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  • I almost made it through 12 years of primary and secondary education without ever being inspired by a single thing that was being taught within those 4 walls of the various institutions I attended. No single teacher got through to me about why education was more than just a requirement. I met the requirement, and got passing grades, but all I wanted was to get to the end, so I could get out into the world and start to live.

    I got what many would consider a "good education", 11 of those years having been at Catholic schools, which, at the time at least, had a good reputation. Thanks to Mrs. Hoffbauer in 7th grade, to this day, I do not need "spell-check". Grammatical and spelling errors just jump off the page at me. But, it wasn't until I bucked the system and went my own way into the public school system for my senior year that I finally found inspiration.

    I don't even remember the teacher's name, but I remember his class, and I remember his passion for the written word. 40 years ago. He was my English teacher for my last 3 months of high school. In his class, he brought "The Man of La Mancha" to life for all of us. Another play, "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail", introduced me to a whole other world that I would spend years exploring. Through Thoreau I met Emerson, whose philosophy changed my life. This one teacher also introduced me to the magical world of poetry, which revolutionized my view of the world.

    After 12 years of what I considered the "prison sentence" of school, I finally understood the value and importance of learning, and of reading. I decided to go to college instead of right into the Navy, as I had planned to do. My first semester of college was where I began to write poetry, and I joined the newspaper staff and began writing my observations down. I found that I loved interviewing people and writing about them.

    An unrequited love inspired dozens of passionate poems. It was my first time experiencing that overwhelming sense of all-consuming love, and then of love lost, and I really don't know how I would have gotten through it without that poetry to express my devestation. When I read them now, I still cringe at the heartache and devestation that young man felt and experienced.

    I also loved music, and my newfound love of poetry found me focused in more to the lyrics of the songs I was listening to, and I discovered a lot of real gems among those lyrics. Previously, I had just liked the sound of the songs. Now, I was getting into the message. To this day, I must learn the lyrics of any new song I hear. If there aren't good lyrics, unless the music is really compelling, I'll lose interest in the number in short order.

    Writing has become my best friend. Truly. When I discovered story-telling, I found my niche. Life is filled with stories, just waiting for someone to notice them, and to tell them. We learn so much through stories.

    My father before me was also a story-teller, and in the autumn of his life, he began to write them down. He wrote them as well as he told them. By the time he was 75, he had compiled a large binder with 275 pages of family, and life, stories. "Random Thoughts of a 75 Year Old" he called it, and sent copies to all of his children (7 of us), all of his siblings (8 sisters), and various others. When he died two years later, he was still working on "Rambling Thoughts of a 77 year old", which I was helping to scribe. These were incredible gifts that he left all of us.

    Even when I go through periods where I can't write - I periodically hit a brick wall, and just have to walk away from it for awhile - even in those periods, I journal religiously. It helps me to keep it all sorted out.

    This poem, that I wrote 32 years ago and have previously shared here, kind of sums it up for me. I like the message, and in this context, it bears repeating:

    Poet to Reader
    I am here today
    A product of the ages
    Having studied the follies of fools
    The wisdom of the sages

    I come to you equipped
    With words that I have learned
    Drawn from experience I have gathered
    Through errors deeply burned

    Emotion, hand, and pen unite
    With thought and inspiration
    Duty brings me to this blank page
    To fill with realization

    The risk lies in revealing
    The Vulnerable Soul Within
    The goal to reach the untouched ceiling
    Of a dream, once but a whim

    Read my words but listen to
    The voice they stir inside
    For that's what you will take home with you
    My words just passing guides.

    (Photo by Salt Lake City photographer Royce Bair, who uses digital cameras and what he describes as a 'copious collection of portable incandescent and flash lighting equipment' to capture his unique views of the night sky over Utah's spectacular canyons. His shots of Wall Street Canyon at Bryce Canyon National Park with the stars of our own galaxy, the Milky Way blazing overhead showcase some of his technique. Bair has been lecturing on night photography for two decades.)
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