A lesson in life’s little truths – for us and George W. | AspenTimes.com
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A lesson in life’s little truths – for us and George W.

Michael Cleverly

“Life is like a roll of toilet paper: The closer you are to the end, the quicker it goes.”My buddy Frank attributed this quote to our friend Billy. I like it because it kind of crosses the line from witticism to aphorism, aphorism being defined as a universal truth. One usually thinks of aphorisms as rolling off the tongues of people like Buddha, Jesus or Mohammed, heavy stuff in their cases. I like the idea that you don’t have to be a prophet or Ambrose Bierce or Will Rogers to do a little enlightening, and you have to agree to the truth of this statement. The downside to this little quote is that if you have the spare time and sufficient space between your ears to ponder the matter, you may well come to the conclusion that life is like a roll of toilet paper in a lot of other ways, too. Unfortunately, I seemed to fit the bill in terms of spare time and space. The good news for you is that I have no intention of sharing – you can figure this sort of thing out for yourself.Ultimately we have to take our life lessons and wisdom where we can find them. Some people – academics, intellectuals – tend to cheat a little. They actually read books about the meaning of life. Seems a little too easy to me. The rest of us have to glean what we can from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and Marvel Comics. People tend to like their cosmic truths short and sweet. No one wants to read something the length of “Gone With the Wind” just to gain a little wisdom. This is why aphorisms are popular. Apparently big truths are like a dirty book: We want to skip to the good parts.One of my longtime favorite aphorisms comes at the beginning of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Mother Night.” “You are what you pretend to be, so you’d best be careful what you pretend to be.” The story’s protagonist is an American in Nazi Germany. He pretends to be a Nazi propagandist, but he’s really a spy. By the time the war’s over, everyone who knew that he was a spy is dead; to everyone else he’s a traitor, and he ends up being treated accordingly. You might want to think about this next time you find someone actually buying your bullshit, be it good bullshit or bad bullshit. Youknow it for what it is, but to that person you are your BS.As much as we’d like to derive our wisdom from nothing longer than a one-liner, sometimes it takes a little longer and we just have to tough it out. The Czech writer Franz Kafka has always been a favorite of mine. Kafka wrote a couple of novels and a lot of short stories. Kafka wrote about frustration. In hisstory “The Hunger Artist,” Kafka suggests that in medieval Europe there were people who wandered from village to village as some kind of grim carnival. The members of the troupe had a variety of different skills, one being the hunger artist. The hunger artist would lock himself in a cage in the town square and proceed to starve himself. The villagers would reward the hunger artist by throwing coins in the cage. Presumably the longer he stayed in the cage, the greater the feat, the more people would want to throw coins. Kafka’s guy decided to become the greatest hunger artist that ever lived. He just stayed and stayed in his cage. He stayed so long that the rest of the troupe left the village without him. He and his cage stayed in the village square so long that they began to become part of the landscape, people began to ignore him, people forgot he was there. The hunger artist starved himself longer than anyone in history; he became the greatest that ever lived. At the same time, in the minds of the villagers, he ceased to exist.It might not be too terrible an idea for certain members of a certain administration to take a look at some of this material. It might be OK to find the distinction between what we actually are and what we’re pretending to be. It might be good to determine and acknowledge what the actual point is, and decide whether it’s worth it, before the process causes us to cease to exist.If you look up “aphorism” in my Random House Webster’s Dictionary, the example it gives says something about absolute power corrupting


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