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Sunday, November 29, 2015


sofia and cat toy
This the final day of Thanksgiving weekend, a thankful attitude has been with me for four days, looking at the world that is my life, noting gratitude unto overwhelmed. It is seeing in a new light, though not altogether new, in a light that has joy in it. I look out the window, see Jenny eating Jack's grain and laugh within. A few minutes ago Jack was standing at his grain pile eating, Jenny standing behind him after she'd finished her grain, like waiting in line. She eats faster than Jack. She will eat three carrots while he eats one. Jack was aware she was standing behind him and knew what came next. He could have easily popped her on the chin and chose not to. She was anxious, shifting her weight on her feet, watching Jack. After waiting long enough she walked around to Jack's right side, nonchalantly turned her rear end to him and stepped backwards, placing her back knees under his belly threatening. He stepped aside and let her have the last of his grain. She could not have taken his grain soon after I poured it without a fight.
The first day of thinking about thankfulness because we're s'posed-to was Thanksgiving day. Tapped into facebook, it's impossible not to think about it. First thing I came up with was just about everything. I woke from a nap a little bit ago, during which I composed in a dream the first paragraph for a subject I thought I'd write about today. It happened in half dream state and half slightly awake, though the awareness of being awake may have been part of the dream. I wrote it out, sentence by sentence, thinking I'll get up and write down this paragraph composed in sleep. Waking, I sat up on the side of the bed, slipped feet into shoes, Sophia jumped onto my lap. I looked at the dream for the paragraph and the first sentence was gone, then it was all gone, then I forgot what it was about. In subconscious mind, while writing the paragraph, it came to me I am grateful for each one, individually, of my readers. The reader completes the circle of the writing, like a band and the audience. One needs the other to complete the circle.
I'm especially grateful for the people I've met through the writing, the Daily Creative Practitioners among them. This is the best part of every day for me. I enjoy writing to you more than watching a good movie, even. Some years ago, I wrote a weekly column for the local paper. In conversation with the editor one day I mentioned that the time of writing was my favorite time of the week. He said, Really? I said, Yeah. He said, You need a life. I heard his remark as the stupidest assessment I'd ever been offered about myself. He had a passion for changing my punctuation. One day I told him I'd like him to stop messing up my punctuation. He said, What? I told him it changes the meaning and the rhythm when he changes a comma to a period. He said, The rhythm? You're strange. I couldn't hold back. I said, Remember this: I am the strangest individual you will ever meet in  your life. I felt it a safe prophecy as he had the most limited mind of anyone I know.
I especially like about writing in a blog the absence of an editor. Everyone I have talked with who wrote a newspaper column for a period of time said they left it over an impossible editor who could not refrain from making disruptive changes. I left after being censored the third time. I was told at the beginning my column is in my name, independent of the paper. That didn't last long. The final one was in the time of Abu Ghraib prison torture in the headlines and photographs of Geneva Convention atrocities. I was saying this is an embarrassment to all that America stands for around the globe. He said, We are not a political paper. I said, This is not politics; it's history. He said, We can't run it without changes. I said, Then you'll not run it. He said, What should I put in its place? I said, I don't care; you're the editor, figure it out. I wrote a farewell piece to my readers for the following week and was done with it. Five years was enough. Time to pass it on to somebody else. Writing daily is fulfilling. Not in a big external way like appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres show, but in a big way within. I use it as a psychoanalyst's couch, to see more clearly.
photos by tj worthington

Friday, November 27, 2015


doe and buck
 Black Friday is all over facebook and radio news. I'm sure tv is drowning everybody in it. Marketing. Sales all over America. Cheap. I saw a video of two guys fighting in a mall. They were hard at it. I had a feeling it was something like they had vowed to kick each other's ass on sight, or at least one had a bead on the other. I'm recalling one guy I know was in Walmart with his wife when he spotted the guy who had knocked up his sister, though he aimed to kick his ass over something else this time. He took off walking fast up behind the other guy, wife heaving a sigh, knowing better than to try to stop him. He walked up close behind the guy, cussing him. The guy kept on walking. Friend said, "If he'd a turned around, I'd a drilled him right there in the store." This wasn't even Black Friday.


I'm recalling another guy I know who was set on kicking a certain guy's ass first time he saw him, no matter where it was. A day came he had to get up in a suit and go to his little girl's kindergarten graduation. He spotted among the parents in folding chairs this guy whose ass he'd vowed to kick on sight. He had to sit there in his suit, in as uncomfortable a place as he could ever be, sit like in a straight-jacket unable to move, smoldering, watching himself in his mind's eye doing like he said he would when he got  ahold of him. He'd hold him down with left hand on his throat and warp the hell out of his head with his fist. I was hearing it kind of wide-eyed, thinking about the physical damage it would do to the guy he was hitting, something like compassion. And I realized it was what my friend intended. He would mean to put the guy in the hospital for a long time, leave him just short of dead. 

He's a tough guy, too. He has a brother bigger than him. I imagine he grew up learning to beat his bigger brother in a fight. They're both tough. I heard from a source who was there, of a time his brother walked up to a guy that had raised a shotgun and threatened him with it. He pressed his chest to the barrels and said, eyeball to eyeball, "You better pull the trigger before I take that thing away from you and beat you to death with it." The guy put the gun down. These are my buds I spend time with watching them practice before a bow tournament, watching a race, hanging out on Fourthajuly watching the kids play, daddies batting a softball for the kids to catch, mamas keeping the babies out of the range of a flying ball. They fish as much as they can and hunt with intent to fill a freezer with meat for the year, new antlers for the collection, and the head of a monster buck with a pretty rack, a twelve-pointer, to have mounted for the living room, robin-hooded arrows resting among the antlers like medals. 

black bear
Yesterday, talking with friend who intimidated the guy in Walmart, he had his rifle and was on the way to his blind to see what he could find. He showed me the rifle, the kind you see in movies assassins use with wooden stock and a big powerful scope, single shot. The whole thing was such a precision instrument I dared not touch it. He showed me one of the bullets he uses. Just the bullet, itself, inert, harmless as a marshmallow outside the rifle, looked deadly. I didn't even want to touch it. I was interested to look at it, not handle it. I asked him how far it shoots with accuracy. He said he'd killed a coyote at 350 yards with one. I enjoy hearing his accounts of his kills. He takes hunting seriously. He takes only bucks over three years old. He won't take a shot unless he can be certain the buck will drop straight down and feel nothing, fall asleep standing. He doesn't like them to suffer and he doesn't like following a blood trail through the woods with a flashlight, nor does he like dragging one uphill to the nearest place he can get to with his truck. Hunting is a skill unto art form I appreciate in others, but cannot presume for myself the right to snatch the life away from an other. 
photos from trail camera the other side of the road

Thursday, November 26, 2015


lu yu
I had occasion to tell a visitor
       about an old trip I took through
       the gorges of the Yangtze
Long ago I made that journey, fall rain coming down lightly,
reached the east wall of Chien-p'ing just as gates were closing.
Host at the inn met me with greetings, words rambling on and on, 
his young wife grinding and cooking in her cheap white robe.
Old boatmen who work the river, some drunk, some sobered up,
merchants from Shu, peddlers of the gorges, clever at closing a deal;
soon lamps went dark, people getting ready for bed,
though outside we could still hear boats tying up, baggage being unloaded from horses.
Mountains steep, rivers treacherous, barbarian tribes close by;
often I saw their mallet-shaped hairdos mingling with city folk.
Now, counting on my fingers, I find it's been forty years!--
sad memories held in my heart, truly from another incarnation.
                                                   --Lu Yu, 1205
                                         tr by Burton Watson
lu yu


