Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Optimist, The Pessimist, and The Realist

The optimist sees the half-full glass, the pessimist the half-empty. But who is right? Obviously both, says the realist. "I'm not being (optimistic/ pessimistic), just realistic," is often said, for both the optimist and the pessimist would prefer to be thought of as a realist.

I have no quarrel with either optimists or pessimists who own their ism. But I do have a quarrel with so-called realists who believe their rose-colored perceptions against all evidence, and with cynics who refuse to see anything positive in a situation. I think realism is often invoked unrealistically as a mask for cynicism.

Optimism, pessimism, and realism alike are inherently flawed by being only mental constructs, predictions for things that have not yet occurred. But of the three, only realism is not based on hope or fear, but prior experience. Only realism is patient enough to await outcomes and evidence before proclaiming what is true.

But realism isn't always easy to adopt. It often requires a willingness to give up some deep-rooted prejudices and preferred beliefs, and it can make one vulnerable to all kinds of slings and arrows. It's harder, I think, to be realistic than to be either optmistic or pessimistic. The rewards, however, can be greater than the risks, and ultimately it is the stance that will put one on the most solid ground as a general outlook on experience.

The truth is what actually happens, what really is. But it is not always simple or easy to apprehend, and definitely not easy to perceive by everyone the same way. Truth is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Neatness and the Muse

Who was it that said something about a cluttered desk indicating a busy mind? Was it Marx? His desk was always piled high with his papers.

I've always gotten messy when I'm the busiest, working on a project or focused on a task. And I've observed that most people I know to be Oscars are very busy doers. They make new things. Those I know to be Felixes, on the other hand, tend to be dreamers. They don't create many new things but battle to keep the status quo in perfect order.

My normal modus operandus is excessive--probably compulsive--neatness. I hate clutter. I tell myself that it's just a matter of efficiency: when things are out of place or hidden from view, I can't find them easily. My grandfather must have passed this neatness gene to me, because he always said, "There should be a place for everything and everything in its place."

But I recognize that neatness per se doesn't help me think or imagine better. When I clear my desk and put away my projects, I feel a certain sense of control returning but don't have any new ideas; all I've done is restore things as I remember they were. So I've concluded that at least in some cases, things strewn all over means that someone is busy, and whoever made the mess needs the mess in order to do what he or she is trying to do. I guess that when we create, we make a mess.

Ironically, I try to tickle my muse by endless tidying and straightening, and it never works. The more orderly things are, the less I'm inspired. I wonder if this is just me or there's some relationship between neatness and creativity.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Merry Christmas. Now Get Out of My Way.

December days go by faster than any other month; I can't believe it's the fifth already. In South Florida the month from October 24 when Hurricane Wilma struck through Thanksgiving crept along as slow and punchdrunk as the traffic, halting and crawling through lightless intersections like refugees through a minefield.

But the Thanksgiving through Christmas month seems by contrast to be a free-for-all worthy of the Amazing Race, a blur of traffic whizzing around all over the region from dawn through midnight every day. It seems that everyone is out and about at once, and unlike the post-Wilma slowdowns, no one stops. No one can. Once someone leaves the driveway, there's nowhere to park!

Courtesy is the first casualty of the shopping season, with the crush of stressed shoppers pushing, shoving, and grabbing the disappearing merchandise of video games, ipods, perfumes and purses with the same feverish panic they snatched up pre-Wilma food, ice, water, batteries and generators. Perhaps "Peace on Earth, good will to men" is more than just a Christmas ideal; perhaps it is also our feeble attempt to apologize for all the aggravation we created since Black Friday.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Heroes without wands

So this generation's literature has discovered the mythic story and probably feel they invented it. In the Star Wars sagas, the Lord of the Rings, Medieval romances, and even the Harry Potter series that combines coming-of-age petulance and shifting sympathy with heroism, prophecy, wizardry and magic, we have clearly rejected social realism in favor of the epic romance. And those escapist big epics have proved well-matched to quantum leaps in technical innovations and the big screen.

I'm all for it. There's nothing wrong with having heroes, even the fantasy variety. Every generation has its idols. But it's interesting that today's generations seem to need to turn to fantasy to find them. It seems to me they do so only because they do not find them in the societyat large. They are not evident in their entertainers, their political leaders, their religious leaders or their inventors, scientists, sports figures or writers or academics anymore. And curiously, they used to be, and in abundance.

Oh, to be sure, all fields have leading figures. But none, evidently, inspire admiration or a desire for emulation or imitation by the young as many did before. Ask the young whom they admire, whom they would like to grow up to be like, and you will probably get the name of some current singer or actor or athlete, but none of any career length or history.

I have little doubt that the events of the world will eventually inspire a new realism in the culture and the return of real heroes. I don't know from whence they will emerge, but I think they will most likely result from a re-emergence of the family. I think that the stable family is a necessary precondition to molding solid character and values and instilling the kind of knowledge and creative imaigination, strength and endurance that can lead to the kinds of heroic achievements younger generations will want to emulate.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I'm betting Dumbledore's death was faked

I think Underwear Ninja's right: Dumbledore's not dead. Remember, his faith in Snape was unshakeable, he immobilized Harry so the latter couldn't interfere on the tower fight, he didn't stop Malvoy despite the fact that he probably could have, he called for Severus, and especially this: once Snape zapped him point blank, he tumbled over the wall and presumably ended in a crumpled heap on the ground, but we never saw him clearly. Then Hagrid covered him and carried him at the funeral. But we never really saw the confirmation that he was (sniff) truly deceased, never-coming-back gone for. Remember, he was the greatest wizard, and he left many secrets.

I think the Snape-induced "death" of Dumbledore was part of a plan to draw out Lord Voldemort and force his hand, make him reveal his plot prematurely. Surely at the right moment, Albus Dumbledore, or at least his still-potent spirit, will reappear to help Harry foil and destroy the dark lord, and Snape will be shown to have been Dumbledore's most trusted accomplice, justifiably so.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Time and the River

Writers have a tendency to think that the collective response to what they write will be evident soon after they publish, like reactions to speeches often are. But curiously, I have seen more visits to my postings on this site since I stopped writing to it than during all the previous weeks when I actually wrote those posts. Writing hangs around, sometimes for quite a while.

I'm not posting as regularly these days as I did last summer and early fall. I'm not sure why that is. I thought it was because I got pretty busy after Hurricane Wilma with cleanup, then with catching up with my classes once we resumed our semester. But I now believe that's not the sole reason. The fact is, I may be getting tired of it. Clearly my mind's on other things these days.

I can't imagine I'd want to quit doing it, but I'll never do it from a sense of obligation. I'll blog when I want to express something, just as I wrote regularly in my longhand journal when I wanted to set down something. And these days, my attention is on action more than on reflection, on doing what I need to do each day.

However, from writing my longhand journal for three decades, I'm certain of one thing: I'll be back. I'm a writer, and writers can't help ourselves; we must write. We have our dry spells and our blocks, but we never can ignore that imp in us that compels us to set down words and ideas for long. Maybe that's how we come to realize that we are writers.

We may write little of consequence or even of sense, but we will write something. Similarly, I know I'll continue to write my longhand journal no matter how much I also post to my blogs. Neither can replace the other, any more than I could stop thinking to myself because I say things to others, or vice versa. I realize that I will probably always do both.

What I can't predict is when I will do either.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Oops, I underestimated Wilma

This time I was overconfident, I'm afraid. My pre-storm Wilma post below was too lackadaisical and incautious. But I like to sound off, so I did, fully anticipating watching yet another tropical storm or hurricane get everyone here all keyed up for nothing much, as has happened many times in recent years. Last year's Jeanne and especially Frances got my attention more than usual, but did little damage other than mess up a few screens and topple a big ficus. But this time I erred badly, not believing Wilma could get pushed by a cold front clear across South Florida as a category three and really blast us in the southeast eyewall. There for awhile our turbulence reached over a hundred miles per hour, tore up our screens but left our frame and house undamaged, and of course toppled another obligatory huge ficus. But our place is one of the luckier ones and least affected. Many neighbors lost parts of roofs, twisted off screen rooms, and other damage similar to tornado strength expectation. Wilma was a major hurricane at category three and did major harm, but a category four or five clears whole neighborhoods down to the slabs and kills many people. We had under two dozen fatalities statewide, mostly from trees falling on drivers and those foolish enough to venture out during the storm, or run generators inside their garages or houses.

I won't write here about experiencing the storm itself because I've done that already on nbknotes.bloghi.com, my other blogsite.

