The Catastrophe of Success

Uncle Henry’s was a fine place to celebrate a first year of writing.

Tucked between Yazoo Pass and the Mississippi River, just north of Clarksdale and a little south of the Helena bridge, it sat alongside Moon Lake, an oxbow good for fishing, if not for navigation and commerce.

Across the road from the lake, Uncle Henry’s provided its guests with a spacious gallery, a west-facing view perfect for sunset-watching, no scheduled activities, and plenty of solitude — perhaps its greatest virtue. Not every lodging encourages just sitting and thinking, those necessary components of the creative process. Uncle Henry’s did.

While robins stitched their song through branches of dogwood and azalea and morning flared out across the sky, I was more than happy to sit and think, particularly about the nature of persistence, and how quickly a year can flee down corridors of time.

Uncle Henry wasn’t my uncle, of course, but the fellow whose name had become attached to the now-shuttered Mississippi landmark.

Established as an Elks’ Lodge in 1926, the place was sold in 1933 to William Wilkerson. Known in those days as the Moon Lake Club, it became a Prohibition landmark famous for good food, high living and assorted illegalities. It lost, then re-gained respectability when the locals cut its connections to the Chicago mob. Finally, in 1946, it was purchased by Henry Trevino, the foster father of Sarah Wright.

Sarah and her son George (now deceased) transformed Uncle Henry’s into an Inn and Restaurant. Tourist guides referred to it as a Bed and Breakfast, but none of the common terms quite captured its dusty reality.

A little shabby, quite a bit quirky, the place was imbued with fading elegance and filled with piles of indiscriminate memories. It was easy to imagine Uncle Henry’s as a “she” — the prototypical Southern Lady, temporarily down on her luck, but genteel and dignified nonetheless.

There’s no question Uncle Henry’s was a treasured part of local lore and legend, not to mention local life. At dinner, more than a few locals gathered in the dining room, old-timers who’d been coming for so many years the waitress knew every answer before asking her polite question: “Will you be having the usual this evening?”

Some days after my stay, I mentioned Moon Lake to a pair of fishermen eating breakfast in the Cleveland, Mississippi Huddle House. They grinned, and one asked, “Did you stop by Uncle Henry’s?”  When I admitted I’d not only stopped but had lingered for a few days, the other fellow said, “Well, it’s not the Holiday Inn, that’s for sure. But that’s the good news – it’s not the Holiday Inn.”

It certainly wasn’t the Holiday Inn. George hinted at that himself when I made my sight-unseen reservation. A late, impulsive decision to attend Clarksdale’s Juke Joint Festival had left me scrambling for a room. Motels were booked, and had been for weeks.

When I called the humorously-named but perfectly respectable Shack Up Inn, they had a waiting list in addition to their reservations. But, with the solicitous kindness I was coming to associate with Mississippians, the proprietor said, “You better call up to Uncle Henry’s. I believe I heard they had a cancellation, and they might be able to put you up. Of course, they might not, but you call George. He’ll tell you how things are.”

As it turned out, Uncle Henry could put me up and George did tell me how things were. “Now, you know this isn’t the Hilton,” he said on the phone. “We’re old and comfortable, but you’re not going to have that wi-fi business or a jacuzzi in your room.” Once I arrived, he added another caveat or two. “There aren’t any keys to the rooms,” he said, “and you can’t take a shower except before five and after ten at night, because sometimes water leaks from your shower down into the dining room.”

That was fine by me. After all, Uncle Henry’s had a couple of things going for it no Hilton or Holiday Inn could dream of matching — William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, a pair of local boys who’d done really, really well for themselves.

I hadn’t intended to land in the lap of Faulkner and Williams when I decided to hit the road for the blues festival, but that’s exactly what happened. 

Faulkner frequented the Moon Lake Club as an adult, but Tennessee Williams’ connections were forged in childhood. His early impressions and memories, combined with the extraordinarily colorful history of the place, helped Williams transform the Club into Moon Lake Casino in dramas such as Summer and Smoke, Eccentricities of a Nightingale, The Glass Menagerie, Orpheus Descending, and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Sitting in the gallery one afternoon, reading Williams’ work and pondering what it must have required of him to transform his sleepy, Mississippi world into works of dramatic art, I amused myself with the thought that he might have appreciated at least the tone of my own first blog entry.

I have things to say — words to write, metaphors to build, conclusions to draw, paragraphs to stack and reorder to suit myself and perhaps others…
If I’m to share my words and my vision, it [will require] energy and perseverance.

The confidence and declarative force of the words still seems entirely inexplicable to me. But I had persevered during that first year, at least in the sense that I had written, and on that late Mississippi afternoon, I found Williams himself eloquently affirming the importance of perseverance as a first step toward success.

Before my trip, I’d never read Tennessee Williams’ essay, The Catastrophe of Success. I discovered it as an addendum to a copy of The Glass Menagerie I’d tucked into my bag as travel reading. Originally published in a 1947 edition of The New York Times, the essay was written as Williams celebrated an anniversary of his own. Three years had passed since the Chicago opening of The Glass Menagerie, and Williams finally was receiving recognition as a playwright.

In the languor of those Mississippi afternoons, I found the essay particularly resonant – not only because I was in Tennessee Williams’ country, but because his words rang out with the clarity and force of a plantation bell.

The essay is filled with truth, memorable and recognizable truths that demand retelling. All of us hope to succeed, but Williams did succeed, marvelously well. Reflecting on the circumstances of his own life and career, the authority implicit in Williams’ words is undeniable.

The sort of life that I had previous to this popular success was one that required endurance, a life of clawing and scratching along a sheer surface and holding on tight with raw fingers to every inch of rock higher than the one caught hold of before. But it was a good life because it was the sort of life for which the human organism is created.
I was not aware of how much vital energy had gone into this struggle until the struggle was removed. I was out on a level plateau with my arms still thrashing and my lungs still grabbing at air that no longer resisted. This was security at last…
You cannot arbitrarily say to yourself, I will continue my life as it was before this thing, Success, happened to me. But once you fully apprehend the vacuity of a life without struggle you are equipped with the basic means of salvation.
Once you know this is true, that the heart of man, his body and his brain, are forged in a white-hot furnace for the purpose of conflict (the struggle of creation) and that with the conflict removed, the man is a sword cutting daisies, [once you understand] that not privation but luxury is the wolf at the door and that the fangs of this wolf are all the little vanities and conceits and laxities that Success is heir to – with this knowledge you are at least in a position of knowing where danger lies…
Then what is good? An obsessive interest in human affairs, plus a certain amount of compassion and moral conviction that first made the experience of living something that must be translated into pigment or music or bodily movement or poetry or prose or anything that’s dynamic and expressive – that’s what’s good for you if you’re at all serious in your aims.
William Saroyan wrote a great play on this theme, that purity of heart is the one success worth having. “In the time of your life – live!” says Saroyan. That time is short, and it doesn’t return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, and the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition.

Re-reading the essay today, I find myself once again drawn through the veil of dogwood and azalea toward Moon Lake. I imagine Uncle Henry, and mourn the closing of his Inn.  I remember Yazoo Pass, sluggish and narrow, winding its way toward Vicksburg, and consider my great-grandfather’s Union Regiment — the 34th Iowa — trembling there at the edge of their own great, unwelcome adventure.

