A Random Image

Archive for April, 2010

|| April 30, 2010 || 10:41 pm || Comments (7) ||

In April of nineteen-hundred and eight, a tornado ripped through Albertville, Alabama. The old adage ‘torn from the map’ is a pretty adequate descriptor of what happened to the town. Fifteen people died. The railroad trucked supplies up Sand Mountain from Gadsden.

Albertville rebuilt.

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I’ve lived on this mountain longer than I’ve lived in any one place in my life. That sentence echoes with craziness, because out of all the bouncing I’ve done around the map, this place bears the onus of being the only one that I’ve mostly despised. It also has the stark distinction of being absolutely the only one that has felt –a fair percentage of the time, anyway– as if it were actively pushing me out, trying to condemn me as a squatter and as such, thoroughly eviction-worthy.

But given suitable amounts of time to cruise the backroads, the impossible happens and the red clay of this place pushes its way up through your feet and into your heart: This is both blessing and curse. I don’t want reasons to stay here. I don’t want to feel compelled to sometimes drive ten miles out from town, past the little farmhouse where Mathias got teeth and Sam shot Scout with a b.b. gun and Maxim and I made love on the porch in the throes of a crazy summer storm. I don’t want to have compulsive inclinations to film the old-and-spirited Burke brothers telling their wild tales, stacked precariously high back yonder in their wealthy pasts.

“Patiently biding my time until God commutes my sentence.” I say that sometimes when I’m discussing my residency here. Until that occurs, I push myself to remember to look up past street level, to regard the miles-wide clear skies and the lush flora that drape this place. The trees sing low and steady, the flowers layer in harmonies. The cicadas rattle off percussion and the frogs wail. The song bewilders the birds; they are never on tempo, but they never quit trying.

Those birds, they make me laugh. Some of them have insomnia, too, and I think they sense when I’m two feet from a window at three in the morning, banging out my guts on this keyboard. So they perch on a branch two feet on the other side of the brick and get all chatty. I mutter to them in my head. This is probably a sure sign that in another twenty years I’ll be talking to them. It makes a certain sense to me that we arrive on this planet understanding the language of such things, of birds and water and unbroken afternoons. We spend the first thirty trying to unlearn that language as thoroughly as possible, ten pining for it and thirty years trying to get back to it after our cumbersome human fashion.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

One night, in the neighborhood of six or nine months before I came to Alabama for a brief visit, I had a very vivid dream. In it, Biff and I were driving along. When we came into Alabama, it soon came time for us to cross a bridge. The bridge climbed and climbed, stretching itself in a drastic, thin arc into the sky, nearly skimming the clouds. There was a sense of relief as we crested the peak of the thing, then abject horror as we saw that the bridge ended abruptly at a crumbled edge, the rest of it nowhere in sight. We were sent off into the air, and the car, in a freefall, sailed down through blackness. I woke up heartsick.

I was four months pregnant (but looking seven, easy) when I flew into the lower forty-eight, borrowed a car from my parents and went to pick up Biff from a post in Arkansas, where he had been training for thirty days. We made out in the car, I remember, then I wanted french fries but it was miles and miles before we found any, so I ended up puking up my toes in a Hardee’s parking lot with a vat full of fries maybe ten yards away. This is somewhat indicative of a larger pattern in my life, by the way.

We made our way to Tulsa to see some family, then back to Memphis before heading for Alabama to visit grandmas and grandmas-to-be and other assorted Antsy Folk. Biff was driving along on a highway in Decatur when things began to look astoundingly familiar; I went a little cold upon registering the approach to the bridge from my dream. My heart got all poundy. I should have demanded that Biff stop the car, marching my Keds to the nearest payphone. Then I would wait the three or four hours it would take my daddy to come get me, hauling me back to the Delta where I damn well belonged. Ohhhhh, hindsight, why do you pester the fuck out of humanity?

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

It turns out that dream was pretty prescient. I spent a fair amount of time hurtling through the darkness when I returned –this time on a more permanent, sixteen-year basis– a couple years after that visit. Then I woke up heartsick.

There’s more of me invested in this place than I had ever planned on initially. It took me so long to build a life here.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

Last Saturday, on the one-hundred and second anniversary of the twister that leveled Albertville, another one ambled along nearly the same path and laid large chunks of the town to waste. ‘Million-Dollar Avenue’ became the envy of no one. All around town, people survived (oh hallelujah) but lost livelihoods and lifestyles in the span of a few minutes.

Stately homes were obliterated while tumbledown shacks remained very small distances away, paint still peeling and vines still climbing and windows still staring lopsided onto streets covered in sheaths of laid-flat trees. Cables snaked everywhere, causing a thick dusting of fear to find the back of my neck.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

