The Tortoise Defined — Ambrose Bierce

“TORTOISE, n. A creature thoughtfully created to supply occasion for the following lines by the illustrious Ambat Delaso:

 

 

 

 

 

TO MY PET TORTOISE   by Ambrose Bierce

 

My friend, you are not graceful –not at all;

Your gait’s between a stagger and a sprawl.

Nor are you beautiful: your head’s a snake’s

To look at, and I do not doubt it aches.

As to your feet, they’d make an angel weep.

‘Tis true you take them in whene’er you sleep.

No, you’re not pretty, but you have, I own,

A certain firmness –mostly you’re [sic] backbone.

Firmness and strength (you have a giant’s thews)

Are virtues that the great know how to use —

I wish that they did not; yet, on the whole,

You lack –excuse my mentioning it –Soul.

So, to be candid, unreserved and true,

I’d rather you were I than I were you.

Perhaps, however, in a time to be,

When Man’s extinct, a better world may see

Your progeny in power and control,

Due to the genesis and growth of Soul.

So I salute you as a reptile grand

Predestined to regenerate the land.

Father of Possibilities, O deign

To accept the homage of a dying reign!

In the far region of the unforeknown

I dream a tortoise upon every throne.

I see an Emperor his head withdraw

Into his carapace for fear of Law;

A King who carries something else than fat,

Howe’er acceptably he carries that;

A President not strenuously bent

On punishment of audible dissent —

Who never shot (it were a vain attack)

An armed or unarmed tortoise in the back;

Subject and citizens that feel no need

To make the March of Mind a wild stampede;

All progress slow, contemplative, sedate,

And “Take your time” the word, in Church and State.

O Tortoise, ’tis a happy, happy dream,

My glorious testudineous regime!

I wish in Eden you’d brought this about

By slouching in and chasing Adam out.”

 

SOURCE:

http://www.quotesdaddy.com/quote/1187239/ambrose-bierce/tortoise-n-a-creature-thoughtfully-created-to-supply
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Perseverance Quotes

He conquers who endures.  ~Persius

via Perseverance Quotes, Inspirational Sayings on Persistence and Determination.

So often, especially in these United States, we think about victory as winning: the next great job, the next game, the bigger house and soon it’s time for the playoffs and the championship game.  Americans are proud of our military might.  World War II remains our greatest feat in battle.  Yes, we endured, surely our soldiers and citizens back home endured.  In the end as Admiral Yamamoto said, it was our industrial might and our ability to focus it, sustain it, that won the day.  We did not do it without our allies.

But when I think of endurance, I think of Britain who persevered and sacrificed, holding the fort until we got up to speed.  Britain had a very close call.  Endurance implies the ability to keep on, keeping on out of seemingly endless oppression and  suffering.  I think of Jesus toting his cross up the slope of Golgotha.  Somehow, one can’t romanticize endurance like you can the “glory” of a cavalry charge.  Poland endured. Czechoslovakia endured.  Latvia endured.  There are thousands of Syrians enduring.  The Jews endure. Sodbusters endured.  Endurance is struggling with no sign of help and relief. For a time endurance was Valley Forge.  Endurance is the mind game Sisyphus must play to continue his unending rolling of the boulder up a hill, down and up, down and up. Endurance operates when hope remains the barest dream, if that.  Endurance has no vision of trophies and laurels.  It sees no golden retirement.

So what is it that endurance conquers?  I think it is despair.

Steadfast and cautious,

The Tortoise

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The Suzuki and the Mercedes, a Fable

On a cold, winter evening a Mercedes with big, blue, Hollywood, halogen eyes pulled up behind a ’97 Suzuki X-90.  The little red Suzuki might have fit into the Mercedes’ trunk.  The street was busy at rush hour on a Friday and the light was red.  After the light changed, Mercedes in a big hurry tried and tried to pass on the two-lane street, but failed.

At the next street Mercedes still had not managed to pass when Suzuki signaled to go left and began waiting for her break between oncoming cars. She waited and she waited. Eventually Mercedes, impatient, turned right.  Suzuki finally got her chance, let out her clutch and the little red car leaped across the lane.  Suzuki thought, “I’ll bet I’ll meet that dude again.  Let’s see whose behind then.”

Sure it was, at the next street, an even busier one, Suzuki came to a stop then turned right and just as she thought would happen, from behind she saw the devastating Hollywood halogen eyes, blue and intense, eyes that diminished everyone but her own kind.  This street, too, was narrow, busy and congested.  As she thought, just up the road,  Suzuki turned finally onto the parkway, Mercedes’ destination as well.  Now on the four-lane boulevard, Mercedes came up from behind and finally sped past Suzuki.

