I belong to a Facebook group for fans of old comic strips. Recently, someone mentioned a strip called "Wee Pals" by a gentleman named Morrie Turner (d. 1974). "Wee Pals" featured a group of kids of all races, and always had a gently made point or moral.

The specific episode I remember featured a bad-tempered kid with red hair. In that day's episode, the kid was with a bunch of others, and had nothing good to say about anything. Every game someone suggested was "stupid," every person mentioned was "an idiot," and so on. He had something derogatory to say in every panel.

Finally, the kid left, grumbling about something or other. The other kids all commented on how miserable he was, how he wasn't any fun. And one character turned to the "camera" and said, "Try to make people happy when you arrive, instead of when you leave."

That simple truth has guided me al my life. It seems so easy, yet how many irritable or negative people do you know in your life? We seem to encounter a lot of them on social media these days. I think they've been around for as long as there have been humans. The reason we're now so aware of them is social media.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others all give everyone a platform to make pronouncements. From Parnassus, if you will. And there seem to be more and more of them each day. Humanity is slipping into tribes again, with divisions over nearly everything.

Politics and religion have always been the hottest of the "hot button" issues. I'm sure most of you know they're the two topics you're never supposed to bring up in any social gathering.

Yet no one seems willing to meet anyone halfway. We have become a society of "blamers." Neither side's adherents seem willing to sit down and talk about things without pointing fingers. We suffer from a lack of empathy toward each other. No one seems able or willing to imagine themselves in the position of the other.

And that's a shame on all of us. "Love your neighbor as you love yourself" is just a cluster of words some of us hear in church, synagogue, mosque, or temple. If we hear them at all, we leave them in our holy place.

There is a way to fix the problem. It seems deceptively simple, yet it's difficult to put into practice. It's called civility.

Civility. Politeness. Courtesy. Respect. Decorum. They're all synonyms of the same idea, expressed in that old "Wee Pals" comic strip: "Try to make people happy when you arrive, instead of when you leave."

Is that so difficult?

People Cooperating

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It's time to climb into the wayback machine, boys and girls! This time, we’re revisiting a significant event in my professional history as a writer.

On December 7, 2000, I lost my second wife to cancer. I have remarried, and have now been married for a longer time than with my late wife, but thank you anyway. This piece isn’t about that issue, though it does have a part in the story.

After my wife died, the grief took a while to set in, and when it did… WHAMMO! The upshot was that I lost my ability (or ambition) to write for several years. Even though I went to work full time all the while (had to pay the bills, after all), my “imaginary friends” weren’t talking to me. The urge to write didn’t stop nagging me, but I couldn’t write. I wasn’t lazy, I was in a deep depression.

With the help of therapy, I climbed out of the depression, but the Muse wouldn’t come back.

Then one day, I was in a session with a wonderful career counselor (take a bow, Beth Ann Wilson), who was advising me on careers involving writing. I mentioned my block to her (this was after quite a few sessions), and she gave me an assignment.

I’d told Beth Ann that I was going to attend Philcon that weekend, and she suggested I write a story about my experience there. Philcon, in case you don’t know, is an annual Science Fiction and Fantasy convention held in (or around) Philadelphia, PA. She didn’t tell me any more than, “Write me something about Philcon.”

As they say, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” I had taken the train into Philly. When I left on Friday night, the connection worked well. On Saturday, however, it wasn’t so good. For some reason, I got on the wrong train. Instead of taking a train to Jenkintown, the station I’d departed from, I took a train to Trenton, New Jersey.

On the coldest night of that year.

I only realized my mistake when the train took a turn I knew it shouldn’t have taken. Then another rider showed me his schedule. “BUM-BA-DUM-DUM” time. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll understand that one. If you don’t, please ask a Boomer.

I exited the train at the first stop, which was in Bridesburg, a neighborhood in Northeast Philly. From my house, it’s a twenty-minute drive. By train, you have to take a train back into Center City, then another one to the right destination.

At 11:00 on Saturday night, the trains run HOURLY. So I had to find somewhere inside to wait for a ride home. Which brought on another problem, because my wife was to pick me up in Jenkintown. She was there waiting for me. Asleep. And she’d misplaced her cell phone.

Fortunately, my brother-in-law from my late wife’s family (Thank you, Jeff Kodroff) was willing and generous enough to drive down to Bridesburg and rescue me. He then drove me to Jenkintown where my wife was waiting. And we all lived happily ever after…

My point in telling you this is to praise the people who helped me that night, that unknown fellow rider and my brother-in-law.

I also owe more than I can express to my career counselor and friend, Beth Wilson. I wrote the story, only marginally about Philcon, but mainly about my wrong train adventure. I have not stopped writing since. And I owe a great deal to Beth.

By the way, I have taken trains many times in my life, especially the line that runs from Philly to my Ambler home. Jenkintown is a stop along the way that’s a junction for four other lines, so it has a lot more trains. Unfortunately, it’s not on the line that goes to Trenton.

They say nothing happens without a reason, even if we can’t figure out the reason at the time or ever. I realize now why I needed that appointment with Beth that day, why I attended Philcon that year. And why I took that wrong train. All little events that have led me to here.


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In online forums and sites, people often raise the question of joining authors groups. Here are some of my experiences with such groups.

I have belonged to many authors groups over the years, some better than others. The best one I belonged to was the most recent one, a Meetup group. I left it about two years ago, then returned recently to find that the group owner had admitted nearly 200 members since. That might not have been too bad, except that it was an in-person group. There was one person besides the leader whom I had known, and I only attended one meeting.

I was a member of one group that started out with men and women. Everyone got along nicely, and we gave great analyses of each other's work (I try to avoid the word “critique,” which sounds negative to me). Eventually, for whatever reason, the group became all men, which bothered me, though I kept going. Then one guy made a comment that he was “glad” there weren’t any women, because “we guys” could be “real,” and say exactly what we meant without worrying about anyone’s feelings.

But then I read his latest piece (he was trying to emulate the author Donald Barthelme), and I found it unreadable. I told him that, and said that I wouldn’t have read as much as I did, except that I had an obligation to him as a fellow member. As I recall, he didn’t say too much that night, but he stopped coming. After a few weeks, I called him to ask him why, and he proceeded to rip me up, down, and sideways. How dare I say such things, etc. How dare I call myself a writer?

I left that group not long afterward, when we still hadn’t been able to gain any women members.

So that’s some of my experience with groups. My personal opinion is that groups can be useful, but you run into the possibility of getting too much feedback, often conflicting. At least I did.

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