Robert Fulghum, author Robert Fulghum's official web site
Journal Mender of Destinies Books Artshow Plays About the Author

The Tale of the Papagano

The Great Wheel


Hard to Ignore

Rules of Thumb

Hand Jive

Eight Pieces of the Puzzle of the Week Just Past

The Museum of Small Wonders

Snapshots in Summer Light

Crossing Guards

Finally, the English Edition!
Third Wish

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Please Note: This journal contains a wide variety of stuff -- complete stories, bits and pieces, commentary, and who-knows-what else. As is always the case these days, the material is protected by copyright. On the other hand, I publish it here to be shared. Feel free to pass it on. Just give me credit. Fair enough?
September 01, 2014

Seattle, Washington
The first week of September, 2014
Warm afternoons, cool nights.
Some early morning clouds, with a mix of fog and showers before noon.

Here’s another story.
From not so very long ago and not so very far away . . .
Is it true?
Some of it.
The rest could be and should be true, and might well be, sooner or later . . . .


One September, when I was living on the Greek island of Crete, I read this fact in a book about birds:
“The average life span of a parrot is one hundred and twenty years.”

That stuck in my mind and became the seed of this story:

A few days later I was sitting on the terrace of a taverna in the mountain village of Kefali. There’s a grand view from there out over a deep valley winding down to the Libyan Sea.
On a clear day you can see all the way to Africa.
And this was a clear day.

Suspended from a rafter of the terrace pergola was a large birdcage.
With long black ribbons hanging down from it, fluttering in the wind. Flowers had been woven into the wires of the cage.
The flowers had been there long enough to dry and fade.
The cage had a melancholy feel about it - poignant - sad - mysterious.
The door was open – the cage was empty.

It seems that an old and much-beloved papagano - parrot - had lived in the cage for many years, but the parrot was nekros – dead - probably.
O Kirios papagano . . .poli leepeemenos . . . -
The Honorable Mr. Parrot - so sad . . .
Apparently it was a long story, but nobody wanted to relate it.
Or the story was not quite finished, and nobody wanted to end it.

That’s all I saw or was told.
The rest of the story came to me as I drove on down the valley to the sea.
It seemed as if I could intuit what happened in my imagination.

It may be said the parrot belonged to an old man.
Or it may be said the old man belonged to the parrot.
Since they were always together – never apart – it is best said that they belonged to each other.

The old man’s parrot liked riding in his car.
The bird rode beside him on a perch hanging from the car’s ceiling.
They bumbled along together, the old man calling out to friends from one side of the car and the parrot hurling a stream of calls and curses and songs out the other side.

One day, the old man had a heart attack while driving his old car, and the car soared off a cliff, tumbled end over end onto the rocks below, and fell into the sea.
The parrot was with him at the time.

“The old man’s time had come,” the villagers said.
“But the papagano had many years left to live – a tragedy.”

The old man’s car and body were recovered, but no trace of the parrot was ever found. Probably dead, but in the absence of the corpse it was possible that the bird had flown free, though nobody knew if the parrot could still fly. And, of course, parrots can’t swim - so its fate was uncertain.

Whatever happened, the parrot was gone.
The door to its cage had been left open just in case it returned.
But months had passed . . . and no papagano.

The man and the bird had been together since the old man was born.
And the parrot had belonged to the old man’s father before him.
The bird had been in the village at least a hundred years.
And it was who-knows-how-much-older than that, having appeared at the end of the 19th century.

As with its disappearance, mystery also shrouded its arrival in the village. There were many stories: The papagano had been blown in from a ship or left behind by the departing Turks or escaped from a zoo or flown in from an African port – but nobody could say for sure.

Some people said the parrot was a Muslim - the only one in the Christian village - because it could recite passages from the Koran and sing songs of the Levant in Arabic.
Some said the bird was the ghost of a Wandering Jew because it could curse in Hebrew and Spanish and German.
It had a prodigious memory.
It knew the names of villagers long dead or departed, and even mimicked their voices, much to the pleased dismay of friends and family.
Furthermore, the parrot could also imitate chickens, crows, goats, sheep, dogs, cats, and donkeys.
Even the animals were often fooled.

Whatever its origins, the bird had become a true Cretan - stubborn when coerced and unwilling to respond on demand. It performed only of its own free will, no matter how sincerely implored, or even when bribed with food.
Reliably unpredictable, usually entertaining, and sometimes demonic. Cretan, for certain.

The parrot seemed to know that the village priest detested the Koran, and it plagued the old man with Islamic scripture whenever he came near its perch. The priest once cursed the parrot, to his regret. For the bird repeated the curses in the unmistakable voice of the good Father.

The absence of the parrot was like the loss of the village historian.
It was a living keeper of memory.

Or the village blabbermouth, depending on how you looked at it.
The villagers thought that a creature that had been around so long must know things none of them knew or could ever know or even wanted to know. Gossip. Solutions to village mysteries. Truths that should not be told.

Not everybody mourned the demise of the parrot.
The parrot’s ability to remember things was feared by some, and they shunned it, being careful not to speak of certain things where the parrot could hear. When the bird disappeared some villagers sighed in relief.

On the other hand the parrot seemed to know many fine old songs.
And seemed to know when many fine old women needed to be reminded of the days of their youth and the sweet nothings they still liked to hear whispered in their ears.

There is a rumor that the bird did not die in the accident, but was found alive, washed up on a beach. And it was killed to keep it from ever repeating certain secrets.
It is also said that the parrot survived, and is flying from village to village telling everything it knows.
And keeping enchantment alive in the hearts of young girls and old women.
The fate of the parrot remains a fine mystery.
And mystery always provokes imagination.

The village never really understand how important the parrot was to their lives until he went missing.
All who pass by the cafe terrace glance at the cage and its open door and wonder if the parrot will ever appear again.
The parrot stands for a kind of hopeful optimism that the balance of the affairs of the village will be restored.

Is that the end of the story?
Perhaps - I don’t know.
Is there a moral or a point?
Perhaps - I don’t know.

The story just seems to follow on from the cage with the open door.
The rest is up to you, make of it what you will.
A parrot is only a parrot, with an occasional exception.
Just in case, be careful what you say around one – they do live a long time.

I suppose, when I think about it, I’m like the parrot.
No original thoughts - nothing entirely new – terminally curious - with just a lifelong assortment of words and sounds and ideas collected from the world and other people.
An imitator, fabulist, singer of old songs.
I am the cage, as well, decorated with flowers and ribbons, with an open door, and a mystery inside.

I’m never quite sure if what I say makes any sense or means anything important. People are nice about it, but one never knows for sure.
Meanwhile, the ‘parrot’ in me keeps occupied, and what he says entertains some people. But what the ‘parrot’ knows can also be dangerous, because there’s usually some complicated truth in it.

Truth is like an onion – you peel layer after layer until you get to the center only to find it was layers all the way in.
The truth is only the sum of all the many versions it takes.
Like an onion, the truth can bring flavor to life or make you cry.
Being a good steward of truth is always problematic.
There’s so much that could be true, and should be true.
That we wish it so.
That’s why we tell each other stories.

link to this story

August 26, 2014

Seattle, Washington
The last week of August, 2014
An ongoing string of clear skies, warm days, and cool nights.
Some early morning fog and clouds.


Our city decided to construct a spiritual monument.
Something large and imposing – along the Elliot Bay waterfront.
A significant expression of peace and tranquility.
An image of universal process.
To be placed alongside one of our busiest traffic routes.

Its purpose would be to remind the citizens of the larger context
of existence and the place of human beings in the universe.
The monument would balance the stress of mundane daily life with an image of the mystery of eternal truths.
Drawing on images out of deep history, we decided to construct a Great Wheel.
A moving mandala – a metaphor for the Circle of Being, the Wheel of Fortune,
and the Wheel of Time.

*(see “images for the Great Wheel of Life” – )

Ours would be three dimensional, 175 feet tall, turn slowly, and be brightly lit at night so that it might be seen from far away.
Passengers would enter its compartments at ground level, rise slowly to the top, float on around and down, and at the end, get off where they got on.
While riding they would get a look at the frantic traffic of the city, then the sky and sea - sometimes sunrise or sunset - sometimes the phases of the moon, stars, and usually the far Olympic Mountains.
The riders would be connected with the motion of everything that goes round.

Our Great Wheel would be a metaphor – standing for sanity and perspective.
It was hoped that the slow, graceful ride would be calming.
It would give passengers a sense of the wide world and their place in it.
It was hoped that the riders would walk away a little bit enlightened.
And so, two years ago, the Great Wheel was built, and is operational now.
You can see a photograph of it on my Facebook page –
Please take a look at it before you read any further.

