Tag Archives: Oxford Mississippi

The 2nd Spring Creative Writers Retreat

The Second annual Spring Creative Writers Retreat was held at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center in Piggott, Arkansas. Once again, I was honored to serve as the mentor/instructor. This marks my fifth year to be involved as a mentor/instructor. As always, it was an incredible experience.

Some have asked how I got involved with a Writers Retreat in farming country Arkansas. Well, I’ll tell ya! When I moved to Piggott to become editor of the then Piggott Times, I worked hard to get to know the people I didn’t already know. Keep in mind, my family has been there for 150 years and has a long history there so I’m kin to about one-third of the folks there. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I know how I think it did: Deana Dismukes, who was then the Center’s administrator, had been delivering press releases to me. The summer of 2007, she asked me to come up and talk to the writers at the retreat. It was in the 5th or 6th year. She bribed me with lunch…and so I went. I did a story for the paper on the retreat and the writers there.

Then, in 2008, after I’d moved to Oxpatch, Deana asked me to come be the assistant mentor for the week long summer session. It seemed the mentor who’d help get it all started, Dr. Rob Lamm, had responsibilities elsewhere and his assistant was stepping up. I gladly accepted!

The retreats were so popular with the writers they demanded a Fall version. Thus, that November, a three-day Fall retreat saw its inaugural session with me as the only mentor. The others had regularly scheduled school responsibilities and I was available! The next year, 2009, the Fall retreat expanded to a weeklong event. Last year, 2011, writers demanded a Spring retreat. It was—and still is—a three day event. I’m honored to have been the only mentor at all of the Fall and Spring Retreats, and I love to see the continual flow of new writers coming to get some of Hemingway’s ambiance (he wrote parts of Farewell to Arms in the barn studio there on the grounds).

Generally, I give the writers a mini-lecture followed by writing exercises both in the morning and then after lunch. Many of them come with projects they’re working on (like novels) and just want some time to get away and write! I know of about three novels that have been at least partially finished—or at least worked on—while at the retreat.

This year was no exception with a slightly smaller—but no less talented group. Pictured are: front (l-r) Dr. Adam Long – Associate Director for the Museum and Ed. Center, me, Mary Lou Moran; back (l-r), John Achor, Shannon Richards, Linda Wyss, Jane Gatewood, Jerry Davis. Not pictured are Anne Winchester and Brett Thielemier.

If you’ve ever considered a retreat, let me encourage you to consider the Creative Writers Retreats at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center. I don’t think you’ll regret it. Tell’em Roland sent ya!

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“Legal” age?

With one of my own having recently turned 16, there’s more frequent talk about the house about the “legal” age. The legal driving age is 16 in most of the places I’ve lived, although Piggott, Arkansas seemed to give them out to 14 and 15 year olds like prizes. Those under the age of 16 could get what is called a “hardship” license. From what I could gather, the hardest thing some of those kids had to do was ask momma for the credit card to get more gas. I think parents signed off on it cause they couldn’t be bothered with driving little Johnny to school, and they didn’t want them riding the bus…a sentiment I understand.

When I turned 18, it was a big deal because I could then do 3 things: vote, drink and die. Not necessarily in that order. It all seemed to make some sort of sense, a crossing over of sorts.

However, the Federal Government stepped in some years ago and decided to raise the legal drinking age to 21. Now before you go tossing tomatoes at me, I’m not advocating drinking, certainly not. I am, however, suggesting that maybe something is slightly off kilter now (that tends to happen when the Feds get involved).

Today an 18 year old can vote in local, state and federal elections, and they can join the military service and potentially give their life in service. But they can’t drink. Really? We think them smart enough that they can vote for the highest office in the land and they can die fighting in Iraq, but we don’t trust them to drink?

Again, I’m going to stop here and remind you that I’m not suggesting an 18 year old should drink. Those who have known me since Y2K know I don’t drink. What I’m saying though, is that something’s not right. If an 18 year old American citizen can’t be trusted to drink alcohol, then maybe we shouldn’t trust them to vote, nor should we trust them to fight for our country.

Yeah, you see it gets a bit sticky.

Truthfully, I don’t know whether the age should be 18…or 21…or somewhere in the middle. I haven’t done the research to come up with a conclusive thought on age. What I have seen in practice is 16-20 year olds drinking uncontrollably around Oxford (something which the City and the local University tends to ignore—can you say “money”?)—and not just Oxford, but all over the US. Heck, just watch what happens during Spring Break. And what I have seen is 18-20 years olds voting irresponsibly as witnessed by our last election (okay, okay, that was a jab—but it WAS funny, you must admit that).

18 or 21? I dunno. But it just seems to me that there is an imbalance there somehow. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks that? Maybe I shouldn’t worry too much about it since I turned both 18 and 21 so many years ago. I guess as my own near the “legal” age, it’s been on my mind.

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New job, Orlando musings

Well, it’s official. I have been offered—and have accepted—a faculty position at Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida. I will be teaching in the Creative Writing for Entertainment Master’s Program there. The fine line details have yet to be worked out, but needless to say, I’m very excited about it. For the time being, I will commute from my home in Oxford…yes, I did say “commute.” And this out-of-the-box idea was suggested by my future boss. Have I said how cool this program is?

So I don’t know how I can write the next paragraph or two without it sounding like a sales pitch for Full Sail, but what I’m intending it to be is simply my observations of the campus. The FS campus is super-high-tech, for every program: film students get state of the art computers for editing and such, digital design students get same, music students have fully equipped recording studios not just for their school work, but for their personal use (same as for the backlot for film students). Every program has state of the art equipment related to their chosen career. It’s a pricey school…but the upside of that is that every student that is there WANTS to be there (unlike some of the English Composition classes I’ve taught).

So BJ and I got to spend some time in Orlando not just at Full Sail, but driving around the area. The first thing I noticed about Orlando is that the lights are long. I don’t mean the physical shape, but the time it takes to change from one color to the next. That, and they seem to be in love with Toll Roads here. Felt like every time we made a turn, some booth was asking for 50 cents or a dollar. One booth asked for exact change—I had not expected the booth, and so it made me wonder what would happen if I didn’t have exact change (I don’t normally carry change in my pocket—when I come home with it, I usually add it to the “vacation” fund!). Truthfully, I don’t know what would happen.

Orlando reminds me much of L.A., flat and spread out. No, it isn’t nearly as big, but everything seems low to the ground. On one stretch of road there (Semoran), there is a McDonald’s every mile or two. Seriously. There are more Micky D’s in a 10 mile stretch from the airport to the University than in the entire city of Oxford (though the ones in Oxford are horrible—avoid them at all costs!).

BJ and I also decided to go out to Universal one evening. Thought we’d grab a bite to eat and maybe see a movie. No theme park stuff or anything. It costs $15 just to PARK! Lady at the booth said I could stay for 20 minutes and it would only cost $3. So, I don’t remember Universal in California costing anything to park. Granted, that has been some years ago, but we used to go out every now and again to catch a movie, or to eat. I don’t remember it costing to park.

More later, I’m sure.

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Oxford Film Festival 2011

Last year, thanks to the encouragement of local actor Johnny McPhail (he has a posse, too!), Brittany and I attended the Oxford Film Festival. We’d never been before and Johnny said it’d be a great opportunity for Brittany to meet some “important” folks. Johnny had seen Brittany perform at the Powerhouse Theater here in Oxford and had really taken a liking to Brittany’s acting. In fact, he was incredibly helpful to Brittany when she auditioned for the Coen Brothers recently released film, True Grit. Some of you will remember that Brittany got a “call-back” audition. She didn’t get the part, but it was a fun experience for her.

So, we went.

And, she did indeed get to meet some “important” folks. (see attached pictures. YOU see if you know who they are) We watched some indy flicks, stayed for the Award Ceremonies and the “after” party—which last year was before the ceremony because of some technical glitch—which, oddly enough, seemed to work out better as far as mulling about and schmoozing. In general, it was a fun time.

So when it came time to go again this year, we were both ready to go. I bought tickets online early and looked over the schedule pretty closely, picking out a lineup of films I thought would be both interesting and “safe” to watch. (I’ve found that many, many independent films—which are not rated by the Motion Picture Industry—are often full of, let’s just say, unnecessary junk). There was additional excitement this year because Brittany and Brett both had tiny speaking roles in “The Hanging of Big Todd Wade,” a locally made short film made by Micah Ginn, who—although he is a diehard Black Bear fan—I’ve grown to respect because of his growing body of creative work AND his commitment to doing and promoting as much local work as possible. Needless to say, we had fun doing it—even though it was freezing the entire time we were there (and I got to wear my Confederate reenacting clothes, sans musket and gun belt.).

We went to the award ceremonies and I actually was more aware of the films and tried to pay attention. In general, these things put me to sleep and I never, ever (EVER!) watch award ceremonies of any kind on television. No, not even bowl game awards or super bowl awards. I mean, games over, somebody won, move on. (Okay, I confess I watch when the Hogs win, but that’s it!)

I found that my opinion was almost the exact opposite of the judges in nearly every instance. The animation segment was probably the most glaring as my top pick didn’t even make the top three! This surprised me. But I also found it funny that most of the winners made some sort of statement like “this is the best thing to ever happen to me in my life.” Now, I have no idea what kind of lives they’ve led, and I’m in no way trying to downplay the Oxford Film Festival (Hey! It’d be neat if something I’d written was shown at a future event)…but, the best thing of their life? It is an incredible honor, of that there is no doubt…but the best thing of their life?

Interesting.

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Baseball season is over…sigh

Well, little league baseball season is over in Oxford and while the last few games were frustrating trying to get a full roster with several of my members on vacation, I’m a little sad to see it end. Our boys, the Larson Big Star Red Sox, finished the season at 8-4. We lost to the same two teams, twice (yes, they were the #1 and #2 teams…making us essentially the #3 team…but the league didn’t keep up with it that way). If you were to ask me, I think the boys had a great time and should hopefully remember this season as a fun one.

As I stated earlier, I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to coach some great boys with great attitudes as well as fantastic parents. In most cases it is indeed true that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I’ve also had the good fortune to have some good guys/dads help me out. For the second year in a row now, I’ve been blessed to have Samuel Woodall on my team and his dad, Sammy Woodall, has helped me. I realize that I’m a bit biased, but I think we’ve made a great team. This year Pat Meagher (don’t ask me how to pronounce the last name, just go with it!) helped and we had a good crew. Of course, Brittany helped again this year after she decided not to play softball at the last minute. I also had help from Mason Phillips, Luke’s big brother, and from Will Larson’s grandfather (I made the mistake of calling him “Mr. Larson” once…and then I was corrected in that he is Christy’s dad, not Brent’s—but no one ever told me his name, so he remains “Will’s grandfather).

This year we did something a little different. Not only do Sammy and I see eye to eye on baseball, but we also have the same ideas about God and faith and such. I mentioned to him that I’d like to get all the boys together as a team outside of a game or practice, maybe have them all attend church together. Sammy jumped on the idea and immediately invited us all to his church…out in Taylor. I loved the idea!

For those of you who don’t know Sammy…he’s the dark-complected one in the photos here.

Now BJ and I have been to black churches before so we knew—even though Sammy warned me more than once—that they like to “get loud.” I can’t speak for the families on my team, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that none of them had ever been to a black church before. So I was very anxious to see how the boys—AND their parents would react.

And we had a GREAT time! The overwhelming majority of my team went—that was exciting to see.

The entire membership of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church was all very welcoming to the team. In fact, after the services were over, they fed us—just us! The choir had rehearsal and other groups had work they had to attend to, but they still fed us! I suspect they realized that most white churches finished up services at least an hour earlier and there would be some hungry bellies! That was one of the first things Brittany noticed: the choir and congregation sang for a full hour before the preacher even got started. One of the things I noticed was that even though they sang for an hour, I knew very few of the songs. In most instances when you visit another church, you know 75% of the songs. Yes, I enjoyed them and sang when I could, but I didn’t know many of them. They also had one of the best praise bands I’ve ever heard—the drummer was fantastic!

Hopefully, this won’t be the last time we do this—in fact, BJ and I have already talked about just visiting there sometime…and hopefully, it won’t be the last time I get to coach with Sammy. But I am kinda sad to see the season end.

