Sunday, June 25, 2006

Return to the Shack

Dear Zora Neale Hurston,

I have been investigating the term “Shack” and it’s derived forms, “shacking, shack-up, shacked” and so forth. In my search, I have visited your work, Mules and Men, originally published in 1935. It is a fascinating work, revealing your community to me in an intimate way.

As I read the book, I discovered that your hometown, Eatonville, Fla., reminded me, on the surface, of the town in Toni Morrison’s Paradise. However her paradise is very dark while yours is quite light. The warmth and laughter of your town is rather heavenly. Hers just gropes in the twilight hoping for such bliss.

At any rate, in a passage of banter between storytellers Gold and Willie Sewell, you capture some classic repartee like that heard in cultures everywhere since the dawn of gender. After a long tale explaining how man became stronger and woman earned the keys to dealing with that, Willie says, “Y’all lady people ain’t smarter than all men folks. You got plow lines on some of us, but some of us is too smart for you. We go past you jus’ like lightnin’ thru de trees, . . . and what make it so cool, we close enough to you to have a scronchous time, but never no halter on our necks. Ah know they won’t git none on dis last neck of mine.”

“Oh, you kin be had,” Gold retorted. “Ah mean dat abstifically.”

“Yeah? But not wid de trace chains*. Never no shack up. Ah want dis tip-in love and tip yo’ hat and walk out. Ah don’t want nobody to have dis dyin’ love for me.”

Richard Jones (another of the tale tellers) said; “Yeah, man. Love is a funny thing; love is a blossom. If you want yo’ finger bit poke it at a possum.”

Well, Zora, this is interesting talk, and according to information shared provided by comments to my last survey, it is the first literary usage of the term shack up. Here I would interpret that it means marriage or a permanent relationship, not a one-night stand. In fact Willie’s term for that may be tip-in love.

You seem to see love as passing like “Lightnin’ thru de trees,” too.

In Dust Tracks on a Road, you wrote about love: "Under the spell of moonlight, music, flowers, or the cut and smell of good tweeds, I sometimes feel the divine urge for an hour, a day, or maybe a week. Then it is gone and my interest returns to corn pone and mustard greens, or rubbing a paragraph with a soft cloth. Then my ex-sharer of a mood calls up in a fevered voice and reminds me of every silly thing I said, and eggs me on to say them all over again. It is the third presentation of turkey hash after Christmas. It is asking me to be a seven-sided liar. Accuses me of being faithless and inconsistent if I don't. There is no inconsistency there. I was sincere for the moment in which I said the things. It is strictly a matter of time. It was true for the moment, but the next day or the next week, is not that moment. No two moments are any more alike than two snowflakes. Like snowflakes, they get the same look from being so plentiful and falling so close together. But examine them closely and see the multiple differences between them. Each moment has its own task and capacity; doesn't melt down like snow and form again. It keeps in character forever. So the great difficulty lies in trying to transpose last night's moment to a day which has no knowledge of it. That look, that tender touch, was issued by the mint of the richest of all kingdoms. That same expression of today is utter counterfeit; or at best the wildest of inflation. What could be more zestless than passing out canceled checks? It is wrong to be called faithless under circumstances like that. What to do?" (1942). (Quoted in Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society.)

My love just doesn’t pass like that. I fall in love for sure, with this one and that one, and it’s electric, but it stays in some form or other, inside me. My heart holds it as in waiting for some paradise when the days are eternal enough to grant those intercourses** I long for here and now.

The meaning of the word “shack up” has deteriorated. You might really appreciate the change. I, for one, would rather have had it remain as a more permanent expression of a love that can last and last even in the most difficult of circumstances.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Wagner's Ring and the Final Contract of the Gods

Dear Fafner,

I wanted to get your perspective on contracts. Sure, there are plenty of lawyers around, but your reputation for getting folks to fulfill their part of the bargain is, well, mythic. Your contract, it seems, was the last of Wotan's great contractual arrangements, his first being with his wife. That and yours and the new order are the things I am thinking about.

Supposedly, marriage was the first great contract. And, it seems to me, the conditions and requirements in Wotan and Fricka's deal were not what I would expect or want. I suppose that's because I'm from the new order. Wotan and Fricka were bound to each other just as were Zeus and Hera. Obviously fidelity was not a part of the obligation, so what were they obligated to do? Were they simply promising to create progeny for the Gods? Perhaps they were promising not to kill each other. Was Valhalla part of that deal too? If Wotan was obligated to provide a home, Valhalla, for Fricka, then the whole schema fits together for me. Wotan sells out love and youth (hence immortality) to fulfill the primary contract.

