Untethered Dog

A Commonplace By Tom Swift


I’ve seen you say that you don’t believe in small talk. Why not?

For one, it’s boring. Two, I’m a great believer in the logic of economics. Economists talk about opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of making small talk is that I can’t get a lot of other things done. Patience, to me, is not a great virtue, because it cuts down on the things you can do.

-Andy Greene, interviewing Barney Frank, “The Last Word,” Rolling Stone, 8-11-2016


Amazing grace!
how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost,
but now am found;
was blind,
but now can see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved.

-John Newton (1779)


So early it’s almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usually early morning stuff
that passes for thought.

When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and none boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys

I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.

They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.

Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

-Raymond Carver, “Happiness,” All of Us (2000)


One of the themes I try to convey to [unborn son] Rivers as I continue to shoot video journals is, Acknowledge your fear, but proceed anyway. I had to take my own advice as this film was being made. Acknowledge and proceed.

-Steve Gleason, who has ALS, “Being Human,” Sports Illustrated, 7-25-2016


The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.

-Pierre de Coubertin, scoreboard at Wembley Stadium, 1948 Olympics


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting, too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

-Rudyard Kipling, “If,” A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)


Rose: [to her husband] No answer is also an answer!

Café Society (2016)


‘We have spoken in jest many times, you and I,’ Baggar Vance addressed Junah, ‘about why I initially attached myself to to you, and why I’ve never strayed far from your side all these years. It was for this day, Junah. As we go, I will teach you.’

He nodded to me; I bent to the golf bag and passed it to him. Bagger Vance set it upright before the champion, its hickory-shafted irons flashing like quivered arrows in the sun. The Krewe Island car pulled up alongside us. Across the duneland you could hear the galleries cheer as [Walter] Hagen and [Bobby] Jones approached the first tee.

‘Your heart is kind, Junah. You have seen the agony of war and you wish never again to harm anything or anyone. So you choose not to act. As if by that choice, you will cause no harm.

‘This intention is admirable as far as it goes, but it fails to apprehend the deeper imperative of life. Life is action, Junah. Even choosing not to act, we act. We cannot do otherwise. Therefore, act with vigor!’

Vance glanced once to McDermott, to let the professional know we were coming. Then he turned back to his champion.

‘Stand now, Junah, and take your place. Do honor to yourself and to your station!”

-Steven Pressfield, The Legend of Baggar Vance (1995)


‘Have you ever seen identical twins take up golf? Their swings from the very first are radically different. Isn’t that odd?’

Keeler absorbed this from Vance, nodding thoughtfully. Yes, he had seen twins swing. Yes, how interesting that their motions were so different …

‘Or,’ bagger Vance continued, ‘have you ever watched a boy pick up a club for the first time and swing? I mean his first swing ever. And then seen him years later as an accomplished player? Isn’t his mature swing virtually identical to the one he took the first time he picked up a club?’

‘That is so,’ Keeler agreed enthusiastically. ‘Please continue.’

‘Or consider a professional instructor trying to alter a student’s swing to fit some preconception of the proper motion. It’s virtually impossible, is it not?’

Keeler agreed. ‘I see you’re driving at a point, sir.’

Vance paused. Keeler stood, absolutely attentive. ‘I believe that each of us possesses, inside ourselves,’ Bagger Vance began, ‘one true Authentic Swing that is ours alone. It is folly to try to teach us another, or mold us to some ideal version of the perfect swing. Each player possesses only that one swing that he was born with, that swing which existed within him before he ever picked up a club. Like the statue of David, our Authentic Swing already exists, concealed within the stone, so to speak.’

Keeler broke in with excitement. ‘Then our task as golfers, according to this line of thought …’

‘… is simply to chip away all that is inauthentic, allowing our Authentic Swing to emerge in its purity.’

-Steven Pressfield, The Legend of Bagger Vance (1995)


The initial response [to Symphony No. 4] was surprisingly cool, considering the extent to which the city had lionized [Johannes] Brahms throughout the 1870s and early 1880s. The Fourth was declared ‘un-Brahmsian.’ (At an earlier private performance of a four-hand piano version, the biographer Mx Kalbeck reportedly suggested that the fourth movement be omitted altogether.)

Brahms did not lay a finger on the work. And, sure enough, by the end of the composer’s life the Viennese public had gained a deeper appreciation not only for the Fourth, but for the whole career of symphonic music that it seemed to sum up. A performance of the Fourth in 1897, a month before the composer’s death, indicated the depth of the shift of opinion. Here is Florence May’s description of the emotional evening:

‘A storm of applause broke out at the end of the first movement, not to be quieted until the composer, coming to the front of the artists’ box in which he was seated, showed himself to the audience.

‘An extraordinary scene followed the conclusion of the work. The applauding, shouting audience, its gaze riveted on the figure standing in the balcony, so familiar and yet in present aspect so strange, seemed unable to let him go.

‘Tears ran down his cheeks as he stood there shrunken in form, with lined countenance, a strained expression, white hair handing lank; and through the audience there was a feeling of a stifled sob, for they knew that they were saying farewell.”

-Paul Horsley, “Program Notes,” Playbill, 7-16-2016