Sunday, March 18, 2007

Gone Fishin’

My late father was a fisherman. For years, his favorite pastime was to take rod and reel to streams and lakes near and far from where my parents lived. Although he most often went with a “fishin’ buddy” – a friend, neighbor, brother or brother-in-law – fishing for him was primarily a solitary enterprise. It was him, the rod, the line, the bait – and ultimately, if he were lucky, the catch. It was his way of getting away from it all, relaxing, challenging himself, being close to nature. I think a lot of fisherman of his age – those of the Greatest Generation – felt the same way about the sport.

Last week, I was doing a little hiking in the state park near my house. Since I was just snow trekking and picture-taking, I was in some of the park’s open fields adjacent to the lake, a spot usually populated by a coterie of picnickers, dog walkers, kids playing ball. Being early March, there was no one in the fields. The picnic tables were mute, acting as snow-covered, four-legged guardians of the stillness. The trees also stood silent, their leafless limbs wagging in the wind. It was peaceful.

As I approached the shoreline, I got a better look at some of the folks fishing out on the lake ice. My father went ice fishing when he was younger; it was even more solitary than fishing at other times of the year, he told me. I heard one of the fisherman talking – rather loudly, in fact. At first, I thought he was calling to a nearby buddy, but then I realized: he’s sitting there talking on a cell phone! I guess he had to raise his voice to compete with the wind.

I wasn’t close enough to hear what he was saying; I don’t think he was calling for help or anything serious. Maybe he was just telling his wife when he’d be home. Then again, maybe he was just talking about nothing.

I’ve seen cell phones being used in some unusual places – including public bathrooms – but that was the first time I’d seen one being used by an ice fisherman. I had to smile, thinking about what my father might say – probably that the guy wouldn’t catch anything because his damn babbling scared the fish away. Is no place still sacred?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

We're History - NOT

This week, I watched “The Dark Ages” on the History Channel. I love history – almost any era, but with a particular fondness for ancient Rome, Biblical events, the American Revolution and World War II.

Young people don’t seem to care about history, or in many cases, have the slightest bit of historical knowledge. Maybe that’s because in today’s world of instant technology and fleeting impressions, anything older than one day is perceived as of no consequence. They don’t see how what happened in the past affects them. Or is it the way it’s taught – or not taught – in schools? If it’s taught as just a bunch of dates and places to remember with no connection to today, it’s no wonder students don’t care to learn.

Recently in one of my Public Relations classes, I tried to make a point about how certain events are life-defining for different generations – events that forever changed their way of thinking or behaving. For the Greatest Generation of my parents, it was Pearl Harbor. For their Baby Boomer offspring, there was a choice: the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, the turbulent 60’s, Kent State. For this generation, it has to be 9-11.

My students are a bright group, and of course they understood how 9-11 changed their existence. But I could tell that they had no clue as to how Pearl Harbor changed their grandparents’ lives or how the 60s shaped my world – because they didn’t know what those events were. I’m finding that every historical reference I make, I have to explain – and that’s not just to college students.

The historian David McCullough spoke a few months ago at our local Cultural Center and he naturally bemoaned the lack of historical knowledge and the sorry state of history education. Listening to him, you could hear and feel his passion and joy for history. That’s what it takes with any subject – passion and joy. If teachers are creative and let students explore history by “becoming” a historical figure through role-playing, re-creations and the like, those lessons will be remembered. History, after all, is people – knowing how an ordinary person in ancient Rome lived brings that history to life.

History teaches us more about today than yesterday. Here’s hoping we don’t lose that teaching.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

A Few Words About My Words

I call this blog “My Quill Pen” because I’m an old fashioned writer. What does that mean? Writing should be clear, concise and compelling, but above all, it should be correct. Writing correctly seems quaint today; email, IM and blogs make communication instantaneous. Do we sacrifice quality in the bargain?

I’m not much for acronyms and emoticons, but I’m even less for run-on sentences, subjects and verbs that don’t agree, misspellings, improper usages and the like. It’s scandalous that in the 21st Century, we have business executives, lawyers, teachers and community leaders whose writings can’t match those of Civil War soldiers’ letters home for clarity, vigor and thoughtfulness.

I hope my scratchings live up to my ideals.