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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

Begin, commence, start, initiate, inaugurate, usher in, mean to take the first step in a course, process, or operation.  [Begin, start, and commence are often interchangeable.]

https://apps.npr.org/commencement/   The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.  “Looking for some new words of wisdom?  Check out our hand-picked selection of commencement addresses, going back to 1774.  Search over 350 speeches by name, school, date, or theme.”

Commencement”: Often referred to as “Graduation,” the Commencement ceremony is just that, a ceremony.  It is an end-of-spring semester celebration for students projected to successfully complete all their graduation requirements by the end of that Spring or Summer semester.  Confirmation of degree completion does not take place until official grades are posted.  “Graduation”: The term in which one has officially and successfully completed all of graduation requirements

I never gave a commencement address.  The closest I came took place in 1982.  The high school principal called me to help with graduation.  “Of course I will!”  I was a senior teacher.  I thought, This is finally it! My Big Show!  I’ve been waiting since 1955!

The only address I gave to the Class of 1982 was my shout at the top of my voice during that commencement rehearsal.  “SENIORS!  QUIET DOWN!!”  (I may have said, shouted, screamed, bellowed out–as I tried to maintain order as they practiced for the upcoming ceremony.)

If I recall, the guest speaker was a newspaper columnist-humorist.  I couldn’t humor those seniors as he did.  But I did have a speech ready for them, parts from a favorite essay I had (still have) from then-Chicago Tribune writer Bob Greene.  He had written a piece–“1964” –for Esquire, highlighting his work on keeping a journal for one year, capturing those memories of the times to look back upon (which he wrote he still did from time to time).  It was about his 17th year, 1964, recorded in one journal.

I wish I had written that.  I wish I had written those words, so that I could give the class a commencement speech: “Don’t Forget What We Did Here for You!  Write It Down!” (Is anybody out there even listening to me?)  But, to paraphrase Thoreau, writing About is not what interests us at the time; it’s the Experiencing that’s important.  (Bob Greene wrote in 1987 Be Good to Your School.  I wish I had written that, too.)

I participated in my first graduation in 1955 in Chicago, from 8th grade.  Then off to high school (graduation), college (graduation), master’s (graduation), and all those other ceremonies I attended robed in regalia while a teacher in an audience or on a stage–or during those seven years as a school administrator, dressed in “civvies,” patrolling halls and parking lots, or getting after noisy guests or silly graduates, or even fixing stage lights or curtains, or…or…providing water for the honored guest speaker.  Even locking up the gymnasium doors Post Commencement.

Nonetheless, I was never a commencement speaker.  I never gave that address:

De Paul University Colors [not me pictured] White: Liberal Arts

“Madame President, Members of the Board of Trustees, Distinguished Guests, Honorees, and Faculty; Parents, Friends, and Relatives.  And Graduates of the Class of 20__.  I thank you for asking me to come before you today, on this auspicious occasion….  WOW!  Look at all this color and flowers and the proud people in the audience.”

No, I never spoke for the graduates of West Point, the US Military Academy.

WEST POINT GRADUATION [without tassels]

I really wanted to tell them about the graduate who asked me, “Now what?”  And I would tell them What.  About luck, good fortune, life not being fair.  (They knew that already.)  “Reminder: Hard Work Pays Off!”  Maybe.  I would not be cynical.  I would be uplifting, edifying, funny, pleasant, grandfather-ly.  The wise old…what do I know about…anything?  Watch for it.  Here it comes: “Graduates.  Be flexible.  Be ready.  Be like the Coast Guard: Semper Paratus: ‘Always Ready, Always Prepared.’”  For?  The low ball, high pitch, fast ball, Hail-Mary Pass, missed putt, end run, unexpected, from out of nowhere.

