A couple of weeks ago Timberley and I were watching an interview with Jeff Kinney, author of the best-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series. He mentioned how important the illustrations are in his books, especially for children with autism. They give struggling readers “an island to swim to,” he said.
Even before the election, that image of a man lost at sea swimming toward an island on the far horizon resonated with me. It is an image of both hope and salvation. Since the election, the same metaphor has been applicable to various segments of our society that feel displaced by hate and ignorance.
Over the past few years I’ve been wondering about the value of fiction in our lives. That’s right. Fiction.
You know what fiction is—short stories and novels that describe imaginary events and imaginary people. Made-up stories about things that aren’t real. While that may not seem like a personal crisis to you—to wonder if playing make-believe on the written page is important—it is for me for at least two reasons.
First, I worked as an English teacher for 25 years, and I had to decide from one semester to the next how much emphasis to place on the various types of literature that my classes studied. Of course, the curriculum requires that certain literary works be taught, but the average classroom teacher does have some latitude in what she teaches and how she teaches it. After all, she is a professional educator.
Since the arrival of President Obama’s Common Core initiative, English teachers in public schools have been pushed to assign less fiction and more nonfiction for their students to read, since only nerds, geeks and little old ladies in reading circles buy books now, right? But the rest of us do read newspapers and magazines and textbooks and owner’s manuals and all sorts of other written. . . . Oh, please.
No, to be honest, now most of us read Facebook. Or whatever else we can suck from cyberspace into these black holes we call smartphones. You’re probably reading this on a smartphone, whose name is the 21stcentury’s best oxymoron until Jan. 20th when we’re introduced to President Trump. Our phones suck everything in, and they don’t distinguish good from bad. That’s left up to us.
Next Tuesday night it’ll all be over but the shouting, as they say. I ain’t talking about the thrilling World Series, of course, because it ended early this morning in Cleveland, and everybody there was a winner for sure. I wish I could say the same about the presidential race that may also be decided in Ohio.
I’m going to keep this essay short because, Lord knows, I’ve been sick and tired of the 2016 presidential election for weeks now. Maybe I should use capital letters with that phrase—2016 presidential election—but it’s been a lower-case kind of campaign on both sides, so I’ll go with that.
No matter what any poll or pundit says, no matter how many votes, like mine, have already been cast, I’m afraid this election is a toss-up. It could go either way—like last night’s Game 7 of the World Series—partly because election night coverage of a landslide really doesn’t keep viewers glued to the screen the way a good nail-biter does. Be prepared to stay up late again. It, too, could go extra innings.
If you’re a sports fan, you must be in heaven this weekend. All three major American spectator sports—baseball, football and basketball—are underway right now. Even if you can’t attend in person, you can watch the games on TV without too much trouble.
Meanwhile, if you’re an old NASCAR Winston Cup fan like me—one who doesn’t have access to all the sports channels on cable or satellite TV, that is—you may as well be sitting out in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, in a Field of Dreams sort of way. “Is this heaven?” the ghost of Dale Earnhardt might ask as he plops down into my recliner.
“No,” I’d say. “It’s pure hell. We don’t have cable.”
He has orange hair. He sniffs too much. He can’t keep his tiny paws off the girls. He’s a lurker, always peering over one particular female’s shoulder. And we don’t think he’s very smart—at least, he isn’t going out of his way to show his intelligence. But the orange-haired guy is entertaining. He really is.
She is small and fiesty. But she’s smart, really smart. And she is so very determined—when she wants something, she never gives up until she gets it. She’s been ill lately. At first, we didn’t think we’d like her because she was always in trouble, especially with computers, but we’ve come to like her.
The two of them are vying to succeed the coolest cat to ever reside in our white house. He was larger than life. He was unlike any other—the first of his kind—but it was part of the reason we liked him. He was easy-going most of the time but assertive when he had to be. He was our favorite of all time.
I don’t know about you, but I’m disappointed in Franklin Graham these days. He certainly isn’t his father, who has been a spiritual advisor to every Democratic President since Truman.
I’ll pause a second to let that sink in—a spiritual advisor to every Democrat in the White House from Harry S “The Buck Stops Here” Truman to Barack H. “Yes We Can!” Obama. And that even includes William J. “I Did Not Have Sexual Relations With That Woman” Clinton.
But did you notice what I just did? Yeah, it was kind of sneaky. If I were reading this, and I didn’t know any better, or if I weren’t reading carefully, or if I were easily confused by the English language—like, say, by the subjunctive mood or by pesky subordinate clauses, intercalary phrases, and obscure words or even catch phrases that a writer can throw at a reader—then I might think that the sneaky ol’ writer of this essay is saying that the Rev. Billy Graham, Franklin’s daddy, has been playing partisan politics and has favored Democrats over Republicans. But that’s not true.
I don’t say this often—because prayer should be private, not publicized—but my thoughts tonight are with my old friends on the N.C. coast. I hope to God that Hurricane Matthew loops out to sea before hitting my favorite place on earth.
In the fall of 1981, I visited the Wilmington, N.C., area for the first time and fell in love with it. My best friend then, who was a student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, had been telling me for a couple of years that “God is alive and well, and lives at Wrightsville Beach.” He was right.
After returning home from that weekend trip, I wrote a column about it for The Valdese News. The article was later reprinted by my favorite “big-city” newspaper, the Wilmington Morning Star. I love that name—Morning Star—partly because my favorite philosopher used it in the final sentence of Walden, my favorite book.
You’ll forgive me, I hope, if this column isn’t funny. After last week’s serious essay, I wanted to write something lighthearted and entertaining this week—and I did, I think. But as the preacher of Ecclesiastes says, “There’s a time and place for everything, and then there’s not,” or something to that effect. Or maybe that was my old senior English teacher.
I originally wrote a long, waggish column about that—not about old English teachers like me, but about my old days at Hibriten High School in Lenoir. After all, it’s homecoming there this Friday night—Hibriten’s 50th homecoming, in fact—and I thought it would be fun to write about what defined me as a high school student in the mid-1970s—you know, the noun that filled in the blank in the old Q-and-A, “Oh, him? He’s a(n) _____.”
Something happened last Sunday night for the first time—for me, anyway. No, not making one bag of pork rinds last the whole Sunday Night Football game. I got myself blocked on Facebook for arguing about Colin Kaepernick.
Now, the person who blocked me was a perfect stranger before we started exchanging opinions last weekend, even though he or she apparently was a friend of several friends of mine—and, of course, by friend, I’m talking about Facebook friends, which is often a dubious term at best.
Also, this individual must have been so tightly wound on Sunday evening—there was a full moon last weekend, after all—that when I said, basically, that I disagreed with his or her position and that I found absolutely no validity in it—in almost those very words—he or she blocked me, then went on about his or her socially-mediated business.
After last weekend’s Historic Morganton Festival, Timberley and I had to watch our step on our evening walks downtown. For a couple of days, gobs of gum, shards of glass and doggy IEDs littered some of the sidewalks on our usual route.
If you’re wondering, that’s Impromptu Excremental Doo. And, yes, I hate getting it on my shoes worse than anything. So now I carry a tactical flashlight on our zero-dark-thirty patrols around the Historic District—just for self-defense, mind you.
Last weekend our schedule didn’t allow us to attend the Friday and Saturday evening concerts that attracted the largest crowds downtown, but we did manage to walk through the festival booths on the courthouse square and on Union, Sterling and Green Streets around noon on Saturday. It was gratifying to see so many folks downtown, even though attendance seemed down somewhat.