HERE THERE BE TOMBSTONE MONIKERS

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 http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/heretherebetombstonemonikers.mp3

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HERE THERE BE TOMBSTONE MONIKERS 

“My mama named me after a dead baby on a tombstone.”

This is one grand entrance I won’t soon forget.

I’m at the shop, plying the book trade, when this rather feisty first-time customer throws open the front door and makes her pronouncement. Her name is Olivia, which she explains is not a common moniker. Her mother did not want her to carry a family name–something unique was in order.

So, while tiptoeing through the tombstones one day, she spied a child’s grave with the name Olivia chiseled thereon. It resonated. It stuck. And right here right now, the second Olivia stands, obviously confused and a little angry about knowing her roots.

“Yep, I’m named after a dead baby.” She manages to grin and frown simultaneously.

All of us humanoids have names. Most of these names are stamped upon us and stick there for a lifetime. Some of these names are deleted by those of us who want to pick our own.

As Pearl Bailey once said, “You can taste a word.”

I like the taste of my name as it escapes my lips. I don’t mind hearing it being tossed back to me. I would not dream of changing it, out of respect for my father and grandfather, who carried the same name.

I don’t mind being Jimmy Three. It sounds a little like a small-time con man’s name. Jimmy Three.

Well, you can call me Jim. My schoolmates always called me James. My friends and family call me Jim. I wouldn’t even mind being called my full name, James Thomas Reed, III, except that it sounds pretentious and too multisyllabic.

And some day, somebody might get cute and carve my name onto a granite tombstone. Then, generations later, when the name Jim isn’t so common anymore, some jokester parent might decide to pluck Jim from the stone and plop it into the lineage of their latest offspring.

Then, thirty years after that, a smiling frowning Jim could be caught telling all within hearing that his folks named him after a dead guy in a cemetery.

Maybe I’ll get to roll over laughing in my six-foot resting place

© 2016 A.D. by Jim Reed

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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NOTHING LIKE TURNING OVER A NEW BEEF

NOTHING LIKE TURNING OVER A NEW BEEF

Are vegetarians the only folks who know how to turn over a new leaf?

Are the rest of us capable only of turning over a new beef?

Don’t ask me where such thoughts come from–they just insist themselves into my writing, searching for space in which to thrive and insinuate.

Why am I pondering the prominence of beefs? I keep tamping down this prominence but it continues to raise its fluttering hand. It seems everybody has a beef these days, including you and me.

Griping and whining can be fun and tribally satisfying. But griping and whining also sucks all the time off the clock, eats up space, leaves us little room to ruminate, contemplate, meditate…little time to feel the awesome, surrounding presence of the Universe.

I was never a sportsman, never an athlete. But in my swirling imagination I am great with a baseball bat. When I’m feeling the better part of my DNA, I can take that bat and swing at the beefs and whines and self-deprecating illogical annoying stormtrooping negatives and CRACK! send them shattered into dust. Then, some kind of metaphorical leaf blower is employed to delegate that useless dust to the imaginary ethos in which they were birthed.

All this talk about whining and beefing is really another way of contemplating all those philosophical writings about whether a glass is half full or half empty. You know–are you a pessimist if you see the glass as half empty, are you an optimist if you view the glass as half full?

Unfortunately those whines and beefs rear their uglified heads and won’t allow you to feel good till you’ve found something negative to say.

Is the glass half-full or half-empty? DEPENDS ON WHETHER YOU ARE DRINKING OR POURING.

If you see water spots on a glass that’s half full, ARE YOU BEING PESSIMISTIC?

If the glass is half full, DO YOU WORRY ABOUT WHO DRANK THE FIRST HALF?

And so on.

Any good idea can be twisted into a bad one by the snarkies of society.

It’s up to you, it’s up to me, to take up our bats and knock those negatories into a ballpark far, far away

© 2016 A.D. by Jim Reed

 

jim@jimreedbooks.com

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ANOTHER HAPPY SAD DAY

Listen to Jim’s podcast:

http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/thanksgivinghappiestsaddest.mp3

or read on…

Here is a true story I re-tell every Thanksgiving, just

to remind myself and you that everything that really

matters is right before us, all the time. Here ‘tis:

.

THANKSGIVING:

THE HAPPIEST SAD DAY OF THE YEAR

.

The saddest thing I ever saw: a small, well-dressed elderly woman dining alone at Morrison’s Cafeteria, on Thanksgiving Day.

.

Oh there are many other sadnesses you can find if you look hard enough, in this variegated world of ours, but a diner alone on Thanksgiving Day makes you feel really fortunate, guilty, smug, relieved, tearful, grateful…it brings you up short and makes you time-travel to the pockets of joy and cheer you experienced in earlier days…

.

Crepe paper. Lots of crepe paper. And construction paper. Bunches of different-colored construction paper. In my childhood home in Tuscaloosa, my Thanksgiving Mother always made sure we creative and restless kids had all the cardboard, scratch paper, partly-used tablets, corrugated surfaces, unused napkins, backs of cancelled checks, rough brown paper from disassembled grocery bags, backs of advertising letters and flyers…anything at all that we could use to make things. Yes, dear 21st-Century young’uns, we kids back then made things from scraps.

We could cut up all we wanted, and cut up we did.

.

We cut out rough rectangular sheets from stiff black wrapping paper and glued the edges together to make Pilgrim hats. Old belt buckles were tied to our shoelaces—we never could get it straight, whether the Pilgrims were Quakers, or vice versa, or neither. But it always seemed important to put buckles on our shoes and sandals, wear tubular hats and funny white paper collars, and craft weird-looking guns that flared out like trombones at one end. More fun than being a Pilgrim/Quaker was being an Indian—a true blue Native American, replete with bare chest, feathers shed by neighborhood doves, bows made of crooked twigs and kite string, arrows dulled at the tip by rubber stoppers and corks, and loads of Mother’s discarded rouge and powder and lipstick and mashed cranberries smeared here and there on face and body, to make us feel like the Indians we momentarily were.

.

Sister Barbara and Mother would find some long autumnal-hued dresses for the occasion, but they were seldom seen outside the kitchen for hours on end, while the eight-course dinner was under construction.

.

There was always an accordion-fold crepe paper turkey centerpiece on display, hastily bought on sale at S.H. Kress, just after last year’s Thanksgiving season. It looked nothing like my Aunt Mattie’s turkeys in her West Blocton front yard. And for some reason, we ate cranberry products on that day and that day only. Nobody ever thought about cranberries the other 364 days! And those lucky turkeys were lucky because nobody ever thought of eating them except at Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were home free the rest of the year!

.

Now, back into the time machine of just a few years ago.

.

It is Thanksgiving Day. My wife and son and granddaughter are all out of the country. Other family and relatives are either dead or gone, or just plain tied up with their own lives in other states, doing things other than having Thanksgiving Dinner with me.

.

My brother, Tim, my friends Tim Baer and Don Henderson and I decide that we will have to spend Thanksgiving Dinner together, since each of us is bereft of wife or playmate or relative, this particular holiday this particular year.

.

So, we wind up at Morrison’s Cafeteria, eating alone together, going through the line and picking out steamed-particle-board turkey, canned cranberries, thin gravy, boxed mashed potatoes and some bakery goods whose source cannot easily be determined.

.

But we laugh at our situation and each other, tell jokes, cut up a bit, and thank our lucky stars that this one Thanksgiving Dinner is surely just a fluke. We’ll be trying that much harder, next year, to not get blind-sided by the best holiday of the year, Thanksgiving being the only holiday you don’t have to give gifts or reciprocate gifts or strain to find the correct gifts.

Left to right: Tim Reed, Tim Baer, Jim Reed lining up for Thanksgiving.

Don Henderson is behind the camera.

.

.

On Thanksgiving holidays ever since, I make sure I’m with family and friends, and now and then I try to set a place at the table of my mind, for any little old lady or lone friend who might want to join us…for the second saddest thing I’ve ever seen is a happy family lustily enjoying a Thanksgiving feast together and forgetting for a moment about all those lone diners in all the cafeterias of the world who could use a kind glance and a smile

.

© 2016 A.D. by Jim Reed

 

jim@jimreedbooks.com

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CRY FOR HAPPY

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/cryforhappy.mp3

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CRY FOR HAPPY

If you are reading this, you must be hanging in there despite the fact that you and I are survivors of yet another Election Day.

Yes, Grasshopper, people do live through times like these–perhaps with great caution, maybe with a dab of apprehension, but certainly with a healthy dose of goodwill and humor.

The world around us swirls with disjointed factoids and fictions, mythologies and truths. It is our job to bear it all, to make sure we take care of our loved ones and seek the good in each and every person, the good in all the peoples living on this small spheroid afloat in a directionless galaxy.

The all-consuming media clog our sensibilities with the good, the bad, the uglified, the uplifting. Awash with all this debris, we who have survived the election–all of us–must get on with making security and love and kindness our topmost priorities.

The uglified stuff must be stared down, confronted, humiliated, marginalized…the beautiful stuff must be accentuated, made prominent. The bestial must be attenuated.

Our fellow travelers are watching us, so we must set inspiring standards of behavior. If we fail to do this, what good are we?

It’s the only path that makes any sense.

As Henry James said, “Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”

Living a kindly life is difficult. Difficult is the only way anything good ever gets done.

Ray Bradbury said, “Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.”

If we wish to be fondly remembered by future generations, we must behave each moment at the top of our genetics.

We must build our wings whether descending or ascending

© 2016 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

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THE PERFECT DAY OF TRUE GRITS AND SALTED BLACK-EYED PEAS

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/truegrits.mp3

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THE PERFECT DAY OF TRUE GRITS AND SALTED BLACK-EYED PEAS 

Bill, the guy from Up North, is visiting Alabama for the first time, and he is poking at his food as if it might be hiding a live squirrel.

We’re having an expense-account dinner, trying to entice him into moving down south by introducing him to our exotic food, our southern hospitality culture.

Bill is making a effort to slow down and sync up with our slow southern rhythms.

Finally, he reaches down into a serving of black-eyed peas, picks one up, examines it closely and says, “Is this a grit?”

At this moment, we realize this is not going to be easy, this baptism-by-food initiation.

Earlier, looking over the menu, Bill asks, “What is this OCK-ruh dish?” We know he’s never known the pleasures of okra. As James Dickey once said, “If God made anything better than okra, he held it back for himself.”

Just for the record, here’s how you eat black-eyed peas, assuming they have been carefully and correctly prepared:

First, you shake lots of salt on the peas, followed by ground pepper and maybe even some pepper sauce. Then, like all true Deep South connoisseurs, you shake a heap of catsup upon them.

Don’t laugh. Everybody in my family does this, and the result is delicious. Try it.

What we try to get across to Bill is the fact that it’s not the plain-and-simple southern food that tastes great, it’s the stuff you add to it in correct proportions.

For instance here’s how you eat grits, assuming they have been carefully and lovingly prepared:

Make sure they are piping hot. Salt and pepper them. Add a dollop or two of butter, some cheese, even a touch of garlic, then vigorously stir them. Prepare ye for a transformative experience.

Something not to do if you want to immerse yourself in true dining ecstasy:  Never, never eat grits plain, with no flavoring. They will taste like steamed particle board and you will never go near them again. Lots of visitors to the south have done this, and they are now lost souls, condemned forever to living on Ovaltine and non-iced, non-lemoned iced tea.

Ever gone to a Chicago diner and ordered iced tea? You’ll get that blank stare reserved only for aliens from far planets.

Down Here, there are things one does not do. We don’t put gravy on good steak. We will tolerate hash browns only if you have run out of grits. We know the difference between flavorless raw spinach leaves and hot, pork-flavored over-cooked tasty spinach.

And so on.

After all, what Bill needs to understand is that the South is a wonderful, friendly and warm place to live, but you must learn the rules about good food in order to truly enjoy yourself.

And the correct way to prepare barbecue is an entirely different story for a later time.

Does Bill “get it” and learn to relax around southern cuisine? Er, southern eating?

