Pick up a pen, start writing

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My heroes are writers. I’ve come to realize this in recent years, probably in some small part because of my experiences with this blog. It will be five years next month that I took the plunge and started collecting my thoughts and stories in one place. And I wish I had started it earlier than I did. But it has taught me a couple of things.

The first thing is that it takes a willingness to open up with yourself. Finding an idea to explore is not hard, but turning it over and spinning it around takes some time and some extra thought. The time is something I don’t always have, and that’s the main barrier to writing more often. But going beyond surface-level thought isn’t easy, either. And writing that which deserves to be read, as Pliny the Elder once called it, requires this step to occur.

The second thing I’ve learned is that inspiration is a funny thing. It strikes at odd hours, and it doesn’t linger for too long. It’s essential to capture a thought and preserve it in the moment, because going back to it an hour later doesn’t work. The thought, whatever it is, won’t wait until you decide to address it. Like a deer staring at you from a distance, once it takes off you won’t be seeing it anymore.

The other day I had occasion to meet a fellow left-hander who enjoys writing. I told her I find writing to be therapeutic, and she indicated that it’s cathartic for her. These ideas both come from the notion that writing is beneficial. As the Beastie Boys and Nas once counseled, if you’ve got something on your mind, let it out. My experience is this is reason enough for writing a blog, or anything else.

When I suggested that writers are my heroes, I was asked for examples. I mentioned Lincoln’s name, along with Alexander Hamilton’s. The amazing musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda has inspired me to pick up an old copy of the Federalist Papers, and his writing is exquisite. But there are many more that I wish I had also mentioned, and here are a few: Thomas Paine, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, George Orwell, J.K. Rowling, John Muir, Ernest Hemingway, and Rachel Carson. There are hundreds more, and in three hours I would come up with a list of different names than the ones here. That’s the nature of writing, after all.

I’m not far from the library at Nothwestern where I worked when I was in college. “Library” in an abstract sense for me is pretty much what the old Deering library looks like. But it’s a repository for the work of thousands, if not millions, of writers who managed to create something that endures. I used to handle books written on vellum in the Middle Ages, as well as comic books from the 20th century. The creators of these books, and all the others, committed their ideas to paper, and created something that endures after they’re gone. That’s what writers do. And for five years of my life, I’ve been doing that in this new electronic medium of a blog. It’s been an enjoyable, therapeutic, and cathartic experience, and I’ll keep on doing it for as long as I can.

Complicated and off-kilter

 

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I’m a big Abraham Lincoln fan, and I’ve written about statues of him, and busts, and artworks, and really anything else I could find. But Lincoln Avenue has somehow escaped my attention, until now.

Last night I found myself driving down Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, and I realized a couple of things. There are two distinct parts to it, one that begins in a neighborhood appropriately called Lincoln Park, and another that begins in a different neighborhood called Lincoln Square. And in between, it disappears into Western Avenue for a few blocks. It’s not a street that you can stay on for as long as you want to. You need to know the way go if you want to stay on it. So it’s certainly a complicated road to follow.

But even more important is the direction that it takes. More than 90% of this city’s streets run north/south or east/west. In fact, the city’s grid system depends on streets like this. In the picture above, for example, Southport Avenue runs north and south. But Lincoln Avenue, like the man it is named for, doesn’t follow a tidy, straightforward path. It runs diagonally its entire length, turning many traditional intersections into six-way adventures. It’s as if the street takes on the character of the man who really has no parallel in the scope of American history.

I write about Lincoln statues and the like because they exist to commemorate the railsplitter who became president. But a road is a bit harder to conceptualize as a tribute. It serves a different purpose, that’s for sure. But thinking about this road, and how and where it cuts its route through the city I call home, I realize what a fitting tribute to him it really is.

A night at the theater

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149 years ago this evening, Abraham Lincoln went to see a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington city (as they called it then).

Many years later, I went to see a play in Ford’s Theater. The box that Lincoln sat in that night is still on display, and there was a feeling of sadness in my heart as I saw it.

Lincoln was a great man, and we’re all better off that he once walked the earth. And the anniversary of his shooting is as good a time as any to realize this.

The golden arches and Abe Lincoln’s hat

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I took this picture yesterday as I was waiting at a red light in Chicago. I love this view, and I could probably crop out the McDonald’s sign attached to his stovepipe hat, but why not leave it in, instead?

Would Lincoln eat McDonalds, if he were alive today? We’ll never know for certain, but at least the McDonald’s jingle could be twisted in honor, as follows:

Ba da bum ba baa,
I’m Lincoln it!

A Thanksgiving message from the founding fathers

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With the arrival of Thanksgiving day, everyone turns their attention to Abraham Lincoln and the proclamation that made this into a national holiday. My love and respect for Lincoln has been well-established here, but thanks to some online research, I found a Thanksgiving story that pre-dates Lincoln. And it has a lesson for our times, as well.

The first American Thanksgiving, as we know the United States to be, happened as the result of a proclamation made by the Continental Congress on November 1, 1777, roughly a year and a half after the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Revolutionary war was going on, and Washington and his troops were at Valley Forge that winter. So we’re talking a long time ago.

Since the link provided above is a web page, I couldn’t copy and paste the text as I wanted to. But it’s a very good read, and the bulk of it appears on the page shown above. It’s well worth a read, for anyone who is so inclined.

But the best part, to me, is the final paragraph that appears at the bottom of the page. And I am going to type that out, because I think it’s very important in the face of all the Thanksgiving day sales that are going to be happening at shopping centers near you and me.