Wednesday, November 25, 2015


After finishing Pat Conroy's novel, South of Broad, I'm stuck in a place of having a hard time finding something to read. I pick up one book and it's too slow. Pick up another and the writing is nowhere near up to Conroy's. This happens with a book I like so much that reading in it is the best part of the day. Tolstoy's War and Peace warped my mind. It is too long to even think about reading, yet I dove in and loved it so much I took a break from it in the middle for a month to make it last. Finishing the second half, I could not read anything for over a month. All writing I picked up was dead compared to Tolstoy's writing, even in translation. Patrick White's, Eye of the Storm, did me the same. I could not read anything else for awhile afterward. Something I like that much, I have a way of slowing down toward the end, reading fewer pages per sitting to make it last longer. Then, near the end, I go into hi gear and read right on through to the end.
In a biography of sculptor, Alberto Giacometti by James Lord, I came out of it feeling like I knew him as a friend. When he died at the end, I sat with closed book in lap and wept for half an hour, as I would after putting down the phone when told someone I cared about has died.  Andrew of the Daily Creative Practice has been putting together a list of books most important in his life. He has me thinking about the titles that mattered most in my life. The ones mentioned above are from the top of what would be my list. It is a matter of diving way deep to think about such books from the past. One that comes to mind right away is Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? the story of the Carter Family, Appalachian singers from the late 1920s and early 1930s. They came so alive for me in the reading that I can't listen to their songs now without tears of joy. Next to it on the shelf is hillbilly singer Ralph Stanley's memoir, Man of Constant Sorrow. I'm not an autograph collector, but I carried my copy to a Ralph Stanley show and asked him to sign it. It is one of my treasures.
I went to the bookshelf to look at the Carter Family book to get the spelling of author and saw beside it Crazy Horse, by Thomas Powers. A feeling sweeps over me every time I see the book. It is the finest writing I've found on the Indian Wars, the Lakota. He told the battle of the Little Big Horn with new knowledge discovered from studying the battlefield and accounts of Indians who were there and descendants of ones there. In  this account, one white army survivor ran away on his horse. Some Indians watched him go. They thought of killing him, but decided it would be more fun for him to return to the fort and tell what happened. Riding away on his horse, he took his pistol and shot himself in the head. The Indians laughed. Another one in the Indian Wars I loved was Sitting Bull by Robert Utley, originally published as The Lance and the Shield. Read it twice. Another about Sitting Bull is a collection of stories passed down in the family, Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy, by his great grandson, Ernie LaPointe. Sitting Bull was something of an enigma to me. He was familiar in that I felt I already knew him.
cairo trilogy by naguib mahfouz
Naguib Mahfouz of Cairo, is someone I've read several stories by. There was a time when I finished one of his stories, I only wanted to read something else by him. His Cairo Trilogy comes to mind, three novels, awfully long, and not long enough. He tells a good story of life in Cairo. Someone I know who has been to Cairo said it smells like a sewer. When you live with a smell day and night there comes a time you don't smell it anymore, so Mahfouz could not tell in his stories how it would smell to me. Someone I know went to Shanghai for a couple of weeks. The only question I had was, What did it smell like? He said it smells like a Chinese grocery store. The scents in the air I cannot get from reading. Riding the Orient Express from London to Athens, I noticed crossing the border from Italy to Yugoslavia at Trieste, the scent in the air was Turkish tobacco. Europe smokes mostly Virginia tobacco. At Trieste, I entered the world that was once the Ottoman Empire, very different from the European world, the scent in the air Turkish tobacco. I came to think writers don't write about how the air in a place smells, because they don't know. While they live there, the scent is neutral. I step out into the barn lot and smell donkey, the familiar, sweet scent of home I don't notice most of the time. Someone drops by and remarks about donkey scent and I'm surprised because I don't smell it.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015


