This photo was taken in my hometown which was originally founded under the name Bethlehem by a German Catholic priest. His project was to plant parishes in the midst of immigrant farming areas which had no central township. He also founded a town named Nazareth about 30 miles from home: Nazareth and Bethlehem, naturally.
When the railroad came through, they renamed my hometown Umbarger after a Civil War officer who had set up a railroad trading post near the area. The Wiecks were established here shortly thereafter.
One of my dad’s cousins runs this shop. This guy can machine anything, creating functional tools out of scrap pulled from wrecked cars, rusted plows, and defunct lawnmowers. Most of the Wiecks can do this. I did not inherit that trait, unfortunately, but that is what I believe literature should accomplish: Repair and supply a wrecked and defunct world with useful narratives. And I think the most useful narrative was born in that stretch between Nazareth and Bethlehem. And the most beautiful, good, and truthful narrative.
The photo was taken by my friend and photographer Joseph Schlabs.
Our friends at Mystery Church in Joplin have been housing, feeding, and healing victims of the tornado. You can donate by clicking the Title of this Post.
Donate to Joplin Tornado Relief
Around this time of the academic year, I am flooded with requests for letters of recommendation. Students need an authority to be witness to their character and aptitude as they apply for scholarships and internships. It’s in this spirit that I write the following, unsolicited recommendation for the songwriter Ryan Culwell.
May 13, 2011
To Whom It May Concern:
I am honored to write on behalf of Ryan Culwell on his relocation to Nashville,Tennessee. For the past 12 years, I’ve been Ryan’s friend, which I realize holds no bearing on the music industry, although I believe it should because who else besides a friend would see the commitment one has dedicated to his craft than the people who witnessed it first hand.
I heard the shy germination of a talent in a dorm room over a decade ago; the stage of mimicry that every artist should go through as he developed his voice by learning the voice of greats; and heard him in the moments, whether on stage or the edge of lake in Central Texas, when he transcended his influences repaying the difference on their transaction of talent and tradition.
I recognize that the music industry, rightly so, trades in talent. We all appreciate your discerning ears. And though I am hardly an expert on vocal ranges or some other quantifiable measure that the industry may use to judge talent, I do have an understanding of the tradition that Mr. Culwell inhabits. I do know that in the offers of easier routes to success, Ryan has opted instead for the pursuit of art; given his talents to serve his friends, family, and community; and remained steadfast in character.
I hope this letter reaches the hands of someone who might be refreshed by his talent, as I know so many people at home in Texas have been.
All of this fiscal year’s influences collided in one moment. Like a super-collider of influence.
In the picture: James Smith commenting on songwriter Josh Ritter’s forthcoming book on Josh Ritter’s website. Not to mention Josh Ritter’s book is next to a set of Graham Greene books. If Robert Penn Warren’s books had been on the other side, a black hole would have been produced in the Switzerland of my talent and tradition.