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  • Keeping It 100.

    Well, I've officially been an AmeriCorps VISTA for one week now and it's been 17 days since I left Staunton.

    Though really I’ve only been on the soil for around 10 days. I’ve seen the Delta, though not the River. I’ve driven past so many places that loom so large in Southern history, American Music’s history Civil Rights history, and American history in general. Places like Hattiesburg, Meridian, Vicksburg, Indianola, Tupelo, and more. And have met more people in these two weeks than I have in the last four years living in Staunton.

    I haven’t had any time to process any of this really. That's one of the reasons why I haven't dispatched an update. Because I’m working and not really in the mindset of a tourist, I haven’t really given myself much time to look around and experience. My job has been to find my place in this complicated community in Oxford and see how I can leverage connections and networks to fulfill my mission.

    Oxford, as far as I can tell, has a strange relationship with its history. Faulkner's grave is a landmark that people tell directions by. I've heard three different explanations of "hotty toddy" (still not totally sure what it means). Most of the people I've met who live in town (or in the county, for that matter) are not native-Mississippians or even Southerners. That's been a little disappointing. 

    I've been running into two main groups: apologists and those who are completely naive. Most people are quick to tell you that they aren't from here, but are glad that they are here now in spite of whatever issues. The others can literally be at any place at any time and would function in the exact same way. 

    Cleveland MS was nice. I could almost, almost see myself living there. The sunset— oh my stars— is unbelievable.  

    So there’s a complication to it. How can I fit in when I’m not only transient but also here to thrust an idea on people that they might not be ready for? Yes, even in a place like Oxford. Maybe even especially in a place like Oxford.

    There’s a bit of a wild-eyed look to the people of Mississippi— specifically from the Delta. They are a little less friendly than eastern Southerners. Maybe because they are reluctant toward people like me. Maybe because they are aware of their own reputation. Maybe because they are tired and sick. Maybe because they are sick and tired of being called tired and sick. 

    Well, I guess it’s part of my job to meet the stare in those eyes with my own history, reluctance, hate, struggle, and love. 

    The best advice is from my friend, Kenya. She’s this near-cliche larger-than-life woman from Indianola who told me I wasn’t Southern, but then gave me a pass when she saw me sopping up my black eyed peas with my cornbread. She’s working for VISTA at a mentoring center in her town.  

    I asked her to give me some advice about talking to people in Mississippi— especially poor, rural black folks. She laughed and said,

    “You know, Shannon. You know already. Just talk. We need you to talk to us. And we need to talk. Be there. Because we can sniff out that inauthentic you-know-what.”

    Keep it 100.

    So along with my actual job goals and description— along with setting up this pretty intense sustainable organization project in Oxford— along with crushing all the bureaucratic goals and  that the DSU office has set before me— I’m going to really, seriously keep it 100 percent this year.

    We’ll see how it goes.  

    (picture of a print in my friends' house in Cleveland, MS. Kate is a director at the Sunflower Freedom Project and her husband, Mike, is a sculptor and art professor at Delta State). 

  • This Conversation

    (Photo Cred: Richmond's Style Weekly and this amazing article from two years ago by Ned Oliver) 

    There’s a patron of the library who regularly comes in wearing Confederate flags on his clothes and proudly sports two of the most interesting tattoos I’ve ever seen— a full, grayscale portrait of Robert E. Lee on the expanse of his left forearm and Jefferson Davis on his right. These tattoos are about 20 years old and are incredibly well done. I like looking at them and always compliment him on the work. I like talking to people about their heroes and why— even if I disagree with the people whom they choose to laud. You have to figure that a man who goes through getting two tattoos of these Confederate icons must have some good reason.

    This man came in on the Saturday after the shooting in Charleston and commented on the beginning rumblings of the call to take down the Battle Flag on the campus of the South Carolina Capitol. He was clearly upset about it and wanted my empathy. I denied him. I told him that I lived in Columbia when I was in college and figured that there was enough monuments and memorabilia there to make up for taking one flag down. (the testicles on Wade Hampton’s horse alone should suffice).

    He was polite in his disagreement which, of course, led to “if this, then what?” I told him that there are laws on the books (Federal and State) that protect monuments to Confederate soldiers and consider them to be under the same protection as actual U.S. monuments. I told him that he was being a little “Henny Penny” about this and to really start worrying when those laws are challenged. But in my mind, I kept thinking of a phrase that Jon Stewart used on the Daily show after the shooting: racist wallpaper. The South is filled with racist wallpaper. Wallpaper being something that you may notice, but generally ignore or let affect you subconsciously.

    I’ve talked to men and women who are (for whatever reason) totally oblivious to the fact that the Battle Flag is a racist symbol. When I interviewed a Virginia Flagger, he totally steamrolled my idea that the KKK used the flag as a symbol of hate and intimidation by saying that the NAACP made up that myth in the 1990s. Never mind that you don’t have to look very far into the pre-1990s archives to find examples of the KKK’s use of the flag. AND that it only takes a hop, skip, and a stumble to follow links from the Virginia Flaggers’ website to the KKK’s and other white supremacy groups’ websites.

    Thanks to LitHub for directing me toward this story, which has an interesting and clearly Southern take on what we could do with the flag. The story has an incredible sense of humor about it— while remaining politically serious. I’m disappointed that there hasn’t been more of a push to include Southern voices in this conversation. I just watched the Daily and Nightly shows and neither had any Southerners talk about what’s going on… as if they can’t trust a Southerner to have anything considered or enlightened to say about the whole issue. Or that we would all come from the same place or ill-informed opinion.

    I’m also a little disappointed that THIS is the conversation we’re having: taking down the flag. We’ve been talking about systemic racism in this country for the last two years (because of the murders of black people in every single region of the country) but when it happens in the South— all the sudden people are shaking their heads about how “it’s always been like that” here. I hate to tell you, but it’s always been like that EVERYWHERE.

    And that does not make it better. Pointing that out is not to take the heat off of the South, it’s to shine light on the fact that we should be looking at the long history of AMERICAN systemic racism (in our laws, hearts, minds, and actions). It doesn’t begin or end with African Americans, either. And I can’t even get started on other kinds of prejudice.

    I struggle with this conversation. I struggle with knowing how dialogue changes or progresses an idea. I want to think that everyone is able to listen to and understand what their interlocutor is saying and then reply accordingly, but I don’t really see that happening very often. I wonder how this is going to affect literature and art in the future. Will our art become as divided as our politics? How can we learn to talk to each other again (have we ever known?).

    This is a product of having a liberal arts education: I assume everyone wants to debate and learn from each other. That’s how we grow as people and a nation (and in our own humanity). But apparently that isn’t really the goal for most people. I keep thinking of the phrase “shouting into the void.” I feel like the Internet and the media at large has us doing that most of the time. Opinion has been democratized… but if the conversation isn’t really a con-vers-ation, then aren’t we all just shouting into the void?

    In terms of my own writing— what is my role as a woman, a Southerner, a thinker, a writer, a human, etc? I’m considering the kinds of stories that I write and what (if anything) makes them interesting to read. What kind of purposes do my stories (fiction or non) serve and why tell them? Must literature have broader themes? (don’t we “read” our own political, emotional, etc readings with or without the leadership or permission of the author?). As a Southern writer, what kind of message about the South do I want to tell? What archetypes and stereotypes am I working for or against? Must I be conscious of this while composing?

    I hope that the discussion of racist wallpaper in the South and in the United States in general keeps its steam. I hope that people start making the connections between our (white privilege) subconscious and race relations. I hope that some Southern voices are called on to rise up and start to help us progress. And, above all, I hope the South decides on some new damn symbols to represent our rich culture and history.

    So I leave you with this... from the voice of a Southerner. 

  • Economics, Age, and Art in Staunton, Virginia

    I spent the weekend at the Innovate LIVE conference here at Staunton. It was two and a half days of forums and panels that focused on community, entrepreneurship, solopreneurship, local economy, small business, etc. I met a lot of people and I was able to take part in really important discussions. I don’t often take part in these kinds of community endeavors. But I’ve been trying to make a point of “getting out there” and seeing what kind of helpful connections I can make for both the betterment of my community and my own life. Meghan Williamson and I had coffee a few weeks ago and we discussed what this conference might look like. She convinced me that I should be a part of it—if only because I’m always complaining about the micro and macro problems of being a 20-something creative.

    My friends Nelly Anderson, Angus Carter, and Piper Groves were on the panel for the Art and Community discussion. Unfortunately, it was moderated by someone who clearly didn’t have the time or patience to understand the immense economic and age divides that are at work here (and, I think, in the United States in general). It weighed heavy on my mind during the panel because the night before Hank, Angus, and I had attended an art opening at a local gallery (that caters mainly to the older and more traditional art scene here in town). We were standing on the outskirts of the crowd talking quietly about the two artists who were showing when a docent from the gallery (an older woman) walked up to us and started making “shooing” motions. At first, I thought she was trying to walk through our group to get to the other side of the room, but then I noticed that there was plenty of space to walk around us. She said something about being quiet (we were definitely some of the quieter guests because, you know, old people talk loudly) and moving toward the main galleria. Then she actually did walk directly between us toward the other parts of the crowd and didn’t make those motions or say those words to any of the other (older) guests. We felt like we had been particularly targeted and we couldn’t figure out why. (I hadn’t even taken advantage of the free wine!)  

    When the moderator of the panel at Innovate LIVE the next day brought up that she felt like she did all she could to attract the younger crowd, I couldn’t help but bring up what had happened. I said the docent had been incredibly rude to the youngest people in attendance and—for what? She immediately dismissed me as overreacting. Therein lies the problem. I know that being “shooed” is a terrible insult. I know that there are plenty of larger problems looming in these divides. This is a small moment—but an indication of a bigger problem.

    Of course, it’s also a matter of economics. The older artists in town can afford to be artists. The younger artists (who, lets face it, often make more interesting work) hustle hard to keep their heads above water. The older artists and patrons don’t see that. It’s almost as if they don’t ever consider how the Recession directly affected younger people. It’s so frustrating. I recently found out that a bit of guerilla marketing that the Dwell Collective, the younger and more progressive art space, benefited from was purposefully faked in order to incite a conversation. I’m not sure that it was so successful—though local shops did make a little money off of t-shirts inspired by the piece.

    Maybe we need to actually sit down and have an honest conversation about the art community in Staunton. When I said my piece about feeling unwelcome, Meghan thanked me for being so honest. She said “I was hoping this panel would lead to someone saying some honest shit.” Leave it to me to be that person!

    So I’ve decided that when my friend Cleveland Morris, a worshipped deity in the old guard Staunton arts community, gets back from his vacation (vay-cay-what? never heard of it), I’m going to see if he would be interested in helping me set up an honest forum. The old and young community members could come together and start communicating with one another without being mired in apologies or dismissals.

  • Preservation VS. Identity

    A couple weeks ago I went to Richmond and stayed (as always) with Nelly Kate in her new apartment, which feels like the perfect place to get work done. I’ve been agonizing over the Bitter Southerner story and it felt good to talk to someone with fresh ears. Nelly and I work well together because we work quietly and separately. When we are done we celebrate with shared meals and drinks. Her spaces always feel like they were made just to get it done. When you are a freelancer you live to work, so it makes sense not to have too many comforts and distractions. I feel like I should work harder on making both my studio and my home more practical and pragmatic spaces. The biggest compromise I made with Hank when we moved in together was the television. It just sucks the life out of me.

    Of course, Nelly doesn’t have a television. She has an amazing record collection. But you can listen and write more easily than you can write and watch. Atleast, that’s how I feel about it. There is also the matter of natural lighting and sufficient temperatures… not to mention snacks and coffee. I can’t work in my studio for half of the year because it’s so cold. I love the space, but it is a drafty old building that is only great to work in during the hottest months of the year. Though I do admit that it’s always good for parties.

    I was in Richmond to get an interview and to go to the Museum of the Confederacy. Sunday morning I interviewed this man named Barry Isenhour, a member of the Virginia Flaggers, a group of “concerned citizens” who fight for the preservation of all that is Good and Southern. They do this by way of standing outside of buildings with giant collections of Confederate Battle flags. We covered many topics and butted heads more than a few times. I'm looking forward to adding his "insight" (and my insight into his insight) into the essay. 

  • Heroes, Forgiveness, Forgetfulness, and Southern Identity.

