georgejones has fuzzy bones

I went to pick georgejones from the vet yesterday. (i'm intentionally starting randomly for the amusement of Mawee and Deandre) . Unlike the Reynolds' (our beloved vets in Nashville and Cookeville and worthy of a blog post themselves) the Capeway Vetinary Hospital in Fairhaven, Massachusetts is frou-frou. No expresso and flat screen teevees, but they do do things like follow up calls and use the name of your pet. "So how is georgejones today?" they ask.

Buddy Reynolds, bless his heart, was doing great when he managed to call Baxter "Bractron" or something. I remember seeing Ursula's chart one time and saw that they spelled her name "Ersla." Anyway, this is the long way of saying they kept georgejones overnight just for havin' his little kitty balls cut off. (The Reynolds just gave you a limp, fresh- outta- surgery cat and would bark "ya know how to take them stitches out yerself, don't ya?")

So i went to pick up georgejones. I got there and someone said in a singsongy voice "ohhhh, georgejones is NOT happy!" The vet said "he's hissing at us." Someone else came out and told me "your cat is very unhappy." Yet another person told me "I'll go get him, but get ready: he's WILD!" They brought him out in a loaner cat-carrier because they were afraid he'd tear me up.

I heard him coming from the back. Wwwwarreeee. ouuuurreee---Psssst!----ouuurreeeeoww.
They handed him to me all crammed in that carrier and i held it up to my face and said "georgejones has fuzzy little bones!" He immediately quieted, made a happy little chirp and stuck a fuzzy paw through the bars and laid it gently on my face. The vet people looked genuinely amazed. I was very proud.

In other news:

Why i've been posting so much: In short, physical exercise done outdoors. Not only have i been posting a lot of stuff, but i've also been singing, breaking into short runs, and doing an occasional jig. And, of course, seeing the light at the end of this tunnel i've been in hasn't hurt.

Massachusetts winters are difficult. They are grey and rainy--especially here on the coast. Cold and grey and rainy. And the wood shop is in the basement. We don't have any windows.

It's amazing what physical exertion does for a person. The human body's need to move is just overwhelming. It's gonna find a way to get you busy--either through hints at depression or anxiety--it's gonna tell you it wants to be active. If it doesn't get this movement, then the brain shuts down. Like a kid in front of a television, we start eating obsessively just to perform an activity. We sleep more, but with less quality.

I'm always amazed when i'm physically active that, while i might go to bed earlier, i wake up sooner. Like i've only been sleeping 6 or 7 hours a night here lately. i was up to 10 hours there for awhile, and often needed a nap during the day.

Sometimes the fluffy, new age, liberal side of me wants to dismiss my grandparent's admonition of " get back to work" as just mean ole cold Southern farmer existentialism. Somebody dead? Get back to work. Cut off your finger? Get back to work. Cousin Lisa been goin' out with the colored boys? Get back to...Well, okay, so sometimes it's just denial...but you get my point.


why i'm cleaning up two vacant lots

so as to inform those that have asked, clarify my work in my own mind and tell of a very validating experience i had today, i present the following: (you can skip to "part three" if you just wanna know about the lots.)

Part one: Neu Beige

New Bedford is a serious amalgamation of folks--100,000 of them. Something like half its population speaks Portuguese. Some of these Portuguese speakers are actually from Portugal. Some are from Cape Verde (pronounced Verd), a group of tiny islands off the coast of Africa, colonized back in the day by Portugal. Some of these Cape Verdeans are purely of African decent, some are mixed. New Bedford also has a population of 10,000 Puerto Ricans and 6,000 Guatemalans. The remainder are white or white-ish. The town council has 11 members--6 white men, 3 white woman, 1 "black" man and 1 "black" woman. (*see comments section for an addendum)

As long as i'm doing numbers i might as well add that the city itself is 3 miles x 13 miles, running north/south along the Acushnet river. The reason that almost anyone is from here is because their family was once in the whaling industry. The movie Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck, premiered here because the book actually starts here. I live within walking distance of the chapel with the ship's prow for a pulpit.

Okay. So the two most populace groups in this city are white people and these Portuguese speakers. I wanted to go back to that becuase that's the most important aspect to this story. Why? Well, first off, if you're just plain ass white, then you rule the roost. Next, if you're Portuguese, then you're almost as good as white--meaning empowered. If you're mixed Cape Verdean (light-skinned), then you're almost as good as the Portuguese, and therefore vaguely empowered. If you're just plain black (either un-mixed Cape Verdean or African-American--as in freed slave, not immigrant)then you're not only un-empowered, but you also have a beef with the light-skinned folks because they think they're better than you. (I'm not sure if the non-immigrant African-American has a problem with an un-mixed Cape Verdean African-American).

Got it?

Okay. Long about 1973 the roost-ruling white folks decided to chop this little town up. Much like Crosstown in Charleston--and intentionally or not--white New Bedford used roads to sequester/disrupt the ethnic groups of this city. Previously happy, harmonious communities that had been stable for 80 years or more, and made up of largely single ethnicities, were torn apart practically overnight.

Add into this mix an economic depression due to outsourcing. Yes, of course, whaling had ended back in the twenties, but Neu Beige (as many locals call it), weathered that storm with textile mills. Those have been closing by the dozen for the past twenty years. The fishing industry is also big here, but because of our messed up seas, that, too, has slowed considerably.

