We had the good fortune of connecting with Charlie & Nancy Hartness and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Charlie & Nancy, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Charlie writes: “I’ve taken risks many times, generally in a calculated way. Of course it’s easier to take risks that don’t have dire, or dangerous, or permanent negative consequences. I prefer to think about the possible outcomes before I take the risk. For example, I like to walk on logs that are across creeks. My granddaddy taught me how. He said ‘Just put one foot in front of the other, and stay on top of the middle, and walk across.’ What if I fall off, I said. ‘Hell son, you’ll get wet, and you’ll swim to the bank and get out, and eventually you’ll dry off.’ Nancy writes: Charlie, as a storyteller, has given a fun anecdote above. But here is another very real example from his life. He went to medical school and began a residency in orthopedics, thinking that’s what he wanted to focus on for his medical career. At some point in that training, he did a rotation in an emergency room. This was way back in time before the show ER. Before emergency rooms were easily available everywhere. He decided to switch from orthopedics to emergency medicine and caught all kinds of grief from his advisor who told him he was throwing away his medical career to go into something that was a dead end. Of course, the world of medicine and hospitals has proven that advisor wrong. But at the time, Charlie took a big risk to follow his ‘heart’, if you want to call it that. This was long before I knew him, so I can’t take any credit for helping him decide to take that risk. But hearing that story, when we were first getting to know each other, made a big difference to me. The word Career in this question, sort of freaks me out. I don’t like to feel boxed in by a label. I have done many jobs in my life–vocation vs avocation. But as a musician who came to learning and playing Old Time music as an adult, here is an example of a risk I took early on in my adult musical life. If I have the pressure of a ‘something’–what I would call an ‘organizing event’, I am spurred on to a greater sense of personal achievement. Charlie & I were both in the advanced beginner stage of our music. We were playing regularly with two other folks in Seattle, one of whom was much more accomplished than we were. Every Memorial Day weekend, there is a huge music festival in Seattle called the Seattle Folk Life Festival. I thought we should try and sign up for a performance spot. But in order to do that, I had to make a phone call. And that was the risk–the thing I wanted, performing at Folk Life, needed to be pitched to a stranger in real time over the phone. Just thinking about that now is making my heart race and my palms sweat! I did make that call and we were given a performance slot. Needing to make a similar pitch now might not feel as stressful as it did back then. But taking that first step into the unknown is a huge part of my creative and artistic process.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Charlie writes: I was lucky to grow up surrounded by great storytellers in Middle Georgia, white and black. I had access to music via records and radio, and I listened to classical, popular music, country, gospel, blues and soul, and jazz. I’ve always enjoyed singing, and whistling. I never had the opportunity to study and play music as a kid, so singing and whistling became my musical instruments. Storytelling and hearing the stories of others started me writing. I wrote stories, fiction mostly in a variety of notebooks. I also wrote poems and songs. As an adult, I started focusing on short stories, and decided that when (not if) I got one published, I would buy a computer. And then, I decided I wanted to play music, not just whistle and sing. I was forty years old, and decided I’d better get going if being a musician was my goal. I found that patient, persistent practice produces progress—in writing and in music. Of course that’s the case in all worthwhile practices, and it served me well during my medical career as well. Learning to play musical instruments at age forty, and write, and practice emergency medicine, and live life, was an exercise in time management and patience. I discovered that if learning or doing something is important enough to me, I will make the the time available for it, and I will stick with it as long as it takes to get where I’m going. Nancy writes: The book, The Artist’s Way, set me on the trajectory where I find myself today. I read it in about 1993 and I had no conscious idea I wanted to play music, let alone perform it! But week after week I found myself writing , “I want to play music with other people”, in answer to the prompt questions. Weirdly, that thought remained so deeply buried in my subconscious despite my having written it, I didn’t realize the significance until I read back through several weeks of lessons. It is hard to ignore a phrase that keeps coming up week after week. Playing music with other people has artistically shaped who I am today. In Old Time music, the goal is to ‘play well together’. It is not (usually:) a competitive event but more of a fellowship of like-minded souls. Listening as one plays, is a big part of experiencing a successful music session. Listening to the other musicians and listening to oneself. Fitting in, getting along and possibly offering up slight variations for the ‘good of the tune’. As a rhythm guitar player in the several bands we play in, I like to ‘get into a zen state’ as I play–embedding myself deeply in the rhythm of the tune while providing a secure ‘platform’ of rhythmic integrity for the melody instruments to ‘dance upon’. I can also experience a similar state when writing, working on my Zine or when making things like sock creatures or collage. Listening is important to all those activities. Perhaps a different type of listening, but for me, a listening none the less. It is important to know what one’s goals are. If ‘being famous’ is the goal, that might take a person in certain directions. If ‘being the most steady’ rhythm guitar player’ is the goal, that may involve other choices or paths. But no matter what, the ‘doing’ or the ‘practicing’ of the pursuit is seminal to eventually realizing a state of ‘being’.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Charlie and Nancy write: First let’s pretend you’re visiting us in a n0n-pandemic epoch. Welcome to the Athens of Georgia! Okay, We’ll start with a tour of our little one bedroom mill house that’s situated across from the buildings of what used to be the Southern Cotton Oil Company. They pressed the oil from cotton seed, and that oil was used as a lubricant and to make shortening. There are plenty of things to see, touch, pick up and shake your head over in our house tour. Nancy says: Wait! We used to call our home the Museum of Appalachia, until we found out there was one. Charlie says: Okay, how the Museum of Eclectic Oddities? Anyway, our walls and shelves and window sills and tables, and parts of the floor are occupied—-(Here Nancy says Wait, that makes us sound like hoarders!) Charlie says: Upon entering the museum, you’ll smile as you are immediately immersed in a careful curated experience. Here, a pair of red-shouldered hawk talons on the mantle, beside a brass anchor lantern. There, a raccoon skull. In the kitchen, a diminutive Dominican nun plays croquet on the window sill, while a beagle and rooster watch attentively. You get the idea. Let’s go outside. There is no lawn, and we live on a 50 by 200 foot lot that runs up a hill, with a small stand of woods on the upper quarter that ends at an alley. A large American flag tied to a piece of white wooden trim hangs vertically from a nylon strap and sways over our driveway. It makes us happy and grateful to breathe the fresh air of democracy once again. Various trees are adorned with mobiles made of found or gifted objects. Stacked sculptures of found objects remind us of primitive figures and faces. Nancy says: All this is factual, but the truth of our yard is that it is a small compound with two interesting out buildings, the Shed and the Sunday House. We call all this, “Pulaskiville” or “Pulaskeeville”. Our lot is the corner of Pulaski Street and Pulaski Heights, but we have old red metal letters attached to the front porch railing that spell pulaSkee. You can read about the how and why of that on our website, if you are interested. The Shed is a combo small studio and storage building. The Sunday House is a little dwelling where we often write or play/record music. When you visit, you will stay in our bedroom in the house and we will sleep in the Murphy bed in the Sunday House. That’s just the way it is. Oh, you’re hungry? Okay, let’s walk north, to Pulaski Heights Barbecue. Chuck, the owner and chef, has good food for you. After lunch, we’ll let our food settle by walking through the neighborhood to the North Oconee River Greenway. Later, back at the house, we’ll take a little break on the screen porch for sitting and talking, or if you brought instruments, we’ll have a few tunes. Then it’s time for “drinky nibbles”. Those are wine, beer, cheese, crackers, nuts and fruits . Don’t eat too much, because we’re having early supper outside at The National, our favorite restaurant, before we step next door to attend a movie at Cine’, the art house cinema downtown. As your week progresses, you’ll enjoy walking around around our little downtown, finding shops and other places to eat. These would include: our great independently owned bookstore, Avid Bookshop; a shop featuring Georgia-made jewelry and creatively repurposed clothing, Community; and Big City Bread or Clocked for a meal. Oh, don’t forget a visit to the local chocolatier, Condor Chocolates. At the southern terminus of College Street, there’s a one block plaza that takes you to the entrance of the North Campus of the University of Georgia, a beautiful garden setting with lovely old buildings. Depending on your interests, we can walk to the Special Collections Library and enjoy the exhibits, tour the Georgia Museum of Art or pass by Sanford Stadium home of the UGA football team. On game days, we can hear the roar of the crowd from our front porch! Crazy! If you don’t mind a little car ride, we can visit the Botanical Gardens and walk trails in an area first written about by botanist William Bartram between 1773 & 1777. Once home in Pulaskiville again, we’ll enjoy a visit with our neighbors on the back screen porch or maybe enjoy a friendly game of Badminton on the old water tower field up the hill. Before you head back home, we’ll take you ‘treasure hunting’ along the rail road tracks just past the Barbecue. You may have noticed the sounds of the freight trains during your visit. We hope you have had a happy and enjoyable visit. We certainly enjoyed getting to know you.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Charlie: Harvard Medical School and the musical duo The Canote Brothers (Greg and Jere Canote). Nancy: Geraldine B. Siks and Rose Reynoldson, two Professors who encouraged and nurtured my beginning writing efforts. Pam Simos, Lisa Bade, Tricia Spencer are the gang of encouraging creative pals I carry inside me wherever I go. Also, a huge Shout Out to Lynda Barry. Her books, interviews and videos continue to be a source of inspiration and creative information. Last, a Shout Out to Charlie, who helps buffer me from my worst inclinations and helps me pursue my best efforts.
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Charlie Hartness Nancy Hartness Jamie Derevere Art Rosenbaum