22 March 2013


In Clover
Stainless steel and spotlights.
Artist:  Cornelia Erdemann
The ground is not solid here. Literally and figuratively it shifts beneath me. There are at least 20 mature trees on the lot and I'm told it is the vast root system supporting so many trees that makes the ground unstable. When I step on the front lawn it feels like the land is grabbing at me, like I might be swallowed by the yard before I reach the sidewalk.

Conversation is rare lately. No one calls. No one returns my calls. No one stops by. It's not me; there's very little vehicular traffic and no pedestrian traffic on my street. (Pointless to sit on the porch.) No one is stopping by to see anyone. Perhaps no one is calling anyone either.

I'm lonely but have no desire to visit with most of the people I've met here. The ground is so shaky:  when they speak their words conform to local social and religious conventions, i.e., they are fine, their family is fine, and God is good, but there's so little spark or warmth, I wonder what's really going on with them.

Sometimes, what's really going on leaks between the lines:  they are trying to figure me out, digging for information. It's impolite to just ask what you want to know. The words wind around, sprinkled liberally with tea-cup titters and not much eye contact. It feels sneaky sometimes, like a set up. Like walking on shaky ground.

21 March 2013

Coffee Anyone?

In a song I wrote about this place, I refer to Holly Springs as "sleepy little town dreaming." In the past few weeks it has seemed a possibly inaccurate description as doubts arise about the mind of this community. There is a stultifying level of lethargy and sluggishness evident in the empty store fronts on the square; the impractical floor plan at the library where paperback romances abound; the approximate start time and late arriving teachers at a local elementary school; the repetitive loop conversational style of most people.

The lethargy is pervasive and I am falling into its sway. My routine has become waking up around 5a, dying of thirst, guzzling from the bedside glass and dozing off; to sleep until 9a when I wake up, wonder what the weather is and remember there's nothing on my calendar for today. I sleep again until almost noon -- perhaps 11: 47a -- and wake up, wondering what the weather is and realizing I've slept til noon, again. A massive wave of guilt sweeps through me (learned from my mother).

I take a minute for deep breathing, detaching myself from the mental and emotional quicksand of guilty thinking, moving to a wide open field of clean air and sunshine inside me.

I sleep late because I stay up late and I don't do much during the day. I'm not working hard enough at anything to actually be tired at the end of the day. I go to bed when my body has been awake long enough to need rest.

In the old days, I never smoked cigarettes before noon and I never drank coffee after 3p. These days, I challenge the urge to drink coffee when I get up at noon:  how will I ever get back to a "normal" sleep cycle drinking coffee in the middle of the day?  Every fourth or fifth day, with a spirit of penance, I forego having coffee at noon. I imagine myself "off to a good start."

Soon after arriving in Holly Springs, I began receiving suggestions that "you (I) must meet Chelius." Once the person I was talking to learned what I was interested in and hoped to accomplish in Holly Springs, invariably the response was "You need to meet Chelius."  I imagined a 30-something American African man with dreadlocks and an energetic, colorful way of speaking. I set out to find this man. It took months. In the process I added "mysterious" and "private" to my internal sketch.

We first connected by telephone. He is opening a coffeehouse on the square. I stopped by the site, still under development, having received a tip that he was there. He wasn't there but a workman offered to contact him by cell phone and let me talk to him. He was en route, returning from Oxford within half an hour. I was to meet him at his house, a block up from the coffeehouse.

There's no coffeehouse in Holly Springs. The primary meeting place here is Church. Among the handful (I mean this literally:  I've met fewer than five) of people I've met who are remotely like-minded, the opening of the coffeehouse looms like a life preserver floating just out of reach. We are all desperate for a community gathering space.

It will be called The Smiling Phoenix and is slated to open by mid April.

I finally met Chelius, a short white guy with a straggly beard and gray-ing hair. He's an architect and preservationist with deep, sincere affection and respect for the architectural heritage of Holly Springs and Marshall County. He poured me a drink of bourbon so magically smooth that it has become a staple beverage in my home (Woodford Reserve...heaven in a bottle). We talked about Holly Springs and his projects, my deflated dream for my life in Holly Springs, and ways I could get involved with his projects.

