My Love Affair with the Essay

I am most happy with the essay. It is my dessert after a lifetime of reading. The well written essay is usually economical in its use of words and language. The artful essayist knows the reader can quickly move on to something else without much of a lost investment in attention.

My favorite form of the essay is more apt to be informal and better described as the words of a noticer. I do not want the ordinary parts of life to go by unnoticed and not commented on. I like words and language that are plain and honest about some facet of life that deserves our attention. I like an essay that takes the particular and somehow makes it more universal as the essay is developed.

I especially appreciate the essay because it is a very direct form of thinking being shared by the writer with the reader. The essayist is giving the reader a window into the writer’s mind, a chance to see thinking going from place to place and staying coherent along the way. The well written essay has a beginning, a middle, and an end and they tie together logically.

It’s ok to have a dialogue with your reader in your essay. I think the best essays are written to include the reader and not just talk at him or her, but invite the reader to pull up a chair and visit with the writer and his thoughts.

I have some favorite essayists, real masters of this form of writing. At the top of my list is E.B. White. For sure, you know E.B. White because of some of his books like “Charlotte’s Web,” “Stuart Little,” and “The Trumpet of the Swan.” White wrote regularly for the “New Yorker” and for “Harper’s Magazine.” Many of his essays have been captured in book form and I will admit, they are at my beside table where I usually reach for some E.B. White until I cannot keep my eyes open any longer. My favorite essays are when White is writing about his saltwater farm in Brooklin, Maine. I learned that E.B. White and I have much in common, we both cannot get enough of the everyday life of work just to keep a place that contributes something to our subsistence. So much of this is about the effort, the trying, the finding a way. White shares these experiences in plain and honest writing.

Another of my favorite essay writers is Noel Perrin from Norwich, Vermont. Perrin was a professor at nearby Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire for many years, but that is not the subject of his writing. Noel Perrin wrote a series of books full of his writings about being a part-time farmer and keeping a home in rural Vermont. You may have seen this series that starts with “First Person Rural” and is followed by “Second Person Rural,” “Third Person Rural,” and “Last Person Rural.”

Perrin finds all kinds of topics from cutting firewood, building stone walls, raising some farm animals, making maple syrup, opening up abandoned pasture, and many other pieces about rural living in Vermont. Having Vermont and rural life in common, Noel Perrin’s writing has been a good fit for me and he writes well. He writes essays like I like essays to be written, like a friend sharing with another friend something about life.

I’ll share one more of my favorites, Willem Lange. Again, a writer that lives close by and writes about his life in New England, and much of it being about his time in our Upper Valley on the Connecticut River. Lange also has a newspaper column, “A Yankee Notebook,” and this column appears in several New England newspapers. Willem Lange’s writing is also like spoiling yourself with a wee bit of a treat.

So, there are some very good essayists that have captured our every day lives in their writing. The writers I have shared write well and take little bits of life and make them universal. They are somewhat regional, but so am I. I will always be an old Yankee, and a Vermonter, just the salt of the earth. I will always try to share my thinking about something I have noticed and bring the reader along with my process. I will try to share some more of my thinking and observations of life that for the most part, will be very ordinary, yet hopefully universal too.

Keeping a Daybook Journal

I write in my journal just about every day. My journal is how I communicate with myself and capture my thoughts before they stream by into a sea of lost thinking. There are too many good thoughts that I missed recording and they swim in that sea which is so hard to venture into and come back with what you went looking for. So, my journal is a way I talk to myself on paper and find out what I am thinking. The journal allows me to revisit my thoughts and develop my thinking into more developed ideas.

My journal is a place to experiment with ideas and be critical of my thinking before I put it at risk through sharing. There are no rules when writing in a journal. I can be casual with the conventions of writing and just try to get it down before I lose it. The American author, William Faulkner once said: “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” Faulkner gives good advice here to those of us that like to write, “Get it down.”

Faulkner also had this to say about writing a book and the stream of ideas the writer works with: “It’s like building a chicken coop in a high wind. You grab any board or shingle flying by or loose on the ground and nail it down fast.”

So many of my ideas and thoughts have flown by in a “high wind” so I use my journal like a big net to catch as much of that stuff flying by as I can. And as a man that keeps chickens, I can vouch for the necessity of a well built coop.

