Rich Wilhelm

Archive for the ‘journal keeping’ Category

The Beginning Is The Ending Is The Beginning

In journal keeping, Philosophy/Creativity, Uncategorized on July 8, 2016 at 3:12 am
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Maurice Stephens House, Valley Forge National Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania 7/7/16

Much earlier today, I shot this photo at Valley Forge National Park. My idea at the time was that I could kick start one of my other blogs, 1 Picture, 217 Words. However, after I got home this afternoon, I attempted to write those 217 words and they just wouldn’t flow.

Maybe it’s time to take a break. Truth is, I am surprised to have written as much as I have this year.

It all started with the passing of David Bowie back in January. Like millions of other people, I was affected by Bowie’s death more than I figured I might be. But it wasn’t just sadness. Reading about Bowie’s last year inspired me. I was amazed at how he used his time to further delve into his immense creativity, resulting in the profound Blackstar album.

In short, David Bowie made me want to create. And my most accessible means of creation is to write. So, I started writing, averaging a blog entry a week from February clear through the end of May. I was very happy with some of these entries, merely satisfied with others, but the point for me was that it felt good to be doing the work.

It wasn’t just Bowie though. From New Year’s Day on, we were very aware around this house that each day, week and month that passed was leading to two very concrete events that would be happening during the second week of June: Chris’ promotion to high school and Jimmy’s graduation from high school.

We weren’t constantly thinking about these events, but the knowledge was just there, and that knowledge was certainly informing my thoughts about where I am in my life and where my family members are in their lives. A certain amount of introspection ensued and I found the energy and time I needed to sort it out in the blog entries I was writing.

Meanwhile, the 2016 U.S. presidential electoral circus and various and sundry other events provided the surreal backdrop to whatever else has been going on in my life. Let’s face it: 2016 has been one of the weirdest years anyone now alive has ever experienced.

And, no, I really don’t write about Donald Trump. At all. But the very nature of his campaign has left me wanting to try to restore and maintain whatever dignity I may have lost in my own life and writing seems to be my way back to it. Not just writing–I have been working in other ways on this restoration, but some of these activities have moved at a glacial pace. In the meantime, writing proved to be a very effective outlet.

Then, Chris and Jimmy graduated from their respective schools. The things we had known would eventually happen, did.

So where do we go from here? Obviously, when September comes, things will be a bit different around here. But, for now, I feel like we have fallen into a weird dimension in which each of the four of us is in our own weird little place, with different eating, sleeping, working, and playing habits.

And, for me, the writing stopped. After the graduation ceremonies ended, my introspection dissipated, and has been replaced with a sort of vague blandness. Like it or not, I don’t seem to have much going on in my head right now.

But instead of trying to force the issue, I think I’m just going let this blog and its associated blogs be still for awhile. I’m going to attempt to chill out a bit. In the interim, perhaps I can figure out what it is I want The Dichotomy of the Dog — a title I have more or less maintained for more than 15 years now — to be once I get back to it again.

Or, maybe I’ll just have a new entry next week. Either way, thanks to those of you who have been following along in recent months. I appreciate it.

 

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Too Much Thyme on My Hands

In fatherhood, journal, journal keeping, marriage, not quite Walden, Philosophy/Creativity on April 3, 2016 at 2:26 pm

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Earlier this week, Donna and I made two dinners in a row that featured fresh basil. As often happens when I’m dealing with herbs and spices, my mind drifted to an essay I wrote quite a few years ago called “Too Much Thyme on My Hands.” It was about spice racks and about having too much/not enough thyme/time on one’s hands.

Plus, it gave me permission to craft sentences that involved multi-level spice/Styx lyrics puns. Now, that’s high concept.

I had to search hard on my old blog website, but I finally found “Too Much Thyme on My Hands” back among my February 2009 entries. I am posting it below, since time and what I do — and could do — with it has been on my mind quite a bit lately.

For now, I am posting this exactly as I wrote it. “I’m just going to leave this here,” as people seem to be fond of saying on social media these days. I will note, though, that the 11-year-old and 6-year-old I mention are now 18 and 13, headed off to college and high school in the fall. That’s what time does, you know.

As for me, the fact that I originally wrote the following piece seven years ago says everything I need to know right now about the acceleration of time.

