Words I Wish I Wrote: A Collection of Writings that Inspired My Ideals

Words I Wish I Wrote: A Collection of Writings that Inspired My Ideals

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by Robert Fulghum
     
 

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In Words I Wish I Wrote, Robert Fulghum reveals the works of writers who have inspired him. During the past four decades he's reviewed and revised the basic principles of his philosophy many times, sometimes as an exercise in personal growth, but more often in response to individual crisis. Then at fifty, seeking a simplicity to counter the complex

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Overview

In Words I Wish I Wrote, Robert Fulghum reveals the works of writers who have inspired him. During the past four decades he's reviewed and revised the basic principles of his philosophy many times, sometimes as an exercise in personal growth, but more often in response to individual crisis. Then at fifty, seeking a simplicity to counter the complex thinking of his college years, Fulghum wrote a summary essay professing that all he really needed to know he learned in kindergarten. As he approached his sixtieth year, Fulghum became curious about what in his outlook had changed and what had endured.

On review, Fulghum explains, everything he has ever said and thought and written is transparent to him now. As hard as he has tried to speak in his own voice, much of what he's said is neither original nor unique. The best ideas are often old and are continually being revived, recycled, renewed. Wherever his search took him, Fulghum found that someone else has been there before. And more often than not, that person has chosen words Fulghum wishes he had written, using language he can't improve upon. To Fulghum, however, this isn't a discouraging realization. It's a recognition n of companionship, which is an affirming consolation.

The confirming statements, quotes, and credos that Fulghum recorded in his journals for years are collected here, representing the most important ideas underlying his living and thinking. They are organized thematically into such chapters as Companions, God, Bene-Dictions, Contra-Dictions, Simplify, and Believe. Each begins with Fulghum's own insightful, introductory words, followed by inspiring passages drawn from a diverse group of sources, from Jerry Garcia to Albert Camus, Dylan Thomas to Franz Kafka. At the end of each chapter, Fulghum offers readers his own personal commentary on the sources—where he was introduced to their words, why he returns to them again and again, and how they may change you.

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Editorial Reviews

Albert Camus
In the midst of winter, I found there was within me, an invincible summer.
Ken Kearsey
You can count on how many seeds are in the apple, but not how many apples are in the seed.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
...in the small matters trust the mind, in the large ones the heart...
Edmund Burke
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060932220
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/28/1999
Series:
Harper Perennial
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
331,213
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.54(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

What do I believe? At rock bottom—about essential things—what?
And the source of those beliefs? Where did they come from?
Roots. As a child, I was taught the Christian view of life according to the Columbus Avenue Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. In college, that view was painted over first by Thoreau, then by Plato and Socratic thinking, and later by Emerson and the Unitarians. By age twenty-one, I had things figured out for myself. So I thought.
Coincidentally, in graduate school, it was required of me to write a credo—a summary statement of my convictions. The task: Locate yourself in the total scheme of things. Where do you stand? No problem. I knew.
Forty years later, I reread that thick thesis and laugh. Polysyllabic puffery. As if the depth of the meaning depended on the length of the words. Nevertheless, the sincerity of the young craftsman is apparent, even if his sanctuary was overbuilt.
Many times in the past four decades, I've reviewed and revised my credo. Sometimes as an exercise in personal growth, more often in circumstances forced by crisis. At fifty, reaching for a simplicity to match that earlier complexity, I wrote a summary essay professing that all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. Later, I even went so far as to distill my credo into a single word: Maybe.
Now, in my sixtieth year, I'm curious about what lasts and what changes in this evolving credo. My reconsideration is well described in the words of playwright Lillian Hellman, in the introduction to her biographical reflection entitled Pentimento.
Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent.When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman's dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter "repented," changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again. That is all I mean about the people in this book. The paint has aged now and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.
To see and then see again. And what I see now as I inspect my credo quest is this quality of pentimento. This translucent layering of belief becomes a self-portrait painted in words. There is a transparency to my accumulated writing. When I look deep beneath my declarations, I see the underlying thoughts of others. As hard as I have tried to speak in my own voice, I realize now how much of what I have said is neither original nor unique. My expressions echo and imitate the statements of others. Even that realization has come to others before me as they reviewed their own conclusions. Thought is forever being revived, recycled, and renewed. The great painter Matisse put it this way: "For my part I have never avoided the influence of others. I would have considered it cowardice and a lack of sincerity toward myself."
No apology, then. No regrets. My convictions have validity for me because I have experimented with the compounds of ideas of others in the laboratory of my mind. And I've tested the results in the living out of my life. At twenty-one, I had drawn an abstract map based on the evidence of others. At sixty, I have accumulated a practical guide grounded in my own experience. At twenty-one, I could discuss transportation theory with authority. At sixty, I know which bus to catch to go where, what the fare is, and how to get back home again. It is not my bus, but I know how to use it.
Look at this line of thought from another angle. Consider these questions: If your life were made into a movie, and that movie had an appropriate sound track, and I bought a CD of the music, what kind of music would it be? What mood would it leave me in when I played it? What would I recognize? Could I dance to it?
That's a set of questions I first asked myself. I have since pestered many friends with it, generating engaging conversations. The questions necessarily impose limitations: The music must fit on a single CD—choices must be made. No defense of choice is necessary. It's assumed the selections will be idiosyncratic—combining some music in the common realm with bits and pieces of melody patched together from who knows where.
The music of the sound track of a life will not be original, but it has passed into us and left its sound in the jukebox of the mind, becoming part of us. And we will likely pass it on.
In this same spirit, I've worked back through the journals and scrapbooks I've kept since I was seventeen and have chosen the words of others that can be seen in the layers underlying my credo. As with the sound track, difficult practical choices must be made; the selections must fit in
a small book and have some useful meaning for others. Choosing is not easy.
Having said that, I'm led to a statement about choosing, written by Viktor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning. These words shape the spirit of this book. They illuminated my thinking like a lightning strike from the moment I encountered them many years ago:
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
To choose one's own way. Yes. But, in so doing, I've found that others have always been this way before me. And they have spoken of the way in words I wish I had written—in language I could not improve upon. Not a discouraging realization at all, but the recognition of great companionship, and the affirming consolation that becomes a life preserver against loneliness.

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