Be brief, be blunt, forget: Auden’s words on self-examination

April 28, 2013   |   Author: Mike Nichols
Posted in Commentary   |   0 Comments - Add a Comment

by Mike Nichols on April 28, 2013 · 0 comments

in Commentary

W.H. Auden

W.H. Auden

W. H. Auden states in The Dyer’s Hand* that “The same rules apply to self-examination as apply to confession to a priest: be brief, be blunt, be gone. Be brief, be blunt, forget. The scrupuland** is a nasty specimen.”

At first reading, Auden seems to be directly contradicting Socrates’ famous statement, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Is that what Auden is really saying? Let’s take his statement apart to try to discern his meaning:

“Be brief, be blunt, be gone” is a well-known maxim among those Christian churches that practice confession of sins to a pastor or priest. Usually, there is a set period of time for confessions with a number of people to hear. A dawdling confession gums up the works, making others wait, and the priest tardy for later appointments.

Once the priest hears the confession, a prayer is made for forgiveness, then the sin is literally gone as if it had never been committed. Confess, pray, be forgiven. Quickly. And don’t linger.

Be brief.” Some self-examination takes place over a period of time rather than briefly. Auden is not saying to short-circuit longer self-examination, but not to prolong it unnecessarily. The “on the one hand, on the other” of a scrupulous conscience does not lead anywhere, and prolongs self-examination past the point of its being beneficial to that of being harmful.

Be blunt,” or get to the point, and don’t spare yourself. Auden seems to be saying not to avoid self-examination, but when all’s said and done, come to a resolution and move on. Being blunt, or honest, with yourself avoids many of the pitfalls of self-examination, particularly when it descends into prolonged rumination and a vague guilt.

Forget.” As mentioned, the point of confession is forgiveness, and forgiveness means sins are wiped away to a state of sinlessness in which one can literally forget that the sins have occurred. However, we are much more likely to forgive others than forgive ourselves. A scrupulous self-examination prevents forgiveness of oneself by drawing out the process without any resolution, decision or penance.

The scrupuland is a nasty specimen” disdains the one immobilized by scruples as someone who can go no further in life until those scruples are resolved. And for many, that is never, which means that the person is no good for themselves or for others.

In summary, Auden doesn’t violate Socrates’ dictum; he doesn’t say not to engage in self-examination. He does say to get to the point and avoid scrupulous equivocations, which only lead to a state in which a person is no good to themselves or to others.

* The Dyer’s Hand and other essays is a prose book by W. H. Auden, published in 1962. The book contains a selection of essays, reviews, and collections of aphorisms and notes written by Auden from the early 1950s through 1962. Many of the essays are revised versions of Auden’s lectures as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, 1956-61, and includes Auden’s inaugural lecture, “Making, Knowing and Judging.”

** The word Auden coined, “scrupuland,” apparently means one who is paralyzed by feelings of doubt or hesitation with regard to the morality or propriety of a course of action. There are two perfectly good words that he might have used instead: “scrupler,” first attested to in 1631, means one who is paralyzed by scruples. “Scrupulist,” first appearing in 1681, is one who participates in paralyzing scruples. “Scrupulant” doesn’t come along until 1938, and with the same meaning as “scrupuland.” The “-ant” is slightly more grammatically sound than “-and.”. But the way our language grows is through coined words, though “scrupuland” probably qualifies as a “nonce word,” one made up for a single occasion and not intended for general use.

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    Skiddy Drawers and Charcoal Pizza for Thanksgiving

    June 29, 2012   |   Author: Cha McCurley
    Posted in Humor, Stories & Tales   |   0 Comments - Add a Comment

    by Cha McCurley on June 29, 2012 · 0 comments

    in Humor, Stories & Tales

    Skiddy Drawers and Charcoal Pizza[They say that truth is stranger than fiction. And you can't make things like this up. Well, you haven't followed Cha McCurley around. She leads what we might call an "interesting" life. This is just one of her stories. You can look forward to many more! - ED]

    My oven was broken on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, that day when it’s plain unpatriotic not to do something Turkeyish.

    Normally I do some prep cooking in advance of the holiday but couldn’t because of the fear of flames shooting from my electric oven.

    So on Thanksgiving I had to do it all and have the holiday grub on the table by 12:30, since my husband announced that he had to leave for work at 2:30.

    Time was a-wastin’!

    As Snuffy Smith says, “Time was a-wastin’” so I got up, let the dog do her stuff, threw a pizza in the oven for my grandson Bug and my stoical husband and took a quick shower. It was pepperoni, which is Italian for turkey.

    After tossing on some clothes I scurried to the kitchen to check on the pizza. Still a lump of dough and frozen tomatoey goop.

    I had not put on any makeup or done my hair, so of course my husband’s son Chris chose that exact moment to ring the doorbell.

    I yelped hello as I dashed back into the kitchen to keep him from turning on his heel and fleeing in horror. Pizza: Beginning to resemble something edible.

