Posted in Joy in Nature, Savannah Joy

Welcome to My Backyard, the Alley of the Angels

Welcome to the alley of the angels

Hey, they say your eyes can gleam

When you can a just tell the truth all night

(And you can chase them dreams all night)

Welcome to the alley of the angels.

 — John Cougar Mellencamp

Places–I love the poetic resonance of that word. Some places are special; you had them growing up, of course you did. And do now. Magical places. Special because of their cocoonishness, or their broad openness. Their smell, or their connection to friends or family. Their lightness, or darkness. Their safety, or risk.

So I was aghast a few years back when I attended a writing conference at the Sea Turtle Inn in Atlantic Beach, FL, and one afternoon decided to skip the meetings and drive down memory lane. I headed south to Jacksonville Beach to find the motel where my family and I vacationed from about the time I was six or seven till I went away to college. It had those wonderful beds where you inserted a quarter into the headboard, and the mattress vibrated! For fifteen minutes! My mother, father and brothers would all hop on. Who needed the Ritz?

I knew exactly where the Horseshoe Motel stood. I had been there SO many times as a kid. But I started to doubt myself when I passed the lifeguard station and came to the ridiculously sharp turn in the road far beyond my memory motel location. I can be dense, so it took me at least three to-and-fro trips before I realized (admitted?) that the place had been demolished for a condo. Sad. A childhood place gone for good.


I live in beautiful downtown Savannah, smack-dab in the middle of the nation’s largest historic district, to be exact. I can hear the huge freighters blowing their bass notes at night …


… as well as the clatter of horseshoes as carriages tour past Colonial Park Cemetery across the street.


I love walking the Savannah streets, breathing history.


I don’t really have a backyard, in the traditional sense of the word. But, boy, do I have a backyard! It’s really a small alley, which runs behind the building where I live.

Even though it is communal, and somewhat small, there are hidden crannies where one can sit and read, or laptop, or daydream. It exudes a trace of otherwordliness, a fragrance of excursion. I step into my “backyard,” and suddenly I’m in Europe–Florence, Italy perhaps, trying to decide on which trattoria to frequent. I sit to read in its botanical wealth and am lost, not just in the book’s maze, but in the place, the green, the leafyness, the nowness of nature.

This place calls me to look up, to pause and see.

To view from unfamiliar perspectives and angles.

A tremendous perk of having place appreciation is that windows appear, and open (or shut), and allow you to see just what you desire to see. Or simply, and deliciously, to dream.

There’s power in place.

Both growth and potential growth. Both static and kinetic.

Sometimes sitting is all that’s needed in life. To embrace “is-ness,” accept “am-ness.” Breathing in, breathing out.

A sense and celebration of place, our place, they gift us with calm assurance that we are where we are, for good reason. That rhythm and movement take us (or keep us) where we need to be.


My backyard invites me to …

And such encouragement affirms the heart of this attempt at blogging.

Posted in College Teaching

Final Little Hallway Walk and GSU Retirementville

Office 2225B on the second floor of the Newton Building on the campus of Georgia Southern University.  A second home.  For a long time.

But my office is cleared out now, books all boxed and removed.  Quieter than it has been in eons.  Computer-humming quiet.  My office phone suddenly shy, afraid to ring and disturb emptiness.

I’m retiring from full-time college teaching.

This evening, after my last set of finals is turned in, I will walk out my door and down my little hallway for the final time as a professor at GSU.


The Walk.


Goodbye, goodbye little hallway!  Goodbye, goodbye GSU!

Hello, hello ….

Posted in Uncategorized


My father, Harold Saye Sr., 87 now, taught me the single most important lesson of my life when I was a child.  He taught it primarily through living the lesson out day by day, year by year–through a lifetime.  He also imparted the lesson to me in simple words: “Neal, treat every person you come in contact with as if they are the most important person in the world.  Because when you are with them, they are.”

I learned from my dad, for example, that old people should be respected, revered even, for the years they have lived and learned.  For the truth they know.  He showed me how to love his mother, my Mama Saye, by just listening to her talk as she neared her death.

My father taught me to smile kindly at Joe Junior Watkins, the man/boy in ever-present overalls who wasn’t quite right, who grew older but remained a child.  “Don’t ever make fun of people, Neal.  They’re doing the best they can.”

I learned from my daddy that if you allow yourself to hate somebody because he or she is different from you, the next step comes easy: you can ignore them or fight them or kill them even.  “Don’t let that happen to you, Neal.”

He taught me that different is not bad.  It’s just different.

I grew up in the tiny North Georgia town of Ball Ground, where there were no blacks.  Not one.  But my father had black co-workers in his job as a machinist in nearby Canton, and he would invite his black buddy and his family to our house.  I learned early on that skin color is … skin color.

My father taught me to do whatever I can in my life to …

I certainly have not been 100% successful in this endeavor (probably not even 50%), but I am SO glad that I had such a wonderful model.

Now I try to teach my students that college should be an opportunity for them to embrace a diverse mix of people: different ethnicities and cultures, sexual orientations different from their own, different age groups, faiths, sizes, personalities, etc.

I want to ask you to do something.  Watch the video below.  Its a bit hard because it’s fairly long (about ten minutes) and it’s difficult to understand all the words of the speaker (but in a way, that difficulty is part of the lesson of today’s post).

(Monologue for the play Running Upstream, performed by Jordon Bala at my church a couple of weeks ago.)

I challenge you to develop a mother’s eyes to see, to see, to see.

I challenge you to join the crusade to Stop Stereotypes!

You and I– and the world–will be happier with the stopping.  Below are a few of my buddies who want to join in on the StereoStopping:

Will you join us in the fight?