I hope this doesn't disappoint Mr. Price, my college English professor, who spent years schooling me in James Joyce, one of literature's great voices, but if given a test, I'd be far more adept at quoting Fulghum.
As in Robert.As in, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." That's the title of a book of pop essays that became a best seller a few years back. Joyce was probably more existential, but Fulghum pioneered the recent trend of boiling down rules for a good life into a short list.
I suppose it's in vogue to dismiss such lists as overly glib byproducts of the sound-bite age, but even Hemingway once said that his ultimate goal as a writer was to capture the world's essential truths in a single paragraph.
Fulghum's Kindergarten essay, which I chanced upon recently, is in that spirit. Among other things, it included these:
- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Don't hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- Be aware of wonder.
And on and on. Actually, not so on and on. His list had only 16 items.
Everyone doubtless has such a list in them, only as I sat down to try my own hand, a problem occurred to me. Lists like this are probably best done in pencil.
My own All I Really Know About How To Live list would have been one thing at age 22 and quite different, even contradictory, today at 42.
So maybe the best approach would be to contrast them. Here goes.
Age 22? My best guess is it would have gone this way:
- Rent, don't buy.
- Keep your horizon at six months.
- Play the field.
- If your partner gets too clingy, or needy, put wheels under her.
- The way to seize life is to overdo.
- Stretching only steals time from a good workout.
- Always try ski slopes you're not quite ready for.
- Instant gratification takes too long.
- Return from weekend escapes no earlier than 10 p.m. the night before work, preferably 7 a.m. the day of.
- Remember Bogart's line: "There's more to life than dames, like doing the right thing for a pal."
- Never eat dinner before 8 - preferably 9 or 10.
- The more the better.
- Tell your buddies about your exploits, particularly romantic.
- Sports that don't involve sweat, pain and soreness aren't real sports.
- Far better to see 5 a.m. come up after you've run with the night than greeting it by alarm clock.
- Children? Freedom is richer.
OK - same list today. Time to turn over the pencil and erase about all of the above. I'm no Fulghum, so this is not meant to compare with him - just my own more humble thoughts at 42.
- Buy, don't rent.
- Sink roots.
- Find a soulmate.
- And hang onto each other hardest of all when your bond is being tested.
- Know your limitations.
- Always stretch.
- Lift from the knees, not the back.
- Pace yourself - better to return from a weekend away on a Sunday afternoon than night.
- If you sleep in, you'll never get a complete day done.
- There's more to life than pals, like doing the right thing for a dame.
- And there's nothing wrong with eating dinner at 6. In fact, there may be a lot right with it.
- The hours between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. are usually far fuller than between midnight and 3.
- You don't have to boast about it to feel you've done it.
- Sometimes, watching the birds can be as valuable a sport, and healthy, as jogging three miles.
- Less is more.
- Own a good dog; make it your good friend.
- Freedom? Children are richer.