An original poem for these times

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This photo was taken a few years ago at Duck Harbor Beach in Wellfleet, Mass.

I have found great comfort over the past few years from reading poetry. The way I see it, there are hundreds of poets, and thousands of works that they’ve created—who knows how many there are, even?—and even if I can only make sense of a small fraction of them, I’m still better off than I was before.

A poetry group I’ve been taking part in over the past few weeks has even inspired me to dabble in creating new work of my own. Art is a peaceful and enduring form of protest, after all, and there’s so much going on that’s worthy of a stanza or two.

But that wasn’t on my mind last Saturday morning, as I laid in bed knowing that the day was going on and I would have to force myself to get up and be a part of it.

So I got up to brew myself a pot of coffee, with the poetry assignment was sitting at the front of my brain. I decided that Love was maybe the best muse of all, and every great expression of language has love at its core, so that was going to be what I wrote about.

I then put pen to paper, tweaked a word or two along the way, and by the time the coffee was finished brewing I had a new poem on my hands. It’s definitely not the best that has ever been written, but it really doesn’t have to be that, either. It came from my heart through my brain and out onto a sheet of scratch paper, and now I can type it out to have it breathe on the internet forever. So here goes:

Acting Out Love 

I love so many things in life

Or at least that’s what I say.

I love drinking coffee and sleeping in late

And I love seeing shades of gray

 

But these are just material things

That I know don’t love me back.

Perhaps loving a living thing, instead

will carry a far more powerful whack

 

Loving a dog, or a child, or even a friend

Ay, there’s a far more productive act.

And to love someone you do not kmow

Requires a heart that’s supremely intact

 

Sharing the words “I love you”

Is an awkward or foolish thing to do.

But acting out this timeless feeling

Means the world to someone and, perhaps, to you.

Sleeping and coffee make an appearance, but they aren’t what the poem is really about. The world needs love in these crazy times of anger and distrust, and if a few words scribbled on a sheet of paper can address this need, then it was a few moments well spent.

 

 

Here’s what I want for my birthday this year

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One of the best things about joining Facebook is that once a year, on your birthday, you hear from dozens of people, from just about every stage in your life. And all of them want to celebrate the day you were born, in one way or another.

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Facebook makes it easy, too. Not only do they ask you to provide your birthday in the first place, but they also put a little gray reminder box in the top of your feed each day. It’s enough to make you feel like a jerk for not wishing someone that your friends with a happy birthday. It’s somewhat akin saying “No, I didn’t forget about your birthday. I just didn’t feel like doing anything about it.”

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My birthday is coming around the corner, in a week and a half. And rather than having everyone—or anyone at all, really—take 30 seconds out of their day to wish me well, I have a specific request, instead. It would mean far more to me than any short greeting ever would.

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You see, my birthday falls on June 14, also known as Flag Day. It’s also the birthday of the U.S. Army, which I never served in but have a great amount of respect for. So find someone who served in the Army and wish them a happy birthday on June 14, instead of me. They will most likely appreciate the gesture.

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But I went through most of my life, blissfully unaware that I also share a birthday with Donald Trump. I can’t think of a single person, living or dead, that I want less to do with than him. And yet, there it is. So if anyone presents him with a cake and sings “Happy Birthday” I don’t want to think about it, especially not on my own birthday.

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There’s no round number being celebrating this year, and the recent death of an old classmate of mine is a reminder that every single birthday from here on out is an accomplishment unto itself, and the start of still another trip around the sun, aboard this crazy blue marble that I call home.

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So this year, here’s what I want from everyone, from my brothers and sister to the students that I once taught in the classroom, and everyone else in between (and don’t worry, all of you mean a whole lot to me! I just had to put the fenceposts down somewhere.)

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Find a picture of Barack Obama. I have offered a few here, but any picture or image of him will do. Share that image on Facebook or any other social media platform, and say that you either miss his presidency or that you look forward to seeing him on the campaign trail this fall, and in Washington, DC next year for the Biden Inauguration. Twitter users trolled Trump in this fashion back in 2019, so why not do it again, on the final birthday that he will spend in the White House? A going away reminder, I guess you could call it.

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Nothing gets under Trump’s skin more than Barack Obama, as he’s proven time and again. And nothing would make me feel better on my own birthday than to provoke Donald Trump on his. So thanks in advance, my Facebook friends. This is your ten-day notice.

A message to my younger self

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When I found this picture in a box of old photos a few days ago, I knew right away it was going on my blog. I’m 22 years old in this moment, fresh out of college and ready for whatever Life throws at me.

The much older man who is sharing this image from the past is here to tell him: Everything’s gonna be all right.

The scary parts about marriage and kids and owning a house one day, all of that is going to happen. But they aren’t as scary as you think.

You’ll see some parts of the world you’ve only read about, before this picture was taken.

You’ll work in a variety of jobs in a range of different fields, but they’ll mostly be engaging and provide you with some sense of fulfillment.

And maybe the best part is you’ve already accomplished your one goal in life. So everything from this point on is all just gravy, anyway.

Are you going to conquer the world? No, but you aren’t really interested in that anyway. And believe it or not, someone who does conquer the world is a person you won’t think too highly of. It sounds crazy, but you’ll see.

You have no idea what an SUV or a minivan is, but in time you’ll own one of each. And a hybrid car is something your 1990s mind won’t be able to understand, but you’ll own a couple of those, too.

