Stop all the clocks,…
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;…–W. H. Auden

* * *

EXPERT: One who usually has advanced knowledge AND skills in a field and who UNDERSTANDS technical language and information in that field.  (He or she handles THEORY and practical applications with ease.)

PROFESSIONAL (non-expert): One who has the education and the ability to read and to understand difficult and technical information in a field.  (She or he is able to handle practical information and applications with some ease.)

GENERALIST:  A person with a broad general knowledge, especially one with more than superficial knowledge in several areas and the ability to combine ideas from diverse fields.

HUMANIST: Someone trained in the humane letters of the ancient classics, who uses those skills, or studies the humanities as opposed to the sciences.

SOCIALIST: A socialist is one who believes in “socialism” yet finds it difficult to define “socialism.”  (There are “socialists,” and then there are “socialists.”)  (One who collects monthly Social [-ist] Security income checks and complains only about the amount.) 

THEORIST: One who formulates principles or assumptions into some kind of system for understanding, whether scientific or not, or who attempts to provide explanations for “wonderosities” or “events.”

REALIST: One who deals with objective data, “just the facts”; one who “sees” practicalities, using the past and the present to extrapolate for the future.

IDEALIST: One who is not usually a pragmatist/realist, but is one who cherishes noble, often “ideal” principles.  Sometimes the idealist is seen as a visionary reformer, optimist, dreamer, perfectionist, and “romantic” with lofty goals–often impracticalities. 

PLAGIARIST:  One who dishonestly presents words or thoughts of another as if they were those of the writer or the speaker himself or herself.

OPTIMIST:  Someone who always seems to believe that good things will happen, seeing the brightness of the half-full glass, most often taking a favorable view of dire situations while predicting positive outcomes. 

* * *

In 1989, at Stockholm, the 18th Congress of the Socialist International adopted a new Declaration of Principles, saying: Democratic socialism is an international movement for freedom, social justice, and solidarity.  Its goal is to achieve a peaceful world where these basic values can be enhanced and where each individual can live a meaningful life with the full development of his or her personality and talents, and with the guarantee of human and civil rights in a democratic framework of society.”  [–Wikipedia]


“We become human only on leaving Eden, mature only in realizing that childhood is over.  We come home to the fullness of our humanity only in owning and taking responsibility for present awareness as well as for the full measure of our memories and dreams.  Graceful existence integrates present, past, and future.”  –Sam Keen, To a Dancing God [1970]

Sam Keen (born 1931) is an American author, professor, and philosopher best known for his exploration of questions regarding love, life, religion, and being a man in contemporary society.  He also co-produced Faces of the Enemy, an award-winning PBS documentary; was the subject of a Bill Moyers’ television special in the early 1990s; and for 20 years served as a contributing editor at Psychology Today magazine.  [He completed his undergraduate studies at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and later completed graduate degrees at Harvard University and Princeton University.–Wikipedia]

“The story is the basic tool for the formation of identity.

“A large part of our self-concept consists of the narrative by means of which we remember and relate our past experiences.

“Human life is rendered ultimately meaningful by being incorporated into a story.

“Telling stories is functionally equivalent to belief in God.  **

“Once the individual recovers his or her history, she or he finds it is the story of every man.

“The more I know of myself, the more I recognize that nothing human is foreign to me.  In the depth of each person’s biography lies the story of all man.”

Actually, telling our story strengthens our ego:  “The very process leads the teller to become aware that he or she is a person with a unique history of triumph and tragedy, with as yet unfulfilled hopes and projects.” 

**“In exploring the significance of the metaphor of the story, I will suggest that telling stories is functionally equivalent to belief in God, and, therefore, ‘the death of God’ is best understood as modern man’s inability to believe that human life is rendered ultimately meaningful by being incorporated into a story.”  —To a Dancing God


“The sense that our nation represents a progressive rupture with the past breeds complacency about dispensing with the serious study of history, which sinks into a bog called ‘social studies.’”  –George F.  Will, “Learning from the Giants,” Newsweek (14 Sept. 1987).

