Thursday, January 22, 2009
Feodor reports from the inauguration
Ha! It was like an Irish wake held outdoors in Duluth.
We traveled Amtrak from NYC at 5 AM, met my in-laws in a crowded Union Station in DC, took two cabs to well north of the White House and walked downhill to the Mall, arriving on the lawn in filtered fashion through the security gates at 9 AM.
We quickly joined a small band of about fifty thousand on one side of a section mid-way between the Capital and Lincoln Memorial. It was a homey cluster, the size of my hometown, gathered around one of several Jumbotrans, which worked beautifully. The hugging started early as we began to greet and meet those around us and an interest in keeping warm drew us close together. One young man was from Missouri, but he was the only one I met who was not from the east coast. Singing and chanting could be heard constantly and it seemed everyone had purchased a little American flag to wave. Some had Jamaican, Bajan, and Bahamian flags. Many people had Obama’s image somewhere on a cap, hat, sweatshirt, etc. We regretted not seeing more vendors on our way down to the mall to search for a Panamanian flag (my mother-in-law comes from Panama). One couple was Trinidadian, though the husband was from Tabago. They were from New York, too, but I never asked why people from T&T are called Trinidadian and Tabago gets left out. White folks were plentiful, too, though, don’t get me wrong. But they tended to keep to themselves. We are a private lot, comparatively, in the world. Or maybe I am just talking about Yankees mostly.
The next three hours were spent adjusting bunched up sweaters and corduroy shirts that tended to shift under coats and scarves with all the hugging, paying occasional attention to the pre-ceremony ceremonies, and talking about what a great and noble discomfort it was to be here. The buzz and electricity in the wider air seemed to always be there when we lifted our heads. We tried to get a view of the size of it all, but there was no way to take in the horizon toward the Capital or Lincoln Memorial – just too many people. We could see north and south, though, and knew we were positioned between the Smithsonian and the Museum of the American Indian.
People kept saying they wished they had brought a flask of something and talked about the best rum, the best roti, and the best places on the eastern seaboard to get them.
My daughter hung in there but only by keeping inside of a big band of people to keep the wind away.
All the pre Obama-oath festivities were drowned out by waves and waves of various cheers, singing, chanting, laughing, bouncing. When it came time for Obama's oath, though, a hush came down and crying ensued as we heard what we thought was a faulty speaker at the oath taking.
By this time, emotions all around -- in my family and with so many in the immediate visual space -- were oddly mixed with the sounds of chants and cheering from farther out on the mall in every direction. Obama's speech came through in parts, as his more forceful lines were greeted by cheers that blurred the next few lines he spoke. But for our collective of half a hundred, the tears and the amazement being spent to absorb the moments eclipsed his speech. We retrieved it later online.
Weariness and now an oblivion to cold and crowd brought a kind of halt to the hugs and excited talk that filled the first two or three hours. Most people seemed to be held in quiet interior reflection as we stayed out the last moments of the poem, chorus, and Rev Lowry’s prayer. We had come to a silent inwardness, still tearful but softer, and dispersed with cheers still going on but much less forceful.
Except for my daughter who kept the cold away by repeating and repeating and repeating Lowry's last refrains.
In the end it was a physically draining and emotionally draining experience of "being there" and absorbing the finality of completion of fourteen months of almost daily attachment to the news of the campaigns and the election. We worked to put ourselves in a position to share this half-day with more people than I have shared anything with, outside of taking the train to work with eight million New Yorkers. It created the physical experience that paralleled the calendar slog and the meaning was drawn from joining those around us in acknowledging what was wrought in this time of our lives.
The inaugural pomp and circumstance was lost for those of us without tickets, amid the masses, the fences, the security, and the travel, the cold and the wind. We tried to find a bar with room to fit afterward, but the old folks weren't that interested and neither was my daughter. We eventually grabbed cabs back to Union Station, got some food and waited for our trains back to NY and NJ respectively.
