Maroons or the untamed

I “attended” a three hour seminar with Anne Lamott this weekend. I’ll probably be talking about it for a while. She went over many of the tools explicated in her famous book on writing, Bird by Bird, but first let me say how happy I was to hear that she includes research in writing time!

Here’s a little taste of the rabbit hole I went down this week for my novel.

“Wherever Africans were enslaved in the world, there were runaways who escaped permanently and lived in free independent settlements. These people and their descendants are known as “maroons.” The term probably comes from the Spanish cimarrón, meaning feral livestock, fugitive slave or something wild and defiant.”

Smithsonian article about The Great Dismal Swamp and its long history of maroon communities. Written September 2016 by Richard Grant featuring the archeology of the intrepid Dan Sayers.

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“By downplaying American marronage, and valorizing white involvement in the Underground Railroad, historians have shown a racial bias, in Sayers’ opinion, a reluctance to acknowledge the strength of black resistance and initiative.”

It is well known that researching the history of enslaved people is difficult. For one thing, primary sources are few and far between. Then there’s white ignorance and racial animus in creating secondary sources.

Even in the instance of the Federal Writers’ Project, which collected first person accounts from Blacks who had lived under slavery, the narratives are inherently unreliable because they were recorded by white people.

Think: white person with a clipboard.

Think: Black person talking to a white person with a clipboard.

Even with the best of intentions, we can assume that white minds listening to Black thoughts and speech applied some kind of filter. And we can also assume that Black speakers shaped what they said in some way because of their white audience.

Enslaved people had little by way of possessions. A community in a remote swamp likely owned or collected even less than those dwelling “on the street” (a common naming for a collection of slave quarters).

Slave communities are nevertheless of great interest to archeologists, as evidenced by Dan Sayers in this article and by recent excavations at Monticello and Mount Vernon.

My research has also turned up references to maroon communities in the swamps north and west of Charles Town. It seems that these groups may have initially been comprised of Natives, who then welcomed fugitive slaves. The Smithsonian article posits the idea that whites fleeing indentured servitude also found their way to some of these remote areas.

Update on Second Edit of my novel: the sagging middle is getting slashed (good example of another thing Lamott talked about, the famous advice to “kill your darlings”) and the ending is being expanded.

I’m back to the pin board for the final year of chronology. (Lamott also uses this visual trick, by the way, though she described taping pieces of paper around her entire living room).

It’s important to have a map of your story SOMEWHERE. I’m not adept enough to keep it all in my head. For some stretches, this pin board had every chapter pinned to it, color-coded by POV. After a while the directory in Word on my laptop served as an outline, because I put each chapter in a separate word doc and used a consistent naming protocol that arranged them chronologically.

Right now I’m working on two large documents so until I resurrected the pin board it was a little like flying blind.

A second edit is so, so important, Lamott said, so much so that she won’t show her work to anyone until she’s done one. (oops!)

Before the second edit comes what she calls “the shitty first draft.” That’s a liberating shorthand for all kinds of things, but perhaps mostly as encouragement to forgo perfectionism or debilitating ideas about inspiration.

Another way to say it, she shared, is from Nike: Just Do It.

The heat has been brutal. Today a little less so. Do you know what it’s like walking a dog on paved sidewalks in 97 degree heat?

And lastly, I call yesterday a good day. How unfamiliar the sensation of relief twinned with hope! Biden and Harris both gave great speeches. You can view on YouTube (August 12).

PS WordPress screwed with typefont again. Ugh.

11:30 today

I took Wednesday’s meds on Tuesday by accident, so I might not know what day it is except for this: NYAG Letitia James is making an “important announcement” today at 11:30.

And speaking of screw ups (ADD, anyone?), I ordered three bunches of bananas instead of three bananas. You’re welcome, Jane!

(To be fair, almost everyone I know who orders groceries online has made a mistake like this at least once).

Views from bedroom window this morning.

PS Bill Barr is preparing to roll a mountain of bullshit on us and I hope that any and all authorities (particularly in New York) who can counter that narrative will be standing up and acting in good faith.

Books, read and unread

“Wilkerson’s book is about how brutal misperceptions about race have disfigured the American experiment.”

NY Times, review

“She observes that caste ‘is about respect, authority and assumptions of competence — who is accorded these and who is not.‘”

And:

“A caste system, she writes, is ‘an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning.‘”

In an interview with Teri Gross, Wilkerson called caste the bones and race the skin. Class is the clothing and accessories.

Racism cannot completely capture all that is wrong in our society, she says.

She uses Nazism and the caste system in India to explore the American version.

In the interview, I learned how much the Aryans relied on early American studies in eugenics to develop their theories on race. Here in the States, the “one drop rule” was adopted in order to keep mixed race offspring enslaved. Interestingly, such a construct was deemed too extreme by the Germans.

The book doesn’t cover South Africa but in the interview Wilkerson briefly discusses how the fact that Blacks were in the majority in South Africa led to the creation of a third category ofcoloreds.” This was designed to keep Black Africans out of power. I wondered about that when reading Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood, which is by the way, a compelling and intimate look at the last days of apartheid.

I am still reading three important books on race, but Caste will be up next. I ordered it from an independent bookseller in the Bronx: The Lit. Bar. If you can afford the postage, I recommend that you do too. They raise money for other independent book stores.

Part of why I haven’t finished the non-fiction books on my night stand is because of my preference for fiction.

This novel looks at the issue of colorism through the lens of identical twins who are light enough to pass for white. One makes the decision to do so and vanishes from her twin’s life while the other makes an opposite decision by having a child with a very dark Black man. The idea of erasure and transformation is further explored through a transgender character.

Desiree and Stella Vignes were once inseparable, fleeing their small southern town to build a life together in New Orleans. But when Stella makes the decision to pass as white—disappearing from her sister’s life in order to pursue the “American Dream” of whiteness—the twins’ paths diverge, determining not just their own futures, but the futures of their daughters and their relationship to Black womanhood. As the sisters mature into mothers and their daughters into adulthood, each woman must confront her own relationship to her past, to family duty, and to her own autonomy.

From Taylor Crumpton’s Book of the Month review.

Lest you find me too serious, let me admit in closing that my new guilty pleasure is a reality show called, Blown Away. It’s a glass blowing competition that fills the void left by The Great British Baking Show.

A lot of wind

Muggy air continues. Gusty wind all day and in the last hour, rain.

Finished this. A little press will tidy the edges a bit. The fabric for the moons was dyed with indigo in South Carolina. The woven sections came after a class with Jude. I just couldn’t stop making woven rectangles for a while. The crab was stitched down a lot of years ago. It’s good to finish things, isn’t it?

But mostly, I’ve been editing. Received written comments from my editor on the last section of novel yesterday and spoke with her today.

I’ve known all along that the last bit drags. How to fix? Invent a crisis? Shorten the timeline?

I’m going with the recommendation (long-considered) of skipping a batch of years. It’s gonna help so much!

In the meantime, I need to start submitting chapters here and there with the hopes of getting part of the novel in print. It helps you get published.

The following two photos come from a tiny book called, The Art of Seeing. They were the prompts in the writing session this morning.

I’m upstairs. The book is downstairs. I’ll provide photographer’s names after dinner.

They were effective prompts.

Now it’s summer!

I’d made gazpacho. I’d made cold cucumber soup. We’d barbecued here and there and sat on the deck on Sunday mornings with the papers strewn around us. But it didn’t feel like summer.

Until today. We just went swimming over at Crystal Lake. Aaaah! The water is both warmer than usual and shallower, but still utterly refreshing.

It almost seemed normal. Girl says to her brother, “Eric! Let’s play the back float game!” Even more normalizing was the fact that they were being watched by a babysitter (How does that work? Is she a live-in?)

Cases in Massachusetts are rising again. After weeks of toggling between 200 and 300, we are mid-fives.

Last week I heard a statistic that recharged my caution. In Middlesex County (where most of our state’s cases are and where I live), if you have contact with 100 people, there’s a 38% chance that one of them has the virus. Just because we’re not California or Texas, it’s no time to get lax.

Upshot of telemedicine call: cholesterol is okay (wasn’t reading labs correctly it turns out), but I need to lose weight (according to me, not the doctor).

I don’t want to go cold turkey on sugar or join online Weight Watchers or even count calories. But I’m stepping up my exercise (ar ar). This is my third day in a row of exceeding 10,000 steps. Already I feel better.

Look at Saint Finn!