Friday, September 27, 2013

A Piñata of Fahrenheit 451

Two amazing lectures in two days, both part of Banned Books Week Gadsden Reads Fahrenheit 451.  Friend Chris Harrison of Gadsden State’s English department delivered his blisteringly-hot The History Of Book Burning: From Cultural Annihilation To Symbolic Tantrum on Tuesday.  And Bradbury Center fellow Dr. Robert Woods’ passionate presentation on Fahrenheit 451 Wednesday, a presentation so moving that by its end, Amanda Jackson was wiping tears from her eyes and I was on the verge of shouting, “Hallelujah!”  Eric’s thoughts on Dr. Woods’ lecture the next morning after sleeping on it, “You know, it was like he hit a piñata of Fahrenheit 451 and scattered all these pieces of really amazing information all over the place…”  Yes, that is EXACTLY what Robert did.

Gadsden Times Article on Dr. Woods' presentation here.

Chris Harrison

Dr. Robert Woods

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rumblings of War at the Ballet

Since we do not know the exact date of our anniversary, but we do know that it was a little over two weeks after we went to the Prom at the Pitman on September 4 of 2008 that we began to date for realsies, Eric and I declared our anniversary to be whatever date the Autumnal Equinox falls upon.  Which means that it is a fluid date.  And it also means that our anniversary was this past Sunday, September 22 this year. And to celebrate, Eric took me to the ballet, because the Alabama Ballet was performing a collection of pieces entitled Ovation here in Gadsden.  And we try never to miss seeing the Alabama Ballet when they come to town.  There are no excuses when ballet is being performed only five minutes from your home.

We sat in the balcony with dear friend Beth and her brilliant former-ballerina-daughter Erin.  Balcony seats are best.  You can see the feet of the dancers better from there.

Ovation consisted of:  Bananchine’s Allegro Brillante (set to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 75), Petipa’s The Kindom of the Shades Pas De Deux from La Bayadere (Ludwig Minkus), Van Fleteren’s unRAVELed (Maurice Ravel), and Jiří Kylián’s SECHS TÄNZE (Six Dances set to Mozart’s Sechs Deutsche Tänze, KV 571).  Both Allegro Brillante and the la Bayadere Pas De Deux were very classical pieces…more traditional ballet.  UnRAVELed was a modern, sensual piece.  And SECHS TÄNZE was…well…it was absurdly hilarious and frightening all at the same time.  Bare chested, powdered-wigged men cavorted about the stage with wild-haired common girls.  There was much skirt-flipping and flirting, and scary rolling black ball gowns worn by saucy young men.  And rumblings.  Of war?  My interpretation may be completely wrong, but I felt that it was a commentary on depraved and deposed nobility in the face of war.  Eric felt that the foppish men represented government and that the women perhaps represented the public. Too difficult to describe.  And ridiculous.  Ridiculously great!  You must watch it yourself here.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Love Letter to a Challenged Book


We kicked off Banned Books Week Gadsden Reads Fahrenheit 451 last night with a participatory performance art piece, a ceremony celebrating intellectual freedom and our right to read.  The audience sat on borrowed church pews and faced a borrowed alter covered in candles.  The candles sat on replicas of banned books.  At the foot of the altar were the charred remains of discarded books, a reminder of what could happen if the right (or wrong) circumstances occurred within a community.  Our officiant was Mario Gallardo, artist, art teacher (at Gadsden State Community College) and director of the Walnut Gallery (the newly acquired Walnut Gallery space is an old church from which Mario loaned the borrowed pews and alter), dressed in his academic robes.

The service was reverential and reflective.  Thoughtful movements that took the participant from writing the name of their favorite book on a page torn from a banned book (The Great Gatsby), rolling that page into a scroll and tying it with twine.  Destroying the scroll by casting it into a fire pit.  Lighting a candle in memory of that book.  Finally, writing a love letter to the lost book.  It was moving.

I was unable to write down the name of my favorite book, nor was I able to write a love letter to it, just too busy with minutiae.

But I did write that love letter after the fact.  And here it is, dedicated to Jaimie.  You deserve better.

My Dearest Absalom, Absalom,
I’ll never forget the August that I first read you, an August that was hotter than the stoked fires of hell’s floor furnace.  I started reading you at Sherry Yates’ cabin on the banks of the Chattooga River in Cedar Bluff, Georgia, little more than a stone’s throw from Cornwall Furnace, that furnace built by the Noble Brothers in 1862-63 to supply Confederate forces with pig iron for products used in the War Between the States, the same furnace that was blown out by Union forces a year after it began production. 

