Wowed in Person and in Marble

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Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Inspiration in Person and in Marble

Fourth in a series of columns chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and more.

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The New York City theater was, quite honestly, underwhelming.

Located in Hudson Yards, SIR Stage37 seems more like a warehouse than an event site for the prestigious The New Yorker Festival. The ceiling is lofty, but unfinished; the floors, cold cement; the stage, temporary. Seating consisted of a few hundred folding chairs fastened together in rows with plastic zip ties.

As a word to the wise has it, however, don’t judge a book by its cover.

"The Thinker" in bronze by Rodin

“The Thinker” in bronze by Rodin

Or a book talk by its digs.

“Book talk” is actually a misnomer. This was a moderated conversation with three authors. Specifically, two winners of the Pulitzer Prize and this year’s honoree of the esteemed Man Booker Prize.

Indeed, the timing of my trip to visit my Manhattanite son was explicitly chosen so as to attend this discussion featuring Colson Whitehead, Jennifer Egan, and George Saunders. The trio did not disappoint.

To the contrary, I dare say this was the most enjoyable, most enlightening, most inspiring talk by an author – or authors – I have had the privilege of attending. And I have been to dozens.

Lacking the space to delve into their discussion, here are some book jacket-like blurbs about the event’s three protagonists.

Whitehead’s newest novel, “The Underground Railroad,” is the most compelling book I have read this year – perhaps in the past few years. Without question, it merited its 2017 Pulitzer honor.

But here is what really struck me: Whitehead seems as splendid in person as his words are on the page. He was immensely interesting and authentically charismatic, and also humble, seated on stage.

All of the same can be said of Egan, who won the Pulitzer in 2011 for “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” Her new novel, “Manhattan Beach,” is on my to-read list.

Saunders, meanwhile, recently won the Man Booker Prize for “Lincoln in the Bardo.” It is one of the most innovative novels I have ever read.

Saunders, who teaches at Syracuse University, came across as Everyone’s Favorite Professor. He was warm and humorous, affable and insightful. After answering questions posed directly to him, Saunders would engage his stage mates for their thoughts, no small thing.

I am certain that writers and non-writers alike left the warehouse theater feeling inspired to be better at whatever they do, be it selling insurance or playing the guitar, gardening or performing surgery.

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“The Tempest” in marble by Rodin

I am confident of this because while I am no artist, I left the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, a half-hour subway ride from Sage37, feeling as buoyed as I had been by listening to Whitehead, Egan, and Saunders.

Most especially, I was inspired by two temporary exhibits: “Leonardo to Matisse” and “Rodin at The MET.”

The former features approximately 60 magnificent drawings, in ink and pencil and crayon, by Leonardo da Vinci and Henri Matisse and a handful of other virtuosos. It is difficult to imagine a better example showing that masterful things can be accomplished with the simplest of tools.

Marking the centenary death of Auguste Rodin, more than 50 bronzes, marbles, plasters, and terracottas by the French master are on display. “The Thinker,” in bronze, is an iconic masterpiece in the show but I favored his works in marble.

In “Orpheus and Eurydice,” the ancient Greek lovers emerge smooth and luminous from the raw and rough white rock that remains behind and below them. It is a striking example of Rodin’s words: “I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.”

“The Tempest,” meanwhile, seems to release sound from stone. Rodin sculpted a shrieking woman, her face and shoulders surging forward from the marble while her streaming braids anchor her – or even pull her back – to the stone. Imagine a female Olympian coming up for a gulp of air while swimming the butterfly stroke.

Conversely, my breath was taken away. Gifted artists, and authors, do that to me.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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Inspired by “First Lady of the World”

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Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

Inspired by “First Lady of the World”

Third in a series of columns chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and more.

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Road trips tend to take on their own themes, oftentimes unexpected ones. So it was with my recent travels to New York City.

The theme that emerged, the brightest thread that continued to reappear in the tapestry, was Eleanor Roosevelt.

It was her wisdom, “Do one thing every day that scares you,” that spurred me to ask dozens of strangers for cuts in line so as not to miss my flight from LAX to JFK Airport.

Two days later, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum, our nation’s longest-serving First Lady again made her presence felt.

My son and I were greeted by many surprises at the Library & Museum, from the emotional exhibit on the Japanese American internment camps resulting from FDR’s Executive Order No. 9066, to a large artwork hunk of the Berlin Wall.

