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EMOTIONS

BY: JAMES F O’NEIL

SURPRISE: An unexpected or astonishing event, fact, or thing; to occur to with a sudden feeling of wonder or astonishment, as through unexpectedness; to come upon or discover suddenly and unexpectedly; to cause someone to feel amazed at something unexpected; a feeling aroused by something unusual or unexpected; feeling unusually alarmed or delighted [from American Heritage College Dictionary].  “Unexpected” or “unusual” can be divided into SURPRISE: sudden wonder or disbelief, unanticipated; ASTONISH: overwhelming surprise; AMAZE: astonishment, often bewilderment; ASTOUND: shock, or unprecedented in one’s experience.  (Is it all clear now?  Were you surprised at your last surprise?  Is that sur-PRIZED, or sup-PRISED?  Hmm.]

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THESAURUS EXERCISE: Copy the following into your speckled notebook for next Friday’s spelling quiz.  SURPRISE!  (Just kidding.): astonishment awe wonder shock nonexpectation unforeseen  godsend  miscalculation  unexpectedness  abruptness jolt precipitance  marvel  amaze  astound  flabbergast  stun  startle  stand aghast  miraculous  catch unawares  taken aback  unbargained for confounded  wondrous  incredible  suddenly  magical  without notice  remarkable  breathless  mirabile visu (“wonderful to behold”).

* * *

“The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us.” –Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“And to my niece I leave . . .”

I heard those words at the reading of my Grandma Schuma’s will.  I was in 11th grade.  The niece was my mother.  The Grandmother was really my Grand Aunt.  My Uncle Joe was really my Grandfather.  My real Grandmother Anna had died long before.  Grandma and Grandpa raised my mother as their daughter.  I didn’t know this Family Secret  until I was a sophomore in high school.  SURPRISE!  The reading of the will and the word “niece” was a real “shocker.”  I never thought of my mother as a niece.  And my Uncle Joe?  He was never my Grandpa . . .  And as far as  I was concerned, my mom and Aunt Em were still “sisters”  and not cousins . . .  That’s another story.

“A Scout is never taken by surprise; he knows exactly what to do when anything unexpected happens.” –Robert Baden-Powell (founder of Boy Scouts)

“It’ll just take a moment.”

I always locked my bike when I went into the public library.  This time I was only returning books to the Ogden Park Public Library near our home on Chicago’s South Side.  I wheeled my bike into the bike rack–unlocked–and ran up the stairs.  In a flash I was inside, in a moment, putting my books through the Return slot, and was out the door.  SURPRISE!  No bike.  Gone, in a flash.  Wham!  In the chest!  Heart-stopping bam!  What to do? tears covering eyes of reason.  Went inside, blubbering.  Park policeman came.  I made some kind of report.  I walked home, seeing ever crack in every square of every sidewalk.

Over a year later, the bike was recovered.  I walked a long, slow walk to claim it at the park police station.  It had been stripped clean: I recognized the frame and the tires and seat.  I gave thanks, and rode home, teary-eyed, remembering too well, “It’ll take just a moment.”

“Do not always expect good to happen, but do not let evil take you by surprise.” –Czech Proverb

“In sickness and in health . . .”

“We want as many children as we good Catholics can have.”  “SURPRISE!  It’s a healthy boy.”  “Don’t plan to have more than two children: you are Rh+ and your husband is Rh-.”  SURPRISE.  “We want to have as many children as we good Catholics practicing birth control can have.”  Two . . .  “SURPRISE!  It’s a healthy boy.”  The end.  The beginning . . .

“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.”  –Henry Ford

“SURPRISE, Loser!”

I have a notebook filled with Loser Letters, those “Sorry, Charlie” or “We regret to inform you” or “Another candidate has accepted the position.”  I’m not sure why I keep them, for it’s been a very long time for Loser Letters.  I applied for my share of grants and scholarships and degree programs as others have done.  And I have received the “And the envelope, please.”  “Nope.  Not this time,” in so many–sometimes many–words.  I kept trying, up to a point in my career of forty-nine years.  And that was that.  “Wait!  Princeton University is advertising for . . .”

