Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way
Walnut Room? This way, please.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Twelve Years of Therapy

Last night, I had the thought that living in Mississippi has been like 12 years of therapy.  Neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, but a lot of work and hard work and discovery and challenge and understanding and self-awareness and other-awareness and realization and new questions.  That slowly emerged into my consciousness as I sat on the porch, thinking about the conversation I had with a new member in the department.  It is the time of year for advising for registration for the upcoming semester, and checking the status of where students are in their degree plan.  We were the only two working yesterday, and though it was really busy, during a couple of lags, we had been talking about current issues in academia, and specifically, in this state.  Education and practice and academic preparedness and race and inequity and the difficulty in seeing white privilege and the difficulty in having these conversations with our students and the importance of having these conversations with our students.  Endlessly.

I was reminded of the workshop from a few years ago where I pondered that same question, and how I have continued to seek to understand it, learn from it, and move the conversation forward in helpful ways.  It is not comfortable for any of us, but then, life and learning is not about comfort all the time.  If one is desirous of becoming a more effective human being in relationship with others, it is not about what is comfortable, but rather, what will deepen the relationship and help us to become more fully human with each other.  
That is part of the difficulty: as long as we sit very still on the cactus and do not jiggle around, we learn to develop a certain level of comfort with the thorns in life (Mayadas, 1986).  Start moving and questioning and looking, and they begin to prick you and jab you.  No one likes pain, nor is quite sure what to do or how to do it when that begins to occur.  Either one makes the choice to climb down from the cactus, move past the pain and difficulty, and reach for another way of being, or one decides to just stay very very still and wait for the discomfort to go away.

As I listened to him grappling with issues he was beginning to see after a short while in Mississippi, I was reminded of my own similar struggles at first arrival, and how they have continued.  I wanted to be able to tell him it would get better, but I don't know that it will.  I shared that it had been the hardest thing I had ever done in my life, and at times, the most painful, to learn how to work here.  That is not to suggest that I am wallowing in my own discomfort--I embraced it.  It is rather that to have to continue to grapple with and figure out how to address the inequities and lack of awareness and acceptance of other cultures and experiences is painful.  It is painful to see the dissonance in students, the outright rejection of some of them of the importance of even considering issues of race and culture and privilege in our work.
It is like having to look always ahead, to the distance and see the long slog in between.  In Home and Exile, Chinua Achebe said, "We did not see the need to demonize white people.  We just wanted out from under their rule."  The world has made it clear that inter-ethnic conflict is not always black and white, as illustrated by the ethnic conflict in Nigeria post colonial "independence" between the Yoruba and Igbo peoples--both Nigerian--that resulted in the slaughter of thousands and thousands of Igbo.  Recognition of that fact does not change that the issue is about dominant majority, however it plays out in a nation, a country, a state. 

In Mississippi, it has become a conflict between those who see the symbols of the Confederacy as heritage, and those who see them as emblems of white supremacy that fully denied human rights during and after the enslavement of Africans, and as representative of a desire to maintain and even celebrate that white supremacy in the form of the norms of culture--the "rule" if you will.  However, one feels about it, their really is no way to deny what the Confederate flag symbolized and that the heritage behind it is a heritage that harmed people, and a nation.  It reminds many of us of that harm on a daily basis when we see it flying over the symbols of government, education, and institutions that are supposed to be for all of us.  The fact that some people cannot grasp that reality and examine the "traditions" that have become dear to them does not disconnect the symbols from the origins.  The greater harm is perhaps from those who do understand the origins and still see that white culture as right and desired.
 My next student arrived and we had to cut the conversation off mid-sentence, without closure, let alone resolution.  It is a metaphor for the larger conversation--we never seem to reach closure, let alone resolution.  It left me feeling unsettled, and a need for a conclusion.  Like therapy, sometimes, that does not occur, but rather, we take the unsettling feelings and thoughts with us throughout the week, and hopefully grapple with them, reflect on them, and that is part of the learning for the next session.  I like the way Anna Blake put it this week in her post What to do when your horse falls in a hole--go in the hole with him; you were part of the reason he got in this mess.  I am learning that with my students--to go in the hole with them--not to stay in the hole, but to acknowledge the reasons they are in the hole and to help us both get out of the hole together.  No matter who we are, we are all in this hole, even when we can not see it.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunrise and the Smokies

