‘”THE HIGHWAYMAN”

BLOG #24, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE

ALFRED NOYES’ “THE HIGHWAYMAN”
June 24, 2015

Wisdom, in whatever form it’s packaged, has always fascinated me. The most condensed form of wisdom is a quotation, which we discussed last week. Second only to quotations are poetry, in terms of the words required to compress wisdom into so few lines. Next would come essays and short stories.

As those of you know who own my book, Tears of Joy for Mothers, my introduction was titled “My Mother’s Scrapbooks,” a dual heirloom which I was lucky enough to inherit. My mother was a professional elocutionist, a stage performer whose control of audiences—be it for short stories, readings, or poetry—was absolute. I grew up listening to the rhythm of her voice. She bequeathed to me two great gifts: an enduring love for short stories, and an equally enduring love for poetry.

In earlier times, the reciting of poetry was a staple in schools, civic functions, and churches everywhere. Today, poetry has been all but snuffed out by a vacuous media. Ted Koppel put it best in these two lines:

“Almost everything said in public today is recorded;
Almost nothing said in public today is worth remembering.”

So little of enduring value in today’s televised yada-yada.

In my classes, I found boys and young men to be the most resistant to poetry. That is, until I showed them how brutally honest and searing great poetry can be. Result: many went on to put together scrapbooks composed of their favorite poems.

Though I don’t currently have a Dr. Joe’s Poem of the Month Club, I have blogged quite a few of my favorite poems. Here they are so far:

1. “Love Comes Not the Same” – Joe Wheeler – (Feb. 10, 2010)
2. “The Child Is Father of the Man” – William Wordsworth – (March 31, 2010)
3. “The Other Side of Pomp and Circumstance” – Joe Wheeler – (May 12, 2010)
4. “The Clock of Life” – Author Unknown – (May 19, 2010)
5. “Outwitted” – Edwin Markham – July 28, 2010)
6. “Days” – Emerson – (March 16, 2011)
7. “October Song” – Joe Wheeler – (Oct. 5, 2011)
8. “Enoch Arden” – Tennyson – (May 2, 2012)
9. “Ulysses” – “Tennyson – (May 9, 2012)
10. “The Mill” – Edwin Arlington Robinson – (Aug. 1, 2012)
11. “A Song of Living” – Author Unknown – (May 15, 2013)
12. “First Settler’s Story” – Will Carleton – (June 24, 2013)
13. “Where Does Morning Come From?” – Emily Dickinson – (March 19, 2014)
14. “And I Learned About Women from Her?” – Kipling – Oct. 8, 2014)
15. “I Am” – Helen Mallicoat – (Dec. 31, 2014)
16. “Wisdom” – Edgar Guest – (March 4, 2015)
17. “It Couldn’t Be Done” – Edgar Guest – (April 22, 2015)

So . . . , I have a question to ask of you: Would you like me to make a regular thingn of poems I’ve loved in life? Are you one of those who’d like to collect them if I did? If you are, please respond right away!

Meanwhile, over the next several weeks, I’m going to share a couple more of my favorites with you.

You can contact me at: mountainauthor@gmail.com. Or message me on Facebook.

Stay tuned.

 

Advertisements

DO YOU LIKE DAY-BRIGHTENERS?

BLOG #23, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DO YOU LIKE DAY-BRIGHTENERS?
June 10, 2015

Well I do. I’m referring to a staple in my life for a very long time, a daily quotation to set my sails for the day. Over the years, I’ve gathered together well over a million of them to draw from. During my 34 years in the classroom, it was what I’d do: first thing of every day, write a day-brightening quotation on the blackboard. I put a lot of thought into them because I knew it was the first thing my students looked at when they came to class. And it was because so many wrote down their favorite ones and kept them down through the years, that I responded to their pleas to “Please, do it again! I miss them,” and began tweeting a quotation each day back in 2011.

Remembering how boring quotes can become if they are too similar to each other, too saccharine, too same ol’ same ol’, too pious, too preachy, too serious, too light, too old, too new, I’ve always done my best to mix them so that those who read them each day will know there’s no sameness; and that I mix in humor with the thought-provoking; and that my personal reading mixes in the contemporary with the old.

Several days ago, my agent, Greg Johnson, checked up on me, asking me how many people read our tweets each day and blogs each week. I didn’t know—in fact, it had been years since I’d last checked on such numbers. Mainly because I felt that if I did my utmost to make each entry the very best I could, a Higher Power would take care of the numbers. Furthermore, that if bloggers and tweeters felt blessed, informed, entertained, enlightened, etc., by them, they’d share them with their friends and relatives and suggest to them that they also become regulars. I just assumed the numbers would be somewhat similar; thus imagine my surprise to discover that there were almost nine times more blog-readers than tweet-readers! I’d mistakenly assumed that most people would want to read both.

I’ve now been tweeting quotations for 1350 days as of today; and have a request to make of all you bloggers who haven’t yet checked out the daily tweets. It would mean a great deal to me if you’d just give it a try for a week or so, and let me know whether or not you like them. I’m making this request not because my ego needs such affirmation, but because I so much would like to share them with you each day.

Just to give you a feel for what they’re like, I’m attaching all of the May 2015 tweets. I do hope you like them. And if you already read them each day—thank you for being part of my life! On the other hand, if you have not,  just go to http://www.twitter.com/JoeWheelerBooks.com – and sign up – and enjoy!

Scan_Pic0163Scan_Pic0164

50 TAKES ON WISDOM

BLOG #12, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
50 TAKES ON WISDOM
March 25, 2015

What would you get if you asked fifty of the world’s most eminent people to share with you the most significant insights into wisdom they’d gleaned from this thing called “life”? That’s exactly what photographer and film-maker Andrew Zuckerman did in his wondrous volume titled Wisdom (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2008).

Interviewees included the likes of Richard Rogers, Chuck Close, Madeleine Albright, Burt Bacharach, Andrew Wyeth, Buzz Aldrin, Desmond Tutu, Judi Dench, Clint Eastwood, Michael Parkinson, Ted Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Robert Redford, Frank Gehry, Henry Kissinger, Rosamunde Pilcher, Jane Goodall, Alan Arkin, Dave Brubeck, and Vaclev Havel.

In his insightful “Afterword,” Zuckerman explores the evolution of his concept:

It is very hard to tell another human being that he or she is an icon, and that you’re there to extract the wisdom out of their iconic beings. It doesn’t sit well. People are people. We’re sitting down to have a conversation. I’m a young person conversing with an older person and there’s a certain human engagement. I thought: what no one has a problem with is being a human being. Everyone is human. I kept thinking about this idea of setting out on this amazing adventure to create a field guide for navigating one’s life. I wanted to explore what it is to be human, to hear from people who have lived for a long time and have an enormous amount of experience. . . .

I’m thirty years old and at this point in my life most of my generation, my peers, are creating work that is a mirror of youth culture. Our society is obsessed with youth. I have never understood that. My whole life, I’ve enjoyed meeting accomplished older people–it just seemed logical to me that these are the people who had done it. They have all the secrets. Why wouldn’t you ask them? ‘What secrets does youth hold? How did you do it? And how do you feel now about how you did it? And what did you learn?

* * * * *

It took me most of a week to fully digest all this, and the several hundred 3 x 5 note cards on which I copied quotations. I’ll be sharing with our readers in our daily quotation tweets.

C O D A

I take very serious these daily quotations. Quite candidly, one of my biggest fears is that my reference field would be too narrow, reflect my own reading too much, my own academic fields of expertise too much, my own era too much. With these concerns ever in my mind, even though I already have millions of quotations to draw from, I’m constantly seeking new sources of fresh wisdom.

Consequently, I consider it providential that our son Greg already had this seminal book in his personal library so that I could immerse myself in it.

I’m hoping you’ll agree.

I’ll start out with a longer quote from the book – too long for a tweet. On being asked what sessions stood out to him most, Zuckerman responded with:

One was Chuck Close, who spoke of the enormous amount of information contained in the topography of a face. He said, ‘If you’ve laughed your whole life you have laugh lines, if you’ve frowned your whole life you have furrows in your brow. Sometimes you have both, and most people have a kind of duality of life experience, some tragedy and some great moments of extreme happiness, and I don’t want one of those to overwhelm the other.’ It’s true. There’s an enormous amount to communicate in a portrait that can’t be communicated in words. The face reveals the journey traveled. And one of the incredible things about photographing people at this stage in their lives is that they’ve had quite a long journey and the information in the face was really what I was there to capture with the utmost clarity.

