Saturday, October 21, 2006

A New Moon, An Old Tune—Making Tracks with Jack

Low Tide at Stonesteps
Aaah, the cosmic alignment of moon, tides, weather, and day of the week has brought me a Saturday afternoon low tide, new moon (meaning low, low tides), and a mild Santana condition (meaning sparkling sun, low humidity, and summer-like temperatures). The confluence of these conditions means I cannot resist a run on “my” beach. Although the weather says summer, I know that it’s really fall because the life guard tower, present all summer long, is now gone. And, I can easily park near the beach even though it’s Saturday afternoon. The warm weather has brought out more than the normal beach lovers, but nowhere near the numbers that summer Saturdays produce. The wide beach means more sand for all of us: frisbee players, sunbathers, walkers, and runners.
Beach Games
I’ve started taking my Nano along and today it’s In Between Dreams (Jack Johnson). Jack’s good to run to. His percussion is prominent but not overpowering. It gives you your own metronome and lets you ease into your pace with the rhythm feeding your head. Plus, Jack’s music is just damn happy. Even when he’s singing about death (If I Could) “They say that new life makes losing life easier to understand” and being burned out (Breakdown) “I hope this old train breaks down then I could take a walk around,” his guitar and his voice are hopeful and up.

Hey, how do you spot the tourists on the beach? (This is a summer question, no doubt, but it feels like summer today.) My favorite summertime beach game is “Watch the Clueless Beach Loungers Get Inundated by the Incoming Tide.” I know this sounds rather elitist, but hey, it’s not elitist, it’s just local knowledge taking advantage of, well, non-local knowledge. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched groups laying on their towels or sitting in their beach chairs totally unaware that, yes, Martha, the waves do seem to becoming closer as time goes by. Oh, but the sand here is dry, and, well, it was dry when we got here, and wha? Martha! My towel! It’s wet! Did you see that wave? It came up to my towel? Quick, Johnny, grab the towel and the camera and the food and the chair, let’s move everything back one whole foot!

Oh, I am bad, so bad. Happy Trails to You.
Next Entry: A Funny Thing Happened on Bill Maher . . .

Friday, October 20, 2006

Load Up Yer Plates: Update on the China Study

It’s been since September 6th since I embraced a plant-based diet, avoiding meat, dairy, eggs, and cheese. In general, I love it. I feel great. Eating vegan definitely gives you more energy. (This isn’t strictly a vegan diet, but it’s close. Vegan allows sugar and flour, whereas The China Study diet restricts grains and flour to whole grains and says to minimize sugar.) I like eating all that fruit and vegetables. I’ve discovered some great new recipes (here’s one for Mexican Squash Stew that’s wonderful) and I’m more apt to buy vegetables that I don’t typically eat (Swiss chard, different kinds of squash—including butternut squash).

Breakfast had the most changes for me, since my usual meal included cereal and milk and coffee with cream. I fix myself oatmeal most mornings. (I still drink coffee, but now I drink it black and only drink one cup, since I don’t like the taste as much as coffee with half and half.)

What do I miss? I don’t miss any one thing terribly. But I love to cook and some of my most favorite dishes are on the avoid list: lasagna, mashed potatoes, oven roasted whole chicken, a dessert or two (homemade pies, breads).

So, I think I’ll still fix these wonderful dishes every once in a while. I figure if I eat vegan most of the time, that a slip into the world of the forbidden is still a significant improvement over how I was eating before.

I’ve been spreading this resource—The China Study—and am getting feedback from friends of friends and relatives of relatives (and friends of relatives and relatives of friends) that this is definitely an embraceable life style. People feel empowered when they can ignore TV ads that make up diseases and symptoms just to sell you a drug that will make you take yet another drug to counteract side effects.

Thanksgiving is coming up and I plan on serving turkey. But hey, cranberries, squash, fresh green beans are all doable within the framework of the China Study guidelines.
Recipe: Mexican Squash Stew

Friday, October 13, 2006

And You Look Back At Me

Dave Mason Cover ShotAlone Together Cover ShotDave Mason doesn’t hold his guitar, he wears it like a comfortable flannel shirt; he controls his guitar like a master controls his servant; he hypnotizes it, like the snake charmer hypnotizing the snake. The notes are round and fluid, there are no sharp edges; they’re huge droplets of water falling into a still pond, their effect radiates to the far reaches of the shores and the audience’s collective ears. Dave’s voice is a bit raspy and distinct, like a familiar friend.

Dave’s guitar playing last night at Humphrey’s was memorable. Here’s Paul’s comments.

Well, there's not much more to say about how great Dave Mason's guitar playing was last night. But he is often overlooked for his lyrics. This morning I remembered a story from long ago.

When my daughter Sara was about twelve, she had a creative writing project to do at school. She could write about anything she wanted. It was the teacher's attempt for them to write poetry or lyrics. Sara didn't know where to start, so she asked me for advice.

Here's what I said.

Lookin all around me,
What do I see
Lots of changing faces
Lots of things to be
Lord I'm happy just to be
A part of all I see
As I turn around to look at you
And you look back at me

Sara said "Dad, that was incredible, did you write that? That was just the best group of words."

Don't worry, I didn't take the credit.

