Thursday, December 06, 2007

Letter Writing

My mother just celebrated her 90th birthday. 120 of her friends attended the reception for her at the First Methodist Church. It was a wonderful event, largely a testament to the fact that she has kept in close touch with family and friends.

My mom is a great letter writer. Letter writing is fast becoming a lost art. I read with great interest in the Times yesterday that the personal papers of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. had been obtained by the New York Public Library. Among the trove was the correspondence between Schlesinger and many of the notables of the last half of 20th century in America. As the piece reported, “About one-third of the 400 boxes of material consist of Mr. Schlesinger’s voluminous correspondence, which in many cases includes both sides of the exchange. Mr. Schlesinger routinely stapled copies of his responses to letters that he had received. “It’s not just who he corresponded with,” a librarian said. “It’s that these were two- or three-page letters exchanged — often about the most pressing topics of the day.””

What will become of the history of this new computer age? Will the New York Public Library receive some computer disks from the estate of the next generation’s premier historian? Will they have archived and kept their correspondence through transitions from 5 and ½ to 3 and ¼ to CD to DVD and on to the next medium?

Mom’s correspondence has all been handwritten. She learned Palmer Method cursive at the Cove School, a small country school outside of Ellensburg, Washington where her family homesteaded in 1876. She practiced at the chalk board and wrote hundreds of sentences as a child. Today, her cursive is every bit as perfect and legible as when she graduated from the 8th grade.

I grew up writing cursive as well. We practiced with our pencils on lined paper beginning in the third grade at a point when our brains and our manual dexterity coalesced to allow the formation of those carefully crafted letters. Practice made perfect. Of course, my practice was aided by the occasional need to write 500 sentences that proclaimed that I would no longer pull the hair of the girl who sat in front of me, or some other indiscretion.

There was something more to the learning of cursive than the simple ability to communicate thoughts in written form. Cursive had a certain flair and elegance and was, when well executed, an art form that communicated not only ideas but something of the personality of the writer as well.

Today, my children don’t learn cursive in school. It has been dropped from the curriculum. I think the loss is a significant one. Not only are children now deprived of an opportunity for tedious, disciplined learning but the fine art of letter writing is undermined as well. Rigor, as an element of the educational process, has been replaced with every increasing opportunity for expression. But, it seems to me, expression finds its fullest form when it springs from a solid base of disciplined learning.

In addition to the loss of cursive, and the death of the fine art of letter writing, the future will miss the opportunity to receive into its archives the reportorial work of the custodians of its history.

Monday, November 12, 2007


The word spread
rapidly through
the small rural

She was not
doing well

After years
of failing health
she was now passing

It was a blessing
but nonetheless
it was difficult
and a time for
family and friends
to gather around

They sat silently
in the front room
and puttered in
the kitchen
waiting for the

There were three

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


“We found a body but
we caught the most amazing
fish though.”[1]

Yeah, we were walking through
The woods to get to this really
Cool fishing hole. It is really deep and
Has the eddies that move back against the
Cliff on the far side.

I had my old bamboo rod and that spinning reel
That my Grandpa gave me

There was this leg sticking out of the leaves
On the trail.

I caught a bunch of grasshoppers yesterday
Evening and dug up some nightcrawlers from
The worm farm by the back door.

It looked really gnarly like it had been there a
Long time

I had a fresh set of Eagleclaw No.10 hooks
And some new leader and I rigged up a bobber
So I could drift in with about eight feet of line
And let the bait move back into the eddy with
Three small lead BB weights on the line

Gawd it was amazing. When it hit it was like
A freight train.

Billy ran back to call the cops.

It grabbed that bait and took the hook and almost
Jerked the pole right out of my hand. Jesus did it
Pull that line.

But I kept working it and working it and just kept
Breathing like my Grandpa said until my arms were

It was unbelievable. It was 18 inches long. A big
Fat rainbow. I think I hooked it last summer and lost it.
I’m gonna take it home and bread it and fry it.
It was so amazing.

Yeah, really!

[1] From the movie, Jindabyne, a loose adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “So Much Water So Close to Home.”

Friday, August 03, 2007

P. O. V.

It hurt my
Head to think
About the universe
Expanding out
Forever without end

I was six years
Old and struggled
With that
Perplexing notion

Until, one day walking
In my backyard
To climb my
Favorite apple tree

It occurred to me
That if I were
Small boy
On Mars
It might hurt my
Head to think
Of a universe that
Had an end

And it might
Seem normal for
The universe to
Go on forever

Nearly sixty years
Have passed since
That day and I
Still find comfort
In the idea

That you can
Imagine a different
Point of view
And it will stop
The hurt in
Your head.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Missouri on a Leaf”

It was a metaphor
That could grace
His tombstone

An epitaph stood
For what had been

He had in mind
More a sense
Of becoming

He read it years ago
In a“Beat” tract and
It immediately embodied
For him that sense
Of freedom and wonder
That he wanted for
The core of his life

It meant nothing at
All but yet it held for him
Wonderful possibility

Where are you going?

“I’m going to
Missouri on a leaf”

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Edge

You stand on the edge
Thinking for a moment
Do I go forward?

Knowing in some way
That your life will change
Inalterably if you
Take that step

Knowing that
Whether you move
Or not your life
Will change

Knowing that the
Edge is not a cliff
But a knife
That slices your life
Into before and after

Monday, January 01, 2007

You need only claim the events
of your life to make yourself yours.
When you truly possess all you
have been and done, which may
take some time, you are fierce
with reality.

Florida Scott Maxwell
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.

Scottish mountain climber
W.H. Murray