I don’t really subscribe to the whole “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” philosophy. I think it’s way too simplistic. But one thing I do know: generally speaking, men dig spice racks; women, not so much.

I vaguely remember when Donna and I got married and set up housekeeping in 1992. I mentioned the inherent coolness of having a spice rack in our kitchen. Donna was decidedly noncommittal on the issue. As it turned out, Donna thought that the idea of a specific rack for spices, to be displayed on a kitchen wall, was kind of silly.

Since that time, most men I’ve spoken to on the spice rack issue have admitted to their enjoyment of the concept, while most women have expressed opinions similar to Donna’s. There are exceptions, of course, in much the same way as there are women who actually enjoy progressive rock band Rush, despite the oft-told-tale that Rush is very strictly “a guy thing.” (In fact, it was a Rush concert review in which I first encountered the phrase “sausage party” to describe a group consisting entirely of men.)

Anyway, I bring all this up because today Donna and I cleaned out a cupboard in our kitchen. The cupboard contains a lazy susan which had gotten overrun through the years with all manner of grocery products, including quite a few little plastic jars of various spices. When we did our cleanout today, Donna and I established a few policies in order to be consistent in what got discarded and what did not. We determined that any spices that were opened but did not contain any discernible “sell by” or “use by” date would be thrown away, in order to most successfully achieve the goal of cleaning out this little corner of our kitchen as much as possible.

While doing this cleanout, we found at least three (and maybe four) opened, but undated, containers of thyme. Clearly, we had too much thyme on our hands, though it was a mystery to us how we actually accumulated all this thyme. However, adhering to our pre-established policy, which we believed to be sound, and not knowing when the next time we’d use thyme would be, we ditched all the thyme. Now, we have no thyme in our house.

When you think about it, is it any wonder we had too much thyme on our hands? I mean, when I think about my life over the last five or ten years, I think about how we’ve often gotten so caught up in getting from the beginning to the end of any particular day that it’s become easy, very easy, to lose track of both the thyme, and the time, that we really have.

The result of all this, it seems, has been this unbelievable acceleration of time, in which Donna and I have suddenly been homeowners for more than ten years, and we’ve got kids who are 11 and six years old. And, of course, we take a peek in our cupboard and discover at least three, and maybe four, separate containers of thyme.

I believe this is what noted singer/songwriter David Byrne was referring to when he wrote,”Well, how did I get here?” in the Talking Heads song, “Once In A Lifetime.” Interestingly, Byrne was much younger when he wrote that than I am now, but he was clearly onto something.

So. How to deal with the loss of all that thyme? And time? First of all, it’s a good idea to reflect on the notion that the time I’ve spent being married to Donna and raising Jimmy and Chris with her hasn’t been lost at all. It has been time very well spent. Also, I’ve realized that the time I have left from this moment (spent with the amazing music of Thomas Dolby, a glass [or two] of wine, a pen and a notebook) onward is to be savored, much like thyme, used in a particularly good recipe, is meant to be savored. Of course, we no longer have any thyme in our kitchen, but we can pick some up at the supermarket the next time we need it. That is the huge difference between thyme and time.

Not Exactly an Easter Message, Though I Wish You a Happy Easter

In journal, journal keeping, Philosophy/Creativity, Writing on March 27, 2016 at 8:18 am

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This is not exactly an Easter message, though I am writing it very early on Easter morning, while listening to what has got to be one of the greatest collections of classic country music ever assembled, released at a time when the songs were still new.

I’m no preacher, so it’s not for me to say what Easter means to anybody. I can’t even claim to be “spiritual but not religious” at this point. I am just a guy who is, to paraphrase my grandmother, “middle-aged and dumb and tryin’ to get along.” In her phraseology, it was “young and dumb and tryin’ to get along,” but the tufts of gray hair I leave behind after every visit to Hair Cuttery have thoroughly convinced me of my middle age. And I’m actually cool with that.

This is, however, sort of a follow-up report on my Lenten season.

Back when I was a Catholic grade school kid, a huge component of Lent was “giving something up.” There were reasons for this giving up of course, though I honestly don’t remember the degree to which I understood these reasons. All I knew is that no matter what I tried to give up, my Lenten resolutions were doomed to fail, sometimes even before the ash on my forehead had completely disappeared.

My giving-things-up-for-Lent track record is abysmal. At least until this year.