I went to my journals to retrieve these quotes from William Faulkner. My journals are full of the ideas and the writing of others much better than mine, and again and again, I mine these journals for quotes and ideas I captured before I lost them. My only regret is the ideas and writing I missed or lost before I could get it down in my journal.

My advice to wanna-be writers, get a journal and use it. Often, I will be working on a piece of writing and will recall some other writing that I need and want to weave into my new prose. I go to my journals and start mining. Often I find other bits saved from an earlier time that are also appropriate and helpful. That’s the unexpected benefit of journals – what you find when you are looking for something else.

If I were to describe my writing process, it has to include my journaling. My journals are where my writing and thinking about writing starts. Writing is creative thought captured on paper. In my journals is where I first measure the boards and cut them for the “chicken coop” I am building. Someday, after me, someone is going to have some fun going through my journals and maybe, little bits of me will come through the pages – hope so.

The Post Election Republican Theater

I have a thought to share about the group of Republicans like Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz, among others, that are circling the wagons around Trump. My thinking is this is not for any substantive reason, but there is a group of Republicans wanting to position themselves to inherit Trump’s base. By supporting Trump now and confronting the alleged legitimacy of the election, these Republicans are wanting to be noticed and regarded as part of the Trump tribe that is sticking with Trump as the rest of the nation turns away from the president. This is really about building a resume and also a narrative of a “stolen election.”

My Vote

I am one of those that vote for ideas and for hope. I vote for decency and the idealistic American values we like to think are our heritage and our future. I vote for a future that is hopeful and not fearful.

I do not vote for party. I think voting for a party takes my brain out of the equation. For four years now, America has been waiting for their “better angels” to lead us into the future. It has been a hard wait, not made any easier to bear by the abandonment of American values and sense of decency by the current president.

I look to Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address in 1861 for my anchor. Lincoln said in this First Inaugural Address:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when touched again, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

I voted with “our better angels” and for our future as a nation with a meaningful role and place to fill among the nations of the world.

Elections Are Always About Division – Post Elections Are About Uniting

I keep going back to the 2016 election. It was close, very close. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 3 million plus votes. The electoral count was not as close as it would be with a winner take all system. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania went for Trump by small vote totals. Biden has flipped those states this year and the margins are bigger in favor of Biden.

Hillary Clinton conceded to Donald Trump as the vote counts pushed him over the top. There was a proper acknowledgement by the loser to the winner and we moved on.

Was the country divided? Yes, we were, and we are after every election. The job of the incoming president is to work to heal the nation and bring us together. This never happened with Donald Trump. He acted from his first day in office like his political fortunes would best be served by attacking the more than half the country that did not vote for him. He kept up the attacks for the last four years. For Trump, it has always been a tribal war, his tribe against the other tribe. He did not want to be president for all Americans, just for his tribe.

Yet, there were no challenges presented to the election of 2016. There was a peaceful and orderly transfer of power. Yes, there was profound disappointment, but the transfer of power that has been a hallmark of our democracy worked liked it always has.

Vote counters were not threatened. Clinton supporters did not threaten a civil war or make statements like, “…this is what the 2nd Amendment is for…”

Our politics are toxic and it needs to stop. The biggest threat we face is ourselves. When over 70 million Americans cannot recognize a lack of honesty, a lack of any decency, not so subtle bigotry and racism, and are willing to use force and armed force to overturn an election, we have a big problem. How do you raise children to grow up and be good citizens when the standards and integrity of many adults are so low?

To be honest, and this is my opinion here, I do not think very many of the Trump supporters understand and base their support on policy. I think many of the Trump supporters are almost like “groupies.” And for many, their support of Trump is like poking a finger in the eye of the rest of America.

When the Trump base was first referred to as a cult, I was skeptical of this description. I am not any more. I think it will be hard for the next Republican presidential candidate to gather this cult even with a full adoption of Trumpism.

The bigger challenge for the Republican party will be reconciling the party to “Trumpism” post Trump. Trumpism does not reconcile to Republican philosophy. The GOP would have to go through a major metamorphosis to adopt the national populism that is Trumpism. I do not see this metamorphosis happening.