    Sir Chits-a-Lot

    When the coast was clear I went back to the bathroom to make myself presentable but Chris (Sir Chits-a-Lot) was just beginning to get comfortably settled in. Every time he comes over he roosts in the bathroom for ten minutes or so. I mean really?? Is he trying to tell me something??

    I suddenly froze in my tracks when I realized my trampoline-size knickers and parachute-grade bra were laying on the closed toilet seat along with the other clothes I had taken off before showering.

    Now think about it: When you undress you take off 1) pants, 2) top, and finally, 3) unmentionables. So guess what was on the top of the heap?


    I was mortified. All I could do was utter a prayer that the skiddies weren’t showing.

    When Chris eventually came out, I couldn’t make eye contact. I mumbled something incoherent, pointed toward a bedroom and slinked away.

    Once I heard him plop his bulk into a living room chair I ducked into the bathroom and finished my so-called beautification process.

    Smoke Alarm! Pizza’s Done!

    I didn’t come out until the smoke alarm alerted me that the pizza was done.

    Instead of “resembling edible” the pizza resembled charcoal, at least around the curled-up edges. It was so dry and hard I was tempted to get the hatchet to cut it into slices.

    Nobody seemed to notice it, though. They just sat there grim-faced, tearing chunks off their blackish, withered slices and snapping their heads back to swallow. It reminded me of dogs eating peanut butter.

    I don’t know what Chris had to say when he got home, and I’m afraid to even think about it. It did take him a while to come back over, however.

    Anyway, it’s done and gone. As I often say, “It is what it is.”

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      From the Heart to the Heart

      June 20, 2012   |   Author: Cha McCurley
      Posted in Life Events   |   0 Comments - Add a Comment

      by Cha McCurley on June 20, 2012 · 0 comments

      in Life Events

      Gift of a HeartOver the years I have received many gifts that remain as meaningful today as the day they were given: My children’s and grandchildren’s drawings, dandelion bouquets from little hands, watercolor paintings and pen and ink drawings from my brothers, items passed down from my grandmothers.

      All these priceless offerings fill a special place in my heart and bring a smile – and sometimes a tear – to my eyes when they come to mind. But there is one gift that stands out among them.

      Let me tell you about it.

      Last summer my brother and I were privileged to attend a wedding in our capital city, about one hundred miles away. We have known the groom and his family since he was a small boy. He even played Little League baseball with one of my nephews.

      I felt honored to be invited when I received the elaborate hand-delivered wedding invitation. When we arrived and I saw only thirty or so other Caucasians among the thousand guests at the traditional Hindu wedding, I was more than honored – I was humbled.

      The wedding was beautiful and one of the most memorable moments of my life…

      Until last week.

      Soon after the wedding the groom’s grandparents traveled to San Francisco and up the west coast visiting relatives, returning only this spring.

      Recently the grandfather came into the office. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a red velvet box and said,”This is a present for you from me and my wife.”

      I opened the box and immediately burst into tears. Inside was a lovely silver locket with a cross on the front, enhanced with crystals. I was speechless, moved beyond words.

      This gift means so much to me because:

      ◊ The gift is a heart
      ◊ The gift is a locket
      ◊ The gift has a cross on it
      ◊ The gift has crystals on the cross

      Why is this so meaningful?

      ◊ The heart symbolizes their love for me, my love for them and God’s love for us all.
      ◊ The locket holds things that are precious to me.
      ◊ The cross is of course the symbol of Christianity. The givers respected my faith enough to give me its central symbol, even though they worship other gods.
      ◊ The gift has crystals which reflect light, as our love for God should reflect in us, and the love of the givers for me and mine for them.

      I have had many gifts during the course of my lifetime, but I can’t remember one that has touched my heart like this one.

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        Parson John Bullen’s Lizards – G.W. Harris

        June 17, 2012   |   Author: Mike Nichols
        Posted in Humor, Stories & Tales   |   0 Comments - Add a Comment

        by Mike Nichols on June 17, 2012 · 0 comments

        in Humor, Stories & Tales

        Sut Lovingood's Daddy Acting HorseToday’s post is one of the funniest stories I’ve ever read. You will meet Sut Lovingood, “an odd looking, long legged, short bodied, small headed, white haired, hog eyed, funny sort of a genius” who describes himself as “nat’ral born durn’d fool.” He delights in bedeviling the puffed up and pretentious in the north Georgia/Alabama and south Tennessee area in the 1840′s or so. He loves nothing better than telling his latest adventures to his friend George over a “hon’” of moonshine whiskey at a local doggery (sort of a backwoods dive).

        Published by George Washington Harris in 1867, “Parson John Bullen’s Lizards” is one of twenty-four stories collected in hisSut Lovingood. Yarns Spun by a “Nat’ral Born Durn’d Fool. (Click to read them all) It is a typical dialect story from what is called Old Southwest Humor, the “Southwest” being the Southern frontier that would become the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. Above is an original illustration from the book.


        AIT ($8) DULLARS REW-ARD.

