Accentless

It’s like the false posturing of the Chicken & Waffles shop downtown has seeped into my bones and built the goddamn hippest wall between me and my actual experience of anything. And as I take a bite of my gourmet food truck pimento cheese and fried green tomato biscuit, I am Eve biting into the apple: with this new self-awareness and over-analyzation of all things southern, there goes all the innocence I have left. There is no belongingness. It’s hard to say you are a thing and really believe it.

I am accentless.

My parents are both transplants to the area. All my friends and their parents are transplants to the area. I grew up in private schools full of doctor moms and dads from Massachusetts. The triangle itself is an island of education, wealth, and liberalism in an otherwise more traditional southern state. I had never been to a small town until I went away to the midwest for college. I didn’t grow up shooting guns, making fried chicken, wearing pearls, listening to country, being down-home, whatever, etc.

Even before hipsterism hoisted that sturdy and lovely and wild southern spirit up on the pedestal it now sits, I had already developed a sad striving to be some kind of picturesque little belle or farm girl or whatever real southern girls are. I’ve watched a lot of friends double down on their country-ness, digging pretty deep into their pockets for a history that isn’t really theirs. Our parents and grandparents didn’t give a fuck about obscure country music geniuses or pickling their own vegetables. They just did their thing.

Not to knock it. I get it.  I’m a living, breathing, contributing member of the millennial generation, too. We are all starved for something that is really private and personal, yet deep-rooted and historical, and it only gets worse as our self-awareness grows. We have the burden of contextualizing everything we see, do, and love into the vast web of cultural references we (or our friends ;)) are buzzfeeding and pinteresting every day.

We get so delighted by our regional differences because it reminds us that we are organic people, people of our environment, born and raised in a real world and not a confusing ethereal stew of ideas. We pray (with every single purchase and instagram pic) that we are not a transient, cultureless generation. And so, whenever I celebrate my grits or my ‘y’alls’ too much, reaching for some badge-of-honor real southerness, I know I’m really exposing my insecurities. What do I get to claim? What is real versus what is put upon? And when does my awareness start to erode what is real and make it a parody instead?

There are too many ideas.

When I think about what I am, I try to remember what is backed up by facts.

These things indisputable: every summer is unbearably hot and humid, the crickets outside sing you to sleep. People are kind (as they are in other places, too). I grew up with fruit trees and horses. It is of utmost importance to my mom that I am a good hostess. I ordered polynesian sauce at a McDonalds once (shout out Chik-fil-a!). We picked persimmons off the ground in kindergarten and ate them during recess. I spent high school playing six cup beer pong (not 10. Shit, those games are toooo long). We camped at bluegrass festivals in the woods.

I have a little collection of experiences. They can be pieces of data but they are not reference points for anything in particular. I remind myself that I can feel good or bad about it, but everything that has happened so far is real. I don’t want to have to hold on to things too tightly or enjoy them too much. The food parodies and the twine DIY projects from the internet are real. Line dancing to Copperhead Road with a drunk redneck is real. Going to bonfires and watching Honey Boo Boo is real. And so are the times where I’m just myself, uncaring about dichotomies and social context, immersed in what is in front of me, creating little happenings that are for me or for nothing.

 


 

This Other Southerner:

ka bio pic

Krista Anne Nordgren lives in Durham, NC and owns a little shop selling handmade goods in the heart of downtown. She also works for a startup. She loves making new things, whether they are businesses, blog posts, or silly dances.

It’s in the Porridge

“Then we would cook cornmeal porridge,
Of which I’ll share with you…”
-“No Woman No Cry” – Bob Marley


“Porridge is such a subjective thing.”

Subjective, certainly. This article, in “The Salt,” NPR’s Foodways blog suggests porridge is a traditional Scottish food eaten during cold winters. Multiple truths exist. For me, porridge is Jamaican breakfast. It has cousins as Brazilian São João street food (mingu,curau, canjica, and mungunzá) and Haitian late night snack (laboyi). I’m sure it is connected to Akamu, Ogi and Pap in Nigeria. It is grits in North Carolina. Perhaps it is polenta.

It has many names.

It is eaten in the constant year round heat that radiates from the equator.

But I don’t see these words in this article. So I will write them.

We must make the colonies visible.

Those far away islands that are at the heart of the identity, economy, and politics of those metropolitan British isles. Those places that seem to be easily ignored when talking about the roots of British and Scottishness. When talking about “changing the course of history.” When writing about how we came to be.

This article reminds me  that I have a lot to learn about my history, personal and collective. About my ancestors before they came to Jamaica, Cuba and the United States, by will and by force. About Jamaican colonial and plantation society. About my African ancestry. About my Scottish and British ancestry. About Vikings. About the knots, contradictions and tensions that are my family tree. How love and violence, evil and good, power and oppression, wealth-building and poverty-making bumped up against each other to make us.

