What is it about a hometown?

Picture your hometown. Was it a big city, a little burg, a remote countryside? It doesn’t matter whether you left that hometown kicking and screaming because you wanted to stay forever or whether you fled from its boredom, that location remains the place where you were born, the spot that helped shape you with early experiences, values, friendships, great joys, and deep sadnesses. Leaving the scene doesn’t mean you leave the memories.

My hometown is a small community just outside of the Buffalo city limits, so small that when people ask where I am from, I simply say Buffalo. Buffalo still fascinates and interests me, even though, I must confess, I don’t miss the cold winters, mounds of snow, and freezing winds.

Images of the city’s beautiful old architecture still linger in my mind. Buffalo is a city dating from the late 1700’s when it was a trading center. It boomed after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. The building of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950’s helped Buffalo’s decline. But beautiful and important buildings remain such as those by Frank Lloyd Wright and Henry Hobson Richardson. Buffalo has approximately 80 sites on the National Historic Register.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House

Richardson Towers

Richardson Towers

Writers have chosen Buffalo as a place to work or live or have chosen it as a story setting. Author Lauren Belfer’s book City of Light was published in 1999 and gives a glimpse of 1901 Buffalo. Other authors include Taylor Caldwell (attended the University of Buffalo and wrote in Buffalo), J.M. Coetzee (began his first novel here and taught at the State University of New York, Buffalo), F. Scott Fitzgerald (early childhood), Mark Twain (part owner of the Buffalo Express newspaper), and Joyce Carol Oates (she and I attended the same high school). I found this list interesting, about novels and stories related to Buffalo. It’s fun to read stories set in a locale you know.

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Frederick Law Olmsted, founder of landscape architecture, gave Buffalo a wonderful park system. Instead of a park in a city, he liked the concept of a city in a park. Three parks (The Park, The Front, and The Parade) formed the park system and are still basically in tact and have been renamed Delaware Park, Front Park, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. Where I went to college is across the street from Delaware Park.

The radial and grid design of Buffalo’s streets by Joseph Ellicott allowed for maximum park access. (Ellicott Creek named for him flowed behind one of my childhood homes.) The main parkways extend out like spokes of a wheel and all lead to Niagara Square. Regular streets form a grid between the parkways. An interesting city.

McKinley Monument and Buffalo City Hall

McKinley Monument and the art deco style Buffalo City Hall

Arial view of Niagara Square. City Hall is at the bottom of the image.

Aerial view of Niagara Square. City Hall is at the bottom of the image.

In 1901 Buffalo experienced a tragedy. The city was the scene of the Pan-American Exposition. Industrialists and big business were prospering, immigrant labor wasn’t. President William McKinley visited the Exposition and chose to give a speech at the Temple of Music, followed by a short meet and greet of everyday people who wanted to shake his hand. Leon Frank Czolgosz, an unemployed member of the immigrant working class and a convert to anarchism, waited in line. As both he and the President extended their hands in greeting, Czologsz shot him twice. The shot to the President’s abdomen proved to be fatal. McKinley died eight days later after gangrene set in from the botched procedure done in treatment of his wounds.

Today, Buffalo is experiencing a Renaissance and, according to the New York Timesis attracting young college graduates. And where are they working? According to ForbesBuffalo’s major industries are financial services, technology, and education. The University of Buffalo is one of the nation’s leading research universities.

I’m happy for the city, for its slow rebirth, and for the memories it has given me. I’m also proud of this once mighty city. I know some of the feelings and values and sense of setting I experienced growing up there slip into my short stories and writings. And into my character. What is it about progress … realizing some of the things you have lost, realizing some of the things you value … even though you choose to move on?

And your hometown? Does it work into your writing or art or thoughts?

Into the Dark … or … Into the Light?

Ah, the state of the world. I don’t know about you, but I ‘m frustrated, frightened, and concerned.  Some of the forces afoot on the planet would turn back progress and enlightenment, turn back civilization and civility itself, return the people to ignorance and servitude. Is their goal a return to the Dark Ages?

Acts of cruel and unusual punishment are being waved as banners of honor. Terrorism is flaunted as a prideful group achievement. What’s next? The rack, the guillotine, burning at the stake? The Inquisition? Ethnic and religious differences fan into flames of intolerance. Didn’t WWII teach us any lessons?

The world community can’t turn its collective back on attacks on values held by societies who are able to live side by side in peace. Those who haven’t had or don’t understand freedom of speech, press, religion, or education for all or who continue to keep alive historical wrongs lean toward extremism … rather than permit an elected government or a freer society.

How can we preserve a way of life without embracing baser actions? How does change come about, leading not into the Dark Ages, but into Progress and Co-existence? Three concepts come to mind.

