5 Cool Things :: Sept. 2, 2012

Life, a wise person told me, is yes and no. Fate hangs in the balance — one or zero, on or off, in or out. Live or die, eat or go hungry. No, instead of yes. Yes, instead of no. Here to weigh in are Yoko, 37 Signals, Charles Bukowski, Georg Duckwitz and Tobias Wolff. “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all,” said Ted Hughes. Agreed. Yes. Onward then. (Thanks to JP)

 1. Yes, Painting | Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono | Yes Painting

Where were you in November of 1966? (Boarding school.) Do you recall? Yoko Ono was exhibiting her Yes, Painting at the Indica Gallery of London. (To my London pals — were any of you there?) As you might be able to tell, you’d climb the ladder, use the glass, look up at a piece of paper affixed to the ceiling and you would find there, written in tiny letters, Yes.

From Yoko-

“‘YES’ was my work and John encountered it and he went up the stairs and he looked at this word that said ‘Yes.’ At the time I didn’t really think it would be taken so personally. But I don’t really connect it with John as much as I connect it with my view of life. My view of life is the fact that there were many incredible negative elements in my life, and in the world, and because of that I had to conjure up a positive attitude within me in balance to the most chaotic … and I had to balance that by activating the ‘Yes’ element. ‘Yes’ is an expression that I always carried and that I’m carrying.”

More about Yoko’s art >>


2. The Power of No at Work | 37 Signals

“It’s so easy to say yes. Yes to yet another feature, yes to an overly optimistic deadline, yes a mediocre design, yes, yes, yes. We all want to be loved.

But the love won’t keep you warm for long when you’ve taken on yet another obligation that you don’t whole-heartedly believe in. You very quickly become trapped in a pit of guilt when the stack of things you’ve said yes to loom so high that you can’t even see the things you really should be doing.

That’s not a good way to live or work. Which is why you have to start getting into the habit of saying no. No to things that just don’t fit, no to things that just aren’t the most important right now, and no to many things that simply don’t cut it.

It’s incredibly rare that I’ve actually regretted saying no, but I dread my yes’s all the time.

Use the power of no to get your priorities straight. Take the brief discomfort of confrontation up front and avoid the long regret down the line.”

Who is 37 Signals? They’re the folks who make BaseCamp and numerous other web-based collaboration tools. Started out as web designers, morphed into a smart, savvy, edgy software company. Chicago based. Visit the Signal vs. Noise blog. Read a brief, thoughtful interview with 37 Signals’ CEO, Jason Fried.


A Song for Sunday :: Wynton Kelly :: Softly As In a Morning Sunrise 

Wikipedia: Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise is a song with music by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II from the 1928 operetta The New Moon. Covered here by: Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, Paul Chambers.


3. Oh, Yes | Charles Bukowski

there are worse things than
being alone
but it often takes decades
to realize this
and most often
when you do
it’s too late
and there’s nothing worse
too late.

– Oh, Yes, Charles Bukowski


4. No | Georg Duckwitz and Denmark Say No

Denmark, 1943: A nation conspires to save the lives of 7,000 Jews.

Museet for Danmarks Frihedskamp

On September 28, 1943 one man said no. “In September 1943, the Nazis prepared for the deportation of all Danish Jews to concentration camps and death. But Georg Duckwitz, a German diplomat with a conscience, deliberately leaked the plans for the roundup, which was due to begin on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Armed with the information from Duckwitz, Danes swung into action. This is a very great — and under reported — story. You should read it >>


5. Say Yes | Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff is such a beautiful short story writer. I remember being transfixed by a collection I read long ago — In the Garden of the North American Martyrs. Gorgeous stories. As luck would have it, Wolff wrote a terrific story, Say Yes, that takes yes and no into the thicket of love and marriage in a surprising way. Worth reading and perfect for today.

