About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Friday, July 30, 2010

1966*

*Somerset, PA Daily American
August 7, 2010
as "Thinking Back About a Summer of Changes"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Most of my childhood memories have begun to dissolve into a jumble of disconnected images. If I think hard enough though, a few of those snippets will sew themselves into a mini-movie of sorts, but time has made their recollection difficult and inaccurate.

But one year seems to stand out a little more.

1966 was an integral part of that decade-long turning point we call the 60’s. Walter Cronkite was the iconic voice that brought those often turbulent stories into our homes. We got our first color TV, and the CBS Evening News was the very first color program I saw in our home. I was riveted by how different everything outside my insular little world looked, awash in colorful tints and tones.

I was eleven years old that year and at the point when I was first becoming aware of the larger world beyond. Vietnam was always the lead story on every newscast, either the war itself, or the dissident voices that were growing in protest against it. Race riots were beginning to occur in cities across America, as African-Americans reached the limits of their tolerance for unequal treatment. Dr. Martin Luther King was at the acme of his influence and prominence. The power of his words ignited those passions which had, for too long, been forced to simmer below the surface. For many southerners, the ground began to shift beneath their feet.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The New Frontier*


Image from History.com

*Somerset, PA Daily American
July 31, 2010
as "Final Frontier"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

My lifelong, I’ve been a huge devotee of space travel. I grew up riveted by the events of Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. I could have recited the crews of every single manned flight the U.S. had undertaken. While there are times I can’t remember the location of my motorcycle key, the night that Armstrong and Aldrin took those historic first steps onto the lunar surface is as sharp and clear today as if it had happened yesterday.

To my young mind, it seemed natural that now that the moon had been reached, Mars would follow soon. But to my sorrow, I watched our space program shrink, put to the torch by narrow-minded political opportunists who seemed to think that cancelling a program largely responsible for a record low 3.7% unemployment rate and volcanic 8.5% economic growth would somehow help poor people. They seemed to forget that a space program not only needs rocket scientists, it also needs secretaries, welders, and janitors, mostly with contractors like North American Rockwell and Boeing. But when the space program effectively departed the marketplace, the economy tanked and unemployment exploded. America’s eyes, once lifted to the stars in triumph, were lowered in pain.

Sorry about that. Even after all these years, it still upsets me.

Finally, in this the 21st century, NASA has laid down a timetable for an ambitious program of exploration, including a permanent base on the Moon, and an eventual manned mission to Mars. But it will be a far more difficult and dangerous path than we ever thought possible.

Friday, July 23, 2010

It's All About The Journey*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
August 1, 2010
as "It's All About the Journey"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

During summer, families traditionally take to the road for those two weeks of exploration and adventure we call “vacation.” For most, this involves choosing a destination. It may be Disney in Florida or California, a resort in the mountains, or a visit with family in another city.

When I was young, our family would take trips, usually out west. I generally don’t remember the destinations. What I do remember are the journeys.

Time has become a very precious thing to us all. For that reason, vacations are planned out almost to the minute. We approach them with a list of things we want to do and the days we want to do them. The schedule becomes so tight and frantic, that some of the fun and relaxation is drained away. This has led to the oft-voiced complaint, "I need a vacation from my vacation."

Between work, freelancing, church, and taking care of a 108-year-old-house, my life is more regimented than I'd like it to be. So when I go on vacation, it’s not just to visit someplace, but to de-schedule my life; take the time to relax and breathe a little. I have coined an oft-used (perhaps overused) phrase that describes my ideal trip:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Stuffin' Nonsense in the Closet*

*Somerset, PA Daily American
July 24, 2010
as "Stuff and Closets"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one family to dissolve the emotional bands with things which have connected them with another time and place and to assume among the powers of the earth, that it’s time to clean up the mess, with decent respect to the opinions of mankind who, accidentally or otherwise, should behold the mess.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all closets require cleaning and that even though men are created equal, women are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are absolute judgment over driving habits, no limits on shoes, and a majority of closet space.

Over the years, we acquire “stuff.” Most of the “stuff” we use often. Some were used only once, but stay around because…well…you never know when you’ll need them again. We usually store stuff in places where we’ll never find them, attics and closets, and sometimes the entire garage.

Our closet has two tiers. On my side, the upper tier holds my pants, suits, and sport coats. On the lower tier are my shirts, sweaters, and sweatshirts. (Yes I hang them up. Don’t ask why. Please.) On Cheryl’s two-thirds she also has things divided into two tiers. The system by which she makes that division is an utter mystery to me. After I hang up the clean laundry, she comes in and moves them, grumbling that I put everything in the wrong place.

There are two things in the universe I don’t understand: Quantum physics and my wife’s closet space.

A Warning for Writers: Trite Phrases and Cliches

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey


In this day and age, the epic struggle of a free-lance writer to survive the acid test of becoming eminently successful, as an overnight success, in the dog-eat-dog world of publishing stands like a stone wall across the path to achievement. At first glance, there would seem to be ample opportunity for writers. But the reality lies in marked contrast to the dream. To be perfectly frank, it leaves much to be desired.

Needless to say, the sum and substance of a writer’s muse is a reflection of their life’s path. The bone of contention of whether that reflection is marketable depends upon whether a particular emotion felt by the author can be conveyed to the reader. On the surface, a writer faces overwhelming odds in that endeavor. Even when a publisher gives the green light to a project, success is still not a sure thing. Along these lines, the writer must carry grave concerns about the universality of expression and understanding that must be part and parcel of the written word.  There is no irony here, since irony is how one fixes a wrinkly shirt.


A common fault of writers, usually those new to the game and unfamiliar with the rules of the road which define professional standards and practices, is the careless use of run-on sentences that contain more than the one idea that can usefully be contained in a shorter sentence, while extending the use of commas and semicolons as connectors that unnecessarily lengthen what should be a concise expression; a cogent thought; a model of brevity and clarity that successfully communicates to the reader in such a way that fosters full and complete communication not only from intellect to intellect, but from heart to heart, which is, simply stated, the purest form of human communication, a premium in a world of runaway hate, vitriol, and misunderstanding; the sources of human conflict, and the stone wall that stands between humanity and the often vain hope of peace and harmony.

Clear?

If previous efforts generated a low level of interest or a mixed bag of results, then the writer must be prepared in no uncertain terms to execute an about-face; to make sweeping changes to his or her’s labor of love in order to remedy the situation. In this reassessment, the writer’s point of view and the publisher’s needs are often not one in the same. In fact, the importance of a writer’s personal opinions pales into insignificance in standing before climbing the mountain of subjectivity. Yet if one is to gain some traction on this slippery slope, then the writer must drill down and synergize a different paradigm in order to gain buy-in from the reader, to be sure.  To be perfectly honest, in this pursuit, the writer must always see their glass as half-full in terms of maintaining that rose-colored view of optimism

There's no harder task than targeting an uncertain market.  The nature of the audience must be made crystal clear quick as lightning,  That particular struggle may lead to a period of flat inspiration, requiring a last-ditch effort in the wee hours of the morning to pull the project from the fire. A failure of this magnitude can leave the writer mired in the depths of despair.  These unsung heroes expected an outpouring of support only to discover that critics always go for the throat in picking the low-hanging fruit.

On more than one occasion, writers have tried to set the world on fire, to coin a phrase, utilizing tried and true formulas that may have been worth their weight in gold once upon a time, but now only deliver homogeneity which throws a stumbling block onto the ladder of success. Many a writer has emerged from such an experience much sadder and wiser at the end of the day.  Even when it happens in the morning.

But as in every endeavor, setbacks are inevitable. The career of a writer is, after all, not for the faint of heart. Rejection is not the crushing blow it is reputed to be. Editors won’t always throw a prospective writer under the bus, so they don't have to be thought of as the personification of the grim reaper. 

Okay, maybe they do.

Too many writers employ a lottery attitude, striving for quick success, a flash in the pan.  That attitude must be nipped in the bud.  A writer should rather take the slow and steady path that will win the race and result in ruling the roost at a ripe old age, left to enjoy the finer things in life.

It takes, by a conservative estimate, years, even decades to become a successful writer. Racheting up expectations early on can be destructive.  But for all intents and purposes, that challenge should be sauce for the goose, and not the straw that broke the camel’s back. Sweet success should be a festive occasion, tempered by the knowledge that the defining moment of a big paydays may be few and far between.  And even though making the big splash may occur late in life, it is still better late than never.

Every writer needs to work at their craft. To make a long story short, go at it tooth and nail, through thick and thin. Last, but not least, work like a dog, become wise as an owl, and you will emerge, tired and happy, having faced the music and able to point with pride to a body of work that will stand the test of time, leaving your contemporaries and rivals green with envy.  Notoriety and reputation are the Holy Grails of success.  Once a writer has achieved these, then the rest is the history of a brave new world.

Oh, and by the way…

Avoid, on pain of death, the use of common cliches and trite phrases.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What if Walt Whitman Had Worn Chaps?*

Somerset, PA Daily American
July 17, 2010
as "Riding Along with Walt Whitman"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

I've been reading Walt Whitman's wonderful poem, "Song of the Open Road," a magical piece of prose that speaks to the heart and spirit of all who have sought the far horizons.  In reading this, I think ol' Walt was ahead of his time.  Had he lived today, I think he would own a motorcycle. 

Always in search of ways to express the magic of the ride, I decided to play around with this poem a bit.  I didn't want to post the whole thing -- over 9 pages and 2,800 words -- but I chose verses that I thought appealed to the spirit of the ride, and the rider.  And yes, I did "update" some of the language.

Maybe I've committed an act of literary sacrilege.  I'm sure the Whitman Society would say so.  But after reading about 50 or so of his poems, and reflecting on my own 18 years of open roads, I think Walt Whitman and the modern motorcyclist would be cheerfully inclined to go together, seeking spiritual fulfillment; riding together and singing..."This Song of the Open Road"

Mounted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long path before me,
Leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth, I ask not good fortune—I myself am good fortune;
Henceforth, I whimper no more,
Postpone no more,
Need I, nothing.

Strong and content, I travel the open road
The earth expanding right and left,
The picture alive, every part in its best light.
The engine sings amid the trees, the cheerful voice of the public road.

From this hour, freedom!
From this hour, I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently but with undeniable will, divesting myself of that which would hold me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hard Truths and Sacred Cows*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
August 8, 2010
as "Hard Truths, Sacred Cows"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

In our lives, we have come to accept some ideas as irrefutable truths. Some are ideas that have stood the test of time and research; others are accepted for no other reason than they “feel right.” Sometimes, a sacred cow has only remained sacred because nobody has studied it carefully.

For motorcyclists, one of those sacred cows is the idea that if a car turns left in front of a biker, then the car’s driver is completely, totally, 100% at fault.

Well, maybe not.