Monday, January 12, 2015

The Busyness Continues

December 23 was my last post. That's 20 days ago, which I believe is the longest I've ever gone between posts on this blog. During that time I made one post to my other blog.

The fact is the great Time Crunch continues, and does not seem to be slackening at all. A look at my activities over the past weekend would be illustrative of what has happened to my use of time. I won't go into details, as they would be boring to most readers. Friday evening is a blur. I think I spent time reviewing accumulated mail; beyond that I don't remember. Maybe I added the checkbook. Saturday morning, after sleeping late to overcome a several-days sleep deficit, I worked on personal and business finances. It's incredible how much I accomplished. Then it was chores around the house, the Wal-Mart groceries run, and in the evening study to teach Life Group on Sunday. I did manage to sneak in watching about a quarter of one of the NFL playoff games, though was multi-tasking while I did so. I decided to be responsible for Saturday supper so that took some time.

Sunday was church, teaching the Life Group lesson, drop off recyclables, eat with my mother-in-law, home to take about an hour nap, then work on stocks for one and a half hours. In the evening Lynda and I worked on stocks together for about two hours.

So writing time was hard to come by. Leisure was hard to come by. Exercise was hard to come by, except for all the chores I did.

Nothing appears to be changing. I see this level of busyness continuing at least till the end of March. I can't really see any farther ahead than that. One consequence of this is I can't really keep up two blogs. While I like this one, and love the title, the most likely scenario is I abandon this one and consolidate my writings here into my writing blog. I'll probably wait another week or so to make that a firm decision, but that's most likely where I'm going.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Christmas Memory: Wrapping Paper

So many blog posts over so many years, it's hard to remember what I've written about and what I haven't. In terms of Christmas memories, it would be fairly easy to go back through a listing of my posts and check. However, that sounds like work, and today, though I'm at my day job, work doesn't appeal to me. So, I'm just going to give this memory. I'm fairly certain I haven't shared that here before. That memory is...

WRAPPING PAPER!!!!

What about wrapping paper, you ask? What makes it a special Christmas memory?

From as far back as I can remember, which was probably when I was 5 or 6 years old, we were taught to unwrap gifts in a way that the wrapping paper could be reused. And this was strictly enforced by my parents, especially Dad, though Mom never contradicted him. I'm sure that in the years before I can remember, when I was 2, 3, 4 years old, I probably tore into the presents and shredded the wrapping paper. I'm sure my siblings did that in their younger years.

But my memories are of very carefully unwrapping gifts. Before taking too much time oohing and aahing over the gift, each of us would stretch out the paper, fold the tape down to the back of the paper, then fold the paper into a reasonably sized square or rectangle. We would set the paper aside, in a growing stack. Then and only then did we take a lot of time with whatever gift it was we opened.


After all gifts were opened, Dad took our piles of paper down to the basement, and put them on a certain shelf, where the Christmas decorations were stored. All year, as we kids would play in the basement, we would see the paper on the shelf, but never touch it. Next year when it came time to wrap Christmas gifts, the consolidated pile of used paper was brought upstairs. As we had a gift to wrap, we would go to the pile and choose an appropriately-sized piece, and wrap our gift. Usually we would have to trim the paper a little smaller because, no matter how hard we had tried to be careful the previous year, we would always tear the paper. The torn part would be trimmed, and a new gift wrapped in the old paper and placed under the tree.

It got to the point where we would recognize paper, and remember what had been wrapped in it previously. "Oh, I remember this piece! Last year that sweater from Aunt Bernie was in this." As you can imagine, we rarely had to buy new wrapping paper. And, the rule was we shouldn't take a piece of a new roll (assuming a new roll was available) so long as a used piece would do the job.

I'll chalk this up to my parents' Depression-era mentality. Born in 1916 and 1918, they finished their education, came of age, and entered the work force in the heart of the Great Depression. Dad, more than Mom, was fearful of the next depression, and lived just about every day as if he were still in the last one. Nothing that might have residual value was discarded. When bread became stale or moldy, we took it to Roger Williams Park and fed the ducks. Deadfall apples from the tree were used for applesauce or given away for the same purpose. Nothing was wasted. Wrapping paper, that frivolous material whose only purpose was to conceal a gift for a day or a few weeks, fell into that category.

Year by year, the pieces of paper shrunk from trimming, being suitable for smaller and smaller gifts. Eventually a piece would be too small to justify saving, even for Norman Todd, the depression-era man, and into the trash it would go. If it was a piece we remembered especially well, it was almost as sad to see it go as when a toy would break beyond repair and have to be discarded.

And, just as pieces of wrapping paper shrunk, so did the Christmas celebration. The first Christmas after Mom died, when we kids were 15-13-11, we did our gift opening on Christmas eve rather than Christmas day, and that became the new tradition. By this time we were giving each other record albums. Rather than wrap them and put them under the tree, we would find an appropriately-sized piece of used paper, go back to our bedrooms, find the album where we had hidden it, loosely fold the paper around it without using tape, and present it to our sibling. And so a new tradition was born. Not as dramatic as wrapped gifts under the tree, or as difficult to unwrap and get at the gift, but the pieces of wrapping paper started lasting longer.

Just as the wrapping paper shrunk from year to year, so did Christmas traditions. This is one that didn't survive my childhood into my adult years and my family. I tried to get the kids to unwrap carefully, but I didn't succeed. Plus, storing old wrapping paper takes space, which we didn't always have. Actually, I believe they open the gifts carefully, not shredding the paper, but I'm not sure they save it. And the grandkids are too young to be instructed to unwrap with care. A gift awaits, and that darned paper is preventing them from getting to it and using it. So off comes the paper, to be wadded up and put in the trash.

Traditions fade, families break apart and new families form, and life goes on. But memories stay. This one stays with me.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Literary Criticism and Me

I’ve written about literary criticism before, and about I have problems with it. Some years ago I had an exchange at the Absolute Write forums about this. The other person said, “Literary criticism, and critical theory, are ways of reading texts that are interpretive, rather than evaluative. One way of thinking of criticism is to look at it as a reader attempting to find personal meaning in a text, to discover how, and why, a text (a poem, a song, a novel, a letter, an advertisement) does or does not "work" for that reader.”

For many years I critiqued poems at four different Internet poetry sites. I figure I’ve critiqued more than 1,000 poems. A couple of sites have become defunct (one at least lost to hackers), and if I never copied or printed my critiques on those I’ve lost them. So be it. I did a lot of critiquing.
However, literary criticism escapes my understanding. “Interpretive, rather than evaluative” this more knowledgeable person said. I’m not sure what to do with that. Interpret what the author said, but don’t evaluate it. I don’t know how to separate the two. This is probably what got me afoul of so many English classes in my school years.

I’m just about finished reading a small literary criticism about Thomas Carlyle. It’s written by a University of Kansas professor, the cobbled notes of a class he taught. The book is Thomas Carlyle, a Study of His Literary Apprenticeship, 1814-1831, by William Savage Johnson (1911). Johnson shows how the various parts of Carlyle’s philosophy and doctrine began appearing in his early works, though they were not fully articulated until later works. I think this is the second time to read this. I think I began it once before and abandoned it. It’s only 73 pages, and right now I’m on page 64, so less than 10 pages to go.
I imagine I’ll finish it, but I’m not enjoying it. Perhaps Johnson is too deep for me. Or perhaps literary criticism, as practiced by thems that do it, is beyond me.

All of which is causing me to rethink my currently-shelved Carlyle projects, and wonder if instead I need to just trash them. The one I was farthest along with was a study of his short book Chartism. This was to include: background of the conditions in Britain that caused him to write the book; selections from letters before and after writing and publication; the book itself, with my editor’s notes added to help a 21st century American audience to understand it; all the reviews (that I can find) that came out around the time of publication; various reviews and interpretations of the work right up to the present era. Some of these would require release of copyright to include them in my book. I also figured on including an essay or two of mine (yet to be written) of my own literary criticism of the work.
However, based on what I now know of literary criticism, I think this is a dead project. I’m not saying I will never resurrect it, and at this stage I’m not discarding all notes and deleting all files. But I’ll have to get a whole lot of writing, intellectual, and publishing mojo back before I’ll tackle this again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Blessed is the Man

Blessed is the man:
  • who has no bucket list;
  • who has learned to be content with his circumstances, yet who takes responsibility for improving them;
  • who does not need thrills, especially ever increasing thrills, to find meaning or satisfaction in life;
  • who loves his country and community and seeks to improve them by serving them;
  • who seeks to provide daily bread for himself and his family, to the best of his strength, gifts, and talents; and when he can do that helps out some others who can't;
  • who wakes up one morning and realizes, "This is my life, for the rest of my life," and realizes that's okay, he can live with that.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Christmas Shopping Trek

Ten days since I posted. That's a long time. During the last 24 hours lots of ideas passed through my head of what to write about. I could write about the good family Thanksgiving just finished (except for the leftovers still to be consumed). I could write about the good Life Group lesson series we are now in, based on the book The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson.

Health, wealth, writing, leisure are all candidates. However, based on a post in our high school class Facebook page, I've decided on this Christmas memory: shopping in downtown Providence. We did that several times a year, always once during the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Almost certainly it was a Saturday, and probably an afternoon affair. Dad would have worked Friday night and so would have slept Saturday morning. So right after lunch we'd pack the car and drive downtown.

At this time, say in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Providence had passed its peak and was a city in decline. The population peaked around 400,000 in the 1950 census, and dropped sharply in the next 20 to 30 years, till by 1980 it was perhaps under 200,000. The migration to the suburbs was on, and Providence seems to have been hit harder than other cities. However, the decline was not evident at first. For a while those who had moved out still came to downtown Providence for major shopping. In, say, 1958, when I would turn seven shortly after Christmas, until 1963, after which Mom would have been too sick to do a major downtown walking tour, downtown Providence still thrived, and we went there for a major shopping trip each Christmas.

I don't remember whether RI route 10 was built or not. If so we would take that and get off at West Exchange Street. We might park on the street and feed the meter, or we more likely park in Municipal Parking Lot, right below the state capitol. Before Route 10 was built we would have driven north on Reservoir till it joined with Elmwood, and continued on that till it joined with Broad. That would take us right through downtown until we arrived at the municipal lot. A landmark was the Round-topped Church. We knew when we saw that we had arrived at downtown.

Turning from the capitol, downtown stood before us. Store after store in multistory buildings with common wall construction. It seems we had to walk about a block to get to the first store we went in, Cherry & Webb. The layout of Providence streets is a fading memory. I remember Westminster and Weybosset in addition to West Exchange. Beyond that I don't remember all that much.

Now, don't ask me how I remember all this. It was a long time ago, most likely last done as a complete family in 1963, maybe even 1962. I remember one or two trips to downtown Providence after Mom died in 1965, but for specific items in specific stores. My memory was that the first store we stopped in began with a "C". Beyond that I had no specific memory other than that we always seemed to go in City Hall Hardware. Not remembering exactly where each store was, and what was closest to the Municipal Parking Lot, I figured that must have been it. Then, about a year ago at one of the Cranston memory pages I'm a member of, someone mentioned Cherry & Webb as a downtown Providence story, and I immediately knew that was the one.

From Cherry & Webb it was on to other stores: the aforementioned City Hall Hardware, Shepherds, and, if strength and time allowed, the more distance Outlet Department Store. I'm sure that in between these were other stores, specialty shops that demanded we go in. Each store had display windows, all dressed up for Christmas. Inside the stores were garland-decked counters, aisles stuffed with shoppers, Christmas trees in various places. The air outside was always crisp and invigorating. Inside would be hot, and we buttoned and unbuttoned our coats many times. Each department store would have its Santa Claus with a long line of kids waiting to see him.

My favorite store was Shepherds. Someone says it as on Westminster Street, and I suppose that's right. There was the Shepherd's clock mounted on a post on the sidewalk in front of the store on Westminster. Inside was everything I described before. I remember the dark wood everywhere, and how rich this made me feel. Aisle after aisle, rack after rack of clothing, shelf after shelf of housewares. Riding the escalators. Leaving with more things to carry.

I know a couple of times we went to The Arcade. This was a prototype of the indoor shopping mall, built perhaps 80 years earlier than the larger suburban ones. This was a quaint little building, having much less bustle than the department stores. I don't know why we went in there, or what we bought, but it is a memory I have. Years later, when I was in college (or perhaps late high school), I remember going downtown and to the Arcade and buying a book there as a present for my grandparents: a book on New England birds.

It was probably dark, or nearly so, by the time we headed back to the car. I imagine we three kids were complaining about having to carry so much. Then it was home, most likely along the city streets rather than the highway, so that we could look at the lights along the way. Home for our Saturday traditional meal of hot dogs & beans & potato chips, eaten in front of the television. Then Edward and I went downstairs with Dad to shine our shoes for the morrow, then our weekly baths and bed. If we were lucky the evening was capped off by Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.

Yup, good memories of Christmas past. Distant, yet good. Something my wife never experienced growing up in a town of 1,800 people. Something my kids never experienced in their formative years. But I had it, from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. And I'll keep that memory, pull it out once in a while, dust it off, maybe bring something to mind I hadn't thought of for times measured in decades or half-centuries.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thinking About Song Lyrics

We go to sleep at night with something on for noise. This might be an audio book (Lynda's preference when she's reading one) or the variety music station on the radio (my choice all the time). Right now, since Lynda's between audio books, we have the radio on. We keep it low. When the furnace comes on (or the AC in warm weather) you can barely hear it. When the HVAC unit is off, it's still pretty low, but if you happen to be awake, you'll hear what's playing or being said.

This station we have on is a mixture of oldies and newer songs, trending toward slow songs and what could be called easy listening. Absent are the hard rock, acid rock, rap, and most of the "peppy" songs. Not that they are all ballads, but they definitely tend to the quieter, slower songs.

