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WRITING/BLOGGING

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).

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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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BY JAMES F O’NEIL

“To be educated is to know how much one wishes to know and to have the courage not to be tempted beyond that limit.  [ . . . culture] teaches that there is much one does not want to know.”  –Michael Oakeshott (1901–1990) in The Ideal of Culture by Joseph Epstein (Axios 2018)

English philosopher and political theorist, Michael Oakeshott wrote about philosophy of history, philosophy of religion, and aesthetics; philosophy of education and philosophy of law.  He was Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics, and was a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.  He was the author of many works, including Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, On History and Other Essays, and The Voice of Liberal Learning.

Some of my high school classmates and I in the past year had an opportunity to comment upon what we thought of our education, curriculum, and teachers.  The results were overwhelmingly positive towards our liberal arts education and the courses we were enrolled in.  My transcript reads like a medieval or Renaissance Trivium or Quadrivium Liberal Arts Program: grammar, logic, rhetoric; and arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy (well, not much astronomy).

Now when I look back, our Liberal Arts curriculum was, to some extent, “lofty,” compared with that of students in other schools (like Lane Tech in Chicago)–those studying “practical arts”–or studying architecture.  (Some might have been attending private schools for pre-med, heavy on science and medicine.)

After four years, then, I graduated with a transcript heavily loaded with Latin, Greek, writing, reading, some science, history, music.  Some faculty believed that our course of study would have as an end purpose to “create” “cultured gentlemen.”  Some of my classmates, remembering these days and years, 1955-1959, more than fifty years ago, agree with their feeling of being “cultured.”

“To be cultured ideal of cultureimplies a certain roundedness of knowledge and interests . . . [yet] no one is fully rounded . . . fully cultured . . . and . . . culture, itself, remains an ideal . . . still worth pursuing. A cultured person has a standard, a recollection, through literature and history and philosophy . . . of greatness.  The cultured . . . insofar as possible, restrict themselves to knowing what is genuinely worth knowing.”  — Joseph Epstein, The Ideal of Culture

 

 

And what, at the end of four years of high school, did I have?  What did I receive, what could I do?  For one, I was self-taught in many areas: I did not know how to type (I still have not yet mastered a keyboard!), and had to teach myself.  I never learned in a classroom how to fix my lawnmower, but did install a carburetor on my ’54 Ford, and a water pump and generator on my ’57 Olds “Love Buggy.”  I had Chilton’s to help me there; reading was essential, and following directions required.

chilton's 1954-1963

CHILTON’S AUTO REPAIR MANUAL

I never played football (no football team), was a horrible basketball player (I did dribble and drool, however, from time to time); a little swimming, running, and gymnastics from gym class.  Some wrestling (heavyweight).

Nevertheless, I was able to read and speak some German; translate Cicero and Horace and some other Latin literature; and read Plato, Homer, St. Paul, and other Christian writers in Greek.  (So much of that now is “Lost in translation”: I cannot do it.)  I belonged to a Book Club, and read from a list of Summer Reading each year (complete with Book Reports submitted).  (Is there a magic list of books out there that guarantees “cultural literacy”?)  And read [“red”] and read [“red”] and wrote.

I remember so admiring some of my teachers, my favorites, as “cultured gentlemen.”  How did they know so much?  Be so smart?  Teach music, then Greek?  Play the piano, and read and teach and speak Latin?  Such talents.  Teach us writing skills in one class, German conversation in another.  Religion and Spirituality (Catholic school) in one class, then English composition in another.  Some were my models, my heroes, and one or two my “saints” who let goodness and worth and value shine through.  And then it was over. Graduation.

“Off we go!”  No military service.  Into college I went: liberal arts: English major, philosophy and education minors: 143 credit hours.  More “liberal education” (I’m known in the Alumni Directory as “James F. O’Neil BA, LAS ’64”: Liberal Arts and Sciences.)  Then after a few part-time jobs while I was “finding myself,” a full-time teaching job in a boys’ high school, English, of course.  Then a few years later (after my MA ’66), teaching English as a career in college settings: Am Lit I, Comp 101 (never the Romantics; no one wanted Milton and the Eighteenth Century: “I’ll do it.”). Maybe after a few years, nearing tenure, a course in Contemporary Novel.  After a while, I moved on . . .

