Writer’s Notes: 26 Jan 09

Winter Slush Advisory

The air mass coming our way promises only wetness and disruption–not a winter scene tomorrow and Wednesday that you’ll ever see on a Currier and Ives Cookie Tin cover. No, Somehow soggy draft horses pulling a sleigh full of forlorn rain-slickered sufferers through the icy mud just isn’t going to elicit the excitement that winter storms once did. These days for us, they mostly mean ice.

Around the Writer’s Block

I’m having trouble chosing a topic for February pieces for Floyd Press and Star Sentinel. From column to column over time, I try to balance local with global, serious with frivolous, and science with folk opinion. But at this point in time, I feel the need to produce happy talk. Lord knows, we need our burdens lifted for a three-minute read about something other than the problems we face. And yet, if we ignore the cultural entropy before us, it is not going to go away. How can I foster hope even while telling the straight story as I see it?

How I See It

I’ve read James Howard Kunstler’s columns in Orion now for literally decades. He is an articulate curmudgeon not afraid to stare the beast in the eye–the very beast I first came upon in 1970. We should have dismounted then; it carried us too fast too far in the wrong direction. We found the saddle too comfortable. Now we’ve got a long walk ahead of us. He tells the story in “the Long Emergency“. He talks about the book’s subject matter in this 69 minute video recording. I’d be willing to bet not a one of you will watch it all the way through. You really really should.

Roanoke Regional Writers Conference: Debriefing

I attended Keith Ferrell’s session on technology and writing (and several other sessions.) His bottom line: the greatest technology for the craft is the alphabet and language; they are being abandoned to video and a general erosion of reading and language-dependent reasoning and communication skills. Librarians in the audience had positive things to say about information technology; but for too many of us, the web and related technologies represent “the opiate of the masses.”

Gender Benders

Back to the writer’s block: I did a good bit of research last week towards a column on the current state of endocrine disruptors in the environment. Way too geeky, too depressing. Don’t look, Ethel. So what I need is another venue for that kind of longer piece. Hmmm. If you care to take a peek, here’s a recent update from the popular press about the issue for humans and wildlife. The bottom line: the male gender is at risk. This seems to me somewhat significant, a matter about which we should know so as to demand an end to feminizing substances in plastics, in animal feed additives and in our waterways and foods. Nah.


I apologize for the kibbles and bits writing of late. I find I have lost touch with the vastly changed readership and with blogging in general. My camera has had way too long a rest. And I’ll confess the political and cultural global milieu of late makes blog chatter seem somehow a grand frittering away of time that should be spent doing something more important. And yet, this is writing, is using that technology we stand at risk of losing. The blog represents my morning pages. Sometimes it seems worth sharing. And when it doesn’t, I hit PUBLISH anyway. I appreciate your indulgence, dear reader who stumbled down this dirt road from a google search.

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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.

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  1. I am still here Fred!

    I did also watch the entire Kunstler video – I like the way he is moving off the argument per se to address the cultural barriers to seeing what is before us

    All the best to you for 2009

  2. Hi Fred, I figured I ought to break silence just to say I’m still sharing this ‘dirt road’ with you; or more precisely, watching where your road leads whilst wondering what happened to mine, which has lost its way rather. Strikes me though that you’re staying true to the writer’s mantra of “write every day, write what you know, write from the heart.” I think it was you who first told me about that one, and it still stays with me, even though I don’t manage to follow it.

  3. Things are a bit depressing at the moment. About the main way I find to handle things is to concentrate on my local world and the people I know in it. I look forward to creating my new veggie gardens and dumping lots of money on fruit trees and maybe some flower beds (my husband doesn’t care much because he said it will mean less to mow, so long as I maintain it all). I enjoy the little surprises that come my way as I drive around, or look outside my windows. Natural annoyances, like the blue jays sweeping out great gobs of bird seed in the search for peanuts, are more interesting to focus on than world economic problems. I don’t ignore those but I do minimize them like I would a program on my computer. So I’d say, concentrate on what you enjoy. If that happens to have an edge, that’s ok. We can take it.

    You might pop over to Pharyngula. PZ Meyers (Myers?) has an interesting science-based blog that might suit your scientific tastes. Warning: he’s an atheist’s atheist and much of his blog is given over to clashes between religion and science.

  4. ELIZ: “I don’t ignore those but I do minimize them like I would a program on my computer.” Love it. I’ll keep that simile in mind and imagine myself shrinking all sorts of open windows to small patches of my life’s desktop.

  5. Fred, I’m still reading your posts. I don’t always understand them, but I enjoy them nevertheless. These are depressing times, for sure. Even my most upbeat friends are very quiet these days. I would guess we need to pray and look out for each other, do what we can and be patient. Write as your heart leads….I’ll be looking forward to your next post.

  6. fred,
    i’m another lurker, but i read your posts daily — albeit sometimes from my newsreader instead of coming here directly. you have nothing for which t o apologize … write as you will. i’ll keep reading.

  7. Chris, when I started blogging in 2002 there were 50k blogs and that, believe it or not, gave a certain intimacy to the community. And I was one of very few “elderbloggers” and “bloggers of place” and prominent in those communities. I got to know lots of people, not a few of whom traveled to Floyd to meet us. To say those conditions have changed goes without saying.

    Nancy, thank you for peeking out from behind your cover to say hello. I always have to assume there are some intentional-reading “real people” behind the hit count, and that keeps me going–though I’d do the writing and “publishing” just for myself.

  8. I’m still out here although admittedly, I took a long break.

    I too worry about “a grand frittering away of time that should be spent doing something more important.”

    I’m talking about my blogging, not yours. The consistent quality here is seriously impressive.

  9. Thanks, Trey, you had quite a following in the “good old days” of the ancient history of blogging–do you still write? I remember your story about befriending the cleaning lady (man?)–one of just a few blog posts I read to my wife. She still remembers.

  10. Due to a new internet provider (we finally bit the bullet and sprang for HughesNet), you may not recognize my near-daily visits to Fragments but I still a fan after more than two years. In fact, I often forward your words to other like-minded (and sometimes unlike-minded) folks.

  11. Where was the link for the Kunstler video? I must have missed that… I’ve read his book and thought it was remarkable. Would love to see the video. I’m new to your readership but enjoy your writing immensely.