This last couple of weeks have been full of personal calamity involving

a) the exuberant usage of my debit card by Persons Other Than Me (not my children or my spouse or anyone related to me that I know of),

b) being midway through an automatic car wash when a bloodcurdling sound alerted me and Mathias to the fact that the bumper of my car was being slowly peeled back –and thus, OFF– by an entity that will henceforward be known as the Brush Bent On Automobile Sodomy,

c) the first full Lexapro week in a handful of months (auuugh, failure, why does this feel like failure? SHIT.),

d) Sam having made the grand decision back in September that my presence wasn’t required for the meeting all about those Wacky Graduation Shenanigans, so when I asked him about invitations two-handsful of days back he was all, “Buh. Ahhh, erm, buuuuhhhh. September?” AND THEN I FLIPPED A COMPLETE BITCH ON MY KID (don’t you judge me, because what will happen when your heart utters those sanctimonious words of condemnation against me? I’ll tell you: they will congeal, growing moldy and rank with time and it will suck royal donkey for you to have to eat those words when your own kid is a teenager and you cannot for the life of you fathom why The Obvious always escapes them, causing you to wonder if they’ll ever be able to –for instance– pay their light bill once you turn them out into the real world.). This has apparently occurred with regard to Graduations past, so we were able to scramble and get in an order a mere four days before the engraved announcements were delivered to the rest of the Senior class. You know, the young men and women whose moms were able to spend a couple weeks back in the fall leisurely doing legwork such as counting up the actual number of people to be invited, finding decent coordinating seals for the inner envelopes and having a yard sale to pay for this little commemorative finance-draining rigamarole,

e) the breaking of my middle toe, left foot, when it was mangled by the inflexibility of a largish bass amp during a bathroom run at one in the fucking morning; I hobbled furiously into the sanctity of our peaceful bedroom, firmly but politely saying, “I NEED. YOU. TO PUTAWAYYOUR EQUIPMENT WHEREITBE. LONGS!” Haha, so cute that we’d had this discussion two days prior to the breaking of said toe.

And this is how it goes.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

And then there you are observing the way that a house has been peeled cleanly off its foundation, lifted and set down some fifty yards to the left, dead-center in the street, the structure pretty much intact.

And then there you are doing a double take at some power lines that have remained standing, because wrapped up between two of them is a sizable fuzzy mass that you think is either some form of large fowl or a pretty well-fed cat.

And then there you are standing on some friends’ deck, marveling at how every hundred-year old tree has been yanked up out of the ground, leaving no dearth of jagged craters in the earth while their house emerged unscathed. The wind has even stripped some trees of their bark entirely, making them into strange albinos, shiny and skinless aliens the likes of which you hope to never see again. The deck gives a little because five people are standing on it. You’ve seen it hold twenty or more people AND their barbeque effortlessly in the past. This little event illustrates the fact that not all damage is readily apparent to the eye. Your friends resign to avoid the deck until the insurance adjuster makes his way to their home.

You take ice, you take groceries, you fumble for the right thing to do and the means to present provisions in a way that is not awkward or pitying.

You decide to not take the many tornado warnings that go out in the early spring and midwinter so lightly in the future; you’ve always been so dismissive (and even impatient!) with them before. How much does a weather radio cost? The internet and cable and phone were useless this time. How prepared are we? Do we even know which walls to huddle against while clinging to one another? Shit, shit, shit.

You show your children the bigness of this outrageous act of nature in this smallish, quiet place. You all startle at how readily visible the landscape is, how obvious scattered rooftops are without the ages-old trees. The blatant showiness of the sky is like a fresh wound.

Your spouse is haunted by the image of a tiny church bus at the edge of a gas station parking lot. The vehicle is desolate, its windows blown out, looking like something from a war movie. “Were there people in that thing?” he worries aloud.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

Today, six days into the whole mess, Tess and I moved from helping friends to volunteering in the community. I expected the process to be more difficult, but ten minutes after strolling into the rec center, we emerged with badges hanging around our necks from silver ball chains. We assisted in unloading a truck full of frozen food (a case of ground turkey is fucking heavy, the twentieth consecutive one is Not Your Friend). A wisecracking fireman made me laugh as he buddy-taped my throbbing toe while we awaited another assignment.

We were then joined by two other women bearing chainsaws and coolers. We made our way across town, donned thick cotton work gloves and began sawing and dragging and hauling and sweating. God help me, I hated the reason we were doing it but I had some fun muscling my way around a yard, nose filled with the sharp tang of pine pitch, shoulder blades yelling betrayal. We made a pile of log and limbs that was eight feet high and ten feet across.

“How high do we pile?” I asked the pretty, athletic blonde who has been doing this every day since the tornado hit.

“As high as it’ll let us.” she said matter-of-factly, grinning at me.

I pulled my shoe off. My toe was bullying my foot into a misery that climbed up my leg. I would trade the risk of a punctured foot for the cushion of cool grass. I wanted to vomit. The smell of the chainsaw wasn’t helping.

A news van trundled up the street. Shortly thereafter, a man in a fluorescent green tee-shirt came pounding (with effort) behind it, yelling for the attentions of those inside. He gestured back up the street at a two-story house with half a dozen other fluorescent-clad men crawling all over its top. The van reversed, beeping maddeningly as the man hollered, “Hey! There’s your story up there!” I noted the Methodist flame and cross on the back of his shirt. I can’t be sure, but I think I grimaced.

Tess and I lifted a ten-foot limb, negotiating its toss onto the top of our brush heap. She paused, putting one gloved hand on her hip, drawing the back of the other one heavily across her soaked forehead. She turned her head to spit, then turned back to me.

“Yeah,” she said,”’cause a skeleton crew of four women wielding chainsaws isn’t news.” She’d woken in a world-don’t-fuck-with-me state of mind this morning.

Last week my bank balance mattered. Tonight, eighteen years and three months after I first held Sam to my breast, I mailed his graduation invitations all over the country and a couple other parts of the world. It is with my husband resting soundly and deeply beside me that I tell you all of the previous.

We are simultaneously tentative and fierce, every last one of us.


look, last week made me the slightest bit testy

He responds to my response (a little hightoned and bitchy, I’ll admit) with a question.

“Is it Lexapro week?”

