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

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 […]

Risen Again?
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   September 21, 2021

Recently, when writing elsewhere about some apparently endless troubles, I concluded with the words “How long, O Lord, how long?” I didn’t realize, until somebody informed me, that I was quoting the Bible, where that expression appears several times. I only remembered it from the last line of George Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan (first […]

Time to go Bananas
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   September 14, 2021

When I was six years old, I received a consolation prize of 25 cents for not knowing the answer on a Toronto radio station kids’ program called “Snappy Answers.” But only twice in my life since then have I ever won anything substantial – and the first time was pure luck. In the early days […]

Funny You Should Say That
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   September 7, 2021

The Library of Congress categorizes all published books which are submitted for registration, according to their contents. When my first book, I May Not Be Totally Perfect, but Parts of Me Are Excellent, was published, I had no idea how they would classify it. I had thought I was writing a new kind of one-line […]

Where Does it Hurt?
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 31, 2021

There are good things to be said about pain, along the consoling lines that it’s an important message, telling us that something needs attention. But we know that’s all rubbish. Any decently designed body wouldn’t need such attention or would at least have more acceptable methods of communicating with its manager. Besides, many of the […]

Believing is Seeing
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 25, 2021

As far as believing goes, it’s hard to know what to call myself. I don’t have enough faith to be an Atheist, or even an Agnostic. But, to some extent, I admire and envy people who do have strong beliefs — so long as they don’t try to impose them on other people. But there’s […]

Train of Thought
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 19, 2021

Many people seem to forget that the automobile was not the first “horseless carriage.” For most of the 100 years before motor cars began to appear on our roads, self-propelled vehicles originally powered by steam, had been crisscrossing the world’s continents. The main difference was that “locomotives,” as they were called, required a very special […]

Feeling Cornered
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 12, 2021

Little Jack Horner sat in the corner,Eating a Christmas pie;He put in his thumb,And pulled out a plum,And said, “What a good boy am I!” Your childhood probably included this “nursery rhyme.” But it provokes many questions: If Jack Horner really was a “good boy,” why was he sitting in a corner, which even today […]

Idle Pleasantrees
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 5, 2021

A man named Joyce Kilmer managed to publish five books and have five children before being killed in World War I. But he is remembered only for one imperishable poem, called “Trees,” which concludes with the modest words: “Poems are made by fools like me,But only God can make a tree.” True enough, I suppose, […]

High, Neighbor
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 29, 2021

Until my early 30s, I had never smoked anything. In fact, the practice of smoking appalled me. Sometimes I’d be with a group of friends, and they would start smoking a cigarette of some kind, which they passed from hand to hand. They would invite me to join in, but I made it plain that […]

Order in Court
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 22, 2021

I’ve only been in court twice in my life, and the first time, in 1956, resulted in a jail sentence. I was 21, recently immigrated from England, and eager for new American experiences. Driving my first car, I had received a ticket for going over an occupied pedestrian crossing. (Since then, I’ve mostly been a […]

Then and When,“Instead of Past, Present and Future, I’d prefer Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry.”
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 15, 2021

I am often asked (in my dreams) how I ever got to be so smart, so wise, so good-looking, so popular and successful. Then I wake up, and the only question in my mind is, how can I get through one more day, with this aging mind and failing body? Here I am, on an […]

Of Humans and Their Obsession with Heads
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 8, 2021

The practice of making an “either/or” type of decision by flipping a coin has a surprisingly long history. The Romans had coins with a ship on one side and the emperor’s head on the other, so their equivalent of “heads or tails” was “ship or head” – in Latin, “navia aut caput.”  It has always […]

The History of Complaining
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 1, 2021

Many large businesses have or used to have “Complaint Departments,” where a specially trained employee deals soothingly with dissatisfied customers. To my knowledge, there is never a corresponding “Compliments Department.” The only approach I’ve ever seen to that idea has been an occasional jar labelled “TIPS.” In this online age, it can be much more […]

A Lifelong Intrigue When it Comes to Toys
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 24, 2021

There was a time when the very word “toys” was magic to me, and the idea of a big department store, with a whole section devoted to them, was probably as close as I’ll ever come in this life to conceiving Heaven. Of course, there have always been children at play — and children must […]

How to be a Saint
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 17, 2021

Being brought up Jewish, I never learned much about being a Saint. At least one Hebrew prophet (Isaiah) made a mockery of the whole idea of any human claiming to be “holier than thou.” Of course, besides people, virtually every religion — even Judaism — has its holy places and holy objects, to say nothing […]

Go With the Flow
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 10, 2021

In one of my favorite movies, Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, the Commander of a U.S. Air Force base is so crazy that he not only orders an atomic attack on Russia, but he believes that Fluoridation is an enemy attempt to poison our “precious bodily fluids.”  […]

Stick With Me
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 3, 2021

One of the expressions I remember from childhood playground banter would arise when somebody said something nasty to you, and you wanted to get back at them, with something equally derogatory. So, you would say: “I’m rubber, and you’re glue –Everything you saySticks back to you!” Or, if you wanted to be even more vicious, […]