Graduations, commencement times, are sad-happy times for me.  Since that 1955 time, as participant and observer, I’ve marched to “Pomp and Circumstance” (still brings chills, Mr. Elgar–and memoriesofatime).  I’ve listened to beautiful Palestrina choral pieces.  I’ve listened to names being called (in the thousands, I’m sure), speeches given (both enlightening and terribly boring), recognitions being awarded (I cannot recall ever being specialed-out for anything); trophies, certificates, diplomas, pins, books,  medals, and money-scholarships being handed out.

But after all is done, and rooms and halls are emptied, the work begins: the graduates must “commence” their lives now that a tassel has been moved.  Some will fail; we all have failures.  Great success will come to a few, as it should.  “That’s the way it is!” I would have told them.

And so , I may have never given a commencement address, may never have had to worry about preparing a speech, or needing a glass of water, or may never have had my tassel swing in front of my eyes–back and forth, back and forth–as I spoke.  (How annoying!)

Yet, overall, I’ve had my share of positions before the public, before audiences, and have even given a church sermon!  Yet there lingers within me a tiny bit of “missing-ness”: Never having been able to say, “And so, Graduates, in conclusion, therefore, good luck to you all!  Now go and commence!”

UNION HALL LA TROBE UNIVERSITY [before commencement exercises]

© James F. O’Neil 2019

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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“The best leaders enjoy the trust of their subordinates, peers, and superiors.” –Lt. Col. Pete Kilner, USA (Ret.)

How did Capt. James Miller earn and maintain trust in Saving Private Ryan?

How did U.S. Army Lt. (later Maj.) Richard Winters [1918-2011] command (not demand) respect in Band of Brothers–and, in the actual “Easy Company of the 101st”?

In my many courses “back then,” studying leadership and especially educational leadership, I learned theories X, Y, and Z; and A, B, and C; Reddin, Blake & Mouton, and McGregor; and on and on and on. All good, valuable, one building upon the next, or discarding the weak points of another. Even the oldest “Peter Principle” (1969) served as a textbook in one of my graduate classes (along with Up the Down Staircase).

Many years retired now, I am still attracted to good articles commenting on what I learned and perhaps practiced in my educational career.

I found in Military Officer (July 2018) a simply put framework by Lt Col Pete Kilner explaining the behavior of Capt. Miller (I believe) and the rationale behind the promotions and the trust placed in Lt Winters.

Both films aptly portray what Lt Col Kilner found in his experience “thinking more intentionally about trust,” that a person’s “trust-worthy-ness” is a function of four factors: HONESTY, RELIABILITY, COMPETENCE, and COMPASSION.

We can view these two important films at this time in our history, the 75th Anniversary of D-Day Europe. We can also search for Miller’s and Winters’ truthfulness; “courageous faithfulness to commitments”; responsibilities and judgment; and, finally, their humanity.

Do not the actors fit/play the roles?

Watching the films is not necessarily an exercise, but seeing elements within a film can be a good exercise in what we “get” from a movie.

“It’s more than just a good war movie.”–Jim O’Neil [See, “THE ART OF WAR (LOVING)”: https://memoriesofatime.blog/2015/07/04/the-art-of-war-loving/ ]

© JAMES F. O’NEIL 6 June 1944/2019

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose // By any other name would smell as sweet.”  Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.1-2.

Back when, as I recall, I was always a lover of beautiful actresses and movie stars, those “starlets” of the ‘50s.  I’m not sure that this hasn’t changed much now, as I still have tendencies toward liking beauty, and appreciating youth, and fine acting.  Then, as now, I have had my favorites, but I’ve never had large pictures of posters of, say, Farrah Fawcett affixed to the ceiling above my top bunk, or of Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe pasted on the wall above my desk.  [Farrah Leni Fawcett 1947– 2009), American actress, model, and artist.  A four-time Emmy Award nominee and six-time Golden Globe Award nominee,Farrah-Fawcett-1 Fawcett rose to international fame when she posed for her iconic red swimsuit poster–which became the best selling pin-up poster in history.  She starred in the first season of the television series Charlie’s Angels (1976–1977).  She was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, dying three years later at age 62.–Wikipedia.] 

