Category Archives: blue funks

The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore

angelSo here’s my problem…..

I started reading this book, thinking it would be funny, I could review it for Christmas and be timely and relevant and it was short and I’d finish it quickly….

…and I didn’t like it enough to finish it. I didn’t even get to the brain-eating zombies the Angel raised when he got confused by the wishes of the wrong child to have Santa raised from the dead after he’d been whacked in the face with a shovel by a Christmas-tree-stealing do-gooder whose friend wields a broadsword.

That enough about plot summary? The plot could best be described as “smoke pot while watching HBO all night, then write.” Yeah, hilarious. Not.

What’s funny about a bunch of stereotypes slouching toward Bethlehem in an overwritten “ain’t my word use clever” streams of unmerciful-undead never ceasing?

I never read any of Moore’s other books. Tom Robbins kills me, so funny, so kooky, so Lewis Carroll on  a good day. Moore, apparently, is meant to be like him.

Still waiting to see that parallel line meet itself….

So I’m sorry to tell you that I have no Monday book because I backed the wrong horse, and didn’t have time to start over.

All I can tell you is, save yourself. If you like character driven plots, well, his characters are as thin as the paper they’re written on. His plot is driven by wild horses running away, and I’m not going to be looking for any more Moores.

Go watch Alias Grace. It’s way better and you can crochet at the same time.

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Filed under bad writing, between books, blue funks, book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, Uncategorized

C’est La Vie NOT

Attending the Appalachian Regional Commission meeting on “Transforming Appalachia” was a mixed bag. More respectful than I remember urban do-gooder conferences being, it was still painful.

The chirpy moderator who opened the panel on opioids couldn’t pronounce Appalachia as natives do, nor understand why her question “how can we bring hope to such a despairing region” brought a hiss of breath intake from half the crowd.

But then at lunch Gerry Roll, a foundation director out of Hazard, KY, said that we own our problems without allowing them to define us. Some of the ARC staff looked startled.

This isn’t a rural-specific conference, but Gerry also said even at her most despairing and poor in Kentucky, she’d never felt as lonely as she did living in poverty in an urban center. And part of the new respect I’m seeing for Appalachia is recognizing that Central Appalachia in particular has social networks and pathways that create community cohesion in ways other places can only imagine. A lot of heads nodded.

One of the parts I loved/hated was the “Brights Spots in Health” segment. The ARC had put out a study call a couple of years ago, for places that defied the odds with better health outcomes than their social determinants suggested they should have. A big takeaway from this presentation is that ARC now recognizes and factors into its policies that Appalachia has at least three distinct cultural regions: Southern, Central Coalfields, and Northern.

Southern Appalachia tends to have a lot of bright spots, defying the odds more than Central or Northern. In fact, Mississippi is confounding everyone. While the rest of us might even count it good if we just don’t get worse at the same rate as last year, Ol’ Miss down there is getting BETTER. Not just getting worse slower: getting BETTER.

Is it the water? No one knows, but there’s a study headed to find out.

If I had to guess, they’re going to found that Southern Social Cohesion is a barrier to more than just people who don’t fit in. Maybe it keeps out germs. Yeah, no. But maybe it applies its forces for good as well as evil, encouraging church members to exercise together, teaching kids to plant gardens and eat the fruit thereof….

Whatever it is, I’ll all for it, because the hate part of that “Bright Spots” event was when I started crying as the project director outlined the stats for “diseases of despair”: alcoholism, drugs, and suicide. I pulled up a picture of our friend Jessee on my phone, and held it through the rest of the presentation. When the ARC presenter said “and we have to keep in mind these are people, not stats, and how do these surroundings affect the lives of those living in them” I thought about Jessee’s wife Destiny giving away a kidney, and cried quietly there in my seat, watching the stats roll by.

C’est la vie, as we say in Wise County. Except maybe not. The past doesn’t have to control the future. One of the points the presentation hammered was that all the bright spots had a few commonalities: someone who started an internal catalyst of organizations coming together; a coalition; resilience; and some recognition of/fighting against substance abuse issues. The internal part was key; they may have brought in experts, and they certainly brought in funding, but they started within the community and identified their own assets. jessee

This is different from other places I’ve heard do-gooders talk about Appalachia. They are listening. This is good. We were listening too. Working together is something we’re pretty good at, here in Wise County.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Joey Lightens Things Up

Joey and InkyYo, I’m Joey. (That’s me on the right, the white and grey guy.) I got here to the orphanage – the bookstore, I mean – about a month ago, and right away I could see things were not good. All the people were tired, they were talking about politics and festival stuff and needing doctors in the area, and they walked around like zombies.

