Saturday, December 31, 2022

Lessons of the Cross


Friday, December 30, 2022

Journeys of Faith

The Christian apologists I depend on the most are Spong and Lewis (C.S., not T.W., although T.W. is way up there). There are oceans between their perspectives, but I believe Christology is that deep and varied if you give it a chance.

The question every Christian must answer is "do you believe?" and I never know how to answer that. I do not have child-like faith, but I didn't have it as a child, either. I was, and am, a very nervous and frightened child. That makes it very difficult to have a complete and blinding faith in anything or anyone.

There was a time when I chose to disavow all childhood instruction and memes and tribal fielty with regards to Christianity and start over, to rebuild my faith on my own terms as an adult. Begining from a position of no belief, I rebuilt the foundations of my faith, brick by brick to discover what I really felt and what I could really present as my own life.

In my journey to rebuild my faith, I included two atheists, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins. I didn't think I could make an honest conclusion without considering all sides of the issue, and for people without faith, these two are among the best. 

Dawkins' ideas about memes actually provided me the building blocks of my new faith. Combining Dawkin's theories about memes with Jung's theories about archetypes allowed me to hypothesize that maybe this is the language by which the divine communicates with us, and that's why these memes and archetypes repeat themselves in nearly every culture. It's a way to deliver these gigantic ideas to us in smaller, digestible pieces.

Faith is a journey, not a destination, and it's a journey we make every moment of our entire lives; even if we tell ourselves our minds and our hearts are settled on the subject, they never really are. Lewis is somebody you might think had a settled and firm faith, but if you read A Grief Observed, written after the death of his wife, Joy, you'll see that even Lewis had an evolving and changing faith and faced days when the well seemed dry and unrecoverable.

I start essays like this thinking by the end, I'll come up with some sort of constructed and complete point, but on this particular subject, I never do. Maybe there is no focused point in faith. Maybe there's not meant to be. Maybe we're not able to complete this mind journey while we're alive. Maybe that was the point all along.  

Monday, December 26, 2022

Tellers of Stories

Besides girls with brown eyes and good coffee, there's not much in the world I love as much as a good story, especially if it's a story about Mississippi.   My life has been blessed in so many ways.  That I've been surrounded by so many, more than excellent, raconteurs means more to me than I can say.  

Telling stories runs in my family.  Besides basic communication and fellowship, telling stories is the foundation of good writing.  Both my nephews are excellent writers.  I knew Jack was and suspected Campbell might be.  I read over some of Campbell's master's thesis on Christmas, and he's a fantastic writer.  I haven't read anything Collins wrote yet.  She's pretty young but the quickest of the three and fierce like a lion, so I don't see how she could be anything but an excellent writer.  Their mom tells great stories.  She favors our mom, who could hold her own among all the men around her who thought they knew better.  

Of all the boys my baby sister brought home, she married the one that told the best stories.  I don't know if that was part of her criteria, but it was a big part of mine.  There was this one fella called the Prince of Darkness, who apparently could sneak across enemy lines with nothing but a pen knife and take out a platoon, but he couldn't tell a story worth a damn.  He couldn't tell stories, but there are some pretty good stories about him, though.  Ask me about the alligators or the fight at CS's sometimes.  

I don't know if it was his intention, but Jay collected a remarkable group of storytellers around him through the years, which surprised the hell out of me, seeing as two-thirds of them are Phi Delta Thetas.  Bowman's really good, but the king will always be Hank Aiken.  I think the key is that they're all very active readers, and for whatever else is going on up there, Oxford has an excellent culture for reading and writing.  Square Books is a big part of that; the bar at City Grocery has a reputation for wetting some excellent writers, most notably Larry Brown.  I wasn't there, but the people who know tell me that Barry Hannah is probably the most responsible for the literary culture at Ole Miss.  It's not so much that he was an amazing writer himself, which he was, but that he promoted and mentored and made welcome so many other writers, creating a seed and a tree that still bears fruit up in Oxford town.

I never knew my great-grandfather.  He seemed to have been excellent with his hands, having built a schoolhouse and a store and used his ox team to plow most of the roads up in Atalla County in that time.   "Good with his hands" is an accurate way to describe my Great-grand, who everyone called Cap, but an interesting choice of words, seeing as, of hands, he had only one, losing the other in an accident as a young man.  Whatever else Cap did in life, he must have been an excellent storyteller because his children were and their children were.

One of the great pleasures of my young life was shadowing my father when he was with his cousins and friends, so much so that I learned to carry things and mix drinks and light cigarettes in hopes that I'd be useful enough that they'd tolerate my presence.  It's not that they were captains of industry, marshals of law, or bulwarks of Mississippi politics; (although they were); they fascinated me because of the stories they told, mostly about each other, but also about the life and conditions and events and passions that make up Mississippi.

Dad had a cousin on his mom's side, Ben McCarty, and a cousin on his dad's side, Robert Wingate, who both told excellent stories, some of the best.  There was a fraternity of men around my dad who all looked into their glass and swirled the ice as they told stories like it was a scrying glass that showed them the past.  Dad did it too.  Smoking and drinking, especially to excess, was part of the culture of men in their generation.  It probably contributed to why there are so few of them left, but it made them all excellent at gesturing while they talked, and they talked a lot.  

Daddy idolized his older cousin Robert Wingate, and I did too.  Robert was the keep of the family legends for many years.  Besides Wingate, Dad's best friend was Rowan Taylor.   Rowan had an excellent mind, one of the best I've known.  He was an avid reader and often found ways to introduce himself to and associate himself with the many excellent writers in Mississippi.  I'm sure he knew her before, but through his beloved Suzanna Marrs, he was able to befriend Eudora Welty in the last years of her life.  Miss Eudora was selective about her companions.  That she allowed him was something of an honor.  In conversation and as a storyteller, Rowan practiced a very precise sort of conservation of words that made him seem stoic to some but, to me, made him seem more interesting than the others.  I always found his choice and economy of words as interesting as whatever story he told.  Like Miss Eudora, Rowan was a life trustee of Millsaps, which benefited us in many ways.  

For several reasons, reading and writing were difficult for me, but befriending and knowing and loving these amazing people made a shy boy like me, whose eyes didn't work properly, want to read and want to write and want to tell stories.  It's the wanting to that makes us all capable of doing the worthwhile things in life, no matter how difficult they are for us.  Some of them are lost to us now, but their voices, their ideas, and their stories are, and will always be, a part of me.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

My Old School

The party tonight energized me, so sleep may not come. My muse can be a very inconsiderate person. There are nine of them, I tend to split my time between Calliope, Clio, Thalia, Melpomene, and Polyhymnia, so they keep me busy. 

The last time I attended a function at the lower school gym, I spent two days working up the courage to ask someone for a dance, who ended up not even going to the party. She didn't show up last night, either. Pretty inconsiderate, if you ask me. She got married about thirty-five years ago so that ship might have sailed.

Although there weren't many people from my class at the party, several of them had children who did. I hadn't seen some of them since I was a student at St. Andrews myself, so seeing the ghost of their reflection in the faces of their twenty-five-year-old child was haunting and melancholy but deeply touching. Soon, their faces will be reflected in the faces of grandchildren at our old school.

St. Andrews features heavily in my vision and hopes for Jackson and Mississippi. Their concepts and philosophy on education align closely with my own. I hope to become as useful to them as they are to me in time. 

They say your old school looks smaller when you return. St. Andrews looked considerably larger to me, probably because it actually is physically larger. I enjoyed making out features of my old school inside the physical plant that sits on Old Canton Road now, almost like counting the rings of a tree. Doors and windows and ramps and halls I passed a thousand times now share space with younger, fresher cousins. I'm actually quite impressed with how later architects made their projects fit in with the earlier structures. It looks like a cohesive whole, even though it was assembled in several pushes through the years. 

They also say you can't go home again. I don't think that's true. I felt almost hauntingly home again. 

