UNTELLABLE TALES, BOTH ACTUAL AND TRUE

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/untellabletales.mp3

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UNTELLABLE TALES, BOTH ACTUAL AND TRUE

As my time in this planet’s orbit wobbles ever forward, the cracks between the cracks fascinate me more. And more.

Much of my writing career is spent looking between the things that might be missed, gazing up as others are looking down, peering under when all focus is above and over yonder, turning away from sudden loud noises to see what is going Back There where no attention is being paid.

After a lifetime exploring the significantly insignificant, I find I have accumulated stacks of notes that don’t seem to have a place to rest.

Some for instances reside within the following lines.

What do I do with the receipt-printed CVS information that reports I can get $2 off my next eye-shadow purchase? (How can I do something NEXT when I haven’t first done it and won’t ever do it?)

A stranger walks into the bookshop carrying an elephant head. He wants to sell it to me but I can’t recall any recent need for such an object.

A couple drops by to obtain my opinion of what appears to be a small Russian satellite they have recovered from a NASA junkyard. I’m not kidding. It is singed from re-entry. There is a small porthole through which some creature once peered out. There are numbers and cyrillic letters stamped clearly on the asbestos-like surface. They do not know what to do with it but they know better than to sell it. They disappear along with the knowledge of what eventually happens to this modern artifact.

A jobless man wants to get a paying job here but talks himself out of it in four minutes flat. That’s in the category of “Let me tell you why you would never want to hire me.” I get that a lot, though I’m aware that each applicant hasn’t the vaguest idea why unemployability is such a mantra. I long for the day when one of them pauses thoughtfully and asks me to share my observations as to why the jobs are not happening.

In order to enter the shop each day I must wade through gusts of smokers’ smoke (holding my breath as long as possible) and dance around critters who tread the sidewalk oblivious to passersby but enthralled with their own screen-dancing thumbs. I actually don’t mind this so much, since it is a kind of entertainment that adds color and spice to the day.

My store has become a kind of sanctuary where, for a few hours, I can enjoy the fragrance of books, recall encountered characters, ignore any horrors or crises outside, appreciate customers and browsers—trying my damnedest to pay attention to them and see what new and exciting lessons they can teach me unaware.

And I always thumb through newly-arrived books to find evidence of readers’ lives. An old greeting card, a bookmark, margin notes, underlinings, a folded page, a list of things never completed, one snapshot of all those unknown family members who deserve re-cherishing, a theatre ticket stub, mustard stains, a feather.

All of which are totally unsaleable totally unappraisable totally unclassifiable…

Totally keepable to any appreciator of cracks between cracks

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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HAVE YOU VISITED MY MOTHER’S GARDEN?

Listen to Jim’s podcast:

http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/haveyouvisitedmymothersgarden.mp3

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HAVE YOU VISITED MY MOTHER’S GARDEN?

My mother’s garden is overflowing with old, unusable objects that she fills with flowers and plants and soil. And love.

Do you like my mother’s garden so far?

My mother’s garden is a museum of reclaimed objects. Things like old metal and wooden cola cartons brimming with plants, a coal fireplace grate ready to sprout, tin cans with seedlings, a broken stone pony, a splintery white swing, a brick barbeque pit budding, a graceful tree, a nameless score of would-be sprouts, wild flowers that you’d better not mow down.

My mother keeps everything. Nothing goes to waste. In her hands things turn useful.

My mother’s greatest fear is that when she dies we will throw everything away. She feels we may not cherish every cracked vase, every old bottle.

My mother is wrong. We will not allow her treasures to be buried.

Have you smelled my mother’s garden?

My mother’s garden is scented with memories, memories of a small boy named Me hiding in a bush and changing into a Batman costume, crawling under the house to discover musty memories, swinging Tarzanlike from a lassoed tree, huffing behind an extinct pushmower.

My mother’s garden is filled with memories of a young mother named Mine, serving iced Pepsis on the baking lawn to prune-dry kids, pulling unwanted plants from around wanted ones, talking with stray animals as if they were children, cherishing every pebble and old toy.

That is my mother, a relentlessly warm and happy memory that does not fade.

Now, take a seat beside me on the swing. Here’s a cool drink. Close your eyes.

Tell me all about your mother

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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WHAT I MIGHT HAVE MISSED HAD I BEEN TEXTING

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WHAT I MIGHT HAVE MISSED HAD I BEEN TEXTING
*
*
My hand, wrist deep into jacket pocket, searches for a bookmark to turn over to a chatting stranger. Then, that oddly human experience of being able to sense many things all at once kicks in, and I realize that the pocket is in reality a time capsule filled with interconnecting disparate bits of history, the history that is part and parcel of my minuscule life.
*
From the innards of the jacket, I pull forth a rumpled sticky note, part of a napkin on which are scrawled earth-shaking notes that must be preserved, a Dum Dum wrapper (cherry), one plastic toothpick (bent), three semi-shiny pennies, a ticket stub (Doc Severinsen concert), and three bookmarks.
*
I hand over a bookmark (my business card) but quickly retrieve it because I see handwritten Haiku on the back. I replace it with a clean bookmark and re-pocket the paper cunieform.
*
I won’t bother you with the contents of the other two jacket pockets and the four pockets of my trousers. Troves!
*
Later, I become aware that my bookshop is one big pocket of ongoing experiences melded with tiny and large mementos of what the past contains and what the future might bring.
*
Reaching into the shop, here’s what is going on right now, in memory and metaphor:
*
One deliberative and unsmiling customer is fragranced with powerful perfume and powder, his long multi-colored fingernails clacking at the smart phone screen…two
timequake skateboarders gaze up, down and around in awe of the books and doodads…a happy flower child straight out of a time machine purchases St. Exupery…one customer devoted to G.K. Chesterton and H.G. Wells exits the store, beaming down at his cradled books…a no-read (as in, “I never read books”) tagalong wife waits patiently for her WWII-collecting spouse…several different millennials wander around, unable to caress a book but eager to texttexttext…a South African tourist says his kids could not understand why he would mail them a postcard instead of simply texting (they did not realize the card itself is a gift of love)…somebody who knows me but whom I don’t know merrily relates true anecdotes but leaves unidentified…the flower child talks with a jolly guy about Ray Bradbury’s DANDELION WINE, which she is purchasing…a Senior Games photographer buys one biker hat and several photo books…one table tennis champ buys a Kellerman mystery…one man scours the shop, diligently filling his I Oughtta Read These list…
*
By now, you may be as overwhelmed and delighted as I am at all this blend of humanity and ideas and emotions.
*
One good thing about being a metaphor hoarder is that I never run out of people and ideas to write about. All I have to do is reach into a pocket or a corner of the bookshop.
*
There I will always find reminders of where I have been, where I am now, where I could wind up.
*
There I will always find evidence of life, with its curious mixture of loathing, laughter, loving, languishing, lollygagging, lashing out, lullabying…and those are just the L’s.
*
I am forever grateful for the things I do not overlook.
*
I am always wondering what I do overlook.
*
And I look forward to digging into a pocket or two to see what messages I sent to myself way back when…when I was an earlier version
*

TO READ OR NOT TO READ: NOT EVEN A QUESTION FOR SOME

 Listen to Jim’s podcast:

http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/toreadornottoread.mp3

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TO READ OR NOT TO READ

“What’s your favorite book?”

I frequently surprise Accompanying Browsers with this question.

Clarification: an Accompanying Browser is someone who enters the shop in the company of a booklover who is searching for just the right thing to read. The booklover is always avid and enthusiastic and heads for the shelves to see What’s Where. The Accompanying Browser simply has no interest in the books and gazes into space, waiting patiently for the booklover to get it over with.

That’s when I’ll come out with something like, “What are you reading right now?” or “What kinds of books are you looking for today?” or the inevitable, “What’s your favorite book?” I pretty much know what the response will be, but sometimes it’s worth the effort.

Standard replies to these questions include, “Uh, I don’t know…” or “I don’t really read…” or “I don’t have time to read…” or “I tried to read a book once, but I only got halfway through.” No kidding–this last response came just this week from a twenty-something person.

Whenever I feel it is safe to trade pleasantries with such a responder, I say something like, “Can you read?” as in “Are you an adult illiterate?” If this evokes a smile or a defensive response, it is usually, “Of course I know how to read. I just don’t like to read.”

Later, the once-read-half-a-book customer and her partner arrive at the check-out desk with two books in hand. One is a biography of Dylan Thomas, the other a collection of John Masefield poems. I effuse: “Great selection—Dylan Thomas is one of the five best employers of the English language, and Masefield was a great poet. You’ll love these.”

The male of the couple stares at me for a puzzled moment, then comments, “Oh. Well, I never heard of Dylan Thomas or this other guy,” at which point I realize that both books sport solid black bindings and are being purchased for decorative purposes only. The couple confirms this.

I hold up the Thomas volume and try once more, reciting, “Do not go gentle unto that good night…rage against the dying…” The male smiles in recognition and says, “Is he the one who said that?” followed by a “Wow!”

The young woman smiles and drawls, “I just don’t understand anything y’all are talking about,” in her best “I’m-just-an-ignorant-old-gal-who-has-more-important-things-to-spend-my-time-doing” voice. But at least the male says, “I guess I should try reading this Dylan Thomas.”

They leave happy.

As the afternoon tumbles forth, another Accompanying Browser engages with me for some pleasantries. She brags about never reading, although it is all right with her that her grown daughter loves to read. I can’t help giving it a shot, “Maybe you could get started by reading books that are only a page in length.” She is curious, so I do go on, “Here’s an example of a one-page novel. It’s so brief you won’t even have time to doze or be distracted.” I’m showing her the story, “The Earth Overhead,” from my book DAD’S TWEED COAT: SMALL WISDOMS HIDDEN COMFORTS UNEXPECTED JOYS.

I quickly read the story aloud. She smiles, looks somewhat stunned, and soon becomes my friend for a moment. She and her daughter buy stuff and leave happy.

Oh, in case you’re interested, here is my one-page two-paragrah novel:

THE EARTH OVERHEAD

Above my head in the book loft there floats a foot-wide, thirty-foot-long red orange yellow green kite, waving in the air-conditioning breeze and making me look up occasionally to remember a time far gone, when my small daughter and I stood in the abandoned parking lot of the old Liberty supermarket on Greensprings Highway and held on to the longlong string for dear life, the string that kept the world from breaking loose and floating away from that wonderful solid stationary kite around which the entire universe moved.

The asphalt under our feet felt light as seafoam and the kite weighed a million pounds and we wanted so much to climb that silver strand and reach deep into the rainbow kite and bring up the mystery of being, hold it in  our hands for a few precious seconds, then let it fly away from its kitebound center and travel to a place where it could make someone else intensely happy for a few ticks

 

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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THE IMPORTANCE OF FRESH CUBA LINEN

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 http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/theimportanceoffreshcubalinen.mp3

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THE IMPORTANCE OF FRESH CUBA LINEN

I am lying abed, adrift in that special land between slumber and deep sleep. Outdoor sunlight begins to ratchet up, peeking between blinds, scrawling patterns on the bedroom wall, drawing me gently into wakefulness.

Once alert, the only lingering memory is the fragrance of sun-dried linen, linen that is waving in the breeze from its perch on a countryside clothesline in Cuba, Alabama.

My eyelids rise and I know immediately what the dream of fragrance means. I am standing in memory beside my Aunt Margaret in the back yard of her home in the tiny town of Cuba. She and I are removing freshly dried clothing from the clothesline prior to bringing them in through the back door. It is a ritual I wish I could perform again, but those days are gone. Those days are warm and humid, sunny memories of a time when I could sit and look her in the eye and see faint images of her eldest sister—my late mother, Frances—smiling back at me.

Aunt Margaret is the final direct link to Mother I will ever have. What’s left is kinship, what remains are my brothers and sister, in whose eyes I also see my departed parents.

Aunt Margaret’s husband of 72 years, my Uncle Lamar, died just the other day, and now she is left in the care of her sons and daughter, my cousins, and in the care of that small clotheslined back yard and the small immaculately-kept home next to a beautiful little church where she spends many of her days.

I was born into an enormous family and was lucky enough to spend time with many aunts and uncles scattered about Tuscaloosa and Holt and Peterson and Brookwood and West Blocton and Northport and just about everywhere else as time went by. Each of them left indelible memories, each of them expressed their love of my family in many different ways through the decades.

As I say, I am one lucky man. I am learning to be satisfied with the stories and memories left behind by these kind folk. Aunt Margaret is the final aunt, and I will be visiting with her soon.

Wonder if the clothesline is still standing

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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REPRODUCING THE IRREPRODUCIBLE

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REPRODUCING THE IRREPRODUCIBLE

What would my life be like if I only heard everything once, only experienced everything once, only saw everything one time?

What if Playback had never been invented? What if there were no snapshots, selfies, cameras, recording devices, image reproducers?

What if echoes were the only evidence I had that my voice existed?

What if each moment in time was complete in and of itself, never to be reviewed except in memory and imagination?

My idea of a perfect day is one in which nothing is repeated to me or regurgitated in my direction.

This cannot easily occur.

Maybe this attitude is driven by my short attention span. Once I experience something, enough is enough. I don’t need to synthetically experience it again. Unless it is really, really important.

Fireworks? They are lovely, but why do I need to see them more than once? I cherish the memory of their sound, their piercing beauty, the awesome effect they have on viewers. As a writer, I can weave tales about fireworks, I can examine them again and again from every angle, through the lenses of different philosophies, right here, inside my mind. I can appreciate a fireworks display and hold it in memory for a lifetime.

Another way of explaining this: Why would I need more than one wedding ring? The one I received is the only one I will ever need to contemplate. I don’t need to be given a new wedding ring several times a year. Memory and affection suffice.

Watching a news or sports event, I wish to see it once. I do not require several dozen re-plays of every single play, pounding away at me until all life is wrung from it. I only wish to view that home run as it happens, then I can go away and contemplate it. I need watch a horrible disaster one time—it loses all meaning after battering my senses repeatedly through re-play.

My point, if I have one, is that the purity of a single moment is so much more powerful when it is allowed to exist on its own intrinsic terms, when it is not rendered listless through endless repetition and yadda yadda yadda commentary.

Of course, there are moments in life worth re-viewing. These are the big, important, life-changing moments. These I would keep. They are worthy enough.

For me, the way to watch an athletic event is to mute the punditry and avert my gaze during the repetitions. The way to appreciate a book is to read it once, then contemplate it for a few months until it settles itself and becomes part of a continuing self-assembling jigsaw puzzle in my heart. The way to appreciate you is to listen to what you have to say, observe your presence, savor your being, then wrestle with what I have learned and silently assimilate it into my life.

Meanwhile, I hope to find pleasure now and then in spending just one day avoiding visual addiction—that modern-times need to view hundreds of times an image of something that only happened once and is important enough to merit silent appraisal, deep within

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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WRITING THE UNWRITTEN

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/writingtheunwritten.mp3

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WRITING THE UNWRITTEN

 There must be fifty ways to export a thought from mind to page. Writing words is the easy part. Editing and polishing and making the words more powerful, more meaningful, is where the real work lies. Editing must be done.

For instance, here’s what first comes out of my head and into my fingers and then onto screen or page. As I say, tossing words into existence is effortless.

Now comes the craft, then the art, of editing.

This is a small train-of-thought exercise:

FIRST DRAFT:

“If something is not written, it is still, nevertheless, awaiting the blank page. The unwritten exists, even if it is never written. My job is to write the unwritten, forcing its visibility upon the reader.” –Jim Reed

SECOND DRAFT:

“The unwritten, though unwritten, nevertheless awaits the blank page. I the writer make visible the unwritten.” –Jim Reed

THIRD DRAFT:

“The unwritten always awaits the blank page. My task is to make the unwritten visible to the reader.” –Jim Reed

FOURTH DRAFT:

“If I never write something down, you will never know it exists. But it does exist, simply because it resides within me.” –Jim Reed

See what I mean? There must be fifty ways to write any thought. As I work on drafts of this thought, it alters itself. The end result might take years. Stay tuned.

One of my many diversions consists of collecting and studying concise, perfectly honed thoughts and meaningful insights. I am constantly amazed at how few Great Thoughts emerge from the thousands that I collect. In my small world, a collectible quote must make its appearance without notice, execute its sting, then disappear, allowing the reader to massage and digest it.

And in rare but special moments, a great set of words can uplift you, change your day, detour you from chaos to bliss, or at least make you chuckle.

For instance:

“Not to decide is to decide.” –Harvey Cox

This grand but simple utterance could take many pages to develop and make public, but Cox reduces it to six words. You’ll never forget them.

Another example:

“Jesus is coming. Look busy.” –bumper sticker

Entire volumes of theology and studies on human behavior and ethics could be written to explain and examine this thought, but the unknown scribe reduced it to one startling and funny set of five words.

And here’s one more quote that contains an entire human life:

“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” –Samuel Beckett

Each morning, I lie abed and wrestle with this thought. Then, I hop up and head to the shower. Before I know it, I’m going on

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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CEREMONY OF THE GRADUATES

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 http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/ceremonyofthegraduates.mp3

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CEREMONY OF THE GRADUATES

Somewhere, USA:

The arena is a vast civilization all enfolded with its personal ethos.

Chatting herds of families and extended families and kin and friends and neighbors and bonded groups and stragglers and roaming restless kids and huggers and bussers and handshakers and symbolic gesturers and signalers and pre-graduates and tenured instructors and security guards and parking lot triagers and clusters and loners and hand-phoners and players and playuhs and gigglers and speechmakers and organizers and wanderers and handicapped trudgers and screamers and whistlers and program-fanners and howzyermomenemers and school-spirit-commercial-product-consumers and…

Those who stiffly strut, who wobble forward, who stumble the concrete metal stairs, who flip and search the commencement program pages, who double-hop the stairs, who carefully navigate one step at a time, who cling to steel banisters, who slide banisters, who descend while dreading the eventual ascent, who seek their companion group, who gaze with intimacy only at a flat screen, who can’t wait for lunch, who can’t wait for the new world they will enter timidly and bravely, who sit forlornly midst a sea of orange plastic folding seats, who await the pomp and circumstance created solely for this impending momentary moment…

At last, the ceremonies are concluded. Circumstances have reduced the pomp to a dull roar. The real, the important, the meaningful can commence. Now it’s all about friendship and family and love and camaraderie.

What else could possibly be more important at this moment in time?

The next graduation ceremony awaits

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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SOUTHSIDE BAR-B-Q PAYBACK

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/southsidebarbq.mp3

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SOUTHSIDE BAR-B-Q PAYBACK

A tattered page from my Red Clay Diary…

I am on the last leg of the day, trying to get into and out of the Southside grocery store and make it home for some after-work peace and quiet.

As I pass the in-house buffet line en route to the dairy section, a clerk asks whether I want to pick up supper. I brusquely tell him “no” without pausing, then glance quickly at the prepared food and see that there are three small barbecue ribs left floating in their burgundy sauce. They are calling out to me.

We need to eat something fast-foody, so I say, “Uh, sir, I think I just changed my mind.” He walks over and I point to the ribs. “Can I just buy what’s left, and nothing else?” I figure that Liz and I can have a nice meal of leftover cole slaw and the ribs before collapsing into our post-long-day stupor at home.

While the clerk is weighing and pricing my order, the pleasant woman who usually works the counter walks up.

“Long day,” I say. “Yes, long day,” she says. We always exchange pleasantries. A woman and man pass behind me, heading for the produce section, and the clerk’s eyes flash. She looks at me knowingly and says something I don’t quite understand, nodding toward the couple. I ask for a repeat, she says the same thing, which I still don’t get, but it’s obvious she’s had an emotional PING and wants to share an opinion and a confession. It’s her body language that tells me this.

