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Saturday, October 31, 2015

FORTY YEARS ON A BACK ROAD


tom pruitt's house today
 
Forty years ago, this day, this minute, 9:20pm, I was driving on the Parkway in the densest fog there ever was. I understand some of the fog in the Pacific Northwest is thicker. Absolute white like inside a cave is absolute black. The fog that night was dense. I'm used to it now, though it is never easier to drive in than it was that night, my first experience. Could only use first gear and creep. Had to hang head out the open window and look down at the tire and hold it next to the double yellow line in dim light. The fog absorbed the headlights in a white-out. I think of those nights driving when it is so dark it's pitch black, the headlights seem to go only half as far as usual. Stay in the rhythm of keeping the tire next to the yellow lines. Until a place where a road came into the parkway or entrance/exit to an overlook where the yellow lines ended for a space of about thirty feet. I never knew if I'd find the yellow lines again. I wondered if loaded pickup was headed toward the ditch and down the side of a mountain. Then the yellow lines appeared, I'd been on track. Ten or more years ago the maintenance crews painted segmented lines through the open spaces, a welcome assist.
 
the goat rock from waterfall road
 
I mused at how interesting it was to enter my new life, my commitment to the unknown, to chance, passing through a dense fog the last five miles. So smitten by the symbolism of it, I embraced the fog as a passageway into a new life of I did not know what. I had committed by giving self no option. The decision was settled. Whatever hardship went with it, I'd learn as time went by. I knew it would be intense hardship. No running water in the house, and an outhouse. Took water out of the creek behind the house in buckets. That wasn't anything. The first month, the month of November, cold to somebody from coastal South Carolina, frequent snow on the ground in the mornings, Tom gave me a job with a bush axe for clearing an acre of saplings and briars that had grown up in a meadow he wanted to return to meadow. I realized later he gave me this job to see how long I'd last before turning around and going home. I used it for boot camp. I wanted to work myself into shape and find the rhythm of hard labor, my purpose in going to the mountains to be a caretaker of a farm with beef cattle, totally inexperienced. 
 
waterfall road the backside
 
Somehow I knew without knowing that the mountains would be the place I live out my life. Looking at living my life, the mountains are the place to do it. Looking at making a living, the mountains are not such a good place to be. I could have found work that rewards a college degree, but did not want to wear a tie, work in an office and tell people what to do. I wanted to commit to hard labor. I had fallen in with Meher Baba a year before, which turned my inner direction 180 degrees around. I see my life an arrow shot straight up, going away from its source full speed. Momentum wears itself out, the arrow stops, falls back, turns around and flies full speed returning to its source. The first year was the turning of the arrow's direction. Most curiously to me of all is that these mountains are my blood source, which I didn't know for the first 25 years, as well as what I call the home of my soul. And that's not symbolism. It is best I came here from outside. I could not live here after growing up here. Much as I love the culture, I would need to distance myself from its control. As it is now, I honor the culture without it having controlling interest in my life. I've let the culture be my graduate school.

beside waterfall road the backside

This house was the Air Bellows School house. I've known well a handful of people who went to school and have met and spoken with another handful. Altogether, I've known ten people who went to school here. I've met people who were saved here at revival meetings they had sometimes in schoolhouses in the old days of horses and wagons. I feel a reverence for the house considering what all has gone on that these boards experienced. I feel a reverence for the house as itself without any mental references. It was constructed by the people of the community, some of them carpenters. The simplest possible construction, so simple it is almost in the Japanese style. This spot of ground is, indeed, the home of my soul. After living here around twenty-five years, I had a feeling that seemed like it came from higher self, that I now have my PhD in mountain culture. Not an academic title from reading, rather experiential, first hand, listening to old people tell their lives, working with mountain people, drinking with them and going to church with them, learning their theology, incorporating what I assessed the best of it into my life. Leave off the male hierarchy in the churches and I'm all with their theology, though in different words from what they use. I am post-round earth, post-evolution, post-the science of psychology, post-the 20th Century renascence, the new classical age for the future. I regard that unimportant. I was with old man Tom Pruitt, it's all in the red letters. The rest of it is history.  

the goat rock from waterfall road the back side
 
 
 
