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The Pace of Jonesborough February 18, 2010

Posted by jayocallahan in Jonesborough.
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In the New York Times, February 4th, 2010 I read about how Don DeLillo’s new novel came about. In the summer of 2006 DeLillo was wandering through the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He happened upon Douglas Gordon’s “Twenty-four Hour Psycho.” This is a video installation that consists of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “Psycho” slowed to two frames a second so it lasts for an entire day instead of the original hour and a half or so. DeLillo said, “I went back four times, and by the third time I knew this was something I had to write about. Most of the time I was the only one there except for a guard, and the few people who came in and left hastily.” The slowness of the film and the way it caused him to notice things he might otherwise have missed, appealed to him.

Reading about DeLillo made me think about Jonesborough and time. That same day I was on the phone talking to Carolyn Moore of Jonesborough. Carolyn said to me that when you walked down the street in Jonesborough it might take thirty minutes to an hour just to go a couple of blocks because you would be stopping to talk to people.

When I was a boy people would stop in Brookline Village in Massachusetts to chat, but it would never take an hour to go two blocks. There’s something important about people taking the time to talk to one another. Listening requires generosity and attention and you have to be willing to let go of accomplishing the next thing on your list. There’s something very human about that.

Twenty years ago my son and I climbed the Appalachian Trail in the North Carolina/Tennessee area. When we finished my friend, Connie Regan-Blake took us to see the great storyteller Ray Hicks at his mountain home. Ray sat on his porch and talked to us for a couple of hours. I had the sense that if we wanted to stay all day that would have been fine with Ray. That’s the way he lived. And that’s the way Jonesborough was and doubtless is today.

I’m haunted by the scene of people walking down East Main Street in Jonesborough in the 40s, 50s and 60s stopping to talk. In my imagination I look down on the street and imagine Caroline May on a corner talking to one of her piano pupils, Fred Chase coming out of Rush’s Restaurant with his arm around a friend, Alfred Greenlee talking about a break in water pipes with Bob May and Jimmy Neil Smith, a high school student, talking with a friend as Jimmy Neil goes into the hardware store to play the miniature organ. What I don’t see is people hurrying along the sidewalk so fast they don’t have time to say hello. So one of my jobs is to think about time and how slowing down allows you to see and to listen and to laugh. Mostly, it allows you to be part of the lives of the people you talk to.