Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

A LESSON LEARNED

December 24, 2013

To those poor souls who eagerly await my literary forays, I must apologize. I had this terrific blog almost completed, several weeks ago, when I was interrupted by the need to view a Webinar related to my next overseas trip, in February to South Korea.

During the course of the viewing, I dozed off, the subject being relatively drab when compared to some of the more interesting topics available on the Web. The nodding off would not have been significant, had I not been clutching a mug of tea on my chest and leaning on the edge of the desk. I awoke to find a blank screen, and no amount of effort would renew the power to the computer. Subsequently, I took the injured article to a local repairperson, who announced that “it’s fried”. A reconditioned mother board was then ordered a week or so ago, and at some time in the near future I should have my machine back in its accustomed place on my desk.

Naturally, I had never “backed up” any of the things on the computer in spite of having purchased an external drive for that very purpose. I hope that the retrieval is successful; I’m especially concerned that much of my earlier efforts be saved, particularly some weak attempts at rhapsodizing poetic. I liked those poems.

One of the segments of the blog I was writing had to do with responding to a blog article (blogicle?) about the writer’s desire to master speed reading in order to rapidly digest all the journals, magazines, and must-read books that had accumulated, unread, due to a lack of time to do so. In thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that not only could such skimming be applied to print, it would also have its place on our cable television offerings. In both instances, we quickly realize that much of the information with which we are bombarded is mostly chaff; that the wheat is what we should be digesting and discard all the rest.

On the other hand, many of us still read for enjoyment, that opportunity to immerse ourselves in another world created by the nuances of each carefully crafted word, as it contributes like a building block to erect a structured whole. Such pleasure cannot be retrieved from most of the materials which that writer mentioned as needing her attention, and it’s somewhat ironic that she, as one of my favorite writers, has to temporarily forsake her own mastery just to see if there’s something there that deserves closer examination.

So, what did I learn? Two things—-don’t fall asleep with a mug of tea near your computer, and back up everything! I was admiring the new Macs this week, I wonder if my external drive could take stuff from a PC and transfer it to a Mac?

Always Be Happy          To Our Youth

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SOME GOOD READS

May 22, 2013

Recently my favorite blog writer introduced me to some comments about “Depth of Faith” and the superficiality of many persons ostensibly committed to an organized religion; comments put forth by Tariq Ramadan in his book, “Islam and the Arab Awakening”. The book covers a number of topics growing out of last year’s widespread political changes throughout the Middle East, and provides what I, as an amateur viewer, believe are practical and necessary solutions to the continuing upheaval.

However, my interest was especially piqued by his speculation about an individual’s commitment to religious beliefs, whether such commitment is real or only imagined. Coincidentally, I have been re-reading Mark Twain’s skeptical commentary contained in the short story, “Letters From the Earth”, a highly-acerbic attack on religion in general. In the story, archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Satan are observing a certain degree of restlessness in God, and become concerned when He decides to experiment and create a planet (they don’t really know what the term means). They then see Him follow up with making all sorts of things, some he calls “animals”, and his final act is to create some beings he calls “humans”. Becoming increasingly ill-at-ease about these activities, the three decide that one of them must visit this new creation, and Satan draws the assignment. He is to go to this “Earth” and write letters back to the other two, commenting upon what he observes. Many of the letters focus on the erroneous (to Twain) beliefs of humans that God is forgiving, loving, etc., while at the same time sending things like pestilence, drought, plagues, and other nastiness. Satan can’t understand how humans continue to imbue God with all these good qualities when they can see that his real actions fly in the face of those qualities.

I plan to have my own copy of the Ramadan book, and read it in comparison with Twain, to further my own closely-similar opinions about religion. I greatly admire those persons who have a true commitment and who totally immerse themselves in the underlying practices decreed within their particular code. I personally consider myself to be deeply committed, but to concepts that developed within my own being and only include elements unintentionally from the organized belief systems, as appropriate to my personal perceptions. My blogger “resource” is one of those individuals of deep faith, and I take her commentary as “Gospel” (yes, that’s a pun!).

Speaking of books, a number of years ago (1964) I was fortunate to have lunch with Norman Cousins, former editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, and author of many books and articles including the small commentary, “Anatomy of an Illness”. This latter had an influence on my thinking about the nature of dying, in that Cousins had faced the prospect of imminent death by immersing himself in a cornucopia of humor, his idea was that laughter and its associated physical effects on the body would forestall the intrusions of his particular disease. He watched lots of Marx Brothers and Three Stooges films, he read humor from a variety of sources, he listened and watched radio and TV comedy, and involved himself with anything else that would add to this arsenal. And Lo!—his illness went into remission!

And so, over the years and particularly with the florescence of technology, I have personally amassed a large collection to use if ever it needs be. With my current health situation, I have been considering turning to those resources, “just in case”, but after my first day at the Mayo Clinic today, things may be looking up a bit. Tomorrow and Friday I continue, with a number of tests on both days and even one next week just prior to my returning home. The purpose of the testing has the partial intent of validating the neurologist’s opinion that the CIDP diagnosis is not correct, that while there is still a version of neuropathy present, it may in fact not be progressive. At the same time, I was informed that MGUS is common in persons over 70 and is generally classified as a “benign condition”. If no bone tumors are evident, then all that will be done is an annual checkup to make sure none have appeared, and this happens in only about 15% of MGUS cases for all age groups.

And speaking of humor, I recall when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the early 60’s, I was walking by the library at our school and heard someone laughing. I looked in and saw one of the staff, Mr. Shetty from India, sitting alone and laughing out loud. Now think about that; people don’t usually laugh out loud when they’re alone, so whatever he was reading must be really good. I asked him about it, and got my first taste of P. G. Wodehouse, the creator of the “Jeeves the Butler” stereotype along with his master, Bertie Wooster. I began to surf my way through all of Wodehouse’s writings, eventually reading everything he had written. I developed a great appreciation for the way he created phrases with which I could empathize: “I was sitting in a warm bath, and raised a meditative toe”, or “I took my cigarette for a stroll in the garden”, images I could easily apply to my own activities.

My final year in Ghana, I was living alone in the most isolated part of the country, but as one of my responsibilities was a 5000 volume school library, I was able to continue my Wodehouse study as a vehicle to help me maintain my sanity. Upon returning to the US, I wrote him a letter thanking him for providing that support, and I was highly pleased that he thought enough of my letter to send me a note thanking me for thanking him. I had hoped to meet him when I worked briefly in NYC, and he lived on Long Island, but that meeting did not materialize. However, I include Bertie, Jeeves, Aunt Agatha, Gussie Fink-Nottle, and the others in my personal collection, and I even have the videos of the BBC’s “Jeeves” series among my treasures. They are supported by my Mel Brooks’ Collection, Pink Panther tapes, “Some Like It Hot”, and a few others, even some TV variety shows such as Sid Caesar’s “Show of Shows”. I think that everyone should have one of these collections, it could be a important as a well-placed shelter from Nature’s calamities.

Always Be Happy!         To Our Youth!

NEIL AND ME

August 26, 2012

Sometime back in the late 90’s, I was Principal of a residential special education facility serving multiple-handicapped and severely emotionally disturbed youngsters to the age of 21. Given the often stressful  atmosphere, frequently charged with major emotional escalations tainted with violence, most of the staff chose some activity outside the school to provide some relaxation and solace. I like golf.

For many years, participation in sports had been a major interest of mine; although I never was “a star” my own assessment was that I was “better than average”. One of the high points along the way was being a starter on the 1956 University of Kansas freshman basketball team during the annual Freshman-Varsity basketball game to kick-off the season; the highlight was the first varsity appearance of Wilt Chamberlain, and the media was there in force. It was also sort of a low point in my career; at one point during the game I was trapped under the basket when he stuffed one of his classic dunks, right on my head, to the amusement of the 12,000 fans in attendance. The following Monday at practice, I tore some muscles and that essentially ended my dream; that particular injury reappeared on the first day of practice when I had been asked to try out again, as a junior. However, a small photograph appeared in the Paul Hornung Dec. 3 Sports Illustrated, with Wilt soaring high above the hoop and I in my pre-cringing stance peering up through the hoop, in nervous anticipation of things to come.