Author Eleanor Roosevelt's prolific typewriter

Author Eleanor Roosevelt’s high-mileage typewriter

But the biggest surprise, we both agreed, was that by the end of our four-hour tour we were most impressed not with FDR, but with his four-term First Lady.

“ER” – as Eleanor Roosevelt is commonly referred to throughout the Library & Museum – came into sharp focus as a champion fighting injustices.

For example, ER fought her husband – fiercely, albeit futilely – on his Executive Order No. 9066. She did so not only privately, but also publicly by visiting internment camps.

She declared, loudly: “These people were not convicted of any crime but emotions ran too high, too many people wanted to wreak vengeance on Oriental looking people.”

Too, ER boldly battled against segregation and race-based wage differentials.

“No one can claim that . . . the Negroes of this country are free,” the First Lady said, and further demanded: “One of the main destroyers of freedom is our attitude toward the colored race.”

As a heroine for women’s rights, ER succinctly noted: “It is the person and not the sex which counts.”

Following FDR’s death in 1945, ER remained a force on the world stage until her own passing in 1962. For example, she served as United States’ first Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952. President Harry Truman called her the “First Lady of the World.”

In addition to my son checking off another presidential library visited, I surprisingly ended up adding to my own collection of famous authors’ homes visited.

My registry includes the names John Steinbeck, Edgar Allen Poe, Thornton Burgess, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner and Jim Murray.

Typewriters used by these wordsmiths hold for me a special interest and magic. Looking at their QWERTY keepsakes, I can almost hear the clickity-clack-clicking echoes of the past.

A few of the 28 books "ER" authored on display

A few of the 28 books “ER” authored on display

More magic. Burgess’ antique (circa 1910) Underwood No. 5 on display is the exact model I inherited from my paternal grandfather.

And I once had the thrill of typing on my hero Murray’s 1946 Remington Rand, which he used throughout most of his career.

So it was electric to see the 1904-1905 Smith & Corona Inc. manual typewriter that ER used to write the thick of her books, articles and newspaper columns.

I had previously not thought of ER as a writer, but that was my great ignorance. Her “L C Smith Super Speed” model, now under glass, is in remarkably pristine condition considering its high mileage. Indeed, she wore out miles of ink ribbons.

Here is how prolific ER was: she authored 28 books; penned nearly 1,000 magazine articles; and wrote serialized columns, both daily and weekly, from 1933 and 1962.

Douglas Wood, an author whose home I have not visited, writes in his memoir “Deep Woods, Wild Waters” about “the ‘spirit of place’ that infuses itself like the scent of pipe smoke into the words and pages of … books.”

Even more so than of its namesake, the FDR Presidential Library & Museum to me is a “spirit of place” infused with the words and deeds of Eleanor Roosevelt.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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Powerful Field Trip to FDR Library

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Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

Photos, not Books, Most Powerful in this Library

Second in a four-column series chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and more.

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Growing up, my favorite part of school was the field trips. I think more learning occurs on them than in the classroom.

As a grown up, I still love field trips and try to go on one as often as possible. And so it was that I recently visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY.

The destination was my son’s choosing, for he collects visits to presidential museums and libraries the way others collect baseball trading cards.

Traveling by foot, by subway, by train, and by Uber, the Library & Museum was nearly three hours from my son’s apartment in Lower Manhattan – and nearly a century back in time.

Entry to a powerful exhibit at the FDR Presidential Library & Museum

Photographs are powerful in telling an ugly chapter in U.S. history at FDR Presidential Library & Museum.

Moreover, we learned that Matthew Vassar’s operation was so profitable it allowed him to establish numerous benevolent causes, including nearby Vassar College. Beer and books have a long college history, indeed.

More history awaited us at FDR’s Springwood estate, which also houses the Library & Museum. The family home is impressive, yet pales to the two homes we visited on our prior presidential field trip: George Washington’s and Thomas Jefferson’s.

At Mount Vernon and Monticello, the sin of slave ownership by our first and third presidents is addressed in depth. At the Library & Museum of our 32nd president, a similar ugly stain is on display front and center: Executive Order No. 9066.

Signed by FDR on Feb. 19, 1942 – 10 weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor – the order led to the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent, including approximately 80,000 American citizens. They lost their freedom, as well as almost everything they owned.

More than 200 photographs in an exhibit entitled, “Images of Internment: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II,” turns those massive numbers into individual human faces and stories.

