Sunday, January 31, 2010


So the transition from old blog to new has caused a lag time with friends. A few of them have approached me in the past few days about these latest entries, having caught up with the new endeavor. While they like said entries (or at least humor me and say so!), they've also suggested that my writing is a bit somber as of late. I have NO idea what to do with that. I don't feel somber. I sort of feel light as a feather these days.

Here's my attempt at blogging-lite today:

1) Right now I'm listening to Jay Sean and Lil' Wayne (I may have mispelled those monikers). No, I'm not kidding. "Baby, are you down down down?" Apparently, one can also be "down like the economy." I can't decide if this song is sweet or really dirty. [I have a Sunday itunes playlist that would make even my closest friends blush because they'd be so effing embarrassed.]

2) Jay, skinny-jeaned lead lad from the Modern Skirts, threw a blue flannel shirt my way last night at the 40 Watt. We were close to the stage getting pushed around mosh-style by some prepubescent headbangers. (Okay, they were probably seventeen. But Keira pointed out that they had no hair on their legs.) Frances insists that he bought a bag of shirts from the Goodwill just to make us squeal. I insist that Jay drank some whiskey while wearing this shirt and maybe even rolled around in his bed in it. Frances said, "Good luck with that illusion."

3) My father has made his way unto facebook. He called me last night just to tell me that. I guess it's time for me to remove those photos of me actually having fun.

4) I dusted off the old resume today. Time to play around, makes some changes, and start working on some new stuff. More to come on this side of things.

5) Things Brian said. I continue to catalog them:

I told him I'd been approached by an adorable mop-headed guy at a concert the other night. Not my type, mind you, but adorable and also very tipsy. So I might have told him I had a boyfriend in Ohio. And Brian replies: "LA! Of all the realistic places that you DO have men! And you tell him Ohio?" My response? "Brian, what men do I have scattered in realistic places? Help a girl out."

6) I'm headed to Borders to make a new book purchase right now. I wish some of you would read this is real time and offer suggestions. Although there's a certain charm to wandering around and stumbling upon something random. We'll see. I'll report back.

7) I've added my buddy Matt Weeks' blog to the right sidebar over here. Check his stuff out. Matt is one of the quip-savviest folks I've ever met. His sharp take on pop culture will make you snort the coffee right out of your nose.

8) You and I could probably write a bad romance.

--silly girl

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Historians by Another Name

I had the extreme good fortune (not to mention honor) of sharing a lunch table with Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Douglas Blackmon this past Thursday. Blackmon is the head of the Atlanta bureau for the Wall Street Journal, and his book--pictured above--has been lauded for its very blatant reprimands of white capitalists who manipulated and abused black workforces in the South even after the Civil War.

Our conversation at lunch ran a gamut from the fate of newspapers (bleak recently, but looking up in a scaled-down skin, Blackmon insists) to the state of funding for undergrad scholarships here at UGA (oft-bleak as well) to the collective memory of racial violence. I shared some experiences I've had discussing race with freshmen in the survey-level American history courses. At least once a semester, a violent photograph (usually pulled from the frightening but also amazingly teachable website Without Sanctuary or a story in one of our primary source readers will elicit a starkly emotional response from a group of suburban Atlantan students who are young enough to have thought that racism in America wouldn't be something they'd be forced to confront. Tales of lynchings and convict-leasing in their backyards, and suddenly (and rightly so), they're put face-to-face with the mistakes made and suffered by those people from which they come most directly. I've let tears fall in my classroom (from my eyes as well as from my students'), and I push my students to step out of the comfort zone their parents have so carefully crafted for them. There is no worth in generations improving themselves economically, or even intellectually really, if they are not also improving the way they see the world, as well as their own hearts.

Blackmon suggested that each year these students are reaching the same moment that many communities do when they uncover a long-hidden racial crime or memorialize a forgotten hero. The first burst of memory is hyper-emotional and typically inspires activism, education, and further research. The memorialization of the four African-Americans who fell at the 1946 Moore's Ford lynching, not far from where I sit here in Athens, is a good case in point. Every year now, locals host a memorial rally to honor victims who for decades had received no retribution and no sanctuary against their perpetrators. The problem comes, Blackmon says, when communities or individuals reach a "burn out" phase after the initial memorialization. After making a point to remember, or even to shout the memory or write about it, many people have a hard time understanding why they should make the effort to continue to do so.

But we all should, and that's the message behind Slavery by Another Name. Calling a spade a spade, or in this case calling racism, well, racism, is often like pulling teeth that should have been pulled a long time ago. Some will scoff at you, ask you to tone your accusations down for the sake of those who have died and can no longer defend themselves. Those are the people who remain scared by the past, or scarred by it in ways they won't allow to heal. But some will become so inspired by the idea of memory and the recognition of its power that they will light a metaphorical candle from your torch. That's what Blackmon has done for me, and at a time when I'd lost some faith in myself academically.

