Vacation

So, I love my job, but I’m burnt out. In order to do my job well, you have to be prepared to fail most of the time, to not find what you’re looking for or to be wrong about the value of what you’ve found, or to lose the good things to someone else. And, once you’ve found that good thing, it’s a lot of negotiating a lot of egos and keeping a lot of people who want a lot of different things and have a lot of different expectations happy.

When I’m good, I’m helping dead men find justice. When I’m bad, I’m finding what joy I can in Excel spreadsheets.

Lately, I’ve been bad. I’m coming to the end of my time with the aforementioned dead men, and I’m going to turn them over to other people, and they’ll have to find their place in history without me. I’ve done what I can. But they’ve been on my mind for a couple of years and part of my day-to-day life for a year.

And I need a break.

So, as soon as I can settle some stuff with the Hall of Fame, I’m going on vacation. You, dear readers, won’t notice much of a difference, because I’m just going to be here, at home.

A weekend that never ends, at least not for ten days.

Advertisements

Ryan Brasseaux & the Lost Bayou Ramblers

I have this job that sometimes requires me to sit at the back of a lot of rooms listening quietly to people talk about things I know nothing about. Last year, I had to do that at the International Country Music Conference, which is held every year at Belmont and is worth going to for the great food and the incredible view of Nashville (which is only topped by my secret spot for watching the 4th of July fireworks).

On Thursday night, folklorist Ryan Brasseaux claimed he was going to talk about a history of Cajun music. Instead, he brought with him the Lost Bayou Ramblers, a Cajun band.

You have to imagine, us all shoved in one big room, most of us sitting around tables, and this friendly, dark-hard guy stands at the podium while a handful of other guys, all in their 20s, sit with instruments in hand.

Brasseaux would say something about, say, the kinds of music being made in France right before the Acadians left and he’d turn to the band and they’d play us a little bit. Then a folksong from Acadian Canada, then something the Africans brought to Louisiana, and something the early Cajuns would play.

And he’d always say, “Listen.” Listen, listen for the smooth notes, now listen for the ways the Cajuns incorporated the syncopated rhythms they heard in the music of the slaves. Now listen for this, now listen for that.

The band was incredible and you should go see them if you ever have the chance. They must have played for three or four hours without a break, one song to shake your butt to after another.

But Ryan Brasseaux is kind of my hero–a person who can guide you around the things and the people he loves and make you feel both that you’ve been made better by the experience and that you have a stake in their continued well-being.

Worship at My Genius!

Though I have a rule against posting about work, I’m going to break it today to tell you that I am the Excel Goddess! Even though I have had zero (0) math classes since high school, I was able to come up with complex formulas like SUM=(A23*C23)-G18 and actually analyze some data.

Better yet, through my data analysis, I was able to discover that my boss is right.

How awesome is the staff meeting tomorrow going to go for me?

(Heh, I hope I didn’t just jinx myself.)

The Feminist Update

It occurs to me that someone who thinks that feminism is all about strewing barbed wire across the cultural landscape in order to set up some protected woman-friendly, woman-validating space might be surprised to find themselves here, a place full of Whitman and Ginsburg and rap music and country music and baseball references and a writing style that owes a great deal to Chris Hyatt and Eric Szulczewski.

I also don’t write a lot about women artists, though this isn’t some accidental oversight. It’s pretty deliberate. I know how to talk about what I feel when I read, say, Uncle Walt. I don’t really know how to talk about what I feel when I read Mary Oliver or hear Bessie Smith or look at Georgia O’Keefe. There’s an element, I think, of me holding too close to myself the things that touch my soul and letting the sparkly stuff distract us.

I should probably address that at some point.

But, I wanted to talk a little bit about why you find here what you do find here, lots of things that aren’t exactly “woman-safe.” Miller, for instance, is all the time talking about the gaping putrid gashes between women’s legs. Rap music is full of bitches and hoes. Country music still thinks it’s fine to have songs about men killing women, but frets about the “controversy” surrounding songs about women killing men (“Goodbye Earl”) even when those men are abusive (“Independence Day”).

And those things do piss me off. Those are deliberate stances, aesthetic decisions, made to draw a firm distinction between who gets to make edgy, provocative, upsetting art (men) and who gets to be the object up on display and/or who plays the role of provoked and upset uncool folk who just doesn’t get it (us).

It’s tiresome, to have our own contributions and creative endeavors overlooked or devalued, when we’re doing so much that is deeply meaningful. And so, I don’t blame anyone who says, “well, fuck them, I’m taking my precious things and going home.” It’s an understandable response. As is drawing firm lines and saying “Girls only here.”

A lot of what this culture produces is scary and I worry about the effect on everyone–boys and girls–of the messages they receive. Making safe and nurturing spaces is important and I appreciate the women and men who work hard to do that.

But there’s a long, long history in this country of “protecting” women from things we’re supposedly too delicate for. Yes, it’s clever. Make art and culture as unfriendly as you can to us and then run around arguing that women need protection from art and culture.

Whatever, motherfuckers.

If there’s something important there, or even the possibility that there’s something important there, your misogynist bullshit isn’t going to keep me away.

I might be scared shitless. I might act like a darn fool because I don’t know the rules and mores, since I’ve been kept busy with my girly shit in rooms you don’t pay attention to, for thousands of years. I might wish I’d not looked or listened.

But I’m not going to be run off by your casual cruelty towards me.

There is nothing that this culture produces, this country, my country, that will remain off-limits to me, if I decide it looks interesting.

That’s the kind of feminism going on here.

Put Your Right Foot In

It may be that we are doomed, that there is no hope for us, any of us, but if that is so then let us set up a last agonizing, blood-curdling howl, a screech of defiance, a war-whoop! Away with lamentations Away with elegies and dirges! Away with biographies and histories, and libraries and museums! Let the dead eat the dead. Let us living ones dance about the rim of the crater, a last expiring dance. But a dance! –Henry Miller

Some people don’t care to read. They aren’t in love with words. I don’t understand those people.

Look here, at these crazy times we live in, where everything that is not the right kind of Christian, the right kind of patriotic, the right kind of right way of thinking, is wrong, is evil, must be eradicated.

It’s hard not to be scared. It’s hard not to wonder how we will get through this, you and I, America.

How do you get through?

***

Here is my favorite thing about reading and writing. Through reading and writing, you enter into conversations that have been going on for centuries. You can watch ideas from one person take root in the art of another.

Look here at Miller, again, dancing in defiance, as I wish I could. He knows that “It may be that we are doomed, that there is no hope for us,” but in the face of that, he insists we “set up a last agonizing, blood-curdling howl.”

And then, we listen closely and hear that very noise: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked […] who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz […] who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war”

Holy! Holy! Holy! Indeed and Amen.

***

America, here’s something I never told anyone. When I first moved to Nashville, I was so lonely, with only the tv and the radio to keep me company. And every night, I would read Walt Whitman out loud to myself, little by little until I heard “Song of Myself” out loud three or four times.

You can do no better by a poet than to read him or her out loud. You cannot read Ginsberg out loud (go back and try those few words and see) and not be changed.

You cannot read Whitman out loud and not be in love with the America of these poets.

***

What I mean is that this bullshit we see on TV or hear on the radio, this angry, scared, superstitious mess that hates women and hates science and hates poets and men with guitars and three chords and the truth, that hates real living children and the sick and the elderly and the poor and the immigrants, this peculiar strain of Americanism is not the only one.

There is another strain, peculiar in its own way, dreamed up by poets and songwriters and dreamers and prophets, and that America is still within reach, it’s just as traditional and historical and real, as this shit we’re in right now.

***

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise;
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse, and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine;
One of the Great Nation, the nation of many nations, the smallest the same, and the largest the same;
A southerner soon as a northerner–a planter nonchalant and hospitable, down by the Oconee I live;
A Yankee, bound by my own way, ready for trade, my joints the limberest joints on earth, and the sternest joints on earth;
A Kentuckian, walking the vale of the Elkhorn, in my deer-skin leggings–a Louisianian or Georgian;
A boatman over lakes or bays, or along coasts–a Hoosier, Badger, Buckeye;
At home on Kanadian snow-shoes, or up in the bush, or with fishermen off Newfoundland;
At home in the fleet of ice-boats, sailing with the rest and tacking;
At home on the hills of Vermont, or in the woods of Maine, or the Texan ranch;
Comrade of Californians–comrade of free north-westerners, (loving their big proportions;)
Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen–comrade of all who shake hands and welcome to drink and meat;
A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest;
A novice beginning, yet experient of myriads of seasons;
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion;
A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker;
A prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.
I resist anything better than my own diversity;
I breathe the air, but leave plenty after me,
And am not stuck up, and am in my place.

–Walt Whitman (How can you read that and not feel better? How can you read that and not love that America?)