A Prayer for Musicians and Artists

Autumn in the Ozarks is an exercise in deciphering metaphors. Colors shift, and every tree seems a personification of a different truth. The modesty of the lady maples wanes, green giving way to a more inviting rouge. She mixes her wine for the mighty oak, who's yellowing foliage is not a thing of cowardice, but rather of rarity. Neither saffron nor citrine are native to these hills; the autumnal oak is our gem.

The rivers overflow these days, saturated by the fall rains that wash through the region. The white bass have long-since made their run through the spawning grounds and have returned to deeper waters. The fishermen have moved to deeper waters, too, allowing these banks a sort of reprieve, a Sabbath. The squirrels sense the deepening stillness, and work double-time to gather a winter's worth of acorns, walnuts, and Arkansas hazelnuts. One river's rest is another rodent's work, after all. They gather and gather under the eye of the bald eagle, who wonders whether a juvenile might make easy pickings for its young.

Maybe it's a bold statement, but [tweetherder]autumn seems an evidence of the thinness of the veil between heaven and earth.[/tweetherder] The colorful metaphors show a glory beyond the simple natural order. Here, glory turns and fills; here, it gathers and hunts. Here, it is.

This is my favorite season in the Ozarks. I see God everywhere in it.


Today's piece is inspired by the Prayer for Church Musicians and Artists from the Book of Common Prayer. It reads:

O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  *Photo by Bhanu Tadinada, Creative Commons, via Flickr.



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Friday Journal: Tiny Letters and Ironic Post-Hipster Bluebirds

We'd been in the coolest summer snap in all of recorded Ozarkan history before that old dog Summer decided to growl. I’d was bragging to a friend in southern California about how we’d barely broken 90 degrees, was in the midst of really hamming it up when Hades himself decided to visit his fiery wrath upon Fayetteville. He came with a vengeance and brought a sweaty, sweltering electric blanket with him. By-gum if all this heat hasn’t made me half-crazy. Yesterday, I was sitting at my desk when this thought came to roost: I’d like to have a pet bluebird; I’d take it to a tattoo artist and have a human inked on its wing. This, I realize, is probably an impossible thing, but in this age of waning hipster relevancy, it struck me as an ironic post-hipster culture thing to do.

Of course, a friend or two poked fun at the notion. Alex asked exactly what the bluebird would do when its feathers started sagging in old age. I’m not sure if that’s a possible thing for a bluebird, but as my first grade teacher Ms. Burr used to say, “there’s no such thing as a stupid question.” My seventh grade football coach said much the same thing, but added, “only stupid people,” which is neither here nor there for purposes of this discussion. (Or is it, Alex?)

Digressions aside, the heat has gotten to me, has made me long for Autumn here in the Ozarks. Autumn is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year in this fair college-town. The people of Fayetteville love their autumnal sports, Arkansas Razorback football being chief among them, and they drive their Razorback vehicles to and fro, begin to dress exclusively in their University-sanctioned Razorback gear. It is a sight to behold.

Last year, I passed an old man on the town square who was wearing a red suit accented by a Razorback tie with matching pocket square. He wore red bucks and a white straw hat and swung a cane with razorback topper. My gaze must have lingered a little too long, because as we neared each other, he stopped and asked “you think it's a little much?” I chuckled. He chuckled back and offered, “I suppose that was a stupid question.” I looked at him dead in the eye, cocked my head and said “my seventh grade football coach used to say there was no such thing as a stupid question.”

*****BIG NEWS*****

I’ve had a good time here at SethHaines.com. In the past few years, I’ve enjoyed the community that’s gathered around the virtual fireplace, that’s stretched into my poetry, prose, and general ramblings. And though I don’t plan on going anywhere, I’m starting a new side project—a Tiny Letter.

“What’s a Tiny Letter?”

I’m glad you asked (or rather allowed me ask for you).

The Tiny Letter is my monthly (sometimes bi-monthly) newsletter in which I’ll be discussing everything from my personal creative projects, to my favorites in music, books, poetry, and general creative tomfoolery. I’ll likely introduce you to a friend or two, and perhaps give you the inside scoop on the places I go. I’ll be a little less filtered, and will deal in greater depth with my struggles in coming clean from dependency and addiction. The Tiny Letter will be delivered directly to your inbox, and you’ll be able to respond by way of email.

In September’s Tiny Letter, I’ll be breaking some fairly big news (as far as I’m concerned, anyway), and the scoop will only be available to my Tiny Letter subscribers. So, if you’d like to join this little community, subscribe here:

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And for those of you who haven’t yet subscribed to receive my blog content in your inbox, allow your eyes to wander to the left hand side of the screen. See that red box? Enter your email and subscribe for my blog updates. (You know you want to.)


Today, I'm refraining from sharing any links. Instead, let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King.

*Photo by Doug Wertman, Creative Commons via Flickr.

