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...where life is slow, and ripe with rural treasures

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

So What?

As a college freshman and English major I took an essay writing class my first semester. My professor's name was Dr. Snow. She was a stern taskmaster, a white-haired, unsmiling elder who took no prisoners. I remember absolutely nothing about the class other than my fear of Dr. Snow and the trouble that followed my first essay submission.

Having emerged from high school with some writing accolades, I felt pretty confident that I would do okay in Dr. Snow's essay class. Maybe even an A. I turned in my first essay (the subject of which I could not, under torture, recall) and strode back to my dorm, pleased with myself and looking forward to laurels from my new professor.

Next class Dr. Snow returned graded papers ... all but mine. She said she wanted to see me after class. A trickle of unease. Why?

After 50 minutes my fellow students departed and there we sat, Dr. Snow at her desk and I in my seat. She gazed coldly at my 18-year-old face and, holding my paper up in one hand, asked without introduction: "Where did you get this information?"

Over the years I've often said to friends "So-and-so had a parakeet look -- cocked head, blank eyes" to describe a person who just isn't getting the message. It's possible I came up with that metaphor because that's the first time in memory I was the parakeet. It took me a few long seconds for what she was getting at to compute. Then it came home.

"Are you suggesting I plagiarized this?" I asked her.

"Yes." No emotion, and no question in her mind that she was right.

Granted, I was young and hadn't even begun to write what I would come to do later in my life. But I'd written enough -- and had been taught well enough -- to know there is no greater transgression in writing than to steal someone else's words and call them your own.

I was outraged and told her so.

The truth, I think, has a certain ring to it. She grilled me for ten minutes, which may not sound like very long unless you're getting grilled by a formidable professor who's accusing you of cheating your first week in college. She asked me where I got specific information and I told her I got it out of my own head, having been a reader since I was old enough to talk. She asked me to explain the specific meaning of certain passages and I did, at length. She stared me down and I stared back. Finally satisfied that she was indeed hearing the truth, she wrote a B+ on the top of the paper (I guess an A would have been too much of an admission that she'd been wrong), handed it to me, and with what is probably my own imagination creating the rest, dismissed me with a tiny Devil Wears Prada hand wave and said softly "That's all."

I'm talking about this today, of course, because of the Melania Trump brouhaha at last night's Republican convention. This morning the Trumpsters circled the wagons after news broke that Mrs. T and her speechwriters borrowed rather liberally from Michelle Obama's speech at the 2008 DNC. The Trumpsters -- those coiffed and snarling attack dogs that Trump's campaign unleashes at the first sign of trouble -- have insisted all over cable news today that the accusation of plagiarism is ridiculous! This is a Clinton plot because Hillary is threatened by strong-woman Melania! That Mrs. T used common phrases!

I can't speak for any Hillary let's-take-Melania-Trump-down plots, but I can tell you after watching the comparison of Mrs. Obama's 2008 speech and Mrs. Trump's speech of last evening that somebody ought to be fired over at Trump headquarters. Indeed, Melania may have the same feelings as Michelle about her word being her bond and encouraging children to reach for the sky (that's what the Trumpsters are saying, that she was just expressing similar feelings). But when said feelings are expressed verbatim that's call plagiarism, honey.

Today the Trumpsters, along with denying any culpability for this obvious act of plagiarism, are also squealing So what? That's really been their battle cry for months, hasn't it? Every time DT spews out another racist or sexist or downright frightening remark, the Trumpsters circle those wagons, pop up on "the shows" and shout So what? 

Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, addresses the issue of plagiarism and answers the question "So what?" rather succinctly in an article published in the Huffington Post in August 2014:

"Plagiarism -- simply put, presenting someone else's words or thoughts as your own with no attribution to the original author -- is a serious intellectual and moral problem for several reasons.

Plagiarism's moral problem is clear: taking someone else's intellectual work product and using it without attribution is theft. Without fundamental moral rules protecting intellectual work products in a manner equivalent to more tangible goods or money, the work loses value. The plagiarist essentially robs the author of the value of the written word.

But plagiarists do not simply take someone else's work product for their own private enjoyment, which might be weird but harmless. Plagiarism reaches its full blown status as a moral problem and disciplinary (possibly expellable or fireable) offense when the plagiarist uses the other person's uncited work for personal and professional gain -- to earn credits or a college degree, to get ahead at work, to win a Pulitzer Prize, to sell a book or an article."

Or maybe to promote one's husband who's running for President of the United States.

