Friday, April 23, 2010


I was chagrined to discover some hours after I sent an email announcing my last blog post that the mailing had an erroneous subject line: it read “wallet” instead of “No Sweat.” Now, I am interested in what I call “errorology”—the understanding of how and why mistakes are made (I’m sure there’s a technical term for this, of which I’m totally unaware). Why, for instance, did a number of students one semester think that a poem by Poet A was written by Poet B?*

The explanation for my error was simple:

I usually compose my emails and other documents in Word. If you are sending multiple emails during a single on-line session, the email template will retain the address(es) of the previous recipient(s) and the previous subject line. In the case of the “wallet” email, I added everyone’s address to that of the recipient of the previous email (my daughter) but neglected to delete the previous subject line and paste the new subject, even though I had copied “No Sweat” from the body of the text itself.

My excuse for this (probably) tedious explanation is to point out that not all human actions have a meaningful connection with other actions. The placement of “wallet” as the subject of the text of “No Sweat” did not have any metaphysical or deep symbolic meaning. It was purely a screw-up. In this world, coincidences can be insignificant,** correspondences can be irrelevant, and seeming causes can have no relationship to effects.

Then again, it might be “The Normalvision Code.”


*The layout of the poetry book from page to page caused the confusion.

**Freudians in the audience, please refrain from making something of the obvious (?) female sexual symbolism of "wallet."

No Sweat

Bill Rigney, a former major-league shortstop and manager, once stated that while fans appreciated spectacular plays on the baseball field, professionals appreciated the routine. In a similar vein, Oleg Kolzig, who was the long-time number-one goaltender for the Washington Capitals hockey team, asserted that when he made a spectacular save, it was because he had been doing something wrong. If he had been in the perfect position, the stop of the puck would have been routine.

Consider the tournament golfer who has saved par on a difficult hole by sinking a spectacular putt from the edge of the green, causing the spectators to go wild. His putting feat merely covers up the fact that in his approach play he has done something wrong: perhaps a tee shot into the rough or a chip into a bunker. Compare his play to that of a competitor who has holed out a gimme three-footer for his par on that hole. He has hit the fairway, avoiding the rough and the bunkers, with accurate shots to land on the perfect spot on the green. One would hope that a few of the spectators who whooped at the first golfer’s putt would nod in appreciation of the solid, routine professionalism of the second golfer.

In my ballet days (no, not me in a tutu)—let’s amend that to ballet-going days, my favorite (male) dancer was Jacques d’Amboise of the New York City Ballet. One of the aspects of his work that I appreciated most was that no matter how difficult the task that George Balanchine laid out for him, d’Amboise seemed to accomplish it without showing us the effort involved. No “I’m going to do this grand jeté now; notice the oomph I’m putting into it.” The effortless effort was, of course, the result of hours and hours of effort in behind-the-scenes practice to make the spectacular routine.

I think it is worthwhile comparing the accomplishment of the routinizing of performance with the exertions of those needy singers and actors who beg us for our love with performances that cry out: “Look at all I’m doing for you! Look at my blood! Look at my sweat! Look at my tears!”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

For My Sins

(A blog entry in which I let some great writers do all the work)


Blanco: Theres none of us real good and none of us real bad.*
George Bernard Shaw, The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet


Hamlet: So oft it chances in particular men
That, for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As in their birth,- wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin,-
By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o'erleavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,
Their virtues else- be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo-
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault.

Shakespeare, Hamlet (I,4)


Hamlet: I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse
me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.

Hamlet (III,1)


Hamlet: My father- methinks I see my father.

Horatio: O, where, my lord?

Hamlet: In my mind's eye, Horatio.

Horatio: I saw him once. He was a goodly king.

Hamlet: He was a man, take him for all in all.
I shall not look upon his like again.



Two conclusions we can draw from the above excerpts:

Hamlet: Good my lord, will you see the players
well bestow'd? Do you hear? Let them be well us'd;
for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the
time. After your death you were better have a
bad epitaph than their ill report while you live.

Polonius: My lord, I will use them according to
their desert.

Hamlet: God's bodykins, man, much better!
Use every man after his desert, and who should
scape whipping? Use them after your own honour
and dignity. The less they deserve,
the more merit is in your bounty.

Hamlet (II,2)

Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent.

George Orwell

*Shaw never uses apostrophes.