Friday, March 5, 2010

Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promises

The Name of the Nearest River, stories by Alex Taylor from Sarabande Books on Vimeo.

I was fortunate to have three meaningful conversations yesterday. I consider myself lucky because it isn't odd for me, and I imagine most people, to go through a day or even a week sometimes and wonder at the end of that time frame what I had actually discussed that would matter a year later. Good conversation is underrated, as are those people with whom we share these moments. Glorifying the exception, the new, the reformed seems to come naturally, yet acknowledging the constant or the easy is often buried under "the givens" - they know how I feel, they will be there regardless, that's what friends/family are supposed to do. I try to remind myself, though, that these are merely easy outs. "Constants" - those who more often than not, are the reciprocators in these most "real" discussions - make us better, by example, by conversation, and simply by their presence.

The first of my conversations was with an author, intellectual, university administrator, and perhaps most importantly, a Cumberland County native. When he asks about my family, I know he can actually imagine the sound of my dad's voice as he tells a story (that, while grounded in truth, just may include the tiniest bit of exaggeration) or the welcoming smile that mom wears just as often as one of the many white, button-down shirts in her collection. It's really nice, in a sometimes overwhelming sea of disconnect, self-concern, and/or obligation, to be known. Little time is wasted on the superfluities and more spent on an actual conversation. In this particular case, a conversation of book suggestions, interesting questions, appropriate contacts, and paths less traveled.

This particular conversation of conviction is figuratively played out in the video at the beginning (one shared with me during yesterday's meeting). Alex Taylor, an Ohio County native, is an author and instructor at WKU in the English department. He has a soon-to-be released collection of short stories called The Name of the Nearest River that raises a question that I find fascinating and hope to work through myself: Why do people stay, or in my case, return, to a place that some might consider a caricature of both economic and cultural poverty? His response is intriguing (you can hear about 2 1/2-3 minutes into the video), but I would really love to use this blog as a place to hear yours.

The second and third conversations were with different people - my two best friends who, without a doubt, make me want to be better - but much the same in general sentiment. We discussed how sometimes you can hear something, something that you may have heard a thousand other times either word-for-word or slightly modified, that suddenly inspires you to change or to challenge yourself. A personal example to make this a little more tangible: my favorite band is The Avett Brothers (folk-hipster, bluegrass, rock, indie-they could fall into a variety of categories) and they released a new album last fall called I and Love and You. There is a line in one particular song that says, "Decide what to be and go be it." That line not only resonated with me, but fortuantely, subsumed even the smallest of decisions. I began to evaluate both the seemingly insignificant and the things that, at least at the time, seemed central to my life. For those who may be rolling their eyes, I get it. I know this doesn't sound profound. I know I was, and am, more inclined to see meaning in this simple phrase because I love them so. But, I do think that there is something to be said for seeing or hearing things at the exact moment you need it (and I won't lie and say that I'm a huge believer in fate or things happening for a reason). For me, I often find this in music (Indigo Girls, Closer to Fine is another example: "the less I seek the source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine"), but for you, it might be in art, or poetry, or a story from your grandparents.

I guess the point that I'm trying to make, and the one that I will still find significant a year after these two conversations have ended, is that we should all make a concerted effort to embrace those things that make us think; we should put ourselves in the company of those people who we respect and/or who are doing things we find interesting. We may never be in a position to perfectly model their actions or to follow the path mandated in some creative expression, but I think we can foster those emotions and attributes that drew us to those people and things in the first place.

The second point I am making is that I am grateful for these conversations. Thank you Dr. Grubbs, Andy, and Caroline.


  1. Lovely. The Avett line reminds me, for better or worse, of a saying from Marcus Aurelius (Stoic Philosopher and Roman Emperor [he was in Gladiator!]): "Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one."

    But he's less folk-hipster.

  2. C'mon Stephen, I went to Centre, I know Marcus Aurelius...:) I must admit, however, that I was not familiar with that quote. I really appreciate you both reading and commenting/contributing.

    And know that our office discussion of Peter Gabriel was a close 4th.

  3. AND rather than read my book, which would have been totally cool regardless, I ended up with an invite to a bday party in a recording studio with the keyboardist from Divebar and Amanda, his girlfriend. Wish you could come : )

  4. So, in effect, I didn't medal in conversation. Sad.

    Apologies re: Marcus, forgot that Centre has classes on Ancient History AND Walking. But if you have a few minutes, might want to pull up a list of some of his pithier quotes. In general, seems like the Stoics had a lot to say that's in line with your last few posts.

  5. C - I'm a little sad you didn't call her "not fashion Amanda" this time, but I still wish I had been there with you, too. The book will be there tomorrow, chance to be a groupie and attend a birthday party - literally once a year opportunity. Hilarious, huh?

    S - So, Caroine and Andy should protect their knees, huh?

    Really, Stephen, that's all you got? It will take something much wittier than a walking jab to make Caroline and I question our Harvard of the South journey.
    But, good point on the quotes. Think I'll check out today.

  6. S - let me beat you to the punch..."Caroline and me"