But the aftermath is always worse than during the storm itself. During the hurricane, one hunkers down and just prays and hopes to physically survive. But there's another, possibly more difficult struggle to survive both physically and psychologically in the storm's aftermath. After a couple of days, people get desperate to recover their power, their food, water, and ice supplies, their phone, internet, cable, fuel, and other familiar conveniences we think enable our very survival. For me, the hardest part is standing in long lines as the stores reopen, and playing the driving game to find available gas without running out of what fuel I have in the tank. But I'm not typical. A natural worrier, I tend to overstock everything beforehand and never fail to board up before it's too late, move the cars away from anticipated falling trees and heavy tiles, secure all loose patio and lawn items, etc. And I fill our tanks before the general panic sets in and the buying frenzy starts. I stock up on batteries, propane, portable radios and handheld tv's, even the internet-capable phone I can use if nothing else works (till the celltowers themselves shut down after about twelve hours--they run on batteries also, or generators which themselves run out of fuel).

This time we were truly incommunicado. The backups to our backups failed to work; the infrastructure itself was basically destroyed as power substations blew out all over the place and the grid failed. For once we actually needed to use the supplies we'd always hoarded, and it's a good thing we'd overprepared before.

I don't know what it is about these storms that makes them seem to have a vengeful mind of their own. They always seem to sneak up on us from the Caribbean and Lower Gulf instead of coasting gently across the Atlantic under the steering bulge of high pressure known as the Bermuda High. They usually come from Cape Verde, rolling off the African coast like so many bowling balls, circling the Atlantic Basin usually northward in a wicked curve and smacking North Carolina, missing Florida entirely. That's the typical pattern and the one we were used to, till this season. We always feel sorry for the North Carolina folks but glad it hit them and not us, and that's our usual attitude toward whomever else gets in the paths of these storms--until New Orleans got hit by Katrina. That affected us. That was too much bad news for one region to bear. With Wilma forming and possibly headed for New Orleans like Katrina did and Rita almost did, I spoke with many who said they'd rather Wilma came here than hit NOLA with another big one this year. We were more used to them and more prepared. Without levees to flood us (except at Lake Okeechobee) we could probably handle a hit better.

Well, we got our chance to show off, didn't we.

These storms are vengeful. And the worst of them seem to seek out the biggest population centers to include in their stike path. Wilma was really greedy; she didn't cross our peninsula in a nice lateral swipe but swept in at Naples just low enough to mess up the Keys for the umpteenth time this year, blew across the Everglades and smacked right into northeast Broward County where we live, then curved right up the coastal communities: Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, all the way up to Ft. Pierce and Vero Beach again. Six million without power, just like that. FPL promised to get us all back online by November 22.

Well, we're thankful it wasn't worse, thankful to be safe and not too badly shaken, thankful for our family who sent down food and water and a chainsaw to clear up our debris, thankful we're beginning to return to normal little by little each day. The local, state, and federal authorities know how to bring us back from the brink with scary efficiency, and they do a fantastic job overall. I think there's an in-your-face attitude we have when storms strike us; we'll show you guys in the rest of the country how to cope, by golly. Nobody mopes around down here. Everyone works like a bee tirelessly to clean up and recover, and people basically even help each other. Our neighbors on both sides let us share their generator power and keep our fridge cold. The newspaper never missed an issue, even though its flooded presses made it necessary to print the paper in Orlando and ship it down here. Maybe our cockiness finally caught up with us this time, but I suppose we won't learn very much that will change our behavior. We aren't chastened, I'm afraid. We won't change. Foolishly, we are almost confrontational even to Mother Nature, and almost dare her to do her damndest; we can take it and bounce back fast. It's not wise, but it's the way we are here.

There is, however, a strange phenomenon even down here that moderates people's behavior after shared disasters. I call it "disaster manners," in which we tend to treat each other just a wee bit more courteously than normal. I saw it after 9/11, and I've seen it after every hurricane. We don't confront each other in stores and intersections as much, don't honk each other into insanity at burned-out traffic light corners quite as much, don't crowd and cheat and steal each other's stuff quite as much after we go through a shared disaster. It's like a timeout on rudeness. But I'm sure that as the power returns, stores reopen, supplies abound again and life returns to "normal," our usual brazenness and chutspah will return, our chip-on-the-shoulder behavior, our petty parochialism and basic unfriendliness will return to full strength, and our "disaster manners" won't be seen again till the next blow.

Under all the bravado, however, is a sense of shock and depression for many. I talked to a neighbor today who said he cried when he lost his favorite big tree in front of his corner home, and was just so depressed. There's real grief, no doubt about it; it's in people's eyes, on their faces. They still smile, but sadly. We got hammered. Not as bad as New Orleans, but pretty bad. I don't think I'll see many easy smiles or hear the usual bad jokes around here for quite some time. I think we're undergoing the sequence of genuine grief, whether we admit it or not. We prided ourselves on the beauty and attractions of our region which drew visitors from all over the world, and now much of it has been devastated. All our false bravado can't fix that; only time and patient recovery efforts. And to tell the truth, I think maybe we could even benefit from a little humility and reconsider the things that really matter.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

wilma-schwilma, la-di-da

If I don't have time to blog now, I never will. Wilma spins on the tip of Cancun poised to be picked up by the jet stream and slung at us like a slingshot tomorrow or Monday. Hey, okay. Let's get it over with. We're as ready as we'll ever be here in South Florida. Let's just go on and savor the new record we've now set with the nonthreatening Tropical Storm Alpha off Puerto Rico, having run out of alphabetical storm names for the first time in history.

This morning while I watched my neighbor across the street cover his windows with sheets of plywood, I mowed and trimmed my yard. That's a pretty stupid hurricane preparation, but it made me feel good. I like to have a tidy lawn before things get messy. It's a psych thing, like my wife's compulsion to clean and tidy up the house before we go on a trip so that we won't return to a messy house. But it's okay to live in. Some people take fine robes and slippers to motels with them so they won't be embarassed if there's a fire in the night and they have to step outside. Heaven forbid they'd be turned out clad only in their pajamas! And heaven forbid a hurricane would approach our property if it weren't properly mowed and trimmed. What sort of homeowners would we be!

As with several other storms this season, Barb's off again on Monday with school cancelled. I doubt my college classes will meet either; Wilma's due here late Monday. We've stocked up our supplies: the drinking water, the batteries, the flashlights and extra foods, the games to play if the power goes out, the backup power converter so I can shave with my Norelco from the car battery if I must, and charge the portable appliances like our cellphones. After twelve hurricanes here since June, we know the drill, and it's hard to get very pumped up for it yet again.

I think we're beginning to think of these dangers as a normal part of living here. not that unusual. As the Chambers of Commerce and Realty agents will insist, South Florida is really quite a pleasant place to live, after all--oh, except for that one little matter of the no-longer-so-occasional hurricanes which come through and try to destroy everything we have and kill us. Otherwise, it's quite nice. And pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

a blog is very like a rope/tree/brush/house

Remember the fable about the blind men trying to describe an elephant? The first touches the animal's leg and proclaims an elephant is like a tree. The second handles the trunk and proclaims a rope. The third, the tail/brush. The fourth, the side/wall.

That's what blogging seems to be, if we read what others say it is. There seem to be as many definitions as there are bloggers. But whatever it is, it's still something that is available today that has added an important dimension to my daily awareness and enjoyment, not possible until very recent times. I haven't figured it out yet and don't claim to understand it in depth, and I'm curious why that is. If I'm not blogging on any number of trial host sites (I try to stay with the free trials as much as I can), I'm probably thinking about it. It is fascinating. I think about it constantly. It's unlike any other forum for expression I've encountered before.

There's something organic about blogging, I think. What I'm writing now isn't anything like what I started out to write last June, when I thought of blogging as simply an alternative journal to my longhand one of thirty-plus years. Initially I thought it would be a place to discuss writing, my first love, with other shy journalers. As it has turned out, though, it has become more of a place to test whatever ideas and interests cross my mind, whatever their topic. And it surprises me what I find to say, and what others say who read it, most of whom write their own that I read also. I don't have the sense that we're a community of writers, and we're certainly not shy. I have the sense, however, that we do share something. Maybe its our common fascination with the medium itself, the wonder at its potential and ease, its instant communication worldwide, and its total, marvelous freedom not even to be found in print publication.

Blogging takes on a life of its own, and a shape of its own, partly because the writer knows it is read by others--and sometimes commented on by others. It's not the same as an ongoing chat or message board, exactly; but it does, due to its self-monitoring and its own directories and engines, have an interactivity that channels and invites its posts, tempts the inclusion of keywords, and prods postings at regular times so that it doesn't languish. It seems to need to breathe to thrive, and each post gives it a new breath.

Each site and each host has its own adherents and members who develop a unique identity, and each blog has its own focus and character. I'm amazed how much individual creativity I've found even in the few hundred I've visited, and there are legions of others. It seems unbounded, limitless.

I like to understand things and to categorize things; and to do that, I seek clear definitions. But with so much variety and imagination out there--most of it engaging and valid-- what, exactly, is a blog? I wonder. Perhaps it is very like a rope, tree, brush, house....

