Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Birds and Geese

Have you ever watched a large flock of birds’ murmurate? Don’t bother, I had to look it up and be surprised too. In giant flocks they turn as one, swooping, diving, climbing, and banking, as choreographed movements as the best dance troupe in the world. How do they do that thing that can be so mesmerizing to the watcher? It happened to me again this morning. I was sitting in my car, waiting for the gym to open when this dark swarm flew over the parking lot, all but disappeared in the distance, came back again and performed several more of those we-move-as-one maneuvers before alighting on a long line of high tension wires across the street. I wanted to get out of my car and applaud, but there were other people waiting, and I didn’t want them to think that I’m any crazier than some of them already think.

Grainger Hunt, a senior scientist at the Peregrine Fund, calls these large flocks murmurations. They are “a dazzling cloud, swirling, pulsating, drawing together to the thinnest of waists, then wildly twisting in pulses of enlargement and diminution,” he writes. It’s certainly worth stopping your car for, or stopping to watch a video like the one recorded over the River Shannon in Ireland. It can be found on YouTube and it’s worth the watch.

The bigger question is, “Why don’t these birds smash into one another?” With flocks as large as the one I watched, it was as if everyone knew to change direction simultaneously. The flapping of their wings would make impossible for the lead bird to chirp out, “Swarm…to the left, or dive to the telephone pole.” I mean, c’mon, it doesn’t work that way. So, how does it work? In 2010, a group of researchers at the National Council of Research and the University of Rome found that, “Surprising as it may be flocks of birds are never led by a single individual. Even in the case of flocks of geese – more about them later – the movement of the flock is actually governed collectively by all of the flock members. But the remarkable thing about …flocks is their fluidity of motion.” The research team indicated that, “…the group responds as one and cannot be divided into independent subparts.” If this isn’t a prime example of teamwork, I really don’t know what is.

Ah, but since teamwork is the new subject at hand, let us talk about geese. Say what? Yes, I could hear you all the way over here. Now, geese are another example of perfect teamwork. The following is taken from A Gift of Inspiration:

“Lesson 1 – The Importance of Achieving Goals – As each goose flaps its wings it creates an UPLIFT for the birds that follow. By flying in a ‘V’ formation the whole flock adds 71 percent extra to the flying range. Outcome: When we have a sense of community and focus, we create trust and can help each other to achieve our goals.

“Lesson 2 – The Importance of Team Work – When a goose falls out of formation it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back to take advantage of the lifting power of the birds in front. Outcome: If we had as much sense as geese we would stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.

“Lesson 3 – The Importance of Sharing – When a goose tires of flying up front it drops back into formation and another goose flies to the point position. Outcome: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks. We should respect and protect each other’s unique arrangement of skills, capabilities, talents and resources.

“Lesson 4 – The Importance of Empathy and Understanding – When a goose gets sick, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to the ground to help and protect it. Outcome: If we have as much sense as geese we will stand by each other in difficult times, as well as when we are strong.

“Lesson 5 – The Importance of Encouragement – Geese flying in formation ‘HONK’ to encourage those up front to keep up with their speed. Outcome: We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups and teams where there is encouragement, production is much greater. ‘Individual empowerment results from quality honking’

“The original version of Lessons from Geese was written by Dr Robert McNeish in 1972”

Thus endeth the lesson regarding murmurations and the lessons taught to us by geese.

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Writing about something is not the same as knowing about something. I have always admired good reporting as well as good fiction. John Powers of The Boston Globe was a hell of a writer when he was covering sports. John is a huge man, towering over me, but his insight into what took place at almost any sporting event made the reader feel that he or she was actually in the arena, not as a spectator but as a participant. My dear late friend, Bob Parker, was a wonderful fiction writer who drew the reader in from the first sentence and kept the reader enthralled until the last period was place.

