The Keffer Oak

I think the letter L in the word world is one of its most essential uses in the history of literature. It distinguishes two things most responsible for the heady, desperate plight of the human. Our kind’s fundamental confusion. Between an indisputable reality and the far more complicated one of our own inventions. Words are magic. Words are misleading. These strings of letters contain histories, feelings, memories, and worst of all, expectation. Language comes by its good-bad, right-wrong, off and on dichotomy honestly. Mostly, a symptom of two dimensionality.

A great light casts a greater shadow. The mere presence of the word hero will inspire hundreds to consider thousands of what if’s and then who am I’s and redefine themselves in the oppressive gravity of that bright, radioactive word. Hero is almost synonymous with conflict, is it not? What would true world peace do to the hero complex? What’s the use in preparing for the worst if we never get to see the parachute in action? It’s fire, not water department. That’s four kinds of weapon on any police officer’s belt. A miniature version of the shield that might serve them better decorating their bulletproof vest. We don’t come equipped for peace. People don’t really seem to seriously believe in it even as possibility. Same with God. More comfortable with words like belief, and faith, than opening our eyes outright and declaring if God desired to be known, it is more than capable, and the world as we know and experience is its only testament. Everything, without exception, written in human language, is a secondary source, at best.

Words are fun. And easy. Manipulated. Like a walking stick, shaped for grip, for control, for thrust and use. But too often we trust them to tell us everything we know about the oak they were cut from. That letter that intercedes on all our words and with an absolute absence of subtlety, shakes us loose from them. Shatters that old bent dried up walking stick we’ve leaned on so heavily we’ve stunted ourselves through the pursuit of support we did not need. We’ve imagined our bones breaking and it has frightened us so we’ve decided to go ahead and precast everything about ourselves in language. And in saving, sanitizing our lives, we forfeited every grimy, heavy, clunky idea that made it worthwhile.

We’re handing over twigs and telling kids it’s a white oak. I’ve seen the second largest white oak tree in America, the Keffer Oak, in Virginia. No part of the massive three hundred year old, sixty foot tall entity was meant to be mine, was made for me. I could cut it up and split it and stack and burn a hundred thousand words from it, piece by piece, as a sort of revenge sentence against all the cold nights that ever nibbled at my ancestors. Bitterly, with sore hands and crooked back, like all conquerors, looking over my neat pile of firewood. But it isn’t Truth. It’s perception. A side effect of an intense, microscopic projection of our sense of self onto the things we create, we so desperately pretend we make up, like words. Like houses. And cars. The most recent gossip you’ve heard.

But that is not the same as the world. Thank God.
There is an insignificant barrier between our reality and our schemes.
That wonderful little letter separating words from worlds.

BLTN

Every east coast lick lapped by thick silver mist.
Rain light as snow might be easier to manage if it had froze.
Whipped jets from eighteen wheels in tread-shredding hurry.
People who play games with their brake lights and cruise control
don’t believe in negative prayers offered around them about them.
No car quick enough can outrun karma. Slick black skeletal mountains

vomit white cascades of frozen-fallen ice. Rock shoulders
lean out over the shoulder and make us shudder passing beneath.
Stress shedding mutt curled up in the backseat. Patience testing
two year old strapped into a carseat just barely pretend-asleep.
A couple curves with fog so thick with steady drizzle we fly headlong
fast enough that any unexpected thing in our path would end us.

Even though it doesn’t, perhaps it also does. Lost.
But for a British voice telling us where to turn. Blind.
But for all our wide open unblinking eyes. Dead.
But for the dutiful heart and grocery bag lungs
that keep us this side of alive. I drive. They ride
and we get there, but not on time. We uncover

the mantra of our middle lives.
Better late than never.

That Punching Bag

Love is a dented orb.
Incontinent continents speak consonants
into a molten canon of iron core. Of course.
Trees in corps and rocky coarse
the skin off purply soft things.

