Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Morning

When I was very little, I was always the first one awake, the first one out of bed and out of my room.  I got to turn the coffee pot on and hear the morning farm report that came on at six and started the broadcast day.  Sometimes I saw the static that preceded it and the national anthem tape that was probably made in the fifties.  

Then things started to change.  My father didn't have time for breakfast anymore.  Once I was introduced to the concept of homework, I was also introduced to the idea that if it involved reading, writing, or math, mine was probably wrong.  Eventually, if I couldn't get somebody to check my homework before school, I just didn't turn it in.  I'd rather have a zero for not trying than to be told all the places I was wrong.  

Eventually, my brother down the hall began to change into something very different from what he was before.  One of the reasons I write about him, and try to be really very honest about it, is because there are lots of people who never knew him before he became ill.  I'd like for there to be more to his legacy than what became of him.

Before I learned how broken I was, how broken the world around me could be, how people who don't mean any harm to anyone can suffer for no reason, before all that, I was the first one to get up in the morning.  I loved the morning.  I loved the rising sun and the opportunity of a new day.  

Sometimes, I get all that back.  Sometimes feist-dog pulls the covers off me, and I'm out of bed before the alarm goes off.  Sometimes, I go into the sun thinking, "Boy, I'm lucky!"  But not every day.  Not anymore.  

The world wore on me pretty roughly.  If it was just on me, I think it'd be ok, but when I look around, a lot of people who never did anyone any harm got it a lot worse.  Somedays, the world is a blank canvas ready for opportunity.  Some days the world is a gauntlet testing how much you can take.  

I was a pretty timid boy.  Especially when it came to talking to strangers.  It wasn't so bad with grownups.  I think I was expecting them to understand that I stuttered, maybe even be amused by it.  I always loved the world though, and loved getting out in it.  There are days when I get all that back, and then there are days when I just want to keep the door closed and the lights out as long as I can.  

Mississippi is full of wonders when you're little.  It's full of doubts and fears when you're old enough to see the world as it is.  That glimmer of childhood optimism never really dies, though.  If it didn't die after all the things I did to it, then it's immortal.

The world starts when you turn on the lights and open the door.  The world is filled with challenges but even more opportunities.  There's an imaginary dog that tells me this when I remember to listen to him.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Sunflowers: Ted Lasso in Amsterdam

Two pilgrims together are a pilgrimage.  There are spoilers ahead.

Everybody finds love in Amsterdam, or almost.  Rebecca connects with the best guy for her yet, but I'm pretty sure she'll fuck it up because it's Rebecca.  After five thousand product placement shots, her iPhone 14 gets dropped to the bottom of a Dutch canal.  Maybe that's a sign.

Sunflowers are the state flower of Kansas.  They're also the subject of one of Van Gough's most famous paintings.  Van Gough suffered his entire life.  He was never understood or appreciated when he was alive and died penniless at his own hand.  His last words were, "The sadness will last forever," in Dutch, of course.

Season three, episode six of Ted Lasso, reached me on so many levels.  Seeking new levels of inspiration and relief from his crushing depression and self-doubt, Van Gough chased the green fairy with passion.  Like many artists of his generation, he drinks absinthe with abandon.  Most men of his generation credited the tincture of wormwood with absinthe's legendary explorative properties, but it was probably just its extremely high alcohol content.  

AFC Richmond is in a terrible rut.  Everybody's life is in ruins except Keely, who is in love with one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen.  Coach Beard, reinforcing my thesis that he represents Merlin in this round table, provides Coach Lasso with a tea made with psilocybin mushrooms, a considerable step up from absinthe.  Because Ted is reluctant to drink the tea (because he hates tea) they separate.

What makes Ted Lasso different is it's a show written by actors, an actor from Virginia especially.  One of us.  A Southern boy.  His mother's brother: his uncle, is George Wendt, Norm from Cheers.  If you didn't know that, it's probably something of a revelation.  If you're a theater people, most of the people who read me are theater people, or at least are allies; if you're a theater person, you no doubt have picked up by now that there's a musical theater reference in every episode of Ted Lasso.  That's what happens when you let actors have a pen.  Tonight's musical theater reference was "Chicago" by Kander and Ebb.  A musical about love's betrayal, crime, booze, and Jazz.  

There are a number of thematic reasons why Jason Sudeikis wanted to locate this episode in Amsterdam.  Because he has a lot of interaction with his cast on an actor-to-actor level, he incorporates their stories as artists into the plot.  Sudeikis is twelve years younger than me.  Jeremy Swift is two years older.  When actors make out their resumes, they list "other skills."  It's usually something like dancing or fencing or singing, but for Swift, he listed that he played the double bass.  This resonated with Sudeikis, and Jazz became a driving force behind Higgin's character.  

In the Sunflowers episode, Higgins takes Will the Kitman on an expedition in the Red Light District.  Will thinks it's for the famous prostitutes, but Higgins takes him to the Prins Hendrik Hotel, where Chet Baker, at the height of his musical career, flung himself out of a window to his death.  Higgins tries to suggest that he might have been pushed, but I think people who make that case are just being generous to Baker.  Baker spent most of his life trying to kill himself.  Kill himself and make fundamentally different and brilliant music.  In 1988, in Amsterdam, he made the final choice between the two.

Suicide is something of a theme in Ted Lasso.  The death of Ted's father, we're told, is the seat of his problems.  It's the dragon he must fight and the source of his panic attacks.  Famous suicides are mentioned throughout the series; tonight, it was Van Gough and Baker.  The night in Amsterdam ends for Higgins and Kitt in a jazz bar, with Higgins getting to show off his skills.  The episode was shot so that there's no way Swift was faking it on the bass.  That's absolutely him playing, and it's brilliant.

Coach Lasso reluctantly tries the psilocybin tea after Coach Beard launches his own adventure.  If you've ever tried psilocybin, and I've tried psilocybin, I've tried it with some of you; if you've tried psilocybin, you know it doesn't hit you right away.  Thinking the drug didn't work, Ted makes his way to an American restaurant where a Bulls game and a tower of onion rings launch his mushroom vision quest.  A quest that gives him a divinely inspired offense pattern from the Richmond AFC Grayhounds.

Four men expose their souls and find solace in each other.  Roy forces Jamie to train rather than party in Amsterdam like the rest of the team.  In an argument about whether windmills are real, Roy confesses that he can't fuckin' ride a fuckin' bicycle.  He can't because his grandfather tried to teach him, but his grandfather died, and now he feels guilty for not having ever learned.  This is the most vulnerable Roy has ever been, and he does it with Jamie, who he has hated the entire show.  Maybe realizing that Keeley wasn't going to be with either of them provided the breakthrough.  In an unlikely montage, Jamie teaches Roy Kent to ride a bicycle, and together they see a windmill.  In literature, windmills represent many things; To Miguel de Cervantes, they represent the giants that Don Quixote de la Mancha must battle to claim his humanity.  To dream the impossible dream.

For the whole series so far, Colin has hidden his sexuality and fought to believe in himself.  We're never really told what sort of athlete he is.  He struggles to benchpress a single set of forty-five-pound plates, but we can assume he's good enough at football to play first-string in the premier league.  Separating from the group, Colin finds a gay bar, thinking he's alone.  He's not.  Trent Crimm walks in after him.  Colin panics and claims he's in the wrong bar.  Running after him, Trent confesses that he's seen Colin kiss a boy but hasn't reported it, and there must be a reason for that.  The two sit in the Dutch night air and bare their souls.  Trent was married to a woman when he came to grips with his sexuality.  This is a scenario that played out a lot in my generation.  Guys I knew from childhood who struggled and struggled to be what they are.  Together they discuss the pain Colin feels for having two separate lives and how much he wishes he could kiss his fella after a game like the other players kissed their girl.

When I was twenty-one, I grew tired of everyone, and everything I knew and everyone I knew was tired of me, so instead of Scrooges or CS's, I went to George Street.   I'd been there before.  Part of my job was to be an earwig to members of the legislature about bills that benefited education, which in turn benefited Millsaps and Mississippi School Supply.  It wasn't really lobbying, but that's what I was being groomed for, at least until I told my Dad I hated it.  I wasn't horrible at it; I just felt really manipulative.

Cotton was bartending.  Cotton was something of a legend in Jackson, starting with the bar at Sun 'n Sand but also George Street, The University Club, and Tico's.  I sat with a man twice my age who was in the House of Representatives.  We discussed Dave Brubeck, Steely Dan, and Chicago.  He was one of the few men I've met who loved Maxfield Parish as much as I do.  We talked, just the two of us, for at least two hours.  In a moment, he looked deeply into my eyes and put his hand on top of my hand.  It was subtle; in the darkness of the bar's corner, no one would see.    I tried really hard not to look shocked or hurt, or angry.  This wasn't the first time this had happened to me.  I really liked the guy and didn't want to hurt him or offend him or put him on the spot for anything.  After a moment, he moved his hand up to grip my shoulder in a very manly, coach-to-player sort of way.  He insisted on paying for my drinks and left into the night.

I stopped at a gas station across from the Baptist hospital for cigarettes and called a girl I knew to see if she was awake and see if she was alone.  There's a 50/50 chance she's reading this now.  I went to her apartment and watched her sleep with my hand under her shirt on the small of her back.  A lot of my friends knew I liked this girl.  She supposedly had a boyfriend somewhere, but it didn't seem to change anything.  I thought that--I could take this girl anywhere I wanted.  I could hold her hand anywhere I wanted.  I could introduce her to my father, my fraternity brothers, my bartender; nobody would ever think a thing.  We could spend all night talking about music and art, and she could put her hand on top of my hand, and nobody would ever think a thing.  They might even be happy that I found somebody, even if she supposedly had a boyfriend somewhere. 