“Nobody’s going to do THAT to ME,” she says. I turn around but can only see the backs of the couple.

“What do you mean?”

“Her eyes all wide like that, it’s not right,” she says.

I finally figure out that she means the woman has two black eyes.

I say, “That’s terrible,” acknowledging the fact that she thinks the woman has been abused.

“No man will ever do that to me,” she confides with set jaw.

I cluck sympathetically and mouth some platitude in empathy.

She goes on.

“My ex-husband beat me up.”

“That’s terrible,” is all I can say again, and I mean it.

Her words tumble over the counter.

“He beat me with a hammer,” she continues.

“Holy Moly,” I say to myself and lean forward to learn more.

“But I got him good,” she brags.

I wonder how a small woman like this could stand up to an abusive male probably twice her size.

“I taped him up and set him on fire when he was asleep,” she says, proudly. “He’ll never do THAT to anybody again.”

I can only do what any writer might automatically do. I ask what happened next. There’s always a sequel, since no story ever really ends, you know.

“Did they do anything to you?” I ask. Both of us know who the They is I’m referring to.

“Heck, no, why would they?” she says.

I can only nod sympathetically again, mumble something about how glad I am she lived to tell me the story, and walk on over toward the dairy section for the half and half for Liz.

I pass by the couple and see the woman’s battered eyes for the first time. I know why the sight of them triggered the cook’s story. I wonder if this is what happened to her, too.

Later, writing this down for you to read, I wonder about barbecued wife-beaters and barbecue ribs and what kind of celestial relationship they might have to one another in this enormous and rather puzzling universe

 

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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LIVING UNDER THE DOME, WITHIN THE WALL

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http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/livingunderthedome.mp3

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LIVING UNDER THE DOME, WITHIN THE WALL

My world is bordered by an oddly-shaped wall and sheltered by an infinite dome. An Alabama wall that extends from one special point in Tuscaloosa to another in Peterson to another in West Blocton to, finally, my current home in Birmingham. The dome is always above, itself a kind of enclosure that, with the assistance of gravity, does not allow escape.

I was raised on Eastwood Avenue in T-Town, visited and played with McGee relatives on Pat McGee Road in Peterson, and with Reed relatives on Rose Lane in West Blocton. Now, 55 miles from Eastwood Avenue, I live on Birmingham’s Southside and work on nearby 3rd Avenue North, Downtown.

That’s about the size of my world. Small, isn’t it?

But within that compound, under that dome, I can go anywhere, do anything, in my imagination.

Guess I was destined to be a writer of words, a teller of tales. And mainly, I more and more find myself preaching the gospel of Paying Attention. I enjoy pointing out the wonders and perplexities of life to help fortify my hunch that no matter how small the compound, no matter how fettered the body, this world is bigger than I can ever imagine. The dome is immeasurably high.

Whenever I seek consolation or protection or sanctuary from daily travails, I turn inward. Inward is the only peaceful place, the only constant I recognize in a shifting and sometimes shifty world. And Inward is all mine, a place protected from insurrection, a special community of one that I take with me wherever I go. A place I will take with me on the day that I finally Go.

One more meandering thought:

I no longer proselytize or try to tell others what to do with their lives.

I no longer rail against the way things are, for they are what they are.

I no longer think I can change the world or even alter the course of impending train wrecks I spy all about me. Instead, I now attempt to be the best side of me.

I now believe that it is important to observe those around me and simply be available when needed.

I believe in treating each encounter as if it is the best and final encounter.

I believe in leaving a trail of goodwill and kindness.

I believe that now and then this trail will provide solace to those who are ready to notice it.

I believe in all the great and wonderful times I’ve experienced within the wall and under the dome.

I believe in saying “I love you” to those I love, each and every time I encounter them–just in case they are in doubt.

And finally, as a writer who has learned a few lessons, I believe in shutting up in order to listen to you while you tell me about your life and feelings.

Go on, I’m listening

 

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

 jim@jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com

 http://www.jimreedbooks.com/podcast

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