Who am I?

In his latest book, Leading the Charge, retired General Anthony Zinni reports that he challenges would-be leaders to define themselves, first by asking them to answer the question, “Who are you?” with the implication that their answers will be shared with their peers. He surprises his classes by not calling for public sharing of the answers and then asks them to answer the question, “Who am I?” He says that many students are uncomfortable when they discover that the answers they composed for public consumption differ considerably from those they knew would be private. We are all inclined to put a good face on things.

I decided to take Zinni’s test. Since I am publishing this answer you can assume that some measure of “putting a good face on it” has occurred here. But I have attempted to honestly answer his second query.

I am a 58 year-old, white, American man and have been accorded many of the benefits that accrue to white, middle-class citizens of the United States. I am a product of excellent public schools in three states and college classes in four. I was raised in the Presbyterian church and am a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville. My core principle is the Golden Rule and I believe all other ethics can be derived from that beginning. I believe we should all be held accountable for our actions and that we all have the ability to change as we grow in knowledge and understanding.

At the age of 18 I came to believe that the human population of our planet was headed for ecological overshoot, that our numbers would outstrip the natural support system that sustains us, and I decided not to have children for the good of the whole. I have been married once. My longest-standing relationship endured for 25 years and ended with my partner’s death due to metastatic breast cancer. For somewhat more than three years I have been engaged in a wonderful relationship with “the love of my life.” My mother lives in Spruce Pine, my father is deceased and my brother resides in Bryson City.cecilsandingsmall

My deepest satisfaction comes from fixing things that are broken, followed closely by creation of the new: hence my career has been in building (with an emphasis on greening of existing structures and design of low-impact systems); investigative reporting (holding public persons accountable and hopefully correcting wrongs); and commentary and critical essays (afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, as Molly Ivins put it). My deep interest in “fixing” has led me to tutor at-risk children at the Reid Community Center and to establishment of a jail ministry at the Buncombe County Detention Center. I’m chair of my church’s Human Rights Team and serve on the Social Justice Council. I’m a board member of two non-profit groups which fund education projects in Bolivia and Guatemala.

I have published eight books, one song book, one poetry collection, and ten years of weekly syndicated columns. I was the founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal Heartstone and managing editor of Asheville’s Mountain Xpress. I have owned Brave Ulysses Books, a micro-publishing company, since 2000. I have written reviews of more than 270 books over the years and have been published in national magazines and regional papers throughout the country. My online publishing ventures began in 1995 and continue today as blogs and monthly newsletters. I have just become the editor of my church’s online monthly as well. My radio career includes three years of weekly commentary on WNCW 88.7FM Spindale and five years of weekly news/commentary/music shows on WPVM 103.5FM Asheville. I have been an organic gardener for 40 years, have played guitar for 45 years and have recently re-started a long interrupted painting career. I paint oil landscapes on a fairly regular basis.

I am a home-owner in Asheville and have been a resident of Buncombe County for 28 years. I drive a hybrid auto because it is the lowest-polluting vehicle I could afford, my other car is a canoe and I ride a bike, though less often than I “should.” (I always seem to be carrying around too much stuff.)

My adherence to the Golden Rule has led some to define me as a liberal (though I prefer that no hearts bleed) because of my deep commitment to social justice, universal single-payer health care and equitable labor laws, but it has also made me a strong conservative concerning natural resources and the public commons. We all depend on clean air, clean water, a safe food supply and rules that protect all of us from the carelessness of the worst of us. As Robert Frost so cogently observed, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

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3 Responses

  1. Sir,
    Aside from producing nothing, contributing nothing,and believing in nothing (are you a Presbyterian, agnostic or athiest ( as you profess on your other page)). I am so very confused about you. You boast of your literary accomplishments. What does that have to do with Asheville City Council business…except that you are qualified to put into prose your failed policies, whatever they may be. As I remember it, the Golden Rule states that we “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” Your car, canoe and ‘cycle are well and good and noteworthy. However, Mr. Frost’s “convincing” (you say “cogent”, Noah Webster says “convincing”) statement that, “good fences make good neighbors” only means to me that you should stay on your side of an issue, and I’ll stay on mine. Any questions? Please use this open and unrestricted (we hope) venue to pose and postulate. Ever yours.

  2. Wow Mary-Margaret, aren’t we cheerful this morning?

    Producing nothing? I was a building contractor for 25 years.
    Contributing nothing? 5% of my income to my church, jail ministry, tutor in public schools, work on Habitat Interfaith House for a day or two each year, work on charitable programs for the homeless in Asheville … and now serve on Council doing a more than half-time job for $13,800 per year. What, exactly, do you call “contribute”?

    Being a journalist, editor and publisher is my second career, now twenty years long (and overlapping my building career by about 8 years). There’s no direct connection between serving on Council and my other careers, except life experience which we all bring to whatever we do. Good fences are excellent (and I’ve built stone fences in Mr. Frost’s New England during several years there). But staying on our respective sides doesn’t mean not expressing our views. That’s the nature of community and democratic governance, seems to me.

  3. I don’t know Mr. Bothwell but he does appear to me to be a thoughtful individual. Those who are dogmatically liberal or conservative are a bit worrisome.

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