    Pat and I pitched a story to The Bitter Southerner about confronting history in the South. The crux of what I want to write is that some of us use history as a tool for progression and others use it as a tool of regression. Whether its through obvious negative reinforcement (Confederate flags) or more subtle tactics like naming buildings, roads, or businesses after Civil War soldiers, using history in the regressive context continues today. I've read Tracy Thompson's New Mind of the South, The Promise of the New South by Edward Ayers, as well as a few older sources (The Mind of the South, duh) in order to gather resources concerning how others have written about this. The weirdest experience I've had so far is going down a worm hole that eventually led me (though I didn't know it at the time) to the KKK's website, which looks terrible, by the way. No, don't search for the KKK's website. Don't give them the traffic! I did it on accident! I also found a real life Secessionist website, which is pretty insane.

    In just the time I've been nose-to-the-grindstone researching, I've learned a lot about the South and what kind of role I want to play here in the progress of this region. I've run into a lot of disappointment on the way, as well. I interviewed one man who told "If you want to get rid of Lee-Jackson Day, you should get rid of MLK Day, too." As a 28-year-old Southern lady living in the Post-Obama world, I just can't help but be shocked (though not surprised) when I hear that kind of thing. An important idea, though I don't know if I'll be able to cover it, is of Heroes. In the South, we rely on heroes to lead the way. Lee and Jackson are still remembered because they were brilliant soldiers, pious servants, and gentlemen. Though, ethically and morally, they are anti-heroes. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a real hero. Etc. Heroes are easy to remember. At the same time, I think revering people like Lee and Jackson also puts us in a morally grey area. Revering them stops us from forgiving ourselves for our ancestors' sins. That's what keeps the wound open. During conversation Chuck Reece, the editor at B.S., reminded me to try and keep politics out of this, though it may seem pertinent. I'm sure the comments alone will bring in that kind of discussion. 

    I'm hoping this article will open some doors for me. I've been looking for non-profit jobs all around the South that deal with poverty, racism, social justice, etc. I've been a little scared to apply since I know it will- most likely- uproot my life here in Staunton completely. But I can't take the risk of not being a better force for positive change in the South any more. I have to put my time and energy where my mouth and soul are. I've also been thinking (again) of applying to the Southern Studies M.A. at Ole Miss. Man, would that be a great way to make connections and really dive into this subject area. The way Chuck Reece throws out the names of his friends- important Southern voices, scholars, personalities, makes my head spin. 

    That's what I want... in the end. We'll just have to see, I guess. 

     

  • Women with Pens

    Though I’ve always prided myself on being a Feminist—I admit that there has always been a chink in my Woman-Pride’s armor when it comes to writers of the female persuasion. Maybe it’s because in middle school I had a teacher who forced girls to read Charlotte Brontë, while the boys read Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea was a book that I desperately wanted to read and discuss with my teacher and friends, but Mr. Sharkey said I “wouldn’t get it.” What an asshole). Maybe it was because when I was a baby-child I thought women only wrote books with heaving bosoms on the cover (Thanks, Granny!). Maybe it was because in school I was made to read Austen, Dickenson, and the Brontës (again + again + again) as if no other woman had ever picked up a pen before or after them.

    In light of the whole Donna Tartt ridiculousness that has been raging on in the literary world for the last year (some of which is blamed on her gender), I began to think of women with pens. Before this—I kid you not— the last book I had read by a woman was Fifty Shades of Grey. As you can imagine— that’s enough to put anyone off pudding for a while. But before that! I had read Swamplandia! so it’s not all bad.

    Of course I’ve read and greatly enjoyed many works of literature by women. I would rank Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf, and Carson McCullers as chief influences on both my inner-self and my writer-self. It’s perhaps a lack of willingness to talk about it. I don’t want to have to discuss what makes a woman’s book different than a man’s, though I think there is a profound difference- and to ignore it is ridiculous.

    Women’s Literature. What the hell does that mean anyway? I certainly wouldn’t lump Sappho in with Dickenson— though, of course, they have things in common.

    And where do I stand and who am I as a female-identified-writer? Do I write like a woman? Could you tell? Is it empathy? Or the purplest prose? The kind of violence? The lack of violence? Cruelty? Etc? How I write relationships? How I write the different genders?

    The worst creative writing professor I ever had always asked me why I wrote so many stories about men. Of course, I hadn’t really thought about it. Generally- that’s how they came out. I asked him if they weren’t compelling examples of males. He said it wasn’t that— just—why? Why did Tolstoy write about Anna Karenina? Why did D.H. Lawrence write about Lady Chatterly or all those Women in Love? Why was Septimus added to Clarissa’s story? I’m sure the professor had good intentions. Perhaps he was attempting to get me to consider my characters more carefully. That would be clumsy, but ok. I really think that he had been sitting on his brains and laurels for so long at a women’s college that he forgot how to read something that was more challenging to him, which is one of the many, many reasons why he was (and continues to be) a terrible professor. 

    I think Southern Literature tends to play nicely with genders. Most (maybe not all) Southern Lit aficionados would probably consider O’Connor, McCullers, Hurston, and Whelty along with Faulkner, Warren, and Williams. You have to. They are the equally important two sides of the same Dixie coin.

    I feel so foolish now for choosing one gender over another at all. If a piece of literature is great- who cares who wrote it? It doesn’t become better because of chromosomes. A failing of my education is that they were separated at all. I admit that I fell prey to reading Little Women and Gone with the Wind in middle school because all the other girls and none of the boys were reading them. Because- you know- those are the books I’m supposed to read. 

    In any case- this summer I really bulked up my women’s literature consumption by reading a random allotment of writers to fill in the ignorant gaps. Before— I felt like if I didn’t read women writers then I wouldn’t have to talk about being a woman and what makes me so different. For some reason— I was never comfortable defending the fact that words, when written well, can evoke feelings no matter who is behind them.

    I felt plenty of feelings when I was going through my summer reading list (see previous post). I finally got around to reading the following writers (all of whom happen to be women) ::

    M.F.K. Fisher
    Annie Dillard (three books!)
    Margaret Walker
    Anaïs Nin
    Donna Tartt
    Claire Vaye Watkins

    There were also myriad other short stories from anthologies and a book called The Madwoman in the Attic by Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert. I don’t feel any more feminist or feminine. I feel smarter and more worldly (Anaïs Nin’s erotica will especially do that to you). I’ve learned more about what I like and what I don’t like. I don’t have anything to prove and have fixed the chink in my feminist armor. 

  • Read + Right

    When Nelly Kate designed this website for me, I made her a promise that I would maintain my blog. I guess I haven't been that successful yet.

    YET.

    The good news is that I have been doing other things. This isn't just a blatant disregard for my creative career. I've spent the summer pushing forward. I really have.

    I released the last Race to the Middle in August- after a lot of starting and stopping. I put the whole thing together myself. It was a great learning experience for me (the actual design of a book... which entails fonts, font sizes, margins, the ditch, etc. was way more complicated than I thought). We featured Michael Trocchia's short stories and art from (the Dwell Collective's) Leo Charre. I'd say it was successful in experience- if not monetarily. I wonder if the larger community in Staunton (a place that really prides itself on the so-called "art scene" will ever catch on to our little project).

    A friend of mine and I went to visit The University of the South at Sewanee in July. Ash is a teacher and is considering a Master's degree in English. Sewanee offers a summer program that was developed just for educators of her ilk. I followed along out of some morbid and tortuous curiosity concerning furthering my own education. I mean- Sewanee. THE UNIVERSITY of the SOUTH. Allen Tate, Wyatt Prunty, John Jeremiah Sullivan, and H.T. Kirby-Smith. The Sewanee Review. The Sewanee Writers' Conference. Seems like a nice place to go for somebody like me.

    The Director of the Graduate Program, Dr. Grammer, met Ash and I on his way back from his Southern Literature class. He was wearing tattered academic robes, which, of course, made us feel very under dressed. We were wined and dined by some students and even got some "swag" out of the deal. Ash and I stayed with our friends in Nashville, which involved an embarrassingly and unforgivingly long trip to Prince's Hot Chicken Shack (totally worth it).

    I am still considering going to school again and have it somewhat narrowed down to Sewanee and Ole Miss. I am trying to be very specific about this probability. I want to go to a good university in the South. I want to focus on Southern Culture and Literature. I want my degree to mean something and to further my professional life. No more higher education for the sake of higher education. Fool me once...

    I've also been reading pretty veraciously. I admit I had been a little slow to read things. But May-August were big months for my reading list. I read a fantastic collection of Appalachian contemporary literature called Red Holler. It came out in the fall of last year. I think it endeavored (and succeeded) to convey the diversity and isolation of Appalachia (yes- you may not think so- but African Americans and homosexuals do live here! Quelle diversité!). I also read collections of short stories by Ron Rash, Claire Vaye Watkins, and Kevin M. Wilson. The Ron Rash collection, Nothing Gold Can Stay*, was pretty incredible. "The Trusty" and "A Servant of History" particularly stuck with me.

    I took a little field trip into the world of non-fiction with books like Charlie LeDuff's Detroit: An American Autopsy and (finally getting around to) Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. I re-read Cornel West's Prophesy Deliverance! and Kierkegaard's Gospel of Suffering. Working at the library has really opened up a lot of channels for me. Now I really have no excuse not to keep reading and keep studying.

    That brings us up to date so far. The Indian Summer of 2014 is raging on. If you need me- I'll be making pies on Sunday and held up in my office during the few empty pockets of my 50 hour work week.






    *On a side note, I was worried that these stories would be terrible given the somewhat of a cliche title. Having never read him before- I didn't know if these short stories were going to involve finding out if Ponyboy stayed gold or not.

  • Influences

    Allen Ginsberg's birthday was a few days ago. I know he's been dead for 14 years (half of my life), but I still want to take a moment and reflect on his influence. 

    When i was 12 I was really into The Beatles. I mean- obsessed. I had all their records on vinyl and CD (some miscellaneous 8-tracks and cassettes, as well), VHS copies of Magical Mystery Tour and Help!, a DVD copy of A Hard Day's Night (which I watched until it could literally play no more), books, magazines, toys, etc. This is all important to note because through The Fab Four I found a plethora of other musicians, writers, artists, and cultural influences that I wouldn't have known about until later. My favorite album is Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. Hands down. I'm sure that I would have listened to it sometime in my life but not at the right time. John Lennon and George Harrison- in a way- led me to listening more to Bob Dylan. I was brought to a gateway of influence via Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: William S. Burroughs, Lenny Bruce, Aleister Crowley, Terry Southern, Dylan Thomas, Carl Jung, H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde, Karl Marx, James Joyce, etc. 

    When I was deep into The Beatles, their history, and the culture around them I concurrently started reading the Beat Poets. Allen Ginsberg was friends with Bob Dylan and sat with John Lennon at his infamous "Give Peace a Chance" recording. What's wonderful about culture/literature is that (generally) influence is infinite. I was listening to The Beatles and Bob Dylan and that led me to Allen Ginsberg. Allen Ginsberg led me to the other Beats, as well as Walt Whitman, Amiri Baraka, William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, William Carlos Williams, Gabriel Garcia Lorca, Anne Sexton, (the list goes on). 

    I don't think my writing style (even in poetry) is influenced by Ginsberg directly. Of course, when I was in high school that could be argued (thank god no one remembers me writing and reading an "updated" version of "America" in protest of the War in Iraq). Ginsberg did teach me that the passion that leads you to the deepest depths of loneliness was ok and that we could escape insanity (though sometimes we had to kowtow to it first). 

    Later, as I started studying literature and writing in hopes of making it my life's work, I was told that it is kind of laughable and somewhat juvenile to hold so steadfast to the Beat Poets. They are still considered outliers of literature. But I have a real soft spot for my own "lonely old courage teacher." 

    Allen Ginsberg led the 13-year-old Shannon to the expanse of poetry and pushed me in. He taught me that a sunflower is not a locomotive. He taught me about peaches and penumbras. Not to mention- that it was ok to feel all the feelings...even if I felt them all at once.

  • haikufiction

    Last year I had the pleasure of participating in a poetry reading and tribute to Bashō set up by Paul Somers at the Blue Nile in Harrisonburg. 
    I enlisted the immense talents of my friend Candace Marie Christie to block print some patterns on paper on which I wrote the Bashō-inspired words. I have five copies of these three haikufiction (microfiction / haiku) up for sale. Contact me for more information! 



  • Appreciation ::

    I'll be honest. I wouldn't have been able to design and put up this website without the unwavering and (literally) tireless work of Nelly Kate. Though she would hate to admit it- she's an amazing designer and has an incredible amount talent and work ethic. Not to mention the fact that she's my greatest friend, hardest pusher, and an unfaltering inspiration. I'd also like to thank Pat Jarrett and Kate Hanrahan, both of whom have allowed me use their images for this website. 

