Friday, May 30, 2008

Blogging as Dance

This weekend, I attend my thirty-fifth college reunion, for the Class of 1973, at Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, PA.

As the Class Reunion Program Chairman, I set up a wiki, the "Bucknell 1973 Class Reunion in 2008" website, to coordinate our plans. Also, as an alumnus in a reunion, I was requested to write an article for
the student newspaper, The Bucknellian, distributed during the Reunion Weekend.

For today's entry, I post a variant of that article, which explains my fascination for writing and my involvement in blogging.

I am an attorney in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who writes a legal blog, named the "PA Elder, Estate & Fiduciary Law Blog ". It is an extracurricular activity separate from my private law practice, but meaningful for me and (I like to think) useful for others.

My blog project was born from a passion to learn and teach, is maintained by my professional pride, but can only be justified or understood as an extension of my personal purpose, materialized through a new technological medium.

Yet, I trace the blog’s roots back thirty-five years, to Bucknell University, when I was an undergraduate English major.

Why did I select English as a major?

Expression skills -- both written & spoken -- that's what I sought originally. In honing those skills, I hoped that my thinking could be clearer and more effective, thereby advancing both myself and others towards what would be right and good. (Remember, it was the end of the sixties.)

A few years ago, two sponsors of Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion", broadcast on National Public Radio, memorialized my reasons in radio plays.

The Partnership of English Majors asserted: "If you're an English major, you have many advantages in this world and you ought to use them. The ability to express yourself readily, gracefully, sensitively, for example. An enormous advantage." (English Majors Script, January 15, 2005).

The Professional Organization of English Majors advocated: "'re going to be speaking it for the rest of your life so why not get good at it. Major in English." (English Majors Script, June 4, 2005 ).

Then I took classes taught by Professor John ("Jack") Wheatcroft. He was a recognized poet & writer; and he read his works in public. Later, I requested him to be my faculty advisor. I remember him still, dearly, although I doubt that he remembered me beyond my graduation.

From our periodic course selection meetings in his office in the Vaughn Lit Building and from classes, I remember best his eyes and his hands.

His eyes seemed almost four-dimensional. Looking in his dark eyes, I could feel energy and compassion radiating from his soul. His outward gaze ranged around like a sheriff's search light. When the beam landed on me, I felt he could see inside my soul.

He usually moved around while speaking, accenting his words with gentle gestures. His hands -- they were the delivery system for his words onto a page -- also were active when he spoke words.

Jack not only knew about the literature's techniques; he really felt the meaning. I usually remained baffled by both.

I recall once questioning in small seminar on poetry how he could refer to a piece by William Carlos Williams [see photo above] as "poetry". The writing did not rhyme; had broken lines that ran on; failed rules of punctuation; did not have a beginning, middle, or end; neglected a message; and was even a bit obscene. I just did not get it.

What did he see in this "poetry"?

I still remember that poem, to which I offered protest:

Danse Russe

If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,--
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
again the yellow drawn shades,--

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

Jack Wheatcroft listened to my protest, and responded, but did not argue. He observed that I viewed it rationally, while the poem is an experience. It describes a feeling, but does so in words with discipline, clarity, and conciseness. As such an expression, it is a poem.

I often left his office or his classroom awed, like a kid who just got a pat on the back from a grass-stained college quarterback after a game. If he represented the heart and the head of a person who loved words and who wrote, then I wanted to be like him.

I graduated from Bucknell into The Dickinson School of Law (now part of Penn State). In that competitive study, I found very little sensitivity or intuition revealed in the casebook method -- outlining of cases for cross-examinations by professors.

Yet, I had been touched by the magic that I had observed in Jack Wheatcroft and other role models at Bucknell. He & other professors, like Bert Hill & Allen Flock, and administrators at Bucknell, like Jim Hammerlee, Jack Pyper, & President Charles Watts, had changed me.

So, I followed a personal discipline outside of legal class work. I wrote daily journals and poetry. I read outside of law subjects when I could. In a few years, I had read every book of poetry by William Carlos Williams still in print. I even visited his hometown in Patterson, New Jersey to see where he lived his dual life of physician and poet.

Today, my writing mostly remains oriented towards the law. I don't write poetry anymore. But I do still write journal entries. And I constantly read books on new & challenging topics.

In 2000, I also became a part-time teacher -- an Adjunct Professor at Widener University Law School (Harrisburg PA Campus).

In August, 2006, in response to inquiries from the students in my Elder Law class as to the "real world" relevancy of the subject matter, I began the blog.

This is its purpose:

"A blog & resource by a practicing & teaching lawyer in Pennsylvania for law students, consumers, & professionals about Elder Law, senior lifestyles, long-term care, "End-of-Life" & health care surrogate decision-making, estate & personal planning, fiduciary administrations (by agents under powers of attorney, custodians, guardians, executors/administrators, & trustees), elders' dispute resolution, and Orphans' Court litigation in this Commonwealth, with reference to trends nationally."
I have made over 400 postings, most of them written by me, on such topics. The blog now gets about 500 hits a day, and lately surpassed 150,000 hits.

I am the only one who has worked on its setup. I decide on its orientation. I write most of its content (I did not enable comments by readers to assure my control, although I routinely update postings). I have hosted a few esteemed "guest contributors" lately.

And now, finally, from writing this blog in a manner as I imagine Williams wrote his poetry, I think that I have come to understand better his poem and Jack Wheatcroft's joy in it.

It is on this blog where I have finally become "the happy genius of my household".

Like William Carlos Williams -- the poet who remained a practicing physician all his life -- I have been able to dance like a writer while remaining a lawyer.

At the basic level, on the blog, like Williams, I set my own rules for readability. I get to use an ampersand (&) instead of the long word "and". I get to put the names of people or organizations in bold typeface, with Internet links, to recognize & celebrate them. I get to end a sentence with a preposition, use semicolons in long sentences for a mental break, begin a sentence with "and" or "but", put a comma or a period outside quotation marks, use double dashes, and write one-sentence paragraphs -- some of them long.

When I escape into the "room" of my own computer online to research or write a posting, I can "dance" as did William Carlos Williams.
And although the subjects of my blog may appear random, there is purpose consistent with my vision.

It is a vision of healing for all of us, and particularly for those who struggle in the face of physical disability, progressive illness, debilitating aging, death, personal loss, or mental incapability.

In the celebrations, humor, examinations, information, questioning, moral considerations, or financial analyses posted on the blog, I learn, and then I can teach.

I experience what I do, and I project what we could do better. I write these impressions in words that, hopefully, reflect the discipline, clarity, and conciseness taught by Jack Wheatcroft.

To students at Bucknell now, I would say, look deeply into the eyes of your professors, and watch their hands. If you are inspired by their passion and impressed by their skills, mimic them. Someday you can become an extension of them, just as they became an extension of their teachers.

And someday, in some way, you too will become the happy genius of your own household.