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Friday, October 30, 2015

DONKEYS IN THE GLOAMING


donkey jen has burrs in her mane
 
The sun lowers in the sky, the shadows grow longer. The line between sunlight and shade creeps across the donkey meadow. The red oak leaves in the distance glow red. Birds, chipmunks, squirrels dart about after siesta gathering seeds for supper to keep them warm through the night. Jenny and Jack left the hay I put out for them midday to graze on the short grass given a tiny boost by days of sunlight after a good rain. While the meadow has a bit of grass to nibble, I throw them a little bit of hay per day to supplement their diet. They like this fresh hay. The donkeys are grazing in the direction of the watering hole. They find patches of growth they've missed. Last year I gave them more hay than they ate. They would not eat the broom straw that was thick in the hay. Every day the broom straw was left over. I started feeding them hay the days of the rain, under the trees where the rain is not so direct.
 

jenny scratches her neck on the fence
 
I sit here looking out the window at the grazing donkeys, see their constant awareness of the other. It is a loving awareness between them, not fear. They are so equally matched one cannot dominate the other. Jack can take Jenny down, only when she's willing. Throughout her pregnancy she kicks Jack when he gets frisky. Websites I've looked at about donkeys say to keep them apart when the one is pregnant. Like that's going to work. They'd be braying for each other all the time, just for the presence of the other. I like to think Jack knows her condition and respects it, but know better. He is driven by the mind between his back legs such that Jenny has to keep him reminded she's not ready. It frustrates Jack, though he handles his frustration well. He's not one to be belligerent and hateful. He goes about Jenny gently, more for his own safety than consideration of Jenny's condition. I'm guessing she has maybe two more weeks. Their gestation period is a year, though often goes into an extra month.
 
 jack anticipates something to eat
 
Jack's most outstanding characteristic is his humility. Before Jenny entered the meadow I was guessing humility might be a donkey characteristic. Jenny popped that assumption. Jenny has a humble nature too, but she has to trust you first and Jenny does not take trust for granted. Jenny has a jealous streak strong as Jack's humility. Jack and I have learned to keep the peace by letting Jenny be first in all things, first with the carrots, first with the hay, first to talk to. She does not like being fondled, so when I want to pet on them, I pet Jack first. Jenny gets jealous watching and wants to be petted too. Jack doesn't care. Jack has a great longing to be first when I take the grain to them, though he defers to Jenny every day. If she sees danger he might get some of the grain first, she snorts, grunts, growls, and Jack backs away squealing to me in agony while he waits for me to pour his portion.

sofia grooms her cat fur
 
The gloaming has settled over the land now, the last sunlight gone from the trees on the ridge in the distance. The squirrels and birds went home for the night. Cat lies curled in her window seat. I'm half way into a Romanian film, California Dreamin. It is two and a half hours long. I don't have it for a movie that long to sit all the way through. I have no problem cutting a film in half. In childhood, daddy, who had been a WW2 marine hated standing in line after his experience in chow and other lines. When we went to a movie, we went in the middle and sat through the theater emptying and refilling, then previews and cartoon. I learned early to see the second half of a movie first and use the first half to fill in the blanks. I saw the movies from beginning to end by myself. I learned along the way to see movies by myself. I tend to like movies nobody else likes and tend not to like the ones everybody else likes. Last time I went to a movie with somebody, it was Derek Jarman's Richard II. Walking away from the theater, I said, "Good film." The retort: "It was Terrible!" My friends Lucas and Judy are the only people I can watch movies with in full enjoyment.

rhododendron leaves and shadows
 
photos by tj worthington
 
 
*

Thursday, October 29, 2015

THE JOY OF LIVING WITH A YOUNG CAT

sofia likes her new window seat
 
Sofia took to her window seat the moment she stepped into it. The cushion is a foam rubber just right for a cat. She curled up in it and took a nap. It has become her favorite place. She can look onto the donkey meadow and see the donkeys. The view out this window is different from the view out the other windows. She could see me through them when I arrived home and when I left. First day with the window seat I walked in the door while she was napping. She jumped up hearing the door open. The surprise on her face was true bewilderment. She did not see me through the window. I don't recall ever seeing a cat so surprised. She was unaware this window gave no access to seeing me approach the door. I throw seeds on the ground outside new window for chipmunks and squirrels now. Cat tv. I'm making places for her at the windows. The window seat is above the kerosene monitor that exhausts outside, the warmest place in the house during winter. Sun shines through the window in the mornings and the moon at night. Good place for a cat.
 
sofia grooms her fur in the window
 
In town today I picked up a  12x14 mirror to put on the wall beside a place she likes to curl up on top of a bookshelf. She feels comfortable seeing herself in a mirror. The window at night makes a black mirror she can see herself in. It's not like vanity for her. I see her glance at herself with calm in her eyes, recognition it is herself, her imaginary playmate. Though I say it is not vanity, cats are vain about how they look. So are dogs and donkeys, all the birds. Every animal I've known has been particular about appearance. Sophia does not pose in front of a mirror. She glances at herself to see if she's looking good and looks at her eyes; I see you. Satisfied she passed inspection, she looks away and shows no more interest.  I like the bumper around the edge of the window seat. It will prevent her rolling off it in her sleep and it makes a cushion for her to curl up against. Her energy is perking me up. The house has a lively spirit leaping and running about.

the sponge and the string
 
Cat is in the window looking at birds, squirrels and falling leaves. I glanced out the window and saw Jack with a bird on his back. It looked like a titmouse. It flew over to Jenny's back. The windows are ideal cat tv, no commercials, public television for cats. She just now saw a squirrel on a tree trunk and leapt from the desk to a wooden bench under one of the windows, slid to the glass and scrunched up like an accordion when her nose touched the glass. This one is a young gray squirrel. It nibbles sunflower seeds and Sofia sits at the glass, full attention on the squirrel, drawn by catness in her soul to jump at it and chase it. She has a deep longing to be outside, which I cannot permit. Dogs the reason number one, including coyotes, and number two the road nearby with heedless drivers going up the hill in a hurry and down the hill in a hurry. Summer weekends I feel like I live on a racetrack, a race going both directions at once. As each generation is less respectful of others and the rights of others, it's hard to tell if television imitates social trends or social trends imitate tv. The increasing passion for killing on tv suggests to me a parallel of diminishing respect for others in the tv viewing audience.
 

eyes of sofia
 
The giant in the house makes a sedentary playmate for a leaping, twirling kitten. I sit still, use hand and fingers to make the string jump. Attention is what she needs most of all. I give her attention by assisting her play as well as looking at her and talking to her. One of our games I can play sitting at the desk, fingers pecking the keyboard, is to lower my head far enough she can't see my eyes for the back of the chair. I'll raise my head, she'll see my eyes and jump toward me, hop into the air, twist around, land facing the other direction, dart over the chair and footstool and leap to the pile of packaging paper on the floor that came with the window seat. Free cat toy inside. She'll hop around on it, roll on it, act like a mouse is hidden inside that she's on the verge of catching. I raise my head until she sees my eyes, slowly lower my head until my eyes go out of sight, then raise them enough for her to see. Her eyes spring wide open and her legs into motion. She runs up to me, looks into my eyes, turns, runs and leaps onto the mound of paper, turns around and looks at me saying, Do it again.
 
a grumpy old bastard lives there
people that know him say he's cool
but I've never seen it
 
 
*




Wednesday, October 28, 2015

GUNS AND NOT GUNS

 
along brown road / air bellows
 
Made a town run today for groceries and gas, light rain, light fog on the mountain. Had lunch at my new favorite restaurant, La Mexicana, good food, good conversation with Manuel, the owner operator. I have to listen closely to his accent, yet when I listen too closely I lose it. I was looking for the best way to listen to him. I could easily understand about half what he said and had to figure out some of the other. Listen too closely, I don't hear anything, though listening casually I miss about the same. It is a zone in between where I understand him best paying attention without trying to make out everything. I got most of what he was saying. He was talking about the socialist governments in Bolivia and Venezuela. He was talking Latin American politics from the inside, and I know very little, only enough to keep up with what he was saying. What little I know came from reading. The politics of everyday life is quite different from the second-hand historical perspective interpreted from a different culture, belief system and language. There is a difference between reading about it and a gun pointed at your head.
 
along brown road
 
Every day in news is something about guns and the varieties of killing. Everybody is questioning what to do about guns, from the polar opposites to everything in between. The one thing I never see or hear by not watching television is guns solve problems. It would take Hollywood to agree to make less gun movies and tv shows, and that's not going to happen like Exxon is not going to support solar energy. Guns have obsessive entertainment value, exciting, the cheapest thrill. The philosophy of television says, if  you don't like it, kill it. It doesn't do to blame television when you consider the audience creates its own entertainment. Young guys in a new band go with what excites the crowd. Young stand-up comics learn from their audiences, learn how to give them what they want. Television gives us back to ourselves. It is a stretch of the imagination to call television art, though it figures when you look at it like everything is art. Art reflects life which reflects art which reflects life. It is a constant feedback going both ways from television to viewer to television. Television is not going to self-destruct by advising viewers to be less obsessed with guns, because the viewing audience was already obsessed with guns before television.
 
