Time On The Porch

March 24th, 2016

Dick Joel, advertising department head at the University of Tennessee, told me to write as if I were talking to one person at a time. Like everything else he taught me, that proved to be sound advice and I’ve passed it along over the decades to the myriad copywriters under my tutelage and would-be writers in classrooms. I try to remember it every time I speak before any group, to involve those folks in a conversation, not to deliver a speech.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about that. As public discourse turns into toxic waste, as conversation turns into confrontation, we have to remember how to sit down and talk to each other again.

So let me get you something to drink, and we’ll sit out on the porch for a spell and work this out.

As published in The Memphis Daily News, March 25, 2016, and in The Memphis News, March 26-April 1, 2016



Whatever porches are about, the best ones are about time.

Time for swings and rocking chairs and reflection. Time spent alone with your thoughts or time shared with others sharing space and experience. Time to be very quiet. Or very loud. Life in real time.

And the best time for porches is at the beginning of things or at the end, before things really get going and to mark the things that came before, all of the hope in a day met in its morning and evening.

I’ve been thinking about porches lately while I’ve been working on a book about a singular piece of ground in Hardeman County, graced by a number of things including a number of porches.

You watch the show from the porches of Lone Oaks Farm, each placed with great care to afford the best view of the performance – light through trees and on water and over fields and in the sky, rising and falling, arriving and leaving, all just so – sound intrinsic, every chirp, babble, rustle, creak, croak, bark, call, whinny, every note naturally expected but startlingly beautiful in symphony.

Porches front cabins over water and meadows. They grace the side of a barn over a pond and the side of a farm shop over a field. They stand in a stable over stalls and in woods over trails. They lie by boats and docks and falls and swimming holes.

Each is about its own spot, its own performance in the show, its own time.

All of that convinced me that it was high time we a had a porch again – a proper screened porch instead of the small deck we have now – defined space shared in conversation, in laughter, in thought – ours and others – all beneath a ceiling fan, turning from subject to subject, talking like you only seem to talk of a morning or an evening on a porch.

I gave just such a porch to Nora for Christmas and the other day Cheryl came over to talk about it. She graduated from Messick a few years before I graduated from White Station, but I grew up near Messick and my momma went there so we shared that. We’re both Episcopalian at different churches, but a past rector of hers was a good friend of my daughter growing up so we shared that. She’s in Bartlett now and I’m in High Point, but we both lived in Midtown for decades so we shared that

We’d never met before, but because this is Memphis, we shared. Cheryl builds porches, and standing where mine will be we found common ground in minutes. We now both know that this will be a fine porch, and that both of us will see to it. We know each other now. 

It’s time we thought about speaking to everyone as if we were sharing time on a porch.

I’m a Memphian, and I forgot to tell Cheryl that the architect who designed the porch went to Messick, too.



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