Picks and Pans Review: It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It
by Robert Fulghum
In a just world, the subtitle to this book would be: So My Manuscript Caught Fire and I Didn’t Have Anything to Publish.
But a just world would not have made best-sellers of Fulghum’s unctuous first book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, or this tedious follow-up of more specious strings of unconnected, rambling, pointless musings and anecdotes. They are apparently devoted to demonstrating that Fulghum’s parents set out to raise an insufferable buffoon and that they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Antieducation, anti-intellect, antilogic and anti just about everything else except self-indulgence, Fulghum writes in the epigraph to this book, “I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge—that myth is more potent than history. I believe that dreams are more powerful than facts—that hope always triumphs over experience—that laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”
What he prefers to ideas and information are idle comments and insipid notions about what he calls doggy poo, how teaching driving is “a job that anybody with half a brain could do,” how “honored” he was that a stray dog came and sat next to him in a park, how hearing a Dixieland band made him forget that people die, or how, only five pages later, he came to accept the fact that he could die after all, but, “Well, it’s okay.”
Fulghum, 51, is a Seattle minister (Unitarian) who brags about having stolen money from his mother’s purse when he was a boy and gotten away with it. He also seems to think his own peculiar life reflects common experiences. He has, for instance, lived in 37 places in his 51 years; he also acts as if it is standard parental behavior for a furious mother to say (as his did to him, apparently often), “Get—out—of—my—sight.”
The demonstrations of how little Fulghum has learned about life are occasionally disturbing and often pathetic, but mostly reading this book is like eating saccharine by the spoonful. Of children growing up in troubled parts of the world, he writes, “They do not know about warm cookies and cold milk, only stale scraps and hunger. They have no blankie to wrap themselves in, and do not take naps because it is too dangerous to close their eyes.”
Among the manifold affectations Fulghum boasts about is his business card, which includes only his last name, as if to suggest that he does nothing worth paying attention to. Nobody is wrong all the time. (Villard, $17.95)