Life Changing Magic

There’s a three day conference coming up in April entitled “The Life Changing Magic of Sorting Your Sh*t Out.” I would love to attend, but it’s not cheap (about 2,000 US dollars) and it’s in Wales. I don’t fly, so it would have to include an ocean cruise. I don’t consider that a disadvantage, far from it, but it would add to both time and cost. 

I would guess that among other things the conference might address the question of what is important and what is trivial. I occasionally forget that. Several years ago the church shooting brought things into pretty clear focus for me, but time passes, and there are many ideas, events, organizations, movements, and philosophies that want me to put them at the top of my personal list; it’s hard to quiet all the competing voices. It’s particularly difficult for me because I’m a great believer in following (or at least glancing down) interesting paths that appear in my field of vision, especially if I have no idea where they might lead. After all, those paths will also have branches that may be worth exploring, and I tell myself that if things get too dark or angry or accusatory or judgmental I can always turn around.

Not that I always have. I’ve gone down a few dark roads over the years, sometimes so far down that the way back was difficult to see. That’s one reason that as I get older I’m less and less willing to pass judgment on those who are clearly on a questionable path. Sometimes pulling a U-turn is unimaginably hard. Besides, I have neither the qualifications nor the desire to advise someone else on their life choices. I’m still working on how to manage my own life.

So I am intrigued by the notion of a seminar about the life changing magic of sorting my sh*t out. I know about the conference because I stumbled across the website of an organization called “Do: the encouragement network” (, which I found because of Seth Godin, whom I found because I do self-publishing of my books, which I do partly because Sam Venable, in a talk at the Knoxville Writer’s Guild, recommended self-publishing. All of which is as good an example as any of the serendipity of staying open to the unexpected. The website might be a temporary distraction, or it might introduce me to someone who has something to say that I need to hear. I don’t know yet, and that’s okay with me. Being between what I already know and what I might be about to find out is probably my favorite place.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Burns

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

Sae let the Lord be thankit.

Saturday night Suzanne and I went to the home of some good friends of ours for their annual Burns Supper. Lentil soup, Brussel sprouts, carrots, chicken, and, of course, haggis. After the Selkirk grace (above), we all stood and clapped, as we do every year, while a bagpipe played and the haggis was presented to our host Robert.

As some of you may know, Burns wrote a poem to the haggis:

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, 

Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race! 

Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, 

Painch, tripe, or thairm : 

Weel are ye wordy o’a grace 

As lang’s my arm. 

There are seven more verses, all of which Robert delivered in a rich brogue, steam rising from the haggis when he stabbed into it in verse 3. At the end of the poem the haggis was whisked away, to reappear on our plates during the meal. 

The food was delicious, the company pleasant, and I am grateful that Suzanne and I are on the guest list of our good friends Janice and Robert for their annual celebration of Scotland’s greatest poet.

The Laurel Theater

Friday night Suzanne and I went to the Laurel Theater to see R. B. Morris with Daniel Kimbro (L) and Greg Horne (R). The trio sounded great; some familiar songs and quite a few I’d never heard before, from a group of highly talented musicians. R. B., Knoxville’s first Poet Laureate, was in fine form, sometimes playful (his first comment was “You could have been listening to Art Garfunkel tonight” referring to the concert at the Bijou a few blocks away), sometimes  serious, and the packed house was clearly enjoying itself. 

The Laurel is a fine venue and has a significant place in my own history. Several decades ago, as a college student and for several years after that, I made sure to make it to the Jubilee Festival every year. The Laurel, just a couple of blocks off campus, played host to music that often went on into the wee hours. I remember thinking on more than one occasion that what I was hearing was easily the equal to what I could buy in the local record store. What I heard there certainly helped point me in the direction of playing music, which still brings me great pleasure and, I’m told, is good for my mental health (which can use all the help it can get). 

It was also where Suzanne and I were married a little over 38 years ago (some of the more unusual details of what led up to that ceremony are in one section of my book “Glimpses”). It was a quick ceremony; a play was scheduled there for later that same evening. The Laurel has often been a busy place.

I was sitting there Friday night, not far from where I stood when I got married, and thinking about all the things that have happened in my life so far that centered around this building. If you have a place near you that celebrates local artists, whether they are musicians or writers or painters or whatever else, please make sure to support it in an active way. Our attention and presence and ticket purchases and the like are important in ways that may not seem to be so on the surface. Art is what both comforts and challenges us, nurtures us and angers us, and helps us see things we otherwise would miss. We are richer and more complete because of it, so buy a ticket to a play or a concert, buy a book by a local author, or pick up a a painting or a piece of jewelry or ceramics. Cast your bread upon the waters. You’ll be rewarded in ways you didn’t expect.

Politicians on TV

I watched the address and response last night and am not going to comment on the content, even though those of you who know me know I have definite opinions about what was said. What struck me more than anything else was the rest of the message.

President Trump went first and his speech was very short. I applaud this; it’s my opinion that many speeches are entirely unnecessary and those that aren’t are generally much too long. On the other hand, I have seen other videos of him speaking and have never seen him so inanimate. There is a give and take of energy when a public speech is going well; last night he did not have that source of energy. Just the camera, and it’s impossible to read and respond to an empty room. His speech was said to be from the Oval Office, but could almost have been any desk in any room.

The two ranking Democrats from Congress went next, and again spoke for a very short time. I remember thinking that it must be difficult for a career politician to keep it that short. Their setting was, to say the least, unusual. An empty hallway with a wall of flags behind them possibly was meant to remind viewers of the government shutdown, but also served to emphasize how uncomfortable they both looked squeezed in behind a lectern designed for one.

I am at a loss as to why three people, one a man very comfortable in the limelight and the other two career politicians, would present themselves in such an uninspiring manner. If their goal was to change anyone’s thinking, I can’t imagine that they were successful. More likely, I suppose, they were restating the positions already established by both sides. 

Marshall McLuhan said once that the medium is the message. There have been times when the medium of television was used to great effect, when the strengths of the medium itself were part of what got the point across. When TV brought the Vietnam War into the living rooms of the American people, for example, they understood it in a way they could not have before. There are many other examples, times when television was used to enhance the message, to help drive it home.  Last night was not one of those times.

The Four Most Dangerous Words

Like many of my contemporaries, I had a collection of things (drawings, sports photos, awards, short essays, and so on) from when my two children were growing up and still at home. In my case, one wall of my study was covered in family memorabilia. 

We now have grandchildren, and the oldest (3) is starting to produce some pretty stunning works of art. The others will be sure to follow soon, and their pieces obviously deserve to be displayed. I decided it was time to retire the first generation’s creations.

When the wall was bare and what had hung there was safely stored away in a hermetically sealed container, I looked around the study. When I got to my desk, I said to myself the four most dangerous words connected to any project. While I’m at it, I thought, I should probably clean out that desk.

Two hours later, the paper recycling box in my study is overflowing, the trash can is half full, and I’ve got three of those “I’ll decide about this thing later” piles scattered around. There’s a shelf next to the desk that should really be the next thing to tackle, but so far I’m resisting. After all, I am retired, and as a friend of mine recently said, a retired person should only do one or two things a day. Certainly no more than that.

Avi at Christmas

My daughter and her family, including our newest grandchild, are in for the Christmas holidays, and I had the opportunity to introduce Avi to the hammered dulcimer. He seemed to like O’Carolan tunes, at least the ones I could play with one hand. Avi was adrift in that borderland between awake and asleep: 

Version 2


A child’s ability to completely relax into the present is a marvelous thing, and one of the many things we lose as we get older. We do meditation, yoga, tai chi, self-talk, and any number of other things to regain what we all had once. Grandchildren remind me of so many things that are important, and now and then, just for a moment, I’m better off because of that awareness.

