Brilliant or Erudite?

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is DISTINCTION

Which got me to thinking about the difference in meaning between DIFFERENT and DISTINCT. It’s rather slight: in both cases Merriam-Webster uses the one to define the other.

I then hopped over to goodreads and discovered this quote:

“A man with a scant vocabulary will almost certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.”
― Henry Hazlitt, Thinking as a Science

I was intrigued by, but not totally sold on, this statement. He may be right. On the other hand, I’m sure there are people who are very intelligent who haven’t had much “book learning” and can’t explain “the subtle nuances of meaning” between different and distinct.

Here are two more words that may run parallel, but are not the same and may diverge quite a bit:
ERUDITE: having or showing knowledge that is gained by studying
BRILLIANT: distinguished by unusual mental keenness or alertness

Many times as I’ve been using knitting needles, I thought about the brilliant person who figured out how to wrap yarn around a needle and poke a second needle through, wrap more yarn around it, and actually create a fabric. How many different words did that person know?

What do you think? Is Mr Hazlitt’s statement true, or just an educated man’s understanding of knowledge and thinking?

Respect + Self-Respect

The Word of the Day Prompt this morning was RESPECT.

To me this is such an inspiring, healthy, upbeat word that I want to write something about it before my day is done.

I was thinking about a fellow Canadian we have a lot of respect for: journalist and author Conrad Black. When he writes, his articles are informative and what my husband and I consider to be a fair and sensible take on his subjects.

This evening, however, I’m thinking of one particular aspect of his life: the experiences he had during the time he was an inmate in one of Uncle Sam’s jails.

A bit of background:
Conrad Black once owned a chain of newspapers in Canada, some in the US, with shares in the Telegraph group in England and a couple of newspapers in Australia. He was living and working in the States when he was arrested and according to Google, “convicted in July 2007 on three counts of mail and wire fraud and one count of obstruction of justice”
Mr Black spent 29 months in a Florida prison before being granted bail. When his case came before the Supreme Court, the Court declared the statute under which he was convicted to be unconstitutional. Charges against him were dismissed and he returned to Canada. However, the case against him is not relevant to the direction of this post.

So what does a journalist do when he’s incarcerated? He writes about it, naturally. I read several articles he wrote while he was in prison, and one in particular has stayed with me. That’s where I want to go with this post.

While he was in prison, he just didn’t sit around writing articles. He spend a fair bit of his time teaching other prisoners to read and write — and in giving an education, he got an education. In interacting with the other prisoners, he got a better picture of the workings of the US justice system. In particular, how it works for poor, illiterate men.

Needless to say, he didn’t come away with a high regard for the education system where so many underprivileged children fall through the cracks. This isn’t always the fault of the schools; sometimes there’s just no encouragement from home — no home even. But it’s sad to see that North American schools have been abandoning the basics in favor of the fluff and passing on those who really need help. Illiteracy among Canadians born and raised and schooled here is shocking.

Mr Black, after listening to his fellow inmates, concluded that if you haven’t got the smarts to defend yourself in a court of law, your chances of being convicted are definitely higher. I’ve read a few stories about poor illiterate blacks who barely understood the proceedings being falsely convicted, especially in the South. I don’t think this is so very rare.

He also wrote that if you haven’t got a basic education so you can get a job and earn a decent wage, your chances of ending up in jail are a lot higher. And re-offending. No news there.

Which comes back to my point about respect. Respect for others comes from learning about them as real people. Self-respect, the ability to stand up and face the world, to get ahead, comes from learning, too. It’s pretty hard to keep your head above water if you don’t have a solid rock to stand on. Like basic “Readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic.”

I’ve seen this. I’ve a cousin who can’t read her bank statement or a business letter, and couldn’t begin to understand this post. Medical issues are total confusion. When her purse was stolen she didn’t report it because she’s scared of dealing with the police, in case they ask her questions she can’t understand. Lack of remedial classes and a poor home combined to hinder her schooling.

I respect Mr Black for his efforts to work with these men and to give them the basics — and the self-respect — they’d need to build a life outside the prison walls. And I respect and applaud all the folks out there who have taken the time to teach, to mentor, to work with, folks who need a helping hand. They are a mighty army, working unseen.

Which brings me to my friend Margaret’s poem. I’m using it with the confidence that if my dear friend were alive, she’d give her permission. She and her husband Milton were just such people as she describes here.

Quiet Folk
by Margaret Penner Toews

Some folks there are who, quiet, go about
Unseen, unheard, unknown
sowing kernels
digging wells
building bridges
picking stones
raising altars

…planting poignant thoughts in ordinary talk about His Presence,
…dig, and leave no signature, while others draw and drink,
…building bridges over chasms, deeply cut by hate and color, creed and prejudice
…removing stumbling stones of cruelty, indifference and scorn along the road, so those who walk in darkness will not fall
…erecting altars by their hearths, in secret closets, or on busy thoroughfares.

Quietly these folks ‘deliver cities’ (Ecclesiastes 9:14-15)
but no one knows
and no one will remember…
(most certainly not they themselves)

…Except for God…and He will never be a debtor.
He takes a leisurely eternity to give rewards.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
From her book, First A Fire
© 1993 by Margaret Penner Toews
Available from PrairieView Press

The Love of Poetry

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is CURFEW

Seeing this prompt, one might launch into the latest news in the US, but my thinking goes to that old poem, “Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight,” written by an imaginative sixteen-year-old girl from Michigan in 1867, Rose Hartwick Thorpe.

This story supposedly took place during the English War of the Roses. A young woman’s sweetheart is imprisoned for some fault and sentenced to be shot that night at the ringing of the curfew bell. Our young heroine, trusting General Cromwell will pardon him — but Cromwell may come too late — rushes to the church sexton and begs him not to ring the curfew bell.

The sexton insists on doing his duty and turns her away, so she sneaks into the bell tower and when the sexton pulls the rope to ring the bell, she declares that, “Curfew must not ring tonight,” and grasps the bell clapper. Bashed back and forth, she bravely holds on until the sexton gives up. When Cromwell arrives, hears her story and sees her injuries, his heart is touched and he pardons the young man.

This poem was one of Queen Victoria’s favorites, according to Wiki.

It may seem odd that this old poem instantly comes to me, but the penchant is genetic. I love poetry, my Mom F (nee Vance) loved poetry; apparently her mother and father enjoyed reciting long epic poems; and her Grandmother Smith likewise. My Vance uncles were keen storytellers and cousin Linda is working on her own tales, having written down most of her Dad’s stories. I don’t know if there’s actually such a thing as a poetic gene, but evidence would lean that way.

It used to be that school children were given long poems to memorize; this task was supposed to sharpen young minds. Often the verse came with a dash of humor, like this one by Anon., to sweeten the effort:

“The little boys were awfully strong
when Father was a boy.
They’d weed the cornfields all day long
when Father was a boy.
And when the day at last was o’er
they’d go and do up every chore,
Then come and beg to work some more
when Father was a boy.”

I believe young minds were improved by this exercise. Moreover, the concept in a good poem can ripple for centuries. Writers and speakers still echo the sympathetic wisdom of Bobby Burns in his poem, Ode to a Mouse:

“The best-laid plans of mice and man go oft astray
and leave us not but grief and pain for promised joy.”

The Loser Wins

Hi everyone,

The daily word prompt over at Jibber Jabber with Sue is BEGIN

I sat down awhile ago to begin, a short story, thinking I’d like to do one of these three-short-paragraph ones, and I was going to pick a quote as my inspiration. But my plans went awry and I ended up with a long, maybe soppy, tale.

Here’s the quote I chose:

“What is defeat? Nothing but education, nothing but the first step to something better.”  — Wendell Philips

And here’s the tale I wrote to illustrate it:

THE LOSER WINS

Sad.rubberduck1951
rubberduck1951 from Pixabay

“Hey, girl. Why are you looking so sad? Lost your best friend.”

Finch looked up at the teen leaning on the door frame. One of the Senior boys. She swiped at a tear. “What do you care,” she grumbled.

“No, really, you look shattered. What’s bothering you.”

She glared at him, but could see he honestly wanted to know, so she spilled her sad story. “We played baseball at recess. I hate baseball! I’m not good at it and the others all know it, so when it came time to pick teams, I was picked last. In fact, I wasn’t really picked; I just ended up on Jenia’s team because I was the only one left. She rolled her eyes like ‘Do I have to.’ Then she says, ‘Okay, come on then,’ like I was such a zero. I was, like, totally humiliated.”

“Hey, that’s tough. Some people don’t do tact. They care zip about anyone else’s feelings.”

“That’s her. Miss Always-the-Leader. Then when we played, I was so nervous I couldn’t hit anything, and the others on the team grumbled straight time about me being so slow. The teacher told them to ‘be nice,’ but they just did it when she wasn’t looking. I don’t ever wanna go back to school again.”

“I know where you’re coming from. I got the same thing when I was a twig.”

“You! But you’re a natural at baseball. I’ve seen you play and you make great hits and catches.”

“Now, yeah, but I remember singing the same song as you. Back when I was in grade school, I was the last one picked. Couldn’t run, couldn’t hit. But I really wanted to play so I joined a team playing sandlot baseball. It was misery. I was slow; I fumbled; if I hit the ball it was luck.”

Finch stared at him. “I don’t believe it. What happened!”

