Christmas spirit went thataway…

IMG_1340The day after Christmas. Rainy…dreary…depressing. Feeling empty and a bit let down today. Spent most of yesterday on our own..watched the grandsons tear open Santa’s gifts early at their house and then it was time to leave as other plans and wishes took them all elsewhere…no family to surround us and offer up and share in many laughs and good times …Alas, weren’t asked to join that side of the family for dinner or all of the other festivities that go with that part of the day…Instead, came home and passed the time with quiet reading and pretending it didn’t hurt…The joys of the season!

May 4 and the things I could have written…

May 4…Missed it once more!

And this was going to be the year that I would write about my life experiences at Kent State University forty-five years ago in May of 1970, when I was a sophomore wandering about in pursuit of a degree of some sort. But it’s May 5, and that anniversary day has come and gone.

Yep, every year seems to come and go like that, without me having written about what I felt about that time period—not just that day when the students were shot—but the whole chunk of days and weeks—before and after—the infamous event there on a beautiful, sunshine-filled weekend. And the older I get, and the farther removed I am from it all, the harder it is to reconcile all that transpired during that period of my young life.

However, had I been so inclined to do as so many others did yesterday, I could have written about my anger at things that were happening on campus and in the community of Kent during that spring. For instance, the unfamiliar long-hairs, with their hardened, bitter faces and disheveled dress, who made it difficult for those such as me, not in “the movement,” to go about the business of playing student.

Even for a campus the size of Kent’s, it was fairly easy to recognize other students as we came and went during the course of a school year. Suddenly, though, in the spring of 1970, there was a whole host of new “students” on the scene, seemingly serious and intent on making their radical points known. They were part of a group—Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)—that was more interested in upheaval and anarchy than being “students” is how I thought of them. (Still do, for that matter!)

I could have written about the Friday night, May 1, when downtown Kent was trashed by rioters and agitators, all in the name of peace! This was an ugly, ugly scene, and I’m glad that I chose to stay at the fraternity house. At that point, the city was out of control.

Burned ROTC Building Photo:

I could have written about Saturday night, May 2, when the ROTC building was burned, and those responsible cutting the fire hoses and preventing the firemen from doing their jobs.

I could have written about the bomb threat that cancelled the final exam I was scheduled to take that Monday, May 4. At the time, I wasn’t all that upset, figuring it would give me some much-needed extra time to better prepare for the thing. After all, I was very much in need of getting some better grades this time around to help raise me from the abyss of Probation.

I could have written about riding the bus back to my apartment a few blocks from campus and then, shortly after plopping down on the old saggy couch to study, taking advantage of the bomb scare reprieve, hearing a string of sirens racing past on the street outside, back toward the university. Although I wasn’t aware of what actually had happened, I had a feeling that things had finally come to a head, after a weekend of building tension and violence.

Curious, and no longer compelled to study, I walked the few blocks over to our fraternity house. On the way, I was confronted by two national guardsmen in a jeep (martial law, you know!) and was told that I needed to get off the streets. I indicated that I would be doing so very soon and continued on to the house.

I could have written about the confusion and complete shock that was surrounding everything and everyone at our fraternity. Many of the brothers had been on the scene, up near Taylor Hall, where the tragic event had taken place, and were fighting back tears now. As best as I could, I picked up bits and pieces of what exactly happened, but, like everything else about the event, no set of details seemed to match up. Someone would say one thing, someone else another. The only thing that was certain was at least four students had been killed and many others injured.

I could have written about what happened next: the university closing down, as though someone had thrown a big master switch, and we all had to get out! NOW!

Imagine, if you can, trying to make phone calls to family, in a time long before social media, smart phones, and text messaging. Fortunately, I was able to get to my apartment and packed what I could to take home to LaGrange, Illinois. What was to become of student life at KSU as we had known it, no one had any idea!

I could have written about how that summer unwound and how we all were able to complete our coursework from home. I could have written about my feeling cheated because of the actions of those who had a totally different agenda than I.

I could have written about how life goes on—and it did…and does—and things sometimes turn out for the better. If nothing else, I could have written that all actions have consequences, and that sad weekend at Kent State, forty-five years ago, didn’t have to turn out the way it did.


But…I missed May 4…

Words and expressions in need of a “time out”…

In these very busy times leading into the holiday season, one has many opportunities to see and hear examples of language which tend to irritate, much as a popcorn kernel wedged between a couple of teeth does. And because misery loves company, I will share a few of them herewith.

I’m not sure if anyone else is as annoyed as I am with the word so, used to begin something, but it seems to be more and more in vogue—in both writing and speaking. (Example: “So my family and I are all packed and ready to go on vacation when the phone rings.”)

Like nails on a chalkboard, this prevents me from really enjoying what might be some pretty decent content of whatever it is the writer/speaker has to offer. I really can’t pinpoint exactly why this is so irritating, but perhaps it’s because the wording sounds like an anecdote or joke. I love a good anecdote and joke as much as the next person, but I don’t find beginning a piece of serious writing with so very enjoyable. And I’m hearing this, more and more, from professionals who should know better!

When so begins something, doesn’t it imply that there should be something known previous to it? Or, perhaps, this is another one of those examples of how our language gets shaped and used (often misused) for one’s own whims.

Right along with this use of so is the use of I mean… to start a sentence. For whatever reason, this seems to be a standard “reply starter” offered up by athletes who have been asked some hard-hitting, crucial question, as in the following example: (Interviewer)-“How did it feel to score the winning touchdown as time ran off the clock?” (Sports star)-“I mean, it was cool and surreal!” Does anyone else find this weird, or is it only I that does?

While one ponders an answer to that, another irritating term is surreal (see above example). Yep, it’s a perfectly wonderful word, but it’s overused and appears in so many places where another word might be better. Could it be that many folks use the term in order to sound smart and literary? Whatever the case, it needs a rest, as do gin up, teachable moment, throw someone under the bus, just sayin’, my bad, to die forit’s all good, and it is what it is. Nary a day passes, it seems, when I don’t hear at least one of these gems thrown out there in one form of media or another. Be they “hip” or “cool,” they’re still annoying!

Perhaps with the arrival of a new year in just a few weeks, all of these terms can take a much file0001562030891needed hiatus and cease their annoyance factors. Of course, it will be short-lived as there’s sure to be more to be ushered in right behind them and shoved down our throats by the “hip” and “cool” media and the “hip” and “cool” folks who pick up on it. Oh, well, resigned to that fate, the beat goes on…

Have a wonderful holiday season, all!

My Favorite Holiday Stories…

DSC_1206Every year about this time, I like to dig out and re-read my favorite stories with holiday themes. I never tire of going back to them, and they, more than anything else, provide the impetus to move me into the spirit of the seasons. Today’s post will mention a few of my favorites.

Of course, anyone who knows me would say that all things Dickens is at the top of my list. A Christmas Carol and its theme of human kindness and redemption is what makes it a true classic, and one I look forward to reading in the days leading up to the big day.

But there are others as well, if not as well-known. For instance, O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” has always been a good Christmas story with it’s ironic twist of Jim and Della each giving up something that was truly precious to each in order to purchase a gift for the other. I’ve always liked O. Henry’s characters and the hardships of which they try to cope, and this short story is a rather excellent example of unselfish love and what true giving is all about.

Another O. Henry favorite is “The Cop and the Anthem,” although not specifically a Christmas tale. It is, however, set in the heart of New York City, with the chill and unforgiving winds of winter arriving. A homeless soul named Soapy prepares for his annual winter trip to the Island—Riker’s Island—where he can be taken care of at the expense of the taxpayer—warm meals, warm beds, and a roof over his head. Of course, every attempt to get arrested results in just the opposite, frustrating Soapy immensely. Finally, hearing the beautiful strains of a church choir singing inside the church, Soapy thinks of his mother and has an epiphany and decides to turn his life around before it’s too late. Before he can do anything more, though, he is collared by a policeman for loitering and dragged off for sentencing! Love those O. Henry trademark twists!

I remember reading Lincoln Steffens’s “A Miserable Merry Christmas,” in fifth or sixth grade as a pre-Christmas assignment. The little tale runs the gamut of the young boy’s emotions from complete despondency, when he discovers an empty stocking and no pony—the only present he wanted—on Christmas morning, to total rapture when the delivery person shows up—hours late—riding the aforementioned pony. For whatever reason, I somehow was able to relate to the boy, although I never received a pony for Christmas.

file5161265801247There are others, of course, and I look forward to enjoying them late at night, after the writing is finished and the rush of the day is over. There will be a fire in the fireplace to add a festive holiday flavor to the occasions. The winds and swirling rain, sleet, or snow will be up to no good on the outside, while I’m comfortably ensconced within our cozy living room.

What favorite Christmas stories do you have?

Take some time…write a Letter!

Yesterday, with the break in the weather–the milder temperatures and melting snow–I set out to unplug our outdoor Christmas lights on the back deck and those out on the tall evergreen in the far corner of the yard.

Since the dwindling snow made it rather easy to get out and about, it was pretty simple to roll up each of the orange extension cords and get them dried out in the garage until it will be time to return them to their designated Rubber Maid storage container for another year. The lights themselves will come down soon, but now they rest out there, dark and lonely.

POTD - heavy duty extension cord (basement pho...
POTD – heavy duty extension cord (basement photo so it must be a Sunday) (Photo credit: amyvdh)

It didn’t take me long, that little task, but it got me to thinking about how quickly our holiday celebrations come and go, passing into memory almost before we realize it. And I then began to recall the past few weeks and the wonderful gifts of having our kids and grandkids around, if but for a very short time to help us celebrate the season.

And so the “dismantling” of Christmas has begun and besides all of the taking down and putting away, there remains one other major ritual: Writing post-Christmas letters, thanking one and all for the thoughtful gifts, spending time with us, and sharing their holiday spirit in doing so.

For as long as I can remember, I have been an avid letter writer, and I’ve always felt that there is no better time than after the Christmas holiday to write and send letters from the heart–the old-fashioned way! No, I don’t mean handwritten by pen (my penmanship is frightful!) but typed out, printed, sealed in an envelope, postage stamp attached, and dropped in the post office to be sent on their merry way.

In this age of instant messaging, texting, and e-mail, most people fail to see much value in old-fashioned letter writing any more. But I’m not one of them. Receiving a written letter in the mail from a friend or relative has always been one of life’s greatest joys for me.

I must admit that I love all of the modern technology that has made texting, e-mail, cell phones, and other forms of social networking so readily available in our lives. Yet, all of this, I’m pretty sure, has pretty much rendered the practice of letter writing a forgotten art form. Perhaps one of the most disturbing things that speaks to the current state of communication is that many people with Facebook, Twitter, texting, and all other forms of social media don’t even e-mail anymore! To say the least, it makes me wonder where we’re going in our ways of communicating.

Still, I often write letters to friends and relatives for their birthdays, anniversaries, or to wish them congratulations for some achievement, get well wishes, or simply to send along family updates. And I know the chances of receiving any kind of reply or acknowledgement that my letter was received are pretty slim. Yet, I take great satisfaction in the simple act of taking the time to write and mail the letter.

And so I must ask: Readers, what are your feelings about the art of letter writing? Is there a place for it in our world of human communication? Or am I just romanticizing about a lost art from a lost time?

Letter Carrier Delivering Mail
Letter Carrier Delivering Mail (Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution)

In some small way, I’ll do my very best to keep the practice of letter writing alive. If anyone reading feels as I do, and would like to correspond via the “old-fashioned” way, mention so in the comments section, and we can get the ball rolling.