Across the Helena Bridge, juke joints glisten in the rain, and from the shores of the river a plaintive, tremulous cry falls and rises like a riff of breeze across the Delta.

Where I sit, rocking in the late afternoon warmth, I hear the clatter of a small boy’s feet running headlong across the gallery toward an unimaginable future, surefooted as any child still certain of his world. “Time is short,” he shouts back across the decades, his words twining like unstoppable vines through sweetgum and magnolia.

Hearing his voice, I stop my rocking. Planting my feet on boards that creak and complain like the bones of time itself I rise, my thoughts turning south and west while the clock ticks its loss, and the heart counts its gain, and the perseverance begins again.

The Moon Lake Improvement Club contacted me recently, asking permission to link to “The View from Uncle Henry’s” on their website. They also asked if I would be willing to edit it to note George’s passing, and make clear that the Club no longer is in operation. Of course I agreed. I enjoyed re-writing the piece, and decided to post it here with a separate title more directly related to Williams’ essay.
Comments are welcome. To leave a comment, please click below.

109 thoughts on “The Catastrophe of Success

  1. Uncle Henry’s sounds exactly like the ideal place to hole up and think! Maybe a turn-off for some, but just about right to me.

    I also love the Saroyan quote: “In the time of your life—live!” So many people forget how to do that. They get wrapped up in unimportant “busy-work”. When my children were babies, and we had a new home, I was very concerned with cleaning it. One afternoon an older neighbor stopped by and gave me the best advice I had ever had: “In 10 year’s time no one will remember that you had a clean house, but they will know if you are creating good citizens. Play with your babies and learn to live a little.”

    1. Kayti,

      You would have loved Uncle Henry’s. The gallery was filled with everything from playbills to issues of “The United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine” to Baptist hymnals to cribbage boards to piles of old, dust-covered books by people I’d never heard of. Every board in the place creaked and the draperies had just the right degree of tatter.

      As for George — he was both chef and chief conversationalist, and he certainly wasn’t afraid to use butter in his recipes or to butter up the guests.

      Your tale of housework and neighborly wisdom rings so true. My mother and her friends had their schedules: laundry on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, and so on. They were so rigid. Decades later, Mom said she thought it was a combination of wanting to take care of nice things she’d never had, and just wanting the security of routine.

      In any event, after her death, I was going through things and found an old envelope she’d been using as a bookmark. On the back, she’d written, “Being disorganized is not a moral problem.” Where that came from, I haven’t a clue. But I think it’s another way of saying, “In the time of your life — live!”


    1. phil,

      Those are indeed azaleas and dogwoods, but I took the photos when I was there for the Juke Joint Festival – it was April. I’d love to tell you that was my side of the bay, but I guess I couldn’t pull that off.

      One of these days, we’ll have flowers and warm breezes again and everyone will be happy – but it had better hurry. We’re not that far away from the trail rides and cookoff.

      Glad you enjoyed the post!


      1. I thought those were from last April, also, but hoping for some sign – at times it’s been colder here than up north. Sun today for a few minutes this afternoon perhaps. Yard work after trail ride – it’s always is bitter cold/rain for at least part of trail ride!
        Mardi Gras ahead (we seem to have one celebration right after another – a good thing about being so diverse.)

        1. It’s going to have to work at it. Our 62 and sunny has been transformed to 58 and partly cloudy, but all we’ve got now is 55 and cloudy. Everything we’ve gained is being lost to that danged east wind. I hate an east wind in winter!

          1. Grim coming in later today..RC complaining about lack of sun pools…I keep telling her Miss Dixie isn’t complaining – and she snarls “to each their own”
            Couldn’t help it – got out a bit yesterday to “haul the ugly garden” as one of my Vietnamese neighbors used to call the frost killed stuff. No leaves, but much of woody parts still show green…if we don’t get any more arctic stuff, most will be OK…I was hoping to head to beach for a walk if the sun came out as advertised, but no. Stay warm

  2. While robins stitched their song through branches of dogwood – love this line and this post. So much peacefulness woven throughout it; a bygone era of maybe not a gentler time, but a time to savor what goodness there was in your days.

    1. Homestead Ramblings,

      It won’t be long until your robins are doing a little song-stitching of their own. I do miss them – they’re not resident here – but sometimes we have them for a few days during their migration. Perhaps this will be our spring.

      As for gentler, more peaceful times – I’m not certain life was less complicated in the past. It may just be that we’ve allowed ourselves to confuse what’s necessary for a happy life with what society tells us we have to do. I have a few friends who never unplug from social media – they’re constantly checking their FB status or texting or whatever it is that people do. The thought of just sitting in the sunshine, savoring a good conversation or their own thoughts for an hour, would drive them to distraction.

      I try not to nag!


  3. Hi Linda:

    First things first. Your choice of images is superb. Your choice of Tennessee Williams’ words is superb as well. Since I was young, I’ve always remembered two words: hard work and perseverance. Both have helped me during my journey.

    Once again Linda, you have made my day. Perseverance…what a good word to have under your pillow when you go to bed at night.



    1. Omar,

      Finding nice photos on this trip was easy. It was a beautiful spring in Mississippi, with flowers everywhere. It was a little rainy while I was at the festival, but people’s spirits certainly weren’t dampened.

      I learned a good bit about Tennessee Williams on the trip. I had known him only through his plays, so it was a surprise to find he’d written short stories and essays. It’s always interesting to me to see how real writers approach their work, and his conviction that work is an expression of human creativity is appealing.

      I like the thought of tucking a word under the pillow at night. I used to try and tuck a flashlight and book under my pillow when I was a kid, but far too often my mom would slide her hand underneath the pillow and find them. Sigh.

      A word would work much better!


  4. I will have to look up that Tennessee Williams essay. Full catastrophe living for sure. I yearn for a retreat-like vacation like the one you had at Uncle Henry’s. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Rosemary,

      If you haven’t yet gone looking, you can find the full text here.
      It’s slightly different in places from my copy, but the differences don’t affect the meaning. The source I linked said he pulled the full text from a Japanese source – that could explain it – English to Japanese to English again could disturb word order.

      When I travel, I always like to settle in at one place for at least a few days. Even three can make a huge difference. Being able to combine the Juke Joint Festival with just poking around the countryside, doing a little exploration of Civil War sites, and still having time to relax and read was great. By the time you add in the reading and research before leaving home, and the note-taking and photo sorting once home again, a 7-10 day trip can take two months (or more!)


  5. It’s about throwing your hat into the ring time and time again, isn’t it? Someone said, “You’re as good as the last thing you did.” I have kept that in mind for many years mindful of pressing on. “Resting on my laurels” is not necessarily something I have bought into, although I have enough friends and family who urge me to do so. I have adjusted my schedule, my pace, because I just can’t do what I used to… remaining engaged is what I plan to do.

    Omar’s reference to putting perseverance under the pillow at night made me laugh. It reminded me of my dad’s quirky advice of sleeping with a book under my pillow in preparation for a test the next day.

    You always introduce me to a new word, phrase, carefully crafted sentence, perspective or title. Certainly there is much to think about here. You identified a feeling I’ve had regarding our conversations. You put your finger right on it, the feeling that I’m riding in the wake of your perseverance. Thank you. I do not take “The Task at Hand” for granted.

    1. Georgette,

      I’ve often heard that we’re “only as good as the last thing we did”, but the phrase makes me nervous. It seems a dangerous approach to any sort of skills development, whether teaching or writing (or snowboarding, or baking, or…)

      You’ve had bad days in the classroom, and I’ve posted things I wasn’t happy with at all. If I judged myself only by that “last thing”, there are times I might have thrown it all over and begun devoting myself to Pinterest and Facebook.

      That’s why, in my first months of posting here, my motto became, “Write, and let go.” I saw in myself a tendency toward self-congratulation if a post was decent, and self-flagellation if it wasn’t. Neither response is particularly helpful in the grand scheme of things.

      So now, once a post is up, I allow myself to read it a time or two, and respond to comments, but otherwise? I’m on to the next thing. I want always to be better than my previous best, but I’ve always been suspicious of a learning curve that’s always “onward and upward”. Peaks and valleys seem more realistic.

      I love that your dad, of all people, would offer that advice about pillowing a book! Believe me, I tried it with my geometry and algebra books, but it didn’t seem to help much.

      As for perseverance? There’s no question that the fifteen or so years of varnishing I did before I began to write was the best training I could have received. Some people see only the necessary repetition in the work, and imagine boredom. In truth, it’s a day-to-day struggle toward an impossible perfection, filled with surprises and satisfactions. But you have to experience it to see it that way.


  6. Weren’t you lucky to find yourself at Uncle Henry’s? It reminds me of the time when a friend and I wanted to go to the Outer Banks. She was short on funds so we needed economical. I found a small cottage on online. When I made the reservations, Scott made no bones about it. “We’re not fancy here, but we’re clean, cheap, comfortable and on the beach.” I was sold. We had the best time, and his description was dead on. The place hadn’t been redecorated since the fifties, but it was perfect. It even had a little porch.

    Your time at Uncle Henry’s sounds peaceful. I like peaceful.

    1. Bella Rum,

      The place you describe you and your friend going to sounds much like the place you and H have traveled to so often. In fact, reading your description, I saw some of those photos in my mind.

      I’ve been sitting here thinking about my favorite lodgings over the past years. Both Uncle Henry’s and the old City Hotel in Breaux Bridge have some things in common, and I suppose their history tops the list. Well, and the fact that you never knew what you might find, poking around. I nearly brought the mouse skeleton home with me…

      Peaceful’s good. I don’t think it requires solitude, but I do think simplicity helps it along. Given a choice between an umbrella-drinks-at-the-pool resort and Scott’s cottage, I’ll take the cottage every time.


      1. I can’t believe you remember that. Yes, it’s the same place. I found it when my friend and I went to the Outer Banks years ago. Then H and I started going there. He likes it as much as I do, but it definitely is rustic.

  7. A rainy afternoon– I am sitting in my favorite “writing chair,” looking up at the forested mountain behind our house. Joan Baez and Pete Seeger are providing music. Peggy is out in the kitchen preparing a cocoa based chili, perfect for a stormy afternoon.

    Your post inspired me to think about favorite writing spaces. Peggy’s sister and my long time friend, Jane Hagedorn, gave me a book on writer’s homes when we visited her last week. You’d like it, Linda. It includes Lawrence Durrell, as well as Faulkner, Hemingway, Twain, Hesse, Woolf, and a number of others. I’ve been to Twain’s in Connecticut and Hemingway’s in Key West.

    Being a wanderer, I have many favorite writing spaces. I could easily join Natalie Goldberg in Taos. I like writing in cafes. And I like New Mexico. Another favorite is in my van overlooking the stormy Pacific… or pretty much anywhere in the van. I like writing with books around. Right now I am in our library. But this only one writing area on our property. Each room has views out over the woods. And then there is the sunroom. :)

    I am sure I would have loved Uncle Henry’s.


    1. Curt,

      You stopped me dead in my tracks with “cocoa chili”. Then I thought about the time you’ve spent in Mexico, and remembered mole poblano. Then I went looking, and found recipe after recipe. I think a little kitchen experimentation will be taking place.

      The book sounds marvelous. I’ve seen photos online that were part of a series on contemporary authors’ spaces – perhaps from Slate. It’s fascinating to catch a glimpse – so different from one another, and so personal.

      I think I’d have a hard time writing in Taos. I never try and write in public places, like cafés. There’s too much external hubbub and stimulation, too many interesting things going on. My hearing is still quite acute, and I can find myself eavesdropping on people two tables away. It’s interesting, but not immediately productive.

      I’ve always chuckled over and appreciated Annie Dillard’s view that “appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.” On the other hand, I did think of you when she says “You can read in the space of a coffin…” I need to go back and see if you took a book with you into that “snow grave”.

      Happy rain, and happy reading and writing!


      1. I had to smile, Linda, with your comment about listening in on conversations. Peggy is like that. She gets a glazed look on her face and I know someone is having an interesting conversation two tables away. Unless conversations are just too interesting to ignore, they form background noise for me.

        It’s likely I had a book with me in the “snow grave.” I am never without one and often read in a tent at night when I am backpacking. Modern headlamps encourage the behavior. Now I could have my Kindle with its night light!


  8. Thank you, Linda. You brought the place to life with your telling.

    Last year, our son was visiting his intended in Batesville where she was in the Teach For America program. One of the days, they attended the Juke Joint Festival. He loved it. I have it marked on the calendar. He says I should go if at all possible. I love blues and taught myself to play guitar just so I could play along with my favorite tunes.

    Now I have one more reason why I should go.

    1. We won’t get there this year. Other obligations will interfere. But perhaps we can go next time.

      Yes, this gives me a sense of place better than I understood before. Son’s fiancee spent two years in Batesville, as well as several months in north central India. Both were incredibly foreign to this white girl from Iowa, cultures apart from her prior life. But she came to love them both. The pictures you paint here help illuminate why.

      Coincidentally, my sister sent me a link to your blog yesterday. She included a specific link to this post and suggested I take a look at your work. :)

      1. Melanie,

        It’s hard to fit everything in, isn’t it? The next time I head over that way, I want to get up into the Mississippi hill country – the blues there is different that what grew up in the Delta, and besides – Oxford and Holly Springs have a few attractions of their own.

        Batesville would be a perfect place to live for a couple of years – easy access to so many interesting places related to the blues and its history.

        I’d completely forgotten about that post your sister sent along. It’s another one that could be re-written and reposted. Words don’t go out of style, after all. What’s funny is that there’s a new force working against “big words” these days that wasn’t much of a factor when I wrote it – texting!

        Soon, it will be spring, and festivals will start popping up like tulips. None too soon, I think. We haven’t face what you do, but it’s been an especially cold winter and I’ve had about enough gloom.


    2. Jim,

      It’s a wonderful festival. For one thing, the musicians aren’t restricted to stages – you’ll find them in alleyways, pavilions, in front of stores. Along with the well-known, there are plenty of newcomers and unknowns just enjoying the chance to play for real people.

