The ubiquitous gray of U.S. history’s early writers.

My favorite American.

My favorite American.

Lying beside a swimming pool, trying for a case of skin cancer while I sip over-priced, watered-down fancy drinks has never appealed to me. 

When I go on vacation, I want to learn about the areas I visit; how long they’ve been there, who started it up and what went on long before my feet touched this earth. 

I’ve just come from such a vacation; a 9-day bus tour of our nation’s capitol where we toured elegant national treasures like the Library of Congress, The Supreme Court, the Capitol, the splendid National Cathedral, Arlington National Cemetery and all of the symbolic war memorials. My head and heart are full of memories and thoughts that affected me bone deep. 

In the gift shops and bookstores I couldn’t resist browsing through and buying a few interesting little books like The Slave Narratives of Virginia, and George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior, The Quotations of Abraham Lincoln, Narratives of Sojourner Truth, and a magnet that lists Thomas Jefferson’s Ten Rules. 

As I perused these at night in my hotel room, it was interesting to envision what I was reading against some of what I’d heard tour guides share throughout the day. Some of it was fun, and some of it was simply incredible for the inconsistencies in what some of our great early leaders wrote, as compared to how they lived. 

We’re only human, all of us, I realize, but the phrase “Do as I say and not as I do,” kept invading my thoughts. 

I have to admit I laughed out loud when I read Washington’s 2nd Rule of Civility: 

“When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body, not usually discovered.” 

I mean—how in blazes could the rap singers function if they couldn’t touch themselves “down there,” while performing these days? (Admit it; you are laughing right now.) Robin Williams’ comedy routines would have encountered their share of issues with this one as well. 

Or, how about this gem, his 7th Rule of Civility: 

 “Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out your chamber half dressed.” 

What a hoot! Ninety-seven percent of our high school and college students—and the majority of Hollywood would die if they tried to obey this one. You see more skin at the mall or in a movie, than you do in a hospital ward these days. 

35th Rule of Civility: “Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.”       

        Ohhhhh, Congress? Are you listening? Do you understand the meaning of this one? 

38th Rule of Civility: “In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein.” 

        Hmmm . . . Something tells me George wouldn’t approve of WebMD.com. 

I refuse to pick on Abe Lincoln. He’s my main man and always will be. 

But allow me to weigh in on Thomas Jefferson for a bit, since I’m feeling analytically ornery this week. 

I acquired this fridge magnet with Jefferson’s Ten Rules, which he compiled in 1811 as instructions in conduct to his twelve-year old granddaughter, Cornelia. 

  • Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
  • Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
  • Never spend money before you have earned it.
  • Never buy what you don’t want because it is cheap.
  • Pride costs more than hunger, thirst and cold.
  • We seldom repent of having eaten too little.
  • Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  • How much pain the evils cost us that never happened.
  • Take things always by the smooth handle.
  • When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, count a hundred. 

Pretty good rules for self-governing, I’d say. 

But—but!—did you know that Jefferson employed 130 slaves on his farm to do the work. So, to my way of thinking, that kinda’ negates the ol’ ‘Never trouble another for what you can do yourself,’ mantra, wouldn’t you agree? 

And that ‘Never spend money before you have earned it,’—wellll . . . allow me to inform you. Even though Thomas Jefferson was a marvelous book and record keeper, the man liked to spend the pesos the way our current government likes to print greenbacks. He left his family in debt by an estimated $100,000. They had to sell off holdings to make good on said debt after his death. 

All snarky joking aside, there was one aspect that I could not escape upon learning of the numbers of slaves that both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did keep, and the question I would pose to both of them, were I given the chance would be this: 

How could you possibly justify your slave ownership against the following words? 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

This thought bugged me the whole of this vacation, and always will.

 

For female slaves on the estate of George Washington.

For female slaves on the estate of George Washington.

 

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Are you EXCLAIMING!! yourself to death?

I realize that most people, when they think of Washington, DC, probably wrinkle their nose, or at least scrunch some fold in the memory area of their brain.

Granted, we all can’t be consistently happy with what does, or doesn’t get handled by the U.S. Government in Wash DC, but if you’ve ever read any history, you’ll know that the people have never been–nor do I believe will they ever be–really happy with their governments–U.S. or not.

But in Washington DC there are wonderful museums and monuments and libraries and things that serve as testaments to the fact that in spite of such statements, we’ve come a good piece and we do continue on, and I cannot wait to take it all in.

This weekend I leave on a muchly-desired guided bus tour vacation headed for such sites. And before the 9-day tour concludes, I will also get to walk the ground at Gettysburg and visit the crash site of all those courageous souls of Flight 93 during the time of 911.

Of course when one is going to be gone there is preparation work to do. Deadline writing had to be turned in, interviews in place for right after I return, yard work/house stuff/errands/arrangements, you name it.

By the time we are done preparing to go on vacation, we r-e-a-l-l-y do need it!

Notice that dang exclamation mark?

Wellllll . . . there’s my real rub today.

It occurred to me—while on my most favorite-ist bike trail the other night—that as of late I seem to be living with a constant exclamation point chasing me.

Exclamation point: n. A punctuation mark (!) used after an exclamation or interjection of sudden, forceful utterance.

Maybe that’s not so good—at least not as much as I appear to do it.

I have high hopes for this bussed vacation. Someone asked me (and they were wrinkling their nose, by the way) why I didn’t just fly out to the sites I wanted to see instead of “taking a bus?” (much wrinkling by now)

Because if I have to deal with air travel and all that that has declined to, I’ll have even more exclamation points chasing me!!

Do Not Want That.

I won’t have to deal with searching for directions, or places to park, or places to stay, or obtaining tour tickets or finding guides, or any of that.

I get to sit back and anticipate the next item on the itinerary. (I had to resist the urge to use an exclamation mark here—twice.)

An old-fashioned lined journal and a notebook will go on the bus with me. The notebook has a picture of famous pirate Jack Sparrow, aka Johnny Depp on the cover. Another traveling buddy of mine gave it to me the summer we took off for a girlfriends’ travel week. And pens. I’ll take pens. The laptop is going, of course, for use at night in my hotel room only.

I get to sit and stare out the windows while someone else does all of the driving and have interesting – if not unique – conversations with people I’ve never met, and journal freehand—just because I can.

In the world of writing, the exclamation point should be treated like it is a fine rare wine. Drink very little—or none at all.

When I receive a piece of communication that is filled with exclamation points I feel like I’m being shouted at. I don’t like being shouted at. I’m going to guess you don’t either—so why do it?

I said I felt like I’m always being chased by an exclamation point?

When I made my list of to-do’s for this week in planning out what all I have to get done, I promised myself I would not put one exclamation point behind anything on my daily clip boarded task list that I keep on our kitchen island.

I have been making daily plans lists on a kitchen counter ever since my high school days, but it’s in these last several years – and it is interesting to note that since I took on my freelancing writing life—that that screaming exclamation point has pushed its way into my life so consistently.

This is not a rant against freelance writing. It is a rant against the way I’ve responded.

Would you believe I had to think consciously to not tag any exclamation points onto this week’s tasks as I wrote: fertilize and water everything, water the church flowers, pay all bills, get Derek’s birthday gift, use up those bananas, finish those last two articles and submit, try to transcribe one more interview, look for a new gold chain, get Lexi’s new food . . .

I am so looking forward to my trip where I won’t be shouting at myself about anything.

My hope is that when I return home, I’ll remember how to continue avoiding too much shouting.

Could your life and your writing use less shouting, too?