Facing the challenges of our times

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

STARDUST AND SCAR TISSUE: Rambles, Ruminations and the Search for an Authentic Culture of Life. By Mick Scott. Opine Press, an imprint of Press 53. 201 pages. $19.95, paperback.

Reading Stardust and Scar Tissue, Mick Scott’s new collection of essays, is good for the soul in these challenging times.

First,  full disclosure: Back in 2005, when I was the editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, I took a chance on Mick, a man with little journalism experience, hiring him away from the newspaper’s obituary desk to become my editorial assistant.

Mick – I don’t usually refer to authors by their first name, but I can’t make myself call an old friend by his last – was soft spoken, courteous and obviously intelligent. His undergraduate degree is in Fine/ Studio Arts, and he has a master’s in Library and Information Science, not the expected qualifications for newspaper journalism.  But as we talked, I was impressed by his broad knowledge, life experience and thoughtfulness, as well as his sincerity. He struck me as something of a Renaissance man.

I never regretted my decision to steal him away from the obit desk. He was a pleasure to work with. I was amazed by his patience with the many readers whose phone calls and emails he fielded. He efficiently took care of all the usual tasks of the department’s assistant, often with time left over. I encouraged him to try his hand at writing the occasional column or editorial for our pages.

Mick continued to work in the editorial department, gradually taking on more responsibility, until early this year. (More about that later.) Now a freelancer, he continues to write essays about his life and meditations in and around Winston-Salem, publishing them on Substack.

And now, working with Press 53, an independent publishing house in Winston-Salem, he gives us a book that’s a sampling of his columns for the Journal’s editorial pages, from 2016 until he left the Journal. In its preface, he thanks me for being one of his mentors. I’m thankful for having had the opportunity.

The essays in this book are varied. Some are accounts of Mick’s road trips around the Winston-Salem area and farther afield as he explores the countryside and small towns of North Carolina. Some are about his adventures with nature. There are the foxes that live in what he’s dubbed Fox-A-Lago, a field near Washington Park in Winston-Salem. He names them, watches them, even doctors them when needed. Squirrels, crows, hawks and other creatures attract his attention, reflection and sometimes even snacks.

He writes with engaging honesty about such things as his troubled relationship with his late mother and his own struggles with depression and anxiety.

Having, he tells us, grown up in “one of those small sects that believed we were the One True Church and everybody else got it wrong,” he is not afraid to tackle the contentious subject of religion. As an adult, he has read and studied the Bible on his own and formed some strong opinions about what Jesus would really do.

Mick writes about the hypocrisy of many who called themselves Christians and say they promote a “culture of life.” He points out how some Conservative Christians flirt with authoritarianism, as well as the fact that the U.S. Constitution and its First Amendment make it clear that the United States was not established as a Christian nation.

He talks frankly about those who want to rewrite American history to gloss over the realities of slavery, treatment of Native Americans and other ways in which we have fallen short of the ideals in our founding documents. More than once, he makes the point that so-called Christians are not living by the Golden Rule when it comes to dealings with gay and trans people, among others.

These gracefully written essays evince Mick’s intelligence, open mindedness and gentle but determined spirit. He never rants or overstates his opinions.

Often, he backs into the real point of an essay, drawing the reader in with good writing and interesting stories before coming to whatever life lesson he gleaned from his experiences and observations..

Some of the strongest essays are those written when the emergence of the COVID pandemic collided with the loudly contentious presidential campaign that ended with Biden’s victory and Trump’s efforts to deny it.

These were dark days for many of us, and they left the nation bitterly divided. Mick, with his characteristic honesty, offers us a model for how to continue to hope and have a fulfilling life in the midst of strife, anxiety and despair. He offers us his vision of “an authentic culture of life.”

There’s more, but it’s better if you discover what Mick has to say on your own.

Back to the Winston-Salem Journal: I took early retirement at the end of 2008, after “layoffs” claimed one of my editorial writers and the newspaper’s future looked increasingly grim. During most of my time as editor, the editorial department had a staff of five. Mick stayed on, eventually becoming an editorial writer. When he took over as the editorial page editor early in 2018, he was the entire editorial department staff in Winston-Salem. As it turned out, he was the Winston Salem Journal’s last editorial page editor. The position no longer exists. The executive editorial page editor at the Greensboro News & Record, owned by the same company, oversees the editorial pages for both newspapers.

Mick’s book, Stardust and Scar Tissue, is a collection of fine, eminently readable essays that have much to say about our times and how to deal with them without losing your sanity. It also is a testament to what’s being lost with the decline and slow death of so many of our regional newspapers.

2 responses to “Facing the challenges of our times”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *