November 29, 2014

Hubbard Hall Writers

Hubbard Hall Writers 
By John R. Greenwood

I will lead this piece with a sincere thank you to my beautiful wife who is not pictured here. She was at home baking my favorite apple pie and making homemade meatballs and sauce while I was visiting with three members of the original Hubbard Hall Writer’s Group. I am a very lucky man. My wife realized how strong my passion for writing was a few years ago. I’d filled out an application for membership to a writing class hosted by Hubbard Hall and led by author Jon Katz. My wife encouraged me to follow my dream. She understood my need to find a venue to express my creativity and test my writing skills. Without her support I never would have had the courage to pursue that dream. The writing class was supposed to last a few weeks during the summer of 2012. Those classes ended for us but the friendship and support of our group is alive and well more than two years later. 

Today our group gathered in Southern Vermont at the home of Rachel Barlow. Rachel’s blog, “Picking My Battles” is an artist’s portrayal of real life with a twist. It all happens in an intimate Vermont setting but Rachel's posts are a reflection of life in homes across the country. 

Hubbard Hall Writer Kim Gifford was seated on the thick leather sofa with a open laptop checking out Rachel’s latest work when I arrived for our Sunday afternoon meeting. Kim’s blog, “Pugs & Pics” is a eclectic collection of posts with Kim’s love of pugs as the primary theme. She also creates stunning collages layered with emotion and beauty.

The last member to arrive was Diane Fiore. Diane’s blog, “Mergansers Crossing” is an inspirational collection of stories about yesterday and today. Diane began documenting the adventures she experienced with her father after he’d been diagnosed with dementia. She found writing about it was therapeutic and began a blog so she could share her stories. Soon others who had family members with Alzheimer's were looking to Diane’s blog to help them cope with the challenges of the disease. She has cultivated a supportive following that grows stronger with each post. 

These friends and fellow bloggers were an amateur writers dream team. Their genuine support was instrumental in building my confidence which in turn allowed me to grow beyond what I ever expected the day I placed that Hubbard Hall application in the mailbox.

The theme of this post is about friendship and support. I found them both at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, New York. I consider myself an artist in search of an art. Although I enjoy writing and sharing stories I’m not yet sure writing is the final stop for me. I love all types of visual arts. I love all types of music. I basically enjoy creativity in any format, style, or venue. I don’t think you can truly enjoy your life without it. I want to thank those who have helped me along the way. Jon Katz and his blog Bedlam Farm injected me with an enthusiasm for the future and the undiscovered. Hubbard Hall gave me the opportunity to grow and the place to do it. I am grateful to all those mentioned above for their presence in my life. 

November 27, 2014

Faces of Thanksgiving

Faces of Thanksgiving 
By John R. Greenwood

I am thankful to be here to enjoy the faces around me; the faces of family, friends, coworkers, and everyone else who passes me during the day. That is what I'm most thankful for today. 

Faces are the beginning, they are where happiness begins. It starts off with that first look in the mirror. I might not be thrilled with the quality of what I see in the mirror in the morning but the fact that there is someone there is pretty significant on the "Thank You" scale. 

The next face I see is the one I'm most thankful for; it's the face of the person who loves me most. She vowed to love me through thick and thin and she's kept her word. She feeds me, clothes me, and keeps me out of harms way. She encourages my good decisions and discourages my bad ones. She lifts me when I need it most and reminds me of things when it's important that I not forget. I am thankful God made her hand fit mine so well.

The next faces I see are in photographs; photographs of sons, their wives, and the grandsons they have gifted to the world. Those cherished faces show up on walls, in albums, and out in cyber-space where you can find them posted for the world. I am thankful for the opportunity to enjoy those faces with the click of a mouse or the push of a cell phone button. Those are the faces that swell my head with pride and fill my heart with love. 

The next face I am thankful for belongs to my sister. She is the one who placed music in my heart and artistry in my soul. She taught me lessons that many people never learn. She taught me about survival and endurance in a world that doesn't always play fair. She is my personal hero and I am thankful beyond words for her. 

I am thankful for the parents who created my face and I miss them. They provided volumes of fond memories that sustain me. They gave me a sense of humor that I use to survive. They taught me right from wrong. They emphasized common sense, good manners, and the value of a "Please and Thank You". They laid the foundation that enables me to enjoy my life and all the faces that fill it. They made mistakes, but they also told me to learn from my mistakes, so I did. I learned from theirs and mine. I am thankful that I listened to that advice most. 

I am thankful for the faces I see Monday through Friday- the ones that work by my side. They show up everyday so they can pay their mortgages and support the faces in their homes. The camaraderie and our common goals lift me and will keep me showing up long after my time comes. Work has defined much of my life. Work has enabled me to meet some of the most beautiful faces in the world. Beauty in the form of honesty, integrity, ambition, and energy. Faces full of character and strength. 

I have known hundreds of faces that overflowed with compassion for faces of people they have never have met. I am thankful for the faces of all the fundraisers and volunteers I have known. 

We should all be thankful for the faces in uniform; the bravest of the brave, the faces of the men and women who put them in foreign countries defending our freedom, the faces who show up in fire trucks, ambulances and police cruisers. Uniformed faces are out there right now fighting danger while we watch our football games and eat onion dip in warm homes. 

We all have different faces to be thankful for today, so take a minute and call them and tell them. The face you bring a smile to may spread to others. 

Happy Thanksgiving to my entire family. 

You gave me a "happy-face" today. 

November 23, 2014

Child's Play

Child’s Play
By Grandpa
John R. Greenwood 

his laugh is audible joy 
a gift

a constant motion 
bouncing from place to place
idle for a few short seconds
then off again he goes
and goes
and goes

a little boy left the baby behind
growing taller 
with every tic
every toc

smiling from his father’s arms 
his head bobs from little boy exhaustion
his father’s father absorbs the scene 
deep into his heart 
savoring moments
cherishing fatherhood
wanting to go back for more
and more

November 22, 2014

Saturday Morning Discovery

Saturday Morning Discovery
By John R. Greenwood

"The Cave In The Mountain" -1894
It was a typical Saturday morning about eight o’clock and I was putting the finishing touches on a replacement window I installed earlier in the summer. I never finished trimming it out and this morning seemed just right for that adventure. These are the simple projects that I enjoy but procrastinate over until my guilt grabs me by the nape of the neck and gives me a little shake. I always say it’s not the project that I hate it’s the set-up and clean-up. I also tend to be easily distracted by shiny objects, or as was the case today, an old vintage book on the bookshelf that was next to the naked replacement window I orphaned back in late June. 

What I noticed as I was wiping caulk from my forehead was an old book my grandfather had given me in 1963 when I was eight. I was still standing on the stepladder with the caulking gun tucked under one arm when I reached over to the top shelf of the bookcase and pulled out the 1894 book. The title was, “The Cave In The Mountain” by Lieutenant R. H. Jayne, or so I thought. Google politely informed me as I was taking my first coffee break, just ten minutes into my project, was that Lieutenant R. H. Jayne’s real name was Edward Sylvester Ellis. Ellis wrote under dozens of pseudonyms including Lieutenant R.H. Jayne. He was one of the more successful writers of dime novels during the 1800’s. It is said that one of his books, “Seth Jones” was one of President Lincoln’s favorite stories. 

What fascinated me was what was inside the front cover of the 120-year-old book. It’s there where I find that the book was a gift to my grandfather in 1913 for his 14th birthday. He gave me the book in 1963, fifty years later. I remember staying overnight at my grandparents this particular night. He gave me the book the next day while I was helping him with some chores around the house. I was in my Hardy Boy’s book reading years back then. My grandfather’s, “Cave In The Mountain” was his 1914 version of my 1963 Hardy Boys Mysteries. I’m sure he handed me that book with fond memories of his boyhood swirling in his head. I hadn’t opened it in years. It brought back find memories of time spent with my grandfather. I now had three grandson’s of my own and it made me look at that inscription through a much different set of eyes. The number of years was enough to give you pause but what inspired me to grab my laptop and starting writing about it was the speed at which those years between being a grandson to being that grandfather had taken place. 

I read through the list of guests that attended my grandfather's 14th birthday and realized that all of them are surely gone. I still live and work within thirty minutes  of where that party took place so it’s likely I’ve driven by the homes where they grew up or by the cemeteries where they’ve been laid to rest. What an experience it would be if I could go back to that birthday party with my camera and notebook and start putting it all down on paper. 

Here are attendees of my grandfather's 14th birthday party on June 4, 1913:

Muriel Davis, Alma Kilmer, Bertha Hopkins, Helen Ten Eyck, Jeanette Fonda, Katherine Davis, Vivian Lathers, Frank Sweet, Ralph Kurlbaum, LeRoy Kurlbaum, Jay Rhodes, Clifford Cudney, Ralph HumGurr Ten Eyck, Elmer Greenwood (my grandfather).

I opened the book once more, randomly, right in the middle, and the passage to the left caught my eye and my emotions. 

“The world was void:

The populous and powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless;
A lump of death, a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean, all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths.” 

I read it over and over and suddenly I realized I was watching a current version of the evening news. The fighting, the violence, the pain of poverty and despair was being sensationalized for profit. The world is, was, and will be used for lots of the wrong things and few of the good things. I’d gotten all this from one little re-visit to an old book given to a young boy once, twice and maybe more to follow. The world is becoming a lifeless stone and we must revive it’s vitality. We don’t need to go back to heyday’s or the good-ole-days, we need to recreate the good-new-days, the I-can’t wait-to-get-moving days. We need to grab books from shelves with one hand, caulk windows with the other, and figure out that life is about doing both things at the same time and doing it with vigor and purpose. 

Yes, I did complete trimming out the window and for some reason the view seemed to have a crisper feel to it. It had to do with the added bonus it provided me on this otherwise uneventful morning in November. 

That's the way it should be. 

Life should show up whenever it feels like it, but you have to be paying attention so you don't miss it.  

November 16, 2014

Last Gasp

Last Gasp
By John R. Greenwood

I began using the words "last gasp" several months ago when I was struggling and needed to get back on track. When you run a set of tracks that's fractions wide it's easy to run off them at any little dip or sag in the road.  It's funny how we roller coaster through life never really getting to that oasis where everything is within reach. How boring life would be--I guess is the right answer. We would have zero appreciation for what we had. It would only take a few days before we were traveling to the edge of the oasis with our binoculars looking off to the horizon in search of a larger more inviting oasis. 

This time the excruciating pain was the motivator and the inhibitor all at the same time. My hobbling had become unattractive and distracting. For every ugly limp across a parking lot my zest for life got soggier and soggier. Some days I wake up swinging for the fences and some days I hide my face from my wife who's sympathy wanes with each passing pity party I invite her to attend. Some mornings I am full of fight but those have diminished greatly. Working in a world where the silver topped men are rare I sometimes peer around door casings to see if my desk is still there. I reflect back through the past decade and life has been fulfilling on many levels. I am happy but it now appears I am at another crossroads where there are tough decisions to make. Will I fight through this latest obstacle or will I relinquish, grabbing a cane and dropping backward into a recliner? Being a victim comes easily to my personality so I must grasp those boot straps tightly. A day or three is easy, a week is challenging, a month almost impossible but when I look at the timeline it's shrinking, and the clock ticks louder--the pendulum swings faster. 

Motivation is key right now. With the summer of 2014 now another picture album and with its Fall, falling as I write, I realize the urgency of my plight. I tap away at these keys hoping to find the right mix to move me, encourage me, push me. How much simpler life was when we didn't understand it, when we ignored signs and warning shots. 

Today's date is over thirty days from the day I began the status report before you. As I prepare for yet one more appointment to try and diagnose the cause of my pain I have to force my fingertips to engage in anything other than torturing a tv remote. Even my desire to read has left the building. As always I forge ahead confident there are answers headed my way. In the mean time I gaze off like a bored teen looking for something in the refrigerator. I'm hungry and lazy at the same time. It's during these desert wanderings that I question whether I'm a writer or someone who simply likes to write. Why submit myself to all this self doubt? 

I have come to the conclusion that my problem has been with my identity. I now realize that I am a husband, father, grandfather, homeowner, employee, citizen first. Being a writer/blogger/artist is down the list a ways. Wanting to place, "me", the writer nearer the top is selfish and presumptuous. Yes, I believe you must be true to yourself but I also take my wedding vows, fatherhood, grandfatherhood, and paying the mortgage seriously and I now feel that only after all those responsibilities have been prioritized properly can I find true happiness and fulfillment in any other capacity. Let's just say it's a Wallenda-like tight-wire act. 

So the journey continues--for us all. That's the way it happens. We constantly encounter these intersections of decision and discovery. There are times when I find it best to pull over and park until the fog clears but sometimes what we're in search of lies just beyond the bend of the gravel road and if we'd muscled through just one more mile we'd have reached our destination. 

Live with your choices. 

Revel in the knowledge that you're here to make them. 

Time to pull up those boot straps...

November 15, 2014


By John R. Greenwood

the man in the mirror stares 
in the distance he detects voices
directions he hears but cannot understand
they have something to share