In the same manner that Ansel Adams’ black-and-white photographs show the beauty of Yosemite Valley as even color pictures cannot, wall after wall of black-and-white images reveal the ugliness and injustice of this infamous chapter in American history. Adams’ work, by the way, is among the internment images featured.

The photographs reveal cabins with tar-paper walls; horse and livestock stalls used for “evacuees”; living spaces resembling slave quarters at Mount Vernon and Monticello.

The photos show camp conditions that are both freezing and boiling, windy and sandy, desolate and depressing.

The photographs show American citizens as POWs in America.

Here is a long line of families, dressed in their Sunday best as though heading to church, boarding railcars while a gauntlet of uniformed U.S. soldiers oversees them.

Here is an American soldier in uniform, on a few days leave, helping his family move into a stark internment camp.

Here, similarly, is a son, father and mother posed together before an American flag backdrop – and on her lap she is holding a framed photograph of a second son in U.S. military dress.

Here is a barren, dust-blown internment camp with two long rows of small cabins. In the open dirt area, two children – the only people in view – are running together. And at the center of the camp, dominating the photograph, is an American flag waving high in the wind. It is a haunting image.

That is an important thing about field trips: the best ones don’t necessarily entertain you, so much as they affect you.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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Silver Lining Appears Before Clouds

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Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Silver Lining Appears Before Flying Into Clouds

First in a four-column series chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and more.

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“People don’t take trips,” John Steinbeck observed in “Travels with Charley: In Search of America”– “trips take people.”

My previous visit to see my son in New York City was less than 24 hours underway when the trip took me to urgent care for 16 stitches after a subway door mugged my right index finger.

My most recent trip to Manhattan, last week, took even less time to get off track. Again it was transportation related – my shuttle to LAX got caught in late-morning traffic that was worse than usual, meaning it was horrific.

Fortunately, I am of the ilk that likes to get to the departure gate two hours early. This has served me well in books read and never missing a flight.

Unfortunately, this time I had brain freeze doing the simple math of subtracting four hours – two hours for the shuttle ride, one hour to get my boarding pass and pass through security, and a safety cushion to read “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders – from my flight’s boarding time.1scarequote

I did not realize my muddleheaded error until Sky Way nearing LAX became a virtual parking lot. The slower the shuttle crept, the faster my heart raced.

Adding to my panic, I was flying out of distant Terminal 7.

“I could run faster than this shuttle is moving,” I thought as we crawled to Terminals 1, 3, Tom Bradley International, and 4.

And so that is what I did. Even pulling a rolling suitcase and weaving between pedestrians, I left the shuttle in my rearview mirror, so to speak, as I raced to Terminal 7.

Reaching my airline, the long line inside brought to mind this famous line from Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Directly ahead of me was a family of four, plus two dogs and luggage enough for the Queen of England. I asked when their flight left and the father answered, “Three o’clock.” This was more than two hours hence, so I desperately explained mine began boarding in ten minutes, adding: “Can I please cut ahead of you?”

“No. Can’t you see we have two dogs?” came the unsympathetic, and nonsensical, reply.

My FastPass forward, one family by one couple by one lone traveler at a time, was thwarted before it began.

Ten minutes passed and the line advanced only two spots while the number of agents working diminished by one. I texted my son telling him I was going to miss my flight.

No sooner had I hit “Send” when I received a bolt of inspiration out of the ether in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Asking strangers for special privileges, especially because the fix I found myself in was of my own making and dull-headedness, is a dozen ZIP Codes outside my comfort zone.

No matter. The introvert in me swallowed hard, stood up tall, and announced bravely but politely: “I’m going to miss my flight to see my son – would any of you mind if I took cuts in front of you?”

The family directly in front of me notwithstanding, everyone else said “Yes!” or “Sure!” or “Of course!” or raised an affirmative waving hand. Words fail to describe the surge of warmth their kindness gave me.

With my boarding pass in hand and my suitcase out of my hands, I apologized once more to my traveling altruists and offered another sincere “Thank you,” only to receive more kindness.

“Good luck!” one told me.

“Hurry!” said another.

“Have a great time with your son!” shouted a third.

Good luck was unexpectedly having TSA Precheck and sailing through security.

Hurry I did, running through the terminal to my gate and onto the plane as the final passenger to board.

