Telling stories

When the Stars Grow Dim

Posted by southwrite on October 12, 2014

The Rolling Stones on a recent tour.

The Rolling Stones on a recent tour.

One of the really jarring things about life is not waking up to realize that you’ve gotten old without knowing it. No, it’s that all your idols, inspirations and toys have too.

The passage of time really hit home to me a few weeks ago. I was reading about the death of ‘60s rock star Paul Revere (of Paul Revere and the Raiders.) Now I was never a fan. My sister was the one who adored him. She collected the band’s albums and even went to a concert. In fact, until I read of his death, I can’t say that I  really thought of him in the last four decades.

Yet, I had this image of Paul Revere frozen in my mind. He was always a young and vibrant rock star. The picture was clear of this larger-than-life dynamo, dressed in Revolutionary War uniform with neatly cut black locks, bouncing joyfully around the stage. The shock came in seeing images of a now aged man, long hair now gray and carrying the extra  weight that comes with passing years. There had been no adjusting to the fact that he had become an old man.

Of course, all the stars of my youth – such as the now 70 year old Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney who’s now a peer of the realm  – have settled into a more and less comfortable period of decline. These teen idols are now long past qualifying for Social Security. Some, like Jagger, still make a passable attempt at mimicking their former youthful fast moving presence on stage. Yet, I know, as do they, the days of performing are coming to an end.

Paul Revere  was still the showman in later years.

Paul Revere was still the showman in later years.

Aging brings change to everyone. For most of us, it’s not as public or as dramatic as it is with an  rock star who came to fame 50 years ago amidst the screams and fainting of young girls. There’s a certain irony to still singing songs of teen age love when you’re older than the fathers of those girls.

For the fans who have largely aged along with them, there also comes a need for acceptance. Neither they nor we are what we once were. Rock, the music of youth and rebellion, is now used to sell consumer products. Remember when Microsoft used The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” as the soundtrack for the advertising campaign that launched Windows 95? (Of course, rockers have been promoting products for a long time and have never been anti-capitalism.) Bands like the Rolling Stones play Vegas casinos. (Could Frank Sinatra or the Rat Pack have imagined these rockers would be taking their place as draws to fill time between sessions at the craps table?)We’ve all sold out in one way or another.

Mick Jagger on stage and youthful.

Mick Jagger on stage and youthful.

Listening to the music is a way to recapture our youth and a particular time and place.

We also try to buy back the youth we’ve lost. I did that with comic books for a time. I grew up in a small town in Georgia in 1960s and ‘70s. In those days, one of my greatest delights was the weekly trip into town to visit the comics rack in the corner drug store. In their cheap, but colorful pages I found new worlds and delights of the imagination. Then in my late teens I gave them up and moved on to more adult pursuits.

I never forgot Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, Superman, The Flash and a host of other heroes of my imagination. Later in life I began collecting them again. Of course, the cheap paper was unchanged, but now they were considered collector’s items with high prices to match. I paid the price, but I couldn’t recapture those youthful moments. My superheroes were the same (even those their pages were now yellowing), but I wasn’t. I was older now and that young boy was just a memory.

My experience of comics, like rock and roll, was particular to a moment in time. As we get older those moments can’t be recaptured. They’re gone and for us the best thing is to let them go.



Posted in Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Continuing Mystery of the Georgia Guidestones

Posted by southwrite on September 14, 2014

Elbert County's granite mystery.

Elbert County’s granite mystery.

Seeing the Georgia Guidestones for the first time can be a startling experience. Driving north on GA 77 from Elberton, you pass through hill country dominated by brick ranch-style houses and barn-fronted pastures. Suddenly, about seven miles out of town, they appear to your right, rising up from the highest point in the county.

Four imposing 19-foot-tall, 119-ton granite blocks with a center column supporting an equally massive capstone. Closer observation reveals an even stranger sight. On each of the stones are a series of carvings—aphorisms for living, in languages ranging from modern English and Russian to Egyptian hieroglyphics and Babylonian cuneiform—12 in all.

Obviously, this isn’t your typical North Georgia roadside attraction. Although the area surrounding the guidestones is well-kept, with freshly mowed grass, shrubs and even a rose garden— thanks to a foundation established to maintain it—the location seems to draw few vistiors these days.

Elbert County locals are just as happy to keep their treasure under wraps. They prefer to be known as the World’s Granite Capital, not as the home to an oddity that has generated worldwide interest and controversy.

