“We need the moisture”

Good morning. It’s 4:30 CDT as I type, but I’ve been up since this blog’s title because that’s when the storms rolled in. They’ve been forecast for the past five days, and this morning, after a long and busy weekend celebrating a multi-generational Mother’s Day, they finally hit. No complaint. They’re not like the weather to the north and east for sure, and we need the moisture. A Midwestern U.S. saying if ever was one, “We need the moisture.”

So where the heck have I been since Palm Sunday weekend? Busy, people. The older you get, the more you have a life and that means doing the stuff of life. We can’t always sit on our butts being profound and brilliant, you know, even we so-called bloggers. There are yards to be maintained, houses to be kept, cats to be fed and shot up with yearly drugs, garages to be cleaned out, grandchildren to see and goof with. Much of that, and my wife’s been working overtime and will be indefinitely, so I’m picking up a lot of her home chores on top of my own. Not complaining, it’s good for me to do that and as long as it doesn’t kill her we can always use the money. And have. Babyproofing a house so a grandchild can come play and his family not worry is not cheap.

All that and yes, I have been writing. Thank God. I need to. When I don’t, bad things happen upstairs. Nothing too psychologically horrid, mind you, just a sense of the skull not being swept as it should be. I’m on revision two of my rewrite of The Rain Song, or Burke’s Siren. I can tell you right now it will be called neither of those things when I’m done. By the grace of our Lord, it is becoming a very different book, the one I should have written in the first place. For the 20 or so of you who bought the original, I will make it very worth your while to read this one too. For the 6,000,000,0080 of you who did not, I will make it very worth your while to read it the first time. I won’t claim it’s Fitzgerald or Hemingway or even a minor Vonnegut, but it’s going to be good. All I ask is your patience while I get it completely right.

Assuming the good Lord gives me time to do that. Fair warning: you may have noticed I’ve been writing a lot about death lately. Can’t help it. As noted in the last entry after Palm Sunday, people I know have been experiencing a lot of it. It’s normal, it’s natural, and the older you are, the more of it you will see, especially once you crest 50.  My manager at work is the latest on the string. She lost her grandmother a couple weeks ago, a good Catholic woman strong as a bull into her late 80’s, only recently did she need a nursing home. Tempus fugit, memento mori. 

And I may as well come out and say it: I got thrown a scare last week when I found a huge painless bump, ten-cent gumball-sized, on the left side of my chest right above the sternum, where Web MD says one of my lymph nodes should be.

Don’t panic. It’s nothing. At least I’m sure it’s nothing, because–gross part ahead–by the middle of the week I could pop it, and now it’s much, much smaller than it was. Probably just some clogged pores. You can’t pop a tumor like a zit, right? But I’m due a checkup soon, and I will point it out to the doctor just to see what he says.

Still, at my age stuff like that makes you think. Apparently right now I’m supposed to. I keep an adoration hour at St. Paul’s here in Olathe. Some gracious soul left behind in the chapel a copy of On Death and Dying by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross the same weekend my bump was its biggest. I’m not quite eighty pages through it. It’s a book for medical professionals on how they should approach their patients who are terminal or enduring malignancies that may be terminal. It is a deeply sensitive book written by a deeply sensitive soul. It’s also a secular book, not given to flights of metaphysics or spiritual loftiness. I frankly found it odd it would be left in an adoration chapel among books about adoring Christ and the suffering of the saints. But there it was, and no one’s taken it out, and I’m glad it’s there because it’s a strengthening thing. Anyone can read it, it can get a little dense in spots, but it’s not jargony or technical.

I want to finish it before writing much more, if anything, about it, but it’s point seems clear to me: A medical professional must meet death at the same level his or her patient is ready to meet it. This is difficult, for sure; but worthwhile in that it establishes the credibility to face death together and honestly, for the entire family as well as just the doctor and patient.

And it makes the point, several times over, that our culture runs from death when it should not. Death is inevitable. It is good to think about it–how we will deal with it with others, how we will prepare for it when our time comes. Let’s repeat that–it is good to think on death.

