Aphorisms by Shalom Freedman

Shalom Freedman has loved aphorisms all his life, and cites some auspicious sources of inspiration in the Jewish wisdom tradition. “The one book which is aphoristic in flavor which struck me earliest on is Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers),” he says. “Also, I return and read again and again in Ecclesiastes (’Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.’)” He is the author of Life as Creation: A Jewish Way of Thinking about the World (Jason Aronson Inc., 1993). His more recent aphoristic inspirations include Lincoln, Kafka, and Borges. “Aphorisms in their density connect in my mind with a certain kind of poetry,” Mr. Freedman says. “Getting there firstest with the mostest meaning.” Here are some of Mr. Freedman’s firstests with the mostests:

‘Virtual’ immortality is now guaranteed to all of us. But no one really knows for how long.

There are just so many things a person can effectively do at one time, probably no more than one.

Atheists are usually not content with denying the existence of God. They feel compelled to prove how much they hate Him.

The purposeless pleasure of endless play is the pointless paradise of meaningless mankind.

The infinite future is more frightening than the finite past.

We are so small we are not even noise for most of the universe.

Aphorisms by the Covert Comic

The Covert Comic, a.k.a. John Alejandro King, has been subverting and perverting the course of justice for … well, I’m not sure for how long, really, but most likely for a very long time, indeed. Trouble is, there’s very little bio on the Covert Comic since he works deep undercover and so much of his derring-do and daring-don’ts are, quite understandably, classified. What can be said with a reasonable degree of confidence is that he offers very funny bumper stickers for sale on his website:

Can I not pay attention and just be outraged all the time?


The real F-word is ‘future.’

“Apply these stickers to the bumpers of CIA or FBI counterintelligence officers’ cars, heavily traveled streets in Georgetown, cubicles at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the back of Air Force One, etc.,” he urges. His aphorisms are pretty amusing, too. To wit:

America is a pot that’s melting.

All things being equal, you’d never need to use this cliché.

All bedfellows are strange.

More Aphorisms by Lori Ellison

You may remember Lori Ellison from a previous posting of her aphorisms here, in October of  2007. In addition to being an aphorist, she is an artist, voracious consumer of aphorists’ biographies, and lifetime devotee of independent bookstores, one of her current haunts being Spoonbill & Sugartown in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Here is a selection of recent work, beginning with a timely reflection on matters economic:

Creative accounting is the oxymoron that ate the global economy.

There comes a time when having painted oneself into an intensely personal corner makes for some very good paintings.

Pleasures are things that we take, whereas joy is in moments that we are given.

Most people go to soothsayers in hopes of hearing something soothing.

Falling on one’s face periodically and frequently is preferable to spending life nodding one’s head like a bobble toy in the back of an automobile.

Eccentricity is a more local, vernacular, and benevolent form of notoriety.

Art now is made with much exercise and little vitality.

More Aphorisms by Daniel Liebert

You may remember Daniel Liebert from a previous posting of his aphorisms here, in August of 2007. (Also, see pages 292–293 of Geary’s Guide.) Mr. Liebert is still aphorizing, and still exploring that rich vein of wry, occasionally wistful observation that makes for cutting yet oddly comforting aphorisms. Mr. Liebert has been a stand-up comedian and joke-writer (His most famous line: JESUS IS COMING—LOOK BUSY); now, he writes poems and aphorisms. A selection of recent work:

Cynics taste life, spit it out and die of hunger.

Rugs aren’t beaten clean, but until one’s arms are tired.

Good wine makes good vinegar.

Once pain has used up all our suffering, it’s just pain.

A rind of cheese tastes best with a heel of bread.

Aphorisms by Patrick Hunt

Patrick Hunt is an archaeologist, writer, composer, poet, art historian—and damn fine aphorist. Directeor of Stanford’s Alpine Archaeology Project since 1994, he has conducted archaeological research in Peru on Inca sites and on Olmec, Maya and Aztec cultures in Central America. Since 1996, he has led annual teams across at least ten Alpine passes in search of topographic clues to Hannibal’s trek across the Alps in 218 BCE with an army accompanied by elephants. He has a knack for making discoveries: In 1996, he found the 9,000-foot-high quarry for the Temple of Jupiter in the Fenetre de Ferret pass adjacent to the Great St. Bernard Pass, and he directed a team that found a Roman silver coin hoard in the Swiss Alps in 2003. His aphorisms come from several different books, including Faust (1982), Proverbs (1989), and The Laws of Nature(2000):

A clever fool falls headfirst.

