And Words Are All I Have

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How Do You Know All That Stuff?

"Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance."

Everyone has what can be called - forgivingly - “gaps in knowledge.”

You know what I mean: the little patches of black ice you encounter in conversations where you find yourself incapable of contributing an iota of factual substance. Reasons abound here. Maybe you dropped History class like a flaming poker in Grade Eight, or you were on the fire escape smoking during Geography period. (I couldn't have been the only one.)

You are not alone. It’s alarming the subjects that seemingly astute people draw complete blanks on. Don’t beat yourself up. Who can possibly be conversant on all the information amassed since we first exited the caves?

In full disclosure, my gaps, some might say craters, include, in no particular order, the Dawn of Time through 1920, the names of all the Osmond Brothers, and the workings of the internal combustion engine. I also come up a little light on composting, field sports, Sean Penn's earlier films, and the whole deal with Kanye.

To that end I wrote a book I could, alas, never get published, called Cliff Claven Notes for Your Life, a compendium of potent observations, ripostes and bon mots on a stunningly comprehensive list of subjects, from aerodynamics to Carrot Top. These sweet little nuggets of info are designed to help patch you across your chasms of ignorance wherever they may lurk, leaving listeners, their socks cleanly knocked off, asking in awe: “How do you know all that stuff?” This heretofore sadly overlooked digest is not just a collection of useless trivia, dusty statistics and tedious facts. You can find those anywhere. (By anywhere, I mean Wikipedia.) No, this treasure trove offers more: It arms you with thoughtful opinions and observations you can pawn off as your very own, at the office, at dinner parties, on dates, online, on Zoom - in fact anywhere people pull up a chair, water cooler or keyboard.

Now you can make the illuminating provocative remark that points to even greater stores of knowledge and signals to one and all: Hey! I know a few things! Add the perfectly chosen anecdote to the mix. Throw out a dazzling quote that elucidates.

Onwards to examples... I know you’re curious.

At a soiree, friends are discussing the talk show titan Johnny Carson. Maybe you were fast asleep when Carson’s show came on, maybe you worked nights; the fact is you know virtually nothing about this American icon. But, you have read my book and thus squirreled away this little chestnut, never dreaming you’d have the chance to use it:

Carson, sure, he was king of the talk show. But did you know he was painfully shy and hated small talk?

Chat turns to film directors. You are all over it. To wit:

I just finished a wonderful biography on John Ford (You liar.). He called assessments of his status as the master of Western movies “horseshit.”

Toss this out on Japan’s acclaimed filmmaker Akira Kurosawa:

As a young man he trained as a painter and before he begins filming he storyboards each and every one of the movie's scenes as full-scale paintings.

Finish up with: Charlie Chaplin once won third prize in a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest.

Talk turns to the the value of science amid these times of CoVid? Contribute pithy comments from these two champs:

Carl Sagan said science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.

And Isaac Asimov said this 70 years ago that applies perfectly today: The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

Politicians being pilloried? Choose from these:

From the day he was appointed Prime Minister and even through the darkest days of World War II, Churchill reported that, amazingly, he never lost one night of sleep.

When Castro took power in Cuba, he destroyed every copy of the game Monopoly.

Did you know Golda Meir was once a school teacher in Milwaukee?

Fashion Week came and went, but not before you threw this into the mix:

Did you know Karl Lagerfeld rips out pages from books after he’s read them and discards them? He says his job is "not to remember but to do."

Foodies are in a heated debate about the newest cuisine. You lay on them Miss Piggy’s sage advice:

Never eat more than you can lift.

Or this - Julia Child was a spy in WW2. After being rejected by The Army and Navy for being too tall she joined the Office of Strategic Services and among other missions she worked on a shark repellent for use by Navy divers.

The achievements of feminism being tabled? You add this to the mix:

In ancient Greece, women were actually required to count their age from the date they were married.

The perils of international travel today? How about this one?

I knew the romance of travel was gone the first time I had to take off my knee-highs in line at airport security. (Male readers: Feel free to use if appropriate. I do not judge.)

Music the hot topic? Bet they don’t know this:

Elvis Presley was a natural blond. He started dying his hair black in high school.

Beethoven used to tell people not to feel sorry for him. He was known to say: "I live where music is born."

An argument ensues about how to best assess a person’s character. You share your measuring stick:

I do it with one question and one question only: How does he or she treat the waitress?

"To drink or not to drink" is the subject on tap. You kill with this:

Sometimes too much to drink just isn’t enough.

The pros and cons of marriage prompts you to share this perceptive advice:

Before marrying someone ask yourself one question. (Pause for effect here.) Is he or she the person you’d most like to go camping with if you couldn’t have sex?

I guarantee you will be the only one in the room who knows this about the wonders of the human eye:

When you lose sight in one eye you only lose one-sixth of your entire field of vision. There’s that much of an overlap between the eyes.

Tomorrow’s workplace? Tell the gathered throng about jobs of the future.

Make way for a Director of Influence, Augmented Reality Journey Builder,
Personal Genome Optimizer, Underwater Hotel Manager. Oh, and Fitness Commitment Counselor.

Disciplining children is widely debated these days. Your contribution:

In Japan one of the synonyms for the word infant is silence. That’s because in the Japanese culture parents don’t allow a baby to cry without being comforted.

Getting the idea here? On to sports. Here are but two:

The German soccer team’s away color strip is green - in honor of the fact that the first team who would play them after WWII was Ireland: They were shunned by all other nations.

Or quote P.J. O’Rourke: “Golf combines two favorite American pastimes: taking long walks and hitting things with a stick.”

The sharpest innovator of all time? You elect Henry Ford and then tell them why.

Ford once said that if he had given people what they wanted, he would have given them faster horses.

My work here is done.

Now if you could help me find me a publisher...

What Love Cannot Do

by January Gill O'Neil

It cannot save itself when it expires
like a tire’s slow leak. It cannot bring back
the greediness of youth
mouth on mouth,
skin on skin, that gnawing,
that longing you carried
until the next time
and then there is no next time.
You never see it coming but always see it leaving.
It waits by the door, bags packed,
full of stones from your life.
What it can do is mark
the distance between Point A and Point B,
which feels like a galaxy,
every star you ever wished upon
imploding before your eyes.

“Why did you do all this for me? Wilbur asked. "I don't deserve it.
I've never done anything for you."

"You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing."

Charlotte's Web, E.B. White

Stay the course. See you next Friday. I welcome your comments and suggestions as we go forward by email at

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None of them ever read fiction as far as I can remember. If asked collectively they would no doubt respond it is a waste of time. It’s unlikely any of them read poetry voluntarily, couldn’t name a poet besides Longfellow to save their lives. The men that have come in and out of my life leave me wondering what they …
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