It is thinking about thankfulness time of year. When the thought of thankfulness arises, Sofia the cat comes to mind foremost. I am not thankful that Caterpillar left the body, but am thankful that the timing worked out as it did with Sofia becoming available. I'm thankful for Sofia all day every day. I have to say I'm grateful I read. It has been in my mind quite a bit this week how beneficial reading has been in my life. It especially came yesterday reading in Lu Yu's book of poems. His poems are so beautiful to read, I feel my life would have been diminished without appreciation for art in all its forms. I believe I would do well to follow my appreciation more, give less attention to fake news, more attention to art forms. When I'm bored and don't want to read, I can pick up a book of Larry Rivers paintings and look in it as long as I feel like it. I have a book of the complete works of Constantin Brancusi with text I want to read, but have not yet, written by his two closest friends, also from Romania, who lived in the apartment above his apartment/studio in Paris.
Looking at it rationally, I'd so much rather read about Brancusi's life and art than Donald Trump's latest narcissistic rant or the latest too-stupid-to-believe-anybody-said-it from Ted  Cruz running his mouth. They are amusing in their unconscious ignorance, but scary to think it is their ignorance that appeals to half the population. Jeb Bush and W went to Yale. I used to think Yale was a good school. Ted Cruz went to Harvard Law school and Princeton undergrad. What? Bobby Jindal went to Oxford in England. I used to think these were hard schools.  Trey Gowdy was a practicing lawyer in South Carolina, meaning he made it through law school and undergrad. How? That our public figures have such good schooling puzzles me. I used to think there was something to education. Evidently not. Carly Fiorina a CEO? Really? Of course, she bankrupted the corporation, but how did she get the position? Sarah Palin was a governor in Alaska. How? One of the greatest changes I've seen in my lifetime is the upfront ignorance in politicians since the Reagan Revolution to the point they campaign by parading their ignorance. 
I suspect the elected officials are showing us that they represent us only as a mirror image. If today's politicians are a pie slice of the population, the American people have been rendered comatose after two-thirds of a century of television. We're seeing now the uprisings of the ignorant, and they got guns and ammo galore. So much hate and hatefulness in the air, it feels toxic and I see it in the faces of so many, in hateful attitudes. Arguing and harping about yes we are a Christian nation, no two ways about it. Like the pope said recently, it is a farce to celebrate Christmas in the atmosphere of hate that smothers the world today. It's hard to find a way to be thankful for schoolyard slayings. Things like the Paris shootings I have to tell myself are other people's problems. I live across the sea from France where I would be regarded with disdain for being an American. I have no business there. I draw inward all the way to home, my spot on earth, my quiet home in a mountain glen, my world in a human perspective my own. What's going on out there is somebody else's karma, not mine. I am grateful to have reached a place within that I am able to see that my business is right here at home with a laptop, a cat and two donkeys. I'm grateful for the donkeys, grateful for the cat, grateful for the people I know, grateful to the people of Whitehead community for allowing me a place among them.
Again, I'm grateful to be a reader. I can spend all my time in the only place I want to be and travel in my head to various places around the globe. There is so much good writing around the globe, so much good visual art, good dance, good music, I'd rather give my attention to good writing, good histories, biographies, autobiographies, plays, poetry, than to television's invasive insistence that I continually buy stuff I don't want, be a pipeline to the landfill. I am grateful all the way to the soul that I lost interest in television young, stopped watching at age 21, grateful not to have a head full of commercials and sitcoms. I'm grateful for the spirit of curiosity I've had all the way along. Perhaps I'm most grateful for learning to love, which has been the central core of my life over the last half.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Earlier today I was reading in a book I've had at least thirty years by 12th century Chinese Poet, Lu Yu. It is mostly his poems with a selection from his Diary of a Trip to Shu, in the book titled, The Old Man Who Does As He Pleases. The diary is kept along the ride with his family by commercial sailboat in the Grand Canal that connects Beijing with Nanking, then connects to the Yangtze river for a long ride inland. In the diary, which I'd not read until now, he describes sunrises, mountains, bridges, people, other boats. They stop at inns beside the river for the night. In this reading, I noticed that I am able to visualize the people, their clothes, the boat, the river, the inns, the pagodas, the landscape from years of seeing Chinese films, reading contemporary Chinese fiction and histories of China. There was a time I read a lot of Chinese poetry over several centuries, but I missed all subtleties. All I had to go by was words in translation. Therein lies the beauty of Chinese poetry, that just the words themselves, completely out of context can read as freshly as from inside the culture.

The first time around with Lu Yu, I had not seen the films or read the histories. It was poets like Lu Yu that inspired me to investigate Chinese writing, and through the writing, the culture, how people lived in the old days and how they live now. Reading Lu Yu brought up memory of a movie I almost took out of the drawer to watch before sitting down to write, The King of Masks, one of my favorites.  I've seen it so many times it's memorized, but still love to see the story unfold. A beautiful story and SO Chinese. I feel like I am in China seeing these people all around. I may watch it next time without subtitles to enjoy the music of the language without mental overlay. I saw another Chinese film, Ju Dou, without subtitles the first time. The film had such beauty as I've not seen since with subtitles. The only thing I missed without knowing the words was names and relationships, like uncle or aunt, mother, son, cousin. I found the story was told visually and the talk was an overlay.
Without understanding the language, I get the story, which, in films, is told visually. I will watch The King of Masks again soon without subtitles, and enjoy hearing the Chinese language spoken. I was reading in Lu Yu's Diary on the Trip to Shu and realized I was seeing him, his clothes, family's clothes, the boat, the people working the boat, the river, the landscapes, like I'd not seen in my Chinese readings before I had the help of films to give me visuals from the old ways in China and the new ways. I'd been waiting for China to open up and let us see what is happening there in the visual arts, in writing, film making. The film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, signaled to me there is something going on with Chinese film making worth investigating. I found some treasures. Director Zhang Yimou takes my breath in every film of his I've seen. He is one of many directors in mainland China who make extraordinary films. I find refreshing in mainland Chinese films that guns don't solve problems.
It surprised me to be seeing the scene while reading in Lu Yu's account of having tea with someone he knew, whose tea was not up to standard because of something to do with weather, something in the flavor that is so subtle only someone from China would notice. He is well thought of every stop along the way, known for his poetry. He has conversations about poetry with people in restaurants and inns along the river. I could see the people, like in a movie. I saw the buildings, the rooms, due to familiarity through seeing so many films from China, historical as well as contemporary. I read through several of the poems and noticed they had come to life for me. I could see the visuals. Before, they were words and the images associated with the words. Now I can see the visuals as in a slide-show in my head with a Chinese context I'm somewhat familiar with. I don't pay attention to present politics in China. I don't understand it at all. I prefer the history, before, during and after the Revolution, then after Mao. Writer Mo Yan received the Nobel Prize in 2012, and writer Gao Xingjian won the Nobel Prize in 2000.  

