Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Derailed Story

Sometimes, I lose control of my stories.  Earlier today, I tried to write down how this girl once spent several minutes slapping and punching me because I didn't keep my eyes closed during an intimate moment.  It was supposed to be funny.  At least it was unusual.  Along the way, I wrote down how I'd never hit a girl, which is almost true in that I've never raised my hand in anger like that, but there was that time in fifth grade when I mistakenly tried to wrestle a girl because I thought she was another one of the boys.   

Once I did that, the whole piece became about how bad that mistake made me feel, which it did, and whatever point I had that was funny evaporated like a vampire in the sun, and the longer the story got, the less it worked.  It wasn't funny anymore.  It wasn't anything, just an ambling mess.  

When I paint or draw, I usually try to capture something my eye actually saw, which keeps me on track.  Writing is only like that when you answer an essay question in school.  With free writing, you sometimes start out trying to bake a chicken and end up with broiled oysters.  The process, at least the way I do it, takes its own course, and you're just there trying to scribble it all down.

Art is a collaboration between the conscious and unconscious mind.  While my story wasn't particularly good, it became an interesting opportunity to examine my creative process. Maybe one day I'll return to that story's funny side, or maybe I'll never think of it again.  That part doesn't matter.  What does matter is that I had an idea, and I put it on paper, and it became whatever it needed to become.       

And She Hit Me

In the years since I realized she was being silly, maybe even neurotic.  It had me plenty worried at the time, though.  In the summer between high school and college, I was nearly beaten to death by a woman who was upset that I didn't close my eyes during a moment of physical intimacy.  That's an exaggeration, of course.  I wasn't ever in any danger, but getting hit by somebody who wasn't supposed to try and hurt me went against many things I assumed were true.  

That summer, I was less than two years from the peak of my physical strength and development, and her tiny fists beating on my meaty flesh weren't much of a mortal threat, but it was a great surprise.  I wasn't even aware that I was supposed to keep my eyes closed or that not keeping them closed was some sort of rude crossing of the lines of polite exchange.  Without meaning to, I offended her to the point where she felt violence, ineffective as it was, was necessary to correct my behavior.  She also cried, which hurt me considerably more than her fists.

All boys are taught that they should never lay hands on a girl.  Boys my size are especially reminded of that rule.  There were two times when I broke that rule without meaning to.  One was a day in the fifth grade when, during the physical education period, we boys were playing and practicing moves we'd seen on MidSouth Wrestling on TV, mixed with a few Godzilla movies.  Since I was the biggest, I got to be the bad guy, and everybody tried their best to take me down as elaborately.  Being boys, we were playing pretty rough.  Young bodies are more resilient than older ones, so nobody gets hurt.  

Our games excluded girls.  Pretty much everything we did in the fifth grade excluded girls.  I never really considered that might be an offense, as they never showed much interest in playing our games.  Unaware as I was, at least some of the girls were watching, and wanting to be included.  

Among my many attackers, I felt someone smaller jump on my back.  Although I didn't know who it was, I assumed it was one of the boys who always played these games with me.  That was a mistake.  Without looking, I grabbed the arms grappling around my neck and threw my assailant over my shoulder.  They performed that sort of move on TV wrestling all the time.  I'd done it in the gym like we were then and on the grassy yards outside.  I expected whoever I threw to jump back up and come at me again.  That was the point of the game.  This time, once thrown, my playmate didn't move.  They lay in a lump on the gym floor, all arms and legs and gym clothes--girl's gym clothes.  I'd made a terrible mistake.

Her name was Tiffany.  Weeks before I admitted to some other boys, I thought she was pretty.  This started an argument about which girls were pretty and who we thought was prettiest.  She lay on the ground, frozen in shock and crying.  A teacher rushed to her and made sure nothing was broken.  Nothing was.  She wasn't injured, but nobody could believe what I'd done.  I was sent to the office.  

I tried to argue that it was an accident, that I thought it was a boy who jumped on me, that it all happened so fast I didn't know what I was doing.  The grownups tried very hard to make sure I felt guilty.  They didn't need to.  I felt unredeemable.  Playing rough with boys was one thing.  That was expected.  Playing rough with girls was just alien, a violation of the code kids lived by.  It was difficult enough just to talk to girls; they weren't for wrestling.

Later that year, I tripped someone, without looking, that I thought was another boy, my friend, but it turned out to be a girl who had run ahead of him.  After getting in trouble again for the same thing, my days of wrestling with anyone, boy or girl, were over.  Clearly, I couldn't be trusted to do it safely.  

Disciplining a child like me couldn't have been easy because, knowing I was wrong, I became frightened about what made me do these things.  I worried that it must look like I wanted to hurt people, which I thought wasn't true, but since I did hurt people, what really was true?  I tried to explain that I hadn't meant to hurt anyone, but that wasn't good enough.

These incidents were enough to change my behavior without ever really doing much damage to one of my classmates.  After that, I spent most of my life afraid to ever raise a hand in anger to anyone or lose my temper.  

