Personal Essay: Driving Me Crazy on the Eastern Shore by Angela Rieck

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Every region has its own driving pattern, and I suppose that you can learn a lot about an area by observing it. I spent most of my driving years being schooled on the New Jersey driving rules and I have to admit that I like their style.

In NJ, it is all about time, therefore any driving that hinders one’s ability to get expediently from Point A to Point B is perceived as rude. The speed limit is considered a minimum threshold and on a 3-lane expressway, the unwritten rule is that the right lane is reserved for those who observe the speed limit (or 5 miles above). The middle lane is intended for those who drive about 10 miles over the speed limit and the left lane is designated for passing or those brave souls who ignore the speed limit entirely. Drivers who don’t respect those rules will hear blaring horns and receive “the look.” NJ driving values fit well into my view of things, but the Eastern Shore, well that is a different story.

On the Eastern Shore, independence, not time, is paramount. The philosophy is that “no one is going to tell me what to do” and that no one should be in a hurry. Here the speed limit seems to be merely aspirational. Since most roads on the Eastern Shore are single lane, I find myself at the mercy of this local perspective. It is inevitable that I will be behind a large, thundering pickup truck whose speed will vary randomly a few mph above or 10-15 mph below the speed limit throughout its journey. If I am not directly behind this driver, I will be part of a long line that is. Attempts to pass are only for the bold, as I have witnessed some of these drivers aggressively speed up when someone attempts to pass them.

Even if I am lucky enough to be alone on the road, I can expect someone to suddenly pull into my lane, requiring me to brake dramatically and then the driver will commence to crawl along, well below the speed limit. I have also observed that there appears to be some mysterious vortex that renders turn signals of Eastern Shore vehicles inoperable. It makes anticipating a driver’s next move quite challenging. A sudden stop in the middle of the road could be a left turn, a right turn or a desire to rest or even text.

Within a few months of moving here, I realized that I would not be able to hold onto my tenuous sanity and continue driving, so I purchased a car that has variable cruise control. This cruise control allows me to set my speed (in my case, a couple of mph above the speed limit, because I can dream!) and it adjusts to the driver ahead of me, so I don’t have to try to anticipate his or her variable moods.

The Eastern Shore is stunningly beautiful, there are few roads that are not punctuated with a bridge that crosses a picturesque river or creek. Woodlands and farmlands frame each road, and ospreys, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, bluebirds, barn swallows, cardinals and other birds delight me with their beautiful colors and aerial maneuvers. Sunsets and sunrises are marvels of pink, robin’s egg blue, and steel grays blended with deep red and orange hues. Simple clouds resemble thick, fluffy cotton balls, pink cotton candy, or wisps of polyester-fill strewn through the sky. It is difficult to live here without absorbing the natural beauty which softly inhabits my psyche. This is good, because I have a lot of time to soak it in while I am driving.

Angela Rieck is a former executive of a large insurance company and holds a Ph.D. in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland. She now lives on the Mid-Shore. 

Op-Ed: Nefermaat by Bob Moores

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Nefermaat was a name as common in ancient Egypt as “Robert” or “Smith” today. What does it mean?

The hieroglyph to the left in the graphic above is “nefer”, meaning splendid or beautiful, and Maat was the goddess of truth and justice. Together they mean “the beauty of truth,” a concept the Egyptians valued so highly that one’s eternal abode depended on it.

We live in the era of “post-truth” and “fake news,” particularly as those terms pertain to politics. They have been around for a while, my research shows, but were not ubiquitous and popularized until the advent of Donald Trump.

Wikipedia defines post-truth politics as “a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.” Post-truth, which previously went by another name (initials being BS), has become more prevalent, experts say, with the growth of the internet and social media. By these mechanisms, BS and bald-faced lies can be spread unhindered by accountability or the slightest degree of fact-checking.

My parents taught that lying was bad. Yours probably did too. My wife and I urged our three kids to be truth-tellers at all times. I always figured my fellow Americans thought the same. What went wrong?

Our society has become inured to the bending of truth, telling half-truths, deflection, and outright lying, especially by politicians. Misrepresentation has become an art form. It is fashionable and expected. As the quintessential example, our president, when caught in an obvious whopper, will say “I didn’t say that.” If shown the video, he will say “I didn’t mean what you think I meant,” or “I was joking.” If shown the data he will say the data is wrong or it’s “fake news.”