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Take me out to the ballgame

Baseball season is underway and I’m once again coaching Brett. What a fun start we’ve gotten off to even though the team is 0-2. (Our 2nd game was a close one, won by the home team in the last inning!) It is Brett’s first year to play “kid pitch” ball and after our first practice, I was afraid we were going to be in for a very long season: I wasn’t sure any of our boys could put it over the plate.

After some work, though, I think we’ve got about four boys who could do a decent job. As you might be anticipating, one of those is Brett. I’ve been amazed at what a fantastic job he’s been able to do. Initially, he said he didn’t want to pitch, just wanted to play infield. But after I asked him to rethink it, he’s really taken to the mound. He struck out 4 batters in 2 innings first game, and 7 batters in 3 2/3 innings the second game. He’ll be taking the mound first thing for our next game, and I think he’s itching to do so.

I’ve been very fortunate in the teams I’ve coached. I’ve had some especially good parents with my teams here in Mississippi. I’ve seen some stinkers for parents, and have seen some of them kicked out (and was glad to see them go!). The worst ones had to have been in Alabama.

I coached UPWARD Basketball a year ago, the first team I coached while living in Mississippi, and was amazed at both the great attitude of the boys AND the fantastic and supportive attitude of the parents. Last year’s baseball team was the same, and this year is already looking to be another great group of boys and parents.

You wouldn’t think I’d talk about the parents when talking about coaching, but I think they are incredibly important to the success of the season—and I’m not just talking wins/losses. Parents with great attitudes at the game can reinforce the fun-factor for the boys, while parents who gripe and complain not only set a bad example for the boys, but ruin the fun AND get the dander up of the opposition parents.

I always tell the boys never to give up until the umpires say we can’t play anymore…one of those “it ain’t over till it’s over” ideas. It’s what I believe we should apply to our lives personally in all that we attempt. Yes, I want to win—baseball is a great and fun sport…but it’s more fun if you can win some of the games! My hope is that I can help provide the boys on my team with 2 months of fantastic ball memories…much like the ones I have…and I guess I’ll have to write about here, since most of those are when my Dad was coaching me!

Go Oxford Red Sox! (at least we weren’t given the Yankees—that’d be a double ouch!)

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College students are back

There’s nothing like life in a small college town when the college students return after the summer. The majority of college students leave in May/June and return to their homes for the summer. Summers in college towns are so nice and peaceful; traffic is relatively light; Wal-mart isn’t crowded, etc.

Actually, that’s just one of the various ways to tell when the college students return…and as much as I’d like to say it’s just Ole Miss students, it’s not, college students nation-wide are generally irresponsible…Wal-Mart was a complete mess my last visit. It wasn’t just “school” supplies either. Every aisle had “dropped” merchandise on it…you know what I’m talking about, the uh-oh, I changed-my-mind-and-now-I-don’t-want-it drop. I saw meat –which is supposed to be in the refrigerated section—with the pop-tarts; I saw pop-tarts with the bagels (someone changed their mind about breakfast); and on and on.

Having worked much of my younger life in retail, I know how incredibly frustrating this can be. And I don’t mean just putting it up, although that is frustrating. I understand people changing their minds—we all do it. But to shove that item onto the first available shelf? That’s not only rude, and inconsiderate…but I would say some of it was like theft. You could almost excuse items that aren’t refrigerated. But to see a milk in with the paper towels? At the very least leave it in the cart and give it to the cashier at the checkout register. I mean, why ruin something just because you’ve changed your mind? This is how I think it is like theft. If you put milk or meat with pop tarts, the meat/milk will ruin. And while it may not be much, it is money that the company loses, Wal-Mart, Kroger, or whoever it is.

In addition to the mess at Wal-Mart, there is the incredible increase in traffic. You gotta think; almost overnight there are 15,000 additional people in the city. Of course, most of them are texting on their cell phones while they drive and that’s why they continue to swerve in traffic almost running me of the road. That’s the other thing that irritating when college is in regular session.

Of course, about the time I get wound up and complaining really good…BJ reminds me that if it weren’t for them, she wouldn’t have a job.

Then I suddenly love college students.

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