Flowers grown in the soil of hell. On earth.
Do not bloom in heaven. So close the sun.
The son. That sum of all now ready to go.
That punching bag. That beaten heart.
That lost art.

Love. Is a muscle torn to shreds.
Love. Is the strength of torn up things.

Unmoved

What age. How much time.
Until the promise buried in the heart of the future is a frightening one.
Where in the past then did great change happen, when forward was no longer toward.
But a way.

What is time to the stuck. Broken. Fixed.
On a certain time like a frozen clock.

A speedometer that no longer works is still absolutely right most of the time.
Runny is the glue that binds us. How long is the dry time on an anxious father.
Try convincing him correctness is not necessarily progress.

Doesn’t matter.
To clocks with broken hands.
To odometers that no longer count.
To wet glue.

Presence is purpose unmoved by the promise of tomorrow.

Section from ‘Father and Son’

Up early working on a novel I’m really excited about, I call it ‘Father and Son’, for now. It’s an atypical journey on the Appalachian Trail, in which a son takes off on a thru hike without talking to anyone, and his father decides to put his career on hold and go after him. Dad and I mapped it out when he hiked with me the first 90 miles of my trip to NY, and I’ve been working on it, slow yet steady, ever since. Here’s a little piece:

“There is a free ride in pride, but not even a chance of one on a hike. You are going to carry yourself and everything you own for every single one of these miles, or you are going to call the endeavor by a different title. Stroll, perhaps. Good heart healthy, low impact exercise, maybe. A walk in the woods, for the short sighted and uncreative. But a hike. To call it a hike. To take a hike. It is not about valley views. It is not about making big miles. It is about needing to be someplace you aren’t already, and employing the cheapest mode of transportation available, your feet, as the principle vehicle to carry you there. The beauty of it, is that it does not get any simpler, or more complex than that. If you’re out for twenty miles, you’re on a twenty miler.

You’re only on a hike if your goal is big adventure.”

Some I miss. Some I don’t.

Some work I miss. Some I don’t. I miss dragging up, sawing through and splitting stumps to pieces with my friend Ken all day, though I don’t miss twenty feet up a ladder leaned on a wobbly oak limb with a gurgling chainsaw. The work melted time. It hurled the sun up and over head. I remember, I can always tell three o clock sun. I could see it on his face we’d be finished soon. 

I miss all the dogs. The big finicky Shepherds and dough eyed boxers and hear them screaming down the hall huskies. Giving one a bath was my first real test at the vet. She did great. They were surprised. I wasn’t. Which is probably why, our blue eyes were locked and I ran water over her for more than five minutes before a bit began to stick to that thick, greyscale coat. The old golden retrievers who seemed so out of place kenneled between a spastic one legged country mix and one of the doctor’s insane pit bull hybrids. Quiet. Stoic. Whose bark was nothing compared to his brown eyes, begging to be let out. I don’t miss most of the cats. Nothing against them. Just what they become when they visit the vet. I don’t miss being in the room helping to explain why someone’s best friend wouldn’t leave there with them. Some people had to pay for everything, make every arrangement, before the IV, before the slow groggy eye roll into everlasting sleep, so that the instant after goodbye, they could leave. It’d be first thing in the morning sometimes. Lit candles flicker in the waiting room. Each color coded doctor flag flung out in warning. The young staff begging to give a dying pup something inane like a cupcake. Pressing their limp paws in black ink and rolling them onto neon colored paper. I don’t miss that. 

I miss riding fifty foot high porch swings up a mountain through a blizzard and leaning forward dreading that leap and goofy trot at the top, to sit in a heated box for an hour eating my Nature Valley bar and scribbling nasty, numb finger poetry in the palm of my hand. Slapping the switch and bringing the whole contraption to a halt when a nervous kid would neglect to lean forward and slide off. Teaching kids and old folks alike how to ride a lift I had never even authentically used myself. Wearing five coats. Jumping in place nonstop when it was fifteen below. No fewer than two pairs of everything, gloves, socks, hats. I don’t miss climbing a frozen ladder onto the frozen bullwheel that moves the cable with all those porch swings bolted to it, with a lit blow torch in my left hand, a full propane tank in my right. No kidding, I asked if he was kidding when I got to the top. I thought I was being pranked, or hazed. But no, I was earning my keep, proving my worth. Slow and unsure I melted every inch of the inch of ice that had coated that thing before I climbed down to the sarcastically scrunched look of ironic northern surprise. I miss being a living breathing novelty. I’m glad I lived to miss it. 