It is. My little fraidy-bump forced me to consider, if only theoretically, that maybe fifty years is all I get. What about that? If it’s true, am I okay with it? Can I deal with it? If I knew it was coming, how would I approach it with the others in my life?

I won’t hit you with the heaviness of my own answers to those questions. I would encourage you instead to ask them of yourself and see what your answers are. I will say if I did get, say, a diagnosis of something nasty enough to snuff me out, I would thank the Lord for the chance to get things in order before it did. Not everyone gets that chance.

Every morning is a miracle. Thank God for the moisture of another. We need it.

 

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A few thoughts on the Big Inevitability

OK. Good news first: my oldest brother Brad and his wife Cindy just found out from eldest daughter Erin and son-in-law Joel that sometime in October, they too will become grandparents. They are thrilled, as they should be and is most appropriate. It means one day, someday, they’ll have a little critter to come visit who may look something like this:

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And who can resist something who looks like that? Not you, certainly not me; that’s my grandson right there and let me tell you he is a blast. I worked with someone who became a grandmother in her mid-30’s, had four of them by the time I worked with her in her early forties, who said there was nothing better on this earth than being a grandparent. She was right. Quite right.

So I’m happy for them, and looking forward to adding “great-uncle” to my multiple hats, and look forward to meeting the star of future Butterfield Fishing Shows. As there is nothing better than being a grandparent, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing the future right before your eyes. It is the reward of age. The good Lord’s way of saying, “You’re not done yet. All those mistakes you made with your own? Here’s another chance. Good luck.”

It’s good to think of birth right now. Lately, I’ve been thinking an awful lot of death. My oldest cousin lost his wife unexpectedly a few weeks back. A high school friend lost his mother unexpectedly just a few days ago. While I’m not worried about either of them because both of them have the most fantastic support network of family and friends people can ask for, I’m still praying for them because both of them are in shock. They don’t have to say it. I know it. Neither of them are that old. My cousin’s wife wasn’t that old. My friend’s mother wasn’t that old. This wasn’t supposed to happen this soon. Yet it did. Tempus fugit, memento mori, but not yet, not now!

No. Sorry. It’s yet. It’s now. There is no way of knowing how much that hurts until you experience it. I’m not about to claim I know how they feel.

But here’s the reality I do have to face: This is going to happen more and more often to people I know, because that is the lesson of age. The great inevitability of life is on our way to death, people we love will die first and the older we get, the more this will happen until it finally happens to us. It’s no one’s fault. It’s not part of a divine plan. It’s just pure cold logic, frankly. Mathematics. The branch of such called probability. The older we get, the more people we know, that simple. The realization doesn’t really hit you until your late 40’s to early 50’s, though, because that’s when it starts happening more often. It’s no longer this rare event that occasionally disrupts your life. There’s a reason your grandparents read the obituaries in the morning paper every day.

So what can you do about it? Not much. Be supportive. Show in some way how much the lost soul was loved and the survivor still is. Give your heart and your shoulder. Pray. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This weekend is Palm Sunday. If you’re Christian, let this weekend and next remind you as well that death isn’t the end and this life is not all that we live for.

And hug those children and grandbabies while you can. 🙂

 

I need mindless distraction, and this fills the bill…

It’s been awhile. I know. Something tells me you’ve managed to survive without my pithy eloquence, but I’m going to post tonight anyway because a distraction from my thoughts would do me good. Might do you good too, depending on what your thoughts have been. Mine have been with some who are close to me going through yet again a difficult time, and while I could blog about that, something tells me they’d appreciate it if I didn’t. So I won’t. There, that was easy.

I’m going to tell you a story instead, about me as a kid. I could be a very distracting kid. One of my bigger distractions was in fifth grade. In fifth grade, at least when I was growing up, “writing” was one of the things you got a grade on. What they really meant was “penmanship,” but I guess that wouldn’t fit on the report card or something. When I was growing up, in elementary school, “penmanship” was “writing.” That other thing involving words, for which you received a separate grade, was “reading.”

Though “reading” and “writing” were graded separately, by fifth grade they were most often assigned concurrently, as by fifth grade, you were expected in at least some pitiful, struggling detail to write about what you read.

