I don't think i'm a particularly "effective" person. At least not in that way that "highly effective" people are. As it is, I just sort of run rough-shod over concept to concept. I wish I weren't this way. I don't think it's a lack of intelligence; I'm hoping that it's just a matter of discipline (or some equally onerous word). One day I guess I'll learn to behave...and i would do that now except that....well, i guess that right now I'm just too distracted by the small and the silly.

Anyway, the reason for the "not effective" confession is to assure other not-so-effective people out there that they can still get little things done here and there without entirely having to change everything about themselves. Case in point:

I made dirt.

And I'm really excited about it.

Here's the deal: One of my favorite bits of writing in the whole world is from a Wendell Berry essay called "The Work of Local Culture." This essay is collected in the book What Are People For? and, if you don't already own the book, I suggest you purchase it as soon as possible. Here is my favorite part:

For many years, my walks have taken me down an old fencerow in a wooded hollow on what was once my grandfather's farm. A battered galvanized bucket is hanging on a fence post near the head of the hollow, and i never go by it without stopping to look inside. For what is going on in that bucket is the most momentous thing i know, the greatest miracle that i have ever heard of: it is making earth.
I have huge plans. I have vast, head-swimmingly grandiose plans. And I rarely ever get anything done. This year, however, i finally managed to compost my leaves. I cordoned them off in a little corner of the backyard and, on occasion, i would go out there and turn the pile over a little bit. Week by week the leaves broke down. Attractive, wiggly earthworms started to make appearances. The leaves grew darker and, it seemed, much heavier. The pile didn't even get that much smaller. And since it appears that Spring has rolled around here at last, this past weekend i did what I've waited to do all winter: I dug into that pile of rotting leaves. I got a shovel and used every bit of it in our garden spots. I never stopped being amazed at what i saw. Man, i helped make dirt!


Why My Mama Drives a Honda

When i was around 7 years old the next door neighbors pulled up in a ridiculous, orange go-cart with the letters CVCC at the bottom of its tiny doors. The car was a Honda Civic (CVCC stood for compound vortex controlled combustion). Me and my family laughed at them and finished putting the fender skirts back on our 4 door Pontiac.

Well, it's 2007 now and my mama drives a Honda. I know why this is--and so do you: Even back in those days Honda made an excellent car, far superior to the American competition. They also did the right thing at the right time, which was to introduce a very fuel efficient automobile when some serious shit was fixin to go down with gasoline.

I thought about all of this this past Saturday afternoon when i went outside and started up my own Honda: a 1976 550four. Here's what it looks like:

Charleston doesn't really get what i'd call winter, but i've gotten kinda wimpy in my old age and don't like any cold. As a consequence, this bike sat outdoors, uncovered--and unridden--for all the winter months. I don't guess i've ridden it since like September.

But do know how many kicks it took to start it? (i have to kick start it because the starter is broken) It took 3! Kick, kick, Varoooom! Here i am, 38 years old and afraid of the cold AND i got to spend my entire winter indoors, and here is my sweet motorcycle, a mere 7 years younger than me, braving the elements (however, i did get it a cover for christmas),ready to come to life at a second's notice after all that neglect. Ain't that somethin?

I could hold forth here, but ill leave it at this:

My country (tis of thee) has its head up its butt.

quicky about the 2008 presidential elections

Quickly, i have this for you before you get on with today's real news in Alison's post below:

I want to take an oath (that includes a little editorializing) here and now:

I am not going to look at, read, pay attention to, or otherwise care about anything that has to do with presidential hopefuls at least until next year's first primary. Until that point i want the candidates to know that any dollar--of the billions they intend to spend for america's most miserable job--will be a dollar shoved up a monkey's butt. Every air polluting mile they log on a jet will not serve to help any of us breathe easier at night. That every time they call the other one an evil name on national television will not be confused with a plea for unity.

I want them to know that what they are currently doing is not helpful, is not newsworthy and only serves to reinforce our country's current inclination to turn everything and everyone into some sort of celebrity contest/package.

So from this moment on, i'm finitoed. Please feel free to join me, y'all.

Pissed off feminist speaks out

Today's Post and Courier gave a small update on a piece of legislation making its way through the system. This legislation mandates that women seeking an abortion have an ultrasound and be forced to look at the image before their abortion.

I was interviewed about this legislation a few weeks ago, and the reporter then told me that the legislators are trying to sell this bill as something for women's health, because it's medically important to have an ultrasound before you have an abortion. I told the reporter that women already have ultrasounds before abortions so that the clinic can make sure they're not too far along. The reporter said, "Oh, really?" She was surprised, because the lobbyists are acting as if this ultrasound idea is some brilliant thing they've come up with, when in fact all they've really come up with is the "medical necessity" of the woman's looking at the fetus.

Carla Harvey, who works at the Lowcountry Crisis Pregnancy Center (for those of you not in the know, "crisis pregnancy center" is code for anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-truth centers where women who are unexpectedly pregnant are pressured to keep the baby), said, "In ultrasounds, a baby at eight weeks will jump on the screen and suck their thumbs."

When I had my abortion, which was at about eight weeks, I looked at the ultrasound image. It was a dime-sized blob. It did not jump. No thumb-sucking. There wasn't a Gerber baby in there.

The antis have done a great job of shaping the public conversation about abortion. They've humanized the fetus--they've coopted our warm, loving feelings about babies and said, "Feel this way about the fertilized egg, too." And if someone is pregnant and wants to be, then all those warm, loving feelings are great. But if she doesn't want to be pregnant, if she doesn't want to be a mother, then it doesn't help even if the fetus is reciting Shakespeare--she still doesn't want it. I didn't want it.

The reason I'm talking about my own abortion so much here lately is that I think the rhetoric of "choice" that feminists have been using is a little thin in comparison to the rhetoric of "fetal personhood" that the antis are using. The person I'd like us to focus on is not the potential one but the unambiguous, fully realized one, the woman herself. Her life, my life, is what we should be concerned about. How does our society benefit if a sixteen-year-old--or a college student--or a young professional like me--is guilted into bearing a child she can't raise, or just doesn't want?


Disc Makers

Since i appear to be mostly powerless over whether these guys continue to send me catalogs in the mail, i guess i'm just gonna have to use one of the few public voices i have and out their company here on this blog as BIG FAT PAINS IN THE ASS!

I have begged, i have pleaded, i have cajoled, implored and fussed and nothing--lo, nothing!-seems to make these guys quit sendin' me these damn things. They are being sent to the former resident, and evidently also, to all of his friends.
Fortnightly i receive 2 (2!) copies addressed to 5 (5!) different people. They must have signed on for a lifetime subscription for this wildly fascinating paper waste concerned with supplying the industry of copying DVDs and Cds.

Yesterday i made my 30th and hopefully final call to Disc Makers. I explained to the guy on the phone that i knew that he was simply doing a job. He did not deserve to be fussed at. But I thought it was important for him to know that his bosses were sending me 134 trees per week in my mailbox and I wanted them to quit. I told him my cd and dvd copying needs were presently met. That the Halloween Mega Bites special was not tempting to me. I was not interested in Easter's CD Salvation either. That i found Thanksgiving's "If The Indians Had Our Dvds, They Wouldn't Have Been Wiped Out by Influenza Sale" just plain tacky.


Anyway, dear readers, whatever you do, NEVER EVER give your name to those lousy tree-wastin' bastards at Disc Makers. If i get one more catalog in the mail, i'm gonna go down there to that place in Tijuana where the owner of Disc Makers hangs out (did i mention he only has one shriveled testicle and has sex with animals?) and punch him right in the nose job.


The World According to Mr. Chase

Sometimes , when i begin a post, i wonder how many total strangers might see this? Like how many people might be reading here that don't already know about bannedfromwalmart.com? Probably no one. Therefore i'll continue without any background story.

