February 2011


I thought I would try to explain what writing means to me as well as what it does for me. Writing means I get to put my words into a more permanent format. I speak a lot, but once uttered, the words are gone forever. There are times when I say something either witty or even downright intelligent and even then, the words are whisked away in the stream of time, gone forever more.

Writing lets me keep my words for later consumption. When I write, the words remain even after I’m done – unless I forget to save. I hate when that happens. The basic difference between the two methods of communication is permanence.

One of the things writing is good for is clarifying thoughts. When I speak, the words are gone and I’m not always sure I agree with what I just said. Sometimes I’m not even sure what it was I just said. When I write it out, I can look at what I just typed and decide that isn’t what I want to say. I can then either modify what I wrote or even blithely go back and erase it and start over.

I can sometimes talk my way out of situation like that described above, but that is usually more back-peddling rather than actually clarifying my thoughts.

Another thing writing can do is show me how I have changed with time. Someone wise once said that if your opinions don’t change between the ages of twenty and fifty, you have wasted thirty years. My opinions have been known to change from one week to the next. They  might change in a day.

There are times when my opinions change because I have new information available at a later time. There are times when my opinions change because I’ve opted to shift my own ideas. I might have thought something a few years ago that I no longer agree with today. Perhaps I was wrong back then, perhaps I’m wrong now.

I know I am swayed by new thoughts and ideas when they are presented coolly and calmly. I am almost never persuaded to change my thinking by didactic hounding. I need a good reason to change my mind.

Nancy, my dear liberal friend, and I used to have some rousing conversations. We might have each managed to alter the ideas held by the other on a few points. I know I’m a different person for having had to both crystallize my own ideas and give her the time and space to voice her own. We may have been passionate about our standings, but we were always open to listening and perhaps changing those ideals.

Another great thing about writing is that more people get to see what I think, just in case that might be important. When I speak, only those few people within range of my voice can hear. But when I write (and then post it on the web) the entire world can see what I have to say. At least, they can in theory. I’m quite certain the whole world doesn’t have even a remote clue that I exist, let alone care about what I say.

Even so, I do have friends and acquaintances scattered around the globe due to this wonderful thing called the Internet. Because of that, my words posted here in South Carolina can be seen on different continents and all instantaneously. I have friends in Australia, Africa, Europe, as well as scattered across North America. It is amazing how far my voice can reach when I switch to writing instead of speaking.

I love the written word. I started writing because I wanted to read something that didn’t exist. In order to fill that void, I wrote it. I have no idea how far my readership has ranged. I am published in so many different locations, some print, some online, that I don’t know when some of my words my touch or inspire someone else. I have no way to know who is affected by what I write. Even so, it is gratifying just to have the chance to write and the place to publish.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

 

When I walk, I don’t have any entertainment with me. I was listening to a book on an MP3 player, but it got to be annoying when it would repeat itself or get out of sync and miss parts. I have no idea how or why it did it, so it was easier to just not carry it with me.

Instead, I walk and think about whatever stray idea wafts into my head. Sometimes I worry about things in my real life. Sometimes I worry about things in the world at large. Sometimes I just pretend everything is great and there is nothing at all to worry about.

Sunrise over Wescott

Mostly my thoughts wander in and out and don’t really mean much. I take my camera and look for things to take pictures of. This makes me have to pay attention to my surroundings and therefore makes me more present in the here and now.

I realized this past weekend that it was once again warm in South Carolina. Duh! I really had noticed it was beginning to be nice weather again, but I didn’t really think about it until I was forcing myself to walk in the afternoon one more time. And then it dawned on me. It is nicer now. I can walk in the morning.

So, on Saturday, I began walking first thing in the morning again. I like this so much more. I don’t have to force myself to walk in the morning. I like walking when there are fewer people out and on the sidewalks. I like the smell of morning air. I like getting moving early in the day.

I noticed that over the winter I have been losing a pound and gaining a pound and losing a pound and then gaining it back – over and over. I’m not any worse off than I was late fall, when I had to switch to afternoon walking because it was simply too cold for me in the morning. But then again, I’m not any farther ahead.

Since I started walking in the morning again, I’ve lost another couple pounds which is good. And I started to wonder why. The first thing is that I’m once again consistently walking. I was lucky to get out three or four days in a week and often made only one or two over the winter. That’s no way to lose weight. Or shape up. Or be a non-slug.

In the morning, I’m out the door and back home before most people are even awake. I don’t feel like I’m missing any part of my day. Even though I’m a lark and have always liked mornings and get much done in the early hours, I don’t feel like I’m “wasting” time when I walk first thing.

