Monday, December 31, 2012

This is the last day of December, the last of 2012 and we are still here. Not so surprising. There have been many predictions of the end of the world. Each one has come and gone with no particular change except that many of them have made money for some people and have caused a lot of others a great deal of mental anguish. Others are simply amusing.

Often, practical considerations prevent a total belief in end of the world prophesies. When I was in college in the late fifties, there was a belief that the world would end shortly. The prediction had been made by someone with many followers and was widely publicized. I was dating a girl (who would later become my wife) who had a curious interest in the event. The prediction was very specific. The world was to end at exactly 10:14 AM on October 23rd, or something like that. As the date came closer, Mariellen talked more about it. Finally the day dawned and the fateful hour came and passed. I knew Mariellen’s schedule and waited for her as she came from class. “Well?” I asked her as she approached. “Well what?” she answered, genuinely at a loss as to what I meant. “It’s past 10:14 and the world didn’t end,” I reminded her. “Oh my gosh,” she exclaimed, “I had a Spanish test and forgot all about it.”

But all that is in the past. This year is different. At least I think so. It feels different. It’s difficult to explain. There’s a presence of something lighter. It might be called hope. That’s odd in view of our nation’s current fiscal trauma and the miscellaneous troubles present in the world. Perhaps that change in things is what the Mayan calendar predicted and what I am experiencing. Of course it might be just me, my own personal attitude that has taken an upswing for some unexplainable reason. But that’s the way I feel and it’s probably not a bad attitude to have for the start of the new year. So Happy New Year to you all. We survived. Now, let us survive well.

Monday, December 24, 2012

This is Christmas Eve. There is something very warm and magical about that. In the past I’ve written quite a bit about all the things I find to be objectionable about the holiday of Christmas, the fact that there is more emphasis on the business aspect of it than the peace and love that it should inspire. This year is different somehow. It’s not that I’ve changed my mind about the commercialism. I guess it’s my perspective on the matter. That is it. It just occurred to me as I write this piece. That explains my putting up the Christmas tree early, my feeling good, my warm feelings toward others.

I am tempted to go on writing to explain my feelings about this in more detail, both to you and to me, but I feel that is totally unnecessary. I’ll leave that for another time. A Christmas wish should be very brief and to the point. I’ll simply repeat that there is something very warm and magical about Christmas and despite all the hype and commercialism that has crept into the holiday over the years, that magic remains.

So—have a Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year. All of us. We all deserve it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I didn’t post anything on this blog last week. I’ve been working on writing a novel and not making too much progress lately. There have been too many things interfering. Last week I got a chance to work on it rather steadily and I just didn’t want to stop to do anything else—therefore my not posting on the blog. The novel was going well and I didn’t want to interfere with that. I hope to have the first draft done by the first of the year or shortly thereafter.

Drafts is the correct term to be used when referring to the stages of writing through which a novel goes—draft 1, 2, 3, etc. . . . final (or is it?).  Lately, I’ve been thinking that layers is more descriptive of the process. It’s rather similar to the way one does a painting, laying out a base of some sort, sometimes sketching out the entire work, or sometimes just starting, then going over with subsequent changes, adding this, removing or overpainting that, and all the while facing the possibility of losing the spontaneity of the work.

In the movie, Finding Forester, an author is giving a young writer advice on writing. Don’t think in setting down the first draft, the young man is told. The time for thinking will come later. I think that’s pretty much the way it is. The first draft or layer comes from inspiration—one’s muse. Subsequent drafts or layers are the place for correcting or refining. Then comes the problem of knowing when to quit. When is a work ‘finished’? When you’re satisfied with it? Does that ever happen?

Much on the same subject, I was once asked which of my pieces of writing is my favorite. The answer to that is easy: it’s the one I’m working on. After that comes another one, another favorite—for a while, anyway.

Monday, December 3, 2012

I put up my Christmas tree last Friday. That is the earliest I have ever done that. I put Christmas candles (electric) in the windows, too. Why? I’m really not sure. It might be because I think that the end of the world via the worst theories inspired by the Mayan prophecies will cause the twelve days of Christmas to be non-existent this year. No, that’s not it. Maybe I have been scarred by the merchant portion of our society that moves the season of Christmas spirit to an earlier place in the calendar every year, but I don’t think so.

For a great deal of my life I was of the opinion that the twelve days of Christmas was a pretty good way to celebrate the holiday. My wife and I used to put our tree up on Christmas Eve and take it down on January Sixth. I thought that worked pretty well and carried that tradition on for years.  Our friends had their own ideas and the season saw trees being set up and decorated at all times. For most of our friends it was whenever they had time. The commercial establishments, as I mentioned before, made their own rules. The earliest I ever saw Christmas displays was one day when I stopped into a store near Meadville PA on the day after Labor Day and found them being installed. I wasn’t a resident of the Meadville area so I never had the opportunity of finding out whether the store’s merchandising efforts were successful or not.

On the other end of things, the longest I ever heard of a Christmas tree being left up was when a friend of ours had an argument with her husband. She wanted him to take the tree down and he procrastinated. If he didn’t take it down, she vowed, she certainly would not. The tree stayed up, I recall, until June. I don’t remember who finally did take it down. I guess someone did. Maybe it was the new owner of the house after the divorce. As far as other Christmas decorations go, I believe another record was set by a neighbor of ours. After going to the trouble of putting outdoor lights on the eaves of his house, he left them there. He simply installed a switch for convenience in following years.

But back to the question of why I put my tree up so early, I’ve been trying to puzzle that out as I’ve been writing this piece and I really haven’t reached any conclusions. Perhaps I just felt like it—felt like enjoying them. I can watch the blues, greens, reds and yellows of the lights glitter as I walk past or look up at them from a book or magazine. I just felt like doing that this year. I’ll take the tree down in accord with my old schedule. I’ll do that on twelfth night. And as for why I put the tree up for December first? Why not? After all, is five weeks or so too long to enjoy something?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving has come and gone and I hope yours was enjoyable, complete with good dinner, close friends and happy conversation. I spent my holiday with my son and his wife, Yvonne, who make their home near Williamsport, PA, and I had, as I always do when I visit there, a very good time. My trip to Williamsport, however, wasn’t that enjoyable.

