Homecoming – Part 1


The Yancey County Public Library, formerly the Yancey Collegiate Institute.

Writing… or any kind of work that requires planning and forethought… is not coming easily to me lately. I started out 2013 very hopeful, ready to take on the challenges the year was going to throw at me, determined that I would maintain the sense of calm and control which I’d attained while spending Christmas with my family and away from the concerns of work. For the most part, I succeeded. From the perspective of my ability to manage the chaos around me, it’s been a pretty good year.

But the last month or two of it have really beaten me down. I’m still able to enjoy myself, still able to function, but I find I want to do little except sleep, read, and catch up on TV shows and movies I’ve wanted to see and not had time to. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing, editing (my own work and that of others), recording my single-voice reads, recording the voices of others for full-cast reads, or doing the kind of marketing of our work that I wish I could do.

As always, I’m determined to keep moving forward but… more and more I find myself admitting that I’m not capable of maintaining much speed on my forward trek. I hope I’m not going to become one of those people who keeps meaning to get to things and never does. There’s a family history of that, and I’m trying to keep my practical edge. But I’m also trying to go easy on myself in a world that, pardon a moment of self-pity, doesn’t usually go easy on me. Not complaining, just a fact of life. I’m one of those people that people have expectations of. In the eyes of most, I’m not human. I’m a device that always performs. If I don’t perform, people get really, really angry. I guess I’m something like my trusty iMac. It works so well so much of the time that I really get bent out of shape when it doesn’t.

Does all of that add up to depression? Maybe. If so, it’s mega-situational, and I don’t believe in using drugs to deal with a situation. So I’ll monitor and maintain.

On the way, I’m trying to avoid acquiring tunnel vision. You can get so caught up in your immediate environment that you forget there’s a world beyond the walls of your cubicle, or home-office, or Batcave or wherever you spend a lot of time. You can not only forget what the rest of the world is like, you can forget what you are like. You become a cog in someone else’s machine. It’s important not to let that happen, and the way to avoid it is to keep the scenery changing, to stay grounded in who you really are, to keep abreast of the rest of the world. (I am not recommending that you watch television news. A better way to acquire tunnel vision I can’t imagine. The American media have exactly one view of the world. It’s dire and hopeless and over-throttled on negative emotion by a factor of about twelve. Don’t try to experience the world through that window.)

This past couple of weeks were, for me, about staying grounded. I have a very rich family history (most of us do, only some of us don’t know or appreciate it), rooted in a place called Yancey County, in North Carolina. My parents both grew up there. My Dad was born in a log cabin (seriously) in Pensacola, a community of homes built on mountainsides, which exists largely because there was once a railroad (the Black Mountain) which carried lumber and mica (Google it) from the hills and mines overlooked by the Winter Star mountain to the rest of the world. The railroad is gone, its depot converted to a private home, the tracks long ago pulled up. Pensacola is now two churches, a firehouse built with Federal grant money, an elementary school (of which my grandfather, Dawson Briggs, was principal for many years) and the carefully maintained building which use to hold the country store run by the late Billy Brooks Wilson. (“Sonny.” Yes, a relation, no, I don’t know how.)

When people in Pensacola need the comforts of something other than home (groceries, hardware, medical care, fast food), they go “into town.” Ten miles North, over Low Gap Mountain, or, longer and windier, along the river road by Cane River, is “the town.” Burnsville is the County seat. My mother was born and grew up there. She was born in a house, not a cabin, but still without benefit of epidurals or birthing classes.

When my Mother was born, Burnsville was something of a cultural and educational center. Indeed, it commands a county that is named for Bartlett Yancey, the senator who was instrumental in establishing a public school system in North Carolina. Hmmm. I should be ashamed, shouldn’t I, since I believe the establishment of public schools is a capital crime. I suppose the statute of limitations has expired, however, and I can forgive Bartlett Yancey his sins and be happy he gave his name to a really nice place.

Burnsville is home to a 67-year-old local theatre, the Parkway Playhouse, and was, for 25 years, home to the Yancey Collegiate Institute. This was a secondary school formed, not be outside decree, but because the residents of Yancey County wanted their children to have a quality education after they completed elementary school. Pretty upscale, I would say, for a community of mountain men in a place a lot of people still think is in the middle of nowhere. My Grandmother was one of YCI’s later graduates, in 1923. It closed in 1926. The building has recently been reclaimed and now houses the County Library. But, for a quarter of a century, YCI educated kids who went on to attain college degrees at North Carolina’s many institutes of higher learning. I was raised by two very, very intelligent and educated people. Some might say that members of the “greatest generation” just tended to have better educations; I would certainly say that my parents are just two exceptional people; but I think an important factor is that they were fortunate to come from a community which prized education. (And, though my father’s mother never completed elementary school and could only read out loud, she had an almost photographic memory and was a master storyteller. A commitment to oral history like that is as sure a sign of a commitment to education as is a Master’s Degree.)

The opportunity to visit my hometown (home, even though I was born 400 miles North of it) presented itself this month. In the interests of staying grounded, I took it. Over 1000 words into this narrative, though, I believe it’s time to say…

To Be Continued.

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2 thoughts on “Homecoming – Part 1

  1. Steve–

    I believe you and I have been “on the same page” (writing pun intended) for quite some time. We’ve talked about it a few times. As anyone who is productive and goal-oriented will do from time to time, we seem to have hit that unavoidable brick wall known as burnout. At least that’s how I felt for quite a while this year.

    We’re only human, not automatons, and no one has the right to be angry because you are not performing to their “expectations”. You bust your hump for everyone and I have always marveled at your energy and work ethic, but you are entitled to “Steve time” and should take care of yourself.

    When it comes to our shared writing projects and marketing our work, don’t hesitate to tap me for assistance. I am more than happy to help in every way I can if it means taking some load off your shoulders. See you soon, amigo. 🙂

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