I got up early

I get up early almost every morning to see if anyone has published any of my work. My articles usually get published around 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning. It wasn’t yet dawn but the sky was beginning to get brighter. I grabbed a banana, a glass of vegetable juice and my laptop and headed for the back porch.

The air still had the nighttime crispness to it. The kind of freshness that you only get in the late summer/early fall. The birds hadn’t started their morning song yet but the crickets and frogs were going full tilt. I love hearing the crickets and frogs.

There were a few other sounds in my neighborhood, My a dog barking in the distance and the low quiet hum of traffic passing a few blocks away. The neighborhood was quiet until my neighbor started his car to go to work. Other than that it was fairly quiet and I was enjoying it. Our neighborhood is comparatively serene. A few of my neighbors are retired and they don’t have anywhere to go that early in the morning. I would say it is a sleepy little neighborhood.

 Another advantage to where I live is that you can’t get anywhere by driving through it. The only cars I see belong to residents and the people who are lost.

The light from the moon was augmented by the street light filtering thru the leaves of our maple tree.  Between the two sources, there was just enough light so I wouldn’t step on something. The leaves of the trees hadn’t started to turn yet, but I knew it would not be long before their stately mantle would be on the ground, being strewn about by the wind.

I watched a cat slink across my back yard, looking for a meal when it spotted me. It froze hoping I wouldn’t see it and stared at me, watching to see what I was going to do. When it decided I wasn’t a threat, it continued across my yard, under my fence and disappeared behind my neighbor’s house.

A cool breeze kissed my face and sounded the wind chimes I have on my back porch. Listening to the wind chimes is very soothing to me and we leave some of them out year round. Unfortunately, the gentle breeze brought the pungent odor of a skunk with it. The skunk wasn’t nearby so it was only a slight wisp of a smell though.

I’ve been trying not to listen to those people who are talking about the end of summer, trying to pretend they are wrong, that these long, lovely days will never end. But in the early mornings, I can smell, hear and feel fall coming.

It is still light out enough evenings to fool us all into thinking that we have more time. And my wife and I will delay dinner until 7 p.m., to take advantage of that time. Playing cards outside until dark, but then we have to move inside until bedtime. Gone are the nights sitting on our porch swing until 10 o’clock.

Very soon it’s going to be time to change the clocks. Finally the clock in my car will be right once again. I never did learn how to set that damned clock. How does the axiom go? Is it fall back or fall forward? We must have 12 to 15 clocks that will need resetting: vehicle clocks, alarm clocks, a clock radio, the clock on the stove, clock on our phone and one on the microwave. The list seems endless and that’s just downstairs. It’s an all-day job. Everything else resets itself.

As I think about it, I am retired with nothing to do, why do I need so many clocks? The only room in my house that doesn’t have a clock is my bathroom. I get up when I am awake, eat when I am hungry and go to bed when I am tired. But I digress.

These late summer days won’t last long, I know that. The older grandchildren have gone off to college and the younger ones will be back at school before long. They won’t be spending all day with us like they did over the summer, until the next school vacation.

The leaves will soon start turning a kaleidoscope of colors signifying the shorter days and longer nights. Soon, I’ll all be switching the position of the lawn mower and the snow blower in our garage.

But that’s all for later. Right now is a good time to put off whatever it is you wanted do inside until after dark, step outside and just smell the air. Soon we won’t be able to breathe the fresh air outdoors without bundling up against the cold.

So, step outside. Look at the trees, look at the sky, and enjoy the scents of late summer. Take advantage of the daylight and walk through a park if you can — or just walk around the block. Fire up the grill, cook the last few hot dogs of summer and eat your dinner outside.

But, as we all know, these days won’t last forever. Winter is coming, with its cold winds, snow, icy roads and slick sidewalks and then it will be time to put on our boots and snow tires. Norb is a freelance journalist from Lockport NY.

Rejection:

person using macbook
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I am getting up for a glass of Pepsi when I get an email. Any writer, author, or journalist knows this email moment. The notice pops up in my inbox and my heart takes a wild, insane, roller coaster ride. First, my heart goes up, way, way up, as my expectations climb. Then, it plunges because I remember just how the deck is stacked against me. I open up my email and my eyes quickly scan, looking for the words, “pleased” or “unfortunately” or “we regret”.

It gets much easier though. I have gotten quite a few rejections. In fact less than half of what I have written has been published. I take pride in the fact I have learned how to isolate someone rejecting my work from someone rejecting me as a person. There are many, many reasons why an article might not be suitable for a newspaper, magazine or blog and not one of these has anything to do with me personally.

If I get a rejection email but it is encouraging and positive, it is even worse. Maybe, just maybe if I had just been just a little better at writing or if I had changed one word in my 900 word article, it would have been acceptable.