I did, however, have pictures inside my high school locker door, probably as a freshman or a sophomore (really? junior? senior?)  Two of my favorites were Mitzi Gaynor and Kim Novak.

About Kim Novak (Marilyn Pauline Novak), the nice Bohemian girl from Chicago, my hometown:  I saw as many of her movies as I could–and still consider Picnic (1955) and Man with the Golden Arm (1955) two of (my) the best films she made.

picnic_poster

She played dual-roled Madeline/Judy in the thriller by Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo (1958), with actor Jimmy Stewart (considered a classic, but not one of my all-time favorite movies).

bell book and candle life mag She was absolutely beauty and sexy as the witch in Bell, Book, and Candle (1958) (again with Jimmy Stewart).  Definitely one of my favorite “I’ve-never-been-infatuated-by-Kim-Novak-movies.”                                 

With her blond-white hair and her classy-sassy shape, she was playing the Temptress Jeanne Eagles (1957) with hajeanne eagles kim novakndsome heartthrob Jeff Chandler.

How was I so smitten?  So many memoriesofatime. . .

Beyond the movies and the acting, though, the name “Kim” has no special hold on me (or does it?).  Nothing was ever magical in the name, a girl’s name, short for Kimberly; or the title of a Kipling novel (Kim); or a very popular Korean name–like “Lee.” 

“Mitzi,” however, has a different life, far beyond a school locker or a movie screen for me.  As that young movie lover, I first saw Francesca Marlene de Czanyi von Gerber–another Chicago girl (b. 1931)–in South Pacific (1958) on the big screen of a downtown theater.mitzi gaynor wholesome

She danced (had legs!).  She sang.  Posed risqué (a poster girl).  Was sweet, charming, mostly demure.  And, could act, too.  In my years of objectifying females (Y.O.O.F!), she was more than decorations inside my locker. 

I bought movie magazines, scissoring out her pictures, hormoning after her (35-22-35) every time I opened my locker during the school day.  mitzi gaynor legsBut no pictures of her hidden around at home, in drawers, under mattresses, in secret places throughout the house.

I carried her with me, however, made her part of my life, when I called out “What’s in a name?”  I named my first car, bought and paid for, cash deal–$75.00–a 1950 4-door Ford:  My “Mitzi.”  “Mitzi.”  (There would be other cars, but you never forget your first.)  So, what’s in a name?  Why name a car?  Personalization, friendship.  Why is a car female?  (Always?)  A “she”?  “She runs well.”  “She is a real go-er.”  “She gets good gas mileage.”

1950_Ford_Custom_Fordor-maroon-m

“Mitzi” and I had a good relationship for a while, from the first tank of gas in the spring of 1959 to the summer of 1960.  There were some problems with her, however, early on.  First, the gas gauge did not work well, was weak in calibration.  I ran out of gas in Golf, Illinois, coming home, with my sister and my mother in the back seat, after I had just bought her.  The good news was that I had an empty gasoline can and was near a gas station.  So I prepared to exit my stalled vehicle that was off the road.  The bad news is?  . . . a police car, pulling up behind.

The officer of the law approached my vehicle.  The usual “license and registration” while shining a light throughout the car.  My sister, in her best non-quiet voice (she was out of high school then), blurted out, “Does he think we stole something?”  Gulp (to utter the least)!  He asked about my license plates:  “Mine.  They came with the car.”  Wrong answer:  They were not registered to me, the owner.  So, “I’m giving you a citation for driving with fictitious license plates.”  Which he did.  Then he drove me to the gas station to fill up the can–and brought me back to my mother and sister, still laughing at the whole situation.  (I had to pay the fine; I mailed it.  And avoided all roads that led to Golf, Illinois, as much as possible, in later life.)

village of golf.jpg

Later that year, in the Illinois winter, I was driving Mitzi, along with two high school classmates.  Winter-early-evening dark, as we came home from a school activity.  Bam!  Bam!  The engine stopped, and we coasted along a two-lane highway north of Chicago.  (No car-phones back then.)