That summer between high school and college, whatever events shaped my behavior hadn't shaped the woman who was angry at me.  Yelling at me, even hitting me, were permissible in her rules of engagement, even though I maintained that I didn't know I was supposed to keep my eyes closed.  I didn't know what I did was wrong.

It didn't matter that she wasn't physically hurting me; she was making me feel very guilty of a transgression, even though I didn't know it was a transgression.  In the moment, it seemed like my ignorance of the transgression was yet another transgression.  I should have known better.  

This wasn't the last time I suffered physical violence from a woman I was involved with.  We tend not to talk about this very much since it's less dangerous when it's a woman hitting a man.  It also makes the man look weak.  Women tend to be less inclined to violence, so it happens a lot less often than when the man is the aggressor, but It does happen, though.  Anyone can be abused.

People who suffer from any sort of abuse often feel like they did something to cause it, that they deserved it.  I certainly did.  Since she wasn't causing any physical injury, I usually just let it happen.  All I could think of was to take it quietly and just not call on her again.

Human interaction is terribly complicated.  We have all these expectations of how people should interact with us, and often, they don't meet those expectations, which can lead to frustration and anger.  It's not healthy to assume you're in the wrong like I did, but it kept me from acting back in anger, so it wasn't a bad trade.  Healthy interactions with others are required for life, even though they're sometimes challenging.  I was lucky that I was able to absorb an awful lot of abuse before it became a problem.  That's not ideal, but it helped prevent hurting anyone by mistake ever again.  



Sunday, January 28, 2024

Leaving the Protection of the Playpen

I was still very young when we moved from Northside Drive to Honeysuckle Lane.  My sister only lived in the old house a few months before we moved.  All I remember of the Northside Drive house was watching my brothers play and being too young to join them, especially in the tree house my oldest brother and our neighbor built.  They nailed boards to the tree trunk to make a ladder, and I was too short to reach the first one.  

Seven people living in a three-bedroom house meant all three boys slept in one room, the baby girl and my grandmother in another, and my parents in the larger master bedroom.  I could make a lot of noise but had trouble making words.  I was too young for anyone to suspect I had a stuttering problem.  They thought I was just too young to make words and sentences properly.

Being in the middle often meant no one would notice me if I was quiet, so I was quiet often.  Even then, getting a lot of attention made me nervous.  Years of psychotherapy couldn't come up with many theories on it either.  I guess I was just born nervous.

Everyone wanted to see the baby.  That was fine by me.  The older boys had all the freedom in the world.  While it looked like fun, it intimidated me.  I wanted a piece of it, although I never got it.  With all this going on, it was often difficult to get Mother's attention.  With three other children, her own mother to take care of, and all her leagues and clubs, her schedule was pretty full. 

Playpens were fairly common then.  Essentially, it was a cage painted with stars, cows, moons, and other things that interested children. Parents could put their toddlers inside, and they couldn't wander off.  The baby was safe in their playpen, and whoever was minding them didn't have to pay so much attention.  Playpens are effective until the baby gets strong enough to climb out of them.  I don't know if they were supposed to leave a lasting impression on the children who were left in playpens, but I remember being in mine.  

My mother enjoyed telling about how she asked her teenage niece to watch over me.  It wouldn't be difficult since I was in the playpen.  She set my playpen in the front yard with my cousin Libby watching over me, which worked fine until some of Libby's teenage friends came to see her.  While they were busy talking about the things teenage girls talk about, nobody was paying much attention to me, so they missed the point where I threw off my diaper and began my climb out of the pen.  Libby snatched me up before I made too much progress from the playpen to the street, but it gave her a big scare, and she was mortified that her friends saw the whole affair.  

My father began spending less and less time at home as his career began to take off.  I remember him having uniforms to coach my brother's pee wee baseball team, and he had his own imitation buckskin tunic to wear when he took them to Indian Guides.  There wasn't time for any of that with me.  When I was older, I asked why there were no photos of my pee wee baseball team.  I could tell it hurt my mother when she said there wasn't enough time for me to play, so I never asked again.  

They signed me up for Indian Guides, but when I noticed that my dad was the only one missing nearly all the meetings, I asked if I could stay home.  If I diddn't go to the Indian Guide meeting, nobody would noticed my dad wasn't around.  I bragged about spending breakfast with him, which was true, but still not the same as having him there.  He worked to make time for me, but there was less and less of it to spare as his life became more complicated.

My place of refuge was Martha Hammond's kitchen.  The Hammonds lived behind us.  She had children, too, but they were older.  Some were even teenagers.  We would watch television together and talk.  Martha Hammond was probably the first person I ever really talked to.  I know she was the first person who ever much listened.  I don't know how much a four-year-old might have to say that's interesting, but whatever it was, she listened, and her listening made an impact on me.

Everything is potentially traumatizing for small children, but moving can be particularly confusing.  The house on Honeysuckle Lane was easily twice the size of the house on Northside Drive.  I had a semi-private bedroom where a large partition defined my space from my brother's, and we each had our own closet.   We had new neighbors, but I missed the old ones, particularly Mrs. Hammond.  Already an insecure child, something about moving made it worse.

One day, as he came home from work, my father found me under my grandmother's bed, crying.  

"What's wrong, buddy?"  He asked.

"I don't know where I belong,"  I answered, refusing to come out from under the bed.

Daddy laughed.  "This is your house, buddy.  You belong here!"

"No, I don't.  I don't belong here.  I don't belong anywhere!"  and, still, I refused to come out.

Hearing this conversation, my Mother sat on the side of the bed and asked if I would come out when supper was ready.  I said I would try.  My parents left the room, but I could tell they were amused at my predicament.  Children say the funniest things.  It didn't seem funny to me.  

I don't know what prompted this feeling of not belonging.  I think it was always there.  I think it's still always there.  I suspect moving had something to do with what made it worse that day, but it might also have been that my difficulties in communication were beginning to surface.  I was becoming aware that I couldn't say what I was trying to say.  The stutter made it difficult for me to string the words together in a way that expressed what I meant.

Without the sanctuary of Martha Hammond's kitchen, when not watching television, I began sitting in the window seat to the breakfast room, where I could watch my mother as she organized the household.  Without communicating, I could watch the actors cross the boards of this household drama as I became increasingly detached from it.

One day, my mother loaded her car to take my brothers to baseball and do the grocery shopping, leaving my grandmother and the maid to watch over me and the baby.  This wasn't all that unusual, but something unsettled me.  As they drove away, I ran to the window seat to watch her station wagon go down the driveway, then to the front window to see them drive down Honeysuckle Lane to turn on Meadowbrook Road.  

Something panicked me.  I ran out of the front door and ran to the edge of the lot, as close as I could to stepping a foot on the forbidden Meadowbrook road.  "Mamma!" I cried.  "Mamma!  Mamma! Come back, Mamma!"  If I screamed loud enough, maybe she'd hear me and come back.  "Mamma!  Don't leave me!" I shouted.  Hattie, the maid, heard the noise I was making and came out to find me.  

"Come on inside, Mr Boyd.  You know she'll be home directly."  She said, trying to pull me away from the street.  I dropped to my knees, "Mamma!  I'm still here, Mamma!  You left me!  Don't leave me!  I'll be good!  Don't leave me!"

The crying made it hard to speak, even hard to see.  I curled up in a ball on the front lawn.  Hattie picked me up, carried me inside, and put me on the bed in my grandmother's room.  Nanny sat on her rocking chair beside her bed and assured me that Mother would be home and everything would be alright.

This memory would come and go and change places many times in the conversation in my mind.  It's held different meanings for me at different times in my life.  First, Hattie, the maid, died, then Nanny, my grandmother died, then my Mother died.  Sometimes, this memory returns now as a nightmare when I remember my mother is gone in my dreams.  No amount of screaming or calling her name will bring her back.  Consciously, I know this and can deal with it rationally, but when I close my eyes to sleep, the rational world loses its grip, and I'm a little boy who hides under beds again.  

There have been times when I lost so much and lost so many people that I began to wish I would be the next one to go so that I wouldn't again be the little boy crying fruitlessly for somebody to come back on the corner of Honeysuckle and Meadowbrook.  Maybe I was an insecure child because, even as a child, I knew life doesn't last.  You have to live for the moment because the moment is all you have.  




Saturday, January 27, 2024

Eudora Welty - A Visit of Charity

 Tomorrow's story for the Eudora Welty reading group is "A Visit of Charity" from "A Curtain of Green."  The story is about Marian, a little girl and member of an organization like the Girl Scouts (but not the Girl Scouts) who visits the Old Ladies Home to gain points for her organization and her reaction to the women in the home.

The Old Ladies' Home was a large wooden structure just east of the Jackson Zoo.  My grandmother was a contemporary of Miss Welty but a few years older.  My father's mother, she was deeply involved in the Girl Scouts most of her life, and in middle age, she and a group of women she knew became very involved in helping with the Old Ladies' Home.  As time passed, the City of Jackson became less and less interested in maintaining the Old Ladies' home, so it fell on private citizens to help maintain it and provide for the residents.  

Eventually, it became really difficult to maintain the old wooden structure, and only a few residents left living there, as most people had begun using nursing homes rather than the Old Ladies' Home.  Since I was on the board of the Zoo, she asked me to help facilitate giving the land and the building to the Zoo.  I told her we didn't really need the extra five acres (and another old building to maintain), but as the City of Jackson ultimately owned both properties, I felt certain there was a way to make it happen.


Sometimes, it's hard for me to read Welty's stories from an academic viewpoint because her subject matter seems so very familiar.  She wasn't family or anything, but it's really close.  It wasn't hard to imagine my mother or grandmother as Marian, the protagonist in this story, as both had stories about visiting the residents at the Old Ladies Home, as I'm sure Miss Welty did herself.

An avid gardener, she creatively includes her beloved plants in nearly all her stories.  For this story, she mentions cineraria as a small potted plant her antagonist brings as a gift for the ladies at the Old Lady's Home.  Sometimes called "climbing fig," you see cineraria in many Mississippi gardens.