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise.  It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.”  –Ashley Montagu (1905-1999)

“Some good stuff . . .”

“SURPRISE!”  “It’s your 80th Birthday Party!”

“SURPRISE!”  “You got accepted!”

“SURPRISE!”  “They called and offered you the job!”

“SURPRISE!”  “It really was your appendix!”

“SURPRISE!”  “They approved your loan!”

“SURPRISE!”  “Oh my gosh!  That’s my new typewriter!”

“SURPRISE!”  “She said Yes!”

“SURPRISE!”  “The house is now yours!”

“SURPRISE!”  “You’re taking the Honor Students to Cambridge!”

“SURPRISE!”  “They want you to tell your story on WBEZ!”

* * *

© James F. O’Neil  2021

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“I HAD A NAP BUT NOW I DON’T KNOW WHO I AM OR WHAT YEAR IT IS.”—qtd.  from tumblr

* * *

I have noticed lately, especially now that I have walked slowly and arthritically past the 80-year milestone, that I am craving a nap more than I was ever aware of before.  In fact, I hear myself talking to myself, “I need a nap.”

Around 11 a.m., I hear myself repeating that “Need-a-Nap” mantra.

“At the end of the day, the mantra is meant to bring you back to simplicity.  We live in such a complex world that it’s easy to get lost in all the details.  Mantras can help you circle back to the simplistic approach to life and focus on those things that inspire you and truly make you happy.” —Chopra 2021.

Now talking aloud to oneself at 11 a.m. is usually all right, but pre- or post-Covid-19 it is not such a good idea.  It draws a lot of attention, and stares, from those not in need of a nap, mostly the young.  I find my wife, however, is my best audience, agreeing, as she holds her second or third cup of coffee of the day.

The day: When does it all begin that I require a nap?

A day, as we know it, begins at midnight or 12 a.m.  We sleep away already part of the day at night.  My “day” can begin when my ROKU is turned off, ending my viewing pleasure of some Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, or Apple TV+ program, usually about 1 a.m.  So, I am tired, and I go to bed, to sleep.  My dear wife is already fast asleep.  At her feet, the cat.

Our cat is a good sleeper.  Mostly.

Now our days begin when he wants them to: play time or hair-ball, or walking and purring on my wife, whom he adores; our days begin when we have medical appointments, when the garbage pickup days occur (soon after 8 a.m. on Tuesday and Friday.  “Don’t put out the garbage the night before.”  Rats, racoons, coyotes, possums…) Most days begin at 0700 or even 7:30 a.m.

This may come as a shock to those who think that retirement or growing old means sleeping in until nine or ten every day, as portrayed in some fantasy movie.  Not so!

“I Need a Nap!”  Even AARP and major health establishments shout out “Take naps!”

When I was growing up in Chicago, I had to take a bus and an L to my high school.

CTA

I don’t recall often sleeping on the trip to school.  I was mostly studying.  But in the afternoon (or evening after an after-school event), I would definitely “nap.”  But that was not a nap (even though occasionally I would sleep past my stop).  No,

“A nap is a short period of sleep, typically taken during daytime hours as an adjunct to the usual nocturnal sleep period.  Naps are most often taken as a response to drowsiness during waking hours.  A nap is a form of biphasic or polyphasic sleep, where the latter terms also include longer periods of sleep, in addition to one single period.”

I never attended kindergarten, never had a special time-out when I and my classmates lay down on soft cushioned material, covered myself with some kind of blanket or “woobie” and took a siesta-nap.  My two boys-to-men had the napping experience in pre-school and in kindergarten.  Those experiences prepared them for family camping outings or for other napping occasions “nestled in mosquito nets, nothing above but dark night sky and stars ever so clear.  No soft meditation music to help fall asleep, only the howling sounds of wild coyotes out in the desert, and the muffled thundering sounds of big-gun field artillery conducting their fire missions off in the distance.” —US Army Veteran

afghanistan cot for nap

Except for my own naps, those of the children I taught in the Head Start Program in Minnesota summers, in a time long ago, were most pleasant.  Sixteen little bumps resting after morning activities, playground, lunch, finger painting, and then the need for rest and time out before snack, before departure.  Quiet time for me and my aide to gather our breaths.  Ah, nap time.

