“A Worthy Life? With Me It Was Always To be Done in Words.”

Though I have been busy, perhaps overbusy, all my life, it seems to me now that I have accomplished little that matters, that the books have never come up to what was in my head, and that the rewards—the comfortable income, the public notice, the literary prizes, and the honorary degrees—have been tinsel, not what a grown man should be content with.

What ever happened to the passion we all had to improve ourselves, live up to our potential, leave a mark on the world? Our hottest arguments were always about how we could contribute. We did not care about the rewards. We were young and earnest. We never kidded ourselves that we had the political gifts to reorder society or insure social justice. Beyond a basic minimum, money was not a goal we respected. Some of us suspected that money wasn’t even very good for people. . . .But we all hoped, in whatever way our capacities permitted, to define and illustrate the worthy life. With me it was always to be done in words.

—From Crossing to Safety, a novel by Wallace Stegner.


  1. Barnard Collier says

    Dear Jack,

    A wise old stone wall builder I knew when I was an eight-year-old told me, “Never underestimate the power of immortality.”

    He was the neighborhood trashman by day. His way of becoming immortal was with stones, which he often gathered and laid at night.

    However, stones are heavy; getting them to marry well into a wall is hard; walls often get built in darkness and awful weather; and even if stones seem to last forever, time erodes them.

    Since I’ve almost always preferred the easy to the difficult, I took to heart what the stone builder told me. Like the eloquent character in the wise Wallace Stegner’s book, I decided to work with construction materials so light that they weigh nearly nothing: words.

    For fun, here is a list of immortal words that have cognates in most of the Western languages harking back 15,000+ years.

    Can any worthy writer reading this list (from http://www.babbel.com) stop themselves from spinning an immortal tale from these grand old words?

    • Thou
    • not
    • that
    • we
    • this
    • what
    • man/male
    • ye
    • old
    • mother
    • to hear
    • hand
    • fire
    • to pull
    • black
    • to flow
    • bark
    • ashes
    • to spit
    • worm

    Word mavens might add another immortal word to this list:


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