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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

My Ten Resolutions for Twenty Ten

1. Use the phrase Twenty Ten as often as possible. I like the sight and sound of it when I say it out loud.

2. Continue posting sporadically because my mind is still too screwed up for regularity.

3. Neither write nor say negatives about people. My old aunt used to tell me, “Unless you can say something good about others, keep quiet.” A rule that is hard to follow in every instance, but worth the effort.

4. Read more books about cowboys.

5. Write at least one positive post about Sarah Palin. I may have to hire a ghost writer for this one. But, then, she has nice legs.

6. Figure out how much detergent to pour in the washing machine to avoid flooding the floor of the laundry room with suds.

7. Maybe hire a housekeeper. I say maybe because this is still a little bit iffy. A cook would be better. I’m sick and tired of cold Vienna Sausage.

8. Tell my neighbor, who is a police officer, how much I appreciate her help and thoughtfulness after my wife’s passing.

9. Sell my house so I can move on; perhaps find a new life somewhere. This will be very difficult, but I need to try.

10. Maybe teach again. Another hard goal to achieve. I have lost patience with students who perceive college as a place of encounter rather than as an arena for learning.

Okey, dokey. I’ve shown you mine. Now show me yours.

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This morning I was chatting with a Facebook Friend about finding a suitable blog platform. She’s a professional writer, so she’s a little pickier than me. She’s looking not just for an audience but for the right audience. Professional writers need the exposure that could lead to a paid gig. And, of course, all professional writers write to be read widely. Otherwise, why write.

I’m not a writer myself. I write basically for my family and friends. A blog is a good way to reach them beyond the bounds of E-mails and letters. Oh, sure, it’s nice when others write nice comments about the things I write, and I have met some fine people through my blog. Can’t deny that, and I hope to meet more good folks with interesting things to say.

My own approach to blogging is simple. I am not at all good at writing about myself. My inner feelings are boring even to me, and I am sort of bored right now. That’s why I tend or have tended to write about external events. And since my interests are quite broad, I am inclined to write according to no particular pattern. Today, I might write about a political event, tomorrow a blurb about an article I ran across in GQ magazine. Whatever strikes my interest at the moment will likely be the topic for the day.

I also like to add a humorous touch to most of the topics I am interested in. That doesn’t mean everything is funny. Some topics are absolutely without humor, child abuse, domestic violence, murder, and suicide, for example, are devoid of laughter.

That’s why the current run of murders in this country is disturbing. Thirteen soldiers murdered at Fort Hood, Texas, one murdered and mayby 15-plus wounded in Orlando, Florida; these are just two of the most egregious examples of recent violence in America today.

Of course, the perpetrators of these crimes will always have an excuse. The guy in Orlando was fired from his job two years ago and he was mad at the company. Oddly, the individuals he murdered are not, “the company.” But somehow in the mind of this deranged individual, the employees who worked for “the company” became “the company.” So, he decided to murder as many human beings as he could.

He may or may not have known or cared that he was shooting individuals rather than “the company.” Is this insanity, or is it a failure of the ability of some people to understand distinctions?  One individual is dead but “the company” lives on. Similarly, thirteen dead but the United States Army survives.

In addition to the damages done to the survivors of these monstrous acts, the perpetrators have harmed the United States in more ways than one. Globally, they’ve added to the perception that this is the most violent country in the world. Say what you wish, but the perceptions of other nations are important within the global system when it comes to the achievement of the vital national interests of the U.S.

Domestically, the current rash of violence has exacerbated the feelings of fear and parnoia among ordinary Americans.  Who among us might be the next mass murder? That guy down the street who looks odd with his little round glasses and close-set eyes? Or a respected Army psychologist?

The most disgusting cipher in the equation is society’s failure to deal with the violence that seems to be a part of our cultural DNA. Why are we as a country so reluctant to tackle the issue? Is it because we feel helpless? Maybe we think its someone else’s job. Or have our leaders failed us? We have a justice system that excuses criminal behavior and a penal system that has become a breeding ground for violence and gang activity.

Whatever the answer may be, it’s a puzzle. As far as solutions go, my own personal impression is that the violence has largely missed the elites of our society. As long as people below the elite level murder each other, as long as the elites do not find themselves the targets of random and mass violence they will continue to largely ignore the issue, appearing on television and uttering meaningless words after a mass shooting or an especially egregious murder.

Somehow, in America, we tend to look at the moment and at the situation. Broader ramifications seem beyond our comprehension.

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I’ve encountered a writer’s block of unparalleled density. I’ve been chipping at it in my mind for about a month without a great deal of effect. A friend of mine once observed, “We can saw off the leg of an elephant with the wings of butterflies if we saw long enough.” I might add that other variables come into play, such as the cooperation of the elephant, but my friend wasn’t speaking literally. He was talking about persistence. We can do just about anything within reason if we stick to it.

That’s what I am doing at this instant, trying my doggoned best to initiate some persistence by writing a few random thoughts. For instance, I have this feeling that the so-called Balloon Boy hoax is a hoax all right, but it isn’t a hoax perpetrated by the Heene family. Rather a mainstream media that lives on sensationalism combined with a sheriff who seems rather oddly discordant to me equals a hoax in my mind. These feelings are difficult to explain, and I may be wrong entirely but that remains to be seen.

Cougar is another code word that seems to have captured the media’s attention. I am not certain that the average American cares whether older women pursue younger men or not. Of course a few hidebound old relics of the 20th Century may be stuck in the mores of a distant age when sex for men was okay but unacceptable when women wandered into male territory. I’ve often wondered where these licentious old men got their sex, considering that women were condemned to hell for merely thinking about it. The current interest in women as the aggressors seems to have had its origins among the media when ABC aired a new show called “Cougar Town” starring Courtney Cox as a 40-plus divorcee with a penchant for wrinkle free studs. Courtney is actually 40-plusherself and let me tell you, she has a body like a 25-year old woman in the prime of sexual attractiveness. I think ABC has a hit, although I don’t particularly care for the show. I just watch it in the interests of journalistic curiosity.

The preceding is about all I can think of at the moment. I’m probably entering a change of life. I’m in the midst of a couple of cataract operations, and if nothing goes wrong, I will leave the world of the partially blind and enter the arena of the seeing. I am thinking that Courteney Cox will look even better in a couple of weeks.

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Okay, here’s the challenge. Name ten poems that have touched you. Why poems? We’ve covered books and short stories. Poetry just seems to follow naturally.

In my own personal case, I’m thinking not necessarily about poems but about almost any written output that has a nice rhythm to it. Sometimes, poems meet my likeability standard, sometime not. Sometimes, the lyrics of a song strike me as pleasant. Consequently, you will find some songs among my list of preferred poetic writings.

When you’re reading my list and my comments, you may also note that on occasion I don’t know the exact title of a work. If I’m wrong, I’m sure one or more of you will let me know.

You may also be struck by the lack of poetic sophistication in my choices. Most are bereft of deeper meanings, but then again, we can read meaning into just about anything. Bear in mind, however, that most of the works cited below were, for the most part, written for an audience of ordinary people with little time and inclination for sophisticated contemplation. They appealed to emotion rather than analysis.

Many of my selections originated in an earlier era. That doesn’t mean I was around in, say, 1895, or that I lived in Scotland near Robert Burns when he penned Auld Lang Syne. Some poems and songs are timeless.

At any rate, you can follow my example or take the road you wish, just come up with 10 whatevers—poems, songs, haiku, any old thing you like—that touch you. And just to make it interesting, work from cold memory. No Googling.

Okay, here is my list.

1. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost. This poem and the one that follow are consistently found on lists of the most frequently read poems by Americans. Although many read them for deeper interpretations, I prefer to think of them in terms of my own simple life rather than as statements about the totality of human existence. When frost writes, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep/but I have miles to go before I sleep,” I do not envision the dark woods and sleep as individual death or the ultimate end of mankind but as a simple description of many woods that I have trod through or passed by when the night was dark and snow covered the ground. Because every wood is different from every other wood in some respects, I have often looked at snow covered woods as places to discover beauty unseen by me, and I longed to walk through them. But at the same time, I knew the time for exploration was later. For the moment, I had to get on about my business.

2. Another Frostian masterpiece is The Road Not Taken. I still marvel at Frost’s simplicity of word and phrase that nevertheless summarize an irrevocable decision. “Two roads diverged in a wood and I/I took the one less traveled by/and that has made all the difference.” All of us make choices every day. Sometimes, we wish we could retract them. At other times we are happy with the results. In most cases, however, we resign ourselves to the irretrievable consequences of a choice “that has made all the difference.” In my case, there is one road that brought me great happiness. There are no circumstances under which I could imagine a single moment of regret: my life with my beloved.