Saturday, November 21, 2015


willem dekooning
Every day I am appealed to by facebook posts and documentary films, movies, to do something about the destruction of the North American continent, the oceans, the entire planet. I can't send money to all the organizations appealing for money to protest this and that. I can't help it that everything is about money. I can't help just about everything. I try to live in a way that I can help in my own world. I've taken on the responsibility of giving a cat a good life. Two donkeys with a third due any day I give a place to live their lives and feed them, keep them healthy, give them a home. I've been buying bulk bags of dog biscuits to throw on the ground outside the windows, a way to see the possums and raccoons at night, give them a treat for dropping by. The coons have destroyed the birdfeeders, not with intent, but their weight, so I throw birdseed on the ground. Birds like it on the ground, squirrels and chipmunks do too. Chipmunks take it home in their cheeks and store it for winter. I want my friends to have a good winter supply.
willem dekooning
I'm teaching myself to live in the landscape as it is. The seeds I throw on the ground are for anybody passing through. Chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, woodpeckers, cardinals have plenty of room so several can feed at once. Possums and coons pick up leftover seeds in the night. The birds entertain me, seeing them hop and peck. I've been told sunflower seeds grease their joints and give a gloss to their feathers. The birds, squirrels and chipmunks all live close around the house. They are my nearest neighbors. I could call it a homeless kitchen I'm providing, but they all have homes. This is their home. I feel like they are my friends like Sophia, Jack and Jenny are my friends. First thing in the morning, I take carrots to Jenny and Jack, then their hay. Chickadees, snowbirds and titmice chirp from the trees overhead reminding me they are next.
willem dekooning
Allowing the landscape to be as it is includes the landscape of the news of the day, the week, the year. That world is of no consequence to me except that the Bank has rendered the working class the poverty class. In the world of the people I live among, I've seen them work harder and get poorer as decades go by. The culture is going away, leaving them with television culture, which they seem to prefer to their own culture. I have a strong feeling that television's role is to shut down all the cultures that came out of the past, all over the earth. It seems like television is an interim culture between the many cultures and traditions of the past and the cultures yet to be, having little to no connection to the world in the time before electricity. When it comes to the end of the world as we know it, I see it ending every day, have seen it ending all my life. It is a long, slow process. It has been going on at least a century and may last a century more.
willem dekooning
We're in transition between one Age and another. Now the surface of the planet is breaking down from abuse. Fish are raked out of the ocean at a rate of billions a day. Balance in the ocean has been disrupted as much as balance on land is disrupted after not quite two centuries since the discovery of electricity and oil. Add the natural tendency to excess and things go out of balance. People on a cruise ship see a whale and everybody runs to that side of the ship to see the whale. The ship is way out of balance. The population situation is out of balance. Our economic system is out of balance. Kansas is now having earthquakes. Oklahoma is recently overrun with earthquakes. A giant crack opened in the ground in northern Wyoming. Yellowstone is an any-day-now volcano that will be at least the equal of Krakatoa when it blows. And I can't help it. All that geological action is completely out of my control, as is the over-fishing of the oceans. All I can do is live in the landscape as it is. The earth I live on is breaking down from excessive abuse, from indifference to life forms, from indifference to balance. I do my part for balance with the eight acres of earth's surface I have dominion over.  I embrace the life forms in my dominion and feed them. I believe this is doing my part better than sending money to Greenpeace or World Wildlife Fund.    
willem dekooning himself