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

the right side of the glass

I retired from fulltime teaching four years ago, and I've never regretted it. But I still love to teach, and I've stayed with it part-time. Fortunately I left my university in good standing, so I've gotten invited back nearly each semester to pick up a class or two. Some of my colleagues have suggested I come back full time; flattering, I tell them, but no thanks. I might miss the classes and conversation, but I wouldn't miss the meetings, paperwork, and reports that are an increasing part of every teacher's job today.

After lunch today I found a big, deep-cushioned armchair across from a glass wall and sat down to jot down some ideas. It wasn't till someone went through the glass doors in that wall that I heard a familiar sound from the past: the entire fulltime faculty was meeting on the other side of the glass in a large conference room, and as the door swung open, I heard an administrator giving a report.

As I peered through the opened vertical blinds behind the glass, I recogized many of my former colleagues, dutifully listening to the speaker, and for the first time my retirement really hit home to me. They were in there and I was out here. We both did the same thing, but they made probably about ten times more salary than I did for the same work, because in addition to the teaching, they had to attend meetings, advise students, and do reports and tasks that I, as a part-timer, no longer had to do.

It made me think. I could have been in there with them, on the other side of that glass wall, as I had been every year at one college or another for thirty-five years, as a professor, department chair, division chair and finally dean, for seven of them. But did I miss it? No, not a bit. Not the meetings and other tasks outside the classroom, and certainly not the committees and reports, phoning and planning problems resolution. I realized how much I love ideas and respect learning, love to teach, but do not love to practise the professional responsibilities of a fulltimer, and I was, and still am, happy to be on the outside looking in.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Oh Bury Me Not in a Shoulder Tote

I've been in a time warp, I guess. We're flying to New York next week (our first flight in eight years), and our usual auto trip luggage has to be reconsidered for today's air travel. Barb's baby blue Samsonite train case won't survive it: after thirty years' use, it's chromed clasp flips open sometimes as we carry it by the top handle, and all the lipsticks, nail files, hair rollers and dryers, toothbrushes and q-tips, shampoos, conditioners, mouthwashes, toothpastes, soaps and other essentials it organizes in its two plastic trays go clittering and clattering across the walk or stairs. So I wanted to get her a new train case, and we went to the luggage store at the local mall to find one. It was the first time I've been in a luggage store in about a decade. Things have changed.

I thought at first I'd stepped into the back-to-school store. Gone were the racks of neat rows of hard-shell suitcases and trunks, valises and leather briefcases I'd grown up with. In their place were basically shapeless canvas backpacks and amorphous gym bags with wheels. When I checked their attached pricetags, I learned these were not just children's school backpacks, which might have cost ten or twenty dollars. These were luggage. These cost hundreds of dollars.

They sure looked like backpacks though. Or gym bags. Or a Claus Oldenburg stuffed typewriter or soft cheeseburger. The only thing vaguely resembling a suitcase as I remembered one was a two-hundred-dollar Samsonite, bright red fiberglass shell (also with wheels), and there were no train cases anywhere. It seems that to replace the train case, we were supposed to buy something they called a "shoulder tote" instead, which looked like a canvas covered small gym bag with shoulder straps. Most models began at about seventy to ninety dollars.

The designers of these bags had seemingly gone to some lengths to convince the user that its single interior breadbox of space was the perfect place to organize all a lady's essentials. It had removable dividers, elastic loops in neat rows for pencil-shaped objects like toothbrushes, eyeliners, and lipsticks, files, and trimmers; and it also contained plastic tubes, transluscent zipping plastic compartments, and zippered nets all around the sides for items too sundry to categorize or capture with the loops. Some models of totes unsnapped into an impressive descending cascade of panels like a booklet of postcards and had a small hangar at the top to fit over a doorknob, where the cosmetic cascade could be deployed to greatest effect and the user could hope to find what she put where. It would probably be impossible, in fact, to find anything in its closed, travel position. I wondered what she would do if she just wanted to reach for something. Would she have to stand and, holding the hangar overhead with one hand, fling the accordioned panels down to their full length to see them?

We looked at many makes and models, but we couldn't make up our minds, despite the pricey tag prices and the advice and helpfulness of two salespeople who sensed our naivete, between a small laptop-case sized object called The Essentials and a larger model called the Elite. We bought them both, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that they were both deep-discounted at the register.

In retrospect, I think I agree that soft-sided shoulder totes and extended-handle, wheeled luggage units of today make more sense than the awkward, heavy, hand-carried boxes and trunks of my day and the fiberglass clamshells of my wife's, which were forever banging into our bodies and making bruises as we rushed through terminals and garages. These shapeless blobs of our contained possessions with which we clothe ourselves and make ourselves presentable to the world as we travel, pack and handle better as workers heave and cram them into cargo hold heaps and scatter them across stainless revolving pickup wheels. They don't hurt as much when we bang into each other with them, and they are more pliable as we hoist them into overhead compartments and cram them under seats. And somehow they feel more "organic" and comfortable overall.

The new luggage, like the new looser-fit, baggy flight clothing we watch Amazing Race contestants like Amber and Rob, Uchenna and Joyce, Meditith and Gretchen (we identify the most with them at our age) rush around in, makes travel more comfortable; We're looking forward to using it and probably getting some more in the near future.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Saturday, September 10, 2005

It's the most wonderful time of the year

It's autumn, my favorite season. How would I know, living in South Florida, that fall has arrived? The first few years of living down here since 1976 it was hard to tell, but Florida does have changing seasons, all the way down to the Keys.

The angle of the light is subtly changing, and the sun rises a minute later and sets a minute earlier every day. The summer heat begins to give way to slightly cooler evenings, and the vegetation changes a bit.

But even after thirty years in SoFla I still miss the northern blaze of leaves falling and the crisp, cool northern air. In any event we still celebrate the buildup of holidays through the fall months: the Halloween trick-or-treaters still bang on our door here as in Indiana, the Thanksgiving turkey or ham is still the best meal of the year, the crazy Christmas shopping frenzy is just as spirited in our balmy super malls as it is in the heart of New York City, and we still go out and bang our pots and pans with spoons at midnight on New Year's Eve with the rest of you. It's just a little warmer outside.

Just a little warmer, as in, maybe by then some of us have the windows open instead of running the air conditioner, and open up our doors to our patios. It's too hot and humid to enjoy the patio until about November, but from then till the humidity comes back in May or June is really prime time for playing Trivial Pursuit under the covered porch, lazily swinging back and forth on the swing, or just talking in the dark and watching the stars.

Autumn is the time for doing that. It begins the nine months when our steam room region becomes a veritable paradise, and the snowbirds begin coming by Thanksgiving and don't leave till next Easter. It's where we would be, possibly, if we could get away from a northern residence; but we're already here and comfortable with what we have.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina showed us at our best and worst

Such a range of emotions we feel watching the horrors of Katrina's destruction and aftermath! The anxiety of life-threatening forces as the storm approached, the shock of its intensity, the fear as it unleahed its fury, the pathos of imagining the suffering and loss of life and property throughout the region all ran their course in our minds and hearts.
Then we saw the results come in with the emerging day: the unbelievable devastation and two-story deep debris, the flooded cities, farms, towns and parishes, then the human suffering: hundreds swept away and gone, thousands more clinging perilously to life wherever they could gain footing or hang on till help could arrive. We saw a thousand stories of heroism in a day. We saw the best of our humanity, over and over.
Then we saw the worst of our evil within as the gangs of looters rampaged freely through homes and businesses, openly battling with weakened police authority, taking whatever they could get or wanted with no conscience or remose whatsoever. Without electric power as people opened up windows and evacuated, opportunists moved in and helped themselves.
Today I was in tears as hundreds tried to locate missing loved ones and described to CNN where they were last seen, many not to be seen again. Has anyone seen my husband, father, mother, son, daughter, or other loved one? He was in Biloxi, New Orleans, Gulfport, Metarie, or any of a hundred other places the last time he called me Sunday. He was afraid to stay but couldn't evacuate anymore; it was too late. He would hope for the best and try to ride it out. Can someone please tell me where he is and if he is allright. No phone. No cellphone transmission. No power. No food. No water. No safety or authority possible to serve or protect. No way to communicate, even no computers or internet!

We have established a society that is nearly paralyzed with dependency on our utilities, our oil and gas, our government systems. When something happens to us, these help us recover. But Katrina overwhelmed our backup as well.

I watched tired governors struggle to try to brace their citizens to endure, to hope, to help each other survive, and to try to keep from crying on camera. The usual bravado of "Help is on the way" was shown to depend on support and emergency systems that were clearly overmatched by the enormity of the task. It seems like total societal breakdown, but the worst of our behavior does not go unobserved, and neither does the best.