Although at first glance they may evoke images of Stonehenge, the guidestones are actually of more recent, but somewhat mysterious origin. According to local lore, one day in 1979 a mysterious stranger calling himself simply R.C. Christian showed up at the office of Joe Fendley, then president of the Elberton Granite Finishing Company. He carried plans for a large monument that a small, anonymous group of men wanted to build near Elberton.

The mysterious Mr. Christian (most say it’s not his real name) came with funds to back his odd request. He and his backers had chosen the area because of its famed granite, he said at the time. After a brief search, a five-acre hilltop pasture belonging to local contractor Wayne Mullenix was purchased and work began.

Guidestones 2Never during all these mysterious goings-on did Mr. Christian disclose the purpose for the construction effort. He merely smiled and said it would all be revealed soon enough. Upon completion of the project, he left and was never seen again.

Wyatt Martin, the banker who acted as Mr. Christian’s agent, said in an interview with CNN: “He told me, ‘If you were to tell who put the money up for this, it wouldn’t be a mystery any more, and no one would come and read it.’ That had to be part of the attraction, to get people to come and read his 10 rules that he came up with.”

More than two decades later, the Georgia Guidestones remain steeped in mystery. Following precise specifications, the upright stones are aligned to follow the trajectory of the moon during the course of a year. A slot cut into the center stone aligns with the position of the rising sun at the summer and winter solstices. During the equinoxes, the noon sun shines through to indicate midday. A small hole in the overhead capstone serves as a crude sun calendar.

Since the site was unveiled to the public in a ceremony attended by more than 400 people in 1980, it has been the object of both wonder and controversy. Local ministers denounced it as satanic. Wiccans have traveled from near and far to hold pagan ceremonies.

The Guidestones have often been the target of conspiracy theorists.

The Guidestones have often been the target of conspiracy theorists.

A more down to earth theory is the Guidestones, built during the Cold War, are a guide for civilization’s future in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. Among the advice carved into their granite sides is a call to “unite humanity with a living new language” and a call to “Maintain humanity under 500 million in perpetual balance with nature.” Other sayings are straightforward maxims for living— “Avoid petty laws and useless officials.”

Over the years the stones have been often defaced with graffiti, but local officials concede it’s the county’s most visited attraction. Last year there was talk of staging a festival around the Guidestones to attract more visitors to this small sparsely populated county where unemployment runs high. So far nothing has come of the idea due to prohibitions against charging admission to the site or constructing any types of building. Although there has been considerable effort by researchers to ferret out the secret of the Guidelines, locals hope the mystery stays just that — a mystery. Take away the doubt and the wonder and you remove a big reason for people coming here.

So the Georgia Guidestones continue their lonely watch from this hill in Northeast Georgia and keep their secrets.

Posted in Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

When It’s Not Cool to be Hip

Posted by southwrite on September 9, 2014

Bald WriterWhile there are many ways to improve your writing one quick and easy – if not painless – way is cut the clichés, the hip sayings, and (all kinds of) jargon that cloud rather than advance communication.

Let’s confess, we love them even if we don’t always see a cliché as a cliché. The job wasn’t easy. No, it was a slam dunk. You didn’t get chewed out (an aged expression if ever there was one). “No man, I got chirped!” Want to tell someone you scored something really good? It was “swag money.” Pass a test? No, you were “killin’ it.”

It’s not that they really describe a situation – they don’t – but we feel that by uttering them we have acquired a bit of the cache of the trend setters. It makes us feel cool and not in its original meaning of early jazz musicians like Charlie Parker. HIs 1947 classic Cool Blues aptly conveyed the composure and style that was highly creative and original. Cool is still with us – always; but its meaning has been appropriated by media – especially advertising. Now cool is no longer about the style and detachment, but about…anything. Everything is cool. And, nothing is cool.

Leslie Savan, in Slam Dunks and No Brainers: Language in Your Life, the Media, Business, Politics, and Like, Whatever explained it this way: “The catchwords, phrases, inflections, and quickie concepts that Americans seem unable to communicate without have grown into a verbal kudzu, overlaying regional differences with a national (even an international) pop accent that tells us more about how we think than what we think.”

Of course, many of the expressions we use are much older than we think. Black Americans have gifted – not always willingly – white Americans with a host of expressions. Many phrases that we use every day comes to us from Shakespeare. (Think of too much of a good thing, one fell swoop, flesh and blood, sea change and the long and the short of it among others.)

It’s one thing to pepper water cooler conversation with pop references. At worst you’re only boring a few office mates. Once you start incorporating them into the written word, you automatically begin to date your work. If your article is posted on the web, it’s going to have a much longer life than you might imagine and buzz phrases will seem awfully dated.