Put on by the Mississippi Archives and History and the Eudora Welty Foundation, I'm really enjoying these weekly zoom sessions to discuss the works of Eudora Welty.  Many thanks to Catherine Freis for telling me about it.  

Monday, January 22, 2024

Raising A Gifted Child

I tend to see the world through a child's eyes.  Some people would say that I'm psychologically stuck and maybe trying to work through some drama.  I don't think that's the case.  

Behind what we think we are, we're all always just ten years old--as the years go by, we add experience to that and sometimes cover some of it up.  Sometimes we cover so much of it up that there's nothing of whatever made that ten-year-old amazing still visible.  

I look at the lives of the people I find amazing.  Most are artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians, but some are lawyers, scientists, educators, and pastors.  What I notice about their lives is that, without fail, whatever became amazing about them existed and could be discerned when they were just ten years old.  

Some had parents who recognized that golden seed of what their child would become and nurtured it, fed it, and told them that if they tried hard enough and believed in themselves enough, that golden seed would one day be a beautiful tree.  Others had parents who told them that this glowing thing inside them was "very nice," but they should find something practical to do with their lives because artists are poor.  

Both of these paths were taken by parents who loved their children more than life itself.  Sometimes, children are told they must find a more practical way to live than by using their gifts. When that happens, it takes longer to discover and develop what they really are, but they almost always find a way.  

If the parent of an artistically gifted child were to ask me for advice, I'd tell them that it's ok if they don't understand the path their child is trying to take.  It's okay if they worry that the path may not support their child or wish they chose something more practical.  To borrow a quote from "Gods and Monsters," sometimes trying to raise an artistically gifted child is like being given a giraffe and expected to know how to feed and raise it.  

Just do the best you can.  If you love them, they will know.  Your child's path in life isn't meant to be easy.  That's not your fault.  You'll probably never see their work for its greatness, because all you'll see is how much you love them.    

Life is a struggle.  Love makes it more so.  By the time you've had enough experience to do a really good job of raising your ten year old, you're too old to have another one and waiting for your grandchildren to turn ten.  That's ok.  They'll forgive you.  

Sunday, January 21, 2024

What I'm Reading: The Question of God

 Next week, I'm beginning to read "The Question of God" by  Armand Nicholi.  The book is a series of fictional conversations between CS Lews and Sigmund Freud.  

Armand M. Nicholi Jr. is a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor.  The novel discusses the difficult and painful relationships that both Freud and Lewis suffered and how their experiences in life might have shaped their concept of God.  Both, having survived World War I, were said to suffer PTSD for the rest of their lives.  The book takes place shorter after Freud was diagnosed with cancer, but before he took his own life and before Lewis adopted children who were war orphans that became models for the children in the Narnia series of books.

The book was interpreted as a play by Mark St. Germain, which in turn was made into a film directed by Matthew Brown, starring Anthony Hopkins as Freud and Matthew Goode as Lewis.  Hopkins played Lewis in the 1993 film, "Shadowlands."

The Question of God by Armand Nicholi on sale at Amazon

Addams Family Mansion

 Charles Addams and his wife before College Hall, the structure at the University of Pennsylvania that inspired the mansion seen in the Addams Family cartoons.  Known as a "ladies' man," Addams married several beautiful women, none of whom were murdered.  



A Memory : A Curtian Of Green

Reading "A Memory" from Eudora Welty's "A Curtain of Green," it occurs to me that, although she never mentions it, the lake she's talking about must be Livingston Lake across from the Jackson Zoo.  She describes it perfectly with the beaches of sand trucked into Jackson to cover the natural mud bottom of the lake.  

She talks about the pavilions, painted white, that circle the shore.  There was no Pearl River Reservoir in her youth and no Lake Hico.  Neither of them brought in sand to make a beach anyway.  It had to be Livingston late.  

That happens a lot when people from here read Eudora Welty; they'll run across a bit that suddenly starts to sound familiar, and then a smile of recognition comes to the reader.  "I know this place."  

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Hell Broke Luce

 In 2007, the parents of 23-year-old Jeffrey Lucey filed suit against the Veterans Administration for wrongful death in the case of their son Jeff, who committed suicide after suffering from PTSD stemming from his experience in the Iraq War and the Battle of Nasiriyah.  

His case inspired singer and songwriter Tom Waits to write the song Hell Broke Luce, which is about Lucey's experience.  



How We Pray

 I see a lot of talk about people praying for help or hoping that God "hears their prayers."  In Christianity, we've cultivated this idea that if you need something, and if you've been good, then you should pray for it, and, like Santa Claus, God will give you what you asked for.

I've always wondered if it worked that way.  Jesus said that God is like the shepherd looking to rescue his lost sheep, so it's clear that when we're in trouble, God knows our needs and begins working on what we need long before we ask for it.  

Sometimes, people use prayer to thank God for the blessings we've already received. Do you think that's necessary? I'm sure God knows that once you admit you're aware of him, that makes you about as grateful as you're capable of being.  

