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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Hardest Kind of Learning
The hardest kind of learning happens in the night
when you wake from the weight
of a single thought
that settles
in your mind
like a
that finally hits the ocean floor
long after it leaves your grasp,
and you sit upright—eyes wide in the dark…
still holding in the gasp.
It takes a long time for some things to hit me. I can talk about a fact or event, mark it on a calendar, believe it's real, anticipate it, etc., but sometimes things just don't hit me until they happen. Sometimes, in fact, they hit me long afterwards.
Take last week's Florida trip with our seniors. We had a great time, came home, and stepped right back into reality. Yesterday I stared at some pictures of Destin that made it all seem like a blur. Tomorrow night those seniors graduate. One year ago on this same Friday night, my second daughter graduated. Where did that year go?

Four years ago on that night, my oldest daughter graduated. In exactly one month, she's getting married to her high school sweetheart who marched with her on that night. We've been talking about their wedding since July; it's marked on the calendar; I know it's real and I'm very happy about it; we're anticipating a great event... but it hasn't hit me yet—not fully. I wonder when it will.

I wrote the poem above several years ago after snapping out of a dream that sat me up in bed.

In the years following my father's death, I would randomly dream that he was with us again in very familiar settings. It was as if he was "on leave" from heaven. We were all aware that he would not be there long, but it felt natural and we'd not say or do anything that would cut short the visit. It's been years since I've had one of these pleasant dreams, but the night I wrote the lines I had awakened from one in which I was trying to say something to Dad alone.

The Christmas Break before Dad died we were visiting home. Dad and I had discussed something the night before I drove back to Iowa from Michigan. [I was putting my nose in my parents business and telling him to hire a contractor to build the breezeway since Mom had been waiting for years. He was disappointed that I had intruded and simply assured me that her breezeway would be done soon enough. I regretted having said anything.]  When we hugged goodbye on the driveway, I sensed we still needed better closure. I regretted that I had spoken my mind the night before, but I didn't say anything. I later wrote him a card about it and told him how much he meant to me. Mom assured me he got the letter and appreciated it and that everything was fine. Dad and never talked about it again, and our phone calls made me more eager to visit face to face over Spring Break, but before that time together came, we were called for his funeral.
The evening after the service, Mom called her five kids back to their bedroom to give all us an article of Dad's clothing. As we were sorting through things, I found my long handwritten card in the top of his sock drawer. I was happy to see it there. I left the letter and took an old polo shirt of Dad's. Some may think it strange, but twelve years later I still have that shirt in a Ziploc bag. I love the smell of it.

Anyway, the night I woke from this dream, I wanted to say something "in person" to Dad, but reality started seeping into the cracks of the dream and he was suddenly no longer sitting on the couch when I turned to talk to him. I sat up in bed, holding in an empty sob then blurting into the darkness, "You were right, Dad!"
The gravity of thought is measured not by weight but impact.
A week ago this morning, as our return jet was taking off from Florida, I looked out the window and saw the turquoise water by the white sand become deeper and deeper blue. It reminded me of this title poem.
Our first full day in Destin, we were all swimming in that lightest band of blue. Some of the seniors had never been in the ocean. One was seriously afraid as she put it, "because of all the fish and sharks and stuff out there," but she eventually joined us.
Some of her classmates reassured her there were no sharks in the "gulf" part of the ocean. I didn't say anything, of course, but that isn't true. The strange thing about the ocean is that sharks, whales, and all sorts of sea creatures really are "out there" in the deep. It's just so vast we tend not to trip over them as we swim in the waves.
To illustrate the metaphor of this poem: if you were on an ocean liner over the average depth of the ocean (about 2.5 miles deep), it would take hours for a rock dropped from your hand to hit the ocean floor. If the ship were traveling at standard cruising speed (roughly 30 MPH), you could be 70 miles or more from the splash point when the rock poofs in the silt on the ocean floor. That's hard to fathom, isn't it?
Wreckage of the RMS Titanic (postcard above) was found at about 12,500 feet below the surface. That's ten Empire State Buildings down.
"The oceans are WAY deeper below sea level than the cruising altitude of our jet from Destin to Detroit was above it. The Marianas Trench is over 33,000 feet deep, nearly three times as deep as the ocean floor. Even whales never go below 3,500 feet. They only go deeper when they die. Yes, like all creatures, whales eventually die and most of them sink to the ocean floor as "whale falls." They are preserved in the near freezing temperatures for several decades and each huge carcass creates a macabre "feeding" ecosystem all its own.
The ocean depths still hold many mysteries—that's why it's called the final frontier of earth. If my timid student had seen this video or these creatures of the deep, we would never have convinced her to take her first dip in salt water.

Learning facts like this about the less familiar faces and places of the sea is fun and easy with the internet, but the facts of life are just splashes in the water. The Hardest Kind of Learning happens some time later when the realities of life finally settle in.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Happy Memorial Day!

I realize this is quite a change of topic and tone. If you have not read the posts below, please scroll down. This is a Memorial Day post flown like a flag on the day set aside to remember those who have helped defend America--including the men and women currently fighting in Iraq.
If you are an American and you find yourself longing for an end to the war, that's good. We all long for that, but we dare not confuse walking away from conflict with victory. If we walk away, we dare not confuse a momentary pause with peace. Set aside all the political posturing in DC; set aside the 20-20 hindsight of the 2008 candidates (lets face it, they now benefit more from defeatism than a "win" before their watch); set aside any ill feelings you may have toward President Bush or Prime Minister Blair; set all that aside and ask yourself some questions:

How did the non-uniformed Islamists now detonating IED’s in both military and non-military venues feel about the deeds of 9-11 in New York City and the Pentagon? Did they have that motivational hatred before or after the war in Iraq began? If today were their Memorial Day, who would be their heroes? Whose lead do they follow? Who supplies their weapons? When will they consider the conflict over? If you're still not sure of the answers, you must view this link.