I was drawn almost immediately to the spot where Timmy Allen used to sit during P.E. Timmy suffered pretty bad juvenile arthritis and often had to sit out some of the more physical stuff we did because his body hurt. He was my friend, and because my body had begun to become stronger and larger than my classmates, I imagined myself as his protector and phalanx. I found the spot where I used to sit and keep statistics of the girl's basketball team when I was their erstwhile manager. If a place can become a part of you, that place certainly is. I'm glad I went, both last night and when I was a child.

Friday, December 23, 2022

What We Are Not

In educational terms, I'm what's sometimes called a triple threat.  I have three significant learning disabilities.   Born into a generation where educators and doctors first began to treat these conditions, although they'd known about them for many years before, I was diagnosed with: Dyslexia, all four types, and its lesser-known cousin, dyscalculia, which is the same thing but for math, Developmental Stuttering, and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.  Three severe threats to any form of education.

For men of my generation (most were, and still are, men), we were often considered uneducable and incorrigible.  Many of us never completed our education.  I never actually graduated from High School.  I took two courses at the Education Center and a test and went to college a year sooner than my classmates.  Having been held back in the second grade, I ended up going to college right on time by skipping my senior year in high school.  I received one degree in college and lack just a few semester hours for three more.   My Grade Point Average was far below stellar, but I crossed the finish line and completed all the work, just not always on time.

My dyslexia and dyscalculia were treated at home by my mother.  Already having an education degree from Belhaven, she taught herself Montisory Methods, so I might have a chance.  Among other things, she cut letters and numbers out of sandpaper so that I could feel them with my fingers in hopes it might sink in that way.  With these and many other means, I did eventually learn to read and write, things I cannot imagine life without.

The Stuttering was treated at St. Andrews by a woman who came twice a week to work privately with a few other students and me.  They call it developmental stuttering because it can't be traced to any brain damage, deformation, or emotional trauma.  In other words, they don't know what causes it.  After third grade, they treated my stuttering by enrolling me in every form of public speaking or acting class they could find, with hopes that it would give me more confidence and become less shy.  This is the same sort of treatment the Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie prescribes for himself, so maybe it was common in the fifties and sixties.  I can't say that it made me more confident, and I'm as shy now as I was at six, but it did give me a life-long appreciation and love for acting, so there's that.

When I was in school, the treatment for attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder was sports, sports, and more sports and lots and lots of punishment.  The operative theory being that we needed a way to burn off that extra energy and learn some discipline, goddamnit!   

Unlike the previous two, I can't say this worked very well.  Modern methods are much more effective.   Everything ended up feeling like punishment, which made sports that were supposed to be fun sometimes a miserable experience for me.  While many of my coaches are men I still love dearly, many others became the bane of my existence because I associated them with punishment, and to be honest, some of them did too.  

Even today, scientists disagree about the causes of these conditions, and educators disagree on the best method to cope with these conditions, so I can't really tell you what people like me are, but I can tell you what we are not with a high degree of certainty.

We are not stupid.

I can understand any subject or concept you can.  I can read any book or poem you can.  It may take me more time, but I'll get there, and I almost always do.  I've met very few people who said they had dyslexia, who I couldn't describe as above average in intelligence.  Whatever happens in our brains to cause this condition doesn't impair our ability to think.

We don't lack discipline or motivation.

Living with my father, discipline was never an option.  It was a survival tool.  Motivation, I brought myself.  I can and do sometimes want to accomplish things with a burning desire that I rarely discuss with anyone because I'm worried they'll think I've gone mad.  What breaks discipline, motivation, and determination in people like me is not a lack of character, but depression, which becomes our life-long companion.  We know we don't fit in.  We know it from diapers to death.  That fact can sometimes break even the strongest desire or most constant discipline.  

We're not bad kids.

We can be, and often are, deeply moralistic people.    No amount of punishment will resolve our issues.  This one might be the most important.  I've spent my life trying to understand the intricacies of right and wrong.  Morality is not something you ever really figure out.  That man's reach should exceed his grasp; else, what's a heaven for?  Because we are different, we often see things differently and make different decisions from other people.  That might make us seem bad in the eyes of a society that places a high value on conformity.  I would conform if I could.  So would most people like me.  It's not an option, though.  

If you're considering becoming a parent, or a grandparent, or an educator, you will encounter people like me.  We work differently and think differently, which sometimes will be very frustrating and annoying for you.   Sometimes you'll wonder if the extra effort we require is worth it.  We're not enemies, though.  I can tell you this:  we struggle to understand you as much as you struggle to understand us, but if you make the effort, so shall we.  If you make the effort, we will love and remember you our life long.  There are many, some who may even read this, who made the effort for me, and I will remember that until my eyes shut for the final time.   

Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Shofar

 I had lunch today with two men.  They're older than me, and I've been aware of them and their family my whole life.  Listening to their perspective on events of the past was fascinating.  One of the things we talked about was how difficult it is to get people to stay in Mississippi once they become motivated and educated.  

One of them had just this experience.  After leaving Millsaps, Mississippi just wasn't big enough for him, so he moved on, but then, news came that a friend had his house bombed in Jackson.  "I figured I'd better get back to Mississippi," he said.  

In 1967, I was watching a lot of Captain Kangaroo while my mother was trying to figure out why I could say my alphabet but not write it or recognize the letters on flash cards.  My struggles with dyslexia were pretty insignificant compared to what else was going on in Mississippi.  Our own people were turning into monsters to prevent Mississippi from evolving.  In 1967, men in Mississippi, motivated by the anti-Semitic rhetoric of a political campaign, made bombs to destroy a synagog and a home, hoping to intimidate Jackson Jews into staying out of our cultural struggles and moving away if they could.

"I figured I'd better get back to Mississippi,"  my friend said.  He heard the alarm, and he answered it. His homeland needed him.

Without other means of distance communication, ancient Jews developed a musical instrument whose sound could be heard over long distances.  They made it from a ram's horn and called it a Shofar.  Although mostly ceremonial now, the original purpose of the Shofar was to communicate alarm and call for help.  "Wolves are attacking my sheep!  Alarm!  Alarm!"  "The city is under attack, Alarm!  Blow the Shofar!" Help would come because men afield recognized the call.

A bombing, a murder, a flood, economic distress, broken water systems, these things are all alarms.  "Help us!  The community is in great peril!  Alarm!"  We don't use the Shofar anymore, but the intent is the same if the alarm comes over the news or the internet or however you hear it.  The Shofar is a call to your countrymen, "Come now!  We need you!"

It would be so easy for me to stay in Madison once I'm well again and shop and eat and do all sorts of innocent, unchallenging white people things until I die, except that I'd never have any peace because all I can hear is the Shofar calling from my home.  "We need you!  Come now!  Come NOW!"

I am not yet well, and I'll never be as strong as I once was in some ways, but I'm strong in other ways, and I know what I must do.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Manger

A manger is a table where we lay out food for our animals.

An altar is a table where we lay out food for our god.

If you're a Christian, an altar is where God lays out food for you.

Because we package Christmas for children, we can easily miss some of the more challenging but essential aspects of the Nativity story.  It begins with the Roman oppression of the world by taxation.   In later chapters, Roman taxes and tax collectors would become integral to the Jesus story.  Seventy years after the birth of Christ, Rome burned the temple in Jerusalem and the rest of the city to the ground and dispersed the children of Abraham throughout the world.  The story begins with oppression and ends with the holy family hiding in Egypt to escape the mass infanticide ordered by Harrod the Great in his attempt to destroy the Christ.  That's a lot of negative feelings for a child, so we tend to omit those ideas from the Christmas story.  

I start the Christmas story not with the birth of Jesus but with the birth of Isaac many years before.  To prove his devotion to God, Abraham moves to sacrifice his own son and builds an altar to offer Isaac to the Godhead.  God stops the hand of Abraham and provides him with a perfect ram for sacrifice, setting a new standard between the people and God.  

