Sunday, September 30, 2007

Public Broadcasting is in Danger

Both public television and public radio are in danger of severe government cuts and possibly a total cut of funding that, without it, could mean the closure of rural and minority radio stations and public television stations that cannot afford equipment for the government-mandated switch to digital broadcasting, for example.

You might be saying, "So what? I don't watch PBS or listen to any radio station below 92.1 on the FM band, much less AM. Why does it matter? Just raise money in other ways instead of using taxpayers' money to fund something most people don't listen to." Well, it should matter to the 80 million public television viewers and 32 million who listen to public radio. Public broadcasting is one of the few journalistic and artistic outlets that is free from commercial influence (media conglomerates who dictate what can be broadcast or what musical artists can be played) and political influence (Corporation for Public Broadcasting receives two-year advance appropriations, a firewall between public broadcasting's programming and the undue influence of Government).

Now, I'm no politician or expert on the runnings of the government, but the way I see it without this funding, these monies allocated to public broadcasting, it will be all about the money, and nothing else. Those who will suffer the most are small television and radio stations who offer needed public services to small, rural communities. Already the majority of all media and broadcasting is controlled by commercial giants such as Disney or McDonald's, and major record labels dictate to radio stations what musical artists they can play (see Don't Buy It: Get Media Smart ). Isn't the government supposed to protect and ensure our freedom of speech and freedom of the press, especially from itself and the Capitalist economy it promotes?

Please click on the link to the right, or check out Tell Them Public Matters and make your voice known to your senators and congressmen and women, and tell them public broadcasting matters!

Friday, September 28, 2007


Good Evening, Suicide

Evening rushes in on blue sky veins,
throbbing parallel lines of life
pushed against the sharp autumn sunset.
They spill their secrets to the horizon,
bleeding oak red over the shaded hills.
Leaves fall limp to twilight’s breath,
sink slowly to the ground as slit wrists.
Its tepid bath grows a moonless dark.
The winter stars slip through the drain
when I’m not looking.

from Iodine Poetry Journal 7:2 (Fall/Winter 2006/2007) 17.

Monday, September 24, 2007

History, But Not Really Hillbilly

On Sunday night, the History Channel broadcast a two-hour program on the Appalachian people called Hillbilly: The Real Story, hosted by Billy Ray Cyrus. Considering the title, I expected a piece on the historic, social, and economic influences on the Appalachian region and how it shaped our country's perception and stereotypes of us. It was very informational and entertaining, and focused on many of the important events that shaped the region. They could have easily called it The Appalachians, however, as the direct mention and explanation of hillbilly stereotypes was sparse. They also neglected to mention what I felt were key components of our region and culture.

There were many good segments to the program, the origins of the Scotch-Irish settlers, and particularly the piece on the Overmountain Men and the Battle of King's Mountain, which was fought against the British in 1780 in Cleveland County, North Carolina, not far from where I live. There was a very lengthy piece on Matewan and the Battle of Blair Mountain in Mingo County, West Virginia, in which union mine workers marched in rallying protest against the autocracy of big coal companies (see Denise Giardina's novel Storming Heaven). I was surprised, though, that such a lengthy piece neglected to mention how coal company speculators tricked landowners into selling the mineral rights to their land, or the current coal mining practice of mountaintop removal. Perhaps that would have been too political or controversial for them. There was also an interesting and respectful piece on snake handlers and their religious beliefs, which is unique to our region. Moonshine making and stock car racing got a considerable nod. The story mainly focused on the Flock family racing team, and I was disappointed there weren't mention of other moonshine-runners-turned-racers such as Junior Johnson. There was also a considerable segment on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and its creation of the Fontana Dam, the tallest dam east of the Mississippi, and how it affected the economy after the Great Depression.

