Aphorisms by Olivia Dresher

“Aphorisms are like caffeinated drinks,” says Olivia Dresher. And hers definitely give you a refreshing buzz. Dresher describes her aphorisms as “often personal (“I” statements) and poetic; some are written in the form of questions. They’re colored by intuition as well as thought. I hope some of my aphorisms bring a female sensibility to the mostly-male form.” She cites Antonio Porchia (see the Guide, pp. 379–381) as one of her favorites, and his gentle, Zen-like insights are also present in Dresher’s aphorisms, too. Dresher is is a writer, publisher, anthologist, former musician, and an advocate for historic preservation. She is also a devotee of the fragment, and is founder, director, or editor (and sometimes all three) of Impassio Press (an independent literary press publishing fragmentary writing), the Life Writing Connection (an online, annotated directory of unpublished American life writings from the 20th century), and FragLit Magazine. You can read more about Olivia Dresher here, and read additional aphorisms here. Here is a small selection (Warning: contains caffeine!):

Ordinary life is like a bad novel: clichés everywhere, and no real character development.

A vacation is a cage of freedom.

Life used to be cheap because it was short. Now it’s cheap because it’s long.

Nothing lasts these days except what we throw away.

Parables by Steven Carter

Parables can often be considered aphorisms in story form. The story has to be very short, of course, in keeping with the first law of the aphorism: It Must Be Brief. But many parables consistently meet this and the other four laws: It Must Be … Definitive, Personal, Philosophical, and Have a Twist. There is a distinguished genealogy of authors who produced parables/aphorisms, as evidenced in the rich parables of the world’s religions. Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, the ancient Jewish sages were all master storytellers and master aphorists. Many Zen koans are parables, and writers like Kierkegaard and Kafka regularly used parables to get their philosophical points across. And so does Steven Carter, whom I first blogged about on July 9, 2008 (alas, a post that has disappeared from my site, most likely due to the catastrophic site failure I described here. If anyone has a live link to this post, please send it along…)

The poor teacher
The lion lay down with the lamb. The lamb said, “Teach me how to be a lion.” The lion devoured him. Then, a muffled voice: “I am waiting.”

The master and the disciple
The disciple: “Thank you, master, for your wisdom.” The master: “True humility is to refuse all compliments. Difficult to do, since the only way to be unworthy of compliments is to return them.”

The polarized King Solomon
What would wisdom seem like in a polarized universe, where plus is minus and black is white? Not so different as you and I might think!
Two women were brought before King Solomon; both lay claim to the same child; each argued eloquently on her own behalf. Solomon listened patiently, then dismissed them, saying they would have his decision the next day. The next day both women appeared, beaming in anticipation of Solomon’s judgment. He said, “It is my decree that both of you shall be cut in half to make one woman, so that the child may have its proper mother.”

The identical bald men
Two identical bald men sit down at table. Pointing to his bald pate, one says, “On me it looks good.” The other agrees, “On you it looks good.” Both are comforted.

The rope
“A poor fellow went to hang himself, but finding by chance a hidden pot containing money, flung away the rope, and went merrily home; but he that had hidden the money, when he found it had been removed by someone, hanged himself with the rope the other man had left behind.”
Don’t hide your money; invest it in the man who manufactures rope.

Aphorisms by Drew Byrne

Like Tim Daly, Drew Byrne is a practitioner of the syllogistic saying. His aphorisms have a whiff of E.M. Cioran around them, something dark and vaguely sinister around the edges. The gathering gloom is alleviated, to some extent, by a kind of bitter paradoxical humor, a final twist that raises what could be a smile or could be a grimace. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell which is which.

We all make mistakes, possibly the first one is being born.

Small people stick together, possibly to encourage each other to be smaller.

He who can still say he is confused, can also say he is getting there.

If you can only look for what your looking for, you will only find what you see.

On Rivers

A river flows under my street. A long time ago, it ran on the surface, when this place was an open field, dotted with ponds. Then, somewhere along the line, the river sank. It was diverted into pipes and submerged beneath roads and homes. We lost track of it. Now we only notice it during heavy rains, when it percolates into people’s basements or bursts its banks and bleeds into the street, turning it once more into a river. The river is still there, even though we don’t see it. It is still fleet, still flowing. And it knows exactly where it’s going.

A version of this abbreviated essay appears in the March issue of Ode.