“I dunno, hippie, is it Xanax month?”

“Well I live with you, so it’s probably Xanax LIFETIME.”

….and then we high-fived. Love bears all, motherfuckers. Pharmaceuticals prop up the uneven legs.

|| April 18, 2010 || 11:00 pm || Comments (2) ||

the world is indeed a marvel

He is eleven, my Mathias. The whole of his life, he has been bent on creating. Lately his attentions have turned to animations and short movies. He and his best friend spend three Saturdays out of four trailing around with a video camera, shooting hours of footage, most of which that will never see the light of day as more often than not the two of them pare things down to ten minutes or less.

I am in the kitchen peeling potatoes, chopping carrots, steeping garlic in butter when Mathias calls to me across the dining room, “Hey mom, when you finish what you are doing, will you come into the living room and watch something?”

A few minutes later and I’m drying my hands on a kitchen towel; my favorite, it has tiny olive branches embroidered across it. It was a gift from my great-aunt, who had plied the Italian linen with her genius of a needle. She gave a set of them to me when I was twelve; it had been a hard year that year, and fine things were at a premium that my mother was in no way equipped to meet. The two that remain are soft now from years of use, but still strong and suited to task. I don’t know what happened to the third; when you are a person that pulls up stakes and flies into the wind, things that you’ve grown fond of sometimes get left behind in your wake.

I exit the kitchen, cross the dining room, up three stairs there is the family room and then I am entering the living room where Mathias waits expectantly for me.

I settle in to the loveseat that sits kittycorner to the desk, and he turns to me before he clicks ‘play’. “It’s kind of sad….”

And I think about it, about the technology so readily at his fingertips and its ability to proffer up vast amounts of knowledge and culture within mere seconds. I think about the ways that this influences his works now (and they are works, of this I have no doubt….their scope and depth are sheer amazing); it is in the throes of this considering that it occurs to me:

If this is the type of content he is seeking out and somehow incorporating into his expression(s) of art and communication at eleven, what amazing things will he be gleaning from the world at twenty-two and, in turn, gifting back to it?

|| April 16, 2010 || 9:13 pm || Comments (2) ||

vegetarians and prudes will hate this post

At my house, your garden variety meatloaf has long been monikered ‘meatlog’. This name, of course, has a story attached. When he was about ten or eleven, I was pulling my cast iron loaf pan out of the oven when Sam inhaled deeply through his nose in an elaborately hammed-up gesture of smelling the air around him. He then began to serenade the meatloaf as I drained off the fat in the pan; it began “Ohhhhhh, meatloaf is a delicious log of meeeeaaaat….”

As he literally sang the praises of baked hamburger I had to take a break from meal preparations for a little jag of Goofy Hysteria. And of course you know the rest: Henceforward ‘meatlog’ was the noun of choice when it came to this particular dish.

Now a meatlog made in this house is damn tasty, but like its lesser cousin meatloaf, it isn’t especially attractive. Meatloaf in general tends to be not pretty in the same way a Frankenstein monster isn’t pretty. That is to say, it is a wickedly genius idea but the overall parts turn out to be a thing that is somewhat lumpy and mismatched altogether.

So then I bought an oversized muffin tin and tonight while Mathias squished all the ingredients together in a biggish bowl, I chopped vegetables and watched his nerdy glee over having meat muffins for dinner.

(This week has been a week of lovable dorkitude: He has checked out his first Tolkein book from the library, he spent a good thirty minutes last night asking me all about Mortal Kombat, v. Arcade, he’s shown me short films incessantly. Be still my gol-danged heart, people.)

“We can’t call these ‘meat muffins’,” my husband said, curling his lip slightly. “That just sounds so….prissy. Meat is not prissy, woman.” Ohhhhh, my waylaid vegetarian, long has my heart known you have a chest-beating defender of meat deep inside yourself.

When we were nearly finished with our meal, it came to me.

“Meat Pucks!” I blurted out. What kind of genius am I, huh? This immediately sparked an idea in Maxim.

“MEATWADS!” I raised an eyebrow at this.

All the males at the table got a little chokey, trying not to grow raucous at the dinner table. I eyed Maxim, dirty ringleader, meatwad-blurter, disturber of Basic Dinnertime Decorum (never mind that I’m chiefly the tacky one a greater percentage of the time in these four walls). I swiveled my head toward Maxim, I narrowed my eyes at him.

“No sir, nosiree,” I said, “because I know exactly what that will lead to and there will be NO! regular Aqua Teen Hunger Force re-enactments done around this table. None, you hear me? I have no desire to hear an MC Pee Pants ditty while I’m chewing broccoli!”

Like that sort of thing doesn’t happen enough around here already, for hellsakes. We have to go and egg it on? And so help me God, I forgot just how savvy you get (and just how soon) when your babysitters are also your much-older siblings who think that a somewhat lowbrow education is just as valuable as any other kind.

Mathias can’t so much as hear the words ‘nuts’ and ‘ball’ anymore without completely losing his shit, facial features disappearing into gigantic folds of laughter.

You traveled down the hall, trailing words behind you
And I hesitated, lost in the picture of me
Flinging a heavy volume in the direction of your head.
It was a dictionary:
I wanted to give the words back, but
With heavily-compounded interest.