As bad as Katrina's devastating tragedy is, there are benefits which can result from it if its many lessons are taken to heart and respected. It showed us our weaknesses and our strengths on many levels as few events have in recent memory.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Katrina wasn't a "minimal hurricane" to scoff at

Hurricane Katrina didn't follow the usual script for a late August, rather sudden storm. It was forecast to maybe make landfall as a minimal (74 mph+) hurricane and proceed due west across Florida, then curve north in the Gulf and probably hit the panhandle area or the semicircular area we call the Big Bend, on its way up through Georgia and the Atlantic Seaboard.

TV weathermen called it "a wetmaker, not a windmaker" and said not to bother putting up the shutters this time. They talked about the "clean side of the storm" on the south half and "the dirty side" on the north half--the idea that the most intense rain, lightning, tornadic activity and wind is usually on the northeast quadrant. Those on the south side wouldn't be affected as much.

Katrina didn't study that diagram very well. She consistently showed her worst mannered tantrums in her south to southeastern quadrant and remained pretty quiet in her northern half.

The storm moved steadily due west as though heading straight into Ft. Lauderdale, but at the last few miles veered sharply south toward the Broward/Dade county line, made landfall officially at Hallandale, and curved down further toward Miami and her southern suburbs, then traced U.S. Highway One clear to Key West. The Florida Keys are an archipeligo that start south but arc due west; if one drives it to the end during the afternoon, one can drive straight into the sunset.

Due to Katrina's quirky gyrations, residents of Miami/Dade County finally got to claim some legitimate damage, after some greedy opportunists soaked FEMA with last year's ridiculous claims and got caught. (Last year being an election year, the government rushed in to ease Miami's pain when there wasn't any and paid out millions in bogus damages.) This year the same people who filed false claims a year ago may need assistance for real, but I'll be surprised if FEMA rushes in with the same enthusiasm to dole out the money as fast. It's too bad. Miami's southern suburbs truly got soaked by Katrina, as much as sixteen inches of water in a few hours, flooding many homes and businesses. Many will need help for real this time.

In any case, Katrina is now a category two storm and threatens to become a three or higher before making landfall again, much further west than was originally forecast, now possibily in Louisiana or Mississippi. With seven deaths related to the storm at this hour over Florida alone, and major flood damage and loss of property, it should put an end forever to the idea that a category one hurricane isn't a big deal. It is, after all, a hurricane; by definition, it is more intense and potentially damaging over a wider area than a storm or rainshower. "Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst." It's a saying we SoFla residents live by at this time of year.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

always my worst subject

As a high school English teacher I always heard "English? Geez, that was my worst subject." Once I was stopped by a cop on the local N&W crossing, and heard it again as he quizzed where I worked and what I taught. Later, having taught English and Humanities in college most of my thirty-seven years before retirement, I heard it so often that I came to expect it.

I still teach English part-time in retirement, and have one Composition class scheduled for this fall so far. But today I was also invited to teach an Art Appreciation section, using my doctoral training in art, music, and architectural history.

No matter: when I told my nurse at the doctor's office I would be teaching this fall and she asked "English?" I nodded, but added "And art appreciation as well." "Art Appreciation?" she scowled, "Ouch! that was my worst subject!"

Sunday, August 21, 2005

layers

Beneath reality's image is a masterpiece only art can reveal.

"Have something to say," she advised.

I have kept a handwritten journal for nearly four decades, and seldom written outside its confines at all until I began this blog in June. With summer vacation beginning, I became fascinated by what the host sites were saying about blogging and its freedom to be anything its author wanted it to be, to say whatever one wished. Many thousands if not millions were keeping online journals, organizing thoughts, fantasizing dreams and writing laundry lists, for private or public viewing--whatever they wished-- with more jumping on the bandwagon every day.

At last, I thought, I can write freely and share my ideas with others! I thought the blog would quickly displace my cloistered personal journaling and end talking just to myself forever. It seemed perfect: there was no need for manuscript submission, pesky editing or revisions, restrictive style conventions or market guidelines. There were no anxious waits or delays for acceptance or rejection; publication was instantaneous, free, and guaranteed! Suddenly whatever I uttered was available to the whole world! It seemed like the perfect forum for my most random interests and ideas. Surely I would never feel like writing longhand in my personal journal again! Why bother? All the advantages were with the blog. Just as my journal had effectively ended my manuscript submissions, blogging would end my private journaling.

But I had forgotten something. There was a reason why I had begun my handwritten journal. At the time, I couldn't finish a bad novel I'd written about fifty pages of and wanted to figure out why. I thought that was my reason for writing notes to myself: to understand my writing better before committing to another ms project. But that wasn't the reason. The truth was, I felt that I had run out of things that I wanted to say to others. And this morning I feel somewhat that way again. Experience has shown me that it will pass, though, and I'll rush once more to post something that comes to mind.

Edith Wharton once said that to write well, the writer must "have something to say." But often, I find, I do not. So what to say then? Post that I have nothing to say? Absurd. I've thought a lot about the Wharton admonition and decided it has significance only if qualified: have something to say to others. Although often in blogging I have no sense of ideas begging to be said, that almost never happens in my handwritten journal where my words, it seems, never cease.

My reluctance to post whatever comes to mind here as I'm used to doing in my journal tells me I am acutely aware of the otherness of readers, whether one or a few, legion or only imagined. Some bloggers seem to be able to blurt out whatever they feel and to rant and rave as though to themselves here, as though blissfully unaware of others possibly listening. I cannot. The only venue I can do that is in my handwritten journal, and returning to it often is a liberating feeling. There, I can talk about my family; not here. There, I can talk about my personal affairs; not here. There, I can curse and pray, meditate and free-associate, get as maudlin' or silly as I want to, or as serious and reflective. Not so here. Maybe in time I can bring that freedom here, but not yet. I still feel the need to be polite and mind what I say--that is, when I "have something to say," and not just something to think. Somehow having the means to tell others whatever one thinks doesn't necessarily mean that one always should.

Friday, August 12, 2005

you can hide, but you can't run

It's my second month anniversary here at Blogspot today. Thirty-five posts, four comments, about a hundred visitors I think (who knows, since they turned off the stats?) and about as many profile views. I hesitate to say it, but posting here is starting to feel like putting a message in a bottle. In an odd way I feel like I got more reception and feedback from my handwritten journal which I at least knew no one was reading. Was that Blogger.com homepage shutdown on the 10th the next step to restoring stats? I notice the Known Issues in Help and the Buzz no longer mentions the problem.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

who bears the divine image?

As a former humanities professor, I was always fascinated with depictions of the Diety which artists had imagined over the centuries. Some early Medieval artists painted a flying old man in the sky, a Zeus-like figure with flowing white hair. Later some artists showed a hand sticking down from a cloud. The Old Testament (Genesis) says that man is made in God's image. "But which man?" I asked my classes. "Which of us looks like God?" One student answered, "All of us." Good answer. I wish different societies and cultures, religions and political parties could recognize the unity of our human condition on this planet instead of trying to claim superiority for one point of view or another, one race or creed or another. What we share is far greater than what we do not.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Flurry. Surrey.

Marv and Bert rode through all of Wyoming and most of Colorado in silence.
"Okay, let's play a game," Bert said. "I'll say a word, then you say whatever it reminds you of."
"Okay, go."
"Alright then, Veronica," Bert said.
Marv thought a moment. "Harmonica," he said.
"Why'd you say that?"
"Rhymes with Veronica."
"Hmm. Okay, but it doesn't have to just rhyme. Let's try another. Veronique."
"Huh?
"Ver-oh-neek," Bert enunciated.
"Unique," Marv responded.
Bert regarded Marvin for some time. "Verona."
"Pomona."
No sooner voiced than Bert was all a-twitter. "No no no! You're just rhyming. You can say anything in the whole English language, but you're just doing nursery rhymes. See-saw Marjorie Daw." He shook his head from side to side.
Marv suspected he was being mocked. "Hey, what about you?" he said.
"What about me?"
"Why do you just keep saying 'Veronica'? Who's Veronica?"
"I wasn't."
"Were so."
"Wasn't."
"Were."
"Not. I also said 'Verona,' like Two Gentlemen from Verona."
Marv thought a while. "Okay, now you try it, smart guy: persimmon."
"Richard," Bert shot back.
"What? What does 'Richard' have a bat's ass to do with 'persimmon'"?
"Richard Simmons, get it? The exercise guy on tv?"
Marvin groaned. Silence seemed the lesser evil as they crossed into New Mexico.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Hello, fellow travellers

Oh what the heck, maybe a new post will get me out of the dumps. Hi there, everybody. Welcome to my blog. It's a tentative thing still after nearly two months and 34 posts--still not quite sure what I want to tell the world. I could say life is beautiful, and it is, or life is lousy, and sometimes it is that also, or--but why say those things? My life is mine, your life is yours; you have as much right to describe your own as I do mine, and no doubt your own blog to do it in, which I will visit if you happen to comment. Otherwise I will have no idea who you are, since your visit will just show up as a hit. But that's okay. Bloggers don't have to sign guest books, thank goodness, at every site they visit.

