Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.



Is this really necessary?

Inculcateverb: to teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions.

Socrates inculcated his pupils with the love of truth.

What a clunky word.  Sounds like a medical procedure. If you left off the last phrase of the example sentence, it would sound like Socrates had vision problems.

Socractes inculcated his pupils. 

Maybe he used eye-drops.

But he’s talking about the love of truth.

Love and truth. Two beautiful words. Noble concepts. What a better place the world would be with more love of truth. Or just more love, for that matter.

So let’s inculcate truth. Sounds like something politicians do all the time.

Let’s inculcate love. Yikes.

Why not use a word everybody understands?  One that has the same air of nobility as love and truth?

How about instill?

Socrates instilled his pupils with the love of truth.

I like that better.

The meaning is clear. The thought is uplifting.

Just because words are out there, doesn’t mean we have to use them.

Tales from the home.

We were sitting in my grandfather’s room at the nursing home, talking about nothing, as you tend to do.

She walked in like a scary Joan Crawford, glancing at us before looking elsewhere as she made her way to the other side of the room.

“Are you looking for someone?” one of us asked.

She stopped cold. Her eyes widened. “Maybe I am.”

It was chilling. And later, funny. A short story that would be told often.

Her name was Joanne. She hadn’t meant to be scary. She hadn’t meant to offend. She was just disoriented. As are most people in the nursing home. That might not be an accurate statement. It’s just my casual observation.

I don’t know when nursing home visits became part of our routine, but they’ve been a fairly steady occurrence for the last twenty years or so.

My great uncle was a country preacher back in the day. A stern-looking man, very conservative, but with a good sense of humor. His last months were spent in the nursing home. He did not go gentle into that good night. He would lay in his bed and yell. And curse. At the top of his lungs.

It was scary. It was funny. But most of all, it was sad. It makes you realize that life is a struggle to be the kind of person you know you should be.

My grandmother, his sister, was in the same facility, although I’m not sure if it was the same time. She spent two years there after her stroke and was as quiet and gentle as she had been at home. My grandfather and two of his sons visited her almost every day. We would talk to her, tell her about the garden, the weather, and her great-grandchildren. Most times, there was no response. The visits were more for the visitors.

There have been more relatives, friends, and neighbors.

It can be heart-breaking, especially if you think about it too much. It helps when you realize that most of the residents are living in the moment. They all want to be someplace else. We all wish they could be.

This year, we’ve visited a friend who really doesn’t want to be there. When we would show up, she wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t even look at us. This continued for weeks.

Still, we tried.

Finally, she started to warm up. And though she’s far from normal, she at least welcomes our visits. We don’t know what brought about the change, whether it was meds (or lack of meds) or just an attitude adjustment. And we know it could go back to being icy on our next visit. Even if it does, we’ll go back.

Not because we get anything out of it ourselves. It can be taxing.

Not because we’re making the lives of those we see that much better. Most of the time they’ll forget we were even there.

Do you remember the last time someone smiled when they saw you? Do you remember how that smile made you feel? Just for that moment?

That’s it.

It’s just a better moment. For everybody.


Lawnmower Update (as if you really care):

My wife is one of the Boone County McDerments. Her dad (and his brothers) could build or fix anything. She obviously inherited those genes. I came home after work and she was finishing up the carburetor repairs. She didn’t even watch the video.

It started on the third pull.

Carburetor Repair

No, it’s not a metaphor. No hidden meanings. My lawnmower’s not running.

This is a really good video for its genre.

My hands smell like gasoline.

Suffer not alone.

“I often ask myself why “Christian instinct” often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, by which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, “in brotherhood.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Do you whoop?

Or woo?

As in “woo, woo, woo, woo!!!”

Do you whistle?

Not the Andy Griffith theme song, but the two-fingers in the mouth shreaking whistle of appreciation.

I was listening to Mountain Stage this evening and as one of the acts finished, the applause was enthusiastic. And at shows like Mountain Stage, there are always whoopers.  And whistlers.

Who are these whoopers?

Are they so enthused about the music that they just can’t contain themselves?

I love music, but I’ve never had the urge to whoop or whistle.

Are they plants? Designated whoopers and whistlers to generate excitement in the audience?

Maybe I’m just too reserved. Maybe they’re people really enjoying life.

If you are a whooper, please tell me.


It’s a trip, man.

A couple of items for your Sunday afternoon reading.

