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.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Holiday Season has come—or snuck up on me—again. Sometimes I feel that way. Perhaps one of the reasons for that is the fact that since I no longer drive I don’t get out into the stores as often as I used to. For that reason I am not as exposed to the holiday advertising as I once was. I am not informed of its presence sufficiently early so that I can anticipate its coming for two or three months.

Still, I set up and decorated my little Christmas tree on December 1st, which, I feel, is early enough for the holiday.  I did that for the first time in my life last year. Prior to that, my custom was to decorate for the holidays on Christmas Eve and keep the decorations up only for the twelve nights of Christmas. I changed my custom simply because I felt like it and I’ve been very satisfied with that change. I had fun accomplishing the set-up of the tree this year and it’s pleasant having the glow of the colorful tree lights and the candles in the window every night. It’s nice to be able to enjoy them for a whole month.

Perhaps what really snuck up on me was the holiday spirit. I was aware of that holiday spirit last year when I decorated the tree early, but had no explanation for it. I simply enjoyed it. I had the distinct feeling of anticipation and good will that one is supposed to feel during the holiday season but so seldom does. At the same time I was able to ignore all the mundane commercialism that is such a prominent part of the season. It’s the same this year so I suppose this might be a permanent part of me from now on. Where it came from I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s a memory of a simpler time superimposed on our present-day headlong dash for enjoyment. Then again, it may be a blessing of the season, a variation of the Christmas, Past, Future and Present to introduce the fact that there is a great deal that is worth while in the season that does not depend on the commercial hype we attach to it. It may be a reward for clinging to the belief that something of the kind does exist, a little taste of what should and could be.

Whatever it is, I’m not going to worry too much about it. I’ll just enjoy it, be thankful for it and hope that it will continue to be a part of my life for the holiday season and, if possible, extend into the rest of the year as much as it can.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Winter Storm Warning of recent days reminded me of a storm that occurred many years past. I believe it was 1950 that the snowfall occurred. I was living in Wexford, PA at the time and was in my first year of college at what was then Carnegie Institute of Technology. The snowfall came when the school was on the break for Thanksgiving and began, as I recall, some days after Thanksgiving Day. It continued for some time and when it was over left some thirty-plus inches on the ground.

That was a lot of snow to shovel and my Dad and I spent some time clearing our long drive. Ridding the public roads of snow took a long time as well and the Pittsburgh area was a few days getting back to normal. Carnegie Tech was a few days getting back to normal as well and our Thanksgiving vacation was extended. I was into hunting then and the deer season came into being the first week in December so of course I took the extra time off to look for deer. There wasn’t much chance of finding them in thirty inches of snow and the deer were safe from my hunting buddy and me. But that was all right, We had a good time anyway and I enjoyed my extended vacation and returned to Tech about a week later than originally scheduled.

When I heard the recent storm warning, I had thoughts of a repeat of that 1950 snow, but it never came to be. This year’s Thanksgiving storm fell far short, a few inches in this area, though I understand other areas were hit much harder. It seems in this day of mass communication the warnings of winter weather bear an urgency and an alarm that I do not remember in years past. I’m not sure why that is. I have talked to other people who ascribe it to everything from the need of the media to raise their ratings to the greater difficulty in predicting weather in recent years to an alliance between the media and supermarket chains for selling milk, bread and toilet paper. At any rate, I don’t believe there will be people fifty years from now reminiscing about the big snow that occurred during the Thanksgiving holiday of 2013.

After I wrote the above, I went online to check details and my memory. Wikipedia titles the storm as the Great Appalachian Storm of November 1950. It formed on November 24, reached maximum intensity on November 25 and dissipated on November 30, which was Thanksgiving Day of 1950. I was a bit off on my memory of dates. It was classified as an extratropical cyclone that affected 22 states and dumped a maximum snowfall of fifty seven inches in some areas; winds peaked at 160 miles per hour in the New England highlands. In all, there were 353 fatalities due to the storm and total damages of $66.7 million (1950 dollars). The affected area was the eastern third of the United States and southeast Canada.

The Pittsburgh area received 30.5 inches of snow and a subsequent warm spell in early December resulted in river flooding.

Friday, November 15, 2013

In England horse raising country, it is the belief that a pasture should contain no less that eighty different plant species. If it contains less than that number it is considered to be “in decline.” Maintaining land within healthy standards has contributed to the raising of prize winning horses in that country. These facts are contained in a book entitled Back from the Brink by Australian farmer and horse breeder Peter Andrews in which he discusses Australia’s problems with its deteriorating landscape.

Andrews speaks out in favor of biodiversity elsewhere in his book. All plants including weeds, he claims, are important. They add to the soil things that it needs to be healthy and productive. They are necessary to ecology. This is in contrast with the custom I have noticed in this country where the ideal lawn, for instance, consists of one kind of uniformly close-clipped grass, a lawn which is regularly sprayed with chemicals to kill any but the desired plant in an effort to maintain a “perfect” lawn.

When reading Andrews’ book, I couldn’t help but transfer his observations of plants and their worth to the ecosystem with our concept of the place of individuals in society. Our society rewards a member in accordance with its estimate of that member’s worth. It encourages and sometimes dictates that its members follow certain fields of study, be trained in one of a few limited occupations and follow a pre-designed route to what is termed success. In a sense, society “weeds out” its undesirables, using our money system to insure that this is done.