I tried something a little different in getting to Joe and Yvonne’s this year. I do not drive, so in previous years my son drove down to Ligonier to get me. I decided I would save him that trouble this year and take a bus to Williamsport. That sounded like a good plan. It didn’t work out quite as I intended. Well in advance, I purchased a ticket on a bus to Williamsport. The bus had a scheduled departure time of 1:40 PM on November 21st, the day before Thanksgiving, from Johnstown, PA the stop closest to my home in Ligonier. I was not familiar with the streets of Johnstown and so, to be sure of the location, I arrived early for the bus. I was in the correct place at the bus stop at 1:15. So I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

When the bus was not at the stop in an hour, I started calling the bus company on my cell phone. There were a number of college students waiting at the stop with me and they began using their cell phones as well. None of us, to my knowledge, was able to get any information other than that the bus had been delayed. Where it was or what had happened was unknown. There was speculation among us that there might have been a serious accident or breakdown and we worried for the well being of those presumably on the bus. Then again, we wondered, if that were the case, why wasn’t the location of the bus known by someone at the bus company? Speculation mounted that the bus had taken a wrong turn at some point and was mistakenly headed to Albany, or that it had been hijacked and detoured to an unknown destination and would be featured on a subsequent edition of TV news. The unfortunate conveyance was referred to, at times, as the “phantom bus.” I used my cell phone to talk to my son’s wife to inform her of the occurrences and let her know that it was useless to expect to pick me up at the bus station in Williamsport at 8:30, my scheduled time of arrival. I told her I would keep them informed of events as they happened.

To make a very long (four hour’s long) story short, the bus finally arrived about 5:35, almost exactly four hours late. We never got an official explanation for the bus’s delay, but I pieced the story together from information obtained from passengers already on the bus. They said there were simply too many passengers for the bus when it was scheduled to leave Pittsburgh at 11:30 AM. There were enough bound for Philadelphia, the bus’s final destination, to fill the bus, so the bus was loaded with those people and sent as an express. Those remaining passengers, all bound for other more local destinations, were told there would be another bus available to carry them. Only there wasn’t—until almost four hours later, due, apparently, to a shortage of either buses or drivers or both.

Some of the students at my stop in Johnstown had abandoned their wait by the time the bus arrived. Once we were aboard the bus, I felt secure in the promises I heard from the bus company that it would transport me to Williamsport. The bus took us through stops at Altoona and Tyrone and then, at State College, PA, another scheduled stop, the bus driver informed us that she had driven the maximum number of hours she was allowed to and that she could no longer continue to drive the bus. Another driver, she told us, was on her way from Harrisburg, PA to drive the bus. We would simply have to await her arrival.

I’d had it.

I called my son in Williamsport to ask if he would be willing to drive to State College to pick me up, only to be informed by his wife that he had already left to meet the bus in Harrisburg, its next stop. Again to make a long story (three hour’s long) short, I met my son when the bus pulled into Harrisburg .We left in his car to arrive at his home in Montoursville, near Williamsport, PA at approximately 1:30 AM. And so ended my twelve hour journey from Ligonier, PA to Williamsport, PA, a trip that should normally take from three to three and one-half hours by auto. We were both quite exhausted at the end of it.

It could have been worse.

I suppose.

Next Thanksgiving, I’m not quite sure what I’ll do to get to Williamsport.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I had a telephone conversation yesterday with a friend who likes the gloom, cold and snow of winter. She was lamenting the fact that the days have been so warm of late. “We’re not getting our fair share of winter,” she lamented. “We’ll only have a few months of it if we get even that much.”

I, on the other hand, am quite happy with sunshine. I wouldn’t mind if sunny days persisted from now until the official arrival of spring and thereafter as well. My friend took exception to that thought. “How would you like it,” she asked, “if there were nothing but sunshine every day of the year, year after year, forever? Wouldn’t that get monotonous and boring?” I commented that that was an unfair analogy and was very unlikely to happen but then we discussed the matter and finally came to a decision upon which we agreed. The normal changes in weather, we decided, are not only bearable but actually welcome and it is up to us to accept and take pleasure in them as they come and when they come. In each change there is something that can be liked and finding those things will make our lives more rewarding in all seasons.

Which brings me to the season, which, at the present time, is concerned with Thanksgiving. All too often we, and I include myself, take the holiday season as a time to dread. I have heard it described as such by others. We acknowledge that we are supposed to enjoy it and do our best to accomplish that, but deep within, we don’t. We endure endless commercialism, hectic shopping, disagreements as to who is to have family holiday dinners with whom and where and when, and on and on. To top it all off, we find ourselves feeling guilty because we don’t enjoy the season as we’re supposed to. In the past, the joyous season of the holidays seemed to me to be the antithesis of what it is purported to be. In some prior years, I solved this unpleasantness by escaping it—going away to a secluded location where no one could reach me to spend a quiet, relaxing, enjoyable time. Some of my best and most productive writing occurred on such occasions.

This year it’s different. This year I am looking forward to the holiday season. I am getting into the “Christmas spirit.” I’ve felt that mood coming over me for a while. Perhaps it began when I decided, a month or so ago, to take a trip to my son’s place for Thanksgiving. Perhaps it was earlier, the day when I cleaned up the shed and rearranged the boxes of Christmas tree decorations. I felt the urge to pay more attention to them this year and thought of the pleasure I could have adding to them and decorating the house for the holidays. I made plans for accomplishing that.

