Ode to a Once Mighty Oak

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And in that brief moment, its reign ended.

We don’t know how old it really was, but the centuries had exacted their toll. Despite the efforts of the valiant few, the rot that builds with age had eaten its way through the internal fabric that once supported its mighty infrastructure.

When that final gust rushed through, the great citadel had fallen. It had stood for so long that those closest to it, stunned by the fatal reality before their own eyes, could only muster an anemic disbelief.

All that incredulity could not suspend the finality that was. It was gone. Not really. But really.

*          *          *

The Seneca tribe was a fierce warrior tribe. They had to be. They guarded the “west gate” of the Iroquois Confederacy. From that position, they both protected one flank of their Continue Reading “Ode to a Once Mighty Oak”

Welcome to the New Age of (Virtual) Exploration

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Following the fall of Rome, the European continent went dark. Although the term “Dark Ages” has fallen out of favor, we have no problem referring to the nadir of that time – when the Bubonic Plague – decimated Europe’s population as “the Black Death.”

Shortly after this tragic pandemic, Europe finally emerged from its thousand-year cocoon. Today, we call this the “Renaissance,” and it is aptly named. Side-by-side with the flourishing arts and sciences was the advent of something greater, something that, without it, we would not exist.

It’s called the “Age of Exploration.”

It was a time when everything came together for Europe. It was a time we forever remember as a simple mental image of a dandily dressed mustachioed man in a shiny helmet planting his Continue Reading “Welcome to the New Age of (Virtual) Exploration”

Are You Trapped In An Echo Chamber? (And Why You Must Immediately Find The Nearest Exit)

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We’re building a detached garage. Since the time I bought my home, I had dreamed of building a detached garage. It was a dream Betsy quickly adopted, if only to create a massive storage vehicle for a lifetime of research, source material, and memories that have consumed much of the living space in our house. Soon, we will have a living room again. And a dining room. And maybe a couple of other rooms (and closets), too.

While the garage isn’t yet complete, we do have a roof and the building is adequately enclosed. A few weeks ago, we had Catarina’s birthday party in it. This weekend, we held Cesidia’s birthday party there.

Both parties were excellent. And instructive.

We had bare studs-and-plywood walls for Catarina’s party. By Cesidia’s party, the insulation had been installed (but not the drywall).

For Cesidia’s party, the garage was a nearly perfect sound room. The paper backing of the insulation absorbed all ambient noise. That didn’t mean it muffled our voices. No. When everyone was talking, it sounded like everyone was talking. You could hear each voice very clearly, but when the voices stopped, there was a dead silence.

It really perked up your attention. It also made you quite aware of everything around you. It was a full-bodied experience. Ironically, at the same time you were more attentive, you Continue Reading “Are You Trapped In An Echo Chamber? (And Why You Must Immediately Find The Nearest Exit)”

President’s Farewell Address

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Dateline: July 15, 2020. Mendon, New York. As I sit down to type this, my final NSNC President’s letter, I am struck by how much has changed, how much is changing, and how much change is yet to come.

I understand my being here is an accident of fate. Isn’t that true of us all. No matter where we are. No matter who we are. Providence has constructed for us a happy accident.

So here we sit, at this unique time, at this unique place, at this unique crest. A paradise in a maelstrom, if you will.

Suzette wanted me to recount the accomplishments of the NSNC over the past two years. I think she implied they belong to me.

They don’t.

If anything, they belong to us all, because the NSNC is the sum of its members. We’ve all had a hand in our success, in overcoming obstacles, and in building a foundation for a greater tomorrow.

While I can name many, time permits me only to focus on a handful who have helped ease my happy accident.

I’ll begin with Artie – I mean Dave Lieber. No sooner had I been elected to serve as NSNC President two years ago, then Dave made sure this was handed down to me. It a Jams Thurber print originally from 1933. He warned me, as President, I will never be able to sleep, for the moment I laid down to rest, another nightmare would appear.

Little did he know I love the letter “C.” Not only does both my first and last name start with see, but so does “chaos.” That excited me, for, as we all know, in chaos lies opportunity. There is always good to come, even when tidings appear their worst.

I always looked up to scoutmasters, for they must stand stoic athwart the coming storm. I may not have the angular jaw and toned torso of the stereotypical scoutmaster (after all, a man’s got to know his limitations), but that same resolve beats through the depths of my heart. Was Dave trying to warn me or trying to scare me? I don’t know. What he did do was propel my enthusiasm.

Dave’s been a steady rudder, guiding me through the rocky shoals his veteran eyes saw where my naïve eyes saw only the bright unreachable stars. He told me the tale of the education foundation, and I hoped I helped nudge that to a better place, if only by a smidgen.

And speaking of steadying the ship, must gratitude goes to Tony Norman. Tony gladly stepped into the role if Vice President to help ease our vessel, rocked by the unfortunate reality that tends to rock all vibrant populations. The turbulence still gently buffets us a bit, but we’re past the worst. And Tony, when he takes the helm, will make a superlative president.

Dave Astor. What can I say about this Dave? One of these days I hope to pay him handsomely to edit my best-selling series of action-adventure fiction. Of course, you won’t know it’s me who writes it. That’s not what it’s all about.

The rest of the board, particularly this year’s board of directors and advisers – all eagerly embraced their respective duties and the challenges that came with those duties and their position. We all learned a lot this year. And we learned a lot about each other. This is the biggest change that has occurred. We have forged together a team of unlimited potential. And that bodes well for the future of the NSNC.

Ah, the future. That’s the part that especially delights me.

Of course, there would be no future without Bonnie Jean Feldcamp, the NSNC Communications Director. Her commitment to continuing content represents the glue that binds our far-flung family as we travel to the next level.

Indeed, the next level. Bonnie has already announced it. Since Lisa first past the gavel I had this vision of a member-engaged website percolating with multidimensional activity. The pieces are already being put into place. Some you know about, some have yet to be revealed.

Which gets me to the “happy” of my happy accident. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for one person. Heck, the NSNC wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for this person. In many ways, she embodies the coming change, albeit a bittersweet one.

Suzette Standring, our outgoing Executive Director, brought me in to the NSNC. I sat like a rapt freshman listening on the edge of my seat as she presented “The Art of Column Writing” at the New York Press Association’s Spring Conference. I made sure she didn’t get away after the talk so I could ask her more questions. She saw my enthusiasm and immediately invited me to the Manchester NSNC conference. I accepted and joined.

The rest, as they say, is history.

It was Suzette’s encouragement that propelled my enthusiasm further. Her faith in having a conference in Buffalo made feel indescribably good. I say “indescribably,” but I will nonetheless describe it.

You see, I was born in Buffalo. I grew up in the shadows of the Bethlehem Steel plant in the blue-collar melting pot known as Lackawanna. You know that Billy Joel song “Allentown” where he speaks about elementary school kids being taught how to make steel? That was my elementary school. We were trained for but one purpose – to make steel.

How did that dream turn out?

I was the first generation of my immigrant family not to work at Bethlehem Steel. It became the rusted-out posterchild of a declining Buffalo. By then, I had moved on, but never away. I would ceaselessly defend the honor of my hometown against the prejudices of those who had not grown up in my shoes or, more importantly, my friends, shoes.

Alas, this is the sad part of that happy accident. Fate has its own destiny, and often it separates you from those whose memories you will forever cherish. Fate took me away from my friends. Then it took my friends away from me. From that moment on, I have dedicated my life to sharing the blessings of their memories with as wide an audience as I could.

And that meant showing them a Buffalo that they never heard of. A Buffalo that blossoms every spring. A Buffalo that shines every summer. A Buffalo that parties every fall. A Buffalo that huddles comfortably as one every winter.

And what better people to help spread this word that the finest columnists from across our nation.

Suzette, you never knew this about me, but you helped me fulfill my destiny. And I’m sure you’ve helped others in the same way. For you certainly have done things no other could have done for the NSNC. You’ve cheerfully tackled tormentors without once losing your smile. You’ve amazingly solved unsolvable problems as if you were naturally born to the solve them (and you were). You’ve led horses to water AND you got them to drink.

And, during my term, it was more than merely embracing the idea of holding a conference in Buffalo. Why I suggested “Why don’t we offer members a gift they can always use?” You said, “Why not?” and we did. Unfortunately, with no Tulsa our members missed the chance to see this benefit in action by the very person in charge of the newspapers.com historical archive.

But wait! There’s more…

More to come, that is. At Suzette’s request, the NSNC has begun working with Zoom. You should anticipate more webinars, courses, and virtual experiences, especially now that Bonnie has the new membership site coming.

Here’s the thing about Suzette that I will always be grateful for. Suzette sees the glass half full. This is especially true about people. She always saw the best in me, she always saw the best in all the officers and the Board, she always see the best in all NSNC members.

And that consistently brought out the best in her.

And perhaps that’s the best adage I can leave with.

If you presume the best in others, it will bring out the best in you. And you are the best. Don’t forget that. And I won’t forget you.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve, forgive me for not sharing more of myself than I could have, than I want to, and, remember this always, tomorrow is next.

*    *    *    *

I’ll see you there.

*    *    *    *

I’ll going now.

Will you join me?

Beyond the 4th Dimension

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In the beginning, we had the Stone Age. This was characterized by the use of simple handmade tools for cutting and pounding. While eventually perfecting them through polishing, tribes and chiefdoms used these roughhewn implements primarily for hunting and gathering.

Next, we experienced the Bronze Age. Technology evolved from what existed in nature to what could by fashioned with natural elements. City-states melted and molded soft metals like copper and bronze into much more durable and more efficient utensils, as they settled into urban areas where crafts thrived that were supported by surrounding farms.

The use of man-made metals ushered in the Iron Age. Kingdoms and Empires collected raw materials, mixed them into a molten recipe to cast iron into not only tools, but structural supports. The required a larger and more fixed organization that led to a network of roads connecting larger cities within individual states.

After these relatively long eras, we quickly advanced through Industrial Age into the short Information Age until we find ourselves where we live today: in the Age of Content.

That media – the form of communication we use most – has rapidly evolved alongside Continue Reading “Beyond the 4th Dimension”

My Grandfather’s Garage

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More than a half century ago, at the dead end of a not quite rural road, a garage was built. It was a plain but sturdy garage. Made of concrete block. With a solid concrete floor. And a peaked roof high enough to form a spacious second floor. Perfect for storing planks, loose building materials, and a few other odds and ends that existed in that limbo somewhere between trash and treasure.

It was my grandfather’s garage. My father and his father built it the way you’d expect bricklayers to build something. More masonry, less wood. They used concrete block because it was less expensive than brick. It also took less time and work to build with Continue Reading “My Grandfather’s Garage”

Two Wrongs Still Don’t Make A Right

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I weep for my city. I weep for my country. I weep for our ancestors who worked so hard to overcome the obvious frailty that is all humanity.

I cry for those swept aside by events. My heart bleeds for the bystanders who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. I grow sullen, knowing the damage done cannot be quickly repaired.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of our citizenry that a noble cause has devolved into a self-inflicted chaos. Surely, no one believes it’s fair to punish innocents. Yet, clearly, we enable those who feel justified in doing precisely that.

None of this should have ever been allowed to happen.Continue Reading “Two Wrongs Still Don’t Make A Right”

Which Way To The After-Party?

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Following the last show of a performance, everyone involved in the production gets together and celebrates. The “cast party” has long been an entertainment tradition – from high school musicals to Saturday Night Live. It’s an opportunity for all to release the tension and anxiety that comes with acting in front of a live audience.

Other events have a similar tradition. It’s called an “after-party.” As the name implies, it’s Continue Reading “Which Way To The After-Party?”

When Did You Start Your Rosebud Quest?

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In the opening scene of Citizen Kane, the titular protagonist breathes his last breath. “Rosebud,” he whispers as he releases his last grasp of a snow globe that falls to the floor and shatters.

We then spend the next two hours reliving the life of Charles Foster Kane as reporters vainly search for the meaning of his last word. Why would the world’s richest man, a collector of antiquities galore, a prominent citizen, say “Rosebud”?

What did “Rosebud” mean to Charles Foster Kane?

More importantly, what does “Rosebud” mean to us?

In the interest of avoiding revealing a movie’s ending, I won’t tell you what “Rosebud” represents in Citizen Kane. If you’re one of the rare people who have not seen what many Continue Reading “When Did You Start Your Rosebud Quest?”

The Dog Days Of Coronavirus

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On April 21, 2020, the New York Post ran a story titled “Dogs could get extreme separation anxiety when quarantine ends, experts say.” That was four months ago. Back then, we expected the whole matter of Covid-19 to have been a memory by the summer.

We were wrong.

And the dogs of the world rejoice. (For those asking, cats don’t care. If anything, our physical proximity tends to grate on them.)

It’s almost as if this master/pet thing has been turned on its head. The dog is now king of Continue Reading “The Dog Days Of Coronavirus”