These wise proverbs and clever and amusing sayings have been rattling around in my head for many years, and I want to share them in various formats. They’re available from my online shop at Redbubble, where you can see how they look on shirts, mugs, face masks, and other paraphernalia. Redbubble takes the orders, makes the items and ships them around the world.

I’ve printed a few T-shirts in Dublin to sell to bricks-and-mortar shops locally: Strong coffee, A smile, If I’d known, The future, and A hundred years of misery.

Below are stories attached to some of the images that wouldn’t fit on the items.

Click on images to enlarge

Jim Babcock, director of the Burton Historical Collection in Detroit in the 1960s, invited me for a visit to the Collection and a chat about whatever I was researching at the time. He was from Oklahoma. He offered me a cup of coffee and asked how I liked it. Strong enough to float a horseshoe, I told him. He said, “Ain’t no such thing as strong coffee, just weak people.”

“Mean to” don’t pick no cotton: another one from Jim Babcock, but I don’t recall the circumstances.

Bubbly and charismatic Alberta (Bety) Cariño Trujillo (1973-2010) stayed with us here in Dublin in February 2010 when she visited Ireland for the second time to describe what she and other activists were doing to support human rights in Mexico. She was the director of CACTUS (Centro de Apoyo Comunitario Trabajando Unidos). Bety’s life had been threatened, and her supporters managed to repel a group of paramilitaries who attacked her home. They were tracked to an army base.

Bety and Finnish human rights activist Jyri Antero Jaakkola were leading a convoy to the indigenous village of San Juan Copala in the state of Oaxaca, which had been occupied by government-backed paramilitaries. The convoy was ambushed, and Bety and Jyri were the only ones killed. Several were injured, and some escaped. The autopsy said Bety was killed by a single shot to the head, which is why I called it an assassination.

The speech she gave at the 5th Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders in February 2010 is available in Spanish with English subtitles at –

I found this proverb in Irish outside a tourist shop near Galway on my first visit to Ireland in 1978. It’s an expansion of a proverb I had heard years before that: “Seek the soil that nourishes you.” I’m from the United States, living and nourished in Ireland since 1980. The crossroads in the photo is on the Camino de Santiago west of Hospital de Órbigo in León.

Literal translation: The place where is your heart, it is there will take your feet you.
Pronunciation: un awt ah will duh chree iss awn a hoorfas duh chusa hoo. (“ch” like in the Scottish “loch”)

That’s me after tripping over a step in the dark at a hostel in Iceland and falling nose first onto a picnic table. I found the proverb carved into the wood of the bar in the lounge of a now-demolished small pub in a rough Dublin neighbourhood.

I found this in Galicia when I was researching for Hellhounds and Hero Horses: Beasts of Myth and Legend and included it in the book: when a person dies the soul ascends to the moon on an arc of a rainbow and returns to earth as a bee.

The seal of the Republic of Adygea (now part of Russia) depicts a traditional tale from the North Caucasus that is over 2000 years old. “Sosruko Fetches Fire” tells how Nart hero Sosruko, with the aid and advice of his horse, Thozhey, steals fire from a giant to save his companions from freezing to death. It’s in my book A World of Tricksters.

Smile/frown is on my face mask.

Redbubble labels this image “Mature Content”.

Captain Tony Tarracino (1916-2008) stood only about 5’8″, but he was a genuine he-man, which was recognised by everyone instinctively, especially young women. He had about 13 children over the years with 11 women, some of whom he married. One of his grandsons was older than some of his children. After a career of gun-running, smuggling, serving as a mercenary, gambling (with money and his life) and charter boat fishing, he settled with a wonderful earth-mother woman. He told me once that 90% of people were slabs of meat with eyes. That was before I became cynical as an investigative journalist, and I argued that it was more like 85%. Some years later, after he married that lovely wise woman, he said 85% of people were slabs of meat with eyes. Having acquired cynicism, I argued that it was closer to 90%.

I met Bill in Key West in the 1970s, where he was working as a house painter and all-round handyman. Alben William Barkley Truitt (1933-2003), to give his full handle, was a grandson of Alben Barkley, vice-president under Harry Truman from 1949 to 1953. On 23 October 1968, Bill hijacked a Cessna 177 from Key West to Cuba, one of a flurry of such Florida-Cuba and Cuba-Florida incidents in the 1960s. He was arrested on landing, thrown into prison, and threatened with execution as a suspected spy. As he put it, “I kissed my ass goodbye.”

However, political strings were pulled in Washington, and he was released. On his arrival in the US, he was sentenced to 20 years each for air piracy and kidnapping and thrown in a federal penitentiary. He served only a nominal amount of time. I asked Bill why he did it.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time” was his lame excuse. I couldn’t understand how he thought the act would solve the financial and domestic problems that were plaguing him – at the time.

The experience turned out to be life-changing. A prison mate was Don Juan Tejerino, who Bill said was the inspiration for the Mexican shaman Don Juan Matus in Carlos Castaneda’s series of books about Yaqui mysticism and magic practices, which were presented as anthropological research but later revealed to be fiction based to some extent on native traditions. What Bill learned in conversations with Don Juan revealed a separate reality – the title of Castaneda’s second book – and redirected him into a more spiritual way of living.

When I knew him, he radiated peace and wisdom. Perhaps he had been unconsciously impelled by a higher power to hijack the plane, and that’s the real reason he did it.

A story goes that a woman asked Einstein how to make her children brilliant. He replied: “If you want to make them intelligent, tell them stories. If you want to make them brilliant, tell them more stories.”

If Yogi had been Irish (his name might have been spelled Ioghaidh Béaradh), most of his famous “Yogiisms” would be called Irish bulls. An Irish bull is defined by the Concise Oxford Dictionary 1976 as: “an expression containing a contradiction in terms or implying ludicrous inconsistency”. In fact, it is a poetic expression in which a nugget of wisdom or sharp social comment peeps out between the seemingly contradictory or inconsistent words. Example from the father of Irish bulls, Sir Boyle Roche (1743-1807): “Half the lies our opponents tell about us are not true.” From The Irish Times: “They are walking around with their heads in the sand.”
John Pentland Mahaffy (1839-1919), Trinity College Provost, was asked what was the difference between an Irish bull and any other kind of bull.
“An Irish bull is always pregnant.”

This is taken seriously in Ireland. A woman on a bus saw one magpie out the window and spat on the floor to avert bad luck, saying, “I’d rather see a garda [policeman] than a magpie.”

These are common greetings from one pilgrim to another on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. “Buen Camino” is a blessing to have a good journey. “Ultreia” is deeper. With the sense of going beyond all limits (ultra), it is an encouragement to persevere and reach the ultimate spiritual goal, whatever that may be for the individual.