Say Yes

by Tobias Wolff

{Our Story Begins | Vintage Contemporaries}

They were doing the dishes, his wife washing while he dried. He’d washed the night before. Unlike most men he knew, he really pitched in on the housework. A few months earlier he’d overheard a friend of his wife’s congratulate her on having such a considerate husband, and he thought, I try. Helping out with the dishes was a way he had of showing how considerate he was.
They talked about different things and somehow got on the subject of whether white people should marry black people. He said that all things considered, he thought it was a bad idea.
“Why?” she asked.
Sometimes his wife got this look where she pinched her brows together and bit her lower lip and stared down at something. When he saw her like this he knew he should keep his mouth shut, but he never did. Actually it made him talk more. She had that look now.
“Why?” she asked again, and stood there with her hand inside a bowl, not washing it but just holding it above the water.
“Listen,” he said, “I went to school with blacks, I’ve worked with blacks, and we’ve always gotten along just fine. I don’t need you coming along now and implying that I’m a racist.”
“I didn’t imply anything,” she said, and began washing the bowl again, turning it around in her hand as though she were shaping it. “I just don’t see what’s wrong with a white person marrying a black person, that’s all.”
“They don’t come from the same culture as we do. Listen to them sometime – they even have their own language. That’s okay with me, I like hearing them talk” – he did; for some reason it always lifted his mood – “but it’s different. A person from their culture and a person from our culture could never really know each other.”
“Like you know me?” his wife asked.
“Yes. Like I know you.”
“But if they love each other,” she said. She was washing faster now, not looking at him.
Oh boy, he thought. He said, “Don’t take my word for it. Look at the statistics. Most of those marriages break up.”
“Statistics.” She was piling dishes on the drainboard at a terrific rate, just swiping at them with the cloth. Many of them were greasy, and there were flecks of food between the tines of the forks.
“All right,” she said, “what about foreigners? I suppose you think the same thing about two foreigners getting married.”
“Yes,” he said, “as a matter of fact I do. How can you understand someone who comes from a completely different background?”
“Different,” said his wife. “Not the same, like us.”
“Yes, different,” he snapped, angry with her for resorting to this trick of repeating his words so that they sounded crass, or hypocritical. “These are dirty,” he said, and dumped all the silverware back into the sink.
The water had gone flat and gray. She stared down at it, her lips pressed tight together, then plunged her hands under the surface. “Oh!” she cried, and jumped back. She took her right hand by the wrist and held it up. Her thumb was bleeding.
“Ann, don’t move,” he said. “Stay right there.” He ran upstairs to the bathroom and rummaged in the medicine chest for alcohol, cotton, and a Band-Aid. When he came back down she was leaning against the refrigerator with her eyes closed, still holding her hand. He took the hand and dabbed at her thumb with the cotton. The bleeding had stopped. He squeezed it to see how deep the wound was and a single drop of blood welled up, trembling and bright, and fell to the floor. Over the thumb she stared at him accusingly. “It’s shallow,” he said. “Tomorrow you won’t even know it’s there.” He hoped that she appreciated how quickly he had come to her aid. He’d acted out of concern for her, with no thought of getting anything in return, but now the thought occurred to him that it would be a nice gesture on her part not to start up that conversation again, as he was tired of it. “I’ll finish up here,” he said. “You go and relax.”
“That’s okay,” she said. “I’ll dry.”
He began to wash the silverware again, giving a lot of attention to the forks.
“So,” she said, “you wouldn’t have married me if I’d been black.”
“For Christ’s sake, Ann!”
“Well, that’s what you said, didn’t you?”
“No, I did not. The whole question is ridiculous. If you had been black we probably wouldn’t even have met. You would have had your friends and I would have had mine. The only black girl I ever really knew was my partner in the debating club, and I was already going out with you by then.”
“But if we had met, and I’d been black?”
“Then you probably would have been going out with a black guy.” He picked up the rinsing nozzle and sprayed the silverware. The water was so hot that the metal darkened to pale blue, then turned silver again.
“Let’s say I wasn’t,” she said. “Let’s say I am black and unattached and we meet and fall in love.”
He glanced over at her. She was watching him and her eyes were bright. “Look,” he said, taking a reasonable tone, “this is stupid. If you were black you wouldn’t be you.” As he said this he realized it was absolutely true. There was no possible way of arguing with the fact that she would not be herself if she were black. So he said it again: “If you were black you wouldn’t be you.”
“I know,” she said, “but let’s just say.”
He took a deep breath. He had won the argument but he still felt cornered. “Say what?” he asked.
“That I’m black, but still me, and we fall in love. Will you marry me?”
He thought about it.
“Well?” she said, and stepped close to him. Her eyes were even brighter. “Will you marry me?”
“I’m thinking,” he said.
“You won’t, I can tell. You’re going to say no.”
“Since you put it that way—”
“No more considering, Yes or no.”
“Jesus, Ann. All right. No.”
She said “Thank you,” and walked from the kitchen into the living room. A moment later he heard her turning the pages of a magazine. He knew that she was too angry to be actually reading it, but she didn’t snap through the pages the way he would have done. She turned them slowly, as if she were studying every word. She was demonstrating her indifference to him, and it had the effect he knew she wanted it to have. It hurt him.
He had no choice but to demonstrate his indifference to her. Quietly, thoroughly, he washed the rest of the dishes. Then he dried them and put them away. He wiped the counters and the stove and scoured the linoleum where the drop of blood had fallen. While he was at it, he decided, he might as well mop the whole floor. When he was done the kitchen looked new, the way it looked when they were first shown the house, before they had ever lived here.
He picked up the garbage pail and went outside. The night was clear and he could see a few stars to the west, where the lights of the town didn’t blur them out. On El Camino the traffic was steady and light, peaceful as a river. He felt ashamed that he had let his wife get him into a fight. In another thirty years or so they would both be dead. What would all that stuff matter then? He thought of the years they had spent together, and how close they were, and how well they knew each other, and his throat tightened so that he could hardly breathe. His face and neck began to tingle. Warmth flooded his chest. He stood there for a while, enjoying these sensations, then picked up the pail and went out the back gate.
The two mutts from down the street had pulled over the garbage can again. One of them was rolling around on his back and the other had something in her mouth. Growling, she tossed it into the air, leaped up and caught it, growled again and whipped her head from side to side. When they saw him coming they trotted away with short, mincing steps. Normally he would heave rocks at them, but this time he let them go.
The house was dark when he came back inside. She was in the bathroom. He stood outside the door and called her name. He heard bottles clinking, but she didn’t answer him. “Ann, I’m really sorry,” he said. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
“How?” she asked.
He wasn’t expecting this. But from a sound in her voice, a level and definite note that was strange to him, he knew that he had to come up with the right answer. He leaned against the door. “I’ll marry you,” he whispered.
“We’ll see,” she said. “Go on to bed. I’ll be out in a minute.”
He undressed and got under the covers. Finally he heard the bathroom door open and close.
“Turn off the light,” she said from the hallway.
“Turn off the light.”
He reached over and pulled the chain on the bedside lamp. The room went dark. “All right,” he said. He lay there, but nothing happened. “All right,” he said again. Then he heard a movement across the room. He sat up, but he couldn’t see a thing. The room was silent. His heart pounded the way it had on their first night together, the way it still did when he woke at a noise in the darkness and waited to hear it again – the sound of someone moving through the house, a stranger.


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