Joining the News Review: The Paper For, By and About Greenbelt

(Below is the introductory article I wrote as editor of the Greenbelt (Maryland) News Review. One of the main goals of this blog is to offer suggestions for, and offer examples of, how a someone could live a literary life. I have listed some ways a person could do that. Here’s another something you could do to live literarily: get involved with journalism. If you live in a place with a small, local paper, look into writing articles. Or maybe find a specialized magazine that publishes articles about something you do like gardening or crafts, history or politics, or whatever else. Becoming the editor of the News Review gets me both writing and editing. It also forces me to try to put myself in our readers’ minds. Is a particular article readable? Too long? Long enough? Does the first sentence or paragraph summarize the rest of the article and invite the reader to read more? I’m enjoying this unique way to add words to my life.)

Here’s My Story: Now Tell Me Yours

My plan for after I retired from Federal service last September was to first spend a few months visiting family and friends, and catching my breath after 36 years in the workforce. After those few months my idea was that I would spend my time editing and publishing the things I’ve written (essays, stories, poems, a novel) over the last few years, writing new things, and spending more time than I’ve ever had before in one of the places I love best, my garden. Imagine my surprise and delight to have been asked to become the new editor of the Greenbelt News Review. Though I am still writing and gardening, I have now joined this fantastic team that produces and publishes our local newspaper, as it has been published and produced every week without a break since November 1937.

The work I have done over my varied career has uniquely prepared me for this exciting role. I have been a youth social worker, Lutheran clergyman, pharmaceutical representative, and a U.S. diplomat (Department of State Foreign Service). In those jobs I communicated using written and spoken word to many different audiences, edited my own and others’ writing, and reported on topics and events that had been assigned to me. I love getting to know about the places I live. As I get to know Greenbelt I am fascinated by its unique background and ongoing contributions to the world and am glad to have become a Greenbelter myself.

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March Forth, Mr. Editor!

I have founded a holiday called March Forth. No, I didn’t misspell the word fourth. I mean for it to be a play on words, a pun. Long ago when our now adult children were little, I started celebrating March 4 because it is the only date in the year that makes a sentence: March Forth! I saw it (and still treat it) as a day for decisive action, taking on a new challenge, stepping out boldly to accomplish a task, to act on someone’s behalf, to do good. Back then I played Sousa and we marched around the house. Because the holiday is based on a pun, most people I explain it to roll their eyes. I’ve wondered if I could ever promote this in such a way that it would become more widely known, a national holiday to note a fun literary oddity in the date and also, to take a bold action. I’ve written more about March Forth before here, here, here and here.

This year, about six weeks before March 4, I marched fourth in a bold and surprising way. I applied to be the Editor of our local newspaper, the Greenbelt News Review. Imagine my surprise when I was hired. It is a 16 to 20 hour a week job which means I will have time to write in this blog and also to compile, edit, and publish my own writing. Of all the years I’ve celebrated my made-up holiday, the way I marched forth this year has been the boldest yet.

Here are suggestions I offered in an earlier essay about March Forth about literary ways you might celebrate the day:

You can make this into a literary event as well.  Invite people over for a nice meal.  Sing a song.  Read a poem.  Go around the table and share with your fellow Marchers what you’re going to do, big or small, that will be your way to march forth.  Wouldn’t it be a grand joke worth a hearty belly-laugh if this caught on?  Imagine a holiday based on a goofy pun that leads people to act, to serve, to boldly do what they’ve maybe always wanted to do but just needed the right moment.  Or the right word play!

I hope your March Forth celebration this year is a good one, full of opportunities to not only enjoy the day’s pun, but also to decisively act in ways you may not ever have considered, like going to work for the local paper. Look for ways today to take the challenge of helping and loving others and to whole-heartedly celebrate life.

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Dropping by the Book Festival

Today I took a peek at the 6th Annual College Park (Maryland) Book Festival held from 11-2 at the Community Center. I wandered up and down the rows of displays and marveled at all the people who live around here who are published authors. Many of the books were self-published by the writer and others were published commercially. Some of the authors are earning a living from writing but many others, for whom writing is something they love to do yet haven’t achieved the recognition to be able to earn enough from writing to support themselves, aren’t. I walked by the authors, each sitting at her or his own table, and felt a little guilty for not stopping to talk to each one and buy one of their books. Maybe I imagined their pleading, hopeful looks, but I don’t think so.

