April 11, 2008

A Year in Blog-land

Category: News — Ira @ 6:50 pm


“…..I have been a stranger in a strange land.”

—Exodus 2:22

Well, we’ve reached a milestone. Fifty-four posts. With fifty-three essays. Almost exactly one year ago, on April 14, on a Saturday morning, I posted my first commentary. And every Friday evening since. The weeks and months have passed, and the full cycle of the seasons.

Big whoop, in the big scheme of things. But it’s a substantial achievement for me. Never before have I produced such a voluminous steady flow of words on a weekly deadline for a full year. Not even during four years of college and three years of law school.

I feel good about it. Not like I’ve earned a medal or anything. Just a sense of accomplishment, and all that. It’s been fun, mostly. Except for a few frantic moments of mild panic from writer’s block and some frustrations when the right phrase or description evaded me. I’ve experimented with different styles of writing. Various methods of ex- pression. Written in third person (“He” instead of “I”) for the first time ever. It works, if the muse strikes just right.

I recognize and cheerfully credit the influence of other writers. Fred the Curmudgeon has impacted me greatly with his writing style and rather cynical expressions and short choppy sentences. I also read the “New Yorker” regularly. Most of its essayists affect a bored, tired sardonic attitude. World-weary, knowing, skeptical and of course, with no serious acknowledgment of anything like a higher power. Faith is for hicks, except for the complex nuanced contortions of the “social justice” liberals. But they can write, I’ll give them that. I try to learn from them.

Writing for me is an organic thing. I never quite know how the finished product will turn out. Other than it’s loosely based on a certain theme. Usually on Sunday night, I develop a rough outline of the subject matter. And perhaps write a few paragraphs. By midweek, the essay is about 85% complete. Extensive rewriting and tinkering follow right up to post time.

Some essays are set on the back burner for another time. October is my favorite time of year, and last October I was determined to write a stirring essay regaling the season. After a few evenings of frustrating labor, I gave it up. It seemed contrived. I could not find an authentic voice. So perhaps this fall the issue might be revisited. I saved my notes. We’ll see.

I am deeply melancholy and moody by nature. My writing tends to reflect that (a HUGE understatement). Some of what I consider my best stuff recounts the tremendous toll in human costs. Of tragedy, pain and loss. Which harks to the classic theme of the morose, downhearted artist, producing reams of passionate brooding prose because he has lived it and felt it. And must express it to the world (although the world has no obligation to listen, or pay the slightest attention).

I’m especially grateful to you, the readers. There’s tons of blogs out there. Your choices are almost unlimited. I appreciate the time you take, whether weekly or sporadically, to check my site and read what I’ve written. Whether on the site or from hard copies. And the feedback some few of you have felt led to share. I write and post what interests me. I figure if it’s read, that’s just an added bonus. I’m always honored and humbled. Really.

I also appreciate the private emails from those of you who experienced situations similar to mine and wrote to tell me of them.

All the posts remain available on the site. In retrospect, reviewed with a critical eye, some are mediocre, or worse. (I am very dissatisfied with last week’s post. It felt clichéd and disjointed. Too “Hallmark.” But it was all I had, so I went with it.) Some are OK. And a few I would submit with pride to the crankiest (and best) writing teachers that have ever terrorized me.

(A housekeeping note: The “Florida Nightmare” page has been completely gutted and remodeled. The last vestiges of the original content deleted. After a year, it was time. The page is now an Index of Posts. All the titles are listed in chronological order from most recent all the way back to the first one. I plan to keep it updated.)

The year was what it was. I look back and feel thankful. For a lot of things. God has been good. And faithful as He promised.

What is the future? Who can say? For now, I plan to keep posting weekly. For the discipline of forcing myself to write regularly, which is a good thing. And because the more I dig into memory, the more emerges from the depths.

That said, this being the second year and all, there well may come a Friday or two when there is nothing to post. When the discipline fails, or other things intrude. Or I may wake up one morning and decide to take a break for a month or two. I could see it happening. If it does, it does.

It’s been a decent ride, having my own blog. I’ve learned a few things in the past twelve months. About being who and what I am without apologies, regardless of the hostile and vocal criticism buzzing incessantly like great clouds of angry bees. About taking control of the little speck on the digital universe that consists of my site.

