Making Family Memories – Part Two

BLOG #37, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
MAKING FAMILY MEMORIES
AROUND A MILL CREEK CAMPFIRE
Part Two
September 16, 2015

There were still only three of us, Marji, Connie and me that first evening. After checking into our cabin, Connie and I joined Marji around the campfire. It was good to relax, gaze into the flames, and catch up on family matters.

Next day was quiet so we joined Marji in a food-buying expedition in nearby Chester, adjacent to beautiful Lake Almanor. By evening, our numbers ballooned, each contingent making a dramatic entrance into the fireside area: brother-in-law Elmer; daughter Michelle, son-in-law Duane, grandsons Taylor and Seth; our son Greg; my cousin Steve and wife Roxann; nephew Shane, wife Lisa, and daughter Chloe. With fourteen now sitting around the campfire, it seemed that everyone was simultaneously talking to someone! Our kids had been backpacking in the coastal Redwoods for most of a week and thus had lots of hike-related experiences to share. It was fascinating to watch perhaps nature’s largest pine cones (sugarpine) contorting and writhing after they’d burst into flames in the fire-pit.

By Thursday, horseshoe-tossing had become a marathon. Except for meals, the action there never stopped. In time we were joined by our beloved Charlotte (long ago adopted into our family), nephew Jessie, and grandniece Lexi—bringing us up to near full-strength. In the evening, Steve (the storyteller of our family) regaled the campfire audience with story after story, many of them involving members of our family who are no longer with us. Few of us had ever heard them before. Steve has a wonderful gift: he can step back in time a half-century or more and remember every action, every word said, on a given day. Even vividly remembering things that took place when he was only two or three! Finally, reluctantly, we said our good nights and wended our way to cabins, trailer houses, or tents for the night. Some slept on the bank just above Mill Creek which, being spring-fed, was immune to California’s four-year drought, and thundered down the canyon.

Friday, it was time to caravan over to Lake Almanor where cousin Avenelle and Jim hosted us for the afternoon, ferrying most of us across the lake to a lakeside restaurant on the other side; the rest of our family circled around the lake by car. It proved to be a never-to-be-forgotten afternoon. Virtually the moment we returned to Mill Creek, clanging horseshoes were heard again. Others of us took walks into the towering evergreens that make the Mill Creek area so unforgettable. All around us, other family reunions were taking place. When the Central Valley’s heat gets to near furnace temperatures, everyone who can, flees to the mountains for blessed relief. That’s a key reason why the resort is booked up a year ahead of time. Later on, after a light snack, it was campfire time again. One of the stories Steve told us had to do with a mountain lion that stalked him in the Sierras—only by a miracle did Steve escape alive. And Elmer’s large stock of sugar pine cones continued to be raided one by one—after each performance, Elmer would be begged to “please burn one more!”

On Saturday, the family caravanned into the heart of Lassen Volcanic National Park, a place a number of us were unfamiliar with. The hike up to Bumpass Hell Hot Springs was most memorable, reminding us of Yellowstone National Park’s much more extensive stretch of performing sulphuric hot springs and geysers. Afterwards, we watched the informative film in the new Visitor’s Center. Shawn, who’d been involved in fighting the big Willow Creek fire in the Trinity Alps, had driven all the way to Mill Creek to be with us for the evening. After supper, Elmer and Seth teamed up to show us a family film most of us had never even heard about: the 1935 Golden Wedding Anniversary of my great grandparents, Dr. Ira and Emma Bond Wheeler in Healdsburg, California. What was funny was seeing the arrival of a long stream of family members in what to us were antique cars. Clearly, they’d packed in as many family members as could be shoe-horned in, for each disgorged an astonishingly large number of people before the car moved on and the next one arrived. This film had to have been one of the earlier family films ever made.

Afterwards, Shawn, a stand-up comedian if there ever was one, stood up and kept us in proverbial stitches for well over an hour. Especially did the cousins revel in his inimitable family-related humor. Much later, when the last sugarpine cone had writhed into embers, we bid farewell to everyone, for some left that evening and others very early next morning.