      One of the great things about Clarksdale and the surrounding area is that you can find the same musicians there throughout the year. Places like Red’s and Ground Zero Blues Club are famous. You can visit the museum, or head out to the very place (!?!) where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil.

      One of the best books about the area is called “Blues Traveling”. I recently bought a copy, and it’s great. You could get it now and enjoy it until you actually travel there.


    1. Thanks, Julie. Perseverance applies to so many realms of life – as you, Ants and Ming know. Still, in the middle of it all, look how many successes you’ve had. Here’s hoping for even more in the future.


  9. This isn’t fun; just enough came through in the email post to tease me with locations from my old stomping grounds!
    If this doesn’t load late tonight or early in the morning, I’ll be back sunday night or monday night.

    I look forward to the story! z

    1. Zee,

      I’ve been thinking about this. Have you ever thought of writing a story called “The Little Colander That Could”? Honest to goodness, your trials and tribulations with all this could be made to seem wildly funny – as opposed to just frustrating and irritating, as they surely are.

      Dare I say it? Perseverance, girl!


  10. Uncle Henry’s is my kind of place. Not exactly Holiday Inn or the Hilton, but just the kind of place where one could just slow down, sit and ruminate on life. Places like these are hard to come by in our noisy, distracted, and technology-drenched society.

    Another beautifully written essay, Linda. Love the way you weave the history of the place into the narrative, and juxtapose it with Tennessee Williams’ essay, “The Catastrophe of Success.” An ideal place indeed to reflect on what true success is all about…

    — Matt

    1. Matt,

      That’s a pretty good description of much of the world: “noisy, distracted, and technology-drenched”. Of course, similar things were said in my grandparents’ day when Model A’s started putt-putting around. Then, the televisions showed up, and some would say it’s been downhill from there. I’m not sure I agree about that, but things certainly have changed in the last half-century.

      Still, what better motivation to consider the environment we create for ourselves, especially in our homes? If we can’t slow down and sit down at home, there’s not much likelihood we’ll be able to in other places, either. Sometimes a visit to a place like Uncle Henry’s reminds us of a different way of living, but even learning stillness requires a certain perseverance – as you so well know.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece. I’m glad I was offered a chance to revisit it and make it better.


  11. Wow and wow. Again some of your best writing. You are a fine weaver of words, clothed in silk, that flow with no effort. So agreeable, interesting and, pleasing to read. Your photos are marvelous. What a shame Uncle Henry’s place is no longer open. ~yvonne

    1. Yvonne,

      My hope is that Uncle Henry’s will reopen under new ownership. It wouldn’t be the same, of course. But it’s in a great location and I’d go back in a minute. My great-great-grandfather arrived in Helena to begin his Civil War service as part of the Yazoo Pass expedition before moving on to Vicksburg, so it would be the perfect place to stay while tracing some of his movements.

      I’m glad it read smoothly for you. When I begin trying to weave so many threads together, it can be hard to fit things together. Sometimes I figure out that I’m attempting too much, and will take out a whole section or two – as I did here.

      Thanks so much for reading, and for your kind words. With luck you’ll get a bit of the sunshine we’re finally getting today.


  12. This is some beautiful writing; enough so that I would love to stay at Uncle Henry’s if only it were still open. And who better exemplifies the South and its ways than Tennessee Williams and his writing.

    1. Rubye Jack,

      Even with Uncle Henry’s closed, there are plenty of interesting places to stay in the area, and some fairly-well known activities apart from blues festivals. The annual Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival is in October, and in the winter, when tourists are fewer, there are plenty of opportunities to sit and chat with the locals or roam the juke joints.

      And then there’s this, from a Coahoma/Clarksdale Tourism page:

      “Williams’ grandfather, Reverend Walter Dakin, served as rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church for 16 years. As a small child, Tom Williams often accompanied his grandfather on parish calls and it was during these parish calls that his vivid imagination must have soaked up church gossip and expanded colorful local tales. Many of the settings and characters of Williams’ works were based on real places and people.”

      I don’t know why that tickles me so, but it does.

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the entry.


    1. Cindy,

      A number of people noted that line about the robins. It’s a nice line, but I think right now its doubly powerful because it’s tapping into a terrible longing for a sign of spring – any sign!

      I really do appreciate your kind words, particularly “evocative”. That’s one I like to hear. Thanks for stopping by.


  13. Linda, I am struck by this in many ways. First, I’ve never read the essay and it has valuable words to remember and to share, so thank you so much for that.

    I also resonate to finding a spot that is not the Holiday Inn Express. We always try to find these spots for their own personality and individuality.

    How I wish this spot still existed. I suspect that unless Kevin is transferred there will be other trips to MS and maybe the next time, we’ll dig deeper into the state.

    And how I love how you weave history with your story to tell a most wonderful tale. Bravo.

    1. Jeanie,

      Well. Weep not, my dear. Uncle Henry’s may be gone, and the ghosts of Faulkner and Williams may have been reduced to hovering around under the live oaks, but there’s always Jackson, Mississippi and the Sweet Potato Queens. Do you know them? Even if you do, they’re worth a mention.

      Jill Conner Browne was the original Sweet Potato Queen. I first heard about her when I picked up “The Sweet Potato Queen’s Big-Ass Cookbook and Financial Planner” at Half-Price Books, years ago. It was hilarious, and I read from it quite often, just for the humor.

      Then, I met a woman from Jackson, who actually knew Browne. She said yes, the Queens were real, she’d marched in their parade, and she belonged to the chapter in Houston. There’s a chapter in Lansing, too. This Sweet Potato Queen thing has grown. They are persistent, I tell you.

      Anyway, every year they have a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Jackson, raise money for a children’s hospital and generally have a whee of a time. Sweet Potato Queens from around the world arrive and join in. I really can’t describe it, so I’ll post a couple of videos. The first is short, and just an overview. The second is a more in-depth piece done by Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

      Enjoy! And start planning that next trip to Mississippi, where there’s something for everyone!


      1. I am pressed for time, having lingered over your words and images, and I was scrolling to the bottom to leave my comment without reading others’. I had to stop here when I saw the name Jill Conner Browne. The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love is one of my favorite read-agains, too.

        1. I knew there’d be someone else out there who appreciates her. For those of us who still think the goal of feminism is strong, independent, self-sufficient women who have the freedom to contribute to their families and society in whatever way they see fit – give me Jill Conner Browne any day. She might horrify women who’ve given government the same power as the old-fashioned patriarchy, but I don’t think she’d mind a bit.

  14. Your early commitment to perseverance made me think of the familiar adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” Then I realized I had no idea where that came from. My father was a great fan of quotation books, so I looked in a large one (3000 pages!) that I inherited from him, and in the section on trying I found that the saying (with an extra try in it) was credited to a certain W.E. Hickson, in a work called Try and Try Again from around 1850.

    The Wikipedia article on Hickson says that “The proverb can be traced back to the writings of Thomas H. Palmer in his ‘Teacher’s Manual’ and ‘The Children of the New Forest’ by Fredrick Maryat.” I located an online version of Palmer’s book, from 1840:

    The relevant part begins with the last paragraph on p. 222, and the poem with the repeated line is on the facing page.