Why this new attitude toward the holidays happened I’m not sure. At any rate, I think my conversation with my friend yesterday describes it very well. In each season there are some things—probably a great many things—that can be enjoyed. Those things are there to be found as a reward simply for the effort of expecting them, looking for them and recognizing them when we see them. These things are more apparent in the holiday season. They are spotlighted and accentuated. Finding them can be more readily done at this time and doing so can form a pattern for finding the joy that lies in less conspicuous seasons. In that way, I can look upon the holiday season as being valuable and welcome and not something to escape. Perhaps—just perhaps—it’s a way of adding a new dimension to life and finding a way of making that life more rewarding and enjoyable in all seasons.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I just set my clock back this weekend.”Spring Forward; Fall Back” is the maxim with which I am familiar. I set my clock back for no good reason as far as I know. I simply did it because everybody else did. Other than that, I wasn’t at all sure why I was supposed to. I had a vague memory of the institution of “wartime” during World War II, but that was all I remembered. That, for me, was not an actual reason. So I looked it up.

To my surprise, I found that the concept of daylight savings time is a lot older than I had supposed. Standard time in time zones was established in the US by the Standard Time Act of 1918. That act also brought into being daylight savings time. Daylight saving time was not popular and that provision of the act was repealed in 1919. It was re-instituted during World War II, hence my memory of it.

Those facts explained how daylight savings time came into being but they still didn’t give me any reason for the concept. I’ve heard such reasons as its being safer for children going to school and giving more leisure time in the summer. There was also the idea that its original purpose was to increase production of war goods during World War II. I’ve heard also that the intent is to provide more time for shopping. The last is probably close to the truth, for the regulation of time zones and daylight savings time was originally regulated by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). And, according to Wikipedia, “the principal standard for deciding on a time zone change is the ‘convenience of commerce’.”

Anyway, I set my clock back this weekend. My reason? Everybody else does.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Our society is built around the automobile. I have become acutely aware of that since I have given up driving. Getting where you want to go is extremely difficult without a car. One of the reasons for this is the lack of public transportation, but that is not the only reason. Try setting out to do something on foot and see what happens.

Yesterday I had occasion to do some shopping. A friend offered to drive me to Latrobe 30, a distance of about ten miles or so, where there are several small shopping centers. I wanted to visit several stores so she dropped me off and made arrangements to pick me up in two hours.

The highway system is not meant to accommodate pedestrians. Sidewalks have, of course, been thought unnecessary for many years now. So much for lack of convenience. But that is what has not been built; what has been built serves as obstructions for a person on foot, especially one with several bags of purchases. Metal barriers in the median strips are meant to prevent vehicles from crossing from one side of the road to another. They also prevent pedestrians from doing the same thing. In one way that’s good, keeping people from crossing roads at any point and making them go to a crossroad. But when one gets to the intersection—no crosswalk. The pedestrian is still on his own in crossing the street and at the mercy of the driver.

In our society, the pedestrian is a thing of the past. They are not expected to be on highways. Still, there are areas in the country where there are provisions for such things as pedestrians and bicycles on public highways. Are such areas behind the times or ahead of them? Interesting question.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Penny, my cat, and I get along pretty well. We’re both easy going. However, there are several things of which Penny definitely does not approve. One of those is me making the bed every morning. I’ve always done that. I rather like to have it that way. Penny sees absolutely no sense in that. I don’t disturb her in the bed-making procedure as she is usually sacked out on the chair in the corner about five feet from the bed. She seems to simply regard it as an unnecessary disruption to the otherwise tranquil nature of the morning. As soon as she becomes aware that bed making is about to begin, she vacates the bedroom for the more restful atmosphere of the living room. I just let her go, secure in the knowledge that she will shortly show up in the kitchen for breakfast.

That brings up another thing of which Penny is particular and that is the conditions of her dining. It’s not the food that is the issue. She is quite happy with a bit of tuna or some dry food. What she likes is privacy. If I put out her food and then continue to putter around the kitchen, she will leave and wait until I finish puttering so I’ve gotten in the habit of putting Penny’s food out only after I have finished everything that needs to be done and can leave her if total peace. The situation may be due the fact that I once—no, twice—stepped on Penny’s tail (unintentionally, of course) in the midst of my puttering. She’s taking no more chances on that happening.

The third idiosyncrasy (I believe that’s the right word) of Penny is the fact that she objects to my singing. She makes that quite plain. If I start singing she heads elsewhere. Does that offend me? Well . . . yeah. I had a dog many years ago that objected to my playing the bagpipe. I could understand that. The bagpipe is an instrument that is either loved or hated with few in-betweens. This particular dog even hated the sound of the practice chanter and he would react to either the chanter or the pipes by sitting on the floor at my feet and howling his heart out. At least Penny doesn’t howl. She is much more discreet in expressing her displeasure—but express it she does. Does that stop me from singing? No. I put up with her idiosyncrasies; she’ll have to put up with mine.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The great longing in the world is for peace. That is a goal for many, the ideal that has been sought after for centuries. Others think peace is only a dream, something that can never be attained, an impossibility. Still others are quite satisfied with the existence of war, sometimes because of personal convictions and sometimes because it is profitable for them, either monetarily or otherwise.
There were times in which there was a popular belief that a war was for the purpose of preventing future wars. That was true at the time of World War I, the “War to end all wars.” That was also true at the time of the first Gulf War, the necessity for which was debated in Congress. One congressman asked citizens to call in with their opinion as to whether the US should enter the war, which he characterized as the “war to end war.”
There were, at times, scientists and inventors who hoped to develop a weapon so terrible that nations would never again think of entering into hostilities with one another. Still, war continues.
If peace is a realistic goal, by what route can it be reached? Certainly, war itself will not work. The use of violence only leads to more violence. Furthermore, any violence can generate enmity that will fester and cause violence to reappear long after years, generations or even centuries have passed. Examples of this are many. Throughout history, wiser souls have preached against such a policy. There is a story concerning Abraham Lincoln that illustrates this. At a reception held during the Civil War he spoke of the South in tones of reconciliation. A woman, a fiery patriot, rebuked him, telling him that those of the Confederacy were traitors and should be destroyed. Lincoln answered, “Madam, do I not destroy my enemy when I make him my friend?”
Non-violence is the current hope as a route to the abolition of war. It has been advocated and used by great men such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and is the method responsible for great advancement in freedom and human rights. Its use is popular in peace movements in this country and abroad. It is thought of as an instrument of peace because it confronts an enemy without the use of violence of any kind. It does, however, make great use of confrontation as its method of operation. This confrontation can, in itself, be an act that brings on violence. In this sense it promotes what it seeks to prevent.
Mankind has been concerned with the problem of war and violence and with the pursuit of elusive peace for centuries. We seem to be no closer to our goal in spite of all this effort. At times reaching the goal seems to be impossible and yet examples of peaceful times indicate that it is more than a dream. So why can’t we reach this goal?
It is a possibility that we have been looking at the entire situation in a manner that is totally wrong. We have been regarding peace as a goal. It is nothing of the kind. It is, rather, the way we reach the goal; it is a method, a road, a route, a path, a journey. The task, then, is simply to bring peace into being and then travel the path it indicates. How is that done? That is what we will have to investigate.        

