Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thinking about thanking

This is the time of year when, encouraged by sentiment and commercialism, we are encouraged to think about what we are thankful for. Seldom are we encouraged to look behind those thoughts, perhaps to examine why we are thankful for the things we think we are thankful for, if you see what I mean.

It isn't that we aren't thankful, that we don’t appreciate the things we have, or even that we aren't aware of the good things in our lives. Most of us are; it’s part of being human. The reason we perhaps need to pause and consider is that so much of what we should appreciate in our lives we take for granted, depend on to be there, expect to have. Things like the sun being there when the earth turns to it, like water we can depend on, or green edible things poking up from the soil. Things like friends, and family and health we also seem to take for granted. For fewer and fewer people there is also shelter and clothing and a way to get from one place to another, and something to do when we get there (like jobs). There is always something for which we can be thankful.

What are the positive things in your life? Without getting too metaphysical, can you list them and relate them to something you have done to make them happen? The key words would be work, give, help, avoid, reject, accept, take, move, stop . . . on and on, the words that describe moving the world a step closer to good, a step away from evil.

I am most thankful for all those who work to make the world a better place.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

At my age the future is tomorrow

Looking ahead is really something for the young. I try to project, to see where I will be when I get older, but actually, I’m already there. Except that I will get older again tomorrow and the next day and so on. The only difference is that there are fewer tomorrows.

So what? Well, for one thing, it’s time to recognize that, to make sure that tomorrow not only comes (as far as one is able), but that I’m there to greet it. I like to say that I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to be when I grow up, but the truth is, I grew up a long time ago. Maybe when I was in my twenties, maybe earlier, probably not much later. I took on grown-up responsibilities, undertook adult tasks, even prepared for the future. But all the time I kept thinking, "I’m acting just like a grown up!" I just don’t think I believed it. I probably still don’t.

I know that once I completed my "three score and ten" I was supposed to be an old man, but somehow that hasn’t stuck, at least in my own mind. I can’t speak for others. I have plans, and projects and ideas I want to get on with "when I have time." Well, when is that time going to begin?

I’m not really aware of my age most of the time. A doctor friend of mine (some 25 years my junior), said something recently about my approaching 80 (still a few years away), and changes I should anticipate. I laughed. Later I felt a bit of resentment because he had, with all good intentions, reminded me of something I don’t really want to contemplate. When I have trouble moving about for a few seconds after I get up from my desk, or getting out of the truck after I've loaded it with firewood, or some other sedentary activity, I blame it on the weather, or sitting still too long. That’s enough of thinking about how I feel for the time being. I don’t blame it on the calendar, but maybe I should. Maybe I should say, "No, I don’t want to do that. I’m not young anymore, you know." But somehow I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that years add limitations. They just speed up the clock, shorten the day, allow less time for thinking about what I haven’t yet done.

At my age the future is tomorrow.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Voting Right

"What do you do with your time?" is a question former colleagues often ask when we meet after many years of "retirement." I usually talk about writing books and short stories and essays, or cutting firewood or working on old tractors and other necessary accessories to life in the mountains. I seldom talk about politics because I think that is a private matter and I’m not really the confrontational sort of person that today’s political world seems to breed faster than the wild rabbits that pop up when the dogs aren’t out. But here are some things about politics I will talk about.

First of all, on Tuesday last, I gave up my day (and night) to the political process. I was an "election official" for a day. Actually longer than a day, if you consider the half day I spent in class learning about my duties and responsibilities, and another hour or so a couple of days later helping clean up some of the paperwork details such an effort inevitably generates.

I worked in the precinct where we live, so I only had to drive the two miles from the house to the firehouse, but I had to be there at five in the morning. Among other things, I was the only one of the officials who knew the combination to the door. The polls open at six, and we had work to do before one of us could go outside and announce in a loud voice, "The Polls Are OPEN!" Well, that didn’t bring anybody in, but we were ready. We had opened the packages of paper ballots, set up the electronic voting machine (we still offer a choice), got the poll book ready to check people in, set up the ballot box to receive their paper ballots when they had voted. And made sure they got a sticky badge saying "I Voted." We were ready.

Throughout the day we welcomed neighbors and friends who live in the precinct, made sure everyone got a chance to vote without being hurried, and generally watched to see that things were done according to the rules. 71 people made their choices between "The Polls Are OPEN" and "The Polls are CLOSED," 13 hours later. Then the work began. Until then it had been a kind of extended reunion, helped along by snacks and even chili prepared by the other four officials (I provided the coffee, it being the one thing I know how to cook). Once the door was secured, however, we really had work to do.

I never realized how much paperwork is associated with voting, even if you vote electronically. At least in our part of the world (admittedly a small part), we have to count (and count more than once) every paper ballot and report the results on two or three forms. We have to verify the electronic votes and enter that information on a form or two or three. If a count doesn’t agree with the previous one, we have to keep counting until we are sure our numbers are true. It is a long process. When I was ready to lock the door behind us, nobody said: "Wait. Can’t we stay a little longer?"

What impressed me the most, I think, is how we as a people follow a process that is the foundation of who we are. Whether you voted on paper or on a touch screen, there were no soldiers standing by to make sure you followed the right procedure. If there was a challenge to a vote, it was resolved by a civilized and civil process. And it happened not just in our little precinct, but in hundreds of others, large and small, and it will again and again across this land and beyond our continental borders the next time we vote.

It is an orderly (if sometimes noisy) process that depends on trust and respect and not on purple thumbs. It is America and it is the world we have made, here as nowhere else. It was along day, but one I would not have missed for anything. It’s what you do in the country.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Shovel-ready jobs for Writers: where is our stimulus package?

Spell-checker, grammar-checker, fact-checker. If only those were people-jobs and not computer occupations! Traditional publishers, self publishers, bloggers, commentators, letters-to-the-editor writers all seem to have arrived at a common place: enough words, often too many words, will get you between covers or between headline and deadline. On the net, in the paper, on bookstore shelves. So much of what one reads today in contemporary writing is not just poorly written, but poorly edited, both in terms of content and in simple sentence construction. My English teachers of several generations ago would never have let a 9th grader get away with some of the writing one sees today in newspapers, magazines and books, and on the Internet.

And truth? Why, it hardly exists beyond what some writer/blogger/commentator says is true. Nearly every week there is a mea culpa plea from some figure in public life or behind the cover of a book who admits (seemingly without lasting consequences) to shading the facts, or downright lying. "Who cares," seems to be the mantra most expressed by people who have a public ear or eye to play to, "I got it out. Deciding what to believe is your problem, not mine."

I read what I write, I ask others who are editorially more sophisticated, to read what I write, and I ask total strangers to pay to read what I write. I believe it is still important that what I write is not just honest. It must also be true and it must be spelled correctly. And I like it to be just a little artful, have a phrase or two that makes me smile with satisfaction, it must "sing," and make a reader say, "I liked the way you said that."

That’s a stimulus package for any writer