Friday Journal: Tiny Letters and Ironic Post-Hipster Bluebirds

We’d been in the coolest summer snap in all of recorded Ozarkan history before that old dog Summer decided to growl. I’d was bragging to a friend in southern California about how we’d barely broken 90 degrees, was in the midst of really hamming it up when Hades himself decided to visit his fiery wrath upon Fayetteville. He came with a vengeance and brought a sweaty, sweltering electric blanket with him. By-gum if all this heat hasn’t made me half-crazy.

Yesterday, I was sitting at my desk when this thought came to roost: I’d like to have a pet bluebird; I’d take it to a tattoo artist and have a human inked on its wing. This, I realize, is probably an impossible thing, but in this age of waning hipster relevancy, it struck me as an ironic post-hipster culture thing to do.

Of course, a friend or two poked fun at the notion. Alex asked exactly what the bluebird would do when its feathers started sagging in old age. I’m not sure if that’s a possible thing for a bluebird, but as my first grade teacher Ms. Burr used to say, “there’s no such thing as a stupid question.” My seventh grade football coach said much the same thing, but added, “only stupid people,” which is neither here nor there for purposes of this discussion. (Or is it, Alex?)

Digressions aside, the heat has gotten to me, has made me long for Autumn here in the Ozarks. Autumn is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year in this fair college-town. The people of Fayetteville love their autumnal sports, Arkansas Razorback football being chief among them, and they drive their Razorback vehicles to and fro, begin to dress exclusively in their University-sanctioned Razorback gear. It is a sight to behold.

Last year, I passed an old man on the town square who was wearing a red suit accented by a Razorback tie with matching pocket square. He wore red bucks and a white straw hat and swung a cane with razorback topper. My gaze must have lingered a little too long, because as we neared each other, he stopped and asked “you think it’s a little much?” I chuckled. He chuckled back and offered, “I suppose that was a stupid question.” I looked at him dead in the eye, cocked my head and said “my seventh grade football coach used to say there was no such thing as a stupid question.”

*****BIG NEWS*****

I’ve had a good time here at SethHaines.com. In the past few years, I’ve enjoyed the community that’s gathered around the virtual fireplace, that’s stretched into my poetry, prose, and general ramblings. And though I don’t plan on going anywhere, I’m starting a new side project—a Tiny Letter.

“What’s a Tiny Letter?”

I’m glad you asked (or rather allowed me ask for you).

The Tiny Letter is my monthly (sometimes bi-monthly) newsletter in which I’ll be discussing everything from my personal creative projects, to my favorites in music, books, poetry, and general creative tomfoolery. I’ll likely introduce you to a friend or two, and perhaps give you the inside scoop on the places I go. I’ll be a little less filtered, and will deal in greater depth with my struggles in coming clean from dependency and addiction. The Tiny Letter will be delivered directly to your inbox, and you’ll be able to respond by way of email.

In September’s Tiny Letter, I’ll be breaking some fairly big news (as far as I’m concerned, anyway), and the scoop will only be available to my Tiny Letter subscribers. So, if you’d like to join this little community, subscribe here:

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And for those of you who haven’t yet subscribed to receive my blog content in your inbox, allow your eyes to wander to the left hand side of the screen. See that red box? Enter your email and subscribe for my blog updates. (You know you want to.)

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Today, I’m refraining from sharing any links. Instead, let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King.

*Photo by Doug Wertman, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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On Infighting, Social Media, and Weedy Noise

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.” ― Henri J.M. NouwenOut of Solitude

1.

If home is where the heart is, we moved our hearts to a tiny green house on the outskirts of town.  When I say “tiny house,” think less of the stuff of Netflix documentaries; think less of a 500 square foot dwelling built on the back of a truck trailer. When I say “tiny house,” consider more a house that provides a tight fit for a family of 6 with a tiny dog.

 

The tiny green house is situated on the outskirts of Fayetteville, just across the White River Bridge in what was once the tiny community of Baldwin before it’s annexation into the city limits. Next door sits a tiny Church of Christ, and its members, our neighbors, have welcomed us well. There are certain things that make for a happy home, they say. First among those things is a happy wife. Second among those things is a good relationship with your neighbors. By all accounts, we’re off to a good start.

The tiny green house boasts a lovely English garden on both sides of the tiny walkway to the front entrance. And when I say “English garden,” think less of a well-manicured green space in which one might choose to sit for tea. Instead, imagine two deep beds of perennials overgrown by a serendipitous mix of well-intentioned herbs, wildflowers, and a mess of greenery most would consider “weeds.” There is a morning glory that has vined up from the ground, and it grows every which way, strikes out in all directions like the snakes on Medusa’s head.

In the garden of the tiny green house, there is a particularly invasive weed that stands on a 2 foot stalk. It has spread into every corner of the garden, has swallowed up every spare inch of available soil. It has become a veritable redwood forest to the colony of ants that carry out their tiny work in the weed shade. Last weekend, as I was considering how to best attack this herbaceous infestation, I noticed a hint of pink peeking up from under the weed canopy. I pulled back the stalks and unwrapped a beautiful peony flower like a late summer present. The peony is my favorite flower, in part because it reminds me of the old rock house inhabited by 4 generations of Haines, and in part because it is the flower of the tattoo emblazoned on my wife’s right shoulder. The peony reminds me of the rooted work of home, and of love. It reminds me that even the tiniest seeds can grow into bold and beautiful flowers.

2.

This is not piece about tiny houses, English gardens, or peonies. This is not a piece about sexy tattoos or neighborhood churches, either. This is a piece about weeds and noise.

Weeds hide the ants marching, the tiny but necessary work of surviving under the shade. The green noise of weedy foliage obscures the beauty of the peony bud, the way it pushes up from the ground in rooted glory. Weeds beat back the true prizes of the garden. Weeds, a metaphor in-and-of themselves, distract from every other good garden metaphor.

Consider the weeds and the noise of the day. There are people marching at home and abroad; there is work being done, and work left to do. And yet, the noise from the 24 hour news cycle and social media consumes every spare corner of thought and silence, distracts us from the boots on the ground. The infighting is at a fever pitch–the war of words is louder than ever–and if you listened, you might think that reconciliation is a pipe dream.

I wonder, “where is the beauty of rooted work?” And then I remember; it is hidden somewhere under all these distracting, noisy weeds.

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Recovery Room: The Path Through Pain

Welcome to the Recovery Room. Today, I’m writing on the process of recovery from any-old dependency at A Deeper Story. Will you join me? And for more Recovery Room pieces, follow this link.

*****

Last week I was speaking with a friend about my history of dependency and addiction, about the way in which I found myself numbing my anxieties with liters of gin. She is a psychologist who has worked in addiction and recovery, and as I unpacked my story, she said “you don’t sound like the typical alcoholic; you sound more like a self-medicator.” I paused, considered her statement. I suppose she was right regarding my self-medication, and for purposes of today’s installment of the Recovery Room, it doesn’t much matter the particular source of my anxiety or the details underlying it. It needs only to be said that my anxiety is rooted in a certain type of spiritual doubt… Continue reading at A Deeper Story. *Photo by Michael Johnson, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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Friday Diary: Forgetting Ferguson

Friday Journal

“Every time in history that men and women have been able to respond to the events of their world as an occasion to change their hearts, an inexhaustible source of generosity and new life has been opened, offering hope far beyond the limits of human prediction.” Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

I said to a friend, “in six months, when the cameras roll out of Ferguson and the news coverage shifts to some other world injustice, I’m afraid we’ll forget.” It was a very white, middle-class American thing to say, the words of one who owns a small but lush one acre homestead boasting peonies, hazelnut trees, and an ample garden.The stalks of corn and maples are the only things always reaching for the sky here, and police brutality is a non-notion.

Forgotten, I said, and the stark contrast of the word against the images I’ve seen in the recent Ferguson news coverage left me embarrassed. I consider the police playing Afghanistan dress-up, firing teargas canisters and rubber bullets into a crowd. I consider the images of women flushing their eyes with milk. I consider the images of hurled molotov cocktails. How can such a thing be unremembered? How can such a thing be reduced to a footnote in the collective consciousness of country, much less in my own life?

The stark reality is this: forgetting such a thing is the luxury of those living a life of convenient short-term memory.

I don’t want to forget Ferguson. I want it to be an etched memory, one which leads me to keep my ears to the ground. I want to keep listening to those living a wholly different American experience, and to show generosity in understanding their particular reality. And yes, I used the word “reality.”

I’m not quite sure how the remembering will look, but I hope it gives rise to an “inexhaustible source of generosity.” Maybe if enough of us remember, we can work together toward creating a better, more generous reality. Maybe that’s romantic idealism, but some ideals are worth chasing.

I’m just a middle-class white fella in Northwest Arkansas. I’m not a frontline journalist or an urban dweller. I’m not a policy maker or pundit, not a historian or history-maker. I’m just a normal joe, and I’m promising not to forget the folks of Ferguson.

*****

A Few Good Weekend Links:

1. “When Going There Means Going There,” by Deidra Riggs;

2. “Because it’s not #Ferguson. It’s Ferguson.” Preston Yancey, “When We Go Quietly?“;

3. “Don’t let me bury my son alone. I don’t want the cameras, reporters, bloggers there. No tweets required. But friends – come.” Kelley Nikondeha, “The Scars of Our Sons“;

4. “I once read of a sort of euphoria that overtakes the body in drowning.”  On Rest and Stillness, by Guy Martin Delcambre.

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Scriptural Imagination and Ferguson (Part III)

In light of the Ferguson protests,  I’ve been exercising “scriptural imagination,” and reading the words of Jesus with fresh eyes. (Follow this link to read the entire series). Yesterday I examined Matthew 7:1-23. Today, I’m taking a fresh look at Matthew 7:24-29.

Follow the hashtag #ScripturalImagination on Twitter for more renderings, and feel free to add some of your own.

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Matthew 7:24-29

The Two Foundations

Jesus drove the point home. “Everyone who hears and acts on my hard teachings—the teachings on secret prayer, mindful action, bearing the sorrows of others, and bearing peace—is like a wise person who builds their house on the high ridge of reconciliation outside the flood zones of violence. The rain of terror and violence may fall, the floods of oppression may breach the sandbag wall, and the winds of propaganda may blow and slam against that house to the point of great fear; and yet the house will hold strong. It will not fall, for it has been founded on the rock of a correct and active faith. It has been founded on the rock of my teachings.

“But what about those who hear these words of Mine and does not act on them, who opts instead for violent revolution, the terrifying teargas oppression, or who otherwise seek glory through contrived and false reconciliation? Or what about those who see a ‘good crisis’ and act in self-interest, self-righteousness, or self-indignation? They will be like foolish men who built a high-rise apartment complex at the lowest point in the flood zone. The rains of terror will fall. The floods of fear and oppression will come. The winds of propaganda will blow and slam against the building, and because the high-rise was built on an incorrect faith, it will fall. And its fall will be loud and raucous, and it will be broadcast on CNN for all the world to see.”

When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their politicians and pundits.

 

*Photo by Debra Sweet, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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