You and I have something in common though: we're both here at the same time on the same planet. What a coincidence, huh? And we're both people. And even if we're on opposite hemispheres, we both think and feel and try to live our lives as well as we can, and try to accomplish what we can, and love some things and hate others. And we both like some people and maybe not others so well. And we both got into this craze called blogging, for whatever reasons. I wonder if it will last, for both of us.

Did you know that over ninety percent of new blogs are abandoned by their authors after just a few days? according to one host. That's a pretty brief commitment, isn't it? Sometimes I think I'll just walk away from this one, but where would I go? For many of us, blogging is the only place we can vent and rant the way we want to and publish it--and maybe even have it read. Nobody's going to buy it or publish it elsewhere.

Well, that's my 30 for now, fellow travellers. Blog well and prosper.

Monday, August 01, 2005

sometimes I say exactly what I don't think

I don't understand why I sometimes say the exact opposite of what I think. It's not that I change my mind; I still believe the same thing, but I do sometimes say the opposite. Maybe I don't want to believe what I do, or I think that if I say something enough, I'll begin to believe it.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Time to look forward.

Thinking about August now...too late to salvage July's follies. New month, ding! turn a new page. Hope abides.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Roaming in the Gloaming

We don't hear the "gloaming" mentioned much anymore, and most people probably wouldn't know what it is today. It is the evening. It is that lavender, graying, dimming last light of the day after the sun has set. It is mosquito time. It is the time we put aside our work and sit on the porch or go for a bike ride or walk, the time we talk to each other. So I offer this walk and talk in the gloaming of this last Saturday in July.

My parents knew a song called "Roaming in the Gloaming" I can still hear them sing with others their age. Singalongs, believe it or not, were one of the main activities of adults before television and movies, computers and dvd's entertained us. The adults would get together in clubs or church class potlucks, socials or fairs, and someone would lead them in songs everyone seemed to know the words to.

During such singing I was invariably mortified because my dad sang loud and sang off-key. So I would slink down in my seat, avoid eye contact with my friends, and hope no one would notice, but they always did. Even worse, I inherited my father's vocal talents, so I sing flat also. But I inherited perfect pitch as well--probably from my mother's side--so I know exactly how flat I am, but can't seem to correct it.

Why blog about this gloaming? Well, it feels good sometimes to pass along a fond time or memory. My youngest son says he loves the evenings best--his favorite time of day. I usually like it, but I hate late afternoons, from about three till five or six. That late slant of golden light is the most depressing thing to me for some reason I don't understand at all. But once the gloaming arrives and the sun sets, all is well; and with the coming of night I always seem to get excited and filled with a renewed zest for what adventures await.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

thinking, perceiving, feeling, and blogging

Some may remember the heyday of Citizen's Band radio, when everyone began trying out mobile chattering with whomever they could reach with their five-watt units. We'd drive down the road or down the street calling for a "Radio check" and excitedly thank anyone who'd respond "Ten-four good buddy". But beyond that, we didn't really have much to follow up with, unless there was an accident or traffic backed up and we'd try to locate information why.

That's how I feel after a couple of months of blogging. I don't have that much to say in this summer heat beyond "Hey, hi there, whoever you are." There seems to be an inspirational lull. Maybe the national oven has cooked our thinkers. I could tell you about Great Aunt Suzie out in Saskathewan, or growing up in a house full of music lessons and antiques, or how I went from a piano bar entertainer to an English teacher, professor, and college dean I suppose. But then I'd have to act like one, and that wouldn't be fun anymore.

No, I think today I'd rather blog about thought itself. I think a lot, and I write a lot, and I write a lot about the nature of thinking and the nature of writing. But last night it occurred to me that in blogging, when people say in effect, "here's what I think...," the reader needs to understand that what the blogger is really saying is "here's what I'm thinking at this moment, about this subject, and I reserve the right to think something entirely different or even opposite if I come to see it differently." In other words, there's a difference, often, between what someone says he or she thinks and what that person really believes. And so far as believing goes, that can change also. What we think is true depends on many things, not the least of which is our own set of prejudices and perceptions, genetic predispositions, experiences, education and culture.

People change, and people change their attitudes. So if someone's saying something peckish or ridiculous, annoying or downright stupid, don't be too quick to cut it to shreds. Chances are the author of most things we say in blogs wouldn't want to bet the farm on it being one hundred percent true himself.

So why say something, you might ask, if you don't believe it? Good point. Maybe we should be more careful what we put out there. But maybe we blog it to see what our own reaction will be to it when we read it ourselves, or to sharpen our understanding of how we feel about it, or to get a sense of our own fallacies by seeing it set out in words instead of just revolving around in our heads.

I know in my case, when I begin writing about something--especially something I feel negative about--I have to get it all out for several paragraphs or pages of spewing and grousing before I begin to sense that I'm full of it, that I don't believe what I'm saying at all, and that in fact I may be deluding myself about the whole discussion.

People are complex. We don't always know ourselves as well as we think, and don't always believe what we say or say what we believe. My point is, that's okay; we're human. We're not done learning, and we're not always right. So we need to give ourselves the right to change our mind when we face new evidence and not cling too much to just what we want to be true. At any given point, we have to leave the possibility open that we just might be wrong.

Thoughts are based on perception, and perception can be off. Haven't you gotten all worked up about something only to find out that what upset you in the first place wasn't true? But you thought it was, and one idea piled up on another, and pretty soon you were really upset. What's worse, the very feeling of emotion your mistaken notion generated in you became self-justifying; you know you're angry, therefore there must be a valid reason why.

People promote the idea that one should trust his or her instincts above all else, rely on your feelings to determine what's true. In one way I agree, especially if something that seems logical just doesn't "feel right," no matter how good an argument can be made for it. But I think that our reason is a more reliable indicator of what's true. It's less biased by emotions and prejudices than our feelings are, and it's a distinctively human ability. Most animals can feel emotions, but they can't reason very well. People can, and should.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

way too tight

Way too tight. Got to loosen up, loosey goosey. Something about the contrasting, Delta colored layout makes me formal, I guess.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I want to be a Dolphan again

When is that indefinable moment when summer switches to fall? Is it as early as July 4? For me it was today. Probably had something to do with the news that Ricky Williams is returning to our Dolphins.

I love to watch Ricky run and hope he gets a thousand plus yards even after his suspension is over by game five. I don't think he would have walked away last year if it hadn't been for then-coach Wannstedt's overusing him the previous seasons and getting him pretty banged up. It was really selfish for a coach to put an offensive player in a predictable position and expose him to injury.

But Ricky may not find much friendliness among the teammates he abandoned to a miserable season last year without him. He's not blameless and he knows that, and I expect him to try to make amends on and off the field and try to regain some of the respect he had from fans, teammates, and opponents alike.

I don't know why the Dolphins seem to go out of their way to rehabilitate troubled players. Over their recent history there have been dozens of them. Obviously the answer is the team thinks it can benefit from their skills, but I can't support a team of thugs and bullies, even if they can win.

To me it's a matter of honor and pride. I know, I know, every coach and fan will tell me winning is everything, but I don't see it that way. I want to win as much as the next guy, but I can only support a team composed of players and coaches--and owners for that matter as well--that play fair and obey the law, promote decency and don't beat their wives and girlfriends. I live here.

I also believe in second chances, and I admire new coach Nick Saban for using some of his new skipper capital to give Ricky and several other previously-troubled players a chance to prove themselves under a new banner. The test, however, will be what he's willing to put up with if the beneficiaries don't clean up their acts and change--off the field especially, no matter how great they play.

Friday, July 15, 2005

why is blogger best?

Don't even try to use a different blog site. There may be a thousand of them, and you may find several you like the features of, but none of them will work when you try to edit the html or do something a little custom or out of the ordinary. You'll get errors or crashes galore, or ads sneaking in, or very little stat information, or no more syndication than blogger offers through Weblog.com plus Ping-O-Matic you can set up yourself. (Don't check Weblog.com if you use Ping-O-Matic.com; you're probably already pinging them through your Blogger.com settings, and you'll get snottygrams for trying to ping them too often.) And forget their so-called help menus. I thought Blogger was stingy with how-to help, but after trying about a dozen others, Blogger seems encyclopedic.

I can't find any other blog site--free or paid--that offers more features than Blogger, except maybe some that show rudimentary, anonymous stats; and you can do better with StatCounter.com's free stats that give much more information for tracking your hits, if you're into that.

