Pippa’s Song

The year’s at the spring
       And day’s at the morn;
       Morning’s at seven;
       The hillside’s dew-pearled;
       The lark’s on the wing;
       The snail’s on the thorn:
       God’s in His heaven—
       All’s right with the world!
—Robert Browning, “Pippa’s Song” from his verse play “Pippa Passes”

Robert Browning‘s long poem, “Pippa Passes,” published in 1841, is a verse drama, which means it was not written with the intention of any person staging a performance of it, and life ever since has fulfilled that lack of intention. The poem-as-play has not been performed by any notable theater company in more than a century. “Pippa Passes” is remembered for two things. Well, three things.

For one, it is remembered for not being remembered, for not living on in culture’s memory at all, even though at the time critics were quick to count it among Browning’s masterworks. Also, it is remembered because Browning accidentally used a vulgarity in it because he thought the slang word he used referred to a part of a nun’s habit. This was pointed out to him in his lifetime, and even though he made emendations in 1849 and 1863, he chose not to correct the one glaring one, and insisted that if he did not know it was a vulgarity, how was it a vulgarity?

Last, one line from it, a single line, lives on to this day as an expression we might hear more than once every day: “God’s in His heaven/All’s right with the world.” Young Pippa sings it.

(Shall I discuss the vulgarity below the fold?)
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How to Be a Successful Success

A Bronze level “Jim Rohn 1-Year Success Plan” is $179, a Silver is $299, and a Gold is $499. A subscription to Success Magazine, a Jim Rohn publication, is about $35 for a year. Who was Jim Rohn?

Rohn was one of a long line of American entrepreneurs who sold plans and strategies for success and achievement and leadership in one’s field, whatever that may be. If you are a fan of Tony Robbins, you are a fan of Jim Rohn by extension. According to Robbins, Rohn was one of his mentors, and he got his start selling plans like the ones cited above. (I am agnostic on the topic of self-betterment entrepreneurs, but I am a believer in the grace and beauty of getting to know oneself, which is something that all successfulness sellers sell.)

Rohn died in 2009 at age 79 and left behind a self-improvement business empire. He also left us with many quotes, such as, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” And, “Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems; wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenges; wish for more wisdom.” And, “Don’t join an easy crowd. You won’t grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform and achieve are high.” And, “Success is what you attract by the person you become.” And last, “The ultimate expression of life is not a paycheck. The ultimate expression of life is not a Mercedes. The ultimate expression of life is not a million dollars or a bank account or a home. The ultimate expression of life is living a good life.” (Apparently Rohn was a big believer in the rule of three.)
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‘Day by day’: Rare Disease Day 2015

“Day-by-day, hand-in-hand.” Today, February 28, is International Rare Disease Day, and “Day by day, hand in hand” is this year’s slogan. As slogans go, “#TheDress” might have received more attention today, but tomorrow the world will not remember this week’s Twitter trends and millions of people will still be living day by day with rare diseases.

Rare Disease Day was first established in 2008 by EURODIS, the European Rare Disease Organization. In 2009, the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) in the United States joined the effort to educate the public. This year’s theme is “Living with a Rare Disease.” Some rare diseases are life-shortening, and even kill in infancy. All of them are life-altering.

Once upon a time, rare diseases were called “orphan diseases,” and, really, neither term alone quite conveys the concept. One rare disease may affect only a few individuals, making it something that is rarely seen; diseases and conditions that affect just a few people are sometimes viewed as research dead ends, “orphans” in drug and treatment research. The medical industry wants to aid the greatest number of people, and research money is hard to win for research into a condition that affects only a few thousand individuals.

Rare is not so rare, however. There are about 6000 rare diseases that are officially recognized as such; since each one affects (by definition) fewer than but up to 200,000 people per condition, some researchers estimate that 300 million people around the globe have a rare disease. That is about one in 25 people on the planet.

If you visit a restaurant tonight or go see a movie, a couple of us with a rare disease are hanging out with you. Hello.
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Tales of Derring-Don’t

“Take my advice—I’m not using it.” I can tell you to keep calm. I might insist that you keep calm. But as someone who can introduce stress into the least stressful, sweetly innocuous, and even pleasant experiences in life, when I am confronted with the parts of life that others find truly stressful, I hunker down and find the effort deep inside myself to make them yet more stressful.

In one of my lesser achievements in the field of stress management, I gave myself a black eye while tying my shoes. These were boots with leather laces (I am not a cowboy) and such laces take a little effort to yank into position. While securing my “half-knot” on my right shoe, the length of lace in my left hand broke and I clocked myself in the right eye. At the time, I was 34 years old, not eleven.
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A Rule of Four

The Wikipedia disambiguation page for the commonplace partial phrase “rule of three” lists nine items. Actually it lists 10, the tenth not being an example of the concept of the rule of three in day-to-day life but the title of a play; it may have been added by an editor simply to amuse himself or herself. (It was not me.)

It would be a perfect example of the rule of three to have three sets of three things make up the possible definitions of the phrase; it is comic to have 10 instead.
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‘Despair has no wings …’

To be is to despair and to despair is to remember the thousand tightly missed connections and not-yet completed conversations that will reveal themselves eventually as never really begun. The Surrealists got despair, perhaps better than most. They adopted Existentialism’s finer frustrations and rendered them with comedy, joy, and horror in sometimes strange proportions.

The comedy of coincidence and the tragedy of imminent abandonment dominate their work. Everyone is always alone, and this fact is simultaneously hilarious and horrifying in Surrealist Art.

André Breton, the founder of the movement, defined Surrealism as larger than a philosophy, deeper than mere art, an example of pure reason. His definition was both narrow and enormous, and it left his fellow writers, thinkers, and artists with the notion that they either were or were not Surrealists, whether they thought they were or not. If you said you were, you probably were not. The Surrealists did not reside in a safe and amusing world interrupted by slightly sad moments and then dinner; they lived fully in a horrifying and hilarious existence that demanded full attention, especially to one’s unconscious.
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Queen of the Hudson

One of the unique things that is somehow common to many people (we are all alike in our uniqueness) is a stated belief that our hometown is no place special. We are taught to be humble, so anyplace that our humble selves hail from must be thought of as not all that special, either.

This often masks a fierce inner secret belief that one’s hometown is in fact the best place to be from and (insert name of a higher power one believes in here) please help those who chose to be born somewhere else, especially those unlucky ones born in the nearest next neighboring town. Those people are the unluckiest of all, perhaps because they were born so near to our town’s greatness but were not, which renders all the more dramatic their failure at their life’s first and easiest task: pick the right place to be born.
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Henry Beston’s Cape Cod in Winter

The photo above was taken at Nauset Beach on Cape Cod on a December afternoon in 2010; the white glaze covering the footprints is ice and snow, and the Atlantic has ice in it—some of the white caps were frozen, and the waves merely swelled them, shifted them.

Henry Beston wrote perhaps the best physical description of Cape Cod in the opening lines to his classic book “The Outermost House“: “East and ahead of the coast of North America, some thirty miles and more from the inner shores of Massachusetts, there stands in the open Atlantic the last fragment of an ancient and vanished land. For twenty miles this last and outer earth faces the ever hostile ocean in the form of a great eroded cliff of earth and clay, the undulations and levels of whose rim now stand a hundred, now a hundred and fifty feet above the tides. Worn by the breakers and the rains, and disintegrated by the wind, it still stands bold.” He depicts a heroic shoreline, a land that declares its own terms of surrender against a hostile, battering sea. Given that from the air Cape Cod resembles a single raised fist jutting into the sea, a heroic, Byronesque, cliff face is only appropriate.
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