And So It Begins

Southerners, let me tell you something you may not know. We Midwesterners, especially those of us who either grew up near the Chicagoland area or who have family there have a secret barb we throw at each other. Say you are somewhere where you would not expect to meet another Midwesterner–in this case, we could say, right ahead of you in the checkout line in Kroger.

And the Chicagoland person might not recognize you as being from the Midwest, so he or she will say “I’m from Chicago.”

We then say, “Oh, really? Where?” You might not recognize this, but this is how we signal, “I suspect you’re being a douche.”

Now, here’s the important thing to know. At this moment, there is a non-douchy reply. A non-douche right then is either going to ‘fess up to the city he’s actually from–“Well, I’m actually from Aurora, but it’s been so long since Wayne’s World, that I usually just say Chicago” or they’ll give you a neighborhood or a set of cross streets (which may be in Chicago or in the suburbs)–“I grew up on Michigan and 119th.” or “My Grandma lives off of 151st.” And you have a general idea then of where they’re actually from, with all the attendant stereotypes that go along with that. But right away, they’re going to respect that you asked “Where?” because you have some familiarity with the area.

But there’s always some asshole who will still try to just say “Chicago” or worse yet, “It’s too hard to explain. You wouldn’t have heard of it.” These folks always seem to think there’s some great cultural cache to living in actual Chicago, which they want you to believe they have, but they’ve moved out to the suburbs (or have always lived in the suburbs) and are just borrowing your opinions on Chicago for their own cred.

If you press them, they will eventually confess to being from, say, Lockport. And then they kind of sulk, because now they know you know they’re not actually from Chicago.

I mention this, because it may be necessary to start this nonsense here. I read this in The Tennessean this morning:

“I certainly explored the idea of going on Music Row, but it occurred to me that people don’t really care where your office is. Not everybody is on Music Row anymore,” O’Sullivan said. “There might be people that will say it’s not a good idea to be there, but to me, Franklin is Nashville. It’s just another ZIP code.”

I like Franklin a great deal. It’s not Nashville. If people want to live in Franklin, more power to them. It’s charming and has a lovely, walkable downtown and is full of history stuff I love to go look at. If people want to work in Franklin, again, no problem. I drove down to Franklin at the height of rush hour on Friday morning. It’s a lovely reverse commute if you live in Nashville.

But it’s not Nashville. It’s its own lovely place with a lot to offer.

You start calling it Nashville and I’m going to laugh, openly, at you when I realize that’s what you’re doing.

Glass Mounds

I’m going to write about this for Pith, but it was really awesome. It’s weird how it’s one thing to know people lived here 2,000 years ago, but seeing something they built, seeing the wavy lines in the dirt that show how they piled baskets full of mud, is really something different.

I didn’t take as many pictures as I should have, because I was walking around talking to people and they were all saying really interesting things. But I fucked with the contrast on this one so that you can–I think, see the difference between the dirt that’s on the mound from years of erosion and maybe farming and the dirt that is the mound. In real life it’s easier to see, especially if you have someone pointing it out to you.

???????????????????????????????But if you look kind of below Deter-Wolf’s pinky (like below and to the right) you can see where one of the archaeology students drew a wavy line in the dirt to show the heaping basketful of mud’s top. And you can kind of see the difference between the soil piled by time, which is kind of light brown in this picture and, you know, Tennessee mud colored in real life, and the dark brown part under his hand, which is the old mound structure itself, which is a gray color in real life.

glass mounds 001 glass mounds 002

Tattoos

So, this morning, I went to a media thing at Glass Mounds, which involved a great deal of me getting up on the mound about half way and not being able to get back down. Thankfully, they don’t just let you die there, stranded on a burial mound regularly being pelted with golf balls. At least, not when other members of the media are standing there watching.