In fact, I can't find any other blog site that lets me do anything different than I can right here, and these templates look better, input better, load better and offer more than any other free site I've found, ads or no ads. And you get a good, easy-to-remember URL with your subdomain at the beginning instead of in some weird formula at the end.

As for getting crawled and indexed by the search engines, Blogger's being owned by Google doesn't mean you're going to get botted any sooner than you would on noname.com. But it's no better elsewhere, trust me. Those hits are in-house, pal (if not your own) no matter where you spatter your ideas into the void. Best chances for traffic building seem to be a good quality, attractive homepage and lotsa links. Again, Blogger.com blogs offer attractive options and all the link opportunities found on other host sites, and better information on how to do it, and plenty of fellow bloggers you can find through your profile interests to link with.

For all these reasons, Blogger is the best host site going, by a mile. They're not perfect and they're not the best at any single feature, perhaps, but for overall rich features, user ease, reliability and high quality, no one else even comes close.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

sometimes slower was faster

Just got back from the grocery with a few items. I went there on the way home from Kinko's, where I faxed a few more supporting financial proofs to my son's prospective landlord in New York. Kinko's had four fax machines, of which three were offline for repairs, so I had to wait a while, and when I did it, I did it wrong and the lady had to help me. My confirmation also failed, and I had to refax everything. All in all I probably wasted about fifteen minutes before plunking down my fees and going to Publix.

But with my technical challenge of the day behind me, I was in no rush. So it didn't bother me that the poor old lady in the checkout lane was all a-dither over how to run her card through the scanner. "Is it debit or credit?" the cashier asked. "It takes too long to get waited on these days," the lady whined, ignoring or not understanding the cashier. The cashier, with the bagboy, helped her till they got her card (credit) scanned for her small items, and no one got impatient, including me.

I was thinking, that transaction was for that old lady about as frustrating as my faxing was for me. Both of us were being expected to process information on machines neither of us understood, and both of us were being glared at by other customers and staff, who must assist people all day with similar problems. When they're not busy, they don't do it grudgingly; but when they're busy, it's a pain in the rear and they often make one feel pretty stupid.

Before scanners, faxes, computers and the like, the old lady would have asked the grocery store owner for her tea and rolls, and he would have rounded them up for her personally and said he'd put them on her account, and thanked her by name for her purchase. My, haven't we come a long way with our conveniences? Now we're expected to wait for eons while every clerk plays with his or her computer and screen and nothing very good for us happens at all. And lord help us when the machine breaks down or someone doesn't know how to input it efficiently.

On a recent trip I tried to get a room at a Hampton. Three uniformed, attractive clerks were busy talking and computer inputting with phone customers, and I waited till one was free and asked for a room. "Smoking or nonsmoking?" "Your name?" (address, phone, license, vehicle, etc.), and the invariable "How do you spell that?" to which I always suppress the fantasy answer: 'correctly'.

After I spelled out everything slowly and she scanned my card, she played with her screens and keys for another five minutes before announcing, "The computer says we don't have a nonsmoking double for tonight."

For her it was a triumph of technical convenience and service. Just think, she had a grasp of her inventory that was irrefutable. I had been playing games with the three witches by that time for twenty minutes, and now I had a definitive answer at last: "The computer says there are no rooms left." Maybe the folks on the other phone calls grabbed the last ones for all I know, while my vidiot clerk was too slow at spelling my name, phone, address, vehicle info, and credit info on her keyboard. Didn't matter. The computer said no, so that was that. There is no higher court.

Not two years ago most clerks could tell you when you stepped up to a motel desk if they had no vacancy available, if their sign did not, so that at least you didn't waste a half-hour before finding out. We've sure created that "great big beautiful tomorrow" the Carousel of Progress at Disney World touts, haven't we?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

hooo let the dawgs out...

Bumper sticker: "I tried to contain myself, but I got out."

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

traffic and purpose

Remember that movie in which three guys with smalltown angst drag some straight chairs to the middle of the lone road that runs through their desert town and sit there as relaxed as if they were on a front porch, thinking and talking about life and the universe? In the background appears a small, amorphous blob that slowly grows and takes on details, and in time we see (but do not yet hear) a huge semi coming straight at them. The locals seem oblivious and go on talking. At the last moment they lazily rise, stretch, and drag their chairs off the road without even seeming to notice the annoyed horn blast from the big rig as it roars by and dopplers off into the distance. There won't likely be other traffic on the road that day--maybe not for several days or weeks. Though connected to the whole world by a good highway, visits to that anonymous little outpost are as infrequent as shooting stars, as brief, and as unpredictable.

That's my blog traffic paradigm. Once in a blue moon someone stumbles onto my site, stays from one second to ten or so, then skitters away. The odd thing is, instead of one hit, I usually get ten or twenty before they disappear again. And if I get really lucky, someone actually reads something, or even comments.

I've read some good advice on how to increase traffic, much of it having to do with getting linked, indexed and searched, pinged and noticed. Some advises trying to build a consistent voice and high quality content; still other suggests keeping things brief and eyecatching and avoiding long diatribes. It's all good advice for increasing traffic and "stickiness" with eye and mind candy. Entice and please the readers, who are assumed to have short attention span and be most entertained by the most direct, spectacular and sensational imagery.

But is that what I want my blog to be? Is that what an online journal is? Something in me says I should write what I what I want to say, the way I want to say it, and let it find its own form and length. and not be very concerned who, if anyone, notices it, reads it, or likes or dislikes it. There are millions and millions of personal blogs out there. I think that trying to compete with them artificially for attention is a total capitulation of purpose. Personal journaling isn't fiction, after all--unless it panders to readers.

And as far as traffic goes, I'd rather have one or two thoughtful readers a month than hundreds just passing through because my site happened to be in their electronic paths. Those one or two are why I blog at all instead of journaling longhand to myself as before.

Monday, July 11, 2005

imperative

Little belittle.
As adults we buy the toys we always wanted when we were kids, the ones we asked Santa for but didn't get.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

still intrigued, if baffled

After about a month of blogging, I think I've learned a few of the in's and out's of it, but I have to admit I haven't even scratched the surface of what I need to know. And I'm still a bit hesitant to use the public forum it offers for expounding private thoughts and feelings.

What fascinates me most is the variety of hits I've gotten from all over the world and all kinds of people. But I've never been able to account for why they come in bunches, seemingly, and then disappear from the radar for days. Nearly all stay less than thirty seconds, but a few actually scan a few posts and a couple have made very thoughtful comments that have encouraged and helped me. I am fascinated but also baffled.

I also tend to get bogged down in code and tags, pings and techno-babble, and I lost my counter a couple of times, and half my footer, and committed a few other no-no's. At least 80% of my time is still spent trying to figure out what I'm doing.

But the rest of my time I take a breath and just write, which is what I signed on to try to do in the first place and which is what I enjoy most. At such times I get "in the zone" and just listen to the voice I'm trying to say things with, and let things kind of flow, groove with it. At such times I really don't worry much if anyone is reading or not.

I'm sensing that blogging is like trying to pet the cat in the dark; I reach out and she's nowhere to be found. But I don't worry; she's watching everything I do, and she'll find me when she's ready, and I'll feel her brush against my leg. I just don't know when it will happen.

In blogging, as in many other things, there is much to attend to. But perhaps there are some things that need to be ignored as well, if it is to become what I sense it could be: a personal yet public way of thinking out loud. There's something Eastern in it, something kind of zen in this technology, a bit resistant to Western logic.

Cakes and Candles

It's my birthday. Happy birthday to all of us crabs and moonchildren who were born July 10! The secret of longevity, I am convinced, is breathing; simply keep breathing and you can live beyond 100!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

I'll Huff, and I'll Puff...

The National Hurricane Center has predicted another active season this year, but everyone was surprised to find the strong ones forming so early, in late June and now early July, coming up from the Caribbean. Usually our season begins with Cape Verde storms rolling off the African coast and bowling across the deep blue sea toward Florida, which sticks out 600 miles into the warm Atlantic like a headpin.

But predicted or not, Hurricane Dennis howled and flashed and rained in torrents here last night at five a.m. and scared the cat. Its dangerous center will pass hundreds of miles to our West, but its strong tropical force rainbands extend across the whole state. I've seen about a dozen hurricanes firsthand in Florida, including tight, tornado-like Andrew and last year's sprawling Frances, which felled a huge ficus that we had a time getting removed. But the worst one I experienced was the first, David, in 1979, three years after we moved to Port St. Lucie.

David approached while Barb was ten days overdue and knocked out our power right away. It was only a category 1 or 2 storm when it made landfall at Jupiter and came north at us. As the eye approached, we saw our little slash pines bend all the way to the ground in horizontal agony, then came a sudden calm when the eye passed over us and our little trees stood up straight again, confused and dazed by the blue sky and balmy sunshine (yes, we went out in the eye and did all the things they told us not to). But our respite was brief. Within a few minutes all our little pines got flopped over to the ground in the opposite direction and stayed there like a wrestler crying uncle and pounding the mat to no avail against a sadistic adversary.

