Saturday, November 24, 2012

Six Month Update - Entry #23

Six months.  Over 180 cards and letters and stamps.  It’s hard to believe it has been six months since I began The Writing Project.  During this period I have made sure individuals receiving the mailing from me should have it delivered by the U.S. Post Office.  For some, I could very easily drop them in a neighbor’s mailbox or send them to colleagues via intercampus mail, but then the presupposed effect would be lost.  We receive so few letters among the mountains of third-class-mail, circulars, bills, and catalogs.  Discovering a stamped piece of correspondence among the detritus makes us want to “Put on a Happy Face,” as Dick Van Dyke declares in the musical, Bye Bye Birdie:
Gray skies are gonna clear up,
Put on a happy face;
Brush off the clouds and cheer up,
Put on a happy face.
Take off the gloomy mask of tragedy,
It's not your style;
You'll look so good that you'll be glad
Ya' decide to smile!
Pick out a pleasant outlook,
Stick out that noble chin;
Wipe off that "full of doubt" look,
Slap on a happy grin!
And spread sunshine all over the place,
Just put on a happy face!
Put on a happy face

During this first half-year period I have occasionally received a card in return from my correspondence.  These missives are gratifying to receive especially from colleagues or friends I have not been in touch with for a long time.  But, for the most part, I have not heard back from individuals on my list, which is fine.  I never started this journey thinking I would be inundated with return cards or letters.  However, when I see people face-to-face it’s a different story.  Case in point—earlier this month I attended the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Region I Conference (New England and Canadian Maritime Provinces) in Mystic, CT.  I had been very involved with the organization in the late 1990’s and early turn of the century.  This year, in August and the first part of September, many of the recipients of my cards/letters were to my former colleagues from the group.  At the Regional Conference a number of them, many I had not seen in a few years, were in attendance.  Upon seeing me I received hugs and huge smiles.  “Your card is right on my desk,” was a constant refrain.  Even the Director of the national association, someone I’ve known for 20 years (and the recipient of a card on August 30, 2012), exclaimed that my card was displayed prominently on his desk.  Their reactions put a smile on my face and made me realize that even though I do not receive correspondence in return my cards/letters are being appreciated, which in essence, was one of my goals.

While I have kept up with the basic tenets of The Writing Project I will concede I have not always been true to the cause.  Two examples:
1.  The Fountain Pen – I must admit I have not written recent cards/letters with the silver coated fountain pen I purchased just for The Writing Project.  In the beginning, I would sometimes forget to bring it with me when I would be composing away from home.  On other occasions I would lose patience when it would lose ink as I glided it across the page.  More recently, the ink cartridges that provide the sustenance for the fountain pen have all run dry and I haven’t been back to the store to purchase new ones.  Instead, I’ve used a very inexpensive Pilot Rolling Ball marker.  It is lightweight and skims across the paper.  Until I make the time to purchase new ink cartridges the Pilot will be my writing utensil of choice.
2.  A Card a Day – My intention of a card a day, when I first began, was something very achievable.  However, as the days turned into weeks and the weeks melded into months this undertaking became harder to maintain.  Sometimes two or three days would go by before I wrote cards, needing to catch up to stay on track.  Other times, if I was in a groove, I might churn out correspondence to be 2-3 days ahead of the game.  Nevertheless, I have been able to maintain a +3 to -3 range throughout the six months, which I think is an acceptable fluctuation.

So, as the holiday weekend winds down, with 180+ to cards/letters to go I think of my colleague’s words of encouragement--“It’s all downhill from here.”  How true.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thank You, Canada - Entry #22

Last week I saw the movie Argo, which is probably one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time.  The setting is Iran during the takeover of the American Embassy and subsequent hostage crisis in the late 1970’s.  The drama, tension, and attention to detail make this a must-see flick.  I was in college during this confrontation and remember the time vividly—Ted Koppel on ABC-TV starting the late night Nightline broadcast to update viewers on the day’s events, the disastrous rescue in the desert, and the general hostility and distress felt by the populace and U.S. government. 

[Spoiler Alert—if you do not know the plot of the movie please stop reading.]