I have consented to work at the coffeehouse. Job description is fluid and flexible (just the way I like it). The building is a 4-minute walk from my house (I like that, too). I am excited and looking forward with imagination. A place to go, a reason to leave the house! And I enjoy hostessing. And I love coffee.

One piece of my initial bright dream idea for Holly Springs was an open-mic series in a space that included exhibit and performance space. Maybe this part of the dream will come true. I am already hearing music and spoken-word at the coffeehouse. I see myself in long, sparkly earrings, serving coffee and then taking the stage to sing; bringing in loaves of fresh-baked artisan bread once a week. Having conversations about the paintings on the wall. Watering the plants.

I'm looking forward to wearing myself out each day and going to bed by 1 a.m. and waking up with the birds, walking through quiet morning streets to the coffeehouse.

I ran into Chelius yesterday at the post office and he invited me to ride down to Oxford with him to pick up his daughter from school. What a treat! The ride, our conversation, and meeting his 4-year-old daughter was a huge pleasurable escape from my usual boredom at the house. By the time we reached Holly Springs, the little girl was asleep in her child seat. At my house, we left her sleeping and sat on the front porch talking for awhile longer. The last thing he said to me was "Well, we didn't talk about the coffeehouse. When can we talk about that?"

"Whenever you like," I responded. "I am here and I'm ready."

I might have offered him some refreshment on the porch, some coffee or bourbon; but it was a little after 3p and it felt too late for one and too early for the other.

19 March 2013

Begging Pardon 2

On any given day, my FaceBook Wall is inundated with images of breathtaking sunsets, voluptuous flowers in bloom and children in a variety of affectionate poses with animals. Lots of hearts and sunshine and water.The images are often accompanied by flagrantly "positive," inspirational text, often a quote from someone who is either dead, a globally recognized icon of wisdom/peace/community service/etc. or a popular entertainment celebrity. "You only fail if you give up." "Believe in your dreams."

A common theme of these posts is an exhortation toward self-improvement. Whoever you are, whatever you are doing, you're not "there" yet. You can do better. You can/should/will be a better person. Some day. Gentle reminders that something is wrong with you as you are now. There's something missing. Too little "generosity", "creativity", and "gratitude" are among the most frequently cited deficits.

"Forgiveness" is another popular meme theme.

The world of FaceBook was abuzz the other night with outrage about CNN's coverage of a verdict handed down in a court case involving some high school boy athletes. It's one of those cases that "everybody" is following -- "everybody" except me. Something about the boys being convicted of raping a drunken female classmate. From what I gather via FaceBook Comment threads, CNN's reports of the story were sympathetic toward the boys. Among the folks who appear in my newsfeed, righteous indignation was the unanimous response to the CNN reports.

One man wrote at length about how he rarely allows himself to take the soapbox on FaceBook but he was unable to keep silent in the face of the CNN report. As the father of two daughters, he was grieved to think that anyone convicted of rape is worthy of forgiveness or empathy. Anyone convicted of rape is an "animal" and worthy only of punishment. Certain acts and behavior, in his opinion, are unforgivable. CNN's reporters and anchors should be ashamed of their public display of compassion and empathy for these young monsters. The writer was unmoved by footage of the boys crying.

Public esteem for "forgiveness" in society is abundantly expressed in slogans emblazoned on T-shirts and greeting cards and FaceBook posts; but it is a shallow esteem. It is not visible in the way we live our lives.  Forgiveness is all fine and good:  except in certain cases.

For some, esteem for "forgiveness" is based on biblical precepts with God's sacrifice of his only son the ultimate example of the way forgiveness should be practiced. But the Bible is also full of examples of how unforgiving God can be:  entire communities consumed in flame; women turned into pillars of salt; the entire Earth obliterated by flood. It would seem there is a limit to forgiveness even in the mind of God. It is not surprising that religious people would follow suit and feel justified in withholding forgiveness in certain instances.

N_____ was one of the first people I met when I moved to Holly Springs. For several months we met irregularly in the afternoon to play piano duets at the Episcopal church where I practice. 