    Then I looked up the Marryat book (notice that Wikipedia has Marryat’s name misspelled) and saw that it appeared in 1847, so that leaves Palmer as the oldest source. Whether he got it from somewhere else, I don’t know, but that’s as far as I’m going to persevere for now.

    1. Steve,

      Just as an aside, I’ve known for years that one of Flannery O’Connors best friends was Maryat Lee. I’ve always wondered at her name. Your mention of Maryat/Marryat finally sent me looking. It turns out she was born Mary Attaway Lee. That “Maryat” was a contraction.

      The addition of an extra “try” in Palmer’s “Teacher’s Manual” reminded me I’d heard Thoreau actually said “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” in “Walden”, and people who quoted him simplified his saying by cutting it short. In fact, in the section called “Where I Lived and What I Lived For”, he does say, “Simplify, simplify”, but a bit earlier had written:

      “Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand…”

      Who knows? Maybe Thoreau himself looked at the first trio of simplicities and decided he needed to simplify his own statement.

      I really enjoyed that passage and poem from Palmer’s book. I was especially taken with the two vices he mentions: irresolution (a wavering before action) and instability (the too easy abandonment of useful projects).

      I did wonder if the Quote Investigator might have taken on “try, try again”, and in a sense he did, exploring the source of the parody often ascribed to W.C. Fields: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.”

      There’s no entry for the original proverb, though. You should send along what you found, just to see if he could push it back any farther or if you’ve found the source.


  15. This was a TOTALLY enjoyable read – but the part I had to comment on was this, from the comments:

    “…they’re constantly checking their FB status or texting or whatever it is that people do. The thought of just sitting in the sunshine, savoring a good conversation or their own thoughts for an hour, would drive them to distraction.”

    Hubby and I have noticed this trend also, and it always makes me think, do they know what they’re missing??

    1. LubbyGirl,

      I’m so glad you found it enjoyable. I certainly enjoyed the writing. It’s fun to share some of these experiences in this way.

      As for whether the folks with their noses stuck in iGadgets know what they’re missing – who knows? I suspect some of the younger ones don’t, especially if their parents use electronics as babysitters. Adults are another matter. All of these social media are supposed to be connecting us, but I have a feeling some people use them to create distance.

      The good news is that we still have a choice. Just this morning I chose to turn off a gardening show on the radio. Every five minutes the host would say, “We’re up to 9,400 followers on Facebook! “Like” our page and we can get to 10,000 before the show is over!”

      It’s a very strange world, sometimes.


  16. I remember your post about Uncle Henry’s from a while back. It’s the kind of place that would be right up my alley.

    Like me, they were nothing fancy, a little quirky, with lots of history to go with the creaky floorboards and iffy plumbing. You also can’t go wrong with plenty of rocking chairs on the porch and some slightly out of date reading material.

    Uncle Henry’s reminds me a lot of what the beach houses used to be like here on our barrier islands, before development arrived.

    While I know that nothing stays the same, it’s sad to know that Uncle Henry’s and other accomodations of that type are becoming harder and harder to find. They were the kind of places where a visit was an unique experience, never to be forgotten.

    While today’s B&Bs and modern hotels with all the mod cons are nice, and some even have great atmosphere, they’re just not the same.

    1. Gué,

      The best thing about Uncle Henry’s was the chance to talk with the people there – especially George, but also his mother Sarah. When I was there, she was traveling for some reason – it escapes me now. But we had some great phone conversations, both before and after my visit.

      And the dining room at night – well, you just wouldn’t believe it. I felt like I was back in the 1920s. For one thing, anyone who wanted liquor other than beer or wine had to bring their own. The sight of a couple of the old fellows, in their bow ties and suspenders, clutching their bottles… It was wonderful.

      The same kind of development’s taking place in Galveston as along your coast, thanks in part to Hurricane Ike. Driving down the beach, it looks like Pete Seeger’s “little boxes” – except the houses aren’t at all little. Here and there, one of the old beach houses is hanging on, but they won’t for long. If you want a beach rental now, it’s a house or a condo or one of those hotel/highrises. They days of picking up a little cottage for a week for a reasonable price are over.

      I certainly don’t begrudge Galveston a thing. They’ve rebuilt amazingly well, tax revenues are up and their tourist business is booming. They’ve got more to worry about than my nostalgia. Still, I miss the old Crystal Beach and Jamaica Beach. Surely forty years shouldn’t make that much difference!


  17. “‘Being disorganized is not a moral problem.’ Where that came from, I haven’t a clue.”

    One place an image of that note now resides is on the wall in my shop above the vise.
    I’m not too good at superlatives but I sure enjoyed this read!

    1. Ken,

      Did you ever get to see the actual image of that note in my mom’s handwriting? If not, here it is.

      Thanks for stopping by – I’m really glad you enjoyed it. On your way out, you might want to stop over at nikkipolani’s blog. You may not be interested in the formal gardens and such, but if you start by scrolling all the way to the bottom, and then up, you can see the fellow who owned the place, and some of his workshops. It’s just fantastic. He did much of the ironwork for the house – and check out the neat gate that swings both ways.


      1. I had to go out to the cold messy shop and check: the copy of your Mother’s note is the same except it is not in color. I must have copied it, emailed it to myself and printed it because there is a date stamp on the paper: July 30, 2011.

        When I took nikkipolani’s tour I spent a while trying to figure out why the double action gate did not fall off. I guess the top hinge is actually a single pin and the weight of the gate keeps it in the keepers on the bottom hinge. (Now I’m not so sure and will have to go back to check but I’ve already lost one post doing that.)
        I’m afraid that if I organized my shop to anything like the level of George Steedman’s I would never get anything done – I would not want to mess it up again.

        1. That’s amazing. I must have posted it over at WU. She died on July 8 of that year, so that’s exactly when I was in the process of sorting through things to close out her apartment. I do remember being so tickled when I found it. She would be pleased and amazed to know her words have made it all the way to Canada.

          I was interested in the gate, and really liked the plant stakes. I don’t think I could ever get anything to that level of organization, but I surely can admire it when I see it.

  18. I can’t say I’ve been to this part of Mississippi, Linda, but oh, what a delightful place it sounds! To be steeped for a time in all that history, to realize you’re treading steps literature’s greats did, to have a stretch of days or weeks to let your creativity flow — unencumbered by the demands of our high-tech world — sounds like pure bliss. Do I sound as if I need a break?! Perhaps I do!

    I’m not so sure the shower schedule at Uncle Henry’s would be appealing to me, and I’d probably miss having a key to my room. But I’ll bet there’s something to be said for NOT being the Holiday Inn!

    I love the photo of the dogwood and the azalea in bloom — makes me long even more for Spring!

    1. Debbie,

      If you ever have time to travel south along the Mississippi, either on Hwy 61 or along the levee roads, it’s well worth doing. There’s more than music there – much more. The old plantations have left their trace, and in places like Bolivar County there still are folks whose parents or grandparents experienced the great flood of 1927.

      I’ve never thought before of something your comment brought to mind. I don’t think of travel as “getting away”, but “getting into”. Because I’ve slowly restructured my daily life to resemble the qualities many people seek in so-called retreats (no television, no social media, no frenzied schedule), I’m free to experience travel as a time to meet people and collect memories. Then, I can come home and begin reshaping the experience into words. Interesting.

