it's a clear, sunny, cold, windy day here in new bedford. i think it's supposed to snow later.
i used to go backpacking with my friend, ken. one of the things i noticed when we would go on these trips was that although it always started out on great terms, things woud get a little tense around the last day of the trip. strained interpersonal realtions. whether it was two days or five, the last bit would be tough-ish. i mention this example because it was the first time in my life i noticed this phenomenom. it hasn't been the last, though. i've found it to be almost universal with everything. people just get ready for things to be finished up.
and so it is with grad school. enough of this crap already! i fixin' to bust, man!
something that makes this tougher is the place i've had to be in my head for what feels like a long time now. i've just crawled off inside my own brain and stayed there for what seems like a lifetime. i remeber back when alison was in school. she was largely inaccessble to me there for several years. well, i'm that way now, but with me it seems to be inaccessability in extremis. mostly becuase i'm up here by myself. whole days may go by sometimes without me speaking to another person. the thing i don't like is that i seem to search those circumstances out now. i used to be social. i used to like to talk to people. just shoot the breeze. with anybody. these days, i'm particular, and even then sometimes i can't wait to get away from conversations. this whole school experience seems to have fundamentally changed me in some way and i'm not pleased with some of the results.
well, it's not all that bad, but it still ain't good. i hope it passes.
this morning i woke up. that was a good thing. i made some coffee and played Ragtime Annie on the guitar. and then i thought "maybe i should call sarah and see if she wants to go for coffee and read the Times." and then i thought "naaah. i don't wanna do that." i went instead to the nash street flea market. alone. i saw people i knew there and hid from them.
last night i went by myself to see ricky scaggs at a...a...well, a playhouse, really. it's the place where concerts happen here in new bedford. doyle lawson and quicksilver opened. i saw people i knew there, too--and hid from them. before that i had dinner at the spicy lime. good thai food and right next to school. i sat facing a wall in case anyone might want to talk to me.
i didn't really intend to write solely about this state of aloneness. i'm gonna move on now...because of seeing the scaggs show last night, i wanna talk about playing music.
alright. so i'm here in New Bedford, Mass, right? massachusetts is not tennessee. one of the great pleasures of being from tennessee--and then going someplace else--is that you tend to be the one of the better, if not best, musicians in a crowd. and even when you're not, i've been in some areas of the country where you're simply given the "best-musican-here-simply-because-you're-from-nashville" award.
for instance, one time i went up to play in missouri. among several other gigs, i ended up playing for some cats at a political fundraiser. i sat in on guitar. there was a kid there playing with us, maybe about 12, 13 years old, a family member of the country band that was playing. man, he was great. truly, he could pick circles around me--had a b-bender and everything. still, everytime we took a break, all the older guys in the band would point at me and say stuff to him like "this guy's from nashville, willie. you can only hope to be that baddass someday." wille and i both knew the truth, though...
anyway. although i haven't found the whole mythologizing of the nashville picker to be as much of a given in massachusetts (after all, some truly great players have come outta here), it still carries a little bit of weight once you get away from boston and all the really gifted berkeley folks up there. i've taken advantage of it. never one to shy away from some creative embellishment, i've helped fuel the myth that all tennessee (and kentucky and virginia and north carolina) boys are issued an instrument of some type around the age of eleven.
so last night at the show i sat next to an older couple. besides them constantly asking each other "what did he say?" (doyle lawson's accent makes me sound like stone phillips) they were evidently boggled at the introductions for the band members. so-and-so's from whitehouse, tn, and pee wee's from rogersville, tn, and bobo hails from smithville,tn etc. they started saying "sheese! they're all from tennessee! they must put an instrument in every child's hand!" at which anti-social me leaned over and said "yeah, they do."
it's a clear, sunny, cold, windy day here in new bedford. i think it's supposed to snow later.
i was trying to figure out how to title this small tale as a play on mark twain's a conneticut yankee in king arthur's court. i can't do it. any suggestions are welcome... (pedantic example: a tennessee troglodyte in the boston area. you'll understand in a minute.)
one of my art-making/art-writing heroes is a guy named greg sholette. i've mentioned him on here before. He was part of an arts collective called REPOhistory that started in new york back in 1989. i'm citing that group as being an important source for my work...or, more accurately, i'm simply re-doing one of their projects. (but that's okay. i didn't know anything about them back when i came up with my version).
so anyway, after a neighborhood group meeting i went to tonight, i was talking to a person who had identified themselves during the meeting as having done some community-driven art. she told me she was interested in my project and that she was a founding member of a group called REPOhistory. well, i was bowled over. it was like meeting a rock star. But there's a problem--here's the conversation we had:
(name changed to protect the innocent)
janet: ...so i was a member of a group called Repohistory and...
walter: Holy shit, man!
janet: Oh, you're familiar...
walter: You probably know gregory sholette then!
janet: Yeah, sure, greg and i have been best of friends for 18 or so years.
walter: HUSH yo mouth!
janet: (long pause) Really?
walter: (slightly confused) Excuse me?
janet: (perhaps aggressively) Should i really?
walter: Should you really what?
janet: Hush. My. Mouth?
well, i was dumbstruck. i think i said "uhhhhhhhhhh...." and then finally i was able to say:
"i guess that's southern for "Wow."
i'm not real sure even now if she understood.