Have a great time with your son – thanks to friendly strangers, and an assist from Eleanor Roosevelt, doing so began at the original ETA.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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Readers Shoot Back Pro and Con

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Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

Readers Shoot Back Pro and Con

My 700-word column a week ago on the Las Vegas mass shooting, where I used the word “dead” 58 times and “wounded” 527 times to emphasize the carnage, resulted in thousands of words in email responses, including these praiseful ones from a reader named Bruce:

“You deserve a Pulitzer! You hit the nail precisely on the head very dramatically and with very few words.”

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A handful of readers, however, were more inclined to think of me as a putz than as a Pulitzer nominee, including Mike “An Ex Subscriber” who wrote:

“Thank you for your article. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I have finally decided to cancel my subscription to the Ventura County Star as I can no longer continue to support such a biased ‘news’ reporting vehicle.

“I’m surprised that you didn’t say we should pass a law to make it illegal to break the laws already in place. How many existing laws were broken in the Las Vegas shooting?1MailbagTypewriter

“I also find it hard to believe that I, as a Law abiding citizen, cannot carry a weapon to defend myself because when seconds count the police are only minutes away.”

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An anonymous reader agreed with Mike “An Ex Subscriber,” emailing just one word to me: “Fool.”

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From Peggy: “My opinion is that we have WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION un-checked. These are wielded by white men, not Muslims, Mexicans, black men, etc.

“No ‘spines’ in Congress.”

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Another Peggy wrote: “Thank you for your unique and startling column that not only disturbingly demonstrates the toll from the Las Vegas massacre, but also draws sharp attention to the change in weapons from what our Founding Fathers initially dealt with.”

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From Bill, who began with a sarcastic, “An impressive column” and proceeded: “But 58 dead by shooting is the average monthly homicides on the south side of Chicago.

“Former President Obama has a ‘residence’ on the white Hyde Park island around the University of Chicago. It is mere blocks away from the daily mayhem that Obama totally ignored while being president for eight years. So, who is really our idiot president?”

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From David: “Impactful article. I agree with your assessment of the American people. We have to be idiots to insist on gun rights and elect the likes of Trump. It’s not his sanity I question – it’s ours.”

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From Jim: “I thank you for making an incredibly powerful argument against the idiocy of our ‘gun love.’ ”

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From Chuck: “I’m sure you will hear a lot of negative feedback from 2nd Amendment, NRA, gun-rights extremists; but your are correct – America is stupid.

“However, I hold no optimism for anything being done about the easy availability and proliferation of guns in the U.S. If the Congress did not have the political or moral will to take any action after Sandy Hook and the slaughter of 24 first graders, nothing will be done now.

“It is sad that U.S. policies concerning weapons meant solely for mass killing in war is dictated by a minority of Americans.”

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Fred disagreed with me at length, but was rare in doing so with civility. He concluded: “Let’s face it Woody, we Americans are of two different worlds when it comes to defining what freedom is, and I hope with all my heart that as a country we continue to challenge each other with ongoing discussions such as this.

“I also hope and pray that we will never (ever!) be of only one political view because that would be the end of America as the Founding Fathers envisioned.”

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Terri echoed the viewpoint of a number of others: “The time for the uproar is now.”

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From Rick: “Thank you Woody, for such an enlightening, informative, cogent Article today. I learned so much. Instead of your usual pithy comments, you waste all of your space on nothing. Congrats!”

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Sorry, but I had no pith in my heart a week past. Next Saturday, I will try to again be pithy.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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Boston Massacre Misnamed Today

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Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

The Boston Massacre Misnamed Today

On March 5, 1770, eight British soldiers fired into a crowd of civilians and the result was The Boston Massacre.

What a quaint use of the word “massacre.” With flintlock muskets of the 19th century, the tally was: three dead and two mortally wounded.

On Oct. 1, 2017, one man with an armload of 21st-century assault rifles and here is what a massacre has become:

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Dead. Dead. Wounded wounded wounded wounded wounded wounded wounded wounded wounded. Dead. Wounded.

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Wounded wounded wounded wounded wounded wounded wounded. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.

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If this—59 dead, 527 wounded, by one civilian—is what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment, they were idiots.

I do not believe our Founding Fathers were idiots.

I believe we Americans are.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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Thoughts on This, That and the Other

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Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

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* * *

Thoughts on This, That and the Other

In protest of our nation’s bitterly divided house, I am taking a knee while offering to all Americans an Irish blessing I saw in a pub in Dublin: “May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and a smooth road all the way to your door.”

