Thursday, July 4, 2019

My Country, 'Tis of Thee

When I was in school, we used to sing this song the beginning of our school day. And recite the Pledge of Allegiance with our hands over our hearts, turned toward the U. S. Stars and Stripes flag. Without these things, America might not have produced what is now called The Greatest Generation. Hundreds of thousands of young men and officers who were willing to lay down their very lives so that their families, the citizens of their United States, and most of the rest of the world, might not fall under the rule of tyrants. Tyrants named Hitler, Mussolini, and others. My heart breaks that so much of the world, including many in this country, have forgotten.Some elected leaders, sworn to uphold our Constitution and follow the clearly expressed will of the people, have not forgotten either. They simply choose to employ those same tactics used by the would-be tyrants to undermine and overthrow the will of the people. But as long as enough young and old Americans DO remember, those modern-day would-be tyrants who choose riches over integrity and patriotism will also fail.

Consider these lines, first stanza of the song title of this blog post:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of Liberty, Of thee, I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims' pride,
From every mountainside, LET FREEDOM RING!




Sunday, May 26, 2019

Honor to Whom Honor Is Due

I'm old enough to remember May 30 as being called Decoration Day. People went to the cemetery, cleared off graves, placed flowers/wreaths near the markers (tombstones) in memory of the people they were honoring. This was done particularly to honor those who had fallen in battle in defense of their homeland. Later when the designatiion of many holidays was changed to the nearest Monday, providing a three day weekend, Decoration Day was among the ones changed. I don't remember, perhaps that was also when the name was changed to Memorial Day. Either name is fitting. I am just glad many people still revere those who were willing to lay down their lives to defend the freedoms we who remain enjoy in this country in which we live. Can we do less than our share to ensure that those freedoms continue? 
The piece below, despite its title, was inspired by two different events, a visit to the car wash and a visit to pay my respects when one of the replicas of the Vietnam Wall was brought to my city.


Dancing Ladies



When I was in high school I took one year of Spanish. Almost all of what I may have learned has disappeared from my memory. I can count to five, know hacienda means house. Beyond that, not much. I’d like to learn more of that language, but doubt I’ll ever devote sufficient time to do it. So I suppose it is not a strong desire.
This musing about language was brought to mind by a note I’d written a while back while at the local car wash. I watched the conveyor belt pull my car through the long, flapping strips of material and streams of liquid soap and water. The strips bounced up, down and sideways, then slowly, sensuously dragged across the top of my car as it moved along. What are those strips made of anyway? Canvas? Felt? Surely it would have to be a special kind of felt. Whatever they are, my car seemed to be meekly surrendering to their ministrations. To be saying, I need to be clean, wash the pollen from my windows, dirt from my wheels, bird droppings from my roof. Fanciful thoughts, but we humans are prone to such about the inanimate things we care about.
I dubbed the incessantly moving car wash strips ‘dancing ladies’ because they reminded me a little of a flower I’ve seen. The plant has a long, twelve or more inches, almost bare stem topped with lovely, spherical blooms which dance constantly in the smallest breeze. Though also inanimate in the sense that they do not consciously dance, as far as we know, they project a sense of happiness in the mere act of movement. Much as talented human dancers do in a ballet or musical production.
I think many things we encounter in daily life ‘speak’ to us in a language our subconscious may understand but can’t interpret for us. I recall when a replica of the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Wall was brought to Kingsport. I thought it was my fancy that there was a heavy quietness around that wall. But since then I’ve read that others feel it, too. Spirits of those mostly young souls, or our own sorrowing spirit? I prefer the latter, and that the brave ones are in a better place.
 
sylvia@sylvianickels.com

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Cyber Millionaires

 My phones, some would say Luddite that I am, landline and cell, ring so often I'm tempted to turn ringers off. Most are telemarketers and I am loath to be really rude to them in hopes they will take me off their list. After all, they are working in an almost universally disliked job to earn a living and to me that's commendable. So many, in present times, are not willing. So I don't answer if the number is not familiar. What does aggravate me very much is that some unscrupulous places have the ability to 'spoof' numbers and names. This is fraud, pure and simple. I learned by trial and error(answering) not to be fooled if a number is very similar to one I know. Names from different providers sometimes do not show, unfortunately, so memorize the numbers you want to talk to!
The piece below is a column I did a number of years ago for a local weekly newspaper. Even more valid, today, I'm sorry to say.



Completely Free 

Riiiight! How many times are we taken in by that phrase? I know I have been too many times to count. And its cousin, ‘If dissatisfied, cancel anytime.’ Uh huh. Just try calling the number you’re given to call and cancel the subscription to Clutter-Free Living after six unread issues clutter your coffee table. If you persevere through half a dozen pass-the-buck call transfers, or manage not to be disconnected, you might get to talk to a live person. You very calmly explain that you wish to cancel your subscription and receive a refund on unused issues. The person oh so sweetly wants you to tell them why you could possibly be dissatisfied with such a stellar periodical. When you remind them you were told you could cancel for any or no reason, you get more circular talk. And to please hold while the representative confers with the ‘circulation manager.’ ‘Circulation manager’ comes on the line to persuade you how much you need the magazine. You yell and scream and finally are told that yes, of course, your subscription will be cancelled. Relieved, gullible you hang up. Only to have to go through the same thing for the next two months when the magazines keep piling up. By the time the next-to-last issue is due to ship, your subscription might be cancelled. Three months pass and eventually a check for five dollars arrives in your mailbox. Once upon a time we only got into these predicaments if we unwisely allowed a door-to-door salesman – or an earnest student ‘working his or her way through college’ - inside our front door. Now telephone solicitors calling from huge boiler room operations, and online offers too good to pass up, lie in wait for us multiple times daily. Online websites which charge for information are masters of this sleight-of-hand scam. Sign up and browse for free. Only once an account is created a credit card number is required before any useful information can be accessed. Humans are so constructed that once they’ve invested time in a project, they are more willing to invest money. Thereby are cyber millionaires created, from ‘free’ stuff.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Friday Rambles - Favorite subject, I guess.