There is so much I do not know.

Porridge is tied up in slavery, growth, expansion, and capitalism. The British Isles and the Caribbean Sea are intimately related, in economy, identity, and genetics. For those on and descended from the Jamaican side of the relationship, it is impossible to make invisible the Scottish-ness, the Britishness, the Irish-ness of what we are. It’s in the skin, the food, the talk, the names. Sometimes, we choose to celebrate it. To simplify it. We do not have the choice of forgetting.  We also don’t always have the choice of knowing.

When I think about Porridge I think about my Grandma, daughter of Lena Hall, from whom I get my middle name. I know that surnames in my Jamaican family – Hall, Robertson – have Scottish origins. I do not know how we got them, except for in vague terms that describe the violent and coercive ways that power, race, and gender collided in the colonies. I do not know the names that we lost, that we had before we were forced onto boats and crossed oceans.

I ask about my name. I learn that Hall is a name with origins to lands that border England and Scotland, and prior to that Norman Vikings. I ponder connections between my mother and my father’s family. My father’s family – Kibbe –  is also potentially descended from Vikings that landed in England.

It’s in the porridge. It’s hot, and mushy, and mixed up.

Porridge references the class and identity divides amongst those in in both the metropolitan isles and the colonial islands. The type, consistency, and level of sweetness is code for wealth, status, prosperity and struggle – past and present.

I learn about identity constructed in contrast. About blurred lines of slave, free, white, black, ownership and immigration.

I ask about whiteness in Jamaica. I learn about the trade of Irish people as slaves.

I learn that a large number of Scotsmen (literally, male bodied people) voluntarily went to Jamaica, many as a way to increase their lot in life, and via their lives in the colony shed their marginal “Scottish” identity, replacing it with the more powerful “British”. By going “away” and into the contact zone of the colony plantations they built wealth and a new identity. Once color was constructed as the ultimate differential, these ancestors national difference from the British became relatively less important compared to my ancestors who were forcibly brought to the Caribbean island from Africa. Scotsmen were then able to re-enter metropolitan society as “British.”

I learn about spiritual forces that support us. About Brigid, the triple deity of fire, poetry, and inspiration. About Yemanja, the goddess of and mother of the ocean. About the meaning of corn, celebration of harvest, and how to celebrate and honor the earth.

I learn I have a lot more to learn. I learn to have more questions.


Porridge


Porridge is sweet and creamy
So sweet and hot
It fills me up
I am overheating from the inside out
So hot
It is too much

 

I can’t finish it Grandma
I’m full

 

Porridge is cornmeal, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is oats, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is green bananas, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is wheatena, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is cream of wheat, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is green plantain, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is hominy, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is peanuts, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.

Each ingredients holds so much
Tells stories of trade of people, spices, sugar, rum
Lives and labor stolen, resources pillaged, people pushed to periphery
To create a metro center

Cream of wheat needs to have lumps
The strawberry jam was never in a spiral in my bowl, like in the commercial
My mother was not entertaining that kind of whimsy on weekday mornings

 

How do you eat porridge in the Caribbean?
It is so hot!
I’m overheating from the inside out

 

Sprinkle sugar on top
Stir in milk to cool it down
then
butter
It forms a glossy film on top.
I don’t stir it in
I like how it forms lakes and rivers

 

I can’t finish it,
Grandma
I just can’t

It is the only thing I can’t finish
I am a dumpling child
Round and soft
I love food
I even love porridge
But a whole bowl!?
I can’t take it all in

It’s too much

It contains the story of sugar
Of cheap grains to feed forced laborers
Of food stretched too far

Eat the outside edges first
It cools faster on the edges
You won’t get burned that way


The richness of my porridge – the fresh milk, the butter – is a privilege
My grandma cannot comprehend my inability to finish
Like she cannot understand my identity crisis and anxiety about my light-white skin and how I fit into the world I live in
The Triangle,
of North Carolina,
circa 2003

It is a privilege

“Eat your porridge”
“Enjoy your lightness”
“You are who you are,
why ask questions?”

The sugar is not a privilege
Quick calories
Paid for in blood and burns and bodies
Eat eat
Quick energy
Eat eat
Diabetes
Eat eat
To spend/to invest in expansion
Of capitalist economies
Built on colonial foreign lands and metropolitan factories
Small islands fueling those slightly larger ones across the Atlantic

I do have questions about my ancestors
About their names.
Who came from Africa? From where?
Who came from Scotland? Why?
How did we get our names?
What names did we lose?

Porridge is creole
Is transplant/immigrant/planter/owner/enslaved
porridge is that-thing-we-do-now-that-we-don’t-remember-when-we-didn’t-do-so-perhaps-we’ve-done-it-forever
porridge is pap
is sweetness is the face of bitter

Porridge is grandma visiting
I find her in the kitchen
Stirring a hot pot
for me
my cousins
my sister
my brother

– – –

Ways with Food is a place to stir up, marinate and serve up our questions, reflections  and stories about food.

Who’s Mapping Who: Civitas’s “Mapping the Left Project”

Switching it up with a Broadly Speaking weekend edition, y’all.  This time with a meditation on what it means to be extreme.

—————————–

Dots, blotchy and disease-like, covered the page. The “map” I was looking at more resembled a terribly complicated STI transmission web or a bad case of chiggers than anything else. As my biologist roommate passed by, she offered, “What is that? A shitty illustration of blood cells?” As I hovered my mouse over each red blemish, a person’s name appeared alongside the name of an organization.

Some examples:

Catherine Maxwell, NC Center for Voter Education

Mary Lee, NC Advocates for Justice Foundation

Greg Lytle, NC Conservation Network

Katherine Selvage, Appalachian Voices

Sketched out yet?

Mapping the Left” supposedly “combines data, research and news articles to show the magnitude of the radical Left’s infrastructure in North Carolina.”

                                       Data. Magnitude. Radical. Cooties.

I suppose you could expect something like this from Civitas, an organization whose slogan is “The Conservative Voice of North Carolina.”

I would say that the map was poorly designed and executed; it provides a very user un-friendly experience, but it seems like it’s not about being able to use at all. Why would anyone want to look at more than five or so dots? Unlike the Hate Map that the Southern Poverty Law Center puts out every year, something Civitas seems to be attempting to emulate here, the Mapping the Left Project is unsynthesized and largely uninformative.  Other than perpetuating the conflation of and confusion about the terms “radical” and “liberal,” what is this map intended to do?

It almost reads ironically. Despite the visually over stimulating and icky impression (especially for those of us who have trypophobia, ahem) the map gives off initially, I found my repugnance quickly replaced by the warm-and-fuzzies. “What a great resource!” I began to think. But, given how things are going in North Carolina right now, it seems this is a good example of a watered-down neo-conservative scare tactic. One that serves as a warning: you too can be “added to the list.”

One thing is for certain: this shit ain’t new.

“In North Carolina, left-wing nonprofit advocacy groups for decades have wielded an alarming amount of power in the media, state politics, and government. They work together, both in loose coalitions and organized networks, to influence and control public policy.

Only now, however, is there a user-friendly online database that sheds light on this vast, shadowy network”-excerpt from intro page.

Just ‘cause you wrap up old slop in an “online” package with rudimentary graphic design doesn’t make it new. Civitas claims that the map is their attempt to report on the “extreme, liberal/progressive agenda,” that the media has failed to address.

                                        Extreme. Agenda. Terrorist.

The rhetoric the website’s authors employed oddly reminded me of the beautiful and prescient “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. which I had the pleasure of recently rereading. After laying out a thorough response to a letter 8 white Christian leaders in Birmingham had written about MLK, civil rights activists and organizers during their effective Birmingham Campaign, Martin Luther King speaks to their use of the word “extremist.” I implore you to read the whole letter again, but here’s a piece:

“I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

Black Studies scholar, George Lipsitz, points out that neo-conservative media outlets seem unable to address context and power.* Here, Dr. King eloquently pulls the concept of extremism back into its proper context. In the spirit of his words, I ask: Who and what does this “map” actually map? Even if any of the organizations and people included on Civitas’s map were extreme, what kind of extreme are they? For hate or for love?

 

 

*”Precious and Communicable,” Chapter 2 from George Lipsitz’s book Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture

New Models: North Carolina Women in Food

In 2015, every 5th Wednesday of the month we’ll be serving up a “Ways with Food” piece. Today, it comes to us via the New York Times and Kim Severson’s article, “The North Carolina Way: A Food Sisterhood Flourishes in North Carolina.”

It seems that all eyes are on NC at the moment, for reasons of both celebration and struggle. As a North Carolina native, it is important to me that writing, images, and portraits that honor and reflect the complexity of the state I call home.

In this piece, Severson amplifies some amazing women voices and makes some interesting points on why this unique women-powered food scene has emerged in North Carolina, including:

  • NC’s food ecology and economy
  • the role of creativity and inventiveness
  • the reshaping the identity of “Southern” food
  • the gender dynamics of the food world, and
  • shifts from competition to models of collaboration, connection, and community.

I am ALL ABOUT celebrating these women powerhouses. YES! AND ALSO this article also leaves me hanging. Food is connected to everything, so even when we’re talking about a high-end niche market (as this article is), we cannot pretend it doesn’t impact every part of the network. How can there be no discussion about race and class when we are talking about shifts in power, particularly those related to agriculture, land, food justice, and cultural traditions? Also, where is the voice of Mama Dip a black woman who put NC on the food map almost 40 years ago? Women who are cooking in NC have not emerged out of an empty void, they are walking in the footsteps of women like Mildred “Mama Dip” Cotton Council and many others! And I just have to say it – the rich food tradition and scene in NC is not dependent on NYC transplants.

