Lately on this blog, I have been talking a lot about time, and how we spend it, and which things are worth spending time on and which are not. In keeping with that flow, I came across this topic on a social media platform regarding whether or not it is a good idea to teach ‘cursive’ writing to kids, or whether it is a waste of valuable classroom time.
I soon discovered that few topics raise the hackles of my fellow baby boomers faster than the suggestion cursive writing be removed from school curriculum. (If you don’t know what ‘hackles’ are, they are the short, erectile hairs on the back of a dog’s neck that rise when the dog is angered. So yeah, people really get worked up over it.)
The hoopla seems to surround the fact that what most of us learned in elementary school penmanship class, a style known as the “Palmer Method”, is now deemed out of date. The Palmer Method being the ornamental handwriting technique developed by Austin Palmer back in the late 19th century. Today, 41 states have declared that schools are under no obligation to teach ‘cursive writing’, saying it is a waste of time. A handful of states, California, and Tennessee among them (go figure that), have said no way. Kids have to learn penmanship. So, do they, or don’t they? Mr. Palmer’s method involves exercises that teach kids to write a highly stylized form of scripting that probably has little (maybe no) value in today’s keyboard driven world. Or so they say.
So maybe that makes it a waste of time. I don’t know. I do know that few of us follow the rigid composition structure that we learned in school, and develop instead, a bastardized form of longhand writing that pulls from both printed lettering and a cursive script, into a style that we make our own.
To illustrate, see the photo below of my own handwriting as I began work on this blog post a few days ago:
So maybe writing from my beach chair did not afford me the opportunity to construct my script in accordance with Mr. Palmer’s instructions regarding method and execution:
… the movement of the muscles of the arm from the shoulder to the wrist, while keeping the fleshy portion of the arm just forward of the elbow [held] stationery on the desk. This movement should be used in all capitals and in all small letters, except the extended stem and loop, where a slight extension and contraction of the fingers holding the pen is permissible.”
Proponents of teaching cursive cite brain stimulation and teaching focus as two primary reasons for keeping such training in place.
My personal feeling is that longhand writing of some sort (not necessarily Mr. Palmer’s brand), is vital in connecting words, word patterns and sentence structure in the writer’s brain.
It is an often-told story that the late Hunter S. Thompson, who was a huge fan of Hemingway, once transcribed Hemingway’s classic, “A Farewell to Arms“, in its entirety, in longhand, on yellow legal pads. He wanted to capture Hemingway’s pace, structure, and style so that he could bring the technique to his own writing.
I am not sure if Thompson succeeded in emulating Hemingway. But I do know, that as a reader, the first chapter of “A Farewell to Arms” and the last chapter of HST’s “Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs” are still, to date, my favorite first and last chapters of any books I have ever read.
Now back to work on a book I am writing.
Thankfully, I will be typing.
Thanks for reading.
A few weeks ago, a friend mentioned to me that whenever she started reading a book, she always finished it. No matter if the book was good, or bad, she always finished the book before starting another. The act of finishing the book was of greater importance to her than the lost hours of time spent on the task. I told her that I felt exactly the opposite. I feel that time spent on a task that reaps no reward is time misspent, and the older one gets, the more one starts to look for misspent hours. They are slices of time that cannot be returned to us.
I was thinking of this today – time and how we spend it, when I remembered an online article that I read some years back. It is one of those (very) few online pieces that has stuck with me. Unfortunately, I didn’t bookmark it, or I could share it here today.
The piece was written by an inmate on death row in Texas who was about to be executed. The article detailed the last 24 hours of the inmate’s life in excruciating detail. He described his transfer from his cell in one prison, to a cell outside of the death chamber in another. He described the food he ate, the people he talked to and the black and white television that was set up just outside of his cell, so he could entertain himself in his last hours. He described a table of snacks that was set up just beyond his cell and he described a final cigarette that was given to him by a kindly corrections officer. The detailed execution protocol commenced to the point of securing the inmate to the lethal injection gurney before the phone rang and it was announced that he had received a stay of execution. The inmate was returned to his cell, his date with death delayed.
