Friday, June 29, 2012

Just Do It

Someone once advised widows and others who had undergone a life-altering loss to avoid making significant changes in their own lives until some time had passed. I suppose this is to allow one to regain their equilibrium and prevent hasty action which might later be regretted.

That makes sense and is good advice for anyone at any stage of life -- think it through.

I've moved around the country a few times in my life. The moves always seem to have served my purposes and usually worked out for the best. But moving, changing your life, starting a new job are not easy tasks. I have always believed that we are all far too afraid of change. Change is a natural occurrence and we should stop avoiding it.

It's never a good idea to be foolish and indulge in destructive behavior. But we have become so hesitant to make any kind of change that we neglect taking any action at all.

I've known people who never did what they wanted to in life for some reason that must have seemed important at the time. This group includes people who took a career path they did not want because of parental urging, financial security or even something as flimsy as what other people would think of their choice. This unwanted career path never satisfied them and may eventually have grown into serious dislike before they jumped out of the field, moved away or were no longer able to work. That seems like a long time to do something that never suited you in the first place.

I've known people who married the wrong person but never took any steps to rectify the situation. Either they were afraid of divorce, afraid of what people would say if they were divorced, afraid they might be unable to support their family if they divorced, afraid of what a divorce would mean to their children, afraid of starting over… enough already with being afraid! I was divorced many years ago and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Why would anyone spend a huge chunk of their life with the wrong person when they could take a leap and start fresh? I never saw the benefit of non-action.

I have a friend who detested a certain part of the U.S. It had a climate and other features that she strongly disliked. Yet while visiting that region, she happened to meet and marry a man who lived in that very part of the country. They married and she stayed, miserable all the time. She landed a job that she really liked, so when her marriage ended a few years later, she remained. Now nearing retirement, she is finally relocating to another section of the U.S. -- after spending about 35 years living in a place she has loathed. I'm happy for her that she and her family are going to live elsewhere. I know she is excited at the prospect. But 35 years is a long time to be somewhere that makes you unhappy.

Life is too short to do anything that you don't want to do -- whether it includes being married to the wrong person, working at the wrong job or generally being sorrowful. I think the reason that people are so fearful is a dread of what might happen. What if I leave this job -- which I hate -- and find another job I hate? What if I can't find another spouse once I'm divorced? We spend much of our lives dreading things which never occur anyway. So why waste time worrying?

I read all the time about people whose actions seem a little wacky. Young people who sail around the globe alone in a small boat. People who try to climb tall mountains, perhaps with tragic results. People who have lost every possession, struggled and sacrificed to better themselves and have finally succeeded. These are people worth admiring. For even though we might not agree with their risk-taking behavior, they took a chance on something that was important.

How do we know about change unless we are willing to take a chance?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Magic of Words

Words really are amazing.

We select letters from an available set of symbols, arrange them in a certain way and create an idea that others can understand. It's a wondrous process.

Words are powerful objects. They can tell someone how you feel about them. They often impact how we feel about ourselves. Words express our ideas on politics, religion, health matters and nearly every phase of life.

Few things are as exciting to young parents as baby's first words. Speech confirms that the parents are in possession of a small person with whom they can communicate verbally. Sharing spoken ideas can bond or spoil relationships. Telling someone in haste something you should have thought over more carefully can be dangerous, whether it is verbal conversation or pressing "send" on the computer. Best to think things over.

The most regrettable error most of us make is not telling another person how much you appreciate them. Sometimes we think that the other person must instinctively know how much they mean to us or how much they annoy us. And so they choose to say nothing. Failing to tell someone is often a missed opportunity that may not reappear.

There are also certain personality types who use and sometimes abuse language.

One of my personal peeves concerns "The Nay-Sayer." This is the person who seems unable to say something nice or even agreeable. We have all known people like this and being around them is like hitting your head against the wall. It is pleasant only when you stop. "Good morning, Susan. I like that blouse," one might offer. "Oh, this old thing? I hate the way it drapes. I only wore it because everything else was in the laundry." Or "Did you have a nice weekend?" "Heck no. Everything went wrong," might be the response, followed by a list of every activity that occurred including the dog throwing up on the carpet on Saturday at 2:00. No, actually it was more like 2:30. At this point the inquiring person would rather go out the nearest window than continue the conversation, but realizes that he/she is hooked into listening for the immediate future.

Then there is "The Source," a person who knows (or reports to know) all the latest gossip around an office or community -- and easily shares the information with everyone. Sorry ladies, but this is often a female individual, although I am unsure why. Perhaps it is because many of us feel comfortable in confiding information to a female figure (mother, sister, wife). Perhaps it is because women often absorb what is being said in their proximity. For whatever reason, The Source gathers rumors and then feels free to spread them. The information shared may not be true, but that is not the concern of The Source.

Another language abuser is The Clueless individual. We all know this person. He/she may be participating in a conversation with others when someone looks at The Clueless person and remarks, "What do you think about that?" The Clueless one may have been faking eye contact, perhaps even nodding as others talked. Suddenly he/she realizes that a question has been asked. "Huh?" he/she sputters. "I was asking what you thought about the matter," is repeated. "I don't really know," he/she offers, smiling. In truth, he/she has no idea what was being discussed but merely wanted to be included in the group conversation.

Words are valuable commodities and not to be used lightly.

This brings me to a proposed solution to the nation's present economic woes. Perhaps we should charge a tax for word usage based upon each word's impact. Politicians would be forced to carefully weigh which words they use. The more a word wastes the listener's time, the higher its tax rate. This might cut down drastically on the babble that fills the evening news.

Stop the blithering or pay accordingly. Not a bad plan, huh?

Friday, June 22, 2012


What is it that makes friendships endure through the years?

I spent yesterday with a married couple who have been friends of mine for many years. The wife and I attended high school together in the 1960s. We were good friends then, working together on the high school newspaper and enjoying each other's company. We did not attend the same church or even have the same circle of friends. But we were on the same wave length and had the same values. After high school we attended different colleges, got married and ended up living in different parts of the country.

We went our separate ways until the mid to late 1970s when we reconnected. Since that time we have managed to keep in touch. Whenever possible, we visit in person.

For about eight years, I worked in the Washington, D.C. area and lived a few miles from their family. The wife and I would meet occasionally for a weekday lunch or a Saturday shopping outing. We were both busy with careers and time was not easy to find. But we still had plenty of things to talk about and enjoyed getting together.

Yesterday was the first time I had seen the wife in three years. I hadn't seen her husband since I moved to the Midwest 15 years ago. But the point is that the friendships were still there and going strong.

What is the element that makes such relationships endure?

My mother was a caring individual who maintained communication with certain friends over many years. Even if only a handwritten enclosure to a Christmas card, she made an effort to keep in contact with former neighbors and close friends. She had a personal warmth that demonstrated sincerity and concern for others. Perhaps the strength of friendship has been diluted by the loss of written communication. Taking a pen in hand to make a personal connection with someone has become extinct.

On the other hand, I have email contacts who forward jokes and silliness on a weekly basis who might consider me to be a "friend." Being a friend requires more than "liking" someone on a so-called social network. The entire social network idea leaves me completely cold. I don't get it. I receive messages from people -- some of whom I don't even know -- about incidents which are of no interest to me or most likely anyone else for that matter.

Perhaps social networks have a value if you are 18 and need reassurance that you are part of the latest craze, but I don't see its value for the over-25 crowd who have a sense of personal worth. A person busy with life activities has little time to "like" comments made by someone else who merely wants to vent. This isn't friendship. It's phony and transitory.

In conversation, we tend to use identifying phrases like acquaintance (someone I met a few times and might recognize in a crowd) and co-worker (someone I do know but may not like) when talking about certain individuals. There are other phrases that might be used to describe another person: someone I knew in college, family friend, neighbor, even associate.

But considering someone to be a friend is no small thing. It means that your relationship has staying power, even if you are separated by miles and years. You can pick up after a long absence and almost forget that any time has passed. Friendship means that you value and care about someone, listen to each other talk and recall big events in each other's lives even if you weren't present. These are communication skills that are quickly disappearing from our lives.

More's the pity.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summertime Blahs

I enjoy summer as much as anyone. Wearing comfy clothes and sandals is great. Cool drinks, sunglasses and swimming pools. What's not to love?