      In the end, those keyless rooms weren’t a problem at all. There were only five or six rooms, as I recall, and everyone who was staying there met the others pretty quickly. We made a pact with one another that we wouldn’t plunder each other’s rooms, and that was that. You won’t find that at a Holiday Inn, either!


  19. “Well, it’s not the Holiday Inn, that’s for sure. But that’s the good news – it’s not the Holiday Inn.” You evoke the truth of this in every line.

    It’s a funny thing, and I don’t know how to put it: I wish you success, no matter the catastrophe that may be associated (I think I’m not sure I believe it–it just depends on the person involved, though it surely has its own challenges–like everything else.)

    This is YET ANOTHER beautiful piece of writing. I wish I could go to Uncle Henry’s. But, really, you’ve taken us there.

    1. Susan,

      Last night I discovered something interesting. Your mention of “catastrophe” made me think of the word “apostrophe”. When I went off to see if there might be some relationship, I found this at the entry for “catastrophe” in the Online Etymology Dictionary:

      “1530s, “reversal of what is expected” (especially a fatal turning point in a drama), from Latin catastropha, from Greek katastrophe “an overturning; a sudden end,.. Extension to “sudden disaster” is first recorded 1748.”

      I wish I had known this before writing the piece. Clearly, Williams is using the word to refer to success not as a negative experience, but in a dramatic sense, a “reversal of what is expected”. As a playwright, it’s perfectly reasonable that he would do so. In fact, there’s a sense in which the essay is a reflection on how to prevent a dramatic turn in life from turning into a disaster.

      The next time I find myself pausing over a word or phrase that seems misplaced or mysterious, I’m going to put etymology first!

      And now you can wish me all the catastrophes in the world. What’s better than a sudden, unexpected turn, after all? They help to keep life interesting.

      There’s bound to be another Uncle Henry’s out there for us, but I’m glad you enjoyed the visit to this one.


      1. Well, I love this, and what a great example of etymology itself bringing on a “catastrophe,” as in a “reversal of what is expected.” I hereby raise a toast to catastrophes!

    1. Martha,

      I’d say the things that make us human have been endangered since the dawn of humanity. It’s how we cope with the challenges that makes the difference.

      It would be interesting to hear Williams’ take on life today. Judging from his essay, I’d assume he’d be just as obsessively interested in our affairs. If he could add a little compassion and moral conviction to the mix, it would be terrific.


  20. It’s amazing how rich the literary influences are in the American South. Thanks for sharing with us Faulkner and Williams’ southern roots.

    Do you know both of them have many movie adaptations of their works in the earlier decades when they were around? I mean they were involved in those movies… not sure about Faulkner, but definitely Williams. He wrote screenplays of his own works and was nominated for two Oscars, one of them being A Streetcar Named Desire.

    I admire that in the old days, writers and the silver screen had a much more rewarding relationship, movies were like an extension of the literary source or the stage. But nowadays, they are so compartmentalized, and with Hollywood making blockbusters with CGI’s and bottom-lines their priorities, the literary really has no place.

    1. Arti,

      There’s a new James Franco film adaptation of Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.” It came out last November, and you can see the trailer here. I’d completely forgotten it was due last fall, or that I wanted to see it. I’ve put a re-read of the book on my to-do list, and then I’ll see the film.

      Faulkner and Williams both drew on their experience of the American South, and the results were terrific. You might enjoy this “Playbill” article about the roots of Williams’ dramas.

      Faulkner went to Hollywood in the early 1930s and took up screenwriting as a way to supplement his income. There’s a nice, one-page summary of his film work here, with links at the bottom to more complete information.

      That compartmentalization you speak of is real, and distressing. You know I’m not a viewer of “Downton Abbey”, but you’ve raised an interesting question. Do you suppose part of its appeal is that it reconnects film with a literary tradition?


      1. Linda,

        Yes, I knew about the James Franco adaptation but the film has not been picked up and shown on the big screens. Maybe it had been shown in other cities but not here. Anyway, here’s one guy whom I think goes on ego trip with anything he does, more grander than Ben Stiller. I’m not a Stiller fan, but with Walter Mitty being trashed and Stiller being tainted as a super ego, this guy has an even more superior self-image. Don’t think I’ll go looking for his movies to watch. Just my humble opinion. ;)

  21. This sounds like my kind of place. Full of real people leading real lives. What gems they are when we discover them. At least where I come from in Canada, they are getting harder to find all the time. Long may we have such treasures!


    1. Tandi,

      When you mention real people leading real lives, the first place that crossed my mind was Yellow Knife – and of course, those other villages you’ve shown us where people simply go on, doing what they do, with very little – if any – recognition from the rest of the world.

      Of course, a little isolation may be good. I find it terrifically ironic that the more “diversity” is touted in America, the more homogeneity there seems to be, and the less tolerance for people who truly are different. The pressures to conform seems entirely as strong as any of those same pressures in the horrid 1950s (!), it’s just that the norms are different.

      I’m with you. Let’s preserve the real treasures of life – people living out their quirky, individual lives, attached to history and eager for the future.


  22. What a thoughtful thinking place. But then you are likely to be thoughtfully thinking wherever you happen to be :-) The scrabbling that Williams describes sounds so very desperate. You both have a way of writing things unfamiliar to me and yet able to take me along with you on your reflective journey. Thanks for a glimpse into that visit of yours to Uncle Henry’s.

    1. nikkipolani,

      I may not always be thinking, but I do try to pay attention. Sometimes that works out just as well.

      I’m sure a sense of desperation is more acute for those who are trying not only to express themselves but also to support themselves with their art. When I’ve written on deadline, a whole new set of dynamics comes into play. One reason I’ve tried to keep to a once a week schedule for posting is my desire to embed that rhythm so deeply that, should I want to give it a try in another venue, the deadline itself wouldn’t be an issue.

      Fellow travelers, that’s us. You’ve seen Uncle Henry’s, and I’ve got a stack of wonderful recipes I’m working through. After the salmon worked out so well, could baby bok choy be far behind?!


      1. I’m sure you’re right (about the desperation) of those who must survive on those efforts. With so much joblessness, I’ve observed more aspects of it as family and friends struggle — some willing to do any job to make ends meet, others holding out as long as they can to do work that they’re passionate about.

        Ah, the recipes. I’ve been working through my stack, too, duds and divines.

  23. It was a good thing, then, that there was no room at the Shack Up Inn.

    “…[N]ot privation but luxury is the wolf at the door…”
    That’s the pause line. I went back to it several times.

    1. Karen,

      Sometimes, no room at the inn is a very good thing. It can make for a great story, that’s for sure – no matter when it happens.

      The paragraph containing the line you quoted is my favorite from the entire essay. It fairly reeks of Faulkner, with his emphasis on the human heart in conflict with itself.

      Faulkner and Williams didn’t just know each other by reputation. They were rooted in the same soil, hung out together at the Moon Lake Club and struggled with many of the same issues. Hearing Williams talk about the need for compassion and moral conviction, it’s impossible not to hear echoes of Faulkner’s Nobel Prize Acceptance speech. For example:

      “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”

      He has a few pointed words for writers, too.