First light Saturday

A few minutes later

Sunday morning

Smokies gets its name


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sunrise in the Smokies

 There is always the temptation when things get difficult to want to retreat.  I wanted to retreat and to cancel this trip, but it was prepaid with no refund.  I pulled on my boots and tugged on the bootstraps and said "Let's do it."  Yesterday, it was one of those days when it just added to the taxing stress of the last few weeks.  Travel was a series of ongoing issues.  After departing at 7:30 AM for what should have been a 7 hour trip, we arrived last night at near dark following almost 12 hours on the road.  However, the rest of the evening was pleasant and relaxing and this morning looked more promising.
I was reminded this morning--of the things that are lasting and important, eternal, grounding me, giving me strength, and enabling me to hope and stand in the promises of possibility, regardless of what might be swirling all around me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lottabusha County--the gift that keeps on giving

 It has been a hard week here in Lottabusha County, Friday had finally arrived, and as I rounded the curve to approach my house looking forward to a little R&R time, I saw the sheriff's car diverting traffic to the road that is just before my driveway.  Then, I saw the smoke and flames.  The fence was blazing in totality, kudzu and trees were on fire, and the smoke was so thick you could not see.  I stopped my car and yelled that my son was in the house.  A firefighter turned to me and said he was out of the house, and had all the dogs out, and that the house had not caught fire yet.  I called Rand, and then in moments, J called, assured me (albeit with his dry, sardonic, morbid humor) that he was fine, and that all dogs were fine.
 From then on, it was just waiting and watching.  My neighbor had called in the fire as a grass fire on the road; shortly, a woman whose husband is a volunteer firefighter in Taylor, called him and said they needed to hurry, that the kudzu and fence were on fire and she could hear dogs barking and that there was a house up there.  With the kudzu having overtaken the fence, one really could not see the house from the road.  Remember the kudzu on the fence thing--I will be coming back to it later.  I did not know it before Friday, but as my neighbor said, "Kudzu will burn like paper." 
A firefighter opened the back door and yelled "Is anyone in here?"  J--who works at night since he does web and game design--was taking a nap.  He woke when the firefighter yelled--though of course, he did not know why someone was in the kitchen yelling. 
The Lafayette County Fire Department did an incredible job of containing the fire, in circumstances that were difficult.  Kudzu, underbrush, the dryness (no rain since July), fallen leaves and pine needles.  We are close enough to the city limits that the water tankers only had to go a short distance to refill at the hydrant, but the major issue was running out of water.  I cannot count how many times I heard someone yell "out of water."  In all my life, I have never been in a situation such as this, and realized so much about prevention, and safety.  Had the neighbor not seen the initial grass fire, had the woman not stopped to call her husband, had she not directed them that there was a house behind that mass...you know the "what ifs" that could have happened.  Our "fire drill" plan has always just been get the dogs and ourselves out--but that would entail knowing that there was a fire in the first place and having sufficient warning.  First off, the new smoke detector went into the back bedroom Friday night, which was the spot most at risk if anything flared in the middle of the night and started a new fire.  Saturday, while Rand and J were purchasing temporary wire fencing to fence off enough space for the dogs to go out (trying to take dogs out on a leash with all the new visuals in the yard was trauma for them and us), and they got two detectors and these will be wired into the system also.  (It is good to have technological geniuses in the household).  Because they are systemic, when one goes off, they will all go off. 
In our "we have to do this next" plans, we have been planning to address the fence.  First, the guy who built this fence, like everything he did inside the house, did not know what he was doing, or perhaps did not care.  It has all been shoddily done and endangered our lives at times, and our peace of mind all times.  We find it and correct. it.  We knew he did not built the fence to last--the posts were not set deep enough, like in some cases, only 4-6 inches instead of the minimum of 12-18 needed for stability.  We discovered that after the first one fell, pulling a section of fence with it.  The primary problem though, was that he built the fence right on the edge of the hill drop off, and there was no room to get on the other side of the fence to mow, control brush or kudzu.  Our plans were to build a new fence several feet inside the old one (with enough room to mow behind the fence so we could control kudzu and brush).
The firefighters got it under control and left around 6:30 or so.  We spent the rest of the evening, and until 4 a.m., checking and putting out hot spots that would flare up.  The ones we could reach with the hose and the power nozzle were fairly easy to contain, but some were beyond reach, and in two cases, we had to cut back underbrush to reach the area with buckets.  At one point as I walked across the yard, I notice Mary and how it appeared as if she had held back the fire from the house--it sort of arced out in front of her outspread hands, like in a fan shape.