I am about as far from a John Powers or Robert Parker or any of the wonderful writers we read on a daily basis. Like many of you, I struggle to gain and maintain the reader’s interest. It shows in that, if really lucky, I have two or three readers a day. It’s an ego thing, and I’m the first one to admit it.

Think about everything that is happening in the world today. We still have stupidity in Washington, with a President who feels he can do no wrong…and he’s wrong; a Congress now controlled by a single party, but I don’t see much taking place other than the Keystone Pipeline which is just going to line a few more pockets of the one percent; our judicial branch is, at best, confused about which issues belong before them and which should be left to the states for a final decision.

On the world front, we have the horrible executions of the French satirists at Charlie Hebdo and the assassination of four police officers by known radicals who were allowed to walk the streets freely and who got the martyrdom that they desired after their horrible onslaught. Sure, I could do my research online and read everything there is to read…like over one million articles, most of which are as accurate as would be teats on a bull, but that doesn’t give one the right to put together an accurate Reader’s Digest condensed version. Perhaps the most odious and despicable post-episodic thing taking place now is the race between al Qaeda and ISIS over who takes the “credit” for committing this hideous act. Is it fodder for the writer in me? By writing about this crime, I merely lend credence to the fact that no one, anywhere in the world, at any time, is safe from these half-crazed lunatics who are exercising their childhood fantasies of killing with no more respect for the beliefs of true Muslims and the Quran than the Bible-thumping idiots of the Westboro Baptist Church have in their beliefs about Christianity.

So what is left for me, in the few years I have remaining, to garble about? Should I talk about the 2016 race to become the next sucker in the White House? I have finally – gad, but it took a long time – figured out why smart people don’t run for president…their egos are not large enough, or as Clint Eastwood once put, “A man just has to know his limitations.” The really smart person allows the puppet to become the titular head and then the puppet-masters, eg, Citibank, the pharmaceutical lobbyists, the farm folk, and several others sit back and tug on a few strings to get the puppet to do their bidding. It’s wonderful to sit at the computer and gaze into the crystal ball. The Republican Party is firmly convinced that the next puppet will be from the GOP, thereby giving both the executive and legislative branches to a group of people who care little for the average American and a great deal for the one-percenters. After all, it’s the one-percenters who write the bills they pass and keep their bank accounts growing. And, what the hell, should a Democrat – by some miracle of God – attain the exalted puppet-post, it will merely be four or eight more years of gridlock. With gridlock, nothing gets done; the press has a field day; and late night comics rub their hands together in glee. While I consider myself an independent voter, I have to admit that someone like Chris Christie of New Jersey could really shake the old-time-DC-boys up; in addition to which, he probably knows where to get rid of the bodies….lots of swampland in New Jersey.

The recent story of the loving son is not something that you find every day. Could one invent such a thing? Perhaps if I was a more creative writer it could happen. However, I’m not that desperate to build a readership. That was just one of those poignant moments that had to be set to paper, and I was honored to have the opportunity to do so…my thanks to those who commented. The opposite of that situation was viewed by Juli yesterday. “Behind you is a mother and son,” she said. “Neither has stopped texting since they sat down.” Of course, we had no idea if they were texting one another, but my bet is that was not the case. Kind of sad, isn’t it? Can you imagine saying to one of your adult children, “Let’s go to lunch and leave our smart phones in the car.” Be the fastest goddamned lunch on record. Yes, I could write about my view on technology (said he, pounding away at the keyboard) but I don’t even know the vernacular for today’s techno-geek…tough to fall behind the times like this.

Well, I’ve almost reached my thousand word limit so to you, my reader (hopefully with an ‘s,’ I bid you a wonderful winter without falls or flu; without slipping and sliding; without icicles or idiots. If you have young children, I hope you will enjoy sledding with them at the local hill. The bumps will be a bit rougher than you may remember, but what the hell, you’ll have wonderful memories when you recall the day over a cup of hot chocolate…don’t forget the whipped cream!