      “He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.”

      I confess, I’ve been thinking about this since reading your post about Hoffman, and those seeking to feast on his bones. So many seek only to stir up the masses for the sake of clicks, likes, dollars or mentions. Maybe it’s the new genre – glandular writing!


      1. As I journeyed through your words, I laughed at my own conclusion, “So, the Internet is glandular.” You beat me to it!

        Why don’t we see if we can start “glandular” as a Faulknerian pejorative describing the current zeitgeist?

    1. Well, my goodness. I’m not surprised you were reminded. See my response to Karen, just above. It’s not important, but interesting to note that Williams’ essay came first.

      I was introduced to Faulkner’s speech in 1978, and never have gotten over it. I keep a printed copy of it in my hurricane evacuation supplies. After all, they tell us we always should take important papers with us.


        1. As you know, the process of recovery isn’t easy, That business about the spirit being willing while the flesh is weak? Sometimes the flesh can drag itself forward ages after the spirit’s given out. A little soul-food’s always in order!

  24. I would like very much if you could just travel and write, write and take pictures, take pictures and write and! You are the greatest story teller..

    1. Roberta,

      Oh, my. We both would like that very much. Actually, it’s what I do now, except here and then I insert “work”. Nothing wrong with that, either. It gives me a little space to absorb and reflect, not to mention the pleasure of accomplishment. I do need to get cracking, though. There are stories piling up!

      That really is a great compliment you’ve paid me, and I thank you for it.


        1. Not really. I “messed around” with a little poetry in high school, as most teenage girls do. And I’ve had to do writing of other sorts in connection with work. But I began writing-as-story-telling when I started this blog. In fact, the whole point was to use the blog platform as a way to learn to write. And that’s what I’ve been doing, for almost six years. Amazing, in some ways.

  25. What a wonderfully atmospheric piece, and place. I love that first image of the cypress! I’m also feeling as though it’s time to pick up some Williams and Faulkner (some of my favorites), again, *wink*.

    1. FeyGirl,

      Here’s a larger shot of that same cypress, from the Moon Lake Club site. It was wonderful to watch the lake change from day to day, as the light changed depending on the weather.

      We’re supposed to trust our feelings, so I’d say pick up those books! If you haven’t read Williams’ collection of short stories called “Hard Candy”, I just re-read it and enjoyed it a good bit. It’s hard to pick a bad one from either of them, of course.

      Just yesterday I heard a racket on the water. It was the mallards, acting for all the world as though spring had arrived. Maybe it’s closer than we think!


      1. Ahhhh, just lovely! They’re so gorgeous, whatever season they’re in. One of my favorite trees, for sure.

        I’m going to pick up that Williams’ collection, b/c I haven’t read it — so thanks for the tip! I’m currently in the midst of an enormous 1400-pg tome, so at least I’ll have something to look forward to… :)

        Hee, hope springs eternal for the warming temperature, especially for the poor Northerners! I’ve been up there much more than normal, and all I can say is… WOW. Just… WOW.

          1. Never!! But wow, thanks so much for this link — anyone who has cypress and an entire heading devoted to alligators has my undivided attention, heh. :) The work is stunning.

  26. I thought I’d come across quite the gem when I opened this post and read it – then I got to the comments, and discovered the post was the embellished lid to even more treasure.

    Williams’ words said for me what I couldn’t before, and explained why I stutter and stop when someone says anything about success for my writing or my blog. Now I have a way to respond.

    With that in mind, I wish you, and me, sustained time in that realm just before success, out of nose range of the wolf, where we can work in this labor of love for words where likes and mentions mean nothing, and what we read and write and think about means everything.

    1. Eli,

      What a lovely way to think of the relationship of post and comments. From the beginning, I’ve understood them to belong together, and every comment enriches my own experience here.

      It’s easy for us to imagine that the “greats” always were great, and that their success was somehow easier or more assured than that available to us mere mortals. That’s not true, of course, and it’s good to be reminded of it – particularly when we have someone describing the struggle in words as eloquent as Williams’.

      Your last paragraph reminds me of a quotation from Cyril Connolly that I recently came across: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” Better to have both, of course, but there’s no question which is the better starting point.

      I’m so pleased you stopped by. Thank you for your kind words, and enjoy your own wordsmithing.


  27. What fun it must have been to revisit this post. I love the words of your opening blog. They strike me as brave and necessary. it is hard to write, and harder still to make public what has been written.

    Every time I send an essay to a journal, or a proposal to a publisher, or press “publish” on my own blog, my heart skips a beat. There is a certain terror in this that is curiously also satisfying. Thick skin helps, but skin too thick serves neither the writer or the writing. May we all strike a healthy and helpful balance!

    1. Allen,

      It was fun – both for the rewriting and also because it provided an opportunity to give something back to an area that’s special to me.

      I was thinking about your remark that it’s hard to write. It can be, for sure. Usually, just getting myself to sit down and do it is the hardest part. But even after I’m settled and working, not everything is easy. There can be rewrite after rewrite – all the more frustrating when I know something isn’t right, but don’t quite know what’s wrong.

      Ah, well. Other’s have gone through it. I always remember Flannery O’Connor’s wonderful line to an editor. She said, “I work all the time, but I cannot work fast. No one can convince me I shouldn’t rewrite as much as I do.”

      And what an insight, that a too-thick skin may be no more helpful than thin-skin. I need to think that one over for a while. One way thick skin manifests itself in the physical world is as a callus, but callousness toward the world or other people wouldn’t serve any writer – except propagandists, perhaps.

      I suspect all of us have experienced that “satisfying terror”. Anxiety and excitement can be hard to parse, sometimes.


  28. I like places that are not the Holiday Inn, not cookie cutter units of a chain, things that have quirks, that require initiation into their mysteries — you have to pull up on the knob while you lean your shoulder hard against the door to get it to close enough to latch, things dropped on the floor roll toward the fireplace wall and if you are quick, you can intercept them before they roll under the couch and you have to fish them out with a yard stick. (Does anybody know what a “yard stick” is any more — that it’s not really a stick, and has nothing to do with the out of doors?)

    I like hardwood floors in old houses, especially those that are built up on pilings, even if it’s only pilings made from four cinder blocks set two north and south on top of two east and west. They creak and chirp to you as you walk across them. I like the old world houses that were built before OSHA decreed that every step on the stairs of every house had to be the same fixed height — there was always that thief step, the one step that is lower or higher than the rest, to catch a thief unawares and make him betray his presence. The ones that are prefaced by the warning, “Beware odd step,” which is the one plainly marked with a white stripe on the edge that says “odd step.” I think I would have liked to stay at Uncle Henry’s.

    I think a corollary to “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” would be “Nothing will mess up your head quite as badly as being a success.” Few are the authors whose second book is quite as well crafted as their first. Rare are the authors whose third book is as well crafted as their first.

    1. WOL,

      I’d never heard of the “thief step”. I always called that the “oh, dang, I forgot about that again step” as I tried to keep myself from tumbling down or falling up. And I’m with you on wooden floors. The best ones I’ve met were truly old, with 8″ or 10″ boards. But even newer floors can have that satisfying crack and creak. The new “fake” wood floors can look lovely, and they certainly have their place. But properly laid, they’re dead silent.