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Okay, in all honesty, I can think of a few individuals that I have cold words for and wish an endless uphill road filled with potholes.

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Earl Warren, the 14th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, famously said: “I always turn to the sports section first. The sports section records man’s accomplishments; the front page has nothing but man’s failures.”

Were he alive today, I imagine Mr. Warren would read the comics first – and toss away the sports section and front page.

Twitter and Facebook would surely cause him to smash his smartphone with a gavel.

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I feel a thank-you shout-out is merited for the kind reader of this space who, anonymously, donated a new copy of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” – which the Conejo Valley Unified School District had considered not approving – to The Brodiea Ave. Books Free Library that I wrote about earlier this month.

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Add Brodiea mini-library: At the recommendation of curator Glenn Egelko, I borrowed a collection of essays titled “Dancing Under the Moon: Love and Sex, Life and Death, and Some Nice Little Italian Restaurants in the Nation of Los Angeles.”

This copy is actually signed by the author: “Happy 40th anniversary, Lois – & 40 more! Al Martinez 8/22/92.”

I hope Lois has now reached a happy 65th. I also wish The Bordiea Library a happy fifth anniversary “– & 40 more!”

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1starsbook

“A boy’s dream is for himself. A man’s dream is for others.” — Wisdom from Roger Thompson

If you see people dancing in the aisles at Trader Joe’s as though they are at a wedding reception, it could be because of this autumn sign now on display: “Welcome to the Land of ALL THINGS PUMPKIN.”

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Add books. In “We Stood Upon Stars: Finding God in Lost Places,” a new offering by Venturan author Roger Thompson, of the numerous beautiful phrases and passages within, I especially love this fatherly wisdom:

“I’ve always had good reasons to not do things, but my boys were getting older. The opportunities would soon pass. If I wasn’t careful, memories of things we did would be eclipsed by regrets of things we didn’t.”

Also, this gem: “A boy’s dream is for himself. A man’s dream is for others.”

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The Ventura City Council didn’t ask me, but I think the downtown parking meters should be tossed into the ocean to create artificial reefs for fish – and not replaced.

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In response to my column about special teachers, reader Robert Newell shared this:

“I remember Miss Look, who was my 5th-grade teacher at Montalvo Elementary. I had a lot of fun growing up on a ranch in Montalvo during WW2. Back then we were all farm kids familiar with all kinds of animals, domestic and wild.

“One day at a recess, one or more boys found a gopher snake and sneaked it into Miss Look’s desk drawer. When recess was over we all waited for the big surprise or scare.

“When she opened the top drawer, Mrs. Look very calmly picked the snake up walked to the window and dropped it outside. Never a word was uttered by her or the boys in our class.”

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Ed Wehan, a local ultra-running legend who – among his feats of feet – placed seventh in the granddaddy 1979 Western States 100 Miler, was also a team captain for the UC-Santa Barbara tennis team.

During his Gaucho days, Ed played Arthur Ashe in the Southern California Intercollegiate Championships.

Thinking of Ashe, let me close here with this wisdom from the late, great champion who once sweated out a 6-3, 6-3 win over my friend Ed:

“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.”

Be sure to make a life today.

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Warm Handshakes Over Cold Names

1StrawberriesCoverWooden&Me_cover_PRFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Warm Handshakes Trump Cold Names

“Eighty percent of success is showing up,” Woody Allen is famously credited with saying. While this may very well be true in show business, and even most businesses, I think it falls short in the classroom.

To learn, it helps greatly if kids show up enthused.

Think back to your own school days. I am fairly confident you had one, maybe a couple – and if you were rabbit-foot lucky, a handful – of teachers who made you happy you showed up for class. They made you feel like your veins coursed with carbonated soda bubbles.

My first-grade teacher, Miss Bauer, was one of these effervescent educators. One memorable example of what made her special: she would occasionally greet us outside Room 4’s door with a pop quiz.

And this quiz was as much fun as the recess we were coming in from.

Miss Bauer would do a rhythmic series of knocks on our open classroom door, each unique offering sounding like a mixture of Morse code and drumming. One by one, we needed to duplicate her knockity-knock-knockings to pass the quiz before we could pass in through the doorway.

As mentioned, this grandly fun entrance happened only occasionally. Which is why a teacher in the Wichita Public Schools trumps even my beloved Miss Bauer. I do not know this teacher’s name – I shall call her “Miss Bonjour” – but I have seen a viral on-line video of her ritual with her students that warms my heart.