This behavior seems to be acceptable by a large segment of our population. I don’t get it. Maybe his daily lies have become so normative they no longer draw attention. Or maybe they are discounted because he is trying to fulfill campaign promises most important to his base. I don’t know.

What would the Egyptians say?

Bob Moores retired from Black & Decker/DeWalt in 1999 after 36 years. He was the Director of Cordless Product Development at the time. He holds a mechanical engineering degree from Johns Hopkins University.

 

Autumn Fire by Nancy Mugele

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We lit the first fire of the season in our fireplace last weekend and breathed in its warmth and comfort. I love a glowing hearth in the evenings, and now that we have started, there is no turning back until spring. Not only do fires warm my toes, but the cozy fireside always warms my soul. Gazing into the dancing flames I can reflect upon my day, organize my thoughts, and recharge.

Not that I am in a particular rush to see Daylight Saving Time come to an end this weekend, especially considering how much earlier it has been getting dark these past few afternoons, but with thanks to Benjamin Franklin’s invention in the 18th Century, the dark evenings are definitely made brighter by a crackling fire in the family room. The added benefit, of course, is that the fire reduces our heating costs.

I don’t even need a roaring fire to relax and unwind. I just need a small fire to last a few hours as I read or watch television. Candles suffice in the summer months, but as soon as the weather changes, the flue is thrown open. (Our flue stays in the open position for months, but that is another story.) The fire is my companion on evenings when Jim returns home late from his office in Towson. And, for Jim, it is literally a warm welcome home.

I am pretty handy with the fireplace tools and can light a paper log with the best of them. But the art of stacking wood in the proper way to bring the fireplace to life is Jim’s gift (it is also James’ gift, but since he lives in Montana it doesn’t help me). When Jim is working on getting our fire going I can’t help but think of the phrase “light my fire” made famous decades ago thanks to a song by The Doors.  “Light my fire” is, among other meanings, a metaphorical way to say “inspire me.” Fires, in our oversized cooking fireplace, (made in the Dutch design, much wider than taller), inspire me.

Student writing also inspires me and this quarter at Kent School I will be teaching Creative Writing in Middle School Explorations. Four times during the academic year students can select an elective from a menu of offerings to learn something new, fuel a passion, develop a hobby, discover a potential future vocation, or contribute to student life via Yearbook or our Kent School News video production. This is my first experience teaching an Explorations class and I am really excited about it.

In preparation for my writing class, where I will focus on journaling, blogging and writing poetry, I have been reviewing my personal favorite resources. I will use Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook. Both provide lessons on the basic mechanics of writing, as well as exercises and thoughtful prompts to awaken creativity. When I came upon this Mary Oliver excerpt, it struck a chord:

“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

Fires for the cold – I had never looked at a poem that way, but yes, now I see. Poems are literary works in which “special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm” (Merriam Webster). Autumn fires with their special intensity can capture the heart as only a poem can, and they certainly have a rhythm as the wood catches.

On Monday our Middle School students will select their elective for the next two months. I hope some of them sign up for my session. For those who do, I hope that I can inspire them to share their special intensity through the written word.

Poetry and warm, autumn fires. Both will continue to inspire me as this fall season turns to winter.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.

Op-Ed: The Damn Dam & The 1st District Election by Scott Budden

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Anyone who has spent any time on or around the Upper Chesapeake Bay region this year has witnessed the negative effects of record rainfall levels on water quality. Our state, in addition to Pennsylvania, experienced the wettest April-September period since official record keeping began in 1895. With this rain, plumes of sediment, tons of nutrients, record freshwater pulses, and hazardous debris have flowed down the Susquehanna River. Only impeded by the manmade Conowingo Dam and its modern equivalent of a gatekeeper – Exelon Corp.

As an oyster aquaculture farmer, I spend most of my waking hours on the water. 52 weeks a year, five-plus days per week, we toil on both the Chester River and Eastern Bay. We witnessed the effects the wet year had on the Upper Bay first-hand, and it has not been a pretty sight. Our crop has grown at a glacial pace compared to more “normal” growing seasons. The suppressed salinity levels have stymied our harvest and stunted business plans. Alas, this is farming. The more pressing issues, from a citizen-environmentalist perspective though, stem from what we can control as stewards of the Bay.

