Sunday, September 30, 2007

The One True Measure

WE MEASURE OUR LIVES BY ONE TRUE MEASURE: OUR PROXIMITY -- FAR OR NEAR, DAY BY DAY, YEAR BY YEAR -- TO OUR HEART'S TREASURE.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A WW2 Diary of a Common Soldier

"Dear Bud, ... Thanks not only for the copy of the book, but also for putting those wartime notes into a permanent record. It is an important addition to all the "stuff" historians record. I couldn't put the book down once I got into it. It brought back a lot of memories reading about times, places, and people from 55+ years ago." ~ retired General John W. Vessey

My father-in-law Wilmer A. "Bud" Wagner (above) was the second man in Northern Minnesota to be drafted into the war. He carried a small pocket camera and kept a diary from beginning to end, from Camp Claiborne to Ireland to North Africa and the Italy Campaigns. Cook, machine gunner and company agent - Bud had the privilege of being on the first convoy to make its way across the Atlantic for the European theater. And the good fortune of having survived the duration of the war without becoming a casualty - in North Africa and Italy, which included beachheads at Anzio and Salerno. General Vessey, who went on the become head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, received notice of his first promotion in Bud's jeep.

The book Bud wrote is a remarkable document of what war is really like for the day to day soldier. If you wish to find a copy of your own or for someone you know who is a military history buff, I strongly encourage you to just do it. Here's the link:
http://www.savpress.com/Details.asp?ProductID=126

Vin and the Crocodile

Vin wrestled a crocodile,
quite sure he could pin it.
He was up for the match,
determined to win it.

The croc went down flat,
stomach up in a minute;
Sadly for Vin,
he was already in it.

Copyright 1995 Dave Peterson
Used with permission.

Friday, September 28, 2007

True Origin of the Blues

Blue began when the world was new, but not so new as the very beginning. The original world was black and white. Eventually, God decided that color should be added to His wonderful creation.

In an effort to protect His integrity (He had already declared all things good) He broke white light up into sections and called it color. This was how the color blue came into being.

At first, Adam and Eve were so enamored by their new experiences with color that they never even thought about why the world was originally created in black and white. But after a while, when they had settled into their new techni-colored paradise, they began to wonder. "Why did God originally create the world in black and white? Was He trying to withhold something from us?"

It was at this point that they doubted God’s goodness. Was He really concerned for their best interest? What was the point in making a black and white world if He had been capable of making color right from the start? Had the black and white version of the world been a mistake? Does God really know what He's doing?

Such questionings, it would appear, led directly to Eve's being seduced by the serpent. (Though it may have been that forbidden Red apples are more enticing than forbidden black and white ones.)

After the Fall, Adam and Eve became acutely aware of why God had been so reluctant to give them a full-spectrum techni-colored world. As a result of the apple incident, Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise forever, which put them both in quite a bad mood. Adam sank into a depression. The following evening, (a time of day which he also blamed on his significant other) he lay on his back feeling particularly mournful and low. As he lay staring at the deepening twilight sky it entered his mind to compose a poem, soon to be published in an early anthology called Man's First Poems, Volume One. The poem was rather inferior in quality, but still maintains its historical significance. Whether it was the color of the sky he was trying to name, or the feeling he was analyzing at that moment in time, the word has forever become associated with grief and sadness.

This is the true origin of the blues.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Predictability and Determinism

"Radio talk show host Larry King was taking calls about God yesterday. He could not accept the notion that God knows the future, yet does not control us. That is, if God knows what I am going to do, how can I do otherwise? Like most people, Mr. King stumbles where Reason fails. The idea of Mystery is lost to modern man. Everything, supposedly, should make sense, should be explainable."
May 6, 1993

It's interesting to stumble upon this journal note this a.m. because last Friday evening in our philosophy club we gave attention to this very discussion. We have been listening to a series of lectures called The Great Ideas of Philosophy, and this month's lecture was on Augustine. Augustine injected an intellectual vigor back into the early church. Noting that although God cannot be perceived or achieved via Reason, the notion of God is not inconsistent with Reason or unreasonable.

At one point, the matter which Larry King struggled with was addressed. Dr. Robinson, the lecturerer, illustrated how it is possible for predictability to not be determinism. In other words, God can know the future without making it happen.

The reality is, that if the will were not free, we'd have a new dilemma: how can I be accountable for what I do?

It is fascinating to wrestle with these issues. Occassionally they result in some spirited debates. The quest for truth and meaning are worthy pursuits. Ultimately, we are seeking a basis for hope, a hope that is real and does not disappoint us.

"Squeezing life to wring out from it all I can take from each day."
May 18, 1993

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On Becoming a Writer

“The first foundation of writing is not the words or the message, but the writer him-or-herself. The writer is a messenger who must begin by being worthy of the message. Anything less is false. This is what it means to find one’s voice.”

One of the great things about blogging is that it allows would-be writers to develop their craft. My first definition of a writer was: "One who writes." It is not, "One who knows how to write." Writers write. Musicans make music. Artists make art. A poet who does not write poetry is not a poet, he's a poser and an imposter.

Anyways, kudos to all who have immersed themselves in the activity of blogging. Blogging is about communication and communication is an important skill in society. Whether the public sector or the private sector, learning how to put your nebulous ideas in clear, concise language is a must for success. Use your blogging to improve this skill... and to find your voice. Who knows? You might just change the world.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Harp of Burma

Finished watching The Harp of Burma (Biruma no tategoto) last night. Moving story of a Japanese soldier in Burma at the end of World War Two & the events that lead him to become a priest. During an early scene in the movie we see he is a sensitive man to begin with. In his last words to his comrades (who are returning to Japan) he states that he has committed himself to burying the dead and comforting those who are suffering.