I miss moving hundreds of yards of material in a single roll of fabric. I have never seen people more excited to purchase an almost never ending chore. The thrill they found in fabrication touched me in helping provide for it. I miss the excited look of kids wearing their favorite cartoon characters on clothes made by their favorite grandparents. You get to a certain age and you almost forget altogether how it feels to wear something you’re excited to sleep in. I remember the best boss I’ve ever had slapping a stack of multicolored polyester poplin and explaining to me how they were off to be made into fast food uniforms for some restaurant chain or other. Humble little store bought fireworks sizzling in my mind. Working in wholesale is like having x-ray vision. You get to see the skeleton of everything. The resources that get twisted and braided and heavily longarm stitched and embroidered into products. I don’t miss time clocks or cleaning bathrooms or having to handle often times caustic personnel issues. Infighting between the different shades of blue collars. Trying to explain that the beauty of work is what you get to leave at home. That you’re really being paid not to show up everyday. To be there, to lend your time and talents and bodily and customer service presence, but keep the you part safe and secure, no one will every pay you enough for that. Leave it where it’s safe, employ it only for your dreams. Trust me, the money you take home will help, but those dreams won’t make it easy to make. A few hours a day off from being the true authentic you can be a beautiful thing. Can be being the optimal phrase in that sentiment. It takes practice. I miss the times I really had it honed and humming. 

I miss arranging pink and blue piggy banks and flower vases shaped like Ford Mustang convertibles. I don’t miss knocking three glass shelves covered over in them completely to the floor in the glittering shattered cascade of sharp ceramic, clear blue shards and the broken up eyes and snouts of little pigs that were never even fed a penny. 

I miss helping young women and their moms search for the right prom dress, and young men toward their first black suit, and older men nervous to tell me their true waist size even though I had already assessed it with my eyes. I remember helping one gentleman on and off with his shoes, and his wife thanked me for my help with tears on her cheeks. He was getting a suit for his sister’s funeral, he was a very big man, with a great many stories to tell, and I was honest to God happy to help. He reminded me of someone, but I never figured out who. Probably myself. I don’t miss the owner’s father, Pops, following me around like he thought I was going to steal something, condescending me because I cleaned the bathroom, which he referred to as ‘woman’s work’, and chastised me for slipping off a ladder even though he refused to steady it for me, or take the heavy box I was descending with from my hands. That was the only job I have ever walked off from in the middle of a shift. And three months later they begged me to come back to watch the store for them while they were out of town, and I never did. I would rather sweat through summers doing landscaping than to be treated like something I’m not. Dishonest. 

I do miss cutting grass, all day chasing a self-propelled push mower and coming back through like a barber with a razor scraping the warm shaving cream of soft green grass off the edges of sidewalks and wiping them clean with a leaf blower. I worked for myself, for a few houses, and a church in Shelby. One day I had to do the job in the rain and I broke the bolt that held the blade on the mower deck three times, going to the hardware store to replace it, three times, before I finished the job. Knowing if I did not make it home with that check, well, that was not an option, at that time. I don’t miss finding I had hit a snake, or a toad in the grass. Or that I had taken an extra twist and nicked the heads off someone’s lemon yellow daffodils or candy pink tulip lips. I don’t miss being overworked and overtired and still poor. Or when it would start raining and not stop for six, seven, eight days sometimes just pouring. That’s a good word for those times. Pooring. Equipment sitting cold in the bed of my overworked, overtired Jeep. 

