3000 Words

There were 3000 words today. Articles that needed to get written over the course of the week, but with Shannon’s flu and bronchitis, didn’t. Saturdays are usually days I try to do something fun, with the family out and around, perhaps–and we did get to go to lunch today together. But even before that, I had to wade into the day with interviews this morning at the Channel Islands PC Users Group. No Pulitzer there, but it was fun.

Fortunately, the main portion of the day was the craft itself. I’m told it was a stunningly gorgeous day outside and I saw part of it, so I think I can concur. For the most part, however, I was inside the house in the perch where I sit now, tapping away at the keyboard. There was so much to write and a bit of it was overly complex. Tapped out one article for the small local paper, two for the lifestyle magazine and one for the large local paper. Originally, I thought I’d do just three pieces–but since I have two to do tomorrow, I thought it best to get done. So I began writing just before 11 a.m. With a brief lunch break and a brief walk with Simon, I tapped out the end of the fourth piece, the one about the computer group, at 5:30 p.m.

3000 words is a lot. For practice, most days, I try to do between 500 and a thousand. I feel like I’ve done a good four or five days worth in one day and I have to admit, it wore me out. If I weren’t teaching, I might be able to keep that schedule up relatively easily, but with a teaching gig, I’m glad it’s only once in a while.

But there’s something refreshing about it, too. I can’t help but be content with it. I love the work and telling stories, writing them down for posterity, is just more fun every time I do it and that’s a feeling I had going back to when I was in high school. I remember one of the first stories I wrote for my creative writing class, a soldier’s Vietnam story, and the feeling I got when I got it back from a remarkably understated teacher whose name escapes me, but whose countenance and words do not. It said, “some merit.” It was about the greatest feeling I ever had.

It continues to this day and so, this is just a moment to recognize the blessing. I’m grateful for it and I can only hope I get to keep on doing it. Here’s to more 3000 word days.

Onward.

The good and the bad.

The trip to the Sequoias was beautiful. As we rose in altitude, the already mild temperatures grew cooler, the air thinner, more pure and the scenery more lush, more verdant.

We had never been to the Sequoias before, but Conni, our exchange student, had. She traveled to the US with her family last summer and they camped up in the mountains between Sequoia and Yosemite National Park. She was our tour guide and we took a small hike around the grove where General Sherman stands.

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We breathed in the cool air, while the snow blanketing the ground was slowly melting. The temperatures were around 45 or 50 degrees and the snow in the high branches slowly fell from its perches softly among us. We stopped along the road up the treeline to take pictures near Moro Rock and see the sites. There were views everywhere. Shannon, who gets car sick on occasion, especially on windy mountain roads, rode up front and did fine.

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Pay no attention to the date stamp. My dad has not set his camera properly, so the date stamp has no meaning.

We spent the day among giants, watched a short National Park Service film on bears at the visitor center and after hiking, watching, spending the day in awe-we headed down the hill. Our first stop was to return the chains we had to rent because the government says so–and for which we paid $75. For rental. I don’t want to talk about it–mainly because the cost of it now seems trivial by comparison.

We met my dad and step-mom for dinner in Tulare at the Black Bear Diner and it was a nice end to the brief interlude. Into the car again for the roughly 3-hour drive home. It was around 6 p.m. when we headed south on Highway 99. But about 10 minutes into the drive, the check engine light came on.

I won’t belabor the point–within just a few minutes of the check engine light, the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree. And then the car stopped. There was nothing. Breaks worked, steering was no longer power steering, but it got me to the side of the road. 6:30 p.m, Sunday night–five of us stranded on Highway 99 in Pixley, Calif.

Sigh.

Cell phone. Triple A. Flat bed tow truck within 20 minutes. We rode in the car as he drove us back to Visalia where there is a Hyundai dealer. Called dad, who lives in the town-he met us there. We transferred gear to my step-sister’s car–went back to the hotel.

Missed school Monday. Rented a car and drove home. Today, one week later, we picked up the car. An oil gasket cover leaked oil onto the alternator-killed it. So…

$182 for towing.

$200 for two hotel rooms.

$173 for one-way rental mini-van.

$130 for rental car at home from Monday through Friday.