I got a glimpse of part of what it will take when I begin to publish my own work. It’s one thing (and enough of a thing at that) to put yourself on display writing essays or paragraphs or snippets in a publicly available blog. It’s quite another, I imagine, to pour yourself into a book, to spend hours upon hours putting it together, to get it published and then, in this word-inundated world of ours, to try to get people to buy and read it.

I chatted with one author who is earning a living from her writing. She asked me if I was a writer. After the briefest pause I answered, simply, yes. She smiled and said that I had given the right (or maybe write) answer. That moment of self-affirmation, of publicly confessing that I am a writer, helped me own what I want to become and who I already am. Maybe one of these days it will be me behind one of those tables at the book festival.

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Obituaries: Life Affirming, Bite-Sized Bios

I appreciate obituaries.  Reading an essay by Gustav Leonhardt in an Economist magazine a few years ago reminded me that an account of a person’s life, written at the time of his or her death, can be very life-affirming.  I like reading and collecting epitaphs for the same reason though they require a little imagination and creativity recreating a life from only a few spare snippets.

I had never heard of Leonhardt and thought it a shame my first exposure to his life was just after his death.  He was an artist whose medium was the harpsichord.  The article said his “life-work was to persuade the world how beautiful the harpsichord was, and how the harpsichord repertoire should be played.”  I admire the passion and vigor he brought to his craft.  Reading the account I could picture him as a student, sitting in the Vienna library “tirelessly hand-copying” piles of original scores.  He was supposed to have been studying conducting at the time, but spent his time collecting ancient music instead.  When I avoid work, I seldom replace it with something even more rigorous.  Continue reading

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The Story of The Life Literary’s and the Daily Sentence’s Conception and Birth

August 28, 2009

Today I rushed to the Kennedy Center to get stuck there during a rain.  Black clouds sailed into view.  Lightning flashed.  The storm approached rapidly, but I made it ahead of the rain.  Naughty fellow, rushing away from my office instead of back towards it, risking spending more than a lunch hour away from work.

I stood under the towering eve on the Kennedy’s Potomac side, rain pouring just beyond me, my mind full of thoughts and ideas, and decided it was time to start writing regularly.  Finally!  I thought, why not approach writing like I tell my wife and children to approach a big job: subdivide it.  Don’t aim for a novel, a short story or an essay. Only commit to write one good sentence per day.  If I write two or two hundred, o.k.  My commitment, however, is one.  The Julie and Julia project blog and movie inspires me.  It tells the story of a stymied writer not writing, depressed, unfulfilled.  She makes a public (blogged) commitment to cook through The Art of French Cooking in one year.  For me, I will write one decent sentence a day.

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The Idea River

Ideas strike.  Ideas infiltrate.  Ideas emerge.

They also flow.

Sometimes an idea flows into my brain, entering my awareness like a sweetly meandering river.  I admire the idea for a bit and think, “Wow, that’s great.  I’ll never forget it.”  At which point, naturally, it flows right out again, forgotten.  That’s too bad when it happens but it’s also okay.  I have come to learn the river will continue to flow.

Living literarily keeps the idea river flowing.  Balancing reading and writing, memorizing poems, playing with words, and hosting occasional literary events opens my eyes to the torrent I have come to love: words, rhythms, meanings, rhymes, ideas, images.  Acknowledging the river and giving up trying to stop or control it helps keep it moving.  Allowing its flow unstops the dam and un-sticks the floating flotsam and jetsam blocking the creative current.

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Thick Day

My my is it soupy
out here on the street.
Walked only a block
and already I’m beat

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The Creator’s Whimsy

I’m sitting here on the subway enjoying watching the colorful and entertaining diversity of people around me: endless shades of color, variations of height, weight, hair, adornment (clothes, jewelry, bag), demeanor, probably religion and world view, and a whole lot more. It suggests to me a whimsical, variety-loving, Creator Who probably has a sense of humor to have made us as He did. If God had wanted some sort of highly efficient, super and perfect people, He’d probably have done that. But He didn’t; at least it seems that way from the evidence all around me at the moment. So why don’t we, a fascinating, wacky crazy quilt of humanity, figure out ways to act and live that benefit us all?

And why can’t we all simply marvel and enjoy the glorious spectacle of it all, of us all?

