Going Home Again

You can only be young once. But you can always be immature.
— Dave Barry

My father was once pastor of a Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Looking back, I probably didn’t make it easy for him or my mom, the pastor’s wife. I think I was just about Sixteen at the time. Do I need to say more?

There are witnesses to the fact that I may have been at most obnoxius stage of life; to this point. As I slide into full-blown senior adulthood though, it could be that my worst self is yet to come.

"Like I said, things never turn out exactly the way you planned. Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day, you're in diapers; next day, you're gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place... a town... a house... like a lot of other houses; a yard like a lot of other yards; on a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is... after all these years, I still look back... with wonder." From The Wonder Years.


Now about this church in Tulsa. They have something now they didn’t have when I was a teenager there — a Facebook page. I’m a “follower”. Chronicled on the church’s FB page is a sort of reinvention for the church, which is something that probably could have happened to me during my few years there—reinvention that is.

I found myself a little troubled about the church’s actions, something they called a “reboot”, which included redesigning the church auditorium and changing the church’s name (for heaven’s sake). Why should it matter to me? I only spent a few years there, but they were important years. My dad and mom though, gave all there.

I think this is why it matters. It’s not as though the reboot necessarily does away with the seeds my folks planted there so long ago. It’s just hard sometimes when the bedrock stuff of your life shifts. Not long ago we drove down the street where I spent most of my growing up years. Our little house is gone now, and the Bordens Cafeteria where I can remember getting fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy for Sunday lunch has been replaced by a “dollar” store.

My folks are 92 and 89. My mom still checks “The Facebook” from time to time, when they have a good wireless connection at the assisted living village. If they have taken note of the changes at the church, they haven’t mentioned it. Probably they would see it as progress, and therefore, cause for thankfulness. They are like that.

For me I have the memories: like playing that little game during the sermon where you match up song titles from the hymnal to see what funny combinations you can come up with. My personal favorite: “Have Thine Own Way!” & “O, Why Not Tonight?!” And, I remember the wonderful people there who served with humility. I remember the man who taught my Sunday School class and wrapped up every, single lesson with this: “Now, boys, the lesson in a nutshell is…”

Maybe the point of this essay in a nutshell is this:

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory." — from the book, You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe

At the Heart of Town

WHAT IS THERE ABOUT THOSE ROADS that meander through the countryside in and out of small town after small town? I don’t know that my aversion to interstate highway travel is all poetic and Robert Frost-y in the sense of choosing a less-traveled road, if that’s even what the poem is about. But, I do like those roads.

Recently, My Amazing-Missus and I towed our little shiny Airstream through the “hill country” of Texas. Our first stop was in Waco, where we paid homage to the high priest and prietess of house re-doing. It’s a bit astonishing to see people come by the hundreds from hundreds of miles away to see the wonder that is Chip & Joanna. They do seem to bring a sort of beauty to the world; in more ways than just fixing-upping.

I remember hearing a speaker at a banking convention proclaim that when a small town loses its local bank, it is on its way to ghost town status. I remain skeptical of that opinion, but it did start me to thinking: what is vital to the beating heart of a  town or village?

We drove through one wide-spot in the road whose better days were behind it. On a large piece of land in the heart of the little town, where its school once stood, was a marker, reminding the few people left in the town that there was once a school with teachers and kids and sounds and smells and energy.

Maybe they were the Eagles, or Bulldogs, or Terrapins. Their “colors” might have been green & white, or blue & gold, but probably they were red & white.

So, what is it that makes the difference between a community having a pulse and being a ghost town?

Bank?
School?
Church?
Post Office?
Bar?
Barber shop / Beauty Parlor?

Or, one of those places when you can get gas, bread, milk, beer,  and lunch from a greasy, steamy glass case filled with fried stuff like okra, gizzards, potato wedges, and such; plus a 32 oz. plastic vessel of some soft drink to wash it all down?

As our trip through rural America continued, I may have discovered what it is that most every small town seemed to have. It was easy to spot them. Many are brightly painted and gaudily adorned. The local flower shop. Think about it. If the town still has one of these, not only do you have a vibrant business still left on main street, but you’re also likely to have its effervescent and flamboyant proprieter. You also have a place to buy a balloon for a birthday, a gift for graduation, Father’s Day, and a baby shower. After all what is a community if not a place to celebrate and make memories together. 

I haven’t forgotten the obvious: the flowers. How could we be a community without flowers? There will be Mother’s Days and Valentines Days. Oh, and the weddings.

And while there may not be ballgames, and school dances on the town calendar anymore, there will undoubtedly be the next funeral. You need community to bring flowers and a covered dish to the house to remind you that in the midst of deepest grief, there is a tomorrow and your community is with you.

While I’m on the subject of the essential role of beauty in the midst of despair, let me beg you to contact your congresspersons and implore them to not buy in to the ill-informed, misguided, ill-conceived, near-sighted and selfish scheme to strip funding for the National Endowment for The Arts and the National Endowment for The Humanities. It would be like burning down the flower shop of a small town, or telling Chip and Joanna they can’t fix-up anymore ugly houses, turning them into someone’s dream home.

If you don’t believe the arts are critical to our national well-being, go see this exhibit at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. You only have until July 2, 2017. If you want to go with someone, call me. I’ll join you and even buy your ticket.