I don’t know what happened to this inmate, nor do I want to begin a conversation about the pros and cons of capital punishment (so don’t even go there in the comments section). But what happened next made me stop and think. The inmate said that after he had been returned to his normal, day to day prison life, and he’d had time to reflect on his near execution, he came to see how the scripted execution protocol being followed by everyone involved in the event (if you can call it an event), was designed to distract all people involved from the actual execution. It was designed to fill every single minute until his death with an activity. Something to be signed, watched, written, eaten, smoked, drank or in some way sensory consumed. It was designed to keep everyone occupied so that there would be no time to consider what was really about to occur until after it occurred.
Few of us, apart from condemned prisoners, know the exact day and hour of our demise, but I do wonder how much time we spend upon meaningless pursuits as the clock ticks down. Are we all guilty of time misspent? Will we wish to retrieve portions of it one day? Are we too involved in social media (an easy target, I know), pointless relationships, unfulfilling tasks, or reading uninspiring books? Have we all fallen into the twenty first century ‘protocol’ of life? That is what I am thinking today. As always, your comments are welcome.
Yesterday, I took a break from my day job as a technical writer for a large corporation, a corporation with many technical writers on three continents, so I am really just a small cog in a large technical writing wheel. But I took a day off to drive for two and a half hours down the Florida peninsula to visit my dentist in the leafy, family-friendly (their words, not mine), Ft. Lauderdale bedroom community of Coral Springs. I have always been averse to the term ‘bedroom community’ as it infers that little else happens in those communities, other than that which occurs in the bedroom, and I find that very restrictive and narrow. I have never heard of a community described as a ‘kitchen community’ or a ‘garage community’, or God forbid ‘bathroom community’. So, I cosign ‘bedroom community’ to the list of words and phrases that I dislike (‘bucket list’ being another that comes immediately to mind, but that’s another blog).
But I digress, and it’s not the trip to Coral Springs, Florida, nor the expensive dental work that I will soon require that I am thinking about today, but rather the journey on the highway, Interstate 95, an especially neutered stretch of road that strays just far enough from both the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and Florida’s Everglades on the other, so as to give the traveler a taste of neither. The great New York to Miami artery pumps commerce in both directions (north and south); there are big trucks, little trucks, Lexus, Hyundai, Fords, Silverado trucks, and ninja bikes all on their way to everywhere, and to nowhere.
There are no named rest areas on I-95 either, just numbers – MM 302 St. Augustine; MM225 Mims; MM133 Ft. Pierce. No need for snack bars or fuel. Take care of yourself fellow traveler. This is America, learn to fend for yourself. Look for your bootstraps cowboy, they’re right where you left them. Check the names of the missing teenagers on the bulletin board by the restroom and move along. Do your business. Say your piece and get out. South Beach waits at the end of the road. The mouse is an hour to the west. A couple of hours past that, sultry Tampa Bay hoists a subtle middle finger, asking us not so politely to stay away.
The particular journey that I was on yesterday was only a couple of hundred miles, but it was enough to remind me of longer road trips I have taken, and the therapeutic benefits that I have achieved while on such journeys. And there is therapeutic value, believe me. Try driving from Spokane to St. Paul and you’ll see what I mean. Nothing can connect you with the voice inside your head like the high desert. The current buzzword, ‘mindfulness’, or being extremely aware of the moment and focusing on it and living in it is a close description but does not do the experience justice. Hearing yourself can be achieved through use of a number of relaxation techniques, but actually paying attention to what you are hearing is quite another matter and becoming excited about what you are hearing is still another.