Those who cannot think outside the box are destined to live within it.


Monday, October 1, 2012

My furnace came on in the middle of the night. It’s that time of year, the advent of colder weather, the slide into increasing darkness, the sun drifting away from us. Every year it happens and every year I greet it with mixed emotions, happiness and regret intertwined, and every year I wonder why that is.

When I was very young it was a simpler thing to understand. On the minus side there was school, which I disliked, and cold, cold weather, which I disliked somewhat less but which, at times, was daunting. I grew up in an old farmhouse with a coal furnace in the cellar. That furnace was banked at night but inevitably its source of heat diminished by morning into a few glowing coals. As the year progressed I could expect my room to be colder and colder when I arose. On mornings with freezing temperatures there would be a skim of ice on the water bucket in the pantry that furnished our drinking water. Staying under the covers on especially cold mornings would insure that the furnace had been stoked, heat had begun seeping back into the house and the kitchen would be warm and fragrant with the odors of breakfast by the time I got downstairs. Having to get up for school ruined that option.

On the plus side of the season were the sparkling days of changing leaves, long walks in the afternoon sun, the smell of wood smoke, and kettles of bubbling apple butter on a crisp morning. Later in the year, snow turned the whole earth into a playground.

I had thought to try to analyze in this little piece my conflicting feelings toward colder weather but I don’t think I’ll continue with that. It’s not that important. Every season contains both pluses and minuses and every one contains memories and emotions of both. But each season is a new one, both in the sense of being a change in the time of year and being new for me to experience—the first time in my life for that current series of days to occur. Who can say what they will bring and what there will be to experience and enjoy? I should not greet them with any particular emotion, either good or bad, but simply experience them for what they are.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yesterday I had another experience with what I call the depersonalization of our lives. In other words, I had occasion to try getting information via machines, namely, the computer and the telephone. I wanted to find out how to get from here to there via bus. I tried getting the information by means of the internet first. I thought the task was a simple one, consisting of a series of brief statements and questions:

I live in X. I want to go to Y. Can your bus take me there? Where can I board it? At what times? How much does it cost? Simple.

I tried to get the answers to my questions, but to no avail. I found a web site filled with beautifully constructed pages complete with voluminous information that eventually led me nowhere. I spent about a half hour at that endeavor and gave up. I did get a telephone number. Good, I thought. I’ll try that. Alas, the telephone led me to menus containing lists of questions to which I did not care to know the answers. I gave up there, too, but only temporarily. I rested, took care of other tasks and then, fortified with rest and a cup of coffee, reentered the fray. I again attacked the lists and I persisted. I eventually got the information I needed—from a person. Actually, two people, for I found that two separate bus companies were involved in this endeavor.

I don’t do well getting information from machines. I’m aware that all machines are programmed by people. Machines, therefore, should dispense information in much the same way people do—right? It doesn’t seem to work that way. Perhaps there is something built into machines that automatically distorts the reasoning power of people. That’s one possibility. Another is that the people who program machines do not think like most people. Perhaps they are a breed apart and have become conditioned to think like machines or do so naturally. For these reasons the method for getting information might already be corrupted before it gets into the machine.

I’ve put some thought to this and come up with a line of reasoning. We live in an age in which we have a plethora of information, much of it generated by machines and more, it seems, than we can successfully handle. We are trying to solve that difficulty in the most efficient ways we can find. Hence the use of machines. In the process we have become enamored with the prospect of successfully handling information and with the machines themselves. As a result, the handling of information has become more important than the people for whom it is being handled. People are out; machines are in. And so we have the depersonalization of our lives. Is that an improvement?

There is another possibility and that is that I just don’t think like most people. Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that I simply don’t think like a machine. Maybe in time I will. Maybe that will solve my problem.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I’ve developed some new sleeping habits lately. For some reason I do not fathom, I sleep about four hours or so at a stretch and then wake up. When that first happened, I lay in bed and tried to go back to sleep. For days I tried that approach. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. Then, when I woke up in the middle of the night, I began getting up and doing various tasks—finishing some writing, perhaps starting something new or working on a mundane task such as balancing my checkbook. That seemed to work better. I got valuable things done and simple tasks completed, felt much better about the world and was able to go back to sleep.

There turned out to be another fringe benefit—better internet access. A month and a half or so ago I obtained a new method of accessing the internet, by means of a compact little device that worked off towers such as are used by cell phones. Turn the device on, let it locate signals from a tower and—voila!—internet accomplished. There’s only one drawback. The tower signal where I live is weak; that results in a slow computer, often disgustingly slow. However I found out that the signal strength is greatly improved in the wee hours of the morning. I’m not sure whether that’s due to some technical details having to do with atmospheric conditions at night or simply because fewer people are on the internet at three o’clock in the morning. I really don’t care what the reason is. I’m usually up at that time, the internet’s better, problem solved.