So I asked some of the other guys who’d been here longer what was going on, and they said as near as they could tell, Jack and Wendy, the people who own the bookstore and run the place, were really tired. They had a lot to do and although a lot of people were trying to help them get stuff done, it took a lot of time to manage stuff. And they didn’t seem really happy. When the others first got here, Heathcliff and Hareton and Orange and Ginger and Simba, and little Harvey the baby, and Tooth, the only girl at our frat house, they said the people were fun and liked to play with them. But they just got grumpier and more tired as August wore on.

Well, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s cheering people up, so I started right in.

First, I climbed on Wendy’s lap while she was frowning at her computer. She kept telling me “Get off” and “My edits were due yesterday!” and fussing about some “dark” book about foster care in the Coalfields, but I could see what she needed, so I danced around in her keyboard, changed the settings on her laptop to Spanish, turned the screen sideways, activated voice commands and then meowed until tech support came on and asked what I needed.

Sometimes it’s kinda hard to tell if a human is laughing or crying, but at least it got that scowl off her face. And she did get up from the computer. Which she hadn’t done all day. And I got tuna treats.Joey 2

Usually, I can get people calm just by snuggling with them. I have perfected looking innocent and adorable while asleep. But these two, they needed more.

One morning I walked in after breakfast to find Jack on the phone trying to figure out why some business in town had refused to support the festival a group was pulling together just because he was one of the people running it. Somebody even called him a “dirty foreigner,” which made him REALLY mad. And I can attest, for a human, he’s pretty clean.

He never did figure out what their problem was, but hey, the politics of humans are beyond even cat brains, and I could see he was fussing himself into a corner, so I pulled out one of my emergency go-to tricks. I stuck my head in their little ceramic milk jug and pretended to get it stuck, careening around the place bouncing off stuff. Jack had to hang up the phone and help me, and he was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe.

Mission accomplished.

It wasn’t long after that, when all of us cats found out the real reason they were so sad. They had an old, old dog, a really sweet lady named Zora. She’d welcomed all of us to the orphanage, but you could tell she was kinda… loopy, y’know? She’d wander off mid-sentence. The guys who’d been here longer said she had doggie Alzheimer’s, and you could see from the way she walked that her legs hurt her really bad. And one day, she went away and didn’t come back, and Jack and Wendy just sat around the house crying and crying.

Well, grief is important, so we left them alone for a little bit, but I got the boys together and showed them what to do. When the time was right, we formed a parade. It’s my best party trick ever. I led them, leaping from the top of one bookshelf to another like lions in a circus, yelling, “And a ONE anna TWO anna …” It worked great, ‘specially when little Harvey fell to the floor on his second round. (He wasn’t hurt, I made him take the lowest shelves. There were enough of us to do two layers.)

Jack and Wendy rushed over and just watched in amazement as we fosters went four rounds. By then they were laughing so hard, I figured it was safe to stop.

Now I’ve done that “lions in the circus” routine a thousand times, but you know how it is working with amateurs. Heathcliff took out half a CD shelf trying to stop himself. I would’ve helped the humans clean up, but opposable thumbs, you know. I figured it best to take my team upstairs for a snack, and maybe practice some other routines.

Well a couple of days ago, the bookstore was full of people all day long, and lotsa noise, and some guy playing some bag and stick thing that sounded like a cat in heat, and yesterday Jack and Wendy just seemed to come back into their own bodies. They looked younger, they walked around faster, they seemed lighter.

Happier. Like they belonged to themselves again and not everybody else. Wendy is still working at her computer a lot, but Jack says she’s writing again, and that always makes her happier. He kinda took me aside for a guy-to-guy talk and said he appreciated my cheer up routines with her but now I really should leave the laptop alone, she was doing happy writing instead of deadline stuff.

I can respect that, so I just jumped in her lap and got her blood pressure down a bit while she stroked my head. Win-win.

Looks like my time here might be coming to an end, as I’m not needed to cheer up the sad humans anymore. Wendy says she’s going to get back into writing her blog and working on her next book, and Jack says he’s got some plans to get the bookstore tidied up, so I’d say I need to find someplace else that wants my special brand of cheering up.

It’s my calling. I don’t let on, but I like it. Who’s next?joey

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

Zora Left Us

zoraOur baby girl Zora has left us. Jack took her this afternoon to her last vet appointment, where we ended the dark confusion and debilitating pain advancing years had brought.

Zora didn’t know anyone these last few days; not her veterinarian Beth, not Our Good Chef Kelly, not always Jack and me. We gave her a bowl of milk and a chewy stick, two of her favorite things in the world, before assisting her into the car.

