Category Archives: writing

4 books, 3 quotes, 1 moon

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Food memoir. Fascinating and well written. Partly of interest to me because she came of age roughly when I did and some of her stomping grounds overlap with mine (she went to Hampshire College for a year; I went to UMass Amherst). She is an unusual chef/restaurant owner for coming up through catering rather than working the line up to executive chef in someone else’s restaurant first. Hard working bad ass with crucial food experiences in Italy.

I also could relate personally, having been a lesser kind of bad ass who helped support herself from age 16 to 22 by working in restaurants. I’ve been a dishwasher, a salad girl, and a waitress in low and high end restaurants. Most memorable: kneeling to serve misonabe in huge clay pots in a tatami room for several summers. This was in a Japanese restaurant housed in a Victorian mansion at the intersection of Routes 20 and 22 in New Lebanon, New York. The kitchen was on the first floor and the tatami rooms were on the second floor. It was not for nothing that a customer once rudely referred to another waitress as a “stevedore.” (She was my height with rope-hard calves). But seriously, the teriyaki was served in iron skillets, the misonabes and yosenabes in eight inch diameter clay pots (with lids!) Put four of those on a tray, balance it on your shoulder, walk up a long, split stair case, lower the tray to a stand and then kneel to serve each and every one of those heavy, heavy dishes. Don’t forget to kick off your shoes!

You’d have strong calves, too!

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This book was a debut novel or I’d rate it lower. If I was a book reviewer, I’d try to discern why I found the writing a little disappointing — after all the author got me to turn more than 300 pages in less than a week — but I’ll offer only one thing. The unlikeable main character.

The main character doesn’t realize her husband has early onset Alzheimer’s for an excessively long time because of the ignorance of the times. Okay. But she tolerates his bad behavior for so long and surely she had to see he suffered from SOME KIND of mental illness? She also delays getting help for a ridiculously long time. So between that and her insufferable need to social climb out of her humble beginnings in Brooklyn, I disliked her quite a lot. Really good writing can make up for an unlikeable character, but here?

I also read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn this week. There were interesting overlaps with Thomas’s book in terms of place and time and I see why it goes on many people’s top ten lists but it wouldn’t go on mine. For one thing, the trope about the poor girl in rags reading a book a week just made me roll my eyes. (The alcoholic Irish dad, also a trope I suppose, didn’t bother me at all. He was rendered with some affection and depth). For another thing, it’s a little repetitive. And predictable.

It’s a depiction of a very poor family at the turn of the century in Brooklyn. Mother who cleans houses. Father who sings for a penny when he can and drinks. A son and daughter who have to drop out of school to earn their two dollars a week to help support the family. The details about what a family in these dire financial straights might eat in a week with no money was particularly compelling and called to mind things I’d heard from my father’s childhood. He was born about ten years after this novel ends. Raised on Brooklyn/Queens line. Also Catholic.

The book runs right into 1918 and although there was a lot of mention of entering the war in 1917, there was only passing reference to the influenza epidemic. For obvious reasons, I hoped otherwise.

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Last night I finished Where the Crawdads Sing. Read it almost in a sitting. I definitely see what all the fuss is about.

When writing a novel, sometimes you avoid certain books because you don’t want to be undermined by them or discouraged by them or maybe for less clear reasons. I still haven’t read Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd or The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, though both are on the shelf upstairs. I’d avoided Owens’s book, too, even though it’s set in North and not South Carolina, just because.

Well. It’s a compelling and beautifully crafted book.

  • Landscape descriptions of the low lands are stunning and evocative
  • Depictions of trauma imposed by physical abuse and abandonment are believable and consistent and drive the story in interesting ways
  • There is redemption and a surprise twist
  • It proves the power of an author depositing a dead body in an early chapter
  • Time flashing back and forth well done
  • Author made two of the central character’s saviors Black without turning them into completely secondary and non-dimensional figures
  • Nature is a character in the best possible way

Let me just note, too, the synchronicity between the NC novel and Hamilton’s food memoir. Both the female character in Crawdads and the real live author/chef of Blood, Bones, and Butter were the last of five children and abandoned by their mothers. We’re not talking about mere psychological abandonment — their mothers walked right out of their lives. Some of Hamilton’s teenage years have a feral quality to them — stealing cars, passing herself off as three years older to get work in a kitchen and then moving to NYC as a young teenager and getting into drugs.

ALL of the years of Owens’s female character have a feral quality to them. It is the defining quality of her life, in fact. Nature is her companion, her parent, her teacher, and her source of survival.

And now three quotes from conversation between Brene Brown and Tim Ferris in recent podcast:

Ninety percent of pathology is armor.

The replacement for armor is curiosity.

Lasting change has to be driven by self-acceptance.

It is cold here. Suitable for the Cold Moon.

Bibliography — Historic Fiction, Colonial SC

The following list captures most of the sources read (all or in part) over the last many years as research for the novel I’m calling The Weight of Cloth. I have another notebook to go through though and very few of the websites I consulted are here yet, so it’s not complete.

Ashton, Susanna. I Belong to South Carolina. Univ of South Carolina Press, 2012.

Blier, Suzanne Preston. The Royal Arts of Africa: The Majesty of Form. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1998. Print.

Brown, William Wells, et al. The Great Escapes. Barnes & Noble, 2007.

The Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns. By Ken Burns, Geoffrey C. Ward, and David G. McCullough. Prod. Ric Burns. PBS, 1990.

Camp, Stephanie M. H. Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 2004. Print.

Carawan, Guy, and Candie Carawan. Ain’t You Got a Right to the Tree of Life? University of Georgia Press, 1994.

Carney, Judith Ann. Black Rice. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Craton, Michael. Empire, Enslavement and Freedom in the Caribbean. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 1997.

Douglass, Frederick, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Eaton, Clement. A History of the Old South. Macmillan, 1966.

Edgar, Walter B. South Carolina. Univ of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Eglash, Ron. African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1999. Print.

Ellis, Joseph J. American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. New York: Random House Large Print, 2007. Print.

Eyiogbe, Frank Baba. Babalawo, Santeria’s High Priests: Fathers of the Secret in AfroCuban Ifa. Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2015. Print.

Farrow, Anne, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank. Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery. New York: Ballantine, 2005. Print.

Farrow, Anne. The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory. Print.

Feeser, Andrea. Red, White, and Black Make Blue: Indigo in the Fabric of Colonial South Carolina Life. Print.*

Flint, India. Eco Colour. Allen & Unwin, 2008.

Fox, Tryphena Blanche Holder, and Wilma King. A Northern Woman in the Plantation South: Letters of Tryphena Blanche Holder Fox, 1856-1876. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1993. Print.*

Gates, Henry Louis. The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers. New York: Basic Civitas, 2003. Print.

http://www.neh.gov/about/awards/jefferson-lecture/henry-louis-gates-jr-lecture

Gillow, John. African Textiles. Chronicle Books, 2003.

Glymph, Thavolia. Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.*

Gordon-Reed, Annette. The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2008. Print.*

Haulman, Kate. The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2011. Print.

Hart, Emma. Building Charleston: Town and Society in the Eighteenth-century British Atlantic World. Charlottesville: U of Virginia, 2010. Print.*

Higginbottom Jr., A. Leon. In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process, The Colonial Period. New York, Oxford University Press, 1978. Print.

Hoffer, Peter Charles, Cry Liberty, The Great Stono River Slave Rebellion of 1739. Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.*

Hurmence, Belinda. Before Freedom, When I Just Can Remember: Twenty-seven Oral Histories of Former South Carolina Slaves. Winston-Salem, NC: J.F. Blair, 1989. Print.*

Hurmence, Belinda. My Folks Don’t Want Me To Talk About Slavery. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2013.

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Barnes & Noble, 2005.

Joyner, Charles W. Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community. Urbana: U of Illinois, 1984. Print.*

Kenslea, Timothy. The Sedgwicks in Love: Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage in the Early Republic. Boston: Northeastern UP, 2006. Print.

Krebs, Laurie. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Indigo Planter. The Rosen Publishing Group, 2003.

Legrand, Catherine. Indigo, The Color that Changed the World, New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print..

LeMaster, Michelle, and Bradford J. Wood. Creating and Contesting Carolina: Proprietary Era Histories. Print.

McCandless, Peter. Slavery, Disease, and Suffering in the Southern Lowcountry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.

McCarthy, B. Eugene, and Thomas L. Doughton. From Bondage to Belonging: The Worcester Slave Narratives. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2007. Print.

McCurry, Stephanie. Masters of Small Worlds. Oxford University Press, 1995.

McKay, Nellie Y. (editor). Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Harriet Jacobs. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2001. Print.

McKinley, Catherine E. Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World. New York: Bloomsbury, 2011. Print.

Mueller, Pamela Bauer. Water to My Soul: The Story of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. Jekyll Island, GA: Pinata Pub., 2012. Print.

Mullin, Michael. Africa in America: Slave Acculturation and Resistance in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831. ACLS History E-Book Project. 2004.

Myers, Amrita Chakrabarti. Forging Freedom: Black Women and the Pursuit of Liberty in Antebellum Charleston. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2011. Print.

Nelson, Louis P. The Beauty of Holiness. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Northup, Solomon, and D. Wilson. Twelve Years a Slave Narrative of Solomon Northrup, Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841 and Rescued in 1853 from a Cotton Plantation near the Red River, in Louisiana. Auburn: Derby and Miller, 1853. Print.

Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, and Elise Pinckney. The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. Ed. Marvin R. Zahniser and Elise Pinckney. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina, 1997. Print.

Rediker, Marcus. The Slave Ship: A Human History. New York: Viking, 2007. Print.

Rhyne, Nancy, and Sue Alston. John Henry Rutledge: The Ghost of Hampton Plantation: A Parable. Orangeburg, SC: Sandlapper Pub., 1997. Print.

Rhyne, Nancy. Tales of the South Carolina Low Country. John F Blair Pub, 1982.

“Rice Diversity – Educators’ Corner.” Rice Diversity, http://ricediversity.org/outreach/educatorscorner. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.

Rivers, Larry Eugene. Slavery in Florida, Territorial Days to Emancipation. Florida: University Press, 2009.

Rogers, George C. Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys. Norman: U of Oklahoma, 1969. Print.

Rucker, Walter C. The River Flows On. LSU Press, 2008.

Russell, Franklin. The Okefenokee Swamp. Time-Life Books, 1986.

Rutledge, Archibald. Home by the River. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1941. Print.

Rutledge, Sarah. The Carolina Housewife. Columbia: U of South Carolina, 1979. Print.

Smith, Mark M. Stono: Documenting and Interpreting a Southern Slave Revolt. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina, 2005. Print.

South Carolina Slave Narratives. S.I.: Native American Book, 2009. Print.

Stuart, Andrea. Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Print.

Twitty, Michael W. The Cooking Gene. HarperCollins, 2018.

Vernon, Amelia Wallace. African Americans at Mars Bluff, South Carolina. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press. 1993.

Walsh, Lorena S. From Calabar to Carter’s Grove. Rutgers University Press, 2001.

Williams, Frances Leigh. Plantation Patriot; a Biography of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967. Print.

Wood, Peter H. Black Majority; Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion. New York: Knopf;, 1974. Print.

Wulf, Andrea. Founding Gardeners. Vintage, 2012.

Zacek, Natalie. Settler Society in the English Leeward Islands, 1670-1776. New York: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Eliza Lucas – PhD Thesis

Fiction

Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks

Kindred, Octavia Butler

Sapphira and The Slave Girl, Willa Cather

Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier

The Good Lord Bird and Song Yet Sung, by James McBride

Beloved, Toni Morrison

Water to My Soul, Pamela Mueller

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

Someone Knows My Name, Lawrence Hill

Underground Airlines, Ben White

Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead

The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk

Nostalgia, Dennis MacFarland

Plantation Patriot, Francis Leigh Williams

The Indigo Girl, Natasha Boyd

The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehesi Coates

Movies / TV

The Civil War (Ken Burns)

The Duchess

Amistad

John Adams – HBO series

Vanity Fair

Daughters of the Dust

Amazing Grace

Harriet

Twelve Years a Slave

one week out RANT

May I be peaceful. May I be free of inner and outer harm. May our nation be peaceful. May our nation be free of inner and outer harm.

On the fateful night, although not the decisive night, one friend plans to zoom with her Quaker community, another to block out all media. I say with a barking laugh: “Oh, it’s ice cream and Steve Kornacki for me!” Last time, I stayed awake. I drew a map of Florida and prayed over it. I saw the dismal, bleak, heartbreaking result before dawn, which by the way was not shocking because ever since a certain lanky G-man had made a catastrophic announcement about emails, I’d been sick to my stomach. Part of me knew already. Could not be shocked. Is it a good and decent sign that no such sick feeling attends these final days? Flutters of panic, passing visions of chaos in Pennsylvania, but no stomach ache.

Even with one of the Orange Buffoon’s Supreme Court appointments practically quoting the propaganda machine in an anti-democratic voting rights decision favoring republicans, I don’t feel sick yet. (There’s Gorsuch parroting Fox News about the need to have results on Election Night, adding “or soon thereafter,” just to sound lawyerly).

Isn’t it awful that “anti-democratic republican position” is now a redundancy? One Party Minority Rule is their game — and not a good solo party, either, but a regressive one with allegiances to business that will wreck the environment, with Federalist Society reasoning that tries to mask their sexism and racism, but can’t. Bye, bye voting rights! Bye, bye legal contraception (and you thought just abortion was on the line?) Bye, bye legal same sex marriage. Due process will have three months to fall during the next President’s 180-day Commission, that is, if we win and win big.

If we win and win big, the centrist party will have to turn a fire hose back on the other side of the aisle. We wont’ stand for less! All legal, of course, and perfectly Constitutional — “balancing” to “packing.” But really, why take it sitting down, with our heads in our hands?

Here’s the thing — AND IT’S NO SMALL THING — the right wing will revile whatever we do — even the centrist politician’s tip-toeing along, touting the virtues of incremental change — so we might as well be bold and decisive. Which is not to say I’m about to put a rose in my twitter moniker.

She makes calls to Wisconsin, another to North Carolina. The friend from Cleveland shares the podcast about white suburban women changing their minds (not my mind, mind). I gave a chunk of money to secureblue (again!) because who can say NO to President Obama? Also: made a gift to a Wisconsin voting advocacy group, because: Gorsuch. NO MORE MAIL!

Because a certain handmaid on a balcony stands ready to proselytize in jihadist extremes from our highest court. There she was in black with a tight smile, I’m guessing her only kind of smile, and pearls, standing next to the fat orange transgressive machine of destruction. Posing for Reality President TV. Will we be free of the beige, racist eunuch of a son-in-law, who’s speciality, for all I can make out, is failure? Well, and maybe crimes against humanity. Will we be rid of the Goya-posing reconstructed daughter that Daddy would’ve liked to fuck both before and after her many surgeries? Please say yes. Rid of them. Gone. Please say yes.

May those with sense be ready with a replacement health care plan, Supreme Court work-around built in. Then let the minority (may they be a minority!) bring 50-60 — or WAS IT 70? — bills to try and repeal THAT. McConnell closes up what some have called “the most expensive lunch club in DC” until November 9. Can you imagine being so cravenas to advance his justices with lightning speed and leave Americans in need hanging? Seriously, (and Mr. Necrotic Hands did more than take a fall, by the way), he knows his Stupid Prick of a leader is about to go down. He knows he himself hasn’t got much longer. Else he might not have taken such an inglorious and hypocritical approach to the Supreme Court vacancy. He’s grossly miscalculated, says one. It’ll backfire, many assert and I want to believe them.

Meanwhile, there’s joy at the polls. Trucks with music, activists with pizza. The moon is waxing. The leaves are falling. Babies are being born, dogs walked, prayers uttered. May they go down in flames. May the defeat be so decisive that not even the machinations of a certain MIA TOAD attorney general can pervert it.

May I be peaceful. May I be free of inner and out harm. May our nation be peaceful. May our nation be free of inner and outer harm.

—- * —-

Notes :
Collage made with dianaphoto app and includes a paper collage made while in Italy (the Buddhist monk — probably from National Geographic) and an image of Mahershala Ali (probably from Vanity Fair). Prayer is from Buddhist tradition. Lanky G-man is of course, James Comey; the recent SCOTUS opinion concerned whether Wisconsin could count ballots post-marked before Nov. 3, but arriving some days later. The answer was no; the miscalculation of McConnell’s was explored in a long thread on twitter by @realhoarse and the thread is here.

Joy at the polls — you’ve probably seen

Sun on a Sunday

Walked the dog. Did both crossword puzzles, more or less. And I’m back to editing after a hiatus — easier than going back to writing after a pause, but still a hurdle.

Fall routines in progress here. We put the hammock away. Brought the Christmas cacti inside. Started (the endless) raking.

It’s a meatloaf or chili kind of day, but I already cooked chicken thighs, so we’ll have them along with a bean salad featuring Rancho Gordo’s cassoulet bean.

I’ll admit to checking my phone EARLY today with a ghoulish anticipation. But, don’t get me wrong — I hope our president recovers. I really do. I live for the day when he is repudiated in a landslide election and then prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

I am at a little bit of a loss with my sewing.