Next Entry: Load Up Yer Plates: Update on the China Study

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Black Hole That Isn't Quite

I’m sure I’m not the only blogger that sees her work as pushing bits into an amorphous black hole. So I was pleasantly surprised to have a phone message waiting for me last Tuesday morning from Ronnie Wise, “the main character” featured in my recent Librarian and Liberator post. His message said:
“Gail, this is Ronnie Wise. I just got through reading your blog on the internet and I wanted to call and thank you for your kind thoughts and I’d like to talk to you for a couple of minutes. My cell phone is [. . . ]. Look forward to talking to you.”
And so I returned his call. He told me a bit more about the article; said that J.R. (Moehringer, the author) had been working on it for five years and had made numerous trips to Cleveland, Mississippi. The original article was 15,000 words, but Moehringer was forced to pare it down to the 5,000 words as published (the organizational changes at the LA Times affected page space allotted to this project).

We spoke about J.R.’s accomplishments as a writer (2000 Pulitzer Prize recipient in feature writing for his multi-part work about Gee’s Bend, Alabama, published in 1999 in the LA Times). Moehringer has also written a well-received memoir (Tender Bar), which I am currently reading. J.R.’s article on Ronnie Wise’s literacy campaign is a current movie project (so I am not the only one that sees the big screen possibilities in this story).

Ronnie also said that, although the article was generally well-received, a few people in the Cleveland area did not take too kindly to Moehringer’s portrayal of their community. Wise is therefore somewhat of a target instead of a hero in these misguided people’s eyes. They’re only a small percentage, he says, but they tend to have the power, the money, and the land.

Thanks, Ronnie, for the phone call. Good luck to you. And I look forward to the movie.
Next Entry: And You Look Back At Me

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Librarian and the Liberator

Still Life with Books, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
What do Simon Bolívar, Cleveland, Mississippi, and Fredericksburg, Virginia have in common? For those of you who are familiar with Fredericksburg, you might offer that Bolívar is known as the George Washington of South America and Fredericksburg was the home of George Washington. In fact, popular tourist attractions in Fredericksburg include Kenmore, the home of Colonel Fielding Lewis and George Washington’s sister, the Mary Washington House (George’s mother), and a George Washington boyhood home close by. That’s the obvious connection, but it leaves out Cleveland, Mississippi. The connection I see has a bit more of a story to it, a story that caught my attention, and subsequent connections that are gratifying to follow.

The story starts with a Column One article in the Los Angeles Times that colorfully chronicles the life of Ronnie Wise, a librarian in the Delta region of Mississippi (For Delta Librarian, The End, Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2006 by J.R. Moehringer, Times Staff Writer). The article caught my eye because my father grew up in rural Mississippi and stories about Mississippi are usually interesting to me. The article reads like a movie plot and here’s the pitch (let’s call the movie The Depot):

The train depot is a metaphor for escaping a life filled with ignorance and poverty. The story creates parallel threads that build a tapestry from the lives of people trying to escape their hovels of despair. The main character, Ronnie Wise, is the director of libraries for Bolivar County, Mississippi. The main library is in Cleveland, Mississippi, and it was moved (and expanded) to the abandoned train depot. For 30 years Ronnie Wise has been on a personal crusade to stamp out illiteracy in this county and bring book-reading to a populace that could not afford the luxury of reading fiction. Ironically, he is as stuck as the people he is trying to help. He’s not particularly personable, he tends to be a loner, and he buries himself in the books that provide the escape route for those he helps. He is a victim of what he does best: get buried in the wonderful, fantastic world of reading.

But, fantastically, while providing assistance to a researcher, whom he meets after corresponding with her for two years through emails and phone calls, he falls in love with said researcher, retires from his librarian post, marries, and moves to Los Angeles. And so his role as liberator ends and a new liberator takes over his work.

George Caleb Bingham: Mississippi Boatman, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.The article is filled with peoples’ stories on how their lives improved through literacy—people who are able to now find a job, start their own businesses, get their high school equivalency, and send their own children to college. And so we see that Ronnie Wise is a liberator, like Simon Bolívar. He is a general, and leads the fight against illiteracy and, by extension, some of the trappings that feed illiteracy: poverty, racism, and the legacy of slavery. Wise is passionate.
“Reading, Wise believes, is life. Illiteracy, therefore, is death.”
Further along in the article, Moehringer quotes Wise:
“The source of illiteracy is slavery, he says, plain and simple: Before the Civil War, Bolivar County had more slaveholding plantations than any county in the South. Slavery begat illiteracy, he argues, illiteracy perpetuates economic slavery, and the cycle simply remains unbroken.”
So, Ronnie Wise is the Liberator of Bolivar County (named for the Simon Bolívar), a county named for a liberator, that ironically, enslaves its people in illiteracy and poverty. Bolivar County, where 41% of its 40,000 residents can’t read.

I was shocked at that number. No child left behind? How does a child learn to read if its parents don’t read? Legacy of slavery? That also was a wakeup call to me. I thought slavery was something in the past. I learned about slavery in school. I read about slavery though history books and literature and Black History Month. But to understand how its effects are still so powerfully felt even today was enlightening and frightening.
Frederic Bazille: Negro Girl with Peonies, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
This brings me to the Fredericksburg connection. Washington D.C. has the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to educate and remember the Nazi atrocities of World War II. Fredericksburg is building the United States Slavery Museum to open in 2008, which will educate and remember our legacy of slavery. Its mission is “To vitalize and interpret more completely the human drama and toll of slavery in America. The museum will educate some, re-educate others by presenting slavery in a larger and more balanced economic and political context.”

It’s not just the illiterate residents of Bolivar County Mississippi that need educating. It’s all of us.

Statue of Simon Bolivar, Gift from the Republic of Venezuela to United States of America 1958, Washington, D.C.So now you know: the connection that links Simon Bolívar, Cleveland, Mississippi, and Fredericksburg, Virginia is the legacy of slavery. I’ll write more on Fredericksburg and Washington D.C. soon, as I have just returned from traveling to these cities.