Writing Life

A periodic record of thoughts and life as these happen via the various roles I play: individual, husband, father, grandfather, son, brother (brother-in-law), writer, university professor and others.

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Location: Tennessee, United States

I was born on Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina, then lived a while in Fayetteville, North Carolina, before moving, at the age of 5, to Walnut, NC. I graduated from Madison High School in 1977. After a brief time in college, I spent the most of the 1980s in Nashville, Tennessee, working as a songwriter and playing in a band. I spent most of the 1990s in school and now teach at a university in Tennessee. My household includes wife and son and cat. In South Carolina I have a son, daughter-in-law and two granddaughters.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Do You Hear What I Hear?

This past Wednesday, I went to visit Mom at the nursing home, arriving unannounced as usual, and found her sitting in the hallway, brother Jerry standing behind her, waiting for the staff to open the cafeteria doors to begin the Brian Center's Christmas party. . . . Once inside and settled at a table, I heard her softly singing alto to the Christmas songs sung by a guitar man over in the corner. And of course I thought about all the years I listened to her sing with her sister Ernestine Plemmons, probably the most lovely harmonies I've ever heard. A person or two there at the party remembered the singing of that Reeves sisters duo as well. . . . When the party was over, we lingered a bit, letting the crowd of wheelchairs and walkers thin, and as my cousin Joey Plemmons and I began to roll Mom out, she asked us to take her to the piano that stood in another corner. Thrilled to do so, I rolled her over and Joe and I moved the piano and other clutter enough to maneuver her to the keyboard. She played a little, mostly with her left hand, unable to do much with her right anymore. She really wanted to play, I could tell that, but in a few minutes she was ready to leave. . . . Back in her room, she told me that Ernie had given her a Christmas CD to listen to and that some of it was so beautiful it brought tears to her eyes. And so I thought about all those years when she sat at pianos at home and at church, all the music that inhabited her and, through her, all of us around her. I was grateful for what she passed on to me--although I wish she'd have passed on her piano skills as well--and shuddered to think of one day not being able to play my guitar or flute. . . . But then I took to heart what she said about the Christmas CD and the way music moves us, and I knew that I would be all right. In Nature, Emerson writes of being in the woods, "There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair." He doesn't mention his hearing, but I think I might, in the end, need hearing over sight, so that I could still hear the music--music of all kinds--in life.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Way Out West: Day Three (27 July)

We awoke to a beautiful morning in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and slowly got ready and left for a day in the Black Hills. Our final destination that evening was Rapid City, where my cousin Bob and aunt Sonia live.

Hot Springs has a picturesque main drag, and we couldn’t leave town without some pictures. At one of our photo-op stops near the end of town, we went into a little guitar shop run by a woman named Allison Swan. She was standing outside the front door smoking as we walked up but finished her cigarette and went inside with us. She had some sweet-sounding guitars, no doubt, but I wasn't tempted—my old Guild suits me just fine. The best that Ms. Swan had to give us was her suggestion of a little side trip along a dead-end road just at the end of town. It led to a beautiful canyon colored with that reddish rock and soil that characterizes so many western landscapes. As we made our way out of the canyon, Leesa called to say thanks for the suggestion, which shocked Ms. Swan, I think. She says she often advises people to take that short drive but never gets a thank-you call.

Our next stop was Wind Cave. Of all the typical touring things we did on this trip, this one was probably our favorite. The cave is a sacred site to the Lakota, but of course that means very little to white America. A couple of cowboys "discovered" the cave—a small hole in the ground was the only visible entrance—back in the late 1800s. You can read up on the whole history if you like, but suffice to say that it is now a national park and a wonderful experience.

We took one of the three tours offered, lasting close to an hour and a half. The temperature outside was approaching the 90s in the early afternoon, but underground the temperature is a steady 53 degrees. Leesa had her hoodie that she wisely carries into restaurants and grocery stores, so we bought me a long-sleeved t-shirt. The design on the back is a map of the known 200+ miles of Wind Cave. Below the map is a caption, a quote from the earliest and most avid explorers of the cave; he says that he has given up on finding the end of its passages. Scientists measuring the volume of air moving in and out of the cave—the characteristic that gives the place its name—and determined that there are likely 1,000 to 1,200 miles of passages that make up Wind Cave. Amazing!