On the surface, that may sound logical and advantageous. By such a method, it is supposed, each member of society contributes what society needs and is rewarded according to that contribution. But is our society, like the person who strives to have a “perfect” lawn, heading in the wrong direction? Does our confusion of need and want and a misinterpretation of what is valuable cause us to concentrate on a crop that is inferior and actually detrimental to our well being?

Every person in any society has unique talents and abilities that have the potential of offering to society unique benefits. Under our present system many of these individuals and the talents and abilities they possess are wasted. It would be better for society to encourage and enable each of its members to find and develop those talents and abilities to the highest extent possible. By doing so, the society might discover it has prospects that are richer, more fertile and far superior than those of its present pre-ordained plan.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing we have—any of us—is beliefs. We look for truths, think we have one, and then something tells us something that contradicts our truth. So, based on this new evidence we change our minds to another truth. We believe something different. For instance, for a long time people thought the world was flat. They believed it was. That fact was their truth. Then they learned differently. They had to change their belief. Similarly, there is a belief among many people that war is inevitable, that there has always been war among men, that it is an essential part of human nature and is inevitable. That is a truth for many. However, anthropologists have shown that this is not so, that man’s existence on this earth has been mostly peaceful and war is recent and due to factors of our own creation.

So it goes. Beliefs change. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact it’s a good thing. As new information is gained about the nature of the world and the nature of people, we have to adapt to conform to the new information. There would be a problem if we didn’t change and that’s where the real problems start.

In fact, it’s a relief to recognize that your beliefs are that, only beliefs and not truth—or worse, Truth with a capital T. If you have only beliefs then everyone else has only beliefs as well. With that attitude, it’s possible to recognize that you or the other person may be wrong. With a little talk and a little digging you may come up with some ideas as to whose belief is better, or perhaps that the beliefs of both of you lack something. That sort of attitude is not possible if you believe that you have the Truth. There can be only one Truth, so obviously if you have the Truth then the other fellow has to be wrong. It gets really complicated when one of your beliefs is that it is your duty to see that the other person has to accept the Truth that you know. That’s the way wars start.

So, I’m willing to believe that we have only beliefs. It saves arguing and makes life simpler and pleasanter. Anyway, that’s what I believe at the present time.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I’ve been having a spate of electric and electronic difficulties lately. My first problem, occurring more that a month ago, was my old TV set, which I use for playing DVD’s and VCR’s. That was relatively minor and eventually solved by switching remotes. The next problem, a more serious one, occurred when the breaker for the kitchen circuit in my house tripped during the night several times over the period of a few weeks. I’d find out about it in the morning, check the circuit, find nothing wrong, reset the breaker and have no difficulty—for several days. Then it would happen again. Finally one morning I found a night light I have plugged into an outlet above a counter no longer worked. I unplugged it and discovered the case of it cracked. Could this be the cause of my problem? I bought a new night light, plugged it in and no more tripped breakers. All problems solved, I thought.

Not so.

The next thing to give me problems was my scanner. That was reasonable. The scanner was old and had done good service. I got it working long enough to finish a job or two before it finally stopped doing anything. Nothing to do but buy a new one. Simple. But scanners are different now. They’re combined with printers and other devices that make it possible to print, FAX, telegraph and contact Mars all at the same time through the use of one bulky machine. To make a long story short, I had a time finding a scanner that was not joined with any other machine just like the trusty one that had given such good service for so many years. I did, though, and had then solved all my problems.

Again not so—my printer ran out of black ink. Solution? Simple. Fill the cartridge. I’d done that many times. Only this time it didn’t work. None of my old tricks worked. I couldn’t get the cartridge to work, either. I finally sent it off to a firm that fills cartridges and in several days it came back good as new. Now, all the problems were solved. Nope. The color cartridge ran out of ink. I took on the job of filling it with great trepidation. Could anything go wrong with this operation? It did. I thought I’d messed up and ruined the cartridge. I didn’t have the patience to fool around too long. I just sent the cartridge off to the ink people and, lo and behold, it came back in first rate shape. I’d had enough of problems, however. I got two extra cartridges, one color and one black. I got a spare cartridge for my black and white printer, too. No more interruptions were to be tolerated.
Everything was now operational.

Then the speaker on my cell phone quit. No way to fix it. I accepted the inevitable and got a new phone. The first day I had it I lost it. I never before lost a cell phone but I managed to lose this one. That is the most recent of my electric/electronic problems.

I have been trying to make some sense out of this sequence of events. I believe there is significance in everything that happens. What about this? Electricity is energy. Maybe there is something amiss with the energy of my life—too little or not directed appropriately? Am I misusing it or wasting it? The devices that were affected had to do with communication of one type or another. My main activity in life is writing. That’s a form of communication. Is there something wrong there? Is it the writing itself or perhaps the way I’m using it. I think there’s something to that—something that I don’t, at the present, understand. I’ll have to think about that. As Richard Bach wrote, (and I paraphrase), there is never a prob1em (or a series of them) that does not have a gift for you in its hands.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

I came across an interesting question the other day: “Does the phrase ‘It’s all downhill from here’ mean ‘It all gets worse from here’ or ‘From here everything gets easier’”?

