Category Archives: Uncategorized

When a Bird Marries a Fish

When people from different countries (or religions) marry one another, interesting things can happen over the course of their union. This post may be misunderstood as a comparison by some, but any fish who has married a bird will understand.

I was in Scotland when 9/11 happened – specifically, driving home from teaching a very successful workshop on using storytelling with abused children. It had been glorious and I was high on life–until I turned on the car radio and the world flipped upside down. Scotland is five hours ahead of the US, noon here is 5 pm in most of the UK. The fourth plane had just gone down.

A pit opened in my stomach.

In the days that followed, the usual anti-American sentiment one finds in the UK intensified, oddly enough. It was a bad time to be American in places other than the US.

But for two different reasons. The first was that people who heard your accent would turn to you in the grocery and say things like, “Well, since you’re here, I guess Cupar will be bombed next, ya bloody Yank.” (Cupar is a market town of about 8,000 people.) The second was that a sad, terrible, terrifying thing had just reinvented the future of your homeland, and you weren’t there to be a part of it.

For reasons I don’t fully understand even now, I didn’t watch the news coverage for four days, and by then they were playing the last cell phone calls of people who had realized they couldn’t get out of the Towers. One was a sweet 20-something who called her husband and told him she was sorry she wouldn’t be seeing him any more, but she wanted him to know how happy she’d been, being married to him. “Bye now,” she said at the end.

And I sat up in bed in the middle of the night, about a week after 9/11, and started crying my eyes out, thinking about that poor girl all alone, reaching out to someone she wanted to know she loved, and then dying, for nothing she’d done. Poor Jack woke up and put his arms around me until I fell asleep, still sobbing.

It is hard to be away from your country when something intense is happening. It doesn’t matter what it is: a chance to change, a good thing, a bad thing, an uncertain thing. What matters is that you are not there. You have made a home somewhere else, with someone else, and you have traded in one set of influences for another.

Jack had to watch the Scottish vote from afar. And if he wakes up crying in the night, I’ll be there. It will not be the same as being in his homeland, but it will be home. Because we made our homes with each other.

It is not always easy. When Jack ran for town council here, a handful of ignoramuses made rude comments about his accent and equated ‘foreign’ with ‘godless.’ Sure, I’d like to see Coalfields Appalachia come into its own by shaking off such stereotyped behavior, but what seared my soul with blue-white heat lightning was their disparaging of a good man. My husband. Jack.

I still hate them. That’s part of the package. We protect each other. We defend each other. Our homes are each other. The voice from the tower says, never mind the madness; it’s just you and me.

To watch your own country struggle is hard. To be somewhere else while watching it is harder. But Jack and I pledged to each other, and this is a union that will not dissolve.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized

The Scottish Independence Vote is TOMORROW!

Scotland photroJack’s weekly guest blog could have no other subject at this moment.

Thursday September 18th 2014 has been a long time coming, but now it’s almost here. That’s when Scots go to the polls and check the box for “Yes” or “No.” “Yes” means Scotland becomes an independent country in 2016 (two years to get everything sorted). “No” means Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom of Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales.

It’s a big day when everyone resident in Scotland gets to vote on whether to become an Independent country again after 307 years. Not through terrorism or threats or bombs or any other kind of armed struggle, but a generally polite and well informed discussion. In fact a number of our American friends have commented on how civilized the debate has been compared to political discourse here in the US.

Britain Scotland If you’re watching the coverage via BBC or other British channels, you’re probably not getting a full picture. Of course, the same would be said of taking news from Twitter and Facebook (as if anyone uses that as a sole source!) Most of the anti-independence rhetoric has come from newspapers and TV stations that take their cue from the UK government, while the pro-independence movement has overwhelming control of the internet and social media and by far the most ‘feet on the ground’.

Some of my favorite online moments have come from pro-independence musicians hitting the streets to support flash mobs. This one of Dougie MacLean is particularly moving. And for pure fun, not much beats this man welcoming the MPs come up from Westminster to march in support of “Better Together.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bGuCGdLxW0

If you want an accurate picture, you have to look at both citizen and establishment journalism. Two years ago the polls were showing a 20+% lead for ‘No’ whereas now with just a day to go it’s narrowed to 50/50 and no-one’s certain which way it will go now.

Because I’m not resident and I won’t have a vote, I like to think I can view the campaign neutrally. But there’s a coaster sitting on the table beside me that reads “You can take the boy out of Dunfermline, but you can’t take Dunfermline out of the boy” and that’s true. Despite being an American Citizen now I can’t forget where I come from and have to admit that I’m not the least bit neutral. I want an independent Scotland, in charge of its own resources, doing what’s best for its citizens, not having to live by rules made in a city of 12 million to govern a country  of 6 million living in a predominantly rural area.

This isn’t about kilts or plaid or bagpipes or even ‘Braveheart’ and the other media images of “Scottish identity.” It’s simply about bringing democracy home again.