By fifth grade, my young mind was starting to see connections between things, one of which was, even though I was understanding the material pretty well–I thought so, anyway–my assignments kept coming back with C’s. Not because I wasn’t understanding the material as well as I thought, sometimes I didn’t, but more often than not I did. They were coming back because my “writing”–by which I mean my “penmanship”–was terrible.

Well, then, my young mind said, what would happen if my “writing”–again, by which I mean, my “penmanship”–weren’t so terrible?  Would I get better grades if people could actually read what I wrote?

Why, yes! Yes, perhaps I might! So, my fifth-grade mind told me, there was one–and only one–rational and logical thing to do: stop writing in cursive. 

So I did. From there on out, all my assignments, I wrote in what today they call “manuscript.” We called it “printing.” Every assignment to write I received, I printed.

Lo and behold, my grades started going up. Almost instantly.

My mother was still horrified.

My mother was shocked–shocked!–that my teacher for the reading and writing segments (by fifth grade, my elementary school started moving kids between classes to get them ready for junior high school) was not only allowing me to be such an undisciplined slacker but apparently encouraging it. Enough so at the next parent-teacher conference, they had a discussion about it.

My teacher won out. “He wants to be understood,” she told my mother. “I will not penalize a student for wanting to be understood.”

I never wrote an assignment in cursive again, ever.  No teacher made the slightest deal out of it. Ever. By my sophomore year I was learning to type and from there on out that would be how I would write any such assignment given to me.

That was before personal computers, then tablets, became commonplace. Not very far before, I’m not that old; but the point I’m making is one of the smartest damned things I ever did was to dump cursive and start writing in manuscript. I didn’t realize until I was older exactly how much writing in poor, sloppy cursive held me back as a kid. I could have slowed down and given myself more time to be neat, I guess, but my brain doesn’t work like that. My brain wants that thought down on paper NOW, while it’s intact, before it gets forgotten or squirreled up.

Supposedly a good cursive aids the speed in which your thoughts hit the paper, because you don’t need to lift the pencil from it nearly as much. Maybe for some. Not for me. I notice keyboarding this blog entry that my fingers lift off the keys way more than if I were writing it in either manuscript or cursive, yet the words sure are coming up more quickly.

Why in the world is this on my mind?  Well, I was out on an errand this evening after work and had the car radio on NPR, and this story was the feature.

Normally I don’t react viscerally to NPR stories, but this one had me talking to the radio more than once. Especially fascinating was one Tennessee legislator’s opinion that not teaching cursive in schools was somehow denying students the opportunity to read the nation’s founding documents.  Think about it–in 1776, and 1783, were there typewriters?  The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are written in cursive, are they not? How dare we, then, not teach our children the very method used to write those documents so sacred to our heritage?

Seriously–this legislator was genuinely scared that because our kids are no longer learning cursive, they will no longer be able to read documents written in cursive.

I like to think our kids are smarter than that. I also like to think that there are at least a couple of versions floating around that came off a printing press instead of from someone’s poor, tired hand, that Gutenberg’s invention didn’t go entirely to waste not making a copy or two of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. You think? 😉

As is, I’ve said all I really can about it, save for this: It’s nice to know I’m not the only one passionate on the subject, and it’s nice to know that paranoia and conspiracy theories aside, the science on the subject seems to back me up.

Edit: Check out the comments section for a few words on this from Kate Gladstone      (http://handwritingrepair.info/). Enlightening, to say the least. 

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I’m very close to finished editing the old Butterfield Fishing Shows I’ve told you about in earlier entries. Once I get them the way I want them, I’ll send my dad and brothers copies.

If I’m really feeling brave, I might even put them up on my YouTube channel–the one I didn’t even know I had. Turns out if you’ve got a Google sign-in, by default you have a Google+ account, including a YouTube channel to gussy up and program as much as you choose–provided, of course, you don’t violate copyright laws.

There, I might have a problem.

See, the Butterfield Fishing Shows as I produce them, have music in them, in many cases easily recognizable music, and, well, the RIAA doesn’t take too kindly to people using music without paying the people who made the music.