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One is tolerance. A hijab or gold cross or yarmulke should be able to be worn with impunity. And if a person chooses not to embrace a religious belief, they should have that right. People need to feel valued, whatever their religion or ethnicity. Tolerance develops in peace … just because it’s hard for people to pursue higher values during times of war.

The second is separation of church and state. An elected government, which gives the people a voice, and a system of civil and criminal laws, which protect people’s rights, benefit the community as a whole. Religious and spiritual leaders nurture the soul, and influence moral and ethical behavior. This separation protects the beliefs of divergent religions and those of non-believers, and assures a more just system for all.

That being said, countries in the world with different types of government do coexist with democracies. The key here is they coexist in peace, with trade, treaties,  tourism, and cultural exchange.

Third is the need for pluralism, not exclusivity. If you associate only with your own “kind,” your mind may become closed to anything new or different. Suspicion and distrust can show their colors quickly. Civil behavior and mutual respect among nations and individuals are needed to enable trust to grow.

We have a heritage and set of values fought for and earned several hundred years ago, namely representative government and the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, which we have to protect, which means we have to be real. To protect ourselves includes using diplomacy, negotiation, trade agreements, treaties, international intelligence exchange, cyberspace, adherence to law, creative problem solving, and, when necessary, overt or covert actions. And, in doing so, not lose our values or sell out to baser behavior. And, in doing so, honor those who protect us.

Extremism, radicalism, violence, and hyper-emotionalism don’t help build society up, but rather gnaw at the heels of a civilized world. I’m banking on man’s higher sense of purpose, on his ability to coexist with differences and celebrate likenesses. And this teaching and modeling starts with the young.

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Thank you for stopping by and allowing me to share my thoughts, my unease, my heartache, my hope.

Let me hear from you.

 

 

Hit the Restart Button on Learning … 2015

Unknown-2_2I don’t know about you, but I’ve always liked learning, going to school, and education in general. Well, let me qualify the school part. I’ve always liked going to school … except for 7th and 8th grades. You know, puberty and adolescence. Remember those delightful years? I send a “thank you” skyward to two special teachers from that time, Mr. Tierney and Mrs. Polster, who placed their confidence in me and drew me out.

In 9th and 10th grades the horizon became brighter. I played oboe in the orchestra – still don’t know how that happened – and made friends among the musicians. I confess, I hated my Latin teacher. But a big change happened when my family moved the summer before my junior year. I was so-o-o-o unhappy to switch schools at such a critical time. But it proved a good thing. I joined a sorority, played on the girls’ volleyball and basketball teams (great excitement – the team traveled to different schools for tournaments), and loved my French teacher who came directly from Paris, Miss Grimahl. To this mix, add crushes on a few boys, academics, and trying to figure out life.

A love of learning was helped along by my parents who valued education, and were lifelong learners and “taker-oners of challenges.” My dad, an avid reader, wrote to the newspapers and local, state, and federal governments on current issues, and took correspondence courses (this was before online courses.) My mom loved the challenge of a remodel, solving problems, and making things better, whether on a house or a dress she was creating.

I recall working full time and attending graduate seminars in the late afternoon, early evening, fighting sleep as soon as I my derriere hit the chair in the small classroom. Not a good thing when you’re at a conference table with only 12 others. But when Professor Dean Hess started the discussion, his energy and words filled the room. I woke up.

The whole school/learning thing excites my knowledge bug still. How about you? 3b690636b81bf22e4ac2185e39f91aa7 The new year finds a few classes on my schedule: a one day workshop called “The Art of the Short Story,” taught by Duff Brenna, Professor Emeritus of English and Creative Writing at California State University San Marcos. http://palmspringswritersguild.org/event-1731838

Another is a six-week online course called “Ignite Your Everyday Creativity.” The class is a partnership between the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Buffalo (my undergraduate school) and Coursera, creator of massive online courses. And it’s free. Course theme is “b Creative.” Emphasis is on creative problem solving, not creative expression per se like painting or poetry. http://newsandevents.buffalostate.edu/news/new-online-creativity-course-launches-february-16

And then there’s a morning Poetry Workshop called “Reversing Spells, Secrets Spilled, and The Line’s Surprise.” Interesting title. The course is conducted by Julie Paegle, CSU San Bernardino Professor of English. http://palmspringswritersguild.org/event-1780378

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I’m becoming curious as to what new experiences will befall me. Any courses or learning adventures coming your way in the new year?

PS – And like a kid starting school, I’ve bought a brand new (and thick) spiral binder, red.

Hello! My Name is World

Hello, My name is World. I’m not exactly a kid. At 4.54 billion years old, I’m pretty long in the tooth. Two-legged creatures like you with the ability to think and reason have been living on me for about 200,000 years. And as strange as this may seem, you have become kind of like my caretakers. Yes, you.

