"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Good Intentions

Sunrise ~ A New Day
photo taken by Gerry McCartney ~ 22 January 2014

There's no time like January for good intentions. Hearing that phrase reminds me, every time, of the opening parable in The Joy Luck Club about the mother who wanted to bring her daughter a swan from the old country. To her consternation, the swan is seized at customs and she's left with only a single feather to represent her good intentions, her robust hopes reduced to a mere wisp: "For a long time now the woman had wanted to give her daughter the single swan feather and tell her, 'This feather may look worthless, but it comes from afar and carries with it all my good intentions,'" (17).

With each new year, it's good to replenish our optimism and dream big, or as American songwriter Woody Guthrie -- named after Woodrow Wilson -- wrote, dream good!

[Click on notebook for a better view!]

Even printed so neatly by Woody -- and enlarged as much as possible by blogspot -- it's not easy to read this photograph, so here in boldface is Woody Guthri's New Year's Resolution List, 1942:

1. Work more and better
2. Work by a schedule
3. Wash teeth if any
4. Shave
5. Take bath
6. Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk
7. Drink very scant if any
8. Write a song a day
9. Wear clean clothes — look good
10. Shine shoes
11. Change socks
12. Change bed cloths often
13. Read lots good books
14. Listen to radio a lot
15. Learn people better
16. Keep rancho clean
17. Dont get lonesome
18. Stay glad
19. Keep hoping machine running
20. Dream good
21. Bank all extra money
22. Save dough
23. Have company but dont waste time
24. Send Mary and kids money
25. Play and sing good
26. Dance better
27. Help win war — beat fascism
28. Love mama
29. Love papa
30. Love Pete
31. Love everybody
32. Make up your mind
33. Wake up and fight

A few years before Guthrie's list, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald -- named after Francis Scott Key -- compiled a list of directives for his daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, who was eleven years old at the time. Some have seen Fitzgerald's list as fantastic advice whereas others suggest he should have spared his little girl all this terrible advice and, instead, heeded it himself:

Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship

Things not to worry about:

Don't worry about popular opinion
Don't worry about dolls

[What is Fitzgerald saying? With all due respect, I must object!
Dolls are definitely worth worrying about!]

Don't worry about the past
Don't worry about the future
Don't worry about growing up
Don't worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don't worry about triumph
Don't worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don't worry about mosquitoes
Don't worry about flies
Don't worry about insects in general
Don't worry about parents
Don't worry about boys
Don't worry about disappointments
Don't worry about pleasures
Don't worry about satisfactions
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?

How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries
in regard to:
(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people
and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument
or am I neglecting it?

What makes Fitzgerald's fatherly advice of 1933 especially interesting -- in addition to its applicability to his own disposition -- is reading it along side the "Schedule" that he wrote on behalf of his character, Jay Gatsby, in 1925. After Gatsby's funeral, his father, Mr. Gatz sadly shares with Nick Carraway his most treasured keepsake of his son, " . . . a ragged old copy of a book called Hopalong Cassidy":

"Look here, this is a book he had when he was a boy. It just shows you.”

He opened it at the back cover and turned it around for me to see. On the last fly-leaf was printed the word Schedule, and the date September 12, 1906, and underneath:

Rise from bed................ 6.00 a.m
Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling...... 6.15-6.30 ”
Study electricity, etc. ........... 7.15-8.15 ”
Work..................... 8.30-4.30 p.m
Baseball and sports............. 4.30-5.00 ”
Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it 5.00-6.00 ”
Study needed inventions........... 7.00-9.00 ”


No wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable]
No more smoking or chewing
Bath every other day
Read one improving book or magazine per week
Save $5.00 {crossed out} $3.00 per week
Be better to parents

“I come across this book by accident,” said the old man. “It just shows you, don’t it?”

“It just shows you.”

“Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he’s got about improving his mind? He was always great for that. He told me I et like a hog once, and I beat him for it.”

He was reluctant to close the book, reading each item aloud and then looking eagerly at me. I think he rather expected me to copy down the list for my own use. (173 - 74)

The fatherly pride of Mr. Gatz and the earnestness of sixteen - year - old Gatsby's self - improvement list is heart - breaking, knowing as we do the failure of Gatsby's dream, but his resolve is admirable.

More light - hearted, but equally intense in its own way, is the schedule made by Oskar's friend Klepp in The Tin Drum, written in 1959 by Nobel prize winner Gunter Grass:

"Klepp often spends hours drawing up schedules. . . . This year again Klepp has spent more than two weeks trying to schedule his activities. . . . I looked through his handiwork, there was nothing very new about it:

breakfast at ten;
contemplation until lunchtime;
after lunch a nap (one hour),
then coffee, in bed if transportation was available;
flute playing in bed (one hour);
get up;
play bagpipes while marching round the room (one hour);
more bagpipes out in the courtyard (half an hour).

Next came a two - hour period, spend every other day over
beer and blood sausage and the alternate day at the movies;
in either case, before the movies or over the beer,
discreet propaganda for the illegal Communist Party of Germany,
not to exceed half an hour, mustn't overdo it.

Three nights a week to be send playing dance music at the Unicorn;
on Saturday, beer and propaganda transferred to the evening,
afternoon reserved for a bath and massage in Grunstrasse,
followed by hygiene with girl (three - quarters of an hour)at the "U9,"
then with the same girl and her girl friend coffee and cake at Schwab's,
a shave and if necessary a haircut just before the barber's closing time;
quick to the Photomaton;
then beer, blood sausage, Party propaganda, and relaxation."

I admired Klepp's carefully custom - made schedule, asked him for a copy and inquired what he did to fill in occasional gaps. "Sleep, or think of the Party," he replied after the briefest reflection." (pp 72 - 3)

Contemplation until lunchtime. Very important! I love that! Another favorite is the typical day of a typical student as set forth in Flann O'Brien's comic metafiction, At Swim Two Birds, written in 1939 (and humorously described by my friend Professor Leonard Orr as "a valuable self-help book in the guise of a novel"):

While I was engaged in the spare - time literary activities of which the preceding and following pages may be cited as more or less typical examples, I was leading a life of a dull but not uncomfortable character. The following approximate schedule of my quotidian activities may be of some interest to the lay reader:

Nature of daily regime or curriculum: Nine-thirty a.m.
rise, wash, shave and proceed to breakfast; this on the insistence of my uncle, who was accustomed to regard himself as the sun of his household, recalling all things to wakefulness on his own rising.

10.30. Return to bedroom.

12.00. Go, weather permitting, to College, there conducting light conversation on diverse topics with friends, or with acquaintances of a casual character.

2.00 p.m. Go home for lunch.

3.00. Return to bedroom. Engage in spare - time literary activity,
or read.

6.00. Have tea in company with my uncle, attending in a perfunctory manner to the replies required by his talk.

7.00. Return to bedroom and rest in darkness.

8.00. Continue resting or meet acquaintances in open thoroughfares or places of public resort.

11.00. Return to bedroom."
(p 212)

A similar life of spare - time literary activity (my favorite!) is led, apparently, by the two students, Giles and Jesse, in John Galsworthy's 1906 novel, The Man of Property (Book One of the Forsyte Saga):

"These two, Giles and Jesse, were so alike and so inseparable that they were known as the Dromios. They never talked, and seemed always completely occupied in doing nothing. It was popularly supposed that they were cramming for an important examination. They walked without hats for long hours in the Gardens attached to their house, books in their hands, a fox-terrier at their heels, never saying a word, and smoking all the time. Every morning, about fifty yards apart, they trotted down Campden Hill on two lean hacks, with legs as long as their own, and every morning about an hour later, still fifty yards apart, they cantered up again. Every evening, wherever they had dined, they might be observed about half-past ten, leaning over the balustrade of the Alhambra promenade.

"They were never seen otherwise than together; in this way passing their lives, apparently perfectly content."
(found in Part III, Chapter 24, "Mrs. Macander's Evidence" p 232; in some editions, p 297).

Even more frivolous than the daily routine of the Dromios is that of the The Lethargarians, Inhabitants of the Doldrums, in The Phantom Tollbooth, one of those novels for kids of all ages, written in 1961 by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer:

"Well, if you can't laugh or think, what can you do?" asked Milo.

"Anything as long as it's nothing, and everything as long as it isn't anything," explained another. "There's lots to do; we have a very busy schedule --

"At 8 o'clock we get up, and then we spend

"From 8 to 9 daydreaming.

"From 9 to 9:30 we take our early midmorning nap.

"From 9:30 to 10:30 we dawdle and delay.

"From 10:30 to 11:30 we take our late early morning nap.

"From ll:00 to 12:00 we bide our time and then eat lunch.

"From l:00 to 2:00 we linger and loiter.

"From 2:00 to 2:30 we take our early afternoon nap.

"From 2:30 to 3:30 we put off for tomorrow what we could have done today.

"From 3:30 to 4:00 we take our early late afternoon nap.

"From 4:00 to 5:00 we loaf and lounge until dinner.

"From 6:00 to 7:00 we dillydally.

"From 7:00 to 8:00 we take our early evening nap, and then for an hour before we go to bed at 9:00 we waste time.

"As you can see, that leaves almost no time for brooding, lagging, plodding, or procrastinating, and if we stopped to think or laugh, we'd never get nothing done."

"You mean you'd never get anything done," corrected Milo.

"We don't want to get anything done," snapped another angrily; "we want to get nothing done, and we can do that without your help."

"You see," continued another in a more conciliatory tone, "it's really quite strenuous doing nothing all day, so once a week we take a holiday and go nowhere, which was just where we were going when you came along. Would you care to join us?"
(pp 26 - 7)

No matter how silly or eccentric, each of these schedules offers some truth toward an ordered existence. From Guthrie's determination, to Fitzgerald's didacticism and Gatsby's zeal; from Klepp's obsessions to the students' self - absorption and the Lethargarians' inverse industry, there is an attention to detail and a quest to fill each hour that heightens our own self - awareness as we organize our good intentions for the remainder of the New Year.

Another Sunrise photo by Gerry McCartney
Early Morning View of Navy Pier as seen from
Northwestern University Arthur Rubloff Building / School of Law,
downtown Chicago ~ 30 November 2012

Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, February 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

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