Still here, still writing, perhaps not as diligently as I should, but can't seem to put it down. What would I do? Much as I love, love, love to read, eyes and mind do get tired after a steady diet of just reading. At least mine do. Of course, some time must be devoted to keeping one's living and writing space habitable. I don't enjoy seeing a sink full of dirty dishes for days. Or even just two days. My house is far from immaculate, but clean enough for me to accept. And I'm the one who lives here. Occasional cleaning, straightening up is a good antidote to hours in a chair at the computer. So I guess it's a win-win situation to have to do it. But lately I seem to be hearing the siren call of my muse, Yardley, more often. I hope it continues.

In the column below, written several years ago, I mention books that have helped me. Most libraries probably shelve some of them, or can get them through inter-library loan. If you're a writer, or aspiring writer, try one or two, you might like them.

Writer or Ditch Digger

Since I profess to be a writer I suppose I should occasionally write about the subject of writing. I don’t delude myself into thinking anything I might say could ever approach the value of Stephen King’s “On Writing” or Noah Lukeman’s “The First Five Pages” or Anne LaMott’s “Bird by Bird.” If anyone who aspires to write for public consumption is not familiar with those books, a used copy is usually available somewhere for not much money. These are only three of dozens of books on the craft of writing to be found and most have some value.
In my opinion another book, now a classic, is even better than the three named in the previous paragraph, “Make Your Words Work” by Gary Provost. I believe it and years of Writers Digest, the magazine, helped me achieve publication. Another classic that I had wanted for a long time before I actually ordered it is “Goal, Motivation & Conflict” by Debra Dixon. I heartily wished I had not delayed buying it.
Aside from books on writing, just reading books-novels, biographies, whatever one prefers-is also invaluable to improve writing skill. I love writing, but a voracious reader since the age of five, reading was my first love. A person who has read hundreds, maybe thousands, of books just absorbs the way words, sentences, paragraphs sing together in harmony, to use a musical comparison.
Of course, reading and reading books on writing, no matter how good, is no substitute for the actual practice of writing. There is universal truth in the hoary joke’s answer given the person who asked how to get to Carnegie Hall, ‘practice, practice, practice’. Writers achieve mastery of the written word by writing. Exercises on description, snippits of dialogue, just as a violinist or pianist learns to make beautiful music by practicing scales.
Good writing is hard work, but, alas, holds no guarantee of monetary gain. Only a small percentage of writers make a living through writing. One who doesn’t love writing for itself might be better served to find a shovel and a place that needs a ditch.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Friday Rambles-Rememberies


This post speaks for itself pretty much. It might be titled 'Path of a Writer.' I'm certainly not a famous writer, but I am a writer. Not a young, or even younger, writer and sometimes I think about giving it up but the feeling passes. My writing gives me a focus, a beacon, to follow along my mystery lane rambles. Before I began to try seriously to write I was a voracious reader, I'd read any printed matter my gaze fell across. And I still enjoy reading just about more than writing. The world is full of books just waiting to be read. But something keeps pushing me to write 'one more thing,' then maybe I'll quit. Or maybe not.

Rememberies
A clear glass pumpkin-shaped jar sits on my desk. I've crammed into it various mementoes that mark significant moments in my life.
Visible through the glass is an address label with my mother's name and last apartment address. More than twenty-five years after her death the ache of loss lingers in my heart. I'm reminded of the hardships she endured, raising eight children in deep poverty, and am very doubtful that I could have done as well as she.
Next to the label is my grandson's name tag from the family reunion Holston Valley Medical Center provided for babies who spent the first few days or weeks of their lives in the NeoNatal Intensive Care Unit. I remember my fear at first sight of his tiny, mottled body after long, anxious moments waiting for the delivering doctor to bring him into view. Or his Lilliputian form as his Mom held him for brief moments, IV tube in a matchstick arm, feeding tube in his button nose. Now a strapping father of two himself, he bears little resemblance to that preemie in the NICU incubator.
Among the jumble of mementoes is a round piece of molded plastic which covered an indicator lamp on the old cordboard where I worked as a telephone operator. The job that gave me not only independence, but the realization that I was a person in my own right, not just wife, mother, caretaker of an aged parent.
A parking permit from the local community college symbolizes my long-delayed college degree. An Allen wrench I used to assemble a large modular desk for my computer, ownership of which began another major turn for my life. A red and gold enameled key ring fob with a menorah and the word "Shalom" from my first and only trip outside of the US, to Israel.
A name tag from the Citizen's Police Academy class I took, seeking realism for my writing. Still another tag identifies me as facilitator for a home Bible Study. And finally one ringed with ivy leaves from a ten day writers retreat in North Carolina.
I found me at that retreat. I'm a writer. One who seeks to trade bits of myself through essays and columns for personal gratification and, occasionally, money. I now have books as evidence that I'm a writer. Books won't fit into the jar, but the objects it holds show me the path I took to get to the place I am now. And they provide me with inspiration for further journeys on that path.