( )

* * *

“It’s just a Ferris Wheel,” you will say to yourself.
Well, yes, I suppose you can think of it that way.
Or - you can see it as I have – as a spiritual monument.
A positive example of the Law of Unintentional Consequences.

Ferris Wheels have been around for a long time.
They first came to prominence at the World’s Columbian Exposition held in
Chicago in 1893.
George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., was the designer.
He intended it as a source of entertainment and amusement.
And since that day Ferris Wheels have been built all over the world.
Most major cities have one now.
The largest one is in Las Vegas – 550 feet tall – The High Roller.
An even larger one is under construction in Dubai- 610 feet high.

*( see “images for the Great Wheel” - )

Some people are devoted to roller coasters.
Some say a roller coaster would be a better monument to existence.
And there’s some merit in that.
But not for me - I get my share of terror just driving on a freeway.
I don’t need to be reminded how scary life can be.
I’m a Ferris Wheel man – devoted to slow rides.

My all-time favorite is the small one at the carnival that set up rides at our county fair every year at the end of August – in a field near Waco, Texas.
I went at night when the dust of the day had settled and the air had cooled.
The two-person cars were open to the sky, and if the timing was right the wheel would stop while I and my date were at the very top, gently swinging back and forth to calliope music, with the colored lights of the midway far below, and the stars far above – and us in between.
I was never scared up there – never thought I might throw up.
I felt like flying up and away into the sky.

Looking back, I realize now that it was a small taste of infinite forever.

As I write, the words of two songs come to mind.
One sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary:

Take your place on The Great Mandala
As it moves through your brief moment of time.
Win or lose now you must choose now
And if you lose you’re only losing your life.

And the chorus from a song written by Tom Dundee:

And it’s all such a delicate balance
Takes away just as much as it gives,
To live it is real, to love it is to feel
You’re a part of what everything is.

And it’s all such a delicate balance
As it turns through the circles of air,
To worry does nothing but steals from the loving
And robs from the pleasure that’s there.

link to this story

August 21, 2014

Seattle, Washington
The third week of August, 2014
An ongoing string of clear skies, warm days, and cool nights.
with a few days of welcome showers to cleanse the air.


Once upon a time ago, there was,
or may have been . . .
A man, a woman, a child . . .
Who went out to seek . . .
They met a frog, an old lady, a wizard . . .
They were given three wishes . . .
Stones and wishbones . . .
Little did they know . . .
And then one day . . .
Come to find out . . .
Three times three . . .
A year and a day . . .
From that time on . . .
Until this very day . . .
They lived, ever after
Sometimes happily . . .
Sometimes not . . .
But well enough . . .

It’s been a long time since I was told a story.
And almost as long a time since I told one.
But I remember the enchantment:
Evenings around a fire at summer camp – ghost stories.
Bed times before a child fell asleep – fairy tales.

In my novel, Third Wish, Alice is a teller of stories.
She is on the Greek island of Crete.
She spins tales to enchant her friend, Alex.
Like this:

“I have a surprise for you – three wish bones.
They contain wishes, but you must think of them only as metaphors.
Alas, if we actually pull them apart, one of us will get the lucky long half and the other one will get the unlucky short half.
It’s too risky to chance it – one of us will be disappointed.
Just keep the bones as symbols of the trickiness of wishing.”

As they walked along the beach, Alice picked up three smooth stones, and rolled them around in the palm of her hand with her fingers, as if conjuring something from them.

“Alex, would you like to hear a story about wishing?”
“Yes, Tell me.”

“Well, then, as you would begin: The day after once upon a time, not so long ago and not so far away, there may have been an island in the sea much like this one. So people say.

One day a small sailing boat landed on a beach much like this one.
A young woman got out. People went to meet her.
Where do you come from, they asked?
The Coast of Tennessee, she replied.
But Tennessee has no coast.
Really? I could have sworn it did. I was misinformed.

How did you come here, they asked?
From out there. Through three doors:
The Door of Desire, The Door of Confusion, and the Door of Possibility.”
But there are no doors on the sea, they said.
Really? Well, I must be confused.

What can we do for you?
Take me to your king.
We do not have a king. Never have.
Really? Is this not the Island of Any-Where-But-Here?
Oh dear, not again, she said. And she began to cry.
Why have you come, they asked?
I was given three wishes.
I wished for a boat. I wished for a journey. And I wished to see the king.
I’m not where I wanted to be. And I’ve used up my wishes.”
Ah, well, you have been deceived. Or you deceived yourself. But all is not lost. Actually, you are only misguided about the nature of wishing.
What do you mean?”