I recognize and know well most of the oldies they play; and I'm learning a number of newer songs, including some newer artists. If I had to guess I'd say the Carpenters are played more than any other artist. Next is Willie Nelson. I don't see a third favorite after that, unless it's either Michael Buble or Colbie Callat. Both of them are okay, though Colbie can be tiring at times. The Carpenters are always good. The less said about Willie Nelson the better. As often as not, when one of his starts when I'm in the car, I turn to another station.

One favorite artist I learned of from this station is Katie Melua. Maybe four years ago I heard her song "Nine Million Bicycles", and liked it. Slowly over time I heard other of her songs on this station, and came to like them all. I looked her up, learned about her circumstances and career, and liked her even more.

Another song that I heard first on this station is "Perhaps Love", a song written by John Denver and recorded by him with Placido Domingo. I find it quite enjoyable, and consider it a plus whenever I happen to hear it. Well, Tuesday night I did. I woke up in the middle of the might, maybe around 4:00 a.m. The furnace wasn't running, and I heard that song start on the radio and stayed awake through the end. So that was an excellent time to wake up. Then, this morning on the way to work, a song started for which I couldn't place the song. It was "Nine Million Bicycles", but it had been so long since I've heard it I had forgotten the musical intro. So I heard both of these songs a day apart, and that helped the days to be good days.

This got me to thinking about song lyrics. What makes these songs "tick" for me? Is it the lyrics? The tunes? The combo of the two? And that led me to think of this blog and what to write about and, well, since I've dabbled in song lyrics a little over of the course of my poetic endeavors, I thought perhaps discussing the lyrics of those songs would be a good thing.

So, that's what I'm going to do, probably in the next two posts, but for sure over the next two weeks. I'm at work as I write this and it's time to be heading home. This evening, time allowing, I'll edit in links to where the lyrics can be seen and to where the songs can be heard. That will give anyone interested a chance to read and hear the songs before my next couple of posts come.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Threshing Wheat in a Winepress

What a great Sunday it was among God's people! Cold temperatures outside, warm hearts inside. As always we went to first service, starting at 9:30 a.m. Last week the sanctuary was cold, due to a furnace going out. Today it was comfortable.

For worship choruses we sang songs that I knew. The worship leader didn't introduce a new song to us this week. So that was good. Pastor Mark then continued his sermon series, Imperfectly Perfect. This has focused on a number of people from the Old Testament, people who were imperfect in their character and circumstances, yet who God used in mighty ways. This week it was Gideon, one of the judges if Israel.

His story is told in Judges 6-8. His story is well known, yet I find it difficult to call to mind many of the details. He is best known for "putting out a fleece," asking God to reveal his will by the condition of the fleece as opposed to the ground it sat on all night. Some people feel that Gideon did wrong by doing this, since God had already revealed His will to Gideon. Regardless, many Christians "put out fleeces" to hope to better understand God's will.

But Gideon's story starts before that. In Judges chapter 6 the Midianites had control over Israel. They were warriors, and pretty much rampaged through Israel. The Jews were fairly scattered, with towns and farms in the hills, and some in the plains, all with no central government or organization. Midianites would raid anywhere in Israel and pretty much take whatever they want. The Israelites "prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves, and strongholds." Pastor Mark pointed out the significance of of the following statement from Judges 6:11
...Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites."
I had never thought of this before. You don't thresh wheat in a winepress; you thresh wheat on a threshing floor. I've seen one of those, in Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, where an 1837 New England community was recreated. The barn is built with doors on each end. When the wheat is brought in someone stands in the passageway in the barn, and tosses the wheat up, letting it hit the floor as it comes down. Then he picks it up with the pitchfork and does it again. As he picks it up and releases it, any breeze blowing through the two doors will cause the chaff to blow away and the wheat to fall back to the floor. To make this work, you need a floor in a place where wind is available.

In contrast, a winepress was low to the ground probably in a pit of some sort. Wind wasn't a factor in how grapes were turned to wine after harvest. So the Jews might hew one out of rock, down in a pit. This was a safe place for Gideon to thresh his wheat. If it wasn't the season for grapes, the Midianites wouldn't be looking there when they made their raids. While it would be a lot of work, threshing wheat without the wind to blow away the chaff. It could be done, it would be safe, and Gideon could remain hidden.

Mark said this had theological significance. Gideon was showing himself to be scared of the Midianites. He was also showing himself to have a small God. Rather than thresh out in the open, and trust God to keep him safe, he hid down in the winepress. Yet, this was the man that God called to be a judge of Israel and to lead them in battle against the enemy.

I have to confess at never having noticed this significance before. The idea that a winepress was down in a hollow while a threshing floor was up in the open went right over my head all the previous times I read this. It has me thinking, whether I have been guilty of threshing wheat in a winepress. I'm going to look through my current endeavors in life and evaluate all of them relative to this concept. Why hide your work in a winepress when God is able to help you be safe on the threshing floor, out in the open? Yes, I'll be going through my life and see what I should change.