Fire Bird

Ashes

Blow away in

Clouds of bitterness

And flame

 

Bright wings

Soar in

Meteoric rise of

Promise

 

Rise

Higher in

Happiness and

Love

 

Sing

Joy and

Soar above

Past heartache

 

Daniel J. Cox

07-29-2017

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Inspiration

I have often told my students (in the past; retirement is fun!), that the best (and probably the only real cure for Writer’s Block) is just WRITE!  I think there’s more to it, however, when you aren’t really blocked, but you just don’t take the time to write or even feel the urge.  First, you still have to write.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to get back to blogging here.  I want to write, I just have so much fun in my life these days that it’s lower on my list of priorities!  Second, it really does take some kind of inspiration to get any kind of artistic flow going no matter your medium as an artist.  So, what’s the answer?

For me–and I firmly believe that any artist has to find his/her own path–the Arts themselves are key.  When I’m listening to good music, attending a concert or other type of performance, going to a museum, or indulging in other artistic endeavors, I am more inspired to do my own creating.

My wife and I have discovered an on-line help.  If you aren’t familiar with The Great Courses, I highly recommend them.  They are college-level courses taught by excellent teachers, most of them college professors, as far as I can tell, in any number of areas of study.

I’ve always wanted to learn to draw or sketch.  I have no illusions of becoming a good, let alone great, visual artist.  I just want to be able to sketch some of the things I see and like…mountain flowers and trees, maybe some people, animals, or whatever strikes my fancy.  I was able to score a good Great Courses Beginning Drawing class for about $30!  It will be a good year of viewing the lectures, practicing the techniques, and just studying the art and making the attempt before I’ll really feel good about what I’m doing.  I don’t care.  It’s FUN, and I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do.

I played some guitar in high school.  When I retired, my younger son, a very talented musician and singer-songwriter, helped me pick out a good acoustic guitar.  I don’t read music.  I know some chords.  I’m learning more. My fingers hurt.  I’m having a ball!  But I don’t have a teacher.  Enter The Great Courses and another good course on Beginning Guitar, a series of video lessons taught by the Director of Music at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.  Again, this will take a while, but, hey, I’m retired!

My wife has a passion for neuroscience and how people learn.  We’re not only doing the drawing and guitar lessons together, but we’re viewing lectures on The Aging Brain and learning some really interesting things about ourselves as we get older.  In the meantime, we’re still doing all those “artsy” things, including cooking together and learning new dishes and just experimenting.  You now, being creative.

Oh, that other creativity thing, Inspiration? Guess when I decided I’d better get back to my novel?

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“It’s All Greek to Me”

[I wrote this a year or so ago and didn’t realize it hadn’t published.  Tarkio College is being reborn as I write this.  My brothers and I are still connected and some of us even closer than before.  The rest is not history, but the roots from which the future is growing.]

Forty-four years ago I surprised all sorts of people when I joined Tarkio College’s first national fraternal organization.  Yep.  I’m a “frat boy” (and I detest that term).  Everyone who knew me expected me to go through life proudly wearing the letters GDI instead of ASF.  What on Earth ever possessed me to “give up my independence” to become a clone?  I love Townes Van Zandt’s take on fraternity life in “Fraternity Blues,” but it’s simply one parody after another—funny, but not accurate (even though I did have to learn the Greek alphabet in both directions).  So, why did I do it?

 

My dear Alma Mater was (it closed in 1992, unfortunately) a small liberal arts college in a small town in northwest Missouri only eight miles from where I grew up.  I’m about as “white bread” as a person can get.  Diversity in my life in the late ’60s meant I had a few friends who were Catholic, and they had to go to another town to worship.  My family has always been thirsty for knowledge and our parents taught my brothers and me to be accepting of difference and eager to learn new things and meet new people.  Tarkio College may have been a small place, but it enrolled students from all over the world and all walks of life.  The very first pledge class of the Delta Gamma chapter of Alpha Sigma Phi reflected that variety.  My brothers were different, and we enjoyed the variety.

 

We learned a great deal from one another.  In the two years at TC I had left, I probably learned more from my brothers than I did in class studying sociology, anthropology, art, literature, and the rest of the curriculum.  Yes, we even studied.  I remember my two roommates and I doing that very thing.  One was a music major, the other studied drama, while I applied myself to literature and writing.  It was a terrific room, and students from all over campus visited (for a variety of reasons).  Not everything was in the books we read or the lessons to which we actually did apply ourselves.

 

Late nights included conversations about race relations.  It was the early ’70s, and things were tense around the country and, at times, in Tarkio.  My Black brothers (true, there weren’t many, but one was more than I had grown up with), helped us to understand the issues about which we otherwise could only read.  The Viet Nam War (OK, “Conflict”) was at its peak, and some of us were dreading the draft.  Political and religious discussions could be heated, but they were also among friends.  Since we represented a pretty good cross-section of the nation, we learned more about regional differences and similarities than any government class could afford us.  Boxes of “goodies” from home provided us with some tantalizing experiences with a variety of culinary and ethnic adventures.

 

Like all commencements, each of us began our new lives after graduation and went our separate ways without too much of a look back.  When the college closed, we really lost track.  Even our records went to another institution.  For too many years that part of our lives was lost in starting careers, families, and lives in different parts of the world. Then in 2006 the Internet helped us reconnect.  A few emails among some of us from that first pledge class resulted in a fraternity reunion at the annual Alumni Association gathering.  Although the campus was history in ruins, some of us gathered to reminisce and build on those long-ago relationships.  It was a beautiful thing.

Since then a few of us have maintained those bonds and gather annually on campus.  We are, I am proud to say, part of the nucleus that is rebuilding Tarkio College, as well.  Maybe the institution is not what it once was, but the brotherhood we Alpha Sigs established so many years ago is as strong as ever.

 

We have lost some in the ensuing years.  One of my roommates, Richard “Guppy” Pugh, a Broadway staple for decades, passed away just a month before our first reunion, but my brother Mike Perry (AKA “Snake”) and I have been canoeing, fly fishing, furniture moving, re-furbishing TC, and supporting one another on a regular basis.  As Facebook “friends,” many of us carry on our political and religious disagreements, inform one another about our regions of the country, share a recipe now and then, rejoice in our accomplishments and those of our children (and grandchildren), and sympathize with our misfortunes.  I have no better friends than those men with whom I shared what were definitely my “formative” years.

 

What holds us together?  We are brothers.  Yes, it’s corny.  Yes, it’s simply that we have that same badge of belonging among so many others.  But we know that no matter what disagreements or how many miles might separate us, any time we get together again, the years become just a matter of gray hair—if there is any, new wrinkles and aches and pains, and interesting new things to discover about one another.  I have an entire extended family upon whom I can call at any time, and I have done so.  We just pick up where we left off, although it might take a few reminders!

I may belong to several other groups of one kind or another, but only my blood relatives and a very few other friends are as close as that group of men who shared those years and memories with me.  They helped me through college, were part of my wedding entourage, celebrated with me the births of my sons and grandchildren, mourned with me the loss of my wife and parents, and will hobble along with me until the end, I know.  The cause is hidden, but the results well known.

Now I’m going to have dinner with one of my “brothers from another mother.”  I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

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“In the Beginning”

I hated high school.

Yep.

I was in the Class of ’68, but it wasn’t Rydell High and I sure as hell wasn’t anyone noticeable, even in a class of 50. Hell, when graduation rolled around, I was tied for 25th in class rank, a C student in English even though I had received a Creative Writing Award and had performed as part of a “Simon & Garfunkel” duo at multiple events in the last three semesters.

Oh, I dated quite a bit that last year and a half, and had a couple of “steady” girlfriends. Through it all, however, I felt as if I was just going through the motions. I was playing the part, even when I didn’t know the lines. I couldn’t wait to get to college.

Eight miles away. Hey, when you are a C student and your guidance counselor can’t even recognize you despite the fact you dated his daughter for three months, you’re not going to have many options. Still, I was away from home, at least during the day—I commuted the first semester….

OK, OK. Yeah. That sucked. How much money did you have in the fall of 1968? But I was in COLLEGE! I didn’t have to be there at 8:00 AM (wait, yes, I did!), or follow a damned bell schedule until 3:25 PM. I only had FOUR classes!! On top of that, they were EASY!!

Between classes I could sit in the Student Union and drink coffee and talk to people from all over the US. Some of them weren’t even white! My math instructor knew how to explain things, so I got an A in a class that covered the same material I’d failed as a high school junior. My English prof couldn’t do anything but point out comma faults, as usual, so I didn’t learn anything about composition for a few years yet, but I had a lit class that let me READ and actually talk to someone who had something interesting to add to the text!

And I made friends. No. I gained family. I swear. There are many, many people I met as an undergrad who are as important to me as any member of my blood family. Some of them know me better (and have vowed to keep the secrets!).

Those four years in college were awesome. I had some unbelievable successes and some soul-shattering failures, but they were ALL MINE, and I had people around me (including my parents) who could help me start over or change direction. Most of all, I had the time and opportunities to explore LIFE!

High school for me had simply been elementary school for older students—too many missed opportunities and inept authorities. If it hadn’t been for the mediocre library (I think I own more books now), I’m not sure I would have learned much of anything. I was bullied by classmates and faculty, ignored by almost everyone, ostracized and penalized and abused like an ugly dog. When I had had enough and fought back, I was simply punished more. In my “old age,” it is hard for me to remember specifics, I think simply because I have a tendency to erase from my memory what doesn’t really matter. At the same time, I remember people who were both my friends and fellow combatants, and have a tendency to mostly remember only the good things about our relationships. I’ve mellowed. It’s better that way.

My memories of my four years as an undergrad, however, are primarily of the most wonderful experiences of my young life. I’m sure my foggy memory has put a haze of good feeling around some of them, but, I’ll take it. I prize those memories, and I’ll argue with anyone who was there and has a different recollection, and tell him or her that there was too much beer or whiskey to remember exactly…or too many years. And then I’ll be more than happy to give that good friend a bear hug and say, “Thanks, for the memories.”

It was my best start.

Go Owls!

DrDan 01-05-2015

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Misanthrope

The loneliness of crowds

isolation
of noise

a corner island
awash in the surf of friendship

drowning
in self pity

DrDan 12-31-2015

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“Not Relevant Anymore”

I was born in December of 1950 and grew up in small towns in northwest Missouri. My family for generations were people who had been farmers, owners of small shops, and in service occupations. My grandparents made ends meet as best they could during the Great Depression. My parents were not wealthy. They married young; my father had a high school education, but my mother dropped out to get married and raise a family. Until I was ten or eleven, we lived within 25 or 30 miles of my grandparents.

My two younger brothers and I fondly remember hunting trips with Dad and his father, and even just with Dad and Mom. It wasn’t unusual for the meat on our table to be small game from one of those hunts. Yes, I’ve eaten rabbit, squirrel, duck, goose, quail, and venison and enjoy them all.

For eight years in the ’50’s my father was a trooper with the Missouri Highway Patrol. He was gone many nights. My mother was home alone with three little boys. Atop the refrigerator was a loaded .45 caliber pistol. We knew exactly where it was. My mother was a dead shot. By the time we were six years old, all three of us had been trained to use it, along with rifles and shotguns. We weren’t allowed to carry a gun on any hunt until we were ten, if I remember correctly.

Just as with a BB gun or a bow and arrow, good marksmanship and safe practice were things we were taught from the time we were old enough to understand or big enough to receive training. My paternal grandfather was a president of the local NRA chapter several times, helped to build a range near Bethany, Missouri, and organized classes for those who wished to learn.

I spent many, many days tromping the river bluffs and hunting near our home in Rock Port, MO, when I was in junior high and high school. I liked hunting with a .22 rifle instead of a shotgun because I could kill a squirrel or rabbit with one shot through the head and not ruin good meat with lots of shotgun pellets. I’ve hunted and bagged pheasant with a bow and arrow.

My grandfather passed away when I was a senior in high school. It was a devastating loss to me. In many ways he had been a role model for me. He taught me manners, respect for others, the basic responsibilities of being a man (according to our time and place), and that I should always carry a pocketknife and a handkerchief.

When I was grown and had a family of my own—and a steady job—I became a life member of the NRA in order to support the educational programs the organization sponsored, and to honor my grandfather’s memory. No, I don’t own an assault rifle, large capacity magazines, armored vests, or pipe bombs. I have no need for them. I enjoy hunting and target shooting. Although my sons don’t share those interests, I spent some time teaching them the basics of those sports when they were young.

For me shooting a gun or a bow has always been a matter of skill…and I’ve been hunting without bagging anything more often than not. I’ve hunted with a camera almost as much. Tracking, observing wildlife, and just enjoying the outdoors are the main attractions, and I have not had the problem of providing food for my family.

These are skills in which I take pride. I like making a good shot, and sometimes I reward myself with a tasty meal that I can’t get in a restaurant. I don’t apologize for being a carnivore.

I used to take pride in being able to say, “I am the NRA.” This is the first time I’ve publicly acknowledged my membership in a very long time. I know the organization still sponsors shooting clinics and firearm safety classes, but its political stance has become an embarrassment. I believe in the 2nd Amendment. If the country is ever invaded, I’ll hope that the armed services and the National Guard are our “well-armed militia,” but I know that I can be my last line of defense, and I keep my doors locked to protect those who might want to break into my home. They’ll get a surprise from this old hillbilly.

I imagine most of those who grew up with me could have written something similar about their own lives. To say that it was a simpler time is ignoring three or four wars and the constant threat of nuclear holocaust. Today is different, however. The violence in our streets and homes and places of business and worship is nothing like we’ve seen in this country since it became a nation from sea to sea.

No, I don’t have any answers. The rhetoric on both sides ignores the realities of our complex nation. Unfortunately, the polarization I see happening is more a spark that enflames violence than either side has a solution. No one seems willing to talk about logical answers, merely to shout slanders and slogans and pocket the money from the advertisers, and the more I hear or read that we should “pray for healing,” the more I’m reminded of Twain’s “War Prayer.”

I think my grandfather (both of them) and my father probably had a better handle on how to fix this and other problems: be the kind of man (person) you would like to have as your friend, parent, child, spouse…. You know—do unto others…?

It is supposed to be the season of peace. May you and yours enjoy some.

DJC 12-03-2015

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I’ll Stand Up for You

I’ll stand up for you

In the pouring rain

Shower you with hope

Take away your pain

 

I’ll stand up for you

In the darkest hour

Take your fear away

Help you see your power

 

Hold your head up

Never give up

When you feel like cryin’

Keep on tryin’ and

 

I’ll stand up for you

When you’re so far down

You can’t see the light

Feel you’re going to drown

 

I’ll stand up for you

Each and every time

Help you get up

No matter what the climb

 

Hold your head up

Never give up

When you feel like cryin’

Keep on tryin’ and

 

I’ll stand up for you

’Cause I know

You’ll stand up for me

 

And I know

We’ll stand together

No matter what may be

Daniel J. Cox

11/24/2015

 

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