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For six years, Tom worked as a scriptwriter and cinematographer, working primarily along the South Carolina Lowcountry and its barrier islands. While filming on a primitive barrier island one evening, fog rolled in trapping him overnight. That experience led to his novel, Forbidden Island, and the mythical Georgialina. Currently, he’s working on two nonfiction books.
A Lincolnton, Georgia, native and University of Georgia graduate, he lives in Columbia, South Carolina. Read more at www.TomPoland.net.
Favorite Quotes On Writing and Creativity:
"Writing is a kind of smoke, seized and put on paper. "— James Salter
"I never wanted to be well rounded, and I do not admire well-rounded people nor their work. So far as I can see, nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people. The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a design." — Harry Crews
Number of posts: 158
Email address: email
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Posts by Tom Poland:
From the moment you’re born you begin to die. So the saying goes. It’s true in a way but life sure holds promise when you’re young. Everything is in front of you. And then the calendars come and go, each year passing faster than the year before. One day you look in the mirror and you’ve aged.
How long must a person live to say they had a good run? How long is too long? Studies indicate we are living longer and longer but just how long do you want to live? It comes down to three words: “quality of life.”
Rock of Ages
When I was a boy back home one thing that caught my eye was a pile of crushed blue granite, kindly deposited by the highway department along the shoulder of the road. Cone-shaped, the critical angle of repose at work, the pile of blue-white stones glittered like diamonds. I’d get a bag and load up on the smaller rocks, the ones that worked best in my slingshot. Then it was target time in the woods back home.
Knowledge Comes In Unexpected Ways
My old girlfriend, Linda, emailed me recently. She had heard I’d written a book about the shag. “I am totally shocked that you of all people wrote about the shag and beach music. I just cannot believe it!”
She had reason to be astounded. In the early 1980s when she and I hung out, the shag was beginning its comeback from the infamous Dark Ages and she and I mocked the older shaggers as they twirled, dipped, and slid across the dance floor. We had no idea how they had suffered and how they fought to rescue their dance. It was part of the story I would write.
Recollection & Personal History
A woman acquaintance said something one afternoon that struck me in a bad way. I was giving her a ride to pick up her car. As we drove up to the shop, two mechanics were outside looking beneath a hood. Casually and icily she said, “I’ve got no interest in any man whose work requires him to wear a shirt with his name on it.” Had she known me better she would have kept her mouth shut, but she knew little except that I write for a living.
A Southern Classic
Fourth of July brings picnics and lake outings aplenty, and it means fried chicken, all the fixings, and gallons of iced tea, a southern tradition. Before we proceed with this exposition on tea let’s take care of a slightly irritating matter. I hear this great beverage referred to as “ice tea” and “iced tea.” Which is correct?
I prefer “iced tea.” After all it’s the ice clinking in the glass that chills tea, giving it the cool, refreshing taste we love so much on a summer day. “
Southern Aurora Borealis
In the pantheon of great night-sky spectacles, you’re sure to find meteor showers, lunar eclipses, the Aurora Borealis, mysterious fireballs, and the uncommon comet. Lattices of lightning make my list too, but there’s one conspicuous absence, absent possibly because this show clings to the horizon and many miss it. Out of sight, out of mind as they say.
One of the unsung joys of summer is a star-filled evening softly underlain by heat lightning.
Before Toilet Paper
It stood a strategic ways from the house and no home could do without one. People loved using it when the time was right. This staple of life never failed to make people feel better. In a way it was a luxury. About now young folks reading this are shaking their head. “What’s he talking about? The pool?” Hardly. I’d wager most young folks have never seen an outhouse, much less used one unless they live in the deepest recesses of Appalachia. I have and I bet a good many of you veteran readers have too. I recall the outhouse at my granddad’s place. It sat a calculated ways back on a slope between his home and store. (How far away you placed your outhouse had to be carefully planned, as you’ll see.) That old outhouse served people well. It had a smell of course but the truth is it […]
Over here across the Savannah there’s an old road that makes for a great Sunday drive. In no time at all, you can see historic sites, get the feeling you are in the mountains, and yet feel you are at the coast, all at the same time. More than that you’ll come across the ghosts of historic characters, some of whom will surprise you.