“I was ready to quit after the second game, but one of the dads, Bill, was acting as umpire, and he saw I was in the dumps. So after the game he came over and gave me a hug. Then he rattled off this bit of wisdom. I’ve typed it up and pasted it on my wall.”

‘What is defeat? Nothing but education, nothing but the first step to something better’.

“I got a life-lesson that day, thanks to Bill, who cared enough to help me out. He told me I wasn’t going to just drop into a game and be a star. He said, ‘If you wanna get good at baseball – or anything else in life – you gotta work at it.’ He got me and a couple of other boys to meet him a couple evenings a week at the ball park and we’d practice. He brought his young boys and met us there for a few weeks, explained the game, the moves, and worked with us. After that we went back on the team and all three of us are good players now.”

“Wow! You were lucky. Not all dads are like that.”

“I didn’t have a dad – and I needed one badly. I think he caught that. Same with the others. He did what he could to set us, and his own boys, on a better path.” He fell silent and his smile told Finch he was remembering those good times.

“And maybe you got an education today, if you take it that way.”

“Huh! So what have I learned? I’m a loser? Nobody wants me on their team?”

“You found out you can’t just jump in and be awesome. You can’t be a fast runner if you don’t regularly run. You can’t be a great hitter if you don’t regularly work at it. Have you got a friend or kid brother or sister that’ll play ball with you sometimes so you can get some practice pitching and hitting?”

“Maybe…”

“And take up running. Work at it when you have some free time and you’ll get faster. I promise you. What that dad told me back then has held true for everything I’ve tried so far. Playing ball. Good grades. Making friends. Staying out of trouble. Life isn’t going to hand it to you; you gotta work for it.”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“So don’t let today get you down. Call it an education. Do something with what you’ve learned.” He reached down to give her a hand up.

A fresh wave of courage washed over Finch. She was ready to begin again. She reached up and took his hand. “I’ll try.” She let him pull her to her feet. “Thanks a lot…for what you said…and for caring.”

“Sure. See you around.” With a quick wave he headed off.

If Finch hadn’t seen him on the senior boys’ team, she could almost have believed he was an angel.

The Cooking Adventure

Sue, over at JibberJabber, has issued a mega-challenge: to use as many words as possible from the May daily prompts. So here’s my tale, using most of them:

The Cooking Adventure

Sherry, a lively, active thirteen-year-old, was late coming home from school one day. Her mom was already home from her job at the office when Sherry walked in carrying four large books.

This surprised her mother, who’d never seen Sherry do that much reading before. “Do you have a lot of studying to do this weekend,” her mother asked, eyeing the books. “Or some essay to write?” Then she took a closer look. “Cookbooks?”

“I am going to learn to cook,” Sherry announced.

Mom looked through the stack Sherry set on the counter. “Old Time Favorites. That sounds good. Baking: The Science Behind Success. Explore Mediterranean Cuisine.” Mom’s eyebrows arched. “What brought this on?”

“I got a letter from Marlys yesterday. She said…” Sherry’s tone was frosty…”I’ve never had to anything around the house. She thinks I’m so pampered because we have a housekeeper. She says I’m just like a flower in a greenhouse: if I had to keep house or cook, I wouldn’t know where to start. Well, I’m going to show her. I’m going to create some fabulous dishes and invite her over to try them.”

“I suppose your cousin has to help a lot at home and may be a bit jealous of you, but you shouldn’t let her comments grate on you. Still, it would be good for you to learn. I’ve been so busy with work all, I just haven’t had the energy to give you cooking lessons, but I’m happy that you want to learn. I’ll give you all the support I can. I see you brought A Beginner’s Guide to Cooking. That author has made a name both as a celebrated chef and as a class instructor. I think this is an excellent book to start with.”

Sherry’s first creation was a lemon soufflĂ©. Mom showed her how to break the eggs and separate the yolks from the whites and whip the whites to stiff peaks. Sherry followed the recipe carefully and soon had the smooth batter in the pan, ready for the oven. She slid it in and turned on the timer. Mom gave her a short lesson on how to tell when the pudding was done, then went to do some laundry.

Sherry was delighted with her success thus far. She had to call her friend Heather to relate the story of her new cooking adventure. She was still on the line when the timer went and she didn’t hear it. At one point Mom rushed by and a moment later Sherry smelled something burnt.

Sherry hurried to the kitchen, but the damage was done. The soufflé had risen as it was supposed to, but now it was ruined. Sherry let out a wail of anguish

“There. You’ve just had a free cooking lesson. Distractions can spoil the best food.” Mom put an arm around her shoulder. “Don’t worry. You’ll have better luck next time. Learning to cook is a challenge, but if you stick with it and don’t give up, you may be a great chef someday.”

Prompt words used:
old, time, create, food, line, letter, relate, smooth, story
luck, free, explore, break, light, science, hurry, flower
name, short, carefully, support, book, challenge, happy