July 31, 2008

Georgia On My Mind

Below is a passage from another project on which I am working. It is an amalgam of truth and fiction and hopefully the genesis of a much longer tale. Over the years we've lived here I've noticed a great many songs that mention heading out for Georgia (or out of Georgia), like a mythical land of red clay and peach orchards, more an idea than a place. The idea of living the blues in the backwoods juke joints and on the verandas where Mint Juleps are sipped. Anyway, enjoy.

I was the third of five raised in fine Appalachian squalor in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the western slope of the Valley of the Shenandoah. My drunken parents, Wilmer and Carol, made sure we stayed true to the timeless mountain folk traditions of alcoholism, domestic violence and poverty. They were caught in the vortex, pulling us into the maelstrom, careening ever closer to the rocks of ruination. On the bitter snowy Eve of Thanksgiving in ’71 his emaciated body gave out and he finally crossed the bar. It truly was the best and worst of times as we escaped the storm only to find ourselves set adrift, rudderless, lost.

Thus began a long wandering voyage on which I somehow avoided starvation, incarceration and/or deathification to get an education at Hardnock's School for the financially and motivationally challenged as well as at ye olde crumbling ivy tower. Eventually like all the other migratory animals I drifted south. I arrived in southeast Georgia not with any larger purpose or direction but through a long sequence of decisions that at the time seemed the best alternative.

I was still living through the aftershocks/tremors of a nasty divorce from the woman who I affectionately call The Butch From Hell. I wanted desperately to put as many miles between Virginia and myself as possible. Of course the geographical cure wasn’t a cure at all, just a prolonging of the agony. My not insubstantial psychological sack of grievances barnacled on for the ride. I played lost and found with my mind/honor and innumerable times along the way I put everything of value to me in peril. In the spirit of the grand therapist understatement, I still had some core issues to work through.

My expectation/dread of life in Georgia was colored by stories of the infamous Forsyth County whose white residents were known for their embrace of racial bigotry and who warned black visitors to not let the sun go down on their head. And these Forsythians are proud to crow that black folks will never be welcome within their borders (the county seat is the Town of Cumming, “The Gateway to Leisure Living.” Someone must have had a good chuckle with that one.). To my way of thinking a man is a man is a man. Sadly, some of my less enlightened fellow citizens don’t/won't see it that way. I expected Georgia to be full of the stereotypical hayseed Bible-toting, overalls-wearing, snuff-dipping, trailer-dwelling, Confederate flag-flying, inbred, incestuous, ignorant racists living fiercely segregated lives with separate black and white churches, black and white funeral homes, black and white neighborhoods.

And I did meet some of these sad characters. As individuals. Or at least characters with some of these tendencies. The good, the bad and the in-betweens. But never as part of any grand conspiracy to deny any Georgian a life free from prejudice. Georgia has her fair share of good good-old-boys but she has no monopoly on the true corn-fed, good-hearted redneck (I’ve heard unsubstantiated tales that some may have actually crossed over to the other side into Canada to start new pods). They survive and thrive in every state of the union. Only South Carolina clings tighter to the memory of that honorable defeat. Proud sons of the South trying to hold on to the effluvial ghosts of a war lost, trying to continue with some semblance of honor while the rest of the world just wonders why. Three words to these proud, hard working men and women, "Get over it."

To be fair, Georgia is where I found the skills to piece together the pieces of me into a coherent, honorable whole. This has been the land of opportunity for my family. A state full of good black and white Southern folk, well mannered, generous, God-fearing, mostly free from prejudice and generally friendly.

July 26, 2008

Aqua Dreams

We spent the day with some friends at their home in Orange Park. It was a double birthday party for their son and daughter who were born several years apart but within a few days of each other in July. Nothing like a pool to keep kids occupied.

July 23, 2008


There is a place,
Where my patches, my poultices
Find no purchase before
The rains fall.
The flood saws away
My impermanent marks
So I scratch,
I sow the seed,
I salve the scars.

Yet again,
The torrent erodes,
My dreams swept down stream.
So again I take up shovel and rake to fill
The deep slashes in my green field.

Not again.
Robbed by the rain overnight,
My work wrecked,
I will not win.

God help me
I cannot stop.

July 20, 2008

Days Slipping Away

Walden Pond

Too quickly the days slip away into yesterdays. I realized I had not been here in more than a month. Sometimes it is the journal of my inner life and some times I just have to leave it alone. There is a great deal of change and uncertainty in my life these past months and many times I am too worn to stand the thought of even another moment in front of a computer screen trying to get my thoughts together. These are trying times and the decisions I must make will have long term consequences. Once again I am torn by the conflict between my conscience and my checkbook, between security and uncertainty. But we are all in good hands.

When life weighs too heavily I fall back on the comfort, the consolation of a good book. I am currently rereading The Hobbit. Gandalf does not seem so much like the serious wizard here as in the later books. I also recently re-read the Lords of The Rings trilogy and watched all the movies over again. I first read through the series many years ago when I was too young a reader to really understand the magnitude of what I was reading. I was spurred to catch up on these old friends by a posting by Deb On The Run here in which she mentioned Tom Bombadil. Finishing The Fellowship Of The Ring then watching the movie led to disappointment. The movie seemed not to be as good as I had remembered. With The Two Towers it was the opposite. The movie and the book were both engaging.

One of the things I find most interesting about Tolkien is that these books are just part of a much wider and deeper invention of his imagination. And he was a very well respected scholar who wrote one of the most seminal and important papers about the great Beowulf poem (one of my favorite literary works). Tolkien was one of the first to treat Beowulf as a work of art and not just an artifact of history.

I also recently finished The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. First novels just don’t get much better than this. This story is so well written and rings so true it feels like an autobiography and it packs a powerful emotional wallop. As a bit of a (hack) writer myself it’s always a moment to savor when you come across such a craftsman. From the very first paragraph Hosseini pulled me in and I read in every free moment.

I also just finished Gone For Soldiers by Jeff Shaara. I’ve read two of his other books and found then to be good solid writing but with no surprises. This book is a re-imagining of the Mexican-American War through the eyes of (for the most part) Gen. Winfield Scott and Capt. Robert E. Lee. What I found most interesting about the book is how many characters show up here who went on to play pivotal roles in The Civil War. Besides Scott and Lee there is Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, James Longstreet, George Meade, George Pickett and Joe Johnston. I also learned a great deal about this war that finalized most of our nation’s permanent boundaries. Mexico was forced to cede Texas, New Mexico and California. This was Manifest Destiny in its ugliest form.

This is also the war to which Thoreau so strenuously objected in “Civil Disobedience.” Sorry for this tangent but Thoreau is a personal favorite of mine. Ralph Waldo Emerson said of Thoreau:

“He was bred to no profession; he never married; he lived alone; he never went to church; he never voted; he refused to pay a tax to the State; he ate no flesh; he drank no wine; he never knew the use of tobacco; and though a naturalist, he used neither trap nor gun. He chose, wisely no doubt for himself, to be the bachelor of thought and Nature.... No truer American existed than Thoreau.”

Thoreau’s Walden is one the great books. The passage below is some my favorite writing:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true account of it.”

These words never fail to inspire me even when I fall so short of the ideal.

In honor of Thoreau here are a few recent photos of our flora and fauna.
Almost looks like an alien landscape but it's just the tidal flat when the tide is out.