TREASURES OF THE PAST #4

BLOG #11, SERIES 3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

TREASURES OF THE PAST #4

March 13, 2013

In last week’s blog, In Praise of Old Magazines, I discussed my ongoing love affair with old magazines, and what a treasure each represented to readers of the time who were privileged to read the timeless wisdom represented by the printed stories, poems, and articles.

In recent weeks and months, I’ve been perusing the pages of close to a thousand magazines of The Youth’s Companion (time period: 1870s to late 1920s), when that venerable century-old magazine finally gave up—not coincidentally, synonymous with the cataclysmic Wall Street crash of 1929.

In its pages there are so many gripping stories and memorable poems featured that I, to my later chagrin, passed over multitudinous shorts which I inwardly classified as mere “filler” (something trivial to fill up the allocated pages). Indeed, I was two-thirds through this monumental task before a certain title of a short so piqued my interest that I took the time to read it—and was instantaneously hooked. Perhaps it was but a fluke. Just to make certain, I read another—and another—and another. To my utter dismay, I concluded that I’d now have to go back to the beginning and complete my tabulating inventory!

What I discovered is that the editors early on discovered that much of the timeless wisdom submitted by contemporary authors was packaged in the shorts, any one of which might well be worth a month of reading (in terms of impact of even one of these gems upon the lives of the magazine’s readers).

I also discovered that most of these shorts are every bit as timeless (in terms of the values articulated) today as they were then.

Just to give you a feel for them, here is one. Do let me know if you’d like me to mine these shorts further for our blog readers (there is no author; almost none of these shorts referenced the author—such a pity!).

THE DREAM

The girl sprang to her feet and walked up and down the dean’s office; her eyes were red, and her thin face was drawn as if with pain. “I suppose you think I’m selfish,” she cried. “But I haven’t slept a night since the telegram came. I’ve read it over and over till I’m almost wild. I can’t see how it is right to expect me to leave college and give up all my life plans to take care of Mother. I could go to her during vacations. It isn’t as if we hadn’t money enough to make her comfortable; she could have almost anything in the world. And she may live for several years; the doctor said so.”

“Twenty years ago,” the dean said slowly, “another girl came to me with a problem like yours. She was studying chemistry. She told me that there wasn’t anything in the world she liked better, and that, if anyone offered her sunsets and music and starlight and beauty, she would want them only to analyze in the laboratory. In her junior year her mother died and left one little girl and three boys between the ages of twelve and nineteen.

“I’ve seen great struggles, but I’ve never seen a bigger one than that girl went through. When she said good-by she looked as if she had had a year’s sickness. ‘I’m going home,’ she said, ‘but I’ll never give up my dream!’

“I told her that there was as much chemistry about her home as there was anywhere else in the world, and I’ve never forgotten the startled look that came into her eyes. She stood quite still and just looked

“She was at home for nine years, till the girl started at college. Then she herself returned and took up the work where she had left off. Of course she was years older than most of her fellow students; and she had lost much of the technique of her work. But she had gained other things: judgment, power of quick decision, all-round knowledge and human sympathy. Moreover, through the years she had read much and had followed her beloved study into unusual fields. She had studied the chemistry of the Bible and of literature; she knew the history of chemistry and the lives of the great chemists. In short, she was well on the way to becoming a well-rounded chemical scholar, not a mere laboratory worker. Another thing, in the years at home she had so fired her brothers with her enthusiasm that today all three of them are men of science. Years afterwards she said, ‘My disappointment was the best thing that ever came to me. If I had had my own way, I should be nothing but a chemist now. Those years taught me to put life first and chemistry second.’

“That is why we could not afford to let her go when she finished her course. For twelve years now her influence has been inspiring hundreds of lives inside and +outside the laboratory.”

“You don’t mean—Miss Torrance?” the girl cried.

“I mean Miss Torrance.”

The girl stood quite still, and the dean, watching, saw the look she had been waiting for come into the tired eyes.