Today, we think Abraham's actions were horrific, but human sacrifice was common among ancient peoples.  All over the world, there are stories of royal and tribal people offering a non-heir child as a human sacrifice.  Agamemnon provides the sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia, to Artemis so that the she will provide him fair winds on the way to Troy.  By stopping Abraham, God began a new paradigm among his people, who no longer were expected to make a human sacrifice to please their god.   

An altar is a table where people lay out food for their god to eat.  Agamemnon lays out a table where he offers his daughter's blood to the Goddess Artemis to drink.  In return, she forgave Agamemnon and allowed him fair winds.  In Abraham's case, he built a table, an altar, for the lord where the food was to be the meat of his son Isaac, but it ended up being the meat of a ram.

In French, the word "manger" means to eat.  A manger is an archaic term for a table laid out with food for animals to eat.  It is a humble altar dressed so that we sacrifice food for our humble servants: the beasts of the field.  

There is very little in the Bible that isn't a symbol for something else.   In time, we learn that God flips the dynamic between himself and his people, and instead of our offering sacrifices to him, he sacrifices his own son to us.  Laying the newborn Christ child in a manger doesn't just mean that he was born of humble surroundings; it means that God puts his own son on the humblest of all altars and offers him as sacrificial food for us. 

Later, in the Jesus story, Jesus says, "Hoc est corpus meum pro vobis; hoc facite in meam--Take, eat; this is My body."  God reverses the story of Abraham.  We no longer offer our children as food for gods; God offers his child as food for us.  

A manger might begin as the humblest of all altars, fit only for beasts, but the nature of God's offering on it elevates the manger to the greatest of all altars.  On a manger, God offers food for all humanity.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Moral Obligations

This sounds like a confession story, but it's not.  Confession would mean I thought I failed, and I do not.  You can't always have a happy ending for all the characters in a story.  That I could not arrange this isn't an indication that I failed, but it might indicate that I learned something about life.

One of the first things you learn as a Christian is that good deeds can get you killed.  Sympathy means you regret the bad things that happen to people, but empathy means it hurts you too.  The universe tends toward declination and decay, and the only way to counteract that is with sacrifice.  That's a lesson taught me not only by my father in Mississippi but by the Father of us all.  

My father only had one commandment.  "The Lord has been generous to you; it's your moral obligation to be generous with everyone else; otherwise, you waste the blessings you were given."  An obligation to God is pretty serious business.  It wasn't a platitude--it's how he lived his own life.  Being generous with the world around him was one of the reasons it was so difficult to make time with my father.  The rest of the world required some of his time too.  I understood this, so I never resented it.

When I was younger, I didn't understand this lesson in a practical sense.  Everyone I knew was about the same as me.  They had homes and parents and either went to my school or one similar to it.  But, as I grew older, I began to notice differences in people.  The first was a boy down the street, who was very much like me, except that he had nearly crippling juvenile arthritis.  I enjoyed spending time with him, and it didn't make much sense to me that he should have arthritis and I should not.  I tried to be as generous with him as I could because I was grateful for being healthy, but finding ways to be generous when you're eleven can be a challenge, and none of it was making his body any less painful.  That he hurt was hurting me, and I didn't have any idea how to fix that.

I'm quite sure that applying the commandment to be generous in social situations was part of the order, but I sometimes had trouble knowing how to apply it.   Even though I would eventually learn to socialize, one of the reasons I began to write was because one-on-one communications were intimidating to me, an artifact of my stuttering, I suppose, even long after it became difficult to tell I ever stuttered.  Writing allowed me to communicate freely, even though it would be many years before anyone ever saw these communications.  

By thirteen, I'd gotten fairly good at communicating with other boys, but girls were starting to become part of the world, and they terrified me.  It didn't seem fair to introduce a new element like that.  They taught us to read and write and add fractions, but there were no classes on this new phenomenon, just a sixteen-millimeter film on how our bodies were about to get hairy.  

The idea that someone could change how I thought and how I saw the world just by standing there was both fascinating and intimidating.  And then there was my father's commandment.  How was I supposed to be generous with people who could destroy me with a glance?

The romance thing, I decided, could wait.  I would focus instead on getting strong and learning to draw more realistically.  Most of my friends were pairing up, but that seemed very confusing to me, some of them had pretty disastrous results, and I was absolutely unclear about the rules or goals, so I just avoided it.

Within a few years, I did find a girlfriend, though.  My first one.  I probably should say that she found me because I didn't really have much to do with it.  At first, it seemed pretty much like everybody else.  This girlfriend thing was easy.  You talk on the phone a lot, and you touch at every opportunity when no parents are looking.  But then, one night, I found her father lying in a pool of his own blood in the bathroom.   That changed everything.

My father's commandment to be generous hadn't really applied to the concept of girlfriends before, but now it did.  I had a father, but she did not.  The Lord was generous to me; it was my obligation to be generous back.   How to be generous, as much as I wanted to, was complicated, though.  At sixteen, all I really had to give was my time, and so I did as much of it as I could, and I listened a lot, and I acted like I was much stronger than I really was.

Trying to fill the hole left by a missing parent made me less interesting and less entertaining than other boys though, so eventually, I found out I was not the only fox in the hen house.  The feeling of betrayal was tangible and crushing.  She said she did it because she never felt worthy of me, which, I suppose, is also my fault.  After all, the first thing you should do for someone you say you love is to make sure they feel appreciated and worthy.  I asked to be released from my commitment and my obligation to her.  I believed I had done my best, but it wasn't working out, and it was starting to really hurt.  She agreed, which she probably would have done anyway since she already had my replacement lined up.  Being generous was the right thing to do, but it didn't offer the promise of a happy ending for me.

In college, I decided this business of a steady girlfriend was pretty confusing and pretty complicated and something I wasn't very good at, so I avoided it entirely.  If I couldn't complete the story in one or two months, I just didn't engage.  There were a few girls who were satisfied with the two-month dance, and for that, I was grateful.  There was one girl who I managed to stretch out the story for almost a year.  We were rarely ever sober together, though, which might explain that.  She eventually transferred to Mississippi State to sober up and meet a much nicer boy.   I gave her an opal pendant to say goodbye.  So long, friend.  Thanks for all the fish.

The obligation to be generous continued, though, only without the more complicated, long-term commitment.  I became known as someone who would listen to anyone who was hurt, which I always thought was odd because I thought everyone did that.  Those were really very pleasant days.  I was very rarely ever really hurt, but I was lonely sometimes.   There's never really been a time when I wasn't lonely.  Most of me is locked up inside of me, and I don't suppose that will ever change.  Empathy costs nothing when all you have to do is listen, and so I did.

After college, I met a very tiny girl who leaned into my chest one night and said her head hurt, putting a noose around my heart for almost two years.  I was devoted to her, but she was devoted to someone else, and he was devoted to yet another person, so our sad love quadrangle limped along until it collapsed in on itself.  No harm, no foul; everybody went home without a penalty, at least on my behalf.

After that, things started going very wrong.  Being out of college and into the make-or-break real world changed everything.  Many of my friends were making forever kind of relationships, but I was struggling to find someone I wanted to take with me to the movies more than a few times in a row.  

Another more complicated element appeared.  I had a stable and productive relationship with my parents.  I had a stable job, and my income exceeded my expenses, and my health was pretty good.  None of this would matter, except that several of the girls I met, even ones I had known before, couldn't say the same.   My life wasn't exciting or glorious by any means, but it was stable, and theirs was not, and I had the commitment to be generous with people who were not given the things I had been given.  Setting me up for a situation where I had to decide whether or not to get mixed up in their problems.  My life was fairly easy, and theirs was not, which wasn't at all fair.  Surely they deserved the same sort of life I had.

