Archive for July, 2015

Three Short Ones

Three Short ones

by Ruth Minshull

Webster provides at least a dozen definitions of the word intelligence. The first two are: the faculty of understanding and the capacity to know or apprehend.
Curiously, the definitions all suggest a completely passive quality. They are not about doing. One religion, in fact, uses the word to describe sort of a disembodied universal spirit.
Intelligence by definition has nothing to do with living. It just hangs out.
A high IQ. means that a person remembers data, is fairly well acquainted with the language and can figure out a few test problems.
Among Mensa members (who have demonstrated that they are good at doing IQ. tests) I’ve seen a complete cross-section of people. There are the very rich, the penniless, and everything in between, the well-known (Isaac Azimov, for instance) and the unknown, the achievers and the laggards, the talkative and seriously introverted, the God-fearing, the agnostics, the atheists, democrats, republicans, libertarians, the grousers and the people-pleasers, the gays, the straights, the liberals and the conservatives, the interesting and the crashing bores, the nice folks and that other kind.
They can all read and learn and remember data. Some have practical intelligence and some would have to organize a committee to change a light bulb.
To me, the strangest aspect of intelligence as defined is that it has nothing whatever to do with living life.
So what good is it?
We can sit back and feel superior to people with less intelligence. We can carp and criticize and strut and preen. But so what?
I have known people who would not burn up the pages on IQ tests, but they know how to live a good life.
To me that is a better test than anything else: how well do we live our life? Do we spend more time smiling or scowling? Are we able to put our anger, our grudges, our disappointments behind us? Are we able to keep learning and changing? Are we doing the work we enjoy? (If not, perhaps we should change jobs–or learn to enjoy the work we do.) Is our overall attitude about life one of disappointment or one of fulfillment? To me, whether or not we score well is not nearly as important as whether we live well. Our intelligence is merely another tool.
We are sculptors waving our chisels in the air–useless tools, unless we use them to carve out a satisfying life.


by Ruth Minshull

I believe that each person has an image of himself that he carries around in his head and, to a large extent, it influences his behavior.
My best friend, for instance, is an outrageous being and, very often, behaves accordingly.
Personally, I’m a frivolous being. The dictionary says that frivolous means “lacking in seriousness or sense; silly. Of little worth or importance; trivial.”
I’ve never thought that I was of little worth (who does?) but I don’t attach a lot of importance or seriousness to life. So basically, I try to regard things in a frivolous manner. I try to move away and look at things from a distance. Everything seems less intense that way.
Have you ever watched the activity around the an ant hill? You wonder “What’s all this scurrying about? These guys are so frantic, they’re going to get an ulcer if they don’t slow down a little.”
To me, the opposite of frivolous is stressed out. Obviously a person in that condition is taking it all too seriously.
I don’t always remember that I’m a Frivolous Being, but after suffering a lapse, I try to get back in the right frame of mind.
A Frivolous Being does not: 1) worry about money, 2) worry about what the neighbors think, 3) get on the scales every day and adjust eating accordingly, 4) take life too seriously.
In fact, frivolity is basically a war against seriousness.
When I want to know whether something is right or wrong I ask myself whether people are happy about it or serious. Running, for instance. Running is serious. Have you ever seen a runner smile? Health nuts are serious. Very religious people are serious.
It may not be possible to become totally frivolous, but it’s a worthy goal.


by Ruth Minshull

When you have known someone for well over thirty years and you see that person almost daily, there are bound to be occasions when you don’t get along perfectly.
So it is with Ed and me. We’ve been friends so long that it’s hard to remember when we didn’t know each other. Generally, I would say, we have one of the smoothest relationships alive.
However, there have been certain times when we have disagreed more or less seriously. Such disputes have never lasted too long. They have ranged all the way from serious differences to rather superficial natterings. Quite often they have veered off into what we call creative fighting. This usually happens while we’re preparing dinner. Not because of our activities in the kitchen, but because–like most creatures–we get mean when we’re hungry. One of us will snap at the other, the other will snap back. And we’re off.
Pretty soon we’re exchanging nasty remarks. At the next level of argument, we become creatively nasty. Usually, when we’re on a roll, we end up laughing–as do any spectators around.
Anyway, we’ve never taken our squabbles too seriously. Offhand, I can’t even remember most of the things we ever argued about. They must have had no lasting importance.
One snappy exchange, however, has remained in my mind for years. I had a new cleaning woman coming, so the evening before I was picking up things around the house and putting them away. I guess I asked him to help, or to take away something of his. In what I thought was a rather snide manner, he said, “Oh, you’re cleaning the house for the cleaning woman, huh?”
This annoyed me so much that I lashed out at him. “I’m putting things away because I want the place neat as well as clean. Since she doesn’t know where anything belongs, I don’t want to spend a week trying to find everything again. I’m not cleaning the house, and I resent your using such a goddamn cliché on me.”
He looked stricken–as if I had smashed him in the face. And it was the last time he ever made fun of me for tidying up.
As I thought about it later, I was a little surprised. In the spirit of an argument, I had denounced him countless ways over the years. There were moments of cruelty, but my words were usually just rubber balls that bounced off him leaving no bruises. Why did this rumpus affect him so strongly?
Later I realized why–and I’ve never forgotten it. I could have accused him of being a slob, a bigot, a bum, a clod. I probably have. But they all rolled right on by, leaving him unscathed and unchanged. But accusing him of using a cliché–this crushed him.
It was then that I knew–no matter how much he protested, no matter how long it took for him to take full advantage of it–he had the soul of a writer.
Because nothing would cut more deeply into the thin skin of a writer than to be charged with the creation of a cliché.

(c) 2015 Ruth Minshull

Read Full Post »