A Charleston friend admitted today that she's been reading the blog. She admitted it as though maybe she needed to apologize for it, or for not telling me about it. I'm glad that she's reading, though, because all of my close friends read the blog, and I've found myself expecting that people who are close to me know about the things Walter and I write about here. I sometimes have to give too much backstory for folks who don't read the blog. But really, I'm glad she's reading for more reasons than just the convenience it offers me in relating stories; in a way, it helps me to feel a little more rooted in Charleston.
That's all I've got to say for today. Sometime soon I want to blog about what an author in The Chronicle of Higher Education had to say about blogging if you're on the job market (short version: don't do it, no matter what! You will never get a job because people will know that you have a personal life!) But this week Women's and Gender Studies is putting on The Vagina Monologues, and I am a bit delirious with busy-ness.
(Biffle, I'm sorry I stepped on your break by blogging right after you.)
music has such a spooky ability to throw me into full blown revelry of things past. sure, some folks say that smell is the real kicker, but for me, it's music. All i need to hear is the snare flam from the beginning of the REM song Sitting Still and i'm transported to a place and a particular moment that may never even have actually existed. i can feel warm tennessee summer night air on my face through a car window--that special kind of air when the humidity is blessedly low. i can hear cicadas buzzing, i can smell (ah, yes, smell) the soft white skin of my red-haired girlfriend, loraine. i can even get a little tangled inside my stomach--as i'm doing now, while i type this.
my friend, Kenneth Burns, sent me a mp3 of a song last night. Family Thing, by Raging Fire. there was no accompanying text in his email, just a download icon innocently named "track 1.mp3." it was sneaky of him. The track itself is what critics on autopilot would call "seminal." In this case, they would mean something vaguely unfinished, or, just as the word implies, the seed from which something much bigger--and unknown--will spring. The production of the song is beautifully questionable, and dated in a charming way; they have a flange effect on the vocal. the arrangement isn't quite there, but still contains just the right amount of ebullient surprise. you can hear the unfinished drywall in the drum sounds.
Raging fire was a rock band that existed back in the nashville rock and roll heyday--specifically 1978 to perhaps 1990. after listening to the track i went on a google binge. i googled "melora zaner", the name of the unbelievably cute lead singer of raging fire. i found her almost immediately. as testament, i guess, to the greatness of the band, she continues to distinguish herself even as a 40-something, evidently working for microsoft now. i found a whole lot of other stuff, too--about her, about raging fire, about this exact heyday of which i speak.
here's the deal: either there's a whole lot of people hopelessly lost in these remembrances, or those years really were special. It's both, or course. everyone, everywhere remembers their formative year like this--what with the smells and the summer air and the tight stomach and all that stuff--but the nashville rock and roll scene of those years truly was a special thing.
It was born of a nashville seeking an identity. nashville was still a small town in those days. even in 1985 i could drive downtown on a friday night and not meet another car on the interstate. we were--or more accurately they were, as i missed out on those first few truly formative years--looking for something that looked less like altman's sickening portrayal in his infamous movie (in 1976?), and more like what folks figured a bar in london was supposed to look like. i don't think the drinking age changed to 21 until around 1984--and that's probably why the whole scene lost a lot of its momentum a few years later: fewer interested, rebellious young people able to go to the clubs and keep things alive.
there's not much of a reason for me to continue with these recollections as they are just a google away--on a blog called soulfish stew, on tommy womack's website and in his book "the cheese chronicles," on a website for the White Animals. you can probably even google Phrank 'n Steins (the first nashville club to focus on (white people's) local rock and roll) and come up with a hundred links to the magic that was happening in those days. here. try this: google "jason and the nashville scorchers" and search for any piece of writing that doesn't contain a plethora of thousand dollar words like "incendiary," "transformative," or the oft misused "elegiac." It isn't bad writing--they were just that good.
the most profound sentence in the history of (again, "white") rock and roll is attributed to brian eno. he said: "only a thousand people bought the first velvet underground album, but all of them went out to form a band." i recognize, at this point in the post, it is my job to sum something up, to say something profound, to connect all this to something larger. i'm oddly blank. empty. lost. maybe that's because there really wasn't anything else deeper about this time in nashville's history. perhaps all that music was just one of a million other empty moments in cultural production. i don't think that's the case, though. i think i feel like this because i no longer have the accompanying teenage hormonal upheaval necessary to really know those moments. the best i can do now is just sort of experience these impossible-to-pin-down feelings in my stomach. i am, at once, forlorn and grateful.
one thing i do know: i'm gonna be more careful the next time i get a strange mp3 from mr. kenneth burns.
as most always, my head is currently going in a thousand different directions. if i stop for a minute, i have to ask myself "what value is there in doing this? my assumption is that if i follow all these threads of thought toward an end, then i will be smarter, more informed, enlightened somehow. ????
anyway, one of my current threads is this:
the world as path to our living room vs. our living room opening into the world.
