Notes from the Small Town Underground


“I used to imagine adventures for myself, I invented a life, so that I could at least exist somehow.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground

I was born and raised in the small town of Hickory, NC (pop. 50,000) – at least until the start of 7th grade when my mother remarried and the family moved to Savannah – and I found myself returning here to live in 1999, after 20 years away, when my wife and I decided it would be a good place to raise our two children. There are a lot of good reasons to live in such a quaint community, but if you happen to be artistic and creative, progressive and irreligious, it can be frustrating and stifling as well. Typically finding myself in the minority with my views, I find myself questioning the validity of my own thoughts, which after a while causes me to wonder whether I have a voice at all. It’s not like I expect everyone to think and act the same – after all, that would be boring as hell, wouldn’t it? – but I do expect a little more consideration and respect for viewpoints that go against the majority thinking, particularly when that thinking determines and shapes policy that impacts us all, whether we agree with that policy or not. As Sherwin Nuland, National Book Award-winning author of How We Die and How We Live, puts it, “You know what everybody needs? You want to put it in a single word? Everybody needs to be understood. And out of that comes every form of love.”

What typically happens when voicing opposing viewpoints is that, first, you get slapped down by the Powers That Be, and then, if you continue to voice your opinions with enough frequency and persistency, you end up being labeled “that guy,” the troublemaker who doesn’t know when to shut the hell up. You know, the one who never has anything positive to say about anything, so why bother listening to him or inviting him to meetings? Knowing that this is what happens to “tall poppies” that openly share their views and opinions, I have always tried to keep a low profile, because I can be insecure and don’t like it when people, particularly people I know well and care about, are upset or angry with me. On the other hand, I tend to have a reckless, devil-may-care tendency to speak my mind, especially when no one else around the table appears willing to do so. I feel it’s important at times to be that lone opposing voice as a reminder that agreeing with the majority means neither that your view is RIGHT nor the only one. Typically, we’re too damn lazy to work through all the different viewpoints to arrive at consensus, so we take the path of least resistance in order arrive at a place that on the surface appears to be consensus purely by virtue of those who oppose keeping their mouths shut.

I believe our area is particularly prone to this kind of group-think and politeness to a fault – or perhaps it’s just our brand of Southern hospitality and gentility – but by the same token I believe that the current needs of our area require us to engage in a deeper, more disruptive kind of conversation that the Powers That Be actively resist and attempt to stifle. Why is that? One pet theory of mine is that the command and control economy that drove the furniture and textile industries in our region’s manufacturing heyday still holds sway. Or at least the commanders and controllers of yore have not come to grips with the reality that they no longer call the shots, and yet they refuse to step out of the way to give the new, younger, more innovative voices a chance to join in the conversation. Having been involved with enough non-profits to observe how we defer to these former Movers and Shakers over and over again, it’s enough to understand why Hickory and the Catawba Valley could very well be the place where innovation goes to die. Our economic wagon has been stuck in the ditch for over a decade, but we seem incapable of recognizing the hard truths, making the hard decisions and doing the heavy lifting necessary to pull us out, in spite of many well-meaning but ultimately failed attempts. Because those in power do not voluntarily concede that power, it must be taken from them if anything is to change, and yet no one in our community seems willing or able to do that.

With this blog, I don’t intend to be – nor am I capable of being – the person to take their power, because I have so little power myself. However, I do intend to be at least one person (I know there’s others), “that person” if necessary, who makes an attempt to explore and wrestle with these hard truths about our community, as well as potential solutions to our problems. I don’t mean to do this as a declaration that I have all the answers, because I would be the first to admit I don’t. I am also acutely aware that the world, or internet, does not need another damn blog (truth be known, I need this blog more than the world does). I intend to use this as a way to process my personal thoughts on such matters to reassess my place in this community as a parent, consumer, liberal and lover of such low, medium and high-brow art forms (literature, music, movies). At present, the sum total of where I fall in these categories makes me feel more like an outlier than a respected and valued citizen. I understand that part of this is due to perceptions I may have of myself, but another part is reading carefully the clues that society reflects back to me. Ultimately, I wish to examine the question of whether this sense of place in a small and more or less rural town in NC, this sense of identity as someone raising my community’s future leaders, as someone who has a vote for those who wish to lead us and as someone who seeks to invest and be involved in worthwhile initiatives that help to improve our lives, translates to having any power to affect change. We all have something worthwhile to offer, and I want my explorations to serve as an example to anyone who might think otherwise.

Writings for the blog will be captured in several sections, or buckets, purposely large enough to contain spillover from their intended contents/labels. Notes from the Small Town Underground will be the place where I record my thoughts on Hickory and the region in which I live. Even though I’m not an economist or political scientist (akin to the trend in which climate change deniers deflecting from the damage of their ignorant views by claiming not to be scientists), I will weigh in with my opinions on these and other topics at the intersection where they impact our community and daily lives (as opposed to the fictional arena of baseless ideology). As I am now on the cusp between middle and old age, and therefore closer to mortality, there will be a section called Jesus Is Bored where I will explore topics of spirituality and religion, or rather how to live a satisfied and fulfilled life in absence of any assurance of redemption or afterlife. There will also be a section called Real Life Rock and Roll. I am borrowing the title of an earlier web site of mine where I planned to wax philosophic on music, but here we will look at impressions of music, movies, literature and comics (and more, but these are my main passions) against the backdrop of real life. In other words, I can’t very well call or present myself as a critic when time and obligations, family and otherwise, do not allow me to dive into and live with a work in order to render a scholarly opinion. And yet their power to facilitate a kind of transformational storytelling of my life and its meaning has never abated since I was a kid pretending to be Spider-Man. And last but not least, the Raw Spewage section will be random rants and ramblings (though not all with the same alliteration!).

What else do we have but moments and impressions that add up to memory and identity that leads to…death? At my age (just turned 50) I no longer give credence to the notion that we make a life in terms of the traditional building blocks of grade school>college>career>marriage>children>legacy (well, some of us do, and more power to you). Life as we live it in the moment is concerned with none of these fictional constructs, and if there was a superior being looking down on us from on high, he/she would be laughing his/her ass off at our attempts to craft meaning and purpose to our transitory existence other than finding that meaning one moment at a time and treating our fellow beings (human, animal, vegetable) with kindness and compassion. But that still leaves me with a quandary: if our present moments don’t “add up” to some grand conclusion – after all, my years in school certainly did not “add up” to a career – what does all this mean? Stay tuned as I fail to answer this and all other questions, while at the same time you, dear reader, and I will have a vibrant, meaningful and perhaps transformational conversation nevertheless. Comments and thoughts from anyone who might be reading are always welcome.

One thought on “Notes from the Small Town Underground

  1. I love the idea of writing while knowing you will fail to answer these questions. It syncs nicely with your conclusion that the digits of our lives don’t add up to a proper sum. IMHO, setting sail in uncertainty, in a tempest, not knowing if a destination even exists, is heroic in all senses of the word. Cheers mustcantwill. May you find a port.


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