Fortunately there’s also a thing called the Fair Use provision of American copyright law, and for 99% of the music I’m using, I’m well within its bounds.

The trouble is the one or two tunes where I might not be, and YouTube’s nasty habit of muting or dumping videos that use too much copyrighted music.

But if you ever saw one of these shows, you’d not only understand why I’m using the music, you’d probably insist I did. I don’t have to, I guess, but it just adds a certain je nais se quoi that makes the difference between a fun, funny story and just a bunch of dudes fishing.

When did life become so hard, anyway?

Enough rambling. Sleep well, America. Good night.

 

Lenten thoughts while listening to a pleading cat

We have four cats in our humble home, as disparate a crew of felines as one can imagine: one shelter kitty picked out at a pet store to replace another who’d passed on, one adopted from a friend at work about a year later because he was just too cute for words, and two passed down from my late father-in-law after his wife became injured and could no longer care for them and him too.

You can see them right here if you want. They’re all young cats, they haven’t changed in appearance or personalities much, except the first one–Junebug–has picked up a fierce case of feline asthma. We squirt prednasone–think that’s how you spell it–down her throat every night so she can at least eat and breathe without passing out. But she still gags, and she’s learned how to strategically time the gagging to get us to pay attention to her. She also gets cut-up turkey slices just before her medicine. She seems willing to endure the medicine for the turkey slices.

OK, then–what hath that to do with Lent, my brothers and sisters? Well, I guess it touches on the right attitude to have towards suffering and reward, though in my kitty’s case she’s gotten it backwards. The reward comes first, then the punishment. Paraphrasing Fulton Sheen,  “Never forget that there are only two philosophies to rule your life: the one of the cross, which starts with the fast and ends with the feast; the other of Satan, which starts with the turkey and ends with the icky stuff shot down your throat.” Meaning to her, we’re Satan?  Wow, this is going to be a long Lent.

Seriously, though, the traditional way of looking at Lent–some in my chosen faith, Catholicism, would argue of looking at life–is as a time of suffering. A chosen purification from what is not necessary, to prepare for the gift of the Ultimate Necessity. I’m not here to argue pro or con on that. I’m just thinking about it because of what a visiting priest said at Mass during the homily today–that as the forty days in the desert of Jesus were His honeymoon with God, so we should think of Lent as the same between God and us.

Yes. Honeymoon. The very word he used. He took some time at the start to talk about the word as we’ve come to perceive it, tying in its similarities, generally calling it the period in which we “rejoice in each other’s mystery, learning in that mystery to reject the temptation of any thing or any one lesser.”

I suppose that’s fair. I’m not theologian enough to say, or say not. You can certainly think for yourself on that one, I’m sure.

But the bad boy in me couldn’t help but imagine some poor doof on one knee, ring with rock in hand, saying to his desired, “My love, will you reveal your mysteries to me, that we may suffer together for the rest of our lives?”

Hardly the kind of question to get an “Oh, YES! With all my heart!” kind of answer, huh?

Yet think about it:  Isn’t that exactly what marriage is?

And is that not a good thing?  If it weren’t, why stay together, why bear or adopt children, why raise children, why watch them marry and do the same, why do it if we know we’re both, we’re all, going to suffer?

Because “after the fast, there is the feast,” no?

Because after the blowup, there is the makeup; after the misunderstanding, better understanding; after the punishment, the pride, after the raising hell, the raising up.

Because we are not perfect and if we’re wise enough to learn from them our mistakes make us better, not worse, as individuals and as couples and as people.

And with that Junebug is crying and gagging for her medicine. Who am I to deny a fellow penitent? ‘Til next time, friends.

“A mighty fierce mess of gum clobberin'”

Sorry I didn’t drop an entry on you last week–was too busy with revising my first book. Not editing it, revising it. I won’t go into it here, but expect to find out about it soon on the “Sheer Arrogance” page. It’s one of those discussions that should be straightforward and simple but turns into a Catholic vs. Protestant allegory mighty fast.

