I have been writing all my life. Most recently, I’ve been writing a blog every week, about to celebrate my second anniversary of South of God that I began on a Thanksgiving down on St. Simons Island. That’s around one hundred posts. And now, I reside on that island, and write. It’s a long way from the Southside of Atlanta.
I wrote a sports column in high school and college for a local newspaper, my dad called it the Suburban Disturber. It was fun to talk to coaches and make the weekly predictions during football season. Had I known that ESPN was on the horizon, I might have heard a calling from Chris Berman. I thank God that did not happen, unless I was fortunate enough to land with my mensch, Tony Kornheiser.
I wrote papers for professors throughout my academic training, enjoying the opportunity to weave deep research with my natural curiosity. I also took the advice of one of my history professors when he threw down the gauntlet for his students: “Teach me something”, he dared. I loved that challenge and threw down.
I started writing sermons when I was in seminary. It’s a odd genre, combining academics, rhetoric, and storytelling. Oddly, I was given Sunday evening services, not exactly “prime time”, in which to sharpen my sermon sword. Those poor people at Decatur First Baptist were so kind and loving with my youthful attempts at making sense of life. I pray for their souls daily.
Twenty years of weekly sermons installs a certain urgency and pressure. I always remembered my boss, Bill Lancaster, who helped me frame the task for the preacher: Sometimes I have something to say, sometimes I have to say something. By God, I know what the boy meant.
I actually got the opportunity to write free lance articles for an entertainment magazine in Texas, focusing on the variety of music in the region. Honestly, that was the most fun as I got to chase around the region, learning about bluegrass, Cajun, Zydeco, blues, conjunto, just to name a few cultural expressions of the human drive to make music. My favorite was going to Willie’s 4th of July party each year to interview a who’s who of country music, including the man himself. Any time on Willie’s bus is worth the price of admission. And it is true: the road goes on forever, and the party never ends.
Another assignment took me out of Texas. Going over to Eunice, Louisiana to interview Marc Savoy, the Cajun philosopher, was quite a challenge, as Marc does not countenance fools. When I asked about taking in some live Cajun music at Mulate’s in Lafayette, he groaned and said, “Galloway, you don’t need to listen to the ‘yuppified’ Cajun music. You need the real thing!” So he directed me to go down the highway, take a right at the blinking light, and keep going till I see the lights on the hill on the right. Driving into the darkness of rice fields in a bayou thunderstorm, I thought more than once that Marc might have sent this Atlanta city boy on a wild goose chase. That is, until I saw those lights, the lights of D.I.’s, an honest-to-God Cajun juke joint, confirmed by the pick-up trucks in the parking lot. What an experience to not only enjoy, but capture in an article.
The next day, I got to watch the parade of souls who come into Marc’s music store to play Cajun folk music, eat boudin, and drink Dixie beer. My favorite sight was watching these blue collar workers open up their red Craftsman tool boxes, pulling out an ancient fiddle. Marc would call each person by name as they entered the building, transforming them from a beaten-down factory worker into that noble role of musician who makes magic with music. You could watch their bowed backs straighten up to the calling, and see their gait quicken, leaving their back-breaking years behind. I spent the evening with Marc and his amazingly talented wife, Ann Savoy, who has recorded with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. This was my personal briar patch, and I was smart enough to throw myself in.
In all my writing, I have had one mantra that has pounded in my head: Write one true sentence.
I don’t have the brass to identify who said that line and and where I first learned it. Those of you who know the source will no doubt know why I would shy from even mentioning the name. Like a true believer, I shy away from invoking the Holy Name. But it was offered as writing advice to those who, like me, fear the prospect of running dry. It hangs on the wall, over my computer screen, to remind me, and at times, late at night, to reassure me.
Telling the truth has been my aim, no matter where it leads. That was a vow my mentor, Carlyle Marney, made on the day of his ordination. I did the same, on the Feast of St. Mary, and have extended the commitment to my writing.
So it was interesting this past week when I wrote about my friend, William Wayne Justice, the former U. S. District Court judge in East Texas. I have always subscribed to the notion that feedback is the real Breakfast of Champions, not Wheaties. I had one reader respond with his own take on the fact there was no racism in Tyler. I could pretty well receive that for what it was worth, his opinion. I get it, that from his privileged perspective, there is no problem here. I reminded him of the differing opinions of the folks I had the privilege to listen to who felt the pain of systemic bias.
And, I had another person send a glowing note of praise for this particular piece of writing as my “masterpiece”. I puffed up, for a mere second, and then remembered a comment from someone offering the insight that said I was full of myself. What a roller coaster of emotions for a writer of any kind: an article, a sermon, or a song. That is the price of admission to express your inner thoughts, memories, and feelings publicly on paper. So be it.
Through years of presenting my ideas, thoughts, and opinions, I have become more and more impervious to the slings and arrows of criticism, coming to terms with the risky business of laying your self out there. Climbing into the high pulpit will either break you; lead you to start believing your press clipping, which is deadly as you construct an ego of superiority; or toughen you up to the awakening of one’s mixed reality of motivation. I have slowly learned not to take either the praise or the derision too seriously. I want to attend to the truth that critical comments have, in order to learn from my mistakes and mark the ways in which I got it right….this time.
But speaking the truth, as I see it, it is my joy these days. Nothing gives me a deeper joy that trying to scan the horizon of my existence and scramble to write that one true sentence. I know when I hit that right dominant chord and hear it ring through the darkness. It’s not a bad way to spend one’s time and energy.
One true sentence.
About life, and how short it seems as you live longer.
About love, and the illusions and depths.
About family, biological and chosen.
About discerning the difference between loneliness and solitude.
About God, transcendent and as close as your heartbeat.
About Death, cheating it while you can and embracing it when it comes.
About creativity, seriously playful and playfully serious.
About politics, after this past debate, I have no words.
So, I write, word upon word, sentence after sentence, enjoying the ride. I try to tell the truth from my perspective, with the hope that someone might enjoy the story, resonate with thought, grab a morsel of sustenance.
Yes, I abide in hope, even in such times that we find ourselves swamped in.
One true sentence. No fading of the meaning. No pulling the punch.
One true sentence.