It occurred to me how profoundly unfair that was.  I could do all these things with this girl or any girl who I could get to sit with me, but this guy, who I enjoyed so much, never could.  Even if I was as devoted to him as I was to this tiny sleeping creature, we'd never be able to have the same kind of life because I'm a man, and he's a man, and in Mississippi in the eighties, that made a difference. 

He ended up getting voted out of office as part of the great Republican Revolution in the Mississippi House of Representatives whereupon he retired to his little farm in East Mississippi, and in ten years, he was dying of liver failure, allegedly from drinking.  What Colin and Trent were going through resonated with me.  I'd seen it many times before.  Knowing that so many members of my tribe are gay always came with a fair amount of guilt for me.  I had opportunities that I didn't really deserve that they never could, just because I'm one way and they're another.  It's better for guys in the generation after mine, but it's still not good enough, and there are righteous pricks, mostly in Florida, trying to reverse whatever gains have been made.  The girl married somebody else, and I married somebody else, and none of us ever had to hide who we liked from anybody.  

I know that the end of Ted Lasso is coming.  I'm getting to the point where I need to start slowing down on the episodes and savor it some.  I'll miss it when it's over.  Ted Lasso is a very positive man in a world filled with quiet personal tragedies.  I'm trying to learn from that.  My entire life has been a quiet personal tragedy but one I've never been able to completely deal with because so many people around me have it too, or have it worse.  I guess maybe the point is that there isn't justice in our lives, but there might be hope if we believe.


Ted Lasso Merchandise

Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Commerce of House Finches in the Setting Sun

I sought feeling the sun on my shaved head, my shoulders dappled with the sinking sun.  A trio of house finches hold a conference, one on the pitch of the roof, two in ornamental trees.  They puff out their pink breasts and exchange places, never standing on the same branch at the same time.  The content of their tet-a-tet-a-tet I couldn't discern.  They sounded angry at times, sternly making a point.  There wasn't a female in sight.  Maybe they were rivals

Active and demanding mockingbirds move in and out of the scene.  Twice the size of my little pink pinches, Mockingbirds are the undisputed king of the Mississippi sky.  From childhood, I was told they were named so because they mimicked any bird they heard, but their song sounded pretty distinct to me.  Their staccato song sounds like a New Orleans jazz trumpet warming up.  Three short blasts, then drop a note and three more.  I'm in their territory.

For a hundred thousand years, this spot entertained these same species of birds without anything like me nearby.  For the last forty-five years, their pristine habitat has been the manicured garden of a retirement village.  It makes no difference to the birds.  These are still their skies.  Millions of years before, they were therapod dinosaurs, and people like me were squirrels hiding in their shadows.  Part of God's plan was for us to exchange places.

Sweat bees, smaller than a field pea, ravage the dandelion and the clover of its booty.  I don't think they're capable of knowing their voracious scavenging actually is a vital part of the plant's life cycle.  I don't think they care.  I'm a giant intruder in their universe, but they don't care about that, either.  All they care about is the next blossom.   Bees never ponder their place in the universe.  Sometimes I envy them.

Suffering a digestive malady, I decided to attend church electronically today.  Galloway has broadcast their Sunday services since before I was born, first by radio, then television, and now the internet.  It was a true blessing during covid.  The pastor noted how much empty lumber there was at church this morning, gesturing to the empty pews.  He blamed it on the three-day weekend.  He might have been on to something.   One of the drawbacks of having so many remote options for attending church is that the pastor and the choir can't really gauge how many people they're reaching.  Today, it was at least two more than what he could see before him--probably many more.

I attended Sunday School by Zoom.  That's such a convenience.  Five of our members attended that way, including Ed King, who is somewhat famous in Mississippi terms.  My Sunday school is somewhat of a Millsaps Mafia.  There are graduates from the forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties in the class, and a solid number of professors and staff members as well.  We don't have any more recent graduates yet, but that could change at any moment.

Today we discussed free will and God's will.  To try and get a handle on the subject, we included the Theory of Special Relativity, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, Schrödinger's cat, Christopher Hitchins, and of course, the bible.  We like to warm up the class with a brief discussion of politics since we have some of the best political minds in Mississippi in the class.  Today we discussed the dilemma of the Mississippital Hospital Association and Medicaid expansion and the moral implications of what's happening there.  I'm secretly hoping that what I write might attract younger people to our August group.  We're not your ordinary Sunday School class, but I don't think there are any ordinary people reading anything I write.

I don't know God's will, even though I study it a great deal and have for quite a while.  I'm willing to admit I'm often agnostic because I'm trying to be really painfully honest when I write.  I don't know God's will.  I certainly don't understand God's will any more than I understand Special Relativity or Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle, but I understand they exist, and I understand what they address.  I understand that God's will exists, and I struggle to understand what it addresses.  With the sun on my bald head and the birds in my ears, sometimes I think I feel it.  I think we all do if we're quiet and listen.   God doesn't speak any clearer than my pink-bellied house finches, but I know they're communicating, and I know he's communicating.  I don't necessarily have to understand the message to understand it's important.


Friday, May 26, 2023

Fieldstone

In season two of Ted Lasso, Sarah Niles plays Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, a psychologist who specializes in counseling athletes.  

A good writer doesn't just pick names for a character.  Names mean something.  Although Sharon is of African descent, she has a very English name.  A fieldstone is a very specific thing.  In England, you have a lot of glacial deposits, which include igneous rocks that have had two sides worn flat by erosion and left in the soil where they're a nuisance to farmers.   After removing the stones from the field, the farmer can then plow and plant the land and make it fruitful.  The stones they remove from the field are then collected in a pile where somewhere in Britain's distant past, someone discovered that these stones with two flat sides could then be used to build the famous British walls or cobble-stone roads.  What once was a nuisance and an obstacle becomes something useful and beneficial.  In the show, that's a pretty good description of the relationship between Ted and Sharon.

Because of my Stuttering, Dyslexia, and ADHD as a child, I was given to many behavioralists for evaluation and training.  My father was a bit embarrassed by the whole process and felt like all I really needed was sports, even though he didn't have the time to participate in coaching or teaching me anything.  My mother read every possible book on child rearing and believed completely in these professionals.   To me, it felt like I was being passed from one stranger to another in uncomfortable settings, made even more uncomfortable because this combination of conditions made me really unnaturally shy and uncomfortable around people.  I'm sure the people my mother sent me to were generous and kind and wonderful, but to me, they were alien and intimidating and very interested in doing things to me that I didn't understand.  

As I entered adolescence, my oldest brother, who had been my idol, began to have pretty serious addiction issues.  When I got to the point where I had to shave every day, his condition advanced considerably, and he began to have pretty regular auditory hallucinations.  He had what you would call voices in his head.  

Immediately after that, the entire family was sent for psychological evaluation.  In Jackson in the seventies, there were really very few people doing this, and everyone suggested we use Clinical Associates at Highland Village.  Initially, I had four or five sessions with Jim Baugh, but since his son was in my class, they transferred me to Doug Draper.  Doug also had a child my age, but she went to a different school.  

I saw Doug off and on for something like forty years.  Initially, he treated me for issues of anxiety and feelings of abandonment, which expanded to panic and pretty serious depression.  Doug reported to my parents that we communicated well.  That was absolutely the truth.  Over the forty years, I spoke to him at least monthly; I always found we could and did talk about anything.  

Sometimes we would talk about me.  It was important to my parents that I develop a useful relationship with a counselor because between my father's career and my mother's career and the crisis in one brother's life and the more normal transmission of my other siblings' lives, whether they had an interest or not, nobody really had time for me.  I was the child that required the least attention, and that's what I got, which was fine by me because the only person in the family who understood the things that were important to me was either stoned out of his mind all the time or having conversations with imaginary people, so being left alone was about the best outcome I could hope for.

I grew to care a great deal about Doug Draper.  I still do.  Whatever he was like as a psychologist, he was a great intellectual mentor, and I found that valuable.  In time, I would find other people to fill that role, Catherine Fries certainly, Lance Goss, Suzanne Marrs, and probably the most important was Brent Lefavor, who taught me to use a hammer and use my mind as an artist.  

I can't say how much Doug helped me as a patient.  I can't say because I can't compare what I would have been like without him, but I can say he never cured me--if cured is even a word one should use with regard to psychology.

After my brother died and my mother died, and my wife left, I began having sessions with Doug over the phone because I refused to leave the house.  During those sessions, I covered my shoulders with a green blanket.  It's in my lap now.  The edges are frayed, and it has maybe ten cigarette holes in it.  Eventually, I quit making appointments.   Doug's secretary would call a couple times a week to see if I wanted to set up an appointment.  One day, Doug called himself.  I sank down into my chair and covered my head and face with my green blanket.  "Don't give up."  He said.  "I won't," I said, "I just want to navigate this by myself for a while."  and that was the last time I spoke with Doug Draper.

A few years before, I had an experience that made me really question the value of psychology.  

My wife and I were having trouble.  She wanted us to see a man she knew for couples counseling.  She had known him for years and been his patient for years and said she trusted him absolutely.  Her father, who I still consider something of a saint, said it couldn't hurt.  I found it much easier to talk about our problems with her father than I could with her, which is probably an indication of how poorly I was handling the situation.  So, I signed up to speak with this psychologist friend of hers.  

We had sessions together, and we had sessions individually.  During these individual sessions, I made a very sincere effort to discuss with him the things happening in the relationship that I felt were creating problems for me, things that I feared were damaging me.  It's hard to tell if a psychologist understands you because all they ever do is try to get you to talk more, which I did.

Going into the next couple's session, I felt energized and hopeful because, as much trouble as I had communicating my troubles to my wife, I had utterly unburdened myself with this counselor and believed he would facilitate her understanding of what I was going through and how this relationship was hurting me.

