Since Biffle has headed back to Massachusetts to do some last-minute grad school things, I thought I'd do a little photo essay about his time in Charleston--but we didn't take very many pictures. So here's one of Biffle doing yard work, with his shirt on, for once.
If you can't tell from this photo, he's vaguely annoyed. He often gets vaguely annoyed when we do yard work together, mostly because I have a partly natural, partly cultivated uselessness when it comes to physical tasks. Biffle is incredibly handy with almost every physical task. I am great at paying the bills, making dessert, and writing books, but not so good with bodily labor.
And finally, the tiny rant: What is it with these anti-feminist women who have incredibly active careers but argue that women are supposed to stay at home and be subordinate to their husbands? Phyllis Schlafly, "Dr." Laura, and one of the latest--Caitlin Flanagan. These women have made careers out of sexism and hypocrisy.
Well, today alison and i went boating and fishing with Adam and Celeste. First off, and i don't know if other people do this, but i have the tendency to say words and phrases over and over in my head. For instance, if i'm cutting half-blind dovetails, then i might say "half-blind dovetails" over and over again as i work. If you've ever cut half-blind dovetails then you know that it takes a while to finish even one corner. And then it gets really bad because after you finish it, you know you almost assuredly have three more to go. half-blind dovetails, half-blind dovetails...
So last night adam told us to meet him at the Wappoo Cut at 11 a.m. From 9 p.m. last night 'till i went to bed, and then from the time i woke up 'till it finally wore off at about 4, i was saying "Wappoo Cut, Wappoo Cut..." over and over again in my head.
It's a beautiful phrase, that Wappoo Cut. It also happens to be a boat dock--about 4 minutes from our house--that sits on a little human-made inlet dividing West Ashley from James Island. Four minutes and we were on a boat!
The first thing we needed to do after we were underweigh was catch some bait fish named...well, it sounded like "menhagin." They were darling little fish, much like a slightly fat sardine, that we were planning to shortly spear through the head with a fish hook. We caught them with the use of a net, casting it out of the boat much like jesus probably did. Above is the picture of Alison hard at work as a fisher of menhagin.
Upon catching a good supply of menhagin we then boated to Morris Island and had a picnic lunch of cured meat that adam and celeste had brought back from Spain, a couple delicious salad-type things, beer (fizzy water for me), cheeses (from Spain also), local watercress with local Duke's mayonnaise on white bread, and some fancy potato chips.
We ate, set sail again, and then saw dolphin after dolphin swimming around in Charleston harbor not thirty feet from the boat. Lawd-a-mercy! They would surface and flop around and blow!
Now: if that weren't enough, here's the really exciting part:
That's a 31 inch long drum--or as Adam told me they call 'em around here--a spot-tail bass. You know that scene on Jaws when Jaws takes off with that guy's fishing line and the reel goes "wheeee!" Well, that's exactly what happened here. This being the first time i've ever caught a giant fish, i was really excited. It took several minutes for us to actually get it into the boat. It was marvelous how strong that magnificent fish was! And then we cut its head off and ate it.
No. We didn't, really. We just took its picture a couple of times and then set it loose.
The day was not without cost, however. Whether it's bug bites or what-have-you, Alison always seems to pay a price for outdoor activities. She got to catch menhagin with a net. She got to eat lots of mayonnaise. She got to see dolphins swimming around. And...she got this sunburn:
The white blotch you see is from a not-nearly-adequate-enough application of sunscreen. Poor Alison! But hooray for Adam and Celeste for showing us such a good day!
alison and i have evidently entered into a territory we knew nothing about: the larger blogger community. you'll notice over there on the right that alison has added a link to "lowcountry blogs." maybe we just found ourselves, or someone linked to it in an email or something, but we've discovered that we're unintentially a part of a bigger community. like, i noticed a while back that my friend kenneth burns, up there in madison, wi, has a notice on his site that he's a member of the "eastside mad bloggers." i was jealous even though i didn't know what it meant. maybe now we can claim some street cred, too.
