Self Syllabus

Whenever I announce a new plan for improving some aspect of my life, my shrink smiles and points out my love of systems. I can’t just do a thing: I have to have a plan. Often my plans are so ambitious, I never get further than the planning stage. But here’s the thing: I suck at time, and without a plan, I just end up drinking coffee in my PJs and playing Facebook. So I need a plan.

I urgently need a plan because this is the first week of a semester in which I’ve been granted a course release. My chair was kind enough to schedule me for back-to-back Tuesday-Thursday classes in the afternoon so that all my mornings are free–free in as much as in addition to prepping and grading the classes I’m teaching, I have the ambitious goal of making serious progress toward a book manuscript–and I have no teaching on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays. Those are whole long stretches of opportunity I’m terrified of squandering.

Looking back at what’s worked for me in the past, I think the most success I ever had with making a plan and working on it independently was when I made reading schedules for myself as I studied for my PhD exams. As I recall, I ended up pushing my exams back by a couple of months, but it still got done, and I passed, hallelujah, amen. Even when I thought I didn’t always live up to the schedule 100%, I still did more in those months than I ever had before and possibly since. So having that schedule worked. The schedule was a table made up of three columns, one for each of my exam areas, and sections of rows marking off each week and my reading goals for each day. In other words, it looked an awful lot like a mashed up syllabus for three courses. A syllabus that had me aiming to read two books a day, but a syllabus nonetheless.

And that’s what I want for myself now: a syllabus working toward some kind of goal, counting down toward that goal over the next 16 weeks.

I think my instinct to document my planning process here is also a call back to using a private blog to take notes on my readings as I went. I was terrified a house fire would burn my books and notes, and computer, so above all, I wanted some way to safeguard my work outside of my house. This was before I knew about Dropbox. My system was simple. I’d read, noting important passages as I went, and then review my notes deciding which passages were particularly salient and quotable, and finally type up those passages with parenthetical citations–all ready to be used in my exams themselves.

So I’m going to make this block private again. Or something like it. Not searchable via Google. And I’m going be accountable to myself here on my activity.

Let’s begin again.

I have two main things I want to work on in the syllabus: reading poetry productively and writing. By “writing,” I mean writing new poems, revising old poems, and thinking about some kind of way to pull it all together in a manuscript, which is problematic because I’ve felt myself drawn in a few different directions in my writing, and I’m not sure if I can tie all these directions together. So before I can get too deep into my plan, I need to figure out where I am and what I’m heading towards. So for now my assignment is to review what I have–the poems from my diss that I want to carry on with and the poems I’ve written in the last five years.

So my next post will be an embarrassing inventory or reflection on what I have written and what ideas this review gives me for moving forward.

Until then.

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I wake up before I’m done sleeping and go back to sleep.

I wake up before I’m done sleeping and go back to sleep.

Somehow too late and too early to put into the Coosa and paddle.

So I do what I’ve been doing most summer mornings: read poetry.

And then the poems make my head spin, so I look up articles about the poems to ground me.

And then the articles make my head spin, and I go to Facebook, the comforting solidity of its ephemeral nonsense and muchsense.

And then I think I must document this process of waking and sleeping and reading and reading about reading and reading to not have to read.

And this is called writing. Somehow well into afternoon, the thunder of afternoon showers like a distant booming clock, and yet morning.

Because the brain is new from sleep.

As if each day were a life and each morning spent learning how to live again. Ah, yes. This is how I feed myself. 

Last night, full of wine tears, I wanted to write an essay about how there is no suitable prophylactic to avoid the memory of trauma.

Because I file that trauma under “rape” obviously, but also “lavender shower gel” and “aphasia” and snatches of dialogue like “I promise I’ll be a good boy” and how I learned the hard way that when someone feels the need to reassure you that he’s a good guy, he’s probably not.

What I mean is that an index of triggers would include every detail from every iteration of every possible trauma and that, my friends, is like writing a scene description for the whole earth’s autopsy, a list of contents of the whole earth’s pockets, like the wise comedian’s 1:1 scale map of the earth, impossible to fold.

This is the mind of morning, the amnesia of dream consolidation, the mind’s braiding of synaptic routes to last.

I think I am awake now. The dream of whatever I was writing, forgotten.

Hi, there!

The thing about adrenal fatigue is that it’s really fucking boring. You just feel tired, blah, and fuzzy. So that’s going to be my official excuse for not keeping up. Though, in reality, I’m back to where I was pre-adrenal fatigue, which is probably with cortisol function on the low side of normal. I don’t have hypoglycemic episodes if I go more than two hours without eating. I can get up and out and do stuff without caffeine (though I sure do miss it). I was able to finish my article, and I’m reviving my old manuscript of poems. All good.

Will I update more frequently? I’m making no promises since I’ve turned on the robots file to keep google from indexing this page. As I work in my library office (okay, officially “faculty research room”), I’ll try to post little notes about any neat historical finds I make (finds to me, history has been there for everyone all this time). And I might try to do that three positives things.

My positives for today:

+Reading all the poems in the latest issue of Poetry, and a few of the essays on the back deck with the dogs.
+Two days in a row (or is it three?) that I haven’t had mosquito bites. Nary a one. Lavender+Cedarwood+Peppermint is a winning combo.
+Making plans to visit a friend I’ve known for over half my life.
+Buying little gifts for my family in anticipation of a visit.

Ta. Da.

PennSound: Charles Reznikoff reads from Holocaust

PennSound: Charles Reznikoff reads from Holocaust.

I should be doing my taxes, but I keep coming back to recordings of Charles Reznikoff reading from Holocaust. I ran into Jennifer Glaser and Michael Hennessey at the AWP Bookfair where we caught up for a few minutes. Michael is the managing editor of the remarkable PennSound site, and he told me that these recordings of Reznikoff reading from Holocaust went up in December. Reznikoff’s voice is tender and fragile with age and terribly humble. His reading and the poems themselves are moving—“powerful stuff” for sure. Make a still space for yourself. Give a listen. Remember to breathe. These poems do tend to cause a tightness in the throat.

Alabama Department of Archives and History

Dear Blog,

I’m going to have to keep this short as I really want to get back to the Alabama Department of Archives and History, but I wanted to slip you a wee tiny little update.

Which reminds me, I’ve told you none of the things I’ve done in Montgomery thus far, so please forgive me a brief summary bullet list:

  • The Montgomery Visitor Center is in a lovely old train station that overlooks the Coosa.
  • Riverfront Park offers even better views of the river.
  • NewSouth Books has a neat little shop in addition to their publishing ventures. Amazing nice people! And a lot of offerings on Alabama, the South, and the civil rights movement.
  • The Rosa Parks Museum is fantastic. I think it’s designed to be particularly engaging to children (say middle and high school) with it’s holographic recreation of her arrest, but I was overwhelmed by the artifacts and documents included too. I took notes with my cell phone, including misspellings from the police reports hung on the wall.
  • Court Square is as best I can tell circular, but the fountain is magnificent, and it was from there that I saw te sign pointing me to NewSouth.
  • I spent one afternoon and evening reading books (Jake Adam York’s fine Murder Ballads and the 1938 edition of History of Alabama for Junior High Schools) on Huntington’s campus lovely and especially peaceful as it’s been abandoned for spring break. I got some snaps of the giant bullfrogs in a nearby frog pond, but how can I photograph first their low croaks, like old stairs creaking, then their birdlike chirps and almost human squeals as they jumped from the sides to the pond’s depths, leaving only tell-tale bubbles and circular wakes of their breath to brake the pond’s black glass surface? After the sun set and the mosquitoes came out, I retired to nearby Sinclair’s, at Andrew Hudgins’ kind suggestion, for a light supper and bourbon neat while I finished my reading.

I should say in one go how nice everyone has been here. From the hotel clerk checking me into my tiny budget studio to the gentleman who works the front desk at the archives yesterday (and really *everyone*–I could list them each individually, but that would quickly become its own project).

So, the archives! I’m excited. Yesterday in my usual bite-off-more-than-I-can-chew manner, I made a list of far too many things to consult. I need to winnow it down, surely, but I’m excited. And I feel a bit ashamed to say how excited I am, as some of what I’ll be looking at is terrifically gruesome and heartbreaking and shameful, even though some of it is also lovely and uplifting, like the archives building itself, which is far and away the most beautiful library I’ve ever been in: Alabama marble everywhere! The hall of blackened bronze busts that greeted me as I entered through the south side of the building! The murals along the domed foyer that leads to the reading room, which itself feels like some hallowed temple. The handsomely appointed break room, as if “break room” could describe the rich carpets, the sturdy but artful wood tables each with its own lovely lamp, the wall adornments (surely paintings and rich draperies, but perhaps tapestries too?). And I was told that if I liked I could just sit there and read, even bringing my own books from home! (I fear I overdo the exclamation points, but my exclamations are genuine.)

But ain’t that Alabama? Beautiful and hauntingly tragic all in one breath? The first thing I took a picture of in Montgomery was the soap dispenser in the Montgomery Visitor Center. It’s a common plastic dispenser, but it bears a decal of the city’s great seal that reads both “Cradle of the Confederacy” and “Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement.” That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?

Then yesterday, quickly browsing the archives’ exhibits before leaving for the afternoon, I noticed not only that I was staring at the left-hand glove and battle sword of Nathan Bedford Forrest (“that devil Forrest,” a placard read, reminding us of Grant’s epithet for N.B.F.) but that the display box was within thirty feet of a portrait of Rosa Parks (and if my later recollection is correct, it’s even closer to a whole exhibit of Spider Martin‘s photographs from the Selma to Montgomery march).

“Awful,” a friend I was texting last night remarked when I described the proximity of relics of the founder of the KKK to portraits and photographs of civil rights leaders. It is awful, in a sense, for sure. Ironic, too, perhaps. But also very true to Alabama’s history, even if the Forrest exhibit made no mention of his being the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

It would also be shameful to erase that past, to fail to acknowledge the connection between the Confederacy and the Civil Rights Movement (they are connected almost as kin by the Ku Klux Klan, though also much, much more), even though those connections are actually mostly left unstated. It’s only by their proximity in words on the great seal or in relics and photographs in exhibit halls that they’re suggested. But that suggestion, even by proximity and juxtaposition, is something.

It is fearful work to connect what now seems to be two veins of our past: the Confederate legacy and Alabama’s significant role in the civil rights movement. We are at a place where we are comfortable acknowledging and paying tribute to these two elements of our past separately, but we still struggle with what to do with them together, I think.

But who would have thought in 1965, after Bloody Sunday when police beat marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge or even the third march that made it to Montgomery but also included the murder of Viola Liuzzo by the KKK, that a stretch of I-85 leading into Montgomery would be called The Martin Luther King, Jr., Expressway? That the most first and prominent exhibit in the archives would be dedicated to the march?

I have more to say, but I should save some of it for the poems, right? I’ll be like Dr. Jesse J. Jackson, my history professor from Montevallo, not the more famous Dr. Jackson, and leave you with some keywords for next time (which might not surface here on the blog, alas): identity & pride & how to say “I love you” in Alabama and not break your own heart.

Southern Women and Lynching

Can’t sleep. Heady achey.

Found a brief history of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching by Jessie Daniel Ames called “Southern Women and Lynching.” In 1930, southern women met at a conference “to discuss what Southern women could do to stop lynching.” Ames suggests that some white women were inspired to take up the cause against lynching “by an increasing awareness . . . of the claim of lynchers and mobsters that their lawless acts were necessary to the protection of women.”

Here are some highlights:

Consideration of the crimes of which the victims had been charged brought further enlightenment. Less than 29% of these two hundred and eleven persons were charged with crimes against white women. Then, what, asked the women, had the 79% [should read 71%] done? Offenses of some kind against white men, they were told.

Furthermore in every lynching investigated, some attention had been paid to the mobs as well as to the victims and the crimes. Women were present in some numbers at every lynching and not infrequently they participated. Some of the women were mothers with young children. These children, members of a future generation of lynchers, were balanced precariously on parents’ shoulders in order to have a better view. Young boys and girls were contributing their numbers to the mobs both as spectators and as leaders.

. . .

After many questions and some debate the conference came to the unanimous decision that the first and most necessary move on the part of white women was to repudiate lynching in unmistakable language as a protection to Southern women. Unless this idea of chivalry could be destroyed, lynchers would continue to use the name of women as an excuse for their crimes and a protection for themselves.

. . .

First, all the resources of the Council of the Association were to be directed toward the development and promotion of educational programs against lynching, leaving the field of political action to other groups.Second, emphasis at all times was to be placed on the repudiation of the claim that lynching is necessary to the protection of white women.

According to Ames, after six years, membership in the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching had grown from twelve (12!) to over thirty-two thousand (32,000!). The group acted primarily through other groups they already belonged to–mostly churches. Local members were to keep the association informed of any lynchings that occurred and, “regardless of the nature of the crime allegedly committed by the victim of the mob, [to publicly condemn] the lynching, [and] request for a rigid investigation of the mob by state and county officials.” Furthermore, they urged local leaders, especially local sheriffs, to sign pledges against lynchings.

Ames closes by envisioning the end of lynchings:

The philosophy of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching is based on the belief that a continuous educational program, carried on day by day in the home, in the school, in the press, and in the church will end lynching by public demand.A year will come when Tuskegee Institute will report “NO LYNCHINGS DURING _____.” The actual year is the only thing about which Southern women are uncertain. But they believe that they will be able to name the year fairly accurately:

When a hundred thousand men and women pledge themselves in writing against lynching and agree to work against the crime publicly; When every sheriff in the South pledges to uphold his oath of office–to support the Constitution without fear of bodily harm–or When every sheriff of the South is pledged in writing to his constituents to prevent lynchings in his county; When every Grade A college in the South makes the discussion and study of lynchings a part of classroom assignments.

I think there’s work left to do. Having taught college English off and on for a decade, I think most folks in “Grade A colleges” feel too uncomfortable, too scared of the topic to approach it honestly and fully in a public discussion, and as long as we are unable to have a civil discussion, we guarantee for ourselves future problems. I think we fear that to talk about these things at all will bring about instantaneous racial conflict. Is civility between the races (how quaint and backwards that sounds), then, so superficial that it requires for its continuance a mutual pretense that history doesn’t exist? Well, some progress that is.

“We who?” I find myself asking myself. I know that discussions are happening publicly, but I’m not sure how willing undergraduate college students (and their instructors) are to have these conversations in the classroom, and I do think that’s problematic.

I’ll connect this to Harry Reid, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the ladies of the View another day. Man, somebody needs to write a paper about the ladies of the View. And maybe connect it to the Daily Show. I think the thesis would be something like pop culture holding official culture account, which, since it’s not a complete clause, is a pretty shitty thesis. Did I mention I’m head-achey and can’t sleep?

Yet Another Scary Alabama Document: Day 2 of the 1901 Alabama Constitutional Convention

I’m just gonna throw some quotations at you from the main dude presiding over the 1901 constitutional convention, the “honorable” John B. Knox. The 1901 constitution still in effect in Alabama. While certain unsavory bits are no longer enforced, Knox’s comments say a whole lot about the spirit of the document whose purpose was to formally institutionalize white supremacy. I am not kidding, that’s what Knox himself says in no uncertain terms. The proceedings are available at the website for the Alabama State Senate. All of the below comes from Knox’s introductory speech on Day 2 of the convention. Warning: the following is likely to be upsetting and offensive.

And what is it that we want to do? Why it is within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this State.

This is our problem, and we should be permitted to deal with it, unobstructed by outside influences, with a sense of our responsibilities as citizens and our duty to posterity.

. . . .

THE ATTITUDE OF THE SOUTHERN MAN TOWARDS
THE NEGRO

The Southern man knows the negro, and the negro knows him. The only conflict which has, or is ever likely to arise, springs from the effort of ill-advised friends in the North to confer upon him, without previous training or preparation, places of power and responsibility, for which he is wholly unfitted, either by capacity or experience.

When it comes, however, to dealing with the negro, in domestic service, or in a business way, the Southerner is infinitely more indulgent to him than his Northern compatriot.

There came to us a well authenticated story from Kentucky, of an old darkey, who, after the war, influenced by the delusion that the only friends the negro had were in the North, wandered up into Illinois, hoping to find an easy fortune. But here he soon found that while the people had much to say to him about the evils of slavery, and the destiny of his race, every one with whom he did business held him to a strict accountability. Trained, as he was, to the slow movement of the mule in the Southern cornfield and the cotton patch, he could not handle the complicated machinery, or keep pace with the quicker methods of farming in the West, and so he was soon cast adrift. When he asked for help he was told to go to work, and so he wandered, foot-sore and weary, back through Indiana and Ohio until he reached again the old Southern plantation in Kentucky. Finding the planter comfortably seated upon his veranda, the old darkey approached, hat in hand, and asked for something to eat.

“Why, you damned black rascal, what are you stopping here for? Go into the kitchen and tell the cook to give you something to eat.”

“Before God, Master,” the old darkey said, grinning from ear to ear, “them’s the sweetest wordy I’se heard since I left old Dixie.”

The old man was home at last. He was among people who understood him, and whom he understood.

WHITE SUPREMACY BY LAW

But if we would have white supremacy, we must establish it by law–not by force or fraud. If you teach your boy that it is right to buy a vote, it is an easy step for him to learn to use money to bribe or corrupt officials or trustees of any class. If you teach your boy that it is right to steal votes, it is an easy step for him to believe that it is right to steal whatever he may need or greatly desire. The results of such an influence will enter every branch of society, it will reach your bank cashiers, and affect positions of trust in every department; it will ultimately enter your courts, and affect the administrations of justice.

. . . .

The justification for whatever manipulation of the ballot that has occurred in this State has been the menace of negro domination. After the war, by force of Federal bayonets, the negro was placed in control of every branch of our Government. Inspired and aided by unscrupulous white men, he wasted money, created debts, increased taxes until it threatened to amount to confiscation of our property. While in power, and within a few years, he increased our State debt from a nominal figure to nearly thirty million dollars. The right of revolution is always left to every people. Being prostrated by the effects of war, and unable to take up arms in their own defense, in some portions of this State, white men, greatly in the minority, it is said, resorted to strategemused their greater intellect to overcome the greater number of their black opponents. If so such a course might be warranted when considered as the right of revolution, and as an act of necessity for self-preservation. But a people cannot always live in a state of revolution. The time comes, when, if they would be free, happy and contented people, they must return to a Constitutional form of government, where law and order prevail, and where every citizen stands ready to stake his life and his honor to maintain it.

. . . .

Mississippi is the pioneer State in this movement. In addition to the payment of a poll tax, there it is provided that only those can vote who have been duly registered, and only those can register who can read, or understand when read to them, any clause in the Constitution. The decision as to who are sufficiently intelligent to meet the requirements of the understanding clause is exclusively in the hands of the registrars.

. . . .

It is contended in defense of this provision, that while, in effect, it will exclude the great mass of ignorant negro voters it does not, in terms, exclude them, and applies generally to all classes of voters, without reference to their race, color or previous condition of servitude; that all negroes who were voters prior to January 1st, 1867, of whom, it is claimed, there were quite a number, could vote, and the descendants, whether slaves or not, of these free negroes were entitled to vote, and that these were quite numerous. And on the other hand, that white people born in other countries–emigrants, who cannot read and write, could not vote, nor could white people who were unable to vote in the State in which they lived prior to 1867, unless they were able to read and write. If it be said that this exception permits many more white people to vote than negroes, the answer was that this would be equally true of any proper qualifications which might be proposed. It would be true of an educational qualification, and it would be true of a property qualification, the validity of which has never been questioned.

These provisions are justified in law and in morals, because it is said that the negro is not discriminated against on account of his race, but on account of his intellectual and moral condition. There is a difference, it is claimed with great force, between the uneducated white man and the ignorant negro. There is in the white man an inherited capacity for government, which is wholly wanting in the negro. Before the art of reading and writing was known, the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxon had established an orderly system of government, the basis in fact of the one under which we now live. That the negro on the other hand, is descended from a race lowest in intelligence and moral preceptitions of all the races of men. As was remarked by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Williams vs. Mississippi (170 U.S. 213), quoting the Supreme Court of Mississippi: “Restrained by the Federal Constitution from discriminating against the negro race, the Convention discriminates against its characteristics and the offense to which its criminal members are prone.”

Is your blood boiling? Mine is.

I am glad that the website for the Alabama State Senate makes available to the public the 1901 constitution, Alabama’s sixth, as well the proceedings (though it would be helpful if amendments were dated). I do wish, however, that there were more momentum behind the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform. If you’re interested, you can find out more at the group’s Facebook group.