What happened next was complicated and confusing.   There were times when I would meet someone and say to myself, "This person is interesting and attractive.  I would like to know more about her."  So, I would make a few engagements with them to get to know them, and as I was learning about them and becoming mildly attached to them, I would find out that their lives hadn't been going so well since college.  Their jobs were unstable or gone, and their relationships with their family were unstable; one I learned had a father who was recently sent to federal prison, leaving the family in a terrible spot.  

These stories triggered my commitment to be generous and my life-long desire to be useful and helpful.  Ultimately, the question would come up, "can you help me?"  That put me in a bit of a spot.  My intention was to find someone to go to the movies with, not get entangled in someone's struggle for existence, but my intentions wouldn't change anything.  Neither would my walking away without helping.

"Well yeah," was my answer, "but it'd be complicated and expensive."  Having someone you already think is pretty say they needed you can be a powerful inducement.  Helping a little made me a little more committed to them, which led me to help a little bit more, which led to more commitment, and pretty soon, the briars of their life's entanglement had me pretty firmly trapped as well.  I let the thorns dig into my skin rather than into theirs because the Lord had been more generous with me.

For their part, they were equally committed to solving the problems of their life, so at that level, it looked like we were working together.  But, from another perspective, they weren't committed to me at all, other than as a benefactor, so very soon, it became clear that I was becoming more and more committed to someone who, at best, would walk away from me once their problems were resolved because they had no more use for me, which ultimately is what happened.  

The power dynamic in a situation like this is very uncomfortable.  I'm not longer a friend or a companion but more like an unwilling parent, taking the place of a parent who, for some reason, wasn't in the picture anymore.  I wanted someone who enjoyed being with me, not somebody who felt obligated to me, yet if I withdrew my support for whatever they were going through, I had no idea if their lives would work their way back on track.  One of them didn't get their life back on track, which made everyone I would meet afterward much more complicated.  I worried about what would happen to them if I turned away. Would that make me responsible for what happened next?  

Because I had a steady income and a stable network of relationships in my life, I felt obligated to stay in this lopsided partnership until their lives were stable again.  Otherwise, I'd be disrespecting the things I've been given.  This was not a comfortable situation and not at all what I was looking for.  I was stuck, and finding a way out was always complicated.

Eventually, it got to the point where I had to ask that they allow me to extricate myself from the situation.  That became complicated because it meant they would have to find ways to support themselves without my help, and at least two of them had grown to believe that I was obligated to support them forever if need be.  I'm not sure why.  

Ultimately I would twice have to get lawyers to help untangle me.  They set up payment plans so I could be reimbursed for the sometimes considerable sums I'd loaned these women I met who said they needed me.  One almost immediately found another guy to pay off her debt to me.  I felt sorry for that guy.  I have no idea how many times she repeated that pattern.  Another made steady payments for almost a year.  She had several more years to go before paying it all off, but I asked her one night if she was even sorry for what happened.  Had she ever thought about what lying about her feelings had done to me?  She began to cry, and I could see she felt maybe not sympathy for me but shame for what she'd done, so I told her to forget the rest of the payments.  I really just wanted some acknowledgment of what I'd gone through for her sake.  I didn't need the money back, and she wasn't ever going to do anything to make it a better memory for me.  I'm not sure how she could.  

This pattern repeated itself enough for me to think that's all there was for me.  I was beginning to wonder why I couldn't find someone who just wanted to hang out and spend time together.  It began to make me very suspicious of people.  When I would meet somebody new, I'd wonder, "what is it you really want from me?"  and avoid their eyes.  I'm sure this became annoying to everyone around me.  I didn't mean to be suspicious and untrusting, but I was, and I'm sure for some, it was kind of offensive when I began trying to figure out what was wrong with their lives that might become a problem for me later, especially when there wasn't really anything wrong with their lives.  I'd begun to expect these tragedies everywhere I looked, which just wasn't how the world really worked.  Some people had no need of anything I could do at all, and I'm sure the whole concept seemed curious to them.

Ultimately, I gave up on the idea of finding a companion.  It was just too complicated, and I didn't want to set my foot into another trap.  I'd buried myself in my ideas before, which seemed like the most logical thing to do then.  These and other wounds made me much less willing to be a part of that world, and I began to put on weight because I didn't really care anymore.  The darkness that one day became the predominant climate of my world began forming around the edges. 

For four years, I completely gave up.  "Lots of people live their whole lives without significant relationships," I thought.  About this time, I met someone who, for the life of me, seemed to just enjoy spending time with me.  Her life, as far as I could tell, was really very stable, and we got along on just about every subject.  I couldn't discern any part of her that might indicate that she needed anything but companionship.  She was eight years younger than me, but we adapted pretty well to that, and you couldn't tell that much difference.  

Despite the intensity of our relationship, I had overlooked something very important.  She had not menstruated since three weeks before our first kiss.  She was, in fact, quite pregnant, and her unseen and unspoken purpose in being with me was to hide that fact from herself and carry on as if he life wasn't about to irrevocably change.  This deception continued until even her stretchiest clothes wouldn't fit anymore, and we both had to face up to the truth.

I'd taken a pretty serious blow, and even though I very much wanted to escape, the story involved yet another life now, and I didn't think it would be right for me to abandon them both, so I agreed to stay at least until the baby's future was secured.  One day, she said that the child's father decided he wanted to be a father, and she released me from all promises and commitments.  They would eventually marry and had a very happy life together.  The experience left a hole in me that took quite a while to heal.  The darkness around the edges of my life gathered strength.  

I would eventually marry, and I'm still alive while I write this, so obviously, it's not the ultimate end of the story, but it's the end for now.   I would eventually contact nearly all these women, either by phone or by writing, and say that I forgave them and that I had no hard feelings.  They owed me nothing, only to have a good life.  They were doing the best they could to get themselves out of a bad situation, and I was doing the best I could to help them; that nobody was particularly looking out for me was regrettable but ultimately not as important as getting their lives into a more stable situation than where I found them.   The Lord blessed me in so many ways, but that doesn't mean I will have everything or be happy. 

There was a price to pay for all of this, and I would pay it, but that's a story for another day. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

The Christmas Song

 I've learned that the heart of us is not the body but the mind.  I've also learned that the mind of us can sometimes become trapped inside itself.  Sometimes it comes back out one day, like mine did, but sometimes the mind stays inside itself until there's nothing left.

I was genuinely touched when St. Catherine's Village announced that their new memory care unit would be named for my father.  Sometimes I feel like St. Dominics and St. Catherine's are my half-siblings because my father spent so much time trying to develop them.  I didn't really know what Alzheimer's was then.  I hadn't known anyone who had it yet, but that would change.  I didn't know how many people who I knew to be brilliant before their lives at St. Catherine's and become residents of Campbell Cove.  I didn't know how many people I loved would eventually have their own mind betray them and leave them, and ultimately take life away from them.

On the hall where I'm rehabilitating my stubborn leg, a woman came today to lead the residents in Christmas carols.  This is the seventh time this year someone has tried to lead me in Christmas carols, so I snuck out.  Sometimes being here makes me very sad.  None of these people deserve what's happening to them.  For the most part, they make the best of it and rarely complain.  It's hard for me, though, because some of them I knew when they were strong and brilliant and holding up the pillars of Mississippi, healing patients, creating and practicing laws, building businesses, and more.  On the walls is the art of women who I knew to be brilliant and formidable and who spent their last breaths here.

When it was over, I made an appearance to pretend like I'd been there all along.  I don't think anyone was fooled.  I heard the woman who led the activity speaking to someone else about how she was organizing some residents over at Campbell Cove for their Christmas performance, and her lead singer was a woman with extensive operatic training who was set to do three solos but couldn't because she's lost her glasses.  

There's something in the way she said it that sounded very familiar to me.  There are only so many people in Jackson with extensive operatic training who would be a candidate for a memory-care unit.

"What's her name?"  I asked.  "The woman who lost her glasses?"

I can't give you the names of other residents here, but it was the woman I was thinking it must be.  Her husband was my dear friend and someone I had a great deal in common with.  We shared a love of the arts, of our fraternity, and we both had familial connections to a foundational utility company in Mississippi.  His wife shared these interests and more, and together they spent their lives trying to elevate the cultural opportunities in Jackson and Mississippi.

I wasn't aware that she was in need of the kind of help a memory care unit provided.  She was, when I knew her, a uniquely brilliant person.  Learning this, I felt a breath of melancholy flow over me.  "At least her music is still with her." I thought.

"I use simple magnification glasses when I read.  They're very cheap, so I buy them in quantity because I lose them too.  Do you think this would help your friend when she sings?"  I asked and returned to my room to fetch one of my extra pairs.

"Take these to your friend.  I hope they help her read the music.  There's no need to return them.  I have many.  Please tell her that I love her and I think of her and her husband often.  My name is Boyd Campbell, and I will do my very best to attend the performance."  

There are a number of structures named for my family.  It's honestly more than a bit embarrassing when I'm inside one of them.  It's just another reminder of how difficult it's been to do anything people might know me for more than they know of my uncle or father, or mother.  

I have no delusions about Alzheimer's and what it does to people.  I know this could be one of the last performances for this brilliant and talented woman.  It will be almost unbearably sad for me to be in the building named for my father listening to this performance, but it will be almost unbearably beautiful as well, not just because of how well she sings but because of the many golden threads that extend from that moment, connecting me to my past and the people I love and lost.

That's what Christmas is about, isn't it? All the gossamer threads and breezes between ourselves and our past and our lives and our loves?  I haven't celebrated Christmas in a long time because I felt like the weight of memory was killing me, sort of like how the loss of memory sometimes kills brilliant people.  This Christmas is different, though.  The weight of memory is lifting me.  If this woman can use my spare pair of glasses to help her give one of her last performances, then that might be the best Christmas gift I've ever given to myself.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2022


When I was at Millsaps, one of my most favorite people was a guy named Jerry Jeff Berry.  An unusually brilliant guy; he had one of the most unique perspectives I've ever known.

As a teenager, he once tried to climb to the top of Kentucky Fried Chicken on North State Street because he wanted to touch the giant bucket on top--an impulse I completely understood.  Like many things he and I climbed in our youth, that roof wasn't meant for climbing, and he fell off, resulting in a coma that lasted for several weeks.  When people asked him what it was like being in a coma, he said: 

"One day, you'll open this eye.  The next day, you'll open this other eye.  The whole time, you're never really aware if you're aware."

I thought that's such a perfect description of my own life, of my perspective on life:  I'm never really aware if I'm aware.  

Many years later now, I don't know if that condition ever really changed.  At least now I'm aware that I'm not really sure if I'm aware.  

He had a pretty remarkable career after Millsaps, which included, for a short while, selling mattresses.  I thought, for a guy who questioned reality after falling off Kentucky Fried Chicken, providing people with something soft to land on must seem like such an utter act of kindness and wisdom.  

"Take this, my friend; you'll never know when you'll need it."

Monday, December 12, 2022

The Branches of God

People sit in the same spot on the same pew they first chose fifty years ago.  It's been some time since this was the kind of church anyone attended to be fashionable or impress anyone.  We sit between the governor's mansion and the state capitol, and that's the kind of place we have in the history of Mississippi, never the seat of power, but close enough to it to have an influence, a reminder to those who do make the law to be just, and remember the example of the Christ.  The pastor who would have baptized me resigned his post rather than bar the door to people who were not white.  Another pastor became a Christian when he met Nelson Mandella while they were both in prison.  Pastors leave our church to become bishops and teachers.

In her pews, I have sat behind governors, lieutenant governors, senators, congressmen, lawyers, doctors, and professors of every sort, the rich, the poor, indigent, indulgent, athletes, old, young, hale, the infirmed (both mentally and physically), infants, immigrants, centenarians, artists, actors, musicians, mentors, companions, fellow travelers, friends, lovers.

They practice words they've said ten thousand times before:
     Praise God, from whom all blessings flow
     praise him all creatures here below

Look not with your eyes but with your heart at the people in the pews, and you'll see green tendrils grow from their fingers and their feet and their mouths and their ears, through the pews reaching out and to and through each other, some branches decades old, some the bright green shoots of youth, a mat, a net, a mesh, holding each to the other, through the years, through their lives, even when they're absent for many years like I was.  They become a broad, ancient, wide-reaching tree in the garden of God.

The branches and tendrils reach out from each other through the windows and doors, out into the city and countryside, taking root in the homeless and the hungry, the young and the old, the harried and the orphan, the forlorn and the forgotten.  They reach out to places of music and art, philosophy and discourse, broadening the reach and scope and influence of this old tree, seeking any human soul it can touch, and heal, and improve.

A church isn't a thing you sit in; it's the people you sit with.  It's a place people go to connect together, making themselves stronger and extending their reach out into the world.  You can't see them, but the branches of God are all around you, reaching for you in your greatest despair or proudest victory.  Sit very still, close your eyes, and feel the roots, the tendrils, and the branches reach out from you to the souls around you.  You are the branches of God.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

My Life In Colors: A New Palette

I'd rather buy paints than candy.  It makes me happy.  Artists paints are similar to candy.  Bright colors, creative wrappers, and arcane and mysterious manufacturing processes fans whisper about.

A palette is a physical object.  A board or a slate, often depicted with a thumb hole in one end, upon which an artist piles their colors, waiting for a brush.  Canvas, Paint, Brush: that is art, it comes in many forms.  

Artists use the physical palette in one form or another, but they use the word to describe the collection of colors used to create a particular project.  Once you expand the definition from "canvas" to "project," then you start incorporating things like interior design, lighting design, stage and beauty makeup, fashion, and more.  Since I'm pretending to be an artist, that's the definition I'm going to use.  Since I've always pretended to be an artist--of palettes, I've had many.

Before we knew what wavelengths were, or prisms or rods or cones, some ancient person much smarter than I invented the color wheel using camel urine, berry juice, and mud.  They recognized that with three colors: red, blue, and green, you can create every other color.  In theory, that's all you need, three hues, plus white and black, to create value among the hues.  Artists laugh at this.  Nobody has just five colors.  There are hundreds of light gels and thousands, tens of thousands of paints and pigments and dyes.  The longer you create art, the more of these you accumulate.

My very first palette was a set of eight Prang primary pressed crayons.  Primary crayons are the ones as thick as your daddy's finger, in theory, easier for little ones to manipulate.  My mother asked my own daddy to bring home a case from his job at Mississippi School Supply Company, so she could donate them to my church's Sunday school.  She gave a pack to me and a pack to my sister before putting the rest away for church.  

An eight-color pack of crayons had three primary colors, three secondary colors that result from mixing the three primary colors, plus white and black.  In theory, all you ever needed.  Pressed crayons were thicker and harder than the molded crayons you got from Crayola.  They lasted longer and, used properly, could make bolder colors.  My sister, who would grow to be much more brilliant than I, mostly chewed her crayons.  I guess it was a bit early to start her with crayons.  Looks like candy--must taste like candy.  Her deductive reasoning was in order, but at two, she lacked life experience.

I was beyond happy.  I could now do what my brother did, and my brother, he created magic with his fingers, and he did it all the time.  That story ultimately didn't have a happy ending, but it had an immaculately beautiful beginning.

My next palette was a birthday present.  A pack of sixty-four Crayola crayons in a box with a sharpener.  The crayons were smaller than the ones I had before, but, oh, the colors!  Daddy regularly brought home packs of manilla art paper from work.  We needed it.

My next palette came the year I graduated from Mrs. Nelson's kindergarten to Casey Elementary School.  I didn't know it, but this was also the year that the Justice Dept. took control of Jackson Public Schools to force them to integrate and integrate immediately.  That's not a happy part of the story.  Jackson schools split in two, public and private, which meant the public schools would be slowly starved of funds that went to the private schools.  Our schools split apart and never reconciled.  I'd like to mend that one day.  If I could discover how.

