Never Forget Why We Can Enjoy Today

2tomb-unknown-soldierToday is Memorial Day in the United States – the day we honor those who died protecting our country, protecting us.

I think it is more that we honor the way they lived. The fallen multitudes embraced the responsibility to protect our way of life from those who would usurp or destroy it.  Knowing full well the dangers, they paid the ultimate price to defend against the bullies of the world. They saw there was a greater good to achieve.

Oh, we can sit here and argue whether this or that war was right or justified. And that’s the whole point.

While we munch on our hot dogs, down some burgers, or sip on sodas, we can say what we want about our political leaders. We can protest government actions we think are wrong. We can do it without fearing some goons will crash into our homes and drag us off to jail or even chop our heads off.

The freedom we enjoy in this country is precious and paid for with the blood of citizens. We all must share in the responsibility of maintaining it. We do that by being informed and active voters, by letting our representatives know what we think about the issues, by paying our taxes, by sitting on a jury, and even by serving in the military.

Is this country perfect? Heck, no! We are flawed, but we must recognize this and continually strive toward the ideals our government is based on. We must have the courage to fulfill our obligations to something greater than ourselves.

By all means, enjoy the day. Just never forget the host of angels who have given you the freedom to do just that.

 

A Fact Is a Fact Is a Fact…

cat-reading-newspaper

“Alternative facts” is the latest oxymoron going around Washington, D.C., these days.

There are always lots of oxymorons in our nation’s capital, but this one seems particularly appropriate to my recent item concerning precise wording.

How can a fact be anything other than a fact? The sky is blue. That’s a fact.

Whether it is a happy blue or a sad blue is a matter of conjecture.

If I said the sky is blue today but I didn’t look out my window to verify it was so, then I would be making a supposition. (How many times have you heard a weather reporter say it was a beautiful, sunny day when it was pouring rain, and you screamed, “Look out your d—-d window!”?)

This whole “alternative facts” issue is getting out of hand. Not only do people misunderstand the definition of fact, many are using “alternative facts” interchangeably with “fake news.”

Fake news is a real phenomenon and the result of consumers blindly believing the information they are fed without questioning its source or veracity. It is allowed to grow because people are unlikely to make the effort to think on their own.

I find the accusations that the New York Times is printing “fake news” hilarious. Do you think any news publication’s advertisers would stand for constant fallacies? Accuracy is the foundation of any professional news organization. What the NYT, like any other established news organization, is really doing is putting its own perspective on the news.

People, encouraged by how news is presented, are too willing to take conjecture, supposition, and opinion as fact.

It is a sad state of affairs when consumers of news aren’t thinking critically about the news they receive.

The Distractions of Organizing

mark-twain-at-desk
Somewhere, someone has designated today National Clean Off Your Desk Day.

This is according to checkiday. Personally, I could use a month (or two… or three).

It’s a good idea to clear the decks periodically. Unfortunately, when I do this, I usually end up revisiting stuff I’ve put aside for “later consideration.”

This is not a new characteristic for me. When tasked with cleaning my room as a child, I usually ended up finding a beloved book under my bed that I just had to reread – right then. This meant that tidying my room usually took all day (if I was lucky).

When I clean my desk of paper or electronic files, I still get distracted. There’s that scrap of paper with an idea for a new blog post! There’s the notebook with scribbles for a Christmas story! There’s an old newspaper clipping about September 11, 2001. There’s the project file for a graduate class.

This isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes I trip across just the right item I’ve forgotten about that proves useful right then.

Cleaning my desk – getting rid of things I don’t need any more and properly filing the things I do – saves me time in the long run. I don’t end up plowing through debris to find what I need when I need it.  On the other hand, a bit of chaos is the spice of life.

When I worked for a newspaper, we used to joke that that my desk was a transfer station and the senior news editor’s desk was the landfill (which I inherited when I took the post). I just can’t have a clean, neat desk. It’s just not in me.

But I am determined to decrease the piles substantially. Now all I have to do is to steel myself against all those temptations!

Choose Courage

cowardly_lionCourage.

It is often associated with extreme actions taken in the face of dire, life-threatening situations. We admire the courage our heroes display and often think, “I don’t think I could, or would, do that!”

The fact is that we all have courage that we display every day. Courage is more prosaic than we usually admit. It can be found in the hundreds of decisions we make all day, every day. It is there when we take responsibility for the consequences of our actions.

Every time we make a decision to do something because it is the right thing to do instead of the comfortable thing, we display courage.

