I heart NYC

Biffle and I are in New York for the weekend for the wedding of Christy Burks (one of my high school friends) and Joel Manaloto. (Since Christy does not show up at all on Google--what's with these rare un-Googleable people?--perhaps this shout out will give her an internet presence.) I'll have substantive posting to do soon, about life goals, and things I've removed from the life goals list, along with thoughts on being a third wave aspirational MILF.

That last term--which Debbie Siegel and I have dibs on--came up today at a long, chatty lunch with Debbie and her partner Marco. Marco pointed out that we were enacting the weirdly 21st century phenomenon of having a mostly digital relationship with someone--knowing them primarily, or even exclusively, through their blog--and then getting to meet them in person. Blogs are great, but the in-person element is irreplaceable, and it was wonderful to get to talk with both of them about feminism, branding, perfectionism, and life plans. I hope we get to do it again soon.

Here's Biffle enjoying the New York activity of drinking a beet-parsley-carrot juice while talking on his cell phone. Please notice that he is wearing his pajama bottoms. More photos to come.



But i don't mean that title like the way you think. I was just being cute. Here's the deal: We got a comment here on this blog today from my first girlfriend ever, Quiche Loraine. She wants to know what kind of starter banjo her husband needs to get. Well, i'll get to that in another post, but first i want to talk about something more pressing: the reason i named this post "wimmin."

As i read over Loraine's posts on her new blog i couldn't help but think about how smart she sounded. Hmmm, i thought...my wife's smart, too. And Sarah! (my best friend at grad school) She's awfully smart. I sure do seem to have a lot of smart women in my life. Ms. Evins! (ninth grade English teacher) She was smart, too!

And then i thought about it a little more. It isn't just that these women were merely smart, but it was that they've all had such an impact on my life. I mean, these people are huge figures in my development as a human being.

To talk about how smart and wonderful Alison is here on this blog would simply be redundant. If you wanna know, ask me sometime when you see me on the street. Sarah was both a mentor and muse in school--way more responsible than me, a brilliant thinker, the reason i was able to make it through that process. Ms. Evins, well, Ms. Evins made it into my mfa thesis as being the first person to ask me who "they" were. (Brad Dunn and i, in response to her question "who says it has to be this way?" had answered "they say it has to be this way." Ms E., in then asking who "they" are, started, at that very moment my precipitous (and 20 year) decline into total deconstructive meltdown. And finally (at least for this list), there's Loraine.

The reason i'm waxing poetic over you here, Quiche, is not just that you were a first love, which is pretty neat in itself. And it isn't just that you sounded smart on your blog. No, the reason is how, all along, i've always known you were the first real outside-the-box influence in my life. I think back and realize that if you hadn't come along i don't think Ms. Evins, or Sarah or Alison could have ever existed for me. You may have been--whether you know it or not--the first real feminist influence on my life. There i was in my--literally and metaphorically--ill-fitted Van Halen shirt, and you came along and changed it into a B-52's shirt. Suddenly i was able to take off that silly man-costume--tryin' to look all big-booted, shirtless and leaned back--and was able to become the kind of nerd boy i really was. The kind of nerd boy i needed to become in order to internalize the real meaning of Ms. E's question--which she would ask that very next year.
You tolerated my fumbling boy ways, my jealousy (did you know that Ricky was on America's Most Wanted?), and helped me understand stuff like being smart did not actually endanger my heterosexuality.

Anyway, i read your blog. You sound really smart. You also sound like you've been through some hell. I'm sorry. I hope its just a little helpful for you to know that i'm grateful that i got to know you when i did.

Oh, alright. I guess the most common banjo question i'm asked--right after "Hey! Can you go play that thing somewhere else?!"--is what kind of banjo should i get?" Well, i have a simple answer: A CHEAP one. These days, until you spend 3k+ dollars, every banjo is gonna sound like crap. The most important thing is to get one that plays easily. So. Get someone that can play a fretted instrument, get them to find a cheapo banjo, and if it seems to play better that can Mack truck, and cost around 150 bucks--then buy it. There you have it. Good luck, James.