After years in a community college position, getting quite adept at teaching technical writing to nursing students, police officers, business majors, and others in Associate in Science programs, I got a call to “come up to the majors.”

“Do you have what it takes?” asked one.  “It will require much preparation,” another cautioned.  “You seem to be qualified from your credentials and your experience,” the Dean remarked.  “We could use you this next term while Professor XYZ takes a leave.  Are you interested?”  “I say ‘Yes.’  I’m in.”  Thus began my new life as a teacher of humanities, for some years, for a while at least–until I retired.

* * *

Our textbook, for years: CULTURE AND VALUES: A SURVEY OF THE HUMANITIES, Ninth Edition: This text takes you on a tour of some of the world’s most interesting and significant examples of art, music, philosophy, and literature, from the beginnings of civilization to today.  Chapter previews, timelines, glossaries of key terms, Compare + Contrast, new Connections and Culture & Society features, and “Big Picture” reviews all help make it easy for you to learn the material and study more effectively.  Links to full readings and playlists of the music selections discussed in your text are available online in MindTap, where you will also find study resources and such tools as image flashcards, guides to research and writing, practice quizzes and exercises, and more.

Was I ready?  Could I do it?  I could not read music.  I was in the high school choir, in the church choir; but I always memorized the notes.  (I could sing, though–a lovely 1st tenor.)  I loved music and song!  I knew my composers, and classical pieces.  I learned rhythm, melody, and harmony.  What else?

I knew the difference between LISTEN to this and HEAR this!  I had had a record player from once-upon-a-time, had the first CD player in town (Yamaha $539), always had FM music playing.  I wrote a paper about West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet!  In high school I attended operas, and concerts, and had begun a record collection.  I really am/was a movie lover.  A reel lover!  And I had a few subscriptions to movie magazines at one time.  (My favorite actress?  Kim Novak, of course, when I was VERY young.  And, yes, Casablanca is a favorite–as is The Hours.  Did I fail to mention Meryl Streep?)

How much more did I have to know to be able to lead a class of students through a college semester, HUM 2230 17th Century to the Present?  I would have to do much reading; but the syllabus was already prepared, the textbooks were chosen,  I would simply have to gather up my wits about me (years of standing before classrooms of students and writing lesson plans), and prepare my Pearls of Wisdom.

Using the text, with my “culture” and “learning,” I created a course that would follow major themes of architecture, art, music, film, literature, philosophy, history, and religion‑‑primarily those from Western traditions.  I was even able to end the course with James Hilton’s Lost Horizon and with Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.  The course was supposed to enhance a student’s interest in examining some of the most compelling questions (and facts) about living the life of culture–physically, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally–by reading, viewing, listening, and–most importantly–by thinking.

And so it went, one semester, then another.  I got better and better at it.  More confident, that is, in my qualifications to teach humanities.

This Backward Glance over it all, My Memoriesofatime as a Humanities Teacher, was occasioned by that recent high school survey, causing me to bring it bring it all together here: All those courses enumerated on my transcript.  The college teaching listed on my résumé.  (A major bonus occurred in 2000, when the president of the college asked me to begin an honors program that would incorporate classes at Cambridge University.  While there in England during summers, tutoring students, I was able to attend seminars in music, art, literature, and history.  I was overwhelmed and honored.)

My first thought was to title this story “The Pitfalls and Dangers of a Classical Education.”  My story would have begun about the little boy from the South Side of Chicago, growing into a student of Latin, Greek, and German, and the classics.  The young reader of How to Read a Book would become a lover of literature, even an attendee at the Chicago Opera House.  Then he would evolve into a classroom teacher, with Palmer-Method penmanship, and SQ3R study skills.  Perhaps a too ho-hum story, about a little learning being a dangerous thing?

Then I thought, maybe my story would be “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent.”  This story would be told, not by an idiot, but by a seventy-eight-year-old man, no tale of sound and fury, but the story of a great-grandson of one of the Chicago Haymarket Rioters, a Bohemian kid from Chicago, a hard-working paperboy, Boy Scout, Baltimore-catechist, literature-lover, grammarian, teacher-husband-father, graduate student.  This story includes anecdotes about hospital orderly work and, yet, at the same time, his reading Chardin, Joyce, and Milton.  In this story, he formulates “My Three Favorites of All”: Othello, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and The Power and the Glory.  Then age sets in.

No, age has not set in.  Not in this story, for I do not yet “wear my trousers rolled.”  (I do wear shorts a lot.)  In fact, I consider myself a rather distinguished fellow: still concerned about teaching the classics in the classroom; still reading history essays and studying film; writing book reviews–and my own bloggy-“memoirs.”  (At the same time, the technology of media and YouTube have helped me and my hands install faucets and a garbage disposal.)youtube image

THE FAMILIAR “GO!” OF YOUTUBE

I dabble a bit, yet, in philosophy, less in theology. Even less in modern contemporary novelists (whose books might be purchased but sit on a shelf unopened, or are archived in my Kindle.)  I am, perhaps, even a bit “still crazy after all these years.”

“All these years” is my strength, the 45-plus years in education with my Renaissance-type education and training, my skills and techniques as classroom teacher, seminar instructor, and my being an educated man.  This story is mine.

At the end of the film Saving Private Ryan, one of my all-time “favorite” war films, the veteran of D-Day walks among the crosses and graves at Normandy. saving private ryan poster

He, Private Ryan, comes to that white cross of his squad leader Cpt. John Miller, killed many, many years before, June 13, 1944.  Private Ryan, in emotion, says, “I hope . . . I earned what all of you have done for me.”  Ryan has led a good life; he is told he is a good man.

 

What more could I ask for?  My life experience is nothing at all comparable to what those soldiers endured.  Yet I can be empathic during these last moments of the film.  I can say of my teachers, with honesty, that I hope I’ve earned what they have done for me.  I, too, hope I have instilled “culture” into others as it was instilled, I believe, into me.  And that likewise, I do hope my many students can . . . well, . . . you know . . .

©  James F. O’Neil 2019

 

 

“To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone.”  –Reba McEntire

“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.” –Bertrand Russell

“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.”  –Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832)

“Every movie has three things you have to do – you have to have a compelling story that keeps people on the edge of their seats; you have to populate that story with memorable and appealing characters; and you have to put that story and those characters in a believable world.  Those three things are so vitally important.”  –John Lasseter

[Find more “threesie” quotations to read at https://www.brainyquote.com]

When did we first learn to compare, one thing with another, to another?  When, then, did we find not an “either…or,” but a third possibility?  When did we begin  “Hot” “Wet” “Sweet”?

We are inextricably bound together by “Threeism.”

https://memoriesofatime.blog/2014/10/21/earth-wind-and-fire-what-about-threesies

. . .

Good, better, best…THE BIG THREE: Harvard, Princeton, Yale…sex, drugs, rock-n-roll…food, shelter, clothing…beginning, middle, end…B,L,T (bacon, lettuce, tomato)…taste, chew, digest…ill, worse, worst…loaf of bread, jug of wine, and thou…bad, worse, worst…A B C’s…animal, mineral, vegetable…bad, worser, worstest…C² = A² + B² …dome, arch, spire…poetry, fiction, drama…fact, value, policy…foreplay, play, after play…to, two, too…earth, wind, fire…positive, comparative, superlative…The Lion, The Witch, The Wardrobe…veni, vidi, vici…purpose, worth, technique…fears, concerns, beliefs…peak, pique, peek…trifecta, triune, trilogy…Father, Son, Holy Spirit/Ghost…peanut butter, mayonnaise, banana (sandwich)…legislative, executive, judicial…there, their, they’re…morning, noon, night…enjoyment, enrichment, insight…eminent, immanent, imminent…Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Night.

Finally, when approaching a piece of literature or work of art, or when seeing a movie, don’t forget The Three Levels of Meaning/Understanding: What’s there for sure; what I bring to it; what it means to me.

 

 interrobang

 

 

 

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“A good book is one that, for its time, is wise, sane, and magical, one that clarifies life and tends to improve it.”  –John Gardner, On Moral Fiction (1978)img0000071A

After some forty years in the classroom, teaching about writing and literature, telling THEM about so many greats…  On and on I would go, lecture after great lecture.  Book list and book list.  Reading assignment and reading assignment.  And, of course, test after test–to say nothing of those research papers and thesis projects.  I was the Giver, with all the pearls in the basket to hand out, like so many of my good handouts.  (I wonder how many of those made it home?)

They all supposed or assumed I liked everything we ever read for class.  Often times I was teaching what I was told to teach from the curriculum, not what was my choice, what I “liked.”  (Forbidden to teach The Catcher in the Rye?  Yes.  And I Am the Cheese?  That, too.)  Yet I did have opinions.

Nevertheless, I was doing my job–which included NOT speaking personals in the classroom.  Then as I became older, the classrooms became a bit friendlier (or did I?).  I became more pensive about my own education, recalling my being a student in high school and in college.  I did less professing, more suggesting.  Hah!  It took me only twenty years to “get it.”  These were (some of) the best of times (I admit, I still did get a lousy evaluation occasionally that set me aback).

young professorPicture of Young Professor 1983

So I began to write about reading.  And studying.  I even began to write a blog, this blog, about the importance of reading–

How We Come to Love Books

https://memoriesofatime.blog/2016/08/26/how-important-is-reading/

“Adults like to talk about their reading…to force the mind to recollect forgotten but important memories of how one became a reader.”  –G. Robert Carlsen and Anne Sherrill, Voices of Readers: How We Come to Love Books, 1988.

I had written how I became a follower/reader/addict of the writings of Joseph Joseph EpsteinEpstein whom I began reading so many years ago (more than 35!) who “taught” me about those “boring” books of the “masters” that are better left unread–  “Why I Read”….

http://memoriesofatime.com/2013/05/27/why-i-read/%5D

I questioned my education and whether I was an educated person, recalling my formative years and those who tried to influence my reading habits.  Was I an educated person?  Did my reading Ben-Hur do anything for me?  (That was a book given to me by my eighth grade teacher.)  I read the Bible once completely, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Cervantes, terrible romances, existentialists, Shakespeare.

I was reading what others thought was good for me.  What were my first books?  Spot and Jane.  I began a love life with books and reading: comic books, library books, and Sunday funnies.  My favorite comics (now expensive collectibles) were about war.  I was nine when the Korean War started.  My reading of everything about it (even on bubble gum cards) led to a life-long affair with war history.  By the time I began to baby-sit for the neighbor (whose husband was a former Flying Tiger pilot), I was a sixth grader reading The Junior Classics:junior classics etsy

My mom had bought them all beautifully bound, and had them placed, displayed, in the red-leatherette credenza we had forever.  (She must have paid a fortune for them.)  After I had the babies fed, bathed, and bedded, I went into the living room and read my classic stories: about Camelot, giants, heroes, myths.

Throughout high school, I read from those required lists–but took a charmingly delightful side-trip, with James Joyce, Graham Greene, Mortimer Adler, and others when I joined the Book Club.  Afterwards, the mainstream reading, through college and graduate school, was really more, and more intense, for this “English Major”: Shakespeare and Milton; Whitman and Dickinson; Thoreau and Emerson.  And?  I became a teacher.  One of those teachers…   Some Great Teachers: Growing Up with Reading https://memoriesofatime.blog/2015/12/23/some-great-teachers-growing-up-with-reading/

“You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.”  –Dr. Seuss

Yes: On my own I worked myself into Darwin, Chardin, and Eliade.  I have learned.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn–I return to it, and should more often.  It’s about me, not about some other kid.  And the famous epiphanous beach scene by James Joyce, which moved me for all time, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  I read (present).  I read (past).  I have read (present perfect).  I am reading…  I have surrounded myself with books for most of my life.  books surround me 2020And have much around me to read, if I am so moved.  Like Sisyphus, I am happy. 

