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How I Learned to Write

How I Learned to Write

May 14, 2022 | 814 words | Personal History

In recent months I have struck up a close friendship with a fascinating, age-appropriate woman who has never stopped learning, never stopped taking classes and acquiring certifications. This perpetual student is dumbfounded by my never having signed up for a writing class, or been part of any sort of writers group that could provide me with regular feedback on my work.

How, she recently asked, did I learn to write? My first answer is to invoke that old chestnut “practice makes perfect.” And at the risk of sounding glib and slightly annoying, that’s pretty much the long and short of it.

Not that I’m any great author, mind you, since all I can manage is the odd short essay, seemingly about the same three or four subjects, ad nauseum. But I remember always wanting to write, at least since high school, even though I never did much actual writing. I did, however, dabble in poetry ever so slightly in my late teens and early twenties.
Back them I remember showing my best little pieces to my college French professor turned friend and mentor. By way of encouraging me he said something to the effect that, yes, that’s a good little poem you’ve got there, Bob. But one poem doesn’t make you a writer. You have to keep doing it.
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Even though I wasn’t writing, I was always reading. So maybe I fall into the category of someone who learned how to write by reading people who were already doing it well. I can also tell you I’ve been reciting Shakespeare’s 29th sonnet for about fifty years now, ever since my high school French teacher turned friend and mentor first introduced me to it. (Yes, I had two cool French teachers in my youth.) He also introduced me to a short poem from W.B. Yeats that I’ve also been reciting in my head for just as long (“Speech after long silence, it is right…”) There is a lot to be said for cadence and word choice.
Don’t worry, though, I’m not going to drag you through an excruciating review of my nascent amateur writing career. I do remember wanting to write during my early married life, and vowing to write once I got home from work. But I was always too tired to concentrate. And there was always so much to do on the weekends, with kids to raise and a house to take care of.
Then a major shift occurred in just the last decade. The kids grew up. And things took a major turn for the better at work. Not only did the business enter a period of pronounced prosperity, but some young staffers began to come into their own, taking a good deal of pressure off my shoulders. I had a little free time during the course of the work day that I never had before. I began to jot things down. Those seeds got developed at night, on the weekends, whenever. Pretty soon I was actually writing on a regular basis.
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When my father had a stroke in the Fall of 2012 and died shortly thereafter, I was just starting to hit some sort of stride. Of course, nothing I was coming up with was any good. I thought I wanted to write a book and find a publisher. Oh, how naïve I was. Plus, I was trying to do elaborate footnotes as part of my attempts at a manuscript, imitating my favorite authors. Sure, I had a little free time at work, but not that much free time. And let’s face it: I’m no scholar, and it’s way too late in life to try and become one.
Eventually I settled on the short form essay, geared to the average reader who is grappling with current events and the meaning of life. I decided to try and make ‘practical poetry’ my calling card. Lo and behold I kind of found my niche, and found my voice. That was maybe five years ago now. And I’ve been having tons of fun ever since.
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But back to the original question: How did I ever manage to learn to write anything that is actually readable? Mainly I think it’s a matter of just paying close attention and developing a good ear. It also requires a lot of editing and re-writing, as everybody knows. In most cases this can only happen in solitude. More than anything else I would say writing has put my natural inclination for solitude to the best possible use.
Writing also helps me process a good deal of previously swirling, unresolved emotions. And it’s helped me organize a lot of previously random, disjointed thoughts.
I like to think writing has made me a better person. More in tune with myself, and more in touch with the world around me. And all the different types of people in it.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr

May 14, 2022

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One Weird Catholic

One Weird Catholic

May 6, 2022 | 44 words | Personal History

Since returning to the fold almost thirty years ago, identifying as “Catholic” has come naturally to me. Though I can’t say there are many practicing Catholics who share my perspective on the state of the world, let alone the state of the Catholic Church.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr

May 6, 2022

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An Easter Suggestion

An Easter Suggestion

April 17, 2022 | 82 words | Personal History

No matter how old we grow or how feeble we become, let us remember the excitement of this morning’s embrace. That way, should we ever wish to conjure the sense of healing love that so easily envelopes us today, all we need do is gaze into each other’s eyes.
May this memory continue to color our thoughts and lift our spirits. And may it – ever so slowly yet ever so surely – help make us whole. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr

April 17, 2022

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What I Am Looking For

What I Am Looking For

April 8, 2022 | 649 words | Personal History

What are you looking for in a woman?  This is one of the first questions asked of a man on an internet dating site.  Since subscribing last June I haven’t had a ready answer.  Other than the obvious, self-depreciating one:  Anyone who will put up with me.

It’s easy to rattle off a laundry list of preferred qualities one might be looking for in a woman, as they would appear in a dating profile.  Mine would start with someone who is down to earth.  Bright, and brimming with native intelligence, if not necessarily advanced degrees.  And possessed of a ready wit.    

Enjoys nature and the simple pleasures.  Is artsy in her bones, and has an art (there are many varieties and variations) that she actively practices.  Can be moved by any type of music on any given day, and is prone to “driveway moments” to let a favorite song finish.

Hard-working, with maybe a touch of the problem-solving entrepreneur in her.  Someone prepared to tackle her psychological stuff, while I attempt to address my own.  Even if my means and methods and timetable is a little different than hers.  So that we can eventually be receptive to each other as reasonably ‘present.’

Essentially what I have done here is describe myself.  Which is what I think we all end up doing on these internet dating sites.  Whether we recognize it or not, each of us is looking for an exact match who will dovetail effortlessly with our moods and preferences.

Not that you can blame any of us.  At this age, adjusting and adapting to a completely different temperament, no matter how great the initial physical attraction might be, can make for heavy sledding.

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Many people – most women and some men – are emotional creatures who feel everything deeply.  Often such people are relational by nature and like to talk through what they are feeling.  They find this sort of sharing cathartic.  I, on the other hand, am a little more solitary than the average bear.  What this means in practical terms is the more deeply I feel something, the quieter I initially want to become.

Before I can be comfortable talking about my reaction to a given situation, I need to find the rights words.  Or at least the best possible words I can come up with under the circumstances.  It’s not that I am trying to solve anything, once and for all, before deigning to speak.  But I do need to get a decent handle on my thoughts and emotions before opening my mouth.

This process of parsing things out in my own time can strike an associate as taking too long, and that perceived delay can be problematic.  But my trying to hurry things up to facilitate an exchange and maintain a conversation doesn’t work, either.  Going public before I am ready, with a rough first draft description of what I am feeling, only frustrates me.  And then neither one of us is happy.

In recent years I have found that writing always helps me sort things out.  But writing about an emotional situation in the interests of continuing a dialogue – especially if said dialogue is with an intimate partner – can seem cold, to say the least.  It can come across like I am trying to avoid a close encounter, instead of trying to enhance and deepen one.  

When it comes to communicating emotions, it’s thoroughly understandable that most people would rather receive immediate feedback.  And would much rather be spoken to than receive a measured email or a lengthy letter.  

So let’s go ahead and add this quirk to the growing list of reasons why it will be difficult for me to find a half-way sympatico companion at this stage of life.  I prefer to process emotionally charged situations slowly, at least a bit more slowly than most people may like.

 

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr

April 8, 2022

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New Love Late in Life

New Love Late in Life

March 26, 2022 | 456 words | Personal History

Finding love at any age is one of life’s mysteries.  An intimate relationship is a delicate thing, with many a twist and turn to navigate.  In every instance the intrinsic joy being produced springs from the same source: Discovering and exploring every aspect of this new, amazing human being.  It’s as if we are falling in love with all of humanity, all of God’s creation, as come to know this one specific exemplar of the Creator’s work.

Young people have the advantage of tackling all this excitement with fresh eyes and a full head of steam.  They get to figure out many of life’s fundamental challenges for the first time.  This builds togetherness and creates lasting memories.

Older folks, on the other hand, have been there and done that.  We enter the romantic arena having to fend off one of two problematic predispositions.

In the first instance, the joy of discovery is tempered by a lifetime of experience, much of which has taught us to be wary.  Of life, of other people, and especially of our own happiness.  Nothing seems to be lasting.  No matter how swimmingly those first few encounters might go, the simplest mis-understanding or mis-communication becomes a major red flag and prompts us to hit the brakes.

In the other instance, the joy of discovery is tempered by nothing at all.  We are so ready and willing to achieve total intimacy that we jump in with both feet and throw caution to the wind.  Positive vibes in the first few encounters provide all the assurance we need, and we find ourselves day-dreaming this new person might be the one.  Even though we know it can’t possibly be this easy, or happen this quickly, we find it impossible to hold back.  By the first kiss we have fallen madly in love, despite our better judgement.

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None of us are to be faulted for adopting either posture.  We are anxious for companionship, because we realize there aren’t that many good years left.  We know how hard it is to integrate a lifetime of memories, dreams, and reflections with someone else’s, because most of us have already tried a time or two.  Accommodating another’s deep-seated preferences is hard.  It requires a major commitment of time and psychic energy.  It makes starting a new job or moving to a new town look like a cake walk.  

The trick may lie in talking ourselves into relaxing and letting things unfold in their own way.  This new relationship will develop organically, if it’s meant to.  Such is the path we automatically and instinctively followed when we still possessed the innocence of youth.  And though we are no longer young, and no longer innocent, it’s still a good path.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr

March 26, 2022

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The Magic of Proximity

The Magic of Proximity

February 27, 2022 | 322 words | Philosophy, Economics, Politics, Personal History

Because each of us is blessed with the Imago Dei, we possess an inherent dignity that is worthy of respect.  This is true regardless of our level of formal education and resulting station in life.  It is true no matter how meager our material circumstances might be.  

The Protestant Ethic behind our current version of capitalism – that worldly success is the result of temperance and hard work, and therefore an indicator of eternal salvation – has something to recommend it.   But it can also blind us to the larger reality that success if often nothing more than the luck of the draw, the result of where and when one happens to be born.  A geographic anomaly, if you will.

In this same vein, the magic of moving pictures – conjured up and made part of our lives in just the last hundred years – has fixated us on the striking physical characteristics of the most handsome and beautiful members of the species.  These attention-getters have done nothing to earn their good looks, but are merely the beneficiaries of a fortunate combination of genes.

While thus bedazzled, we are prone to look past the inner beauty of those around us – be they men, women, or children.  That everyone possesses their own unique set of appealing characteristics is the Imago Dei at work.  We would all be happier if we spent less time ogling over the surface appeal of “stars,” and more time appreciating the qualities and gifts displayed by those in our immediate circle of acquaintance – family, co-workers, and friends.

Take the average, age-appropriate woman, for instance.  The sort of person one might consider as a potential romantic partner.  Someone who seems unremarkable at arm’s length becomes downright alluring when one gets a little closer.  Her eyes, her hair – my word, even her hands. The shadow of her smile. This is what might be called the magic of proximity. 

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr

February 21, 2022

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