Monday, October 31, 2011

Life is a Whirlwind

This is one of my favorite metaphors to describe life: a whirlwind. Every day is packed with activity, some days almost to the breaking point. The whirlwind isn't a tornado, with its damage. Perhaps it's more of a waterspout, a whirlwind over water. It throws up a lot of spray, but in the absence of a man made object it doesn't cause damage.

Of course, the whirlwind is to some extent our own making. We crowd life with all kinds of non-essential activities. Young parents make sure their kids are involved with team sports and gymnastics and dancing and church activities and...whatever else you can think of. Teens continue the practice, adding dating to it. Club sports become school sports. Naturally when they become adults they continue the cycle of endless activity.

I have done the same thing. I don't remember my childhood years being a whirlwind. We came home from school every night. The only evening activity was boy scouts, which began in 5th grade. I didn't start school sports until sophomore year in high school. Didn't even try out in junior high. In college the busyness began, mainly due to working to pay the college bill. Even the early adult years weren't all that bad. Lots of church activities, and raising kids, but not really a whirlwind. Even the overseas years, in retrospect, seem leisurely. Maybe not right at vacation time, the planning, packing and going, but the day to day life was a breeze.

Now the kids are out of the nest, and the last way I should describe life is as a whirlwind. But that's exactly what life has become. It's all my own doing. Wanting to be a published author has added complexity to life that is most easily described as a whirlwind, two orders of magnitude added to what could otherwise be a leisurely life. The writing isn't too bad. It's more the promotion that adds to the to do list. I'm not handling it very well.

Of course, many other things dare to tread on the path I've established for myself, such as funerals in southwestern Kansas one Saturday and in Rhode Island the next. Kind of hard to get any real writing work done in the car, or on a plane. Concentration at those times is rather difficult.

So I think that is an apt metaphor. Not a simile. Life is not like a whirlwind, it is a whirlwind. Possibly this poem somewhat describes it.


I long to live that day when I will rest,
and cease to tax my brain. Then I will die
and stand before my Maker. Yet, I'm blessed.
I long to live! The day that I will rest
is somewhere out there, far beyond the quest
that now demands I try, and fail, and try.
I long to live that day when I will rest
and cease to tax my brain. Then I will die.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book Review: "Mr. Baruch"

Among the 2,100 or so books (give or take 100) that were in Dad's house when he died was Mr. Baruch by Margaret L. Coit [1957, LOC no. 56-10289]. The book was republished in 2000, and maybe in 2005 No doubt that was updated. Baruch died in 1965; hence the book I read was written during his lifetime. I think it could be considered an authorized biography, as Coit appears to have had access to all of Baruch's papers.

In the Preface, Coit compares her work of writing Baruch's biography with the earlier one she wrote about John C. Calhoun. Both were South Carolinians. The two lives together spanned almost the entire American period from the American Revolution to the Cold War. Both men had an impact on America, in Calhoun's case as an elected official and in Baruch's case as a capitalist, advisor to presidents, and elder statesman.

I had vaguely heard about Baruch, in my adult life, as he was mentioned in a novel I read, but I could not, before reading this book, have told you anything about him. His parents were Jewish, his father a doctor who began practice during the slavery days in South Carolina, but who moved the family to New York City shortly after Reconstruction. Bernard, upon graduating from college, became a Wall Street speculator, though primarily in commodities rather than stocks. In sugar, copper, mining in several areas, and knowledge of industrial processes, Baruch made millions several times over between 1895 and 1915.

When America joined the belligerents in World War 1, Baruch was tapped by President Wilson to run the War Industries Board. Tasked with making sure American industries put out enough war materiel to supply our troops and aid the French and British in beating the Germans and Austrians, Baruch successfully tackled the problem. By the end of the war, his was a household name, the rich Wall Street man who had organized the war production effort, supplied the troops, and made the world a safe place again. He was part of the US delegation at the peace talks in Paris.

Given his close association with Wilson, it was understandable he was not tapped by later presidents. A lifelong Democrat, the three Republicans who followed Wilson had little need for him. He and Roosevelt didn't see eye to eye over the public debt, so Roosevelt used him sparingly during the New Deal days and then in World War 2. Baruch chaired study committees and drafted recommendations, but took no administrative positions. Truman used him early on as an advisor, and then as the chief US delegate to initial talks on controlling atomic energy.

Despite his relatively thin government service in later years, those who remembered him from WW1 seemed to have latched on to every little piece of news about him. His legend and reputation grew. By 1948 he was as popular as Truman. He was considered America's leading citizen, called her "elder statesman", and had the good opinion of the entire nation.

Coit does well to show all this in accessible language that is, at the same time, scholarly. Her many footnotes, all of which deal with sources and not extra explanations, are impressive. My only gripe is that she sometimes went off on tangents. Who cared how the office of a senator with whom Baruch worked was decorated? She did that quite a bit, which slowed down the work. On the other hand, she did a good job of showing important and essential information about with whom Baruch dealt. If she had just avoided the tangents, I think my praise of the book would be unqualified.

This book cost me nothing, except travel expenses round trip from Arkansas to Rhode Island (which, spread among 2,100 books, isn't much) and the 10 square inches of shelf space it's occupied these thirteen years. This is a keeper. I'm going to use it to write some articles on Baruch, then it will go on my shelf. Perhaps one of my descendants will, some day, discover this volume among my possession, and learn about this great man from it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Life is Like...A FEMA Floodplain Project

These always start out slowly. You begin by gathering data. Survey the landscape. Understand the rainfall and run-off patterns. Learn the design criteria and how to apply it. Get your act together, access FEMA's application, fill it out, get a higher authority to sign it, and send it off with a steep check for the fee.

Then, you wait to see if your application for whatever it is you want to do to will be accepted by FEMA. Most of the time it won't. After waiting what seems an inordinate amount of time, more often than not your application will be denied until you have given more information, or changed something to match how FEMA wants it matched. So, in order to pursue your goals, you change what was needed to satisfy that higher authority and FEMA, submit it again, and wait. This will go on until you have a submittal acceptable to FEMA. They will then approve your application.

Now you can pursue your real work, the work for which you have to do something in the floodplain. Maybe it's build an $80 million museum of American art with two buildings spanning and three buildings hugging the creek. Maybe it's make improvements to four roads, all of which cross the same creek. Maybe it's improve another road that crosses two creeks, except you find that the floodplain was incorrectly mapped by others of lesser ability, and you will have to fix all their mistakes along with gaining approval for your own changes.

At last, sometime out there, far beyond when you thought it would end, your project will end. You will assemble your files and archive them. You will send your last billing out and receive payment in full for all that you have done.

Yes, life is much like a FEMA floodplain project.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Little More on Thomas Carlyle

I haven't written anything about Thomas Carlyle for quite a while. That's mainly because this whirlwind I call life hasn't allowed me to read him for a long time. Every now and then I pull out a volume of his correspondence with Ralph Waldo Emerson and look up some tidbit I half remember, or just read a pair of letters for enjoyment. Sometimes on a Friday afternoon at the office, when taking a break, I'll go to the Carlyle Letters On-line site and pull up one to read. I find it difficult to read these on-line, for some reason, and so rarely finish the letter I pull up unless it's a short one.

At the topic editor for the Great Thinkers topic posted on the forum asking members to write articles for her topic. I thought that Thomas Carlyle would probably qualify as a great thinker, and that maybe I could write an article or two about him, possibly generating a wee bit of revenue with subject matter I like. So about a week ago I pulled up one of Carlyle's letters, not quite at random. However, instead of reading it on-line, I did a quick copy and paste into MS Word and format for tight printing yet easy reading, and printed the letter. I took it home to read in the evening. Alas, way led on to way, and it was just a half hour ago, at work, that I started reading it.

And very quickly I remembered what I like about Carlyle. He is a phrase maker, a wordsmith, a poet when not intending to be. The letter I accessed was one Carlyle wrote Dec 24, 1834 to William Graham. I'm not quite sure who Graham was in relation to Carlyle, but I the letter was addressed to Scotsbrig, where Carlyle lived for a while. Part of the letter involved remembrances on the death of Edward Irving, who was a mentor to Carlyle and some kind of acquaintance to Graham. Here's part of what Carlyle wrote.
I can assure you, the sound of it sent new life thro' me, like a breath from old true Annandale in the middle of these Babylonian fogs. Surely friends should improve, on far better reason than wines, by long keeping! The very enemy that we might have for twenty years would almost become a friend. While death thins our ranks, mows down our stateliest, oh surely, surely let the survivors rank themselves the closer, and await what is appointed them not single but together!
Now that's phraseology, IMHO. The idea expressed in the middle of the quote, that friendship should improve with age, with better reason than wine improves with age, is a great idea. I don't know if that would be considered profound or not. I don't know that elevates Carlyle into the great thinkers category. But it's a great idea excellently expressed.

And that's why I like Carlyle: for his great ideas excellently expressed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Metaphors of Life

In trying to figure out how to maintain two blogs, maybe start a monthly newsletter to market my writing, get back to writing an occasional article for two content sites, final editing my first novel prior to e-self-publishing, working on a current non-fiction project, and soon getting back to editing my second novel, I'm considering a theme for this blog.

Taking off from Wesley's "arrow through the air" metaphor, I'm thinking of making this blog a "metaphors of life" site. To do that most of the posts would have to take a situation I encounter, or maybe create, and turn it into a metaphor for some aspect of life.

It sounds like a good idea. The problem is I struggle with metaphors. That's strange for someone who fancies himself a poet, isn't it? I have to struggle to find those situations from which to build metaphors. Consequently the vast majority of my poems are weaker than they could be. My best poems incorporate metaphor and simile.

Well, it's a goal and direction, and I'm considering it. Stay tuned. I won't give up things such as book reviews, but will be trying to incorporate much more on metaphor.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Health Update

They say arthritis pain is dependent on weather. I've never been able to tell if that's true. However, the last few days have been beautiful weather and my pain is less. I was in Little Rock on Wednesday evening through Friday noon, driving back Friday afternoon. I was in quite a bit of pain while there, and the drive back was difficult. It would have been almost impossible if I hadn't been able to set the cruise control and bend my right leg into a comfortable position.

Friday evening and yesterday I took it easy. I worked outside for just 45 minutes or maybe an hour. Rather than tackle larger logs and cut them to length or split them, I decided to get smaller deadfall, 3 to 4 inches diameter, and drag them to my cutting area, then cut them to length. No splitting was required. That short amount of work seemed to help my joints.

The rest of the day I spent doing easy inside things, such as filing months of financial papers, and cleaning various areas in the house, and eating meals, and reading forty pages in my current reading book. By bed time my joints were all feeling pretty good.

While my joints are better, my blood sugar was up last night. Just a few too many carbs during the day. That made me sluggish as I tried to figure out what to write next. I didn't feel like research reading for the next volume of Documenting America. I didn't feel like writing a blog post. I did some research of writing articles for Decoded Science, a web site where I know the owner and she invited me to begin writing for them. But I had a problem accessing the site, something I think I was doing wrong. Unfortunately I didn't have the brain power needed to figure it out. When I left The Dungeon and took my blood sugar, it was quite high. Perhaps that was the reason for my sluggishness.

Today has been a better day. Good life group class, good worship service, good meal at my mother-in-law's, a bit of rest watching football, and all systems seeming to be working well. I'm not sure I'm ready to write a lot, but perhaps that will come tomorrow. Time to write some articles, and research a new book.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Overdoing It

Last Saturday dawned cool and clear, with a touch of southerly breeze. I decided it was time to shake off my physical troubles of late and go outside and do some work. One thing I do for exercise is cut wood, the dead fall on the vacant lot south of us or from the common property east of us. We have lots of downed trees, from 3 inch diameter up to 12 inch that need cutting.

Well, they don't really need cutting, but it seems a good way to get some exercise. I finished cutting a large tree that came down and almost hit the house. The lower portions of the trunk were 12 inches diameter or a little more. I cut it into 24 to 30 inch lengths and piled them, not really planning to do anything with them. Then, last year our daughter and son-in-law in Oklahoma City began burning wood in their fireplace. Not for heat but for ambiance. The bought the starter logs and wood bundles you see at many stores in these parts.

So I decided to take the wood from my wood pile, cut it to shorter lengths, and split it. Then I figured Lynda could take a nice amount each time she went to OKC for grandmotherly duties. Well, that next time was Monday just passed, and Saturday dawned no only clear but also without any wood split. So I dragged out the maul and the wedge and set to my task.

What I quickly learned is my fingers and hands are much too weak to wield the maul with any force. So I got the sledge, a lighter instrument, and tried to split logs with just it and the wedge. I found this worked fine. A few taps with the maul seated the wedge, then a few good blows on the wedge split the log. I worked at it for two hours, resulting in the wood pile you see in the picture.

Now, this may not be much production, or much of an accomplishment, but for me it was great. I felt my hands working more or less the way they should. My knees were not hurting, and the longer I got into my work the less I felt any knee pain (that that, you ehrlichiosis bearing buggies). Of course, I was tired at the end of my work. A brief nap in my reading chair and a shower were most enjoyable. But I felt great.

Until about bed time, and the next day. My left knee felt pretty good, as if I popped something back in place as I mauled. But my right knee was pretty much toast. I got around on Sunday, but with knee weakness and pain. Slowly it improved through the day—faster than the muscles recover after playing baseball for the first time in the spring. I walked both Monday and Tuesday noon to no ill effects.

Then, last night I walked about two miles at a fairly fast clip so I could get it all in before dark. By bedtime I could sure feel it in my right knee, worse than it was Saturday night.

So, what should I do for this RA flare up, brought on no doubt by that useless tick? Exercise is supposed to be good for RA. Maybe just no quite so much exercise, and a little more gentle. I'll try that for a while. I skipped my noon walk today, even though the weather was gorgeous. I'll let my knee heal a little then try it again, at a gentler pace this time.