But this summer the weather -- at least in the Midwest -- has been sizzling for the last couple of weeks without a break.

Even my two cats have been ignoring the outdoors. Their schedule now includes going out into the yard early, eating a late breakfast and snoozing until about 5:00 when they venture out for a brief romp. It says something when the cats avoid going out. What's that old saying about "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun"? Perhaps there is something to that (with no offense to the British).

When I was a kid, we didn't have air conditioning until about 1958 when we moved into a house that had a couple of window units. Not the coolest arrangement, but at least we could sleep in comfort. Before that, we had lived in a couple of houses without air conditioning. The first was a large 1920s home with a full basement, unfinished attic and large porch. We dealt with summer heat by playing in the basement or on the porch. The second house was a then-new 1950s single story house. We had a large box fan on a stand, which we positioned to cool the hallway and living room. That was it. But I don't remember being terribly uncomfortable. You get used to what you have, I suppose. Funny how people deal with situations when they are without alternatives.

Our schools weren't air conditioned either, which meant that May and September included moments of significant discomfort such as immediately after recess. But those episodes passed and the sweaty kids and teachers all survived. The majority of today's schools are air conditioned, of course. Something about productivity being improved.

In the summer of 1960, our family drove our 1958 Ford west to Arizona and see whether that was a place we wanted to live. The car was NOT air conditioned (many were not so luxuriously appointed in the 1950s.) That I recall was a hot trip. We drove from Illinois to Arizona, saw all the sights from the mountains to Tucson and returned (1600 miles each way). My parents decided to go ahead with the move (it had been in the planning stage for some time). So that same summer we put our house on the market, packed our belongings and returned to Arizona again by car. It was another hot trip but this time we knew what to expect. We stopped when the temperature felt unbearable and consumed cold drinks before resuming the drive. My brother and I also insisted that we stay at motels with swimming pools. And again, we survived.

I lived for 30 years in Arizona and became addicted to air conditioning. Like many Zonies, it was hard to do without air when summer days frequently reached 110 degrees. Before air conditioning, desert dwellers developed a system called evaporative cooling, at one time considered state-of-the-art. That system consisted of forced air blowing over water-soaked pads. It was a noisy method and the water-soaked pads were frightful for people with allergies. But without evaporative cooling, survival in the desert might not have been possible. Such cooling systems are still used in buildings like warehouses which have large floor space and noise is not an issue.

Modern dwellers have become horribly spoiled by air conditioning. It would be hard to imagine taking a long car ride without it. In fact, we are so spoiled by being cooled off electronically that going into a movie theatre or grocery store can be an uncomfortably chilling experience. I hate sitting in a restaurant trying to relax and dine when there is an arctic blast aimed down my back. It seems a little silly and is a dreadful waste of electricity.

But during period of sweltering heat, it's nice to be able and stay inside until the heat passes. It always has left eventually and hopefully always will.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Comic Strips

Most people enjoy an occasional chuckle, whether its from a stand-up comedian or watching a favorite cartoon. Personally, I've always liked newspaper comic strips.

There is something loveably simple about a strip. You either get the joke/gag or you don't. Some comic strips -- like Frank & Ernest written by Thaves -- are notorious for their "awful" puns. Some strips are centered around family life, showing mom and dad learning to cope with kiddies, even teen-agers.. Other strips feature the antics of kids lost in their own world or the animal world of talking pets. There is a comic strip for nearly every taste and age group.

Many of us recall life before television brought us "Bugs Bunny" and "Rocky and Bullwinkle". Cartoons were frequently shown in theatres along with movies but that wasn't enough for people wanting a laugh more often. Comic books helped some but grew serious with superhero themes and tiresome after repeated reading. (If you shelled out real money -- 15¢ or so -- you read them over and over and over.)

So for fresh humor, nothing beat the newspaper. Small strips appear daily, usually one (single panel) or four panels (aka a strip) with larger, color versions in the Sunday edition. According to Wikipedia, the first newspaper comic strips appeared in North America in the late 19th century. So you have to give them credit for sheer staying power.

Unfortunately, local newspapers are beginning to dwindle in number. Competition from other news sources along with rising production costs have made it difficult for newspapers to remain competitive and survive financially.