The moral of this story is that the fable of the tortoise and hare is true  and cleverly going around the block rarely wins the race.

Steadfast and cautious,

David Milliken

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Krauthammer: Occupy Wall Streeters, a Bunch of Disaffected English Majors?

I cannot win this argument. Nevertheless and being an English major, my soul is troubled, my conscience pricked. Since the Sixties and probably even the beat generation of the Fifties, the English major has come in for some easy scapegoating. Remember the image of the beat “poet” donned in beret taking a hit of pot, then standing up extending his drooping arms in mime, saying, “I am a tree.” That was and is the stereotyped English major. Actually Krauthammer would probably extend this image to psychology, history and philosophy majors, i.e. the liberal arts contingent. I wonder if he would include political science and economics majors who as everyone knows are highly productive contributors to the GDP. Alas, the old, Seventies images of Allen Ginsberg and Paul Simon, as pied pipers and troubadours wither. That millions of successful English majors wind up in education, communications, public relations and the law lies beside Krauthammer’s point.

Krauthammer pricked my conscience because in my time I have been a bit disaffected, not from capitalism, the pursuit of success and the American Way, but rather the way many conservatives would bully our culture.  The United States without a doubt has been the most materialistically productive nation in history and in the world. Because of this we had the might to save that world from the Nazis. We’ve been trying to top our glory ever since.

And, of course, it makes sense that the absolute business of America would be business. Business dominates and towers hundreds of stories above all while it supports everything else — no question here. I am grateful for it, but not everyone is totally motivated by financial profit. Ayn Rand is not everyone’s hero.  Must we forget that the economy has sectors which include government, education and not-for-profit enterprise — all of which provide jobs?  Traditionally these three sectors have ameliorated bad times in the profit sector.  They involve millions of productive people doing necessary work out of passion and commitment.  The arts and humanities are legitimate endeavors.  People pursuing them do not expect to be rich. Right now a malaise lies over all.

I am as put off as anyone by the recent interviewee at Occupy Kansas City, when he said, “I’m looking for a job, somewhat.” His counterpart shows up at Tea Party demonstrations as well. This is a disaffection of sorts, but it is not mine. Mine admittedly, comes from what my father would have blamed on “too many books.” Truthfully I cannot say that my disaffection came from reading Marx and a bunch of French writers, Keynes or John Kenneth Galbraith. Whitman, Thoreau, Melville and Henry Miller only gave me different views of life and the human condition. My reading has been far more an effort to understand the madness than to vilify America.  And yes, at times the books have set me adrift  from moorings.

My disaffection has other sources. True, my reading of William Dean Howells’ “The Rise of Silas Lapham” affected me profoundly as did “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Fountainhead.” And I have read Hayek and Barry Goldwater. I listened to William F. Buckley on a regular basis. Pat Buchanan seems fair-minded  to me these days. Above all, I like Pat’s sense of humor — a healthier view of the absurd than the bleakness held by too many “liberals.” For years my stepmother railed against FDR and lionized John D. Rockefeller and GM. I am still unconvinced that a corporation is a “person” except in the law. I have never found large institutions affectionate.

So I majored in English to immerse myself in all that seemed to matter.  At that time it was the life of the mind — still very important to me.  I am older and hopefully wiser now. I take more time to ride my bike, tend to home maintenance and watch the passing scene. The world belongs to others now, but the beast still slouches toward “Bethlehem” as it always has. The falcon again is out of touch with the falconer. The center has lost its grip and the next best step out of this mess is an end to stereotyping in all its guises. “Somewhat interest in a job,” Occupy Wall Street and the “disaffected” English majors are an old, old story just come around again in new clothes.

Your thoughtful comments are genuinely and fervently requested.

Steadfast and cautious,

 

David Milliken

 

 

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The Tortoise and the Writer, a Fable (Corrected and Revised1/4/12)

Just around noon a tortoise and a writer met along a creek bordering a meadow.  The tortoise had felt the writer’s presence from the vibrations of heavy foot steps.  The tortoise, hidden as well as possible near rocks and bushes, quickly pulled his tail and legs into his shell and his head, too;  except that he left just enough of a gap to spy on the intruder. He noticed when the writer caught sight of him, slowed his pace and quickly acted as though he hadn’t seen the tortoise. Then the human sat on a rock, pretending to ignore the tortoise.  He began unwrapping a sandwich and opened his water bottle.   Tortoise watched, waited and determined the vibrations to be friendly.  Slowly his head, limbs and tail emerged.