This, though, is not about that. This is about the completely unrelated awesome thing I learned from Aaron Deter-Wolf, who is an archaeologist for the state. He’s got a new book coming out from the University of Texas Press this fall about tattoo traditions in North America pre-Europeans showing up here (he’s an editor and contributor). But here’s the thing that blew my mind. He said that there’s a ton of evidence that North Americans were pretty commonly tattooed. But there’s nothing ever found at an archaeological site that’s been identified as a tool for tattooing.

Which is not to say that they haven’t found such tools–I assume the book is about what there is to see once you know what you’re looking for. But he told me that part of the problem has been these words they use to describe what they find at archaeological sites–specifically needles and pins. When archaeologists found what they had decided were obviously needles and pins, they got thought of as only sewing implements.

You could see how this could even happen to us. Say you knew very little about prison culture and you excavated a prison site and found ball point pen innards and pins in the remains of a cell. Those would get classified as “ball point pen parts” and “pins” and you might never know you’d just come across a tattoo kit, even if you knew prisoners were often heavily tattooed.

So, that is really awesome and I can’t wait to read it. I tried finding it at Amazon, but it’s not there yet, but when I googled it, I found a lot of interesting-sounding contributors. So, “Drawing with Great Needles: Ancient Tattoo Traditions of North America.” I’m going to try to remember that.

A Tea to Ease the Transition from Man to Werewolf

The folks at High Garden Tea over on Fatherland helped me figure out as accurate a recipe as possible for what would go in a tea a rootworker in the 19th century would have given a werewolf to ease his transition from man to wolf. They took into account all kinds of stuff–its availability back then, whether it had a slightly different use (obviously, no one tries to set bones with boneset anymore, for instance), and how easy it would be for a black woman in Nashville during reconstruction to get her hands on it.

What they came up with is really bitter and kind of medicinal tasting, but not quite as hideous as you’d think something with an herb known as devil’s claw would be.

Anyway, I then bought a cup of it over to Chuck at East Side Story, which he made the other guy in the store also try. So, you know, that’s at least three of us who don’t have to worry this month about the pain of being a werewolf.

glass mounds 005

What Came of Some of Them

So, I think the Chris Benoit piece is kind of completely terrible. Though I like the idea of a guy who sees the ghost of Chris Benoit. I may come back to the idea, though probably not the story.

I found a thing called “Karen” which I’d forgotten about, about a post-werewolf apocalypse family confronted by vampires. I remember thinking that I’d kind of gotten it started but had no idea where to take it. But when I read it again tonight, I realized, that’s it. It’s just a really short story. Not quite flash-fiction short. But short. I renamed it “Aunt Karen” though, because it seemed fitting for there to be a woman after the end of the world who has no nieces and nephews left, who you should, still, think of as “Aunt Karen.” I think it explains some of the story. I think that’s just about done.

Then there’s “Dead Yellow,” a story I’m working on about traffic lights. My main qualm is that I’m not sure folks know what a dead yellow is. I also want the story to sound a certain way, though I’m not quite sure how. So, this one is still baking. But I think there’s something to it.

And then there’s a story I’m going to have to run by some beta readers. It kind of does things they warn you away from–like quoting big long chunks of song (in the public domain). And it’s an epistolary tale, which you don’t see done much (I did it while I was working on the epistolary section in Project X, to work out for myself how it should go.). And it makes me cry. Every time I read it. So, I can’t really tell what’s working or not, because I can’t get enough emotional distance from it.

So, that leaves only the two stories I almost can’t bear to look at. Ta da!

Moving Away From Pain Isn’t Selfish

Marcus Mumford doesn’t call himself a Christian anymore. His parents started a church, which makes him a minister’s kid and then some. As I’ve said, I know very few ministers’ kids who transition easily from childhood church attendance into butt-in-pew Christianity in adulthood. Even if they eventually end up butt-in-pew Christians, it’s not been an easy transition. There’s had to be some moment of reckoning from the grief of their childhoods, some way of reconciling themselves to what happened.

A lot of us can’t do that.

Reverend Lillian Daniel takes him to task for that failure. And I’m going to say that her piece literally makes me want to vomit.

When people tell me they can’t stand Christianity, they are usually describing a Church that bears very little resemblance to the open-minded church I serve. They describe judgmental hypocrites who hate people of other faiths and are only after your money. They attribute all the world’s problems to the Church, from sexism to sexual abuse to warfare.

In very few arenas would we tolerate a similar discussion about another group of people. And yet open-minded people listen to such meandering musings with a sympathetic ear, as if they are hearing something wise, brave or original. When in reality, they are hearing something shallow, uninformed and insulting.

A minister’s kid might be a lot of things, but uninformed is just not one of them.

Anyway, I wrote her a letter.

—-

Dear Reverend Daniel,

This morning someone shared your piece on Marcus Mumford on Twitter. I read it and, frankly, it made me want to throw up. Normally, I would not write to tell someone that I had such a negative reaction to her writing, but you are a minister who a lot of other ministers look up to and you have a staff full of ministers.

So, I’m writing on behalf of their children. I, myself, am a minister’s kid–Methodist. I haven’t lived in a parsonage in roughly twenty years and I haven’t been in a church except to keep the peace with my father in about that long.

I know a lot of ministers’ kids. Some I’ve known my whole life and some I’ve met as adults. It’s amazing to find people–even ministers’ kids of different denominations–who get it, what you’ve been through. And it seems that there are only three paths ministers’ kids go down. We either stop considering ourselves Christian or we become ministers, in very rare cases, we eventually find some way to get back to church.

I know my sample size is small–maybe just thirty people. But most of us no longer consider ourselves Christian.

It was unfair of you to say that Marcus Mumford was coming from a place of “shallow, uninformed and insulting” knowledge of Christianity. Ministers’ kids are not uninformed. It’s not a matter, either, of just bumping into humanity. My father’s parishioners regularly made me aware of how much they thought he sucked. They also called and complained to my dad about who my friends were and the way I dressed and what kind of music I listened to. They told me they thought my dad should beat my brother. They felt free to criticize my mom’s clothing and the fact that she worked as a teacher.

And, when I tried to find a church home here, one of the places I went, my very first time visiting, someone pulled me aside to tell me that they knew their minister sucked, but they were looking to get rid of him. As if I would naturally take the side of the church against a man with the same job as my father.

I could tell you worse stories from my friends. But I know–I know–you know similar stories. I know there’s a group of people in your church right now who, if they could, would make your life miserable. Or the lives of some of your support staff. And those people are not decent enough to shield children from those things.

Marcus Mumford isn’t just some dude who decided to stop calling himself Christian. He’s a minister’s kid who decided to stop calling himself Christian. And we decide for very different reasons–reasons that are bound up in our feelings for our parents–than the people you seem to be addressing in your piece.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t believe we’re required to stand in a painful place just to suit others, to continue to open ourselves up to abuse, just because that’s “humanity” for you.

I also imagine he spend his whole life being an object lesson to his parents’ congregation. And here he is, yet again, being used as an object lesson to further your theological ends. That part sucks, too.

I hope, in the future, when you see a minister’s kid who can’t call himself a Christian any more, you, at least, consider that his decision is not uninformed. Perhaps you could consider what, exactly, his decision is informed by.

Sincerely,

Betsy Phillips

Working on Different Things

I think I’ve decided that I don’t want to jump back into Ben & Sue while Project X is still in I guess what we could call the editorial stage. If I have to keep myself open and on top of the story details of that project, I can’t also keep myself open and on top of the story details of such a similar project. Once it goes to the artists–in other words, once I have no more editorial decisions to make–then I can turn back to Ben & Sue.

So, that means that, if I’m writing fiction, it’s probably short stories. Though I must confess that, even though I had a lovely evening by myself last night, I spent most of that time organizing my fiction folder on my computer. But, it’s kind of helpful in the grand scheme of things to see what’s in there. I’ve got some stuff I consider done:

“Beyond, Behind, Below”–which I’m shopping around

“Bone”–which has been published

“Frank”–which has been published

“How Will You Meet People if You Never Leave the House?”–which has been published

“Sarah Clark”–which is supposed to someday appear in an anthology

“The Witch’s Friend”–which ran here and I self-published, though it sold so little I’d feel completely justified in sticking it in a collection. Sorry you three people (yes, literally three) who bought it.

Project X–which is doing its thing.

“Zilpha Murrell and the Third Harpe’s Head”–which I’m shopping

Then “Allendale” is kind of in a weird limbo. I know some of you guys were interested in seeing it all in one easy-to-read place, so there’s some talk of just cleaning it up a little and offering it as a Kickstarter perk, should they decide to use Kickstarter for Project X. But I’m also pondering y’all’s advice about reworking it further to be more its own things, with the themes we saw emerging really given their space to run. But, obviously, for similar reasons to Ben & Sue, this is off my plate for the moment.

And then I have a small pile–six or seven stories in various states of undone or not quite right or needing one last polish and revision–and I think I’m going to turn back to those. Just to see what might come of them.

The Rose Thwarts My Foul Mood

Please note the circled area on the rose below. I know it’s hard to see, but it’s a small, grayish area that looks like a bump. This picture was taken the day we transplanted the rose.

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Now, please attend to the same area this evening, taken from a different angle.

rose

The previously gray, rather unnoticeable bump has turned the red one would expect from an area just about to leaf. That’s right. This ancient motherfucker is all, “Well, this seems like a nice place to leaf out and see what happens.” Note: If this rose gets one good leaf, that will be on par with what it got last year.

New York

After I got out of grad school, I went to New York to become a publishing industry bigwig. I pretty much failed. On a lot of levels. But most basically at the level of being able to live in New York City. It was too big and too different and I couldn’t find people I liked nor did I have any idea how to find people I liked. Everyone I liked there was just by accident and there just weren’t that many.

Eventually, I went to New Jersey and hid in my aunt’s basement and felt like a failure–like if I’d just been tougher or stuck it out longer or known to move to Brooklyn not Manhattan or whatever–I could have done it, but that I fucked up without even knowing what I was fucking up.

It was a really difficult time in my life. I’ve failed at things I wasn’t very good at. And I’ve failed at things I didn’t give a shit about. But I’d never failed to do something I really, really wanted to do.

But I did.

In Which I Confess about the Zigzag Afghan and Other Things

–It’s pretty boring. Making a zigzag afghan. I was going to make just a baby-sized one, but Christ. Even that is so dull. And you can’t quite not concentrate on it–or at least I can’t–so it can’t give your fingers something to do while you watch tv, because you have to pay attention to your count. But, obviously, it’s not complicated enough to keep my interest. The most fun I had was figuring out how to tell how many initial stitches you need if you don’t have a pattern.

–After all this time, I’m kind of afraid to get back to the Sue and Ben project. I’m afraid I’ll see that it sucks. I’m also afraid that, since I stole from it a little to make a couple of more conventional werewolf stories–“Allendale” and Project X–that it has implications for the Sue and Ben project. And I’m afraid to figure out what. And I feel like a baby for admitting that I’m afraid.

–Sometimes it just seems like a lot of work for something no one is ever going to read. I guess is what I’m saying.

–I’m going to work on a story or two, I guess. Just to be writing something.

–Bah, I’m actually not that down about it. Just have some nagging worries. Like that I suck.

–Or worse, that I’m good but just not good enough.

Ain’t No Haint Gonna Run Me Off

A week or so ago, I went to see Mark Robinson at his album launch party. It was all good and wonderful, but the best part of the evening was when he and Davis Raines did their own version of this song from above–Gene Simmons’ “Haunted House.” It is not on the new record. So, I’m starting an internet drive to get them to record it so that I can dance around my house in an embarrassing manner while singing along to it. Simmons’ version is fine, but it lacks the joy Robinson and Raines bring to it.

Anyway, the new album is fantastic.

Post-Move Rose Fretting

There was no root ball. Did I mention that? I did, I think. There was just this ancient tuberous tap root, probably 18 inches long that comes off the bottom of the rose, goes down about three inches and then turns 45 degrees and heads that way 15 inches. It now has a nick from where the Butcher hit it with the shovel. It had almost no roots coming off it, just the occasional little hairy clump, like you might see on a carrot. Except for up at the surface, where it had an umbrella of roots.

When we tried to take a “large root ball” as we’d been advised to do, there weren’t enough roots to clump a root ball together. We, for all practical purposes, ended up doing a bare root move. And, since I didn’t expect to be planting a rose bare-rooted, I had no idea if there were special things I should have considered.

Sunday, Monday, and today, I stared at it as hard as I could, to try to discern if it was going to live or die, but it’s just not clear. In the rain, it definitely got a good soaking. And it’ll get some nice sun today. So, I guess we’ll see.

I don’t know if the root situation is because it wasn’t getting enough light in the old spot and thus couldn’t leaf out and do the plant shit it needed to do in order to thrive, so it couldn’t sustain a healthy root system or if it didn’t have a healthy root systems so it couldn’t leaf out and get into the paltry sunlight that was there. Or if it was some mixture of both.

Anyway, I’m fretting. I hope it pulls through.

David Fowler Continues to Need a War on “Christianity”

I think Jeff’s 100% right here. Fowler needs an “oppressed” group of which he’s a part in order to fund-raise off that group. Winning–as he has–is literally the worst thing that could have happened to him. If there’s nothing to fight for (or against), there’s no need to donate to him. He’s got to keep drumming up crises which then only he can solve.

The fact that he’s putting people’s lives at risk to do so is pretty… well, amazing, to put it mildly. But he’s got no choice. If he doesn’t raise the stakes to some ridiculous level, how can he keep people’s wallets open?

Someday, there will be a scandal. A man can’t have that kind of single-minded drive to impose his morality on others without there being a scandal. And when it happens, I’m going to laugh and laugh and laugh for a million years.

And Then about Black Blackface Minstrelsy

You thought I was just reading all that stuff for fun! Okay, I was, but also because I was invited to do a guest post at The Hooded Utilitarian and I wanted to write about Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip-Hop by Yuval Taylor and Jake Austen, a book I really liked, but had one serious issue with. My post over at The Hooded Utilitarian is an attempt to answer the one question I thought Taylor and Austen left oddly unanswered.

I just want to thank Barry for his help with the song stuff in the middle of the post (though he didn’t know at the time that his help would be going to this end and neither did I). And to Elias for turning me on to The Hooded Utilitarian those many years ago.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove

As you recall, I couldn’t even finish Swamplandia, though it absolutely seemed like a book I should love. So, I had my hesitations about Vampires in the Lemon Grove, which were borne out by the first couple of stories. I think the thing for me is that she’s an expert descriptive writer. Everything in her stories is so beautifully rendered. But it, to me, can feel a little soulless, like there’s no oomph for her in the story. And if there’s no oomph for her? There’s certainly none for me.

But about a third of the way into Vampires, something changes. And the stories are still beautiful, but they really start to get brilliant. And weird. For instance, there’s a story about eleven former Presidents of the United States who are reincarnated as horses. And a great story about Nebraska sod house settlers. And so on. It just gets really good.

Which is a relief, because that was about to be the third book in a row that I just couldn’t get into. I was starting to worry my fiction love had broken.

I like to keep all my euphemisms for women's genitalia in one spot.

I like to keep all my euphemisms for women’s genitalia in one spot.

Tending

One day, many years ago–okay, maybe not that many, but some–I thought the ancestors said to me, “tend.” Which seemed a weird thing to get whispered in your ear and also, perhaps, a wise thing. Everything does need some looking after.

In that spirit the Butcher and I moved the rose to a spot where it should be happier. I planted astilbe where the rose was unhappy. I fed all the roses and cut out some privet. And then I was sore. So sore. Honestly, no wonder babies cry. All those muscles doing new things for the first time. Possibly they would be happier if we rubbed them all down with Bengay at the end of the day. I wrote a thing. I sent an email making sure I’d gotten a part of Project X right. I finished a book I needed to read to write the thing I just mentioned. I did some stuff to get the sunny end of the garden ready for spring. I picked out which plants I’m going to let flounder there again. Ha, no, this will be the year something grows there. I swear! And I vasolined the dog. Which is odd.

And the Butcher ate all the cookies. Which makes me sad.

It May Not Be Clear Which of These Things I’m Going to Reconcile With

1. One Mayor, Two Wives.

2. Interesting video, good commentary on it.

3. Our rose moving is officially scheduled for tomorrow. I will plant astilbe in the rose’s old home. And both will flourish (hopefully) and I will feel that victory is mine. Part of the trouble with this winter is that it’s not been consistently cold, so I have some concerns about whether the rose is sufficiently dormant to move. But, on the other hand, if I don’t move it, it will continue to just languish in that darkish corner. Better to move it and at least try to give it a shot. My goal is to just get an enormous amount of the root system, so that, hopefully, it won’t be that big a deal to move. Maybe, except for the sun, it won’t even notice?

One Last Few Things about Love & Theft

The part I’m going to be tossing around in my mind is this.

1. White blackface minstrelsy was invented and codified in the North by white men who were basing their acts on the ways black men informally entertained mixed-race audiences in the North. The minstrel skits were only set in the South as a way of giving them a bit of verisimilitude. So, like much of the book, Lott is kind of describing a slippery thing–white Northern men were doing impressions of black Northern men’s performances for mixed-race audiences (in other words, we have to assume that the black men were already making aesthetic choices about what an audience of black and white men might prefer to see over what they would do just for friends. The power dynamic of whites in the audience changes the performance.) but, in order to guard against either too much recognition (“Well, if he’s just going to sing the song John always sings, I could go hear John.”) or too little (“That’s the song John sings, but it doesn’t sound like the way John sings it.”), the scenes are set in an imaginary South, the sources then become imaginary Southern black men.

2. This part was most remarkable to me, but once he brought up Elvis and Normal Mailer and the Beats, I decided he was right–white minstrel performers identified with the black men they were pretending to be. Even back in the earliest days, black men were “cool” in a way that white men felt they were not unless they mimicked black men. And, of course, most white men didn’t want to be “cool,” so it didn’t matter. But some of them did. And they genuinely felt they had a special kinship and insight into black male culture that wasn’t available to most whites.

3. This is the hardest part for me to hold in my head, but it’s the most important. It kind of goes along with number 2. He’s got this quote from someone about how “We all played Indian as children, Black as young men, and then we stepped into our role as white men as adults.” That’s not an exact quote, but it’s pretty close and it tells you a lot, a dangerous lot about how, in a racist society, white men’s admiration for black men goes very wrong for black men.

Because this is both about an over-identification with black men and an utter failure to see them as human beings and, for most white men of the era, it happened as they grew out of playing “Indian,” which means it happened at puberty. So, just imagine this–how you felt when you were 14, guys. And imagine you believe that you can know what it’s like to be someone (and this someone is someone who must at all times be deliberately performing a version of himself that he thinks is going to lead to the least trouble–and remember what trouble for a black man in the 1850s looked like, so he is motivated to not show you his fully human self) just by moving like him and singing like him and talking like him. While you’re in internal turmoil yourself.

See what a fuck this is? White men come to believe that black men are like white men imagined them to be when they (the white guys) were pretending to be them (the black guys) when they (the white guys definitely, the black guys probably) were teenagers. They thought their horsing-around-borrowing of mannerisms was insight. So, there’s a mistake that goes poorly for black men at the level of “I know what it’s like to be you, because I used to mock you (in both senses)” when, obviously, imitation doesn’t have to have anything to do with giving one real knowledge of the source (In other words, I can swivel my hips all “Sweet Child o’ Mine” but doing so doesn’t tell me what it’s like to be Axl Rose.). But there’s a mistake that goes poorly for black men at a deeper level of “I know what it’s like to be you, because I used to be you, when I was going through puberty.” I mean, look at our society’s stereotypes–even now–of black men: lazy, violent, hypersexual, impulsive, etc. Look at white men’s historical fears of black men–all tied up in sexuality and whether black men were going to want white women. It all has the threat of the teenager behind it (at a time when teenagers weren’t even really a thing).

Black men in our culture forever held accountable for white men’s teenage fantasies of being black, mistaken for truth–accountable for the things a white man would do if not bound by the constraints of white society.

4. It’s hard to explain, exactly, but to me this makes sense of why white audiences loved white black-face minstrelsy–and it is probably partially why we white people loved Elvis and the Stones and Zeppelin. Because it gave us a part of a world we didn’t really want to be a part of in a form that let us love it unreservedly. Because our veneer is on it.

Like maybe it lets us be in the know without having to participate, thanks to these guys who do occasionally touristly participate. But since it has so little to do with the actual people we strive to know, they have to be kept hidden so that we never have to know we don’t know them.

Love and Theft Ruins Mickey Mouse for Me

Oh, y’all, it’s so good, Love and Theft, if a little too much a product of its time in ways that are regretful. But my mind, she is blown. Anyway, I’m still hung up on how minstrelsy became… I guess I want to say…. repressed in our cultural imagination. So, I was looking on YouTube for minstrel performances to see if I could see what I was trying to understand. It lead me to racist cartoons.

Now, I’d like to show you two of them. Let me reiterate that they are racist. I mean, just motherfucking racist, no denying, no equivocating. Just as racist as they come.

This is the first one I saw that started to give me an uneasy feeling of “Wait, I’ve never seen this, but this is familiar.”

Something about the shapes of the people’s heads, the way their jaws and mouths are rendered just reminded me of Disney characters. This is from Universal, directed by Walter Lantz, best known for Woody Woodpecker. And it’s in color. So, wrong studio and too late to be an influence on Mickey Mouse. But it still gave me the WTF?s.

Then there’s this one:

And there’s a mouse looking for all the world like Mickey. That film, “Dixie Days,” was made in 1930, so it’s younger than “Steamboat Willie.” But it’s hard to watch “Steamboat Willie” after seeing these and not wonder if something that would have been readily apparent to Mickey’s audience in 1928.

So, down the rabbit hole I went (speaking of rabbits, let’s not even talk about Bugs Bunny) and here’s what I found. According to Wikipedia, Walt Disney got the idea for “Steamboat Willie” after watching The Jazz Singer. If you want a good appreciation for how woozy Love and Theft can make you, just follow that thread. Al Jolson, a Russian-born Jewish guy who both performed in blackface and was an ardent advocate for desegregating the Broadway stage performed in Champaign, Illinois, where Samson Raphaelson saw him. Raphaelson goes on to write the play “The Jazz Singer” which is later adapted into a movie. In which Jolson stars. Since the movie is a loose adaptation of Jolson’s life, the movie is about a blackface performer. Walt Disney sees the movie and it inspires him to go home and create “Steamboat Willie.” And two years later, there’s “Dixie Days,” in which a mouse that is, for all practical purposes Mickey is also a black stereotype (Mickey will go in blackface three years after that, in a short also having to do with Uncle Tom’s Cabin).

So, the question I have is this: If Mickey was inspired by blackface and if he inspires what we might consider cartoon blackface (white cartoonists presenting black stereotypes to us for our amusement) and he participates in literal blackface in the 30s, would it have been obvious to viewers of “Steamboat Willie” that Mickey Mouse was coded “black”? Even in the absence of stereotypes we now recognize?

