Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Getting with the program.

Closed my eyes and Thanksgiving morphed into Christmas. It's all good, all frenzy, all roller coaster emotions. Surely, the Pope's new statement, casting a harsh look at consumerism was timely. I dodged the big stores, actually all stores, on Thursday and Friday, but found my way to one craft store of locally made goods.
But then there is Amazon. Watched Jeff Bezos on Sixty Minutes Sunday night, and am still wondering why he isn't running the world, or at least part of it.  His belief, or understanding that things change, nothing lasts forever, and that's perfectly OK was so re-assuring, so good to hear. Even though I am part of the age group that is nostalgic about paper books, cursive writing, and turtle-neck jerseys his message still sounded a positive note. I'm sure this is one of his most often quoted statements, but I hadn't heard it before: Criticism is not a strategy. Why didn't I know that?
I do remember working with a provost who suggested that if we found it appropriate to bring some problems to him that we also bring along suggested solutions. Same message, but Bezos brought  it home.

Received another message last week that the reason I wasn't writing is because I blog every day and that makes me think I've written, which I actually haven't. Hmmm.  My current dilemma? My friends Patrick, Julia and I decided we would all write something new before we meet again. I haven't written one word - not even a blog posting - in almost a week. And I know writing names and addresses on holiday cards doesn't count, so I'm cutting back on the blog in order to get back to an unfinished piece of fiction. Having failed miserably at NaNo......, I'm determined to see PatO' and Julia before December 20th, so I am cutting back to a couple of times a  week.  Hope you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. I'm getting with the program right now.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gratitude - W.B. Yeats

Gratitude To The Unknown Instructors

WHAT they undertook to do
They brought to pass;
All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Brief for the Defense

I've published this poem by Jack Gilbert before. But looking at some news photos in print and on-line this morning, the poem kept drifting through me, especially these lines:

If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight.

I think he's right, profoundly right. But it's not easy to remember.

A Brief For The Defense
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered caf├ęs and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Not writing, just posting.

Attended a writers' conference all day Saturday and picked up several hints.
Major hint: You must write if you consider yourself a writer.

That's the rub right there. The writing. And writing is not editing. It doesn't count as writing to revise the opening paragraph twenty times. Write first. Only when the writing is finished, edit.

Characters aren't enough. You need a plot.

Kill Your Darlings.

If the genre you want to use doesn't exist, invent it.

William Zinsser, Natalie Goldberg and Stephen King have the best books on writing/editing.

I knew all that.

But I didn't really understand the role of the great seducer - Social Media.

Time spent on social media doesn't count as writing time. The use of social media should be the equivalent of a coffee break. Short, sweet, up-to-date. Three times a day. Too many minutes spent chatting up other authors, promoting your blog, your book, your life just isn't writing.

So I bought the book The Coffee Break Guide to Social Media for Writers.
Alas, I'll probably be reading that this afternoon instead of putting my fingers on the keys. So little time, so many excuses.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Digging Grave was his Honor

I remember where I was when it happened. Watched it all. Saw live murder on tv when Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald.
Too young to vote, I still campaigned for John Fitzgerald Kennedy to become president. I, along with millions, loved him, loved Jackie, loved all the magic they brought into our lives. It was Bobby Kennedy who later captured my soul, but John Kennedy had captured my heart.
There isn't much I can say that hasn't been said endlessly this past week. I still don't believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Jack Kennedy brought James Bond into our lives, but he also opened our eyes and minds to the concept of conspiracy. We loved the man and love the myth that has become the man.

But I leave you with Jimmy Breslin for the weekend. The story of the gravedigger that I always read this time of year. My son Rob introduced me to this piece. This article and Bart Giamatti's piece about baseball 'In the Green Fields' are in my file of must read at least once a year articles.
Thinking of all those affected by John Kennedy's death.

Digging JFK Grave Was His Honor
Jimmy Breslin
Newsday's Jimmy Breslin wrote the following article for the New York Herald Tribune in November 1963.
Washington -- Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday, so when he woke up at 9 a.m., in his three-room apartment on Corcoran Street, he put on khaki overalls before going into the kitchen for breakfast. His wife, Hettie, made bacon and eggs for him. Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. "Polly, could you please be here by eleven o'clock this morning?" Kawalchik asked. "I guess you know what it's for." Pollard did. He hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy. When Pollard got to the row of yellow wooden garages where the cemetery equipment is stored, Kawalchik and John Metzler, the cemetery superintendent, were waiting for him. "Sorry to pull you out like this on a Sunday," Metzler said. "Oh, don't say that," Pollard said. "Why, it's an honor for me to be here." Pollard got behind the wheel of a machine called a reverse hoe. Gravedigging is not done with men and shovels at Arlington. The reverse hoe is a green machine with a yellow bucket that scoops the earth toward the operator, not away from it as a crane does. At the bottom of the hill in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Pollard started the digging (Editor Note: At the bottom of the hill in front of the Custis-Lee Mansion). Leaves covered the grass. When the yellow teeth of the reverse hoe first bit into the ground, the leaves made a threshing sound which could be heard above the motor of the machine. When the bucket came up with its first scoop of dirt, Metzler, the cemetery superintendent, walked over and looked at it. "That's nice soil," Metzler said. "I'd like to save a little of it," Pollard said. "The machine made some tracks in the grass over here and I'd like to sort of fill them in and get some good grass growing there, I'd like to have everything, you know, nice." James Winners, another gravedigger, nodded. He said he would fill a couple of carts with this extra-good soil and take it back to the garage and grow good turf on it. "He was a good man," Pollard said. "Yes, he was," Metzler said. "Now they're going to come and put him right here in this grave I'm making up," Pollard said. "You know, it's an honor just for me to do this." Pollard is 42. He is a slim man with a mustache who was born in Pittsburgh and served as a private in the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma in World War II. He is an equipment operator, grade 10, which means he gets $3.01 an hour. One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the thirty-fifth President of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave. Yesterday morning, at 11:15, Jacqueline Kennedy started toward the grave. She came out from under the north portico of the White House and slowly followed the body of her husband, which was in a flag-covered coffin that was strapped with two black leather belts to a black caisson that had polished brass axles. She walked straight and her head was high. She walked down the bluestone and blacktop driveway and through shadows thrown by the branches of seven leafless oak trees. She walked slowly past the sailors who held up flags of the states of this country. She walked past silent people who strained to see her and then, seeing her, dropped their heads and put their hands over their eyes. She walked out the northwest gate and into the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. She walked with tight steps and her head was high and she followed the body of her murdered husband through the streets of Washington. Everybody watched her while she walked. She is the mother of two fatherless children and she was walking into the history of this country because she was showing everybody who felt old and helpless and without hope that she had this terrible strength that everybody needed so badly. Even though they had killed her husband and his blood ran onto her lap while he died, she could walk through the streets and to his grave and help us all while she walked. There was mass, and then the procession to Arlington. When she came up to the grave at the cemetery, the casket already was in place. It was set between brass railings and it was ready to be lowered into the ground. This must be the worst time of all, when a woman sees the coffin with her husband inside and it is in place to be buried under the earth. Now she knows that it is forever. Now there is nothing. There is no casket to kiss or hold with your hands. Nothing material to cling to. But she walked up to the burial area and stood in front of a row of six green-covered chairs and she started to sit down, but then she got up quickly and stood straight because she was not going to sit down until the man directing the funeral told her what seat he wanted her to take. The ceremonies began, with jet planes roaring overhead and leaves falling from the sky. On this hill behind the coffin, people prayed aloud. They were cameramen and writers and soldiers and Secret Service men and they were saying prayers out loud and choking. In front of the grave, Lyndon Johnson kept his head turned to his right. He is president and he had to remain composed. It was better that he did not look at the casket and grave of John Fitzgerald Kennedy too often. Then it was over and black limousines rushed under the cemetery trees and out onto the boulevard toward the White House. "What time is it?" a man standing on the hill was asked. He looked at his watch. "Twenty minutes past three," he said. Clifton Pollard wasn't at the funeral. He was over behind the hill, digging graves for $3.01 an hour in another section of the cemetery. He didn't know who the graves were for. He was just digging them and then covering them with boards. "They'll be used," he said. "We just don't know when. I tried to go over to see the grave," he said. "But it was so crowded a soldier told me I couldn't get through. So I just stayed here and worked, sir. But I'll get over there later a little bit. Just sort of look around and see how it is, you know. Like I told you, it's an honor."

