But I Digress . . .

The feet may try to stay on the beaten path, but the mind understands the wisdom of wandering from it.

The feet may try to stay on the beaten path,
but the mind understands the wisdom of wandering from it.

Digression, as part of oration has been around since, at least, Cicero; and as part of composition since, at least, Homer. In other words, It’s been around forever. Laurence Sterne famously said (or wrote):

“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and one cold eternal winter would reign in every page. Restore them to the writer – he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings in variety and forbids the appetite to fail.”

In that one sentence, Sterne both validated the use of digression in his Tristram Shandy and, more important, laid bare a most important essential to a good life: a life lived without digressions is, of course, impossible but it is also just those digressions that make life interesting.

This is the time of year to consider. To look forward to the new year. To make resolutions. To see where we’ve digressed from our paths, and to make corrections. Or, perhaps, to take off on a new path altogether. To discover that some digression we’ve inadvertently made is worth pursuing; is worth our effort.

No life is a straight trajectory from beginning to end. Rather it is a wandering. It is only the foolish mind that believes it controls the steady heart. (That’s putting it romantically!) Of course, it’s the mind that is always in control and it’s foolish to think otherwise. (That’s putting it more exactly.) When our minds take us off in odd directions, when we digress from our main purpose, it is often the wise, quiet part of the mind (the part of our mind often confused with our heart), that knows us best, that leads us on.

There is a time for will power, of course: for having a set goal and taking the driven path. But keep to the driven path by will power alone at your peril. You may succeed to ‘stick to it’ but at a great cost.

Life needs its digressions. Think of a digression as a little test–a proof when you return to the driven path that the path is the right one. Or think of a digression as a little holiday–a rest from the everyday. Or think of a digression as an inevitability–because it is.

A life, in fact, can be seen as a chain of diversions strung together like pearls in a necklace. Good pearls are connected and separated by small knots, tied to protect one pearl from rubbing up against another. Life is like that. We protect ourselves from thinking too much about the places where we change directions; we keep ourselves from rubbing up against our inconsistencies–because we see our changes in direction, our diversions, as bumps in the road, as wrong turns, when all along they were simply knots between the pearls in our string of life.

M L S Baisch


A sense of connection . . .

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks

“I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts,” Oliver Sacks – the “poet laureate of contemporary medicine”

Whatever else we are, we are our thoughts; and it is our thoughts that take us from one place to another–whether the place is an actual place, an emotional place, a metaphorical place, a place conjured up from memory, or a place divined to be in the future . . . there are many places, and they all reside within us. We go where we choose to go. And we do it so often, so thoughtlessly, so effortlessly most of the time that it escapes awareness: we forget that we are choosing.
Eventually, for some at least, the time comes when the internal life becomes at least as important as the external life, and that internal landscape takes on a life of it’s own. The past shapes itself into patterns, into countries; rivers run through it, and highways tend to lead one on to familiar places and back again: it is, indeed, a landscape with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts.
When, if, that time comes, there is no need to be ‘on the go’ all the time. The going becomes an internal event at least as interesting as any place one could possibly travel to in reality. The good earth becomes smaller–the garden is as interesting as foreign lands. The good life is counted in cats and chickens, beetles and frogs more than in Cadillacs and mansions, six-figure jobs and exotic vacations.
On the other hand, when that time comes, it’s not a bad thing to have had a fancy car or an exotic vacation. There is no experience, no possession, no relationship that is not precious; that can not be alchemized into something more than it was.
M L S Baisch

New Year’s Resolution: Let It Rip!


“I don’t write for children. I write and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’” Maurice Sendak, prolific illustrator and writer.

There are several things I take from his story–of course we all take what speaks to each of us personally. What most applies to me is: LET IT RIP. Most of us take far too long to do far too little. I suspect that I am one of those people. Perhaps that should be my NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION! Yes, I believe it is!

Following is his list of works (from Wikipedia). The moral of this story is, among other things, LET IT RIP. Most of us take far too long to do far too little.

Kenny’s Window (1956)
Very Far Away (1957)
The Sign on Rosie’s Door (1960)
The Nutshell Library (1962)
Alligators All Around
Chicken Soup with Rice
One Was Johnny
Where the Wild Things Are (1963)
Let’s Be Enemies (written by Janice May Udry) (1965)
Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life (1967)
In the Night Kitchen (1970)
Fantasy Sketches (1970)
Ten Little Rabbits: A Counting Book with Mino the Magician (1970)
Some Swell Pup or Are You Sure You Want a Dog? (written by Maurice Sendak & Matthew Margolis, and illustrated by Maurice Sendak) (1976)
Seven Little Monsters (1977)
Outside Over There (1981)
Caldecott and Co: Notes on Books and Pictures (an anthology of essays on children’s literature) (1988)
We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993)
Maurice Sendak’s Christmas Mystery (1995) (a box containing a book and a jigsaw puzzle)
Bumble-Ardy (2011)
My Brother’s Book (2013)

Atomics for the Millions (by Dr. Maxwell Leigh Eidinoff) (1947)
The Wonderful Farm (by Marcel Aymé) (1951)
Good Shabbos Everybody (by Robert Garvey) (1951)
A Hole is to Dig (by Ruth Krauss) (1952)
Maggie Rose: Her Birthday Christmas (by Ruth Sawyer) (1952)
A Very Special House (by Ruth Krauss) (1953)
Hurry Home, Candy (by Meindert DeJong) (1953)
The Giant Story (by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers) (1953)
I’ll Be You and You Be Me (by Ruth Krauss) (1954)
The Tin Fiddle (by Edward Tripp) (1954)
The Wheel on the School (by Meindert DeJong) (1954)
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm (by Betty MacDonald) (1954)
Charlotte and the White Horse (by Ruth Krauss) (1955)
Happy Hanukah Everybody (by Hyman Chanover and Alice Chanover) (1955)
Little Cow & the Turtle (by Meindert DeJong) (1955)
Singing Family of the Cumberlands (by Jean Ritchie) (Oxford University Press, 1955)
What Can You Do with a Shoe? (by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers) (1955, re-colored 1997)
Seven Little Stories on Big Subjects (by Gladys Baker Bond) (1955)
I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue (by Ruth Krauss) (1956)
The Birthday Party (by Ruth Krauss) (1957)
You Can’t Get There From Here (by Ogden Nash) (1957)
Little Bear (by Else Holmelund Minarik, there was also a TV series based on this series of books)
Little Bear (1957)
Somebody Else’s Nut Tree (1958)
Father Bear Comes Home (1959)
Little Bear’s Friend (1960)
Little Bear’s Visit (1961)
A Kiss for Little Bear (1968)
Along Came a Dog (by Meindert DeJong) (1958)
No Fighting, No Biting! (by Else Holmelund Minarik) (1958)
What Do You Say, Dear? (by Sesyle Joslin) (1958)
Seven Tales by H. C. Andersen (translated by Eva Le Gallienne) (1959)
The Moon Jumpers (by Janice May Udry)(1959)
Open House for Butterflies (by Ruth Krauss) (1960)
Best in Children’s Books: Volume 31 (various authors and illustrators: featuring, Windy Wash Day and Other Poems by Dorothy Aldis, illustrations by Sendak) (1960)
Dwarf Long-Nose (by Wilhelm Hauff, translated by Doris Orgel) (1960)
Best in Children’s Books: Volume 41 (various authors and illustrators: featuring, What the Good-Man Does Is Always Right by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrations by Sendak) (1961)
Let’s Be Enemies (by Janice Udry) (1961)
What Do You Do, Dear? (by Sesyle Joslin) (1961)
The Big Green Book (by Robert Graves) (1962)
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present (by Charlotte Zolotow) (1962)
The Singing Hill (by Meindert DeJong) (1962) (Harper Row)
The Griffin and the Minor Canon (by Frank R. Stockton) (1963)
How Little Lori Visited Times Square (by Amos Vogel) (1963)
She Loves Me… She Loves Me Not… (by Robert Keeshan AKA Captain Kangaroo) (1963)
McCall’s: August 1964; VOL XCI, No 11 (featuring The Young Crane by Andrejs Upits, illustrations by Sendak)
The Bee-Man of Orn (by Frank R. Stockton) (1964)
The Animal Family (by Randall Jarrell) (1965)
Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water: Two Nursery Rhymes (traditional nursery rhymes) (1965)
Lullabyes and Night Songs (by Alec Wilder, edited by William Engvick) (1965)
Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories (by Isaac Bashevis Singer) (1966)
The Golden Key (by George MacDonald) (1967)
The Bat-Poet (by Randall Jarrell) (1964)
The House of Sixty Fathers (by Meindert De Jong) (1956)
The Saturday Evening Post: May 4, 1968; 241st year, Issue no. 9 (features Yash The Chimney Sweep by Isaac Bashevis Singer)
The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm: Volumes 1 & 2 (translated by Lore Segal with four tales translated by Randall Jarrell) (1973 both volumes)
King Grisly-Beard (by Brothers Grimm) (1973)
Pleasant Fieldmouse (by Jan Wahl) (1975)
Fly by Night (by Randall Jarrell) (1976)
Mahler – Symphony No. 3, James Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – album cover artwork “What The Night Tells Me” commissioned by RCA Records (1976)
The Light Princess (by George MacDonald) (1977)
Shadrach (by Meindert Dejong) (1977)
The Big Green Book (by Robert Graves) (1978)
Nutcracker (by E.T.A. Hoffmann) (1984)
The Love for Three Oranges (The Glyndebourne Version, by Frank Corsaro based on L’Amour des Trois Oranges by Serge Prokofiev) (1984)
Circus Girl (by Jack Sendak) (1985)
In Grandpa’s House (by Philip Sendak) (1985)
The Cunning Little Vixen (by Rudolf Tesnohlidek) (1985)
Dear Mili (written by Wilhelm Grimm) (1988)
Sing a Song of Popcorn (by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers with various illustrators including Sendak) (1988)
The Big Book for Peace (various authors and illustrators, cover also by Sendak) (1990)
I Saw Esau (edited by Iona Opie and Peter Opie) (1992)
The Golden Key (by George MacDonald) (1992)
We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy: Two Nursery Rhymes with Pictures (traditional nursery rhymes) (Harper Collins) (1993)
Pierre: or, The Ambiguities: The Kraken Edition (by Herman Melville) (1995
The Miami Giant (by Arthur Yorinks) (1995)
Frank and Joey Eat Lunch (by Arthur Yorinks), also has additional illustrations by Ky Chung (1996)
Frank and Joey Go to Work (by Arthur Yorinks), also has additional illustrations by Ky Chung (1996)
Penthesilea (by Heinrich von Kleist, translated and introduced by Joel Agee) (1998) ISBN 0-06-095632-1
Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (by Ursula Nordstrom, edited by Leonard S. Marcus)
Swine Lake (by James Marshall) (1999)
Brundibár (by Tony Kushner) (2003)
Sarah’s Room (by Doris Orgel) (2003)
The Happy Rain (by Jack Sendak) (2004)
Pincus and the Pig: A Klezmer Tale (performed by the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra and narrated by Maurice Sendak) (2004)
Bears! (by Ruth Krauss) (2005)
Mommy? (by Arthur Yorinks, Sendak’s only pop-up book) (2006) ISBN 0-439-88050-5
Bumble- Ardy; Illustrated and written by Maurice Sendak (2011)
My Brother’s Book Illustrated and written by Maurice Sendak (Released posthumously, February 5, 2013)