—The Youth’s Companion (March 23, 1922)

THE GIFT OF AWARENESS

BLOG #3, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE GIFT OF AWARENESS
January 16, 2013

Only the curious
Have, if they live, a tale
Worth telling at all!
—Alastair Reid

Again and again and again, in recent years, in searching for a place or address, it has happened: The person being asked for information looks at me with a blank three-watt look, and mumbles, “I don’t know where it is” or “Dunno” or “Huh?” It matters not if the place in question is only two or three blocks away!

Which brings me to today’s subject: “The Gift of Awareness.” One of the greatest gifts a parent, teacher, or mentor can bestow on a child or teenager.

Paradoxically, at no time in human history has this much knowledge been accessible, at one’s fingertips; yet at no time in human history has such knowledge been devalued more. Just look around you at the millions who are myopically majoring in minors and minoring in majors, steadily constricting their worlds into knowledge that means virtually nothing: pop culture (celebrities, media, and sports). More likely to be immersed in a meaningless virtual reality world than the real. Boys especially, locked into a Peter Pan existence on their computer keyboards. Both sexes bailing out of growth trajectories in favor of obsessive text-messaging and substance abuse (be it drugs, alcohol, pornography, pop culture, or virtual reality). Result: You walk up to them, ask a question; they look at you with zombyish eyes—there’s nobody home.

So where did we as a society get off the track? Early. The first time we snuff out the God-given sense of wonder each child is born with by responding to questions with, “Oh, stop bothering me! Go watch TV” or “Go play a video game!” “Stop being such a pest!”

Each time this scenario takes place, the child’s light of awareness dims, the inner-wattage is reduced. In time, the result is another walking zombie.

Contrast that tragic result with the flip-side: a child or teen whose questions are enthusiastically fielded. Such lucky people grow up to be an Einstein, a Bill Gates, a Steve Jobs, an Edison, or Tesla. Or in the humanities, an Emily Dickinson or a Leonardo; a Tolstoy or a Schweitzer; a Dante or a Bronte; a Georgia O’Keefe or a Winslow Homer.

Blessed beyond belief is the child or teen who is mentored by a parent or teacher who is excited about life and growth and becoming. Could it be that the current wave of homeschooling is but the result of teachers and administrators who are devoid of such excitement, who blight their students’ lives by boring them?

What we need is a new concept of achievement: might it not be true that taking the time to ignite the mind of just one child or teen—such as Annie Sullivan so famously did with deaf, dumb, and blind Helen Keller—would by itself be worth having lived?

Beloved, what do you say to our making ourselves a committee of one determined to bestow the gift of awareness to children and teens in our homes, our classrooms, or proximity?

Grace Richmond’s Foursquare

    BLOG #1, SERIES 4
    WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
    DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #16
    GRACE RICHMOND’S FOURSQUARE
    January 2, 2013

It is a new year.  The beauty of new years is that they each offer the opportunity to write on a blank slate, to make a brand new start.  2012 is gone – never to return.  2013 is here, young and vibrant, begging to be used.

It is the perfect blog to anchor our reading for the new year as well.  But before I discuss our sixteenth book, since a number of blog-readers may not have been with us back in the fall of 2011 when Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club began, I’m pausing a moment to explain what makes this series different from all others.  Primarily, the fact that I personally choose each selection — not a committee.  From a lifetime of voracious reading, 34 years in the classroom, and studying books en route to a bachelors in history, a masters in English, and a doctorate in English (History of Ideas concentration), certain authors and certain books have risen to the surface.  Books that several generations of students have weighed in on.

I am not a traditional academic, fixated only on classics blessed by academics, but rather a professor who chooses the best and most meaningful books from academic classics, popular culture, and Christian publishing.  Books that have the potential to change lives, to ennoble, to entertain, to inspire.  To put it more succinctly, I draw from books I have loved personally.

A number of our “club” members are former students of mine who miss our book discussions and have signed on for more.  What a joy it is for me to welcome them back into my life!  The rest of you, well you’re now my students too.  A surprisingly large number of people, over the last 21 years, have sighingly said, “If only I could have been one of your students!”  Well, by joining our book club, you become my students.

Created by DPE, Copyright IRIS 2009

Though this book was written a little over 90 years ago, never has it been more timely or more needed than it is today.  Today when, all too often, educators jeer at Christianity and Judeo-Christian values in their classrooms, advocating in their place a gospel of secularism divorced from God, and leaving in their wake a moral twilight.

How long has it been since you read a novel that elevated those old-time values Americans used to live by, and expected to see incorporated into the educational institutions of the land?

This is just such a book.  It moved me many years ago, and moves me still.  Expect to see questions such as these incorporated into the fabric of this timeless romance.

•    Are writing and literature that erode rather than enhance and create Judeo-Christian values worth reading and internalizing?
•    Is extensive exposure to the seamy side of life conducive to purity?
•    Do we still need Christian-based colleges and universities today?
•    Is the product (graduates) of Christian colleges different from that of secular institutions that steer away from spiritually based ethics?
•    Are our youth strong enough to resist mentors who themselves live lives at variance from the values once prized by early Americans?
•    How do mentorees avoid becoming clones?
•    What is the impact of positive versus negative examples?
•    Is it easy–or is it difficult–to cripple or destroy the human spirit?
•    What is this thing called “creativity”?
•    How powerful is music?
•    What does it mean to be a real leader?  Ought a leader to be passionate?
•    What is the role of drama in our lives?
•    Is big better than small?
•    How powerful are books?
•    What do you consider most significant about this book?
•    Is it dated?  If so, how?
•    Does the book change you?  How?

GRACE LOUISE SMITH RICHMOND
(1866 – 1959)

Our readers will remember an earlier book selection by Richmond, her wondrous romance, THE TWENTY-FOURTH OF JUNE (SEE May 23, 2012 blog).

Grace Smith was born on March 3, 1866, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to a minister father, the Rev. Dr. Charles E. Smith and mother, Catherine “Kitty” Kimball Smith. Grace was a direct descendant ot the state’s founder, Roger Williams.  An only child, Grace grew up the focal center of her parents’ manse.  In 1885, after having pastored Baptist churches in Mt. Auburn, Ohio; New Haven, Connecticut; and Syracuse, New York, Dr. Smith was called to Fredonia, New York; and there he would remain for the rest of his life.  On Oct. 29, 1887, Grace married the personable young family doctor, Dr. Nelson G. Richmond, who purchased a home next door to the manse.  So after marriage, Grace merely moved next door.  And it was here in Fredonia that the bride would write her many stories, essays, and novels.

The home.  It all starts there, the action happens there, and it all ends there.  Because of this, Grace Richmond is known as “The Novelist of the Home.”  Of the thousands of writers who have written about the home, only Richmond earned that title.  Only in her fictional world is the home the all-in-all, the core, the bedrock.

Among her other beloved books are novels such as The Indifference of Juliet, The Second Violin, A Court of Inquiry, Red Pepper Burns, Strawberry Acres, The Brown Study, Red Pepper’s Patients, Red and Black, Foursquare, Cherry Square, Lights Up, At the South Gate, The Listening Post, High Fences, and several Christmas novelettes.  She was among the most prolific short story writers in America.  Most of her novels were serialized as well.  For 40 years, she was never out of print.  Of the dominant family authors of the first half of the twentieth century, only Zane Grey, Gene Stratton Porter, and Harold Bell Wright were better known than she; and her name ranked up there with Frances Hodgson Burnett, Kate Douglas Wiggin, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Pearl S. Buck, Bess Streeter Aldrich, and Temple Bailey.  It was illustrious company indeed.  At the height of her popularity she was paid upward of $30,000 for magazine serializations (a princely sum back then!).  Doubleday would sell more than 2,500,000 copies of her books.

