Currently listening to Jackson Browne, discovering T Bone Burnett, trying to catch up on episodes of the podcast “Cocaine and Rhinestones.”
Reading “Cotton Tenants: Three Families” by James Agee with photographs by Walker Evans. Here’s the synopsis from Amazon,
“In 1941, James Agee and Walker Evans published Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a four-hundred-page prose symphony about three tenant farming families in Hale County, Alabama at the height of the Great Depression. The book shattered journalistic and literary conventions. Critic Lionel Trilling called it the “most realistic and most important moral effort of our American generation.
The origins of Agee and Evan’s famous collaboration date back to an assignment for Fortune magazine, which sent them to Alabama in the summer of 1936 to report a story that was never published. Some have assumed that Fortune‘s editors shelved the story because of the unconventional style that marked Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and for years the original report was lost. But fifty years after Agee’s death, a trove of his manuscripts turned out to include a typescript labeled “Cotton Tenants.” Once examined, the pages made it clear that Agee had in fact written a masterly, 30,000-word report for Fortune.
Published here for the first time, and accompanied by thirty of Walker Evans’s historic photos, Cotton Tenants is an eloquent report of three families struggling through desperate times. Indeed, Agee’s dispatch remains relevant as one of the most honest explorations of poverty in America ever attempted and as a foundational document of long-form reporting. As the novelist Adam Haslett writes in an introduction, it is “a poet’s brief for the prosecution of economic and social injustice.” -end quote
I purchased this book sometime ago, was reading another book before the holidays but got sidetracked and never got back to it. This book is of particular interest to me because while it is not literally the story of my grandfather’s family, it is essentially the story of families for whom the circumstances of survival were the same as his. One of seven children, my grandfather’s family had no indoor plumbing, of any kind, they had a well, and an outhouse (eventually), typically sharing only a few rooms, two or three, in tin roof houses. When they didn’t have a mule to plow the fields, when they couldn’t borrow one, which was frequently, the boys took turns pulling the plow. They were the definition of “dirt poor.” And my grandfather would readily say that there were those who were poorer yet.
Growing up I heard these stories, these family histories, on visits to those places that held the spent youth of my grandparents, not fully understanding the larger history and story that I was being told and taught. My grandfather stands as the best person I have ever known. ~ Personal interest aside, the book is, thus far, a fascinating read and account of a particular time in our country. The passion of the author, James Agee, with regard to his subject, is evident from the first page. It is not an unbiased portrait of the times or the plight of the cotton tenants, but in this case, that has not seemed to interfere with the accuracy of it.
Still reading from The Big Book of Joan. “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live.” Joan Didion ~ The more I read from this book, the more I want to read from it. At 1160 pages, it keeps on giving. I count it as one of the best book purchases I’ve ever made.
I was watching a show called “Mountain Men” but I started calling it “Men Walking in Snow” or “Men Walking in Snow After Something Breaks” and then I started fast forwarding through those parts and decided I had to quit it. What caught my attention about it was that as the commercial for it pointed out, it is a way of life that people are not running to in droves and thus many of the skills, and much of the knowledge necessary to sustain life away from so-called civilization, are going by the wayside. Case in point, I read a BBC story this morning about companies that are selling “Raw Water” (untreated spring water) as the latest trend in… trendy…beverages. For those who really don’t know why drinking “raw” unfiltered, unsterilized, untreated, water is dangerous, I urge you to look that up, ask a healthcare professional if you can, and I would say to you that when they say that untreated water has to be boiled in order to sterilize it so that it is potable, that doesn’t mean that you should drink boiling water or water that is boiling hot, ever. Really, just, don’t. Ironically, “Idiocracy” was running on one of the movie channels last night. My husband said, “Someday ( in the future) they’re going to find a copy of “Idiocracy” and think it was a documentary.” ( I hope not.) Speaking of documentaries, sporadically watching Ken Burns’ series on both “The West” and “The Civil War”, both are excellent. Also looking to get into the new season of “The X-Files”, whilst still keeping up with episodes of “Supernatural.”
Fall was quite lovely. The holidays were hectic, unusually so, as well as being unusually poignant this year. Just before Christmas, we weathered the passing of my mother-in-law after a lengthy illness. Though not entirely unexpected, grief is an exceptionally private matter, and a strange animal, that often reverberates long after its primary impact. It seemed to me that I should wait a time before posting again or, I’m not sure what, but then it is time to be trying to get things moving forward.
