Friday, December 30, 2011
Friday, December 23, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
What's most interesting to me is that although much of my list (which I run to 25 in my own collection, but I won't bore you with that much chatter here) usually matches up with the lists coming out of NPR Music and Paste this time of year, there's always a few songs that they forget about. And it's not that they never noticed. There are always a few bands and songs that they laud in the moment of release, call "epic," and then forget to remember come year-end list time. Lots of those big-time list makers at the well-trafficked music blogs get on my nerves, too, because they pull out odd obscure shit at the last minute to look cooler. Come on. The best songs are the ones that you listened to over and over, the ones you talked about with your friends, the ones you'll remember. So I'm remedying that.
Without further ado:
10) Future Islands, "On the Water": Close to the end of the year, I was serendipitously introduced to this band (which has actually been around for awhile). This is from their 2011 album release, the title track in fact, and I'm kind of shocked that they didn't make any of the lists this year. Imagine putting Tom Waits, synth pop, the Yeah Yeahs, and Johnny Cash spoken-word all in a blender. Their best song is from a previous album, so go listen to it too--"Tin Man." They're also dance-a-licious.
9) The Civil Wars, cover of "I Want You Back" (Michael Jackson): I couldn't decide which song of theirs to put on here. I listened to the album (Barton Hollow) on and off all year. It's just good, solid Americana. Many of them are very simple, very beautiful tales of love or lost love. This cover is soulful. So soulful, in fact, that it changes the whole nature of the song. In this version, the woman knows full well she is never getting her guy back.
8) Young the Giant, "Cough Syrup": Back in February, when I was still selling green tea lattes part-time, one of my co-baristas brought me a copy of this self-titled album and proclaimed with confidence that he'd "already found the single best album of the year." Can I be honest. I left that damn CD in my car for months, never listened, and it only came out of hiding in September because my boyfriend at the time loved this song (which had made it to mainstream radio at that point). So I finally gave the album a chance. And now, I don't think this was the best album of the whole year, but it definitely is stellar. This song, oddly enough, came back to haunt me as a little bit of a break-up anthem that highlighted the mediocrity of aforementioned relationship. "Life's too short to even care at all, waaa hoooo." Exactly.
7) The Decemberists, "Rox in the Box": It's no secret to anyone that knows me. I LOVE the Decemberists. I love them like I used to love Care Bears and Popples and TGIF. I think The King is Dead was hands down the best album of the year, but this band has gotten so well-known that most of my music geek friends won't admit to agreeing with me on this one. I picked this song to put on this list because, for real, what could help us navigate a sucky economy better than a pop-y ode to the grim realities of coal mining?
6) cults, "Go Outside"[they lower-case their name on purpose, mind you]: I fell prey to this song. I hated it at first. I thought that if I liked this band then I would have officially gone off the hipster deep-end. But it caught me and reeled me back in tight, with the hook and the melody and the reverb.
5) College (featuring Electric Youth), "A Real Hero" (from the Drive soundtrack): So yeah, Ryan Gosling was in too many movies this year, but this is one you should have seen. The whole film feels like an homage to 1980s Los Angeles (even though it takes place in present day). The music took great acting and pushed it all over another edge. Best soundtrack I have ever, ever heard.
4) The Joy Formidable, "The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade": This is the entry which has the least real meaning. It's the song that has to be high on the list simply because it brings me so much infectious joy. I've had it on repeat for weeks. There's chanting that crescendoes into two amazing choruses. The band is a little bit reverb, a little bit cliche honestly, but it's the strong female vocals that stand out.
3) Brett Dennen, "Sydney (I'll Come Running)": From, by any measure, the MOST underrated and unfairly forgotten album of the year. Dennen always has to swim in a sea of folky singer-songwriters like Ryan Adams, Josh Rouse, Josh Ritter...and everyone else named Josh I guess. But the thing is, his stuff is more upbeat and more rhythmic than those guys'. A lot more. This song found me early this year when I got stuck in a lot of traffic all the time on Mopac Thruway in Austin. It's a weird combination of pep and an utterly depressing scenario.
2) Florence + the Machine, "Shake it Out": I would have named this the best song of the year if not for the emotional connection I have with the number one I chose. This a ballad for the modern woman if I've ever heard one. "It's hard to dance, with a devil on your back, so shake him off." Sigh.