“What are you eating?” said the tortoise.

“Goose liver.”

“Good, one of my forebears had a bad experience with  flying geese, you know.”

“So I’ve heard,” said the writer. ” The geese dropped him mid-air.  Splat.”

“Not very sensitive on your part, but yes, he died.  But you got the story wrong.”

“No, I know the story.  The tortoise should have kept his mouth shut even though the humans jeered and mocked him. It wasn’t the geese’s fault. The tortoise couldn’t take the ridicule. Everyone knows that.”

“He was angry, just trying to save some pride.  We have as much right to pride as any human. ”

“Why bother? There’s nothing wrong with a little humility.  It just is.  Humbling passes and besides, humility can be the start of new experience if you apply a little effort. You have to do something with humility. Humility comes before meaning.”

“That sandwich smells good.”

“You’re an herbivore.”

“You’re misinformed. Who are you anyway?”

“I’m a writer, an absurdist.”

“What does that mean?”

” An absurdist doesn’t believe life has any inherent meaning.”

“So?”

“I mean that life has no essential meaning.”

“I don’t understand you. I can’t ask such a question, let alone answer it,” responded the tortoise.  I just eat, poop, pee and procreate. I bask in sun and rain alike.  Oh, I hold on to life for dear life, but I know there’s an end.  I’ve seen tortoises die —  sad vibes when life is over,  like one day the light never comes.  In the meantime I enjoy a warm flat rock in the sun. I fight for as much of these things  as I can.”

“What do you do for meaning, Tortoise?”

“I can’t do for meaning, don’t you see.  I do for doing. I’ve tried to tell you that. I like pleasant scenes,  especially in the meadow, but that’s a risky trip to the meadow.  I go anyway.  I’m cautious in the meadow — and watchful. Good vibes give me pleasure.  Simple stuff satisfies me, but you’d have trouble sharing my vibes.  Vibes are tough to communicate to a human. We could rub each other’s neck, I suppose.”

“Maybe later.”

“I have good vibes right now — about you I mean.  Put your finger just below my head.”

“Well, okay.”  The writer put his fingers on Tortoise’s neck.  “Hmmm,  hmmmmmmmmmm!  Feels good.  I can’t get any meaning from it.”

“Isn’t feeling good enough,”  said Tortoise.  What’s this “meaning?” You got pleasure, didn’t you? I like to be stroked by a human. That’s the best I can do for you, but I don’t want to go home with you and be your pet. I like being a wild tortoise.  You’d know if I sensed you were bad, believe me.  I don’t get bad vibes from you.”

“Meaning?”

“Get off it. Bad vibes make me uncomfortable, wary, defensive.  Worse case, bad vibes would tell me if you were more interested in turning me into soup than enjoying my company.  I can be a companion, not like a dog, but I can be your friend.”

“Just pulling into your shell wouldn’t stop me from killing you.”

“Sure, you’re the dominant dude in these parts. . . Yikes! There’s more humans headed this way from up the path. I’m not getting good vibes at all.  Excuse me,  my friend,  while I sljp this mobile home into the brush here.  Keep those folks busy, okay?”  Whereupon the tortoise crawled back into  the brush. The writer rose and walked toward the strangers.

He noticed that the men  carried fish nets, clubs, fishing poles and tackle boxes. Their eyes scanned the water and creek bank.  One of them waved at him.  Quickly the writer emerged from the brush and faked fiddling with his fly and said,”Hi, men, caught me in the act of nature.  What are ya fishin’ for.”

“Catfish here in the stream and snappin’ turtles if we can find ’em.”

“Not a fisherman myself.”  He glanced carefully back at the bushes while he closed his zipper and noticed the dark, brownish rump of the tortoise mostly concealed in the bush and was amazed at how much like a rock he looked.  He walked closer to the fishers knowing they’d love to club a large tortoise.  Without being obvious he tried to obstruct their view of the tortoise posing as a rock behind him. After more pleasantries the fishers moved on.  The writer walked the opposite direction up the path, long enough for the men to disappear; and then he  returned to the tortoise.  He was still tucked inside his shell. He spoke to the tortoise, but heard no reply, nor did he come out of his shell.

For some time, perhaps an hour, the writer waited, speaking occasionally to the inert lump before him. He sat on the tortoise and felt the same vibrations as when he’d stroked his neck, only more intensely.  He thought long and deep about this accidental  event in his life.