Long ago we stopped making normal wishes. We found they only led to trouble and disappointment. Especially when employed in threes.
Now we trust only in retroactive wishes, one wish at a time.”
Retroactive wishes?

Yes. When you find yourself in a fine place having a fine time, you might remember a time when your life was awful and how, back then you would have wished you were here.
But, you are here now. Look around you. It’s a wonderful place to be. Where you are is exactly what you would have wished for, had you known. It’s a retroactive wish come true.
Choose three pebbles from this beach to remind you of what you found.

“And she did that,” said Alice –“three pebbles like these.”
Alice placed the smooth stones into Alex’s hand.
“And she lived happily ever after?” he asked.
“Oh, no, nobody ever does that.
But she lived happily for the time being, and that was enough.
Throw the pebbles into the care of the sea.”

And he did that.

(See my Facebook page for photo of the wishbones and stones)

link to this story

August 18, 2014

Seattle, Washington
The middle of August, 2014
An ongoing string of clear skies, warm days, and cool nights.
with a few days of welcome showers to cleanse the air.


Monday morning perspective:

While I don’t do political or social blogging or comment on the daily bad news of the world, sometimes what happens in public close by me is so significant that I can’t really ignore it.

Hemp Fest opened three blocks away in the waterfront park last Friday, for a three-day run.
This is the festival’s 23rd year.
As you may know by now, Washington State voters legalized the sale of cannabis. Hemp Fest has been the mainspring of the energy behind that new law (

About 25,000 people at a time were allowed into a very well organized venue focused on marijuana and personal freedom.
The event featured non-stop music, countless shops and vendors, impassioned speeches, and political dignitaries.

That same evening, at the other end of the waterfront, the Seattle Seahawks played their first home game since winning the Super-Bowl. 70,000 fans went to the game – and the TV screens in all the sports bars in my neighborhood were jammed full of more fans, who spilled out onto the sidewalks to cheer an exciting win.

Not a few people combined the two events into one – peacefully migrating from the Hemp Fest to the game at the stadium.
As far as I have been able to tell, there were no incidents of criminal behavior – no fights, no shootings, no fires, no looting, no violence in the streets.
A policeman I talked to this morning said it was a very mellow evening downtown – nothing out of the ordinary.
The Hemp Fest went on through the weekend and closed last night at eight – and the waterfront venue was being scrupulously cleaned and tidied this morning by industrious volunteers.

I try to write about what I know, and try to notice what’s nearby.
So, then, for what it’s worth, that’s what happened in my neighborhood over the weekend.
However one judges it, it was what it was,

Hard to ignore . . .

* * *

The masked fiddler was back busking in Ballard on Sunday morning.
A little girl disguised as the Lone Ranger – playing her violin.
Many of the photos on my Facebook page have been taken at Seattle’s Ballard Farmer’s Market this summer.
I go every Sunday morning.
To shop for fruit and vegetables and flowers.
To eat breakfast with friends.
To enjoy the sounds and courage of street musicians.
And most of all to stand still and notice the graceful ways of the merchants and customers as they interact with one another over the abundance of the summer’s harvest.
It’s like watching a slow-motion dance form.

Nothing extraordinary or dramatic about this.
But I always leave in an upbeat mood - feeling I have been in touch with something decent and good and elemental in human affairs.
It’s my private spiritual response to a public secular event.

On my way home I sometimes detour through a cemetery and walk a little ways through the final resting place of those who have gone on before me.
Just to keep my existence in perspective.

When I do, I go away thinking thoughts like these:

The good of the world rests in the lives of ordinary people going about their daily-ness in a spirit of social decency – doing unto others the right thing in the right way because civil society depends on that.

I desire that I be counted among their number. . .

They live a life faithful to the common good, not realizing how heroic their contribution to the human enterprise is.
Some smoked weed - some did not.
Some watched football – some did not.
Most practiced a live-and-let-live approach to the human race. 
No monuments are raised over their quiet graves – but they are the noble majority who make this world livable.

Hard to ignore . . .

I suppose that’s a naive position in light of the news of the world this morning – all the trauma and disease and bloodshed and violence.
The good news and the bad news exist side by side – always.
One cannot turn away from any of it.