"Miss Bonjour" starting her schoolkids' days off in a unique way!

“Miss Bonjour” starting her schoolkids’ days off in a unique way for each.

Every morning before the start of class, Miss Bonjour greets each student – fourth-graders, I’m guessing, perhaps fifth-graders – with a handshake. Not any handshake, mind you, but an individualized welcoming for every single kid.

This is no small thing, for on the day the video was recorded 19 students lined up in the hallway waiting their turn. Also, these handshakes are far from simple. They are choreographed and rehearsed routines, some as complex as a Laker Girls halftime dance number.

There are high fives, low fives and patty-cake slaps.

There are fist bumps, elbow thumps and hopping jumps.

There are fingers touched lightly and hands clasped quickly.

Palms are slapped and backs of hands are softly whacked, sometimes in a music-making rapid sequence – slap-whack-slap-slap-whack . . .

Toes are even tapped in a fist-bump-like manner.

All of these various components are combined in singular ways. Some kids incorporate a handful of the pieces and others use the entire kit and caboodle in their signature shake.

While the students only have to memorize their own stylized greeting, Miss Bonjour has each and every one of these “handshakes” down pat – rather, pitty-pat.

A few of the good-morning “handshakes” have a hug, or even two, orchestrated into them between the various hand maneuvers and dance steps.

All the “handshakes” end with a hug – and two smiles, teacher’s and student’s.

The whole procession takes nearly a minute and half, but certainly it is not time wasted or stolen from English, Math or History. Rather, it helps ensure the kids will be enthused learners the rest of the day.

I have watched this video a dozen times, if not twice that, the past month and each viewing has made me smile anew. This week, however, it also saddened me – for why can’t the current president of the United States behave like Miss Bonjour?

Why, instead, must he make up individual disrespectful nicknames for others – such as “Low-Energy Jeb” and “Little Marco,” “Lying Ted” and “Crooked Hillary,” and the bitterly offensive “Pocahontas” for Senator Elizabeth Warren.

And, earlier this week speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, “Rocket Man.” Regardless of which country, which leader, such name-calling is below the dignity of the presidency of the United States.

I wish our president would use his little hands to be welcoming, like a role-model public school teacher in Wichita does each morning, instead of his big mouth to constantly bully.

As Miss Bauer said, and all grade-school teachers do: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

Golden advice for all of us, even – no, especially – America’s current president.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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A Few Words About A Lot of Words

1StrawberriesCoverWooden&Me_cover_PRFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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A Few Words About A Lot of Words

Last week was my anniversary and I forgetfully let it pass.

Fortunately it was not my 35th wedding anniversary, but rather marked seven years writing this general-interest column on Saturdays. That adds up to 364 columns of 700 words, for a total of more than a quarter-million words.

Hence, a timely topic seems to be to discuss my wordiness.

Rather, my newfound brevity because for 25 years I wrote a sports column of 800 to 850 words each.

When I began this new 700-word challenge, it felt like trying to pack for a two-week vacation in a school backpack. I found myself still saying hello to an essay subject when it was time to bid goodbye.

But a funny thing happened: my frustration slowly shrank and I found myself enjoying the Haiku-like difficulty. Too, I found truth in Ben Franklin’s apology to a friend: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”1twain

I still usually start by writing north of 900 words, but then I must take the time to write a shorter letter. Oftentimes, eliminating 200 words takes longer than writing the original draft. Trimming the final dozen words alone to get below 700 can take an hour.

Here again I find inspiration in others. Ernest Hemingway had his “Iceberg Theory” in which he believed that the seven-eighths a writer leaves out is as important as the one-eighth he puts in above water.

The poet John Ruskin put it this way: “Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.”

My writing idol, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist Jim Murray, once told me: “Try not to run out of your allotment of commas.” He explained that before filing a column, he would re-read it one final time and replace as many commas as possible with periods.

Mark Twain felt similarly about adjectives, advising: “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.”

In other words, easy reading is hard writing. It requires rewriting, striking out words, rewriting again.

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter,” the outstanding novelist James Michener said.

Again from Hemingway, who was more blunt than Michener: “The first draft of anything is (doo-doo).” Although Papa didn’t say “doo-doo.”

Henry Beston, an acclaimed author and naturalist, said he sometimes spent an entire morning on a single sentence. Oscar Wilde was even more painstaking, being credited with saying: “I spent all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out.”