All in all David was a three-day-plus event, like living in a wind tunnel. Although it was only a low-number hurricane, it was all we needed and more. We don't mess with these "facts of life living in Florida"; they're nasty and messy. But if people use good sense and stay inside, these huge storms' winds don't do a lot of harm in themselves usually, unless one is close to the eyewall; the danger is in the flooding and cleanup accidents after the worst passes, when people do crazy things with downed power lines and tree and yard cleanups, shutter removal, etc., and work themselves into heart attacks and cuts and bruises.

On the fourth night without power we heard the Florida Power and Light truck in the next block behind us, about three a.m., and rushed over in our pajamas to plead for service restoration. Being without power for about four days and using bucket water from our splash pool for showers al fresca on our back stoop in the dark was miserable. But David didn't break our spirits or our health. And our little trees survived and grew aright, and baby Mark was born two days afterward, beautiful and perfect.

Friday, July 08, 2005

it say to write

chasing writing dreams, still retired.
still dreaming retired chases, writing.
retired writer, chasing dream stills.
writing still chases, retiring dreams.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy Birthday, America!

Watching the celebration in Gatlinburg this year with Billy Ray Cyrus at the Dollywood exit. I asked my wife what came to mind when she thought of July fourth. She said fireworks, music, speeches, flags, bunting, etc. She asked me what I thought of. I said freedom. That's the speeches, she said.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

One Must Post

One must post
If one is supposed
To get the host
To hit the most.
But when the host
Ignores the post,
Whom can I toast?
The Holy Ghost?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Hey Googlebug!

Got to get on Google. Hey Googlebug, wheet-wheeeet. Over here! Good boy, nice boy. Suuuuwweeeeeeee! Where are you, Googlebug ole pal ole buddy? Got on Yahoo, so why not you? You da man! Aw c'mon, G., I bin good. Feed me, feed me already.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Gee, maybe I should have called this blog "write across the table" instead of "write to say it." I wanted the name to have something about writing in it, because that's mainly what I wanted it to be about. (The first name I tried, "just about write," which I thought was devilish clever, backfired when I tried to access that url and it returned an x-rated site.)

With no readers now for three days and counting, I'm getting a little discouraged, but not much. I read somewhere that even the most popular blogs seldom last more than two years. And I remember that the reason I started doing it was for the fun of the writing itself. I haven't much control over who reads it, but I can control what I post. I can't control when the post engines crawl it, but I can control how much I post. I can't control whether others link to it, but I can control the content and have fun trying different personnas and genres online. All in all, I'm grateful for the space and the chance to experiment. It's an ego-boosting and a humbling experience at the same time.

The diary without the little lock

Remember those padded-cover teen diaries with the little foldover flap that locked with a key? Maybe they still sell them. I never used one, so I don't know. But those locks were laughable--not even daunting enough to keep out a determined little brother or sister, let alone Mom.

What struck me about them, though, was what that flimsy little lock said: "Private! Not to be read without expressed permission by anyone, and that includes you, Mom!"

But why write a diary just for yourself--or a journal, if there's any real difference? Are there any advantages to writing just to yourself as opposed to writing for others to read? Yes, I think there are. For one thing, it's much easier. Like lounging in your pajamas and slippers, you're completely at ease about what you set down, even if it's peckish, overly dramatic, vitriolic, immature, ungrammatical, misspelled, incoherent, rambling, overstated, stupid, childish, or any other characterization you'd use to describe it, because you can be completely candid. No one will read it but you (if you trust in the efficacy of that little lock, that is). You can truly be yourself.

There's no one to argue with what you say, no comments to consider, no editors to impress, no censorship or libel laws to observe, no toes to worry about stepping on. Your subject matter can be whatever you wish, but it's usually about yourself and your day. Who said what, how they said it, what happened and how it made you feel, and what you might do if it keeps on going the way it seems to be headed. No one will hear you.

You can snicker and curse, confess everything, cry your heart out and laugh till you split your ribs, and nothing bad will happen. The little lock keeps it all inside, tucked away from prying eyes and cruel minds who might take advantage of you or hurt you if they heard the outpourings of your heart.

Further, if you become regular enough in writing privately, you may develop a great sense of freedom, ease, fluency and joy from doing it. You never need to worry about what to say or how to say it; since it won't be read or published anyway, there's no need to edit or revise at all. If you say things you decide you don't mean, no matter; you can chalk it up to your changing moods and go on. Eventually you will probably get to what you really meant about something because it seems to resonate differently as you write it. It seems more true.

So a diary or journal can give you moments of epiphany. You can use it to reflect upon things that happen and better understand what you experience.

In my own experience, journal entries usually began sounding the way I thought I believed or felt about something, but often felt more false as I went on. And in several paragraphs or pages, there would be something I'd notice. "That's not right, that's not accurate, that's not the way it really is," I'd think. And I would dig down a little deeper, strip away the rationalizing and ego props, and reverse my direction. It was as ridiculous to lie to my journal as to try to lie in prayer; who would I be kidding, anyway?

Therefore, I still believe that personal, private writing does have advantages. But it has disadvantages also. I earlier noted here how my journal effectively sealed off my writing for publication, stifled my manuscript writing completely for many years. After a time I lost all interest in trying to write for others to read.

And I also didn't realize that by writing solely for my own reflection for so long, I had lost my "public" voice. What used to be done with conversational ease became a traumatic experience when I first tried to put my thoughts into words even for this blog. I found I had stage fright. I was suddenly aware, My God, someone else might actually read this! For the first time in ages, I felt the need to edit, to revise. I had to force myself to get through that first post (June 12). My mind was filled with imaginary readers.

I didn't know then that it doesn't really happen that way with blogs. Unless you really promote them and play games with link-swapping and spider-baiting, there's no vast readership out there just waiting to pounce on your vulnerability. People have their own concerns and in most cases couldn't care less what a newbie might stammer out. My first week I got 95 hits, but only nine legitimate visits (the other 86 were me, checking and playing with posts and settings).

Those nine visitors all came on June 21 for some strange reason. Maybe I had a popular blog ahead of mine, and rode that writer's coattails onto mine, since they all came from my fellow bloggers at this host site. At least that's what I suspect.

What I noticed most about the difference between writing a "journal" online and writing my longhand journal to myself, however, wasn't only that I lost my fluency and natural ease and have to gradually find my public "voice," but was rather that my content changed drastically. I felt I had no reason to voice things I scribbled unabashed to myself longhand, and really private thoughts, whatever those are, had little place here. No, I decided, I wanted to behave myself more in public, however few that public may be. And I didn't want to bore others with either personal war stories or whines and tattletales. I'll keep those in my "locked" journal, to myself.

No matter what the blogsites' signup pages say about a blog being "anything you want it to be, whatever you want to say, however you want to say it," blah blah blah, I don't think I'll ever write here with the abandon of my journal. How could I? It's not "locked" against being read by others. I suppose I could lock out others and make it completely inaccessible, but what's the point of that? I already have that venue.

So even though I call this an online journal, I don't expect it to replace my private one. What I think I would like to say in this blog are things I'd like to say across the table at lunch with my friends, in as informal and conversational way as there. It can be my "diary without the little lock."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Writing lets you see around corners.

why is a fire engine painted red?

I don't remember who taught me this, but they said I had to say it in one breath (I still can):

"Why is a fire engine painted red?"
"I give up. Why?"

(Take one deep breath) "Because a fire engine has four wheels. Sometimes it goes around the corner on three. Three times four is twelve. There's twelve inches in a ruler. Queen Victoria was a ruler. She ruled the Seven Seas. Seas have fish. Fish have fins. The Finns are always fighting the Russians. Russians are red. And the fire truck's always rushin' to the fire!" (Don't forget to inhale!)

Can you do it?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Though blogging may have the staying power of silly putty, it feels palpable enough. And it's so easy to begin and add to that it has been exploding at bytespeed. Apparently anyone and almost everyone can do it, and it should come as no surprise what has happened as a result:

With a hot new venue accessible with a few keystrokes, the prepubescent crazies who took over the chat rooms with their emoticons and smileys a few years ago and the personal voyeur camsites that mushroomed shortly afterward have rediscovered the power of the written word and flooded into the big room with newfound literacy. And of course the political fringies have poured in to spew their extremes, the writer wannabes have finally found a guaranteed publisher with no rejection slips, and the sensitive souls have found a sympathetic shoulder for their soft simperings. All the tribal interests have gotten the message: the blogosphere is now where it's at.