After watching the fervor of that short film, I don't think our zeal for this war's end matches their zeal to "destroy America." We can learn much by studying why they hate us, but if we pull out of Iraq as quickly as the some wish, will those tens of thousands of chanting terrorists say, "We promise to play in our sand box, and you can go play in yours. It's over. We too want peace. We promise that we will not fund or train or harbor terrorists, and we promise not to dance for joy and wag our tongues in the streets when they hit your country again." [In fairness, some would add, and the U.S. should promise to become energy-independent and not do business with or provide humanitarian aid to any nation that does not want to be tainted by the West.]
They will not say that, of course, because the enemy set its teeth against the West before we entered Iraq. I know what I'm saying is unpopular, but war should always be unpopular. We should avoid it whenever the enemy poses no threat and wants equally to avoid it, but to quote King Arthur in First Knight, "There's a peace only to be found on the other side of war. If that war should come [we] will fight it!" Stalemates between reasonable enemies are tolerable, but is this enemy reasonable? Just a few more questions:

Before 9-11 and the war against terrorism began, when President Bush said it would be a long, hard, sacrificial fight unlike anything we've faced before, was he right? When he said that we would respond at the time and place of our choosing, where did he mean?

In the months leading up to the war in Iraq, we were not told that Iraq was behind 9-11. We were watching Saddam Hussein shake a gun in our face (literally and figuratively). He wanted the world to think it was loaded. The intel of the previous decade (and administration) considered it loaded. His lack of cooperation with the UN examiners made it seem loaded. So Iraq became "the place." The war is in Iraq--but not against Iraq. Has that theater (where the enemy dares not let a free nation succeed) directed the terrorists resources and efforts away from attacks in the West? I think so, but I could be wrong. If we pull out of Iraq without a clear victory, we'll soon see.

Maybe the Hawks are right and the enemy will put their energy into attacks on new fronts... maybe the Doves are right and the militants will redirect their hostility to help spread the peace and forgiveness and tolerance of Islam throughout the Middle East and beyond.

In the meantime, I want to pay honor to our fighting men and women. I know many of them well (as former students). They believe in their cause. They wish the good things happening over there would get some news coverage. If you ever wonder why our soldiers volunteer to fight that enemy or if you ever wonder what they see when they close their eyes to the dust.... view this "America the Beautiful" link:
Thank you , Troops! Happy Memorial Day!
Explanation of closed comments: Debate is not intimidating to me. I have spent years teaching debate and judging debates. There was a time I engage in it more often than needed. In at least two previous posts I have written on this topic (here and here), both times I eventually chose to close comments because this topic soon stirs deep emotions, prompts Monday-morning quarterbacking, name-calling, etc. (In one case, I even started getting comments from an Islamist. It's easy to forget the nature of the www. =)

There are lots of blogs that welcome readers to vent or argue valid topics, but when that is not the purpose of a blog, the writer has to decide: Do I want to engage in a debate with my blogging friends (or ideological strangers)? Do I have time to moderate the debate among readers? Am I confident that all will defer to a moderator? Or... do I simply close comments and let people write their views on their own blogs?

Because this last week of school is very busy for me, I choose the latter. This is no reflection on the merit of the opinions that gathered here overnight. I know the confident rebuttals that would have appeared here in response, and I know we are all capable of generating more heat than light on this topic. June is almost here. Let's leave the rising temperatures to the sun as we pray for swift and sure conclusion to this conflict. I have a couple good stories in the draft stage. Come back soon!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Rhythm

Life is danced to rhythms
we soon forget are there.
The blink of eyes, the beat of hearts,
the breath and sigh of air
are lost to cycles of the sun
and pass with little care.
They slip our mind as measures
in time until we're unaware
we wake t’thm, walk t’thm,
work t’thm, talk t’thm,
laugh t’thm, cry t’thm,
live t’thm... die t’thm.
It becomes a most ungraceful dance
when we ignore the Hand that grants
the Grace and gently taps... the rhythm.
© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink

[Click on the word Grace above to hear "Your Grace Still Amazes Me" by Phillips, Craig, and Dean. The lyrics of the song are. here. These lines accompany "Breath" post below. Here's another song I heard 6-2-07 that supports these thoughts. Lyrics here. ]

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


The most constant rhythms of life go unnoticed.

Yesterday we were all enjoying the sun and the water of the gulf and eventually came in to flop down on warm welcoming towels. Don't you love that moment, the sand under the terry cloth forms to your front and face, and you just lie there—eyes not quite shut— listening to the rhythm of waves.

Have you ever seen in that instant, with your head sideways, eyes squinting toward the bright sky, that you can study your own eyelashes as if in a microscope? Each lash is in perfect focus a centimeter from your eye. They are always right there, of course, but we don't see them. I'm not sure why, but under those unique conditions they might briefly stand out like bent dune grass between us and what lies beyond the horizon.

It’s that way with rhythms as well. We pay heed to the grand rhythms of days and seasons, but others are so close they go unnoticed... like the beating of our heart. We grow accustomed even to rhythms somewhat in our control... like the breathing in and out* that began the moment we were born.

I finished the “Borne” post (two below) a week ago, but it is not quite finished with me. I’ve been mulling it over for days. The theme from "Flower Duet" keeps playing in my mind as do the images of Ray Bethell's kites—not blown away in the wind but borne up...and in the control of grace.

Some readers kindly used the word inspirational in comments following that post. Interestingly enough, that word, inspire means “to breathe into.” There's that word again. We can't seem to escape the significance of breath. “Borne” was about the breath of God.
This post is about the breath of Life.

Hold your breath for 30 seconds as you read this paragraph. Ready? Start. You are suspending a rhythm of life. If you do this for too long, your brain will begin screaming, “Hey, silly, let your body do what God made it to do. Let it breathe until it’s time not to.” Still holding?....
Now exhale and breathe in again. Ahhh... isn't it amazing?
Earth’s air outside our bodies has just the right amount of oxygen; our lungs have just the right design to take that oxygen from the air and pass it along to our blood; the heart sends the oxygenated blood coursing through our veins to millions of cells and muscles, including those that power the billows of our lungs that breathe in and out the air. Just as our brain whispered for breath as we read that last paragraph, our body itself cries out for air, "Keep breathing, lungs! Keep beating, heart! Your rhythms of life sustain me!"

This is just a hint of what the Psalmist meant when he said, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”? It is frightening. It is wonderful.

Some day, for all of us, that last breath of life is let go. The opposite of inspire happens… and we expire (we literally ex-spire, breathe out). The “spire” part of both words is the root of the word spirit. The spirit leaves us with that last breath. This may all seem too obvious to write about, but I confess I've never quite thought of it this way before.

Like all truth it does not require human thought or belief to be so. It’s simply true. Our beating heart and breathing in and out measure time more surely than a clock, for they measure our time.

Is that what is meant by “fearfully…made”—that we are afraid it may stop working? I don’t think so. Most of us have no desire to dwell on the brevity of life, but we do not fear life's beginning, middle, and end. To me, it is fearful in that the complexity is beyond comprehension.
By now, we're confident that science has sorted out the mechanics of how most things work, but we're afraid to admit that we don't know why they work or how they began working. We're afraid of the fearful miracle... afraid of the implications of being "fearfully and wonderfully made." It's not the wonder that frightens us... it's the word made. What if the breath of life is inseparable from the breath of God? Afraid of the answer, we pose two choices: to believe that breath and the God who made it has purpose. Or to pretend... that it all just happened.

If it all just happened, then we owe nothing to anyone. We're accountable only to ourselves. We can live and let live. We can eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die (the Dairy Queen song from the 70’s dropped the part about dying). The problem with pretending the intricate design and delicate balance we call "life" just happened is that we lose the relationship with God that prompted creation in the first place. We begin to think life is all about us. As a hit song in 1969 put it...
"...When that final moment comes
and I'm breathing my last breath,
I'll be saying to myself:
Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that's all there is, my friends,
then let's keep dancing.
Let's break out the booze
and have a ball... If that's all...there is"
I'm writing this post on the third balcony (where I wrote Monday's). This house has a metal roof, and for some reason, the builders left the corners of the eaves open, leaving a perfect place for bird nests. I just took a picture of the sparrow that is chirping at the vestibule of the nest. It's not a particularly pretty song, but it does seem to be a joyful noise.
For me the "fear" of being wonderfully made is the same fear as in "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." [Proverbs 9:10] I do not share these thoughts to "preach" a sermon or to begin a debate about origins. I have no desire to convince your mind of something you've no desire to think about.
It is simply my hope that TRUTH will ring true in your heart, in your lungs, and in your spirit... so that the request of the same Psalmist who spoke of being fearfully and wonderfully made can be uttered between you and God.
The very same Psalmist in the very last verse of the very last Psalm implored:
"Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!"
Now watch the Youtube video of Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?", a sobering song about an empty existence that asks an honest question and give man's most common response. Here is another bizarre montage with the song. As you think on these things, you may rather hear a more current song about how BREATHING and living [with no mention of God] begs for purpose as seen in this Youtube montage of David Byrne's "Like Humans Do." [Here are the lyrics.]
Life is not meant to be empty of meaning or full of self. We were created for relationship--with both God and one another. That is the story of both the Old and New Testaments. When our breath and life helps others remember this--that is Praise. As an example, listen to Kathy Trocolli's "Hallehujahs" on track 5 here, [Here are the lyrics .]
[*Breathing out and breathing in is described as second-nature in the lyrics of "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face,"]

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Monday Mornin' Destin

Saturday morning, my wife and I and a group of high school seniors hopped from Lansing to Detroit to Memphis to Fort Walton Beach/ Destin Florida. "Hopped" mind you, we did not fly in a plane... we're all exhausted, our shoes are ruined, thighs throbbing, but it was worth it.

As I write this morning, I’m looking at a turquoise and deep blue seascape. A moment ago, I put on a pot of coffee and noticed all of the students are still asleep. We’ve rented this three-story beach house. (I'm up on that third balcony, looking out at the ocean—actually it’s the Gulf of Mexico.) There’s a small pool out back, but so far the kids have preferred the waves and white sand.

In all directions, palm trees sway to the chant of , "Nah-nah... we don't grow up north!" It's true, they are the most significant distinction between this view and Lake Michigan in July. Take away all the buildings, and this could look like “Paradise Island,” but take away the buildings, and we would be in huts [like the castaways on Lost—season finale Wednesday night]… so we'll take the compromises of comfort. The kids especially like that just a few blocks away, beckon all the modern distractions (malls, eateries, water parks, etc.). Today we hit the water park!

Destin has become a traditional destination for our school’s senior trip. We were here this same week last year, too. Even though our students have grown up on a beautiful “fresh water” ocean (Lake Michigan), they always want to spend their Senior Trip someplace “hot” with a beach. Like their favorite beaches in West Michigan, this stretch of the Florida Panhandle is far more “family friendly” (and less “gone wild”) than the more famous beaches stretching from Myrtle to Miami, so it suits our clientele and students well.

