june 24, 2015

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“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” ~ Mary Oliver

 

two old soldiers
two old soldiers

 

For a long time I’ve been trying to find a way to interview dad about his life. He met my friend and writing and art life mentor, Gurney Norman, back in December at the funeral of a mutual friend’s father. They hit it off big time. I’ve never known dad to make such an effort to be friends with someone. He thought the world of Gurney the second they met. The feeling was mutual it turned out.

 

from dad's point of view
from dad’s point of view

 

A few weeks ago I awoke from a deep sleep with the answer. (yes, my mind works that way sometimes) I knew Gurney should talk to dad. They share so, so, so much in common. They’re both mountain men. They’re a year apart in age. They both went through jump school in the army. Gurney not only knows where Hardburly is,the coal camp where dad was born, but he has actually been there. The list goes on. So, I asked Gurney if he would interview dad. It was an enthusiastic yes. I was beyond honored. Dad was honored, too. He didn’t care as much about the oral history part as he cared about talking to Gurney again.

 

from Gurney's point of view
from Gurney’s point of view

 

Gurney is a smart man. He’s genuinely interested in what people have to say. He’s equally interesting to listen to, for he has lived many lives in this one life. So, that’s how they did their interview; like a conversation. When dad actually stopped talking for a second (I’ve never heard him so eager to talk – ever!), Gurney shared his own wisdom, insight, and theories. He knew how to draw dad out; how to make him more comfortable so that he would tell his stories. As I suspected, Gurney is a natural at oral histories, probably because he was a reporter for many years, but also because, like I said, he is genuinely interested in people. You have to be interested in order to know how to listen and to ask the right questions.

 

the crew
the crew

 

This was the first of what I hope will be many talks between these two new/old friends, whether it be for our cameras, or just over coffee. I don’t think they care either as long as they can keep talking. There was more admiration and respect in that room than words can define. Most of it was coming from me. I just felt incredibly blessed to be loved by two such great men.

december 9, 2014

posted in: photography | 2

“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.” ~ Albert Einstein

 

writers
writers

 

This is as fine a group of writers as I’ve ever had the privilege of sharing space with. Each is unique with their own voice, their own sense of style, and courage. They are, left to right, Gurney Norman, Megan Henson, Amy Copelin, Sarah Abbott, Jordyn Rhorer, Sean Madden, Sean Corbin, Ben Honea, John Duncan, Robin Rahija, and Joy Bowman. These folks gave me a multitude of gifts over the semester, among them the gift to step outside my comfort zone. It wasn’t always easy for me, and I got more than I bargained for, but I mean that in a good way.  I’m the only one who isn’t enrolled in the MFA program, so I was feeling unworthy most of the semester. Yet, several of my classmates encouraged me to change that tonight, even seemed disappointed that I’m not taking another course next semester. I was genuinely touched, and speechless. It was a complement of the highest order.

 

storyteller
storyteller

 

But wait, there’s more! In 2012, Gurney published a compelling book called Ancient Creek. It was a long time coming. The book includes three essays written in response to the story. Gurney very graciously gave each of us a signed copy tonight. He talked at length about how it came into being. Though it was penned in 1975, and originally made available on June Appal Records, I found the story even more relevant today (I read it when it came out in 2012, so I already know the story) what with mountaintop removal and the other environmental and socio-economic changes we’ve endured. This really was a special class full of great writers lead by a wonderful, wonderful mentor. I’m so glad they let me hang out with them.

 

gifts
gifts

november 18, 2014

posted in: photography | 0

“I myself am entirely made of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” ~ Unknown

 

wisdom
wisdom

 

Of all days not to have my camera with me, this was one of the worst. You’ve actually seen this photo before back in September at the beginning of my Creative Writing class with Gurney Norman. Here, I’ve done a different process that I actually like better than the original. However, my point is not the photograph, but Gurney. In class tonight he talked at length about his early path to becoming a writer. His story is fascinating. In the telling of his life’s journey I heard only wisdom and gratitude. I’m not entirely sure that Gurney is even aware of how extraordinary his path has been. He’s humble and short on ego that way. For instance, he has been friends with Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove), Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and Wendell Berry (THE Wendell Berry) for over fifty years. Plus, the two former writers were his classmates at Stanford. Can you imagine the brainpower in that classroom? When he talks about these men one gets a glimpse of how deeply and sincerely he values their friendships; how much his path and success have fortified him. That is wisdom. What an exquisite gift Gurney has been to me. I just don’t think I could be more fortunate.

september 2, 2014

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“Today, I am grateful for all the people that are loving and kind to me.” ~ Unknown

 

holding court
holding court

 

My old band, Stealin Horses, used to play the Appalshop Christmas parties back in the 1980’s. I think that’s where I met Gurney Norman. He and Judi Jennings used to cut a Hillbilly rug like nobody’s business. They were glorious fun to watch. I was familiar with Gurney before that, having read his book Kinfolks years earlier. Other’s might know his bestseller Divine Right’s Trip. Kiya had a few creative writing courses with Gurney when she was a student at UK in the early 1980’s. I followed her lead in the 1990’s. The point is, me and Gurney go way back. I hold him in high regard as he is one of the kindest humans on the planet. He’s genuinely curious about people. He’s passionate about writing. I doubt you’ll find anyone more knowledgable about Appalachian writers or writing than Gurney. He is a kind and gentle teacher, careful with his words, generous with his knowledge. I’m fortunate to take another creative writing course with Gurney this semester. “Let’s make history,” he said as he introduced class tonight. This is the first semester of the newly minted MFA Creative Writing Program. Gurney has worked hard for decades to have such a program. I was honored to witness his triumph, and especially touched to be part of the class. I’m honored, too, that my friend and mentor let me take his picture.

 

he didn't believe me
he didn’t believe me
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