George Frederick Will:  Pulitzer Prize–winning conservative political commentator.  In 1986, The Wall Street Journal called him “perhaps the most powerful journalist in America.”  He studied philosophy, politics, and economics at Magdalen College, Oxford, (BA, MA), and received MA and PhD degrees in politics from Princeton University.  He has taught at the James Madison College of Michigan State University, the University of Toronto, and at Harvard University (in 1995 and again in 1998).  He has served as editor for National Review, has written for the Washington Post, and from 1976 until 2011 he became a contributing editor for Newsweek.  (“Often combining factual reporting with conservative commentary, Will’s columns are known for their erudite vocabulary, allusions to political philosophers, and frequent references to baseball.”)  [from Wikipedia]

In 1987, the best-seller list included E.D. Hirsch Jr.’s Cultural Literacy (What Every American Needs to Know), “ a daunting assortment of information Hirsch says must be mastered before true literacy can be claimed” (says Will), and Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, “an analysis of the damage done by higher education today.”

The chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (Lynne Cheney) argued then that “inadequate teaching of history in public schools is putting at risk our national character, dissolving the sense of nationhood that is our civic glue, and threatening to condemn our nation to perpetual infancy.”

[In 1987] 2/3rds of America’s 17-year-olds could not locate the Civil War in the correct half century…  We can teach children how to think [and] “to learn things worth thinking about,” to teach them “how to understand their world [and] the events and ideas that brought it into being.”

“…the serious teaching of history and literature…the core of the liberal arts curriculum.”

“Liberal education” is “intensely useful,” but “a certain elevation above utilitarian concerns, [with] …glimpses of the good … [and] rich in examples of noble human types.”

“History [should be] properly taught, not as a smattering of dates but as a spectacle of human striving…”

“…education should be first and primarily the transmission of treasures [implying] that some things are clearly and permanently more precious than others.  …there are discoverable and teachable standards.”

“The real hubris is in thinking we can dispense with the transmission of the achievements of the giants of other generations, on whose shoulders we stand.”





“Just lather, that’s all.  You are an executioner and I am only a barber.  Each person has his own place in the scheme of things.  That’s right.  His own place.”  — from the short story  “Just Lather, That’s All” by Hernando Téllez (1908 – 1966)

Possibly the most famous work by Hernando Téllez was his short story Espuma y nada más (“Just Lather, That’s All”), a story widely read amongst American high school Spanish students.  It depicts the inner conflict of a barber who is shaving the captain of a military unit who has tracked, imprisoned, and killed some of the barber’s comrades.  The barber vacillates between thoughts of slitting the captain’s throat with his razor or giving him the expert shave for which he is known.  In the end, the barber decides he does not want to be stained in blood, but only in soap lather or “espuma y nada más.”  As the captain leaves, he reveals that he heard the barber would kill him; his visit was to see if this was true.  [Summary by Wikipedia]

I first heard about this story when I was teaching 10th grade English in Florida.  I knew nothing of it except it was a film available through the A-V Department.  “Anything I could use to keep them entertained,” I said to myself one day while I was shaving.  The 10th graders and I were having some difficulties with literature “appreciation.”  So I ordered the film.  They and I were mesmerized.  What a great film–and I had to find and read the story.  I did–again and again.

Yet aside from the literary effects of the story or the history of my classroom use of the film, the memories that audio-visual production (real film with projector!) conjured up took me back to my beginning experiences with face hair and shaving, images of laughter and love affairs with razors and shaving; remembrances of questionable pedagogical actions.  Gillette, single edge, blue blades, double edge, Mach 3 Turbo; Merkur, Wilkinson.  Words, words, words.  And Remington, not shotgun, but a 1959 Electric Roll-a Matic electric razor.

As men get older, they don’t shave as often.  If they do, it’s out of habit, not of necessity.  “Don’t hafta go ta work.”  Or when they look shaggy, or out of self-esteem–or, perhaps, guilt.  Or, possibly, old military-like discipline.  I’m one of those who don’t shave much anymore, certainly not every day, as before.  “In the day,” I used to look forward to Saturdays, for a day off–especially from shaving.  Yet how excited and eager we were “once upon a time” to be able to shave like our dads, brothers, or uncles.  Then.

Today, shaving and all it entails is such big-money business, in stores and in advertising.  Reggie Perrin was the consummate Razor Man, from reggie-perrin-bbc-martin-clunesBBC-UK: from the company always trying to out-blade the multi-blade blade.  Reggie was British comedy.  More important, who would ever have thought of a sit-com about a razor blade engineer-salesman, and his company’s Quest for the Perfect Razor Blade.  The elusive “Perfect Razor Blade”–or even The Perfect Shave, like the search for The Holy Grail or the secret of alchemy.  We men (mostly) continue our Quest, as the mythics tell us “from the beginning” (ab initio) until… 

Which brings me up to my story.  (My “beginning” early memories of collecting “stuff” includes digging through garbage in the neighborhood alleys of Chicago to find used razor blades.  Whatever possessed me to do such a thing?  [I had quite a collection of Gillette Blue Blades.  I related some of this story of collection/addiction previously:].)