Doctor of Happiness

BLOG #11, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DOCTOR OF HAPPINESS
March 18, 2015

Serendipitously, while still sifting through thousands of stories in my archives, I found the perfect companion piece to last week’s blog, “How to Be Happy?” When I checked the source, I knew I had to incorporate it into this week’s blog, for the story was featured in the November 1935 issue of Sunshine magazine, published by Sunshine Press in Litchfield, Illinois. Sunshine has long been one of my favorite magazines, both for its stories and for its quotations. I’ve anthologized many of the stories, and in my daily quotation tweets, few sources do I raid more often than Sunshine magazine.

During the last period of its existence, it was published by Garth Henrichs, and he and I became good friends. When I told him of my love for the magazine, he sighed and said, “Your words mean a great deal to me – especially since age is catching up with me and I have no one to carry on after I’m gone.” We stayed in contact until the late 1980s, when Garth was finally forced to close the doors of Sunshine Press, founded by his father Henry Henrichs. But before he died, he entrusted me with the legacy of keeping Sunshine alive in my writing and books. Neither blogs nor tweets existed back then. Thus, I’m confident Garth would be filled with joy to see this story by an unknown author live again.

Enjoy!

“MARY ANN, Ph. D.”

Mary Ann was a scrubwoman. But that didn’t prevent her from being a philosopher, although she did not know herself by that designation. It is not uncommon these days to find excellent wisdom wrapped up in odd and unpromising packages.

Mary Ann did a lot of thinking as she scrubbed, which did not hurt the scrubbing. Her conclusions may not have matched the classic cogitations of the collegiate or his companions in wisdom, but they were ideas that had the spice of sense in them. And that’s something.

It was one of those depressing, damp days too prevalent in the great city. Mary Ann was scrubbing the imposing stone steps of a well-known banking institution, when a banking official known to the scrubwoman entered. He paused for a moment, as he often did, to exchange a bit of conversation with Mary Ann. He hoped she might be happy and well. She was well, and had a good appetite, thank you. And she had a “right smart amount” of happiness, too, but not any too much.

Mary Ann often had pondered that matter with a view to discovering a satisfying conclusion. At the best, she found it a somewhat complex affair, but not wholly confounding. She had evolved what might be called a philosophy of happiness – she had to have one to keep going and hold up her end of the day’s demands. Life would be unbearable in a city tenement, and crushing to a scrubber of bank portals, without some definite ideas about happiness and contentment. Her philosophy might not conform to the most logical reasoning, nor blend with the poet’s dream of bliss, but it satisfied Mary Ann.

Looking up at the banker from her kneeling position, Mary Ann quaintly said, “There ain’t no happiness in this world, ‘cept what we makes ourselves.”

“Quite a chunk of wisdom,” thought the banker, but he said nothing. Mary Ann hesitated, expecting the banker to pass on, but he did not. Instead, he stood there and just looked at her.

Mary Ann raised up on her knees. “You see,” she continued, “happiness, t’ me way o’ thinking, is something inside o’ you. A lot o’ folks ‘spect somebody t’ come along an’ fill ‘em full o’ happiness, an’ all they think they got t’ do is jest t’ do nothing. You know, Mister, that makes me feel kinda ‘shamed o’ meself – jest like we humans can’t take care o’ ourselves.”

“Seems to me,” continued Mary Ann, seeing that the banker friend was still listening, “seems t’ me what we git from other folks, what some call happiness, is something cheap, an un–ungenuine. What you git from inside yerself is all good, and it sticks.”

The banker looked enviously at Mary Ann. He found little genuine happiness in his relationships with people. Certainly he found pleasure in business–when it was good. As to happiness from the “inside,” as Mary Ann had said, his responsibilities and worries were altogether too heavy to admit of it. Hence, Mary Ann’s philosophy was somewhat perplexing, effective as it appeared to be.

“Are you happy, Mister?” questioned Mary Ann, unexpectedly.

The banker was embarrassed, and he hesitated before he answered. “Oh, yes–why, yes, of course,” he stuttered, “Maybe not the kind you are talking about. You see, I depend on society–business success, you understand, to supply my happiness.”

Mary Ann looked up at the banker, laughing, “aw, you ain’t had no happiness at all. All you git that way ain’t happiness–it’s nothing only pleasure. That ain’t happiness. I bet it don’t last no longer than it takes you t’ git away from it.” And Mary Ann laughed again.

The banker walked slowly away. “Mary Ann, Doctor of Philosophy,” he muttered. “The half of all I own would I give to experience the happiness Mary Ann possesses. My money entangles me in snares I cannot break. Would that I might cast it off, but my family and my friends live on the fruits of my investments. I cannot forsake them. I live in fear of something, I know not what. I am worried – worried— ”

When Mary Ann finished scrubbing, she hummed a little tune all her own. Weary in body, to be sure, but happy because the portals were shining – a work well done – and she was earning an honest and respectable living, and she could look the whole world in the face. The contagion of her happiness shed a ray upon her surroundings and brightened the outlook of those near by.

The banker, wise in many things, foolish in the greatest, experienced a bit of Mary Ann’s brand of happiness when, on the early morning of Thanksgiving Day, he deposited at Mary Ann’s tenement door a huge basket bulging with good things. It was in material things, such as these, that he had sought his own happiness, but in his own possession rather than in the possession of others. Suddenly he realized the folly of his own philosophy.

In the basket left at Mary Ann’s door, hidden among the profusion of good things, she found a note written in the banker’s own hand. It merely said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive. Thanks to Mary Ann.”

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.

Why Is Brevity So Rare?

BLOG #9, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHY IS BREVITY SO RARE?
March 4, 2015

I really didn’t know just how difficult it was to be brief until one day, in Colorado Springs, when I delivered a one-minute short for Focus on the Family. There, in that broadcast studio, the sound people were all business. Their injunction all too precise: “We need a 60-second short from you—not 59 or 58, and not 61 or 62. Just 60 seconds.” And so we did take after take after take before I finally completed my task in exactly 60 seconds.

As a story anthologist, I’m always searching for powerful short stories I can read on the air. Believe me, they are mighty rare!

Same for poems. One of my favorite poets is the late Edgar A. Guest, one of the most beloved folk poets America has ever known. In one particular poem, he pulled off a twelve-line masterpiece that captured the essence of one of the most difficult words to perfectly define in the English language. Here it is:

WISDOM

This is wisdom, maids and men:
Knowing what to say and when.

Speech is common; thought is rare;
Wise men choose their words with care.

Artists with the master touch
Never use one phrase too much.

Jesus, preaching on the Mount,
Made His every sentence count.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
Needs not one word more nor less.

This is wisdom, maids and men:
Knowing what to say and when.

From Guest’s A Heap O’ Living Along Life’s Highway (Chicago: Reilly & Lee, 1916)

Washington and Lincoln: Are They Still Relevant?

BLOG #7, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WASHINGTON AND LINCOLN
ARE THEY STILL RELEVANT?
February 18, 2015

Are they ever! Again and again, I hear back from readers of my two Lincoln books: Abraham Lincoln, A Man of Faith and Courage, 2008; and Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories, 2013 (both published by Howard/Simon & Schuster), comments such as these: “Do we ever need another Lincoln today!”, “I was deeply moved by your new Lincoln book.” Just ten days ago, a Parmalee Elementary School fourth-grader who walked up to me and asked, “Are you the writer of the animal books”? When I answered that I was, his face brightened as he said, “I have all ten of them–I love them all!” When I then asked him which one he liked best, without a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Best of all? . . oh, that has to be the Lincoln book—I read it over and over!”

Though I haven’t yet put together a Washington story anthology, over the years I’ve gradually tracked down many of the most powerful such stories—they’re hard to find for they were written for a much more patriotic age than ours today. Sadly, neither civics nor American history are taught much any more.

Washington’s role in our history is every bit as significant as Lincoln’s, for he was the reason why we (with the timely help of the French fleet) eventually won our independence from England. Furthermore, without him, it is doubtful the perpetually squabbling colonies would ever have agreed to support any one leader as President.

So one man, more than any other, made possible the establishment of our republic, and another man, more than any other, made possible the preservation of our republic.

Which brings us to a key question: Just what are their most significant character traits?

I’d say, selflessness . . . persistency . . . determination to see something through to its desired end, no matter the cost, no matter how long it would take . . . strong belief in God and Providence . . . Humility (Washington refused to be crowned King) . . . Solid as a rock Integrity . . . accessibility to all . . . Fear of Power . . . Consideration for others . . . Ability to motivate thousands of people to join him in common cause . . . organizational skills . . . tact . . . love of family . . . far-seeing . . . ability to see the forest as well as the trees . . . fear of a permanent military establishment . . . visionary: could see far ahead . . . kindness . . . empathy . . . loyalty . . . willingness to be used, then gladly step aside for others . . . Wise foreign policy . . . fiscally astute . . . wise use of spoken and written words . . . consistency . . . unwillingness or reluctance to abridge freedom for longer than necessity demanded . . . no daylight between the talk and the walk.

These qualities and more are the key reasons so many people wish Lincoln and Washington were still with us today.

Of course, in a very real sense, they still are!

* * * * *

Scan_Pic0048Scan_Pic0049

 

Should you wish to pick up a copy of either or both of my Lincoln books from us, here’s how:

 

Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories: $22.99 (plus shipping – $6.00)

 

 

Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage: $22.00 (plus shipping – $6.00)

Both books are dust-jacketed hardbacks. Specify if you wish them to be personally or generically inscribed (no extra cost).

Our mailing address: Sage & Holly Distributors, P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.

Barely Begun at Seventy – Part One

BLOG #28, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY – Part One
July 9, 2014

It was a glorious spring morning in California’s verdant Napa Valley. And the alumni were coming home from all across the nation to their alma mater, Pacific Union College, judged by the likes of Newsweek and U.S. News to feature the most beautiful college campus in America.

I was privileged to be one of six alumni to be honored that weekend. But for us it was a two-way street: we were expected to give as well as take. Each of us was given around eight minutes to share with the audience the most significant distilled wisdom life had brought us. If you don’t think that would be a tough challenge, just put yourself in our places: how would you have responded to such an assignment?

For me, the question had profound implications, convicted as I am that all true wisdom comes from God. And since I’ve tweeted nuggets of wisdom every day now for almost three years, I had a lot of distilled wisdom to access. But the core of my response to this assignment was a no-brainer: There was for me only one possible quote that would satisfy. Especially, given the makeup of this particular audience. This is it:

A life may be over at sixteen
or barely begun at
seventy;
it is the aim
that determines its completeness.

That well-over-a-hundred-year-old-quotation came to me just when I needed it most: during the countdown decade leading up to the biblical “threescore and ten” that symbolizes a lifetime. At least that used to be true. In America, prior to the twentieth century, the norm was only forty-five years. Today, we’re back to the biblical seventy. I discovered that seminal quotation in a very old issue of that great magazine for young people: The Youth’s Instructor.

I needed it because as each of us approaches this time-period in life, one’s seventieth birthday can be almost terrifying: You mean my life is almost over? I don’t have any more time left? Will it be all downhill for me now? Will I be living on borrowed time? Is my productive lifetime over? Will it all be just a waiting game–waiting to die? All these questions swirled around in my head.

Also part of this ferment was a long-time metaphor for the perceived terminus of one’s productive lifetime: the proverbial Gold Watch. When or if one lived to be 65 years of age, one’s employer presented you with a gold watch. From that day forward, you were no longer a worker bee. You were now officially old. But not to worry: the benevolent government would now take care of you in the short time-frame you had left. Blessed be Social Security.

You see, when Social Security was born during the traumatic FDR era, no one expected Americans to live much longer than 65: many would die before they reached 65. This is why it seemed such a safe life raft for our government to offer its citizens. No one then even dreamed that more and more Americans would be living into their seventies, eighties, nineties, and, gasp! hundreds! Prime reason why the Social Security program is today threatening the fiscal stability of our nation.

The mind-set back then was this: You have exceeded expectations: You have reached 65. This gold watch means you’re done. We’re putting you out to pasture. We expect no more work out of you. Rock away on your front porch until you have the good sense to die. Always remember that Social Security is short-term: we can’t afford to pay you for living much longer. Most certainly we don’t expect you to live past seventy! Goodness! Do you think you’re immortal!

This was the mind-set of my grandparents’ generation.

But the problem today is this: We have never developed a template for vibrant productive living beyond the Gold Watch.

I see this reality at every alumni weekend I attend. Classmates who have given up on productive living now that they’ve entered the Gold Watch period. They don’t admit this in words, but they most certainly articulate it in their actions! They’ve traded their heretofore active lifestyle for a meaningless sedentary one. They’ve given up on goals. You ask them what they’re doing these days, and they sigh, “Not much…. Watch TV, putter around, play a few holes of golf, babysit the grandkids–you know: the usual.”

You can tell they’re telling you the truth because physically and mentally they are rapidly falling apart.

Each of them is indeed just waiting to die!

Next week, July 16, we shall continue on this topic: BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY.
Copyright© 2014

 

QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY

BLOG #16, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY
April 16, 2014

It is said that poetry is the most condensed literary art form there is–much more than is true of novels and short stories. I would disagree: quotations are even more condensed than poems.

Of course that gets us into the debate as to whether quotations deserve to be classified as an art form. I submit that they are. It is almost impossible to create shorter condensations of wisdom than in quotations.

For example, how could it be possible to condense the essence of the following any further than these?

“God is Love” (John 4:8)

“I came, I saw, I conquered” (Julilus Caesar)
“All the World’s a Stage.” (Shakespeare)
“What’s past is prologue” (Shakespeare)
“To err is human, to forgive divine.” (Pope)
“Jesus wept” (John 11:35)

Looking back through time, I think I was first captivated by quotations in the old Reader’s Digest. In their early days, their editors routinely featured quotations worth remembering, the essence of Alexander Pope’s immortal “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.”

All of us aspire to be witty, to articulate thought so splendidly listeners will be in awe of us. But if we are not the first to come up with timeless phraseology–well the artist James McNeill Whistler captured it best in a conversation he had with Oscar Wilde:

Wilde: “I wish I’d said that.”
Whistler: “You will, Oscar, you will.”

Early on in teaching, I wrote on my classroom blackboard one morning, a quotation I felt worth remembering. I wrote another on the board the following day, and so on. It didn’t take long to discover that it was the first thing students noticed when they walked into the room.

Over time, that daily quotation became part of my persona. So much so that if I missed a day, my students demanded I immediately remedy that omission.

Fast forward to the last eighteen years of writing and anthologizing full time. As books bearing my name accumulated, former students began checking back in. A number mentioned those long-ago quotations–many had copied down their favorites: a number still had them. Several suggested I take advantage of the worldwide web and tweet one every day. That way, they could still pretend they were students of mine.

So it was that on October 1 of 2011, I tweeted my first quotation. I have not missed a day since. In late June of 2014, I’ll log in my 1000th quotation.

I take these postings mighty seriously for I want each of them to be worth remembering. I’ve discovered that most quotation books are merely compendiums of quotations, mighty few of them worth writing down, even fewer worth internalizing.

Though I have well over a million quotes archived, it is never easy to select a month’s worth of quotes. For I determined early on to avoid merely posting same ol’ same ol’s; quotes originating with individuals many of our contemporaries don’t even recognize. Because of this, in order to maintain a good mix of quotes old and new, I continuously search for current quotes worth remembering. I add humorous ones as day-brightening changes of pace as well. But always I also feature the greatest ones from ages past.

I’ll be most interested in your reactions to our quotes. If enough interest is expressed, I’ll consider making them available in printed form as well.

If you like quotes but haven’t yet checked ours out, you can access them at http://www.twitter.com/JoeWheelerBooks.

 

 

THIS THING CALLED “WISDOM”

BLOG #6, SERIES 5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THIS THING CALLED WISDOM
February 5, 2014

If you, like me, spend much time in bookstores, and watch where people go, once they’ve come in, you’ll discover that many are there for one reason only: they are searching for wisdom. Browsers search through quotation books, philosophy books, religion books, writing books, advice books, self-help books–the list could go on and on. Each of these browsers seeking answers, solutions, or guidance.

Yet it’s strange,, isn’t it? That we who are all but buried in torrents of information–more so than any previous generation in history–find it increasingly difficult to separate the wise from the foolish, the gold from the mica, the original from a copy or cloning.

Untold thousands of these seekers who buy book after book turn up empty. Eventually, a disproportionate number of them give up on finding solutions for their problems and settle for a guru. A guru who’ll say to them, in essence: You fools! You’ll never find answers on your own. Only sages like me, who have sifted through all the stratas of information and have discovered the mother lode of wisdom, can be trusted to answer your questions and bring you peace. All you have to do is listen to me talk and read my books. Never again will you have to wonder about what is important or not. In the future, you need search no further for I have all the answers.

Sound familiar? It ought to for our contemporary society is overrun by self-annointed gurus and prophets who have set themselves up as demigods, both religious and secular.

I too have long searched for wisdom. All writers do. How well I remember a key epiphany in my life’s journey. I stumbled on a book that appeared to contain all the answers I’d ever need in my search to be a successful writer. In fact, the dust-jacket trumpeted the gladsome news that wanabe writers need search no further than this one book, for in it an impressive group of successful writers each divulge the secrets to their writing success. It was not a cheap book, but I rose to the bait and bought it.

Never in my life have I been more disappointed/disillusioned by a book! It was hollow. Not one of all those famous authors offered solutions or guidance! Instead, each one revealed how insecure s/he was; how terrified each one of writer’s block: of coming up empty idea-wise, wisdom-wise.

Not one of them accessed a Higher Power in this near frantic search for wisdom. At this time in my journey, my books were selling well and letters were streaming in. A number of them praised me for my wisdom, acknowledging their debt to me as a source of wisdom they could depend on. This concerned me no little for I knew it was not true, for I was searching for wisdom myself. For an author, such letters are insidious, for the temptation is to believe them, and write back, acknowledging the truth of their assumptions, and inwardly adding another name to the tribe of devotees who can be counted on to buy his/her books.

Finally, God gave me a totally different epiphany: one that has, over time, revolutionized my life. The catalyst: Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. If the story is hazy to you, here it is:

That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, ‘What do you want, and I will give it to you!’

[And Solomon answered] ‘O LORD my God, now you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am among your own chosen people, a nation so great they are too numerous to count! Give me an understanding mind so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great nation of yours?’

The LORD was pleased with Solomon’s reply and was glad that he had asked for wisdom. So God replied, ‘Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people and have not asked for a long life or riches for yourself or the death of your enemies–I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding mind such as no one has ever had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for–riches and honor! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!’
(1 Kings 3:7-12 NLT)

Though I had read this passage before, never before had I thought of it as having any possible association with myself. But now the thought came to me: Nowhere in Scripture is it said that God would not grant wisdom to someone other than Solomon! What if I asked for it? I could but ask. I couldn’t possibly be more at sea wisdom-wise than I am now!

And so, with my own adaptation of Solomon’s request, I began the first day of the rest of my life:

Lord, as I begin this new day, I recognize that my own wisdom wells are shallow and the water brackish–only Yours are deep, filled with living water. Would You be willing to grant me, just for today, access to Your wisdom wells so that what I say and write may be a blessing?

Incredibly and immediately, I was engulfed by breakers of wisdom rolling up the beaches of my mind!

And so began my daily partnership with God. It has radically changed my life, for I’ve never again had to worry about accessing true wisdom. I never write a word of a story, or a plot, without humbly asking God, that if it be His will [absolutely critical, for God ignores gimme prayers], He will supply the story concept, the plot, the characters. He may make me wait, but always, the story comes, and all I have to do is toddle along behind the characters as God takes them wherever it is His will that they go. Same is true for my (our) story anthologies: God chooses the stories that make it in.

Thus I take no credit for anything that bears my name, but rather I continually note God’s mind-boggling condescension in partnering with the least of His children, one who has made so many mistakes in life. If there be anything in our books that have been published since that life-changing day when I first prayed what I’ve come to call the Prayer of Solomon, it is because all is His rather than mine.

But the flip-side of the coin is this: In order to continue this partnership with God, I am not at liberty to write anything God would not approve of. I cannot compartmentalize what I write or say.

* * *

But now, let’s get back to you. You may not be a writer, so how does the Prayer of Solomon apply to you? The Prayer may be used by every individual, young or old, on earth. It is no more complex than humbly submitting your daily trajectory to the Creator of us all, who created us in His own image, and is moment by moment, accessible to each of us.

However, if you do decide to make this Prayer the foundation of the rest of your life, be prepared for seismic changes in your life. Not that you won’t continue to make mistakes, zig when you should have zagged, but the trajectory of your journey will trend upward rather than downward.

May God bless you.