It’s All In How You Read It

“Rrrrrrrrrr. Say rrrrrrrrrrrr; that’s how you pronounce “R.” That’s how it began. That’s how I remember Dad teaching me to read. The phonetics were simple, but for all it has become, the lessons fuel a lifetime of wisdom.

Outside the classroom, somewhere between the ages of 5 and 10, most of my learning came on the living room sofa in front of the TV. I had my pencils, paper and crayons there on the coffee table close by. Dad’s dictionary was there, too. It was torn and tattered; you could tell it had been used a lot.

Dad had a keen sense about learning. He saw the curiosity I had for books that Mom says was there when I was only a toddler. I guess in those days, science wasn’t telling Dad his 4 or 5-year old might just be lacking the mental maturity to read. I think he was motivated by the impatience I showed at not being able to know what was in those books.

So he began teaching me. He pronounced the letters as I listened. He was articulate and his enunciation was polished. He seemed proud of that.

He wrote down common combinations of letters, like “ie” and “ous” and patiently pronounced them. He was firm. He made me say them over and over back to him until I had the pronunciations just right. Dad was that way….very exacting.

Dad rarely read to me. He insisted that I practice on my own. So I practiced and then practiced some more. He must have known that if he didn’t do my reading for me, I would practice even more so I could do it. He knew I would. Dad seemed to know I was making progress. He saw he had me on the right track.

Once I got started, I read a lot. I read everything I could get my hands on. I read so much that when I had to get glasses at age seven, everyone said it was because I read too much. I had worn out my eyes at far too early an age.

If Dad was home, he watched TV as I read and studied. When I came across a word I didn’t know, I asked Dad. He had an extensive vocabulary.

He was a stickler for proper pronunciation. It would have been very easy for him to tell me what the words meant whenever I asked. He didn’t make it easy.

Instead, he pointed to the dictionary on the coffee table. “Look it up. You will always remember it if you go to the trouble of looking it up yourself,” he said. Judging from his vocabulary, that dictionary had been his friend for a long time.

Sometimes I read in the car on a long road trip. If I came across a word I didn’t know, he would have me check his dictionary when we got home. He often stood nearby and waited to see that I did it, too.

Like all of us, I have had “defining” experiences in my life. I have made hundreds of new discoveries and still make more each day. I have met new friends who shared special moments in their lives with me. I have learned from each of them.

I did not happen on all of my discoveries first hand. I did not shake hands with every new person I met; I rarely knew any of them face to face. My greatest lessons were not written on a blackboard in a school classroom. Mostly I simply learned them from Dad, from the lessons he gave in teaching me to read.

Dad is gone now. But as long as I read I will always carry with me the special gift he gave. There is little chance I will part with it.

Dad’s real lesson in teaching me to read was to know that I could learn for myself. From both his teaching me to read and in the reading itself, I have discovered encouragement and inspiration; I have learned the value of thinking on my own. I have come to know the wisdom of persisting in the search for answers when they are not easily found.

Sometimes I think Dad understood what I might miss by his not being at home much. I think he had it figured out. Maybe he knew that by teaching me to read, I would be OK.

That’s what I think.

In A Word

I love words.

Words like serendipity. The sound of it has a mystical quality. I first heard it when I heard the upbeat song, “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down.” It was sung by the The Serendipity Singers. Sometimes I just say serendipity out loud. It’s spiritual. It sounds good to me. Maybe if I say it often enough, good fortune will find me.

I like fortuitous. It makes me think of my rabbit’s foot. The one I lost when I was a boy. It was in the desert near my home. They built a Woolworths over the place where I lost it. The Woolworths is no longer. They went bankrupt some time back. They must not have found my rabbit’s foot.

Synchronicity has an intriguing sound to it. I got really familiar with this word when I read “The Celestine Prophecy,” a small book, by James Redfield. Since then, I do not readily dismiss chance occurrences as coincidences. I let them linger in my consciousness. I don’t want to miss their message.

I heard the word placid for the first

time in the 3rd grade. I don’t know why I remember it was 3rd grade; I just do. It sounded good. It says a lot without being noisy. Sometimes when I am anxious I think of it. It calms me, leaves me tranquil. Have you ever seen a picture postcard of Lake Placid, New York?

I like lavender. It has a softer feel for me than purple. Some words are good remedies for what ails you. When I have a stuffy nose, I think of lavender. When I hear it I think of spring and I smell crepe myrtle – even if it isn’t spring.

I like sub rosa, but I will not tell you why. (Some things must stay a secret).

I like the word affable. It sounds like laughable. It seems humorous to me. I think people who have a good sense of humor are affable. I like affable people. Who doesn’t?

I like to wander through the dictionary. When I wander, I wonder is there one life’s condition, one single feeling, one unique experience, one loyal act done for which there is not a single word that can say it exactly as we know or knew it?

Don’t Let Go The Inspiration

When you are inspired by some great purpose,
some extraordinary project,
all your thoughts break their bonds;
your mind transcends limitations,
your consciousness expands in every direction,
and you find yourself in a new, great
and wonderful world.
Dormant forces, faculties and talents
become alive, and you discover yourself
to be a greater person by far
than you ever dreamed yourself to be.
I was the star reporter for the “Class Bulletin.”It was a twice-weekly publication, a small newspaper that reported on everything from sports, to gossip, to entertainment, even academics. The most popular feature was a contest to pick the Academy Award winners in the major categories. The winner got a paid lifetime subscription to the Class Bulletin.

The job sounded interesting so I took it. I didn’t do it for any other reason. The pay was minimal, but I shared the profits with ownership. The newspaper was enormously successful, quickly achieving 90% subscription circulation in its market.

I had never written for a large audience or for a small one either, for that matter. But I enjoyed the job and people told me they liked the articles I wrote. Their praise made me feel good. I liked that. I discovered that writing gave me a good feeling. I wanted to write more. I thought I could get better at it.

The readers wanted me to write all the time. I liked that, too. For a while.

But then the paper was expecting me to write more often. It was hard for me always to think of what to write. I put it off because I could not get started. Or I would not start because I imagined it would not come out just right. I made obstacles.

I began to procrastinate. Soon I stopped doing it altogether. The newspaper went out of business. It lost its star reporter.

The winner of the Academy Award contest, the one with the paid

lifetime subscription, felt cheated. I guess he was.After that, I never stopped thinking about writing. It stayed with me. But when I thought about it in any serious way, I convinced myself I would not do it well. And if I couldn’t do it well, I wasn’t going to do it at all. So I didn’t finish much. I started even less.

One day, I was writing something about a significant event in the life of one of my children. I meant it to be a keepsake. I was highly motivated by the sentiment and the occasion and I found I was making an extraordinary effort to ensure it conveyed the essence and all the emotion of what I was feeling.

I wrote it and then I re-wrote it. I re-wrote it several more times over a couple of weeks. It got better. The better I made it, the more I wanted to make it better. I didn’t put it down until I had it just right. Really right.

When I finished, I felt a sense of satisfaction I hadn’t known before. I was tremendously fulfilled; the kind of fulfillment that you feel after you do something pretty cool and you stay warm inside for a long time even if a lot of other things around you aren’t working out so well.

I came a long way. The Class Bulletin, the fifth-grade newspaper I published, edited, wrote and sold for two-cents, started the spark that stayed an ember all these years.


Mostly Writing, Other Stuff Too

I’m Jeff. I’m a regular guy. I don’t mean I take a lot of Metamucil.

I mean I’m like a lot of people, like most of them maybe. I struggle to make a buck, struggle for respect, struggle to keep the car running, the roof from leaking, and the tax man from taking more than his share — and mine too.

I’ve learned a lot through struggles and experiences, life’s oysters. I’ve opened them all, discovered pearls in a few of them.

I have wisdom. When you’re older, you get to call your experiences that. And I get more each day; older and wiser. I am as old as I am wise. That means I won’t benefit from all the wisdom too long.

My views are ordinary, but views nevertheless. I’m not reluctant to express my views. I feel strongly about most of them. Mainly, my views are not main stream, at least not most of the time. That’s another thing I think. That’s a lot of thinking.

It is in my writing.

I don’t depend on Good Morning America to tell me what to do to live a long and healthy life. I’m quite capable of finding out myself. I rely on myself that way.

I don’t need Matt Lauer telling me how to deal with my depression, reminding me to get my prostate checked, and telling me to talk to my children more so they won’t do drugs.

Who is Matt Lauer anyway? How do I know he’s a decent father? How’s his prostrate? He looks like a pretty depressed fellow. He depresses me!

Some people tell me I’m a sensitive guy. I think that means they think I take things too seriously. Maybe that’s the way they see it. I think I feel things other people don’t. That’s another thing I think. I think if you’re sensitive, that means you’re in touch with people’s feelings. I think that’s a good thing.

I write about my likes and dislikes, about success, my pursuit of it. And to be sure I don’t run out of material, I write about my failures, too. There are things in the world that aren’t right. I mention them sometimes. Maybe I can change them. Maybe I can make a beginning. Shine a light.

I ‘m not sure what I’ll write about next, but I have new experiences every day. I watch and I listen. I keep my eyes open. Wide open.

My hearing is good. Very good. I try to hear the things people don’t say; I think that’s the important stuff.

I’ll write about those things, too.

Mainly, I’m just going to write, because I like it. Writing thrills me.

I’m not easily thrilled.