Friday, November 20, 2015


vada the fart putty zombie
In this lifetime, it looks like my life's purpose has been self-healing. I look at decisions made along the way that could have led down one path or another not taken. I have no ambition for money or status. A time came that desires, wants, fell away. By now, my motivations don't have much driving them. I am motivated to write these almost-daily jottings by my resolve to write something every day that is readable and may be worth reading. I've wanted to journal for decades, though in the times of keeping notebooks, I end up jotting notes to self that I never look at again. Writing in a journal lasts about three days for me. It seems pointless. I look at journal attempts from the past and find the writing barely readable it's so bad. When I write to self, it becomes more minimal by the day until I write nothing on the fourth or fifth day.  I write better when I write to somebody, you.  
grumpy old bastard fart putty zombie
photo by vada
A sorta-friend of the past found it necessary whenever we talked to make certain I understood he is superior to me in every way. I took it for his own psychological need having nothing to do with me, eventually. For some time, I would question self, What am I doing or saying or what attitude am I projecting to make him so defensive? He needs to convince me every time I see him that he knows more than I do, can do anything better than I can, knows what's really important while I only know what's partially important. I realized after some time that I am not provoking him to be defensive. He is already defensive and I just happen to be the other of the moment. I finally had to let him go when I realized I don't like him and never have. I've tried to like him because fate threw us together and I like to honor people fate throws me in with. It's the love your neighbor thing. I pay attention to it, but can't say I'm a better than average practitioner.
vada the fart putty zombie
I do believe loving one's neighbor, the other, important. I've come to see neighbor as anyone I'm interacting with conversationally, at a cash register, driving in traffic, as well as neighbors on the same road, all social interactions, you the reader. I take it to mean to be as forgiving with others as I am with myself. It's easy to forgive myself. So easy it doesn't even take the effort of a thought. Forgiving somebody else for the same thing is another matter. The times I catch self grumbling within over somebody said something I don't like, I can give self a good laugh saying, you would forgive it in yourself so spontaneously you wouldn't  even know you did it. So give somebody a break. Sometimes the aggravation falls away and sometimes does not. I continue to chew the cud of old aggravations and when I catch myself, it goes away. My mind grumblings fade when not given attention. Though like rock stars with stage charisma, they like attention and they're good at holding it.
grumpy old bastard fart putty zombie
photo by vada
This is something I have that is always there in the back of the mind, grumbling over something. One of my favorite things to grumble about is old white men my age who grumble all the time. There again, I laugh at my own and take somebody else's grumblings seriously. After learning to laugh at other people's grumblings, there is the thin line of laughing from derision or from the humor of it. I laugh at my own grumpiness with a tshirt and sweatshirt that say Grumpy Old Bastard. Again, I don't laugh with that kind of humor at somebody else's grumpiness. I'll note to self to make an exercise of this, to find the same humor in other old white men's grumpy minds as I find in my own. It's the Fake news channel grumpy mind I have the most difficult time tolerating. I don't argue with it, rather turn away in disappointment, as I would inside self if I caught myself thinking like Rush Limbaugh. I'd say, What got into you? Was that last bottle of moonshine you drank run through a radiator? Am I going blind?  
grumpy old bastard fart putty zombie
photo by vada

Thursday, November 19, 2015


air bellows drive-thru art museum
Reading in Pat Conroy's novel published in 2009, South of Broad, takes me back to the place I once lived from 1964 to 1976, Charleston, SC. They were the years of my education at the College of Charleston and working in bookstores, knowing people, a regular at cocktail parties, friends who are still friends today, two having left the body recently. The time was the last years of the Old South Charleston and the first years of the New South Charleston. The New South arrived in the middle of my time there. Charleston  now is a city entirely different from the Charleston I knew. I can't say I prefer one to the other. Each has its own character. I liked the casual, slow way of the Old South. I liked about Old South Charleston the working class, middle class and ruling class all lived around the corner from each other. Little neighborhood stores sprinkled around the peninsula on the order of country stores sprinkled around the county in the Blue Ridge.  
South of Broad is my first Conroy novel. Broad St in Charleston runs an east to west line across the peninsula, below which the white well-to-do live, above which everybody else lives. In Old South Charleston it was fashionable to let the houses go without fresh paint. It was also fashion among men in suits not to have polished shoes. It was about 1970 when the fashion switched to freshly painted houses, painted by Vietnamese refugees who did good work for good pay, and men in suits began wearing polished shoes. Charleston went from weary, worn out and left out to a gem of a city which may be the most beautiful city in the country. Last time I visited, it was magnificent. The city has become a theme park of itself. Rich outsiders buy expensive south of Broad property and expect to be swept into Charleston society. They learn a good lesson in the trickery of expectations.
Conroy's story in South of Broad began in the middle of my time there, the year I graduated from C of C. I know the streets that come up in the course of the story, the houses, the businesses, the law offices, the Coast Guard station, the bridges, the culture, the black and white tension. I don't know more than a handful of people there now and they've probably forgotten me. I committed to the mountains absolutely, without looking back. It was a chopping block change. Someone I only slightly knew said before I left I'd be back in January. The only thing I could say to that was, You don't know me. It's fun, forty years after, looking back at the city I loved passing through. I don't think I could have lived out my life there with much satisfaction. I needed the hills. I had a kind of unconscious longing for the mountains, more for the abstraction than for the actuality, which I learned as time went by.
Conroy's story is very much Charleston. He has a cross-section of the city's population in his characters, close friends in a group, facets that reflect the various aspects of the gem that the city is. Conroy's analysis of the city is experienced. The way he writes about the people in his story tells me he pays attention to the people around him. He has learned human nature well. He's good at writing conversations. I'm appreciating Conroy as a writer more with every sitting. I'm two-thirds through it, having a hard time putting it down every time I pick it up. It's a good story well told. I'm glad he wrote a Charleston novel. I don't know anything about the world of books and writers anymore. Earlier this evening, I watched the 1983 movie made from his early novel, The Lords Of Discipline. It told life at the Citadel, the military academy in Charleston, where Conroy went to school. I had no idea it was so horrid. Never thought about it. Both the movie about American militarism and the novel, South of Broad, of particularly Charleston eccentrics, have affirmed what I've heard about Conroy's writing, that he's good at what he does. He tells a good story.  
air bellows dirve-thru art museum
photos by tj worthington