But the comic strips remain and are even available online at such sites as  and These sites feature many syndicated comic strips and panels. Take a look and find one you enjoy. If you are too busy during the week to read a comic each day, websites allow you to catch up on panels you might have missed.

A huge number of comic strips is offered to readers, dozens I had never heard of before, and many of which are amazingly clever. It seems as though local newspapers have trouble choosing which strips to display in the space reserved for comics. One of the papers which is delivered where I live occasionally runs a ballot in which it allows readers to pick which strips might be of interest. Sometimes they run a few test panels so that readers can find out if the strip is worth being added.

I hate it when someone shares personal preferences with unsuspecting readers in order to recruit interest in a particular topic. So let me say right off that the following is a list of some of my favorite strips that they make me smile and brighten my day. Use the list if you want or not. It doesn't matter to me. Just treat yourself to exploring the wide world of comic strips. You will enjoy the trip.

Strips worth a look:

The Dinette Set by Julie Larson

Dilbert by Scott Adams

Pickles by Brian Crane

Fox Trot by Bill Amend

Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley

Zits by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman

Happy reading!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Death of Decorum

Decorum is defined as: dignity or good taste that is appropriate to a specific occasion.

A few years ago, most people would have avoided a social situation entirely rather than to participate and do the wrong thing. It would have been a horrible violation of decorum to use the wrong fork at a dinner or be observed applying lipstick in public.

People used to watch their grammar to avoid sounding uneducated. We would usually look around before blowing our noses or -- horror! -- burping or belching in public. Such disgusting social mistakes demonstrated that we were completely unschooled in social behavior, unruly beasts captured in the wild which had failed to adapt to our new surroundings.

Something has changed since those days. Decorum appears to be a thing of the past, along with table manners, the art of conversation, discretion and personal responsibility. Many of these antique behaviors have gone the way of buggy whips and corset stays.

Too bad.

My awareness of these social modifications must have occurred slowly and overtime.

Perhaps it began when a woman I had worked with talked incessantly about her daughter's approaching marriage. I was not invited to a shower or the wedding and didn't know the couple well. But they were both young, working and going to school, so I recognized that they were having a tough time. I also knew they were fond a certain chain store located in a town nearby. So I drove to the store, got them a small gift card which I enclosed with a nice note and delivered it to the couple. A few days later I received a note from the bride saying she would try not to spend it all in one place. No mention of "thank you" or any similar expression.

One day while talking with an older gentlemen, our conversation turned to cell phones and how rude people have become, often taking calls while performing other work and ignoring human beings who might actually be present. My friend told me that the most inappropriate cell phone call he had ever seen was while the call recipient was in line at a funeral home, waiting to view the deceased. The cell phone rang and the receiver of the call launched into a loud and joyous conversation directly above the casket without regard for the circumstances.

While at work in an office once, another secretary and I were diligently focused on the tasks at hand. I began to hear a small noise, a clicking sound, which repeated every few seconds. I finally looked at the other worker and asked, "What is that noise?" She said, "Oh, that's Tom clipping [all of] his nails. He says he can't do a good job at home and the light here is so much better." This was in his office in the middle of the day.

Modern society is certainly more relaxed than, say, 20 years or so ago. Workplace dress codes have relaxed since the introduction of "casual Friday." Life activities also require less formality with regard to dining out and entertaining in our homes. In some instances, casual living is a good idea since many people work long hours and have little time to spend with family and friends.

Many years ago, women had to wear gloves to be properly dressed. I was quite small at the time and the requirement related to me only on Easter Sunday and other church events. I don't think we need to return to such formality and structure as existed then.

But what the heck happened? It's not unusual everyday to see people in public wearing inappropriate clothing doing inappropriate things and looking as though they slept in the car overnight. How about making a little effort? It is relatively easy and can take only minutes to cover up the things that don't need to be shown and washing the rest.

We would all appreciate it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Late Bloomers

There are many benefits to be found in becoming "mature." One of the downsides, however, is the feeling that we might be running out of time to reach our goals or accomplish the things we hoped.

Recently I discovered a book entitled "Late Bloomers" by Brendan Gill. It is a small book, published in 1996, which identifies numerous individuals who became famous and/or found their purpose in life at a much older age than expected. Just remember that not everyone becomes wealthy or celebrated before the age of 30!