In other words, whatever we were doing before blogs, chances are we are still doing. Nothing has changed; we just have a new way to be the way we were, the way we are, the way we may want to be.

It's a big room, a wondrous room of many voices. In time some clear ones may emerge above the general din, but I love the diversity of the din itself, the democracy of it, the freedom to choose whom to read, comment to, subscribe to or ignore, no matter who they are or what their background may be. It may be very close to the ideal of free speech envisioned in the Constitution.

And speaking of freedom to say what we think, thank the founding fathers' deistic gods for that first amendment! What might they think of this "blogosphere" we've made, with everyone talking at once yet the chance for an individual voice to be discerned? without interruption, without censorship, by any who want to? It is truly amazing.

If ever young students needed a further incentive to learn good writing skills, this blogging thing might be it. It is so empowering--the modern equivalent of the trusty "equalizer" of the Old West. It makes everyone the same size.

what a world, what a world

"What a world, what a world," Grandmother used to sigh when she sat in her chair in the living room, looking out the French doors.

I always laughed. "Grandma, you can only see about ten feet either way on the street! It's not exactly the whole world." Once in a while a truck from the stoplight on Jefferson Street would lumber by grinding through its gears, or someone would pass by on the sidewalk, heading downtown. That was the big action. Otherwise it was a still tableau: the street lights, the maple tree, the building across the street, and the filtered play of light and shadows coming through the sheer curtains. The "world" was only perhaps ten or fifteen yards across and a few yards high.

But it was a world, you see; it was her whole world, her window on reality. Oh sure, we had radio and television, a phone and the newspaper. But those are electronics and technology, second-hand information.

The fact is, as human beings we can't get a very big picture of reality directly in our lifetimes, and we probably couldn't handle it if we could. Our minds have only our senses to tell us what's out there. The rest we have to infer, learn from secondhand sources, remember or imagine. And no matter how much we stuff into our puny brains, it's a small slice of the What Is pie.

So we cast our lines into the vastness and turbulence, experiencing, wondering, imagining, remembering, trying to get a feel for the edges of it and the depth of it somehow, and make some sense of it and try to understand it. But we can't. We're not biologically equipped to be omniscient or omnipresent, despite having ever-more-wondrous tech toys to extend our view and range.

There's a reason for these human limits, I suspect. To bear the burden of all experience would kill us. For one mind to know everything would be impossible. To feel the weight of all suffering would crush us. To feel the rapture of all happiness would fry our circuits. Writers--especially poets--welcome the ride, eager to intensify the soul's boundaries to the breaking point. But for most of us, we learn to sense our limits and respect them. We stake out boundaries and make choices.

We put together a reality we can handle, a life that feels right to us, a view of the world that resonates for us as reasonable given our capacities and preferences. It's not Reality, it's just our reality. Our world becomes the one we know best, and what a world it can be!

Can't Help It

I got my crawl from Inktomi;
Now anyone can Linktomi.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I sorta wish another might
Read the blog I write tonight.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

You find yourself on a dark stage, groping around the curtain, then you step through. Suddenly you're blinded by the glare of a spotlight, blinded to everything except the microphone in front of you. You shield your eyes against the bright fog of light, and hear them. They are out there beyond the footlights, many of them, perhaps hundreds--thousands. They're not exactly waiting for you; there's a lot of chatter, laughing and shouting and general din. But you're in the spotlight; you have the microphone; you can be heard by anyone who tries to listen. You get up your nerve and begin speaking.

Then you hit publish, view your blog in a new window, and rush to your Profile for confirmation. But next to your blog name you still see "recent posts: n/a" and "total posts: n/a," and realize once again that the microphone was unplugged, as it has been since you began this blog a week ago.

Well, happy birthday. I look forward to seeing the postings "automatically update," as the known issues states will happen when the server has a chance to stabilize.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Not Much about "When"

Everybody tells you what. Most also add who and where. Some add how, and a few explain why. But of the journalist's whatwhenwherewhowhyhow basic information principle, I suspect that when gets by far the shortest shrift.

The hosts of this blogsite, bless their hearts, have noted in their help screens that this blog, like any web page, will be searched by Google and other search engines (unless I change the preference settings). When I began June 12, I naively assumed that such search would happen in something less than geological time. After all, this site is Google's blogging site. But no one promised when the googlebug would crawl my site.

A bit of surfing enlightened me about my chances of being read by humans anytime soon: not too good. The hosts tried to provide readers from fellow blogspot bloggers with their profiles. There, the idea is that by listing your interests, you will be listed with others who have listed an identical interest, and with a little logic you can pull up their blogs also.
Since there doesn't seem to be a list of blogs on blogspot, that seems to be the only way to find anyone else's ideas. (I could be wrong about this; please forgive my newbieness and enlighten me if I am.)

But though a new blog on blogspot is available in minutes, chances are it won't be read for some time. It seems like having set up a lemonade stand in the middle of the desert. Even if the lemonade is good, it could be awhile before the parking lot is full. The googlebug hasn't crawled this way as of this post, to my knowledge, either automatically or by my request directly.

In fairness, I've looked up a few blogs by date of their postings and notice that eventually the engines do get around to it. It's just a matter of not knowing when, and no one suggesting how long it might take. A few have said that some sites are never listed at all. I guess it isn't as automatic as the help menus suggest.

I got an automatic reply from Google that suggested I was basically impatient, and could speed up the chances of the spider visit by getting my blog linked on more sites and by making it more interesting. Hmm. Thanks for your personalized critique, O Great Wizard, and never mind the man behind the curtain. I'm learning: automatic replies on the internet are very courteous and prompt, instantaneous, in fact--and can afford to be. There's nothing behind them. No one minding the store.

But I really can't complain about my costs so far in this experiment of writing whatever I want online. True to Blogger.com's word, they have been free. And they have indeed done a great job of making it easy and attractive to start blogging for anyone who wants a web page. What few limits there are are ample and reasonable. It seems a little roundabout to get to other bloggers so far, but it's probably my inexperience showing.

So when will The Spider come crawling? Perhaps, like the preachers told us, when I least expect it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

It must be summer

It must be summer. Mark's moving to New York (or L.A, or D.C.--not sure yet), Scott's working a summer job at Disney, Barb's changing to a new media center, The Fam is going to the old farmstead in Indiana, Dr. Steve is batching it, CJ is AIMing us every day since he's out of school now, Rhonda's telling us all what colors we're to wear at Cedar Point so we can be recognized, and Kitty's got more fleas. Whatever was on the brink of changing a month ago has gone on over the brink, and the whole world's in flux. And I, who wrote nothing outside my longhand journal for decades, have a blog. Hell has frozen over, and that hot day in January has come. Michael Jackson has been acquitted and Deep Throat revealed. Whatever bizarre things remain to happen will probably happen before October. What is it about summer, anyway?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

this is amazing

Wrote my first blog last Sunday just to break out of my longhand journal of about four decades, just to get a feel for it. It wasn't what I expected, that's for sure. I found myself instantly scared to death. For the first time ever I had words and feelings "out there" for the whole world to see and respond to if anyone wanted to, and it was very intimidating. Never mind there are millions of others out there doing the same thing; that fact wasn't "real" to me. Where I was coming from, I was the only voice, and there was no one to argue with me.

I've never joined many chat rooms or discussion groups, so I'm not used to getting or giving flames or other exchanges, but I thought I'd better open up to it, at least for now. I figured what good would it do to start a blog if I didn't want anyone to react or comment? I had already been doing that in my journal. So fire away, world. I'll be glad to hear from you.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

personal journal: nirvana or manuscript stifler?

I used to write lots of short stories and poems till I began a private journal. The stories and poems never got published. The journal, which I began as a notebook to help my writing, became instead a freewheeling, uncensored, unrevised forum for whatever I wanted to say: ideas, feelings, gripes, interests--anything that came to mind.

At first the freedom from editing or rejection was liberating. And I loved the easy fluency I found, the flow and unselfconscious style I developed. But I found that the more I wrote in my journal, the less I wrote for submission. In time I lost interest in writing for publication completely. The journal became my only writing outlet, a substitute for any stories, poems, or essays I had written so easily before.

I wondered if others had a similar experience. Is personal journaling always a good idea for a writer? Or can it stifle creativity and become a too-easy-to-please listener, insulating its author from challenges he may need more, like feedback from others, disciplined structure, focus and development of ideas, fleshing out of detail because it's needed for others to visualize, even though I might not, since I'm writing it? I honestly don't know.

Online, it seems everyone promotes journaling as therapeutic and stimulating for ideas and creativity, great for hatching great writing to share. Privately, I'm not so sure. For me, it seemed to erect a writer's block like the Great Wall of China to anything I tried to write outside it.

In any case, that's why I started this blog. I'm tired of just "talking to myself" in my journal and looking for ways to be read--not necessarily published or paid. At least I'm ready to listen.