He and I discovered, over the course of the day, that his dad had worked for the very same paper company that I wrote my undergrad thesis on at Louisiana Tech University. I spent almost a year interviewing black mill workers, many of them retired and quite advanced in age, in the tiny towns of Hodge and Jonesboro, Louisiana. As places they're gothically beautiful. The emptiness, in the skeletal woods, along the railroad tracks, or in the dusty shacks that dot the highway, at second glance always seems to hold countless secrets. Hanging over all of this like steel fangs are the smokestakes of Continental Can (oddly, it produced paper bags)--the mill that made these towns, segregated them, and then served as a civil rights venue at which many black workers took their stand in the fifties and sixties, at water fountains and in the mill yard. Trading oral history experiences with Blackmon (who speaks eloquently on the subject and, as a journalist, knows how to get people talking about things they wouldn't normally), the memories of my days traversing those North Louisiana highways with a voice recorder hit me hard again. And I realized that I've spent the last four years trying to make myself into a type of historian I cannot, and will not, be.

In keeping with the theme in my own head, a minor controversy erupted among some of my departmental colleagues at Blackmon's public lecture on campus. Apparently, earlier in the day at a smaller question and answer session (that, sadly, I missed because I was TAing), Blackmon had come down a little hard on academic historians, positing that they're often held back by their attachment to archives. The archives are simply the first step in an uncovering process, Blackmon seemed to be implying. I couldn't agree with him more. But several of the academic historians-in-training present that afternoon (and of course they'll remain nameless here, although one of them is so overwhelmingly pretentious that he's almost begging for my mention) took issue and made a point to defend themselves. Journalists like Blackmon USE our material, they insisted. Writers like Blackmon stand atop years and years of accumulated historiography and gain the fame that workhorse academics should be attracting, they said. This isn't a new argument. It's perhaps the most important debate among our kind.

It's not a question of style. There are academics who write prose like masters, like poets. My advisor Stephen Berry is one of them, and his book on Lincoln and the Todd family, entitled Hosue of Abraham, is unabashedly readable. What many professional historians don't do well are emotion and scope. Blackmon's comment seems to me mostly on coldness, on a lack of passion. The argument in his work is not revolutionary, no. Historians have been chipping away at this period between the Civil War and World War II rather persistently. But Blackmon made these revelations of racial prejudice and violence ALIVE again through an innovative use of sources, a palpable sense of passion for the work that is at once both objective and subjective (and it needs to be both), and the courage to made BROAD and important conclusions that will affect readers and enter cultural conversations. Academics are mostly writing to other academics these days, and they're speaking to one another in closed off conference rooms. I've been wading these waters for four years, trying to stay afloat in an ocean of information that is barely an inch deep. The professionalization of academia (the subject of Louis Menand's newest book, by the way) has been its downfall. And if academics have a problem with the lauding of work like Blackmon's, then they must put their words into action by making themselves relevant again.

The "regular" folks who approached Blackmon after his talk were enlivened and emboldened by his words and the message in his work. When I started my graduate career, that was the same goal I had in mind. The end-product of my work, I thought, would be relevance. I would have something to say that people needed to hear. I would pull memories from some and push them on others, like Blackmon has, and I would examine with depth the emotions of Americans, of southerners, of both pain and triumph. That's what I did when I was 20 and naive. I need some of THAT girl back.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

starts and stops

Here at the tiny brick bungalow, we've been playing a LOT of trivia (which is only entertaining if the wording is smart, so I call it concise "prose"), I've been making many quiches, and the days are rolling by way too fast again.

I couldn't really decide where my eyes wanted to roam next, in literary terms anyway. But this morning I located an old paperback copy of selected letters and poems from Lord Byron. This particular copy, dog-earred, yellowed, and faded, belonged to my great aunt Betty's daughter, Suzy Armor. Suzy was a bit of a genius, family lore has dictated, who ran away from north Louisiana to play in chess tournaments and then to attend Stanford. I've never heard a whole story, but apparently she was a bit troubled as well. Suzy committed suicide when she was still a very young woman, sadly, and her extensive book collection eventually took up residence in her mom's garage in Shreveport. When Betty headed to a retirement community a few years ago, she very graciously offered me Suzy's books. I hold on to these dusty little paperbacks (everything from Byron and Shelley, to Faulkner, to some illustrated biographies of George Washington) with pride, hoping I find some enjoyment in the collection that the young woman before me seemed to cherish so much. Books don't belong in a garage. I've scattered them all over this house so that on languid afternoons I might at least learn a little bit about something.

All this to say, I imagine there will be a post rather soon regarding Byron, Byronic heroes, and the romantic ideal.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Local Okra

Here's a shout-out to a blog that I've watched since its inception a little over a year ago, here in Athens. Tore and Kelli Olsson, more than any couple I've known, share both the responsibilities and the payoffs from slower food and complex homecooking. In other words, when they make bread I think they're both covered in flour by the end of it. They've embraced tenets from the broader organic food movement as well as stay active with Athens's local co-ops and eco-farms. Much that is served on their table is local and insanely fresh.

The thing is, culturally and scientifically we are seeing a bit of a backlash against the "local-vore" (I lifted that phrase from its use on Slate Magazine) and organic movements. YES, both of these trends have a high metaphorical threshold for pretension. Whole Foods is not for everyone, nor can everyone afford to shop at Whole Foods. Some of us scrape to get by. BUT there are people making the local and the organic a thoughtful and fun process--one that embraces friends, group eating, neighborhood solidarity, and affordable home gardening. Tore and Kelli have had the corner on that here in Athens for awhile, which is why they decided to share some recipes and musings on a blog.

If you peruse Kelli's photographs on the site, nothing less than food porn !, you'll get a sneak peek in their adorable, colorful home. And I doubt you'll sense any pretension. I think you'll just get really, really hungry.

To note, to a literary end, one of the inspirations for the blog was Wendell Berry, a southern man of letters who wrote of agriculture's sustainability, healthy food, connections to place, and the basic interconnectedness of lives and ecosystems. His essays are prolific. Google him, find one; he's a good southern wordsmith to know.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

mind the links

To the right, I've added a few applications that allow me to follow and interact with my favorite sites and blogs.

My favorite recent find? (UGA's Darren Grem, soon to be Dr. Grem, must be given credit for showing me the light.) "Nothing Recedes Like Success" is an effective enough title as it stands, plus its URL is, excited gasp, "" A quip-savvy, slightly-cynical professional historian has gone underground but online, adopted a faux monker ("C. Vann Winchell," a play on the godfather of southern history, Comer Vann Woodward), and now posts juicy rants about the historical profession. His major theme seems to be basically that historians take themselves way too seriously. Amen. Also, his posts prove that the men (and sometimes women, although let's be honest, the profession is still sadly mostly a pouty boys' club) of this esteemed profession are often annoying, sometimes dirty (seriously, there are posts about noisy headboards), and flawed just like...well, normal people.

He also fishes for gossip in hotel hot-tubs. How I've never thought to do this at the many (oft-yawn-inducing) professional conferences I've attended at Marriots and Hyatts is now beyond me. I'm actually kind of jealous that Winchell's got the current corner on this schtick. To note, he's recently hist-gossiped about my own department here in Athens, GA. And guess what? He's spot-on in both his cynicism and his wit. I contemplated airing out the situation here in conversation with him...but I'm not quite ready to get in so much trouble as that.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

just put the bell jar over the damn fig tree

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet. [Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 7]

The Bell Jar was one of those books I always claimed to have read. Plop me down in a group of lit geeks, and I could have faked my way through several layers of analysis, no problem. I knew Plath's basic biography--how the poetry fell from her in an almost systematic desperation, that she died young and left behind a grief-ridden mother to manage the heavy legacy of her final works. The Bell Jar, a novel that Plath's mother actually didn't want anyone to see (the narrative of this family story is detailed in the prologue of most editions), summed up a young woman's struggle with depression in such a straightforward manner that many seemed to have doubted its literary merit early on. But now it stands as a classic (although, to note, I believe the term "classic" is often applied in brazenly arbitrary ways), aging gracefully as some sort of beacon for confused modern women who might find solace in seeing their own questions acted out in the hazy sophistication of postwar New England.

That sounds cynical, but I don't mean it too. In fact, after reading the book last month, I felt a bit guilty and cheapened for having faked opinions about it for so long. Its depth surprising, I found myself marking up pages with tiny white pieces of paper every time I connected with a paragraph because it reflected my own inner monologue. Plath describes mundane daily things with the precision of a tiny knife. Nothing cures sadness like a warm bath? Sign me up, I could write a novel about baths alone. Plath's observations of bright young things--Harvard men or urban women, take your pick--are spot-on, and particularly in the confusion over the meanings and finaglings of sex and dating. The only stubborn thing here is that Esther (Plath) remains buried under the stunted social mores of a pre-second-wave-feminism society; otherwise her commentay on the female intellectual struggle with marriage and careers and babies remains relevant in its simplicity.

Here's the main analytical bit: Esther doesn't do anything as a narrator but chronicle the daily yearnings of what she wants her life to be and, later, how a fog-like depression (the metaphorical bell jar) literally paralyzes her decision-making. The story of her jaunt as a magazine intern in New York is neither original nor all that interesting, but as an outsider she's able to show us the ugly parts of pretty people and pretty things. Her stay in the hospital during the final third of the novel is arduous and almost painful to read--her weight gain, her silence and anger, an elemental hope for death. But it reminds us how close death (whether physical, emotional, or intellectual) constantly is, or that it's just as close as the fig tree she imagines early in the book (excerpt pasted above)--the one with all the possibilities.

The point of this depressing summary is pretty basic. I find myself having the same conversation with my female friends all the time: is it more important for us to find and love and feed off of a healthy relationship, or to pursue a progressive career (whether radical or practical, doesn't matter) because we can? Or are we strangely required to do BOTH simply because we can? Did the radical legacy of glass-ceiling-breaking and (metaphorical, because it never really happened en masse) bra-burning supposedly erase all hesitation for us? Are we cowards for being scared?
Could I possibly form one more rhetorical queston to drive you mad?
It drives me crazy that I even still categorize these questions in a male/female framework. Reading Plath, however, reminded me more than ever that there are emotions, struggles, and aspirations that are distinctly feminine, echoing from some deep dark place in a woman that is decidedly that--of a woman--and can never be anything else. Judge me for thinking that, go ahead. I really don't care. I know there are exceptions, but here I paint in admittedly broader strokes. For any sort of analytical solution, I very recently turned to a splendidly dynamic scene in the film Up in the Air (which if you haven't seen, you should). Anna Kendrick, who plays a young professional/recent Cornell grad named Natalie, sits at a bar with George Clooney (playing Ryan, the "layoff engineer" she's tailing on an epic air trip while also attempting to completely eradicate his job with a computer) and the thirty-something woman he's currently "seeing" at various airport Hamptin Inns. Natalie's boyfriend has just broken up with her via a lone, icy text message. Ryan points out the irony of such, of course, given Natalie is also trying to replace the gruesome and personal process of laying off American folks with an impersonal digital system. The break-up breaks Natalie's usual composure, and she cries into a martini that at age 23 she "should have been engaged by now," should have had all this shit figured out. She got a degree from a prestigious place, took a job near the man she "loved"--the one with a kind smile, who loves dogs and works hard and aspires to buy a Land Rover and a four-bedroom Victorian. Clooney and his lady-friend (also a well-traveled, loner career-whore, or so we think) only laugh softly at her, in a few words assuring the broke-down Natalie that life never quite works out the way you think it will and that what makes you happy ten years in the future will bear little resemblance to what you think will make you happy now.
So true. But Natalie in this film is still too naive, too stubborn, to really understand what they tell her in these moments. She does offer some additional insight to my point from above, though. "Thank you for what your generation did for me," she whispers to the woman ten years her senior, but "I still can't help wonder if I won't be happy until I find the right man."
Bingo. And all I can wonder is--are we wired this way? I don't know, and maybe none of us ever will. What I do know is that these questions are important both to individuals and to a broader American cultural environment. As I trudge forward, a single twenty-something pursuing a graduate degree and literary aspirations as I live in a tiny bungalow in a college town and sip many whiskey-gingers, I hear that little shrill voice warning me that I shouldn't give up on the other track. Wow. Typing that...well, I've never really had the courage before now to admit all this.
Thank you Sylvia for laying bare the desperation that threatens at the edge of all of our psyches. Her story is drastic, fatal, but it's still relevant.
And all I can ever conclude is that we'd all do well to embrace that gray area that Clooney's character is alluding to. Dreams change, plans change, I guess every person is going to change. Wondering what combination of life "things" might make us happy probably wastes more times than any analysis is worth. Even this blog. What's important, it seems, is that women (and anybody really) feel comfortable discussing the gray area, never hiding from it. The most unrealistic expectations are born of silence and ignorance, right? Come to think of it, men would greatly benefit from seeing outside a black and white box as well.
These are just musings.
Addendum: Go here for a great discussion on this same question. Jessica Grose reviews Lori Gottlieb's new book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Good Enough and, rightly so it seems, finds fault with Gottlieb's vision of single twenty-and-thirty-somethings.
***After re-reading my own take, as well as the above article, I guess I have to add something important here. Tied in with every point in my post is a passionate personal faith that, although life is messy and crazy (the opposite of perfect), there is the possibility for everyone of meeting the "most right" person to spend their time with. Gottlieb apparently argues that successful women remain single until they're older because they're too picky. That's hogwash. Well-educated, successful women might be more pragmatic about love than others, but if they're waiting on anything it's the discovery of a peace within themselves. That peace comes from living in the moment (excuse the cliche) and making good decisions for themselves...all while having some fun and lightening up along the way. Settling is never, ever okay, and marriage is not an end-game. It seems to me that marriage, when experienced alongside someone you truly love and respect (someone who was your first choice, someone who was maybe worth a wait), is a project, a nice challenge, and a source of the ultimate joys.
The more I write about this, the more you'll think I'm fixated on it. Which I don't think I am. So. Goodbye.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

final re-post

and there is all of the old stuff, just a few fleeting moments from a year and a half of highly emotional blogging. already i wish i'd saved more from the ashes, but the catharsis is worth ten million words.

here is the original introduction i wrote to celebrate the beginning of blogdom. i place it here, with no edits, in hopes of always moving forward from these self-reflections.

a special thanks to:

meg brearley--for living with me in that treehouse, cooking stir-fry and introducing me to quinoa, making living room yoga a staple in my life, encouraging me to write down my ramblings, and sitting on the tiny balcony with me, listening when i needed it the most. cheers, lovely!

[There is no graceful way to introduce myself.

I come here from Louisiana; not from the mossy, mysterious southern end but from the northeast edge. I sound like I'm from East Texas. I grew up on top of a very flat landscape, spotted with pine trees and disappearing cotton fields. There you'll find perhaps the world's best fried chicken and strawberry ice-box pies.

My mother started me on coffee when I was three; now I'm permanently jittery. When the strip malls started to outnumber the open spaces in Shreveport (coinciding directly with my adolescent years) and I lost my mother, I knew I wanted to leave. I have an undergraduate degree in history from Louisiana Tech University--where I met some of the most dedicated professors that I imagine exist. And now here I am, trying desperately each day to stuff enough knowledge in my head to feel adequate and go to sleep at night (usually around 2am).

I miss my father and my sister, Joan, who is absolutely my soul. I live in the converted attic of a house with a wonderful roommate who does improv yoga in the middle of our living room, wears oversized sweaters even though she is tiny and lovely, and always eats ice cream with me when I need it. We've adopted a pet acorn in anticipation of the autumn weather. I work every day in the basement of a building that is always buzzing with nervous academics. I'll leave you guessing as to how many pounds of ground coffee I make it through in a month.

re-post seven: sisterhood

from september 2008:

[My grandmother, whose name was Azile, never let anyone forget that she was actually "Eliza" spelled backwards.