You should be able to pick up a First Edition or reprint of the book on the web.

Foursquare, by Grace S. Richmond (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1922).  First Edition features special chapter illustrations.

QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY GOOD IDEA? OR BAD IDEA? – Part Two –

BLOG #15, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY

GOOD IDEA?  OR BAD IDEA?

– Part Two –

April 11, 2012

Yes, my life-long fascination with the most condensed sources of wisdom we know—quotations, resulted in my writing down my favorite ones at the back of my journals.  They’d accumulated to such an extent that I spent two years prioritizing them in the limited edition book (nine copies; one went to Ann Landers, one to Abby Van Buren, and one went to the White House): Thoughts and Quotations from My Reading Journal: 1988 – 1989.  I also have purchased a large number of quotation books over the years.  Altogether, we’re speaking of over a million quotations.

But I am deeply indebted to my students over the years to their honing my philosophy of quotations—for it is a philosophy.  Reason being that many of the quotation collections available in book stores—including the venerable Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations—don’t impress me much.  And more significantly, would not have impressed my students much.  Reason being, their failure to isolate the truly memorable powerful ones from the “same ol’ same ol’s.”  Consequently, a good share of these ostensibly “great quotes” would have put my students to sleep.

Many times over the years, the thought has occurred to me that I ought to put together a compendium of my favorite quotations, or a series of such collections.  But the very thought was so daunting that each time I regretfully moved on to other more pressing projects.  But when my agent and our daughter Michelle ganged up on me too, I acknowledged defeat and decided to see if we could develop an audience for my brand of quotations.

Let’s see, how can I define my philosophy of quotations?  Well, just as is true with the stories that make it into my story anthologies, I routinely reject 100 – 500 for every one that makes it in.  The few who make it in have to have intrinsic in them the qualities that would have made my students in years past, write them down.

I look for day-brighteners; changes of pace; profound thoughts—especially life-changing ones; proverbs from around the world; spiritual ones that could give the reader the courage to face another day; funny ones that make you laugh; if at all possible ones with the author’s name attached; ones that once read you can’t erase them from your mind; contemporary ones as well as those that have stood the test of time.

Permit me to be more specific:

HOLIDAY-RELATED

Columbus Day: “If Columbus had waited for decent ships, we’d all still be in Europe” – Robert Heinlein (Oct. 10, 2011)

Halloween: “Who shall say which is more horrible to see: empty skulls or dried-up hearts?” – Balzac (Oct. 31, 2011)

Election Day: “The higher you climb, the more rocks you have to dodge” – Western Proverb (Nov. 8, 2011)

Thanksgiving: “From David learn to give thanks for everything—every furrow in the book of Psalms is sown with the seeds of Thanksgiving.” – Jeremy Taylor (Nov. 24, 2011

Christmas: “When you have learned about love, you have learned about God.” – Fox Proverb (Dec. 25, 2011)

New Year’s Day: “Maximize the day: Each day contains 86,400 seconds—that’s 86,400 opportunities.” – Leonard Nimoy (Jan 1, 2012)

Lincoln’s Birthday: “I fear you don’t fully understand . . . the danger of abridging the liberties of the people.” – Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12, 2012)

St. Patrick’s Day: “Following the line of least resistance makes rivers and people crooked.” – Irish Proverb (March 17, 2012)

CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool to help me make the big choices in life.” – Steve Jobs (Nov. 12, 2011)

“A single journey can change the course of a life.” – Angelina Jolie (Dec. 15, 2011)

“Sometimes the greatest secrets lie in the middle of things you can’t quite explain.” – Stephen Spielberg (Jan 27, 2012)

“Those who believe they are in full possession of the truth can be dangerous.” – Madeleine Albright (Feb. 27, 2012)

FOR THE SPORTS BUFF

“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” – Vince Lombardi (Oct. 9, 2011)

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” – Tim Tebow (Nov. 2, 2011)

“You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there” – Yogi Berra (Jan. 25, 2012)

“Golf is a game in which you yell Fore, shoot six, and write down five.” – Paul Harvey (March 15, 2012)

HUMOROUS CHANGES OF PACE

“No food tastes as good as the food you eat when you are cheating on a diet.” – Al Batt (Oct. 7, 2011)

“To have the last word with a woman, apologize profusely, then run like the devil.” – Author Unknown) (Oct. 26, 2011)

“The difference between a farmer and a pigeon: the farmer can still make a deposit on a tractor.” – Author Unknown. (Nov. 6, 2011)

“Fanatic: One who sticks to his guns whether they’re loaded or not.” – Author Unknown (Jan 14, 2012)

“Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise they won’t go to yours.” – Yogi Berra (Feb. 6, 2012)

TIMELESS

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others.  It is the only thing.” – Albert Schweitzer Oct. 3, 2011)

“Suffering can become a means to greater love and generosity.” – Mother Teresa (Oct. 8, 2011)

“One man with courage makes a majority.” – Stonewall Jackson (Oct. 25, 2011)

“Whatever you dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”  – Goethe (Nov. 30, 2011)

“Judge not your neighbor till you’ve been in his place.” – Rabbi Hillel (Dec. 21, 2011)

“The fewer the words, the better the prayer.” – Martin Luther (Dec. 23, 2011)

“Life is too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrong.” – Charlotte Bronte (Jan. 18, 2012)

“A letter is a joy of Earth – it is denied the Gods.” – Emily Dickinson (Feb. 15, 2012)

“Life – a little gleam of Time between two Eternities.” – Carlyle (March 31, 2012)

* * *

As you can well imagine, it takes a great deal of extra time and effort to marry a quote to a specific date (such as a holiday).  It takes even more time to choose the best quote among alternatives.  Most time-consuming of all is to stay current.  In my case, I keep up by reading books, THE DENVER POST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, NEWSWEEK, SUCCESS, AARP, many different magazines, and listen to the media.  Were I not to do so many would write off all my other quotes, consigning them all to the dust heap of the past.  This means that I have to be recording quotes wherever I am, even if it be inconvenient.

What I try hardest to pull off is to reverse roles with myself: ask myself continually, If I were not me, would I take the time out of each day to check out these daily tweets?  I would hope these quotes would prove to be such day-brighteners that you’d feel any day to be incomplete where you had failed to check out that day’s quotation.

* * * * *

So here are my questions to you.  What do you think of the first six months’ worth of quotes?  Do they meet your needs?  Do you use them much in your daily life?  Do you share them with friends?  How can they be improved? Are they as helpful to you as other quotation collections you access?  If I were ever to print them in booklets, would you be interested in purchasing copies?

Look forward to hearing from you!

Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/joewheelerbooks

QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY GOOD IDEA? OR BAD IDEA?

BLOG #14, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY

GOOD IDEA?  OR BAD IDEA?

– Part One –

April 4, 2012

On October 1, 2011, I sent up a trial balloon: Would the public be interested in trying out my daily quotation tweets.  Now that these tweets have been running for a half year, I figured it would be a good idea to have a referendum on them—hence this blog.

Now for the story behind these daily tweets:

I’ve always loved quotations, the most condensed and concise source of distilled wisdom we know, even more condensed than poetry.  Way back when I began my teaching career in California’s gold country, one day I decided to try something new: give my students something to look at besides me.  So I wrote a quotation in chalk on the blackboard.  It proved to be a hit: it was the first thing students looked at when they entered the classroom.  Over the years, as I moved from junior high to senior high to college English, there remained one constant: a quotation each day.  I soon learned that merely scribbling any ol’ quotation wouldn’t work; it takes hard work to keep young people interested in anything!  Too stodgy or philosophical, and they’d lose interest.  So I learned to mix in enough humor so they never knew from one day to the next what kind of quotation would set the day’s mood—for a teacher has that kind of power over the students who willingly or unwillingly stream in and out of his/her classroom.

