Friday, July 29, 2011

FREEWRITE FRIDAY: Fantasy and Reality

Hello, my name is Cliff.  I live in…

Hi!  I’m a year older.  I think I’m just going to leave Fridays for freewrites – holy crap, I didn’t even mean to do that – FREEWRITE FRIDAYS!!  Heck, yes.

But “freewrite” does not necessarily mean “stream of consciousness” – though perhaps in this case we’ll just let “freewrite” stand for that.  In Cliff’s Blog World, “freewrite” = “stream of consciousness” (also in CBW, “freewrite” exists as a real term, impervious to MS Word’s red squigglies of admonition).

K - Enough self-indulgent exposition.

Never in my life did I comprehend what “31” would be like.  Imagination meets reality.  It’s everything I imagined “being grown-up” would be like but so much more because it’s actually real.  Have you ever imagined something being a certain way and then it happens, and it’s like, “Oh, that’s it?”  Because on one hand you built up a lot of fantasy in your mind but then it happens and it’s like, “That’s…normal.”  But then later you realize, “That’s actually quite extraordinary” and the extra-ordinariness comes from the fact that it’s so freakin’ normal!  It’s real.  Whatever the something is, no matter how much you imagine about it, you can’t take away from the realness and reality of it.

Your first kiss.  Your first movie.  Your first date.  Your first completed book (reading or writing).  Your first “A” in college.

Conversely, if you do get a high from the whatever you’ve built up, that high will quickly diminish.  If you’re like a lot of people, including yours truly, you start itching for another high.  So then you start looking for another one, another first or something; ultimately it’s another fantasy, a chasing of the end of the rainbow; keeping your eyes peeled for the next flash in the pan.  That’s all it really is if you seek nothing but the thrill of the chase.  What do you end up catching?  Not what you hoped for ‘cuz it doesn’t meet your expectations.

Reality is not fleeting.  Fantasy is.  Fantasy is fun and can help you get through the day, but reality is the day.  However, if there was no reality there’d be no fantasy.  Fantasy’s a part of reality just like the appendix is part of the body.  Every part of the body has its time to shine, but you don’t focus on one bit for too long or something’s going to go wrong (unless it already has and that’s why you’re in surgery).

I think that’s what this last trip around the sun has been about – living in the world of reality while letting fantasy play its part.  When you live in the world strictly as you perceive it and not deferring to the reality of it, you run the risk of a huge disappointment. 

Imagine, if you will, during the course of a month, people start telling you that you’re living in a dream world; they encourage you to abandon ship and wake up.  You think they’re crazy; you think everything’s fine.  Perhaps there are some “choppy waters” you’re facing, but it’s nothing you can’t handle.  And then one day, you realize everyone else is right.  Like Neo coming out of the Matrix; like waking up and seeing what you once thought were palaces and spires were actually piles of rubble and dead, rotting trees.  Imagine everything you ever hoped for and dreamed of turning on you and leaving you and going off to fulfill someone else’s dream – because that’s what happens when you let fantasy become your reality. 

Fantasy is fleeting.  Reality is not.  Yet, they are vital parts of each other, all wrapped up in a wondrous concept, barely comprehensible: FAITH – where the rubber hits the road, where fantasy meets reality.  Of course, it depends on what you put your faith in that will determine your destiny.  And yes, I do believe our destinies are determined outside of ourselves, yet, from a certain point of view we are responsible for choosing our destinies.  Paradox – always fun when it’s not teeth-grindingly frustrating beyond compare.  But then you just relax and realize, “It is what it is.  I believe it because I recognize it as true.  My believing doesn’t make it true, and so I defer to it, not it to me.”

We all believe in something.  Even if we are nihilists we still believe in the concept of nothing which is something.  There’s no escaping it – it’s just how we are.  So if I may try to impart some wisdom on my birthday, believe in something.  Embrace it and test it.  Test it to make sure it’s true.  And believe – believe with all your heart.  Let it wreck your life and if what you believe is true, it will rebuild your life.  How can you plant a crop if the soil isn’t first broken?  How can you build a house if the stone and wood aren’t cut from the earth?  How can you make an omelet without cracking some eggs?

Get crackin’.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guest Post Thursday: Grady Nutt - The Quiet Quakers

Grady Lee Nutt (September 2, 1934–November 23, 1982) was a Southern Baptist minister, humorist, television personality, and author. His humor revolved around rural Southern Protestantism and earned him the title as "The Prime Minister of Humor."  Below is a transcription of Grady Lee telling a story from the recording, "Grady Nutt's Favorite Stories From Hee Haw."  I used to listen to this guy as a kid with my family.  An Unofficial Grady Nutt Page actually has links to a great deal of his audio which is a lot more fun to listen to than to read.  Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy this.