Valhalla Motive

Failing to provide an emotional home for Fricka, he provided a castle in the sky, a materialist's dream of the superlative abode, the golden treasure at the end of the rainbow. Wotan, in utter disregard for real relationship, engages in pretty illicit traffic when he promises to pay for Valhalla with Freia as his currency.

I surely don't want to offend you, but did you know what you were getting? Were you tempted just by Golden Apples or did you really want love with all its demands and tragedy. Poor Fasolt fell in love right away and it was his demise. I don't know if Wotan or Fricka ever really had a clue about the love thing, though Fricka does seem to have at least a sibling style love for Freia. Otherwise, though, she appears to be a true victim/victimizer operating in the patriarchal system, passing on her pain and kicking the dog. But I digress to the issues of feminism here. I really mean to just study the terms of the contracts.

The giants' theme makes me feel that you didn't quite know what was happening. With apologies to the Norns, I hate the word fate because I don't live in the world of the fates. But these notes are so fateful in nature to me.

Giants' Motive

Maybe falling in love is where we touch fingers with the fates. Yes, I recognize that theme from daily life--not every day, thankfully. Oh, but it does take a weighty stack of gold, a penultimate prize, to sell out love. Even Wotan knows he's made a bad deal with the loss of Freia.

I wanted to ask about one more contract, or broken contract. It is Brunnhilde who dared to break contract with her father, and she ends up in flames. Brunnhilde gives up everything, except her beautiful steed Grane (understandable), for love. She is alone, totally devoid of her deity, no longer daughter of Wotan (heaven) or Erda (earth), but daughter of love, true not to contract but true to love and relationship. I'm not sure Wagner had this all together. I think he is confused about the integrity of love apart from passion/sex. But I do think Brunnhilde has gone on beyond passion to a form of loving that is higher. In that she becomes the final mythic hero.
Redemption through Love Motive

What do you think? Could you put on Tarnhelm one more time and become Erda, the wisest person in the world and tell me if love is the final contract?

Thanks for your thoughts.


PS: Most interesting informations at the The Wagner Experience.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Dear Bossy, or How do I fit into my new moo-moo?

The last years have been traumatic ones for many reasons. I suppose it comes back to a simple thing. I decided to start freshening. Now, I'm not sure how the OED defines this, but, under the topic "Dry Cow Management," offers many practical suggestions.

"Seizing control of dry cow management can pay huge dividends on most dairy farms. Significant amounts of income are lost on many farms because the incidence of periparturient disorders. These disorders can indeed be controlled and their incidence is primarily determined by the feeding and management of pre-fresh cows within the last two weeks prior to freshening.

"The first management decision of the dry period is determining when to dry a cow off. Managers should not have a single policy that applies to all cows; rather, the decision should be made on an individual cow basis.

"Heavy milkers are often allowed to milk longer, and sometimes are given only a 6 week dry period, which adversely affects production in the next lactation. It would appear that drying a cow off abruptly and dry treating all quarters gives the best results. It is important to move her out of the milking barn to a different location to speed up the dry-off procedure. She must be switched to a low-energy ration immediately, and water must occasionally be withheld to dry off high producers."

So, as you can see, if I were to freshen properly, I needed to dry off properly. And that is what I've been doing. Managing this kind of thing really does need to be done on a cow-by-cow basis. My drying off has taken longer than 6 weeks.

Sure, I admit it, I've had to be a heavy milker. I had four children and by necessity have had to milk longer. There were times during the years of getting four "cowlets" ready for school, keeping a "barn" clean, working "odd" jobs (like shoveling manure in churches) to pay bills and have at least $12.00 extra to send with the little cattle on field trips, that I actually felt I'd lost my mind--not crazy--but misplaced. But, it seemed that was the price of being a high producer in the milking barn. It was hard and I needed to dry off.

The pre-freshening procedure hasn't been so easy either. I think I've found my mind, but I'm having to fight through the periparturient diseases. Guillermo Meglia suggests watching two things, nutrition and immune response. That is correct. I have changed my nutritional input entirely. Throughout my life, I consumed regular quantities of Gospels, Pentateuch, and Epistles. Drying off has required that I cut back on that almost entirely. Instead, my intake has included ample quantities of fiction from Bronte (all three of them), to Eliot (both of them), Faulkner, Welty, Hugo (causing a near-foundering situation), Wiesel, Morrison, and Wright among others. I don't know if it's been "low-energy" nutritionally, but it has tasted a bit different.

My former diet was good, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't all. It was out of balance, good and healthy during a certain kind of lactation, but I was long overdue to dry off from it.

Having changed my diet, I had to take advantage of the shift and regulate my immune response system. There were so many old voices in my head saying the same thing over and over again, that I wanted my new diet to create a system that would generate a new voice, a more authentic voice that could say new things that formerly were not allowed or not noticed and that would protect me in a new way, from things that, at one time, I may have mistakenly thought were guarding me.