Better to just admit you can’t keep up with pop. That phrase has already been uttered millions of times. Worse, the hipster who coined it has long since moved on to something else long before you got around to it. Thanks to the media you’re trying to feed, it’s disseminated over and over again. Every bit of life and originality has been painfully squeezed from every pop phrase.

The same goes for the endless stream of specialized industry jargon. Oddly, enough although most of the media including books, articles and blogs have been dumbed down to the point that it’s unlikely you’ll come across any unfamiliar word, business reports, white papers, sales copy and brochures are often filled with words that nobody outside the industry could possibly know. Don’t use them – unless you’re required to do so.

If all of the clichés and cool expressions are out, then what is left? Well, there’s plain old English. Using simple accurate words always work. You can also come up with your own turn of phrase — one that is more original and fitting.

When you do that, then you will be hip and more than a little cool.

Posted in The Media, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Positive Art of Saying No

Posted by southwrite on August 25, 2014

Engine start stopWe all really like to say yes. When someone asks you to do something – take on another job or head up another committee – more often than not we’re inclined to say yes. We’re flattered that people think of us – especially those who want to pay us for our yes – and we we believe that “the ask” is itself an indication that we can and should do it.

Far too often we’re wrong. We say yes to requests when we should be saying no. Saying yes becomes an addiction that gives us a short and temporary high that’s often replaced by guilt, stress and sometimes leads to failure.

Many of us have a hard time saying no – especially to people we consider friends or colleagues. I know I do.

There was a time not so long ago when I was feeling overwhelmed. I had a heavy work load of freelance assignments, but I had also taken on volunteer work for a non-profit. As I accepted more and more tasks to further a good cause, I was spending more hours every week on what became a non-paying job. As the commitment grew larger, it became hard to finish the work I was being paid to do.

I looked at the need and didn’t want to let people down. I thought “if I don’t do it, who will?” I saw others putting in hours and began to critically say “you’re not managing your time. You can fit it all in. You don’t want to let them down”

Guilt plays a big role in our desire to say yes. Take the ALS ice water challenge that has been sweeping America. Facebook and YouTube are filled with videos of the famous and the not so famous dumping water on their heads. While it’s certainly a good cause, a big reason for its success is the (small amount of) guilt that comes with being called out in front of all your social media friends.

It’s one thing to have ice water dumped on your head if you want to support a good cause. It’s another to give in even when you know you don’t want to do it and shouldn’t be doing it and it won’t benefit you in any way.

Most of us would be better off if we said no more often, but in a conscious and thoughtful way.

We have to start with the realization that saying no can be the best kind of yes. Blogger Courtney E. Martin in The Spiritual Art of Saying No describes a conversation she had with a wise taxi driver on why you should say no more often. “You got to, girl. If you don’t learn to say no, you’ll either be miserable or die. One or the other.”

Saying yes to too many of the wrong things can lead to early death – even while you’re still living. We all bring to the table a certain number of skills and assets. These vary over time – particularly as we work to make ourselves better. At any one time we have a finite bank of working hours, energy and other resources.

As we show up in the world doing good things – more work, more assignments, more volunteer activities – we spend those reserves. At some point we reach the end of our bank account. Just as you can empty out your checking with donations to one or another good cause, we do the same thing with ourselves.

It’s easy to reach a point at which we’re drowning in new assignments. As we work frantically to make one deadline after another, things being to slip. We stop putting in the extra effort to polish a sentence or we decide not to call that next source – isn’t three or four enough? We run out hours in the day along with the ability to manage our time and work more efficiently. We start saying no to things that we should be doing – like reading, exercising, and just resting – in order to do one more thing and please one more person.

Here’s a strategy to use when people ask you to take on some task that you’re not really sure about – particularly if it’s a nonpaying volunteer activity.

Follow the Chinese proverb: “When in doubt do nowt.” If you’re not sure, do nothing (nowt). Say something like: “That sounds like a great thing to do, but I need to consider it and look at my schedule and other activities. I’ll get back to you in a few days.” Then you can make your decision deliberately – away from peer pressure. There’s a reason why fund raisers take along a friend or colleague of the potential donor they’re soliciting. It’s hard to say no to someone face-to-face.

Plan how you’re going to spend your time and energy. Just as we know we should budget our money to meet our goals, creating a budget for your time is also essential. You decide what means the most to you. Do you want to support your local church or non-profit? By crafting a plan, you avoid the risk of becoming scattered. Investing your time in one or two organizations can make a much greater difference for them than squandering it with a half dozen groups that you have only a marginal acquaintance with.

When you have your budget set, then it becomes easier to say no to things that will only distract from your goals. “You have a great organization, but I’m already spending all my volunteer time with these groups.”

Some people have no problem saying no. They’re confident and aware of their own integrity. They’re already spending their psychic and physical energies wisely and putting them into the things that mean the most to them.

We can join their ranks.

Posted in Life, Working | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

It’s Time for Writers to Say No to Nothing

Posted by southwrite on August 23, 2014

Money HandI don’t know how I avoided it. After all, I’ve been doing freelance writing since the late 1990s, so I’ve been through quite a few booms and busts in the business. Yet, here was the offer. It was delivered third hand through a friend and went something like this, “we would consider your writing for us, but the first article has to be for free. You know so we can determine if our styles match.”

Over the years I’ve written articles for a number of magazines, ghosted three books, and worked for numerous corporate clients. None of them ever said, ‘we want it for free – you know, to try you out.’

Writing, like any business relationship, carries a certain amount of risk for both the author and the publisher. I may not deliver exactly what you want. You may not hold up your end of the agreement or even pay me. Wanting it for free isn’t really about this risk, it’s about cutting expenses and boosting profits. These days, many very profitable publishers pay their writers and reporters next to nothing or nothing at all. (The most notable examples in this category are the Huffington Post and VICE.)

They have no problem finding takers for their nothing. Of course, it’s usually couched in the sweet melody of prestige. You’ll get noticed and the work you do will translate into big (paying) jobs elsewhere. Unfortunately that rarely happens. Writers who publish their work on sites like the Huffington Post find that the strong wind of notice tends to be a mild breeze or a dead calm. There are too many other toilers and too much material to get noticed. Meanwhile, the site makes huge profits for owners with little left over for those who actually produce the material that brings eyes to the site in the first place. Arianna Huffington sold the Huffington Post for a cool $315 million. VICE publisher Shane Smith is likely to go public at a valuation of more than $20 billion making its owner a billionaire. Most other web ventures and magazines don’t make anywhere near that level of profit, but to one extent or another they’ve adopted the same business model.

In one sense this is pure capitalism at work. In the modern marketplace it’s not about the product you offer, but the leverage you have over workers or customers. In publishing, the business model is often based on scamming the producers into giving away their work. Why pay real money that could pay real bills? Instead offer some intangible and mythical alternative based more on hope than actual experience.

Writers are especially vulnerable to this ploy. We create and we have an overwhelming desire to share our creations with others. We want people to read our work as much and sometimes more than we want to be paid. Many novices come to the profession with low self-esteem about their abilities and a fear that nobody will publish them.

This is a mistake and one that has consequences for all writers. The more of us who fall for the writing for nothing scam, the harder it becomes for everyone else to make a living. The profession, in which once many professionals of varying abilities could make a living, has been transformed into a hand to mouth existence in which only the biggest names with the deepest platforms can really make money.

Make no mistake about it, writing is a business in which you have to make money – or you need to do something else. Writing is labor that deserves to be compensated at an appropriate rate.

The long history of labor and management relations has been marked by conflict and even violence over wages and working conditions. As independent contractors, freelance writers aren’t represented by unions (although there are a few like The Freelancer’s Union that claim to be), but we are more like employed workers than we care to admit. We have all the responsibilities of self-employed business people, but are still servants to those who publish our work. As the smallest of companies in this Free Agent Nation, we have little or no leverage when it comes to negotiating with magazines or corporations.

So, how do we deal with this issue – with those who want our work without paying for it? The first step is by realizing that you are a business – no matter how small – and that you must run it like a business. You’re writing to make money and turn a profit. You won’t produce either if you succumb to the enticement of providing something for nothing. I realized that fact when I heard the offer I mentioned above. That’s why I said no and did so without reservation.

It’s time we all said no to nothing.


Posted in Working, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

You Can’t Have What You Already Own

Posted by southwrite on August 17, 2014

The familiar rotating comic rack.

The familiar rotating comic rack.

I decided to pay a visit to a local comic shop. You know the kind of store I’m talking about. If you’re a fan, you’re intimately acquainted with the racks of new books that line the walls surrounding tables filled with cardboard boxes of older books. There are also the glass cases filled with toy replicas of the super heroes now familiar to anyone who has visited a movie house in recent years.

Comics are big business now.

It’s been a long time since I had been inside a store like this one and it brought back a flood of memories – of childhood pleasures and adult years trying to recapture them. I thumbed through some of the new titles. They are quite different now than when they became part of my life in the mid-1960s. For one thing, they’re more costly (several dollars compared to the 12 or 15 cents) and much more adult in their story lines. The cheap paper has given way to quality stock and brighter, more vivid colors.

My visit also confirmed again for me a hard truth– owning is not the same thing as having. You might think that the two are the same. That owning is at least necessary for having something, but it’s not.

This is also why I’m no longer a comic collector – or collector of anything for that matter.

Oh, I do own a lot of things which might be considered collectible in one sense of another. Like most writers I have hundreds of books. Some I have with me, but most are in storage. I own, yes, but I don’t really have them. The difference between owning and having is in part about access, but it’s also an intellectual and even spiritual experience.

The realization that owning prevents me from actually having a thing really came home when I went from being a comic reader to a comic collector.

The colorful pages of comics were one of the delights of my childhood.

The colorful pages of comics were one of the delights of my childhood.

My love of this popular art form  began when I was a young boy spending  Saturdays in the small town of Eastman where I grew up. While my parents shopped for groceries and other items, I found my way to the corner drug store with its rotating rack of comics in the window.

I always faced an agenizing choice. With just 12 cents in my pocket, I could only have one. But which one? Superman? Spiderman? The Fantastic Four? The Challengers of the Unknown? Or maybe a western? With limited funds and wide choices, I leafed through each one carefully before making a choice.

I learned early on the loss that comes with each choice. By saying yes to Iron Man, I was saying no to Batman and all the other super heroes left in the racks. I would take a selection to the counter and carefully count out my coins. Then it was back home clutching the issue and eagerly devouring the latest exploits of my heroes.

Once read, it would go into the small cardboard box on the floor of my bedroom. I treasured each one. As time passed each comic book became well-worn as they opened up that world of excitement and wonder that every small town boy needs.

For one reason or another I lost most of those early treasures. They went to trades with other kids or were left behind as I moved on to other things – like college and non-comic reading friends. They were forgotten and thrown away – after all comics were designed to be quick and cheap entertainment.

Eventually, I ceased both buying and reading comics. Years passed and then I came back to them.

With a job and income, I could afford to buy back what I had once loved. And, I did. Comics that I had spent 12 or 20 or 25 cents for were now big money as they acquired collectible status of examples of the so-called Silver Age of comic publishing. I paid for them and began to amass a new collection. Instead of throwing them into an old box, I had to store them in special plastic bags. The cheap paper on which they were printed aged and faded quickly. In fact, finding a well preserved copy of older titles from the 60s and 70s was difficult. For those produced in earlier decades it was nearly impossible.

Today's comics have become more popular and more adult.

Today’s comics have become more popular and more adult.

As my desire to flesh out my collection grew, I began to acquire professionally graded issues encased in hard plastic. The cases certified their condition and value and also prevented further deterioration – the real enemy of any pop culture collectable.

The one thing I couldn’t do was read them. No creasing the spines as I lay in bed engrossed in epic battles between heroes and villains. I was a collector now – not the small boy clutching his beloved comics.

I assembled hundreds of comics. Many such as  a pretty decent copy of Fantastic Four #1 were quite valuable. At last I owned them, but I couldn’t have them.

One day, I don’t remember exactly when, it came to me – collecting is a profoundly disappointing experience. I only really enjoyed it when I didn’t have what I wanted. Hunting for a title was exciting. So was getting it, of course, but the thrill quickly faded.

Once I had a particular book, it was in a real sense lost to me. I had it, but I didn’t have it. The only thing left to me was to gaze at the collection and try to draw some excitement from the idea that a part of my childhood had been recaptured. It was a delusion. The thrill of comics for a young boy was in the holding, the reading, the talking with friends and the trading. After buying all those now valuable items, I was right back where I had started – I knew they existed, but I couldn’t touch them. I couldn’t recapture those days. They truly were lost.

With that realization came another. Owning something that I couldn’t use and enjoy meant not really having it. I stopped being a collector.

I haven’t given up on comics as I did before. I still read them, but in digital form on tablet. Most of the old issues that I had loved as a child can now be downloaded in electronic format. Once again I can read them as I did as child — without worrying about the horror of leaving finger prints on the cover. I can also see them through the eyes of an adult knowing that I can’t recapture that childlike wonder. That too has been lost, but in the process I’ve gained something else.

Posted in Life, The Media | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Music of the Big House

Posted by southwrite on August 13, 2014

The Filmore East painting of the Allman Brothers Band by  Steve Penley.

The Filmore East painting of the Allman Brothers Band by Steve Penley.

It’s really kind of amazing when you think about it. How did the little city of Macon, stuck in the rural center of Georgia, produce so much great musical talent? Start first with the legends – Little Richard, Otis Redding, and the Allman Brothers. Then consider all the other musicians who have called it home and the list just gets longer and longer.

Music seemed to be everywhere on these hot Middle Georgia streets. There’s the Douglass Theatre where Otis Redding was discovered and on whose stage Ma Rainey, Cab Calloway, and a host of other African American talent performed. A few blocks away is Grant’s Lounge, whose wonderfully seedy interior boasts a photo crowded “wall of fame” filled with now legendary artists who came through its back doors on the way to worldwide fame. You can see a lot of younger (and some not so young) performers at the many concerts that fill Macon such as the annual Bragg Jam.

Macon is truly a Mecca for music fans from around the world and no attraction is more visited and revered than the Big House out on Vineville Avenue. In late 1969 this rambling Tudor style home with its lush gardens became home to members of the Allman Brothers Band and assorted roadies, friends and family. Until 1973, it was the place where the band gathered for tours and returned after months on the road.

Linda Oakley originally rented the house while husband Berry was recording with the band at Capricorn Records. Duane Allman and his family moved in, as did Gregg Allman and other extended family members. After longs weeks on the road, it was this house to which they all returned. It was here that music was written and for a short time some of them enjoyed a form of domestic bliss.

Duane Allman's famous guitar.

Duane Allman’s famous guitar.

All that ended with the deaths of Duane Allman in 1971 and a year later Barry Oakley. Both were killed in motorcycle accidents on the streets of Macon. Band and family members went elsewhere and for a time it looked as if this place would be forgotten.

With the breakup of the Band and the closing of Capricorn Records, which had nurtured and promoted the Allmans  and so many other southern talents, the era of Southern Rock music with Macon as its epicenter seemed to have passed. For a time you could ride through the city and never know that so much great music had taken place here.

Yet, thanks to the love and dedication of Allman fans the Big House and its history was preserved.

Today, The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House is open with one of the most extensive and intriguing collections of musical artifacts you are likely to find anywhere. If you want to understand and appreciate the Allman Brother and their place in music and cultural history this is the place to start. Here you can see carefully curated exhibits that tell the story of their impact on music, their concert and gold record successes and the popular culture that sprang up around here.

Front entrance to The Big House.

Front entrance to The Big House.

Here you’ll also find living spaces lovingly preserved much as they would have been while the band and their families lived here.

Come inside the Big House and walk past the front desk into the parlor and the first thing that grabs your attention is Macon native Steve Penley’s large scale painting of the Allman’s Fillmore East album cover. It’s flanked by chronologically arranged posters from all eras of the Allman Brothers Band’s history, as well as their many Gold Records. You can see Duane Allman’s famed gold top guitar that produced those amazing slide guitar riffs on Derek and the Dominos’ classic Layla. Founding guitarist Dickey Betts often slept on the pull out coach here.

Among the other areas is the Old Dining Room with the pool table once owned by Gregg Allman and Cher – they married briefly. Surrounding it are display cases filled with items such as the jacket Lamar Williams wore while performing at a benefit for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1975. There’s the Living Room with its display cases with instruments, hand written song lyrics and other items. The windows face the church across the highway that inspired Dickey Betts’ classic Blue Sky.

Upstairs the bedrooms have been recreated much as they were when the band lived there and provide an intimate glimpse of how they lived.

Everywhere you look are the personal items and artifacts that form an impressive collection that tells the story of music’s legendary groups.




Posted in Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How Many Jobs Does it Take to be a Freelancer?

Posted by southwrite on July 24, 2014

Hire MeIt’s pretty clear now that the old way of working that our parents knew so well doesn’t work anymore. This won’t come as a surprise to freelancers like me who have forsaken the 9 to 5 for independent employment and our own particular brand of entrepreneurship.

This is the Free Agent Nation of Me, Inc. As many see it, the movement toward independent self-employment is reinventing “work” and the meaning of success.

Freelancers Union founder and executive director Sara Horowitz writes “Many freelancers rightly see the standard workweek as a prison of the past. Managing your own time isn’t just rewarding — it’s practical and efficient. Time is a new currency, and successful freelancers manage, save, and spend it wisely.”

Having greater control over your own time and doing the work you love is what brought many of us to freelancing.

While most people still work for (mostly small) businesses, the number of freelancers has risen dramatically to about 42 million. While many have willingly chosen this life, quite a few are self-employed because their corporate job was downsized or outsourced. (They had to create their own business to be hired.) Of course, many of the people filling the cubes in offices are considered “contractors.” This legal fiction enables a company to employ someone without the expense of benefits or even a W-2.

A great many younger workers – the Millennials and their cousins – have embraced self-employment. Having watched their parents get downsized, they know there’s no more lifetime employment. That evaporated along with pension plans and retirement parties with gold watches.

While the idea of a Freelance Nation sounds very appealing, you have to ask how much of this is being driven by passion and how much is simply desperation?

Yes, freelancers have definitely redefined the traditional job, but that definition is not always as romantic and in control as our advocates would have you believe. Consider this: 87% of freelancers have more than one gig a month, and 35% have more than four gigs. Instead of concentrating on just one job, they’re cobbling together multiple jobs and employment – which could mean a part-time job at Starbucks when they’re not at a table working on an assignment. The number of gigs they work on a regular basis is a reflection of declining rates and the inability to make a living by sticking strictly to their own particular niche.

Is this the future of freelancing? You can download the entire report here and decide for yourself.

I became a full time freelance writer in 2002. At the time, I was working for a small college at the time that was in the process of imploding. A large number of faculty and staff had already been laid off in the chaos of the school losing its accreditation. I hung on as the atmosphere grew more toxic and my envy for those recently departed colleagues grew.

When I finally left it was more with relief than sadness. The next day I got up at the same time, got dressed and ready, but instead of driving to the office I walked a few steps to the spare bedroom that had become my home office and went to work on a stack of assignments. I’ve never had the desire to work for a full time employer since then.

I’m also realistic about the nature of freelancing in the modern global economy. It’s not an exaggeration to say you’re competing not just with the freelancer next door, but those around the country and around the world. If what you’re producing can be done by others more cheaply, then clients will seek them, find them and forget about you.

As freelancers we face the same challenges and the same prospects of having your market “disrupted” by wily competitors as any corporation – but without the advantages and resources. That knowledge doesn’t make me want to return to the office, but it casts a sobering perspective over this career I’ve chosen.

What to do? Maybe those multiple jobs and streams of income really is the future.

Posted in Life, Uncategorized, Working | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Lighting Macon’s Past and Present

Posted by southwrite on July 22, 2014

lights-on-macon-04[The second  of a three part series on Macon’s College Hill Corridor.]

Preservation is always high on the to-do list of cities with a good stock of historic properties. In Macon, Ga.’s College Hill Corridor, they’ve taken it one step beyond simple upkeep to showing off an amazing collection of fine homes.

Lights on Macon, an illumination tour of this hilltop neighborhood of Intown Macon, got started in 1995. In the decades since, it’s grown to include more than 112 historic and architecturally significant homes – with more being added each year. It’s also remained a unique feature of the city that is unmatched anywhere else.

A self-guided walking tour features houses that are theatrically lit with carefully positioned spotlights trained on unique design features, such as a sunburst in the gable of a late Victorian and the 30-foot Doric columns on a classic Greek Revival. Homes range from simple bungalows to stately mansions.  Signs on front lawns designate the stops along the route. And, the best part is that this is no seasonal occurrence, but takes place every night of the year.

lights-on-macon-05A 1988 study had suggested that Macon “put a fence around the InTown historic neighborhood and charge admission. Or better yet, show it off with free nightly programming!”  The end result was Lights on Macon.

With a compact network of historic residential streets between Mercer University and downtown, the College Hill Corridor was ideally suited for an illumination tour that would provide something to do every night of the year. Some 60 architecturally significant houses and structures are now part of the tour.

The nightly tour got its start when the local CVB invited lighting consultant Ken Dresser, who had designed lighting for presidential inaugurations along with Disney’s electric light parade to makes suggestions for illuminating city landmarks.

“When we brought him here (to College Hill), he said ‘why don’t you do architectural lighting,’” recalls Maryel Battin, a preservationist and member of Historic Macon Foundation. “You’ve got these amazing houses, but you don’t want to blast everybody with light. It’s got to be subtle, so use low voltage and highlight the architectural details. And, don’t just do it at Christmas do it year round.”

lights-on-macon-03The tour and the lighting of homes have been managed by the InTown Macon Neighborhood Association. Over the years non-profits such as the Peyton Anderson and Knight Foundation have contributed funds to buy the lights. The Association installs the lights, but the homeowners are responsible for paying for the electricity (equivalent to a couple of lamps says Battin) and replacing bulbs when they burn out.

The number of homes grows each year and there is always a waiting list of homeowners who want to be a part of the tour.

“When we first stated the tour we believed we were the only neighborhood association in the country that had done a program like this,” says Battin. “Today, I can’t find anything like it, except people doing individual houses. So this is a very unusual idea that it’s a neighborhood project rather than just individual owners doing it.”

The tour is self-guided. All you need to do is download the free map and tour guide from the association’s website. You can complete the walk quickly, but more likely once you begin looking at the homes and illuminated features you’ll want to linger.




Posted in Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Big City Dreams in The College Hill Corridor

Posted by southwrite on July 19, 2014

Mercer University has been a driving force in the transformation of the College Hill Corridor.

Mercer University has been a driving force in the transformation of the College Hill Corridor.

[The first of a three part series on Macon’s College Hill Corridor.]

Big dreams are not always fulfilled in big cities. Consider Tim Regan-Porter. The co-founder of the highly successful cultural publication, Paste Magazine, turned down a “dream job” with New York publisher Condé Nast to move to Macon. He decided that he could live a better life and make a bigger impact on journalism in this small Middle Georgia city than he could in the acknowledged world capital of publishing.

A growing number of people with big dreams and sophisticated tastes are coming here. They’re drawn by a sense that this is a city in the midst of transformation and the heart of change can be found in the historic College Hill Corridor.

Regan-Porter was in the midst of final interviews at Conde Nast, which publishes a number of magazines, and was eager to hire the man who had successfully developed the third-largest popular music title in the English-speaking world, trailing only Rolling Stone and Spin. He saw that he could be part of something even more exciting than big city publishing when he was offered the directorship of Mercer University’s new Center for Collaborative Journalism and its innovative approach to training journalists.

“It was basically seeing where he would fit best with his skills. We were most likely going to move somewhere like Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and had already scoped out some apartments,” recalls wife Leila, a freelance journalist and editor.

Instead the Regan-Porters moved to Macon’s College Hill Corridor. This roughly two mile area of historic neighborhoods between Mercer University and the city’s downtown was a part of the reason the couple passed on Prospect Park for Macon.

College Hill is an intown urban district in the midst of far reaching revitalization. In the process, it’s become a model of how public/private partnership and dedicated citizen participation can turn an aging city district into a highly livable, vibrant and ever evolving urban center.

The stately Carmichael House is a Greek Revival mansion built in 1848. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

One of many fine homes in the College Hill Corridor, the Carmichael House at 1183 Georgia Avenue is a Greek Revival mansion built in 1848. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

One of the first things you notice about College Hill is its impressive stock of well-preserved historic homes. Macon has more than 5,000 structures ion the National Register of Historic Places and there are at least that many eligible for the designation, according to the Historic Macon Foundation. Many of them are in neighborhoods that comprise the corridor.

The Regan-Porters quickly became part of this revitalization. They’re renovating a circa 1890s house on High Street in the corridor. Known as the Wise Blood house, the film adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s novel of the same name was shot here.

College Hill is a place that local boosters like to call “hip and historic” and it’s hard to argue with that phrase after spending a few days “in the corridor.” It’s preserved its history while fostering a rich and available culture of music and the arts, coupled with all the walkable amenities that draw young (and not so young) highly educated professionals to an urban setting. Here you’ll find streets of historic million dollar mansions not far from neat rows of attractive affordable housing where students and professionals live side by side with the elderly and working class.

The area has benefited from the many residents who care and get involved in the community. That passion for progress has also attracted a lot of money. Mercer University has helped lead the charge in transforming the areas around its campus from a decaying (and crime-infested) slum – without making it unaffordable for lower income residents.

A half dozen years ago, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation issued a $250,000 grant to jump start the community-driven planning of the neighborhood’s revitalization. It was the first of many to come. A master plan for the community was drawn and the College Hill Alliance, a nonprofit group housed on the Mercer campus, began the work of turning the plan into reality.

The Second Sunday concert in Washington Park.

The Second Sunday concert in Washington Park.

To start, the Knight Foundation awarded $5 million to the revitalization efforts with $3 million earmarked for the Knight Neighborhood Challenge. Challenge grants of more than $2.1 million have been issued for a variety of community led purposes. Awards have ranged from $200 for a composting workshop to $180,000 for community wayfinding. The “Lights on Macon” which provides nightly illumination of the districts historic homes has been expanded annually by Knight’s grants.  These grants have helped spur an estimated  $90 million of investment in the area.

Locals say that even with all the progress the best is yet to come. The College Hill Alliance will close its doors next year and turn this work over to the community-led College Hill Corridor Commission. This organization recently unveiled a new master plan that is focused on economic development and entrepreneurship. College Hill is a great place to live, but now it just needs more jobs to keep all those young professionals here. And with this endeavor the corridor will be opening a new chapter in its ongoing transformation.

Posted in Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »