How to approach my videos of Appalachia in the year of the pandemic…

Listen to this text in Majo’s voice (10″):

Last April, at age 73, I fled my subsidized senior apartment building in Asheville, North Carolina to prevent being quarantined in that building.

I spent the next week living out of my car in Asheville. I posted information about the events of that week on Facebook. At the end of that week, a good friend of mine – concerned about me from what she was seeing about me on Facebook – texted me that she had a little walk-in basement apartment in her own home out in the mountains, and that I should come out there to get away from the mean streets of pandemic Asheville.

My little dog Panchita and I spent six weeks out at Petula’s house in the mountains. (I have given her the name “Petula” to protect her privacy.)

On day 2 out in the mountains, I realized why I had been so unhappy in Asheville. “I was meant to be living out in the mountains all along!”

The power of nature out in the Appalachian Mountains transformed me – and my little chihuahua – in the next few weeks.

When it was time to leave my friend’s home, Pancho and I pushed farther north – in search of a new home. We first went to Marshall, NC, a very sweet town nestled on the beautiful French Broad River – full of artists displaced by the steeply-rising studio rents in boom-town Asheville.


Pancho the wonder-Chihuahua

From there, we pushed further north to Burnsville and Bakersville – then over the sacred Roan Mountain to the sleepy little town of Roan Mountain, Tennessee.

Several people now have told me that when I finally settle somewhere out in the north country, I should consider the Toe River area and the Celo community. I’ve got a hunch that’s going to turn out to be accurate.

Four months before the Covid hit America, I had left my “retirement job” as a grocery store cashier to pursue my creative vision of an innovative consulting and coaching practice – that would be driven equally by my lifelong passions of storytelling and dance.

The pandemic made sure that there was no chance of getting this new business off the ground. My Social Security check never covers our expenses for the whole month – and often we have spent the second half of the month being quite poor.

I worked for years in a black VA hospital, raised a black son – and have been generally sculpted to have a special relationship with people of color. The “summer of racial reckoning” has figured heavily in my experience of the last eight months.

Driving a big, very old van which we park in random places has naturally drawn the attention of local police, in every town where we have spent much time. I have had almost entirely great experiences with police.

I never can know how much of that very positive experience with police has to do with me being white, but I have yet to encounter a country cop who I could spot as being more racist than the rest of us white people. I have had extraordinary conversations with several police officers about the dialectic between laws or rules and personal freedom.

And then there has been the constant specter of our 45th president, that has cast such a giant shadow on our country.

One of my central experiences has been to fall in love with the people of Appalachia – who are mostly not unusually racist, but suffer from lack of experience with diversity. Although they mostly support our current president, they are not stupid at all – but suffer from a radical lack of good information.

The serious lack of good broadband coverage in rural America is a very significant civil rights issue of our time. (I have spent extraordinary amounts of time hunting for a good Wi-Fi signal.)

Along the way, a generous $5000 grant from a good friend allowed me to move up from the little Suzuki mini SUV – which had been a torture chamber to attempt to sleep in, and after two months of very little sleep had left me toxically exhausted – to a very old Ford Econoline camper van.

I dubbed my cargo truck Narwal the Whale in honor of her 6000 pound weight – and “A turning radius like an ocean liner”.

Narwal has been a central figure in our journey. She has had a world of electrical problems and tends to run out of gas because of a broken gas gauge.

But she has a bed, she is virtually indestructible, she has gotten us down roads that she never should have – and even though she has sometimes gotten stuck, we have always gotten out before the end of the day.

Narwal the Whale – ’88 Ford Econoline camper van

At this point, we are taking shelter for the winter – out of our camper van – in a little apartment way up in the mountains north of Spruce Pine, North Carolina. But we are committed to our mobile lifestyle and will go back out on the open road in Narwal the Whale come spring. I love asking my little dog Pancho, at the beginning of each day, “Where shall we live tomorrow?”

I started our adventure as a writer. I guess I am still a writer, but I have also morphed into a videographer. Most of my writing these days consists of my spontaneous observations while I am videotaping the towns and countryside of the Appalachian mountains.

At this point, I have well upwards of 200 videos – which I cherish as documentation of our journey of personal transformation – and many of which I think may be helpful to other people.

I have learned a lot out in these mountains, especially about myself and my dog – but my background as a psychologist and a management consultant has caused me to muse about topics including “the demise of humanistic capitalism in America”, “the ongoing rape of Appalachia”, “the systematic oppression of homeless people”, “why alpha dogs make bad cops and women make good ones” and other topics.

My personal background includes a lifelong passion for and commitment to personal growth and healing – and 30 years of being misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder, and being heavily drugged with psychotropic medications during that whole period.

You will hear in many of these videos how totally thrilled I am to be drug-free and fully alive. And I do have many things to say about “the problem of pain”.

I now believe that most of psychology and psychiatry can be boiled down to “What do we do with our human pain?” Philosophers have mused about this question through the ages – and the Buddha’s first principle is that “life is suffering”.

I have many pointed things to say about what I consider to be an out-of-control psychiatry industry.

Several of my posts deal with an event that occurred last June back in Asheville. I had been punched in the face and reported to the big, newly-“for-profit” hospital – asking to be treated for a possible concussion and/or broken nose. I also reported that “I think I’m kind of delirious.”

The ER intake team saw in my records my background of psych hospitalizations and locked me up on a psych unit. They never treated me for a concussion or a broken nose – both of which their own ER later confirmed that I had. My discharge summary from the hospital, after 48 hours, made no mention of any medical complaints.

In this post I offer two videos;

The first video suggests ideas about how to make fruitful use of my videos.

I shot the second video about 15 minutes after the first one. It deals with the topic of “good things and bad things”. It flows naturally out of that first video, because the first video ends with me discovering that I have left my car lights on and that my battery is dead.

One might think that having a broken-down car would be a bad thing, but maybe not….

How to watch these videos (13″):

Good things and bad things (10″):

A deep dive into Barnardsville

To hear Majo read this text, click this link:

When I left Asheville a year ago on March 28, my first stop was two months in the mountains outside of Barnardsville.

Within a day of being out in the mountains, I realized why I had been so unhappy living in downtown Asheville. I was meant to be in the mountains – and meant to surrender myself to the power of nature, and to discover the beauty and richness of the people of Appalachia.

After two months out here, I thought I had a pretty good bead on Barnardsville and the people who lived here. What an idiot I was!

Coming back here now, a year later, I have been transformed pretty thoroughly by the power of nature and by my encounters with the sweet people of the Appalachia.

Yesterday, a guy named Dennis, who works at the D&D Grocery store – a big gruff old guy who I was sure did not like me – swung by in his green Jeep, near my van in the parking lot by the little park that I call Outlook Point, and asked, “You got enough food?” So much for my having a clear reading of what’s going on out here!

We had a fabulous little three-minute chat. He said to me out of the blue, “We’re gonna turn you into a real country boy yet.”

I had been in that grocery store many times during my two months out here a year ago, but did not remember him. I asked him, “Did you know me a year ago?” He said yeah.

I asked, “Do you see a change in me now, a year later?” I know how much I have changed, but I was wondering if it actually shows.

Dennis said, “Yeah, you have changed a lot. You’re starting to sound a little bit like us.Now I can tell that you really like us country people.”

It was one of the most powerful and meaningful “healing validations” I have ever received. I wanted to cry.

This 11 minute video, shot from the top of a rock in Outlook Point, describes some of the things I have been learning about Barnardsville, the D&D Grocery store, this little hamlet that used to be called Dillingham, and the fabulous country people of Appalachia.

On the nature of a truly therapeutic relationship.

To hear Majo read the following text in his voice, click this link to play a 5″ audio:

Hear is a 5′ video that I shot right after writing this post. It covers much of the same territory – in perhaps an even more conversational way, and with some pretty visuals of a little town in Western North Carolina Appalachia:

My last therapist, Lorrie Streifel, dealt with me like a friend in ways like calling me directly.

She did not have a secretary as an extra boundary between us.

She also was a huge fan of my poetry and never missed a chance to attend one of my poetry performances.

She would even go to Jubilee, which was not her thing at all, for a four-minute poem by me. And afterwords would be my biggest cheerleader – always telling me how thrilling my poetry was – at least performed live. (I am missing that experience of performing for an audience a whole lot.)

She would then slip out before Howard’s preaching – in much the same way that, during Howard’s last year at Jubilee, I would consistently slip out to “walk the dog, she’s getting restless” when it was time for Howard to preach.

Lorrie and I had quite the hybrid therapy relationship. Even though she had spent 30 years in the establishment mental health system, she had no problems with us seeing and knowing each other outside of the therapy office.

For several years before I ever recruited her as my therapist, we knew each other through Interplay. Interplay is a wonderful performance-based, improv-oriented personal growth methodology that is kind of strong in Asheville.

It is described as “improvisational storytelling, movement and song” or even as “kindergarten for grown-ups”.

It helped grow in me a powerful commitment to an improvisational life – not scripted or rehearsed, but making it up as you go along.

That same kind of improvisational risk is the basis of Asheville Movement Collective’s ecstatic dancing – and another reason why I love that approach to dancing so much.

People who are not used to jumping off the diving board into the deep end – leaping and trusting that the net will appear – tend to regard all this improv stuff as horrifying. But for those of us who are drawn to it like a moth to the flame, it just keeps making us more alive.

I guess I want therapy to be that way, too: each of us daring to show up fully, spontaneously, and authentically with each other – even as my life may be the primary focus.

It was based on knowing Lorrie personally through those dozens of hours of “being personal” with each other that I felt safe with her and wanted her as my therapist.

She had no problem with the fact that we had had all these experiences before assuming the structure of therapy.

We also went to Asheville Movement Collective’s ecstatic dances together. We would interact with each other extensively on the dance floor, including “contact improv” that involved a lot of touching (almost unimaginable after a year of social distancing).

I did find her attractive – when I let myself go there – and would occasionally get turned on as we were dancing together.

Most of the time when this happened, I would choose to dance further away. This never would stand out, because contact improv involves moving towards and away from contact with your partner.

It is that dynamic of choosing how and when to engage – and how and when to set a boundary – that was always part of the excitement of it for me.

I even, for several months, attended Lorrie’s Zen meditation sangha. She was a big booster of that stuff and thought it would be good for me, so I don’t think she ever found it threatening to her personal boundaries to see me there, also.

I threw myself into it big-time for a while, as I always do with most anything I am trying. It finally did not really fit for me – as no structured meditation fits for me these days – and I stopped going.

We always used to say that these many points of contact with each other in the community “normalized” our therapy relationship.

I do think that this was true – and it is possible that I will never be able to accept a “pure” therapy relationship that is not somehow anchored in a bigger connection with each other.

Rockin’ it in Sylva!

I hope this 13-minute video conveys the joy that I felt at the Jackson Arts Fair in Sylva on April 3.

Those couple of hours, for me, stand for what Dr. Footloose is all about.

This same artist, Woolybooger, is playing again in Sylva on May 28 at the Lazy Hiker. I find myself unable to not dance when this guy plays.

I invite everybody to join us in Sylva for a really good time. The Arts Fair is happening the next day from 130 to 5. I am hoping to busk poetry there.

“Find your own dance“

Improvisational dance and self-affirmation workshop with Majo John Madden, a.k.a. Dr. Footloose.

Tomorrow (Saturday, April 24 – from 1:30-2:30 p.m.)

Love offering basis. When the event is over, you decide what it was worth to you.

Think you can’t dance? Or don’t like to dance?

Forget all that jazz – I will have you dancing in 15 minutes...or I will refund all the money you have not yet given me.

Dr. Footloose rocks it at the Jackson Arts Fair in Sylva earlier this month.

The key is to forget everything you ever thought you knew about what dancing is supposed to look like – and let it come from inside. Do your own dance.

The human body was intended to move in fun, free, self-expressive ways. Let your body off the leash and let it run free – like a happy doggie!

I will support, inspire and encourage you. And, if you just absolutely refuse to dance, we will do a little self-affirmation workshop and support you in feeling good about who you are, exactly as you are right now.

Meet at the rock outcropping on the Big Ivy River – across from the D&D Grocery on Barnardsville Highway (5″ from here: North on Paint Park, left at the stop sign, 2 miles down on your left).

Plan B, if it is actively raining at 1:30: Move across the street from the park outside the D&D grocery – under the canopy by the restaurant.

Majo – 828-678-1421

Remember this song?

“Don’t bring me down”

I do.

These guys – Black Stone Cherry – are playing June 5 at The Barn at Paint Fork in Barnardsville, North Carolina, just a half-hour from Asheville.

When I lived In the mountains outside of Weaverville last spring for two months, I frequently drove by the beautiful wooden sign for The Barn, on Paint Fork Road just south of Barnardsville.

Someone at one of the local convenience stores on Barnardsville Highway told me that The Barn puts on some great shows. I think I just didn’t take it serious that a little barn on that little road in little Barnardsville would actually bring in national acts – but they do!

I will be checking the place out this Saturday, when they have an arts fair in the morning from 9 to 1 and a benefit concert in the afternoon from 3 to 6.

Having spent the last year running the back roads of Appalachia during the pandemic, it is just so exciting to me that my Appalachia – which was so dormant last year, is coming back to life.

I love these country arts and music festivals. Here is a link to a video I shot at the Jackson Arts Fair in Sylva a few weeks ago. I think it conveys some of the flavor of how sweet and happy and laid-back these events can be.

If you are free on Saturday, I encourage you to come on out to Barnardsville and check out The Barn with me. I am even going to try to reach the management tomorrow and get them to sign on for me to do some of my poetry busking and Authentic Dance Coaching during the fair.

Wow, to go from “surviving the pandemic in Appalachia” in 2020 to “Coming back to life again in Appalachia” in 2021!

It’s not a sure thing yet. That damn virus still has its claws in us. But we are, as a country, getting smarter about social distancing – and now getting our vaccines.

I, like probably many of us, am already choosing to drop my mask in certain, select, sweet situations. Maybe, if we all choose well and continue to be careful when we need to, this opening may really turn out to be the light at the end of the tunnel.

The Barn at Paint Fork

Web site:

Tickets: (800) 514-3849


Free Fido – the rights of “our” dogs

Hear Majo read the text below:

It has become clear to me over time that nothing – nothing, no consideration – makes it acceptable to never let a dog offleash.

Most of the time, Pancho knows that she can go wherever she wants to go. Here I think she is pondering where she might want to go next.

If they have to run, let them run – to find a new life somewhere else or maybe to come back.

To never let a dog offleash is to take them prisoner for life – to never allow them to live as a normal dog.

That is not taking care of the dog – that is imprisoning a dog.

We are really trying to root out the practice of slavery with humans, but we regularly allow it with dogs.

It’s great to be happy that your dog is happy when you get home. But much of that happiness is not because they’re so glad to see you as that they hope that now they will get a chance to have some fun – after perhaps a painfully boring day.

(“It’s all right. He just sleeps all day anyway.” In many or most cases, that sleeping all day is just his way of coping with a situation that could make him insane.

Doggy daycare may not be in the budget for you – and might not agree with him – but, if he had the chance to play all day, he probably would choose to do that and not sleep all day.)

So, after all the excitement of them greeting you, your job is to provide some fun for the dog. Hopefully going for a very long walk off-leash will be fun and relaxing for you, too.

I think we are making progress at getting it that our children do not belong to us, but , as Kahlil Gibran said, belong to the future.

It is clearer to me than ever that romantic partners do not belong to us – and that monogamy is not the right path for all people or all couples.

Similarly, “our” dogs do not belong to us. Life has entrusted them to us. We had better do a good job with them.

My 10″ rant about the “casual abuse of dogs” in Asheville.

Inspiration – the breath of Spirit

To have Majo read all this text to you, click on this link:

These days, when I get inspired to write something – when I observe myself writing something in my head – I try to capture it right then and there. It’s downloading for me right then – let’s get it down on paper or in my phone or in a video.

This morning around 7 AM, Pancho and I were walking down to the Montford Park Players “Playhouse” behind the parking lot where are we like to park our van in Asheville these days – behind the Montford Park Rec Center. So quiet and private. After about 8 or 9 p.m., we are almost always the only people in the parking lot.

All through the 16 years that I lived in Asheville, I had recurring fantasies of some day being able to buy a little house over in Montford.

The other day I said to my friend Kay, who lives in the house right across from the parking lot, “Now I do, in fact, have a little summer place here in Montford – and who in Montford has a yard like the one we have here?”

As we were walking down by the Playhouse, I observed that in my brain I was thinking a bunch of thoughts about inspiration. So I said to myself, “Let’s capture it!”

