I love to write…but

Still waiting for spring
Still waiting for spring

There is no green grass and no leaves on the trees. It is just slightly foggy on a warm February morning. Mother nature keeps teasing us into thinking spring has arrived. Hmm, there’s an idea for a story, Mother Nature the Tease.

***

I can hear you saying to yourself that nobody blogs who doesn’t love to write. Except for those people who only have a blog to share pictures of kittens. I say to those people, “Get an Instagram account!” I mean really. Kittens? OK, I’ve got that out of my system. Back to my topic.

This morning I was dividing my concentration between watching a morning news magazine and reading the introduction of the next book in my reading challenge. I was making mental notes from both of these activities for future inclusion into Classical Gasbag posts. Ideas, both good and bad, are never a problem for me, whether for a blog post, a short story, a novel, an email, or even a snail mail (I love sending and receiving letters). There are so many ideas for the taking. You might call taking ideas thievery of a sort, and you might be right. Or you might consider that I take another person’s idea and build upon it. That is certainly the way that I like to look at it.

With that happy thought I realized that for the past several months I have been spending so much time gathering ideas and planning posts and letters and stories that I haven’t been spending much time actually writing. I’m lucky if I remember to jot down the ideas, let alone build an idea into something useful. When I do complete writing something. the finished product is seldom what I had originally planned. For example, this post was originally planned as an exercise in listing all of the things I would rather be doing than writing (look at the title). Maybe I’ll write that one some other time. I’m too busy enjoying my time at the keyboard writing a small bit about the process.

It is true that often when I start banging out a post, that my brain seems to guide my fingers in directions I hadn’t considered when I started. Sometimes the end result is good, sometimes bad, often just mediocre.

If you’ve stuck with me this long, I would like to know about your process for writing. You may comment or complete the form below. If I like your process, I might steal it.

Horns of a dilemma

Waiting for spring
Waiting for spring

I took this picture earlier this year. Outside today it feels like spring, no matter what Punxsutawney Phil predicted. Well, who depends on a large rodent for weather predictions?

***

I know that a dilemma is not an actual horned animal. Though often when I read the phrase “horns of a dilemma” I imagine a children’s book illustration of an angry water buffalo. If only life were so simple. No, the phrase means having to choose between two bad options. No matter your choice, it won’t be a good one.

I find myself making that choice now. A few days ago I was writing about how I felt that avoiding politics in Classical Gasbag was the proper choice for me as a person. Today I’m not sure. Watching the news, listening to friends and acquaintances who are not U.S. citizens, and drawing upon historical precedents have brought me to a place where I can’t publicly ignore what is happening here.

Our President and his minions are constantly labeling our free press as the purveyors of fake news and the enemy. Meanwhile they put forth lies and label them as alternate facts. This is a familiar tactic to people who read history. I recommend that people read about “Big lie” on Wikipedia and see if it strikes a chord.

Perhaps I am writing this from a political perspective. I feel so close to it that I’m not sure. To me it feels like our Constitution, particularly the first amendment, is under attack, and that scares me. What scares me more is the number of fellow citizens who believe, or want to believe, the lies that are coming from our President and his minions.

OK, so here is some political ranting: Part of me wants to blame that phenomena on the apparent decline in people who see the worth of an education other than for gaining a better paying job. What is wrong with education for the sake of education? Of course I lay the blame for that type of thinking on Richard Nixon who during the 1952 Presidential election labelled Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson and his supporters eggheads. Yes, the same Richard Nixon who as President had an enemies list and brought Watergate into our political vocabulary.

I don’t plan on going on and on about politics in Classical Gasbag, but neither do I plan on remaining silent when things truly bother me. I just hope that I can remain civil enough that I don’t offend too many people.

So much to say, but I can’t

Wall Art #15
Wall Art #15

I took this picture in West Lafayette last week. It is at the end of the parking lot where I had lunch with a friend. I really like the colors in this wall art.

***

There are a number of things that I want to write about, but I don’t feel they are appropriate, for one reason or another,  to put in this blog. When I started Classical Gasbag I wanted it to be a place where I could freely expound upon anything that crossed my mind. It hasn’t turned out to be that way. There are a few reasons that I don’t feel that I have the freedom to write in that manner. Here are three of them.

Reason #1: I don’t want my wife, Cindy, to be embarrassed by what I write. Over the years she has told most of her friends and family about Classical Gasbag and has encouraged them to read it. I know that there have been occasions when one of her friends has asked her if what I wrote bothered her. Recently I cancelled a drafted post about a dream that I had. Cindy might have been embarrassed by the details.

Reason #2: At some point last year I decided that I would stop writing about politics in Classical Gasbag. Politics has been a very touchy subject among even some of our closest friends. I don’t want to antagonize anyone else if I don’t need to. So the closest I will come to writing about politics is to recommend a new drinking game. Listen to any speech by President Trump and take a drink every time he uses the word “really.”

Reason #3:  I don’t often lose my temper, but when I do I can write scathingly about whatever has angered me. But that doesn’t help anyone, not even me. If letting fly with mean-spirited slurs and curses made me feel better, perhaps I would do it. I’ve found over the years, however, that I feel no better if I do it. So I don’t. It helps no one and may hurt someone. What would be the purpose in doing that? It’s not for me.

Life is a series of choices. I choose to try to be a better person…at least in this blog.

Coping

The Big Lie
The Big Lie

I got this in the mail the other day. It is from our insurance agent who has failed to return any of the last four or five calls we have made to her office. I believe it was Joseph Goebbels who said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘If you repeat a lie often enough people will believe it.’ Well, Verna, you can tell us how much you care as often as you wish, but I don’t believe it.

***

So I went to bed reasonably early rather than stay up watching election returns. When I turned off the TV the returns were trending in a direction that I didn’t like, but I had hopes that I would wake up to more cheerful news. Alas, that was not to be. Actually, I woke up at 3 a.m., needing to pee and made the mistake of checking Twitter before I closed my eyes again. Well that ended my sleep.

I spent some time trading texts with a friend in Thailand; expressing my woe and receiving kind words of solace in response. I tried watching the early newscasts but just couldn’t handle it. So I decided to go for a drive and listen to happy music.

Since Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature I have been listening to a lot of his albums. I started buying Dylan albums in the 1960’s and have been listening ever since. Today I had planned on listening to The Times They Are a-Changin’ but knowing the contents as well as I do, I decided against it. I can accept that the changes we may see won’t be to my liking. I can abide with the song’s dictum “Get out of the new one If you can’t lend your hand” since I’m also pretty sure that no one in the new Republican party would want my help. But that wasn’t the reason I didn’t listen to the album.

I was feeling depressed and decided that I didn’t need to listen to “Ballad of Hollis Brown” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RfJhIT1_h4 which is a song about a mass murder/suicide. Nor did I want to listen to “Only A Pawn In The Game,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbL2PpBwQmY about the murder of Medger Evans. And “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUrqRDjAt4w always makes me feel sad. All of the songs on the album are worth listening to, but not for me, not today.

So I picked, at random, an early Kingston Trio album from my CDs to play in the car during my early morning drive. I put it in the player as I backed out of our driveway, and “M.T.A.” came on with Dave Guard quoting Thomas Paine. “These are the times that try men’s souls.” It is going to be a long day.

The Thumper Challenge

Early spring
Early spring

I took this picture back in early April, but never used it. Since I haven’t taken any photos recently (with one exception that is already in a Draft post) I decided to go back and pull this from my archived pictures. I hope that you like it.

***

I found myself awake at 4 a.m. today. None of the things that normally help me get back to sleep were working, and I found myself thinking about a situation that has been bothering Cindy. I won’t describe the situation because it really isn’t relevant, but it involved people saying unkind things about other people. That stirred my thoughts. For some reason Thumper, from the Disney film Bambi came to mind. Thumper’s father told him, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

Those who know me are aware that I am not an overly friendly person, and that I have said unkind things about others. I can have a very sharp tongue and have been known to use it. I know that I have written cruel things about other people. It is a fault that I am aware of. I want to be a better person; but I know that I am weak.

We live in a society where it feels that saying cruel, hurtful things is the norm rather than the exception. When we look around us we see prosecuting lawyers who make careers by telling juries how bad a defendant is. Lawyers in civil cases cast aspersions on people (remember, corporations are people too) who are the other side of the case.

Since most politicians are lawyers, is it any wonder that there is so much negativity in the political realm? Yes I know that I just said an unkind thing about politicians. It is a particular habit that is harder to break than smoking.

We also see it in entertainment. Every day on television there are people who are claiming that someone else is not a worthy person. It is on the news, on “reality” television programming, and even in drama and comedy presentations. Heck, Don Rickles built his career insulting people. And we laugh…even I laugh.

I am not saying that everyone should get a free pass from criticism. That is not practical, nor is it wise. But surely the level of negative speech can diminished without harm to society. Not every fault needs to openly discussed ad nauseam. It often demeans us.

So here is my strategy for working to become a better person. I am setting a challenge for myself. I call it The Thumper Challenge because I am setting the small goal of not saying anything negative about anybody for twenty-four hours. If I am successful I will try to go a further twenty-four hours, and so on. If I can’t do it for a full day, I’ll try again the next day. I know that it is going to be difficult; doubly so since it is a presidential election year.

I hope that you’ll consider taking the challenge as well. If you do take the challenge. please let me know how you do. You can come back and leave a comment, or send me an email at houseman@comcast.net. Good luck.

