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

The Beauty of It
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   October 21, 2020

It took the Greeks to turn beauty into a science. They called it aesthetics – a word and concept we’ve been stuck with ever since. It’s not enough just to enjoy a starry night, or a fine piece of architecture, or a good-looking girl. We have to ask why. We feel the compulsion to analyze, […]

Anger
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   October 13, 2020

As you probably know by now, one of my favorite poets is A.E. Housman. And his whole outlook is summed up rather neatly inA these four lines: “The troubles of our proud and angry dust Are from eternity, and shall not fail. Bear them we can, and, if we can, we must – Shoulder the […]

Play Time
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   October 1, 2020

I’ve told you I’m a realist. But that’s not the whole story. Reality is too hard to face all the time. That (I presume) is why we have sleep and dreams. But even when I’m awake, I like to think of life as a game. Games create their own reality. Within the game, nothing outside […]

Bored of Education
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   September 24, 2020

You may find this hard to believe, but it wasn’t until after I had gone all the way through the British school and college system, and emigrated to the U.S., with a bachelor of arts degree in history, that I became aware of the fact that “education” is a subject which can itself be studied […]

Tea for You
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   September 17, 2020

Having been brought up English, I was a tea drinker from an early age. But I didn’t realize that I was actually an addict, until my doctor told me to cut out all caffeine from my diet. Only then did I learn what is meant by “withdrawal symptoms” – which in my case were very […]

Hear and Now
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   September 10, 2020

The 1964 Simon & Garfunkel song “The Sound of Silence” must seem redolent of an ancient era to many of my younger readers – but the haunting melody, combined with its poetically poignant words, resonates as powerfully today as when the song was born. To me, the part which has always been most meaningful proclaims […]

I Think Knot
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   September 3, 2020

As a child, I took great delight in string. My mother, who patiently taught me how to tie bows, used to tell people, “Give him a piece of string, and he’ll be happy.” True enough, I could spend hours just tying and untying knots. I was never a Boy Scout, and never “learned the ropes” […]

Name Dropping
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 27, 2020

The first question I am usually asked: “Is Ashleigh Brilliant your real name?” Yes, it is. My father was Victor Brilliant, and he came from a whole family of Brilliants. The origins are Russian and Jewish. Around the time of Napoleon, Jews were allowed to choose their own surnames. Many chose pleasant-sounding names, such as […]

What If
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 20, 2020

SUPPOSEAll my life I’ll cherishSo much I can’t forget –The things that didn’t happen,And the girls I never met. I wrote those lines a long time ago. But for most of us, the sentiment, no doubt, remains true, no matter where we are in life. The great question of how different things might be now, […]

Licked by a Stamp
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 13, 2020

I have never been much of a hobbyist – but for a few years in my teens, I was very keen on postage stamps. This fizzled at about the same time I got interested in girls – but to this day, whenever I receive a letter with a stamp I haven’t seen before, I tear […]

In All Fairness
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 6, 2020

“Fair Play,” as I understand it, means abiding by the rules. But what if the rules are unfair? That, in a sense, is the human predicament. No matter how honorable and decent you are, a tornado (which I like to think of as God’s air-raid) can wipe out everything you have, including your life – […]

Royal Flesh
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 30, 2020

It seems odd that, after centuries of agitation forequality, so many countries still have social systems in which some “royal” person is considered to be at the top. The word “royal” derives from the French word for king – and, although France no longer has a monarch, many other advanced countries still do. In fact, […]

How to be a Villain
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 23, 2020

This story begins with a confession: I didn’t know how to be a villain – and never got over it. When I was eleven years old, my Hebrew school was bringing out a magazine, and needed contributions. I somehow volunteered to write on a topic someone had suggested – “How to Be a Villain.” No […]

I The Hero
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 16, 2020

People sometimes flatter me by saying that I am their hero – because I have managed to make a living by the unconventional means of marketing my own thoughts. There may be some merit in inventing – so to speak – a new profession. But, in general terms, I don’t consider myself a heroic character. […]

Seek and Ye Shall Find
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 9, 2020

One of the most famous lines of all poetry (originally written in Persian a millennium ago, but first translated into English in 1859) comes from a book called the Rubaiyat, and is about a “moving finger,” which “writes, and, having writ, moves on” – and nothing we can do can bring that finger back, to […]

Worriers and Warriors
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 2, 2020

It isn’t often that I make my Psychiatrist laugh – but he did, when, telling him about the events of a recent day, I said, “I was so busy, I forgot to take my anxiety pill.” Yes, I do actually take (in small doses) a pill that is supposed to have a calming effect, and […]

Good Brief
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 25, 2020

When General Sir Charles Napier captured, for the British Empire, the Indian province of Sindh (now a part of Pakistan) in 1844, he reportedly announced this achievement in a one-word telegram. That single word was not English, but, in those days, when every upper-class Englishman received a classical education, the message would have been intelligible […]

On the Road
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 18, 2020

Don’t let them fool you. All roads do not lead to Rome – at least, not anymore. But: there is always a close connection between any road and whatever travels on it. Most of our roads today began as animal tracks. Animals didn’t need motels, or scenic views. They bought no souvenirs, and never wrote […]

Watch My Line
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 11, 2020

“The square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.” – Pythagoras At the equivalent of High School which I attended in London, we all had to take basic Mathematics, consisting of Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry. I could do them all, and more […]

Thought Crime and Hate Crime
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 4, 2020

In 1949, the British writer, George Orwell, published a novel titled 1984 – the name of a year which was then as far in the future as it is now in the past. The society he depicted has been characterized as a “dystopia,” meaning the opposite of a Utopia. The name “Utopia,” the title of […]