I did not exactly attempt to give something up over the past 40 days. However, it was around the beginning of the holy season that I made a decision to ease up on dread and fear. And anger. And despair. And panic. And deep existential angst. Etc.

I didn’t do this for Jesus. I did it to preserve my sanity. That sounds a tad overdramatic and it probably is, but there is truth to it.

I can’t candy coat it, so I’ll just say it, in the same way I said it several blog entries ago: my life has been challenging in recent years, for many reasons. This is no way makes me unique. My response to the challenges — fear, anger, dread, panic, a gradual withering of my sense of humor — hasn’t exactly been unique either. This is all part of the human condition and I am about as human as possible.

Not unlike Taylor Swift, I’m not convinced that I’m out of the woods yet. In fact, I know I’m not. The challenges remain and they’re still big and scary. But earlier in the year, I did make the decision to at least try to combat the despair, anger, dread, panic, etc. The only weapon I could muster for this task was to take a lighter approach to it all. I was going to stop worrying about not being the Very Best and instead begin to work positively toward the Somewhat Better.

Not coincidentally, this change in approach coincided with the revival of this blog. I’ve posted here at least once a week since I decided to break out of the loop in which I’d been stuck. I’ve always known that writing — whether I’m writing about these issues or about some interesting person now buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery or about my own nerdish tendencies — has been a touchstone of my mental health. When I’m writing regularly, I’m happier and better able to deal with life. This is simply how I’m wired.

The turning point was find the time, amidst the dread and the panic, to write. To actually do the thing — or, at least one of the primary things — that keeps me sane.

I am grateful to have this outlet. And, if you’ve been following this blog in recent weeks, or just stumbling on the occasional entry, I am grateful to you as well! Your time is your most precious commodity and I truly appreciate the time you spend with the words I bang out here.

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The Somewhat Better

In journal, journal keeping, not quite Walden, Philosophy/Creativity on February 21, 2016 at 12:38 pm

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For the third Sunday morning in a row, my dog Jolie has assured that I am wide awake far ahead of the rest of my family, giving me some time to sit down and type a few words. If Jolie is any indication, I should have this early Sunday morning time slot available for months to follow.

When I started this new set of entries/essays/whatever, the idea was to distill some of the wisdom that I’d woven oh-so-poetically into the prior week’s worth of daily journal entries. The conundrum is when the daily entries become every-couple-day’s entries, largely devoid of anything approaching coherence, let alone wisdom. This problem is amplified when one of the few daily entries has the word COMPLACENCY splattered across it:

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Now, granted, I stuck the Star Wars guy–though I’m thinking he’s a bad guy–there to slay my complacency with his light saber, but still…complacency. I also wrote the word INERTIA in large letters on the same page.

The fact is, complacency and inertia have played huge roles in my life recently. But I’m working on it. I am working on the Somewhat Better version of myself.

Some of you might think that going for Somewhat Better isn’t very ambitious. That maybe I should go for Very Best, like the owners of the restaurant my son Chris and I visited in Pottstown, Pennsylvania yesterday morning. The Very Best restaurant recently closed its doors but it existed for nearly 100 years in Pottstown. It seems safe to say that the Very Best would not have lasted that long if it had been called the Somewhat Better.

People, though, are not restaurants.

Don’t get me wrong: striving for personal excellence is a wonderful thing. This kind of striving has inspired all manner of astounding human accomplishment in the arts, sciences, sports and elsewhere. Unfortunately, it has also inspired every inane striving-for-my-Very-Best coronation song that American Idol winners have sung, as well as other entities and events even more heinous than those songs but that does not dilute my point: striving for Very Best can be a good thing.

Me though? I am sticking with Somewhat Better. At least for now. The reason for this is simple: Somewhat Better gives me goals I can see, not too far ahead of me. Destinations I can reach, and then perhaps move beyond.

I will be honest here, without getting bogged down in detail: I do not feel that I have been Very Best–in any particular area of my life–for years. In short, I have fallen short.

Lately though, I’ve realized that falling short hasn’t necessarily been the problem. The problem is the effect that falling short has had on my confidence and on my ability to fight back against a nagging complacency that has settled in around me. Sadly, I’ve often directed the frustration that this has caused me in the wrong directions. In a sense, I’ve often used a passive-aggressive version of the Dark Side of the Force to combat this dilemma and therein lies my problem. It’s all been in my approach.

