Tonight's Gig

Below is a simple cut and paste of a semi-mass email i sent out to some buddies here in Charleston today. If you live within 5 or 6 hours of Charleston, you may want to consider jumping in the car right now and getting yerself on down here. These are the most fun gigs i've ever played in my life.

Hi all:

I have been kindly asked by many folks to let them know when i'm playing a gig. I've been asked to update my Myspace page , send a small email, give the tiniest hint as to when i'd playing a show. I haven't done any of that...until now...

Tonight--and evidently every Tuesday for the rest of the summer--i am being given the privilege of sitting in with Bob Sachs and the Maniacs out at Dunleavey's on Sullivan's Island. We start at 7 and finish up most the time around ten.

I don't know if you've ever heard these guys play, but you need to: Roger Bellow, on fiddle and banjo and guitar and vocals, is probably the best musician i've ever been honored to play with and funnier than Groucho Marx. Mandolin playing wizard and high tenor, Bob Sachs, is a veteran of some great New England buegrass bands, Gary Hewitt on bass has been said by many a musician here in Charleston to have the "deepest groove in town." We play anything from texas swing to old country to new bluegrass to jazz standards to tin pan alley to...you get the point. Actually, you might not: last week, for instance, we played that great hit from the roaring 20's The Sheik of Araby with a visiting ukulele expert, followed that up with the Merle Haggard's the Bottle Let Me Down (with one verse in Spanish) and finished up with a twenty minute medley that ended with three part harmony on Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Really.

Come on out and see us.



My desk

I love stacks of books. I think they're an art form all their own that tell you about the inside of a person's head. Or, I supposed they don't tell you as much as they suggest, evoke, invite. You can imagine and suppose a lot about Biffle and me from the books Baxter's reclining among on the masthead of our blog.

I was getting ready to clean off my desk this morning and decided I'd record the books stacked there before reshelving them all. I'm finishing up my own book (not finished yet, but the end is in sight), and these are the books that have been accumulating beside me as I work.


Why NOT to Give a Camera to a Piepmeier

Alison used to do photo albums. We have a cabinet full of beautifully dated and arranged photo albums. Since we went digital, however, all that's kinda fallen by the wayside and we just keep everything on my computer. It's a shame really, cause while we get those photo albums out a lot, we rarely look at pictures on the computer.

Anyway, back when we used those photo albums, Alison was the one who took on the chore of editing the shots and placing the photos on their little sticky pages. Since the format change that job has been mine. That's cool, but we there's a problem: while Alison had no problem with the tactile problem of assembling the photos in a book, she can't stand the more abstract editing of the digital realm (probably one of the reasons some folks continue to make zines in a bloggy kind of world , right Alison?)

So. Where this disconnect of A's leaves me is often with a 9 gillion gig photo card full of images of people's shoes, blurry images of dog faces and various ill-framed shots of visiting feminist scholars. And it's my job to go through and sort the wheat from the chaff. And there's a lot of chaff.

You may recall Alison's visit to the Ben and Jerry's factory up in Vermont. She wrote about it here complete with a pretty little photo of her in front of a bus. It looked like this:

Below, however, is the process of what it took to get there:


Feminists don't have a sense of humor

I know I'm behind the times on this one, but maybe some of you missed it:


A Few Words About The Banjo

Not Really. What i really want to talk about here is the article of clothing i'm wearing in these photographs: A sarong.

I went to visit my friend Sarah recently and she had one of these that she let me borrow. More or less, it was just a really large tube of cloth that one steps into, turns the top over to assure a proper length, folds it back on itself to assure a fit around the waist and then simply rolls down the top to hold the thing on. It takes all of 15 seconds to do, which is about 2 or 3 seconds more than it takes to actually make on a sewing machine.

For the one i have on in this picture, Alison and i went to the fabric store and bought two yards of cloth (44" inches wide--the standard width). It was on sale for a couple dollars a yard. It had selvaged edges which only required me to sew one end of the cloth to the other with a straight stitch on the sewing machine and voila! a sarong!

Now, for the more obvious problem: I'm wearin' a skirt. While it doesn't matter a hill of beans to me if i'm wearin' a skirt, i've kinda reached an age where i've gotten weary of scandalizing other people. While, if given the chance, i think i would wear nothing but these for years to come, i'm just not sure how that would go over in Charleston. I sure wish i could though...What could be sarong with that?


One ring to rule them all

Because I'm pregnant in the heat of the Charleston summer, my feet and ankles have swollen, and it turns out my fingers have, too. I discovered several days ago that I couldn't get my wedding ring off. We tried everything we could think of, learn from friends or our midwife, or find on the internet: dishwashing soap, Windex, butter, etc. Nothing worked. The ring wasn't hurting yet or cutting off circulation, but I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic.

Here's a photo essay to show what happened on Monday.

It was first thing in the morning, when the swelling was at its lowest. I held my hand over my head for ten minutes, with my ring finger wrapped in ice.

Biffle then rubbed banana on my finger, acting on the belief that banana is a superior lubricant. He also supplemented the banana with dishwashing liquid.

My midwife suggested we use strands of dental floss to pull the ring off--that way Biffle could get a good grip without his fingers being all greasy. You can see in this picture that the ring is going nowhere, despite aggressive pulling.

So Biffle, being the incredibly handy person that he is, got out the vice and the jeweler's saw blades. That tiny thing under the ring is the saw blade. He didn't have handles, so he had to use pliers, but they worked really well.

Ta da! A clean cut across the ring, so clean that Biffle will be able to solder the ring back together for me when the swelling has gone down. Note the gold dust sprinkled across my finger.

And here is the finger, freed from the ring. The red line toward the knuckle is the bruise I/we caused by all the pulling. It's a little odd not to be wearing a wedding ring, but as my dad pointed out, Biffle and I are so fully committed that it's visible from a mile away without any symbolic markers.


Pregnancy and conversation

Something I've learned through my interactions as a visibly pregnant person with loads of folks in the world is that pregnancy doesn't give you a lot to talk about. People really seem to want to talk, but after the basics--"When are you due?" "Do you know the sex?" "Is it your first?"--there's just not a whole lot more to say without verging into the very personal. (I have plenty to say about the various physical things going on in my science-experiment-like body, but I'm kindly refraining from sharing that stuff with casual acquaintances.)

I had the clever plan for a while to make people into my own social experiment. If someone I didn't know, someone I wasn't likely to see again, asked whether the baby was a boy or a girl, I was going to tell them one or the other (even though we don't know and aren't going to know). The idea was to see how their responses differed.

This was a great idea, but the problem was that people didn't have much to say. I'd throw out, "It's a girl!" or "It's a boy!" and they'd respond, smiling, "Ohhh!"

I suspect that if I'd kept it up I would have encountered some useful differences of opinion, but I wasn't committed enough. I will say that the world at large seems to believe that the baby Biffle-Piepmeier is male. Two of my good friends have had dreams that the baby's a boy, and our next door neighbor is adamant that it's male.

"Let me rub on that boy!" she'll say if we meet each other on the sidewalk.

I'm not sure if this is some sort of subconscious male preference expressing itself or not.

One other thought I had: because pregnancy doesn't provide much material for casual conversation, people get creative with how they ask questions. They'll say things like, "How's the expansion project coming?", or my personal favorite, "When are you going to subdivide?"


Tender Mercies

Biffle suggests that pregnancy has awakened in me a sense of wonder for the world around me, and he may be onto something there. I find that some of my bitter cynicism and relentless analysis is joined these days by a tiny bit more comfort with the sweet and the undefinable.

Perhaps this explains why I feel so compelled by a movie we watched last night, Tender Mercies.

This is an old movie (1983) which both of us had never happened to see before. It came up independently in several different conversations in recent months, so we decided we should have a look.

I want to reflect on the movie as a whole, so I guess I should give a spoiler alert here. If you don't want to know what happens, don't keep reading. It's hard to imagine much of a spoiler for this film, though, because it's not in any way a plot-driven movie. There's no twist. There's no moment at which the action picks up and things proceed along an unalterable trajectory. In fact, not a lot happens in the movie at all.

Robert Duvall plays Mac Sledge, an alcoholic country music singer and songwriter who winds up at a tiny hotel in the middle of nowhere Texas. There he meets Rosa Lee, played by Tess Harper, and her son Sonny. Through several scenes set a few months apart from each other, Rosa and Mac fall in love, get married, and proceed to live a very low-key, contented life. It's the least romantic romance sequence I've ever seen: Mac is weeding the garden with Rosa, and he says, "I guess it's no surprise how I feel about you," and Biffle and I exchanged confused glances--it hadn't been apparent to either of us that he had any feelings for her at all.

I'm not even going to tell you any more of the plot because it doesn't matter. What matters is the tone.

Rosa, Mac, and Sonny are incredibly low-key. Look at their expressions on the movie poster--those are pretty much the expressions they wear throughout the entire movie. The whole film is restrained--but not restrained in the sense of a great deal of tension being held tightly in check. Restrained like someone who's seen a lot of drama and just isn't interested in that anymore. Perhaps it's less restraint and more surrender. The mundane events of life--hanging the laundry, or laughing at a grouchy comment by a child--get as much attention and emphasis in this film as the death of Mac's long-lost daughter. In fact, the one character who doesn't show restraint--Mac's ex-wife Dixie Scott, who wails and screams and has to be drugged when her daughter dies--comes across as sadly self-indulgent, immature.

The film shows one scene happening after another, in a kind of unrushed pace that reminds you of real life. Mac has the opportunity to record some new songs, but the point of the movie is not that Mac returns to stardom and fame. Far from it. It seemed to me that this event in the life of the characters was equally weighted with other little happinesses: Rosa's smile when Sonny and Mac both get baptized, and Sonny's realization in a conversation with another boy that he likes his stepfather.

After Mac and Dixie's daughter dies, Mac does have a (quiet) moment of questioning the justice of the universe. He asks why she died and he didn't, and why Sonny's father died and Mac got to have this sweet life with Rosa and Sonny. The film doesn't answer these questions. Shortly after, Mac heads across the street to toss a football in an open field with Sonny. Biffle and I both steeled ourselves at this point for something awful to happen, for a huge truck to come barreling onto the screen and mow Mac down, or the boy. But that didn't happen. Nothing happened except that Mac tossed the ball and experienced one more mundane, indefensible moment of happiness in the life he'd found his way into.


Some thoughts on nature vs. nurture

The other day Biffle and I were watching a video that was posted on my brother Trey's Tumblog. I would have ignored it, as I do most things on Trey's Tumblog*, but my other brother, Aaron, emailed and recommended it. It was actually really good--it was this guy talking about, among other things, how we educate the creativity out of kids because our whole education system is built on the notion that the end goal is for us to be academics, people who see their bodies as transport mechanisms to get their heads to meetings.

He makes a pretty good point there, although I'd contend these days we're much less interested in educating kids to be academics and much more interested in making them in to little pod people to sit in Dilbert-style business cubicles.

But that's not the point of this post. The point of the post is that, as we were watching the video, the guy made a joke (he was very jokey) about the fact that women are built to multitask, while men are built to do one thing at a time. He talked about how his wife can cook dinner, talk on the phone, monitor the kids' homework, and surf the internet all at the same time, while when he cooks dinner, he shuts the kitchen door and barks at anyone who tries to talk to him.

The audience laughed. I snorted dismissively.

"Can't stand anything biological," Biffle diagnosed grumpily in my general direction. "God forbid anybody say anything is based on biology!"

It's true. I make that same dismissive snort virtually anytime someone claims that complex gender roles are based on some sort of biological imperative. People love to claim that things are biologically based because that lets them off the hook for society's inequitable arrangements of status and power. If it's just biological that women do jobs that make less money, then there's really no reason to fuss about the (still hanging in there!) wage gap. If women are biologically not as strong as men, then of course men need to be the protectors and women need to not walk around at night by themselves. And if women are biologically better at multitasking, then we can't blame men for not being as much help around the house, can we?

All that stuff is bullshit. Biffle is just as good at multitasking as I am. In fact, I have encountered very few things in my life that strike me as fundamentally grounded in biology rather than in societal constructions.

Even pregnancy, which is loaded with biological components, is something that I'm always experiencing through this very complex set of societal lenses. More about that later--now we have to leave for an appointment with our midwife.

*Joke! That was a joke! I read the Tumblog every day (even though I'm still not quite sure what a Tumblog is.)


Why I'm married to the right person

Recently I was having a conversation I've had many times during this pregnancy. Here's how it goes:

Person: Congratulations!
Me: Thanks! We're really excited.
Person: So, do you know if it's a boy or a girl?
Me: No, we're not going to find out. I was curious, but Biffle thought it was a bad idea. He said that people would start gendering the baby before it was even born, and he's right, of course.
Person: Wow, you are married to the right person.

It's true. Although we've had our share of challenges, the fact that Biffle and I have such compatible ideological views makes a world of difference in our relationship. I did find the tone of amazement in this questioner's voice a little sad--it was like she couldn't imagine my luck in finding a guy as feminist as I am. I don't think it's impossible to find a feminist guy, but I am pretty lucky to have found someone with Biffle's politics and also his array of quirks that make him such a great match for me.

Two events from yesterday will serve as useful examples of what I mean.

We had a great 4th of July. We had brunch at the Honky Cracker (politically very, very bad--we both know this) and then went and spent Biffle's parents' money on a stroller and carseat for Baby Biffle-Piepmeier. After taking the dogs for a swim at the dog park, we came home and grilled out.
Here is Biffle grilling. It's such a beautiful image of gender bending I almost can't stand it. He's enacting this canonical male ritual of grilling--not only meats but sausages, for god's sake, how much more phallic can you get?--and he's wearing a skirt. Could he be any cuter? He wasn't actually making any sort of political statement--it was just hot, and the skirt was comfortable.

Later in the evening we assembled the stroller and carseat and, once again proving what bad people we are, we decided to test the ensemble out with a passenger.
Inky actually liked it a lot and was a little grumpy when we made him get out so we could fold the whole thing up. This was probably aided by the fact that we didn't make him wear a onesie this time.