If not for my chickens and for my gardens those times would have pushed past hard and actually frozen solid as ice in the dead center of summertime. You can ask my sister. I’d eat ten, eleven ears of corn and call it dinner. Leave the house with three hardboiled eggs in the morning, and no lie, pick dandelion heads and free pears and scavenged blackberries on the properties I worked. I was so terribly free and pinballish those two years. Almost everyone who loved me was afraid for me. But I wasn’t though. Too busy. 

Which is how I discovered my own personal secret to sustain sustaining. Busyness. Work. Walking. Responsibilities. Caring for animals. Caring for people. Neglecting myself. 

I learned a critical lesson, and I will share it with you here to sum up and finish this piece that is likely to go on ten, maybe even fifteen more years at this pace. 

If you can’t be okay all the time, then start walking it back. What makes you okay for, let’s say, a day. If you can’t be okay for a day. Keep walking. What can you do to be okay for an hour. If you can’t manage that yet, how about half an hour, fifteen minutes. Don’t lose heart. Fifteen minutes of being okay can be really really hard. Back up to a minute. Is there anything at all that you can do and for just about one minute not fixate on your problems, your hangups, fears, your lack of motivation, anxiety, depression, innate invisible suffering no one in the world may know about but you. 

You’ll find it. It’s there. For me, it was work, and walking, with my dogs, hiking, being outside. But work mostly, for other people, for myself, on my farm, in my notebook. I found I could choose one of these activities and be okay for a minute, and if I got a little momentum, two, then five. A good long walk, losing track of the dogs as they bound up ahead of me after a deer they’ll never catch, or a bird that isn’t actually there, fifteen minutes, then forty five. At the end of it, all of it would come back and hit me like an ocean wind. So I’d do it again, and again. A nice, breathtaking, sun drenching, sweat dripping shift, I’d get five, six hours in before something worse than exhaustion would catch up to me. I practiced those a while, and soon enough, I could get through a day, at the end of which I’d be beat, inside and out, upside and down. All the energy I had left to do anything with was required to carry my butt to bed. I’d get up with all these thoughts, ideas, lists, agendas, chores, filling my head. No room for the other stuff. 

I got real good at going two or three days. Which was great, I could more than feel, but see my progress. Next thing I knew, I’d have my weeks mapped out all the way until I had to call them months. And honest to God, honest to you, it has been years, actual years now, since I’ve revisited the bottom of that pit my thoughts dug out for me so long ago. 

And that’s the secret, my secret at least. Start small. Start with the seed. The here and now. And don’t even take a second to think about minutes until those seconds are something you can sustain. Until for a few seconds, you can be okay. Don’t dwell on hours, if you have to, pretend there’s no such thing as days. Build your happiness brick by brick, minute by minute. Without much more strain and wracking your brain, you’ll have a wall, four walls, a roof, without any more thought than it takes to slap down a little mortar and sandwich it tight in between two red rectangles. 

I think a lot of depression and anxiety are actually offshoots of our impressive imaginations. Our understanding of, and longing for, wide, intricate blue-printed designs and multi-layered, textural maps, and the expectations of our friends and families and the pressures we put on ourselves to think in five year plans and knowing our lifetime career goals before we’ve even held down a simple summer gig, or a year or two of odd jobs and the hungry, gut-wrenching process of self discovery and finding out our own beautiful, hardfought points of exhaustion.

Essentially, try not to get ahead of yourself. Try not to plan too much until you have some pretty decent milestones in the rearview. Once you have a few mountains behind you, you’ll see the vast range of powder blue ridges stretched out before you differently. You’ll see them with your feet, and with your back. You’ll learn to distrust your eyes, just enough so that you can hear the beating of your heart. 

You’ll learn the greatest fear you’ll ever feel is for the things you’ve already been through.

No matter what obstacles are set out in front of you, they all have one incredible, optimistic aspect in common. 

They’re new.

Wrote a new ‘About Me’, thanks for reading!