Like the hero of this film we find ourselves in a broken world. We, too, must comfort our fellow sufferers.
June 24, 1993

Around 1990 or so my wife and I befriended a street person named Robert Lookup who lived in Duluth's Seaway Hotel. His life consisted primarily of watching movies and visiting the library. When I had first met him, he showed me the fruit of a major project he had undertaken. Robert was a lover of trains. Combining this passion with his love of movies, he had committed himself to watching every movie in the library and rating it based on the accuracy of its presentation of the trains therein.

For example, an Abbott and Costello film received demerits because while the story took place in Florida, on the wall was a Pennsylvania Railroad calendar. This would never happen, he emphatically stated. In retrospect, I would venture that no other movie goer of our generation ever noticed this faux pas.

I mention Robert because of his special love of obscure films with dark themes. The Harp of Burma was such a film, flowing over the screen with its tragic tale of a sensitive man awakened to the real horror of war. Without Robert's urging I would no doubt have never viewed this moving film. Robert was a sensitive man himself who no doubt identified with the hero.

As we read today's headlines, we understand that our 21st century world is no rose garden. It is a world littered with sorrows, with hurting people who need a message of hope. Let's commit ourselves to being part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Don't Try This At Home

"Just ask me to show you the scars." ~ Bob Dylan

You are undoubtedly familiar with those questionnaires designed to make us reveal all kinds of personal things about ourselves... favorite color, favorite food, etc. I don't really care for these chain letters, but I did find a question on one of these quite interesting. How many scars do you have?

The first scars that came to mind were the most visible, followed by a few private scars. It took a little work to remember the one I am going to tell you about here. It has to do with this picture of a tricycle.

Seems like my brother and I spent hours riding around on our tricycles on our little driveway back home in Maple Heights, Ohio. One day when I was three, maybe four, years old I was riding with a dowel in my mouth. This is the tip of the day: Do not let your kids ride around on a trike with a dowel in their mouths. They probably should not run with a stick in their mouths either.

You can already guess where this is going. We're talkin' scars, baby. I have a scar on the roof of my mouth, penetrated by a wooden dowel the size of a thin pencil. My memory of the incident is forgotten, but the following six months or more will never be forgotten as the tip of my tongue continually returned to feel the crater, fascinated by the feel and strangeness of it.

Alas, live and learn, as they say. No permanent damage. Just a little adventure along life's way. As mom ever used to say: "Boys will be boys."

Untitled Excerpt from a Longer Story

"At first he thought everyone was like him, but the puzzled look on a friend's face when he remarked on his emptiness told him he was mistaken and convinced him forever that an individual must not differ from his species." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

A Brief Transaction

Standing outside in the misty dark, Jess felt unusually quiet. A rusty pipe propped open the door of the tin shed, its butt end digging into the gravel driveway. The single dim bulb in the shed revealed a green John Deere and the dusty clutter of four decades -- old car bumpers, boxes of paper, pitchfork, rusted garden tools and engine parts. The haze made the whole scene appear fuzzy and colorless as if draped in a shroud of gauze. Only the green John Deere reflected any color, sitting in a cleared space in the midst of, but seemingly detached from, the labyrinth of rubble. Hank Denmark stood alongside the rear wheel of the tractor, his cap pulled snug over his brow.

"It's got to get more gas!" he shouted to Stanley Ross, who had climbed up into the tractor's seat and was now attempting to disengage the clutch. Stanley pulled the stick up, and then back part way.

"It needs more oil here," Stan said.

Hank told him why it had to be stiff like that, and stepped back as the engine turned over, the old John Deer lurching backward with a heave. Stan quickly cut it off. "This thing's dangerous!" he laughed, dropping down now from the green behemoth.

Jess looked across the way to a streetlamp softly diffusing its light through the evening fog. The thickness of the moist misty night made everything seem strange. Hank and Stan seemed different, too. Their bodies seemed thicker, bulkier, more real.

Hank and Stan closed their business with the tractor and shuffled out of the shed. Hank turned out the light.

Over by the truck Hank asked a question about a guy who had recently returned to town who was now divorced. Jess continued watching and listening as the two men talked on, standing in the shadow of Stan's box-shaped truck. A loudspeaker was blaring from some remote distance, but not enough to distract from the story Stan was telling.

After a while, Hank said, "Let's go in the house." The temperature had been dropping quickly.

The three went inside, but feeling awkward and alone, Jess said goodnight and stepped back out again. It will always be this way, he thought to himself as he walked back up the drive toward the barn and trailer. Like Kara, he also had somehow ceased to exist. In some indefinable way he was a phantom. Folding his arms across his chest he shivered against the cold.

e. newman ~ 1981
Image at top of page: Self Portrait with Blue Eyes

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Mind of Borges

"The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a resume, a commentary . . . More reasonable, more inept, more indolent, I have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books." ~ Jorge Luis Borges, 10 November 1941

Among the most profound writers of fiction in the 20th century is a remarkable Argentinian, Jorge Luis Borges. Like all the great writers, he is steeped in the classic tradition. His story "There Are More Things" is extracted from a line in Hamlet. His references to Cervantes and other greats are too numerous to catalog.

But most significantly, his influence on his peers and those who follow in his wake extends globally to wherever fine literature can be found. Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are just three 20th century literary masters who tip their hats to Borges as their fountain of inspiration. The school of "Fantastic Realism" owes its debt to him as well.

If you seek stories outside the humdrum, that explore beneath the surface of things so as to stir up the unimaginable and make it yet more real than the Real itself, I recommend Borges with a full heart.

The quotes on this page today are from various essays by Borges, though the collections of short stories were what established him. My first encounter with Borges was the 1970-71 Fall Winter edition of the Antioch Review. Six short pieces like staccato gun bursts.

Some of my own short stories found their impetus in an idea that germinated from seeds Borges has sown. Readers who know the man's work will readily hear the echoes in these stories of my own:
Duel of the Poets ennyman.com/poetduel
The Nonsense Room ennyman.com/nonsense
An Remembered History of the World ennyman.com/unro

In the meantime, here are some additional quotes and excerpts from Borges that will help give you a sense of his flavor:

"The original is unfaithful to the translation." On Henley's translation of Beckford's Vathek, 1943

"Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces belabored by time, certain twilights and certain places try to tell us something, or have said something we should not have missed, or are about to say something; this imminence of a revelation which does not occur is, perhaps, the aesthetic phenomenon." ~ Essay: "The Wall and the Books"

"It is venturesome to think that a coordination of words (philosophies are nothing more than that) can resemble the universe very much. It is also venturesome to think that of all these illustrious coordinations, one of them -- at least in an infinitesimal way -- does not resemble the universe a bit more than the others." ~ Essay: "The Avatars of the Tortoise"

"A book is more than a verbal structure or series of verbal structures; it is the dialogue it establishes with its reader and the intonation it imposes upon his voice and the changing and durable images it leaves in his memory. A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships." ~ Essay: "A Note on (toward) Bernard Shaw"

"A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face." ~ Afterword to El hacedor, 1960

"Of course, like all young men, I tried to be as unhappy as I could -- a kind of Hamlet and Raskolnikov rolled into one." ~ Autobiographical essay 1970

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Two Books That Especially Influenced My Life

There are a number of books that have been significant in my life, so to select two and call them the most significant would be near impossible. Yet, without doubt these two books here were among the most significant books for me, for they came at a critical juncture in my life.

I had been in Bible school for several years, immersed in the Christian scene, but somewhat divorced from the academic intellectual atmosphere of my college years at Ohio University. At O.U. I had become immersed in Camus, Kafka, Nietzsche, Vonnegut, Sartre and the whole modern art oeuvre.

Whereas it can be true that Christians can also have intellectual strength, it is easy to get surrounded by a lot of lightweight reading material as well. At a certain point in time a friend of mine had been reading a Hemingway book with amazement at its power. The seed sown, I soon found myself picking up a copy of Hemingway’s first book of short stories, In Our Time. It would be an understatement to say it felt like I had been hit in the face with a fist.

I read the book through two and a half times straight. In certain stories I found myself analyzing the sentences, the structure, the force with which he hurled words at the reader, yet the simplicity of it all. I was amazed at the amount of tension created in his story The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife, with so few brush strokes. I wondered where the Christians were who could write like this.

The second book that influenced me at the time was Sherwood Wirt’s You Can Tell the World. Wirt had been editor of Billy Graham’s Decision magazine for many years. He, too, had a desire to see more power in Christian writing. More meat, more bite. He had undoubtedly seen plenty of insipid material flow across his desk over the years that was well intentioned but impotent. He says as much right up front. “The demand for Christian writing of quality far exceeds the supply.”

He goes on to say, “The simple expedient of seeking advice from the right people can make all the difference to an aspiring writer.” And such was I.

In the very first chapter he emphasizes the importance of being ourselves immersed in great literature before we can attempt to produce great literature. That is, if we do not know what great writing looks like how can we ourselves hope to produce it? He speaks of the influence of Darwin, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Hemingway, Camus and even Hitler. Their prose was powerful indeed, for it did not simply titillate the senses. It moved people to action.

If it is your desire to write, and to write with power, whether in business or the arts or for whatever purposes that drive you… follow the path that others have trod. Read the classics. Study the manner in which ideas are assembled, and how language really works. Hemingway, despite his personal faults, be sheer force of will re-oriented modern literature.

I do not know what the catalyst will be for you, but these two books really lit my fuse.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Definition of a Classic

"A book that never finishes what it has to say." ~ Italo Calvino

There are two ways a book can keep speaking. One is to be so dense with meaning that it keeps adding to our understanding with each new reading because we ourselves have aged and keep seeing it with new eyes. A second way is for the book to never cease from continuing.

Isn't that what blogging is to some extent? A personal living expression in words and images, ongoing and ever continuing. When you cease to be enriched, you're free to turn away. The best books, and best blogs, keep us coming back for more, knowing that we will get a satisfying return on the investment of our time.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Natural

"My life didn't turn out the way I expected." ~ Roy Hobbs

Watched The Natural last night with Robert. A number of good lines. "I believe we all have two lives... the life we learn with and the life we live with after that." Good line. But what about now? When does "the life we live with after that" begin?

Another interesting statement. "I didn't see it coming. I should have seen it coming." Some things that happen to us seem to have no foreshadowing even when in fact they do.

Interesting, too, that the movie ends with an upbeat heroic end and altogether differently from the book.

Why do people want to be famous? Roy Hobbs wanted that... to be the best that ever was. Why? Iris challenges him: "Why does that matter so much to you? Isn't it good enough to know you were good?"
Oct 1, 2000

Too often we chase treasure at the ends of the earth when there are acres of diamonds right here at our feet. Open your eyes and see where true value lies.