Now nobody's perfect, that's true, and throughout history good, moral men and women have certainly engaged in a little shuck and jive. However, Donald Trump's entire campaign seems to be bereft of morals. The name calling, the swearing, the lying. Encouraging violence at his rallies. Calling women fat pigs. Calling Mexicans rapists. The Trump University debacle. And now the stealing of someone else's words -- and not just anyone but for the love of god Mrs. Barack Obama -- and putting them in the mouth of his wife. Donald didn't do it personally and it's unlikely that Melania wrote her own speech. So the campaign has some staffer who wrote the words, and when he/she got stuck, googled Michelle Obama's 2008 DNC speech and said "Hey, this is good!" and hit copy/paste, assuming nobody would know the difference. And if they did know the difference, So what? The staffer felt comfortable plagiarizing and then maybe musing So what? because that's what he learned from the top.

I remember thinking, back in 1974 under the icy gaze of Dr. Snow, that any career I might have in writing could be over if I was unable to convince this influential professor I was telling her the truth, that I hadn't plagiarized my essay. Plagiarizing was then -- and still is -- a very big deal. That Trump and his Trumpsters don't think so -- and that this man and his henchmen who are so close to the most powerful office in the world seem to have no moral center -- should be a big wake-up call for anyone who plans to vote for him. I'm not trying to pick a fight here with my friends on the right side of the political spectrum: I get it, his sound bites can be entertaining and his blustering about international affairs maybe fills a void for the angry who are looking for someone to blame. But with that said, you've gotta admit the guy is just scary. He tells his constituents he's an outsider. Yes, that's true. What he doesn't say is that he's also a megalomaniac, although to anybody paying attention, that should be obvious.

To quote Tony Schwartz, Trump's own hand-picked biographer and co-author of The Art of the Deal:

“You know, it’s a terrifying thing. I haven’t slept a night through since Donald Trump announced for president because I believe he is so insecure, so easily provoked and not — not particularly — nearly as smart as people might imagine he is. I do worry that with the nuclear codes, he would end civilization as we know it.” 

Not much to say after that.

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Bye Bye Birdie

I'm writing this on a Sunday afternoon. It's chilly November, although last week was quite beautiful. There's a fire going in my fireplace and I'm doing some TV binge-watching (the hilarious LillyHammer). Harry is on my lap snoozing, and Ruby is nearby. But there's a heartbeat missing from this cozy room: my Lucy.
The first time I saw Lucy she was about the size of a hefty coffee mug. She was born at Mountain Top Golf Course here in Sherburne, the runt of a big litter and easily two times smaller than her littermates. She was sickly, had some sort of respiratory infection, and when I first spotted her she was scampering around under golf cart wheels. The guys at the course nicknamed her "Lucky" because she was nearly run over so many times. I just deleted the "k" and called her Lucy. Gathered her up and took her back to Long Island with me. This was in 2000.
She was a complicated cat. So loving and sweet, a calico who would curl next to me in bed, where in the morning we would wake together. Her walk was dainty, like a little old lady. She was also a bit of a bitch. Once I walked into a guest room and saw her squatting to pee on a brand new mattress. She also, periodically, made her mark on carpets. There were times, I admit, when I thought about strangling her, or taking her to the vet for "the final ride." But of course I never did. I loved her in spite of this peeing flaw, and in fact in the last year she'd been really good. The four of us -- Harry, Ruby, Lucy, and I -- had found an easy peace here on Classic Street. Harry liked the cats -- or at least found them worth an up-close evaluation -- and the cats tolerated him in spite of his barking and sniffing and jealous tantrums when Lucy or Ruby climbed up on my lap. 
My cats go outside ("better to die on your feet than live on your knees" and all that), and on the evening of October 27th Lucy, who'd been out all day, didn't come home. Ruby-the-Rebel stays out overnight sometimes, but never Lucy. The morning of the 28th I knew something wrong when she wasn't at the door.
Hope (of course) springs eternal. Days went by as I watched out the window, checking the door compulsively, expecting to see her sitting there on the sunny porch as I'd seen the afternoon of October 27th. My friends imparted cat advice: "My cat came home after 10 days missing!" Another friend's cat had been locked in a garage and was finally freed. But no. Lucy didn't come home.
Finally (feeling stupid that I hadn't thought of it earlier), I posted her photo on Facebook. In five minutes I got a response: "Look across the street from your house; there's a cat's body there," someone said. Indeed. It was my Lucy, there in grass.
I don't know what happened. Was she hit by a car? Or maybe she just gave up and died. She'd been acting "funny" lately, staring into corners and yowling, squishing herself into strange spaces. And she was, after all, 15-going-on-16. When I found her I didn't investigate to see if there was blood. In fact I freaked a bit, ran to my cousin-neighbors and asked Frank to put her in a box for me, wrapped in a towel. Then when I tried to dig a hole and couldn't, I called my friend Mike to do the job. Lots of crying and hand waving and head thrashing ensued, but in the end Lucy came home, and is now safely buried in the back yard.
There is a contract, if you will, that we agree to when we adopt a pet. An understanding that this little creature we take into our homes and treat as a child will probably die before we do. We have 10, maybe 15, if we're really lucky maybe 18 years with a cat or dog. These babies of ours never grow up and move away, never crash the car, never get mad and say I hate you. They love us unconditionally, welcoming us with big eyes when we come through the door, and when they die we're tortured by their absence. I still see Lucy curled on the sofa in my office, or warming herself by the fireplace. I don't see her piddling accidents. I see my darling's green eyes or hear her scratchy meows. I feel her jumping on the bed, though when I look she isn't (of course) there.
I can only hope she died easy. And I suppose I'll get over the absent feel of her brushing against my legs as I sit at my desk, nudging my ankle for love.
My nickname for her, since she was baby, was Lucy Bird, or for short, Birdie. I've called Ruby "Birdie" six dozen times since Lucy died, which I never did before. I suppose that will fade away, too.
There's something funny about all this -- odd funny, not haha funny: a dear relative of mine died on October 27th six years ago. Maybe it was just Birdie's time, and Scarlet stepped in to take her home. So I'm trying to imagine Lucy curled on Scarlet's lap, Scarlet stroking Lucy's beautiful calico coat, the both of them watching out for the rest of us down here.
I like that idea.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