Hey, I started this entry some five six months ago, left it hanging in my draft posts and just wandered away. In all the shuffling and fixing and getting ready to pull the plug on this site, I came across it again. I think it’s an important enough bit of my personal narrative to warrant hitting ‘publish’ on it. Maybe it’s a post that will stir discussion, because I have seen evidence in the past several weeks that I am not the only voyeurnaller who feels this way. Your comments are always welcome here –dissenting ones included– and I’m pretty sure I’ve made that clear from the time I installed a commenting system back in late two-thousand or thereabouts. On this post in particular I would ask that the lurkers, too, step out of the shadows and talk with me about their perspective on this.

Okay, so, you know when you have that invisible iron band at the top of your throat, and it’s cinched up just enough to remind you it’s there? And then, when you swallow, it’s like your tonsils become two branding irons that send shocks of bonfire heat all around the insides of that most tender of all the neckmeat? And good LORD, the itch! It is way down deep there in your ears and you’re praying that it signifies that something is a-going and not a-coming because that impending ER bill from several nights ago is going to SUCK and you can’t visit any healthcare-type facility again (save the one where you yourself are employed) until February at the very soonest, April at the outside. But April is your birthday month and it just wouldn’t be right for the Everything That Is to allow you to come to harm throughout the month that signifies your arrival on the planet, selah and amen.

That kind of maddening but vague-ish tonsilly-glandy-flarey throat pain that could mean you are getting better but also could mean that the strep dint get kilt fer shore dead?

You know that kind of discomfort, yeah? So you know, also, of how cranky it can make you in a sort of ‘let’s not be doing any fucking around, okay? I expect us to dig all the way to bone tonight’ fashion.

So, my throat hurts. And it is that kind of hurt. A no-nonsense kind of hurt, not bent on being crippling in nature but not wanting you to forget its presence, either.

My throat hurts and I’m back to square one with my ability to tolerate utter bullshit. Pain will do that to you: It will make you instinctual in nature, a person not prone to frippery like patience for your fellow man, no matter how stupid (or insulting) (or tedious) (or shallow) (or ridiculously, ridiculously self-absorbed) he may be, thusly earning him a pass on the basis of your most excellent home training and Southerin mannerliness. There will be no “Well, bless his heart“-ing done, dig? Your throat is on fire, and that supercedes tact, damnit!

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

Did you know that the Willow Ptarmigan is the only species of grouse whose males take responsibility over their young….most specifically, the protection of those offspring? They will distract much larger foes (BEARS) by way of attack to ensure the well-being of their babies. Willow Ptarmigans may be little in comparison to a grizzly, but their desire to go unfucked-with is greater than the bear’s ample curiosity and orneriness. And also greater than that physically imposing stature business.

I think that is just about the fucking neatest thing ever, Fellow Internet Bastards.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

A little over a month ago the box in my head where I go to be happy was sluiced over with some sort of crazy mud that was cloying and uncomfortable to hang around in, so I was forced into other parts of my brain where things are maybe hazier and not very well-lit. Sometimes I wonder if I oughtta just stick around in the mud –in that sunny, airy room there– to see what happens, because the curtains still shimmy gleefully as they glance off breezes and the wallpaper never gets boring. But (and here is the thing that seals this wonky little deal) even the dark corners and the sundown lanes that trail off into nowhere smell sweeter altogether than that nasty mud. Though its surface is shiny and without blemish, I just know there are things in there, in that mud, rotting things that are just playing possum until I grow complacent. Were such a thing to happen, they would then lace themselves together elegantly and drag me down to the floor, planting my face solidly in four inches of my head sludge with no hope of coming up for air.

You can see, of course, why I would choose the ‘Wander Aimlessly Around Head’ door.

Okay, so I ended up in this mostly-unfamiliar spot that found me all butthurt about the most ridiculous of things, most of which resided right out here in the ether between my interface and those that belong to what I have loosely labelled as All The Rest Of You.

It was a weird state to try on for size, this Total Butthurtedness, and one to which I am mostly unaccustomed, owing to my habit of keeping my heart in my mouth rather than on my sleeve. I was swirled up in drama that was only known to my heart, asking stupid shit like, ‘Why is that person taking a swipe at me’ and ‘How can so-and-so leave me hanging like that’ and ‘Oh my gaaahhhhd, when will I ever just be able to be who I am without inciting fury’.


Said questions, of course, brought forth Total Butthurtedness’ maudlin (yet much calmer!) twin, Embarrassed Mortification. Embarrassed Mortification always goes over –with a fine-toothed comb– the ground that Total Butthurtedness flopped around on, finding every fragment of every thing that will enable her to hammer the fuck away at whatever aspects of you that Total Butthurtedness was kind enough to allow to hang around.

Are you still with me?

So at some point I began to get my bearings (and my medication, bahDUMpum!) and got really mad that I let Cyberia actually affect me this way. It’s not really ever been an issue before, and I began to root around for the source of why it all of the sudden was one.

Typically I’m not an especially insecure person whether on the page or off. In this case I had to remind myself of accomplishments cool digital-type shit owing to this: In the past you have been Instalanched! Kottke has linked you! You have even been cited on WikiFuckingPedia somewhere! It is a great likelihood that Norman Reedus probably read the entry where you praised him and dogged the fuck out of Armand Assante, hear you roarrrr!

….and so on.

I don’t give much of a shit about hits or traffic and have been more than willing to say so on more than one occasion. Let me get one thing straight, though: This is not to say I don’t give a shit about people. I care at the point where people take shape out of these strange and persistently-tabulated digits. ‘Oh, hello, Visitor Number one-hundred thirty-two thousand and nine-hundred, you are, in fact, Angela from Brighton, Colorado? Pleezdameetcha!’