Don’t know. He disappears and is never heard from again.

Which means we get to divide up his servings

© 2016 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

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AUTHORITARIAN BOOKIE WOWS MOM ON A SUNNY DRY DAY

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AUTHORITARIANBOOKIEWOWSMOM.mp3

or read his story below:

AUTHORITARIAN BOOKIE WOWS MOM ON A SUNNY DRY DAY

The old burgundy Subaru bookmobile knows the trolling route so well that it actually drives itself. The ancient pale and pasty bookieman sits in the driver’s seat and watches the world go by while he and the self-driving vehicle head toward just another roadside junkstore, sharing high hopes of finding nice old books for customers back at the bookstore.

I am the bookie, the car is the bookiemobile.

Our journey is as interesting as the destination.

By the side of the road in the western shambles of the city, I spy the gigantic WOW sign. It’s been there for decades, and it actually had an original purpose–that of selling bundles of socks for just a few cents. Now it’s a lonely WOW sign, a mileage marker on the way to a bookquest.

The prankster side of me wants to sneak up to the sign and turn it over one night, thus affording passersby a comforting memory of MOM in our ramshackle lives. Being conscious and in the present, I don’t really need to carry out the prank. The sign is permanently affixed to my mind as a thought about MOM and all good moms past, present, future.

  After all, I have, in addition to MOM thoughts, a need to forever replenish my trove of wonderful old volumes so that customers will always find some surprise among the plethora of packaged words in the store.

Back at the shop:

“I hear you’re an authoritarian on used books!” a customer proclaims, presenting a waxed paper package like a swaddled baby in her outstretched arms. “Can you tell me about this?” She means that she wants me to unswaddle the book and tell her whether it’s worth a fortune.

“Well, I guess I am an authoritarian, at that,” I say, but not aloud. I attempt to keep my smart remarks to myself now and then.

I look at the book, which is disbound, dusty, stained and missing pages here and there. It is what her family has kept for a century, waiting for a rainy day when they can cash in.

My task is to let this customer down easily but share a reality check at the same time.

I turn the tattered pages, smile, and remark, “This is a nice book, well worth reading. Unfortunately, people who might want to purchase it will only accept it if it looks brand-new and is in almost perfect condition.”

“But this is an old book…old books don’t look new,” she protests.

I lead her to a display case and show her my copy of this exact book. It looks new because it has been well tended and respected all these years.

She gets the point. “Well, I guess somebody didn’t take care of this one.” She laughs and thanks me for taking the time to advise her free of charge.

I’m done with travels for the day and here I am at the bookshop, arranging orphans and adoptees and fosters, displaying them so that perhaps customers will take them home and love them.

The morning’s journey was worthwhile. I have additional company on the shelves. My MOM is safely ensconced in memory, a memory of her love for books and her love for a son who could not keep his hands off books or his mind off the beauty of words and stories.

Can’t wait till the old junker and I head out once again on our periodic field trips to scan the countryside and dig for treasure for the sheer satisfaction of it

© 2016 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

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THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF TOOTHPASTE TUBES

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/secretlanguageoftoothpastetubes.mp3

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THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF TOOTHPASTE TUBES

In case you haven’t brushed your teeth yet, please read this column carefully.You do not want to mistreat your teeth.

As the philosopher Soupy Sales once said, “Be true to your teeth and they won’t be false to you.”

Here’s how to care for your teeth: “Brush teeth thoroughly after meals or at least twice a day,” according to the sacred text of Crest, imprinted on each tube of toothpaste.

If you are new to the teeth-brushing ritual, you may have questions: 1. “Can I get it over with first thing by brushing my teeth twice in five minutes?”  2. “If I forget to brush after meals, can I brush during or right before meals? After all, I have seen more than one person floss in public and feel this practice might not be unacceptable.”  3. “If a toothbrush is not readily available, may I substitute a hairbrush or whisk broom?”  4. If  I brush on the run, is it permissible to forego toothpaste and substitute whatever is available, like bourbon or Diet Coke?  5. “How long do I brush? Can’t find any Crest instructions about this. Is one hour sufficient?”  6. “When there’s no convenient way to brush, can I just use a toothpick? I see all kinds of people walking out of restaurants, toothpicking away and making those TSK sounds.”

You may have many other questions, but perhaps you should pause and make a list.

Speaking of pausing, I heard this on NPR the other day, ”The players were taking a moment to pause.” Can’t get my mind around it, since this sentence seems to be saying the players were pausing to pause. Maybe they wanted to floss.

Well, to tell the tooth, I don’t have that much to talk about today, do I? I feel that somebody needs to address these issues, so it might as well be me.

One more grammar thought. There are signs everywhere that refer to parking violations. Can  you tell me which is correct? Is it, “Prosecutors will be violated,” or “Violators will be persecuted,” or what? It would be fun to see a posted sign stating, “Violators will be mob-flossed.”

Oh, just one more grammar usage that scrambles my already scrambled mind:

“This program contains adult content.”

What does this mean? It seems to be saying, “This program contains content.” Can a program contain content? Would it be more proper to say, “This program contains language and subject matter suitable only for grown-ups or prodigies?

I would settle for, “This program contains images of people flossing, picking and brushing.”

This is one program I would avoid

© 2016 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

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KEEP YOUR NOSE CLEAN SO YOU CAN SMELL A PHONY

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/keepyournoseclean.mp3

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KEEP YOUR NOSE CLEAN SO YOU CAN SMELL A PHONY

Listen, kiddos, and I will impart knowledge to you in a slightly oblique manner. Should you decide to pay attention, you might even learn something you didn’t know you needed to know. And even if you retain nothing at all from my imparted wisdom, you will at least exhibit the highest manifestation of human behavior–a chuckle.

Today, it starts with noses.

The grandiloquent comedians Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding gave us the gift of chuckles embedded with insight and palatable Aha! moments. Bob and Ray once said, “Keep your nose clean so you can smell a phony.” How much more succinct can you get when you are attempting to tell someone how to lead an alert and sagacious life? Just keep your nose clean so you can smell a phony.

Speaking of noses, sometimes they get stopped up, disengaging our ability to spot fakes. At those times a good sneeze helps. As another comedic team, Homer Haynes and Jethro Burns once reported, “Scientists have finally found the answer to the common cold: ‘Gesundheit!’”

Now and then the only way to get past a sticky situation or a morose thought is to sneeze, yell Gesundheit! and sally forth as if the world is A-OK once again. Homer and Jethro spent many decades spreading the goodwill of silly humor.

Are there other techniques for swatting away the phonies in our lives, the phony disinformation splattered over us, the snarky gossipy ill-informed comments that are hurled our way? Chuckles might help. As Mel Brooks has been preaching for a lifetime, the best way to send the enemy back into a squirmy black hole is to face the mean-spiritedness full on, laugh a healthy laugh, and go on about your business as if you have no use for such blather.

Don’t deny the enemy’s existence, just show the ethos that the enemy does not matter, has no effect, exerts zero control…over your ability to chuckle.

If you don’t pay attention to snarkyness, it becomes marginalized and of no importance to those of us who just want to lead good and sweet-natured lives.

The nose knows.

Keep the laughter alive, keep the nose clean, eat a banana, avoid slipping on the peel, yell Aha! or Gesundheit! once in a while.

And, when you want to share your kindness, your chuckles, keep me in mind

© 2016 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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GOODBYE, I MUST BE ARRIVING; HELLO, I MUST BE GOING

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 http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/goodbyeimustbearriving.mp3

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GOODBYE, I MUST BE ARRIVING; HELLO, I MUST BE GOING

Here am I, heading southwest toward Taylorville, and I do not know whether I am coming or going.

Well, actually, I do know whether I am coming or going. It is just something I say to get the story jump-started. I am both coming and going. All the time.

While I write this, it is Saturday night, but by the time you read it, it will be Sunday at the earliest, and I will be on the road to Tuscaloosa.

I am leaving the comfort of my Southside home in order to pay respects to the life of Doreen, my late mother’s best friend and next-door neighbor. Doreen died the other day, and I am joining my sister, Barbara, in visiting Doreen’s son and daughter-in-law, Gregg and  Lyric.

Leaving B’ham and arriving in T’town. Going and coming.

My Mother, Frances, loved nothing better than to chat over the back fence with Doreen. Together, they conducted one continuous, overlapping, neverending, stay-tuned-for-tomorrow’s-episode conversation that lasted for years.

And, who knows? They may still be at it right now.

At the services, I hope to meet people who knew Doreen better than I ever could. I hope to visit with Barbara, various nephews and nieces-in-law, and offspring galore.

I will not know exactly what to say, will not know exactly the right thing to say, but I have now lived long enough to know that there is no right thing to say. I just hope that being there a little while will mean something to those present. I know that seeing these longtime-interconnected people will definitely mean something to me.

And so it goes. Much of my life is spent paying it forward or making amends. The present does not have much heft, since it is either immediately in the past or immediately about to happen.

We birth, we stumble about, we have a few laughs, a few cries, we love, we puzzle over it all, we come, we go, maybe to come again. Who knows?

I do not know whether arriving is more important than leaving, I just know both are part of some mysterious process.

I do know that letting life gently flow over me is a lot more satisfying than cursing the darkness or resisting the light

 

© 2016 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

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O WHAT FUN IT IS TO WRITE

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/owhatfunitistowrite!.mp3

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O WHAT FUN IT IS TO WRITE

I have this bumper sticker at the bookstore, O WHAT FUN IT IS TO WRITE.

This bumper sticker serves as a litmus test for the eyes of wandering customers. The slogan attracts certain browsers; others do not even notice it. Some lift the sticker, frown at it, don’t quite absorb the arrangement of words, replace it, cruise on to the next curiosity.

Now and then, a gazer brightens up, chuckles in delight, and asks, “Can I buy this?”

I wonder which visitor spends some of each day writing, which is entertaining the idea of writing but never gets around to it, which wants to learn what it takes to be a writer, which dismisses the entire idea of writing, which admires writers, which disdains the concept of writing for pleasure.

I don’t have to wonder for long, because folks often tell me exactly what they think about writing.

“I used to keep a diary, but I finally threw it away. It wasn’t any good.”

“I’d like to start writing someday. Maybe when I retire.”

“I know a lot of stories but I’m not a writer, so I guess they won’t get written.”

“You know, don’t you, that writing doesn’t matter anymore. Computers can do it for you.”

Once in a while, a customer will be ready, willing and able to stop, listen, maybe even learn something. That’s when I jump in with my gently avid rant about the importance of diaries.

The reason many people begin their writing life by keeping diaries, is that nobody will see what’s in the diary until the writer is ready. And diaries can come in so many forms! A Dollar Store blank book is just as easy to write in as a leatherbound gilt-edged volume with acid-free paper.

A diary is simply a Message in a Bottle.

Humans have been placing messages in bottles ever since they were, well, humans.

And even before there were bottles!

Cave dwellers wrote picture stories on walls thousands of years ago. Cuneiforms–messages in red clay–have been in use for just about that long.

Like many people who write in diaries, I am screaming silently to the ethos that I MATTER!

Like other diarists, I hope that somebody somewhere will someday connect with my words and find something meaningful in them.

When I squirrel away a diary, I am saying to its unknown finder, KILROY WAS HERE. Jim Reed once existed. Jim Reed wants you to know that you matter, too…your words matter…your life in words matters. Your diary is worth the effort.

I like to think that my writings will be placed safely deep in a bank of Alabama red clay (it’s everywhere!) and discovered by a better civilization thousands of years hence. They may still know what red clay is–they may even still have kudzu (it’s everywhere!) growing in the red clay! They may even take heart in learning that those of us who lived so long ago were human, too.

When my time capsule The Diary is opened, I hope these future folk will think kindly of us, will recognize the evidence that despite all our flaws as a species, there are among us some good, helpful and gentle people.

Perhaps they will be inspired to continue the long, arduous but hopefully rewarding trek toward the idea that it could be that humans are worth saving and cherishing after all

 

© 2016 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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