gulliver's travels and other writings by harper honey com Pic of Old Text by

James F. O’Neil

2111 Ash Street

Des Plaines


So this is written on the first page of my “textbook” for my 18th Century Literature course in my undergraduate English major program (1962-1964, BA ’64).

I have too many books. Reaching this conclusion (again, as I have noted before), I have been giving away my books to the library. But many, like this volume, have too much writing in them, too many annotated passages in them for the library to accept them. Too much marginalia, too many underlinings and highlightings (mostly in pencil and red ballpoint ink, the latter soaking through the pages; pencil works best).

Thus I have been sorting (again, again) and culling: those books no longer usable (silverfished or book-wormed) or useful have found their lives with me cut short: into the recycle bins. That’s that.

recycle bin arborday foundationCredit: Arbor Day Foundation

The Swift book had a long life with me. By the first page alone, its life and use has time-dates: 11/29/62; 1-15-66 (graduate school, MA ’66); 3-21-68; 9-3-68; 11-18-70; 11-10-71 (dates I taught from the text for undergraduate courses in Minnesota); then a hiatus while I did school administration. The book was again opened 12-11-80 when I was teaching 12th grade English classes in Florida: many memories there, for sure, as my students reacted to the modest proposal, for cooking fattened Irish babies! Next, 11-94, 11-95, 12-2-97, the years I taught British Literature I at a Florida community college. The end.

That was the last time I had need for the text, for I moved on to teach other subjects until retirement in 2003.

The book has sat, has been boxed-unboxed-re-shelved, gathering dust on its pages, as do other unused books that reside in bookcases.  “Some books are to be tasted; others swallowed; and some to be chewed and digested.” [Francis Bacon]

Even though downsizing, I had to keep one page, to remind me of what I learned, of what I remember. I look upon this page (now glued intomy current journal) and see written in pencil, in addition to all the dates of my book’s life, the essence of what I needed to take with me from Gulliver’s Travels:

1. Explain the main point of each voyage, the theme of each book.
2. Explain through the work how “man fails to use his reason.”
3. Discuss the Utopian society in each book. Explain “dystopia.”

Under this handwriting (in cursive, of course with me), I find some other notes of mine: science fiction; Vonnegut. H. G. Wells. Bradbury. Bellamy. Verne. Butler.

the-time-machineNice Cover for The Time Machine

How important Jonathan Swift was. How important the other authors were. Are?

The text is gone. Its residue remains with me: flying machines, time travel (like one of my favorites, The Time Traveler’s Wife?), horses and apes (like Planet of the Apes?), ice-nine, giant octopuses; Erewhon (the novel/place AND the cereal), Dandelion Wine, and Fahrenheit 451 (and now, Fahrenheit 9/11?).

Enough. Enough memories and connections for now. Enough “teaching” and reminders of what was learned or retained from school.

I understand.

So the text was carefully placed into the recycle bin, a text that brought back (brings back?) so many memories of a time. . . .

And so it goes.

But, I have Gulliver’s Travels in my Kindle…

© James F. O’Neil   2015



“Glorious, Joyful, Sorrowful; Glorious, Joyful, Sorrowful; Glorious.” Sunday, Monday, Tuesday; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday; Saturday. The week of the rosary, as I remember it (and before some changes made in 2002): My liturgical week began on Sunday and ended on Saturday. Within each of the “mysteries” of the rosary is the subdivision of five, and…, and…, and . . . :

Glorious Mysteries: Resurrection, Ascension, Assumption…. Joyful Mysteries: Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity…. Sorrowful Mysteries: Agony, Scourging, Crowning, Carrying, Crucifixion–as some readers will remember them.

The complexity of the religion of the rosary I had to learn early on, as an up-and-coming Roman Catholic boy. And so it goes–or went.

All of this complexity came to mind recently as I tried to organize the top drawer of my dresser: My Sock Drawer.

The drawer was a mess: things everywhere, in addition to matched and unmatched pairs of socks (a pair of socks; pairs of socks) and those lost in the jumble and tumble, without a “mate.”

As I began to try to bring order to the chaos, I noted my small pile of keys and key rings in the left-front corner. Unknown keys for unknown locks. The keys are just “there.” Receipts. And more receipts, where I neatly stack them in the right-front corner: gasoline, Walgreen’s drugs, Target, Wal-Mart, miscellaneous.

Whistles, some non-USA-In-God-We-Trust coins thrown in the back left corner; an assortment of various business cards: clinic physicians, library; Kermit Weeks, “Fantasy of Flight: An Attraction of a Higher Plane” (closed for now); “Honorary Consul of the Slovak Republic–Florida” (!); lawyers’ cards. That’s the place where I keep them.

I found under the socks–after I emptied out the drawer–a package of postcards: 37 1-cent and 15 2-cent (a total of 67 cents. Easy math). I probably bought these at a garage sale. 

Handkerchiefs, in the left corner, were overlaying the keys. Monogramed, old-white, linen, camouflage. Those extras, ready for a right-rear pocket of slacks or jeans or wash pants. (“A gentleman always carries a handkerchief,” I was taught. [Somewhere, stapled or pasted in one of my old journals, is one such handkerchief, neatly folded, pressed between the pages, with stains of mascara. A handkerchief used by the first co-ed ever who was brought to tears, in my college office, “way-back-when-in-the-day.” I cannot remember what made her cry. I cannot remember the reason for her tears. I am sure it had nothing to do with me.])

And, finally, the rosary I found, in the left-back corner.

rosary in crystalRosary Found, with Crystal Beads

Crystal beads, sterling cross and medal. My mom’s rosary that I’ve had for some five years since her passing on. Now I have cleaned it and polished it. And there it rests.

Still, not the rosary itself but the “links” which came out of this rosary-discovery brought more memories: recalling catechism classes, using the rosary with all its intricacies of prayer methods, and having sore knees in chapel during rosary-recitation time.

However, one anecdote figures prominently above all others I associate with the rosary. No, not prayer-beaded mantras, like “pray for us sinners” or “blessed be the fruit of thy womb.” (Explain that one to a first-grade boy!) But, rather, it is hearing Sister Mary Philip, RSM, telling me one morning to see her after lunch. “I need you to see my sister.”

I was to become a mule, a runner (“Slang: a person paid to carry or transport contraband, especially drugs, for a smuggler.”).

Somehow, for some reason unknown to me, Sister Mary (always add the “Mary” out of respect) Philip, RSM, singled me out from my other 8th grade classmates to do “The Deed.” I was a purveyor of goods, the middleman. My reward (now, not in some afterlife) was delight and jubilation. I would miss an afternoon of classwork. Did nothing of note happen after lunch? History? Art? Music? Reading? Ah, that’s it: Silent reading. I could run errands during Silent Reading, for I was a good reader. I could miss school.

Approaching her desk, I was told to get my coat. She gave me a piece of paper with some directions, a small change purse, and, as she adjusted her Religious-Sister-of-Mercy habit, told me to be on my way. “Godspeed,” or something like that.

sisters-of-mercySister of Mercy, RSM

I had a duty; I was on a mission: to conduct an errand, leaving and returning by the end of the school day. Off I went . . . with no food or snack, no backpack, just directions and a change purse with money for the Chicago transit system, the CTA.

There I was, making my way then to the “L,” exiting at the 47th Street stop (a few stops before Sox Park-Comiskey Park).

47thSign47th Street “L” Sign

From the “L” platform, I went down the stairs to the ticket booth/fare collector’s station.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFare Collector Booth from Chicago “L”.org

There sat Sister Mary Philip’s sister. Only for the first time, I told her I was there for the package. She gave me a little paper bag, and a candy bar. With the package and CTA transfer in hand, I was on my way back to my school.

Often I made the trip, sometimes twice a month, receiving the goods: hand-assembled homemade rosaries. Colored beads, black beads, crystal beads; large and small silver crucifixes–all carefully wrapped, such beautiful work, as my 8th grade teacher would show me at my return.

I walked back to my desk, my classmates wondering where I had been.

“My Life with the Rosary” is certainly interesting for me, with so many memories of a time when…. I doubt any others can relate such a story (except, perhaps, those who followed after me in Sister Mary Philip’s classes chosen to do “The Deed”).

What I learned from all this is what a teacher’s pet I really was. How responsible I must have been considered–or, at least, appeared to be. I will not even mention here “child labor,” liability insurance, accountability, and other such topics. What did I know then? What if something happened on my trips? Nevertheless, I do know it was all a pretty good deal for me.

I was able to engage in one of my favorite pastimes: riding the Chicago “L.” So, in a way, I was getting paid to have fun.

oh-the-places-youll-go novelreaction.comOh, The Places I Have Been

Never did I realize how true for me. All because of the Holy Rosary.

How Glorious and Joyful it all was!

© James F. O’Neil 2015




“Friends, Good Friends–and Such Good Friends”–by Judith Viorst (1977)

I came across Judith Viorst’s essay on friendship many years ago. It was included in a writing text, as an example of one of the major (“classic”) expository writing strategies: Classification. The content is about degrees of friendships and kinds of friendships, an essay mostly about women but also does include “men who are friends.” Viorst posits some eight or nine categories. I liked/like her essay, so much more concise and example-driven than Cicero’s “classic” essay on friendship, which I once wrote about in a college paper.

I like Viorst’s varieties of friendships, which I modified for my own use, but based on her commentary: acquaintances, companions, social friends, intimates. Yet within my own classification, I even found myself making too many subdivisions, sub 1, sub 2, and on.

What more can be said, then, written about, that is not already available, from Aristotle (now that is one-long-analytical-philosophical piece–EVER) and Francis Bacon, and not to forget Emerson–and more?

For movie-lovers, the screen is filled with examples of friends and friendships, categories and kinds. (There’s that Jack Ryan character, in Clear and Present Danger, sorting out friends, and all the President’s friends.). And Stand by Me: classic. Nor can we ever forget Bogart and Bacall; Rick and Ilse?

rick and ilseCASABLANCA

Pause with me for a moment. Hold that thought-picture from Casablanca, while I come to “black books”: those small black books within which are found addresses of friends, relationships, passwords, codes, comments. Such little black “address” books become a Revelation of Life and Times and Thoughts. And mysteries. Small address books, black, leatherette, red tabs, handwritten entries, perhaps with some phone numbers. No pictures. Special books. I never had such a black book. Instead:


There I stand, on May 9, 1948, between The Twins, my first “friend-girls.” Though my hands are folded in the prayer-mode, my first little black book was My First Communion Prayer Book, not an address book. It was probably similar to this:


Most likely, the book was in my little suit pocket. I used the little prayer book for a few years, until I graduated to something akin to the Saint Joseph’s Sunday Missal, then on to the Saint Joseph’s Daily Missal through high school.

Some years ago, I underwent a special period of nostalgia. I searched for a link to a past life, and another black book. I found The Book of Common Prayer, with its soft leather and gilt edges. I bought this particular book (in 2007) mostly for its beauty and its comfort-for-me content:


Since the beginning, however, my little black books have morphed into larger black books, but then on to a Day-Timer, and AT-A-GLANCE (2-year format) “books.” Yet were I to have a “small black book,” it would include, among other items, the coded names and coded notes about my “something-special” friends. I once intended to write about my “friend-girls,” those women in my life who were/are special, yet certainly are not “girlfriends.”

carol, jim, dianne at shubat's july 1956--10th gradeJIMMY ON VACATION 10TH GRADE

So there we were: C. Z.: At Sister Lakes, Mich., and her cousin, D. K. My first REAL Friend-Girls. Teen years in the summers, high school, and college. “Friends Forever”–until after my marriage. C. my confidante. Confessor. Mentor. Guide. Wee-hour discussions, for hours and hours, about poetry, God, friendship–and love. Then gone. A loss. One of the essential pieces of The Great Puzzle I Am…. [R.I.P. July 1998]

L. A.: Next-door neighbor: Married. I loved her. I am fourteen. I am sixteen. I am eighteen. I still love her. [R.I.P.]

T. M.: On a first date. Movies in downtown Chicago. The Longest Day.

longest dayTHE LONGEST DAY. Photo Credit:

DUMB! Didn’t think she’d ever date me again. I was right: she didn’t. A war movie, for God’s sake?!

K. N.: Nice Czech-Bohemian girl from Chicago. I had her pictures pasted everywhere. I was a fan-atic. She was my pubescent-time fantasy. Silly infatuation with a goddess, Jeanne Eagles. I was The Man with a Golden Arm. KimKimKim. I suffered from Vertigo:


P. S.: “My” BRIDE OF CHRIST. Most holy and beautiful. A spiritual distraction, came to be my first dark night of the soul. To the nunnery! Curse God! Conflicted. “What a friend we have in Jesus.” Not so. Or so I thought. Time healed.


D.T.: SECRET ADMIRER. I kept address and phone number in secret place. Secret letters. Mail from “D.T.” The Vixen? The Destroyer? Just a friend? Serious discussions. Two lost souls.

Oh. And:

saint pauli girl vintageadbrowserPhoto Credit: vintageadbrowser

M. V.: “You’ll never forget me.” Too young. I’ve never forgotten her. “You’ll never forget your first….”

And, finally (here), 

E. W.: Untouchable, with braces. Virgin on Pedestal. Adorable. Adored. Forever a Good Memory of a time that was good and wholesome. And how I did so well learn how to spin that bottle with her!

My friends, and such good friends at the right time.

© James F. O’Neil 2015

Regarding Henry wikipediarandom hearts poster

[For some interesting viewing of “friends” and “friendship,” try Random Hearts (1999) and/or Regarding Henry (1991).]


“Wake-up call”: “a shocking event that changes the way someone thinks; an event that alerts people to a danger or difficulty; a portentous situation that brings an issue to immediate attention.” [This metaphoric term originated in the second half of the 1900’s for a telephone call arranged in advance to awaken a sleeper, especially in a hotel. Its figurative use dates from about 1990. ]

Once more–again: “What are the best Christmas holiday movies?”

I wouldn’t want to be left home alone to watch the bad Santa; however, I am a die-hard fan of being in love–actually. I do believe a miracle, which might occur in New York on 34th Street. Or even in New Jersey, in 2001, thirteen years ago, where Jack and Kate live, thirteen years after he did not board a plane to London and to a wonderful life.

The Family Man

The Family Man is a Christmas story, somewhat about the holiday many peoples of the world will observe. Jack’s movie-story really begins when he goes to sleep, on Christmas Eve. Does he dream, or have the nightmare before Christmas? Or is the story simply a glimpse of “what if”? He says, “One morning I woke up and it was all different.”

We have been scrooged with this kind of “what-if?” story before, in literature and in film. And the endings? “Then I woke up”: that cliché line given after a person relates a dream to another. Yet sometimes, how real it all seemed. And in the telling, the listener, usually our listener friends, wants to know: THEN WHAT HAPPENED?

“Then I woke up.”

What a great line. The older we get, I believe, the wiser or more aware of our lives, if we examine them. This includes especially into the teens when a mom or dad shouts/argues/exasperates, “Do you know what could have happened? What if . . . ?”

Then, as we age, we do have second thoughts about a decision we made, and wonder whether we made a wise choice. Maybe we even want or need second chances. Often we are given a second chance, or are rehabilitated, or do have it to do over (though instant replays are not often present to overturn our lives).

Where would I be if…? Where would I begin to re-live or re-begin, or even want to change how it would all be different?

For some, ONE event/moment with awareness of the implications or consequences can or will be the “wake-up call.” Some others have to be “hit over the head” with the truth.
In the film, acted out honestly and characteristically as Nicholas Cage and Téa Leoni do in this movie about lives and family matters and friendships and jobs and careers, what would be that ONE event/moment for change? And then he woke up. And then?

What a profound, unscrooged Dickens film. This is a “big-people” movie. “Hilarious”? A comedy? As, All’s well that ends well?

As I think about what I have written, or as I write this, music keeps playing in my head: “Chances Are”:

Guess you feel you’ll always be
The one and only one for me
And if you think you could
Well, chances are your chances are awfully good.

Here is the motif, for me, which permeates the film. Taking chances, but then consequences. Maybe best not take that road less travelled by. Or maybe do.

So, the film ends for me, during this special season, despite all the sadness in the world, within people, between people/peoples, among families, concerning bitterness and rivalries, that chances are, positive. That it will work out…one way or another. And we pray for peace on earth, for that someday. Someday chances are awfully good. How? It’s a mystery, but it’s a wonderful life/world. [Music plays: “Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world. Oh yeah…”]

© James F. O’Neil 2014

“When I consider how my light is spent”? –John Milton
Jack says: “I don’t have it all figured out.”


Each of us can relate somehow, some way, to a cold winter morning. Well, perhaps most of us. Yet a few of us have such a gift they can relate to others their own experiences with cold and winter mornings (poets and storytellers especially).

I have read of soldiers in Alaska, in Moscow, in the Ardennes, in Afghanistan: cold winter mornings that I have no concept of or experiences with. War is not kind. . . .

My cold life in Chicago had me in -18 degrees one winter night. My cold life in Minnesota had me at -16 degrees one Christmas: “way below zero.” The nose hairs froze. Not fun for sledding or the toboggan. Dressed for school? Watch A Christmas Story: see Ralphie’s brother waddle off to school. (And don’t forget that tongue frozen to the flag pole.)

A CHRISTMAS STORY  huffington post

Cold Walk in A Christmas Story (Huffington Post)

House cats do not have to go out for a walk on cold winter mornings. Most dogs are accustomed to morning walks, cold winter morning or not. I had to walk the dog: “Hurry up! I am freezing out here (in a Chicago alley in the early grey cold winter morning)!”

On some cold winter mornings, Jim Miller, my friend and high school classmate, and I arrived early a few times a week during our senior year at our seminary. We were chosen to sing the liturgical responses for morning Mass, at seven. Cold, stone-walled chapel, cold vocal cords, and a chapel organ that was temperamental when the bellows were cold.


Saint James’s Chapel

On cold winter mornings, along city streets, steam could be seen coming from that small hole in manhole covers–or steamy exhaust from city buses, and from cars.

cold cleveland steam.

Winter’s Steam (www.

So, those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere will soon have those cold winter mornings–or already have had a taste of winter. As sure as the sun rises and the sun sets, winter arrives. And cold-weather records will, no doubt, be set in the U.S. and in Europe–again).

One April, with spring approaching, April 4-6, 1968, some teaching colleagues and I were attending a conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A guest speaker was a poet named Robert Hayden. He received a gracious introduction and a warm audience-reception. I was there; I knew little of him, about his work.

He read a poem. He began another–but could not continue. He said, “. . . ,” then began to cry. He left the stage.

April 4 Martin Luther King, Jr. is shot dead at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots erupt in major American cities, lasting for several days afterwards. Minneapolis was not spared.

We were dismissed. Our conference was over, cut short.

(In 1940, Hayden published poems that drew little attention. Yet by 1976 he was well respected enough to be Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the U.S. Poet Laureate. He died in 1980, age 66.)

Although I had little acquaintance with the works of that poet, I would forever always have that memory of him in Minneapolis. So that was that.

Until about ten years ago. In an introduction to literature program. There was a poem of his, about cold Sunday mornings, a poem about a son remembering his father.

My memories of a time–or times–came across to me in such a personal way, as I am certain other readers could recollect similar remembrances. Those memories of a love and actions are not always known nor understood by us when we are young-er. That is all.

“What did I know, what did I know…?” So I took out the dog. So I walked my brother to school. So I got groceries for the invalid woman down the street. So I shoveled the neighbor’s walk. So my dad made oatmeal for us on cold mornings. So my dad walked miles in the deep snow to get a bus or a train to get to work. And me?

“What did I know, what did I know // of love’s austere and lonely offices?” Robert Hayden: “Those Winter Sundays” [1962]

“Those Winter Sundays” is a not-too-simplistic poem of age-brought discovery of what others do for us. But we don’t appreciate. However, this little “masterpiece” is about doing-in and remembering-about the cold. Those cold winter mornings.

©  James F. O’Neil 2014

* * *

Collected Poems: Robert Hayden. Ed. F. Glaysher. New York: Liveright, 1985; rpt. 1996.

Words in the Mourning Time: Poems by Robert Hayden. London: October House, 1970.

Robert Hayden American Poets Stamp



My brother Denis recently asked me for a copy of a handout I used in my writing classes: “The 3-8 Paragraph.”

In my memories of a time many years ago, my friend and colleague, Walt, gave me a handout called “The 3-8 Paragraph Method for Writing.” I was not as overly enthusiastic about using it as he was; he explained it was something he had used in teaching for some years. And he had gotten it from someone else during a long-time-ago workshop.

This method shows a simple way for writers to get started working on a topic, especially memories of a time–bringing about “the thrill of mining one’s own experiences,” as Jeff, a former student of mine, described it.

I found it to be a gem in my writing programs, after using it for a while. Since that time ago, I had been using this handout as one of the best pass‑and‑share/show‑and‑tell items I have ever received. I have given workshops describing how to use it, taught it, and shared it with colleagues. (Some might know it now as a method to help develop the so-called “essay map.”)

And so much for that.

However, my remembering now the times I have used the method makes me want to share the most essential element in the process, the keystone: having the concept of “three” or “3” or “threesies.”

This might seem too easy. And it is. And that is all I am going to say about that. Well, not really.

How much does “three” play in a life? What should I know about “3,” other than it comes after 2 and before 4? But wasn’t that a difficult thing to do, counting as a very young child, as you think back on it?

This is not about numerology–but it could be: the study of the use and power of numbers. Though I want it not to be “occult” or “cult-ish.” But think and remember what you might know about this number and its effect upon your life–or what memories you have about something “three.”

Maybe, “Once upon a time, there were three bears….” Why three?

“And now, Earth, Wind & Fire!” (though the classical elements add the 4th, water)

1st, 2nd, and 3rd place… (blue, red, and yellow [white for 4th place])

“Three men on a match”: That is “bad luck.”

Picture this: In the wind, a soldier during World War I lights a match, at night or in the dark, cupping his hand to prevent the wind from putting out the match. Then the cigarette is lighted. He shares the flame with a 2nd soldier. Then a 3rd soldier attempts to use the fading fire. He is the dead man, shot by an enemy sniper who has been alerted by the first light, takes aim on the 2nd, and knows there will be a 3rd.  Bad luck.

That is how I learned it.

In the novel As Time Goes By (by Michael Walsh, 1998), Rick Blaine shares a light with a friend. Reading that, I at once thought of the three-men-on-a-match anecdote. It happens that way with me.

Between 1490 and 1510, Hieronymus Bosch painted Garden of Earthly Delights, the modern title given to a triptych.

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch

The Bosch Garden

What is a “triptych painting”? It is a work of art divided into three sections, or three carved panels that are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. A trifold, three-sectioned something. Like a trifold wallet, or greeting card.

And then, remember “Two’s company, three’s a crowd”? Not as dramatic as the match story, but it could be, for some, a serious “threesome” relationship–or a stage of growing up. Just think of how many times you were the “odd man out,” the “third wheel.” Growing up, did you have fun as a “trio”? Or was it ever a “love triangle” (in French, ménage à trois).

Triangle: “… and the hypotenuse of a right triangle is….” Let’s think about that baseball field and see, not three bases but two triangles abutting one another across the mound in the middle. And see the 127 feet from first to third. Hypotenuse. Geometry. Tenth (10th) grade for some. Oh, that throw from third to second to first? That’s known as a “triple play.” That’s a baseball rarity.

Triple, as in “triple-crown winner.” Or the “trifecta.”

What gives me pleasure? “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, thou.” Yup, another “threesie,”

In The Little Mermaid look carefully at the “trident” that King Triton (“tri-”) carries.

King Triton wiki

King Triton (Credit: Wikipedia)

 Or remember the Times Table of Three: that “three times three equals __.”

Finally (though this is by no means the last word on threesies), the poet John Milton wrote Paradise Lost, the massive poem about the massive battle about good angels, bad angels, and man. And God. The places were Milton’s poetic descriptions of mythic threesies: heaven, earth, hell.

Milton’s Universe

Though his poem was written “way back when” (1674?), even today writers ask (and answer in science fiction, fantasy, or pop literature), “What is the tripartite cosmology common to many foundation myths?” Outer darkness, earth, and some sort of heaven.

You will not look at three (3) the same way again…

 © James F. O’Neil 2014

The Three Stooges (as found in Wikipedia)

The Three Stooges (as found in Wikipedia)


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