We continued throughout the afternoon to explore the southern portion of the Black Hills, which includes some prairie dog towns, the town of Custer, the in-progress mountain-sized sculpture of Crazy Horse and, of course, Mt. Rushmore. That evening we checked into Big Sky Lodge, located on a ridge looking over Rapid City and out across the plains and badlands to the east. Bob and Sonia came to pick us up and take us to supper at the Golden Phoenix, where we had a good meal and a good time for a couple of hours. We left there around 10:00 (MDT), after making our plans for our Saturday.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Way Out West 2012: The Plan and Days One and Two

We'd never vacationed like this together. By "like this" I mean that we'd always gone to a single destination and stayed there. By "like this" I also mean that we'd never made a trip this long, not even our honeymoon. Our destination was the West, within which we had a list of destinations: fly to Colorado Springs, CO, pick up our rental car and stay the night in Castle Rock, CO; drive all day to Hot Springs, SD (one night); drive to Rapid City, SD, where my cousin Bob and aunt Sonia live (two nights); drive to Bozeman, MT (one night); drive to Stevensville, MT, just south of Missoula (two nights); drive to Ennis, MT (one night); drive to Cody, WY, via Yellowstone National Park (one night); drive to Cheyenne, WY (one night); drive to Colorado Springs (one night); fly home. Our departure was Wednesday, 25 July, and our return, Sunday, 5 August.

Wednesday, 25 July—Still on a high from the Cody reunion in Nashville on Sunday 22, we were first surprised and elated on departure from home to find that we seemed to have everything packed in two suitcases, one big and one small. Leesa had small shoulder bag with her purse inside. I had my book bag and my guitar. We left home around 1:00 in the afternoon and caught our flight out of Knoxville at 4:55 pm EDT. After the obligatory layover in Atlanta, we flew to Colorado Springs (cheaper than Denver as a destination), arriving there around 8:30 pm MDT. We picked up our car—a Chevy Aveo—and hit I-25 headed north.

Thursday, 26 July—We woke up in the Super 8 in Castle Rock, CO, and meandered around in that area for much of the late morning, looking for Curves in nearby Parker. (I must say at this point that we never got in a big hurry at any time. I don't think we ever left an area in route to our next destination until noon or well after.) Eventually we found it and, after Leesa's workout, found I-25 and continued north, through Denver and then Cheyenne. Just north of the latter, we left I-25 for a US Highway (85 or 87) and traveled up the eastern border of Wyoming. Of course, the West was in evidence as soon as we were out of the airport in Colorado Springs, but this drive through Wyoming really began to show us what we were in for, both the sights and the driving.

Wyoming towns of note were Torrington and Lusk—not because they were the only noteworthy locations along our route but because towns are few and far between in this part of the world. We couldn't decide what or where to eat. I'm sure there were good places, but we passed them up every time. But passing up a place to eat or get gas or use the restroom in eastern Wyoming means that you're likely to be driving a good long time before another opportunity arises. Early in the evening and still unsuppered, we turned east and crossed into South Dakota, and within a little while we were again at a Super 8, this one in Hot Springs, SD.

The Super 8 was right beside the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, and we didn't even go visit it. I'm still a little embarrassed about that, but the day was long and the trip was new trip was just beginning. I was more interested in the steakhouse next door. Finally, with supper behind us, we took a brief stroll on the riverwalk in Hot Springs, bought some necessities at a local grocer and a couple of unnecessaries at Dairy Queen and then went to bed.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cody Reunion Show

This was the scene at 12th & Porter in Nashville, Tennessee, last Sunday, the 22nd of July. The band on the stage is Cody, the creatively name group that I fronted back in the late '80s and early '90s. From left to right: Gene Ford (lead & rhythm guitar, background vocals), David Ecrement (keyboards), Steve Grossman (drums, background vocals), me, Danny O'Lannerghty (bass, background vocals), Mark Chesshir (lead & rhythm guitar, background vocals). I wrote most of the songs in our repertoire, but we also did some successful co-writing. I say that I fronted the band, but I was never very good at that. To be quite honest, I was a rather boring performer.

But we made some great music and had a good time making it. We most often appeared in Nashville (Douglas Corner and Cock-eyed Camel) and Asheville (45 Cherry, Downtown After Five and Bele Chere), but we also had gigs in Greenville, South Carolina, and Lexington, Kentucky.

We had our good moments. Probably most notable were the release of our cassette Cody and the radio success of our song "Thunder and Lightning." But we were all hitting our early 30s. I moved from Nashville back to Asheville. Several of the group were marrying (not each other--we weren't Fleetwood Mac) and having kids. Cody dissolved amicably, probably in late 1992.

Flash forward to 2012. Sometime in the spring, Mark had the idea of putting together a reunion. I said I was interested if the other guys were. Mark called back within a couple of hours and said it was set up. We set the date and eventually rented 12th & Porter for the event. We began thinking about songs and inviting friends.

On Saturday the 21st, Leesa and I headed for Nashville. The band was set to meet at Gene Ford Music in Brentwood that afternoon at 1:00 for a rehearsal. I didn't know what to expect, but the guys had done their homework, and the run-through was amazing. We were happy and having fun.The good feeling continued through the next day and all the way through and beyond the actual reunion gig. On Sunday we set up and did soundcheck.

We opended the doors at 6:00, and our friends started showing up, many of whom traveled quite a few miles (from east Tennessee and western North Carolina), many of whom were old fans and friends, many of whom were friends of individual band members who knew nothing of the rest of the band. They listened and responded and cheered us on.

I felt good on stage that evening. I felt more expressive. Not boring--or not so much. We didn't play flawlessly, but we played like we meant it and with joy and energy.

It was an amazing event for me, and I'm still a little high when thinking about it.

The set list:
"Dizzy from the Distance"
"Counting the Days"
"Genesis Road"
"Thunder and Lightning"
"I'll Be Here"
"Rain on the River"
"None But the Lonely Heart"
"The Street I Live On"
"One Desire"
"The Jaws of Modern Romance"
"She's a Wild One"
"Best I've Ever Seen"

For our encore, we were joined by great guitarist Phil Keaggy, whom we had run into at Brentwood's Local Taco on Saturday evening after our rehearsal. He did a wonderful job with us on "I Came for the Gold" and "Angeline."

I hope we'll reunite again next year!

Friday, June 29, 2012


In the summer of 2007, I accepted the position of Director of the University and Midway Honors Scholars Programs, two of the cross-campus Honors College programs at East Tennessee State University. I'd been working somewhat indirectly with the Honors College for three years or so already: I was teaching Honors Quest, the two-semester seminar that all freshmen in the University Honors Scholars Program take; I was also the coordinator of the English Honors-in-Discipline program.

Administrative opportunities had been coming my way in various forms in the years before 2007. In addition to being the coordinator for the English H-i-D program, I was the Department of English's Assistant Chair for Undergraduate Studies. When the unfortunate death of Dr. Jay Boland, previous Director of the University and Midway programs, occurred in December 2006, I made the decision to apply for the position. I knew many of the students through my teaching of Quest, and I wanted to help insure that those students had as good an academic experience at ETSU as possible. I felt as if this would be a good opportunity to learn whether or not I wanted to pursue administration as a career shift. I got the job and began that summer of 2007.

I committed, mostly in my own mind, that I would give it five years. That would allow me to recruit a first class of University Honors Scholars, which I did in spring 2008, and see them through graduation. These students graduated in May 2012. Sometime in the middle of their junior year I became fairly certain that I didn't want to continue in administration, that I wasn't ready to leave my own teaching, research and writing on the back burner. So roughly a year later I submitted my resignation to Dr. Rebecca Pyles, Dean of the Honors College.

Today was my last official day as Director of the University and Midway Honors Scholars Programs. Working with the programs was a great mid-career experience for me. I've learned a lot about the workings of the university. I've had a lot of great opportunities, not the least of which was the opportunity to attend the Presidential Inauguration in January 2009. Most importantly, I've worked closely with and become friends with many many fantastic students. (See part of the latest group above!)

I left the Department of English in 2007. I return to the Department of Literature and Language in 2012. I'm excited about this return that leads forward!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

How I Talk

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Northeast

Judging by how you talk you are probably from north Jersey, New York City, Connecticut or Rhode Island. Chances are, if you are from New York City (and not those other places) people would probably be able to tell if they actually heard you speak.

The Inland North
The Midland
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Well, I'll be darned!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mr. Gray's Place in Camp Creek, Tennessee

On 27 April 2011, tornados roared up through Alabama and eventually ended up blasting east Tennessee before continuing on into southwest Virginia. I remember the night fairly well. We kept the local weather on all evening, listening to the local weathermen excitedly reporting warning after warning. I stood out on the front stoop several times after hearing the tornados were in Greene County and coming our way. We went to our safe place once around 11:30 that night, but the monsters never made it. They jumped over us--or whatever they do--and struck in Virginia, just north of Abingdon.

Today I joined a group from Cherokee Church to go to the Camp Creek community of Greene County. We had a large group, so we split up into three groups. The group I was with went to the new house of a Mr. Gray. He and his wife lived in the big house in the foreground when the storms hit. He talked about the two of them hiding sort of under the floor. The twister sucked out several window panes and behind that sucked out household items, including the television. As you can see, the porch was taken out and the roof was hit hard. What you can't see is the damage to the back of the house. Most of the time since the storm, Mr. and Mrs. Gray have lived in the little outbuilding just to the left behind the house. On the hill in back is the new house, probably partially paid for by FEMA dollars. Mr. Gray is hoping that he and his wife can move in the new house by the end of March, a month short of the one-year anniversary of the storm.

During the time we were at the house, we put primer throughout on the interior walls. Then we got a first coat of paint on about half of that interior. Afterwards, we went to a local Free Will Baptist Church and had a meal in the fellowship hall--some local volunteers, our group and a group of handymen from Hendersonville, North Carolina.

It was a rewarding day spent with friends doing something helpful in the world.