There are a whole mess of women these days who derive their whole self-worth from their blogs; if their hits are high, then so are their spirits. God help us if a few-hundred of those eyeballs fixed on their sites wander away. I am not, in fact, one of those women. I derive a part of my self-worth from my blog, yes, but it is in one specific sense: That sense being that I am completely true to myself in the words that I heartily fling across the page where you now perch.

Also, and my! God! what an also, it has easily saved my husband thousands of dollars in therapy (my first twenty-five or so years on the planet wound me into quite a tight little skein; it took me five years of picking around just to find the thread that would start the unraveling of the damn thing and five more years after that for it to even look like I’d been working on accomplishing something). Let’s not mince any words here: He’d sure as fuck have to pay it, because I just don’t have it and he likes having me around. I know this last bit because he is one of the good ones that never lets me forget it.


And so, in rooting for the cause of my sudden insecurity on these here interwebs, what I worked my way back to was this: I’ve been sort of slumming it in recent months by dancing around the fringes of a group of people who care about shit like how many page impressions equal how many nickels (did I say that right, savvy persons?) and less about the currency of song and soul. People who weigh out quantity of words as more valuable than their quality. I’m no hater; that’s great for them. It is a method, though, that simply does not work for me and always seems to leave me wanting.

Plus? I am leaving the buoyancy of my self-esteem in the hands of people I’ve never even met, ones that sit in front of a little box and type words (sometimes incessantly! how do some people handle things like meals and peeing?) that I’ve attached some sort of weight to, whether or not that expectation is actually something like, I dunno, warranted or even deserved.

Here is where I head in the direction of sounding like a geezer, sonny, because I remember a time when this medium was a whole lot of creative and unbridled joy. Blogger (which still is such an ungainly, misappropriated word, yeah?) was just a euphemism for Rogue Writerly Person. Rogue Writerly People aren’t hampered by things like form and the conventional twisting-together of words. The RWP of this world stomp, Thor-hammered and big-bootsed, through the literary heather, silencing cicadas and bending breezes to their wills. They are dirty, dirty neologists waiting to sully your dictionary, sugar.

I used to spend the bulk of my online time being romanced by the amazingly adept voyeurnals of Bobby and Michael and Alanna and Paul and Rabi, to name a few. These people dug at the words, sometimes so deeply that loam would have to be brushed from them before they could be stacked into a structure that your eyeballs (and shortly thereafter, your brain) could hardly wait to shimmy through.

The internet was totally my boyfriend in those days. I have been madly in love with words the whole of my life; naturally, then, it would follow that I might be completely knee-swept at the notion of being only one page-refresh away from a stream flowing with clickable links to places where words were consistently fresh and completely delectable.

All I had to do was pick.

Somewhere in the noise of the last little while I’d forgotten all about that ‘pick’ part. I found myself just dully following a trail of (fingerquoteythings)big names(/fingerquoteythings) because they were big names and not necessarily mapping carefully what I took into myself. And not really –as I had done before– rooting out new content and gorgeous voices. Look, I like People magazine as a guilty indulgence from time to time, but if you told me that was all I could ever read again then I would likely say, “Okay. I’m pretty much over this whole reading thing.” Or I’d be all, “PASTE! Where is my fucking jug of PASTE?” and cut the People magazines to bits, then reassemble the words in a more pleasing arrangement. Something.

So. I’ve made up my mind to do two things. First, I’m gonna start giving the majority of my online time (which seems to be far less nowadays than it used to be) over to incredible writing by people that are doing it for the sheer joy of it above all else. Second, I’m gonna start remembering who I am in my own writing and occupying that space with the fierceness that I used to.

I’m not gonna worry too much about who or how everybody else is, because I’ll be too occupied with the flow of my own story to let anybody else’s make me feel somehow incomplete. I’m enough. And when I decide that I am not enough anymore, it will be because I have measured what I am at that time against what I want to be in the future and have found myself in need of work.

Those are things that I should in no way be passive about in making decisions. And if you want to know the truth, then you shouldn’t be passive about them either. I own myself and it’s time I started reading the fucking manual.

|| April 1, 2010 || 10:51 pm || Comments (5) ||

Hello, I am home.

“You were away?” you ask. “Where did you go?”


poorhouse road is where the action's at

:: poorhouse road is where the action’s at ::

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::


:: doobaby! blake sold his paintings for $1 apiece. BARGAIN. he should’ve asked five. ::

(photo credit: Jamie Harmon)

Sunday morning, his face framed up in the right side of my rearview mirror, Davey’s eyes met mine and he said, “I feel infinite.”

He was wearing a hoodie, his typical oversized mirrored aviators and a tie he’d extracted from the fistful I’d scored for three dollars at the auction on Friday night. It was navy and emblazoned with tiny, pastel poodles. We were on Highway One-Sixty-Nine in Seale, Alabama. A scant thirty minutes earlier we’d finished packing up the Magic Superior Stealth Vehicle so that we could make our way out of the Woods of Wunder (wander+wonder=wunder, so I was told a couple years back by Butch or Bob 7, I don’t remember which) and back to our own beds.

When Davey said this thing, we were passing Silver Run Baptist Church. I eyed the church for a few beats and smiled. Seventeen-year-old boys are not typically prone to making such pronouncements.

Doo-Nanny will do that to you.”

bird's-eye view of the doo-ceedings
:: bird’s-eye view of the doo-ceedings ::
(photo credit: Jamie Harmon)

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

"Um, yeah. I'm at Doo-Nanny. Y'all should come on down."
:: “um, yeah. i’m at doo-nanny. ya’ll should come on down.” ::

Flying through Birmingham, the boys already starting to nod off in the back, Tess and I chatted and frequently changed the radio station. I glanced into the mirror at the exact moment one of our two tents went flying off the roof, separating itself from its bag along the way. As we backed the vehicle rapidly down the safety lane, I watched with alarm as eighteen-wheelers suddenly appeared en masse. “Please don’t run over our tent, please don’t run over our tent, pleasedontruinthetent, AHHHHH, PLEASE DON’T LET THE TENT BE RUN OVER AND DESTROYED,” I prayed aloud and without any subtlety.

Tess braved traffic, dodging eighty-mile-an-hour cars and crazy-large trucks like she’d been training to do so all her life. We each climbed halfway up the car, perched precariously and uncertainly. While maneuvering the roof’s load, hanging on with one hand and working with the other, I had a vision running a loop in my head: Over and over my foot slipped; my hand was torn free and I was rolled into the path of an oncoming semi.

I hooted like a monkey the whole time, hysterical tears streaming down my face, shouting jokes to Tess.

We were climbing back in when Mathias said, “We are not even there yet and already we are having ADVENTURES!” This made Sam horse-laugh.

:: HI! ::
(photo credit: Jamie Harmon)

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

:: (intertwangleism) ::

We pulled into the parking lot of the Possum Trott on Friday evening, just as things were in full swing. The Possum Trott used to be a barbecue place owned by Butch’s daddy, but now there’s just the auction house on one side, a terrific melange of curiosity museum and juke joint on the other.

On Doo-Nanny weekends, the Possum Trott is mostly taken over by Generally Fun Folk: Freaks and weirdos and people to whom the mainstream is distasteful. We line the old church pews set up in the smallish room and commence to bidding on art of all sorts, art that is mostly of the outsider, self-taught flavor. The festival is not self-sustaining; people put in hours and hours of hard work and stretch artist pockets (which, already thin, are faring pretty poorly with the economic downturn) to make it happen. The pieces we donate will put a little money toward gas money for musicians and staples (vodka being as likely to be considered a staple as the grapefruit which will shake hands with it later) for the community kitchen down on the Butch Anthony’s eighty-acre farm. Butch moved the Doo-Nanny there a couple of years ago when Frank Turner –the mayor of Pittsview– said he wasn’t up to spearheading the thing anymore. Frank felt like he was just getting too old to do so.

Doo-Nanny used to line both sides of the highway for a few yards. In those days for as many people that purposely came to the Doo, twice as many arrived not-on-purpose and then found themselves intrigued or delighted. Its twelfth year –the year of the move– found us all out there in those woods, howling and grinning and making a mess of ourselves, but in that good way that you look for your whole life without consciously realizing it.

I knocked out Butch's teefs.
:: b.a., the man himself ::

The mayor died late in the summer after that first festival down on the farm. When I went back last fall, his makeshift Doo-Nanny office still stood in its place of honor down on Butch’s place. A chapel made of found materials and intricately-painted tin had been erected next to it. The chapel’s maker, Jake Hollifield, sat inside it with me one afternoon and we talked about our perceptions of the nature of God for over an hour; that was after he told me that his aim for the chapel was that travel to different festivals where it would be disassembled and put together in different configuration each time it was re-erected. Eventually, he told me, he wants five or six of them crisscrossing the country at any given time. In this inaugural chapel there was an altar at one end and works inspired by Butch Anthony’s Intertwanglism paintings lined the interior of the thing, floor-to-ceiling.

Each of the paintings was a found thing at its base: Photographs and other paintings and drawings. Over each figure in them, Jake had drawn a skeleton in white, their bones transparent and allowing the original artifact to shine through. It took a couple times of thinking on Jake’s paintings and our late-afternoon exchange there in that chapel before I had an epiphany: Our skins are different, our dialects and affectations are different, the blood that swishes through us is different. Most all of our skeletons are pretty much the same.

It all comes down to bone, then.

:: chapel-on-the-doo ::

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

Heaven and Hell Car detail
:: ‘heaven and hell’ art car detail ::

“The only word I had to leave out to make it fit was ‘perfect’,” she said to me as I was looking down at the small piece in my hand. It was a work made of words, a whole lot of gorgeous ones, penned in bright blue ink. At the center of the two-inch by three-inch handwritten block, there was left a white space in the shape of a flame.

“It’s called ‘Blue Flame’.” And then she launched into the recitation of it, her bangs being lightly sifted by the breeze. I was frozen in my tracks, my widening eyes hidden behind huge round-framed sunglasses, Tess and my sister Emma also rapt behind me. “The only word I had to leave out to make it fit was ‘perfect’,” she said to me again when she finished. Stunned and not really giving a fuck about convention, I walked around the table, stepped forward and hugged her to me.

“Thank you so much,” I said, “Thank you so much, I needed every last one of those words you just poured into me.”

The only word I have to leave out, too, is ‘perfect’. Or, if I must keep it in my vernacular, another must is the one that says I ought to append it with the phrase ‘for me’. This lesson as of late has been particularly hard on me.

uke-a-punk stylings
:: uke-a-punk stylings ::
(photo credit: Jamie Harmon)

Later that night she was sitting lotus with her back to the campfire, facing the chairs that my sister and my best friend and I had lined up so we could watch the Mad Tea Party kick another night at the Doo. Her head hung, and then eventually she was bent in two, face to the ground. Emma took her a bottle of water, coaxing her to drink, tending to her. I didn’t even realize that it was the same young woman until the next day.