I was just thinking yesterday that i hadn't received a good "banned" story in a while. I've only gotten a handful anyway, and many of those are from angry walmart lovers or people's amusing but unusable tales of getting banned for shoplifting or fired for smoking grass in the bathroom, but still, there has always been a slow but steady trickle. So i was delighted to find--even as i thought i wasn't gonna get anymore--an email from a Mr. Chase. He has an interesting world view. Here is his letter:

My story is that you should be banned. I would have done the same thing to you were I there. Wal Mart as we know is the largest corporation in the world. It took a lot of brains to reach that goal. Not everyone agrees with their tactics, BUT they got there. How far along are you to reaching your goal? Maybe if you had some experience in business you never would have spoiled one of your Tee shirts with your childish message. No I do not work for Wal-Mart, nor does any member of my family. In fact I don't know a damn soul that works there. I just respect the fact that, they got there!!!

Mr. Chase's name in his email address had the word "Colonel" attached.
With reasoning powers like that I'm hoping he's connected with fried chicken and not soldier's lives.


If I Were a Carpenter

Time for a bluegrassy post, y'all:

Here's some info for you, something that i learned from a good picker here in Charleston: next time you're playing a gig and you're finishing up that last song make sure one of your band members (or your tech, if you're fancy enough to have one) has a finger near the cd player. The moment you hit that last note, turn on your background music.

When my buddy Allen told me about this i realized i'd heard it done hundreds of times at larger shows, but never really considered how important it was. But even playing a little beach bar it makes a big difference. It re-directs what is usually an awkward and silent expectancy from your audience members toward a new business-as-usual tye of background noise.

Number two on the bill:

Singer/songwriter Tim Hardin wrote a song called "If I Were a Carpenter" long about ...oh, say, 1965. It was made popular by singer Bobby Darin. Not that it really matters, but Tim Hardin died of an overdose in 1974. And not that this really matters that much either, but had he stuck around he would probably be laughing into his mailbox because of the number of near-daily royalty checks he would receive because of this little tune.

You've probably heard it:

If i were a Carpenter
would you be my lady?
Would you marry me anyway?
Would you have my baby?

Well, this is one of the tunes on the cd player that we turn on between sets--just like in the way i described above. It's a fine bluegrass version by Bill Emerson and Cliff Waldron. Today at a show i thought--much like i think at every show--Man, i gotta learn that song.

Alright. #3: When you're gonna do a cover of someone's song, you gotta know somethin' about its provenance. The art of doing a great cover is (1) to pick a great song--known but perhaps not too known and one you think you might improve with your own twist, and (2) to recognize the double responsibility of making the song your own while paying homage to the original version.

(a quick note: now, in bluegrass music there's really no such thing as a "cover" by the way. any bluegrass song is practically community-held property from the moment it is written. Now, that doesn't mean that you don't do the "pay homage" thing, it just means that doing someone else's song in bluegrass is so business-as-usual that you don't even call it a cover--you just call it a song.)

You know something? I couldn't write a short post if my life depended on it.

Anyway: So i did my homework.... Because of this cover thing..... And because of the responsibility thing and everything. You with me?

Okay, so i got on itunes to get both the Bobby Darin version and the Tim Hardin version. I already know the Emerson/Waldron version. Well, get a load of this: here is a partial list of people that have done covers of If I Were a Carpenter:

Johnny and June Carter Cash, Harry Belafonte, The Four Tops, Luka Bloom, Doc Watson, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, The Small Faces, The Seldom Scene, The Warren J. 5, The Electric Rubyyat, Thomasina, Dave Moody, Randy Newman, Robert Plant, Swanee...and on and on. Give it a listen. You'll have to hear it on there. i don't think i'll be doing it.


Vagina Monologues

Happening tonight! 7 p.m. in Physician's Auditorium on the College of Charleston campus. I found out late last week that I'm doing the "spotlight monologue" (which explains the V-Day theme this year--Reclaiming Peace--and actually isn't about vaginas at all). And Biffle designed the poster, below. All blog readers in the Charleston area should come out to the show!


