Words I Wish I Wrote: A Collection of Writing that Inspired My Ideas


The quotations in Words I Wish I Wrote reflect the most important ideas underlying Fulghum's living and thinking. This is his evidence that, as he's gone about finding his way, he's had great companions. The confirming statements, quotes, and credos that Fulghum recorded in his journals for years are collected here, organized thematically into such chapters as Companions, God, Bene-Dictions, Contra-Dictions, Simplify, Lafter, and Believe. Each begins with Fulghum's own insightful, introductory words, followed by ...
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The quotations in Words I Wish I Wrote reflect the most important ideas underlying Fulghum's living and thinking. This is his evidence that, as he's gone about finding his way, he's had great companions. The confirming statements, quotes, and credos that Fulghum recorded in his journals for years are collected here, organized thematically into such chapters as Companions, God, Bene-Dictions, Contra-Dictions, Simplify, Lafter, 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, Marcel Proust to Beatrix Potter. Then, 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.

Unabashedly paying tribute to the writers who have helped shape his life, the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten reveals his sources. In the captivating Words I Wish I Wrote: A Collection of Writing that Inspired My Ideas, Robert Fulghum shows us, by presenting others' passages plus his own commentary, that the very American-seeming philosophy he's tapped in six bestselling titles has origins as diverse as Rilke, Hokusai and Freud, but also runs the American gamut from Tom Paine to Tom Robbins.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060175603
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/28/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 229
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Interviews & Essays

On Tuesday, November 18th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Robert Fulghum to discuss WORDS I WISH I WROTE.

Moderator: Welcome to the barnesandnoble.com Live Events Auditorium. Tonight we are pleased to welcome America's most visible philosopher, Robert Fulghum. Welcome, Mr. Robert Fulghum! Thank you for joining us online this evening. How are you?

Robert Fulghum: Extremely well. I'm just finishing up a book tour, so that is always good news.

Benson from Ancram, New York: How many of the people that you quote in this book have you actually met?

Robert Fulghum: Very few. I did recently meet Tom Robbins and Jimmy Carter, and I met Kurt Vonnegut.... That's all that comes immediately to mind, though I'm sure I met others.

Roger from New Orleans: Mr. Fulghum, I sat down last week and read through your new collection in one sitting, and it put a smile on my face. What is it about quotations that just makes them so perfect? Do you have a quotation of your own to answer my question?

Robert Fulghum: [laughs] That's why the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae tastes so good! We're pulling out the very best of what people say and think.

Valerie from Sarasota, FL: I have enjoyed all of your previous books and am proud to be a Unitarian Universalist, if you are an example of a leader in our faith. Does your newest book contain your wisdom as well as that of other wise thinkers?

Robert Fulghum: I think so. This new book is a memoir in its final form, of an intellectual, spiritual journey, one that is unfinished. I think we could say it is the best of what I know now, but I suspect ten years from now it will have changed. I might add that I saw a bumper sticker in Santa Fe two weeks ago that said, "Don't believe everything you think." I wish I had put that in the book.

Paul from Morris Plains, NJ: What are your thoughts on Jerry Garcia?

Robert Fulghum: [laughs] He is like a certain weather pattern that blew through our culture. And I quote him in my book: the words to "Ripple." I spent some memorable evenings listening to the Grateful Dead live in concert. I do like a lot of Jerry Garcia's music, and a lot of his life, for that matter.

Allison Chase from Portland, Oregon: I've always wondered: Do you write books that you feel you need to get out of your own system, or books that you feel people need to read, need at that time in their lives?

Robert Fulghum: First of all, I don't write books. I am living a life, and writing about that life is a by-product of that life. So I think of what I've done as writing one large body of work that is evidence of what's going on in my life in that particular time. And I share it as I would a letter to a friend. I am very definitely not in the guru business.

Thom C. from New York City: I would like to more fully explore Zen Buddhism, but I feel that I'd be stepping on the toes of my religion (Catholicism) in doing so. How can I expand my mind and embrace Zen without compromising my lifelong religion? I only ask because I read a lot about you and remember your experience with both Buddhism and as a Unitarian minister. Thank you.

Robert Fulghum: Let's see.... I think religion is not an either/or proposition. Thomas Merton, for example, a great Roman Catholic, looked to Buddhism and other religions for perspective on his own religion. In every religion there is a way of expressing wisdom that is a complement to one's own. Read about any religions and take what is useful and complementary for your own. I think there are many roads to the top of the mountain, but they all lead, finally, to the same place.

Xavier from U of Wisconsin (Go Badgers): How does it make you feel that the poster of ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDGERGARTEN is, like, on every college kid's wall? They sell it everywhere. Kind of ironic, being that we're spending all this cash on "learning." It makes you think about what it is we're exactly learning here.

Robert Fulghum: [laughs] I'm very happy about it. Keep in mind that we are told important things lifelong in a language we can handle at the time. These are not simple things; they are fundamental things. In kindergarten we are told, "Don't hit people -- it is not OK." In college, we study the consequences of violence in the history of humankind. It's the same concern. And so on.

Paul C. from Vermont: Why is Thoreau your "one uncommon companion"?

Robert Fulghum: Because I read him very early on, at a time when I needed to think for myself. And every time I have read him since, I find he continues to speak to that need, to think for myself. And the eyes that I read Thoreau with at 20 and the eyes I read him with at 60 are not the same eyes. I see things now that I didn't understand then.

Karen from Connecticut: Do you have a favorite book that you have written? If so, which one is it, and why?

Robert Fulghum: It is the book I am working on next, whatever that book happens to be, because it comes out of the immediate life I am living and revolves around my creativity at the moment. In some ways, books are like campfires. They are evidence that one's life is burning well. But by the time you come across a campfire, that writer is burning one someplace else. The terrible temptation is to go back and read something you wrote ten years ago and rewrite it completely, but I don't, because it is an honest statement of where that man was at that stage in his life.

The Queen from my Kingdom: Are you on tour right now? If so, what cities will you hit?

Robert Fulghum: Let's see -- I still have to go to Spokane, Washington, Vancouver, British Columbia, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and then I am done.

Franklin from Rye, NY: Do you have a favorite quote in this new book? I would imagine that a favorite from here would be the quote you cherish most in this world. Am I right?

Robert Fulghum: Well , I would say, "In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer." Albert Camus. And the second would be the quote from Walt Whitman:"Do I contradict myself? Very well -- I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes." The third one is "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?" From the Bible. Those would be the three.

Monroe from Los Angeles, CA: What draws you to the work of Dylan Thomas?

Robert Fulghum: Just the beauty of the language. And the sheer power of language when read aloud.

Karl from Darian, CT: I read that you were an IBM salesman. Is that true? How many of those IBMs do you think are tuned in right now?

Robert Fulghum: [laughs] Yes, I was an IBM salesman in Dallas, Texas, and my officemate was H. Ross Perot. I wrote the introduction to his biography. But I didn't vote for him.

Another teacher from my classroom (stayed late): What is your opinion on the current state of elementary and secondary education in America today? Cities versus rural, perhaps -- what works and what does not?

Robert Fulghum: I think education is in an appropriate state of ferment. If we ever say, "We're doing exactly what we should do, and the job is done," education is dead. The future of education depends on constructive troublemakers who keep demanding that we do better. I hope you are one of those!

Dee from Kalamazoo: Where do you do your writing -- do you have a special place that helps you to focus? Also, do you share your work with anyone before it is completed?

Robert Fulghum: I do my writing in my head, which is to say that most of the real creative work comes when I am walking around and thinking. I use the computer to report what I've been doing. But the writing goes on 24 hours a day, and within three pounds of raw meat between my ears. That is my laboratory. I show many people my work. I am writing to communicate to someone else, and I want to make sure that what I write is getting there. So as many as 200 people read a manuscript, and I rely more on the intelligence of ordinary readers than I do on the intelligence of editors. Most of what I write begins as something I tell aloud.

Jennifer from Southbury, Connecticut: I'm a sixth-grade science teacher and I often find myself reading passages from your books to my students. Some of their favorites are the contradictory notions you've mentioned in MAYBE (MAYBE NOT). I've just ordered your new book and am looking forward to sharing it with them. Is there anything in particular from the book that you think a sixth grader might appreciate hearing?

Robert Fulghum: Yes. there is a whole section in the new book called "Contradictions," and there is a whole section on laughter that a sixth grader would get, and a whole section on play as well. I write my books with a young audience in mind, and I am really pleased that you are reading them to sixth graders.

Mark from NYC: How often do you pray?

Robert Fulghum: I don't pray in a strict sense. But I do take time to sit still and meditate.

Sara from Harvard: What is your favorite children's book? Were you read to as a young child?

Robert Fulghum: THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD. I am now reading that to my grandchild. I also grew up with Bible stories, but my all-time favorite children's story is CHARLOTTE'S WEB, which is a story for a child of any age.

David Eugene Overton from Seattle, Washington: Hello, Mr. Fulghum. Did you get any ideas for new books by compiling this mosaic of inspirational quotes?

Robert Fulghum: Yes. But more specifically, I should say that in rereading many great novels, I realize now how they were constructed and why they are great. I got more ideas for techniques than anything, because I am now working on novels.

Jasper from Baltimore: I see you've had quite a few jobs. What was the best?

Robert Fulghum: [laughs] The new job I was doing at the time. Though I must say that being a rodeo cowboy at 19 was the most exciting. I met the best-looking girls then. :)

Greg from USA: What type of future do you see in store for the former Soviet Union in the next couple of years?

Robert Fulghum: I think it is scary and exciting. The possibilities of really good things are there, because the Soviet Union has huge natural resources and lots of land. I see the possibility of great difficulties, because there is no tradition of democracy. And the great question for the former Soviet Union is whether democracy can preclude the return of a single great leader for their government.

Chris from Ithaca: I hear you grew up in Waco, Texas. Can you please set the record straight on that city once and for all? I, like I suspect many of us do, have such a mixed-up view of that city.

Robert Fulghum: The Waco I grew up in was a wonderful place. The event with the Koresh commune happened well outside of Waco and had nothing to do with the character of Waco itself. It is too bad that that awful event has been linked to a very nice town. I think the name of the closest city was Elk, or Elk City, or something like that, but no one wanted to talk about the problems in Elk! [laughs] "The Great Elk Catastrophe" had problems. It would be like judging Lockerbie, Scotland, as a bad place because of the 747 that crashed there.

FulghumFan from Seattle: Hello, neighbor! Did you ever expect such notoriety?

Robert Fulghum: No. I have far more attention on my life than I ever expected, or deserve.

Victoria Sayles from Minneapolis, MN: I think it is great that you are giving away the proceeds from your books to charities. How did you get involved with Human Rights Watch, Habitat for Humanity, and all the others?

Robert Fulghum: I have long been involved in social action. I have been a minister for 40 years. I have always been involved in organizations that bring people together, as Habitat does, from a wide range of places. Or any organization that cares about human rights on a wide scale. I often say to people that I have a government job: I am a citizen. I feel obliged to do my job well.

Tameka from Boston: Did you really let students write on the walls? And do you miss teaching in a classroom setting?

Robert Fulghum: Yes. And when I visited the wall of the school ten years later, I found that the writing is all still there, even on the ceilings. I found I learned a lot about what was on students minds by letting them write. And I must say, they wrote many beautiful and provocative and funny things, even though I never told them what they should or should not write. I miss the classroom, but I think of what I am doing still as teaching, and I don't miss the regular hours! I like the hours better now. I think it is very important to understand that each one of us is a student and a teacher as long as we live. We are always learning from others, and they are always learning from us.

Rory from Florida: Hey, Robert, I have two questions for you: I am planning to write a book of commentaries very soon (I am already in the 8th grade and figured that December would be the perfect time to start). When I start writing this book, should I think of what commentaries I want to write? Do some research? What should I do? How do you overcome writer's block?

Robert Fulghum: I always say, start by writing what is most important to you, and then think about how to make that important to someone else. So start with what you most want to say, not with what you think people most want to hear.

Zed and Georgina from Hackensack, NJ: Who would you most like to meet of all the contributors to your book? Someone you never got the chance to meet.

Robert Fulghum: Camus. Albert Camus. I should add that I would like to meet all the people in the book.

Moderator: Thank you once again for joining us tonight, Mr. Fulghum. And thank you to all who participated. Mr. Fulghum, any final remarks before we go?

Robert Fulghum: I like the idea of doing this -- the questions are always fresher this way. Plus I am a Barnes & Noble stockholder. :) Goodnight.

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