Frederic Will, in his classic 1992 book, “Big Rig Souls” explores this phenomenon among America’s long-haul truck drivers. In this book, which is a short, but scholarly look at the American truck driver, Will strips away the media conjured myth of the truck driver as the last American cowboy and explores their relationship with their jobs, their families, their machines, the trucking industry, and more importantly, their personal journey both in and out of the trucking world.
In one chapter, Will interviews a driver who says that it is not unusual for drivers to stop at a coffee shop after a long run on the road and begin to unload with a plethora of ideas to anyone who will listen. ‘Foolishness’, this talk is described as being, and the driver will often continue to unload his thoughts for several minutes until realizing he has made no sense at all.
But what if this phenomenon is not nearly as foolish as it first appears. Maybe these long-haul drivers have simply tapped into a source of creativity that is lying just beneath the surface ready to be revealed. Maybe this type of mental brainstorming is not detrimental at all and may in fact be more transformative than it first appears?
I have always found writing and long-distance driving to be compatible partners and I have felt some of my greatest bursts of creativity while ‘on the road’. So, don’t go out and push yourself on a nonstop Seattle to Atlanta cannonball run just to finish the last chapter of your novel, but if you have had similar experiences with this type of focus and clarity coming to you while driving, I would like to hear from you. Disclaimer: Of course, obey all traffic laws, don’t drive when you are too tired, buckle up and most importantly — no drinking (until you are safely back at the keyboard).
“doggerel” Merriam-Webster.com. 2021. https://www.merriam-webster.com (4 June 2021)
dog-ger-el: loosely styled and irregular in measure especially for burlesque or comic effect
also: marked by triviality or inferiority.
I have to confess, I had not heard the term ‘doggerel’, or more specifically, of ‘doggerel poetry’ until a couple of years ago. Strangely, I came across the term while reading an online article about Bonnie Parker. Bonnie Parker, if you recall, was one half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde crime duo. Bonnie and Clyde, or to be more inclusive, the Barrow gang. The Barrow gang cut a wide swath across America’s heartland back in the 1930s, robbing small businesses and a couple of banks (contrary to popular belief they were not ‘Robin Hood-esqe’ bank robbers of popular culture and myth). They killed anyone who got in their way and managed to elude the law for over two years before they were gunned down in a roadside ambush in Louisiana in May of 1934.
In any case, prior to dying in a hail of bullets, Bonnie had been jailed on a number of other miscellaneous charges. During her time in the slammer, Bonnie busied herself by writing poetry. More specifically, the article reported that Bonnie spent her time in jail smoking Camel cigarettes and writing doggerel poetry. So, of course I jotted that down in my blog-book so that someday I could write a bit about it here on EEOTPB. And of course, that day has arrived.
There are numerous examples of Bonnie’s poetry on the internet, so it’s no secret she liked to write. But I will not link to any of her doggerel poetry here. The Barrow gang are believed to be responsible for thirteen murders, nine of them police officers, so I will end my personal introduction to ‘doggerel poetry’ at this point.
But doggerel poetry has a long history, tracing its roots to Geoffrey Chaucer, who coined the term ‘rym doggerel’ for the Tale of Thopas. Since then, doggerel poetry has been written by both the infamous (see Bonnie Parker, above) and the famous: think Shakespeare, think Ogden Nash, think Doctor Seuss.
One of my favorite examples of doggerel poetry was written by Edward Lear and William Monkhouse. I note it here:
There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
—attributed to Edward Lear and William Cosmo Monkhouse
And so you ask, do I have any doggerel poetry that I have written? Let me see…
Here is a short one that I wrote while searching for seashells on a beach near my home only a couple of weeks ago:
TITLE: Gathering Shells and other Events
How many shells wash in from the sea
a million and one? A million and three?
how many grains of sand to fill your pail
how much wind to hoist a sail
how much fire to burn a forest
how much cash to lift the poorest
how much time till it’s all over
how many bees in a field of clover
how many answers fall on deaf ears
how many prayers end in our tears
Thank you for reading.
