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Closure, with some napalm for kicks November 18, 2014

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This is the first entry I’ve made to this blog since September. September! No excuses, I just haven’t felt like blogging. Other things to do, kids. That first book of mine I’m renovating to make less a POS and more something worth reading? Still in progress. Kind of like doing a kitchen remodel and discovering your whole house has asbestos-based insulation and lead pipes for plumbing. May as well just burn it down, and that’s pretty much what I’m doing. Controlled burns, but still, fire. I love the smell of napalm on my writing!

Looking at its pages, this whole blog could use the same. The “Buy J.P’s Books” link is out of date. I have some new Seldom Asked Questions to add, and a few to update. Sheer Arrogance needs a lot more of it. All things that would semi-pleasantly kill a cold winter Saturday and hey, we’ve already got some of those. Give me time. I know, not so much of it left these days, but give it to me anyway.

So, what drove me back to throw in one more entry, probably the last for awhile? Discovery. I found an old friend.

It’s not the first time I’ve found this old friend. The first time was shortly after April Fools Day, 1991. I don’t wish to embarrass her, even accidentally, by writing here the gory details. Suffice it to say I was acting on a odd whim to see her for the first time since childhood, to see how she was doing twenty-seven years into life, because I wasn’t sure I was doing all that well. I needed a reference point. Seeing she was still in my head after all this time, she seemed like a good one.

It turned out she was doing well indeed. Well enough to do me a fantastic kindness that day. For about ninety minutes of her time–something which in her profession does not come cheap–she listened to me. Just listened. She knew that was what I needed and she just did it.

The older I get, the more I appreciate what she did. Someone willing to let another human being just be, is becoming a fantastically rare thing.  Have you noticed that? We all have to be the star, heaven forbid we get stuck supporting someone else. So we end up in dueling thoughtless competitive interruption calling itself “conversation.” I’m as guilty as anyone else. I’m sure I was damned guilty of it that day, but she was kind enough not to call me out on it–even if she should have. Kindness. Pure kindness.

Twenty-three years later, we have all kinds of wonderful new tools to promote even more dueling, even more thoughtless, even more competitive “conversation:”  Facebook and Twitter are your big two. Pinterest seems to be going that direction. Add Your Favorite Here, there’s a bunch.  Oh, and blogs, for old nerds like me to bitch about it.

Let’s stick with Facebook. Remember as recently as 2010 when you could have real conversations on Facebook?  You still can if you try hard enough, but more likely your feed and wall are covered with ads, memes, cat videos and ridiculous personality quizzes, punctuated by an occasional thought about something mundane or banal. Like mine. Guilty. 🙂  Fun is fun. But with the rule-proving exception of a truck driver buddy whose posts blow my mind every day, Facebook doesn’t lend itself to wit or philosophical depth.

One day, looking through that sea of junk food for the brain, I caught myself thinking about the friend I caught up with all those years ago, the one who actually listened to me if only just once, and wondered what she was doing now.

So, as millions of us now do when we want to figure something out, I invoked the Power of Google. I typed her name and added her profession, figuring it would help narrow things down a bit.

Two pages of links later, paydirt:  One click revealed she’s alive and well, apparently married, in the same profession she was the first time I caught up with her, but with a much bigger firm; and appears to be doing quite well with them. If  her picture is recent, she looks terrific, especially for someone… my age. Not important, but nice.

The important thing is she’s kicking ass and taking names. Good. I would expect nothing less of her. I’m happy for her.

No, I’m not going to go see her again, I’m not checking Facebook or Linked In or especially Twitter–I strongly doubt she, being someone with class, has anything to do with Twitter–to see if I can find her there. I’m not writing her business address, I’m not calling her business phone number, I’m not emailing her, I’m not crashing her life like I did in 1991. No way.

See, 23 years later, I have a spouse too, someone whom slowly but surely I’m learning really is the best thing to happen to me. I have work now proving rewarding and reasonably secure. I’m okay, dammit! And while it was great to see her, bluntly, my reason for seeing her was awful. Period. I feel like I used her. It’s no good to use people, for any reason.

That said: If she ever needs to crash my life like I did hers, for whatever reason, I’m here, no questions asked. I owe her that. Hopefully I haven’t made myself too tough to find if she ever does. If she doesn’t? No worries.

The shrinks call that “closure.”

I just call it well and good.

Perspectives and Just Plain Sick Analogies September 25, 2014

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Normally when my brain is this tired I avoid writing altogether, but today my brain tells me if I don’t write, it will punish me horribly in my sleep. I’ve been punished horribly enough in my sleep this week. I’ve also been punished horribly enough by three cats who keep wrecking my horrible sleep, thinking they have some divine right to be fed at one a.m. instead of four a.m. like they normally are. Mentally this cannot go on without consequences. What consequences I’ve no desire to find out.

