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.

Monday, February 4, 2013

I’ve been writing a series of articles, three so far, on peace cultures for a newsletter at my church. These cultures, twenty four in all, are covered in a website called Peaceful Societies, These are existing societies that are peaceful, that is, they have little or no conflict within their societies and avoid conflict with other people. This is unusual in the world today. There is a great longing for peace in this world and yet it remains illusive. For that reason I thought it would be worthwhile to find out how these peaceful societies manage to exist and capture that peace. What characteristics do they have that other non-peaceful societies lack?

In comparing these peaceful societies, one with the other, I found a considerable range of difference, indicating that there are a number of ways to achieve peace. Yet there are enough that is common to all of them to make it possible to draw some tentative conclusions. When I have finished the articles—about three to go, I estimate—I hope to be able to characterize what makes a typical peaceful society. Then comes another question: does the average nation of today really want to be peaceful?

The disturbing fact that comes to light in the process of reading about the societies of the website is that all of them are looked down upon by their neighbors. Most of them are small, simple cultures existing with few possessions. They are not the ideal of any modern society and their peaceful existence is not enough to interest any modern society in joining them. The modern society regards other things as being of greater importance.

Which leads to a question: despite all our posturing about wanting peace, are we, a modern society, that interested in peaceful living? We say we are but if we had peace, would we want to maintain it? A clue to the answer is the fact that many peaceful societies in the world have been destroyed by more advanced societies or nations that considered the possession of land and the pursuit of riches more important than peace. Most of the time, the more advanced civilization was so interested in selfish pursuits that it didn’t even bother to question what it was it was destroying or even admit that it was doing so. Evidence exists of the fact that such advanced nations still operate in that fashion, our nation included.