On Crawfish Boils and Communion

Allow me to boil it down, the truth about reverse carpet-baggers. Becky is an upright Catholic from South Louisiana, Baton Rouge to be exact, somewhere 'round about Ridgley Road to be even more exact. She's a reverse carpet bagger of sorts, one who followed a fine gentlemen into the heart of the Ozark Mountains. If you are looking for the good news about reverse carpet baggers, it boils down to this: they carry their belongings in oversized stockpots. If there's one thing folks from South Louisiana know, it's how to cook, how to stew, steam, and boil.

I met Becky and her husband, Jim, in the months after Titus was born. She was friends with Amber, and had volunteered to bring us a post-birth meal. She came, several children in tow and carrying a large Tupperware full of homemade Gumbo. Specific in her preparation directions, she said, "don't use Tobasco; this stuff isn't made to taste vinegary. If you have a good Cajun seasoning, use that instead."

There ain't nothing that beats a Type A Cajun.

"There are boiled eggs in it," she said, and seeing the puzzled look on my face, added, "I grew up Catholic and on fast days, the egg was our protein."

At the time, she said, they were doing a stint away from Catholicism, had hunkered down among some good folks at local Presbyterian joint. I smiled, nodded. Truth is, we were all trying on our more reformed theological jeans in those days, in the days before finding them a bit too snug in the rear. This of course, is only a side note, and perhaps one that doesn't beg to be said. [tweetherder text="'Truth be told, though, I often boil folks down to two things: theology and cuisine.' @sethhaines"]Truth be told, though, I often boil folks down to two things: theology and cuisine.[/tweetherder]

In any event, back to boiling things down.

It's the tail-end of May, which is to say it is the tail-end of crawfish season in South Louisiana. For those of you who might happen to be of the more Yankee or Mid-Western variety, let me share a secret with you: there is not a single upright southern Louisianan who does not, come hell or high water, figure out a way to boil crawfish when they're in season. I half-suspect that the Cajun humanitarian workers in the outer reaches of the African bush have sorted out a way to procure fresh crawfish in season; this, or they fly home at least once a year.

I digress.

Last week, Jim sent me note, asked whether I'd be interested in swinging the family by on Saturday for a crawfish boil. My heart response was, "does a Cajun eat nutria?" but I kept it above board, replied instead, "sure." And with that, we made our way to the Carters on Saturday afternoon.

If'n God ever did make a more perfect little boy cuisine, I don't suppose I know what it is. In the Carter's backyard there was a large red tub full of live crawfish swimming in saltwater. The boys gathered around the tub, picked up the lethargic crawfish, put their fingers between the pincers and laughed at the crawfishes' weak attempts to pinch themselves free. They held the mudbugs in the air like prized lobsters, tried to find the ones with the biggest claws. They ran around the yard, holding them to our faces.

"Look at this one; he has one big pincer and one small!" Ike said. Titus stood behind him, wondering at his brave big brother who was holding the alien creature. "Wook, dadda; wook!" he said.

Of course, the day of reckoning comes to all living things, and after asking the boys to return the crawfish to the tub, Jim picked the tub up by the handles and dumped the hoard of creatures into an oversized stockpot of boiling water. A little salt, a little pepper, a healthy dose of cayenne, and some cut lemons were added, along with potatoes, onions, corn, mushrooms, and sausage.

Double, double, toil and trouble--the boiling pot roiled.

A tender woman asked Jim whether the crawfish felt any pain. "Nah," he said. "It's like a warm bath to them."

"Yeah," I said, "like a warm bath to death." I don't suppose this is the way I want to go out, which is another reason I thank the good Lord purposed my life for humanity and not crawfishery.

This, of course, brings us to the finer points of the boil--the eating. After the crawfish blush red, they are removed from the boil and spilled across plastic tables. I turned to Ike, asked him whether he remember how to peel a crawfish. With out a word, and with a smile as wide as an alligator, he twisted the tail from the thorax, sucked the head, pitched the thorax in the trash, removed the exoskeleton from the first knuckle of the tail, pinched the back end of the tail, squeezed out the tail, and tossed it back. He looked up at me, blue eyes beaming, and said, "just like that!" before grabbing another.

Jim and I stood, shoulder to shoulder, working our way through several pounds as Becky worked the table across from us, coaching a fine Arkie-talian fellow (an Arkansan of Italian descent) on the finer points of crawfish eating. "Some of the bigger claws have salvageable meat," she said, demonstrating how to suck every usable bit from the mudbug.

We stood there under the shade of a giant American sycamore, all salvaging, all sucking spicy crawfish juices down to the dregs. We talked life, politics (though not to any serious measure), and religion. We talked rosaries and trim-carpentry. We talked beer and sobriety. We shared the table while the children ran through the yard, pitched crawfish thoraxes at each other and chugged Sprite. [tweetherder text="Perhaps it wasn't Eucharist, but it was communion nonetheless. @sethhaines"]Perhaps it wasn't Eucharist, but it was communion nonetheless.[/tweetherder]

Yes, everyone needs a good reverse carpet-bagging friend, I think. And the truth of good reverse carpet-baggers, especially those from 'round about Baton Rouge, boils down to this: they are creators of good life; they are curators of communion.