But on Sunday morning, after another delicious breakfast served on Mill Creek Restaurant’s outside deck, one after another, many with moist eyes, bid each other good-bye, each wondering if ever, on this earth, they’d be able to see the same family members assemble.

AFTERWARDS

Many have been the heartfelt responses since then. Especially having to do with the cousins who were together long enough to really get to know each other. Thanks to the serenity of Mill Creek and the scarcity of electronic media, everyone had a unique opportunity to really get to know each other in a deep way. But more than that, the young people were able to perceive parents, uncles and aunts, and grandparents, as flesh-and-blood people who not only once were so much like them but, seen with their contemporaries, shed their authority-figure-selves and were young-at-heart just like their descendants. And the numbers were just right: any more and they wouldn’t have been able to really get to know, appreciate, and love each one to the extent they did. Some of them have already, only a month later, said, “Oh, when can we do this again!”

Our personal conclusion: For each one of us, it was a life-changing experience!

Advertisements

“It Couldn’t Be Done”

BLOG #16, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
“IT COULDN’T BE DONE”
April 22, 2015

I’ve long been fascinated by stories having to do with this abstraction we call “success.” Just what is it that separates the successes from the failures in life? Thousands of books promising success to those who will buy and read them vie for our attention on bookstore shelves. And success remains one of the most turned-to categories in quotation books.

Each issue of Success magazine is redolent with articles, interviews, and bios geared to readers who are searching for success in their lives.

But is it possible that readers can get so inundated by torrents of success-related hype that they miss the great simple truths that, if internalized, could make all the difference in the world? The sober reality is that all the advice in the world won’t work if the advisee doesn’t.

I’ve long been intrigued by studies that confirm one reality in America today: four-point straight A students usually end up working for B-/C+ students. The former all-too-often being all theory and the latter being persistent pluggers who doggedly slog through obstruction after obstruction en route to eventual success. In reality, grade-point average is a lousy indicator of life-success.

Edward A. Guest (1881 – 1959), though born in England, achieved his fame in America. In 1899, Guest, exchange editor of the Detroit Free Press, began writing daily columns, the chief feature being homespun family-friendly poetry. By 1916, these poems were being syndicated in hundreds of newspapers across the nation. Thanks to daily and weekly syndication, weekly radio programs, royalties on books and greeting cards, movie rights, Guest became the highest paid poet in America. His work dominated the first half of the twentieth century.

Elocutionists such as my beloved mother memorized and performed Guest’s most popular poems before audiences large and small across the nation.

One of his most popular, and most widely anthologized poems, was this one – still alive a hundred years later (my mother performed it often):

IT COULDN’T BE DONE

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Included in Guest’s book, The Path to Home (Chicago: Reilly & Lee Company, 1919). Original text owned by Joe Wheeler.

How To Be Happy

BLOG #10, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
HOW TO BE HAPPY
March 11, 2015

During recent weeks, I’ve been sifting through thousands of stories that we’ve filed away during the last half-century. One day, I asked God that, if it was His will, He’d help me notice nuggets of wisdom that might be a blessing to our blog readers. Several hours later, I came across this, originally published in Girl’s World, later in a 1926 Youth’s Instructor. In order to better understand its significance, you’d have to know that, back then, in the days before air-conditioning, during summer months, cities often turned into furnaces. Everyone who could escape to the mountains or seashores, did so. The rich would leave home in early summer and not return until fall. Consequently, in a real sense, the poor were left to keep the cities going. And their babies were taken care of by their sisters. The story has to do with Alice Freeman Palmer (1855 – 1892), one of the most loved and admired educators in American history. It was during her years at Wellesley College, first as professor of history, then Dean of Women, then President, that she was catapulted into national eminence; and later at the University of Chicago, also as Dean of Women. Deans of Women are legendary thought-leaders: again and again people have told me of unforgettable stories they first heard from the lips of such deans. So naturally, I was curious about what Dr. Palmer might have said about happiness, a subject, even today, that so many millions of people are feverishly searching for. Here is what she had to say:

This is Alice Freeman Palmer’s recipe for happiness and the way she happened to tell it makes a delightful little story. It was in the years of her beautiful home life, after she had finished her great work at Wellesley. Almost every week through the hot summer she used to leave her peaceful, calm retreat in the country, and go to Boston to talk to children of the slums at a vacation school. The story is her own, but much condensed.