To see a complete stranger stand so powerful and lie so scattered in the span of twelve hours was somewhat overwhelming to me. Sometimes those bones I talked about want to hit the dirt –skins or no skins– and even if we happen to still be sporting a beating heart while they call for the ground, it’s hard to not comply.

Ralph Frank makes beautiful....
:: ralph frank makes beautiful art ::

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

bicycle sweat lodge
:: bicycle sweat lodge ::

I was washing dishes in the outdoor kitchen when Tess told me about the girl set up down by the Bike Dome in the lowland clearing across from the stage. “Oh man, we gotta go talk to her. She has a little table set up and a sign that says

cookies, love letters,
shots of whiskey
5 cents

…we gotta introduce ourselves!”

Indeedy, there was the table and there sat a tupperware jobby filled with homemade cookies; next to it was a jug of what I remember to be Evan Williams and a pink see-through piggy bank stuffed with dollar bills, nickels. Behind the table was a young guy in glasses and a person I assumed to be the aforementioned girl. She had red hair, fat Crayola markers sat on the table in front of her and she held a regular old one-dollar spiral notebook in her hands. Good humor shimmered off of her in an obvious arc. Her name was Allison and this was her first Doo-Nanny. She was, not to put too fine a point on it, made for this fucking place.

Tess paid a dollar and the four of us –Tess, Emma, Davey (Sam and Scout’s friend, along for the adventure with Sam) and me– opted for love letters. Allison asked us four questions,

“What’s your name?”

“What’s the name of the person it’s for?”

“What are some of their characteristics and likes?”

“Dirty or clean?”

We all opted for dirty except for Davey, whose letter for his girlfriend turned out to be dirty anyway, maybe because Allison thought he was cute and wanted to see him blush. I of course selected Maxim as my recipient. I can’t republish it all here, because my oldest son reads this site from time to time, but it started out like this:

Dear Maxim,

The Grateful Dead completely sucks and I hate that you love them but I still want to fuck you hard anyway.

We put a dollar in the piggy bank. Davey was fair dying to get a peep at that letter, because we laydehs were doubling over and braying, but I deemed it inappropriate for the eyes of a minor.

Maxim cried with laughter when he finally got to read it.

welcome to tha doo!
:: welcome to tha doo! ::

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

none-a that dang frickatating!
:: none-a that dang frickatating! ::

Having seen my pieces sold and bid out some art for myself, I had stepped out of the auction. I was headed to the bathroom and then the beer when I discovered that the music had broken out. The Screaming Js and Mad Tea Party were set up on and around the porch, playing to a crowd of hundreds. The fifty or so people of those hundreds that were actually in Seale, Alabama and milling about appreciated their efforts with wolf whistles and dancing. Cameras appeared and disappeared. Grins were unbreakable and shone in the night.

I heard “JETT!” hollered a couple times and was happy to be embraced by people I’d not seen since October.

Ten minutes later, I slid back into the pew next to Mathias.

“There was a wheelchair that I could have bid seven bucks on and won, but I didn’t know if you’d let me,” he shoutwhispered.

“Ahhh,” I said, “Sorry I missed that. Just as well; what would you have done with a wheelchair anyway?” The car was already jam-packed on the way down here, the interior full of people and coolers and sleeping bags; even the roof was overflowing with tent and canopy and table and Tess’ massage chair.

“I would have decorated it up and given people rides around Doo-Nanny if they wanted them.”

Yes. How stupid of me! Yet one more kind of art: The art of tending to people in a colorful way.

:: mad tea party ::
(photo credit: Jamie Harmon)

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

:: doo-trepreneur ::

In one of the fixed vendor stalls a passel of boys have set up dirty tanks and jars filled with tadpoles and red-eared sliders and skinks and frogs, to name but a few critters. The boys have inked a price list in orange onto a piece of cardboard that is taped to the end of their table. However, they are clearly negotiators.

They take their cues from one very self-possessed boy who was obviously born to be an entrepreneur. If people aren’t willing to buy, he hits them up for spare change to feed these critters. He did all that work to go out and catch them in order to sell them into pethood: It is obviously his duty to make sure they were fed.

And it won’t hurt anybody if he gets a Coke out of it, I imagine….

inventing bacon
:: inventing bacon by bob7 ::

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

the phenomenal Phil Cheney
:: the phenomenal phil cheney (mathias bringing up the rear) ::
(photo credit: Jamie Harmon)

“Tell me one thing about the Doo-Nanny.” I had a video camera aimed at Emma as we sat next to the fire pit, comfortably warm despite the wet cold of the dark. She barely even hesitated before saying through a grin, “There’s a place for everybody out here.”

I witnessed Emma laughing more this weekend than I ever have in the history of all our fun times together. And let me tell you, thatgirl and I have had a fuckload of fun times.

ralph will tell you he's a dancin' machine.
:: ralph will tell you he’s a dancin’ machine. ::

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

Jenny Greer, Jen and the Juice
:: the original bohemian hooligan, jenny greer ::
(photo credit: Jamie Harmon)

While I painted up Jenny’s face like a sugar skull for her stint on the stage later, Tess and Emma toted around a massive bottle of vodka and fluorescent plastic shot glasses.

“Tell you what,” Tess wandered around saying to the Various and the Sundry (of which there was a delightful selection) over twenty-one, “give me your best pickup line and I’ll pour you a shot of vodka!” That hugeass bottle was two-thirds gone within the hour. It would have all been gone, except that the girls stopped to stand around and giggle like fools with the folks they queried.

“Are you from Tennessee? ‘Cos you’re the only ten I see!”

The very last person asked was Tommy, Butch’s brother. He is a chef and flies around the kitchen and the barbecue pit in a way that doesn’t seem nervous or uptight. “Hey,” I said as I was rounding a curlicue on Jen’s cheek, “get Tommy to play.”

“Hey Tommy, I’ll pour you a shot of vodka if you’ll tell me your best pickup line!”

“My best pickup line?” he asked. He looked thoughtful. He walked over to the sink and washed his hands. He strode purposefully to Tessa and laid a kiss on her. She, unflappably bold and certainly hard to embarrass, blushed sheer crimson and looked dizzy as she thrust the vodka into Tommy’s chest, “GOOD LORD. Take the whole damn bottle.”

aren't they pretty?
:: aren’t they pretty? ::
(photo credit: Jamie Harmon)

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

That reminds me:

Dear Kid Who Caught Me On The Trail Back To My Tent:

I’m sorry I was cross with you. It’s just that your nose knocking my contact all askew was a little off-putting. Surprise cheek-kisses from attractive younger men with great heads of hair are always a delight. Next time just, you know, ask. And tell that young laydeh with the camera that sudden flashes of light in the dark are NEVER a delight. The Doo is about being chill, and it would be awful for me to roughly wrap that camera up in her ponytail.

Odabo Jack,
Jett ‘I understand the fine line between spontaneity and obnoxiousness’ Superior

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

ralph frank glowy head
:: official ralph frank glowy head ::

My name, called out by a variety of voices and personalities, in all kinds of ways:

“Jehhhhhtt.” My friend Phil, as I’m walking toward the kitchen. I dip my head toward my laden arms, bags and containers of things I’ll spread on the counter for people to graze on (roughly half of those people, newcomers to the Doo, will react in surprise when told nothing is expected of them except to be cool and also to maybe bring something of their own to share should they decide to come back), “Provisions, Phil!”

“Why, hello gorgeous Jett!” This is sweet little Jeanne, who makes all manner of amazing art utilizing a wealth of techniques and materials. She amazes me. Later Davey and I take her a small plate laden with fruit and banana bread, only to find out she’s allergic to kiwi. Davey goes back to fetch another plate –sans the offending fruit– and I stroll the crowd, offering the contents of the plate to various takers.

“JETT! JETT SUPERIOR!” Grace has spotted me in the crowd. She is seeking out Doo regulars, getting a snippet of their hair to deposit in the burn sculpture. Skirts swirling, she effortlessly parts the people around me. I lean a pigtail down toward her, hear a snip and she’s off again, fiery red head bobbing through the crowd.

“Hey Jett, come here, I want you to meet somebody!” And so on.

bicycle. built. for two.
:: bicycle. built. for two. ::

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

priming the torch
:: priming the torch ::
(photo credit: Jamie Harmon)

On the night of the burn, Butch stands beside the upper level of the two-tiered stage, which has proven that the generous quota of rebar utilized in its construction had been a quiet sort of genius. At one point during the night I counted nine people on the lower stage and five people on the upper.

In Butch’s hands is a six-foot length of pipe that is flaming on both ends and he twirls it with grace. Then it is touched to The Four-Foot Ball of Great Flammability that is suspended above his head. Once it’s lit, he climbs to a platform and releases it to slide along a guywire that stretches to the sculpture, which is slow to catch at first but then is engulfed.

The six of us –Sam, Mathias, Emma, Tess, Davey and me– stand in a little half-circle amidst the crowd. We are seventy yards from The Burning Doo-Nanny, and it still feels as if our faces will crackle and peel off. The burn is reflected in the water around it and I’m struck by how elegantly that water mirrors the thing that it’d eagerly extinguish if given opportunity.

When the burn is complete, we agree that it is time to make it back to our campsite, which is decorated with gold balloons and mirror balls and handmade banners featuring the Patron Saints of the South. We eat muffins and recount the day to one another. We heave tired and happy heads into our tents, fold ourselves into sleeping bags. The dew falls around us.

The music, a constant friend in the Woods of Wunder, echoes on into the night.

...but same
(photo credit: Jamie Harmon)

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

Every time I leave that farm on Poorhouse Road, I don’t take the most direct route to highway four-thirty-one. I hang a right so that I can ride past the Silver Run Baptist Church. I think about the people inside and wonder what they think of the Doo-Nanny and those of us that populate it.

I wonder at whether or not they would condemn us. Then I think about the ways I might tell them, if ever presented with such a scenario, that my time spent down there in those woods is a good and righteous sort of church all its own. That I come away from there peaceful and centered and stirred in a way that four walls and a roof are too narrow for by far.

someone spelled 'wunder' wrong.
:: someone spelled ‘wunder’ wrong ::
(photo credit: Jamie Harmon)

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

// Mary Oliver

happy doo campers
:: happy doo campers: tessa, davey, mathias and emma at the burn ::

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

GREAT THANKS TO JAMIE HARMON, who generously shares of his gifts when asked.

jamie and company
:: jamie and part of his doo crew! ::
(photo credit: Jamie Harmon)

My camera had issues over the weekend and I gave up trying to shoot anything after about a dozen poor captures, so most every shot of this year’s festival (the rest are my own of Doos past) you see here belongs to him. You can find his stellar work over at uberphoto.