It’s impossible to please everyone. Seems like a lot of people have all kinds of brilliant ideas of what a blog should be. Some aren’t shy about letting me know where mine falls short. And that’s OK. But if I tune them out, that’s OK too.

In a private correspondence last year, a critic took me to task for a seemingly endless list of grievances. A stern “measured” missive from on high, it was. My blog should be this and I’m not being honest about that and my writing sucks. Blah, blah, blah. My eyes glazed from reading the pages and pages of patronizing blather.

He wrote condescendingly that for him, it’s all about philosophies and ideas. Always been. I was unimpressed.

“What a pompous arrogant elitist (bleep),” I thought to myself. I wondered if he had any “ordinary” friends. I doubted that he could tolerate them or they him. Probably, like me, not for long.

I’ve met such people before, who claim that life is all about philosophies and ideas. Insufferable boring people, full of themselves. A bloated self-importance permeates their words and overwhelms anything constructive they might have to say. Combative, humorless and tiresome, they take themselves far too seriously. Their fretful petty crankiness always reminds me of two lines from T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” a poem I studied in college:

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

Before I ever branch off into consciously discussing “philosophies and ideas” as such (other than the occasional political diatribe or social commentary), I will write the things I have lived, the places seen and felt and breathed, the experiences that have made me what I am. Simple things from a simple culture. Emerging from that culture. And all that’s happened from that time to the present. It’s been a wild ride. I will write those things without apology or embarrassment, because what I have lived is what I have to say. I think there will be plenty to say for a long, long time.

Some have sneered disdainfully at my enjoyment of Nascar, pickup trucks, grilling and discussion of ordinary things, when valuable time and space could be used so much more wisely discussing intellectual subjects. Not that there’s anything wrong with intel-lectual subjects.

But to me, life is not all about philosophies and ideas.

It’s about living.

Which includes philosophies and ideas, in proportional balance with ordinary things. Like football and pickup trucks and Nascar and grilling.

Without the ordinary things, the larger things would not be possible. I can say with absolute certainty that I will never devalue or scorn those ordinary things. I would rather write to the regular guy than to all the intellectuals in all the universities in the world.

I would rather sit down and have a beer or a Scotch in an ordinary blue collar dive or a redneck bar than attend the ritziest highbrowed black tie champagne-soaked affair swarming with intellectual snobs (and yes, I have been in both settings). Listen to what Joe Sixpack has to say without interrupting. He is who he is with few pretensions. And there’s a lot to be said for (and about) people like him.

If that doesn’t make sense to you or the idea seems strange, then this site is probably not for you.

One last comment about my writing and this blog. Ellen and I were not blessed with children, although we deeply desired a family. It was not to be and just as well, the way things turned out. Now, I will never be a father. I will never have a son or daughter to enjoy in my old age when I’m tired and cranky. No child to carry on my legacy or my name.

I will likely grow old alone.

And that is a heavy thing to process and absorb. And accept.

I have processed and absorbed. Still working on the “accepting” part.

I find solace from another source.

My legacy, whatever it is, will be in the words I write.

America’s pastime was unleashed upon the land a week ago last Sunday evening, with the Braves taking on the Washington Nationals at the Nationals’ brand new ballpark. The season opened with great fanfare, some opera lady belting out the National Anthem in an unbelievably deep voice.

Flags were waving and jets thundered overhead and President Bush threw out the first pitch, to cheers and jeers. The pitch was high and tight. Unfortunately, the Braves lost in the bottom of the ninth.

Wild optimism reigns. A host of local Phillies fans are convinced this is their year. Some guru picked them to win the division. To all the hype, I say, wait, and play the games. It’s a long, long season. Bring it on. Slurp, slurp.

A mass exodus unfolded this weekend as a horde of Waglers and Yutzys migrated to Kokomo, IN for the April 12th wedding of Glen Wagler and Leann Chupp. Congrats to the happy couple.

Glen and Leann

A big hug and thanks to Dorothy Miller (my niece) for the box of delicious organic-baked goodies that arrived this week. It’s been awhile since I got one of those.

April 4, 2008

Song of Spring…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:40 pm


See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves is heard in our land.

—Song of Solomon, 2:11-12

Spring. It’s here. Finally. The mad month of March strolled in meekly like a lamb this year. And slunk out with hardly a whimper, its lion’s nature tamed for a season. Now April comes.