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Earlier, I saw a movie the second time, Lawless. It would be categorized an independent, not made in Hollywood by Hollywood formula. Singer/songwriter, Nick Cave, wrote the screenplay. John Hillcoat directed it. The film was made from a true story written in book form by the son of the young guy, Jack Bondurant, whose perspective the story followed, The Wettest County In The World, by Matt Bondurant. The time was early 1930s, prohibition days. The place was Franklin County, Virginia, which runs between Martinsville and Roanoke in the southwestern region of the state. The Bondurant brothers were making liquor and shipping it to Chicago in the back of an Model A truck with a wooden bed. They made some good money fast. The Feds send in a G-man to take care of business, an arrogant lawman above the law. The story is around his arrival and the eventual killing of him by the people he'd made life rough for. It brought to mind the end of Peter Matthiessen's novel, The Killing Of Mr Watson, where everybody concerned shot him down.
the brothers Bondurant
them's some hillbillies
Lawless is a well told Southern story that brought to mind two films made from stories by central Tennessee writer, William May, That Evening Sun and Bloodworth. This movie, Lawless, came to mind to see again after I heard about and bought  from the liquor store a pint of some white liquor, moonshine, a new brand, Broad Branch. It is made from the formula of a man whose liquor spoiled me years ago. He stopped making it and evidently worked out a deal with a small distillery around Winston-Salem to make liquor commercially from his, heretofore secret, formula that came down from his great great grandfather. It has his name on the label, "Frank Williams Method, spirits distilled from a mash of grains, cane and hops." Frank is an artist of the pure. This Broad Branch spirits is 91 proof and only sold in pints, the curved pint bottles that fit comfortably in pockets. This is good sipping liquor. It is the only liquor I've bought in a store that is the equal of Frank's. His other would be around 140 proof. It will get you there in a hurry.
mountain spring water
This bottle I bought is from batch 001. I bought two to give one to Justin. He wants to keep his unopened. He'll put it in the safe with his guns and ammo. I thought about keeping an unopened bottle and first thought was, Why? I don't have half a century of future like I did half a century ago. I have so little future left, it encourages me to focus more on the now, which I like. It is nice not filling in the blanks of unknown future with I'm-gonnas and I-oughtas, just leaving it free to be the now when now gets there. I wanted to taste the liquor, not leave it in a bottle. It seems too much like breaking the flow to leave it in the bottle. The bottle is its vehicle of transportation from where it's made to my tongue. This is the liquor I will drink from here on. It's somewhat ideal to be able to go to the liquor store and buy the liquor that ruint me about a decade ago. I've been tipsy a few times drinking with Frank at Jr's house with Jr and Jean and me at the kitchen table with Frank over the best liquor there ever was. Frank kept us all bent over with laughter. Frank is a classic storyteller, tells the stories from his adventures along a lifetime of a multitude of adventures, the kind most of us don't want for ourselves for being so mortally dangerous.
air bellows drive-thru art museum night
Frank has a brilliant mind, has an infinity of knowledge in his head, knowledge from first-hand experience. He becomes a master at whatever he turns his hand to. He buys a house that needs some repairs, subtracts the cost of the repairs from what he pays for the house, makes the repairs himself, fixes the house up like new, inside and out, lives in it awhile and sells it for a good profit. He makes good money buying and selling. He has the air of a man comfortable talking with men, center of attention, the kind of man men are drawn to for the masculine performance, tells good jokes. Frank does Man well. He has the knack for the American, and in his case Southern Appalachian, vision of what constitutes a man. He's comic and friendly, loyal, and when Frank is your friend, he is the very definition of a friend. He's good people. I'm grateful to him for making his secret art form available so readily. It is so good, I can only come close by calling it liquid candy.  It is for sipping, not for gulping. I don't like getting fuzzy headed anymore. This time in the life when I feel the beginnings of the fuzz, it feels like I'm wasting good liquor. I drink it not for the fuzz, but for the taste and inhaling the spirit in it.   
air bellows drive-thru art museum night