You confused me, Absalom, Absalom, what with how you jumped around a lot and wouldn’t hold still long enough to tell me the whole story all at once.  I wanted to take you and hold you under the water to show you, to bring you up just long enough for you to catch your breath and tell me what was happening by Gawd.   Who were all these people that you kept introducing long after new characters should have EVER been introduced?  And why the hell were you repeating yourself over and over again like I wasn’t listening to you?  I WAS LISTENING!  You just didn’t notice because you were too busy being all stream of consciousness…

I suffered that August to finish you, suffered not just at the cabin by the Chattooga, but back in the old chicken coop at momma and daddy’s place in the country, me perched on an upended milk crate.  And later in the parking lot of the University while sitting in my car before going to speak with my advisor, my reading interrupted only by the talking alarm on the car beside me that calmly cautioned "Step away from my ride." anytime anyone breathed the same air as it.

Absalom, Absalom, I sweated you out in the August humidity, sweated you out like a fever, or a night of too much liquor.  I sweated you out so much that I thought I had seen the last of you with your final sentence, “I don’t hate it!" because I thought I hated you and never wanted to see you again!

I should’ve hated you Absalom Absalom especially after what all you put me through but I didn’t and I don’t I love you Absalom Absalom I love you so much I read you two more times AND hosted a pub crawl in your honor and I am currently encouraging my dear friend Jaimie who is reading you AT THIS VERY MOMENT I tell her that you are worth it because you are you are

My sincerest regards,

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Monument To a Pest

Frenetic work and social schedules forced aside, Eric and I took a much-needed beach holiday with my family.  Spending time just lazing around with family and food is something I can really put my efforts into.  No schedules.  No meetings.  No putting out programming or grant fires.  Very little phone use.  Even less computer use.  It is the only way that I am able to really recharge my battery properly.

The trip down to Ft. Walton, FL is usually the same for us.  Leave early.   Stop at Murder Stuckey’s in Verbena for an annual beach trip breakfast Butterfinger Blizzard (try saying that fast five times).  Drive until we need gas, at which time we inadvertently find the next most murder-y filling station.  Drive on in until we hit the beach and loved ones.

But this trip was different.  We had to board Booker at the vet’s for this trip.  No dogs allowed (in the tradition of Snoopy Come Home) on this jaunt.  So, I dropped our puppers off the night before we left.  I was THAT person…the one with the hand-made dog bed, box of special grain-free food, Kong with all natural peanut butter, a list of instructions a mile long and tears in my eyes.   Could I call to check on him while we were away?  Yes, of course you may, Ms. York.  Eric and I hardly slept that night.

Another thing that was different on this trip:  Our Murder Stuckey’s in Verbena had been cleaned up, un-Dairy-Queened and turned into a respectful Sunoco.  There was absolutely nothing scary about it at all.  Which is terribly disappointing.  We are really going to miss the falling down Stuckey’s sign, the friendly clerks and the ice cream & French fries from the Dairy Queen that was tucked inside.  We’ll miss less the overtly racist bumper stickers for sale, the hand-made, child-sized pioneer dolls that hung in the window (also for sale), and the dilapidated serial-killer trailer out back.  Sometimes change is a mixed bag.

And to really throw a new spin on things was the fact that on this trip Eric and I decided to detour through the lovely town of Enterprise, AL to see the world’s only known statue dedicated to an insect responsible for destroying a town’s cash crop, the boll weevil.  See, back in the early 1900’s, Enterprise was doing pretty well economically by growing cotton.  Then came the boll weevil, which destroyed their cotton crop.  The farmers of Enterprise and Coffee County had to find another crop to raise in order to survive.  They turned to peanut farming, which saved their town.  So, to honor the pest that caused them todiversify, they built a monument to the boll weevil.

The boll weevil statue of Enterprise is located in the center of town, a lovely thirteen-foot iron rendering of a female figure holding aloft a boll weevil trophy.  But what stands in the center of town is not the original statue.  The eight pieces or so of the original statue reside in the Depot Museum, just around the corner from the crossroads.  You see, like the finger of our Emma Sansom statue gracing Broad Street here in Gadsden, the boll weevil statue of Enterprise has been vandalized and stolen over the years, the final act of vandalism resulting in it being irreparable broken into a number of pieces.  Visit the Depot and see the statue.  Notice how some well-intended soul attempted to repair her arms by using PVC pipe.  It did not work out.