Several things, from Alison

I have several things to blog about today. I'll try to keep them short and not include too much information. Including too much information is one of the common pitfalls for academic writers who are trying to pitch a book to trade presses. I learned this tonight in a really cool online/teleconferencing seminar called "Making It Pop: Translating Your Ideas for Trade." It's a five-week seminar being led by Deborah Siegel of Girl with Pen, in collaboration with the National Women's Studies Association. And she knows what she's talking about, because her book just got reviewed by the New York Times. It looks like it's going to be really useful, not least because the other participants include several feminist writers I admire a great deal. Perhaps it wouldn't be right to out them here on the blog, but trust me--they're cool.

Another thing I'd like to blog about is Black History Month. I was going to write a whole post about the fact that Harriet Tubman led a Civil War campaign at the Combahee River not far from Charleston and freed around 750 slaves, but then I saw a clip from The Daily Show on Afrogeek Mom and Dad in which Larry Wilmore points out that all we ever hear about during Black History Month are Harriet Tubman and the Tuskegee Airmen...and I realized he was right. So rather than give you information you probably already know, I'll direct you to Conseula and Brian's blog, where you can find out an interesting black history fact every day in February.

And finally, let me recount this story that may give you a picture of life in South Carolina. As some of you know, the Women's and Gender Studies magazine, Cheek, was held up at the printer's this fall because at the very last minute, the printer told us he wouldn't print the cover because it featured a painting of a nude woman, and it's their policy not to print nudity. We were on a very tight deadline and couldn't find another printer on such short notice, so the editor had to Photoshop a drape onto the painted woman's body.

Today I was making calls to find a different printer for our spring issue. I recounted our previous experience to the folks I talked to, to make sure that we wouldn't be dealing with the same situation with our new printer. I spoke with the representative of one large printing company in Charleston, who, when he heard the story, said, "Well, was the painting tasteful?"

Hmm. "Yes," I said. "It was very tasteful."

"Well, I'd print it as long as it was something you could hang in your dining room, in front of your kids."

At this point, it was clear that this guy wasn't the printer for us. I'm not sure why, but I kept going. "Well," I said, "we're a Women's and Gender Studies magazine, so we often have articles about controversial things. For instance, we might have an article about abortion. Would you print that?"

"Well, that depends," he said. "Would you present both sides?"

I paused. I had no idea what to say. In my head, I'm thinking, "Don't be the angry feminist! Don't be the angry feminist!" How am I even supposed to respond to this?

Because I wasn't talking, he kept going: "We're a family company. So we'd print anything that you'd share with your family."

I wish I'd said, "My family is comfortable talking about everything from abortion to whether or not the word 'cunt' should be reclaimed, so I think we'll be fine." But instead, I said, "You know, I don't think this is going to be a good fit" and got off the phone.


cute cute cute

I realize by posting this particular video on a blog i've reached some kind of sad zenith for pop-cultural schmarm. I feel like i should be wearing stirrup pants.

forgive me.


Cute Puppy

A couple of dog stories i tell people (i.e. stories i would tell over a beer, if i drank beer...and with all the tangents left out):

#1: Alison used to dislike dogs. So like early in our relationship i brought home a little teddy bear of a puppy and Alison was unimpressed--she may even have been scornful. Like most things with Alison however, it took about two weeks and she was madly in love. That dog's name was Ursa. She was a chow, and let me tell you: Chows are weird dogs, man. I have lots of Ursa stories, but i'll spare you right now.

#2: Back when we first got Baxter, our friends Wendy B and Dave H turned us on to a dog book--THE dog book--it was called How to be Your Dog's Best Friend, by The Monks of New Skete. (they're actual monks). If you ever get yourself a dog, you gotta read this book. Anyway, Dave and Wendy are a generous sort and after holding onto that book for like 6 months i said to Dave: "Man, i've had the monk book for like 6 months." And Dave said "That's okay. Don't give it back. The next friends you have that get a dog, just give it to them." Well, we did--and passed along the same instructions to that person. I wonder where it is now? Anyway, we still went out and bought our own copy. It has tiny teeth marks on one corner.