This idea kind of brings back memories from long-ago school days when we’d have Pen Pals. Now, as back then, it would be a fun, learning experience. Regardless, if nothing else, take some time and write a letter to someone soon. It’s a good feeling–for sender and receiver! :-)….CortlandWriter

*Note: On my “Must Read” list is a new book by Simon Garfield titled To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing (Gotham Books)

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2013…A very good year to wear my “writer’s hat”

Late December is here—almost Christmas—and the snow falls outside. Much yet photoremains to be completed on the revising and editing of The Bet, my current novel I’m hoping to publish soon, but I’m making progress on that all the same. Just need to get through the busy days ahead and get back on track once again. No excuses…just fact!

2013 has certainly been a year filled with many highlights for me. Meeting several new friends in the blogging world and in various other online communities has been fun and rewarding. I have truly enjoyed sharing common interests—particularly the love of words and writing—with a wide array of folks “out there” in the blogosphere. Reading their many thoughts and ideas, I usually learn something and actually feel that I’m a better writer after doing so. At least I hope that I am better when I post my own thoughts and ideas, striving to be as interesting and “readable” as those I read and follow.

The best thing that happened to my writing this year, though, was my discovery of, and immersion into, the world of Scrivener, a fantastic tool for writers! At first, I had very little idea what it was all about or how it really worked. Fortunately, however, I found Gwen Hernandez’s Scrivener for Dummies and spent February and March taking her online course Scrivener for Mac, and the rest is history, if I may throw out a hackneyed cliché.

Cliché aside, Scrivener has made my writing—novels and blogs—more organized, and the whole process much easier. Using Scrivener to write my novel for NaNoWriMo in November was a fun and well-organized, challenging experience. Of course, when creating my stories, I still have to come up with the right words that will successfully tell the tale, but Scrivener, from Literature & Latte, helps me do so. Without a doubt, it has become my best friend when I’m wearing my writer’s hat! Anyone reading this, who has not tried Scrivener, should do so and take advantage of the 30-day free trial. It would make for a wonderful last-minute Christmas gift as well.

English: merry christmas
English: merry christmas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So on this snowy morning here in northern Illinois, I send good wishes to all readers and fellow writers who, like me, need to get back to work on writing, revising, and editing. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! May 2013 close out warm and happy for you all, and 2014 hold many wonderful and exciting adventures every day.…CortlandWriter


Christmas Morning Excitement, Afternoon Quiet…

Winter Holiday Village
Winter Holiday Village (Photo credit: Mairead Fitzgerald)


Christmas morning. Up early and down the eleven miles to our son and his wife’s place for breakfast and to watch the two grandsons open their gifts from Santa. It’s always a hectic flurry of excitement as the wrapping is removed in record time and what’s inside is quickly  shuffled aside to make way for the next one. When this routine is finished, everyone goes their separate ways to attend to whatever plans are at hand for the rest of the day.


As it turns out, the son and wife and the two grandsons will be going to one of her aunt’s for a large family gathering and dinner and more hubbub for the rest of the day. The wife and I are home and enjoying the quiet and warmth of our home. No place to go and no place we want to go! I have writing to do, blog posts to update, and some much-neglected reading I want to fit in. The stereo plays some nice Christmas music while I work here, and our dinner of ham cooks slowly out in the kitchen (Its wonderful aroma is very tantalizing already!).


I’m not sure if it’s another sign that I’m getting older, but I have been looking forward to this after-the-gift-opening time very much. True, I love my kids and grandsons, but I don’t feel one bit guilty for savoring this peaceful time–just the wife and me–and time to do what we want to do today! I really don’t mind being left to my own thoughts and tasks on this Christmas Day.


I think of family and friends who are spread out all across this country, and I wonder if they are having a nice day as well. I wish for them much peace and happiness in whatever way they are celebrating this day. I hope their day will be as nice as mine has been so far: Morning excitement and anticipation full of smiles and loud voices; Afternoon and evening quiet and restful. Merry Christmas…CortlandWriter


Quiet and Alone
Quiet and Alone (Photo credit: IzaD™)


End of the Innocence (Pt. 4)-End of an Era

Monday, May 4, 1970

Oblivious to anything else around me on campus on this day, I headed over to Satterfield Hall for my 11:00 English mid-term. I hadn’t been seated very long, however, when there was a flurry of activity throughout the hallways. We were told to clear the building immediately as there was a bomb threat! Moments later, I was waiting for a campus bus to take me back to Dubetz Apartments, where I would spend the afternoon studying for my next mid-term to be given the next day. Sadly, that day never really came that spring.

I recall it was shortly after noon when I first heard the sirens racing toward campus. Not long thereafter, I decided to make my way across town to our fraternity house. Part of the way there, I was confronted by two National Guardsmen in a jeep patrolling the city streets. One of the armed Guardsmen asked me where I was going and ordered me to get there and off the streets as quickly as I could. I needed no further prodding and hustled on to the Kappa Sigma house. There, I learned from other brothers who had been on campus that there had been a terrible shooting and students killed! We were all in a state of confusion and disbelief.

Rumors of all shapes and sizes were running rampant. What stands out the most in those hectic moments are the many descriptions and eyewitness accounts of those who happened to be near the scene that day. There were so many different descriptions of the same event. And that seems to be the case forty-two years later. There is still a cloud of uncertainty as to what really happened up there near Taylor Hall. All of the commissions and task forces can investigate until the cows come home, and the complete truth will never come out.

Soon, the campus was closed and all any of us could do was scramble to try to get home. A complete chaotic atmosphere had converged on the campus, and the surreal state was spellbinding. There were many people whom I would never see again after that weekend, but for a while we were Kent students, all in the same boat, wondering what would come of all this. There were many plans and activities that would never be fulfilled after that weekend. Four students were dead, and far too many others wounded or injured. Fraternity softball games didn’t seem to matter all that much any more. And, most of all, there would never be that feeling of innocence in our college lives after that weekend.

Though we would all go on, following one path or another in our individual lives, the events of May 1-4 would somehow travel with us every step of the way. They still do…CortlandWriter

End of the Innocence (Pt. 2)…

Saturday, May 2, 1970–Kent State University

Saturday dawned chilly, gray, and overcast—a stark contrast to Friday’s spellbinding beauty. Somewhere in the apartment, a clock radio came on with the news of the morning. Through the mist of a  hangover, I heard the announcer say that police in Kent had declared a curfew for Saturday night. Further reports described the violence in downtown Kent the night before. And what did this mean to us at that moment? Perhaps it was taken as a kind of adventure. Most of us didn’t think the situation would be more than a night of being reprimanded: no bars or other nightspots would be open, and all sales of alcohol were suspended. I recall almost welcoming this turn of events as I would be forced to remain in my apartment and actually get some much-needed studying done for the upcoming final exams beginning on Monday.

Whatever happened to my willpower to study that night has been lost in the press of time, but I agreed to go along with Tim and Lance, two of my roommates and fraternity brothers, to Eastway Center on campus to bowl a few games. We had a good time, but it wasn’t long before the signs of trouble became evident. About 9 p.m. nearly 2,000 boisterous marchers passed by Eastway, yelling and protesting in that “special” way of theirs. Soon after, the fire alarm sounded, startling all who were inside. Was the building on fire? Was it something related to the trouble begun the night before? As it turned out, it was one more tactic of the glorious saviors of humanity making life increasingly uncomfortable for the majority of people at KSU.