No luck starting the engine, that only knock-knocked-knocked.  Fortunately, a friend came by and got us a tow-truck to another friend’s house nearby.  So Mitzi sat most of the winter in a cold auto shop, being repaired

rod and pistonpiston and rod

for a “thrown rod.”  By spring, she was good-to-go, but was never the same.

It was rough, the repairs; she endured some serious trauma, and would never really recover.  I visited her as much as I could during that winter.  By summer, I knew her days with me were short.  She became over heated, under pressure, then simply shut down.  At times, I had to wait on a hot summer day for the Temperamental One to relax, start, and run smooth.

I sold Mitzi that following summer.  She was replaced.  I was so fickle, so non-comitted to her as she grew older.  I was looking for a more committed relationship.  When she left–or rather, when I left her, cast her off like some used, used-up, Hollywood starlet on a used car backlot–Mitzi was traded for a sleek 1954 Ford.

1954 ford

But never could this one replace or duplicate the first-time experiences I had with “My Mitzi.”

“Let’s see: First, she needs a new paint job, then a new 4-barrel carb, a new custom grill.  Then I want to install . . .”  “She’s a go-er with her V-8, and . . .”  “What shall I name her?”

© JAMES F O’NEIL  21 April 2019 (Happy Birthday, 1941!)

Kim_Novak_-_autographed

“Hey, Hon, can I put this picture over my desk?”

 

 

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

The word assassin is often believed to derive from the word Hashshashin, Arabic ħashshāshīyīn, also Hashishin, Hashashiyyin, or Assassins), sharing its etymological roots with hashish.  It referred to a group of Nizari Shia Muslims who worked against various political targets.  Founded by Hassan-i Sabbah, the Assassins were active in the fortress of Alamut in Persia from the 8th to the 14th centuries, and later expanded by capturing forts in Syria.  The group killed members of the Abbasid, Seljuq, Fatimid, and Christian Crusader elite for political and religious reasons.

Although it is commonly believed that Assassins were under the influence of hashish during their killings or during their indoctrination, there is debate as to whether these claims have merit, with many Eastern writers and an increasing number of Western academics coming to believe that drug taking was not the key feature behind the name.  The earliest known use of the verb “to assassinate” in printed English was by Matthew Sutcliffe in A Briefe Replie to a Certaine Odious and Slanderous Libel, Lately Published by a Seditious Jesuite, a pamphlet printed in 1600, five years before it was used in Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1605).  [Wikipedia]

      So I’m shaving, doing the usual routine: wash face, rinse, apply shaving cream or soap, begin the cutting/shaving process.  I shave the way I have always remembered to do it–my dad having taught me long ago the essentials, then with blue blades and razor (now with Mach3 Turbo).

razor blades

I begin with left side-burn, down to halfway my face.  Rinse razor.  Right side-burn, down halfway.  Then along left cheekbone to middle of chin.  Rinse.  Along right cheekbone, etc.  Rinse.  Cheeks.  Chin. 

Now my story begins as I stare into the mirror at my half-shaven face.  Raising my chin to see what I am doing, I place the razor back near my throat, above my Adam’s apple.  I drag the razor over my skin, through the foam, cutting down the one-day-or-more facial hair growth, my “beard.”  One stroke.  Another to my jawbone.  Then the razor glides smoothly over scar tissue, three to four inches long, midway from throat to under chin.  (“Did you try to kill yourself?!” echoes within my head.  On the inside of my left wrist I have a scar.  Diagonal across the wrist, with suture scars.  “When did you do that?”)

I continue with the stroke of my razor, through Barbasol shave cream, with scraping noises, and water running, rinsing.  Sometimes I linger longer with soap, a cup, and a brush–for variety.  My contemplation of the scar only happens sometimes.  I don’t know why.  But it makes me think of memoriesofatime.

Attempted Assassination #1:  Once upon a time, before I could tell stories, and long before I remember such early stories, my mother tells me that I fell down the basement stairs.  I was carrying Coca-Cola bottles.

coca cola bottles 1940s.jpg

The story is a bloody one, with gory details of a very young boy climbing up the stairs, presenting his mother a bloody wrist.  She thought that was the wound.  Until she saw the blood on my shirt.  “HYSTERICS!” she later told me.  A gaping wound.  I recall her telling “everything hanging down” and so many inches from the inside of my mouth and so many inches from my throat and windpipe.  It must have been frightful for my dear mother, and for my grandmother with whom we lived.  I’m lucky, and glad I don’t remember the details.  “But I’ve got the scars to prove it.”

During one of my many part-time jobs, I worked as an orderly in a hospital emergency room.  One winter a snowmobile accident victim was brought in.  He was well pickled and well preserved with alcohol.  But while sporting in the dark, he and a friend crashed into a barbed-wire fence.  This man had his throat flayed open, displaying his windpipe before me as I moved him from the ambulance gurney to the ER table.  THAT was frightful!  He felt no pain as he was being attended to . . .

Attempted Assassination #2:  South Side of Chicago.  Cold, no snow.  Saint Justin Martyr Elementary School (now closed; just history).  I’m in 4th grade in the 1950s.  Our school had a meeting hall, no cafeteria, but a hall for parties or family gatherings.  Also it was used for movies for us kids.  I was one of those kids lucky enough to see a very real film.  The films were infrequent, nearly never.  But this 4th grade time was different.  Three or four grades of us children could be seated into the hall built below the church above.  Not many more could fit.  So there we were, probably watching The Bells of Saint Mary’s in preparation for the holiday season.  (A movie a year was probably one too many for the Sisters of Mercy, our teachers.)

End of movie.  “All rise” (to the sound of that cricket-clicker) in silence.  “Pick up your chairs . . .” And we stacked our chairs.  The “Great Hall” was ready to be emptied.  “Lines, please.”  We lined up, and were led out of the room by grades, our smiling Sister Doloretta standing at the door as we left.  “Jimmy,” she said, “would you please go and turn off that light switch.”  She pointed in the direction of a light across the naked hall. 

I ran to the switch, flicked it suavely, and turned to . . . utter darkness.  I had turned off the last light in the basement.  I could see, however, away from me, the light coming through the open exit door and the dark shape of my nun-teacher.  Eager to get out of that place to be with my classmates, I ran to the light.  BAM!  “What the..?”  Millions of bright lights and stars in my head.  I was on my back.  “What?  OW!  That hurt!”  Tears, I held my left hand to my eye.  Oh, the throbbing pain.  I made my way to standing next to one of the ceiling support posts.  I crashed into that, head-on, left-eye to nose.

I wobbled to the light and the Dark Shadowed Sister of Mercy.  “Oh, my!  Look at that bump!  What happened?”  I mumbled an answer as she led me to the classroom.  (There was a touching moment I must share here.  Before we left, she pulled me to her, and held me tight against her hard, stiff-starched bib.  Surely I must have shed some tears on the white starched part of her habit.)  Those in the classroom were quiet when we arrived.  They looked at me, the spectacle.

So here was the First Aid, no kidding:______________.  No cold pack, no ice.  “Sit at your seat.  Put your head down.  Down on . . . a Scotch tape can!

scotch tape can

Believe it.  I applied pressure of my throbbing, welting, pounding injured eye socket onto a Scotch tape can.  I tried my most uncomfortably best to lay my head onto this metal can.  (Sister did come to wipe away my forehead and my tears.  My classmates were silent quiet.)

It was nearly noontime, lunchtime.  (The movie was planned that way, to be finished before lunch.)  I was being sent home.  My sister, Janice, was in 6th grade, waiting for me, to go home for lunch.  I had a note for my mother explaining the incident.  By now, my eye was swollen closed.  My sister and I walked home the six city blocks, hand in hand, as usual.  My mother seeing me?  “HYSTERICS!!”  “Were you trying to kill yourself?!”  “What happened?  Oh, my poor, poor . . .” The scar is in my left eyebrow.

Attempted Assassination #3:  Summer 1964.  At the end of my first year of teaching 9th grade English at St Viator High School (Arlington Heights, Ill.).  The first summer of being newly married (after October 1963) with baby on the way (to arrive in August).  The first summer to have a part-time job to supplement teacher salary: Jewel Tea Company. 

I answered an ad for warehouse workers.  I unloaded, from boxcars, packaged and canned foods onto pallets, the food then warehoused for later loading onto delivery trucks.  Five days a week inside a giant warehouse, I opened unlocked boxcars that had been moved into the building.  The opening for the car was level with the deck, the platform.boxcar unloading

Boxcar Unloading

It was tiring, dirty, hard work, no doubt about it.  The pay, nevertheless, was good.  I was young, able, 185 pounds, strong, able to lift sixty-pound bags of sugar.  (We, my partner and I, were able to empty a sugar car in an hour–a Jewel Tea record!) Sugar cars, ketchup, fruit cocktail, canned vegetables of all kinds, flour, and more and more.  Imagine grocery store shelves.

Every once in a while, the large door handle would not lift open the door.  The contents inside the car might have shifted, blocking or jamming the door.  Or just age and rust and dirt outside.  The handles, locks, and seals were lifted up with two hands, then swung out and away from the door–on some cars.  This acted as a lever, to slide open the door in its track.

boxcar detailed image Boxcar Door Mechanism

One morning, I had to jump down between and behind two cars to get to the car we were going to unload.  I found myself between the cars and the wall, slowly making my way to our work car.  “Hurry!  Time is money!”  (Yes, we could get incentive bonuses.)  I then quickly moved in the dark, the only light coming from under the cars from the platform.  It was as though I were walking in a tunnel with a very high roof.  BAM!  Stars.  All the stars.  I was knocked backwards, gradually losing my composure, and was down sitting on my butt.  Pain!  Intense pain in the middle of my forehead.  Burning.  “Are you down there?  What’s taking so long?”

A handle was down, pointing out and away from the car.  Someone had tried to get into the car at some point, but left the job unfinished and the handle for my head.  “I’m all right.  I’m hurt.  I’ll be there.”  Blood dripping off my nose, I could feel the wet on my face.  I stood up and crawled over the couplers of the boxcars.  My partner pulled me up onto the platform.

The supervisor was there and carted me to the nurse.  “Trying to kill yourself?!”  B-I-G bump.  Swelling.  Iced.  Bandaged.  Rested on a cot for a few hours “for observation.”  Then I was sent home with a note, some dressings, and some painkillers–and told to take the next day off.  (I drove myself home under the influence.)  My pregnant wife: “What happened?!”  “I hit my head.  I’m all right.”  I have a Y-shaped scar to prove it all, buried in my forehead, between my eyebrows.  (I almost lost my head.  Well, maybe not.)

ConclusionSome may think my brain is addled from the damage I could have incurred from these incidents.  I was never checked for concussions.  However, in between that first bloody fall down the stairs, until now, I have had my share of bumps and knocks, especially with cabinet doors and car doors, even once or twice falling out of bed landing on my head.  However, all nothing major.  I’ve had no outstanding incidents of head trauma that have made me slow . . . that I’m aware of.  Now that toboggan accident . . .

* * *

Black’s Law Dictionary:  Assassination is “the act of deliberately killing someone, especially a public figure, usually for hire or for political reasons” (Legal Research, Analysis and Writing by William H. Putman, p. 215).  [Attempted killing of oneself is not attempted assassination, of course.  The incidents described herein were not of my doing; they “happened”–or someone or something was attempting to assassinate me . . .]