here's what inspired this: mary and aaron's new blog entry mentions the myopia of cookeville, tn's council members. (i would provide the link within the writing, but i'm too lazy. do it yourself if you care.) the story is that currently a business called "cotton-eyed joes," a country dance club, inhabits an old-school "big box" building in downtown cookeville. next door to this business is a park. some of the city wants to expand the park--right over top of said bigbox. this is a pleasant move. more greenspace, the bigbox is ugly anyway, etc. you guys know the story.
pondering the city council's difficulty in making this decision showed me the edges of some unravelled cloth. why the resistance? are city council members usually just people that are trying to make as much money as they can on property? is my need for aesthetic beauty more important than someone else's not giving a damn? is this concept of "not giving a damn" an act of viewing interactions with the world as just "necessity?"
that's not all of it, but it sets up what i want to say. see, what i came up with was this (synecdotally speaking): when i go to the grocery store, i want to buy an orange that is aesthetically arranged with its brother. when a park-opposing council member goes to the grocery store, they just want an orange, quick!
what i recognized as i followed this trail of oranges, however, was that the destination for both these oranges is the same: a haven. a pleasing place. a home. whether one lives in a hole in the ground, or a mansion, my guess is that the habitant has tried, in some way, to make both hole or mansion as pleasing a place as possible for orange-eating.
now, here's where i get very essentializing about the mansion dweller (the hole-dweller is a different blog post): the mansion dweller lives on an acre plot in the suburbs. the house is in the middle or toward the back. they have a security system or even a safe room. they view themselves as having earned what they have. the self-made man. in other words, the world leads to their living room.
the opposite of this would be someone that keeps their own living room in order because it benefits the nieghborhood. their worldview faces outward...
i'm losing it, but you may know where i'm going. one person views public space as a store house from which they grab what they need and get the hell outta there. another views public space as a communal savings account to which they make contributions.
ehhhh...it's gone. i'll probably regret posting this. i need to eat anyway. talk to ya later.
This is what would happen if an elephant ear married a butter twist. They are Portuguese pastries--crispy and greasy and doughy, unbelievably delicious. If you're cool, like the guy ahead of us in line at the restaurant, you say, "Gimme a dozen-a-malies."
I'm in Massachusetts this weekend, and malassadas are among my new favorite reasons for being here (other than to see Walter, of course).
Growing older is highly underrated, especially for women.
I’m not that old right now—just 33—but I didn’t expect my 30s to be as good as they are. I didn’t exactly dread them, but I did approach them with a certain determination and an increasingly well-honed resistant consciousness. I know that the pop culture philosophy of female aging, as stated in countless Oil of Olay ads, is “I’m not growing old gracefully; I’m going to fight it every step of the way,” and even in my early 20s I knew that this philosophy was bullshit. So I went into my 30s defiantly ready to appreciate growing older.
Well, as it turns out, growing older is wonderful—particularly as a woman. I feel more like an adult—I'm hitting my stride in my career, and I’m developing a sense of myself as an authority figure. When I have something to say, I’m increasingly confident that it’s worth saying and that people will listen. I worry less about how I look. More and more I know what I want and how to ask for it. And, although it pains me a bit to say this in a blog read by both my parents, my erotic life is better than it’s ever been. Much better than it was in my 20s. Better than it’s been since high school.
And yet our culture barrages women with messages that aging is the worst thing that can happen to us, so that we’re encouraged to buy expensive products and even subject ourselves to surgery to pretend that we aren’t getting older. Sean Connery is still a sex object even as a great-grandfather, but Gretta Van Sustern has to have some work done to continue being a viable newscaster. Now this imperative is stretching even to our genitalia. A friend sent me a recent article from the New York Times Magazine, “Our Vaginas, Ourselves,” which discusses the burgeoning phenomenon of vaginal surgery—surgery to make a woman’s labia smaller, or to tighten the vaginal opening or even recreate a hymen. As the author, Daphne Merkin, notes disgustedly, “sagging groin skin and limp labia are going the way of crooked noses and post-nursing breasts.”
The reason for this, of course, is that growing older often means growing more powerful, and while our culture eroticizes male power, it’s suspicious of power in women. Media scholar Susan Douglas makes the point that the only really powerful women in the classic Disney movies are the evil women, the evil stepmothers, Maleficent, Ursula; these are our major icons of powerful adult womanhood.
What would happen if we celebrated—and even eroticized—the adult female body? What if we started seeing the post-30s stomach pooch, graying hair, bags under the eyes, and—for god’s sake!—the genitalia of a grown woman as sexy rather than suspect?
i'm not sure i like that title. i'll explain in a minute, but first, here's something truly legitimate: ? cappelino is now her very own seperate entity in this world. the "?" is because she doesn't have a first name yet. she weighed 7 pounds, 13 ounces--like most good babies do. she probably weighs a little more today. i've been pushin' "reeves" as a first name, but neal and linnae will probably not go for it. congrats linnae and neal and mercy!