Old SC State Route 261, birthed by an Indian path and widened by public act in 1753 became “The Great Charleston Road.” What feet have trod this path that connected Charleston with Camden. Festooned with old churches and plantations this passage hosted a Civil War diarist, governors, Revolutionary and Confederate generals, and just off its path a man rests eternally, a man we should think of come Christmas.
Julie wouldn’t look me in the eye. She tore off bits of paper napkin and rolled them into little balls. Every few seconds she’d glance at her girlfriend pleading for help. She was trying to explain what happened to her marriage. And then she broke down. Tears welled up in her eyes and she put her head on my shoulder. Her girlfriend reached out and stroked her blonde hair.
Julie’s 41 with two teenagers and she’s alone and scared, not to mention devastated. A neighbor ended up with her husband. The road to love and happiness: what a brutal road.
I can’t speak for crooks, drifters, and others standing before a judge, but law-abiding Georgians love their courthouses and well they should. Georgia has one of America’s great collections of courthouses. The buildings range from Greek Revival to International Style. In fact, just about every architectural style imaginable can be found in Georgia’s 159 counties.
What’s interesting is that although Georgia is the twentieth largest state, it is second in number of courthouses. Only Texas has more. Without doubt, Georgia has a reputation for having some of the more beautiful and historic courthouses in the country.
The Good, Bad, & Ugly
How often we drive along giving no thought to the road we travel. And more often than that we give no thought to how the road got its name. In my case, I’m often forced to learn why or how a road got its name. Generally it makes for interesting reading. Over the years I’ve profiled several highways for magazines. Some of these profiles have worked their way into books. All the roads you’ll note have numeric names: Highway 378, Highway 17 the coastal byway, and Highway 76 a road that crosses South Carolina from the Peach State to the Tarheel State.
Simpler Good Times
Despite the high price of gasoline the summer vacation lives on. A lot of families will vacation at the beach this summer. Over here, across the Savannah, that usually means a trip to Myrtle Beach, Pawley’s Island, Charleston, or Edisto. When I was a boy, it meant a trip to Florida. I recall Silver Springs, Daytona, and much later tours of Cape Canaveral and days at a house near the sea in Ormond Beach.
What have man wrought? Well let’s start with iron, wrought iron. Favored for ornamental fences and gates it’s an aspect of the South that’s as southern as biscuits and molasses, as southern as sunshine and magnolias.
For a long time I thought wrought iron had one purpose: to give cemeteries a secure and attractive enclosure. My earliest memories of wrought iron fences go back to the cemeteries in Lincoln County. I saw enough of these stately fences around cemeteries to get that notion firmly in my head. And I well remember a wrought iron fence up at Lincoln County’s Beulah Baptist church because my cousin, Larry Walker, gashed his leg climbing over that fence when he was a boy.
Made in the Shade
How fine the Southern sun and yet how strong. Sunlight in the South is one and half times more intense than in the North. How damaging that Southern sunlight can be to the eyes, a fact apparently lost on the Texas boys, ZZ Top, who didn’t worry about cataracts when they wrote “Cheap Sun Glasses.”
“When you wake up in the morning and the light hurts your head … go get yourself some cheap sunglasses. Now go out and get yourself some big black frames … With the glass so dark they won’t even know your name … And the choice is up to you cause they come in two classes: Rhinestone shades or cheap sunglasses.”
When I worked in film one of my early assignments was writing a script about Carolina bays, perhaps North America’s most unusual landform. The subject intrigued me on two levels. One, I have always found swamps alluring. Two, Carolina Bays, so the speculation went, resulted from a massive bombardment of meteorites.
Our film was to explore the possible origins of these swamps and present them as rich oases of abundant wildlife. I mentioned this project to a city slicker and his response was subdued and predictable. “If you see one swamp, you’ve seen them all.” I never saw this unenthusiastic fellow again. Too bad. He could not have been more wrong.