First, an article in the Sunday’s Charleston Gazette-Mail about The Mystery Hole, a crazy roadside attraction near Ansted, West Virginia.  You don’t see these kinds of places very often anymore. If you’ve never been, it’s worth the trip, even if you have to spend the night. (And there are plenty of other things to do on a weekend visit. New River Gorge Bridge. Hawk’s Nest State Park. Babcock State Park.  West Virginia – Wild and Wonderful!)

Mystery Hole 1 for web
It’s more than meets the eye. Note the gorilla on the roof.

So read this first.

Then read this. It’s a story I wrote after my first trip to The Mystery Hole. My story is fiction and any resemblance to real events or characters is purely coincidental. The roadside attraction in my story is called The Enigma.

We interrupt this post to bring you a special news bulletin.  Joseph Bird has never posted The Enigma story to which he refers. Or maybe he did, and for some reason, he deleted it. He can be that way sometimes and he can’t remember much of anything. For that error, he will make amends in the coming days. Until then, he offers the following poem, written as part of his novel Three Seconds. (To be read in the spirit of Nights in White Satin. If you have to ask, never mind.)

From the original post:

In Three Seconds, a roadside fun-house called The Enigma serves as a metaphor for the illusion of truth the characters in the novel must face. In The Enigma, the laws of gravity are not what they seem to be and visitors are left wondering about the reality of it all. At the end of every tour, Rembrandt Walker offers this cautionary reminder.

Breathe in,
my friends,
while you still can.
When shall we tarry,
it’s all in God’s plan.

Marvel and wonder
at gravity’s plight.
The day is dark
and evening bright.

Live now and love,
while the spirit is young.
In life’s quick passing,
our song will be sung.

Not all we see
can we comprehend.
Up becomes down,
beginning is end.

Worry not, my friends,
and judge with much grace,
Our fate will come quickly,
our day we will face.

Look beyond
what you see
and know what is true.
It’s out there somewhere.
It’s waiting for you.

copyright 2014, joseph e bird

i am a mist

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

from the Book of James


Red is real.  I don’t know his name, though I did at one time.

When I first saw him, he was probably 15. Maybe older. It was hard to tell because he was big for his age. He was a least six feet tall then, but I knew he was young because his face was youthful. He rode a bike. One of those BMX-type bikes that kids that age ride. Yeah, and a blazing shock of red hair. He had the kind of unconventional good looks that could have landed him movie or television roles. In another life.

I live in a very small town, population around 10,000. Maybe less. I work downtown, such as it is. Downtown encompasses a few blocks. My office faces an alley that’s on the route from the soup kitchen at St. Mark’s to points elsewhere, like the GoMart a block away. Across the alley is a house that’s been converted into a duplex. Renters come and go. There have been good people living in the house, some just starting out, trying to save money and build a better life. There have been others not so well intentioned. Over the years, the police have been called to the house many times.

It was when the house was occupied by others that I first saw Red. He would cruise in on his bike, have some contact with people in the house, then ride away. I sort of knew what was going on, but I had hoped that this kid was just sowing oats, that maybe he would mature and take a different path. There was life in his eyes and something told me there was pontential for great things.

Then I didn’t seem him for a while. Months. Maybe a year or two.

Then his picture in the paper. Busted for something, I don’t remember what. I know it was drug related, but it was more than just possession. It was obvious to me that he hadn’t taken a different path and that he was doing what he had to do to feed his addictions.

I started seeing him on the street again. No bike, just walking. He seemed ok. I wondered if he had gotten help. Maybe he was turning his life around.

Then last night I made a trip to the store. It was raining hard. I sat in my car listening to Ben Sollee on Mountain Stage before going inside. When I came out, Red was walking along the drive in front of the store. He was oblivious to the rain. Then he stopped. He started circling his left wrist with his right hand. Back and forth. I thought maybe he was trying to get something off his arm. Then I saw there was nothing there. He was muttering to himself. He had that look. Frustration. Anger. Fear. In his world, not ours.

Then he started walking again. The look was gone, and he was just a guy walking in the rain.

We see people like this all the time. Seemingly too far gone to help so we just drive by.  Like I did. I look back and wonder if I should have offered him a ride, but I know that wouldn’t have been very smart. He was obviously unstable and given his past, even talking to him might have been a mistake.

But I can’t help wondering what life is like for him. That’s the point of the story. He’s tragically broken.

But he’s still a person.

Every now and then we all need shelter from the storm.



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