Wednesday, November 29, 2006

At the Library

This is a shot from the second floor landing at the Sac State library. Or is this a mezzanine? No matter. I am here to work on a research paper that is due tomorrow morning. It is not the last minute – but it’s damn close. If I had to guess, I’d say I’m about half way done with it, maybe a little less. That estimate is a little deceiving, however, because there are parts (like the citations) that are only about 10 percent done.

And I don’t like citing sources. Not because I think I should somehow be exempt or because it’s not necessary, but because I’m not good at it. It’s not familiar and I therefore resist. And I know how to attribute – I’m a journalist. It’s just that research citation is so impersonal. It’s not like journalism where I talk to some guy and then write, “he said.”

I suppose it goes deeper than that as well. What I am doing (or supposed to be doing) is just reassembling known information. I’m compiling others’ research and expertise into a new angle… and honestly, it isn’t all that new. I know; it’s about the digging, the assembling and the recompiling. It’s practice in putting together a well-supported and well thought out argument. I get that.

I just don’t like it.

Is that the only reason I procrastinate? This is an area to which I have given much thought of late, as I am in the midst of yet another procrastinatorial (it’s a word – Google it!) battle. I know that I will finish this thing today; I have to. I know that I will be relatively happy with it when it’s done and I am equally sure I’ll receive high marks for it.

And I think I know that the pretense of doing it before the last minute was simply self-deception. It wasn’t going to happen. It never does, yet I almost always get these things done and done well, in time. Why do I wait? I think I have to. I have planned and planned some more to do this, or at least bits of it on many, many occasions. I meant it, really. But almost nothing ever happened until time got so tight I had no choice.

And that is why I know it will get done – I have no choice. It’s do or die and I won’t die, it’s that simple. It’s the stress of the approaching deadline that gets me so wound up. But an interesting thing happened a day or two ago. I let go. I knew today would be the day and I knew (know) I would have the time. It’s still true and I am not worried. What's interesting is that as soon as I accepted this reality, I was ok. Yesterday and Monday were productive and, at least as far as this assignment is concerned, relatively stress-free.

So what am I doing now? Well, I'm not working on my paper. Why am I nattering away to my fellow warriors in the blogosphere? Because I only have 15 minutes left on my laptop's battery and then it’s time to go. Because if I were to finish this thing now, I won’t have pushed it to the limit.


I don’t know… because I’m built that way and it’s time I accept it and work with it. We’ll see how well that plan works, I’m not expecting much sleep tonight!

*** UPDATE***
It's done, it's good and it's not even 1 a.m. yet!!

Friday, November 24, 2006


Another year is nearly in the books. It’s been a pretty good one - perhaps one of my best. There have been no real surprises, no huge upheaval, not a lot of drama. True, my life has not been drama-free, but I must say it is in remission. Yesterday’s Thanksgiving feast at my parents’ home was pleasant. If I had my druthers, I would have had all three of my kids there, but not everything is meant to be as I would have it.

I would have put mashed potatoes on the menu as well.

Only my youngest made the trek this year. He and his friend played football and Frisbee on the same street I did so many Thanksgivings ago. My oldest went to Boston with his girlfriend this year. He approached the subject with me somewhat tentatively until I made it clear that it was all right. I always say, “Never pass up a free trip to Boston.” Ok, I’ve never said that, but it’s still sage advice.

My middle son waffled between spending time with my side of the family and his mother’s. I made it clear that it was his choice and whatever he decided was fine with me. He had to choose between spending two hours (one way) in a cramped car with his brother, their friends and me or do the same with his mother traveling to a different set of relatives’ home. In the end, he decided that he did not have to choose; neither option was too appealing and he decided to stay home with his girlfriend and another friend. Except for making sure he was ok with his decision, I didn’t try to talk him out of it.

I knew we would be driving back after dinner. It was a four-hour round trip and about a six-hour stay – 10 hours all tolled. That makes for a very long day. I always say (really, I do always say this) that the duration of a trip should be at least twice the travel time. We made an exception this time. I brought back leftovers for my middle son and company so that the traditional feast would not have to be sacrificed in the name of peace and comfort. My mother’s cooking is legendary and my son eagerly awaited his take-out order.

Although somewhat later, he and his friends enjoyed the very same meal the rest of us did earlier. The impact and the meaning and the tradition remained intact as well. He was thankful and made sure to thank everyone who had it coming. Although we didn’t share the same physical space or dining experience, we shared something deeper. We had an understanding and communicated our needs without fear of reprisal or hurt. In a metaphysical way, we shared much more than a turkey dinner.

And it is despite my vision of how it should have been. If I had to paint a picture of Thanksgiving this year, as I would like to see it – without any limitations, it wouldn’t have been this. If I were asked to paint a realistic portrait, best and worst-case scenario, I would have missed by a mile. In all cases, I would have sold myself short because the most important factor of all would have been missing – acceptance.

It is this sincere little nuance… an idea that, although not everything is necessarily planned, some things just can’t help being the way they are. Taken one step further, even if you are the type who plans everything to the nth degree, isn’t there a point where you must throw in the towel? How much simpler life is that I can recognize that time so many painful steps sooner.

I could have forced the issue. Not that I could make him come, he’s too old and too big, but I could have used the coercive and manipulative powers that I have acquired over the years to create that very reality. The reality I just got done saying I would have preferred. But that reality is contingent upon him sincerely wanting to be there, sincerely. If I “made” him come, I would have had what I wanted – physically. But I would not have had his heart and mind.

What I got was better than I could have planned. It was better than was possible to plan. Planning for sincerity is like planning for falling in love. All of the ingredients can be carefully arranged. The warm summer evening, the quiet sidewalk café and the soft music can be planned in advance, but love is unpredictable and best not meddled with. Sincerity is similar, and the best of planning cannot create it.

The connection was there. Not in time or in space, but in spirit.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Ok, I’ve written and deleted the first paragraph of this “work” two or three times now – I guess I should just say it and be done. No sense in pussyfooting around and there’s no point in beating around the bush. I am getting to the point where I need to tell it like it is.

I’m busy – far too busy for my own good. I have certain priorities in my life; peace and serenity are right up at the top. Others are up there too, and when all facets of my life are working in concert with one another, everything runs smoothly. The completion of my BA degree (government-journalism) is just around the corner, but it won’t happen on its own – it needs my attention. My job (part-time staff writer for a small weekly newspaper) is beneficial not because of the money (it ain’t much), but the work experience. Interaction with my family, in both generational directions, can also serve to compliment this hierarchy of priorities in a positive way.

However, these contributing factors can just as easily be out of sync. Indeed, instead of being the benefit and support they have been, recently all these factors and others have served to put a damper on what was a well-oiled machine. Enthusiasm, excitement and zeal have become a chore – more of a grind than anything else. Am I whining? Never! The realities are what they are – I’ll get through it and I am sure I will be grateful for the experience eventually. Today… not so much.

Work was and is supposed to be a part time gig. It is a standing 29-hour per week job that became available just as I was. Why 29 hours? Because at 30 they have to give benefits. If I had walked in off the street with no experience, I probably would not have qualified for it. I was in the right place at the right time. At the beginning of the semester, it was a blast. I was learning and earning and working a lot – a lot more than 29 hours per week. I still am, but I no longer have the time in the week to be working 35, 40, or more hours – never mind how many I am being paid for.

I thought that maybe the job was taking me more time than it pays because of my inexperience. Perhaps it took me longer because I was just learning. There is some truth in that and I'm down with paying my dues. However, I believe it should be a full-time job and whoever ends up taking my place will have trouble completing it on a part-time basis. I could be wrong; my opinion is not based in a great deal of experience – yet.

The point is that at this time in the semester, I do not have the time to work that many hours and put in the time I need for school and deal with the other things life throws at me. Fortunately, I only committed to do this job until the end of the year – five more weekly issues. I will fulfill my commitment and I will pass my classes and I might even still get the same marks I’m used to – so far so good. But the pressure is mounting and the most critical time is just ahead.

Then, as if all that wasn’t enough, a sudden lapse (or the discovery of a lapse) in communication in the family demands my attention. As usual, it just can’t wait… no, no - there is a problem and it has to be understood, mitigated and regulated – right now. It can’t wait for the semester break, or better, after I graduate and get a real job that pays real money; when I have the available non-financial resources (like time) as well. Oh, no – like when I was in the hospital, an issue in which my involvement is peripheral demands my direct attention because those directly involved find it easier to go through me.

On the other generational side, emergencies are popping up regularly – too regularly – and they often demand what little money I do have. Again, so far it is ok and I am not whining about being poor or broke or any of that. I won’t starve. I am very fortunate. However, the pressure to deal with it all is another story altogether. Again, the timing couldn’t be worse… even when I do have the time to deal with my stuff (two BIG research papers and studying for finals), I’m more motivated to take a nap.

And today that’s exactly what I did. My plan was to spend all afternoon in the library and work on schoolwork. I didn’t. I came home and slept. Can I afford to waste the time? Probably not, but I guess I’ll just lose some sleep later like countless other college students do; and I’ll get it done. My track record of late is that I always finish and finish well. However, and this is a big however, it’s not fun right now, and it used to be. School hasn’t changed, my attitude has.

There, I said it.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Tourist Town

It’s that time of year again. It always catches me a little off-guard. The semester at Sac State is nearly over; the weather had turned to an absolutely bone-chilling daytime average of 64 degrees and the skies are overcast much of the time. Fog is a frequent visitor and the rain, although not due in heavy amounts just yet, has been coming through regularly.

A handful of Sierra ski resorts have opened up with the help of man-made snow. There’s not much terrain open yet, but the real stuff will soon be along and with it, the crowds. Although I miss living in the mountains, among their majesty and mystery - and I miss winter in the Sierras the most - I sure don’t miss the tourists.

And now I am one. A tourist. A flat-lander. I’ll make my weekend pilgrimage up the hill, spend my money – lots of it – and come home. I’ll be contributing to the local economy while extracting from it its serenity - adding to the traffic, the pollution and the noise. Living in a tourist town is like expecting houseguests every weekend. For one or two days out of seven, the trade-offs seem worth it.

And like houseguests, some are more respectful than others. Many pick up after themselves, wait their turn and don’t use everything up. They are gracious, appreciative and are welcome back. Others would never be invited back – but a tourist town doesn’t get to pick and choose. Therefore, we could expect the rude, the obnoxious, the filthy and the snobs. Every weekend. It’s part of the game.

Still, for five days out of seven, the slopes were ours. There are no lift lines, not much litter, plenty of parking and no traffic. When the big storms come through mid-week, dump their load of white gold and close the mountain passes, guess who gets to enjoy all that powder? Who’s out there laying first tracks while the schools and many businesses close their doors in appreciation of one of the Sierra’s most precious gifts.

It has been some years now that I have called Truckee my home. My connections for free lift tickets have all moved on. I now pay full price like all the other flat-landers. And I am respectful as much as any guest should be anywhere. I know how trying it can be. I know how just one out-of-towner waiting at an intersection while waiving me through can make my day. I take with me and dispose of that which I brought and I pick up after my inconsiderate tourist brethren as well, because if I don’t those who live there must.

And for the price of respect, I get to bask in Mother Nature’s magic. For a precious few days this winter, I will revel in the power that can be dangerous as it is exhilarating, treacherous and inviting, beautiful and stark. For this privilege, the residents of Truckee and Tahoe City, of Crystal Bay and Incline - even the more densely populated fraternal twins, Stateline and South Lake Tahoe – all feel an impact.

And to be fair, there are locals, some perhaps are long-time residents who remember a time of solitude, that do not accept this necessary evil. Some meet disrespect with disrespect – a few do so proactively. Indeed, it is not always the visitor who draws the first foul. For the most part, however, the impact left by the weekend warriors is evident on Monday morning. Every resort parking lot bears witness to the unmitigated gall of some who can’t walk ten feet – less –to the nearest garbage can. The juvenile behavior of a few can sour a whole community, leaving a nasty taste in its collective mouth.

But tolerate it they must, year after year. A tourist town’s life’s blood is the tourist dollar – and, of course, the tourist. Either by design or default, some destinations resonate with the masses. For those who have been to Truckee and Lake Tahoe, I need not explain. To those that haven’t, words can’t do it justice and even if worth a thousand words, pictures don’t either.

I remember driving on State Route 267 from Truckee to Kings Beach. Just after cresting Brockway summit at 7,179 feet, the lake in all her majesty is laid out in front of me. As often as I made that trek, it always took my breath away, be it mid summer or mid blizzard. Never mind the casinos, the resorts, the cabins or the quaint mountain towns… it’s the lake that draws us. It was inevitable.
Photo honorably stolen from Prairie Roots Photography

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Park-Like Settings, Tree-Lined Streets

It’s a beautiful day in a lovely park-like setting at California State University, Sacramento – locally and affectionately known as Sac State. It’s mid-November, a balmy 65 degrees with virtually no wind. The sun is filtering through the pines and oaks; the grass is damp and the earth below it, soft. The days of enjoying the great outdoors are numbered, but today – the noise of the traffic is barely noticeable in the distance, the birds are singing and the squirrels are scurrying about. Around here, this is about a peaceful as it gets – and it’s enough.

Sacramento is not the largest city around, but it is a major metropolitan area all the same. With a population of about a half-million in the city proper and 2.5 million in the five-county metropolitan area, it’s not even among California’s top three metroplexes – it’s number four. Be that as it may, it still has all the trappings of any big city despite its also-ran status among the state’s population centers.

As such, certain unavoidable realities that every big city faces are true for Sacramento as well. There is the obligatory traffic, crime and filth that every population center has to endure. This is not news. However, it’s the stark monotony of the landscape that has a subtle, yet persistently erosive quality to it that sometimes gets me. It wears on me… the pavement, the cement, the artificiality of it all. For the most part, it all goes unnoticed – working on my psyche in the background, as it were.

I guess I am not alone. I mean… if I were the only one, no one would ever put a park anywhere. Nobody would care about trees, or landscape strips or even houseplants. That a significant amount of money is spent on keeping a little of the “country” in the city tells me that enough of us feel at least a little longing for a more natural environment. But in the name of progress, convenience… indeed, for the sake of comfort, we forego the inefficiency of our natural world and we build. And build. And build.

The greenery we preserve or, often, recreate comes from a number of sources. There is a variety if institutions beyond local city and county governments that value some landscaping in the landscape. Schools, both public and private, have a history of providing this oasis within many a concrete jungle. Although many grade schools and, of course, high schools provide ball fields and playgrounds for themselves and the community, local colleges and universities provide a slice of nature on a scale that sometimes rivals the largest city parks.

In Sacramento, there are some magnificent parks. The state capital, right downtown, is surrounded by a very large park with all the attendant accoutrements. A rose garden, war memorial and numerous works of art abound. And there are others. However, Sac State, though not a park per se, serves the same purpose – and I’m not sure many even stop to think about it. Other big and not so big schools share this quality as well.

Although the effect may not be as pronounced at more suburban schools like nearby UC Davis, or, further west, Stanford and UC Santa Cruz; at San Jose State, San Francisco State and even UC Berkeley, the contrast is unavoidable. It’s more than just a relaxing and peaceful environment to pursue a higher education; it’s peaceful and relaxing for anyone. It’s a break in the monotony, a needed oasis in the desert of freeways, parking lots and traffic. And it’s there for anyone. Grab a book, get a cup of coffee, kick your shoes off and relax -

The Bare Necessities

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature's recipes
That brings the bare necessities of life

Wherever I wander, wherever I roam
I couldn't be fonder of my big home
The bees are buzzin' in the tree
To make some honey just for me
When you look under the rocks and plants
And take a glance at the fancy ants
Then maybe try a few

The bare necessities of life will come to you
They'll come to you!