It was a very, very hot day, even in the country, but in the city, oh my! Yet, when I reached my destination, I found many girls in the room, and more babies than girls, for each girl was holding one, and there were a few to spare. “Now,” I said, “what shall I talk to you about this morning?”

Then up spoke a small, pale-faced, heavy-eyed child, with a great fat baby on her knee, “Tell us how to be happy.”

The tears rushed to my eyes. Happy in such surroundings, with such burdens, too heavy to be borne! Yet, while this flashed through my mind, the rest took up the word, “Yes, tell us how to be happy.”

“Well,” I said, “I will give you my three rules for being happy; but mind, you must all promise to keep them for a week, and not skip a single day, for they won’t work if you skip one single day.” So they all promised that they wouldn’t skip a single day.

“The first rule is that you will commit something to memory every day – something good. It needn’t be much – three or four words will do, just a pretty bit of a poem, or a Bible verse. Do you understand?”

One little girl with flashing black eyes jumped up and cried: “I know; you want us to learn something we’d be glad enough to remember even if we went blind.”

“Yes,” I said, “that’s it exactly.”

“The second rule is: Look for something pretty each day: a leaf, a flower, a cloud – you can all find something. And stop long enough to say, ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ Take it all in. Can you do it, every single day?” They promised to a girl.

“My third rule is: Do something for somebody each day.” I thought that would be the hardest of all, but they said: “Oh, that’s easy! Don’t we have to tend babies and run errands every day, and isn’t that doing something for somebody?”

“Yes, I said, “indeed it is.”

So I went home, and came back at the end of the week, on a still hotter day. Suddenly, on a very narrow street, I was literally grabbed by the arm, and a little voice said, ‘I done it.”

“Did what?” I exclaimed, looking down at a tiny girl with a baby in her arms.

“What you told us, and I never skipped a day, neither.”

I made her put the baby down on the sidewalk while she told me all about it.

“Well,” she said, “I never skipped a day, but it was awful hard. One day it rained, and the baby had a cold, and I thought sure I was going to skip, and I was standing at the window, ‘most cryin’, and I saw” – here her little face lighted up with a radiant smile – “I saw a sparrow taking a bath, and he had on a black necktie, and he was handsome.”

“And then there was another day, and I thought I should have to skip it, sure. The baby was sick, and I couldn’t go out, and I was feelin’ terrible – and then I saw the baby’s hair!”

“The baby’s hair!” I echoed.

“Yes: a little bit of sun came in the window, and I saw his hair, an’ I’ll never be lonesome any more.” And with a radiant face she caught up the baby and said, “See; isn’t it beau-ti-ful?”

“Yes,” I said, “it is beautiful.” And I took the baby, and we went on to the meeting.

And the best thing about the story is that the three rules for happiness are good any time and anywhere.

I read this, and at first it seemed too simplistic to work, but then, as I thought about it for a while, I realized that the three rules were more profound than I’d thought, for the first rule would necessitate rummaging around for some time in books and magazines before one would find lines worth memorizing and internalizing. Internalizing the second rule would necessitate a continual search for beauty in everything one picked up through the senses (sight, hearing, touching, or smelling); over time, as one concentrates on beauty rather than ugliness, one’s character would reveal proportional upward growth. The third rule (helping someone else rather than brooding about self) would open up a continuous succession of doors into joy.

Try them – and see if they won’t work for you.

A Strangling Christmas Hug

BLOG #52, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
A STRANGLING CHRISTMAS HUG
December 24, 2014

Every Christmas, I read stories aloud to many different groups. When I put a collection together, rarely do I think much about which ones will be the read-aloud winners for the season. But once a new Christmas in My Heart® collection comes out, then I begin trying stories out on various audiences.