Early daylight is our god.
We are disciples all. We go where the light leads us, and it leads to a crumpled, carved land where the earth flexes rock-hard muscles. Here, in this uplifted land of tangled greenery, early light uplifts the spirit. No place slakes a thirst for wanderlust like these conflicted highlands and their crusade eternal — water versus rock.
Every man’s memory is his private literature. —Aldous Huxley
When you live a piece from your childhood home you seldom see reminders of your early years but when you do it’s a revelation. Just one word can jump-start a string of memories with nothing in common but that word and you, the memoirist.
One word. That’s all it takes,
In Irmo, South Carolina, Choosing Politicians is a Catch-22
Irmo, South Carolina, sits 10 miles northwest of Columbia, the state capital. People extol Irmo—the Gateway to Lake Murray—as one of the country’s most sought after places to live. Well, that’s what realtors’ brochures would have you believe, but a little embellishment never hurts, right?
Running north to south, a busy rail line cuts through Irmo. Trains rumble, rush, and wreak havoc with traffic all day and night. That would please dearly departed railroaders C.J. Iredell and H.C. Moseley. They founded the town in 1890, graciously christening their whistle-stop “Irmo.”
Talk about a blessing. A memory of an old classmate or friend pops into your head seemingly from nowhere. You’ve long given him no thought but the next second the friend is there, as real as the rising sun. And then the memories flood in. What a gift.
I had this experience recently and an old familiar face materialized from the past, Charles Lewis, he of two forenames. My classmate he was at Lincoln High School in the mid to late 1960s.
We called him Zewis and he ranks high on the list of unique characters I’ve known …
New Year's Resolutions
Insight, Wisdom, & Good Advice For 2012
Permit me to write yet another clichéd column for the New Year: one on the oh-so-elusive goal of making and sticking to resolutions. Losing weight, giving up cigarettes, and resolving to exercise are worthy but trite goals we hear every January 1. Fine, if you smoke, bust the scales, and are sedentary do something about it.
A runner and a non-smoker, I looked elsewhere for my resolutions and I found them. Great quotes. When a luminary, that 50-dollar word for legend, makes observations that burst with truth the words often becomes memorable quotes.
Only 363 Shopping Days 'til Xmas
A Norman Rockwell Christmas Becomes A Horror Show
Bah humbug at its best and truth at its most honest. Enjoy!
‘Twas the day after Christmas and folks were happy as could be. Another Christmas had come and gone and a lot of people were glad. Around midnight December 25 a collective sigh of relief swept from the East Coast to the West as bells tolled midnight. You could feel the country breathe easier as 10 trillion tons of stress evaporated.
If there’s a more stressful time than Christmas…
One summer day traveling a back road with friends I made a prediction. “When we hit the town up ahead I bet we’ll see a trampoline for sale.” Sure enough as soon as we entered the town limits there it was leaning against the wall of a Western Auto. My friends broke into laughter and accused me of having been through the town before.
Not true I said. It’s just that more than a few times I’ve noticed how small town stores always have a trampoline for sale. The people who sell trampolines must be pretty good. In many a small town as soon as you hit the town limits, there it is: a trampoline leaning up against a store. Propping one up against a wall amounts to a billboard of sorts and it’s hard to miss. For sale. Get your jumps here.
Jump on oh trampoliners of the world but understand that backyard bouncing is nothing new. I present the joggling board.
It smells like a blend of a spirited elixir and exotic fruit and it’s a liquid as clear as glass. Its unexpected fragrance keeps you inhaling. You just can’t identify the bouquet, an exhalation hard to describe. Touch a burning match to a teaspoon of it and a pale violet flame dances and whorls like the Aurora Borealis on a frosty Canadian night. Touch that clear-as-glass liquid to your tongue and lips and a searing sting lingers.Hooch, white lightning, mountain dew, corn liquor, moonshine, rot gut, whatever you call it, this spirit has long been a part of the lore of the South…
When I look back over my years as a Georgia student and a Georgia Bulldog fan, a mascot and four men embody University of Georgia football to me: our fine line of Uga mascots, Vince Dooley, Herschel Walker, Lewis Grizzard, and Larry Munson.