And best of all, there are more of us that are rejecting the politics of division and hatred. There is a chance for America to heal and find a middle ground.

Some Thoughts After the Election of November 3rd, 2020

We have a chance to reject the politics of division and tribal hatred. We have suffered under this kind of politics for too long. We used to meet each other half way, find a compromise, and govern for all of us. I can remember some close elections in my lifetime, and of course, there is always a loser. I can never remember the losing side acting like they are now. They behave more like the “cult” they are often described as. I have never seen anything like this after an election in my 69 years of life.

It takes a huge accomplishment to win an election over an incumbent president. The incumbent has all the powers and resources of the office at their disposal. The country voted out a man that chose to only govern for his tribe, and he rejected the other half of the country since his first day in office. He demonized those that were not part of his tribe. This is not how Americans govern. We are not a one-party state.

Trump has brought us to the brink of some sort of a civil war. I will not even go into his complete lack of honesty. His business and personal dealings told the country what kind of man we were getting as a president. He lived up to his reputation 100%. Now, it is time for him to do the first decent thing in his life, acknowledge that he lost, and leave so the country can begin to heal.

It will take both sides to bring energy to the healing process. There will be no healing if it is one-sided. President-elect Biden recognizes this.

We have some great challenges as we all know. One of those challenges is paramount right now and it is the corona virus. We will need to work with the medical and science communities to win this battle with the virus. Ridiculing and undermining what the health care community is asking us to do has not worked up to now. The votes are being counted, the end is near and a winner can be determined. Let’s be Americans for a change rather than a divided country and do what we need to do.

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Beyond Election Day

I have a bigger worry than election day, and it is the state of the American electorate. We seem to have a challenge sorting out the truth from the not true. We pick up on pieces of information, maybe true, maybe not, that seem to support our point of view. We are easily baited by the politicians to react one way or the other. We support political parties like we support our favorite sports team with our brains turned off, and just running on emotions.

The kind of thinking that is called “critical thinking” is missing in much of the American electorate. We cannot have reasonable discussions and find some compromise, some place in the middle that will work for all of us, but no side gets their way.

Being an educator, I think about the flood of information we expose students to, but we do not slow down and teach students how to process all this information. Very few students leave school with critical thinking skills. They do not have the chance to develop these as they are too busy trying to manage the flood of curriculum that is being presented. This is why I am not totally sad about seeing our students lose some school during the pandemic. Maybe, just maybe, this will give everyone a pause and some time to think about what is really important.

Some big choices and challenges are facing the generation coming of age now. They will need to understand issues from both sides and the consequences of their choices. The consequences are not simple and cannot be presented in the sound bites of politicians. They will need truth, hard facts, and the ability to discern truth from falsehood. Many special interests and groups with vested interests will try to sway they minds of Americans.

We need to teach that our minds are precious, and they are ours and belong to us – to be damned before you will let someone make up your mind for you.

Slow down, read carefully, listen carefully, ask questions when you don’t understand – be in charge of yourself, and remember, we are all sharing this place we call home and this planet. We are just stewards and need to leave a place for those that will come after to us that will be their home.

We need to learn compassion and empathy for each other. These are part of being human, they are good, and they give us the capacity for love.

Sorry for what appears to be a sermon. If anything, I am feeling sadness right now and it seems I needed to say what I have said.

There Is No Good Outcome

I write this piece as the Senate Judiciary hearings are beginning for Trump’s Supreme Court nomination, Amy Coney Barrett.

The Trump campaign and Republican campaigns in general are starving for political energy. Their hope is to make this Supreme Court nomination the fuel to energize campaigns that have been running on empty.

I am troubled by any Supreme Court nominee that allows their nomination to be politically weaponized. The Trump campaign is starved for something to build energy and this nomination is being used for just that. And yes, this nomination is meant to move the court in a more conservative direction. If this does not happen, you will hear many on the right complaining of being disappointed and even mislead in their support for this nominee. I would respect Amy Coney Barrett if she, right from the beginning, denounced being used by the right or any group to move the Court in a desired direction. All this accomplishes is a guaranteed continuation of culture wars and the wars of intense political division and hyper partisanship. At some point, leaders need to stand up to this and recognize the destruction this is bringing to our country. Packing the court is exactly what this nomination is all about.