That said, this article has me mulling how we can take some of the lesson’s that have emerged from this sphere, into broader conversations on social justice, alternative models for leadership, and collaborative economies. My big question is:

How can we take advantage of gaps and opportunities to invent more just models for our businesses, our economies, our communities, and our livelihoods? And how can we ensure that as these new models grow, they don’t fall into the old power dynamics?

Rather than write and article about an article, below are a few highlights. What are your thoughts? Please share!

– – – –

“They are not beleaguered by how they will move up through
the system because they are the ones who are inventing it.”

– Marcie Cohen Ferris, professor of Southern and food studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and author of “The Edible South,” which chronicles in part the role of women and feminism in Southern food

“We definitely don’t adhere to any rules about what Southern food should look like,”

– Vivian Howard, chef and owner of the Chef and the Farmer – Kinston, NC

“There are more high-quality farmers per capita in these
50 square miles than maybe anywhere else but
Northern California. If you cook here,
you are automatically part of that network.”

Andrea Reusing, Lantern – Chapel Hill, NC

“As women have moved into positions of leadership and ownership, we began learning more about
community and how to take better care of
each other and our staff”

– Ashley Christensen, Poole’s Downtown Diner – Raleigh, NC

“This is an oddly progressive state that speaks of possibility.
We as women here embrace that naturally.”

– Eliza MacLean, Cane Creek Farm – Snow Camp, NC

“The women who cook there just own it, and they live so much better than us.”

– Alex Raij,  El Quinto Pino, Txikito & La Vara – New York, NY

– – –

Ways with Food is a place to stir up, marinate and serve up our questions, reflections  and stories about food.

Jane Crow

Prologue

The more I think about my Southern identity, the more I realize how invisible it is. I think of all the things I claim:Black, queer, woman—and then there’s Southern, always at the bottom of the list, always the smallest, the quietest; tugging, like a child, at my leg so I don’t forget it is there. In thinking about my Southerness, I can’t help but reflect on what it must mean to be white, or male, or both —to occupy a body whose story is so loud that it’s silent. In thinking about occupying a body, I am aware that my Southern identity is the quietest because it is the only one humble enough not to destroy me if I make it quiet. And that’s what it’s all about these days, isn’t it? Trying not to let things destroy you.

“Jane is woman who survives.”

And so here comes Jane Crow—Black as the night sky, and just as full of stars. Jane is woman who survives. When I say survives, I mean: persists in the face of everything that tries to kill her and fails, but also: continues to live without end, lives beyond this moment—outside, within, and beyond it.

“The South is full of stories.
The South is a story itself…”

Jane is one of them, so she knows: The South is full of stories. The South is a story itself, but it will try not to tell you that one. As Jane remembers, so do I: you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. So Jane looks back, and back and back and back until the way back is so black she sees herself everywhere. And that’s how she likes it.

So that’s where she starts.


One.

Black. The word rolled across her tongue like a marble. The sky was so black it seemed endless. She wanted to be that way—endless—wanted the sky in the hopeless way you want impossible things, imagined herself pinned up against it, her arms and legs spread wide like a wheel. She let her mouth drop open at the thought of those stars, hoped that some might float down to where she stood and choose her to be among them.

Jane was wild and looked it. A mess of hair stood on top of her head, each strand erect like a monument. Her mouth reminded you of the sky before a storm: poised, heavy, waiting to be cracked open. The whites of her eyes were freckled with spots; sleepy islands that floated around an iris so dark you would it think it were black if you weren’t close enough to kiss her.

People were always studying her in the way you study what you think you know but cannot name—always asking where she was from, wanting to know, really, what she was. She would answer, here, but she wanted to tell them the truth: she was from everywhere and nowhere all at once.

“…she wanted to tell them the truth:
she was from everywhere
and nowhere all at once
.”

Leaving the South had felt less like a decision than a natural progression of events. It is the only place in the world that you can be ashamed of and proud of in the same breath. Jane was ashamed of its legacy—every inch of soil was ripe for strange fruit—but she was proud for having gotten out, for having survived it. Yes, it was home, but only in the sense of it being a place to which she wanted to be able to return, not a place she wanted to stay.

“It is the only place in the world
that you can be 
ashamed of
and proud of in the same breath.”

She had never met a city girl, but had heard about them, and knew she wanted to be one. She pictured this woman: sitting in front of a vanity with her legs spread, pausing the application of make-up only to slap her thigh to the rhythm of whatever sound was dancing from the record player. A city girl, of course, had a record player. She drank clear liquor—chilled—and coffee, sweetened with white sugar and stirred with cream. She slept in her stockings, sometimes, after staying up late, exhausted by hours of moving her body at the same time as another body.

To be a city girl meant to be able to move with freedom. A city girl did not have to ask permission to come or go—she could get on a train and ride anywhere. Jane did not know that to be a city girl meant, also, that no one asked your permission—that you belonged to yourself and the city and everyone in it.

__

Home was a moving blur on the way out. Everything appeared in colors, or feelings, like being on a train and seeing another passing in the opposite direction. Jane felt, as she left, the same way she might have on a train like that—full of a dizzy, almost sleepy, exhilaration. She wondered if this was passed on to her from body to body of travelers—if one always chooses the window seat for this very feeling: to watch the transition unfold like one season unto the next.   It would explain why she sometimes cried on planes—why the jolt of the wheels lifting from the ground made her heart pulse like an engine.

Staring out the window of this bus, as the city shifted from a tangle of green to grey, she considered Western soil, overpopulated with bones. She imagined the scene of a rain so thick it flooded these homes in the dirt, and off they went, like an almost-dance, floating through the streets. She’d like to witness this parade from this very seat on the bus, she thought, so she could cheer them on and bang her fists against the window without fear that one of them might latch on to her leg as she stood, waist deep in the water, and take her along with them.

She contemplated decay—the sleepy science of it—how it devours its meal a breath or savors every bit in its mouth like some kind of connoisseur.


 Jane Crow is an in-progress multi-disciplinary project that explores Black womanhood, migration, and the intersections of myth and memory. 

This Other Southerner:

Jamila Reddy

Jamila Reddy is a writer, director, and facilitator of dreams based currently in Brooklyn (but always in pursuit of magic wherever it may be). She spends her days exploring, reflecting, and trying to get free.  As a queer/Black/Southern woman, Jamila is thankful for language and the light it shines on the dark corners of transformation. She received BAs in Sociology and Dramatic Arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She recently completed and self-published her collection of poems, the consequence of silence. 

http://jamilareddy.com/

 

© Copyright Jamila Reddy 2015

2015 New Years Resolution: Be Myself at 5

Happy New Year!

This post came out of me a bit unexpectedly. It is an invitation.  I offer it to you to hold myself accountable to our vision of Broadly Speaking as space for authentic story telling, which requires that I regularly make myself vulnerable. And I offer it so that maybe you will also offer your story. Let’s show-and-tell a bit.

First a question,

How is person you want to be the child you have already been?

Like many, during the holiday season and New Year I reflect and look forward. My birthday is at the end of December, so around this time I have a very strong sense of the completion of a cycle and the beginning of the next one.

I have a number of rituals and methods to guide this season of reflecting and visioning. They happen in varied and haphazard ways, and sometimes include:

  • Naming my year – A few years ago my friends and I started naming our years, choosing themes we want to embody and live out over specific resolutions. We gather in person or virtually to share and help each other name our years.
  • Reading my horoscope. Multiple times. From multiple different sites. (Chani Nicholas is my favorite!)
  • Sometimes a beautiful friend holds space for a ceremony of release and embrace. (Thanks Laurel!)
  • Journaling and putting my visions into writing, naming what I want to see manifested.
  • Making a wish and blowing out my birthday candles

Ultimately, through all of these practices, I ask myself the question, “Who do I want to be?” I think about the ways I am being that person and the ways I want to get closer to it.

Usually, the focus is on being more than what I am – braver, bolder, more creative, more compassionate, etc.

This year, I unintentionally added a new element to my New Year ritual. While I was home in North Carolina I decided it was time to really deal with the massive amount of papers and stuff I have collected over my 25 years. I carry my family’s hoarding gene, so I have a hard time getting rid of things. And then suddenly I’ll decide I want to purge EVERYTHING in a fit of anxiety about my future life trapped beneath piles of papers and clothing that I don’t like/doesn’t fit but that might come back in style/has a lot of sentimental value/reminds me of that one time we were all together in that place/etc….

A mixture of that panic and a desire to dig into my personal archive propelled me to get organized. I let go of unnecessary papers and notes and carefully filed and organized the ones I want to keep. This meant I got to spend a good amount of time reviewing reports, notes, school projects, etc. from kindergarten through college and the present.

I want to offer this practice of digging into our childhood archive during times of visioning and intention setting because I found it incredibly helpful.

These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about where I come from (as this blog is evidence), and often I think of the forces that shape and make me as being external factors that such as my ancestors, my home town, my culture, my family. I also spend a good deal of timing thinking about who and how I want to be in the world. This can also manifest in a sense of what-I-am-not-yet.

During the past few years I have begun to think about “asset mapping” in relation to personal development and awareness. The term is a principle of community development and organizing. It means that all work in a community begins by naming and celebrating the resources – historical, spiritual, social, people, natural, economic, etc – that a community already has. I think it’s important, especially for those of us invested in community work, to remember to apply this tool in our personal lives.