along brown road
 
The only solution I see for the gun problem is to live what I believe and allow others to live what they believe. For my part, I don't want any guns. Had two that were given to me over time, not wanting any of them. I gave them to somebody who appreciates them and is glad to have them, somebody who values guns. There came a time I wanted them out of the house, didn't even want money for them. I believe guns attract guns. They also attract thieves. I've seen the propaganda about security spread since the Nixon administration, Joe McCarthy's right hand man, until by now an awful lot of people believe they need multiple guns for security. And so many people are hoarding ammo these days the supply cannot keep up with the demand. Fear has pervaded the land so much through television that I, who am not subject to propaganda through tv, see changes in the people around me that diminish them as human beings and they go with it like it's the latest thing since a recliner. The fear by now, half a century into the propaganda of fear, has become aggressive. Found a good meme attributed to Frank Zappa, "Politics is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex."
 
along brown road
 
I'm not with the anti-gun people and I'm not with the gun people. I see they all have a right to their points of view, all of which I believe are valid, like I have a right to mine. My point of view is to let them fight it out and I'll watch good movies, listen to good music, read good books and make a string dance for a kitten. This is how I live in the world not of it. I look at the television once a week, see appeals for me to go in debt over a new Lexus I couldn't afford a set of tires for. The pizza commercials make me never want another pizza. The Viagra and Cialis commercials make me laugh out loud every time. The first half is suggestive testosterone prowess and the second half an endless list of warnings that this product will kill you. If your erection lasts more than four hours call your doctor. I'm not interested in my doctor like that.  I don't want anything I see advertised on tv. If they advertised books by contemporary poets or picture books by contemporary artists I might take an interest. I don't need it, because I know how to find them without advertising. I divorced self from television in 1961, and, like Robert Frost said, that made all the difference. I like to see the television from time to time to keep up with what the people around me are believing, glad deep down I don't believe that mind anymore.  I've grown wary of it. 
 
along brown road
all photos by tj worthington
 
 
*
 
 
 



Tuesday, October 27, 2015

SOFIA WITH AN F

sofia in the cat chute
 
Today I dedicated to my cat friend. She has outgrown kitten. A kitten she could climb my pants leg and her claws merely tickled. I sat and held her for a full hour listening to Peggy Lee in 1961 and silence. I've been sitting here holding her for quite awhile. She stretches out and relaxes into a nap with head hanging over to the side or hanging back. She is the size of a full grown gray squirrel now. The squirrels and chipmunks gambol outside the windows and entertain her. Their heads and faces are shaped like a cat's. Squirrels are much like cats except they have fingers more articulated than cats. Sofia is colored like a gray squirrel, has a similar gray to a raccoon. Her stripes are faint like a coon's stripes. I like that she has the colors of some of our wildlife neighbors. There is a close relationship between squirrels and cats. Their bodies and legs are similar, their faces too. Cats have quick movements like the squirrels and excellent balance.  
 
sofia and string
 
Questioning the spelling of cat's name. I like it both with ph and f  thinking either one would do. As time goes by, my mind makes up arguments for using f. Writing her name under the picture at the top, the f automatically happened. I saw it and liked it, thought this is how I want to spell Sofia. It is a city in Bulgaria. It is a name of goddess. Southeastern Europe was Neolithic goddess country. A pyramid like an Egyptian pyramid has been found in Bulgaria. It had been there so long, topsoil covered it and a forest grew on it. A French archaeologist thought the mountain's shape too regular to have happened naturally. He investigated, found the pyramid and a city around it, tunnels, a major find. I rode a train through Bulgaria in 1972. It stopped at the Sofia station. I did not get off. The poverty in that part of the world intimidated me.
 
sofia plays
 
Sofia has just now found the source of her favorite toy, string. I tied a small natural sponge to a length of about four feet of string. She plays with the string more than the sponge. The knot at the end of the string is of more interest to her than the sponge. It is our toy we play with together. I make the string move and hop. She knows I'm making the string do those things. She likes for me to make the string come to life. She will play with it tirelessly. She has discovered the spool of string I had sitting on the desk I'd cut the string from. She knocked it over, sniffed it, felt it and realized it was more string. It was on. She took hold of it like another kitten, rolled onto her back kicking with her back feet, holding it with her front feet and feeling it with her teeth. It was like she had found the source of her joy. She rolled around with it until it rolled off the desk to the floor. I picked it up and gave it back to her. No interest. Game over.
 
