Singing A New Tune

I took the train last weekend to Charlotte with Kath and our kids, Will and Elizabeth, and you know, I discovered an uptown I didn’t know existed.

Who knew? I didn’t.

I spotted Fred Chappell’s “First Novel” poem painted on the side of a building and a beer philosophy on a placard parked beside a curb. I also discovered a wooden angel on an antique dresser and a crew of musicians on canvas that made me laugh.


Found at 325 E. 9th Street in Charlotte


Then, there was that life philosophy on a bumper sticker outside an antique store.

bumper sticker

Love that.

But moreover, I found some faith in our future.

And I found it in a museum.

I spent more than two hours inside the Levine Museum of the New South, and I could have spent many hours more.

It gave me much-needed perspective, and it helped me realize once again that we as a nation can bounce back from any kind of trauma inflicted on us by bad leadership, racism, sexism, mill-village paternalism or any the kind of ism.

I saw it through so many pictures in the museum’s exhibit, “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers.”

Like this one.


And this one.

poor lady

And this one.


And this exclamation mark.


Then, I pass a quote from Frederick Douglass etched on a nearby wall, and I’m reminded how history repeats itself. Times come tough, a struggle continues and a collective diligence can never cease in the face of bigotry and authoritarianism.

He said:

If there is no struggle, there is no progress.

Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men (and women) who want crops without plowing up the ground.

They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters … Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and it never will.”

Douglass said that in 1857.

Some things never change.

But we know some things will.

And it’s more than my daughter turning 16 and driving by herself this year.

I check my Twitter or my news feed on Facebook, and I wince. When I do, I’m reminded of a phrase I heard growing up in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, and I always heard it spoken through clenched teeth.

“I’m mad enough to spit.”

Then, on some mornings in our house, I’ll find Kath in bed bathed in the light of her iPhone, rolling through news alert after news alert. When I first asked her why, she deadpanned, “I want to make sure we’re still alive.”

Like Frederick Douglass, we hold on. But like writers Neil Gaiman and Austin Kleon, we need to dream and gaze at the moon.

And I’ll add another point: We need to dance.

More on that later. But when I think about all that, I look to the days ahead and appreciate what is to come.

First, Neil Gaiman. neil

In a New Year’s wish from nearly 20 years ago, he wrote:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

Surprise yourself. That could work any year.

Next is Austin Kleon. He wrote “Steal Like An kleon-200pxx1Artist.”  Like many of us, he loves lists. His New Year’s list is below.


Love his points. And love his idea of looking at the moon. He says it gives him perspective on life around him and helps him appreciate the space in his days.

Of course, we all could add some new ones to that list. I have a few of my own for 2018.

  • Embrace family.
  • Nurture friendships.
  • Drink good beer.
  • Support local journalism.
  • Build sandcastles.
  • Smell a West Ashley marsh.
  • Laugh.
  • Write.
  • Listen.
  • Listen to Jerry.
  • And dance.

Kath and I did that on New Years’ Eve. We danced.

In the middle of a friend’s empty living room, underneath a swinging suspended light, we danced old-school and new school well past midnight and into the first small hours of the new year.


A shot taken well past midnight.

We danced to Neil Diamond and Prince. We danced to Michael Jackson, The Commodores, and Abba. I even started a conversation with my friend Evan who truly believes Abba is vital to the 20th century canon of music.

And yes, that conversation will continue soon – over good beer on a Friday afternoon on The Corner at Sticks & Stones.

When it does, I’ll think about something else I found in Charlotte.

Like Fred Chappell’s poem, I found it a wall. A quote.

It was at the Levine Museum, and it came from political activist Paul Rogat Loeb, author of “Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in Challenging Times.”


We become human in the company of other human beings.

Yeah, that’s something to strive for in 2018.

new year

What we do on New Years Eve — wear crazy glasses and hats in a pop-up photo booth.


4 thoughts on “Singing A New Tune

  1. Thank you for appreciating the hard work at Levine Museum. We truly believe that history provides the answers we need to solve today’s problems for a better future. “using history to build community”

    I am so thankful to hear your encouraging words! Come back and see us soon!


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