Stories About Stories or Not

Storm image from Huffville Road, 2015_08_05
Storm image from Huffville Road, 2015_08_05. Click image to see a short “visual story.”

Thirteen years ago this week I had been blogging for three months, and instant publishing was all fresh and enlivening. My HERE and my WHO were unknown but apparently of some interest to others who would become regular Fragments readers. I had a very few visitors then (how on earth did they find me?) who wanted to see more and hear more. I was soon labeled as a “blogger about place” and the ECOTONE was born. But that’s another story.

I guess the point of this ramble is to ask out loud and mostly to myself if I have more stories worth telling, or if old stories can be told better after thirteen-plus years of keystrokes. On this, I burn hot and I burn cold.

As you might have endured  on this page a number of times over the past few years, I’ve ruminated and anguished about the increasing lack of reach and loss of satisfaction with this blog that was once pretty much front and center of my intellectual and emotional life–an outlet into which I poured myself every day before sunrise–without hope and without despair, as some writer described our obligations to write.

And so I’ve come close more often lately to the brink of declaring that I’m done with all of it–the blogging, speaking, researching, thinking about another book. That was then. Everything ends. So be it.

But the Good Devil on the other shoulder keeps pulling my smoldering resignation out of the fire.

“Wait a minute there, young fella. What if all your earlier grampa tales and eco-rants and hearts-and-minds writing–including both of your books–were just the warm-up to what you might create now that you’re not a novice any longer? Wouldn’t that opportunity–and obligation–make cashing in your chips a big mistake?”

So both little devils have had my ear, off and on this month.

And being the good devil’s advocate, I tell myself:  “Fred, your books are not stale. The topics have not gone out of date. Don’t buy into the “chronological snobbery” that says anything with a publication date more than a year old is uninteresting and unimportant.”

And I go on to tell me that “your writing has been a way of confirming your conviction that we begin to move forward hopefully as a species and a civilization by reclaiming our damaged relationships to the natural world–that thing you refer to as a “personal ecology.” You have a new synthesis from the 2006 and 2009 books that you can share all over again to the same Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, and friends of various libraries. You might not sell so many books as before, but then again, you might be surprised.”

So the Good Devil has got me thinking. I go back and forth when I hold this up to the light. Great idea! What a crock of crap. I need to get back on the horse and charge the hill. I am too old and worn and irrelevant to go jousting any more windmills at this age!

Another possible piece of the rebirth of story-telling zeal is that there are so many more media and methods to show-not-tell than there were in 2002 when I started writing.  I’ll toss this little bit your way, those who have persevered to the end of this ramble: A quick-drafted group of images by way of with a few full-screen shots of sky and cloud I called “Atmospheres.” A real story, of course, would also have narrative text.

This is just one of a dozen story formats worthy of a look with the gestating intention of finding other audiences who might care, once again, to let me share from this time and place in the world.


Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

Articles: 3013


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Thanks for this, Chris. I had forgotten that you participated in that group so long ago (as blogging goes.) If you search for Ecotone today, you’ll find that the name goes on (curious about any possible connections) with an extant writers group where the topic is “place.”

  2. Fred, for what it’s worth, I say carry on as long as your brain allows the thoughts to flow and the fingers to keyboard. Not sure who created this saying, but it’s sometimes a help to keep us going: “if I weaken now, at the last, then it’s all without meaning, wasted.” Carry on friend.

  3. Fred – only you can determine the best course for you, but this reader would miss you and your stories – old and new.

  4. Fred, you inspired our move to Floyd in 2005 to experience what we “could hold in our hands”! I think our current generations, more than ever, need to hear that message – put their cell phones down and listen! And you are the pastoral preacher of nature’s joys. So, keep on tappin’ those keys!

  5. Fred, I like to think that perhaps you’re just ahead of your time. Of course, I might be imagining it, but I sense a growing awareness of all that is missing in our hurry-up, do it all, acquire it all life. I see this in the number of young people who have come to my tiny town, that has lost so much, and who are finding modest livelihoods that are close to the community and often close to the ground itself. They seem happy and satisfied, and somehow less “hungry” and somehow less “weary”, than the sense I get from some of our children and their peers who live in more urban and competitive settings. I see more writing that seems to be about connectedness, both to others and to place. I do admit a tendency to seek this out! But it is out there! There is also good writing mixed in with the vast dregs of the internet. I find the Ecotone Journal out of Wilmington interesting. There must be some connection with the previous incarnation. I also happened to get the latest digital issue of The Bitter Southerner ( in my inbox today. Sometimes good regional writing can be found here though it can skew a little too deep south for my N.C. tastes. It basically aims to dispell the easy stereotypes bandied around about the south and southerners. Sometimes it tends to lean too nostalgic or overly romantic and this is a shortcoming of a lot of “back to basics” writing I think, along with “preachiness”. This is where images can make such a difference. They communicate on a more spiritual or reflective level and can engage people often when words can not.
    Some of your angst possibly comes from your stage of life. I know I feel the often conflicting needs to both use every minute and to conserve my waning energies for what is important. Trying to identify what is really important is the challenge. For you, writing may have become both necessary and important. I just read an interview with the prolific novelist Doris Lessing before her death in 2013. When asked why or how she wrote so much she replied she had no choice. She was compelled to do so.
    Best wishes for whatever direction you take!

  6. I enjoy reading what you write but at the same time understand that when your heart isn’t in something the end product just isn’t the same. Would you consider writing less but not giving it up altogether? When you’re passionate about something, then share it, and when you’re not, we’ll just wait till you are again. I check this blog every day for new material whether I find it or not. You are not too old or worn or irrelevant. Our world is changing rapidly and writings like yours are necessary to remind us of where we came from and help us think about where we are going. Even if all you did was repeat old material, those considerations would still be good food for thought. Hopefully taking the pressure off by not feeling like you have to write will give you more satisfaction when you do write.

  7. I think Peggy nailed it…the ambivalence created by the tension between “the often conflicting needs to both use every minute and to conserve my waning energies for what is important.” I did not pay attention ten years ago to the cost in energy or time of writing for its own sake to no one in particular. Now it seems like I require a clear purpose and an audience willing to take the time to go with me beyond 140 characters.

    Summer is always the doldrums for writing at this desk. There are things afoot in the county and the landscape that will compel me to get back into the rhythm and pace, I think, with the shorter days. But I am not sure about that as I once would have been.

    Another significant change in my relationship to the blog is that I do not have the head space or solitude I did when it was just me here days on end. The wife’s retirement brings me under new management who thinks differently about the value of waiting for the Muse.

    Thanks, all, for your comments. I’ll know you’re out there reading over my shoulder, and that helps not a little.

  8. Fred, I have been visiting since 2004,and have enjoyed both your photos and your writing so much that I rarely miss a post. I liked your “atmospheres” and I think linking a Facebook post to one such each week might find a growing audience. I also think local audiences for your presentations are the way for you to go until you are too old to handle the drive. Re-marketing your two book now that you will have a new group to see them is also a very good idea. Maybe you could get some young blood to be your agent and do the leg work. Both of your books are excellent and timeless.