1) Bon Iver, a tie, "Beth/Rest" and "Calgary": Most emotionally stirring album of the year. No one thought his second album could be better than the first, because the first was a revelation, but everyone was wrong. Some people were divided about the "Beth" track, because it's so synth that its opening resembles something you'd hear over a John Cusack movie from the 80s. BUT, once you listen to it a few times you realize that's where the beauty is coming from. I listened to this album all summer while I inhabited a house near downtown Athens by myself. I spent a lot of time on the porch, being solitary, with a bottle of beer, these songs, and blank sheets of paper. This album hit me as a grown-up lullaby at just the moment I was really starting to feel like being an adult.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Also, read this article on "facebook resistance" from the New York Times--apparently I'm part of a mini-movement of facebook exodus:
Friday, December 9, 2011
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Let the world know my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're a weirdo, don't write that down.
All you fine folks who...live out of the country, or maybe you knew me from college and we ended up without current cell phone numbers, shoot me a message. I would love it. Forget Facebook, let's actually catch up.
Monday, December 5, 2011
I've found lots of pieces scattered around on the Internet about "going Facebook free." There seems, sadly, to be an air of pretension associated with this particular way of going off the grid. Me? I'll be totally honest. I left for two reasons: embarrassment (and let's not dwell on the details of that one) and my web reputation. I doubt academic search committees want to see me out partying at Normal Bar or read my statuses about new bands or where I ate lunch. I want a clean slate. I admit my own faults in allowing a social media site to infiltrate my life as much as it did. So it is without pretension or expectation that I have exited the world's most popular address book.
Here are a few things I've noticed since my Facebook page went black:
1) In order to know what my friends are up to, I've actually got to call them or text them. So far this new form of check-in has resulted in several fun and spontaneous outings. I look forward to actually talking to my friends again, and finding out about their life's happenings in person. Over coffee, or cocktails. Imagine that--NOT knowing what everyone is up to every second of every day. Makes you think a lot more about what YOUR day looks like too.
2) Emails are letters again. They can't be short anymore, because they're no longer backed up by the information I updated on Facebook. Most of what I email is actually news again, and I check my Gmail account excitedly now--because I know there will be more waiting for me there than Urban Outfitters ads and Graduate School paperwork. And if there are links I want to send out, I can send them directly to the people I know will be most interested in them!
3) Any romantic relationship or friendship I enter into from now on, I realize, will be lived out ONLY in the real world. If I want to disconnect from someone, I can just do it. None of this "defriending" crap. None of this "what are they up to" drama. Why would I want to wake up every morning to that?
4) We have all gotten WAY too used to expressing ourselves through brief status updates. It's like we want to constantly contradict ourselves. Or convince everyone that our day is actually more interesting than it is. Now that the Facebook avenue for talking to folks is gone, I'm evaluating my time a lot more realistically. Today I: ate breakfast, paid bills, made some mix CDs, went on a walk, and now I'm writing. Not that exciting. But I am me, so I know all the little ins and outs of significance, all the moments that meant something to me today.
5) I do not miss seeing endless albums of baby pictures, birthday parties, vacations, or random mobile uploads. But I do miss seeing my friends' faces everyday.
See y'all more often again!
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Netflix offered this random gem:
Simply put, Colin Beaven asks us, "Is it possible to have a good life without wasting so much?"
The experiment was extreme, and that's the point. The narrative arc of this documentary is discovering that going "off the grid" is nearly impossible for the modern American. And quite honestly, why would I ever willingly give up electricity, or toilet paper, or brunch at my favorite restaurant? Why would we ever willingly give up the things I work hard for, am truly thankful to have? Why would anyone? BUT, Beaven's family discovers, ripping it all away for a short amount of time reveals, bright as the noon sun, the things we can live without.
Trash, for example. Why make so much trash? Beaven makes some good points: buy food fresh and in bulk, buy fewer things that come all packaged up, take your own coffee cup to the coffee shop. On and on.
Anyway, watch it.
