Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Let’s walk

When you think about going for a walk, what image does that conjure for you? Does it seem like something that old folks do? If you were young and agile, you would be running, right? Another alternative is that you walk when you have nothing better to do. Race walkers and those who walk in competitive races might disagree with your interpretation but that is not my point here.

One of the habits that I have come to identify as a special courtesy is to invite someone to go for a walk. The first images that come to my mind are two managers, in different positions, who would invite me to go for a walk, generally without a specific reason to do so. Sometimes we would walk to get coffee, sometimes we would walk to have some privacy about a certain issue and sometimes it was simply to spend some time.

Here we are, some years later, and I know that one of those managers has died. The other fell out of my circle of friends and I haven’t spoken with him in a number of years. But I still have very positive memories of that walking time and the information or observations that we shared.

Today is as good a time as any to invite someone for a walk or take one for yourself. Most of the time, I think about subjects other than walking while I am doing so. If I’m not alone, it is typical to carry on some form of conversation. But neither is obligatory. It is perfectly fine to observe the plants and animals along the way, to see how others garden and simply to breathe air that hasn’t been circulating in your home for days or weeks or months.

It is absolutely irrelevant to me that we are quarantined as far as walks are concerned. If someone with whom you would like to walk is at another part of your city or town, you may or may not be able to enjoy that person’s company. But it’s almost as good to extend the invitation for whenever the quarantine is over.

Take a walk, clear your mind and your lungs and appreciate the fact that you can put one foot in front of the other. That is a pleasure I will always enjoy and hope that there will not be any time when I cannot. Shalom.

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Cafeteria quarantine

Observing the way that various people respond to the national (and often to the global) quarantine, I can’t help but wonder what causes people to make the decisions that they do. Although many governors (ours included) have mandated that we wear masks outside our homes, I observe probably fewer than half in this state respecting this direction. As someone who always wears a mask and gloves, I don’t kid myself into believing that I have achieved immunity. But I am doing whatever I can.

The best example of what I call the cafeteria style of quarantine was overhearing a gentleman at Home Depot. He wasn’t wearing a mask but remarked, “I figure that if everyone else is wearing a mask, it doesn’t matter whether or not I do.” M first thought was, What if everyone felt that way? We would all be exposed to the virus.

On those few occasions when I get frustrated with the quarantine, I remind myself that it has proven successful at reducing the number of people who are infected with the Coronavirus. The information is often conflicting, the number of updates is staggering and the death count and totals of those stricken are heart-stopping. But my comfort, clarity and happiness are not the issue here. And while I am not responsible for enforcing quarantine or policing adherence, for the sake of the general good, I won’t complain.

Somehow, it doesn’t seem to be the best idea to adopt a cafeteria style approach to quarantine and public safety. That’s another way of saying, I’ll do this and this and this but I won’t do that. Coronavirus isn’t selective (or elective) – we’ve seen babies all the way up to the elderly succumbing to this nasty virus.

Let’s be good humored and cooperative, rather than cavalier and whining. As I’ve stated before, the fact that we didn’t ask for this and don’t know when it will go away doesn’t give us license to ignore or select actions designed to defeat it. I hope the man at Home Depot doesn’t get the Coronavirus. But he certainly didn’t help in not distributing it if he already has contracted it. Shalom.

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Fiction

Because I’m hard at work on my first novel, I’ve had reason to spend some of my time on the differences between fiction and non-fiction. All of my previous work – books, blogs and miscellaneous editorial assignments – has been non-fiction. An easy distinction is to differentiate events that actually occurred versus those that were created. Whether it is the subject matter or a new set of discoveries, I am finding that there is more fact to fiction than I previously believed.

Let me provide an example. There are four major characters in my novel that takes place primarily in Poland during World War II. They are characters defined by extraordinary accomplishments and they overcome obstacles that few of us who are alive can imagine.

Although I develop their characters within the plot I have constructed, I now prefer to think of these characterizations as biographies. Yes, I realize that biographies require subjects who are alive or have been at some time in the past. But it’s much more gratifying, historically and authorially, to depict players in my book who could very well have existed. And if my purpose (at least one of them) is to commemorate and honor those deserving of recognition, why not believe that they existed at some time, whether or not in the geography of my novel?

