Monthly Archives: October 2015

Middle Memory


In the mind’s present kingdom,
All is not clear,
But all is closer than it seems,
And our latest imaginings and
Present happenings
Fade, a forgotten dream,
Recede into the
Near distance, only to
Materialize in
Middle memory
Where they dwell
For a time
Between present and middle.
Remembrance sinks into
The porous soil of the mind,
Only to sprout like new grass
In most distant regions
Where live poetry, song, creatures, friends and story,
And this is where we in our most present state
Most fully live.

Dan Verner
October 31, 2015

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Daylight Saving Crime


Yep, this is pretty much how I feel the week after a time change.

Well, it’s that time of year when we all run around like proverbial chickens with their heads cut off, moving our clocks back and suffering from jet lag for about a week. Daylight Saving Time is a crime. It imposes an economic burden, increases accidents and just plain irritates quite a few people.
According to a post on the “Huffpost Healthy Living” page, “the semi-annual time change might be costing the American economy as much as $434 million, according to a new index based on past research on heart attack incidence (published in the “New England Journal of Medicine”), workplace injury in mining and construction (published in the “Journal of Applied Psychology”) and cyberloafing (published in the “Journal of Applied Psychology”) all with regard to daylight saving time.
“Researchers noted that the actual financial toll may even be higher, because the index did not include impacts on car accidents or injuries in other fields (like transportation or manufacturing). A past study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed an association between loss of sleep from DST and an increased car accident risk.”
Daylight Saving Time was set up during World War I to give workers and particularly farmers more light in the evening to work by. Electricity was not widespread, particularly in rural areas, so the practice had some value. With the advent of near-universal electric power, DST simply isn’t necessary any more. An argument in its favor is that it gives workers more daylight in which to have picnics, play golf or sit outside, but I wonder if the cost of $1.4 million for every man, woman and child to suffer jet lag, endure an untoward economic burden and increase their chances of dying in an automobile accident is worth it. I don’t think it is, and it’s time to change. Write your member of Congress and keep writing until we have this thing beat. Give us back sun time and a better life.

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A Gathering of Poets Laureate

Poets Laureate

Most Americans are as enthusiastic about poetry as they are about china painting or the sport of curling. Actually, curling probably has more fans than poetry does. All this is just a surmise, but I think an accurate one.
I made my way to the Hylton Center for the Performing Arts, on the Prince William Campus of George Mason University on a spectacular fall afternoon this past Sunday, along with 100 poets, writers, musicians and readers. I like to think we made some progress toward making poetry more acceptable and even desirable. And we read, heard, discussed and shared not only poems but also short stories and songs at the first “In the Company of Laureates” program. This lively mix of people, literature and organizations charged the atmosphere of the arts center with a special kind of electricity.
I first greeted some friends, local writers who produce a variety of genres in a range of styles, including Katherine Gotthardt with her poetry, Belinda Miller with her fantasy series and Linda Johnston and her account of good times in the lives of pioneers in Kansas.
The lobby featured displays about writers and organizations, while students from the Woodbridge Senior High School Center for the Fine and Performing Arts represented some of the event’s laureates. During the first time slot, former poets laureate read their work in Merchant Hall, while the WSHSCFPA provided an open mic for writers and musicians in the Gregory Family Theater. I was in the presence of a whole range of ages and styles during these two sessions.
During the next hour, musicians Isabella Perelman and my former teaching colleague Ron Goad and storyteller Laura Bobrow took over Merchant Hall, while veterans Bill Glose, James Matthews and Dr. Frederick Foote as part of the “Words on War” panel read poems and a short story about their experiences during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the Gregory.
Glose shared several poems about his experiences in Viet Nam, contrasting the brutality and violence of war with ordinary experiences of daily life, such as a daughter’s picture in the helmet of a soldier who was later killed. James Matthews shared a short story about his Guard unit assembling in Washington, D.C. as the first step to Afghanistan, and Dr. Foote recited from memory several poems about his time on a hospital ship during the Iraq War. He also shared a story that I found incredibly moving. The hospital unit handled not only Allied casualties, but also Iraqis, including soldiers, women and children injured in attacks.
Foote remembered that when the women came on board, they were terrified since they thought they were being taken to prison. And he said “They stopped being Muslim.” Their clothes had been blown off in many cases, exposing skin that otherwise would never be seen by anyone outside their family. They stopped their daily prayers and ate pork. While treating their physical wounds, the medical team looked for a way to treat them spiritually and psychologically as well. They settled on using some material left over from a quilting project the nurses had undertaken. They gave their leftover cloth, needles and thread to the women, who sewed for themselves. As a result, their mood and outlook improved and they found their religion again.
Next I went to the Inspiration and Experimentation Panel, whose members held forth in the Rehearsal Room to explain where they found inspiration and how they experimented with elements of their poetry. I was pleased to see my friend from the Northern Virginia Writing Project and the Poet Laureate Emerita of Virginia, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda as well as Zan Hailey, one of our Prince William County Poets Laureate, at the presentation.

I spoke with Zan after the session as to her thoughts about the event and people there. She termed the event “awesome” and hoped that future conferences would “include more laureates from other states.” She added that “being in the presence of other poets inspires me to keep working and do more.” She foresaw that the gathering of laureates would “become larger and get better, especially with the support of the Arts Council.”
The afternoon concluded with present poets laureate reading their poems while the Gregory hosted another open mic. Many of us felt, as we had with the past poets laureate, that we were in the presence of almost mythical beings, ones whose work we had read, discussed and admired for years. June Forte, the Prince William Poet Laureate Administrator, who was instrumental in planning and staging the event and also in establishing the Prince William Poet Laureate position, closed the afternoon with a few remarks.
Rick Davis, Executive Director of the Hylton Performing Arts Center, and Dean of the College of Performing and Visual Arts at Mason, noted that the event “helped fulfill the mission of the Hylton, which is to create a ‘creative commons’ for the community.” He observed that the Hylton does that “not only with poetry, but also with a variety of artistic expression, including literature, drama, art, dance, music of all sorts, photography, quilting and, of course, poetry.”
Davis saw a spectrum of ages and people becoming “excited by the spoken and written word presented by writers ranging from beginners to seasoned professionals.” The result, he felt, would be “more poetry,” and that would benefit everyone in ways perhaps some of them are not even aware of.
Participants, poets, musicians and writers alike left looking forward to the next laureate program and another chance to attract attention to the sorely neglected literary arts. And I’m betting that they can do it. On this bright Sunday, they made a good start.

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Two Boxes

Two Boxes
In the past eight years, I lost both my parents, my mother in October 2007, and my father in January of this year. After my mom died, my father was able to go through some of her effects, but when he moved to a retirement home in early 2011, I started going through what remained in June. I gave things away, sold some of them, and donated most of what was left to charity. Of course I stored and transported all of it in boxes. I came to the last box in the shed in September of that same year. An earthquake in August threw some boxes to the dirt floor, and while most of the contents of the shed were unharmed, I was sure some of the contents of those boxes were broken. When I opened the final box, it was full of china dishes. They were broken, of course. I started to throw the whole box away, but something told me to look through it to see if anything of value were there.

There certainly was something of value inside the box: a small silver egg cup from Japan. I had never seen it before and my mother never mentioned it to me, which was unusual for her. She always told us about special objects she owned but somehow missed this one.

I surmised that my uncle gave her the cup as a gift. He fought in the Korean War and I know that he returned through Japan. It only made sense that he could have picked up the cup there. He brought my brother and me jackets with stylized dragons over a map of Japan as well, so that makes a strong case for the egg cup coming from Japan.

I saw this discovery as my mother’s final message to me from beyond. I had several others, including a butterfly at her grave in October, but this was the only one involving an object.

I don’t know if my father’s recent message to me is his final one, but it could be. In November, he was admitted to a local hospital where he was given a plastic bag for his clothes. I didn’t pay much attention to what he was wearing, so I didn’t know what was in the bag.

His condition improved enough that, after spending Christmas in the hospital, he was sent to a rehab center in Fairfax for about ten days. After his condition deteriorated he was sent to one of the largest hospitals in the region where his condition steadily declined. He passed away the third week in January. We had a beautiful and meaningful funeral for him.
I was executor of his estate, but our daughters Amy and Alyssa and their husbands, Chris and Chris, did all the heavy lifting, including preparing Dad’s house for sale and selling it. I did little besides approve their decisions and sign my name to what seemed like hundreds of documents.

We thought we wrapped up the estate in September, but last week we received a call from the rehab center where he spent about ten days between hospitals. They had a bag with his possessions in it. I thought we had taken care of everything he owned, but there was one more item. We went by the center and I waited at the nurses’ station for a housekeeper. She came pushing a cart with a box on top. I had no idea what was in it. I looked inside and saw it was the bag from the first hospital. Apparently it didn’t make the trip to the second hospital, but by that time he wore hospital gowns and didn’t need anything else. I took a quick look inside the box but couldn’t tell much about it other than there was a bag inside.

When I got home I knelt on the floor and went through the bag. I pulled out a leather jacket, shirt, pants, underwear, socks, shoes and a belt. Nothing too unusual there, but as I took the pants out I felt a weight in one of the pockets. I took it out and found his wallet. I think this was his valediction to me much as the egg cup was my mother’s.

Some might say these gifts to me were mere coincidences, but I don’t think so. That’s why I now keep the wallet on my computer desk, right beside the egg cup. And I now use the wallet every day. Thanks for the presents, Mom and Dad.

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Playing Catch (22) with My Android

Error MessageNo, I’m not writing about some law or principle or behavioral description of Ar Too Dee Too (R2 D2 to his friends) or any other of the Star Wars cybernetic clan. I’m here to tell you about my Motorola Droid MAXX, which betrayed me last night.

I went to send a text message, but before I could do so, a message popped up across the screen: “Unfortunately Google Keyboard Has Stopped.” It wasn’t kidding, either. Was the keyboard ever stopped! I was invited to select either “Report” or “OK.” Sounds easy, right? But no–if I touched “OK,” the program dumped me back on the same screen. If I touched “Report,” the screen popped up the keyboard so I could report the problem. And when I touched the keyboard it gave me (you guessed it) the selfsame “Unfortunately Google keyboard Has Stopped. I had three thoughts at this point. One was unprintable; the second was “if you’re going to warn a former English teacher, please don’t capitalize every word in a sentence and while you’re out, go by the article store and buy yourself a “the,” and then make your way to the punctuation store and pick out a nice comma to put after the opening adverb in the sentence. They’re all on sale this week, so you can make your sentence read, “Unfortunately, THE Google keyboard has stopped.” The third was I couldn’t see any way out of this Catch-22 situation.

I tried to move very very quickly and punch in my report, but I couldn’t move my stubby fingers fast enough. Paying no attention to the dictum that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is a working definition of insanity, I persisted until I was thoroughly frustrated. I had a vision of the future and I didn’t like it one bit.

I checked the internet for solutions and other than trashing my phone and getting a new one (too expensive), I had a couple of choices.

1: I could do a “soft reset” which did not require the use of the keyboard. I simply had to press the buttons on the side and the phone would restart like a computer (because it is a computer, strangely enough. And a camera. And a pedometer. And a notebook. You know). I did this, and soon was back at the same illiterate screen. Must. Try. Other. Option. Or. Buy. New. Phone.

2. I could do a “hard reset” which was indeed hard. This method saved some of my data like names, numbers and files, but it erased my pictures and videos. I had saved some to my computer, but I lost about 50 files. I didn’t want to do this, but I didn’t want to buy a new phone either, so I did the deed. Soon I was back looking at the introductory screen. And I do mean introductory. I had to go through all the setup screens and reload some of my apps. I know, it’s a First World Problem, but it was the only one I had at the time.

So, the good news was that I did not have to buy a new phone and the bad news was that I lost some pictures and had to set up my phone again. On the whole, I think I came out ahead. And I learned never to fill up my phone’s memory with videos of people reading poetry again. Get someone else to do it or buy a video camera. You’ll come out ahead just like me.

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