Different kinds of religious groups get wonderful reputations and some of it is stereotyped.  You know, Baptists are supposed to be, “Haaa!” Hellfire and brimstone, all that kind of stuff; and the Methodists are supposed to be kind of laidback and cool and the Catholics are supposed to swing a lot of incense.  We have just, you know, typical stereotypes of each other. 

Our Quaker friends are called “The Friends” and they worship in silence.  Now Baptists know nothing about that; there has not been an acknowledged silence in a Baptist church since the first century.  The minute it gets quiet, somebody’ll leap back on the organ bench and start playing until somebody finds their bulletin.  You know, we just don’t trust silence.

Well, our Quaker friends worship in silence and they have a very different kind of touch and one of their characteristics that we know about is they’re pacifists.  They do not believe in violence and they believe that the way you take the stinger out of war is not to retaliate.

There was a wonderful Quaker family that had a grocery store in a little community, and two guys decided one night they’re going to rob it.  And so we’ve got the brains of the group driving the getaway car and he sends his, “Heheh, hyuk!” helper, sort of a Woody Woodpecker variety into the store to rob the safe.  Now the Quaker family lived in the back of the store.  And so the guy that’s driving the car says to his dumb accomplice, “Now all you’ve got to do is go in, break open the safe and just get the money and come out.”

He says, “But what if they, what if they find me?”

He said, “You’ve got nothing to worry about; these people are Quakers.  They don’t believe in violence, they’re pacifists, they will not harm you.  They’ll try to talk you out of it, but they will not lay a hand on you.”

“You sure?”

“I’m certain – they’re Quakers.” 


So the guy goes in, breaks the lock – *tingchaling* - gets inside – doo, de-do-de-doo – he’s in the back, “clank”, and working on the safe…

About four minutes later he comes barreling out that front door, leaps in the car, “GET OUT OF HERE!”

He said, “Where’s the money?”


*VROOOOM!*  And they roared down the street, “Man, what are you doing?”

“Get out of here!”

“Where – is – the – money?!”

“I didn’t get the money!”

Why not?!!”

He said, “I got the safe open, and I was raking money in a sack, and I looked up and there was this fella, with a goatee, and a nightshirt, and a shotgun!  And he pointed it right at me.  And he said, ‘Sir, I wouldst not harm thee, but thou standest where I am about to shoot.’”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

First Guest Post Tomorrow!

This is the first week of Cliff's Blog so, naturally, it's a week of firsts.

Tomorrow is Thursday, so that means it'll be time for a guest post!

I'm really excited about this one because it's from a guy I wish everyone knew about, and maybe just a few more will after tomorrow.  Plus, it's coming from beyond the grave.....  OoooooooooOOOooooOOO!

"Why Did You Move HERE?"

I currently live in Columbus, Ohio.  Never, in my entire life, did I imagine I would live anywhere other than North Carolina – except maybe Hollywood as a film director.  However, looking back I can see where there have been precursors leading up to my relocating here.

The first Ohio-related experience I can recall was when my church youth group went on a mission trip to Beulah Beach, a small lake town outside of Cleveland.  I met people from London, Zanesville and other places.  Now, North Carolina has towns with unique names such as Bat Cave, Lizard Lick, and still my favorite: Fuquay-Varina, but Zanesville; that just sounds wonderful!  Now I’m sure the Zanies never get the uniqueness of their town name pointed out to them by visitors just like I’ve never heard, “Like the big red dog?” when I tell people both syllables of my first name; but I won’t go into that now. 

Okay I will.  I’d like to think there’s some zany origin story behind the name, but I’m guessing it’s a place founded by actor Billy Zane’s (and all other who claim relation to Clan Zane) forebears.  I do like to think they call themselves “Zanies,” though.  I guess I could drive over there and ask, but not right now.

For the trip we stayed at Beulah Beach for a few days and ventured into Cleveland a couple of times.  At the conclusion of the trip we spent a day at Cedar Point.  Cedar Point’s rollercoasters = WOW.  There are some decent theme parks in and around North Carolina, but Cedar Point – wow; just wow.

My second exposure to Ohio came when my sister attended school in Cincinnati.  I visited a couple of times and it was cool; I liked the atmosphere and it was a learning experience.  WKRP isn’t a real radio station – who knew?  It was also my first time in a big city outside of the South so when I would wave and smile at fellow pedestrians I got the strangest looks.

Up into the college years and beyond I started meeting all these people who moved from Ohio to North Carolina.  Most of them are educators and some in the hospital field, but what struck me was how nice and fun they were.  If these people are from Ohio, I reasoned, that must be a pretty cool place!

Then I moved here.

