle of his eye in his handshake. Even while he utters his cynical wisdom in an indescribably droll voice, he makes you feel that his heart is a tender Iliad of human sympathy.” —Helen Keller

I had pneumonia until three days ago when I was discharged from the hospital.

These days, my health has been doing well:

  • In May, I attended my younger daughter Amelia Altalena’s graduation from college.
  • In June, I spent two weeks in McKeesport, PA seeing how low-cost high-tech housing for elderly and disabled individuals can be made to work.
  • In October, I returned from elder daughter Joanna and future son-in-law Jade Phillips’ Engagement Party.

I am happy in my work and in my life.

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A little illness serves to remind that the way we spend our time matters.

What follows on this site is short installments of Helen Keller‘s 116 page book The Story of my Life.

Here in this season of darkness, when fancy paper containing gifts you will not use are torn away, I have decided to make a token gesture that will brighten your life and change your world view for the better if only you let it.

What follows are selected quotations Helen Keller published in 1903. How Helen Keller’s perspective on the value of life has affected me personally is a subject for another time.

For you, the following may alert you to the fact that a young woman in her Twenties, a woman who could neither see nor hear, opened up the world to another way of viewing reality–a path so radical in its conception and so beneficial to anyone who reads her that life as we know it will never be the same again. That is why The Story of My Life is   appropriately regarded as one of the great books of the 20th Century (and of the century in which I live in now).

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–“I found out the use of a key. One morning I locked my mother up in the pantry, where she was obliged to remain three hours, as the servants were in a detached part of the house. She kept pounding on the door, while I sat outside on the porch steps and laughed with glee as I felt the jar of the pounding.”

–“I was stringing beads of different sizes in symmetrical groups–two large beads, three small ones, and so on. I had made many mistakes, and Miss Sullivan had pointed them out again and again with gentle patience. Finally I noticed a very obvious error in the sequence and for an instant I concentrated my attention on the lesson and tried to think how I should have arranged the beads. Miss Sullivan touched my forehead and spelled with decided emphasis, ‘Think.’ In a flash I knew that the word was the name of the process that was going on in my head. This was my first conscious perception of an abstract idea.”

–“It seems strange to many people that I should be impressed by the wonders and beauties of Niagara. They are always asking: “What does this beauty or that music mean to you? You cannot see the waves rolling up the beach or hear their roar. What do they mean to you?” In the most evident sense they mean everything. I cannot fathom or define their meaning any more than I can fathom or define love or religion or goodness.”

–“In geometry my chief difficulty was that I had always been accustomed to read the propositions in line print, or to have them spelled into my hand; and somehow, although the propositions were right before me, I found the braille confusing, and could not fix clearly in my mind what I was reading. But when I took up algebra I had a harder time still. The signs, which I had so lately learned, and which I thought I knew, perplexed me. Besides, I could not see what I wrote on my typewriter. I had always done my work in braille or in my head. Mr. Keith had relied too much on my ability to solve problems mentally, and had not trained me to write examination papers. Consequently my work was painfully slow, and I had to read the examples over and over before I could form any idea of what I was required to do. Indeed, I am not sure now that I read all the signs correctly. I found it very hard to keep my wits about me.”

–“I began my studies with eagerness. Before me I saw a new world opening in beauty and light, and I felt within me the capacity to know all things. In the wonderland of Mind I should be as free as another. Its people, scenery, manners, joys, tragedies should be living, tangible interpreters of the real world. The lecture-halls seemed filled with the spirit of the great and the wise, and I thought the professors were the embodiment of wisdom. If I have since learned differently, I am not going to tell anybody.

–“But I soon discovered that college was not quite the romantic lyceum I had imagined. Many of the dreams that had delighted my young inexperience became beautifully less and “faded into the light of common day.” Gradually I began to find that there were disadvantages in going to college. The one I felt and still feel most is lack of time. I used to have time to think, to reflect, my mind and I. We would sit together of an evening and listen to the inner melodies of the spirit, which one hears only in leisure moments when the words of some loved poet touch a deep, sweet chord in the soul that until then had been silent. But in college, there is no time to commune with one’s thoughts. One goes to college to learn, it seems, not to think. When one enters the portals of learning, one leaves the dearest pleasures–solitude, books and imagination–outside with the whispering pines. I suppose I ought to find some comfort in the thought that I am laying up treasures for future enjoyment, but I am improvident enough to prefer present joy to hoarding riches against a rainy day.”

–“But the examinations are the chief bugbears of my college life. Although I have faced them many times and cast them down and made them bite the dust, yet they rise again and menace me with pale looks, until like Bob Acres I feel my courage oozing out at my finger ends. The days before these ordeals take place are spent in cramming your mind with mystic formulæ and indigestible dates–unpalatable diets, until you wish that books and science and you were buried in the depths of the sea.”

–“But college is not the universal Athens I thought it was. There one does not meet the great and the wise face to face; one does not even feel their living touch. They are there, it is true; but they seem mummified. We must extract them from the crannied wall of learning and dissect and analyze them before we can be sure that we have a Milton or an Isaiah, and not merely a clever imitation. Many scholars forget, it seems to me, that our enjoyment of the great works of literature depends more upon the depth of our sympathy than upon our understanding. The trouble is that very few of their laborious explanations stick in the memory. The mind drops them as a branch drops its overripe fruit. It is possible to know a flower, root and stem and all, and all the processes of growth, and yet to have no appreciation of the flower fresh bathed in heaven’s dew. Again and again I ask impatiently, “Why concern myself with these explanations and hypotheses?” They fly hither and thither in my thought like blind birds beating the air with ineffectual wings. I do not mean to object to a thorough knowledge of the famous works we read. I object only to the interminable comments and bewildering criticisms that teach but one thing: there are as many opinions as there are men.”

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For extensive bibliographic information on Helen Keller’s Story of My Life: see http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/keller/life/life.html

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Joel Solkoff, December 20, 2012, State College, PA

 

 

 

Countdown over: Amelia’s graduation ceremony was very wet; may end with my joining the Smyth County Moose Lodge

Soaking wet, Amelia Altalena Solkoff graduated with honors in Spanish at the University of North Carolina, Ashville (UNC-A). UNC-A ran an awful graduation ceremony. When I get rich, I will provide UNC-A with funds for rainy day graduations.

Asheville CITIZEN-TIMES previews the graduation ceremonies that have now taken place:

ASHEVILLE — Former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles will speak at UNC Asheville’s graduation ceremony in May.

“Bowles served as President Clinton’s top assistant and was tapped by President Barack Obama to tackle the nation’s budget woes. He also spent five years as president of the UNC System.”

http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012304170019

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Then, on May 6, 2012 The CITIZENS-TIMES report on the event:

“UNCA’s rainy spring graduation : As soon as UNC Asheville students got to the quad for the spring graduation commencement, the rain started to pour Saturday. 5/5/12 – Erin Brethauer ([email protected])”

See video; hear rainhttp://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012305060044

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Amelia at Celebratory Meal # 3 (of 4) THE BIG ONE
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At Celebratory meal # 4.

Joanna and Amelia’s mother Diana Bass

 

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At Celebratory meal # 1.

Our daughter Joanna Marie Solkoff, who graduated with honors in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently studying to be a nurse. Accompanying Joanna is Jade Phillips, a rock and refuge shown together at my apartment at State College, PA in March:

 

 

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Sarah Schmerler, Robert Simonson, and Asher Simonson during a brief dry spell at the graduation ceremony

Sarah is my sister (https://www.artnews.com/author/sarahschmerler/). Robert Simonson is my brother-in-law (http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Simonson/e/B001K8HFEA/ref=sr_tc_2_rm?qid=1337188291&sr=1-2-ent). Asher Benvenuto Simonson is my camera-shy only nephew; he is nearly 11.

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Asheville, NC 7:19 PM. May 4, 2012 [official Star Trek holiday celebration; see Wikipedia.].

I am ensconced in a disability room at the Asheville NC Extended Stay America motel.

This is directly down the road from the University of North Carolina Campus where Amelia graduates tomorrow at 9 AM.

Relatives, loved ones, friends, and the like are preparing to come to my hotel to engage in a Jewish celebration of Sabboth and undoubtedly much mischief.

When I have time, I promise to TELL ALL. Including photos.

Gotta run.

Amelia, the evening before graduation ceremonies, helps me unload my car.

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There is candle lighting in my room: “Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.”

 

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Flashback: Two days earlier

Michelle, front desk clerk Best Western Grand Venice Hotel, Hagerstown, NC, prepares to put my travel scooter into the trunk so I am ready to drive south for hundreds of miles.

Michelle is my candidate for Best Western employee of the year.

 

 

As we all know, commencement is not a beginning, it is an end.

On the road again:

May 3, 2012 Hagerstown, Maryland,  Best Western Grand Venice Hotel, 11:55 AM

8 AM today ready for breakfast at the free bar on the second floor

The route from Downtown State College, where I live, to Ashville North Carolina, where Amelia will be receiving her diploma on May 5th at 9 AM at the University of North Carolina in Asheville is 571 miles–a 9 hour and 40 minute drive, longer than I have driven in over eight years.

Yesterday, I left State College after my friend Pinki Heyn helped load the Enterprise Rental Car driven by Dawn, a new management trainee, who brought me to the rental office for the ritual filling out of the forms and paying the money. After picking up a suit (which I have not worn in 7 years), several starched shirts, and clean clothing, I left town at 5 PM and drove the astonishingly beautiful Route 99 to Route 70 to Hagerstown, site of the Battle of Antietam, the first Union victory, giving  President Lincoln the credibility required to issue the Emancipation proclamation. More on Emancipation later in the trip.

I now have traveled 158 miles of a 571 mile trip. Amelia called anxiously trying to rush me. Whose celebration does she think this is?

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Amelia in my arms before age one–the rest of the crew will be described later.

 

Last year, before reaching her current level of maturity, Amelia prepares to run with the bulls

 

 

 

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This Amigo TravelMate will take me to Amelia’s graduation (photo by Andrea Gatzke).

A Commencement Speech I Approve Of

I have been led to understand that…you are going to graduate. Well, my strong recommendation is that you don’t go. Stop! Go on back to your rooms. Unpack! There’s not much out here. Chekhov tells the story of the traveler faced with three roads… If he takes the one to the right, the wolves will eat him up. If he takes the one to the left he will eat up the wolves, and if he takes the one to the center he will eat himself up.

The point is we don’t want you out here very much. We on the outside see graduation as a terrible event–the opening of an enormous dovecote from which spring into the air tens of thousands of graduates. What is particularly disturbing is that you all come out at the same time—June—hordes, with your dark graduation cloaks darkening the earth. Why is it that you can’t be squeezed out one at a time, like peach pits, so that the society can absorb you without feeling suffocated?

My own profession is being, swamped with writers coming, out of college, despite the conditions out here that no one reads. Indeed, my friend Kurt Vonnegut was saying the other day that the only solution to ·the moribund state of publishing would be to require all of those on welfare that before receiving their welfare checks, they must hand in a book report.

So go back to your dorm rooms and stay. True, there may be some practical problem. The deans may come tapping at your door like hotel concierges wondering about checkout time. Tell the dean through the door that you don’t think you should go out into the world with a C- in Economics 10. Great damage can be caused to the economic structure, and probably already has, by Harvard men out there who earned a C– in Economics 10; you must tell the dean you don’t want to compound such a situation.

The dean will say that he needs the room for the junior who is going to become a senior–the process must go on. Tell him there’s no reason why the juniors can’t stay juniors, the sophomores, sophomores, and the freshmen, freshmen. Tell him to stop the process. Why should the process go on? The Harvard Lampoon has had, in its century of operation, 100 different editorial boards. Has it improved? Probably not. Why not keep the same one?

Besides, we are told all the time what a marvelous institution Harvard is. Benjamin DeMott once likened Harvard to the continent of Europe: “Either you’ve been there or you haven’t,” And you’ll all remember the Boston dowager who said of a nephew: “He doesn’t go to college, he goes to Brown.” Why do they tell us such things if they don’t want us to stay? So tell them you’re convinced. You’ve decided to stay. You’re not going to budge.

After a while the dean will go away. Deans always go away. They go away to ponder things. They will assume that your parents will finally force the issue. They’ll want you home. But I am not so sure. I have the sense that parents would rather not know what’s being sent home to them these days from the college–not unlike receiving  a mysterious, package tied with hemp, addressed in rather queasy lettering from Dutch Gularia.

They’d much rather you stay here. When a mother is asked about her son at the country-club dance she can always say: “Why John’s off at Harvard.” There’s something quite grand about that certainly compared to: ”Well, the last time I saw him he was throwing a frisbee in the backyard.”

If your parents insist you pack up and come home, there are always measures. If you’re chemistry major, tell them that you’ve become very attached to something in a vat of formaldehyde. If you’re in pre-law, tell them that you’re thinking of bringing home a tort. Your parents will probably have forgotten what a tort is, if they ever knew, and it sounds so unpleasant–something that your Mom wouldn’t want to have stepping suddenly out of a hall closet. Surely, there is hardly an academic field of one’s choice which does not have a nightmare possibility with which to force one’s parents to pony up enough to allow nearly a decade of contemplation in one’s room.

You’ll remember the King in Alice in Wonderland. When asked: “Where shall I begin?” the King says, “Begin at the beginning and go on until you come to the end; then stop.” What I am suggesting is that you stop at the beginning, stop at your commencement. It’s not very interesting to stop at the end–l mean everyone does that. So stop now. Tell them you won’t go. Go back to your rooms. Unpack!

–George Plimpton, Harvard University, June 1977

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The reason we moved to North Carolina, where my daughters graduated from its fine public university, is that Kathleen Atwater, then manager of Northern Telecom’s technical writing, hired me, moved my family to Durham, and arranged for the company to buy our DC home if we could not sell it.

[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Peterson_(author) “…In 2003, he was convicted of murdering his second wife, Kathleen …” Alava shalom. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honorifics_for_the_dead_in_Judaism

זיכרונה לברכה
zikhronah livrakha of blessed memory.]

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 The party is over, but I linger on in Asheville after everybody left.

The graduation was on Saturday. On Saturday at 5:15 PM we had a celebratory dinner at a classy Spanish restaurant. Asheville becomes more charming every day. On Sunday morning, my sister Sarah Schmerler, her husband Uncle Robert Simonson, and my 10.5 year-old nephew Asher left to return to Brooklyn, NY. Also that morning I had breakfast with my former wife Diana Bass, my elder daughter Joanna and her friend Jade Phillips, and Amelia. Joanna and Jade left to the airport to fly to Los Angeles where Jade’s mother lives, before…Diana drives off to her home in Durham. Amelia lingers an extra day and morning and is now with her mother camping on the Outer Shores of NC. Wonderful ferry ride. wonderful world.

And I returned to the Extended Stay Hotel here in Asheville at Kenilworth Knoll where the helpful staff help me with my disability gadgets. Here is Extended Stay Wendy helping with a light-weight wheel chair I am experimenting with.

 

 

As I pack my car to leave North Carolina, I TEMPORARILY interrupt this posting using this photo of Amelia and me in the Spanish restaurant in Asheville celebrating her graduation on graduation day. Think of this as not only an ending but a beginning for me to write more.

 

The End. REALLY.

Somethings naturally come to an End. The countdown to Amelia’s graduation from college has come to an end. She graduated a week ago today. This posting is mostly over. Yes, there are details to be taken care of such as the deep skinny on Graduation Meal celebrations 1-4.

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As I write this from Marion, VA still miles away from home at the Budget Inn (not affiliated with anything) across the tertiary road from the beautiful Walker Mountains, the details of the end have not been codified. Last night, for example, I was invited to join the Moose. Come next month’s check, I plan to join the Smyth County Moose chapter where I had friend okra for dinner last evening. My Moose card will get me in any Moose hall in the country.

–Joel Solkoff