Well… I hear stirring below—my cue to go stir up some breakfast.
Update on last night in Destin: In the comments below I mentioned crab hunting each night. Late Tuesday, equipped with nets, the guys caught a dozen donut-sized crabs and appropriately put them in a flat Krispy Kreme box and served them to the unsuspecting girls. Like I said in one of the comments, they're just like a big group of brothers and sisters. Wednesday night we sat around the living room and talked about upcoming graduation practice, which led to some heart-felt remarks and a sense of "this is the end of life as we know it." One student (who until this year may not have spoken in such a moment) thanked his classmates for being true friends and sticking with him through the years. Last night, my youngest daughter (who has missed her mom and dad this week) called and talked to me for 15 mnutes. At the end of the conversation, she said, "Hey, Dad, I've been practicing your favorite song on the piano for when you get home. Can I play it for you now?" and she did right then. It's Debussy's "Clair de Lune," her middle name is Clair (without the e, just like in the title and like the St.Clair River where I spent my summers as a boy). It's been a great trip, and like Julie and I , on Thursday, these kids have something to go home to....

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


There is a wind we cannot see
that whispers where it will,
and gusts toward eternity
‘gainst tethered hope until
resistance is enraptured
torn from soil and sod,
caught up and gladly captured,
borne by the breath of God.
This weekend is the Annual Great Lakes Kite Festival at Grand Haven. Four years ago, my youngest daughter and I flew her kite there. Things were going great until the string broke and her 4-foot silken swallow landed about 20 yards out in the cold Lake Michigan waves.
I rolled up my blue jeans and waded out to get it. The 50-degree water ended up being waist deep—so much for the rolled-up pant legs—but we had a good laugh.
The short poem Borne at the top of this post was born of thoughts about kites and specifically by the feeling I got as I watched the video at the end of this post. You must see it, but don't go there yet.
Have you ever thought of the relationship between the words born and borne? We say a woman "bears" (carries) a child until it is born, but when the wind "bears" (carries) something, we say it is borne as in airborne. The first type of "born" requires the breath..of life; the second type of "borne" in a physical sense requires wind. In a spiritual sense, it requires the breath of God.
There is a great old hymn entitled "Breathe on Me Breath of God." To hear the tune and read the lyrics go here. To hear it sung by Steve Green go here .
I can't help but wonder if somehow the similar meanings of born and borne and breath of life and breath of God don't shed some light on the conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus in perhaps the most quoted chapter of the Bible, John 3.
Nicodemus is stumped by something Jesus told him. It's a statement many people who seek the truth still struggle with 2,000 years later: "...Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Nicodemus is puzzled. "How can a man enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born again?" Then Jesus explains there are two kinds of birth: the natural birth of the flesh he calls being born of water (as in when the mother's "water breaks"), but the second birth He says is spiritual: "...unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
Then in verse 8, Jesus speaks the words that prompted the lines of this short poem. "The wind blows (breathes) where it wills; and though you hear its sound, yet you neither know where it comes from nor where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
The New Testament was originally written in Greek . Pneuma (πνευμα) is Greek for "breath", and it is the word pneuma that is translated as "wind" in verse 8 but also as "spirit" in verse 6 and at the end of verse 8. I'm no Greek scholar so please don't put too much stock in the following application. I mean well but could be wrong.
I wonder if the "second birth" Jesus told Nicodemus about might mean both "born"—as in spiritual new birth—but also borne, in a more figurative sense, "borne" –as in caught up, carried, and delivered by the Spirit's will and not our own? Borne in the sense that a kite is caught up and dependent on the wind and thereby becomes less tethered to this earth while being more bound to the One controlling it. If so, it gives new meaning to an old folk song, because "the answer, my friend, [truly] is blowin' in the wind."
If nothing else, my thinking out loud with you here provides a basis for the metaphor and meaning of the eight lines of Borne. It may also help if you consider the implications of will, tethered, resistance (likewise this related term), and enraptured.
Now for the video that set these thoughts soaring in the first place. It's the most beautiful illustration of Borne I have ever seen. The man flying the three kites is Ray Bethell. Little did I know when I began this post that he resides in Vancouver, BC, home to some of my blogging friends.
Watch the incredible Bethell video that inspired this post.

[The video's gently floating score is "Flower Duet" from the Lakmé opera by Leo Delibes. It does in song what "Breathe on Me Breath of God" does in prayer.
See comment #20 from Ray Bethell.]

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mothers Are Like That...

[From a draft previously titled "John Boy and Me."]
I'm sitting here watching TV with the whole family. It's been a great day. My wife is sitting beside me in our reclining love seat, and I have just enough time to post something for Mother's Day.

There are two one-hour television shows from years ago that struck a lasting chord with me. Both used a narrative format from the first to the last episode. Both titles start with four letters T-H-E-W: The two shows are The Waltons and The Wonder Years.

The Wonder Years, of course, grabbed me because it was in perfect chronological synchronicity with my life. I was the exact same grade and age as Kevin Arnold (played by the young Fred Savage). Watching the turning calendar pages of each season was like reliving my days at Burton Junior High School. Even his chronic crush on Winnie matched mine with [name goes here], except I did not kiss my girlfriend as Kevin did in that heart-warming episode. Thought about it. Wanted to. Practiced the moment in my mind… but never overstepped the conviction I held at the time that it’s not good to kiss girls just to be kissing girls, a “code” that saw me from adolescence to young adulthood with few regrets.

This Mother’s Day post, however, is about The Waltons. This show was not only a narrative but it included the narrator-as-writer in the storyline. The character of “John Boy,” played by actor Richard Thomas, is a semi-autobiographical portral of Earl Hamner, Jr. [Hamner circa 1980 at right.]

The series pilot "The Homecoming" aired the Christmas of my first year in high school. From that special on, my family ran into the living room at the sound of that theme to watch The Waltons every week for the first five seasons. (John Boy left after that and it wasn't quite the same.) My mom especially loved the show and often said that I was like John Boy. I had begun “writing” at the time (though I had no clue what I was doing).

Mom didn’t miss any of the “mystic” signs along the way. My name is Thomas Richard, and John Boy was played by Richard Thomas. Hamner’s novel upon which The Waltons is based is called Spencer’s Mountain. My family name on the maternal side of my family tree is Spencer. In Spencer's Mountain, the father is building their own home, as were we with our father during these same years. Mom used these details to inspire me to remember things and to write "our stories." As the Bayer commercial from the same era used to say, “Mothers are like that, Yeah, They are.”

I’m no Earl Hamner, Richard Thomas, of "John Boy Walton." Just the same, hearing my mom's encouragement through the years made the fact that I liked to write a very acceptable pastime and influenced my choice to become an English teacher.

It is most remarkable to me that Hamner himself was the actual narrative voice at the end of each show. That may seem only natural, but not all writers are effective at reading their own words. (e.g. recorded readings of Frost and Sandburg). Hamner’s voice, however, is an inseparable part of that long-running show.

To me, narrative writing requires the human voice, but it is not commonly held that “good writing” must read well aloud. I’ve read somewhere that “writers” who read their work aloud tend to include too many prepositional phrases. It's because prepositional phrases (beginning by definition with a preposition and ending always with an “object”) create a natural rhythm like the three heard in “Over the river... and through the woods... to Grandmother’s house we go.”

Keeping that caution in mind, I write with the assumption that narratives are an oral tradition. As I write and especially as I re-write, I read aloud. I narrate the words. It is only then that I know my “voice” is in them. I don’t know whether this approach to writing is a cause or an effect of my fondness for Earl Hamner. I only know that when I hear Hamner read the lines of his life, I'm drawn to his tone and style and rhythms. I feel the same winds, see the same colors, and ache with the same sense that family is the strongest tie that binds.

Words strike wonderful chords of music all their own—words like meadow and autumn and sorrow and kept contain their own blend of notes that becomes inseparable from their meaning. The music of words is what blurs the line between poetry and well-crafted narrative voice. Listen to Hamner read these lines from the last episode, and you’ll see what I mean.

"I have walked the land in the footsteps of all my fathers. Back in time to where the first one trod. And stopped, saw sky, felt wind, bent to touch Mother Earth and called this home. This mountain, this pine and hemlock, oak and poplar, laurel wild and rhododendron. Home and mountain. Father, mother, grow to the sons and daughters to walk the old paths. To look back in pride in honoured heritage. To hear its laughter and its song. To
grow to stand and be themselves one day remembered. I have walked the land in the footsteps of all my fathers. I saw yesterday and now look to tomorrow." Earl Hamner, Jr.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! Thanks for all the great stories and for bringing out whatever "John Boy" was in me. =) Because of you, I sometimes here that quiet exhaled chord of a harmonica at the end of things I've written. G'night...

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Three Generations

It takes two generations
to bring along the third
for the echo of truth
is sometimes heard
more clearly than
the words first spoken.
A cord of three strands
is less likely broken
than one or two,
and perhaps equally strong
is a chord of voices
intent to pass along
what matters most
from age to age.
The older voice can gently lead
and help confirm the page
the father reads
is worth the ink
and worthy indeed
to make man think
beyond his lifetime.
The family tree, it’s true, will grow
new limbs and leaves of green,
but the aging trunk that holds them
is held by roots unseen.
Some say "it takes a village,"
but more often than is heard,
it takes two generations
to bring along the third.
© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink
[Mom holding her newest grandson, Benjamin, my younger brother's 2nd son. Happy Birthday, Jim!]
Today was Grandparents Day at the school I oversee. It's a wonderful tradition each spring. We had over 300 guests registered to attend. They're not all "related" grandparents--some are close friends who fill the role for the day. These guests visited classes, had a "picnic" style lunch in the gymnasium and on the grounds, then watched the Elementary grades perform "Pinocchio." We began the day with a general assembly where I'm usually on the agenda for about ten minutes of "opening remarks."

Last night, I knew what I was going to say, but I woke up at 4:12 AM, scribbled down the lines above, and went back to bed. When I got up at 6:15, I read them again. To my surprise they still made sense when read with conversational meter. So this morning we printed the lines on narrow bookmarks to give to our grandparents and guests. As I was speaking about our school's mission, heads nodded with supportive understanding, etc.

I talked about a picture of a three-arched bridge that hangs in office and how those three strong arches symbolized the gist of the poem. But just as it came time to read these lines, I saw a man and wife sitting on the aisle who have gone through a life-changing trial as they've carried out this third- generational role for their grandchildren. While horseback riding with a granddaughter, my friend was thrown from his mount, breaking the same vertebrae as Christopher Reeve, resulting in the same paralysis and wheelchair. It’s been well over a year, but this grandfather has a marvelous testimony and the same smile I saw the day we met seven years ago.

I got a lump in my throat, but I don't think anyone noticed. I decided to pass out the bookmarks without my reading the poem... as if that was my plan all along. Maybe I could have read it; maybe not. It's not that the lines themselves are that "emotional," but in that moment they were too fresh in my mind to know if I could read them without getting misty-eyed. That's pathetic, I know, but it's hard enough to see through the bottom of my Varilux lenses when my eyes are clear. So why risk it? The older I get the more often I have such moments.

It was a great day. We have a choir and band concert tonight followed by what promises to be a sunny weekend.

Sunday evening follow-up: Having read some of the comments and after visiting with some of the grandparents (who commented about the bookmark at school), I want to say that just as Mother's Day does not evoke the same memories and emotions for all people, thoughts about grandparents or being a grandparent vary for family to family. The lines themselves make no mention of "grandparents" per se, but rather of generations. It's possible that you may represent the first "strand" in the kind of cord we're talking about. The thing we dare not forget is that current "young people" have much to gain from those older than their parents in their lives. It's possible that you may extend or accept such a relationship beyond your "family tree."