The importance of a comma or a single word is no small thing. Mark Twain, no doubt taking the time to craft a shorter letter, wrote to George Bainton: “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Henry David Thoreau famously advised, “Simplify, simplify.” His friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, replied even more wisely: “One ‘simplify’ would have sufficed.”

“Simplicity is the glory of expression,” Walt Whitman gloriously expressed in a mere six words. Leonardo da Vinci, however, needed only five words: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

It seems to me these thoughts apply to all endeavors, be it writing or engineering or performing surgery.

Simplicity, of course, has its limits. The genius Albert Einstein knew this, explaining: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Antoine de Saint Exupery agreed: “In anything at all perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”

I will close these 700 words with a few from a Woody far wiser than myself – Guthrie, the legendary folk signer: “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.”

This fool will continue his quest to simplify his next 250,000 words so they will hopefully not be doo-doo.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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Mom’s Day Gift is Free Library

1StrawberriesCoverWooden&Me_cover_PRFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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This Mother’s Day Gift is for Kids

“Though she be but little, she is fierce!” Shakespeare wrote in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and these words seem apropos when describing the curbside street library on the 2700 block of Preble Avenue in midtown Ventura.

Though it is but little, it is fiercely wonderful!

Indeed, “The Little Free Library” (charter #35222) lives up to its name: it is a mere 21 inches wide by 24 inches tall, with only two shelves. Also, its books are free.

That’s right, people are can take – and keep – a book. No library card is required. Patrons can also return a borrowed book or leave a donated book.1TimCindy

The library belongs to Tim and Cindy Hansen. More accurately, it is Cindy’s – she requested it for Mother’s Day two years past.

Tim and the couple’s adult sons Bernie and Franklin, made Cindy’s wish a reality. Perched atop a waist-high post, the “Prairie Two-Story” model they selected from littlefreelibrary.org looks like an elegant birdhouse with a picture window as a front door.

Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization aimed at increasing access to books for readers of all ages. Annually, Little Free Libraries foster the sharing of millions of books worldwide. In the Hansen’s neighborhood alone, there are two more free street libraries within walking distance.

The bottom shelf of the Hansen’s library is devoted to children’s books, and for good reason: “It’s lower and easier for the kids to reach,” Cindy notes.

Adding to the kid-friendliness are two curbside reading chairs.

Meanwhile, Tim enjoys his own nearby watching chair.

“It is a joy to sit on my porch and watch the birds all flutter away as a child comes running up to look for a new book,” Tim says, his voice filled with flight.

Wearing a navy-blue knit watchman’s cap, even on a warm afternoon, combined with his shrub-thick and long gray beard, Tim comes into focus like a Hemingway character of the sea. Cindy, meanwhile, constantly wears a smile that shines like a lighthouse.

Both have an oceanic-deep love for books.

As a child, Cindy says, the “Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder “opened the world of reading for me.” She has spent her adult life opening up this same world for youth as an educational therapist and school librarian.

“I love to find that one book that lights a kid’s world on fire,” Cindy shares. This included her two sons who, she notes with a laugh, “grew up hearing me tell them to go read a book, not watch TV.”

Visiting Cindy and Tim, it quickly becomes clear that even though their street library has a top shelf of titles for adults among its roughly 50 books, their real focus is young readers. For example, Cindy routinely buys children’s books to ensure the lower shelf remains full.

“During summer, when school was out, the kids’ books really disappeared,” Cindy says, happily.

She adds, also happily: “When I’m gardening here out front, I love to see kids walk by or hop out of a car and get a book. It’s become part of the neighborhood.”

What difference can a mere few dozen books make? I am reminded of the beachcomber tossing a starfish back into the ocean, while hundreds more remained stranded on the sand after a storm, and telling a naysayer: “To this one, I’m making all the difference in the world.”

So it is with this little library, as a journal kept alongside reveals.

“I took a book, I drop a book in the night. Be back, Conrad” reads one entry.

Another: “Thankful to have such thoughtful neighbors. Reading opens our hearts and minds to a world of imagination. I’ll be back. (drawn heart)”

One more: “Thank you for having books. I enjoy it & really appreciate it.”

And, lastly, my favorite, printed in the hand of a young child: “thank you fore this little free labrary this will rilly help : ) Adeline”

I imagine this may be the first library little Adeline has ever visited. I also imagine it will forever remain her favorite.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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