$740 car repair.

Two tank fulls of gas to drive up and meet dad above Bakersfield to pick the car up.

And now home. Shannon is sick this weekend–a fever, probably a virus–something like that. Long day. Long weekend.

Nothing poetic about it.

Onward.

He Knows, you know

With apologies to Marillion…

The darkness was enveloping as was the cool breeze that flitted about as Simon and I walked out the front door. I had gone to Ventura after work yesterday to borrow a friend’s luggage case carrier for my car. We went and drained a couple of beers before I went home. March is a cool time, and a warm one. The old saying is that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Except in Southern California where that can happen, but then it can also come in like a lamb and go out like a lion-a rare spring storm can alter all.

Simon hadn’t walked, so I went up and donned my Nikes and headed out. My original intention was simply to walk a mile and a half or so, enough to give him something to do and to get my heart rate up just a little. Instead, we ended up nearly going three miles, maybe two and a half or so, and a new world unfolded.

The city I live in is a sleepy bedroom community of some 65,000 people. That’s, at least, its reputation. But on a Friday night in this quiet little village, a suburb of nowhere, really, too far north of Los Angeles to really count, roving bands of teens and tweens wander the streets, ostensibly looking for something to do.

I hadn’t really noticed this before. I’m rarely out after dark much–the odd trip the store or a restaurant notwithstanding. I don’t take in the pulse of the streets after the street lights go on and I don’t pay much attention. On a typical weeknight between September and June, I’m inside after dinner catching up on writing, grading papers, playing with my family or some such. Last night, I was walking.

I can’t say that these roving bands were up to no good. I never feared for my safety in any real sense. There was a vague recognition that what was happening in the two parks I passed with kids huddled against the high 40 degree temperatures lit by the glow of their cell phones was probably not a prayer circle. But other than that, I didn’t care too much. I just thought it strange. The illuminated bits of space in between each person gave off the faint glow of smoke rising. Ah. So that’s it.

Drugs are a continual and real problem here as they are everywhere, I imagine. As a teacher, I find myself ignoring this fact for the most part. I’m busy creating lesson plans, grading things, thinking about how to challenge them–but so many, though obviously not all, are planted firmly in the elsewhere. That space is defined with nebulous imagery. They want what they don’t have, they have what they don’t want and the tribe they’ve found that cares about them most, does so because together, they alter their brain chemistry. It used to be that the drug culture wanted to get high to think deep thoughts. It was a stupid illusion, of course. But it had noble intent. Now, they want to get high because feeling good is good enough.

I can’t help but think this is in direct correlation to the creation of an entitlement society–not the entitlement of government subsidy, but the feel-good philosophy that each individual deserves to feel good, deserves to be happy. God knows that happiness is a good thing-He even mentions it in the Bible. But He doesn’t say it comes for free-and it’s not a birthright. Human beings have the brilliant capacity to shape metaphor around our lives, even if we don’t know what a metaphor means.

When I came home, Conni had a friend over, a young lady who is in my senior English class. She’s a great kid. I asked her about this after-dark phenomenon in our fair city and she reinforced my belief. These kids aren’t out there planning their next community service project. Some, she said, she knew-and knew also that they weren’t coming to any good.

I’m not one who believes in collective guilt. My conservative and libertarian leanings are well-documented in these pages. But I have to ask myself whether or not we are doing enough to curb this problem? As an educator, I believe firmly that our failing system, government chartered and run, is at its heart contributing to this problem at the very least. Holding assemblies with kids who used to do drugs telling their stories, staging mock funerals or talking about consequences isn’t enough.

Transcendence means to rise above-and we have not done that. We attack the symptoms and ignore the root causes like the break-up of the family, the quiet but unerring message that getting more is a worthy goal, the desire for fame, fortune and glory a noble and just cause and that remaining forever young is not just something to aim for, it is an inherent right. Rising above that requires teaching the hard lesson that striving, purposeful work, meaningful faith, love and sacrifice are the real goals.

We are not long on this earth-we are not of it. We are spirit and soul-and we do ourselves a disservice by teaching our children that the pursuit of happiness is nothing more than finding ways to feel good. Perhaps we should start there.

Onward.