It’s funny how things work out if one lets them. I could have gone to the doctor to solve my sleep problem or gone out and bought some over-the-counter sleeping pills and never discovered the answer to my internet problem. Serendipity, I believe it’s called. Yet I still have an unsolved problem, that of rearranging my daily schedule. I used to rise at seven o’clock or so, but now, with my work period wedged into the middle of the night, it’s some time around nine thirty before I get up. Well, no worry. One thing at a time. Perhaps it will work out serendipitously.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

It’s September. In fact, it’s getting on to the middle of September. Soon summer will be over. When I was a boy that was a cause for regret. But then, that regret probably had more to do with the beginning of school than the end of summer and that unfortunate happening occurred around the first of September rather than the twentieth.

I suppose that’s the heart of the matter. One’s attitude for or against a season has more to do with one’s perception of what that season is rather that what it is in actuality. That, in turn, is based on any number of things, past experience being one. It reminds me of the story of a boy from a southern state who was inducted into the military and sent to a northern state for training. His first letters home were poetically eloquent in describing his initial experience with snow—glistening flakes that gently descended, covering the ground with a shimmering, gleaming blanket. After a few weeks, he wrote home to inform his family that it was still snowing and there was now three feet of the damn stuff.

The coming seasons bring to my mind unpleasant days of cold and snow but I am aware that they bring their own brand of beauty and unique experiences. I may well treasure those in future times just as I now treasure happenings from past cold seasons. It is all a matter of perception for that is the way we experience and remember life.

I think that’s the key to enjoying not only seasons, but life itself. It’s not what we experience as much as how we experience it that causes us problems, and how we experience is something that is directly under our control. It’s due to our own perception, attitudes and prejudices. Let go of those preconceived notions and here is no reason to fear or look with displeasure on any season. We can enjoy them all. We can enjoy every day. Why not? That’s what they’re there for.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The time of cool nights has come. For the last week or so I’ve been able to sleep bundled up as for winter. I’ve done that—opened the windows, let the cool air of night in and snuggled down in a pile of blankets to enjoy a toasty nap. It’s such a relief from hot weather and hot nights.

A few months from now I will no doubt find these same night time temperatures uncomfortable. It will be too cold for me and I will nudge the thermostat up a bit and with satisfaction hear the furnace kick in during the wee hours of the morning. I have a mindset that is somehow regulated by seasonal temperatures. In the winter I want to be warmer. In the summer I want to be cooler. Sometimes that has little to do with the actual temperature.

I wonder about that. I am very subject to mindset—the perception I have of reality. I suppose I am typical in that, probably more normal than not. In a sense we create our individual reality by what we think. That is an interesting concept and one that has even more interesting ramifications. How real are our lives? How easily can we misinterpret actual conditions, a situation, an occurrence, another’s motive or feelings? After having done so, how far do we go in acting on those unreal assumptions? From another aspect, how sensitive are we to suggestion? With the proper stimulus can we be programmed to change our very existence?

There are many examples in history in which a group of people, even a nation, has fallen under the control of a leader or an ideology that has not been for their benefit. We like to think of such things happening “some place else.” But does it only occur that far afield? The technique has been made use of in many ways in our society, ways that are considered good for the economy. We are taught to want certain things, fear others. That practice sells a variety of merchandise and services from automobiles to insurance. It is also present in many places—industry, advertising, leisure, politics—even religion.

We are manipulated for profit. Somebody’s. That is a fact. What each of us has to do is figure out, for each case, who is doing the manipulating and why.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I came into the bedroom the other day and there was Penny, my cat, curled up on the bed in a patch of sunshine. She seems to prefer sunshine as a place to spend her nap time. This summer has been quite hot and during the first days of the first heat wave I was concerned for Penny. I was away from the house most of the day and felt that the build=up of heat might be too much for her. About the second day of ninety-plus weather I came home to find Penny on the shelf where I keep a collection of plants— quite contentedly sleeping in a patch of sunshine.

Sunshine suits Penny, for she is a little patch of sunshine herself. She is bright and cheerful, even-tempered and affectionate. She takes life as it comes and doesn’t get too excited about anything. She likes people and is always ready to make herself available for their homage and adoration. But she prefers one or two guests at a time. When, on occasion, too many congregate at my house, she doesn’t make a fuss about it, but simply disappears to return when the multitude has left and the number of visitors has returned to what she considers an acceptable level.

I have been pleased to note that there does not seem to be a conceited bone in her body. Though I have informed her numerous times that she has a blog site named for her, pictures of her appear on it, and there is a definite possibility that she will, at some time in the future, become very famous, she takes it in stride and has not shown the least tendency to exhibit excessive vanity, egotism or pride. As long as she has adequate portions of tuna made available at appropriate times and has a suitable collection of soft chairs or couches to rest upon, she is satisfied.

I have been told and have sometimes noted that animals have a tendency to acquire the characteristics of people with whom they spend a great deal of time. I wonder if the reverse is true and that a person is likely to acquire characteristics of an animal. If that is the case, it would be all right with me. I wouldn’t mind having some of the calm, quiet, cheerful and accepting love of life that is Penny’s.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I’m one who likes to plan things. I used to be very much that way. I’m less so now. It’s not that I don’t want to plan ahead; it’s simply that I recognize it to be a somewhat futile effort.

There is an old saying that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. I think that was first written by someone who feels much as I do. Lately I have had a number of incidents that reinforce those feelings. My most well laid plans have been totally shattered by unforeseen circumstances—mechanical failures, oversights in making necessary communications, people facing conflicting responsibilities, etc. That can lead to situations that are very frustrating.

There is another saying to the effect that a person is never given more stress than he or she can handle. That philosophy gives some hope to the situation and, fortunately, I believe I’ve come to a point at which I am not overly disturbed by shattered plans. Actually I don’t really call them plans any more. They are more like intentions. If what I intend happens—fine. If it doesn’t—that’s OK, too. There is another saying/philosophy to the effect that the universe works things out in a manner that is best for everyone concerned. That particular one offers a lot of hope though it may not offer the best of experiences. I guess it might be summed up as “Go with the flow.” There’s a lot of value in that. First of all, things usually work out satisfactorily despite the shattered plans and in the meantime not getting agitated over their being shattered makes for a much more tranquil existence.

