Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Do I hear what you hear?

One of the dominant characteristics of declining cultures is self-indulgence. What else could you call a society who elects an amoral narcissist for their leader? Some in the media have been blaming Trump on hard-up working people who were denied a voice by the establishment. One might make a more convincing case for old white people with money and property resisting the erosion of their privilege.

Perhaps the worst side effect of a self-indulgent populace is the loss of communal perspective. It leads to absurdities that amount to burning down the house because you don't like the carpet. Great music is performed by people who listen as well as they play.

I'm taking time between my own books to do a little reading of other folks' stuff, and finding there is a lot of self-indulgent fiction out there right now. There are a few great writers, too, bucking the trends, not buying into the current medicine show, able to hear voices that don't echo their own. When you're writing a story, or reading the news, never quite trust a character who talks just like you do.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Drovers Gap...

Easing into a new project, aimed for late 2018 or early 2019, depending on when Slick Rock Creek launches. Drovers Gap (working title) will be my second book of short stories, containing some favorites of mine previously published in the UK by Alfie Dog Fiction, and some new tales, written expressly for this collection.

Some light, some dark. Nothing fancy. Place-rooted, character-driven. Stories that allow space for Grace among the shadows. Among them may be the seeds for the next novel. So far, all of my long fiction has sprouted out of short stories.

Monday, July 17, 2017


Privilege. I got a lesson in that during my recent little medical adventure. At the hospital, and at the doctor's office, I showed my insurance cards, and I got the care I needed. No talk at all about money.

This week, when the bills began coming in, I realized why. So far, insurance and medicare has paid everything. They knew as soon as they saw me coming that they would get their money.

So I'm wondering now, what sort of care did the people get who waited around me in the E. R. and didn't have insurance? What will their bill look like?

It is not just a question of economics, but a moral issue. Healthcare for profit is just as immoral as religion for profit. Stockholders and politicians shouldn't decide who gets care and who is excluded.
Of course, my privilege doesn't end with my medical care. I'm white. I live in a town where moneyed folk have been hanging out for a hundred years. I attend a church frequented mostly by that same sort of folk. People make assumptions based on that, and treat me accordingly. For the most part, it works out in my favor.

Over the years I've cultivated simple wants, and learned to live comfortably within my means, so I'm not quite the propertied man I might appear to be to some who don't know me. But there's no escaping the fact that I am privileged. I can deny that. I can feel guilty about it. Or I can give thanks for my undeserved good fortune and look for ways I can spread it around.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


Summer for sure. A wet one, so far, with showers daily. The weather forecast says we might get our first ninety degree days of the season this week. Time to slow down, take stock, check our bearings.

A pause in the action. Like the intermission in a play. Take a little refreshment. Stretch the legs. Clear the mind. When the curtain parts again, the scene will have changed.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Living in place...

Travel wonderfully narrows the mind, according to Malcolm Muggeridge. Whether he thought of that himself, or was quoting somebody else, I don't know. Certainly, he got around enough to know what he was talking about.

To be sure, there are lessons plain to homefolks that visitors to a place are not privy to. The more places you see, the more they all look alike. Some great poetry may have been written on a train, but I can't think of any.

Saluda is a great place to visit, but I'd rather live here. It isn't the sort of town you can catch on the fly. It's different with big cities. There's always too much of too much in such places. I get my fill of New York or Atlanta in about two days. Two years in this town is barely enough to get my bearings.

You can't marry a crowd. You can't love a mob. You can't make more friends than you can remember names.

Friday, July 14, 2017

All the difference...

Not always have I been such a settled lad. Domesticity sort of crept up on me through the company I kept. The Main Muse has been gently persistent over the years. Somehow, she has won my heart without breaking my will.

But even that last summer of my discontent had a certain charm, and a wee place of belonging amid the chaos that was my life, and sometimes, when a thunderstorm wakes me in the dark, in that instant between sleep and awareness, I almost miss it.

Then my present happiness seizes me, and I embrace anew all the difference between being free, and just being loose.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Now and then...

There are two ways to get to know mountains. You can get on a road, like the Blue Ridge Parkway and drive across and among them. You will see a lot of mountains in a day. You may even recognize the contours of some of them if you see them later in a photograph.

You can also find a summit with enough shelter to pitch your tent, or maybe settle in a little cabin beside a stream, and stay in one spot for a week, or better yet a season, until you know the first bird song in the dawn, and the last one at dusk, until you know by name the flowers that bloom around your camp, the old sow bear who brings her cub down to the water each evening, the deer who grazes the meadow at first light.

At the end of your sojourn, you will have a deeper kinship with mountains by learning the deep stories of one of them rather than a passing familiarity with the shapes of many. Friendship takes some time spent in watchful listening, whether you want to become friends with a place or a person.

Love is not restless, nor hurried. Love pays attention, is present, not distracted by what might come next. Life is not there, but here, not when but now. Our story is not about where we've been or where we're going, but how we are being in our brief and eternal moment. We keep longing after Heaven when we are already there.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

...on the way.

We don't find our way in this world so much as the Way finds us. Our true and natural road is opened to us not by our striving but by our letting go.

"Stone, being harder, ever resists. Water, being softer, eventually has her way."  -from The Summer Boy, a novel.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Deep music...

Eleven pipers piping, so the carol says. I didn't count them, when the McGuires came skirling down Main Street on Coon Dog Day. Even one piper can cut my mind loose from any present circumstance and send me wandering over deep waters to far mountains in some home I've never seen.

There is a music deep in the bones, along with the sounds of wind in the laurel and water falling on rocks and the wild cry of a lone hawk high and away, A music written in our cells, that calls us from however far we've wandered, back to the place where we are real.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Only temporary...

It was only temporary. Just a place to perch and get my work done until we had all the boxes unpacked and the house arranged, then we would fit me into some permanent digs somewhere about the establishment. Now, a year and a half, and one book, later, with all the boxes (well, almost all) unpacked, and the house in reasonable order, I am still here.

Right by the front door, prone to interruption, where I can keep track of the weather, intercept all incoming news, gossip with the UPS guy and the mail lady, and the occasional odd tourist who comes along looking for somebody they thought lived here.
Maybe after the next book, I’ll strive for a more permanent situation. We’ve talked about closing in the back porch for a writer’s nook. I can’t spare the time for it right now.

Actually, I like things pretty well just as they are. I don’t have space to pile a lot of stuff I don’t need around me. I’m not sure how I’d like having a closed door between my world and me. How would Simon come lay his chin in my lap when he wanted his walk? How would Jane Ella stop on her way to something important and kiss me atop my head, for no good reason except she loves me?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Just saying...

This is not a sermon.

I've never been a big drinker. I can't handle the hard stuff. A bottle of Glenlivet single malt sat unopened in my cabinet for twenty years before I finally gave it away to my friend on the mountain, who knows how to appreciate it.

But I do like a glass or two of wine with dinner, and once a week, I'll have a beer with the Sage of Joel's Creek. Then, a few weeks ago, I quit alcohol because it doesn't agree with my other drugs. In less than a month, my blood pressure has dropped ten points. The other drugs aren't for blood pressure.

Just saying...

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Nothing but...

I’m not a theologian. The terms church people use when they discuss the finer points of religious doctrine seem to me, frankly, pretty much beside the point. Original sin, for example. There is nothing very original about sin. It’s all been done before. My own sins have generally resulted from a poverty of imagination.

Then there are all the disputes and conjectures about the precise nature of concepts like Trinity and Incarnation. Jesus didn’t use words like this. Jesus didn’t write a manual for how to do church, Jesus wasn’t even a Christian. Jesus, now, I have to take seriously.

He never told us to do anything he didn’t do himself. When we had done the worst to him we could think of to do, and left him dead in a hole in the ground, he comes right back and says, “Y’all, It’s still all about forgiveness.”

I can contrive an argument against any of it, but that. There’s nothing you can say to Forgiveness but Yes.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Don't Fret

Don’t fret, don’t worry
About finding God’s will
For your life. See,
God’s purpose will find you,
She will woo you, pursue you,
Hound and subdue you,
She will demand you sacrifice
Her dearest and sweetest rival
For your heart. Thus,
In your life’s greatest loss,
You will be healed of yourself,
And fulfilled.