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I understand you have a tradition of writing resolutions to take into the new year. You know, things you want to do better, habits you want to break, friendships you want to mend. Stuff like that.

Well, I’m taking you on. I’m writing because I’m not too happy with you. I find your behavior is often abusive and lacking in empathy. Maybe you’ll read these ponderings, maybe you won’t, but I’ll feel better having written them.

1. How about a little more teamwork? The only time I see you really work as a team is if I send you a reminder of my power. I find a good earthquake, tsunami, tornado, famine, epidemic, flood, mudslide, forest fire, cold snap, heat wave, or hurricane really gets you working together. I would like to not have to resort to such drastic measures to get more esprit de corps.

2. How about fewer wars? You mess up my land, my natural beauty. I’m a big place. There should be room for everyone. Treaties and trade agreements can help decide who has what. Negotiations and compromise can help work out the fine points. Of course, the decision makers have to live up to the conditions and resist greed and power. And the people have to get with the program. Can you all get smart about this?

3. How about valuing human life? Like I said, I’m a big place, big enough for different points of view and belief systems to co-exist. Waving swords and guns at each other doesn’t cut it. Armies having to engage is not good. Think of the potential artists, writers, sculptors, poets, scientists, researchers, risk takers, innovators, philosophers, orators, and great leaders who are wasted. They are the very ones who perpetuate, explain, and record our cultures. Think of the children, men and women, good people, denied the gift of living.

4. How about more respect for each other? Please stop teaching and modeling hateful and intolerant behavior. The perpetuating of hate for hundreds of years between ethnic and religious groups, inflamed by sly remarks, slurs from the side of the mouth, innuendo, and overt acts isn’t working. Please put the centuries of long memories aside and build new ones based on coexistence. I know, I know. This will take time. But we can honor the sacrifices of the past and still build respect for the peace-minded diversity of the future.

5. How about taking care of me? I understand you celebrate Earth Day. In 2015, it’s on April 22. I like the gesture, but let’s up the game. After all, I’m the one supplying the clean air, pure water, arable land for agriculture, and natural resources. I don’t know how long I can last while you keep messing up. And you’re the ones who will suffer when these things go south in a big way. How about a little more conservation, preservation, and caring about me? My condition affects all of you.

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Sorry. Didn’t mean to go on a rant and be so hard on you. After all, it is the new year. But please think about these things. And you should know I am buoyed by the presence of forward-thinking leaders, conservationists, watch-dog organizations, charitable groups, and systems of law and government that seem to keep the greater good in mind.

My wishes for each of you in the new year? Enough food, a safe home, clean water, sanitation, a way to earn a living, education, freedom from disease, dignity, and respect for yourselves and each other. I wish each of you to be free from man-made calamity and horror. And I want each of you to be safe, surrounded by the love and comfort of your family.

I know you’re working on teamwork, fewer wars and more peace, the valuing of human life, respecting each other, and taking care of me. The more success you have with these, the more progress you can make with the quality of life.

My New Year’s Resolutions? I won’t give up and I won’t lose faith in you, my caretakers.

Signed,
Your world

Imagination and Mood

You step from your apartment onto the main street of a little European town. It’s a narrow street with even narrower sidewalks. Building exteriors change in style and color with each adjoining structure. Shadows play on the asphalt. Doors, windows, and signs beckon you to explore.

Who lives behind the walls, behind the closed shutters, behind the curtained windows? You’d like to open a door, sit on an overstuffed sofa, peek in a cooking pot bubbling on a burner, poke in a closet. You want to glance through a photo album, chat with the occupant over a cup of tea or glass of wine.

The brightness of the day, the aromas from the cafe/bar, the sounds of people engaged in living make you feel happy.  You want to climb the tower for a scenic view of the town. People greet each other. There’s a feeling of well-being.

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But the mood changes when the photo fades to black and white.  You think of something more sinister. A world war. People are not on the streets, afraid for their safety. Members of the underground plan an attack down in a cellar. A group of enemy soldiers of occupation can be heard approaching beyond the bend in the road, coming your way. A guard keeps watch in the tower.

Other scenarios? Perhaps a group of demonstrators will march through the streets in protest of an injustice or perhaps two con men meet in the corner of the bar, planning a caper.

Or have aliens been spotted, hovering overhead in a space craft, sending people indoors? It may be Armageddon. Or not. But until you know, you feel danger in the air.

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In sepia the photo takes on age, a sense of yesterday. The world is more innocent. Life moves slower. A man’s word has value as does his handshake. Family stays close. Land, buildings, and businesses pass from generation to generation.