anyway, the reason for this post: since i now see that we may have just a leetle bit of local attention i want to take advantage and offer up my first bit of critique for something charleston. here it is:
Crosstown. the road that truncates the peninsula. man, that is one ugly sumbitch. it has less street cred than our blog. ofcourse, i dislike most paved roads in the first place so i'm not really a credible critic. I read once that "the road" is america's major contribution to the architectural vernacular. i agree--and i'm embarrased. i think roads are tools for class and ethnic segregation, i think a lot of them are unneeded, i think they tend to get built when someone's cousin in the paving business is there to launder some tax cash. a road is almost always a mix of brillance and poor planning. (i added that last one because i made a hobby for a couple of months of re-designing some interstates that travel through downtown Nashville and gained an appreciation for the nuance involved).
anyway, crosstown is a big fat, flat scar that sorta sickens me everytime i go near it. can't we pretty that sucker up a little bit? my suggestion: a six foot, red brick wall with a cement cap that runs everywhere there is currently a broken down old chain link fence. maybe some nice lighting fixtures atop.
how 'bout it? or am i just whistlin' dixie?
('nother note: since alison and i share this blog we often complain to the other about "steppin' on my break." (that's bluegrass musicianspeak for when someone is playing a solo and another bandmember is adding obtrusive backup.) in this case, i stepped on alison's break by posting something too soon after her brilliant toni morrison post. so make sure you go down there and read it. after all, just because it's yesterday's post don't mean it's yesterday's news.)
and finally, the number of times i used "anyway" as a transition in this post:
She was amazing. As we were leaving, a student said to me, "I love the fact that she just seems so nice." That may sound like a sort of meaningless comment, but in this context it wasn't. I think the student was trying to get at Morrison's presence in the auditorium, which was striking in its understated warmth; it's hard to describe how someone can hold everyone's attention by being thoughtful, soft-spoken, and kind, and yet that's exactly what she did. She stood there, a 75-year-old woman with long grey dreads, in the middle of the stage in a 2000-seat opera hall, and I couldn't look away from her. She spoke slowly and easily, like someone telling a story, but there was a current of intention and focus holding her talk together.
She co-wrote an opera based on the life of Margaret Garner, the woman whose story was part of the inspiration for the novel Beloved, and she was there in Charlotte to give a speech the day before the opera opened. Garner was a woman who escaped from slavery with her children--escaped into Ohio--but then, because the Fugitive Slave Law said that no slave was ever free no matter where they went, she and her children were recaptured. As the white men were coming for her, she killed one of her children--she had hoped to kill them all, but they stopped her--because she wanted the children to be dead rather than to have to live in slavery.
Morrison started her lecture by talking about motherhood. She said that in the late '70s and early '80s, when she was developing the idea for Beloved, one main current in feminist discourse was a questioning of motherhood. Feminist authors and activists were articulating the ways in which motherhood is confining to women; they saw it as something that keeps women from being free. Morrison said she wondered if motherhood could be seen instead as something that actually frees women. She related some of her own experiences as a mother, her realization that she was enabled to be someone different in the presence of her children than she was in the other venues of her life. Her kids needed her to be a competent grown-up, and so she was able to drop some of the personas that the rest of the world wants from women.
She also thought about this question of motherhood as freeing in relation to slavery. She said that it might well be freeing to have your children if your history was one in which your children were property that you created for someone else's use. She questioned what that would mean, for your children to be taken from you to be used as cogs in someone else's machine, for you to be a machine that produces more laboring bodies, and that's what initiated Beloved.
And even as she talked about slavery, and about the sorts of brutal histories that her novels articulate (she describes her work as "literary archaeology"), she was kind and hopeful.
At the end of her talk she took questions from the audience--I think the event planners were surprised by this, because they didn't have microphones in the auditorium, so people just had to yell out what they wanted to ask. As she was answering one of the last questions, she related the story of a friend of hers who's "had some work done"--Botox, apparently. Morrison said, "I told her she looked good. She said she was worried because she was going to do a television interview, and she wasn't able to lift her eyebrows anymore, but that that would probably wear off." Then she paused and said, "I think it's it's sort of like a burqa. It's another way of covering our faces, keeping us hidden." A murmur went through the auditorium as that comment sank in, and all the wealthy women in the room who'd probably had some work done themselves registered what she meant. But her tone wasn't condemning or scornful; she was curious, and accepting, like a writer who's interested in how we humans do things, and interested in helping us be a little better to each other and ourselves.