Long ago I set a goal to meet all of them. I’ve met Dooley and I’ve been fortunate enough to pat several Ugas on the head. I’ve yet to meet the great Herschel Walker the goal line stalker, and death has denied me a chance to meet Grizzard and Munson. I can tell you this though. I never go to or watch a Georgia game that I don’t think of Larry Munson. He and Georgia football are as intertwined as rum and Cokes, as punts and kicks as red and black.
Take a moment and envision what you consider to be classic Southern settings. I suspect you’ll come up with the cresting Atlantic, sand dunes, and sea oats. Go ahead and imagine a painted bunting clinging to a sea oat stalk. Swaying in the breeze that bird serves up a brilliant burst of feathery color that perfects this vintage Southern scene.
Some of you may summon up a ridge of blue, smoky mountains, a pocket of fog nestled in a deepening valley. Why not place a setting sun between two peaks to create a view worthy of a postcard.
Winter officially arrives December 22, a Thursday. I’ve looked at some predictions for what this winter might be like. From all accounts, we’re in for a more typical winter. Not one with several snows like we had last year, a rarity in the South which I enjoyed.
Something about being at home with a good supply of hot chocolate, soup, coffee, and comfort food in the pantry makes a snowy day a beautifully peaceful day. No need to get out on the roads. Just watch the snow fall. Calm and exhilaration all at once.
But what if you lived in a place where winter provides a stern test of your survival skills?
There’s an advertisement on TV that features quite a character, “the world’s most interesting man.” This intriguing fellow promotes Dos Equis beer, and he’s done just about anything you can think of. He’s fictitious, of course, the creation of an ad agency. You’ve seen the guy. “Stay thirsty, my friend.”
Well, real life serves up unforgettable people who quietly accomplish great things and it’s my privilege to know a most interesting man who’s always a gentleman, my Uncle Joe Blonsky.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
Before I fell asleep last night, my wife Jody read aloud to me from her copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s book The Lacuna. The passage she chose was a diary entry that opened: “Tonight’s news: the Allies broke open the dikes along the Netherlands coast, letting in the open sea and drowning thousands of German soldiers in the flood. Like the Azteca opening dikes to drown Cortés and his men on the shores of Lake Tenochtitlan. But fiction is nonsense, the war is real. Tomorrow the farmers of Walcheren will wake to see a tide standing over their crops, the floating corpses of the Read on →
Do the 2014 elections look promising for the Democrats? Not so far as I can tell. Do the Democrats have a bold plan to inspire the American people to turn the House back over to them? Not so far as I’ve heard. Is there a solution available? I think there is. We’ve got a Supreme Court that just doubled down on its disgraceful 2010 decision in Citizens United, continuing in the new case (McCutcheon vs. FEC) to pretend to believe that opening the floodgates still wider for big money to flow into our elections does not corrupt our political system. And we’ve got poll Read on →
The book review I just finished repeatedly asks, “What endures?” The author offers one possible answer: “Spaces in the heart that accommodate the absent.” When I read this, I had just learned of the deaths of Peter Matthiessen and Thomas Polgar. Matthiessen was the prolific writer and author of a multitude of books, including The Snow Leopard, his account of a grief-stricken journey to the Himalayas. Polgar was a legendary CIA officer and the last station chief in Saigon. His final cable from Vietnam quoted Jorge Santayana that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. Both lived full li Read on →
"Government should prevent an immoderate accumulation of riches." -- James Madison In a previous post, we revisited Martin Luther King, Jr.'s iconic "Beyond Vietnam" speech of April 4, 1967. King, confronting head-on America's "triple evils" of racism, economic injustice and militarism, challenged America to find its true values and "come home." Polls and statistics suggest that, in the 47 intervening years, America has not "come home" and sadly is further from home than ever. King knew "Beyond Vietnam" would be controversial. He devoted more effort into preparing it than to any other speech. As feared, he was roundly criticized -- by blacks Read on →