Meet Randy Weeks
A condensed version of this interview appears in the April 2020 issue of Invitation Oxford.
Interviewed by Allison Estes
He’s a licensed professional therapist with a master’s in church music and sociology, and a flair for goth western style. April 2020 marks the third anniversary of his column in The Local Voice, View From the Balcony. We caught up with Weeks on said balcony, where he held forth on the virtues of conversation, inspiration and friendship.
Q: What’s the “elevator pitch” for your column?
A: Elevator pitch (13 floor building): “The View” is a mosaic of Oxford life as viewed from the southwest corner of the balcony of the City Grocery upstairs bar, through my eyes and my sometimes skewed ways of thinking. Sometimes serious, sometimes silly, sometimes satirical, and with a cast of local characters whose names have been changed to protect the guilty, the View seeks to promote cheer, contemplation, community, and change, with the occasional overuse of alliteration.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I’m from Madison, back when you had to tell people where Madison was. No traffic lights and all of that. Now it’s kind of like the Germantown of Mississippi.
Q: Are you a therapist?
A: I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor. I went to William Carey College in Hattiesburg.
My first career was in church music so I studied church music there. Then I went to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, for my master’s in church music. I did that full time for like 10 years. And then I went back to school at Mississippi College, after 10 years, and got a sociology degree with emphasis in marriage and family therapy.
Q: How long you been hanging around Oxford?
A: I’ve lived here about 8 years. So not very long, actually.
Q: How’d you settle in Oxford?
A: I moved here after living in Greenwood for fifteen years thinking I might be able to retire here someday. I especially love the arts here. That’s the main thing that attracted me.
Q: Tell me how you started setting up shop here on the balcony?
A: I started coming up here on a regular basis about five years ago and started meeting people. And it felt like home. So it didn’t take me that long to really be comfortable here. I live in an apartment and don’t have much outside time like I used to. So part of what the balcony has done for me is give me outside time. And great conversation. For the first time in my life I’ve had actual real friends that I didn’t have to fake around, you know? That’s baggage from church work.
Q: Have you met some close friends here just in the last five years?
A: Oh yeah. Dear, dear close friends. I’ve met so many. Of course there’s a core group. Gosh. Three years ago — this is just an example of how special this place is to me:
I had a brother that was 10 years older than I am. Three years ago, in January, he took his own life. I found out when I was at work. And I was driving back and I thought, “Well, what am I gonna do?” I could go back to my empty apartment and sit there all by myself, or I could come to a place where I know people love me and care about me. So I came up here. And my friends, they saw me through. They were really there for me. And they know how to be there for them, and that’s just the bond of that friendship that I haven’t had because I felt like I couldn’t totally be who I am.
Q: With your columns, it sounds like sometimes maybe you’ve got something on your mind, maybe a theme on your mind, and you want to talk about that. Tell me about that.
A: I’m very fortunate that Nature Humphries and Newt Rayburn that have The Local Voice give me free rein. I try to balance columns between serious and what I call humorous; some people don’t get my humor, but … so that it’s not always one or the other. But yeah, sometimes there’s a real specific thing that I want to write about that happens here that we all watch together. And then sometimes it’s just stuff I’m going through myself. The new one out is about dealing with adversity. That just comes from some things that I’m dealing with myself right now.
Some of it is topic-oriented in terms of things like the Stennis flag or the confederate statue. The column I wrote that got the most response … most of time I’ll get anywhere from 90-200 shares. But I wrote one that was an open letter to Hugh Freeze after his stuff came out. And it got just under 1,000 shares. That was one of the things that was going on currently at the time.
Q: What were you saying to him, to Hugh Freeze?
A: I was trying to say some things to him that other people weren’t saying. I was not judging him. I was kind of trying to say, you know this is where you get a chance to pick yourself back up and figure out how to do it — do life in a different way, and get through it, and eventually hopefully be a better person for it. So I guess it’s kind of more of an encouragement. It’s archived with all the others.
Q: Were most of the responses positive?
A: Yes, but I didn’t get that much direct feedback. People don’t write that many comments. But the vast majority of things were positive. And I did get some comments from people who were like, “You know, I hadn’t thought about it that way,” and “That’s a different perspective and thank you for putting it out there.”
I’ve had plenty of failings in my own life so I try to come from the perspective of somebody who’s been through a lot of that and who knows what it’s like to fall flat on your face, in public, and then have to pick yourself up.
Q: Have you fallen flat on your face?
A: Oh yeah. Yeah. I have, yeah. More than once.
Q: Sitting up here overlooking the Square of an evening, and talking to people who come in here and making friends and all that, has that informed your practice in any way? Have you taken any of this into your practice?
A: I don’t think you can help but take it in. Not necessarily directly, although everybody you meet expands your experience of life and understanding. Probably the way it’s influenced my practice the most is just by allowing me to be more authentically myself. And that translates into everything. I don’t take myself too seriously.
I’ve sat here on more than a few nights where I’ve had people sit here laughing their asses off and the next person who sits here will end up crying. And it’s one of the ways I know what a lucky and blessed man I am. It’s a great privilege and I don’t take it for granted at all.
To be able to be in a place like this and have the opportunities I have and know the people I know. I don’t use the word blessed very often but that’s the only one that will really do it justice. I know how very blessed I am. And I’m so grateful.
Q: What about the stick?
A: I was thinking about getting this cane and I was actually looking for a replica of Bat Masterson’s, from the TV show. And in the course of looking I found this one. I asked a couple of friends and they said get that one. The cane has a secret, but I ain’t tellin’ it!
Q: That is a great jacket — it’s like urban cowboy meets goth.
A: I used to feel self-conscious about going full-out Western, but I’ve looked back and seen so many pictures of myself in Western stuff. I finally said, “It’s time to just own it.”
The Local Voice and Vox Press are partnering to publish a collection of Weeks’ View From the Balcony columns (April 2017-December 2019) later this year.