 
sofia
 
Geraldine the mail carrier brought Christmas today. A big box with Sofia's new window seat. A smaller box with a cat hammock for under a small table or chair. A box-sized envelope with Ron Padgett's Collected Poems and a smaller package with Peggy Lee at Basin Street East. The jackpot. My generation of poets is publishing their collected poems and autobiographies now. Am now reading in Peter Townshend's autobio, Who I Am. He is a good writer, tells a good story, tells it well. It is interesting to see inside the London rock n roll world in the early Sixties when the Stones, Clapton, the Kinks, the Who were playing small clubs. The box the window seat came in made a great cat toy for the day. Put it on the floor, cat occupied for hours. The packaging paper was endlessly fun. I threw the sponge and string into the box while cat was playing in the paper. It was like tossing a grenade in. The interior of the box exploded. Cat in playground heaven.
 
sofia
 
 
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Sunday, October 25, 2015

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

 
bullhead mountain from bullhead road

I drove to Justin and Crystal's house today in Glade Creek to see to the cat's food and water, spend some time with her, give her a break from lonesomeness. Thought I'd watch the race, or part of it, but could not figure out how to make the tv work. Didn't really care anyway. Read some Louise Gluck poems I'd carried along. Glad not to have a hundred commercials drilled into my head. The drive there and the drive back was the event of the day. It would have been the perfect day of the year to drive the parkway. I imagined bumper to bumper Sunday afternoon lovers in pickups and corvettes, families in SUVs, couples enjoying the parkway after church. All the cars and pickups glossy and clean. I like to gawk too, but I knew a back road, a one lane gravel road through a forest of trees and zero traffic. I could tell by the extreme colors at Air Bellows that Bullhead Road would be spectacular today. Entering the gravel section of Bullhead Road was the same as entering a tunnel of lights, yellow, orange, red and green lights.
 

bullhead road

I was in no rush, on no schedule, nothing on the radio of interest. I decided to make this a photographic tour of the road, knowing before turning onto the gravel I made the right decision. This year the reds are vibrant. The last several years the leaves of the red oaks turned brown. This year they are glowing blood red. The first frost came on exactly the right day to turn the oak leaves to their most living red. A large portion of the leaves had already fallen, which I like for it opening the woods to better see deep into the distance through the trees with a pointillist veil of colors. The first pictures I took through the windshield. The bank to the left went the equivalent of straight down, a pinball game for a car leaving the road, and many have, bouncing from tree to tree. The scenery to the left out the side window was the tops of trees that were growing down the hill. Several times I stopped the car midway between two blind curves to get pictures out the side window. I don't like leaving the car on a road. Sure as I do, a car will come along.

bullhead

I became fascinated seeing Bullhead Mountain in the distance through the trees. I was in awe from one end of the road to the other where it meets Mahogany Rock Road at the foot of Bullhead. Turned left onto the paved road, a tunnel of yellow and orange trees in full leaf for half a mile along the foot of Bullhead. Memories of other travels on Bullhead Road, one of my favorites in the county, played in my head throughout the transit. The car moved at maybe 1mph and stopped frequently. About midway in a place with trees full of yellow leaves a crow called to me and followed me for awhile calling to me. It was not a raucous command to get out of the bird's territory. It seemed more personal like it was one of the crows I feed, it recognized the car, calling to say, Hey, I recognize you. I was about 4 miles from home by road. It would be half that "by crow." Two miles is no distance at all for a crow. My feeding station has been going every day for seven years. I took it that this crow and probably all the crows of the region know the car.  
 
bullhead
 
In the time my friend Jr Maxwell was in his feebleness, using a walker and his mind fading fast, he wanted to drive his car. I believed he could do it. He only wanted to drive the back back roads. He did not drive fast enough for it to matter and he was an excellent driver of mountain roads from a lifetime of experience. We did this three times. The last time was on Bullhead Road. The road is nothing but curves. We were going the opposite of today's direction, the bank straight down out my side window. I was wondering if either one of us would make it to the bottom alive. It was too out of my control to worry self over his driving that crept a little too close to the edge from time to time. One time he kept on going straight ahead when the road curved sharply to the left. I did not want to disrespect him by telling him to turn. I waited and he was not turning. When I saw for certain he was not turning, I said, "Keep it in the road." He said, "What?" I said, "Keep it in the road." He jerked the steering wheel to the left when the right front tire was one inch from the edge. I'd already relaxed into it so much it didn't even make my heart pump fast. Relaxed was the only way I could handle riding with him.
 
photos by tj worthington
 
 
*
 
 
 

A TOUCH OF SOUTHERN GOTHIC

 
 
A good movie today, so well told a story I waited through the credits at the end to see who wrote it. William Gay, Tennessee writer, who wrote the story of another movie I loved, That Evening Sun, with Hal Holbrook in his old age, which begins with him walking out of a nursing home. Today's movie was Bloodworth, a family name of what you might call a dysfunctional family. Not dysfunctional like we think of it, but beyond, Southern Gothic beyond. That Evening Sun, also made me look at the credits to see who wrote the story. Today's movie brought the other one to mind by happening in Tennessee among rural people. When I saw he'd written it too, the South in it, the South that is particularly the South, Faulkner the next generation, gave me a sense for William Gay the writer. Tennessee is often forgotten as a Southern state, but it is every bit as Southern as Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. Now that I've seen two of his stories made into film, I want to read some of his writing.
 
