Saturday, February 11, 2017

My Easter Bunnies

I've Got The Writer's Block

There was a time, not so long ago, when writing literally poured out of me. Nary a day went by when I wasn't writing something, either here on my blog or for a magazine or newspaper.. But then someone pointed out to me the existence of a website that in large part was devoted to criticizing everything about me - from my looks to my husband and children to, yes, you guess it, my writing.

I thought I had a thick skin. I'd certainly taken my hits online for stuff I'd written. The worst ws the online comments on stories about the overdose and beating death of my son Henry. But this new vitriol was the worst I could imagine. These people on this website would flat out make stuff up about me. How do you respond to that? I mean, if you argue with them, you're feeding the trolls. If you ignore them, you allow them to publish flat out lies online with no recourse.

I decided on the latter,.I have done my best to never look at that site, but just knowing it's there, and that they will mock me and make fun of how I write and what I write about is hard. But one day recently when I wanted to write but somehow felt that I couldn't, I got mad. And a  flip switched in my heart and brain, I've been a  writer since preschool, when my mother says I used to make tiny books. I was editor of my high school newpaper and a columnist for my college paper. I've been freelancing for everyone from The News York Times to Huffington Post ever since. And of course, I am a blogger - something I've been doing for 11 years now and which gives me a lot of joy.

I am guessing that the people who rip me to shreds on that website don't care whether I feel joy or not. That's too bad because making people happy instead of sad is an awesome feeling.

In recent months,I find myself itching to blog again - nasty trolls be damned. I'm just promising myself that I will NOT look at that website. I just won't.

And I will write....and write....and write... Some of what I wrote will be heavy and other times what I write will be frivolous. But I WILL WRITE. I won't let a bunch of strangers take away from me one of the great joys of my life.

Thank you for reading. I love hearing from you in the comments. Thnk you to all of you who have supported me through the hellish last several years..

And now, I will write.



Graduation Day For Our Boy

This weekend has left me alternately giddy and weepily nostalgic. Why? Because my sweet. amazing, delightful and accomplished 18 year old, E graduated from high school today.
Even as I type those words I cannot quite believe them. I tend to alwasy think of E as my baby - which is what he was for a number of years before his little sisters C and G came along when he was 9 and 12 years old respectively. But today it's really hitting home that while he'll always be my sweet baby boy, he is not, in fact a baby, but is instead a young man with an incredible, panoramic future ahead of him.

We started celebrating E's graduation last night when we all gathered at our neighborhood Mexican restaurant, Senor Taco (which my kids refer to simply as "The Taco."). Our party consisted of Jon and me, Elliot's sisters J, C and G, my mother, my brother. Jon's parents plus E's good friend GB and J's housemate RP.

We were a jolly and boisterous group and we managed to scarf down a belly busting amount of Mexican food.

Once we were done eating, the wait staff at The Taco brought out the yummy Magpies cake (our favorite) I'd stashed in their kitchen earlier in the day. The waiters processed around the restaurant playing a drum and cymbals in a very festive fashion before delivering the cake to E. Along with the cake came E's graduation gifts from all of us, which he had fun opening.

We had just a wonderful time.

Here is E with my mama.

And here are E and his good friend GB.

Then today was graduation day at Thompson Boling Arena on the University of Tennessee campus. My mom, brother and I went out to lunch at the Tomato Head on Market Square before the main event. After we ate, my brother somehow convinced us we should walk to the graduation venue from downtown, even though we only had 30 minutes to spare. So the three of us totally booked it to get to graduation on time. We just barely made it but were still able to get good seats.

I knew that I would be emotional when E and his classmates trooped in during the traditional graduation processional and I was right; the music made me weepy. My BABY is now 18 years old a a HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE. High school really did seem to go by in the blink of an eye and seeing E and the other kids I know from his class take the stage to collect their diplomas left me all misty-eyed and sniffly. I know there's so much wonderful stuff ahead for my boy but I just feel like his chidhood sped by in the blink of an eye. High school in particular feels like it just started yesterday.