At a recent Christmas vespers, after I was through, completely out of the blue, a little girl of about eight rushed at me, gave me a strangling hug, then ran off—all without a word. Obviously, one of the stories I read so touched her heart that she just had to tell me about it – in her case, in a fierce hug rather than in words.

Every year now, for more than twenty years, Janet Parshall has interviewed me about the new Christmas book, on her syndicated Moody Radio show, “Janet Parshall’s America.” On the December 17, 2014 broadcast, she asked me this question: “You’ve pointed out that for every story that makes it into a collection, you routinely pass over 100 – 300 stories that do not. What makes the difference?”

I told her that though I have no formula for defining the difference between winners and losers, one thing I do know: the ones that make it in slam into me [much like the little girl in the second paragraph] and demand to be included. And they burrow into my subconscious and imbed themselves like velcro—impossible to get rid of them.

Scan_Pic0130

And oftentimes, it is the simplest stories that win out over the more complex one. For instance, the one I read on the broadcast, “The Christmas Doll,” by Jeanne Bottrop, an old story written during the Great Depression of the 1930s, why did I include it, given that it is such a simple little story written by an author few people have ever heard of? I told her, I did it because children do not internalize abstractions; they internalize story. Children today are so buried in gifts from so many directions, from so many people, that they find it extremely difficult to empathize with those less fortunate than they. But if they hear a story like this one: of an eight-year-old girl, mother having died when the little girl was three, a father who rarely came to see her, so poor she had only one patched coat, forced to work as hard as adults, who considered a single orange to be a Christmas gift of such value that she’d make it last for weeks, or months. A girl loved by no one who yearned for a doll she could love with every atom of her starved little heart. Might not such a story make a real difference?

Scan_Pic0131

I’ve also read another story, Bruce R. Coston’s “The Gift” (from Christmas in My Heart® 23) a number of times this season. It is a simple little story of a little girl who longed for a kitten, parents who weren’t at all interested in getting her one, a tender-hearted veterinarian [Dr. Coston], and a kitten brought to the vet so that he could put it to sleep. “It was flea ridden and suffered from an upper respiratory infection that left her eyes crusted and red and her nose running. Her ears were filled with mites and her intestines with worms, but she was playful and endearing. She didn’t need a painless death! She needed someone who would afford her a painless life–someone who really cared. Amy came to mind.”

That, in essence, is the simple story—yet, regardless of age, it has deeply moved audience after audience I’ve read it to this Christmas season.

* * * * *

Yes, just simple little stories. Yet compare them to the inanities filling the air-waves today. Which type of story is more likely to help instill positive character traits in listeners, cause them to be kinder, more empathetic?

These are the kinds of stories that are worth their weight in gold. Such stories are the real reason the series has defied the odds by still being alive 23 years after it was first launched.

Stories likely to elicit strangling hugs.

THE GIRL WITH DANCING EYES

BLOG #46, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE GIRL WITH DANCING EYES

November 12, 2014

She would not have been unusual during my growing-up-years—but she is now. She was reading the Scripture text at church: clearly, each word perfectly enunciated, with deep feeling. And her eyes—they lit up the entire church. I literally could not take my eyes off of her.

After church, I spoke with her. I learned quite a bit about her upbringing, but learned little I had not already surmised. I complimented her on the sense of wonder radiating from her eyes—but really it was the parents who deserved the fuller credit for them. For it was they who have so far protected her from losing that God-given sense of wonder all babies are born with, but oh so few retain more than months.

So why, if her eyes are wonder-filled, do I label her “The Girl with Dancing Eyes”? This is why: When she was in church, her eyes were wonder-filled reverent eyes; but, one-on-one, outside of church—I was not a stranger to her (her family reads from my books)—, though the wonder remained in her eyes, there was a joyousness, tied to an entrancing addition of impishness, that was absolutely irresistible: the only word that adequately capsulizes the totality is “Dancing.”