#3: My new dog story. Yesterday, Benya accompanied me on some errands. She's still too small to walk on a leash, so i carried her in my arms until i could put her down somewhere (it was nap time anyway, so this was easy). Predictably, people would just melt...

oh my god! loooook at the puh-PEE!!! She is SO cute! What's her name?









--You know, like "been here?"


---It's Beeeen-Yaaaaa.


--No. Benya.


--Yeah. Like the gullah.

The What?



Alison and i have tentatively come up with a name for the puppy. It's Benya.

Wanna know what benya means? Well, first off it's a corruption of "been-ya," and secondly hang on to your hat and i'll eventually tell you...

Charleston is full of little endearing phrases, and "been-ya" is one of them. Many of these phrases (if not all of them) are stolen from gullah, the creole spoken by many local African-Americans. See, here's the deal:

Prior to american black people being able to walk around enjoying only a minor level of hostility like they are today, and before they ate in separate cafeterias like they did at Vanderbilt hospital when i was a child; before they could attend public schools like when my dad was in his late teens, or before they could vote easily in the south like when my grandmama 'Dene was getting married; before our country even passed a law that allowed black people to vote at all, like when grandmama Dene's mother (one of the early caretakers of my father) was a child, white people owned them--much like Alison and i now own a dog.

In Charleston, white people owned lots of black people. These black people, or slaves (as some of our neighbor's great grandmothers were called) had been knocked cold one morning while they slept, or maybe they were caught in a net like Charleton Heston was in Planet of the Apes, and were transported from some part of Africa to this part of America to grow rice for the white folks.

Now these white folks liked the set-up they had quite a bit: mostly they spent all the hot, malarial months of the summer in their homes downtown--right close to where Alison and i live now--and they made those slaves do all the work out on nearby islands. Right about 1863--about the time my grandmother's great grandmother was born--Abraham Lincoln signed into being a document called The Emancipation Proclamation that ostensibly freed all those American black people.

Now, it didn't really work, of course. Those white folks were lazy, lazy white folks. These white folks, with names that sound a lot like the names of streets around here now, were so lazy they couldn't grow their own food, and they for sure couldn't get along without all that slave labor. So, they did the only thing they could do: they sent mostly poor white men's sons to fight for them. It didn't work. 250,000 southern men died of injury and disease before the end. (ironically, many of the poor ones today seem to hope we will resume this fight at some point).

Anyway, having lost the war, the lazy rich guys had to give up ownership of all those black people. That was the bad news. The good news, on the other hand, was that at least most of those black folks lived, all isolated and stuff, out on those islands.

And there they stayed. Having been brought in from locations all over the world, they spoke many different languages and had many different cultural customs. All this stuff--much like white america's "melting pot"--got thrown in together and formed one big ole culture: The one we now call gullah culture.

But, unfortunately, this isn't the end of the story. Yeah, i said "and there they stayed" but that's not really true. I should've written "and there they wished they could've stayed."

But they couldn't.

Eventually the white folks took notice. They saw the places where the gullah people had farmed, lived, loved and died for over a hundred years--and they said hell, that land's worth a lotta money!

And so they bought it.

And for the second time, there was a diaspora. The people of these islands and their cultures were spread across the greater lowcountry, and what had been their ancestral land was turned into private islands and golf courses and 6,000 square foot homes.

Now, that rich heritage of religion and language and folklore is all but gone. Well-meaning white folks have taken up the banner of preserving it all by starting funds for tours and museums and other ways we tend to preserve our dead things. Ironically, all of this is taking place right now while the actual bearers of the information--the people who still speak the language and still remember the stories--work long past retirement age and call white people half their age "suh."