She came to us fourteen years ago when she ran out in front of my car on a busy street near a suburban neighborhood. I got out, looked around for where she might have come from, and then invited her to ride shotgun. We stopped at CVS and got a collar on the way home.

We know she got her mind and her legs back at the Crossing. I’d like to imagine she got the Teak Throne carried by four Maine Coons, but our Zora was a Quaker girl. She would never allow such fuss and pomp.

No, our Earth Mother dog, who snuggled so many foster kittens through the years, would be met halfway through her plodding amble to the other side by a great cloud of witnesses to her loving nature – those whom love couldn’t save, who have been waiting for a chance to show Auntie Zora around.

These would be the kittens Zora helped up the stairs in our bookstore, nudging them with her nose, even lifting them gently with her carefully covered teeth, dropping them on the landing or the lowest branch of the cat tree. The babies she kept warm, nuzzling them through the night.

Sometimes we asked her to nurse one, but more often they commandeered her bed. You knew when a kitten was with Zora for the night; a soft little growl that turned into a gurgle, followed by licking sounds. In the morning, Zora’s tiny puffball would be tucked between her paws, head cradled on her nose or cheek, both snoring softly.

So I know the little guys have been waiting this last week, watching for the time to meet her and return the hospitality. They will lead Zora to the swimming pond, show her the Milkbone Forest, probably try to talk her into playing with them on the Kitty Trampoline. She won’t go in for that. A dignified lady with all four paws on the ground, that’s our Zora.

But she probably will sneak in a round or two of jingle ball golf with les enfants, before trotting off to the nightly Steak Grill in the Dog Park. She always enjoyed being goalie for their soccer games.

Enjoy your retirement, baby girl Zora. You earned it with your sweetness and kind disposition. I wish the world still had you in it, but even if you had to leave us, it was worth it for knowing you, sweetheart.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

To See Ourselves as Others See Us

“O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!” — R Burns

I don’t write about politics. It’s a rule of mine – make some people mad and other people smug, for what purpose? BobDewardrawing

Jack and I just got back from his annual tour taking Americans to Scotland, my first return in a few years. When we lived there, I used my bi-annual trips to the States as yardsticks, measuring how things were progressing for me and for my country. Living in Scotland as an American back in the 2000s could be tricky. US-ers weren’t popular.

This year, taking nine guests across familiar territory, it was almost unfamiliar. Edinburgh’s High Street has become Myrtle Beach. The smaller towns and hidden gems we led the group through are still hidden and lovely, but the people in them went out of their way to speak to us, to ask where we were from, tell us of their relatives Stateside, wonder how we were enjoying the holiday. Warmth, not patronage. (Well, except in Edinburgh, but that’s expected in a tourism Mecca.)

The “puir wee souls, how ya gettin on there” attitude continued across the Southwest of Scotland, the edge of the Highlands, and even Ulster in N. Ireland. I said as much to Colin, the long-time family friend who is our driver, as we sat in the hotel bar one night.

He gave an eye-averted smile. “The Trump Effect, we calls it,” he said.

A lengthy conversation ensued I won’t bore you with, but the jist was that America had shifted in the minds of most Scots, from “country voted most likely to drag Britain into a war” to a thoughtful consideration that we had outed our true values with the result that your basic poor sod on the street was screwed.

Money. America was always a corporate raider in the minds of Scots, its embodiment less Lady Liberty than a sharp-eyed man in a tailored suit, legal brief in one pocket, gun in the other. A country that talked about Democracy and played shell games with cash.

Now we had voted, in the minds of others, for a guy we thought would make us rich again. But not two-chickens-in-every-pot rich, just get-us-out-of-this-grindinng-poverty rich. Honestly, I never put Scots down for having a lot of good insights into America, their views being largely shaped by Channel 5 TV. If you watch enough reruns of Dallas and The Wolf of Wall Street… but Scots were now explaining to me how sad it was that America’s middle class was shrinking, its wealth consolidating.

Brigitta, the hotel hostess, paused to listen to our conversation. Brigitta had become a hospitality diva in our eyes because of her sweet efficiency, non-stop motion, and natural kindness. A native of Poland who had married her Scottish chef husband twenty years before, she often spiked her English with metaphors to make her meanings clear.

“America, its roots are showing.”

We looked at her, inviting more. She set down the water pitchers in her never-still hands and gestured to the part in her hair.

“Women, you know, we hide the grey, we color, here. Sometimes you don’t have enough money, you don’t do it again, it grows, so. Then roots show you are not who you show you are.”

“America is such. Says one thing, is another. Wants money. But poor people, no blame, of course want money. NEED money. Desperate makes you hope rich man helps. Is mistake, thinking rich man get them money. No. Money from, not for. Why they think rich man wants help anyone get money?” She clicked her tongue, picked up her pitchers, and disappeared.

Colin, Jack, and I stared at one another.

Finally I said, “That is what I have been trying to get to grips with for some time now. It’s that Burns poem come to life, to see ourselves as others see us.”

Colin turned and gestured for the bartender. “Then you’re gonna need another drink, lassie,” he said.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Hero

HH13I got Jack up early this morning, and we headed for Hazel House in order to catch the six vestal virgins (as we incorrectly call them; three of them have had litters) therein. I overturned furniture and explored new ways of stringing invectives before he cleverly used geometry to project the exact ricochet of the last capture-evading cat off the wall, straight into the waiting carrier.

I get home from a hard day’s adulting involving talks with a lawyer and other fun stuff to find that some jobs that volunteers were doing for Appalachian Feline Friends, didn’t get done. One of them not getting done has caused a rift with some very smart, very kind people. I am unhappy.

Jack reminds me that adulting is hard, and an organization made up of volunteers has to roll with the punches. He then tells me to go ahead and work on the lawyer-and-jobs things while he cleans the guest room–which is a nightmare because we’ve been storing everything we needed to get Out Of The Way for the past month up there. But now we need it because a friend is coming to town. A friend we’ve been looking forward to having with us for three months or more.

Then Jack comes downstairs and makes us supper. I rise from my computer blitzkrieg to eat, and then take leftovers out to the garage to freeze.

The garage is underwater.

Jack waded into the water, turned off the machine, got me to pull the breaker, and then found the problem. The hot water hose to the washing machine has broken. Since he was knee-deep in getting out information to those going on the Scottish trip, we agreed that tomorrow was another day. About ten minutes later, my long-suffering husband said, “I think I have the part I need for that….” left his computer and went back to the garage.

And fixed the washer by 8:30 pm.

Sod you, Monday. I have a superhero for a husband!

 

 

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

I’m Going to a Spa to Lie Down

Friends and I have been plotting our escape for months. Grove Park Inn in Asheville, home of a spa full of mineral pools and a restaurant full of fine wines. Susan, Beth, and I are going to go be Women On Vacation there for three days.

We are taking extra wine, and some Polar Water (soda of choice for those as don’t drink soda) and coloring books and our bathing suits. We are leaving behind our cell phones and our Adulting hats.

Viva la irresponsibility!

Beth has an incredibly responsible job. She is the vet for Appalachian Feline Friends AND the entire town of Big Stone Gap. People drive up to her home at midnight with owls they hit; they phone at 3 a.m. to ask about a coughing dog. Being a vet in a small town is hard work, 24/7. Her phone will be off this weekend.

Susan reads x-rays to tell people whether or not that have incurable diseases. No pressure there….. and she is herself the survivor of a difficult health history that has left her with some enduring ouchies. Plus she looks after a herd of eldercats, including some adopted from AFF. Her phone will be off this weekend.

And me, I run around between the medical world, the bookselling world, the cat rescue world, and general adult responsibilities, trying to shuck them all onto other people so I can carve out time to write. My clinical office is moving and turning itself into a 501c3, with resultant steady politics. The cat rescue is coming into season. And I have final edits due at the end of the month that haven’t been started. (Umm, if you’re reading this, Nancy, I’m on top of it, I swear.)

We are going to a spa to lie down. Preferably in salt water pools while handsome cabana boys bring us drinks with fruit in them. Actually, skip the fruit and put in extra chocolate syrup and vodka.

And yes, we will certainly enjoy the trappings of a ritzy weekend, but more we will enjoy just being together, doing nothing but being together. Scottish folksinger Ivor Cutler wrote a song that English singer Nic Jones made famous in pubs across Britain. Jack and I often sing the lyrics when we’re stressed, and in fact since The Election in America a quote from it has been my banner picture on Facebook.

I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field to lie down

Green grass, green grass, growing  beneath me
There’s the green grass growing beneath me
I’m going in a field to lie down
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field to lie down

Blue skies, blue skies up above me
There’s the green grass growing beneath me
I’m going in a field to lie down
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field to lie down

Yellow flowers, yellow flowers growing all around me
There’s blue skies up above me
Green grass growing beneath me
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field
I’m going in a field to lie down

Susan, Beth and I are outta here. Y’all have a good weekend, ’cause we’re sure planning to.

 

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Filed under animal rescue, between books, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing