Reflections on writing, riots and the return of autumn

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 19, 2012

Autumn greeted me through our blind-covered kitchen window when I returned home for lunch this Monday. Even our red ornamental birds were feeling chirpy over the view.
Photo by Warren Harbeck
Click for larger version

Autumn has returned in all its splendour, with God’s calligraphy adorning field and forest bearing a message that challenges global tensions and terrorism. But more about that in a moment.

First, I want to thank my two sons, Reg and James, for their thought-provoking guest columns of the past two weeks while my wife and I were away. (We were in Mexico visiting several humanitarian projects. My next two columns will feature some of our encouraging encounters.)

Commenting on photographic philosopher James’s column on keeping some things in focus and leaving others unfocused, Cochrane-rooted mountain guide and up-and-coming author Ken Wylie wrote:

“I read James’ column twice. Beautiful and simple. Life is about what we choose to focus on. What we make central in our lives. It can be the beauty of life, or the ugliness. We can focus on our mysterious essence, or our ever-changing and sometimes torturing thoughts. Wonderful reflections.”

While I have Ken at his keyboard, here’s his response to last week’s column by “computer nerd” Reg on the digital threat to penmanship:

“In any change we lose something and gain something else. If I were to have matured without computers, I would never have written a book. Never. My penmanship was always terrible and the keyboard made that judgment go away for me. Completely. Thanks to computers, I now have neat writing and can change and edit my ideas on the fly and it still looks tidy, rather than an embarrassment to written language. Because it is a tidy process I have become apt to embrace it in a way I never would have if I were to handwrite something. 

“Yes, we lose one personal touch. But we gain another personal touch in the fact that a whole host of people, like me, actually communicate with the written word when they never would have otherwise. Good thoughts.”

Calgary coffee companion Jeff Perkins expressed concern over the impact of the demise of handwriting on collectables:

“We have to ask: what is the point of having an attic anymore?” he emailed me. “If no one is writing letters, there will be no need for dust-covered chests hidden away with grandma's correspondence neatly tied into bundles. Will it be that architecture will inevitably accept the fact that attic storage space, even though close to the clouds, will no longer be needed?”

Alberta literacy specialist Vera Goodman, who considers herself “old school,” wrote: “I think we are making a mistake in giving up handwriting.

“Job applications and other forms must often be hand-written. We ask kids to print but don’t teach them the right way to make circles and sticks so many can’t do it easily and legibly. Children gain a lot of coordination skills by exercising their hands and fingers while learning to write. I advocate simple calligraphy in grade one to enhance fine motor skills.”

Then there’s this response from Jenny Bocock of St. Albert, whose mother, British actress Phyllis Konstam, used a style of cursive illegible to one prominent director:

“My mother wrote a letter to Alfred Hitchcock. (Mum acted in two of his very early talking movies, Murder and The Skin Game.) He wrote back saying he had framed it and hung it on a wall, so she could read it to him next time she came to visit.”

Well, back to God, whose style is eminently legible. I’m attaching an autumn photo I took from my front door this week as I returned home for lunch. The view is toward the west, through the house, and out our blind-covered kitchen window.

In view of current world tensions, driven as they are by ill will and ignorance, that heavenly scene is a reminder to me of the profound blessing announced to all peoples of goodwill by an angelic choir at the birth of Jesus:



© 2012 Warren Harbeck

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