After the ceremony, E posed for photos with all of us, and then....just like was done. High school graduation was over after only a few speeches and a few hundred kids trooping across the stage. 

Here are Jon, me, J and E after the ceremony. (We left the little girls with Jon's mom who took them to the Children's reading festival today. We figured that would be more their speed than sitting thru a lengthy graduation ceremony)

And here are J and E after the ceremony today.

And what are E's plans now that graduation is over? Well, he intends to go to the beach withh us week after next, after which he's going to Jamaica on a mission trip with a friend's church. After that he'll be counting down the days until Freshman year begins. He'll be attending the same University as big sister J, and he already knows that he and a friend will get to room together in the dorm he expected to get assigned. His long term goal is law school. 

Tonight I remain nostalgic and I can't seem to stop drifting into reveries in which I remember E at 2. 5. 8. 10 and 12, 14, 16 and suddenly...18. Now that he's 18 he intends to wield his newfound legal adult status to get a tattoo - something honoring his big brother Henry, whom I know would have been so proud to see E walk across that stage today. 

Oh! And in other big news, E was yesterday named All-State in lacrosse. I'm super proud of him,

PART 1: If I Could Turn Back Time

Many if not most of you know that I lost my oldest son Henry, age 18 to a drug overdose and brutal drug-related beating on May 31, 2010. It's hard to believe that it's been six years now. I still hurt just as much as I did in the beginning. I cry almost every day. I feel broken in a way that I am not sure will ever heal. However, the one thing that has changed in the past six years is that I do have more perspective than I did in the immediate aftermath of Henry leaving us.

I have a lot to say on this subject so I will divide this blog post into several parts. Here is Part 1.

Frequently I receive emails and phone calls from frantic parents whose children are suffering in the depths of addiction. Every single time I hear from one of these parents it takes me back to the several years before we lost Henry - years during which he was actively abusing drugs - a period during which I felt helpless and alone. I honestly had no idea what I should do...what I COULD do to stop the runaway train that my beautiful son was on. I believe we did some things right. We sent him away to drug and alcohol treatment for basically his entire 17th year. We sent him to counselors and we sat him down with recovering addicts in an attempt to get through to him. However, in hindsight there are things I wish I had done differently.

The nearly hysterical parents who contact me looking for advice frequently ask me, "what do you wish you had done differently? Is there anything I should be doing that I am not?" After these six painful years without my son, I have come to some conclusions regarding the way I dealt with Henry's drug addiction before it finally killed him. When I speak to these parents I try to make it clear that I am not saying these are not necesssarily the "right" things to do. All I can say is that after some period of hindsight, these are the things I wish I'd done differently and that I believe might have made a difference and maybe, just maybe saved Henry's life.

1. Talk early and often about drugs: I admit it. I did not talk to Henry enough about drugs in his elementary and middle school years. This is because I simply couldn't imagine my accomplished, well-behaved child would ever turn to drugs. The whole concept seemed foreign to me and to our family. I have never used drugs - I've smoked pot twice in my life and got nothing whatsoever out of it, so I didn't even have the kind of experience that would have allowed me to speak to him with any knowledge or authority. But this doesn't matter; I should have found the right people to talk to Henry about drugs when he was 9-12 years old. I didn't do this. I just couldn't believe that drug addiction was in his future and so I chose to sort of ignore the whole issue. I talked to him about so many different dangers that I believed he faced but I erred terribly in my lack of conversation with him about drugs. And guess what? By age 14 my sweet, friendly, kind boy had already started smoking pot.

2. Know exactly what your 'tween and young teen is doing online. As someone who works in digital media you would think that I would have been more diligent in exploring my son's online activity. But once again, his demeanor was so very normal, at least until it finally wasn't that I didn't really worry what he was doing online. I mean, I watched him on Facebook but I had no idea that he was participating in drug-related chat rooms and forums, activity that I didn't discover until after he died (I had a friend hack into his computer for me after we lost Henry). In these chat rooms and forums he was actively discussing drugs and his own drug use as early as age 15 years old. My failure to pay closer attention to the conversations he was having online very well may have cost Henry his life. If I had known - MADE myself know - that at age 15 he was online very frequntly talking with ADULTS about drugs, drug experimentation, and how to avoid detection as a drug user I very well might have saved his life. The three years between age 15 and age 18 when he died were absolutely critical years - years when I still had legal and emotional control over my son. And because I was pretty much oblivious to much of the dangerous activity he was engaged in online, I lost that precious time to try to save him.