 

scotland yes

A Scotland soccer fan waves a Scottish saltire flag with Big Ben seen behind in Trafalgar Square in central London

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Filed under Downton Abbey, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

The Monday Book: PATRON SAINT OF UGLY by Maria Manilla

ugly coverThe author of this book is a facebook friend of mine, and I got it directly from her by request, because I like books set in Appalachia and wanted to review it. It’s a  magical realism romp, set in Sweetwater, West Virginia. Normally I’m not much for magical realism, but the cast of character in Ugly just won’t quit, from the indomitable Nonna to her fierce-yet-naive granddaughter Garnet Ferrari.

Garnet has a mop of flaming red hair, and the port-wine stains all over her body replicate a map of the world. Pilgrims flock to her home, convinced that she is pretty much the reincarnation of Saint Garnet, healer of skin ailments and other miracles. (Along with truth and lies, theology gets a little tangled with practicalities in this funny, fast book.) Garnet, used to being an outcast and the victim of bullies, doesn’t have much use for people, but all those poor unfortunates give her pause. She’d really like to just convince them this is all hooey, and they should go home, but at the same time she doesn’t want to hurt them.

It doesn’t help that the family has origins in the Nebrodi Mountains of Sicily, where another saint named Garnet once presided, so the Vatican sends an emissary to investigate. Garnet’s written responses on the questionnaire to the investigating priest are some of the funniest bits in the book. Slowly she untangles a sad history of family rights and wrongs, learning that reality and myth blend in every family, and that love doesn’t always conquer all, even if it helps.

I like snarky writing, so enjoyed Garnet and Nonna’s interactions particularly well. Nonna, so patient, so reasonable, so astute behind that little-old-lady innocence, is the perfect foil for Garnet’s “please go away” attitude.

If you like magical realism, if you think Michael Malone’s Handling Sin is funny, if you love to read snappy dialogue from quirky characters, if you like bittersweet humor, you’ll enjoy this book.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

Grandma was Right?!

seriouslyWhen I was a little girl we lived next door to my father’s parents. They were strict people: no short sleeves, no jewelry (including wedding rings) no music except hymns on Sundays.

But they were also great fun, being crazier than anyone else I knew. In my house, books lined the hallway, flowed across bedroom floors, covered every flat surface. In theirs lived just three: a Bible (KJV and don’t you forget it); a strange novel from the 1920s called something like Mary of the Hazel Woods, about a mountain girl’s search for book larnin’ so she could get herself a Bible – which she did months later after taking in sewing and then walking barefoot through the woods for eight miles to buy one second-hand, repairing the cover with her sewing needle; and, for some unknown reason, a copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

I don’t think they’d read the sonnets. I read every book in their house at least three times in the years they babysat me after school, and by age eleven understood that a bunch of those poems were about sex. I didn’t let on, though; I’d had enough of that self-righteous prig Mary o’ Hazel Woods.

Everyone in my family but them liked books. And although everyone in my family liked God and talked about Him a lot, Grandma and Grandpa said things the rest of us didn’t. Like He didn’t like it when people with straight hair used curlers.

So  I grew up viewing my grandparents with equal parts love and suspicion, learning not to rely too much on Grandma’s little homilies, delivered as we were cooking or sewing together. Among other things, Grandma believed women should not go to college, that when Catholics died they shot down a specially reserved chute straight into Hell, and that the people across the street were spies for the CIA.

“Why would that matter, Grandma?” I asked, still kinda stuck on the “girls shouldn’t go to college” part.

“Because they’re spying on me.”

“The CIA wants to spy on you?”

“‘Course they do. They wanna know ever’thin’ ’bout ‘ever’body in America.”

“Uhh, okay, Grandma. How do I turn this seam?”

As the years flew by, it grew simpler to filter out the silly stuff–like not having sex except to have children (which explained why some of the extended family had so many, but I kept my mouth shut)–and hang onto the stuff that seemed wise–like darning socks over a light bulb, and putting the milk into the biscuit batter last.

Trouble is, I missed a good one. All these years later, with Grandma long gone and her granddaughter crocheting her own socks after getting a PhD and then opening a bookstore, I have to admit Grandma was right about the spying. The CIA does watch everybody – or maybe it’s that NSA, or whoever’s in charge of the Internet now. Everywhere you turn it’s Edward Snowden, data mining, privacy rights, and on and on and on.

Who knew?
Grandma!

Sorry, Gran, you were right the whole time. About that. I’m still not buying that women should stay home with three books and not go to college. Love you, though, and thanks for the recipes!

 

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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Never Underestimate the Healing Powers of a Primal Raspberry

raspberry catOK team, it’s like this: the former Governor of Virginia and his wife were between them found guilty of 20 out of 28 possible corruption charges; I quit teaching an enjoyable subject because of in-house shenanigans; two of our foster cats died; and the other little furry beasts gave me poison ivy on my face.

In shorter terms: this week sucked.

Jack and I are off to emcee the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival today, and I’ll be able to write a relaxing blog about that tomorrow. Meanwhile, let’s just all take a collective deep breath and emit a nice primal raspberry. Primal raspberries are deeply underrated in adult society. They’re healing. Go on, try it.

PBBHHHHHHHTTTTTT – take that, universe! I’m still a happy person, I still get to spend the weekend enjoying all things Celtic, and we still adopted two fur babies to lovely forever homes.

PHHHBBBBTBTTTTTTBTTTT! And DOUBLE PHBBBBTTTTTTTTT!!!!

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Triple Play Weekend

Jack’s guest blog on our unusually busy bookstore weekend

harrellIt was a triple play weekend here at the Little Bookstore. Friday night we had an excellent and well attended house-concert with Michael Reno Harrell, whose stories and songs were absolutely first class.You can see a video of him on our bookstore facebook page Tales of the Lonesome Pine LLC.

cards-against1Then on Saturday night we had our bi-monthly ‘Cards against Humanity’ game night, also well attended and as hilarious as ever. The play of the night came when, using a blank card, Wendy asked “How did Susan persuade David to take in their latest adopted cat?” Several cards appeared–including the one no one would admit playing, “That Ass,”–but the winning card was “Abstinence.”

Played by David.

I had no idea Susan’s face could turn as red as her hair.

And then Sunday night was an event that I set up: a special movie night featuring ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, preceded by a documentary with Terry Jones and Michael Palin visiting the Scottish castles they used in the film. I aimed it at local folk who had been on my annual Scottish tour (and had, therefore seen at least one of the castles). That was another good night with lots of laughs and a lovely feel of reunion among those who’ve gone to Scotland with me.

This weekend Wendy and I emcee the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival in Elizabethton (TN). And then at the end of the month, our own Big Stone Celtic festival is upon us here in town!

And, just as I thought I was finished writing this, a couple arrived all the way from Nashville who had read Wendy’s book, used to own a bookstore, and are now planning to do it again. At the same time, the mailman delivered a lovely thank-you card from the 17 members of a Johnson City book club who visited us a couple of weeks ago (and ate lunch in our cafe).

Just in case this sounds too idyllic, our old and rickety building still tests my less than professional carpentry and plumbing skills. I loathe and detest sink drains and stairs, but that’s what I’m doing between bouts of nerves over the upcoming Big Stone Celtic.

So – just another typical week. If it’s Wednesday, it must be time to check on our international superstar coming from Scotland. And then I’ll tighten the u-joint in the bathroom. Hey ho…..

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: ACCIDENTAL JIHAD by Krista Bremer

bremerI have no idea how this book wound up in my bookshop. It’s an Advance Reading Copy (known in the biz as an ARC) and those are only distributed publishing festivals, or by mail to bookstores (but not usually used book stores). But there it sat on a table, waiting to be shelved, and I picked it up…

…and devoured it in two sittings.

Bremer writes like a journalist poet. She always has the right word, her writing economic with the confidence of a vast vocabulary. But what she’s writing about is intensely personal: marriage to a man whose background is so different from her own, she knows they don’t have a “storybook marriage,” just “their story.”

What sucked me in is something my agent and editor have warned me against time and again: description and analysis are all very well, but people want a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  My Accidental Jihad is not a story, but a snapshot leaping back and forth between time, dripping descriptive analysis in depth. It has a beginning, but it doesn’t have a middle or an ending.

Which bothered me not one whit. I admired the way Bremer described things that are hard to admit exist, let alone look at squarely with intent to analyze. Courage and lyrical writing aren’t things I always put together, but rather than blunt, she’s finessed.

Bremer and her husband live in North Carolina, in a progressive city that still doesn’t know quite how to react when she shops Whole Foods with her 10-year-old olive-skinned daughter, who chooses to wear a head scarf. When Qaddafi dies at the hands of his people, the family watches it on television in a mall restaurant. Bremer’s one visit to Libya, to see Isamel’s old home place, is a disaster tinged with love.

I love culture clash books anyway, but what intrigues me about this one is that it drills down to attitudes rather than surface living: aging in American culture is in poor taste; poverty is a moral failing; she isn’t materialistic, but Christmas just needs to be the way it is. There are some very funny “ouch” moments in this middle-class expose-memoir.

Not that this is an “all praise to diversity” book; in fact, she deals with diversity with the same ruthless boring down to the core that she uses on issues of women’s beauty and bodies. And she turns the same analytical eye on husband’s way of handling the world as she uses on hers. Her description of him bartering for a wedding ring will stick with you.

In the same way that it is not a story, Jihad is also not a summational inspirational catechism of life lessons learned. Ironically, Bremer’s authoritative use of language describes a lifelong situation of not knowing what to think. A chapter entitled “Rage” describes her husband telling his relatives that she hates Libya–while they’re in it, being feted as house guests. The story doesn’t end in resolution, but in her saying “Fuck you” in a car full of people who speak English, with her Libyan sister-in-law taking her hand in solidarity.

The last two pages might dip into platitude-ism, but I sympathize with trying to sum up a painting still in progress.

I really enjoyed this memoir.

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