Until quite recently, rather sedentary.  Now I have to answer some questions.  No slipping away, equivocating, hesitating– “Oh, there is time for the answers, Professor, but I think it would be best if you could write down your answers and get them to me whenever you get some free time.”  I was the reader now, not the teacher, not the blogger, not The Great Professor (but, perhaps, the “confessor” confessing?).  Someone “from out there” asked WHO?  WHAT?  WHY?

WHO is your favorite author and what might be a favorite quotation by that author?  Shakespeare may not be my “favorite” author, but my favorite play is his Othello.  It is the best Shakespeare did–for human weakness, love, lust, tragedy, marriage, evil, friendship, jealousy, treachery–all condensed.  It’s about a soldier who is not promoted, who plots to make his commanding officer jealous.  The quotations from Shakespeare abound.  From this play, one stands out that has surpassed “Chaos has come again!”  jealousy 719907557-OthelloIt’s my favorite: The soldier says, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; // It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock // The meat it feeds on…”  Beware the green-eyed monster jealousy!  To me, this is right up there with “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!”

 

 –WHAT is your favorite book and the main theme of that book? PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man I first read in high school then much later in graduate school.  The character Stephen Dedalus, a young man, by James Joyce, had to leave family, church, and country to grow into manhood–to question the taught values–then to accept or reject them, but not to take them without question.  I believe I am Dedalus, the Questioner.       

Do you have a favorite quotation?  What does that quotation mean to you and WHY is it your favorite?    John Milton, “On His Blindness” (1655).  “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  WHEN I consider how my light is spent… “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?” I ask.  God doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts.  Who best bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.  john miltonThousands at his bidding speed and post o’er land and ocean without rest. They also serve who only stand and wait.”  Milton lamented his blindness, and felt that he was not serving God the way he could be were he able to see.  But those are doing their duty, awaiting their assignments, even simply by being around.  I’ve felt that I have not always been able to be a do-er in many aspects of my life, but have been a follower, waiting to be invited or waiting to be told what to told.  In other words, waiting is also a noble office.

So, The Grand Inquisitor Classroom Professor has been inquisited.  No blood has been let.  All proceeded painlessly.  However, the process took time–and much thought, which I gave.  Sometimes easy to say “Best 10” or “Top 5”; but more difficult to announce, “And the Award goes to…”  Therefore, Dear Reader, Please answer the following…

WHO?  WHAT?  WHY?

©  James F. O’Neil 2017

readers and parents

“After all these years, I may have found my own best reader, and he turns out to be me.”  –Joseph Epstein

 

On September 24, 2015, Pope Francis became the first pope to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress.  Dorothy Day was one of four Americans mentioned by the Pope in his speech to the joint session that included Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thomas Merton.  He said of Day: “Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.”

Dorothy Day (November 8, 1897–November 29, 1980) was an American journalist, social activist, and Catholic convert.  She initially lived a bohemian lifestyle before gaining fame as a social activist after her conversion, and later became a key figure in the Catholic Worker Movement, earning a national reputation as a political radical.  Some might perhaps deem her the most famous radical in American Catholic Church history.

In the 1930s, she worked closely with fellow activist Peter Maurin to establish the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement that combined direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent direct action on their behalf.  She did practice civil disobedience, which led at times to arrests, in 1955, 1957, and even in 1973 at the age of seventy-five.

As part of the Catholic Worker Movement, Day co-founded the Catholic Worker newspaper in 1933, and served as its editor from 1933 until her death in 1980. 

Day supported herself as a journalist, writing a gardening column for the local paper, the Staten Island Advance and features articles and book reviews for several Catholic publications, like Commonweal.

She wrote in her autobiography: “I could write, I could protest, to arouse the conscience, but where was the Catholic leadership in the gathering of bands of men and women together, for the actual works of mercy that the comrades had always made part of their technique in reaching the workers?”

The Catholic Worker Movement

In 1932, Day met Peter Maurin, the man she always credited as the founder of the movement with which she is identified.  Despite his lack of formal education, Maurin was a man of deep intellect and decidedly strong views, with a vision of social justice and its connection with the poor, partly inspired by St. Francis of Assisi. He provided Day with the grounding in Catholic theology of the need for social action they both felt.

The first issue of The Catholic Worker appeared on May 1, 1933, priced at one cent, and published continuously since then.  It was aimed at those suffering the most in the depths of the Great Depression, “those who think there is no hope for the future,” and announced to them that “the Catholic Church has a social program…there are men of God who are working not only for their spiritual but for their material welfare.”

It was an unapologetic example of advocacy journalism.  It provided coverage of strikes, explored working conditions, especially of women and blacks, and explicated papal teaching on social issues.  Its viewpoint was partisan and stories were designed to move its readers to take action locally, for example, by patronizing laundries recommended by the Laundry Workers’ Union.  Its advocacy of federal child labor laws put it at odds with the American Church hierarchy from its first issue.  (Ironically, the paper’s principal competitor both in distribution and ideology was the Communist Daily Worker.)

In 1972, the Jesuit magazine America marked her 75th birthday by devoting an entire issue to Day and the Catholic Worker movement.  The editors wrote: “By now, if one had to choose a single individual to symbolize the best in the aspiration and action of the American Catholic community during the last forty years, that one person would certainly be Dorothy Day.”

Day suffered a heart attack and died on November 29, 1980, and is buried in the Cemetery of the Resurrection on Staten Island just a few blocks from the beachside cottage where she first became interested in Catholicism. Her many papers are housed at Marquette University along with many records of the Catholic Worker movement.

Much of her life in activism was fraught with controversy, Church versus anarchists, pacifism versus anarchism, respect for Castro and Ho Chi Minh, anti-Church and Franco.  Yet despite all her works and writings, she and her life cannot be easily dismissed or hidden away.  Her movement is a significant part of the cloth of American culture, of the spectrum of the American worker’s history, and is noted as part of her role in establishing non-violence as a Catholic principle: “the nonviolent witness of such figures as Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King has had profound impact upon the life of the Church in the United States” as written in a May 1983 pastoral letter issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The Challenge of Peace.”

In 1983, the Claretian Missionaries put forth publicly a proposal for her canonization.  At the request of Cardinal John J. O’Connor, head of the diocese in which she lived, in March 2000, Pope John Paul II granted the Archdiocese of New York permission to open her cause, allowing her to be called a “Servant of God” in the eyes of the Catholic Church.  As canon law requires, the Archdiocese of New York submitted this cause for the endorsement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which it received in November 2012.  However, some members of the Catholic Worker Movement objected to the canonization process as a contradiction of Day’s own values and concerns.  Nevertheless, Pope Benedict XVI, on February 13, 2013, in the closing days of his papacy, cited Day as an example of conversion.  He quoted from her writings and said: “The journey towards faith in such a secularized environment was particularly difficult, but Grace acts nonetheless.”

Dorothy_Day_1916

 Dorothy Day

 

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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“A fingerprint in its narrow sense is an impression left by the friction ridges of a human finger.  Fingerprints are easily deposited on suitable surfaces (such as glass or metal or polished stone) by the natural secretions of sweat from the eccrine glands that are present in epidermal ridges.  In a wider use of the term, fingerprints are the traces of an impression from the friction ridges of any part of a human hand. 

“Deliberate impressions of fingerprints may be formed by ink or other substances transferred from the peaks of friction ridges on the skin to a relatively smooth surface such as a fingerprint card.  Fingerprint records normally contain impressions from the pad on the last joint of fingers and thumbs, although fingerprint cards also typically record portions of lower joint areas of the fingers.

“Human fingerprints are detailed, nearly unique, difficult to alter, and durable over the life of an individual, making them suitable as long-term markers of human identity.  They may be employed by police or other authorities to identify individuals who wish to conceal their identity, or to identify people who are incapacitated or deceased, as in the aftermath of a natural disaster.”  [See Wikipedia for more material’]

Where is Thumbkin?  Where is Thumbkin?
(Hide hands behind back)
Here I am! Here I am!
(Show L thumb, then R thumb)
How are you today, sir?
(Wiggle L thumb)
Very well, I thank you.
(Wiggle R thumb)
Run away, run away.
(Hide LH behind back, then RH)

[This is a song often sung in Head Start classes I taught, bringing memoriesofatime.]

jim's thumbThis is my Thumbkin [my thumb].

 fingerprint identification chartThis is a fingerprint identification chart.

History of MY LEFT THUMBKIN: SMASHED in a church door when I was a youngster in Chicago (with little memories of that pain).  SMASHED in a friend’s car door while I was in college:  “Good night.  Thanks for the ride home.”  SLAM!  Car begins to pull away.  “WAIT!” as I scream in pain, pounding on the passenger’s side window, Thumbkin still in the door.  In the Emergency Room, I looked at the thumb twice the size as normal, bruised and blue and internally bleeding.  But flattened.  And the throbbing.  Throbbing.  Throbbing.  “Scalpel.”  Holes drilled into the nail.  Pain and blood. 

Later: August 1964: Rochester, Minnesota, Airport parking lot.  Slipped, fell, and slid along asphalt, Thumbkin extended.  ER: cleansing of bits and pieces of Minnesota, stitches, and awful drilling into the bruised and battered nail, throbbing.  And throbbing.  And throbbing.  Young ER resident took an alcohol lamp, bent a paperclip, grabbed it with a forceps.  Taking the red-hot paperclip, he pssit pssit pssit pssit pssit five holes into the nail, blood squirting and oozing.  NO PAIN!  “Just a trick I learned in med school.”

My fingerprints are on file.  Or not…

I was first fingerprinted in the spring of 1963, for a government position: The U. S. Post Office [USPS].  Once more, in 1980, then in 2003–all for positions with public agencies.  After retirement, I applied as a free-lancer, and once more needed to have my prints updated.  “Mr. O’Neil, could you come with me, please.”  I followed down the long hall in the administrative offices, in 2010, and was led into a small room.  On a small table was a device I had never before seen.  “You’ll have to insert your left thumb into that hole with the red light.”  “Is there a problem?”  “You don’t seem to have fingerprints.  We need to do a deeper, thorough examination of your ridges, that’s all.”  After some time, I was given the proper directions and allowed to leave.  “But whatever happened to my prints?”  I had asked before leaving.  “Acid…” 

My professional career began in 1963.  I had a few hobbies–coin collecting, for one– but none like doing stained glass work, from 1990-2014, until my back “gave out”–and I could no longer lift and bend like before.  I had to stop.  An essential part of working with glass and solder is the use of acid flux.

flux

Paste Flux

A flux (derived from Latin fluxus meaning “flow”) is a chemical cleaning agent, flowing agent, or purifying agent, for metal joining.  Flux allows solder to flow easily on the working piece rather than forming beads as it would otherwise.  Flux is usually, normally, applied with a brush, to the joints to be soldered. 

soldering and leading

Stained Glass Piece Soldered Restoration

But in the turning and moving of a glass piece being worked on, if the artist does not wear gloves, flux begins to work on the skin and, of course, the finger tips.  Flux is an acid, and a poison.POISON SYMBOL.pngMy fingertips would peel; I thought nothing of it.  No pain.  Just washed well.  I did my best to take care, and did wear gloves as often as possible, but…

And that’s the real story of my thumb and fingerprints… 

In the minds of some, however, there exists another story, one of fascination, intrigue, and cover and covert operations:  passportThat my forty-year teaching career concealed my true identity and sheltered my true profession:  CIA Operative.  How this story may have been initiated and by whom puzzles me.