Journeys Part 3a

Playground
Playground

I took this picture Saturday morning before there were any children around. It probably would have been a better picture with children. But then I would have had to explain to the parents why I was taking pictures of their kids. This is better for me.

***

I’m sure that you have heard the expression “Life is a journey.” That is a concept that I’ll be returning to as I go along in this journey of exploring journeys. An aspect that I want to write about today is some of the changes I’ve witnessed as I have lived my life. Cindy and I were talking about this a few days ago when she remarked that she didn’t think her children lived in a time when people didn’t cook with microwave ovens. That made me think about other changes that I’ve witnessed over the years. I started making a list of things that have come along; including some that are already gone. Related to cooking, and earlier than widespread use of microwaves, were TV dinners. I’ve never been a fan, but there are still a lot to choose from in the frozen food aisle at U.S. supermarkets. And now that I think of it, I believe self-cleaning ovens were introduced in the 1960’s. But that is just a guess on my part.

Also in the supermarket is a larger selection of fruit and other produce. Much of it is now available all year or during longer periods of the year rather than during specific harvest periods.

Off the top of my head I would also add that there is a larger selection of affordable beer and wine in most supermarkets. Here in Indiana hard liquor has also been added to our supermarket selection.

Cindy also mentioned that television stations used to sign off at night. If you turned the TV on during the hours they didn’t broadcast shows, you would see a test pattern. It is also likely in those early years that what you saw was in black and white. The 1960’s brought the beginnings of large-scale color television programming. That is when my father, always an early adopter when it came to television, bought his first color TV. He had earlier purchased a Sylvania TV with its famous halo light to save us from eye strain. Once we had a color TV, my mother decided that she no longer wanted to watch anything that was broadcast in black and white. A bit snooty if you ask me.

Since then there have been upgrades in sound and picture quality, including stereo broadcasts. There are giant screen TVs including projection TVs. We also have flat screen plasma and LED TVs. Oh, and there also now curved screen TVs and 3D television sets. Of course, many people prefer to watch their shows on computer monitors, tablets, and smart phones. Talk about eye strain.

I have barely scratched the surface of my list, so I’ll soon be returning to this subject. Feel free to share any changes that you witnessed in a comment. I would enjoy seeing them.

 

Journeys Part 2

House on a quiet Saturday evening
House on a quiet Saturday evening

I was out taking pictures Saturday evening when I came across this house. It was a lovely evening despite the overcast sky. There was the smell of charcoal in the air from outdoor grilling, and I was listening to Garrison Keillor’s final installment of “A Prairie Home Companion.” I haven’t been a constant listener over the years. I started listening haphazardly when I lived in Auburn back in the 1970’s and 80’s. I made a point of listening to the last update from Lake Wobegon on Saturday. I’m glad that it wasn’t raining because it would have been a real downer if it had been gloomy.

***

Today I want to talk a bit about my journey as a writer. I use the term writer as “one who writes” not necessarily one who writes well. I’ve probably written about this journey before in posts, certainly in letters and emails to friends, so I hope that you won’t be bored with my repetition.

The first time that I remember having a conscious thought about wanting to be a professional writer was when I read a book of humor by Jack Douglas. That was when I was in high school. Jack Douglas became known to me through Jack Paar, the predecessor of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Paar mentioned one of Douglas’ books on his show. Douglas had been a writer for Paar…perhaps he still was at the time. The book that I read was titled “Never Trust A Naked Bus Driver,” and I thought that it was hilarious. When I look at it now I realize that my taste in humor has matured somewhat. But at the time I decided that I wanted to write humor like Douglas. I tried, but I wasn’t very good.

I continued to work at writing in high school and into college. I spread out beyond straight humor when I was influenced by other authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Ian Fleming, and other authors who appealed to young male minds. My writing didn’t improve very much.

Then at some point in college I decided that I would try my hand at poetry; convinced that it would impress the coeds. Looking back I can think of no reason why poetry would impress any of the coeds that I knew. But I tried. And I failed in large part because I kept injecting lame humor into my rhymes. I also felt that alliteration was an important aspect of my poems. What was I thinking?

I also started writing letters while in college, and that carried on into my time in the army. I actually think that I became quite good at writing letters. It was something that I enjoyed.

Of course I also wrote many papers while I was in college. My professors and instructors always told me that I needed to add more to that papers to fill them out. I worked at that, and it came to help me later when I was working for the State of Indiana. I spent a few years working in our agency’s Policy & Planning section in the administrative office. Succinctness was never a high priority in that department.

And now I have a blog. I write what I want, when I want to write. I can be succinct or I can be wordy. I love that freedom. I have also started two novels during the past two National Novel Writing Months. I haven’t truly finished either, but I enjoy writing a long cohesive story with occasional wanderings from the main narrative. I’ll probably never truly finish either novel, but I’ll keep working on them.

So that’s my journey in writing. I’ll have other journeys to share later.