Life goals

Inspired by an article in today's New York Times, I've been thinking about life goals. Apparently I've always liked to list life goals, because I went back through some old journals today and found this list from Aug. 9, 1987--yes, a little more than twenty years ago. Here's what the 14-year-old Alison Piepmeier wanted:

to see Somewhere in Time, Casablanca, and My Fair Lady,
to be relatively well-versed in Greek,
to have a vast vocabulary,
to be very knowledgeable about acting and the theatre,
to have a published work, whether novel, short story, or poetry,
to buy (or acquire) the soundtrack from La Bamba,
to find my own kinds of fashion for the school year,
to be incredibly active in the theatre,
to discover more about myself and my religion,
to read classics,
to do well in school,
to be a friendly, outgoing person,
to uphold my own standards at all times,
to have a big part in Sleeping Beauty and to be Emily in Our Town,
to find a wonderful, special (tall) boy who thinks I'm wonderful and special, too.
I find this list simultaneously charming, humiliating, and hilarious. Note the snotty spelling of theater. Note the strange juxtapositions--the desire to be a published author butting right up against the desire to get the soundtrack from La Bamba. Why the hell did I start the list with Somewhere in Time? I don't even know what that is. And I feel a little heartbroken for 14-year-old me when I read the last item on the list--I was so desperate for a boyfriend, and a tall one, since I was already 5'10" at 14 and not only did I loom over most of the available boys, but how much of a hot property do you think I was as an enormous, big-haired girl in rural Tennessee who wanted to be relatively well-versed in Greek?

And yet some of the paths my life would follow were already forming. I knew I wanted to write--hell, I knew I wanted to write by age 8. One of the high points of my life came in 2003, when Biffle called me at school and said, "A package came from Northeastern University Press! I think it's your book!" I came home, sat on the couch, and held the unopened package in my lap for a minute, heart pounding, while Biffle watched. This was it, the moment I'd looked forward to since I was a kid, the moment I'd fantasized about even more than I'd fantasized about the wonderful special (tall) boy: when I'd hold my own book in my hands. I'm getting a little rush of adrenaline right now thinking about it. And then another book got published, and articles, and more are on the way.

Although I never did learn Greek, I do have a pretty decent vocabulary in English, I've read a bunch of classics, I did quite well in school, I'm making a go of upholding my own standards, and I even got to play Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. So all told, some successes on the list of life goals. Perhaps in a few days I'll post my updated list.


Fun With Anonymous

When i wrote about my new job at Fox Music the other day, one of Baxter Sez's perineal [sic] anonymi was out there lurking, waiting for yet another chance to pounce. As far as these anonymi go, if it isn't Alison's folks always lettin' her know she's a baby stabber and that god is comin' to get her in her sleep, it's my anal one that demands i maintain my socialist agenda with a consistency that matches four day old organic oatmeal. If you didn't read the comments down there, here's what old anonypuss had to say this time:

so, you are being environmentally friendly, but aiding the petite bourgeoisie and new rich in conspicuous consumption? why are you not doing something to help the suppressed workers? this work sounds like nothing more than escapism

7:15 PM

Here's an actual answer to your comment:

First off, y'all just wouldn't believe how long i've looked for a job that i could do in good conscience. In the woodworking field, which it appears i have an aptitude and an enjoyment of, this becomes even harder. If the job doesn't have the non-rewarding aspect of nail-gunning plywood boxes together all day, or simply autocad-ing what i want and emailing it to China, or spraying layer after layer of stain and finish on birch so that it looks like a patten leather version of cherry, then it almost doesn't exist.

Oh sure, i could be self-employed, have my own shop and stuff, but have you ever tried to deal with me one-on-one? I'm an ass, man. I have a hard enough time living with myself. I do not need to be in a customer service position. (Remind me to tell you about the dining room table i made for a couple south of Broad sometime.)

Anyway, here are some reasons that i have actually taken this job and can feel good about it:

1) I have the option to not pollute the crap out of the air.

2) I repair things as opposed to manufacturing things. Repairing, after all, is a form of recycling, and in this day and age of it's-probably-cheaper-to-just-replace-it, repairing is a rare thing.

3) The people to whom i give my labor:

a) treat their employees with respect
b) pay me a more than fair wage
c) actually use their business as a way to lift up the oppressed (as opposed to the "suppressed worker" that anoni mentions in the comment. i don't know what a "suppressed worker is.)

4) Most of the instruments Fox sells , as Wendell Berry so succinctly puts it, "use some form of solar power (such as that of the human body)" to operate, i.e. once a piano is built, it provides years of joy powered only by its human player.

5) The things i am repairing are in a category of what i call "non-vexing machines." They are not cellphones or automobiles, ipods or high-heeled shoes. When's the last time you became angry at a piano?

6) While some pianos do indeed play the conspicuous consumption card, it's the actual owners with the problem, not the instrument itself. In other words, a Humvee, when properly used, pretty much disrupts the peace of everyone around it. A piano just brings light and music into the world.

7) Additionally, a large portion of the repair work i do is on old pianos that are going into young student's homes as teaching instruments. Only a few are showpieces that go into the homes of the wealthy. (As a side note, i will mention that The Most consumptive aspect of this job has to do with the installation of pipe organs in churches. Churches spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on this stuff. Perhaps they could spend more for the suppressed worker and less on a set of handmade monitors for the choir?)

8) And finally, this work is very, very rewarding to me.

There's more, but i have to go to work now.


Saying no

Tonight I stepped down from my leadership position on the Board of an organization that I have been part of for many years and that I am a big believer in. I had begun to recognize over the past several months that I had been feeling dread anytime I thought of this organization, and behind that dread was one overriding emotion: guilt.

I felt guilty because I wasn't devoting enough time or energy to the organization, and I kept making new resolutions--"I'm really going to do more this month!"--and then breaking them, and sometimes offering up little internal criticisms to make myself feel justified--"Well, it's just not coming together effectively, that's why I'm not more active."

And then this summer, one of the other officers sent me an email in which he expressed concern that the organization needed a certain amount of attention that he simply wasn't able to give it, and he was thinking of stepping down. This is a person I respect, who has done a lot of work for the organization.

I found myself pondering his email at odd moments.

Stepping down, eh? Can't give the organization the attention it needs? There was nothing wrong with him--he wasn't explaining that he was just going to try harder this month (perhaps by sleeping less? Spending less time with friends and family?), or apologizing for his lack of moral fiber, the selfishness or laziness that he's trying to overcome in order to do a better job. Instead, he was simply recognizing that this position wasn't a good fit with the energy and time he had available to offer.

"I could do that," I thought. "That might be me. It's not that I'm not trying hard enough; it's that this position isn't a good fit for someone who's already doing as much as I am. Or it may just be that it's not a good fit for me."

So tonight I stepped down. It felt a bit like a leap of faith. I'm someone who gets a lot of my sense of self worth from the things I do, and giving back this leadership position made me uneasy. But I'm trying to learn the value of saying no, of only taking on those activities that enrich my life and that really require my particular expertise. And I reminded myself that I'm not leaving them in the lurch--I'm making room for a better-fitting leader to step in. (And, fortunately, he did, at the end of the meeting.)


New Gig, part 2

More on Fox Music...

One of the best things about where i'm working is the people involved. I figure, these days, one would be hard-pressed to find a place of employment where some of the same folks have been around for 25 years. Not so at Fox, which is a third generation family business. Some of the people have been there longer than the current owner (a grandson).

Better than that, even, is the level of community involvement that the family has had over the years: Fox music was the first business in Charleston to make the daring move to integrate its sales team. (A black woman raise your children for you? Of course! Sell you a piano? Absolutely not!) When i first arrived on the scene the crew was busy constructing a trailer that housed multiple shower units and clothes washing facilities. When completed, it was shipped down to New Orleans for the use of people still living without the benefit of city services. The current owner is also involved with a bio-diesel cooperative around here, running his own fleet of trucks on the stuff. He's also on a committee to make Charleston more bike-friendly, and continues to live a more racially integrated life than most any other white person i see around here. To top all of that I suggested, after i'd gotten a chance to assess the piano shop situation, that, for the sake of the atmosphere, we go to using water-borne lacquers with HVLP spray rigs . The boss said "okay." And then, just seeing how far i could push it, i suggested that we could make the spray shop solar-powered. Another "okay." Wow.

