WRITINGS (by title)

In response to the reactions
Learning to write and writing to learn
Study Shows They Changed Their Air
Stephen Foster stands as America’s first great songwriter
Speak Now and Forever add your piece

In response to the reactions of those around me ...

(written the morning after the election)


Am I going to crumble and sulk? OF COURSE NOT!

Am I going to project and expect the worse? No.

Am I going to wrap myself in a cloak of doom and despair? No; it is not my nature, and it is not what I want to give to the world.

My values haven’t changed; they are the same as they were before the election.

I am still going to smile at people I pass on the street or in the store, because I know the power of that smile, and how it positively affects them, and me.

My true power (TRUTH POWER) is not and never was something that was given to me by an elected official; it’s in my ability to control my thoughts and emotions; it’s in my passion, and the strength and stamina with which I pursue my dreams – and in the extent to which I respect myself and others.

If this is a wake-up call then it is for those who are or have been under the delusion that the responsibility for their happiness rests with the president, or anyone else; it is for those who overestimate the power of politics and technology and data and intellect, and who underestimate the power of heart and spirit, philosophy and friendship.

To me, this is no different and no worse than who and what we have given power to for many years now, which I characterize as image over essence and form over content (i.e. looks, money, youth, materialism, artificiality, etc.) Not only have we tolerated it, we’ve exalted it. (I have tried shining a light on it to raise awareness, to diminish the power of what I consider to be degrading qualities, and to boost our hope and humanity, and our soul potential.)

I don’t want to be an obstructionist, and I won’t be. If I see something that so offends my sense of decency or tramples on my vision, then hopefully I will have the clarity to speak out, but the real courage is in waking up and being a living, breathing, shining example of our values and our vision and the things we hold dear.

We’ve faced so many setbacks before, so many threats and crises that have affected and jeopardized our health and happiness and well-being and sanity. We’ve endured and overcome many, many times before, and we can do it again. 

The result of an election does not prove who is right; it reflects the state of consciousness and the vulnerabilities of our system. We triumph by transcending the system, by raising our personal consciousness and living according to our ideals.

Nov. 9, 2016

Learning to write and writing to learn


In her classic song, “Woodstock,” Joni Mitchell wrote, “Life is for learning,” and as this column shows me over and over, so too is writing.

In the 19 years that it has been appearing in these pages, I have grown supremely confident in my ability to string together words and ideas, and deliver a written piece of sufficient length, but not too long, by time the next week’s paper has to be put to bed. Sometimes, though, such confidence can lull you into a false sense of security, as may have happened last night, which leads to Point One of the learning that came from this week’s writing. To clarify it, even though I’m confident that I can do it, because I have done it, still, it won’t get done unless I do - do it. Words are not going to just magically appear on paper or on the computer screen; you have to write them, and in order to write them you have to give time and energy to the act or the process of writing. Maybe if you’re just making a list, or filling out some form or questionnaire, or doing a crossword puzzle, or things of that sort, then you can write words without giving yourself over to the process, but if you’re trying to come up with something that comes from you, and could only come from you, then you have to connect it to your thoughts and your feelings, and that’s where the time and energy requirement comes in. Last night, I did not give the required time or energy, because I was too interested in the NBA Playoffs, and then after that, with seeing Tom Waits and George Clooney on the fifth-from-the-last David Letterman show. We get the East Coast feed, so the show’s over by 9:30 our time; I figured that still gives me plenty of time to find a topic and write, but my body had other ideas.

All this shuffling and reorganization and spatial rearrangement of late, the moving of couches and washers and dryers and pianos and buffets and all the rest caught up with me, and sore muscles and painful joints took away whatever energy I had left, so I decided to lay down for a while in the dark and hopefully at least come up with an inkling of what I might write about. Next thing you know, last night became this morning, and I walked out, still without a topic and with four hours to go until deadline. I said to myself – come on now, what are you thinking about, what are you feeling, is anything occurring to you, and the answer to all three questions was – pain … and for a good hour or so, I thought about what I would include in a column about pain.

That’s what I’m talking about with writing and learning; just to spend the time and energy thinking about pain, not my pain, not what hurts me or how much pain I’m in or what’s causing me pain, but pain within the context of human experience – physically, emotionally and spiritually – is to venture into philosophical inquiry; it’s an exercise in self-study that leads to greater empathy. There’s no need to share my particular insights on the matter but together they make up Point Two of this week’s learning that comes from the writing.

I guess the fact that I have arrived at this point, just 90 words away from my allotted word count, reinforces and further crystallizes the confidence I spoke of at the beginning, and it leads to Point Three of the learning, which is that, for me, the process of writing is more fun when there isn’t an agenda or a point to prove, and also Point Four, which is that worthiness of thought does not always precede willingness to express; sometimes it’s the other way around.

So when we talk about “writing lessons,” keep in mind that it could refer to learning to write or writing to learn.

May 21, 2015

Study shows they changed their air


Study after study has sought to identify the main pillars of happiness or quality of life, and one of them that continually gets mentioned is what they call “lifelong learning.” To me the term is synonymous with “the opposite of know-it-all,” and since I can’t stand know-it-alls, I try to be on the side of lifelong learning.  I try to remain curious, attentive, enthusiastic, open-minded, and reflective - of myself mostly; what I’m thinking and feeling, and how I react and behave, so as to keep learning and growing – in wisdom and understanding.

Sometimes it’s something very personal, or subtle, and sometimes it’s something practical or just interesting tidbits of information

I learned something today, which doesn’t necessarily register on the Philosophy scale, but which I found very encouraging, and since we could all use some encouragement, I decided it was worth sharing in the space I have here.

It came out of a study done in the Himalayas, which are the highest mountains in the world. The upper elevations are under layers of ice that have built up over many years. The particles that are lodged in the ice and preserved there reveal which chemical compounds were floating around in the air and blowing around in the wind at a particular time in particular years. The researchers removed large ice core samples from both the east side and the west side of the Himalayas. The east side of the mountain range faces China, which over the past 20 years has been becoming increasingly industrialized. They found that, on that side of the mountain, which gets hit by the winds from China, the presence of toxic organic compounds embedded in the ice has increased steadily over the time period corresponding to the increased industrialization.

Let’s be clear here; the word “toxic” means “poisonous, harmful, dangerous, deadly,” and the evidence suggests that the organic compounds are all of these things. For instance, just the unvented burning of coal for cooking and heating is currently responsible for more than a million deaths a year in China. This is just one example; there are myriad others associated with the increase in diesel engines, insecticides and plastics, to name a few.

Conversely, on the west side of the mountain, which gets the winds from Europe, the ice samples show a steady decrease in the presence of toxic organic compounds. This corresponds with a time-period in Europe during which laws have been enacted to prohibit the use of many air pollutants and to cease or discourage many of the practices and production methods now employed in China.

The study shows that people on both sides of the mountain changed their air through societal activities.

The idea that industrialization, mechanization, and commercialization introduces destructive forces and elements into the environment, chemicals that are harmful – to humans, as well as plants and animals, and lakes and rivers, is not a new one. What’s important here is showing that by doing something about  it Europe has done, and we can do – something about it; It, meaning the world, humanity, life on earth.

Even if it’s just making small changes in our own lives, in our own homes and our own yards; if it happens in a bunch of homes and a bunch of yards pretty soon you’ve changed the neighborhood; and if you change a bunch of neighborhoods pretty soon you change the town;and if you can change a bunch of towns then pretty soon you’ve changed the world.

I don’t know about you but I find it encouraging to think that, in a world where it’s hard enough to lose a few pounds, or stop smoking, or not be angry, let alone change your mind about someone or something, that we still have the potential, maybe, to change the world.

I’d rather go down trying than not be the change I wish to see in the world.

March 5, 2015

Stephen Foster stands as America’s first great songwriter


One of the stocking stuffers I received this past Christmas was a Bob Dylan CD - The Best of the Original Mono Recordings, which includes 15 “classics” from his first eight albums, released between 1962 and 1968.

As I listened to “Blowin’ in the Wind,” I marveled, as I often do when I hear that song, that it was written by a 21-year-old, and as I listened to my 11-year-old daughter singing the words from across the room, I was struck by the enduring quality that the song possesses.

It’s one of the things that the great songwriters and musicians strive for -- to create music that will last, and that is not contained to a particular time period.

One songwriter, for sure, who has created enduring music, is the Dean of American Songwriters – Stephen Foster.

His songs, written 150 years ago, include such classics as “Beautiful Dreamer,” “Camptown Races,” “I Dream of Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair,” “In the Merry, Merry Month of May,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Old Folks at Home (Down Upon the Swanee River,”) and “Oh! Susanna.”

Each of these songs was popular in his day, and they’re still popular a century and a half later, but despite their popularity, Stephen Foster didn’t make very much money off of them. 

Take “Oh! Susanna,” for instance; it brought him a total of $100 in his lifetime. This, even though it was, perhaps, the most popular song of the Gold Rush Days, and it has never not been popular ever since. The problem is - there was no such thing as “the music business” in those days; the only way Stephen Foster could make money as a songwriter, was through a 5-10 percent royalty off the sales of sheet music, or to simply sell songs outright. In the case of “Oh! Susanna,” dozens of different publishers earned tens of thousands of dollars from the sales of the sheet music of the song. They just found someone who could read and write music, and they wrote it down on a sheet of paper, printed up a bunch of copies and sold it to people so they could sing it at home, in their parlors. There wasn’t anybody going around the country monitoring the sales and collecting royalties for the person who made up the song.

In order for people to want to buy a song in sheet music form, someone had to introduce it to them, and in America in the middle of the 19th Century, quite often, that someone wore black face and was part of a traveling minstrel show. The troupe that sang Stephen Foster’s songs was called the Christy Minstrels, after their founder E.P. Christy. The style was referred to as “Ethiopian songs.”

It was pre-Civil War, and slaves were portrayed as simple-minded, easy-going creatures. Foster tried to offer a different image - of blacks as human beings who experience pain, love, joy, sorrow and nostalgia. He called the new songs “plantation songs.” Eventually, he did away with the slave dialect altogether and called the style, simply, “American melodies.”

From where we’re at now, given our current attitudes and the climate of political correctness, some of those songs are considered indelicate if not outright racist. There’s a push in some factions to eliminate them (along with the works of Mark Twain) from our schools, which in my opinion would be a travesty and a shame, because those melodies are at our very core as Americans, and it is from them that the roots of American music have sprouted forth.

When you consider the whole succession of great American songwriters – Dylan, Paul Simon, Carole King, Chuck Berry, Hank Williams, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, or whoever else you might put on that esteemed list, remember that at the very front of the line, as America’s first great songwriter, stands Stephen Foster.


Jan. 13, 2011


(Stephen Foster died at the age of 37. He was staying in a boarding house in New York City, where he spent the final few years of his life in ever deepening poverty. While suffering from an intense fever, he fainted and hit his head on a porcelain sink. A chambermaid found him, and he was taken to a hospital where he died a few days later … with 38 cents to his name.)

Speak now and forever add your piece


I can tell, by the questions, that some people have a wrong idea about why I write this column. They think that I have all this stuff I want to say to people, and things that I want to convince people of so as to move them in a certain direction, or get them to think or act in a certain way. Well, that’s not it.

I am lucky, and consider it one of the great blessings of my life, that for the past 18 years I have had this space and this opportunity to express myself in words, and to have an ongoing dialog or exchange with people. How I got here, and why I get to do it is, perhaps, a subject for another time, but suffice it to say that every week I have a deadline, and so I know I have to have something new written by that time.

Sometimes, an idea or a thought occurs to me at some point during the week and I file it away, knowing that I’m going to deal with it when I get around to writing that week’s column. Other times, most times in fact, that’s not the case, so I have to find something to write about before the proverbial clock strikes midnight. In those instances, the first thing I do is stop and direct my attention inward to see if some thought or feeling comes forth and identifies itself as a possible topic. If after a while nothing does, then the next thing I do is turn to Nature; I listen to the wind to see if there is a message there for me; I gaze into the night sky, or smell the clouds, or taste the air, or feel the movements of the leaves and the branches, or other such natural extractions. If after that I am still without a topic, then I turn to written reference materials, such as scientific journals, articles about health or education, accounts from history, or news reports from around the country and the world. I’m just looking for anything that causes a blip on my radar, something that piques my interest so that I can embark on a journey of discovery and explore what I think or feel about the topic. In doing that, it is important for me to not start from a conclusion, to not say – I already know what I think or feel about that, but instead try to discover something new about myself on that day. It’s called lifelong learning.

On rare occasions, like last night and this morning, none of my three techniques produce any inkling of an idea to write about. When that happens, the more and longer I search for something the less I am likely to find it (and that’s the learning that has come from this particular column.) I guess that’s when the skill of being a writer comes in because I always come up with something.

Some folks might be inclined to ask – why would you presume to think that people would be interested in what you “come up with?” Maybe it’s because I believe we’re all unique beings with our particular piece to add to the puzzle, and if we express our thoughts and feelings honestly and truthfully, as opposed to trying to put  in someone else’s piece or just repeating someone else’s words and beliefs, then we’re adding something new and unique into the universe.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Tom Joad (from “The Grapes of Wrath”), when he said, “A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just a little piece of the one big soul that belongs to everybody.”

Maybe when any of us learn about our little piece, and then share that learning with others, we shed light on the whole; on the big soul that belongs to everybody.

… and that’s why I write the column.


Ron Colone can be reached at ron.colone@gmail.com