And the internet? Where to begin with that? It will be a few more years before you hear anything about it, but it will forever upend the world you’re living in. In some ways that will be good, and in other ways not so much. But it will give you an opprtunity to share some old pictures like this one, and do some musing on life and family and the state of the world in general. And you’ll enjoy doing that—whenever you can find some time to do it—so that’s something to look forward to in the future.

Yes, young man, life will be an interesting ride in the years ahead. But you’ll find all that out for yourself. Just keep on smiling, and make sure to enjoy it at all times.

“By necessity, we all quote”

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Yesterday I wrote a post in this space about the passing of my dog, and I opened with a picture of my dog and a quote about how regrettably short a dog’s life can be. I’ve always been one who enjoys a good quote, something so profound that I wish I had said it myself. And the search for such a quote is always enlightening, in one way or another.

The book shown above dates to 1955, the same year that Little Richard went into a recording studio in New Orleans and changed the world with “Tutti Frutti.” Whoever purchased this book in hardcover that year may have paid four or five dollars for it, but they received centuries worth of insights and wise words, all of them arranged by subject in an appendix that makes finding a topical quotation an easy task. Perhaps not as easy as going to the Google and entering a keyword or two, but in the mid 1950s nobody could expect any better than this.

My daily routine, on the days when I’m working from home to help flatten the curve, is to pick up my Bartlett’s, page around in it for a few minutes, find something to fit whatever suits my mood on that day, and share it with those who keep track of my work hours. It sure beats having to pile into a car, drive 45 minutes on city streets and an interstate highway to get to work, and hope that there’s still space available in the parking lot when I get there. Paging through a book for something I can put into an email feels like a pleasure, compared to all of that.

And on some days,  I’ll even have a few minutes to learn something on the Google about the person who the quote was attributed to, which never fails to intrigue me on some level. With so many fascinating people, and all the thought-provoking things they either said or wrote through the centuries, I feel as though I got my money’s worth (whatever amount I spent on it) for this book a long time ago.

There’s an app for the iPhone that offer’s Bartlett’s for the sum of $3.99. That’s much more than I paid for my physical hard copy of the book, and whenever an app has more 1 star reviews than anything else, it’s a pretty good sign that purchasing the app is probably a waste of money. My advice, for what it’s worth, is that if you ever come upon a copy of Bartlett’s, whether at a used book store or especially at an estate sale (assuming we ever see them again), pick it up and spend whatever the seller is asking for. Few investments will ever pay off as much, if only in an intellectual sense.

NOTE: The tile of this post is taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Letters and Social Aims” (1876). Have I read the whole thing? Of course not. But Bartlett’s makes it so that I don’t have to, either.

Working through the grief

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“Dogs’ lives are too short.  Their only fault, really.”  – Agnes Sligh Turnbull

One of the things I’ve been doing during the COVID-19 lockdown is finding interesting quotes from people, about all manner of things. I send an email every morning to sign in for work, and I’ve become very fond of hunting for quotes to share with them, whether in an old copy of Barltlett’s Familiar Quotations, a volume of poetry that may be laying around the house, or even an Internet search for whatever topic strikes my fancy on that day.

There are some usual sources that can always be turned to in a pinch. Not surprisingly, Lincoln is always good for a timely or an interesting quote. The same goes for Emerson, Thoreau, and even Carl Sandburg. But sometimes I have found really deep pearls of wisdom from sources I never though possible, or even from someone I have never heard of before. Such is the case with the writer quoted above. She wrote something for publication in seven different decades, from the 1920s all the way up to the 1980s, when she was in her 90s. So there’s no doubt that she could string a few words together in a compelling fashion. And her words about dogs are very comforting to me right now.

My dog Dooney left us just over two weeks ago, and I’m still struggling with this loss. Many people are suffering from losses these days,  and their losses are compounded by the reality that grieving—at least in a traditional sense—is not permitted right now. So on one level I feel selfish for trying to put a dog on the same level as anyone’s father, brother, friend, or neighbor.

But in a larger sense, as Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, writing is one form of grief that doesn’t run afoul of social distancing guidelines. I can express my grief, and throw these thoughts out to the whole wide world, and perhaps someone will read the words and understand. A treasured companion of mine for over ten years is gone, and a container of his ashes is all that I have left of him. I can’t change that, so I’ll just have to do what I can to get along without him.

Even losses that have nothing at all to do with COVID-19 are being treated the same way in these times. “Death doesn’t discriminate” as a line from the musical Hamilton goes. (See, I really can’t help it with quotations sometimes.) That has to be beyond frustrating for someone like my friend George, who recently lost his mother. We’ve all been to funerals before, and we know that wakes and funeral processions and words of condolence uttered at the graveside can be a powerful reminder of how much the now-departed person was loved and appreciated. And few, if any, such services are carried out for a dog or a cat or any other type of companion animal. I know the limitations of what I’m trying to say here. But there are many, many people who would show up and offer support, if only they were allowed to do so. And that, too, is a feeling of sadness for untold numbers of people.

The coronavirus has cut a vicious swath through our world, whether we have loved ones who were taken away by the virus or not. I’m very sorry for their losses, and I hope that they can somehow find a way to work through them.

Going back to Lincoln, at least in some sense, here is a poem that he committed to memory, and recited for his friends on several occasions. It’s called “Mortality” by William Knox, a Scottish poet who, ironically enough, died at the very young age of 36.

The Irony of Abraham Lincoln's Favorite Poem – The Log Cabin Sage

These words comforted Lincoln—who knew something about personal loss—and my hope is that they can provide comfort for others, too. Whatever it takes is exactly what all of us need right now.

The Gambler and the Bungler

I was sad to hear that Kenny Rogers died at age 81, even though I’ve never been a fan of Country music. The Gambler was an engaging story of doing what you can, while you can. The best that we can hope for is to die in our sleep.

A few years ago I would have posted a story of his death on Facebook, in the rather strange hope of informing somebody of what they hadn’t yet learned. Here’s the way that virtual conversation might have played out:

ME: “Hey, did you hear that Kenny Rogers died?”

FB: “Oh, you mean that guy who sang songs that we heard on the radio nearly 40 years ago, before MTV came along changed everything about music?”

ME: “I guess so, yeah”

FB: “No, some of us didn’t know that. Oh, well.”

And now that Facebook is out of my life, I can’t even do that stupid little thing anymore. I still have my account, and I post things to Instagram, which Facebook owns anyway. So I haven’t completely closed that book, but I just don’t read from it anymore. And I don’t miss it, either.

So who will read this little post of mine, since all the social media accounts I would have posted it to are now out of my life? I don’t know, nor does it even matter. I say what I say in this little space and if nobody ever sees it, well, it felt good to say it, anyway.

I went online looking for a picture of Donald Trump with Kenny Rogers, intending to call it “The Gambler and the Bungler.” But when I found the clip above, I realized that Kenny Rogers and the way he saw the world are the reason why we got Trump in the White House. Not the only reason, but a small part of it.

In 2016, Trump spoke to the fears that Rogers claimed everyone has. He exploited those fears, and rode them all the way to where he is now. And for supporting Trump in this process, I can’t truly mourn the passing of Kenny Rogers.

The Gambler may have finally broken even, but the Bungler is still at the table, blustering his way through a situation that none of us deserve, especially those of us who could see through his bullshit.

FU Coronavirus (Part 1)

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My blog was birthed in a bolt of inspiration at a garage sale back in 2011. Or maybe it was a yard sale. Here’s the first post I ever wrote, and it turns out it was a garage sale. But the point was I went out of my way, spent a little money, and wanted to tell the world about it. And over the next seven years, I came back to it whenever I had a thought in my head and a few moments of time to push it out.

In the early days of doing this, I wrote that I wanted to put one million words into cyberspace via this blog. I even had a spreadsheet with the date of a post, its title, and the word count, both of the individual post and the running total for the blog itself. I made it to at least a half million words before that idea went the way of so many other ideas I’ve had in life. So perhaps if I get back to doing this, and one day make an attempt to total up all the words I have written, the million number will have already been achieved. As Nelson Mandela once said, and Bernie Sanders later requoted, it only seems impossible until it’s done.

The forced quarantined that’s about to happen in my home state due to COVID-19 seems like an opportunity to start writing once again. I really did enjoy doing it, as it was an extension of something I’ve been doing all my life.

I tell people that sometimes I’ve had “Writer”—or some variation thereof—in my job title, but I’ve never had a job anywhere that I didn’t do a fair amount of writing, in one form or another. Well, there was a time I literally worked at the Gates of Hell (no lie) scaring people at Halloween, but other than that I’ve always been writing something. And the blog lets me throw ideas out into digital perpetuity on the internet, so why not do it?

The virus is going to do what it does, and there will be a terrible price paid as a result. I heard a story on the radio this morning as I was driving into work about a man who was about my age (whatever that number may be) and also a father who just died from “the rona” (as I’ve taken to calling it). A family member told a story about how he always enjoyed having cafe con leche.

Every person we lose to this virus will have a cafe con leche of their own, and family members who are left with the sadness of knowing that cafe con leche, or whatever else that thing they once enjoyed was, will never again have the same meaning it did when that person was still alive. The numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths will undoubtedly be large and regrettable, but it’s the specific and individualized losses that are already giving me pause.

I always put an image with the posts I write, and here I’m using a cafe con leche  image that I took in the Little Havana section of Miami a numbr of years ago. Here’s to all the victims of coronavirus, and all the little pleasures that will disappear when they do. I won’t personally know any of them (I HOPE!!!!!), but I will mourn their departure, all the same.

To one million words….and beyond!

 

Broken eggs and the end of my blog

 

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Today’s the first time I’ve put anything into this space since June 11, which represents a span of dormancy that never would have happened in the first six years I wrote this blog. At one point I was averaging ten posts a week, and sometimes five or six posts would erupt from my mind in the very same day. I had things I wanted to say, and was glad to finally have an outlet for them on the Internet.

In my experience, many blogs take a similar arc to mine. The person who starts them opens up with a burst of energy and creativity, only to have their interests dulled over time. Life changes, and priorities get reshuffled to the point that the blog isn’t so important anymore. I had managed to avoid that fate as of June 11, 2017. I even wondered how many more years I would keep my individual soap box going. It turns out–as I’m shutting this down the moment I finish writing this–that the number is smaller than I ever would have guessed.

Abraham Lincoln has been one of my most significant muses when it comes to stories for my blog. I’ve always admired how he came from nowhere, and left a mark on the world that those with superior advantages and opportunities never will. The greatness of this man is beyond our ability to fully grasp it, but I find it encouraging that some have continued to try.