I’m working on a variety of projects, none of which I care to discuss any further than that other than to say fiction and poetry. Still planning to release the next collection of poems, “Thelxiepeia” sometime early this spring. I had set up a coffee station in my office ( to make tea with) but that didn’t work out, I didn’t use it the way I thought I would. I need another bookshelf in the space. So I’m planning on moving the apothecary table back to the kitchen and this spring, getting busy with a small garden. I’ll have these grandiose ideas about decorating but then I’ll see something that speaks to my soul and all previous ideas get renounced. This, in one way or another, has been at the crux of much of my existence, the battling of my exceptional brain, and my heart. My ongoing sobriety, as well as my own changing, evolving, ideas about aging, have put me on a path to a healthier existence overall. (though no sooner spoken than I think I might have a cold)
The ability to be comfortable is luxury, to sit at my kitchen table and look out our window is a dream come true. The last few weeks have borne with them a humbling astonishment at, and thankfulness for, every good grace. My life has been so difficult sometimes, incredibly challenging, and really, just hard, but then to think of where my husband’s mother began her life as the daughter of Sicilian immigrants in New York in the 1930’s, to think of where my grandparents began, so many other things, it brings perspective to simple joys, to everyday goodness. I’m so thankful right now. I think that’s a good way to begin the new year.
Okay, okay, okay, all right, alright…
We had a nice Thanksgiving this year. My son had plans, as your kids often will once they become adults, so it was just me and my husband. I made a twelve and a half pound bird with the notion in mind that I wouldn’t have to cook again until whenever. I made the complete feast. Again, big meal, a lot of good food for all week. I set the table. Make the most of it, I say. ( And it’s okay to be thankful and celebrate in the present, without celebrating, condoning, or making light of, the past.)
I had to throw out the very last piece of my birthday cake and I didn’t want to. That was really the best cake. That was the cake that there will never be another one like. But, that last piece, though wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated, had gone dry as muther-effin- bone, and so it had to go. There’s cherry pie now, that I am avoiding. Let’s face it, these are good problems to have.
Note here: Things I’ll never apologize for, enjoying whatever I can when things are going well and on the upswing, and neither should you. You don’t have to be a jerk about it when things are going well, but do not ever feel bad about it or guilty or any of that useless shite. Have you ever been down? Enjoy what you can while you can. Enough said.
As those following along may have noticed, I’ve been following the story of the protests at Standing Rock. I was thinking, what is it about this story that really got to me?
When I write, when I’m really into writing something, I tend to become immersed in it. I am capable, mentally, of shutting out the world and I can ensconce myself in day slipping into day after day of nothing but writing. I think that most of us live very much in our own worlds, whether we realize it or not. We tread the same paths over and over again ever day, interacting with most of the same people, at work, at school, at home. I am also capable of exhausting a subject, if something piques my interest, one track mind. I think that I was so immersed in my own work, in trying to get done what I’d set out to do, that nothing was getting in for a while. It was very, “What? An 8.9 earthquake in Myanmar? Didn’t even feel it.” I think that if you’re a scientist trying to cure cancer and you become obsessed with your work, oblivious to the outside world, people understand. If you’re “just a writer,” well, not so much. I’ve also had a lot on my plate the last few years in terms of trying to sort out not a few personal items post-nervous breakdown. No, really. So a lot of things were just rolling by me, like the passing countryside out the window, I got the gist of it, the general shape of the thing, but that was about it.
When I first saw something on twitter about the protestors at Standing Rock, it was likely sometime in September, 2016, and the situation had already been going on for well over a year with the protestors beginning to arrive in April, of this year, after the initial camp was set up by a woman named Ladonna Brave Bull Allard. ( Source 1, Source 2) I started researching, just googling, reading from a variety of sources, as I do. When I first learned that the pipeline was to go underneath the Missouri River, I looked up the Missouri River, my history being a little rusty and usually when I think big river in North America, I’m in Mississippi territory, or the Colorado, not up Lewis and Clark way. This is important too, because that’s “American History” which probably isn’t “Native American History.” Well, who wants to read all of that?
Can you look at a picture?
The Missouri River is the longest fresh water river in North America. Look at all of its tributaries. Look at there where it just hooks right up with the Mississippi River and scoots on down to The Gulf of Mexico.
This is what got me. I looked at these maps of these rivers and it seems obvious to me that putting a pipeline under what is pretty much the most important fresh water resource we have in the entire Continental U.S., just seems like not the brightest idea ever. I mean, they hardly ever leak, right? Except for this one, that just happened in September in Alabama when 250,000 gallons leaked and there’s this picture of this pond that turned brown from gasoline. Do you think you can drink that? I mean, how long would you have to boil that? Water purification tablets? I’m gonna guess, no. Have a look.
And that’s really what got me about this story, that’s what pulled me in. Common sense would seem to dictate that such an undertaking, putting a pipeline underneath the Missouri River, is in no way, shape, or form, worth the risk to the river and ecosystem. FRESH WATER IS LIFE. Do you have kids? I mean, what the hell are we doing? I just kept looking at that map of the Missouri River and thinking, what the hell? None of us can survive without clean, potable, water.
Then it became apparent that our mainstream news media hasn’t been and isn’t reporting on this story. ( Does This Look Like a News Story to You?)
I wonder if people can even grasp what it is that is happening. I fear that as greed and corruption devalue our money, our work, our labor, our land, our WATER, they will look for something else of value that they can trade with.
Will clean water be the new gold?
A lot of people do not like the book “Atlas Shrugged”, by Ayn Rand. Greed and corruption are the problems. If you can manage to listen to this and comprehend the meaning, it seems to be what is happening. The world is selling itself out from under itself in the name of greed, graft, corruption, favors, it is not the money itself that is evil.
What is happening is the product of corruption, of people trading FAVOR and FAVORS, and so and so on and so on.
That’s my opinion, at least.
“Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion–when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing–when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors–when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you–when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice–you may know that your society is doomed. Money is so noble a medium that does not compete with guns and it does not make terms with brutality. It will not permit a country to survive as half-property, half-loot”
― Ayn Rand,
But then what happens? Can you look at it anymore? Can you listen to it anymore? Can you let your heart be broken for even one more minute thinking that they’re going to run the protestors off of that land and they’re going to put that pipeline under that river?
It isn’t like they couldn’t re-route it. It isn’t like they couldn’t stop and say, “You know what, this endangers the water supply and we’re going to figure something else out.”
How much would you pay for a gallon of clean water to drink? How much would you pay for it if you had kids?
It breaks my heart.
Then Carol Brady died. She was 82 and so what were we thinking? That she would always be there, with her strange, flipped-end mullet, and permanent smile, even though Mr. Brady turned out to be gay, and all the rest of it, Greg’s narcissism, Cindy’s lisp, Marcia’s unending perfection, would her nose be all right?, Peter’s voice changing, Bobby’s goofy charm and Jan, that wig was so not her.Well, maybe Alice is making a fresh pot of coffee and Sam just delivered a pot roast, so dinner’s on, “It’ll be ready in about twenty minutes, Mrs. Brady.” We thought she would always be there. Florence Henderson, was pretty rock and roll.
Then Detective Harris…
We wonder why so many celebrities and cultural icons have passed away this year, but it’s because so many of them are getting to be that age, our cultural parents are passing away, it’s what happens.
What does that mean for us? It means we’re getting older too. It means we’re likely long past time for being the grown ups and trying to get a grip on this train wreck of avarice and confusion about the basic concepts of common sense, common decency, and morality, before they really do leave us without clean water to drink or a proverbial pot to piss in.
Fidel Castro has died. I wasn’t a fan. It’s being reported that Cuban exiles are dancing in the streets of Miami.
Over the summer I read D.H. Lawrence’s “Etruscan Places”, which is a collection of travel writings, however, it is so much more than that. Lawrence describes the absorption of cultures into one another, which is part of why, in the modern-day, Peoples become so upset about the “appropriation of culture” because it is so often a sign that the originators of whatever it was, are being absorbed, phased out. ( The other reason why is that, hey, do you like it when someone appropriates your sacred stuff without regard for the sacredness of it? Is your wedding dress just another dress to you?) Lawrence talks of how Etruscan art and culture was absorbed by the Romans until which was which? Who could say? Until everything becomes temporary and transitory and one day, won’t we all be a mystery to be discovered and solved? Like ancient cities recently discovered?
I had something of a health scare over the summer that turned out to be nothing all that unusual but it reminded me of every other health scare, and every other time that laid me out. It woke me up.
Writing? I’m still working on a collection of stories for early next year. I’m also thinking about my novel, THE SLICK FURIES, and making another corrective editing pass through that. Thinking about the next books, looking forward to getting to them. Christmas is coming, my favorite holiday.
And I totally forgot to write about the weird dream I had because, I think, I’ve been watching too much “Supernatural” but, I’ll get to it, eventually.
Has the world gone completely mad?
Calmly, as a matter of fact, ask yourself,
Does what I see in these videos of what is currently happening at Standing Rock, look like a news story to me?
Not whether or not you agree with the protestors or what is happening there, simply, does it look like a news story?
Does it look like a big news story, or the kind of thing that usually gets covered like it is a big news story?
Does it look like a human interest story? Does it look like a lead story?
Have I seen this story of the protests at Standing Rock on the television news?
Is this story being reported by the mainstream news media?
If I have seen this story, of the protests at Standing Rock, how thorough was the coverage?
How many people are there?
How long have they been there protesting?
I think that you should make up your own mind about what kind of story it looks like to you.
To me, it looks like the kind of news story that should be a lead story every night on the nightly news, at the top of the broadcast, until some resolution has been achieved.
What does it say about our mainstream news media that the story of the protests at Standing Rock isn’t being covered as such a story? And if our mainstream news media isn’t reporting on this story in an unbiased and accurate way, that means offering no opinion on the subject while presenting to you the facts, then what else is our news media biased about?
Food for thought.