The following 23″ video includes lovely images of that park and of my funny dog – and my observations about the role inspiration plays in my life.

In this video, I also make extended references to one of the most inspired poems I ever wrote, called “Who am I?” Here is a link to that poem, recorded in Chris Rosser’s studio in West Asheville.

LINK Sorry, but I have not found this link yet. Hopefully soon.

As I was driving to the studio on a bright Saturday morning 10 years ago, a new friend called me and – when I told her what I was about to do that morning – asked “Are you going to have music on the recording?”

I said “I can’t afford that. Chris is charging me just $70 for a half-hour of studio time.”

My friend said “Well, why don’t you ask? If he is such a talented musician, maybe he will throw in music for nothing. It wouldn’t hurt to ask.”

So my friend’s encouragement to follow Spirit – and go ahead and ask for what I wanted, even if I didn’t think I would get it – inspired me to do that.

And, after we had made an audio recording of the poem, Chris played it back and laid down a keyboard track underneath it that was also incredibly inspired.

That second poem, the only flat-out love poem I have ever written, had been inspired about 10 years ago by a lovely young woman who I had just had a 2nd date with at that time.

By the third date, I pretty quickly realized that – although she was definitely awesome and quite lovely – she was also not at that point emotionally available to a new relationship, and I abandoned the effort.

That fabulous woman was Patrice “PJ” Johnson, who I stayed in touch with through Jubilee where I had met her.

On the last time I saw her – maybe 15 months ago – she was obviously inspired to move pretty strongly towards me. She kept coming back for one last juicy hug and I thought, “Wow, maybe now finally she is available!”

About two months later, the pandemic hit and Pancho and I took off for the North country, where we have spent the last year – with some visits back to Asheville.

About every month or two I would reach out to Patrice and say “We’re gonna be in Asheville – are you available?” Or “We’re up in Burnsville – why don’t you come out and hang out with us in the country?”

I never got a reply from any of these inquiries and went back to believing that probably she really is not available to me these days.

About two weeks ago I saw an email in my inbox that started with “Hi, my name is Lois. I am Patrice Johnson’s aunt.”

My heart absolutely sank. I thought, “Oh shit! Something terrible has happened to Patrice.”

I was driving – going from one engagement to another – and did not get back to the email until later in the afternoon.

10 years before, one of the ways that Patrice had not been available was that she was immersed in supporting her father in completing his dream project – the rebuilding of an antique automobile.

Almost immediately after her father passed away, her mother – Peggy Johnson, retired psychologist who many people knew at Jubilee – began having strokes and needed a lot of caretaking herself.

I had always suspected – while Patrice was doing God’s work by being so devoted to her parents, who genuinely did need a lot of support – that maybe she didn’t know how to go after what she wanted for herself.

In the email PJs aunt said, “Peggy finally passed away in November – and Patrice died about a month later.” She had died, they suspect, of a bleeding ulcer – something that no way should’ve killed a healthy, youngish 55-year-old woman.

Her aunt went on to describe how, after the death of her mother, Patrice seemed not to know how to restart her life – and quickly fell into a very difficult place and died alone.

I was heartbroken – still am heartbroken, and crying at this moment – at the tragic loss of such a beautiful soul, who had so much potential for life and such a fun-loving spirit.

I wrote to Lois that “What I want to resolve in myself, in PJ’s memory, is that I will take better care of myself and go after what I want for me.”

I recently said to another fabulous woman friend, just a few years younger than my 74who I have loved for about 14 years and who loves me tremendously – “I know that when I proposed to you several years ago that we try dating, you said, ‘I love you a lot, but not that way’.”

In my history with women, I have always taken that kind of “No” as a final answer.

It always hurts my feelings, when I do see them that way – as a potential partner. But I never questioned it in this case and just felt sad and gave up on that wish.

I have stayed tight with that wonderful woman all through the pandemic and our travels – and have seen her periodically. She works in a restaurant – and three different times has hooked us up with food that was way better than we could afford or could get from a food pantry. And she has opened up to me some parts of her life she never before shared – and we have become even more emotionally close.

Just recently Pancho and I got in out of the cold and stayed at her house. Inspired by my learning from Patrice, I said to my friend “I want to sleep with you tonight.”

She somewhat awkwardly said, “Well, it’s a big bed. You can come up on the bed, but nothing sexual can happen.”

This time I was undaunted by that answer, which I expected from her – and asked “Why not?”

She said what I expected her to say: “Well, you know I love you – but just not that way.”

I again asked, “Why not? I am in a great place in my life. I am super-in-touch with my own sexuality and lovingness. You have told me that your life is entirely about your work these days. You are really happy – as happy as I’ve ever seen you – but you have no love in your life. I could give that to you.”

“You have never told me a lot about your ex-husband or the other boyfriends in your life. Has any of them ever totally adored you? Shown you physically and sexually what a goddess you are, how totally lovable? I could show you that. You are lonely right now and don’t get any touch – I could fix all that for you.”

I wasn’t trying to pressure her or to manipulate her into doing something I wanted her to do. I just wanted her to think deeply about what was the resistance – why, when she loves me so much and I’m not a bad-looking guy and am these days in amazing shape, she was not letting herself have something great that she could have.

I am a big believer in people having really strong “Yes”s and really strong “No”s – and I was totally ready to take “No” as her final answer. I was pretty sure that that would be the case, but I was not willing to let that stop me from saying what I wanted and needed.

After some extended exploration of what is going on in her life, I realized that, in fact, being solid and strong and independent – not needing a man in her life – is exactly right for her these days.

While her life is all about her work, her work is actually quite exciting and a huge breakthrough for her in her life. It is stretching her tremendously.

But it was only by pushing her a little bit and being bold about saying what I wanted – my vision of what might be great between us – that I got to clearly see that it wasn’t personal about me at all.

She truly is not emotionally available for that kind of relationship right now. I realized clearly that if I really love her, the thing to do now is to totally release the sexual agenda and to support her independence.

As I was saying these things into the phone just now, my dog was barking at a woman walking very briskly down this very steep hill towards the Playhouse.

She was trying to reassure Pancho that she didn’t need to be upset with her. I yelled, “She just wants you to pet her – that’s her way of saying that. If you pet her, she will shut up – but you don’t need to.”

She was pretty clearly into her very brisk walk and it was not the time for her to stop and pet a dog.

I yelled to Pancho, “She obviously likes dogs, but this is not a time for her to pet a dog. Maybe when she comes back uphill she can do that.

“Sometimes, Pancho, a person may have what you want – but it’s not the right time for them to give it to you.

“You can’t always get what you want, Pancho.”

The truth of that lyric from the Rolling Stones has never been clearer to me – and also the truth of the next line:

“But if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.”

It happens for me again and again that – after fighting mightily to get something that I thought God wanted for me, God says, “Great effort! You stretched yourself – you grew from pursuing this goal. The whole thing has been excellent.

“And that particular thing or person is not something I’m gonna let you have right now. I have other designs for you.”

My favorite tweets I have posted today

To hear me read the text of this post in my own voice, click here:

1) I read the other day that – in Spain or someplace – it is now illegal to shout a catcall at a woman. So I am trying to be very disciplined. I no longer will say to a woman that she looks great in those tight pants. Or even anything innocent like “nice blouse“. I do find, however, that – with the right woman – I can still say “Ooh, mama!” and it goes down just fine.

2) It has been 40 years since I last had my own personal secretary. At AT&T in the 80s, four of us managers shared the same secretary and did most of our own word processing.

But now I have Siri! I can tell her to call somebody and she does it. I can ask her to take a note and she does it. I have so far, however, had no luck getting her to bring me a cup of coffee. She just opens up a list of local coffee shops and says “Go get it yourself, asshole.”

3) My public defender just reassured me that I definitely will not go to jail next week for punching that guy last spring who aimed a racist slur at my black friend. “It’s only a misdemeanor unless you use a weapon.“

I told him that this feels very empowering to me. I now feel that I can go ahead and punch somebody else if I really feel a need to. As my legal advisor, he counseled me that a second offense might not go down as well. Shucks!

The way we treat the children

We get to determine the quality of our future world by how we treat the children.

I comment on this in the attached six-minute video.

I have since been apprised that the quote I attributed to The Rubaiyst of Omar Khayyam actually comes from Khalil Gibran:

The song I referred to is “For the people” by Nakho and the Medicine People. Thanks to Brandon Fox for that.