As I run through the catalog of the literary works that I’ve digested, I subject that many included persons or occurrences that were actual components of these authors’ lives. In The Great Gatsby, (one of my favorite books) for instance, Fitzgerald generously alludes to parties that he had attended in Long Island, NY. Through those experiences, Fitzgerald intricately relates the greed, frivolity and corruption – all traces of reality that typified the Roaring Twenties of the US.

Because I’m also a fan of Stephen King, it may represent a more formidable exercise to find truth in his numerous creations. At the same time, King is fastidious about detail and I suspect that his work is founded in history and embellished by his incredible imagination.

No, I’m not positing that true fiction is impossible (or fictional, if you like). I’m simply suggesting that any decision regarding the genre of literary work may be a little blurrier than it may initially seem. Shalom.

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Words we use

Sometimes we get to be a bit sloppy about the words we use to express ourselves. As a writer, I believe that I have a more pressing imperative to be precise about my language. But I don’t think that I am exempt from using language that could easily be improved.

What got me thinking about this was a television series in which a man referred to his mother as “Ma.” While it’s been many years since I was able to speak with my own mother, I’m sure that I never called her “Ma.” It conjures an old country, perhaps eastern European image that simply doesn’t fit into my world. But the other piece is that I don’t think that I have been called by that name, primarily because I’ve been Mom, Mommy, Mama or Mother Figure, depending on the decade.

The other concern I’ve had recently about the words we use is the decision to call the Coronavirus the “Chinese” virus. This has resulted in a rash of serious hateful acts toward Chinese citizens whom others have held responsible for this pandemic. To say that this is gratuitous and self-serving is an understatement. If you really want to blame someone or something for the virus, the newest data suggests that 5g is responsible. For real?

This is a time like no other that our world has ever experienced. Blaming it on a culture or a technology is seriously ridiculous (why can’t something be serious and ridiculous at the same time?) and serves no purpose whatsoever. Does yelling insults at a Chinese citizen make you any less quarantined? While the Coronavirus might have originated in China (and I’m not absolutely certain of that), a man trying to run over a Chinese Albuquerque lady in retaliation should concern all of us.

We have enough stress going on right now. Let’s be thoughtful about our words and actions. If your dear mother likes to be called “Ma,” so be it. My preference will always be “Mommy” or “Mama” or actually, anything that my offspring would like to use. It’s really about loving one another, isn’t it? Shalom.

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Help

If you have been following my blogs for some time,   you’re aware that I have been developing and writing a book since May of 2019. I’m happy to report that I have completed approximately 2000 words or eight typed pages. But like any other life landmark, it’s not easy and will probably continue to be formidable until it’s published.

Here’s where my readers and the rest of my world can provide assistance. Most importantly, please have the faith, either privately or out loud, that I will complete this book that is so important to me. It is a work of fiction and takes place during the Holocaust of World War II. Those who know me know that I have dedicated a good portion of the last ten years to researching and understanding this immeasurable tragedy, making it certain that to write about it is an important component of my learning process.

Joking with my very special, cherished niece, I reported that I had written approximately ½ of 1% of the book but was plugging along. She immediately responded that what I had accomplished was more than zero – a statement of confidence and encouragement that means a great deal to me.

When I told my students that I was working on a new book and had published two others, they always wanted to know if I was a famous author and did I write any of the books in their classroom. Without any trace of sadness, I advised that I was not a famous author but that my books were written not for fame but for the message they convey. And this truth is for any and all who inquire, that I don’t seek fame but to convey the hope and lessons derived from my studies.

If you encounter someone who is on the same path as the one that I travel, it makes a difference to add your encouragement. Please remain with me on my journey and I pledge to add updates as they occur. Yesterday, in fact, I enjoyed the warmth of our New Mexico spring and wrote 300 words while sitting in the sun.

Being part of a support team will be gratifying for all concerned. If you’re not writing a book but have an idea, now is the time. If that’s not your area of expertise, do what makes you feel gratified and grateful. Shalom.

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Pure honesty

Having just learned that my school district will be closed for the rest of the school year, I am allowing myself to feel a bit nostalgic about the past year and years of teaching. No, I have no intention of quitting, probably explaining why I feel sad that my kids are lost to me until August.

One of the things that I will miss the most is the honesty that I encounter on a daily basis. Younger kids are much better at it than fourth or fifth graders. Kindergarteners will say they love me by midday or at the end of the day. When they ask my age and I reply, “115,” they always laugh and report that I’m probably no older than 40. Older students are a bit more careful due to peer pressure and the learned behavior of restraint.

Young ones are also forthcoming about any and all information that they have. This will include details about Mom, Dad, Grandma, Uncle Izzy and everyone in between. Sometimes, that information is uncomfortable or excessive but I never suppress them. At the most, I will suggest that Uncle Izzy probably doesn’t want us to talk about that.

The phenomenon that I love most is honesty associated with what they seek to become when they grow up. Very often, I will hear that children want to be police officers, firefighters, teachers, join the army or study to become astronauts. Most of the time, the kids who want to join the army have parents or grandparents who served. Likewise, those aspiring to be police officers have those public servants in the family.

But the best honesty is the non-verbal kind. Tell a child that she is a whizbang or superstar at math and she will never leave your side or fail to finish first. Advise a child that you appreciate his being a helper in class and he will always be there to distribute papers, organize a project or deliver a hug.

We’ve all encountered enough dishonesty in our lives to appreciate this respite from deceit or trickery. As of now, I’m counting the weeks until we’re back in session and have a child tell me that he wants to help in any way he can. Shalom.

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Focus

One of the words that I use most often with students is “focus.” It appears that many of us have lost our focus in terms of what we should be doing, saying and demonstrating.

Looking around me, I see evidence that some of us have and some have not remained focused on what true priorities must be. If you’re inclined to whine about using toilet paper other than your favorite, by no means should you expect me to be sympathetic. You’re lucky to have any at all.

The same is true of liquor stores. Some are open and some are not. But if you’re going on and on about how they are essential, maybe you should take another look at what you need to survive. Alcohol may numb or desensitize you but it does absolutely nothing beyond that.

Someone’s terrific idea of opening stores an hour or two early for seniors is remarkable. If you’re there and more agile than some of your senior cohorts, why not offer to lift their bags or return carts in order to save them a few steps? Yes, of course, the hand sanitizer must be incorporated.

Let’s spend more time appreciating those who are working tirelessly on our behalf. Someone was recently shown giving cookies or some other token of appreciation to the trash collectors. What a great idea! If you see a firefighter, police officer or health care professional, take the ten or fifteen seconds to thank that person for their dedication and sacrifices.

This is not the time to be lazy, angry, stubborn or anything else that would interfere with protecting you, your family or the remainder of the world. While we may be confined to our homes, we have immense powers to help others through our words and acts of kindness.

Because we have individual relationships with God, I would never be so presumptuous as to recommend expressing gratitude to that God. But you may discover that doing so is gratifying and satisfying. It may also provide the best feeling of reassurance that you can imagine. Shalom.

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To be brave

On previous occasions, I have referenced a powerful and brilliant book that I have just finished. This is The Librarian of Auschwitz, and it has taught me more than I can possibly summarize in a short blog.

One of the most provocative and inspirational concepts I have derived concerns bravery, a strength that many of us seek to acquire during these challenging and frightening times. The idea, paraphrased, is that those people who are truly brave are the ones who are most afraid. For clarification, if we are not afraid of our various outcomes, the decisions we make are unimportant because any one of them is acceptable. This is tantamount to apathy, a disease worse than the one we fight.

Today, for the sake of those closest to us and ourselves, we must have sufficient fear of contagion to take all of the right steps to prevent it. If washing our hands two or three times a day is a good idea, five or six is a better one. On a recent trip to the supermarket, I saw an older lady wearing both surgical gloves and a mask. Given her increased risks due to age, I’m thinking that it was an intelligent decision.

We all have occasions to convert our healthy dose of fear into responsible action. When six feet is the required distancing space, it must delete hair styling, manicures and other activities that include close proximity. An excellent alternative to protect that professional’s income is to purchase a gift card or certificate.

More can be done with regard to the employment crises that surround us. A significant number of local restaurants are offering curbside or delivery service of selections from their menus. In addition to paying that restaurant’s bills, many have chosen to pay their servers with some of the proceeds, taking some of the sting out of their lost gratuities. If you are at all like me, cooking every meal is tedious and by electing to go meals, we are doing good for everyone involved.

And some of my favorite news stories are those of small groups of residents joining together to provide meals or groceries to those within that group who are in need of support. Today, I surveyed my neighborhood to see if any around me needed groceries that I could collect for them on my trip. The next time I leave to shop, I will make it a point to see if others have needs.

It’s easy to convert fear into action. From my standpoint, not to act is to invite a horrible disease to appear and end life – a conclusion that is absolutely undesirable. Shalom.

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If I could

If I could make huge changes to the ways with which we communicate in year 2020, I have numerous modifications that I would effect. For one, I would find a quick, convenient and thoroughly effective method for deleting spam. Having done a bit of research on this dreaded online curse, I’ve determined that the word comes directly from the pork product that we all know and love or hate.

This is a very costly habit that has been the scar on internet communications and dates back to 1978. If you believed that you could remember email without spam, you would have to trace back to then to find it missing.

On a daily basis, I question the realities of social media and whether they do greater good or bad. On the upside, many of us have found the means by which to connect to family members and friends who would otherwise be invisible. On the downside, we spend what I think is an inordinate amount of time checking on the newest and best posts from those in our network and outside of it.

Another downside is the endless supply of advertising, most of which is either unsolicited or irrelevant or both. It doesn’t matter which social media venue you choose – you can either find the best way to rotate your crops (a good one when you live in a big city) or 49 new and creative things to do with popsicle sticks.

All you need to do is display any interest, remote or immediate, in shoes. Suddenly, you’ll see every shoe manufacturer, retailer or distributor that has anything whatsoever to do with footwear. And it’s pervasive. You’ll see it on your email screen, social media and spam.

By this time, you’re probably shaking your head and saying, “Yeah, right. And you can do exactly what about this?”  I’m hoping that as we make huge leaps in our technology, we will find method by which we can ensure that we receive only that information that we want. Yes, I know. That’s restraint of trade and potentially anti-democracy. I’ll take my chances. But I can definitely do my part in unsubscribing, deleting and blocking as often as possible. Dreaming is good for the soul, after all. Shalom.

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Being mean

A prompt from my new book of writing suggestions that I find quite provocative invites me to write about the meanest thing anyone has ever said to me. It’s not a bit difficult to remember but what is more important is the fact that I can’t remember too many mean things in my past.

Years ago, I was one of those who thought they would find companionship or happiness or the love of my life by means of a dating site. This was one of those first meetings that took place in a French restaurant not far from downtown Denver. We had spoken several times and finally met.

The lunch was nondescript and my recollection (this was about twenty years ago) was that it ended quickly. As we walked out to our respective cars, this was the statement made by this entirely unimpressive gentleman: “I just want you to know that you misrepresented yourself. First of all, you’re not very attractive. Secondly, you said that you were slightly overweight when in fact you are seriously overweight.”

It’s easy to think of perfect responses, some of which don’t include obscenities. It’s pretty sad that I remember it as clearly as I do because the ultimate response would be to have forgotten what he said. As I remember, my answer was something along these lines: “It’s probably difficult to be as perfect as you think you are. Glad that we didn’t waste more time than a lunch.”

The prompt is quite a good one, primarily because it teaches us about words that hurt and the ability we have to deposit good into the universe rather than ugliness. From here, I’m of the opinion that he had a multitude of things that he could have said. “I don’t think that we are suited for each other. Thank you for your company – I don’t believe that I am the companion you are seeking.” There are probably twenty others.

When it’s possible, I believe that we all have the imperative to suppress meanness or reckless statements. This man neither considered nor cared about the effects his statement would have. Happily, I was successful at placing him in the past (except for his remarks) as quickly as his words deserved. Shalom.