now, about the other legitimacy thing: i have some news, but before i toot my own horn, let me debunk it some (just so i can be sure to undercut my own sucesses in life, you know). i wrote that title without thinking about the implications. the implication? that connection to power is legitimizing. it simply isn't true. being self-actualized should probably be the litmus test for legitimacy. ofcourse, i'm not fully self-actualized, so, meanwhile, i have to let this news stand in as a proxy for that. anyway, it's still pretty cool.
i'm having a meeting with the mayor.
lord, lord, what's the world comin' to? they're lettin' me in to talk to the mayor. at first, i didn't really think about this--it was like, writing on my calender
pick up some kitty chow
make hamburgers one night this week
meet with the mayor...
and then i recognized, wait a minute, pickin' up kitty chow is not quite the same as meeting with the mayor. what the hell are those people thinking?
but then, i was all like "hey, i'm legit. i'm a grown human being, i've almost got myself an mfa. i'm doing some cuttin' edge artwork here. art forum recently said community-oriented/activist art is 'the closest thing we've got to an avant garde right now.' i should be meeting with the mayor."
but now i'm scared. should i iron my shirt?
in other news (and thematically related, if you're hip to my tangents), i went and sang some songs at an open mic last night. an associate was hosting it and i went to hang out and watch--and then got asked to play. i sang "stuff," "here she comes," "hot corn, cold corn," "naked walter" and played an instrumental called "the beaumont rag." when i think about it these days, performing on a stage is really traumatic for me. well, performing even for myself in my own living room is traumatic...
one night a few years ago i got out my guitar and was playing along and happened to look up into a mirror. i saw someone i'd never met before. or more accurately, just another example of thousands of people i'd met before. i saw some vaguely unattractive, pasty-faced, middle-aged guy with a guitar in his own living room performing a lack-luster version of an outdated folk song. i saw a person that sings a line in a song, and then suddenly stops to squint down at their left hand as they slowly--finger by finger--form the next chord...and then go on as if there weren't an interruption. he was kind of stoop-sholdered and looked like someone that might disappear into the wallpaper at any moment--an impression thrown into even higher relief because there wasn't any wallpaper to disappear into. i heard his voice--like an under-rosined fiddle bow pulled across the edge of aluminum flashing, a right hand beating out something that only resembled a rhytym. he was a vague shadow of a person, like what's left on a wall after an atomic blast.
up above i said "when i think about it" because i usually don't. if i think about it, i remember meeting me in the living room that night, and it hurts too bad. but still, for a person that doesn't think about it and isn't pursuing music professionally i sure do seem to go play a lot of gigs. most of the time these gigs are with a band. playing by yourself, in a loud bar, however, is a totally different thing. the only charisma up there is YOU.
it was terrifying. seems like back in the day--when i was nineteen and twenty--i developed a real command of a stage. and then, with a band i got into, my confidence started to wane. i started to stare at my feet. i wished i wasn't there. i didn't feel like i deserved to be there (a total kiss of death for a performer, you know?)
i stood there and played, though. in the corner a big screen t.v. with the sound down was showing an espn boxing match featuring a new bedford kid. he took a dive--i saw it in the replays. the knockout punch missed him by inches. someone at a table spilled a beer and a circle of people jumped skyward, the backs of thier knees propelling chairs outward with a hollow wooden scratch. just for a moment they were all frozen in space, like a gathering of scarecrows, staring at their feet, their arms held limply aloft and out of harm's way.
i missed chords and words and heard my voice reflected back at me from a chalk board announcing they were out of killians red ale. but i stood up there and i tried to stand up straight. i tried to pretend that the mistakes i made were supposed to be there, and reminded myself i was going to meet the mayor on thursday.
here are three things (or maybe more--i never know) for your reading enjoyment:
1) although i'm very computer illiterate, i've been trying to figure out a problem with my computer. if this were a click and clack show, i'd say to you all that my computer is a year old gateway notebook and it's lately started going "wherennnt. ttsk!" that sound is the hard drive like freezing up a second, and then going on about its business.
the thing is, through trial and error, i've been able to establish that's it's one of two programs that make it do this: either mozilla firefox, or a...um...well, an "un-official" copy of photoshop. i've been downloading fixes and deleting/re-installing programs, physically removing the hard drive, etc. and it turns out that when i get rid of these programs, the computer doesn't make that sound anymore.
at this point, i guess i could re-install one or the other and find out which one does the damage. however, that sound "wherennnt. ttsk!" has come to haunt my dreams. i overheard a conversation between two people the other day in which someone said something suspiciously like "wherennnt. ttsk!" and it made my eye twitch. i don't want to ever hear it again. anybody got any ideas?
besides, i really should install a proper version of photoshop, anyway. is it illegal to borrow a friend's real copy? if not, why don't one of you people send it to me? i can't go on without photoshop. really. i need it to do my work--not just for fun. i simply can't afford it. are there any patrons out there?