 
 
Kris Kristofferson and Val Kilmer play father and son in Bloodworth. Powerful characters with overwhelming egos. I didn't even recognize Kilmer until the credits at the end. Which one was Val Kilmer? I'd not seen him in a movie in awhile. He's changed. Kilmer has been in other movies I've liked, The Ghost and the Darkness, Lawless, and especially Thunderheart. I've never taken an interest in Kris Kristofferson, though I've liked him in the movies I've seen him in, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, and I like his singing when I hear it. He's good at what he does, he's just not somebody who draws me to see a movie like Sam Shepherd might, though I appreciate him as an artist when I see him perform. It's the same with Kilmer. His name does not draw me to a movie, yet I appreciate him when I see him.
 
 
The story is around a young guy, Kristofferson's grandson and Kilmer's nephew, who is attempting to live a sane life in a family that can't let it happen. The young guy likes to read and write stories, making him the ultra nerd in a family so anti-intellectual it's anti-good sense rural America. The boy is actually traumatized by his family that he has never been able to adjust to. The story in the movie is the liberation from the family when he was pushed to burn down his past and walk away. He found a girlfriend of similar circumstances, her mother a rural oxy-junkie whore. Girlfriend disillusioned him, they parted and later went off into the future together happy in the final scene. And I felt it. I felt their bond, both of them free at last and with the one they wanted to be with. They were free of their pasts. Each one came from a past they had to shed, the story just told.
 
 
They walked off into the columns of what I took for Middle Tennessee State University, him carrying books, she with little boy of maybe 2, the pregnancy in the story, happily ever after. And it wasn't even corny. I already knew school was ahead for him, the girl and the kid included. It didn't need to be shown at the end, but it was a nice touch and tied up loose ends neatly. I came through the story wanting a good life for them. It cannot be said they came from humble circumstances. They came from ego-maniacal lifeless circumstances. One uncle lived with his mother lifeless in her depression after forty years of her husband gone. She raised three boys with no direction. She was the sane one who shut down and lived inside herself unresponsive to all around her, taken for round the bend. I can't imagine this story anyplace but in the South. The boy and girl came up in rough circumstances as in the Jennifer Lawrence growing up rural in the South movie, Winter's Bone.
 
Japanese screens
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
 


Friday, October 23, 2015

PEGGY LEE AND LOUISE GLUCK


peggy lee
 
Peggy Lee has been singing in my head the last couple days, all day. Is that all there is? If that's all there is, my friend, then let's keep dancing, let's drink some booze and have a ball. It's been something of a mantra in my head. The way Peggy Lee sings it in her Peggy Lee style made the song hers for all time. I saw her on YouTube out of curiosity because this song had come to mind and I wanted to hear her sing it again. It had been a long time. She's as cool as a jazz singer as Miles Davis is cool blowing his horn. Peggy Lee was best known on the Ed Sullivan show associated with big bands and the Forties. This song, Is That All There Is?, recorded I think in 1969, was played on the radio for awhile. Not many people knew that in the jazz world Peggy Lee was held the highest among jazz singers, up there with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.


I just now took a digression, went to amazon and ordered a CD of Peggy Lee At Basin Street East Live, 1961. I have it on 33, the same as not having it. It was an impulse purchase, but hearing Peggy Lee in my head for two full days convinces me I want more, and that's the album I want to hear. The song, Is That All There Is?, has been something of a mantra in my head. I hear her sing it and think about it in agreement that the best way to get through this life is to keep on dancing, drink some booze and have a ball. Why the hell not? It's saying live free of the imaginary restraints of other people's unspoken expectations, keep a light-hearted spirit about everything, don't worry, be happy. The material dimension, itself, is a disappointment. A multi-billionaire looks in the bathroom mirror after a night of too much to drink and says, Is that all there is? No matter our status, our assets, our fame, our reputation, our religion, no matter, we are well acquainted with the disappointment in the earth experience, the realm of the physical where seldom we feel full satisfaction for more than a few seconds.



