Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The School Year as a New Beginning

A new school year, even if you are not in school, is an opportunity for a new beginning. In some ways, it’s like a second New Year’s Day. You can’t really escape its influence either. Walk into any store nowadays and you will see sales on school supplies, clothes, and all the other stuff kids need to attend school in 2012. As a person blessed with a school-aged child, it’s truly an exciting time.

One of my passions in life is music, both listening and playing. Last night was the first rehearsal for my church orchestra. We call it an orchestra but, aside from the violins, it’s basically a band, so there’s a particular “band-ness” associated with everyone. It’s a feeling and an attitude that I’ve experienced since the fall of 1980 (!) when, in sixth grade, I first picked up my saxophone to learn how to play it. You can watch the “American Pie” movies and chuckle at the “band camp” references but, like every sub-group in the world, there are certain attitudes and outlooks when you are a band member. And you can call us band geeks, band nerds, or whatever, but we really don’t care. The comradeship of bandmanship is a thing unto itself and I love it.

While it was great seeing everyone again for the first time since early June and asking about the summer activities and such, that rehearsal was marked by an absence. One of the most funny, most friendly members of our group passed away in June. Doug was a trombone player—and all band folk can fill in the blanks on that—and he was one of the guys who always made rehearsals fun. He was also in our big band, playing bass trombone and boy did he talk the talk, that special jazz talk spoken only by folks who have been playing jazz for a lifetime. He sat right behind me in the jazz band, his notes and playing helping me keep the beat. 

Many of us played at Doug’s funeral in June. Our director was out of town and, through our small network, we were able to arrive on time, rehearse, and then perform in Doug’s honor. It was a moving time, that morning in June, and we’ve heard nothing but praise from Doug’s family and friends. 

Life, like music, keeps going on and on. We all know that, we all live our days with that intrinsic knowledge. But as rehearsal finished last night and the director specifically addressed Doug’s absence, he opened up the floor for anyone to speak. Sitting across the room from the trombones, I had known that Doug wasn’t there the entire rehearsal. But, at that moment, the memories hit me, moved me, helped me remember just what a precious thing life is.

Every day is not a guarantee to be a good day, but it is a guaranteed day. And this new school year, even if you are not involved in school at all, is a great time to pull out that list of New Year’s resolutions and see where you stand. If you’ve faltered a bit, make a renewed commitment to finish one by 31 December 2012. It can’t hurt, and it will likely make the rest of your year rewarding.

Me? My resolution of one thing still stands. I’m not there yet, but I’m aiming for it, and I’m letting this new school year act as a new beginning for the home stretch of 2012.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Simplicity of Travel

In an ironic bit of serendipity, my fellow author, Joelle Charbonneau, wrote about the increasing difficultly in unplugging when traveling on vacation. I, too, had that topic in the hopper as a topic worthy of discussion, but hadn't got around to it until now.

A little over a week ago, my family and I took a little vacation to Camp Wood, Texas, a small (768!) town about 2 hours west of San Antonio along the Neuces River canyon. We wanted to cap off the summer and get us ready for the new school year. As a reader, one of my favorite things to do is decide what reading material I'll bring. In the past, in order to have on hand any book that I *might* want to read given the destination--I'm one of those weird folk who tailors his reading to the vacation location--I'd be hamstrung with bringing a backpack full of things. I'm not kidding here. We'd have the suitcases, the carry on bags, and then there'd be the "book bag." The wife was puzzled. I'd shrug my shoulders.

With my Nook and the iPad, that bag full of books now became two slim electronic devices. Couple my composition book (the marbled-looking kind) and my bluetooth keyboard (to link with the iPad), my reading and writing material was wonderfully self-contained. I could have packed them in the suitcase, but opted for a backpack that was basically not needed. And, because I simply cannot go on a vacation without at least one physical book of some sort, literally on the way out the door, I grabbed my copy of Merle Miller's Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry Truman.

While my wife and I have cell phones, they are not smart phones. Yes, I'd love to have an iPhone, but, as of now, I don't have one. The only place in Camp Wood that has wifi was the public library, but, since I had no reason to go there, and since the hours were not a regular 8-5, I knew going in that I would not have internet access. The little house in which we stayed had DirectTV but we were blessedly away for the evening national news most days. We would glance at the local 10pm news out of San Antonio so we knew basically what was going on, but we weren't real worried about stuff. It was a vacation, after all.

Now, Joelle is a published author while I am, to date, not, so, understandably, she has many more deadlines that I have. The ones I have are all internal, on my own clock. It's a tad easier for me to just unplug. Going into past vacations pre-iPad, I never took my laptop, even as I was writing my first book. I'd always take the comp book and "unplug" from the electronic devices, too. I gave in with the iPad/keyboard combo and it wasn't bad at all.

What was great about the trip, what was simple, was that "my stack" of stuff consisted of the iPad, the Nook, the keyboard that I keep in its original box, and the Truman biography. Stacked together, they measured less than six inches tall. Everything that I brought occupied a nice, small, compact space. I didn't have my shelves of books I have here at the house with their spines staring down at me, calling me like sirens. I didn't have the other long boxes of comics doing the same thing. I didn't have the internet to use to chase some odd tidbit down a rabbit hole (still my biggest time waster). I had only that which I wanted to read and two modes of creating text.

And that's all I really needed. It was such a simple few days. I rose early like I always do, put on the coffee, and read the Truman biography for about an hour. Miller's book is basically a bunch of transcripts of his interviews with President Truman and his associates conducted in 1962 for a television show that was never made. If you've always heard about Truman's outlook on the world and his particular way of saying things, you should give this book a read. In our digital age, I'd love for those actual tapes to be digitized and made available. After an hour or so with Truman, I'd fire up the iPad/keyboard and bust out an hour's worth of whatever before the rest of the family began to stir. It was so simple.

Then we returned home, with all the shelves, the comic boxes, the internet, all of them begging to slice away just a little of our day. I'm not saying that I want to rid myself of my stuff, but there's a nice simplicity when you travel and you end up taking that which you need. When I pared down my actual reading needs for those few days, all the clutter here at the house seems, well, too much. I've still spent my mornings with Truman and I've finished the novel (the three novella Derek Storm story by "Richard Castle") I started in Camp Wood, but I still see all the things I *could* be reading when I sit in my library and read something. I do tune them out, but they still stare at me.

That's why I like vacations and the simplicity of travel. It's a chance to par things down to the essentials and, upon returning home, gives you a chance to reevaluate some of the things that might be cluttering up your life, be they digital or physical.