“What the Fortune Cookie Said”

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“What the Fortune Cookie Said”

In the last few weeks, whenever we’ve brought home supper from the Chinese take-out place, and opened the fortune cookie, mine has been deplorable.

Things like, “When climbing the hill of difficulty, don’t slip and slide.” Just the other day, I got the all time worst fortune cookie. Here’s what it said:

Pick another fortune cookie.

It got so I was afraid to do that.

But then, yesterday, I steeled myself to crack open a new one and it read:

You will make a sudden rise in life.

Maybe it was the down-in-the-mouth preceeding ones, but that cookie got my attention. I would be more inclined to discount it if the current of my present life were grinding my face in the dirt. But in fact, something like the reverse is true. For example, I may actually recover from being thrown from a horse at a gallop. Thanks to the timely help and counsel of physical therapist Amy, acupuncturist Richard, and even my primary care doctor — who’s been out-to-lunch for the past year in terms of accessibility and focus but now seems back-from-lunch – who ascertained that no bones were broken. Despite all that bruising interference from the horse, my P.T. drill continues to show results. The chance of getting back a more normal walk has not been blown entirely.

More central to me is the progress on my book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher. Like Ariadne’s red thread that (in Greek mythology) conducted Theseus safely through the labyrinth and back up to daylight, the book has threaded a question through all the phases of my life. From the vantage point of each new experience, I would look back once again to ask the question:

How could all that have happened to me?

Now at last, I’ve completed the final chapter, the Epilogue and, I think, even the Preface. I’m too close to it to be absolutely sure. When (and if!) Jerry gets a breather, I’ll ask him if he agrees. But, as of now, I rather think it’s done. Achieved. Completed. The answer to a question that has linked every phase of my life to date. That by itself could explain the fortune cookie’s prediction of a ”sudden rise in life.”

Meanwhile, a colleague writes to ask me for a c.v. He wants to nominate me to give one of the invited lectures at the American Philosophical Association. Yipes. An invited lecture at the A.P.A. could compromise one of my most treasured possessions:


When you write for a strictly academic audience, as I have done, and survive peer review, you can be pretty well assured of invisibility. A colleague once suggested that, if our government is serious about protecting the nation’s secrets, it should assemble them in a volume and get it published by a university press.

No one will read it.

Actually, “Dear Abbie,” this weekly column, has made inroads of its own on my invisibility. In this blog, I write something and it gets read the same day! And people even reply. People I’ve never met! And people I know, who – unless they’re colleagues — don’t read articles in philosophical journals. In my whole life, that’s never happened before!

I don’t know what it means to “make a sudden rise in life,” but the expression suggests enhanced visibility.

Do I believe the fortune cookie? Yeah, a little bit. It might be an early warning. Early warnings can be delivered in all kinds of ways: synchronicities, dreams, concatenations of probabilities … . Why be a snob about fortune cookies and insist that they are especially insignificant? If it’s not an early warning, I won’t have a problem. Elusiveness can continue on down the line, as far as I go.

But suppose elusiveness can’t continue. What then? What would that feel like?  The first thing I think of is the removal of a concealing layer. If I were a singer or an actress, I might feel normal under the hot lights. But I’m not a woman like that.  For me, and I suspect for many women, it’s easiest to proceed behind layers — some sort of protective veil. I don’t mean a burka. That goes too far. Just something between self and the rough world.

Years ago, a young Englishwoman who was visiting New York stopped me and a woman friend on a night street and asked if we thought her skirt was too short.

“Yeah,” I said, considering. “For New York, it’s a bit short, honey.”

To become more visible means having to go through a kind of second birth, where the insulating layers of elusiveness have been peeled off. It seems risky on the face of it. Perhaps you do have an opportunity to be more loving, to more people, in more ways. But they have more chances to hurt you, or misread you, or tempt you, in more ways too.

One thing concealing layers hide is some part of the truth. Truth about what? About whatever is going on around one, and what one really thinks. So oneself is changed to a degree by being less concealed, and the world one deals with is different too.

When I give a class, or a pubic lecture, in a way I’m quite unconcealed. But it’s a performance, the nakedness. I can go back to my default position of self-concealment afterward.   Is enhanced visibility something like being “on” 24/7?

Good grief!

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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2 Responses to “What the Fortune Cookie Said”

  1. Jerel Wohl says:

    Archaeologists are likely to say that the world benefits from revealed treasures. Your progress fits that theory, Abigail. Congratulations on your next book and may you be comfortable with your lack of anonymity.

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