      I just trucked into the bedroom closet and checked – the yardstick’s still there. It’s from Huckfeldt Upholstery from Laurel, Iowa, and Mom engraved her name on the back. I’m not surprised. It’s a oldie, nearly 2″ wide and 1/2′ thick. You could lay it across fabric or use it for hemming without it bending.

      I don’t think success necessarily messes with our heads. I do believe that celebrity, notoriety and manufactured success certainly can. On the other hand, I suspect it’s awfully easy for any of us to forget Goethe’s wise advice: “do not hurry; do not rest.”


  29. This is wonderful. Perhaps my favorite of all the wonderful things you’ve written.

    Uncle Henry’s is familiar to me, even though I don’t think I’ve been there. It reminds me of a place I’ve visited, but where? It might have been Greenville. I recall the dining room. I wish I’d preserved that memory better.

    I especially enjoyed the bit from Mr. Williams’ essay, which I don’t believe I’ve read. Thinking of him this morning brings to mind a lyric:

    Those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me,
    Hank and Tennessee

    1. Bill,

      And just before the words you quoted, his remembrance of how he “still can hear the soft southern winds in the live oak trees…” One of the best songs ever – and one of the best voices – with a tagline that takes a few years and a lot of experience to appreciate — “I guess we’re all gonna be what we’re gonna be.” If we’re lucky, I suppose.

      Oh, Greenville. I can imagine another “Uncle Henry’s” in Greenville, for sure. I first got to know the place because it was the home of bluesman T-Model Ford. It recently was in the news for a City Council meeting that sure enough could have been straight out of a Faulker or Williams work.

      The Acting Police Chief, Johnny Langdon, resigned because of a dispute with Mayor Carolyn McAdams. After using the ability to read “the back of a BC powder” as a proof of literacy, Mr. Langdon went on in open session to detail a list of grievances, and concluded by saying,

      “I’ll leave you with these words: anti-Christ, Beelzebub, deceiver, destroyer, liar, seven heads and ten horns on Satan, the Devil himself. That’s the Carolyn McAdams I know! Have a good day.”

      At that point, State Senator David Jordan rose to praise Langdon’s work and add that, if Langdon’s accusations are accurate, then “we have a big problem here.”

      You think? Beelzebub in the Mayor’s Chair could be a problem, I suppose. There’s more — much more — which you can enjoy here.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and I’m especially glad I introduced you to Williams’ essay. Thanks for reminding me of Greenville and giving me a good laugh!


    1. Gallivanta,

      How kind of you to stop by. Thank you for that, and for your lovely comment. Exploring’s fun. I’m glad you chose to do some here, and you’re always welcome.


  30. I think the human condition does require a certain amount of pressure or tension to propel creative output. When the pressure is removed, so goes the output. However, there are those rare souls whose flame is internally driven beyond the external necessity. And for that we can be thankful as consumers/readers for long careers. Maybe the wolf at the door is comfort, but maybe too there is a certain comfort that comes with maturing in your craft and not having to prove yourself over and over again. Yet, intensity is not part of my make up and I suppose for those so driven, perhaps any lessening of intensity is a threat.

    When reading the life of Edna St Vincent Millay, I felt that her love affairs gave her poignancy and passion to fuel her writing as time went on. Keeping the flame can’t be easy.

    1. Judy,

      Clearly, those who choose to devote themselves to their art as a means of support as well as a means of expression find the issues even more complex. A nicely turned phrase or a pretty picture doesn’t pay the rent on its own. I’ve always been tickled by Stephen King’s take on the issue: ““If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”

      Write for money, and you have deadlines, not to mention everything else that goes with it. Write purely for pleasure with no thought of readership? You risk self-indulgence, and very little fun. I suspect the same’s true for photography. Besides, anyone who creates wants to share, even if it’s only the kindergarten child who comes running home with a drawing.

      As for keeping the flame burning? I suppose that’s partly a love of the chosen craft, perhaps curiosity, perhaps that mysterious internal drive to excel. When I think how long I’ve been at this blogging business, I’m amazed. When I began, I was worried I wouldn’t have enough to write about. Well, no issues there. And I have improved, enough that I feel an urge to push on. How? Where? Not much of a clue.

      But on we go! When I saw that portrait the other day, I thought to myself, “There’s someone who’s trying some new things.” Just seeing it’s enough to give me some inspiration.


      1. Sometimes I think its a desire to create just one thing that will outlast us, a phrase so well turned or an image so classic, that it has a life of its very own beyond the mere existence of its creator.

        1. Funny. The first thing that came to mind when I read your response was, “That’s one of the reasons people have children.” I have a few friends who also are the end of the family line. It’s a strange feeling.

          1. I guess you appreciate that more with age. At the time I had my children, I just loved having them in the moment. As time goes on though and if you are the kind of person who loves the continuity of history, especially one’s own history, then you can understand someone having that reason. I love looking back and I guess hope the next generations from my line will do so with as much interest.

            But, writing, poetry and art go on with a universal sense beyond the writer or artist. Sometimes the creator even forgotten but the work lasts. Amazing right?

  31. Ever since my book- obsessed nephew and I came across a reference to Williams’ “The Catastrophe of Success” at the back of a book we were skimming, and had a real laugh at the juxtaposition, I have been meaning to get hold of this essay and read it, so many thanks for including that extract which carries so much wisdom in it.

    The Buddhists talk about life’s harsh challenges as major routes toward “forging the diamond soul”. Many a time have I consoled myself with this, chipping away at another facet of the diamond (I hoped) whilst struggling long and weary with some long, hard, unglamorous, life struggle or other. I don’t see how any of us can ever achieve our full potential without being tempered by a good old dose of adversity from time to time….

    Many thanks again for a wonderful post. How do you keep up such a high standard of output?

    1. Anne,

      In case you haven’t found it yet, the entire text of Williams’ essay can be found here.

      After the fact, the value of adversity can become clear. At the time? Not so much, I suppose. But it’s a fact that we’re tempered by struggles – and not only the dramatic ones. I’ve had a couple of soap-opera level traumas in my life, but they didn’t come close to fifteen years of caring for Mom in terms of personal formation. Parents with their first young child, parents caring for disabled youngsters, war veterans returning home minus limbs or sight or psyche, people fighting disease? Those struggles will shape a person.

      As for your last question – how do I keep it up? – I hope you don’t think me flippant if I say, “Beats me!” I suppose I could find some platitudes, but I really think it boils down to this: I find something interesting, I write about it, I revise until I’m happy, I post, and then I move on.

      If I spent much time thinking about how much I’ve written or how many drafts I have that I still want to develop – I’d be exhausted!


  32. Dear Linda,
    As I sit here in front of our Alps, blue sky and snow all around, I am reading your wonderful post. What a change of scene ! You write so beautifully. It is like watching a film from the South of your country, being in a library and reading those great men and authors (T. Williams and Faulkner) or just sitting on the porch of one of those wooden houses surrounded by greenery and exotic plants.
    Thank you for this enjoyable moment at Uncle Henry’s.

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