The book contains some amusing and surprising stories about these celebrities. A few of the more interesting stories are summarized here.

Artist Paul Cezanne (1839 - 1906): Cezanne wanted to be a painter but failed miserably for many years. Luckily he had inherited wealth which allowed him to survive until he was "discovered" toward the end of his life. Fame came to him two years before his death when he was given an exhibition in Paris. He wrote to a friend, "I have made some progress, but why so belatedly and why so painfully?"

Writer Ian Fleming (1908 - 1964): Ian Fleming wrote the first of his James Bond books when he was 45. His inside knowledge of the spy world was the result of his service as a member of His Majesty's Naval Intelligence Division during World War II. After the war, Fleming managed a group of British newspapers but resigned in 1959 to write full time. The James Bond franchise will remain in print and on the screen for years to come.

Artist Grandma Moses (1860 - 1961): Anna Mary Richardson married a farmer named Moses and settled in Eagle Bridge, New York. She was well-known for her embroidery skill until the age of 76 when arthritis forced her to take up another hobby. She began to paint, was discovered in her 80s and given exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art as well as other museums and galleries. She completed more than 600 canvases depicting simple life experiences in bright, primitive colors.

Writer O. Henry (1862 - 1910): William Sydney Porter (aka O. Henry) was a well-known author of short stories which usually concluded with a twist. In 1894, Porter was employed as a bank teller in Austin, Texas when he "borrowed" money from the bank to pay for medical bills and fled the area. He subsequently served three years in jail for embezzlement, which allowed him to a chance to begin his writing career. His stories, usually set in New York City, made both the city and the writer famous.

Actor Boris Karloff (1887 - 1969): Karloff was born William Henry Pratt in a suburb of London. After relocating to Canada, he acted with unknown touring companies, eventually drifting to Hollywood. His big break as the monster in the film Frankenstein occurred when Karloff was in his 40s. For most of his film career, he played mad scientists and other characters which were polar opposites from his genteel persona.

Colonel Harlan Sanders (1890 - 1980): The KFC founder was born on a farm in Indiana, dropping out of school in the 7th grade. He worked at a series of jobs -- buggy painter, streetcar conductor, ferryboat operator -- before opening a filling station in Kentucky with a small restaurant attached. The restaurant did very well featuring Sanders' fried chicken. The Colonel traveled the country into his 80s, touting the flavor of his chicken and making himself rich in the process.

The book contains dozens of other stories about tenacious celebrities. It's encouraging to read about others who worked at something they found of interest. Most of the individuals profiled did not stop doing what they wanted to do, even when confronted with towering obstacles.

Time should be the least of our worries.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cell Phone Phrenzy

Recently I read that "texting" has all but replaced conversation among young people. The article began by describing a teen-aged girl who texted her mother -- who was downstairs at the time -- that she would like cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Have we come to this?

I hardly consider myself a technophobe. From the very beginning, I embraced computers. PCs alleviated the repeated retyping of documents. Searching for and confirming information, checking spelling, reformatting at the drop of a hat -- computers brought much needed advancement.

But I never "got" some of the other features of technology. I can't imagine watching an entire movie on a computer screen. I tried to watch a mini-series on my flat screen and could not tolerate the focus that was required or the tiny picture.

I evolved with music through the years from LPs to CDs. But obtaining yet another device which would allow me to play tinny-sounding tunes seemed silly. Some of these devices offer a so-called dock so that the tinny-sounding music can be heard louder.

Then there are cell phones. I have a simple cell phone and carry it when I drive long distances. Once I had to use it for an emergency call when my car broke down on the interstate. I was able to reach my office, a tow company and a repair shop while I waited at the side of the road. That was enough to demonstrate the importance of a cell phone.

However, based on overheard conversations the majority of cell phone conversations are not emergencies. One can't help but "overhear" conversations on a daily basis. Callers seem unaware that when they shout into a phone, more people hear what they are saying than the person on the other end of the conversation.

My cell phone is simple since it was designed to be used as a phone. It doesn't have a camera. Why would I want to photograph every moment of every day, as some people do? What events could possibly be that momentous? I have an actual digital camera small enough to tuck in my pocket for special events. It seems doubtful that Alexander Graham Bell imagined that a camera on a telephone could be anything more than a gimmick. There is also the issue of clarity and dropped calls. If  Bell had been trying to reach Watson on a cell phone inside of a building, that first message might never have been received.

Then there is Facebook. I have an account and although I hardly ever use it, I frequently receive invitations to "like" something or to "friend" someone I rarely see. Why would I want to have 200+ "friends" including people I don't even know and will likely never meet? Some people must enjoy having a lot of something, whether it's baseball trading cards or "friends." It must be a bragging point to have 150 or so people shown as your friends. Don't get it.

That brings me back to the issue of texting. What is the thrill of typing a message to someone quickly, in limited space and discarding the rules of punctuation and spelling? Some of the messages I see posted say things like: "Going in Walmart. Be hm in 15 min." Despite various states enacting laws to prohibit texting behind the wheel, many people continue to do so, for some strange reason.

Funny how we managed so long to exist without cell phones, sending texts and watching movies on our telephones. Some people feel compelled to have the latest phone with the most features regardless of the practicality. Then they wonder how they get big monthly bills.

Go figure.

Friday, June 1, 2012

What's Up with Today's Kids?

Today's kiddies seem to be lacking in the behavior department. And sadly, few adults seem to care.

In recent months, there have been several news stories about children misbehaving or causing disturbances on public transportation. Last week a three-year-old was kicked off an airplane for refusing to buckle his seat belt. The child's father is reported as saying that: (1) he was working with the cranky child to settle him down and (2) the child is expressing himself and should be allowed to do so.

This is hardly an isolated incident. In fact, such performances are becoming more common that we might think. My Google search for "unruly children on airplanes" revealed over 796,000 hits including both specific occurrences and instructions about how to deal with disruptive children on a flight.

Yesterday I took my brother to lunch to celebrate his birthday. When the hostess led us to a booth, I noticed that the neighboring table contained two adult women and four small children. I considered asking for a different table but decided against doing so. (Note to self: always trust your first impression.) I sat with my back toward the kiddies and had a tough time dealing with constant noise and incessant kicking of the bench. On another occasion, I have might said something tactful to the adults. But since the annoyance mine alone to endure, I ignored it until they left.

This particular incident -- combined with the story of the three-year-old on the airplane -- got me to thinking about unruly children. Memories of misbehavior began to flow freely and a few are shared here. You probably have some of your own.

Several years ago, I attended a Bach and Madrigal Christmas program. The theme was classic a capella Renaissance music of impeccable harmony. The appreciative audience could not help but be charmed by the magic of the moment. That is, all but one small and apparently miserable child who began screaming at the top of his lungs. The child's disturbance continued for a significant length of time. Finally, the director dropped his arms and turned to face the audience. "Please remove your child" was all that he said. With that, the mother stood up in the middle of the large audience and, holding the still-squalling child, made her way slowly to the exit. The audience broke into spontaneous applause and the concert continued. The director had done the best thing for everyone concerned.

Recently I was working part-time to help out at a local office. For several days in a row, the owners brought their four grandchildren (ages 9 months to 14 years) to the office so they could be "baby sat" during working hours. The result was chaos for the staff and distracting noise in a confined space where the phones rang constantly. At one point, I turned to put some paper in my trash can and found two dirty disposable diapers there to greet me. No doubt there was somewhere else better prepared to deal with the kiddies. Or at least where someone could manage their behavior.

When did this whole "culture of the child" thing come into fashion? It's hard to pinpoint but surely it has some connection to the overwhelming number of digital cameras currently in use. Now parents and grandparents can forever preserve such precious moments as baby's first spit-up and guess who sat on the binky. Such footage is not only to be treasured but might even win money if submitted to America's Funniest Videos. This line of reasoning confirms to every parent that their child is a diamond in the rough, each temper tantrum or finger-painted wall to be captured.

Not all children behave badly. But the percentage has become significant enough to leave that impression. Parents need to retake the reins and pull the little darlings in just a bit.

I have no personal animosity toward children. But if the rest of the adult population is going to co-exist with the kiddies, certain rules need to be established.