3. Be hyper-aware of any possible mental health issues that your child has that might lead him to self medicate. Henry suffered from what I now realize what was painful social anxiety and acute general anxiety for his entire life. Even as early as preschool he would come home complaining of stress headaches. We did take him to his pediatrician several times over the years to try to address what was clearly an anxiety disorder, and his pediatrician referred him for counseling. But not one of the several counselors we took Henry to see in early and later adolescence properly diagnosed him. Plus, Henry would clam up in couseling and so he got absolutely nothing out of these sessions. He simply refused to talk becaus he didn't want to be there. In hindsight, Henry almost certainly would have benefited from carefully monitored, prescribed anti-anxiety medication. But he never received this treatment and as a result, fairly early on he began to self medicate. At one point not long before he died, Henry told me that the first time he smoked pot ate age 14 he thought to himself, "Ah, so this is what normal feels like." Henry shouldn't have needed to smoke marijuana to find relief from the existential pain he was feeling (and which he described in great detail in the journals that he kept during his 17th year that he spent in treatment.) I failed my son in not pushing relentlessly for the top-notch mental health care that he deserved to receive before his self-medication turned into the addictive beast that took him from us far too soon.

Here is PART 2 of this series.

I Know It's Wrong to Covet

But I covet this.

One of these days..

Henry's Story

Several people have let me know that they're having trouble watching Henry's Story on YouTube. Thankfully, the wonderful folks at WBIR have kept the documentary online and you can watch it RIGHT HERE.

Part 2: If I Could Turn Back Time

Yesterday I wrote a blog post sharing some of the things I would do differently if I had the chance to raise my sweet son Henry all over again. Unfortunately, I don't get that chance but perhaps some of you reading what I have to say will find some nugget of wisdom that you will find helpful as you attempt to raise your children to avoid the deadly path of addiction that my beloved boy traveled before his drug-related death on May 31, 2010.

So here is Part 2 of my list of things I would do differently. I want to be clear that I am not claiming to have all the answers to why Henry became so ill with addiction, nor am I suggesting that if you adhere to my hard-earned perspective that your own child will never experiment with drugs or become addicted. There is still so much that we don't understand about why some children and teenagers become drug addicts while others - many from the same family and raised pretty much exactly the same way - do not. But I do believe that the perspective I've gained in the last six years since losing my dearest oldest child has some merit, and I hope you find it helpful in some way.

1. Make it clear that you have an absolute ZERO tolerance policy when it comes to drugs or alcohol and your kids.  You are not your child's friend. You are his or her parent. And even though we all knew some kids in high school who drank or smoked even a lot of weed and "turned out fine," this is not a chance you can afford to take with your own child. We know a lot more about the developing teenage brain than we did even 20 years ago and we know now that for kids who are born with the genetic predisposition for addiction, using drugs or alcohol during those critical developmental years may "flip the switch" for them, igniting a latent addiction that they may never again be able to turn off. This is what happened to my son. He started out smoking pot and for him, it truly was the gateway drug to the opiates that eventually killed him. I am aware that there are many adults who drink alcohol and use marijuana recreationally with no negative consequences to speak of. But teenagers do NOT need to drink or even use what we think of as a mostly benign drug - marijuana. There is just no good reason and there are lots of very bad reasons for adolescents to use or abuse these intoxicants.