She grew up on a gutted-out plantation site in southern Arkansas, in a tiny pinprick of a town called Lily. Her father worked as a local vetrinarian, but the stories I always enjoyed hearing were the ones about her sisters. There were four of them, all relatively close in age. The pictures I've seen are like something out of a gothic southern novel from the 1930s; the girls are dressed in polka-dot frocks with big skirts and wedge heels, their soft hair coifed and pinned, but set against the flat dullness of their yard, little tufts of weeds everywhere, and the visibly peeling paint of the house behind them...well, it all looks painfully mismatched. They fought a lot. I think it was Lillian Smith, one of the white female writers who tried to make sense of Jim Crow and the Lost Cause in the first decades of the twentieth century, who suggested that nothing defines the southern family more than a delicate balance of refinement and violence. Somehow I have always taken great pride (twisted, right?) in knowing that my mother's family had fit this bill, living tenuously together in a rickety house with Civil War-era teacups, lace hankerchiefs, an old diamond chandelier, and all the great works of literature but certainly not much cash. They killed chickens in the back yard; Azile could remember the sounds of the squawking well into her old age, and I think it had always bothered her a bit. I would bore you to recount all the stories.

Like the time her sister Devonne adopted a pet parrot; apparently it would squeal and talk too late into the night. My grandmother had had enough, it seems, and steeled into the cage late one evening, tossing the poor parrot into the water of the primitive washing machine on the front porch. The next morning, Devonne was, of course, rather revulsed by the news. The story may have been embellished along the way, but some reports of the incident include bits of shattered Coke bottle flying through the air. Yet the fighting was premature, it turned out, because the "damn parrot" had survived the night, swirling around in the soapy water until he had managed to fly away and fit himself nicely unto a branch of a nearby tree.

It's not as if any of this is all that interesting, or all that unique really. But I have always been facinated with the relationship between those four sisters. They are all gone now except for Devonne, who was the youngest; she's amazing and, I think, if she'd been born just twenty years after she was would have been some sort of radical lesbian feminist writer. The four of them loved each other, I have always suspected, with a kind of passion that had to be all on or all off. Maybe it was growing up in the shadow of a time and a place that really didn't exist anymore. Azile knew Shakespeare, but she never could figure out how to work a VCR. And I've always been nervous that somehow that kind of sisterhood might be genetic. I have two older sisters (although by blood, they are both actually half). We share the same mother, and thus, that bloodline. But somehow I think our sisterhood is more modern than that, more evolved. Joan, who is five years older than I am, is perhaps the center of my soul. If I were a ship in need of guidance, she would be my lighthouse, strong and bright in the worst of times. We are drawn to each other for the good and the bad, able to communicate without words. But we use a lot of words anyway. There's no parrot story (although when I was five, Joan did accidentally cut my leg open with a piece of glass from a popcorn bowl), but there is laughter, and there have been plenty of tears, plenty of pain.

Maybe with each successive generation we all get a little bit more normal.

The reason I even thought about all of this today is because I spent a lovely stretch of time with my roommate Meg and her sister Lauren this weekend. Their sisterhood is so in sync, with every squinch of their faces, every smile, every gesture, that I was easily reassured of my convictions--that there is no more compassionate a relationship, no more unconditional a love, than that of a sister. So, a big thank you to both of them for that wonderful gift. And we would have a photograph to commemorate the evening--replete with frosty beer bottles and an Athens night sky--if Lauren's phone/camera had a better flash on it...

re-post six: ten reasons

i'm happy/freaked out? to report that most of these hold up. except number 5 is a distant memory, thank goodness.

from March 2009:

[My mind perpetually makes and re-makes lists. It's like a running scroll in my poor tired brain.
I came home last night from a great evening, a little sloshy with beer, and wrote these things down:

One--I'm a writer, for better or worse. And the people who've told me that they like my writing all provide the same reason: because I often write in a stream of consciousness and in random, fanciful phrasings. I'm a big ball of abstractness, mind you, and I hope people can live out the mayhem in their own head through some of my words. There's value in that.

Two--I'm not ashamed to like pop culture. I totally dig it when people get excited about things--a movie, a song, a brand of shoe. Culture binds us all together. And just because it's "popular" doesn't mean its inferior. To note, though, I do despise: action movies, video games, and avatars. This all might be mostly because I am a woman and have been conditioned this way. Just kidding. Oh, gender norms rapping on the door again.

Three--I love to cook, but I hate using recipes. Why conform to the measurements of others? Ha. Except, when baking, you kind of have to. Unless you're a genius.

Four--I google everything, effing everything.

Five--I started having nightmares about notecards. It's the comps thing. I've lost all short-term memory and all sanity at this point.

Six--The sight of newly-painted toenails in a sandal...oh heaven.

Seven--I can drink coffee all day any day any time just watch me.

Eight--I have to work at being a good conversationalist. It doesn't come naturally. And that's a holdover from my reclusive, Jane Austen-reading years.

Nine--I have no idea where the rest of this year is going to take me.

Ten--You know what? The only thing that turns me on more than sarcasm is brutal honesty. And yes, I mean in men.

re-post five: that friday on the farm

this is from april 2009, right after a visit to a local eco-farm. i spent an evening with chicks and pigs and cowsies and friends around a bonfire and then wrote this. i certainly didn't intend it a diatribe against agribusiness or commerical farming, mostly because i haven't fully formed my opinions on those things just yet and remain fearful of entering such debates. but it reads a bit like that, in retrospect.

