Entries tagged with “Arkansas” from this Public Address 1.0

Sentences

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Sentences

Once in a while, a sentence so startling in its clarity just stops me in my tracks. I can’t stop thinking about it. It usually needn’t have anything to do with its context, or the subject of the writing that contains it. The reference is often outside, anagogical, and to a certain extent what holds me is nothing less than pure linguistic clarity. Today, it was this sentence from an article in the Spectator:

It is easy to move, hard to change.

Many substitutions could be performed for the pronoun here. The lack of a coordinating conjunction makes me ponder: “but?” “and?” “then?” — though no relation is really necessary. There is no implicit preference. However, in the American perspective, it is often taken for granted that movement and change are equivalent. They’re not. They aren’t necessarily causally related either. Movement does not, by necessity, engender change. In context, that is indeed the thought which this sentence is meant to convey, as this sentence preceeds it:

The alpine plants of Scotland will not evolve to cope with our warming weather: they will simply migrate up the mountains until they become extinct.

Beautiful. It made me wonder. Was moving from California to Arkansas a change, or only a movement?

Moving wasn’t easy. Succumbing to divorce complicated it significantly. Giving up is hard. Humans are more complex than alpine plants. We draw upon our surroundings to constitute our identities, and for this reason, I suspect we formulate that age-old equivalence of movement with change. Perhaps it's not just an American thing after all— quest-romance is built upon the myths of spiritual rebirth. Perhaps change is slow, while movement is fast.

Of course this is all counter to Gould’s view on evolution, the article that started this train of thought. Evolutionary change strikes like a lightning-bolt, rendering mating between the new species and the old impossible. When perpetual movement (and change) is part of the cultural aesthetic, estrangement seems inevitable. O well. That’s a lot of mileage out of eight words in a sentence.

Yesterday’s favorite sentence was substantially more complex, from Nabokov’s Pnin:

As a teacher, Pnin was far from being able to compete with those stupendous Russian ladies scattered all over academic America, who, without having had any formal training at all, manage something by dint of intuition, loquacity, and a kind of maternal bounce, to infuse a magic knowledge of their difficult and beautiful tongue into a group of innocent-eyed students in an atmosphere of Mother Volga songs, red caviar, and tea; nor did Pnin, as a teacher, ever presume to approach the lofty halls of modern scientific linguistics, that ascetic fraternity of phonemes, that temple wherein earnest young people are taught not the language itself, but the method of teaching others to teach that method; which method, like a waterfall splashing from rock to rock, ceases to be a medium of rational navigation but perhaps in some fabulous future may become instrumental in evolving esoteric dialects— Basic Basque and so forth— spoken only by certain elaborate machines.

Now that’s a sentence!

The Ox

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From a wistle-stop in Arkansas

one of the last times I used a real camera for something: John Entwistle at Juanita's in LR, Arkansas

R.I.P., as one of his album covers once said

Wards

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Wards Flowers and Gifts, Danville, Arkansas-- no relation.

Gifts

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Danville, Arkansas


What wounds me are the forms of the relation, its images; or rather, what others call form I experience as force. The image— as the example of the obsessive— is the thing itself. The lover is thus an artist; and his world is in fact a world reversed, since in it each image is its own end (nothing beyond the image).

(A Lover's Discourse, 133)

Go West Young Man!

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Go west, young man-- the view looking west on Arkansas Highway 10, heading for Oklahoma.


Fishing

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Reelin' em in

just another sign of the times

Pocola, Oklahoma, where my parents live, is just another one of those highway towns. It's sort of a suburb of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, but not really. It has more in common with the little country towns I've been posting pictures of than the “big city” of Ft. Smith.

Fishing is big there. My father was a fisherman. I never got interested in it, and neither did my brothers. None of us could stomach cleaning them. Fish has lots of associations for me. As I lay down reading my book my first night in Pocola, I noticed a tiny toy kerosene lamp on the bedside table. I recognized it. The little yellow and red streaked lamp was distinctive; I’ve never seen another one like it past childhood. It came from a little curio shop in Bridgeport, California, high in the Sierras where dad used to fish.

Mom remembered trying to make me into a fisherman. They bought me a nice new reel using S&H green stamps. I walked off and left it on the bank of a stream somewhere near Bridgeport. Dad wandered the mountainsides up there, until they fenced the meadows and prohibited fishing. I never did much fishing; I just wandered.

All my wandering lately has given me some bald tires. Waiting around the Walmart in Ft. Smith while getting some fresh tires installed, I was confronted with another connotation of fish on a T-shirt I hadn't seen before:

If it smells like fish— eat it!
Words can be a tricky thing. I suspect I should reel myself in.

AKMA's article on Biblical Interpretation posted while I was away converges with my reading in Pocola

Lake Maumelle

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I’m back.


Just cruising down Highway 10

Someone asked me a few months back, after I posted the pictures of a bridge across the Arkansas River, if there were any lakes nearby. As I was driving home late this afternoon, I thought I’d snap a view from the side of my car about fifteen minutes from my apartment. This is Lake Maumelle, the reservoir for Little Rock, Arkansas. Water quality here is near the highest in the US, especially compared to other metropolitan areas. We don’t drink from the river.

This lake (one of many nearby) is actually larger than it appears from here.

Driving

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I've always liked driving; this is me behind the wheel in March of 1959

A word of advice to travellers who might want to cross Arkansas on Interstate 40: don't.

It took 4 1/2 hours to get halfway across (Little Rock to Ft. Smith) where it usually takes two, due to all the construction.

On the way back, I took the scenic route on old highway 10. It was more fun anyway. Sometimes it's good to know the back-roads.

I didn't need to go too far into Oklahoma. I turned off about thirty miles before the big bridge disaster, but it was still a mess.

Hypertextual wandering

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Hypertextual wanderings

As I spend another sleepless night (because I slept all day) I started thinking about something (imagine that!). One of my favorite bits in Small Pieces Loosely Joined is this:

Perhaps the Web isn’t shortening our attention span. Perhaps the world is just getting more interesting.
You’ll just have to imagine the huge “Amen!” I shouted when I read that.

I’ve always been rather “hypertextual” and I suspect I’m not the only one. Hart Crane seems to display a lot of those properties, as do most great writers (not that I’m classifying myself with them). My evil female twin, who I moved to Arkansas to be with (big pieces, too tightly wrapped into my personal mythology) was an artist with a taste for philosophy who usually had seven or eight books open around the house to different sections to clarify her primary reading at the time. I have worked the same way most of my life, reading at first a few things (and now dozens of things) at a time. I told myself I wasn’t going to do that this summer. I was going to read some novels, damn it. But I digress. When Weinberger did the “imagine having x books at your immediate disposal” I looked around the room and said, “but I already have that without my computer!”

Anyone who has read me for any length of time may have noticed my wandering ways; I started to read I.A. Richards. He mentioned some Coleridge I wasn’t familiar with, but since it was on my bookshelf I opted to pause and read it before finishing the book. His book reminded me of Ricoeur, which I had read, but I revisited the dozen or so pages that discuss Richards. I do that sort of reading all the time; it comes up a lot with classical references. When someone mentions a situation in a play or novel as context for a critical argument, I’ll often stop and read the work mentioned for the first time, or refresh my memory of it. I found myself strangely drawn to The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology and the Arts by Richard Lanham tonight, which I’ve been meaning to read for some time (the theoretical books I want to read usually outnumber the novels at any given time).

In the preface, Lanham claims (regarding the personal computer) that “a new expressive medium had emerged— but the demand for the medium had preceded the medium itself.” I do believe this is the case with hypertext. The demand for it is something that has been building up in literature for years (particularly Modernist literature) because it becomes impossible to always know what an author is alluding to without a lot of secondary research. As history grows longer, keeping up on all the “commonplaces” of the day, words that have shifted in meaning or have fallen out of use, requires a battery of dictionaries and other aids to keep these works fresh and relevant. With greater access to tools, the world becomes a more interesting place because nothing is out of our grasp when it comes to providing deeper contexts to the topic you wish to explore. What makes hypertext interesting to me is not its rupture with narrative form, but its sheer utility when it comes to matching how people actually read (here, there and everywhere).

I’ve heard it said somewhere before that the primary job of scholars is research. With tools like hypertext at the fingertips of anyone who cares to use it, I can only hope that “scholar” stops being an esoteric or derogatory term. Research isn’t sitting in an ivory tower away from the world, it’s living in it and trying to make the most of it. I seem to recall Emerson saying something to that effect in a commencement address somewhere. He encouraged everyone to get out of the library and head for the forest after graduation. I suspect he’d probably not mind having a terminal around, so that the research time could be shortened, and he’d have more time to watch the sunset.

Songs

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Songs

On Saturday, I drove in early enough to snag a parking spot a few hundred feet from the key entrance (now that I knew where it was!). No bridge crossing. Trout Fishing in America was playing on one stage, while the other was silent. I hadn’t seen them before, but they were just a little on the happy side for me. As I walked around to the other side, I saw a big man laying on top of a stack of equipment cases, twenty feet up backstage. It turned out to be Chris Chew of The North Mississippi Allstars.

I’d wanted to see them since an acquaintance, Daniel Gold of An Honest Tune magazine, had raved. Daniel rescued a guitar of theirs, when someone attempted to steal it in Fayetteville after a gig. Even though I’m not into the jam thing, Daniel has pointed me at some interesting bands as they’ve passed through town. I was near the front of the stage when they came out, and after a few songs I was glad I was. They had great energy, as they melted a bunch of classic blues tunes together. I looked around and saw some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, Stephen Koch of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette and my old friend Dan Limke who works for some newspaper consortium a bit further north. Then, a skinhead near the center just started pointing and madly gesturing at me like he knew me. Everyone thinks they know me. The band was playing great, until halfway through the set when the jamming became intolerable. I left to get a beer.

When I returned, the band had returned to playing songs. Overall, they were good. I just feel so damn cheated when people start noodling about on the stage. I think it was the drum solo that did it. Didn’t these people learn anything from the sixties? Drum solos don’t work. I left before the encore, to try to get a good position for the man I really went to see.

Steve Earle was a total pro. It was an acoustic show, and the monitor set-up was so bad I could hear the onstage feedback at the front row. He stopped once, to see if they could fix it. They didn’t. He played a few Bob Dylan tunes, and eventually commented “I’d be happy if they could just get the feedback in tune.” Earle explained that he started out as a folk singer, but he had to give it up because there were too many rules. He told stories about hopping trains as a kid, with a funny twist. He said he accidentally jumped on one that took him out of town and he had to call his dad to come and get him.

Later in the set, he played a Lightnin’ Hopkins tune, and told a story that Townes Van Zant had told him. It seems that Hopkins used his mouth like a bank. Any time he had extra money, he would put more gold in his mouth. He decided he wanted to get a diamond inset, but was so nervous that someone would steal it while he was sleeping that he had it placed on the inside. He carried a little dental mirror, so he could inspect it from time to time.

You could tell that Earle couldn’t hear a thing on stage. But he played amazingly well, for having no monitors. He just soldiered on, through a masterful set of tunes. As Tom Waits has said, “Steve Earle writes about American regret as clearly as anybody going.” I haven’t been moved to tears at a concert in a very long time, but this time I was. There’s just something about “Transcendental Blues”:

In the darkest hour of the longest night
If it was in my power I'd step into the light
Candles on the altar, penny in your shoe
Walk upon the water — transcendental blues

Happy ever after 'til the day you die
Careful what you ask for, you don't know 'til you try
Hands are in your pockets, starin' at your shoes
Wishin' you could stop it — transcendental blues

If I had it my way, everything would change
Out here on this highway the rules are still the same
Back roads never carry you where you want 'em to
They leave you standin' there with them ol' transcendental blues
I was overcome as I scanned the crowd, thinking about how so many of these songs obviously touched people. Inside each and every face in the crowd is a universe all its own, with its own thoughts and perceptions which are largely incommunicable to anyone else.

In the encore, Earle played a brand new song written for an album coming out in the fall. It’s called “Jerusalem” and he joked that it might get him deported. It’s obviously political, and unabashed in its claim that “the sons of Abraham must lay down their sword.” Just another one of those folk-singer peace anthems, but gorgeous nonetheless. I wonder when calling for peace became anti-Semitic?

I wondered for a moment at the end of the first encore if there would be a second. I suspected not, so I headed for my car. I feel reasonably confident there wasn’t because Earle was about two steps ahead of me, headed for his bus. I didn’t bother him. As I walked out to the parking lot, I could hear a girl talking:

“I just don’t get this bit about never being satisfied,” she said. “Is it just an artist thing or what?”

I paused for a second, unable to keep my mouth closed. I said:

“If you’re ever satisfied, it usually means that your standards are too low.”

The guy she was with laughed. She looked at him and said:

“He might be right about that.”

Obligatory baby pictures

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a small humanFor the folks back in Bake-o

My ex stopped by today with her new baby, now two months old. So, this is the obligatory personal post for those friends back in California who are curious about them.

I took a couple of quick snaps, and in keeping with the "blogging outside the taxonomies" theme that I like to pursue, here you have it. No cat pictures for you, but here are some equally boring (to those who have no social connection with her) family snaps.

The Evans/Crane project may be paused for just a bit, as it is the Riverfest weekend. I feel a little shaky about all the walking involved, but since I missed it last year due to the broken ankle, I've got to give it a try tonight.

I'm also waiting with great anticipation for Loren's look at the Transcendentalists. I'm quite happy with the content out there I have to choose from. I like it when people talk about stuff that is outside my experience, regardless of what it might be.