There is a choice: creativity or productivity

Willa Cather, American author and 1923 Pulitzer Prize winner, is seen in this photo from March 1931. (AP Photo)

Willa Cather, American author and 1923 Pulitzer Prize winner, is seen in this photo from March 1931. (AP Photo)

This is the Christmas season, a time of wonder and hope, festivities and life. And it’s life that I’m interested in. It is also a season when most everyone gives some thought to the coming year–to resolutions, to thinking about life. In that spirit my mind has wandered down a path, looking back from a distance of almost 74 years. I have some thoughts on the matter of choices. If I were to live my life over, I would likely make one elemental choice differently.

Which is not to say that I have regrets or sorrows for choices made: most every choice can be turned toward a good life. And all choices bring rewards, experiences and pleasures otherwise not to be had. Still, some choices preclude other choices and, without exception, certain choices are made so early in a life as to be choosing blindly.

The following two quotes are meant to be explanatory. They say what I mean better than I could ever say it myself:

Excerpt from a letter to Willa Cather, then a journalist, from Sara Jewett, her writer/mentor friend:

“Your vivid, exciting companionship in the office must not be your audience, you must find your own quiet centre of life, and write from that to the world that holds offices, and all society, all Bohemia; the city, the country — in short, you must write to the human heart, the great consciousness that all humanity goes to make up. Otherwise what might be strength in a writer is only crudeness, and what might be insight is only observation; sentiment falls to sentimentality — you can write about life, but never write life itself. And to write and work on this level, we must live on it — we must at least recognize it and defer to it at every step. We must be ourselves, but we must be our best selves.” – Jewett

Cather, at the time, was working in an office, a journalist, earning a good sum and making a good life–but she wasn’t doing much writing. And she knew it, too: but it held her captive. This letter helped her to break from that life. Which she eventually did.

“Still, if I stopped working next summer I would have money enough to live very simply for three or four years. That would give me time to pull myself together. I doubt whether I would ever write very much — though that is hard to tell about for sure; since I was fifteen I have not had a patch of leisure six months long. When I was on a newspaper I had one month vacation a year, and when I was teaching I had two. Still, I don’t think that my pen would ever travel very fast, even along smooth roads. But I would write a little — “and save the soul besides [from Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book].” It’s so foolish to live (which is always trouble enough) and not to save your soul. It’s so foolish to lose your real pleasures for the supposed pleasures of the chase — or of the stock exchange” – Cather

There is a choice: creativity or productivity.  It’s best made before one has already committed too much to choices that prevent a clear path. For it’s true that there are lives that are duty-bound. Those are also good lives. But it is a choice often made too soon. And the other choice–creativity–may become an almost impossibility.

M L S Baisch

NOTE: Willa Sibert Cather was an American author who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, including O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Ántonia. Wikipedia
Born: December 7, 1873, Gore, VA
Full name: Wilella Sibert Cather



Christmas Stick-Horses: A Metaphor

I’ve been making these stick-horse tree-hangers for a very long time now. Somehow, even though everyone in my family has gotten tired of them, I continue to bring out my boxes of trims and sticks every year: it just doesn’t feel quite like Christmas unless i do. I see that, without noticing, I built these horses on a page of obituaries: what could that mean? Nothing sinister, I think. Rather, a reminder that life is, indeed, fleeting. It is meant for each of us to live according to our best purpose. Oh, and isn’t that hard to figure out? The daily conundrum.