By the way, I've joked in the past about being a poor speller. On over 300 bookmarks, I spelled the word cord "chord," While I was embarrassed by the mistake, until that moment I never made the connection between a "chord" of three notes and the three strands twisted in standard "cord" or rope like the one below. I later revised the lines to make use of this mistake. =)

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Why Bloggers Blog: Part VI

To Bring Balance to Their Private World

Part VI is the last of “Why Bloggers Blog.” I'd hoped to post it sooner, but Saturday was full of yard work and painting a bedroom, and Sunday had church and a piano recital, followed by some time at the boardwalk and a trip to the train station to pick up a daughter returning from Chicago. The weather was a little breezy but beautiful. I must admit that as I began the workweek, I was a disappointed that I didn't have time to write over the weekend. There was a time, that would not have been true....

I mentioned in Part Five-B that the observations in this final post would be mostly directed at me. Keep in mind that these thoughts are not one-size-fits-all as much as a friendly “if the shoe fits.”

I don't feel like I spend too much time writing. In reality, and that's the key word, I'm a typical guy who enjoys a diversion from work, but I'm also a dad and husband in need of the loved ones who call me by those terms of endearment.

When your kids start warning you in jest about a new type of "lap cancer" caused from having a lap top on your knees all winter while you watch TV with the family... you know something may be out of balance. (Those are my girls there on the left. I do hope we don't discover that laptops cause cancer of the lap.)

When your wife needs some help with something and hears "Just a minute, Honey, I'm right in the middle of a thought" ... it better be a good one because that thought may be your only company for a while. =) I’m just kidding. My wife is very patient. That's her there at the right (in a picture our youngest snapped a couple years ago). She has some of the best judgment and intuition on the planet. When she points out a “concern,” it’s worth noting because she's often RIGHT. Take note. Husbands seldom put such things in writing, but it's a pretty safe bet that we all could.

Don't think I’m just saying that for brownie points, because it’s unlikely that she'll read this post. Her mind is understandably on a certain June wedding. Mine is, too. In fact, knowing my disposition, my increased writing this winter has been a way to "not think" about the life changing year we are sharing as a family.

[Add to all this the fact that in April I accepted an adjunct professorship in a GR University's evening Masters in Education program. It involves one night of teaching a week and some "on-line" instruction. As we've demonstrated here, using the internet for "class discussion" is incredibly useful, but it will accentuate the "perception" that I have a laptop fused to my thighs.]

When I hinted at the subject of this final post in the series, I had no idea that so many people would speak in terms of “addiction." Hearing some of your accounts, I'm glad to be aware of that possible pitfall of this pastime and that once it's recognized, adjustments can be made.

I don't think my mid-life increase in writing is a bad thing, but I do need to find a balance. The title poem of this blog speaks of endless patterns of ink because most of my writing through the years was literally scrawled and re-scrawled on bits of paper filed here and there (like Emily Dickinson). Most of them never quite felt "finished," but this pastime has been the cure for procrastination. I have a much better "write 'til it's finished" record since taking up blogging. This kind of writing adds the risk (the possibility) of actually being "read." I say risk, because let's face it... what if no one reads? What if what you've written doesn't resonate?...

Crop Circles

What if writing
of the kind I do
is but a form of madness,
senility not yet curbed

by an arthritic hand?
What if being lost in thought
is merely wandering in a maze
of corn or waist-high rye
until all my
sterile stomping there
in search of sky
or light or just

a path to where I am...
shows only where I've trod
in patterns
that do not mean
a thing to man…
and little more when seen

by birds... and God?
© Copyright 2006, TK, Patterns of Ink

I enjoy the "neighborhood" aspect of blogging, but writing itself is an outlet for me. We all need outlets. The cool thing about blogging is that it's not an "outlet mall" as much as it is a village of curious little shops where people step in to consider adding some small thing to their life or to hear a story that makes some "antique" worth keeping. Blogging has helped me organize the shop, so to speak, taking things from piles to posts (dusting them off or revising them as needed with 20 or 30 additional years of life experience.) Oh, there’s new stuff, too (like "Wooden Box" parts I and II, and that whole mid-Sixties “When Doubt Came Slowly” string last Christmas), but the newly written pieces somehow fit in with the old. This little shop adds a fulfilling dimension to my life and is profitable in countless ways (though not in the lucrative sense of the word). I suspect that's true for most "writers," bloggers, and owners of antique shops.
Comments are
the little bell that rings
as we step through the door
of the shops we browse.
Some time back, my wife tactfully encouraged me to track the patterns of time spent in this pastime. (She enjoys my writing but is understandably concerned about balance and priorities.) So I checked out my archives. They're sparse compared to many. My first post was in October 2004. After that, I was blogging casually a year and a half before receiving my first dozen comments (one or two at a time through the months-- some from “spammers” =). At that pace, it took over two years to reach my 100th post (not that I paid attention to such things until this task), and yet... I saw that I’ve written more than 100 posts in the past 7 months (not counting lots of drafts). Hmmm... my family has a point. Perhaps I need to rethink the "store hours" of this little shop if I want to keep it open over the long haul.

Why the gradual increase in my writing? Well, the first thing was I got a laptop for school work so I didn't have to share the one computer in the house with two college students. Naturally, with the laptop came a wireless router which meant I could work and write from anywhere in the house. I began writing while sitting with the family. They were often studying or reading so I didn't feel bad about that. Then of course, I starting meeting you folks, which made writing more fun than ever. In fact, it is that aspect of blogging that I would miss most. I now have a better understanding of posts like this.

So I'll be adjusting my writing time slightly to keep a balance between a worthy pastime and inadvertently letting time pass me by during some important months here in my home. I've never enjoyed writing more, and I don't see that changing. I have plenty in the hopper to keep Patterns going for a long time. I look forward to finishing them, and to whatever conversation they may bring.