He's in his 70s and facing several health challenges as well as an impending forced retirement from the local college where he has taught for almost 40 years. I also suspect he is a closeted gay man though he would likely never admit it. From the beginning of the friendship, our ongoing musical dialogue was interspersed with his frequent complaints about life issues and situations. I thought of him affectionately as "a worrier." I am not "a worrier" but have easily managed friendly relationships with people who are.

Something happened around Christmas. I still don't understand exactly what. N_____ and I were to provide music for the midnight mass at the church, him on organ and me on piano. He was worried about falling asleep at the keyboard or starting to feel sick and fainting or missing a cue. He fretted when we were together and sent long emails, itemizing potential disasters and analyzing his dread. 

After a few weeks, I suggested that we focus on preparing the music, assuring him we would survive should some calamity befall us during the service. 

He was offended. 

The Apology - Artist:  Mark Ryden
I apologized.

Three months later, he is still upset with me and it is beginning to look as though the offense qualifies as unforgivable.

There is precious little willingness to forgive among us. Like "love" and "peace," "forgiveness" exists like a beautiful dream. We are inspired by thoughts and dreams of love and peace and forgiveness. Many people say they are "working on it." They aspire. They are "trying" to align their lives with these ideals. It's assumed that we are presently incapable of unconditional love, absolute forgiveness, world peace. We "get it" but we can't do it. Not yet. Now now. 

But we are trying.

And we keep trying.

We are encouraged to keep trying.

Imagine a world where we receive more messages encouraging us to do it, than messages encouraging us to try to do it.

What if instead of "You can make it if you try"

people who care about us said, "You made it! Be Here Now..."

What if instead of "I'm really trying to forgive him"

we simply said, "All is forgiven."

In the realm of human relationships, judgment and lack of forgiveness are like craggy, land's end cliffs we reach from time to time. Our unforgiving judgments obliterate any possibility of a way forward.

Our friend expresses an opinion different from our own. We are surprised and perhaps disappointed and our judgment is that our friend's opinion is wrong.

We hear about something like the trial of the high school boys and pounce into social media to put our feelings and opinions on record. In many cases, without a second thought, never having actually met anyone involved in the events, we form a fervent, steadfast, unforgiving opinion.

Someone tells a funny story about us at a party and we are humiliated, deeply wounded. How could she?! She was wrong and rude and insensitive to tell that story and you will never forgive her.

Our judgment and rage and humiliation deliver us to the edge of a cliff in the relationship. Driven by emotion, we create The End.

But the Bible and the FB memes entreat:  learn to forgive.

Can we find forgive? Immediately? Or will it take some time because we are trying to learn to forgive? How long will it take? Does trying actually define a period in which we do not relinquish our judgment but rather hope to some day "get over it"?

In my understanding of Forgiveness, I stop talking -- internal and external dialogue ceases. I stand at the cliff's edge and contemplate the void beyond. I stomped to this brink on unsympathetic legs. Convinced that she/he/they are
  •  wrong
  • unfair
  • rude
  • cruel
  •  monstrous
  • ignorant
  • evil
  • beyond redemption
  • notorious
  • bigoted

There are two choices. Life or death.  Over the cliff onto the rocks below or walking back toward solid ground on shaky legs.

I wonder sometimes if, in the evolution of our species, forgiveness will disappear. It's so rarely seen these days. 

10 March 2013

Heaven Held

Songwriters: David BYRNE and Jerry HARRISON 
Everyone is trying to get to the bar
The name of the bar, the bar is called heaven
The band in heaven, they play my favourite song
Play it one more time, play it all night long
Heaven, heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens
Heaven, heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens
There is a party, everyone is there
Everyone will leave at exactly the same time
When this party's over, it will start again
It will not be any different, it will be exactly the same
Heaven, heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens
When this kiss is over it will start again
It will not be any different, it will be exactly the same
It's hard to imagine that nothing at all could be so exciting, could be this much fun
Heaven, heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens
Heaven, heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens

In this sleepy little town, I often leave my doors unlocked. In the rare instances where the possibility of danger has presented in this first half year of living in Holly Springs, it has never yet felt like a risk of being robbed or assaulted. The vibe is, if not "gentle", "settled". It's like Heaven:  a place where nothing, nothing ever happens.