Let me be clear that when I learned that Henry was smoking pot at age 14 I did not take it lightly. His father and I immediately got him into counseling (which in Henry's case was a waste of time because he would literally sit for an entire hour without uttering one word, so much did he not want to be there.) But if I am brutally honest with myself, I have to admit that I did not take Henry's pot use as seriously as I should have. Why? Because once again, we all knew kids in high school who smoked pot, even on a regular basis and who turned out to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. I so very much wanted to believe that Henry, a polite, friendly and generally well-behaved kid, would "grow out of" what I also wanted to believe was "occasional" marijuana use. This was a terrible mistake on my part. When Henry came to me at age 14 and admitted to me that he had experimented with pot I should have raised holy hell with my response. Instead I tried to be the understanding mom - the mom he could talk to about anything, I also wanted to believe him when he promised me that he would never experiment with marijuana again. These beliefs prevented me from taking the extremely hardline approach that I should have taken when I learned of Henry's earliest drug use.

2. If your kids' friends are changing radically, believe the worst. Before 9th grade, Henry had a solid group of great friends with whom he had attended school since 1st grade. I'm not saying these kids were perfect, but they were polite, accomplished kids who were involved in extracurricular activities like sports and church youth group. I also knew most of their parents and together, we all kept an eye on our boys. Starting in 9th grade, however, this all began to change quite radically for Henry. Leaving middle school for high school marked a distinct change in the peer group Henry with whom Henry began to spend time. Instead of the sort of preppy way Henry's previous friends had dressed, these new friends wore baggy pants, tie dyes and dreadlocks. Henry rarely invited these new friends to our house, preferring to hang out with them elsewhere - places that were hard for me to keep watch over (parks, the lake, etc). These kids reeked of cigarettes and often looked (and smelled) as if they hadn't bathed in days. Now let me be perfectly clear. LOTS of GREAT kids dress in tye dyes and wear dreads. But many if not most of these new friends were NOT great kids - at least they weren't great kids for my child to be hanging around. In 9th grade Henry still had to wear a school uniform but as soon as he got home each afternoon he would quickly change into his own version of what I have come to identify as his druggy clothes. Once when Henry was in 9th or 10th grade and we were visiting my family in Bell Buckle my dear friend Kimi (who raised 4 very well adjusted boys) tried to have a talk with me about the way Henry was dressing. "Katie," she told me somberly, "Henry is dressing like a kid who does drugs, and this 'uniform' is how other kids who do drugs find and identify with one another at school and elsewhere. We wouldn't let our kids dress that way and I wish you would seriously reconsider the way you're letting Henry dress and wear his hair long." But I didn't hear what she was saying. Instead I responded by telling her that I felt it was important for Henry to be able to express himself in the way he looked - hemp necklaces, long shaggy hair, tye dye pants and t-shirts advertising bands known for their drug-fueled concerts. Yes, I let him dress this way at an age when I still had enough control over him that I could have insisted on less drug-related attire. But I didn't. I really did feel like it was important for him to find and hang out with kids who seemed creative to me, and to express his own creativity in the way he presented himself. But Kimi was right; the kids Henry increasingly gravitated to were, in fact, major drug users. And today, a decade later, many of them are dead, some are battling active heroin and pill addiction, and a few lucky ones are in active recovery from their addictions. These kids weren't being creative in the way they dressed; they were putting out feelers to find the other kids in the school with whom they likely had drug use in common. Henry's sudden turn from the friend group he'd hung out with his whole life to this new, sketchy friend group should have been a big, flashing warning sign to me, but I wanted to believe the best about my son - that he was just branching out and meeting new and different kinds of people.

This is all I feel like I can write right now. I'm feeling very, very sad today, missing Henry and dreading the annual anniversary of his death which comes next week. But I have much more to say on this subject - things that in hindsight I wish I'd done differently. So please look for PART 3 in this series in the days to come. And thank you for reading. If I can maybe help even one family redirect their child out of the path to addiction, that will make me very happy.

And remember, you can find PART 1 in the series RIGHT HERE.

A Less Small House For Us

Well hello! I know it's been more than a little while since I last blogged. Lots of stuff has been happening in our lives since the last time I wrote so I'll try to catch you up. I also intend to write more regularly again, fighting against the rotten writer's block that's plagued me since I shuttered my previous blog,  Mamapundit. So please forgive me if in my intent to write more regularly, much of what I write is mundane...

So here goes...