So much for that. Now, I’m going to set about making my list of intentions for this coming week.

Monday, August 20, 2012

I’m one who likes to plan things. I used to be very much that way. I’m less so now. It’s not that I don’t want to plan ahead; it’s simply that I recognize it to be a somewhat futile effort.

There is an old saying that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. I think that was first written by someone who feels much as I do. Lately I have had a number of incidents that reinforce those feelings. My most well laid plans have been totally shattered by unforeseen circumstances—mechanical failures, oversights in making necessary communications, people facing conflicting responsibilities, etc. That can lead to situations that are very frustrating.

There is another saying to the effect that a person is never given more stress than he or she can handle. That philosophy gives some hope to the situation and, fortunately, I believe I’ve come to a point at which I am not overly disturbed by shattered plans. Actually I don’t really call them plans any more. They are more like intentions. If what I intend happens—fine. If it doesn’t—that’s OK, too. There is another saying/philosophy to the effect that the universe works things out in a manner that is best for everyone concerned. That particular one offers a lot of hope though it may not offer the best of experiences. I guess it might be summed up as “Go with the flow.” There’s a lot of value in that. First of all, things usually work out satisfactorily despite the shattered plans and in the meantime not getting agitated over their being shattered makes for a much more tranquil existence.

So much for that. Now, I’m going to set about making my list of intentions for this coming week.

Monday, August 13, 2012

“Silence is golden,” so the saying goes. I have come to believe that is very true, part of that decision being my free opinion and part of it coming from something that has been forced upon me. What has been forced upon me is a gradual loss of hearing that has taken place over the last three or four years. At first, that was an annoyance, an interference to conversation and a drawback in getting information from meetings and such. That problem has been lessened by hearing aids.

That leaves the portion that has been my decision. For about six or seven years I have been without TV. The last year or so I’ve been listening a lot less to the radio as well and for the last several months I’ve listened to it hardly at all. I still have CD’s, DVD’s, and VCR’s and I make use of them, borrowing, renting or buying them. I use the CD’s to play my two favorite kinds of music—classical and folk. But I don’t know much about current popular music. That’s kind of gone by the wayside.

The most common question I hear from other people is, “How do you get your news?” I maintain that there isn’t much real news on TV. My daily contact with the internet provides me with headlines and the opportunity to delve deeper into something that interests me. Otherwise, really important news finds its way to me by one means or another. And there are distinct advantages in having no TV. I get a lot of writing and reading done. Curiously, another common comment I get from people is one of agreement. Many people of late have volunteered the information that they no longer find much of interest on TV. Many also complain about the overabundance of commercials. Is there a trend starting?

So far, I’m quite content with my TV-less world. And my house is much quieter. If any of this sounds as if it has some interest for you, why don’t you try it? Join the silence. You might like it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

My mouse squeaks. My computer mouse, that is. I know ordinary mice squeak—they’re supposed to—but I didn’t know that computer mice did. I don’t think they’re supposed to, but mine does. It works fine otherwise, performs faultlessly with its tasks involving interaction with the computer. But every time I move it across my desk, it gives out with a squeaking sound. It’s rather like it’s protesting the movement, objecting to being taken away from its position of repose. I can’t figure out why it does that, but this is just another of the intricacies of technology that I do not understand.

I wrote a few weeks ago about my difficulties with my lawn mower, specifically the trouble I had starting it. My neighbor, who’s good with machinery, started it immediately. He knows a lot about engines, cars, etc. It’s a knowledge built up during years of working with such things. But it seems to be more than that. He has a rapport with machinery. He understands it, likes it. It’s more than physical knowledge; it is some sort of sixth sense that leads him to the source of problems. I have known people like that before. It’s as if they are communicating on some level with the machine and the machine itself is guiding them.

I have known or heard of others who have similar ability with other aspects of life—animals, plants, the weather, the earth itself—the list is endless. I have come to the conclusion that nature sees to it that there exist people that possess all the abilities and talents necessary to furnish all of us with a comfortable, meaningful existence. Moreover, the people who possess such talents are the happiest when they are permitted to use them. Unfortunately, societies such as ours prefer to funnel people into endeavors that it considers more important or in which it believes the people in question would be more satisfied. It seems to me that society’s perception of what is the ideal lacks in comparison to that of nature.

But I am still left with my problem. What I have to do is locate someone who has an affinity with a computer mouse, who understands it, for whom such a thing as squeakingis no mystery and for whom successfully solving the problem is second nature. I am sure there is such a person. Somewhere. Nature has surely arranged that to be so.

POSTSCRIPT: After I posted the above, my mouse quit squeaking. Perhaps it just wanted the notoriety, or perhaps it was doing me a favor of giving me something to write about.

Monday, July 30, 2012

I bought a bicycle this past week. It’s not for recreation, though no doubt it will prove to have recreational value. It’s a necessity—at least in my mind. I quit driving a car at night a few years ago because I could no longer see well enough.. Now it has come to the point that I do not feel I should drive at all. So, I gave my car away; hence the bicycle.

By my calculation, it’s been some sixty-plus years since I’ve ridden a bicycle. I’m aware that the design and fashion of bicycles has changed quite a bit in that time so I decided to find out what those changes are. I went to the internet, the source of all knowledge, and found there enough information to totally confuse me. When I was riding bicycles as a boy, that was exactly what one road—a BICYLE. There were a few variations to please exotic tastes, fillers for cross bars, horns, lights, etc. There were bikes for girls, without crossbars, because girls wore skirts. But they were still just bicycles.

