|From the cover of How to Live by Henry Alford|
Yesterday, though, I finished the book and am so glad I did. The book is made up of interviews that Henry had with various elders, some famous and some not. The middle of the book is taken up with the drama of his mother divorcing his stepfather and moving into a retirement community. Although it was interesting, I was anxious to find out what the other books I had purchased were about, so I lay it aside with my place marked. I picked it up again yesterday and read avidly until the end.
After Henry had interviewed all these people, he tried to figure out some way to distill down the information he had gleaned from all his research and went in search of what he calls "elderisms," little bits of information that you don't understand or know about until you're old. He started asking seniors at senior centers across the country and got a few responses, with such wise sayings as, "To get a good look at yourself, take yourself far away." He ran into a cool lady at the Azusa Senior Center in California who calls herself "the funny-sayings lady." She faxed him a list of 24 thoughts and sayings, including "The second mouse gets the cheese," and "Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it." Henry was excited to find more aphorisms like these. Here's an excerpt from p. 245 of Henry's book:
I came across the website of a 75-year-old named Ashleigh Brilliant. (Yes, that's the name he was born with.) The author of such well-traveled chestnuts as "I may not be totally perfect, but parts of me are excellent," ... Brilliant lays claim to being history's only full-time professional published aphorist or — as Brilliant calls himself and the Library of Congress has cataloged him — epigrammatist. Asked once by the Wall Street Journal if Oscar Wilde or La Rochefoucauld didn't also qualify for such a claim, Brilliant commented, "They weren't full-time."I had run into some of Ashleigh's work before, since he's the one who wrote those postcards called "Pot-Shots," and I have some tucked away in my memories drawer. If you check out the link in the previous paragraph, which goes to Brilliant's website, you'll have access to all 10,000 of his copyrighted epigrams, for a price of course. Although I might be at risk of getting a phone call from him, I'm going to give you a few of the epigrammatic gems I found in Henry's book.
- My life has a superb cast, but I can't figure out the plot.
- I feel much better, now that I've given up hope.
- Life is the only game in which the object of the game is to learn the rules.
- If I can survive death, I can survive anything.
I learned that aphorisms, also known as epigrams or even elderisms, can lighten one's day immensely. The book was fun and revealing, and I did learn a lot about how wise and eccentric some old people are, and it's perfectly okay. It made feel that maybe I'm not such an odd duck; there are lots of old farts who make ME look normal!