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.

Continue reading

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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.

Continue reading

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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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Write a Love Poem for Poetry Month

Here’s an essay by Garrison Keillor inviting folks to write a love poem for Poetry Month which is just around the corner in April.

Take a look at the article if for no other reason but that it is not about politics, like most newspaper articles these days seem to be. In this short piece Keillor pokes gentle fun at some well-studied poems, several of which are ones I’ve memorized. Being familiar with them makes it especially entertaining to read the references.

I also share this invitation to write a poem because it fits the main theme and goal of this blog: to offer suggestions for ways to add a little literary to life. I have experienced the benefits and enjoyed the fun of doing literary activities like writing, collecting words, memorizing poems, hosting literary events, and more, besides just reading. Reading is great, but by itself its a one-way street. Putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard turns your literary life into a two-way street, much healthier, much more fun.

Here’s the final paragraph of the essay.

This is what you learn during Poetry Month. You may lose the vote, fall into debt, suffer illness and remorse, feel lost in the crowd, and yet there is in language, everyday language, a source of such sweet delight that when you turn it to a good purpose, two gentle arms may reach around your neck, just as is happening to me right now, and a familiar voice speaks the words I long to hear and my heart is going like mad and yes, I say, yes I will Yes.

The “sweet delight of everyday language” is very real and is very available to any and all who would like to use and enjoy it.


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Employee Review in Verse

A fact I have never disclosed in this blog is that I am a U.S. federal government employee. The agency that employs me requires us to produce employee reviews once a year. I think this is pretty standard practice in most businesses and other sorts of organizations that hire people and pay them a wage for doing some sort of work. In my agency, these reviews have evolved over the years to becoming very carefully worded works of art, accurate and factual to be sure, but highly stylized with essential words and perspectives and voices used just so, carefully constructed to put employees in an advantageous position for promotion. Not long ago I decided to write a review of my work from the perspective of a supervisor in verse. I wrote it to carefully cover all the professional goals (we call them precepts) toward which we are supposed to strive. This review includes a few references unique to my workplace, but I think most of it is universal to all mid-level officials, enough, at least, to make sense to anybody who has held a similar sort of job, public or private sector.

Employee Review in Verse

Argyle is a useful bloke,
does all his tasks, he ain’t no joke.
An officer from head to toe,
when I say jump he starts to go.

Completely fair in all his dealings,
but circumspect with his own feelings.
Surrounds himself with folk, diverse,
with anyone he will converse.

Leadership is his main theme,
all follow him as in a dream.
He manages well within his group,
turns folks into a well-oiled troop.

Evaluates, counsels, conducts some training,
among Argyle’s staff there’s no complaining.
Delegates a lot of work,
yet labors hard, he doesn’t shirk.

Develops insights, creates solutions,
his work deserves no diminution.
Makes reasoned, effective, timely decisions,
views hastiness with mild derision.

Finishes projects: timely and cheap.
Complaints from Argyle? Not a peep.
Communicates his expectations,
to his staff he’s Mr. Human Relations.

He writes with ease he is so clever,
the smoothest docs that you’ve seen, ever.
Attends to all security matters
and yet he’s deaf to idle flatter.

Rough and ready when trouble arises,
this guy is brilliant in a crisis.
Maintains a calm and cool façade,
doesn’t crumble (ain’t that odd?)

He will adapt, he manages change,
even when what’s new is strange.
He deals with others aspirations
and maintains useful, good relations.

Influences others, oh he’s so deft.
Hesitation?  Doubt? Of these he’s bereft.
Cultivates contacts, a natural born host,
He piles it on high when it matters the most.

He speaks, he listens, proclaims the good news,
with USG policies, he’s so enthused.
He knows how to think, gather key information
and puts it together like the chief of the nation.

So really I’d like this idea to float,
Argyle’s so great, it’s time to promote.
His thinking is keen, his service, essential
he’s great, a big hunk of walking potential.

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Morning Greeting

Hello dearie
are you bleary
maybe cheery
on this happy morn?

Coffee brewing
eggies chewing
hope renewing
on a path well-worn?

Sun is rising
day apprising
adventures surprising
look! now being born.

Washing, dressing,
get a blessing,
no more messing
go with joy adorned.

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