It all began in the summer of 2008 when I hit a terrible slump with my writing. I would sit at my computer for hours at a time typing insipid sentences and immediately erasing them. I felt like I had lost my identity as a writer. Worse than that—I felt like I had never been a writer in the first place. Who was I kidding? Who did I think I was? And who on earth would ever want to read the kind of books I wanted to write anyway?
It went on and on, for weeks. I remember one sweltering afternoon in particular, demoralized by the heat outside and the wordlessness within, wherein I threw myself on the sofa in a full pout of despair. “I must’ve missed it,” I half-prayed. “For some reason I thought I was a writer. But I’m not. I don’t have Story running through my veins. Or if I ever did, I’ve lost it.”
I had an appointment that day, so I heaved myself up off of the couch and went downstairs in a black cloud of melancholy. It felt like a death, and my heart was cold with the sorrow of it as I stood before the mirror brushing my hair. Not a writer after all, the words scorched my weary mind. And then, something magical happened. Even as I stared into those despondent eyes before me, a running commentary wakened in my head. It was a voice describing how I was feeling, the awful deadness of my discouragement, the misery of my misunderstanding—in vivid words and in third person.
I threw down my brush and took the stairs two at a time, flinging open my laptop before I’d even pulled out my desk chair.Tweet
The drunkest man I ever saw was a mailman. I had gone down to the Echeconnee Creek with my fishing pole and was startled at the sight of him slumped against a bridge piling. There was always trash under the bridge at the Echeconnee—beer cans and fast food wrappers thrown from passing cars, old tires and broken palettes, the remains of campfires. I mistook the mailman at first for a pile of something left on the bank by the latest flood. I might have passed right by him if he hadn’t moaned and raised his head when I was five steps away.
He fixed me with heavy-lidded yellow-brown eyes. Black hair hung in limp, greasy hanks on either side of a face as rutted and hollowed out as a strip mine. He was still in his post office uniform; but it wasn’t the crisp, pressed uniform of an on-duty letter carrier. He had obviously been wearing it for many days. It was dingy and wrinkled and covered in sand. The blue cap with the eagle logo lay cockeyed on the ground beside him. The man was small and wiry. His small uniform hung loose on his frame, as if he had lost weight since it was first issued.
The mailman’s head swayed on unsteady shoulders, and he blinked slowly as he mumbled and slurred something in my direction.Tweet
There are musicians who change the face and structure of a genre forever. In the 1940s through the 1960s, artists like Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, Reno & Smiley, the Country Gentlemen, and the Osborne Brothers took the country music of their day, old-time fiddle tunes, blues, and swing and fused them all together. They created a new genre. Yes, bluegrass is the original American fusion. This spirit that respects tradition and combines it with innovation is the real spirit of bluegrass. I have recordings of Bill Monroe in the 1940s on the Grand Ole Opry. Earl Scruggs had just joined Bill’s band, and Earl’s banjo playing was so radically new and supercharged that people at the Ryman were cheering and screaming every time he played a solo as if it were the Titans winning the Superbowl. The following generations of musicians would all point to Earl Scruggs as the king.
Bluegrass lead guitar was fairly limited during those times. It was mostly given a rhythmic role in the early bluegrass bands, with the exception of a few players, like the Stanley Brothers’s guitarists—George Shuffler, Larry Sparks, and several others like Don Reno—the banjo player for Reno and Smiley, who would pick up a guitar and play lead now and then.
In the 1960s times were changing. We had the great Doc Watson on the scene in the east, who could actually play complex fiddle tunes note-for-note on the guitar, and Clarence White in the west introducing a more improvisational and syncopated approach to bluegrass lead guitar.
In the 1970s Tony Rice came along . . .Tweet
As writers of fiction (or as creators in general, regardless of the medium¹) we sometimes invest our hours in maginations and discussions most ephemeral and transient: What are the ideal weights of storm clouds? What becomes of distant cheese? Will this or that amount of caffeine kill me? How might I bind the Pleiades? Etc. etc. etc.
