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COLUMNIST: Let's all 'go do something fun'

I learn something every year. I learn over and over that words can come in handy. Sometimes. When, that is, they come in at all. Sometimes they don't come. Sometimes you despair at ever finding anything to write about, or if you do, finding the words with which to do it.

I once read a story about James Joyce, a Dead Poet of some fame. A friend came into his writing place and saw him slumped over his desk, agonizing over his writing.

"What's wrong?" asked the friend.

"I can hardly write," replied Joyce.

"How many words have you written?" asked the friend, who was familiar with this particular mood of Joyce's.

"Seven," replied Joyce.

"But that's not so terrible for you, is it?" asked the friend.

"But," replied Mr. Joyce, "I don't know what order they go in."

I have also learned from teaching at a tech college that administrators must have meetings, because they like to use words, too. It is a measure of their vocation, their calling, the radiant goodness of their lot, to have meetings and use lots of words. Curriculum affairs, campus affairs, faculty affairs, budget affairs, faculty-curriculum affairs, faculty-budget affairs, curriculum-budget affairs--these are the things of which meetings and words are born.

And not only in academia, everywhere. Meetings are like the radioactive isotopes of bureaucratic plutonium--they send off decaying particles (words) in all directions and when these particles (words) hit other particles (other words), there is another explosion (lots of words, some big ones) and another meeting occurs. For better or worse. Usually, real explosions would be far more fun.

I have learned that students love meetings that cause cancellation of their classes, even though those same students have paid good money in a good faith belief that, as part of the bargain, they will get their money's worth. I have never polled a class for their opinion on whether or not to cancel a class, and gotten a nay vote. Students, one may assume, don't care for words. They do care for beer. I wonder if they read the words on the label, even.

I have learned that parents aren't around forever, no matter how much you love them. Maybe I haven't fully learned this yet. Maybe instead I learned that they're hard to let go of. But that's not so bad. They hang around in your heart forever. They're in your hands, helping you work through life. Only rarely do you do something remarkably bad or good without thinking about how they would feel about this. Sometimes they hang around in your mouth, and talk for you. That's pretty amazing. Channeling their words.

Every year, I learn over and over that, despite society's best efforts at guaranteeing a future for each and every one of us, that same society cannot guarantee that we will be here to enjoy it. Life and breath is a precious gift, one that is always one heartbeat or breath away from death. Life and all the words yet to be spoken may be even more arbitrarily cancelled than a class. I learn that over and over. It is apparently a hard lesson to get right.

I should have it right, after Vietnam. I learned about the arbitrary cancellation thing there, even though through simple luck I missed every meeting regarding it. I learned how quickly a meeting with fate can be either cancelled or scheduled over there. At this point, I have a lot of words yet to write about that, about how difficult it is to avoid such a meeting when stuff is droppin on you or being shot at you quite randomly. For now, let's just say, I don't have to relearn how wonderful and risky is this gift called life.

So that's something I know, anyway.

So do we all, because we're all learning constantly that we're just one phone call away from a car crash, or a farm accident, or a severe illness. We all attend classes that we expect to last as long as we wish. We forget the definition of the word "wish." It isn't as long as we wish; instead, it is as long as we live. Wishes, I have learned, have very little to do with it.

So, as I write this, I learn over again that we should all take a deep breath, reappraise the guarantees that we think we have coming to us, and do something fun.

You know something? The next to the last thing my father said to me was: "Go do something fun."

I hope for a change I remember some of what I've learned.

Especially the fun stuff.