I HAVE SEEN TOMORROW!

BLOG #31, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
I HAVE SEEN TOMORROW!
Part One
August 1, 2012

Yes, it’s true! Six days ago, Terry Bolinger and I were privileged to experience tomorrow’s publishing world before it actually arrived. The venue was one of the oldest and largest publishing conglomerates in the world, and we were graciously given a two-hour VIP tour.

As we threaded our way through room after room of machinery, we experienced first a world I felt supremely comfortable in: the world of traditional print, that began during the decade of 1440 – 1450, with the German goldsmith, Johannes Gutenberg leading the way with his 42-line Bible in 1456, 556 years ago. That Golden Age of Print reached its zenith during the century beginning in 1880 and ending in 1980 (roughly speaking). I am personally a product of its last half.

Occasionally, during my blogs and published writing, I have referred to the tides of life: periodically, both collectively and individually, we experience ebb-tides and incoming-tides. They are God-given because nothing in all creation is static, for change is constant. But both ebb-tides and incoming-tides dramatically alter our lives, for better or for worse.

Perhaps some of the most poignant and pertinent lines in all literature were penned by the American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson in “The Mill,” which contains in its muffled understated lines two work-related suicides:

“The miller’s wife had waited long,
The tea was cold, the fire was dead;
And there might yet be nothing wrong
In how he went and what he said:
‘There are no millers any more,’
Was all that she had heard him say;
And he had lingered at the door
So long that it seemed yesterday.”

The second stanza contains his suicide by hanging, and the third concludes with her drowning.

Back then, every self-respecting hamlet and town boasted a mill, where farmers brought the product of their land to be ground into food for themselves and their livestock. But suddenly, due to the pace of technological change, the miller realized with a shudder that since “There are no millers anymore,” his place in the world had been eradicated; the only career he knew was, without preamble or advance warning, no more. The mill itself, in which he and his ancestors from time immemorial had invested their life savings, was now all but worthless. Facing absolute financial ruin, he concluded that suicide offered the only viable alternative to starvation and bankruptcy; and she, facing a world which demeaned women and offered them terribly few career options, was so overwhelmed by the hopelessness of her situation, that she quietly slipped into the mill-pond, feeling it offered the least messy departure from life.

There is an equally powerful short story written by the English author John Galsworthy. Simply titled “Quality,” it tells the story of a London shoemaker who prides himself on making the best and longest lasting shoes and boots it was possible to make. His customers knew their footware would be custom-made to their own foot contours. Of course they took time to make for each was a one-of-a-kind work of art. But technological change made possible mass market footware at lower prices and instant availability. And Galsworthy’s protagonist ends up starving himself to death rather than compromise on the issue of quality. Whenever I have read this story out loud to my students, there has been absolute silence in the classroom, the ultimate tribute to a life-changing story.

So what Terry and I saw and experienced six days ago represents both an ebb-tide to a vanishing way of life and an incoming-tide whose long-range impact can only be guessed at. One reality is, however, inescapable: life as we know it, and have known it, will never be again.

* * *
We will pick up where I left off (beginning the publishing house tour) next Wednesday.

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JOURNALING AND OUR BOOK CLUB

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

JOURNALING AND OUR BOOK CLUB

Nov. 2, 2011

There are, in each of our lives, certain days that prove pivotal in our journeys.  One such day had to do with a lecture of the top information literary specialist in America to the faculty of Columbia Union College.  Looking around at us, college professors from many disciplines, she asked us a simple question: “Let’s say you gave your students an examination earlier today.  Then, a week from today – completely unannounced -, you give them the same exam.  How much of what they knew today . . . will they remember a week from now?”

None of us even came close to the correct answer.  “Your top student,” she pointed out, your four-pointer, will remember a week from today, at most, 17%!  Most will remember far less – and it will be all down hill from there.”  I’ve never taught a class the same way since.  For if the most brilliant student in the college forgets at least 83% in one week, what pitiful retention rate does that imply for the rest of the class?  Hence the preposterous exercise in futility of end-of-the-semester exams three and a half months later!

As for thoughts, rarely do they come when you most want them to.  In fact, many insidiously come to us just as we’re drifting off to sleep.  Have you ever thought, What a beautiful thought!  Can’t believe I came up with it.  In the morning, ho hum, I’ll write it down . . . I’m far too comfy to get up now.