SSIRP Breaks Ground

Senator James Seward, Sherburne Town Supervisor Charles Mastro, and Sherburne Mayor Bill Acee joined SSIRP board members and representatives of Rich & Gardner Construction Company on July 13 for a groundbreaking ceremony at The Sherburne Inn. Senator Seward congratulated SSIRP on what he called "a great day for Sherburne," adding that The Inn is not only at the physical center of the community, but at its emotional and social center as well. "The Sherburne Inn represents Sherburne's history," he said, "and its future."
Pictured here, left to right: Mark Becht of Rich & Gardner Construction; Kathleen Yasas, SSIRP president; Kristina Rodriguez, SSIRP board member; Steve Perrin, SSIRP vice president and project manager; Chris Hoffman, SSIRP treasurer; Senator Seward; Charles Mastro; SSIRP board member Vince Yacono; Bill Acee; and Mike Gardner, of Rich & Gardner Construction.

Monday, June 22, 2015

SSIRP Hires General Contractor, Construction to Begin

1915-1916, Downtown Sherburne, post Sherburne House Fire and pre Sherburne Inn
Save The Sherburne Inn Restoration Project, Inc. (SSIRP) announced this week that Rich & Gardner Construction Company of Syracuse has been hired as the general contractor for Phase 1 restoration of The Sherburne Inn, which will include exterior work on the 98-year-old building. Work is expected to begin within 30 days and will include brick pointing and general masonry, window restoration, porch deck and porch roof work, trim painting, and column restoration.
Rich & Gardner, which counts among its employees Sherburne-area residents, was one of several companies that submitted bids. Bids were opened and reviewed at The Sherburne Inn on May 20.
Conceptualized as an economic driver for Sherburne and the surrounding area, SSIRP plans to reopen The Inn with sleeping rooms, event space, conference space, a farm-to-table restaurant and bar, a tavern, retail space, and office space. Temporary and permanent part- and full-time jobs will be created both during restoration and after The Inn has been reopened.
For more information on The Sherburne Inn and SSIRP, visit www.thesherburneinn.org.
SSIRP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. All donations to SSIRP are deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Spring Symphony

I think it was sometime around the first of April when I caught myself wondering why in god's name I ever moved back to upstate New York. It was early, around 7 a.m., and I'd gotten up to let the dog out. When I went into the kitchen and looked out the window, I burst out crying. It was snowing again.

I like snow, I do. In fact, people who know me would probably call me a snow person if their options were 1) she loves the beach; 2) it can't be sunny enough; 3) the hotter the better; 4) snow person. Still, everyone has their breaking point. So yeah, I've been wondering what dark moment it was that I decided to head north, knowing the weather situation up here in the winter. Two months of snow is perfect. Three is okay. Four, you're pushing it. Six? Time to call U-Hall.

