Honors reunion

Last night Walter, my mom, Catherine, and I went to the retirement party for Connie Hood, my undergraduate mentor who developed and ran Tech's phenomenal Honors Program. It was such fun, and more moving than I thought it would be. The Honors Program was an incredibly large part of what made my education at Tech as meaningful as it was. And I'm not the only one--a surprising number of Connie's students have gone on to get Ph.D.s in various fields. Someone should find out what the percentage actually is.

I met up with some of my closest friends from college last night, but the thing I wanted to blog about here was the experience of meeting up with folks who I actually didn't know. Here's a conversation that happened several times:

Alison: "Hey--tell me your name."
Random Honors person: "I'm Random Honors person."
Alison: "Great to meet you! I'm Alison."
Random Honors person: "I know. I read your blog."

Or this one:

Random Honors person: "I really like your hair."
Alison: "Oh, thank you! I had it cut in New York."
Random Honors person: "I know. I read your blog."

At this point I thought, well, I have nothing to say to you, because all the interesting stories I have to share at a party I've already put on the blog, so you know them all!

Meeting all these folks definitely made me think that Biffle and I need to do a better job of keeping the blog up to date, and thinking of interesting things to say.

Here's your interesting thing for today: a picture of me from college. The caption they'd added to this photo for last night's slide show was "Alison goes crazy with the frosting." I thought, "Some things never change."


Santa's Little Helper Monkeys

Day-to-day life with the Piepmeiers usually revolves around a comedic theme. They are an habitual bunch...some may even say, well...compulsive, and as such are given to sticking to one joke until all possibilities are used up. Christmas is no different, and this year's comedic christmas theme (evidently because of something planted in Alison's head by none other than Kelly Love Johnson) was "helper monkeys."

Late in the evening last night, we sat around playing guitar (who knew Stinkfist could play guitar so well?) and singing christmas songs. The songs eventually de-volved into ad-lib caroles containing references to these helper monkeys.
For example, Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues became:

that Chistmas Train's -comin'
it's rollin' around the bend
it's full of helper monkeys
and i'm afraid of them

The pinnacle of all this creativeness came when we started in on Up On The Rooftop. Not an easy song to alter, Trey and I did what i consider a spectacular job of ad-libbing verses in which different people ask Santa Claus for different things--all of which, of course, had to do with helper monkeys, e.g. to replace their "leg-nub" for Christmas (the old leg having been chewed off by helper monkeys, of course), or asking Santa for helper monkey repellent, or even asking santa for a helper monkey, and on and on. I don't exactly remember what we sang, but it was funny, generally rhymed and had some semblance to the clipped tune and meter of Up on the Rooftop.

And then it was Alison's turn...

helper monkeys can carry rabies
so you've got to keep them vaccinated
they have sharp teeth and they sneak around your house
santa, i think i've changed my mind


Why I'd Just As Soon Chew Out My Own Eyeball As To Go Christmas Shopping

That title is a fake-out. Here's what's really on docket:

I have read the newspaper, listened to the radio, and have watched the news on television over the past few days. During that time i have become hip to many of the subtleties in the important and on-going argument concerning the use--and non-use--of the word "christmas."

I have listened and pondered the matter deeply and, i think, have developed a bit of Solomon-like wisdom on the subject that i would like to share. Here it is:

Y'all, shut the fuck up.


punching a hole in the atmosphere

Recently I promised a friend to blog some gloom and doom. It's not that they exactly asked for "gloom and doom", but they did point out how gloriously happy Alison and i make our lives sound on here. I hadn't really noticed, but the observation made me take a look and i agree: Too much sunshine!

I figure this is mostly because i've been on temporary hiatus from my usual marxist rants. I've been enjoying that hiatus, however, and think i'll continue it. So, today, as an alternative, I'll go with another sure-fire G and D staple: the environment. I'm going to address it in a roundabout kind of way though. Here it is:

I went to pick a little bit at a jam last night. I'm not quite sure what one would call the region of the state i was in, but i'm sure it has a name. (All areas of the state of South Carolina have a name. Alison and i live in the Lowcountry. Up north from here, but still near the coast and most likely the area i was near is The Pee Dee. There's also The Midlands and Upstate. I gotta tell ya: although almost all of these areas are indistinguishable from each other--all of them being entirely flat and sandy--you've gotta hand it to these South Carolinians: they really know how to name a place.)

Anyway, i went pickin'. In a very out-of-the-way spot, deep in the backwoods, several of us stood around a old fuel-barrel cum outdoor-woodstove. A herd of children there furiously stoked it with firewood 'til the stove was glowing red in the darkness.

We'd play a tune, talk a little bit. Play some more, talk some more. At one point (i believe it might have been between Soldier's Joy and Salt Creek) the topic of temperature came up. Turns out that that area of the state is warmer than it used to be. "...Gloowbal Warming", suggested one person laconically (with that strange, long vowel sound used by folks around here). I was pleasantly surprised to find this comment not met with derision. One older gentleman, just there listening, skeptically contributed this thought, however:

They talk about that gloowbal warming and they blame it on the automobile. But if you think about it, that stuff's been going on since we started sendin' up all them rocket ships. They punched a hole in the atmosphere 's what they did.

I wish you could have heard this. Although...uhmmm...ridiculous, it was beautifully and sincerely said. It also rendered the group of us entirely silent. For a moment we just stood there and listened to the gentle ping of the fuel barrel and the whoosh of air over it's flames. Finally, someone, with quite a bit of grace, quietly said: Well... . ...I guess that's one way you could luke at it....

Now, although i don't expect people to follow my twisted lines of logic or understand the emotional connections i sometimes percieve in stuff, I want to show you a headline from today's paper. I find this headline and that rocket ship moment tied together by millions of tiny, sad little filiments...there's just something similar about the sounds, about the brutalness of the actual words. There's something in the fantastical nature of both declarations. They each speak to where and how we live. They are matter-of-fact, and both address how everything, eventually and always, must come to some kind of end. This is the headline:

Chinese River Dolphin Was No Match for Prosperity


An honest bluegrass song

I know that many people still have things to say about weenie tots, but I just got a link that I had to share.

Biffle's been playing bluegrass and bluegrassy gospel since he was ten years old, but only this semester was he introduced to this song that articulates the message underlying most bluegrass gospel music.

The caveat: Don't listen to this is if you find blasphemy offensive. Biffle passed this on to one of his bluegrass friends here in Charleston, and he was absolutely appalled. He said, "I threw that CD into the garbage! But not before I scratched a nail back and forth across it so that no one else's ears would be stained with that blasphemy!"

Biffle notes that the phrasing in the song is just perfect--these guys are legitimate Southerners and bluegrass musicians.

So here's the song.


Weenie tots

Who knew weenie tots were so mysterious?

Apparently they're called different things in different places. Claire says they were called "whiska weenies" when she was growing up (I think Deandra's family may have called them something like this, too). What other names are there for them?


Holiday update

Biffle and I had our holiday party last night. We've been throwing a big holiday party every year for 13 years now (although a few years ago we decided that every party should be our "10th annual," so that's what it's said on the invitations since then). This was our first year of having it in Charleston.

In many ways it was very similar to our previous party experiences. Lots of people came. The gift game was as riotous as it always was in Nashville--this was the part that most concerned me, because the success of the party rests on the gift game. Our gift games in Nashville were so cut-throat and long-lasting that people would come up to us in June and say, "I've picked out my gift for this year's party!"

Brian played a very important role in the game last night: he was the person who opens a crappy gift and then sells it like crazy, trying to convince someone to steal it. He got some Christmas drinking glasses, and he tried to pass them off as goggles, large earrings, and voice distorters that make you sound like Darth Vader.

One major difference between Nashville and Charleston parties: Charlestonians apparently have no love for weenie tots. Every year in Nashville Walter and I would serve weenie tots, and I'd think, "No one wants these. This is such a ridiculous food! This is the last year we're having them." But then at the end of the evening, the weenie tot pot would be completely empty, because Nashvillians love weenie tots. At the end of last night's party, we had just as many weenie tots as we started with, if not more. So, sadly, this probably has been the last year for weenie tots.

The sugar cookies were a big hit, though.


Orange report #5


A new angle this time because some carpenters at Mrs. Simmon's house ate the ones visible from our window. (and Mrs. Simmons was mad as a wet hen about it, too! She told us "that contractor's gonna pay me for those oranges!")


A good day in Charleston

Yet again, Biffle and I are having one of those days that makes me wonder, does anyone else in the world have as much fun as we do? We slept in, I made an excellent batch of biscuits for breakfast, we took Baxter to the Farmer's Market, and then we got our Christmas tree (holiday tree? What do you call it when you're not actually Christian?). Walter dropped an entire box of glass ornaments from the attic to the hallway floor, and then we danced to "Run, Run Reindeer," the Muppets' version, in the living room. We had to dance sort of surreptitiously, because Baxter hates dancing.


random news

First of all, i probably need to forewarn everybody that i may soon become more of an insufferable a-hole than i already am. The reason? i'm blogging this to you from the linux operating system. My hard drive crashed last week and i may have decided to go all shareware for my os.

Problem is, i'm not sure i know how to do some of the more important programming bits. And then there's Quicktime media player, which i don't think is even available for linux. This is a problem because...well, because some of the things i find so very appealing about computers and the internet use Quicktime.

Anyway, if this linux thing works out, get ready! I figure i'll be preachin' the gospel.

Also: i'm getting ready to go up for a teaching review tomorrow. I was thinking about what i need to do to get ready for that as i prepared my morning bowl of oatmeal and thought of something: There was a point in school when both Alison and I asked our committee professors: "Okay. Just tell me the hoops you want me to jump through, and i'll do it." And both of us recall said professors becoming very irate at this question.

Problem is, Alison says that she now totally understands why they got angry with that question. I don't.

(number of times i used the phrase "problem is" in this post: 2)


eef and hambone, hambone and eef

Sarah Josepha Hale

It's Thanksgiving once again, which means it's time for my annual homage to Sarah Josepha Hale. Normally only my immediate family gets to hear this, but I figured this year, I'd share it with the blog.

Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) is one of the very cool forgotten 19th c. women I studied back in the day, when I studied 19th c. women (I probably will study them again, but as you all know my heart is currently with zines). Hale is responsible for Thanksgiving being a national holiday. As editor of Godey's Lady's Book, hands down the most popular magazine of its time, she was incredibly influential nationally, and she used her influence to argue for things like equal education for women, high-quality American literature, and Thanksgiving.

The United States only had one national holiday at that time: July 4. A lot of people celebrated Thanksgiving, but there wasn't a set day for it, and it wasn't nationally recognized. She lobbied the Presidents for 25 years about this issue, and finally Lincoln complied in 1863. She'd been saying for years that an additional holiday would help bring the country together, and during the Civil War Lincoln saw the symbolic significance of this.

So as you enjoy your day off, eat your turkey or to-furkey, and think about the native people whose land the Puritans stole, raise a glass in honor of Sarah Josepha Hale, who should be a national celebrity on Thanksgiving.


Hambone Brothers

These are two of my favorite Hee Haw performers doing what's known as "eefing and hamboning." Biffle made reference to this phenomenon awhile back on this blog--he's known about effing and hamboning for a while, but I'm kind of an eefing-hamboning newbie. I learned about this particular art form last year when I bought Biffle the boxed set of Hee Haw DVDs.

Biffle assures me that this is a legitimate folk art performance. I think it's incredibly disturbing and hysterical. It's the abject: I'm horrified, and I can't turn away.

There must be more important things going on right now for us to blog about (like the fact that Eliza just visited, Thanksgiving is coming up, racism continues to run rampant in the state that Biffle has dubbed "the anus of the Confederacy"), but all I've got for you today is eefing and hamboning.


Orange report

Because his computer has crashed yet again, Biffle asked me to post today's Orange Report.


Something Just Felt Terribly Wrong About It....

I was raised a bourgeois wannabe, without any ammunition and no real chance of getting any. My daddy, although a man of really garish taste, still had a good eye for "quality" and cursed me with it early on. I appreciate a well-tailored suit. I know what a salad fork is. I can be...well, maybe with a little refresher course...be quite gracious in that trivial, shallow sort of way. But, listen: i was not prepared for the gig i played the other night.

It was a political fundraiser. And a pretty baddass one at that. And this wasn't even 1st string. This wasn't even 2nd or 3rd sting, really. The first string kicked everything off two weeks ago when the president and vice president made a simultaneous showing there. All we got was a bunch of tired old senators and representatives, but i still recognized a lot of names. Sort of. (Before i knew who we were playing for, Roy Blount of "missourah" introduced himself to me, and i said "the author?")

This fundraiser was held at a pretty exclusive resort on an island around here. You have to pay to get there. There are several guard shacks. Here's the deal (and the reason i mention the bourgeois thang): If i had been able to climb to where my parents wanted me to climb--and i had stayed politiclly where they wanted me to stay--this thing would have absolutly impressed the gee-willikers bejeezus outta me. There is nothing at this resort--and i do. mean. nothing.--that is not nicer than anything i have ever owned in my life. The rug in the entrace hall of the resort? Nicer. The landscaping? Oh, way nicer. The telephones? Nicer. Even the paper towels in the bathroom, embossed with the name of the place, were nicer than any paper towel i've ever had. Hell, i didn't even know they make paper towels like this. I took several just for the hell of it. I plan to try and dry off with one after a shower just to see if i can.

Anyway, i could get into the fact that there was a mixture of the new rich and the old rich at this thing. (I know this because one over-dressed woman with bad plastic surgery ignored me while a youngish couple in jeans volunteered how much they loved the music and appreciated us being there.) But that's not really the point here.

The point is that this former agricultural, slave-occupied island cum newly private, million dollar homed island--with its several golf courses, it's fee to even enter, it's private security force--is just too much wealth. The resort itself, with all that nice stuff, and with the party i played at being hosted on a luxurious putting-green quality lawn the size of most housing projects, this resort with well-mannered white people as the help and the guests dining on a damn pig with an apple in its mouth as the ocean's waves softly broke on the nearby shore....well it all just made me sick.

This is how our national policy gets made. And the whole scene reminded me of nothing more than what i might have found at Versailles before the revolution.


Me and my bad attitude

I just got out of my panel at a conference in Philadelphia. I presented part of my chapter-in-progress, "Why Zines Matter: The Workings of Visual and Material Culture in Grrrl Zines." I approached this conference the way you're supposed to: I brought something that I'm still working through, that I have questions on. I wanted feedback--is this approach valid? What are the theoretical weak spots?

Two people attended our session. Two. One of them didn't show up until after I presented. I got one question.

The good attitude part of my brain says, "Now, now--the work you did getting ready for the conference is still useful for your book. And think of all the interesting things you've learned from other panels this weekend! And isn't Philadelphia a beautiful city? And hasn't it been nice to be in a hotel room, and to have so much quiet time to think and feel like an academic."

That good attitude voice is annoying as hell. Of course all that is true, but it feels a bit pointless to have come all the way here and have gotten no useful feedback about my book, which was the main reason for coming.

It's funny--as a graduate student, I would have been relieved at the poor attendance. I would have felt like, "Hey, I got all the credit for presenting at a conference, but it wasn't scary! No questions that I don't know the answers to! Let's go have dinner!" So I guess it's good that I can see that I've progressed in my career. I want hard questions. I want academic discourse! I want theoretical rigor!


Two Fer One

Here's a post i wrote a few days before our latest election--the one where 700,000 South Carolinians pushed a button that said they supported America's new penchant for curtailing people's liberty:

I asked my drawing class today if they supported South Carolina'a attempt to define marriage as between one woman and one man. To a person--and without hesitation--they proclaimed they DID NOT support this attempt. Again: 100% of my students believed that marriage should be open to anyone. 100% of them!

You know what this tells me? Although it's difficult to recognize because of this state's current citizens, it just might be that South Carolina has finally done it's children a good deed.

What good deed might this be, you ask?

Well, this new crop of South Carolinians may actually be the first who have the good fortune to define themselves by what they love, and not what they hate.

(or, to put it another way: It appears they aren't growin' up to be bigoted, halloween-hatin', women-in-their-placin', hypocritical, war-mongerin', gay bashin', klan-lovin' freaks.)

The good news is that 200,000 South Carolinians felt the other way. That's a lot of folks. Anyway--Man, my heart goes out to those who seem to think that somebody doing something they don't like, or letting people do something they disagree with ruins their own good time. The kind of folks who only seem to know themselves through what they are opposed to. I've spent quite a bit of my life there and know now how much it sucks to be like that...i guess that's why i chose to not post this the other day--i just didn't want to be all angry and stuff. Anyway, God bless all our small little hearts.

Onto other things (mostly bragging): I have a long-term goal: i want to try and finish a very small tri-athlon. Like a 5k run/1k swim/10k bike. And i do mean long term: like maybe three years from now. But toward this goal I try and eat better, lay off at least some of the sugar, and i go exercise just about every morning.

My routine varies quite a bit, but i've figured out that i want to try and run long, slow distances on sundays. The rest of the week is an increasing intensity of a particular set of (currently all land-based) exercises. More or less, each weekday (with a skip in there if i want to), i go up to the local park and run three miles, do 20 pull-ups, 40 leg lifts, 40 inclined pushups, jump over a waist high bar 40 times, and walk fowards and backwards on a balance beam 6 times. (all the pullin' and pushin' and jumpin' is interspersed evenly over the last two miles.)

Well, this morning i reached a particular milestone. Each friday (what i've starting calling "hard Fridays") i take a shot at doing all that crap in less than thirty minutes. This morning i did it in 31 minutes and a few seconds, which is close enough for me. Whoohoo!


Vote NO on homophobia

Like folks in eight other states (including our beloved Tennessee), South Carolinians will be voting Nov. 7 on a homophobia amendment, which will be Amendment 1 on our ballot. You can read the full text here. This amendment will change the SC Constitution to say that the only valid family unit in South Carolina is one man married to one woman, and no other family unit of any kind will be recognized in any way.

This amendment is so broad that it will harm single parents, common law marriages, etc. But the obvious real targets of this amendment are same sex couples.

When I was a kid, I remember learning about the Civil Rights movement and thinking about all the folks who worked for it, as well as the folks who opposed it. I remember wondering which side I would have been on, if I'd been alive at the time. Of course we all want to think that we'd be on the side of the Civil Rights activists rather than being among the angry faces in those photos of white mobs, but I recognized that the side of justice isn't necessarily as clear when you're in the moment as it is in hindsight. And I remember hoping, hoping, that I would know which side to be on if any issue like that emerged in my own lifetime.

Well, LGBT rights is that issue. This is one of the most important civil rights issues of the early 21st century. History will look back on what we do now--school kids will say, "What was wrong with those people? Why did they think that two women marrying would hurt heterosexual marriages? That doesn't even make sense."

Denying full civil (and human) rights to gays and lesbians is irrational and indefensible. It's bigotry, no matter what kinds of justifications the bigots use to try to pretty it up. I don't know if Amendment 1 will pass in South Carolina, but I know that the tide is turning on this issue, and the bigots will eventually be proved wrong. As MLK said, "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." I just hope it doesn't have to be too long, because people are being harmed every day that our country doesn't provide equal protection under the law.

You can read an interview with some of the activists working against the amendment that I wrote up for the Women's and Gender Studies magazine.

just taking up space


Going to the fair with five-year-olds

Claire, Nina, Adam, and I went to the Coastal Carolina Fair this weekend. We were there for a solid six hours, an amount of time that was comparable to the Piepmeier family Opryland outings when I was a kid. And just like the Piepmeiers did back in the day, we ate everything that we felt like eating: corn dogs, funnel cakes, elephant ears, popcorn, sweet potato fries, smoked sausage sandwiches, and cotton candy (but amazingly, no one threw a tantrum and no one threw up).

Here are the kids getting to feed the animals at the petting zoo.

We did bumper cars and posed for a quick photo while everyone else was exiting.

My dad has a rule about rides: he'll ride anything that doesn't go in a circle or leave the ground. Perhaps as a way of rebelling against this rule, I've developed a love for scary rides--roller coasters in particular, but really most thrill rides at the fair or an amusement park. It took me by surprise, then, when I hopped on the skyride with Adam and was suddenly struck with terror--or, perhaps my first glimmer of maternal feeling. He's so small, and there was absolutely nothing keeping him in that seat! He could have slid right out and plummeted to the ground below! So you'll notice in this picture that my arm is wrapped snugly around him. I tried to keep my cool--"Oh, Adam, look how neat it is to see all the rides from up here!"--but inside I was a bit panicky.

And this is my favorite picture from the day. The second time we rode the skyride, I had calmed down enough to take a self-portrait of us.


Biffle music, online at last!

Biffle probably won't toot his own horn--because of his Southern upbringing, he's very scornful of horn tooters--but I'd like to point out that some of his music is now available on his Myspace page, linked on our right toolbar (a page which he has inexplicably decided to title "Snuffy" rather than the far cooler, and already brand-identified, "Biffle.")

Only four songs are there, but the list includes "Stuff," which is probably the best song ever. Or as the coolios would say, Best. Song. Ever. Listen for the trombone orchestra. And "Letter O" is a close second. Whatever you do, don't stop listening until the very end of the song.

It's been incredibly cool to have access to these songs again. He recorded them all years ago--some, years and years ago, early in our lives in Nashville. I was a bit surprised to find that I remembered all the words of almost every song. And almost every song has a complex mixture of emotional resonances for me. These days "Floating" consistently brings me to tears--it's some kind of record of where he was, and we were, five years ago.

Anyway, have a listen, and leave a comment about what you think. That Biffle is one talented bastard.

Kevin O'Mara, I have an envelope with your address on it, and at some point I plan to put Biffle's complete CD in it and mail it to you so that you can post the rest of the songs on your site.


orange report 4

slow going!



I'm a day late and a dollar short here, but i wanted to get in on the "CPT" story happening in Charleston right now. For those that don't know/don't live in Charleston, school board member Sandi Engelman, during a radio broadcast, happened to mention she was tired of African-American Schools Superintendent Marie Goodloe-Johnson being on CPT, or "colored-people's time."

Now, of course, this was a serious faux pas, but to add injury to insult, Engelman later tried to explain that what she meant by CP time was "CERTAIN-people's time." Lord-a-mercy!

Here are some other, possibly better things i think Engelman should have tried:

When i said CP time" i meant....

central/pacific time--you know, like when you come back from a trip to california, but forget to reset your watch? and then you're late and stuff? because your watch is wrong?

Sweepy time--like what you ask a sweepy baby. "Are you sweepy?" Sweepy people need lots of naps and it tends to make them late.

carp people time--you ever noticed how carp people are always late? No? well, i have.

crappy pants time--Nothing like taking a crap in your pants to make yourself late. You got to run home and change your britches and everything...yeah, cpt--crappy pants time. Makes you late everytime...


Poor, Poor Honky

As much as Alison and i try our best to make the most valid decisions concerning our lives, sometimes we are weak. First let me explain something---something that maybe most folks don't do. I don't know. Alison and me, being born when and where we were, as children of Watergate and at the birth of postmodernism, view EVERYTHING through the lens of politics and morality...A mishmash of politics and morality. So: Eating, then, is a political act--and that's what this post is sorta about. That and the fact that when it comes to food, Alison and i are morally/politically weak.

As a prelude to the real meat of this post i have this quick, somewhat related, anecdote:

Last night we went to a sushi restaurant. As i have come to see sushi as politically/morally suspect, I have started to wean myself from eating it. Still, i eat it all the time. (I'm probably going to a place in hell reserved for people that confuse their politics and morality and were born aroung the time of Watergate and postmodernism.) Anyway, I've developed a relationship with my sushi guy and his family. They know me and like me. They know i like mackerel. They know i eat alone. And mostly always at lunch time. They know the reason for this: That my wife doesn't like sushi as much as i do, so i just come get it for myself, by myself.

Well, last night Alison and i went in there together. When we walked in, the woman (i haven't been there long enough to ask names yet) says excitedly, Oh! This is your wife! You have brought this beautiful woman to have sushi! She is here to eat sushi, and she is so...SO BEAUTIFUL!!!

She was obviously smitten. So, i stepped back and took a look at what she was seeing: Alison looked particularly lithesome last night. Her hair was shiny and the curls were falling particularly well, framing her good-lookin' face and clear, blue eyes. Smart and sexy all at the same time.

of course that woman was smitten with her.

Okay. On with the title of this post: Poor, Poor Honky. While I was eating my sushi we saw some news on the television concerning Chris Rock's mother in a lawsuit with Cracker Barrel (or, as is it called by the Piepmeier kids: the Honky Cracker, or just "the Honky" for short--hence the title of this post). The case concerns racial discrimination--and isn't really newsworthy, but that's not the point.