Maybe the best use of prayer is a time to pause in life and willingly and consciously try to connect with the higher power.  Just for a moment, you're like the limp and lifeless Adam in the Sistine Chapel painting, reaching out your feeble finger to touch the omnipotent finger of God.  All your needs, he's already noted.  He's already noted all your gracious thoughts.  Prayer is a moment in time when you can recharge your life's batteries by touching the infinite source of power, and you can do it as many times, every day, as you need it.  

Friday, January 19, 2024

Washing Our Feet

Like many cities in the South, by 1963, Jackson, Mississippi, closed all of its public swimming pools rather than integrate them as required by the Civil Rights Act.  The city argued that closing the facilities didn't violate the Civil Rights Act because closing the facilities impacted both races equally.  The Supreme Court upheld this view.

In 1969, Fred Rogers's television program, "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood," had a huge impact nationally but still had a very small budget.  Realizing the impact his program had on people, Rogers wanted to say something positive about integration, but since his program was for small children, he didn't want to do it in a confrontational way, and he needed it to not cost very much money to produce.

In "Mr Rogers Neighborhood," actors portrayed the characters children might recognize in their neighborhood.  They were postal workers, police officers, shopkeepers, handymen, and others.  In May 1969, as the issue of integration and public swimming pools grew, Rogers had an idea for a segment involving Officer Clemmons.


Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Fran├žois Clemmons was a black singer.  By the time he began working for Fred Rogers, he had spent time singing in the Harlem Spiritual Choir and the Metropolitan Opera.  Fred Rogers knew Clemmons was a gay man but hired him anyway for his program, a move that was, by itself, very controversial at the time, especially considering that Rogers was an ordained minister.  Clemmons played the neighborhood policeman, which was somewhat controversial as Mr. Roger's Neighborhood appeared to be white.

Without making any sort of confrontational statement, Rogers thought that Mr Rogers and Officer Clemmons could take off their shoes and dip their feet in a cool plastic wading pool together on a hot summer day.  The taking off or changing of shoes was often used to represent a time of relaxation or intimacy, a letting down of defenses, on the program, as Mr Rogers changed his leather "work shoes" to cloth loafers to begin every show.

Before coming to television, Fred Rogers was a minister.  In the Christian faith, the idea of washing one's feet has a deep spiritual meaning, one he hoped would be evident to adults watching the episode.  For children, he hoped to gently instill the idea that black men and white men could swim together and be friends with nothing to worry about.  When the two finished washing their feet and quietly talking, they shared a towel to dry their feet, reinforcing the "washing of feet" theme while also making it evident that sharing a swim or a towel wasn't dangerous.  He feared that hearing adults argue about integrating swimming pools might make children afraid of it, so this was his gentle means to show them there was nothing to worry about.  

In Mississippi, where much of the argument over integrated pools originated, children like me never saw this episode when it first aired because the Mississippi legislature refused to fund public broadcasting for fear it would spread a communist, race-mixing message, even though the funds for it had already come down from the federal government.  (Sound familiar?)  It wasn't until late in 1969 when the Mississippi Legislature voted to create the Mississippi Public Broadcasting System, which wouldn't go into effect until 1970, almost a year after the pool episode of Mr. Rogers.

In 1993, when Clemmons made his final appearance on Mr Rogers Neighborhood, Rogers and Clemmons recreated the pool scene, where they sang "There Are Many Ways to Say I Love You" together.  After soaking their feet together, Rogers used a towel to dry his own feet and then used the same towel to dry Clemmons' feet, mimicking the moment in Christ's life when he washed the feet of the apostles.   

Fred Rogers understood that gestures are often a far better way to teach than words.  Trying to mend the wounds of the world in the minds of children, he invoked a gesture he knew well from the life of Christ.  Humility creates an environment that breeds love.


Thursday, January 18, 2024

Lamar Disco

 Stage and dance floor, Lamar Theater/Disco, Downtown Jackson, 1979



Wednesday, January 17, 2024

First Look at Poor Things

As you've probably gathered from the trailer, this year's "Poor Things" is a reimagining of Frankenstein, with Emma Stone playing the role of the reanimated corpse.  In this version, her body is that of a young pregnant woman who took her own life, reanimated by a scientist who replaces her brain with that of her unborn child.

You'll hear a lot about how the film handles social roles, particularly sexual roles, and the frank way the creature discovers the world through her attempts to understand sexuality.  You'll also hear a lot about the arresting visual style of the film.

Most of my thoughts watching the film were about comparing how Boris Karloff handled this character in the 30s vs how Emma Stone handled it today.  



Tuesday, January 16, 2024

To Be Well-Read

How many books does it take to be considered "well-read?"  I'll go to my grave, considering myself just the opposite.  Part of it is because, even after fighting that dragon for more than fifty years, it's still a struggle for me to read any book, to keep my eye on the page rather than focusing on the flicker of a light bulb filament or the legs of a moth as my ADHD demands, frustrated by trying to arrange the words and letters on the page that my dyslexia jokingly rearranges.  