God makes wings, man makes chains.

Even stars cast shadows.

The devil will always tell a little truth in order to promote a bigger lie.

Humans have stomachs twice the size of their brains and three times the size of their hearts.

Dogs bark, foxes don’t.

Nature always balances the treasured and the toxic in metal deposition: gold comes with mercury, silver with lead and copper with arsenic.

The tragedy of Beauty is its brevity.

Aphorisms from the Sun Valley Writer’s Conference

Riding the ski lift up the side of Bald Mountain in Idaho is a pretty exhilarating experience, especially in August when there are no skiers, just the occasional mountain-bikers, with their cycles hung on the lift chairs kind of like the roasted ducks you see in the windows of Chinese restaurants. Below are the steep slopes of the mountain; occasionally, you spot some deer, grazing with lowered heads in the fields like shoppers browsing through the lowest shelves of a used bookstore. At the summit, some 9,000 feet up, the Sawtooth Mountains surround you; the view, and the thinner atmosphere, take your breath away.

My family and I were there to attend the The Sun Valley Writer’s Conference, one of the world’s most amazing literary events. The author talks—by writers including W.S. Merwin, Ted Kooser, Maira Kalman, David Macaulay, Alberto Manguel, Robert Caro, Ethan Canin, and more—were as breathtaking as the landscape. And the conference attendees, who had come from all over the U.S. for five days of workshops and lectures, were equally amazing—completely engaged and utterly engaging. I did a workshop on ‘how to write aphorisms’ as well as an edition of my Juggling Aphorisms show. Here are some of the aphorisms I picked up from participants…

From attendee Rochelle Ginsburg:

Don’t wait to reach the light at the end of the tunnel; light up the tunnel.

From SVWC patron Tom Smith, who picked these up from a friend whose husband originated them:

You don’t get what you expect; you get what you inspect.

If something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.

From Alberto Manguel, author of A History of Reading and The Library at Night:

With the Internet, we have all the facts at our fingertips but we need to know where to put our finger.

Every library has a much, much vaster censored library.

Alberto Manguel also shared an aphorism by Borges:

Writers write what they can; readers read what they want.

From Patrick Hunt, archaeologist and author of Ten Discoveries that Rewrote History:

Even stars cast shadows.

Alberto Manguel also told a wonderful story about someone who found an obscure book in a library and noted that he was the very first person to check it out, even though the book had been in the library’s collection for decades. When he pointed this out to the librarian, the librarian said: “But, of course, sir, we bought it for you.”

Aphorisms by Leonid S. Sukhorukov

Leonid Sukhorukov first fell in love with aphorisms, he says, when he heard them from his father and mother in early childhood. “I noticed even at that time that there was a great shortage of shortness in this world,” he recalls. “Unconsciously, I was drawn to any short, witty and sharp phrase. It was as though it was God given.” A native of Ukraine, Sukhorukov has had a diverse career, working variously as a cybernetics researcher, university professor, composer, and host of Ukraine’s first disco TV show. During Soviet rule, he penned sketches for weekly political satire magazines. He has also served, with pride, as the vice-president of the International Association of Professional Bureaucrats, an organization that skewers bureaucracy in all its forms.

When he was a mere ten years old, he coined his first aphorism:

I shall always believe in immortality … as long as I live!

His parents, of course, immediately wrote it down.

Sukhorukov practices the ’spontaneous combustion’ method of aphorism composition. “Time after time, I have such Heaven-sent flashes, which I try always to note down even on the metro or bus, or during lessons, lectures at the university, and lots of other places.” His cites his aphoristic ancestors as authors like Cicero, Tolstoy, Stendhal, G.K. Chesterton, and Stanislaw Jerzy Lec. “But top of my list,” he says, “will always be the genius of Oscar Wilde.”

Here is a selection of Sukhorukov’s aphorisms, from his most recent book All About Everything and other  publications:

Life’s obstacles are God’s chance to clarify your intentions.

Obstacles create opportunities.

Virtue is the public face of vice.

A mask is prepared to face anything.

Prejudices are habits that have lost track of time.

Worry is fear in a cul-de-sac.

The future tricks us with false hopes, the past with false memories.

Some marriages give bachelors a master’s degree.

In love, we are poets; in marriage, we are philosophers.

No matter how long you teach a fool, he still knows everything.

History can’t be changed but it can easily be re-written.

Democracy opens mouths but does not fill them.