In time, I dozed off–certainly during faculty meetings or at boring convention presentations (perhaps some conferences even required a return to my room for a “nap” after lunch. . .).  I might have “napped” before teaching some night class, or “napped” before attending an evening faculty function.  These and other like examples become noteworthy as respite, relief, or calm.

Now my nap, our naps–“Wanna take a nap?” –can occur soon after the morning weather with Julie Marquez, two pieces of Martin’s raisin bread toast, a Halo mandarin orange, one to three cups or coffee, one apple fritter or Boston cream donut, or any combination of these.  Perhaps Frosted Mini-wheats or Honey-Nut Cheerios?  And then the local and world news events.

10:30 a.m.

Garbage Picked Up (Tuesday and Friday)

11:00 a.m. Nap Time

(Too hot and muggy to take the cat for a walk.  Maybe tonight when it’s cooler?)

CAT ON LEASH

* * *

“Are you tired?  “I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a nap,” she said.

* * *

“I’m worn out watching all those National Geographic films.  I’ve emptied the oceans; I’ve dug around Egypt; I’ve climbed the Andes Mountains.  I need a nap.”

* * *

A nap.  A blessed and sacred event.  Well, not really, but something we do look forward to, do need, do miss if we don’t get one.  A special time.

The special time is any time, between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.!  That’s right: 7 p.m.  Sometimes a long doctors’ clinic afternoon requires a late nap, before supper and evening news.  Sometimes a condo board meeting that began at 10 a.m. and adjourned at noon: a cold refreshing McDonald’s shake before a nap is the perfect remedy to heal the stresses of board budgets and owners’ complaints.  Ah, an afternoon nap.

As you can see, there is no set Head Start Nap Time, like 1:30 p.m.  We are flexible nappers.  We can nap anytime–and anywhere.  The best place, though care must be taken lest the body think it’s bedtime, is on the bed, with quilt covering feet, temperature set at 74-76°.  Next is the living room, sure to have cat-company.  The TV room has a couch for reclining, with accompanying cedar chest for feet and sit-up short nap, or doze-y nap, with one eye on the TV. 

But I have the most Special Place, the two-position recliner.

MY FAVORITE RECLINER

I kick back, settle, relax, and doze.  And if I am lucky, I’ll have a purring feline with me for an hour or so, curled in comfort on my lap.  I cannot, however, nap too long in the chair.  My back tells me when it is time to get up and move around, so a two-hour nap is more than enough.  A good nap, with dreams (!); and with air conditioning, an excellent nap.

And so it goes.  Each day beginning so differently, with catwalk, breakfast, doctors’ appointments, humidity, garbage trucks, coffee stimulation (or not), or a variety of other obligations or choices for the day (early morning blood tests?  Did I mention those?).  And we think about where we might be able to have nap time set aside.  Yes, that is true.  It’s like family planning, dinner planning, or planning for the rest of the day. 

Or, often, the day will simply proceed, and we will say aloud,

“I NEED A NAP!”

© James F. O’Neil 2021  

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

HRH Elizabeth Queen of England will “turn” 95 years old on 21 April, this year–coming up soon.

April 21, 2021

Mr. James Francis O’Neil, BA, MA, will “turn” 80 years old–still fifteen years younger than the Queen.

BABY JIMMY

. . .

“A man is sane morally at 30, rich mentally at 40, wise spiritually at 50–or never.”–Sir William Osler (1849–1919) [Quoted in Forbes Magazine, June 1961]

. . .

Is any one birthday more important than another?  Is any one particular birthday more significant than another? 