So here I am again, writing for therapy. That’s my wife’s term for everything I write. Supposedly it all reveals things about myself that she well knows, being my wife; but others do not and perhaps have no business knowing. She’s somehow wrong and right all at once. That’s why I love her. That’s why men love women, isn’t it? They can be something we never can, wrong and right all at once?

Am I loopy right now? Yes. Yes, I am. I blame it squarely on editing ISO documentation at work today. It’s one of two things I’m writing about in this entry, at personal risk because my employer does not like it when its employees blog about it unauthorized. I’m safe if I keep things as general as I can, and this first thing I can keep fairly general.

It may piss you off, but at least I shouldn’t get fired over it.

It’s an analogy that occurred to me near the end of the day about editing ISO documents. I’ve blogged about them before, so click the link if you need to bone up on what they are.

Editing them is like operating on malignant cancer:

* You don’t know exactly what you’re getting into until you start,

* It’s always worse than you expect, and

* It takes an absolute freaking miracle to get it all.

If that analogy offends you, I understand, and I am sorry; I know people who have or have had cancer too and I know there is no form of income-producing work whatsoever that is literally on par with the pain and suffering of cancer. The analogy offends ME, for crying out loud. Yet at the end of a day of editing the damned things it is the only one that is apt, at least in my world, in my place; and if you have to deal with them at your place of employ, I’m sure you understand me too.

______________

Here’s the second thing, and this one’s a little riskier because I have to get more specific: My employer is adding a social media piece to its customer support. This is more than just another job responsibility. This is a whole new staff, lock stock and barrel, whose mission it will be to address our customers in the world of Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and yea, so many others.

I worked with our customer support department for many years before transitioning to auditing dealer support. I still get their emails. I thought my boss would like to see the one about this. I added the comment that if I were 25 I’d go for it in a heartbeat.

“Good grief–this job is PERFECT for you,” she emailed back. “Why do you think you’d have to be 25?”

I emailed her back my two major misgivings. First, the job description and its requirements sounded very entry-level to me, enough so I suspected I’d have take a cut of a third of my current pay just to get a sniff at it. Second, the job description and its requirements sounded, as much as job descriptions and requirements legally can, like they were looking specifically for young people.

“I don’t think they’re looking for 50-year-old ex-English majors who won’t get on Twitter as a matter of principle,” I wrote.

She offered to ask for me what the salary range was and let me know while she didn’t want to lose me from her department, she did want my work to be my happiness, and this looked very much like something that would make me happy.

I thanked her, but told her something I’ve been thinking for some time now but never put into words until right then. I’ll tell you the same thing:  Whoever said “Age is nothing but a number,” is a liar.

Things change. Perspectives change. And well they should. If they don’t, why do we age at all? What’s the point of aging if we don’t learn from living?

More pointedly, what’s the point of aging if the only lesson we get from living is “Do what makes you happy?”

I’m not discounting the value of happiness in one’s work–just pointing out that in doing one’s work, the older one gets, the more he realizes he’s not working entirely for himself. The older one gets, the more he realizes other people depend on him to do exactly what he’s doing right now, and if what he’s doing right now is not his happiness, then by God he’d better find a way to make it so. A determined mind can make any drudge a joy. A creative mind can make that joy useful and productive for all. An intelligent mind can use that joy to elevate both the job and himself out of drudgery. By fifty, we should know this intuitively, instinctively, especially in a country like our own that affords us the freedom it does.

When running out of time, it’s better to work within reality than to chase rainbows. Even if that reality leads to a just plain sick analogy from time to time, because the work gets a little unpleasant.

Flash: All work is unpleasant from time to time, even that which you love. Better to deal with it than run from it.

I’m flying in the face of pop logic, I know. But it’s the simple truth. We could use more of that these days.

With that, I’ll put my loopy brain to bed. G’nite. 🙂

Old memories and french toast September 14, 2014

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I’m in a happy state of mind right now. My belly’s full of french toast. My good wife made a loaf and a half’s worth, some to eat this morning, most to freeze for others so we can both have a yummy hot breakfast on cold days to come without either of us having to bust our tails. So now I want to write something, because I’m full of yummy french toast.

Fair warning, this is going to be a long and rambling entry because I’ve been away from the blog so long. I’m fully aware what TLDR means, even at 50. So if you crave constant action and suspense rather than deep thought and introspection, you’re welcome to watch these videos instead:

They should all play in order, but if they don’t, the link to the playlist is right here. Knock yourself out.

Fishing at Lake Vermilion in Minnesota is one reason I haven’t been blogging lately. I went the middle of August with my dad and two of my brothers. We had a good time and yes, I “filmed” it, a good three hours worth at least of it in glorious 1080p high definition this time, part of it with an obsolete Kodak camcorder and part of it with one of my employer’s fine non-GPS products, a Garmin VIRB. Editing that sucker down to something presentable should kill a few cold winter days.

So far as the past few weeks where I haven’t been fishing, I wish I could tell you it’s because I’ve been putting hour after hour into making my first self-published book, The Rain Song, a legitimate novel if not an outright work of art instead of the overwritten emotionally-stunted POS the original version is. I wish I could say that.

I can’t say that.

I haven’t been writing at all.

Which, applying a Calvinistic approach to some of the entries on the “Sheer Arrogance” pages of this blog, makes me one of the more evil hypocrites to ever walk this Earth. I know. Writers write, you haven’t been writing; therefore, you have no right to call yourself a writer. Begone, poseur, and let us never mention your name again.

That’s a lot of nonsense, frankly. I have a life, and I have been living it, and living it is time-consuming, and consumed time lived well doesn’t leave a lot of room for navel-gazing. You want rationalization? There it is, and for most people it’s legitimate. I’m no exception. It’s been a busy time.

So why am I writing this blog entry now?  Guilt? Pressure? Narcissistic tendencies bubbling back to the surface? A stubborn refusal to grow up and accept what my life has become, even though it may not include being a successful novelist with millions sold?

Nah, none of that. It’s an old yearbook page.

A Facebook friend of mine, for reasons all her own I do not know, has been posting class pictures from an elementary school yearbook. She had the wrong person tagged as me in one, so I politely let her know.

This morning she posted the right one. And there they all were, out of the dust of sixth grade, Mrs. Bodine’s first-ever class at Neil Armstrong Elementary, circa 1975-76. Me, in big dorky plastic-framed glasses, a striped orange-and-green dress shirt and with my hair in its usual never-combed state. My best friend of those days a few pictures down, looking happy and confident and ready for anything that came, three things I could never manage. My first serious unrequited crush a few rows down, looking elegant and graceful and intelligent, three things I could never appear. All these blessedly normal kids… and me. A flood of memories pouring back of what was, in spite of so many awkward and stupid things, a very good year.

And suddenly I wanted to write something.

Anything.

Except about those experiences, of course. Jean Shepherd I am not and will never be. Sorry.

So who am I?

Why not figure it out, then write about it?

Or vice-versa?

Maybe I will, after having some more French toast. Hm? 🙂

Making up for lost time July 26, 2014

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Another blog I stumbled onto commented about ending its “summer of drought.” The blogger, a professional writer and movie critic, hadn’t posted anything in weeks.

Sure made me feel better. Here she was getting paid to do this, and struggling to keep it real and regular. I’m just some loser in the middle of the country lucky to get ten readers at a time, I should try harder? 😉

Seriously–I did have an entry ready to go three weeks ago. It was evocative. It was provoking. It was esoteric and loopy and deep. And with one click of a wrong button it was flushed into atoms, something I didn’t discover until getting back four hours later from keeping an appointment, and I couldn’t remember a word of it. Not a single word.

It was crushing, I tell you. My delicate, sensitive ego could not take the blow… okay, enough of such crap; I laughed my ass off. Even looked at the sky and said “Well, God, guess you wanted to keep that one all to Yourself, huh?” and laughed some more. Then moved on with life.

So now you have to settle for this hopefully entertaining alternative. Ladies and gentlemen, The Three A.M. Blog World Premiere of the 2012 Butterfield Fishing Show. right here.

If I can find the time, I’ll put up the 2004-2005 Show for you, too.

I’ll write more later–really, I will–but for now, 45 minutes of the most fascinating “fishing” footage known to humanity will have to do. Enjoy.

(NOTE: I’ve noticed playing this back that it isn’t playing the playlist in the proper order. If it does that to you too, click here to get to the playlist in its proper order.)

Midwest Stoicism, and other exorcisms June 16, 2014

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Sometimes the good Lord reminds me people do read this blog. The latest reminder came at a funeral just this past Saturday.

The funeral was for someone well-loved who passed from the effects of leukemia. The time between its discovery and his passing was barely over a month. He leaves behind a wife and very young daughter both brave beyond their years. He was 47. Way too young. Always, way too young.

Just after the service I caught up with a friend who I used to work with. “I’ve been reading your blog,” he said almost instantly. “Been working on any books lately?”

I had to tell him no, because it’s been hard to write anything period. For one thing, as I pointed out a few entries ago, this death thing has been a rather persistent presence lately and that’s to be expected when you break 50. It’s just the law of averages. The older one gets, the more people he knows, the more people one knows, the more likely before he passes himself, others will pass. Sometimes it happens to people way too soon, like the mutual friend and co-worker we were both mourning, but in most cases It’s just nature. It’s just life. It’s reality.

All that said, I wish reality would knock it off awhile.

This year is not quite six months in and already two co-workers and friends, a cousin’s wife, a high school friend’s mother, and the last surviving grandparent of my boss, have all “transitioned,” as someone I currently work with would put it. Only one was no surprise. Maybe two. The rest, uh, no.

Sounds like I’m complaining about it, doesn’t it? What if I am? More importantly, what about the survivors of those people? Don’t they most of all have the right to do a little fist-shaking at the sky?

This past weekend’s service, like most, had a time for those who wanted to speak about the bereaved. I didn’t keep track of how many went up.  I can tell you with confidence it was more than any other funeral service or celebration of life I’ve attended.  My God, this man was loved. And why not? This man was so loving. He had the gift.

Then a minister said one of the most honest things I’ve ever heard a preacher say, not exactly these words but close enough: “This isn’t right. We shouldn’t have to say these things right now for someone as young as this.”

He’s right, you know.  Yet more often than we care to admit, we do.

I need to take you another direction, one that will make the title of this entry make more sense.

Six days earlier we had an absolutely glorious Sunday morning, perfect for walking, so I did, to church and back. My Vivofit claims that’s a ten-mile round trip. I don’t think so; an old digital pedometer I once wore said it was merely six. Either way, it’s healthy, and you do build a thirst. A new convenience store on Santa Fe in Olathe sells Yoo-Hoo, one of my worst vices since childhood.  I stopped in and got a bottle. There was a line three-deep before me.

“How ya doin’?” the friendly lady of a certain age behind the cash register said to a tall man in either business or church clothes, I wasn’t sure which. Either way he looked liked a young professional. Does anyone still call them “yuppies?” Like that.

“I’m dying,” he said casually. Like he had a cold, maybe.

“Oh, come on,” cash register lady said, still smiling, “it’s not all that hot today.”

“No,” he said matter-of-fact, “My doctor told me a few days ago I have cancer.” He grabbed his stuff. “Have a great day,” he said, just like anyone else would have said it.

It got quiet, and stayed that way.

I told my wife about it later. She was disgusted.

“I get the shock,” she said. “Five stages of grieving and all that; he’s in Denial. I get that. But God!  No one has the right to casually drop bombs like that on people they don’t know!”

She’s got a point–she always does, that’s why I love her–but I didn’t see it that way, then or now.

Posting a summary of it on Facebook, I asked if anyone else could face being told ‘you’re dying’ as calmly as he seemingly was, admitting I couldn’t. (Don’t let my ‘fraidy bump‘ entry fool you.)

“Midwest stoicism can be an asset at times,” one friend posted.

That one nailed it.

“Denial?” Maybe–yeah, probably.

But also the realization “hey, this happens to us all, now it may be my turn, and at least I got a little warning.”

Would we all get such grace.

Back to the funeral. A slide show was part of the visitation. Along with the usual pictures of happy times with friends and family at wonderful places, there were also pictures taken during his last month, during treatment–including one where his face was completely covered with what I believe was an oxygen mask. He was hugging his little girl, also wearing a face-covering oxygen mask.

It looked like aliens having a PDA.

That makes it sound funny. It wasn’t, at least not to me. It was more shocking than anything, at first.

Then I thought no, wait a minute. This is some more of that  Midwest Stoicism my Facebook buddy was talking about.

This picture, when taken, was acceptance of the reality that at least for a little while, life would require a full-faced oxygen mask.

Not only was the good man we were mourning good with it, you could tell in that picture he was finding a way to love his little girl right through it. She wasn’t scared at all. It was still Daddy, and she was still Daddy’s girl. Her own mask proved it.

How better to exorcise the demons of loss than to stare right into their faces and say “I don’t fear you?”

Grief is its own exorcism. Not of the beloved’s memory, we forfeit that at our souls’ peril. But, ultimately, of the shock and ache of loss.

We know the exorcism is complete when we’re able to think of that person and think “I was blessed to have known him, I will never forget him, and now I must move on,” and the next voice we hear isn’t the word “No.”

It’s not bottling your emotions. Rather, it’s facing them head on and telling them “I don’t fear you.” Even if early, that’s a lie. Given time and repetition it becomes the truth.

A lot of people are in shock right now over this man’s passing, but we will move on and we won’t fear life without him. Nor should we. He’d probably laugh and say so.

And now we’ll move on.

 

“We need the moisture” May 12, 2014

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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.

 

I need mindless distraction, and this fills the bill… March 25, 2014

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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.

 

“A mighty fierce mess of gum clobberin'” March 1, 2014

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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!! February 15, 2014

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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 February 8, 2014

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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.