As I write this blog today, storm clouds are gathering over Florida’s Indian River just a hundred yards from my office window. My digital weather station reads a cool 84 degrees with 78 percent humidity. There is thunder in the distance. I glance at my calendar – it’s Thursday, June 3rd. How the hell did the frigging season sneak up on me, I say to myself. It’s hurricane season and I’d damn near forgotten about it. We are 3 days in now. I haven’t even read a report from the folks out in Colorado predicting how many storms we’ll have this year.
So, I ask Alexa to play “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season” by Jimmy Buffett just to commemorate the occasion. Halfway through the rendition I realize the absurdity of it. As much of a JB fan that I am, it occurs to me that no one reasons with hurricane season – hurricane season reasons with you. If you live near the coast you know there is no reasoning with a natural phenomenon that can easily expend the energy over ten thousand nuclear bombs in the course of its life span. I’m not reasoning with something like that. I am evacuating.
The central Florida coast where we live has been relatively untouched by hurricanes over the past few decades.
Knock on wood.
Locals like to downplay storms. When my wife and I bought our house here a couple of years ago our realtor assured us that “they usually go the other way”. Neighbors scoffed. “They get them down south” they said. But they assured us we were safe here on the central Florida coast. Being from South Florida, we weren’t so sure. We’d been through many of these storms. We knew how to prepare. We knew when to stay (sometimes) and when to evacuate (sometimes). We recall the storms of 2005. We recall Katrina (which did touch part of South Florida before devastating the Gulf Coast), Rita, and Wilma. My wife and I have T-shirts that say we survived Hurricane Irma in 2017 (we evacuated) . We aren’t strangers to these monsters. We’ve dodged them, out run them, and ridden them out.
So, after all this time in the Sunshine State, you’d think I would have written a poem about hurricanes, wouldn’t you? I knew I did, but I had to go digging for it and I finally found it back in my poem archives from 2011. I am not going to rewrite it; I will leave it alone unedited and let the chips fall where they might:
Named storms and hurricanes
I’m on my porch
waiting for the end.
I am drinking a bourbon, because it is made
from corn, from the Midwest where I was born.
where the hurricanes were far away and we
listened to the radio for storm reports of
downed barns and bridges washed out
no hurricanes in North Platte or Scotts Bluff
just empty plains stretching away for
a couple of hundred miles toward Wyoming
and Billings, Montana.
No thought of a
storm with a name – what would you
name it? Cody, or Laramie?
board up the chicken shed,
Put away the
So we wait for 45 more storms here
in my home in the tropics.
there are disturbances off
of Africa – across the Atlantic Ocean.
We can bury the dead where they fall,
we can prepare and fear, we can
wait for September where there is
a lot of lead time. Such a big ocean
I received my first investment advice from my grandfather. Granddad was a stoic Midwesterner, deeply religious, and a man of few words. He fought in the First World War and then went on to see the Great Depression, followed by World War II, so he experienced both good times and bad.
But regarding his investment advice:
Granddad was fond of telling a story of a man who lived in our town during the years immediately prior to WWII. The man was a well-respected tradesman. Of what trade, I can’t recall, but he was a carpenter or a bricklayer, or something like that. He had a wife and a couple of small children and he provided well for them. When he was in his middle years, he decided to abandon his trade and purchase a local restaurant that had come up for sale. He sank all of his hard-earned carpentering/bricklaying money into the establishment and he worked night and day to make the place a success. Sadly though, in spite of all of the man’s hard work and best intentions, the restaurant floundered. Within months, the man had lost all of his money and the restaurant soon went under. Devastated and financially destroyed, the man began to drink heavily and soon thereafter his wife moved away, taking the children with her. I forget the rest of the story, but I don’t think things ended happily for this guy.
“Never put your money into something you don’t know about,” was Granddad’s advice.
He didn’t have too much use for the stock market either, having lived through the ‘crash’ of 1929. He had a similar distrust of banks, although he came to tolerate them, but the stock market he told me was controlled by fast talking businessmen who were out to gouge the common man.