The other benefit for me with walking early in the day is that I’ve given myself a start to healthy choices all day long. I’ve walked. I should probably not have that chocolate or maybe I could rethink the snack. When I haven’t started out my day with something healthy and hearty, I tend to blow off the entire day as a non-healthy day.

I know many people who don’t share my outlook. I believe this is why no one dietary/health system works for everyone. You have to know enough about yourself to know what will work for you.

I have (simply HAVE) to have chocolate and chips in my house. When I need some chocolate or potato chips, I am going to eat everything not nailed down until I have some treat. I will eat a bazillion healthy calories while I’m avoiding the “bad” food. This is not a good plan for weight loss. I don’t care how healthy the calories are, when you eat too many of them, you sabotage your weight loss plan. I’m perfectly happy after a small portion of my treat and stop snacking altogether.

Since I love fruits, I know that the new Weight Watchers plan would have some pitfalls for me. I can gain weight easily eating fruit. During the summer, I can eat a whole watermelon in about five days along with several pounds of cherries. It doesn’t matter if I skip the small bowl of potato chips, this is still too much food.

As in every aspect of one’s life, knowing yourself is the key. If you would rather eat worms than get up and get out exercising first thing in the morning, you shouldn’t do that. You will hate it and it will be a struggle each and every day. For me, waiting until the afternoon proved to be the struggle.

If you don’t like fruits and veggies, Weight Watchers inducement to fill up on healthier choices is great. For me, who overindulges in at least the fruit side, this would be disastrous.

Do what works. And after you lose all the weight, keep doing what works to maintain the new and improved you. If it is an organized plan, do that. If it a self imposed plan tailored to your likes, do that.

Whatever it is, do something to help make yourself into the person you want to be.

My sister called me last Friday afternoon. She was at school and had me on speaker phone. We were going to Skype, but I couldn’t remember how to do that. (Good thing, too, because my program wouldn’t work and had to have an update in order to function.)

Her students were worried about writer’s block. They didn’t call it that, of course, but like writers around the world, they were stumped by the blank page. One of the most difficult things about writing is to find something to write about.

Creativity by Alun Salt

Classroom exercises can be easy if you are given a prompt. Write a story about this picture – and the picture is included. Write a book report on this book. Write an essay about the topic we just studied in history or science. All these assignments have a readymade starting point making it easier to write something.

But what if there is no topic provided or if the topic is too broad to give you a real place to start? Then you have to come up with an idea on your own. That is a problem in itself. When you can’t think of a topic, you have been struck by writer’s block.

Usually that leads the young or old author into a state of panic. “What am I going to write about?” keeps playing over and over inside your head. However, life is really just one story after another.

You could write about what you had for breakfast and if you play the words correctly, this can become a long story. First you have to describe your kitchen. You can describe the table, what was on it, the chairs, and finally the actual food you ate. Then you can talk about whether or not it tasted good. Add why that was so and it further stretches your story. You can even add in whether or not you like breakfast, what your usual breakfast is, and what your favorite breakfast would be.

If you have a pet, you can tell a story about your pet. You can tell the story of your pet joining your family. You can tell the story of getting the puppy trained to stop messing up the carpets or getting the kitten to use the litter box. You can tell a story about how your pet likes to play with you. But no matter what story you tell, you have to start out by describing your pet – name, what kind of pet, color, size, age.

You could write a story about your last birthday. Depending on what you did, it could be a very happy story or a very sad story. There was a large party or no one even remembered your birthday. You had a specific cake, or you didn’t get any cake but would have loved to have had a specific type of cake. You had a celebratory dinner or you were stuck eating leftover cold pizza. You have a day to work with and it was a memorable day for some reason.

You might want to try to describe your book bag/backpack or maybe your lunch box. Perhaps you could describe your favorite item of clothing. When you tell stories like these, you need to describe the physical items, but you can also tell the tales of how they came into your possession. Why did you choose that item? What does it mean to you personally.

You might tell the story about each and every school day morning. What time you wake up and how that happens. How do you spend the time from when you first open your eyes until you are sitting in your desk at school with the teacher taking attendance? How did you decide what to wear to school? When did you pick out your clothes? (You should probably leave out bathroom information, but can speak about brushing your teeth and combing your hair.)

When is the last time you went to a store? What store? Who were you with? What did your group buy? What would you have preferred to have purchased?

Write the story of your bedroom. What furniture is in there? What colors? Do you share it with a sibling? Why is that good or bad? Are you happy with the way it looks or would you change anything? What would you change or why are you happy with what is there?

All you have to do to break writer’s block is open your mind and look at all the millions of stories surrounding you. There is a story in everything. There are stories of every minute. There are words to fill the page and create a story on the blank page – and tear down the block. All you need to do is start writing.

Summerville, South Carolina is just the small time town it sounds like. The population is 42,000 and the city covers just over 15 square miles. It is a sleepy bedroom community without much industry. It is typical small town USA .

Summerville has a newspaper published twice a week. The Journal Scene comes out on Wednesday and Friday each week. It is a small paper, two sections and the ad inserts. There is local news without any reason to cover state, national, or international events. No one, in this age of instant communication, would wait for that sort of information.

I know this is a small town because on the front page of the Wednesday paper this week was this headline: “Pet dies in downtown apartment fire” plastered right under the fold. I found the article online, linked above. At the website, a different, less astounding, headline was used. A picture is also included but I won’t post it here due to copyright stuff.

The owner wasn’t at home when the building caught fire but his dog was inside. I don’t know what to think of this line from the 317 word article written about this local fire. “EMS attempted to revive the dog, but sadly, was not able to save it, Profit said.” Profit is the Battalion Chief of the Summerville Fire Department.

I feel sorry for this person whose home was destroyed. I know how horrible it is to lose a pet to fire. But I can’t think of anywhere but a small town where this would get front page play.

Part of the reason is, of course, that the paper doesn’t cover state, national, or international news (unless directly impacting the town). And with only 42,000 people running around making newsworthy items to report on, pickings are slim.

The most confusing part of where I live is that I don’t, technically or legally, live in Summerville. Anyone writing to me has to address the envelope to Summerville, South Carolina. However, I actually live in North Charleston (population 97,601 and covering 76.6 square miles). I use North Charleston services such as trash pickup and police. However, the closest Post Office is right down Dorchester Road a couple miles, across the city border line and in Summerville. So even though I am living in North Charleston, my mailing address is the smaller town.

I live in Dorchester County. North Charleston is divided and part of it is in Dorchester (obviously since I just said I live there) and part is in Berkeley County while the rest lies in Charleston County. I have no idea how one city can be in three counties, but I live in the South and have stopped asking questions.

I may live in North Charleston, geographically speaking, but I work in beautiful downtown Summerville right across from the small town version of Central Park. We have a square that is decorated often, has a path through it, and a bronze statue. It is beautiful at Christmas time when the trees are swathed in white twinkling lights. Local businesses decorate the lawn with displays for Halloween and Christmas.

I like living here overall, and yet there are simply times when I am struck full in the face with being part of such a small community. I have subscribed to the paper since we got here and the price is stunningly low, although I don’t really remember what we pay.

I remember the Warren, Illinois weekly paper my grandparents used to get every time this paper arrives here. Full of local news and important information to locals, but uninteresting to any outsiders. Unless, of course, you can capture attention with a wild headline.

“It requires less character to discover the faults of others than is does to tolerate them.” – J. Petit Senn

Lately, people have been getting on my last nerve. Well, people tend to get on my nerves quite frequently, but it seems I’m being irritated by other people even more than usual.

I have no idea if this is something amiss with me and my low tolerance level, or if other people are acting loonier than is normal.

I could go on and list the small irritants I have witnessed of late, but that would alienate people and only add to the problems. I would become more of an irritant to them if I start making a list.

Not only that, but I would get irritated all over again if I began writing down all the stupid stuff I’ve been watching people do. I’m already cranky enough without rehashing it all out again.

It isn’t like anyone has been pleading (not even asking, really) for my intervention into their messed up lives. No one has looked to me and hoped I would kindly lay out the wisdom of the ages for their benefit. No one has been silently wishing and hoping I would boss them around.

They just keep on acting just like they have always behaved and for some odd reason, possibly due to weeks of crappy weather or not enough sunlight or some other insignificant stimulus, it is bothering me.

Maybe it is because right now I’m feeling less assured about my own wisdom or ability. Or maybe it is because I’m feeling a bit pressured by my own list of shortcomings and I don’t want to feel lonesome.

But I keep looking around and seeing where other people are (thankfully) even dumber than me. They are making choices even stupider than the ones I’m making. They are acting just like a bunch of – people.

No one is perfect. Most people don’t wake up in the morning and think to themselves, “I wonder how much I can screw up today.” Most of us start each day hoping we can be at the very least, adequate. We don’t want to fail. We strive and strain and hope we manage to do at least a bit of good.

And yet, we don’t always manage to make even this low goal. The lofty goals of high achievement and winning something monumental are just not the normal fare for daily life. We are lucky to make it through without falling flat on our collective faces.

It would probably be better for all of us if we could remember that everyone is fighting an uphill battle. We are all struggling with the difficulties crossing our paths routinely, daily, moment by moment. We try. We would really like to do, but there are times when all we have is that good old college try.

And so, I should remember that other people aren’t going out of their way to irritate me. In fact, they wish I would get out of their way and stop irritating them.

Probably, the best thing we could all do for each other is tolerate, accept, sympathize, acknowledge that each of us is merely human. We don’t mean to be a pest. We are trying to muddle through here.

We each need to build enough character to tolerate the humanity of the rest of the people getting in our way. Because we are in their way and we, too, wish to be granted tolerance.

You know, just writing that makes me less cranky.

 

There have been studies done that show we are happier on sunny days. Sunshine makes us happy. Does that mean that a rainy day is cause for having a bad day?

Weather types

I have a friend who loves the rain. When my sons were younger, we trudged through the gutter rivers flowing during summer rain storms (as long as there was no lightning). They loved the rain, too. We had fun in the rain. We splashed and stomped and laughed.

My younger son is a snowboarder. Well, he was before he had three kids. He loved having snow to board on. He had visited the Rocky Mountains and was so impressed, they were so much better than mountains in Ohio. He enjoyed snowboarding there so much, he actually moved to Colorado for a time.

The dog is petrified of thunder. She doesn’t seem to mind so much about the lightning, but the loud crashes drive her nuts. However, I love being safely inside and watching the light show in the sky. The trick is being safely inside.

While sunshine is great, by August I’m over sunned. I stay inside because the heat index is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. When walking outside, it is like standing in a sauna. There is sun. There is lots of sun. There is too much sun.

I can find something beautiful and something dreadful about any weather. Hurricanes are majestic in their power. Tornadoes are the same. They coalesce into such huge power houses, they can be awesome. They are such huge power houses, they can be devastating.

Perhaps it isn’t so much what is on the outside then that makes a great day. Perhaps it is what is on the inside that makes any day great or not. I can be happy on dreary, rainy days. I can be miserable on beautiful, sunny days.

What are the internal markers making me happy?

They are pretty much as ever-changing as the exterior ones. When I was unemployed, I longed to have days with something structured to take up time. Now that I’m working, I long for days where there is nothing I absolutely have to do. I can just be a slug.

There are days when I’m distressed because I “should” write something. There are days when I sit at the computer and write and write and look up only in time to see that I forgot to cook dinner.

There are days when I’m looking forward to just surfing the web. There are days when I don’t even visit some of my favorite pages or forums. I just can’t be part of the entire world.

There are days when I’m looking forward to striding around the neighborhood and eating healthy food. Then there are days when it takes all the will power I can muster to get out the door and all I want for dinner is potato chips and candy bars.

There are days when one thing makes me happy and then there are other days when it is something diametrically opposed that is making me happy.

Apparently, what makes a good day is when I decide to have one.

Today, is a good day. I called it.

The past is never over.

‎”We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.” – Bergen Evans

I have lots of friends and family who are struggling with this issue. Not so much in terms of their own lives, but in terms of their children.

Endings

It seems there are lots of parents out there who suddenly realize they have “made a mistake” and don’t feel all that compelled to continue on with the whole family thing.

They leave. And divorce is so common now we don’t even really bat an eye. But these couples don’t just disintegrate and then everyone lives happily ever after – because there are children.

It seems to be quite popular to tire of being a parent. ( I have to admit this has always been so. Every single parent has had some days when they are tired of the job. Always. Everywhere. Kids can be so draining, so resource intense, so bratty, so not what we expected. They can get on your very last nerve. And then you take a deep breath and realize you love them in spite of all this.)

Some parents have decided they really are tired and wish to quit or withdraw their employment status or something.

In divorce decrees, the courts look to the interest of the child(ren) and assign a sharing of time and money. Some people follow these parceling of assets to the exact letter of the law and not one iota more or less. If the decree didn’t say you had to pay for Daughter’s unforeseen emergency, then you aren’t paying for it. If Son gets into some unknown problem and it wasn’t in the decree – tough.

Some lousy parents don’t even measure up to the minimum requirements of the divorce decree. They become Deadbeat Parents. They don’t manage to show up when they are supposed to. They want to “return” the kids before the mandated time is up. They don’t remember to send the child support. They forget to pay their portion of shared bills.

The past isn’t yet through with you. Your children are your children until the end of time. And more importantly – you reap what you sow. Years from now when your son or daughter do not invite you to their wedding, maybe they are just being careful not to infringe on your time – knowing this wasn’t spelled out in the decree.

Years from now, they may be forced to select your nursing home. They have learned from you that you didn’t like living with them, so they will have no thought to inviting you to their homes.

Years from now, you may be in some trouble that needs younger, stronger bodies to help get you past. You have taught your children that other things are more important.

You can’t escape the fact that you have become a parent. It isn’t optional after the fact. Your choices are creating a chain of events that will come back and bind you in the selfishness you displayed to your offspring when they needed you most.

Be careful what you decide today for it will become your past and it will not be through with you.

 

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