A spirit with  physical body and mind sometimes feels trapped and separated from the world of spirit my spirit longs for. Home it's called in hymns. Existence in the physical world is hard work for the spirit. There is no certainty in anything. We pretend certainty by mapping the night sky and misinterpreting scriptures. This afternoon I sat down with Louise Gluck's Collected Poems, opened it, selected a page randomly, p191, Hawk's Shadow. I found it online easily just now googling Louise Gluck Hawk's Shadow. Went straight to it. It is a good example of how concisely  she tells a story you can see visually, physically, then it goes into shadow. Seeing a hawk hovering with its kill and flying away, watching the shadow of predator and prey in one shadow. Remembering her partner, maybe husband, embracing her spontaneously, the shadow of him holding her, followed by the shadow of the hawk and its kill. It reverberates.

louise gluck

This poem is a good illustration of why I like poetry. She weds spirit and matter. She brings out the spirit from matter, like the way she went from hawk to its shadow to nothing. I like her concise language, I watched them veering toward West Hill, casting / their one shadow in the dirt, the all-inclusive / shape of the predator--Then they disappeared. I sat staring out the window, stunned by awe, by how she made this shadow of a flying bird an image of her deepest feeling around her relationship with partner, the predator consuming her. She has a way of arriving at the end with a reverberation that goes on and on like circles in a pond. She finds her deepest feelings and addresses them in a physical form with words that bring them to life in such a way the reader shares the feeling. She makes reading an art form.

louise gluck
national book award 2014
 
 
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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

NO REGRETS

backstage the hillbilly show

Earlier today I was watching a documentary of a surfer / mountain climber going by sailboat to Patagonia in the southern part of Chile to surf and climb a mountain. 180 degrees South was the title. Nothing in the title or the brief description of it tells anything about it. It was one man living in California who had an adventurous spirit, wanted to go to Patagonia to surf and climb this particular mountain. He is repeating an expedition of some Sixties surfers who drove a van the ten thousand mile trip to Patagonia. He contacted one of them who lived not far from where our story was going. The man who was 70 went along with him on his trek to the mountain. While they were talking during a rest stop, the man 70 was talking about his life of staying outside business and living the way he wanted to live, simply. During an inward moment, he said, "I have no regrets." I could see he meant it. I thought of someone I'd met years ago who was 93, told me he always did what he wanted to do. He meant it, too. I thought, what a charmed life. His was not a charmed life, though I saw he meant it beyond everything being agreeable along the way. Seemed like he was talking from his attitude toward life, like the man in the film was talking from his attitude toward life.
 
backstage the hillbilly show
 
I thought when he said no regrets, lucky for you, and immediately adjusted to some things you just have to let go of. I wondered about my own regrets in retrospect. Seems like I have a regret of some sort every day. That's not really regret. It's more like too much unnecessary mentation. Once I killed a raccoon and regret that. I regret every animal I've killed on the road. I imagine the man climbing the mountain had those kinds of regrets, but he meant the kind of regret like never getting a divorce when you always wanted one and living a life of pretend. Next, the question, what is not pretend? The world is a stage. Let's pretend money has value. Heard a good one today, a man recently retired always wanted to learn to play a guitar and never had the time or focus of attention, buys a hand-made guitar for $2,500 to learn with. The man with his guitar will do something about his regret now that he has the time and mind for it. Or he may keep it in an expensive case and regret he never learned to play it. 
 
backstage the hillbilly show
 
If something like that is to regret decades later in retrospect, I have probably hundreds or thousands of those kinds of regrets. I regret I did not see Led Zeppelin in concert. That's not a real regret either. Looking back, all the way back, I can see much I would regret, but, a great big BUT, anything done differently might have altered my course away from my life as I know it now. I like my life now. To regret something along the way from the beginning to here would mean dissatisfaction with the path that guided me to satisfaction. It would be lack of understanding. It would be to doubt experience as teacher. I have to embrace every experience of the past to receive where I am now within. A lot of people are smarter than me, better educated, have faster minds, and a lot are more advanced spiritually than me. So what. Human existence is not competition. My only concern is to be here now on my own path. Ultimately, missing Led Zeppelin is nothing.
 
