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“Merely reading books and following the written instructions of past masters is no substitute for direct contact with a living teacher. The Master does not merely lecture or instruct. He has to know and to analyze the inmost thoughts of the disciple. The most important part of direction is the openness with which the disciple manifests to the Spiritual Father not only all his acts but all his thoughts.

[A person] should of course be free to choose his own Spiritual Father, but he will only deceive himself if, in making the choice, he seeks out a Master who will never tell him anything except what he wants to hear, and never command him anything against his own will. ”

Thomas Merton. Contemplation in a World of Action (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1973): 299 and 300.

Or, about the first ever reading for The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and then some

We (that’s Bill and I) left home about seven on Saturday morning to head to Little Washington for the Dead Mule Reading. Realizing we’d left a bit early, we stopped in Rocky Mount and ran by the depot, where it’s now “a bad thing” to photograph trains.  (Go figure.)  Being the seasoned rail fans that we are, we headed for neutral ground across the street, and what came by but an ugly Amtrak—not even the North Carolina engines.  Ah, well.  Bill took pictures anyway.  We did a quick drive by of spots that were accessible in the past but not so much now, and, after a quick lunch, left town and drove on to Washington.

Arriving in Washington too early to check in to the motel, we ran by the RiverWalk Gallery where Carolyn Sleeper and her husband were on duty.  We’d just missed Val, but noted that things were in order for the night’s reading.  We grabbed a burger and went on to Val and Rob’s house, where the men (both computer “geeks”) started up a lively discussion.  Leaving there, we checked into our motel.  The motel will get its own paragraph a bit later on, but for now let’s just say, “no stars for the Days Inn in Washington” and no link included.   I changed clothes and we headed to the gallery.

At the gallery, we met and heard wonderful readings.  Val read first and introduced the next reader.  Well, she tried to introduce her.    It soon became evident that Carter Monroe was “in change,” which was fine with Val.  Most of the readers— Robin Dare, Marty Silverthorne, Joseph Lisowski, and me—were not only Mules but Rank Strangers, too.  Carter had published books by us at some point or other.  And it turns out that Joe and his wife Lynda have a son who’s a talented poem, too.  The Dead Mule hopes to publish the younger Joseph soon, as well as anyone at the reading who hasn’t been in the Mule.  We then walked down the street to a “On Main Street” where the conversation was lively and witty.

A few of us gathered at Valerie and Rob MacEwan’s for dessert (cake, ice cream and sugared local blueberries) and more conversation and to light the ceremonial candle in honor of Pris Campbell’s birthday.  I read Pris’s poem “Colorless Rooms” (nominated for a Prize December 2008), and Carter chose not to lead the singing of “Happy Birthday.”  Imagine that.  LOL   Pris wanted to be with us and sent the message, “The MULE is my heart.” That made Val and I feel good.  As Val told me later, so many writers have had their first publication in the Mule.  Everyone knows that, all good time must come to an end, so we left and went back to the motel.

About the Motel:  Toilet=two flushes per offering.  Internet=ain’t working.  Trash=on the carpeted outdoor walkway to the room.  Staff= you don’t want to know.  Rating=No stars.  And we ain’t comin’ back.  LOL It’s the little things that helped us decide to pay for two nights (a “done deal”) and stay one. The television worked, we watched the race, Kyle won, which pleased me but not Bill.  We slept late and headed to Val’s house, stopping by the waterfront for a few photos.

Change of plans.  Val wasn’t going with us to the beach, because she wasn’t picking up Phoebe Kate Foster, whose husband had taken ill.   It was a bummer not meeting Phoebe Kate.  But it will happen.  Phoebe Kate is a Mule editor I want to meet.  We’ve alreadyconnected on blogs and e-mail; I already love Phoebe.  There are rumore about Raleigh some time in the future.  Even thought Val wasn’t going, she was kind enough to write out some directions so we could proceed.  Then, beachward we go.

In New Bern, we saw the rusty tracks where trains once did lots of street running, but not often now, if at all.  (We had an internet photo from 2006, so we’re not talking ancient history here.)  And in Morehead City we located the short line railroad that serves the port .  Then on to Atlantic Beach and Fort Macon State Park where we ran in to Vicki Temple, a former student of mine at Carolina Christian Day School (back in the day) and who now live just outside Atlanta, and her family.  Can’t get away with anything these days.  LOL

The beach.  Oh, the beach.

My toes were so happy to meet salt water.  Bill and I walked on the sand and let the waves kiss our feet, as we collected sea shells.  Nothing spectacular, but this was fun at God’s creative best.  Nothing says, “you are a speck” like an ocean.  The ebb washes arrogance away.  We spend about two hours watching boats and loving the Atlantic.  Then onward toward home.  We made only two stops, on for dinner and one for Frosties, before we pulled into “home, sweet home” just before midnight.  Rosie was so glad to see us and got her nightly “meow” just a bit late.  (Rosie’s “meow” is a treat.  We call it her “meow” because she calls it her “meow.”  Cats are like that.)  We are glad to be home.

Now on to the Dead Mule Reading in Hickory. Tuesday, August 4, 2009 – 6 pm – Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse Hickory, NC

Trisha Hart, Jessie Carty, Terri Kirby Erickson, Felicia Mitchell, Scott Owens, Tim Peeler, and me.  More to come

July 2009