2)speaking of photoshop:
well, there's supposed to be a close-up picture of the side of my face right here. the blogger photo uploader thing seems to be mis-behaving, however. i'll try it again in a minute.
what i wanted to address with this picture was the dangerous areas of aging and beauty. where do i draw a line as far as cosmetic "work" goes? personally, i really like my crow's feet around my eyes. they're a historical record of my life. of too much time squinting in the sun--acquired either through recreation or working outdoors. i'm getting balder and what hair i've got is getting grey. i like all this. but what about the stuff i don't like?
i mean, i've knocked my front teeth out three or four times in my life. i replaced them. i don't need front teeth all that badly, it just helps me put a prettier face out there for the public. bad teeth, for instance, can lose you a job. but i think we've arrived at a point in this country...well, we've always been at this point in this country: cosmetics gets you the job. for instance, white skin is hired before black skin.
now, however, we're taking it further with the fact that a full head of hair gets a job before bald, for instance. we have a stringent beauty standard and are not above appying the hell out of it. and it's a class issue. beauty has become the territory of those that can afford it. more egalitarian perhaps than being lucky enough to be born attractive (although that version has historically smacked of classist tendencies, i.e. a better diet made you better looking).
women have always been held to this standard, but...and get ready for this one...i think the cultural-behemoth-marketing-machine of gay male culture (as opposed to an actual gay-male culture--more about that in a moment) has now helped open up men to the same ridiculous scrutiny tht we've been putting on women all these years. one visit to provincetown, mass with all the its bronze skin, toned abs, scary square white teeth, hair transplants, moisturized faces and suspicious lack of crow's feet and it becomes pretty obvious that beauty and youth are pre-requisite for both genders now. (i've never watched queer eye, but i've seen commercials and that one guy is the spittin' image of any aging hollywood starlet what with his face all yanked back and stuff.)
culture, it appears, just seems to inexorably unwind itself. instead of the demystification of outrageous feminine beauty standards, america has simply inadvertanty leveled the playing field by holding men to the same standard.
so. my own debate is, how far do i let myself follow this trend? i look critically now at sun damage, rather than seeing it as a battle scar or historical marker.
which brings us to 3)
in guy deboard's society of the spectacle he addresses this in a way. see, that beauty standard i mention above is part and parcel of the spectacle. whereas, anthropologically speaking (well, anthropologically speaking out of my ass, that is) that beauty standard might once have been a measure of health, it now just represents a veneer of health. we have replaced all that is real with an image that represents the real.
that's not what i want to talk about with debord, though. this is what i really want to get to: his book is amazingly prescient. written in 1968 or thereabouts, he pretty much summed up one of current cultural dilemmas. the thing is, though, as i've been reading it, i'm not so much informed as i am...well, reinforced. to me, the spectacle is a done deal (it's the extent i can't fathom, yet.)
for those that don't want to trudge through 221 thesis statements of
psedo-cyclical time is in fact merely the consumable disguise of the time-as-commodity of the production system, and it exhibits the essential traits of that time: homogeneous and exchangable units, and the suppression of any qualitative dimension. but as by-product of time-as-commodity intended to promote and maintain the backwardness of everyday life it necessarily finds itelf laden with false attributes of value, and it must manifest itself as a succession of artificially distinct moments (an example selected dada-style by me and a ouiji index finger, and more for effect than relevance)
what debord is addressing is the matrix. like in the movie. except in the spectacle, perhaps, we are all aware--like the guy eating the steak--of our position...or so i thought...
here's the rub: alison and i had a long conversation yesterday about this, and i implied that most all of us (including teenagers and thier perception of the construction of paris hilton) were at least slightly conscious of the level of abstraction, of veneer, of construction, of image-replacement with which we all live. she said, no, most people weren't.
that's georgejones in my banjo case. he's my cool new monkeypants. a little paranoid and crazy, perhaps, but pretty cute. he spent the first several weeks of his life in and around a dumpster behind a biker bar, though, so i don't hold any of his bad behavoir against him.
getting ready for a big snow storm up here. they're saying 15 inches for this area. i'm ready, though. got some movies, the new art forum, a guy debord book i should've read a month ago, some chocolate, my instruments, georgejones and warm toes. bring it on.
neal wrote me and said that linnae went into the hospital just this morning, so probably as of this writing they have a new child.
So I'm in Elon, NC, right now, blogging from the guest bedroom of Peter Felten and Sara Walker's house. Sara, of the apparently defunct blog "I was to be a ham," is an unbelievable cook. She and Peter hosted a dinner party tonight for me and several Elon Women/Gender Studies faculty (that's the name of their program--Women/Gender Studies, with the slash), and here was the menu:
- Sweet potato curry and tomato soups, layered parfait-style in tiny elegant long-stemmed glasses, with a parmesan crisp emerging from the top
- Beef tenderloin with mushrooms and a really good sauce (not gravy because there's no flour--I asked)
- Creamed spinach
- Wild rice with a bunch of funky stuff in it (orange peel? pecans?)
- Eclectic gathering of mushroom guys
- Glazed carrots
- Molten chocolate cake with raspberries and little polka dots of raspberry puree around the edge of the plate
Here's something I learned when trying to help clean up afterward: you're not supposed to dry crystal with a damp dishtowel. It needs a fresh towel because it picks up any kind of bodily oils. The rest of you probably already knew that. Honestly, it's a really good thing that Walter and I don't have too much nice stuff, because I'm pretty much at the point where if it won't go in the dishwasher, I won't use it.
Other news from Elon: I taught a class and then led a three-hour feminist pedagogy workshop for faculty, and I think it went well. I was somewhat nervous beforehand because Peter was one of the people who invited me there, and I respect his thoughts on teaching so much--he's one of these people (like Deandra) who is just exceptionally good at talking to teachers about their teaching and drawing them out, getting them to see things in new ways. I thought, "Who am I to be doing this workshop? Peter should be doing it!" As it turns out, I am qualified to do a workshop like this. And Peter said the nicest thing when he was introducing me to the group; he said that he has an "Alison" part of his brain that he'll sometimes refer to when certain questions come up.
If I do a workshop like this again in the future--and I'd like to--I'll probably change a few things. I did some Theater of the Oppressed stuff which was interesting but needs to be fine-tuned a bit, and it may have been that folks wanted more concrete strategies. But they seemed to enjoy it, and I really enjoyed meeting them and hearing their thoughts and their experiences.
Favorite concept emerging from the workshop: Education isn't about safety. Feminist pedagogy is dangerous.
my friend and excellent engineer, Neal Cappellino, has won himself a Grammy award! well, i don't actually know if he gets a little metal gramophone of his own, but he was the engineer on del mccoury's The Company We Keep, winner of this year's bluegrass album of the year. I don't know who was producer, but i'm almost sure it was Del himself, which says even more for Neal's input.
I'm just vibrating with exciting for him. Yeah, Neal!
Usually an album's essense would be triangulated between artist, producer and engineer (and probably in that order). in this case, the only thing in between the artist's audio "vision" and your ears would be neal's handiwork--a difficult acoustic row to hoe in this age of production trickery. one slight and nearly inaudible tweak on the knob of a compressor and a bluegrass album can go from instant classic to sonic mush.
mccoury, for those that don't know, is the leader of a family band--his sons ronnie and rob holding down mandolin and banjo. although i'm torn sometimes about the value of devotion to tradition, the mccourys' have certainly held down the "real" bluegrass fort for a little over a decade now (with del doing his thing since what?...1950?...he was one of bill monroe's guitar players).
Their contribution to bluegrass has been invaluable. While some older artists have forged ahead with the same approach for years, or younger artists have altered things entirely, the mccourys' have always found a way to top themselves musically and lyrically while always maintaining a respect for a very narrow (and deceptively simple) genre of music.
what i mean is this: bluegrass is a communal music, and due to its (again, deceptively simple) structure, most developing musicians can get together with each other at "jams." every day of every week you can bet, somewhere near you, a group of folks come together to play "how mountain girls can love."
that's a good thing, BUT...how many times can you play that song? one of the mccourys' important contributions is that they've been able to continue that musical accessability while maintaining a slight leading edge. that slight edge is the thing that keeps bluegrass from slipping into becoming just another dead art (or, conversly, an inaccessable avant garde). in short, del is providing the "how mountain girls can love" for the bluegrass pickers of 2050.
anyway, kudos to Neal. he's recieved a great acknowlegement for playing an important part in american culture.
now, how 'bout that new baby, nello?
First of all, I would like to make it known that by myself I figured out how to give Walter a profile photo. Stinky had nothing to do with it.
Second, let me weigh in on this racism and sexism discussion. It was actually a conversation that Meghann and I had that inspired Walter's blog post to begin with--I told Walter about the conversation and said we should blog about it. The "everyone is racist/sexist" thing has just become easy shorthand for Walter and me--it's one of those things I've believed for so long that I've forgotten how I got here, or what it felt like not to believe it.
Actually, I do remember how I got here. One significant turning point was a race relations class that Walter, Jay, and I took at Tennessee Tech. Maybe I'll blog more about this class at some point in the future--it was a truly transformative experience.
Anyway, I hear what Meghann said--both here and in our in-person conversation--about how disheartening this statement is. The odd thing is, I mean it as a kind of encouraging statement. I guess one version of what I mean is, we're all people of goodwill, doing the best we can here, and yet we're all carrying some of the messed up baggage of our culture. Part of our job is to try to get rid of some of that baggage. But I think what a lot of us end up doing is denying that we're carrying any baggage at all.
Peggy McIntosh, whose great essay on white privilege is in our list of links, distinguishes usefully between "individual acts of meanness" and "invisible systems conferring unsought...dominance." Most white people I know identify racism only as individual acts of meanness, and they assume that if they don't do those acts, then they aren't racist. What McIntosh points out is that most white people benefit on a daily basis from the invisible systems that confer dominance on them, and most men benefit from similar invisible systems. If we're benefitting from the systems and not actively trying to change them, then we're perpetuating racism and sexism. Maybe that's a better thing to say than "we're racist and sexist."
When I say, as I often do in class, "Everyone raised in a racist and sexist culture has been shaped by that culture," I'm not implying that we're all out there doing individual acts of meanness, but I am suggesting that our ways of seeing, our feelings of comfort, our interpretations of the world are probably pretty racist and sexist. And we will have to challenge that cultural training on a consistent basis. We'll have to develop resistant consciousness.