At Casey, I received an eight-pack of Prang eight-ounce real tempera paints.  These also came from Mississippi School Supply, but this time they were paid for.  Our top salesman Doby Bartling sold to Jackson Public School, and our entire class got one.  Our teacher had just had a baby, so she went to the bathroom a lot.  On the fourth day of school, when the teacher was out, Francis Wilson broke out her pack of Prang paints and began painting at her desk.  Everybody said she'd get in trouble, but she didn't.  Mrs. Keys just said, "it's not time for that, honey." and put them away.  

At Casey, it was discovered that there was something wrong with how I read.  They were also forced by the men in Washington to change our teachers constantly and nearly double our enrolment so students could be bussed in.  Busses that were met by protesters with signs I didn't understand.  Those are other threads for other stories, though.

My next palette was a ten-pack of Testors model enamel paints.  They came in a box with possibly the worst paintbrush I've ever owned and included three primary colors and three secondary colors, white and black, but now adding silver and gold.  Their target was not manilla art paper but Aurora movie monster model kits.  Over the years, I accumulated more enamel paints for models than kisses from pretty girls.  I'm not saying the two are related, but they probably are.

My next palette stemmed from the monster model kits but went in a very different direction.  From the back of Dick Smith's "Monster Maker Handbook," I ordered sticks of paramount grease paint. If you've never used grease paint, they are precisely that: grease with colors mixed in.  I don't recommend it. Modern theatrical makeup is formulated completely differently.  My plan was to become the next Lon Chaney.  That job ultimately went to Rick Baker.  Baker had a twelve-year head start on me, making the entire contest completely unfair.  When it comes to two-dimensional and three-dimensional art, there's nothing Rick Baker cannot do.  I find that I can distinguish between his work, Tom Savini's, StanWinston's, William Tuttle's, and Dick Smith's, before seeing the end credits roll on the movie.  

Not long after this, Mother decided it would be ok to try and develop my artistic abilities.  Every girl I knew was forced to take piano from one little housewife or another, so I suppose she thought that painting was acceptable for me under the same conditions.  In those days painting, in one form or another, was very fashionable among Jackson housewives, producing many remarkable artists far better than me.   

For my first real art teacher, Mother chose not only a popular housewife but the daughter of my grandfather's best friend.  Alice O'ferall Riley taught oil painting in a frame and art shop in Fondren, where Fondren Public is now.  There she gave me a list of eight Grumbacher oil paints and three brushes, which I could charge to my dad at the store.  In those days, you could charge almost anything to my dad at any store, a privilege I primarily used to buy hardware of all sorts that my father never had use for from Montgomery, nutritional supplements and vitamins from Beemon, and the occasional Izod shirt from Billy Neville.  Choosing a two-generational family friend as my first art teacher was the very first of very few signs that my parents might approve of my life as a pretend artist, as long as I didn't take it too seriously.

For Christmas, I began asking Santa for paintings from my mother's friends and visits to their studios.  From this, I collected paintings from Jackie Meena, Edwina Goodman, Yvette Sturgis, Sudi Manning, and more.  In this period, I also wrangled a few visits to the studio of sculptor Katherine Speed but never collected any of her works.  They were too big.

In college, my art career peaked for a while.  Lucy Millsaps taught me acrylics, which worked similarly to oils but were somewhat easier to use and considerably less expensive.  She also taught me drawing with pencils and inks.  Although the school taught figure drawing, Lucy suggested I take from BeBe Wolfe, who taught it after hours using live, full-on nekkid models.  Rowan Taylor sat on the art horse next to mine.  I guess he decided to add drawing to the list of the other million things he could do better than me.  I made it almost all the way through the course before we used a model who I knew socially.  That was awkward.  She was pretty, but weird.

After college, I decided to put art away and be serious about life for a while and go to work for my Dad.  That wasn't such a great decision.  If I had kept the art and tried to do both, it might have gone better, but that's water under the bridge.

After my father died, I returned to Millsaps, looking for something I needed that needed me in return.  There I found my new teacher: Brent Lefavor.  Brent taught ground I'd already covered, like color theory and makeup, but he also introduced me to the world of painting with light.  That's not only a whole new palette but an entirely new way of thinking about color.  I'd learned to make art with paint and printing and now light itself!  That made me very happy.  Like Lucy, Brent taught me something more important than the art itself.  They taught me to live as an artist.  How to deal with this torrent inside yourself that made you want to be an artist. 

The happiness didn't last for reasons that are really complicated, but it ended with me going into a cave and staying there for many years.  No art, no friends, no life, no light.  

I think what I learned in those days was that, for an artist, living without art can break you.  Break you into little pieces that don't know each other.  Fortunately, my pieces did find each other again and pulled themselves back together again, like some sort of reverse hydra, 

Living in the world of creation again, I'd been drawing again and outlandishly, letting the world see my writing for a few months when I saw a sign on the wall.

"Watercolor lessons--1:00--Activity Room"

I'd tried watercolor before, but I didn't like it.  It didn't like me, rather.  Watercolor painting doesn't behave like other forms of painting.  It doesn't behave at all.  You don't really paint with wet-on-wet watercolors; you negotiate with them.  Still, nearly every painting housewife I knew worked in watercolor.  Jackie Meena painted enormous ones across the street from my childhood home.  I'd watched Wyatt Watters paint several times.  He paints in public like it's nobody's business.  I'm not sure how he does it.  More importantly, every morning, I passed by three Edwina Goodman paintings, paintings she made while her mind and her body were slipping away from her, paintings I would have been happy with at the height of my mental and physical abilities.  "What can it hurt to try?"  I thought.

Having not painted for real in almost twenty years, having a brush in my hand was incredibly energizing.  These were my friends.  They remembered me.  I've already posted a copy of that first painting.  I'll post it again.  Looking at it now, there are twenty things I think I could have done better, but doing it made me very happy.  

Maybe I shouldn't have been afraid of watercolor all those years.  Maybe I had to be ready for the experience.  After thinking about it for a while, I decided I wanted to do this for real.  That meant shopping.  

First, I'll need the actual physical palette.  For watercolor, that means something either nylon or vinyl with divots around the edge, which watercolorists call "wells," where you squeeze butterbean-sized portions of paint, hopefully in some sort of order.  The paint comes out of the tube a thick cream, but it will dry pretty rigidly.  It doesn't matter if it dries because you wet your brush to activate it anyway. 

As for the paints themselves, there are dozens of brands of watercolor paints, including three companies I used to represent at Mississippi School Supply.  I wanted something a step above student grade but a step down from professional.  Professional paints can be rather expensive, and at the end of the day, I'm just a beginner in this medium.  I decided to go with Winsor Newton, one of the oldest, most respected manufacturers of paint, without being the most expensive.

Building my starting palette, I'm falling back on the color wheel taught to me so many times, most recently by my beloved Brent Lefavor.  I thought about ordering just three colors and seeing if I really could make every color from them.  I slept on that for a couple of days, but ultimately decided that would be showing off, making me a jerk, and denying me all those delicious tubes of candy-colored paint.   

There is such a thing as "true" primary colors, as measured by their wavelengths using a special kind of Spectrometer.  Pigments don't really work that way, though.  Pigments use either natural or artificial chemical sources (some of the natural ones are bizarre) mixed with a binder they approximate "true" colors.  Winsor and Newton makes three grades of watercolor, the professional line, the student line, and the hobby line, they call "Cotman," which I'm using.  According to Winsor and Newton, their best approximation of the primary colors is 346 Lemon Yellow, 660 Ultramarine Blue, and 502 Permanent Rose.  There's also something called a six-color system, but let's stick with the basics for right now.  

Winsor & Newton doesn't really suggest secondary colors, and they don't make really simple, "green, violet, and orange," so I had to look around at other sources.  Ultimately I chose Viridian Green 696, Mauve 398, and Yellow Ochre 744.  All of these can be made warmer or cooler, mixed with a primary color, and lighter or darker using lamp black 337 or Chinese white 150.  

There is no such thing as a perfect starter palette.  I'm not terrible at mixing colors, so I should be able to make anything work.  Brent made us match color swatches using whatever was in the paint cabinet before, so I figure I can do this.  This, by no means, is the end of my paint shopping.  In a year, I probably will have added at least two or three times as many tubes, not to mention as many masks and friskets.  This is a new adventure but a very familiar one.  My life is in color again.  

Ancient History My Youth

I've read fifteen, maybe twenty books about the civil rights movement, particularly when it comes to what happened in Mississippi.  A really disturbing thing happens when I do this: these books, they talk about people I've met, people I know, and sometimes people I know or knew really well.  Events happen within organizations, and sometimes physical places I know, sometimes really well.  This wasn't ancient history.  This was my youth.  MY youth.

When I go to Millsaps now, I see kids wandering around thinking about each other, or games, or their books, or their supper, and I think, "do you know what went on here?  Do you KNOW?"

Every single book talks about Millsaps and Tougaloo.  Every single one.  More than Ole Miss, most of them.  They almost never mention State or Southern or Belhaven, but always Millsaps, and more often than not Galloway.

I'd like to say that my school and my church were always on the side of right and good and love, but they weren't.  They resisted.  They sought the moderate path.  I can say that both broached the color barrier considerably earlier than their neighbors.  I don't mean breached, either.  They broached it; they pierced this great vessel of hate and let gravity and time widen the orifice, every moment a pain to some and a celebration to others.

Whenever racial matters came up, dad would wince a little in pain.  No matter what he chose, no matter what he did, someone was going to make a hateful phone call to him.  Someone was going to apply pressure on him to do what they wanted and threaten to do something to hurt the school.  Both sides.  To other people, I'm sure it looked like his face never changed, but I could see it; my mother could, as did my brother, my sister, Rowan, Deaton, and Wingate.  There were signs.  Dad could never be a civil rights hero.  He had to be moderate.  He had to maybe not please both sides but appease them.  The moderate path is not a heroic one, not outwardly,  but inwardly; you're facing pressures and assaults from all sides that have to be maintained without overtly offending anyone.

George was just the opposite.  He was still moderate but never stoic.  He was bombastic, always.  He said, and I heard him say it, "We follow every law, every rule, every goddamn regulation with regards to race."  What he didn't say, but was very clear by his actions, was, "BUT, we will deal with almost anything else.  We will not draw attention to Millsaps with this kind of strife."  In his mind, he was protecting us.  To many, that made him an asshole, a cultural fascist, but I think he was ok with that.  In his mind, he was putting his body between the school and what might hurt it.  He was strong enough to take the heat himself.   

What George knew, what I've come to understand, is that in issues of cultural evolution, the majority never see those who seek change as heroes; at the moment, they're the villains, and only through the lens of history do they become heroes.  In the moment, you don't want to be the guy who resists change either.  You might be a hero in the moment, but history will paint you a villain.  Consider Ross Barnett.  He was a hero in the moment, but what is he now?

George was a little guy, but he was strong, and when he hunkered down, nothing would move him.  Not even my dad.  That's the moderate path, though.  You're a stone in the stream.  You let the water flow over and past you, but you resist it, slowing its force, protecting the weaker creatures living in the lee side of your life.  

I'd love to say that George and my dad were firebrands for social justice in the civil rights movement.  I'd love to say they were revolutionaries because history makes heroes of revolutionaries.  That's not the case, though.  In that moment, in that day, they had to protect what was and let the waters of revolution and change flow around them to their destination.

I'm proud of the place Millsaps and Galloway hold in the history of Mississippi and the revolution of the civil rights movement.  It wasn't a straightforward path, though.  There were times when we resisted and times when we let the water flow through, and we were always among the first to reach the goal of change but always criticized for not being THE first, although we sometimes were.

Traditionalists hate moderates, but sometimes revolutionaries hate them even more.  They want to burn down the world and rebuild it with their philosophy, but that's not always the best path.  There are people living in the homes revolutionaries want to burn, and it's the moderates who shelter them while the world changes.  You don't become a hero.  Nobody builds statues to moderates, but you serve the future and the past and shelter the present, which is a much more difficult task.

Conservatives build dams.  Revolutionaries plow deep channels to let the water charge past with destructive force.  Moderates build meanders and baffles in the stream to stop the flood but let the water pass by us into the sea.  Conservatives hate us.  Revolutionaries hate us. But the water gets to where it needs to go with as little damage as possible.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

A Letter To The Christians

 This is a letter to the Christians.

Some of you believe and you have been told that every word in the bible comes from God and should be followed exactly as they are written.  I cannot, and would not try to sway you from this practice, but I will say to you, stop and reconsider three times before you use any of the words in the bible to judge another person because this is what killed Jesus.

Men, who, just like you, only wanted to love and serve God and do what was good and right, used the words of Moses to persecute and prosecute and ultimately to crucify Jesus, the very same words you are using to judge people now.

Jesus said to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Judge others as you would have them judge you.  Judge not, lest you be judged.  These are also words in the bible.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us that God reserves the right of vengeance for himself.  It is not for us to do.  

I say to you, in every aggressive thing, take as much caution as you can possibly muster, except love.  In love, be as aggressive and, energetic and as unfettered as you can possibly be.

The Temple Door

 Sometimes I feel like I'm becoming a mad priest, hammering my fists on the locked temple door.  

"The people are suffering!" I shout.  But the door remains barred.  The sane priests hide from me.

Insecurity and anxiety, and doubt is making us turn into the very thing we feared, and our ancestors fought against.  I don't know how to mend this.  I don't know how to help the people.  So, I'm just going to continue to pound my fists on the locked door of the temple until something happens.  I've broken through doors before.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Setting Goals

Sometimes, when I set goals, I already know how I'm going to accomplish them.  All that's left is getting my head in the game and doing it.  Restoring my body is an example.  I already know everything there is to know about building muscle; I just have to do the work and accomplish it.

Other times, I set goals, and I have no idea how I will accomplish them.  Those are the important ones.  

"Take the ring to Amon Amarth, Frodo."

Saying I don't know how a goal will be accomplished doesn't mean it won't get done.  It means I don't know how it will get done...yet.

With that in mind, here are my goals for the next twenty years of my life:

I want to add three hundred or four hundred students to the enrollment at Millsaps.  It took twenty years to lose them; we should be able to get them back in twenty.  I owe this to my father, my grandfather, my uncles, my aunts, my cousins, my sister, my brother, my nephew, my wife, my step-child, my father-in-law, To Lance, Brent, Catherine, TW, Jack, Rowan, George, John, Mark, Andrew, Susan, Tommy, Bavender, Joe-Lee, Bill, Lucy, Floy, Suzanne, and especially to Robert Wingate.  

If I'm alive, this will happen!

And probably if I'm not.

My other goal, a more difficult one, I want to make Mississippi, and especially Jackson, a place where young people want to live.  Where they find the most and best opportunities for them.  I'm tired of seeing our best move away forever.  I feel like this might be difficult, but not impossible.  Hell, Rudy Giuliani restored New York, and he's apparently insane.  Surely it can happen here.

My last goal, and this one is just for me; I want to write something people will read long after I'm dead.  I want something that people can hold in their hand and say, "this is what Boyd did with his life."  

I'm planting my flag here.  These things will happen, or I will die trying to make them happen.  I have friends and fellow travelers who will help me along the way.  On these things, I feel like my heart is pure and my aim is true.  That should help.

encomio magus

Six a.m.  I smell community coffee and the Krylon fixative I sprayed on some drawings I made last week.  It's an old smell, a familiar smell, the smell of a world I left long ago.  My oldest friends live here.  Gojira, the elephants, the whales, the dragons, MY dragons...have you ever heard of Kong?  The world I was living in burned to the ground, and this was underneath.  That was a dirty trick.  My friends laugh at me, as friends do.

I was born into two families.  The more brilliant Millsaps family, and my blood family, wrapped around the Millsaps family like a vine on an ancient tree for generations into the dusty past.  Yesterday, a meeting was called of the old guard, the wizards and masters, to eulogize one of their own: Richard Freis.  

As an undergraduate, I never took a class under Richard Freis.  I wanted to, but I'll be honest with you, he frightened me.  He wrote and read in several languages.  He spoke of subjects I barely knew existed.  He had a devoted following of kids who I knew were far more brilliant than I.  Keeping up with him would have been like trying to race a giraffe.  His one stride was thirty of mine.  He was Gandalf, and I wasn't even Frodo or Samwise; I was Merry Brandybuck, the drunk hobbit who spent an entire book talking to trees.  Most of all, Richard lived in a world of books, a world I loved but feared, where I used an old cardboard bookmark to hide the line below as I read, so my dyslexia wouldn't confuse the words. 

When I returned to Millsaps with a little more confidence, his health had forced him into early retirement.   There were courses of his that I knew I wanted to take, but it wasn't to be.  His queen consort Catherine was still there, so I could at least see that world, even if I could never enter it.  His presence was still at Millsaps, though.  It hung in the air.  It's there now.  Freshmen taking the current version of the Heritage program step through the shrubs and trees he planted.

Richard's family is brilliant, strong, and resilient.  The boys resemble the father, especially now they're more than grown.  Three generations sat for their father's eulogy.  The smallest charmed everyone.  A son's eulogy for his father is a brutal but beautiful thing.

Speaking for Millsaps were two of the middle generation of wizards, my generation.  

I took Milton from Greg Miller. Then, as now, he impressed the crap out of me.  I wanted so very much to do well in the course, but thumbing through the book and waiting for the first day of class to start, I knew I'd never be able to keep up.  My reading problems would make sure of that.  Like a tortoise, I finished the syllabus, every word of it.  I did the work because it was important to me, but it was finished long after the course ended, so my grade reflected that.  A lot of my grades did.  Ironically, a few years later, someone would invent the current generation of electronic reading devices, which I can use to read almost at the same speed as a normal person.  

Gregg's adventures took him away from Millsaps, but he kept up his friendship and collaboration with Richard and Catherine.  Together, they wrote and published Richard's last book, George Herbert Journal, which sits behind me on my work table.  It's printed in traditional fashion with alarmingly small print, but I will finish it.  Just don't ask me when.  Greg couldn't attend, but his remarks were sent as a letter, probably delivered by raven or owl, and read aloud at. St. Peter's by a friend.

Next to speak was Mary Woodward, one of the more brilliant kids I spoke of who orbited Richard when I was young.  Her father was my close counselor, and her brothers were my dear, dear friends.  Mary's career since Millsaps fascinates me as she plows the deeper mysteries of our faith and travels freely in waters I can only imagine.  She became what I would have wanted to be if my eyes were more normal.  She spoke of words and ideas and volumes, almost unknowable to modern men.  She spoke of concepts and precepts she and Richard navigated freely, but I struggled to keep in sight.  The language of wizards saying farewell to one of their own.  

Catherine has promised to publish their remarks online.  I hope she does; I'd like to study them further.  After the service, she gave us all copies of Richard's last book.  I've never been to a funeral where I came home with gifts before.

After the service, I sat with my own master and dearest friend Brent Lefavor and the new master Sam Sparks, a reminder that the circle continues.  Their presence usually means I'm in the right place.

It was a convention of wizards.  George Bey, Steve Smith, the dueling Cokers, James E. Bowley, Anne McElvaine, and Bob, appropriately, had a class.  What I understand is one of his last.  There are some brilliant people in his department now, but it's gonna be hard to imagine a Millsaps without Bob McElvaine.  I see TW Lewis everywhere I go.  I saw him there too.  Of the old wizards, he's the most active and, for me, the dearest.  I'm sure I'm forgetting someone.  Please don't be offended.  

Besides Richard's family and Millsaps faculty, there were two women who mean a great deal to me, who I hadn't seen in some time.  If you don't know of Jeanne Luckett, you should.  She's one of the most remarkable women I've ever known and one of the most influential Mississippians in this and the previous century.  She created many of the memes you see today, a word I use in the actual academic sense, not the more colloquial one.  Jeanne's career intersected with mine in several spots, and before that, my adolescence and childhood.  She was a welcome sight.

Just when I was beginning to think I was the only mere mortal in attendance, Lauri Stamm tapped me on the shoulder.  She has a married name; I'll think of it in a minute.  Lauri reminded me that not only had my life and hers and her brother's intersected at several points, but her father and my father's as well.  Lauri left her thumbprint on a generation of Mississippians.  I hope they appreciate it.  I reminded her of the Millsaps Alumni function later that night, not precisely knowing she'd be abused by Doug Mann there, but not, not knowing it.  Like Doug and Brent, the sight of any Stamm lets me know I'm in the right place.

After the Alumni party, I got back to my rehabilitation facility, approaching nine o'clock.  My ventures into the dark hours are getting bolder.

"Do you want your medicine, Mr. Campbell."

"yes, please."

"Where'd you go all night?"

"A party with friends.  Before that, I helped bury a wizard."

"Bury a wizard?  How do you do that?"

"Very well, I think.  Very well.  It was a beautiful service.  Does the world feel different to you?"

Kirstie Alley

I seriously thought Kirstie Alley was older than that.  Hollywood tends to cast younger women with men ten years older than them to twist our sense of physical beauty, which entirely worked in her case.  Had I known she was only ten years older than me, I would have made a pretty serious attempt to woo her, or her sister, or her cousin or some chick she was in high school with.  She's seriously smoking hot, or was I supposed to not notice?  

She supposedly was notoriously difficult to work with, but, ya know, actors! am-I-rite?  Seriously I don't really care much about that stuff.  I'm pretty difficult to work with, too, albeit for different reasons.  Did I mention that she was seriously good-looking?  On my list of beautiful women I've never actually met, she's like number twenty-eight.  Lauren Bacall was, is, and always will be number one.  Even when she was seventy, she was still baby.  

Do you know who's not on that list?  Carolyn Munro, Angela Cartwright, and Fay Wray because I met them. Meeting and talking on the phone with Fay Wray is some of my most treasured memories.  We never once mentioned King Kong but talked at length about Lauren Bacall and Eudora Welty.   Several pretty remarkable writers were in love with Fay at one point or another in her life, and she made several attempts as a writer herself, publishing her own memoir and a really lovely play about her mother's journey from Canada.  

Finding out that Miss Eudora was one of Fay's idols was thrilling to me, it felt like a vine or green branch reached out through the decades from her life to mine, and we had a kind of connection.  Finding this out, of course, I made a trip to Choctaw Books which had a really nice signed copy of Golden Apples, which I bought and mailed to Fay, which brought on another lovely phone call.  

About Kirstie Alley though, I suppose it's wrong of me to judge someone based on their eyes and cheekbones and upper lip, but I do that a lot.  I'm a very visual person, even in a non-lascivious way, if there is a non-lascivious way.  I guess I'm trying to make or drive home the point that a seventy-year-old woman can be and is very much a beautiful woman, which is a point we don't make very often.  

I was watching the Dolly Parton Christmas special on television.  Well, I wasn't really paying much attention, but I did watch closely enough to realize that there were some fundamentally beautiful women on that show, all of which had done so much surgery to their faces that it wasn't really their face anymore.  I really wish they'd let the years come through.  There's no shame in it.  I remember what Dolly Parton looked like when she was twenty, if that's an issue.  It would be weird to me if she still looked like that.  

Anyway, the world lost a great beauty this week.  Ya'll are gonna have to go out and find another.  We don't want to run out.  I prefer dark eyes, or green eyes, so put that on the list.

Official Ted Lasso