Shakespeare, “Soul of the Ages”

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely Players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His Acts being seven ages.”—As You Like It

Shakespeare, “Soul of the Ages”

Behold! Who dreams in this troubled slumber? Ah, ’tis a scrivener lost in thought. He reads too much of the nonsense writings of others concerning William Shakespeare, a man I knew well.

Hark thee now. His youngest brother Edward, my eldest brother Cuthbert, and I belonged to the same company of London actors. Amidst our troupe, Shakespeare and I were shareholders in Blackfriars and  The Globe, where I played Julius Caesar in 1599. This would later lead me to play Hamlet, my signature role.  Could it be true that my characterization of Hamlet still influences the actors who play him today? Alas! I digress from my purpose: clearing the untruths and confusion from thy thoughts.

Prithee, allow thy mind to imagine Will’m if you will—Did I make a pun? Ah! I overindulge myself. When the cock crows at dawn, I must begone.

John and William Shakespeare, Ambitious Men

William was the eldest son of John and Mary (née Arden) Shakespeare. An ambitious man, his father improved his social rank through hard work as a maker of leather goods, such as the stylish gloves of my day. He hawked his wares on Thursdays at the local market in Stratford. Eventually, he became prominent in Stratford, serving officially at civic affairs and guild meetings.

As the eldest, Will was expected to pick up his father’s trade. Yet, unbeknownst to his father, his son nurtured other aspirations for himself. But to his credit, he lent himself to his father’s craft for a time.

William Shakespeare Married Anne Hathaway

At 18, William married Anne Hathaway in 1582 from the nearby village of Shottery. He walked the mile and a half to her village to court her. Her father, Richard, was a yeoman farmer. It should come as no surprise that the Hathaway and Shakespeare families were acquainted. Although William never said so openly, I surmised the fathers had more to do with arranging the marriage than the locals knew.

Anne was 26, eight years older than her future husband, and carried his child. Was it not one of your countrymen who advised men to marry older women? Across the centuries, people made much ado about nothing. Tongues wagged like the tail of an excited dog. So, countless hearsay arose over her age and pre-marriage pregnancy.

Shakespeare Manifests His Love for Anne

Free thy mind of these rumors and chatter, for I say Will loved Anne. She bore him three children: Susanna and the twins Hamnet and Judith. For her, he erected New Place, an imposing house—the second-largest in Stratford. It had ten chimneys and thirty rooms. Neither Will nor Anne had much time to themselves. How could he possibly have lived a supposed libertine lifestyle in London?

His evenings were consumed with writing with a quill pen by candlelight. He wrote thirty-seven plays, 154 sonnets, and two narrative poems during his lifetime. And his days, they afforded him even less time. Shakespeare filled them with stage performances, directing, rehearsals, investing money in theaters, buying land in Stratford, and caring for Anne, the children, his siblings, and aged parents.

In addition to his plays and the insights their characters revealed of human nature on the stage, his contributions to the English language remain unmatched in the history of literature. And it should also be noted that he had an enterprising spirit for words and business. I always said he inherited his ambitious drive from his father.

Salacious Rumors Surrounded Anne

And what of the alleged indiscretions ascribed to Anne? Forget them. They were baseless rumors that sullied her good name. She filled her daily life with chores: She managed the household diligently—overseeing its maintenance, cooking, nurturing three children, and attending to William’s family. As a child of a farm family, hard work and long days were no strangers to Anne. And she harbored ambitions akin to William’s. She ran cottage industries at New Place under her guidance. In her epitaph to her mother, Susanna hailed her as a priceless gift.

I sense the cock’s about to crow. And lo, the dawn breaks. I should impart more, such as the enigma of the “second best bed” and William’s omission of Anne from his will. Perchance, I’ll visit thee in another dream.
Farewell, scrivener! Consider these parting words: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” —Twelfth Night.

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Will Rogers Became Big Celebrity

Will Rogers Made Americans Laugh

Will Rogers became one of the best-known celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s. He had a talent for concise and clever remarks. He’d poke fun at gangsters, political parties, Congress, and hot topics of his time in an unoffending manner.

During his life, Rogers was the number-one radio personality, the biggest box office draw, and the most-read newspaper columnist.