Certain days of our lives, calendar days, occurring but annually, come to be celebrated (or not celebrated, or tried-to-be-forgotten): our BIRTH-DAY, anniversary of our birth.  For some, it is important not to forget, not to be forgotten, as in Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, Emily Webb’s twelfth birthday.  Was that birthday important or significant?  (Is there a significant difference?)

In a lifetime, certain calendar birth anniversary days (beginning with #1, the 1st, the First) are regarded more highly and celebrated–by others and by the “celebrant.”

21–I could not wait until I turned twenty-one, to have my first legal alcoholic–spirits drink.  Oh, I had drinks years before that special “21st,” but not legally in Illinois.  So, there I was, in the club car of the Illinois Central RR, April 1962, returning to classes after the Spring-Easter Break.

My Uncle Bill had taught me the best about cigars (“That’s what I do: I smoke cigars.  And I know things.”)  and was teaching me about single malts and sour mash.  He made good Manhattans.  “I’ll have a Manhattan,” I told the railroad waiter, nonchalantly.  (I was not about to venture “a Rob Roy, please.”)  “I need some proof of age,” he retorted.

Oh, I had that birthday gift, how important that April date was on my driver’s license (gotten on another important birthday in April, #16)) 1962 minus 1941 equals: BINGO: 21!)  What power!  What meaning!  What significance!   A date to be remembered–for life!

65–I skipped over a few years to here.  I don’t need to retell about “The Big 4-0” or “Half Century” (really?).  I did have a wonderful 60th Surprise Party that genuinely surprised me.  Family and friends, great foods, and a well-decorated cake, in the shape and design of an airport runway.  (I am an avid aircraft-lover.)  That birthday had special significance for me.  It was special.  (Hallmark says 60 is diamonds; I received none.)

So, the years 1–ONE–FIRST to 65 brought me surprise birth anniversaries, parties, gifts, and memoriesofatime, but not, of course, gifts in the Hallmark “official” list for anniversaries.  (Those are mostly for weddings, especially 5/wood; 10/tin/; 15/crystal/; 19/jade; and 25/silver/, 50/gold/, and 75/diamond.)

Then came the BIGGIE, the real BIGGIE: 65 . . . and important significant MEDICARE.  What can I say now?  Incredible!  I cannot believe I have partaken of that great social program . . . for fifteen (15) years!

Where has the time gone?  Who knows where the time has gone?

* * *

Her: “Thank you, Mr. O’Neil, Professor O’Neil, for your time–which is so important to you–and your willingness to talk about your 80th Birthday.  How do you feel as you approach that 80th April Day?”

Me: “Growing old isn’t easy.  But I do not regret growing older.  ‘It’s a privilege denied to many.’”

Her: “Have you learned anything special in the recent past, say five or ten years, which prepared you for this time?” 

Me: “Lifting.  I used to lift, unload box cars when I was twenty-two.  It is harder now to lift a 20-pound bag of mulch.  I am aware of not being able to go fast, but I have clocks in every room, I am so aware of time.  More time needed to plan for activities.  And, yes, being forgetful: Being in a room and wondering, ‘Why did I come into here?  Oh, yes.’”

Her: “What would you say is your greatest achievement in your eighty years?”

Me: “Sobriety: To accept the things I cannot change; to have the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.  Powerful stuff here.”

Her: “Aside from all your friends and family, is there someone special you would like to invite to your birthday party?”

Me: “The author and essayist Joseph Epstein whom I have admired for a long time, for his essays of wit, thought, wisdom, and history.”  (“If I am allowed another special guest, I would like Henry David Thoreau, too.  And if there is one more extra chair, I would like to hear the barbaric yawp of Walt Whitman.”)

Her: “At present, what is your greatest desire?”

Me: “My 81st birthday, at home, with my family, virus free.”

Her: “You were in education for nearly fifty years.  You taught writing and literature, and were a school administrator for seven years, too.  Do you have any special words of wisdom that you can share that have had an influence upon your career?”

Me: “‘To err is human; to forgive, divine’ is one of my favorites.  ‘The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose’ is one I learned early on, from Shakespeare.  And it still has meaning for me.  ‘They also serve who only stand and wait’ from Milton.  Profound.  ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ One more?  ‘Know thyself.’ Something I learned long ago in Greek class.”

Her: “I know you have done much reading in all those years, surely from Aristotle and Plato, to Proust, and Kurt Vonnegut.  But you must have some ‘favorite’ or special author or book that you return to for guidance or inspiration.”

Me: “I don’t have a special author whom I can often quote from, like lines or words from Shakespeare, or the poetry of Milton, or Emily Dickinson.  But if I were on that imaginary deserted island with only one book to read over and over, I would have to choose my black leather-bound Book of Common PrayerAll I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten would be a great choice–or Paradise Lost.  But I’ll keep the prayer book. 

Her: “Of the 80 years, what would you say was the ‘Best Year of Your Life’?”

Me: “My 80th, for sure, considering all my high school classmates who have passed on.  But that is a difficult question to answer.  Year of Courtship, marriage, having children, career, graduate school, travel to Europe; moving years: Chicago, to Minnesota to Florida.  There cannot be a ‘Best Year of My Life.’”

Her: “Well, then, is there a ‘worst’?”

Me: “This is not so difficult to answer, for it always comes up the same: 10th grade!  No matter whenever I think about it.  My surgeries: appendix and tonsils.  Nearly flunking geometry: A=B, B=C, ergo A=C. Theorems and proofs.  Pythagoras and c2 = a2 + b2.  How tough that was!  In addition to learning Latin in 9th grade, I began the study of Greek in 10th grade! α β γ δ ε ζ η κ π φ ω and more–I forget the exact order.”

Her: “Professor, you have allowed me a unique opportunity to hear about you and some of your history.  Thank you again.  Would you like to add anything else now?”

Me: “Thank you, and you’re welcome.  Yes, a few more words, if I might read from Walt Whitman Sands at Seventy, “After the Supper and Talk”: ‘“. . . after the day is done . . . Good-bye . . . O so loth to depart!  Garrulous to the very last.’”

Walt Whitman, circa 1887

© JAMES F O’NEIL  2021

BY: JAMES F O’NEIL

“To Jim–Thanks for making me gramaticaly correct! Love, A– 8-18-98”

During my writing career, I have done some book reviewing for Choice magazine (a librarian’s magazine); I have also done some editing, for individuals, for friends. These books have become part of my memoriesofatime.

I’ve never had published a real book, one that I signed for followers while I was sitting at a table at Barnes & Noble, or in an easy chair at a small bookshop: “To Mary, Kindest regards”; “For Bernard, who will enjoy my stories as your mother did”; “Audrey, May you laugh and cry as you read.” These words I never inscribed in a novel or book of short stories I wrote.

However, two teaching colleagues and I did author A Bridge to Writing That Works [1995], for ENC 1101, a basic college writing course.

A BRIDGE TO WRITING

Not a best seller–but used as the required text for a few semesters with a captive audience.  (Is it ever ethical for a teacher to use his or her own textbook for a course? I thought about this often. We never received any kind of royalties for our work.)

Enviously I have attended book signings–or have had books signed after readings or presentations: at least one poet and short story author, Raymond Carver; Stephen E. Ambrose, American historian of World War II; Richard A. Clarke, (former) American government official. [I’m a real name dropper here…] James Dickey, American poet and United States Poet Laureate (author of Deliverance).

James_Dickey_(cropped)

James Dickey: Probably one of the most memorable occasions of signings I can relate. I had attended an annual association writing conference, in Pensacola, years back. He was the dinner guest: speaker and reader, in a nice hotel setting. Cocktails before and after dinner. And the readings, “Kudzu,” for one, and talk of his poetry, and the Why of Poetry.

Dickey was always one of my favorite poets, with “Falling” –“A 29-year-old stewardess fell … to her death tonight . . .” a poem of great impression upon me. So, I sat, mesmerized, listening to him, waiting for him to finish, waiting for him to sign his novel Alnilam [1987] which I clutched tightly under the dinner table.

Then I heard him slur a few lines of poetry, then stagger away a bit from the podium. Ooops! Was he drunk? He thanked us, stopping abruptly, and moved to one of the small hotel rooms for book signings. I waited my turn in line. There he kingly sat, writing messages in books, sipping whiskey, comfortable in a lounge chair. Certainly inebriated, over the legal limit, DUI. I did not care. “To Jim, . . .words, words, words . . .” It’s gone. One of the many hundreds I donated to the library when I retired . . .

The next morning I met him in the small Pensacola Airport. We sat and chatted, small talk about teaching, and the Blue Angels (pictures on the walls), and other non-poetry topics. I do remember clearly his asking me whether I wrestled in school; he said he thought so from my physique and stature. [I did wrestle in high school.] He was quite sober when he left for his plane.

[In 1942 he enrolled at Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina and played on the football team as a tailback. After one semester, he left school to enlist in the Army Air Corps. Dickey served with the U.S. Army Air Forces as a radar operator in a night fighter squadron during the Second World War, and in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. Between the wars, he attended Vanderbilt University, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in English and philosophy (as well as minoring in astronomy) in 1949. He also received an M.A. in English from Vanderbilt in 1950. –Wikipedia]

Some of my friends have gone on to write, and my name might be mentioned in the acknowledgements. To me, it’s like a signing. I get a book with my name printed. Having helped these friends with their editing, I’ve even received an honorable mention (and pray there are no errors). I received a “Gentleman’s C” in Principles of Economics in college. Ironically, I edited an economics text; and edited a Western novel, and some first novels of action and adventure. That was then.

Now I have been working with an author “Margareth Stewart” [Monica Mastrantonio], publishing her eBook Open: Pierre’s Journey after War–a picaresque novel of one who looks for revenge upon those who killed his family in France during WWII. Her book has taken me on an emotional journey through her character’s eyes.

How much money have I made from my editorial adventures? $elf-Actualization, and a few dollars. And perhaps a copy of the edited book. Most likely that. Pro bono. I do understand the meaning of that phrase. A psychologist paid me a hundred dollars for my work on her book; I received $25 a month for editing a magazine article, for two years. Choice magazine sent a book to be reviewed, with directions, parameters–and deadlines.

Often, I had a deadline to meet a publishing date. Sometimes I was able to meet with an author, to make changes; most times I was on my own, receiving a manuscript text by mail or courier, to edit/revise then return by mail. This was detachment, impersonal.

One memorable time, however, April, a student of mine in a sophomore writing class, came to me after the course was completed, asking whether I would be interested in looking over a manuscript she had. “Of course.”

With all the writing/revisions and editing that I have done, AHOOTERS AND APRILpril Pederson’s Hooters story [1998] has been the most difficult yet most fun. The manuscript needed much editing, but the pictures of the girls needed no edition. April would take care of that. The format of the book was an ultra-unique project for me–cartoonish, manuscript fonts spread throughout, typed text, photographs, index, graphs, charts, menus. And all about Hooters girls and the working the girls do. Often, I found myself chuckling or laughing aloud. A notable task, a messy job, but somebody had to do it.

So, I made it GRAMATICALLY correct . . .

Once I read, “Self-deprecation is the sign of a massive ego structure.” Well, I’m no expert grammarian or copy editor. But I still do wince when I see errors–basic errors (principal/principle)–in a formally published text/book. I ask, “How did that get missed?” Then I continue to read on, mumbling something like “Well, you can’t catch them all.” That’s only human. But, some human got paid to catch that, after some machine proofed it. And so it goes. I have tried, with my favorite grammar books surrounding me–and with my Strunk & White handy–to be that good human who tries to catch them all, that Holden Caulfield Catcher in the Rye editor. I’ve been pretty successful, I must massively-ego say for myself.

catcher in the rye 2014

© JAMES F O’NEIL 2019

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