And so, now i come to that part of the story where i tell you what a been-ya is. But first...and yes, after all that i just wrote i really do have the nerve to say "but first," so, seriously:

I wanna tell you what a been-ya is, but first, i'd like to add one more thing to the pot. It has occured to me that someone may think it kind of strange or flippant that i can combine something so whimsical and happy as a puppy name with something so dark as human slavery. I mean, I think that's kinda weird, too.

But i know why i can do it.

I can do it because i don't believe in big deals anymore. I admitted to myself that I am capable--as is everyone else i know--of really dark thoughts and deeds. And owning up to that has kinda cramped the style of the bogeyman that circles 'round and around, protecting all my secrets. Like the abominable snowman on that christmas special after he got his toothache fixed, my bogeyman's not scary anymore. He has been taken down to a manageable size. See, as long as he stayed big and loud and scary--or kept me convinced that he was someone else's bogeyman--i knew i was never gonna do anything about it. But I did do something, and now i can write about puppies and slavery--all at the same time.

A "been-ya" is gullah for someone who's lived here. Been here. Been heah. Been-ya.

Alison and i, by the way, are "come-yas," or, in other words, we've "come here."

And now it's time for a walk with Benya and the Deez.



I hate to step on Biffle's post--because I am quite fond of "ramcack"--but I wanted to share the news that we have a puppy! We've been talking about getting a puppy for months now, and since Biffle's spending a lot of time around the house these days, it seemed that the time was right. She's a Rottweiler/Shepherd mix--and let me assure you all right now that Rottweilers are very nice dogs. Their bad reputation is unwarranted. And they have big, drooly heads, which is a plus.

We don't have a name for her yet. Biffle's been toying with the unprecedented (and I think highly inappropriate) move of stealing Trey and Megan's cat's name, Blooty. He's even called her Blooty a couple of times. But I promise you that is not her name.

Since we're on the subject of Trey, when I called him to tell him the news, his immediate question was, "What happened to Baxter?" In case any of the rest of you are wondering the same thing, let me assure you that Baxter is just fine. She's actually not as annoyed with the new puppy as she might have been, since the puppy's very low key so far. Here they are, meeting each other:


Not about the Clemson Gangsta Party

I'm not gonna write about the party. For those that don't know about it, just google "Clemson Gangsta Party" and you'll come up with something.

I'm not gonna write about it because i'm weary of people addressing the wrong problem. The same way i'm gonna get weary of people of addressing the same wrong problem a la the Joe Biden/articulate comment from yesterday.

See, folks, we don't need apologies--we need understanding. And we're not getting there.

[twenty minutes pass...]

Dammit! I've been writing stuff here and erasing it, and then writing more , and then getting rid of that! i just can't make up my mind how i want to say what i want to say. Mostly, i'm filled with this doubt as to what to say because this is a blog. Because it's a blog i don't know who will read it. I mean, of course, i know who reads this thing on a daily basis--the mom...and...and...that's probably it...well, maybe that abortion guy just waiting for another opportunity...

See i would like to think--and write on this blog accordingly--that some stranger is gonna find it and maybe read something that helps them out. But actually, Alison and i have a site meter device on here and i know what the strangers are interested in: weenie tots and hairy legs. Most every day someone googles the topic "how to make weenie tots" and "the name change question" and is forthwith directed to this blog. Amazing. Weenie Tot and Hairy Legs. I'm gonna suggest to Alison that she use that as the title for her autobiography when she's an old woman.

Anyway, when you don't know your audience, how do you write to them?

Well, the thing is, i do know who my audience is.

It's me.

It's me from the age of, say, 9 years old to about the time i met Alison. i want that kid to read stuff on here and save himself from being an idiot for a number of years. All that dumb racist, anti-academic, homophobic, masculine, capitalist crap i learned during those years has been/is really difficult to unlearn, dude. Don't learn it!

Here's a important lesson on how to spot "racist, anti-academic, homophobic, masculine, capitalist crap" (or Ramcack, as those of us in the biz call it):

Almost anything said by Pres. George Bush AND endorsed by your parent's church has a 100% chance of being Ramcack.

Told you i wasn't gonna talk about the party.