Granddad believed that real estate was the only investment worth making. He once told me that if I were to ever invest money into anything, to make sure you could “build a fence on it”.
So today, as I am considering my first cryptocurrency investment, I am wondering what Granddad would say considering the tiny smattering of knowledge I have regarding Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency I am considering buying. He certainly could not build a fence on the Blockchain. Yet today, I find myself sitting in front of my newly created Coinbase account ready to invest my hard earned cash (not much of it really), into a marginally understood form of digital money that was created by a mysterious man named Satoshi Nakamoto, who may, or may not, even exist depending upon to whom one talks. Still, I am intrigued by the concept of the ‘digital wallet’ that I am about to deposit my newly minted crypto funds into. I am more intrigued by the fact that this currency exists outside the realm of banks or government (Granddad might like that part).
But I am concerned about the environmental impact digital mining is taking on such fragile eco-systems as Iceland where a huge amount of cryptocurrency mining is taking place.
But I am going boldly forward anyway. More on my investment later.
Shortly before he died, Granddad cautioned me one more time. “Never buy a restaurant,” he told me. “It’s not in your blood.”
I told him I would never consider it.
The internet is awash with quotes. There are so many quotes, being quoted by so many, that I rarely stop to read them when they appear on my social media news feed. These days, it has to be a helluva quote to suck me in. I’m suffering from ‘quote-fatigue’, and you may quote me on that.
It is all so easy. If I want to project a certain point of view upon my social media followers, all I have to do is to perform a quick internet search for an individual whose interests/beliefs/values/religion, or whatever, align somewhat with mine, enter her name along with the word ‘quotes’, and just like that…an instant pool of quotes appear into which I can dip my virtual ladle.
For example, a search for ‘Richard Nixon quotes’ turned up a boat load of quotes, among them:
“I can take it, the tougher it gets, the cooler I get.”
(This is by far my favorite Richard Nixon quote.)
Or a search for Charlton Heston quotes turns up this oft repeated, bastardized, and misused quote by both the political right and left:
“There are no ‘good guns.’ There are no ‘bad guns.’ Any gun in the hands of a bad man is a bad thing. Any gun in the hands of a decent person is no threat to anybody, except bad people.”
And so it goes with the quotes.
What I am interested in knowing, is if you have any quotes that have stuck with you over a period of time – say at least a month or two. Do you have any quotes attributed to the famous, or even the marginally famous that have caused you to get out your notebook and mechanical pencil and jot it down for future reference? Maybe you taped it on an index card so you could read it every day and maybe you placed that index card by your computer, or taped it to the dash of your car, or maybe it’s on the doghouse of the 18 wheeler you’re driving. Maybe it is attached by magnet to your refrigerator door, or you folded it and placed it in the bottom of your purse. Or it’s tucked into a pocket in your wallet under your Blockbuster card. What is important is that this piece of writing inspires you to do something – to exercise, lose weight, relax, maximize your workday, or just make it through another 24 hours on this rock. Do you have anything like that???
Yes, of course I have a great and meaningful quote, or I wouldn’t be writing this would I. I have it written in a notebook that I use every day, and although I don’t read it every day (I don’t do anything EVERY day), I do read it quite a lot. It is by Ralph Waldo Emerson. So here is the quote:
“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
Being more of a windshield guy than a rear view mirror guy this quote makes sense to me. I like to spend more time thinking about what’s ahead, rather than what’s behind.
I rather like the thought of starting each day unencumbered with old nonsense.
How about you?
Feel free to leave your favorite quote in the comments section.
Months ago, back before the pandemic, back when I made frequent trips to bookstores, I came across a book titled “100 Books to Read Before you Die”. I had the book in my hand intending to buy it, but before finalizing the purchase I reconsidered. Did I really need someone telling me which books I need to read before my demise, I asked myself? Maybe I do not need that kind of structure in my life. So, I put the book back on the shelf. Still, the idea of such a reading list intrigued me. In the months since, I found several such lists on the internet. After reviewing a couple of these lists, I decided there were simply too many books. 100 books are too much reading to plan.
