Papa Olin, Mamma Linda, Uncle Forrest, and the Depot

Mural at the Marshall Depot
In 1924, at the age of 19, my grandmother Linda Freeman married my grandfather Olin Jarrett. He had been courting her for a while; she attended the Dorland-Bell School in Hot Springs, which she credited for the rest of her life with teaching her to read, cook, and love the Presbyterians. He was a farmer in Madison County who narrowly missed going overseas in World War I—there are two photos of him in the uniform I would find in the attic seventy years later. Now he was living with his papa Zeb and mother Laura in their house on the side of a holler, learning about modern farming at the extension at Mars Hill.

It’s 16.3 miles by modern roads from downtown Marshall to Hot Springs. It would have been an impossible journey without staying overnight, which was itself impossible, by mule. But the railroad had come through Marshall in 1871 and passed through Hot Springs on its way to Painted Rock, Tennessee. So my uncle caught the train at the Marshall Depot and rode it as it twisted its way along the French Broad River all the way into Hot Springs. My grandmother always credited the railroad for bringing them together.

Fast forward many years and three children and four grandchildren, and Papa Olin’s death in 1974. It’s now 1987 and Linda learned that… well, it’s best if I let my Uncle Forrest take over telling it:


“Yes, ma’am.”

“They’re going to tear the old Marshall depot down. We don’t want that to happen.”

“No, ma’am.”

“That’s where Papa Olin caught the train to come to see me down at Hot Springs.”

And so Uncle Forrest, who had worked for Norfolk Southern since 1952 and was now Director of Police, put in a few calls, got ownership of the Depot transferred from Norfolk Southern Railway to a group for a pittance, and went about transforming it into what it is today: a venue for live mountain music. And cakewalks.

A few years ago a local artist memorialized a group of folks associated with the life of the Depot. That’s my Uncle on the left, in his hat and holding the clipboard, along with the lady responsible for the cakewalks. And, of course, the Chicken Man.

Turning inside out

Dave Winer posted a link to some of the earliest podcasts recently, Chris Lydon’s interview series. In the header he used a photo from the first Bloggercon. (That’s me, on the left with my eyes down toward my screen, above one of many Mac TiBooks in the audience.)

It got me thinking about Bloggercon and looking back at some of what we learned, and in particular my two-part blog on takeaways, What is a blog? and Blogs providing voices/Blogs mediating connections. There’s a note in the second post that connected especially strongly with me today:

Blogs written by individuals inside institutions also, through their personal nature, offer the readers of those blogs a connection to the institution at an individual level that they would not experience otherwise. This empowers them through connecting them more closely to that institution and enabling them to better understand the institution. This is empowerment by access.

Finally, when the blogger outside the institution publishes a comment and a link to the work of the blogger inside the institution, and the institutional blogger reciprocates with a link, a relationship develops between the two, the outsider and the institution, that helps the outsider to understand, and in some cases affect, the institution. This is empowerment by relationship.

What I meant in writing this by “institution” was “any organization,” but how I feel it today is “a company.” There’s so much expertise tucked away within a modern organization that may not expose itself through a company’s official messaging, but which holds much of a company’s competitive strength. Like what it’s learned about aligning product management to the business, or doing agile at scale, or even applying agile principles to other disciplines like marketing.

Some of the value drivers for blogging seem to have weakened in the last 14 years, but this avenue of empowerment of the individual writer and of their audience by connecting with them is still deeply important.

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance

Carrie Fisher with Paul Simon, from People magazine
Yes, of course I’m sad about the loss today of Carrie Fisher, probably my first preteen crush and certainly my first model of a strong female lead. (At least in A New Hope.) And then she was my first seriously funny, seriously damaged novelist (I read Postcards from the Edge in high school), and later a kind of shamanic touchstone in any movie in which she appeared. But the main thing is she was there, fiercely telling critics even this year to blow her. As more people who seemed eternal verities in our cultural hoard are taken by 2016, of course I want to roar. 

But I’m also wistful. Paul Simon, Fisher’s ex husband and longtime friend, in some ways eulogized her best in songs on Hearts and Bones, Graceland, and Rhythm of the Saints, the youngest of which is now over 25 years old. And today I think about “Hearts and Bones”:

Thinking back to the season before

Looking back through the cracks in the door

Two people were married

The act was outrageous

The bride was contagious

She burned like a bride

These events may have had some effect

On the man with the girl by his side

The arc of a love affair

His hands rolling down her hair

Love like lightning, shaking till it moans

Hearts and bones

And “Train in the Distance”:

The thought that life could be better

Is woven indelibly

Into our hearts

And our brains

And “Graceland”:

She comes back to tell me she’s gone

As if I didn’t know that

As if I didn’t know my own bed

As if I never noticed

The way she brushed her hair from her forehead 

And she said “Losing love is like a window in your heart

Everybody sees you’re blown apart

Everybody feels the wind blow”

And “She Moves On”:

And she says “maybe these emotions are as near to love as love will ever be”

So I agree

The moon breaks

She takes a corner, that’s all she takes, she moves on. 

Dammit. And now I want to read her autobiography and hear her side of the story. 

Near miss

A Wikipedia page I was largely responsible for has been spared the axe, and I feel like a successful defense lawyer. 