These days, bicycles come in classifications—sort of like cars. There are racing bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes, cruisers. And they have gears, some of them twenty-plus gears. There are even hybrid bikes, though I’m not sure of what they are hybrids and whether or not there are classifications of hybrids. And most of them don’t have fenders. I looked through screens full of such devices and became more and more confused. Then, lo and behold, I found the picture of a bike that had, apparently, slipped through the cracks. It had fat tires, fenders, high positioned handlebars, only one speed and a rear carrier. The one in the picture even had a basket on the handlebars. It looked like—a BICYCLE. I picked out one I really liked and noted down the model and its specifications. I could order that bike and have it delivered, the web page told me.

But I felt I was still confused. I decided the best thing to do was go to a store that sold bicycles and get a bit more information. So I did that. In the store I found racks of bicycles, all sorts and kinds, different models for different uses—enough to make me confused all over again. And then I saw it. The bicycle I had seen on line, complete with high handlebars, a rear carrier, fenders and a big, fat seat—a BICYCLE.

I bought it. I had to. Now I have to learn to ride one again. Sixty years is a long time. More about that later.

Monday, July 23, 2012

This past Friday and Saturday, there was an arts and crafts event in Ligonier called Summer in Ligonier. Silverbear Graphics, my publisher, had a booth at the event and I, along with a number of other Silverbear authors and illustrators, spent a good deal of time there. It was good to be together to talk with each other and the crowd.

I was a bit apprehensive about being at the booth for a long period of time. A number of years ago I had a business of selling books, jewelry and crafts items at shows in the northeast and into the central US on weekends. I know how grueling such events can be. I am not as young as I was when I was doing such shows and I was unsure how this show would be for me. My fear was completely unfounded. I had a lot of fun as did everyone else.

In some ways this show was a debut, the first public appearance of Silverbear in Ligonier. Most people do not know that there is a book publisher in the Ligonier area and are surprised to find that out. It will not be the last such appearance and perhaps a more permanent form of presence in the town of Ligonier is coming. Silverbear is now located in Stahlstown, which is located about eight miles from Ligonier, but Maggie Robinson, the owner of Silverbear, has plans for having an office for Silverbear in Ligonier within a year.

I will be very glad to see such a thing happen. The arts have been a second rate activity in this society for a long time. It is refreshing to see a group of people for whom writing, illustrating and publishing are vital endeavors join in a cooperative effort in making them happen. A greater and more permanent part in the life of Ligonier will be good for Silverbear and good for Ligonier.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A number of years ago, as part of an art course I took, I became involved in analyzing the paintings of masters. I chose Paul Gauguin as the artist I would study and located prints of his work. The project consisted of placing tracing paper over the prints and charting the elements of them to determine the artist’s use of color, light, mass, line, etc. in the compositions.

I diligently worked through a number of Gauguin’s paintings. As I did so, I tried to imagine what thoughts went through the head of Gauguin as he worked; why did he choose this or that element, how did he decide the importance or the emphasis he placed on one thing or another; how did he analyze his own compositions?

A vague thought began niggling at the back of my mind as I worked. The longer I kept at my task, the more defined the thought became. How were the paintings actually done?

How were they done, Paul Gauguin? How did you paint? Did you work out your designs? Did you work out line, mass, color, chart your course according to some formula devised by some great master, or even by yourself? Did you plan the design, Paul, the composition, in all its parts beforehand, and then begin painting, placing the elements according to this preconceived arrangement?

Or did you just paint, Paul, laying the color in as you felt it, molding, forming, building as you saw the figures and the scene before you, giving them life of their own in the world created in your mind, leaving on the unconcerned and indifferent surface beneath your brush a depth of dimension and feeling that is more than can ever be charted and graphed?

Is that the way it was, Paul? Is that the way you created—as you saw it, as you felt it, as it was, as it should have been, and leaving to others to analyze what you have done as they will?

Monday, July 9, 2012

This is being written on Saturday and it is hot today. I have a meeting this afternoon in Ligonier so I decided I to walk into town. I knew it was supposed to be hot, so I started early, before the heat of the day became oppressive. There was a nice breeze as I walked in, but it was still hot. I passed a man who was walking his dog. He greeted me with the cheery news that today was predicted to be the hottest day of the year so far. With that news in mind, I continued my walk. Actually, it didn’t seem that bad. There was a good deal of shade on my route so I wasn't at all uncomfortable.
I heard a report that the current hot weather is due to global warming. I heard another report that assured me that it certainly is not; the phenomenon is cyclical. I firmly believe that we could be dropping like flies and then frying on hot sidewalks and still be arguing as to whether or not the hot spell is due to global warming. Actually, what's the difference? If the roof of my house is blown off in a storm, what do I care if the damage was done by a tornado or a microburst? Similarly, does it really matter what is the cause of the hot weather?
Apparently, it does matter to some people, but only to the extent that they object to the possibility that mankind is being accused of causing global warming. If man could be declared innocent of any responsibility, I suppose global warming would be acceptable to all. I believe the basis of the argument is two fold: 1) people don't like to be thought of as being wrong in anything, and 2) such culpability would cost some people money (or potential loss of money), the latter being tied up with our use of fossil fuels.

When you look at it, the whole argument is ridiculous. There is a possibility of our being able to acquire energy from renewable natural resources. Why shouldn't that be done? The standard response to that question is that the processes for doing so are, at present, inadequate. So? The first airplane flew some forty feet on its first flight. Maybe the problem is that we're looking at the matter from the standpoint of emotion rather than actually thinking about it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Writing for a blog is interesting. There are certain advantages—the subjects for pieces can be almost anything, one doesn’t have to be concerned with a plot or maintaining tension, and the piece can be as long or short as one cares to make it. I rather like that. It is especially welcome when there are other, longer pieces I’m working on, pieces that demand more attention and, I suppose, discipline.