I have to say, as an observer/participant and inside man so to speak, that for black Americans there is a tremendous amount of importance that is not rooted in Barack's political achievement. It is not that a black man achieved supreme political power that is the ground of their pride and inspiration. It is not even Barack alone as a figure. Black families, especially middle class black families, have been as supportive of Democrats and political causes as they are of Barack's politics. They rejoice as Democrats that he occupies the White House and they feel that his cabinet picks are “pretty good” and have various reservations according to personal opinion.
But it is the whole family that brings the tears and the swell of emotion. Barack was hardly mentioned without Michelle, the girls, AND the mother being mentioned as well.
Michelle is an example of professional success and good motherhood, done without out-sourcing every task but done with her mother's help. Michelle is a great pride for black women of all ages. The delight the country is taking in the girls is the delight black girls have always missed in the wider public. The grandmother represents how so many black families operate in an extended mode that is cohesive, supportive, and geared for success and providing their children with opportunity and love, contra popular representation of broken and isolated families.
Black people have been hungry for the decades since MLK to have white America and the world see black people who are whole and healthy, to see black people held up as equal heroes to white achievers and not from the realm of sports or pop art. It is the respect that is wanted, not the power per se.
Black girls still choose white dolls in studies, particularly in working neighborhoods. Black people grow up having to come to understand and shed the influences of television, magazines, and dominant culture conversations that lead them to feel as children that their hair, their skin, their being is not normal, that they don't really belong.
These suspicions often are confirmed by the responses of teachers, employers, even friends, and they all have to do the work of exorcizing these demons in late adolescence and early adulthood.
This hurt is inside every African-American with whom I am intimately familiar. The work has been done by every African-American I know that has succeeded in life.
A Democrat in the White House is what they want. Respect is what they need and are due.
They feel they got both yesterday.
And they hope (with less tentativeness than ever) it is a harbinger of permanent change.
ER, you could have done a great piece on the experience. And thank you for your interest.
Could your readers list a *significant* fiction writer produced by each of the lower 48 states?
The young man I met at the inauguration from Missouri is in an MFA program and I began to think of writers from Missou and came up with Mark Twain and Jonathan Franzen (one very significant and the other is as well).
I was thinking of Florida, too, my favorite pin cushion of a state, and realized that Zora Neal Hurston was effectively produced by Florida.
Oregon? North Dakota? Nebraska? Delaware?
Hawaii or Alaska are rather different stories as they are not thickly embedded culturally in American systems of thought and networking. Or is this dismissive?
Missouri: T.S. Eliot (flunked out of the Univ. of Missouri School of Journalism)
Nebraska: Mari Sandoz
Delaware: Howard Pyle (The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood)
Alaska or Hawaii escape me.
Howard Pyle is an illustrator.
I think Nebraska and Delaware are still looking for their scribe.
I remember now that Patricia Highsmith did not grow up in Texas, she, too, grew up in NYC.
Orson Scott Card? Cultic not significant.
Maryland - Countee Cullen.
NY - Theodore Dreiser.
Maine - Stephen King (don't any of you highbrows knock him . . .)
I'm glad someone mentioned McMurtry in re Texas; ER, I still owe you my copy of his essay collection, Sacagawea's Nickname.
Dreiser is not from NY.
For Maine, Sarah Orne Jewett (ER, you'd love her regional thickness) or Carolyn Chute (ER, her too.)
Stephen King... he' kin to Robert James Waller.
Geoffrey, if we're not declaring King as significant, I clearly am misunderstanding the context. His short stories alone would be sufficient.
So I've got control.
King is the world's best bag of potato chips. So damn good, so damn easy... wont be pulled out of the cupboard in fifty years.
Word verification is scaring me: "urapopa"
Now she's published in the Library of America and the subject of symposia and conferences.
Sure. But unless you've got a time machine, that's irrelevant to the current subjects.
Otherwise, I nominate ER from Oklahoma, as his literature will change the world like the Wyld Stallions in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
But as you very clearly defined, It's your stamp. So stamp on, O Jazzman!