When I feel fear, it is a largely undefined panic about dying alone here or making nothing here or finding nothing here. A fear of being trapped in Heaven.

The town is isolated. Very little news of anywhere else seeps in. There are computers in the library but Internet access is restricted; there are some places in the Web patrons are not allowed to visit. Lots of light fiction -- romance and other fantasy -- and Civil War-related books and DVDs. The library is not open on Sunday.

If there exists any complaint among residents about the isolation, it is not widespread. Most people seem OK with not knowing what's going on in the world beyond the town limits.There's more community interest in a "ball game" (doesn't matter what kind of "ball") at the Christian Academy this weekend than in the confirmation of a new U.S. secretary of defense.

A superficial intimacy characterizes Holly Springs:  everyone knows your name, knows your "people"...where you went to (high) school...where you go to church. Longtime residents have a deeper intimacy with their historical knowing of the place and the families who live here. I have heard a few of these stories but rarely direct from the person who lived it; these stories usually come secondhand. It feels like another kind of isolation or separation -- isolation from the past as well as the present.

You can find peanuts and headache powders here 365 days a year. There are lots of churches. There is no place to buy a New York Times or knitting needles. No place to get a VW serviced. There's no place to sit at a cafe table and sip a glass of wine. There's no place to buy a pair of shoes (okay....there is a Wal-Mart on the edge of town but, of the prior list, only the shoes are available at Wal-Mart.)

There's no theater -- movie or otherwise. There's no bookstore.

In their interactions with me, community members are...how to describe it...

Kind:  having, showing or proceeding from benevolence

No; implies an intention and awareness that doesn't fit my general experience of this place. Guests who brought gifts to the holiday housewarming were possibly motivated by Kindness -- and perhaps conventions of "etiquette" as well.  But "kind" it is not how I would describe the basic nature of Holly Springs.

Nice:  pleasing, agreeable, delightful

No; implies a satisfaction, an agreement and a pleasurable sensation that are mostly absent from my social experience. On the surface there are smiles, graceful gestures, smooth silky voice timbre; and yet my soul is rarely stirred during a social exchange. The landscape, the wildlife and flora and fauna are frequently pleasing, agreeable and sometimes even delightful.

Cordial:  [This was the word I assumed would fit. And then I looked it up]:  courteous and gracious; friendly; warm: a cordial reception; 2. invigorating the heart; stimulating; 3. sincere; heartfelt and discovered


Polite:  showing good manners toward others in behavior and speech; courteous; civil
Civil:  Marked by satisfactory (or especially minimal) adherence to social conventions and sufficient but not noteworthy consideration for others

Yes. These last two come closest. Notwithstanding a widespread tendency to show up late for appointments, not return phone calls, fail to follow-through on suggestion/invitation/etc and blithe trampling of   other-than-Christian perspectives, Holly Springs is a polite and civil place.

Some think "polite" and "civil" will make a place "safe."

As a person who questions the possibility of making anywhere totally safe through behavior alone, I call that viewpoint absurd.

As a six-month resident of the polite and civil town of Holly Springs, I can testify that polite and civil have turned the place into "Heaven... a place where nothing, nothing ever happens" which is astonishing:  the way Heaven happens now

and then you die

and get some more Heaven.

06 March 2013

Wildly Entertaining

Camelot  by Tony Duquette
I dreamed

I hosted a troupe of traveling performers. They showed up on my doorstep unexpected. There were around twelve players, mostly women with a few men. Representing a variety of ethnic groups, they were lively in the bright sunlight. All of them in motion, talking and laughing. Costumed brilliantly and carrying all kinds of props:  balls and bells and wands and feathers and bubbles and fire sticks and tambourines and hoops...

I don't remember any words exchanged between us. I opened the door, saw them on the porch and spilling out onto the front lawn, and, with silent mutual agreement that they were welcome, they entered. 