But why is she not the norm among children her age? Reason being that many forces are at work that contribute to stripping that sense of wonder from the eyes of babies and children. Parents do it the very first time they permit the baby to be in the room when the television set is on. Studies have shown that babies are anything but unaware, picking up 60-70 percent of what is said and depicted on the screen. Parents all too often fail to realize how little it takes to quench that spark of vibrant life that brings the glow into the eyes. Parents—and how few parents are not guilty of this!—apparently don’t realize what they are doing when they say, “For goodness sake, stop bothering me with your questions—go watch TV!”

And precious little that appears on the television screen elevates the soul of those who watch it. And even if a program is values-worth-living-by-affirming, all too few of the million-plus commercials each of our children is exposed to during their growing-up years, are likely to increase the candle-power of those pure eyes they were born with.

But parents cannot take that sense of wonder for granted. It must be continually reinforced in the family story hour. For children do not internalize abstractions, but rather they internalize whatever values (uplifting or debasing) they hear or see in stories. Since few of the stories they experience on the media are compatible with the sense of wonder they were born with, wise parents realize that it doesn’t take more than seconds or minutes to blight—or even destroy completely—that glow. But if they are introduced to the right kind of stories (the ones they’ll ask for again and again), they will internalize those values. This is the reason Christ never spoke without stories: He created us to internalize them; to grow into them.

One danger, however, must be pointed out: It is all too easy for concerned parents to over-react. To be so over-protective and restrictive that their children either rebel or grow up to be narrow-minded, naive, and incapable of dealing with the complexities of adult life.

It is an awesome responsibility to raise a child.

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)

IN PRAISE OF OLD MAGAZINES

BLOG #10, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
IN PRAISE OF OLD MAGAZINES
March 6, 2013

During the last couple of years the chances are excellent that at any given moment, day or night, I could have been found leafing through, or reading an old magazine. Far more likely than immersion in a book.

Why? Because it is in old magazines that the greatest stories ever written are most likely to be found. During the Golden Age of Print in America (1880s through the 1950s), magazine was king. During much of that time, magazine editors paid writers more for a given story or book manuscript than movie producers or publishing house editors. This is why the appearance of a given story in a magazine normally predated its appearance in a book.

If you were a child or a teen during that Golden Age, you had ever so many choices: long-lived magazines such as The Youth’s Companion (a weekly for over a hundred years), St. Nicholas (a monthly from 1873 to 1939), The Youth’s Instructor (a weekly for over a hundred years), Little Folks, Girl’s Own, Boy’s Own, Young People’s Weekly, Boys World, Girls’ Companion, Jack and Jill, just to name a few.

During that time period, there was an unspoken consensus in the adult world that children were to be protected from obscenities, the dark side of human nature, and printed material that would degrade or disillusion. The flip side was that since America, since its founding, was built on Judeo-Christian bedrock, authors who could memorably articulate those values in their stories and books became household words across the nation, in the Commonwealth, and in the Western World. Recognizing that children would become their favorite stories, parents everywhere religiously conducted daily story hours since the values in these magazines and books could be internalized in the hearts and souls of their listening children. And it worked!

Not so today. Today, when the Christian community is, more often than not, on the defensive, with a secular media vastly out programming it, parents everywhere feel overwhelmed. How can they prevent their children from being destroyed by a society that is openly hostile to Christianity?

I submit that Story is the answer. The stories that once could be found in most every household—but today are crumbling out of existence in old magazines that are being lost to posterity at an alarming rate. Indeed, so fast are these wonderful priceless old magazines being cut up, destroyed, hauled out to the dump, that they will soon be all but extinct.

And this is why my wife Connie and I have dedicated what’s left of our lives to preserving as many as possible of the best of these long ago treasure chests of stories. Sixty-six of our eighty books so far are story anthologies—and most originated in old magazines.

And that’s why, day and night, we are racing against time to preserve as many stories as possible before God calls us home.

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.

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