Here’s another idea. Click here and Watch this. https://vimeo.com/194276412 

When The Words Are Hard To Find

I CAN'T WRITE. I’m stuck or confused or distracted or, God-forbid, the big “d” word (in hushed tones: depressed).

There’s this real thing called “writer’s block”. Not that I’m self-diagnosing, but I do feel sort of blocked. It has been weeks since I last wrote anything I would consider posting.

Here’s the sucky part about being blocked, I always tend to settle for the poorer path, worst choice, easy way out. Like those days when I forget to take my lunch to work. Noontime comes and I can’t decide what to do--what sounds good. Taco Bell is close and cheap. Five minutes later I hate myself.

Politics is the Taco Bell of writing for me right now, and I hate myself for it. But it’s cheap and close; and gross, and disgusting. I’m not going there (at least today). 

Writer’s block has probably existed since the invention of writing, but the term itself was first introduced into the academic literature in the nineteen-forties, by a psychiatrist named Edmund Bergler. For two decades, Bergler studied writers who suffered from “neurotic inhibitions of productivity,” in an attempt to determine why they were unable to create—and what, if anything, could be done about it. After conducting multiple interviews and spending years with writers suffering from creative problems, he discarded some of the theories that were popular at the time. Blocked writers didn’t “drain themselves dry” by exhausting their supply of inspiration. Nor did they suffer from a lack of external motivation (the “landlord” theory, according to which writing stops the moment the rent is paid). They didn’t lack talent, they weren’t “plain lazy,” and they weren’t simply bored. So what were they?  --The New Yorker

This article from The New Yorker goes on to present findings of several studies that “found, unsurprisingly, that blocked writers were unhappy. Symptoms of depression and anxiety, including increased self-criticism and reduced excitement and pride at work, were elevated in the blocked group; symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, such as repetition, self-doubt, procrastination, and perfectionism, also appeared, as did feelings of helplessness and ‘aversion to solitude’—a major problem, since writing usually requires time alone.”

The good news for me is that I don’t write for living. In fact, I only do it for my own amusement, so to be “blocked” is only a personal frustration. But, I like to write and I especially like the phenonemon that when I’m in writing mode, I pay more attention to life. I’m looking for ideas. My sense of wonder is much higher.

There’s a lot of advice written on how to end writer’s block (probably written by someone who was blocked and decided they could break the block by writing a book on how to breakthrough writer’s block).

 

One method I’ve used often is to type the words of a writer you highly respect; to get in a flow. So, I’m going to do that here in case you’re still reading this and thus deserve a reward for your diligence. This is an excerpt from the beautiful book “Jayber Crow” by Wendell Berry.

If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line - starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King's Highway past the appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led - make of that what you will.

It is all a journey isn’t it?

There that's my one true sentence for the day.

The Canvas

Think broadly about the idea of a "canvas", something you would do art on. IT could be an actual canvas, a board, a piece of paper, the side of a building, a boxcar in a rail yard, any blank slate. I have this theory that sometimes the canvas matters more than others. For example, I was invited recently to contribute to a project--a creative collaboration. It is a book that will pass from artist to artist, creative to creative, and each person will make an entry of sorts. This canvas matters. I didn't want to make a mess of it. I thought about trying a sketch, or maybe a watercolor, but decided to write something. This is what I wrote:


DOES THE CANVAS MATTER? Maybe it shouldn't but it does. When I was handed this book, this "creative collaboration", I thought, "I'm not worthy", especially for page two, right behind one of Molly Hennesy's wonder-full drawings. This canvas matters; for some reason.

There was a day when we got our coffee at diners in heavy porcelain mugs. Maybe we would have a piece of pie from the lighted display case. We occupied our hands and minds (at some semi-conscious level) by doodling on a napkin. Now we get it at Starbucks® in a paper cup while diddling on a smart phone.

Photo by nano/iStock / Getty Images

Were those paper napkins potentially a valuable canvas: where dreams were sketched, where a poem was written, where a song lyric was begun, where a young girl tried out the surname of her current boyfriend paired with her first name?

Not long ago, my Amazing-Missus was visiting with a sister-in-law of Woody Guthrie. YES, that Woody Guthrie. We were in Tulsa for the grand opening of the Woody Guthrie Center. Woody's sister-in-law was telling how Woody would come to visit and was constantly writing on little scraps of paper, like the backs of envelopes. She said that when he would leave, she would gather them all up and throw them in the trash. She had no idea that at some time people would buy tickets to come to a museum to see scraps of paper like the one where he wrote the lyrics to "This Land Is Your Land."

Writing in my own journals can be cathartic for me, but the paper in that journal, the pen and ink used to write the entry, and even the words themselves don't have much value to anyone else. But sometimes, if I'm writing for something like this book, I'm more careful of the choice of words, my penmanship, and the message. It's because, to me at least, the canvas matters; sometimes.

Think about this: if I asked you to write a word on a napkin while we were sitting in a diner having coffee and pie, what word would you write? Now if I said, if you'll choose a word to have tattooed on your body, I'll pay for the tattoo. What word would you choose.

Diner napkin. Your own human flesh. Does the canvas matter?


If you would like to keep up with this project, there is a page on Facebook® SKETCHBOOK CREATIVE COLLAB.