Spring. The time of rebirth as the earth stirs from its long winter slumber. The frost recedes from the depths, the grass creeps up and breaks through in yard and field. In the north, the last stubborn shrinking remnants of drifted snow and ice dissipate slowly on the northern slopes and on the shaded sides of old bank barns.

What was before comes again. There is nothing new under the sun.

The memory of what was before remains lodged in the heart as a living thing. And spring itself is such a memory.

It is the carefree child walking to school on the soft shoulder of the spongy gravel road. Slopping through the cloudy brown water puddles, tracking the wet black dirt into the school house and the home.

It is the first orange-breasted robin, and purple martens returning to their little apart-ment complexes, mounted on poles and windmills on the farm. It is swallows swooping for insects in the air.

It is the low lonesome call of the mourning dove, and the bob-whites whistling from the weed-choked fence row by the mulberry tree.

It is warm southwestern winds and giant towering cloud banks and sheets of driving rain. It is new leaves blossoming from the great maples in the yard.

It is lengthening days and farmers plowing in sodden fields with teams of steaming snorting horses, the sounds of jangling harness and hoarse loud shouts, and the rich dark gumbo rolling eternally from the gleaming silver plowshare, forming a tapestry of shiny ribbons on the ground.

It is sunny windswept days and rain and stormy winds in March. The soft drizzling showers of April, the water overflowing from the drainage ditches, unable to penetrate the saturated earth. It is the gentle breezes of May, and the planting season for oats and corn.

It is the warm full moon rising at sunset and shifting through raggedy clouds above the southern line of trees. It is the whispering night winds lulling the child into deep and dreamy slumber.

It is rows of flowers blooming in brilliant hues in the deep rich beds below the sundial on the house.

It is the explosive sound of frustrated cattle bawling within the confines of the barnyard fence, eager to explore the soggy meadows still too soft, and the grass not matured for pasture grazing. It is new birth, the frisky calves and colts romping under their mothers’ watchful nervous eyes. It is the cows’ udders swollen with gallons of fresh white-blue milk.

It is the mother hen sweeping across the dusty yard with her brood of a dozen fluffy cotton chicks, clucking to call them to choice tidbits on the ground. Squawking and bristling at the first hint of danger, her chicks huddled in a pile beneath the protective shelter of her cradling wings.

It is the wild geese and ducks returning from the mysteries of the southern climes, darkening the skies in gigantic Vs, their great honking clatter now clear, now distant, now faint, now gone.

It is the children in school, daydreaming over their open textbooks, eager to play ball in the soggy yard, anticipating the hot blue days of summer and no classes. They dream with faint undefined yearnings, a stirring unrest in their hearts.

It is the raggedy barefoot child standing beside the road with the faithful family dog in late afternoon, scanning the western horizon for his brothers’ return from school. His shouts of welcome as they approach.

It is children wading and playing in the creek, swollen to the brim with runoff water, building claptrap dams in vain attempts to stem the flood. It is fishing for catfish beside the multi-flora rose bushes on the north bank of the pond with plastic pipe and string, the worm turning slowly on a rusty hook in the muddy water.

It is the child working in the garden with his mother, ankle deep in soft moist topsoil, plowed last fall and weathered through the winter. It is hoeing long trenches under the tautly stretched string, dropping in seeds of corn and beans and radishes and carrots and chopped half potatoes. To sprout, in due time, and grow to provide the fall harvest and replenish the depleted rows of empty jars stored now in the dank dark recesses of the cellar shelves.

It is exultant reckless laughter, and joy that is its own reward.

It is the awkward sprouting teenage youth, driven by forces he cannot comprehend or resist, to leave all he has known for the strange vast expanses of faraway lands and the turbulent swarms of distant cities.

It is love and dreams of love and deep matters of the heart.

It is the sundering of that which was joined for life.

It is the aging adult, ruefully recalling the lost magic of the season, bewildered and incredulous at the days and months and years that have passed, fading without trace into the mists of time. The mind calculates and acknowledges the sum total of the parts, but the heart cannot fathom all the things seen and felt and heard. Things grasped and claimed and breathed and lost.

It is reflection and rekindling of latent longings deep inside.

It is knowledge that in the season of rebirth there is hope.

Hope that the year will bring good things.

That in loss there is gain. After night, a new dawn.

That the child within might return and the world seen again through his wondering eyes.

Spring is new life after death of the old.