I Still Love to Sing

off key

When I was small, and my mother was alive, and young, we had a piano. It was an upright grand her father had bought for her when she was a girl. I was about five and I would sit on the piano bench and plink one finger or to at a time, composing songs and singing along.

I would play, and then carefully write down the words and notes. Nobody paid me any mind. I am not sure where my brother was, maybe in the yard or in a bedroom with a book. My mother might have been home or out, most likely in the kitchen.

My mother was a beautiful singer, in demand at church. She had gone to school in California on a voice scholarship. From what I know today, I would think my singing hurt her ears. But maybe a mother’s love is tone deaf.

When I was about 10 years old, my father began to teach at a strange little Christian school about an hour from our home. My brother and I went to school there, as did our 4 male cousins.

The cousins lived in Montgomery, in fact, they still do. We were twenty miles east of them. The school was in an ancient old high school 40 miles northwest in Stanton. None of this matters except it meant we spent nearly two hours every school day packed in a 1969 Chevy Caprice Classic station wagon. As we were aged from 17 to 7, we younger kids would listen and learn the latest pop and rock songs from the older boys. My father would let us listen to the push button AM radio when we were close enough to Montgomery to hear WHHY 1440 or 610 Big Bam, but as often as not, we sang acapella. One we were singing one of my favorites and I guess I was singing louder than usual. My youngest cousin looked at me and declared, “Anthony, you really cannot sing!” I was devastated. I quit singing for years.

When I was in my twenties I got divorced and join a group of young singles at the local Methodist mega church. I don’t know about their religion, but as a social organization, they were great. We did all sorts of wonderful group activities.

It turns out one of the things many of my new friends did was sing in the church choir. They encouraged me to join them. I told them I couldn’t sing. They said it was okay, it was a choir. I could sing softly and nobody would really notice. Only when I started practicing I didn’t sing softly. I loved to sing and I had not been singing for over a decade. I sang loud and strong. I loved it.

Then after several practices, the choir director came to me and said, not only could I not sing, I had such a leading voice, I was taking half the choir with me! The only solution was I had to leave the choir. He confirmed what my little cousin had said.

I spent the next thirty years never singing except in the shower or when I drove alone. I often use music to help me with my pacing on the poetry I write. I sing the poem and it tends to flow smoother.

Twelve years ago, my youngest son was born. For the first two years of his life, I sang and rocked him to sleep almost every night. I sang folk songs. I sang pop songs. I composed songs just for him. He seemed to like the sound of my voice.

When he was five, he started playing the violin. He either has a very good ear, or has trained his ear very well. He plays beautifully, and can hear a song once and play it for you. Somehow, I continued to sing out loud around him and his mother. But it has happened again. Somewhere in the last year or so, they both have tired of my singing.

I insist I can sing. I actually enjoy the sound of my own voice when I sing alone in the car. I still love to sing, but apparently, it is a gift only meant for myself.




A Smart City, beyond the Smart Apartment

micro apt.phpRecently a couple of my connections  commented on a post of this link to a video about a Smart Apartment

The video is pretty  cool, it reminds me of the modern motor home with pop ups and pop outs, but it is more interesting and probably much less practical, because nothing pops up or out, the space is limited from the outside, unlike the motor home or camper that is only limited while on the road.

One basically has to rebuild your living space three to four times per day. This  includes putting boards on your bath tub  too make it a sofa (you also have to store the boards and the cushions, and it looks as comfortable as a bad futon (arent all futons bad?)

GEORGE WU, A.I.A.伍荣基 ARCHITECT, a Chinese trained  architect, who has spent most of his career in New York, and is currently in love with container housing, suggests an alternative is container built cities linked to the mega city by bullet trains.

I do think the 300 sq ft  home for four people is not a viable solution in most cases. That’s 75 sq ft per  person. Most jails dedicate more individual space than that! I think less than 200 sq ft per  person is getting impractical, no matter how many walls you move. The problem is that in the worlds  major  cities, from Peking to New York, London, Rome, and so on, the sq ft cost of real estate, plus the actual building cost gets so high that 300 sq ft looks like it MUST be an option, because it costs over million USD  and that is at the top of  the range for most working people, maybe  three  times the realistic range of MOST working people.

But I wonder if the train ride to a “bedroom community” isn’t just a modified  version of the  1960-1980s growth of suburbia, that is pretty much now seen as a failed experiment. While I am neither  a fan nor  an enemy of container housing.


1) Its already built and it is  very sturdy (assuming you dont cut too many, too large  holes in it.

2) Its cheap, about $2000, per  20 ft long by 8 ft wide, by 8 ft high. (40 ft long is available at even lower sq ft pricing)

3) they are designed to be stacked, so they are ideal components for apartments.


1) They  are very limited in size,though you can cut and weld, but the  basic unit is still 8 x 8 x 20 (or 40), and most of  us like rooms wider than 8 ft, in fact, they are less than 8  feet, because  the interior  wall has to be built inside the steel wall. This can be overcome by setting say three containers side by side and cutting out one wall on each end section and two walls on the middle section. This would give you a 24 x  20 room, ideal  for a great room, or two units set side by side for a 16 x 20  bedroom, and so  on. One can get creative, but that is still a lot of steel cutting and waste.

2) Land is the issue, even more than the cost of construction. If you gave me a lot in the city center, I could frame up a wood frame house for $5-6 per linear foot, pour the  slab for $2 per sq foot. Roofing would be a bit more expensive, but not much, you are still very close to the same $12.50 for a shell, maybe $15, but you have unlimited flexibility of design, you can build on site. With the containers, they would have to have tons of hours of  steel cutting tools in an industrial setting and then transported to the location to be finished out.

I can tell you  from years in construction, having large components that need to fit together in a custom manner leads to lots of  headaches, and heavy duty steel is not easy to manipulate for your average carpenter.

The container does not have  Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC, wall, floor and ceiling finishes, insulation, or an interior wall, for that matter. In short, containers are a viable option, but not a great breakthrough compared to traditional wood or CBS.

Enough on Mr. Wu’s containers, no matter what you use for builing material, the question remains: How  do  we solve  the $1,000,000 tiny apartment problem in a green and sustainable way?

The micro apartment is interesting and may have limited appeal in extremely dense and expensive residential areas, such as the world’s largest cities.

We also looked at container housing as an option and high speed rail connected distance living arrangements. The problem is none of these solve the long term issues of higher paying jobs being located in the city center and the cost, both in dollars and environmental impact and generally on the quality of life.

One wonders if there were an intelligent plan not only to design walkable cities with residential, retail, light industrial and office space in a healthy mix. One could, through tax policy and other incentives encourage “anchor corporations” to locate to these areas and draw populations away from the massive mega cities. If a series of mini cities and even a few major new cities could be used, say in America to draw the populations from the 10 biggest metropolis areas.


One would not need a high speed rail for commuters, but it might still facilitate the interconnectedness of these new cities to be dotted every hour of high speed or 3 hours of highway traffic. Wherever they are best suited to be located, it would seem useful to all concerned. I am not an urban planner, but I am certain there are people much more knowledgeable about the matter who can determine the appropriate size, location, frequency of such new cities.

The “Smart City” would need to have enough mass to attract and maintain a core of everything, builders, office workers, factories (clean and safe enough to located in the mix, of course), schools, students, school teachers, hospitals, cops, and so on. Like the Micro apartment that started this off, the city would need to be well thought out, but it would need enough flexibility to fill the needs not only of society at large, but of the individuals who choose to make it home. The structure and function could be designed in, but the culture must come from within and radiate out of the citizens themselves. Otherwise these cities would be destined to fail and so many planned societies have in the past.


Hemlock, North Carolina and Other Lost Places of the South



Hemlock, North Carolina


Hemlock is what is now Macon County, North Carolina.

In about 1820 they made a new county from the eastern tip and named the county for North Carolina’s native son, and 7th president of the United State of America. and renamed Psyke, for a local land owner, Macon.

A couple of decades later they broke off the tip and named it Cherokee County. We are not concerned with Macon and Cherokee, or even the Cherokee Indians for whom its named.

In the mid 1700’s, the eastern end of North Carolina was wild, “Indian Country”. As Europeans pushed in, it was disorganized clumps of farmers in no particular grouping or sense of formal society.

In 1786 a Greek professor, named Alexandros, possibly disgraced, but in any case a recently retired from a small college in New England. Sometimes it was rumored to be an ivy league school, but in the late 1700s most of the North Eastern colleges were possibly more ivy league than the eight we know today as The Ivy League.

Hemlock College stands where one would expect to find the courthouse, in the center square. Three stories and two wings of red Georgia clay bricks. The floors are made of thick oak beams, planed on three sides with the rough debarked tree for the ceilings There twenty windows on each side on each floor with drafty hand-made glass panes strung together sixteen to a sash. Two hundred and thirty years have eroded and discolored the bricks to a fuzzy burnt orange.

Only the Square is not a square. It is nearly a perfect circle, surrounded by other rings of streets.

The four compass points are streets that cut clear through 10 blocks in each direction. All the other streets are no longer than one or two blocks, creating a labyrinth effect. When Hemlock was at its peak as the cultural center of the new white communities of western Carolina, the population and the business district temporarily overflowed this careful pattern and beyond the 21 block circular core ran dogcart paths helter-skelter with shacks and shanties.

Today the town has shrunk back to within these neat circles, though sections are in disrepair. The college is gone, though the building remains a hulking shadow in the heart of the dying town. Most of those of an age to attend college have also fled. There will soon be no one left to tell the legends and to sort the myth from the truth.

The old man built the college. He was no older than I am today, but then, a 56-year-old man with a massive white beard, well down his chest and a crumpled black dress hat, was old.

Hemlock College was the first free university in the south. Every white male in the surrounding hills and valleys of 16 years or more who could read and write was eligible to attend. By 1801, Alexandros controlled the entire western end of the state. The region was broken into three counties, the westernmost, (today’s Cherokee, Graham and Clay) was called Chaos. The main town was established by students of the old man. They named in Pathos.

To the North was a third county, Dismal, and its county seat, named by other students and devotees. The county seat was called Alítheia or Greek for “Truth”. Hemlock’s own county was named Psyke. A slight misspelling of the original, but as it was the first of the counties to be named, the professor felt he needed a word with the meaning he wanted but not too far in appearance from a common name (Syke).


Today, Dismal is Swain County, and little remains of Dismal, Chaos, Pathos, Alítheia, or Psyke, except a granite stone set in the orange brick well with this saying,


”From Chaos to Dismal’s  Alítheia, one must past through  Hemlock.”


The professor was taken with the fact that both the rare and native tree, the Carolina Hemlock grew in close proximity to the transplanted and deadly hemlock bush. There was a great scandal in the 1820s, with the professor and some of his young students involved in the rape and murder of either a native American girl, a slave girl or possibly even one of his own male students. The details have been lost.

The legend has it that he and about a dozen young students who were suspected in the incident, upon hearing that lawmen were riding out from New Bern to arrest the lot of them, chose to sit on the grand steps leading into the main hall of Hemlock college and drank a cup each of freshly crushed hemlock, the bush. The professor had insisted on a hedge along the western order of the grounds be planted in poisonous hemlock. The old man, and the young students relaxed into their deaths.

The college died with those men. There were attempts to reopen, but the longest run was as a negro school in the 1870s, but in 1885, that school moved to a less troubled locale.

Today, you can trace you fingers over the interesting lines etched in the granite stone, you can sit on the weathered steps or peek through the windows of the first floor and see what  200 years of disuse can bring. What you will not find, other than a few circular streets, any reference to the professor, to the victim of the group nor to the men who took their lives on the front steps.







Great Salt Ridge

The Great Salt Ridge runs roughly from Memphis Tennessee to Mobile Alabama. European settlers learned from the Native Americans of various salt outcroppings as they moved into the region. Salt is a was a key component to human life.

Today we hardly give the salt shaker a second glance unless it is either empty or, as in my case, our doctors have told us not to touch it. The it sits on the table like the hole from a recently missing tooth, with our minds metaphorically flicking out to the shaker again and again. But it was not always this way. There are legends of a man in Frankfort Kentucky buying up all the salt and making a fortune by jacking the price up to more than double its normal cost.

The point is these salt outcroppings or flats or pits or ridges were of great value, and well-marked. Towns were built around them. Morton, yes, really, Morton, Mississippi, Laurel, Carthage, in fact, Carthage was named for the salt, or at least the legend of the ground of old Carthage being salted in defeat. Around the town square, chunks of salt lay on the ground, and it reminded some local scholar of the tale of the destruction of Carthage.

Morton, on the other hand was named for the salt Company. The village predated the salt company, but as was common in Mississippi around 1900, many villages sprung up without any real names. Some, like my family’s home village of Soso, Mississippi were intentionally named by a quirk of fate, others were called by various titles until one stuck. Morton was named by a wholesale foods dealer who opened a store there and painted a large Morton sign on the side of the building, probably as a co-op with the young Chicago salt company.

Again, as salt was common around the town, folks started calling the town Morton. It is unclear whether the wholesaler actually sold much salt, as it would have been equivalent to “selling ice to the Eskimos”. The wholesale company has long been out of business, and the building burnt down from a hobo’s fire in about 1968.

In 1963, a team of geologists noticed the more or less straight line of outcropping and did a little research to determine they were connected. This was of interest to the geologists as salt is sometimes a precursor to oil deposits. Oil was found, and is pumped from the ground to this day in south Mississippi.

In 2008, a team of scientists working at the University of Mississippi realized the salt ridge was an ancient river bed, probably the river that drained the Midwest until a series of earthquakes changed the topography of the region south of Memphis and creating the valley that cradles the Mississippi today. The great ancient river stopped flowing and the waters evaporated and then over a long period of time as hurricanes and storms would flood the coast, the ocean water would flow back into the valley of the closed off river, again, over time evaporating, until after thousands or possibly millions of years, the bed of salt built up. Then the earth broke and shifted again, pushing ridges of the old river bed up above the ground.

A Complete Stranger Asks for Help


First published on LinkedIn May 10, 2016

First off I want to say excellent blog!


I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you do not mind.
I was interested to find out how you center yourself and
clear your head before writing.

I don’t, writing is very organic to me. I am in writing mode almost all the time I am awake, and even when I am asleep. If I could get paid to write, I would do little else.

I’ve had a hard time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out there.

I don’t know, its a little like someone who can play an instrument or sing trying to teach me how to do either. I am a failure at both. But since I was 5 I have been writing. It is pretty much a reflex. But I would say to think about what you want to say, think about how you would like to hear about it if someone else was going to tell you the story, then write in whatever way fits you.

Lay out a neat outline and then fill in the pieces (this never works for me). Think of key phrases and build on them (this sometimes works for me). Just start rambling and clean it up later.

Sometimes I will find I am writing about 3-4 things at once. After I get a bit of it down, I have to untangle the bits and write out what I want to say about each. This is more usual for me.

I truly do take pleasure in writing

Think about why you write. Do you write for the sheer pleasure of words on paper? Because you feel the urge to communicate a point you think you understand better than some others? Whatever it is, it might help to know. I don’t always know anything more than, “hey, I want to write a bit about this!” Often my blogs or stories or poems or essays start out as a response to someone elses post and I realize I am not going to say everything I want to say in a few words.

but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be
wasted just trying to figure out how to begin.

If you think about it, no time is really wasted. What else would you be doing? If you can get your mind in a place, then you ARE doing something. I find writing a bit like sex. If you aren’t in the mood, it is probably better to wait until you are.

I have no idea who you are or what your writing experience and goals are. Everyone is different. So my advice may be completely worthless. But even if it is, I just gave you a pretty good example of how I write.

Why I love the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown?

the race

I hate animal exploitation. I am not fond of large gatherings of old money. But I have loved horse racing since before I loved boxing. I did manage to give up boxing. But when they play My Old Kentucky Home, the saddest of saddest songs of regret, about dying on a horrid grind of death sugar cane plantation in Louisiana, and wishing to one more time see the relative “freedom” of being on the Kentucky plantation of his/her birth, yet knowing “no daylight is coming” just a dreary march to death, I am drawn nigh to tears, and not of sadness for the poor slave.

Somehow, I love this show so much, and even think I could bear rubbing elbows with the obnoxious ones to stand one day in those stands at Churchill Downs to cheer on a pampered star athlete, or actually two of them, for the horse and the jockey must both be at perfection to have a chance. 3 – 4 hours of slow afternoons and cocktail parties, side bets and gentlemanly wagers, and two minutes of madness, then an anticlimactic time of unwinding the entire days Adrenalin with a cool down lap and the goodbyes and getting out of the place.


Thoroughbred racing is not much better than dog racing from an animal lovers stand point. The few make it to the races and then on to stud and life is good, the masses are slaughtered a year or two out.

Jockeys are tortured into staying so tiny by fasting and sweating. it is a crazy carryover from when the Plantation owners could and did require EVERYTHING from the slaves and peasants to maintain the fantasy of the few. I hate everything about the Derby, except i love it, much like the song Dixie, which has such horrid connotations but still gives me goosebumps.