As the session wore on, he focused entirely on her problems with me, even putting me on the spot about what I was going to do to change.  I even said, "What about the things we talked about?" and his response was that I was going to have to work those things out on my own because what was happening to me wasn't what was important.

On the way out, I told my wife I hoped she brought her credit card because I wasn't giving that fucker another goddamn dime, that it wasn't worth a hundred and fifty bucks for my wife and her old friend to set me up like that.  Later that night, her father called me to say he was sorry, that he understood what I was going through, and it wasn't my fault.  We talked for an hour.   I could never tell if that psychologist heard any of the things I was trying to say, but I know my father-in-law did.  After the divorce, he would call every so often to check on me.  Eventually, he began to forget why he called, and then eventually, he began to forget that we weren't related anymore.  I never corrected him.  I was just glad to hear his voice.

They want me to get a new psychologist now.  There's a lot in my head to unpack, they say.  I suppose there is.  I wish I could say I had more confidence in psychology.  When someone's in a real crisis, I still find myself recommending they find someone to talk to.  In my experience, there comes a point of diminishing returns.  Somewhere along the way, I reached that.  I'm probably not being fair in my evaluation of the couples counselor I saw.  I probably would have been more upset with him if he hadn't completely taken my wife's side, so I might have put him into a no-win situation.

If the point of psychology is to lay out very honestly and completely the things that happened to you and how you feel about them and then try to make some sort of evaluation of what it all means and how to handle it better, I already do that with my scribbling.  If I'm honest, that's probably why I write.  There are things in my head that will kill me if I don't get them out somehow, and writing a few thousand words every day is the best way I know to get them out.  

I miss talking to Doug very much.  I miss talking to my father-in-law very much more.  Both were doctors.  Both tried to heal me.  I can't really say that either was able to do it, probably because I'm a fantastically bad patient.  Maybe that's not the point.  Maybe the point is not the healing but the trying, and trying gets me to hold on long enough for my body's natural systems to heal itself.  

The stones we take out of our fields become the stones we use to build walls and bridges and roads and houses in our lives.  God sends us people along the way to teach us how to do that.  Maybe that's what psychology is all about.  


Goldfish Memory

Watching this Ted Lasso thing, I'm brought to mind my worst trait, the thing that holds me back and threatens to destroy me every single time.

I don't let go of things very well.

That's not to say I don't lose.  I lose--a lot.  I've lost my homework.  I've lost arguments. I've lost jobs.  I've lost maybe a thousand pens and pencils.  I've lost the mate to most of my socks.  I've lost teeth.  I've lost ninety-five percent of my hair.  I've lost my train of thought.  I've lost my temper.  I've come very close to losing my mind.  Worst of all, I've lost entire human beings.  Some died.  Some moved away.  Some drifted away.  Some found someone else--and some, some just got really fucking fed up with the Boyd Campbell experience and asked to be let go--which I did, at least on the outside.

I lose these things, but I don't let go of them.  I retain them.  I punish myself for losing them, over and over and over.  One of the reasons I got as fat as I did was because I would consume whole pizzas because a pizza can't ever run away from me.  I can't ever lose a pizza.  I can't ever screw up and do a pizza completely wrong, or too late, or the wrong way.  Pizzas don't care about me, and if I'm honest, I don't care about them--but they're there; they're not lost.

Ted Lasso says that the happiest animal in the world is the Goldfish.  Wanna know why?  "A goldfish," he says, "only has a ten-second memory."

I've heard this before.  I don't know what sort of scientist or sociologist, or animal behavioralist came up with this bit of data.  I don't know how they tested these goldfish or what kind of grant they used to study them.  It probably came out of LSU; they study a lot of weird shit.

Ted's Point.  Ted's point is that if you don't remember your mistakes--if you forget your losses, then you're not burdened with them.  I've been given this advice before.  It makes sense.  It really does.  The thing is, I absolutely suck at it.  I remember. I remember EVERY LITTLE THING.  Sometimes I get the details mixed up because I have ADHD and can't focus sometimes, and I'm also getting old, and my brain probably doesn't function properly because I spent entire decades letting Alica Keough or Inez Birthfield or Randy Yates or Inky The Clown, in his human form fill me up with blue drinks and red drinks and brown drinks and drinks in bottles and drinks in cans and drinks in mugs, all so I can forget, which I can't actually do.  Tennessee sippin' whiskey doesn't make me forget, but it makes me not care--at least for a little while.  

Ted Lasso would just stare at me with this dumb smile on his face, waiting for the lesson to sink in.  I hate guys like that.  I just want to punch them in the face.  You wouldn't know it, but I have a new spirit animal.  His name is Roy Kent.  I have thoroughly and completely wrapped myself in this whole Southern Gentleman thing, but beneath all that is one of the angriest mother fuckers you've ever met.  Part of that is that I was born into a family with incredibly high standards, most of which I was physically incapable of ever achieving, even though my mother sacrificed most of her evenings for years trying to teach me to read.  I would tell the world to fuck off.  I would tell you to fuck off.  I would tell them to fuck off.  But I can't.  I can't let go, even that much.

Jesus.  That Jesus, the one you've heard about, delivered most of his manifesto standing on the side of a small mountain to a mass of people who came to hear him speak.  Jews, then and now, spend a great deal of time concerned about how to pray and when to pray, and what to pray about.  Jesus streamlined that entire process.  As much as Christians labor over how to deify this man from Galilee, he doesn't include himself in this prayer, but he does add this, Father, forgive us of our transgressions as we forgive those who transgress against us.  That word is translated in a lot of different ways.  Sometimes it's "trespass."  We do things; we go places we're told we ought not.  If you're Methodist, that's the one you've heard all your life.  Sometimes it's "sins"; forgive us of our sins.  That makes sense, right? 

The point is God forgives us when we fuck up.  God forgives us every single time we fuck up, no matter how much we fuck up; even if we make the same fuck up over and over, all we have to do is ask God, and we're forgiven.   Some people may question the value of having some sort of ethereal being that may or not exist to forgive us, and if he does exist, he sure isn't inclined to settle the issue.  Receiving God's forgiveness really only helps if you believe in God and if you believe in the ability of this guy Jesus to speak for God, even though not long after teaching us this lesson, he was nailed to a tree by the Romans and died straight away.  

Having God forgive you is of almost no importance at all if you cannot forgive yourself if you cannot let go of those things you lost, the transgressions you made.  Holding onto those things and burying them under your skin is what makes you Roy Kent.  Anger and frustration become your superpower, and it makes you incredibly able to do some things, but it makes it impossible to do others, and it kills you inside.  At least, it did for me.

"Ten Second Memory."  Ted Lasso is immovable.

When it became clear that I was breaking inside, clear that I was absolutely fucking miserable and wishing I were dead,  my father would put his hand on my shoulder and say, "You gotta shake this off, buddy.  You can't let this stop you."  Between football and girls and fucking up most of my school assignments, Daddy told me to shake it off quite a lot.  Part of the reason that advice never really worked on me was that I knew he didn't shake things off.  He internalized them.  All of them.  He consumed his trespasses just like I consumed mine, and one day the burden of them made his heart stop while sitting behind his desk dictating a letter to Wingate and Deaton, and Taylor about a fishing trip they never got to take.  A letter they never received.  

"Ten Second Memory, buddy.  Shake it off."  This guy is really getting on my tits.  

Lessons aren't lessons because they're easy.  Turn the other cheek.  Consider the lilies of the field.  Don't cast the first stone.   Take no thought for the morrow.  God is greater than us.  God created us.  God forgives us just because we asked.  No sacrifice, no penance; those bills are paid for us in advance.

If God forgives us, why is it so horrible trying to forgive ourselves?  

Ted Lasso and his goldfish can go fuck themselves.  Really, this is very annoying.  I get the point, though.

I'm trying to shake it off, Daddy, I really am.  I've spent forty-five years trying to shake it off.  Losing is something I'm good at, but letting go is not.  I get what you're saying, though.  I won't quit trying.  


Apologies to my Aunt for the language.  Sometimes I put a lot of pepper in the pot.


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

History is Lunch at Woolworths

 In 1960, a previously unknown writer out of South Alabama published a work that presaged the monumental changes that lay ahead for the American South.  It was called, To Kill a Mockingbird.  You've probably been assigned to read it at some point in your life.  If not, if you're from here or choose to live here, you should read it and read the old testament.  Anything else you read from there will have solid roots.  

There are, so far, three actor's editions of To Kill a Mockingbird.  The first is the screenplay by Horton Foote.  Foote wrote something like thirty stageplays but won an Oscar for the Adapted Screenplay he penned of Harper Lee's novel.  Rights for his script are complicated to get and not really written for the stage.

Christopher Sergel published an acting edition in 1970.  Newstage has done this version, I believe, three times.  Several of my friends were involved in these productions, and they were all brilliant.  If you've seen To Kill a Mockingbird on stage in the last fifty years, it was most likely this version.

In 2016, Aaron Sorkin, who wrote The West Wing and A Few Good Men, revived Mockingbird with a new script that holds the current title for the most successful straight play in terms of audience in the history of Broadway.  

Sorkin's script features extended scenes with Tom Robinson and especially Calpernia, trying to broaden the cultural perspective of the play so that it's more than just the white man hero that Lee's book is often criticized for.  

Today at History is Lunch, a writer discussed his book about the sit-ins at Jackson's Woolworth's lunch counter on May 28, 1963.  In four days, this will have been sixty years ago.  In twenty-three days, I will also turn sixty years old.  

I was, reportedly a very difficult pregnancy.  My mother was sent home for an entire trimester to rest because her doctor could not find a fetal heartbeat.  Having miscarried twins eleven months before I was conceived, my mother was anxious about my pregnancy.  Had it failed too, her plans were to stop trying, as carrying children for two trimesters and losing them in the third was taking a toll on her.  The riot at Woolworths on Capitol Street, where white men attacked nine protestors attempting to break the color line in Jackson, was very big news when she was at home, not knowing if I'd be born alive or dead.

I was going to attend the lecture in person, but it looked like rain, so I watched over the internet.  I knew, going in, that I would know some of the names involved.  

The first was Allen C Thompson.  Thompson served as Jackson's Mayor from 1948 until 1969.  He was preceded by Leland Speed, who developed Eastover and whose wife gave me three sculpting lessons in her home on Eastover Drive for free.  He was followed by Russell C Davis.  When I knew Thompson, he was an older man living near my grandfather.  I was too young to remember any of the horrible things he had done, and until I took Mississippi History under Jerry Mcbride at St. Andrews, nobody had ever told me.  I can't begin to list the many times that Thompson was on the wrong side of history.  I believed that HE believed he was doing the right thing.  Nothing in my memory of him says he was willingly an evil man.  Sometimes, it's doing what you perceive as the right thing that can be the most evil.

The other name I recognized was Jim Black.  A recent Supreme Court ruling specified that Southern Police could not enter private property to arrest protestors unless the owner advised them a crime was being committed.  On May 28, 1963, nobody at Woolworth advised the police that a crime was being committed at the lunch counter, so the police stayed outside on Capitol Street.  Some have suggested this was intentional, as it left the protesters inside at the mercy of the angry white mob that was forming.

The police chief in Jackson sent Black, a young inspector, into the store in plain clothes as an undercover agent, just in case things got bad.  Then things got bad.  White boys pulled protesters off their lunch counter stools and began kicking and beating them.  Having then witnessed a crime, Black arrested both the attacker and the attacked, charging one with assault and the other with disturbing the peace, an unfair charge for the protester who hadn't broken any law, but it stopped the attack on him and saw him safely transferred to a police van where the mob couldn't attack him further.

When I knew Jim Black, he was Chief of Police for Dale Danks.  As my brother's illness got worse, he had several encounters with the police; Chief Black had known my father since High School and did everything he could to help Jimmy.  By the time Black ascended to Chief of Police, the worst of the civil rights era incidents had passed.  He served during Jackson's most extended period of growth yet.  I was probably spoiled by growing up during this period and knowing the men and women who orchestrated it.  If you ever see me lose patience with Jackson's current government, it's probably because it's difficult for me not to compare them to our "glory days."  

The third name I knew in the lecture was one I knew I'd hear going in.  Ed King was involved in nearly every significant civil rights incident in Mississippi.  He paid a price for it, but he never let that slow him down.  King is the young man in the clerical collar seen in the photos below.  I don't remember a time when Ed King wasn't around somewhere in my life.  He is ubiquitous.  He's in the Sunday school class I joined at Galloway and attends by Zoom.   Some of the best legal and religious minds in Mississippi over the last hundred years are in that class, including King.  I've been on both sides of the aisle with King.  

Most of the time, I stand with him, but there came a day when Abortion Rights activists wanted to meet at Millsaps, and Ed King was against it.  I sat in a meeting with Stuart Good, Wayne Miller, representatives of the Clinic Defense League, and Ed King to discuss the issue.  Knowing that I was on the opposite side of King was one of the more intimidating moments in my life.  His feeling was that, as a religious school, we had no business butting into this political and moral issue.  My position and I think Stuart's position was that Millsaps was not taking a stand on the abortion issue, even though our students might, but we were renting one of our spaces (the heritage room) to an outside organization.  The event happened despite King's challenge.  

There weren't any incidents, and Rev. King didn't do anything to interfere, but I felt the heat on the back of my neck that day.   I've always believed you should try and understand the viewpoint opposing yours, and I believe I understood where Rev King was coming from, but to me, the students who felt strongly about preserving their reproductive rights were more important. Having to stand up to somebody you idolized is a pretty tough lesson.  I don't know if he ever knew what I was going through.  I'm sure to him I was just Jim Campbell's boy, sticking his nose in where it didn't belong.  I'm pretty good at that.  To be fair, so is he.

I don't have an ending for this, mainly because it's just not over.  Woolworth's is a parking garage now, built by the son of the Mayor who preceded Thompson.  Mayors Davis and Danks were both accused of trying to tear down all the monuments of the Civil Rights Movement.  If you look at downtown Jackson today, there might be something to that.  The Civil Rights Movement probably won't end in my lifetime.  For some of my youngest friends, it might end in theirs.  At least, I hope so, but something tells me "no".

Ray Mcfarland will say he's too old, but I'd love to see him in a new production of Mockingbird using the Sorkin Script.  He's not too old.  He's the same age as Jeff Daniels when he originated the role on Broadway.  I don't know if Francine is up for yet another production of Mockingbird, but they've done something like eleven million performances of Christmas Carrol, so maybe it won't hurt.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Horse Corn

Whenever I would talk about getting a car that was too expensive, or buy a suit that was too expensive, or chase a girl who was above my station, my father would always remind me that my grandfather was a dirt farmer in Atalla County before he came to Jackson, and whatever happened since, I had no business putting on airs.  

The suit thing was kind of a trick because one his best friends was Billie Nevill, who owned the Rogue and sold me the suits and then advised I get the good Allen Edmunds shoes; still, the point remained:  I was twenty, I was from Mississippi, and it was morally bound to remain humble.  Daddy wasn't the only one.  I knew guys who bought the most expensive suits at the Rogue and even traveled to Memphis and New Orleans to buy clothes but kept a cheap suit handy for when they went before the public because they didn't want anyone to think they thought more of themselves than they did the people they represented.  

My grandfather didn't actually farm dirt.  He, and his father, and his grandfather farmed white corn, called "horse corn" in Mississippi, because it mostly was used to feed horses and cows.  The Campbells and the Boyds were humble people all the way through their lives in Atalla County, Mississippi, all the way back to Scotland; they were farmers or laborers. On my mother's side, the Bradys of Learned Mississippi also grew horse corn and tobacco and whatever vegetables they needed for the table.  The simple country store a cousin built is now the hippest place to buy a steak in Mississippi.   I know people who brag about the kings and dukes and famous people that lay in their family tree; there are none in mine.  We're humble people from humble stock.

My father never used the word hubris, but that's what he was warning me against.  People resent it when you think too much of yourself, he told me.  That actually wasn't a problem for me.  I thought very little of myself.  I struggled mightily academically, and stuttering and other issues made socializing very difficult, and my weight would make wild fluctuations.  The only trait I felt confident about was physical strength.  My other talents, more creative talents, remained hidden most of my life.  Some people, who lack self-confidence, try to cover it by putting on airs; expensive clothes and cars and exclusive club membership mask a sense of insecurity.    Not only was I discouraged from that, it was absolutely forbidden.

My family was divided on the issue of what temperature meat should be served.  Half believed it should be served the color of dry concrete.  The other half believed it should be the color of watermelon.  My mother sided with the concrete faction, so whenever she cooked a roast it was--grey.  Mother was otherwise an excellent cook, but beef was not a specialty--unless you also liked your meat grey.  

This meant that my father and I were on our own, and the only time we were able to express this was with grilling.  I watched Justin Wilson and Julia Child religiously, so I knew something about cooking, and our school library had two books on grilling, so I became quite good at it.  Every so often my father couldn't take it anymore and he'd drag me to the grocery store to buy meat to cook.  Half the steaks were cooked properly, the other half were cooked until they were the same color as the grill itself.  Sometimes I'd cook for my dad's friends too.  That meant they were nearly all cooked properly except for Ben Puckett, who liked steak basically raw.  It also meant I got to both make and have whiskey or vodka.  Daddy preferred vodka; I preferred whiskey.  Rowan Taylor taught me the finer points of good whiskey--I retain this to today.

What my mother lacked in cooking beef, she more than made up for in cooking vegetables.  Two of my siblings rebelled against eating just vegetables, so we didn't do it that often, but when we did, it was glorious.  My mother and her friends were devoted customers of Alice Berry at the old Farmers Market off Woodrow Wilson Road.  She would buy butter beans, field peas, snap beans, and green peanuts, and Mrs. Berry was one of the few places where she could find the horse corn my father loved.

She'd come home with brown paper sacks full of fresh Mississippi vegetables.  My grandmother, the maid Hattie and I sat in front of the television, shelling peas and snapping beans for the country feast ahead.  Mother taught me how to husk the horse corn and pull the tassels off the kernels while she got her biggest pot ready.    She boiled enough corn for everybody to have two ears, plus butterbeans, plus boiled okra, plus fresh, ripe tomato sliced with mayonnaise.  My grandmother made cornbread in a skillet she got from her mother who got it from her mother way over in Learned, Mississippi.  

My father, who taught me to eat sardines in a can, vienna sausages on crackers, cow tongue, snails, beef  and chicken livers, sause (otherwise known as head cheese), had a plate of just horse corn and tomatoes and was in heaven.  No matter what he attained in life, he struggled to keep in touch with the idea of humble food for humble people.

Like Ireland and Scotland, Mississippi is a humble place.  We're a people who work the land but remain fiercely proud.  It's important to be humble.  It's thinking you're better than somebody that starts most of the problems in this world.  

Monday, May 15, 2023

Mo Mhàthair

Desiring to be the best mother she possibly could be, my mother read every book on parenting she could get her hands on.  In the sixties, there were many.  When I was seven or eight, she sat me down to explain what the middle child syndrome was.  Middle children, she said, suffered from a lack of time.  Older children are first doing things that require mother's time; younger children are the most recent at doing things that require mother's time, leaving middle children feeling left out because there's not enough time.

