Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I could use a recipe here.... The elephant I'm carrying is getting heavier by the hour - because his name is Indecision. So I ask myself, what do I want to do, where do I want to go and what do I want to accomplish?

Ironically, some years back, I taught a series of life skills lectures designed to help men and whomen resolve dilemmas - BIG dilemmas. The series began with Start From Where You Stand, which is always good advice, and included How to Cook an Elephant... Now that's the recipe I need to heed.

Every man is the architect of his own fate. ~ Appius Claudius Caeus ~

I will need to describe the problem, design a plan and identify the goal. I will Start Where I Stand, cut my weighty problem into meanageable pieces, follow the recipe and get cooking...

The Problems: pursue a college degree; redecorate my home interior; travel the United States; read and write more; get a dog.
The Possibilities (considerations): I want a PhD before I die; my last home interior redo was a decade ago; travel is enjoyable but physically punishing - perhaps day trips are more manageable; reading and writing are enjoyable and rewarding though sight is a bit weak; a guardian dog is for personal safety (although a duck is a better alarm system, ducks aren't guardians and they are not allowed in my neighborhood).
The Priorities: #1: to read and write daily; #2: redo home interior; #3: take day trips and consider travel tours as they come available; #4: Some form of home safety and alert system; #5: pursue PhD. (okay, priorities were out of order...).
The Goals: get an eye exam, consider new glasses to read and write daily and set daily, weekly and read/write goals; identify specific redecorating needed and wanted, get estimates, contract and accomplish same. Plan day trips (one per month) and tours (one or two in 2012) with consideration to physical health and travel accommodations. Carefully weigh pros and cons of electronic alarm systems vs. animal alert before making decision. Continue search for on-line doctorate degree program.
The Plan: Set timetable and roadmap for each goal.
Take the Action: Take steps to accomplish goals. Be flexible.
Enjoy the Rewards of Accomplishment.

Still, round the corner there may wait, A new road or a new gate. ~J.R.R. Tolkein~

Whew.... Even an elephant is easily managed - with a good recipe.

What is your recipe for Cooking an Elephant?
Tell me. I'd like to know.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


When fingernails scrape down a blackboard, are your ears offended? Does the sound make your jaw hurt? Your fists clench? Your eyes squint? I get that same reaction when I hear people misuse words - ordinary American English words.

My ears ache, my jaw hurts, muscles spasm and eyes squint when I hear someone say "ax" for ask, "seen" for saw or "don't" for doesn't. I want to know whether the offender is American born or went to school in the United States. You see, not only are my ears offended, so is my sense of American intelligence, public education, patriotism and personal pride.

I have heard adult conversations, on television for the most part, where one or more conversant uses the word 'like' more times than I care to count. "Like when I went to work last week it was like everyone was late like nobody's alarm worked so like all the clocks stopped." There are public media interviews in which the answer begins with "I mean..." Question: How did it feel to score the winning touchdown? Answer: "I mean it's the first time I had an open field, I mean there was nobody in front of me and I mean, it was great..." Question: How did you learn you are a new father while serving in Afghanistan? Answer: "I mean, my wife texted me and I mean I was like sleeping at the time and it was a boy so I mean she wanted me to you know..." The wife interjects, "Yeah, I mean he wanted to know about it right away, like, you know, before I put it on Facebook."

If those types of conversations aren't sad enough, tune in to news reports and political debates in which people who might normally be regarded as intelligent keep interjecting the word "look." (I've learned to live with my finger on the channel switcher because it makes me ill to 'look.') "About the national debt well look, poor judgement got us into this mess..." "And, look, health care is everyone's concern..."

There is one word that is more obnoxious and repeated more often than any other - the word is 'cool' - it is slang, meaning too much, not enough, anything and virtually nothing.

It is a blessing none of the people whose conversations I eavesdropped on were enrolled in the college courses I taught. There were no passing grades for students who 'seen' instead of saw or said 'cool' and 'like' in every sentence. I mean, listen, it's like, you know, only like uneducated people would use you know words like that 'cause, look, you know ignorance don't make you cool.

If this opinion is agreeable to you - or if it seems a bit heavy handed - I'll appreciate your comment. Tell me. I'd like to know. Meantime, please edit 'cool' out of your vocabulary - and I thank much !