And in the morning, what do we remember? Not much.  Chances are, we won’t even remember what the thought was about.  If it does come to us, it will be in such muddled shape it won’t even be worth writing down, for thoughts only ring their golden bells once in life.  Another put it this way: “God only gives you a great thought once.”

One of England’s great writers, Matthew Arnold, in his poignant poem, “Despondency,” described this phenomenon in eight lines:

“The thoughts that rain their steady glow

Like stars on life’s cold sea,

Which others know or say they know –

They never shine for me.

Thoughts light, like gleams, my spirit’s sky

But they will not remain;

They light me once, they hurry by,

And never come again.”

America’s greatest poetess, Emily Dickinson, took the same number of lines to express her own frustration:

1452

“Your thoughts don’t have words every day

They come a single time

Like signal esoteric sips

Of the communion wine

Which while you taste so native seems

So easy so to be

You cannot comprehend its price

Nor its infrequency.”

You no doubt noticed certain words in Dickinson’s poem that are a bit archaic today.  Unless you keep by your side a full-sized Webster’s Collegiate dictionary (or equivalent on-line), you’d miss key portions of Dickinson’s meaning (especially when trying to understand what Dickinson meant by words such as “signal,” “esoteric,” “native,” “easy so to be,” etc).  It is no exaggeration to declare that unless each of us not only has, but uses, such a source, we will unquestionably cripple our ability to understand what we read.  Really serious readers also access an unabridged dictionary, and for archaic words the monumental Oxford Unabridged.

SO WHY JOURNAL?

Some years ago I had in one of my Freshman Composition classes a second-generation student (I’d taught her father in high school a generation before).  She asked me one day if I’d had my students journal in my classes when her father was in my English classes.  Her face fell when I answered in the negative.  She then added, “Oh it’s sad because Dad and I aren’t getting along very well—he’s just an authority figure rather than a father.  I just thought if I could read journal entries written by Dad when he was young like me, perhaps we could meet in our journal entries.”

Up until that time, I’d never really given much thought to journals as vehicles to freeze our thoughts into time periods.  Since then I’ve discovered that a number of renowned writers have capitalized on that reality to find out how they thought when they were much younger, or described people, places, experiences immediately after they took place.  I’ve ruefully discovered that while my writing has greater depth and breadth now than it used to have, I’ve lost the ability to think and articulate as a 50-year-old, a college student, a high school student, or a child.  This is a major reason why journal entries penned at each stage of our lives are so significant.

As for travel, travel writers will tell you that, in visiting places for the very first time, you have only moments in which to jot down those first impressions.  When you first arrive, everything jars, for everything is new.  Each sensory impression has an echo: a flashback to its counterpart back home.  But by the next day, sensory impressions are already blurring—you are no longer sure what is new and different and what is not.

Several days ago, on a Southwestern Airlines plane, I was privileged to sit next to a delightful young couple.  We got into a far-ranging discussion of books (e-books versus paper) and quotations.  They were most interested in my daily quotation tweets, for both seek out memorable quotes in their daily reading.  In truth, had I not many years ago begun writing down in the back of my journals the most memorable quotations from my reading, I’d not have near the vast repository of memorable quotations I draw from today.  We use quotations in so many ways in our lives (family, school, church, public speaking, writing).  I also paste in poetry at the back of my journals.

But the same is true with vivid metaphors and similes.  These too I write down in the back of my journals.  For such figurative language reveals to us how much more vivid and fresh our spoken and written communication can be if we avoid hackneyed words and cliches.

Then there are powerful beginnings and endings (in both short stories and longer works).  For unless a beginning sentence or paragraph sucks us into the story, article, or book, why write something no one will remain interested in beyond the first page?  This is a key reason why, when I find such a riveting passage, I write it down at the back of my journals.  The same is true of endings.  All too many writers just run out of gas at the end, are seemingly unable to close the sale.  But some writers spend a lot of time with their conclusions, so structure them that but one additional word would wreck that last page.  The endings are so deeply moving that you couldn’t forget them if you wanted to.  They ring like a giant bell.  These too I write down at the back of my journals.

So it is that while my journals also record the nuts and bolts of my life: who I write to or phone every day, who I meet with, where I travel to, etc. (and these can prove to be extremely significant when I need to retroactively find out where I was and what I did on certain days), even more valuable to me are the things I write down at the back of my journals, for they synthesize my creative involvements.  I also record goals and objectives in my journals.

I also write down significant things I hear in the digital media, lectures, church services, workshops—oh the list goes on and on!