I also recall attending the ticker tape parade down Broadway for the returned hostages.  I was in graduate school in New York City and wanted to show my support for these individuals.  It was also a way to release the pent-up frustration we all had during the 444 days of the takeover.  I remember being very patriotic at the time.  The one fuzzy part during the crisis was the announcement, one day that six Americans had hid out in the Canadian Ambassador’s home, were spirited out of Iran, and were now safe.  Upon hearing the news reports I thought, somehow, they were just fortunate enough to escape to the Embassy of our northern neighbors, lay low for a while, procure Canadian passports, board a plane, and fly home.  I never really gave it a second thought.  Now that Argo has been released we all realize otherwise.  Without the bravery and cunning of CIA agent Tony Mendez, his Hollywood support team, and countless others, not to mention the Canadian Ambassador and his wife, these six individuals would have been hunted down and forced to join their fellow State Department workers in captivity. 

I remember saying a private thank you to Canada.  I didn’t dwell too much on their flight to freedom since so little information had been revealed.  With the true story now being seen by millions on screen I know differently.  When Argo ended the mostly older audience clapped.  They silently stood as the credits rolled.  I believe people in the theater were silently reliving that time, honoring the bravery and sacrifice of all the hostages.  It was quite a solemn and moving moment, one I had never felt before after watching a motion picture.

I also felt like calling the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. or sending them a telegram thanking them for what the Ambassador and his wife did those 30+ years ago.  While it was the American CIA that thought of the crazy scheme known as Argo, it was the Canadian husband and wife that sacrificed much if they were caught or implicated.  Let’s not even think of the international incident their involvement would have caused. 

So, I wrote a short note to the current Canadian Ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer.  I told him how the movie had dredged up memories from the past.  Now that I knew the full story I wanted to thank his country, more formally, for all it did those many years ago.  I hope it’s not necessary to return such a favor one day.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Political Bipartisanship - Entry #21

A strange turn of events happened last week in the Presidential election.  Chris Christie, the Republican Governor of New Jersey, a keynote speaker at this past summer’s Republican Convention, and a harsh critic of President Obama—just two weeks earlier he was lambasting the Chief Executive for his lack of leadership abilities—was suddenly extolling his virtues.  The Governor and President were on the phone with each other, sometimes more then once a day.  The President was invited to tour the state.  A real bromance was brewing.  Why?  One word—Sandy.  The so-named hurricane wrecked havoc and destruction up and down the Garden State’s coastline changing, probably forever, the way of life for many state residents.  Pushing partisan politics and rhetoric aside the Governor, rightly so, took the high road in working with the President on securing much needed federal aid and attention to help ease the plight of New Jerseyans.  President Obama, acting more Presidential then like the Democratic nominee, began working with the Governors of the hardest hit states, regardless of their party affiliation.  But it was the praise both Christie and Obama heaped on one another that captured the national spotlight.  The act of bipartisanship was a breath of fresh air during this very long, drawn out, and frequently nasty election campaign.

As a former long-time New Jersey resident, who still has family there, and someone who is a Democrat and union member Christie’s actions were both stunning and commendable.  The Governor rides rough shot over Democrats in the statehouse and he has bullied unions throughout his tenure in office.  However, I had to tip my hat to him for putting the state’s needs first and politics second.  I wanted him to know how I felt so I wrote him a note extolling his actions. 

During press conferences Christie also explained how the New Jersey beaches are a part of the state’s character (as well as a huge economic force) and need to be rebuilt.   I let him know I agreed.  In my correspondence I told him that, as a young boy, my family would often take day trips to the Jersey shore’s Long Beach Island.  As the day drew to a close we would head to the expansive parking lot for a picnic dinner on the back of our Ford station wagon (usually Shake and Bake chicken), before heading to Seaside Heights for an evening of fun and adventure.  Part of the rebuilding efforts along the coast will include discussions on whether construction should even be allowed near the water.  While these are necessary, and quite important, conversations to have, I wanted Republican Governor Chris Christie to know, at this moment in time, both from a political and leadership standpoint, he had my appreciation and respect for all he was doing to shepherd the state through this crisis.