Now, though, I feel like I’ve turned a corner. I’ve been attempting to confront the demons, such as they are, with a lighter touch. Instead of letting the anger and frustration calcify into rage and despair, I’ve tried to tap into the happier undercurrent of my life, which has been there all along. Maybe replacing a Star Wars bad guy with a Star Wars good guy to tackle the complacency and inertia.

I am talking about the time I spend, individually and collectively, with my wife and two sons, as well as other family members and friends. The strolls through Laurel Hill Cemetery and, occasionally, other places that inspire me. The time spent sipping coffee, listening to Trini Lopez Live at PJs and Three Dog Night–Their Greatest Hits, and tapping out these thoughts in this messy room on this late February morning.

So many great little moments happen in our lives and it is up to us to appreciate them. Cherish these moments, both monumental and tiny, for their very existence. At the same time, realize that it is the positive, life-affirming moments that give us the strength to tackle, in a positive way, the central challenge of life: not necessarily to be Very Best, but to gradually be Somewhat Better.

That’s about all the wisdom I’ve got for today. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it is early yet and I have a bit of Somewhat Bettering to do before the day is done.

 

 

Searching for My Walden

In Henry David Thoreau, journal, journal keeping, not quite Walden, Philosophy/Creativity, Uncategorized, Walden, Writing on February 7, 2016 at 12:28 pm

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Early, oh so early, on a Sunday morning. I have walked the dog and she is snuggling in our bed now with my sleeping wife. One kid is sound asleep in his room. The other is presumably sound asleep as well, though not at home this morning. He is hanging with friends at the college campus he will call home come this fall. Even through the clangorous din of a new wave album that I’m listening to through headphones, I can feel the Sunday morning quiet.

I could have gone back to bed after Jolie and I returned from her walk, but I like this time on Sunday mornings–at least those Sundays when I don’t wake up feeling anxious. This was not really one of those fretful days. Or maybe it was, and I turned it around by putting a pen to paper and fingers to a laptop keyboard.

I am searching for my Walden. Yes, I am referring to Henry David Thoreau’s classic book, beloved and despised both in its time and now. No, I am not comparing myself, at least not in any more than one way, with Mr. Thoreau.

Henry and I do share one very important trait though. At heart, we are both journal-ists.

Not journalist, as in my major in college. Journal-ist, as in lifelong keepers of personal journals.

I started keeping a journal around 1980. Within a year or so, I had gotten serious about it–all thanks to Valerie Shulman, my 11th grade English teacher. I have been writing, with varying degrees of frequency, in my journal ever since. At this point, I have been keeping a journal longer than Thoreau did, due to his ill-health and early demise. He was more dedicated to it though and, of course, his journal is the foundation of canonical works of American literature. I, on the other hand, am eternally distracted by any number of things, most of which Henry would have surely disapproved.

However, I recently found a old ten-inch record containing the self-help exhortations of one Earl Nightingale, giving listeners “The Strangest Secret.” I picked up the record and turned its front and back cover into my latest journal notebook:IMG_0812

I still haven’t gotten around to discovering what “The Strangest Secret” is, but making the notebook has inspired me to get back to writing daily one-page entries, which I’ve been doing since January 22. I’m trying to incorporate some art into the journal too, basically because I like colored pencils very much and what they say about the current “adult coloring” trend is true: I find spreading color across a page to be very calming.

This latest spike in my journal-keeping is something that I am doing for myself. Keeping a journal, and trying to be consistent about it, is a process that I find personally helpful, and I also want to make sure that I have a decent record of this era of my life once I get a little older. In recent years, I have occasionally turned to my old journals to confirm the details of certain long-past life events and I’d like to be able to do that for these days as well.

So, this is for me. And yet, I know that Thoreau crafted much of his work–including Walden–from his journals. I have always been intrigued by the concept of a journal as a mine for more fully-formed works. I figure, with 30+ years of journal-keeping behind me, I’ve got some kind of Walden in those pages somewhere. Again, I am NOT comparing myself to Henry and his work, other than to note that he pulled from his journals to create essays and books and that I’d like to do that as well.

Of course, one way to accomplish that would be to craft blog entries–on some kind of semi-regular basis–that find their roots somewhere in my journals. These days, I make no such solid promises. But, given more quiet Sunday mornings, who knows what could happen?

 

 

Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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