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A Literary Evangelist

Take a look at this article from the June 14 New York Times about the new Poet Laureate of the United States, Tracy K. Smith is the New Poet Laureate, in the June 14, 2017 New York Times. It’s an important yet not-political story, a piece of upbeat but also substantive news.

Two things about it caught my attention.

Near the beginning of the article Ms. Smith is reported as saying that a poem  by Emily Dickinson she read in fifth grade so moved her she “could not help but memorize it.” I have written a lot in this blog about memorizing poems (I’ve memorized nearly 70). More than ever I believe in, and have experienced the mood-lifting, brain-stretching benefits of, memorizing poems. I like the image of a poem speaking to a person so powerfully that the person is compelled to memorize it. I have experienced this, relating so strongly to the meter or message or images of a poem that memorizing it became an urgent, joyful, task.

I also like that Ms. Smith, in her new role, sees herself as a sort of evangelist for all things literary. That is one way I could describe my goal with this blog: promoting, talking up, encouraging literary behaviors small or large, from writing a sentence a day, to hosting a literary event, to various forms of word play, and much, much more.

In a world where it’s easy to get caught up and overwhelmed with what seems like a torrent of bad news, sprinkling a little literary in your life, like memorizing a poem, might be just what it takes to help you maintain your emotional and intellectual equilibrium.

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On the Edge of an Ancient Volcano – Travels in New Zealand

March 19, 2016, Top 10 Holiday Park, Akorora, New Zealand

Early morning at the campground in Akaroa, New Zealand, so lovely. First the stars: still myriads visible at 6 am when only a faint glimmer of light in the east announces in a whisper the sunrise, still a long ways off. Not only was my good friend the Southern Cross directly above, but it stood in a dense, dim field of distant galaxies that looked like a cloud, (It’s got to be a cloud, one says to oneself) but in a clear sky like this one you know it’s truly stars. Then as the sun begins to rise an hour later, a few fluffy clouds in the west hovering over the rolling grassy hilly fields turned a painted bright pink, a stark contrast to the piercing blue sky. Finally, as if on cue, the sunlight crept down the hills, gradually enlightening the brush, the few scattered houses perched here and there, and finally the lake, the ancient volcanic crater that is the focal point for this quaint New Zealand village.

This unfolding show’s soundtrack is birds singing, sweet gentle songs, not at all like the raucous cockatoos or laughing magpies around our home in Canberra, Australia. Yesterday we drove along the coast from Kaikoura, a miniature Ocean City of a town with good seafood, about three hours to Christchurch where we drove through heavy late afternoon suburban traffic on our quest to find a Starbucks, one of six we would visit in this country on average as wide as Indiana or Ohio and as long as the U.S. eastern seaboard from the middle of New York State to the southern border of Georgia.

The drive from Christchurch to Akoroa was picturesque, breathtaking, as we wound ’round tightly curved roads that hugged the hillside with no guardrails between us and sheer drops down beautiful hills.  The campground, like almost everything else around here except for the village on the lake, is perched on a ridge which in turn is perched on slopes surrounding the ancient volcanic bay. We have staked our claim at the top of the campground which gives us a lovely view, marred only by a dirty white boat with the word “Pegasus” in red printed over a red horse with wings.

Today is a bicycle race, 100 km from Christchurch to here, a world class event. The roads are closed but we’re close enough to town to be able to walk there. The village is cute, a little gem set by the lake. The last town, though on the seaside, was not pretty, with rows of shops, souvenirs, cafes and pizza places, a pub or two, and signs blaring helicopter rides available and whale watching and on and on. How can this be? Why aren’t all seaside towns quaint and lovely? We humans squeeze every drop of money-making potential out of a place leaving it profitable but graceless. Akaroa is not so. It boasts an old lighthouse, many historic (1860-1890) buildings and a French (i.e. pretty, cultured, culinary; graceful) influence. The French were going to claim this place back in 1840, but while the fellow who discovered it was back in Paris recruiting colonists, the British signed a treaty with the locals and the whole shebang, all of New Zealand, was enfolded into the ample bosom of Brittania. Still, thankfully, French culture lives on, here.

And now for some more wondrous seafood, like what we’ve enjoyed on our whole trip. New Zealand scallops are a rare treat: sweet, tender, and cooked with savory orange roe, a cherry on top missing from any scallops I’ve eaten anywhere else. And how can yet more fresh fish lightly battered still be such a treat we’ve not tired of yet?

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