Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Fortune cookie.

Events sometimes occur in the strangest ways. I recently entered a novel in a contest. I was in the process of preparing my novel, Lessons from an Unimportant Planet, for self publication when I received an email informing me of a contest sponsored by CreateSpace. My novel satisfied all the requirements for the contest so after a day or so deliberation I decided why not? A few more days of editing and I sent the novel in.

How serendipitous, I thought, receiving notification of the contest as I was preparing my novel for publication. But I was not yet finished with coincidental happenings. I had dinner in a Chinese restaurant a week or so after entering the novel in the contest and of course received the customary fortune cookie at the end of the meal. I have always liked those crunchy little treats and enjoy the messages inside them. I broke open the cookie and, after getting a series of lucky numbers and finding out how to say ‘beverage’ in Chinese, I turned the little piece of paper over and read my fortune. There, to my surprise, was printed the chief message of the novel I had entered in the contest. I am not claiming any significance for this set of circumstances, but I must admit I find the happening most unusual. I am open to and awaiting any more noteworthy occurrences.

What was the message in the fortune cookie? It was as follows:

The nearest way to glory is to strive to be what you wish to be thought to be.

One thing I considered especially significant was the fact that the writer of the message in the fortune cookie had expressed in eighteen words what it had taken me 68,000 words and thirty nine chapters to accomplish. Why and how did I use such a large number of words? You’ll have to buy a copy of the book to find out.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I remember the years of World War II when one of the slogans of our war effort was: “Our secret weapon—Truth.” This was meant to convey the idea that our nation told the truth concerning the facts of the war while the people of the opposite side heard only propaganda from their governments. The slogan itself was not entirely true. It was necessary for the government to withhold many pieces of information from the public for fear of spies coming into possession of it. We all knew that and accepted it but I believe most people accepted the idea that we were told the truth about the war in general and that was oine of the things that kept our country strong.

I was young during those war years and as I recall I believed the government was serious about telling the truth. It was only when I grew up and some of that naiveté wore off that I began to question what I was told. I found then that there were many incidents when facts about many things were either withheld or distorted by those in power. Still, I am somewhat amazed by the situation that exists today. These days there is little attempt made to conceal the fact that untruth is a part of the information given to the public. It is not called or looked upon as propaganda and is not viewed as such. It’s called ‘spin’ and people who are involved in generating it seem very proud of the fact and, apparently, are paid a great deal for their efforts.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that skewing or withholding information is a form of propaganda and can be legitimately referred to as lying. These days, the government is not the only guilty party in this. It seems to have spread to industry and commerce as well. What amazes is the fact that ‘spin’ seems to be considered normal. It is, it seems, considered just a way of doing business. I don’t think I can subscribe to that. That part of me is still back in the days of my boyhood in the early 40’s when I really felt the secret weapon of our country was—or should be—truth.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I was informed recently that there is a quote from Stephen King advising that a writer should always work on a piece of writing until it is finished and never abandon it before that point is reached. There is another quote from poet Paul Valery saying that a poem is never finished, but simply abandoned.

The apparent conflict between these two statements is, I believe, more of the definition one gives to the word “abandon.” I agree with both of them. There have been many times I have been stalled in the middle of a piece, not being able to make any headway toward finishing it. When, by using any number of methods, I did get around to finishing the piece, it turned out to be a very satisfactory effort—well worth finishing. On the other hand, I find that when I pick up a piece I finished some time ago I invariably find some things I want to change.

I was shown another aspect of the matter when I was taking some courses in painting. There is a danger in trying to over-improve a work. Sometimes the crisp strokes of a first effort have more value than overworking something in order to improve it. The principle is as valid in writing as in painting.

When is a work finished and when is it simply abandoned? I think it is more a matter of opinion than anything—a cross between sticking with a piece through thick and thin and simply knowing when to quit.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I put Christmas away yesterday—stored it in the shed until next December. I was really sad to do that this year.  I miss the tree and window lights after having them brighten the living room for over a month. I got my little tree out on the last day of November and on Sunday, the first day of December I put it up and decorated it. I put electric candles in the windows and a wreath on the porch wall beside the front door. All the while I played Christmas music on the CD player and then watched a DVD of an Irish Christmas celebration with readings, songs, music and dancing. I had a bit of wine to accompany the procedure. It was quite a production. Really got me in the mood. It was satisfying to continue that mood by having the merry little colored lights lit every evening of the month.

On January sixth, after Twelfth Night, I took all the decorations down and packed them away in bags and boxes. I made a production of that, too, with CDs and DVDs and I didn’t forget the glass of wine. I figured the send off was deserved for having such cheerful companionship for the holidays. But it made me a bit sad, too. One thing I did do was buy a few new ornaments  and two additional strings of lights for the tree to make the holiday a little bit brighter next year. I even remembered to pack them with the other decorations and label the boxes so I’ll be able to find them when the occasion arises.

Because of the low temperatures last week and other things to take care of, I didn’t get a chance to put the bags and boxes away until yesterday. That was accomplished without fanfare or celebration. It was just a regretful little task that took only fifteen minutes or so. No music. No wine. I just didn’t feel like celebrating the event.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

We went through a little “cold snap” Monday night—temperature about nine degrees below zero, I understand. It was cold but no special problems with me or my friends and acquaintances. I don’t appreciate weather that cold. I recall a year (I believe it was in the early 1980’s) that the temperature did not get above single digits for weeks. It was a time of trial for me. Then, finally one morning, I turned the radio on to hear a forecast of fifty degrees for the day. I rejoiced in the balmy weather. It was a pleasure to go outside. There was a period of time in another year when it snowed almost every day. Such weather remained common throughout January and February. The snow accumulated and did not melt. It was March until I saw bare earth again.