Also, here's Beaven's ongoing blog:
Monday, July 25, 2011
Highlights? A girls' pizza and cocktail night, homemade fish tacos (I make good ones), twilight bocce in Newtown, some ambling of train tracks, outdoor swinging, an impromptu dance party, and Mer taking a shot of the most treacherous liquor the Swedes could make. All capped off by a dear friend's birthday dinner. Oh, and a broken toilet. We couldn't figure out how it got broken. Mer ran to Lowe's this afternoon while I taught and...bought something and fixed the damn thing. She's a gem!
Monday, July 18, 2011
--When she saw someone in need, she helped them without missing a beat. No hesitation. She just did what needed to be done (and usually the thing no one else would take the time to do).
--When she saw an attractive man from a distance, she used to wink and whisper, "Oooooh, doggieeee." I have no idea where this came from.
--She used to write verses of original poetry on napkins, old newspapers, and in the front pages of books. I, fortunately, still have all of this saved in a box.
--She smelled like gardenias all the time. I think it was the powder she used.
--She told me I would do great things. And I am aiming to.
Here's the soundtrack of her memory in my head right now:
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Maybe it's because I'm so focused on self-care these days that I am extra sensitive to any disruptions in my system. Or maybe it's because I worry about my dissertation and don't get enough REM sleep. Maybe. But I'm rather convinced that it's my aging that's limiting me. And that's actually a remarkable thing. It's like my body has a voice and it's saying (via a headache, fatigue, the general malaise that makes you want to scowl at everyone you see): "Hey, don't you think these days you're better suited by a nice dinner, and sticking with one kind of alcohol, and getting to sleep at a reasonable hour so you'll feel like getting up to go on a run or clean your house?"
Lord, is that where I've come to? I fear, I fear so.
Here's the post-Bourbon resurrection diet:
-ginger ale, ice cold, lots of it
-a big plate of pasta at about 1pm (eat slowly, though)
-easily-accessible aspirin (many doses may be required)
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Am I kidding? You decide.
Back to the point at hand. Wine, it's expensive. According to people I know who know even a little bit about wine, the truth is that to get to that next level you've got to throw down some bills. If I had bills, I'd be throwing them down on clothes and organic meats, things of that nature, and certainly not wine. Why? Because I have this theory that an unsophisticated wine palate just doesn't know what it's missing. It's blissful ignorance, and I think it can be maintained for my entire life. To me (and don't gasp, wine lovers out there, keep breathing), a Merlot is a Merlot--aromatic, calm-inducing, sweet evening in a rounded glass.
Here's a red that's been circulating among us poor grad-student-folk here in Athens:
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Sunday, July 10, 2011
But I never thought much about how it plays out, how we're all living, breathing manifestations of it. I told my students the other day that Reconstruction was and is America's unfinished revolution, and that in the South particularly it's the travesty of our collective generations that racial equality is a work still in progress. They heartily agreed. We did a day on the cultural history of central Appalachia. I asked them to deconstruct where the "hillbilly" stereotype comes from, and what's wrong with it. They came into class armed with Cormac McCarthy references and tales of their grandparents' rural lives.
I thought a summer course at the University of Georgia would deliver me twenty fresh-faced suburban Atlantans, full of their parents' politics and hesitant to find emotion in history. I was so wrong.
A more modern South has brought me a more modern (and by that term here, I mean complex, and compelling) group of students. They are from all over. They range in age from 19 to...well, one of my students tells me she is a grandmother, but I won't speculate on her age except to say that she seems as youthful in demeanor as any of us in there. They've opened my eyes to the patchwork of people in my midst, and suddenly Athens is renewed.
My faith in perspective, in people's ability to understand the past and how it shapes their present...that's back and stronger than ever.
Monday, July 4, 2011
I said, without blinking or thinking, "You know...sometimes we just make a mistake. And all that makes sense is to start back from scratch and try to make it better next time."
I should listen to my babysitter voice more often in my everyday life.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
This morning we watched "The Towering Inferno." No joke. All three hours of it. It was the 1970s' "Titanic," nail-biting and full of men trying to look sexy. I knew 24 hours couldn't go by without a Paul Newman or Steve McQueen reference...I just didn't realize that we'd actually stage a viewing of their joint-film effort during the first real hours of our visit. Spending time with my dad is all about pacing--gaging his mood and planning activities that fit well into the two-or-three-hour bubbles during which is not too tired or cranky. Oh, wait, what does that sound like? Having a child?