During my puberty and adolescence, peach fuzz came, sprouted in the pores on my face where zits did not thrive.  As I aged, I found razor blades not kind to my bumpy face.  My Uncle Bill gave me the Remington electric in 1959 that I used through my senior year of high school, then took to college. 



(Any memory images of college shaving are non-existent, more than a blur.)  My Electric Days have included Norelco products and mini-portables–and Braun Mobile units, battery-powered, for quick touch up works, at home or office.  These have been delightful.  Thomas Edison notwithstanding, I always have come back to the lather and the razor.  I have been on the receiving end of the lather and the blade: in college, a classmate who did haircutting offered to give me a shave.  My first and last with a straight edge, though older barbers still do neck trims with straight razors, and around the ears. 

For our first Christmas after our wedding, my new bride learned–perhaps from hints I had made, or from her reading–that The Perfect Shave Tool was a Merkur (German) razor wedded to a Wilkinson Sword Blade blade (made in England).  These, with a genuine badger bristle brush and a bar of Williams Shaving Soap were my gifts under the tree in 1963. 


MERKUR RAZOR (by photobucket)

Brushes later, shaving mugs later, then Burma Shave canned lather, or Barbasol Thick and Rich (with aloe, of course)–to say nothing of a cup of Old Spice in a mug–have been used, tried, sampled (gels never were a success), and discarded.  I am a fickle shaver with lather, even trying shaving using messy (non-foaming) greasy-like cream or Noxzema.  Messy application, messy shaving, messy clean up.  (But, incidentally, a clean shave.  In spite of that, not worth the mess.)

In the past years, I have tried different razors and a combination of blades.  No Reggie Perrin blades (six or seven?), but single, twin, triple, with Atra razors, various Gillette models, the Merkur, and the Mach3 Turbo (current).  Harry’s in New York sent me a trial sample kit.  Harry’s is becoming popular, with good products and mailing.  But I just could not maneuver the blade under my nose…and around my nostril…  So No to their beautiful razor and handle and shaving cream and Blade-of-the-Month Club.  And I also do not need any Gillette Fusion!

So this story ends.  Not quite.  That film for the 10th graders.  Whatever possessed me (another possession) to bring brush and soap and razor to class and ask for a volunteer.  Was I sure of what I was doing?  (Did I care?)  I was certain that many of the peach-fuzzed boys had not yet shaved; many of the girls (I assumed then) had never seen any boy shave, or watched anyone shave, for real or in the movies (and certainly not as done in the Lather film).  Up stands Jerry Cohee, and comes to the front of the room.  “Gather round, kids,” I might have said, putting a towel around him.  I had the water and the soap ready.  In the cup, I “began to stir with the brush…and whipped up the soap” and just lathered.  I took my razor, and off they came, the hairs on his chinny, chin, chin.  Voila!  Done!  “Next?”  No Next.  Time for the bell. 

That was the end.  The last time I showed that film.  The last time I demonstrated expert shaving in the classroom.  The last time I taught 10th grade, and high school classes (moving on into a community college setting).  After all, though, it was one of those memoriesofatime never to be dismissed as trivial or insignificant.  So much surrounds it making it a great story.  And that’s it.

Telling stories about shaving isn’t as glamorous as writing about food in the movies, diets, exercise plans, building muscles in a gym, or travels to Paris, or babies’ first walkings–perhaps.  But I enjoy telling my stories about shaving.  At the same time, I have been thankful, at times, that I did not have to worry about cutting or nicking an ankle or taking a chunk out of my knee or calf, or messing with a razor in a bathtub.  I just need some hot water, a sink, a good razor and blade, and Just Lather, that’s all.