The writer struggled in his head for the meaning of what had happened.  The vibrations from Tortoise, like a purring cat told him he was quite content. In the end the writer decided that the only meaning he could bring to this happening was the pleasure of fooling  men with  nets and clubs.  Acting to help a threatened, humble creature can be a good adventure.

David Milliken

 

 

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Email: david@thetortoisefactor.com

 

 

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“Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure” — Recommended Book

According to David Brooks (New York Time, 8/12/11), author Tim Harford’s basic lesson is that “you have to design your life to make effective use of failures. You have to design systems of trial and error . . . ”  I haven’t read it yet but the book appears to be a Tortoise kind of thing.  Anyway, I’m going to check it out. Brooks full review is at NYT (6/13/11).

 

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This weblog contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this weblog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.

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On Patience, Etc.

While I chose perseverance as the central theme of this blog, perseverance had a close rival. I suppose I chose the former because it rings more truly as action; and yet what is perseverance without the quality of patience. Both rank high in the Tortoise Philosophy. In thinking about the subject for a blog, I was tempted to make patience something that a person learns with age and experience, that somehow patience is not typical of youth Then I glanced at my muted television screen where the peloton in Le Tour de France lay a ribbon of color and rhythmic motion across the countryside of France. I thought of the years these cyclists, all twenty and thirty-somethings, had doggedly put into maintaining near-perfect physical condition. They have competed in scores of lesser tours and races all over the Western World. Patience? Near-infinite amounts of it — plus courage, perseverance, dedication, hope and faith; so, no, impatience is not specific to age.

I thought then of the patience of accountants, architects and cartographers going daily to work, most of them not managing Microsoft’s billions, designing the Pompidou Center or creating the breakthrough e-atlas. Millions of them manipulate details patiently and keep the books and prepare reports for small businesses, plan and design strip malls and revise fifty state highway maps every year. Life for most of us is a routine broken only by the birth of our children, the sports of our choice and the arts we favor. Occasionally one of us climbs Mt. Everest for the first time or wins the Tour de France or becomes a war hero. And these are our heroes whom we humbly admire and try not to envy.

Now, Mrs. Tortoise, extremely patient, is proud and loyal to her astrological sign. She doesn’t try to predict the future or plan her day with one eye on the daily horoscope, but the mythology amuses her. She’s pleased to be in the company of fellow Scorpions. Why not? Astrology bemused Carl Jung.  It bemuses Mrs. Tortoise. While she values the brains and pluck of Hillary Clinton, she also likes Hillary’s being a Scorpio. And I am bemused by my fellow Pisceans like Hamlet. I mean I have always been pre-occupied with being and not being — more than the average bloke I think. Hamlet was not noted for patience while Hillary Clinton remains a testimony to it. We have to give her kudos for tolerance and forgiveness as well. Mrs. Tortoise says the water signs are the oldest in the Zodiac, Scorpios being the most venerable, then comes Pisces and Cancers. Pisces strike her as deep thinkers while Cancers are shallow and lighter-brained. Well, all I know is that I have a great deal in common with fish, especially twins swimming first one way and then the other.

I certainly would not bet my last dollar on astrological predictions of specific outcomes in my daily life, however, often I cannot dismiss the general drift. But then, I have always believed that today’s science was yesterday’s myth. Being born of sea foam somehow seems as plausible as Immaculate Conception. I mean babies are born of “virgins” every day. But I’m getting away from the subject of patience — or am I. Hamlet had little of it. As I say, I drift.

Patience is the subject, not Hamlet, who had no patience; or Mrs. Tortoise who has lots of it. People are born with varying degrees of patience. My father and two brothers have far more than I. Dad had the engineer’s patience where respect for detail is paramount as it is for the lawyer.

Patience has grown on me with age. I made a decision the other day regarding a novel I am reading.

Belen Gopegui’s The Scale of Maps is an account of the love relationship between two geographers — speaking of detailed callings. At first I found Gopegui’s fiction baffling. I almost quit the effort, but no, I resolved to push on and at least reach a conclusion. Was I confused by the writer’s shifting point of view, the nature of contemporary Spanish fiction or just impatient? I have answers now to these questions and others. Pushing on rewarded me with discovery and pleasure in this fine work, but I had to push on. Books have often been like that for me. But I will return to this in a subsequent blog.

I have tried your patience enough today so I push off.

Steadfast, cautious et à bientôt,

The Tortoise

 

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