Giants and Germans Lose
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 28, 2020

At the time of World War I, I hadn’t even been born yet, and in World War II, I was still only a child. But those two catastrophes have shaped all our lives. Between the official end of the First, and the outbreak of the Second, was only 20 years. But it was enough time […]

Nobody Knows My Toes
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 21, 2020

Most of us have twenty digits, but the upper ten get nearly all the attention. Once we’ve outgrown the days of “this little piggy goes to market,” the lower ten are usually hidden in some protective footwear, and little account is taken of them – until something goes wrong. The classic case of something going […]

All Hell
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 14, 2020

Warning: I am (in all likelihood) about to change your life. Not in any big significant way, but in the same slight, but probably permanent, way that mine was changed when, not long ago, I made the discovery which I am going to share with you here. First, a little background: Somehow, I had managed […]

Dear God
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 7, 2020

No doubt you know I don’t believe in you – but that’s OK, because, for all I know, you probably don’t believe in me either. Still, out of consideration for everybody else who may be reading this, I am obliged to respect you, not take your name in vain and even, to the extent possible […]

Flowers by Request
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 30, 2020

You’ve probably heard Ogden Nash’s immortal observation on the relative merits of two different methods of seduction: Candy is dandy, But liquor is quicker. Unfortunately, he omitted a third well-known amatory aid, which I now offer you as a suggested last line: And FLOWERS HAVE POWERS. I myself have never been particularly susceptible to those […]

Living on a Postcard
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 23, 2020

My home, since 1973, has been almost literally a stone’s throw from an area so celebrated for its beauty that calling it “picturesque” would be an understatement. In one sweeping panorama, you have the ocean, the mountains, a lovely rose garden, tall gracious trees, and a broad green sward leading up to the cloistered front […]

Reason?
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 16, 2020

In a popularity-survey of some of my recent “Thoughts and Ideas,” the winning line said, “One advantage of living alone is that you never have to be reasonable.” Although these words expressed my own feeling, I was surprised how many others also apparently feel the same way. I suppose it means that living with other […]

What is it Worth?
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 9, 2020

How do we determine the value of things? Is it only the question of what people will pay? Some American railroad tycoon of the “Robber Baron” era spoke in terms of exacting “all the traffic will bear” – meaning that he charged not what seemed fair or reasonable, but simply as much as he could […]

I Scream
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 2, 2020

The worst ice cream I ever had was in England, when my family had recently returned there from the U.S., just after World War II. As a special treat, my sister and I were taken by relatives to some kind of ice cream parlor. Whatever we had there came with a tasteless wafer. It was […]

Handle with Care
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 26, 2020

One of the most popular words in the lexicon of modern society is “care.” People in general don’t like to be handled roughly. Of course, there are exceptions, such as arranged fights, or episodes of sexual passion. But we are delicate creatures, in comparison with the hard surfaces of our natural and man-made environment. When […]

Best and Worst Friend
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 19, 2020

One of the advantages of outliving people you knew is that you can write freely about them. The worst best friend I ever had was named Nathan Povich Mensh. We were kids when we met in 1941 in Washington, D.C., where our houses backed onto each other, with an alley between. I was eight, and […]

It’s on the House
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 12, 2020

“It takes a heap of living to make a house a home” is probably the best-remembered line of Edgar Guest – even though – as I’ve often found when my own work is (mis-) quoted – that isn’t exactly what he wrote. The public has an ability to improve upon things it likes, often by […]

Keep in Touch
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   March 5, 2020

One of my earliest memories was of somebody saying to me, in a kindly tone, “MUSTN’T TOUCH!” I don’t recall anything else about the incident – but those words – and even that tone of voice – have lingered with me as a mild rebuke whenever I’ve been tempted to put a finger someplace where […]

Guest Who?
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 27, 2020

One mark of a civilized society is a code of manners, part of which involves rules of hospitality. How should one behave when one is a guest or a host? We are not usually taught such things at school. There are books of “etiquette” – but, if we learn these rules at all, it is […]

What About God?
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 20, 2020

Some people seem to need a “Supreme Being” in their lives. Others appear to get along quite well without one. If these were only private matters, the world of human society would have been a much less troubled place than it has always been over the past millennia. But unfortunately, such matters are anything but […]

Soup to Nuts
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 13, 2020

Life is full of beginnings and endings – and sometimes they are so memorable that we tend to forget what comes in between. For example, I could not quote you any other words of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities – but I know it begins with “It was the best of times – It was […]

Local Color
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 6, 2020

Nature is so full of miracles that we tend to take some of them for granted, especially if they are there all the time – like our own bodies – or if they, at least, come and go with predictable regularity – like the sun and the moon. But there are others which tend to […]

Hair Today
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 30, 2020

Why is so much hair wanted where it isn’t, and not wanted where it is? Many of our ideas of beauty, of grooming – even of sexuality – are hair-related. It’s one of the things we have in common with our fellow mammals. (Many non-mammals – even some insects – may appear fuzzy – but, […]

Shop Till You Drop
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 23, 2020

No matter how much the world changes, buyers and sellers will always need each other. But what we have called “stores” were in a way like the dinosaurs – they got bigger and bigger until, so to speak, they ruled the earth, and then something happened, and now, in our own time, we see them […]

Not a Shred
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 16, 2020

Until quite recently, when you wanted to destroy paper and make certain that nothing on it could ever again be read, the preferred method was to burn it. That is still your surest recourse – but burning is now generally in disfavor, because it means polluted air. So, a relatively new manner of destruction has […]