Thanks for Dropping By

Hello, all:

Thanks to everyone who stopped by Ijams on Sunday and said hi, and an extra thanks to those of you who picked up some of my books. That was my last show of the year, and my supply is down a little, but if any of you need a book or two for a holiday gift (or as a gift to yourself) you can contact me here  ( and I’ll try to help you out. Don’t hesitate too long; time and inventory are both limited. 

books dec 2018

Thanks again, and I hope everyone’s season began with a Happy Thanksgiving and continues on into the New Year.



Time for a Deep Breath

Random thoughts on the week just ending:

Spending a couple of days with an intelligent, strong-willed three year old is at once disquieting, educational, and lots of fun. Add a one year old to the mix, plus the fact that they were away from their parents for two full nights for the first time ever, and it was quite an experience. Just typing about it exhausts me all over again, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I have enough time in between to rest up.

I was looking around for something to read at my daughter’s place a few days ago and picked up her study guide for the upcoming board exams in urology. I randomly opened the book to a section titled Indifferent Gonads, which I’m sharing in case anybody out there is looking for a name for their new band.

Four parties in seven days, two of which we hosted. So far outside my comfort zone that I’m having a little trouble finding my way back to it.

Indian food’s well deserved reputation for spiciness: the first Atlanta party started off with lamb chops on the grill, hot and spicy and almost gone before they got to the table; I had stationed myself next to the grill, so everything worked out okay. The second Atlanta party featured a cracker of some kind that was pretty innocuous until it got to the back of the throat, a butternut squash/tomato soup with quite a kick, and a tandoori turkey, delicious and complex and hot enough to surprise. Both meals were wonderful, as was the chance to meet quite a few new people. Still working on name pronunciation, but it’s getting a little easier every time.

Watching my children grow into their roles as parents is immensely gratifying. It’s always a learn as you go process, and they’re getting a lot of stuff right. 

At this point in our lives our house is a little too big most of the time, and barely large enough a few times a year. It’s a fine, balanced way to spend our days, and, as I mentioned to Suzanne a while back, for me this is the good life. A very good life indeed.

Pre-Thanksgiving Decisions

This coming weekend our children, their children and most of my wife’s family will gather at our home, and I’ve been thinking about what background music to play before, during, and after the meal.

Some artists I can eliminate from the beginning. Tom Waits is out, as are the Last Poets and anything by Captain Beefheart. I have some William Shatner, and the Golden Throats compilation CD (featuring Jack Webb doing “Try a Little Tenderness”), but I’m thinking they’re probably not going to be on the list either.

I’m always up for a little Grateful Dead, so that’s a possibility. A classic mix, maybe, with the Dead, Van Morrison, Paul Simon. Johnny Cash — now there’s a thought. Hard to go wrong with the Man in Black.

I’ve also thought about going strictly instrumental; you know, just something tasteful to fill in behind the conversations. Miles Davis, MIchael Hedges, Bill Evans, lots of different ways to go there.

I could use this gathering to showcase women artists, given all that’s happened in politics and society in general. So, Holly Cole, Joni Mitchell, Lorraine Ellison, Bonnie Raitt, Dolly Parton, k. d. lang, Jennifer Warnes.

What I’ll probably end up doing, though, is wait until a half hour before people start getting here and grab what seems good at the moment. That’s how it usually goes.

A Woman of Heart and Mind

Joni Mitchell turns 75 today.

For my morning hot tea and vinyl, I picked “For the Roses” and “Blue.” There is so much to appreciate here:  songwriting, composition, phrasing, who steps in to help out (Stephen Stills, James Taylor, Graham Nash), and that voice. Oh my goodness.

I’m on my second copy of “For the Roses” and the cover of “Blue” is looking pretty bad. Recorded over 45 years ago (1972 and 1971, respectively), they are among a handful of albums I own that have, as they say, stood the test of time. If you haven’t heard them in a while or never heard them before, I encourage you to give them a spin. She’s a poet and a musician and about as authentic as it gets. 

Happy birthday, Ms. Mitchell.