So what we have is a town filled with previously tight communities--torn asunder and scattered around by a minority of powerful white people. There are many here who are out of work.

The answer? Drugs. New Bedford has the proud distinction of having the purest heroin in all of the US of A. I've seen some and it's pretty dang good-looking stuff. Oh, and sure, we also have crack. And gangs. And a DA (white) that won't prosecute murders--51 murders in 30 years (35+ in the past ten years) and 42 of them are unsolved.

Wait! There's more! About 8 years ago the powers-that-be decided that the downtown area of the city they'd destroyed and then abandoned for the suburbs was actually worth something. Look at all these magnificent Sea Captain's homes! Look at all this history! So they named the downtown area (except for the Cape Verdean part) a National Historic Urban Park. They wrote grants to regentrify all the pretty houses. They found out that pretty soon a commuter train service was gonna come here because even wealthy Bostonians couldn't afford to live in Boston anymore. Houses in the remaining downtown ethnic encalves were bought, and then left to wait and rot, until every person of color was dying of old age--or had shot each other because of a lack of work and an excess of drugs.

In short...well folks, it's a clusterfuck.

Part two: I arrive

I got here in September of 2003 and moved my fancy, yet unfinished, toolbox into The Star Store--the name for what had been America's first department store but was now reborn as the Umass graduate arts building--and smack in the thick of downtown New Bedford. In the month of October--while 4 young men died in shootings within walking distance of the school--half of the buildings around me were under construction for upscale loft living. Coffee shops were trying to open on every corner. The "city" was glad to see that its plan for rejuvenating downtown New Bedford as a place-to-be was going so well. Not helping matters was that not a single one of my fellow graduates was of a person of color--or even gay, for that matter...well, one is--he just won't admit it yet.

As i delved into my artwork (fancy-ass furniture, at the time) i became more convinced than ever of two things: one: that capital "A" Art had become a bloated, market-driven, substance-less slob dedicated solely for the consumptive pleasure of wealthy white people, and two: that whiteness, blackness, out-sourcing, wal mart, home security systems, private schools, suburbs, the war in Iraq, rednecks, homophobia, the cloud of pollution over China, SUVs, soccer moms and high gas prices were all exactly the same problem. Driven by despair, afraid of my neighbor and weary of the irony of postmodernism, i sought a Real form of Art that wanted to spiritually rise above this fray, and then hopefully do something about all of it.

I found, on a road trip with my sweetie, an answer: The Interventionists. Alison, nor i, understood the show we drove across the state of Massachusetts to see. It had wierd un-museum-like things in it: videos of people pulling jokes on the World Trade Organization, a remote control car that spray painted messages on the sidewalk, a traveling factory that ground up stereotypel images of black people. Even though i didn't understand, for some reason, i was driven to buy the catalog that went along with the exhibition. i read it and it all started to make sense.

Very reductively, Art wasn't about producing pretty things anymore (need pretty? go to IKEA), it wasn't even about producing ugly things anymore (like it did to the horror of art lovers in the 1980's). It was about helping spur a new kind of beauty: humanization.

Part Three: My project

The working title has been The Beacons Project, but i don't even care about a title anymore. The focus of this work has been saving beautiful pieces of junk from the dumpster--put there by the people who are re-building all those fancy downtown New Bedford buildings--and then turning that junk into "political memorials" for the kids that have been murdered since i've lived here. One for each of them--16 in all...15 for those already dead, and one for the person yet to die. Each one is an old 2 by 12, or part of a gutter, or a piece of vault door and carries a roman numeral--I through XVI. They also are inscribed with the Portuguese word conscientizacao, which is defined by Paulo Freier roughly as "coming to understand economic and political contradictions and doing something about them."

I've gone into the two seperate parts of town--the Westside and The Southend--that were the most torn up by that roads project (and the sites of ALL of this violence) and found two vacant, trash covered lots that i can convert into a temporary "gallery" to house these memorials. The accompanying installation at the school's gallery will function mostly as a challenge to the white, art-loving audience to go out into these neighborhoods they fear and look at these memorials.

In the meantime, i've done what i can to become a member of the community of people cast aside by the selfish, greedy powers that control this city. I try to eat at their restaurants. I go to AA meetings in their part of town. I visit with the parents of the slain children. I go to neighborhood organization meetings. i try to learn about their history. I'm trying, most of all, to change myself.

Part Four: My Validating Experience

The kids in these neighborhoods are not without blame. They have choices--not many choices, mind you, but they do have choices. They don't have to shoot each other. They don't have to carry on a stupid Westside/Southend feud that's based, stupidly, on gang territory and drug corners and skin color. But they do. These neighborhoods are still fairly violent places to be.

I've spent the last week cleaning up these two lots i've mentioned. The lot on the Southend, owned apparently by a person that lives in Arizona, is actually the site of one of the murders. That of Dana H---d, age 31 and killed on July 4th, 2005. He had quit using drugs and was starting a youth basketball league when he was shot in the head by some old enemies. Like a lot of these locations, there is a memorial already at the lot. I had tried to contact Ms. H---d about my project and to seek permission to remove the current memorial, but found out through a third party that she was still too sad to talk with anybody. I took the memorial down this Tuesday and put it in the bed of my pickup truck for safe keeping.

Kids came by all day as i worked on the lot and asked where Dana's memorial was. The guy across the street came out and asked where it had gone. I told him i took it down. He said, "good. i was tired of lookin at the fuckin thing---but if i were you i'd get outta here before it gets dark." I had heard that it wasn't wise to mess with the H----d clan.

