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Tuesday, October 11, 2011


     filling the radiator

Hearing a lot of NPR talk radio recently. Sometimes I just turn them off because it's the same-o, same-o. All of it is about what's wrong with one thing and another about our government, our culture, corporations. It's the same on Fox News. Just a different list of what's wrong. We spend our lives hearing what's wrong. When we talk with others, like at coffee shop, chance meeting in the library, what do we talk about? What's wrong. Women who watch soap operas are the queens of what's wrong, like the news junkie men are the emperors of what's wrong. Now that my attention is on this matter of living in a world where all media and the people around us talk all the time about what's wrong, I'm seeing this in myself and am suddenly overwhelmed.

Recalling about my first 20 years in Alleghany County. I spent the whole time studying what's wrong with the place and the people. I had it all figured out, everything that was wrong with it articulated in my mind. That's how I came to know mountain culture and mountain people--what's wrong with them. I hear people new to the mountains talking like I used to talk and it makes my back go up now. I have to remind myself I am not the same all the way along in my life, and this person speaking is not the same all along in his/her life. I was working at Donna Shumate's office at the time. I was walking from the office to the courthouse to do my work in the register of deeds office. Walking on the sidewalk in front of Farmer's Hardware, it came to me that I think I've got everything that's wrong with the place and the people figured out. There wasn't anything left to find to gripe about.

I wondered for a moment what I'll think about if I can't look at what's wrong. I thought it would be a good time to start looking at what is right about the place and the people. I could study that for awhile. Instantly, I saw a metaphorical flash of light and saw I already know what's right about the place and people. So incredibly much was right that what was wrong vanished to nothing. All my research over 20 years went away in that flash of metaphorical light. I didn't even have to start listing what was right. So much was right that it absorbed all I'd figured out was wrong, like sprinkling salt on the ocean. It was at that moment I fell in love with mountain culture and the mountain people. Nothing can shake it now. When somebody tells me something they've seen that is wrong with the place or some of its people, I have no problem with it, because it's not wrong for me anymore. Sometimes I explain why the people are a certain way, in whatever way. Mostly it starts with, "It's a culture of poverty and your complaint is coming from a culture of privilege."

In the days of this week I've been looking at how I've been shaped to look at what's wrong with everything by influence of the media, which is a mirror of us. Pop media project back to us what we project. What's wrong holds our attention better than what's right. What's right is usually boring. One of the reasons I listen to NPR is they sometimes tell good news, though less and less. I'm thinking I'm  due for another flash of light by letting go of what's wrong with our government, the world around me, the people I don't think so much of, all of it. I'm wondering how much thinking about all that is wrong around us (excepting ourselves, of course) contributes to depression. Evidently, we have the most depressed people in the world. What do Americans do? Work at a job and watch tv. At work, conversation is largely what's wrong with the boss, the job, the government. On tv it is told how things are wrong we've never heard of.

One time I worked on a house with a crew, the painter. I saw so much 4th grade behavior, consciously breaking things, messing something up on purpose, general indifference to what was being done. I wondered how houses got built. I looked all around everywhere I went in that time and saw houses everyplace. Somehow, they get built. It's not a positive attitude I'm looking for, but a mind that doesn't worry over what's wrong with anything, except maybe when my car won't start. I've an idea another reason we like to go with what's wrong, is it holds other people's interest in conversations. To let go of focusing on what's wrong with this and that runs risk of being boring to others. But, I'm boring anyway. I have nothing to lose. Starting now, I believe it's a good time to start looking around at what's good, focusing my attention there. Then we get into what constitutes bad and what constitutes good. It's relative, of course, to conditions such as context, intent, who interprets it.

Maybe focus on what's wrong leads to immaculate house keeping. In the Navy when we had inspections, the captain studied everyone's appearance for what's wrong. I usually got it on belt buckle not shined enough, shoes not shined enough, neck scarf not tied right, details. Some guys had their special outfits for inspections. When assessed for what's wrong, they'll have nothing wrong. Does that make them right? No. Just not wrong. Some of the wisdom I saw in Jr Maxwell was he didn't complain about what's wrong very much. He accepted everything around him as it was at the moment. When I think about letting down my guard against what's wrong, I feel an apprehension there won't be anything to think about or do, no motivation without something wrong to be frustrated over not being able to fix. I can't fix nearly all of it. What I can fix, I don't worry over or talk about, like cleaning the insides of the side glasses on the car. That, I can fix. The economy, I have to receive it as it is. Wars, Wall Street greed, politicians, I can do nothing about. I think mainly, what I and others take for wrong isn't necessarily wrong and the other way around, what we take for good isn't necessarily so. It's time to pay more attention to what's not wrong and see if anything changes.



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