I had just sat down on the porch well after dark to rest a bit when a car pulled up in the driveway and honked.  It was another neighbor, who could see a tree on fire in the back yard.  I thanked her and went to check.  It was actually fence posts, but it took me several trips up the hill with the bucket because it was out of reach of the hose.  On another of my every few minute checks, walking down the front hill and I spotted a glowing tree limb--in a very tall tree.  Called Rand and J, and we did everything possible to get water to it from the hose, but the power nozzle had broken and the hose was not long enough.  Rand headed to Walmart (by then, it was after midnight) and bought more hose and a power nozzle while I sprayed the bushes under the tree where the embers kept falling.  We were able to control that one, and Rand finally went to bed around 2:30 while I kept making checks, feeling posts to detect heat and ensuring all was out.  I decided at 4 that it was okay and crawled into bed with soot, smoke, and scratches from the underbrush all over me.
I am neither Catholic nor superstitious.  Mary was a gift from a friend when I was in Texas.  She was for my Peace Garden--my little spot on the side of my house with a prayer bench, birdbath, sunflowers, and other things that made me feel peaceful and meditative.  I brought her with me to Mississippi, and she has stood in my front yard for 12 years now.  There were two crossties at the spot, and I impulsively placed her there in front of an arch that I also brought from Texas.  Many is the time I have thought to move her closer to the house, and while I am not superstitious, when I think about it, I like the feeling that she is spreading her arms with a protective barrier and I am on the other side of it.
I do not think this statue is embodied with any power whatsoever.  I actually view it as a work of art, a symbol of something that represents nurture and protection, that Mother Mary is a spiritual mother.  Because she is a symbol of something important, as I sat on the steps of the porch last night, again shaken with the thoughts of what had happened, and looking from behind to see the burned yard and trees from in front of Mary all the way down to the road, I was again, just grateful that my son was safe, that my house had been saved, and that the fire had been contained so to not lose any of the houses of my neighbors.
It is surreal to look out and see not the fence and kudzu, but my neighbor's house.  To know that as I walked the yards, putting out hot spots, feeding the birds, setting the bird bath to rights, picking up the spent water bottles from the wonderful men and women who saved my house, that I was now visible, not shielded.  I said I felt naked and exposed.  J said, "I like it.  Looks better this way."  As I walked it this morning, I kept thinking of Robert Frost's poem, and the line "good fences make good neighbors."  Perhaps, as I think it good-neighborly of us to fence our dogs and keep them from running all over other folks' property.  I've thought it good-neighborly of us to shield them from the view of all the things outside that we are still doing our best to repair, rebuild, clean, or contain.

Yesterday, as Rand and J went about the task of building the temporary fence, I set to the task of starting to clean up.  Ashes are everywhere, and I was sweeping, picking up trash, clearing out debris, and cleaned off the front porch and around the back.  The trash bins are full, and things I have been meaning to put on the roadside made it down there and are now gone: a window unit air conditioner, an old table, metal tubs, an old ice cooler.  The front porch has been neatly swept and things cleaned off the screened porch to at least enable easier movement.  The laundry room was cleaned.  I told Rand this morning, as we were discussing what type of fence to replace the old one with, and where to put it, "Sometimes, even though you don't want it, a kick in the gut can be a good thing.  It can prod you to action that needs doing." 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Columbia, TN former National Guard Armory

Edwin A. Keeble, Architect, and Francis B. Warfield, Engineer and Architect, designed a series of Tennessee National Guard Armories for the Works Projects Administration (Van West, C. 2009. Edwin A. Keeble. Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture).  Between 1940 and 1942, they designed 5 armory buildings in Tennessee, including Cleveland, Shelbyville, Centeniere, Columbia, and Murfreesboro.

 The Kingsport Times described the armory, begun in 1941 and completed in 1942, as
..designed with a 'rather standardized, but vaguely Art Deco-style' architectural plan. (Tri-Cities Port Listed by WPA as Defense Aid, October 19, 1941, p. 2)
The vaguely Art Deco reference would be in regard to the rounded corners, columns, concrete canopies, and the simplicity of the Art Moderne architecture during a time of frugal use of resources.
During World War II, the armory was headquarters of the Tenth Machine Gun and Chemical Company (Van West, 2001, p. 85-86).

 The current use of the building is by Parks and Recreation, and the sounds of a basketball game echoed from the 70 x 100 foot drill hall, now used as a basketball court, on the day I visited.