        KETCH ‘IM!


        THIS kash wil be pade in korn, ur uther projuce, tu be kolected at ur about nex camp-meetin, ur thararter, by eny wun what ketches him, fur the karkus ove a sartin wun SUT LOVINGOOD, dead ur alive, ur ailin, an’ safely giv over tu the purtectin care ove Parson John Bullin, ur lef’ well tied, at Squire Mackjunkins, fur the raisin ove the devil pussonely, an’ permiskusly discumfurtin the wimen very powerful, an’ skeerin ove folks generly a heap, an’ bustin up a promisin, big warm meetin, an’ a makin the wickid larf, an’ wus, an’ wus, insultin ove the passun orful.

        Test, JEHU WETHERO.

        Sined by me,

        JOHN BULLEN, the passun.

        [click to continue…]

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          The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – Bronnie Ware: Review

          April 27, 2012   |   Author: Mike Nichols
          Posted in Review   |   0 Comments - Add a Comment

          by Mike Nichols on April 27, 2012 · 0 comments

          in Review

          The Top Five Regrets of Dying - Bronnie Ware

          Hay House - ISBN: 9781401940652

          Bronnie Ware spent many years working in palliative care, attending to the needs of the dying. Her blog post “Regrets of the Dying” lists the top five regrets of those she cared for. It was an instant success, quickly climbing to one million views, then three million, then on into the stratosphere.

          The post is simple and effective: A short introduction, the list with a few comments on each item, then a one-sentence ending.

          The list is not shocking or groundbreaking or unfamiliar. Its impact is due to each item being a thought we all have had:

          1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
          2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
          3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
          4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
          5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

          The entire post is striking for its economy and simplicity. The reader is left thoughtful and even changed.

          Unfortunately, Bronnie Ware couldn’t leave it at that. She chose to expand the one-page list into a 257-page book, The Top Five Regrets of Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. To say it is tedious is a kindness.

          Ms. Ware slogged her way through career in banking until she tossed it all to become a professional Free Spirit. After adventures in Australia, the Middle East and Europe, she landed in England sorely needing a job. A classified ad led her to her first experience with palliative care. She continued with patients in England and Australia for a number of years.

          All this is minutely related in the book, page after page. There are twenty-two chapters, with only five of them telling the stories behind the List of Regrets. The remainder is given over to autobiographical musings, angst-laden ramblings about finding the Free Spirit within her, how naughty she was violating the norms of her culture and how good it felt, and What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up.

          I have to admit that I gave up after eight chapters. It was all I could take.

          Ms Ware’s newfound career as an Author gives her the platform to exhibit her self-absorbed meanderings about her dirty underwear. My life-long career as a reader gives me the right to throw up my hands in exasperation on the way to the toilet. I felt that I had wasted a couple hours of my life in exchange for a violent fit of diarrhea.

          My advice – if you can’t discern it already – is to skip the book and read the blog article.

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            Chesticles and Squirtles: Life Lessons Learned from a Dog

            April 25, 2012   |   Author: Cha McCurley
            Posted in Exercise, Humor   |   0 Comments - Add a Comment

            by Cha McCurley on April 25, 2012 · 0 comments

            in Exercise, Humor

            Chesticles illustrated

            Chesticles illustrated. Note inappropriate pants.

            Ilearned two very valuable Life Lessons yesterday while on my daily morning walk/run with Sophie, my dog.

            FIRST OF ALL, PUT ON THE APPROPRIATE UNDERGARMENTS before leaving the house even though the dog is spinning in circles, jumping around, and has your socks in her mouth awaiting your request for them. Don’t just pick up clothing from the floor thinking “It’s ok this time. I’m in a hurry and can’t take 2 extra seconds to open the drawer that is within 12 inches of me.”

            THE WRONG FOUNDATION for “chesticles” could be disastrous. If said chesticle leaves its moorings, do not think you can corral the wandering body part while running/walking in your neighborhood.

            Chesticles: You are not invisible

            You are not invisible. Somehow the look of a middle-aged chubby woman groping herself while walking/running is somewhat disconcerting to your neighbors. It provides verification of their belief that you are the old crazy lady that sits on her porch in the navy dotted top and leopard capri pants (my favorite outfit which I am currently wearing).

            Side note: I just realized why Sophie won’t come when I call her because she is thinking “Mom,you embarrass me in that outfit. Please don’t come outside in it,please.”

            Always wear black pants while running

            SECOND LESSON LEARNED is be certain that you have taken care of all bodily functions before you leave home. While you are running don’t allow yourself the luxury of releasing a small amount of what you think is flatulence, for you could be surprised by squirtle. Always wear black pants while running. And threaten your dog with no treats if she points, laughs, and holds her nose.

            Time to gear up and tackle another public showing of my embarrassed face in the neighborhood. You know, I am getting tired of the repetition of shuffling around my neighbor, so I may just drive to another neighborhood and spread some sunshine there. Theory: The people there don’t know me!

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