I'm not sure why she told me this.  I wasn't feeling left out.  By the time he turned thirty-five, my father's career was moving at a frightening pace.  This parenting thing would be left to my mother because the world needed my father.  Daddy had coached pee wee baseball for my brothers, but when I got old enough, there wasn't time.  Nobody even asked if I wanted to play. I wasn't recognizing this as a loss, but I think my mother did.

In the early seventies, children born with ADHD and dyslexia had few options.  There were special schools where they could send me, but that would separate me from my friends and my family.  There were drugs, but my father was adamant that I not be given amphetamines or tranquilizers.  One of his associates had a son in my class who was given Ritalin, and his father said it made him a zombie.  I was given tutors at school.  My mother already had an education degree from Belhaven.  She would and did teach herself how to educate a dyslexic child.

Most of what my mother used with me was what we now consider the Montessori Method.  She tried everything she could imagine to give me another way to understand and comprehend letters and words, and sentences.  Since I also had untreated ADHD, these sessions seemed like torture for both of us.  Even though I was the middle child, my mother was spending more time on me than she did the other three.  It didn't seem like loving attention, though; it seemed like a struggle for both of us.   It cost a great deal of effort to teach me to read, but the greatest cost was it began to drive a wedge between my mother and me.

The women's liberation movement of the sixties and seventies meant that wives were no longer expected to stay at home.  Modern women got out in the world.  My father's career generated sometimes challenging social obligations for my mother.  On top of that, there was pressure for society women to leave the home and get jobs.  One of Mother's closest friends started the Every Day Gourmet, and my father would ask when my mother was going to do something like that.  

When my parents began dating in high school, my mother made an attempt to maintain a presence in the Presbyterian church she was born into while also holding an equal presence in my father's Methodist church.  She maintained this practice until I was seven or eight, when it just became a matter of not having enough hours in the day.  She dropped her membership in the Presbyterian church she was born into so she would have enough time to teach me to read.  

My grandmother lived with us for six months of the year.  She helped with laundry and cooking.  My mother had a maid named Hattie May Grant.  Children with ADHD can become very introverted because it's difficult for the world to comprehend them.  Hattie was my friend, though; she liked to watch Godzilla movies and watch Dr. Smith chase that robot around like I did.  

Burning the candle on every end, my mother would sometimes just run plain out of energy.  With her mother and Hattie in the house, she'd sometimes sneak off for a nap.  Sometimes, I would crawl into her room and sit on the floor beside her bed and watch her hand over the side of the mattress and listen to her breathing.  I had my mother to myself without distractions and without reading exercises.   Soon someone would need her, or the phone would ring, and the world would take my mother away again, but I had that time.  It mattered.

My mother enjoyed crafts.  Her sister became something of an accomplished painter well into her forties.  Our playroom doubled as my mother's sewing room.   After dinner, Daddy would usually return to work, or some work function, and Mother would commandeer the breakfast table to cut out patterns.

"What are you making?" I would ask.  I was pretty crafty too, although nobody really noticed it yet.

"I'm making a dress for your sister."  

"Can you make something for me?"  

"What would you like?" She smiled.

"How about a cape!" Dracula had a cape, superman had a cape, and magicians had capes.  That would have been so cool.

"I don't know how to make a cape," she said.

"What about something else then?"  If my sister could get a cool dress out of the deal, maybe I could get a cool coat or shirt.

"They don't really make patterns for boy things."  Mother said.  She was telling the truth too.  If you look at the Butterwick website today, they have very little for men.  Maybe a few vests, but not much more.  Even though men's bodies are made of simpler shapes, apparently, our clothes are more complicated.  I'm pretty sure a man made it that way.

They did have a few Halloween costumes.  Pilgrims and elves and clowns.  Mother made a clown costume for my brothers that was passed down to me and my sister.  There's nothing worse than telling a monster-obsessed kid that he had to be a clown for Halloween.

Mother was better at doing girl things because she was a girl.  I think the assumption was that my father would do boy things with me, and he clearly made an effort with my brothers; there was even a photograph in the Clarion Ledger of him swimming with my brothers; by the time I came along, though, he was out of time.  It was basically me and my mother and my Hattie, and neither of them knew how to do boy things.   Daddy did eventually end up spending a fair amount of time fishing with me, but I was nineteen when he first tried and was able to not only load and unload the boat but also able to fix drinks for him and his friends.

The middle child syndrome probably was hitting me really hard, but I was an extraordinarily introverted kid, so a lot of times, I just didn't notice.  Noticing that I had an interest in art and theater, my mother made sure I had a ride to lessons and rehearsals.  She wouldn't stay, but she made sure I got there.  Often my art teacher were women she knew socially.  The first one was Alice Riley, Dr. Carter O'ferral's daughter.  So far, I've done something like a hundred and fifty plays.  My mother only ever attended maybe seven of them.  At first, it was because she just didn't have the time.  Later, it was because we were becoming estranged.

When I was very young, there wasn't much that meant more to me than watching my brother be my brother.  I copied everything he did, everything he touched, everything he watched.  Whatever he could do, I wanted to do.  When we lived on Northside Drive, he and Lee Hammond built a treehouse.  To reach it, you had to climb two-by-four steps nailed to the tree like a ladder.  I was too little to reach.  I could see them in the treehouse, and it was all I wanted out of the world to be with them, but I couldn't, so I cried out of frustration.  I was left behind.  

I came to understand that this feeling of being left behind, left alone and forgotten was the primary symptom of middle child syndrome.   I made it considerably worse by being so introverted.  The world was more interested in other people, so I found other ways to occupy my time.  I socialized and mimicked the experience of human connection through my art and, eventually, through my writing.  We didn't know it, but my mother would soon face the greatest crisis yet.

My brother, for all his greatness, began to develop addiction problems.  Because I couldn't bring myself to blame him, I blamed my mother.  Whatever cracks there were in our relationship from this middle child business, I put a spike in them.  When his addiction problems became emotional and psychological problems,  I drove that spike deep into the heart of my relationship with my mother.

I think maybe I was trying to force her to ask me to come back to her, to say, "Let's start over.  You're still my little boy."  I think she was overwhelmed.  She tried to rationalize all this with me, which didn't work because I wasn't feeling rational.  This disease had taken my brother from me and replaced him with a stranger, and I was angry.  Being looked over, being left out, these things I could handle, but now they were taking things from me, and I had no recompense.   My mother tried to explain all these things to me, but I was angry and hurt and not listening.

Like she had done with me, Mother decided to educate herself about my brother's problem.  She returned to college to get a degree in psychology at Millsaps.  Her only intention was to apply whatever they taught her to healing her firstborn.  Our relationship was strained, and now she had even less time to spend with me.  My father flew to Washington several times a year and worked until eight or nine o'clock.  Without mentor or council, I drove in the spike even further, splitting the bond between myself and my mother.  In my mind, she left me and was devoting most of her time to this imposter that looked like my brother.  Pushing myself further away, maybe I thought she'd notice and come to find me.  She didn't.  

We never talked about these things.  We argued.  We argued quite a bit, almost entirely about how none of the things they were trying with my brother were working; his condition was getting worse and worse.  I surprised her by changing the focus of my anger.  "Stop Smoking!" I shouted.  "Haven't you seen what they're saying about cigarettes?"  She didn't stop, so I began hiding her cigarettes.  We argued so much this became the only way I could still tell my mother I loved her.  Eventually, smoking is what killed her.  I wish I had tried harder to make her quit.  I couldn't make her quit, so I started.  When she died, I doubled my own smoking, hoping it'd take me too.

When my sister got married, Mother designed and orchestrated a wedding for nearly a thousand people, filling both Galloway and the Country Club.  When my brother got married, she arranged a smaller wedding in the Galloway Chapel and dinner for fifty at the country club.  When I got married, she had dinner for eight at Nicks's and bought me a cake.  I told her not to do anything.  A weak attempt would hurt more than nothing at all.  It did.

When my father died, it should have driven me closer to my mother, but it drove me further away.  It drove me further away from everyone.  We argued constantly about how to handle his estate while the rest of the world argued over the power vacuum he left.  Both of us needed comfort and consoling and companionship, but so much had passed between us that we couldn't bridge that gap.  I lost my father, but I lost my mother too.  

When I tore my ACL in a theater accident, she insisted I stay at her house after my surgery.  We argued constantly.  I'm not a very good patient.  When her COPD started to threaten her life, she began asking that I stay with her overnight in case she had to be taken to the hospital.  Twice I did end up having to take her.  As her health got worse, so did my marriage, then the imposter who had replaced my brother developed cancer.   In the space of fourteen months, I lost him, then my mother, then my wife.  

Introversion had always been my response to stress.  I went home and locked the door, and refused to see anyone or go anywhere.  I had my books and my movies, and my computer, and that's how I intended to die.  

They say that the problem with a middle child is there isn't enough time.  Older children require time because they do things first; younger children require time because they do things more recently; little girls require more time than little boys; middle children get overlooked.

I don't think I was overlooked nearly so much as I was difficult to see.  Things happening within me made me withdraw from people, even as a child.  My mother loved me, but she suffered from a chronic lack of time.  I went from being her son with the most problems to being the son with the least problems, and I  chose to separate from her because I always chose to separate from people.  It's easier for me to go away than it is to solve the complex and painful connections between people.

When I was six or seven, I developed the chicken pox.  It felt like my skin was burning off.  They demanded I not scratch it because that would cause scars.  My mother gently covered my skin with pink medicine that felt cool when it went on and drew my skin tighter as it dried.  Unable to find relief, I cried and cried.  "Be brave," she said, "Don't scratch," she said.  Miserable, I couldn't sleep, and I couldn't stop itching.  My mother sat on the floor beside my bed and spoke softly to me.  She stayed all night, then the next night, by the third night, the itching wasn't as bad.