Every time we decide to get off our duffs to make a difference in our lives or the lives of others, we display courage.

Every time we resist the pressure to conform to what other people want and choose our own way, we display courage.

Every time we fight the energy-sucking obligations of our lives to follow our dreams, we display courage.

My wish for you all (and for myself) in 2017 is to have the courage to make the decisions that will help you achieve your dreams.

New Goals for a New Year

2017-new-year-postcardI’m immersed in the post-Christmas chaos lull. I love the holidays, but my psyche needs a little down time recharge and readjust.

It’s a perfect time to think about the future and set my “mini-goals” for 2017.

Aside from the perennial “get more exercise,” “eat better,” and “be nicer to others” entries, here are some things I’m planning to work on:

  • Do something I might not normally do at least once a month. I’m not talking skydiving here because that is never going to happen. But I could go out to a comedy club or take a sewing lesson. In order to grow, I need to experience different things.
  • Let others live their own lives. I so want people to be successful, that I tend to take responsibility for their failures. Since we need to fail to grow, I need to step back and let others grow from their failures.
  • Make the time to read more and write more. I have all sorts of “projects” that get pushed into the corner because life happens. That’s becoming my excuse to avoid things.
  • Give myself credit. I have a strong tendency to focus on what I haven’t done and my shortcomings instead of what I’ve accomplished and what I do well. I will set a goal for weekly, reaffirmation time.
  • Every day I will find joy in something. It can be something goofy the dog does, spotting a hawk in flight, or sharing a joke with my father.

At the beginning of your new year, I hope you find a snippet of time to set some small goals to help make your life better.

Following the Tao of Mona

mona-in-sunshine

Writers’ “antennae” pick up drama like ants’ do a juicy piece of fruit.

Drama is sexy. Who wants to read about someone with no struggles or challenges? Who wants to read about a family who genuinely love, support, and get along with each other (the anti-Kardashians)?

Writers need regular reality checks to save them from drowning in drama.

Call it God, call it a higher power, call it fate, or call it The Force. Whatever. There is a cosmic pattern that provides just the right life thread at the right time. That is why writers should seriously consider rescuing a dog.

Oh, cats are wonderful creatures, especially if you want to learn patience and humility. We writers like cats because their independent, often solitary nature mirrors our own.

But a dog! Well, a dog just wants to share love and adventure and happiness. Rescue dogs are especially grateful for getting a better life.

Mona, who came into my life at a particularly dark time, exudes contentment. It doesn’t take much to make her happy:

  • Dozing in sunbeams on the back of the couch
  • Chasing the cat around the house
  • Rolling in the grass (especially if there is a mysterious, decaying, disgusting, smelly blob!)
  • Doggie treats
  • Racing me back to the house from the mailbox
  • Just running
  • Biting at water coming out of a hose
  • Visiting with other people and dogs (She is very fond of my father.)
  • A constant supply of kibble
  • Gutting a squeaky toy
  • Squirrel patrol
  • Hanging out with me while I work

Things are not all sunshine and roses for Mona. She doesn’t like baths, getting her toenails clipped, or gunshots. But she doesn’t dwell on them either. When they are over, they are over.

Come on! This is a dog who wags her tail in her sleep. (Cracks me up every time.)

At Thanksgiving, we remind ourselves of all the things in life we are grateful for. The Tao of Mona means living in that state of gratitude every moment of every day.

Want to know the secret of a happy life? Hang out with a dog for a while.

Views of My Writing ‘Friends’

Today, I thought I would use some images to update you on how life is going.

DC is on the hunt for adverbs again (or still). Click here to see her in action.

dc-hunding-adverbs-again

Maya, a prolific writing spider and offspring of Emily, has been spending the summer on my front porch. (Maya produced three egg sacs! What a spider!)

maya

 

When I feel like I’m under an avalanche of work, I just remember the turtle I encountered — slow and steady wins the race, right? Not to mention that a thick shell frustrates dogs like Mona.

turtle

 

Hope you all have a great week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Books Never Die…

ghost book copyMy friend Barbara and I were talking recently about the state of our local public libraries. (This is the same friend with whom I have long conversations about hot grammar topics.)

She was bemoaning the fact that, on a recent trip to the library, she couldn’t find a book she had borrowed years ago from that same library and wanted to reread. It was one of Linda Ellerbee’s autobiographical works.

“They have the first one and the third one, but not the one in between,” Barbara harrumphed.

She even tried track it down in the wider county library system but couldn’t find it.

“Where do all those books go?” she asked.