© James F. O’Neil  2016




“The greatest friend of truth is Time…” –Charles Caleb Colton [1780-1832]

Richard Gary Brautigan (1935–c. September 16, 1984) was an American novelist, poet, and short story writer.  During the 1960s, Brautigan became involved in the burgeoning San Francisco counterculture scene.  In the summer of 1961, he completed the novels A Confederate General from Big Sur and Trout Fishing in America.  When Trout Fishing in America was published in 1967, Brautigan was catapulted to international fame.  Literary critics labeled him the writer most representative of the emerging countercultural youth-movement of the late 1960s.  Also during the 1960s, Brautigan published four collections of poetry as well as another novel, In Watermelon Sugar (1968).  In the spring of 1967, he was Poet-in-Residence at the California Institute of Technology.  Later he was generally dismissed by literary critics and increasingly abandoned by his readers; then his popularity waned throughout the late 1970s and 1980s.  Brautigan’s writings are characterized by a remarkable and humorous imagination.  The permeation of inventive metaphors lent even his prose-works the feeling of poetry.  Evident also are themes of Zen Buddhism like the duality of the past and the future and the impermanence of the present.  In 1984, at age 49, Richard Brautigan had moved to Bolinas, California, where he was living alone in a large old house that he had bought with his earnings years earlier.  He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. [summarized from Wikipedia]

Some Poetry texts: Please Plant This Book (1968); The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster (1969); Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt (1970); Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork (1971)….

“Ozymandias” by English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), January 1818

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Time marches on (as if Time can march), and the desert wastelands are poeticized by Brautigan:

Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt

                —San Francisco Chronicle headline
                    June 26, 1942

Rommel is dead.
His army has joined the quicksand legions
of history where battle is always
a metal echo saluting a rusty shadow.
His tanks are gone.
How’s your ass?

So how are things in the Syrian Desert?


“A great work of art may provide us the opportunity to feel more profoundly and more generously, to perceive more fully the implications of experience, than the constricted and fragmentary conditions of life permit.”  –Louise M. Rosenblatt, Literature as Exploration (Noble, 1968)

. . .

Underlinings and Notes from A Literary Education by Joseph Epstein (Axios, 2014)

“Apart from those people trained as professional scholars or scientists, we are all finally autodidacts [self-taughts[, making our way on our own as best we can, with our real teachers being the books we happen to read.”

“…the best that any university can do is point its students in the right direction: let them know what the intellectual possibilities are and give them a taste of the best that has been thought and written in the past.”

“…literature, largely though not exclusively imaginative literature, provides the best education for a man or woman in a free society.”

“While novelists may have a plenitude of ideas, or deal with complex ideas in their work, it is rarely their ideas that are the most compelling things about their work.”

“A literary education establishes a strong taste for the endless variousness of life; it teaches how astonishing reality is–…”

“…a literary education teaches the limitation of the intellect itself, at least when applied to the great questions, problems, issues, and mysteries of life.”

“A literary education teaches that human nature is best, if always incompletely, understood through the examination of individual cases [and] those cases that…prove no rule–the unique human personality.” 

“…  [I]t provides an enhanced appreciation of the mysteries and complexities of life that reinforce the inestimable value of human liberty…”

. . .

Epstein quoting Marcel Proust: “Our intellect is not the most subtle, the most powerful, the most appropriate instrument for revealing truth.  It is life that, little by little, example by example, permits us to see that what is most important to our heart, or to our mind, is learned not by reasoning, but through other agencies.  Then it is that the intellect, observing their superiority, abdicates its control to them upon reasoned grounds and agrees to become their collaborator and lackey.”


“What we call the beginning is often the end / And to make an end is to make a beginning.  / The end is where we start from.”  –T. S. Eliot

“The past is never dead.  In fact it’s not even past.”  –William Faulkner

“…these statements express the realization that we can never access the body of the past, the physical experience that people now dead once felt in the very fiber of their bodies.  But we can also nevernot want to access that past, to think, imagine, and write our way back to an imagination of what those bodies must have felt [Walt Whitman’s referring to the Civil War dead].  Often our own past feels this way, too–we recall feeling pain or horror or terror, but it is difficult to ‘get it in the books,’  to write it so that others can experience in their bodies what we felt in ours (or so that we can once again feel what we know we once felt).  Writers often experience most keenly this notion that ‘the past is never dead’ and that we are always starting at the end.’”  [IWP © The University of Iowa 2012-2016]

MEMORIESOFATIME  are often written about past events which caused the writer to feel intensely and deeply and physically, then described in such a way emphasizing what the body felt–words being used to bring a dead past alive.

“Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.”  –Corrie Ten Boom

“Fear not for the future, weep not for the past.”  –Percy Bysshe Shelley

“There is not past, no future; everything flows in an eternal present.”  ….  “Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.” –James Joyce

“We can’t let the past be forgotten.”  –George Takei

“The destruction of the past is perhaps the greatest of all crimes.”  –Simone Weil

© James F. O’Neil 2016 

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