In this vein, long ago in a convention, I wrote down a quotation I so internalized that it became part of who I am: There is only one unforgivable sin in teaching: and that is to bore your students.  Because of this awareness of how difficult it is to maintain students’ interest from day to day, I never permitted my classes to become predictable.  Consequently, they never knew from one day to the next what tangent they’d find me on next.  I’d even switch in mid-class: if I saw that deadly glazing of eyes, I’d leapfrog into a story, substitute something radically different, take them for a walk, go outside, sit on the lawn or in the shade of a tree—anything to regenerate interest.

* * *

Well, many years went by, and I made a life-changing decision: take early retirement from the formal classroom in order to write full-time.  In essence, to trade direct mentoring for indirect mentoring.  In truth, I really miss the daily one-on-one interaction with my students, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world for now I am blessed by letters and emails from all around the world from people (young and old) who through our books, stories, blogs, and tweets, feel they are vicariously sitting in a virtual classroom with me.

In the sixteen years since I left the formal classroom, a serendipity has to do with the large number of former students of mine who have re-entered our lives—an honor I do not take lightly.  For it is little honor to hold students captive in a given classroom, but it is a great honor to have even one voluntarily re-enter my world!

It is interesting to note what brings them back, and it violates most everything methodology teachers tell you in education classes.  They re-enter my life because each one felt I loved him or her.  That I always tried to be kind.  That though I made more than my fair share of mistakes, when I did so I could be counted on to apologize to them publicly.  That they remembered how hard I tried not to ever bore them.  That we laughed a lot. That my interest in them continued long after graduation. That I told or read lots of stories.  In fact, I’ve had a number of them write or phone me, saying, Dr. Wheeler, I wake up in the middle of the night and hear you reading to me!  For there is something in being read to that indelibly embeds itself in memory.

In fact, it was former students who helped propel this traditional dinosaur into the digital world of blogging.  They’d say or write, “Dr. Wheeler, I miss your classroom so much—if only I could re-enter it again.  Hear your voice.  See you cackle”.  Which brings me to a recent article on our books and stories penned by a former student of mine, Kimberly Luste Maran.  For it, she interviewed three of my former students about what they remembered about my classes—scary!  For one never knows what idiosyncrasy they’ll remember.  Let me quote from one of these:

Sadly, my favorite memory of Dr. Wheeler lacks all context now: I cannot for the life of me remember my good-natured but ‘snarktastic’ remark—possibly something about refusing to do my final paper on Zane Grey?  But I will always have that perfect mental snapshot of how the venerable white-haired elder of the English Department paused for a second behind his posh wooden desk, then stuck his tongue out at me like a schoolkid.

                                    —Camille Lofters, English/pre-law, and journalism major,

                                       1995 graduate (Adventist Review, Dec. 16, 2010)

When one considers how incredibly difficult it is to snag even a millisecond of another person’s time in this hectic world we live in, it is a near miracle if even one person takes time to listen to what we say.  That’s why I never take for granted the undeserved honor so many pay me by reading our books or stories, or tuning in to these weekly blogs.

Or daily tweets.  One of the key factors in getting me to take the inertia-breaking decision to sire a series of daily quotation tweets had to do with the number of former students who admitted that they wrote down in their notebooks their favorite quotations—but what really boggled my mind was their adding, “And I’ve kept them all these years!”

* * * * *

Next week, I’ll get into a discussion of why I feel our daily quotation tweets are different from anything else out there in cyberspace.  Also what kind of rhythm there is to these daily choices.  And finally, why I’d love to hear back from you about your reactions to these tweets.

Please stay tuned.  I’ll see you next week!

Follow me on twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/joewheelerbooks