Then yesterday I took a drive.

It's the end of May, a whisper from June, and it was One Of Those Days. Sunny yes, but so much more. 75 degrees and low humidity. Puffy clouds drifting. Green lawns, green trees, green fields -- that splendid not-dark green of spring that's maybe got a week of life left. Miles of pink flowers chasing each other in meadows, geometric shapes flanked by yellow blossoms. The smell in the air? Freshly-mown grass and a final whiff of lilac. Men on tractors, kids' smiling faces, canine ears flapping out of car windows.

And a tiny voice in my head said, "oh. that's why."

What's that old saying? I'd rather have two minutes of something wonderful than a lifetime of nothing in particular. That one was written for upstate New York weather. Such days around here don't come often and they don't stay long; but if you can catch them, if you're lucky enough to be outside paying attention, days like yesterday are one of maybe four all year, those that usher in summer and fall and winter and spring; 24 hours four days a year when Nature says come look at me. Come see what I can do.

Such days (okay, maybe they're worth the wait) ... a spectacular symphony for the senses.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Hello Day 67!

I decided to quit smoking in January. Well, decided may be the wrong word for it. I didn't really think about it, it wasn't like I sat around writing up a list of pros and cons and, seeing that the pro side was vastly less populated than the con side, announced "That's it! I shall stop smoking!"

What actually happened was I was sitting in my home office with all the doors closed so the smoke wouldn't get into the rest of the house when it occurred to me that I was just done. I'd been spending way too much time lately burning scented candles and spraying air freshener because the smoke smell was bothering me more than usual. I was smoking around a pack a day and doing so was bugging me. It's expensive ($10+ a pack here in New York State), it stinks up the house, it stinks up my clothes, it stinks up my hair, and ... oh yes, let's not forget this little detail ... it's deadly. The only good thing about smoking for me was the fun factor. I liked it. Or at least, I did like it. All of a sudden the fun factor was getting its ass kicked by all the negatives. All of a sudden, smoking wasn't so much fun anymore.

So I stopped. There in my office I was puffing away when I said out loud, "Oh man, this is just disgusting." I mashed the cigarette out, threw the rest of the pack away, emptied every ashtray in the house, washed them, and packed them away in a cabinet. I've been a smoker, on and off, since the early 1980s, but always insisted to people that I wasn't addicted. The response to that pronouncement was almost always the same: "Yeah, right." Everybody assumed it was the addict in me talking when I said I wasn't physically hooked, but I really wasn't. I was socially hooked in a big way. Loved to smoke when on the phone, or in the car, or after a meal. Sitting down with a friend for a chat and a glass of wine? Out came the cigarettes. Cup of coffee? Oh yes, cigarette required. I was never one for going outside in the freezing cold to huddle against a building for a puff (that's not to say I never did it, but I never liked it and for the most part preferred not smoking to standing around like a delinquent in some alleyway). So on January 9, 2015, around 6 o'clock at night, with no fanfare and with ten or so cigarettes still left in the pack, I just quit.

I have to say it has not been hard. There were a few times when I got this "saliva feeling" in my throat that I think was a physical reaction to wanting to smoke. And yes, there was the altercation I had with the TV remote after I dropped it on the floor. The remote stopped working and I flipped out, screamed and cussed and pounded it on my desk 12 times, then threw it across the room. I know I pounded 12 times because there are now 12 tiny holes in the wood where the little nub on the back of remote punched into my desk top. (Ironically, the remote just needed new batteries.)
On the good side? The house and my clothes and my hair smell wonderful, the very tiny cough I once had is gone, and I wake up every morning without the fuzzy and nagging thought "gottaquit gottaquit gottaquit." Then there's the money! Sixty-seven days (as of today) equals $670. By the end of one year, if indeed I had smoked a pack a day and taking into consideration that I infrequently bought cartons, I will have saved $3,650, much of which I plan to plug into my Maine summer vacation. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call a win-win!
What made me stop? Who knows. Sometimes you just hit the wall with things: bad habits, bad choices, bad people. Sometimes you just say "I've had enough" and walk away, feeling so much better -- on every level -- that you did.
So I'm taking a deep breath (an easier thing to do now), enjoying Day 67, and looking forward to Day 68 ... and to all the good smoke-free days to come.


About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum