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What was I thinking? How could I be so half-a-century selfish? And how many great teachers the world wide have been ignored in the same manner?

I could have thanked her, you know.

I could have thanked Helen Hisey for being one of the best teachers in my known universe. I could have shown up one day at the retirement home and said, “Mrs. Hisey, thanks, thanks, thanks for making my life so bearable.” And I would really have meant it, too. Helen Hisey made me take a right-angle turn and sent me on my way down the long long road to this moment, the moment in which I feel comfortable enough to write down this little thought.

I’m standing in front of a classroom full of eighth grade students, students who are required to sit quietly and pay attention to me, the fellow eighth grader standing before them.

I’m making my first speech in Helen Hisey’s speech class at Tuscaloosa Junior High School in 1954.

I have nervously prepared for this moment, going over my three-by-five lined stiff note cards until I have them memorized…only I’m so nervous that I can’t get up enough confidence to depend upon memory, so, for lack of anything else to look at besides students, I stare down at the note cards and try to give a speech, utilizing all those rules that good speechmakers are supposed to follow: make good eye contact with the audience (not furtive glances, which is what I am producing), speak loudly (I’m projecting ok, since I was born with this Voice), be convincing (I’m convinced I’m going to expire prior to taking my seat), make appropriate gestures (I’m sure my hands are flailing about, if not in time with my spoken emphases), and be passionate about my subject (I am, I am…only I’m afraid to show it before an audience.).

Helen Hisey’s wonderfully warm and slightly nasal non-southern voice gently interrupts my speech, “James, try slowing down a bit,” is what she says, but what she manages to mean is, “James, you’re doing fine, and I’m enjoying this so much that I would really like to see you enjoying it, too…so relax and tell me a good story.”

I KNOW that’s what she means, and that’s what makes her a great teacher. Helen Hisey never makes you think she doesn’t have your best interests at heart, and her kindly, business-like manner reinforces this idea.

From that moment on, I do fine in Mrs. Hisey’s class, because, like every other student, I just know she is in my corner.

Later that year, she inspires me to write my first short story, entitled “The Fool,” and from then on, I am hooked on writing and telling stories to anyone who will listen or read. Subsequent teachers seldom encourage my writing, save for high school instructors Campbell and Williams, so there are years of gaps, years when I write lots of words for other people—my bosses—but seldom write what I NEED to say.

There are times I feel perhaps nothing I have ever written is worthy—did Mrs. Hisey tell me my story was good just to encourage me and fortify my self esteem?

I learn the answer to that question years later, when it is revealed that Helen Hisey had kept my story, “The Fool,” and read it aloud to every class for many years, using it as an example of a good tale well told by a writer willing to slow down and enjoy the ride.

When my first “respectable publishing house” book is released 45 years after Mrs. Hisey’s eighth grade speech class, it contains a dedication to her on the first page. When I call to arrange to present her with a signed copy of the book, ready to tell her how much she has affected my life, I learn that she has died. My dedication and devotion are a little too late.

What would Helen Hisey have said about THAT?

I can hear her clear voice, “James, you never had to thank me. Watching you emerge was the greatest thanks. Don’t you know that’s what good teaching is all about?”

Whenever I speak to gatherings of five or five hundred, I never have a moment of fear. Because of Helen Hisey, I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy the ride. Like her, I have learned that if you are enjoying the ride, and if you show your audience that you are enjoying the ride, they, too, will enjoy it.

Doesn’t matter what your subject is, the audience is there waiting to be taken away to a world full of good teachers who only want their students to emerge as good and happy grownups

© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.




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Some time ago…

Or was it once upon a time ago…

Uh, what about once upon a time or two?

Anyhow, way back when—which may only have been yesterday—I had the sudden impression that ‘most everybody I encounter is shaped funny in one way or another.

People are shaped funny. Why was I just then realizing that?