3. Cool Tombs, Carl Sandburg. I don’t know why I like this one. The poem asks the reader to “… tell me if the lovers are losers . . . tell me if any get more than the lovers . . . in the dust . . . in the cool tombs.” Perhaps you need to read the entire poem (it’s very short) to understand that Sandberg seems to be saying everyone is the same in death, Abraham Lincoln, the Wall Street bankers, and the lovers. If there is a deeper meaning…oh, well, I’ll think about it later. Time to take a coffee break,

4. And Frost again, Fire and Ice. This is such a short poem, I’m going to include it in full and give you an opportunity to judge it.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

5. The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe. “Once upon a midnight dreary/as I pondered weak and weary…” Those words and “Quoth the raven nevermore…” are all that remain in my memory of this poem we were required to read in the seventh or eighth grade. I thought it was great at the time, but opinions change: mine evolved from great to a passably good.

6. Trees, Joyce Kilmer. Kilmer was a poet and a soldier who was killed in the First World War. Trees is his best known poem, and almost every school child has read it at one time or another. Most would probably remember this passage: “Poems are made by fools like me/but only God can make a tree.” As a testament to the poem’s longevity, I first read it perhaps 40 years after it was written. Come on, now, you don’t think I was around when Kilmer penned it, do you?

7. America the Beautiful, Katharine Lee Bates. Although most Americans can probably sing this song, it was originally written as the poem, Pikes Peak, but re-titled America for publication. Later, church organist Samuel A. Ward set the words to music. Many Americans have proposed that America the Beautiful replace the Star Spangled Banner as the National Anthem. Okay, start singing, “Oh beautiful for spacious skies/for amber waves of grain/for purple mountain majesties/above the fruited plain…”

8. God Bless America, Israel Balin, This is a patriotic song written during the First World War. Later, it became the signature song of singer Kate Smith. Her powerful voice carried the song through the Second World War, and it still endures. Oh, I forgot to mention, Israel Balin is the birth name of one of America’s most prolific song writers, Irving Berlin.

9. The Home Place, Roger Traweek. This is one of the most moving pieces of poetry I’ve run across in many years. Raised on a ranch in Montana, the author is widely known as The Cowboy Poet. When I stumbled across this poem on the internet recently, I knew almost at once that I had read it before, but it had almost faded from my memory.

I can hear my mother humming
as she went about her chores,
Cooking, mending, and polishing
those worn linoleum floors.
The kitchen was her palace
where she reigned as sovereign queen,
And we ate like kings on simple fare,
not knowing times were lean.
She lent courage, grace, and comfort
to our simple way of life,
And held her tears and hid her fears,
good mother and good wife.

As I read this passage, my thoughts went to my wife, and I envisioned her bending over the sink and the stove. And I remembered her crying in the privacy of the shower each time a daughter left home. This poem touched me deeply.

10. My last selection is an untitled work. It’s fairly old, but I recall every single word of it. Here it is.

Once upon a simple time
when corn shocks marched in frosty fields,
and pumpkins grinned on window sills,
a mind reclined in cautious ease,
alert for pulsing memories
of ghosts and ghouls and vampire bats,
yet strangely quiet for all that,
until at last the dawn came fair
to prove their were no goblins there.
Still, even as the sunlight massed
and frost receded just as fast,
within that mind a lonesome elf
endeavored to release itself.

I have a confession to make. I wrote this poem, but have never shown it to anyone until now. It’s trite and hardly resembles literature, and I wrote it in one sitting with hardly any editing. But I just happen to like it. Maybe I’ll post it again this Halloween.

Okay, now it’s your turn.

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This past Saturday, we drove from Annapolis to Philadelphia to scout out Philly’s historic locations, snap a few photos, snack a little bit, and get sunburned a lot. And, we walked our buns off.

Philly’s primary historical landmarks are concentrated amid lots of tall buildings without historical significance at the moment, but though the historic area may be small in size, it seems larger when you just sort of meander around.

And that’s what we did. We meandered through the Liberty Bell exhibit, the Philadelphia Mint, and the final resting place of Benjamin Franklin and a host of other Colonial personalities instrumental in developing the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution of the United States. The sense of history and of the times made our meandering worthwhile.

However, we weren’t able to tour Independence Hall. Tickets are required for entry, but by the time we arrived, the day’s ticket quota was gone. According to the National Park Service, tickets are used as a means of spreading the visitor flow throughout the day. Sounds reasonable to me, but I was irked nevertheless. I wanted to see where those Colonial firebrands stood and condemned the British to hell, a tradition that still lives when the subject of universal health care arises.

Interestingly, as we waited in a rather long line to enter the Liberty Bell exhibit, a group of people stood near the line and handed out pamphlets about the Falun Gong. This is a religious group whose members have been persecuted in China, and on this day, the group’s message and writings were aimed at those who in appearance were probably Asian. At least, they overlooked us and others who resembled us, probably assuming, and correctly so, that the number of non-Asians fluent in the Chinese language would range from nil to nada to zilch.

Before I reached a point of utter exhaustion, we decided to survey real history. With our trusty GPS activated, we headed cross-town to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where Rocky ran up about a million steps and then, at the top, gyrated around, finally assuming that triumphant pose now enshrined in a statue at the bottom of the steps.

We, along with a few thousand others in line, stood in front of the statue when out turn came, emulating Rocky’s pose for our own personal pictorial posterity. Like the fool I can sometimes be, I stumbled on the damned pedestal and almost fell, much to the delight of the smirking crowd. I didn’t blame them. Hell, I would have smirked, too. But I recovered nicely and pranced around with arms raised just like Sylvester Stallone did in 1976, 200 years after those rugged firebrands of 1776 may have pranced inside Independence Hall. I think George and Thomas would understand Rocky’s triumph if they were around today.

After the picture-taking session, we walked to the flight of concrete steps Rocky had enshrined in modern American cultural lore so many years ago. Four of us ran up them just as Rocky before us. One of us had better sense and sat down nearby, watching the other members of our party run up and then back down. One female member ran back up and down again, and I was surprised that she wasn’t winded in the slightest when she returned.

By now, the hours we had set aside for our sightseeing were about over. We headed back, taking a route through New Jersey and Delaware and onto US-301into Maryland. As we drove, I noted when we left one state and entered another and thought about the differences. Aside from the obvious—Welcome to Maryland, e.g.—are the people different? Do they look different? Do they speak different languages, New Jerseyese, for example? Do they think differently?

These are philosophical questions for another time. For the moment, suffice to say we had a good time and enjoyed learning a little bit about Philly. As my blogging cohort, Alexandra Jones, a native of Philly, might say, “Go Phillies!” In honor of her devotion to her team, I shouted those words as we passed the Phillies stadium on our way out of town.

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Sometime next week, if all goes as planned, I’ll file my first dispatch from Texas. I am leaving this Friday with my daughter to spend some time sorting out my life and thinking about my time with my beloved.

I’ll be in the extreme Southeast corner of Texas where nothing moves except alligators and oil tankers sliding imperceptibly along an Inland Waterway canal to unload their cargo of Middle Eastern oil at Texas refineries in and around Port Arthur.

I’ve been to PA and Nederland (pronounced Neederland) several times and for someone who has lived in exciting places like Petaluma CA, Southeast Texas may prove a challenge. I’ll probably spend a lot of time in WalMart and IHop, counting the cans of black-eyed peas per square foot and gorging on pancakes and maple syrup.

Then, if life really slows down, I may sit on the back porch and watch the squirrels scamper through pecan trees (that’s pronounced pee can, as in two words).

This may or may not sound humorous, but it’s my best effort at the moment to take my mind away from reality. Once I achieve some sort of emotional balance, then I’ll take on the task of deciding where I want to be on a more permanent basis.

Until that time rolls around, my posts may be erratic and speak of an instability that would make the the Twilight Zone appear as sane as the Bush White House.

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She lay quietly, breathing slowly in my and her daughter’s arms, her heart beating faintly and her breath coming at longer and longer intervals.

Then, the sounds and feel of her heart and lungs began to fade slowly much the way sound diminishes when we gradually turn down the volume on a radio.

Hardly without notice, her life as we understand it ceased.

I’m ashamed of myself because I failed to understand that she was dying and I waited too long to hold her and talk to her and hum some of her favorite songs.

I’m having a hard time imagining life without her.

I hope I have the strength to write her story.

Life is too uncertain at the moment.

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