Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving and Other Thoughts

 I'm sure glad I gave the blog the name of "Let's Try Again".  With such a long blank spell, nothing else seems appropriate. Here I am, trying again, thanks to some friends who urged me to take a message written about Thanksgiving and use it as base for a blog post.  With a few modifications, here it is.

I’ve been down a bit the past few days with what seems to be my annual bout of bronchitis.  Friday we went to a walk-in clinic just a mile from here and saw a physician.  Yesterday, after beginning the prescriptions, I am feeling much better.  As my Dad used to say, “I’m able to sit up and take nourishment.”  That phrase was always used whenever he was asked how he was doing.
I read the Thanksgiving messages from several folk, and thought then about contributing, but fell asleep again and never got to writing.  Here’s my tuppence.
Thanksgiving is strangely both a religious and secular holiday.  Some theologian once said that if all you ever say is thanks, that is enough.  It’s a time when we take a little time to reflect and realize how fortunate we really are and be thankful.  As with New Year’s resolutions, there really doesn’t need to be a special time set aside to be thankful or resolve.  Both should be done regularly.
In the US, there has grown a sort of tradition of having families together for Thanksgiving, and it’s the most heavily travelled time of the year.  It is also a holiday that doesn’t lend itself to easily to selling, though there is some Thanksgiving sales.  Unfortunately, Thanksgiving has been squeezed by  “Black Friday” sales promotions.  And fortunately, I have an organizational wizard for a wife, and we will not have to venture near a shopping center before January.
I like the quiet feelings I get when I’m aware that there is so much that I have to be thankful for, and letting the grateful part of being whole move over me.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and one I try to extend past the fourth Thursday in November.  I’m not always successful,  but when I do take the time, it makes me feel good to be thankful at non-special times of the year.
Marrianna always starts Christmas decorating the week-end after Thanksgiving.  This year, with the grandson and family coming for Christmas, she has been planning for a lot longer.  Today she has begun pulling stuff our of storage, and she will have it all decorated in a short time.  I’m relegated to helping with some of the high stuff and with helping get the boxes down.  And with that, it’s time to get on it.  Y’all take care.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Quotes That Made My day(s)

I like to read quotes that make me pause to consider their message, and recognize that they've changed me is some way, that I'll never be quite the same again.  Recently two quotes, from vastly different sources have had that effect.

The first was used several days ago by Felix Grant on his blog "The Growlery".  I'm stealing his quote, including citations.
A healthy artistic climate does not depend solely on the work of a handful of supremely gifted individuals. It demands the cultivation of talent and ability at all levels. It demands that everyday work, run-of-the-mill work, esoteric and unpopular work should be given a chance; not so much in the hope that genius may one day spring from it, but because, for those who make the arts their life and work, even modest accomplishment is an end in itself and a value worth encouraging.
  • Gough Whitlam, Prime Minister of Australia 1973-4 (requoted from Germain Greer's The Obstacle Race. 1979, London: Secker & Warburg. 043618799X.) And requoted here from "The Growlery".
This quote immediately brought to mind my wife, Marrianna, an artist.  She is neither genius, supremely gifted, or a run-of-the-mill artist.  Her modest accomplishment is that she has recently sold three of her paintings, and not only does that "make her day", but mine as well.  It's always nice to think of something she has done gracing someone else's home.  Her accomplishment is not modest in the amount of pride we feel, but is definitely a result of a value worth having and encouraging.

Marrianna is how I learned the second quote.  She works the newspaper's Cryptoquote, Soduku, and crossword puzzles every morning.  This morning she called out the solved Cryptoquote.
"There is no distance on this earth as far away as yesterday."  Robert Nathan
That struck me as particularly interesting, and I went on a Google trip to Wikipedia to learn more about Robert Nathan.  The quote is referenced in the Wikipedia article, so I followed the link where I learned more about him.  Nathan was an prolific author and poet from early in the 20th century.  Several films were made from his novels. Interestingly, one film, "The Bishop's Wife", starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven was remade more recently as The Preacher’s Wife, starring Denzel Washington.  I'd be interested in watching both versions to see how different people portray the story.

The quote reminds us that the past is as far from us as the future.  But is it true?  I immediately thought it was, but as I've pondered it through today, I wonder.  If we allow yesterday to be so distant, we lose a certain amount of self understanding.  On thinking about it, I don't like the idea that our yesterdays are so far away.  While I don't live in the past, and would not if I could, I surely recognize that without yesterday, I'd be less today.  I need yesterday to be all that I can be today.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

It's Not A Blog If You Never Post

The name of this blog is a reminder that I was a blogger before, in Thinking Through My Fingers, and was going to try again to be a regular blogger.  It's easy to see where that has taken me, nowhere except months of no posting.  Yesterday I wanted to post about a book I read, and couldn't even remember how to get to the page for composing a post.  Today, I'm one step further, I've found the page, so there is hope.

I did write about the book in an email to friends.  With changes to take out references to the friends and a few editorial changes, here is what I wrote.

Several weeks ago I included in a post an excerpt of the book “The Beautiful Struggle” [Ta-Nehesi Coates, 2008, Speigel & Grau publisher].  I hadn’t at that time read the entire book, but knew it was beautifully written.  After a friend wrote that she was reading it, I went out and got a copy.  I finished it this morning.
Years ago, decades - when I was in my 20’s - I wanted to write a novel of very short excerpts of hundreds of people’s lives around the world at one moment and try to show how they affected one another, knowingly or not.  I never had the skill to try then, and today I’m glad that I didn’t try.  Some photographer, years later, had a similar thought and had thousands of people around the world take photos at the same time, or as much the same as possible.  I thought it was an amazing effort, but I thought the book he produced failed.
Ta-Nehesi Coates’ book points out to me how poor my effort would have been then, and would be, I believe, for any writer, no matter the power of his skill.  Coates opens an entirely different world than any I could have imagined.  My book would have been an unreal vision of people very much like myself.  Coates reveals people very different, people whose lives I could never have been able to understand, much less write about.  And if such a different world existed in my own country, how would I ever have been able to portray a culture different from what my small mind could conceive anywhere?
It is the power of Coates skills that brings the people of The Beautiful Struggle to life in words.  It is also immensely satisfying to read of the feelings of a young boy and be able to recognize very similar feelings in myself as I grew up.  In another world altogether, a small town in northern Ohio, I was an outsider, floating somehow through a world I didn’t understand or feel a part of.  But there our similarities end.
Today Coates writes for The Atlantic magazine and a blog on their web site.  I’ve seen him on discussion panels on TV.  I’d like very much to read a connecting book about the time between the end of The Beautiful Struggle and today.  For me it would be equally interesting.  But, I’m thankful for this book, and thankful even more for the opening of the possibilities of very different worlds, cultures, and life that I hadn’t been aware of.  It is that new awareness, even if I don’t understand, that I am most thankful for in this book.

Years ago, when stationed at Charleston AFB, SC, I had a barracks roommate who was black.  This was in 1958, and many of the struggles of blacks to gain their freedom was yet to come.  He was from New Orleans as I remember, and had a very aggressive, angry attitude.  I could never reach beyond or understand his anger, and as a result we were continually in each others face.  After reading Coates I begin to see portions.  Why that experience comes back now is interesting in itself.

I want to consider that for a while.  I've a small story I wrote about an experience in Charleston that may illustrate more about my feeble trying to be at least aware of black people's problems then, and I may pull it out and post it here.

For now, however, I'm grateful that I've begun posting.  Now perhaps I can become a blogger again.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Art With Poetry

Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure and honor (to use a phrase usually accompanying a speech introduction, but certainly appropriate here) of attending The Joyful Jewel's second annual Vision and Voice: The Marriage of Pen and Palette.  Marrianna is one of approximately 90 artists that display in the gallery.  Some of her work is shown on the gallery's site. 

As the introductory blurb on the gallery's web site says, "The Joyful Jewel invited writers of all ages and levels to come to the gallery, pen in hand.  They perused the gallery to see which piece of art, jewelry, or craft would inspire them.  Presentations will include the Writer Artist, the Visual Artist, and the Art!"  One writer chose a painting by Marrianna as her inspiration.  Artists and writers presented their works, artists showing the painting that inspired the writer as the poem was read and speaking of what inspired them to paint that work.

Though a few had, most of the artists and writers had never met each other.  I knew a few artists, but none of the writers.  I was surprised how many of the artists, speaking after the reading of the poem their work inspired, said that the writer had exactly captured the meaning they intended, a couple saying that the poem "nailed" it.  It's possible that they said that partially from politeness.  Who knows, and it isn't important.  There were some poems that I could not fathom how the writer's poem could possibly have come from that particular work.  There were, however, a few poems that spoke exactly the same message I got from the art.  What all that that says about me, the art, or the writer is irrelevant.  Perhaps because of the tension between art and words it inspired, it was an interesting afternoon.

There was a lot of very nice art, and it makes me particularly proud that one source of inspiration came from Marrianna's work.  Her style is unique, and her use of color a joy to behold.  Though perhaps biased, I think she is among the top artists in the gallery.  There are other very good artists, some of which I think are simply fantastic, Florence Johnson for example, but none use color better or are better artists.

Pittsboro is a small town about which is said, "You can't swing a cat without hitting an artist."  I think in this instance artist is meant to include all forms of art and craft, including writing.  Only  one writer's poem impressed me enough to seek her out after the show.  She's Michele Tracey Berger, and she writes a blog about creativity.  Speaking solely from hearing her poem yesterday and a brief perusal of her blog, she is talented and certainly well qualified to write about creativity.

I enjoy days like that.  I think it's stepping into a different frame of reference, a new perspective, that makes life interesting.

Monday, March 12, 2012

It Wont Let Me Go

I've been quilting most of the morning, and as usual my mind had been churning through thoughts completely unrelated to quilting.  I've tried to press on but, as the title suggests, the thoughts wont let me go.  As a result, here I am writing without having much idea about what to say.

The problem is with a novel I began reading last evening after 11:00 PM, a very late time for me.  I was only able to complete two chapters before I gave up and went to bed.  Even then though, the book wouldn't let me go.  I know I was awake thinking about the second chapter for at least an hour.  I should have got up and read until I finished it.

The book is "March", by Geraldine Brooks [2005, Penguin Books, New York, NY].  Usually I wouldn't write about anything after only two chapters, but this one grabbed me.  It must have done the same for quite a few folk; it's a Pulitzer Prize winner.  The premise, interesting in itself, is that the story is told by Mr. March, husband and father of the women in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women."  In that book, he is away during the Civil War, and this one tells us where and why.

I'll not try to retell the story.  I've come upon it late and since it is a 2005 Pulitzer winner, I suppose many, if not most, have already read it for themselves.  I want to tell of the sense of shock, merged with some shame, of the cruelty of the slave owner, Augustus Clement.  I am born and, mostly, raised in the South, and as such am the recipient of many wheelbarrow loads of embellishments about slavery and how they were treated in those times.  In the stories of my youth, slaves loved their masters, and masters cared for slaves' health and welfare.  I've known that wasn't a complete story, but until recently did not try to inform myself of actual conditions.  I credit Ta-Nehesi Coates blog on The Atlantic for beginning the process of informing me that all those rosy tales of the South were mostly BS.  Ms Brooks is also teaching me in the early chapters of her novel.

In my last post, Quilting Thoughts, I wrote mush that seemed to be asking why folk in the 1600-1920 didn't rise up against the injustices of their time.  In comments, published and private, Felix wisely reminded me that in many cases they had no choice.  It's obvious that I am hopelessly ignorant of why people act as they do.  It takes shock to show me how awry my conceptions are.  I'm very grateful to Mr. Coates, Ms Brooks, and friends that have helped me to begin to see.  I'm anxious to contrinue reading March and to learn more that Ms Brooks has to teach me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Quilting Thoughts

Obviously, regular posting has not been a priority recently.  On the other hand, I have been quilting almost daily.  I'd like to post here equally as regularly.   I meant to, but haven't done the work that is required to make it happen.  I like quilting, and find my mind cruising through many subjects as I quilt, and if I wrote something each day that I think about, I would be here much more often.  What I need to do is to somehow note whatever I'm thinking about at the quilting table, and when I move to the computer desk I'd have an idea formed for a subject.  A small jog note would do, but as I quilt I haven't taken the time to make that note.

This morning as I worked at the quilting table, a TV program that my wife and I watched seemed to be the topic of the morning.  The program is Downton Abbey.  We enjoyed it together, though Marrianna probably more so than I, and that difference is subject for this post.  What makes me uncomfortable watching programs showing wide differences of class and fortune?  I think Season One was better then Two.  Two became more of a soap opera that should be on afternoon TV, and I think when the Season Three arrives that will be even more accurate.  But that's not my subject.

In programs such as this, I usually identify with the servants much more than the "upper class."  I never watched Upstairs/Downstairs because I knew that about myself.  Also, I've not seen the current Movie "The Help" for similar reasons.  I just think the "help" was being taken advantage of in the entire book/movie.

I watched "Who Do You Think You Are?", another TV program ripped from British TV  (wait for it - I'm going to link this somehow to the announced subject.).  This program is largely an advertisement for, but I've become interested in watching people explore their ancestors.  This past week, the singer-actor Reba McEntyre searched through her mother's ancestors.  Her sixth grandfather arrived in America at the age of nine in the late 1600's, an indentured servant.  Over time he became a landowner, and the family prospered after that.  Reba wondered how the child's father could have let his son leave at such a young age, so she went to Britain to get more information.

I don't recall the gentleman's name whom she met, but he gently explained to her the facts of life in Britain in the late 1600's.  The boy was almost certainly better off as an indentured servant than he would have been in Britain at the time.  And here's where we get back to the subject.

I've often wondered why there weren't more insurrections.  Servants and feudal folk seemed to accept their life much more than I would have thought they might.  When the only solution is to essentially sell your nine year old son into what is essentially slavery, with a possible out when, and if, he reaches 21, seems to be a terrible, unbearable system.  Watching Downton Abbey's servants seem to accept their status as late as 1920 seems strange to me.

But how am I different?  I spent almost 21 years enlisted in the Air Force.  The officer-enlisted class system is equally as divided.  I accepted the differences then, and I'm sure there are almost the same now.  I never felt the impulse to complain, though there were times that I absolutely knew that I was being discriminated against because I was enlisted.  Back then, I couldn't even buy life or automobile insurance from USAA because they didn't sell to enlisted folk.  They do now, but in the 60's when I needed it, no.

I suppose I realize that there are always going to be some levels of class differences.  It isn't pretty, but it certainly exists.  I've not often pushed against the barriers, and I suppose it seems strange to be wondering why they exist now.  Maybe I should just stick to my quilting and let others change the way we all interact with one another.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Required Traits of Our President

I don't often think about what " We the people" require of those who we elect to be President.  Earlier this week, though, I was reading Ta Nehesi Coates' blog, as I do almost every day, and he referenced an article by James Fallows in the March issue of The Atlantic, "Obama Explained."  I read the entire article, printed it and re-read it.  It's long, 22 printed pages, and very interesting.  The entire article is well worth reading for its in-depth discussion of President Obama's first three years.  I am still digesting that.  For this post, however, I'm primarily interested in what we require of our president.

The traits Fallows lists that are required of a President were impressive.
Presidents fail because not to fail would require, in the age of modern communications and global responsibilities, a range of native talents and learned skills no real person has ever possessed. These include “smarts” in the normal sense—the analytical ability to cope with the stream of short- and long-term decisions that come at a president nonstop. (How serious is the latest provocation out of North Korea? What are the “out year” budget implications of a change in Medicaid repayment formulas?) A president needs rhetorical clarity and eloquence, so that he can explain to publics at home and around the world the intent behind his actions and—at least as important—so that everyone inside the administration understands his priorities clearly enough that he does not have to wade into every little policy fight to enforce his preferences.
A president needs empathy and emotional intelligence, so that he can prevail in political dealings with his own party and the opposition in Washington, and in face-to-face negotiations with foreign leaders, who otherwise will go away saying that this president is “weak” and that the country’s leadership role is suspect. He needs to be confident but not arrogant; open-minded but not a weather vane; resolute but still adaptable; historically minded but highly alert to the present; visionary but practical; personally disciplined but not a prig or martinet. He should be physically fit, disease-resistant, and capable of being fully alert at a moment’s notice when the phone rings at 3 a.m.—yet also able to sleep each night, despite unremitting tension and without chemical aids.

Ideally he would be self-aware enough that, in the center of a system that treats him as emperor-god, he could still recognize his own defects and try to offset them.
 That is an impressive list and one Fallows says no real person has ever possessed.  I think he has a good description, but I'm not sure it's one no real person has ever possessed.  In fact, it is likely that the person who would desire to be President pretty much automatically disqualifies him (or her), especially "his own defects and try to offset them."  That last phrase would probably trip every one of them.  There are, I believe, people who have every one of these traits, and also have the wisdom and self knowledge to know that the job of President is not a place for them.  In other words, the desire to be President, in and of itself shows that the person is too ego-centric to fulfill that last qualification.

That said, for me President Obama has more of the desired traits and qualifications than any President I can recall.  I think probably in the modern days of the Presidency, Truman was as close as anyone to having all the traits, but then I was only six when he was thrust onto the Presidency.

Anyway, it is interesting to think of what we require of a president and then how quickly we lose faith and confidence when he doesn't exhibit every one of our requirements.