life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

where angels fear to tread

it has been difficult to look southward in the past few weeks, so i have been turning my head this way and that, averting my eyes, much as one would when the sun sinks below the top edge of the car window and starts to slant inwards, spearing the retinas. constantly adjusting my visor against the glare doesn't seem to be working. while i do have ears for, and have gotten to the point where my raw and somewhat tenderhearted nerves actually want to listen to the radio stories of the refugees: which is exactly what we should be doing, opening our ears to listen, sharing our hearts and doorways and pockets, lending our hands in whatever way we can... when the interviewer turns to those who would opine answers that involve eager rebuilding of the "new, new orleans," my blood runs absolutely cold.

we have no business thinking that way at this point. how can we speak of rushing in like absolute fools to speculate in still-watery real estate when there is so much need to be addressed? i am presently listening to parents in baton rouge, who are trying to handle the influx of 10,000 new school children in their parish parochial schools. why can these members of my own profession, along with the architects, landscape designers, financiers, politicians, and builders not find this challenge as attractive as 'building the new, new orleans'? i ask you. it is a waste of precious resources, that we simply can not afford and would be wrong to spend, and would much better be directed toward figuring out how houston will feed, house, and school the myriad needy for whom they now have responsibility.

Friday, September 16, 2005

school pix

these were taken recently for the school directory. so proud of these kids.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

past precedents

Today through Saturday I have the unique opportunity to assist as a docent and guide at the re-enactment of the raids of Gen. Edward Potter at Spring Hill, near Stateburg (Sumter), South Carolina. Dr. David Decker, professor of history at USC-Sumter (SC), has over the past two years done a remarkable amount of work in preparation for the first re-enactment of the late April 1865 skirmishes between confederate and yankee around the Stateburg area.
Overview of Events this week for schools and the public:
Official Potter's Raid Site:
In my own preparation for this event I have been brushing up my rusty knowledge of the roles that southern women played both before and during the War. Some recommended resources:
Books containing a significant amount of primary resources reprinted from journals, diaries, letters and period articles:
The War the Women Lived: Female Voices from the Confederate South, by Walter Sullivan
Motherhood in the Old South, by Sally G. McMillen
Within the Plantation Household, by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
The Plantation Mistress, by Catherine Clinton
Mary's World, (studies of the journals and letters of Mary Motte Alston Pringle), by Richard N. Cote
Your Affectionate Daughter, Isabella (studies of the journals and letters of Isabella Torrance Reid), by Ann Williams
Journal of a Residence on a Southern Plantation (journal & letters with post-war commentary and memoirs), Fanny Kemble Butler
When I can Read my Title Clear, by Janet Duitsman Cornelius
Reprinted period journals, diaries, letters, with or without editor commentary:
Growing up in the 1850s: the Journal of Agnes Lee, Mary Custis Lee deButts, ed.
Diary from Dixie, by Mary Chesnut
A Blockaded Family, by Parthenia Hague
The Diary of Clarissa Adger Bowen
Sarah Morgan: the Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman, Charles East, ed.
Journal of a Secesh Lady: the Diary of Catherine Devereux Edmondston 1860-1866
Before Freedom, When I Can Just Remember: 27 Oral Histories of former South Carolina Slaves, Belinda Hurmence, ed.
Long Ago at Liberty Hill, by Mary Ellen Cunningham
Studying the ruminations and outpourings of heart in these pages paints an overwhelming picture of a society's reluctance to say goodbye, of holding on to the past, of carrying bits of remembered happiness forward into the future, and a reticence toward accepting blatantly necessary change, whether out of respect and love for what was good, or out of a lack of understanding of how to separate and preserve the good from the bad. Something we've been hearing alot of in the past week. Mayhap there is something to be learned here.... I'll be listening for it, this weekend.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

when cities become villages

Two articles this week showcase examples of rapid changes both in thinking and in on-the-ground dynamics of suburban development. I cannot but hope that we are learning the lessons described by Jane Jacobs --the hard way, of course, for what other way is there for humans to learn?
The 'Smart Sprawl' Strategy

Suburbanites Under House Arrest Without Wheels
Cities must be able to provide for their own needs and not be totally dependent upon outside commerce to fill the basic primary and secondary requirements for living: food, shelter, clothing; goods and services, education, medical facilities, transportation. An extremely effective and economically viable way to do that is by allowing people to develop businesses in conjunction with their living spaces, within neighborhoods, and eschew the kind of thinking that these very unfortunately typical homeowners embrace; radical, separatist believers all:
Affluent Neighborhood Doesn't Want Bus Service
I used to see and hear this all the time. At my planners' desk, it was not uncommon for people to phone me and complain about "cutting through" neighborhoods. Roadway connections to adjacent neighborhoods was seen as equivalent to speeding and crime, not a way to save gas and cut traffic buildups on local roads. People would also speak loudly against greenways and bike paths going through their neighborhoods, and call sidewalks "a waste of money." They would complain about the dust, noise, and smells when they moved to a new housing development that had been unintellegently planted in the middle of working farms, and the farmers would counter with stories of how these folks' kids would trample crops with their off-road vehicles, scare and even kill the livestock, steal produce and supplies from barns and outbuildings. These people had bought into a lifestyle that could only be supported by dependence upon foreign oil, and was obtainable by only the very upper reaches of society. It showed an extreme separation from people who didn't drive everywhere, but walked, used public transportation, or bicycled. These people didn't want to belong to the world, they wanted to escape from it. Such a self-centered, unrealistic viewpoint is not only extravagant in the extreme (these are public roads, after all) but contribute to the insular dependency we face now: insular in that we shut ourselves off in our houses, hooked up to our individual television sets, and turn our backs on the world outside, yet in order to do so, we are totally dependent upon resources that we have sold our ability to provide.
If cities do in truth become a series of interconnected, interdependent boroughs and villages, as they were before the advent of the automobile that contributed to the insular dependent mindset of the typical suburbanite, I do predict that this will be the natural outcome of our dependency on foreign oil. But the mighty will fall with a bang, and they usually make very loud noises when that happens. Rich and powerful people do not take failure in stride. Those who have benefitted the most by this inequity of resources will do all they can to see that it doesn't happen. Better that they pray for faith, and grace to see it through, to hold out their hands to join their neighborhoods together and see them develop into wholly functional, healthy societies that cross racial, economic, and social barriers, than to continue to fight to hold on to their ultimately destructive living standards.
i am looking for a bike i can use to visit one of my two neighborhood grocery & shopping areas, both of which are within a mile or two of my home. i want a sturdy bicycle with a big basket on the front or rear, one of those old-fashioned ones from the days when Detroit made big cars that looked more like tanks than passenger vehicles. i can smell the sweet timothy-scented breezes on my face, feel those buff calves getting a workout already...
Last night the corn field behind my home bustled with reapers and mowers late into the evening. I am sure the neighborhood cats will be dining on displaced rodents and I'll have to wipe the dust from the windows. But the morning sunrise was lovely over the golden-green stubble, and hearkened to crisper days and frost-rimmed mornings to come, all too soon. Summer is over, autumn beckons. How wonderful to have that forced upon me when waking. How wealthy am I, not to be insulated from my world, to be aware of the activity of my neighbors who are different from me.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

stop gaps

well, he's finally made the effort to at least visit... and sorrily, was typically unprepared to rise to the occasion. even republicans are pretty disgusted. oh, waitaminit, i AM a registered republican. i tend to forget that, since i voted my conscience --that is, for the democrat-- in every presidential election since i was old enough to do so. i used to vote republican in local elections, but haven't been able to bring myself to do so for several years now. this used to be the party of lincoln. now it's the party of fascist trolls.
on tuesday this week i called my local red cross office, and asked: what can i do? i have hands and time to help. i can pack boxes, collect supplies, answer the phone, fold blankets, what? the lady who answered the phone asked me to hold a moment, and then another lady came on the line. 'thank you,' she said. 'we do not need any assistance at this time. there will be a meeting on saturday. perhaps you could come then.' (i'm thinking: saturday? that's 4 days from now. people are homelesss and dying --what do they do until then? i suppose this is what w. meant by 'be patient.') she took my name & phone number and said i would be called. well, it's saturday morning just after 9 a.m... haven't heard a thing. (4:00 p.m. update: still nothing. guess i'd better do something else. am checking the local options at church and salvation army. any suggestions you've found will be heartily welcomed.)
since we are not allowed to travel to the disaster areas directly, so many of us are wringing our hands and crying: what? what can i do? expending energies that are so much needed elsewhere. i don't use much a/c, but raised the thermostat from 79 to 83. the weather has been cooperative & breezy, i don't need it anyway so it doesn't feel like a sacrifice. all week i've only gone out for necessities such as school and work, coasting the car as much as possible to save gas. fortunately this morning i did see this well-meaning post on harry shearer's blog, containing two addresses to which we can send things most needed by the victims. the kids are eager to help. we've packed boxes of my nice clothing, shoes, things the children have outgrown or don't need, books, toys. Fortunately, I did find on this page two addresses for folks who are coordinating in-kind donations:
i am still nearly speechless with disgust and disbelieve in our administration's hubris and ineptitude. i read what i am certain is a true prophecy in van jones excellent post here:

one commenter on jones' blog says (paraphrased): 'of course tons of money will pour in to N.O., the city will be re-built into a resort of million dollar homes and billion dollar hotels. economic prosperity will once more flower the land. the only people who won't be happy will be the displaced poor.' and i have to echo, yes, yes. i know this, in my career i have seen it, and look, guitar georgie just admitted it!! (please note where the White House Press Office released this --to the Financial News section. this is not unintentional).
isn't this how it goes in our 'free' country? i have to put 'free' in quotes because we all know freedom isn't free. someone always pays. and look who's paying now:
yeah, and the home of the brave.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

one helluva mess

'Notes on the Flood
Elba, Alabama March 1991

There was a handmade sign at the bridge as you cross over into downtown after the flood that poured 16 feet of water into the historic area, inundating the courthouse and shoving trucks & conversion vans from a car lot adjacent to the levee into buildings like so many wadded up pieces of paper. In boldly painted letters, it read:


But overheard at the grocery store in nearby Enterprise:

"These Elba people don't seem to understand that the river is God and that God is the River, and that erosion and wind and rain are all part of nature; as such are things to be applauded, even worshipped. It is wonderful that we cannot control them, that they do not respect our petty political boundaries and that they remind us of what tiny specks we are in the eye of the Creator. It is a wonder that He allows us to go on at all, insipid and disrespectful and illusory as we are. As if we had any right to our own opinions about things."

The little town of Elba, Alabama built in the crook of a bend in the Choctawhatchee River behind enormous levees, was voluntarily moved to higher ground later that decade, after another devastating flood. They got the message. There are some places on this earth that just weren't meant to be inhabited by humans. They are where you can become part of the food chain. Why in God's name we insist on filling in wetlands and building houses & roads on them is a mystery to me. It isn't like the wetlands will go away. It's like trying to hold back a sneeze --you might be able to do it for a little while, but eventually it's going to come out, and it seems what we try to suppress comes out more violently than if we'd just let it happen in the first place. '
--from the 1991 journal of someone living & working there at the time

Overheard below is something overheard recently, and I'm going to try to pass it along to you as it was given to me, and you'll have to pardon the language but to try to write it without the patois takes something away from it. It isn't funny, but weeping and wailing and ignoring the root of this problem isn't going to help. We need to LEARN from this, people:

first speaker:
"well. i be tryin' to keep up wif de hurricane victims, but it's all most distressin'. 2 states is unda watta and de rest o' de country's bein' affected, too. kin you 'magine havin' to walk aroun' grubby and hot and wet fer days at de time? and all dose po babbies what needs medical 'tention. shoo. seem to me dey ort to be able to figger out some way o'd dispersin' these damn things 'for dey reach shore."

the response:
"now u be thinkin' lak an engineer. an' dat whut got 'em in dis mess.

de fax is dis: iffn dey dind develop 1500 SQUARE MILES OF WETLANDS along de gulf coast in de last 20 years de water woulda BEEN DISPERSED. DAT WHAT WETLANDS IS FO'. donchano. God KNOW WHAT HE BE DOIN' WHEN HE MADE LOUISIAN' & MISSISSIPPI!! They wuz de nation's kidneys at one pernt. Dat what I go to school fer & learn all about how de coastal ecosystems works. How de soil take up so much water & cleans it. How de plants works to hold de water & slow down de tides. How de lettle animals functions as part o' all dat, including little oysters & mussels & clams, what won't grow nowhere else but in dem tidal wetlands.

but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Dam greedy bastards come down & piss all over ever'boddy. Dey see wetlands fer miles & miles & not a house in sight & dey say, "DAM! Lookit all dat bare land! We kin make a passel o' money!!!" So dey commences to fill in de wetlands & build roads & houses & make all kinds o' mess. An' when de storm surge come, it got no place to go but de low places. An' like somebody flush de toilet, Louisiana & Mississippi at de bottom o' de tank when de storm surge go up & den it gotta flow back downriver to de sea. An' de dam moneymakers o' course dey gits de hell outa dere & go back to New Jersey & sits in de bars an' watches de storm on TV an' dey say, "Oh, hoo! Dat wuz one helluva storm! Pour me anudder gin & tonic, Mo! I hadda a helluva time gettin' to de airport!" And who is lef' down dere but de po' people what ain't made all kindsa money and dey ain' got no way out.

God DAMN them Yankees!!"

OK. Before I get rained all over, I need to perhaps explain one local's definition of Yankees. They would be those assholes who bring their money and their eager ideals to the South and just like colonials, think to capitalize on any investment they make without thought or prayer for any effect on the locals. Yankees can exist in just about any state or any country, actually. And they don't even have to be from "up Nawth," altho' a preponderance of them are. And thanks to them, we have high water, high taxes, and increasing poverty in the South. OK, I'll stop now. After all, it wouldn't be ladylike to say any more on the subject, like speaking of someone's bad manners beyond the mention of them. And I do feel the need to put my Lady mask back on for the moment. I'll need it when I go out in a little while to do my part. I know you good people have already driven deep into your pockets and given lots of money to the Red Cross or other missions for good. At least I hope so. Especially if you are a carpetbagging piece of the problem who ever made a dime off of any land transaction in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Land is not a commodity. It is our skin.