SYNCHRONIZATION – WHEN THE WORLD IS TRAGIC, WRITING HELPS

SYNCHRONIZE

I’ve always been a writer. As soon as I could put a pencil on paper, I wrote. Stories, bad poetry, longer stories that never became books. Letters. Newspaper articles, funny stuff. Recipes. Interviews. Manuals for software and hardware.

A huge piece of my career was tied up in high-tech documentation and writing. I was not good at science or math, so it was a surprise to master that form of writing. I got people to understand extremely complicated things they would never have understood without help. I made complicated things easy.

In retirement, I still try to make complicated things easier. I spend hours explaining how and why  the electoral college is supposed to work. Why, at least when it was created, it made sense.

Does it still makes sense? I don’t know. I thought I knew, but I’m finding the world has been changing at a dizzying pace, so I’m not sure what I know. Knowing I don’t know everything is a big point in my favor. If I don’t know, I either do the research to find out, or flat-out tell you “I don’t know.”

I spend time trying to convince people that “term limits” are the last thing we need. When the people you elect are bad at their jobs, shortening the time they serve doesn’t fix the problem. We are not suffering from too many overly experienced politicians in Congress. We are suffering from too many unqualified, no-nothing pols who don’t care about anything except their careers.

We need better candidates. We need political parties who care about us and want to make the world a better place.

I put considerable effort into explaining how this government is different than parliamentary ones. Reminding people that even between the various versions of parliaments around the world, no two are the same.

We will never be them. We are not going to change the nature of this republic. We will fix a few things here and there, but the fundamental design of this republic isn’t going to change.

All reputedly democratic regimes have strengths and weaknesses. We are currently suffering from bad government, but that isn’t because our structure is bad. It’s because we voted for stupid, inept people who are narrow-minded and lacking compassion. Who are wedded to reactionary ideas and miss the point of what’s going on in the world. Then, there’s our crazy, paranoid, morally insane, narcissistic president who should never have been elected to anything … something which is becoming more obvious every day.

We need to recognize that this country is a constitutional republic. It is not a democracy, although it is democratically based. I doubt we’ll ever eliminate the electoral college, though I hope we will at least reform it.

These are the posts I write because they are important to me, though I doubt anyone is paying attention. It’s great to get lots of hits, but sometimes, I have to write it anyway.


I write because it’s what I do. I do it better than I do anything else in my repertoire. 

I don’t spend every blog making political, social, or cultural points. No one wants to get banged over the head all the time. If you want more politics, plenty of places write nothing else. I’m not a newspaper. I’d just like to shed a bit of light on processes that are murky and need clarity.

Does what I do matter? I think so. I hope so. Maybe I can get people to look at their world differently. If I succeed, I’m good with myself.

I also take nice pictures.

AUGUST 10th – AS THE WORLD ROLLS ON

Share Your World – August 7, 2017


What was the last URL that you bookmarked or saved?

Wunderground.com. It’s the local weather station. Local for everyone, actually because it’s based on everyone’s private little weather station in backyards, fields, and other non-official places.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I often get better information from them for my immediate area. The bigger weather stations give me the weather for the region, generally Worcester or northern Rhode Island … but we live some miles away.

Even a few miles and the weather can be surprisingly different. It may be pouring  five miles up the road and sunny here. Or vice versa, of course.

Do you believe in the afterlife?  Reincarnation?

I don’t know. I really don’t know. I stopped thinking about it because I haven’t the slightest idea. No one has come back from the other side to tell me, so … until then? I haven’t any idea.

If you were or are a writer do you prefer writing short stories, poems or novels?

These days, blogs are fine. I’ve written technical manuals. Instructional books. One novel. Lots of short stories. Mountains of letters.

Whatever I’m writing, it’s the right thing for me to write. So, for now, this is the right thing for me to write but maybe next week, it’ll be something entirely different.

What inspired you this past week?  Feel free to use a quote, a photo, a story, or even a combination. 

Nothing inspired me this week. A few things genuinely pissed me off, but that’s not what you want to hear. So we’ll stick with “sorry, not an inspirational week.”

