Saturday, January 17, 2009

One expensive train ride

Mike Levine, a retired American journalist (and good friend) who now lives in a kibbutz in Israel, tried to post his letter to President-elect Barack Hussein Obama on his website, but as unable to do so since there was no tab he could use. He sent his letter to friends and I am sharing it with you, along with the newspaper article about Obama's triumphal entry into Washington D.C. It's too bad a slave won't be standing behind him holding a laurel wreath reminding him he is just a man.

An open letter to Barack Hussein Obama
from Mike Levine

I meant for this letter to be sent directly to Obama, but surprise, surprise, when I went on to his website the only way you could contact him was if you selected one of the subjects they listed. Well, I had my own subject called, "The Obama Train Drain", and there was no general category under which I could write to him, so here I am. Who knows, maybe someone will be able to figure a way to get this to him.

Obama has rented a plush Pullman coach made in 1930 fitted with every modern luxury known to man, just like fancy multi-million dollar yachts. Of course, he'll need to pay for the use of a locomotive and other cars for his hanger-ons to ride in.

He is replicating Lincoln's train ride to his inauguration from Philadelphia to Washington, DC. However, there are a few differences

Lincoln invited all who wished to see him in Philadelphia, and 30,000 showed up, a gigantic crowd in those days. Obama will not let the ordinary citizens near him in Philadelphia. Only his special 'backers', read big contributors.

Obama wants to be thought of as 'Lincolnesque', something he will never accomplish, no matter how good his PR writers are, and no matter how many train trips he takes. The only similarities between the humble Lincoln and the narcissistic Obama is that both are tall and thin!

Obama has made a big issue of the economy; how horrible it is, and how much sacrifice it will take by all of us to right the ship of state. He is about to begin spending more than a trillion dollars of our tax money, thanks to a captive Congress. Unfortunately, he doesn't act as if 'all of us' includes him! A true statesman leads by example. He does not ask us to do anything he would not do.

He does not send his children to an elitist, extremely expensive, mostly white private school instead of enrolling them in a public school like most of the rest of us.

He does not have 20 expensive inaugural balls when one or two would be more than sufficient, thereby saving untold millions. And it matters not at all who is paying for them. It is perception that matters. Those untold millions could be used to help ease the economic pain for thousands.

He does not whitewash and defend his choice for Treasury Secretary when it turns out the guy's been cheating on his taxes for years, and put him in charge of the IRS!!

A little humility, a bit of frugality would have done much to tell America and the world that we will have a president who shuns extravagance and waste, who walks across the street to his inauguration instead of riding like a potentate in his private train. That our next president is really a man of the people, not a would-be king!

Now that is change you can believe in. Yes, you can!

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

There's bad and then there's...

A friend emailed me a link with the title, If you ever think about giving up. I checked out the link and was amazed and touched, but nothing touched me so much as watching the end of the video. Go watch and then come back.

What do you think?

Makes me feel like my problems, as insurmountable and awful as they are to me at the time, are trivial in comparison, but it's not about comparison. It's the old line about being given lemons and making lemonade -- although I prefer to make hummus or avgolemono. I like to mix things up.

The way I believe, each of us choose the lessons we want to learn in this incarnation (life) and he chose to make lemonade. Once upon a less enlightened time, I couldn't understand why me. Why did everything happen to me? To be sure, a lot has happened to me during my lifetime, but nothing I haven't been able to overcome after a brief period of questions, whining and bone shaking fear. I need those moments to utter and complete breakdown before I gird my loins and leap back into the fray, and sometimes the moments happen after I've been through the fire and have a moment to stop and think, What did I just do? before the panicked realization sinks in that I could have been seriously injured or dead. And yet, like Timex...

I have not become so enlightened that adversity makes me say, "Yay, another chance to grow and overcome adversity!" I've paid my dues -- most of them, anyway -- and I'm entitled to some time off before the next round of interesting times comes around, and they will come around. I've no doubt of that. One thing I don't do any more is go looking for trouble. There is no sense looking for something that will find me no matter what I do or where I hide. Instead, I enjoy what I have right this moment and the next moment and the next and thank whatever powers in the Universe guides my fate and watches over me every time I get stupid that I am allowed to continue living and working and writing and enjoying another moment of life.

That doesn't mean I don't plan for the future, but I know without a doubt that the future is not guaranteed to come, that I only have this moment. Whatever forces shaped the me I am right now weren't gentle, but they were necessary to create me at this moment. As a friend recently reminded me, there is no going back and there is no sense dwelling on what could've been. I've mourned the lost chances and absent friends, but one thing I do know is that if something is meant to happen and I've missed the chance, the Universe will bring it back around again and give me a swift kick in the hindquarters to move me in the right direction. Until that happens -- and it has happened -- I am thankful for this beautiful sunny morning with the Colorado blue sky above and a glittering expanse of fiery sun struck diamonds on mounds of fluffy white outside the windows while I am safe and warm inside my comfortable cottage sipping green tea with rose hips and writing on my laptop.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Building on a solid foundation

A little music, a filling brunch of boiled egg and a cinnamon roll (homemade, of course) and a pot of green tea and I feel almost human again. I found a 10 x 10 stoneware pan and yesterday baked some cinnamon rolls, iced them and had one this morning. They turned out really good, not too sweet with a soft crumb and a light vanilla glaze. In a word, perfect. The urge to bake is on me and I'm contemplating an Italian olive oil bread but the kitchen has to warm up more first or the dough won't rise sufficiently. That's where turning on the oven comes in and kills two birds with one stone by getting the oven ready for the bread and warming the room.

It's a quiet Sunday and I have taken my time reading the news, checking emails and catching up on writing. The sun shines in a pewter sky, moderating the heavy gray curtain of horizon to sky clouds bearing down from the mountains and promising more snow, hiding the hoary white rise of Pikes Peak. Whether my placid mood is due to impending snow or the slow Sunday pace isn't important, at least not as important as an essay I read by an author on Glimmer Train website about learning from the masters, something I have been contemplating for some time.

As a fledgling artist, I was set to copy the Masters, examining and learning to duplicate their brush work and layering and compounding of color. It is the way artists have learned for millennia. Musicians are taught scales, then taught how the Masters created their own work and set loose to improvise on everything they have internalized. Writers are taught rules and theory, but starting from a Master's work, beginning with the words and construction of plot and characterization, texture and theme isn't quite kosher. Oh, there are some teachers who encourage finding inspiration and experience in great works of literature, past and present, but then writers are told that such copying is beneath them, derivative, cheating and will stunt their growth as a writer, their voice lost in the process. Not true.

While da Vinci and Michelangelo's influence is obvious in Raphael's early work, there is a distinct departure in his more mature work. Each generation of artist learns from the ones who have gone before and then emerge with their own distinctive style. The same is true for writers.

While on a whaling voyage Melville meticulously copied every word of a novel by Hawthorne, getting angry if anyone touched his work or bothered him while he copied. The day he finished copying the novel he gathered all the papers so carefully written and tossed them overboard. Shocked, the sailors asked why he did that and Melville replied that he had learned what he needed to know. Melville also studied James Fenimore Cooper and other contemporary writers, going back to the types of books that he wanted to write.

Modern day writers would do well to emulate their predecessors. Start with an author's work you admire. Take one of their stories or novels and begin by copying what you read, letting the words, characters and plots carry you to a different world. At some point, your own voice will emerge along with your creative instincts with the sure hand of the Master on yours. Dissect and outline novels in every genre to find out how a writer created the effects that made his book so successful. Break down descriptive passages, minutely examine the gestures and dialogue that make characters breathe, leaving no word or phrase untouched. Most of all, read, read, read. Read widely. Read with an eye on construction and method, theme and texture. Pay attention to what arouses your senses, makes your heart beat faster, chills your blood and inflames your passions then go back and dissect them, lay the bones bare and then sit down and write the same scenes. What would you change? How would you get from point A to point B? The trail is blazed, go off the path and find your own way through the wilderness. It's not cheating; it's common sense, a time tested method to help build the sensibilities and tools needed to become a good masterful writer.

There is no sense in reinventing the wheel. Use the wheel to invent something new and different, something uniquely your own.