Not My Kind
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 27, 2021

It is no accident that the words “kin” and “kind” are related — quite apart from the fact that Hamlet’s first words, “A little more than kin, a little less than kind,” refer to his ambiguous relationship with the man who has murdered his father and taken his place. Even today, there is understood to […]

Vital Signs
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 20, 2021

Many of the signs we see throughout our lives are telling us not to do certain things (whether we might want to do them or not). One of the most common says, “NO TRESPASSING” – although this might confuse some people, especially children, who are taught (as I was in public school in Toronto) to […]

Hook, Line, and Stinker
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 13, 2021

One of my favorite parts of one of my favorite movies is the scene in Citizen Kane in which Susan Alexander, Charles Foster Kane’s “discovery,” is making her debut as a singer in the grand opera house he has built for her in Chicago. (Incidentally, I always wondered just what that opera is, and learned […]

Weighty Matters
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 6, 2021

For some reason, our language associates heaviness with seriousness and importance. The very word “gravity” can convey both of those feelings. On the other hand, things that are relatively trivial are considered “light,” in the sense of having less weight. To make these matters even more convoluted, we now have the designation “lite,” – no […]

It’s the Law
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 29, 2021

Quite apart from our legal system, there are so many laws in Science and Economics and other disciplines that it must have been inevitable for satirical “laws” to appear, usually commenting on the perversity of life as we experience it. Probably the most famous of these “laws” states (in various versions) that “If anything can […]

The Recognition Racket
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 22, 2021

One thing that many of us feel we don’t get enough of is appreciation. We want to be recognized for our accomplishments, our contributions – or at least for our efforts. All around us, people are receiving prizes and awards, being written about, celebrated, honored in all kinds of ways. Isn’t it time somebody took […]

No Stone Unturned
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 15, 2021

When you think of something permanent, what first probably comes to mind are the “everlasting hills,” or at least a piece of one, which we call a rock or a stone. That’s why we use stone to mark graves, which has the additional advantage that you can “inscribe” something on it. But of course, we […]

No Bones About It
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 8, 2021

I thought it was a big deal, about three decades ago, when I got my first broken bone – after falling off my bike. But it was only the collarbone (clavicle), and only a “hairline fracture.” This, I knew, was one of the easiest bones to break, and one most likely to heal quickly, which […]

Long Division
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 1, 2021

In many marriage ceremonies, the couples swear to stay together “Till Death do us part” – and some manage to fulfil that vow, even though Death may be a long time coming. No similar oaths, that I am aware of, bind parents and their children – in fact it is assumed that, at some point, […]

Perish Prolixity
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 25, 2021

When I was first privileged to write this column, I was set a 750-word limit. I knew that I could go a few words over or under, and nobody would care. But I decided to make a game out of turning in exactly 750 words each time. What made this relatively do-able was that, unlike […]

Smile!
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 18, 2021

In our culture, the act of smiling has not always had a very positive image. Among great paintings, I can think of only one that would qualify. It’s called “The Laughing Cavalier” by Frans Hals (1624), but he is only smiling, not laughing. By the time of World War I, however, it was a different […]

Causes
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 11, 2021

One way to make life seem worth living is to find a cause you truly believe in, and devote yourself to it. It might be political – getting someone elected – or social – getting something banned or permitted – or religious – spreading your own belief, or disputing someone else’s. I myself have rarely […]

Labels
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 4, 2021

For many years, you couldn’t buy certain items, such as mattresses, in the U.S.A., unless they contained a federally required fabric label, or “tag.” I’m not sure exactly what information these labels provided, but what I do remember is that they also contained a very severe warning against removing them. Something like “DO NOT REMOVE, […]

Rejection
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 25, 2021

Being rejected is a basic human experience, for which most of us need to be better trained than we probably are.  If you ask Mr. Google about rejections, he’ll give you many lists of famous and successful people who failed over and over again, but went on, and, through sheer persistence, became the stars and […]

A Few of My Favorite Things
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 18, 2021

My tastes in most categories are very conventional, so most of my favorites probably will not surprise you. In poetry, for example, at the top of my personal list is the piece known as “Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard” – not to be confused with Gray’s Allergy. [Only kidding.] One reason I like it […]

Originality
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 11, 2021

It’s getting easier to copy – but it’s still hard to be original. However, it’s also now much easier to tell if an idea is original – although, even if it’s not, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a copy. There is, after all, such a thing as “independent creation.”  For that reason, whenever I get […]

Secrets
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 4, 2021

I suppose we nearly all have, or have had, secrets of some kind. Probably one of the most common kinds concerns some hidden object. Stores used to sell a little magnetic box called a “Hide-a-Key,” in which you could put your car keys, and attach it to some unseen part of your car. But thieves […]

World Wars Re-Numbered
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 28, 2021

Most of us grew up thinking that there were two World Wars, the first in 1914-18, called the Great War, which became World War I, when its successor of 1939-45 qualified as Number Two. But let me tell you how I came to question that whole idea. My father’s elder brother, Mortimer Brilliant, was, like […]