Wow! I just scrolled down this thread of posts. Thanks for being part of this three-week discussion on Why Bloggers Blog. It went places we hadn't planned to go, and kept us a little longer than we planned to stay, but you helped make it an interesting and civil exchange of words that matter.

See you soon on the front porch...

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Knock

The house
that barely lit a lamp,
content to let the passers by
believe no one was home,
pulled back
at a knock upon the door,
pulled back
the cold curtain
in a trembling pinch,
pulled back an inch
in time
to lean toward the pane,
but not a soul was there—
just footprints
in the snow upon the stair.
© Copyright 2005, TK, Patterns of Ink

A few winters back when I originally posted this, a friendly "Anon" ventured a guess that it was about getting a comment when I thought no one was reading. That was half right, ironically it was about the occasional unexpected anonymous comments, although back then any comment was pretty startling. =) ..(I was writing mostly family posts, but only a few friends and family members knew what a blog was, and if they read, they commented by phone or email. They still prefer it that way. =)
[That, by the way, is not our house...]

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Why Bloggers Blog: Part Five-B

To Enjoy a "Sense of Neighborhood"

Thank you for participating in this discussion. It has been a very enjoyable and thought-provoking process.

My boyhood neighborhood was kid-friendly, suburban, white, Italian/Polish/other (we were other), mostly catholic (we were not), Democrat (we were not), blue collar (my dad was not), lower-middle-aged / lower-middle class (we were lower than most). As a kid, however, I didn’t think in such terms. I only knew it was a wonderful place to grow up. As an adult I fondly described it like this:

“From our front porch we could see scores of nearly identical small, three-bedroom brick ranches, and beyond them were hundreds more, packed into ….a suburban grid of tightly-woven streets and patch-pocket yards with about twelve feet between the houses.… When I say ‘tightly-woven,’ I mean ‘close-knit’ without the comfortable give.”

“Neighborhood” can be an attitude rather than a maze of streets and homes, a place where all the demographics and adjectives are as unimportant as they are to a child.

Blogging creates that sense of neighborhood from Seattle to Savannah, Malaysia to Michigan, Oklahoma to Ontario, India to Indiana. It boggles my mind that this is possible. I may never fully understand how the technology works, but the sociology is not that different from real life.

The metaphor I most often use for blogging is a conversational gathering on a front porch in the kind of “neighborhood” we’ve all described. Front porches are an open, inclusive, transitional place between the neighborhood and the home itself (without actually opening the home).

Some bloggers do “open their home.” They may prefer a kitchen metaphor, because they focus on recipes; to some it’s a family room, and they scrap and talk about kids ; to some it’s the garden or a work shop or garage. A blog is a place that reflects our interests, perspectives, and how far into “our world” we’re comfortable allowing strangers.

Whoa! Wait a minute, Tom. Strangers? I was with you until you said "strangers." You just described this neighborly place we all enjoy to visit. We’re not strangers. Lots of us have become friends with people in this neighborhood.

I understand that, and I sense and value that camaraderie, too. It's been a unaticipated reward of blogging. But before you read on, please try something with me. Don’t click these links yet. You must first agree to insert the word “nobody” for the word “everybody” each time the song says it. Okay? Now click this link and listen to the theme song from Cheers. (Or if you’d rather watch the video clip of the same song, click here.) Remember, insert “nobody” each time you hear “everybody.”

"Thanks, Tom, for completely ruining the song!" I like it better the other way, too. The lyrics suggest we all long for a place to make new acquaintances, feel accepted, etc..... a place to be “known”... but only so well. But don't you agree that sometimes we want to go where we can enjoy some friendly anonymity and selective vulnerability? It is in that sense that this is a neighborhood of "strangers." Being the right kind of "strangers" is not a bad thing. Remember, the two men in the previous post were perfect strangers.

Based on our use of first names only (or knick names) and our brief “profiles,” we've all wisely chosen to control how little or how much we actually share of ourselves with the world.

You are all interesting writers with thoughts worthy to be shared in an open forum. For all the reasons mentioned in this discussion, I value the insights and perspectives in this neighborhood in spite of the inherent limitations of the internet.

Speaking only for myself, I feel more free to write here with some level of plausible deniability. =) I'm a school administrator. Can you imagine me being in the middle of some school discipline matter and having a kid say, "I'll make a deal with you Mr. K.: You throw out the detention and I'll promise not to tell anybody you wrote about a "drool stained pillow." I can simply say, "'Patterns of What?' Never heard of it, and don't ask me how that picture of George Lukas holding my daughter got on that site."

Some of my school clientele read here, we talk about it, but the vast majority of people who know me have no idea these pages exist, and I'm totally okay with that. Even though that's true, I still have a rule of thumb: If I wouldn't say it out loud at work, the mall, or church, I should think twice about writing it on my blog. We must live with our words. Choose wisely.

Likewise, on a more serious note: since none of our blogs are “closed,” we must remember that there are unsavory strangers and sultry alleys just a mouse click away. (A stranger helped a stranger in “The Good Samaritan,” but it was also “strangers” who robbed the man in the first place.) In the same sense that parents should be very careful about kids spending too much time at MySpace, adults must be careful with this personal pastime we call blogging.

The second reason we need to be careful with this "neighborhood" pastime is one I’m not sure we want to hear.... I've been putting it off in this discussion. Here's a clue: the word “pastime” implies the passing of time. We’ve all shared reasons why the dimension of blogging is part of our lives, but read through the comments and you’ll hear many bloggers candidly talking of it in terms of addiction. I know they may be joking, but there's some truth to it.

I confess that the weekend “writing time” I mention in my header has of late become an evening “pastime,” too. Take now for instance: It is 11:35 PM Thursday. At the moment, I'm in my recliner "waiting up" for one of my daughters. It is the amount of time I'm gladly giving this pastime that prompted the last post of this series.

Part VI is some advice (mostly to myself) given in a somewhat humorous light. I'm mulling over a few concerns and suggestions I need to consider as I strive to strike a manageable balance between a pastime and the reality of passing time with those we love and serve in our home, neighborhoods, communities, and world around us. We have some family activities this weekend, but I'm hoping to post it by Sunday night.

My daughter just got home--right when she said. I love hearing about her day. (Next week, maybe I'll tell you about her first "warning" for a traffic violation.) Allow me to close with this post's theme and the story behind the song. =)

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Why Bloggers Blog: Part Five-A

To Understand the Meaning of Neighbor

Happy May Day! Before we can talk about non-geographic “neighborhoods” in cyberspace, we need to define the word neighbor.

One time Jesus was talking to a lawyer who had heard him summarize the Ten Commandments with “Love the Lord your God completely AND love your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer had a follow-up:

“Let’s define the terms. Who is my neighbor?"

Wouldn’t life be easier if Jesus had said, "Your neighbor is any person whose primary residential property is contiguous with your own and perpendicular to the thoroughfare of address." Loving “next-door neighbors” unconditionally would not always be easy, but the duty would at least be limited to a few occupants of two homes. Have you equally loved “as yourself” all of your next-door neighbors through the years? There’s the rub, and the rub becomes downright abrasive when Jesus re-defined neighbor through a story.

You know the one. It's called the Good Samaritan, a parable of unmerited kindness in an atmosphere of prejudice. As a creative exercise (not an attempt to "improve" upon the original), I've taken some liberties and written a paraphrased, NYC version below.
.................. ............................................ ...................

The suburban lawyer was glad to hear about loving his neighbors. He liked Joe to the south and Jim to the north—they got along great, but he wanted to make sure it didn’t include Josh on the back lot line. Josh was a jerk. He once cut down a Scotch Pine that was in this lawyer’s lot and all he said was “Sorry I didn't ask, but my dog kennel needed some sun.” It was that blasted dog kennel and the ugly mutt inside that the lawyer wanted most to block with the bushy tree, but he let it go. Oh, how he hoped Jesus’ answer only meant “next-door” neighbors on the same street.

But Jesus threw him a curve. The story had nothing to do with houses or lot lines. It was about this man who got knocked out, and robbed on a side street in New York City. He was lying there like one of those homeless guys you try not to look in the eyes.

Most of the passers by had learned how to step aside without looking down at those awkward glances, but some crossed the street because he was moaning and reaching out for help.

One man thought, “I can't tell if he's drunk or hurt, but I’m not getting close enough to find out.”

“I’m not getting involved,” another thought, “Last time I did I had to be a witness in court. ‘I know nothing... nothing,’” he said in a German accent. (He was actually Italian, but he loved that line from Sergeant Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes.)

Then this “red state” rancher comes walking along in a cowboy hat and boots. He was in New York on business, a trip that had flopped the second he walked into the client’s office with a Southern accent and a “Support the Troops” button on his lapel. So he cut the trip short and had a few hours to see the sights before his flight.

Everywhere he went people stared. He walked by some war protestors on a corner and one of them took a swing at him with a “Retreat and Impeach” sign. He tipped his hat and said, “Much obliged, Ma’am,” thinking to himself “Toto, We’re not in Kansas anymore.” (He was actually from Texas, but he loved that line.)

Then he comes upon this beat-up man by the curb and quickly stoops down to help. He takes a bottle of water from his coat and a bandana from his back pocket. As the blood's wiped off the fallen man's face, he looks up and whispers,"Gracias." It’s clear that there are no serious injuries and the man insists on NOT going to the hospital and NOT calling the police. The Texan fully understands what that means. Being from San Antonia, he knew the confident look of his Hispanic neighbors and the skittish look of their visiting friends who came and went with work. So he helps him up and walks him down the block to the fine hotel where he was staying.

The regal doorman stopped them. “Sir, he can’t come in here.”

But the Texan said, “He’s with me, and my room’s booked for another two nights.”

The Mexican man smiled as they crossed the grand lobby and the kind stranger approached the front desk.

"I'm registering this gentleman to stay in my room. I won’t be needing it. He could use a hot tub and some rest, room service meals—and how ‘bout one of them backrubs the brochure talks up. He’s kinda sore. Oh, and some clothes from that men's shop there—which by the way doesn't even know what a Stetson is. And if he wants it, a train ticket to anywhere he says. Put it all on my card. Here’s my cell phone number. Let me know if he needs anything else. Now…could you please call a cab. I have a plane to catch.”
Turning to leave with a smile, he gave his new friend his hat. A few days later the man was feeling fine. He sat a long time at the top of the hotel's back stoop before beginning his walk to Grand Central.
Jesus paused and asked, “Who was neighbor to the man?”

The lawyer answered. “The one who picked him up and helped him without judging or asking what he already knew.”

“Good answer. I call it showing mercy. Now you go and do likewise.... even if a guy cuts down your Scotch Pine.”

“Yes, Lord. Hey... how did you know about the tree?… oh, yeah, I forgot,” he said sheepishly as Jesus put something in his hand.

"Here's the penny for your thoughts."
(He was actually omniscient, but he loved that line.)
[Author's note: Why NYC? Because they have a "Good Samaritan" law that came from a well known case of eye witnesses refusing to help a person in need. Why Texas? Because I think people in "red states" are treated prejudicially as "red necks" and bigots, which is as bigoted as any other form of prejudice. Why a Mexican? Three reasons: They are our neighbor to the south and in some respects our neighbors in need; I personally still have a ways to go in forming a proper attitude toward those who illegally cross our borders... I wanted to preach at myself; and third, "Gracias" shares its roots and meaning with "Grace," and that one word is what this story is all about.]

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