To do list, October 21, 1950

Be kind,
have initiative,
have a sense of humour,
tell right from wrong,
make mistakes,
fall in love,
enjoy strawberries and cream,
make some one fall in love with you,
learn from experience,
use words properly,
be the subject of your own thought,
have as much diversity of behaviour as a man,
do something really new.

(Activities that critics claim a machine could never by fundamental nature perform, from Alan Turing’s Computing Machinery and Intelligence, 1950. Submitted by Daniel Galef)

Man overboard

I find myself, in my plush seat,
going farther and farther away,
sort of creatively visualizing

an epiphanic Frank Conroy-type moment
of my own, trying to see the hypnotist
and subjects and audience and ship

itself with the eyes of someone
not aboard, imagining the m. v. Nadir
right at this moment, all lit up

and steaming north, in the dark,
at night, with a strong west wind
pulling the moon backward through

a skein of clouds—the Nadir
a constellation, complexly aglow,
angelically white, festive, imperial.

Yes, this: it would look like
a floating palace to any poor soul
out here on the ocean at night, alone

in a dinghy, or not even in a dinghy
but simply and terribly floating,
treading water, out of sight of land.

(From David Foster Wallace’s Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise. Submitted by Dawn Corrigan)

From the clods

Flocks of seagulls are flying with the rooks and starlings
white plumage makes them visible.
The grass has not grown,
would hardly hide a mouse.
The smallest bird injured by
how bitter the weather is.

Sharp against the sky
four oxen draw the ancient wheeled plough
to and fro on that open ridge
like ploughing on the dome of St Paul’s:
nothing for the rooks.
Now and then a lark sings in despite of
the bitter wind shaking to pieces
agriculture generally
while the house is falling.

From Field and Farm by Richard Jefferies (Phoenix House, 1957), chapter V ‘On the Farm’. Submitted by Rebecca Gethin.

Kinship and Community


In our turning we do this, that or the other. I’ve lived in this turning for fifty years,
and here I intend to stay. They’re new here they’ve only been here eighteen years.

I’ve got friends at work and friends at sport and friends I have a drink with. I know
all the people around here, and I’m not invited into anyone else’s home either.

It doesn’t seem right somehow. Your home’s your own.

They’re all related in this street. It’s awful, you can’t talk to anyone in the street about any of the others,
but you find it’s a relative. You have to be very careful.


It’s friendly here. You can’t hardly ever go out without meeting someone you know. Often it’s someone you were at school with.

Since we’ve had the children I’ve got no more friends – outside the family I mean.
I don’t see my best friend much. She’s married too, and she’s always round

her Mum’s like I’m always round mine. Since we’ve had the baby, I’ve got no men friends – outside the family, that is.

Direct quotes from the research commentary in Family and Kinship in East London, by Michael Young and Peter Willmott (Pelican Books, 1957). Submitted by Peter Raynard.

Without conscience

He will choose you,
disarm you with his words.

Control you with his presence.

He will delight you with his wit and his plans.
He will show you a good time.

You will always get the bill.

He will smile and deceive you

and he will scare you with his eyes

and when he is through with you, and he will be through with you,
he will desert you and take with him
your innocence and your pride.

You will be left much sadder but not a lot wiser
and for a long time you will wonder what happened and
what you did wrong.

And if another of his kind comes knocking on your door,

will you open it?

From The Psychopath in Prison, an essay by Dr Robert Hare. Two conjunctions removed. Submitted by Deborah.

A day without deference

Let the nation’s doormen do their jobs without smiling
Let waiters at suburban restaurants leave their flair at home
Let the janitors at Princeton mop no vomit from the dormitory stairwells
Let retail greeters of every description call in sick
Let the first-class passengers board at someone else’s leisure
Let the nation’s limo drivers require their passengers to open their own damn doors
Let the production interns at CNBC send the on-air “talent” to fetch the coffee
And, for just one day, let the talent ask their interviewees hard questions

From the essay Servile Disobedience by Thomas Frank, February 2011. Submitted by Rishi Dastidar.

Hamlet R.I.P.

Hamlet was a young man very nervous.
He was always dressed in black because his
uncle had killed his father, shooting him
in his ear. He could not go to the
theatre because his father was dead
so he had the actors come to his house
and play in the front parlor and he learned
them to say the words because he thought he
knew best how to say them. And then he thought
he’d kill the king but he didn’t. Hamlet
liked Ophelia. He thought she was a
very nice girl but didn’t marry her
because she was going to be a nunnery.
Hamlet went to England but he did not
like it very much so he came home. Then
he jumped into Ophelia’s grave and
fought a duel with her brother. Then he died.

From ‘English as She Is Taught: Genuine Answers to Examination Questions in Our Public Schools, 1887,’ as featured on Futility Closet. ‘By’ removed from line 3 and ‘he’ from line 12 to keep the decasyllabic pattern. Submitted by Gabriel Smy.