Finding Inspiration


I  was having a difficult time finding inspiration for writing my blog today. I’ve been enjoying doing this task five days a week for almost five years now, and there really are very few days when I search desperately for a topic. When that happens I usually serf the Internet hoping to find something that sends a sudden burst of ideas to my brain. Today was one of those times when nothing was coming to mind, so I spent some time reading posts on my Facebook wall hoping desperately that something would jump from the page to tickle my fancy.

I read about a friend who had run a half marathon and ended up exhausted and hurting. I was intrigued by what she had done, but since it would never even cross my mind to think of doing such a thing I didn’t exactly come up with fertile ideas for writing when I read about her adventure. How far would I get reiterating the idea that my knees no longer allow me to run, and that I have little or no desire to push myself into a state of pain doing anything. It became obvious to me that I would have to keep reading if I was to find any kind of material for creating an essay. That’s when I saw  a post from a high school friend that sent me into gales of laughter.

He was asking if anyone had an extra set of feet for an artificial Christmas tree because he was unable to locate his. He had searched closets and attics and all sort of places all to no avail. Friends in his age group razzed him about getting old and the inevitability of becoming forgetful. I identified completely because I had decided on a great blog topic only an hour or so before, but couldn’t recall what it had been for the life of me. Lately I’ve had to learn to write things down as soon as they come to mind or the slightest interruption may erase them forever. My husband had asked me a question and in the short space of time that it took me to respond I literally forgot what I had intended to write about for today. So there I was wondering what to put on a page.

That’s when I saw yet another post from a former teacher friend who was asking for advice on what to do to find inspiration when it eludes us. There were some great ideas like gazing up at the sky, but it was very dark and rainy where I was, so that didn’t seem to be an option. I’d already tried looking for interesting quotes and perusing the news, none of which jostled even an iota of creativity. That’s when I thought of the many times when I had a deadline for an essay, and I drew a blank regarding what to compose.

Writer’s block is the stuff of legend. After creating the masterpiece The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald struggled to regain his footing. Somehow he was not able to repeat his performance as a writer and it lead to depression and alcoholism, so I know I shouldn’t feel too bad if I find myself without ideas now and again. Still it is so frustrating, and I remember one occasion in particular when I stared at a page with the same painful realization that I was as stumped as Jack in The Shining. I didn’t even have the wherewithal to write the same sentence over and over again. I was unable to even string together a nonsensical group of words, and it threw me into a panic because I was taking a class at the time, and my assignment was due the following day.

I was willing to admit that procrastination had created my dilemma, but that was little comfort as the clock ticked away. It seemed that the harder I tried, the more locked up my brain seemed to be. Taking a walk did little to help. Lying down and attempting to quiet my mind did not work. Screaming my frustration only felt worse, because I knew that I must have sounded ridiculous. I was on the verge of panic and tears when my husband brought me a cold beer.

I looked at him as though he had two heads. I argued that drinking a brew might only make me sleepy and then I would really be in a pickle. I thought of poor Fitzgerald and how not even a prolonged bender alleviated his problems. I failed to see how pausing for a sip of suds was going to change the situation, but I had almost reached a breaking point, so I surrendered to the idea.

I relaxed a bit while enjoying the amber liquid, and as I did I became quite mellow, so much so that I wondered if I would just drift off into slumber and end up having to attend class without completing the assignment. I was certain that I was totally in trouble, when I slowly found myself considering a number of out of the box ideas. The more gulps I took of the beer, the more fertile my thoughts became, and before long I was banging out a paper that in that moment made me feel as though I was writing the next great educational document. My fingers were barely able to keep up with the flood of ideas that filled the once blank paper with a sea of characters forming words, sentences, paragraphs and entire pages. Not more than an hour later I was proof reading my manuscript and creating the final copy for submission.

I went to bed that night feeling relaxed and accomplished. My alcohol soothed brain was bristling with greatness, or at least it felt that way. Sadly by morning I wasn’t as sure of myself, but I had to work all day and understood that I was stuck with the essay that I had written with a muddled mind and no time to change it in any way. Rather than torture myself I decided not to even read it again, and I began to feel a dark sense of foreboding. Somehow I believed that any chance of getting a decent grade was doomed. I chastised myself for allowing such a situation to exist in the first place, but it was too late.

As it happened, I had somehow unlocked the creative juices of my brain with my drinking binge and my paper proved to be more than satisfactory. When I saw the grade I was amused that I had pulled off my smoke and mirrors magic trick. The professor wrote dazzling comments about my brilliance, but I could only laugh at the fact that I was unable to remember what I had written. (Bear in mind that it takes very little for me to become the victim of a drunken state, so that beer had rendered me rather incoherent, but apparently still somehow in control of my faculties. I now fully understood why so many writers turn to drink as a muse.)

My latest episode of writer’s block and the search for inspiration lead me into a discussion of over imbibing with a group of relatives. My brother who is almost a tee totaler spoke of a time when he enjoyed himself a bit too much and engaged in a match of chess with a graduate of MIT after running a foot race with his buddies. Surprisingly he recalls the incident as the best game that he has ever played, and he was so relaxed that he won handily in both the race and the chess game. Others told of amazing feats like being able to do pushups on a countertop, or dancing like Fred Astaire. It seems that rather than inspiration, what we all found was a way to eliminate our inhibitions.

I certainly would never recommend my inebriated writing method as a regular means of expressing my thoughts. It might have ended quite badly, but for a bit of luck. I suspect that the secret was that I was able to relax, and I might have accomplished the same thing with a brisk walk or a few minutes of meditation. It may well have been my brother’s exercise before the chess match that was the source of his winning ways, and not the vodka. It didn’t seem to work for F. Scott Fitzgerald, so it may be a mistake to think that it worked for us.

Anyway, I’ve somehow managed to fill a blog with a bit of nostalgia and nonsense and maybe even some hidden ideas for finding inspiration. In the future, however it is no doubt best to write down the ideas that I have before I lose those thoughts. It is a lot less frustrating than tackling an empty page.


Sticks and Stones


The English language has the power of being beautifully expressive, poetic. At the same time it can be curt, crass, hurtful. Changing the order of words or punctuation sometimes drastically alters the meaning of a sentence. When phrases are uttered nuances in intonation transform them into vocal images. Throughout history there have been individuals with astonishing capabilities for using words to clarify, inspire, affect. These have been the authors, poets, teachers, speakers who have used their facility with language as art, education, and political persuasion. The best among them leave legacies that are studied and revered from age to age. The variety and elegance of language makes it an instrument of profound possibilities. Unfortunately when words are in the hands of someone who does not know how to use them as they were intended they become vehicles of confusion and even hurt.

I have a major in English, but became a mathematics teacher. I believe that my adequate abilities in connection with my native language helped me to explain and demystify concepts using words that my students were able to understand. I consider my facility with expression to be well suited for most of the tasks in which we must convey our thoughts. Nonetheless there have been multiple occasions in which what I was attempting to communicate was totally misunderstood. This generally happened when I was addressing a large group or in those moments when I chose to write down my ideas. Without body language, facial expressions, and opportunities for clarification it is more likely than not that confusion will occur. Because I realize that such possibilities exist I try to carefully analyze and measure my words before making them public so that I will not damage feelings or foment anger. In spite of my efforts I am almost certain that the sentences that I craft may not always be taken in the ways that I intended, and so I do not ever feel personally attacked if a reader or listener finds fault.

A source of great pride for my mother was that she was masterful with the English language. I suppose that it stemmed from the fact that her parents were immigrants whose facility with English was either lacking or nonexistent. Her father demanded that she and her siblings speak in the national tongue and develop comfort with it. By the time she was in high school she was lauded by her teachers for having an imposing command of vocabulary, grammar, usage and punctuation. She had the eye of an editor and the ear of a college professor when it came to finding mistakes in sentence construction, spelling and pronunciation. I suppose that she passed this affinity for language down to me and my brothers because I never found it difficult to write and speak properly. I’d already had one of the best instructors at home.

We are accustomed to witnessing a certain level of refinement in both the orations and essays of our presidents. Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is remarkable in its brilliance and the brevity with which it illuminates the rights of mankind. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is both moving and inspiring. We still quote John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan’s speech to the nation after the Challenger explosion was exactly the message that we needed to hear.  So it is with a certain level of consternation that we realize that President Donald Trump struggles with expressing himself in a coherent and intelligent manner. As long as he is reading a prepared document he is fine, but as soon as he is speaking off the cuff his deficiencies become all to apparent.

If I were attempting to help President Trump to improve his writing and speaking abilities I would first address his lack of an extensive vocabulary. We all overuse certain words and phrases but his limited stable of words is dramatic. He struggles to move beyond descriptors such as “big, biggly, huge, fantastic, really good, the best” and so on. His statements lose impact because he is so often at a loss for more edifying vocabulary.

The other problem that is perhaps the president’s major flaw is that he does not elaborate enough to clarify his remarks. He leaves so many ideas to be inferred that the imagination goes to notions that he probably never intended. Because of my background as a teacher I often find myself filling in the blanks of his utterances. I translate what he has actually said into what I believe that he has said. I suspect that I’m rather good at doing that because even when he is misunderstood and has to back track to explain himself I have usually been correct in my original assessment. The trouble is that not everyone takes the time to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt by attempting to discern what he may have meant, and so he finds himself causing a stir again and again. Usually he becomes so frustrated that he eventually hurls insults at those who have questioned him and his good intentions blow up in his face.

Another terrible habit that the president has is exaggeration. It goes to those favorite words of his and speaks loudly of his personality. He has to win, be the best, come out on top. Every oration becomes a power play reminding me of the child in the classroom who needs constant attention and adulation. Because President Trump demands to be the center of the universe he will even resort to lies at times just to appear to be more grandiose. I don’t understand how he thinks that we won’t recall what he has said in the heat of the moment. Like a child boasting on the playground he will resort to insult  if necessary just to be in control of the discussion. He uses words like weapons rather than healing agents. His art of the deal always seems to come down to an insistence on a “my way or the highway” kind of negotiation.

While some may find his ways of expressing himself refreshingly honest I see his mauling of language as an embarrassment. He is in such a powerful position that every word matters, and as of now he appears to be making far more enemies than friends. It may take years for the nation to recover from the trauma that he dispenses on a daily basis. Most of the damage he is inflicting need not happen if only he were to develop a more diplomatic tone, especially when attempting to comfort a Gold Star widow or when dealing with an allied nation.  He really does need to forget the chip on his shoulder and remember that none of what he does is about him. It should instead be about addressing all of us in a more honorable and selfless tone.

I wasn’t born yesterday. I know when someone is pressuring me to accept his/her point of view. Sadly each time President Trump speaks I feel as though I am in the presence of someone who is desperately attempting to sell me a bill of goods. My brain almost instantly turns off when he becomes abusive or combative. What he says does not touch either my heart or my head and yet I have suspected for some time that somewhere inside the mangled thoughts that he professes there is actually a very good heart. I have seen flashes of his compassion and desire to please us, but until he sets aside his own needs for those of the country he will continue to stir controversy over utterances and tweets rather than actually getting things done. He somehow doesn’t realize or just doesn’t care that some of us want him to be successful, but simply can’t abide by the vindictive sound of his interactions with those with whom he does not agree.

I know that my advice to our president will fall on deaf ears. He is who he is, but I think he might be better. Other men and women have risen to the challenges of their moments in history and guided people with eloquence. Winston Churchill comes to mind when I think of someone who changed himself and saved a nation. His words became a buttress against tyrants. He momentarily set aside his own needs to become the voice of freedom and steadiness in a world gone mad. How I wish that President Trump would take a page from Churchill’s life and use his words to inspire rather than hurt. I don’t suppose that I will ever see that, but I can wish.