I started noticing people driving by real slowly and kinda giving me the evil eye. Older people, too, and not just kids. I also think i'd become a little bit of an adversary to the woman who ran one of the meetings. She was the one i blogged about just the other day. She is not a person to be crossed. Well, i saw her drive by, too. I don't think she gave a rat's ass about Dana's memorial, but was probably perturbed that i was disrupting her strangle hold on all the grief. (i'd gone to her previously for help, information, and photographs of victims--she produced nothing and coyly let me know my assistance wasn't needed).

Well, today i was at the Westside lot moving rocks around. I look up and see a young man and woman walking up.

"We were wondering what you were planning with these graves?" they asked. It was a genuine question, but there was a little pre-determined judgement in their voices. I was nervous. I had decided early on that if this project was gonna make anybody hurt worse, then i'd change it---and it's getting a little late for that.

They turned out to be Derek, Dana's younger brother and engineer visiting home from Virginia, and Jessica, who works for one of the non-profits here in town. I'd met her before and liked her. We talked for a while about the project. They wanted to know if what i was doing was mean-spirited or ugly. They didn't think that an outsider could understand the situation. They'd heard they were "graves" and didn't want anybody in the community to put up with any more damage than they'd already sustained. I told them they weren't graves per se and asked "you guys are real concerned about it, aren't you?" They said yes, and just wanted to make sure they approved of what i was doing. I asked if they had time to come down to the school to look at the pieces. They looked skeptically at each other, and then agreed.

One of the walls in my studio is the "research wall." i needed a big place to write all the information i'd collected: to keep track of names and dates, to pin photographs of locations and draw what their monument would look like. There's also a map of New Bedford with numbered, brass thumb tacks marking the site and order of death of each of the victims.

They looked and started talking about the locations. "No, that's not the place." or "Yeah, Clinton was killed right there in front of that house." (Clinton was a local football star and a victim of mistaken identity.) They said they knew almost everybody on that list. They were amazed at the tiny area of the city where all these murders had taken place--they'd never put that together before. And then they started crying. They told me that the wall was beautiful. And heavy.

I took them back to see the monuments. They said, "no these don't look like graves." And then Derek asked, "which one is Dana's?" I had to go look because i couldn't remember if his was XII or XIII. When i got back i pointed at XII and they both said "Oh, that's my favorite one!"

I was so scared. I've been trying so hard to do a respectful job of all this. I wanted these to skirt such terrible territory--they were, after all, pieces of stuff that had been thrown into the garbage. They were anonymous markers i had made for people i'd never met--and for the families of people that had been through a terrible loss. But it was very important that they speak not to just one, but two audiences: those who hurt inside and those who had the power to hurt other people. I'd worked on these since last fall and never really known if they'd be understood or not.

Derek asked me why i used the old materials. I told him it was because of the connection i saw with the downtown buildings and all these killings. He said it made perfect sense. He asked me what i was gonna do with all the pieces when the installation was over. I told him i didn't know, i figured i'd just throw them away. I said i'd thought about maybe giving them to the family members, but then figured that they wouldn't really want them--being old pieces of junk and stuff.

He said he'd be honored if he could keep Dana's. Of course, that was the part where i burst into tears.


This whole thing is yet to go up. I've still got to build big billboard things on the lots for some graffiti artists to do their thing on. I know that the monuments aren't really gonna appeal to a younger crowd (although Jessica says she doesn't think that's true), so i wanna put something of interest in there for them. I haven't installed anything in the gallery yet either. Several of the families still might not know what it is i have in mind. And lastly, i still haven't had to defend my own thesis yet.

I wanted to bring that up because i don't want all of this to come off sounding arrogant or too self-assured. i need to keep focused and trying to do the right thing for all involved. But, at this point, it sure meant a lot to have probably one of the toughest critics come in and say that he really approved of what i was doing. They both thanked me for what i was doing, and that means so, so much in these moments when i'm tired and feel sometimes like i'm swimming in a tide, blindly. Thanks, Derek.


i got to operate a bobcat all day yesterday. that was pretty fun. i can't believe that a person can just go to a store and rent a piece of equipment with this much power--and this is a small one! i carried three thousand pounds of debris off to a dump. really. they weighed the truck there so they'd know how much to charge me.

the bob cat was cool, but what i'm really amazed at is that the human body can move that much weight so quickly. i was too worried about the axles on my truck to actually dump all the stone and plywood and other detritus directly into the bed--plus i needed to be kinda picky about what i hauled off--i didn't want to make too many trips. so i moved all of the stuff that i wanted gone by hand. threw it into the bed by hand, threw it out of the bed by hand. total weight: three thousand pounds.

i then proceeded to hand rake both of the lots--all 50 x 150 feet of them. with one of those gravel rakes. i know it's a totally fart-headed move to do this, but here's a vaguely photoshopped* picture of my torso after having done all this:

cut me some slack, though. i need more validation that just clean lots. i've been gettin' all squishy and stuff up here and it's a pleasure to get to go do some actual physical labor. i wanted to show off to somebody.

problem now, however, is that where i used to have weedy lots that were filled with trash and unpleasant to walk on, i now have dirt lots that are clean and are only moderately unpleasant to walk on. i guess i'm gonna make mulch pathways. suggestions are welcome.