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“Jeez, I hate Shakespeare.” I can easily remember many of my high school classmates saying that or something not quite so charitable while trying to read and/or understand Hamlet or Macbeth. I won’t try to kid you, there were many times I was just as confused as most and reacted in much the same way. Now, in my dotage, and thanks to a couple of English faculty at Northeastern, I can enjoy much of what The Bard had to say. The question is, “Why is William Shakespeare more famous today than he was more than 400 years ago?” I guess it depends on the source you use since time travel is a bit of a bitch. The various sources that I have researched state that “…his friends said that he was the best writer of his time.”  Today we know that he may well be the greatest writer of all time. You may not enjoy Elizabethan English any more than I do, but think of some of the quotes that still roll off our tongues and for which we must give credit to Will…”what’s in a name;” “we band of brothers;” “something’s rotten in [the state of] Denmark.” All in all, there are many reasons why Shakespeare’s fame has lasted for more than four Centuries.

Come we now to today’s famous folk: Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, Sam Peckinpah, and a number of wonderful film directors; movie actors, singers in several genre, writers of note and you can pick fiction or non-fiction, songs or shows…take your choice. There are sports heroes and others out the wahzoo who will have their moment of shining glory before fading into obscurity. Who remembers Ken Jennings, Mae Sutton Bundy, Moe Berg, Joan Weston, or Victoria Woodhull? These people, among others, all had a moment in the sun, and when we look them up, we say, “Oh, yeah, I remember now. Just don’t ask me a month or a year from now.” Fame is earned and fame – sad to say – is fleeting.

Now, here comes the $64,000 question: What the hell makes Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Richard Hatch, or – and this one is the kicker – the Kardashians so friggin’ famous that  we hear their names damn near as much as we do the President of the United States [Barack Obama for those of you who have been hiding under a rock]. Okay, I understand Conrad Hilton and his hotels, and perhaps his descendants are cashing in on his fame. It would be one thing if she had talent other than living an outrageous lifestyle and hanging out with other wannabees but I just don’t understand the media attraction to her anymore than I do to Nicole Richie. I guess fame can also be an inherited thing. Hatch is now pitching crap on television, but the first Survivor winner is rapidly on his way to obscurity.

I have dug and dug and dug – a classy word for research…or not, and I really do not understand what makes the Kardashians such a big deal. A lawyer for a dad who had a big case; a sex tape that I have no desire to see, a friend of Paris Hilton – gee, that impresses me…NOT – a camera hound who is enamored of her own face…I can’t say “and body,” because the body and maybe even the face are not really her own, and as she indicates, “…a brand.” And the media just sucks this stuff up.

Call me crazy – as many have in my day – but there are people out there who deserve ‘fame’ whatever that is, far more than some of the idiots the media dote on. When Brittany Spears ‘forgot’ to wear panties as she climbed out of a car, the media went wild; as did Brittany’s fans, as did members of Congress, as did priests, ministers, rabbis, and, for all I know, the top imam in Jordan. What were people expecting, a Harley to drive out of her vagina with the reincarnation of Evel Kneivel on board?

In another decade there will be tens – oh please not, God – maybe hundreds of these fame grabbers. They will come and they will go, and the people of their time will ‘oooh,’ and ‘aaah’ over their actions and their antics. They will be bright shooting stars and just like shooting stars, their fame will be fleeting. I will bet, however, that people will still be reading William Shakespeare, J.K. Rowling, and Dr. Seuss; people will still be watching Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz; people will still be listening to Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Whitney Houston, Garth Brooks, and Ella Fitzgerald. Good is good for a long, long time. Pretenders, for all that they try, are soon found out and forgotten. I wonder why it takes so long for us to see through the phoniness of these people.

You may not care for Shakespeare, his plays, his sonnets, his phraseology, or his themes, but ya gotta admit, the guy has a hell of a lot better staying power than Violet Gibson, Annie Edson Taylor, John Montague, or Matthew Henson. Who of your generation will be remembered 400 years from now?

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Say What?

Probably every small town in the United States has a weekly newspaper. I’ll even bet that some of them are well edited. Our hometown weekly arrived recently and after reading that the Council on Aging will no longer be doing waxing, my eyes skipped over to the story about the reopening of the local thrift shop. All was going well until I read that “all the proceeds [will be] going to the Massachusetts Society for the Preservation of Cruelty to Children.” Now that’s progressive thinking. If you don’t think you’re being cruel enough to your kid, they have a society to help you do it; man, I can hardly wait to get to the thrift shop to support the MSPCC! Sure it’s a misprint, but it’s a beauty.

I decided to do a bit of research on the topic of newspaper misprints, and it wasn’t long before I came across some that are dynamite. One headline that immediately caught my eye was an Associated Press story out of Boston: “Study Shows Frequent Sex Increases Pregnancy Chances,” read the headline. Another intelligent headline noted, “Pregnant Girls are Vulnerable to Weight Gain.” My first reaction to these two headlines was, “No shit Sherlock; do ya think?” I found that the Huffington Post had already beaten me to the punch with their 25 Most Obvious Headlines, some of which I’ll share with you.

“Utah Poison Control Center reminds everyone not to take poison.” Oh damn, and we were planning on having Decon burgers tonight. I guess we can’t even have Roundup on the mashed potatoes…ah, such is life, at least if we obey the folks at the UPCC. Otherwise, we might wind up laying next to Brigham Young.

I don’t know where the Express Times is located, but their headline writer sure had a sense of humor when he wrote, “Homicide Victims Rarely Talk to Police.” Good Lord, I should hope not. Can’t you just picture this scene…It’s a dark and stormy night [of course it is]; blue and red lights bounce off the puddles in the street from the cop cars that have shown up. On the sidewalk is a body with six shots in the head. A guy in a trench coat walks up to a soaked beat cop and asks, “Okay, Smitty, what the hell happened here. From the sidewalk comes a voice, “What the hell are you asking him for; I’m the one with six slugs in my skull”…both cops drop dead from heart attacks! The stories one could create and relate around that headline are the stuff of a comedian’s delight.

Since we are still in the process of an economic recovery, following the worst recession in decades, you should be aware that, “Jobs remain the best insurance against unemployment.” Certainly makes sense to me. Google that headline and you get 33 million hits, not one of which appears to see the irony in what is written…re-freaking-markable! Not surprisingly, once I put the headline in quotes, no results appeared; however, I did get 47 million hits this time. Yikes, maybe Google also has some problems.

“Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop: Find Weapons” read the headline in one daily newspaper. “So, you was expecting to find a counter filled with Hebrew National hot dogs?” Now this happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma where, I’m quite certain, there are any numbers of gun shops to be found. It should be noted that the federal agents also found, in a gun shop, mind you, land mines, hand grenades, dynamite, and other explosive devices.  I’m thinking that maybe they should have raided the local newspaper office and arrested the headline writer for being so damned dumb!

Veronica Bosman, a staff writer for the World Herald – don’t have a clue where it is –began her article by writing, “If you can’t control yourself, please don’t swim.” And the headline for this great lead: “Health Officials: Pools, Diarrhea not a good mix.” If you ask me, that’s a pretty shitty way for the people of Omaha, Nebraska to treat their neighbors. We used to tell the kids that if they peed in the pool the water around them would turn purple. What do you tell someone with loose bowels? “Well, I lost the race because I ran into a pile of shit,” is not really an excuse that most coaches will swallow.

Now here’s an intelligent headline, “Winter is the only time to go ice fishing.” Uh duh, do ya think? It’s a bitch trying to cut a hole in the water on a warm summer’s day; the damn thing keeps filling up. I wonder if the people who thought that headline to be informative are the same folks who would take this one to heart: “Putting urine in your ears not recommended to treat sinus infections.” They might also be interested in the story that follows this headline: Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25.” You betcha!

Finally, an Associated Press story led with this headline that ought to leave you chuckling; “Missipp’s Literacy Program Shows Improvement.” Maybe we should enroll this headline writer.

There are tons of laughs if you’ll just take the time to search, and don’t forget to send your contributions to the Massachusetts Society for the Preservation of Cruelty to Children.

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There are several problems with aging aside from the most obvious. You don’t know what the most obvious is? No, the most obvious is not death, believe it or not. Hell, we’re all going to die. That’s one of those things that you don’t even consider in the problem category…just a fact of life.

The most obvious problem is that you just cannot do what you used to take for granted that you could do. It reminds me of the elderly man who saw a young boy, sitting on the curb and crying. The old man sat down next to him and asked why he was weeping. The boy answered, “Cuz I can’t do what the big kids do.” The old man put his head in his hands and also began crying.

You may chuckle but it’s the truth. Some clown once suggested that we should be born at 80; work for forty or fifty years; retire and enjoy what we’ve learned until we eventually just turn into babies, growing younger and younger until we disappear into nothingness. You’ve doubtless heard the expression, “Oh, if I only knew then what I know now…but I’m getting off track here…another genuine problem of aging.

Tomorrow is the day when the town in which I live will take your garden brush, recyclables, trash, and leaves. It’s a busy day for the collectors. Today becomes the busy day for the homeowner. Years ago I would have been out back, breaking up branches, raking up leaves, in general getting ready to clean up the area before winter sets in. Not all of the pool and patio furniture has been put away and I’d be doing that, often with no help at all. Instead, I’m sitting here, at the computer, writing this piece about the foibles of aging…Juli is out back. She’s doing all of that stuff that I used to do. I can’t help; I’d like to but I just can’t…all because of the problems of aging.

Stupidly, I smoked for 51 years. I gave it up a while ago and thought I was doing pretty well. However, it had already done its damage and today I have both emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). I walk about 20 feet and I’m exhausted. Doing almost any kind of labor and I last about 15 minutes. When we were young, smoking was cool. There were no warnings on packages. Anyone who lights up today is – pure and simple – an absolute idiot.

So…Juli is out back. She enjoys gardening, but that’s not the point. It’s also not machismo. I know she likes it. I’d just like to help…but I can’t.

Another problem with aging is that your skin gets thing. She’s out there, taking down wire fencing and wrapping it up to put it in the shed for next year. When hurricane Irene was about to hit, I tried to help put some of the fencing up around the garden. I nicked my arms and hands a couple of times and we thought I was going to bleed out…it’s a bitch!

Another problem we face as we age is what I call “the pill parade.” If you happen to be numbered among the elderly and you don’t take any pills, you are one remarkable mother…. Talking with a high school class mate just a few years ago and he was complaining that he has to take seventeen pills in the morning…and they’re all prescription. Hell, I take ten to start my day but only four of them are prescription; the others are the ‘making sure’ pills…a vitamin; something for the old arthritic joints; another one to keep my belly from going haywire…in other words, old people pills.

Another problem I’ve found about aging is that I’m not as finely balanced as I once was. I trip over things more often. Sometimes that includes my own damned feet. I believe we get a bit lazier as we age; sorta like the spring in our step needs to be oiled up a bit. Recently, I was at the garage to have two new tires put on the front. We were going on vacation and the front tires were just at the wear indicator. I went to step out of the car and the next thing I knew I was parallel to the ground, trying to figure the best way to land – you see, that’s a benefit of ageing. When you are in the process of falling, your mind works quickly enough to determine the best position for landing…excluding of course your feet. Thus, I was able to turn in such a way that my head did not hit first. Cracked a rib, but protected my head. In hindsight, I think the head would have been less painful.

These are just a few of the problems we face as we age. Looking at it from another perspective, however, we still smell the flowers from above. We are atop the grass rather than beneath it. We can still see the difference between day and night. And, if we’re lucky, we still have family who love us and whom we can love back. On second thought, maybe our advantages outweigh our problems. Yeah, that’s right; they really do.

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Who is the most prolific writer of all times? Look it up on Google. You will find 470 million references…in under eight one-hundredth of a second yet! Wow, now that’s fast!

We often think of Shakespeare with his sonnets and plays as being particularly prolific, and it is quite true, but then again, it’s not. If one is talking about sales, then yes, Will ranks right up near the top. If you’re talking about sheer numbers, he’s not even in the ballpark. One source notes that Spanish writer María del Socorro Tellado López, known as Corin Tellado, wrote more than 4,000 romantic novels! However, that’s not really a true measure. Not even Issac Asimov’s contribution of nearly 500 books of science fiction and science in general can compare with the writer I have in mind.

“Who is it then, dammit?” you ask.

“Why, who else?” I answer, other than our old friend….drum roll please…Anonymous. “Anon” as friends often call ‘sheer’ for sheer knows no gender, is probably the most noted contributor to literature of all kinds for all times. Op. cit. and Ibid. don’t stand a chance against Anon. Those two are mere shadows when it comes to citations or even original credits. Let me give you some examples of the works of Anonymous:

“The door of opportunity won’t do some opening unless you do some pushing.” Is that great writing or what? With the thousands upon thousands of scribes out there, it took Anonymous to supply us with that gem.

“You are younger today than you ever will be again. Make use of it for the sake of tomorrow.” Now we’re getting into the heavy duty stuff. I have often asked, “Why is youth wasted on the young?,” but Anon tops me with sheer’s own quote.

“A smile of encouragement at the right moment may act like sunlight on a closed-up flower; it may be the turning point for a struggling.” This sounds as though it might have been penned by Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Shelley or some other romanticist.

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” There are times when I truly believe that Anon gets credit because others have not done their homework. This quotation is one of those times. I have not been able yet to learn if this does belong to Anonymous. My personal believe is that when I finish digging, I will learn that it belongs to one of two esteemed authors…either Benjamin Franklin or Malcolm Forbes, both of whom excellent judges of the human condition. For example, I have always enjoyed Forbes quotation, “Keeping score of old scores and scars, getting even and one-upping, always make you less than you are.” Nuff said on that particular topic.

I leave you with several quotations that have been attributed to our shy friend, anonymous…

  • Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get.
  • Happiness consists of living each day as if it were the first day of your honeymoon and the last day of your vacation.
  • It is a glorious achievement to master one’s own temper.
  • Pain is temporary, pride is forever.
  • Love is the doorway through which the human soul passes from selfishness to service and from solitude to kinship with all mankind.
  • To live in the hearts of those we leave behind, is not to die.
    Death is not the extinguishing of the light; it is merely turning it off because the dawn has come.
  • Courage does not always roar. Sometimes, it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow”.   
  • Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.
  • Those who do not find time for exercise will have to find time for illness.
  • People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it!
  • Happiness is often the result of being too busy to be miserable.
  • The difference between gossip and news depends on whether you hear it or tell it.        
  • History repeats itself because nobody listens.                                                                   
  • Don’t despair of what you cannot do; rejoice in what you are able to accomplish.
  • An optimist sees opportunity in every calamity. A pessimist sees calamity in every opportunity. 
  • There is nothing so comfortable as money, – but nothing so defiling if it be come by unworthily; nothing so comfortable, but nothing so noxious if the mind be allowed to dwell upon it constantly. If a man has enough, let him spend it freely. If he wants it, let him earn it honestly.
  • It is a glorious achievement to master one’s own temper.
  • Courtesy is simply doing unto others what you would like them to do unto you.

Some may take many volumes to express their dreams, wishes, desires, or just to tell a story. Our friend, Anonymous, chooses words cautiously and makes every one count.

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