I would like to say who the hell cares, but I do. It’s about the constant fight to advance in my craft. If the newspaper had accepted my work, that would have been it. But, seeing as they didn’t, I’m back right where I was, without any hope that I am headed towards my goal of being a respected writer.

Well, this is the part of being an aspiring writer that is much worse than the movies show. This portion really hurts. But rejection is as much an element of being a writer as writing the words onto the page. It’s as much a component of being a writer as the late night editing and the early mornings doing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest marketing. This is as much a part of becoming a writer as is every submission or every query letter.

These are the writer’s baptisms by fire, and the hot coals we have to walk across in order to make this our vocations. I have to constantly sell myself and my writing. If it were simple, everyone would be a writer. Every person that took a creative writing class would be a writer for the Associated Press. Every kid who worked on his High School newspaper would now be writing for The Washington Post. But it’s not that easy. There isn’t any clear path to my goal, no directions.

Rejections just flat out suck. It might slow me down a bit and make me question whether writing is what I really want to do but rejections won’t kill me. It’s great to be a writer the days when the words just seem to flow. It’s awesome to be recognized also, whether it is on the street in a store or in a restaurant. It’s a rush when people ask me questions about my mysterious job, when they say they enjoy my writing.

It isn’t these trouble-free days that separate the weak from the strong, the successful from wannabes. It’s not about the stress-free days. It’s about the hard days where my work is rejected or the days when I get writer’s block. No one told me the life of a writer was going to be painless. But, if I’m still standing at the end of the day, it might just be worth it.

I can’t allow my emotions to get the best of me when I receive those inevitable rejections. So I pick myself up and try again. I question, I edit and I resubmit. It’s just not about me. Those who are rejecting me are making decisions based on my commercial marketability. My personality and personal life play a very, very small part in getting published.

I don’t waste any energy anymore being angry or holding a pity party for myself. I have been to this rodeo before. I still go through rejection, but it’s healthier for my well-being and self-esteem to concentrate my energy on taking the feedback positively and utilizing the information someone gives me to grow and enhance my writing style. To focus on being a better writer.

I work on trying to hone my skills every day, writing and rewriting and rewriting again, reading the periodicals I want to work for to learn their focus and slant on the issues.

In all honesty, being published is an adrenaline high for me, an ego boost. I set my sights high and have my goals. I have to show my passion for writing and be courageous enough to bare my soul. I have to have confidence in my talent but also be willing to learn if I want a successful writer.

So I know the skyrocketing heart rate is normal when opening an email. It’s a very challenging journey that I am on. I can tell you from experience, it is well worth it. But hey, I’m 71 and have nothing to lose, so I continue learning the writing craft. And the best thing is, I will have something concrete to leave my children and grandchildren, yay!

I am a freelance journalist from Lockport.

What’s the point of teaching English if it ain’t going to be spoken good?

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“Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?” asked Professor Henry Higgins in the musical “My Fair Lady.” It’s a very good question for Americans now days.

I recently was in a movie theater and two young women sat behind me. They were talking rather loudly. In just a few minutes I counted 16 “likes” and “you knows” from just one of them. It went this way: “And then she was like blah, blah, blah and then he was like blah, blah, blah, and I was like blah, blah, blah, you know.”

As an adverb, “like” means nearly, closely or approximately, as in the experience was like jumping off a high diving board. This is perhaps the most familiar use of the word like but there are others.

The NBC News Correspondent Edwin Newman penned two books concerning the mistreatment of English. Some of his least desired words are heard inside airports. Newman grew irritated when airline employees spoke of a “podium“. This is defined by Merriam-Webster as a low wall, serving as a foundation or terrace wall or a dais especially for an orchestral conductor, and not a desk. He was also confused when they invited certain passengers to “pre-board” the airplane, which he noted was impossible. One can board early, or board ahead of other passengers, but to “pre-board” is a contradiction.

When I was in school, English grammar was required, not an optional. We would diagram sentences and learned the proper use of words. We were taught when to say “me” and “I,” and the difference between there, their and they’re.
Clichés were once mostly used by young people and inexperienced writers. Today, clichés have crept into the language of people who should know better. These clichés include “needless to say” (then why bother to say it?), and “cautiously optimistic.” The Washington Post compiled a list of “200 journalism clichés … and counting” and these are only two of them.

Don’t get me started on TV hosts and reporters. They say, “As you can see……” Yes, we can. That’s because it’s called television. It’s not radio, it has pictures. “Shot in the encounter” was a favorite of a former news director at a TV station that I watched. I often wondered where the encounter was on your body.

Good English skills are vital to succeeding in life, in terms of career, and personal relationships. There are three main areas that have to be worked on, vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar.

Then we have the word axe. What does it mean when you axe someone a question? Do you chop if into little pieces? I was walking to my car at Walmart when I overheard a woman on her cell phone (it wasn’t too difficult). It went. “I was literally in Walmart when she literally walked up to me and literally started an argument with me. I told her she had better literally get her act together or she was going to literally lose her kids.” Really? (pun intended)

The point is to learn English as a means of expressing ourselves that shows we didn’t just fall off a turnip truck (deliberate use of a cliché). What’s the point of teaching English if nobody learns it and it can’t be properly spoken or understood?

Speaking English lets you to truly broaden your world, including job opportunities and the ability to relate to people from every country.
Knowing proper English makes it much more interesting when traveling. Wherever you want go in the world, you will probably find someone who speaks English. If we count only the countries where the English language is the official language, the United Kingdom, U.S.A., Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean countries, there are more than 400 million native English speakers.

The statistics reveal that more than a quarter of the world’s population speaks English that means that about 1.6 billion people understand and relate with the help of the language of Shakespeare. To not mention that most of the films are in English, the largest film industry, Hollywood, is produced in English.

English also improves the quality of life. You have access to jobs that you could not even take into consideration, you can evaluate an international career and you can live in many countries with the ease of being able to go shopping or negotiate a rent for the house.

Simply put, we must recognize that English is an international language, the main language of this planet.

Over Christmas, I listened to a reading of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s brilliant “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” The delight of words, well-chosen and beautifully spoken, was thrilling and captivating. He makes you want to listen, as opposed to wishing to plug your ears.

The benefits speaking properly can bring in to life of a person is countless. It is important to know that the English language is able to knock down a lot of barriers, including cultural ones.

The English language allows us to relate to and therefore understand each other.
Could one of our Resolutions for 2019 be to speak better English?

Christmas traditions

Image result for free christmas tree on top of car

I have written about family traditions before, this time I would like to share a few Christmas traditions from my past and a few that my children, grandchildren and I practice today.

My memories of Christmas as a young boy took place at 496 Berkshire Avenue, Buffalo. About a week before Christmas, we would go shopping for a tree. It had to be a long needle fir tree and it had to be symmetrical without any bare spots, nothing else would do. We would sometimes have to go to several Christmas tree lots that popped up on every vacant piece of land in the city. We would then tie it on the roof of our car and take it home like some kind of hunting trophy and I guess it was. It would spend a few days trussed up like a bird being prepared for cooking by on our front porch awaiting it’s role in our house.

The dining room table was disassembled and put in my sister’s room to make room for the Christmas tree. Once the Christmas tree lights were untangled, which sometimes took quite a bit of time, they had to be tested. My father was the only person allowed to put these on the tree. My mother would supervise and my father would have to swap bulbs until no two adjacent bulbs were the same color. We would then decorate the tree with all kinds of ornaments, both store bought and homemade. The final decoration would be “icicles” made of thin ribbons of lead.

On Christmas Eve my brother and I would retire to our bedroom on the second floor where we would have a hard time falling asleep in anticipation of Santa Claus paying us a visit. For some reason or other Santa would wrap our presents in the Sunday comic pages. I always thought he had run out of wrapping paper and was surprised that he got the Buffalo Courier Express. I think my favorite toy that Santa ever brought me was a battery operated, walking robot with flashing lights and “sound effects” that I received one year.

Many years later, after I got married, Donna and I moved to Massachusetts while I was in the Navy. We had a small tree but we couldn’t afford many ornaments. We made do with what we had and what people gave us. One thing I did was affix a starfish to the top of our tree that a buddy Ed and I collected from a local beach and had dried in the basement of my apartment.

That was fifty years ago. We still have that starfish adorning our tree. This has developed into a family tradition. All of my children have a starfish of their own now that sit atop their tree. A few years ago I gave all of our grandchildren a starfish so when they are on their own they will remember us with this tradition.

According to an old German legend, if you find a bird’s nest in your Christmas tree you and your family will experience health, wealth and happiness in the coming year. Who can’t use some good luck like this?  We always have a bird’s nest in our tree and my daughter Liz has one in her tree also.

Other Christmas traditions our family has involve food. Every grandchildren gets to select, as part of their present a “Christmas” food from Nana and Papa. They have picked things like Ramen noodles, potato chips and whipped cream as some of their choices.