* * * * *

I hope you can now see why I am urging each new participant in our Book of the Month Club to immediately purchase a full-sized journal from your local office supply store.  Mine are ledger size and contain around 300 pages; they generally last me three to five years each.  What you’ll discover, over time, is that these journals will not only end up capsulizing and chronicling your life, they will also become so much a part of who you are and what you do and say and write that you’d feel empty without them.

I look forward to hearing back from you as you make your journals part of you.

SAMPLINGS FROM MY JOURNALS

QUOTATIONS

“Parting is all we know of heaven

And all we need of hell.”

—Emily Dickinson

“It is nothing to die; it is horrible not to live.”

—Victor Hugo

“It is better to be silent and thought a fool than to open the

mouth and remove all doubt.”

—Abraham Lincoln

METAPHORS

“Now there was a chasm as wide as the world between them and only

the child to span it.”

—Ernest Pascal

“A little mouse of thought went scampering across her mind and popped into

its hole again.”

—George Meredith

SIMILES

“The softness of a kitten’s feet–like raspberries held in the hand.”

–Anne Douglas Sedgewick

“And his little feathered head drooped like the head of a wilting poppy.”

—Elizabeth Goudge

BOOK BEGINNINGS

“A sharp clip-clip of iron-shod hooves deadened and died away, and clouds of yellow dust drifted from under the cottonwoods out over the sage.”

–Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage

BOOK ENDINGS

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done;

It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

—Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we’ll begin the Southwest National Park Lodges series.

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

PROPOSED: DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

For Oct. 26, 2011

“Read the best books first, or you may not have

a chance to read them at all.”

                                                                        —Thoreau

Last week’s blog on the Williamsons’ travel books appears to have started something totally unexpected.  Or perhaps it would be more apt to say “restarted.”  Our daughter Michelle suggested I organize a series of blogs having to do with my favorite books—and I had a tough time sleeping that night.  Should I devote one blog a month to a favorite book?  I’ve since become convicted that I ought to do just that.

Former students of mine who are kind enough to check in with the daily tweets and weekly blogs will remember that for years I taught such courses as Great Books of the World and Modern and Contemporary Literature, as well as individualized Directed Reading courses.  Many of you actually took some of those courses.  In those courses, I had the opportunity to share some of my most loved books with my students.  I miss those courses.

After I left the classroom for a full-time career as an author, over a five-year period, I edited special editions of some of my favorite books for Focus on the Family/Tyndale House.  The twelve we created are: Little Women and Little Men by Louisa May Alcott, Robinson Crusoe and The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, The Christmas Angel by Abbie Farwell Brown, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter, The Twenty-fourth of June by Grace Richmond, Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz, and Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace.

At the front of each book, under the heading of “A Life-Changing Letter,” were these words:

 

                                    Several years ago I received a letter that changed my life.  Sadly, I don’t

remember who wrote it, only what she said.  In essence, this was her plea:

                        “Dr. Wheeler,

    I have a big favor to ask you.  First of all, though, I want you to know how much I enjoy your story collections; they have greatly enriched my life.  Now for the favor: I was wondering if you have any interest in doing with books what you are doing with stories.

    You see, while I love to read, I haven’t the slightest idea of where to start.  There are millions of books out there, and most of them—authors too—are just one big blur to me.  I want to use my time wisely, to choose books which will not only take me somewhere but also make me a better and kinder person.

   I envy you because you know which books are worth reading and which are not.  Do you possibly have a list of worthy books that you wouldn’t mind sending to me?”

   I responded to this letter but most inadequately, for at that time I had no such list.  I tried to put the plea behind me, but it dug in its heels and kept me awake at night.  Eventually, I concluded that a Higher Power was at work here and that I needed to do something about it.  I put together a proposal for a broad reading plan based on books I knew and loved—books that had powerfully affected me, that had opened other worlds and cultures to me, and that had made me a kinder, more empathetic person.

 

You see, we have so little time in this tragically short life in which to read books worth reading.  If, over a seventy-year period, we read only a book a week, that would total only 3,640 books during a lifetime.  A book a month would come to only 840.

So my question to you is this: Would you be interested in such a book club, beginning this November?  Most of these titles would not be new but rather would have stood the test of time.  Some might turn out to be books you once read but might enjoy re-reading.  Others would be new to you.

