Posts

Another Country: A short story

Image
"The Dead" by James Joyce is one of my favorite pieces of writing to have ever been written.  A few years ago I was teaching the story in Ireland and it struck me that many of the issues being explored in the short story are still pertinent in my homeland today.  Themes such as the complications of being loyal to your own place in the world, choosing sides, homesickness, and the way a culture can become so immersed in the past that it threatens to impede its own progress.  I do not think there is any way to improve upon Joyce's story but I did think it'd be interesting to pick up the story from early 1900s Ireland and move it to contemporary Appalachia, so that's what I did in this story, "Another Country," which was published in Blackbird .  Today is the Day of Epiphany, or, Old Christmas.  While Joyce's story points to Epiphany several times mine brings up Old Christmas because that is the way the day is thought of in Appalachia still today.  I hop

New Year Prayer

Image
This year, especially:   Find a body of water, and be still beside it for a time. Build a fire and watch the flames. Sit on the porch. Lie on the grass. Light candles. Take a deep breath. Write a letter to someone. Discover something new everyday. Learn. Tell stories. Listen to old people. Ask them questions. Do something nice for others when you can and treat yourself occasionally.  Read actual, real books and newspapers. Buy grocery store flowers.  Spend an entire day without looking at your phone. If you feel the urge to post a selfie everyday, take a picture of some other beautiful thing instead.  Remember that there is power in moderation. Learn to cook or bake something new. Enjoy every meal. Savor your food. Drink water. Any chance you get, hold a baby.  Anytime the opportunity arises, dance.  Always swim or wade in the water.  Study leaves. At least once this year, pee outside.  Be completely quiet. Turn your favorite song up as loud as it will go. Sing. If someone makes you fe

It Is Well, Fourth Sunday of Advent

Image
1. Tired and Weary  The fourth Sunday of Advent meditates on peace. This sets me to thinking of all the ways the idea of peace has been given to me through music and literature throughout my life.  When I was a child, few songs at church moved me more than “There Will be Peace in the Valley”.  The image of being in the valley suggests being between high ridges, a familiar setting for me, so I always assumed the song had been written especially for my place and my people.  The moving song that has been recorded by everyone from Mahalia Jackson to Elvis to Loretta Lynn was written by a Black Appalachian evangelist and composer from North Georgia, Thomas Dorsey , who wrote over 3,000 songs including another masterpiece, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”. “Peace in the Valley” spoke perfectly to the working class people of my church who were often fighting their way out of poverty with its opening, fatalistic lines:  Well, I’m tired and so weary but I must go along till the Lord comes and cal

Blue Christmas, Third Sunday of Advent

Image
 Note:   I'll be sharing some thoughts every Sunday through Advent to help myself plow through this time of stillness when I so often love to go to church for the ceremony surrounding the waiting time.    One of my prized possessions is a 45 single of "Please Come Home For Christmas" by The Eagles.  I like The Eagles a lot but I would never call myself a super-fan.  But this particular record belonged to my aunt, Sis, and she loved them.  In particular she loved "Please Come Home for Christmas".  In the gloomy evenings after Thanksgiving she and I would decorate her tree and pull out her Christmas music, which was a vast treasure.  We worked for hours on her artificial tree, which had to be perfect.  First it had to be shaped, then laden with thousands of lights and a hundred ornaments.  My favorite part was the finishing touch:  adding the icicles , which were some kind of shiny, silver, synthetic strands that you hung all over the tree to increase the amount o

Wandering Shadows, Second Sunday of Advent

Image
Note:   I'll be sharing some thoughts every Sunday through Advent to help myself plow through this time of stillness when I so often love to go to church for the ceremony surrounding the waiting time.  On the Second Sunday of Advent it is traditional to light the second purple candle, which is a symbol of faith.  This makes me think about how so many people I know associate their belief with a building and struggle to keep their faith lit if they do not go to church every time the door is cracked.  During the pandemic I have certainly missed going to church but I have been thankful to be part of a congregation that values the health and safety of others more than its own desire to gather.  Too many churches  throughout the country have exhibited a deep selfishness in refusing to close their doors, refusing to mask up, and refusing to social distance.  If any organized bodies should be setting themselves forth as an example, churches should, yet so many of them have not.   Our churc

The Great Mystery-First Sunday of Advent

Image
The Great Mystery- First Sunday of Advent.    During this pandemic time when so many of us are unable to attend church because we want to protect others, Advent is more important than ever.  I'll be sharing some thoughts every Sunday through Advent to help myself plow through this time of stillness when I so often love to go to church for the ceremony surrounding the waiting time.  The word Advent comes from the Latin word  adventus and means  "coming".  Since the 4th Century Advent has been a season of preparation in various ways although the most widely held is the build-up to the celebration of the birth of Christ. Advent wasn't explicitly tied to Christmas until the Middle Ages. Today, Advent lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas.  Then there is the twelve day celebration of Christmastide that ends with the Day of Epiphany on January 6.   I am one of the few writers in contemporary literary fiction who write and talk about people of faith as major subjec

The Complications of Freedom-A short excerpt

Image
Huge showers of red and yellow and green and blue and white exploded on the sky, blossoming like giant willow trees. The booms were huge and square-sounding, echoing several times down the hills lining the river. Between explosions, blue smoke hung on the sky. After a while, a sort of reverent silence fell upon us. All the children stopped running about and screaming, and everyone became still. Perhaps we were all understanding that we had been free for two hundred years, or as free as people can possibly be. I like to think that everyone was filled with a brief melancholy, a moment in which we took into account everything we had, and appreciated it all, and felt blessed and lucky to have been born in this country, in this time and space. Or maybe everyone was taking into account all of the wrongs done to others to gain this freedom, the freedom that had been taken from others for our gain. My sister Josie...looked up at to the sky. Then she whispered to me: &qu