That’s a great question. Librarians have to constantly rotate their literary stock. Think of all those new books being published each day. Many library patrons want to read the latest and greatest, which means old books have to move out to make room.

How do librarians choose which books stay and which go? I’d imagine circulation numbers play a huge role in the decision. If someone hasn’t read the book in a while, why keep it? That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great book, though.

There may be some other cabalistic librarian mumbo-jumbo that plays a part in that choice. Yet you can bet your bottom dollar that those books on their way out of the stacks don’t just get thrown into the trash. (I swoon at the thought!) They often find refuge in bibliophiles’ private collections.

I often worry about all those ebooks floating around out there. The sheer volume of books being produced electronically is mind boggling. I often picture obscure ebooks huddled in the corner of my Kindle.

Although we may worry about those books that are no longer popular enough to stay on library shelves, we can still find them with some concerted digging. They are not dead; they’ve just faded away.

Let’s give a shout-out to Linda Ellerbee, one of my journalistic heroines!

Find Summer Adventures at Your Library

From Stars reading in tree

Ah! Warm days, sunshine, and no school. Summer is here and so are swimming, bicycle riding, camping, and trips to the library.

Huh? Trips to the library?  In summer?!

Hey, these aren’t your grandma’s libraries anymore. It’s amazing some of the things today’s libraries offer.

Sure, you still get your story hours, but there are so many more programs you (and your children) can tap into. There are free movies, book clubs, computer instruction (some libraries even offer online gaming groups), and reading contests for children and teens.

One library I visited recently had a flyer out for a program on how to maintain and repair your bicycle–really useful information for the human-powered, bi-wheel crowd.

There are magicians, comedians, and musicians who put on performances. One summer program for children I tripped over was “Play with Your Food,” which promised a fun way to explore the senses as well as a way of making a s’mores machine.

There are so many benefits of tapping into your local library this summer, not the least of which is to keep children reading during school break so they won’t have to play catch up come fall.

Where else can you tap into so much fun at very little or no cost than your local library?

 

(If your child is looking for good books this summer, check out Stars from which the illustration is taken, and Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe, which is really funny.)

In Pulse Aftermath, Don’t Rush to Blame

Humpulse-shootingans, by their nature, are compelled to answer, “Why?” In the wake of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, this weekend, there is a huge temptation in our grief and our rush toward answers to point fingers.

We need to make sure we have as much credible information as possible before we start assigning blame. More importantly, we must recognize that how we respond will display our character as a nation and have ramifications far into the future.

Most of all, we  need to understand that, most likely we will never get a satisfactory answer to why this happened. The world doesn’t work the way we want or expect.

It is easy, as sort of ghoulish armchair quarterbacks, to wonder why nothing was done to prevent accused shooter Omar Mateen from taking this horrendous action.

Why hadn’t the FBI arrested or detained him after questioning him, twice, regarding possible links to terrorists? Mateen was an American citizen, born in New York, and the FBI can’t throw citizens in jail without sufficient evidence of a crime.

Wasn’t he a member of ISIS? Mateen claimed in a 911 call during the incident to be a follower of ISIS, but investigators could not find any solid link to that organization. Of course, ISIS has no problem taking advantage of a public relations opportunity and claiming responsibility. If it helps to fracture American unity, they’re all for it. There’s no evidence that ISIS directed Mateen’s actions.

Why don’t we ban all citizens from being able to own firearms of any sort? I am not a fan of guns, but I recognize the rights of responsible gun owners. Mateen had all the legal permits and had purchased those guns legally. He had worked in security for a decade. There is just no way to look into a crystal ball and see how a person will use a gun.

Should we throw all Muslims out of the country or into camps?  This smacks of the same shameful behavior during World War II when fear overcame reason and U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were herded into camps. They had to abandon their homes and sell at deep discount, or just leave behind, their possessions.

Is that the kind of country the Constitution wants us to be? Would you want that to happen to you? Neither Dylan Roof or Timothy McViegh were Muslim. Domestic terrorism is not the domain of a single belief system.

What should we do? We should concentrate on intolerance, why some feel the need to violently react against differences. Why are people so driven to make everyone else live the way they think is the only way, under their version of what is “right”? Isn’t that the real problem? Why would anyone value being “right” more than others’ lives?

We need, in the spirit of the common good and the willingness to compromise, to have civil discussions about the issues this tragedy raises.

Ours is a country founded on the ideals of tolerance and justice. We don’t always get them right, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon their pursuit as a quick fix to ease the pain of our grief.