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Sunday's Word: My Day

Today, we got back from our vacation, the last stop which was at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Historic Site in Hyde Park, NY.

In Hyde Park are several different historic sites, including one place, Val-Kill, which was the residence of Elanor Roosevelt.

You'd think that this would be the last place to think about college sports or Lehigh football, considering the number of momentous events that happened in the residences at Hyde Park with the Roosevelts.

But it turns out that Elanor was the first-ever blogger as well.  Want proof?  Just look at her gigantic archive of daily articles, syndicated in newspapers (the internet of its day) across the country, in a small, compact column called "My Day".

You probably didn't know that something our family loves to do is visit historic sites like this on our vacation. 

There are so many lessons to learn and stories to continue discovering about the great historical figures of our times.

And for me, the stories of historical figures are fantastic places to get rid of writer's block, to find inspiration to keep going forward in writing.  (Yes, even when you're writing about football.)

If you've never been to Hyde Park, it's really worth the trip.

And on a hot summer weekend, it was easy to picture a young FDR riding horseback over the amazing acreage of the Roosevelt estate as a boy, or later, as president, hosting dignitaries, perhaps.

The Roosevelt Mansion, Springwood, showed the incredibly wealthy upbringing of FDR, while "Top Cottage", his personal retreat far from the pandemomium of Springwood, was an amazing place, surrounded by the green beauty of the Hudson Valley.

Our park ranger mentioned that FDR conducted personal business at Top Cottage, writing letters, perhaps, or working on personal matters close to his heart.

We forget, sometimes, that the key figures of the day spent hours and hours writing, whether it be speeches, letters of thanks, condolences, or - in FDR's case - love letters to and from someone who was not his wife.

Such writings form the basis of history, and tell us amazing stories as to how things were actually happening during momentous occasions like the Great Depression and World War II.

At Top Cottage, it's amazing to think of FDR, sitting on the same, beautiful, comfortable porch as I was today, composing letters - to whom?  Winston Churchill?  - all in a wheelchair, in failing health, all the while knowing, somehow, he wouldn't last much longer.

There is an incredible feeling of peace at Top Cottage that most certainly did FDR well.  And it did me well, too. For the hour or so we were up there, there was nothing around me.  No deadlines, no blog posts, no cell phones, no day job emergencies.  The internet slipped away.  There were no Olympics, no baseball scores, no football games, nothing that needed my attention.

It's amazing, too, how these people knew the value of peace and lack of distraction. 

On the porch at Top Cottage in summer, you're surrounded on three sides with green trees and grass, and not a person in sight.  It's easy to see it as an awesome place to get your bearings on life once again - and for great inspiration for getting the creativity to write.  Everyone needs a Top Cottage.


Similarly, Val-Kill, Elanor Roosevelt's residence, served a similar role.

The modest house on the Roosevelt grounds was home to Elanor, a place for her to entertain her many guests and pioneers of human rights.  The wood panels were a sharp distinction from the formal rooms of Springwood, and the wooden walls gave off a living feel to the place.

But my jaw dropped when our ranger said that on top of the meetings, personal correspondence, radio address planning, and other things too numerous to mention, she had composed over 7,000 "My Day" articles for papers across the world.

"My Day" was a syndicated newspaper column published from 1935 to 1962.  During those years, Eleanor wrote the column consistently six days a week, only missing four days when her husband died - making it, as far as I'm concerned, the first-ever blog.

The "blog" allowed her to reach an incalculable number of newspaper readers with her views on issues, events, and her private and public life. "Dealing with subjects far out of the range of the conventional first lady's concerns, "My Day" is an outstanding example of the breadth of issues and activities which occupied Eleanor Roosevelt's life," a page from American Experience coos.

I didn't think I had anything in common with Elanor Roosevelt, but in an extremely tiny way, I found out I do.

It's also unbelievably inspiring.  Here was a woman, who, on top of, oh, helping establish the United Nations, pressing world leaders on civil rights, and trying to forge peace in the Middle East, found time to write six blog postings, in effect, a week.

And sometimes - surprise, surprise - she comes up with truths on college athletics that seem like they should be posted on the wall on every athletic director's office.

Februrary 22nd, 1951:

None of us can help but be shocked to find that boys have been bribed to throw basketball games. But I feel that the men who did the bribing deserve the severer punishment because they were willing to make money out of young people to whom they were offering a very serious temptation.

Many boys who are working their way through a university have to work very hard. Many of them not only feel the pressure of meeting their own expenses, but sometimes things are happening at home which make it truly difficult not to have money to help out.

I can see the temptation that it might be to many a young person though I must say some of these boys seem to be old enough to know better.

When you are in college, sports are a vital part of a man or woman's activity. They build health and they give young people good, strong bodies and the ability to use them skillfully.

In addition, we have always thought of sports as an aid to character building. The old saying that many battles were won for Great Britain on the playing fields of Eton did not come about because of physical development alone, but because of the spirit of fair play, the teamwork, the ability to stick even in the face of defeat developed there. All these things are valuable assets to education. They go by the board, however, the minute there is cheating in a game just as an honor system is of no value if boys cheat in examinations.

Perhaps we have allowed our college sports to become too commercialized. Big gambling was possible on the results of these games and so the gambler tempted the players. Intermural sports are good, but I think it will be a pity if, because of the weakness of a few boys, we wipe out all intercollegiate sports.

I have never liked the practice of the alumni subsidizing good players and thus attracting athletes to college regardless of their mental attributes. But I do realize that the GI Bill of Rights has enabled many young people to go to college who might otherwise not have had the opportunity for an education. Therefore, I am very anxious that some way be devised by which boys who show ability in school shall have an opportunity to attend college regardless of their financial status.

We cannot afford to waste brains in this country. They are becoming more important to us every day. And surely financial position should not bar young people from the education which can give them positions of leadership in our nation in the future.

Boy, isn't this something that could be framed and put on the Patriot League's, or Ivy League's, offices.  And while not perfect, the system of offering scholarships to players to compete in NCAA sports - especially in high-academic leagues like the Patriot and Ivy Leagues - does, actually, offer a way, as Eleanor had hoped, for young people to have an opportunity for college "regardless of their financial status". 

(And through Title IX, now the opportunities don't predominantly go just to boys, but to both boys and girls - something which must also make Elanor, somewhere, nod in approval.)

Like FDR, her office did not have lots of distractions when it came to coming up with those scores of "My Day" columns.  The desk was undoubtedly cleaner now, on display, than when it was in use, but it's clear that she needed clarity to come up with these words, and her desk and field of vision provided it.

I find myself sometimes overwhelmed by distraction when I write, or do anything.  The internet, of course, is loaded with ever more distractions these days - Twitter!  Facebook!  Breaking news!  Fantasy team updates! Emails! - making it a challenge to come up with things to write about, never mind the breakneck pace I choose to adopt in terms of generating content.

Something I hope to be thinking about a lot this year is how Elanor made those "My Day" columns, and how FDR managed the last year of his presidency - through simplifying the workspace and uncluttering the workspace.  It's the only way I'll accomplish everything I want to do this year.


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