So, this is but a momentary indulgence, a few snaps for some friends. I might take a few at the festival, but who knows. All I know is that I do need to get out more.

Haters of family pictures, don't click here

Snaps

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I bought a little snapshot camera

just for the heck of it

It was such a beautiful day that I took it down to the bridge(s).

I haven't really ever taken snapshots before, so I thought it might be about time I started. It's impossible for me to really take digital cameras seriously.

But since I do my own labwork, and don't really have the time anymore, I thought it might be nice to at least collect some snapshots of landmarks.

But after one short little drive, I can tell that it will be really hard not to want to start making real photographs again. This place is just too bizarre.

Southcentral Arkansas

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Z-Bird

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Zounds!

I was driving home from school this morning and got behind a truck with the strangest slogan on the back: "Meats That Makes Men s." Underneath a huge Z logo was the inscription: "Z-Bird." The truck had Georgia plates.

Huh? I thought. I pulled up closer and realized that there was a letter obscured by the latch on the back of the truck, but still, it seemed strange for this vehicle to be driving down the street giving everyone Z-Bird. Shipping chickens to Arkansas is a bit like carrying coals to Newcastle and all that. There's a chicken farm on every corner. I had to research this when I got home.

It seems that the parent company is Zartic. They have an interesting list of trademarked labels, judging from the fine print on their web site:

Bakeables, Bar-Z-Que, Chicken Fryz, Chic-N-Vittles, Circle Z, Crispy Steak, Entrée Legends, Heavenly Wings, Hi-Brand, Honey Hugged, Jim's Country Mill Sausage, Meats That Make Menus, PiggleStix, Rockin' Roasted, Wing Demons, Z-Best Bird You Can Serve, Z-Bird, Zartic, and Zartran are trademarks of Zartic, Inc.
I'm sure Chicken Fryz are big with the Hi-Brand crowd, and that most folks would like to be Honey Hugged after they are Rockin' Roasted. I'll go for the Heavenly wings, but keep those Wing Demons away from me, and please refrain from giving me Z-bird. I felt worse after pondering what might be included in PiggleStix, though I suppose puttting pigs on a stick has a long heritage.

It seems noteworthy that the company recalled 18,600 pounds of chicken in 2000 because it contained an "undeclared egg product." Now there's another point to ponder: just what is an undeclared egg product and why would it get mixed up with a chicken in the first place? But before I digress into the chicken and egg debate, I suppose I had better shut up.

Sometimes, I'm just too easily amused.

Being born

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He not busy being born is busy dying...

It’s that time of year again. Swamp-like humidity in the morning, burning off in just a few hours. Sticky yellow residue of sex everywhere, gumming up wiper-blades and making it hard to see. My car needs a shower, it’s getting really funky.

But then there’s the green. A thousand shades of it, bursting out everywhere. There’s something special about this time of year, because the black trunks are still visible behind the subtle shades now decorating the spidery network of trees. I accept myself as a metaphor-making creature, and I’ve been thinking about how the color of this state is truly green, in every sense of the word. It’s a big change from where I’m from.

The dominant color of the Great Central Valley of California is brown. Green occurs in the patchwork fields, since most of the fruits and vegetables for the country come from there, but it’s mostly monolithic, non-variegated patches of a single cash crop in the fields that can afford to pay for the water it takes to grow them. What sticks out in my mind are those empty fields, the stretches of brown sandy dirt, seldom impeded by a stone put there by nature. Instead, the fixtures are concrete, and often covered with fading graffiti. And the people turn brown too, as they work in those fields. It is truly a land of dirt, dust, and brown. Infinitely variable shades, really. It takes a long time to become acclimated to them, and to develop a language akin to an arctic tribe, that need not really have a thousand words for snow, but instead endless variants of modifiers and types to describe the state of the snow. In California, what matters most is the state of the dirt, not the individual crops placed in it; most of what grows is not wild, but transplanted from somewhere else. When plants are transplanted, there is often a shock, and leaves turn brown.

I now live in a land of somewhere else. It’s green. It’s green with envy, as one of the poorest states in the union. It’s green with naiveté, as they still fight the civil war over race issues oblivious to the fact that one day they, like the rest of the country, are likely to be overcome by brown. But it’s also green with brilliant underbrush, in a million shades, covering the blackened underside of trees that once rooted in the brutal clay soil, refuse to give way. Every spring, the green comes back. It seems so miraculous, so beautiful, and above all, so wet.

Aristotle wanted to blame everything on moisture. Moisture, however, is where life springs from. I like living in a wet world; I don’t mind taking a shower to wash off the residue from time to time. While you’re being born, it’s bound to get messy. It just seems, well, natural. Ah, I get it now, that’s why they call Arkansas the natural state.

