Folk Mulch, And Other Health News

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If “folkwords” was a word, truer folkwords were never spoken:

“Nobody visits a garden to see the mulch.”

I just love that quote. It was written by a gardener whose name I can’t recall but bless him for making that up and making me smile, which brings us along to the point of this blog. Folk art is good for you.

The health benefits of folk art – be it song, painting, craft or book – can be summed up in a few, brief statements.

Folk art is good for the circulation.

 A good folk painting or sculpture fills my beating heart with joy beyond what I can absorb with my eyes alone.

* Think Mose Tolliver, Charlie Lucas, Bill Traylor and Howard Finster.

Folk art is good for the soul.

A good folk song lifts my spirits even if my brain doesn’t quite understand the meaning.

* John Prine’s “Lake Marie,”  “Camp Town Ladies” or “Bringing in the Sheaves,” (I used to think they were singing about clean sheets).

Folk art is good for the brain.

A book written by a “non-writer” who actually lived his story stretches my mind out of the box marked “acceptable literature” and makes it more elastic.

* Co. Aytch, by Sam Watkins is my favorite example. Dog Stories, by my friend Jane’s grandmother, is another.

Folk art is good for the body.

The unstructured nature of any outsider art – a rooster made of welded farm implements, a nice piece of graffiti, a loosely-played blues riff – instantly soothes me, like sliding my legs under an old quilt.

* Look on the refrigerator of any young family to see it.

Too much mulch needlessly neatens the camellia’s unruly beauty. So many well-trained artists produce work that is, well, over-trained. I admire this carefully crafted work with my mind. I adore folk art with my self.

The more folk art I live with, the longer I am likely to live. Whatever age does to me, folk art can only make better.

I hope to review in this blog at least one good folk art book, song or collection each month. I’ll try and keep the mulch to a minimum.

The Power of One (In the Audience)

Good books teach subtle lessons. Sometimes even the ones you write yourself serve to illuminate.

In January, book lover Tina Tatum kindly invited me to do a reading of my first published novel, Brother Sid, A Novel of Sidney Lanier, at her very trendy little non-profit bookstore, the Gnu’s Room in Auburn, Alabama. In lieu of traditional signings, I’ve been speaking to small groups. I can’t see myself dispensing autographs to coerced friends-of-friends and second cousins, so to move inventory I prevail upon literary clubs, ladies clubs, libraries and anyone who will have me. I had most recently entertained a 30-plus group of history buffs who, after my talk, swooped down on my book like seagulls on corn chips, and there’s no denying my author-ego was a little puffed up afterward.

I’m not sure how an actual reading will go (late on a bitter cold Saturday afternoon) because I’ve never done one, but Tina has a nice set-up waiting for me when I get there. An impressive podium is fitted out with a mic and speaker and chairs for 25 or so had been thoughtfully arranged in a half-circle facing it. Brother Sid is propped up on an easel as the star of the show.

The smell of good coffee strikes me as I walk in with my guitar, ready with long-standing amateur credentials to play a Southern folk song to warm up the audience.

Everything is right out of the author-meets-readership handbook.

The only thing missing, I notice right away, is the audience.

I can’t blame them. The gentle readers of Auburn don’t know me from Aunt Lucy’s good laying hen. And it can’t help that my degree is from Alabama.

After a few brittle moments waiting for my public to show I realize that probably there will be no show. The minute hand sweeps passed the top of the hour and begins its slow descent into my questionable future.

But…

Suddenly, emerging from the shadowy stacks of fiction and fact a vision of hope emerges. It comes in the scholarly form of Dr. Bert Hitchcock, retired professor of English literature. He confesses with a smile toward the uninhabited seats that he is indeed, here to see me.

An audience is found!

Dr. Hitchcock, Tina, my husband and I spent the next hour in an impromptu round table discussion about the hard luck Southern poet Lanier, of whom Hitchcock proves to be an avid fan and very knowledgeable. When I look up again an hour is gone.
Eventually, I pick up my guitar and my marked-up copy of Brother Sid and we head out, having made two new friends and six sales (Poor Hitchcock likely felt compelled to buy one. The store took five.)

The reading that wasn’t is done.

Thank you Dr. Hitchcock, for showing up.

Thank you, Gnu’s Room, for your devoted presence among the titans of bookdom. Thanks Tina, for putting out the chairs and turning on the mic as if for Faulkner. Thanks for your open door.