*full disclosure: if you'll look at it close you can tell where i changed the contrast on the well-lighted side. i'm also embarrased to say that you can tell by the vein in my neck that i'm actually flexing. jesus, i'm cheap.


"Parish, you're fulla shit!"

The above is a direct quote, spoken by Jay to Parish during a race relations class at Tennessee Tech. Jay was white, Parish was black. The topic of the conversation, of course, was race. There were eight of us in that class. Two white women, two black women, two white men, two black men. Alison and i were among those numbers.

The reason those words stick out to me is because they came at such an important moment in that class--for me, and i think for the rest of us. It wasn't exactly a "pivotal" moment. After all, we'd been in there for probably two thirds of a semester at that point and the only thing left to pivot on at that point would have been to say "okay, screw it. All us white folks are just going back to bein' racist." No, we had to keep moving foward. But we were at an impasse in the discussion. I don't remember exactly what it was--Parish, i think, was probably on one of his conspiratorial rants--but we'd reached a point where something new had to happen and we didn't know what that was. And then Jay hauls off and says "Parish, you're full of shit."

I don't have space here to fill you in on all of the details that led up to this event. That would take a book. It would require you to take a class like the one we were in for yourself (or at least to watch a new show on the television called White/Black--there's a similar situation on that show revolving around the comment "yo! bitch!".) But the crux of what i want to get here is this: sometimes openly calling someone else on their bullshit is the healthiest thing for both parties.
Prior to this moment in the race relations class we'd all been walking on eggshells. We were scared of each other. Now: the equation is always unbalanced--white folks are always sicker than black folks. WE, after all, haven't had to spend our lives living in two worlds, so black folks most always have a head start. Nonetheless, something in that class had to give.

And give it did. Like a fault line that has built up enormous tension, and then suddenly shifts...except with no resulting destructive earthquake. The big deal about this was that Jay had told Parish he was full of it...not because he was black, but because Parish, at that moment, genuinely was full of shit. In that moment, Parish became a real person to the white people in the room. He wasn't a collection of racial sterotypes to us anymore, or "the other," but was a real person capable of being right and wrong, of being filled with both contradictions and wisdom.

This is all on my mind right now because i've been attending, as part of my work here, a meeting on Tuesday nights whose topic is ostensibly the mental health of family members of homocide victims. (And race plays a big part in this). I say "ostensibly" (and hope that i've spelled it correctly) because that meeting doesn't appear to be functioning that way. Instead of using the meeting as a place of healing, the people running it use it to weekly invite some member of the community responsible for law and order, or prosecution of crimes, or of helping the community and the victim's families cope with their loss, and then proceed to call them on the carpet for doing such a shitty job.

For five weeks now i've comiserated with the victims. Truly, the city has done a terrible job. The DA won't prosecute cases, the services available are poorly advertised, the help is slow, or never, in coming. However, last night i realized that these people have no intention of "getting better." They are not ready to heal yet. They have yet to stop being angry, to move beyond finger pointing, and move into a place of grief and understanding. My heart goes out to them.

As a person who has benefitted a lot from the concept of "tough love"--and hence uses it himself--i wanted to say something last night. I sat there holding a pamphlet--one that's been on the table at those meetings for five weeks--that explained about a program called SHARE, gave a phone number, said it was a free service for people grieving the loss of a family member--and i listened to yet another person point out that "no one has yet to come into this meeting and give us a single piece of concrete information about where to go for support."

i didn't say anything, though. i just quietly walked out, feeling useless and guilty.


Where do I start?

You all know about what's happening in South Dakota. I will certainly have things to say about that situation, and some of them may well appear on this blog. (And some of them may involve reviving the underground feminist Jane group from the 1960s.) But for now, here's an interesting Alternet article about the possible turning of the tides in the abortion debate (be sure to check out the "Sodomized Virgin Exception").

And here's a wonderful comic Kevin O'Mara sent me:

don't buy the combo kit

this is my toolbox. well, this is my toolbox for woodwork. i have others. while i'm sure that most no one gives a rat's patootie about my woodwork toolbox, or the contents thereof, i'm gonna write about it anyway. see, here's the deal: while most people's graduate experience is about having more things to get done than they care to shake a stick at, mine, at this point, has turned into more of a waiting game.

i've planned well. i've alloted these final pre-thesis-show weeks to certain tasks. one week was alloted to completing the monuments. this week is preparation of the lots out in town where i'm installing them. the final week is for installing the gallery work.

well, the monuments got finished early. i can't do the gallery work because the space isn't available yet and i'm "responding to the space." (and besides, betwixt us, i don't really know yet what i'm gonna do in there anyway.) that leaves the lots out in town. well, i've spent a nail-biting few days waiting to find out if i'm gonna get my prime spot over on the westside. i still don't know yet. i've been walking around with my finger on the cellphone's "ok" button for days. that bothers me, too, cause i'm convinced those things cause cancer. (finger on okay button = finger cancer, shirt pocket = breast cancer, back pocket = butt cheek cancer, front pocket = tallywacker cancer). i don't like being around them, and besides, i indulge in enough cancer causing behavoir anyway.

so, to burn up time and keep my mind occupied, i fairly well completed a toolbox i started on a few years ago (and i wrote stuff like this for the blog...and played a bunch of guitar...and took naps...). i actually finished the toolbox part of it a while back. i just hadn't hung up all the tools in their proper places yet.
so, here at the tailend of a graduate education in fine art--for which i've made nary a piece of furniture--i have a host of tools in a toolbox, all properly hung and orderly, that will probably go to live in the shed and rust...

here's what it contains (almost all of it given to me as presents):

hammers: a non-marring rubber mallet, a tiny finish hammer, a large beat-the-crap-outta-stuff hammer (that i made for myself), a tiny chisel mallet (i won in a dovetail cutting contest), a large chisel mallet (self-made, also), an assembly mallet.

chisels, etc.: a crap set of marples for doing rotten jobs, a primo set of hirsch chisels for doing primo jobs. a v-gouge, a veiner, one small and one large gouge, two burnishers (the triangular ones are no good), and an awl. also in that section is a set of screwdrivers.

measuring tools: a tiny engineer's square (and man is he tiny!), a baby starrett combo square, a 12" starrett combo square, a baddass robert sorby square, a 6" machinist ruler, a 12" starrett ruler, a 24" straight edge, a marking knife (handmade from an old jointer blade), a marking gauge, a bevel gauge, a compass, two calipers, a thickness gauge that i'll never use and a handmade sliding rule to check the squareness of drawers.

saws: tenon, dovetail, zona, flush cut japanese, and cove cut saw.

planes, etc: a crap stanley block plane, a lie neilsen block plane (both low angle), my grandfather's #5 stanley, a #5 lie neilsen, a #7 stanley jointer (all with greg hock's replacement blades), a shoulder plane and a scraper plane. one straight and one curved spokeshave, a gillion cabinet scrapers (sandviks are too hard, cliftons are too soft--or maybe it's the other way around...).

drills, etc: a handcrank drill, a set of bradpoints, a set of "paddle" bits, a machinist's set (from harbour freight--man, do they suck!), various router bits, a hole finder drill thingy, several auger bits, a set of gimlets (that work beautifully), a set of plug cutters and a set of countersinks.

files: one crap rasp and one nice rasp, a couple of large single cut files and a couple of small single cut, a sandvik rasp thingy, a round file, a #4 slim taper saw file.

misc: a corkboard, a bowl (turned by steve blouin) filled with pencils, a picture of alison mailing the final copy of her dissertation, upteen roles of tape (two-sided, stupid duct, real duct, masking), a box of wedges, a dust mask, ear plugs, a box- cutter, a saw set, a cassette tape that i don't know what's on it and a piece of tape with a cartoon drawing of me in a mask bearing the caption "thievin' foam rubber."

all four-thousand pounds of this is contained within a beautifully crafted, dovetailed cabinet of air-dried north carolina walnut and maple plywood. it closes, locks, and is on rollers for those brave enough to push it.


The F-Word

Charlie Shipley's comment on a recent post gave me an idea. We're starting a Women's and Gender Studies magazine, and we need a good name. YOU people are clever, so maybe you can come up with one.

The challenge is, it needs to be fun and feminist (like Bitch and Bust), while still letting the reader know that this will be a vaguely academic magazine. It needs to be broad enough to be about Women's and Gender studies--so nothing too overtly feminine. And it needs to appeal to a broad demographic: students, faculty, administrators, and--very importantly--community members and potential donors.

What do you think?


i have the feeling inside that i'm treading familiar territory with this post. i also have the feeling that blogging about that territory is just plain bad style. done-to-death. never one to shy away from bad style or...well, i don't like "done-to-death" but...but, damn the torpedos, i'm doin' it anyway.

here's what i'm talking about: for one, i've realized for the last couple of days that i feel the need for maintainence blogging. number two, i've started using the word "blog" in combination with in other words (that's the really done-to-death part.)

"blog-" this or that. or "...-blog." i've occasionally been going through my day and thought something like "hmmm, that has some blogability to it." ocassionally i'm bored, or short on blogspiration, so i bloghop.

anyway, i've reached a point where i've begun to feel a sense of responsibility for writing something on here. i call it bloguilt. i'm too proud (and long-winded) to just do the blog-minimum and write a short, random thought. i've set a precedent of writing long posts, and blogdammit!, i'm stickin' to it.

anyway, i got squat to write. i'm bloblank.

that's why i went bloghopping this morning--to look for something inspirational. i checked kelly love johnson's blog--a person i've never met--for something. she maintains the most consistantly entertaining blog i've seen so far in my short bloglife. while she was entertaining, i didn't find too much to respond to there, except to mention in her comments section that the bagpipes are a scottish instrument, not irish.

so then i did something different--i went on a googlebinge. i looked at websites for foley artists (the people that add post-production sound to movies). i was trying to find the movie sound of an early 70's cop's shoes walking. a crunchy sound that i associate with the crunchy sound from yesterday's cornmeal...mill. i didn't find it.
i did, however, find "the wilhelm scream." google it yourself to find out what it is.

anyway, i ended up back in familiar territory by looking at kurt elling's website. he's my favorite jazz singer. his specialty is a style called "vocalise. " i think that's how you spell it. vocalise is the art of putting someone else's poem into song. he does a stunning rendition of a rilke poem called "how the thimble came to be god" sung to the tune of paul desmond's sax solo from "balcony rock." he calls the whole conglomerate "those clouds are heavy, you dig?"

i wanted to see if he was performing in boston any time soon---and, lo and behold--he's gonna be a spoleto! (spoleto is charleston's much balleyhooed arts festival).

be there, or be square.

(number of times i used the word "blog" in this post: 17)


stone ground cornmeal

i don't remember where or when--probably at some touristy historic recreation site, maybe a field trip in elementary school--but one time i saw a donkey-powered mill. yep, a really large round stone and some big timbers acting as an axle and a donkey walking round and round grinding up big pieces of corn into small pieces of corn.


i remember this because viewing it was simultaneously informative and yet so completely, immediately... nothing. i mean, it had all the makings for short term interesting-ness: the giant stone, the grooves where both the stone wore down the corn and the donkey wore down the earth, a pleasant crunch sound, the mechanical obviousness of it all. but it was all so rife with non-event-ness.

as i think about it, i realize i'd like to set up a video camera to record people looking at it. here's what it would show:

-a person approaching the hand-smoothed, wooden observation rail that surrounds the whole contraption.
-the person's eyes kind of traveling over the works, from donkey to stone to corn to mechanical parts and then back around again.
-a momentary pause in which the person takes in the whole thing, and then
-that person walking away.

but it's that third part--the momentary pause--that would be the subject for my video.

I'm willing to bet you could pinpoint a single, solitary moment--much quicker than the blink of an eye--in which there's a rift in time and space, a moment you could see that person just go...totally blank. That, just for a frozen second, you could watch them know hey man, this thing just goes on forever.


Guest Post from Cate

Howdy ya'll. Yes, I'm back in the South and I have to say that it's the sound of dipthongs and drawl that make me feel home more than anything. It's good to be back in Charleston visiting Alison, and reaquainting myself with my favorite meat and three, Jestine's. Interestingly enough I haven't found any meat and 3s in California or good Barbeque. So tonight in honor of Jeremy Hunt, Alison and I ate at Sticky Fingers, a well known Southern Barbeque chain ... at least to Jeremy :). It even lived up to his ravings; Alison had ribs and I had a pulled pork sandwich. Both were very good and the baked beans were quite tasty. Oh and Alison had sticky fingers at the end of the meal! <--exclamation point for Kelly Piepmeier


checkin' in

in order to put some distance on that last post, and to give you something managable to read, i'll leave it at this:

i got me a jorge luis borges book. or, i guess, more like THE jorge luis borges book--it's all of his collected fiction. here's the problem: i don't really think i like reading him. he reads like an etude. he reads like an m.c. esher picture.


more consumerist crap...

note: i've come back up to the top here after writing this post to tell you that this whole thing just totally falls apart by the end. i want to say, right now, that i'll probably regret posting this aimless thing...read on, but don't expect a payoff...

so first let me warn you that this post will be almost entirely without a joining thread. very random. the only central theme i have to offer is the mixture of my on-going ruminations on concepts such as niceness, interacting with pleasant objects, consumptiveness, and the mixed blessing that is cheap manufacturing.

here's one of the double edges: acoustic guitars. if i had been a 13 year old in 1964 and had seen the beatles on ed sullivan, i might have been tempted to go get me a guitar. i would really have had only two or three choices: a gibson, a martin, and a sears. without confusing this further with a comment on the sketchiness of gibson acoustics, i'll say that the gibsons and the martins belonged in the "nice" class. the sears...well, you can probably guess that a guitar sold by sears played like a car tire. problem is, both the gibsons and the martins were made largely in a handmade fashion (no cnc routers yet, no huge steam bending machines, etc.) those factors combined to create a guitar that in today's prices would be...oh let's say $3,000. the sears (on which even the strings were probably made from plywood) would have been like maybe $200.

the mixed blessing here is that "advanced" manufacturing processes (and a cheap labor force) have made it possible for a 13 year old in 2006 to go the store and buy a $200 washburn--and that sucker'll play and sound just fine. now, not fine fine, mind you, but they're still pretty darn good. in other words, a youngster can learn to express themselves musically without bleeding fingers.

second thing: my favorite woodworking equipment in the whole wide world is made by a company called northfield. each and every piece is cast and assembled by well-paid americans. they don't have to be shipped in huge crates across the ocean (an answer, simultaneously to depressed economies like the one in springfield , massachusetts, and our worry over port security.) since something like 1890, the same family has made these machines. they know all thier employees by name. when northfield wants to cut medical benefits, president joe has to go onto the floor there in minnesota (or michigan, or whatever) and say "bill, we're not gonna pay for the care of your new infant son." in addition to that, my understanding is that in it's 100+ year history, northfield has manufactured something like 5,000 pieces of equipment, each one a dream to operate. northfield has kept track of the existence of these machines--and guess what? they know where almost each and every one of them is, and most all of them are still in operation.

alright. next: an eye-opening event in my life was going to a huge conference of woodworking equipment in atlanta, ga several years ago. i had been doing some comparative shopping on bandsaws, and at this conference i got to look at almost eveybody's machines all in one place. as i visited each and every bandsaw i noticed something: each one, except for northfield's, had the same cheap plastic locking mechanism on the cover. i went back around a second time and found that the beds looked suspiciously familiar on each machine. and then the cases, and the blade guides, etc. the rub was that --just like tennis shoes--all these machines were made in the same factory in china , just with a different color of paint, and none of them a dream to operate--but, hey, they worked and like the guitars, you'd probably not end up with bleeding fingers.

now, a bandsaw from any of those companies except northfield's cost maybe $400. northfield's was like a whopping $4000. it's the guitar once again, right? with the cheapies, a hobbiest gets the pleasure of making some of thier own furniture--or at the very least, say, a plywood cutout of santa's head on a stick.

alright. i don't really know how to sum this up. there's a lot of stuff at work here, none of it out of the kin of a decent economist to say more eloquently than i can. i can't put any more of different face on this than all of you can. global economics, job security, availability to the masses, slave labor, disposibility vs. longevity, and even some factors like the non-physical world of digital culture factor in here...(i.e. a 13 year old may not have to worry about the physical quality of the instrument because they may only make music in a semi-non-physical realm, that is to say a computer's beatbox program...ah, digital technology--perhaps the great leveler of economic disparity...but that's another post..and besides no matter how much french onion dip you put on 'em, you still can't eat computer chips...).

let me venture this, though: one final story: my grandfather owned a farmall tractor. one of his sons owns a john deere. daddy pigg's (yes my grandfather's surname, for those that don't know, is pigg), daddy pigg's tractor was a red, cast iron hulk with a tiny seat on three springs. the clutch took tour de france legs to depress. however, that clutch worked and continues to work. the thing has run like a top for 50 years. it continues to run to this day for another of his sons (one that i identify with more than uncle john deere). and if it breaks, well, a spanner wrench will fix most problems right there in the field.

uncle john deere's tractor has an enclosed cab with an a.c. and radio for listening to toby keith sing about kickin' someone's ass. the john deere is twitchy. it requires a special mechanic to repair.

wait...forget this example. it's not gonna help me make a point because there's no paralell. i'm gonna leave it in, however, because i think the part about toby keith is funny, but just consider it totally irrelevant...

...actually, i've got nothing to say. i want to say that good work requires good tools. but then, that means that "good work" has a very narrow definition. i'm not willing to say that. a brigeport bandsaw, for instance, won't saw a straight line. so, just change your style of work right? robert johnson probably got started on a diddlybo--not the gibson he ended up with.

i'm thinking really hard about this. i'm trying to see through what i'm saying. i think what i'm arriving at is this: pleasure and good work are not economically quantifiable. sure, we can make healthy global choices about how we shove money around, we can help conserve our environment by not purchasing disposable gear. in some cases, we may just have to do without--if you can't afford a martin, then two nails, some bailing wire and a beer bottle might have to do (that's what a diddlybo is, in case you don't know). just skip the washburn all together.

i guess, "doing with" or "doing without" is not the point. i guess the point is that good work is it's own reward. if it's a diddlybo or a farmall, it doesn't matter. i guess the thing is, labor, done well and willingly, has a payoff that will never be understood in economic terms. until we are able to deeply look at what we seek spritually--at what our souls want to create--then no amount of materiality, created for us, will ever fill that emptiness we feel inside.


who needs tooth bleach when you've got fashion?

this morning i dove into a task with the trepidation of a beginning crime scene investigator: reading the New York Times Style Magazine, Men's Fashion, Spring 2006.

this is not a love/hate relationship. i don't do it--as i have done in years past-- with an eye toward finding what is manageably fashionable while simultaneously disregarding what i find abhorrent. i do it as a study of the enemy. i do it so that i will know the mind and desires of our culture's shallowest denizens.

sure, when i was a middle teen i had a subcription to GQ, and i'll admit it taught me a lot about how to be a successful white man. the most valuable lesson i took away was, by following a few simple rules, one could be very well-dressed while not spending a fortune. since i learned this all the way back then, i haven't really needed any more training. i am hip to fact that almost everything beyond a well-tailored, dark blue suit, wingtip shoes and hydrated flesh is unmitigated crap. of course, so is the dark blue suit and wingtips (but they can help one play the part in the event that the system must be brought down while acting as an inside player...)

i'm proud that i've been able to dismiss this consumptive fashion crap from my mind, to not think it matters anymore. i don't know why, but i've done an almost complete job of it. i don't even harbour little vestiges of it the way i do the lingering fear of a christian hell.

i don't secretly wish i could order 86 dozen charvet shirts the way the maharajah of patiala did, as reported in the article called "what's my line?" i find i have no desire for a $370,000 maybach automobile with its "pre-pimped old world niceties like a champagne refridgerator"--or even the suggested "alternative route" of an humble "sub-zero 424 fs free-standing wine cellar" for the utterly stupid price of $2,888.

now, don't get me wrong: i derive joy from being surrounded by pleasant things. i like objects to work correctly, and i am not at all opposed to those correctly operating things being made with an eye toward aesthetics. the concept of "fit and finish" is a sign that someone crafted a thing with care and love. like furniture-maker james krenov, i believe when a maker does work with love and care and serenity the object created is imbued with these qualities. it radiates these qualities. it is a joy to be around.

and that brings me to the central point of this post: joy. i don't know about you, but when i'm filled with joy i tend to smile. i'd venture to say that if i got marooned on a desert island for 20 years, i'd still smile when things made me happy.

so, apropos to this "style issue," wouldn't it would seem that the sole purpose of all these possible possessions--written about, eulogized, waxed rhapsodic over, researched, photographed, priced, summed-up and critiqed for 172 shiny pages of magazine--would exist to help us be happy?

why is it then, of the 126 advertisements that contained the male face in this issue of pressing male fashion concerns, there are only 8 smiling faces?*

*5 of which were in a single izod ad


Three thoughts for today

I’m at lunch right now, taking a break from working on an article, which I will tell you about momentarily.

