The South’s Okayest Writer

The South’s Okayest Writer: The Adventures of a Boy Columnist
© 2018 Sean Dietrich
241 pages

There is a Japanese art, kintsugi, of putting broken pieces of pottery back together again with gilded paint, with the result that the repaired object is more resplendent than the original. If offered the choice between hardship and ease, between health and pain, most of us would presumably choose ease and health – and yet, there’s something all the more beautiful about a human life that flourishes amid adversity, that endures the bludgeonings of chance and rises to face life once more, head on. Sean Dietrich, in his writing, looks for the beauty that not only remains in broken and disrupted lives, but the beauty that is created in people’s endurance, in their support of one another, in their refusal to bow to that brokenness . In The South’s Okayest Writer, Dietrich collects a few score of his short articles (the kind that appear on his website) , and each strikes the heart in a different way. This is a slim volume to be read with a tissue box at the ready, though in the case of male readers it’s obviously understood that the tissues are there for spontaneous sneezing attacks. (There are three occasions on which a man may shed a tear: when he buries his mama, when he marries off his daughter, or when he loses his dog. Those scenarios all exist here, reader be warned.)   Most of the stories are about the travails and triumphs of ordinary people whom Sean has met throughout Alabama and the Florida panhandle: a coach who changed the lives of the boys he mentored, despite the enormous pain he carried for the loss of his children; a young woman killed in a car wreck, whose organs gave life to another young lady who later invited her donor’s parents to come to her wedding; young people who created lives for themselves despite physical adversities or bad upbringings; and community after community of people who rallied around one another when one of their own had a loss. We find men baking cakes to raise money, or football heroes dedicating their every touchdown to a young baby stricken with leukemia. We find beauty and love amid the suffering, the storm creating the opportunity for such beauty to make itself known. We find ordinary people practicing resurrection. Forget the poison on TV, Dietrich urges – the constant torrent of bad news, of impending doomsday, of the constant assault on your mind that creates cynicism and despair. Look to your neighbors — invest in the stories around you, and play your part in them. These are deeply personal stories, including Dietrich’s own as he and his mother struggled in the wake of his father’s unexpected suicide, when he walked into the woods with a firearm and a troubled soul. They are engaging and powerful, though, pulling me into them completely. I’m very glad to have found Dietrich last year. 

Kindle Highlights:

Nothing lasts. Not hateful things, not good things. Not ugliness, not beauty. Not football games, back pain, or kidney stones. Not newspaper-delivery jobs. Not life. Not death. Not childhood wheelchairs. Not the dirt beneath you. There is one thing that will outlive this cotton-picking universe. You already know what it is. So find a person who needs some. And give it away.

Somewhere south of Montgomery—a girl sings on a barroom stage. She’s college-age. Brunette. Her family plays backup. Her daddy is on bass. Brother plays guitar. She doesn’t do the American Idol act—no vocal gymnastics, no hair flinging. This girl sings Patsy Cline with her eyes closed. A loudmouth in the crowd makes a gross remark. Her daddy stops playing. A man who weighs as much as a Pontiac. I’ve never visited this place before, but I’ve been to hundreds like it. There’s a spot like this on every American rural route. A glowing sign. Trucks parked around a cinderblock building. Broken cigarette machines. My fellow Baptists hate this kind of den. But it’s a good place to find honest lyrics.

I don’t care what the suits on television say, kid. Don’t believe them. The sod cabins, the longleaf forests, the farmland of our granddaddies. The nurses, EMT’s, teachers, janitors. That’s us. America doesn’t suck. Your television does.

She tried out for the school play. I attended her audition. She was nervous, and the smug drama teacher told her she had no talent. I’m a quiet man, but I wasn’t that day. I called the teacher a greasy communist who didn’t love the Lord.

I read the newspaper today. The outlook was bleak. Murders, mass-shootings, nuclear warheads, and bacteria capable of eating a person’s face off. And the nightly-news anchor still has the audacity to wish me a good evening. It’s too bad. Because this old world is more than explosions, cussing congressmen, and BOTOX bodies in dental-floss bathing suits. It’s high-school culinary teachers who give a damn. It’s neighborhood barbecues. It’s animal shelters. Old folks. It’s volunteer uncles who live in spare bedrooms. It’s guitars in rehab homes. It’s singing “You Are My Sunshine.” It’s making someone happy, by God. Even when skies are gray.

More by Sean Dietrich:
You are my Sunshine
The Incredible Winston Browne

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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1 Response to The South’s Okayest Writer

  1. Pingback: Whistling Dixie | Reading Freely

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