Letter from Felpham

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Excerpt from a letter from Felpham, August 16th 1803.

Dear Sir This perhaps was sufferd to Clear up some doubts & to give opportunity to those whom I doubted to clear themselves of all imputation. If a Man offends me ignorantly & not designedly surely I ought to consider him with favour & affection. Perhaps the simplicity of myself is the origin of all offences committed against me. If I have found this I shall have learned a most valuable thing well worth three years perseverance. I have found it! It is certain! that a too passive manner. inconsistent with my active physiognomy had done me much mischief I must now express to you my conviction that all is come from the spiritual World for Good & not for Evil. Give me your advice in my perilous adventure. burn what I have peevishly written about any friend. I have been very much degraded & injuriously treated. but if it all arise from my own fault I ought to blame myself

O why was I born with a different face
Why was I not born like the rest of my race
When I look each one starts! when I speak I offend
Then I'm silent & passive & lose every Friend

Then my verse I dishonour. My pictures despise
My person degrade & my temper chastise
And the pen is my terror. the pencil my shame
All my Talents I bury, and Dead is my Fame
I am either too low or too highly prizd
When Elate I am Envy'd, When Meek I'm despisd

This is but too just a Picture of my Present state I pray God to keep you & all men from it & to deliver me in his own good time. Pray write to me & tell me how you & your family Enjoy health. My much terrified Wife joins me in love to you & Mrs Butts & all your family. I again take the liberty to beg of you to cause the Enclosd Letter to be deliverd to my Brother & remain

Sincerely & Affectionately Yours
WILLIAM BLAKE

When he composed this letter to Thomas Butts, Blake was about to go on trial for sedition. It’s a peculiar tale. An unruly soldier came into his back yard while he was composing poetry. Blake asked him to leave. He didn’t. So, Blake pushed him down the street, pinning his arms behind his back, back to the tavern where he came from. The soldier, Scofield, conspired with his friend, Mr. Cock (appropriate, no?) to have Blake arrested for sedition.

It was the end of what Blake considered to be his exile to the coast, and he was returning to London to write Jerusalem. Sometimes, I think of Arkansas as my Felpham. I hope they don’t try me for sedition when I try to get out.

Silence in the head

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Silence in the head

I had to find it, before I could work. I remember reading about an artist, I think it was Jasper Johns, who said regarding his alcoholism "I drink to kill the noise." The rational mind sets up so many obstacles to understanding, making it hard to just be somewhere and experience what is happening there. I've never once tried to make a "statement" through a photograph, I've only wanted to show the things that pricked me, generated an interest in me, or more accurately, made me feel.

Art doesn't say, it shows. That's where the conversational metaphors for communication break down. Conversation, especially in one's head, really makes you miss things. You concentrate to much on what is being said, and neglect what is being experienced. It's distinction that is often taught in writing classrooms: "Show, don't tell." But as soon as an image appears in our heads, the only way to get it out is to tell someone about it. But that must come after the experience itself, otherwise you miss it. The bio piece on Johns I linked covers this well:

That distinction between saying something and being something corresponds precisely to Wittgenstein's distinction between what can be said and what shows itself, and the point about art is that it shows rather than says. Johns's sense of the distinction between saying and showing produced a memorable declaration: 'When you begin to work with the idea of suggesting, say, a particular psychological state of affairs, you have eliminated so much from the process of painting that you make an artificial statement which is, I think, not desirable. I think one has to work with everything and accept the kind of statement which results as unavoidable, or as a helpless situation. I think that most art which begins to make a statement fails to make a statement because the methods used are too schematic or too artificial. I think that one wants from painting a sense of life. The final suggestion, the final statement, has to be not a deliberate statement but a helpless statement.'

Shortly after the recording ended, he added: 'To be an artist you have to give up everything, including the desire to be a good artist.'

Emotional memory is iconic. I suspect that's the land that I dwell in most often. I used to sit on the couch for at least an hour, in something akin to meditation, before I would go out and take photographs. I needed the time to finish those conversations in my head, to clear it out to make room for experience. When I would finally get there, I tried to be open like a raw nerve waiting for the electricity to strike, to pass through from my eyes to my fingers without hesitation or second guess. To really be there, instead of thinking about being there.

When I went back to school, I tried to do what everyone tells you to do. Take notes carefully, follow along in the text, and all that. It just didn't work for me. When I discovered that I am different, that I can take in a complex argument at a glance without painstakingly jotting down all the details and noting and highlighting a text, I finally became comfortable with school. I do the same thing I did as an artist. I just clear my head, show up, and look and listen. That's enough for me. I just make sure I'm there. Unlike most of my fellow students, I seldom write in my books. I write in my head.

When I became a teacher, I was given one piece of advice: "Bring yourself to class." I knew exactly what that meant. You have to be there, and avoid getting lost in your concept of what a class should be, and just concentrate on what it is. You have to embrace that helpless feeling that asks what the hell am I doing here? You make it up as you go along, or at least I do, in response to what is happening at the time. I've got lots of "selves," and I bring them all with me wherever I go. But I've got to shut them up most of the time, so I can hear what other people are saying.

There are different ways of killing the noise. I grew up reading Zen texts, matured using chemical enhancements, and returned eventually to a more idiosyncratic method of clearing my head involving a lot of blank staring, and an occasional cry. The question of meditation always reminds me of a funny story about Warren Criswell, a somewhat eccentric Arkansas painter. A student once asked him at a lecture if he used meditation.

Medication?

Oh, meditation! Well, medication, yes. Meditation, no.

Multiculturalism in Arkansas

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Multiculturalism in action.

I learned something from one of my fellow students tonight. I commented that every “multicultural” event I’ve ever attended in Arkansas is predominantly attended by black folks. She said that when you advertise an event as multicultural back here, that usually means black.

It was a “town hall” meeting about racism put on by two local radio stations (with the same owner, imagine that), one with a mainly black audience, and one with a nearly exclusively white audience. It made me think about a lot of things. It was supposed to be a “rhetorical” observation trip, to see deliberative rhetoric in action, but as far as I’m concerned it was purely epideictic: praise and blame. There was a lot of that going on. I glanced down at the notepad of the black gentleman sitting next to me. He was taking notes, and the header on the page he put a few short comments in was “Notes to Self.” The first item he had written there was “Quit blaming yourself”

Racial issues are a weird thing in Arkansas. I was reminded that there is a lot of history that I wasn’t here for (I’ve only been here six years or so). People have long memories, and institutions are slow to change. I did not know, for example, that the governing board of the University of Arkansas consists of nine white folks, and one black person. It almost became ten white people last year, due to a proposed appointment by the lily-white Baptist minister governor (who looks a lot like Gomer Pyle; talks like him too). As the white senator who was present read the list of committees in state government, noting the racial imbalance in every aspect of state government, it was appalling. Why does this power structure survive? There does seem to be a big problem. The figure that was thrown out regarding the balance of population was 2.5 million whites, and around 500,000 blacks statewide.

Then, I started to think about my day to day experience. The faculty of my state-funded university is primarily white. However, it seems quite likely that this has as much to do with the fact that as universities go, they pay poorly. The population of the school is nearly 30% black. There is one black assistant professor in the rhetoric department, added only a year or so ago, and one who is in the process of becoming tenured faculty. I suppose there are about 15 full-time professors, so that’s a little better than the norm but not much. They actually went after Professor Cox, I think, to come back after going through the undergraduate program here and getting his Ph.D. in Texas. There are no “good-ole boys” in the department though, and the disparity has more to do with the applicants for openings rather than hiring practices, at least in my opinion. The best and brightest black students move out of state.

And in my limited experience, there are a lot of great black students. A lot of black students in my classes are the product of private schools. My classes, just by the luck of the draw I think, are a bit heavier on the black side than the university average. I adjusted my teaching strategy as a result. I decided I needed to use more black authors.

But the problem is, now that I think about it, I’m painting a pretty dismal picture of the white race. Most of the most memorable essays were written by black writers. I need to dig up some better white folks to use, I think. The black writers I used were almost too good. I may be slighting the white students, making them feel a little inferior. I need to work on that. The white writers I used were good too, but a bit more inaccessible than the black writers, even for the white students.

One of my fellow rhetoric students, Jason (the preacher) who also teaches in public school, brought up that he was audited in his class to make sure he displayed enough black faces on the posters on the walls. He asked if “counting” the presence of black faces in the classroom wasn’t just an artificial token system that had a bad effect on the atmosphere of the classroom. No one answered him. Another student in my class observed that there was not a single Mexican face in the meeting. They are the largest growing minority group back here, and it won’t be long before they overtake the black population. There was little going on except blame-casting, mostly at institutional and media practices. I never turn on the media, so I can’t say, and the institutional guidelines toward fair practices seem to be firmly in place. So what’s the problem? I suspect it’s just money, pure and simple. This is a poor state, with the most poorly paid teachers in the US. Of course that makes getting an education cheaper, and that’s why I’m doing it here. Another side of the “low-pay” equation is that there are few real prima-donnas here. There are some brilliant people, working at a second-tier school because they love it, instead of for money alone.