PONDERING PUBLISHING AND THE WORLD GONE BY

I usually say I wouldn’t want to ever work again, but I got to thinking about that. I realized if I could get back my job as editor at Doubleday? I’d do it in a heartbeat. How many jobs give you unlimited sick days, two-hour lunches, and require you to read sleazy novels during the day? And pay you for the privilege? And give you the best bunch of people as colleagues you could hope for.

We met at Doubleday!

I also had to write stuff about the books I read, but a long review was still shorter than any of the pieces I write for this blog. Even in my crumbling state of health, I think I could handle it.

The trouble is, the job doesn’t exist. Publishers are thoroughly conglomerated. Each is a subsection of some über corporation where books are one of many products — and not an important product, either.

The 1970s were wonderful years for reading. It was a tremendous period for books and book clubs — and for literature as an art. In those days, reading was major entertainment. People read books and talked about them by the water cooler. If you got excited about a book, you told all your friends … and they read it, too.


Before the internet.

Before cell phones.

Before cable and satellite television.

Before computers and many years before WiFi …

We had books.

Other entertainment? Of course there were movies, but you had to see them in a movie theater. Television was there, but it had limitations. We had — in New York which was entertainment central — seven channels. Unless you had a really good antenna on the roof, you rarely got a clear picture. There was interference called “snow.” Pictures rolled — up, down, and side-to-side. Vertical and horizontal holds on your TV were designed to help control it. Sometimes, they did, but I remember many nights of giving up and turning the set off because we couldn’t get a decent picture. Meanwhile, many of us used a set of rabbit-ear antennas that worked sometimes — if the wind was blowing due west.

I spent more time trying to convince the rabbit-ears to receive a signal than watching shows.

Doubleday in Garden City, NY

Not surprisingly, television wasn’t our primary source of entertainment. Instead, we read books — and we talked to each other — something we old folks continue to do. Sometimes, we had conversations that lasted for hours and in my life, occasionally ran into weeks. Blows your mind, doesn’t it? All that talking without a phone? Without texting, either.

Books were big business. If you wrote anything reasonably good, there were more than enough publishers who might be interested in printing it. I miss that world, sometimes more than I can say.

All of this got me thinking about how hard it is to get books published these days. So many people I know have written really good books and have never found anyone to back them. It’s rough on writers, and it’s not a great sign for the art of literature. Not only has our political world caved in, but our literary world is sliding down a long ramp to nowhere. In theory, many more books are published today because anyone can publish anything — and sell it on Amazon. All books — the great, good, mediocre, and truly awful are lumped together. Most of them are rarely read since none of them are being promoted by a publisher. This isn’t a small thing. Publishers were a huge piece of what made books great. If your publisher believed you’d written something excellent, you could count on being visible on the shelves of bookstores everywhere. You’d also be part of book club publications. People — reading people — would see your book. There were book columns and reviews — and people read them they way they read stuff on upcoming television shows today.

Of course, we are also suffering from the vanishing bookstore … a whole other subject.

A great idea followed by a well-written manuscript was just the beginning of a book’s life story. From the manuscript, publishers took books and did their best to sell them to the world. Today, all that pushing and pitching is left to authors, including those whose books typically sell well.

Can anyone imagine how Faulkner, Hemingway and Thomas Wolf would do trying to “work the marketplace”? No doubt there were writers who were able to do the balancing of writing and marketing, but many authors are not particularly sociable. A good many are downright grumpy and a fair number are essentially inarticulate. They are not naturals to the marketing gig.

And … ponder this … what kind of blog do you think Faulkner … or … Eugene O’Neill … would have written?

I miss books. I miss authors. I miss publishers. I miss carefully edited manuscripts and beautifully published books where you could smell the ink and paper as you cracked the cover open. It was a heady perfume.

PARTNER IN CRIME – ENCOURAGEMENT REQUESTED!

My partner in crime, also known as my husband — Garry Armstrong — is finally thinking about writing a book. Possibly, in collaboration with one or more people with whom he worked. I’m only mentioning this on the theory that he can use all the encouragement he can get.

I think he would love to have written it … but it’s such a commitment, you know? I don’t blame him for worrying about it. Writing any book — even a very small book without references to real events which require dates and places — is a lot more work than it seems on the surface.

Still, he has stories to tell.  It seems at least a few people might want to read it and he is a very good writer. If I promise to do as much of the editing I can (I am not one of the world’s great proofreaders — anyone who has read my book already knows that), it lifts one piece of the burden. Nonetheless. it is still work.

Those of you out there who have written one or more books know. I think I have more authors in my following than any other blogger I know. Which of you hasn’t written a book? Some of you have written bunches of books and you know how hard the work is and how difficult it can be to get it done right — and how frustrating it can prove to find people to read it.

He has interesting stories to tell, so that has to count for something, right?

BUT WORDS CAN NEVER HURT YOU … BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn recently wrote a piece using the word chutzpah which I’ve always badly mangled in pronunciation. It’s a word, what the heck? That was my take for many years until Robin Williams and Billy Crystal gave me a proper public whupping for butchering the pronunciation of chutzpah.  I don’t try to say Chutzpah in public anymore. It’s a word. I respect it because it carries different meanings and images.

These days, people often use words or phrases without understanding their origin or meaning. I hear political aspirants, celebrities, athletes and civic leaders say things that make me scratch my head and run back to my dictionary.  Words!  They can be powerful tools if used correctly. They can be dangerous if used in ignorance.

I grew up in a home full of books, including dictionaries. Big ones and pocket dictionaries. My parents insisted on using proper language and crisp diction.  Street slang guaranteed a head slap or a smack that stung. My two brothers and I were warned about using prejudicial clichés. Since my head has never been properly wrapped, I’ve been guilty of violating those warnings because of my warped sense of humor. Marilyn warns people that I have toys in the attic.  True.  Some of the toys are very old.

A friend and I were trading insults the other day. I snapped at him with, “That’s white of you”.  His smile said everything. Words!  You gotta know who, when, and where to use them.

Way back in olden times, I was 19 years old and worked in a department Store in Hempstead, New York. I was the only goy working in the children’s shoe department. I was waiting on a customer who drove me bonkers. I couldn’t take it anymore and told the parent he was a schmuck.

The manager quietly called me into the stockroom, explained what schmuck meant and asked me never to use it again — even if the customers were jerks. I think he was smiling although reprimanding me.  It was a word I’d often heard used in friendly banter, but I didn’t know its origin or real meaning. It was just a word. What was the big deal?  I was 19 and knew everything!  I used big words, “10 dollar” words to impress people. People often complimented me, saying I spoke very well.  I didn’t understand the veiled insult behind many of those compliments.

After all, they were just words.

John Wayne, of all people, once commented on words and ethics.  It was movie dialogue but still resonates more than half a century later.

In the 1961 film, “The Comancheros,”  Texas Ranger “Big Jake” Cutter (John Wayne) is lecturing his younger sidekick, Monsieur Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman). Regret asks Big Jake to spin a lie to his superiors to alleviate a problem. Big Jake refuses. Regret doesn’t understand, saying they are just “words.”

Big Jake, with that iconic Wayne frown, says softly, “Just words??  Words, MON-soor, are what men live by. You musta had a poor upbringing.”  Regret looks puzzled, not fully grasping the ethical code of this rough and ready Texas Ranger.  It’s a sublime moment and perfect for the young 1960’s when youth was defying the older generation’s moral code.

I recalled the scene years later in an interview with John Wayne. He smiled, shaking his head because he was in the middle of on-going national dissent against the Vietnam War.  Wayne was one of the most visible and vocal “hawks” in the Vietnam controversy. He had been ridiculed by strident protesters at a Harvard University gathering earlier that day.

“Words, dammit,”  Wayne looked at me, angry and sad. “My words! No damn Hollywood script. I have as much right as those damn college kids.”  Wayne was fuming. The Hollywood legend collected himself as I redirected the conversation to my time as a Marine. I had enlisted in 1959, fired up by the “Sands of Iwo Jima” script.

“Words. Good words,” I said to Wayne who smiled broadly.

Today, words are often tossed around loosely on social media, sometimes with little regard to truth or the repercussions of ill-advised words. We have a President who uses words without thought in a daily barrage of tweets.  Our media is engaged in a daily war of words, often ignoring crucial issues facing our nation and world.

Those of us of a certain age shake our heads as we watch young people immersed in tweets rather than direct conversation with friends in the same room. Words have become an endangered species.

I remember the good old days when me and friends went face to face with verbal jousts like “Your Mother wears combat boots!”

Words!  I love them.

THEY WROTE THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE WITH A QUILL

Written with a quill pen, the founding documents of the United States. On parchment. 


Before rolling writers and ballpoints — or even fountain pens — there were quill pens. Goose feathers, though I imagine those without available geese worked with any feather which might pick up ink and scratch along the paper.

Writers with quills had to be sincere. There are a lot of words in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution and both were written on parchment with quills. To carefully write all those words … and make corrections when a correction meant starting over from the beginning … required a level of dedication that makes my wrists hurt in sympathy.

A quill pen. A split feather from a goose. With hand-made ink. And from this primitive beginning, we built a country. How many kids in school today have read either the Declaration or the Constitution? How many adults read it and how many remember what it said? How many still think the first amendment sounds like socialism?

Read it. Seriously. Read it. At least, before you fight over its contents, find out what the contents are. Read the amendments and figure out how it has changed. A little curiosity can go a long way to figuring out the ways of the world. It’s not hard to find a copy. Here’s the Declaration of Independence. It isn’t written with a quill. It’s printed so everyone can read it.

It isn’t difficult to get a basic education in the fundamentals of this nation’s backbone. It doesn’t require a high IQ or a special degree in education … just curiosity and an interest in learning. Even if you’ve read it dozens of times, one more reading won’t ruin your life, will it? Take a little mental trip to the National Archives where we keep copies of all the important documents involved in the founding and maintenance of this nation. Discover what the fuss is all about. It won’t cost you a penny and a lot of things will make more sense if you read where they began.


Transcript of Declaration of Independence (1776)

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. 

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. 

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: 

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. 

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands. 

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


The NATIONAL ARCHIVES also has the entire Constitution available for your reading pleasure, including the amendments and a great many other documents that might be of interest. It’s too long to include here. But at least your won’t need to write the whole 7,000 words on parchment with a quill pen. That’s a good start!

NINETY AND MORE: “IF YOU’RE NOT IN THE OBIT, EAT BREAKFAST”

A couple of nights ago, Garry and I watched an HBO show called ‘If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.” It was put together by Carl Reiner and it features his gang of over-90 year old friends from show business. Many of them are enjoying what you could only call extraordinarily good health, but not all. It’s a pretty good show and if you get a chance, you should watch it. It’s funny — it’s Carl Reiner with a dollop of Mel Brooks, so why not? But it’s also good sense.

Courtesy: HBO

Listening to these guys talk about getting very old — not just regular old — brought up a lot of consistent themes. All of them were busy. All computer literate. Most of them are writers. All of them felt the quality of their work was as good or better than it had ever been. Many of them said how grateful they were for their computers and being connected … and at least one of them commented that he hoped to die with his fingers on the keyboard.

From left, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear and Carl Reiner in the HBO documentary “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.” Credit HBO

There were other commonalities. All of them were healthy eaters. None of them were smokers. If they were ever drinkers, none of them are currently is. All of them exercised as much as life allowed. No one seemed resentful of having to give up fatty or fried food. No one felt that life wouldn’t be worth living if they couldn’t overeat or keep hold of their old bad habits. I got the feeling that most of them hadn’t had all that many bad habits anyway.

And all of them were enthusiastic and excited about life, even though — obviously — all of them had lost many friends and family to death. Because at that age, that’s the way it is. For that matter, at our age, that’s also the way it is.

Courtesy: HBO

It was the energy and enthusiasm which was so striking. And the writing.

I have always thought writing is one of those things that keeps your brain alive and working. When people ask me why I do this — blog — and why I write so often, I just smile. What else would I be doing if not this? What else could I do that would make me feel as involved and alive as writing does?

Young people assume that all very old people must be creaking along, barely able to walk, much less think. Some of us may have trouble walking, but mentally? I don’t think there is a smarter group of people anywhere.