“What is the Molehill?”
People ask me the question all the time. I usually tell them it’s the Rabbit Room’s literary journal, and then I find myself wanting to apologize for calling it something as highfalutin as “literary.” But at the very least it’s a bound collection of writing that aspires to literature. So maybe the question I really want to answer is this: “Why is the Molehill?” Why this when the literary world is already filled with more fine journals than most of us have time to read? Good question.
Our plans are laid, and today’s the day. Travel safely from near and far. Arrive in good cheer. Come ready for dinner. There’s a weekend of live music, rich laughter, fake astronauts, good books, and old friends waiting for you here. Bring your stories and make them ours. Convene the Hutchmoot!
[Note: The Rabbit Room and the Rabbit Room store will be lightly manned for the next week while we moot and recover. Order fulfillment from the Rabbit Room store will resume on 10/18.]
Those of you who know Thomas McKenzie only through his One Minute Reviews may think you’ve got him pinned down as a rather eccentric and ordained combination of Jack Black and Conan O’Brien. But what you may not know, unless you attend the church he pastors or have listened to his sermons or have read his Molehill essays, is that there are least two things he’s more passionate about than movies: his church, and the Gospel.
I listen to him preach almost every Sunday morning and I’m consistently amazed by his ability to be disarming, strange, shocking, insightful, and profound all in the space of fifteen minutes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve turned to my wife after church and said, of one of Thomas’s homilies: “I didn’t see that coming.” One of Thomas’s great gifts, I think, is his ability to see to the truth of things and communicate what he sees simply and without ego. That talent informs his preaching, and it also informs his writing.
For as long as I’ve known Thomas he’s been working on this book, The Anglican Way, and in the last few months he’s finally finished writing it, and I’ve had the chance to read some of his work. It’s an accessible, easy to read, comprehensive overview of the Anglican Church and what it means to be a part of it. As someone who’s a newcomer to Anglicanism, I can’t wait to read the whole book. I hope to be one of its editors, so that could be very soon if this IndieGoGo campaign gets funded.
When I sat down with Thomas a couple of weeks ago to hear his plan for the campaign, the thing that sealed the deal in my mind was this: He’s giving the book away. That’s right—giving it away. Thomas sees this work, his work, as a gift to the church, and he’s committed to giving it away to the people who need it most. I think that’s an amazing and beautiful statement of faith.
His goal is $12,000, and that’s to cover the expenses of production, printing, and shipping, as well as building a website that will facilitate the free distribution of the book. Even if you aren’t an Anglican, I hope you’ll see how important this gift is to Thomas and help support him in this good work.
[Brian Rowley is well-known among many of the Rabbit Room's pipe smoking ilk for his incredible, hand-crafted, artisan pipes. For most of the past year he's been working on a special project. Here he is to tell you all about it. ---Pete]
A “Pipe Of The Year” is a common practice among small communities, who share both the love of the community, and the art of pipe smoking. The concept is simple, find a pipemaker who will make number of pipes, specifically crafted for the community, and stamp them each as such. The idea is to have all of the pipes made in the exact same shape and size, so that they’re easily recognized by the community. It’s a form of art, bonding and brotherhood.
During Hutchmoot 2012, it became know to some of the attendees that I was a pipemaker, and over the course of the conference, several people asked if I’d consider making a Rabbit Room edition pipe. I was thrilled at the prospect and began envisioning the project.
The first task was to determine the shape. A standard Billiard, the quintessential pipe for any sophisticated pipe connoisseur, seemed just a bit blasé. With a crowd as artistic as the Rabbit Room, it was important to find just the right shape. I wanted a shape that exuded class, but not a shape so classic that everyone would already have one. After some deliberation, I settled on the Dublin.
The Dublin family includes the traditional English Dublin shape as well as the Zulu, Yachtsman, Cutty, and Belge. The primary characteristic is a gracefully forward-tilted bowl that tapers downward from rim to heel. The Dublin I chose favors the shape of the Zulu.
In a traditional Pipe Of The Year, they are all made exactly the same. For this first run, I wanted them to be all the same, and all different; so while each pipe is the same size and shape, each is also uniquely finished, allowing each buyer to choose with personal preference in mind. It’s my hope that as long as interest exists for a Rabbit Room Pipe Of The Year, I’ll produce a unique set each year by choosing a different shape.
Lastly, each pipe has been meticulously hand crafted, to provide the best fit and finish and quality that can only be expected from a high-end pipe. Duly stamped with the official Growley logo, as well as the Rabbit Room Smoking Rabbit, these pipes will forever be known as the the first offical Rabbit Room pipe!
About the Pipes
The briar (Erica Aborea) was hand selected and imported from the finest Italian woodcutter, Romeo Briar, and each stem was hand cut from raw Ebonite or Acrylic rods imported from Germany.
Each pipe measures the following:
Chamber Bore: .75”
Chamber Depth: 1.2”
Weight: 1.4 oz
[This inaugural set of seven pipes will be sold at Hutchmoot 2013 on a first-come, first-served basis. They are priced at $295 each, a specially discounted price just for this event. Visit GrowleyPipes.com to see more of Brian's work.]
Jennifer and I read Robert Farrar Capon’s Supper of the Lamb out loud to one another this year. We read it on road trips, and in the bed at night, and on the sofa during rainy Saturday afternoons. For the first (and almost certainly the last) time in our lives, we wept over the final pages of a cookbook. For both of us the experience was like discovering a friend that we’d never known yet always missed. When introducing the book to others, Jennifer often describes it like this: “If G. K. Chesterton and N. T. Wright got together to write a cookbook, this would be the result.” It’s now one of our most cherished books, and it’s one that I pick off the shelf often, rereading favorite passages.
It’s a book that I think so throughly captures the spirit of the Rabbit Room and Hutchmoot that a few months ago, I spent a lot of time trying to track down Capon. I knew he was old, and I’d read that he had a hard life filled with heartbreak and disappointment, and I felt a deep need to thank him for his work, to let him know how much it meant to me and to so many others. I also secretly hoped to find a way to coax him into sharing a meal with us at Hutchmoot one day.
I never did manage to get in touch with him, and if you’ve paid much attention to the Facebook and Twitter feeds this morning, you’ll know that that moot isn’t going to happen. Robert Farrar Capon died yesterday and took his seat at a greater banquet table than Hutchmoot has to offer.
I like to think that as he joins that Higher Convivium, of which he so vividly wrote, that he’s offering up one of his great toasts and assuring the rest of us that there’s plenty of room left at the feast. I imagine that he’s tasting that wine, the like of which we scarcely dream, and it’s spilling down his chin as he laughs and shouts to remind us who we are, and who we are yet to be, and how important it is that we see Creation for the great good it was made to become. And as he sits down and sinks his teeth into the true work of the Lamb, I wonder if that toast might sound something like this one from the Supper of the Lamb:
“With that I leave you… I wish you well. May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity… May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men.
We are great, my friend; we shall not be saved for trampling that greatness under foot… Come then; leap upon these mountains, skip upon these hills and heights of earth. The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it. The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love. It is a place for men, not ghosts—for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem.
Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthood, He makes all things new. Our Last Home will be home indeed.”
“Lion become priest
And Lamb victim
The world awaits
The unimaginable union
By which the Lion lifts Himself Lamb slain
And, Priest and Victim,
Farewell, Father Robert, until we moot in that Higher Convivium.
Several weeks ago, Russ Ramsey had heart surgery. He’s written a series of posts about the experience, which you can (and should) read here:
Though the surgery went well, this past weekend Russ developed some complications and has been readmitted to the hospital. Last night was really tough on him and he’s asked for your prayers as the doctors try to pin down the problem and get him on the mend. Pray for his wife and four kids as well; I know they’re anxious to have him back home.
On Tuesday, August 20th at 7:00pm, Walt Wangerin, Jr., author of some of our favorite books (Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace, Letters from the Land of Cancer, the National Book Award-winning The Book of the Dun Cow, and many more) will join us at the Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, Tennessee to address the Rabbit Room community. Will there be music? Probably. Will there be snacks? We sure hope so. In fact, we encourage everyone to bring a snack item (preferably homemade!). Will there be a talk by a great American author? Definitely.
This special event is open to the public. The price of admission is the purchase of one of Mr. Wangerin’s books (listed here) through the Rabbit Room store (one book per adult in your party). The books you purchase will be given to you on the night of the event. No books will be shipped.
Today we celebrate the birth of two awesome things: Ron Block, and his new record Walking Song (co-written with Rebecca Reynolds). That’s right, today is Ron’s birthday so wish him well and buy him a copy of his record. He’ll love you for it.
Once you’ve read the review, listen to this. Thank me later.
by Ron Block and Ethan Block
Check back later for an exclusive video performance of “Walking Song” by Ron Block and Sierra Hull.
Happy birthday, Ron, and congratulations on the incredible work you and Rebecca have done.
I read Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb last year and it sort of rocked my world (or maybe it stirred my pot?). Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the notion of food and communal eating as a kind of sacrament. Reading the book even moved Jennifer and me to cook our own “supper of the Lamb” on Good Friday and invite close friends to share it with us. It was a special evening that I won’t forget. It’s funny, and amazing, how a book can open up an idea like that and suddenly you find yourself surrounded by ordinary things that seem a little more magical than they did before. Something as simple as dinner can be a holy thing.
I came across a great article on this theme, gustatory grace (yes, I had to look it up), and had to share it with you folks. It’s from The Paris Review and it’s about food, film, literature, and grace. Read and enjoy. Here’s an excerpt:
One way of understanding the sacraments, perhaps best articulated by liturgist Gordon Lathrop, is that simple things become central things. When Christians refer to the bath and the table, they refer not only to the specific sacraments of bathing and eating, but they point also to the sacramental character of every bath and every table. The setting apart of one table and one bath shows forth the splendor of all tables and all baths.
That setting apart is the calling of Christians but also the vocation of the writer. The attentiveness of the writer is shown in how that writer lifts to the level of extraordinary the most ordinary of people, places, and things.
I can’t remember if we’ve ever posted this here before, but I was just reminded of it and had to share. Andy’s got a new record called Beyond the Frame coming out in about a month. This song isn’t on it (it’s on his last record, The Law of Gravity) but “Skinny Jeans” is. You’re going to love it.
Chris Slaten is a name that might sound familiar. He’s been lurking in the corners of the Rabbit Room for almost as long as I can remember, and for the past several years, Ben Shive has been working with him, producing his new recording project.
When I finally got a copy of his CD in the mail, I anxiously put it in and listened while driving home in my wife’s car. I loved it immediately. It sounded like a sweet mix of Paul Simon and Josh Ritter. When I got home, I left it in the car on purpose so it would ambush Jennifer the next time she went for a spin. When she came home later, she got out of the car demanding to know the name of the gorgeous CD and who it was. She too had fallen head over heels for it.
Now it’s your turn.
Chris has released the record under the pseudonym “Son of Laughter” and you can read more on the story behind the name at his website. The title of the record is The Mantis and the Moon. It’s available now in the Rabbit Room store for just $5 and it may the best CD to ever feature an insect so prominently. I think you’ll love it as much as I do.
Here’s the title track. Enjoy.
Chris is currently booking a series of house shows. If you’re interested in hosting one, please contact him at sonoflaughtermusic (at) gmail (dot) com.
If you’re a writer, count yourself fortunate that Mark Twain is no longer around to read your book and write about it (I’m looking at you Stephanie Meyer). James Fenimore Cooper (author of The Deerslayer, The Last of the Mohicans, and others) wasn’t so lucky. In a famous essay titled “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,” Twain skewers Cooper (and his work) without mercy, and while he’s harsh (and hilarious) there’s plenty of wisdom for any writer to take note of in his list of charges. What follows is the first part of the essay in which Twain lists each offense. Do yourself a favor, though, and read the rest of the essay as well. You can find it here in its complete form.
Excerpted from “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses”
by Mark Twain
Cooper’s art has some defects. In one place in ‘Deerslayer,’ and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.
There are nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction—some say twenty-two. In Deerslayer Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require:
1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the Deerslayer tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in the air.
2. They require that the episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the Deerslayer tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.
I can’t wait for folks to hear this record. For those who don’t know, this is Ron’s new solo album, which he co-wrote with Rebecca Reynolds. We’ll be opening it up for pre-orders very soon. In the meantime, check out what Jewly Hight has to say in the liner notes:
Ron has composed and arranged his way across centuries of folk and popular lineage with his nuanced knowledge and modern ear, putting his playful spin on Celtic balladry, old-time romps, soul-searing Appalachian modal melodies, nimble folk tunes, tradition-steeped bluegrass, groove-driven newgrass and contemporary singer-songwriter fare. The music finds a perfect match in Rebecca’s elevated use of imagery and rhyme, her strikingly poetic, period-appropriate word choice and their shared interest in writing songs that speak to a rich range of human experience, the fun, fervent and contemplative moments alike.
It’s hard to imagine a singer sounding any more natural than Ron does delivering these lines, his phrasing crisp and his timbre light and warm. That’s to say nothing of the eloquent communicating he does with his hands; for him, playing is “a means of helping the song say what it wants to say.” And, for the first time, he’s playing all of the guitar and banjo parts, from the lighthearted solo runs laced through “Ivy” to the deliciously droll licks that give “Sunshine Billy” its spunk and the soulful simplicity he brings to an instrumental reading of the hymn “What Wondrous Love Is This.”
As for Ron’s accompanists, they’re every bit the dream team you’d expect from a picker/singer/songwriter of his stature: Sam Bush, Mike Compton and Sierra Hull on mandolin, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes on Dobro, Barry on bass and no less than Alison, Dan Tyminski, Kate Rusby and Suzanne Cox singing harmony. Those familiar with the lineup of Union Station will read that abbreviated list of guests and know that it means sometime between the opening and closing notes, everyone in Ron’s longtime band gets a chance to back him while he does his own, singular thing.
Pre-orders begin soon.
A few years back, I taught woodworking to teenage boys. They’d come into my shop with big ideas about the table or the bookshelf they intended to make and they’d start cutting wood and hammering nails and glueing boards and as they went I’d see a growing sense of dissatisfaction in their faces. That crestfallen look was there because the final work wasn’t as pristine as the glimmering idea they’d walked in the door with. So I’d help them. We’d backtrack and talk about drawing workable plans. I’d introduce them to important tools like the tape-measure because “No. You can’t just guess.” I’d show them the importance of structural support and strong, solid joints. Later, rather than sooner, most boys would end up with a functional version of their original vision. But in the end, a table (or a bookshelf) is a lot more work than a teenage boy envisions.
Without any doubt, though, there was always one part of the process that was the hardest to teach: Sanding. In woodworking, sanding is something that is almost impossible to do enough of. It’s also tedious. Trying to get a teenage boy to sit down and sand a board thoroughly is a trial. Heck, trying to sand thoroughly is hard even for me. It’s just not much fun. But a fine job of sanding will elevate an acceptable piece of work out of the swamp of the hobbyist and onto the higher ground of the artisan.
In writing, we’ve got another word for sanding; it’s called revision.
For the past month, I’ve been knee-deep in editorial work for The Molehill Vol. 2. I’ve read a lot of great essays, short stories, and poetry. I’ve also written a lot of notes and letters about what needs to be sanded down, refined, reinforced, and polished. Revising is a skill, and it’s one that anyone who writes needs to spend time learning, because revision is the abrasive force that rubs the burrs and imprecisions out of a piece of work so that its texture, grain, and natural beauty can shine.
The following are a few notes on things that I, as an editor, find myself repeatedly trying to sand away. I hope they’ll be useful to anyone who wants to look more critically at their own writing.
My good friends Greg Greene and Wes Driver of Nashville’s Blackbird Theater (you may remember them from the “Theology of Theater” podcast) have a new show opening this weekend. I ran into Greg a few days ago as he was putting up show posters all over town and he let me in on an incredibly generous promotion they’re running for the new play. They are giving away 150 tickets for free, the only caveat is that they want them to go to people who haven’t seen a local theater production in at least three years.
Here’s what Greg has to say:
“There’s a problem with Nashville’s theatre scene, and the whole industry knows it. It’s the fact that the majority of Nashvillians aren’t aware of how good local theatre has become in the last few years. The theatre community is more energized, it’s drawing better talent, and it’s producing braver shows than ever before. So Blackbird wants to invite Nashvillians back to the theatre by offering 150 free tickets to our production of Oleanna, by Pulitzer-winning playwright and filmmaker David Mamet. If you haven’t seen a locally-produced play in the last 3 years, we have two free tickets for you.”
That’s an amazing deal!
So what’s Oleanna about?
The play is being put on in conjunction with the 2013 Christian Scholars’ Conference at Lipscomb University, and the theme of the conference this year is “Crises in Ethics.” And that’s precisely what Mamet’s script is: a crises of ethics. The play (confession: I’ve only seen the film version starring William H. Macy) is a two-man show (one woman and one man actually) that dives into a deeply unsettling confrontation between a college professor and a female student. It’s about political correctness, and sexual harassment, and prejudice, and miscommunication. It’s about how we (mis)behave toward and (mis)understand one another. More importantly, to me as a writer, it’s about the power of subtext. Mamet’s writing is a testament to the incredible and explosive presence of things left unsaid. Watching the story unfold is uncomfortable, and alarming, and I’ll even venture to say enraging at times. And rightly so. It’s a piece of art that confronts us with a situation we are programmed to feel strongly about, and it makes us look at and grapple with our reactions. It’s powerful stuff. Not for the kids. And not for the faint of heart. But I guarantee that you’ll leave the theater with a lot on your mind, and that’s a good thing. (Note: there’s some coarse language, and an act of violence, but it’s not wildy crude; its mature nature is in its theme and subtext.)
Here’s what Greg has to say about the production:
“OLEANNA is short, sinewy, and it’s definitely for mature audiences. With Mamet’s incendiary script in the hands of David Compton and Jennifer Richmond—two of the region’s best actors—we think our new guests will be surprised at how engaging and exhilarating theatre can be. Best of all, it costs nothing—the only risk is that you may want more.”
“One of the most incendiary plays of contemporary theatre, OLEANNA is Mamet’s unflinching exploration of the perils of political correctness as witnessed through the twists and turns of a power struggle between a university professor and his female student.”
The show opens this Friday and runs through June 15th. Here’s how you can claim one of those free tickets. Visit Blackbird Theater’s website and select tickets for the performance of your choice, then enter the promotional code “mamet4.” That’s it. I’ll be at the show on June 14th. I hope to see some of you there.
Saturday, June 8 − 2:30pm – Lipscomb’s Shamblin Theatre
Saturday, June 8 − 7:30pm – Lipscomb’s Shamblin Theatre
Sunday, June 9 − 2:30pm – Lipscomb’s Shamblin Theatre
Thursday, June 13 − 7:30pm – Lipscomb’s University Theater
Friday, June 14 − 7:30pm – Lipscomb’s University Theater
Saturday, June 15 − 7:30pm – Lipscomb’s University Theater