The problem is multi-dimensional, and there is no easy or cheap solution. It will take serious political will and human effort to improve the situation. First, what flows into the Susquehanna and then into the Bay stems from PA and NY. Changing land use in our northern neighbors has exacerbated the sediment, nutrient, and debris runoff. Increased precipitation scours it and brings it to the Conowingo’s gates. Once a sink for these harmful byproducts, the Dam’s ponds are at capacity. A major storm brings with it, the potential ruin of the Upper Bay.

Which brings us to the second point, which is that the operation of the Dam is the responsibility of Exelon. They did not create the situation behind the Dam nor cause the record rainfall, yet they have control over how it is operated. They can choose to remove the debris and sediment from the ponds, but claim the cost is too high. They can choose to stockpile water and then open gates for weeks, creating artificially depressed salinity levels in the Bay. It is all under the purview of their FERC hydropower license, and as a private business, they choose how to operate. Large man made dams or levees in other regions (e.g., Hoover Dam, Mississippi River) are operated by the Federal Government. As such, regular periodic public comment and input is solicited. Citizen stakeholders have a say in operations, given the downstream externalities. Besides a once-every-30 to 50 years relicensing process, zero input is sought from us. As the ones bearing the full brunt of upriver conditions and the wholly private operation of the Dam, are we OK with this?

The complexity of the issues calls for elected leaders willing to act. Governor Hogan has made them a priority if he wins a 2nd term. I had the privilege of attending a public forum on 10/21 in Easton, between Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD1) and his challengers. They were asked how they plan to improve the Bay. Rep. Harris responded that Exelon did not create the problems that plague the Dam and they will “walk away” from it if forced to pay for its cleanup. While I agree with his first statement, I also believe that Exelon is solely responsible for the Dam’s operation, profits greatly from it, and should be on the hook for some of the cost. He did not address how he has or would pressure the EPA to hold PA accountable to their 2025 pollution goals – on which they are woefully short thus far. He also did not tout any other comprehensive Bay cleanup or environmental legislation he has passed. Exelon donates to Harris’ campaign via a corporate PAC.

His main opponent, Jesse Colvin, does not accept corporate PAC money. In conversations with Jesse, it’s clear that he understands the need to hold PA accountable to their 2025 goals. It is also clear that he will work with the EPA, Gov. Hogan, and Exelon to find pragmatic solutions to the problems. Fully funding the Chesapeake Bay Program (which Harris did, but did not support increasing Bay cleanup funds in the 2018 Farm Bill) is just the beginning for Mr. Colvin. It is a big reason why I support his campaign. An impaired Bay affects us all: rich or poor, young or old. We need leaders who will fight for it. I believe Jesse will.

Scott Budden is president of Orchard Point Oyster Co and sits on the ShoreRivers Chester River Watershed Board, the MD Sea Grant External Advisory Board, and the Steering Committee of The Chesapeake Oyster Alliance

Op-Ed: We “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by Steve Parks

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“Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
–The Who

The final track of 1971’s “Who’s Next” album became something of an opposition anthem to President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. Democrat George McGovern won only Massachusetts and D.C. So you could say the nation got fooled again, though Nixon later resigned when faced with conviction and removal from office by the Senate after his impeachment.
There’s no presidential election this year. But you’d never know from Donald Trump’s campaign schedule—a rally nearly every night in advance of the midterm elections. He could talk about the humming economy and low unemployment rate. Instead, the president has turned to his 2016 playbook, stoking fears about immigration, demonizing Democrats and lying about virtually everything that pops into his head and out of his mouth.

Will voters be fooled again?

The president’s pathological mendacity has accelerated as he feverishly tries to forestall a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives. From out of nowhere Trump promises a middle-class tax cut, having finally realized that last year’s corporate and those-who-need-it-least tax cut impresses almost no one who’s not worth millions. His so-called middle-class gift will pass by Nov. 1, he says. Never mind that Congress is not in session and won’t be until after the elections. In the lame-duck session, we’ll be lucky if Congress avoids shutting down the government because Trump hasn’t gotten his way on the border wall Mexico was going to pay for. A golden-oldie lie from 2016. So now Trump counters with more immigration whoppers.