I picked up a couple of books the other day at the annual Newberry Library book fair in Chicago. In one of those books, a collection of essays about Lincoln by historian James McPherson, I learned a small nugget about Lincoln that I didn’t know. When it came to waging the Civil War, McPherson said, Lincoln often used the analogy that broken eggs cannot be mended. As I read that line, it seemed like an appropriate metaphor to bring down the curtain on my little corner of the online world.

How many posts did I throw out into the world? Over 1,500, and I stopped counting a long time ago.

How many words were contained in those posts? My initial goal was to put a million words out into cyberspace, and I’ll just imagine that between the actual posts themselves, the keywords I attached to the posts, the responses I typed out to those who left a comment about something I had written, and the drafts that were started but never saw the light of day, I made the million word plateau somewhere along the way.

How much sleep did I lose out on? Quite a lot, I would suppose. It’s probably better if I never find out for certain.

In typing out this valedictory post on a perfect summer afternoon here in my beloved Chicago, my desire to write a blog now feels like broken eggs. Rather than letting BlueBattingHelmet fade away into nothingness, I’m taking one final stab at putting some words out there, for anyone who may be interested in reading them in the future.

I had a lot of fun doing this, but now it’s time to go on to something else. As Prince sang in a song that I heard in a pet store earlier today, “Life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.” The teenager that I was when I first heard this song would agree, and so do I.

And with that,

 

About that wall…

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The first week of the new presidency has shocked and alarmed everyone that I know. It’s an onslaught on the nation that still is, and will always be, my home. Since I love America, I’m willing to fight for it. I won’t sit and watch as our water is imperiled, our openness to immigration is shut down, and our treasury is further depleted in the name of “securing the borders.”

Simply put, the wall won’t work, and building it would be a terrible and unprecedented waste of resources. But Congress has become nothing but a servile accomplice, and they seem to be willing to appropriate whatever amount of money is requested. And they consider themselves to be fiscal conservatives? That’s a good one.

So in all the debate over building this ill-advised wall, the obvious issue is one that I haven’t seen raised anywhere, by anyone. Since this blog is my soapbox for addressing the world, I’m going to ask the question myself:

Does anyone truly believe there won’t be massive corruption involved?

Because I sure don’t. With that much money involved, and apparently no Congressional oversight being contemplated, the opportunities for graft are almost beyond description.

Will there be a bidding process to acquire materials at the lowest possible price?

Will land acquisition costs be paid fairly, or will politically connected people receive massive windfalls, instead?

Will contractors be selected for the quality of their work, or will their political allegiances carry the day?

And most importantly of all, how much of this $12-20 billion will end up in the pockets of Donald Trump?

These are questions that must be answered, but they haven’t even been asked yet. In the service of the great nation that I love, I’m willing to throw these out into the vastness of cyberspace. The wall is a terrible idea, which also threatens to become a swindle of epic proportions. We must not allow that to happen.

#Resist

A new word for these times

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Portmanteau is a concept that we all live with everyday. It’s taking two–or sometimes more–words and combining them to form a new word. My dog, for example, is a schnoodle, or a cross between a schnauzer and a poodle. Other portmanteu words include jeggings, listicle, and threepeat. The malleability of English guarantees that new words of this sort will always be created.

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as president, a wave of aberrant behavior swept across this country. One of the more publicized acts–because it occurred in New York and had to do with well-known artists–was painting swastikas and the words “Go Trump” in Adam Yauch Park, which is named for a member of the Beastie Boys, the late Adam “MCA” Yauch.

Yauch was Jewish by birth, but he was a practicing Buddhist from 1996 until his death. With this in mind, the swastikas don’t make any sense–there or anywhere else–other than to identify religious animus in the hearts of whoever committed this act.

In trying to cope with this stupid act, a gathering was held in Adam Yauch Park on November 20. Adam “AdRock” Horovitz addressed the crowd, and advised them to fight back in any way that they could. “If you’re a writer, write” was one of the bits of advice he gave. So consider this an attempt to live up to AdRock’s advice and speak out against the Trump-inspired acts of hate that are taking place in this country.

“Antipathy” is a word that someone who isn’t a writer doesn’t normally use. If you don’t like somebody, it is usually enough to call them a name and be done with it. The saltier and more profane the terms used are, the more it gets the speaker or writer’s sense of antipathy toward that person across.

In thinking about my feelings toward Donald Trump, and the divisions and fears he exploited in order to appeal to millions of voters across this country, I realized that “antipathy” is a fitting word to describe them. But I also realized that the word “Trump” can be dropped into the middle of the word, and the general feeling of both words would still make sense. Thus, antipathy directed toward Donald Trump will be forever known–at least by me–as “antrumpathy.”

Whether I’m the only person who ever uses this word, or it spreads like wildfire and gets added to a dictionary someday, is secondary to the idea that Trump’s election will lead–and already has led–this country into places I’ve never seen go before. Hate crimes are on the rise, and this is before Trump even takes office. Trump’s never going to explicitly call for any attacks, of course, but some who look on his election approvingly are now acting in ways that they would not have done just two months ago. So fight back we must, and I’m using creativity and my humble blog to do exactly that.

So please use this new word in whatever setting works best. Don’t try making any money from it, though, because I’m not and I don’t want anyone else to, either. This word hopefully won’t be needed in four years, when Trump leaves the White House after a single term in office. But for now, consider it a nonviolent addition to the language of our protest. And the Beastie Boys would certainly approve of that turn of events.