  • The Translated World

    The Translated World

    On the last Sunday of April, I participated in a talk with seven other writers about the idea of translation and how it has affected and continues to affect my life as a reader and writer. Michael Trocchia organized the event andin the emails he sent following up to the talkput it this way: 

    ...we might think of translation in at least three senses: 
    (1) Language-translation, in which one renders a work (or its words, sentences, meanings, etc) from one language into another; 
    (2) Context-translation, in which one renders a work  from one context into another (that is, rendering a work within a different genre, or different cultural, historical, regional, performative context, and so on--adaptation, appropriations fall into this category), and 
    (3) Reality-translation, in which one renders non-linguistic aspects of reality or experience into linguistic expressions and forms (see for instance DeLillo's or Langer's quotes below for something like this last sense). 

    With that in mind and despite having years of schooling devoted to Latin, Ancient Greek, and French, I decided to talk about the idea of "Translating the South." I began with the idea of Southern American English which, I learned, is the most widely spoken dialect and accent group in the United States (thanks in part to the popularity of Country Music). Despite this (and maybe because of it) the Southern accent and Southern American English as a dialect is ostracised and stands alone as almost a different language altogether... perhaps in the same way that the "Queen's English" used in the United Kingdom is different than the English used (generally) in North America. 

    This could be a reason why Southern Literature also sticks out like a proud sore thumb in the eye of American Literature. We use a different languagethat is just far enough removed from what we think of as American English to allow it to stand out as something different and, in my opinion, richer. 

    So I came up with the idea of translating the Southern Novel. 

    What would As I Lay Dying read if it were "translated" into the Golden Midwestern Broadcaster Dialect? How could it be the same? Would it be as good? What exactly would we lose? 

    A difference between Southern American English and other dialects in the American English grouping is what I like to call "Southern Color." For better and (definitely) for worse, we accept and allow colorful uses of language, as well as colorful characters who defy and reject common sense and normality. This is taken to the extreme in a lot of cases and really shows off a writer's lack of imagination and experience/knowledge of the South when their "Southern" characters are overloaded with figurative language like similes, analogies, and hyperbole. A great example of this is most of the dialogue of a character named Hollis Doyle on ABC's Scandal. He's a quick-talkin', rhymin', slimin', villian of a politician, oh and- of course-  Texan. He uses some kind of figurative and colorful language in everything he says. It's often sexual and generally related to animals (cattle).

    Becauseyou knowthat's what we're all about down here.

    Translating a text from Southern American English- whether it's A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers– to a more vanilla (Midwestern) dialect of American English would decimate the heart of it. It would talk all the color out of the story; the Wizard of Oz in reverse. 

    I told a story about a friend of mine who was in a class dedicated to the writings of Mississippian Larry Brown. One of his classmates was from the North and- despite his best efforts- struggled with Brown's writing and ideas. Translating a Larry Brown story- like almost any Southern fiction- would have to start from the bottom and work up. Characters' names would have to be changed; trucks to SUVs: sweet tea to pop; biscuits to toast; humidity to dry winds; etc. But more than that- Larry Brown gets into a Southern Man's psyche in a way that none of us- including Southern Women- can ever hope to. 

    So in that way... my thinking, postulating, and ruminating about "translating the South" is impossible... just like translating any language is impossible. 

    But I would like to leave this a little more open ended... because- hey, I'm an optimist :: 

    -Am I missing the nuances of other American dialects that aren't encapsulated in the group of Southern American English (I'm looking at you Bostonians and Mainers)? 
    -Is Southern American English (and Culture) either in written or spoken form really that hard to understand?
    - Why makes the Southern American Tongue so unique? (Diversity, History, Isolation, Etc). 

    We may never know these answers. But I had a great time discussing these queries with my fellow writers, as well as what they had to say about their own translations of translation. I found an ally in the twang and verse of Angela M. Carter, solace and serendipity in Indigo Erikson's lines of music and poetry, and Paul Somers (who was an inspiration for my subject) is a perennial favorite of mine. I made a few connections with local writers like Cliff Garstang, who invited me to a meeting of the Staunton, Waynesboro, Augusta Group of Writers (SWAG), which is part of the Blue Ridge Writers Club... something I've heard of- but have never ventured into. So we'll see how I translate myself into their community. 

    For now I feel like I'm getting closer to becoming the writer I've always intended to be.

    Slowly + Surely
    like molasses in January.