I see no resemblance to any “secret agent.”

JIM 1966 SMC haircut 2

JIM

jason bourne as Matt Damon

JASON

These pictures were taken many years ago, and I never remember telling stories to my boys who might have had over-active imaginations, with their Batman and Robin, and other hero-Super-hero themes in their lives.  Why would I have told the kids about the CIA?  Did someone else tell them?  Well, that story–and the fingerprint issue–just needs to be put to rest once and for all.  And that is that.

BTW: Here’s a picture of one of my favorite authors who, along with Robert Ludlum, did write good political intrigue fiction.

P612300 RED

TOM CLANCY

Here’s a recent picture of me that fell out of a folder…jim tom clancy.jpg 

© James F. O’Neil  2017 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Personal Notations from “A Mere Journalist” by Aristides [Joseph Epstein] in The American Scholar (Winter 1985/86).

“Off and on for more than twenty years, I have been keeping a journal.  One expects a famous writer to keep a journal,” wrote Aristides, the pen name for Joseph P Epstein, editor of The American Scholar, 1975-1997. 

“The first function of a young writer’s journal: a place to grouse, a place to dramatize one’s condition in prose, and a place to bemoan the fact that, once again, this time in the instance of oneself, the world in its ignorance is failing to recognize another genius.”

“In my [current] journal…I have done my best to cease complaining and have taken as my motto the lines from the beer commercial that runs ‘I guess it doesn’t get much better than this.’”

“…to feature introspection and self-analysis…even in a journal has its limits.”

“Who needs this?…I suppose I alone do.  Something in me impels me to record much I have thought, or experienced, or read, or heard.”

“I find keeping a journal quickens life; it provides the double pleasure of first living life and then savoring it through the formation of sentences about it.”

Graphomania: a writer’s disease “taking the form of simply being unable to put down the pen (the authorly equivalent to logorrhea).  ‘Advanced’ stage takes the form of needing to write down everything because anything that hasn’t been written down isn’t quite real.”

“The graphomaniac’s slogan is ‘no ink, no life.’”

“I must confess that I do not write in my journal every day.  But when I do write something in my journal, I feel rather more complete…  Not that journal writing elevates me–it doesn’t, usually…”

“I do feel upon having made an entry in my journal as if I have done my duty, completed, in effect, an act of intellectual hygiene.”

“I do not often look into my journals; yet whenever I do, I am impressed by how much experience has slipped through the net of my memory.”

“I suspect that anyone who keeps a journal has to be something of a Copernican–he [or she] really must believe that the world revolves around himself [or herself].”

“Everything I have written is these journals is true–or at least as true as I could make it at the time I wrote it.  Lying, as such, is not, I believe, a question in my journal.”

“I try, when writing in my journal, to keep in mind the twin truths that I am someone of the greatest importance to myself and that I am also ultimately insignificant.  (This is not always so easily accomplished.)”

“Sometimes I am astonished at the items that find their way into this journal of mine.”

“I [once] wrote that John Wayne had become part of the furniture of [my] one’s life.  The first half of one’s life, it strikes me, one fills up one’s rooms with such furniture; the second half, one watches this furniture, piece by piece, being removed.”

“My journal has served as a running inventory of my days, and I am pleased to have kept it.”

“Though we must live life forward, ‘Life can only be understood backward,’ wrote Kierkegaard.  Yet a journal does provide backward understanding…a great aid in replaying segments of past experience, in running over important and even trivial events, in recollecting moods and moments otherwise lost to memory.”

“A journal is a simple device for blowing off steam, privately settling scores, clarifying thoughts, giving way to vanities, rectifying hypocrisies, and generally leaving an impression and record of your days.”

“When you are through with it, [and] when the time has come to leave this…earth, you can even pass the damn thing along to your yet unborn great-grandchildren.”

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