[Currently pondering: Leo Marx's The Machine in the Garden--a classic.

Part of this (as you'll be able to tell from the writing style) is ripped from a syllabus I'm working on for "America to 1865," the basic college survey course.

"Forty-plus years removed from Leo Marx's original publication of The Machine in the Garden, historians have returned to his literary analysis with full recognition that there is really no “machine” in his book. So much of modern environmental and social history scholarship is about the history of technologies, but looking back at Marx reminds us that intrusions upon the American landscape are just as much about how the American mind perceives them. At the time of its original publication, Americans were confronting mass suburban sprawl and industrial pollution like never before. So he used the history of the American literary imagination in an attempt to explain the pastoral ideal. What had we lost, exactly? Were we mourning an imagined past or a real one?

Students, then, need to understand that the pastoral ideal is something that has been used to justify and define the American experience since the age of discovery. And in the middle of the nineteenth century, as many Americans experienced industrialization and urbanization for the first time, writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain tried to make sense of it through pastoral symbology. Hawthorne cringed as the steam locomotive broke through his thoughts in Sleepy Hollow, and then the steamboat's shadow loomed over Huck Finn; the memory and legacy of Jefferson stayed nostalgic, not stale but fresh, as America became a nation of workers and industrialists."

That's what I wrote as a professional statement on teaching this book. I do think it's important for everyone, though, to think about HOW they think. Here in the South, it's much too easy to start a love affair with a completely imagined past--like long afternoons on big white porches and bright mornings out in the countyside, or the slowness of what we think is the "South," something decadent and syrupy and romantic. For most people, that South has never existed. It's pretty easy to understand where we get those images, though. It's all the mythology handed down to us from ancestral stories and cultural representations and even Progressive-Era historians. It's a whisper that just won't die. Kind of like the pastoral ideal more generally. America HAS been a nation of farmers, of makers, but life has never been easy. Or it's only been easy for a few.

So where is the "real" South? Or the "real" America? Has it been hiding, always, out in the country? Where do you find it, and how do you keep it?

I was on a farm last night, right outside of Athens. It's manned by a group of ecology students here at UGA; my friend Levi lives and works there and was gracious enought to have us over for dinner and a beautiful evening by the campfire, under the stars.

This particular venture provides all the food for Farm 255, a restaurant in town dedicated to serving only local and regional ingredients.

It's not really a "boutique" farm like you might be conceptualizing though. It's huge, stretching out along some lusciously dusty roads and pastures. I walked a little ways down to visit a few cows--one of whom, I have to mention, is named Howard Johnson. And he's red-haired and has the sweetest nose you'll ever see on a cow. There's a litter of pigs close to the main house right now, running around. And a coop full of tiny chicks.

You might see a pattern in my lauding here. These animals are HAPPY. They're in their element, seemingly anyway, feeding from fresh grass and sunshine and clean air. They're cared for lovingly by students who want to learn how to farm in an ecologically-friendly and humane way. Yes, these animals will be food. I had some farm fresh chicken last night, actually, and it was so good that my pal Tore was seen escaping into the night with some of the leftovers in a pot. But their journey from farm to table is relatively peaceful.

The point of all of this? Hear me out. I was strolling back to the main house with the whole crew. Night had really set in, and the stars were floating above us, bright little dots--so much brighter than I see them at my house in town. Tore and I were (slightly tipsy, yes) speculating about cosmology and light years and the possibilities for time travel. I stepped in some mud. I looked behind me, and I realized I was walking on the kind of "country road" that James Taylor always sings about. And that. That was when I realized that you MAKE the South you want, or the countryside you want, or the life you want. We were there celebrating the end of a long week as well as celebrating the farm itself and the people who work so hard to maintain it.

The "rural," historians have suggested to us, is never fully separate from the urban. Yet the rural is much more prone to nostalgia than the urban. And I think--and this is just a tiny chunk of a bigger answer I hope to have one day--that's because there IS something magical about it. About being somewhere more green, less hectic, a little dusty. There's something about holding a baby chick and keeping it warm inside your coat. Or sharing a beer with friends under a thick, studded night sky. There are reasons that we crave these things, that we even sometimes imagine them when they are not there at all. We may have let too many machines into our garden, Professor Marx, yes.

That's all I got for now.

repost number four: little discoveries.

from May 2009:

[I'm here in Shreveport at my dad's house for a spell, taking a break from work (post-comps, pre-diss bliss) and helping him clear some closets and boxes, odds and ends. I've been charged with sorting through roughly 100 years of family memorabilia--everything from photos to newspaper clippings to my grandmother's "novel" (don't ask). Some interesting finds:

--A third-grade project of mine entitled "Women Nurses in the Civil War," for which I even provided illustrations. I guess even then I knew where I was headed.

--Notes that my maternal grandmother Azile and my grandfather James left each other all over their own house when they were angry with one another. My mom always insisted that this happened. Now I have proof. Passive-aggressive fodder from the 1950s. Love it.

--My mom's freshman sociology paper entitled simply "Autobiography," within which she reveals that: she lusted after a photographer on her high school newspaper staff, she joined ROTC to impress another boy, and she felt as though she was afraid of committment because of her parents' marital issues. Gee...I wonder where I get my neuroses?