I’m currently enrolled in a master’s program in writing at Lenoir-Rhyne’s Center for Graduate Studies in Asheville, North Carolina. My writing has not yet been selected for widespread publication or inclusion in any creative writing journals, but that hasn’t stopped me from submitting. Mostly I put down poetry, but I have also written upwards of five novels, many more short stories, and have recently dabbled in play-writing and screenplays. My ultimate goal for the degree is to better understand the publishing industry, as well as to eventually obtain a position as an adjunct professor or workshop director at a college or university.

I believe writers benefit greatly from diverse employment in fields that are ‘secular’ to the literary craft, and I currently run a small, slow growing farm, perform in local theater and historical reenactments, as well as being a carpenter’s apprentice, mostly creating high-end custom woodcraft and feature installations in the Charlotte area.

My farm is located in Cherryville, nestled in the southwestern region of the North Carolina Piedmont, about twenty minutes from the South Carolina border. We work one hundred and thirty acres, mostly planted in longleaf pine trees, but also with a herd of dairy goats, a large brood of egg layers, and crop farming as much as weather and time permit. On November 9th of this year, my wife and I hosted our own wedding on the property in an attempt to gauge the possibility of creating a modest farm/forest themed event venue on our land. It was (in our humble opinions) a monumental success, and I have posted some pictures from the event below. We are planning to open it up for select events starting in March of next year.

If you have any questions, or interest in what I have going on in my life or on my property, please feel free to reach out. We’re always looking to partner with local or not so local businesses, as well as individuals interested in increasing their farm and vocational work experience. No matter your main interest or occupation, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how positive, proactive interactions with nature and the land increase appreciation for seemingly separate, unrelated endeavors. I can be reached at: writeractorfarmer@gmail.com and we can move forward from there!

I’m also a lifelong hiker and advocate of the Appalachian Trail, and outdoor activities, camping, hiking, homesteading in general. I hiked the eight hundred miles from southwest Virginia to the New York state line two years ago, using the Appalachian Trail, and am always looking for new ways to incorporate the outdoors and the life-altering experiences it engenders into my writing and occupational interests.

If you’ve read this far, you can see I keep a lot of irons in the fire simultaneously, which is what makes writing so important. Stories are maybe the only place where a universe of diversity all combines together to form a single cohesive element. It is the unifying, all encompassing invention of humankind: storytelling. Which is why I proudly list it first in my little titular list of occupations: writer, actor, farmer. Literature is the roof under which I house all other interests, it is how I keep them warm through the night, safe and dry even as the sky opens up and baptizes us all beyond anything we would ever decide for ourselves.

But almost nothing is possible without community. An open dialogue, an audience, an ongoing interaction with those around me, is essential, vital. So thank you for reading, for caring, it has made a world of difference, feeling so unalone and included by the earth-wide family that is humanity. Let’s talk. Let’s collaborate. Let’s find out how many hands it takes to make hard work lighter than a feather, so that we can get down to the fun stuff. Celebrating life and death, singing through poetry, dancing in labor.

Learning as lifelong profession no matter how we earn a living.

It didn’t make it onto my list, but in my opinion, it really goes without needing to be said, that the superpower of our species is lifelong enrollment as students of time and memory. The earth has meant many things to many people, but it makes much more sense to think of it as a giant, rotund, rolling school. I’m convinced that is what it is, and learning, not invention or fabrication, is our primary purpose. And in that sense, there will never be a final frontier. We’ll never be finished finding new things in an evolving, ever-altered university such as this.

Existence is a wave, it can be a harsh lesson to stand up and position yourself against it. But it can also carry you faster and further than ever imagined if you move along, let yourself, humbly and lightly, be pushed by its powerful and unapologetic presence.

Learn. Grow. Stop fighting currents. Let yourself go. You’ll find you’re caught and held by a mighty grip every time. I promise. I can, because I know.

Life is not a status. It is a story.

And the only way to get it wrong, is to not write it for yourself.

Dear Lord, Let Me Be Wrong

Mist pours in on a comparatively warm November evening, shows me my cross-eyed headlights and blinds me when I click on the brights. Walmart is full of people. At eight on Thanksgiving eve. Full of stink eye and camouflage and middle aged women in pajamas. Our little country corner of the world. Little girls apologize for their father’s scowls with upturned eyes. A grizzled looking gentlemen sights a slender twenty two caliber rifle up at the twenty foot ceiling. Capitalism is most at work when we aren’t. Swiping hours of our lives away with flimsy magnetized plastic, futuristic looking chips embedded in them. There’s a doglegged line in front of the pharmacy. Gigantic Hershey kisses and hollow shepherd crooks full with M&M’s. Grown men wearing flip flops. Little boys in cowboy boots beg beside the bike rack, tears in the corners of their eyes. 

I can’t settle my heart. It liked living outside too much. For my thirties, my eyes and my feet are best friends. They do everything together. Partners witnessing crime. Flying down Old Post I can not help for the life of me the feeling there is hatred and resentment more so than white knuckles and hidden toes powering the machines passing me. It is an old Jeep, I confess, I don’t dare push past the speed limit, so I damn near see the whites in their eyes as they ride my spare tire bumper. There are young men in the Walmart almost through the door when they spot a single lady walk in all by her lonesome and nod their heads together and turn around.

My deepest prayer to date is that I’m wrong. 

Answered by family, warmed by fire, wrapped in mist in the foggy corner of the county we call home. I want to turn around and grab those boys by the scruffs of their necks like tomcats. I want to buy that kid his bike. I want to take the gun out of those paint stained fingers and kiss that man on the cheek if I have to. Wrap him up in a hug and ask him what’s the last thing he forgave. I want to let her know she’s safe, but I don’t have to, anyone wearing pajamas in public is already far more comfortable in their own skin than I ever have been. I want to buy all the milk almost past its date. Tell the people wearing blue vests and name-tags how proud of them I am, how honored I am to be helped along by them, how I never would have found HDMI converters without them. 

As I drive, I get real afraid the mist is smoke. I imagine deer throwing long tan legs out like Rockettes onto the stage. I wince at the sight of roadkill. I throw the Jeep out of gear and coast downhill, thinking how that engine is idling same as if it was sitting still in the driveway, going fifty-five and bouncing across the flimsy bridge at the bottom. If it doesn’t bend it breaks. 

What are we all doing with our life? This is our one shot at the world. What are we all doing at Walmart at eight o clock on a Wednesday night. Looking so sour. Looking down sights. Staring down strangers. 

Strength. True strength. Is not stubbornness, or rigidity. When the man said love your neighbor same as you would love yourself, he could just as easily have said, if a bridge doesn’t bend, it will break.

On Us

At some point, you submit. If it is happening this way, then it is on purpose, there was never any other order of things. I don’t know what this is, just what it isn’t, and primarily, this is not an accident. I know that is hard to read. I’ve lost people. I’ve failed at things. I know you may have told yourself it was a deviation from the plan, but it wasn’t. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s. And blame for the things we do to one another falls in no way on the divine. Though the humans who use them would have you believe it’s out of their hands, all weapons are shaped for them. A thousand ways to feel washed clean. One form of filth.

The only sin is born in a decision you know you shouldn’t make as you make it. That’s it.
It has always been up to you. No matter how fervently you deny it.

Maybe God made a lumpy rock with saltwater licking shorelines. But it did not invent America. Or life. Or humans. Or the disgusting way a millipede’s legs all work together in waves.

Maybe God invented the perfect atom, brick, building block, with just enough consciousness written within, that this brick is one part mason, one part chemist, one part pragmatic technician, one part way back in the rear, engineer. Brick all the same.

Which would mean we truly own our choices.
Our hardfought, often unnested consequences.

I know this hurts. But we are doing this to ourselves.

I blame God for creating potential.
But this, reality, all of this.

This is on us.