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
That's why a bear can rest at ease
With just the bare necessities of life

Now when you pick a pawpaw
Or a prickly pear
And you prick a raw paw
Next time beware
Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear
Try to use the claw
But you don't need to use the claw
When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw
Have I given you a clue ?

The bare necessities of life will come to you
They'll come to you!

So just try and relax, yeah cool it
Fall apart in my backyard
'Cause let me tell you something little britches
If you act like that bee acts, uh uh
You're working too hard

And don't spend your time lookin' around
For something you want that can't be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin' about it
I'll tell you something true

The bare necessities of life will come to you

-Terry Gilkyson

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Time and Change

Another day just came to an end. It was a good day. Most are lately. Yesterday I visited a friend who is currently residing in the same hospital that I called home for several weeks six years ago. Although my experience there was miraculous, insightful, enlightening, transforming and a host of other equally profound adjectives, there were no good days. Not a single one, not even the day I left. It took some time and a lot of pain before the days got to be even close to good, but here I am today nonetheless better – a lot better than I’ve ever been.

In many respects, my friend is in the same boat I was in. The specific nature of the medical condition that led to her hospitalization is different; so too is the magnitude of her condition. However, the fear, the uncertainty and the helplessness are no different. I’ve been there. It was hard for me to walk back into that institution. It always is. I never particularly took to hospitals in the first place and my extended stay in one sure didn’t change that. Much had changed in just the 18 months or so since I had last been there, visiting a different friend.

I have always made it a point to visit the ER/ICU when I’m in the area. Although my memory is fuzzy, there are a few nurses there that I remember and they remember me. They see a lot of patients come and go and many that go… well they go permanently. It’s the nature of a trauma center; you don’t end up there if you’re not in pretty bad shape. I was expected to be one of those that left in a permanent fashion. That I didn’t, and have since been back, willingly and under my own power, is (or was 18 months ago) still a source of amazement to my caregivers.

Like many hospitals, Washoe Medical Center, in Reno, is expanding. Indeed it seems it always is. There has been construction going on every time I’ve been there, whether my stay was a few hours or a few weeks. The floor my friend is on is the same floor I was on after they moved me out of ICU. It’s also where my other friend was 18 months ago. It used to be called the “step-down” unit and it was on the third floor. Now that ward – with my old room - is the oncology unit. I’m not quite sure why my friend is in that unit, she hasn’t got cancer – my other friend did, and he has since passed.

This time, however, there has been much more extensive activity than just the rearrangement of furniture. Everything is different, including the ER/ICU. They even changed the name of the whole hospital. New graphics, slogans, color scheme… and, it would appear, new personnel. At least that is what I was told by the administrator behind the “admitting” desk in what used to be an old, “throw-back” style ER waiting room. There used to be a door under the TV with a phone hanging next to it. In the past I would simply pick up the receiver and wait for an answer.

“ER, can I help you?”

“Yes,” I would say. “My name is Mike Althouse and I was a patient here for a few weeks back in October of 2000.”

“What can I do for you?” the friendly voice on the other side would ask.

“I was just wondering if there is anyone working today that was here during that period of time?” was my typical response.

Usually I wouldn’t even get put on hold, “Hang on just a sec… Peggy? You were here at the end of 2000, weren’t you? Do you remember a Mike… what was your last name? Althouse. Mike Althouse?”

By this time there is some kind of surprised exclamation followed by the door being buzzed open.

“Come on back!” And I hang up the phone and push the door open.

That door is no longer there. And according to the sentinel guarding the gateway from behind her desk, all dressed in her hospital garb, “Oh, there wouldn’t be anyone working here from that long ago.”

“Really?” But 18 months ago there would be - was. I suppose she was just doing her job. I asked if I could just walk back and see if I recognized any of the nurses. She asked me if I had a name of someone– I didn’t, and no she wasn’t going to just let me walk back there. There was not much else I could do. I am relatively sure there were some still there from when I was, but the admitting “nurse” (she isn’t a nurse, but they all dress like one), was equally sure there weren’t. It was a losing battle and perhaps the finality I needed.

That place was special. My stay was short, but in terms of hospitalizations, pretty lengthy. Considering my days there were 24 hours long, it felt much longer. I have made this informal and irregular pilgrimage since I left the mountains four years ago. I can’t really explain any better than to say that it was a part of me. I wanted to express my gratitude again and tell those who took care of me that their efforts were not in vain – that it was worth it and that I care a great deal.

Maybe that administrative assistant was right. Maybe all from that era are gone. Perhaps it’s time now to close that chapter in my book. Time and change are constant. Thanks in large part to the efforts of those kind and caring professionals, I am living proof.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Happy Birthday Dad!

*** Due to Blogger's technical difficulties, the following post originally appeared on "Been Some Places, Seen Some Things" yesterday. It's an important post and as such enjoys prominence here - a day late perhaps, but no dollars short.

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He’s 70-something. I can never remember exactly. It’s not like it’s a big secret or that it’s not polite to ask… I could, it just doesn’t much matter. It’s the same with my mom. Her birthday is in February and she’s my dad’s age minus a few years. No, I don’t know how many – a few. Again, it’s no big secret, she wouldn’t have any problem telling me – again.

What’s important about November eighth is not how many times it has rolled around in his lifetime. What is important is how much he has accomplished in that time. If memory serves, he was born in 1933 – I could be wrong but at least it’s close. That would put him smack-dab in the middle of the Great Depression. Although they were hard times for many, it was doubly hard for my paternal grandparents and their only child.

My father is a first generation American. Both of his parents came to this country from Russia and/or the Ukraine in the early 1900s. They met and married in New York City and worked very hard. When they arrived, they didn’t know the language or the culture; all they had to build upon was an ability and willingness to work and work hard. They never made a lot of money, but they earned every penny. They were among the most honorable people I’ll ever know.

It is apparent that the work ethic my grandparents relied upon to survive was transmitted to my father. As I said, they didn’t have much, but they made do. My dad excelled in school and graduated high school at 16. A remarkable achievement in its own right but even more so when you take into account a complete transplant from New York to Miami midway through his high school years. He would be the first to tell you, however, that he wasn’t any smarter; he just worked twice as hard.

As hard as my grandparents worked, there was not much chance of them seeing my dad through college. He found a way to do it himself. He viewed education as the antidote to fiscal uncertainty. Through a combination of means (such as the GI Bill and… that’s right, work), he managed to graduate from UCLA with a chemistry degree before putting himself through Stanford for his PhD. (For those that do not know – a PhD is a BIG deal… a PhD from Stanford is a REALLY BIG deal). Not bad for a poor depression era kid.

I could go on and on about what he has done since then. He and my mom have been married for almost 45 years, he has traveled all over the world, he has been a successful business owner, an employer and… for almost 44 years he has been a father. My father.

And what was that like?

Well, if all’s well that ends well, then all’s well. Ok, the truth – Mostly pretty good. Yes there have been more than a few rough patches, but the good times have more than made up for them. There is one glaring incident when my dad and mom literally put their lives on hold for several months to help me. In my book, that is the kind of sacrifice that defines parenthood and perhaps even more so, fatherhood.

Happy Birthday Pops!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Word of the Week - DICHOTOMETRIC

Life is an amazingly complex thing. I’m not referring to the biological, electro-physical, machine that is our physical housing. Nor do I intend to enter a debate (with myself or others) regarding whether or not there is a spiritual being contained within. No, it’s much less philosophical than all that. I have again been faced with the unsettling realization that what I perceive, though perhaps real and true, is not universally so.

Last night, I found myself in a situation in which I saw and heard certain “realities.” I believed the evidence of what I witnessed to be universal – if I had a videotape to show you, you would see what I saw. At least in theory, it would be so. But as any cop will tell you, witnesses to an identical crime will often recount details so starkly different as to make the officer wonder if they were describing the same event.

I was treated to a tale of struggle and perseverance… of failure and triumph, of adventures so grand that surely it couldn’t be true. And it wasn’t. There were other factors as well. I happen to know this gentleman and some of his history. But my prior knowledge was not what sent me over the edge… I’ve sat through his story before. There was more to the display and I thought it was obvious. At least I was not alone… although all did not share my perception, at least some did. So I’m not crazy… not yet.

And, no his name is not James Frye, but it’s a good guess!

This is not the first time this dichotometric reality has reared its ugly head. Indeed, it is present all around us. From the innocent “he said/she said” lover’s tiffs to the huge chasms apparent in the body politic, it is no surprise when contradictory statements are made under the guise of truth, but both can’t be. However, and this is the hard part for me, both parties often believe their version is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but.

The problem is not that there are bald-faced liars – there are and they know it. I believe I witnessed one in all his glory last night. I can deal with that. What is at issue is simply what is reality? Is it real or perception? For me, I saw a sham and a charlatan last night. I don’t believe he was after my money; it was not that sort of setting… he had nothing to gain but the solicitation of kudos from an audience that was largely taken in by his BS. And he got that.

Nor do I believe that I was in any way jealous or envious – and those who shared my experience weren’t either. Maybe it’s just the shock that I knew it was so obviously false and it was taken at full face value – plus interest – by others, some of whom I know to be of at least average intelligence. Were they taken in by the hype? Maybe it was an infectious phenomenon – a bandwagon effect of sorts. It’s almost eerie.

I didn’t say anything, not for fear of retribution… those who know me know that wouldn’t have stopped me. It was due to an open-mindedness of a type I didn’t know even existed. It’s not because I think my perception may be off in the ozone… oh no, I’m dead on in my assessment. Rather, it’s due to the fact that whatever that 2/3s of the audience saw and heard (about 15 all tolled), it did something for them.

Their perception was that they saw some kind of hope. I didn’t see it, but who am I to tell them they didn’t. There was no foul, no scam, and no crime. Nobody was being taken for anything other than their trust. There is nothing I can do to rectify that. If there were a clear and present danger, sure, I’d be compelled to do something. As it was, all I could do was bite my tongue.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Revelations - Reprise

Here I am, sitting in front of a blank monitor and a quiet keyboard, minutes before the start of a new week… Saturday night. I want to write something, but all I’ve got is this - a writer writing about not having anything to write about. According to my editor’s editor, it’s the most natural thing in the world for a writer to write about. I never quite paid any attention before he said it, but so it is true.

Nevertheless, if I can’t come up with anything else, this will suffice. Writing about nothing… it’s been my experience that something will materialize, all I have to do is just keep pushing the buttons and something will scurry out…

There it is!

I was catching up with a friend that I haven’t seen in several days and lamenting about how busy I’ve been. I tried to be clear that I wasn’t complaining – indeed, I am so grateful to have such demands on my time. As I was running through my schedule with him, and while he elaborated on his equally busy life, it hit me. I interrupted him and said,

“It’s success.”

That surprised me. It was a revelation and it surprised me. It is success; that is what I’m experiencing. Success. I’m busy… my time is in demand because I am succeeding. It’s not nearly as burdensome when viewed in the proper perspective. I am busy being successful.

I’ve been busy doing nothing and I know what that feels like. I’ve also been busy doing things that were something, but no one seemed to care too much. Once in a great while, I’ve kept busy with important stuff, but never felt important. The bottom line is that I may have been busier at other points in my life, but I never felt “busy.” Hassled? Yes. Haggard? For sure. Stressed? Unbearably. But not busy like this.