I could go on and on, but just let me say, this has been and is dangerous business. I've heard that it has a tendency to actually break down the tissue.

I'm thinking, though, hoping, that it will allow room for some authentic regeneration. And that's the point. It's not that I don't want to give milk again. It is that I want to give the stuff that does the body good. The fresh stuff.

After all this is over, I might just go out and buy myself a new moo-moo.

Regards from the barn,


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dear Caleb,

Thank you for letting me publish your poem on my blog. I think it is stunning. I meant to comment, but no, I shall let it stand alone. Later, perhaps, I will write.

-For a minister in Loudon, TN

You imagine her looking out
from where you look now,
the chapel dark and soundless
but for the gnarly oak
pawing at the shingles.
You fear the last thought
to sizzle through her head
before that bullet was you.
A step from where she was raised
to new life, she fell last night,
our wounded Healer hanging behind.
The baptistry rippled.
Even the ears of angels rang.
You dip from the tranquil pool,
cradle each drop that is poured
out behind the pulpit,
the two elements mixing
like they might have wept
from the crucifix’s side.
At this altar you have honored
the body and the blood.
Where feet have been washed,
you bow now to scrub like Christ
what you can from this stain.
O my mother, my sister,
the blood is still cleansing,
the water still holy.

-Caleb Brooks

Copyright 2006--Caleb Brooks

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Survey II: Shacking

"Shacking." Today, we say, "Let's shack up," or last night we "shacked up." The connotation that this word carries has a lightness to it and an emphasis on physical sexuality without reference to commitment and marriage. The term does carry with it the concept of being in, for some period of time, the same abode.

But where does this word find it's roots? Here is my guess and the object of a new survey. I guess it comes from the world of 17th and 18th century American slavery.

bell hooks, in the book Salvation: Black People and Love (published in 2001 by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), says, "Historically, all unions between black women and men were forged within a culture of white supremacy wherein all bonding which did not serve the interests of white people was deemed suspect and threatening. No group of black people knew better than the slaves that positive union between black women and men threatened white supremacist claims on black bodies. Free and enslaved black folks fought hard to privilege these relationships by rituals and ceremony, both illegal and legal, because they recognized that solidifying these bonds, gaining public recognition of their value, was crucial to the freedom struggle. Reading accounts of heterosexual black relationships during slavery reveals the extent to which the desire to create longstanding domestic partnerships, whether through marriage or shacking (living together without benefit of clergy), often served as the catalyst inspiring individuals to fiercely resist bondage and work for freedom. Importantly, remembering that white supremacist thinking is always challenged by loving unions between black makes and females sheds light on why there have been so many obstacles placed in the path of such unions."

This survey is requesting both comment and a search of literature that may make reference to this term and its origins. The obvious light this survey may shed on the struggle in contemporary heterosexual marriage within all racial communities, and perhaps even the debate on homosexual unions is part of what I'm seeking.

Offer examples from literature. Offer your thoughts on the term.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Demonstrating and the Art of Changing Society

Dear Robert Moses,

While reading through the trilogy of the civil rights movement during the King years by Taylor Branch I became a Bob Moses fan. Your thoughts and actions helped form a movement and likewise a new way of thinking and being in the United States. More recently, I checked out one of your books from the library about the Algebra project. So now you teach math to the children of Mississippi? I would call it a strange contrast if it didn't make perfect sense in respect to the stuff that goes on in one's heart and mind while struggling to find meaning in relation to political action, social justice, and the desire to be involved with real societal change.

One of my "blog reads" has entered into a little discussion about the experiences of demonstrating [Defn: establishing a physical presence to express a socio/political position.] There is frustration and embarrassment in carrying placards and walking or standing. But most of all the difficulty is in becoming part of a group, some of whom you agree with, some of whom you don't, some of which are cool, some not, some with whom you would bare your very soul, some to whom you would give the time only to get them to the march promptly. Yet in this act of demonstrating you become one, you marry on a theme, and this wedding, for better or worse, seems, almost immediately, worse.

This marriage would be worth it, if only we could realize social change. But all of our standing, marching, chanting or silence, placards, persistence, and so forth seem to fade like a chimera into the din of, not rifle response, water hoses, and paddy wagons, but normal traffic, a Spring shower, and the tipped cap of the Tuesday patrolman.

So we come back to the math classroom, don't we. And we find, there, the front lines of demonstration. And there, maybe, without folderol or display, is the core of social improvement, our last best hope for engaging-ment [thanks gbs] and changing the way we live.

With deepest respect,

Betsy DeGeorge