Five years ago, I stumbled across this song, and The David Wax Museum‘s “Harder Before It Gets Easier” remains exactly the encouragement I need when things look grim. I love their “Mexo-Americana” sound and unexpected subject matter. This video, art-directed and produced by Shutter + String, is a powerful throwback to some of the most memorable videos of the mid-1980s.
My favorite lines from the song:
You’ve been wrung out and then doused with grief
The ocean of time, in a moment, will be brief
Will be brief…
I’ve been blogging for almost 11 years, on this site and elsewhere. One good thing about this is that, when I’m having trouble creating new material, I’ve still got (literally) hundreds of pages of material to re-post. This saves both my sanity and my hide, in times of creative emptiness.
While my words are slowly coming back to me, I rediscovered this video from a reading I gave a couple years ago. A beloved writer friend organized a Creative Nonfiction Open Mic Night at Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia. For such a small town, Carrollton boasts an astonishing number of amazing writers. I had a blast meeting new people and hearing them read their work. Here, I read “On Inspiration,” which I first posted in January 2014. It’s been pretty popular, and is also one of my favorites.
A few readers have asked me to post more videos in which I read my work. That might be fun. Stay tuned.
Another reminder that I’ll be a guest on The Show video podcast tomorrow (Sunday 10 July) at 4pm Eastern time! W00t!
Brian Mallard, Timothy Childree, and I have a lot to squeeze into just one hour. I mean, there’s writing, photos, country music, pro wrestling, Southern food, and bizarre stories. Plenty of bizarre stories.
I’ll talk about my novel-in-progress, Songs My Father Barely Knew (links to an excerpt). I’ll also give a brief reading from my work. So far, nobody’s requested bad guitar playing or interpretive modern dance. So far. But, hey, anything could happen.
To join us:
Follow this link at 4pm on Sunday 10 July.
Program not streaming on the website? Just click here to follow along live on The Show’s official Facebook page.
Can’t join us live? No problem! It’ll be archived, so you can watch later.
Just a reminder that on Sunday, July 10 at 4pm Eastern, I’ll be a guest on Columbus, Georgia-based video podcast The Show. Looking forward to talking with Brian Mallard and Timothy Childree about my work, recent and upcoming projects, weird Southern stories—and probably even our memories of The Four Horsemen of professional wrestling. Hope you’ll join us!
Mark your calendars! At 4:00pm Eastern on July 10, 2016, I’ll be a guest on The Show (link to Facebook page), a wonderful weekly video podcast based in Columbus, Georgia.
Brian Mallard, Timothy Childree, and I will talk about my work and upcoming projects, plus country music, Southern food, and whatever else crosses our minds. The podcast stream, which you can find here (link to website), begins at 4:00pm sharp on Sunday, July 10, 2016. Hope you’ll join us!
Thank you to everyone who came out to last night’s Creative Nonfiction Open Mic at Carrollton’s wonderful Underground Books. It’s great to meet new people and hear them read their work. Here, I read “On Inspiration,” which first appeared on this site one year ago today.
Stay tuned for the next CNF Open Mic sometime in early May 2015!
I hadn’t been on Facebook all that long when I began following Grayson Hugh. Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I adored his work, and thank goodness he was still making excellent records in 2013. Liking his artist page was natural. I expected I’d see the latest album and show news, a holiday post now and again—the stuff you’d normally see on a celebrity’s social media page (read: boring, canned, written by a PR wonk).
But then award show season arrived, and I found myself snort-laughing at his commentary on all the red-carpet foolery. The back-and-forth with his loyal fans was far funnier than anything the show writers had thought up. He had a sharp, well-read sense of humor grounded not just in extensive pop cultural knowledge, but in literature from Shakespeare to Ralph Ellison and beyond.
The best part? This was no media relations person behind a nationally-known musician’s Facebook page. No, this was Grayson himself. “This guy knows what he’s doing,” I said. “He knows social media’s about relationships, about ongoing conversation. Most people don’t get that.” It warmed my cold, cynical little heart.
A few months later, I opened up Facebook to see a bunch of new Likes on a short creative nonfiction piece I’d posted—”37205,” a piece about the cold, eerie sounds of an ice storm in Nashville, Tennessee. Thirteen likes; one was from Grayson Hugh. I sat stunned for a moment, then ran back and forth through the house Doppler-squeeing with glee, scaring the cats out of at least three lives each. When I texted my sister a screenshot of the Like list, she called me to Doppler-squee all the way from Denver. Goofy, yes, and true.
That was October 2013. Since then, I’ve gotten to know Grayson, and am happy to say that he’s one of the kindest, most interesting, and most talented people I’ve ever met. Not many of us can keep creating over several decades without getting stale—and I hope Gray will eventually clue me in on how he does that, how he keeps every album fresh and solid and unpredictable and damn good. I’d also like to point out that he’s an amazing prose writer, in addition to his incredible verse- and music-writing skills. I’ve met only a handful of songwriters over the years who wield that kind of power.
His upcoming album, Back to the Soul, starts production in Charleston, South Carolina, in early 2015. With a week or so left in his Indiegogo campaign, he’s looking to get this independent record fully funded. There are wonderful perks available at every level—from a signed CD, to a picnic with Gray and his wife/harmony singer Polly Messer, to a one-on-one songwriting lesson, to a backyard concert.
I’m proud to call such a fine artist and person my friend, and to play a small part in making this album a reality. While we’ve done pretty well so far, we’re not quite to the full fundraiser goal, and we have just until December 15 to fully fund the project.
So come on and join us! Click here to find out more and contribute—and thank you so much for supporting Back to the Soul.
Each semester, my students take on the challenge of writing a critique essay. “Believe it or not,” I tell them, “you already know how to critique. You listen to music. You know your standards for what makes a good album and what makes an awful one. That’s the beginning of a meaningful critique.” Let me reassure you: Today’s first-year college students know quality music. Their All-Time Best Album lists always impress me.
What gives me the most hope, though, is how much they appreciate independent artists’ work. As a former student explains, “Excellent music isn’t dead. You just have to know where to find it. Some of the best stuff out right now is from artists staying true to themselves, artists raising money to make records on their own terms.”
When I first heard his music back in the late ‘80s (“Talk It Over” and “Bring It All Back,” in particular), I called it “blue-eyed soul.” Since then, Grayson’s work has combined many different influences: country, blues, folk, funk, jazz, gospel. Most compelling, though, are his lyrics. “North Ohio,” from his 2010 album An American Record, breaks my heart. The rest of the album glues it back together.
For his upcoming album, Back to the Soul, Grayson returns to his R&B-soul-funk roots—and, with our help, it’s going to be one amazing record. We all long for thoughtful, heartfelt, original music. Now we have a chance to make it happen.
To read more, to share, or to contribute, click here. There are great perks available at every level.
If you care about heartfelt, meaningful, original music—and the people who create it!—I hope you’ll join Grayson on the fascinating journey of creating a new, original album.
This old record was a gift from a friend, who picked it up at a yard sale for just 25¢. Ah, the days before Photoshop! I love how each good-naturedly sabotages the other’s guitar.
Red and Ernest’s version of Cindy Walker’s “Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Age” does my heart proud, as does their take on Leadbelly‘s “Goodnight, Irene.” If you like both country music and automotive metaphors, you’ll love “It’s the Mileage That’s Slowing Us Down.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find a turntable.
Here I am, reading a few short pieces at the 2nd Creative Nonfiction (CNF) Open Mic Night at Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia, on 12 Sep 2014. Many thanks to owner Josh Niesse for hosting us once again!
And, just for grins, here’s a photo of me mid-read:
The pieces are all previously published on this site, and are as follows:
There should be a law against saying “Willie Nelson” and “80th birthday” in the same sentence. Good thing there isn’t, though, because I’d be going to jail right about now.
In honor of the Red-Headed Stranger’s birthday, here’s his version of “The Rainbow Connection,” first made famous by Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Movie (1979). The video has quite a long intro; Willie comes in at 1:51.
Happy birthday, Willie! Thank you for sharing your gifts with us.
Today would have been Roy Orbison’s 77th birthday.
The first time I’d ever heard of him was in 1987, when The Traveling Wilburys (Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Tom Petty) released “Handle with Care.” I had heard Van Halen’s version of his classic “Pretty Woman,” but somehow failed to make the connection between Orbison’s original and the 1980s cover.
No matter. This song was so unlike anything on late-1980s radio that I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of Roy Orbison. That fragile, haunting voice—where’s it coming from? His mouth barely moves, yet all this world-weary heartbreak still pours forth.
But the next year, he died of a heart attack at 52, and his record company released Mystery Girl posthumously. My favorite from that album, “You Got It,” was a simultaneous #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, Adult Contemporary, and Hot Country Songs charts. It was also his first hit in nearly 25 years.
“Portland, Oregon” is one of my favorite tracks from Van Lear Rose. The entire album is stellar, though, so it’s hard to choose just one. Since nearly everyone’s familiar with Loretta Lynn’s best-known work, I thought I’d share this in honor of her special day.
The “cat and owl playing” video is the first time I ever heard this post’s featured Random Song. Too bad Sopa De Cabra broke up before I got a chance to see them live. Of course, I probably couldn’t have understood a single thing they sang, as all their lyrics are in Çatalan. Who cares? The music’s good.
As usual, here are five songs I chose at random (more or less) from my music collection. I used Random.org’s number generator to come up with the numbers and choose which songs I’d feature this time. Want to join in the fun? Post your selections and/or the URL for your own random song blog post in the Comments section. And, of course, happy listening! Continue reading
Thank goodness for Grammar Girl’s parody of those awful Head On ads to help explain run-on sentences. Some of my students have had trouble understanding what’s wrong with their run-on sentences. Comma splices and sentence fragments are in there, too. Perhaps this will help.
David Shiyang Liu’s kinetic typography brings Glass’s words to life in a way that combines reading and hearing.
My favorite lines:
The most important possible thing you can do is to do a lot of work … because it’s only by going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap [between your expectations and the quality of your work].
What we create isn’t supposed to be brilliant when we first start out. It’s normal for our early work not to meet our expectations. Just as Anne Lamott counsels us, we have to get through the not-so-good material in order to discover the really good material.
Need a Monday playlist? Perhaps this installment of Five Random Songs will help you get started.
If you put together your own Five Random Songs post, please let me know and include the link in the Comments section. Random.org is just one of many random number generators you can use to pick out your own out-of-the-blue tunes. Continue reading
Happy Labor Day to those of you celebrating today. I hope you’re fortunate enough to have the day off.
In honor of the working people who keep America moving, here’s a classic:
So many workers make our lives easier, better, possible. Dana Velden of TheKitchn notes the interconnectedness of all our lives, especially when it comes to food:
Consider the people who pay for and maintain roads and stop signs and lights that assure that your onion will arrive safely to the warehouse or the market. And at the market, the people who haul the boxes that your onion is in and the people who pull your onion from the box and place it on display and people who take your money at the register and maybe even the person (getting rarer but still possible) that packs your onion into your reusable tote bag and helps you haul it out to your car. The people who clean and maintain the market, and the people who work at the electrical plant that lights the market and cools the refrigerators, and the people who take the money at the bank so that the manager can pay the electricity bill.
You get the picture, right? That if you were to follow the concentric circles of people and their work out from your beautiful onion sitting on your beautiful cutting board, you will find a vast and complex system of people and their work, seen and unseen, acknowledged and unacknowledged, but without whom your life would be miserable, if not impossible. Innumerable labors bring us our food.
It’s been a while since the last Five Random Songs post, so here’s a fresh new list for your Monday morning.
Was my former student right? Is it possible to tell what a person’s like simply by looking at his or her music collection? I’m not too sure, but it’s fun to peruse what other people are listening to these days. I’m always discovering new songs thanks to my students and friends. Continue reading
Following up on an earlier post, here are five more random tunes from my music collection. Was my former student correct? Can we really tell a lot about someone just by their CD wallet or their MP3 player? I’m not sure, but it makes for some interesting conversations and great new music.
Feel like joining in on the fun? Choose five random songs from your library (here’s a random number generator, if you’re so inclined) and publish your own random songs playlist. If you do, I hope you’ll leave a link in the Comments section. Continue reading
Rest in peace, Kitty. I’m so grateful to have seen your special live interview and exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame in the summer of 2008. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us all these years.
You were—and always will be—the original Queen of Country Music.
A student once confided that he could tell what anyone was like just from looking at that person’s music collection. So I opened up iTunes on my office computer. “Well? What does mine say about me?” Continue reading
Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. Hope you’re having a fun and relaxing time today.
My dad passed away in 1997, and this marks my 15th Father’s Day without him. From the time I was born, Daddy would spontaneously break into the first verse of “Poke Salad Annie,” no matter where we were or what we were doing. Along with the chorus, that was the only part of the song he knew. I didn’t know it was a real song until I heard it on oldies radio years after he died.
And carry it home in a tote sack. So many old Southern expressions in this song: truck patch, no-count, pick a mess of. Gotta love Tony Joe White’s old Louisiana accent. You caneat poke salad, as Annie and her family had to, but that doesn’t mean you should. It’s tough to boil out all the poison. Stick with collards or turnip greens.
This classic Sesame Street sketch aired in late 1974, when small children automatically would have known what the funny-looking black plastic object was. (Would today’s preschoolers know? Hmm.)
In case you haven’t seen this recurring skit, the googly-eyed Martians teleport into random scenes in the Sesame Street neighborhood. They encounter everyday situations and make sense of them based on what they find in their “earth book.” In other sketches, for instance, they figure out a table fan, enjoy a leaky kitchen faucet, dance to white noise on an old-fashioned radio, and meet Ernie and Bert.
I love watching the Martians work through each scenario. They’re not afraid to make mistakes or change what they’re doing. As Shunryu Suzuki once said, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”
When we create a set of instructions, it’s essential that we return to beginner’s mind. Otherwise, we miss opportunities to help our readers. Usefulness, rather than publication, is the hallmark of tech comm success. When it comes to instructions, all anyone wants is to complete the steps and move along. If we fail to get inside that beginner’s process, our readers will be frustrated. That’s the last thing we want, whether we’re creating software help, a chainsaw owner’s manual, or home perm instructions.
So what happened with the Martians’ “earth book?” I ask because it’s leading them nowhere fast. How outdated could this thing be? What’s in that book to make them think the object in front of them is a cow, a cat, or a chicken?
That’s what makes the sketch so funny. Whoever compiled the book had no idea what was actually on earth. No SMEs consulted here, no sirree. When the earth book doesn’t help (which is just about every time), the Martians approach the situation or object as complete beginners.
They’re not afraid to make guesses or try a different approach. They don’t get frightened unless there’s a reason: an unusual noise, an unexpected movement, or a new creature. The phone rings, scaring the bejesus out of them, and chthunnnnng! up go their jaws. Much like the little kids watching this segment, the Martians simply learn as they go.
We, too, could learn as we go when writing procedures. In ThePractical Guide to Information Design (2007), Ronnie Lipton notes that “the audience is different, and you’re not it” (p. 82). We may be very good at what we do, but we are not our readers. If we don’t remember that readers don’t share our experiences, our writing will fail. “Listening to the audience in any form suggests the need for a redesign,” Lipton adds (p. 82). It may bother us to hear that our work needs revision. But what’s at stake here is much more important than propping up our ego. Imagine that our readers are these two Martians. Would we want to hear back from their Earth mission that they mistook the brrrrinnngggg! gagdet for a variety of livestock? Talk about embarrassing.
Unlike the Sesame Street Martians, readers don’t have time for trial-and-error learning. They want to get done and move on. Going back to complete beginner mode, truly listening to what our audience requires, helps us give them what they need.
It’s Monday, and for whatever reason, words aren’t coming to me as easily as usual. Don’t know why. I mean, it’s not as if there aren’t a lot of forgotten plants and places around here to document.
Poke salad, no Annie. (29 April 2012)
That’s one of the downsides to blogging: Even if I don’t feel very inspired, I still have to post new content on a regular basis. Of course, as I tell my students, there’s nothing to get you inspired like writing when you’re not inspired. Sounds counterintuitive, but it really works. Just as with plumbing work, you have to flush all the junk from the pipes before the clean water can flow. Write a little while, get the junk and fragmented thoughts out of your brain, and the good ideas begin to flow onto the page. Trust me.
Currently, I’m working on a couple of exciting projects—one involves a historic home, and the other involves highways. For fear of jinxing myself, I won’t divulge more. But if these ideas turn out, they’ll make for great reading and interesting photos.
I don’t know why I took a photo of the poke salad (phytolacca americana) leaves above. I also don’t know why I thought it would go with this post. But I stumbled upon it while looking for interesting Nearly Wordless Wednesday pictures, and then started humming “Poke Salad Annie.” My late father sang that song all the time. Okay, he knew only part of the first verse and the chorus, but he still sang it.
Heed the Alabama Extension Service’s warning, though, and don’t carry any poke salad home in a tote sack.
This is one of the first “how-to” videos I posted in September 2011 for my ENGL 1101 students. I used Camtasia Studio 7.0 for the screencast, and a Creative EF-0170RX headset mic.
Many characterize today’s college students as “digital natives.” Umm, no. Most students have never attached a file to an e-mail before their first semester of college. None that I’ve encountered so far have ever added headers, footers, or page numbers to a Word document. A large proportion of these students come from middle- to upper-middle class homes, and attended “good” high schools.
Apparently, computer skills aren’t included in college prep curricula—too much studying for standardized tests, I guess. A surprising number of first-year college students, then, find themselves lagging far behind where society assumes their tech expertise lies.
So I end up helping my students with much more than their writing.
In September, it was time for my students to post their first essay drafts in CourseDen (my university’s version of the Vista/WebCT learning management system). A few days before the due date, I took an informal survey in each class: “Who knows how to add a running header or footer in a Word document?” Out of 75 students, two raised their hands. For anyone out there doing the math, that’s 0.0267%.
Oh, my. This would take some creativity. “How many of you have ever watched a video on YouTube?” All of them, of course. “Would it help if I were to put together a how-to video? Maybe a screencast to show you exactly what I’m doing, where I’m clicking, what to type?”
“Yes! That would be great!”
It took about two hours to put this together and then post it, false starts and do-overs included. The payoff? Seventy-five students created running headers in their essay drafts—and they learned something they can use every time they create a Word document. And of these 75 students, most have been able to recall the steps. If they forgot, they simply reviewed the video.
My video helped 75 people do something new in a program they had seldom used. That’s so good to know.
The contents of this blog are not approved by my employer, nor do they represent my employer's opinions on any subject. The opinions expressed on this blog are mine and mine alone. All names have been changed.