Maybe (Maybe Not)

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Robert Fulghum has been a cowboy, a computer salesman, a professional artist, a folksinger, a Unitarian minister, a bartender, and a teacher of art and philosophy. A simple list of the subjects of the essays in MAYBE (MAYBE NOT) provides scarcely a clue, however, to Fulghum’s broad appeal. Whether he is describing how he learned the proper way to iron a shirt, or telling about the pleasant experience of serving as a bad example for a stranger, Fulghum’s essays share a charmingly eccentric, but insightful and thought-provoking perspective on life.

Although Fulghum takes ideas seriously, he nevertheless finds himself—and everyone else—amusing and bemusing. Some of his best pieces involve his experiences as a teacher: There is the curious incident of the headmaster, the ape, and the naked lady in his high school art class. There is the story of a game of musical chairs that taught his philosophy students about winning, losing, and sharing diminishing resources. From his job as a Unitarian minister comes the story of the church member who threatened to buy the whole “sumbitch” church and tear it down if the Board of Trustees and the minister did not quit wasting time on penny-ante details and get serious about the things a church ought to be doing in the world. One of the most moving essays describes the hilarious and profound experience that Fulghum and the audience shared when he fulfilled a lifelong dream by conducting three performances of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Minneapolis Chamber Symphony—despite being unable to read music.

Fulghum reports, “My wife says I get carried away by things.” His response? “Exactly.”