Once we reach a certain age, I guess these roles reverse for us all. It is nice to have him around. For a late-lunch today, we headed over to newly-opened Heirloom Cafe on Chase Street. The grassfed burger is wonderful--topped with cheese, arugula, grilled Vidalias, and heirloom tomatoes. Later this afternoon we'll make a trip to Earthfare and stock up on things like....chicken that father will expect me to fry.
I got nothing else today. I'm trying to piece together an hour or two of writing. But it's Saturday after all.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
I didn't think that anything could top For Emma, Forever Ago. The "my my my" chorus during "Skinny Love" made me cry so many damn times that I had to ban it from my shuffle for awhile. I think the last time I heard it was the final straw--on a late Spring afternoon driving down Mopac Expressway in Austin, Texas, beer-buzzed (don't worry, I wasn't the one driving) and broken-hearted. That whole album was about living and breathing with loss, and it became a big part of the evolving soundtrack of my twenties.
It's fitting that now there's renewal. In this new album, the sadness is muted--replaced with melodies that are more tempting, a couple of intros near-epic, and words that are more hopeful about love in general. In the middle of the track "Beth/Rest," he simply asks with no abandon, "Aren't we married?!" The music is still haunting, still feels as rural and soft and full of gut, but the words are often almost giddy with childish fervor.
Check them out:
Not too long ago I promised to update this site a lot:
The concept stands, and I'm not taking the site anywhere. I just don't have time to pester people for lists (although, admittedly, I've still got two in my inbox that need to be formatted...shhhh).
In the meantime, I started thinking: am I satisfied with my own music library? Itunes allows us to add items constantly--albums from friends, recs from the Internet, random songs that struck our fancy one day. My library, according to the system's calculations, would require 7.5 days to listen to from start to finish. A lot of it is crap that means almost nothing to me. Some of it is music I have lived my twenties by. So I'm going to start with "A" (which in my library happens to be A.C Newman's solo album "The Slow Wonder," a definite keeper) and weed out the lies. Along the way I might spotlight some music here that I toss, or some that I keep. On a Sunday morning with coffee and an allergy attack, here's my first stab at explaining the chance-y entries...
--Bob Schneider, "Lonelyland" and various singles: He's an Austin-based singer/songwriter who I think has gained a decent amount of fame elsewhere too. The Schneider question in Austin is controversial. He has standing gigs at some amazing smaller venues. And apparently he once dated Sandra Bullock. But half of the people you could stop on a street in downtown Austin will roll their eyes at the mention of his name. Hardcore hipsters hate his music, which is one of the reasons I gave it a try (because I loathe hardcore hispters). But, you know, it does....suck. His voice feels forced all the time. His lyrics are cheesey. He looks like an asshole most of the time because he never seems to take his sunglasses off. His latest single (off a critically-panned album that he had to release himself) reference the Tin Man and the Wizard of Oz...with no irony. It's like Top 40 for twelve-year-olds. So, here he goes...into my own personal musical dumpster.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Monday, June 20, 2011
This is the current anthem. And it's joyful and fearful all at once.
Oh, the Mac.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
But it's the crime Woody Allen is suddenly very guilty of, via his new film "Midnight in Paris." Despite having the most contrived-sounding title ever, I became convinced the movie must be good...since reviewers and critics were raving about its run at Cannes, and because I had so many friends who were excited about it as well. We'd been conned.
I won't give away too much of a spoiler, just in case you still want to throw ten dollars down a metaphorical toilet and go see this. But the basic premise of the story is that Owen Wilson's character Gil--an under-confident Hollywood writer who aspires to write the next great novel but knows full-well he probably doesn't have the chops to do so--starts traveling, nightly, back in time to the Paris of the 1920s (while Rachel McAdams, his fiancee, sneaks off to carouse with pretentious assholes in present-day). Stupid to begin with. Like some comedic take on "Inception." But what's worse is that Allen has hired actors to PLAY Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dali, Picasso, Gertrude Stein...all of the artists and writers that lived in Paris in the twenties and created the works we still breathe heavy about today. The actress who plays Zelda Fitzgerald pops on screen...and, not thirty minutes into the film, it's all dead in the water. Who can play Zelda? The bad mop of frizzy hair on this actress' head, combined with her annoying accent...geez, Allen, get a better casting agent if nothing else. The guy who played Hemingway was so robotic and scripted that at first I thought the whole time-travel thing was a dream-sequence joke.
No such luck. All these larger-than-life figures are played with very little gusto by actors who have probably never read or seen any of the work. That might be a mean comment.
I don't care. I'm an Allen fan more generally, but this was over-rated shit. McAdams isn't even nice here, and...who makes her unlikeable? My friend Catherine commented that a fifteen-year-old could have written this script. Save for one hilarious line about one of Picasso's mistresses, I had to agree.
Hollywood should come knocking on my door.
In the meantime, I may commit a historical homicide tomorrow if I don't work out this lecture on the Old South properly.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Monday, June 6, 2011
It's ironic to say that not since "Mean Girls" have I heard SO many women between the ages of eighteen and fifty raving about a movie. Ironic because that movie was a breakout for Tina Fey, who wrote it and starred in it and thereafter became a household name. "Bridesmaids" was written by her Saturday Night Live successor Kristen Wiig--the ONLY truly funny thing about SNL anymore and, like Tina, an example of how stunning, funny, and damn smart women over the age of 25 really are. I can only hope she'll garner as much attention, or also her own show.
Besides being just, well...hilarious, this movie is the single best commentary on adult singledom that I have ever, ever seen. Kristen's character is the solo among the marrieds and the coupleds, the one still trying to convince herself that she's fine "just being friends" with her lovers (a funny turn by John Hamm, to note) and that her best friend's impending nuptials don't bother her even in the slightest. She dumps on the nice guy, of course, and tells everyone off in all the wrong ways. Any woman worth her salt has been there, though--those moments when it's hard to see past your own despair over love. Kristen's character overcomes them slowly, realistically, with lots of bumps along the way. In other words, the way things really happen.
Go see it. It's a cultural movie moment because: it's the bachelorette movie that doesn't go to Vegas; it makes fun of rich people in all the right ways; the majority of the major female characters are over the age of 30; there's some crazy-funny Wilson Phillips nostalgia that will blow your mind; and the cutie Irish cop who fights for Kristen's affection will maybe give you all faith in the male race again (he did for me).
Saturday, June 4, 2011
-My friend Christopher is part of a dissertation-writing mini-club (which is nothing like a mini-vacay, sadly) that meets at various coffee shops and writing nooks in the general campus area. Usually it's three or so history folk around a table. I shunned it at first. Then I joined one day. And I worked. Because it turns out that having someone across the table from you kind of holding you accountable...makes you work. Brilliant, huh. (I bet Christopher didn't appreciate me suggesting, from across the table, that he moisturize his dry skin...but you know, that's what friends/writing colleagues are for.)
-Baking genius-turned-entrepreneur Jessica Rothacker, who I am lucky to call a friend, is in the last stages of opening her farm-to-table cafe here in Athens (called Heirloom). She and her husband Jordan (who is also working his ass off, to note) gave me a tour of the place yesterday afternoon, plus fed me impromptu shrimp and grits in the brand new kitchen. It's coming together beautifully, and they should be ready to open in about two weeks. It's the refurbished (oh, and how so!) Amoco station on Chase Street. Jessica's plan is to serve exclusively local and regional fare--the meat, the vegetables, the fruit...everything will be what's fresh (and you can get your drink on, too--I was sitting around with them yesterday while they worked on the beer list). Athenians, watch out for the open sign!
-My syllabus for the summer is available at: http://uga.edu/history/_syllabi/HIST_3090_reedl_0511.pdf
Check it out if you're at all interested in what my eighteen students and I will be conversing about on these hot summer afternoons. Speaking of that...yeah, it's gross. I forgot how much humidity hates me and my hair.
-Maybe, just maybe, I had a teensy emotional breakdown because I miss my family, and because there's so much going on. Maybe I did. And maybe some amazing friends held me up and made sure I didn't stumble.
This morning I'm chugging orange juice, popping Dayquil, and attempting to finally have at least one day within which I'm not constantly moving. Amen, amen.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
This is what the back of my car looked like early Monday morning right before my dad and I pulled out of Austin. We drove in separate cars to Shreveport, and at 7am on Tuesday I hugged him goodbye and started down I-20 like so many times before. Highlights of the drive? Not many. A man at a Chick-fil-a in Meridian, Mississippi, tried to hit on me with this line: "Honey, I do a lot of teachin' and preachin'." I knew I was back down South.
I write to you from my favorite coffee shop here in Athens, Georgia (Jittery Joe's at Five Points). It's summertime in a college town right now--everything is as slow as molasses. It's bloody hot, my legs hurt from walking everywhere again. Things look the same here. It's comforting and scary all at once. But I have felt the warmth of the arms of good friends around me. And we're catching up, settling in again. Last night I finished off a bottle of blueberry mead with my friends Kelli and Chelsea. Translation? I have no complaints.
School starts a week from tomorrow. I've got a huge office on the third floor of LeConte Hall that I need to fill with books and coffee cups. Updates to come on all of that. I cannot wait to meet my students.
In the meantime, you Austin folk, you know who you are...log on to Kayak.com and book yourself a plane ticket. It's nice here, and you should come see me.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
Friday, May 20, 2011
This summer I return to my campus. I've been off a college campus for one calendar year now. After eight years ON them, that was a huge change. I realize I belong on one. Because it's truly the only place where it's always, always okay to be carrying tons of books, or drink five cups of coffee in one afternoon, or sit out on a lawn with your shoes off while you try to write. There's a line from Vampire Weekend's debut album: "In the afternoon, you're out on the stone and grass. And I'm sleeping on the balcony after class." I guess I feel like that's been a big chunk of my life--lying on the stone and grass.
Here's to a burned-up-hot Georgia summer, going flipflop-less on campus, and the many, many esoteric conversations to be had over whiskey or sushi or various brunch items (all at different times, of course).
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Thursday, May 12, 2011
I don't know when I started calling them "kids." Maybe when I'd spent enough time in front of a classroom feeling the generational gap between myself and eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds widen like an old man's waist. You'd think that six, eight years wouldn't be long enough for a complete disconnection. I'm in my twenties, I'm young, I like to think I'd rather...hip. Okay, that made me sound old.
The thing is, I exited high school on the cusp of the world we live in now. I didn't have a cell phone until my freshman year of college, when my father finally succumbed to my begging as well as my (excellent) reasoning that he'd worry less about me away at school if I had a phone on me at all times. The students I'll be teaching this summer, they got cell phones when they hit high school (if not before, sadly). I didn't buy a laptop until my second year of grad school, just four years ago. Before then, I made do with a desktop that would seem clunky now. Believe it or not, I had a dial-up connection at my downtown apartment in Athens in 2007. My little generation, those of us that are in our mid and late twenties now, we saw the future coming. But it was expensive and cumbersome. We did and still prefer buying regular books. We were taught that the library held all our answers, not the internet. Our attention spans are a bit longer. We had to GO gather information for book reports and research papers. Etc.
Over the last couple of months, I've been brainstorming how to make my course--The History of the American South--streamlined in such a way that makes it palatable for my students but also chocked full of surprise and easily accessible depth. Here are a few tactics I've come up with:
-I'm starting off the semester by juxtaposing "the boring" history with a more modern take on it all. The first day of class, I will present my students with my "ultimate southern history music playlist"--something I concocted and posted on here last summer. It spans the whole twentieth century, highlighting popular songs that, either on purpose or accidentally, shed light on the southern experience or how the South is perceived in broader culture. We'll watch youtube clips if we have to that day. I want these kids to know that the ideas about where they come from, whether their own or someone else's, color their world and invade their mind every day. What is heritage, exactly? What is the southern mind? Is it mint juleps and seersucker (which some of these Georgia undergrads own for their frat party wardrobes), or is it chicken-fried steak, boiled cabbage, and bare feet? Obviously it's both. I'll hit them with this trendier approach, looking at songs like Neil Young's "Alabama" and Outkast's "Rosa Parks," and then two days later ask them to sink their eye-teeth into a heavy article by historian Mart Stewart about life in colonial Savannah (published in 1991). They've got to learn to mix the two mediums more. That's what we all need more of again--less New York Times on demand in blurbs, more time sitting down with pages on a table.
-I'm going to show them the movie "O Brother Where Art Thou?" and ask them to explain it to me.
-I'm going to take them on a mini-field trip around Athens, a scavenger hunt of sorts, and demand they identify the historic places in their own town that hold deeper meaning. Athens is small, but it's old. The mansions in Cobbham, the buildings on Main Campus, the strips downtown that used to house primarily black-owned businesses...it's all there in close quarters for them to re-look at.
If I have one goal for the summer, it's to trim the fat off the history they think they know (in other words, forget spending a whole day talking about the battle of Gettysburg, instead we'll talk about how the Civil War is represented in modern culture and whether public history has gotten it right) and get them away from their ipads for a few minutes at a time.
PS (And I'm sure this will warrant a dedicated blog post once I have time to fully process it.) Don't even get me started on Mike Huckabee's new "history" website for kids (http://learnourhistory.com/). The first "lesson"? "The Reagan Revolution" DVD for $9.99. Worst moment? When a black man wearing a t-shirt with the word "disco" on it tries to mug a kiddie time traveler--because, you know, it's 1977 and the country has got to pot solely because of disco-dancing, knife-wielding youths.
May I vomit? This man must be stopped.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Monday, April 18, 2011
[I was sitting on the patio of a nondescript coffee shop when the reality of this book project sunk in deeper than it ever had before. I sat across the table from my father, who is not just one, but two, generations older than me. He is from hearty stock. His ancestors journeyed slow like molasses over the last couple of centuries, starting in North Carolina and eventually packing it in along the piney woods corridor of North Louisiana—where oil replaced cotton as King in the early twentieth century. He won't listen to my reasonings, but I remain convinced that so many of his relatives have lived into their nineties because the Reed family patriarchs taught their offspring to eat food raw and fresh from the earth. To this day, my father bites into an onion as if it were the juiciest of green apples.
A visitor in a modernized and liberal city, he sat in Austin on this April day quite frustrated with his daughter's penchant for writing what he deems the “boring” history. He is a tried and true conservative old-timer in a technologically-driven and youthful world, a baby-boomer whose parents ate shredded cabbage during the Great Depression. I remain forever frustrated by his stubborn inability to see the historical and cultural connections between then and now. Why he cannot understand that his family represented the very demographic that government-funded programs helped from the doldrums in the 1930s, that baffles me.
But something he said this afternoon struck me as surprisingly astute. After asking how “my paper” (i.e. my dissertation) was coming along, he shook his head with a smile when I replied, “Well. Right now I'm writing about the actual paper-making process and the workers in the mills in Georgia.” I huffed and puffed, of course, and demanded to know why that was so funny.
He answered quickly. “You write about poor people, not interesting people.”
There. There it was. The hitch that breaks off for all of us historians trying to make a name for ourselves with students and with a public that always wants the sensational (and often white and often wealthy) over the quietly triumphant. “How is poverty boring?” I replied, passion in my voice. “How is the era of the Great Depression possibly boring?” I was shocked at the blunt nature of his final reply.
“The Great Depression is not boring. But in the South it...was. In the South it was. If I read about the Great Depression, I want to read about Wall Street stock brokers jumping out of windows in New York City.”
In that moment I became more convinced than ever before that American culture teaches a lot of us to imagine ourselves as more...elite than we actually, um, are. It's why every romantic comedy takes place in some upper-middle-class house that looks like Pottery Barn vomited all over it. Or why some politicians can get away with selling tax cuts for the wealthy to the...poor. (Does that make any sense?) And, relevant to my career, it explains why the popular history on the front shelves of Barnes and Noble is still covered in white wigs and white Whigs and World War II cannons. People want the exciting, the heroic. They also want the whitewashed, the neat historical packages.
What I write about is actually everything my dad's family went through in the South...first rural poverty, then the hope of industrialization and modernization, and then, and only then, some level of middle class-esque prosperity. I fear he's lost touch with some of his roots (even though he's still eating them). Har har.]
Monday, April 4, 2011
...for books. Life along Lamar (well, almost along...I have to jump up a block or two from my house to be ON the street) has taught me several little rituals for my life here in Austin. One of them involves jumping in my car at 8:30pm on random Sunday evenings, headed for HalfPrice Books, even though I know they close at 9 and will be slightly irked by my presence. Also I usually get tacos on the way home.