Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Monday, November 17, 2014
My old cat Maude (who is now about fourteen and currently lives with my friend Phil) is a crotchety old gal, always has been (even when she was young. She would accept a little loving when she felt like it, but only up to a point, and then she would let you know it. She didn't like other cats, at all. She is persnickety about food. She got really sick the last year with me, and wobbled around and then couldn't walk, and I thought she had some neurological condition, but it turned out to be severe feline diabetes. I was about to put her down, when Phil swooped in and took care of her, and remarkably she recovered, although she still battles diabetes and some other ailments. But she hangs in there. I get to see her every once in a while. I am sure she hates living with all those dogs (and another cat), but she is also a trooper. Here are a couple recent pictures.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
I can only imagine the instructions from the editors (Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey) of State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America to their contributors: “Yeah, sure, do what you want!” And that is what they got, a lovely, often lively, compilation of essays (in many forms, including traditional, graphic, faux interview) that delve, at least in part and often selectively, into the cultures of states that comprise this wonderful country. Of course, they are a far cry from the books that inspired the effort (and I have read many of the WPA volumes), but there also remains a spirit there too, to open doors to the familiar to them to let outsiders get a peek within. Although there is a little criticism, what mostly shines through is a love of place, especially in essays from writers who spent significant or emotional periods in the states in question. Essentially most of them are impressionistic vignettes struggling to provide a mere taste of some corner of a larger whole. A common theme is memoir, and the best selections intertwine memory with history, geography, and culture. Even better are the narratives delivered with humor and wit, as many certainly are. Surely many are skewed snapshots of personal experiences, reflecting their own interests or backgrounds, but overall in most cases there is warmth, a fondness for the areas described (even if done by mere tourists), lives led---a stretch of road, a slice of nature, a remembrance of family or childhood. Common themes emerge, such as community resistance to outsiders (an insularity of sorts) that seems to eventually collapse and grudginlgy allow newcomers, opportunity (especially for immigrants), the importance of sports (recognized if not always loved), and weirdness as well. Some authors I hadn’t read before and I now am determined to try and have added to my to-read list (such as Joshua Ferris). Others are familiar and favorites. . .Erdrich, Horwitz, Lahiri, Vowell. Some excelled in focusing on the newcomer looking in and hoping to stake their claim or who were well treated: Mohammed Naseehu Ali, Dagoberto Gilb, Ha Jin. I loved the essays by Susan Choi, Paul Greenberg, Barry Hannah, John Hodgman, Heidi Julavits, Rick Moody, Tara Smith and others. Alison Bechdel’s graphic essay on Vermont was good. Of course, I enjoyed essays on the states that meant most to me---Florida, South Carolina, Hawaii. Really, for such a wide representation, you’d think I wouldn’t have liked as many as I did, but I enjoyed nearly all of them, which speaks well either of the choices the editors made or guidance they gave. I suspect many will just read the entries for which they are personally attached, but that would be a shame, because the others might induce people to spend time visiting other parts of the country, homogenized as it has become, to search out a taste of difference that still lurks.
Friday, November 14, 2014
Amazingly enough, at my advanced age, I went to my first karaoke this past Wednesday, although perhaps it is not that farfetched because I really don't drink and the past few years as single dad have limited my entertainment schedule. And, no, I did not get up on stage and sing. I went with my friend Evelyn, who does sing, and after a nice dinner beforehand at a local Mexican place, she did her favorite Amy Winehouse (although they switched up the lyrics on her and that caused a glitch). Sitting on the low couch, watching the performers, I nursed my cider (one bottle for about three hours, which was pretty good). There were a few pretty good performances, but most of the folk were just happy to get up there and belt one out. Some of course were better than others. I think it is best a person does a song they really know, however, because if you stumble on an unfamiliar tune, it can throw the whole thing off. I was really impressed with one guy, who went by the stage name "Utah," who changed the lyrics and it was pretty humorous (I am told this is his regular deal and he won performer of the year, and I can understand why). Overall, I had a nice time and enjoyed it, though I don't know if I will go back any time soon. Not that I won't though. Just glad to get out and enjoy a little nightlife, knowing the boys can now take care of themselves.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Friday, November 7, 2014
Last night attended a talk by Southern Studies fellow Melissa Cooper, who used film clips from USC's Moving Image Research Collections (repository of the Fox Movietone News Collection) to look into how black Americans were portrayed in early newsreels. It was fascinating, and also made me wonder what kind of treasures might be available in my special areas of interest, the WPA. The bulk of her presentation concerned the 1928 vacation trip of Calvin Coolidge to Sapelo Island and the staged scenes of black residents marching and singing, or riding in ox carts. The real question was who was most responsible for the stages scenes and possibly pushed the choice of songs. I was curious as to who exactly manned the crew, and if there was any record they left of how they decided to set up the shots and if there was direct instruction, either from their bosses or from the wealthy owner of the island, or from Coolidge's staff. What a wonderful resource this could be to historian, just another advancement for the University of South Carolina in historical research. I do enjoy these lectures, a small link for me to my historian roots. There was quite a nice crowd, enthusiastic and interested, and I hope they keep these talks going.