In the town-hall meeting a guy got up and claimed that black people weren’t allowed to rent at any of the better apartment complexes in West Little Rock. I live in West Little Rock, the “rich” side of town. A black family lives next door. Most of the complex are Indian or Pakistani. I just had to shake my head. While I wouldn’t call it upscale, it’s certainly middle class. I just don’t get it. I think the money issues are a much bigger factor than residual racism. Sometimes I think it’s just time to get over it. There are some staggering imbalances that need to be taken care of, this is sure, but I don’t think that they are primarily racist issues. It’s about the money.

One of the members of the panel was a black judge and reverend, and he kept ranting about racism in the system. A fellow from the nation of Islam (who held up one of their newspapers as a political stunt at the end) was quick to point out that the judge attended white schools growing up, and lived in a white neighborhood. I hear a lot of rhetoric about racism, and it’s hard to figure out who to believe. I see a lot of black folks “movin’ on up” and later, movin’ on out. I know that there are a lot of pockets of white whackos out in the sticks, but tonight I also heard from a black man in a wheelchair who was consistently reelected to a seat on the city council of Jonesboro, by margins of up to 70%, in a town that has a black population of 7%. I really can’t figure this place out.

Reading an article about The Color Blind Web this morning worried me too. I wonder if I should put a banner up listing my color? I suppose the majority is rather pinkish, with a big patch of strawberry-blondish-brown with a few streaks of gray hair on top, offset with rapidly graying blue eyes? Why does this still matter? There were police at this town-hall meeting tonight. A patrol-car pulled out of the parking-lot as I left. Was it because it was a “multicultural event”? One great question came up tonight. White teenagers are not chased out of the Kmart parking lot a couple of blocks from me when they gather on a Saturday night. Black teenagers, in a similar spot not far from the university are. Now that’s a thought provoking question. I’ve seen that in action. As much as I wish I could, I can’t turn my back on racism.

Lost in space

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Lost in space

A screaming migraine for two days.

Upon surfacing this evening, I started to read The Production of Space by Henri Lefebvre. I hadn’t thought about just how hazy the concept of space is until I started to read Weinberger’s book, with it’s opposition of “map space” vs. the spatial concepts of the Internet. Then of course, I found a connection when I started to read Michael Herr’s Dispatches.

The book begins with the image of an old map of Vietnam, and observations about how inaccurate it is. I think that’s part of the fundamental character of spatial maps, they are always inaccurate and fail to represent what we really think of when we think of space. Oh, and the time thing is in there too. The entire book takes place in the time it takes to draw a breath and release it, in a fictive space of memory.

Lefebvre sorts out many ways of thinking of space, largely mental abstractions and proposes that one method of approach is dividing it into physical space, mental space, and social space, the divisions that any real “science of space” must deal with. Then he goes on to demonstrate the separation between theories of mental space and social space, and the wide rift that exists between them. I think that’s a big problem with the approach to spatial metaphors for the web: is it in our heads? Or, is it a developing social space?

There’s not an easy answer to that one and the two types of space seem deeply at odds with each other. I do think that there are individuals separate from the social construction of “selves,” which distances me from Weinberger’s view right out of the gate. There’s something about the public/private interface that complicates everything, when you try to reach for any sort of unified theory.

There was a great example of that in my rhetorical theory class on Tuesday. Jason, a student that I’ve spent a lot of time with, asked a question that we ended up spending hours on. He’s a minister, currently enrolled simultaneously in the Rhetoric program and a seminary. While I wouldn't call him "open minded" I certainly find him to be congenial, intelligent, and a fun person to talk to. Encountering Rogerian theories of argument, Jason found this aspect of modern rhetorical theory a problem. Rogerian argument, unlike the attack/defend stance of classical rhetoric works to seek compromises by evaluating the core values between speaker and audience. Both sides are expected to give, in order to reach workable compromise. Jason wondered just where the line is. How much can you compromise your personal values to reach accommodation?

It went something like this. Jason said “I believe in capitol T truth, so how can I compromise on what I feel I know to be true, in talking to others?” This triggered an impassioned plea from another student, a pagan who has felt oppressed by the preaching of all the militant Christians in her life, for Jason to leave his truth at the door when entering into conversations. I found myself taking the middle ground, as an agnostic, telling her that in all my conversations with Jason I know that what he considers to be true will always be his opinion, not a proclamation of fact. Jason isn’t a deity, and doesn’t claim to be one. He just believes, and asking him to leave his belief at the door just isn’t an option. I think it’s up to the hearer to judge for themselves. Living in Arkansas, if I didn't talk to people because they had religious convictions of one sort or another, there wouldn't be many people left!

There are always oppositions to be dealt with. Thinking about it, my concept of my web pages as a mental space will always be separate and at odds with moving through the web as a social space. Theories that approach the web from the social side often leave me cold. When theory becomes too social, I suppose I always want to pull it back into myself. I know my space much better than anyone else's.

That’s what I created a web space for. For me, mostly, and only as a second thought, a place where people might visit and get to know me. I suppose I’ll always be a bit of a cowboy about that.

Tip

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Looking for a tip

Popeye says, visit Alma. Popeye always scared me just a bit with his overgrown forearms, and I never developed a taste for spinach. That was the province of my older brother Steve, who was always looking for a Bluto to beat up on. As I headed for the Oklahoma border, I slipped the Creedence tape in the stereo and thought to myself: I’m headed into cockroach country.

It’s the gene-pool I came from. Native America they call it now; but really it was a dumping ground of dreams. Poor white trash and native tribes thrown together, with the only unified element being poverty. I have no idea how much “Indian” blood I have, but I know it’s in there. There’s a certain survival instinct, that comes from climbing out of the teeming garbage heap. Of course Oklahoma is a lot different from when my father and mother left in the late 30s, for the sunny climes of California. Fighting back the urge for a White Russian, I entered the part of the state that has changed the least.

That’s where my parents are now, just down the street from the Choctaw casino, in Pocola, Oklahoma. The name of the town is an Indian word which means “ten miles,” because it is ten miles from Ft. Smith, Arkansas. I’d say it’s about thirty miles from the Spinach Capitol of the World, Alma, Arkansas. I got into a lot of trouble when I got here for pronouncing it “all-muh” rather than “AL-MA.” It’s also about thirty miles from the site of the Worlds’ Highest Hill, in Poteau, Oklahoma. My parents sit on the border, but their roots are all on the Oklahoma side.

It’s a land of hardy people, who struggle each day to get by. Deep poverty, generations of it, living side by side. The newspapers each day relate tales that are stranger than any fiction writer could create. It’s hard for me to figure out why my parents choose to live there. Steve I can understand. He’s always been more comfortable near the bottom of the barrel. But my parents are fairly well-off, and could live anywhere they want. They used to live on 200 acres in the middle of a National Forest, but they moved closer in to be nearer to medical care as they got older. Even though they don’t suffer from poverty, I suppose they are still comfortable near it.

Poor people are easier to understand, for my family at least, I guess. They’re actually from around the Norman area originally. My father’s mother was a cook at a sorority at the University of Oklahoma in the 30s. My mother worked at a mental institution in Oklahoma City, before my father decided it was time to look for greener pastures. They were both happy to leave Oklahoma, but as they got older, Dad wanted to go back. I picked up another clue about where my predispositions come from, in a new story I heard from my mother on this trip.

She came from a huge family, about a dozen kids. All the kids had to work in the fields, to support the family. But mom told me that she never did, it just wasn’t her forte. She worked around the house, cleaning, making the meals, and taking care of her baby sister while her mother went with all the other kids out in the fields to work. Her brothers gave her a hard time about it, so they insisted that she had to hoe the corn one day. It was a hot day, and she fainted and had to be carried back to the house. She said that she was too heavy to be lifted over the fence, so she had to be pushed under it. They never asked her to work in the fields again.

She always worked, but she worked inside. She couldn’t take the sun. So that’s where I get it from! I’ve never been the nature type either. My father is a more grizzled outdoorsy type. I always feel like such a wimp next to him. He has deep lines on his face, and looks much the same as the photographs I’ve seen of Native chiefs, with deep weather-beaten features. Not me. I’m a cream-puff by comparison.

Leaving town, I see that another tribal war is in process. The Cherokee Casino has erected a billboard down the street from the Choctaws. Some folks just can’t get along.

Mom’s been reading a bunch of stuff about the civil rights movement. She explained that she missed it, and had no idea what was going on back there in the 50s and 60s. California is like another planet, and that’s the planet I grew up on too. Things are different there, but what has always struck me as odd is that the religious propaganda that I find stuffed under my windshield, in Little Rock, is mostly printed in California.

Driving back, I stopped at a Wendy’s in Clarksville.

I always think of the Monkee’s song when I pass through.

However, there is no train station in Clarksville, Arkansas.

In the bathroom, someone left me a tip.

What is it about advertising practices on urinals that fascinates me so?




The big thing I have to wonder is, what was the ladies auxiliary of Texarkana doing in a urinal in Clarksville? I suppose they must have been headed for the casino. Silly me, I had to pick it up. I'm always looking for a tip.