©  James F O’Neil  2019

 

 

“The basic exercise is for us to list about a dozen meaningful events [from birth to our current circumstance] in the movement of our life up to the present point in time.  . . . it gives us a perspective of our life as a whole from the time of our birth to our situation at the time when we are listing our Steppingstones.  The listing of the Steppingstones of our life is the basic step in positioning ourselves between our past and our future.”  [“Steppingstones are the meaningful events that mark off the movement of a person’s life from that person’s own point of view . . . not objectively important . . . always personally important . . . perceived through the eyes and through the experience of the person who is living the life.”]  –Ira Progoff, Life-Study (Dialogue House, 1983)

* * *

Ira Progoff (1921-1998) was an American psychotherapist best known for his development of the Intensive Journal Method; his main interest was in depth psychology.  A humanist, who studied privately with Carl Jung in Switzerland, he founded Dialogue House in New York City to help promote this method.  In 1966, Progoff introduced the Intensive Journal method of personal development, the innovation for which he is most remembered.  The public use of the method increased, and the National Intensive Journal Program was formed in 1977.  It supplied materials and leaders to provide Intensive Journal workshops in the United States and other countries.  The Intensive Journal education program was expanded upon in 1983 with the publication of Life-Study.  [See Wikipedia and http://intensivejournal.org for more introduction to the Method.] 

“. . .  I was drawn further toward the conclusion that a private journal is the essential instrument for personal growth . . . I began in 1957 to use a journal as an adjunct to psychotherapy in my private practice.”

[My purpose is to have you use]  “techniques to help you become your own person and find a way of living that will validate itself to you both in terms of your inner sense of truth and the actualities of your outer experience.”

“The Steppingstones of our life are those events that come to our minds when we spontaneously reflect on the course that our life has taken from its beginning to the present moment.”

List no more than a dozen:  1.    2.    3.    4.    5.    6.    7.    8.    9.    10.    11.    12.     

“We go back into the past of our lives, not because of fascination with the past . . . not to lose ourselves in the field of memory . . . [but] in order to reconnect ourselves with the movement of our personal Time/Life, and so that we can move more adequately into our future.”

“The listing of our Steppingstones is the first step that we take in order to position ourselves in the full continuity of our lives.  Each set of Steppingstones that we draw together reflects the interior view of our life as it is perceived from the vantage point of a particular moment.  By being expressed spontaneously and concisely without self-conscious analysis, the Steppingstones list gives us a direct, inner perception of the movement of our life.”     

* * *

At a Journal Workshop: The Basic Text and Guide for Using the Intensive Journal Process (Dialogue House, 1975)

The Practice of Process Meditation: The Intensive Journal Way to Spiritual Experience (Dialogue House, 1980)

Life Study: Experiencing Creative Lives by the Intensive Journal Method (Dialogue House, 1983)

The Progoff Intensive Journal ® Program:  http://intensivejournal.org/index.php

Question_mark_(black_on_white)

 

By James F. O’Neil

“To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humour of a scholar. . .   Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.  Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be digested. . . .  Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. . . .”  –“Of Studies,” Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

+ + +

My first research paper, as I re-call, was finding out about Scotland.  This search had to be started in sixth or seventh grade.  I discovered lakes, cities, and climate–and probably something about wool, whiskey, and politics.  I had only the encyclopedia: that’s all we had back then.  I learned the basics from that first paper.  (I have often referred to that kind of paper as “The Switzerland Paper”: about banks, lakes, and chocolates.  And that is basic.)

swiss chololate

SOME SWISS CHOCOLATE

During high school, I am sure I wrote a few research papers (“term papers”); but I recollect one in particular for an education class: I wrote about Friedrich Froebel and the founding of the kindergarten.  I may have had eight or ten sources.  Yet what I do remember more than anything else–not the long hours writing nor the time-consuming typing on my portable 1955 (manual) Underwood typewriter nor the submitting the paper, but the thrill of being in a library, a great library, doing serious research.  I delighted being in the Chicago Public Library (downtown) and also at the Newberry Library, a special place for researchers then over age sixteen. 