If the world is peopled with oddly-shaped people, why do I view them as being, well, oddly-shaped? Wouldn’t this mean that oddly-shaped is normal and that therefore the term “oddly-shaped” has no meaning at all?

So, the world is peopled with normal-shaped people.

This must also mean that people who have “perfect” countenances—leading actors and athletes and models, for instance—are the odd ones. They are the shapeshifters who don’t fit the mold of “odd.”

Hmm, if most of us are in the randomly odd category, why do we still compare each other to a handful of perfectly shipshape people? “Well, I don’t see what you see in her looks…her forehead is too high.” “I don’t think he’s so good-looking–his arms are short.” “How can he play that part when he’s only 5′ 8″ and his character is 6’7″?” “She’s not so hot—look at that birthmark.”

And so on.

Seems like we spend much of our time trying to make idiosyncrasy look bad, despite the fact that most of us ain’t so  hot ourselves. Maybe we’re trying to level everybody out, uglifying the beautiful and beautifying the misshapen.

This doesn’t get us anywhere at all. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Once this idea took hold in my daily life, I began the exercise of making the bodies of others disappear for a time, so that I can explore and observe who they really are. What joy may lie beneath.

That includes me. I don’t look in the mirror to see myself anymore. The horror. I focus on whether I feel like a kind and helpful person. If I feel like this today, then my shape means nothing. Today, I can feel Gregory Pecky. Tomorrow I can be Pee Wee Hermanesque. Next day I become Roy Rogersy, then Gandhiful, then Denzel Washingtonian.

Or I can just be me, eschewing the transmogrified self-imaging and focusing on the decency lying dormant and waiting to be accessed.

I can look for Teddy’s joy.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Avast, ye thief.

Bring forth the joy


(c) Jim Reed 2017 A.D.




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The short-haired middle-aged dog trots—shall I say doggedly?—right alongside my advancing automobile. For a moment we are progressing at the same speed, but my metal monster wins the race and leaves Mr. Mutt behind.

In the rearview glass I can see him diminished but unwavering in his journey.

He is focused and quite unaware of me and my vehicle. He is on a quest.

All I can think is, Just how does a dog with a mission wind up? Where is it that a dog has to go?

Like a white rabbit, is he late and flustered?

Do dogs have appointments?

How will he know when he has completed his trek?

What stories will he tell his pups when he returns?

And what if he is wondering the same things about me and my species?

And will we ever communicate with one another on a level playing field? Are we destined to be Us and Them, Alien and Other?

Can we co-exist and simply get off each others’ cases and just live out our lives on a beautiful but damaged planet?

Scientists know that there are bunches of planets nearby that could be as sustainable as ours. If there are sentient beings scattered about the galaxy, are they better than us? More vicious than us? Do they even care whether they ever meet us?

Do they have appointments and pups? Do they get along?

Or are they, like us, trapped within their own domains, faced with trying to find a way to live out their time with the least pain and most caring they can muster?

Or are they, are We, just figments in a cosmos that, like Mr. Mutt, is not even aware that we suspire?

Maybe we will always be able to view afar, imagine afar, dream dreamy dreams of what could be, always planted in our fertile imaginations…but forever separated and forbidden by physics from visiting one another.

And maybe, just maybe, we will someday learn to be satisfied with this idea.

Maybe someday we will decide, To heck with it—let’s just take care of each other, let’s just behave, let’s just enjoy the ride, with or without the metal monsters

(c) Jim Reed 2017 A.D.




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I enjoy laughing or chuckling or tittering or giggling or smiling.

Laughter provides evidence to myself that I am IN HERE…that I am conscious, attentive, engaged. Having a good laugh makes me feel a moment of optimism, a sense that I am more than a mere wandering, directionless soul.

When I go through the day unaware of my frown, my grimace, my tight gait, my tense composure, I arrive home doubly tired, stripped of creativity and joy.

Writing and performing and laughing force me to arise from myself and actually feel things. What can I do to help my audience or reader experience the same awakening that’s going on inside me?

I try different approaches. My stories dig a little, hopefully making you stop, look, listen, absorb the sheer pleasure of life.

What is it that’s going on that you don’t see but that you might find interesting or lovely if I could only find the words to spark you up?

What are the wisdoms you and I know deep down inside but suppress? Why do we wait for a poet or charismatic leader to show us what we already harbor?  Are you and I simply too timid, too unsure to explore ourselves?

Here’s an entry from my Red Clay Diary, rediscovered this morning and re-learned:

My clouded vision only becomes clear and precise when I spy the beauty of a chipped teacup, the history within a torn page, the telltale signs of life represented by a bent fork, the singular individualism of an ink smear.

Everywhere I look among the lockstep rows of identical doughnuts identical cutlery identical automobiles identical lampshades…everywhere I look, I look hard for the uniqueness of a tattered book binding, a leaning chair, an untucked shirttail, a crooked tooth, a skewed lope, a rusty spoke.

Everywhere I look I see the beauty of flaws…the flaws that remind me of the wonderful and mysterious imperfection of life.

I remember yesterday like it was yesterday.

Outside the shop, I see one man wrestling with a black/green umbrella in the wind. He finally gives up & walks with it by his side in the drenching rain.

Will he sing?

Will he laugh?

Will he awaken?

Or shall I simply report him to you and allow you to decide whether to smile


(c) Jim Reed 2017 A.D.




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Sometimes I ply my trade.

Sometimes I plod my trade.

The repetitive and redundant activities of daily living sometimes gang up on me and, even in the best of times, weigh me down and make me introspect my life, examine my routines, long for a refresher course in how to remain excited and engaged in what I do all the live long day.

Mary Pipher once said, “Most of the unhappiness in the world is caused by people who are 90 percent happy, going for the last 10 percent.”

Maybe that’s a quote I should place before me as I go about the rote treadmill.

If I’m so happy, why am I not happy? At times.

I’ll be keynoting an address to a gathering of Writers Anonymous scribes on Saturday morning, and this subject could resonate with attendees, since our very presence at the meeting will indicate that we’re still in the game, searching for the breadcrumbs leading out of the forever maze.

The primary questions I invite anyone—including yours mostly truly—to entertain are these:

What good am I? Am I contributing to the texture and richness so badly needed in the world? Am I using my art to advance goodness, mercy and kindness, or am I merely feeding my needy ego?

What good am I as a writer and bookdealer? What good am I as a husband and father and neighbor and kinsman and friend and helper? What will my writing mean to this and future generations? Am I just taking up space while eking out the days?

What still excites me about life, is learning how can I pass this excitement on to my readers, my customers, my daily fellow travellers.

Why write if no-one reads? Why write if my work does not enhance and make better the lives yearning to find hope and meaning?

What good am I?

What good is my work?

If I can cause you to react to my work, if I can engender laughter or concern or inspiration in you, does this count as evidence that I matter? That my work is useful to you?

This is a great burden to place upon you—the burden of making me feel that I matter.

But if I can take the time to notice you, to notice that you matter whether you know it or not, then maybe I can find some semblance of meaning in my plying and plodding.

Maybe I can tell myself that, well, maybe I do matter after all


(c) Jim Reed 2017 A.D.




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Almost every job in the world is a job I would not voluntarily do.

For instance, I have no interest in being a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, a sanitation worker, a welder, a letter carrier, a plumber, a pest controller, a dog catcher, a bank clerk, a server, a janitor, a mechanic…and so on and so forth.

Ironically, I admire and secretly envy the professionals who do these and a million other jobs. Correction: I admire and envy those who do these jobs with dedication and zeal and skill, manners and good attitudes and smiles. I study them, interview them, write about them, converse with them…and I always learn something I did not previously know. Being in their presence is as pleasant as getting out of a grammar school classroom routine and taking a field trip.

I miss field trips.

Meeting and observing these professionals, honoring them, even immortalizing them, is a special avocation.

And the one thing I truly believe is, these special people are never respected enough, never reimbursed or recognized enough. Like parents and priests and caregivers and healers, they are taken for granted.

I at least fantasize about doing their jobs, at least in another life.

I can’t help imagining how difficult it must be to deliver newspapers at four in the morning on a dangerous, stormy day, how hard it might be to work a twelve-hour shift in an under-staffed emergency room, how demoralizing it is to be a prison guard or a process server or a repairer of sewers.

These professionals and a thousand more have my respect and awe. How they manage to keep a good attitude, stay the course, complete their assignments is a source of inspiration.

I’m also protective of my own profession, and I appreciate it when someone recognizes my work, be it as bookshop proprietor or entertainer or author or good listener. I hope I ply my trade with as much zeal as the best of all those other workers who (to paraphrase Herodotus) allow neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night to stay them from the completion of their appointed rounds.

Life can be hard, work can be hard, even play can be hard.

But those who manage to maintain composure and positive attitude and calmness in the throes of chaos…they are priceless and precious and at least deserving of a kindly nod or an appreciative smile now and then


(c) Jim Reed 2017 A.D.




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Not being a warrior or a politician, there is only one way I can traverse each day and manage to find goodness and meaning in life.

The weapons and magic wands that I employ are my best defense against the purposeful meanness and fear promulgated by some of our highest-profile powermongers. 

As I scour the landscape, searching for good people who spend their time doing good things on behalf of others, I am thrilled at the amount of meaningful work that is going on in our fragile world.

Each day, I meet people who turn their anger into inspirational art, loving poetry, positive storytelling.

Each day, I meet people who refuse to bow to the mean-spirited rhetoric so easily accessed via overly-connected, overwhelmingly negative deconstructive pundits.

Each day, I find someone else who is learning to derail the fear train stoked by half the populace.

Each day, I find good people doing good things for good causes.

Each day, I run across those who do not exploit or denigrate the weak.

Each day I encounter gentle people quietly dodging the ranting bullets and missiles that feed the dormant despair in us, who raise us up with sunshine and hope-filled attitude, who replace hopelessness with helpful action.

Each day, I search for and discover that there are good people doing good things in a world that is filled with goodness, the goodness that simply awaits our attention.

Pardon my repetitiveness, but it is repetitiveness that tamps down the waves of illogic and horror-prattling all about us.

If the Negatories can constantly loop and repeat their rants, then we, the members of the Loyal Resistance, can double down and restate our kindly actions and soothing hopefulness till somebody begins to listen and take heed.

All it takes to counter the horrors is our constant refusal to bend or break.

All it takes is for us to re-state each and every untruth in a calm and positive way…and never, never stop.

Are we up to it, or shall we hide and hope it all blows over?

This is a conflict that is as old as our species. What’s amazing to consider is the fact that despite the whelming odds, some percentage of Loyal Resisters have quietly survived all these eons.

We’re still here. Our implacable optimism must be demonstrated and exercised lest it wilt away

(c) Jim Reed 2017 A.D.




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There are these skirted chairs around our dining room table, and it’s one of these I’m sitting on right now, only this chair is comfortable in just a couple of ways: the top part of the backrest is firm and soft and cozy, but the bottom part of the backrest is mushier than my spinal base can accommodate, so I’m slanting rather forward. In addition to this, the seat part of the chair is nicely firm and soft, but if I don’t get a pillow from the sofa and brace my lower back with it, I can’t sit here for long.

Let me get it positioned now. Ah! That is better! Now, I can write for a while in this nice orthopaedically-disciplined seat and ponder THE MYSTERIES OF CHAIRS.

Here goes:

Chairs from heaven, chairs from hell,

Chairs that make you feel just swell

Chairs that maim your rear and spine

Chairs that make you want to whine

Chairs that get you all aroused

Chairs that make you feel quite soused

Chairs that push you back too far

Chairs that give your skin a scar

Chairs that pull and hold you close

Chairs that rock and roll the most

Chairs too beautiful to sketch

Chairs with little room to stretch

Chairs that squeeze you till you’re dry

Chairs that want to pinch your thigh

Chairs that creak and moan and groan

Chairs that swallow up your phone

Chairs that suck loose change away

Chairs that lean too much and sway

Chairs so high your feet just swing

Chairs that make you want to sing

Chairs so low your bottom scrapes

Chairs with covers matching drapes

Chairs that make your fanny stick

Chairs that wear your trousers slick

Chairs from heaven, chairs from hell

Chairs bought from a ne’er-do-well

Chairs most comfy and divine

Chairs that almost cross the line

Chairs that make your thighs get creased

Chairs whose springs need lots of grease

Chairs to smooch on–I’ll not tell!

Chairs that dance a bagatelle

Chairs you stand on–grab the sky!

Chairs to hide from lest they cry

Chairs you flop in when you’re tired

Chairs you doze in when you’re wired

Chairs that make you sit up straight

Chairs too rickety to hate

Chairs that tip you when you lean

Chairs that envy and turn green

Chairs that just won’t budge an inch

Chairs that may give you a pinch

Chairs with seatbelts keep you safe

Chairs with three legs make you chafe

Chairs that scuff you on the shin

Chairs that kinda make you grin

Chairs that vibrate, chairs that shake

Chairs that really take the cake

Chairs from heaven, chairs from hell

Make me comfy! Make me well

(c) Jim Reed 2017 A.D.




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You don’t know a person really well until you’ve spent a few minutes riding around in that person’s time machine.

You might not want to know me well, but what’s the harm in peeking into the past with me for three minutes? Here, pretend I’m your guide and Uber driver. Take my hand and let me usher you to your seat inside a long-ago long-gone movie theatre in Downtown Tuscaloosa:

The Ritz Theatre: Stale and musty and smelly and run-down and ramshackle and the most exciting place to be in Tuscaloosa of a Saturday morning.

We’re talking late 1940’s, early 1950’s, my fellow traveller. We are back there now, so sit a spell with me and my buddy, Bo Riley. Bo and I just got off the bus and paid our way past the box office and into the balcony.

Now, Bo Riley looks like Huckleberry Finn-—straw hair, freckles, lean and lank, and thoroughly outdoorsy. His greatest talent is being able to spit between his two front teeth without unclinching. Me, I am more Tom Sawyerish, short, timid but conniving, and thoroughly in love with movies and cartoons. My main talent is observing and taking notes.

Back in these yesterdays, there is no television in our neighborhood, so the only
non-book visual stimulation to be had is on the big pockmarked silver screen at the Ritz-—you know, the picture show place right next door to the seedy pool hall (we are forbidden to go there) and H&W Drugs (where you can get the best chicken salad sandwich in the universe).

The Ritz is on the Wrong Side of the Street. Just across main street is the elegant Bama Theatre, a miniature facsimile of Birmingham’s Alabama
Theatre. We go to the Bama with our parents to see family movies, but our parentless Saturday morning lust for laughs and action takes us straight to the Ritz.

Every Saturday, there is a double-feature-—say a Roy Rogers western, a Lash LaRue western, a Superman serial installment, and two animated cartoon features, not to mention a live-action “short” by Pete Smith or the Three Stooges, plus lots of teasing trailers promoting upcoming movies.

All this for the price of one ticket—and back in these days you are allowed to sit through everything twice without being thrown out.

I love all these dreamlike adventures where you can pretend to be braver and stronger and wiser than you will ever be in real life. But I guess the most fun is the animated cartoons, starring Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry, Tweety Pie and Sylvester, Goofy…but, mainly, Bugs Bunny.

Bugs Bunny is bigger and better and funnier than all the other cartoon stars put together.

Bugs Bunny is my hero.

You see, Bugs Bunny knows how to get out of a tough situation by using his wits and his wisecracking mouth, just like another cartoon character, Brer Rabbit. I secretly think that maybe Bugs and Brer are cousins, since nothing can defeat them.

Anyhow, I model myself after Bugs—to deflect the dense bullies who stalk kids like me, I usually say something that makes them roll over laughing, thus forgetting to beat me up. Meanwhile, I disappear before they can come to their senses.

One thing I can do well is run for my life!

My smart-mouth approach to life follows me up till now, often getting me into trouble, sometimes getting me out of trouble, at times making me misunderstood-—not everybody has a sense of humor, so I’ve learned to keep my trap shut now and then.

But my memories of the menacing Elmer Fudd, devoted to the idea of  wabbit stew, persist. Elmer is always wanting chaos. Bugs is always wanting to be let alone, left alone. And, unlike me, Bugs always wins.

Down all the years, I fondly recall the antics of Bugs and Elmer. Elmer still stalks Bugs with his dreams of wabbit stew. Bugs artfully dodges Elmer and imprints himself on the memories of all bully-dodgers like me.

And I try each and every day not to become just another elderly Elmer Fuddy-Duddy chasing windmills and wabbits


(c) Jim Reed 2017 A.D.




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Saturday morning. Snow and ice abound. I clamber aboard my iced vehicle and carefully, CAREFULLY make my way through Southside, sailing to work at the whim of nature and chance.

I actually arrive at the bookshop Downtown, unscathed, un-snowbound, the only denizen in sight, the sole survivor of a species huddling indoors.

I stoke the furnace, say g’day to the books and facsimile Santas, and begin my workday.

Yes, there are booklovers out there for whom snow and ice are mere challenges, not barriers. A few trickle in, have enjoyable browses, make their purchases and continue their explorations of a winter day of sunshine and slippery.

As I prepare to close the shop at closing time, I recall a day long, long ago, when I was a mere tad experiencing my first and best snowfall.

Here’s an entry from my Red Clay Diary:


One day when I was seven years old, the world got all cleaned up and everything got a chance to start all over again.

Overnight, the multi-textured earth became one smooth, soft, icy texture, the world of colors and hues became one wonderful multi-shaded land of whites and off-whites and cream-whites and shadowed whites and faintly pinkish whites.

The world overnight cleansed the landscape and allowed clapping children to remold everything in their own images.

Snowmen and snowwomen appeared quickly, playing guardian to our delight. Makeshift sleds materialized mysteriously out of old siding, ragged boards, large tubs and pans.

Footprints showed us who had been where and from where and where to, leaving traces of their makers—something that could never happen during ordinary times.

Mother took the whitened landscape that our Father had gathered from the yard and shrubbery and, waving her large magic wand of a serving-spoon, created the sweetest, sloshiest ice cream I’ve ever tasted.

Large multilayered men came outside to pretend they were younger in the deepening creamy banks, and little stuffed-slug kids meandered about in pelts made of nylon and dacron and cotton and leather.

Though we could barely make out each others’ faces under all those makeshift scarves, we recognized everybody instantly, because they were our transmogrified neighbors and playmates running amok upon the unfamiliar terra-infirma.

All human routine was suspended, and during that 24-hour period so many years ago, nobody seemed to hold a job, nobody had homework to do, nobody had to be anywhere else but right there on our block on Eastwood Avenue right down from McArthur Avenue and Patton Avenue and 15th Street.

Some celestial force had taken over our little village for a day and, like Brigadoon, it would not repeat itself in our lifetimes but would save itself for the next hundred-year generation that needed a quick and gentle cleansing so that the next day, when all was back to normal texture normal color normal temperature normal firma, everybody who had experienced this whiter-than-white washing of the spirit would have a memory to cherish in old age, a memory of things being just right and just magical and just totally real all at the same time 

(c) Jim Reed 2017 A.D.




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