I surround myself with people who make me envious of the books they've read.  People like Catherine, who taught generations of young scholars to read Greek, or Brent, who nearly killed us all by demanding we read a new play every week and turn in a card on it, or Suzanne, who quietly sat with Miss Eudora all those years and soaked in all the magic she gave out. 

I used to go to Oxford to try and catch a glimpse of Larry Brown.  In a time when most people who like letters were looking for the more elaborate Barry Hannah, I was fascinated by this quiet fireman who ate one book after another in his firehouse, then settled down and wrote dozens of stories and two novels before deciding to show them to anyone.  

My father wanted me to settle in and become part of the community of businessmen who provided jobs and helped build their community, like his father and his father's father, but all I wanted was to at least sit with the people of letters, even though I never dreamed of being one of them, at least not to where I'd admit it to anyone.

How many books does it take to be considered "well-read?"  I have a bucket list that's quite long.  Plays, novels, collections of stories.  An awful lot of the science fiction I love so much comes in the form of stories because that was how you published them in the years when science fiction grew out of a few nineteenth-century novels into what it is today.  

I'll never finish the bucket list.  That's part of the point of having a bucket list.  I'm a boy who loves to read, born an imperfect and fettered reader.  I suppose that's for the best.  If my reading weren't fettered and restrained, considering the sheer volume of books I'd like to read one day, you'd probably never see me again.  I'd be sitting under a tree, surviving off the fruit it drops, and reading my books.  

Invincible Dinosaur

 In August 1969, Hurricane Camille devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  The destruction was unbelievable.  In some cases, shrimp boats were found as far as half a mile inland.  Many homes and businesses were destroyed.  Less than 100 yards from the water, the popular miniature golf course, Magic Golf, received some damage, but the popular concrete T-Rex received almost no damage.  Following the story, engineering and architectural students from around the world visit Biloxi to discover why the statue stood firm and resolute amidst all the damage and destruction.  



Monday, January 15, 2024

Star Trek Honors Actor's Partner


Melissa Navia quickly became a fan favorite on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.  Something of a newcomer, fans didn't really know much about her going in, but her magnetic personality soon made her a favorite.  Soon after learning that she had a part in the exciting new series, Navia also found out that her husband had leukemia.  Shortly before the last writer's strike ended, he passed away.  Strange New World writers and Show Runners decided to honor one of the fictitious nebulas in the show after Brian Bannon, Navia's late husband.

That Super Bowl Party

So, every year, rain or shine or covid, they have this big party, so big they call it the "Super Bowl," and people put quite a bit of store into it.  They spend months and months prior to the party pushing each other back and forth, trying to secure an invitation to the party.  Even though they advertise it as the world's biggest party, they're still pretty dang stingy with the invitations.  

When I was little, pretty much everybody assumed that folks from Dallas would get an invitation to the party, and, sure enough, the years came and went and the folks from Dallas almost always got their all polished-up invitation to this dang stupid party.

In the last few years, though, things have changed.  They're having trouble keeping the lights on in Dallas, and the Senator who's supposed to take care of them just sneaks off to a Mexican beach vacation.  I don't know what happened.  Maybe they're not wearing the right kind of shoes.  Maybe they don't know all the right dances, but it's been a while since folks from Dallas were invited to this party, and they're getting just a little bit sore about it.

Last night, the folks from Dallas got in a scuff-up with some folks from Wisconsin, of all places, hoping they'd get somebody's attention and get invited to this year's Super Bowl party.  Well, it didn't work out that way, and the once mighty folks from Dallas will be staying home and ordering a pizza while the big party goes on.   I'd feel sorry for them, but to tell the truth, Dallas fans were always kind of jerks, so maybe this will help teach them some humility. 


Saturday, January 13, 2024

Martin Luther King in Mississippi

Martin Luther King Jr. was told repeatedly it was too dangerous for him to come to Mississippi. Mississippi lead the world in reports of racial violence. Despite the warnings, King did come to Jackson, and spoke in front of the Mississippi State Capitol building in the days leading up to Medgar Evers entering the University of Mississippi.


I'll Love You Forever

 When I woke up, I realized I was dreaming about my mother again.  I was angry at her, in the dream...again.

Mother! Mother! Where are you?  I'm here all alone.  I've been calling and calling for you.  Mother! Where are you?  Why aren't you here with me?

Grief doesn't manifest itself very well in me.  Neither does love.  I asked my mother once why she only ever attended three or four out of the countless theater performances I was involved in, and she said, "Because you never told me they were happening."  I don't accept love well.  I guess, I feared she wouldn't go if I told her, so I never told her.  

In a world where nothing lasts, complete love and complete surrender to another person seems fairly cruel.  It's not just that we were given and then taken away that makes it cruel, but that we were given, then made to feel we could never do without, and then taken away.  I am convinced there's a fairly large number of people who only believe in heaven because there's someone they miss so much that the only way they can bear it is with the belief that they will be reunited one day.  

Mother!  Mother?   Where are you?  You said you'd be here, but you're not.  

My mother loved the book, "Love You Forever" by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Sheila McGraw.


Softly she sings to him:
"I'll love you forever
I'll like you for always
As long as I'm living
My mommy you'll be."