The biggest thing that's happened is that we moved again. Yep, that's two moves in 10 months in case you're counting. We had been in our large, old Victorian for over a decade when finances dictated that we move into different digs. We wanted to stay in the same general area of downtown Knoxville and pretty quickly we found a small cottage-style house that we liked. When I say small, I mean way smaller than we had been used to.. We went from more than 3,000 feet to less than 1,000 feet when we moved into this new house..

Before we actually moved into the Very Small House and lived there it seemed like embracing the "smaller is better" house movement would be very appealing. After all, with two kids in college we now needed much less space. I also felt like we had, over ten years in the same space we had accumulated just too darn much STUFF. My thinking was that by moving into a Not So Big House we could jettison a lot of what we owned but didn't really use. And I started a previous blog at that time; hence the name "A Very Small House."

The Very Small House into which we were moving was a very sweet little 2 bedroom cottage of about 950 feet with lots of built in storage space for the stuff we wanted to keep but weren't necessarily using. It also had a barn in the backyard for storage. With the storage space available for putting things like books in boxes for keeping if not actually using, I believed that 950 feet would feel larger than it actually was. Also, there are only four of us living together full time now because J has her own house with friends and E is now in the dorm and living primarily with his Dad when he's not in the dorm so with fewer people at home I felt like I should embrace the small house movement and learn to live comfortably in far less space.

Well, suffice it to say that the novelty of living in 950 square feet wore out relatively soon for me. I know that many of my friends who live in big cities happily manage in apartments and condos of 950 square feet or even less, but I found it just wasn't right for our family. At first the small size felt cozy and fairly well organized but soon, even with all the great built-in storage that the Very Small House had, things started to feel squeezed and claustraphobic and messy. I simply couldn't keep a house that small tidy. Even as much as we downsized there I found that there wasn't a place for a lot of our things.The house just always seemed messy to me. I just soldiered on, feeling less and less comfortable but resigned to lie in the bed (house) we had made.

 I want to emphasize that the house itself wasn't the problem. It was just the size of the house. The home itself was a very cute little house with an awesome retro kitchen, two newly redone bathrooms, new windows and hardwood floors, plus a big, fenced yard. Also,  our landlord was great. Anytime we had any issue he took care of it within 24 hours. No, there was nothing at all wrong with the house beyond our own well intentioned error in judgment in having moved into such a small space.

At least we were all moved in from our previous large house and I can tell you that I said to myself at the time we moved from our large Victorian to the Very Small House  that I'd do my best not to move again for the forseeable future. And one positive of the move from the big house to the little one was that as we prepared to move, we did a serious purging of things we didn't need or use. I'd say we got  rid of a quarter of what we owned before we loaded up the moving van. Several really great friends helped us on moving day, which was exhausting.

But then, after we had been in the Very Small House for about 9 months, a rather remarkable thing happened. My old friend Lisa (our families have known each other since my Bell Buckle childhood) reached out to me to ask whether we would maybe be interested in renting their farm. You see Lisa and her husband Dan had decided to undertake a grand adventure and move to New Zealand. When they first decided to move to NZ they planned to sell their farm but after having it on the market for a short while they realized that they loved it too much to sell it. So they decided to rent it out, but they didn't want to rent it to just anyone. They wanted to actually know the tenants to be sure they would take good care of the house and property.

The farm is located  in the furthest corner of northeast Knoville in a rural area. I had been out there once before when Lisa invited the kids out to go sledding. I remembered both the house and property as really beautiful. Jon had never been out the farm. While the idea of potentially moving again after only 9 months in the small house seemed INSANE, after looking at some photos of Lisa and Dan's farm we both decided that we had to at least go look at it.

Here are some of the pix that convinced us to consider Lisa's very generous offer.

After looking at these photos we decided that crazy as it might be, we had to at least go out and meet Lisa at the farm (she was back from New Zealand to manage getting their dog and cat migrated from the U.S. to their new home country) and talk to her about potentially moving to her place. Before we went out to the farm the first time we were a little anxious about how far it would be from everything but after mapping it online we realized that even though it was in a rural area, it really wasn't that far from anything important to us. Yes, we would do a little more driving to get here and there but it was only 15 minutes to downtown and about 20 minutes to the little girls' school.

 So we went out to the farm one beautiful autumn day and within 30 minutes of walking around the property and house with Lisa, we were sold. The house is 2200 sq feet - an awesome size balance between our big house and the little house where were currently living. The  farm house also has a HUGE basement, so there was plenty of storage for the stuff we had boxed up and stored at the Very Small House. The house felt airy and roomy and has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Dan and Lisa have renovated extensively so the kitchen. bathrooms and master bedroom in particular are really pretty. Two of the three bedrooms open up to a wraparound deck that faces the 20-something acres on which the house sits. I've always wanted a house with that specific feature.

And speaking of acreage, we were speechless at how beautiful the farm property is. It backs up gently to a gorgeous, high ridge that sits next to a local mountain. There are two spring fed, stocked ponds with a dock. There's a picnic pavilion, a treehouse and a big swing that hangs from very high up in a tree. There's a patio with a hot tub and a firepit. We didn't have any of the kids with us on that trip to the farm that first day but we knew they would all love it, as would our dog Leo and our cat Milo (he's an indoor/outdoor cat). There is also a beautiful flower garden that circles the house and a large vegetable garden spot already in place.

Well to make an already-too-long story somewhat shorter I'll try to wrap this up with the inevitable ending. We quickly  told Lisa we'd take it, There was just no way we could pass it up even though would mean going through another move and a little more driving to get where we want to go. We both felt totally blessed that this opportunity had found us (thanks Dan and Lisa!) We immediately called our current landlord to negotiate getting out of our lease early. He couldn't have been nicer and as it turned out, he had a renter who wanted the Very Small House immediately so we didn't even end up having to pay for the last three months rent. We even got most of our rental deposit back. We felt like the universe wanted us to live on the farm.

The actual move was just as painful as the one 10 months earlier. Two other (than the friends who helped with move #1)  very nice friends helped us on ,moving day and we couldn't have done it without them. After the one big moving day and a second day where we just brought smaller things over in the pickup truck that goes with the farm, we had finished moving. We were sore but very happy.

We've been here several months now and we couldn't be happier. This house is just the right size for us. And I love living in it. It has great flow, beautiful colors on the walls, beautiful tile everywhere, an awesome kitchen - the nicest kitchen I've ever had - and two fireplaces. One is gas and one is wood burning.

And the kids LOVE it. The big kids enjoy coming out for family dinners and bringing friends, something that was nearly impossible in the Very Small House because the dining room was so tiny that it barely seated 4 people, much less six and friends. And the  two little girls adore the farm. The really like their room, and they love taking Leo for walks in the woods. They like playing around the pond and they are really looking forward to this summer when they can take the inflatable dinghy that C got for Christmas out on the water more often.

Here's C doing some thinking out on the pond dock.

And as for me, I feel at home, like this is the place I'm supposed to be. We meant well with our experiment in Very Small House living, and I realize that many people live comfortably in houses that small or smaller but it definitely wasn't for me. Now, in my less small house I feel like I'm where I'm meant to be.

We All Fall Down

I've  had the strangest thing happen in the last year or so. I've suddenly started sleepwalking for the first time in my life. From waking Jon up to INSIST that he was sleeping under an invisible blanket to trying to walk out the backdoor into the yard on a very cold night (thank goodness the door was locked and I was too clumsy in my sleep to open it) my brain is doing something strange.

I take several medicines for various things and I suspect one of those is the culprit.  I will talk to my doctor, But in the meantime I keep doing things like last night where I actually picked up and moved the little table next to my side of the bed to an upside down position in the living room. I have absolutely no recollection of doing this, which is a really freaky feeling.

Have you ever sleepwalked? How bad was it? Did it turn out that it was medication-related?

In Which Rep. John J. Duncan Brands Me A Kook

Although I agree with him on the issues only approximately .5% of the time, there are a few things about Rep. Duncan that I have admired. For starters, I am told that he is a genuinely nice person. Also, he was one of the very few Republicans in the House to vote against the Iraq War even as the Republican leadership put the screws to him to let us invade Iraq. For another thing, he really does spend a large amount of time here in the District visiting with people at schools and senior centers and the like. These "meet and greet" events are billed by Duncan's staff as opportunities for constutuents to have the congressman really listen to their concerns and opinions.

Well, now we know the truth about Congressman Duncan's meetings with us, his constutuents. Or at least we know what he actually thinks of those of us who disagree with him but who want to be heard with at least as much respect as he gives the elderly ladies who meet with him to chat about their concerns over coffee and donuts - constituents who already agree with him most of the time.

In recent weeks the Congressman has apparently been inundated by citizens requesting a public meeting with him to discuss their concerns over the way the country is going. These voters simply want the chance to talk directly and publicly with their congressman. But the difference between the local voters with whom Rep. Duncan generally meets (privately or in small groups) and the voters who are now asking for a public meeting is that the former are likely to agree with Rep. Duncan on most issues facing our community and our country while the latter are not.

And because Rep. Duncan apparently holds the loyal opposition  in pre-meeting contempt, the requested townhall-style meeting is apparently not to be. Here's a snippet of Duncan's email response to those seeking to  hold a public dialogue with Rep. Duncan:

“I am not going to hold town hall meetings in this atmosphere, because they would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals
So he refuses to provide an audience for those who likely disagree with him on current issues because it might be a challenging, politically charged conversation? You know, the kind of tough dialogue that tough times demand? 
When contacted by the Knoxville MercuryDuncan's  spokesman Don Walker confirmed that the language in his boss's letter was Duncan's own, adding  “He is in East Tennessee almost every day he is not scheduled to be in Washington with floor votes. In Tennessee he visits with constituents in his office and in the community at schools, churches, ballgames, drug stores etc.”
Oooookaaaaayy, so he meets daily with constituents who don't challenge his views or votes in any significant way (after all, this is a guy who has won his seat with 70% of the vote. He's not very used to people disagreeing with him) but he refuses to meet with us "kooks"  who may not agree with him on certain, specific issues. This behavior on his part is akin to a congressman in 1970  refusing to meet with constituents who might be Vietnam War protestors because he thinks they're "kooks."  A congressman shouldn't simply refuse to meet with hundreds or even thousands of his concerned constituents when the going gets tough. I'm sure he'd rather shake a few hands at a kids' baseball game. But that's the easy part of the job he took on when he entered Congress in 1988. The hard part is meeting with and listening to groups of voters who are fired up and with whom he might disagree with the issues.

In the same response email  as the one calling many of  certain constituents "kooks" and "extremists," Rep. Duncan offered the voters who contacted him to ask for a publicdiscussion the opportunity to instead meet with him privately.. However, there's a reason that in this case, a public meeting is preferable. It's what his constituents are asking for and that should matter. Rep. Duncan shouldn't just blow off this request by a large number of his constituents asking for a public meeting.

 Town hall-style meetings are an important part of the democratic process. and a public meeting offers benefits that a one on one meeting does not. For starters, a private meeting lacks transparency. Since the meeting is held in private there's no record of what's said. After all, the media can't attend or report on a one on one meeting between Rep. Duncan and a single constituent. In a private meeting, a congressman can dodge tough questions with no real repercussions at the ballot box. In private, a congressman can make promises he can't or won't meet. Also, suggesting to voters asking for a public meeting the chance to instead meet privately is contemptuous. Rep. Duncan shouldn't act as if his constituents who want a public meeting should instead be content with an "audience with the pope" style alternative.

Holding town hall meetings is a very traditional part of being an elected official. It's not some nutty, "out there" idea to expect that when someone serves in Congress that person should be willing to have tough conversations in public. Holding public meetings with media present is an important part of the whole concept of sunshine laws. 
This is my 9 year old niece at the YUGE Women's March on Washington. So is she a kook too?

And about that name-calling. Well, in my whole life I've never heard a congressman refuse to meet with a large group of concerned voters while at the same time publicly referring to these voters in this rude, unprofessional way.

As for me, I will likely continue disagreeing with him almost 100% time on the issues. But who cares, right? What does a kook's opinion matter anyway?