When I tell people where I’m from I’m invariably asked, “Why did you move here?  And that’s a post for another day, but summarily I moved here for an adventure.  “An adventure; in Ohio?” is the incredulous follow-up question.  Well, yeah.  Living 8ish hours away from everything and everyone familiar to me is an adventure in and of itself.  And rush hour traffic – whoo, doggy.  RDU has some formidable rush hours but Columbus rush hour is for daredevils, thrill-seekers, death-defiers.  I’m sure if anyone from New York or L.A. reads this they’ll probably scoff, and yes, I’m stereotyping those cities, but it’s kind of a big deal for me.  Actually, now that I think about it, Atlanta’s rush hour is kind of scary, too.  But I digress….

I like it here.  And in that I’ve learned the truth behind the saying, “It’s not where you are, it’s who you’re with.”  I’ve been blessed with circles of folks who are fast becoming good friends.  When the time comes for me to ship out I know there are a few folks in Columbus who will stay in contact with me and I will want to stay in contact with them.  Yeah, it’s Ohio.  It’s a good place.  I mean, the Wright Brothers were born here then went to North Carolina and aviation was born. ;)  And while they don’t have Bojangle’s or Char-Grill they do have Krispy-Kreme.

And again, it’s about the people; they’re good people.  Not perfect people – I mean, who is?  But they’re the ones in whom I find fundamental things in common.  As DC Talk sings, “We all wanna be loved / We all just want a little respect.”  And where we find that love and respect – in the relationships we share and an even deeper, more visceral, spiritual root – His love poured into these people until it’s overflowing – that is where the real blessing dwells. 

Then I am reminded of home, and then I start missing the people of North Carolina, but then I am once again comforted by the company I keep.  It’s a wonderful cycle.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Misfit Lightning Bug

Hello, my name is Cliff.  I live in Ohio, by way of North Carolina, by way of Georgia, by way of North Carolina, by way of Arkansas, by way of North Carolina, by way of Birth Canal.  I’ve spent the bulk of my waking life in North Carolina, the Raleigh-Durham area, specifically.

It’s strange, because North Carolina is in the South and several of its inhabitants have Southern accents; I do not.  I appreciate the Southern accent, I like the Southern accent, but I lack one of my own.  Whenever I tell people where I’m from they do a double-take and say, “But you don’t have an accent!”  Usually I don’t mind such astute observations, but sometimes it makes me feel like the only lightning bug in the world whose butt won’t light up.

The lack of accent may have to do with my parents who both lack accents of their own, and/or perhaps the particular town in which I was raised (for most of my life): Cary, NC.  Over the years, due to a significant influx of folks from the North, the name “Cary” was imbued with the meaning of an acronym which stands for “Central Area of Relocated Yankees.”  So while a number of people around me as I grew up had Southern accents, a large section of the population did not.

While the obvious accent is lacking, I do pride myself on the prominent usage of distinctly Southern words and sayings such as, “y’all,” “shucks,” “ain’t,” “if it was a snake it would’ve jumped up and bit me,” and “stomp on frogs and shove a crowbar up my nose!”  And it’s not something I consciously try to do; it’s just how I talk (except, admittedly, maybe for that last one which I actually picked up from Garfield).

I do like some Country music, but mostly of the old-school flavor: Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson and some Toby Keith.  Usually, though, I have to be in the mood (except for Johnny – his tunes are good anytime).  Bluegrass music is wonderful as is Southern Gospel – and straight-up, massive-choir-gettin’-down-to-the-tunes-of-the-Good News, clap-your-hands-and-stand-up Gospel. 

Square-dancing is a lot of fun and line-dancing is alright.  And Southern hospitality – it’s one of my favorite things about the South.  For one thing, you’re always going to get a good meal when you’re invited to someone’s home for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  There’s a natural sense of ease among most of the folks and while punctuality is important, if you do it right, you never feel like you need to be in a hurry.  There’s also a general sense of friendliness.  Walking along the streets of Cary or Raleigh, Wilmington or New Bern, you can say, “Hey,” and smile to passersby and you’ll at least get a “Hey” back and not a funny look. 

But there is one thing: I don’t like sweet tea.  I like hot tea, but not sweet tea.  While visiting a family one Sunday I was asked if I’d like sweet tea as my lunch beverage.  I politely declined and asked for water instead.  Everyone seemed shocked that I didn’t want sweet tea.  “Well, you’re obviously not from around here,” they observed.  I explained that I’m actually one of the few natives of the Raleigh-Durham area.  “But you don’t have an accent!” they aptly observed.  I shrugged my shoulders and agreed.  Then the awkward moment passed and we had a good old time eating and talking and later playing some football or something.

So, while I proudly and affectionately call North Carolina home, I am missing two fundamental social markers: the accent and affinity for sweet tea.  It makes me feel out of place sometimes, like the misfit lightning bug, but then everyone else gathers ‘round and we share the ambient light of their glowing rear ends and sometimes I think my own starts to flicker a bit.  I’m given the occasional hard time, but it ultimately doesn’t matter that I’m missing something because in the end, I have everything I need.