Quotes About Books

Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends. ~ Dawn Adams

Of all the diversions of life, there is none so proper to fill up its empty spaces as the reading of useful and entertaining authors. ~ Joseph Addison

Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life. ~ Mortimer J. Adler
You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them. ~ Ray Bradbury

There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them. ~ Joseph Brodsky

Read on, brothers and sisters. Read on!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Creative Urge

"We are tricked by a phenomenon of time: Hours and days pass slowly, but years pass quickly. A life passes quickly, but we always think we have plenty of time. Too often we get so consumed with how we spend our days that we lose track of how we are spending our lives."
~Sally Warner

These are the opening lines of Sally Warner's Making Room for Making Art. I like the title of the book. It is not about art appreciation, but about getting the fire stoked to follow your creative urge.

All too many people who were once in touch with their creative selves have lost touch with that drive. Whether being creative with words, music, paint, sculpture, clay, pencils, or folded paper, there is something deeply stirring in the creative process.

You only live once. There is power in creative expression. It feels good for the artist, almost magical when things come together. At it can be enriching to others.

Paul Klee in 1920 said, "Art is a simile of the Creation. Each work of art is an example, just as the terrestial is an example of the cosmic."

If you once had a love for the creative process, and that fire has grown cold, maybe it's time to stir the flames again. You only live once. Make a space in your life once more to follow your creative impulses.

Strike a match. Light the fuse. I want to see fireworks.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Under the Volcano

Reading Under the Volcano again. No wonder I put it down three or four times before plowing thru. The first section is a fog of words about characters who you do not know, pieces of incidents half illuminated, nothing spelled out... little to hold onto. Reading on is thus almost a matter of faith. "There must be something here" because of the critical acclaim it achieved. He re-wrote it 17 or 19 times. It must be this way deliberately... inaccessible to all but the most determined.
June 15, 2000

My original fascination with Under the Volcano was due to its purported structure, corresponding to the Kabbalah, with its origins in Jewish mysticism. Having long fashioned myself as a mystic of sorts, I attempted several times to read this book which proved to be too tedious to get fully engaged in. Eventually, seven years ago I did get past the fog and received much enjoyment from the read, aesthetically and emotionally.

It is a tragic story about a the last twenty-four hours in the life of a once important man, a British consul in Mexico. The tragedy that is Mexico is played out as an undercurrent in this book which later became a film directed by John Huston and starring Albert Finney ("Daddy Warbucks" of the musical Annie.)

Of special interest to me are the scenes in Tepotztlan, a small town near Cuernavaca where I had been at Easter 1981. The annual ceremonies surrounding the crucifixion are featured in this film as the day of the dead is celebrated. For me, the film gave opportunity to relive that 1981 experience, or re-ignite its memory.

My first encounter with the Kabbalah came through the writings of Jacob Boehme, a mystic from centuries past who wrote about the "super-sensual life" or "Life which is above Sense." One who reads Under the Volcano seeking to find echoes of such things will come away disappointed. Perhaps the books structure is thus designed, but like a skeletal system that supports our bodies, you will not see any of it.

The book is about the tragic fatalism of one very isolated man whose sole preoccupation is, "Where will I get my next drink." But the story is much more than that, and for this reason, the determined reader will ultimately be rewarded. And for those who enjoy good writing, there are some very nicely written sentences.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Do I Speak In Vain?

The world is filled with a multitude of voices -- droning, shrieking, badgering, insisting, whispering, flaunting, taunting, announcing, trouncing, reflecting, directing, helping, hurting, assisting, confusing, clarifying, obscuring... sharing ideas, feelings, concepts, truth, and even madness. A world filled with speaking, and I, just one voice more. If I should speak, who would hear?

Have you ever felt that way? You have things in your heart to share, but with all these voices, all this noise, what's the use? You feel as if you are saying something so obvious it hardly bears repeating. What's the point? Is it foolishness? To be one more voice, insignificant as a drop of rain in the Rocky Mountains, for one vain moment dashing itself pitifully into the massive granite heart of a continent... A continent! One drop, exploding in useless splendor, colliding with a whole continent set in its ways. Is this not the ultimate futility?

Perhaps. But then again, perhaps there is a waiting seed, expectant, hungering, thirsting, languishing for that drop, that single drop of nourishment to gain the strength to break free from the confines of its tiny prison shell of self, to burst asunder the bonds of death and darkness, into life. As this seedling to sapling grows, it reaches up to grasp gloriously in daily snatches the light of life, rejoicing now that it, too, can fulfill its destiny and purpose in being.

So it is that the words we offer have the power to give hope and life. And our speaking is not in vain.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Blackbirds

"We see through a glass dimly..."
~ I Corinthians 13:12a

Imagine a flock of blackbirds in flight. Several friends, upon spying the small cloud of birds, attempt to guess their number. One guesses twenty-five or so. Another guesses 20. A third insists there were at least thirty. But none of them, due to the brevity of their observation, is able to say with certainty the precise number of blackbirds they witnessed.

They discuss their experience for several minutes when one of them says, "How do we know we saw any blackbirds? None of us is in agreement. Maybe we didn't see any blackbirds at all." The others all agree that this fellow is a silly fool if he believes that kind of thinking.

And yet, the very same reasoning is used against the Church today, is it not? People have observed that the various denominations have differing ideas about Christian truth, about how to serve communion, about which Bible doctrines are most important. From here they sometimes draw a conclusion that Christianity and our ideas about God are whatever we want it to be. They conclude that truth is arbitrary and that we can choose to believe whatever we like, because one can never know for sure.

The reality, however, is wholly other. Moral truth is not arbitrary. We see its outlines in the cumulative understanding of all persons of conscience.

There was a definite number of blackbirds, even if we are not entirely in agreement as to what that number was. No logical person would conclude from our lack of agreement that there were no blackbirds at all. Or that there was an indefinite number of birds.

The quantity of birds was specific, even if we cannot say with certainty what that specific number was. So it is with God and truth. God is a being with very definite attributes.

Agnostics are fond of saying "We can't know whether there is a God." And many there are who say God is whatever you want him to be. But alas, that would be like saying there were as many blackbirds as we want there to be, instead of acknowledging that there was a specific number.

The Scriptures state clearly that if we seek Him we shall find Him. That is to say, we can know more and more what God is like. God has attributes and qualities that we can discover and know with greater clarity. And while we may only see through a glass darkly in this lifetime, there are many of us who have seen His hand at work, have heard His voice, even if only dimly, and know that one day we shall know Him, just as we could have counted -- if given the opportunity -- the precise number of those blackbirds.
July 11, 2002

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd

In a faraway land, in the Land of Podd, folks felt themselves each just a little bit odd.
Why in fact, not a few, not even a dozen,
and not just a sister or uncle or cousin...
'Twas the entire country caught under this spell,
each believed only others were anything swell,
and each felt discouraged, just a smidge, by his lot,
and this is what happened, believe it or not.

It had been a bad year, and in addition to famine
there were enemy troops on the borders of Salmon,
their unfriendly neighbors near the Mountain of Yore
and the King was near certain that his land was done for.
So he needed a messenger to save their lands
and he sought out a hero from the kingdom's bands.
But each made excuses, for this and for that,
One said, "My hair's funny,"and "I can't wear a hat."
A second, who resisted, said his nose was too fat!

The king tried reason, and he also tried terror,
but soon realized that the latter's an error,
so he promptly decided to appeal to God,
'cause these were strange people, these people of Podd,
for nothing was wrong... though each thought he was odd.

The king finally saw, although quite peculiar,
that the land would be lost -- including their ruler! --
if he couldn't find someone to carry out this task,
but there seemed no one else in his land left to ask.
Yet the Kingdom was saved, it turned out in the end,
all because the king knew that to save his own skin
he would have to step down from his throne to the street,
and even though he didn't like his own feet,
he became a great leader by hiding it inside,
and he ran 'cross the hills to the far other side
to bring back an army or some kind of troop,
to finish forever this enemy poop.

I guess that is why some are kings, some are not,
We're really all the same, and we're all that we've got.

copyright 1996 ed newman

PERMISSION TO REPRINT GRANTED if attribution is cited.
Can you send me a note telling where you shared it?
ennyman@northlc.com

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ask Yourself

"Time wasted on others is not time wasted."
June 15, 2000


How many people have you helped today?





Monday, September 10, 2007

Harry Gold

I have been writing short fiction of varying lengths for nearly four decades. At a certain point in time I learned that short shorts fall into a category called Flash Fiction, generally brief in nature, between 250 and 1000 words.

The following is a piece of flash fiction written in a rather unconventional manner. All of the sentences from this story have been borrowed from other works of fiction by other authors. It was sort of a word game. For continuity sake I did add a few sentence fragments and used the name Harry Gold in all the places where needed. I think it interesting how a sentence, placed in a new context connotes new meanings through the reconfigured relationship. And now...

Harry Gold

The rule of "nothing unessential" is the first condition of great art. --Andre Gide

After dinner Harry Gold reads us the last two chapters of his La Nuit. The next to last especially seems excellent to us, and Gold reads it very well. Being rich is an occupation in itself, particularly for people who arrive at it via parachute in middle life.

We go out for a walk -- William Williams, Gold and myself. Never has it seemed such a long way to the top of this hill. The road with its tossing broken stones stretches on forever into the distance like a life of agony. It is hot as a furnace on the street and we sweat profusely.

I bring up the question of ownership. "Who owns language? Can a man own words? Sentences? The turn of a phrase?"

Gold's face becomes agitated, defiant. "It's mine now. No matter what they say, it's mine."

It occurs to me that Williams doesn't like this reply, but there are no others to turn to and we are forced to accept it. Gold feels guilty because his work is heavy with borrowing. Ideas, phrases, sentences, even whole paragraphs have been shamelessly appropriated, pilfered without attribution, plagiarized.

Harry adds, in a low voice, "The will of man is unconquerable. Even God cannot conquer it."

I can not bear to see him like this. To myself I think, Why do you do these things? In human affairs every solution only serves to sharpen the problem, to show us more clearly what we are up against. I consider how sages of the future will describe this historic day.

For additional "short shorts" visit: http://www.ennyman.com/thelight.html
For a collection of more serious fiction: http://www.ennyman.com/stories.html

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A Big Hand for the Volunteers

Unselfish and noble actions are the most radiant pages in the biography of souls. ~David Thomas

Back in the 1980's there was a major story on the cover of The Atlantic about cocaine use in America. According to the article, Americans were snorting, inhaling and poking one hundred billion dollars of cocaine into their bodies a year. Reading this stat incited me to write a letter to the editor about the bigger issue it represented, an epidemic of selfishness. My letter to the editor was going to us the cocaine stat to illustrate how self-centered Americans were.

But the next morning, just before mailing this letter, I heard then president Ronald Reagan say in a speech that Americans were the most generous people in the world and that Americans performed two hundred billion dollars worth of volunteer acts per year. Wow! On hearing this, I tore up my letter and realized it was true. There are two cultures side by side in this country. The one is generous with both their money and time. The article on cocaine shone a spotlight on a portion of the other group. But the volunteers never stopped volunteering, wherever the spotlights went.