Today and for some time now, I have felt great demand on my time. Very little of my time is ever wasted anymore. When it is “wasted,” it’s by design – it’s a needed, albeit short break. I can’t ever remember feeling particularly successful before, not for any length of time anyway.

Apparently it’s not so much the specific output, but rather the big picture; the sustained forward progression. It’s about the realization of long-term goals materialized by short-term strategies. One day at a time. All of a sudden that frenzied feeling of meeting deadline after deadline – only to be followed by yet another deadline has turned to accomplishment, commitment, perseverance, patience… success. Busy is good.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Soul of a Writer

Last week, one of my journalism professors called me a “writer.” But she didn’t stop there. She accused me of having “the soul of a writer.” That was all very nice and I was, of course, flattered and humbled. I happen to have a great deal of admiration and respect for her… she has been (journalistically) where I have yet to travel. Although I know, based on my grades in her class, I am able to competently write news; it was not my news writing that she was talking about.

Through a series of events that are not all that important, she recently became aware of my blog and has had occasion to stop by here and read some of my “free-form” writing. It is decidedly not news writing. Indeed, I’m not quite sure how I would categorize it. Be that as it may, her observation wasn’t exactly all that surprising. In all humility - and I have written about this before – I know that I am a writer, and a pretty good one at that. But the soul of a writer? Ok, I’ll take it.

What was surprising is that she said it was a quality that she did not possess. Huh? She said in class once that she has wanted to be a journalist since she was a kid. She’s been writing – for money – for many years. She is a writer! How is it that I could have the “soul of a writer” when she didn’t?

So this all has been bouncing around in my head for about a week now. It’s making me think – something I already do far too much of. I began to compare the different kinds of writing and what it is that makes good writing in the various genres stand out.

Is it “soul?” Do some forms of writing need it while others don’t? Is there a difference between an author and a writer? How about a journalist and a reporter? What distinguishes an essayist from a columnist? These and other sorts of writing are vastly different from each other – but the bottom line is that a writer writes. I am better at some forms of writing than others… and yes, some forms require something special.

In news writing, there are a number of rules. Some, like spelling and grammar, are applied pretty much across the board. Other rules or “style” are no less rigid but may vary depending on the publication one is writing for. Most use the Associated Press (AP) style. Furthermore, news writing doesn’t allow for bias, ambiguity and opinion. There is no use of the first-person – ever. The writer can’t be in the story. I know, I know – save it. No one is perfect, especially Fox News.

The point is that given the facts, the quotes, the attribution and the research, the “art” of news writing is much more mechanical than that of, say, a column or an essay. The flow is top-down. We give it all up in the lead - who, what, why, where, when and how. It’s called a reverse pyramid, the detail becomes less and less important towards the end of the story. There is no room for flair, build-up or suspense. Leave your profundity at the door - this is news.

Profile and feature articles have a little less rigidity, but they too are dictated by rules. Although I enjoy writing them slightly more than straight news – it is still not among my preferred genres. I like news for reasons other than the writing. I like the discovery, the curiosity and, of course, the power. The writing, others’ and mine, represents a vehicle. The beauty is in the accurate, efficient, coherent and responsible transmission information.

News writing doesn’t allow for self-expression, that is not its purpose. Clever vocabulary, grammatically complicated - but correct 100-word sentences have no place in news writing. News writing comes off the street, not out of my head. Is there “soul” in news writing? Maybe not, but the passion of getting the story and getting it right – the soul of the journalist certainly does exist.

It is interesting that I can rattle off these 800-odd words and be relatively happy with their arrangement, their flow and their purpose in one sitting - in just about one hour. But when I have to follow the rules of news writing, I struggle and re-write… I throw my hands up and come back to it… it just plain doesn’t come easy – and that’s after the “reporting” part is finished. It could take hours to write 800 little words. I might be good at it – someday, but I’m still learning.

I usually don’t title these posts until I’m all done and staring at the blank title field. I knew what title of this one was going in...