Bookends: My Spring Reading List PART TWO

books

Read:

*Economics is the study of how people choose to use resources.

The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor by William Easterly. Published 2014.
Easterly is Professor of Economics at New York University and Co- director of the NYU Development Research Institute.
The book argues that the cause of poverty is the absence of political and economic rights, the absence of a free political and economic system that would find the technical solutions to the poor’s problem. He believes the answer lies in the well-being of nations versus individuals. In essence, we must not let caring about material suffering of the poor change the subject from caring about the rights of the poor.
Certainly, he brings up some very good points, but I believe after reading Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly (two opposite ends of the spectrum), I believe I like with Collier (see next).
At some point I intend to read Easterly’s 2006 book The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Harm and So Little Good.
Check out The Washington Post’s review here.

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier
Collier is Co-Director, of the Center for the Study of African Economics (an economic research center within the Department of Economics at Oxford U.) and a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government.
He was a student at Oxford in the 1960s, a time when many of his fellow students had family connections to Africa (fathers, male relatives had been colonial administrators…). A father of one of his friends had been governor of Nyasaland – renamed Malawi – the poorest country at the time on the continent. The man said it was easier to rename the country than change it. *Note when Zaire became the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The book is about the Malawis and Ethiopias of the world, the minority of developing countries that are now at the bottom of the global economic system – and are distinctive not just in being the poorest, but also in having failed to grow.
He developed the notion of “traps” based on conflict, natural resources (lack of..), geography (bad neighbors…), and bad governance and how countries could be gradually pulled out of these traps.
I enjoyed this book immensely, because frankly it was easy to read. Collier was not talking down to anyone – he used his great intelligence and humor to explain complex matters that really are not so complex when you break them down and he is straightforward. No BS and a realist. Yes, force is necessary here and there.
This books is for everyone, not just academics.
For those held prisoner by the images of starving children, Collier smashes some of those images with statistical evidence.
Bravo Professor Collier!
*Note, the book was published in 2007 and still the U.S. government, foreign governments, NGOs, the World Bank… and so on continue to intentionally ignore the facts the reality – why? Well, folks greed and intentional ignorance and bureaucracy (aka politics) – but that’s a whole other post.

Angels of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry edited by Charles Henry Rowell, the founder and editor of the literary quarterly Callaloo. See more here.

Ray Lum’s Tales of Horses, Mules and Men by William Ferris. See more here.

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and The Maine Woods, both by Henry David Thoreau. The former is based on a boat trip Thoreau took with his brother in 1839 from Concord, MA, to Concord, NH. It was written in 1849 after his brother’s death. The latter describes trips Thoreau took over an eleven-year period into the north woods. I especially appreciated the lists of Indian words and what to take on an excursion into the backwoods of Maine.

*I also picked up The Wildest Country: Exploring Thoreau’s Maine by J. Parker Huber. It follows Thoreau’s sojourns in Maine and offers modern commentary on how the route has changed. I learned Thoreau had difficulty with distances and topography. His estimates were, according to Huber, consistently exaggerated.

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman.
Goffman is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin. The book began while she was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania and continued as fieldwork for her PhD dissertation at Princeton.
Goffman spent six years living in a disadvantaged neighborhood in Philadelphia observing a cast of young African American men who are caught up in the web of high-tech surveillance, warrants, arrest quotas…She also give an account of daily life, including observing girlfriends and family members. This book is a an on-the-ground account of a forgotten neighborhood and the very real human cost of America’s failed response – the blighting of entire neighborhoods and the needless sacrifice of whole generations.
Goffman is the daughter of sociologist Erving Goffman.
There was a lot of controversy around her popular book. **You will need to read the book and the back and forth between sociologists, law professors, and journalists – but my take – she did not fabricate any part of the story and it is as important a work as William Foote Whyte’s ethnography Street Corner Society. Like Whyte, she wanted to go beyond being a fly on the wall and be a participant observer.
For what it’s worth both her thesis advisor at Princeton and her publisher have stood by her book.
The New York Times named the book one of the 100 notable books of 2014.
Here is a link to her TED talk.

Americanah by Chimananda Ngozi Adiche.
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
I recommend reading this book, but while I feel Adiche is an excellent writer I find the fact that her protagonist is someone who ranges from annoying to deplorable – well questionable. I want to read more of her work and sit with this for a while. I am sure just about everyone else you will ask who has read this book will tell you they loved it and that I’m crazy. Well, maybe but it just didn’t sit right with me. You read it and tell me what you think.

Arcadia by Lauren Groff. I just couldn’t get into this and believe me I tried. Again, the writing is beautiful I just couldn’t get into the story.
In the fields of western New York State in the 1970s, a few dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding a commune centered on the grounds of a decaying mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this romantic utopian dream from its hopeful start through its heyday. Arcadia’s inhabitants include Handy, the charismatic leader; his wife, Astrid, a midwife; Abe, a master carpenter; Hannah, a baker and historian; and Abe and Hannah’s only child, Bit. While Arcadia rises and falls, Bit, too, ages and changes. He falls in love with Helle, Handy’s lovely, troubled daughter. And eventually he must face the world beyond Arcadia.

Bookends: My Spring Reading List PART ONE

books

Woohoo, the first day of spring and what –we’re expecting a snowstorm? Whatever, I’m proceeding as if only blooms are on the way.

Read:
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. Published in 1947, the book is about the last hours of an alcoholic ex-diplomat in Mexico. The once great and utterly shattered British consul Geoffrey Firmin’s last days are told against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. An insane person finding beauty in the madhouse. He stands admiring the bottles, the beautiful bottles. The book’s title comes from the two volcanoes that overshadow Quauhnahuac.

Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa by (longtime contributing editor to Vanity Fair) Mark Seal.
The book is a story about British wildlife filmmaker and African conservationist, Joan Root, who was murdered in 2006. Root was devoted to saving the ecological system of Lake Naivasha, which she lived on the edge of, and which was invaded by the cut-flower industry. In addition to drying out the lake (sucking up water), the large flower farms put pesticides in the lake, and brought in migrant workers who brought crime to the area. In addition to trying to protect her beloved lake, she also waged a war against the poachers (attracted to work on the flower farms) who began to encroach on her land.
Her story is a remarkable one for many reasons, and quite sad. The book is wonderful in many ways, but lags where the author neglected to research the early colonizers of Kenya and instead chose choice information to include as it fit his story.
I encourage you to learn more about this wonderful woman and to not purchase carnations or roses in the future. Note to Whole Foods, really want to piss me off – keep advertising African roses!

Idina

The Bolter by Frances Osborne (the great-granddaughter of the book’s subject). This is the story of the wild, beautiful, fearless Idina Sackville, descendant of one of England’s oldest families, who went off to Kenya in search of adventure and became known as the high priestess of the scandalous “Happy Valley Set.” The gin flowed through her five marriages and Osborne shares much from her lengthy research. Here you get a glimpse I have not seen in non-fiction books about the time and place before including how the well-heeled went on safari, the decorating of the great Happy Valley houses, mention of Elspeth Huxley (one of my favorite Kenyan writers), race week in Nairobi, and the divine Denys Finch Hatton – otherwise known as the man Robert Redford played in the film OUT OF AFRICA. I may take issue with the way Ms. Sackville lived some of her life (abandoning her children), but I love her passion for books – she was called among other things the “Kenyan queen of books.” Well, then she can’t be all bad? A highlight of the book for me is Osborne’s insight into the importance of books – “they could be posted, carried, lent, and exchanged, forming a cultural currency.” One also learns a lot about the affairs and exploits of big-game hunter Bror von Blixen-Finecke, a Swedish baron best known to many today as the husband of Karen Dinesen (author of OUT OF AFRICA).

Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear) by Jon Fine. Now executive editor at Inc. magazine, Fine was a member of the band Bitch Magnet among others. With his memoir he offers readers an insider’s look at thirty years of the American independent rock underground. I enjoyed the first half of the book, but felt the last half dragged. If you are really into music maybe you’ll enjoy it a whole lot more than me.

My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine by Kate Betts. OK. I love Paris and I was so excited to read this book, and maybe my anticipation got the best of me, but aside from making me wish I was in Paris I did not feel much. I certainly did not feel for her and her Upper East Side upbringing, prep schools, and certainly did not think her so brave to go to Paris when her godmother lives there and gets her an internship. I certainly did not feel sorry for her when her mother visits a few months after she has been there and buys her a fur coat. She doesn’t seem to realize how lame it is that she – and she writes about this for several chapters – is after 3 ½ years in the great city still trying to mimic Parisians. OK, I remember ardently trying to be more sophisticated when I lived/studied in Strasbourg and every time I go to Paris I pay attention to what the gorgeous stylish women are wearing – but at some point your protagonist needs CONFIDENCE.
When not lamenting her fashion choices, she writes about her love affair with a surfer named Herve and her job at Fairchild Fashion Media.
Note, you might be familiar with her name, she was the youngest editor of Harper’s Bazaar for about a minute and a half – during which she became known as brisk and arrogant, and ultimately was fired for declining readership.

The Liars’ Club: A Memoir by Mary Karr. Here is the NYT review  from 1995 and this bit by Lena Dunham for The Paris Review. Karr has all the words and the memories. At time I didn’t know whether to be more stunned by her words, the intrinsic details of what was happening, or just the mere fact that she remembered every single one of those details about her childhood. Read this if you have not already.

Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader (publisher’s description – Before his untimely death in 1982, Lester Bangs was inarguably the most influential critic of rock and roll. Writing in hyper-intelligent Benzedrine prose that calls to mind Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson, he eschewed all conventional thinking as he discussed everything from Black Sabbath being the first truly Catholic band to Anne Murray’s smoldering sexuality.) I found out about Lester Bangs when I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman portray him in Almost Famous. Man, I get choked up just thinking about it – when I saw that film, what was going on in my life (some of the best years) and how much I MISS PSH. I didn’t know him, but I really could have watched him act forever and ever. I digress. Back to the real life Lester Bangs and his book.
The book reprints some of Bangs’s reviews for Cream, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, and others. He put Patti Smith’s up there with Miles Davis, thought the Rolling Stones were the greatest rock and roll band in the world (but that could be “lazy, sniveling, winded motherfuckers”), that Stevie Nicks was a narcissist, and that the Dead Boys were pretending to be something they were not. A great read for anyone who appreciates the music of the 1970s and/or truly great rock criticism.

By Blood We Live by Glen Duncan (author of The Last Werewolf, which I loved, and Talulla Rising, which I didn’t). Jake, the main character of The Last Werewolf, is sophisticated, intelligent, and has a big heart. Duncan is an excellent writer, but a not so great storyteller. I made it through 45 of the 312 pages of By Blood and put the book down. I highly recommend The Last Werewolf.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I tried, I really did with this one. He is absolutely an incredible writer and man what an imagination and storyteller, but the book is so long and I just don’t have the time right now to dedicate to it. I plan to try reading it again when I do.
In case you are interested:
NYT review
DFW obituary

Humboldt

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf. I LOVED this book. Not only is Wulf an exceptional researcher, she is a truly gifted writer. The New York Times listed this book in their top 10 Best Books of 2015. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the great Alexander von Humboldt, a man who approached botany like no other before him, who developed the idea of human-induced climate change, and who inspired Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Charles Darwin, Jules Verne….the list of his accomplishments and those inspired by him goes on and on. He was the greatest scientist of his age and an intrepid explorer – nature was his teacher. I truly cannot say enough about how beautiful and educational this book is, and how much I think anyone interested in science, history, adventure, poetry, and nature will enjoy this.

Off to the Side by Jim Harrison. An enjoyable memoir by the man who wrote Legends of the Fall and the screenplay for WOLF. The first few chapters about his youth in Michigan are fantastic. His tales from Hollywood and hanging out with Jack Nicholson and his gang, well those are fun. I greatly appreciate the man for quotes such as this one “If books aren’t treated as beloved objects like the sports page or the television why would a child wish to read?”

Joyland by Stephen King. It was great until it wasn’t. King tells a great story until it isn’t and his dialogue is terrible. I recommend for a beach read. **I also read Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. A fine read. I learned much about King I did not know, about writing, and the publishing world.

Jack and Jill by James Patterson. Awful. Terrible. I could not make it past the first 50 pages.

M Train by Patti Smith. I just didn’t love this one the way I LOVED Just Kids. Maybe you will?

TTTC

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. WOW. The Washington Times pretty much nails the quality of this book and O’Brien’s writing “Many people think this is the best work of fiction ever written about Vietnam. Some even think it is the best work of fiction ever written about war. Both are right, and they were right 20 years ago when this book came out for the first time.” The book is a sequence of stories about a platoon of young soldiers caught up in the madness of the Vietnam War. It is a privilege to even read a book such as this.

Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert. This is an excellent book about the story of the rise and fall of the European-dominated empire of cotton. It is also the story of the making and remaking of global capitalism and with it of the modern world. The book follows cotton from fields to boats, from merchant houses to factories, from pickers to spinners to weavers to consumers.
Chances are you are wearing something woven from cotton. Do yourself a favor and read this book and learn about the world’s most significant manufacturing industry.

Reading:
Dirt Work by Christine Byl, The White Road by Edmund de Waal, and Olives by Mort Rosenblum.

On my nightstand:
Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell

Books coming out this summer, that I look forward to reading and sharing with you in my summer and fall lists: The Georgia Peach by William Okie, The Ottoman Scramble for Africa: Empire and Diplomacy in the Sahara and the Hijaz by Mostafa Minawi, The Shaykh of Shaykhs: Mithqal al-Fayiz and Tribal Leadership in Modern Jordan by Yoav Alon, and Rights After Wrongs: Local Knowledge and Human Rights in Zimbabwe by Shannon Morreira.

Mt. Washington One Day Winter Ascent

In the old days when I was scared of doing something I would make up an excuse not to do it and convince myself that was the right thing to do. My first trip to Africa changed all that and me forever. Now I plunge ahead pretty much no matter what. Ok, granted the obstacles I am facing are not maybe all that serious in the scheme of things – but to me in my little world they are still very large.

So, I committed to summitting Mount Washington in February and I am going to do it in just a few days. Funny, but a week ago I wasn’t at all worried about the things one probably should be when doing this kind of thing – frostbite, being in shape… Then I attended that avalanche awareness seminar and now all I can think is (a) minefield (b) wave your arms a lot if you go down in one – someone told me to do that just in case and I am not at all sure it will matter – blunt force trauma and all – but hey something to concentrate on.

And usually I am a planner, but somehow not this time = why I am ordering things like snow goggles just a few days in advance and a hooded down jacket (I have so many outdoor jackets, but none the right weight and with a hood). I will look like a bumblebee or a Steelers fan (I am not), but I will be warm in my black bottoms and goldenish yellow (the company calls it “warm olive”) superfly jacket. (note pic below)

MT W jacket

Actually, I really don’t care what I look like as long as I have fun and am safe.

Oh, and p.s. Mt. Washington is known as the Home of the World’s Worst Weather, and still holds the world record for the highest windspeed ever witnessed by man – a mind-boggling 231 mph. During the winter months, the wind speed on the summit tops 70 mph at least once every three days, and it’s not uncommon for climbers to encounter temperatures of -30F and below. I will be above treeline for about half of the ascent, experiencing a true alpine environment. WOOHOO!

About five hours up and three down if all goes well.

I have summitted Katahdin (during late summer) and gone ice climbing near Mount Washington a few times and loved it so it isn’t like I am that worried. And this freshly received (as in while writing this post!!) information helped a LOT:

There are a few different routes up the mountain, the objectively safe Winter Lion’s Head Trail avoids avalanche terrain and is almost always a safe bet.

Ahh, sigh and now I am getting excited!!

Lions-Head-wind-600x400

(top pic courtesy of EMS, bottom pic courtesy of Cathedral Mountain Guides)

Get Lost: Prepping for Wyoming

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I will be climbing to the summit of Grand Teton this summer.

Here’s what my guide to be Brian Warren wrote back in September, 2014 about the same trek I will be doing:

During the four days of the Alpenglow Expeditions & Jackson Hole Mountain Guides “Big Mountain Skills” training program, the crew was able to practice and put to use many of the skills needed to climb not only the Grand Teton, but also to continue on to bigger peaks around the world. The trip began with Day 1 of the program and the group left Lupine Meadows and made their way to the Corbet High Camp that sits just below the East Face of the Grand Teton at 11,000 feet. This day mostly consisted of getting to camp and settling in as well as covering some basics with the climbing gear in the late afternoon.

There are three more full days, including the summit (that day starts at about 3:30 a.m. and goes into the late afternoon/early evening). In addition to hiking, I will be learning and practicing technical and rescue skills. Exciting stuff for a gal looking to climb a couple mountains in South America and Africa in coming years.

For this program I was provided a laundry list of items to bring – everything from the expected types of upper and bottom layers required to keep me warm (but not too warm) and dry (very important) to a sleeping bag liner, insulated mug, sunscreen, and dark sunglasses. It was recommended I get a backpack large enough to fit all my personal gear plus ten pounds of food and water (they provide breakfast and dinner I bring snacks and lunch). OK (a) figuring out the right backpack (THANK YOU EMS in Portland and North Conway for helping a gal out and tracking down the uber popular Osprey Aura AG 65 – the 2015 Backpacker Magazine Editors’ Choice) and (b) get in shape to do the trip with the backpack.

wild backpack

OK, the above pic is a mock up someone did about “Monster” the backpack Reese Witherspoon (aka Cheryl Strayed) carried lugged around in the film (book) Wild. I will not be carrying all the stuff she did (note the above pic is after a more knowledgeable hiker edited down what she had in “Monster” = no more what was it a saw). Still, if you have seen the film or read the book or at least done a fair around of semi-extreme day hiking you can understand why I feel the need to get into the best shape of my life.

What that means is six days working out. Two one-hour swimming sessions for my breathing, mental toughness, increases muscle strength, gives my body a break from higher-impact activities, and is fun. Those sessions (about 1 1/2 miles each) wear me out. Yoga once or twice a week. The gym (weightlifting and 40 – 50 minutes on the stair master, elliptical and bike, or elevated treadmill) three times a week. Oh, and this – a full body high intensity workout for 50 minutes with my trainer – once a week.

What does the above mean? NUTRITION. Watching my caloric intake (as in more, the right ones). This is harder for me than the workouts. I have learned to drink chocolate milk after my pool workouts, am consuming more steamed vegetables, more protein, more whole meals (no more I am in a rush will just grab a Clif Bar), and fewer potato chips. I am more observant about treats (for me that’s Ginger Snaps and dark chocolate).  I already drink a lot of water daily so that’s easy, but interestingly I drink a lot more tea than coffee now.

More on my Wyoming prep and later actual adventure :) Happy weekending folks. ox

Ray Lum and Oral Traditions in the American South

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William Ferris is an American author and one of the most important historians of Southern culture, with an emphasis on African-American music and folklore. He co-founded the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, Tennessee, and served as the founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.

In the early 1970s he began making documentary films in the Mississippi Delta. In 1972 he made this film about Ray Lum, the mule trader and two decades later published the book You Live and Learn. Then You Die and Forget It All, later retitled Ray Lum’s Tales of Horses, Mules and Men.

I saw the film last summer while taking an online course taught  by Mr. Ferris on the American South, and recently read the book.

I have long known of the importance of storytelling as part of the culture of the American South – from the way my father loved to tell stories and the way parties during childhood summers in Magnolia, Arkansas would dissolve into evenings where a handful of folks would tell stories late into the night. However, William Ferris best encapsulates the importance of this culture in the South: “Stories are our oldest way of communicating knowledge, of passing on traditions, and Southerners have a gift for that. And when you ask a Southerner to answer a question, they will tell a story,” he said.

Ray Lum was a mule trader, who according to Mr. Ferris, was a man born and bred to the practice of the country monologue. “A one-of-a-kind figure who seems to have stepped full-blooded from the pages of Mark Twain,” he wrote of Mr. Lum.

Ray Lum was born and lived within an hour’s drive from Mr. Ferris’s childhood home near Vicksburg, Mississippi. He traded mules and horses with three generations of Mr. Ferris’s family.

In the pre-industrial world of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s horses and mules were the primary mode of transportation for work and recreation – especially in the rural South. A heavy-set man who stood six feet tall and is described as having been gracious and articulate, Mr. Lum brought to life the worlds readers discover in the pages of William Faulkner’s novels. As anyone who has read those great books knows, that means a healthy dose of both beauty and darkness.

Ray Lum was born in a log cabin on June 25, 1891 in Rocky Springs, Mississippi. One of nine children, his grandparents served as foster parents. The town’s population numbered around seventy-five. Eighteen years prior to Lum’s birth, General Ulysses S. Grant and his Union troops passed through the community during their march toward Vicksburg. Today, little remains of the town.

As a child, Lum would hitch a horse to the family’s buggy and take his grandmother’s homemade butter to a nearby town – where it was sold for twelve and a half cents in trade. This and a few early horse trades naturally lead him to his path as one of the south’s greatest traders. By 1912, Lum owned five stables that housed hundreds of mules and horses.

His stories tell of gypsies, whiskey runners, mangy dogs, whores hanging about, outlaws like Frank James and Pretty Boy Floyd, racial violence, and the lives of families during the Great Depression.

While many of his stories are fascinating, most are sad truths of the times – in particular the animal abuse. I mentioned one story to my friend and horseback riding instructor C and she said that kind of abuse still happens, but at least less so now because people are aware it is not correct. In my humble opinion, Mr. Lum was a truly great storyteller and trader, but quite the lousiest of trainers. For all my admiration for Mr. Ferris I am still struggling a little with why he did not admonish him in the littlest bit, but then he said himself that as a supporter of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s he found beauty and darkness in Mr. Lum’s southern culture.

Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks was born in Kansas and died in New York City. In between he spent a lot of time in the American South. His best known images from the segregated South are from an assignment he had for Life magazine in 1956 to document the everyday lives of an extended African American family living in rural Alabama under Jim Crow segregation. The article “The Restraints Open and Hidden” ran with text by Robert Wallace.

I was fortunate enough to see some of Mr. Parks telling images at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts just about this time last year in the exhibition “Gordon Parks, Back to Fort Scott.”  Fort Scott, Kansas was the town that he had left more than 20 years earlier, when after his mother died, he found himself—a teenager and the youngest of 15 children—suddenly having to make his own way in the world. His pictures bring the places he photographed to life. He is one of my favorite photographers. As we celebrate African American History Month I encourage you to learn about Mr. Parks and look at his images.

*An American South post about the Southern storyteller and horse and mule trader Ray Lum is coming next week. ox

Gordon-Parks-At-Segregated-Drinking-Fountain_Mobile_Alabama_1956
Gordon Parks. “At Segregated Drinking Fountain, Mobile, Alabama,” 1956.

Off to the Side

In his brilliant memoir Off to the Side, author Jim Harrison writes with the diversion of television people aspire to the speed of the passing images on screen and develop impatience and boredom with anything less. He also writes “man has an inexhaustible ability to beshit his environment, with politicians well in the lead.” (note Flint, Michigan)

A friend recently called upon me to go to the mall with her to purchase a television. That digressed (progressed) to just looking at them and in the end we went not at all. I am not an advocate for television considering the emphasis on reality television and commercialism. There is a flimsy barrier between news and entertainment if one at all. I would rather read, write, exercise, hang out with friends, and watch the birds and animals on my land. **Note, I own a television for football season otherwise it is disconnected.

As a result of television and the Internet and all our electronic gadgets we are quite an unreasonable people. The dramatic way in which we embrace the times we live in – the incessant need for more for me for I. The indecent marketing of our values, the tearing down of moral behavior, the selling out of our culture and the dehumanization of society. I am coming to loathe social media – the too much too quick take. The me me me of it.

In an attempt to escape “real life” some of us escape to a rural life. Four years into my stay in rural(ish) Maine I am confronted with threats of pollution and feel an increasing sense of claustrophobia.

Pickup trucks speed down the two-lane road with such force it seems they are flying from a Nascar pit station onto the straightaway. Entitled persons throw their empty fast food containers on the front of lawns and I feel certain try to edge other drivers off the road. Who are these wretched people and where did they come from – who raised them – who didn’t.

I was in a supermarket checkout line last night behind a woman who – no judging …but – was overweight with bad skin wearing too large sweatpants – listening to her tell the bag girl how she wanted to kill herself or her kid because the kid was with her all the time and this by the way was because she pulled her out of kindergarten because she didn’t think she was getting anything out of it. *Note, her storytelling was interrupted briefly by her running after her screaming child at the front of the store. Her grocery items included several bottles of alcohol – rung up separately than the other items, which may or may not have been paid with food stamps. Once gone there was a collective relief felt between myself, the checkout man, and the bagger – the latter of whom stated her child (note, this is a young mother) is doing well in the same program and stated matter of factly the woman who had just left (she knew her somewhat) just didn’t want to take her kid to school. I asked how this is legal. No answer. I also worried and still am about the child abuse in that household.

Here’s the thing – the woman with the poor health and questionable parenting approach – she represents a too large part of society than we are willing most of us middle or upper middle class individuals to admit. She exists because she can, because there are cracks a mile or more wide in systems set up to try and prevent just this – whatever this is – and here’s the thing – she may or may not even watch television. No diversion needed. She is part of a society so far removed from one I understand or am grasping with all its changes to understand – that she may as well be a member of some indigenous tribe I read about in all those stacks of books on my shelves and tables.

And there it is or part of it. I read, always have. I choose books over radio (well, Spotify now or podcasts except in the car) and often over television (just not during the football season). Maybe she wasn’t read to as a child maybe she has never read a book maybe she cannot read. Seriously, real problems.

We need to leave the me, myself, and I era behind us. We have a heck of a lot of work to do to improve our communities and our planet. We need to believe a better experience is possible for all of us.

As for me, when I look out my window I see a large family of wild turkeys enjoying the worms and bugs brought up from the rain and that’s far more entertaining than anything that is likely on television right now.

ox

Diversions

What better time to share a few TV series and movies I think worth watching than on a rainy February day?

Programme Name: River - TX: n/a - Episode: River - First Look (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: John River (STELLAN SKARSGARD) - (C) Kudos - Photographer: Nick Briggs

River – the BBC detective drama on Netflix starring Stellan Skarsgard. WATCH IT!!!!!

actually, that’s it for TV right now.

and

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Straight Outta Compton – in fact watch this INSTEAD OF the Oscars.

and Sicario, The End of the Tour, and definitely (!!!) Spotlight – sooo good.

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Angels of Ascent

Next time I do a book list I’ll tuck Angels of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of African American Poetry in there, but the book deserves it’s own post.

It is edited by Charles Henry Rowell, the founder and editor of the literary quarterly Callaloo.

The 600 plus page book is divided into four parts, organized around the ‘waves’ of black writing since the demise of the Black Arts Movement (Northern urban phenomenon built around idea “work of and for black people”) in the late 1970s. Eighty-six poets are included; arranged in chronological order of the trajectory of African American poetry. Poets who built a tradition which disregards geography, race, culture, class and those other boundaries which do violence to human beings in the west.

Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. She did this in 1950. And I would have included her poem “Boy Breaking Glass” except that I fell in love with Robert Hayden’s “Elegies for Paradise Valley”. Hayden was a Poet Laureate of the US from 1976 to 1978. He grew up in the black section of Detroit called Paradise Valley, taught at Fisk University and then the University of Michigan, and passed in 1969. Here is a link to an interview he did on NPR.

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A portion of the poem “Elegies for Paradise Valley”….

I
I shared bedroom’s window
opened on alley stench.
A junkie died in maggots there.
I saw his body shoved into a van.
I saw the hatred for our kind
glistening like tears
in the policeman’s eyes.

II
No place for Pestalozzi’s
fiorelli. No time of starched
and ironed innocence. Godfearing
elders, even godless grifters, tried
as best they could to shelter
us. Rats fighting in their walls.

III
Waxwork Uncle Henry
(murdered Uncle Crip)
lay among floral pieces
in the front room where
the Christmas tree had stood.
Master Hong of the

Chinese Lantern (there
Auntie as waitress queened it
nights) brought feesias, wept
beside the coffin.

Beautiful, our neighbors
murmured: he would be proud.
Is it mahogany?
Mohogany – I’d heard
the victrola voice of

dead Bert Williams
talk-sing that word as macabre
music played, chilling
me. Uncle Crip
had laughed and laughed.

Great horned owl

Another favorite – Clarence Major’s “The Great Horned Owl” (Major was born in 1936, he was the first editor of American Book Review and taught at UC Davis from 1989 – 2007.)

He glides, descending
to the forest floor –

his round face
like an African

mask, carved out
of soft wood.

He sails down smoothly
(his face as wide

as his shoulders
with big ears

jutting straight up
like horns) – descending

to the forest floor
where a mouse

scurries along.
And the wingspan

of the great night bird
spreads, showing

his white plumage
in this, his pale phase,

as he snatches it

he sings and dances
in the half-light,

scattering dry leaves,
spreading again

those great wings.
On the takeoff

he fans his fluffy
black-and-white tail.

Still Standing

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During February we all have an “extra” opportunity to learn about the history of African Americans. Those of us who are white can lean into the uncomfortable stories and I suppose move forward more educated more sincere in our appreciation of what individuals like John Lewis and Alice Walker went through – the mountains moved to liberate African Americans not just from whites only water fountains but to undo the cultural shackles of the “Mississippi cotton-field dialect” attributed to black people in films and books.

In celebration of African American History Month I want to share two posts with you – this one and the one going up right after on Angels of Ascent.

ONE:
Last Friday night I attended the event “Still Standing” celebrating stories of Maine’s past, present, and future African American leaders who through steadfast resilience and determination overcame, and are still standing today. The evening was a partnership between The Abyssinian Meeting House and MECA Public Engagement. Standouts included musician and writer Samuel James, City Councilman Spencer Thibodeau, and Linda Ashe Ford.

James recalled encounters with racism at eight and nine years old. He spoke beautifully about his father. A rare kind of man – extraordinarily strong in character and build (6’2, 200 pounds) with a significant number of physical scars (from war?) – including a knife wound the length of his abdomen, and two bullet holes in his back – only one of which he remembers. At eight he and his father (an African American) and mother (a small white woman) were walking down the town sidewalk when a white man came out of a shop and called him a “ni…r” and his father responded not with violence but this – he said “I don’t know who taught you that word, but it’s rude.” I loved his father in that moment. I loved him more when he went to Samuel’s school to complain about the bullies throwing rocks at his son and calling him a “ni..er” and the receptionist says to him “Oh, are you here about the janitor position?” (As if – in case it’s not clear – the only reason a black man would walk into a school admin office is for a janitorial position.) He took the job, held it till Samuel graduated, then put down the broom and walked out. WOW.

Spencer Thibodeau’s story was sad – not because what happened (he was adopted by a white couple after his African American mother in Kentucky gave him up in her teens), but because he is still figuring out who he is. He said, “My greatest failure is understanding who I am.”

Linda Ashe Ford is nothing short of a treasure. A great African American treasure who should have her own live storytelling night day. I could have listened to her for hours. It wasn’t just the stories she told, it was the way she told them. One of those rare figures whose stories of her grandparents, her memories of the street she grew up on, the ups and downs of life are told with common-sense lessons and humor. “It’s not what people call you, it’s what you answer to,” she was told by her mother and sadly had to tell her son. I relished the story of her grandfather buying a home in a white neighborhood and sending his wife out to wash the windows. Inevitably, someone would come up and ask his wife who she worked for – she didn’t work for anyone – her husband bought the house. And with that they would get offers by whites to buy them out and they would move with their profit to another neighborhood and do it all over again and with that clever maneuvering paid for Mrs. Ford’s college education.

The Abyssinian Meeting House is among Maine’s most significant cultural landmarks. It was built in 1832, and is the third-oldest black meeting house in America. It was a hub for the Underground Railroad used by slaves to escape the South in the 1800s.
It was almost demolished in the 1970s, and is the focus of an ongoing effort to preserve and restore it.

Thanks for the invite JM!!!

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about this blog

About Me Sharon Kitchens and Delicious Musings. Welcome and thank you for visiting my blog. I write about all the things I enjoy - Culture, Food, Photography &Travel. Read more on my about page.

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