This morning I woke thinking about the volunteers who keep the local race tracks running and wanted to send them thank you cards. Then I thought about all the organizations in our society that are so very dependent on volunteers, groups that keep snowmobile trails safe, volunteers who perform emergency services -- fire, rescue work -- and the countless chaplains, counsellors, mentors, church workers, soccer and little league coaches. It is remarkable when you think about all the services provided by these unsung heroes.

All this to say, thank you all. We depend on you. Your labors are not in vain. Believe me, you are appreciated more than you will ever realize.

Here are some quotes about volunteers that I found this morning at quotegarden.com

Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer. ~Author Unknown

We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude. ~Cynthia Ozick

The world is hugged by the faithful arms of volunteers. ~Everett Mámor

It's easy to make a buck. It's a lot tougher to make a difference. ~Tom Brokaw

Again, thank you all!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Infection Touches All

Reading books about The Crusades the past two nights. It is easy to see why the Founding Fathers were so adament about the separation of Church and State. The Crusades epitomizes the evil abuses of power. How could the Gospel have produced this kind of fruit?
May 4, 2000

The answer to this question from my journals is contained within the sacred scriptures themselves. The Fall has infected everything, including the church. The church is made of people, people who have been distorted by this "brokenness" that seeps through everything, every heart and every relationship. We see its fingerprints everywhere, and for this reason people who claim to be enlightened must wear a mantle of humility at all times, lest we fall into an imperialistic or paternalistic attitude toward outsiders and neighbors.

Having to be humble is such a drag, though. It is so much easier to be a know it all. Why have doubts when you are right?

Actually, what is more incredible than this "bad history" is the quiet river of good deeds and kindnesses that have spilled unabated throughout the world this past two thousand years. Without fanfare. Despite so much apparent evidence to the contrary, there is a strong belief that God is good and that to be identified with him requires that his followers likewise demonstrate goodness, kindness and mercy toward those in need. Maybe we don't need guns and swords to change the world after all.

But then, who will stop the really bad people? Things are seldom as simple as they appear.

Today's thought, the real secret to world peace:

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Infobahn

"Thots continue to orbit around the idea of cyberspace, of Internet and Connectivity. Made a purch. Will receive modem & AOL by next week. What will all this jargon do to mod lit?"
May 7, 1994

For me, the idea of linking up with the Net first emerged sometime in 1993. I wanted to get a modem, but in order to do this I had to upgrade my Mac... (I was still driving my original 512Ke.) This done I looked forward to Christmas when I could ask for a chunk of the payment toward a good fax/modem from Mr. Deep Pockets (as in Dad.) Unfortunately, I had some major writing projects I wanted to tackle, and I feared getting into the Pioneer Netsurf Mode would damage my productivity.

Fast forward to May 5, 94. It was a Thursday and I decided to visit Thinkman, a Net Surfer. He opened the gates and gave me my first peek inside the realm I had heretofore only dreamed of. Naturally, I was hooked.

Net travel quickly became the primary preoccupation in my thoughts. It was part ofevery conversation. My head was filled with questions. How time consuming will it be? How long does it take to learn the protocol for getting around? How accessible is it, really? Will my anticipation lead to disappointment?

BUT A FUNNY THING WAS HAPPENING on my way to this peak experience. People were not all that excited with me. I mean, most of my peers in the workplace didn't even know what I was talking about. "Cyberspace? Infonet? Huhn?"

Except a few. THEY knew. They knew something about it, because they had seen it on television a few days earlier, a segment on one of those News Magazine type programs (Sam Donaldson?) that led them to believe the Infobahn was a world of terror where your worst nightmares come true, as stalkers and lurkers and hate mongers track you down, threaten your children and generally ruin your life.

Then there was the Newsweek cover story. Same week. Same fear-mongering. Is this really how it is out there? Fifteen hours logged and I still couldn't believe it. It was beautiful.
Meeting people I could have never met any other way. A niche writer's group. Very open and friendly chat room experiences. A sympathetic, heartfelt discussion about Jackie O's sudden passing was in AOL’s Front Porch room before it hit the news, twenty minutes after it happened.
Of the horrors of Flaming? I had no clue what these people were talking about. How prevalent was it, really? The whole of it seemed a little childish, in my opinion. Well, can you imagine if driving cars got this kind of publicity. Show pictures of heads through windshields and a large sign that says, "THIS COULD BE YOU. DRIVING IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH." M-A-D ('Merican's Against Driving)

My experience raised some questions, though. (1) Does the major media respond this way because it feels threatened? Does it hope the negative PR will prove detrimental to the movement? (2) Or is this an addiction that the news media has, looking for the the dark side of every story. Making people feel afraid must be an easier task than to make people feel beautiful or good.

After a month online, with thirty to forty hours logged, my Big Adventure showed no signs of tiring. List.serves, Usenets, Veronica searches in Gopherspace... a universe had opened to me. And guess what? I made some new friends, business contacts, even found a literary agent who was interested in my work.
Nevertheless, the Media still seemed addicted to its fear-mongering. A June 10 commentary by Bill Bishop in the local Trib again emphasized the downside of the Net. Cyberspace will ruin language and communication, he predicted, citing an obscure notation by a Harvard political scientist's study on communities in Italy.
Were they being a bit alarmist here or what?

The wonders of the Internet are available to all. And an open invitation was extended to anyone with a terminal. Sure there was hype, but there was some substance to the message of those Infobahn Evangelists, too.
Thirteen years have passed since that 1994 journal entry. Has language been destroyed? Now the press is writing articles that text messaging will destroy language. Well, guess what? We’ve heard all this before. Maybe it’s a good thing people are communicating with each other. Maybe it’s a good thing people are sharing their thoughts and feelings with one another. If it connects us to other fellow life travelers, whether email or cell phones or text messaging, it has to be better than a world in which we remain alienated and isolated.

Blog on!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Smile Can Fix (Almost) Anything

"The ideal applicant is one with an amazing and friendly attitude, stellar customer service skills, an ability to work well as a team member, with a high level of personal initiative and industriousness."
Classified ad, August 2007

This summer I went to a McDonald's to try their new Chipotle Wrap. (I saw the ad and liked the name, plus the price.) Well, I had not been to a McD's in a while, and this first experience was less than I expected. The gal at the window, who took my money at the drive through, said everyting she was supposed to say, but her lifeless, dour expression and tone of voice communicated a bored weariness with this window seat. She could not have come across more disinterested as she said, "Welcome to MacDonald's. Have a nice day."

I did get the wrap I ordered. (A bit dry.) But the experience left me cold

Contrast this with a short visit to another MacDonald's a couple weeks later. It was a comedy of errors from the start. A friend was in town and this was the nearest place to just get a half hour of face to face time. At the counter I ordered a cone and he ordered a chocolate fudge sundae. As we stood there talking, she fumbled with the cash register. A minute or so later I had my cone. An older woman brought a strawberry parfait and placed in on a tray. After Henry paid, the woman brought a chocolate fudge sundae and placed it next to the parfait.

We asked who this was for, and she said, "You didn't order this?" So the gal at the cash register now had to figure out how to refund Henry's overpayment. Henry took the sundae and we went to find a seat while they figured things out.

In short order the change was brought to us at the table by the older woman, and if memory serves correct, another error occurred.

Yet, it was fun. Everyone was smiling. Sure they failed to be efficient, demonstrated marginal competence, but they were good natured, cheerful, happy to help us, eager to get it right.

I have been reading a book called Social Intelligence where the author explains the how of a smile, how it integrates with the way our brains our wired, and why a smile is infectious. This apparent common sense now has plenty of research to support it. A smile makes a difference.

If you are an employer striving to build a successful team, one thing that stands out above nearly everything ought to be whether your sales staff and front line workers are friendly. As the saying goes, "When you're smiling, the whole world smiles with you."

Whether in business or in our communities, "you're never fully dressed without a smile."

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

His Music Lives On

Watching “Immortal Beloved” about the life of Beethoven. It is easy to understand how a man could become so troubled. His great love was music, and he went deaf. To think that he wrote/composed several great symphonies after losing his hearing is one of the wonders of the world. His Ninth Symphony would be an achievement for any living person with all their capacities. But for a totally deaf man… it is astonishing!
Feb 10, 2000

Not yet finished with Immortal Beloved but have reached several of the “Ahas” in the latter part of the movie. The scene of young Beethoven lying in the lake, floating on the water beneath the stars, was wonderfully conceived… the Ode to Joy playing as he reveled in the freedom & music of the spheres, at one with the Universe.

The great “Aha” in the film is learning of his passionate love for a woman who married his brother. His tortured life was filled with rejection, misunderstanding and the difficulties due to his deafness… but this was an especially stinging wound.
Feb 12, 2000

Re-discovering Beethoven. What a wonder this music, squeezed through pores of pain, to enrich the world. It is said that he was possibly the first to create music intended to have an immortal life of its own beyond the life of its composer and first listeners.
Feb 13, 2000

He began going deaf early in his life, suffering from the disease of tinnitus (ringing in the ear) which interfered with his ability to enjoy music and eventually left him completely deaf the last nine years of his life.

When I was about eight years old I began taking piano lessons. I had a piano teacher who early introduced me to the masters. Like so many young piano students I was early drawn to Beethoven and Chopin for their romantic lyricism.

This film, like many tragic films is filled with heartbreakingly beautiful moments. I think here of the scene of anguish with Oldman as Beethoven failing to make it to a pre-arranged tryst because his carriage it stuck in the mud. All throughout we hear the agony of the scene expressed through the music from his Seventh Symphony, second movement. Though the Seventh has always been a favorite, that section will never be the same.

A more recent film on the troubled life of the Maestro is Copying Beethoven. In this film Ed Harris plays the role of revealing new facets of Beethoven’s life that we might not have known about. Though I find Harris a compelling performer in many if not most of his other films, I did not find myself emotionally bonding with this portrayal. Yes, he did his best with the material he had to work with. The supreme wonderment of the Ninth was given ample screen time, but could not entirely save the film for me. I was constantly aware that I was watching men and women playing roles.

Both movies show a man of complex emotions, conflicting drives, a somewhat brutish and impulsive, crude and difficult, yet reflective and humble man of genius with pain in his heart and turmoil in his soul. And yet the music he has created lives on. To what extent did his temporal suffering produce such effervescent and profoundly inspiring compositions? We who would desire to produce similarly great art, in any medium, how deeply are we willing to embrace those sorrows that plow the heart so that the seeds of great achievement might find good soil?

Monday, September 3, 2007

On Blogging

"The writer of any first person work must decide two obvious questions: what to put in and what to leave out."
Annie Dillard

I believe this Annie Dillard quote comes from her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She was referring to her memoir writing if I remember correctly, and to all memoir writing in general. This was before the era of blogs and blogging.

Blogging has become an interesting phenomenon, a natural outgrowth of the world wide web. It is popular because it is easy.