Thursday, January 11, 2024

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (Theme from the TV Series)

50 years ago, this weekend, after the successful Night Stalker movie, ABC begins the weekly televised stories of Karl Kolchack, investigating the unknown.  Among other things, the series would influence and inspire the creation of The X Files, 25 years later.  The haunting whistling leading into the tension-filled musical theme for the show still gives me goosebumps.  

Use The Force

 It's supposed to be 12 degrees on Monday.  If I'm not back by noon, send Han out after me. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Landon Talks. A Lot

 

A teacher at the Laurel Magnet School of the Arts and former winner of the Mississippi Educator of the Year, Landon Bryant is the creator of the insanely popular channel LANDONTTALKSALOT, where he discusses the fine details of Southern Culture in a way that reminds anyone from here of being here.  

He's on the advisory board of the Lauren Rogers Museum in Laurel.  A 2014 BA graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi, His wife Kate is a painter and journalist, also living in Laurel.

With the success of Ben and Erin Napier's "Home Town" on cable TV and now the sensation surrounding Landon, the renaissance of Lauel is unmistakable like a firework at night.

Laurel was one of the first locations of the Office Supply Company outside of Jackson.  It's there that my Uncle Boyd met Alexander and Elizabeth Chisholm who involved him in the career of Lyontine Price.  On my many trips eastward to Laurel, I soon became enchanted with its picturesque downtown and the old homes off the square.  

Landon's videos have a hypnotic quality to them.  They invoke a feeling for your own childhood in your own hometown and a memory for people long moved onto another plane.  

Fresh out of college, Landon and Kate's first apartment with their baby burned to the ground with all their belongings.  Local fundraisers helped them get back on their feet without any hint of the massive success coming their way.  

Landon Talks A lot -- Youtube
https://www.youtube.com/@Landontalksalot

Landon Talks A Lot -- Instagram 
https://www.instagram.com/landontalks/?hl=en

Landon Talks A Lot -- Tic Tok
https://www.tiktok.com/@landontalks?lang=en

The Coolest Kate -- Instagram
https://www.instagram.com/thecoolestkate

Katelyn Bryant -- Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/katelyn.ellzey

What Caused The Civil War

Sometimes, people question whether the Civil War was about slavery or not. This is what Lincoln said as the war raged on around him:

"Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

Monday, January 8, 2024

They Leave Home

 We bring them home.  We raise them up.  We fill them up with as much spirit and love and learning as we can possibly find.  One day, you realize their home isn't big enough for them anymore.  All those qualities you tried so hard to put them are greater than the place they grew up can hold.  

The true cost of keeping Mississippi last at everything, and all the stubborn unwillingness to change, and all the blaming of the wrong people is just this: we lose our children.  We grew them to be too large to fit in the world we created for them.  

My words float out in the air in the hopes that they'll land somewhere that will make a difference.  It's all I can do.

Podcast about Hal and Mal's Chef.

Paul Wolf podcast with Chef Damien Cavicchi of Hal and Mals

The Blue Whales and I

 A Frenchman in a red knit hat came on television and told me about Blue Whales.  

Is it bigger than an elephant?
       It's bigger than six elephants.

Is it bigger than a brontosaurus?
       It weighs twice more than the Brontosaurus.

It's bigger than three school buses.  It's bigger than a jet airplane. Its food is smaller than your pinky finger.  Its heart is enough for a boy like you to stand up inside.  Its brain is larger and more complicated than yours.

To find each other through the broad, dark, deep ocean--they sing.  They sing through their giant bellies, the bones in their nose, and the nostrils on the top of their head.  Their song fills the water and travels for miles until it finds another behemoth, a deep, long, sad song of cold and food and sunlight and life and beauty.  

When I was a boy, the Frenchman in the red knit hat said that the Blue Whales were dying.  We were poor companions for it on this living blue ball, and they were dying.  In my dreams, I could see the last few blue behemoths swmming through endlessly deep oceans, praying they would live.

They did live.  Though their extinction was thought all but certain, they came back out of the pure blue depths.  They are the largest animals that ever lived.  We are the animals with the largest environmental impact that ever lived.  Maybe we are bound together.  Maybe their songs I hear in my sleep have a messge.



A New Perspective On The Academy

 Some of the best students of literature and history I ever met were electricians and plumbers in the daytime.  Some of the best carpenters and electricians I ever met were lawyers, doctors, and accountants in the daytime.

For forty years, I've advocated that Millsaps could work with Hinds Community College to offer joint degrees.  That way, your sons or daughters could get a degree in modern language and plumbing, history and carpentry, theater and cattle science.  So far, precisely zero people have taken up my idea.

You spend four years in college.  It costs a great amount of money.  The best thing we can do for these young people is to help them create a framework they can hang their life on, recognizing that their brains go in many different directions, and sometimes what they're best at isn't what they're best at making money with.

Can you imagine how useful a person with a theater and carpentry degree or a theater and electrician's degree could be for theater artists?

