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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
can't marry a crowd. You can't love a mob. You can't make more
friends than you can remember names.
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.
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.
present happiness seizes me, and I embrace anew all the difference
between being free, and just being loose.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.