Some people have criticized email because it was “destroying language” and wrecking good grammar, good English etc. Well, is it really? Everything has a pro and con, including email and blogging. I think it is great that people are communicating. How many letters would people send in a day if they had to type, print, fold, and insert into an envelope that they must address and stamp? What a hassle. By email, I can maintain contacts with fifty or more people a day. At the office it might be a hundred or more. I certainly receive hundreds there.

Email is easy, therefore more people can do it.

Blogging, likewise, is a heckuva lot easier than building a website. There are hordes or blog sites that will host your creative output. Some are getting a lot of bad press, but maybe it’s because the Press is jealous. More people probably read blogs than read newspapers.

I just heard that if all the people with a MySpace blog were to be named a “country” it would be the 11th largest country in the world, just behind Mexico. (If this stat is incorrect, please feel free to send correction and it will be so done.)

In the mid-nineties I built a website, in part for the experience and in part for the forum where I could display some of my work. I used a software program that was limited in capabilities but easy to use. Ease of use was key.

But even so, most people did not have sufficient motivation to get past the learning curve and although businesses everywhere built websites – almost as necessary as buisiness cards and storefront signage – the individuals with a website were far fewer in number.

Blogs changed all that. Blogs opened possibilities for self expression that seemed infinite in scope. The problem is, how much disclosure is prudent?

For example, when an employee has a problem with the boss, what is gained by filling a blog entry with a 500 word rant? I just heard such an account two weeks ago. What the employee gained was a two week suspension without pay. That, I thought, was pretty generous.

Many people have no sense of boundaries with other facets of their life. Blogs are not intended to be a replacement for journals. In your journal you can do self-analysis and personal psychological assessments. But do you really need to announce to the world your every neurotic tendency, self-destructive fantasies, anguished self-accusations, prideful declarations or hypersensitive assessments of others? Guess what? There are some things we do not need to know. Work it out in private.

As for my blog entries here, if you have been following along, a lot of what I write is excerpted from my journals. You can be sure I am being selective, trying to be helpful or using some ideas and thoughts as a springboard to additional conversation with you, my readers.

In the meantime, blog on.

NOTE: The doodle from Annie Dillard at the top of this page was sent to me as part of my Dandy Yankee Doodles Project. More about that during another space in time.

Get to know more about Annie Dillard at www.anniedillard.com
A collection of quotes for writers from my own website: www.enewman.biz/writing.html

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Ten Great Dylan Songs

I take issue with people who make lists like "The Ten Greatest Movies of All Time" or "The Ten Greatest Books of All Time." There are simply too many great movies and books. This list, then, is not the ten greatest Dylan songs of all time, but Ten Great Dylan Songs.

Fifteen years ago Dylan was the most re-recorded songwriter of all time. There is still to this day no slugger knocking them out of the park so consistently and for such an enduring period of time. By any measure, from influence to lyric quality to originality to depth of insight and beauty to social conscience, Dylan shines as one of the brightest stars in our firmament.

So, about the list. This is simply a list of great Dylan songs. It is a beginning. It includes songs that were groundbreaking and historically significant as well as songs that I simply love to play over and over and over and over. Sometimes I don't even know what it is that so dramatically pulls, yet inwardly I resonate with something in the song and lyrics, even when my conscious mind does not entirely comprehend.

As soon as I type this in, so many other favorites are missing, including Precious Angel, Simple Twist of Fate, Went to See the Gypsy, or Ballad of a Thin Man among others. Like a Rolling Stone is listed first here for its symbolic value. Yes, it became the title inspiration for a magazine that has covered the music scene and our culture for four decades. For me, it was something else though. When in seventh grade, at school dances in junior high school, we danced to a record player that played 45s. Like a Rolling Stone was the longest slow song in the playlist. I never heard the words once at that age, nervous as I was doing the two step with Nancy Black, teachers standing on the sidelines with rulers in their hands to make sure we didn't get closer than six inches.

Here's my list:
Like a Rolling Stone
Gotta Serve Somebody
Hard Rain
Only a Pawn In Their Game
Desolation Row
Changing of the Guard
All Along the Watchtower
What Good Am I?
Blowin' in the Wind
It's All Right, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

It's amazing that Dylan is still out there doing the circuit, performing with groups like U2 and Elvis Costello. May you stay forever young, Mr. Dylan

Continuity

Thirty-six years ago today we moved from Ohio to New Jersey, a life changing event.

I've been asked how it felt to leave my friends, and I honestly don't remember feeling anything. I was not losing my family or leaving them. When I went to college later I was again not eotionally moved... or rather, my excitement toward what was to come overshadowed any grief I might have felt. Again, in going to Minnesota & later PR and Mexico. In all these moves, the past seemed less important & my attachments to it were loose... As a consequence, my long term friends are few.
January 20, 2000

Our family's move from Cleveland, Ohio to Bridgewater NJ in 1964 was a major transition in my life. When I reflect on my childhood it seems like everything is measured by two really big events... this particular move, and my cross country journey by train when I was eight, from Cleveland to Reno, NV in second grade. (My grandparents took me out of school for three weeks.)

If there is one regret I have in life (just one?) it might be that I did not value my friends more as I travelled through the stages of my life. Or rather, that I did not maintain connections with some of the really wonderful people whose lives touched mine. This particular journal entry seems to note that even from an early age my attachments to my family were primary. I am grateful for the life continuity that family gives one. It must be tragic when parents or children cut one another off. There is certainly something healing and good about long term continuity. For this reason reunions have real value as we're reminded that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.