My mother loved me.  She taught me to read.  She carried me on trips to lessons and rehearsals and practices and trips to the tote-sum store so I could get comic books.  Life became complicated, and I ran away from her because I always found shelter alone.  Even a mother couldn't salvage the things that were breaking in me.   I can't take any of that back.  I can, at fifty-nine years old, see a lot of it for what it was.  That's some relief.  Time was my enemy.  Now her memory is complex and beautiful, and painful.   My mother loved me.  Time is fleeting, but love endures.








Sunday, May 14, 2023

Madonna della Pieta

In world art, no theme is more prevalent or more important than that of the mother.  Mother Earth, Mother Goddess, and Mother Creator, she represents creation, fertility, and compassion.   There are masculine fertility representations, but they lack the sense of nurturing that the mother symbols do, which makes them less common and less popular.

Western Art tends to compress all of its thoughts and feelings about Mothers into the singular character of Mary, The Mother of God.  In parts of Europe, every church and nearly every home has images of Madonna and Child--Mary, the mother of God, holding and codling the infant Jesus, innocent and unaware of the life he would lead.

The second image we have of Mary in Western Art is La Pietà, "the compassion."  The dolorous image of Mary the Mother of God, holding his lifeless body, wearing for her lost son, before laying him to rest.  It's one of the most powerful images in all of Christendom.  Mary, who the angels told would bear the Son of God, holds his broken and dead body in her arms, wondering what went wrong.  People talk about the perfection of Michelangelo's statue of David.  For me, Madonna della Pietà is not only the greatest work of  Michaelangelo but possibly the greatest statue of all.  

In Lewis's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Lucy and Susan represent Mary, the Mother of God, and Mary Magdelene when they come upon the dead body of Aslan, still tied to the altar table.  Weeping and in pain, they beseech the mice to help free the dead body of Aslan from the ropes that bound him.  Susan cradles the dead king's head in her lap.  The cruelty of life has taken their most precious from them.

No mother should ever endure the loss of her son, but how common is it that accident, disease, addiction, depression, and most of all, war takes the son from the mother.   No other cause has separated more mothers from more sons than war from the beginning of time.  On Mother's Day, remember your mother, but remember the mothers who lost their progeny and issue.  Nothing can ever fill that void.



Saturday, May 13, 2023

Nourishing Mother

Off and on, I've been attending commencement celebrations at Millsaps since around 1970.  There are a few people who have attended more than I have, but not many.  Contenders would be people like Don Fotenberry, Bob McElvane, and David Woodward.  

As a child, I would watch my father practice speeches in front of the mirror in his bathroom.  Eventually, he got so accustomed to it that he quit using a mirror and would just do it in his office or in bed.  Until I got to be around nineteen, I rarely got to see any of Daddy's speeches because he delivered them at places that didn't allow little boys.  Millsaps did.   Afterward, I could run amock among the bushes, and nobody cared because Millsaps was just about the safest place they could think of, and there were so many trees to climb.

Weary of the world, I quit going to Millsaps for anything for a long time.  Until today, the last Millsaps graduation I attended was the one Sam and Erin were in.  Waiting to enter commencement today, A woman approached me.  "I bet you don't remember me!"  The shape of her face was familiar, but my wheels were spinning and not finding purchase.  It was Avery Nicholas's Grandmother.  The last time I saw her, she was attending football games where I played in the class between her two sons at St. Andrews in a year where we only won two games.  (Why St. Andrews struggled in football is another story.  It's an honorable story, though, one where Andy Mullins made a just choice rather than a convenient choice.)

Like my nephew Campbell Cooke, Avery is a third-generation Millsaps Graduate.  I'm sure there were others, but I also got to see another third-generation Millsaps Person.  Mary Ranager's father and uncle graduated from Millsaps, and her Grandfather coached football and baseball there for many years.  One of the points of a Millsaps education is that, whether you're third-generation or starting your first generation there, the Millsaps experience reaches back through time, connecting each graduate to generations before.  I spoke to one family where their child was the first in their family to ever go to any college, and they chose us, and now that graduate starts their multi-generational journey with Millsaps.

At Commencement, Provost and Acting President Keith Dunn awarded Stacy DeZutter the Distinguished Faculty Award.  One of my friends commented that Stacy was the new Darby Ray.  While I would never compare the two, Stacy does seem to be having the same impact on Millsaps that Darby did.  Both were like a comet that traveled through the Millsaps Solar system, with a gravitational attraction so strong, they changed the course of other bodies in the firmament.  I owe an infinite debt of gratitude to Stacy for nurturing the flame of theatre at Millsaps and keeping it alive until Sam could get there, and she did it on top of her already packed work schedule.

Thanks to Stacy's presence, two members of Alpha Psi Omega graduated today, and another two theater kids who weren't inducted.  Ryan McDougald and Michael Montgomery were in the first new class of Alpha Psi Omega initiates since the major was put into abeyance many years ago.  Best friends, their last performance at Millsaps was alone together in The Universal Language by David Ives.  Although he didn't have enough points to get into Alpha Psi Omega (having never acted before) Trey Clark also walked today.  He tells me he plans to attend Jackson State as a graduate student this fall.  Hopefully, he'll continue acting.  Amelia Savaric, who worked in both plays this semester, spent her senior year at Millsaps, but as an exchange student, she received her degree from her university in France.  I honestly wish I'd written down its name.  While every department at Millsaps had a graduating class this year, it's been a while since Theater had one, so I'm especially proud of them.

The Founders Medal is the highest academic award given at Millsaps.  I was never remotely a candidate, but my cousin Anne Powers was.  She was the only Campbell who left Hesterville, Mississippi, who ever achieved a high level of scholarship.  Most years, we only have one Founders Medal Winner.  It usually represents a perfect academic score at Millsaps.  We've had Five winners before.  Today we had four, the second-highest number ever.  This from a class who saw their second semester at Millsaps interrupted by covid and subsequent semesters interrupted by the Jackson Water Crisis.  I suppose adversity can yield excellence.

I got into an argument once with someone who told me not to value the opinion of students too much because, in the academy, students are transitory; the faculty is what matters.  I got sort of frustrated and didn't know how to respond at the moment, but it's been almost twenty years and I'm still thinking about what that means.  Students ARE transitory.  That's the point, isn't it?  They're traveling through time at a point in their life where time seems endless, and they chose us because, at Millsaps, they believe their transitory experience can transform their lives--and it does.  At the hooding ceremony for the Else School MBA class, Monty Hamilton talked about his transmission at Millsaps transformed his life.  I was there for part of it.  I can think of so many people I've seen who came to Millsaps as one thing, and left as another.  They were transitory.  We all are.

At graduation today, I saw a very muscular woman who wore only a sleeveless vest so she could show off her intricate tattoos and her shaved head.  I thought to myself, "This is someone determined to forge her own way in the world and create her own identity from whole cloth."  That's what Millsaps does for you.  It gives you the materials you need to forge your own identity--whatever you believe it should be.  One of the bigger things that sets us apart from other private colleges is that we don't give you values; we give you the tools to create your own, and people who create their own values serve them far better than those who accept what was given to them.

Alma Mater means "nourishing mother."  Bet you weren't expecting that.  The nourishing mother of our minds are our studies, and our studies achieve greater heights at our Alma Mater.  Loyal Ones are we.  When I graduated, that was changed from "Loyal Sons are we" because people noticed we weren't all boys anymore.  One class leaves, and another class arrives.  The Nourishing Mother remains.    




Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The Eudora At Fondern Public

 I got to spend some time with Brother Lewis today.  We darkened the door of Fondren Public.  I had a drink that a friend of mine named the Eudora thirty years ago.  A few fingers of Makers Mark and a little ice if you have it, alone if you don't.   Miss Welty, I think, took it with a little branch water.  I modified it some.  Ice melts, ya know.

Talking with somebody who remembers what it was like in Jackson and Millsaps thirty and forty years ago makes me happier than a warm puppy.  It kind of needs to be a guy, though, because one of the things we're gonna talk about is girls, lost, found, and the ones that got away.  The guys I can still do this with are getting pretty sparse these days.  There's Tom and Doug Mann and a few others, but we're at the age with a fair number of our population is dropping away.  Old white guys don't typically "pour one out for our homie," but if we had, we'd still be there.  Those of us that survive the gauntlet will probably live until ninety.  That's a frightening consideration.

Tom's Dad is a titan at Millsaps and Galloway and the United Methodist Church.  To some, TW Lewis was one-half of the righteous brothers.  To others, he was an agitator.  In Mississippi, it turns out that the only people that had any sense were the agitators.   At church, I like to listen to TW and Don Fortenberry talk.  They experience a level of Christianity I've never approached, and there's much to be learned just by listening.

Tom mentioned that a friend of ours was getting fairly irritated with the goings on in the Mississippi UMC conference and just might take a trip to Tupelo and speak his mind at the conference meeting this summer.  I don't have permission to say who it is, but if he goes, I might just go too.  I have some concerns about what's going on in our conference to, so maybe we can do some good.

Talking with long-time Jackson people, it's hard not to lament what's been happening to the city lately.  Of all the brilliant men and women we talked about, almost none still live in Mississippi.  Ray Mabus once said that Mississippi's biggest export is brains.  In Mississippi, we take our precious youth and work like hell to educate and train them; then, once they're on their own, we lose them because Mississippi can't offer them opportunities equal to the skills we've given them, so they find something bigger--maybe less complicated morally.

A lot of guys our age are thinking about giving up.  They're moving to Madison or Oxford, or Hernando and pulling the world up around them.  I can't fault them.  They fought to keep Jackson growing all those years I was hiding in a cave.  Maybe it's just my turn to get back into the fight.  

I have a real need to one day be able to tell Tom and especially tell his dad that everything is OK now.  Jackson and Millsaps are growing again, and the danger is past.  Millsaps is doing light years better than Jackson, but both have a ways to go before I'm satisfied.   Ultimately, I'd really like to make Mississippi the kind of place where parents don't have to worry about their children leaving for greener pastures.  I don't really know how to do that, but, ya know, not knowing what I was doing never stopped me before.  

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Ministers and Missles

A lot happened in 1965.  I was two years old.  Millsaps formally opened its doors to integration, following a federal mandate that no school remaining segregated would receive federal funds.  We used federal funds to build the Christian Center, among other things.  

June fourth, 1965 The Clarion-Ledger publishes an article from Bishop Pendergrass, delivered at Galloway, imploring all methodist congregations to stop employing ushers at the doors of the church, implying bouncers who kept negros out, but not mentioning it directly.  Pendergrass said directly that the church in Mississippi must come into compliance with the national church's position on integration without ever using the word "integration."

On the same page, they had a much larger article with a photograph of the Gemini V capsule preparing for launch that week.  Gemini V was the first space walk; For comments by the Methodist Bishop to take up as much space on the front page as the Gemini Launch meant something.  

My Uncle Tom was the editor of the Clarion Ledger.  I never discussed his feelings about integration or how the paper covered it.  I don't know that he would have discussed it with me.  He had a reputation.  Sometimes, it was fair; sometimes, it wasn't.  My grandmother, his sister-in-law, tried to explain it to me a few times, but for people of her generation, these things were difficult to speak plainly of.

One thing I'm getting from all this is a new respect and appreciation for our parents.  Not just my parents but everybody's parents.  There was just so much going on.  There were missiles pointed at us, we were in Viet Nam, the Russians wanted to crush us (and said so), and here at home, everything was coming apart.  

While I'm at rehab, upstairs from me are five people who were at Galloway in 1965.  Two left the Methodist discipline altogether.  Two stayed; one became an independent Methodist for a while but eventually reconciled with Galloway.  Seeing them makes it all very real.

When I go to Sunday School, I try to sit near TW Lewis and Don Fortenberry.  Ed King joins via Zoom.  All pastors fully engaged in what happened in 1965.  William Faulkner said of Mississippi, "The past is never dead. It's not even past"

What started me down this rabbit hole, partially, is this is was a part of my life that had huge implications in my life, but I was too little to understand it, and for a long time, not many people would discuss it.  My sister wasn't even alive yet.   My brothers were mostly concerned about baseball and tree houses.  Most of what I knew about the schism at Galloway came from my grandfather, who used it to frame the story of his childhood church in Hesterville, Mississippi, which chose to leave the larger Methodist church and go it on its own.  That was very painful for him.  His father built that church after the first church burned down.  His father and mother, and brother were buried there.  Since he moved to Jackson, he had no say in what happened there, even though his brother's estate was paying for the upkeep of the cemetery.  Granddaddy decided he wouldn't die on either hill during the fight for integration.  His task, as he saw it, was to employ as man negros as he could and see to it that some effort was made to educate them.  He would and did break bread with any man, but he saw all this fight over race was painful.  Necessary but painful.

Sixty is a nice round number.  The church, my church, again finds itself on the rubicon of deciding whether or not to fully open our doors to people who are unlike us sixty years later.  That decision is rending us into pieces, much like it did in 1965.  

Reading "Agony at Galloway," written in 1980, I get some sense that Cunningham is trying to align himself with the winning side now that the conflict is over, but I do strongly believe he was in genuine Agony in 1965.  Pastors tend to be more idealistic than practical.  That's one of the reasons they become pastors.  Having known some of the people he mentions later in life, I wonder if Cunninghman had taken a firmer stand on one side or the other if the situation would have escalated and truly ended Galloway.  

As it stands, between 1960 and 1968, Galloway lost 18% of its enrolled members.  That number was higher among those who actually sat in the pews every Sunday, but it was a survivable number.  I had always believed it was much higher.  It certainly could have been higher.  Cunningham may have felt personally tortured, but he piloted the ship through the breakers, with some damage, but we were afloat.  He didn't have the benefit of a crew with beeswax in their ears, but I do believe he was tied to the mast.

In today's conflict, Galloway, from what I have seen, is very unified, which is quite different from what happened in 1965.  The rest of our conference, though, is not nearly as unified.  There are painful days ahead.  What I get from all this is that we survived it before.  One product of the change in the sixties was the creation of the United Methodist Church.  It's hard to imagine that, out of a time of such hurtful division, so much growth was the product.  

I'm not a traditionally prayerful person.  I say the Lord's Prayer as instructed to keep the communication between myself and God open,  but I don't ever pray for specific things.  I figure that any God capable of making all this is also capable of seeing what I need and what the people I love need--without me begging like he was Santa Claus.  

What I write, either here or in my journals, is how I articulate the things I would pray for.  Even that is unnecessary for an entity that knows the number of hairs on my head (that one's easy, it's zero), but writing it and articulating it in my own mind helps me see things more clearly.  If that's praying, then I pray for my church nearly every day now.   Not Galloway so much because we're pretty durable, but for the larger church.  We're facing a crisis of conscious similar to that we faced in 1965, and we're getting beat up pretty good for it.   

I have faith that we'll sail through these waters alive.  I have faith because, even though I was very young, in my experience, that's what happened before.  My current pastor, and the two before him, are all within four or five years of the same age as me.  When the church last rented itself apart, all four of us were more concerned about what Captain Kangaroo had to say than Bishop Pendergrass.

I have no issue with following Cary Stockett wherever he leads us.  I've listened to his sermons for a few years now, and we are of like mind on most of the important issues.  His pastoral staff is vibrant and energetic and also of a similar mind and purpose to mine.  I suspect Connie Shelton, of all of us, will take the greatest heat from all of this.  It's already started.  One man felt completely content to lie about her on his website.  I sent him a letter but got no response.  I'm not worried for Connie.  She's pretty strong.  I am sorry she has to go through this.  She loves her church, and she loves us who are in it, and this has to be painful.  In church affairs, the leaders of the battle and the front line are the same.  When the arrows fly in anger, they will hit her before they hit me. I'm sorry for that, but I'm also appreciative of what she's doing for us.   This is the way.

Christianity was born out of one man's agony on a Roman cross.  In that, he prepares us for the far lesser agony that sometimes comes from following him.  Just like in 1965, most of Southern Methodism is girding its loins to fight on one side or the other.  I am, too, I suppose.  My church won't be on the front lines like it was last time.  I'm grateful for that.  Our pastor seems to have the idea that we can become a sanctuary for the battle weary.  Sanctuary, in the original sense, of a place free from attack, but also our architectural sanctuary.  Safety, in the lee side of the tempest.  I'm grateful for that too.

For thine is the kingdom.  Kingdoms are born of suffering.  

Monday, May 8, 2023

The Tartans of Mississippi

They say that associations make a man.  I don't know if that's just, but it certainly was true growing up in Mississippi in the seventies and eighties.

In most places, political party would be an essential association, but it didn't matter much in Mississippi.  Everybody but Wirt Yerger and Billy Mounger were Democrats, and Yerger and Mounger were generally considered mad priests screaming on the temple steps about this new Republican God.   A political trick got Thad Cochran elected, but nobody thought this Republican business would catch on--until Ronald Reagan.  

Mississippians loved movies with cowboys and war heroes, and Reagan made many of them.  Reagan told America its biggest problem was welfare moms, and he took the guns away from the Black Panthers in California.  Yes, Regan was for gun control--under certain circumstances.  These messages resonated in Mississippi.  The glacial ice around the Republican party began to melt.   Yes, they were the people who burned Jackson to the ground.  Yes, they were the people who imposed reconstruction on us for sixty years.  Yes, they were the ones sending revenue officers to raid the parties at Crystal Lake.  All of that is true, but ya know, he sure did show them Black Panthers what, didn't he?

We were a democratic family.  Part of it was just business.  The Democrats were in power all over our sales territory, and we made most of our money selling to public institutions.  It was also a moral decision.  Daddy felt, and I felt, that Mississippi is nearly entirely made up of poor people.  This middle-class bubble we lived in wasn't the real Mississippi.  The real Mississippi could barely pay their rent.  They had poor health because, even if they worked, they had no insurance, and they had no education because that cost money, and nobody had any.   Democrats were more interested in and more generous to poor people.  Democrats also had a better farm bill than the Republicans.  Reagan promised to "restore profitability" to Mississippi farmers by removing government intrusion.  Boy, was he wrong.  

Even though things weren't really working out between Mississippi and Ronald Reagan, this new Republicanism was quietly growing like a thief in the night.  Young Republicans could be identified by their highly starched Oxford cloth shirts, and their numbers were growing.  

From 1963 until the day Daddy died, every successful candidate for Governor of Mississippi had passed through my mother's doors to introduce the candidate to the new Capitol Street Gang.  (Every one, except Cliff Finch.)  I knew when Johnny Gore showed up in the afternoon with all of his bartending stuff, we were in for one of "those" parties.

William Winter and Herman Hines had alerted Daddy to this young fella named Ray Mabus.  He was one of the "boys of spring" who were either hated or celebrated in Mississippi.  He had a firm handshake and a burning intensity in his eyes.  The silent promise was that he would finish what Winter had started.

The party at the Holiday Inn on Millsaps campus, the one owned by Mike Sturdivant (who also had political aspirations), was not my first political victory party, but it was the first where I was old enough to be expected to wear a tie, so I did.  Ray's face was beet red, and sweat rolled freely from under his perfect hair.  He grabbed my hand and my shoulder, like a German butcher sizing up a fresh ham.  This was our new governor.  

Mabus lived up to his unspoken promise and continued the work Bill Winter started.  He was an education-forward governor, and he was winning.  Mississippi adopted new history textbooks on schedule but had no money to buy them.  Mabus made sure Mississippi school children had history and science textbooks written since we landed on the moon. 

Politically, we were successful, and we were happy, but this Reagan thing was growing.   Still, it had to be an anomaly.  One day, Daddy and Rowan and my brother and Doby Bartling used our company tickets to attend an Ole Miss game at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.  The announcer said, "Please stand while the Rebel Band plays our National Anthem."  Wich everybody did.  "Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to our distinguished guest, the Governor of Mississippi, Ray Mabus!"  I could see Ray and his Wife standing in their box seat and waving, but then a sound came from the Ole Miss student section.  They were Booing the Governor of Mississippi, A Democratic Governor of Mississippi,  A Democratic Governor of the State of Mississippi who had graduated Suma Comes Loudly from the University of Mississippi--and they were booing him.  I looked at Daddy and said, "Are we in trouble?"

So, that was the day the Democratic Empire in the state of Mississippi fell.  The dragons had arrived, and soon we'd have our first Republican governor.  Party became an important association by which you judged a man.  For a while, it was, at least.  Lately, we basically flipped the situation that existed; all the white people are n the Republican party now, and all the not white people are in the Democratic.  

Politics were one way to judge a man; religion was another.  Wherever you went to church in Jackson, nearly everyone aligned themselves with five major churches.  Three of them were on corners of the new Capitol Building.  Galloway, First Baptist, and St. Peters.  Beyond that was Central Presbyterian which was replaced in power by First Presbyterian and Beth Israel out in North Jackson.   The other churches followed what these five did.  One thing I'm learning in my recent studies is that St Luke's had all the same problems that Galloway had, just on a smaller scale.   Don't let anybody tell you that Jews and Catholics had no power in Mississippi.  Look at the names of the people who served on the boards of the banks.  Jews from Eastern Europe and Catholics from Ireland were a force in our economic life.  Look at the names of the stores.  Names like Stein and Maloney.

That brings up the next most important way to judge a man.  Banks.  There were two.  You had to pick one.  You HAD to pick one.  Deposit Guarantee had more assets.  First National was more conservative—First National funded financials and retail.  Deposit Guarantee funded an awful lot of real estate and light manufacturing.   One day Jeanne Luckett considered the entrails of a sacred goose and renamed First National Trustmark National Bank, followed by one of the most extensive marketing campaigns in Mississippi history.   Gone were the plastic frugal banks and all the trappings of the sixties.  This was a new bank for a new decade.  Mainly it was done because there were so many "First National" banks all over the world.  It worked.  Shortly after that, she reworked our image as well, and we got rid of those awful orange block letters and got a nifty stylized "M" to represent us.

What college you went to wasn't nearly as important as what college you supported in football and baseball.  Daddy played football for two years at Millsaps and then two at Ole Miss.  He enjoyed Ole Miss Football, but it was mainly a way for him to spend time with us kids.  One of the problems with having a dad like mine was that it sometimes got really hard to spend any time with him.  The only way to do it was to figure out how to fit myself into his schedule.  We had tickets to every game at Veterans Memorial Stadium because we had installed the bleachers and were morally obligated to buy season tickets.  Ben Puckett was one of his best friends.  As much as Daddy was lukewarm about Ole Miss, Ben was very warm about Mississippi State.  

Rowan went to Mississippi State too, but in a culture that was obsessed with the major public university football teams, Rowan Taylor was solidly in a secretive, invasive cult called Millsaps.   I don't even know what lured Rowan into the Major's influence.  Toward the end of his life, it was the woman he loved, but I never knew about how it started.  He was deeply devoted to Eudora Welty.  Maybe that was it.

Daddy enjoyed football at Ole Miss, but he loved football at Millsaps.  You could tell because he'd skip an Ole Miss game if none of us went with him, but he'd go to Millsaps games alone, in the cold and the rain.  He would never really be alone, though.  If they were in Mississippi and in good health, Daddy would meet Rowan, George Harmon, and Jack Woodward at the same spot for every game.  There's a balcony/deck thing there now.  Then it was just grass.  

"Get me some peanuts, buddy.  Get one for Rowan.  Here's five bucks; get five."  I figured out if I was gonna get to know my Daddy, I had to meet him on his own turf.  

So, of the houses and tartans of Mississippi, I align myself this way:  Trustmark, Democrat (mainly because the Republicans are currently fuckin' nuts), Galloway, Ole Miss--but in the cult of Millsaps.  

Our culture doesn't really go by these rules anymore.  For one thing, When Warren and Elsie Hood retired, they sold off their Deposit Guarantee shares, so now they're owned by an out-of-state entity.  That's a whole other story.  I'm old-fashioned, though.  I like to pretend it's 1982, and I'm eighteen, and Jackson is growing like a weed...

Not really.  I'm pretty realistic about the world as it is.  I still like to think about the way it was.  That happens when you get old.  "You Damn Millennials are gonna run everything!!"  Actually, that's not true.  I kind of like the Millennials.  They have great potential.  


Friday, May 5, 2023

Creative Constipation

 For weeks, I was suffering from chronic creative constipation.  I tried talking to feist-dog, but he was mostly asleep and not at all interested in me.  If I can't make things, eventually, I'll die of starvation.  I think that's part of how I ended up flat on my back in the hospital.  I had given up on making things for too long.  If creation is my life force, then I was suffering from severe ataxia.

It took me fifty-eight years to become what I was born to be.  I don't blame anyone except maybe myself.  My parents had no more idea of what to do with me than if someone had given them a giraffe.  I stole that line from the movie Gods and Monsters.  You should see it.

After what seemed like an eternity of constipation, this weekend, I had a breakthrough and have been experiencing an abundant eruption of griffonage ever since.  A friend of mine read my piece about Lavender Graduation and said how much she enjoyed it, but it was "SO LONG."  

I told Sam that part of that was me figuring out how I'm going to write about certain things and certain people in my book.  My purpose isn't to expose anyone or excise any personal daemons (any more than I can help it). What I'm trying to create isn't journalism.  It's more like writing down a melody that's been haunting me for decades.  I'd like to say something about humanity, not individual people.

If I ever finish the goddamn thing, and if you ever read it, there will be times when you say, "Oh, I know him!" but you won't.  All the characters are composites of several people.  Almost all the events in my story are, or were, real; but I might move them around thinking it's more interesting if it happens to John rather than Peter like it did in real life, so there may be times when you say "oh, I remember that."  but, it'll be different from what you remember.  

Some of the people in the book aren't alive anymore, so I'm moving gingerly through the words because their memory is more important to me than any ten books, and they're not here for me to ask, "Is it ok to say this?"  Part of why I want to do this is because it's a love letter for people I can't speak to anymore.  That doesn't include fiest-dog.  

Without anything more logical, I'll attribute my late surge of creativity to Nicole Saad going to Greece.  Some of the plays I enjoyed working on the most were with Nicole.  For the most part, we love the same people and the same things.  That counts for a lot.   You don't get to share that with very many people in this world.  When it happens, hold them dear.

The myths of Greece, the plays, and the poems are as fundamental to my way of thinking as the Christian myths.  "Myth" doesn't mean "not true."  Myth means "A story of the Gods."  I have no problem mentioning Greek myths in the same sentence as Christian myths because the only commandment I have to deal with is "Thou shalt have no Gods before me." and I don't have a problem with that.  Zeus, as important as he is, won't ever supplant Yahweh in my mind or heart.

My love for Hellenistic culture I owe to several people.   The finer points and more intricate discussions I owe to Joseph Campbell's books in part, but a much, much larger part to Catherine and Richard Freis.  My dearest Martha Hammond gave me an illustrated Edith Hamilton book when I was in middle school, which helped a great deal.  Martha was one of the people who didn't give up on the idea that I could learn to read.  

My very first exposure to Greek Myth came on a Saturday night on the rug of my mom's house, with two boys around me and a baby sister in daddy's arms on the sofa.  Jason and the Argonauts came on television, and I was amazed.  Later in life, I would come to know the magician, Ray Harryhausen, who created the god Talos and the monster hydra and the army of the dead.  I've written a lot about my experiences with Ray Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury, and Forrest Ackerman; this is how it began.

Nicole travels the world with a cluster covey of ladies like a younger version of The Golden Girls, but also like Sex In The City in the Suburbs.  They spread a bunch of Mississippi all over unsuspecting people in foreign lands.  It amuses and pleases me to no end.  I'd do anything for Nicole Saad Bradshaw.  I'm absolutely certain she'll have cocktails on the moon one day, and I'll see it on Instagram.

It's five o'clock in the morning, and I can't sleep because I need to make words.  They make themselves, I just jot them down.  I used to do this knowing that nobody but feist-dog would ever see what I wrote.  Now that I'm letting everybody see my scribbles, it's kind of weird.  This has changed from the way I communicate with God to the way I communicate with my friends.  Ironically, when I communicated with only God, my language used many more blue words.  I'm trying to cut down because my Aunt says I can do better.  She's right, of course, but I still like to slip on in here and there for emphasis--goddamnit.

I hope, when I die, it will be during one of these periods where the words flow freely from me, like a bubbling well, rather than one of these periods when I don't anything to say to anybody, where God and Feist-dog have both abandoned me. 

In Mississippi, practicing law or medicine will make you somebody, but writing will make you immortal.  Go to Hal and Mal's some time and see how many writers are on the wall.  We're almost as big as Elvis.  Go to Oxford sometime, and you can feel the words moving through the air.  There are many things Mississippi cannot do, but this we can.  

Official Ted Lasso