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Whether you read a newspaper, watch television or attend a meeting, cliches are in full bloom. Some days I wonder whether listeners could fully understand what a speaker is trying to convey without the use of cliches. To me, a cliche is the familiar, explanatory, colorful, confirming image. As a writer, I use them generously although they are frowned upon by writing instructors and some publishers.

Everyone understands what is meant by I 'draw the line' at using foul language. In other arenas, one might be willing to 'fight fire with fire.' Don't we envision similar characteristics when we hear the guy 'has two left feet' or he 'isn't the brightest bulb in the pack?' Certainly we know what it means to 'roll with the punches,' 'pass the buck,' know 'the naked truth' or have to 'eat crow.' I'd like to read some writing instructor's essay that draws equally dynamic mental images without using cliches.

When my author friend writes, "the road less traveled..." readers know she is about to relate one of her globe-trotting adventures. By using this familiar quotation as her cliche, both you and I have a clear image of who she is - without need for a lengthy explanation.

Because we have spent many hours chatting together, I am familiar with some of my frien's world travels, her interests in cultures, languages and arts. In addition to traveling, she is a woodcarver, sculptor and gardener - not to mention having taken courses in blacksmithing. When she writes, "Never one to follow the beaten path, I took the road less traveled..." even Robert Frost believes her and is anxious to read on.

For my own writing, I enjoy being 'armed to the teeth' with facts, names, dates and cliches in order to write about 'the big bang theory' or 'spaghetti on the wall.' Cliches may be the 'kiss of death' in a classroom, but I've gotten 'thumbs up' for the 'naked truth' with a 'vested interest' in telling a story and writing an essay or 'my name is Mudd.'

Wouldn't Robert Frost believe he had 'hit the mark' to be quoted so often? John Steinbeck's 'best laid plans' continues to strike a familiar chord. Even Star Wars' 'moment of truth' is the exact wording needed to emphasize a point, a surprise, an epiphany. 'Lest we forget' (Rudyard Kipling) is a cliche of powerful words. Always remember "The power of words properly understood and used is mankind's most precious gift" --a favorite quote of mine -- author unknown.

How do you think of cliches? Do you have a favorite? Tell me; I'd like to know.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I spent Sunday evenings with a gnome.

Journalists and commentators offered in-depth stories and current events Sunday nights on the CBS program 60 Minutes. More often than not, the most thought-provoking segment was the last few minute when Andy Rooney, my quotable gnome, would describe something of mundane familiarity with his unique and unexpected interpretation - things like groceries, curling, bridges, cotton in pill bottles and English language. Looking a bit weather-beaten amongst his stacks of papers and books, he was persuasive without lecturing. Peering out from beneath big bushy white eyebrows, he voiced his view of things and people in serious, informative, amusing and thought provoking word images.

Andy Rooney said, "I'm going to work until I die" - and so he did. His last television segment aired October 2, 2011. He died one month later.

Rooney left behind a lifetime of writings, stories, essays and quotable comments on as many subjects. He was a writer for The Stars & Stripes during WWII. He wrote an impressive list of books, including The Story of the Stars & Stripes. He sold the film rights to MGM and wrote the screenplay. While it never became a movie, Andy made enough money to freelance and establish his writing credentials for several years after the war.

He earned an impressive list of notable awards. Andy had met Ernie Pyle and, years later, received the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award. He wrote and performed 1,097 essays for 60 Minutes - and he won an Emmy.

Privately, Andy was married 60-plus years and has four children. I couldn't help but note he had just one sister - whose name was Nancy.... He refused to sign autographs because 'someone recognizes my face from television.' Book signings were acceptable autograph times.

Though Rooney has been called Irish American, he once said, "I'm proud of my Irish heritage, but I'm not Irish. I'm not even Irish-American. I'm American. Period." @ wikipedia.

On writing, Rooney said, "I don't pick subjects as much as they pick me."

On words, he said, "vegetarian - that's an old Indian word meaning lousy hunter."

On language, Andy said, "Obsenities... I think a lot of dumb people do it because they can't think of what they want to say and they're frustrated. A lot of smart people do it to pretend they aren't very smart - want to be just one of the boys."

I have a particular fascination for quotations and there's a long list of Andy Rooney quotes on I enjoy biographies, long or short, and has a 6-page summary of his life.

Andy Rooney has always reminded me of a gnome. He was my favorite gnome. Andy wasn't the most handsome lad in the garden, the tallest, neatest nor smartest, yet - perhaps he was....
Certainly, everyone benefitted while having a witty gnome to share Sunday evening with.