There would be no cost for joining.  You could either purchase a copy of each book at a bookstore or from the worldwide web (Amazon, ABE, etc), or check it out from your library.  There is another option for some of the titles I’d choose: Eric Mayer of Bluebird Books (8201 S. Santa Fe Drive, #245, Littleton, CO 80120 (303) 912-4559.   books@bluebirdbooks.com  www.bluebirdbooks.com   Reason being that for most of my life I planned to open up a book business when I retired, and so purchased many thousands of books over the years for that purpose.  Well, I’ve ruefully concluded that I’ll probably never retire, so I turned over a good share of those books to Bluebird Books for him to dispose of.  He is aware of this book club concept and is enthusiastically on board.  He is honest, conscientious, prices out-of-print books at market norms, and is dedicated to securing books in the best condition possible.  You’ll find him special to work with.  Let him know you’re part of this book club.  Me too, as I’ll be making up a list of names and addresses of each of you who joins.  Would love to hear from you as to reactions to the books we select.

Years ago, I joined the Heritage Book Club and, over time, purchased most of their classic titles.  They tended to cycle through certain authors.  I would too.  Not all at once, but over time.  If you’re like me, however,  you’re not likely to wait but if you fall in love with a certain author you’ll start adding others of their books to your personal library.

As to my favorite books, I’m a sentimentalist who loves romances, family favorites, adventure, historical romances, classics, etc.  I gravitate to books that move me deeply, take me places I’ve never been to before, make me laugh or cry, incorporate values worth living by—pretty much the same criteria I’ve used in selecting stories in my 60 story anthologies.

I’ll be candid with you: I really miss the one-on-one interaction with my students.  Such a book club as this would be second best to actual classroom interaction.  I’m really looking forward to such contact.

BOOK #1 – OUR NOVEMBER BOOK OF THE MONTH

THE CALLING OF DAN MATTHEWS        

—Harold Bell Wright

 


Have you ever noticed that it is only in retrospect that we realize that if certain days in our lives had never been, how different our lives would have been.  Well, there was just such a day I’d like to share with you.

It was a heartstoppingly beautiful spring morning along California’s Feather River.  Since my missionary parents were far away in the West Indies, relatives stepped in to keep me from being lonely during vacations.  On this particular day, two of my favorite relatives, Aunt Jeannie and Uncle Warren, pronounced it picnic time.  We stopped en-route to Feather River Canyon at the Tehama County Library where my aunt steered me to certain authors she thought I’d relate to.  I checked out a number of books that really looked interesting to me.  One of them was this particular book, first published in 1909 by the Book Supply Company.  After settling down on a blanket under a great oak, I opened this book, and was almost instantaneously drawn into it—so much so that I lost all track of time, only remaining aware of the haunting riversong.

I was more than ready for this romance.  Having grown up in a conservative Christian church my world view was a bit limited.  Wright, a pastor himself, disillusioned by church politics and broken in health, had come to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas to see if he could find answers.  In time, he was strongly impacted by the Social Gospel Movement of the 1890s, the discovery of the Didache being at the root of it.  Only during the last year have I discovered (during research for my second biography of St. Nicholas) that for four centuries the early Christian Church exploded across the Roman World, not because of doctrine but because of living out Christ’s injunctions to serve others, to help those who were ill or in prison or who were in need of humanitarian aid (known as the Didache).  Wright concluded that if he incorporated Christ’s injunction to make service to others the highest calling of his life, he could revolutionize American life.  But not through sermons but rather through fiction.  He wrote three books in what has become known as the Social Gospel Trilogy: That Printer of Udel’s, The Calling of Dan Matthews, and God and the Groceryman.  Not until years later did I discover those other two books.

But the book proved to be an epiphany for me.  It radically changed my life: gave me a vision of selfless service and revealed that God was not owned by any one denomination but rather that He found ways to relate to every human being on earth, regardless of nationality or religion.  He was—and is—Father of us all.

I set out on a life-long search for all of Wright’s other books.  Wright has that effect on his readers.  I know of one woman who cried when she read the last Wright novel.  Cried because never again could she listen to Wright in an unread book.  Not all our mentors are still with us—many speak to us from the grave through their books that live on and on.

So this is why I’m starting with Wright.  As you begin building a library—or expand it to include these books—, I strongly encourage you to buy your own books, choosing First Editions or special editions, keeping in mind that in books, as in art, condition is everything.

I’ll be talking a lot more about books in blogs to come, among our other subject areas.  Next Wednesday I’ll be discussing the importance of journaling and why, if we don’t, we’ll be losing out big time!

No, I haven’t forgotten the Southwest National Parks.  I just got sidetracked!

If you wish to write me, I can be reached at Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.