all images the air bellows outdoor museum of art
The theme song of my life sang in the front of my mind today every time I settled and relaxed. This world is not my home, I'm just a-passin through. If heaven was not my home, Oh Lord what would I do? This heaven that is my home is here, now, my real self, which I have a feeling is opening itself slowly, more quickly in this time of the life than before. It has to do with secure in myself, in who I am, in my own validity as an individual whether treated like a criminal by law enforcement or thought too well of by people who don't know me. I value individual rights, probably because I was taught it all the way through school as American freedom and liberty. The rough edges I'm experiencing in this time of the life is seeing the tightening down of laws and attitudes. The people running things now were schooled by a generic educational system that went by true or false, multiple choice. It's like in school all the time in our lives now. Make a mistake and you lose points, get a bad grade. We're so hyper detail oriented now as a society because our education is about memorizing details. A head full of details is what we call knowledge. It's definitely not wisdom. After sixteen years of school, my head amounted to a trivial pursuit game. Would John Berryman be: a) symbolist poet, b) beat poet, c) confessional poet, d) concrete poet? True or false: Herman Melville wrote The Tropic of Cancer.
As an individual who has lived in this body awhile, long enough there comes a time when going on out looks like the best way to go. We are souls with bodies. Take off the body like taking off clothes for a shower. Shake that old skin loose, wiggle out of it. It's hard for ego to conceive of nonexistence, hard for mind, too. By nonexistence I mean without the body, thinking of the body as existence. But I question it being that narrow. It's the soul with a body we call existence. The soul without the body also "exists," if it can be said that spirit exists. I'm inclined to think it does. Seems like the spirit would be the core of existence. The issue that bothers me about living so long is the tightening down. It's come to the place we need a filing cabinet in the house, a tall one. The computer has tightened us down in an advanced way. The society all around me is tightening down like a plumber's wrench twisting a bolt with intent that it will never come loose. Over the years this progression has been the way of American society, I've been loosening myself from the belief systems that go with making money, allowing my own flow. My human flow is slower than the pace of keeping up with all around me. Withdraw further inward. Stay home more. Paint more. Read more. Work on projects at home. I don't understand the world around me. And don't want to.
I like living in a rural community where an awful lot of people like their neighbors and even speak well of them. There is always gossip, but I've come to see gossip as another ingredient in the glue that holds a community together. The people of this county I know look to others with an open readiness to lend a hand whenever needed. Last week, some people from Winston-Salem walking to the waterfalls parked in a place they did not know was soggy ground after much rain. Stuck. I was appealed to for a shovel. I stood around and talked with them and didn't do anything. When they came out of the fix, gratitude was heaped on me, and I was thinking, for what? All I could say was, "It's what we do in the mountains." There was never a thought of inconvenience. Somebody appeals for help, you go do what you can. It's a silent mountain code, one that nearly everybody lives by, simply because it is a belief in the culture, mother's milk it might be called, and daddy's knots on your head, you give help where help is needed. As long as I've lived here, it has been a truth that when something happens to your car, you're on the side of the road unable to go, the first pickup that passes will stop and ask if you need help. The population is now half people from city suburbs who don't know about the code. Those old cultural attributes of the mountains are specific to the mountain people.
In the coffee shop yesterday, somebody asked why I live here, meaning it. My mind went empty. I couldn't even imagine compressing it into a phrase, even a paragraph. It's my entire being that wants me here. This is my home that was waiting to be found. It was waiting for me, the old Air Bellows school house, live-in graduate school. Move in and learn. I didn't say any of that. All I could say was it's the home of my soul. To explain beyond that would have to be at a table with some good liquor to sip and a lot of time. Nobody who asks such a question ever wants to hear the story of its inevitability. He wanted to know if I knew somebody here or had relatives here. It didn't compute with him that my path led me here. I didn't know anybody. Didn't have any idea of the culture I had moved into. I set out to learn mountain culture from my school house of one. When it comes to ideals for education, seems like a school of one is the ideal. Learn by experience. Learn by knowing people. Learn by working. Learn by listening. I don't know even close to what can be known about mountain culture, but I know enough to respect the culture itself and the people who live it. My respect is such that I aspire to many of their values. I don't have it by mother's milk, but I have it by grandmother's love and grandfather's blood. This is the place where my soul is satisfied. This is the place where I have learned to have a heart affection for my neighbors.
photos by tj worthington