Does this question make sense? I just wonder, after spending an evening watching these old cartoons if it doesn’t ping us as invoking the same kind of performative “blackness” as minstrelsy until there are lazy people and Mammies and someone’s eating a watermelon and “Way Down Upon the Suwanee River” is playing in the background as a riverboat gently paddles by, but all an audience in 1928 would have needed to see to know that was what was being invoked was a black body (or more) and a riverboat and a rural setting.

If so, I’m going to have to revise my belief that minstrelsy is being repressed out of some embarrassment about corniness and instead wonder whether what happened is that there used to be a whole wide vocabulary–visual and aural (both musically and just how people were supposed to sound)–that evoked minstrelsy and, even as people clamped down on the stuff that was undeniably racist and objected to it, the stuff that was deniably racist just got uncoupled from it and kept.

We pretend to have forgotten about minstrelsy in this scenario not out of embarrassment, but because then we can keep what we love that has roots in that ground without controversy.

The Mouse is just The Mouse.

Duck Dynasty

This is an insightful look at why Duck Dynasty is so good. I’m glad she brought up the faith part, too, because there’s something, I think, really charming and nice about seeing people whose faith is obviously important to them acting it out in their daily lives without wielding it as a weapon against others or even making a big deal out of it.

I also think they do a good job of letting the young kids participate without overburdening them with making them individual stars. There are a ton of kids. It’s not always clear who belongs to whom. They’re not always named.

And I like it because I like seeing a large family dynamic on TV. Lots of people live in large extended families that are important to them. You don’t see a lot of that on TV.

Gardening

I’m feeling blah about gardening this year. Partially because I still feel uncertain about my shoulder–it’s fine, I’m just ultra-paranoid about fucking it up again. And partially I guess just because I’m feeling blah about it. So, I have small goals.

1. Replant the hollyhocks where the neighbors’ dogs tore them up last year in front of the shed.

2. Try again to get something going on in the sunny part of the big bed.

3. The usual morning glories around the bottle tree.

4. Cut down all the minor privet all over my beds.

5. Move the rose.

Every year after I lived here a year, I have wanted to move the rose that’s near the Butcher’s bedroom window. And every year, I let someone talk me out of it. I want to move it because it doesn’t get enough sunlight there, but either the Butcher or my dad will be all “But The Butcher/I could just cut back those shrubs” and I say, “Fine, if that’s really going to happen” and it never does. And then every year, the rose gets a bunch of leaves and one blossom. And the blossom is always right in the one tiny bit of sunlight that corner of the yard gets. Then the bagworms eat it (which is weird, because the bag worms are always closer to the tea roses, but not interested in them at all).

And it could be that the rose is just a million years old and is on the way out. But I don’t think I’m wrong. How confident am I? I’m planning on sticking some astilbe there instead. Because that spot no longer gets the afternoon sun you know that rose longs to bake in.

6. Then, obviously–plant astilbe where the rose used to be.

7. Dig up all the weeds in the old fountain and replant with something–haven’t decided what. Usually I grow strawberries there, but I can’t eat them and the Butcher doesn’t, so it just ends up going to the birds. But I need something that spreads like strawberries do to suffocate all the weeds that grow from the seeds the birds drop when they come to the fountain to bathe in the upper portion. I’d like something that flowers. Which I think just means a clematis. But I wouldn’t call that spot full sun. More like partial shade. So… I don’t know. I turn to you, internet gardeners.

8. Reset the walkway through the big bed.

9. Try some lily-of-the-valley again. Though I don’t know where. Though I guess I should also watch to see if the ones I planted last year decide to come up this year. I don’t know how I’m fucking up, but every year, I plant lily-of-the-valley and it never comes up.

And then just weed like it’s going out of style. Like it’s the most depressing task known to man. Which it is.