--Photos of my father as a teeny blond baby, all blurry and faded.

But yesterday's find was most emotional. Now, I've always known that my mom wrote poetry. I have several folders of her poems already, most of them typed because she sent a few out for publication. But what I discovered were new ones, not typed, but hurriedly scrawled on notebook paper, some of them almost unreadable. Coffee rings on some of them, which as my sister Joan well knows, was the "mark" of our household growing up. Coffee stains everywhere. My mother's handwriting was so loopy, so distinctive, that sometimes the sight of it is all it takes to tempt the tears from me. She used to leave notes for me in the mornings before school. I wish I still had those too.

All that said, here are a few gems. Her poems are really raw, really aching. She and I shared a love of the written word; for me, it's manifested in my love of scholarship and essaying and my quests to write about PEOPLE in interesting ways. For her, though, it was all about this raw emotion that spilled out in poetry.

[some (new even to me) poetry from Janis J. Reed]

"Anchor Heart"

And how I often glanced up
And realized the bounty
Riding the scene of it
Bypassing the glory
Remember, my love, before the seeds shelter
Pleasing to your memory
My love is pure of deceit
Gathering in your moroseness
You are ailing rather quickly
I thought I saw you on a dream
A peaked light
deep in my slumber
water rolled
and my solitude glowed
It was not really you, though
but your soul-print was discernible
and your purity rose in your demise


If your stayed further away
than just your eyes can know
a Passion--
Glowing and ember like
Would decide your fate
If you died
I could still remember
Blessings, tiny songs sung on the night
as if you were mine again

re-post number three: july 18

I posted this on my mother's birthday this past July.

She would have been 62 years old and counting in 2009, a fact which I fear conceptualizing. I still have this image of her in my head as an incredibly exuberant woman with a heart and a mind that would never grow tired or weary. And so the image never will.

[Ten things I remember about my mother, on her birthday:

1) She left coffee rings on everything. Every surface. Notebook paper, napkins, tabletops, even clothes. One day in high school I ended up in homeroom with a coffee ring imprinted on my backpack. We all gave up on trying to stop it.

2) She appreciated lyrics just like I do. A song meant nothing to her unless she could see it as a piece of poetry as well. We used to talk about our lives in lyrical terms. I miss that, but I have friends who understand this strange part of me and humor me.

3) She believed in synchronicity. While never removing any worth from human agency, from the decisions of the day to day, she knew that people and places and even things come into our lives for very distinct reasons. Little signs, everywhere. The moments which line up in sequence to mean something incredibly special. I look for those moments; they're real.

4) She loved making frozen yogurt pies: graham cracker crust, vanilla frozen yogurt, chocolate chips, and colored sprinkles...set in freezer for an hour, voila. Nothing made her happier on a random Friday night. Well, except maybe a frozen margarita.

5) She wore nothing but linen dresses in the summer. In pastel colors, matched with long ropy necklaces and bauble-y rings.

6) She smelled like gardenias; it was the bath powder she used religiously.

7) She wrote poetry in the margins of novels; I still find surprise verses when I read her books today.

8) Here's how she typically appeared in the evenings after a long day at work: lounged on the blue couch in her den, in a cotton jogging suit and socks, headphones in her ears (they came off a big radio...this was long before IPODness), and a journal on her lap. I actually have a photo of this somewhere.

9) She believed firmly that each of her daughters would eventually end up with the right man to love them forever. She never got to meet them, but Greg and Jason (my brothers in law) have already proven her so correct. Now there's a lot of pressure on me to fill the third slot. I'm not necessarily pursuing this particular venture anytime in the immediate future. But the memory of the kind of love she offered me always gives me strength in these questions. Just recently a lot about love and relationships has started to make more sense than ever before.

10) She looked to Saints for love and comfort and support. It was beautiful, the faith she had. The more I try to dissect it, the less I understand it. So I visualize it as something magical, something that was hers to understand.

re-post number two: sunscreen, unearthed

I posted this randomly in July 2009:

[I remember this spoken-word piece from high school.

It was originally text from a column in the Chicago Tribune, written by a woman named Mary Schmich. It was then quickly mis-attributed as a top-secret commencement speech delivered by Kurt Vonnegut in 1997. That's not the case. But Baz Luhrman released it in a compilation album; the words on his recording are interspersed with haunting verses from the choral song "Everybody's Free," which many of us also remember from his film version of Romeo and Juliet. All this to say, I remember that as a teenager these words affected me greatly--particularly the line about life changing at 4pm on some idle Tuesday. Because that's what happened to me, years ago.

The shuffle on my IPOD brought me this again today. It's serendipitous. The conversations I've had this summer with close friends, about where my life might go, what's good about it, or what's wrong with's all here.

So I'm sharing it, randomly. Read it, download it (it's on youtube). It'll make your day wistful but better.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of '97
Wear sunscreen
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be It.
The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by
Scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable
Than my own meandering Experience
I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth; oh nevermind; you will not
Understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded.
But trust me, in 20 years you'll look back at photos of yourself and
Recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before
You and how fabulous you really looked.
You're not as fat as you
Don't worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as
Effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing
Bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that
Never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm
On some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing everyday that scares you
Don't be reckless with other people's hearts, don't put up with
People who are reckless with yours.
Don't waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you're ahead, sometimes
You're behind; the race is long, and in the end, it's only with
Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults; if you
Succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.
Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your
Life the most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they
Wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year
Olds I know still don't.
Get plenty of calcium.
Be kind to your knees, you'll miss them when they're gone.
Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't, maybe you'll have children, maybe
You won't, maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky
Chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary
What ever you do, don't
Congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else's.
Enjoy your body,
Use it every way you can don't be afraid of it, or what other people
Think of it, it's the greatest instrument you'll
Even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.
Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.
Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.
Get to know your parents, you never know when they'll be gone for
Be nice to your siblings; they are the best link to your past and the
People most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you
Should hold on.
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and
Lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you
Knew when you were young.
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live
In Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.
Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will
Philander, you too will get old, and when you do you'll fantasize
That when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were
Noble and children respected their elders.
Respect your elders.
Don't expect anyone else to support you.
Maybe you have a trust fund,
Maybe you have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one
Might run out.
Don't mess too much with your hair, or by the time you're 40, it will
Look 85.
Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who
Supply it.
Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of
Fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the
Ugly parts and recycling it for more than
It's worth.
But trust me on the sunscreen

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

first: re-posts

Just today I finally dismantled my original blog. That hurt.

But I started it last year as a rather selfish outlet for creative writing and random thinkpieces, and I remained unhappy with it because it was so damn disorganized. Its haphazard nature reflected how rushed I felt. But since I fancy myself a writer more than perhaps anything else, I felt it was about time to create a more formal and organized forum for my writings.

That being said, I want to re-post a few entries that, in the re-reading process, struck me as....important. I found that I could return to the moments within which I wrote them, could still sense the emotion behind what I had attempted to communicate. Even if I didn't do that so well in a literary sense.

I feel like, these days, my writing improves consistently. I feel like the ways through which I see the world around me improve everyday as well.

The first re-post is a little rendezvous with an REM song--and a moment caught up in a really effing hot (and even more confusing) summer. I posted it in late June 2009. The value here, although overall its language is languid and abstract, is the sense of place I (as well as so many others I've talked to about this) have found in Athens. And despite my general readiness to move on soon, I recognize how rarely a town maintains such a stinging charm and so many layers of nostalgia. And REM sort of proves, here in Athens, anyway, that nostalgia can be a whole lot more modern that some people would believe.

[I'm languishing in my third Athens summer.

I've finally decided that there is something eerily oppressive about Georgia sun; it makes me lazy, and it makes me think way too much.

But I feel better each day when the sun goes down. What could I describe? Here it is, perfectly: If you go to drink beer on the patio of Little Kings Shuffle Club (which is easily the dustiest, best bar in this town) with the afternoon sun still heavy on your back, then you'll melt into your seat. To anyone who would try to claim that there is nothing called the "southern sun": I say, sod off. It's distinct, it's yellow with lots of orange flecks, and it's hot. My friend Kelli and I were comparing sweat rings on our clothes the other day as we tried to hide under a straw umbrella. So why would you be there, then, in the heat, pressing a cold beer against your skin for some kind of relief?

It's for some sort of daily transition. If you listen, there's just enough rustling in the air as the sun sets as if to sound like hesitant chords of music. To see what the sweat has wrought on yourself, on your friends--all the makeup is melted, clothes are rumpled, and no one's hair looks very good. People look most beautiful when they're disheveled. Or, at least I think so.

What's the point of this ramble? I was just trying to figure out why only evenings in Athens really appeal to me anymore.

This past Friday a late afternoon and some Mexican food turned into an impromptu cooler full of cheap beer and stolen nightswimming with four very awesome (I don't throw that word around lightly, mind you) people. Now, I'm not sure if "nightswimming" is a real word everywhere or if it only holds its giddy meaning here in Athens because REM (supposedly) composed their song "Nightswimming" about some late nights at the Deville Apartments pool here in Athens. Who knows.

This song was in my head anyway because I caught it on the radio while driving back to Athens from Shreveport last month. When I heard the opening lines--the photograph on the dashboard taken years ago, streetlights, and such--I inexplicably felt hot tears threatening at the corner of my eyes. They caught me by surprise. It took the better part of the 11-hour drive to figure out why the song caused me such joy that the joy turned to pain rather quickly. I think it's because Athens has already become nostalgic to me. I can already imagine myself ten years from now, looking back on all these days and nights and smiling to myself because I'll know (even if it didn't always feel this way in the moment here) it was a time never to be recaptured. Fleeting, lovely, like snapshots in an album.

These things, they go away. Replaced by ANOTHER everyday. Sorry, Mr. Stipe, I had to rewrite you a bit there.

This song means so much to me it stings.

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago,
Turned around backwards so the windshield shows
Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse
Still, it's so much clearer
I forgot my shirt at the water's edge
The moon is low tonight
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
I'm not sure all these people understand
It's not like years ago,
The fear of getting caught,
Of recklessness and water
They cannot see me naked
These things, they go away,
Replaced by everyday
Nightswimming, remembering that night
September's coming soon
I'm pining for the moon
And what if there were two
Side by side in orbit
Around the fairest sun?
That bright, tight forever drum
Could not describe nightswimming
You, I thought I knew you
You, I cannot judge
You, I thought you knew me,
This one laughing quietly underneath my breath
The photograph reflects,
Every streetlight a reminder
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night, deserves a quiet night