He learned how to ride a horse and do rope tricks while growing up on a ranch in what would become the state of Oklahoma. So he wound up performing in Wild West shows in the United States.

His moniker eventually became the Cowboy Philosopher because his pithy comments held a pearl of Western wisdom.

Here are three examples.

Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people that they don’t like. —Will Rogers

The short memories of American voters is what keeps our politicians in office. —Will Rogers

There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by readin’g. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. —Will Rogers.

He said his epitaph should read: “‘I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t like.'”

He said he was proud of that and wanted it on his gravestone. 

Will Rogers ImageWill Rogers

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Celebrate American Independence

Image of the Declaration of Independence

I find historical events related to the Declaration of Independence interesting. They occurred at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1776 and during the American Revolutionary War.

The Lee Resolution (known as the Resolution of Independence), put forth on June 7, 1776, by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, is considered the earliest text proclaiming the separation of the Thirteen Colonies from England. Congress first asked Lee to draft a declaration of independence, but he declined. He said he was already involved with drafting the Articles of Confederation and caring for a sick wife.

So the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson would be its principal author on the committee. Other committee members included Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Robert Livingston. Coincidentally, Jefferson said no when asked to write the committee’s draft but eventually relented to John Adam’s persistence.

John Hancock was the first and only one to sign the Declaration of Independence on July 4. Other delegates signed it by August 2. Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire was the last to sign on November 4.

On July 4, 1826, the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, two members of the drafting committee, who also served as US Presidents, died within five hours of each other: John Adams, our second president, and Thomas Jefferson, our third president.

Independence Came at a High Cost

Here are diary passages of American Colonial soldiers. Private Joseph Martin wrote one of the most grizzly and gripping passages I read. I grew up in a northern climate with snow, ice, and cold temperatures. I can’t imagine how anyone suffered those conditions marching barefoot because they lacked footwear. Some soldiers wrapped rags around their feet. Human skin splits and bleeds when exposed to ice and frigid cold for long.

Almost every one has heard of the soldiers of the Revolution being tracked by the blood of their feet on the frozen ground. This is literally true, and the thousandth part of their sufferings has not, nor ever will be told. —Diary of Private Joseph Plumb Martin

I am Sick – discontented – and out of humour. Poor food – hard lodging – Cold Weather – fatigue – Nasty Cloaths – nasty Cookery – Vomit half my time – smoak’d out my senses – the Devil’s in’t – I can’t Endure it – Why are we sent here to starve and Freeze. — Albigence Waldo, Diary of a Surgeon at Valley Forge 1777

 Bloody Footprints

Some Continental Army soldiers’ bare and bandaged feet left blood trails on the cold ground at Valley Forge in December 1777. General William Alexander reported the troops’ condition days before they arrived at Valley Forge this way:

“A long fatiguing Campaign already wears them out, a Considerable part of them [are] in the Hospitals, …one half of those in Camp, are almost naked, and are walking barefooted on the Ice or frozen Ground.”

As you eat your grilled hot dog or hamburger, as you stand watching a parade, or sit at your lake cabin comfortably with family and friends, or arch your neck to watch fireworks explode in the sky, please reflect for a moment on the sacrifices that an earlier generation made for us.

Happy Fourth of July! Or “Independence Day,” as John Adams called it.

It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. —John Adams, The Letters of John and Abigail Adams

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Do You Write with Style?

Does style matter? It does if you’re a writer, especially if you want your piece published. Some publications have their style manuals. If you’re a journalist who conforms to the Associated Press Stylebook (or AP Style Guide),  that may not be enough if you’re writing for The New York Times. The Times has its manual of style and usage. That’s not unique. Many publications have in-house style manuals. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Sometimes the difference between them is minute—for example, the Oxford comma. Many consider it persnickety. Yet it has merit.

 I often follow the AP Style Guide or The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) more than any other. Yet I’m aware of the different major manual styles and apply them if they fit what I’m writing and for who I am writing. Here are other style guides used in publishing. Many more are in use.

What about those commas, periods, and quotation marks? Does it matter whether you put the period inside or outside the quotation marks? To paraphrase the late Winston Churchill, England and America are separated by a common language. If you’re an American writer, you’ll put the period inside the quotation mark in a direct quote, but outside it, if you’re English.

And how do I know this? The CMOS says so, and I’m not about bicker about style.

“Commas and periods are almost always placed before a closing quotation mark, ‘like this,’ rather than after, ‘like this.’ This traditional style has persisted even though it’s no longer universally followed outside the United States or entirely logical.”

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Honoring Veterans on Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, Pause and Reflect on the Fallen

Memorial Day holds a special place in my heart and mind, where I gather my thoughts in a solemn assembly of two classmates who gave “the last full measure of their lives” to the American ideal.

As a child, I thought and played as a child. I spent the day surrounded by family and relatives at a lake cabin or resort. My cousins and I devoured grilled hot dogs smothered in ketchup and mustard and ate dill pickles and potato chips. We threw Frisbees, played catch, fished, hula-hooped, and played whatever other kid activity came to mind.

While we entertained ourselves, my Aunts and Uncles relaxed on lawn chairs or at picnic tables butted end-to-end with red gingham plastic tablecloths. My Uncles enjoyed beers and operated several charcoal grills, and my Aunts set out a banquet of homemade picnic foods. As they relaxed, they talked and talked, poked fun at their follies, and laughed until their sides ached and tears welled up in their eyes. But the show-stopper came when they hula-hooped after a few hours of social drinking. To see woozy grown-ups gyrating put us children in stitches! Of course, we begged them not to stop.

That was my childhood memory of Memorial Day. So if death and taxes are certain (Ben Franklin), then change is inevitable, and in time, Memorial Day took on a solemn face for me and others. Awareness comes in many colors. A wake-up call sounded recently when a combat veteran said those who died in uniform didn’t give up their lives so Americans could get a day off work. When Wayne Champion and Reinhard Schnurrer, two high school classmates, died in combat in the Vietnam War, my Memorial Day memories abandoned me.

Remembering Classmates Killed in Combat

So when Memorial Day approaches, Wayne and Reinhard come to mind. I’ve personalized their memories, which in a broader sense, solemnizes a portion of the day. Others display American Flags or wear a red poppy flower, a symbol of “Remembrance” and hope for a peaceful future, and show support for the Armed Forces.

Wayne and Reinhard graduated in 1966. Sometime after graduation, they enlisted. And after military training, they wound up in Vietnam, where they died in combat. They would never hug their parents again. They would never celebrate their twenty-first birthdays, marry, have children, walk a child down the aisle, see grandchildren, hold them, or bounce them on their knees. They would never celebrate an anniversary. On Memorial Day, they would never again be among Americans who remember those who died on battlefields but be among those so honored.

There are plenty of ways to honor the fallen. Many plant flags at veteran grave sites or visit a national cemetery. Even if you’re busy, set aside a moment at 3 p.m. local time to participate in the National Moment of Remembrance. It began in 2000. The Remembrance asks Americans to pause briefly in silence and reflect in their way. Wayne and Reinhard, if you’re listening, I remember you and share your memory with classmates who knew you.

Memorial in Jacksonville, North Carolina, for American servicemen and women who died in the Vietnam War. Rick Graf pays tribute to two high school classmates who died in combat.

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My Broken Ankle Embarrassment

Friends Signed My Broken Ankle Cast

After partying with friends over the weekend, I experienced an unexpected consequence: a twenty-one-year-old recently discharged from military duty. The army released me after my three years of military service as an airborne rigger in June 1969, which means I spent a reasonable amount of time jumping out of military aircraft and packing personal and cargo parachutes to drop paratroopers, military equipment, and supplies for air assaults. Doing it safely (okay, stop laughing) was the mantra, and I took pride in never sustaining an injury after fifty-five jumps from 1,000-1,200 feet and a sport free-fall from 8,000.

But despite my success, I didn’t expect a weekend of partying to humble me in the way it did. I never saw it coming and found it more embarrassing than anything else. It happened after a July Fourth celebration on a Monday at a construction site in St. Paul, Minnesota. And as I said, I had been partying, having a good time at a friend’s lake cabin, drinking cold beer, eating grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, potato salad—picnic foods.

I Heard My Ankle Crack

A home-building contractor had hired me as summer help. The ground on construction sites can be uneven and unkempt. On the day my embarrassment happened, I had been nailing insulation board to wood two-by-four framing. I used a two-step ladder to reach the uppermost part of the board. As I stepped down, my right foot landed in a shallow rut. I lost my balance, and my body weight went into my ankle with enough force that it broke.

I heard it crack; fortunately, it wasn’t an open fracture. Instead, my ankle swelled to the size of a cantaloupe. The foreman saw what happened and called 911. An ambulance came and rushed me to the nearest emergency room. I spent the rest of the summer with my ankle in a plaster cast.  Which my friends gleefully signed and jived me about my broken ankle. They’d repeatedly ask me, “How many jumps did you have?”  Their asking me that question irritated me more than the itchiness I felt from my cast.

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Near-Fatal Fall During Rappel

Woman Rappels Cliffs Again

ST. GEORGE, Utah – March 12, 2016, was four years from when Brittany Anne Fisher fell 80-100 feet while rappelling Cougar Cliffs during a spring break trip. She returned as a 24-year-old paraplegic to face her fear. Assisted by the Washington County Sheriff’s high-angle rope rescue team, she rappelled safely down the cliffs that nearly killed her in 2012.

Image Brittany Anne Fisher and her dog Cooper

Brittany Anne Fisher with her companion dog, Cooper, a golden doodle

Click here to read the story I wrote for the St. George News about Brittany Fisher’s near-fatal fall while rappelling at Cougar Cliffs off State Route 8 in St. George, Utah.

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Angry Voters Assault US Congress

Essay on the 2021 US Capitol Attack

Holy Mother of God! What caused the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol? It didn’t come from foreign terrorists. It came from US citizens. Some were active and inactive military veterans who vowed to uphold the law and defend the Nation.

Watching them on national television turned my stomach. It crushed my heart because I’m a veteran like them. I swore that same oath of allegiance to defend and protect this country.

Some in the assault threatened bodily harm to members of Congress. Some fatally harmed or injured the men and women protecting the Capitol–some damaged government property—Washington Post Inactive Photos of January 6 Attack.

How much blame should fall on them? The courts will have to decide. But the instigator, a serving president, Donald Trump, should be held accountable too. He got their blood up with his “Stop the Steal!” inflammatory rhetoric. In addition to any punishment the court hands out, I wish those charged and convicted could also be required to pass the Citizenship test.

What’s to be gained? Hopefully, insight and balance between Trump’s one-sided and anti-democratic views and the multitude of opinions in a democracy. Its essence depends on give-and-take, compromise, tolerance, and respect not only for the law but also its constitution, institutions, and traditions—otherwise, authoritarianism rules. Citizens who live in a democracy must uphold their end and act according to the defined and shared responsibilities of a free society.

Upon leaving Independence Hall, where he and other delegates passed the US Constitution in 1787, someone asked Ben Franklin what kind of government he had formed. “A Republic,” he said, “if you can keep it.” The attack on the Capitol has put his reply before those of us living today. I now share Franklin’s doubt.

Members of alt-right groups dressed in battlefield fatigues and wearing combat gear

Photo credit: The Washington Post

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Psychiatrist Studied Dying Patients

Author Pioneers New Field

“Death is a catastrophic experience.” That’s what college students heard Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross say during her four-part seminar at Winona State University, a liberal arts college in Minnesota.

She would become a renowned international author on death. I met her in 1973 after she published her first book, On Death & Dying. She was a Swiss-American psychiatrist and pioneer in studying terminally ill patients.

I didn’t know it then, but I’d realize later how lucky I had been to meet her and write a story about her for the Winona Daily News.

I’ve never forgotten my lead paragraph: “Death,” she said, “is a catastrophic, destructive force bearing upon us, and we can’t do a thing about it.”

That’s how Dr. Kubler-Ross defined death. She had studied the experiences of hundreds of dying patients at the University of Chicago Billings Hospital.

Eventually, she would be recognized for pinpointing the five grief stages that dying patients felt. The stages included denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The work she pioneered brought about the new field of thanatology (the study of death and dying and the psychological mechanisms of dealing with them).

What’s more, her work also achieved more respect for hospice care. She authored twenty-three books before she died in 2004 at 78.

Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


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