Disagreeable as cold temperatures and snow are, my principal complaint about winter is the absence of light. I am a person of the sun and the darkness of winter takes its toll on me. I dislike having darkness descend (or rise, which is more accurate) at 5:00 PM. I feel cheated of the evening, the long hours of fading light and the final flights of birds and then the quiet slipping into darkness and rest that are normal for the warmth of summer. The end of day seems to come suddenly in winter, crashing down before you’re ready for it, a rude end to the day. And morning seldom seems to come with any grace. A sort of half light appears and persists and one is supposed to complete any tasks of the day by this inadequate illumination. I have a friend who counts the days of January, February and March with the thought in mind that each day brings us approximately one more minute of daylight. I subscribe to the same custom, but it is amazing how much longer the process takes than the opposite journey to less light that occurs from midsummer on.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The New Year will soon be upon us and it is time to pay attention to that time honored tradition—New Year’s Resolutions. Or is it? For many years, a greater potion of my life, I dutifully made New Year’s resolutions that I didn’t keep. Some times those resolutions were merely mental notes I made to myself. Other times they were quite elaborate, written out in great detail and on occasion burned in ritualistic ceremony or conversely put away in safekeeping so that they could be taken out and referred to periodically—that to keep them fresh and, supposedly, maintain my diligence in keeping them. Nothing worked. Sooner or later all of them were broken. Shattered. Trashed. I became a failure—to my resolutions and to myself. That situation caused me a great deal of anxiety. Could I never be true to my good intentions?

Then, quite a few years ago I got wise. Finally I made a resolution that I could keep and I have kept that resolution for many, many years. I made a resolution to never, ever make another New Year’s resolution. That has worked. Through New Years of storm and New Years of tranquil plenty I have remained faithful. I have never, since that successful New Year, made another resolution. It’s not that I have ceased improving—at least I hope not—it’s that I have stopped trying to do it under synthetic conditions. I have made my improvements when I felt I needed to and when I was ready. For instance, about twenty-five or so years ago I quit smoking, but that occurred, as I recall, in June or July. I was sitting in the kitchen one day talking with friends and the pipe I was smoking started to taste bad. I put it up on a convenient shelf and never again lit it. Would I have been better off to wait until New Years and try to quit then?

I have since talked to people that have tried unsuccessfully for years to quit smoking—including using the time-honored New Years resolution method. I don’t think I am special having been able to quit so easily. I think that people are simply better to make changes in themselves when they really feel that it is time for them to do so, in other words when they truly want to. Moreover, the pressure of the New Year’s resolution has just the opposite effect. A person feels obligated to make some improvement, picks something he thinks he or she should do, then, because he or she doesn’t really want to, is not successful. The result is not only no improvement made but an additional feeling of guilt because of having failed. Probably that makes the next try at improving oneself harder.

So the New Year is here and the push is on to make resolutions. If you really feel you should, go right ahead. But it’s best to make sure they concern things you’re seriously ready to change. If not, then wait until you’re ready. If you’re serious about yourself, the time will come. Maybe some time in June or July will be better. And you’ll be better off for having waited.

Friday, December 20, 2013

We are entering into the Season of Peace. Every year at this time there are pronouncements of joy, harmony and good will and of the brotherhood of all mankind. Every year we hear these wishes of good cheer and every year we are left with disappointments. News bulletins of political strife, social ailments, disagreements and war continue to appear on a daily basis. How, we ask, are we ever going to achieve this peace for which we long and for which we seem to look in vain?

But is that peace so elusive? So it seems, if we confine ourselves to the news reports in the popular media or to the belligerent actions of our society’s leaders and those of other nations. But the good news is that peace is much more common in the world than we realize. Dig deeper, below the surface of the attention-getting articles and video clips that are normal fare in our media, and we can find instances of peace that exist now—even blueprints of how to achieve it. There are cultures in this world that live in peace, some that have done so for centuries and some that have consciously elected to do so only recently. There are those that have chosen and now possess an existence based on peace after having lived a warlike way of life for hundreds of years.

Many such peace cultures are small groups of people that are essentially hunter-gatherers and seem far removed from the complex existence of our modern world. But in these basic cultures can be found the patterns of behavior that lead to and are even necessary for a peaceful existence. By taking note and following these it is possible to structure any society along peaceful lines. And the fact that it is possible for a modern nation to follow the ways of peace is exhibited by the nations that have elected to do so. They exist. And as philosopher, sociologist and poet Kenneth Boulding said, “Anything that exists is possible.”

It is possible, but are we willing to live according to the principles of peace? Are we willing to learn new ways of living? Are we willing to learn new definitions of words and new ways of dealing with concepts such as right, wrong, competition, punishment, cooperation? We have been taught for so long that ours is the most advanced society in history, can we accept the fact that we have something to learn from others—especially from societies we think of as being inferior to ours. Do we really want peace that much?

Yet I believe that over and above all of this, comes the hardest lesson of all and that is the simple fact that peace does not come from “out there.” It does not come some ethereal plane, miraculously appearing at a certain season or at any other time to bless us. It does not come from some authority or prominent individual in our midst. The truth is that it does not come from outside of us at all. It comes from within and starts with a genuine desire to have peace and a willingness to do whatever is required to achieve it.

Peace comes from within and from there radiates out into the world. It is up to us to transfer it from our own beings into that physical world. The Season of Peace is always with us, always ready to be actualized. It is simply up to us—each of us—to see that that occurs.