William Tuttle

 Every artist has a very recognizable style.  William Tuttlel was responsible for some of the most remarkable prosthetic makeups in film (prior to Planet of the Apes). Here are two examples of his work.  Eye of the Beholder, an episode of The Twilight Zone, and a Morlock from The Time Machine.  



Sunday, January 7, 2024

King Cake

They seem to be loosening the rules on what comprises a King Cake.  When they get to chocolate, somebody send me a text message.  

Touching Whales

 

Grey Whales seek out human companionship in the Gulf of Mexico.  You can't train an animal this size because their diet is krill, we have no way to reward them with food, and it's illegal to punish whales in any way.  They seek us out; they seek skin-to-skin contact with human beings because they want to.

Feed The Birds


Beginning in 1915, Jane Darwell made scores of films before retiring in the early sixties when she moved into a retirement home, unable to care for herself.

Walt Disney was producing the film Mary Poppins and believed that the song Feed The Birds was strong enough to provide a real turning point in the film.  Disney offered the role of the Bird Woman to Darwell, which she turned down because of her health.  A life-long fan of hers, Disney made several trips to the retirement home to try and talk her into it, ultimately promising to drive her to the set himself for filming, which he ultimately did.  Darwell died 3 years after filming Mary Poppins.

The song became Disney's favorite for the rest of his life.  Haunting, Feed the Birds sounds like caring for the birds, but it's about simple acts of kindness that cost almost nothing to help the lady.

Baby Elephants

Nobody knows why, but sometimes baby elephants are born with a full head of hair, looking for all the world like a four-legged version of Ringo Starr in 1968

Fast Car

 Henry David Thoreau said: "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."  For me, nothing echos his words more than this song by Tracy Chapman.  Among other remarkable things accomplished by Chapman, she was also the lover of Alice Walker.  

You got a fast car
I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Any place is better
Starting from zero, got nothing to lose
Maybe we'll make something
Me, myself, I got nothing to prove

You got a fast car
I got a plan to get us outta here
I been working at the convenience store
Managed to save just a little bit of money
Won't have to drive too far
Just across the border and into the city
You and I can both get jobs
Finally see what it means to be living

See, my old man's got a problem
He lives with a bottle, that's the way it is
He says his body's too old for working
His body's too young to look like his
When mama went off and left him
She wanted more from life than he could give
I said, "Somebody's gotta take care of him"
So I quit school and that's what I did

You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so we can fly away?
We gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way

So I remember when we were driving, driving in your car
Speed so fast, I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped 'round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone

You got a fast car
We go cruising, entertain ourselves
You still ain't got a job
And I work in a market as a checkout girl
I know things will get better
You'll find work and I'll get promoted
And we'll move out of the shelter
Buy a bigger house and live in the suburbs

So I remember when we were driving, driving in your car
Speed so fast, I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped 'round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone

You got a fast car
I got a job that pays all our bills
You stay out drinkin' late at the bar
See more of your friends than you do of your kids
I'd always hoped for better
Thought maybe together, you and me'd find it

I got no plans, I ain't going nowhere
So take your fast car and keep on driving

So I remember when we were driving, driving in your car
Speed so fast, I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped 'round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone

You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so you can fly away?
You gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way






Auriga

When the house of cards began falling down around Richard Nixon, some Republicans felt like, "This is our guy; we have to protect him!" while other Republicans felt like, "We don't want the world to judge us by what this guy does!"  

As the case developed, there came a secret meeting among senior Republicans in the Senate about whether or not they would prevent Nixon's removal from office should he be impeached, which seemed like it was almost certainly going to happen soon.  For the good of the party and the good of the nation, they sent a message to Nixon through Kissinger: The Senate GOP would not protect him.  48 hours later, Nixon resigned.

Better legal minds might feel differently, but to my way of thinking, what happened on Jan 6 was vastly more serious than when Nixon was president.    The difference is how the rest of the GOP responded and how the president himself responded.  Nixon could have fought it.  He could have done everything Trump is doing now, but, in the end, Nixon was the better man.  

I honestly admire Nixon.  I always have.  He was every bit as great as he was broken.  After Nixon, there grew a strong feeling among Republicans that they had made the wrong decision.  That feeling grew, especially when Carter beat Ford.  That's when Reagan came up with this idea of "Never speak ill of another Republican."  That philosophy is dominant now.  No matter what a Republican does, their party won't turn on them.  

Ultimately, I'm not a party kind of guy.  Adherence to your party, no matter what they do, might work for football fans, but it's a very bad idea when it comes to governance.  There have been, and are now, some really shit Democrats.  I'll be glad to talk to you about them.  For the most part, though, I'm still going to vote Democrat when it's a decent guy because (right now) their platform is better for Mississippi.  That could change, but right now, it's overwhelmingly clear to me that Mississippi, my home, is better served by what the Democratic party brings.  

When a great man rose in Rome, and he took his triumphant chariot ride through the masses singing his name, there stood a man behind him, a slave called an "Auriga" whose job it was to hold a wreath of laurel above his head, but whisper in his ear, "remember, thou art but a man."  We could use some of that today.  





Official Ted Lasso