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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

LIVING APPALACHIA

by the side of the road


More snow in the night. Maybe 3 inches of powdery soft snow. Forecast for tomorrow is wind. This is good drifting snow. Fog settled on the mountain all day with temperature at 27. It froze to the tree limbs and twigs making them white. In the morning when the sun hits the mountains at a slant, they will glow. This has been an exceptionally long-lasting cold spell for winter. I love the snow, am glad especially for the ground water. A good day to stay at home.


Today's movie was UNDER THE VOLCANO, made by John Huston from the novel by Malcolm Lowry. It's a book I meant to read years ago and never got it read. Glad now I didn't. The story of a drunk self destructing doesn't entertain me. The film was beautifully made, but didn't reach me. I meant to get some painting done when it was over, and set up for painting half way through it and finished the film painting. I could hear it fine. There wasn't anything to see, just a stupid guy being stupid. I don't really enjoy stories of somebody falling through the bottom, like in the movie Drugstore Cowboy. Cold, dark tale of a loser acting out his loser nature until he self destructs.


Listening to some Howard Joines fiddle music today from a reel-to-reel tape by Clifton Evans, who played guitar with Joines. Sometimes a banjo comes in. Might be Ed Atwood on some of them. I don't recognize the bluegrass banjo on some. I'm hearing it from a cd Lucas Pasley made from Clif Evans's tapes. Howard Joines was quite a fiddler at old-time and bluegrass. Old-time was his music, though he loved to play bluegrass too. He was respected all over the county for his fiddling, like every good musician in the county is known all over the county. This music is reminding me of the gulf between the culture of the mountain people and the culture of the people coming into the mountains. The population is now about half and half. There is very little cross-cultural interest. City people bore mountain people. Mountain people bore city people. The mountain people are working class culture. The city people are middle class culture. Very different viewpoints.


My friend Cynthia is teaching an Appalachian history class at WCC in Sparta. I'm wiggling with curiosity to know what it's about. I don't know any history of the region past the lives of the oldest people I've known. Tom Pruitt told me a great deal of history, living history, about relatives, friends, church, preachers, revivals in my house that was then the school house of Air Bellows, sheriffs, murders, catastrophes, rain storms that washed out sides of mountains, working horses, making old-time haystacks and rail fences, fox hunting, making liquor, fox dogs, the ways of what he called the old people, the people who were old when he was young. I heard his brother, Millard, the Regular Baptist preacher talk of his lifetime, how they lived, what they did. It was a living book, better than any book, because it was all told from first hand experience. No interpretation, but their own.


In a way I was a moron for not writing what they told me when I returned home from a visit. But it felt too invasive, too exploiting. It felt too much like I was using them for something quite other than our person-to-person conversation. I didn't want to break the authenticity of a truly real human communication in a time when we're so overwhelmed by television and telephones real communication by sitting and talking, like an old-timer telling a new-comer his life. My rationale back then was this was between us when the conversation took place, about like wearing a "wire" to record him talking. It felt too unreal. I came to the mountains to get away from the unreal and find something real. I couldn't exploit people I respected and admired for any reason. When I write about them it's with high regard to give a picture of who they were, and no need to do any more than that.


I came to the mountains with the conviction that I was here to learn the new culture I was entering, not to teach the culture I'd left. I was all eyes and ears. I knew the people in Millard's church, people they knew. An old friend of Millard's came to mind who drove up the mountain with his wife from Low Gap from time to time to visit Millard and Malissie. Claude Brown. He was always laughing and telling comic tales of something somebody did or said that was especially hilarious. Old-time situational humor, telling something somebody did that was funny, or that self did. Humor now is jokes. Situational comedy is seldom noticed. It has to be on tv to be noticed.


Saw a good commercial for some kind of video screen with a Paula Abdul look alike jerking her long hair and limber body on ultra high heels, the left side of the tv screen, and on the right side the same image gyrating on this particular monitor advertised for better than life. The white guy who has never seen anything but television stares at the image on the screen. Paula Abdul gives up trying to catch his attention and huffs off the stage. The maker of the brief video knew very well what he was saying. Television has become reality.


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