Monday, November 16, 2015


jenny graced by the light
Jenny is swelling up big. She has an inner stillness that is not aloof, rather soft hearted, aware she has a baby on the way. Today at grain time, I poured Jenny's grain, she was jealous of it, Jack stepped too close and she popped him with a back hoof. It was not a kick to hurt, just to get his attention, tell him he's closer than is allowed when Jenny is having her grain. Jack gets anxious, squeals and moans waiting for me to pour his grain. He, too, is jealous of it when he's having his grain. I wanted to talk with Jenny and went back to her after pouring Jack's grain, stood still and talked to her about her baby and soon I'll be calling her Big Mama Jen. I leaned down to look under her to see how her udder was developing. She took a sideways step with her rear end toward me, body language to stay back from her grain. I told her I don't eat donkey food. I went back to see Jack and he would not have me near. I needed to walk between a small tree and the fence, but Jack got a little too anxious when I stepped too close. His grain was just the other side of the fence. I stepped around the tree to give him peace of mind.

jack graced by the light

Neither one was threatening. It was body language in both cases, the warning that says a kick is next if you don't pay attention. I have no problem with it. We communicate by paying attention to each other. Jenny tells me she's not comfortable with me so close when she's eating, I pay attention and give her some space. That's all she wants. Both the donkeys are quiet in this time. I'm taking hay to them daily now. I've found a way to keep them from crowding me at the gate when I want to enter the meadow with an armload of hay. I throw two small servings of hay over the fence in a place away from the gate. They eat the first offerings of hay and leave me alone to carry the hay out into the meadow where they can eat it in warm sunlight all day. I also enjoy carrying the hay out into the meadow with Jenny just a few steps behind my back and Jack behind Jenny. They understand I am an easy pushover and have no physical power next to theirs. They are powerful beasts. They know I am no match for them. In the hierarchy of who can kick whose ass, I'm at the bottom and we all know it. I don't push them. I go among them in peace and they go in peace with me. I imagine they feel protective toward the primate because it's so puny.  

first hay of the winter
They appreciate that I do not manhandle them, don't treat them like stock. Though I have full confidence they will not kick me, I also pay attention to their language of movement and snorts. We communicate by eye contact. I use tone of voice with them, like they do with each other. They have a language of grunts, whines, squeals. Like slang, the meaning is in the context. The times I've been between them when they decided the other was too close to me and a kick-fest erupted with flimsy primate in the middle. I don't believe they would have kicked me had I stood still. That's not something you think about when two donkeys start kicking all around you. It startles me and I function spontaneously, like get out of there fast. I put my hand on Jenny and holler, Donkey Jen! to get her attention and she stops. Jack stops too. My action is automatic and Jenny stopping immediately is just as automatic. I don't have to hit her with my hand. Just the touch of the hand renders her quiet, like stilling a vibrating drum head. We are friends. We are bonded. I hand-feed them carrots daily, take grain to them daily and provide the hay. They know I mean no harm. I go in peace.

jenny's belly

First thing I learned from Jack was to keep my arms still. They don't know what to make of our arms. They're unpredictable. They might take a notion to grab a donkey. I noticed Jack jumped back every time I moved my arms. I stopped moving them unconsciously and relaxed my arm movements, letting Jack see the motion slow enough to follow it. By the time Jenny came into the meadow, Jack had taught me donkey nature. I already knew to keep my arms at my sides around Jenny. She was traumatized, taken from her goat friend and her human friend without her consent. I hear Nina Simone sing, I loves you Porgy, don't let him take me, don't let him handle me and drive me mad. Jenny was abducted by force and turned into a meadow with a serial rapist, who, the day before, had no idea he was a stud. I will stay back from her baby until she invites me to interact. I know her jealous nature. It's in her like grain in wood. I do like Jack, honor it in her and we have no problem, Jenny is the sweetest donkey we could know.

donkey jack