newberry library chicago wikipedia

NEWBERRY LIBRARY, CHICAGO 

Throughout college, the papers came and went, and on into graduate school and post graduate work: papers, papers, papers: Shakespeare, sonnets, Jesus and school administration, Arthurian romances, the G.I. Bill, teachers and in-service activities, manic depression and school administrators, chaos and adultery, public service, the aorist tense in Greek, “Poe the Philosopher,” water symbolism in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man–and more, many more.

Some papers I hated as chores; most I loved as opportunities for knowledge and writing experience.  From this, despite the grade and the time spent, I learned time-use, planning, and library skills.  More than that, I learned organizational skills and meeting deadlines.  All this was not easy; learning sometimes hurts.  (And, I am sure, there were tears of frustration–but never a late paper.)

From this, I also developed a sense of researching–and my three questions: What do I already know?  What do I want to know?  And, What do I need to know?  Where those questions came from, I do not know.  But they have always worked for me.

Of course, I had to learn documentation skills: “the old Turabian” was all we had back then.  And I learned it–and even wrote a little research handbook for students.  Now MLA, APA, and OWL far exceed anything we had–but so has the amount of knowledge increased, with electronic access to this knowledge.  How lucky I am now to see this, to use this, to be a part of global knowledge and learning.  “I just love the Internet!”

But the smell of books, walking the stacks, sitting and reading and taking notes in England at the Cambridge University Library, or at the US Library of Congress, the libraries at the University of Minnesota, and in any small-town public library does more for me than sitting at the computer, drinking coffee, doing a Google Search.  “I love the smell of a musty book in the morning!”  Nothing like doing research . . . But I found that it takes heart, organizational skills, and a sense of the past: where I came from, where I have been, what I have done.  All this enters into my questions: What am I doing this for?  What do I want out of this?  To me, that is what doing research is all about.  “What’s it to me?”

Having done professional stained-glass work, I learned the most difficult aspect of craftsmanship was not cutting the glass, not the pattern making, not the assembly–no matter how large or small the project–but choosing the right glass, the right textures, the right colors. 

glass Ready for Foil

GLASS RESTORATION PROJECT: CUT AND READY FOR COPPER FOIL, THEN SOLDER

Choosing the right glass is likened to the most difficult aspect of doing a research project: choosing the right topic.  “Choice of topic: the hardest part of all,” I say. 

I have never chosen anything dumb or stupid; I have chosen (for the most part) wisely.  Not everything came back an A, of course.  Can’t have all A’s.  But can’t have all gold medals, can’t always win the Super Bowl, can’t always be #1, and can’t always be perfect.  However, I have learned I can do my best, and have that sense of accomplishment (relief?) when I submit the project.  AHHH!  Done.  And on to the next, for there is always a next–no matter how big or small, no matter in school or on the job: “Look this up for me, will ya’?”  “You have a paper due . . .”  “I need to find . . . Can you help?”  “As a member of this parent-teacher committee, . . . ”

“Hafta’ what?”  Know facts.  Document.  Have opinions.  Present feelings.  Solve problems.  Search.  Learn.  And make a presentation: to the family, a board, a committee, a boss, a reading club, a course instructor, a hearing officer, a judge–on and on and on.  There is no easy way.  And it all begins with the basics, with “My Switzerland Paper.” 

And these are my thoughts today on doing research.

©  JAMES F. O’NEIL  2019  

PS: All of the above is rated at the 6th grade reading level: my computer figured that out; but I used to know how to do it without the computer.  I researched it . . .    

PPS: I was once told that a “good” 1500-word paper takes about 40 hours–plus typing–from choosing the topic to the last bit of punctuation.  (Getting it right takes time.)

 

 

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