If I read a book a month, it would take me roughly 8 ½ years to read all the books on the list. Of course, I have already read many of the books on the list, so that would shorten the time required but still it is an intimidating list. So, I decided to come up with my own list.
I quickly jotted down about a dozen or so titles – mostly books that I already own but have never gotten around to reading. Still, the list was too long. I slashed it down some more, eventually deciding that my own personal list would contain only four titles. Three of the titles are what I refer to as projects. They are more than simple reading assignments. They require time and commitment. They might require notes. They are my project reads. The fourth, by no means is a project read, but I include it for reasons I will describe later.
Here are the books that I hope to finish before I go on to that great goodnight:
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace; Word count 543, 709. Roughly 1000 pages. Four and a half pounds.
I have a confession to make. I sometimes find myself reading a lot about the lives of writers, even though I have read little of what they have written. David Foster Wallace (DFW) is in this category. I first started reading about DFW in 2008, in the wake of his tragic death by suicide. Since that time, I have read a lot about him. I have read his 1994 Class Syllabus “How to teach serious literature with lightweight books”. I know that he was a hopeless nicotine addict that chewed tobacco to help relieve his dependence on cigarettes. I have read a great deal about his personal struggles. But I have not read Infinite Jest. It remains on my bookshelf unopened.
Ulysses by James Joyce; Word count 265,391
This one remains on my Kindle. It has taken up space there for nearly two years. It is said that when Joyce completed this work, he handed a copy to his wife who read a few pages and tossed it back at him saying “Why don’t you write something people can understand”. That alone is enough to consign this one to my must-read before death list. Maybe right before death. It is also said that after he completed this book, he did not write a word of prose for a year. So yeah, I must complete this one before the lights go out.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; Word count 587,287
Some years ago, I picked up a hardcopy of this book in a New Jersey bookstore. At the time I was commuting by train and I intended to read it on my way to and from my job in New York City. Today, a piece of note paper marks my last reading of this book. It marks page 93. The piece of note paper was, at one time, a shopping list, and it lists the following items: milk, eggs, dog food, cigarettes. The last item caught my eye. Since I have not smoked in nearly 30 years, it looks like I gave up both smoking and this book around the same time. Both were taking a toll on my health. One needs to keep notes to get through this one. I will do it though, right after the Madagascar Ultra Marathon.
Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway; 517 pages
I have been a Hemingway fan for as long as I can remember. I have read about everything Papa has written (including his poetry). In one of my blogs here at EEOTPB I mentioned that the first chapter of “A Farewell to Arms” was the best damned first chapter of any book written in the 20th century. So yes, I am a Hemingway fan. I have been a frequent visitor to Key West, and I have travelled there to attend Hemingway Days (where his poetry was read). I have travelled to Bimini to see the ruins of the Compleat Angler Hotel, and if I am lucky, I will live to visit Havana and have drink in the Floridita Bar. I will see what is left of the Pilar. I would love to see Finca Vigia. I’d like to go to Spain one day. At present, I have Hemingway’s last posthumous book, The Garden of Eden loaded on my Kindle.
But I have not read Death in the Afternoon. Not yet.
I am saving it for the end. I am saving it for post-diagnosis.
What books are on your end times reading list?
Drop a list in the comments section…
Of all of it, God, fix Spring first,
It is far too long and
the miserable April rains are a lot to
slosh through on my way
to the Farmers’ market.
Are you talking to God again,
You old agnostic, she says to me?
You barely observe Christmas,
And now you want a fix for Spring,
You’ve some nerve…
You should be asking for peace
In the middle east,
not a clear path to the organic radishes.
You should be asking about the state
of your soul,
You believe in a soul don’t you?
You old Radish