I understand that one must go on without being stymied by what seems to be so contradictory – that the world is a horrible place and a lovely place at the same time.

Hard to ignore . . .

link to this story

August 10, 2014

Seattle, Washington
The second week of August, 2014
An ongoing string of clear skies, warm days, and cool nights
Full moon tonight – August 10th.

First, a sheepish apology:
A photo recently posted on my Facebook page offended some people.
It showed my hand, palm toward the viewer, middle finger held up to display its worn and crooked state, as referred to in the journal essay.
I only intended to say, “Look at this.”
As I would in conversation.
It was not intended to be an obscene gesture meaning “Up Yours.”
In that case, the hand would be shown in the reverse position.
Subtle difference, I know, but important.
Forgive me for being naive.

Here’s a continuation of my thinking when considering my hands –
focusing down on my opposable thumbs:


In the same morning semi-stupor-before-caffeine, I rummaged around
in the drawers of odds and ends in my mental clutter for thumb stuff.
Here, in no particular order, was what I found:

The song, “Where is thumbkin, where is thumbkin?”
The story of “Thumbelina” by Hans Christian Anderson.
The ability to thumb my nose in disdain.
The idea of having a green thumb
The memory of sucking my thumb as a child.

(In the spirit of open-mindedness, I tried it again – BLECH!)

The idea that the opposable thumb is the mother of technology.
I twiddle my thumbs when bored.
Thumb gestures are emphatic.
Thumbs up is an affirmation – meaning yes, good, excellent.
Thumbs down means no, bad, reject.
Thumb out at an angle means I want a ride or “You’re out!” in a sporting event like baseball.
Thumb and finger in a circle means OK or perfect.
The nursery rhyme of Little Jack Horner, who stuck in his thumb. . .
Thumb at a 90 degree angle means move it over.

(By the way, thumbs up in Greece is an obscene gesture, as is the thumb-to-index finger circle – sorry to bring this up, but there are Greeks who read this journal and I didn’t want to leave them out.)

And then there’s the notion of a Rule of Thumb.
Wikipedia puts the definition succinctly:

“A rule of thumb is a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation. It is an easily learned and easily applied procedure for approximately calculating or recalling some value, or for making some determination.”

For example, my thumb at the first knuckle is about one inch wide.
And I often use that rule when rough-cutting wood.
From the tip of my nose to my outstretched arm at fingertip is a yard.
With my shoe on, my foot is twelve inches long.
My usual walking stride is 3 feet.
I can’t put my foot in my mouth . . . not literally.

(At this point in the meditation I got up and found a tape measure to see what other parts of my body might be a reference. My wife caught me doing this, and she didn’t say it, but I could read it in her eyes that maybe I should measure around my stomach while I was into research.)

Beyond the actual thumb, there are other general references I often use in an active way:

There are about six glasses in a standard wine bottle.
For the best buy in tasty wines, choose blends.
If your feet are cold, put on your hat.
If you don’t like waiting for a doctor or dentist, make the first appointment in the morning.
Coats: If you don’t take it with you, you can’t put it on, but if you do bring it, you can always take it off.
An acre is about the same as the size of a football field minus the two end zones.
If you are out on any kind of tightrope, keep moving, don’t look down.
If the black dog of depression assaults you, don’t feed it or pet it.
If you want to know what the weather is, go outside and look at it.
When taking a long trip, take half the clothes and twice the money.
One hour nap equals two hours of night sleep.
Everything looks better at a distance.
Most things are not as good or as bad as they first seem.
Two’s company, three’s either a crowd - or a small party.
Measure twice, cut once.
Dogs that bark, don’t bite – dogs that growl, will.
Look both ways when crossing streets.

Now I realize I’m getting into aphorisms, maxims and life directions – bordering on all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.

In a more alert state after coffee, I consulted the web.
There is a site called
With 5,537 entries.
I read up to 2,160 of them and began to go mind-numb.
They can be viewed by categories, if you want specific rules.

While it was fascinating to have a glance into the workings of lives so different from mine, many don’t apply to me – I don’t own cows or run a dairy, fly a plane, or do complex calculations involving math.

There were a few rules of thumb I filed away under the category of “good to know just in case . . .”
For example:
Run in a zig-zag pattern when fleeing from a crocodile.
Run downhill when fleeing from a bear.
Veer right when running from a polar bear – they are left-pawed.

That’s enough, don’t you think?
And you?
Add your rules of thumb to my Facebook page.
Onward . . .

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