My son, Erik and his wife, Heidi also host a Christmas Eve dinner that starts with snacks during the afternoon, Olives and Pickles, Chips and dip, Buffalo chicken wing dip etc. Actually you could graze your way thru the afternoon and not need anything more.  But then they have a full blown meal in the evening. We can choose from a cold cut platter and rolls, Beef on weck, Beans, macaroni and pasta salads, regular salad and many other dishes. They also set out Christmas cookies and various other sweets. One year they offered us homemade marshmallows.

Just in case you didn’t have enough to eat, the following morning my oldest daughter, Liz had a Christmas day brunch at her house. We have Stuffed French toast, Breakfast sausage links, Potatoes, Muffins, Eggs, and many more things to eat. With all this food, I was ready for a nap.

After Brunch we would all settle into the living room with me in a recliner in front of her roaring fireplace to open presents. I love watching the eyes of Ian and Kaelen, the younger grandchildren, light up as they rip open the colorful wrapping paper and see what gifts they have received. What starts as a controlled afternoon quickly turns into chaos. It is wonderful having all our children and grandchildren under one roof on this day.

This year unfortunately, her house has been sold and she is temporarily staying with us. My youngest daughter, Dawn has offered up her house for Christmas brunch as long as in her words “I don’t have to cook”. Dawn serves a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner so I don’t blame her not wanting to also do Christmas, so I guess Liz will be spending time at her house cooking our meal.

It really doesn’t matter where we hold our holiday celebrations though, they could be held in my garage or a storage shed on Transit Road. It’s the people and the food, the conversation and the laughter that make this season important to me.

Norb is a writer from Lockport that has also lived in Buffalo and Massachusetts.

Writer’s Block

man with hand on temple looking at laptop
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I can’t think of anything to write at this time. I know this is a serious problem for a writer like me and it is hard for me to admit but I seem to have what some people call “writer’s block”. It appears I have hit a wall when it comes to writing.

I have written over 500 articles about such diverse subject matter as patriotism, volunteering in your community and the art of bring up children. I have shared personal narratives about my fight with cancer, living with color blindness and my time serving on a destroyer in the Navy during the Vietnam War. I have even related my point of view on how to do away with cable or satellite television, how to avoid getting shot by the police and how to operate a motor vehicle safely.

I have written about my opinion on whether we should ever do drug testing on animals, if doctors or other health practitioners should help with assisted suicide, the need for community service by teens and if the Electoral College should be eliminated or not.

You may have read commentaries from me on the lack of common sense today, train wreck television like Jerry Springer, Steve Wilcos or any of the currently popular reality shows or court television programs. You may have also seen pieces I wrote on my family’s Thanksgiving or holiday traditions, watching what you post on line on your Facebook or Twitter accounts or recalling emails.

I have also written over fifty reviews of restaurants from Buffalo to Lockport, From North Tonawanda to Medina. I’ve critiqued seafood places, Mexican restaurants, American style restaurants and trendy pubs.

You may think it is easy for me to write but quite the contrary. Sometimes it is difficult for me to find something to write about, something I feel passionate about.

I have said many times that I wish I could just plug a jump drive into the side of my head and make a copy of all my memories, experiences and opinions so I could share them with my children and grandchildren. Writing for the newspapers has helped me share some of the “Pa Pa stories”, as they call them, and there is are notebooks full of my articles that have been published.

Like I said, I have writer’s block. I make an effort to find something, anything, anywhere to write about by reading newspapers, books, magazines and surfing the internet. I have watched television and movies but to no avail. I am finding it extremely difficult to find a subject that tickles my fancy enough for me to write about.

I could write some drivel just to kick out an article but that would not reflect who I am nor how I like to write. I suppose I could also google some obscure academic paper on some obscure subject by some obscure writer and change it around enough to slip under the radar of all the plagiarism checkers out there, but that would be doing a disservice to me, the writer of the article, my editor and my readers.

I guess I will just have to wait till my muse finds me again so I can write something worth your time and mine. Yes, it is hard to for me write when I am so uninspired but I will have to try as hard as I can and see what I can do.

I know I can write but I can’t make it any harder than it has to be by over thinking it. I just have to type a few words and that’s the problem. I can’t find the right words to type. They don’t have to be good words (all first drafts suck). I just have to type them.

It’s kind of like building a house. I need to build a foundation first. After I have that in place, it is easier for me to build the framework of what I want to say. Hopefully once I get started building the story, I will reach a time where I can’t stop. I have had a problem like this before and end up writing 12, 14, or even 1600 words.

I end up writing in run on sentences. But this is a good thing. All I have to do is pare this down to about 700 words removing the extraneous and irrelevant material and correcting the grammar and spelling until I have a good sound article. I can tell this by reading it out loud. That way I can check the way it sounds and change it around till it just flows.

Now that I think about it, perhaps I don’t have writers block after all. Just thinking about writer’s block gave me something to write about.