Thursday, March 31, 2011


Long time, no see, my bloggy friends.

The Guardian recently reviewed a new book by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons called Edgelands. You can check out the full review here: But here's the most explanatory excerpt--

The zone goes by different names, few of them complimentary. Victor Hugo called it "bastard countryside". The landscape theorist Alan Berger called it "drosscape". The artist Philip Guston called it "crapola". And the environmentalist Marion Shoard called it "edgeland", which she defined as "the interfacial interzone between urban and rural". The edgelands are the debatable space where city and countryside fray into one another. They comprise jittery, jumbled, broken ground: brownfield sites and utilities infrastructure, crackling substations and pallet depots, transit hubs and sewage farms, scrub forests and sluggish canals, allotments and retail parks, slackened regulatory frameworks and guerilla ecologies.

For starters, this is what I spend my academic days writing about. This book is about edgelands in modern England, but the concept in my case applies to between-spaces in coastal and piney woods Georgia--places where trees are grown and hauled out on dusty trucks by southerners who are guided and misguided by an urban economy and culture. My edgelanders are people like writer Janisse Ray (b. 1962), whose Ecology of a Cracker Childhood documented her days growing up in a dump (literally), raised by parents who existed on the fringes of modern society by collecting its car parts and other random artifacts. Luckily she escaped from Baxley, Georgia, for college and graduate degrees and publishing houses. But she went back as an adult and tried to call attention to her people, some of whom were slipping through the cracks.

This blog really isn't about anything academic. I just had to set up the concept. One of Farley and Symmons' goals is to remove the stigma from edgelands. I guess I want to do the same for the edgelands in our own lives.

A good friend sent me the link to this book a couple of weeks ago, and ever since I've been formulating a theory. If edgelands are where a city caves in on itself (and/or discovers itself through its lost souls, as these authors suggest), then aren't the metaphorical edgelands of our relationships, jobs, or periods in our lives, aren't they where we find both our own flaws and victories? Isn't the middle ground where we discover the most about ourselves?

Think about it. Say you end a relationship, or a friendship. Say you leave a job. Or lose a family member. That part of your life has deteriorated, and often quite suddenly. There are things, once vibrant and living and breathing, that fall to ruin both physically and figuratively. If that part of your life was a city block, it got blown up. Or shut down because of a bedbug infestation. So you start wandering other places, but your brain and your heart may still be rooted in the darker place. I don't want to get too deep here. Sorry. But you see what I mean? You're faced with either dealing with a broken and dank infrastructure that still works (but is ugly) or packing it all up and starting fresh somewhere else. And that usually has to happen slowly, whenever it happens.

I'll be blunt. I think it's been important for me to FORM this theory because I am very much aware that I'm in an edgeland of my own. Not a dusty one. I'm on a newer freeway...but one that leads everywhere and nowhere. My infrastructure is a suitcase. Literally. Anyway, I truly believe that the people I've encountered even in the most nomadic and transitional spots in my life...well they've taught me the most. I may run the risk of sounding all hipster here, but honestly I've learned more about myself during late evenings at a dive bar with a Shiner in hand (having abandoned writing for the day and unabashedly aching for a little laziness) than during those days that my academic efforts are straight as an arrow.

You can't live well in an edgeland for long. Edgelands are edgelands because the black and white exist somewhere else, somewhere we reach for. But cheers to them, because they make us who we are.

Here's a Decemberists' take on an edgeland of sorts--the transition into summer. I cried listening to this song this morning. Because this summer will take me, in many ways, back home to a home that will look so very different.

"Here's a hymn, to welcome in the day, heralding a summer's early sway. And all the bulbs all coming, to begin. The thrushes bleating battle with the wrens, disrupts my reverie again. Pegging clothing on the line, training the jasmine how to vine, up the arbor to your door...and more. Your standing on the landing with the war, you shouldered all the night before."

[This blog is dedicated--without any ironies or any winks--to someone who will know who they are. And they're (you're) just wonderful.]