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that’s free for anyone to edit, that aspires to surpass other encyclopedias in quality. To meet both goals it has evolved a series of rules, a few arbitrary but most well thought out and endlessly debated, that determine what stays in and what goes. Rules like “Wikipedia is not a directory” and “Wikipedia is not for promotion” are self explanatory; “Wikipedia is not a memorial” may take more careful reading. (I find this page a helpful summary.)

So when Wikipedia editors get in an argument about whether something belongs, it is through a formal process called AfD, for “Articles for Deletion.” And the discussion often goes down the various principles listed above, frequently referred to by initials rather than by name. 

That the ensuing debate is called Wikilawyering is unsurprising, as is the fact that that term itself can refer to misuse of rules to obey the letter of the Wikipedia policy while violating its intent. 

But in the end, your article is likely to prevail if you have taken steps to ensure you write about notable things, cite your facts, and avoid original research and puffery. It’s a great educational process, in that way. 

Doing it wrong

Sacramento Bee: UC Davis spent thousands to scrub pepper-spray references from Internet. You’d think it would go without saying in this, the age of the Streisand Effect, that the best way to eradicate mention of a horrible mistake online is not to try, but rather to own up to it and address it head-on. The absolute worst way is to try to whitewash it via dubious SEO tricks. 

Guess which path UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi chose?

That strange fragile feeling

This has been a winter of illness, unusually so for me. Between Thanksgiving and New Years I was down for almost six weeks with a hacking cough that started with a week of fever and was so hard-pressed to clear stuff from my lungs that I ended up fracturing (or at least pulling) a rib. And now at the end of the winter or beginning of spring I was laid low for several days with another fever + upper respiratory condition, just in time for Easter.

And man, I had forgotten how logy I get when I have a fever. I’m three days on from the last fever and still tired around the edges.

It reminds me of the summer after my third year at the University of Virginia. I had just finished my first summer away from home, doing a lab internship, and I headed back to my family home and slept. For like a day. That in itself was not so unusual, but the fever was. The doctor confirmed that I had finally contracted mono. My third year roommate had had a bad case of it before we went home for break, so apparently it incubated over the summer and then started out slowly.

The end result was brutal. I had enough energy to do a few things, if I forced myself, but then had to sleep for hours. I pulled myself together well enough to get back to the University of Virginia, where the truly painful part of the sickness revealed itself: I was going to have to tough it out without air conditioning, since I was living that fall in a Lawn room in Mr. Jefferson’s original part of the University Grounds. So there were a great many afternoons spent exhausted, sweating, sleepless. And, reinforcing the ambience, I was reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s The General In His Labyrinth, about Simón Bolívar’s dying journey down the Magdalena River. Languishing in the August (and September) Charlottesville heat, I felt as the Liberator must have felt.

I still feel little echoes of that day any time I spend more than a few days sick, as though I’m preparing to return to that sweat-dampened bed with barely enough energy to stand. At this point in my life I know that one day, I hope many years from now, it’ll be a return for good. These illnesses, inconsequential as they are, are just brief glimpses of that ultimate end.

—And that’s why men have a reputation for being bad patients.


Geese at Peepers Pond.

Geese at Peepers Pond. Full size at Flickr.

Another Easter has come and gone. This year I was sick, with a bad cold that came on suddenly after our first performance of the Kancheli “Dixi” and didn’t abate until partway through the day… after I had sung two services at church. There is something restorative about singing the Hallelujah Chorus, if it doesn’t kill you first.

I’ve been thinking a little about something one of our student ministers said yesterday to the children. He talked about Easter and the opening of the cave as a promise from God to us that we can all have that resurrection experience—not just in the context of literal resurrection, but as a second chance, as the removal of the metaphorical stone keeping us in whatever cave we currently occupy. I think about that as I look out on a cold, drizzly spring morning. I’d like to find some sunshine.

The future was yesterday

This is my second trip to Walt Disney World. The first was in 1981. Back then my dad and I went on the then new Space Mountain—my sister tried it only to bail out at the last minute. The next day, we went to Cape Canaveral and watched the first launch of the shuttle Columbia. 

Now it’s 2016. This time I’m the Dad and it’s my daughter (and the rest of my family) who opted out of Space Mountain. And the space shuttles haven’t flown for years. Columbia itself was destroyed in 2003

Walking through Space Mountain, the time seems even more out of joint. FastPass is a brilliant innovation: there are no lines, provided you go when you’re told and don’t mind planning months in advance. Disney discriminates in favor of the intentional and the planful—no place for the ADD-afflicted in this kingdom! Once through it mostly seems dark, and even the refreshed interior seems dated. And either I remember more lights inside the actual coaster or I’ve gone blind. 

Tomorrowland, the part of Disney World that Space Mountain anchors, doesn’t look much like tomorrow any more. Big parts of it consume a pre-mid century aesthetic of Flash Gordon and Googie California gas stations. But this future never came to be. And the bits that have started to come in around the edges—Monsters Inc?—don’t seem like a future at all. 

I don’t know what our future looks like but I don’t think it’s space travel. But when I was a kid that’s all I thought about. What will my kids imagine for their future? 

Fresh From delicious today

Senate Control Could Come Down To Whole Foods vs. Cracker Barrel | FiveThirtyEight
Entertaining analysis showing, perhaps, only that marketers are better at understanding the country’s political segmentation than political campaign planners are.

Aunt Maria’s Vermont Maple Sugar Pie, 1945 – A Vintage Pie Recipe Test – The Mid-Century Menu

The Questa Project | I Love Typography
Seriously cool new font family, worth checking out.