Alright. Enough of that. Now, since i'm a firm believer in taking the bad with the good in order to get your teeth properly sunk into something, there is this small drawback: Fox is THE most disorganized place i've ever seen in all my born days. When i got there, the warehouse had no system to it--stuff was just piled helter skelter. Tools, mouse traps and old car tires were piled on more tools, real mice and...well, an actual car in one case. You had to move something to give yourself a place to stand so that you could pick the thing up that was lying on the thing that you were trying to figure out was the thing you needed--or, more than likely--not. And somewhere in all that mess was several hundred pianos.

We've straightened up a bit since then. Here's a picture of the warehouse:

Another early problem was the lack of real woodworking and finishing facilities. One day, early on, Alison and Conseula stopped by to see where i worked. I don't find many opportunities to say the word "grimaced" with utter confidence, but that's exactly what they did. Painfully. What i was calling the woodshop was more like a dust-covered cat-litter box. Unfortunately, i didn't take a "before", but here's where i've gotten it so far:

Alright. Well, that's enough. I have one more picture, so i might as well put it on here. I think it's pretty cool. Here's the deal: Pianos--excepting the parts that make the musical noise--are really just giant pieces of furniture. They're cabinets. That's where i come in: repairing little broken bits, re-creating, say, the broken leg of a hundred year old Steinway. When i started this job, though, i didn't even know you could take a piano apart. I figured they were just one big old piece. Well, not so. Now i can take out the keys (and all the stuff that goes along with them), pull off the pedals, remove the big chunk of cast metal that holds the strings. It's totally easy to have a piano entirely naked in just a few minutes. You ought to try it sometime.

So anyway, about that part that holds the strings: The plate is a big piece of cast iron. The strings are strung from one end of this plate to a large piece of wood on the other end called a pin block. The pins are what you use to tune it, right? So, this piece of wood, due to the enormous amount of strain on it, has to fit very, very precisely. If it doesn't, the piano, among other things, won't stay in tune.
The black piece laid across the plate is the old pin block. The pale one at the back is the one i'm currently making.

How much pressure, you ask? Well, around 180 lbs of pressure per string, with 230 strings. The total tension on the plate and pin block is somewhere around 20 tons!
After the pin block is shaped, then 230 holes (approx.)in very exact locations, must be drilled at a very exact angle (somewhere around 8 degrees, plus or minus nothing.) Fun Fun Fun!


My New Gig

I said a while back on here that i would tell about my new job--i just wanted to get some pictures first. Well, i finally took some, so here goes...

My new gig is restoring pianos (among many other things) at a place called Fox Music House. The only thing that i can think of so far that may be even slightly not good about this job is the fact that it's located 5 miles from the house and is a difficult bike ride, viz i don't ride a bicycle to work. But currently i'm pretty much making the commute on the motorcycle, which is nice anyway. Also beneficially, i'm going away from town to get there, so i don't have to contend with traffic. So other than this commute problem, everything is incredible--the pay is great, i have no supervisor (hell, i'm the supervisor), i get to do something different just about everyday, i get to sweat and work hard when i want to, i get to live in air-conditioned comfort when i don't, i get to do problem-solving woodwork, i get to be creative, i get to make pretty things, the learning curve is a shapely one. I could go on. Actually, i think i will, but not right now. I have to get to work. More tommorrow.

Here's a picture of an old Steinway (it actually belongs to a celebrity!) that i have just completed re-finishing and re-building in the past week:



I've been loosely following tropical Storm Dean for the past few days. (Living in Charleston will make you do things like that.) While reading all the little news-feed snippets online, i've noticed something: we like our weather forecasters just a little jargony. Read what weatherperson "Anna" has to say from some random Florida newsroom:

Dean is moving into much warmer water, which fuels a tropical system, and shear is beginning to relax. A strong ridge of high pressure is steering the storm west, and that westerly direction looks to continue as it enters the Carribbean as a hurricane Friday night. Sea surface temperatures in the Central Carribbean are in the mid to upper 80s, and the storm may become a Category 3 with more than 110 maximum sustained winds by Monday morning.

A little technical sounding, no? And she even started all that with a folksy "Folks," but still managed to segue nicely into the tech speak. Too bad the rest of the "regular-joe news" isn't more like that.

What all this has made me think of was that sad moment during the last campaign for president--the campaign that took place prior to the two-week break before this campaign for president. It was the moment when Skull-Head Kerry was made fun of by all the football players on Bush's side when he suggested that a situation was "Nuanced."

(And here's a quick aside for you...I fancy myself a potential top-notch campaign advisor. Had i been able to procure such a post, here are two examples of my brilliance: for Hillary Clinton's campaign i would suggest a leak to the press that "she enjoys a little glass of whiskey in the evenings. Neat." Rather than trying to soften her up like they've been doing, I think this would set her up as a real hard-baller. My other idea was back there with Kerry's campaign. My top suggestion would have been a simple campaign slogan:

Kerry. For a President With a Skull for a Head.)

Anyway. It's such a shame that we like something as important as our real news and our presidential candidates monosyllabic. That's all.


A Poem by Lizzie Piepmeier (July 4th, 1949)

My old hen died and never left a chick-
Wasn't sick long, went awfully quick
Moles, sowbugs and heavy rains
Was against her and she couldn't gain.
Hope your hen raises a big bunch
And she will, I have a hunch.
If so, save me one that is tough.
Just one will be enough.


tiny interruption

PLEASE do not let this interruption distract you from Biffle's excellent post, below. Go and read it right now. And when you're finished, have a look at the review that Conseula and I did of Becoming Jane, a review that's part of a Mother Talk blog tour.

bad p-l-e-x

Here's a stolen Piepmeier story for you: One day, when a visiting cousin was behaving badly, a Piepmeier child stopped them, took them by the arm, and conspiratorally admonished them about being "a bad p-l-e-x." No one was really sure what this meant exactly, but they figured the kid was trying to spell "example."

Well, not only have i stolen that story--and tell it often as if it happened to me as a child--i have stolen the actual modus operandi of the story itself. So, sometimes i'll tell Alison not to be a bad p-l-e-x. Or, if i want to explain that i'm irritable, i might say "i'm r-t-b-l." Or, i if i think someone has a bad attitude, i might say...oh, something like "that person has a bad r-2-d-2." The fun part of the game is you can say pretty much whatever you want as long as it sounds only vaguely like the word.

Anyway, lately i have not had much of a bad r-2-d-2. Or at least, i haven't wanted to have one. I'm enjoying my job, me and all my compatriots are playing some really good music, i actually revel in the misery brought on by all the heat and humidity, i'm sleeping well.

Here's probably the biggie, though: i've kind of quit reading the news. I do that every once in a while. I'll go on a news hiatus and i'm always a much happier person for doing it. (Well, i still keep up with current events via my shopmate's morning ritual of listening to a guy named Neal Boortz...and still that doesn't effect this ebullient mood--go figure...)

I used to feel guilty about not trying to stay informed. I felt as if i had some duty to empathize with the families of miners out in Utah. Or that i needed to spend a little of every day doing penance for the sins of the Sudanese military in Darfur. And actually, i still do feel like this.
My own tautological rationale involves recognizing that i am simultaneously part of a global information network, but bodily, i'm still a very local being . I cannot physically aid those miners in Utah, or those suffering in Darfur. In this global system, however, I can indirectly help them by not using my pocketbook to be a fascist, or a capitalist p-i-g.

Which brings me to the conclusion of all this: This non-bad attitude of mine, this good r-2-d-2, makes me less apt to criticize others. And that's a less-on i can use more of, believe me. The upshot of all this, though, is that i'm blogging a whole lot less. It seems if i don't have anything critical to say, i just generally stay quiet. That's a shame... In lots of ways...

But anyway, to break this silence, i will come out of my blissful closet and exercise a little bit of bad r-2-d-2 to tell you another story:

It's 8 jillion degrees here in Charleston currently. The humidity is hovering right around the percentage of a swimming pool. I've played two gigs in the last two nights--and the electricity went out at both of them. I can't say for sure, but when that happens in the summer like that it can only be one thing: air conditioners--the sucker of 70% of America's electrical supply. Well, imagine my consternation as i talked, in the dark, to a bandmate the other night during one of our lack-of-electricity-imposed breaks. This guy explained to me how he had a bad r-2-d-2 of his own concerning the cost of his new 4 ton air conditioning unit. Seems he'd burnt his other one out by keeping his house...now get ready for this, start hearing that drumroll...at Sixty-Eight Degrees. Sixty-Four when they were sleeping. I didn't even know a.c. can get that cold!

Alison and i keep our house at 80 degrees during the day now, and i'm proud to say that i get a little cold even then.

Those miners in Utah are coal miners, by the way.


Baxter Sez on Women's E-News

Women's Studies Writers Vie for More Media Turf, by Courtney E. Martin


We all know how averse I am to change, but going against character, I've decided that Baxter Sez needs a new look. I assume you've all figured this out already, but I wanted to let you know that I'm still working on it.

Also, you can now get to us by going to www.baxtersez.com, thanks to Trey Piepmeier.


Thoughts from the train

Just a quickie here before I take the animals to the vet.

I rode home from Richmond on the Amtrak on Monday, and here's something I jotted down while riding (but couldn't post because the Amtrak, for all its wonderfulness, doesn't have wifi on board):

Here’s the thing about trains: businesses have not cropped up all around them to capitalize on the passengers’ hunger or need to refuel, like has happened on every interstate in the country. Obviously, since we can’t stop the train and hop out to have a bite, there’s no incentive for McDonald’s to put up a restaurant alongside the tracks, so I realize that this isn’t some magical phenomenon—-but I’m enjoying it. There aren’t billboards, gas stations, hotels, quick stops, and fast food restaurants all around the train tracks like there are on interstates. In fact, riding along through cotton fields, on tall bridges over rivers, through swampy bottom lands, I’m struck by the fact that this is probably just what this area looked like 100 years ago. This isn’t an experience I’ve had on interstate trips.



Taylor and I went our separate ways on Friday--she, to RA training at the College, and I, onto an Amtrak headed to Richmond to spend the weekend with Trey and Megan. Richmond is a much hipper city than Charleston. We had a hipster rock breakfast this morning at 821 Cafe--there's no place like this in Charleston, is there?

Then Trey and I worked on my website, soon to be at www.alisonpiepmeier.com. I'll let you know when it's up.

Tonight Megan fixed up my hair. Cute, eh?


Goat Milk Yogurt

Alright. This is exactly how i lose touch with friends. I don't call them for a while, and then "a while" turns into that length of time that is exactly too long to just call up and say "hey!", and so I hold off until something significant can happen, and then nothing exactly significant enough happens so I still don't call. A short while later full-fledged guilt will have set it, and I know damn well that I'm not gonna call now cause after all it's been three months and I've just got no desire to face what a poop head i am and everything.

Well, i ain't promising anything, but i'd like to not do that here. So....

There is a very proper goat milk yogurt to cereal ratio. Tonight--on the first bowl, at least-- i just didn't have it. The second one turned out alright, though.

Just thought you might want to know.

*now: as an experiment, i think i will send that little tidbit of knowledge to some of the people of whom i speak, i.e. those that i have delayed in contacting. If they have anything interesting to say back, then i'll let you know. okay.


More from our travels

Twice on this trip Taylor's exclamations of glee have caused academics to stop what they were doing and look over at her. In both cases I suspect the academics thought that Taylor had made some amazing discovery in the archives, but the first time was because she found an interview with Christian Bale in an old issue of Sassy, and the second had something to do with Gwen Stefani--although I can't remember now what it was.

Because it's late and I can't bear to think of zines right now, here's another picture of our field trip to South of the Border. In this one you get to see Pedro himself.