Here's another great Peggy McIntosh quote: "I have met very few men who are truly distressed about systemic, unearned male advantage and conferred dominance. And so one question for me and others like me is whether we will be like them, or whether we will get truly distressed, even outraged, about unearned race advantage and conferred dominance, and, if so, what we will do to lessen them."
the south is the repository of all racist guilt in this country.
last week, a homophobe and white supremist walked into a gay bar here in new bedford--carrying a hatchet and gun--and shot and hacked up three people before he fled the scene (no fatalities). well, the guy was caught saturday night in arkansas.
now. although i should realize the boston herald shouldn't be confused with a real newspaper (it could be called the boston inquiyah), today's headline offended me none the less:
robeido heads to the heart of kkk country.
well, first off, alison has visited cookeville, which means that she spent a whole lot of time at gridge's coffee shop, which means that she was there with stinky "the trey" piepmeier, which means that i now have a Picture of Myself in the Profile section! yeah for me! stinky is website maintainer nonpareil, responsible for our attractive blog, gridge's website, the christmas hat on baxter, bannedfromwalmart.com, etc., and i'm sure that he put it on here for me. thanks, trey.
in other news, alison mentioned the other day that she wanted to blog a little bit about race and sexism in america. in particular, about how each and every american, in some way, are both of these things: racist and sexist. well, i hope she'll do that, but she hasn't done it yet. in the meantime, and maybe as a means to get her started, i'm gone say a few things myself.
alright. check these statements out:
everyone is a sexist.
everyone is racist.
believe that? well, do believe it, 'cause it's true. (alison can come in here with the more balanced opinion--after all, it's my job to be the inflammatory one.)
i don't have any empirical evidence for this, no blood samples, no kinsey-style report, but i don't doubt the veracity of it for a second. now, before you go get all upset and stuff, let me put this in perspective: first off, maybe i should say "prejudiced" instead of "racist." most black folks i've talked to interpret the word "racist" as a david duke kind of person. someone in a white sheet, burning a cross in a front yard, so that's not what i'm talking about.
likewise, sexist is probably too bold a term also. what we may need in this society--in order to open a much-needed dialogue--are new terms that refer specifically to what i think i'm talking (and what i think alison will be talking)about. i.e. a sort of non-voluntary training we've all recieved from birth concerning assumptions about what it means to be white or black (or red or yellow-they are precious in his sight), male or female.
next, let me equivocate a little more and say that this doesn't really mean any more than just what i'm saying: we are all a little racist and a little sexist. just like we are all a little lazy sometimes, or a little neurotic, or that we watch a little more television than we think we should. sure, being "r & s" is more harmful than some of those traits, but since we are all that way, we share in a common dilemma. since that's the case, we needn't keep it a secret. let's admit it. it isn't out fault. christianity would say "we've all sinned and fallen short of the glory of god." tweleve step programs would say "it's progress, not perfection." (....of course, some of us are sicker than others...) just own up to it--it's okay.
i, of course, have nothing really productive or coherent to say here--this is really just an effort to get alison going, but i will admite this:
i am a racist and a sexist.
i know this because i've been put into situations (sometimes as non-voluntary as my initial training) where my brain has been held open--speculum style--and was forced to take a hard look at all the crap that's been poured in there from birth on. here's an example of something i've discovered:
i encounter a racial situation every time i see a black man walking across a road. this started because one day i was riding down gallatin road in nashville with a friend of mine. a black guy stepped off the sidewalk and started to cross the road--starting a little later and moving a little slower than i thought he should have. we were gonna have to change the speed or direction of the car because of his actions. my first thought was "he's giving us attitude." in other words, i interpretted his actions as a power statement. my friend muttered under his breath "fucker..." it was the particular way he said this that made me recognize the racial situation that was going on here. first of all, if it had been a white guy, i'm not sure they would have stepped off the curb like that (because white folks in this area of east nashville tend to be driving, not walking, and are therefore more paranoid street-crossers). but secondly, if the pedestrian had been a white guy i think my buddy's annoyance would have been more vocal--he might even have yelled something, or driven aggressively at them.
anyway, the guy stepped off the curb. the ball was now in our court. i put myself into my friend's shoes and i recognized, first off, that my reading was indeed a racial one. but what if this guy was really just crossing the street? he probably crossed gallatin road every day. next, i recognized i was gonna have to make a choice: change the speed/direction of the car, or just barrel ahead. the first choice would mean that i was giving in to his power trip. the second choice would make me an aggressor.
i started to empathize with the guy crossing the street: "hey, i gotta get across the road." "if i speed up they'll think i'm implying their gonna hit me." "if i go slow, they'll think i'm giving them attitude."
that story ends with us merely driving on by and going about our day, but the implications have stayed with me for a long time now. a wierd story, i know, but i just want to bring it up because i think race informs just about everything we do. just try it out yourself--the next time you are inconvenienced by a person of a different orientation than you, just listen to yourself think. what is your brain saying? that's your non-vountary training, and it's got to be dealt with.
words i should have looked up in order to write this:
inconvenienced, empathized, barrel, interpretted, coherent, neurotic, precious, empirical, nonpareil.
a spelling story. one branch of my cousins has that particular tennessee accent that pronounces words like "pants" as "paints," "aunt" as "ain't," "cold" as if it were "code." told as toad. for example: "i toad him he had a code, but he didn't listen no more'n na maan in na mooon." well, one day one of these cousins called my mother--a terrific speller, by the way--with a question. he asked:
"ain't shurley, how do ya spell paints?"
thought for the day:
religion is for people that are scared of hell. spirituality is for people that have already been there.
Hey, y'all--we got our bikes back!
Walter actually saw a kid riding my bike a few weeks ago. He stopped him and they had a conversation about it, which essentially went like this:
Walter: "You're riding my wife's bike!"
Kid: "I bought this bike."
Walter: "But it's my wife's bike."
Kid: "It maybe used to be her bike, but it's mine now."
At that point Walter wasn't sure what to do--there's a pretty good chance the kid actually did buy my bike from another kid, and he didn't feel like wresting the bike away from a kid on the street. So he let him go.
But then a week or so later, he saw both our bikes on the porch of a house around the corner from us. He called the police, who went with him to the house and let him retrieve the bikes. The kids weren't there, but their mom was, and she didn't know where they'd gotten the bikes. I get the sense that there's a pretty fluid underground market for bikes in Charleston. At any rate, he brought the bikes home, and I was really happy to see them. Mine is now in the shop getting souped up (new crank shaft, fender, hand grips, and huge basket). (Trey tells me that the current terminology is that my bike is getting pimped, but I don't think that's really appropriate for me or my bike.)
yep. i'm back in massachusetts. you know how i can tell? well, for starters it's four o'clock in the morning and i'm sittin' here messin with stuff on my computer. i can also tell--and this has a little bit to do with why i'm still up--because i have eaten an entire LARGE bag of hershey's kisses. eating that much chocolate makes me unhappy, and i've got to quit, but i don't seem to be able to. i guess that's the next thing on the list to either limit or do away with in my life.
another reason i can tell i'm back is because it has been raining non-stop for two days. i go outside, i get wet. and cold.
anyway, i took the train back. i said i'd write about it, so i might as well do it now. (i also said i was gonna write about clothes, and i plan to do that too.) so i took the train. that's me above in my "roomette." i had it all to myself. i also look drunk, but i wasn't. i'm holding my complimentary cup of coffee.
my roomette had two bunks (one which slid up and down on a track). the bottom bunk was created out of the two seats that had a little fold-up table between them. there was a checkerboard permanantly etched into the table top...made me think about steve goodman's "ridin' on the city of new orleans," but i don't know why. those guys are playing cards in that song: penny a point, ain't no one keepin' score.
all in all, i give the whole trip a thumbs up, and am sorry that i hadn't discovered i could travel that way before now. it took me...well, i left at...well, i was supposed to leave at 8:30 p.m. on a saturday. i was supposed to arrive in providence at 4:30 p.m. the next day. in reality, i left at about 10 p.m. or thereabouts and arrived in providence at 6 p.m. no biggie, really, although i had to wait in penn station for like 5 hours. there aren't any seats there. i would've gone out and done something in manhattan, but i was a little concerned about getting me and my bags and instruments onto the train, so i just stuck around and read the sunday times.
the best part about this trip was the ease with which it all happened. i got on the train, the porter showed me to my room, i got all set up, and that was about it. no barefootin' it through a metal detector with hectic travelers all around me. no laptops out of the bag, no belts taken off, no wand-waving.
after i got my cabin all set up i went out and fixed that cup of coffee. after that i walked around the train. i went to the lounge car and said hey to a couple people about my age. they were at a table doing some fancy graphic design work on snazzy computers.
i read some train travel advice before i left and learned a little trick that was nice: that bunk that slides down sits right at window level. i put the mattress from the lower bunk on top of the other one on the top bunk, lowered the bed, and sat and watched the world go by. clickity-clack. the ride wasn't all that rough, but there were a few jolts that woke me up during the night.
i woke up at daybreak to the sight of the washington monument going by with those two scary red eyes it has now. i went to the dining car and had pancakes and bacon and some pretty decent coffee for breakfast, served to me by a capable waitstaff at an attractive table. meals are included in the price of the ticket.
the only real pain, as i said above, was having to wait at penn station and the 3 hour ride back on the commuter train into providence.
alright. so there you have it. i think this has been my most perfunctory blog entry to date, but so be it. i'd do better, but it's now 4:19 a.m., it's still raining, and--most of all--i'd much rather be in bed with alison tonight. instead i'm here in the cold and rainy north, in the wee hours of the morning, tying together the hundreds of loose ends that still remain on my thesis work.
y'all have fun.
oh...well, here's ya some entertainment for you anyway: how's this for embarrassing? today in the providence alternative newspaper was a little blurb about famous heads of state that also happened to famous boozers. winston churchill was one, or course. another one was..well, i've forgotten his name. benson? anyway, he was like an american ambassador back in the day. (i'll look up his name tommorrow). anyway, he was in peru at some official function, knockin' a few back, and asked a woman dressed in long flowing purple robes to dance. her response?
"well, first off, you're drunk. next, this is not a waltz, it is the peruvian national anthem. finally, i am not a woman--i'm the archbishop."