Took a busload of students and faculty to see Toni Morrison speak last night in Charlotte, NC--it was a wonderful event (more later), and three of the students decided to sneak backstage and actually got to meet Toni Morrison after the event. I'm so proud of them! I'm such a rule-follower that I never would have done it.
AND in other famousness news, my brother the Gridge has been officially designated the best coffee roaster in the world. I'm only exaggerating a tiny bit on that one.
Ooo, look, I'm participating in (perpetuating?) a meme!
Things I liked when I was nine that I still like:
- Sitting alone reading
- Eating outrageous amounts of chocolate
- Riding my bike
- Catherine Bush
- Questioning why things are the way they are
- Going to bed
- Conflict (I am a Piepmeier, after all)
- Cold weather
- Fake banana flavoring
- Walter Biffle telling me what to do.
I like "country" food, the food i grew up on: bacon, eggs, grits, pancakes, sausage, pimento cheese sandwiches, white bread, barbeque, potato salad, fried chicken, meatloaf, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, mashed potatoes, country ham.
i'm proud of that food, and i relish in, what to some folks, is the "wierdness" of it. I like remembering sunday dinners at mama dene's (my paternal grandmother)house when we would have country ham with red eye gravy. i think it's cool that i got a chance to eat that food, as cooked by a real native, without a single hint of irony.
"You want some more red eye gravy?"
You'll notice that the list above has quite a bit of pig in it. bacon, sausage, barbeque, country ham. Pigs are important. I like pigs. my mother's maiden name is pigg. I like associating with pigs--holding small pigs, going to see the big pigs at the state fair, hearing pigs grunt, watching pigs on reruns of Green Acres, frying up pieces of pigs in a skillet.
Well, last night Alison and i were at the local Pig (gly Wiggly) buying up a stock of groceries, and i noticed in the meat section a local product that i never seen before: i think it was called Country Sauce.
Everywhere all over this great land people use the t-total outta pigs. Pennsylvania has got scrapple, tennessee (and i guess other places) has souse or head cheese, Mexico has choriso, and on and on. Everything but the grunt.
Well, Country Sauce, even for this aficionado of all-things-pig, was pretty amusing. Here is the list of ingredients for Country Sauce:
Pork Snout, Pork Head Cheese, Pork Feet, Pork Cheek, Pork Tail...and the amazing last ingredient? simply "Pork."
From the New York Times: "A lot of innocent young people and the families are being hurt," said Robert S. Bennett, hired by some of the Duke lacrosse players' families as a PR person. Later in the same article: "Wade M. Smith, who represents one of the lacrosse players, said ...he hoped that [the DA] Mr. Nifong dropped the case entirely, and soon, so that the players and everyone in this community could begin the healing process." In another NYT story: "Another defense lawyer, Bill Thomas II, said, 'This has been an absolute nightmare for these young men and their families.'"
I've been talking to people about the case recently, and sometimes I'm reminded--usually, although not always, by men--that this is an alleged rape and that the lacrosse players are innocent until proven guilty. Yes, of course that's true: in a court, they are innocent until proven guilty. The problem with this as our complete response to this case, however, is twofold:
1. Over the years I've known, as a conservative estimate, 56 students who have been raped, either while they were in college or before they got there. How many of these students' cases do you think resulted in a guilty verdict? None. As a matter of fact, most of them didn't even go to trial. There are a number of reasons for this:
- A few reported to the Nashville police but were told there wasn't enough evidence for the DA to proceed.
- At least a dozen reported the incident to campus police but were scolded for a) drinking, b) having a boy in their room, or c) going to a fraternity party in the first place, and the case wasn't pursued.
- Many, many of them suspected that they'd be blamed for what happened, or blamed themselves, so they never told anybody about it until they told me. I mean, let's face it--they've seen what happens to rape victims when they come forward.
2. Almost anytime I talk about rape, people raise concerns about men who are falsely accused. The level of concern is really interesting, given the fact that false accusations for rape are at about the same level as false accusations for other crimes (around 2%). We're not facing an epidemic of innocent men being imprisoned for rapes they didn't commit. Quite the contrary.
I've been thinking a lot about this case lately, and I'll probably post more thoughts about it. But one thing I wanted to share right now is that I can't read about this case without thinking about all the women I know who've been raped, and who haven't been believed or helped. Andrea Dworkin gave a speech called "I Want a Twenty-four Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape," and in it she said,
We use statistics not to try to quantify the injuries, but to convince the world that those injuries even exist. Those statistics are not abstractions. It is easy to say, "Ah, the statistics, somebody writes them up one way and somebody writes them up another way." That's true. But I hear about the rapes one by one by one by one by one, which is also how they happen. Those statistics are not abstract to me. Every three minutes a woman is being raped. Every eighteen seconds a woman is being beaten. There is nothing abstract about it. It is happening right now as I am speaking.This case isn't abstract to me. And every time someone suggests that the members of the Duke lacrosse team are the real victims, the "innocent young people...being hurt," the ones suffering through "an absolute nightmare," the ones in need of healing, I know that my female students are hearing this, and the message they're getting from this culture is be quiet.
You haven't heard from me in a few days, which in this case means two things:
1. I'm catching up on work I missed while I was in Massachusetts, and
2. Biffle's home!
Let me take a moment to recommend having a house husband. In the two days he's been here, Walter has mowed the lawn, cooked two beautiful dinners, given the entire inside of the house a vigorous cleaning, and attached my Incredi-Bell to my bike. This has allowed me to do what I like to do best: have an uncountable number of meetings and respond to emails.
That last sentence was ironic. For what I really like to do best, see my post from 4.3.06.
A teaser for future posts: "Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?" Topics: Duke lacrosse and the lack of reproductive justice.
Biffle posted pictures of the numbers on each of his monuments the other day--now here's a picture of some of those monuments on site, in a lot on the southend of New Bedford. I'll let him share whatever he wants to about the pieces themselves, but I want to say:
- His mom burst into tears in the gallery when she saw him talking with the mothers of several of the murder victims his pieces are memorializing.
- The fact that these mothers came to the show was a significant event in and of itself: I suspect that members of the poorer communities of color in New Bedford have rarely been explicitly invited to--or felt explicitly included in--art openings downtown.
- I am so proud I can hardly stand it.
A brief report from New Bedford, MA: we've had a wonderful weekend here, with some significant mishaps. My mom sprained her ankle on Thursday, so I had to wheel her through the airport in a wheelchair piled up with all our suitcases. Walter's dad had an awful cold and, as the Biffles say, acted like he had dead lice falling off of him. And at dinner on Saturday, I cracked a tooth--illustration below.
Maybe we absorbed all the bad luck, because things went great for Biffle.
i'm not sure if i'm gonna be able to make this work, but let's see what happens...
after ten years of living on lischey (in which i lived in a low income, mostly black neighborhood):
number of times threatened with a gun: 0
threatened with a knife: 0
accused of "bein' a faggot": 0
violence as a result of "bein' a faggot": 0
hit with debris thrown from a car as i rode my bicycle: 0
threatened verbally ("i'm gonna kick your ass," etc.): 0
same ten years (in which i also interacted with "normal" white people):
threatened with a gun: 1
threatened with a knife: 0
accused of "bein' a faggot": 5-10
violence as a result of "bein' a faggot": 2 (one required the hospital)
hit with debris thrown from a car as i rode my bicycle: 10-15
threatened verbally: 10-15
These statistics are skewed of course. I mean, I didn't skew them, but there are several mitigating factors--some that would make a real difference to an exacting person, and some that would illuminate the point even further. they are as follows:
I spent less time with people around lischey than i did with the "normal" white people.
As a white man in a black neighborhood, i might have had a certain immunity for fear of repercussion. (if i were a black teen in either situation the story would be very, very different)
A lot of the white threats happened when i was in "questionable places": playing a gig at the "V," at percy priest lake after dark. Had i spent an equal amount of time at questionable places in my neighborhood...that might change things. (i did still spend a fair amount of time at questionable places in my neighborhood, though.) however, ponder this concept of "questionable places" for a moment....as alison would say, that's worth "un-packing."
The reason i'm pondering this is because of Meghann's link to the information surrounding Duke University's lacrosse team. The whole situation is rife with all things white, masculine, and privileged. lacrosse, Duke, racial epithets, rape...
This probably won't make any sense, but lemme give it a try:
black stripper at white college sports party: 99% chance of bad shit going down.
white business man at black women's tupperware party: 0% chance of bad shit going down. (100% confusion however).
Those are the two polar extremes. What's the percentage chance of violence if you fill in the thousands of spaces in between? black woman (not stripper) at white sports party vs. white male stripper at women's tupperware party. white boy at mostly black rap concert vs. black boy at alice cooper concert. etc, etc. (the middle ground of this continuum would be...what? racially integrated crowd at a fundraiser for homelessness?) This may be all too intuitive for most sane people to get a handle on...
anyway, the long and short of this is this: In my life--growing up, at college dorms, at bars, at lischey, here in neu beige--i've been threatened more often, and experienced exponentially more pressure by heterosexual white men to be more like them than i've been threatened by people of color for being not-like them.
who was that home security system for again?
While Walter's been writing these incredible blog entries that make me fall in love with him all over again, I've been traveling cross-country with WGS students. Five undergraduates and I went to Valdosta, GA, this weekend for the Southeastern Women's Studies Association conference, where they all did a great job of presenting their research.
We stayed at the La Quinta, which is quickly winning out over Hampton Inns in my book. La Quinta has a free continental breakfast (which we all know is of the utmost importance to me), free high-speed internet, AND they allow pets. And even more impressively, this particular La Quinta had an afternoon happy hour with free beverages and hot chocolate chip cookies.
I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with the students--we talked about everything from why they're feminists to Rachel Ray to Duke's mayonnaise (which will be the topic of its own entry sometime soon).
And then here's the best part: on the way home, Sara, Jamie, Meg, and I randomly got off the interstate and found a carnival in Jasper County, SC. So of course we stopped and engaged in some greasy carnival fun.
Meg and I rode the Octopus, which was so violent that at one point I thought that I was going to pre-emptively throw up the elephant ear that I hadn't yet eaten. I managed to hold down the nausea, though, and did not repeat the infamous Taco Bell parking lot incident of 1998. However, Meg and I did scream so loudly that the guy running the ride let us off early.
Well, i did manage to actually go yesterday, and my stomach did not growl.
here's what it was like:
All told, Seven people came to the meeting. Four people were already seated when i arrived. Two of those people (and names changed to protect the innocent) were Betty and Sue. Betty was an older woman and Sue was a young asian woman with questionable english--she introduced herself by hopefully saying "This is Sue." Betty was asking Sue about the color of the wedding dress. "Is it powder blue? Is it periwinkle blue? Is it skyblue?" Sue was answering yes to all of these questions. While that was going on I introduced myself to Jeff, a fourty something that was sitting on the pew next to me. (There were four pews, arranged in a square, all facing each other.) Another woman had walked in and was settling down when I heard Betty say "well, we'll get to talk about it more between now and then..." and that was all that was said for the next 30 to 40 minutes.
Birds chirped outside, a coffee pot breathed in another room. Occasionally someone shifted in their seat with a loud creak. A bell rang for quite a while in the distance. Eventually, the woman who had settled in said "i was thinking this morning about the concept of time and how it effects our lives so much--what with the time change and everything. i'm glad i heard the peepers (little frogs) last night. It tells me spring is coming.
We sat silently for another, oh, ten minutes. And then someone stretched...and that was all. We had a quiet conversation. And then we left.
Ofcourse, other things happened in that room during that time--things that can't be physically described--but i believe that those things transcend words, and so respectfully leave that part out.
a few notes on physicality:
the building we were in was built in 1820. It was enormous. The meeting was held in a small side chapel--"to keep down on heating costs" i was told. An interesting thing: The huge main chapel was bisected with a wall that lowered from the ceiling via a system of ropes. kinda like pocket doors on their side. This was there for seperate men's and women's business meetings. As you probably know, the Friends are notoriously egalitarian, so this wasn't gender segregation--it was just that sometimes they might have needed to have seperate meetings about things.