My autobiographical archive dive helped me realize that the person I want to be in 2015, is really the person I was at 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 ….. (also probably 1, 2, and 3 but I honestly don’t remember her so I can’t say I know her – a concept I am very interesting in exploring more in another post…)

Around 13 was when things got a bit sticky. I started hearing a voice inside my head that told me I wasn’t good enough. And I listened to it.

Before that, I was AWESOME!

I created and made. In my end of year report, my 3rd grade teacher wrote, “Alison has amassed a substantial body of written work, one characterized by imagination and flights of fancy, but also a firm grasp on reality.” I want to hang out with that author! (And find that “body of work”….. do we think I could use it now as part of my artistic portfolio?)

I danced on the regular. I disappeared into the woods.  I listened because I knew I had so much to learn. I trusted what I knew “for sure.”I didn’t hide from pain or hurt. I felt a LOT. Feelings were serious business. I understood their power and the need to *pause* and feel them fully. .

This year, I want to continue to remember that part of where I come from is the previous versions of myself who still live in me. Now, at 25, there are extra layers of baggage and blockage as well as wisdom, lessons and maturity gained. I don’t want to “revert” back nor offer an uncritical romanticization of my personal or our collective past (unfortunately, the South offers many examples of the dangers of doing that).

Part of collective and personal healing means acknowledging our demons and difficult histories. The past is not all butterflies, fairy homes, and sweet tea.  But I also want to critique the idea of progress as always being forward motion and improvement always coming from the outside.

Simply, I want to remember that being my best me does always not require striving to be someone new. A big part of it means giving the child who I have already been the chance to come into the present with me. The child who’s waiting to come out and play.

As a practice of inviting this child into today, I will be a bit more like the younger Alison who would proudly say,

Here is a poem I wrote and I want to share it with you. And I would love if you shared with me. How could you as a child be a part of your life today?

5 and three quarters

I can do anything

I am a poet, a dancer, an author
I start writing novels
I create everyday
I write without fear
(or cares about spelling)

Moss is fascinating
Creeks are worlds to explore

I listen to folktales
I know they are important

I live in possibility
In power
In the constant unfolding of the world
And me unfolding and stretching with it

I say “Yes!” more than “No.”
I live in questions
I love the search for answers

I revel in attention from others – in conversation and performance
I feel it is deserved, because I am in fact, the most interesting thing I have ever encountered
I give my attention to ants and dogs and horses – real and imaginary

I put my foot down when I want to
And ask to be carried when I need to

I read and read and read and read
I get lost in books
I have no to do list
I read and read and read and read. And I love it. And I am praised for it.
I do it more

I sing.
In the shower, alone, with others
I imitate songs I know.
I make up my own
I sing even when it might bother others

I know I am good

Sometimes, I want to be a boy, and that is ok
I wear no shirts and have my hair cut short
The hairdresser sometimes buzzes the hair on my neck, the finishing touch to my bowl cut, and I feel so cool
Others confuse me for a boy
Some people are worried
I am not

I run and sweat and get dirty

I start to realize pain happens and I want to hold it for everyone
And I want someone to hold mine
I cry when I am sad
I cuddle with my parents
I trust they will protect me

They talk to me like I have something important to say

I imagine.


* Giving credit where credit is due, I want to shine some light on an awesome woman who helped me through this process.  Through my work with Elizabeth Traina as a coach and at meditation I was able to access and process this inner child experience. Check her out!
Elizabeth Traina is a working artist, award winning muralist, life-coach and energy healer. She has lived and contributed to programs in the San Francisco Bay Area, New Orleans and Brooklyn. Early in Elizabeth’s career she rooted in a civic-engaged public practice, utilizing art as a vehicle to support movements for social change. As an art-educator and community leader, Elizabeth’s curriculum and facilitation is grounded in the belief that all people are inherently creative – to be an artist is to discover, cultivate and share your unique gifts with yourself and others. This core-value is a cornerstone of her work; communicated throughout her community oriented public art projects, art workshops and trainings to hundreds of participants nation wide. In addition to her formal art training in New York, Vermont and Italy, over the past fifteen years, Elizabeth has worked closely with master healers, attended various workshop and trainings in the healing arts. This commitment to education and self-betterment has informed and seasoned her natural talents and integrated into her community based endeavors, current private healing practice and personal art making. In 2011 Elizabeth returned home to NYC and currently resides in Brooklyn, NY where she maintains an active studio practice, works as a consultant for Education community-based programs.  In addition, Elizabeth engages private clients and groups an integrated life-coach and energy healer. www.elizabethtraina.com and www.elizabethtrainacoach.com

Sourcing Things Southern

CALLFORTOPICS: Anything on your mind about the South, southern identity, or the fuzzy lines around southerness that you want us to write/know about? Seen, read or experienced anything lately that you thought we might want to think about?  We’d love to hear about it!
We created Broadly Speaking as as a way to challenge us all to think more about what the South means and to spark conversation and community for our readers. In that spirit, please shoot us an email at broadlyspeakingthesouth@gmail.com with what southern things are on your mind!

The Doors I Carry With Me: Part II

What I’m trying to say is, it was just interesting for me to look back and realize how typical my upbringing was in some ways as a white womyn from the South… In some ways it seems unusual, and in some ways it is so typical.”

-Virginia, August 2014


 

Looking at this quote from my oral history again, it reminds me of parallel conversations I have had about being from the South. These conversations seem to take one of two routes. 1) Why do I care that I’m southern? Isn’t it like being from anywhere else? As a matter of fact, isn’t the South just a backwards version of other places in the United States? I’d play that down if I were you… Or, 2) You’re right, it is the most unique, mysterious, fun, quirky place on earth!  Ahhh, the people, the food, the PRICES.  Oh, you’re from Connecticut? Sucks for you! Well, you can come and visit any time and come back after that, ya hear?!

I am not going to lie, like any good southerner, I’ve fed into either of these stereotypes depending on the circumstances.  As comfortable as it is for me to operate between these extremes, there are tangible realities in the grey area that this quote hints at. This quote also speaks to the doors that live inside me.

Doors. Doors open and close.  They are a passageway and a divider.  You must go through a doorway to get to what’s on the other side.  Doors are easy to hide behind.  They are what you invite others through.  They are a space of negotiating identities.  They are built to mark gender, class, race, and physical ability.  They are held open for some and left closing for others. Doors are connected to walls. They are designed to permit entry or say “Keep Out!”  I have many doors inside me.  My doors come in many shapes and sizes; some are hand-made by yours truly, others were made for me, and others are the cookie-cutter, home-depot variety I picked up somewhere along the way that match the neighbor’s.   Some swing open, leading me into knowing myself better, others are heavy and remain closed until I push them.

My identity shifts with the flow of time; I constantly take on various aspects of new and old experiences.  I am not always one type of southerner, one type of white person, one type of womyn. These doors inside me, however, make me who I am now and connect me to the many “whos” I will be.  They move, but are always there.  I am and can be many things according to how I work my doors, but that fluidity does not absolve me of responsibility or mean that my way of being is inconsequential. The doors I choose to open and shut inside me have consequences.  For a long time, I wanted to keep many of my doors closed; fearing what would happen should I reveal them to others. I clung to them as my secret friends.  Instead, I am choosing now to see them as resources.  I am responsible for knowing those doors–using them intentionally and with care–and in order to do that, I must dig into their meaning.

In the selection of doors I have included below, I reflect on specific moments in my oral history. They are a collage of three pieces that resonate with a feeling of coming home within myself.  In sharing this collection of vignettes, I am trying to open doors of communication about what it means to be from the South.

Whispering Behind Closed Doors.

Listening to my oral history, I realized that much of my experience talking and hearing about race as a young person occurred behind closed doors, in hushed tones, and with other white people.  As I had to strain in order to hear, these memories are seared into my mind.  After getting back in the car and rolling the door shut, a family friend I spent nearly every day between ages 1-9 with would tell us “the truth” about people we had just seen in the Walmart based on their race, and reminded us to marry white boys.  I heard hushed stories about my great uncle, a man with dwarfism who endured being a guinea pig for “stretching” experiments, performing in blackface as a form of income.  Hearing my grandmother talk about race, she whispered.  I picked up on this behavior and whispered questions about what it meant to be a white family with roots in the South.  I both wanted to open that door and was terrified to hear the answers that might come walking through it.  The muffled reply was usually, “I don’t know much about that.”

The register of these conversations reached an audible level at school.  There, it seemed perfectly normal to talk about race and gender.  The first time I remember recognizing my whiteness as part of my identity was at the lunch table in middle school. My friends often discussed who was an “oreo” which meant being “black on the outside, white on the inside.” In my case, the “uh-oh oreo” phenomenon was the question. Was I white on the outside and black on the inside?  I wanted to be an uh-oreo, but no one could be sure because so many of the things I said or did were “white things.”  What did it meant to do a white thing, I wondered. Sure that my parents would be confused if I asked them and trusting my friends who seemed to be assured of their statements, I decided to go with their explanations. I was pretty much white.

Opening Doors

In my oral history, I talked about how my dad “really opens doors for me”.  That’s another way of saying, “I have a really great dad who cares a lot about me.”  It’s also code for the ways in which I receive class privilege from him and the white and class networks in which I participate. It signals to the privileges I have from growing up in a classically nuclear white family and alludes to what opportunities are open to me as a white, upper-middle class person. For example, two weeks after I graduated from college, I began working for a consulting firm.  I first learned about the job three years prior after my dad met the head of the firm on a plane flying from Florida to North Carolina and they exchanged information.  Over the course of two years I formed a professional relationship with the (white) woman my dad had met on a plane.  Upon graduating from college, I had a job offer.  There was no formal application process. There are a lot of reasons why this all worked out the way it did, but one of those is the undeniable fact that my dad was on a plane, was bumped up to first class, and had a business card at the ready (as he always does).

Don’t stand in the doorway

The mobility this job afforded me made it possible for me to move to Providence, Rhode Island. Yes, you may be wondering, out of all options, why did I choose to move to Providence, Rhode Island?  Well, after a few beers with a dear friend, I just up and agreed to move with her. That’s how it went down.  The fact that I, without much thought at all really, decided to move 681 miles is in part due to what supportive friends might euphemistically call spontaneity, but is really my enduring impulsivity.  It is also a manifestation of ability to think in those terms.  The historical and literary narratives of escape from the South to the North have taken on new and weighty iterations today.  My story is far from most of the political facts and motives that lead people to move out of the South.  Making that decision over a few beers had little to do with getting “the hell out of the South.” Behind the hastiness of my decision, however, was a longstanding curiosity about how I had been shaped as a white womyn who grew up in the South.  Clearly, I’m still figuring that one out.  And I always will be.

Throughout my oral history, I struggled with wondering: Is my southernness a door? What do I do with that door?  Class, race, gender, sexuality, and other structures of privilege and oppression that make up ourselves and society are as central in the South as they are in any other place in the U.S.  Yet, my story is based on a specific history of a specific region.  Michel Rolph-Trouillot, a complete badass, once wrote, “We are never as steeped in history as when we pretend not to be, but if we stop pretending we may gain in understanding what we lose in false innocence.” These vignettes don’t tell my whole story, but they tell some of it.  While this is but one outlet for me to explore the doors that live inside me and why they are important for me to know, move, and swing, I hope they offer at least some insight into the important questions that arise out of confronting the lands that produce us.
*google maps

This part 2 of the “Remembering Together” oral history series. Read Part 1: On Being Interviewed here

Ways with Food

We are what we eat.
What we eat makes us who we are.
We make ourselves through what we eat.
The food we make, makes us.

Food is central to identity, both individual and collective. Psychic and political. Emotional and economic. That is why there is a field of inquiry dedicated to food, Foodways. It refers to the the cultural, social and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food. The field of intersections that spiral out from food.

Often we encounter the South through food (like this chef in the Bronx ). Southern food travels throughout the world as southerners migrate, and similarly Southern cuisine is born out of a contact zone of culinary heritages which has continued to transform with the influx of travelers and migrants who now call the South home.

Southern food carves out spaces in new geographies and new cuisines carve out space within Southern foodways.

The links between land, food, race, economics, politics, culture and identity are tightly woven in the South. We can’t talk about food in the south without talking about the political and economic implications of food and agriculture – the plantation and the slave trade, migrant labor and immigration policies – intimately linking the South to the Caribbean, West Africa, Europe and Latin America.

This is why I’m excited to build out a series dedicated to food. Ways with Food is a place to stir up, marinate and serve up our questions, reflections and stories about food.

to cook.conjure.create

When we cook, we nurture. We feed ourselves, our souls, our families, our communities, our histories. We re-member our ancestors. They come to us scents and tastes. Guide our hands as we stir. We travel to new places. We make ourselves full. We make ourselves whole.

Cooking is conjuring. It is transforming. Making something from nothing. It is alchemy. The transmutation of properties in complex spiritual and chemical reactions that serve to sustain life.

Cooking is time travel. It takes me back to the kitchen of my childhood. To the roots of where I come from. To places that bring me comfort and joy. To places I might never physically go.

Cooking is community. As I chop, my mother and grandmother’s hands guide me (as well as the various cooking show hosts I learned from on the Food Network during ages 8-16 years old). They join me in my New York apartment thousands of miles away from where they are. Their warmth fills the kitchen as the oven heats up.

Cooking is soothingly satisfying. It is tangible. Tasks are completed, ingredients combined, and something is made. We live in a time where I can work a full day without producing one physical thing. I need to get my hands into the elements. In water and fire. Feel heat and wet. Hot cold gooey sticky sharp rough. The motions put me at ease and always result in a tangible thing that I can touch, look at, share, and consume.

I’ve recently had a very strong desire to cook. An urge to get in the kitchen. I couldn’t really put a finger on what exactly I had such a strong desire to bake an apple pie. To make pumpkin bread from scratch. This was particularly curious because I was in the midst of a period of general lethargy and lack of motivation about everything else in my life. And then I of course decided that I “wasn’t allowed” to make an apple pie, because I “should” be doing all of these other “productive” – professional, artistic, etc – things.

It took me a while to recognize that I was craving healing. Healing through my own hands.


Ways with Food is a place to stir up, marinate and serve up our questions, reflections and stories about food.