Other sports also held my interest; for a brief time, I practiced with the university’s tennis team, but quickly lost interest when I realized that although I had enjoyed some success in city tournaments in Kansas City, growing up, I really didn’t have more than a recreational/social commitment to become competitive.

During my sophomore year of college, I fell in with a pack of buddies that decided to enter intramural competition in everything that was offered; I should have concentrated a bit more on my studies rather than badminton, horseshoes, volleyball, tennis and anything else that came along. Our volleyball team was undefeated, having among its members the U.S. Volleyball Coach James Coleman along with two All-Americans. I was directed to be “only a spiker”, and did so happily as the spiking motion is the same as a tennis serve, and I had a fair serve. I however did not have the necessary agility, strength, or quick movement required in volleyball, certainly one of the most athletic of all sports, and I did not commit to further development.

With all this devotion to non-academic pursuits, I made the ”wrong Dean’s List” for the first semester. Fortunately I was able to recover for the second half of the year and get on “the right Dean’s List”, but missed out on some really fun stuff. The satisfactory grades for the second semester helped me to receive a National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research Grant in Astronomy, one of my majors along with Mathematics, for my junior year.

Sprinkled throughout the years from age 12 and upward, I had dabbled with golf and found it to be an intellectual activity as well as physical exercise. Each shot, other than those at a driving range, is different from the one preceding and the one after; the lie of the ball on the ground changes as does the target and distance desired. Even the basics of the swing have to be consistently reassessed and modified in order to have a chance for a successful outcome. At the same time, the golfer is really competing against the landscape, not his opponents. A golf match is really saying, “ I can maneuver this ball around this pasture in fewer strokes than you”; there is no opportunity to “play defense” other than perhaps an occasional cough or flatulent interruption in the middle of the opponent’s swing. When you think about professional sports, golf may be the only one where the participant doesn’t get paid until he or she has achieved, from week to week; they don’t have a huge pre-season contract that is based on hope instead of future performance.

As with my involvement with other sports, I considered myself to be “better than average” as a golfer, having tried to learn the game from one of the classic books, “Power Golf” by Ben Hogan (and still available as a paperback).  I remember the excitement of the first time I “broke 80”, at a public course in Kansas City and with some used clubs I had recently purchased from the pro. But again, there was no sense of dedication or commitment although it was more than “a passing fancy”. As a member of the first Peace Corps project, along with my teaching science and math, and initiating basketball, in Ghana, West Africa, I played a few rounds of golf here and there around that country. One had to be careful where one walked; I recall eyeing a recently shed cobra skin on one of the roughly cut fairways. If you hit the ball into the woods (read “jungle”), you sent the caddy in after it, not yourself. I was amazed that they always seemed able to find the ball! During my second year in Ghana, I met another PC volunteer who had come more recently, and I was able to relive those halcyon days of athletic competition in as many sports as possible, during school vacations—one on one basketball, tennis, badminton, ping-pong—anything. Again, it provided a sense of relaxation and relief from stress. (Actually, we still get together periodically, 50 years later, for some golf. He usually wins).

As I changed jobs and locations, academic pursuits, and career options, married and became a parent, golf has been a thread as a side interest to the main foci of my life. When I worked briefly and began graduate work in Anthropology at Columbia University in New York, I indulged myself with 7 ½ hour rounds in Van Cortland Park, in the Bronx. Continuing grad work under a fellowship at Kansas University, there were the sand greens outside of Lawrence, just like some of those in Ghana where there was a special weighted tool used to drag a putting path to the hole. A move to North Carolina introduced me to “real golf”, and I had a membership at Tanglewood outside of Winston-Salem, while filling in as an Anthropology instructor at Wake Forest. A move to UNC in Greensboro brought me to a number of other venues, including the famous Pinehurst #2. A few years later, in the pre-wedding activities of my aforementioned buddy, we played at Cog Hill #5, the famous course in the Chicago area.

A year later, he and his wife introduced me to my wife, a lab partner of theirs in the Biological Science doctoral program at the U. of Illinois. And an athlete! Former Illinois state diving champion at 13, holder of swim records, played college basketball and tennis at a small college north of Chicago, great baseball and softball player—–and somewhat of a golfer (her aunt had won the Illinois State Amateur several times, as well as the Wyoming Women’s Amateur once, and played with the famous women golfers. She had started my wife onto golf).

THE GOLF TEACHER

After we married, we headed to Colorado where I completed my Ed. D. in Educational Change and Development;  we then moved to Wyoming where I was charged with establishing the state’s first middle school program, in the small town of Thermopolis in the Big Horn River Basin. As luck would have it, during the first year a need arose to have someone operate the golf pro shop the following summer, and we were asked to do so. Both us were busy doing other things; I with my school duties and she having our first child, but we hired some of my more reliable students to staff the shop and collect green fees and cart rentals. We also stocked some equipment, and could order just about anything. There was a problem, however—-no one to give lessons. I didn’t feel competent enough to do so, and anyway, if I did I could no longer play in amateur tournaments. What to do?

We discovered that if lessons were given under Adult Education, with me as an educator, I could receive some payment and remain an amateur (certainly my prowess was still at that level, and has definitely remained so). I went back to my “Power Golf” book along with Jack Nicklaus’ “Five Fundamentals”, and anything else I could find. An ad in the local paper, emphasizing group lessons for beginners, gave me the start on a new venture, one that eventually provided me with a great deal of satisfaction as well as new opportunities. To illustrate my need for information, I had to ponder deeply to answer a question posed by a rather chesty young woman in her first lesson—“Do you swing over them or under them?” I decided that “over them” would be best, and confidently resumed the rest of the lesson.

We operated that shop during summers for three years, and along the way managed to upgrade our own ability to play. One year, both of us won the Club Championships; afterward, my wife stopped playing golf and turned her attention to landscaping our new home and working in a variety of part-time jobs in education (college night class teaching), building museum displays, helping friends with establishing new businesses.

LABOR DAY TOURNAMENT

She, however, in collaboration with a man who was the backbone of the golf activity in our town, ran a highly-popular three-day two-person-teams golf tournament every labor day. Her partner in this venture had become fairly wealthy recently, having taken a chance on a nearby oil field where he had worked as a petroleum engineer, and which one of the larger oil companies had acquired and was now “dumping” as not promising future profit. They were wrong and he began enjoying the fruits of his labor; along the way he established friendships and acquaintances with a number of “people in high places”; at the same time, another man who had grown up in our town had become a CEO of a number of national and international businesses, and was a close friend. As a result, the golf tournament brought persons from far-away places to town and was the major social event of the year. One year, I was recruited to be the partner of Tony Tyrone, then President of Warner Brothers and a partner with David Janssen and Frank Sinatra; another year, Don Ameche’s son was a participant. The same teams came every year for over 20 years, flying in from San Francisco, Brussels, Atlanta, and other far-flung places. One participant invited me to “look him up” if I was in his area—I did so later, he lived at Pebble Beach and was a member of Monterey Peninsula Country Club. One year, the Calcutta reached $32,000, and the Saturday night auction was a thing to behold, as “conglomerates” formed in order to pay for the bids.

My wife had become “a legend” in connection with the tournament. With the advent of computers, she began keeping records about every entrant; we learned which persons to un-invite as they were sandbagging with inflated handicaps in order to win money; she kept everyone’s sweater and shirt sizes along with other preferences; there was both a men’s and women’s division. With this information, we selected great tee prizes; I’m still using the Nike duffel bag for all my international travel, after 12 years. The tourney itself was a best ball format, the first day the front nine was played as best ball, the second nine was individual. Two thirds of handicap were used. The second day, the order was reversed, then on the third day back to the original sequence. There were the usual side pots for closest to hole, long drive, shortest drive, long putt made, etc., there was daily day money from the Calcutta, and about a quarter of the field enjoyed standard prizes. Hole-in-one insurance was provided although the one year it wasn’t, our financial backer had to shell out for a prize golf cart.

Unfortunately, the tournament is no more. With changes in personnel, aging and passing of participants, and economic woes, it is only a fond memory.

BEYOND LABOR DAY

In subsequent years, I have worked in several locations around Wyoming while maintaining our primary residence in Thermopolis. My wife has stayed there, our two sons graduating from the local high school and going on to college. She has been a highly-honored teacher in the next town to the North, Worland, and is presently a central office administrator for curriculum and instruction, and educational grant programs. In at least two my other locations, I was asked to provide golf lessons through local adult education, and as usual focused on beginning golfers, especially women. Over the years, I found that the persons easiest to teach were those who had never played any kind of sports but had good coordination; among athletes, the easiest to learn the game were basketball and tennis players; football players and baseball players have the most problems. Of these two groups, the former tend to try and “crush the ball” instead of working on rhythm and timing; the latter have the problem of the dominant right hand which causes slicing, hooking, topping, and other nasty results.

I will shortly be drafting a short “instructional blog” which a beginning golfer could use to get a good start. None of my students hooked or sliced; they could always get the ball up in the air and straight, using the basics I teach. I once read that “the golf swing is the single most complex movement in all of sport”, and I agree. If even the tiniest thing, maybe a hangnail or a blister on the right heel is wrong, the rhythm of the swing can change. I’ve played lots of basketball with minor injuries, and managed to perform adequately. That’s not the case in golf.

Using the proceeds and relationships from my golf instructional career, I’ve played at Pebble Beach (92 from the back tees, two triple bogey’s out of the unfamiliar kind of sand, kikuyu grass and consistently wrong clubs to the sea level greens from my accustomed 7000 ft. elevation in Wyoming), Monterey Country Club (80), Prairie Dunes (Hutchinson, KS, 78). Other opportunities have brought me to other well-known courses including the Myrtle Beach and Charlotte areas of the Carolinas. On recent overseas educational evaluation trips, I played in Germany, Cairo, Japan, and South Korea. I’m tentatively planning a stopover in Scotland next spring, on my way to or from another educational evaluation assignment in either Saudi Arabia or Bahrain.

You may be wondering, what happened to the “Neil and Me” and the opening paragraph? Well, that special education residential facility is located in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and if you’re familiar with the area you know it can be expensive. Normally, I wouldn’t be able to afford to play golf there, but I discovered that I could work as a volunteer course ranger at the Teton Pines resort, just a half mile down the road from my school, and play free! I did that for five years and along the way, briefly met or chatted with lots of celebrity-types either visiting or living there. Former Vice-President Cheney has a house on the property, as does former World Bank President James Wolfenson, and as did David Brinkley. Harrison Ford and Jay Rockefeller were listed as members. Among the folks I had the good fortune to meet was Neil Armstrong, who occasionally came to Wyoming probably for R & R. While he was waiting to hit on the 12th tee, I said, “You know, I let you take my place”. He asked me to explain, so I said, “when I entered college in 1956, I wanted to be the first man in space and travel to the moon or Mars. I was to major in Astronomy and Physics, and throw in some Archaeology just in case there would be something “there” to find. I got my degree in Mathematics and Astronomy, and took some Anthropology classes, but I was told that I was too tall to easily fit into any potential space vehicle, and my eyesight wasn’t good enough to be a jet pilot. So that dream ended, and you took my spot.” He found that amusing. He was a fairly decent golfer as well as an astronaut, and much better than many of the other celebs that cluttered up the view of the Tetons.

I almost really took his place several years later; he was to be a guest at the annual meeting of the leaders of the world aircraft industry, held at the A Bar A Dude Ranch in southern Wyoming during the week after Labor Day. I was working in the nearby school district office in Saratoga, Wyoming, and the small airport is annually dwarfed by as many as 39 jets assembled on the apron during the meeting week. The persons operating the dude ranch asked if I would come up and give an astronomy talk one evening—“What, ME? With Neil Armstrong among the participants? You’re out of your mind!”

Always Be Happy!                     Totally Out of the Universe!

COMING OF AGE

June 25, 2012

Many years ago, as a budding anthropology major, one of the classics we were assigned was “Coming of Age in Samoa”, a classic study by Margaret Mead detailing the life passages of children ascending to adulthood in the South Pacific. This past weekend’s activities of my 56th high school class reunion caused me to revisit Ms. Mead’s constructs, and tweaked a notion that perhaps she hadn’t gone far enough.

In the first place, there were only 40 or so of our original 272; some of course have passed on but I believe that in general, many had adopted the attitude that I had at the “50th”; I had been in contact through the years with most of the ones, the five or six, important to me during high school. As for the others, I really could care less what they have been doing all these years. In fact, I didn’t know most of them then, and have no urge to “meet them” now. (I probably would have given this a miss also, but I needed to return to KC to pick up some of my Peace Corps artifacts which had been on display at the University of Kansas, having been that school’s first Peace Corps volunteer and the school  was recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps). A reception was held on the top floor of a building owned by one of our class, the Bernstein-Rein building, and which housed their advertising agency on two floors. I discovered that one of their other enterprises is a high end cosmetics firm, “Beauty Brands”, and I attempted to acquaint Mr. Bernstein with the long-ignored Halal market potential I had read about in publications of the American Halal Association, and which is a project of a former colleague.

But to get to my point—–I feel that I personally am still “growing”, continually looking within myself searching for the answer to the question, “Who am I?”.  But as I looked around the room, I wondered, “How many of these folks are still Seeking?”  Is this affair merely another compartment of The Waiting Room as each listens to hear “Next” called out, attached to their name, to enter into the Beyond? Are they like the guys at McDonald’s having coffee every morning, before heading to the golf course or their flower garden, no longer actively contributing to their society and surroundings? I wonder.

Margaret Mead was interested in cultural growth events in the lives of her research subjects, but maybe she should have gone further and looked internally into each one, and far beyond the “I am an adult” level. Every culture and society has events which signify either formally (christenings, etc.) or informally (attaining a driver’s license), that a new level has been attained, but studies usually stop when adulthood is reached. I assert that there remain many new plateaus to be reached, many canyons yet to explore, and many of them lie within. I am realizing that I am still “coming of age” as I continue to explore the worlds within my mind—what is Faith?  Love?  Leadership? Is there a Life Force? Questions, questions, questions. And in wrestling with them, I sometimes feel a deluge of a sea of words, sometimes even poetic, as their revelations wash across my thoughts. Yes, I am a Work in Progress. I am still “Coming of Age”.

I like to drive across Kansas, more so than Nebraska or South  Dakota which have been my routes east and west on other occasions. Contrary to the accepted thought, Kansas is not all flat, and there are many places when one meets new vistas, gazing out across gentle valleys and hills toward a distant horizon. At one point on my trip, I was driving beneath a cluster of towering wind machines, generating kilowatts to spread throughout the landscape for our obese consumption. Each one appeared almost as a living sculpture, each huge blade a graceful curve seeking the slightest breeze wandering by. In contrast was an area of eastern Colorado, where the temperature in my car registered a stunning 113 degrees, and initiated a comment from me that is unsuitable for mixed company.

Throughout my trip, I was preoccupied with new potential health issues seemingly appearing on a daily basis. The neuropathy in my feet and legs is lessening my leg strength and balance, which greatly interfered with my attempt to play tennis with one of my former classmates. I could only stumble awkwardly around the court; me, who used to play in tournaments and sometimes even won! I tried to ignore those conditions along with the continual arthritic pain in my back and neck; my golf game appeared to be on the mend during the front nine when, after a rocky first three holes, I finished out that side with a few pars and a couple of birdies.  Alas, some fatigue reared its ugly head, and I had trouble keeping the right hand out of the shots, the right hand being the source of most problems in the golf swing. What to do? I emailed my doctor immediately and we decided to do a complete onslaught on this citadel, my body, whose failing infrastructure rivals all the bridges and highways in the nation. Tomorrow I begin a series of tests with a neurologist, hopefully to determine that I’m not saddled with one of those diseases that is only known by a cluster of capital letters. Maybe the use of letters instead of the actual name ameliorates the evil that besets the victim.

My computer, formerly blamed for sending out malware, has been cleansed in spirit and memory of the nasty interlopers, and is ready to re-enter society. I’m writing this on my laptop, but am anxious to begin using my newly-blessed desktop for my writing. As a friend observed, the writing process is cathartic, and provides a sense of calm and pleasure as the words flow from the fingertips to the keys. Just another step in my coming of age.

Always Be Happy!                                                                        🙂                                                                          To Our Youth!