One thing i noted in the small chapel was that there was a modern churchy table in there--obviously placed for convienence. It sat behind one of the pews that formed our square. Here are some hastily googled images:
The reason i've put those in is to point out the differences in the visual vocabulary of that heavy table and the delicate pews we sat in. This is one of the things i refelected on during the service. On the left is a church table that i figure everyone is familiar with. It has that wellworn ecclesiastical style--heavy oak, stolidity (is that a word?), command. On the right is a shaker pew (the shakers broke off from the quakers long long ago, but they were at one time connected.) "Shaker furniture", which most everything else in this building was an example of, is always light, beautifully proportioned--and humble. I think these differences in objects show up in how different faiths conduct themselves in the world.
Another way of saying this: A sign on the wall i noticed as i was going into the meeting said:
This morning, like lots of other Sunday mornings, i've woken up and thought "i could go to that Quaker meeting down the street." I've never done it, though. I've always come up with a reason not to. For one, i always remember the time i went to my first quaker meeting in Nashville several years ago.
Although i wish it weren't this way, eating breakfast is a real act of will power for me. (like the meetings) i can always find a reason not to. And so it was on that fateful Sunday morning. As you probably know, Quaker meetings are silent. Unfortunately, my stomach was not. It talked the whole time. And not just a few declarative sentences, but those long, drawn out gurgles that sound like some piece of antiquated machinery starting up.
I don't know why i didn't just get up and leave. I tried putting a book over my stomach like i saw my mother do when i was a little kid in church. It didn't help. I started to try and anticipate the big ones--the ones where you can feel your stomach get up to the edge of a cliff and get ready to jump off--and cough or clear my throat at the right moment. That didn't work. I, and everyone else at the meeting, endured the thirty or so minutes of this stomach concert of mine. Afterwards, somebody came over and sweetly said "man, we had donuts in the back..."
I haven't been able to go back since then, and it's mostly all because of breakfast. Well, dammit, this mornin' i'm eating' some oatmeal and i'm goin' down there.
The reason that i want to do this is because, as a faith, i identify myself with the Friends a lot these days. For one, AA is historically tied to them. Two, like my friend Kenneth Burns wrote so eloquently about a few months ago, i find i have a need for that sense of community i got from church when i was a kid. And finally, i've found that the older i've gotten, the closer i've gotten to becoming a committed pacifist. Like a real, absolutely non-violent pacifist. I want to find a way to actively express this notion in myself.
i've examined this penchant a lot. Like, there's a lot of reasons i might do it un-healthily: privilege, cowardice, and hautiness are three of those reasons. But i think i've finally come to a point where i recognize that i think i'm willing to allow another human being to possibly injure me and me not injuring back. The ruminations that surround this are a blog post in themselves, so i'm not gonna go into them here, but i do want tell a wierd story that is connected:
I had a friend once whose son was dying of cancer. She told me one day that, when he died, she planned to kill herself. Well, i was appalled. I tried to argue with her about this, but mostly just ended up going "But...but...but..." Although i felt deep down this was not the best action to take, i couldn't formulate a good enough argument to counter her decision. I ruminated on this for weeks. In the meantime, i watched her go off on kayak trips and rock-climbing trips and do things that most people would be afraid to do. I saw that she wasn't doing these things as a kind of deathwish--she was duly careful, wore a helmet, scouted the rapids. It occured to me she was able to do some of these things--and possibly come through un-harmed--because she was able to see past the mortal fear they invoked in most people. She had removed a huge barrier in her life. She had removed death, she had removed fear. (and strangely, when she eventually decided against her plan to do herself in, her son was announced "in remission.")
And so it goes for me. Although the fear of violence from working in these lots up here has been a fairly real one, i've told myself that i wouldn't do anything about it anyway. I have given up that illusion of control, handed it over to something bigger than myself, and, as a result, things-- things that i did not think i could do--have just gotten done. I haven't had to be afraid.
Pacifism, i find, is not really a thing in itself. It's more like a non-thing. One doesn't really move toward non-violence. One just really moves away from being a slave to reaction. I find the space there is a lot less cluttered.