Poor, Poor Honky! The Honk started out in Lebanon, Tn back when i was kid. Lebanon is just 40 minutes from Nashville, but it's a shitkicker town mostly. I've known folks that've known some of the Cracker-owning people and said that they also are of the shitkicker variety. For years now The Crack has been plagued by bad press for not hiring gay people, for not promoting black folks above the postion of dishwasher, etc. (And yet Alison and i continue to eat there. I feel the flames of that special hell licking at my toes even now. But where is one to go for good beans and greens or country fried steak when you're in Massachusetts?)

Anyway, here's my thought: I'm almost sure that the Honk inadvertantly practices all these forms of discrimination. Like the Republican Party, The Honky Barrel doesn't do it on purpose. It isn't really a vast right wing conspiracy: it's just plain old ig-no-ra-moose. But gee whiz, man, with a name like The freakin' CRACKER Barrel you might as well just hang a target on yourself. (I've heard that in South Carolina they wanted to call it the Strom Thurmond Barrel.)


a short play (probably about the problems facing race relations in Charleston)

as i walk home in my sweaty t-shirt and running shorts from this morning's jog, i pass a middle-class-ish, 50-ish black woman on the sidewalk. She is staring intently at a vacant, dilapidated house on the corner. Her arms are casually folded on the chainlink fence that surround the house. Beside her on the ground sits a large Target shopping bag. I look at this house every day coming back from my run. It's a cool house, in a nice location. I would like to fix it up.

ME (cheerily): Gonna fix it up?

WOMAN (she is startled): Excuse me?

ME: You gonna fix this house up?

WOMAN (laughing): Yeah, I've got my million dollars right now.

ME: Ohhhh...come on! It wouldn't be that much!

WOMAN: Well, I'm just here waiting on the bus and where i look is my perogative.

ME (taken aback): Excuse me? I...

WOMAN: I can look anywhere i want to. You just move on.

ME: I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it. I was just being conversant.

WOMAN (agressively and afraid): Well, i don't feel very conversant this morning and i don't feel like being harrassed. So you just move on!

ME: (thinking i can redeem this conversation and saying with humble sincerity): Maam, i think maybe you're mistaking me for someone from Charleston.

WOMAN: I don't give a damn where you're from. You're harrassing me and i've had enough. Move on now!

ME (walking away. hurt and trying to hide some anger): I'm sorry. I was just trying to be friendly. I didn't mean anything by it. Have a good day.

I find that i really have a lot that i want to talk about here, but there's too much. I want to give you the details of how i was kind of afraid to say something casual to a strange black woman at a bus stop, but tried to do it anyway. (I want to address the possibility that my mere knowledge of this fact made it impossible for me to speak to her without giving myself away as a racist, therefore accounting for her fear.) I want to tell you about the teenage boy--also black--that was passing by just as i spoke to her and looked like he'd been shot. His look was similar to what I've seen in stricken animals. I want to know if this confrontation even had anything to do with race? Am i screwed up for immediately interpreting it that way? Hey, maybe she's just a really irritable person.I want to explain that i was in a friendly, talky mood. That i'd already spoken to two other black women on my way home from my jog: #1) So how is your son doing? I may teaching him at Burke next semester. #2) Wow, so like is this what retirement looks like?. I want to explain the complexities i feel about these tiny conversations. How i know that i'm a white man. How i know that they are black women. How i can only guess they're totally aware of the exact same thing--with race and gender flip-flopped. How i wonder if i come across as some kind of sad, racist emissary for civil whiteness. Wondering whether i actually am some sad, racist emissary for civil whiteness and should just keep my stupid mouth shut before i do even more damage. How i want so badly to mean well, but am left to wonder if i'm just evil inside.

Damn it.


Interruptus and the Very Best of Singing Sgt. Washington

well, a friend of mine has generously lent me an expensive piece of gear. It dumps the content of a digital audio tape (dat) down to a harddrive and then allows the user to EQ, compress, limit, edit, sequence, blow the nose of, etc. the contents of these dats. Then it burns a really nice quality cd for ya.

What i have done with this is this: I've tried to find any dat i've recorded my own music on and dumped it down. Just doing this is a struggle because i tend to be fairly poor at archiving. Couple that flaw with an exceptionally well-developed sense of self-doubt, and what you get is one very scattered stack of poorly labeled, incomplete recordings. (I have thrown many, many recordings which i now recognize weren't all that bad right into the garbage can. I now tell my drawing students "Never! Ever! Throw anything Away! Never! Ever!")

So, I dumped what i still have to the harddrive and more or less sequenced and mastered myself a greatest hits record.* I would like to upload some of it here for your listening pleasure, but i don't know how to do that. Any suggestions?

Doing all this has also reminded me that...well, i don't do all that well with year numbers... but i was reminded that for like a four year period somewhere there when i was changing from someone being 20 into someone being 30 were the most intense, far-reaching, educational years of my life. The learning curve went almost straight up that whole time and i'm only now starting to figure out what it meant to me. I haven't bothered to blog anything long and oppressive for a while now, so remind me of mentioning this and i'll tell ya about it sometime.

*well, not a greatest hits album, really. It's actually a two-for-one deal. As the post title says : Interruptus and the Very Best of Singing Sgt. Washington. Interruptus is just me and a whole lot of instruments (mostly trombones) . Singing Sgt. Washington is what me and Andy and Dave/John did together.


Well, we already knew this...

...but Charlie's blog inspired me to confirm that this is, indeed, my personality type.

You Are An INFP

The Idealist

You are creative with a great imagination, living in your own inner world.
Open minded and accepting, you strive for harmony in your important relationships.
It takes a long time for people to get to know you. You are hesitant to let people get close.
But once you care for someone, you do everything you can to help them grow and develop.

You would make an excellent writer, psychologist, or artist.


Amy Poehler rocks my world

Twisty of I Blame the Patriarchy disparages Bust magazine, and I can't say that I disagree with her critiques. But check out this quote from Amy Poehler, of Saturday Night Live, in the latest issue of Bust, which I've just gotten around to reading:

"We were just talking about those American Apparel ads. They're fucking gross, man. Look, I love beautiful girls too. I think everyone should be free to have their knee socks and sweaty shorts, but I'm over this weird, exhausted girl. I'm over the girl that's tired and freezing and hungry. I like bossy girls, I always have. I like people filled with life. I'm over this weird media thing with all this, like, hollow-eyed, empty, party crap."
She also disparages the "pencil-thin vagina mustache" that characterizes today's pornified pubic hair and calls for "female comedies to be like full, giant '70s bushes right now, not tiny little pubic mustaches."

I love her!


how do you know a banjo player with a sense of humor?

over the past thirty years (thirty years!! gee whiz!) i've told a lot of people that i'm a musician. After i tell them that the conversation has a very familiar arc. One of the most common--and annoying is this one:

Me: Yeah, i've been playing since i was a little kid...

Other person: Really! Wow. That's neat! What all do you play?

Me: Well, i play guitar and banjo mostly...and sing a little bit.

Other person: Wow! You play a banjo? [and here's the annoying part:] BARRRNNNTT BARRRNNTT BARRNNT BARRRRNNTT!!!!

The "BARRRNNTT BARRRNNT!!!" part is when "other person" for some reason gets right up in my face and wags their hands around like they are playing a large fish and hollers BARRNNNNTT BARRRRNTT at me. I think what they are doing is imitating the sound they think a banjo makes. I know that they mean no harm by this, but it still is odd how many folks have this reaction. BARRRNNNTTT BARRRNTT!!!

Banjo players take a lot of damage. We tend to be a nerdy lot, fairly focused on the instrument, with the better ones of us having a habit of doing advanced math. (really. for instance one of my favorite banjo players is Bill Emerson of the Seldom Scene who is an actual math professor.)
That not withstanding--and even with the awareness that banjos can be quite annoying at times--we actually can get our feelings hurt. Still, it's refreshing to see that some of us are totally aware of that high nerd quotient in banjo playing and can make fun of it like this facetious auction of ebay.

hurry and look before they take it off of there. i can explain if anyone cares to know what the heck it means.


how fame changes things?

in cliche land--right up there with "can't we all just get along?"--is this one: "i like their old stuff better." i bring this up because alison and i took a friend to "little miss sunshine" the other night. yeah, we'd already seen it and have even blogged about it here, but catherine hadn't and it's a good movie, so we went again. i was glad: the first time i really enjoyed the soundtrack but then forgot the name of the band that did it. i remembered to write it down this time: DeVotchka.

Here's the deal, though: this morning i was thinking about itunes-ing them and seeing if i might want to buy some of their music. i found myself deciding against it even before i gave them a listen. The reason is that i have what i figure is a prety accurate fear that whatever DeVotchka was--whatever qualities they had that i liked in that soundtrack--are now destined to change (and most likely in a bad way) and i don't want to see them go downhill. It's the syndrome of "i like their old stuff better" without ever even hearing their old stuff.

I found this kind of an odd response in myself, so i sat back and thought about it: fame/success changes things. Or, to put it another way: (possibly) like a small variation on Schrodinger's cat, observation not only changes a thing, but changes what it can become and even what it once was.

The music DeVotchka chooses to make in the future--since it will come after the increased observation afforded them by being in a fairly successful movie, and will therefore be driven by increased pressure from higher powers to increase profits--will almost assuredly be different music, i.e. it will not be Devotchka, but some sort of DeVotchkaldanger. I will therefore probably not like it. In addition, since this new Devotchka will be a sad imitation of the old and better DeVotchka, my non-memory of what i think they probably sounded like will be forever sullied. In other words--because their new stuff isn't the same, or as good as the old stuff, i don't like the old stuff i never heard, either.



Even the patriarchy hates Larry Shirley

In Saturday's Post and Courier, a Charleston City Councilperson named Larry Shirley was responding to a recent robbery committed by a group of children ranging in ages from 9 to 14. Shirley said:

"We pick up stray animals and spay them. These mothers need to be spayed if they can't take care of [their kids]."
This is so appalling that I don't even think I can begin to articulate the ways in which it's appalling. The mind boggles. Here is the letter I'll be sending to the paper tomorrow morning:
Dear Editor:

As someone committed to feminist, anti-racist politics—not to mention general human decency—I might have felt compelled to respond to Larry Shirley’s statement, quoted in Saturday’s Post and Courier, about “mothers [who] need to be spayed.” But since he’s already made it abundantly clear to everyone in Charleston what a fool he is, I won’t bother.

This guy should go be friends with the guy Biffle mentioned the other day, the fire chief who's so racist that he thought giving black firefighters the phone number of his "black friend in Texas" would convince them that all the racism they'd experienced on their job was just their own delusional black brains dreaming stuff up.

If these two got together, I'll bet they could come up with a solution to finally deal with all the social problems we've been having, and shut up all those whining feminists at the same time: lock up every black male under 40 and spay all the women--or, wait, let's lock up all the kids, and the women--or even better, just euthanize them all. Then this country would be a place worth living in.


I blame the patriarchy

Jamie Huff turned me on to a blog called I Blame the Patriarchy, which you may have noticed over in the right menu bar. It's one of the few blogs on the list that isn't done by someone I know, and although I don't always agree with what it says, it's always funny and angry and feminist--a great combination that I find consistently satisfying.

So in the spirit of that blog, I'd like to blame the patriarchy for outfits.

I struggle with outfits. I announced the other morning that I was going to make a chart of the clothing I wear on a daily basis so that I don't accidentally wear the same thing to class two days in a row. I'm so uninvolved with what I wear that I often can't remember when I last wore something. And because, as you all know from my rant about clothes last fall, my preferred clothing is pajamas (all day, every day, all summer), I routinely have to go to Biffle in the morning wearing some combination of things and say, "Is this an outfit?"

He pointed out that he doesn't wear outfits. He has pants and shirts, and he puts them together in any number of combinations. And it doesn't matter if he wears the same pants two days in a row because they're nondescript enough that no one would care.

Here's the thing: with one exception, men don't wear outfits, and that is because outfits are a tool of the patriarchy. The one exception is suits. And suits are really the anti-outfit, because if you are a man, you can wear a suit every single day. You don't have to stand in front of your closet thinking, "Okay, the black flowy pants only go with the red shirt and the pink shirt, and I think I wore the pink shirt two days ago, and the red shirt needs to be drycleaned, so I can't wear the black pants today, but if I wear the gray pants I have to wear the grown-up shoes, and I'm going to be walking all over campus, so that's no good..." People, I do not have enough time for this nonsense!

I realize that I could buy a couple of suits and be set, but suits are so constricting. I've begun to recognize that this is how second wave feminists begin wearing muu-muus and caftans. I feel bad now for making fun of all the muu-muu and caftan-wearing I've witnessed over the years. Any day now, I will show up on campus in a muu-muu, and that will be the end of it.

I'll be defying the patriarchy, but I'll be sooooo unattractive!


the pettiness of the academy, art stuff, racism , charleston, etc.

This used to be a long post, but i got tired of listening to myself and so deleted it. I'm gonna leave the title, however, just so you'll know how lucky you are.

The sole thing that remains is an item from today's Post and Courier (charleston's daily newspaper).

The headline is: "Mayor says Waddle's exit had nothing to do with accusations of racism." You're welcome to read the article if you want, but it's pretty boring stuff (and this was the lead item. Poor Post and Courier...). The real funny stuff kicks in, however, on page 6A where Waddle claims that he isn't a racist. You know how he plans to prove this?

Waddle gave the disgruntled black folks in question "the phone number of his close friend who lives in Texas and is black."

Yeah, that should take care of it.


Woodsheddin' 1 and 2

i'm gonna spare you another bluegrass blogothon today except to explain the term "woodsheddin'." the first time i heard the term was back years and years ago playing in nashville. i assume that it's only a term musicians use. I remember i was at a gig and mentioned to somebody something like "i haven't been playing out all that much" to which he replied "what? you been woodsheddin'?" Given my uneasy ego and not wanting to reveal my own ignorance of the term i uneasily laughed "yeah," hoping all the while that i hadn't just told him i attended last night's KKK rally.

Turns out all i was saying was that i had been laying low from giging for a while and working up new licks, honing my chops, i.e. staying at home practicing intensely.

alright. so there's woodsheddin' number 1. here's number 2:

I try to think carefully about aesthetic home additions. I try to avoid stuff that's really consumptive or too homogeneously caucasian--like gas lamps. Few things say "i'm white and have money to burn" as succinctly as a gas lamp in the front yard of a house built in 2006. Problem is, though, i find a lot of that consumptive crap really pleasing.

One thing in particular is good landscaping.., or at least interesting landscaping. I don't mean rows of shrubs and nicely clipped grass. I mean trails and corners and little ponds and different levels and intimacy. That's one of the things i like about most downtown Charleston yards: they're tiny little havens, everyone's little patch of Central Park in their own backyard. Additionally, they can't be that wasteful, and most everyone can have one. Even rental houses have these little enclosed spaces and most of them are small enough to require very little monetary outlay for some decent plants--besides, given the climate around here there's a lot of great stuff just growing on the side of the road. I mean, who the hell's gonna pay for pampas grass?

Anyway, one of my big fat attempts since i got home is to turn me and alison's back yard into a little green wonderland. At best, I'm shootin' for silly: i want cherubs spittin' water and stuff, archways with spanish moss on them. i'm goin' nintey to nothing for thomas kincaid, painter of light.

So a nice practical addition we've made here is our shed. Alison and i seem to gravitate to homes that don't have closets, so sheds are a necessity. plus i gotta a lotta tools. But a shed, while being so, so functional, doesn't have to be an aesthetic eyesore, you know? i like cute sheds. Here's our shed when we first moved in:

here it is now:

sadly, however, (and i think it's mostly the doors and lack of paint) but this new shed is not as cute--or cuttin' edge in shed design--as the one we had in nashville. I'm working on it, though.


News from the road

I realize that I haven't been blogging for a while, which means that Baxter Sez is in danger of becoming a bluegrass blog that only Biffle and Kenneth read (although Biffle did shake things up a bit by talking about our contraceptive methods).

The longer I don't post, though, the higher the stakes become. I think, "Well, it's been so long, I should have something really political and significant to say." And then, of course, I can't think of anything political or significant--or interesting--enough, so I keep waiting. Perfectionism can become a vicious cycle.

So here's my insignificant, apolitical news from the road: Meg, Jamie, and I came to Asheville, NC, this weekend for a SEWSA (Southeastern Women's Studies Assoc) business meeting, and because I made the plans, we are staying at a Hampton Inn, my favorite place to stay. We saw a billboard on the way that was advertising

Free "hot" continental breakfast!
and we know now what that means: Hampton Inn provides you with little space-agey bags of food (this morning's selection: pancakes, french toast, and waffles) that you retrieve from the fridge and put in the microwave. Then you push the button on the microwave that has the picture of the food that's in your bag, and it cooks it for you. You open the puffed up, steamy bag and dump the irradiated contents onto your styrofoam plate, and voila--"hot" breakfast.

High point of the morning: when Meg got herself a cherry danish and then took her plastic spoon and neatly scooped the gelatinous fake cherry goo out of the danish, ate it, and threw the rest away. I said, "I am going to blog about that!" and she said, sort of pathetically, "But that's the part of the danish I like!"


Hold-blooded--check it and see...

First off, i can't believe that someone would write a song with that as a lyric: hot-blooded, check it and see. got a fever of a hundred and three? It's times like this when i realize how grateful i am that fate didn't smile on me as far as being a rock and roll star. i've written a few lyrics that suck, too, but for my part i don't have to worry about being forced into performing them--bald and paunchy and pitched a couple of keys lower than the original--during the band's reunion tour. Hot blooded! 2006! aarp cards accepted!

Anyway! Alison and my preferred method of birth control is FAM, or fertility awareness method (hee-hee. I just felt Trey Stinky Piepmeier squirm in his computer chair--he hates it when i talk about having sex with his sister.) First off, about "FAM," i had to go ask alison what the proper name for this was because i think there's some politics attached to it. Like some people may know of this as "natural family planning," but maybe that's some old, repressive name for it or something. La-di-dah--I'm not really concerned about that: all i wanna talk about is taking my own temperature.

Part of FAM is alison taking her (oral) temperature every morning. It's a low price to pay to not being pumped up on synthetic hormones. As for my own political recommendation of the day, i'd say that if you're still livin' in the dark ages of medicine and use the pill, then i suggest you go get the book "Taking Charge of Your Fertility." There's a good chance you'll be much happier.

Alright, so alison takes her temperature every morning. I'm not gonna go into it, but you write this temp. on a chart, which we do every evening. (we have a thermometer that remembers the last temperature taken) i play my part by handing alison the thermometer in the morning and reading the temp to her at night. i also occasionally enjoy taking my own temperature with it--and that's the point of this post. See here's the deal: My temperature has for several weeks now been running a steady 96.7 degrees. What am i? Dead? That's pretty cold isn't it?

I don't know if this is what my temp. has run my whole life as i've only really checked my temperature when i've been sick--i don't know what it is when i'm well. But that might explain why i've always been such a wimp when i have a fever. Usually a temperature of a mere 101 degrees has me hallucinating--but of course, if these checks of mine are accurate, then 101 for me is everyone else's 103.

Hot-blooded, chicken of the sea
got a fever of a hundred and three
come on baby, do you do modern dance?


yet more bluegrass blogging...

kenneth said:

What is the minimum bluegrass lineup? Suddenly I'm having ideas about a project. Would four people work, or is that too few? I'm thinking bass, banjo, fiddle, rhythm guitar. All would sing. Is that enough, or would we need another soloing instrument (mandolin/Dobro)?

9:02 PM

You know, i love to think about things until there's almost nothing left to think about. Almost...

It's that almost that gets me, too.

What i mean is this: I love knowing just a little too much about everything--only thing is, i don't really want to know everything about anything. Got that? In other words i'm what F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about a character in The Great Gatsby: "he was that most limited of creatures: the well-rounded man..."

Anyway, one of the things i love knowing just enough about to be dangerous is bluegrass music. I know more about it than your average bear cares to discuss, and not enough to be an interesting conversationalist for a musicologist. (oh...and one other thing these limitations of mine mean, by the way, is that you can't really take what i say as fact. Like, i may have gotten it wrong, or even totally made it up.

Like, for instance, recently i told alison--and i swear i thought this was the truth--but i told alison that owls don't have buttholes. Well, evidently i said this authoritatively enough that she went and told some friends that owls don't have buttholes. They believed her, too. Well, turns out i was wrong. Owls do indeed have a butthole of sorts: it's called a cloaca according to a new friend of mine that works at a birds of prey place down here in charleston. )

alright. On to what i have to say about the topic at hand, right?--which, of course you, kenneth, and everyone else should take with a grain of salt.

Now first off, (and i know you know some of this music crap, kenneth, but i'm just talkin') first off, i've played enough music for white people to know that almost each and every one of them, when you start playing a song they like, will start clapping on the one and the three beats. It happened just tonight, as a matter of fact.

Here's what that means: You know how songs can begin by someone enthusiastically hollering "one, two, three, four!" and then the song starts? That's because most american songs--especially rock and roll songs are written in what's called 4/4 time. the simplest way to understand this is that, obviously, there are four beats in a measure.

Now, all those beats have a certain job, and have certain instruments to play them. The first beat and the third beat, or the "down beats"--where all the white folks clap along like albino seals--is usually played by the bass player and by the drummer's kick drum (the big drum on the floor). The second beat and the fourth beat, or the "back beat," is where the good stuff is--these two beats are played by the snare and possibly the downward strum of a guitar. The back beat is where all the rythym and soul of music is found--and explains why white people can't unlock their hips when they dance--they're too damn busy beatin' on the one and three. There's no shake in the one and the three (which also explains why the whitest of all musical forms is the march: it only has two beats--both of which are essentially down beats.)

Now, contrary to what is probably popular belief, properly played bluegrass is not especially very white music. Bluegrass loves the two and the four. (one of the reasons for this is that bluegrass is southern music, and just like good southern food, was entirely stolen from african americans.)

Alright. Here is finally the answer to kenneth's question: The question isn't whether you need another "soloing instrument." sure, just a fiddle and banjo as soloists can get tiring, but the more important issue is that you almost have to have a mandolin--just like the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, played. The reason is that in bluegrass, since there are no drums, the bassist plays the one and three. The two and four are held down by the mandolin "chopping." So that just like "kick, snare/kick, snare" defines rock and roll, "boomp,chop/boomp, chop" defines bluegrass. That chop is one of the most single important elements in good bluegrass.

Now, that said, a fiddle can actually chop the two and four--and many fiddle players do--but they don't do it all the time. Fiddles, because of being one of the only instruments with any amount of sustain, are there more to add musical color than a rythmic effect, and therefore are better not utilized as "choppers."

Now, you might ask, what happens to the chop when the mandolin takes a solo? well, that's when the banjo takes over chop duties. When the mandolin player is through with his/her break, then the banjo goes back to its original roll of "driving" the rythym forward (or, to put it another way, it takes back over "subdividing" that 4/4 time into tinier increments like 8th and 16th notes which gives bluegrass that fast, frenetic quality it has.)

So, in a complete attempt to say something that has no foundation in fact at all (well, not really) i'd say this about what constitutes the lineup of a real bluegrass band:

I think a real real bluegrass band is, at minimum, a five piece: guitar, bass, fiddle, mandolin and banjo. If you have to settle with a four piece then i'd personally go with a mandolin over a fiddle since (as far as bluegrass goes) i'd rather hear a killer beat than killer notes.

whew! man, i sure can talk a lot...


"Hey, big boy," continued...

Re: my post on being a worn out, old, boring bluegrass fart, kenneth burns wrote the following comment:

Kenneth said:

Wow, was that a bluegrass show you played? I've never heard of bluegrass groupies, but the joke possibilities seem limitless.

10:34 AM

Well first off, no, it wasn't a bluegrass show. It was a melange of things: jim croce, old bluegrass standards done to a nifty new beat, ignoring requests for "Man of Constant Sorrow," the best of 60s 70s and 80s. However, since most laypeople figure if someone is playing a banjo at least 33 percent of the time, you must be a bluegrass band. So...on second thought, maybe it was a bluegrass show...

And yes, kenneth, i do believe there are "bluegrass groupies." Haven't you seen/heard Old Crowe Medicine Show or King Wilke? Now, although in the most technical sense of the word, i don't think these bands are actually "bluegrass," they're pretty darn close--and again, that's because of the 33 percent banjo rule. Real Bluegrass or not, them boys is young and cute--and not just a little talented. I've seen both bands at a festival now and they had the young girls swooning. (although they are an extreme exception).

With that straightened out: you mean to tell me that "the joke possibilities seem limitless" and then proceed to not lay one on us? How 'bout a good bluegrass groupie joke from our readers out there? Let me get you started:

Q: What's the difference between a rock n roll groupie and a bluegrass groupie?

A: The rock n roll groupie isn't a god-fearin' middle aged white man.

or how bout this:

Q: What did the bluegrass groupie chick say to the hot young banjo player?

A: Sorry buddy, i only sleep with pre-war banjo players.

(for the neophytes: a "pre-war" gibson banjo is the holy grail of banjos--sorta like a vintage strat or les paul. ...That one may be a little too inside).

or finally (for the trifecta):

Q: what's a favorite date activity for a bluegrass groupie?

A: Gettin' knocked up side the head with a stick and drowned.

(another insider: murder ballads are a favorite subject of bluegrassers, the most notable example being a tune called "knoxville girl."


Hey, big boy...

I have become--if nothing else--older and boring and married.

I'm not really all that upset by this, but i do stop and think about it every so often. Mostly this is because i've been playing a lot of music here lately. See, "older" and "boring" and "married" are not necessarily words that make me want to go see someone perform.

Good perfomance depends a lot on...well, obviously on some form of excitement, whether that be quiet intensity or just plain old Liberace-style showmanship, but it also helps, i think, for performance to project some kinda kind of sexual energy, in all its myriad forms, too.

And that's where my concern comes in. See, here lately when i play, all i really care about is making pretty music. As a friend of mine advised me a long time ago: "Play pretty." That's what i wanna do these days. It seems the result of "playing pretty," however, is not only becoming a seamless part of the music, but also of becoming a seamless part of whatever is behind you--like a wall. You don't get noticed.

And that's been okay. I've adjusted accordingly and started enjoing being in the background. Like i said, I really hadn't thought all that much about it...until the other night...

I had finished a gig with a friend of mine (who actually is entertaining and interesting and stuff) and we were loading the gear out. As i was carrying my guitar case toward the door , this rather attractive and charmingly intoxicated chick put her arm out on the wall and cut me off. She looked at me as she swayed every so slightly and cooed:

"sooooo....i was wondering what musicians like to do after they finish playing at night..."

I thought about it for a second and earnestly responded: "Well, sometimes i like to go to the Waffle House."



In a conversation with someone the other day i described my writing style as "ersatz." i then followed up that comment with this phrase: "for lack of a better term." So, all-a-piece, this is what i said:

"...my writing is...uh...ersatz...uh,....for lack of a better term. "

Well, that's an inaccurate phrase. There's always a better term.


Part one: not a movie review blog... Part two: artist in residence

Part One:

Alison and i went to see Little Miss Sunshine last night and really enjoyed it. I suggest you go see it. I don't think that this could be considered a spoiler, but just in case you don't want to know anything at all about the movie , don't read the rest of this paragraph: It is my own personal interpretation that this movie offered a subtle and beautiful update on the Golden Rule (you know, the one where you should do unto others how you want them to do unto you). That update is this:

We're all gonna be losers unless we make sure our brothers and sisters and children are winners.

[to that thought i want to add this: i think that's the one of the central messages i've been privileged to learn from the Piepmeier clan. (and, on a personal note, i hope that can continue to be one of the central messages of ALL the members of the Piepmeier clan...)].

Alright. All that said i want to get on to this:

Part Two:

I have an overall goal down here in Charleston. I want to create the position of, and hold the title of, the City of Charleston's Artist-in-Residence. Mostly, it would be something of a non-position. Like being poet laureate, i guess. But, beyond that, it could have real benefit--and particularly for me. For instance, one of the things those who know me well have heard me say over and over again is this: "Well, When I'm Mayor..."

Of course, we all know that's total crap. I wouldn't elect myself mayor of my own house. But i would make me artist-in-residence. Here's the first thing i'd try to convince the city of doing as its artist-in-residence:

Building the nation's first urban elevated bike path.

This bike path would be a thirty-foot wide, possibly paved trail that ran down the center of the Charleston peninsula from the North Central neighborhood all the way to as close to the Battery as the rich folks would let it get. Gradual ramps on either/or east and west--just like an interstate--would be the means of entrance and exit. These ramps would of course have to fall in the most convenient places but shouldn't be over a half mile apart at any one spot. This elevated trail would be tree-lined, either in the center or on the sides. The sides would be better because that could provide a buffer for pedestrian use also. These trees also help deal with the run-off caused by rain onto a flat paved surface forty feet in the air. The aesthetics would be along the lines of the blacksmithed iron gates and fences we have here in town.

Just think. No car traffic or on-street parking is disrupted by bike lanes. The political clout of being the first southern city to embrace such a foward-thinking/beautiful/ecologically sound/neighbor-friendly civic project would raise Charleston's already high national standing into the stratosphere. Portland, Ore. would wish it could move here! If you really wanted to get carried away, the EL-BEE (for elevated bike path) as it would lovingly be referred to locally could even have small shops on either side (creating even more real estate for people to flip).

Dear Charleston,

Need any more killer-ass ideas like this? I got buckets.


ain't blogged squat

Hi. i feel like a stranger.

i've felt like writing a couple of things on here lately, but they were all doom and gloom: ohhhh, we're outta fossil fuels!, ohhh, we waste our food! ohhh, etc....
i didn't want my return to the blog to be so predictable, so here's something-- neither gloomy nor doomy-- that i've had on my mind here lately:

energy level/charisma as it pertains to onstage/in class performance. (teaching is a kind of performance i figure...)

i like the concept of acting. You know, like an actor. Like on a stage and stuff. If thinking about acting can make a great actor, then i'm there, dude. (but believe me, i can't act my way out of a bag.) Alright. So everyone's heard of Stanislavski's (or Strasburg's) The Method, right? Brando is a famous method actor. The (wildly reductivist) point is to conjure up your own emotional equivalent of your character's and put that feeling into your performance.

Well, i always thought that was a really cool approach until i heard a British actor talking about his acting one time--and british acting is some of my favorite. Evidently the brits don't really cotton to The Method. This actor's point (and i've forgotten who it was) was that you just can't trust to always pulling up that emotion when you're on stage (and as we all know its all about the stage. movies are for acting lightweights). His take was that acting is a rehearsed action. You figure out what it looks like, and then you do it over and over again.

Okay. Here's where i come in. I'm un-intentionally something of a method guy. I adhere to the blues school of performance: i depend on whatever is driving me at the moment to provide a performance's energy. The problem with this, of course, comes when things aren't going well. If i'm sleepy when i get to class--like i was yesterday--then class is sleepy. If i'm at a show and am playing badly, then i crinkle up into a little ball and wish i was somewhere else. The benefit, on the other hand, is that quite often you turn in a truly inspired bit of playing, singing, teaching.

The method vs. british argument in this is that brit acting gives you a predictable and normally postive result. The method says that no matter how good you get at the rehearsed response you end up with something that, at its core, will ring hollow.

In my intuitive criss-crossy world, i can even quantify these differences in terms of marxism, or white and black culture, or east meets west....but, you know, i'm gonna spare you that for now. Here's the question: Would you rather have a steady diet of Wayne Newton or, say...Bob Dylan, with his unpredictable ways, night after night?


Weekend update

Here lately, people have been asking me what Biffle's doing with himself in Charleston. I always say, "He's teaching an art class at the College, and he's the hottest new banjo player in town, so he's playing all the time." I thought tonight would be an exception--we had plans to make kale soup--but he came galloping through the house just now, exclaiming, "I have to play at Taco Boy in 20 minutes!"

Yesterday he played at a bluegrass festival with one of his regular bands, Yeehaw Junction (ahem). We decided to make a road trip of it, so we took back roads and stopped in an adorable place called Georgetown, where we ate some ice cream and looked at sailboats.

Yeehaw Junction is an outstanding bluegrass band. Here's one of my favorite moments from the evening: their encore was this haunting song called "Blue Ridge," which they sing in beautiful four-part harmony. I love that they use one microphone for the whole show--very old school, and it gives you something to look at when they change places to play solos.

This morning, Biffle and I went jogging together. He's a great jogging companion, but here's an important tip for any of you who might be involved in a physical endeavor with him: don't believe him when he says you're in better shape than he is. He recently quit smoking, and he assured me that he can't even walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. "I am in terrible shape right now," he said. "Jogging is going to kill me." So I agreed to go. Well, I was impressed with myself for being able to go a mile, considering that I haven't jogged in about a year. I ground to a stop, panting, and Biffle decided that this was his chance to sprint an additional mile. If he gets emphysema and has to haul around an oxygen tank he'll probably still be in better shape than I am.


Doesn't anybody ever update this blog?

School started last week, and because it's my second year on the job, I really hit the ground running. We had two major events--an art show called Girls! Girls! Girls! and a Women's Equality Day event--both of which were ridiculously successful, and we also initiated 20 first-year students into the Women's and Gender Studies living learning community. For more info, check out the brilliant new WGS webpage.

Because of all this activity, Biffle and I really haven't had time to reflect on our one year anniversary of living in Charleston--really more of an anniversary for me than for Biffle, since he's only really been living here since June. I have been here one year and 31 days. I have nothing profound to say about that, but I do have a couple of observations: last year, for most of the year, I accepted every invitation I received from everybody. If someone wanted to do something, I said yes. Now I find that I'm being more selective--I'm prioritizing. I've been here long enough to have a sense of which relationships I want to cultivate and which may stay at the acquaintance level.

I also have this observation: living with Biffle is really wonderful. We had a rough couple of weeks before the semester started, when I was irrationally irritable and moody (I got mad at Biffle for eating granola, for instance, and then burst into tears when he called me on it). Then one night at dinner, this microscopic internal shift happened, and I said, "OH! You're not leaving!" Every fall for the last seven years, he's gone away to school, so even though my brain knew that it wasn't happening this time around, my body was preparing for his departure.

Here's the kind of thing that happens now that we live together: Monday was a 14-hour day for me. At the end of that kind of day last year, I would have biked home alone, eaten cold cereal, and gone to bed. This Monday, though, I looked out into the audience of the Women's Equality Day event and saw Biffle there. And after the event was over, he drove me home and made me dinner. I was so grateful I almost cried.


just another rainy day in Charleston

although they may look a little like post Katrina shots, the pictures below are simply representations of what Charleston looks like after a fairly heavy rainfall that comes during high tide. I didn't take these pictures--they came from this morning's newspaper. I guess that means that the event was at least newsworthy, but not much more than that. a few hours later the tide went out, the water was able to drain into the harbour, and everything went back to normal.

No real story here. Just wanted folks to see it, and i guess add that i enjoy weather and her fickle ways.

(oh...and alison wants me to explain her absence from the blog here as a result of being busy with the start of school. she was not washed away in the flood.)


the orange report


You are looking at orange reports one, two and three--and in that order from top to bottom (i'm sad about the last one being in landscape orientation, but i wasn't thinking. ) You've seen number one. It was from 7/22. The second picture is from 7/31 when i was angwy about blogger not letting me post my picture. The third is from this morning.




Update from the writer's block

I finished "Abortion: A Love Story," and I feel really good about it. Oddly, the encouragement I got from folks on this blog helped quite a bit. Now I'm going to let it sit for a few days and then mess with it some more, and if I still like it after that, I'll send it out into the world to get published. Even though I've made no progress on the academic essay, I'm feeling better about my life as a writer. Perhaps I have not yet written the last good thing I will ever write.

In other news, I spent the weekend in Charlottesville with the Little-Hunts, who are now a five-person family thanks to the birth of Emma. It was great to meet Emma and see how Molly and Madeline have grown. Here's one thing I learned: if you have an infant and a one and a half year old in the same house, the infant will learn very quickly not to be freaked out if someone comes and pokes her in the eye while she's sleeping. Useful life skill.

Unfortunately (and sort of unbelievably) I forgot my camera, so I have no pictures of the increasingly adorable Little-Hunt family, but trust me--these are some attractive children. OH, and smart, too. And strong! You have to be careful when you have adorable female children that you don't start putting all the emphasis on how good looking they are--they'll get enough of that later in life.


Maybe it's the insufferable heat of August...

...or maybe it's the fact that school's about to start, or that Mercury is in retrograde, but whatever it is, I am in a funk. A writing-induced funk.

I've spent the last two years researching zines by girls and women, and I've spent the last three weeks trying to write an article about this subject. At first I always feel like I've forgotten how to write and that, unbeknownst to myself, I've actually already written the last good thing I'll ever write. BUT I recognize that that's neurotic, and I thought that if I sat at the computer long enough, I would come up with some good ideas. The first stuff to come out is crap, of course, but if I kept at it, I'd hit the seam and hardly be able to keep up with my fingers on the keyboard. Well, that hasn't happened, and today I came to the conclusion that I've taken three weeks to produce 19 pages of crap. Which, of course, makes me fear that I was right to begin with and I have, in fact, written the last good thing I'll ever write.

What am I doing about this, other than whining on the blog? I've taken some positive steps: I'm going to make Deandra read what I've got so far. I've asked some colleagues to start a writing group with me. And I think I might take a break and try writing something completely different, like the essay that's been churning around in me for some time, called, "Abortion: A Love Story" (now THAT'S provocative, isn't it? You can't wait to read it! Well, it doesn't exist yet, so hold your horses.)

Editor's note: I realize that I promised some Katie-bar-the-door blog action re: greenhouse gases, but obviously Katie hasn't had to bar any door. This is because Biffle is working on his thesis. I'm sure he'll snap out of it soon, though, and get back to ranting here.


Just a warning

Biffle and I saw the Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth, tonight, and we both liked it, so it's Katie bar the door here on Baxter Sez.

Before Biffle gets a good head of steam going about the state of the environment, though, I want to slip in here that I read an op-ed piece today about how biased colleges are because, in many cases, the liberal faculty far outnumber the conservative ones. Here's what I have to say about that: this is because if you're ethical and intelligent, you are more likely to be liberal. Not to mention that these terms have been so skewed these days that just being educated means being liberal. Recognize continuing gender inequity and believe it ought to stop? Liberal. Acknowledge the existence of evolution? Liberal. Think that some of the valid literary works of human history were written by folks who weren't Western European? Liberal.

On a related but not identical note, Christian schools know that education is likely to sway people's minds away from fundamentalism; Biffle has often related to me the lecture all the seniors at Goodpasture Christian School got about how, when they went to college, they were going to hear things that might sway them away from fundamentalist Christianity, but that they must resist these heathen teachings with all their might. Ah, yes--shut your mind to everything you might learn in college in order to protect your religious beliefs--that's the way to get a full, meaningful education.


How the Piepmeiers have fun, or, the Dad in the Pool

If you want to come and see me,
I'm the guy without any clothes.
I'm billed as Naked Walter,
I play the Greyhound Lounge until they close.
--"Country Music Star," Walter Biffle

My brother Trey doesn't like it when I make universalizing statements about the Piepmeiers (even when they're patently accurate, like my observation back in December that "we Piepmeiers are a packratty bunch"), but we Piepmeiers are fun to hang out with. Here's what happened when Biffle--who has an unexplainable penchant for nudity--decided to take off his swim trunks in the ocean: we all followed his lead, and my mom took a picture.

This particular day at the beach reminds me of a phenomenon that Catherine and I have talked about a lot: the Dad in the Pool. In our childhoods, our dads didn't often go swimming with us, and if they did, it was hard as hell to get them in the water. But if you managed to whine and manipulate and beg enough, you might succeed in getting your dad in, and that's when the fun began. The Dad in the Pool was the life of the party--he would chase you around while you were shrieking your head off, let you ride on his back, and throw you in little, appropriately terrifying, parabolas into the water. This extreme fun only lasted for a little while, though, because the dad would always retire to the beach towel much sooner than you wanted him to. I think this is an interestingly gendered phenomenon that completely leaves the mom hanging: mom was the old reliable who always took us to the pool, so she got no credit. It was the Dad in the Pool that was the ultimate prize. And I think this might function as some sort of larger metaphor for father/daughter relationships.

Have other people experienced this Dad in the Pool thing?

Anyway, you'll notice from this picture that my dad chose not to come with us to the beach, so Walter ended up taking on the role of the Dad in the Pool (which, come to think of it, he often does).


My Shortest Post Ever

Blogger better get its shit together or i'm defecting.


Having fun in Charleston

Charleston is a great city for visitors. My mom, dad, Trey, and Megan are in town right now, and we're doing some of the classic Charleston things we always do with vistors.

  • We went to the beach, of course (Sullivan's Island this time rather than Folly, which was a nice change).
  • Had Cosmic Dogs at Jack's Cosmic Dogs--one of the world's great hot dog restaurants (and, by the way, if you Google it, this blog shows up as the fourth site--I should get free hot dogs for all this publicity).
  • Ate gelato (at Gelateria Modica, not Paolo's, which is imposter gelato as far as I'm concerned).
We haven't eaten at Hominy Grill yet, but we'll do that tomorrow--no visitor is allowed to leave Charleston without a trip down the road to Hominy Grill. We also haven't gone biking yet, but that might also happen tomorrow.

Trey got the high score on the Galaga machine at Jack's, but he couldn't figure out how to get his initials in the machine, so it says ".AA"--if you go to Jack's, please be aware that this oddly-named high scorer is my brother, the video game genius.