A Great Man Gone

My dear, dear friend Tom Smith died yesterday. No-one loved a good story more than Tom, and no-one told a good story better than Tom did. He was our Geoffrey Chaucer, weaving tales about all of us on our long pilgrimage together. No-one loved to dance more than Tom and no-one we knew was quite as good. Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Otis Redding, the list goes on. Their music called to Tom and he called right back.
Tom was one of those professors who changed students' lives. All through the decades he changed students' lives. He was a medievalist who could teach tales and poetry from the past right next to contemporary poetry and fiction and make it all come alive.
When people asked him what he taught he simply said 'I teach students.'

 I've known Tom and his wife Shelley for more than fifty years. Tom was Curt's best friend in high school and was in our wedding.We went through the rocky roads of marriage together - separations, divorces, coming together, drifting apart.  Newport Jazz Festivals, Newport music, parties, long conversations, the civil rights movement, protests, conversations into the night, sleeping in the VW bus, packed with rhubarb pies and munchies. We danced on the hillside in Newport, rain drizzling and dancing on the tree tops, leaves blowing in the wind, twisting along in 1969 with Sly and the Family Stone singing We are Family. Between the stage and the hill, the National Guard walked back and forth to a completely different beat, no hips gyrating, no arms in motion, no rhythm. The hillside was alive with people dancing, the stage was filled with instruments wailing, dancing and singing. The National Guard never missed a beat. That experience lived with the four of us forever. A grand metaphor for much of life, we thought. And think.

Our kids grew up together, cramped in all together in the rooms of Watch Hill, catching waves, and walking through the Ocean House. At an Inn in Watch Hill we watched Richard Nixon resign.
We were family and rode through good and bad times together. We were one, but we also had individual relationships with one another. Tricky, but real. Tom and Shelly's son Ian and my son Rob were college roommates. They knew each other before they were born. Tom and Shelly's daughter Jessie came to watch Hill this summer to visit with my sons, Rob and Chris.
Fifty years of memories - patches of sadness interrupted and overcome by great times of joy. We were connected. Still are.
But the last four and a half years Tom has been under the relentless spell of Alzheimer's. The greatest storyteller in modern time hasn't spoken a word for more than two years. Not a word. Silent. Sleeping most of the time.
What happened to his words? What happened to his stories? Where are they now?  We have them and will be sharing them this holiday and probably forever. He was the man. Rest in peace, Tom, but every once in a while, stir things up.
A poem from one of Tom's favorite poets. From the Holy Sonnets:

By John Donne - 1572-1631

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Send us some stories.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mystery Solved

I am being spooked by technological gnomes. I've been at this post for quite a while, and it suddenly disappeared. The title remained, but nothing else.
So this is a far shorter version of what I was going to say. 

That news voice that was mocking me on and off yesterday showed up again this morning. One theory laid to rest: I was not hearing non-existent voices. Good news. Roscoe heard the voices and tried to shut it/them down.
Someone kept yakking about what the Republicans were voting for or not. Not of interest to me.

After pushing, pressing on several buttons, the person continued his uninvited presentation. Finally, Roscoe pushed delete on my Washington Post news button. Both the Washington Post and the voice disappeared. I have no idea if I had inadvertently turned on some voice app for the Washington Post, but I doubt it. In fact, I only have four free reads on The Post this month, so I doubt they are  trying to give me more news than I am allowed within the free zone. I have no idea how it happened, but am glad the voice is gone. Now the question is whether or not to pull up the Washington Post occasionally or just stick with only the NYT for my version of the news.  If a voice from Fox news appears, I'll know we're in serious trouble.

First actual measurable snow on the ground this morning and a cold front moved in with it. Is winter here or is this just a teaser?