In the end, I felt the program ran out of time before it ran out of things to discuss. The last three minutes or so barely mentions the history and influences of Appalachian music on popular music today. No mention of the Carter Family or early "Hillbilly" music, or the birthplace of Country music, Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia. Throughout the program there were a peppering of explanations as to how and why the mountain and Hillbilly stereotypes were created, but not enough explanation to suite me. This program could have easily been a two or three part series. If I could pick one thing to criticize the most it's the lack of detail in how the media, the sole culprit, perpetuated the Hillbilly stereotype even today . I learned some things I didn't know, though, and I would recommend anyone to watch it whether expert or novice on the subject of Appalachia. There are far worse things to watch on TV these days.

The show will run for a few more nights: September 24 12:00 AM, September 27 8:00 AM, September 27 2:00 PM

Billy Ray did have an astute thing to say in conclusion, that the Appalachians aren't just a part of America, but that "We are America." Still, if I were an outsider watching this program, I would conclude that the Hillbilly stereotypes were all true, as this program merely explains and, I think, reinforces them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Digging With a Plastic Shovel

It was that time of year again when I cleaned up my summer garden, pulling blighted and dried up tomato plants, shriveled vines, and sundry weeds to pile in the compost. I watered and watered and hardly got one tomato that wasn't split or blossom-rotted, so it felt good to wipe the slate clean, to discard the frustration and failings of a dry summer. Now that the rains are returning, my plans were to put out some cool weather crops like spinach, cabbage, and fennel.

It had been a while since I did something with my four-year-old daughter, so I took her with me to the back yard. As much as I enjoy playing Barbies or Teddy Bear dress-up, I savor the times when I can do work outside that doubles as play time for her. I got out her pink wheelbarrow and plastic rake and shovel, along with my own wheelbarrow and yard tools, and began pulling up the tomato cages while she yanked up clumps of grass. It takes twice as long when she helps, but I wasn't in a hurry as there is still plenty of daylight in the afternoons. When we were finished, we carted it all off to the compost pile at the edge of the woods. Then it came time to till. She was right in there with her yellow plastic shovel, hacking at the dry ground and throwing dirt in the air over her shoulder. I wanted to tell her to let me soften the ground with my mattock first and then she could make little rows for the seeds, and tried explaining to her just that. Her efforts were futile, but she was having too much fun.

Her efforts reminded me of how many times I concern myself so much with getting to the end result, that I don't enjoy the process of doing it. My grandpa told me as a child many times that I wasn't doing something right, then make me watch while he showed me the correct process. He meant well, of course, but by then I had lost all interest in what I was doing. Sometimes, there are more ways of doing things than the right way or the wrong way. For my daughter, it was the "fun" way, maybe the "longer" way, but not necessarily the "wrong" way. So I gave her some room and let her sling that yellow plastic shovel. While I tilled the rest of the garden, I gave her room to dig her little four-inch-wide hole, where I later let her plant some cilantro. There will be time when she's older for lessons on spacing and planting depth, and all those other little nuances of gardening.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


The Summer Camp of Love

I was so high that summer
- - - - - The world was unclouded and bright
- - - - - - - - -Taking hits off the Holy Spirit
- - - - - - - - - at the Chapel Woods campfires
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Getting ready for the bridegroom
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Trimming our wicks, we knew
- - - - - - - - - He was coming with sound of trumpets
- - - - - - - - - And we would forever stand atoned.
- - - - - For those who repented of their sins,
cast their earthly vices aside,
- - - - - were the first to get stoned.

from Iodine Poetry Journal 9:2 (Fall/Winter 2008/2009) 40.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Those Who Can't, Teach

Walt Whitman worked for a while as a teacher in series of windowless, poorly heated, one-room schoolhouses for almost no money. While teaching at one school, he wrote to a friend, "How tired and sick I am of this wretched, wretched hole! — ... O, damnation, damnation! Thy other name is school-teaching." --- from The Writer's Almanac

There's an old saying that goes, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, write." Or there is the other adage, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Though I don't always like my job (and who doesn't hate their job at times), I have a problem with people who believe this. In one aspect, I sometimes wish I could devote my entire day to my writing. I feel I would not only become better at it, but would eventually find a publisher and be able to sell my work. However, I have a family to support, and no guarantee that weeks and months and years of writing would produce a New York Times best seller, thus pulling me out of the grips of poverty. So I teach. People who have never taught have trouble understanding that it takes more than knowing something to teach it. I know a little bit about a lot of things, and a lot about some things, but getting in front of people who generally have no interest in what you are saying to begin with, and present this lesson of information in such a way to be both interesting and entertaining, is a daunting task. Then there is the issue of maintaining discipline in the classroom. Some teachers are such pushovers that students can get away with anything and, therefore, learn nothing. There are also some teachers that are so strict that flexibility and creativity are stifled and learning becomes a military drill that most students buckle under and give up. I would say that managing behavior and discipline in class is three-fourths the job of teaching in a public school, and if that can't be accomplished it doesn't matter how brilliant of a mind the person has. I can do any job that someone throws at me, and I have done many (dishwasher, busboy, pizza delivery, meat clerk, landscaping), but the hardest job I have ever worked at is what I am doing now, teaching. And its the hardest jobs that one must love in order to keep coming back to it day after day.

So as much as I agree with Whitman's sentiment above, I will have to say that I do "do." I live, I write, I teach.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Hillsville Flea Market and The Battery-Powered Squirrel

Flea markets, you either love them or hate them. If you live in Hillsville, Virginia, however, it doesn't make much difference. In a town where the average population is 2,700, come Labor Day weekend the number of bodies soar to 650,000 -- that's on average the number of people who visit every Labor Day weekend to brave the crowds, mud, and shopping buggies (and the occasional motorized scooter) all in the name of a good find.

I spent seven years of my childhood in Hillsville, Virginia, and learned early on the history of its Labor Day flea market. Starting as a gun and knife show at the VFW building and parking lot, over the years it spilled across West Stuart Drive down what's called Hunley's Field. Like a kudzu vine it twisted its way up both sides of the street to the downtown area of Hillsville and another large section called Bowman's Field. If you walked every aisle in town it would take you all day. If you walked every aisle and looked at even half of the booths and vendors it would take you all weekend, and even then you might not see it all. In middle school, my friends and I would ride our bikes into town and ditch them behind the elementary school, then proceed to walk around for the remainder of the day looking at stuff. We mostly bought cheap Rambo-style survival knives, ninja throwing stars, coins, baseball cards, or comic books. Today a few friends and I meet every year to walk the rows and look for interesting items (seen above: Alan, Marty, and me). Of course, there is a lot of the same junk, and some outrageous prices for that junk, but there are also good finds to be had, and some pretty odd finds as well.

A few years ago my friends and I began scoping the booths for the oddest items we could find, seeing who could come up with the strangest, kitschiest, most outrageous item imaginable, or whatever tickled our funny bone. My friend Alan discovered a toy vendor who had something called The Battery-Powered Squirrel, in its original box. Underneath the title it boasted "with secret mystery action." Well, we just had to find out what that secret mystery action was, but the guy would only open the box to let us look at it. Inside was something that looked like roadkill. It's natural animal fur was peeling away from its metal body. The guy wanted $125 for it. Needless to say, we didn't buy it, but we've been on the lookout for it again ever since. This past Saturday we came across two items, a ceramic bank of Santa Claus holding a kitten riding on the back of a pig -- $100 (Alan would have bought it if it had one less zero in it) and a mechanical toy in its original box called The Happy Naughty Chimp (no secret mystery action, though). I almost bought it, but thought my children would just be scared by it. Marty found a captain's hat, but wouldn't buy it even though I told him I would put on a wig and be Tennille. We topped our morning's search off with lunch at the local Mexican restaurant, the Rio Grande. Some chimichangas and a pitcher of Dos Equis hit the spot, and gave us inspiration to walk around for a few more hours. No Battery-Powered Squirrel was to be found, but there is always next year.