The Democrats, he says, are paying for the caravan of Central American immigrants making its way to our border. He adds with zero evidence that Middle East terrorists hide in their midst. Right. Democrats are paying undocumented immigrants to give Republicans a campaign issue to run on. That lie is almost as preposterous as Trump’s claim that Democrats colluded with the Russians in 2016. What? To seal Hillary Clinton’s defeat? So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could steal a Supreme Court pick?

McConnell, at least, is telling the truth in one respect. He says that because of the Republican-spiked deficit, up 17% since the rich-get-richer tax cut, we must cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Trump said he’d protect those entitlements. A lie in waiting. As for guaranteeing insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions, kiss it good-bye if Republicans retain full control of Congress. After all, Trump promised to preserve that, too.

Trump is a champion prevaricator in terms of sheer impunity and volume. But as for telling credible lies, he’s transparently NOT believable. Many of his falsehoods are proven so by previous statements he’s made live on TV or on video. How gullible does he think Americans are? He probably figures we’re just dumb enough not to vote. He may have something there. People who say their vote won’t make a difference should not complain about the government they deserve with their non-participation. It’s like complaining about not winning $1.5 billion in the Mega Millions when you didn’t bother to buy a ticket.

The lottery’s a longshot. But elections, not so much. Especially when millions who wouldn’t ordinarily vote decide it matters too much to sit this one out—and not get fooled again.

Early voting begins Oct. 25 in Maryland. On the ticket for Eastern Shore voters is Jesse Colvin, a reasonably progressive Democrat, running against incumbent Republican Andy Harris, a physician who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to end Medicare as we know it.

That’s what Republicans do—if we let them.

Steve Parks, now living in Easton, is a retired journalist who worked for Newsday on Long Island and The Sun in Baltimore among other newspapers.

Skeleton Keys by Nancy Mugele

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This past summer I lent a student my well-worn copy of Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass. The story follows Jeremy and his best friend Lizzy as they search for four keys that unlock a wooden box delivered one month before Jeremy’s 13th birthday. The box is from Jeremy’s father who died a few years before. If you have not read it, do, it is unforgettable. The book also has a connection to this year’s All Middle School read at Kent School, Every Soul a Star, also by Wendy Mass. The author will be one of our endowed Kudner Leyon Visiting Writers this year, and will speak with our students on March 25, but that is another story.

The reason I am sharing this is that on the first day of school a shiny gold skeleton key, and the returned book, were left on my desk. I was not in my office when they were delivered, and when I walked in and spotted the gleaming key, I was so touched. The book had obviously made an impact.

The key sits on my desk and nearly once a day a student picks it up, turns it over longingly, and asks about it. I like to say that the key was given as a gift by a student and it symbolizes opening the door of learning or unlocking learning. This always brings a smile to the face of the student standing across my desk.

Skeleton keys hold a certain fascination. (Jim carried one in his pants pocket as a young boy for many years.) Skeleton keys are mysterious. We wonder what treasure or secrets the key could possibly help us discover. A skeleton key (also a passkey) is special because it can open numerous locks. This, of course, only adds to their allure and intrigue. While some believe that a skeleton key is so named because its top resembles a skull, the name signals that the key is stripped down to its most basic parts.

Skeleton keys, therefore, are simple, yet highly effective tools, which also makes them powerful symbols. After all, we say that our true love holds “the key to our heart.” Nothing could be greater than having one essential key to unlock one special someone’s heart.  I am sure that is why jewelry designers love to use skeleton keys in their pieces. And, then there are people who are presented with the “key to the city” as a symbolic gesture of leadership, friendship, and goodwill.

Imagine my surprise this week when I learned that my dear friend, California artist and painter Deborah Martin, has a painting in the Circle of Truth exhibit at the New Museum of Los Gatos opening tonight. The oil on canvas entitled The Key (2012)  is a hauntingly beautiful portrait of a skeleton key poised in a door lock. An excerpt from her artist’s statement is as follows:

Skeleton keys represent talismans that can get one through a time of change. The skeleton key or passkey is a powerful symbol as this key can open more than one lock.
The key placed in the door is a symbol of hope for the future and freedom of choice to move forward and appreciate the spirit of life.

Now I will have a different response when students ask me about the skeleton key on my desk. I can confidently affirm that the key is a symbol for the entire student body, our hope for the future, especially as Kent School begins its journey into its next half century.

If you find an antique skeleton key you are not using anymore, I will gladly take it off your hands. Don’t tell Jim, but I plan to start a new collection!

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.

Op-Ed: Jesse Colvin Best for the Environment by Kate Livie

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The counties in Maryland’s District 1 sprawl awkwardly across the map from Ocean City to Smith Island to Carroll County. But there’s one big thing we all share—access to the Chesapeake Bay. Our counties collectively possess more of the Bay’s shoreline than any other district—something that’s given us a front seat to the surges of sediment, freshwater and debris that’s pulsed down the Susquehanna and through the Conowingo Dam all summer long.

It hasn’t been pretty. Any waterman, boater, swimmer or homeowner can tell you that. Our wetter than average spring and rainy summer—the wettest in a century— has sent record high flows down the Susquehanna, causing the floodgates at Conowingo Dam to be opened multiple times throughout the summer. Behind the dam was the largest collection of garbage and floating detritus in 20 years. Although Exelon removed 1800 tons of trash from behind the dam, the rest poured into the Chesapeake in a thick brown torrent, rich with all of Pennsylvania’s topsoil and fertilizer.

District 1 watched it happen. This summer, we feared for our oysters, our waterfront, our maritime traditions, our tourism as we drowned in Pennsylvania’s waste. Meanwhile, our troubles here in Bay country have failed to motivate our leadership to make a change. Our current representative, Andy Harris, has made a few token votes for the Bay’s environment while also voting scores of times to undermine national environmental standards. Clearly, Harris cares far more about currying favor with his party than helping the people he’s been elected to represent. He’s weak on the Chesapeake environment in a way none of his constituents living close to the Bay can ever afford to be.

Now, more than ever, it’s time for a change. We need a strong District 1 leader who is willing to work with the northern states in our watershed to address our imperiled Bay. A leader who believes in a healthy Chesapeake environment and economy—one who is willing to champion a comprehensive, commonsense, non-partisan approach that’s about what’s best for us here in the Bay’s communities.

I believe wholeheartedly that leader is Jesse Colvin. Colvin’s position is clear—if elected, when a bill crosses his desk in Washington, he will put the needs and values of his District first. Colvin has strongly committed to Chesapeake advocacy, and will work across the aisle to build critical relationships. Colvin’s approach is something we desperately need if a watershed-wide effort to maintain the Bay’s economic and recreational vitality is ever to be accomplished.

As a young person living on the Eastern Shore I wonder—will my children or grandchildren eat crabs harvested off of Rock Hall or swim in the Chester River? Or will that be gone—buried under endless sediment—in my lifetime? I want to look forward to a future where I see watermen’s workboats hauling their catch to the dock. I want to see sails cutting across the Chester River. I want to see kids cannonballing off the end of their dock, catching crabs with hand lines and knowing the Chesapeake Bay that I have always held so dear.

I want Jesse Colvin as my District 1 Representative.

Kate Livie is a Chesapeake writer, educator, Kent County native, and author of the 2015 book, Chesapeake Oysters, The Bay’s Foundation and Future.

Op-Ed: Pyrrhic Victory by George Merrill

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An instructive piece of history.

Around 280 BC, Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus was asked by the people of Tarentum in southern Italy to help them in their war with the Roman Republic.

He had a strong army fortified by war elephants ( Romans were not experienced facing them), Pyrrhus enjoyed initial success against the Roman legions, but suffered heavy losses even in these victories. Pyrrhus said after the second battle of the war, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.” He could not call up more men from home and his allies in Italy were becoming indifferent. The Romans, by contrast, had extensive manpower and could replenish their legions even if their forces were depleted in many battles, thus, a Pyrrhic victory.

A Pyrrhic victory, then, is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has also taken a heavy toll that negates any true sense of achievement. Marshalling elephants for the cause may win you the battle but lose your war.

Judge Kavanagh’s recent appointment to the Supreme Court was a Pyrrhic Victory.

I may be alone in this thought but the political circumstances surrounding the recent controversy over Judge Kavanagh’s appointment seemed centered less on justice and more on power. The exchanges exposed our social confusion over issues of gender relationships, and particularly male dominance. The elephant in the middle of the room was about how uses of power play out in gender relationships in society in general, and in particular, politics. Are women being accorded the same social and professional privileges as men? Can government dictate how a woman uses her body? Are women heard or marginalized? Do men bully women?

In a remarkable statement from our president, in the heat of the debate, he framed Dr. Ford’s testimony as another instance of how women falsely accuse men and ruin their careers. “It’s a scary time for young men in America,” the president solemnly lamented, claiming that he, too, had been victimized.

Throughout the entire hearing, sex was more central to the exchanges than justice. In one way or another, human sexuality was on everyone’s mind. The irony is how, in discussing delicate interpersonal matters that confuse us most and that we understand least, the conversation can become so strident.

From the beginning the hearings were a no win for Kavanaugh and Ford. Still, skilled statecraft and a measure of graciousness in the proceedings could have mitigated some of the residual vitriol.

I think there’s a silver lining here. My hope is that caring Americans will be sufficiently embarrassed by this national tragedy to get to the polls and vote, but will vote for the helpers, the people who care for us and for the country and who offer a vision, not a sound bite. We have an encouraging slate of newcomers as well as seasoned veterans who really want to help, who want to be servant leaders and are asking as for the chance.

I use the world ‘helpers’ from a piece I read years ago. It came right from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood where he spoke to the country in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy, one of the ugliest episodes of violence we’ve experienced. He spoke comfort to millions of children but to adults as well. He cited how he had been taught that when something terrible happens, and you suddenly feel afraid and alone, “Look for the helpers,” he said, “you will always find people helping.” It may seem a kind of soft image to invoke discussing the leadership we so desperately need, but I like it. A servant leader can really care for his constituents without being hateful.

What was notable about Mr. Rogers, was how he addressed the fears all children have; indeed, all adults have, the dark fear of violence and hatred. How powerful kindness and gentleness can be when it speaks unflinchingly to what is ugly, with compassion for others and without hate or blame.

Find the helpers and then go to the polls and vote for them. They’re ready to help and to serve.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

All I Can Do Is Write About It by Nancy Mugele

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With a nod to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ballad “All I Can Do Is Write About It,” which I heard for the first time last weekend thanks to Jim, I have decided that each of us should use the written word to communicate. Talking to each other about our beliefs has not worked for quite a while now, and especially, most recently. Sadly, we cannot have civil conversations with each other about the state of affairs in our country.

Many of you know that I never talk about politics, religion, or football, but that is another story. All three of these topics are really not appropriate for a Head of School to have a public opinion about. But, I have been thinking a lot this week about the art of writing.

Author Gustave Flaubert wrote: The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe. This statement truly captures my personal experience with writing. I often get new ideas for my column through conversation. But those ideas don’t become mine until I write about them. Clear prose means clear thought and, for me, writing equals thinking. It solidifies my thoughts and helps me formulate new ones. As a child, I kept a diary and later, journals filled with poetry and reflections on my life. So few people do this today. I also enjoy writing old-fashioned, hand-written letters and notes. Writing is a way for me to share love across the miles to my family members and dear friends.

Writing is also about re-writing, editing, and reflecting on your message to be sure it represents your thoughts appropriately and authentically. Even writing an email, or writing on your social media platforms could be used to help convey what you believe in a clear, responsible and civil manner. There’s no reason that a tweet or post can’t serve a higher purpose. (Check out @DalaiLama on Twitter if you want to read inspiring posts.) And, while I do think that many people feel they are achieving this, I don’t believe that most social media posts today elevate our national conversation in any way.

The ancient Chinese regarded the written word as a transformative force able to move heaven and earth and unite the reader with the source of all things, the Tao. (The Art of Writing, Chou Ping) If we all took some time to use the written word to formulate our opinions before we said them aloud, we might all get along just a little bit better. At a minimum, we would be more civil towards one another.

Everyone is a writer. Yes, to pursue it as a career takes education, special training, and endless practice. But, for most of us, on a daily basis, all it takes is time with your thoughts, and a basic desire to always do good in the world.

Write On.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.