An amazing 48 hours

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It’s been just about 48 hours–give or take a few minutes–since Kris Bryant threw over to first base to end the Cubs’ long championship drought. In an instant, a lifetime of losing was washed away. The “loveable losers” never existed in the first place, but that concept went away forever on the night of November 2, 2016.

I had already paid my respects to Jack Brickhouse at the start of the World Series, and now that it had come to a successful conclusion, I wanted to do the same with Ernie Banks. He wasn’t known as “Mr. Cub” for nothing, as his devotion to the team was matched by the love and respect that all living Cubs fans have for him.

When Ernie died in early 2015, I went to a spot on the sidewalk outside of Wrigley Field to pay my respects. I also felt something change inside of me, with a new sense of determination that the Cubs had to win, and the sooner the better. I put these thoughts into words for a piece published by FiveWideSports, and I fully understood that winning on the field was beyond my control. All I could do as a fan was expect it to happen, which I never really did before that moment.

When 2015 started going well for the Cubs, I was ready to finally go all the way, and it made their eventual flameout against the Mets that much harder to bear. Every season now had an all-or-nothing sense about it, which carried over into 2016. I told a Cardinals blog back in February that “This Year” had finally arrived, and following a terrible scare in Cleveland my prediction came to pass. The euphoria this has made me feel hasn’t yet worn off, either.

So I went to tell Ernie that we finally did it, by inscribing a baseball and leaving at his gravesite in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery. It was a lovely fall day, and I had some time on my way into work. I never met Ernie Banks, but I did sing a song with him once, and I tried to use the experience to put being a Cubs fan into words. Ernie Banks meant a lot to me, and I wanted to thank him for this.

There was a reporter at the gravesite, and I spoke to him for probably 15 or 20 minutes about being a Cubs fan. I wish that every Cubs fan could have had a few minutes with a reporter yesterday, because each of us has so many stories to tell. I did my best to give him something worthwhile, and apparently I did because the story ran in the New York Daily News today, complete with my grinning mug at the top of the page.  My elation at having just come from the team’s victory parade down Addison Street in Chicago was made even sweeter by the news that for today I was the face of Cubs fans for newspaper readers in New York. It’s a daunting idea, but a role I would gladly accept for the team that means so much to me.

The papers themselves will all go into a landfill soon enough, but the story will live on digitally for a long time to come. And I’ll have a story that will live on here on my blog, as well. The greatest feeling I’ve ever had about anything–other than the birth of my two daughters–was greatly enhanced because I took some time to remember an ambassador for the team I’ve identified with for so long. That’s the stuff life is made of, isn’t it?

The parade report will come soon enough, but for now I’m off to get some rest. Good night to all.

Trying to understand

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The picture above dates to 1998, and it shows a much younger, much thinner version of me during my teaching days on the south side of Chicago.

This was taken in the days before cameraphones, or even before digital photography, with an old school camera. They were fun because you wound up with a print that you could actually hold in your hands. It seems like forever ago, sometimes.

When I saw the video on Facebook of the death of Philando Castile, I thought about the kids I used to teach, two decades ago. They’re teenagers in this picture, but every one of them was already living with the possibility of ending up in a deadly encounter with a police officer. Not a day has gone by where they aren’t considered a suspect, in a way I never was and never will be.

I enjoyed teaching and coaching, but I also reached a point where I was ready to leave. For four years I tried to make a difference, in whatever small way I could. I watched as a group of freshmen–some of whom are shown in the picture–grew into seniors and got their diplomas. And then I left, disillusioned with what I was doing and the way I was doing it. I was a visitor into their world, and my skin tone gave me exit options that they never had.

I’ve since connected with some of my old ballplayers on social media, and I’m glad to see them at the stage of life where they aren’t teenagers anymore. But many of them I couldn’t name today, either. I hope they’re all happy with their lives, but I don’t have any way of knowing whether that’s the case.

The other coach, on the left side of the picture, was the cafeteria manger at my school, as Philando Castile was in St. Paul. I’m certain that there are lots of kids at that school who aren’t yet able to understand why it happened. They’ll learn in time, or possibly this event will force understandings on them that they weren’t ready to deal with. There’s pain in that school community, and it will be magnified once classes start up again in the fall.

The ongoing shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and Walter Scott and Philando Castile and countless others reinforces the fact that this country, writ large, views black men as suspects.  Woe unto us as a nation, if we see these shootings occur and don’t think that something must change.

 

A beauty of a poem about America

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One of my favorite books is titled “Our American Heritage” and it was edited by Charles L. Wallis, and published by Harper & Row in 1970. My recollection is that I purchased it at the Newberry Library‘s annual book sale at least 10 years ago, and perhaps even closer to 20 years by now. It’s filled with American poetry and thought, and I decided that the Fourth of July was an ideal day to pick it up and see what spoke to me about the country I’ve lived in all my life.

I found a poem on page 92 by a poet named Allen E. Woodall. I wanted to link to it online, because of course everything is available on the internet these days. The book lists Woodall as being born in 1903 and died in 1957, so it’s very likely that his work is still under copyright, and a source for it, or at least a date of publication of his work, would be found in the book’s Acknowledgements section. As a long-time publishing guy myself, I know that’s the first place to find out more about an otherwise mysterious piece.

The editor of the book thanked the estate of Allen E. Woodall, the last author alphabetically to appear in the work, but offers nothing more than that.Without a date of publication, I couldn’t even tell if the work was still under copyright or not. But surely I could find that out through the magic of Google.

But a search for “Allen E. Woodall” turned up nothing. Neither did adding “poet” or “1957” or the title of the poem I enjoyed so much. Nothing on PoetryFoundation.org, either. In a world where all human achievement seems to be migrated onto the internet in some form or fashion, I can’t find any record of Allen E. Woodall. It’s a shame, too, because his poem “Map of My Country” is a very positive, uplifting read about the U.S. of A.

With apologies to any copyright holders who may exist to his work, I’m going to type it out here and share with the world. I’m humbled and inspired to present–for possibly the first time in the online world–“Map of My Country” by Allen E. Woodall:

MAP OF MY COUNTRY

by Allen E. Woodall

Every now and then, when the world grows dull,

And the edge of sunshine or the song of a bird

Frays away to the shadow of a dream,

I take a map, a map, perhaps, of my state,

One of my states-New York of the glorious hills,

Or Pennsylvania of the shaggy woods,

Or great high-shouldered, blue-eyed Minnesota,

Or swart New Jersey, the commuters’ pocket,

Or cramped and memory-riddled Massachusetts,

Or the enigmatic steppes of the Dakotas,

 Or California of the laughing sunshine-

They are all my states, and I have loved them all,

Worked, sweated, hated, and taken joy in them.

I know their streets, their roads, and the ways between

The great green stretches south of the Great Lakes,

The hills and dunes, and plains, and sunny crossroads,

Remember the turns, the heartfelt run of the land,

The weeds beside the road, the meadow larks,

The waiting houses, the whispering cry of rain,

Lakes in the sunlight, and darkness over the land.

And I see roads I have not yet come to travel-

But I know they, too, are good, and I shall be there

Some day, all in good time, for this is my home,

This is America, my own country.

I love the optimism here, and the idea that there will always be something new to discover and enjoy in America. We know all about it because it’s our home, and if we haven’t yet seen parts of it for ourselves, maybe we will someday.

Happy 4th of July to everyone reading this. May we appreciate our home, today and always.

 

Five Years and Counting

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I wanted to start a blog for a long time–probably for at least a year–before I actually did it. But I put off doing it, because I thought there was some special quality I was lacking. Others who “blogged” (the word was still new and unusual back then) had it, whatever it was, and I simply did not.

That type of self-doubt has always held me back in life. Others are better than me, and I’m not good enough, so why bother? Why take a risk, if it’s just going to end up revealing all of my flaws?

So for all of 2010 and a good part of 2011 I kept things to myself, just as I had been doing all my life. Until one day I couldn’t do it anymore. I had a story to tell, so I typed it out–that part has always come easy to me–and I wondered what to do with it. And that was the point when I remembered something Jimi Hendrix once said: “My own thing is in my head. I hear sounds, and if I don’t get them together, nobody else will.”  So I took the leap and stated writing a blog, five years ago today.

I once thought, if I kept up with the same frenetic writing pace that I had for the first two years I did this, that I’d be upwards of a million words on this blog after five years. A million is a nice big number, and I’d like to say I wrote a million words for free online. But as it so often happens in life, that old crazy dream kinda came and went.

For one thing, I started sending my writings to other websites. I always enjoy seeing my words in print or online, so sending out hundreds of pieces to someone else seemed like the natural thing to do. And I also found that sleep is nice, too. I went from 700-1000 words per post down to 200-300 words.  So a million words, at least on this blog, feels like a long shot anymore. I stopped counting how many words are here some time ago, anyway.

But I continue having fun with this. I consider this blog as a digital legacy, for people I love and for people I’ll never meet, in equal measure. If my relatives going back a few generations had something like this available to them, I’d be happy if they put some of their thoughts and fears, their hopes and memories down where I could learn more about them. But this blogging thing is still too new for anything like that.  I can write these things down, and so I do. And bravo and good day to anyone who happens upon them, too.

Five years of sharing my thoughts and ideas with the world feels like a lot. But at the same time, it’s now been so long I don’t know why I didn’t start earlier. When it comes to writing a blog–like so many other things–there ain’t nothing to it, but to do it.

Here’s to keeping at this for as long as I’m able…..

Saying thanks to The New Yorker

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Many years ago (almost 34 years, to be exact) I wrote a letter to the editor of a wrestling magazine. The young teenager that I was at the time watched a lot of professional wrestling on TV, and they were to me what Batman and Superman were for those who read comic books. Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, Dick the Bruiser and, most of all, Roddy Piper were living, breathing examples of escapism and super powers. I would practice wrestling moves on the bed at home, or with my two younger brothers. It was a fun time in my life, and I miss it in some ways.

I felt sufficiently moved by my admiration for Roddy Piper to write a letter and put it in the mail slot of the hospital where I went to visit my dying grandmother. I never really thought they would publish it, though. Just saying it, or writing the words down, was enough for me at that time. But they published my letter in the fall of 1982, and the excitement I got from seeing my words and my name in print is something I haven’t since forgotten. My name has occasionally made its way into print, but literally millions of my words have been submitted  for public review since then. It’s tremendously gratifying to know that many of my ideas and words are floating around, somewhere.

Two days ago, in the aftermath of Prince’s sudden and shocking death last week, I was again moved to send out a letter to the editor of a magazine, this time The New Yorker. I was barely aware of who Prince was back in 1982 when I wrote my first letter to the editor, but I learned not too long after that. And just as the Internet has come along and brought great change to the way news and ideas are shared with the public, I didn’t actually write out a letter this time, but I did compose the following as an email:

It’s April 25, and the news of Prince’s sudden passing still feels shocking and raw. We’ve all had a weekend to mourn and reflect on what his music meant for those of us who grew up in the 80s, as well as those who either discovered his music after that, or those who followed his newer music right up until the end. It’s a hard time for all of us, no matter which category we may fall into.

Your April 25 cover is a fascinating glimpse into this present day. There’s just no way that anyone connected with your magazine could have known that, by the date appearing on the cover itself, we would lose a man who was an absolute wizard on the electric guitar. Nor could you realize that the man whose music broke down every barrier–racial, gender, and generational, to name just a few–would leave us within days of this cover’s appearance. And yet, there it is on your cover, in red and blue (and the fact the two colors combine to make purple is another inexplicable coincidence).

We can see people of all concert-going ages, backgrounds, and stations in life joined together in a room, enjoying themselves in a way that would not be possible in any other public setting. The guitar’s fretboard we can see on the cover, but the guitarist’s identity in this idyllic scene remains unknown. My interpretation is that the guitarist most likely to make such a gathering possible is the one who is being commemorated in purple in your next issue.

I’m already thinking of these as the most accidental–and yet most appropriate–covers pairing that we’ll ever see. Many thanks for such an unintentional gift.

Whether the New Yorker does anything with this note is besides the point. I had something to say, and I said it. And the internet and this blog allow me share this message with whatever part of the online world wants to read it, too. Just having an outlet for the idea is enough. And when the Prince tribute cover arrived in the mailbox today, I had to put the covers side by side and share them here. They are the beautiful ones, indeed.

Signing off from TTFB

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When I started writing this blog in the summer of 2011, I did it because I had things I wanted to say, and no outlet for saying them. I sent a couple of things I wrote to other blogs, but in the end I wanted my words to go someplace that I got to direct. The result was this blog, and starting it was a decision I’m very happy about.

For the first few months, this blog was a spigot that gushed forth with thoughts I had kept locked inside my brain for a long time. Nothing seemed too trivial to write about, because it was all stuff that I wanted to share with somebody–anybody–and finally I could do exactly that.

And then I started to wonder if some of my ideas wouldn’t be suited for wider consumption someplace else. The 2011 World Series between the Rangers and Cardinals was amazing, but my thoughts and writings about it came here to sit. I’d rather write something than let the thoughts die inside my brain–and that’s the feeling that still keeps me doing this, 500,000 words or so later. But there should be something else I could do with this stuff, too.

So the following spring, I began sending things into a website called ThroughTheFenceBaseball. I think I learned about them on a Craigslist ad or something like that. From the start, I wanted a place to send some of my baseball-related thoughts, while keeping the blog for everything else. And it worked out pretty well, because I sent them 215 pieces over the past four years, ending with a farewell piece that was published yesterday. I even got in a reference to Boston in my parting shot, which made me happy.

The number of outside websites I write for has varied through the years, but my four-year run at TTFB will always be my first one, and probably my longest one, too. I had hundreds of thousands of page views there, which means somebody might have read something they liked.  It was something I enjoyed doing, and I left a body of work that will live on for as long as the site does. And who really knows how long that will be, anyway?

 

Year 6, begin!

 

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I started writing this blog in the summer of 2011, which means this is my sixth year of putting words and pictures here for posterity to look at some day.

In 2015, my blog was viewed in 82 countries, and on every continent except Antarctica. The number of viewers has never interested me very much, but I love the global reach that doing this affords. It is the World Wide Web, for certain.

My Northwestern Wildcats got crushed in their bowl game today, so the year isn’t off to such a great start. But if that’s the worst thing that happens to me today, I’m still exceedingly blessed.

Here’s to a year filled with interesting events, good times, and Bernie Sanders, too.

My new toy

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Can it really be that December is more than half over and I haven’t written a thing for this blog all month? Perhaps the thrill is gone, perhaps I’m working too much, or perhaps it’s the holidays. Whatever it is, my writing in other places has come to a stop too, except for a recent piece I wrote for MoreThanAFan.net. No real plans to write much of anything for them, either, but I had a story I wanted to tell so I sent it off to them.

My tenure with FiveWideSports ended in October, by my decision. After two years and 111 pieces for them, it was time to move on. But I’m still proud of my work for them, which will hopefully live on forever in cyberspace.

My next writing project is one I’m really excited about. Starting next year, I’ll be contributing to SuperImmersive.com, which is exploring the possibilities involved with virtual reality, or VR for short. Technology has certainly evolved when it comes to picture taking, and this is some cool cutting edge stuff. I’m very honored to be one of the six people selected as contributors, on the basis of the stories I’ve been telling here over the past four years. I’m the only American on the project right now, so I’m hopeful that my posts will be worthy of my 300 million + countrymen, and all the great Americans who lived and died without ever knowing what a 360 degree color photograph looks like.

The camera I’m using is really cool. It’s a Theta S from RICOH, and it’s so new that RICOH’s tech support guy wasn’t yet aware of it when I called him to set up the camera at the end of November. Their website is here, and their twitter feed is here.

I could go on and on about the camera, and hopefully I will at a later time, but it’s late so I’ll just say this: the Theta S app allows regular photos to be manipulated and turned into spherical works of art. I’ve already posted a few online in my Instagram feed, and another one is above. But it looks as though you may not even need a camera to be able to use this feature, and if that’s the case it’s well worth it.

Here’s to fun with digital images in the year ahead.

 

Waiting for a Cuban visitor

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The blog that I’ve been keeping for some time now has traveled the world a lot better than I ever will. The World Wide Web is very well-named, as it turn out.

One of the things that WordPress does for people like me is that it tracks visitors to my website. It quantifies them by number of page views and number of visitors to the site, but those numbers don’t mean anything to me. If 5 people view the site, or 500 people view the site, I really don’t care. As long as someone does, that’s enough for me.

But what I really like is that it can tell where the visitors are from, and it highlights the countries on a world map. I love the idea that someone from a place I have never heard of of, and will likely never visit, has found their way onto this site. I can’t go to them physically, but an idea from inside my brain can. That’s pretty cool.

And in all the years this site has been on the web, Cuba remains as one of the few nations on earth where no one has viewed this blog. It’s the only nation in the Western Hemisphere in that category, and I’d very like to see it lit up someday soon.

In the Summer of 2001–the first year I wrote in this space–I visited a Cuban restaurant with my family and longed for the day when relations with Cuba weren’t so strange. And now, in the twilight of Obama’s presidency, it’s finally coming to pass. John Kerry visited Cuba this week, and the Cuban flag has been raised in Washington for the first time in my lifetime. Cuban access to the Internet remains limited, but I’m confident that will all get sorted out soon.

It’s a new day for the U.S. and Cuba, and hopefully the visitors to my blog will soon reflect that.

4 more years?

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I wanted to have a blog for a long time before I started this one, four years ago today. What held me back? I have no idea. But now that I’ve spent four years–and who knows how many hours sitting in front of a keyboard–throwing my thoughts and images out into the world, I can hardly remember what the delay was.

I often say that if Hemingway had a blog, it would make for quite an amazing read. But since he couldn’t have one, the rest of us have a chance to pick up the slack. I’m not Hemingway and never will be, but I do have opportunities that he and thousands of other writers over the centuries never did. And I don’t intend to let that go to waste.

4 years can be a long time–when you want to get on with your life–or they can be the bat of an eye, when you’re in a good place and hoping it can last and last. I’ve been in both places, sometimes within the very same day. But the world keeps on spinning, and I’ll be along for the ride over an as-yet-undetermined length of time. I may as well keep rollin’ along in this space, too.

If you’re an idiot and you know it

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Social media has taught the SAE fraternity, and all the rest of us who are paying attention, an important lesson: Don’t be an asshole, even for a few seconds. And when you sing racist songs, you are an asshole.

What I haven’t yet heard anyone say is that the racist tune that was sung on the bus was set to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” A simple child’s tune about happiness, which any three-year old knows how to sing, should never be used as some sort of racial manifesto.

How many others have sung this song, within the SAE organization? We won’t ever know, but the ones who sang it on the bus learned it from somewhere. Anyone with a speck of common sense knows that much.

There are times when I wish the Internet and social media existed when I was in college, back in the late 1980s. But then I reconsider this idea, for while I never sang racist songs, I did do some stupid things which I would not want to end up going viral. After all, the college days might fly past, but the Internet is forever.

Life after Facebook

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I first joined Facebook back in early 2009, right after Barack Obama was sworn in for the first time. I had lots of fun through the years, reconnecting with classmates, neighbors, former colleagues, students of mine, and assorted cousins and family members. It was–and still is–ubiquitous among all the different forms of social media.

So leaving Facebook means that most of these renewed relationships will revert to their previous state. And that’s unfortunate, in some sense. But in a larger sense (to borrow a phrase from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address) I’m not willing to give Facebook what they want from me, as a condition of making their service available for free. They’ve gone too far, at least in my eyes, and so now it’s time to leave.

Specifically, Facebook has a new set of Terms of Service (TOS) that everyone must agree to in order to keep using their service as of January 1, 2015. The data collection part of it, where they can track my physical movements and develop a dossier about me that marketers will gladly pay Facebook to have access to, is probably bad enough. But the right to exploit (and there’s no other word for it) my content for their financial gain is a bridge too far for me.

Facebook will be able to take pictures like the one above–if it were still on Facebook in 2015–and do whatever they want to with it. They could transfer this right to other parties, as well. They could make money off of the image, and not have to share it with me at all. The picture would be mine, but the control over how and when it’s used would no longer be mine. And reserving this control is important to me, so it’s adios to Facebook, at least for me.

There was life for me before Facebook, and I’m sure there will be life after it, too. There will be an adjustment period, of course, but better to go through that now than to let Facebook control things they really shouldn’t have control over.

Here’s wishing all the remaining Facebook users well. May you remain blissfully unaware of what you’ve done by using their service in 2015 and beyond.

Friends and family–the final part

After a day of downloading and deleting from Facebook, the final round of images appear below.

I don’t really know what, if anything, Facebook was planning to do with these images once I agreed to their new Terms of Service in 2015. But I’m not going to find out, either. They’ll have billions of images they can use for their purposes. They’ll never miss these ones.