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The Saddest Phrase in Literature

January 27, 2022

“I realized I could no longer read German.”

– Charlie Flowers For Algernon

I probably read Daniel Keyes’ classic “Flowers For Algernon,” when I was in high school. It seems like the kind of book that Ms Thomas, our high school English teacher would pick. It’s one of those books that sometimes gets banned. If you ever write a book, hope that someone wants to ban it at some point. Nothing increases interest in a book as much as putting it on a ban list.

I don’t think I’ve read “Flowers For Algernon” since high school. That’s a lot of days, months and years. Lots of reading (and a little writing.) And yet, across all those years that phrase has stuck with me.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, Algernon is a mouse. Doctors do a procedure that turns him into the Einstein of all mice. Charlie is a mentally challenged character. In an experiment that could only happen in books, the doctors try the same procedure on Charlie. And like Algernon, Charlie becomes smart. Not just smart, he becomes Good Will Hunting wicked smart.

Naturally, he learns numerous languages. He eventually learns more than his doctors. Good story, so far, right?

Except, remember Algernon? Algernon loses his smarts. He eventually reverts back to just a normal mouse. And then he dies. (Hence the flowers in the title.) Charlie, is super smart and does his own research, but he actually, you know does research not just read about stuff on the internet. . .which also didn’t exist.

Anyway, he realizes that there is no hope. He will share Algernon’s fate. First he will lose his intelligence and then he’ll die. He must face not only his death, but his diminished mental capacity. It’s almost more than he can bear.

And the way that he knows it’s happening is that at one point he picks up a book written in German. It was at that point he says, “I realized I could no longer read German.” That one sentence hit teenage Rodney hard. I don’t know why, but it struck a chord.

Not just to not know something, but to know that you used to know. To be forced to confront that fact.

The author, in a cruel twist shows us that Charlie isn’t better for his brief foray into the land of the uber intelligent. Before the procedure he didn’t know what he didn’t know. He was even happy with his life. He had a job he liked. He had friends. But, at the end, he’s not just back to where he was. He’s lost his job. His friends have abandoned him. And now he knows what he doesn’t know.

I need to create a website. Sure, this site is technically a website. But, I need it to be more than a blog. I need a mailing list. I need a place that you can go and click a link to buy my books. And of course, it needs to host this blog. I talked briefly with a freelance web designer. He said it would be in the $2000-$3000 range most likely. That’s absolutely a reasonable price.

But, see, I have to admit that I can no longer build web sites. I’ve built a few over the years. I built my first one back in the late 1990’s. And now I’m one of those that used to know how.

Unlike Charlie, of course, I can relearn how. And there are plenty of tools. But, it made me think of Charlie and Algernon.

If you have a suggestion for where I should go to brush up on web design, feel free to leave a comment or contact me at one of the locations below.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Order Miscellany II, an anthology including his latest short story, “The Mercy System” here

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(c) 2022 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

  1. take the following with a grain of salt since my own web sites are still plain html coded by hand, though I have paid attention to how the market has gone and assisted others with their systems. and have tiny blogs on both WordPress and Blogspot.

    Most focus now days is on WordPress. while it started focused on blogs and still does those very well, it can do so much more now. It looks like you are already on a WordPress platform, so depending on what constraints your hosted system imposes, you may already have what you need, or need to export this and import it to a new hosted WordPress system (assuming you aren’t trying to host it yourself). Make sure it is a managed service where they make sure all of WordPress and especially the add-ons/extensions are updated automatically as there are, shall we say “vulnerability of the week” in that whole ecosystem at this point.
    Most webdesign is just making WordPress work for you.

    • Yes, it’s on WordPress. The Free version. I want to move to the version where I can get the money for ads. I also want to add an option for a mailing list, and an actual landing page.

  2. one option is to stay with WordPress as a provider, but go for one of the paid options
    check out to get you going on expanding your WordPress skills, at least one of the things you want is outlined in it
    Plug-ins are what you’ll be looking at for some of those features, as well as tools to export/backup your site. especially if moving to a new provider.

    I’d pick EasyDNS’s WordPress options if I was going this path, but that’s because they are well in range if the local call for me isn’t enough (I’ve already WarWalked one of the owner’s coffee haunts on the dare).

    We can always take this to the side if you want to get into more specifics, you have at least one of my email addresses.

  3. Now I’m going to have to read Daniel Keyes’ “Flowers For Algernon”. What you wrote makes me think of what dementia sufferers must be going through that would explain the anger I’ve seen in a few of them having a front seat for it.

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