Dr. King and the Universal Truth

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This is a week to reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the history of nonviolent protest, and the impact of the civil rights movement on our national character. It also is a week where we look towards a fairly dramatic change of government; no better time to consider messages of resistance, urgency, and inspiration.

But I am having a little trouble finding the right frame to make my comments meaningful. Saying that Dr. King was a visionary leader whose words compel us to fight injustice is like saying a rose is beautiful or that cool water quenches thirst on a hot day. These things are known and so familiar as to almost be mundane.  Writing what should be an uplifting post has started to feel like telling people they should eat kale. As we all know, kale is not edible unless it’s deep-fried and covered in Cheetos dust. I would not want to have to cover the “I have a dream” speech in Cheetos dust.

If everyone likes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, does that mean I agree with the ideas of everyone who says so? Politicians from all sides of the spectrum have issued positive press releases lauding Dr. King. Does that mean I agree with all of them?  Or, if I say that Dr. King’s ideas are revolutionary because they apply to everyone fighting against injustice, does that mean I am minimizing the work he did to advance the destruction of racist institutions? I am worried about pandering; I am worried about offending.

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A Year’s Worth of Blogging

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I didn’t plan to devote so much of my Second Act to writing. I thought I’d spend a lot more time watching old movies or re-reading Dickens. I always thought I might start writing someday, but when retirement came, I didn’t think that was Someday yet.

When I was a kid, I did think about “being a writer,” and I did study Literature in college. Unfortunately, I found the actual act of writing to be exceedingly painful, whether writing papers about Faulkner and Woolf or, later, trying my hand at fiction. I always got As on the papers, and everyone who’s read my fiction tells me it’s pretty good.  But it didn’t want to come out without a fight. I agonized so much over every description. I couldn’t get the hang of dialogue to save my life. So I gave it up and in one instance worth sharing, I even gave a pretty good Star Trek fan fiction book, abandoned at 250 pages, to my writer spouse who used it as the plot for her outstanding science fiction novel, Night Vision.

Meanwhile, I contented myself with lengthy fascinating analyses in my corporate job and was constantly whacked on the nose for being unable to limit myself to short, subject-less bullet points. No one who formerly worked with me is surprised that I am now so prolific. Except me, apparently.

This 52 weeks does come as something of a surprise, though. When I retired a year ago, I did put “Writing” on my Things To Do plan. But I also put brushing on my piano skills and taking classes, and though I can mash through a couple Bach inventions now with fewer errors and I can expound with great expertise on Opera and Philosophy, I wouldn’t call either an avocation. Nevertheless, I started writing every week, with a voice that was neither fiction nor drily analytical, and it seemed to flow. By now, this writing bug seems to have gotten into my blood. Even worse, I want to do it. Continue reading “A Year’s Worth of Blogging”

What’s in Your Mythology?

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Many Bothans died to bring us this information.—Mon Mothma, Return of the Jedi

The ancient Greeks told stories of gods and heroes to explain the world as well as to make the long winter nights fly by.  Tales of epic wars, capricious gods, valiant demigods, and bold deeds created the mythology now taught in schools and used as clue fodder for Jeopardy. The word mythos is Greek for any kind of story but the idea of a myth has come to mean something larger, a story about extraordinary happenings, extraordinary people, in extraordinary times.

While the Greek stories – and the Roman, Indian, Norse, Egyptian, African, etc. – took hundreds of years to percolate into tales that are now thousands of years old, there are emerging mythologies in today’s culture mere decades old. Yet, if you play the game of “what is a mythology,” it’s easy to claim that Star Wars is crossing from a collection of movie plots into the realm of mythology.

A myth is any traditional story consisting of events that are ostensibly historical, though often supernatural, explaining the origins of a cultural practice or natural phenomenon. Myths are often stories that are currently understood as being exaggerated or fictitious. – Wikipedia

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The End is the Beginning

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Barbara in Montana likes my endings. From the time I started writing my weekly posts, she’s told me that she finds the endings are often the best part and reads them first.

Can you imagine how much pressure that adds to the process? Now, not only do I want something equally entertaining and interesting, thought provoking but not too heavy, words to make you go hmmmmmm and ho ho ha ha, but now ALSO the ending has to be Barbara-WORTHY.

I don’t really know where the endings come from.

Writing, inspiration, requires priming the pump which is why you have to be disciplined to do it every day or in a routine.  Usually, it’s a pretty rusty pump. You have to start with a few vigorous thrusts of whatever quality, to get it going and get the brown stuff cleared out. Then, it just goes. Not all of the words will be funny or insightful but enough of it will get you started. And then you don’t really know where it “came” from.

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Holiday Traditions Don’t Come Out of a Book

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My aunt Viola warbled like a cat in the rain. Uncle Casmir’s voice was raspy from fifty years of cigars. My grandmother’s voice was reedy and full of thick Polish sighs. My dad had a booming basso profundo that wasn’t exactly on key but nearer to the notes than his mother and sister. My mom was a wayward soprano but what she lacked in pitch, she made up for in enthusiasm, and she conducted us as only a former high school drama teacher turned speech professor could do.

In 1967 at Grandma Chmaj’s house, the Christmas Eve tradition was to sing Christmas carols. She had little books that were handed round with all the words, even to verses three and four which had to be sung. Everyone was allowed to pick their favorite, even us little kids. All religious carols, of course, none of your Holly Jolly or Rudolph. My mom’s pick was O Little Town, my dad’s was God Rest Ye Merry. My pick was We Three Kings. To this day, as soon as I think of it, I always hear:

We three kings of Orient arrrre…
Tried to smoke a great big cigar
It was loaded
It exploded….
God rest ye merry gentlemen…

Such was the humor of 1967. We didn’t sing the words that way — you would “get in trouble” such as that was. We sang the right words and without accompaniment. My cousins Pat and Barbara, ten years older than my brother and I, had choir-trained voices. One of them would bring an accordion and after the regular singing, they would do two special duets that sounded truly angelic, especially in contrast: The Little Drummer Boy and O Holy Night. Truthfully, O Holy Night is still a favorite because I can hear their harmony every time the song plays.

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