Not sure if any of them are "significant" or not.
ER and Ellison for OK
New York has too many to list.
MA almost too many.
NJ, Philip Roth
Connecticut does have Stowe and also the unexpected, renaissance due, Ann Petry.
But New England is still too thin, and Texas, too, for having such prominent roles in imagining America.
Louisiana, Kate Chopin and Walker Percy
Indiana, Theodore Dreiser
Tenn, Cormac McCarthy
For MN, Sinclair Lewis, preeminently
Anybody else from MI?
Florida except for Hurston?
And still, Oregon.
Jazzman, I like that, Doc, and obviously I am blowing hard re my Significant.
"From" is tricky. Born there? Grew up there? Died there? Influenced by the place? Known for associations with it?
Since Orson Scott Card didn't make significant, would you count Ursula K. LeGuin? She's from Oregon, as is Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest).
Idaho: Edgar Rice Burroughs spent his teen years there and Ezra Pound was born there.
Indiana: Theodore Dreiser (Sister Carrie) and Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse 5)
Minnesota: Lewis Sinclair (Babbitt)
New Hampshire: John Irving (World According to Garp)
Wisconsin: Thornton Wilder (The Bridge of San Luis Rey)
Ohio: Toni Morrison
California: Jack London
Arizona/NM/Utah/Nevada: Edward Abbey (The Monkey Wrench Gang)
New Mexico: Leslie Marmon Silko (Ceremony). And Cormac McCarthy lives there.
Louisiana: Kate Chopin (The Awakening)
Montana/Utah: Wallace Stegner (Angle of Repose)
West Virginia: Pearl S. Buck
Does California only have London?
Florida: Marjorie Rawlings (The Yearling)
Wyoming: Annie Proulx (has lived there since 1994; Wrote short story Brokeback Mountain). Also, Gretel Ehrlich, tho I don't suppose you'd count her as significant.
Colorado: James A Michener did a graduate degree there. Also, Linda Hogan (who, again, you may not consider significant).
California: Maxine Hong Kingston, Anita Loos (if playwrights count), and Victor Villasenor.
Most of the New England authors I can think of are poets or children's authors.
Dresier may not have been from NY, but his writing captured all different parts of NY - from the Adirondaks to the Big Apple - in a single moment of time, in both Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy, better than anyone.
About King. Find his short story, "The Reach", which I first read in his anthology Skeleton Crew back when I was in college. A better story about "the communion of saints, that great cloud of witnesses" I have never read. His later short stories, including "All You Love Will Be Carried Away" and "The Man In Black", his pastiche and riff on "Young Goodman Brown" are excellent (the latter won an O. Henry award for best short story back in the 1990's). His novellas "Rita Heyworth and the Shawshank Redemption" and "The Body" are also excellent. Finally, Dolores Claiborne is as masterful a first-person narrative as you will ever find; Dolores' voice alone is worth the price of entry. Hemingway? Nah, but then again, I don't much like Hemingway.
California: John Steinbeck and William Saroyan, two of my farvorite writers.
A philistine because I don't like reading story after story about emasculated men - either physically or psychologically - suicide, and misogyny? I remember reading "Hills Like White Elephants" in high school, and realizing that this man was forcing his mistress to have an abortion. Awful. In college, took a lit class and swallowed The Sun Also Rises, which I told the professor should have called, A Guy With No Balls Shouldn't Fall In Love With A Hooker; that's about all I got out of that book.
I will increase your philistine opinion of me; except for a couple short stories, I have never understood why people think Faulkner is so awesome. Just can't get behind that.
I dearly love Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But, of course, he's Colombian, so he can't be counted here.
Being a coward in front of the mountain that is Faulkner is just cheating oneself of the literary accomplishment of a miraculous secular incarnation.
No doubt eating the potato chip bag of King ruins the tastebuds for Ossobucco
Steinbeck! Of course.
And Amy Tan for Cali.
How about Norman Maclean? (born in Iowa, but raised in Montana.)
Michael Cunningham (born in OH, grew up in CA)
Illinois has Ray Bradbury (and I think you can count him twice, since any of his stories that don't take place on Mars take place in Illinois.)
And still, Oregon, since LeGuin grew up in Berkeley, CA.
If McMurtry is significant Louie sure is.
South Dakota: well I remember from the S.D. Historical Society that they had a noted "Black Writer".
OK, looking him up, it was:
"Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951) Pioneer black novelist and filmmaker Oscar Micheaux was the only black to purchase a relinquishment claim on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in 1904. The Ohio native fictionalized his experience in his novel The Homesteader, which later became the first all-black film."
Looking up Micheaux I found:
Ole Edvart Rõlvaag (b.Norway, 1876–1931), author of 'Giants in the Earth'
James Dickey (1923-1997) was a distinguished poet, novelist and critic. Two of his most famous volumes of verse are "Helmets" (1964) and "Buckdancer's Choice," for which he was awarded the National Book Award in 1965. Dickey taught, lectured and wrote. From 1966 to 1968 he held the position of Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress, an office that would later become the Poet Laureate. In 1969, Dickey became Poet-in-Residence and professor of English at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. The next year he penned his best-selling novel "Deliverance," a whitewater rafting thriller set on the Chattooga River . He also wrote the screenplay for the book, which was made into a major motion picture and nominated for an Academy Award in 1972. Dickey continued to teach at USC until his death Jan. 19, 1997."
Maybe you should go about this backwards. Find the list of top American writers and see where they are from.
Say ER do you know eh taught english at OSU for a while?
I love his stuff, although it is a bit "texican" for most people.
Except for Brooklyn/NY and the northern mountain, tri-state region of Montana/Idaho/Wyoming (stories of which we get by Richard Ford, Ann Proulx, and Thomas McGuane - from Michigan, Alan) the most current white "literary" novelists write about anywhere or everywhere.
Madison Smart Bell, a fabulous novelist, has made his trade writing about Haitian history.
David Foster Wallace, the recognized genius of his generation, and Jonathan Franzen, Claire Messud, and Mary Gaitskill write about a generic America east of the Mississippi, or just barely west of it in St. Louis. We are not longer Americans defined by regional place (this may not sound as true for those of you in the fly over zones). We are becoming Americans defined by how close we live to the instantaneous present and a globalized network: Americans of the Atlantic now or the Pacific now or the mid-America now: vast regions not qualified by culture or custom but by economic subset membership as counted last week.
Nonwhite writers are exploring the same but in the context of leaving ethnic history behind. They are melting in the global now: Jhumpa Lahiri, Zadie Smith, Edwidge Danticat, Michael Thomas, Colson Whitehead, etc.
This elegy is not an encouragement to fetishize the dying regionalists to the exclusion of what is being written now.
The Corrections was an epitaph, as GKS says, to Baby Boom surburbia. But within it (as in Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, another Michigonian!) is the opening up of something non-regional, something American but no longer hyphenated like Irish-American, Midwestern-American, Republican-American. Rather the sub category of what kind of American is left open, inconclusive in diversity, with the hyphen put after "American" and left vacant, unstipulated.
As a society, and like Barack Obama, we are becoming: American-...
This is why contemporary literary novels by white writers disturb.
More than a few times I have read from the applicant teacher that her kids had not ever traveled more than 25 miles from home.
My wife help integrate Fauquier County Va. in 1969-70 and she saw the same phenomena there, less than 50 miles outside Washington D.C..
Actually that is not so rare in America. I would declare the "regions" and all that such are a dead issue just yet.
Rather I would note that the ivy league educated children that I have met representing the editorial staffs the New York Publishers simply have no sense of the Regions with their own country.
As for the "global network" it reaches everywhere now. Everywhere if you have a terminal that is.
But that alone won't disturb reagionalis. Generic American stories? Boring!
Let us start with Billy Betts(S.E. Oklahoma),and Tony Hillerman (Navajo lands of Arizona and New Mexico).
Regionalism is breaking down where it sits under the conforming weight of media and religious and political partisanship. Red states evangelize their ethos and blue states always lean into what's coming anyway.
There is no choice in the matter. You wont have to go anywhere.
Edgardo Vega Yunqué,
No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blow It Cauze Bill Bailey Ain't Never Coming Home Again
Say there only one completely Red State on the map this time. Just one, that is Oklahoma.
The end of regionalism, and therefore of white American hegemony, can be found in literature on page 10 of the Penguin edition of Dreiser's Sister Carrie, which also marks the beginning of modern American literature.
This may seem way over dramatic. But consider:
Mid-Western girl leaves family, goes to big city on the train, and, rolling from the hinterlands through the outskirts to central Chicago,
"To the child, the genius with imagination, or the wholly untraveled, the approach to a great city for the first time is a wondering thing. Particularly if it be evening that mystic period between the glare and gloom of the world when life is changing from one sphere or condition to another. Ah, the promise of the night. What does it not hold for the weary! What old illusion of hope is not here forever repeated! Says the soul of the toiler to itself, "I shall soon be free. I shall be in the ways and the hosts of the merry. The streets, the lamps, the lighted chamber set for dining, are for me. The theatre, the halls, the parties, the ways of rest and the paths of song these are mine in the night." Though all humanity be still enclosed in the shops, the thrill runs abroad. It is in the air. The dullest feel something which they may not always express or describe. It is the lifting of the burden of toil."
American life was changing from one condition to another. The cities were winning over the country. Now, globalism and media, and the continuing hunger of Americans and market evangelized Americans around the globe are buying into the illusion of hope forever repeated: the lifting of the burden of toil.
In the next twenty to thirty pages, Carrie meets everything about the twentieth century to come.
[Theses thoughts are my own, so I don't have any reference to which I can appeal.]
And some of us wear our regions on our sleeves, and in our hearts.
I am no citizen of the world. I am an ambassador to the world, a plenipotentiary with credentials from Sequoyah County, Okla., and Wichita County, Texas, and Oklahoma County, Okla.
After a few hundred years, when the particularity of interests unconscious in them no longer exists, they come back out to give life in a different way. Ask me about the Illiad, the Odyssey, Genesis, Beowulf, the Mabinogian, Dante, the Tain bo Culle, the Nibelugenlied, Gerusalemme liberata, poems by Yeats...
Texas isn't going anywhere. It is, indeed, too great; but it needs to go dormant for a while, like any great fertility. Not that it need be dead. John Graves is subversive to Indian prejudice. Cormac McCarthy is the beginning of what I would look for.
White Oklahoma, however, will probably ride our coattails as always. ;^)}
(Does that look like a goateed wink and a smile?)
Just don't start a joke "Ya know why Texas doedn't slide off into the Gulf of Mexico?" ...
Baja Oklahoma does rock. I love Tejas exactly as much as I love Oklahoma.
But as I have said before, the more zest you have to live on the train we are all inescapably on, the less you will find a need to elegize your origins and secure it in certain blanket.
On this train, it becomes remarkable how much my father, a black man growing up in north Philadelphia, and a black Panamanian woman have in common.
The myths (the Gods) are made less angry and more profound when they render their spirits to each other in the pot of the new. It is, as it were, a Homeric, a pre-codified religious experience, the kind that drlobojo celebrates.
That would be three people.
I thought the Colorado Rockies held us firm and that was why we bought them, too.
My first cell phone, it's ring played "Dixie." It was on the D.C. Metro, approaching Judiciary Square, I believe, where I like to shat my britches and caught it at "duuh, duuh, duh duh duh, da-duh--"
I'm on the train with ya, brother. Srsly. I just ride it home a lot.
Leftover Red Lobster shrimp-garlic-noodle stuff of some sort here, while Dr. ER boils a chicken plumb off its bones tonight for chicken-and-dumplings tomorrow!