backstage the hillbilly show
 
I've never had any big adventures, only very minor adventures, yet am not devoid of adventures. Years ago a friend who found a passion for climbing cliffs told me about the thrill and tried to convince me I needed this thrill. I didn't say it, because I knew he did not have the experience to get it, but I felt the same fear every time I faced an empty canvas. His adventure climbing rock straight up was the equal of mine painting an image. I understood his thrill, but am not drawn to adrenaline rushes stuck on Stone Mountain half way up, unable to move in any direction without falling. It's the same painting a canvas, just not so terminal. I've done an awful lot that was stupid, learning experiences. I feel like over recent years I have found my flow, found it such that when I get shaken from it, it's easy to find again. In my flow, events of everyday life flow smoothly. Not because on the outside it's flowing smoothly, but because on the inside I allow the unsmooth and let it be. Then it falls into my flow and settles down. I'm glad I lived long enough to find my flow, if that is indeed what it is. 
 
backstage the hillbilly show
 
 
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Monday, October 19, 2015

WHY I WEAR A SEATBELT

the donkey hay barn
 
A friend of mine hit a tree with his Chevy pickup dead center the front bumper at 70 mph without seatbelt. The motor was pushed back almost to the seat with transmission under the seat. The air bag knocked him out. He woke lying on the seat with the gear shift lever in his hand, separate from the transmission. Totally wrecked his truck and he survived without a scratch. Ever since then, he has been an advocate for not wearing a seatbelt. The wreck occurred when he was carrying in the back of the truck a big, heavy front-end loader for a tractor. He took off racing with a friend. In the excitement of the race, he forgot about the weight. He went around a curve, the front-end loader in the back fell over and radically changed the truck's center of gravity in an instant. The shift caused the right front tire to leave the road, which pulled the rest of the truck off the road into the locust that remained in place. He has not convinced me I don't need a seatbelt.
 
the donkey hay barn
 
I grew up in the 1950s when there were no seatbelts. I remember seeing car races on television where the drivers wore seatbelts. It seemed reasonable to me that we needed seatbelts in cars. A lot of times people drove as fast as on a nascar track then, and when they wrecked, bodies were slung like shrapnel from an exploding grenade. I never wanted to fly through the windshield face first, nor fly out a door that suddenly vanished. In high school, 1959, a guy a year ahead of me had graduated and, like high school graduates, friends tend to hang together during the first summer they're out of school. One night he with a carload of his buddies went to a bar where he had an altercation with the man working the bar who pulled a shotgun on him and told him to get out. He drove his 57 Plymouth with his friends in the car back to his house to pick up his shotgun and go back to create a problem. Drunk out of his mind, of course. In Wichita, Kansas, where all the roads are straight lines.
 
the donkey hay barn
 
He crossed a river bridge going over 100mph when he lost control and the car wrapped around a huge oak tree trunk just a few feet from the bedroom window of the people sleeping in the house nearby. Killed his friends. He was thrown from the wreckage. The driver's side door wrapped around his body and kept him safe as they flew, slid, bounced and rolled down the highway. He survived, but it wrecked his life utterly. I was dating his sister at the time and she filled me in on the details of the event. I knew a guy here in Alleghany who, several years ago, left the road in Glade Valley in a curve, too drunk to even stand up. The road on the left side had a bank that went almost straight down to a meadow with cattle. He went through a power pole twelve feet above the ground, breaking it in half, and woke up lying on the hood next to his 12 year old nephew, also on the hood. No seatbelts. Both survived without a scratch, though he lost his driver's license for life, and the car was totally destroyed. It was a good car too. I hated to see it die.
 
the donkey hay barn
 
I'm recalling my friend Jean who once made fun of me using a seatbelt when I told her I was not going to start the car until she fastened her belt. She said she didn't use a seatbelt. I told her you do now or we're not going. She said, "Are you afraid of dying?" Like it's unusual to fear death. I said it's not dying that's the problem. Chances are, if something happens, death will not be the outcome. I told her of a time I had to leave the road over somebody passing a line of cars in my lane. That's happened more than once. I said when you leave the road, it's bumpy, really bumpy. I don't want to be thrown all over the inside of the car, lose control and hit a tree. A seatbelt keeps me in place when something unforeseen happens. I want to be in place to avoid losing control. I think she got it. She wore one afterwards. Old man Tom Pruitt, who, by the way, cut the trees and built the barn in these pictures, also never wore a seatbelt, drove his pickup over meadows like it was the road. I used the belt to keep my head from getting bashed over and over by the truck's roof. It was soon after NC passed a law requiring seatbelts. Tom asked, "You use your belt on account of the law?" I said, "Yes," though I was considering the vertebrae in my neck. The law never entered my mind.
 
the donkey hay barn
photos by tj worthington
 
 
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