I knew the location as "my mother's house" [I have never been to my mother's house in waking life and she is dead now so no such place exists in the known universe.] There were lots of windows in the house but I did not notice them -- there was so much simultaneous activity inside the house. From somewhere, music:  familiar and unusual at the same time; appealing to every sensibility and I thought "This is the only music."

Dancing juggling twirling hoops magic tricks contortionists 

Laughing beckoning whispering smiling focusing 

From time to time the ensemble combined attention and sang. The songs were lyric-laden:  fast precise language, rhythmic. The lyrics were printed on hand-fans. I wanted to sing along AND I wanted to keep my eyes on the players. I decided to learn the songs by listening rather than reading. [...this relates to a "persistent complaints" I had in seminary and afterwards when I was spending a lot of time with Unitarian Universalists. A standard feature of any service I led was group singing without hymnal or song-sheet in hand and it always provoked some measure of resistance in every setting. I "judged" it a flaw in the UU personality and added it to my list of Grievances About UU.]

Their costumes were gorgeous. Fantastic. Deep true colors. Irresistibly touchable fabrics. Jewels and shells and feathers. Verging on "obscene" but more marvelous than perverse.

The performers spread out all over the very large, multi-level house. There were no long stairways  connecting distinct separate floors. Everything connected to everything else with no more than two steps up or down. Something was happening everywhere and I could be wherever I wanted to be by thinking myself there. 

When it felt like the festival was drawing to a close, they all began to dance. I danced too and felt how I was not truly one of them. It was a consciousness thing; they were connected to each other because they knew and I was excluded because I did not know. This made me a little sad and a little embarrassed. Before I could sink into either  of those feelings, the troupe formed a parade line and a beautiful, gentle woman wearing a radiant, white yellow costume extended her hand to me and with her eyes bid me "Come. Join us."

Dancing and singing, playing instruments, walking and chatting in twos and threes, we proceeded out into warm night air. I was a little surprised to discover so much time had passed. The sun had set. There were no people visible on the street but I could feel the life of a Town some distance away.

On the outside, my mother's house looked like a school or factory:  three stories high at least, an unbroken row of plain, identical windows on each level. We somehow exited by the front door, filed along the side of building and re-entered by the back door but turned only one corner in the process. The temperature inside when we returned was perfect.

The promenade had heightened the intimacy of the company. People were talking in softer tones now and touching each other:  holding hands, stroking cheeks, embracing. Some people lounged on sofas and pillows. The sound of soft, between-lovers type laughter came from different rooms. 

Sweet Caress    by Karen Townsend
A woman wearing a red kimono embroidered with shimmery black and white and gold threads lounged on a chaise. Several others gathered around her. Her kimono was falling open a little in front and they caressed her body through the opening, sliding their hands beneath the watery silk. Touching her neck and breasts, her belly and inner thighs. She smile and purred, surrendered to the pleasure. I watched from the front edge of a small crowd. Someone behind me was thinking about touching my body and I could feel the thinking on my skin.

After a couple minutes, I noticed there were other chairs and pillow beds and surfaces bearing other guests beyond the red kimono.  Kirstin H_____ reclined on one of them. She was giggling. She opened a big, bright blouse to reveal her breasts. Within seconds, her nipples popped up and detached from her breasts, on slender rods, like jack-in-the-box. There was a lever, invisible to the viewers, that K____ operated to make her nipples pop up. Everyone loved it and laughed; they touched and licked the nipples. It was wonderful.

A male guest watched this display with his penis visible on the outside of his snug knee britches (a la Mozart). The penis was tattooed, long but not grotesque, flexible. It existed like a friendly, attached but distinct, entity. Like a brother or best friend to the man. I watched it bend and extend, giving pleasure to the man and other guests near him. A generous penis.

There was the feeling that the party was gathering a second wind.

Someone appeared with a large, dark enamel tray on which lay a large pile of marijuana and smoking paraphernalia. A group of us partook:  there was intimate camaraderie but no smoke. The high was extra-ordinary, as though it looked like marijuana but was actually something else.

After the Party  --  by Tonya Engel
Not everything was picked up. Some furniture had not been returned to its place. I decided I wanted to leave the disarray just as it was for awhile, to sleep in the mess and see how I felt in the morning.

I woke up.