Now there’s a good subject—discipline. I’ve never been too fond of that particular item. I have seen advice from successful authors that stress discipline—strict hours for writing, a goal for words per session, etc. I tried that. It didn’t work for me. I’m better writing when I feel like it. Sometimes I call that when the muse speaks to me. That sounds better. But then that’s not really true either. Deadlines, either real or self-imposed, sometimes work. “This has to be done,” I tell myself after I have been procrastinating for the better part of a couple days. I sit down at the computer, stare at the blank screen for a while, and then, suddenly, the words start coming and in a short time I’m finished.

It doesn’t always work that way. It’s a pleasure when it does. The rule for me is that there is no rule. The writing works when it works. Anyway, it’s nice when I can just write at my leisure, taking my time as I want and writing about what I want—just as I am in this piece. It doesn’t even matter if I ramble a bit as I’m doing now. At least I hope not. I’ll get around to writing something more serious next week. That will be better. I guess.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The reading at Allegory Gallery turned out very well. Besides myself, Amy Yanity, local poet and originator of these particular readings, read from her own work. So did Joanne Mcgough, Jan McLaughlin and Diane Cipa. There was wine and pastries and we all had fun.

The event got me to thinking. There are a number of events in the area held for and by area writers that are not well known, sometimes even among writers. I am aware of only some of them and a quick check with a few of my writing friends turned up a surprising list. Perhaps the most well known group is the Ligonier Valley Writers, which was started a number of years ago by Clark McKowan, who has since moved to California. I am aware of this group because Clark was the first person to give me encouragement in writing and the Ligonier Valley Writers was the first writing group I joined. Another local group is the Beanery Writers, a group that meets in the Coffee Bean Café in Latrobe. I currently belong to that group. Other than those two groups, I understand there are groups located in Latrobe, Somerset, Greensburg, Scottdale, Murrysville and Delmont.

The above is by no means a detailed or complete list and other than writing groups themselves there are events that cater to writers and musicians. One of these is the event I mentioned in the beginning of this piece and which is held at allegory Gallery on the last Thursday of each month. Another is Mellow Mike, held at Ligonier Tavern every Tuesday. Mellow Mike is hosted by Diane Cipa and features local writers, poets, songwriters and musicians. There are other similar events in this area.

I’m going to be doing a bit of searching around to gather more information on other happenings and additional writers’ groups in Ligonier and nearby areas and I will write a bit more about each of them from time to time. There is a lot of talent in Ligonier and surrounding areas. It’s about time this fact becomes a lot better known. Altogether these events provide a rich artistic resource of which we can all be very proud.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reading my work in public is something towards which I am not naturally inclined. In fact, a few years ago I avoided anything of the kind with a firm resolve. I’m still not fond of it, but I have come to accept it. Why, I’m not sure. A lot of it has to do with practice and learning not to be too self-conscious. And, to my surprise, I’m beginning to have fun with it.

Anyway, I’m doing some reading of my work this Thursday evening at Allegory Gallery in Ligonier. Allegory Gallery is located at 139 East Main Street, in the same building with Second Chapter Books. Amy Yanity, a local author, has arranged to have readings as an event there on the third Thursday of every month. It’s a new event for Ligonier and I think it’s really interesting. The sessions started a few months ago. I’ve attended every one so far and I’ve learned something each time.

Any writer is welcome at these sessions. It’s fun to listen to the different genres—prose, poetry, song writing and the different styles of each. A number of writers attend every session so one can’t tell what one will find happening on any given evening. Come out and give a listen. I think you will find the sessions entertaining. It’s a new tradition starting in Ligonier and one that I hope will grow and prosper.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The first thing that anyone sees when he or she sits down to write is a Blank Page. It may be on a computer screen, a fresh, yellow legal pad or the final pages of a worn journal. It doesn’t matter. It is still a blank page and that can be a terrifying thing. There are no guidelines, no map. Where does one start? It is true that the great expanse of white can be exhilarating—there are no restrictions and the possibility that the creation of wondrous and inspiring compositions lie hidden on the page, but that in itself can be intimidating. I once had an art instructor who said that in a blank canvas there is 100% potential. Put one mark on that surface and you have decreased the potential by fifty percent. That thought can put a crimp in your style.

At its worst, the Blank Page can bring on the other dreaded nemesis—Writer’s Block. I can’t say that I am habitually troubled by that malady but there have been times that the words have been slow in coming. And there are times when I’ve tried some roundabout ways to bring inspiration: deep thought, meditation, prayer—tea. Sometimes one thing works, sometimes another. That reminds me of a time many years ago when I heard a springtime talk by a member of the PA Game Commission. The subject was the effectiveness of folk remedies for garden pests. The remedies are numerous and inventive—pepper, garlic, beer. The question was, “Do they work?” The speaker gave the following opinion, which impressed me and I state here as best I can remember it: “You must be aware that each animal is an individual and one individual does not like and dislike the same things as another. Sometimes one thing works and sometimes something else. If you’re bothered by a critter and try one of the remedies and it works, don’t question it. Just use it.”

Stories and poems are much like the critters. Sometimes one thing draws them to the page, sometimes another. I have not found a foolproof way of attracting them with any consistency. At times I find that in order to write I must simply begin writing. I make a joke of it by saying that if you have writer’s block then write about having writer’s block. It’s really not a joke. That’s a fascinating subject. What is writer’s block? What does it feel like to have it? What do you do about it? Does that work? That could be a very interesting and funny piece—or tragic if you are so inclined and are totally serious about it. And maybe that’s one of the secrets—DON’T be too serious about it. Writing should be enjoyable—fun.

One of the best things that I have found is to not try to work on my schedule but to listen to the Muse when she speaks. Sometimes that is in the middle of the night. I keep a pad and pen in my bedside table and when ideas come, in dreams or in the moments that occur between sleep and wakefulness, I jot them down. Those notes, sketchy as they sometimes are, can later be the start of many pages of text.

So there isn’t any formula, any standard method of approaching the Blank Page. The best thing to do is simply to write. Don’t be scared. Don’t worry about it. Just write—about anything. Every subject is fascinating—if you allow it to be.