“And it is further recommended, that servile labour, and such recreation as, thought other times innocent, may be unbecoming the purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an occasion.”

Do you get that, Walmart? Target? Kmart? Heck, I’ll even throw Starbucks into that mix, too. Any business that wants to open its door on Thanksgiving day, in order to make a buck, would be considered “unbecoming” to the men who risked their lives to found this nation. But the un-becomingness doesn’t stop there, either.

Everyone who goes out for the Thanksgiving day sales and “doorbuster” prices is also engaging in behavior that the founding fathers would consider unbecoming. I’ll go so far as to say it’s UnAmerican to take what should be a solemn day of remembrance and turn it into a shopping spree. The materialist and consumerist culture wants to make it seem otherwise, but the source material says it’s so.

Shop on Thanksgiving, or work on Thanksgiving, if you must, but understand that there’s some very old–and very wise–reasons not to.

Unbecoming, indeed.

A reason to admire Lincoln

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I write about Lincoln all the time here, and there’s a reason for that. He righted this nation’s greatest wrong, and he lifted the scourge that undercut everything America claimed to stand for. He made the nation that calls itself “the land of the free” into a closer approximation of that. And if we don’t realize that, we should.

The Gettysburg Address may be the most startling evidence of Lincoln’s brilliance, but there are so many others, as well. Read one of his speeches and you’ll understand.

A Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address

Today I had some time on my hands, and a clear mission in mind. I wanted to film myself reciting the Gettysburg Address and upload it to Learntheaddress.org, a once-in-a-lifetime project to record and upload Lincoln’s speech for posterity. There’s still some time to do this, as I type this out three days before the 150th anniversary of the Address on November 19.

I had wanted to film myself with Lincoln over my shoulder as I was speaking, to create an effect that he was hovering over me and somehow looking on approvingly as I was speaking his words. So I drove to a Lincoln statue located in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago. I’ve written about the statue before, and it seemed to be the best spot to accomplish what I wanted to do.

It was a blustery gray day in Chicago, perfect for the kind of outdoor backdrop I was looking for. From what I’ve read, the day that Lincoln delivered the address was sunny, but on a day for honoring war dead, a gray day seems more fitting. I found a parking spot, walked up to the statue, and went to work.

The statue is located at a bus stop near a busy intersection, and there were lots of people milling about, and cars were passing by. I felt a bit sheepish recording myself in front of the statue, but this was important to me and I wanted to see it through.

After a few flubbed lines and false starts, I finally got the best version I was going to get. But it had a flaw that there wasn’t any way to work around, in that a Walgreen’s store is located nearby, and the incessant bell-ringing of the Salvation Army volunteer turned up very clearly on the video. As I watched it, I realized that the bell-ringing was a dealbreaker. It was time to move on to plan B.

There’s another Lincoln statue–this one a much younger representation–a bit further north, near Senn High School. I’ve written about this statue, as well. I was on my way to that statue when a burst of inspiration hit me. I pulled off into Rosehill cemetery instead.

Not surprisingly, I’ve written about Rosehill before, too. The thought that I had was that Lincoln was speaking to honor dead soldiers at a cemetery dedication, and if I could recite Lincoln’s words against a similar backdrop, it would make it all the more authentic.

After finding a spot, and saying a silent thank you to the Civil war dead buried there, I pulled out my cellphone camera and went to work. I fumbled a little bit toward the end, but I think I captured the spirit of it. I then uploaded it to YouTube and shared the link with the learntheaddress people, and it’s being moderated before it goes live on their website. I’ll post that link when it happens, but for now the YouTube version appears above.

It was an honor and a privilege to share Lincoln’s words, and to have them recorded for posterity in a way that Lincoln’s actual speech is not. I’ll be forever glad I did this, and I’m happy to share it with the world here. It’s not the best version, I’m sure, but it’s meaningful to me, and a clear reminder of what the purpose of the speech actually was.

Lincoln would have loved this

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Today was the first time that I had ever been inside Carl Schurz High School on the northwest side of Chicago. It’s over a hundred years old, which gives it a historical cache that many schools just don’t have.

I found my way to the library,  which has a scale to it that I’ve never seen before. There are many beautiful murals adorning the walls and ceiling, and I felt very happy to have discovered such a hidden jewel. But what inspired me to write, as usual, was Abraham Lincoln.

The building itself was constructed in 1910, and when the walls were painted I can’t say. But a number of portraits of scientists, writers, and the like had been painted onto the walls, and the position of Lincoln’s was most interesting.

As seen in the picture above, Lincoln and William Shakespeare are located alongside each other. To the other side of Lincoln was George Washington, and he would have appreciated that, as well. But I have to believe that Lincoln’s fondness for Shakespeare’s work would have made this placement most appealing to him.

Shakespeare was a brilliant writer, and Lincoln was gifted in his own right. So to see these two linguistic champions in the same place is quite a sight, and I offer my congratulations to the long-ago artist who made this happen.

The coolest place I can think of

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As a certified baseball junkie, and an Abraham Lincoln fan to boot, I can’t think of a better place to visit than where I am right now.

When Lincoln was riding the legal circuit in Central Illinois, before anyone knew his name, he came to Postville park in a town that would one day bear his name: Lincoln, Illinois. Here, he and some of his friends played a game called Townball, which later was known as baseball.

The park today is a far cry from what it was back then. But to imagine what it must have been like is still pretty cool. It’s the stuff that history is made of, really.

OK now back to my regularly scheduled trip.