Since the Nixon election, the Republican Party has been looking to the courts as a political weapon to be used to unwind Roosevelt’s New Deal as well as the Federal Government that has grown after WWII.

In the Nixon presidency, the GOP, and especially corporate America were outraged over court decisions that went after Big Tobacco and the automobile industry – remember Ralph Nader and the safety measures forced on the car makers. Environmental laws as well as business regulations added to a growing Republican focus on the courts as a way to tilt the table against what they considered a liberal view of the Constitution.

This Republican strategy focused on the courts has used cultural issues to further energize a base and gain support, i.e., women’s and minority rights as well as faith based politics.

This is where we are today with a bitterly divided country and leadership that is not trying to bring us back together.

There will be no good outcome from this, none. Even our experience and efforts to fight the challenges of a world pandemic have been made into partisan trench warfare and a continuation of our cultural war against ourselves. Now, the armies of private militias are adding to the dangers we bring upon ourselves. State governors are becoming the targets of these militias and armies of the far right.

We desperately need leaders that will say, “Stop this! There will be no winners here.” We are on the path that could lead to the break up of America, and even to civil war. Somebody has to see where we are headed and speak to all of us about the dangers we are bringing upon us.

I am against using the Supreme Court nomination to energize and fuel the senseless political destruction we are bringing upon us. It was wrong four years ago for McConnell to block Obama’s nomination of Judge Garland. The arguments made then were verbal gymnastics in hypocrisy and the arguments being made today by McConnell are just taking political hypocrisy to a higher level.

The Constitution allows a president to nominate someone to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. The Senate’s job is to advise and consent to the nomination. I, like many, hate to see Trump make another nomination to the Court, but it is allowed in the Constitution. The actions of the McConnell Senate in 2016 and now make this a bitter pill to swallow for many of us. The greater consequence is where this is all leading us as a country, and there is no good outcome in sight. No good judge would allow themselves to be used a political weapon in this insane war that will rip the country apart. There is my biggest objection to Amy Coney Barrett.

Pulling Back

Yesterday, I called our minister to tell her that we wanted to be taken off the various church committees we serve on. Our church is a small rural church in Vermont, but we are not isolated from the divisions that are common in this country today.

Church meetings, there are always church meetings, have been microcosms of how we are even divided in our rural church over health and safety protocols with the corona virus. Some wear masks, some don’t, some socially distance, and some don’t. I didn’t want to bring this to the level of another bitter fight, so it seemed best to just withdraw. We will stay home until we get past this virus.

My faith has never been dependent on sitting in church every Sunday and making all the meetings (can you tell I don’t like the meetings). My faith is very personal. It is really non-denominational, and in many ways, not Biblically based. I grew up in a Universalist Church in Barre and this will help to understand where I am with faith.

For me, being in church often feels like some subtle, and sometimes not so subtle coercion. I have never been a great joiner, and in fact, don’t like joining much of anything. Being pushed, even if it is subtle, sort of makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I just don’t like it. I don’t identify with any political party. I resist letting somebody else do my thinking for me. I want to make up my mind on my own, in my own time, and after, what I try to do, some careful deliberation.

I recognize that for many, church is also fills a social need. I am one of those folks, maybe odd, but my social needs get filled during the week. By the end of the week, I have pretty much had all of the socializing I want. Sometimes, I think socializing is highly overrated.

Earlier this year, we had a scripture lesson in the church that had to do with Jesus finding this man all chained up in his village because he was supposed to be possessed by demons. In the story, Jesus cast out the demons and put them in these pigs owned by these two pig farmers. Well, the pigs went crazy being possessed by demons and ran down a hill and jumped off a cliff into a lake where they all drowned. The chained up fellow was supposedly now free of demons.

I thought about this, and I thought, now wait a minute. These pigs and the two pig farmers did not have this coming. How did this solve anything? I don’t get it. I am sorry, but this story does not work for me, and it turns me off.

Ok, so my faith is what it is. I have told people in church that I think God is within and I have constant running discussions with this God within me. No, these discussions are not a parade of Bible passages. They are more the kind of discussions we might say we are having with our conscience. And, so often, these conversations are about right and wrong. I do know the difference, not to say that I always make the good choice, but I do know the difference.

For the foreseeable future, I will not be in church on Sunday. Will, my faith be less? No, it will be the same faith I have always had. And my conversations with God will continue like they always have. I will keep trying to get through life being a decent person, helping when I can, and not doing any harm.

I Had to Write This

Trump’s Failures With the Pandemic

Kamala Harris was right. The Trump administration has failed the country with their response to the pandemic.

Let’s look at what the country has gone through and what we know:

  • First, in January, Trump received information that the virus was much more deadly than his administration was saying. We also know that at that time, Trump was informed that the virus can be airborne and transmits through the air we breathe. We know this because of Trump interviews with Bob Woodward that are published in Bob Woodward’s book.
  • The Bush and Obama administrations left Trump with a pandemic plan as well as a pandemic team in place when Trump came into office. Part of this included a team in place in China to provide an early warning of potential pandemic disease. Trump abandoned all of this, dismissed the National Security Team that was organized to deal with pandemics, and Trump disbanded the early warning team of scientists in China that would have been able to give us an earlier warning of what was coming.
  • Trump played down the danger of the pandemic and wasted the month of February when the country could have been organizing to fight the disease coming. Trump’s statements to the American people conveyed no sense of the danger and seriousness of what was soon to be a pandemic.
  • By late winter and at the start of spring, the country was in a nationwide effort to fight the pandemic. There was no organized national plan coming from the Trump administration. The states were left on their own to find medical supplies, protective equipment and come up with their own defenses against the virus. Governors privately organized flights to China to buy desperately needed medical supplies, ventilators, and protective equipment. Sometimes, these flights were hijacked by the Federal government and the state purchased supplies did not reach the states.
  • There is a bigger argument with the disjointed and disorganized national response to the pandemic and it has to do with the Republican philosophy of the last 30+ years. The GOP does not believe in national federal efforts like what we needed to deal with the virus. This is why there never was a national plan and a nationally organized federal effort to combat the virus. This is all part of an intentional effort to dismantle many of the federal government programs. Our feeble response to the hurricane victims and the wildfires is part of this limited view of the federal government. This view does not make a “Katrina” type response possible to any natural or other disaster like a pandemic.
  • Guidance from the science and medical community was continuously undermined and contradicted by the Trump administration. Trump criticized governors and states for using health and safety protocols being recommended by the medical science community. Armed militias took over the state capitol in Michigan and threatened the Governor. Trump encouraged these militia thugs with words like, “Liberate Michigan.” We have now seen how Trump’s encouragement to the militias and white supremacy groups has gone so far as a planned kidnapping of the Governor of Michigan and efforts to start a civil war. There is still no word coming from Trump condemning any of this. In the first debate with Vice President Biden, Trump, when asked to condemn white supremacy groups, replied with this statement to the Proud Boys, “Stand back, stand by.” This was so liked by the Proud Boys, that they had a arm patch designed with these words.
  • The United States continues to lead the world with deaths as a percentage of population as well as with the numbers of Americans becoming infected with the corona virus. Our response as a country is responsible for leading the world in these statistics full of sorrow and grief.
  • The White House and the Trump administration have flaunted the health and safety protocols meant to protect us from the virus. A refusal to do something so simple, yet so effective as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing has been a source of pride for Trump and his administration.
  • We are now over 210,000 deaths here in the United States. Many states are seeing an upsurge in numbers of Americans contracting the virus We were warned about this by the medical science community. Winter will be here soon and the winter conditions are favorable to the virus. Finally, the number one flaunter of the health and safety protocols for fighting the virus, Trump, has become sick with the virus along with his wife, and other members of the Trump administration. We have all seen pictures of recent events at the White House like the Rose Garden gathering for the announcement of the new Supreme Court nomination. These events were without any health and safety protocols. They have been described as super-spreader events. Today, the West Wing is a virtual ghost town as so many have had to go into quarantine with positive tests for the virus.

I could go on and on with this list of failures by the Trump administration to help the nation and Americans defend and work to lessen the pandemic. The Trump administration has this list to their credit along with ripping a country in half for the last almost 4 years.