Soon, the next step in the volatile weekend occurred. The ROTC building was reported burning! We listened to the many rumors flying about. One had the entire front campus on fire; another, the Administration Building. What we now realized was that this was much more serious than most had expected. Little did we know at that moment just how serious it would become in the next 48 hours. We ran into the president of Manchester Hall (a freshmen men’s dorm at the time), and he informed us that we would be spending the night in Eastway. We found him totally serious, and he advised us to stay inside. Despite his warning, we made our way to the exit door to make our way home.

We never got any farther because, at that moment, swarms of the long-haired and glassy-eyed marchers pushed through the doors, the nauseating smell of tear gas following along with them. We separated ourselves and retreated back inside. At this point, we heard another rumor—one that would prove true—that the Ohio National Guard was on campus. We went to another side door and saw the thick fog of tear gas outside. Again, the fog of time has blurred whatever the three of us did next. All I know is we were safe.

Next: Sunday, May 3, 1970…Calm Before the Storm

End of the Innocence (pt. 1)

Friday, May 1, 1970…Kent State University

I could have joined the gathering at the bell on the Commons at noon where they were going to protest the invasion of Cambodia by burying a copy of the Constitution, but that was not for me. Instead, I went to my American literature class, and I was happy when it was finished on that warm Friday…

What a day! There was no better day for the softball game at 4:30. The Kappa Sigs were flying high in the intramural softball league, and they would be shooting for another big win on this day, hoping to remain undefeated and one step closer to winning the all-university championship for the second straight spring.

The Tekes, a hard-luck team this year, would provide the competition for the Kappa Sigmas on this beautiful Friday afternoon. Spirits were high and the players anxious to get out to the University High School fields. None of us knew it then, of course, but this would be the last game played on this field, or any other field at KSU, for the 1970 season. Within hours, these green open fields would become landing and staging areas for the Ohio National Guard and Ohio State Police helicopters.

The game went as expected, a complete rout! The festive spirit was high as the girls talked, and the guys joked and kidded about the game, planning the party for that night at the fraternity house.

It was one of those ideal spring nights—perfect for a Friday—and as the two frosty kegs of beer arrived and were rolled into the house, the party was on! Some people built a small fire outside and cooked hot dogs; others sat outside on the front steps listening to the continuous cycle of “oldies” playing on the stereo. And as one keg was “killed,” the other one was tapped. All was good that night!

As the evening wore on, a few people left for various places downtown. Later, more began to filter over to the nearby Robin Hood, a popular nightspot where the beer was cold and the people plentiful. I remember the four or five of us who stayed around the fraternity house and finished up the hot dogs and what was left of the beer. A couple of brothers, obviously over served, were content to take it easy, while at the same time a chugging contest was happening in the kitchen! While our celebration was going on, a very different kind of thing was taking place downtown. Many anti-war protesters—many of whom were not KSU students—upset with the direction the war was going, broke windows and destroyed property. The mayor declared a state of emergency, and students were forced back toward campus. Those of us still at the fraternity house, sipping cold brew and enjoying the strains of Lou Rawls, among others, had no idea that this was all happening.

Looking back, I feel a stirring inside of me because I did not go downtown that night with many of the other brothers. And it’s funny how things like that happen, and we never know at the time they happen what they really mean. And I suppose that typifies my entire outlook on things during my Kent years. I chose to go another direction than many others that night. Instead of getting caught up in the turmoil that was beginning in the warm spring night downtown, I chose to enjoy my friends at the fraternity house. Eventually, we ended up at someone’s apartment, kicking back and talking about anything and everything it seemed. I remember sacking out on the floor and drifting off to sleep in no time, while the events that would catapult Kent State into infamy were in full swing on a beautiful spring night in the downtown area of Kent, Ohio.

Life at KSU would never be quite the same after that. The events that would transpire on Saturday and Sunday, setting the stage for the tragic outcome on Monday, May 4, 1970, were now in play…CortlandWriter

Next: End of the Innocence (pt. 2) Saturday & Sunday, May 2-3, 1970