About Thomas Fiffer

Thomas G. Fiffer is a graduate of Yale and holds an M.A. in creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He posts daily on his blog, Tom Aplomb, and serves as Ethics Editor at The Good Men Project and Editor of Westport HamletHub, a local online news and information service. In addition, he provides life coaching and motivational speaking, is a featured storyteller with MouseMuse Productions, and is working on his first novel.

Where We Start

This passage from “Little Gidding,” the fourth of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” describes the process as well as anything I have ever read.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.


Alice Munro’s Living-Room Acceptance (via The New Yorker)


Alice Munro explains the writer’s life as she accepts her Nobel Prize for Literature:

“When you’re a writer, you’re never quite like other people; you’re doing some job that other people don’t know you’re doing, and you can’t talk about it really, and you just are always finding your way in this secret world, and then you’re doing something else in the normal world.”


There are times in our life when we need sanctuary.




From others and from ourselves.

We need sanctuary when we are hurt, when we are weak, when we are fallen, when we are grieving.

A closed place with an open-ended commitment to revelation and healing.

A walled garden where we can tear down our walls and let the light in so growth can begin again.


Psyche Opening the Door into Cupid’s Garden – John William Waterhouse

A place free of judgment, where fears can be shared without fear, where tears can flow without shame or embarrassment, where slings and arrows fly by harmlessly as we remove our bandages and open our wounds to the air.

One definition of sanctuary is: “a consecrated place where sacred objects are kept.” Consecrated means “solemnly dedicated to or set apart for a high purpose.”

The sacred object is the self.

The high purpose is restoration.

The hardest times in life are when the place that has been our sanctuary, the person whose embrace has sheltered us, no longer serves. These changes may be temporary or permanent, and at first, it can be hard to tell. Stress can render a person unable to provide what he once did, and calm has the potential to restore the ability to give. But people also change, or put another way, they crack, and we may discover when they hit their fault lines that they are not entirely who we believed and wanted them to be. And of course, death can take a person’s physical presence, though it cannot steal the sanctuary a special person gave us while here.

When you need your sanctuary, you will find it. Or it will find you, perhaps unexpectedly.

It can be frightening to enter at first. The self shrinks a little, as you are overcome with gratitude, as you feel the higher purpose taking over. And then you remember, “I have been here before.” You may not be in the same place, the same embrace, but yes, yes, you have been there before. The place on your map you can find with your eyes closed.