I was asked to comment on that saying but I really couldn’t. I had to think about it for a while (one of my failings). I did think about it and I came up with some interesting points of view. An almost immediate reaction was the fact that there were two such differing inferences that could be made concerning the phrase. It was much like the “glass half full/half empty” saying. One’s personal philosophy of life means a great deal in how one sees the statement.

I also couldn’t help thinking of my personal experiences since I’ve had to give up driving. Since that time almost a year ago, I’ve had to walk from my home to the town of Ligonier and back two or three times each week—a distance of one and one-half to two miles each way—for one purpose or another. I’ve gotten to know all the ups and downs in that route. There are level stretches, mild grades and fairly steep slopes in succession. There is an interesting walk beside a creek that seems to be ever changing. Some of the way is along a heavily traveled highway. Some of the way is tree-lined. There is a small park with green grass, paved pathways and benches near some of the route. Depending on the weather, each of these features is welcome. Some days, the warmth of the treeless level stretches makes for a pleasant walk. Other times it is better to put up with a grade to stay in the shade.

I thought, too, about a book I am in the process of preparing for publishing. It is set partly in the Appalachian mountains and partially in the Cascades. I went through a number of working titles and I’ve finally settled on “Mountains.” That has to do with more than the fact of the mountainous setting of the plot. All the characters in the book have involved stories of their own and all have their own personal “mountains” to climb and not necessarily with the satisfaction of enjoying a coast down the other side. It’s these personal mountains—otherwise called life—that is the main plot of the book. In the book, some of the mountains were climbed, some with good results and some results not quite so good. Some of the mountains were not climbed at all—also as in life.

As far as the saying with which I started out goes, is the downhill route easier or more difficult? There is more to be considered about a path than whether it is ascending or descending. I suppose the more mountains one climbs, the more one can figure that out.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

June was a hectic month. It was a good month and a lot of good things happened, but it was hectic. One of the things I didn’t like was the fact that I didn’t get a chance to keep up with blog posts. This is my first post since the beginning of the month! I didn’t realize it had been that long. Perhaps I should be more disciplined but I know that no matter how hard I tried to be that way, it would last for only a short time.

Actually, it’s not a question of discipline. I like writing for the blog and normally I do that at least once or twice a week. Lately, I simply have not had the opportunity—too much on my mind and my agenda. I just took on too many projects. What are the words to that song—“Summertime and the livin’ is easy”? That never seems to happen with me. Summer is always a time of activity and places to go and things to do. Winter is the time of less activity and more time, long evenings and snow-bound days. I can get a lot of writing done in the winter.

One of the things that has taken a lot of time lately is my decision to get my writing in order. I have books, finished or half finished or needing revision that I decided to get in order, finish and publish. What I’ll do with them after that, I’m not sure. That part will have to take care of itself.

Another time-user is my interest in the subject of peace. I’ve always had that interest. My first blog was called the Peace Puzzle and I worked on that intermittently for a year or so. I didn’t feel it was accomplishing anything and gave it up to concentrate more on doing a peace newsletter for my church. That seemed to draw a little more attention and I felt I was contributing more. Now I feel I should spend more time bringing the subject to the attention of additional people and I’ve concentrated more on reading and writing about peace, what it is and what it can mean—hence my laxness on the blog.

What all this is going to lead to, I’m not sure. Anyway, it’s going somewhere. I feel that’s true. I understand this is a time of change so I suppose I’m right in step with it. I’ll find out, I’m sure, but I’ll also have to find time to pay more attention to writing for the blog despite hectic months and times of change. The blog is important, too, and a source of relaxation.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Yesterday I put a CD in the computer while I was working. It was a CD of Celtic music that I had not heard for a while. I enjoyed listening to the old songs that evoked pleasant memories. I enjoyed them for a while—and then they began to bother me. They interfered. I stopped the CD and took it out of the drive before it was finished. I continued with my work but without the music.

Later in the day, I reflected on that. My habits have changed. Years ago I liked music with me whatever I was doing. It played as I drove in the car or worked in my shop or in the house. When doing outside projects, I managed to have a radio playing if at all possible. When that ceased to be a priority for me I’m not sure. I spent some years wandering in a camper and during that time I learned to do without TV. I still had a radio and I took care to have tapes or CDs handy. Gradually those began to be less important; eventually, I ceased playing them altogether.

I didn’t think much about that while it was occurring. It was merely something that happened. Habits change. Then, after I shut the CD down yesterday, I thought about it some more. It’s more than a changed habit. The fact is, I’ve learned to like silence. I’ve learned to prefer it. I no longer have TV. I normally don’t play the radio or other sources of noise. I enjoy my days in complete silence. I am sure there are those who will say that is good and others who will say it is bad. I don’t know if it’s either. I don’t care. It simply is.

I still like music and enjoy going to hear live performances when that’s possible. Occasionally, I’ll put on a CD and just sit down and listen. I suppose the difference between my attitude toward music now and what it used to be is that of need. Some sort of music, noise, distraction—all of those—was something I needed a few years ago. Maybe I wanted it to stop me from thinking. I’m not sure. At any rate, I don’t seem to need that anymore. There’s a certain sense of freedom in that—something that I no longer need. I wonder how many more things there are that I don’t need. I’ll have to think about that. Now that I don’t have the TV, the radio or the CD player to stop me from thinking, I can do that.

Monday, May 20, 2013

As I remember from books I’ve read, the Algonquin language does not contain a word for time. People invent words for things that have meaning for them and apparently time meant little in the Algonquin culture. For our culture, time is of the greatest importance. Whether that’s good or bad I’m not sure. In some ways we are controlled by it. We go to bed, get up and eat by it. We measure our daily activities by it. We use it to decide our ability to perform tasks, accomplish our work, enjoy our day.

Just what is time? It’s not a constant; it varies. That’s been established by science. Some say it doesn’t exist at all, that there is only the “eternal now.”  There may be deep meaning in that but don’t try telling that to your boss when you’re late for work. Others say time is money. They use the measure of time to measure the size of their wealth—or loss of it. When people find themselves faced with more than they can accomplish, they blame the lack of time. They say there’s not enough time in the day.

But just what is it? Actually, it’s an invention of ours, created by us to bring some order to our lives and to coordinate our activities with others. It is a convenient way to measure progress and to plan the future. If we use it wisely it can serve us well. The danger in time is when we allow it to have power over us and control us. That’s up to us, for whatever meaning or control or power it has, we give to it. There is neither too much time nor too little time; it is neither a master nor a slave and it is not money. Time itself is meaningless and is worth nothing. It is only how you use it and for what you use it that gives it any value. That, in turn depends on another measure, one that you yourself construct. It depends on what you consider to be of value.

Friday, May 17, 2013

I’ve been thinking about boxes lately, as in the kind of boxes that one is supposed to or not supposed to think outside of. They’ve shown up in my writing and as an almost daily reference in my life from a variety of sources. Another theme that has been prominent in my life is peace. That’s one I have affinity for and encourage.

Just recently, these two subjects came together for me in an unexpected way. I’ve been reading a book called The Human Potential for Peace by Douglas P. Fry, an anthropologist. In this book, Fry traces the tendencies for non violence and war in a number of societies and over millennia of the human presence on earth. In one of the final sections o the book he unites the concept of peace with my understanding of a box.

Fry states that a common contention is that war is an integral part of humans. It is a given fact and is therefore inevitable, or so goes the common belief goes. Not so, says Fry. Throughout the book he maintains that that popular belief is in error and not supported by scientific evidence. In the section to which I make reference, he states “. . . new modes of thinking are relevant to replacing war with other approaches to seeking security.”

In other words we are, according to Fry, thinking inside the box, one which we have constructed for ourselves. Fry quotes Einstein as saying in reference to the nuclear age “everything has changed, save our modes of thinking.”

What society regards as unchangeable—our propensity to wage war—has no basis in fact. This is what Fry argues throughout his book. It is only what we have become accustomed to, what we have made true simply because we, as a society or a people or as a planet, believe it to be true.

Apparently, we construct all sorts of boxes, from our own personal enclosures to large, national and international constructs. But no matter how large the structures may be, they all depend on the beliefs of those within the box for their longevity. In the end, our own personal boxes are what decide what stands and what fails. If enough individuals learn to think outside their own little individual boxes, the larger boxes of society, nations or the international community cannot hope to contain them.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

At a discussion group last night i was reminded again of the quote by Mother Teresa concerning anti-war demonstrations. The exact quote is, “I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there.”

This quote keeps coming up, prodding me, demanding my attention as if there is something about it I’ve been missing. I understood the concept of an anti-war demonstration putting the emphasis on war, the very thing the demonstration is organized to protest. What other significance is there? I took another look at the quote and saw it in a different light. “Anti-war”, while trying to be positive, places the emphasis on something that is negative. Organizing a pro-peace rally would be something positive to be sure, but would that be the only alternative? The essence of Mother Teresa’s thinking, it seems to me, is not in anti-war vs. pro-peace, but in positive vs. negative. To counteract a negative thing, it does mo good to place great emphasis on something that is equally negative. What is needed is emphasis on something positive.

That would be a natural thing for Mother Teresa to propose, for was that not the message of her whole life? To combat the ills and injustices of the world she did what she could to heal some of those ills and injustices. So, in approaching great injustices such as war or other work of negativity, perhaps the best course would not be to simply oppose it, but rather to engage in some positive activity that would improve some other sector of life. That makes sense. If all the energy that goes into protest against negativity, were turned into positive improvement of some sector of existence, who knows what volume of good works might be accomplished. Eventually, such a practice of positive activity might become the more common endeavor.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spring ambushed me this year. It seems to have come suddenly. I thought that was my own mistaken impression until I heard others mention it. The trees have become green overnight; one day the grass lay dormant and the next it was 6 inches high. An exaggeration? Yes, but it did seem that way. As a result of those observations, I got two items out of the shed—my bicycle and my lawnmower—and dusted them off. I used the bicycle for the first time since last November to ride to the mailbox to get the mail. I haven’t used the lawnmower at all yet. Using it is a little less palatable than using the bicycle.

I feel I’d better put the lawnmower into use soon, though I’m not one who is in favor of having a manicured lawn. As long as it’s short enough to keep a groundhog from getting lost in it, it’s short enough for me. But the longer I put off that first cutting the harder it is to cut. Several years ago the spring was very wet. My lawn is only a little bit above a swamp anyway and that year I had an inch or so of water lying in one section of it for weeks. There was no way I could get it mowed. When it finally dried out enough to accommodate the mower it was so high I had to mow it several times, lowering the mower blade for each succeeding cut. This year it wasn’t water in the lawn that was the culprit. It was surprise.

Yesterday, before dark, I got the chance to go over the mower. I cleaned it up, and gassed and oiled it, with the best of intentions of giving the lawn its first cutting of the year today. That just didn’t work out so that first cutting will have to wait until tomorrow. I don’t imagine that will cause too much of a fuss. Nobody has yet commented on the length of the grass and I haven’t seen any groundhogs lurking around. I understand the weather will cooperate. Sunny, dry and not too hot. Perfect grass cutting weather. Everything in its proper time. As long as the grass doesn’t grow another six inches overnight.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

We often hear mention of thinking “outside the box.” That’s usually thought of as being a good thing and I think it is. It’s by original thought that goes beyond our normal concepts that progress occurs. But I wonder if our “boxes” don’t extend deeper into our lives than we realize. Perhaps each of us structure our own boxes without even realizing it. Such boxes would be much harder to escape.

Where do such boxes come from? In these days of mass information they come from everywhere. There are many sources claiming to have the answer to any problem imaginable from diet to exercise to belief in God to success in life. Our acquaintances are willing to pass such solutions on in case we haven’t seen them on the internet. Add to this the power of the advertising industry, a little bit of prejudice (we all have some), a smidgen of ego (that too) and a good gollop of fear and . . . voila! A box—one we don’t realize we’re in or how we got there or how to get out of it.

All this is just my own ramblings and probably the product of the box I’m in and don’t know it, but it sounds to me as if there is more that a small amount of truth to it. You’ll have to make up your own mind about that. I believe, though, that such boxes are at the bottom of many of the troubles in this world. The problem is not the boxes themselves but the fact that we are so comfortable in them that we believe everyone should build a box just like it in which to be comfortable. And each of us is more than willing to furnish the plans and specifications for the project.

But what’s the solution? First of all getting out of the box; that’s the hard part. Then comes another hard task—not building another box to climb into. I suppose the way to stay out of boxes is to keep a totally open mind about everything—not believe everything but recognize that there may be value in everything and be willing to give everything a fair hearing. Now that’s really the hard part. At the bottom of each box we might find that there is just a little bit of truth in everything. If we could take each such little bit of truth and put them all together we could have something of great value. We just have to climb out of our own boxes to be able to see it.

Monday, April 8, 2013

In the movie What the Bleep Do We Know, there is a sequence in which the natives of a Caribbean island are not able to see the ships of Columbus because they had never before experienced anything of the kind. I thought that a little far fetched. Didn’t the well being of those natives depend on their being aware of things in their environment? Surely they would notice strange ships near their shore.

The other day I was reading an incident in a book that gave me new insight on the matter. The book, The Forest People, was written by an anthropologist, Colin M. Turnbull, who had spent an extended period of time with the Pygmies of the Congo. The Pygmies inhabit a dense jungle area in which they are totally at home and in which they are competent and happy. In the book, Turnbull related an incident that occurred when he took a Pygmy who had become a friend of his out of his jungle home to another area of Africa containing broad plains, snow capped mountains and a large lake. Turnbull and the Pygmy, Kenge, stood on a high rise looking over a vista of grassland and lake. Turnbull pointed out a large fishing boat with a number of people in it floating on the distant lake. At first Kenge refused to believe it was anything of the kind. To him the craft appeared to be just a small piece of floating wood. When Kenge saw a herd of 150 buffalo some miles away on the plain, he took them to be insects. He could not recognize them as buffalo though he had seen buffalo before.

The writing by Turnbull made me revise my opinion of the ship sighting incident in What the Bleep Do We Know and about some other things. People can become so controlled by their environment that they cannot even recognize the existence of things that are foreign to it. Taken out of context, they may as well be invisible. This is true of physical objects. Could that also be true (perhaps more so) of things dealing with our mental and emotional functions, such as ideas and concepts? What about the concept of peace? I have long thought of peace as requiring a new mindset to bring it into existence, but I have been thinking of that as a matter of the rearranging of existing thought patterns. Perhaps it is much more than this. Perhaps we are so far from the concept of peace that we do not even recognize its existence when it presents itself. We cannot take meaningful steps toward achieving peace if we do not even recognize it when we see it.

This, perhaps, is the real problem behind the illusive nature of peace and this is the problem that must be solved before peace can be brought into being.

Friday, April 5, 2013

This piece is related to the one I posted a few days ago. I’ve been thinking more about the way we regard things and how they are presented to us.

I remember an instance that, in an odd way, illustrates the point. A number of years ago I was visiting in the state of Virginia and the county I was in was “dry” but had a referendum on its ballot as to whether it should remain dry or legalize the sale of alcoholic beverages. I was told that there were two forces in the county that were very much involved in the issue on the side of wanting to keep the county dry. One was the county’s churches; the other was its bootleggers. Each faction had its own agenda but the purpose of each was satisfied by the same result.

People with different points of view can have a common purpose—or they can be persuaded that that is the case. The tool that’s used to persuade them these days is known as “spin” and its effective use is in great demand. It is used by the government, industry, business, the military and other groups. Probably it is most used in politics. Usually it is employed to focus on something that people fear, or to cause them to fear something. That’s an effective way to do things because fear is a very powerful emotion. It can quickly focus a person’s attention on a problem and get quick results. But those results are most likely to be limited, partisan and selfish.

That’s not so good if you’re trying to get positive progress in a society. Fear is negative and when it is used extensively as it is in our society it causes division, suspicion and other negative emotions that are harmful to the society. That is where Mother Teresa’s approach of always putting the emphasis on the positive makes sense. If our attention were always focused on the positive, we would be much more likely to make progress that is positive and for the good of all.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A few things have happened lately that have turned my attention to how we, people, regard things. A lot of that depends on how things are presented to us. We don’t normally pay a lot of attention to that. Perhaps we should. For instance, guns, or the unfortunate use of guns, has been in the news lately. As a result, we have a rather large debate going on about the pros and cons of guns. How do we control guns? How can we legislate against guns; should we legislate against guns? Should we concentrate on types of guns that are most harmful?

There is one thing common about all these questions. In all them, the emphasis is on guns. Whether one’s inclination is to condemn guns or defend them, the emphasis is still on guns. The same is true for other issues such as drugs. Both those who profit from drugs and those who are against them concentrate on their existence. I recall the quote from Mother Teresa in which she said she would not attend an anti-war rally but would attend a pro-peace demonstration. Her emphasis wasn’t on the thing to which she objected but rather on its absence. Mother Teresa understood a difference in approach that may be subtle but is very important. If one wants to be rid of something, it is not a good idea to concentrate on its existence.

Our society does this in the case of peace. We say we want peace but our emphasis as a society is on war. We think of war as an effective means of ridding ourselves of things we don’t want—a war or drugs or a war on poverty are some examples. That is the way such issues are presented to us. This is the way we should approach them, or so we are told. Are we not giving ourselves a problem by concentrating on a means we say we don’t want in order to achieve an end we say we do want? And are we not extending the condition of war in our culture by such practice?

The solution lies in a change of mindset. We have to start concentrating on what we want rather than that of which we are trying to rid ourselves.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Now that I’ve decided it’s spring, I guess I have to stick with it. Even though snow and cold have come back to my little world, I can’t believe that the time of buds and flowers has not arrived. I feel somewhat like the robins I saw yesterday hopping through the dusting of snow that had fallen during the night hunting for—what? Anything they could find, probably.

Anyway, now that I have decided that spring is with me, what follows? Of course—spring cleaning. Tuesday I started on the kitchen, took everything out of cabinets, cleaned the cabinets and their contents and stowed the contents away again. I got that done and a bit more but I still have a lot to do.  I’ll do a little more today and a little more the next day and so on.

One room I hate to think of cleaning is the office. I have absolutely no idea where to store all the things I have in there.  It’s amazing how things accumulate. A number of years ago I got rid of just about everything I possessed. I felt good about that. It was as if a great load had been taken off me. I realized then that the things we own sooner or later turn into things that own us. Since then I have been very careful to not acquire things. Not careful enough. Things I don’t possess become necessary to my life and the first thing I know, stuff collects. And then it becomes necessary to clean it. And store it in space I don’t have.

Oh, well. One day at a time; one room at a time. Sooner or later it will all get done.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Saturday seemed like spring. It was still cold but the sun was shining and there was the feeling that the seasons had changed and the winter was finally over. I wonder if that’s the way birds come to the conclusion that it’s time to band together, take wing and head north. Just a feeling—this is the day, they think. Now today, just two days after that spring-like day, there is snow on the ground and winter has returned. But not totally. Once I get the feeling that spring is really here, it stays with me. I know that no matter what a particular day is like, soon the sun will shine, the weather will improve and flowers and green leaves will appear to brighten the world.

The creatures of nature might be much the same. Once they get the feeling that spring is here, they are not shaken in their trust. They know it will happen. There are some years when it appears they were wrong or at least premature in that feeling, years when robins huddle on branches in snow storms as winter makes its last stand. Even though they appear to be cold and miserable and victims of a cruel prank of nature, perhaps within they are still sure of their decision, still confident of the warmth to come.

Are we that removed from the other creatures of the earth? So often our inner feelings set the tone of our being. At one time we can be miserable in the midst of inclement weather, at other times the same sort of conditions are a cause for elation or wonder. In that sense, we create our own world—or at least our own reaction to the world around us. But isn’t that the most important part of life—the reason for enjoyment, pleasure, happiness or, on the other hand, feelings of being miserable, depressed or just plain sad? I wonder if nature’s creatures are not better equipped than we are to make use of such an ability. If so, are they not better suited to a happy life than we are? Perhaps we are not as superior to such creatures as we like to think we are.