F: "It is, as it were, a Homeric, a pre-codified religious experience, the kind that drlobojo celebrates."
The Iliad/Odyssey are codified religion. Homer wrote down the Greek "Bible" it is the source of all we know of Greek religion.
Texas has five (5) distinct cultural, geographic and lanuage sections. If it hadn't become a State it would have broken up in a decade or so. Indeed Texans fought their own internal Civil War at the beginning of the Civil War. Now there is a story for an Oklahoma Historian to write about.
Kind of like saying Moses wrote the first five books.
I promised you a story, but it is a disturbing story, not like your bumper sticker and ringtone.
When I was a tyke playing football in the front yard with the other boys of the neighborhood (my front yard was the only one for miles that did not have oak tress planted), we all usually took names of pro players.
For no reason other than poetry that I remember, I always chose Jethro Pugh. We were all, of course, Cowboys, and I think I knew at the time that Pugh was an imposing defenseman and so maybe part of the motivation was an sub-conscious wish to be masculine and intimidating. Clearly an altar ego from my own nature.
I knew at some level that he was a black man, altar ego again, and it was a kind of pre-verbal or rather pre-conscious acknowledgment.
In college, though, the pre-conscious was long over, innocence gone, and my upbringing was revealing itself in my character for both good and ill. Four of us lived in a house off campus and hosted a party for the Final Four championship basketball game between Georgetown and North Carolina.
This would be Patrick Ewing's freshman year. Thin as a stick but already 7 feet tall, he ran up and down with an elongated head on a very elongated body, and filling the television screen was a round and large mouth gaping wide open.
I found myself having viscerally ugly thoughts and judgments about him. He didn't seem related at all to my reality, to my vision of aesthetic normality, much less beauty. And of course, he wasn't related. He was from a more real world than I was.
At the time, I was enamored with North Carolina blue and their tradition and I thrilled to Worthy, Perkins, and Jordan. But in the heat of the game, a classic, my moral filter was dislodged by emotion, and I came to know myself a lot better.
I came to know myself as partly being a white man and having the same glory and grime as almost all white men... and women. I've told this story to my wife when talking about what exists, almost as deep as instinct, in the social construction of whiteness and white pride.
But I will never tell my father-in-law.
Having had some tragedies in my past, there was a time, a mystically true time, for months after one tragedy and after I had moved the first time to NYC, where every day when I rode the subway to work and back every single person, every one, seemed exquisitely beautiful to me and enormously precious. All hues took on their own meaning; coils of hair had caught fibers of red or blue and seemed like echoes of spiraling galaxies; burnished gold pinned or circling ebony skin or tawny yellow, silver bands on long, white fingers and earth-dipped rainbow colored eyes told me of the resurrection dispersed in a thousand thousand faces.
It nearly got me in trouble, this worshipping of fearfully and wonderfully made human bodies.
A second time was when my wife and I were dating. As happens when we fall in love, the world becomes glorious no matter what season it is, and, in more particular extension, I was romantically universalizing my attraction to and exploration of her. Every black woman I saw was sexy and beautiful to me.
Another very dangerous time.
My thinking on race was informed early, early on by my being in Head Start with little black, Cherokee and Choctaw kids, and "po' whites"; my understanding of Grace and the meaning of the Cross steered me away from confusing history and regionalism with racism, in the early '80s when the Klan was resurging and David Duke was making noise and swaying less-than-erudite rednecks.
But a gay guy, a friend of mine, came on to me with an inappropriate touch, and I threatened to kill him. Not that I would have -- but I surprised myself with such a deep reaction. That moment rode around in my head for 20 years, keeping me from seriously thinking about the issue, within the context of liberty or any other, until ... well, until it got too heavy and I cracked and, with the help of the UCC "Bouncer" ad, repented.
I ask because DrLoboJo thought I'd plumb quit bloggin' once for a few months because he didn't refresh.