I don’t want to write about that. I’d rather write about old time radio this weekend. Specifically this wonderfully revealing episode of Gunsmoke.

Because there’s only one way to deal with the killers and the spoilers in Dodge City and parts west, kids. 😉

In the case of the radio show, that was William Conrad as Matt Dillon. James Arness played the legendary fictional U.S. Marshall on TV for twenty years, so he’s usually the one associated with the legend. But the legendary performance comes from Conrad, not Arness. Arness scratches the surface of Matt Dillon’s soul. Conrad takes you all the way inside to the elemental man. The radio Gunsmoke gives you all his greys, in no small part due to the performance of Conrad. He wanted to be the TV Dillon too, but the brass at CBS thought he was too fat to be believable as a frontier law enforcer.  He got weak revenge years later as Cannon. 

The TV version scrulpulously avoids defining Matt’s relationship with Kitty. The early radio episodes do not, especially the one above.  Radio Kitty doesn’t own the Longbranch, she’s a barmaid and saloon girl at the “Texas Trail” and is one edgy woman, especially for staid 1950’s audiences.  The show doesn’t come right out and call her a whore, but it makes sure you know it.  It’s also strongly hinted in the earliest episodes that if Matt isn’t one of her regular customers, she’d sure like him to become one.

To his credit, he’s too much a gentleman to give her that kind of patronage. But he does have feelings for her, as this episode plainly shows. And as this episode also plainly shows, those feelings are forbidden between a barmaid and a Marshall–even in 1870’s rough-and-tumble Dodge. Chester Proudfoot–there never was a Festus Hagen on the radio show–majestically calls it “a mighty fierce mess of gum clobberin’.”  It comes to a head at the town social when three drifters take advantage of the general disapproval of Kitty as Matt’s date, to be assholes to the Marshall with impunity. I do not use that term lightly. It takes fantastic acting to project pure assholism by voice alone. The episode is worth listening to just for that, if you prefer your entertainment coarse.

Now, if you prefer your entertainment as a kind of cultural anthropology, as I tend to do, there’s plenty in this episode for you as well.  You’ll get from it how far we’ve come from the 50’s and 60’s morality the shows of the time oversimplified to fit in a thirty to sixty minute window. The morality that seemed to encourage our sticking our noses in everyone else’s business instead of minding our own.

Lent’s coming on fast .  One thing on which Christians should agree, in my opinion, is to use it worrying less about how other people live their lives, and more  about how we’re living our own. 

After all, Christ Himself did say to remove the planks in our eyes before the specks in others’ eyes, no? How big is a plank? How big is a speck?  Are our priorities straight?

Or are we just running around clobbering our gums?

SPEED BLOGGING!!

Sorry, I just had an overwhelming need to get your attention… 😉 I’m writing this entry under deadline this morning. The grandson and his parents are on their way up to celebrate Valentine’s Day belated, Dad’s birthday right on schedule, and in Bryce’s case just the pure unbridled joy of life only a fourteen-and-a-half-month-old can experience.

So, before I get too distracted by that, I want to let you know of some new Sheer Arrogance posted on the blog today, called “Something all writers SO need to do.”  In which Your Humble Blogger gives a most valuable writing tip and pays tribute to his first fair crush in honor of Valentine’s Day at the same time. Pretty darn versatile for a old guy, no?  Hey, I even cook up a new word in this one. Enjoy.

Now, back to the grandson report: Young Bryce has been walking for three months now and can go most anywhere he sets his mind to. Grandma has rid the house of ninety percent of cat hair just for him. Once he and his family arrive, we will set out for lunch and partake of some of the finest chain-store buffet Olathe has to offer at Golden Corral.

All I’ve got for now. Maybe a little more to come tomorrow, once my brain recuperates from the gluttony to come.  If you’re looking for something a little more meaty, my entry from last week could stand a few more hits. Until then, be blessed!

Curvier than a Charlotte Street

Like that title? I need to sneak it into a book somehow, quick, before one of you sharp-eyed writers reading this who happens to be ethically vague up and steals it. 😉  Has kind of a nice “noir” tinge to it. What he was thinking about his latest ‘client’ just before the blackjack fell on the back of  his head. The fog of love and war.