We become at times so lost and disembodied in our work, that time ceases to exist (we enter a state called Other Time²) and we are eventually shocked at resurfacing into Ordinary Time to find that we yet remain embodied beings dwelling in a physical space, wherein practical concerns such as sustenance and visits to the necessary room are indeed more of an obligation than we had accounted for in our other less corporeal forms and modes of being.
That, however, is not what this essay is about. This essay presumes that all readers will agree that such a state as Other Time does exist. And further, that achieving the passage to Other Time is a necessity for writers of fiction. And further still, that at times this state is reached as effortlessly as stepping through a magic mirror but that, at other times (no pun intended), the surface of that same mirror behaves badly, being hard and unyielding and so painfully ordinary that the writer dashes himself repeatedly against it like some territorial songbird doing battle with his own reflection and soon begins to question whether the other world behind the mirror ever existed at all or was only childish illusion.Tweet
Tonights’s Local Show is one you do not want to miss. The musical line-up includes Andrew Peterson, Jeremy Casella, and, making his Local Show debut, the legendary Phil Keaggy.
To celebrate the upcoming release of his newest book, Everlasting Is the Past, Walter Wangerin, Jr., will be with us. He’ll read from his new memoir, hopefully tell us a story or two, and will stick around after the show to sign books, which will be made available for the first time exclusively at this event (public release isn’t until later this summer).
Tickets for this show are selling quickly. $10 in advance. $15 at the door. $5 at the door for Rabbit Room Members.Tweet
[Adapted from a session at Hutchmoot 2013, “The Art of Caring”]
If I’m not mistaken, it was Martin Luther who recovered the sense of “vocation” for general Christian use. Broadening the idea beyond merely a religious calling to the church, he anchored the essence of a believer’s assignment squarely in the ordinary details of exquisitely unique lives.
“What would you do if Christ himself with all the angels were visibly to descend, and command you in your home to sweep your house and wash the pans and kettles?” he demanded, with characteristic no-nonsense. “How happy you would feel, and would not know how to act for joy—not for the work’s sake, but that you knew that thereby you were serving him, who is greater than heaven and earth.”
Like the stuff of fairytale, a vocation makes use of the workaday components of our lives, transforming them with a touch of heavenly “deep magic” into practical intersections with eternity. Every single one of us is carrying around a priceless dowry of affinities, talents, and inclinations: we can’t make the magic, any more than a pumpkin can turn itself into a gilded coach, but we do have to show up with our notebooks or guitars or mixing bowls or running shoes. A vocation is simply the point at which garden-variety faithfulness bears the grace of God to the world.Tweet
I have always suspected that the simple act of eating together holds a deeper significance than we generally recognize. A few months ago a newspaper article outlining the impact of regular family mealtimes on young people caught my attention. The research confirmed a long list of benefits including stronger communication skills, improved mood, decreased risk of obesity and an increased sense of belonging and cultural identity.
The results did not surprise me. If there is one image that could define my childhood it would be the kitchen table with its flickering candle and unhurried conversation. At a time when my own identity seemed constantly under threat, it was there that I knew myself best. In fact, above the food itself, I think it is that sense of security and belonging which still draws me back to my parents’ table more than two decades later.
You can now listen to Rabbit Room artists and podcasts every waking hour of your day—assuming you have a good internet connection. Rabbit Room Radio is available through the player below, through iTunes (look in the “Religious” category), or through any internet radio player. Tune in on Saturday morning for kids’ music. Let us know what you think.
In the Store
- Poesy, a Nosegay of Prose (9)
- BONNIE BUCKINGHAM: Very eager and excited! And a ribbon…
- Africa_S: Oh! I knew this was a Lanier post just from reading the title. This all sounds so exciting!
- April Pickle: I always tear up at the end of reading what you write. Thank you for a beautiful piece about a beautiful project. I’m so proud...
- Esther O'Reilly: You DO sound like Anne of Green Gables. 😉
- Nancy Griggs: What a wonderful project! I’d love to see the finished work.
- Bailey Gillespie: I eagerly look forward to holding a copy of your little “girl” in my hands one day soon. She will be a fine edition...
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