A bell rings in the tower announcing the hour. People dressed in clothing of the 1880’s conduct their lives. Transportation is horse-drawn or on foot. Illumination is by candle or oil lamp. There’s a feeling of nostalgia when you enter the scene.

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A writer’s imagination is never on hold. And just as we can change the mood of a picture with iPhoto and the story it might tell, we can change the mood of a scene by the words we choose.

Our word selection can make a place friendly or dangerous. A street can be well lit or shadow ridden and eerie. A character can be kind, seedy, or tough. When we put our imaginations to work, we enable readers to form images in their heads and feel and care about a character. We enable readers to sense the mood. Their feelings are stirred.

Photo courtesy of Judy Lemche. Fauglia, Italy

In Search of Wisdom

A friend asked me if I had wisdom. If I was wise. I didn’t have an answer. In fact, I wasn’t sure I knew what wisdom was or what the word wise meant. Did it mean the possession of great knowledge? Did it mean common sense? Did it mean the ability to make wise decisions? The question was asked of me more than two decades ago.

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“Wild Bill” – an original pencil sketch by Reg Centeno

Do people have to be old to have wisdom? They’ve lived a long time and experienced many of the punches life can throw. They’ve seen what man can do to himself and his fellow man. They’ve seen what nature can do to itself and to man. They’ve seen beauty and wretchedness. They’ve known love. They’ve learned along the way and developed judgment.

But does wisdom have to be the province of the old? We’ve all met people who seem wise and mature beyond their years. A child described as a 40 year old in a 10 year old’s body. Or a young person described as having an “old soul.”

Perhaps having wisdom is like King Solomon. If you are considered wise, you may even be called “a Solomon.” What did he do?

In one account, known as the Judgment of Solomon, two women came before Solomon to resolve a quarrel over which was the true mother of a baby. When Solomon suggested they should divide the living child in two with a sword, one woman said she would rather give up the child than see it killed. Solomon then declared the woman who showed compassion to be the true mother, and gave the baby to her. (Source – en.wikipedia.org/wiki.Solomon)

In different religions of the world, wisdom may take on different contexts. That would be another discussion.

UnknownI recently read the novel As All My Fathers Were by James A. Misko. To me wisdom was one of the themes. The wisdom of an old rancher pitted against the “new” wisdom of younger, successful, and powerful ranchers. The wisdom of a matriarch and the stipulations in her will. The wisdom of a river trying to show, not tell.

Is wisdom what you believe or what you know? Is it what you have experienced or what you have deduced? Can it be taught? Am I ready to formulate an answer to my friend’s question?

I hope I have some wisdom, that I have a concept of the meaning. To me, being wise or displaying wisdom is having patience, empathy, tolerance, judgment, understanding, and the ability to reach sound decisions. It’s derived from experience, being sensitive, intuitive, and having the ability to put together information and reach conclusions of benefit to those involved. It’s conducting yourself responsibly and being of value to yourself and society. It’s derived from living, from education – formal and informal.

All I can say is I’m working on it. I realize how much I have to learn and how little, in the grand world order, I really know.

How do you view the meaning of wisdom?

Something About a Sunrise

Sunrises and sunsets arrive and leave quickly and are but a flash in the grand scheme of things, another quick step on life’s path. In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, during the wedding scene with Tevye, Golde, Perchik, Hodel, and chorus, these well-known lyrics are sung:

Sunrise, sunset,
Sunrise, sunset,
Swiftly fly the days …

These dynamic parts of a new day and its closing are valuable to savor.

And there’s something about morning and a sunrise. Its beauty. Its promise. Its joy. The wash of color. Early mornings are my favorite time.

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Sunrise in the Desert

The coming alive of the sky, the first sounds of the day, the promise of what the day may hold, planned or unplanned, seem like a giant helping of cosmic energy. It’s the time to enjoy the quiet in the house, the collecting of thoughts, the feeling of well-being. Time for a cup of coffee and the reading of a newspaper undisturbed. It’s time to take a morning walk and notice the sky and the wash of color.

But not everyone is able to have that morning solitude, the leisurely coming about of the morning. Some days start with a bang. Hopefully, the energy of a new day can help with getting kids up and ready for school, mobilizing a crew, or giving care to a loved one.

And even if you already know a day is going to be bad, a bummer as they say, the sunrise can offer a bit of strength, of hope, a feeling of “I can do this,” or “I can get through this,” whatever this may be.

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A Coachella Valley Sunrise

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My favorite time to write is early, when the sun is on the rise. My mind is fresh. I may have been working on a story or blog post during the night, in and out of sleep. What seems problematic or a fuzzy idea often clarifies in the morning.

The sunrise makes way for untold possibilities. So much to do in a day.