If you’ve been to Charlotte you get it. Apparently they’re not much for straight lines between points A and B.  One of the reasons my old roommate from college was looking forward to seeing me was to get a recommendation on a GPS. He’s lived there, oh, only about ten years or so. Apparently he’s putting down roots. He’s not alone.  God bless the Onion.

Charlotte is a big town, with a big airport, big enough an airport to make for a very small world. I was going through one of its several efficient security checkpoints on my way back to Kansas City.  The young lady behind me struck up conversation over something my now-50-year-old head can’t remember. I do remember her commenting about not having much time to transfer planes at some far-flung exotic location–I think–and I think I commented about her employer needing to consider an airline with more direct flights.  I know she said that would have been asking too much, being this was not a current employer, but a potential future employer that she didn’t feel right about demanding things such as better flight plans from just yet.

“Who  are you interviewing with?” I asked.

“Butler University in Indianapolis,” she said. “I’m going for a teaching position there.”

“Really!” I said, letting her know a good friend of mine went there in the eighties and that it was a beautiful campus with some very good people and I was sure she’d enjoy it. I then wished her luck because the security line needed to move on. Did I mention Charlotte’s big airport is also Charlotte’s crowded airport? That Monday especially, it was swimming with people–every terminal, all five of them. I know this because I had time to walk them all.  Most crowded airport I’ve seen  in my life. That includes a three-hour layover at Hartsfield Atlanta, folks.

But getting back on subject–yes, this entry has one–I spoke no further with the young lady on her way to my old stomping grounds of Indy, not to be rude, but because the security line needed to move on, and apparently that required her to strip.

I do not mean to imply in any way that she was somehow indecent. Far from it. I’m simply saying that the top she wore under her sweater was not worn in anticipation of having to take off her sweater to go through airport security. As such, it forced me to cage my eyes towards my own materials needing to go through and come out the x-ray machine lest I feel like an old voyeur. Having to remove her heeled shoes in the crowd while wearing a skirt–a modest skirt of reasonable length–was also proving awkward for her.

We live in very sensitive times, folks. I’m no stranger to misunderstood intentions. Once, what I thought was a perfectly innocent comment to a young woman at work made its way to my manager, then to HR.  I meant absolutely no harm. But, to  her, what I said apparently translated into “older guy being very creepy,” and I was told in no uncertain terms to stay away from her. Which, as much as practical, I did. Willingly. Hell, gladly. Who needs someone thinking that about you?  It stung, I’ll admit, but the best learning often does.

So when it came to this young, educated lady, in the name of fighting terrorism in the skies, having to sacrifice her dignity in front of a man maybe twice her age, I did everything I could not to further her embarrassment. Including disappear into the crowd, discretely as possible, once my shoes and jacket were back on.

And I guess, for a moment, I understood why the other young woman from a few years earlier was so creeped out over what I thought was a completely innocent comment. Who knows how many times she’d had to sacrifice her dignity over the years, too? Maybe in front of a creepy old man in a position of authority who just watched the show and smiled–and then said something similar to what I did, maybe thinking it was funny?

Yes–we live in very sensitive times, thanks to some very insensitive behavior. Some claim we’ve become oversensitive.  Often that’s an excellent criticism.  Some stuff that should be out of our collective psyche in no more than five minutes lingers for days any more. Blame whoever you want for it–Twitter, 24-hour news channels, YouTube–but it is silly, and it does expose what a trivial people we can be.

But saying we need as a culture, top down, to respect a woman’s right to dignity and modesty, is not oversensitive. Especially when it comes to something so simple as the act of just getting on a plane to go to a job interview.

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One nice thing about going somewhere else for a few days, it charges the grey cells good. Since getting back I’ve been able to work on my rewrite of  The Rain Song to the point its basic reconstruction is finished.  Now the fun part: Going back through the reconstruction and patching all the holes I’ll find.

It’s been too long since I’ve put anything in the “Sheer Arrogance” section. Should have some goodies for you there soon, based on this experience.