Encouragement/Guidance—see Al-anon
Mellow Mike
Writing groups
Other people’s decisions. Corollary—trying to ascertain another’s state of mind. Assume.
Light bulbs
First drafts
The Box

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

St. Patrick’s Day has passed with the same unfortunate results as often occurred in past years. It seems that the weather around the good saint’s day becomes unpredictable. Snow, ice or another sort of storm is not uncommon and many times in my experience plans for celebrations have been modified or cancelled. That happened last night. A number of us had planned our celebration  for the day after St. Patrick’s Day but the covering of slush that occurred during the daytime and the low temperatures in the evening changed our plans. Many who had intended coming backed out. Those of us who did come had a good time, but it was not what it should have been.

That caused me to think back over the many St. Patrick’s Days of past years and I remembered a poem I had written a long time ago. It’s not a great poem by any means, but it has stuck with me all this time so I’m going to post it today. It will serve to extend last night’s celebration a little.

It was near St. Patrick’s Day about fifty years ago that I saw an article in a magazine about Ireland. It was titled "The Gentle Green" and featured a photo of green fields leading down to a small Irish town. I liked the phrase “The Gentle Green” so I wrote this poem to honor the coming Saint’s day of that year. I never did anything with the poem so I suppose this is its debut. Anyway, here it is.

The Gentle Green

Walk softly, walk softly
upon the gentle green
that wanders down to Shannon’s shores
through Tulla and Cusheen.

Walk softly through the Kerry glens
and through each Connacht glade
for there beneath the Irish soil
Irish hearts are laid.

Walk softly through the fields of Mourne
where wee folk take their ease
for there the songs of Erin rise
to travel o’er the seas.

And Brennan stalks the moor again
O’Falloan makes his plea
and warriors tell of battles done
and battles yet to be.

And Irishmen in far-off lands
hear tales of toil and woes.
They hear a patriot’s warning
to all of Ireland’s foes.

They hear of war and famine
and a blue-bedecked caubeen
and life and love and laughter
in a land they’ve never seen.

And Irish hearts are lifted
and lofted far abroad
to rest among the mountains
on ancient Irish sod.

As on the hills of Cavan
the purple heather thrives
the gentle green of Ireland
lives in Irish lives.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It’s snowing again. A couple days of nice weather and we’re back to the winter weather advisories. Disappointing. But it is good to see the days remaining light longer—promise of things to come. Today is a bit unique, periods of rain interspersed with periods of falling snow.

I’m sorry to say I did my annual spring thing this year—again. I totally forgot to turn my clock ahead when the time to do so came around. I was saved by being an hour late for my day’s activities by an email that came to remind me of the national “spring forward” custom. Unfortunately, the reminder came a bit late to be totally effective and I was twenty minutes late for my fist event of the day. That happens every year. I suppose I’ve never really grasped the need to change time, if that is, indeed, what we think we’re doing. I believe we think we are controlling time but I think it's more that the sun is controlling us.

In reading this over, I am reminded of a characteristic of mine and that is how much I am controlled by the sun. I wake up with the dawning of the sun and tend to get sleepy when it disappears for the day. I get up earlier in the summer than I do in the winter and I’m more alert and active on sunny days than cloudy ones. The influence the sun has on me was made very evident on one occasion years ago. I was at a party one night and had stayed quite late. It was about 2:00 AM when I left and I was scheduled to be in a town sme 130 miles away later that day. I decided to skip trying to get some sleep for I knew I would have a terrible time getting up and on the road later. Instead, I began my journey immediately over country roads with which I was familiar.

All went well for a while and then I began to get sleepy—really sleepy. I felt it was foolhardy to continue on that way, so I pulled over in a small country town, leaned the car seat back, settled down and went to sleep. When I awoke it was still dark and I was still tired, but when I pulled out of the town faint rays of dawn shone in the east. In a short time, the sun lit my world. I immediately woke up. It was fantastic, as if the returning light of day reached inside me and activated a corresponding luminescence within me, lighting every corner of me being and bringing energy and awareness with it.

Ever since that experience, I have been aware of the influence of the sun upon me. And so I like long summer days of light and warmth and I rejoice in spring and feel rather sad and melancholy in the fall. Spring overflows with new life, not only that which emerges from the warming earth but that which is created magically within me. It’s especially evident today, with sunshine alternating with snow showers. I feel that somehow the suns is in a contest for supremacy and is, bit by bit, winning the battle. It fills me with a sense of wonder, waiting and watching for the new adventure and discovery that I feel will come my way. I feel that way now, and spring has not yet begun.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Another week of no posting on the blog. This is getting to be too common. It’s not that I haven’t attempted to get something written. It’s simply that there is always other writing that is more important for one reason or another. The blog, though I like to post pieces there, seems to come last and therefore not get done.

Now I have some time, an hour or so to write and nothing of more importance than the blog so I shall write a small post. But about what shall I write? I have no particular subject in mind as I sit down at the computer. There are many times that I have heard people talk of having writer’s block—not being able to think of anything to write. That is possible, but I think it’s no excuse for not writing. If one has “writer’s block,” then why not write about having writer’s block? One can write about how writer’s block feels, what might have brought it on, what is the root cause of it, what one has found to bring the affliction to a conclusion—the possibilities are endless. The consequence of this may be a very interesting little piece and the writer might learn something in the process.

So, since I have no particular topic that is of greater importance, I shall write a little about writer’s block and/or related matters. The first thing that comes to mind is the subject of the muse. Muse is defined in my little dictionary as: a poet’s inspiration; a goddess presiding over one of the arts. When a writer cannot think of a subject about which to write, he or she can claim to be deserted by his or her muse.

There might be more to this than meets the eye. The writer’s problem is that he has no ideas. But from where do ideas come? Are they generated totally by and in the mind? There are writers that claim their ideas and their writing come to them from outside themselves. I have read of the same thing said of people in other fields. Where do they come from? Good question. It would take a lot of work to try to answer it, if it could be answered at all. The easiest thing to do is dismiss the question, consider it impossible and be done with the matter. That saves a lot of trouble and protects the subject of intellectual property. Without that concept considered to be a reality our economy could be in danger. And we wouldn’t want that.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

This is the first chance I’ve had to write for the blog this week. There has been too much to do. I think I’m busier now that I’m retired than when I was working. I’m not complaining about that. I was talking yesterday with a man who is also retired. He, too, is keeping busy. He has many interests that afford him activity, relaxation and, most important in his estimation, fun.

I wrote a piece about that years ago, based on a conversation I had with another retired gentleman at a lunch counter in a five and ten. (There were such things back then.) He too, was quite satisfied with his retired status and found many things to keep his interest. As the man said, he hadn’t had so much fun since they “shipped him off to kindergarten.” I don’t want to repeat that entire piece here. The part I want to make is the conclusion I drew from that conversation: the gentleman didn’t just find things to like in his retirement; he found things that were more to his liking, more that he could make his own. He was in contrast to many who work years at a job thinking only of their retirement and then, when they finally reach that stage in their lives, find that it doesn’t match their expectations. The man in the five and ten probably enjoyed every stage of his life. He simply used retirement to enjoy life more fully.

That man, I believe, probably was closer to living in present time than most people. I’ve often thought of animals living in present time. They seem to. Dogs and cats I’ve been privileged to know appeared to be interested in the present more than the past or the future. They thought about food when they were hungry, thought about going in the car-car when the opportunity presented itself, thought about welcoming someone when that someone arrived. People, on the other hand, being more intelligent and sophisticated, or so we suppose, have the ability to think about both the past and the future and place more importance on one or both of them than the present. That, we feel, is to our credit and our advantage. I wonder if that’s really true.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I finished the first draft of a novel the other day. First drafts are usually unsettling for me. I read them over and have mixed feelings about them—parts I like, parts I don’t like. When I try to arrive at an opinion of the overall piece, I fail. A friend of mine expressed that situation very well several years ago. “When I’m writing a piece,” he said, “I feel it’s the greatest thing in the world. When I read it over later I think it’s a piece of crap.”

I suppose that’s the reason for first drafts, and second and third. Nothing’s written in stone. It can all be changed as needed. The trick is to find out exactly what’s needed. Another friend spoke of writing for newspapers, something of which she has done a great deal. In that line of work, she said, one edits as one goes along. There is no time for drafts. In a way I have come to write like that, editing, changing the text as I go—as I’m doing in writing this piece. When I finish the piece, it is pretty much in final form. A read-over provides for some changes and that’s it—the piece is done. That’s the way I’ve come to write for other longer pieces as well. Still, I find that if I let a piece I’ve written sit a while and then pick it up again, I inevitably find ways it should be changed, ways to improve it. That piece I’ve written in that “newspaper” style is a first draft.

Why is that? Good question. Perhaps it goes back to the philosophy of a poem never being finished but only being “abandoned.” Once one goes back to it, rescues it from its “finished” state and reworks it, it is no longer the same and becomes “finished” in its new form. There are both advantages and dangers in that. Obviously, it would be possible to never “finish” any piece of work. One’s file would bulge with unfinished work. Either that, or with only one piece that never moves beyond the working stage. 

Another danger is how and what gets changed. It’s possible to improve a piece by change; it’s also possible to ruin it. It’s possible to simply overwork a piece, destroy its freshness and spontaneity. Yet, I have read of prominent authors that have exhibited first drafts of their work, pages that are scratched over and changed to the point of the original document being unrecognizable.

The answer, I feel, lies somewhere in the middle of all these do’s and don’t’s. And somewhere in the midst of that lies the secret to good writing. There are advantages in letting a piece age—not only on the paper but in one’s mind. Perhaps part of the process is simply the fact that I, when I am looking over my first draft, am not really the same person as I was when I wrote it. I have changed, hopefully for the better, and can now look at the piece with a fresh viewpoint, one that will notice errors and correct them, that can add a new slant that gives more meaning to the piece of writing and, at the same time resists change for change’s sake.

At ant rate, I will post this on the blog today. It is finished for the present. I’ll have to let the piece sit for a while and look at it again after several weeks or longer. I’m sure I will want to change it then.