  1. The first thing I want to say, though, is that I’m working at the main campus of UMass-Dartmouth, Walter’s school, and although I am quite pleased with how accessible everything is to me, it is, without doubt, the ugliest university campus I’ve ever been on. It looks like what would happen if Le Corbusier got assimilated by the Borg. (I was going to say if Frank Lloyd Wright got assimilated, but Walter assures me that I’m not right about that—you can judge for yourself.)
  2. The library here has very nice bathrooms, though. They’re environmentally designed, with antimicrobial floors and walls, and incredibly high-speed hand-dryers. I am no fan of hand dryers, but these are pretty cool: you put your hands under them, and they blow so hard that your skin waves around, like those images of people in accelerators that pull their faces back. And in about three seconds, your hands are dry.
  3. It turns out that I have not lost my ability to write academic articles. Back in, gosh, June probably, I was invited to be a contributing editor to an online collection of rare and out-of-print 19th century documents. At that point I (stupidly) agreed—I was flattered to be sought out as a writer and scholar—and so what that means is that for this entire academic year so far, I’ve had a 30-page essay hanging over my head. Three extensions and eight months later, I considered reneging, but my colleague Claire wisely suggested that my agonizing over whether or not to do it was actually more stressful than just sitting down and doing it, so I’ve spent my spring break writing. And I have to say, it’s not bad. I’ve given it four days of solid work (reasonable work, though—I spend 6-8 hours on it and then call it quits for the day), and I’ve had the pleasant realization that, once again, I do have things to say and the ability to say them. I’ll let you know when it’s online.


Dovetail demo

I'm in Massachusetts right now, and due to a fortuitous twist of fate (the downtown library, where I'd planned to do some writing, required proof of Massachusetts residency to use the internet, so I left and went to Walter's studio to get his truck keys), I got to see Walter do a demonstration of how to make dovetails.

He was standing in his work space, surrounded by about ten undergraduates, and although a dovetail demo could easily become pretty boring, he had those students' full attention--and mine, too. He was great! He seemed completely at ease, effortlessly masterful. You know how sometimes you'll see a presentation and you'll be nervous for the presenter, feeling like they're holding it together, but just barely? (Random side note: Jay Crockett lives for this kind of anxiety in the theater--he holds his breath, waiting to see if something will go wrong so that the actors will have to improvise.) I didn't feel even a hint of that codependent anxiety because Walter was so clearly in his element, telling stories, making jokes, and offering really clear instructions. The handout he gave the students said, "Relaxed, calm, and happy" at the top, and that's how he seemed, like he was meant to teach students how to make dovetails.

New Cottonelle slogan

Here's what Walter and I think Cottonelle's slogan should be:

Life's too short to walk around with crusty pieces of shit in your butt hair.


Walmart caves in!

Apparently Walmart has decided to carry emergency contraception in its pharmacies. This is great news--I actually stood up and cheered this morning in the living room of my parents' house when they announced it on the Today show. I'm still no fan of Walmart, of course, but since they're one of the biggest pharmacy chains in the country, what they do matters. And how on earth some people can consider emergency birth control a bad idea is beyond me.

Here's what I said to my dad: if our goal is to reduce the number of abortions, then the way to do this is to make contraceptives and information about contraceptives widely available. Many of the folks who are strongly anti-abortion are also strongly anti-contraception and anti-sex education. And although a big part of anti-abortion rhetoric is about saving babies, the states that have the most restrictions on abortion rights are also the states that spend the least money on services for poor children. So that leads me to wonder, what is their real agenda?

My dad, in a moment of clarity, said, "Power and control."

Well, there you have it.

But the good news this morning is, if the condom breaks, you can go to Walmart and get Plan B.

Stomping grounds

I'm in Nashville today for the briefest of visits. Right now I'm sitting in Fido, one of my old hang-outs. Charleston has a strange lack of good coffee shops, so I'm enjoying a few moments here, in a space that still feels so familiar--and yet, in the edges of my consciousness I do feel like a visitor here. It's a weird doppelganger effect (like the scene in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell where Childermass sees Lady Pole both in the sanitarium and in Faerie simultaneously).


The perils of blogging

It's time for a new posting, and since I can't think of anything going on in my life to blog about, now seems as good a time as any to post about the recent Chronicle of Higher Education article about blogging.

The pseudonymous Ivan Tribble is "a humanities professor at a small liberal arts college in the midwest." In his article, "Bloggers Need Not Apply," he advises job seekers to beware of having blogs. He refers to experiences from his department's job search, in which the search committee googled candidates, found their blogs, and read them. He cites the bad examples of candidates who bitched about their current jobs on their blogs, or who revealed on their blogs that they'd misrepresented their research in the job search process. Okay, so we can probably all agree that these are bad ideas, since the blog is a public forum. Although Baxter Sez sometimes feels like an intimate conversation among friends, we've seen here that lots of other folks may be hanging out among the friends. So I try not to say anything here that I wouldn't want my dean, or the parents' of my students, to read. It's a good idea for folks searching for jobs to be mindful of blogging responsibly.

However, Tribble goes on to say,

The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum.
Okay, so he's suggesting that having any kind of public forum is a bad thing for a candidate looking for an academic job? The fact that a candidate might have a life that extends outside the walls of the university--that the candidate might at some point in the future voice an opinion that represents a "lapse of professional decorum"--is reason not to hire a person?

Come on, folks. I mean, yikes. What do you all have to say about this?