Author spotlight: Ashleigh Brilliant

Born London, 1933. Mother Canadian. Father a British civil servant. World War II childhood spent mostly in Toronto and Washington, D.C. Berkeley PhD. in American History, 1964. Living in Santa Barbara since 1973. No children. Best-known for his illustrated epigrams, called “Pot-Shots”, now a series of 10,000. Email ashleigh@west.net or visit www.ashleighbrilliant.com

Take It All Off
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 28, 2022

One of the best known, not to say notorious, celebrities of the 1920s and ‘30s was a buxom blonde actress and writer named Mae West. One of her best-known lines came in the 1933 film, I’m No Angel, in which, in a starring role, she says to her maid, “Beulah, peel me a grape,” which […]

Nurses and Curses
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 21, 2022

Many of the titles of Ernest Hemingway’s best-known novels are derived from earlier literature. The Sun Also Rises comes from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, (one of the most pessimistic parts of the Bible, which begins by saying that “Everything is meaningless”). For Whom the Bell Tolls comes from a sermon by the English […]

To Wit to Woo
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 14, 2022

In the history of courtship, no words have resonated more profoundly than two lines by that great poet, Ogden Nash: Candy is dandy,But liquor is quicker. However, we must admit that, over the ages, many other techniques of wooing have been developed. For example, there are music and song, as celebrated by that other immortal […]

Shadows
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 7, 2022

Alexander the Great cast a giant shadow over History, conquering most of the known world in his short lifetime (356-323 B.C.). On his way eastward, he visited the city of Sinope (on the north coast of modern Turkey), and there encountered its most notorious inhabitant, a crusty old philosopher named Diogenes. Knowing this man’s reputed […]

Has it Got Legs?
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 31, 2022

Here is a riddle for you: What goes ninety-nine CLOP, ninety-nine CLOP, ninety-nine CLOP…? Answer: A centipede with a wooden leg. I don’t want to go into all the biological reasons concerning the numerous varieties of centipedes, showing that, even apart from the wooden leg, this story can’t be true. What I do want to […]

Ages and Ages
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 24, 2022

How old? The answer to that question is usually expected to be in terms of years – that is, of Earth journeys around the sun. We owe that idea to a Polish monk named Copernicus (1473-1543 AD). But even before Copernicus, in those good old days when the sun still went around the earth, the […]

Innards
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 17, 2022

Different parts of our bodies have come to be associated with a variety of emotions and characteristics. Love supposedly springs from the heart, integrity is in the backbone, and inquisitiveness in the nose. But, when it comes to truly deep-seated feelings, for some reason, we commonly attribute them to our intestines. And it’s not only […]

Help
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 10, 2022

Most of us need help of some kind, at least occasionally, and there are, of course, many different ways of seeking it. In an emergency, we immediately think of sending out an “S.O.S.” Contrary to popular belief, those letters do not stand for “Save Our Ship” or “Save Our Souls” – nor, for that matter, […]

That’s Entertainment
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 3, 2022

Believe it or not, the original meaning of “to entertain” was “to hold together.” But, when you come to think of it, that isn’t so far from what it still means today. People are held together by watching the same show, enjoying the same songs or jokes, admiring the same performers, feeling the same emotions […]

Loss
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 26, 2022

We have it on good Biblical authority that Humanity’s whole story started with having Paradise, and then losing it. Of course, nobody ever died in Paradise – but since then, everybody has. One of my favorite poets is A.E. Housman. And I particularly like this four-line epitaph he wrote, honoring some of the British volunteers […]

Something’s Got to Give
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 19, 2022

Although it has now become a somewhat ritualized procedure, particularly associated with Christmas and birthdays, the practice of gift-giving has a long and colorful history in our culture. According to a leading authority (St. Paul, quoting Jesus), “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Far be it from me to question anybody’s holy […]

Trial by Combat
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 12, 2022

One of the best tests of a civilization, is how disputes are settled. You can’t prevent them from arising. There are just too many different ways people can come into conflict with each other, particularly over territory, property, or sexual relations. Methods of settlement can range from pure force to peaceful adjudication. Of course, both […]

Dilemma
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 5, 2022

You’ve probably heard of someone being “on the horns of a dilemma.” It’s a particularly apt expression, because a dilemma, by definition, involves having to choose between two alternatives, neither of which is attractive. And, with certain exceptions, (such as a rhinoceros or a unicorn), most creatures who have horns have two of them – […]

Taking Aim
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 29, 2022

Archery began with the discovery that a propelled arrow could travel farther than a thrown spear – but has subsequently gone in many strange directions. In late Victorian England, there were two outstanding schools for women, which each had an eminent headmistress. At the North London Collegiate School for Ladies, there was Frances Mary Buss; […]

Come to Your Senses
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 22, 2022

You have probably heard the story about “The Princess and the Pea,” which was made famous in our culture by Hans Christian Andersen (but is, like most fairy tales, traceable far back to other times and places). The essence of the tale is that a girl who has claimed to be a Princess is subjected […]

On the Side of the Angels
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 15, 2022

One of the religious ideas I find most attractive is that of divine intervention – particularly in the form of guardian angels. How wonderful to feel that, if things get really bad, there is a specially appointed agent of the deity who is assigned to protect you personally. Many religions and cultures promulgate ideas of […]

Gorilla My Dreams
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 8, 2022

On November 25, 1864, in a famous speech at Oxford University, the British statesman Benjamin Disraeli addressed himself to a matter which had been convulsing intellectual society since the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species. As Disraeli put it: “The question is this – is man an ape or an […]

Have Arms, Will Hug
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 1, 2022

The activity called boxing may not have contributed much to the field of athletics, but it has certainly enriched our language. The fighting once took place outdoors, in a “ring” made by the encircling spectators. Indoors, that area became a roped square, which – however – is still called a “ring.” In many nations, it […]

Sad Beauty
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 22, 2022

Why do we like watching the sun set? Is it the beauty of changing colors and shapes? Or is it rather the emotional impact of experiencing the passage of time, the ending of another day of our lives? These two closely interwoven themes, the sad and the beautiful, permeate our culture. Three of my favorite […]

Learning From the Young
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 15, 2022

A friend who was about to turn 50, knowing that I’m in my late 80s, asked me what advice I might have for a person reaching that milestone. I had to tell him that I thought all such “landmarks” artificial and insignificant, being based on our arbitrary counting in tens, which in turn derives from […]

What’s in It?
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 8, 2022

Much of our folklore, including Greek mythology, has to do with explaining the origins of things. For example, why are there so many troubles in the world? Well, it seems they were once all contained in a certain neat, secure box. But some naughty female named Pandora, hardly realizing what she was doing, opened the […]

Sin-tegrity
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 1, 2022

In the popular mythology of our culture, women have had a bad rap. The stereotypical images of the Mother-in-Law (never the Father-in-Law), the Dumb Blonde, and the Woman Driver – to say nothing of the Stage Mother, and the Spinster Schoolmarm – have been the butt of innumerable jokes. There has also been the legendary […]

Purely Passionate
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 25, 2022

Congratulations! You have won a lifetime supply of Life! But what to do with that supply? For some people, what makes life worth living is something they are passionate about. “Passion” has many connotations – religious, sexual, psychological, even culinary. But the essence of it is very strong positive feeling and interest. (Despite our culture’s […]

Regrets
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 18, 2022

Life would be very empty, if we had nothing to regret. The most celebrated song of Edith Piaf, France’s most famous singer-songwriter, was “Non, je ne regrette rien” (“No, I regret nothing”). But sadly, she had plenty to regret, dying in 1963 aged only 47, after many years of alcohol and drug abuse. Does the […]

Of Space…
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 11, 2022

“Blasting off” is an expression which, only in recent years, has come to have a very special meaning. We are no longer talking about fireworks or even firearms, but about sending live human beings into what were once called “The Heavens” (as if there were more than one Heaven) but have now been relegated to […]

What’s Old?
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 4, 2022

One personal favorite of my epigrams says: “There’s nothing wrong with growing older – but where does it lead?” There are more answers to that than you might think. To my friends in the “antiques” trade, older usually means more valuable. “Antiques,” which used to require an age of at least a century, is now […]

What’s New?
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   December 28, 2021

We’ve all heard that “There’s nothing new under the sun.” But that was written (in the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes) long before cameras or computers, and any number of other modern marvels, which have already enabled man to reach the moon. Still, we hunger for novelty. Just think of all the geographical names, starting […]

There’s Treasure Everywhere
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   December 21, 2021

The first place to look for treasure is within yourself. Don’t dismiss me as some kind of inspirational motivator if I start blathering about your internal riches. It’s a simple fact that unused, unexploited, almost unknown resources lie inside every one of us.  Sometimes it takes a crisis or catastrophe to reveal our hidden strengths. […]

Who Really is Who?
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   December 14, 2021

The identity question has bedeviled mankind from the beginning of civilization. And, although we now have fingerprints, DNA, and many other methods of distinguishing individuals, it continues to be a problem today – as evidenced by the fact that, at your bank, pharmacy, or airline ticket-counter, and other places you regularly deal with, you will […]

Are We Really Free?
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   December 7, 2021

None of us is really free — nor would any thinking person really want to be. We are captives in our bodies and our minds. We are victims of all kinds of circumstances we cannot control – the weather — world events — the whims of natural catastrophes, and the mysterious fact of our own […]

Prime Times
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   November 30, 2021

There are people who believe that, after they die, they’ll be reunited with all the people to whom they were closest in life. It’s a beautiful vision – but what condition will we all be in, and at what age?  Few of us would prefer to meet our loved ones again as they may have […]

Holding On
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   November 23, 2021

I’ve long been aware that a potholder I use very frequently was provided, many years ago, free of charge, by a popular local politician, in connection with one of his campaigns for Congress. I couldn’t help being aware of this, since his name, with a brief political message, is emblazoned very prominently on it. He’s […]

In Good Faith
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   November 16, 2021

One of the wonderful things about people, is that, in general, we trust each other.  Betrayal is a violation of trust – but it is the exception, not the rule. Formal marriage is a solemnization of trust, particularly in terms of sexual fidelity. Divorce is common but getting married is still very popular. We even […]

Reaching Out
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   November 9, 2021

Of all the commands which our electronic devices miraculously, unquestioningly, and instantaneously obey, none seems more wonderful to me than the single word “send.” Wrapped up in that word are my strict instructions to deliver to whomever I specify, this cargo of words and images. Transmissions of this kind have already been around so long […]

Arrivals and Departures
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   November 2, 2021

When newspapers regularly carried a page reporting the latest births, marriages, and deaths, they were sometimes jokingly referred to as the “hatches, matches, and dispatches.” But that’s how it is, in many aspects of our lives. Things and people pass through our awareness, almost as if each one of us were a train station or […]

Good Taste
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   October 26, 2021

Surely it can’t be merely coincidence that, in our language, “taste” has two separate meanings which however are somehow in sync with each other. One kind of taste relates to the tongue and the palate. The other, on an entirely different level, has to do with culture, esthetics, and educated appreciation. But they are both […]

Fruitful Thoughts
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   October 19, 2021

Several years ago, when I was on icy, unfamiliar ground (if you must know, it happened in Upstate New York, in the hills, near a resort called Mohonk, where I’d just given a speech about my work) I slipped and fell, breaking my right shoulder. One result was that, although I recovered pretty well, I’m […]

The Case Against Death
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   October 12, 2021

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury: My learned colleague has told you quite eloquently about all the benefits we derive from death – making room for more people, lest the planet become over-populated, putting an end to suffering, rounding out the natural cycle of life, and, because we know our earthly existence is not endless, […]

Hats Off to You
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   October 5, 2021

Since usually we each have only one head, it’s amazing how many different types of headgear there are, for such purposes as protection, decoration, and identification. It’s also remarkable how much you can tell about a person, in terms, for example, of their occupation, status, gender, even their beliefs. One hat I remember was on […]

Ad Hoc
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   September 28, 2021

Back in the virtually prehistoric days before there were personal computers — (actually, it was 1964) a Canadian professor named Marshall McLuhan published a book called Understanding Media. I didn’t even understand the book itself – though I tried – but one thing I got out of it was a new view of the concept […]